MT readers get their chance to see their own synth sounds in print. Instruments featured this month include the Juno 106, Poly 800 and DX21...
Now that Patchwork is bigger than ever, you've an even better chance of seeing your favourite sound in print not to mention your favourite magazine on your doorstep free of charge. And if you're still waiting to see your particular synth featured in these pages, why not be the first to submit some sounds?
Many readers are now supplementing their patch charts with a short demo cassette of the sounds in question, and this is really good news for our over-worked (and generally hungover) editorial team. 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.
If you can't lay your hands on a cassette player, don't let that put you off submitting some patches - an interesting written description is a good substitute.
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, if possible, by a short demo-tape. 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?
David Kosten, London N3
Quite a straightforward sound, this, but useful for those sequenced electro-bass lines à la early Ultravox. If you haven't a sequencer, don't worry - 'Ultrabass' suits manual playing just as well.
Thomas Bjornemark, Sweden
The first couple of patches for the Bit One. 'Harp/Classic Guitar' (A) and 'String Pluck' (B). should be layered in Double mode; the former takes care of the basic sound while the latter deals with the "pluck" sound when the string is hit.
'Modulation Madness' (C) uses both VCOs to modulate the output to make complex sequencer-type sounds. Its creator suggests experimenting with parameter 60 to obtain different modulation rhythms, and advises playing in Unison mode and adding a touch of noise.
David Flattery, Liverpool
Another oldie but goodie... somehow, the Poly 800 always manages to get a look in. The accompanying prose describes 'Symphony' as being suitable for both melodies and basslines, but particularly for winding chord progressions; though it's best suited to slow pieces as its attack is rather long. Reminiscent of the organs found in seaside picture palaces of the early 20th Century (!) is the aptly named 'Picture Palace', and is best suited to lead work. 'FM Bass' has that harsh, edgy characteristic of FM synthesis, and is intended purely for bass and sequencing purposes. If you're unsure of your fingering, then watch out for 'Carnival', as any bum notes can sound some pretty off-putting dischords. 'Chime Strings', meanwhile, is a good all-rounder suitable for melody or chordal lines.
Andy McGuigan, Ballymena, N1
Andy comments that "'Astra' was created by causing the VCF to oscillate via the resonance parameter being put up to maximum. This is a very rich sound around the middle octaves, but the top end is a bit on the thin side. (Twiddling the keyboard CV amount in the VCF section may alleviate this.) 'Astra' is best used for slower pieces, and also sounds good playing lead lines over rich, analogue string sounds. If extra bass depth is required, then simply increase the sub-oscillator amount."
Peter Watt, Bristol
Long time no see for the DX21... 'Leslie' is (surprise, surprise) a "reasonably 'classic' Hammond organ sound which produces a delayed build-up of Leslie effect when used with the modulation wheel at about 20%." Nuff said.
Robert Algeuer, Austria
Yamaha's music computer has been somewhat neglected in Patchwork, so here's an interesting one to make amends. Titled 'Mystery', the sound is more of an effect than anything else, but is still eminently usable for melodic work. Play monophonically for best results.
Yamaha DX21/27/100 & CX5M
BEFORE DELVING INTO the sounds presented on the banks, perhaps I could indulge in some moments of thought.
Firstly, it's amazing how the cognitive process works. The labelling of a sound does miraculously clarify its successfulness. When I sat down to review, I played the sounds to a panel who initially didn't know the name of the patch. I got their verdict then revealed the patch name - suddenly, they found it easier to re-evaluate and give a clear thumbs up/down. Subjectivity and pre-conceived valuations then, are ever present in a review of sounds, and one man's "Beefy" is another man's "Organ 2".
Second, the use of the voices, ie. CX5M or DX is another factor. The DX 21/27/100 series carry 120+ internal sounds of excellent quality, so any new sounds must clearly augment these to be of any use, especially as the on-board storage space (for live work in particular) is limited. As a DX owner, I was primarily interested in the supplementing of my own work, and so the CX5M user may find proportionally more of the sounds useful.
Finally, in a lot of cases, the more sounds you have around you, the easier it is to write and the broader the scope of the end pieces. Sound suggest their own space and new sound always opens up new possibilities and ideas. DX programming can be tricky and "tweaking" voices requires time, patience, dedication and a lot of bottle, even presuming that you know the type of sound you want in the first place!
So, to the Voices themselves, presented in 10 banks of 24 voices for the DX user and 4 banks of 48 for the CX5 user.
On the whole, with some exceptions, most of the sounds here were judged reasonable, generally OK, but not many would make you jump for joy. Either the voices were lacklustre or the "roots" patches could quickly be recognised, relegating them to interesting variations rather than original ideas. Too many times we thought that we'd heard it all before.
The Instrumental Banks (1 and 2) had some good voices including the excellent 'Hand Bell' and the 'El Grande' piano (should have been called 'Beatles Piano Sound' - very authentic). But the strings sounds were unconvincing and the guitar patches never do sound like guitars. 'Doublebass' is very real (around middle C) and the 'Whistle' à la Roger Whittaker is very usable.
The Synth Banks (3, 4 and 5) are a real eye opener. If you've been missing that 70's ELP/Yes feeling for some time, then there are some here for you. Look no further than 'Mild Synth', 'Delicasyn', 'Wool' and 'Beefy'. Now, I always look forward to the Sound Effects Banks (6 and 7) and on the whole, these were delightful if a little useless (unless driving the rest of the band mad is an objective).
Some of the sounds, and in particular the Drum Kit (Bank 8), I found quite poor. Certainly if you had recourse to a drum machine or drummer, then you'd probably erase this bank from the tape (DX owners). The other percussion effects are so-so and would not take up space on my DX.
Bank 10 is labelled Breath Controller Patches and as I had no such BC1 feel it's not fair to say too much, other than in passing they sounded pleasant (although the BC qualities can be tweaked without too much trouble).
Let me say that the programming here is good, even if the naming of the Voices is a little erratic (I suppose though that 240 new voice names can be a little wearing...). Special patch name of the year must go to 'Wawaoo', the first patch I've ever heard that actually sounds exactly like the name suggests (phonetically).
So, the sounds themselves are quite good, but I was looking for something to add to my collection. At £19.95 the price is good (in relation to hardware costs) but as the listening and programming requirements in such case are so subjective, it's a pity that prospective buyers have no way of hearing what they are buying in advance and so can make a qualified decision rather than a "suck it and see" attitude.
In the end, it comes down to your purse and ears.
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Feature by Guy Manning
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