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PC SETUPS - SYNTH-BASED STYLES

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Author: admin
Date: 19-Apr-99

[dancetech database recompiled in 1999 - some articles listed April '99 are older]


Ok... We looked at a couple of softwares for creating sample & loop based music's or remixing compiling etc in the: 'PC SETUPS - LOOP-BASED STYLES' article..... S/W's like that can produce many forms of music, from hip-hop, various loop-based house or garage musics, to jungle, drum 'n' bass etc... But there are other styles that rely heavily on originaly created musics made by programming/playing patterns and parts on synths, the second skill of these styles is the manipulation of the synths & sound sources to create original sounds or passages....

To work with synths, drum-boxes & samples tho, we're getting into the world of midi, which is way more complicated, and frankly, creating music in styles where synths are the rulerz can be more expensive.... So... Lets say you're into techno or trance styles... harder multi-layered stuff... You CAN start cheap and get great results... If it stays with you for a lifetime, then you can end up spending thousands on gear, alienate all the neighbours, get divorced, and end up a recluse... er...




GET WITH THOSE... BEAR NECCESSITIES.. THOSE SIMPLE... ETC...

Ok... THE basic & prime original setup for these styles is/was .... a sampler... a hardware sequencer, (to record & play back note-data to trigger the synths, drums, sampler etc).... one or two synths and a small mixer... add to that a delay or multi-fx unit, and a few guitar fx pedals like distortion or whah-whah (a sweep-filter)... and you're off....

You'd create a sequenced drum beat using samples, bang out a bassline loop from the SH or whatever synth, loop it in the sampler, overlay breakbeats or other patterns in the sampler, create fixed sub-patterns on the Synth by editing different sounds... sample those too, loop them.... create a linear arrangement of all the loops patterns & drums over however minutes, then add over the top various patterns direct from the old analog synth which is clocked to the midi/ sampler backing while all the backing plays...

That final layer, is the layer that is manipulated over time, manually, by-hand... by actually twiddling the synth's controls as it plays along clocked live to the rest of the song... So... the short bar-based patterns drop in and out, while the 'live' synth does it's thing over the mix working in sympathy with any crescendo's, breaks etc.... That is why any old analog units which had built-in analog sequencers/arpeggiators OR had midi triggering ability became the dance classics for these styles in most cases... simply because, it WAS possible to have them play robotic trance-like patterns via midi that you couldn't possibly play manually by hand... AND/or... it WAS possible to clock that on-board analog sequencer to a midi clock by means of a cheap clock-converter box....AND.. it was possible to sweep the sound & fiddle with the sound as the unit played back to create fx, tension & wild evolving sounds...



Now again, with these styles, the PC can be implemented to great effect to help you start out to create styles like that on a budget....






All the decent s/w sequencers you need to trigger synths & samplers etc nowadays come with audio tracks, so the sequencer s/w itself can act as a sampler in the context of sample-playing.... Of these sequencer s/w's, Cakewalk & Logic are the best at EASILY & QUICKLY creating drum patterns on the audio-tracks made from small drum-sound single-shot samples... It is very simple to enlarge the audio track edit window to the size of a bar or two of music, then drag & drop in a kik drum on every beat, and layer a hi-hat pattern over the top either as a sample loop or even by adding in individual hi-hat samples to create your own unique pattern... yup... and with these two sequencers, it is SIMPLE & QUICK to then adjust the volume of EACH drum hit within the pattern essential to give feel & a groove to the pattern..... Once you have the desired pattern made of say 2 bars length from individual drum-samples, simply re-mix the 2 bars of those drum-sound tracks down to a combined single new stereo or mono audio-file loop, and then use that to add-in over the track where needed... Mixing the individual parts down to a single file helps the sequencer to run smooth, and places less strain on the PC...

OK.... We have the ability to make drum patterns from loops &/or samples, as well as using the audio tracks for any other sounds or samples... from crickets chirping on a track intro, to vocal samples, ethnic instrument or vocal passages, whatever... now we need to add some synth sounds....

OPTIONS OPTIONS OPTIONS

Ok... Synths... with a pc, we can go for software synths, outboard hardware synths, or synth/samplers built into soundcards... We'll leave outboard hardware synths for another day as it is a huge subject... Lets look at the soundcard & s/w options...




