Synth Odyssey Part 6-A Synth Oddity

Released over seven years ago now, GForce’s Oddity came, it synthetized and it conquered. So convincing was this emulation that there hasn’t been another commercial effort since (or at least none that I am aware of).

In a market where we have at least 3 Minimoog emulations, two Arp 2600 emulations and a half dozen TB 303 emulations (‘cuz it’s so hard to emulate dude), the Oddity cleared the field and remains the undisputed Arp Odyssey in software to date.

What we have here is a duophonic two oscillator saw/square synth with a wicked ring mod, phase sync, PWM, white and pink noise, and the piece de resistance: sample and hold!

Have a look at that interface with its block diagrams and signal flow. Did I hear the words semi and modular? It definitely thinks its a modular, and approaching it that way actually makes a lot of sense.

So I’m going to do just that:

Module 1: Performance Section which includes Mono/Duophonic modes and portamento, among others. Duophonic mode works a treat with the Ring Mod.

Modules 2 & 3: Oscillator 1 and Osc 2. The pink ‘tic tacs’ govern Frequency Modulation introduced by either Square (trill) or Sine wave (vibrato).

The yellow tic tacs let you modulate the frequency by choosing either Sample and Hold (more on this later) or the more conventional ADSR envelope.

Finally, you have nice and easy Pulse Width Modulation (sweepable by the ADSR or LFO) and sweet sweet Phase Sync.

Module 4 : Sample & Hold Mixer and LFO. Sample & Hold is what made the Odyssey (and by association, its virtual brother) ‘punk’, and the de facto weapon of choice for the more experimental synth fiend.

Its essentially a controller that can be used to modulate either the frequency (the yellow tic tacs from Modules 2 & 3), or the filter (select S/H and turn up the yellow tic tac in Module 4-brilliant)!

You have the option of mixing in either a saw wave or a square wave via the blue slider and then adding another square wave, or choosing noise. The results are like no other synth out there.

Anything from warbling computerized burbles to groovy generative gurgles (and everything in between) are possible with this beast.

Keep in mind that these ‘waves’ are just modulators akin to an LFO; they do not produce sound but take the oscillators on a wild journey back and forth, up and down, based on the speed dictated by the LFO. The Output Lag slider can be used to tame the effect and delay its onset.

Module 5 : Actually four little modules in one. The Audio mixer takes the two oscillators (this is actually where you pick between saw and square…goofy innit?), and your choice of ring mod or noise, and spits it into the filter section.

The filter section is fed a tasty diet of the following:

a) Choice of either KYBD CV (keyboard tracking in simple English) or S/H (Sample & Hold) Mixer. Now this had me a touched befuddled at first, because the very next tic tac said S/H. So what’s the point of having two?

Well, after having a go at it, I realized it did some basic FM style sounds, especially when used in conjunction with the yellow FM slider. This further opens up the sound canvass, allowing for richer and more complex sounds. So confusing, and yet ultimately rewarding.

Reminds me of someone I dated once…

b) Choice of LFO or S/H. Filter modulation by either the LFO or Sample and Hold (note that the blue/white sliders must be opened up for the S/H setting to do anything).

c) Choice of ADSR or AR.  Your basic filter envelope. Choose between the full or the half. I personally just leave it at the ADSR. Nice and simple.

All three of the above make up the filter output which is then regurgitated into the handy high pass filter followed by its final destination: the VCA which, like the filter envelope, can be the full ADSR or just Attack and Release (AR). Convenient little red volume slider underneath.

It all starts to make sense now.

Module 6: Envelopes. I usually set it to ADSR and forget, but experimenting with the AR generator can lead to some rather pleasant surprises, especially when assigned to the filter. The purple tic tacs allow the player to add varying degrees of touch sensitivity to the filter and dynamics. Great for adding some real energy to live and/or sequenced lines.

And that’s your Oddity. True to its roots, a little unpredictable, edgy and charismatic, with depth and sounds for days. Be prepared to get lost in a phantasmagoria of phat. I certainly did.

And this is what I came up with:

Sound ‘analog’ enough for you?

