Music Workshop - FEZ
February 16, 2015 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Are you interested in making ambient, drifting, densely-layered electronic music? But don't know where to even start? This is the most thoughtful and gentle introduction I'm aware of, from a fine musician. It's a 45-minute video workshop from Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace, composer of the gorgeous, acclaimed Fez soundtrack. Rich composes a Fez-like track on the fly, explaining what he's doing in the process. While he uses Logic and the softsynth Massive in this workshop, his general approach and attention to sound design and synthesis will be applicable to whatever software or hardware you choose to use. (Hat tip to sparkletone for the link. Fez previously on Metafilter.)
posted by naju (36 comments total) 118 users marked this as a favorite
 
I knew there was a lot to Massive, but this makes me want to dig back into it again.
posted by Foosnark at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some of the synthesis terminology may be unfamiliar - here are some posters from the Moog Foundation. Apple is also really good at explaining the basics.
posted by naju at 12:59 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


This creation process looks really really fun. Maybe even more fun than the very fun game that it went into. The audio to Fez was such a great addition to the visual effects, and I can't really imagine the game without the environment created by the music.

Thanks for the post, this introduces an entirely new world to me.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:04 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think what's fascinating me about this for me is his approach is completely different from mine. He's taking very simple sounds and getting out more than the sum of the parts. I tend to layer like crazy and use much more complex sources (e.g. instead of that noise oscillator sputtering from an LFO, I'd use a sample recorded from an induction coil or an FM synth going overboard on feedback, or something.)

I share a love of bitcrushers with him though. Sometimes I will throw one on just because I read another annoying forum post by an analog synth purist.
posted by Foosnark at 1:10 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I knew there was a lot to Massive, but this makes me want to dig back into it again.

Heh. My first thought when watching this the first time upon seeing his synth of choice was, "Oh, hey, that's what Skrillex uses to make fax machine genocide noises." But like any good synth (or really any tool of sufficient complexity), it's what you do with it that counts.
posted by sparkletone at 1:22 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Foosnark, what you're saying reminds me of the one main reason I really liked Jeskola Buzz: it had all of these super dinky, odd sound generators, and effects that were often kinda iffy at what they were apparently meant for, but you could string a ton of them together and get something really interesting-sounding. The software otherwise was unstable and clunky and had terrible MIDI support, but that aspect of it was pretty fun.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:33 PM on February 16, 2015


This creation process looks really really fun. Maybe even more fun than the very fun game that it went into.

This is the secret of electronic music - it's just a fun, super deep game! It's also a bit like a zen garden. It's a lot of things. And at the end of it, you have something you can be proud of.
posted by naju at 1:45 PM on February 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


This is the secret of electronic music

It is indeed!
posted by Foosnark at 2:07 PM on February 16, 2015


BTW, do MeFites have other favorite softsynths besides NI Massive? (People also seem to really like Zebra.) I used to be super allergic to paying for softsynths but that is slightly less of an issue now that I am not in grad school anymore.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:23 PM on February 16, 2015


BTW, do MeFites have other favorite softsynths besides NI Massive?

I've been hearing a lot of good things about Serum, which is similar to Massive but allows even further control over wavetables. Haven't tried it myself yet, but there's a demo and the tutorial videos on youtube look promising.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


fax machine genocide

new username brb

BTW, do MeFites have other favorite softsynths besides NI Massive?

I absolutely love Spire--it's really, really good for crisp, clear trancy leads. Not entirely in love with its FX processing, but there's a huge wealth of ways to control everything when you flip through the tabs at the bottom. Albino is still a favourite for layered pad sounds.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:50 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


BTW, do MeFites have other favorite softsynths besides NI Massive?

I tend to stick to hardware these days, but:

1) I'm a big fan of Arturia's emulations of vintage synthesizers. You can't go wrong with the whole lineup (under "Analog Classics"). Modular V in particular is really deep and fun to use. And it's polyphonic, which the old Moog Modular never could be.