SOFTWARE SYNTHS

Well.... At the moment in the world of dance hardware synths for these styles it's all about 'Analog modelling' synths.. synths that imitate analog classics with s/w stored inside the synth on a rom-chip.... well, obviously, the same sort of s/w can reside inside a PC... in fact, companies like Waldorf, famed for their hardware synths, do in fact make s/w synths & s/w filters etc to work inside various other manufacturers' s/w's as accessories or featured sound-generating devices...

All these s/w's are midi controllable or clockable with their own internal sequencer, and/or playable via midi notes from the sequencer.... If you want to use a main sequencer with audio tracks & midi... AND run say 2 clocked s/w synths in real-time simultaneously, as well as some Direct-x FX like delay etc, you'll need to really have a P2 machine minimum..... But... I can easily run Logic-Audio and one small s/w synth like Rebirth or VAZ in sync on an P200-MMX machine... PC's like that now can be had new for as little as 250-300 quid without a screen... whatever... get plenty of ram, 128Mb is a good figure to have, then yer ready to go !!...

Lets look at a few s/w synths....







REBIRTH
Rebirth probably needs no introduction... it will do 909 & 808 drums, although I don't think the shuffle is up to any swing-feel music, so don't get it expecting to create garage drum patterns... Rebirth is designed to bang out 4/4 styles... you get an 808, and a couple of TB-303 imitators... so rebirth is very good to get drums, and 303 sounds...but nothing else... You can hear Rebirth on loads of tracks when you go clubbing if you know it's tell-tale signs....


RUBBERDUCK


Heh heh... great name huh?... It's a wicked 303 imitator, WAY cheaper than Rebirth, and to my mind capable of being way more brutal that rebirth... You can also choose a greater variety of oscillator wave-shapes than Rebirth to create a bigger more interesting selection of sounds.....great software...


VAZ


This is ABSO-LUTE-LY fucking awesome s/w !!.... VAZ is a small but incredibly efficient synth with a massive variety of sounds... It has it's own built-in sequencer which due to it's design allows you to create brilliant patterns where super-fast oscillator controller-source variations are needed... you gotta try it out... VAZ is very good at creating everything from fat subs to metallic ringing sounds... and again.... VERY cheap...VAZ & RubberDuck together cost less than 1/2 the price of Rebirth & get you a WAY bigger palette of sounds....


GENERATOR


This ones a biggy !... all the others above will run in sync to a sequencer with a reasonable amount of audio happily on an old P200 with 64Mb min' ram... They are all single part, monoponic synths... But Generator is a 16 part multi-timbrel, polyphonic synth s/w !!..... It's a monster, and I was WELL surprised at the quality of this s/w...
More expensive at 250 ish ($), it WILL provide up to 16 synth parts all in real-time.. BUT... you're gonna need a bigger P2 or P3 machine, well rammed up to get it to work without staggering.... This s/w is WELL up the sound-quality of modern 'dance' synths like the Novation Korg or Roland units... It is a 'Modular' synth, meaning you choose which bits are included from a palette of synth parts, then bolt it together in s/w to create different types of sounds....So... Yes, you can run one small basic generator synth with your sequencer on say a 200MMX, (I can), but to use bigger more complexed synth assembly's, and/or more than one synth, like maybe 4 or 5 different ones all in real-time with the sequencer s/w... yuo need a fast machine....




All these synths allow you to stream the final pattern/s you create to a stereo audio file, either as seperate patterns, or as a whole song-length... So patterns/parts can be simply saved to disk and then opened onto the sequencer's audio tracks, allowing you to create many parts from a single s/w synth...




There are many other s/w synths, and some great s/w drum boxes too... I'll review some at a later date as there is quite a backlog to add-in to the site now the new site-coding is finished......

The other option to get synth compositions within the pc... is Soundcard synths.... in fact, you can also mix'n'match s/w & soundcard synths along with your sequencer audio-tracks to build a versatile system......










SYNTH SOUNDCARDS


The other option is to go for a synth soundcard.... These have been around for a while, and are getting better & more sophisticated all the time.... Your midi composition triggers these synth-chips on the cards to provide your synth sounds... Again... Don't think these cards are any less quality that some hardware synths on the market... after all, open up one of those synths, and the actual sounds they play are coming from the same sorta chips... sometimes from EXACTLY the same chips like the XG sounds found in the CS1X or MU units.... Here's a few contenders....

