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West Coast modular sound
Old 19th April 2016
  #1
West Coast modular sound

Could someone please explain what the "West Coast" modular sound is? I have heard the term a few times recently. Any suggestions for archetypal artists / tracks in that genre would be gratefully appreciated too. Thanks!
Old 19th April 2016
  #2
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subdo's Avatar
Someone else is going to do a much better job of describing this but one key aspect is using sine waves or other low harmonic wave sources and adding harmonics via FM and wave shapers rather than starting with a very harmonically rich saw wave and removing harmonics with a low pass filter. The classic west coast (Bulcha/Serge) modules also implement things like in a more multipurpose way e.g. function generators rather than EGs and LFOs. There's also a heavy reliance on random CV.

Here is the classic Bulcha krell patch
Old 19th April 2016
  #3
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You know how synths can sound beautiful, musical, and melodic? It's basically the exact opposite of that.

The documentary I Dream of Wires covers it pretty well. I think the seminal work is the (unlistenable) album Silver Apples on the Moon. To me, West coast all sounds like the garbage when someone randomly cranks knobs on their $10k modular.
Old 19th April 2016
  #4
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It's not describing a sound, but rather a design and patching philosophy.

Grant Richter of Wiard described the difference this way:
I will try to explain a little of the philosophy behind the Wiard modules. It has to do with the "East vs. West" coast synthesizer history. This is an over simplified explaination, some "East Coast" instruments support FM for example.

It really starts with the concept of a patch. In the "East Coast" instruments (basically all synthesizer manufacturers except Wiard, Buchla and Serge) you have a subtractive synthesis patch entirely oriented towards the filter. This is your classic VCO-VCF-VCA connection with ADSR type envelopes. The envelopes generators typically have only a single output. The oscillators usually have very simple waveforms such as sawtooth and square wave. This is what most people are introduced to and why many people are puzzled by more complex instruments like the Wiard. This patch makes sense for playing with a black and white type keyboard. It produce a limited but pleasing range of timbres and is easy to operate and understand.

In the "West Coast" instruments, there are 3 possible synthesis modes. Additive, non-linear waveshaping and dynamic depth FM are the primary synthesis modes. "East Coast" subtractive synthesis is typically not DIRECTLY supported. It was not in the Buchla or Serge (no 24 dB/Oct. resonant filter). Good aproximations of subtractive synthesis can be patch on the Serge with cascaded filters. These instruments are oriented towards controlling with a multiple output sequencer or multiple output complex envelope generator instead of a black and white keyboard. They produce a larger and more importantly, different set of timbres than the simpler "East Coast" instruments.

The classic patch in a "West Coast" instrument involves two blocks. The first is a complex oscillator which supports both non-linear waveshaping and dynamic depth FM (Buchla 259 and Serge NTO). The second signal processor is a Lowpass Gate or "frequency and amplitude domain processor". The primary timbre generation is done directly with the oscillator, and the Lowpass Gate just tweaks the amplitude and frequency character. These two blocks are designed to be controlled by one complex envelope generator with multiple outputs routed to all the timbre factors.

Once again this is a simplifed explaination to illustrate subtle points. Actual usage involves a combination of both techniques.

In the 1200 series we have the groundwork laid for a complex "West Coast" voice. The JAG will convert two simple ADSR envelopes into a multiple output complex envelope generator. The Boogie Filter can be used as a Lowpass Gate but also supports the "East Coast" Moog type subtractive character. The Borg 2 Filter is a classic Lowpass Gate that can also be used like the "East Coast" MS20 subtractive filter.

The icing on the cake is the complex oscillator. The Wiard Synthesizer Mini-Wave and VCO (manufactured under license by Blacet Research) is a type of complex oscillator and non- linear waveshaper already well established. A lot of good work has been done with these Wiard designs. Improving on such a solid base is no easy task.