2) I've heard really good things about Madrona Labs softsynths, Aalto and Kaivo. They're "west coast" style, meaning they're far more about sound experiments and complex modulations than other softsynths out there. From a friend: "Aalto is hands-down the best soft synth. Madrona's other one, Kaivo is also amazing but it utterly destroys CPUs. I own em both and would buy anything Madrona does on sight."
posted by naju at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Months nothing, and then two threads in which I can draw from my Commodore knowledge in one day --

I played around a fair bit with the C64's SID back in day, so I pretty much understood that. Doesn't mean I have the equipment or software to use this knowledge tho.
posted by JHarris at 3:00 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really love Applied Acoustics's Modeling Collection , especially String Studio and Tassman 4.

They maybe aren't as hip or well-heeled in the current musical zeitgeist but I think their tools are just super tweak-friendly and powerful.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I played around a fair bit with the C64's SID back in day, so I pretty much understood that. Doesn't mean I have the equipment or software to use this knowledge tho.

I sometimes lust after the SIDstations I occasionally see floating around on Craigslist!
posted by naju at 3:06 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Favorite softsynths:

AAS Chromaphone
NI Razor
Plogue Chipspeech
u-he Bazille

Not technically a synth, but I use Kontakt probably more than everything else combined.
posted by Foosnark at 3:11 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


BTW, do MeFites have other favorite softsynths besides NI Massive?

One of the better pieces of advice in my experience that Rich gives in the video is "it's better to have one tool you know really, really well and just use that" and for a long time Ableton's builtin Analog was that "one tool" for me when it came to synth stuff. I work more with samples than not and my synth needs are generally pretty basic though, so I might not be the best person to ask..

That said, as a Christmas present to myself a couple years ago, I bought Diva after adoring u-he's tape delay plugin, Satin, and Diva's been a really great addition to the stuff I use once I got used to it.
posted by sparkletone at 3:13 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a big fan of Arturia's emulations of vintage synthesizers.

I've come this close to buying Mini V a number of times... Back when I was playing with Reaktor a fair amount, one of the more useful things I had was a pretty decent minimoog-a-like built in it. Arturia's is definitely better than that though.
posted by sparkletone at 3:16 PM on February 16, 2015




Very cool, thanks guys! I have tended to do basically the opposite of what Rich advised and sparkletone called out above because I have been switching DAWs and synths pretty frequently (some of this was down to moving operating systems; there's some correlation with other factors but I feel like honestly I never quite recovered from in terms of musical productivity from moving to Linux in grad school...), which is why I was particularly curious about synths that people felt rewarded that kind of prolonged experience.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:08 PM on February 16, 2015


I have been using the hell out of Serum. On the surface it's a successor to Massive. There are a few routing possibilities it doesn't cover but it's clearly picking up where NI left off including with even better version of what was already an excellent interface. It's actually much more powerful though because you can freely create, import, and edit wavetables - the interface for this is definitely the most advanced I've seen built into a synth - and there's other cool stuff like the "noise osc" is actually a stealth sample player. The sound is much cleaner (minimal aliasing) than Massive which is mostly great because it means it's better does pretty pads and stuff. You have to try a little harder if you're looking for digital grit but thanks to a tone of wavetable manipulations and distortion options it's there, trust me.

I also second Diva being the gold standard for analog emulation. The only synth plugins I've got on my new laptop are those two and an SH-101 emulation (plus Ableton's built-in FM synth).
posted by atoxyl at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've got the Massive wavetables in Serum. Though like I said it's not a 100% replacement - in particular while oscillator frequency/phase modulation is an option in Serum it take up an wavetable "warp" slot (and there's no dedicated modulation osc but that's not so bad because you can use the sub osc) meaning you can't put the oscillator in "bend" mode (or any of the numerous new ones) and put FM on the attack at the same time, which was one of my go-to techniques. I've got a whole bunch of crazy dirty Massive patches just sitting on my old computer right now.
posted by atoxyl at 4:33 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have tended to do basically the opposite of what Rich advised and sparkletone called out above because I have been switching DAWs and synths pretty frequently

It's not advice I always follow or have followed well. But over the last 3-4 years I have been able to (very) slowly pare down my "main stay" stuff so that I'm not rewiring two programs together or bouncing stems to move between programs anymore. That's mostly due to Ableton really maturing in the last few major iterations and filling out stuff I used to get by using Logic, or an ancient copy of Reason, or Reaktor. Simplifying what passes for my workflow has been quite welcome.