YAMAHA DB50XG/SW60
The DB50 is a daughterboard that clips to an existing soundcard with a compatible socket, like say a cheap SoundBlaster-16...The SW60 is the stand-alone card equivilent... I CANNOT emphasise enuff the quality of these cards, IF you access the 'hidden' layers of sound-waves... These waves are on the cards' synth-chip... and if you use an editing s/w, you can access those sounds to create suprisingly good synth sounds from fat-as-fuck Moog'y basses to screaming hi-end sounds...



The best Editor I know is called XG-300... it comes with a whole truck-load of ready-to-go Sound-Banks which are simply assignable to midi-channels... Also it is a snip to edit or create new sounds cos as you can see from the image above, the s/w opens up to look like an old analog synth front-panel, with wooden end-cheeks even !!... and control knobs... You can create surprisingly good stuff with say Cakewalk or Logic, some samples & loops, and a Yamaha XG card synth... Check out the demo's I did at the website to hear it in action....


YAMAHA SW1000XG
Another XG... Bigger, with loads more sounds... over 40 drum kits etc... but whether it is btter??.... hmmm... I tend to go with simple synth sounds when I think of club-sounds... by that I mean not super-complexed layered sounds like you'd get in soundtrack or advertising or ambient musics.... But a powerful synth... all I can say is, it's advancements over the cheaper models may not gain you anything in a Dance context.....


TERRATEC EWS
These have been around for a while, they feature a digital wave synth on a chip, and also a sampler as well as some dsp on-baord fx... the sampler can go up to 64mb of standard simms ram.... you get a sample editing s/w to arrange & assign your samples on-screen, and further s/w for routing the combination of samples, synth & hard-disk audio out via it's 6 available outputs; (3 stereo pairs, one pair is s/pdif dgital)....

Opinions about this card are mixed...The basic synth chip aint all that, it's a standard Guillemot chip licenced on many other cards such as the HoonTech or the MaxiSound (made by Guiilemot)... you can go from the cheapest EWS with the basic digital synth & sampler, right up to a special system package which features an additional 2 independant Waldorf Microwave synths in a special drive-bay fitting box.... Yup... 2 fuggin Waldorf Microwaves !!!... and the Waldorf's filters are accessible by the other audio sources if routed !... even incoming audio !!...

To the un-initiated, Waldorf are a German company who are famed for their hardware synths... Their filters are rated as some of the finest available... The Microwave is an awesome synth...Some rate it as the finest digital synth going... So... there is a system you can add-in that'll provide synth & sample sounds... Bare in mind that the sampler is only capable of a maximum sample size of 256k for any single sample within it's maximum 64Mb total ram memory... That 256k is enuff for a short drum loop of one bar say.... but plenty for endless drum samples and other sounds & instruments...longer audio parts can be assigned to sequencer audio-tracks so no worries there... The EWS will also read S1000/100 samples as far as I know.... I have to say, the demo's of this system in action are pretty bloody impressive... I was offered a review unit last year, so i'll take that up soon and give a hands-on report... Check this one out....


CREATIVE-LABS 'SOUNDBLASTER LIVE'
Over-the-top ludicrously crass, yank-styled overkill Ad-copy really fucked up this cards chances of being taken seriously on release by experienced punters... Claims it would give you a 20 grand Hollywood quality sound-system in your PC, was something the product might find...er... tough to live up to ???... Bt regardless... The SB 'LIVE' is very cheap at about 130 squids, gives you a synth of not great quality & loads samples into system ram, (up to 32mb I think)... Pisstaking aside, it's an option to look at....

Since & before Emu merged with Creative, Emu have supplied the samples these cards utilise, which are known as 'SoundFonts'.... It's a meaningless name for samples... so with the renewed vigour of the merger, Emu are providing a whole load more fonts for the SBLIE based on their massive excellent sample library.... I never tried this card, so get a good demo before parting with your wedge.. also check out the audio-examples at Creative's website... the demo's are impressive for the price... and there are lots of soundfonts out there to be had... For example, one bunch of guys is knocking out a cdrom featuring a shitload of sounds from the old Korg MS20 synth, an analog classic...


