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 Forum index » Discussion » Schmooze
The cutting power of new synths
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Oskar



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2004 2:03 am    Post subject: The cutting power of new synths Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Last night I put my new Little Feat release in my DVD player. I've been a fan since I saw them perform at the first RockPalast festival/eurovision transmission to be shown in Norway. I've always admired the clarity of the sound on the old recordings, especially the drums and keyboards. Mr Bill Payne, the keyboard player is a treasure, thinking nothing of blending honkytonk country with impressionistic piano interludes, mixing funk with cajun, often doubling his Wurlitzer work - solos and comping - with an Oberheim 4 or 8 voice or a MiniMoog. Now we get to the reason why this isn't posted under the Reviews section. On the new DVD, "Highwire Act," the keyboard sounds, especially the synth sounds, don't seem to cut through as well as on the old live set "Waiting for Columbus." This may of course be chalked up to ageing players who can't quite cut it anymore, but that's not quite true. Seems to me there's something about the inherent "cutting power" of the new generation sounds. Bill Payne sounds off on Korg Keyboards, but I've felt that when I've seen Roland, Yamaha or Kurzweil logos the same thing applies: Synth pads and solo sounds on "modern" synths don't have the same kind of presence as the old stuff. I'll admit that the Nord Lead does it better.
Any thoughts? Are modern keyboards good enough in live situations for other than piano, organ and "sample-playing?"

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elektro80
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2004 5:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well.. you are kinda right.. but this has more to do about the actual use of the instrument and the presets/patching than anything else.

First of all.. chords on anything else than percussive keyboard instruments as the Fender Rhodes.. and those screaming organs will always have serious problems "cutting" it in a live mix. A currendt fad is hammering away chords on mushy pads etc etc.. that does obiously not work that well.. but it is how things should sound these days. very few are doing mixes with alive sound in mind.. the new way they think loud today is by overall increasing the "loudness" on the CDs so that their product will sound as "clear as anyone else´s product.

Instrument interfaces have changed too.. but still.. the major players are sticking to those calculator pad interfaces like the did in the mid 80s. This means that most synth playing techniques from the 70s cannot be applied anymore on those big monster arranger keyboards. It is simply not enough to enter some "screaming Odyssey" preset.. you cannot play it like you should be able too. Playing the envelopes and the filters as you go.. forget about it.. no can do. Synthwise though, the Yamaha, Korg and Roland monster polka tables are REALLY good.. but very few are actually using these as true synths. I often compare this to.. well.. imagine they managed to repackage a vioin into a Nokia box.. you would know that the good stuff is in there still but you have no sensible way to get you hands on it in a live situation. Of course, the mean polka machines can be wonderful in the studio.

...And I imagine the overall instrument approach has changed.. at least within mainstream rock and pop. Affordable samplers also changed a lot.
Most use of samplers is far from inventive and musical. It is just another preset machine.

Back in the days of prog writing and arranging had some serious attention. That is why a lot of mediocre songs ended ended up as great gems. It is possible to "add some life" even without ventures into freebase and exotic sorting habits.

A big mean polka machine is in itself not a bad thing.. It is just a matter of how it is being used.

BTW: I love a lot of the early Elton John material. He had songs and a piano. Great! then the songs started to sound just like any other pop song.. and someone gave him a modern polyphonic synth.. or 200.. hard to say really if he has excesses in that department too. When he performed in Trondheim he pretty much presented a karaoke party.. the lot was hammering away in the background controlled by a midi sequencer.

On the other hand.. if we take a look at the statistics.. the most creatively destructive instrument MUST be the electric guitar.

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mosc
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2004 7:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Like I haven't played every new synth, or every old synth, so comparing old and new is pretty difficult. Sill, of the ones I've played, I don't see anything missing in the new ones that would explain what you are hearing, a loss of lines that cut through. I think it is the musicians you are listening to, and the eveolution in the musical style. Maybe the music is just going through a more mellow, less adventurous phase. Maybe, like I said back in 1975, rock and roll is dead.
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bachus



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2004 9:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
Maybe, like I said back in 1975, rock and roll is dead.


Personally I think the record labels just keep reanimating the long dead corps--that's why it has that smell.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2004 10:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
Maybe, like I said back in 1975, rock and roll is dead.


Very Happy

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Oskar



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 9:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
mosc wrote:
Maybe, like I said back in 1975, rock and roll is dead.


Personally I think the record labels just keep reanimating the long dead corps--that's why it has that smell.

The smell you feel ain't decomposing flesh, it's sweat - you know the smelly, icky stuff that emanates from your skin when you work hard. It's organic and therefore PoliticallyCorrect (HUZZAH). Or to paraphrase some old movie (from when they were called "talkies"): Rock'n'roll is dead. LONG LIVE ROCK AND ROLL!

