Imaginary Instrument Maker

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Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby NS » June 7th, 2014, 3:15 pm

I posted this after reading a few great articles on a site connected to one of the old forums-

I am a classical pianist and composer and have been trying to break into the world of synth. I have read fairly extensively, so I have a decent basic understanding of software synths/samplers. However I get the feeling a lot of these programs were not designed specifically for what I am trying to do. If someone could perhaps point me in the right direction I would be very grateful.

Let me first say what I'm not looking for. I'm not at all interested in sound design, arpeggiators or sequencers. I'm also not at all interested in trying to replicate real instruments. I love many of the classic synth sounds, but I am not interested in programs that reproduce their interfaces- original knobs, patching, etc. I also don't want to limit myself to one category of sounds, like classic synths.

What I am interested in is creating new instruments playable on a full sized midi keyboard. There's obviously a plethora of sounds out there made to be mapped to a keyboard. However from what I've found most of them are not satisfying to play as instruments. For example- when you press a key gently then forcefully, many sounds simply play back louder. What would be much more satisfying would be for the harmonics to become thicker/louder, for the attack to become faster/harsher, etc, like how real instruments don't just get louder but also become more intense. I know some sounds have these capabilities built in, but I'm very interested in software that can easily and intuitively add/adjust these qualities for any sounds. (I've noticed that if I layer a high quality piano sound in with a typical synth sound it immediately begins to add that satisfying intensity of a dynamic instrument. However it sounds like two instruments layered, not like one cohesive instrument.)

Being a pianist I am also looking to build instruments that cover the full 88 key range. Many sounds become completely ridiculous when you go extremely high or low. So a program that lets you layer sounds and cross fade them over various pitch ranges would be crucial. If such a program could also allow you to gradually change the characteristics of a specific sound over a wide pitch range, then all the better.

So I'm not looking for a certain type of synthesizer- FM, wavetable, etc. Instead I'm looking for an interface to let me build and/or manipulate sounds to be mapped to a midi keyboard in order to create a diverse range of instruments for the intent of live performance. Reaktor sounds like it could do just about anything, but it's also intimidating and may or may not be the best program for my needs.

Sculpture sounds very interesting- physical modeling with the intent of creating new sounds, not simply trying to replicate existing instruments. But I have no idea if a program like that is really what would get me closest to an intuitive instrument building machine. Pianoteq seems interesting too, but the extent that you can manipulate the instruments is very limited and you obviously can't bring in your own sounds.

I would be using Kawai's MP11 or similar as my keyboard (currently have the MP8 but want to find the right software before upgrading my keyboard). Any advice that might point me in the right direction would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps there are already lots of fantastic collections of highly diverse/dynamic "virtual instruments" out there that I've just completely overlooked, and making my own would simply be reinventing the wheel??

Thanks in advance,

Nathan Shirley
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby J-Bot » June 7th, 2014, 9:32 pm

Since it seems you are looking at creating a synth architecture from the ground up, I would suggest looking into modular synthesis. Something like Kamiooka or Sonigen Modular. This will let you insert the different types of oscillators into the racks, filter group, envelope group, mixer, FX, pre-amp, etc. and connect them via virtual cables. This way, you can design your own synth ideas and architecture from the ground up.

If you are looking into hardware modular racks, you could look into stuff like Doepfer, MFB, Analog Solutions, or others in that category. Though, hardware modulars can get pricey very quick.

However even though they are modular, and let you design your own architectures, you are limited by what each modular piece is capable of. If there is no module that lets you crossfade or otherwise manipulate the layers or polyphony/voices, then that is a brick wall.

It sounds to me like you want to possibly create something very complex and/or unique that existing synths or modules may or may not be capable of doing. If that is the case, then you may have to design an idea from scratch, which means you will also need to know how to write code to create it, or find someone knowledgeable to code it and construct it for you. You could start with something like Synth Edit or Synth Maker, but if you want to create something unique, you'll probably want to stay away from stock modules and design/code your own from scratch.

I hope that gives you some ideas to work with.
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby _controlfreak » June 7th, 2014, 10:46 pm

Take a look at Omnisphere; the modulations available are insane, and very "musical." It's not really comparable to Reaktor, which lets you get down to the very 1's and 0's. I own both but do not have the time I'd like to delve that deeply into Reaktor. I've tried to modify other users' Reaktor ensembles, but they don't let me modulate sounds "musically" (maybe "intuitively" is a better word). I know plenty of people that go gaga over Reaktor because of the science-project appeal; I find it laborious to get a sound I like (100% due to my own shortcomings).