EMU APS
The APS (Audio Production Studio) is Emu's first venture into the PC market since they merged with the PC multi-media giant Creative-Labs.... Emu are famed for their super-fat samplers and groovy synths... I've never tried the APS, but Emu usually make good product, and these APS units allow sampling & you can get a range of about 12 CD roms so far with a massive library of Emu sounds ready to load & edit featuring sounds from great Emu synths like the Vintage-Keys, which is an analog-fest of old synths... You can also create your own samples so it's a synth & sampler, and it has FX...
The APS, like the full-blown EWS/Waldorf system from Terratec, is not cheap... We're looking at around 700-800 squids for either... BUT.... these soundcard/sampler/synth units place NO demands on your PC system like s/w synths do...


CREAMWARE PULSAR
Pulsar is a very interesting system... It has analog in/out & digital s/pdif, as well as the ability to plug-in either an in or out (or both) ADAT complient interface to get up to 8 analog inputs & outputs... That is the connector side... The sound-creating side is what we are interested in... and PULSAR is different...

Pulsar has a sample player built in.. so, like the others, it can work as a sampler... Where it differs, is that the others have the synth sound-waves permenantly fixed into the onboard rom chips... all you can do is edit the sounds & create & save new sounds from that fixed synth chip... The PULSAR allows 3rd party developers to write s/w synths to reside within it's onboard SHARC dsp chips... The system comes with a 32 channel mixer & full fx (again in s/w inside the onboard dsp chips), and a selection of about 5 synths loaded & ready to go... There is an analog synths, an FM synth, a digital sample synth, subtractive & additive synthesis etc... and yup.. Waldorf are there again with a s/w synth you can add-in !!....

The idea looks good on paper... Lots of people developing and sharing new synths & patches etc... I don't see why it can't work, but only time will tell how well it sells, and consequently, how well it is supported in the future... But, regardless of that, it will get you the synth sounds & work as a sampler too and you get full dsp onboard digital mixing with fx, (also handles audio sequencer tracks)... so again, NO strain on the pc is used to work any of it's features... The PULSAR is more expensive again at about 1200 bucks, due to the dsp FX & mixer and it's ability to have up to 8 in's and outs if you add the upgrades...




THE FUTURE ??....
There is the rumoured Korg 'OASYS' system supposed to be coming. I think they showed a preview an Frankfurt this year... The OASYS is the core system programming of analog modelling etc upon which Korg drew for the Z1 & PROPHECY synth sounds etc... The OASYS when released according to Korg, will crush the competition... my guess is that it will basicaly be the Korg 1212-I/O card connectors (Stereo in/out & s/pdif + optional 8 in/out via ADAT interface), with onboard modelling synth ala the Prophesy/Z1 & a digital synth from the Z1 etc... basically a big soundcard & synth system in one... with some dsp mixing & fx too as well as maybe a sample player... y'know... a full system on a card.. that is the way the market is going now, and for that reason I might suggest holding out for a while until the OASYS is released to see how the land lies...

Also, don't be dissapointed if something in the near future comes along better... It is a fast developing market, and personally for example I would predict it wont be long before we see an AKAI sampler on a soundcard... They'd be loony to ignore the market... The way the market is going is definately irreversible... We are heading for a PC or MAC based studio, with all synths samplers mixing & FX inside the pc on dsp chips... The whole lot controlled via a master keyboard, and hardware mixer interfaces to allow hands on physical control with real hardware faders etc driving the dsp s/w mixer via midi controllers... Like the Mackie mixer works to control the s/w mixing with the Pro-Tools system...

I'm not saying I prefer that system, and honestly, to me it isnt the same as a bunch of diverse outboard kit, but from the companies point of view it's a Godsend as they can flog you the same sounds at a fraction of the cost to them as there is no box or controls to provide... just a card with the chips onboard... No different power supplies to worry about, and lower product shipping costs....




FINAL ANALYSIS.....
First up... This aint all the s/w's or synth cards out there... but they are some main contenders... so check out the market, this site & the web etc for ideas.... secondly the option you choose to go with has a few rules....

If you go for the DSP card based systems where the synth processing, FX, (maybe mixing) etc is run by the cards DSP chips, then ONLY the sequencer & any Direct-x Fx are run by the PC's CPU, (central proccessor unit).....

