I am currently making an attempt at designing some kind of noise-based synth for making cool drone, ambient sounds and soundscaping.
The layout you can see is my fifth draft, and I think it is the moment for me to ask for specialists what they think about this project, and most of all if they see a flaw, something that can be made better, or even some modules that they would have preferred over some others...
Anyway, here is a quick overview.
Disclaimer: before anything, I want to point out that everything below this point is my own and personal opinion. I am not a modular synth expert, nor a sound designer, not even a musician. I am just a regular guy who likes modular synths and cool sounds. Therefore, I may make mistakes, I may be wrong, and I am okay with that.
If you agree with me, that's okay. If you don't, that's okay too (actually it is better if you disagree, as it may generate interesting debates).
The idea started upon seeing SSF's Quantum Rainbow 2 noise generation module and saying to myself, "hey, noise-based sound generation is cool" (if you are not convinced, take look at Majken's Chimera VSTi, definitely one of my favorite virtual sound module so far); and started to pop in my head some modules and I wanted to see...
After filtering the modules I found useful and interesting, I managed to narrow the list to around 50 modules, not including the standard "tool" modules like multis and attenuators. At this time, it seemed I would not get anything without really thinking this thing through.
So I started thinking during the night: what do I want to do? What function do I want? What function do I need? And eventually, I managed to set the guidelines I would (try to) follow to design this synth :
* This synth must be quite autonomous. It should be very usable and fun to play with by itself
* That being said, we will not include post FX (we could have, but it is already difficult to choose simple modules; choosing FX modules is just to hard for me)
* At least 2 filters, at least one BP (to be able to create actual nearly-melodic sounds). Also, generic filters are boring. As we have to choose filters, better to look for modules with at least a bit of personality.
* A "good" amount of modulation; remember: drone, ambient, soundscaping...
* No noise without S&H. I love S&H. That is it.
* Stereo output would be nice
* Crucial point: flexibility. I do not want to get stuck because I miss an output or something like that.
In the end, I wanted to have a very basic sound source, followed by an extensive and very complete sculpting tool, providing the musician with a way of really carve the noise. And eventually, after a lot of searching, I finally came up with this.
I was planning on using Doepfer raw wood case A-100LC3, which has the following characteristics:
* Current: +12V/1200mA, -12V/-1200mA
* Width: 84HP (x3U)
* Depth: 110mm
* Bus board: 14 sockets
* Price: 195 € (on Doepfer's website)
The Core : Quantum Rainbow
The name of the module made me laugh. I was aware of the existence of pink, brown and white noise; put what about blue and purple? IMO, it was something worth looking at.
I could have based my design on some other module (standard noise generator or more advanced one) but the exquisite simplicity of this one was very appealing to me.
No knob. No input. No switch. Not even the sightliest jumper. Just a bunch of output and that's it.
That is what made me think of this as a sculpting tool.
You cannot really influence the way the matter exists from the beginning; so just shape it to your desire.
I remember when I saw a demonstration of Pittsburgh's Lifeforms SV-1; it simply blew my mind. The sound was rich, evolutive, complex... And most of that was due to this fabulous filter.
And Pittsburgh, thank God, released that filter as an independent module. From the day I saw it, I kept telling to myself: "you will use it some day". That day has come it looks like.
As for the WASP filter? Well the WASP synth is a very funny instrument IMO to begin with. I really like the sound of this filter in this instrument, and I saw Doepfer had released a module version of it so... why not?
The fact that both the filters are multimode is not a mere conincidence. I wanted to have access to a BP filter; this was the only way to provide at least a bit of melodic timbre, using a lot of resonance.
These filters are 12dB however, and that is a unfortunate coincidence. I wonder if I should trade the WASP filter for a 3 or 4 pole one, even if it has less personality (also I am not convinced 18/24dB BP filters actually exist...).
Initially, I stayed very standard in my choices. 2 ADSR, 2 VCLFO a dual S&H and a RM. And then I looked at Doepfer's website (yeah, I really love their modules). And I saw that : S&M/T&M/RM all-in-one module. "Okay", I thought, "That definitely goes in".
