What does an "organic" sound mean to you?

LPF83

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What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« on: September 18, 2021, 03:43:53 PM »
Vernacular is a funny thing, terms get hijacked for personal use and go viral.  Over the last few years, "stories" don't exist, we have "narratives" now...  When someone doesn't like some aspect of their life, they describe that aspect as having been "weaponized".  These are all terms we didn't need before, but somehow we do now... Part of human evolution I guess :)  To be honest I think it's more of a "sheep effect" where folks strive to be like others they were impressed by rather than try to understand how best to express their own thoughts, but I'm not out to try to change human nature or somehow pretend to be at a "better level" of it in any way, I just personally avoid trendy terms in my own vocabulary... I was never good at following the masses.

So increasingly the term "organic" is used in the realm of electronic music.   Don't get me wrong, I get it... that term has come to my own mind in certain cases where a sound feels somehow genetically more related to sounds which occur naturally rather than through manmade means.  So in my own interpretation of the term, it tends to mean a sound that arrived at where it is through the natural and physical properties of sound vibration more than a digital representation of same.  But I feel like the trend might be that "organic" just means "good" to most people..   Maybe they've confused it with the grocery definition (i.e. "must be good for me") :)

The reason for this thread was the recent release of Arturia's SQ-80 V soft synth, which the marketing materials describe as "Organic Digital Wavemaker".   lol..    Don't get me wrong it's a nice plugin.   I just thought back to the 80's when I would go into music stores and listen to Ensoniq synths like the ESQ-1, SQ-80, VFX.   I always thought they sounded wonderfully complex, bright and cold and exciting to the ear.  But, "organic" wasn't a word we heard used a lot back then unless you were describing a synth that sounded like an organ :)

So, I'll throw the question out there... what does "organic" mean to you when listening to a synth?
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Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2021, 06:23:27 PM »
Before getting into the main topic, I would first say that people are not only trying to be like others; rather, they're being quite forced to be like others, to follow them whether they want to or not.  To those naughty individuals who fail or refuse to do so, there are dire consequences.  We moderns have exchanged our schools of thought for one massive school of fish.  And God help anyone who doesn't swim just like the others and in the same direction.  If you haven't read Brave New World, Animal Farm, and 1984, I would highly recommend them...before the book burnings begin.  And I would suggest the Gospel of Saint Matthew as well.  It's both "organic" and beautifully contrary to the mindless school of fish.  Anyway....

The term "organic" has unavoidable associations with food and gardening.  We couldn't separate it from those, and so that's where I would begin in the application to music.  In that context, organic means pure, natural, wholesome, earthy, and free of chemicals and pesticides.  In music, I interpret the term to mean simple, clean, direct, uncluttered, and especially similar to natural or acoustic musical sounds. 

I think it would be an over-simplification to equate organic with analog, as opposed to digital, because digital instruments can now convincingly emulate a classic analog quality.  But in my opinion, an analog-like quality - regardless of the source - is at the heart of the organic quality.  I think this goes beyond the other terms we often use to describe analog tone - such as warm and rich.  I think organic implies a certain roughness or unpolished quality as well, such as one hears in the older analog instruments.  And to make one last point, I think the many instruments reissues we've seen lately do manifest a desire to return to an organic quality in electronic music.  I would put the revived ARP synthesizers right in this category.  I find them to be wonderfully organic.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2021, 07:04:54 PM by Sacred Synthesis »
"Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

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LPF83

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Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2021, 04:33:24 AM »
The term "organic" has unavoidable associations with food and gardening.  We couldn't separate it from those, and so that's where I would begin in the application to music.  In that context, organic means pure, natural, wholesome, earthy, and free of chemicals and pesticides.  In music, I interpret the term to mean simple, clean, direct, uncluttered, and especially similar to natural or acoustic musical sounds. 

This definition, I think, maps pretty closely to my own.  An example that comes to mind is in J3PO's comparison video showing the difference of raw tone between the Prophet 6 to the Prophet 10...  In one of the more obvious differences, he compares the sound of the triangle wave on each, where the triangle on the P10 has a smoother, more "natural" sound, where the P6 oscillator produces a very noticably harsher variation.  I put natural in quotes there, because I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "natural" triangle wave sound -- even a flute would likely produce more of a sine wave -- but my ears associate the less extreme triangle with sounds that could occur naturally, and therefore label it as "more organic".