You mentioned most synths simply get "louder." Most synths worth anything now have a number of modulations available that extend well beyond that. With Omnisphere, it's easy to get elaborate, beautiful sounds "easily," primarily due to its many sample-based patches. If you're looking at a straight-up synth plugin, I recommend uhe Zebra as it TAKES THE CAKE in terms of a "...stuck on a desert island synth." It will give you the fierce, rich trance sounds, the lush pads, the sparkly, animated, arpeggiated bits. A lot of synths have presets that mimic "that" sound, but Zebra nails it - Believe me, I have nearly all of them!

I don't know what you're looking to spend, but the Komplete bundle is a reasonably good deal. You'd get Reaktor, the other more "accessible" NI synths, and Kontakt, which, while a sampler, can do some elaborate scripting that make for some very interesting sound design experiments. I would compare Omnisphere to a large dollhouse or Micro Machines™ playset and Reaktor to Legos.
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby NS » June 8th, 2014, 11:35 pm

Thanks both of you for your advice.

I'm definitely looking for software exclusively here. One of the problems I keep running into trying to determine if a particular program might fit my needs is that nearly all the demos seem to show people using these programs in nearly the exact opposite way of which I would like to. In other words I see people holding down a single key on a keyboard, or a single chord, and what you hear come out is an elaborate arpeggiator playing back some predetermined series of pitches/rhythms. As a musician and composer I have no interest in this. If I want to play a specific arpeggiated pattern, I will simply play it with my own fingers, this allows for complete flexibility as I will change these patterns slightly or completely, on the fly. In the demos I see the same thing with these sweeping modulators/oscillators. These sweeps are programed to cycle through at a specific speed. I would almost never want to use something like this because I often need to constantly change tempo. Instead I would like to assign such things to a pedal so I can control the sweep directly, just as you would physically open the swell box of a pipe organ with a pedal. No click tracks or sequencers needed. I get the feeling that a lot of people using this stuff spend more time sequencing/arpeggiating than they do physically playing themselves... which might be part of the reason I can't find a program to suit my needs. But also I have to admit I am very ignorant when it comes to this stuff, only having an elementary understanding of synth/sampling technology.

I have a lot of respect for the classic hardware synths, the patching, changing sound with voltage changes/oscillations, etc. Its history is fascinating, but I have no real desire to use a program that seeks to recreate this interface. It seems to me there must be more sonically intuitive ways to modify sounds than by using a program that has you plugging virtual cables into virtual modules. That is one thing that attracted me to the concept of using physical modeling with the intent of creating completely new instruments, not just imitating real ones. If patching virtual cables is really the best method then I suppose I'll just have to go with it, but it seems like there must be something more intuitive, and I've seen some programs that have intuitive labels like "warmth." But again I am very ignorant when it comes to this stuff, so I may be way off base here.

I do have a fairly good knowledge of the physics of sound- the overtone series, how it relates to timbre, how instruments sound physically changes at greater dynamics or when using different techniques, etc. A program that was based more along these lines might be very interesting.

One thing is for sure, the number of ways you can modify a sound wave is nearly infinite, so it's no wonder the technology to do it is very confusing. I'm just curious if there are many people out there who have the specific interest that I do of building new sounds purely for the sake of creating new instruments... not sound design, sequencing or arpeggiating... there must be, right?

Thanks again. I've briefly looked at the software you both mention, but I'll take some time to investigate further. Any other ideas are certainly welcomed.
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby J-Bot » June 9th, 2014, 1:15 am

Rule number 1 of looking at synth plug-ins: never judge by the demos. The demos often barely scratch the surface of most synthesizers. Rather, I would look at various user-made program libraries/patches (user-made .fxb files for loading into various plug-in synths can be found on KVRAudio)

Also, for consorting with like minded developers of synth sounds, you might consider looking through KVR Audio forums if you haven't already. The forums there have quite a few people who are into developing synths both from a creating a synth plug-in from scratch, and developing different ideas in sound design.

As mentioned, Omnisphere is a very deep synth. I don't have it myself, but it is certainly very capable. I also really like Zebra/Zebra 2, and U-He's synths in general. You can go very deep in those indeed. The modular stuff I mentioned is more than just patching cables. You basically load an empty virtual-rack with a couple different types of oscillators, filters, LFO, envelopes, mixer/amp/pre-amp, sub-oscillator, FX, etc. and you can create some very complex sounds. However, it is definitely geared more towards those old analog style sounds.

