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Old 26th September 2006
Here for the gear
BoW's Avatar

Synthetic Sound

Dear Bruce,

very nice and interesting post.

I'm very thrilled about the fact, that your thoughts about music in general well vastly exceed the "Thriller" horizon to give a glimpse, that there is so much more to the art of sound than a Neve here and Neumann there.


I mean, to be honest to you folks out there, you could almost find that kind of information in the "Consumer Reports".

With a little experience and study, you're able to figure out, what's the difference between those gadgets and how to use them in an appropriate way to get good results and how to use them in order to sculpture the sound according to your imagination.

Today, we are in a very privileged position, that we have access to audio gear, that works wonderfully and for that we don't have to ransom out our children for, nether it mostly doesn't need costly maintenance.

Just this:

I can lively remember those day's in the Eighties, when I was occasionally working as technical 'Wiz-kid' in studios and aligning those 2 inch Tape machines. It was a "Pain in the Ass". They were about $ 25,000 and far from really being linear through the whole frequency range. Simply couldn't be done with magnetic tape. Signal-to-Noise ratio was less than 60 dB. Good noise reduction cost an extra $ 10,000 for 24 channels. A combination of that value then was the only choice to match the dynamic range of a CD. I'm not speaking about not being able to edit in the Multitrack domain, horrifically priced mechanical spare parts, etc. etc.

Now, we've got high-resolution Digital Multitrack Software and Converters and high performance Computers for 'a buck or two'. I love it..

What to my sense is really important to expand your consciousness of a sonic world, that doesn't exist in your imagination, YET.

It's more a matter of education, good taste and a good 'world model' inside your head rather than having access to a Million-$-Studio facility, as it was twenty years ago.


AAAhhh, The Electronic Music...

The Italo-German composer Feruccio Busoni wrote a book in 1904 (!!!) about the limitations and overcome of the boundaries of traditional, Major-minor related harmony, Modal scales and so called "atonal" Twelve Tone patterns (for the Gourmets among you: "Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst"). Busoni was one of the most prominent composers and piano virtuosos of the late Nineteenth Century.

Busoni's conclusion was, that every bit of music based on traditional harmony and very nuance of sound relating to traditional instrumentation had been written and so the next logical step towards a real new world of sound was to compose sound itself. (I admit, that he could not know, how Jazz would evolve)

This could only be done in the electric medium. Busoni referred in his book to the only instrument at that time, which was capable to produce electric sound, that was the "Dynamophone". It was a 200 ton steam propelled, Hammond-Organ like monster machine invented by Thadeus Cahill, a visionary American engineer, who let built that machine for the Bell Telephone company in order to transmit music over the Telephone (the loudspeaker hadn't been invented, yet).

Inspired by Busoni, about 1925, a young Italo-French composer called Edgar Varese (was already mentioned elsewhere, here), sketched and laid down the fundamental structure of musical sound generation, alteration and transformation in the electric medium an so the fundamentals for the synthesizer and ... the recording studio.

In 1956, he was asked to realize a piece or electronic music for the absolutely futuristic Dutch pavilion on the World Exhibition which was built by Le Corbusier. The intention was to make the future SOUND to the public; his "Poeme Electronique" was a tribute to the 20th Century and the fast growing technical possibilities, which, he thought, would have great positive social implications as well.

It was a very ambitious project with recorded electronic sound transmitted trough 400 (!!) loudspeakers. In a brute-force approach, big parts of the NAT-Lab of Philips (Physical Laboratories) were occupied to build the necessary electronic equipment according to Varese's visions. Apart from the "Mixturtrautonium", an early advanced German electronic musical instrument, the resulting equipment formed the bases for the later commercial synthesizers built by Robert Moog and Donald Buchla in the US.

The compositional principals and the aesthetics of Electronic Music have absolutely NOTHING TO DO with the kind of electronic sounds, that we perceive in Pop-Music, which are produced with help of synthesizers or samplers.

The attachment of a piano-type keyboard to a synthesizer actually is more or less a misinterpretation of an engineering decision, which was made by early synthesizer designers like Moog in order to have a scale of quantized voltages for controlling different parameters of the synthesizer at a touch of a button.

In the late Sixties someone might have asked Moog if it was possible to play tonal music on a synthesizer when seeing the keyboard; Moog developed a so called 'lin-log converter' to translate linear quantized voltages into the logarithmical frequency scale..

And then came Wendy Carlos trough the door..

And then the great idea to sell such a technical monster to Keith Emerson to go on tour and on TV with it..

And then making the thing smaller and preconfigured like a monophonic organ to address even more potencial users (talking about the Minimoog)..

And then the Japaneese kicked in.. blah blah blah

Today, most of the people treat the synthesizer like an acoustic instrument. They mimic the timbre and sound of orchestras and instruments and curiously enough... synthesizers. Once Michael Bodiker, a profound synthesizer programmer and performer said: "Once we stop emulating acoustic instruments, we'll start emulating synthesizers..." (that was in the early Eighties)

A synthesizer or Electronic Studio in its own has no connection with traditionally recorded music. The purpose of these machines is to overcome the traditional musical structures and concepts, and not being a part of them.

However, there are no rules, but, like you can deduct from the above, the Musical Instrument Industry makes good profits by selling us fancy sounding organs and the most advanced in synthesis technology, like Physical Modelling, is used to emulate traditional instruments. How boring.

However, in THE REAL WORLD of Electronic Music, there are wonderful examples of really fancy use of electronic equipment in order to make music, which goes far beyond what we usually hear in Pop, Jazz or elsewhere in the mainstream.

Beside Edgar Varese, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig can be described as fathers of the aesthetics of Electronic Music. For those who are interested: check out "Kontakte" and "Octophonie" (Stockausen) or the "Funktionen" from Koenig. Both have written wonderful books about their aesthetics.

Another creative and quite well known composer is Pierre Boulez, who wrote interesting mixed forms for traditional orchestra and electronics (listen to "Reponse").

B.t.w: Stockhausen has once written and performed "Musik fuer ein Haus", which is very much in the direction what Bacon had foreseen.

Bruce, I like your quote! There is evolution after all..

Boris Baargeld

P.S. Hopefully this gets through..