I think it would be an over-simplification to equate organic with analog, as opposed to digital, because digital instruments can now convincingly emulate a classic analog quality.  But in my opinion, an analog-like quality - regardless of the source - is at the heart of the organic quality.  I think this goes beyond the other terms we often use to describe analog tone - such as warm and rich.  I think organic implies a certain roughness or unpolished quality as well, such as one hears in the older analog instruments.  And to make one last point, I think the many instruments reissues we've seen lately do manifest a desire to return to an organic quality in electronic music.  I would put the revived ARP synthesizers right in this category.  I find them to be wonderfully organic.

I think you're right -- it's an oversimplification to say that more analog = more organic.  Although I do feel that the resurrection of analog hardware we've seen in the industry that's been happening over the last few years are producing instruments that, in my mind will always be more organic than software equivalents, even if many of them depend on software to produce their sounds. 

This is simply because as someone who started out with hardware, then transitioned to a mostly inside-the-box environment for many years, and then back to analog hardware.....I still can't shake the feeling that software plug-ins that run on general purpose operating systems are, to my ears, still only pretty-good representations of actual voltage controlled oscillators, and have not yet achieved equality (ergo, are not as "organic" sounding to the ear).  This was why the Arturia marketing around the SQ-80 V was so funny.  It's a software representation of a digital hardware synth -- so I'm wondering what anyone feels is organic about it?  The answer to that must be tucked away in the various interpretations of the word, I'm sure.
Prophet 10, Prophet 6, OB-6, Prophet 12m, Prophet Rev2-16, Toraiz AS-1, Virus TI2, Moog SlimPhatty, Hydrasynth desktop, Korg Minilogue XDm, Roland JP-8080, Roland System-8, Roland SPD-SX SE / Octapad, Maschine, Cubase

Gerry Havinga

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Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2021, 03:44:06 AM »
Very interesting discussion  and I do have some thoughts on this myself. First of all let me state that I am not a native English language speaker, my birth country/language is Netherlands/Dutch. Although I have spend 25+ years living abroad and practically all my professional conversations are done in the English language.

For me the term organic goes all the way back to my younger teenage years. During the 70s I was deep into the old Berlin school synthesizer music, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, etc. I remember very distinctly a few experiences where I allowed myself to be transformed to a kind of higher state of consciousness (no drugs involved, I have always been against smoking and ingesting psychedelics for myself). Purely through listening to the music. In some cases I experienced extreme high levels of bliss (very nice indeed and initially quite scary). One particular case happened when I was listening to Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Fanfare of the common man". That experience was beyond fantastic, it included the wonderful realization that happiness is our true/default nature as human beings (and cats also I am quite sure).

From those moments of blissful listening I started to associate these feelings of happiness with a certain organic quality to the music. As I am now considering myself to be a musician, I aim in my music to create an experience of blissfulness/happiness/contentedness for the listener. In my ongoing search I discovered that organically sounding music for me means music that "makes" me happy.

Organic in this case includes for me:
  • the sounds used (what is discussed here)
  • a certain abstract nature to the composition, song texts I find distracting from the experience as it activates the language related mental faculties
  • a particular sequence of chords/notes (repetition is important as well is novelty)
  • a certain kind of tension/release structure as part of the composition
Regarding the sounds used, an organic quality seems to involve some kind of imperfection in the sound produced that creates an emotional reaction in the listener. But not just in the sound itself, but also in how it is played/performed and "moves" from note to note or chord to chord. A change in sound quality over the time period it is sounding, followed by a transition to the next sound.

I can safely admit here  ;) that some of the tracks posted by Sacred on Youtube have a profound emotional effect on me, really beautiful and deeply moving. I can clearly discern the 4 elements I described above related to the emotions invoked in many of his tracks (this is deeply personal of course).

I wonder if this makes sense to other electronic music lovers.
DAW-less and going down the Eurorack rabbit hole.

Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2021, 07:18:06 AM »
There seem to be other tangents that could grow from this topic.  You speak, Gerry, of bliss found through music.  I once found something very dark through my own experimental synthesizer music, and it so scared me that I became physically sick.  I made a promise one dreadful night that I would never go back to such things. 

