Wednesday, 24 March 2010

No more Alesis Micron - Patch a Day

This is going to be the last Alesis Micron - Patch a Day post and I'll tell you why...

I created this blog to learn about synthesis and learn how the Micron operates. It's a great synth which has its admirers, particularly regarding the power hidden within its funky silver and red (or blue) shell. But it is also not without its detractors who mainly complain that it is a pain to program. And, having spent the last couple of months trying to generate original patches from scratch I have to agree.

Now there are editors for the Micron, and I personally use Micron AU and find it very useful when I have my synth connected to my computer. But I work in a very limited space and so use a laptop, which I don't always have set up. Sometimes I want to be able to power up and start playing music, or designing sounds straightaway. The Micron is great for playing, there is a great library of user patches, and the mod sliders and 3 rotary knobs are probably just enough to make creative performing a pleasure. But for designing sounds, without the software editor the Micron does not do it for me.

So I intend buying a synth that is easier to program with lots of knobs and sliders to work a sound. I may keep my Micron as I still really like to play on it. Creating a patch a day on it though has proven to be a chore.

Cheerio and thanks for taking the time to read this.


Monday, 15 March 2010

Update to Patch 016

Apologies for not posting the FM guitar patch as promised, I have been trying to sort out why the FM8 xylobell patch sounds nothing like the Micron xylobell patch - they are both digital synths with fairly simple parameters and yet the outputs are not even close to being similar. Below is an mp3 file which shows what I mean:

Sound 1 - FM8 (50% FM)
Sound 2 - Micron with FM amt = 11.2% (linear FM)
Sound 3 - Micron with FM amt = 50% (linear FM)
Sound 4 - Micron with FM amt = 50% (exp FM)
Sound 2 is as high an FM amount as I dare go before the tones become harsh. Note how nice the FM8 patch sounds! Before I proceed with the rest of my FM8 patches I feel I need to resolve this issue first. I might try and compare the sounds without any envelopes at all as maybe subtle differences in the envelope has a big impact. Perhaps one of you can help with this?

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Patch 016 - XyloBell FM8

I have been getting into the theory of frequency modulation (FM) having caught a couple of really good videos online after the topic was raised on the Micron yahoo group recently (a great resource; if anyone does not know about it, they can find the group here). I got Native Instruments' FM8 synth quite some time ago and spurred on by my recent curiosity I loaded up an instance of it in Logic. Before now I have only ever been a preset surfer with FM8 but with my recently acquired knowledge I was keen to try and figure out what this beast is all about.

So far on Alesis Micron - Patch a Day I have followed "instructions" from various sources on how to achieve a particular sound rather than copy patches to the letter. Given all the differences in filter types, approximations of envelope times etc together with the sometimes major difference in synth architecture, copying patches from other synths is generally not a simple process. Given that a number of FM8's patches are simply based on envelope modulated sine waves modulating each other I was keen to investigate if it was possible to replicate some of the FM8 patches exactly on the Micron and if not I was interested to hear how different these synths would sound. The only complication was translating the tunings from FM8 (ratios) to the Micron (octaves, semitones and cents) for which I had to get my calculator out!

So this is the first patch in a series trying to replicate these FM8 patches. FM8 does have some incredibly complex algorithms so where necessary I have simplified the FM8 patches to 3 oscillator versions that can be reproduced on the Micron. Often, like in the following example FM8 uses a duo of 3 operator patches panned hard left and right which the Micron cannot replicate. In this instance I have gone for a mono patch with no panning. The only parameter that I had to use some judgement for was what FM amount to use - in FM8 the level of the modulator represents the FM amount and the difference between a 50% modulator level in FM8 and a 50% FM amount on the Micron was quite startling. I ended up using very little FM amount at all, just enough to give a nice metallic ringing noise.

XyloBell FM8

It's a nice patch. But..... not as nice as FM8 which has a very delicate sound.

Tomorrow I'll attempt to recreate an FM8 guitar.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Patch 015 - Breath

The one issue I have with the Micron not having an "initialise patch" feature (see Patch 013 for more details) is that I always forget to "store as copy" and end up writing over it! So when I fired up my Micron this evening to work on a new patch I did not have a blank canvas to start from and as my laptop is not rigged up to it full time I couldn't upload my Init patch without a fair degree of effort. No problem of course, as I have another 13 patches to use as my starting point. So I picked my "basic organ" patch at random and set about tweaking.