It would be great if a complex oscillator could support as many timbre modes as possible. Simultaneous support for multiple non-linear waveshaping, dynamic depth PM and wavetable would be ideal. If each of these was independent, you could look at them like geometric axis. Modulating the timbre parameters then becomes a matter of "walking about" in a large timbre space with multiple dimensions of simultaneous control. This is true timbre morphing and not just simple crossfading between timbres (which is good too).

This is where my research is currently focused. Exactly when the complex oscillator will be finished depends upon sales of the existing 1200 series modules. If the public is not interested in the extra "West Coast" synthesis methodology, it would be foolish to waste time and money on products for that purpose.

"East Coast" designs are as common as dandelions, but I feel support for subtractive synthesis should be included in a complete instrument. That is why the Wiard designs support BOTH East and West Coast synthesis methods. For example, any Wiard complex VCO will include classic subtractive waveform outputs in addition to the complex outputs.

I think that I need to focus on education to promote the idea of the more complex synthesis "West Coast" style. I am going to try and write manuals for the Boogie and Borg 2 modules that cover the less obvious operating modes. For the short term, I will be concentrating on that.
Old 19th April 2016
  #5
I think here's a good example.

and a nice interview:

and a terrible (sadpanda) interview with a great man (I'd love to have him for a Q&A!!!!

and read this:
https://www.buchla.com/guides/Music-...ual-2nd-Ed.pdf

Basically, in a nutshell, west coast synthesis is more abstract, experimental, without the usual piano keys, but with newly invented input devices. It gave a big finger to traditional composing methods, trying to reinvent it, discovering new forms. It's a bit more wild. One example is taking a Buchla or Serge oscillator, and modulating it using another oscillator most of the time, and then from that harmonically rich soup pluck parts using Low Pass Gates (vactrol type envelope/filtery things). While the "east coast" stuff was more about creating real sounding instrument sounds using a pair of oscilllators into envelopes and voltage controlled amps, filters with an occasional LFO to add to the movement in timbre.
Right now... it doesn't really matter, it's just a source of possible inspiration. It is what you make it. If atonal bubbly soup is not for you, do something else.
Perhaps someone else can explain it better at this moment (I need a drink! )
edit: see post above this one haha
And another thread:
https://www.gearslutz.com/board/elec...re-synths.html

It would be fun if ppl. post their own "West Coast" patches here.
Old 19th April 2016
  #6
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schmuck's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Reptil View Post
Right now... it doesn't really matter, it's just a source of possible inspiration. It is what you make it. If atonal bubbly soup is not for you, do something else.
Perhaps someone else can explain it better at this moment (I need a drink! )
this! some of these sounds can be absolutely stunning.

Drink: may I suggest a gin & tonic? I know it has become terribly trendy again but there really is some nice stuff. Maybe a Hendricks or Monkey 47? It's rather potent, too...;-)))
Old 19th April 2016
  #7
good suggestion but I'm all out of gin (or tonic) I'm thinking a double espresso wiht a double capt Morgan 12 years
I still have to do wiring on a Neumann eq tonight
Old 19th April 2016
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cogsy View Post
You know how synths can sound beautiful, musical, and melodic? It's basically the exact opposite of that.

The documentary I Dream of Wires covers it pretty well. I think the seminal work is the (unlistenable) album Silver Apples on the Moon. To me, West coast all sounds like the garbage when someone randomly cranks knobs on their $10k modular.
Counterpoint



Or, alternately any of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' soundtrack collaborations, which have won Oscars and Grammys, and which incidentally feature a lot of Serge and Buchla synthesizers.
Old 19th April 2016
  #9
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Speaking of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, I could practically see the LED's of the Buchla 259e in my mind's eye when this scene played in the theater:

Old 19th April 2016
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SovietSpaceChild View Post
Counterpoint



Or, alternately any of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' soundtrack collaborations, which have won Oscars and Grammys, and which incidentally feature a lot of Serge and Buchla synthesizers.
And Celine Dion won a Grammy for My Heart Will Go On, so let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I listened to the whole video, and I thought the composition was the best part. It was certainly more listenable than most of the West coast compositions I've heard. It's nothing that wouldn't be improved by a more tonally consistent instrument, and on the whole nothing that you couldn't accomplish (better, IMHO) with a drum machine and a Moog.
Old 20th April 2016
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Named User View Post
Could someone please explain what the "West Coast" modular sound is? I have heard the term a few times recently. Any suggestions for archetypal artists / tracks in that genre would be gratefully appreciated too. Thanks!
It refers to the difference in the early days (mid/late 60s) when Moog and Buchla first did their systems, and what they evolved into.

