March 18, 2014

Let's Talk Mono-Synths...

by Chris Randall

I was joking to my wife the other day that I have like five jobs right now. Which made me sob a little on the inside, because I actually do. In my ludicrous amount of free time, I'm trying to come up with the archetype mono-synth design. And I thought it'd be interesting to get some input from people that aren't me on this subject.

The mono is kind of a beast unto itself, and that platform is the source of some of the most enduring sounds in the synthNrrrd's arsenal, to the point where we refer to particular sounds not by the place they fill in the sonic spectrum (e.g. "squelchy, knocky bass") but rather by the machine that makes the particular sound best. (e.g. "303.") I find that interesting, because with other instrumentation, we don't generally dwell on the toolset used to create it (say, Strat through Fender Super Reverb) but rather we generally reference a player who used that combo ("I think this song needs a Stevie Ray tone...")

We do this with keyboards too, but much more specifically. The Hohner D6 Clav and "Superstition" are so intertwined as to be functionally synonymous, for instance. Likewise the Mellotron and "Strawberry Fields Forever." But by and large, these are still machine-specific references. P-Mac is hardly recognized for his keyboard chops. You never say "get me that Paul McCartney keyboard sound." You say "I want the Strawberry Fields Mellotron flutes."

Anyhow, how about it? I'm not asking for a running litany of everyone's favorite monosynth. Nobody gives a shit. What I'm wondering is more about the "why" of it. If you were going to make a mono, what would you absolutely require of it?


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Mar.24.2014 @ 2:32 AM
ass of a camel on tranquilizers. HA

Mar.24.2014 @ 2:32 AM
I'm with boobs.

Mar.24.2014 @ 2:32 AM
I'm with boobs.

Mar.24.2014 @ 2:02 PM
I'm with Chris on the simplicity of design. I'm all about the new MeeBlip Anode for this reason (and still waiting for it to arrive), and I adore the Microbrute. The question for me is, "Can I get lost in this thing?" I can get pulled out of the moment if I have to menu dive or deal with odd design choices.

I like this quote from Brian Eno: "In modern recording one of the biggest problems is that you're in a world of endless possibilities. So I try to close down possibilities early on. I limit choices. I confine people to a small area of maneuver. There's a reason that guitar players invariably produce more interesting music than synthesizer players: you can go through the options on a guitar in about a minute, after that you have to start making aesthetic and stylistic decisions. This computer can contain a thousand synths, each with a thousand sounds. I try to provide constraints for people."

With all that said, I love stuff like the Analog Four, despite having to take some time to get used to the design.

Mar.24.2014 @ 7:12 PM
"and it sounds like it's all coming out the ass of a camel on tranquilizers. "

Quote of the year.

Mar.24.2014 @ 10:39 PM
I like to see sine waves, as they rule for FM, and more filters than oscillators (see: Syrinx), a mixer that overdrives, and plenty of knobs/sliders/switches/joystick to grab

Mar.26.2014 @ 1:36 PM
3 Oscillator, 2 LFOs, but one possibility might be make the 3rd osc switchable between audio rate and LFO rate, and then have one dedicated LFO. wide rates a big plus.

2 filters, 2 ENVs. Noise source, external filter input. full MIDI control over the whole shebang.

love FM, RM, Sync, and any kind of crossmod. the more options to modify x with y the happier i'd be.

25 keys is minimum for studio. if you're thinking that a lot of your customers are gonna play live with it, consider more. performance mod controls that can control any parameter.

wildcard - throw a bunch of cool digiwaves into the osc instead of the old standard. there was that Automat plug-in synth that had some cool ideas about extra waveforms for Oscs, plus some ridiculously varied methods to thicken sounds.

Mar.26.2014 @ 11:45 PM
The waveforms on my Kawaii K3r are really nice. There are some great tones in that box (and a surprisingly killer low end). It's also really easy to program from the front panel, even though it's just a couple of seven segment displays. Most people make it sound all austere and ghostly and late 70s, and it does that extremely well in poly mode, but some great basses and leads are hidden inside when you press the mono button.

I think my dream digital mono right now would be the waves from a K3 and the waves from a TX-81z (and possibly also the ability to sweep through them via something on the mod matrix) on two oscillators, with an additional analog styled oscillator (sine, saw, square, triangle, noise) with the time variant envelopes and filters from the Roland S330 and the routing options of a MoPho/Tetr4. Toss a nice arpeggiator and/or sequencer on it and give me a 37 key board with AFTERTOUCH. I would love to see a couple of effects slots in box like that. At least a chorus that could be twisted into a slapback or a kinda sorta reverb. Preferably, I'd like two master slots and maybe an insert slot before the filter (but after the external in). Nothing too fancy as far as effects. Soft sat, delay, chorus, reverb, compressor. Basically cut down versions of Ratshack (but with longer delay) and fluid and the two knob compressor from Tattoo. The mic input on Ratshack would also cover soft saturation if it was tamed just a hair, or the saturation algo from FilterStation. Joystick or XY(Z) pad is a must, but I'd like to see a ribbon controller above the keybed as well.

I honestly don't need a ton of controllers on the front of the unit. The knobs on the MoPho work well in that I can assign them for the most important parameters on a per patch basis. If I plan the patch properly, I never feel frustrated that I can't change another parameter. The parameters that I would want to futz with are the ones that are programed to be there. But, I would prefer if they were faders instead of knobs. I could have one hand on the keys and use multiple fingers to adjust multiple sound parameters that way. For me, sliders are way better than knobs for live control.

- William

Mar.27.2014 @ 6:13 PM
for the last couple days i've been playing w/a Devilfish TB303 w/quicksilver seqeuncer upgrade.. it sounds great and is endless fun. the way the controls all interact.. the way accent affects the overdrive and the accent decay, soft attack etc.. a hand full of knobs offer a million little sweet spots.. of course it's still a bass synth and a 303 just a lot more of it.. there's a lot of magic in the silver box w/the goofy sequencer.. though the quicksilver upgrade is not at all goofy and is full of real time performance controls.

so, i think splitting he difference between both worlds would make for a fun and useful machine.

Mar.28.2014 @ 6:25 AM
I second the idea of pwm on all OSC shapes !
LFO's that do 1 shots and super slow to super fast !

If it's digital or at least the modulators are .... wavetable based LFOs with user loadable ability could be interesting and even replace having dedicated envs other than perhaps a basic gate on and AR for VCA ?
Other than that a quirky filter other than ms20/Moog/sem would be cool .

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