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Share your techniques for expressive and playable patch design
Old 16th September 2012
  #1
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🎧 10 years
Share your techniques for expressive and playable patch design

So I've been dedicating a great deal more time to patch design lately. Generally, two to three nights a week solely dedicated to patch programming. And I say night, because there's something really deeply satisfying about a night in with the headphones on, just getting happily absorbed into programming new sounds, whilst sipping on some herbal tea.

I'm at the point where I'm getting some fairly playable sounds, but I am interested in making them more natural and expressive.

I know the basics like velocity affecting volume, or LFO speed or amount, filter frequency, etc. I have not really made much use of aftertouch, or expression pedals or breath controllers, etc.

So that said, I started this thread in the hopes that you guys would like to share your ideas and techniques to make patches more natural, expressive, playable and dynamic. Please feel free to post common techniques, or wacky convoluted modulation routings.

Hardware, software, analog, digital, with effects, without. Any all all is welcome. I'd actually love to hear from the modular enthusiasts out there as I'm certain you guys have got some funky things happening.

Let's discuss

frank
Old 16th September 2012
  #2
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
I would recommend everybody to read the 4 part series from phisequence about "Creating Better Patches". Though it covers only Reason specific devices a lot of those parameters are available on other synths and modular systems too. And he covers a lot of the basic stuff as well as the more advanced. Really a great inspirational source for every serious patch designer.

Creating Better Patches (Part 1)

Creating Better Patches (Part 2)

Creating Better Patches (Part 3)

Creating Better Patches (Part 4)

Cheers,
Sebastian
Old 16th September 2012
  #3
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adydub's Avatar
 
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For 'playable' poly sounds, I find that routing velocity to EG intensity often gives nicer results than routing directly to cutoff and amplitude. Even better if the synth allows you to route velocity to envelope speed - slow attacks for soft playing, faster attack as you play harder.
Old 16th September 2012
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frankthefunky1 ➡️
more natural and expressive.
Learn to play an actual instrument heh

For me this need to make synth sounds "more natural and expressive" is sort of an oxymoron - because i use synths in the first place to get sounds i can't get from other instruments.

And i'd still say that the dynamics of most traditional instruments simply are greater than that of any synth.
Even something as simple as volume where you basically have 127 steps on a synth and quite a few more on any given accoustic instrument to the small pitch and tonal changes that occur when playing, both voluntary and involuntarily.


But my definition of "playable" synth patches can be anything - from the very basics described (i.e. velocity to cutoff/volume) to something like having crossmod on the pitchbender, allowing you to "play" the wildly different textures you can get if you give one osc a two or three octave bend, or as in one patch i have on one of my synths, having aftertouch bending the pitch down by a semitone. (For that you need a very responsive keyboard though).
Old 16th September 2012
  #5
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A few routings I like:

- Aftertouch controlling vibrato (more 'natural' feel than using modwheel)
- Modwheel controlling cutoff env amount.
- In sync patches, aftertouch or modwheel to slave osc pitch.
- Velocity to pitch envelope amount (also slave pitch in sync patches).
- Velocity to envelope attack - negative mapping so that playing harder makes the envelope attack more snappy.
- Velocity to envelope decay. Press harder for longer decay/release times.
- Small amount of random/noise to pan, amount controlled by velocity.
- Squarewave LFO to pan with amount/speed controlled by modwheel.

Last edited by jarlywarly; 16th September 2012 at 03:33 PM.. Reason: typo
Old 16th September 2012
  #6
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Well I for one consider the synth " an actual instrument " that I am indeed learning to play, and program ! to be expressive by its timbre being modifiable in response to my articulation , both with traditional keyboard techniques including pedals, and modern keyboard techniques such as pitchwheel , mod wheel, knobs,faders etc.

I assume Grumph's pseudo pedantry was more directed at " natural " than " expressive " , but understood the OP to be refering to playing and articulation, not timbre of sound . However synthetic the sound , it's " natural" if the performer wants realtime control !
Old 16th September 2012
  #7
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Grump likes to carry on about his ill conceived notions on synthesizers

Try FMing an osc with velocity contolled envelopes to controll the amount of FM

Sent from my DROIDX
Old 16th September 2012 | Show parent
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rust Creep ➡️
Grump likes to carry on about his ill conceived notions on synthesizers
Of course - always worthwhile to discuss something, no? heh

But at least i also gave some examples of what i'd consider programming for expressive synth playing.
I am not all argumentative all of the time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by subhertz ➡️

I assume Grumph's pseudo pedantry was more directed at " natural "
It was indeed - again, applying synth specific techniques for expression is just what i think "the synth as an instrument" is all about.
And should come naturally to synthesists.

But usually when using the term "natural" in discussing synths it means how well it can reproduce a given accoustic instrument - and, well, instruments are still better at sounding "natural".
Old 16th September 2012
  #9
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Are pianos " natural " ? or violins ?

Maybe I 'm visiting the wrong parks ,
or the early morning joggers have already harvested the naturally occurring crop of Steinways and the Stradavariases.
damn.



