FM synthesis

Elektron Digitone Review & Hands-On Demo

Here’s a a review and hands-on demo of the new Elektron Digitone synthesizer.… Read More Elektron Digitone Review & Hands-On Demo

Elektron Digitone FM Groovebox At The Winter NAMM Show

Here’s a hands-on demo of the Elektron Digitone from the NAMM Show, with examples that show how things like per-step patches and parameter locks let the Digitone do things that you might not expect from a FM synth. … Read More Elektron Digitone FM Groovebox At The Winter NAMM Show

Here’s how Elektron’s new Digitone makes FM synthesis easier

Elektron have applied their cute-and-friendly formula from the Digitakt drum machine to a new synth called Digitone – and it’s FM.

Now, the phrase Elektron uses is “accessible” – the press release writes “powerful yet user-friendly take on FM synthesis.” But this isn’t just marketing speak; it seems they really have made an effort to make frequency modulation more playable.

Good electronic music instruments give users lots of stuff to touch, and the feeling that the full range of each knob, for instance, sounds good or at least plausible. That’s where the wonders of FM sort of break down when they hit making hardware. Frequency Modulation synthesis is based on a simple principle: modulating a waveform with another waveform in the same audio range. And the whole joy of this is suddenly breaking open surprising tones – covering ranges edgy, metallic, unstable, futuristic.

Or – with a tiny change in parameter – something totally unrelated. Or awful. Or silent. So, to avoid unpleasant surprises, hardware builders have tended to hide away that complexity. So, the mighty Yamaha DX7 has basically no controls – and as it popularized FM, also gave people the (mistaken) impression that it always had to sound like Yamaha’s presets.

Plus, while those sounds are great, sometimes they need softening. (Think of the difference between hearing a reed instrument, and hearing just the reed.)

For fans of FM synthesis, just as exciting as the Elektron news this week is the extensive interview with John Chowning (who’s a natural teacher, always a pleasure to listen to):

Elektronauts Talk: John Chowning

Don’t miss his bit about how he explains FM synthesis to a child – it’s really elegant. And Dr. Chowning picks up on the two things Elektron has done:

1. Set some limits so you get hands-on control over sound without getting lost – exploring space, but not throwing yourself out an airlock.

2. Putting the FM synthesis engine inside a more conventional subtractive synthesis architecture. (Basically – adding filters!)

As John describes those:

I noticed, in your instrument, that you put some boundaries on the possibilities so that one doesn’t end up in a daze without understanding how you got there, or end up in silence.

And regarding the architecture:

[Digitone] lets the user intuitively explore this re-formable, shapeable ball of stuff, then put that through the normal processes of synthesis.

So the thing to watch with the Digitone will be how well its presets and sound design work in practice. You’ve got a four-operator FM synth. That’s the architecture used by Robert Henke for Ableton’s Operator, precisely because it’s more manageable (and covers most of the sounds you want to create); adding operators adds a lot of complexity.

Then each voice (there’s 8-voice polyphony) adds filters: one multimode, one “base-width.” (Think they mean bandpass? I’ll ask.) And each voice comes with two assignable LFOs and overdrive to make things dirtier.

They’ve also added quite a lot in the effects section – sends for chorus, reverb, and delay, plus a master overdrive.

This being an Elektron box, integration of instrument and sequencer are key. And like the Digitakt, even this smaller box can be used to drive external gear. There are four synth tracks and four MIDI tracks, both, so the Digitakt is a bit like a mini Octatrack – it can be a hub for a live performance or synth rig.

With trig conditions (interactive events that can occur on each step) and track lengths and micro timings, you can make some fairly complex patterns. And whereas the DX7 and its ilk let you punch in a preset and then play it as-is forever until everyone got annoyed of the sound, Elektron bring parameter locks to make per-step transformations of your creations. So imagine all that sonic possibility of FM synthesis, changing as the sequence runs. We saw a peek of how much fun that is with KORG’s humble volca fm – now you get it on a deeper FM synth.

Worth investigating in a review – how much work is it to modify or program your own presets, how it works having parameters change with different presets, and how playable the whole thing is. But even though FM synthesis is a creation of the 1960s, having a playable, sequenced FM synth definitely stands out from the crowd of noisemakers at the moment. The new Elektron is available now, though currently listed as sold out. (Someone obviously likes the idea.)

$759 USD/779 EUR/£699 GBP.


Synth voice features:
8 voice polyphony (multitimbral)
Multiple FM algorithms
1 × multimode filter per voice
1 × base-width filter per voice
1 × overdrive per voice
2 × assignable LFO per voice

4 synth tracks
4 MIDI tracks
1 arpeggiator per track
Polyphonic sequencing
Individual track lengths
Parameter locks
Micro timing
Trig conditions
Sound per step change

Send & master effects
Panoramic Chorus send effect
Saturator Delay send effect
Supervoid Reverb send effect
Overdrive master effect

128 × 64 pixel OLED screen
2 × 1/4” impedance balanced audio out jacks
2 × 1/4” audio in jacks
1 × 1/4” stereo headphone jack
48 kHz, 24-bit D/A and A/D converters
Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port
MIDI In/Out/Thru with DIN Sync out

Physical specification
Sturdy steel casing
Dimensions: W 215 × D 176 × H 63 mm (8.5” × 6.9” × 2.5”) (including knobs and feet)
Weight: approximately 1.49 kg (3.3 lbs)
100 × 100 mm VESA mounting holes. Use M4 screws with a max length of 7 mm.

And of course, yes, Overbridge (Elektron’s tech for helping integrate their external hardware with your software rig).

