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DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo

DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« on: November 28, 2015, 07:08:44 PM »
To finally continue my thread from the old forum, I recorded a more… involved piece on my self-made analog synthesizer. I took a good MIDI-file of Tchaikovsky's Miniature Overture from the Nutcracker Suite, edited it to accommodate my monophonic synth (and add expression) and recorded more than 40 audio tracks to create a little synth orchestra.
Each track recorded in mono directly from my mixer's A/D, panned and level-adjusted in Logic Pro X. The only effect is Logic's Room Designer reverb.

Youtube: https://youtu.be/uzecOzR9NaA
and Soundcloud with 24-bit WAV download: https://soundcloud.com/strange-quark-star/nutcracker-suite-overture-played-on-analog-synthesizer
Prophet '08 № 01369
Yamaha DX7 II FD E!, RX7, CP, CS | Roland Ⅾ-50 | Korg MS-20 mini, microKORG, Volca Beats | Moog Etherwave Plus | Casio VL-Tone

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Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2015, 01:53:08 PM »
Strange Quark Star,

To finally continue my thread from the old forum, I recorded a more… involved piece on my self-made analog synthesizer. I took a good MIDI-file of Tchaikovsky's Miniature Overture from the Nutcracker Suite, edited it to accommodate my monophonic synth (and add expression) and recorded more than 40 audio tracks to create a little synth orchestra.
Each track recorded in mono directly from my mixer's A/D, panned and level-adjusted in Logic Pro X. The only effect is Logic's Room Designer reverb.

Youtube: https://youtu.be/uzecOzR9NaA
and Soundcloud with 24-bit WAV download: https://soundcloud.com/strange-quark-star/nutcracker-suite-overture-played-on-analog-synthesizer

This is a nice clean sound.  It seems that your self-constructed synth is set up pretty well.  Thanks for sharing.   

   I've only used midi files a few times to make songs, but I see how using such them is a good way to explore your synth.   I mean as an alternative to the standard hypnotic sequencer beat I'm surprised that this is not more popular.   
DSI Equipment: Poly Evolver Keyboard, Evolver desktop, Prophet 8,  Pro-2, OB6, P-12
 

https://Soundcloud.com/wavescape-1

Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2015, 07:09:55 AM »
Thank you!

There's one big problem with my synthesizer in that the envelopes don't fully close in the end (stupid design flaw), but the reverb masks this well.

Using MIDI: oftentimes I loop a MIDI of one of Bach's cello suites while tweaking a sound on this synth or the MS-20. But guess what the blinky lights and rows of buttons on top of my machine are  ;) Sometimes a simple sequence is sufficient for that purpose, too, especially if you design a sound for very fast staccato notes and don't want to constantly hammer your keyboard.

As for recording, I try to stay away from playing and editing MIDI files as this makes it all too easy and feels very much like cheating to me, even though the results can be very nice. Maybe I should change my attitude and become much more productive, but as sound designer instead of a performer.
Prophet '08 № 01369
Yamaha DX7 II FD E!, RX7, CP, CS | Roland Ⅾ-50 | Korg MS-20 mini, microKORG, Volca Beats | Moog Etherwave Plus | Casio VL-Tone

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chysn

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Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2015, 02:28:11 PM »
I love this. It automatically streamed while I was listening to SoundCloud in my car, and I didn't know that it was your own synth until I came back later and checked. It sounds great.

I've become a big fan of this recording technique. I compose in Finale (where I'm typically listening to the music with "piano" sound), export a MIDI file, drag that file into Reaper, and do at least one recording pass for each part. It's a great way to stretch a monophonic synth.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

dslsynth

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Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2015, 03:19:05 PM »
I have to support that view. Its a very great sounding instrument and the tune sounds very nice too. But wow for a machine! Looks like quite a sizable furniture piece. Guess you had lots of good hours building it. Me impressed on all fronts!
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cp -f $0 $HOME/.signature

Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2015, 06:58:59 PM »
Switched on Tchaikovsky! – Very nice sounds from your synth. And a lot of effort went into the creation of this piece. Keep the cool stuff coming.

Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2015, 09:41:30 PM »
Thank you all for your nice comments! I am really glad you like it.

It is a fun way to record music, but the way did is a little bit more tedious than it should be, I guess.

First I need find a really good MIDI file (the best are usually found on kunstderfuge.com). Even though all the orchestral parts are separate, the tracks are usually not monophonic, so I need to split them up manually. Since my synthesizer only listens to pitch and modulation messages and not velocity or volume, I then need to manually add expression to every phrase of every track, usually by drawing in some modulation steps (for vibrato/filter FM) or manually adjusting envelopes or the filter while recording. And then the mixing starts… automating every track's fader until it all sounds more or less all right.

Even so, this does not feel like more work than recording a live performance, since I always need a lot of takes, which is more exhausting than fiddling with settings and letting the DAW do the 'performing.' I just need to make sure that it's still in tune after recording a phrase  ;)

Looks like quite a sizable furniture piece. Guess you had lots of good hours building it.

