The analogue synth is alive and well and living in Patchwork. The Minimoog, ARP Odyssey and Korg Mono/Poly make a welcome return to our monthly selection of readers' patches.
If you're still waiting to see your particular synth featured in these pages, then why not be the first to submit some sounds?
Don't forget that if your patch gets published, you'll receive a free year's subscription to MUSIC TECHNOLOGY with our compliments. So send us your favourite sounds on a photocopy of an owner's manual chart (coupled with a blank one for artwork purposes) accompanied by a short demo-tape (don't worry too much about classic performances and impeccable recording quality; just present your sounds simply and concisely - and convince us you're the best of the bunch). Include a decent-length description of your sound and its musical purpose in life, and write your full name and address on each chart. And remember, edited presets are all very well, but an original masterpiece is always preferable. OK?
The address to send sounds to: Patchwork, (Contact Details).
MG King, Canada
A good old-fashioned fat analogue bass sound, this (hence the name). Keep it in the lower register for maximum impact, and it's especially effective for fast sequenced bass lines. Try it with the Mono/Poly's onboard arpeggiator. Who says musicians don't dance?
Ron Bacard, Orpington
Ron says his patch is so called because "It employs a little ring modulation". Cute.
He also tells us that the patch is best suited to slower echoed passages where the modulation can be introduced where required using the mod wheel. The pitch of the note played may be made to either rise or fall with the modulation according to the modulating waveshape.
Gordon Reid, Cambridge
Gordon tells us this patch forms the basis of many recognisable Odyssey sounds. A range of evocative brass voices can be obtained - experiment with the tuba in the bottom register (with the octave selector 2 octaves down), or with the Bach trumpet (with lashings of reverb) at the top of the middle register. Experimentation with the VCF and ADSR of your own instrument should yield some realistic results.
Thomas Kunze, Newport
Thomas stays in the mood of this month's Patchwork with a sound which attempts to create an analogue atmosphere. He suggests it could be used for lead parts or "beef bass", and hints at more than a slight resemblance to the beginning of Vangelis' 'Chariots of Fire'. A pretty good stab at recreating the mood.
For the Yamaha DX7II
Everyone knows (or thinks they know) how difficult the DX7 was to program. We've all heard the horror stories: "no knobs to play with, such a ludicrously small display" and so on. Hence the immediate popularity of sound cartridges as an alternative to those distinctly overused factory presets.
Although the DX7II offers more and better organised programming facilities, it still doesn't quite conform to the "hit-and-miss" programming of the old analogue synths. So the two cartridges under review here should prove a blessing in disguise for those who like others to do their thinking for them.
The Monst-ROMII and Supra-RAMII are distributed by Executive Audio, though they are actually the product of a German company, PA-Decoder, who were responsible for an excellent series of cartridges for the original DX7 a while back. Both cartridges contain sounds specially programmed for the DX7II, making use of its various features, including split and layering.
The Monst-ROMII has a total of 512 single sounds organised in two groups of four banks, each of 64. A button on the ROM itself switches between the two groups (A and B) with a green and red LED telling you which one you've selected (handy when you're on a dark stage). Within each bank there are 32 performance memories, which basically pairs sounds from within that particular bank and presents them in either split or dual mode.
As seems to be accepted practice, sounds are organised in "families". About half the memory is taken up with sounds which are meant to approximate to recognisable acoustic timbres, in other words, groups labelled piano, organ, strings, bass, guitar and brass. The other half is taken up with what might roughly be called synth sounds, that is, those which are overtly electronic. These groups have labels such as "polygroup", "PPG", "Synth", "Syneffects", "Upmix".
Almost without exception, the individual voices are excellent, with quite a number of really inspirational ones lurking around. The bass group was particularly notable, especially the 'Kalimbass' and 'Pastorius' patches as well as the more funky, slap sounds. Acoustic guitar patches were also extremely realistic. Other personal favourites were the ethereal 'Stratotro' and the super smooth 'Orchestra Strings' (actually a "Dual" performance memory).
Nostalgia buffs might note that a number of patches in the synth section carry the titles of older synths: 'Poly 800', 'Juno 60', 'Prophet 2' and 'Oberheim'. Although names are often misleading, being decided upon once the sound has been created rather than as the goal of the programmer, it was interesting to see just how well the DX7II is able to imitate the characteristic timbres of these other synths. It certainly goes a long way to show that FM synthesis is not just good for harsh, metallic sounds as its critics all too often suggest.
The Supra-RAMII contains only 256 sounds, these being the same as the first four banks of the Monst-ROMII. Hence the groups covered are PPG, polygroup Melodic (ie. "synth" sounds), guitar, bass, brass and strings. Being RAM though you have the luxury of being able to modify the sounds yourself and then store the results back on the cartridge. (You can of course store any other sounds on there as well, meaning that you can fill the cartridge with sounds you actually use rather than having spare space). Before you can do this, you need to turn off the memory protect, a small matter of pressing the button at the top of the cartridge. Once again those coloured LED's come in useful to prevent accidents.
Even if you don't want to modify the voices themselves, this cartridge comes in useful for organising a total of 128 performance memories. As well as simple split and layer information, you can also store microtuning and fractional scaling data: useful if you regularly gig in mosques.
There's no doubt that both these packages are well worth investigating. Cartridges may not offer the infinite open-endedness of a computer-based editing or patch storing sytem, but they are, in many ways, much more convenient for the working musician.
Prices Monst-ROMII and SupraRAMII, £160 each, including VAT, and postage and packing where applicable
More from Executive Audio Ltd, (Contact Details)
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Feature by Nicholas Rowland