Across the Transom: October 2023
George Lewis, Eliane Radigue, getting synthesizers to sound more like acoustic instruments
Gahlord Dewald :: 10/25/23 :: Mānoa
An outstanding list of techniques for getting synthesizers to sound more like acoustic instruments, by Nathan Ho.
Some thoughts re: Bandcamp being sold again
I think for those with access to a local scene, the overlap between physical experiencers and digital purchasers is very very high. At least in my case it is. They are the same person at different moments and in different contexts.
The challenge of digital scenes is the impoverishment of affordances to enable the fine-grained details of building and maintaining social relationships that aren’t being monetized by the platform hosting the scene. This is either due to technology flattening experiences (for example: the available reactions are thumbs up or thumbs down, or a handful of clunky emoji that posterize human emotion into maybe 7 possibilities). It’s a heavy lift to build social institutions online.
Bandcamp has done an admirable job walking that line, focusing on affordances that are relevant in their lane: Wishlist, buy, text commentary, simple recommendations.
I think when we see them try to capture & flatten more kinds of social experiences is when we’ll know if the process of enshittification is beginning in earnest.
I’m hopeful though. Or as hopeful as I get about a corporate entity.
[Note: within a week or so of this writing Songtradr, the new owner of Bandcamp fired half the company including most of the editorial & support teams and all of the Bandcamp United union workers involved in negotiations. Sounds like enshittification is underway.]
Everything I make goes to the hard drives which are duplicated every night. Every once in awhile but no less than once each quarter, I move the archive off-site (a snapshot of everything up to that moment) and start a new set. Archive disks that are older than one or two cycles get erased and turned into disks for my Strategic Game project (which is essentially a way to keep disks out of the landfill).
I use cloud stuff (iCloud, git, etc) to distribute things but not for backup/archive. In my system, if it isn’t on a disk that I can hold in my hand then it isn’t backed up.
Re: Creative Sidechains
As a bass player, sidechaining delays and reverbs opens up access to those time based effects while retaining the sound. The Keeley Gold Star distortion/reverb pedal has a compression setting to do this, which is pretty glorious.
Also, many of the Recovery Effects pedals get their special charm from (I am guessing, haven’t looked inside them) connecting an envelope follower to some element of the pedal/module. I consider it sort of the specialty of that builder. Like delay time being “sidechained” by the signal to be delayed, things like that. Easy to turn into splatter and noise, but also incredibly subtle once one learns to play it.
There are lots of things to hook that sidechain/envelope follower to: mixers, time-based effects, samplers that let you select sample with CV, filter cutoff to get more natural acoustic-like instrument response (like the timbral characteristics of overblowing a wind instrument to add harmonics). I use this sort of thing a bunch in my contrabass+modular sets because it lets me push the expressiveness of what I’m doing on the acoustic instrument into the electronic sound.
In terms of technique, sidechaining for me is boiled down to:
- Select an audio source for which the amplitude will become a CV control for something else.
- Select an envelope follower to harvest that amplitude and turn it into CV.
- Process the CV.
- Select something to control with the CV.
The real magic of it comes in step 3: attenuators, inverters, comparators, envelopes; or creating further effects by summing with other stuff, having it control LFOs or FM etc; or getting really intense with logic and other sensory observations (frequency + amplitude on an X/Y plane controlling things like a joystick). Most of my Pulp Logic 1U stuff is dedicated to this kind of CV transformation in my bass+electro rig.
But other steps are also fun to explore in this way. For example, using the CV out from something like the 4MS SMR(f) lets you do the whole thing spectrally. Including setting up multiband sidechained compression ala the classic sidechain use case.
One last example idea:
- Select a control signal.
- Get an envelope follower on that control signal.
- Run the follower into a comparator and then use the comparator output to trigger an AD envelope which is then assigned to the mix knob of a 2ch mixer.
- In one side of the mixer is the part of a sound that you want the “Attack” from and the other side of the mixer is the “Tail” side of the sound.
- Adjust the comparator to trigger the envelope in a way that feels consistent/musical.
- Adjust the envelope so that the transition from the Attack to the Tail feels right.
Useful for “I want the attack of this kick but the body of that kick” or stranger things like “I want a snare attach with an oboe tail.”