All sounds programmed, written and performed by Phatso Brown. 100% raw Oddity with no FX, no presets.

For more Synth Odyssey:

What is the point of this ‘Synth Odyssey’?

Intermission Wavestation & Synplant

Admiral Quality Poly-Ana

ReFX PlastiCZ

Novation BassStation

Fabfilter One

Muon Tau

Next up, the Rebirth of Rebirth? Thanks for reading!


Synth Odyssey: Intermission Wavestation and Synplant teaser!

This week, I thought I was going to cover Korg’s venerable vector Wavestation soft synth, but the sheer size and scope of the instrument has left me in awe. In order to do complete justice to the monstrous machine, I will have to dig deep and explore its mysterious innards, which will take a bit longer than usual.

Additionally, because it’s an emulation of the wave sequencing synth of the 90s, it’s extremely loyal to its father in sound, functionality and user interface. Of course, the VSTi version is a dream to use thanks to the fact that you don’t have to click click click dang old clickity click to get to each page and then click some more (ah the joys of hardware), but  it still adheres to its daddy’s wave sequencing conventions and as such, is a bit of a head scratcher if you want to make your own sounds. And that’s really the point of this whole Synth Odyssey innit? To really get my hands dirty and explore my tool?

Anyway, vector synthesis seems to be a perfect fit for the software environment, but I have not seen too many VST instruments that have taken the concept and made it both fun and inspirational.

While not a vector synthesizer by any means, Sonic Charge’s Synplant is just that: fun in a way that will have days melting into nights, and inspirational in a way that will have you creating the sounds of your dreams (or nightmares) in a heartbeat. It’s so lush, so divine, so organic, and so truly ground breaking, that if there were a Nobel prize for synthesizers, it’s creator Magnus Lidstrom would be sleeping with one right now. Here’s the official demonstration video:

Get the idea? You grow your sounds, seed by seed, branch by branch! Ah, how eco friendly! Each branch can then be planted into a new seed, regrown, replanted and regrown till your hair fall out. It’s just begging to be tweaked, madam.

There is an additional tool that allows you to get anal with your sounds (cheekily entitled ‘Gene Manipulation’-wonder how ‘Gene’ feels about it), that has your standard synth parameters like LFOs, filters, FM, envelopes etc. making this no mere ‘green gimmick’ but a full fledged bio botanical swamp synth thing.

I almost don’t want people to know about it!

I don’t think I need to do audio demos this time. Those tunes on Synplant Radio are adequate 😉 !

So that’s Part 1: Genesis out of the way! Next up: Synth Monsters!

Here is the story so far:

What is the point of this ‘Synth Odyssey’?

Admiral Quality Poly-Ana

ReFX PlastiCZ

Novation BassStation

Fabfilter One

Muon Tau

Thank you for reading.

Synth Odyssey Part 5-A Little Poly-Ana: Software gets hard…

Released in 2007, Admiral Quality’s monstrous Poly-Ana was widely acclaimed as one of the most anally modeled analog modeled soft synths to date. L’il Poly-Ana is the ‘preset player’ version with the same sound engine as her big sister. One might think she’s a bit limited as a result, but a little can sometimes go a long way, especially when the factory presets are practically a history lesson in “Sounds Made Famous By Analog Synthesizers.”

Additionally, and more crucially, you have access to dual filter cutoff/resonance, unison, polyphony, detune, portamento, and even analog drift (has to be heard to be believed), making this a fairly tweakable instrument (that’s what she said).

This really is a performer’s synthesizer; the modulation wheel features prominently in the presets, often in interesting ways, and multiple trigger options are included for funky fingered keyboardists. There are also five selectable sample rates that offer a good compromise between quality and CPU consumption.

While she can take up a bit of juice, particularly if you use a lot of voices, it’s absolutely worth it! The sounds that come out of L’il Poly are so rich and positively chubby (remind you of anyone?) that it’s easy to forget you’re playing a combination of zeros and ones.