Music has a remarkable power.  There are doorways that open at the point of music and sound that can then lead far beyond them, far past that which is wholesomely "organic" or "natural."  This is the reason that, although I may produce music that is melancholic, mysterious, or suspenseful - what I would call simply "serious" - I refuse to produce music that expresses terror or malevolence; in a word, evil.  For one, because it becomes a means.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2021, 08:15:23 AM by Sacred Synthesis »
"Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

- Henry David Thoreau

The Musical Synthesizer YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChLGwGiRVs7rlZXnOG9_mUw

The Musical Synthesizer Blog: https://themusicalsynthesizer.wordpress.com

LPF83

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Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2021, 04:30:50 PM »
The subject of emotional response to music is an interesting one in itself, and I confess to not having associated the word organic with it, but I can certainly see how one might.

Over the last couple of years I've found myself really enjoying making "feel good" music.. in other words relatively simple, casual synthwave-ish "slow drive" music where the music itself begs to not be taken seriously or analyzed too deeply, as much as it is meant to enhance whatever visuals are in your minds eye... or even your actual eye.  I consider this feel-good music because it is very heavily 80's sounding, which reminds me of simpler times, and good ones at that.  I find it hard to get motivated to finish one of these tracks though, because after I've enjoyed the process of putting together the chord progression and doing some fundamental mixing and arrangment decisions, I am usually fatigued of hearing the same track that I need to put it down for a week or two (and by that time I've already restarted the process on another track).

Then there is this other side of music making, where it's like I accidentally tap into something dark (not violent or harmful, just incredibly real and sad), and when that happens the result is usually very beautiful (I mean, let's face it most of us know when what we are producing is great vs good vs mediocre vs lousy)... to the point that I'm almost in disbelief that it's coming out of me.   But then I become aware that I am tapping into some sort of subconscious pain that doesn't need to be tapped into.  I'm really not an emotionally broken person -- but they say really good musicians always are.  So it's sort of like the moment my musicianship is elevated to a specific point, the collector comes knocking with his hand out reminding me that nothing is free.   And then once it all gets a little too real, I usually stop what I'm doing and take a break and forget about where it all was going, because I don't really want my girlfriend to see me like that.   Music is sort of a form of therapy for me, and I think that making GOOD music can be emotionally draining and hard work, not so much therapy.  This is why I haven't finished any tracks to mastering and release in over 10 years, yet I'm enjoying making music more than ever.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2021, 04:32:27 PM by LPF83 »
Prophet 10, Prophet 6, OB-6, Prophet 12m, Prophet Rev2-16, Toraiz AS-1, Virus TI2, Moog SlimPhatty, Hydrasynth desktop, Korg Minilogue XDm, Roland JP-8080, Roland System-8, Roland SPD-SX SE / Octapad, Maschine, Cubase

Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2021, 04:46:45 PM »
But then I become aware that I am tapping into some sort of subconscious pain that doesn't need to be tapped into.  I'm really not an emotionally broken person -- but they say really good musicians always are.

This is one of those truths that we would rather not discuss, but....

It's hard to know exactly why we originally were drawn to music, and especially to composing it.  I suspect it does often have something to do with interior pain and the need to express it, even if not overtly.  Music is an excellent place to bleed, yet in a way that still keeps us hidden from others.  I would go further and say it's a perfect place to scream, but while hidden under a shield of sound.  And then there's mystery.  Music, for me, is most meaningful when it its mysteriousness stops you from activity, gives you the sense of the foolishness and triviality of so much of life, and makes you...reflect.
"Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

- Henry David Thoreau

The Musical Synthesizer YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChLGwGiRVs7rlZXnOG9_mUw

The Musical Synthesizer Blog: https://themusicalsynthesizer.wordpress.com

Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2021, 10:03:08 AM »
I like emulating some nature sounds by synthesis, but never really thought of it as organic.  Really don't use the term much, but to me (in the instrument context) I guess  "organic" would mean smooth, creamy, mellow  and perhaps analogue and old-school style.  Whereas wave tabling  and Granular synthesis would not really enter my mind. 
Sequential/DSI Equipment: Poly Evolver Keyboard, Evolver desktop,   Pro-2, OB6, P-12
 

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Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2021, 02:37:22 PM »
To me, from an objective standpoint, "Organic" is a result of lots of small imperfections in electrical tolerances that cause the output signal to not be purely mathematically precise to nominal, blueprint values. 

On Poly synths, the nominal goal of synth designers is to develop a great "single voice architecture", and then have XX exact duplicates of that voice to play multiple notes.   But the reality of golden/silver ages poly synths is that there was lots of per-voice variance based on small differences in electrical tolerances between supposedly matched components (resistors, capacitors, transistors, ICs, etc...)   