( hey, this pedantry is fun ! )
Old 16th September 2012 | Show parent
  #10
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by jarlywarly ➡️
A few routings I like:

- Aftertouch controlling vibrato (more 'natural' feel than using modwheel)
- Modwheel controlling cutoff env amount.
- In sync patches, aftertouch or modwheel to slave osc pitch.
- Velocity to pitch envelope amount (also slave pitch in sync patches).
- Velocity to envelope attack - negative mapping so that playing harder makes the envelope attack more snappy.
- Velocity to envelope decay. Press harder for longer decay/release times.
- Small amount of random/noise to pan, amount controlled by velocity.
- Squarewave LFO to pan with amount/speed controlled by modwheel.
Awesome. Thanks for this. Have to check out the noise to pan and aftertouch to slave thingy. I will post mine tomorrow when I am at home.

Cheers,

Sebastian
Old 16th September 2012 | Show parent
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by subhertz ➡️
Are pianos " natural " ? or violins ?
Their sound producing capabilities are.

There isn't much that is natural about a voltage controlled saw wave that is sent through a filter and an amplifier - and then another amplifier and a speaker.

There is even less that is natural about a bunch of ones and zeros that happen to yield some form of sound because an engineer once found that these numbers can represent sounds in giant calculators.
Old 17th September 2012
  #12
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They all vibrate air

Define natural

Sent from my DROIDX
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rust Creep ➡️
Define natural
Merriam Webster lists 15 meanings of the word
This is number 10 b on the list.
b : existing in or produced by nature


The free dictionary has this on top of its list:
1. Present in or produced by nature


Quote:
They all vibrate air
Oh no they don't. Electronic instruments do not vibrate air heh

A string hit by a hammer vibrates air, so does a string excited into vibration by a bow - or vibrating weeds in windtunnels as well.

Admittedly, instruments are manmade - but the principles behind their sound generation are entirely natural.

Electrons moving in circuits don't vibrate air* - and binaries in a calculator much less so.

Unless humans want them to, by introducing a fully artificial system that translates electrical current or binaries into sound.

The sound generation process is in its entirety artificial, i.e. not present in nature, from which it follows that it is not natural


* Well, ok, there is always generator hum and squealing capacitors heh
Old 17th September 2012
  #14
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What in nature sounds like wound and tensioned metal getting struck inside a resonant chamber?

According to you as soon as you mic up and amplify something then project the sound through a speaker it is no longer natural

Synthesizers are a means of creating any sound imaginable... ie to mimic the sound of a double reed instrument you would have to recreate the band passed response.. using a band pass filter

Seems like you're making excuses for making static, uninspired, sounds, without movement... because you have this bad idea that synthesizers should only sound like a dial up modem

Sent from my DROIDX
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rust Creep ➡️
What in nature sounds like wound and tensioned metal getting struck inside a resonant chamber?

According to you as soon as you mic up and amplify something then project the sound through a speaker it is no longer natural

Synthesizers are a means of creating any sound imaginable... ie to mimic the sound of a double reed instrument you would have to recreate the band passed response.. using a band pass filter

Seems like you're making excuses for making static, uninspired, sounds, without movement... because you have this bad idea that synthesizers should only sound like a dial up modem

Sent from my DROIDX
There is a layer of abstraction that you seem to miss.

Namely that the principles of sound generation are natural in accoustic instruments.

They are entirely artificial in any sort of purely electronic instruments.
I.e. unnatural.
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grumphh ➡️
Their sound producing capabilities are.

There isn't much that is natural about a voltage controlled saw wave that is sent through a filter and an amplifier - and then another amplifier and a speaker.

There is even less that is natural about a bunch of ones and zeros that happen to yield some form of sound because an engineer once found that these numbers can represent sounds in giant calculators.
Some of my favourite quotes:

"People say that a synthesizer is a machine, not a natural sound. Everything is natural. The first instrument built - a flute or maybe a tom-tom - was a machine to create sound. Acoustical conventional instruments, like a guitar, are fantastic, but they are restricted and always give the same sort of sound."

"What is a horn or trombone? It is an instrument or a machine that is made to produce a certain sound wave with certain harmonics in a certain range. Now, this sound can be produced by blowing into one instrument, scratching another, or by electronics. You´re talking in each case about similar areas of sound. These are all sounds that are in nature anyway. We don´t invent any new sounds. The trombone sound exists in nature and to capture that sound from nature in the past, the only thing we could do was to produce a trombone. Now, to change or extend that sound, we build synthesizers. But even though the instruments are different, we are still talking about the same areas of sound, the same family. You can distor them or do whatever you like, but you´re talking about the same given law, the first law of our acoustic system."