She’s capable of emulating a wide range of your uncle’s analogs, from Moog to Prophet 5, and does a superb string synth impression! This really is an achievement in software synth engineering. Of course, while the porcine Poly-Ana can do so much more (and I might have a go at big momma in the near future), her little sister will do just fine for now! 😉

And now, let’s hear her sing:

100% Poly Ana with no fx. The track at the end (Release Me) uses a little delay and limiting.


This concludes Chapter One of the Synth Odyssey!

Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

What is the point of this ‘Synth Odyssey’?

ReFX PlastiCZ

Novation BassStation

Fabfilter One

Muon Tau

Next up in the series: Korg’s software Wavestation makes a po’ boy’s dreams come true at last!

Thanks for reading!

(c) Programmed and Performed by P Brown.

Synth Odyssey Part 4-reFX PlastiCZurgery

Released in 1984, Casio’s CZ101 was meant to be an affordable alternative to Yamaha’s all conquering DX7. Both were based on Phase Distortion synthesis and both were a pain in the buttockal region to program, but the tiny plasticky (geddit?) CZ was a much cheaper way to ‘go digital’. It was punk, man!

Released in 2003, REFX’s PlastiCZ took the Casio concept and made it beautiful. In other words, you no longer needed an advanced degree in Physics to figure out how to make a bass patch. While PlastiCZ has one less envelope than the ‘legendary’ CZ, the ability to whip up new and exciting patches in moments makes Uncle CZ look a bit silly.

Excelling at basses (the super snappy envelopes make it a natural choice for moody synth pop shenanigans), leads, keyboard and organ sounds, the now forgotten PlastiCZ gets its much deserved time in the spotlight.

Digitally Controlled Waveshaping (DCW) is the heart of PlastiCZ. The concept is that the harmonic content of your chosen waveform is changed by modulating it with a sine wave. It’s essentially Phase Distortion: the DCW envelope controls the amount of morphing that takes place between the two waveforms, creating all manners of sonic yummies.

Each oscillator section consists of two waveforms with eight selectable wave-shapes per oscillator. These range from sweet sounding saw/square/pulse variations to more exotic, evil offerings like double saw (squelch), resonant square and double cosine (get away from me, maths). Thus each oscillator can spit out 64 different waveforms in combination!

While marketed as a ‘shrill’ digital synth, it’s actually perfectly capable of cranking out some dark and dirty analogue style sounds with real presence. Of course if you are looking for DX7 sounds in a hurry, go PlastiCZ.

Ring modulation beefs things up, and I love the simple vibrato setup. The harmonic detune is excellent at producing musically complex layered sounds with very little effort: electro bass/leads are a doddle.

The versatile F/X unit includes not just bread and butter offerings like reverb, chorus, distortion/bit crusher etc, but a superb ‘trance gate’ (useful for more than just trance), highly musical delay, talkbox (a crazy vowel filter effect), and even a Leslie emulation. Speaking of which, this thing also does some authentic organ sounds. All of a sudden, this billy bargain synth is starting to look like a bit of a monster!

Weaknesses? While it does some nice warm pads, longer sustained chords are a bit unpredictable due to the phase morphing nature of the instrument. Other than that, you get sounds that throb, spit, fizzle and growl (remind you of anyone?)!

At a mere $55, this is a bit of a steal. But what’s interesting to me is the sheer ease with which you can get a great variety of sounds, especially when you consider the type of synthesis we are dealing with here. While it’s not quite Synplant, it’s definitely one of the most rewarding soft synths I have used, and remains as innovative today as it was more than seven years ago! A sonic blessing that I am glad to have at my disposal!

And now for some PlastiCZurgery! 100% PlastiCZ with no external FX. Drums courtesy of Sonic Charge Microtonic.

Yes! PlastiCZ tastes good!

Next: A little poly-ana!

And for the story so far:

What is the point of this ‘Synth Odyssey’?

Novation BassStation

Fabfilter One

Muon Tau

Thanks for reading!

(c) All sounds lazy-programmed and sequenced by P Brown.

2000-A Synth Odyssey Part 3-Novation Bass Station: Orphan No More!

Really? The Novation Bass Station soft synth that came and went? Yeah!