The small differences from voice-to-voice give the vintage synths tons of "organic character" because they do not have perfect precision.... there are small differences in tuning/intonation for each oscillator and each voice, resulting in natural organic phasing.   There are small differences in filter performance resulting in offset cutoff points and resonance Q contours.  There are small differences in Attack, Decay and Release timings, resulting in temporal offsets between supposedly matched voices.... etc....  All of these variances blur the sound a bit, and create all this natural, subtle phasing and temporal offsets.   

When we listen to purely digital synths, with no sort of voice variance built in, we hear what non-organic precision sounds like... its a much more harsh/precise type of technical sound.   All the tunings are perfectly matched, and timings exact, creating very pronounced, clear harmonic series, and temporal motion.   

I have written up a good amount on this topic over the past few years.  More details on my thoughts are available at links below:

https://www.presetpatch.com/articles/Demystifying-Classic-Synth-Character

https://www.presetpatch.com/articles/voice-component-modeling

http://www.voicecomponentmodeling.com/

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Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2021, 01:35:47 AM »
Two synths that have always felt/sounded very organic to me are the Prophet 5 and the Korg MS-10. Both of them are easily able to conjure "of nature" sounds. My early days as a basement synth teen had me often transported by the P5 into some murky forest. The wood and metal of that synth probably had an influence on my ear, but so often I had the sense the music was coming from a mysterious, natural setting. The MS-10 is a funny one... I can get any manner of animal noises out of that filter. Maybe not always a specific creature, but something that sounds, when integrated into a mix, like a living something.

With that said, I used to attract scrub jays into my studio on summer days when I'd be playing/recording with the basement door open! I even programmed a "bird squawk" patch into my PolySix which I'd bemuse and confuse the birds with when they'd hop in.

Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2021, 04:29:46 PM »
My early days as a basement synth teen....

Yikes, does that bring back memories.  I was once such a creature, too, ANT.
"Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

- Henry David Thoreau

The Musical Synthesizer YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChLGwGiRVs7rlZXnOG9_mUw

The Musical Synthesizer Blog: https://themusicalsynthesizer.wordpress.com

Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2021, 11:47:18 PM »
My early days as a basement synth teen....

Yikes, does that bring back memories.  I was once such a creature, too, ANT.

I'm leaving Berlin, settling down on my wife's family farm. My studio is in the old office room just now, but I covet the full-size basement! Concrete walls, acoustic tiling on the ceiling - it's got quite a nice sound - a bit dead but not dull with just a slight touch of Something. Plus, there's room for alllllll my synths AND drum kit, piano etc. Lovely view from the window and enough natural light to keep me sane. But... at the moment, there are two cats, a washer and dryer and a large storage freezer that take up space and give the basement purpose. Besides my own teenage basement, I've worked in a number of basement studios over the years... there's something about being underground, maybe...!

Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2021, 07:32:31 AM »
But... at the moment, there are two cats, a washer and dryer and a large storage freezer that take up space and give the basement purpose.

No problem.  That's what backyards are for.   ::)
"Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

- Henry David Thoreau

The Musical Synthesizer YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChLGwGiRVs7rlZXnOG9_mUw

The Musical Synthesizer Blog: https://themusicalsynthesizer.wordpress.com

Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2021, 08:02:35 AM »
But... at the moment, there are two cats, a washer and dryer and a large storage freezer that take up space and give the basement purpose.

No problem.  That's what backyards are for.   ::)

Well, we're on a farm - there isn't really a backyard, there's just... farm!

But there ARE other basements ( I still feel like the new kid on the block and when my wife says something about "the basement," I always have to ask, "Which one?" Anyway, there is talk of fixing up one of the dirt-floored basements and moving appliances into it, with an eye on turning my coveted dungeon into a proper rock room. I promise it will have an "organic" sound!

dsetto

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Re: What does an "organic" sound mean to you?
« Reply #14 on: October 01, 2021, 09:04:58 AM »
Good conversation. My oblique thoughts .

Organic, related to life. Versus inorganic, not of life.

Organic:
Has a progression that can be intuited. Even if subtle, and unknown. And this progression travels with evolution. Resulting from evolution, a thing once not evoking organic may now do so.

Inorganic:
Inexplicable abutments. Repetitive with no variation.

Organic observation of inorganic imparts organic to the inorganic.

Organic incorporation of inorganic is organic. Inorganic consumption of organic returns inorganic.

Surely a common engine.