In my mind, sound design is at its best when it is a process of discovery. At its worst it can be an unfortunate exercise in mimicry. I am fascinated by the process of discovering sound through happy accidents. One of the techniques I have exploited frequently in this regard is synthesizer patch randomization. For example, the Yamaha TX81Z sounds great when randomized, or better yet, “degraded” with shuffled parameter values interpolated based on a time unit or clock division. The PreenFM2 has patch randomization built directly into the instrument!
So, it wasn’t long after picking up a Novation Circuit that I had the urge to use a similar shortcut to mine fantastic and otherworldly sounds from the unit. Full MIDI specification for the Circuit is available so that development of a standalone randomizer is possible, but Isotonik Studios published a free Max for Live editor in partnership with Novation. Max for Live patches are inherently editable so I decided to start there.
It took me a couple of hours to get into the guts of the editor and setup a drop down menu for randomization. The drop down has choices to either “randomize all” (not quite all parameters), or randomize one of seven sets of grouped parameters like the oscillator section, mod matrix, or LFOs. At his stage I haven’t included the EQ section, voice controls, or macro controls. I probably won’t add the EQ, but the macro controls might offer some interesting possibilities. The image above shows a simple subpatch I made that takes a bang and outputs the random values for the oscillator section. Unfortunately, I can not legally share my mods based on Isotonik’s and Novation’s EULAs. However, you’ll need little more than a basic understanding of Max to do this yourself. Checkout the video and let me know what you think in the comments.
After a few attempts and creating cymatics with the WSG, we switched to creating a simple Max patch that we used to generate the frequencies. This allowed us to isolate specific frequencies that worked well to excite the mustard seed on the platform. This time it is much easier to hear the hissing sound of the mustard seed as is vibrates on the platform. It sounds a little bit like white noise, but brighter and less consistent
Before I continue I must admit that I have always had a problem with the term “pad” as a catch-all term for sustained synthesizer textures. I also have an aversion to using sounds that are described in that manner. I’m not exactly sure why, but it might have to do with the idea of padding. Padding is an unnecessary stuffing use to protect things from hard edges, or prevent delicate items from being broken. I’ll stop there with the metaphors, but my aversion comes down to not wanting to produce work where any sound is considered filler. However, I realize that this term is impossible to escape, so over the years I have tried to embrace it, but it still doesn’t sit right for me. In any case here’s a “sustained synthesizer texture”, produced by the Roland D-50, that I’m quite fond of.
This microtrack was made with a D-50 factory preset called Twilight Zone. The D-50 is quite capable of generating sophisticated special effects. Still looking for a PG-1000, but might start using some librarian software specifically designed for the D-50 to at least be able to use a mouse or track pad to program patches.