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!

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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.

Thickness!

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 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

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