The post Here’s how Elektron’s new Digitone makes FM synthesis easier appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Elektron Digitone Designed To Make FM Synthesis User-Friendly

Elektron today introduced the Digitone, a polyphonic digital synthesizer that features what they call ‘a powerful yet user-friendly take on FM synthesis’.… Read More Elektron Digitone Designed To Make FM Synthesis User-Friendly

KQ DIXIE FM Synthesizer For iOS

KQ Dixie is a 6-Operator FM synthesizer that is modeled on the Yamaha DX7.… Read More KQ DIXIE FM Synthesizer For iOS

The Story Of The Yamaha DX7 Presets

Dave Bristow and Gary Leuenberger programmed the original DX7 factory patches – a task that quadrupled in size, shortly before the keyboard went into production. … Read More The Story Of The Yamaha DX7 Presets

Hardware vs Software – Yamaha DX7 vs Arturia DX7 V vs DEXED VST

How well do software versions of digital instruments match the originals?… Read More Hardware vs Software – Yamaha DX7 vs Arturia DX7 V vs DEXED VST

Behind The Scenes With FM Player Developer Matthew Fecher

Fecher talks about sampling a classic ‘touched-by-Bowie’ Yamaha DX7II, and the process of making FM Player. … Read More Behind The Scenes With FM Player Developer Matthew Fecher

Free Online Patch Editor For Volca FM, Yamaha DX7, Synthmata

Synthmata is a free patch editor that runs within your Web browser (Chrome or Opera currently supported). … Read More Free Online Patch Editor For Volca FM, Yamaha DX7, Synthmata

What if you used synthesizers to emulate nature and reality?

Bored with making presets for instruments, one sound designer decides to make presets for ambient reality – and you can learn from the results.

“Scapes” is a multi-year, advanced journey into the idea that the synthesizer could sound like anything you imagine. Once you’ve grabbed this set of Ableton Live projects, you can bliss out to the weirdly natural results. Or you can tear apart the innards, finding everything from tricks on how to make cricket sounds synthetically to a veritable master class in using instruments like Ableton’s built-in FM synthesizer Operator. The results are Creative Commons-licensed (and of course, you can also grab individual presets).

The project is the brainchild of sound designer Francis Preve. Apart from his prolific writing career and Symplesound soundware line, Fran has put his sound design work all over presets for apps, software (including Ableton Live), and hardware.

As a result, no one knows better than Fran how much of the work of making presets focuses on particular, limited needs. And that’s too bad. The thing is, there’s no reason to be restricted to the stuff we normally get in synth presets. (You know the type: “lush, succulent pads” … “crisp leads…” “back-stabbing basslines…” “chocolate-y, creamy nougat horn sections…” “impetuous, slightly condescending 80s police drama keyboard stacks…” or, uh, whatever. Might have made some of those up.)

No, the promise of the synthesizer was supposed to be unlimited sonic possibilities.

If we tend to recreate what we’ve heard, that’s partly because we’re synthesizing something we’ve taken some care in hearing. So, why not go back to the richness and complexity of sound as we hear it in everyday life? Why not combine the active listening of a soundwalk or field recording with the craft of producing something using synthesis, in place of a recording?

Scapes does that, and the results are – striking. There’s not a single sample anywhere in the four ambient environments, which cover a rainy day in the city, a midsummer night, a brook echoing with bird song, and a more fanciful haunted house (with a classic movie origin). Instead, these are multitrack compositions, constructed with a bunch of instances of Operator and some internal effects. Download the Ableton Live project files, and you see a set of MIDI tracks and internal Live devices.

You might not be fooled into thinking the result sounds exactly like a field recording, but you would certainly let it pass for Foley in film. (I think that fits, actually – film uses constructed Foley partly because we expect in that context for the sounds to be constructed, more the way we imagine we hear than what literally passes into our ears.)

You wouldn’t think this was internal Ableton devices – not by a longshot – but of course it is.

And that’s where Scapes is doubly useful. Whether or not you want to create these particular sounds, every layer is a master class in sound design and synthesis. If you can understand a cricket, a bottle rocket, a rainstorm, and a car alarm, then you’re closer not only to emulating reality, but to being able to reconstruct the sounds you hear in your imagination and that you remember from life. That opens up new galaxies of potential to composers and musicians.

It might be just what electronic music needs: to think of sound creatively, rather than trying to regurgitate some instrumentation you’ve heard before. This might be the opposite of how you normally think of presets: here, presets can liberate you from repetitive thought.

I’ve seen this idea before – but just once before, that I can think of. Andy Farnell’s Designing Sound, which began life as a PDF that was floating around in draft form before it matured into a book at MIT Press, took on exactly this idea. Fran’s scapes are “tracks,” collaged compositions that turn into entire environments; Farnell looks only at the component sounds one by one.

Otherwise, the two have the same philosophy: understand the way you hear sound by starting from scratch and building up something that sounds natural. Scapes does it with Ableton Live projects you can easily walk through. Designing Sound demonstrates this on paper with patches in the free and open source environment Pure Data. As Richard Boulanger describes that book, “with hundreds of fully working sound models, this ‘living document’ helps students to learn with both their eyes and their ears, and to explore what they are learning on their own computer.”

But yes – create sounds by really listening, actively. (Pauline Oliveros might have been into this.)

Designing Sound | The MIT Press

Sound examples

A PDF introducing Pure Data (the free software you can use to pull this off)

But grabbing Scapes and a PDF or paper edition of Designing Sound together would give you a pairing you could play with more or less for the rest of your life.

Scapes is free (only Ableton Live required), and available now.

For background on how this came about: THE ORIGIN OF SCAPES [TL;DR EDIT]

The post What if you used synthesizers to emulate nature and reality? appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.