The software version of that 90s classic was released in 2003 (making it a vintage itself-at least in software terms) to a collective ‘meh’. Computer Music magazine complimented it on its sound and CPU efficiency, but also said that it had arrived to the party a bit late, awarding it a rather dull 7/10.

The world moved on. Novation gave away a load of bundled Bass Stations with their Remote range of controllers and people went back to lusting after the latest greatest Super Saw Tarnce synth. So, who cares right? Well, you cares. If you want to get your hands on the industry’s best kept secret for bass that is.

You see, the Bass Station is basically a filthy factory for phenomenal low end. Sounding almost like a cross between an Arp and a Moog, it’s warm, aggressive, three-dimensional, and has a phat bottom (a bit like that chick from high school I can’t stop thinking about).

The front panel is ‘keep-it-simple-stupid’ and easy to get to grips with, even if you’ve never set sights upon the original (or a synth, period). You get two sweet sounding analog modeled monophonic saw/square oscillators, pulse width modulation, one LFO (can control pitch, pulse width and that all important cutoff), portamento (hello Electro!), multiple trigger options (Moog/Arp/303-don’t need to mention that it does 303 now do I? Everything does a 303), and two juicy filter types (12db for that ‘Japanese’/Roland sound, and 24 db for ‘American’/Moog).

Oscillator sync is available, and while it’s a bit convoluted, it’s perfectly capable and does a good job of widening the instrument’s sonic palette.

And that’s your Bass Station. Unless you’re producing Ambient Japanese Emotion Pop textures (in which case look out for the upcoming feature on Synplant-I got you covered, Kimosabe), this should take care of most of your synth bass needs. Trust me when I tell you that a vast majority of ‘classic’ electronic sounds are not all that hard to make (i.e. made accidentally by non-boffin knob fiddlers-ahem).

It’s also a supremely CPU friendly plug-in, so much so that you forget it’s even there. Those of you with older PCs will think they got a processor upgrade!

I am well chuffed that I rediscovered this gem of a mono-synth thanks to the Synth Odyssey! If you are lucky enough to have received it free with your Novation controller, don’t take it for granted. You already have it, get to know it, love it, and it will reward you with plenty of bottom end satisfaction.

If you would like to get your hands on one, my humble advice would be to get yourself a Novation controller. They are among the best in the business, and what makes them truly revolutionary is the superb Automap Pro software that will breathe new life into your synth and effects collection. So really, a win-win situation there!

And remember, the original Bass Station was used and abused by tons of legendary acts like Orbital, KLF, Apollo 440, Daft Punk, and the Chemical Brothers to name but a few. The first 40 or factory bank presets are sounds you’ve no doubt heard on countless 90s anthems, which is why you should make your own; the presets are the only thing that date the ‘Station.

For me, it’s an all-you-can-eat reminder of a time when music producers were obsessed with analog, knobs, filters and getting their hands on the best TB 303 emulation. My, how times have changed.

Now for some Bass Station action! No effects at all, just pure ‘Station!

Yes, that is a Bass Station in action! Listen to the harmonics and the filter action. Saw/Square combo. Very analog indeed!

Not a Mini Moog (but no one needs to know!)

Electric Baba. Lots of pulse width modulation for a dirty, almost digital sound.

Bootsy Bass. P-Funk in the house! Throaty wah bass, the kind that a certain B. Collins would have used back in the day. Groovy baybee!

From my chart topping remix of the Station X hit Dirty F@ck! Filthy bassline is all Bass Station!

And those are but a few examples of what this little synth can do! There are probably hundreds of Bass Station patches out there, what with the software being compatible with the hardware, but why not make your own? Go on, you know you want to.

A modern classic, now on your desktop!

Next: Do You Eat PlastiCZ?

(c) All Sounds lazy programmed and sequenced by P Brown

And for the story so far:

Fabfilter One

Muon Tau

2000-A Synth Odyssey Part 2-Fabfilter One: Tweak my filter madam, it’s so squelchy!

The next synthesizer in our series is the ever so blue One from top Dutch developer Fabfilter.

