[LAD] Monophonic synths (was: Plugin 1/oct frequency controls)

David Robillard d at drobilla.net
Sun Aug 26 02:02:19 UTC 2012

On Fri, 2012-08-24 at 23:36 +0000, Fons Adriaensen wrote:
> On Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 02:32:43PM -0400, David Robillard wrote:
> > Another thought on the more artistic side of things that occurred to me
> > last night: isn't making the computer a cheap version of an analogue
> > synthesizer much the same as making a synthesizer a cheap version of
> > other instruments?
> In a sense, yes, but the analogy fails in some respects.
> * It can take years for a player to develop the motoric skills
> required to e.g. get a decent sound from a violin. But once
> those are in place, that is something quite difficult to
> emulate by either analog or digital electronics, yet it is
> an essential part of any music made on such an instrument.
> OTOH, an analog synth and a software emulation of the same
> can have exactly the same human interface, nothing is lost.

Good point.

> * There's limit to what can be done with analog eletronics.
> There's virtually no limit to what can be done in software.
> A 'perfect' emulation of an analog synth, including all its
> defects, *is* possible. The brute force method is to build
> a Spice model of it, and run it on a system that is fast
> enough to do that in real time.

Also a good point, but with physical modelling you could also precisely
reproduce a violin as well.  Since there are no limits, this argument
applies to basically all sounds (at least if it's all going to end up in
speakers anyway, environment is a completely different story)

Of course, meticulously programming an emulation of a violin performance
is not at all the same thing as an actual player playing in real-time,
and in practice never will be.

To be fair, some pretty awesome music does get made with current
real-instrument-emulation technology (Kashiwa Daisuke really wowed me
with what 'one guy with computers with an orchestra inside them' can do
these days, but I'm a sucker for 20 minute post-* tracks), but... well,
if you stick to open stuff we aren't anywhere close to passable in that
department yet, unfortunately.

> > I think the most exciting thing about computers is the unique
> > possibilities they bring as an instrument unto themselves.  Things like
> > plugins with pretty pixmap UIs designed to look exactly like some box
> > with knobs on it has always struck me as silly, and missing the point.
> I agree. You need to emulate the function, the visual ergonomics,
> but that doesn't mean things have to be 'photo-realistic'.

Especially when that often brings with it non-scalable text, which is a
serious accessibility no-no, and a problem in general with DPIs
increasing rapidly.

As someone with deteriorating vision (largely due to excessive computer
use) I have noticed this problem when occasionally tinkering with other
people's systems with all the latest commercial whiz-bang plugins with
pretty photo realistic UIs... really pretty, and just as unusable,
unless you ram your face into the screen to try to make out the labels
on everything.

Text and vectors are good.  If pixmaps were never (ab)used again in a
UI, I wouldn't miss them one bit.

> > ... Maybe this will become less true as
> > touchscreens become more pervasive, but at least from a UI perspective,
> > a lot of this blind emulation of physical things on a screen is terribly
> > unusable with a mouse.
> Which is why musician prefer hardware controllers. And not only
> musicians. I find using a 'real' mixer, even a digital one with
> assignable knobs and switches much more productive than any DAW.
> > Sonically.. I'm not sure.  I suppose anything FFT based is pretty
> > inherently a 'computer' sound...
> Doesn't have to be. The FFT is just a mathematical trick, it doesn't
> imply anything regarding the sonic results. What makes things sound
> 'computer' is ignoring the complexity of most real sounds.

It enables things you can't realistically do in analog, though, so it is
a potential source of sounds unique to computers.

.. unless analog an analog fourier transform is possible.  I figured
not, but I don't know the first thing about analog electronics


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