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Synth tracks from the mid-2000s return


The songs


Final Approach

First Love


Dirty (Mange II)




Sonora II

The Sword

Tunnel Trance


Where did all these come from?

I recorded a bunch of keyboard-specific tracks in the mid-2000s on the 6HD. Yesterday, I got an email from yet another fan of my synth work from the mid-2000s asking for an MP3. Well, I didn't have it.

Or so I thought.

I decided once again to dive into my pile of DVD backups and see if I could locate the original MP3s I made of the synth tracks I made in the mid-2000s. And this time, I found them. They were buried deep inside an archive that was some web site backup I did back in 2011. I opened the RAR and did a wildcard search for *.mp3, and there they were, many subdirectories deep. No wonder I wasn't able to locate them originally because I placed the files in a folder called docs (short for web site documents, as in HTML files) since they were part of my web site uploads years ago.

Yeah, I play keys too

I cater primarily to a guitar player crowd these days. And when they learn I play keys, it does freak them out because the synth world is totally different to the guitar world.

Here is a very brief and very understated way of synth-thinking vs. guitar-thinking:

Synth: Binary
Guitar: Organic

The way a synth player thinks is like a computer. Ones and zeroes. Very orderly. Everything in its proper place.

The way a guitar player thinks is like the flow of water. Ebbs and flows. Sometimes disorderly. Sometimes chaotic depending on how the wind is blowing on any particular day.

Synths are computers; guitars are not. Nothing ever changes on a synth; everything changes on a guitar and the instrument does not sound the same from day to day.

Then you get a guy like me who knows both sides of the fence.

Here's an explanation of two of the songs above because since they have been the two most-often requested for download.

The Sword

I purposely composed this song to sound like something you'd hear in an early-to-mid-1980s movie or television special of some "modern medieval" thing (think Fire and Ice). Everything in this one was made to sound "synthy", but what makes it work to my ear is the lead melody. It's a bit of a soft lead sound (it has a soft attack to it) but it works and separates proper.

I've always liked "brass" on synth both for fill and lead sounds as they have a very warm soothing sound to them.

At 1:40 you'll notice the lead sound changes. And the reason for that is that I layered another lead sound on top of the first one that was slightly different-sounding. Worked out pretty well.

Dirty (Mange II)

This is what happens when guitar-thinking and synth-thinking collide. The Alesis Fusion 6HD had this particular monophonic lead sound where the pitch wheel would go up or down an octave, meaning a full 3 octaves of travel were available to you whenever you used it. This is something I'd never messed around with before the 6HD, and to me sounded just like a Floyd-Rose tremolo system on a guitar.

So I played it like I would a guitar.

Add to that the pitch wheel on the 6HD doesn't exactly get to proper pitch when "flipped" back to center and it adds an organic quality to it. The wheel on the 6HD when used that way isn't easy to control and notes go off-key quite a bit, which gives the lead sound a guitar-like quality to it.

Everything about Dirty (Mange II) is wrong both from a guitar and synth point of view. Buzzy, distorted patterns using 5ths like guitar power chords, a thundering kick drum, organic-style drum "playing" and a lead sound with almost no structure whatsoever. "Chaotic" doesn't even begin to describe how wrong Dirty actually is, and the only way to get that lead sound correct is to wail on it as if you were a guitar player.

However, everything wrong about it is what makes it so right.

My "classical" phase

Several of the songs above sound classical-like. The piano sounds on the 6HD are actually quite good and allowed me to be really expressive with them, so I recorded a few that had a classical sound to them.

To 6HD owners that were wondering how I got the "88 keys" sound out of a synth that only has 61 keys, it's just a matter of transposing an octave up or down while playing, as the 6HD can handle that easily without "losing" notes in the process due to the fact it has a massive amount of polyphony.

Why I put the synth down (for now) and went with guitar instead

Synth programming officially jumped the shark once touchscreens started appearing on workstations.. At that point, it was totally obvious that any feel synths had were just plain gone. That was sad.

The synth industry learned quickly that players don't like synths that act too much like computers. A good synth has a personality all its own, much the same way guitars do. But when the synth basically turns into a mainframe, it has no personality at that point and players scoff at that. Big time.

These days, many synth workstations have reverted back to what made them great to begin with, that being a keyboard with a ton of knobs, buttons, sliders and maybe even a ribbon controller. You know, the cool stuff. An example of this is the Roland GAIA SH-101. What a feast for the eyes that is. There are knobs, buttons and sliders everywhere, and that's cool.

When the time comes that I start playing more synth again, I've already made the decision that I'm not going anywhere near pattern sequencing or sequencing in general. No track layering, no quantizing, none of that. When I record synths in the future, I'm doing to do it the old-school way - manually.

The manual way is what makes stuff like this sound so awesome:

Or this:

While I'm not going for sounds like that in particular, there's a lot to be said about playing manually with no pre-programmed stuff involved.

No, I don't plan on going vintage with synths because they break a lot. I will go new when I decide to do it. Maybe a Roland, possibly the AX-09 model because it has the ribbon and the pad brass-like sounds I dig so much. And it's fairly inexpensive besides which.

But anyway, yeah, when I start playing synth again, I'm just leaving the whole sequencing thing behind and will play manual/natural instead.

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