It really is a marvel of simplicity, with its single analogue modeled oscillator (choice of square, triangle, saw and noise on the menu), ADSR, LFO with selectable waveforms (for some Oizo action), a couple of envelope/modulation generators, pulse width, and – the piece de resistance– a filter that is simply fahbulous darling. They don’t call themselves Fabfilter for nothin’ sistah…

It’s the 12 db/octave variety, and watch out boys cuz she’s a screamer!

Dry saw/square with filter. Nice!

One takes its inspiration from the Korg MS10, a modular beast that, among other things, could be used to make trunk calls to Burma.

I got this synth free off the Computer Music cover CD a few years ago, and quickly realized that it was no mere toy but a sonic blue blessing. Even though the CM version is monophonic, it has a raw sound to it; the square wave in particular is a great choice for bass/lead sounds. Even on its own, baby packs much back.

Electro cliche. Lots of low end (hello dolly) for a single oscillator. Dry synth+some drums.

It also has, in my never so humble opinion, a feature that has become essential in modern Electro production. No, not a DeadMole preset, but one of the best implementations of portamento to date in a virtual synthesizer.

Ain’t it bendy, Wendy? Interestingly enough, the portamento takes effect even when the notes do not overlap. That’s just fab (filter)!

Things got a whole lot more interesting with the version 3 update, which added polyphony and opened this baby up to the exciting world of chords. I knew I had to get me the ‘full’ version. Even with the single oscillator, One has some nice shimmery effervescent chords. Great for Nu Disco-ey stuff. That filter really adds some fizz to the top end. Like a bottle of Perrier. Just Dutch instead of French.

With some delay, delay, delay…

So what we have here is an extremely high quality, low CPU, easy to use synth that gets the job done with minimum fuss and then gets out of the way. It handles most of your electronic staple sounds in style, as well as a few more ‘unique’ ones (thanks to that waveform selecta). I use it like Tabasco, all over the place. Just doesn’t burn as much in the mornin…

So, are you Fab?

Join us next time, when we take a trip to the Bass Station…

Thanks for reading!

(c) All sounds lazy-programmed and sequenced by P Brown.

Check out last week’s feature on the Muon Tau

And the introduction to the series

2000-A Synth Odyssey

In 1998 I had an ‘all in one’ Yamaha DJX keyboard complete with ‘dynamic immersion’ speakers, a 3 track sequencer and a 4 second sampler.

That was pretty much my entire studio.

I used to make some pretty jammin’ music with it though, if I do say so myself, before selling it to an Abba obsessed Pilipino (thees have Abba sound? You know Abba sound? I love Abba sound).

The point of that little flashback was that the last time I checked, I had about 2 dozen software synthesizers (including a representation of the black-is-beautiful Korg M1), 30 or so effect plug-ins, and half a dozen drum machines. Phew. Talk about overcompensating.

Of course, each instrument has its unique sound and place and application, and oh, who am I kidding. The truth is, I use some of ’em some of the time, a couple of ’em all the time, and most of ’em not at all.

So, what we are going to have is a little feature I call ‘2000-A Synth Odyssey or Exercises in excessive software synth wankery’.

Pretty much.

Every week, I will showcase a few soft synths from my collection. This way, I hope to rediscover them for myself while showing them off to you. Now that’s deep…

The series will be divided into three parts. Part One will feature bass/lead/bread ‘n butter synths and culminate with the incredible ‘grow my plant’ Synplant. I will call it…wait for it…Genesis!

Part Two will cover my collection of ‘synth monsters’ and will be called, er, Synth Monsters. These guys are monstrous and if they were hardware, they would f@#$ you up.

Part Three will cover sample based ‘workstations’ and feature the beloved Korgs (M1 and Wavestation) as well as the not-so-beloved Sample Moog. Don’t worry Sample Moog. I will learn to love you. That is the point of this exercise, remember?

Finally, part 4 will cover drum machines, and I have quite a few of those as well including the obligatory 909, 808 but also a couple of more esoteric bits o’ kit.

So join me eh?

As for that DJX? Oh, it’s well loved…

Abba rocks!

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