Not all the hours were 'good hours', especially not the dozens spent on drilling the many thousands of holes by hand or the ones spent on finding elusive electrical bugs caused by bad PCB prints or not properly done vias, among many other problems. Still, I'd do it all again!
Prophet '08 № 01369
Yamaha DX7 II FD E!, RX7, CP, CS | Roland Ⅾ-50 | Korg MS-20 mini, microKORG, Volca Beats | Moog Etherwave Plus | Casio VL-Tone

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chysn

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Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2015, 05:02:19 AM »
Even though all the orchestral parts are separate, the tracks are usually not monophonic, so I need to split them up manually.

If you plan on doing this sort of thing often, consider using MuseScore with the Explode plugin. It'll do that tedious work in a few seconds. Finale does it as well, but MuseScore is FOSS.

Edit: I just downloaded MuseScore 2, which has the Explode tool built-in, with no need for a plugin.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2015, 05:22:51 AM by chysn »
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2015, 05:04:17 AM »
Thanks! I did not know MuseScore had this ability. I've only ever used it to 'typeset' some MIDI files for printing.

I actually planned on writing some kind of program that does this with MIDI files but have not yet looked into the complexity that's potentially involved in this task. Now that's not necessary any more, I guess…
Prophet '08 № 01369
Yamaha DX7 II FD E!, RX7, CP, CS | Roland Ⅾ-50 | Korg MS-20 mini, microKORG, Volca Beats | Moog Etherwave Plus | Casio VL-Tone

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chysn

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Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2015, 05:30:15 AM »
I actually planned on writing some kind of program that does this with MIDI files but have not yet looked into the complexity that's potentially involved in this task. Now that's not necessary any more, I guess…

Yeah, I looked into this about a year ago. You don't even want to go there if you can find another way to do the job. Processing MIDI files is not a difficult programming task, but it would be an extremely tedious task. The thing with MIDI files is, you can't just support the subset of the format that you're interested in. You have to handle everything, because you need to know the byte lengths of everything, and so many lengths vary with context.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2015, 06:29:05 AM »
That bad, huh? I thought I could whip up a script in Python and be done with it  ;D
Just tried the Explode plugin, but it overwrites the staves below the one that it expands. Anyway, even if it did work well (I'm surely using it wrong) I think I'd prefer doing it by hand, since I always decide which notes go to which track, which ones to double-track, etc. Taking the time to do this manually also makes me think more about the structure and ultimately leads to a better result, even if it takes (not much) longer.
Prophet '08 № 01369
Yamaha DX7 II FD E!, RX7, CP, CS | Roland Ⅾ-50 | Korg MS-20 mini, microKORG, Volca Beats | Moog Etherwave Plus | Casio VL-Tone

YT
SC

chysn

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Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2015, 07:31:02 AM »
That bad, huh? I thought I could whip up a script in Python and be done with it

That's what I was hoping. I was thinking of doing it as a Christmas vacation project last year. But after reviewing the format, I decided that it would be a terribly un-fun project from which I would learn nothing. YMMV.

Quote
Just tried the Explode plugin, but it overwrites the staves below the one that it expands.

Right, you will want to open the Instruments panel to make a few new staves for the Explode tool's output. Finale's implementation is better, but hundreds of dollars more.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2015, 08:30:38 AM »
It's good to know the software you've paid for and use the most.

I searched around a bit and found out that Logic has a function which assigns each overlapping note to a different MIDI channel. Luckily I did implement the ability to switch channels in my synth, so this makes the whole process a lot easier.

EDIT:
Should make it easier, but it turns out that the channel selection is bugged in that note-off messages are not handled properly. Apparently I never tested this before. Only omni mode works :( (correction: only channel 1 works properly.)
And now I have neither the JTAG programmer nor the AVR studio software to fix this… Also, it's been four years since I had a look at the code.

Easier to find a solution in Logic for this problem, especially since there's now a way to write scripts handling MIDI events right inside of it. It should be trivial to write the exact solution I want.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2015, 09:22:22 AM by Strange Quark Star »
Prophet '08 № 01369
Yamaha DX7 II FD E!, RX7, CP, CS | Roland Ⅾ-50 | Korg MS-20 mini, microKORG, Volca Beats | Moog Etherwave Plus | Casio VL-Tone

YT
SC

Steven Morris

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Re: DIY Synthesizer: Orchestral Demo
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2015, 09:06:49 PM »
Was very curious about this when I saw the thread title! I have been subscribed to you but didn't see this video in my feed :(. Apparently, I hadn't selected 'see all notifications from this channel'.

I love the sound of your synth. It's so wonderfully layered. The strings/pad sound that you created is really wonderful. It's very smooth and vintage (in the best way possible) sounding.

Major respect for doing all of that layering, not to mention the dedication that synth must have required.

Coincidentally, I have been experimenting with the same kind of thing for the last few months. I haven't tried this yet, but I have a feeling utilizing some kind of 'humanizing' effect would work well for this. I think there is a way to change the settings +/- X(parameter). Applying this to the start/stop (timing) and the velocity of notes could be extremely effective.

I have input my parts (of course they are much less complex than those in your example) manually and the differing timing really creates a believable ensemble effect. On each take, I adjust many parameters, like vibrato speed/depth, envelope attack (I don't use much release for string parts as it can cause some envelopes to click), OSC pitch, random FM (usually use a couple of attenuated noise sources to FM the oscillators or even the LFO freq that controls vibrato). If you have MIDI control over similar parameters, I recommend 'humanizing' them :).

Anyways, best of luck on your synth and its MIDI implementation :).