The first Buchla was built as a real time experimental performance machine. Not for tonal music as we know it. As explained in the other posts it originally created sounds in a different way but Buchla did add filters and many of the other modules were similar to Moog's.

Moog began his systems as a machine for creating new sounds, not as a musical instrument. He was working with musicians and they essentially turned it into the musical instrument as we know it today. The use of subtractive synthesis came through influences like Hugh Le Caine who invented a VCF based synth in the 1940s and Harald Bode who had been building subtractive synths since the 1930s.

Moog gave us the 1V/Octave standard but the original Buchlas didn't have any standard. They wouldn't track a keyboard even if you wanted them to. Hence West coast started with experimental music and stayed that way for a long time.


The West cost style of creating timbres can create different sounds from subtractive instruments but the music you create is entirely up to you. It is perfectly possible to play normal tonal music on them. A Buchla can be an incredibly beautiful sounding instrument.

OTOH There's nothing to stop you creating experimental music on a Moog. Indeed some of the early Moog stuff was experimental.


These days there are many other kinds of ways of making sounds and in a modular you can mix and match as you see fit. Again, what you then do with them is entirely up to you.
Old 20th April 2016
  #12
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This is a nice Buchla performance
Old 20th April 2016
  #13
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Mogue's Avatar
It seems like someone in this thread got their heart broken by east coast synthesis
Old 20th April 2016
  #14
Thanks all. I love the Charles Cohen I have heard, I just was not aware that he was in the "West Coast" school. This all makes sense to me and I understand now. Cheers. Funnily enough I listened to some Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith yesterday and loved it apart from the vocals. Any more artist recommendations would be welcome.

Finally, I am not sure Charles Cohen who be available for a Q and A as I understand he is having some personal issues.
Old 20th April 2016
  #15
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Mogue's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Named User View Post

Finally, I am not sure Charles Cohen who be available for a Q and A as I understand he is having some personal issues.
"Personal Issues" hahahaha. You know Jules of gearslutz made a forum for fathers? I'm sure a Q&A with Charles Cohen is a great idea.
Old 20th April 2016
  #16
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cloud drift's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Named User View Post
Thanks all. I love the Charles Cohen I have heard, I just was not aware that he was in the "West Coast" school. This all makes sense to me and I understand now. Cheers. Funnily enough I listened to some Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith yesterday and loved it apart from the vocals. Any more artist recommendations would be welcome.

Finally, I am not sure Charles Cohen who be available for a Q and A as I understand he is having some personal issues.
Check out Alessandro Cortini. His three "Forse" albums are all Buchla Music Easel. Very minimal and atmospheric but with a strong emphasis on melody.

Here he is playing together with Don Buchla:



and Sonic State did a tour of his studio, tons of cool Buchla stuff:

Old 20th April 2016
  #17
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Donnacha Costello did his entire Love from Dust album with nothing but a Buchla Music Easel and a couple of guitar pedals. It's extremely musical and "tonal", nothing noise or atonal about it. It's crazy good.

Love From Dust | Donnacha Costello



Quote:

Costello's attempt to crowdfund the costs of recording a new album didn't meet his goal[sic], but he did raise enough to buy his backup choice, a Buchla Music Easel, which constitutes the album's entire instrumentation, save a pair of effects pedals.
Src:

Donnacha Costello: Love From Dust Album Review | Pitchfork
Old 20th April 2016
  #18
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CthonicEwes's Avatar
Wait, no one's mentioned Morton Subotnik yet?

