Recording Synthesizers.... - Gearspace.com
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Recording Synthesizers....
Old 23rd September 2006
Bruce Swedien's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Recording Synthesizers....

I’d like to share something with you that I find absolutely fascinating!

We have also Soundhouses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds, and their generations.

We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent
small sounds as great and deep; likewise great sounds as extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds.

We have certain helps which set to the ear do further the hearing greatly. We have also divers, strange and artificial echos, reflecting the voice many times...and some that give back the voice louder than it came...

We have also the means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.


Interesting isn't it?

This is a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon’s‘New Atlantis’ . He wrote and published this work in 1624. The‘New Atlantis’ was an original work by Sir Francis Bacon predicting what life would be like in a “Utopian” world of the future.

I think that we, in the age of modern music making, have a tendency to think that we, and we alone, are responsible for the original thought and the creation of modern music.

I think this fascinating little quote shows both how much music has developed over the past 350 years and perhaps more interestingly, how little.

How does this line of thinking effect us as Music Recording People?

In much the same way as a painter mixes colors on his palette, a synthesizer has the potential to reproduce nearly any audible sound by combining different sonic elements.

Replication of the sounds of traditional instruments is the most academic application of the synthesizer; it is also the safest and most boring ground for the artist; I think the sythesizer holds far greater fascination for those of us who see it as a means for departing from the traditional, into new and unexplored areas of music and sound.

For the electronic music conceptualist, the synthesizer has the potential for creating thousands of timbres and orchestral combinations never heard before.

To me, in recording the synthesizer, I have found that the direct, virtual sound of a sythesizer plugged directly into a tape recorder, is not very interesting. In fact, I find it more than just a little drab and lifeless. In my work, the synthesizer is frequently used to represent the orchestra, either in part, or the whole orchestral sound. I have found that by adding the drama of acoustical support to the sonic image of the synthesizer, the result is far more satisfying.

I send the sound of the synthesizer out into the studio through loudspeakers, and then mike the room with my B & K omni’s, or similar, in a classic X/Y microphone set-up. Then I combine the resultant acoustical support with the direct outputs of the synthes. By miking the studio, in this manner, I add the early reflections that are present in the acoustics of the room to the sound-field of the synthesizer. These first, or early relections are not generated, in a high-quality manner by any reverb or effects device. These extremely short acoustical reflections make the synthesizers sound much warmer and more musical.

This use of co-incident mics in a classic X/Y configuaration, in an application such as this, gives us a sound-field with the direct sound of the early relections being almost totally phase coherent. The indirect sound is, of course, phase incoherent, giving that beautiful stereo spread. This technique, to my ear, adds a great amount of detail to the texture of a synthesized sound source.

Bruce Swedien
Old 23rd September 2006
Lives for gear
TinderArts's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Very interesting Bruce. I'll be giving that a shot in the new room that I'm working in.

Thanks much my favorite viking!
Old 24th September 2006
Gear Nut
Mike Chav's Avatar
🎧 15 years

Hello Mr Swedien,

I would love to try this, however my room is rather small. (9x12--not rectangluar though....) is there an ideal size room for doing this? If i tried placing the speakers in one room and the mics in another would that defeat the purpose of early reflectiions and micing in stereo since i would be capturing ambient sound?

Loved your book, couldnt put it down!


Mike Chav

Old 25th September 2006
Gear Maniac
Anonymatt's Avatar
🎧 15 years
One of my favorite quotes, thank you Mr. Swedien for recalling it.
Old 26th September 2006
Here for the gear
BoW's Avatar
🎧 15 years
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..

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