Also, I think it's definitely possible to go too far with it and get in a rut, but there's very real value in having a smallish set of "bread and butter" tools that you know pretty deeply. It'll make learning the ins and outs of new things easier imo.
posted by sparkletone at 4:58 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


One more comment, sorry...

Some of the Arturia emulations traditionally didn't have a great reputation among synth nerds, though they may well have caught up if they followed the wave of innovations in analog emulation that started about when Diva came out. They've got some cool budget hardware in the Brute line for sure though. GForce historically killed it as far as VA goes - impOSCar and Oddity are real classics. I have a soft spot for TAL (previously linked) because I cut my teeth on their free stuff. They've got a very good SH-101 - there's another company that does one but I forget who - and Juno.

Even NI does a Minimoog now that's supposed to be very faithful. You know, if you need another Minimoog.
posted by atoxyl at 5:02 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know, if you need another Minimoog.

That "it's another minimoog, not that there's anything wrong with that!" feeling is part of why I kind of started looking for other options and in fact Diva not trying to be any particular analog synth so slavishly is part of why I went with it in the end. Feel pretty good about that purchase a year and some change on.
posted by sparkletone at 5:35 PM on February 16, 2015


BTW, do MeFites have other favorite softsynths besides NI Massive?

I like Massive just fine, but one day I'll learn how to use Reaktor.

No I won't. I keep telling myself that I will, but Reaktor is a big box full of mad little boxes. And inside each of those boxes, more insanity.
posted by Grangousier at 6:03 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the 80s when all I really had was one or two hardware synths, mastering them was fairly easy. (I always wondered why people thought Yamaha FM synths were hard to program. When that's all you have, you figure out how to make the most of it.) Now there's an embarrassment of riches though.
posted by Foosnark at 6:10 PM on February 16, 2015


Softsynths are easy to come by (when I was in college, I pirated as many as I could and felt drunk with power). But I wonder how many people really dig deep into a single one and learn all it has to offer. I'm guessing not many. Lots of presets going around. That's why Rich's advice is so important. Really just sit down with one great piece of gear/software and master it inside and out, and you'll make something far more interesting than that kid with a collection of 2,000 VSTs and not much to show for it.
posted by naju at 7:29 PM on February 16, 2015


P.S. this thread got me to check out Aalto, and I'm already in love with it. One of those synths where you can get a handle on it in a day or two, but spend months exploring and finding insane new things.
posted by naju at 7:34 PM on February 16, 2015


I'm digging the detuning effect he's getting with the "Tape Delay" plugin around 20 min. Anyone know any other plugins that can do something similar? Looks like it's a Logic default plugin, which I don't have (I mostly build in Ableton, finish in Pro Tools). I've used Speakerphone for a similar effect but the controls here look more suited towards what I want to do.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:44 PM on February 16, 2015


Logic's Tape Delay plugin is one the few things I really, really miss about that program. I too have been looking for a suitable replacement.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:13 PM on February 16, 2015


While it's not really a tape delay, something I use for a similar effect is Sonitex STX-1260. It does vinyl record pitch warping (among lots of other stuff).

And my own plugin Horse does wet wobbly detuned chorus with adjustable delay/feedback, so it might fit the bill too. (PC VST only though.)
posted by Foosnark at 9:18 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


This soundtrack is vangelis levels of beautiful. When i very first heard it, after a friend randomly bought the game, my mouth fell open. In 20 years, this game is going to be one of those semi unknown hidden classics. And the soundtrack is going to get brought up pretty much any time the game gets mentioned.

But I wonder how many people really dig deep into a single one and learn all it has to offer. I'm guessing not many.