There are also a lot of different types of synthesis. Wavetable, Additive, Subtractive, Spectral, the list goes on. Something that might be worth looking into is wavetable synthesis where you can load in a short sound sample (usually a single cycle) and manipulate that sample using the synth parameters. Either that, or maybe something like Curve 2, which lets you draw your own oscillator shape. (so you're not stuck with your typical triangle/sawtooth/square/pulse/sine shapes)

I think I understand what you mean, though. Being a keyboardist, and I don't mean a sequencer, or programmer, but a genuine keyboardist, sometimes it's hard to find unique/new sounds that are musical, organic, and playable as a keyboardist/pianist. I'm not necessarily exploring unique or new synth sounds, but usually I'm creating sounds that fit my play style. (and usually that means some deformed distorted bastard offspring of a Wurlitzer and a Hammond).

On another thought, sometimes, what you are looking for, or what you are trying to do isn't capable by any single synth. At that point, it could be good to consider layering a few different synth plug-ins. Maybe you already do this, but to create some very textured sounds that evolve or crossfade over the keyboard/time, you could layer a couple different synths in your DAW. Load 3 or 4 different synths into one track, or maybe take, three or four different tracks, each with a different synth that might have an aspect of what you're looking for, or possibly a couple different instances of the same synth. Set them up so they're all playing in unison, that is, all tracks are armed. You could create a complex soundscape that evolves over the full 88 key range that way, or set different ADSR parameters, so that as one sound fades out, another fades in over time. If your master keyboard is capable of zones, you could set each synth to a different channel, and have that channel only active in certain zones of the keyboard. (e.g. Synth A is only active from C2 to C4, where Synth B is active from C#4 to C6) Another example, is that you could have a Zone 1 in the very low register up to middle C, Zone 2 that only plays in the very low register to help extend the range of the Synth in Zone 1, and maybe another synth that is active in Zone 3 from middle C up to the higher registers. This would help make full use of the keyboard.

So yeah, if you can't get something interesting from any one single synth, maybe you can layer a few different synths to create some interesting soundscapes. It's something to think about anyway.
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby NS » June 10th, 2014, 12:51 am

Thanks for the detailed response, you've certainly given me a lot to chew on here.

Does anyone know of something that will not only allow you to layer sounds, but also kind of merge/morph them together so that they sound less layered and more like one unified sound? What would be especially great would be if you could adjust the ADSR balance to give one sound more weight in a certain area. In other words say you layered a sound with a sharp/percussive attack with another sound with a very long/slow attack. After morphing these sounds together you might naturally end up with a more medium attack, not especially sharp, not especially slow. But if you wanted to retain more of the sharp attack you could weight that heavier by adjusting the balance in the ADSR.

If such a thing exists, it might get me pretty close to what I'm imagining. Sorry for my synth ignorance!

Thanks again.

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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby AwwDeOhh » June 11th, 2014, 2:40 pm

a compressor?
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby NS » June 11th, 2014, 11:50 pm

It's difficult to describe these things... no, not a compressor which would simply crush the dynamics down (or are you talking about some other type of compressor?). Let me give an example-

Let's say you take a simple synth sound based on a sine wave with a slow attack, and you layer it with a sampled harpsichord, which naturally has a sharp attack. When you play them together the sound is not at all unified, instead it sounds like two distinct, separate sounds played at once. The sharp attack of the harpsichord and its metallic sustain do not blend with the mellow, slow attack of the synth sound. But if there were some software that could "morph" these sounds, so that the harpsichord tone would be altered to take on some of the more pure/mellow characteristics of the synth, and the synth sound took on some of the metallic characteristics of the harpsichord, all while retaining more of the original sharp attack of the harpsichord (without dulling it too much), that is the sort of thing I would be very interested in.

I'm definitely going to take a look at the KVR forums. I had read a little about Omnisphere, but after a closer look today I did find something that mentioned some sort of sound morphing. That might be exactly what I was thinking of. I see that Omnisphere isn't a sampler, or at least it says something about not being able to use your own sounds, which might be a deal breaker. On the other hand if it can morph sound the way I've described, and gives you intuitive control over some key things like crossfading over various ranges, etc, it might be close enough. I had come across Zebra before also, I'll look into that and the others more thoroughly as well.