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Oskar



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 9:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I think I made myself unclear, so I must try and clarify my point, which IS: I feel that "new fangled keyboards, especially from the "big 3" Yamaha, Korg and Roland neither blend in with or cut through in ensemble playing. They have lovely piano, organ and sample based sounds (the shakuhachis and suchlike), but when it comes to "synth" sounds - by which I mean sounds that may be organic, but are definitely NOT based on "real" instruments, they don't work half as well as old synths like the Prophet, the Yamaha CS60/80, the Oberheims and so forth.
Case in point: I've done a few gigs with just myself on acoustic guitar and vocals, a LOUD drummer and a keyboard player. A few months later with the same drummer and a different keys man. Both of these guys are great players, tremendous technique and a strong musicality. Furthermore, I feel a strong affinity with both - as players AND persons, so I enjoyed both gigs immensely. One of them worked with a Roland piano and a not quite, but still nice, Roland synth. The other had a DX7 as a keyboard controller for two Akai S1000s and a MIDI-retrofitted Prophet V. Like I said, they're good players, they both had good individual sounds, but the Prophet just sounded so much better, what with all the warm pads, the sync sounds and so forth.
After this, I've decided to - at some point in the not-too-distant future - try to put together a trio with a percussionist, an analog synth guy ( is Zawinul available, do you think? Cool ) and myself, as always on acoustic guitar and vocals.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 10:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Oskar wrote:
...you know the smelly, icky stuff that emanates from your skin when you work hard.


You mean like the stuff I'm dripping with right now from being out in the sun spraying and cutting the f***ing thistles in my cattle pastures? If so, yea, I know that stuff quite well, and I'm going back for more. Razz

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mosc
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

It's easy to confuse the music with the instrument. Still, synths are individual instruments. For the kind of music I play, a Prophet 5 would not hack it. Neither would a MiniMoog, or a DX7. Probably one of the new big 3 synths you're talking about wouldn't either. When I play them (all of the above) they sound very conventional. Anyway, don't be surprised that different insturments fit better with different music. A Stradavarious violin might not work well as a Blue Grass fiddle.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 11:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Hey Oskar... what about doing something with me and like ernst or TK in the style of Harmonia and Can.. and also have all those old style sequencers thundering? I have lotsa material in that vein too. haven´t heard it for 20 years or so though.. And you do some mean "kraut" guitar?

Anyway, you might be kinda right, but it does have a lot to do with presets and playing style.. and also with NOT using compression.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 12:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

The test..

This file I have published here before. It is just a little ditty.. however.. the sounds you hear are pretty vintage and the same is the playing style.
Because the synth does not have velocity etc etc. the character is expressed using filters and .. well.. whatever. Turn up the volume. Does this have that cutting power?
The trick live is to use less chords from the keyboards if you want those classic synth sounds. Sloppy chords are awful and they mess up the PA mix. It has come to my attention that even 1/2 finger solos CAN be played on tonewheel organs Shocked ... so.. this is proof that there is still a God..

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 1:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I forgot that damned file


cuttingpower.mp3
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 1:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
The other had a DX7 as a keyboard controller for two Akai S1000s


i own a s1000...i have yet to find a sampler that sounds better than an Akai. feed the unit with any synth and it will have the sound you heard. The recording engine of an old akai is unique.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 1:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I suspect it is all about how you use the gear.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 3:11 pm    Post subject: Re: The cutting power of new synths Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Oskar wrote:
Are modern keyboards good enough in live situations for other than piano, organ and "sample-playing?"

ever tried a synth of the Waldorf Microwave family Question Those are nasty Exclamation

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2004 3:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yeah.. if anything can cut the heart out of an elephant it would be a Waldorf. Shocked
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 21, 2004 9:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
I suspect it is all about how you use the gear.


Well, ain't that the truth. Good musicians transcend their instruments.
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 21, 2004 3:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I own a Microwave and a Q. I think they are amazing. Another synth that cuts easily through a mix is the Alesis Ion.
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 21, 2004 4:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I am very impressed by the Ion. That is one excellent performance synth. Of course you myust plan the performance and set up the patches in advance.. but it is REALLY musical and very expressive. The ION concept is of course very different from what the G2 is about.
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I like the ION too, but I haven't played it very much. In the short time I did spend with it I was very impressed. It as one significant advantage over the G2- the knobs are high resolution. The G2 knobs have only 128 steps. Most of the time this is not a problem, but when controlling the pitch of oscillators over a 10 octave range, the difference is significant.

On the ION this is very smooth, on the G2 it is pretty near unusable because of the stair steps to descrete frequency steps. Some people suggest using a portamento on the G2 but that is just a band-aid that only slightly covers up the problem.

Still, for me, since I was only going to have one, I picked the G2 because it is much more powerful and flexible. I can quite easilly live with the low-res knobs.
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Oskar



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 22, 2004 2:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Thanks a lot folks! You've given me some new insights into what some of the "lesser-known" synths are good for. Although I'm a guitar player, and haven't really played keyboards in front of an audience since the D-50 was the ultimate sound source Twisted Evil , and I mostly play solo acoustic roots-oriented stuff, I'm still keenly interested in the textural possibilities offered by synths. And samplers, of course.
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