And then I saw that also: VC ADSR/LFO, and I thought: "Daf... okay, that goes in as well".
And then I saw: VCDLFO, and I thought: "Okay. That makes my modulation base".
I do not know yet how they really are (as they are quite knew), but their behavior seems very straightforward. In these two modules lie a VCA, a Decay, a VCADSR, 2 LFO, everything with so much thing to tweak it is nearly obscene... I mean, wow. Just, wow.
The only thing I added is a little ADSR from 2hp because I was afraid I would need that (just imagine the VC ADSR/LFO is in VCLFO mode. You are left with no ADSR at all, and this is not something I can tolerate).
And that was a good idea. Not only because I think I actually need an extra ADSR, but really because it made me discover 2hp, and 2hp has some very good modules; one of which we will talk about later and the other one being the last modulation source I put in the synth: the BRST (for burst).
The BRST was the peculiar modulation source I was looking for. It is simple yet terribly smart in its design, and I am very eager to use it for damping effects or even to trigger the S&H...
I know I said "only external FX", but sometimes we would like things to be part of the chain, and that is harder to obtain when using external rack.
First thing first, I needed Doepfer's Waveshaper. I have a real passion for waveshapers. I have even dated one once.
Okay that last sentence was weird. But my point is: Doepfer's waveshaper is a good-sounding, straightforward waveshaper (here by "straightforward" I mean that you have a full control over the shaping. This is not an easy module to use IMO). So I need it.
Also, remember I said I discovered 2hp and their cool little modules? Well I found my dream: FREEZ.
I cannot tell you how much I love granular synthesis (yeah, I love a lot of things when it comes to music and sounds) and this module is quite close to a kind of granular unit. Used wisely, I really think it can bring your sculpting to a whole new level.
The only downside (but this is not really a downside, is it?) is that I will probably not use this module as often as the others. In a sens, it is a little bit like it is "more useless" than the others. Maybe some other kind of module (another tool module, a LFO or something else) would have been better but... meh, this one is interesting too.
That part is easy: attenuators and multis for the win. I really like having a lot of possibilities when patching; and there is no other good way, right?
Also, I tried to design this synth with my little home studio in mind, the goal being to integrate it in my various projects, projects that I hold on a DAW. That being said, I find it better to have a very distinct and fix audio output (under the form of 1/4" jack for example) from which you can tap and then never move and just patch around.
So basically, I could nearly hard wire the last modules: output of the mixer to attenuators to multi stereo out. This will never move I think, and that is a good thing IMO.
Also, I decided to use a stereo mixer. I really could have used a mono mixer, but I like composing in stereo, and the modules have the exact same number of HP (if you compare it to Doepfer standard exp mixer). In the end, the stereo feature is free (mostly) so why just not go with it, uh?
And there we go; my whole process of thinking. I have not built this synth yet but I am really eager to do it and to finally ear how it sounds. There is always a risk it will sound very bad, but I want to be confident and say it will be quite awesome.
And anyway if it is not, as it is mostly a sculpting tool, nothing denies you from getting rid of the noise generator and putting in audio from another source.
That is it for me. I do not know if you went that far when reading my rambling, but I really would like to have your remarks.
As I said, the synth is still in the thinking/design phase, so it is still possible to change some modules (as long as it respects the constraints and, if possible, the guidelines).
That being said, see ya ;)
Edit: got rid of one multi, one (dual) attenuator and the 2hp mixer, replacing them with the Mix Mult by Pittsburgh (which is good enough). Also, got rid of Doepfer multi with 1/4", S&H/... and 2hp attenuator, replacing them by a Pittsburgh Out and a 2hp S+H.
Losing the RM is kind of a bummer, but having a proper output is good too.
Edit 2: the S&H/RM is back, and I eventually got rid of the stereo mixer (it appeared to me it was not very useful as the whole chain is purely mono).