On using synths with FX processors

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On using synths with FX processors

Post by KBD_TRACKER » Mon Dec 23, 2013 7:06 pm

At first I was wondering how many people who endlessly and strenuously argue about the unique and subtile timbral quality of certain VCOs/DCOs, filters, etc. in their synth, regularly use that synth WITH reverb, delay, a flanger, chorus, phaser, etc. etc.

It seems to me that the specific timbral qualities of a synth would get a bit "watered down" and even maybe somewhat less relevant when using a FX processor. And so to me it would almost defeat the purpose of carefully choosing a synth for its tonal/timbral personality, if anyway its sound is to be markedly processed afterward.

But then on the other hand, considering for a moment "top shelf" analog mono synths (moog, DSI, etc.) I asked myself: CAN really these synths be used dry (ie with no FX) in a track or piece of music ? Indeed most such synths typically output a raw sound difficult to "artfully" integrate in a finished track. So that this post treatment is maybe necessary after all. Sort of like salt in cooking or mustard with hot dogs.

In any case, my question is: in "real practical life" and in your experience, do synths require FX to be usable for music making (that is of course beside making blips and other ungodly weird sounds :roll: ) ???

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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by commodorejohn » Mon Dec 23, 2013 7:47 pm

You definitely can bury a sound under effects, but in moderation, I can't think of an effect that really "kills" the unique qualities of a sound (aside from maybe distortion.) A little reverb doesn't make a Moog sound unlike a Moog, it just makes it sound like a Moog played through an actual speaker in an enclosed space.

But you can easily use a good synth dry. Effects can liven up a track, but they're not necessary. People have been making music for millennia in any kind of acoustic situation you care to name, long before the invention of FX units.

(Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "too raw to integrate into a track;" if the sound is too harsh, use the dang lowpass filter!)
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by KBD_TRACKER » Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:06 pm

commodorejohn wrote:You definitely can bury a sound under effects, but in moderation, I can't think of an effect that really "kills" the unique qualities of a sound (aside from maybe distortion.) A little reverb doesn't make a Moog sound unlike a Moog, it just makes it sound like a Moog played through an actual speaker in an enclosed space.

But you can easily use a good synth dry. Effects can liven up a track, but they're not necessary. People have been making music for millennia in any kind of acoustic situation you care to name, long before the invention of FX units.

(Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "too raw to integrate into a track;" if the sound is too harsh, use the dang lowpass filter!)
I understand that below a certain FX level, the synth character will remain largely untouched. However there is a level of processing (not that high actually) above which that recognition might be impaired. I feel that in contemporary electronic music that level (for good or bad) is routinely reached and used . (Btw is compression an FX ??).
As to the historical aspect, FX were used in the past for example the use of large resonating spaces like churches and other specially configured places to enhance the experience of music.
By raw I just don't mean a filter frequency setting, but an overall feeling that the direct output sound is like polyhedron standing in a pile of spheres (sorry for the weird image). Like something is too much or not enough... But I suppose you are right in that further parameter tweaking (and I might add increased synth knowledge on my part) might remove that feeling without having to rely on FX.

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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by griffin avid » Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:10 pm

We need a seven paragraph explanation/dissertation of effects before we can proceed.
I think effects are used to either 'Bring Attention" or "Avoid Attention' to a particular characteristic.
And that's really it.

You can joke about knob positions.....anything you bring home after 2am is beer-influenced.

Indeed most such synths typically output a raw sound difficult to "artfully" integrate in a finished track.

I read this as a mixing issue and not The Sound Of The Synth, per se....
When everything else is polished [drowned] in effects, yes an awesome sounding synth would still sound out of place and NEED the same treatment to sit along with the other instruments.
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by commodorejohn » Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:17 pm

KBD_TRACKER wrote:I understand that below a certain FX level, the synth character will remain largely untouched. However there is a level of processing (not that high actually) above which that recognition might be impaired. I feel that in contemporary electronic music that level (for good or bad) is routinely reached and used . (Btw is compression an FX ??).
Again, yeah, you definitely can drown a sound in effects, and I agree that people frequently do. I'm just saying that I don't think there are many (if any) effects where that problem is inherent and unavoidable.
As to the historical aspect, FX were used in the past for example the use of large resonating spaces like churches and other specially configured places to enhance the experience of music.
Definitely true, but those weren't the only places music was played. People singing in a pub probably didn't have a particularly treated acoustic space, but that didn't stop them from enjoying making music.
By raw I just don't mean a filter frequency setting, but an overall feeling that the direct output sound is like polyhedron standing in a pile of spheres (sorry for the weird image). Like something is too much or not enough... But I suppose you are right in that further parameter tweaking (and I might add increased synth knowledge on my part) might remove that feeling without having to rely on FX.
Hmm. I guess I'd have to hear an example to really grasp what you mean, but if I'm reading you right you just think electronic sounds stand out too much against acoustic or acoustic-derived electric sounds? I really think that has to do with the kind of sounds you're putting together on the synthesizer, though it might also just be that the character of the synthesizer in question doesn't mesh well with the other instruments - but that's frequently true of non-synthesized sounds as well (hence why there are so many different brands of instruments with distinct qualities to their sounds.)
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by mpa1104 » Mon Dec 23, 2013 11:05 pm

