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Old 07-23-2006   #1
ablethevoice
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Analog Synthesizers

As many of you probably know by now, besides being a voiceover talent, I am also a musical composer/keyboardist. I have two extremely versatile digital synthesizers capable of reproducing just about any known musical instrument. I love these boards and would never get rid of them, but until recently, my studio was- to me- incomplete. As much as I'd like to have them, I had no analog synthesizers and my digital ones just plain can't... by the very nature of their being digital exactly reproduce the sound of an analog synthesizer.

The Early Days
Analog synths came out in the early 60s and were at first highly experimental and totally unknown to the general public. In 1969, Walter Carlos released Switched-On Bach and suddenly the listening audience was exposed to these incredible spacey sounds of the Moog (which rhymes with "rogue", by the way!). Not too long after that, Stanley Kubrick gave Carlos-and the Moog-even wider exposure by using Walter's electronic versions of the classical genre in his film A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

The Moog, like all subsequent analog synths produced from about 1970 through 1978 (ARP, E-Mu and EMS for instance), all had the same serious drawbacks: They were "monophonic"; one note at a time was all they could produce... no chords! Also, the tone generators were very temperature sensitive so a change in the room's temp would change the tuning and other delicate settings hence the entire sound the performer was working on. They had no memory so a performer had to know what all those buttons and knobs did and manually set them up in order to produce whatever sound they expected to hear.
Despite these weaknesses, the Moog and other analog synths began to catch on in more popular music genres and in fact completely changed the face of the emerging progressive rock genre with the likes of Keith Emerson (ELP), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Tony Banks (Genesis), Rick Wright and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) and others experimenting with the early analogs in the studio as well as onstage. The special thing about the analogs that made them so notable was all those buttons and knobs could be tweaked on the fly while playing, making the analog a vibrant and living part of the music. A simple twist of any control on the front panel of an analog instrument could completely change the character of the sound.

The issue of one-note-at-time was being aggressively tackled by several engineering firms and in 1978 or so, the first polyphonic analog instrument was released by Oberheim. The OBX1 was a very expensive unit, running the better part of 10 grand but was welcomed with open arms by many performers and seemed to herald the opening of a whole new generation of synths with new abilities.

The digital age.
Completely separate from the work that analog synth engineers were doing, the digital world was moving rapidly and soon introduced a slew of a whole new type of synthesizers. These digital units were fully polyphonic, didn't go out of tune at the drop of a hat, could change their sound at the touch of a single button from a menu of dozens or hundreds of presets, and could produce sounds that the old analogs simply couldn't touch. The music world went totally ga-ga over these new boards and suddenly the roomsful of analog synths were dumped into closets, pawnshops and garages in favor of these new sleek lightweight instruments that could do so much more than the analogs could. This was the days of the early electronic techno pop like A Flock Of Seagulls, Soft Cell, The Buggles, Thomas Dolby, The Cars, Depeche Mode, Devo and others. The poor analog synths which were so powerful a mover just 5 years earlier could now be had for $100 or so because everyone was hooked on digital. It seemed that the days of the analog synthesizer was dead.

Return of Analog
Despite speed-of-light advancements in digital synths with new and more capable instruments being released almost daily, there was a new generation of new young musicians straddling the line between new-wave and old school who started trying to duplicate some of the sounds they heard on older Yes or ELP recordings on their new shiny digital instruments and discovering to their dismay that they couldn't do it! Suddenly the older analogs were in demand again! That MiniMoog or ARP Odyssey which someone could have bought for 100 dollars just 3 or 4 years prior couldn't be had for less than 1500 dollars- just about the asking price they went for when new in 1971! This sudden upsurge in popularity also created a new industry: that of refurbishing the old analogs which had been neglected and poorly stored so age and corrosion had taken its toll. Analogs were built with old-fashioned robust transistors, resistors, capacitors and diodes with no static-sensitive computer chips and super complex microcircuitry so a little TLC and a bit of basic electronic know-how could easily bring an old analog back to vibrant life with brisk application of a few dead presidents...ok more than a few because these techs saw the interest in the old analogs shoot through the stratosphere and their services went for a fairly high price. However these prices were paid without whining because these new musicians knew they were going to have an instrument which had a sound that no digital keyboard at any price could duplicate.