"It (synthesizer) doesn't replace acoustic instruments; it can do different things and can extend things. But, of course, during the first years of the synthesizer, they started making silly weird sounds, they played classical music backwards - all that was really marketing. Synthesizers aren't for that; they're to somehow be closer to nature. Although people may think 'closer to nature' means an acoustic instrument, I don't believe that. It's as close to nature as you can be. It doesn't matter what instrument you use. People say synthesizer music is very cold. But that's not the synthesizer; well, it's partly the synthesizer if it's a bad instrument but mainly it's the musician behind it. The difference is that with acoustic instruments the player has the ability to put in this precious thing we call soul. But that's what I'm trying to do with synthesizers."
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogGuy ➡️
Some of my favourite quotes:
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grumphh ➡️
Yep yep... every sound we can hear is already in nature, regardless of the source.

Let me put it in this way: The soundwaves that are transmitted thru the air, you can't do that "mechanically", since the air itself is natural.


Anyway, into the topic. Good points given here. The only feature that most of the synthesizers lacks, is being able to control speed of the LFO via velocity and/or aftertouch. I really miss this feature since with it you can create very natural expressions in similar way as violin player can control the vibrato speed and not only the depth of the vibrato.
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogGuy ➡️

Let me put it in this way: The soundwaves that are transmitted thru the air, you can't do that "mechanically", since the air itself is natural.
Wow. Logic, taken to its extreme.

Plastic trash in the oceans is natural, because the water it floats in is natural.

I salute you for making the least amount of sense in any post in this month heh
Old 17th September 2012
  #20
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Eh, the word "natural" just messes up the discussion; pianos don't grow on trees. Likewise, "organic" messes up the discussion as well, synthesizers are mass-produced artificial things and if you tried to eat 'm you'd die from lead poisoning.

The fact that synths need speakers to produce sound is a good point, and it's the same thing that allows emulation in the first place, because we don't pay as much attention to the feeling of the sliders as long as it requires about the same force. Knobs that are harder to turn = good, that means the device's newer and not as worn.

To me, discussing whether digital is more removed seems sort of pointless if we're talking about how far you're removed from the sound source; in both cases a synthesizer will not react differently because the act is reduced to closing a circuit, and that's it. In that way, humans are replaceable by sufficiently advanced sequencers - we can both "talk" the same protocol, which is a control voltage and a gate signal.

So, let's not use those terms; instead, use "expressive like acoustic instruments", because that's the goal (in fact, it's commendable that the thread title keeps it even more neutral).

As already said, holding your finger this or that way influences the sound, even if it's minutely and unintentional; that's what you deal with when you touch the actual parts that make the sound. With a piano, it's already more remote, because all that counts is the velocity of the hammer when it strikes the string.

Since you can not control the exact amount of force hitting the driver (but you can get in the ballpark) you have minute variations - while not random, they are still present. A linear control on velocity is a simple option to make something more expressive, but not present in acoustic instruments; graph a line between force and timbre and I think you get different situations for different instruments (like overblowing a flute, for instance; it just doesn't keep getting louder when you apply more pressure). In between there might be some kind of discontinuity which does not match either the regular pressure/overblown pressure timbre, so you have to fake this otherwise.

If the goal is just expression; multitimbrality and layering are lost arts. Instead of routing velocity directly to a single instance of a synthesizer, it gets more fun when you create such a discontinuity so that up to velocity 100 you get sound A and with velocity 101 and greater, you get sound A*. While this either requires a Combinator-like setup or DAW-supported MIDI filtering doesn't matter; it's already beyond the "route velocity to X" trick and thus worth exploring.
Old 17th September 2012
  #21
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Ghost notes are supernatural

So don't use those.
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer ➡️
"expressive like acoustic instruments"
Why like accoustic instruments?
Why not "expressive in a way that is unique to electronic instruments"?

Do we have to stay in the paradigm established for accoustic instruments when we have totally different options for expressiveness at our fingertips?
Old 17th September 2012
  #23
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Because that's the most common frame of reference we have.
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer ➡️
Because that's the most common frame of reference we have.
Of course.

I just still find it futile to search for a type of expressiveness in a device that simply does have fundamentally different characteristics than the device it intends to emulate.

To each their own, of course - but still ...
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #25
ozy
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Quote:
Originally Posted by subhertz ➡️
Are pianos " natural " ?
I never checked,

but I strongly suspect that a grand piano has indeed more discrete assembled industrially produced parts than the average synthesizer

Hence, its sound is nowhere "natural". It's been DESIGNED.
Old 17th September 2012
  #26
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For using ring modulation that is useful across the keyboard use two osc set either 3,5 or 7 octaves apart with keyboard/cv tracking.. use the ring mod'd output to modulate different things like the pitch of the osc that you route to the filter.. or the filter or pulse with... anything really... controlling the amt of md with an envelope so you have more when the filter is more open and less mod when closing with legato envelopes is fun too

Sent from my DROIDX
Old 18th September 2012
  #27
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Fantastic responses guys! The thread did take an unexpected yet interesting direction change along the way LOL

Thanks for all the ideas. I haven't had the opportunity to try everything yet, but so far I'm really liking the velocity to envelope attack. Pretty funky. Really gives a lead some nice variation. I'm away from my synths at the moment so I will really get down and into it tomorrow night.

Your responses are exactly what I was hoping for. Thanks again.

frank
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