^^
Yes, that last bit, +1
KBD_TRACKER wrote:As to the historical aspect, FX were used in the past for example the use of large resonating spaces like churches and other specially configured places to enhance the experience of music.
Thomas Tallis composed in "Surround Sound" with his masterpiece Spem in Alium - 8 choirs of 5 parts each encircling the audience.
Berlioz, Respighi, Mahler (to name a few) were composers who used a form of filtering by having offstage instruments, or instruments at the back of the performance auditorium.
Vaughan-Williams wrote his superlative Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (music really doesn't get much better than that sublime work) specifically for the acoustics of Gloucester Cathedral.
So yes, there are plenty of historical composers who have used their environment as an form of effects.

It wasn't until after many years of using synths dry that I got to know about the usefulness of effects (especially the ubiquitous delay ... where would Tangerine Dream and JMJ be without it??), but a mate of mine at the time used to use that now worn old saying "less is more" when it comes to FX. I do see his point though.

FWIW, I tend to think that it does depend on many things, including the style of the music, the role of the synth (or synths) in the arrangement, etc. As has already been mentioned, do you want it to stand out, or do you want it to blend a little better in the mix?

I often think of the first two "Sky" albums. Given that the band was weighted towards the Classical guitar sound, Francis Monkman had to make his synths blend with them as well as his own piano and harpsichord, and personally, I think he did it extremely well. Sometimes they'd be dry, other times a subtle reverb or delay, always fitting in well to the otherwise "acoustic" mixes of the pieces they did.

Generally, I tend to err on the side of subtlety ... except when it comes to drenching a vintage stringer in a phaser :lol:
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by syntheticsolutions » Tue Dec 24, 2013 12:52 am

I often find that certain synths shine with effects more than others, IMO the synths that are often considered the "raw" or "buzzy" in nature just Excell with effects processing, especially reverb. I find analogue mono synth very easy to process and make sound better rather than drowned.

I personally find processing big analogue poly synths much harder to process without making them sound wet or totally drowned in effects. I always feel that pu synths loose a lot of their integrity when using very abrupt or conspicuous effects.

With regards to placing effects in the mix, I find that to be entirely subjective and depending on your natural processing habits, there is absolutely no reason why any of the elements in a track can't be left totally dry. I personally very rarely process every synth in the mix putely due to a lack of hardware :lol:
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by Stab Frenzy » Tue Dec 24, 2013 9:42 am

Synths are effects. Unless you're just composing drones with raw unmodulated oscillators you're using effects, so why limit yourself to just filters and amplitude modulation and say that reverb or delay or chorus are bad?

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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by commodorejohn » Tue Dec 24, 2013 9:45 am

I don't think anybody was saying effects themselves are bad; the discussion was more about drenching an instrument in FX to the point that the characteristic sound of the instrument is lost.
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by CS_TBL » Tue Dec 24, 2013 10:06 am

commodorejohn wrote:I don't think anybody was saying effects themselves are bad; the discussion was more about drenching an instrument in FX to the point that the characteristic sound of the instrument is lost.
It's the end result that counts, nothing else. A synth's original character may get drowned under a pile o'effects.. so what? If composers worry that their audience won't be able to tell that a specific bass was made with a Moog, then they're obviously merely Moog-fetishists - something the audience won't care about. From the point of view of the finished track, it shouldn't matter at all.

That's what I never understand about those people using goddamn oscilloscopes to prove that synth 1 is better (or more genuine or warmer or whatever) than synth 2. So what? No one listens to bone dry synths in a production, and a sawtooth which isn't 100% like another sawtooth is what.. not useful? Oscilloscopes to brag about oscillators are like scientists in Costa Rica using $10.000 equipment to tell me it's hot outside.