If you go for a total s/w synth setup, then everything is processed by the PC's CPU ... To do that, and get reasonable audio-track rates on the sequencer means a more powerful pc.... A P2 or P3 well rammed-up is needed for smooth operation of say the bigger 'Generator' synth & sequencer + direct-x FX or say 2 or 3 smaller s/w synths with the sequencer & some direct-x FX all running & sync'd in real-time...

So... it'll probably cost you about the same to buy a fast PC & decent stereo soundcard to run the software-only setup with a big s/w synth or multiple s/w synths in realtime, as it would to buy a cheaper pc and the more expensive synth/sampler/soundcard system that places less strain on the PC....

Do remember tho, you CAN get reasonable sequencer audio & FX rates with one smaller s/w synth in sync on a cheap machine like a 200-233 mmx.... running only one s/w synth in sync is not a big problem... Just like running a hardware sampler & only one synth, the s/w synth can be recorded again & again to hard-disk whilst playing different sounds/patterns, and these patterns can be simply loaded onto the sequencers audio tracks to get more patterns/sounds from one s/w synth.....and as mentioned above, you can use a modelling s/w synth for the fluid analog stuff, and back it up with digital sounds from a card as cheap as the excellent DB50XG/SW60.... all in all, a very versatile system to get you off the ground and banging out some toons.... After-all..... it's that encouragement that drives people on to invest in extra hardware, cos it's a snip to add any outboard hardware synth, module or whatever into a system like that, and it just intergrates into the system without a glitch....

Lastly.... bare in mind that if you want to go beyond inputting patterns & parts in Step-Edit, or with a pencil, drawing the notes onto an edit grid... then you'll need something as a master keyboard to 'Play' your stuff into the sequencer..... my first recommendations for that is an old BassStation or something like an old DX21/27/9 etc, or Casio CZ101/1000 etc... cos hey... they are cheap, and with each one you also get a real sound-generating hardware synth to add into your creations.....Alternatively, there are lots of cheap 'Controller' master keyboards out there in the shops....

Oh yes..... There's another ARTICLE listed at Dancetech, called: 'PC SETUPS - LOOP-BASED STYLES'...... Good for stuff like re-mixing, hip-hop, jungle etc... any style where you can create the whole lot with loops and samples... no midi or synths...














COMMENTS FOR:

'PC SETUPS - SYNTH-BASED STYLES'


There are a total:  8  comments posted to this page.


Name:  matt
Email: 
Activity:  part-timer
Date:  19-Jun-99

I've tried looking everywhere to get hold of the XG300 talked about in your article.Maybe you have some links that might be useful to me....

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Name:  Vago
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Website?:  www.fruityloops.com
Activity:  part-timer
Date:  17-Sep-99

Hey !
why isn't there a section on fruityloops, i think they r great and with a few more adjustments it'll be the best !!!

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Name:  Marcus
Email: 
Website?:  http://members.xoom.com/brainchile
Activity:  Hobby-ist
Date:  30-Sep-99

This is great. I'm pretty new to the whole electronic music thing (originally a guitar player) and having guides like this, which give new users like myself an insight into what's going on really helps. You have my eternal gratitude.

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Name:  Pekka Väisänen
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Activity:  Hobby-ist
Date:  05-Nov-99

Check out Audiosimulation's Dreamstation!!!! It kicks Rebirth,Rubberduck and Vaz' ass.

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Name:  maa
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Activity:  part-timer
Date:  08-Feb-01

Hmm... No comments! well. Personally I have'nt tried the pulsar, but supposidly it's wicked. I have a sb-live with the aps drivers. I think for the price you can't really beat it. Out of the software synths I'm using Reaktor, (see generator above). I love the sounds, and think that it must still be the most serious s/w synth. But check your system, if your planning on running a sequencer on the same machine, you should have a powerfull P3 loaded with ram. Still you'll save a bucketload of money comparing with buying a similar h/w based system

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Name:  rob
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Activity:  Hobby-ist
Date:  16-May-01

What About Fruity Loops? and can I sync
the rubberduck and vaz to logic or cubase?

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Name:  nelson
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Activity:  part-timer
Date:  23-Apr-05

i need it for my oun use please

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Last added comment

Name:  sroash
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Website?:  no
Activity:  Professional
Date:  30-Mar-06

download style for pc

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