Monday 21 December 2009

Wavetable Sound Effects 0v03 - Update!

After getting my head around some of the features of Max again (like having to make sure that you use 2000. to indicate a float instead of 2000 which is an integer), I've now updated my Wavetable Sound Effects Max For Live (M4L) instrument to version 0v03. The intermediate 0v02 version was superceded during testing of a different wavetable device that I'm still working on...

This new version has much the same principles behind it, but now allows finer control, and has better LFOs. The new LFOs include a 'Shape' control that samples the waveform and gives a kind of Sample/Hold effect, plus there's now a frequency modulating LFO for each LFO, which extends their usability quite a lot. I also added three new wavetables, so there's lots more sound generating capability. This device is intended to be explored, much as one would do with the analogue synths of old like the EMS VCS3... So feel free to explore.

You can find it on the Max For Live dot Com library site here.

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Sunday 6 December 2009

Max For Live - my first device!

It's been a long time. My invoice for Max 2.01 is dated the 27th of June 1994, from the days when you got a huge ring-binder of information and Max came on floppy disks! I've been a little distracted since...

After a few days of re-orientation, I've now got my first M4L (Max For Live) device in a releasable (usable but not perfect) form. It is a wavetable-based (always loved PPGs, as I've said before) sound effects generator, which isn't something that is exactly mainstream these days. Nothing clever inside: a wavetable scanner, some modulation, and some wavetables which, of course, I made up myself from samples that I originally made for my Korg Electribe S Mark II.

You can find it here ( ), at a web-site that allows those of us who haven't been invited into the beta trial of the official Ableton sharing system.

As with any effects generator, you will need to provide an acoustic environment for it, so add your own preference of spatialization, imaging, echo and reverb. The two slightly misleadingly named wavetables cover grungy sounds (Vox) and sweepy sounds (Sines) - future versions will add some more tables, but there's already plenty of scope for making lots of wierd noises already. As with any sound-generating device, the best sounds come with time, so be prepared to spend some time with it, learning what it does.

But most of all, have fun! This is a free present to you all.

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Wednesday 2 December 2009

Karaoke Concatenated

Ever wished that you could listen to just one line from a karaoke performance, and then jump forwards to the next performer? (Yes, I do realise that this would require either highly efficient stage control, or some sort of super-sized sushi restaurant conveyor belt, but read on!)

Well, this is now what you can do on a promotional web-site that is part of the launch of the new 'Lips Number One Hits' game for the XBox.

Try it out here.

It's interesting to hear a song where each line is sung by different people - you could describe it as a form of hocketing - but it turns karaoke into much more of a spectator sport, and it turns up the fun factor too. So if you are an armchair commentator, then it lets you significantly increase the frequency of informed comment. Unfortunately the video-booth is no longer touring the United Kingdom, so you've missed your chance to be featured singing one line of Lily Allen's 'The Fear'.

The title of this post is also interesting: quite a tongue-twister!

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Sunday 22 November 2009

Max and Live: Aptly Named!

It isn't often that big things happen in music technology these days. The market has been pretty mature for some time, and apart from refinements, it has been pretty quiet - as have I! This isn't a coincidence - I stopped doing synthesizer and sequencer reviews when I figured that we were at more or less the peak of technological development, and it has been quiet ever since - just gradual minor improvements and the 'things discovered/invented ages ago finally becoming possible/affordable because of increases in processing power' effect.

So it is really good to be alive and present at something truly huge: Max for Live.

Why is this a momentous event? Because it is the first time that what I call host software, and others call DAWs or sequencers, has changed the way that it fundamentally works. Up until now, the sequencing/audio software that acts as a host for audio/instrument/processing plug-ins (VST, AU, etc) has not allowed you to do anything much with how the hosted plug-ins have worked internally, or how they have integrated into the host - the only route has been to write your own plug-ins or your own host software ( or go down the Reaktor route). But Max for Live changes that, forever.

I'm expecting wonderful things to come out of this...

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Tuesday 10 November 2009

Pure Magic-netik!

I've enjoyed a full subscription to the excellent PureMagnetik website for the past year, and I have to say that it has been completely worth the money. The quality of the samples, sounds, instruments, effects and racks in the down-loadable Micropaks has been uniformly superb, and I thoroughly recommend it for anyone who uses Ableton Live, Kontakt or Logic.

So it gets my coveted 'Thoroughly Recommended' award, and would qualify for the rare and fabulous 'extra' star, if it weren't for one glitch in an otherwise faultless performance:

I had a problem with one of the 'Amp' racks in the 'Model C' (Hohner Clavinet) micropak, where I got no sound at all from it. I posted a message on the support forum (The Board) but got no replies at all, so I'm not entirely happy with the support, but then this is the first time I've needed it!

For the next year, I'm going to make some samples, sounds, etc. of my own for Live, so watch this space!

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Wednesday 30 September 2009

Back from the Future?

On the 17th of September, my son came in from an evening appointment all flustered. (What follows is pure tech-movie-geek stuff almost totally distanced from music or sound synthesis, so you have been warned!)