And about that Celine Dion, is she considered West Coast or East Coast?
Old 20th April 2016
  #19
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fiddlestickz's Avatar
It's funny when people often refer to modular as all bleeps and bloops, what they are really describing is west coast synthesis, if you take a look at most eurorack modern demos they are far from that 'conceptual' style that most easel and serge systems seem to churn out...
Old 20th April 2016
  #20
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BTByrd's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by fiddlestickz View Post
It's funny when people often refer to modular as all bleeps and bloops, what they are really describing is west coast synthesis, if you take a look at most eurorack modern demos they are far from that 'conceptual' style that most easel and serge systems seem to churn out...
No. You can make perfectly tonal, non-bleepy/bloopy, rhythmic music with west coast synthesis. You can also make atonal garbage with a Moog 55 or a Dotcom system. East and West coasts are just different ways of making and controlling timbres. How bloopy the results are depends entirely on the user.
Old 20th April 2016
  #21
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fiddlestickz's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by BTByrd View Post
No. You can make perfectly tonal, non-bleepy/bloopy, rhythmic music with west coast synthesis. You can also make atonal garbage with a Moog 55 or a Dotcom system. East and West coasts are just different ways of making and controlling timbres. How bloopy the results are depends entirely on the user.
I know you can, I'm just saying when people say modular is only good at bloopy bleeps what they seem to be describing is west coast synthesis, that's exactly what it excels at, that arty, random, conceptual sound, I think when people first listen to modular demos they are unwittingly presented with loads of west coast stuff and that's what remains in their memory..
Old 20th April 2016
  #22
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cloud drift's Avatar
 

There are examples in this thread of tonal compositions done with west coast synthesis...
Old 20th April 2016
  #23
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cloud drift's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by fiddlestickz View Post
I know you can, I'm just saying when people say modular is only good at bloopy bleeps what they seem to be describing is west coast synthesis, that's exactly what it excels at, that arty, random, conceptual sound, I think when people first listen to modular demos they are unwittingly presented with loads of west coast stuff and that's what remains in their memory..
I think its because it lends itself to self generating patches that play themselves so well. Also lots of random.
Old 20th April 2016
  #24
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I just realized that I've lived in both Trumansburg and San Francisco.
Old 20th April 2016
  #25
Quote:
Originally Posted by cloud drift View Post
Check out Alessandro Cortini. His three "Forse" albums are all Buchla Music Easel. Very minimal and atmospheric but with a strong emphasis on melody.
I LOVE the three Forse albums. Didn't know they were all Buchla.
Old 20th April 2016
  #27
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East Coast = Trying to emulate traditional instruments in electronic domain.
West Coast = Forward looking way to create sounds never heard before.

Most people tend gravitate towards traditional sounds.
Old 20th April 2016
  #28
Oh gawd.....
The usual black and white bullet points that aren't really correct.
Actually there is a lot of early Buchla and Serge music that is beautiful.
In contemporary times, people like Cortini prove that West Coast is not all about bleeps and bloops.
East Coast started out being about recreating traditional sounds, but the vast library of Techno music made with an East Coast (subtractive) philosophy has long since transcended traditional sounds.
They are all just musical tools. You can do anything with anything.
I see a ton of random noise videos made by people with Eurorack systems containing analog oscillators, low pass filters and ADSRs.
Likewise, I've always used my Buchla melodically.
There are no rules.
Old 20th April 2016
  #29
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eventually it looks like all the formats will be reduced down to eurorack clones...you can already get serge in euro, and west coast buchla style in euro with modules by verbos and sputnik, it's a great time to be learning and getting into any form of modular synthesis, there is so much choice and the quality of sounds is just phenomenal..
Old 20th April 2016
  #30
Totally.
The other formats can be less fiddly of course.
Also, banana cabling can have a big effect on workflow and inspiration.
There's so much amazing stuff in Euroland however.
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