I sort of did this with operator, and the general sample editing abilities(and essentially using them as the raw waveform part of a synth, then passing them through filters, etc). My favorite achievement with that was hooking up an NES through an audio interface in to ableton, then creating a nightmarish daisy chain of midi sequencing to have the NES play the notes, feeding the audio back in through an interface in to an audio channel with filters and effects on it, scripting to have the filters sync up with those notes, then eventually spit it out of the speakers. Getting this down to under 10 seconds of latency was a nightmare, but i eventually did it.

A couple of my friends got way in to MAX/msp and made me look like a $5 noob, both on soft synthesis and sample playback/audio processing. And now my coworker always wants to talk about his new python scripting that ties in to max and dude wait i'm not done.

But yea, i spent many a night staying up until 6am playing around with operator, various super simple waveform generator VSTs, and just sampled waveforms fed through various filters and effects.

And yet no matter how much time i put in to it, i never quite got to that stage where i could hear a sound, or someone could go "how would you make that sound?" and i could reliably even take a stab at recreating it. In that sense, it's not a black box, but definitely a semi opaque box to me.

And the weird thing is, it's really just softsynths that kind of confuse me. I could sit down at my juno 106 or AX-60 and if not make the exact sound i'm thinking of, make something that at least sounded vaguely right and pretty cool(with plenty of epiphany "oops... wait HOLY SHIT THAT SOUNDS AWESOME!" moments along the way). Any time i don't get what i want on a softsynth, it usually just sounds boring, like farts, or garbage. The actual hardware synths i own you can start with every knob at zero and make something semi interesting really fast if you have any experience with them. Operator and such, though, i just never got to that point with. I get what the dials do, but i never got to that point of "ok, so if you want something like this start with this waveform then set this knob a bit past halfway and..."

I don't know if it's a me problem, or if that's just sort of a boring softsynth. Massive, and several other super popular ones like that i know aren't. And i know people who can convincingly program them to sound like essentially anything previously made by mankind synth wise. Despite a huge pile of hours invested though, i always found it easier to make interesting sounds on more limited hardware that seemed to have a failure mode of at least semi interesting sounds, rather than a totally open ended playground of anything in the universe.
posted by emptythought at 4:57 AM on February 17, 2015


I don't know if it's a me problem, or if that's just sort of a boring softsynth.

FM synths were exciting in the 80s because they could easily do things that were practically impossible with analog. But to my ears they're mostly pretty plain. They still do a few sounds well by modern standards, but if I were going to pick just one synth to learn inside and out, it wouldn't be something like Operator.

i always found it easier to make interesting sounds on more limited hardware that seemed to have a failure mode of at least semi interesting sounds, rather than a totally open ended playground of anything in the universe.

In contrast to knowing one synth really well, I like having a collection of synths that are more narrowly focused (like Chromaphone or Night Flight) as well as having at least enough familiarity with other synths to know what their strengths are.

You might want to try Sonic Charge Synplant; while it has some conventional controls (with arcane labels) under the hood, its main appeal is a "genetic" interface to mutating sounds. Pretty much everything it does is at least interesting, if not always musically useful at the time.

A fun exercise for getting yourself familiar with a synth, and the things you can achieve with effects, is to record a few tracks using just that one synth. I've done several with just mda ePiano and a few with just sines. (Feed it into distortion and then filter it, and now you've effectively got a modular synth... the possibilities are endless.)
posted by Foosnark at 6:47 AM on February 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


FM synths are extremely powerful, and I'd never call them "plain" or "boring." But what they have always been known for is being difficult to program without trial end error or doing the math. Operator is a lot more intuitive to use than a DX7 but in general you're starting in exactly the wrong place.Something like Massive versus straight-up hardware emulations is another story. I've been using software since the beginning and I'm not a fan of virtual buttons and knobs but I will say the "average" wavetable or subtractive-esque softsynth still doesn't really have the inherent mojo for "every sound is awesome" - you have to rely more on complex programming. The really good hardware clones or certain other high-quality VA-style synths do though.
posted by atoxyl at 9:40 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Man, Night Flight looks like it would be a great little addition to my kit but it's Windows only.
posted by atoxyl at 10:25 AM on February 17, 2015


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