"We've just seen a DeLorean!" he exclaimed.

Apparently he had been in a car with some mates on the way home, and going around a roundabout a car had pulled onto the roundabout ahead of them from the left. One of them noticed that it looked unusual, and my son got his iPhone out. They didn't get very close, and had to turn off at the next roundabout, but my son did get some shaky pictures of what seems to be a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car...

Trying to take photos in a car which is attempting to catch up with an albeit legendarily allegedly slow sports car is never easy, and the photos go some way to proving this!

Of course, if this was CSI-world, then we would be able to digitally 'enhance' the photos, get the numberplate, see the driver's face, extract a 3D model, notice that the front left tyre was slightly deflated, etc. Unfortunately...

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Monday 31 August 2009

Waveform explorations...

Waveforms are often used as visual metaphors for sound. In actuality, the shape of the waveform is a poor representation because you can only see the top 30 dB of the harmonic content - the rest is hidden in the thickness of the line that is used to draw the waveform and other difficulties of trying to represent a large dynamic range in a medium that has only a tiny dynamic range (a waveform diagram). But the metaphor is useful, and as long as the sound is the important thing, then crude waveform diagrams are acceptable as symbols.

The Wave, designed by Wolfgang Palm, was PPG's...Image via Wikipedia

Possibly the most interesting use of sounds that were presented as waveforms was in the early 1980s, when German synthesizer pioneer Wolfgang Palm and his company, PPG (Palm Products GmbH) produced a series of leading-edge 'wavetable' synthesizers that used digital techniques at a time when analogue was king and Yamaha's DX series of FM synthesizers were being developed in Japan. Digital synthesis in a popular and affordable form is often credited as appearing with the DX7, but PPG's 'Wave' series of wavetable synthesizers used (for the time) sophisticated digital sound generation with analogue filtering and enveloping. By changing rapidly from one waveform to another - called sweeping' through a table of waveforms (a wavetable) - the sound generation produced much more complex and evolving sounds than more conventional synthesizers of the time with sine, square, sawtooth and triangle waveforms. I was hooked, and I've been a champion of wavetables ever since, although I also have weaknesses for FM and additive synthesis too, and I'm very confortable with subtractive synthesis.

So when I heard that a new Live Pack was available for Ableton Live, that provided lots of waveform samples and used Live's Instrument Racks and Simpler sample replay engine to produce wavetable-like sounds, then I downloaded the demo, auditioned the sounds, and liked what I heard. Very soon afterwards, I bought the complete set: Waveforming, from MESA+ (and not to be confused with the Dutch Nanotechnology research institute).

Waveforming provides 66 multi-sampled wave-samples, 270 Instrument Racks (plus Simpler Presets) as well as a few drum kits, sound effects, and sample songs (provided as Live Sets, so you caan delve into them and see exactly how the sounds are used in context!).

The sounds cover a wide range, and fall into very few of the classic wavetable cliche traps. I was very impressed with the breadth of sounds, and their usability - I was able to find timbres to fill all the niches I wanted, and overall the sounds seemed fresh and very usable (as well as offering lots of customisation options through macro controls, and lots of room for making new sounds by using the supplied samples). Of course, sound is very much a personal thing, and so these are my own subjective opinions, but I think I'm going to use the Waveforming sounds a lot!

Thoroughly recommended - try out the demo and see if your ears like it too!

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Monday 17 August 2009

SS&S III Glossary

The glossary from the first and second editions of my book, Sound Synthesis and Sampling, is now available online - at least partially. I am still adding entries, and expect to be finished soon. Then there are some graphics to be finalized. Until then, I thought that you might like to get an advance view before anyone else.

The SS&S III Glossary is at:

Sunday 2 August 2009

SY99 Floppy Drive Replacement Update

I've just updated the section of my web-site where I document my experiences with the SY99 floppy disk. New, better-quality pictures, tables, lots of links, and a lot of information. A veritable SY99 floppy-fest, which may also be useful to SY77 and V-50 owners.

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Friday 19 June 2009

Theorbo, Chittarone, etc

A man playing a lute, painted by Jan Kupetzky, ca.Image via Wikipedia

Music from the 1600s is one of my favourite areas. Improvisation as found in Divisions and similar 'Medieval Jazz' (not my favourite term) is fascinating, particularly because it shows that there's nothing new, and that virtuosity has long been a good selling point.

Synthesizing real instruments can be tricky, but rewarding. But finding the right source material can be difficult. So I was very pleased to stumble across a very nice piece by Johann Kapsberger when it was played on Classic FM, the UK classical music FM radio station. Following up the air-play, I found this web-site:

which contains a wealth of information on players, lutes and their cousin instruments like the theorbo, chittarone, etc. I do love the names of old instruments!

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Saturday 16 May 2009

The other side...

There are two types of blog: words and pictures.

I already have a 'words' blog ( ), and I realized that I needed one which had more pictures, more media, more music, and more synthesis in it.

So here it is! Welcome to the Other side.