From the outset I wanted to create a pad sound with a bit of movement. To achieve this movement I added two items to the modulation matrix, LFO1 modulating resonance of a high pass filter and envelope 3 modulating the LFO rate. I changed osc 3 to a triangle wave and tweaked the waveshapes on all three oscillators so they had a little harmonic content for the filter to work with.With the LFO rate changing the resonsance over time and by setting long release times on the amp envelope the sounds of single notes interacted nicely and I thought the patch had a nice breathing quality, hence the name.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Patch 014 - Sync lead

I am still at the "Oscillator" section of Jim Aikin's great Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming book and in it the osc sync function is described very well. I have never programmed an osc synch patch before and so thought I'd have a go for this blog, tweaking until I found something nice.

This patch uses two sine waves, the first of which is used only to sync oscillator two as the level of oscillator one is set to 0%. I have detuned oscillator two by a couple of octaves and the output is a rather pleasant buzzing sound not dissimilar to a saw wave. I added unison to fatten the sound a little and then added a couple of low pass filters in parallel. So far, so good.

Then I noticed a rather odd thing when I was previewing the patch. If I held a note and then struck another note twice in quick succession the sound lost its higher frequencies. The speed at which I struck the second and third notes was crucial to whether or not the higher frequencies were filtered out or not. Is this a bug in the software or a feature of VA synths when using osc sync? Perhaps one of you clever bunch can elighten me?

And here is a link to an example of the "bug" in action! (aiff format sound file)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Patch 013 - Init

As you may know there is no "initialise patch" function on the Micron which can be frustrating for the sound designer. The workaround is simple and fairly obvious - create your own initialised patch and save to the memory. To save you all the time and energy of doing this yourself I present to you a bit of a cheat for Patch a Day Patch 013, the initialised patch:

This contains a single sine oscillator and no filters. The envelope and LFO settings are set to standard values and the effects are bypassed. I used the rather nifty MicronAU software editor for this to ensure I didn't miss anything when resetting the parameters.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Patch 012 - Uniclav lead

I recenty purchased the Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming book by Jim Aikin and have been working through it when I have had the chance. I bought it thinking it would be a cookbook style guide - giving the reader "recipes" on how to program the standard synth patches but it does very little of that and I must admit it is all the better for it. Jim explains how synths operate in a very succinct manner and it is a very enjoyable read so grab it if you can.

In the book there is a short discussion on how to achieve a Clavinet sound and I've used that as the starting point to this patch. I have left things monophonic and the patch uses a single pulse oscillator. I have added some unison to thicken the sound a little, added a low pass filter and that is about all there is to it!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Patch 011 - Ghostly bell

I must confess that I find FM synthesis a bit daunting. I decided to tweak things a bit to try and got a ringing bell type sound only using sine waves and frequency modulation on the Micron and this is the sound I came up with.

The M1 slider controls the LFO rate which in turn subtly controls the FM amount and vibrato. I think this sounds kind of eerie, so it's got to be a ghostly bell!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Patch 010 - Upright bass

I was going for an upright acoustic bass sound today. I used a little bit of FM to get the tone of the sound but then 'cheated' a bit and used a filter too!  I then used fast attack and decay times together with a low sustain level for the amp envelope to get that initial pluck sound. I love being able to set a sustain time, really helps with acoustic instruments like this.

Finally, I assigned an LFO to slide M1 for vibrato, but reigned in the amount a bit so you get a subtle effect. This sounds pretty good in the bass octaves but could no doubt do with some improvement as usual! Here's the patch:

Upright bass

By the way, from now on I am using the "$" prefix on all my patch names, this just helps me distinguish my patches from ones I get from other Micron users.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Patch 009 - Release bass

Apologies to everyone for the lack of patches over the last few days but as you may have known I was finishing production on my RPM Challenge album entitled "i'm here" (I hate using capitals for my music titles for some reason!). For anyone who is interested in atmospheric electronica / folk music then check it out here.

So today's patch is a bass patch I created for one of the songs on the album  - "winter into spring". I would normally have reached for a preset but it is more satisfying that I didn't!

You can check out the song below but can I just say that I was running out of time and couldn't find a MIDI cable and so did all the synth work in single take overdubs so it is all a bit sloppy. I kind of like that though. The patch has a bit of release to it and a bit of noise to it too and the delay helped it sit with the ambient nature of the song - hope you find it useful!

Release bass

"winter into spring"