Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Yellow Bullis monkeys burning brightly at the zoo.

(there's an obscure one for you...)

A couple of days ago Moog announced an updated version of the computer program you can use to edit their Voyager keyboard based synthesizer. Back in the late 1980s and through most of the 1990s the fashion with music technology – and particularly stuff with keyboards – was to have as little in the way of actual knobs and buttons as possible; and consequently editing the darn things became somewhat tiresome (one reviewer in Sound On Sound magazine compared it to trying to wallpaper a hallway via the letterbox). Eventually users were able to control all the parameters on a synthesizer with pages of “virtual knobs” on a computer screen – when you wiggle the controller with your mouse or whatever, the parameter in the synth is altered.

But that was then, these days most synthesizers have (a) larger screens, which are often touch sensitive, and (b) a large variety of knobs, sliders, ribbon-controllers, infra-red beams and joysticks to play with. The Moog Voyager itself is quite well laden with knobs in particular (here's a photo) So why have software to control it from a computer? Well it’s as much a patch librarian as anything: an easy way to catalogue, store and search for all the sounds you create on the thing (a patch is a term for sounds on a keyboard; I use it because several sounds might be layered to create one patch. I hope that makes sense). But the new Moog software offers something else, and this is what I wanted to get to here: it can use algorithms based on genetics to create a new patch based on two other patches. So, to give an example, you can take a flute and a violin sound and this thing will create a new sound based on elements of the two “parent” sounds. To me, this is quite interesting. Some people had been voicing all kinds of ideas about using algorithms derived from genetics as a basis to generate sounds for a while.

I’m a big fan of synthesizers (and a lot of them are based in computers these days) which have a “random” button. When used this sets every parameter to a randomised value and can either be a big mess, or something quite lovely that you might never have found yourself. I’ve often used it to create my own banks of patches – pressing “random” over and over then saving the patches which I like.

So here is the big idea for the next revolution in synthesizers: you have ten big buttons, when you switch the synthesizer on each of these buttons will correspond to a randomly generated patch. If you (the user) likes one patch particularly, select that button and the synth will generate an additional ten patches based it. If you like several of the patches, select them all and the synth would generate another ten patches using a genetics algorithm with the selected patches as parents.

Obviously there would probably need to be some kind of basic patch editing for tweaking sounds – I’m thinking about 12 knobs here with each of them having one parameter to deal with. There would also be a memory where the user could store the patches. My point is that this would be a really easy keyboard to use. Just an idea…

And now, it’s back to the stuff from yesterday. The vocal recording from Dream On went quite well and I comped (picked the best bits from multiple recordings) last night. I’m going to do some rough mixes today before the proper rehearsal tonight – then look at whether I’m going to fix problems artificially or try to re-record. One of the difficulties in trying to record people in rehearsal is that the performers keep having to return to the stage for the rehearsal side of things. However, we have set a date to do the big (slightly scary) recording of all the chorus parts in one go. I'm really hoping that if all goes well that should take less than an hour, there is only 40 minutes of music in total for the show. I need to do a good job on it now that it's been "bigged up" over on the Biggar Theatre Workshop blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yarr! It took me four hours and a good rake of my CD collection, but it's Anyone For Tennis by Cream, isn't it?