Anyway, back to effects. To me they're an integral part of sound design, not merely a bonus that could be left out. Just like a filter is an integral aspect of sound, and reverbs are technically just an array o'filters, so, there! So to me there's no point discussing effects being applied to whatever synthesizer. If it makes the sound better (yet better: if it makes sounds you can't make without 'm!) and/or more suitable for its proposed context, go ahead and prosper!
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by Stab Frenzy » Tue Dec 24, 2013 10:44 am

commodorejohn wrote:I don't think anybody was saying effects themselves are bad; the discussion was more about drenching an instrument in FX to the point that the characteristic sound of the instrument is lost.
You mean like when you hear a synth demo but there's so much filter on it you can't hear the synths real tone?

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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Tue Dec 24, 2013 11:34 am

External effects are to synthesisers what salt is to broth.

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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by ryryoftokyo » Tue Dec 24, 2013 2:25 pm

Its all a matter of what you're after. For me, I'm as picky about my synths as I am about what FX units I'll use with them. I love my Mu-Tron Phaser to death, but there's only a few of my synths that I'll use it on (Moog Multimoog, Korg MS-20, and Roland Juno 60) simply because the rest either don't need it because of having decent on board internal FX (Yamaha AN1x, Waldorf Blofeld, microKorg) or just sound really awful with it (looking at you, Yamaha DX7 and Korg Electribe).

My question for you: Is it really so important that we be able to pick out what the original intended qualities we bought it for if it still sounds good through whatever we process it with? To me, if it sounds good, use it. I don't care if it makes my Multimoog sound like a Casio. If it sounds good, it sounds good.
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by commodorejohn » Tue Dec 24, 2013 6:32 pm

CS_TBL wrote:It's the end result that counts, nothing else. A synth's original character may get drowned under a pile o'effects.. so what? If composers worry that their audience won't be able to tell that a specific bass was made with a Moog, then they're obviously merely Moog-fetishists - something the audience won't care about. From the point of view of the finished track, it shouldn't matter at all.
Eh. You can come at it from that attitude, and I would agree that it's probably a little silly to worry about whether the listener can tell that you're using X, Y, and Z synthesizers; on the other hand, if the end result is what counts, then everything in the chain affects the end result, and maybe sometimes you want the end result to sound clearly like one thing or the other - what's wrong with that? People still do "unplugged" albums with acoustic instruments, I'd see this as just being the synthesizer equivalent of that.
That's what I never understand about those people using goddamn oscilloscopes to prove that synth 1 is better (or more genuine or warmer or whatever) than synth 2. So what? No one listens to bone dry synths in a production, and a sawtooth which isn't 100% like another sawtooth is what.. not useful? Oscilloscopes to brag about oscillators are like scientists in Costa Rica using $10.000 equipment to tell me it's hot outside.
Yes, people can get quite silly about it. People can get silly about anything. On the other hand, the oscillator is the raw building-block material of the sound; the filter has to subtract from something, otherwise it's just outputting either silence or self-oscillation (which has its uses, but isn't the be-all and end-all of synth sounds.) And there are qualitative differences between the sound of different oscillators from different synths, since none of them actually output perfect ideal waveforms. Doing an oscilliscope check is probably silly compared to just listening and getting a feel for the sound, but there are differences and they do make a contribution to the sound.

Again, nobody thinks this is pointless and irrelevant when it's acoustic/acoustic-electric instruments under this type of scrutiny, so I'm not sure why some people are reacting so strongly to the idea when it's synths we're talking about.
Anyway, back to effects. To me they're an integral part of sound design, not merely a bonus that could be left out. Just like a filter is an integral aspect of sound, and reverbs are technically just an array o'filters, so, there! So to me there's no point discussing effects being applied to whatever synthesizer.
"Integral," not so much. You can quite easily create synth sounds without using effects processing (unless you're being really anal about filters being an effect, which I'm not, and anyway you can still create sounds without filters.) They may be crucial to your methodology, and there's nothing wrong with that, but they're not a requirement.
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commodorejohn wrote:I don't think anybody was saying effects themselves are bad; the discussion was more about drenching an instrument in FX to the point that the characteristic sound of the instrument is lost.
You mean like when you hear a synth demo but there's so much filter on it you can't hear the synths real tone?
You know, there's not much point in having a discussion with you when you insist on being deliberately obtuse.
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Re: On using synths with FX processors

Post by CfNorENa » Tue Dec 24, 2013 8:19 pm

commodorejohn wrote:You know, there's not much point in having a discussion with you when you insist on being deliberately obtuse.
You better hope that Stab Frenzy isn't a fan of the warden in Shawshank Redemption. If so, he might ban you for two weeks, then ask if he's still being "obtuse," and then ban you for another two weeks.

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