Thanks again.

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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby gregwar » June 12th, 2014, 5:56 pm

cakewalk dimension is my go-to for quickly layering sounds with an easy adsr, not sure how modulate-able they are with pure velocity/aft touch, maybe look into rapture as well for more synthesis options. for deeper sampler and synthesis functions look into kontakt and reaktor

kontact 'morphing' tutorial with authentic expression technology
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYUr5hPmgrQ

i know ohm force has some plug-ins that can morph between sounds called 'meta presets', you can assign different stuff to the keyboard and 'play' different kinds of modulation. the problem is something like symptohm, an ohm force plug-in, has a pretty steep learning curve. i've messed with ohmicide (sick multi-band distortion) but not symptohm

morphing between presets and sounds was also possible with native instruments kore but that platform has been abandoned

there's been a lot of interest in new-ish controllers too like roger linn's keytar (linnstrument), the eignnharp, hakken continuum, roli's seaboard, qunexus, etc etc etc
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby gregwar » June 12th, 2014, 6:04 pm

o ya u mentioned sculpture, its pretty cool especially for going in and out of the 'uncanny valley' where things go from sounding sorta real to really weird easily

two other similar options are the harm visser physical modelling package for reaktor (advanced) and chromaphone (much more simple)

the guy who did aalto (amazing for west-coast modular sounds) is doing a physical modelling synth too, check the madrona labs website
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby NS » June 18th, 2014, 2:15 pm

Thanks for all the ideas Greg,

Some of that looks like it scratches into a bit of what I'm looking for, but I've realized I'm going to need to do a lot more research to really know. I see that a lot of software (Omnisphere included, at least based on one example I found) refers to "morphing" as a real-time morphing from one sound to another. Which makes sense. But what I'm specifically interested in is the ability to lock into a specific point within the morphing range. In other words ending up with a sound that doesn't change in time, but rather has characteristics of both sounds simultaneously, but which can be tweaked in various ways.

I've also started to realize there probably really isn't any one piece of software that is going to do specifically what I'm after. There might be some that come close, but which were obviously designed with much different or broader applications in mind... at least that is what it is looking like.

Thanks again.
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby jimtroll » January 7th, 2017, 12:37 am

Hi there NS,

I know I'm necro-ing a thread, but even in 80's era synths (I'm thinking of my Kawai K3m for a basic example) has controls for articulation of the balance between it's two oscillators according to envelope.

By the 90's various romplers (I use a Korg 05R/W module) had complex interactions between layered multi-timbral sounds according to velocity and aftertouch.

It seems to me that much of that functionality can be found amongst software synths given the right understanding of MIDI CC implementation.

I'm taking a bit of a journey through the hardware synth world atm, and find harnessing the power of a DAW to add to the controlability of synths is a godsend.

Cheers,

James.

NS wrote:Thanks for the detailed response, you've certainly given me a lot to chew on here.

Does anyone know of something that will not only allow you to layer sounds, but also kind of merge/morph them together so that they sound less layered and more like one unified sound? What would be especially great would be if you could adjust the ADSR balance to give one sound more weight in a certain area. In other words say you layered a sound with a sharp/percussive attack with another sound with a very long/slow attack. After morphing these sounds together you might naturally end up with a more medium attack, not especially sharp, not especially slow. But if you wanted to retain more of the sharp attack you could weight that heavier by adjusting the balance in the ADSR.

If such a thing exists, it might get me pretty close to what I'm imagining. Sorry for my synth ignorance!

Thanks again.
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Re: Imaginary Instrument Maker

Postby NS » January 7th, 2017, 4:48 pm

Thanks for digging this back up James, I'll give an update on where I've ended up:

I initially discounted Pianoteq due to its main focus on recreating actual pianos (which it does amazingly well). But after really digging into their trial version, I found it's far more flexible than I had given it credit for. It gets me at least 80% of what I was hoping for, which is far better than anything else I tried (that is without spending countless hours on something much less intuitive). The parameters you can adjust are very logical: overtone volume, change in harmonics over time, brightness of strike for a given dynamic range, inharmonicity, detuning unisons, dynamic range of the instrument, single note editing, etc. Quite powerful and all setup from a very musical perspective, rather than from a synth perspective.

I wrote a set of 3 experimental solo "synth" pieces for it, my first attempt:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rMJpiYVhQY

Thanks again everyone for the advice, I do think physical modelling has huge potential.
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