The Hybrid sound
It didn't take too long for almost any keyboard player by the early 90s to have not only the newest Korg, Yamaha or Roland digital board in his rack, but to have that rack shared with a vintage MiniMoog or ARP analog which was played with pride. Finally, the analogs were respected for what they were: a special instrument with special sounds and abilities which had a place even in the totally digital realm of modern recording and performing. Where digital synths have huge menus of preset sounds, they are static and can't be altered as one plays. The old school analogs, even with the limitations of being monophonic, are in their own ways more expressive than the digitals because they can be tweaked and twiddled as one plays, constantly changing the sounds on the fly at the whim of the performer. This mix of rock-solid digital stability with the "human-ness" of the analog makes for a bigger and healthier sonic palette and removes the totally artificial feel of the pure digital music which characterized that early 80s techno pop genre.

The Future of Analog
Now, these days, with PCs and the like boasting astounding number-crunching abilities, a new breed of analog synthesizers has appeared- the virtual analogs, or "soft synths". They don't "really" exist in a hardware form, but they do exist on a computer monitor, and every control can be manipulated just as they could on the original hardware versions... and on the fly as one plays. Software engineers have managed to do what was once considered impossible: exactly simulating the performance and sounds of an analog synthesizer with a digital computer. The industry is now full of analog emulating software for the buying- introducing and or making available the incredible versatility of the original old school analog synthesizers to a new generation of musicians and performers whose parents weren't even around when the original hardware was new!

These attachments are screenshots of the virtual synths I've recently downloaded. All thru my youth I drooled over pics of these devices and dreamed of one day having a roomful of these instruments. LOL OK it took 3 decades but I have them now!

PIC 1: The MiniMoog. The most popular analog synthesizer ever built. Used by Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Jurgen Fritz and many many others. Still a studio standard for certain "phatt" bass sounds in rap, trance, hip-hop and other modern genres. Most of the tooth-rattling bass drum sounds you hear coming out of those 3000 watt car stereos are very likely produced on a MiniMoog

PIC 2: The ARP 2600. Alan R. Pearlman's (ARP, get it?) answer to the MiniMoog. Somewhat more versatile but comparable in price, the 2600 has a very unique and identifiable sound. Used by Stevie Wonder, Tangerine Dream, Edgar Winter (prominently heard in FRANKENSTEIN and FREE RIDE), and The Who. The opening bars of BABA O'REILLEY aka "teenage wasteland" is the 2600. The vocalizations R2D2 made in the original Star Wars films was created on the 2600, and it can also be heard at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark (the deep "waaoowaaoowaaoo" sound heard after the moment of silence when the generators and lights explode and the spirits begin to emerge from the opened Ark.)

PIC 3: The Moog Modular. The granddaddy of all analog synths. This is the one that started it all. Walter Carlos used this one to compose and perform the original SWITCHED-ON BACH album in 1969. Keith Emerson actually toured with this thing in the early days of Emerson Lake and Palmer. His feedback to Bob Moog telling what knobs and controls he used and which he didn't led Moog to trim and streamline the Modular down to what would ultimately become the MiniMoog. Good thing too because the Modular Keith toured with weighed about 550 lbs (225 kg)! Even The Beatles used one on their last album.

PIC 4: Keith Emerson c. 1973. Yeah, that's the Moog Modular back there. It was once referred to as "The world's most dangerous synthesizer." Keith used to blow out speakers a lot with that thing. You can't really see the MiniMoog or the 4 different Hammond organs he also used, but this is a cool pic that captures the stage presence of Keith at ELP's peak.

PIC 5: Rick Wakeman also c. 1973. This was the photo on the back of his Six Wives Of Henry VIII solo album released just after the Yes album FRAGILE.
__________________________________________________ __
Like I said in the "soundcard latency" thread, keep an eye out on my podcast page... with all these new toys at my disposal, I feel another composition coming up soon...what? my podcast page? Haven't you looked at my sig at the bottom of each and every post I make? The addy is there.

Wanna play with these bad boys?

Wanna play with these bad boys?

Free demo versions are available...thats what I'm using.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg MiniMoog V.jpg (40.0 KB, 2 views)
File Type: jpg ARP2600V closeup.jpg (94.0 KB, 2 views)
File Type: jpg Moog Modular.jpg (267.3 KB, 4 views)
File Type: jpg emerson.jpg (21.8 KB, 2 views)
File Type: jpg wakeman 1.jpg (19.9 KB, 2 views)
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Last edited by ablethevoice; 01-17-2008 at 02:41 PM. Reason: tweaked the text and fixed some wonky punctuation... added 2 more pix
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