Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 4 Now Live!)

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Batmosphere
KVR Expert
4 posts since 9 Jul, 2019 from Northern California
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Post Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:36 am

Six Top Sound Designers on Finding the Soul
of Sequential’s Flagship Synth


Hello, everyone! Earlier this year, synthesizer guru Jerry Kovarsky recorded a roundtable with six other expert sound designers. The discussion began with their work on the Sequential Prophet X, and then progressed into strategies for crafting signature sounds on any synth. Thanks to my work on the interview book The Art of Digital Music, KVR asked me to help edit the conversation. There’s so much good material that we’ll be spreading it out over several posts. Several of the sound designers will be following along here as well, so please jump in with comments and questions.
—David Battino


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Introduction
Think about that magic moment when you first touch a new hardware or software synth and hear what it can do. Sound design is the most important feature of any programmable synthesizer: If the factory patches don’t sound fresh and amazing, that synth ain’t gonna sell.

One of the most revered synth developers is Sequential, whose founder Dave Smith has been designing electronic instruments since the 1970s — including the world’s first fully programmable polyphonic analog synth, the Prophet-5 . In 2018, Sequential released its most ambitious Prophet yet, the Prophet X. This $4,000 flagship synth combines two shape-shifting digital oscillators, two sample-playback oscillators with 150GB of samples to manipulate, four LFOs, 92 modulation destinations, and stereo analog filters.

In short, the Prophet X is a sound designer’s dream, and we gathered six members of the voicing team to find out how they approached it: Richard Devine, Rory Dow, Drew Neumann, Francis Preve, James Terris, and Mitch Thomas.

To kick it off, we’ll let the panel introduce themselves and talk about their first impressions of the Prophet X. In the next installments, they’ll go deeper into the instrument and share more techniques on finding a synth’s personality.



Tell us a bit about your background. What prepared you for this opportunity?

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Richard: I’m a sound designer and electronic composer based in Atlanta, specializing in sounds for hardware synthesizers and software synthesizers. I’ve also worked on sounds for electric cars, virtual reality gaming environments, film, TV, web media, user interaction sounds . . . it goes all over the place.

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Rory: I’m a sound designer based in Manchester, UK. I’m also reviewing for Sound on Sound magazine these days, which I’m quite enjoying. A majority of my sound design work at the moment is with Roli, and I do a lot of MPE sound design. So, I’m fast becoming an expert in that area, which is quite exciting because it feels like a new frontier of controllerism, and I think there’s a lot yet to be done. I also write music and I’m a synth enthusiast, I guess.

Aren’t we all? [Laughter]

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Mitch: I’ve been in the music business/retail thing for a long time. I’ve been working with several companies, including Soundtoys, who I’ve been with for 16 years. I’ve had a love for synthesizers since childhood, and that’s been a blast, designing sounds for them.

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Drew: I might be known from my work in animated shows like Æon Flux, Bravest Warriors, Aaahh!! Real Monsters, The Wild Thornberrys . . . . I did scoring for many years. From there I moved into consulting for synth companies like DSI/Sequential, Moog, Arturia, and even Ensoniq back in the day.

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James: My first synth was a Sequential 6-Trak, which I ran alongside a Commodore 64 computer. I was probably 12 or 13 at the time. Through that I started learning about making sounds: I was more into that than playing, which is funny, as most of the money I’ve made has come from performing. I used to love reading album credits where they listed the gear; I would save up my money and add another piece. By the time I was 16 I’d added a Kawai drum machine, an Ensoniq ESQ-1 , and a Roland Juno-106. My collection has grown to over 100 pieces. Starting in 1994, I programmed synth sounds for some national and international acts, and I began a relationship with Sequential in late 2007, just after the release of the Prophet ’08.

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Francis: I got my first synth when I was 14 — a Realistic-Moog MG-1 . From there, I got a Korg Polysix , started a new wave band, and followed the evolution of synthesizers with each incremental new feature, like MIDI, sampling, FM, and so on. The band broke up in the early ’90s and I moved into dance music production and remixes at London/Polygram for techno artists like Orbital and Utah Saints. 

In the mid-’90s, I moved to Austin, where I slipped on a metaphorical banana peel and became a college professor thanks to my experience in multiple music production domains. Later, at the South by Southwest conference, I met Greg Rule, the editor of Keyboard magazine, and he asked if I’d like to take over their dance/remix column. I said sure, because I’d grown up reading Keyboard and it was a massive influence on my knowledge of synthesis and sound design. Through that gig I started to meet folks from synth and software companies. In fact, my first real sound design gig was for Korg (thanks to Jerry) for their Legacy Collection software. Then I met the folks from Ableton and starting doing stuff for them. I’m still doing work for both companies, as well as many others.

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What was your first reaction to seeing and hearing the prototype of the Prophet X?

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Francis: The first time I saw it was at the NAMM show in a sneak-peek hotel room session. Dave was showing it to me, along with [product specialist] Gerry Basserman , and I kept peppering them with questions: “Can it do this, can it do that?” When Dave started showing me how you could do audio rate modulation from one oscillator to another, I asked, “Have you ever taken a sample and thrown it on a sine wave using amplitude modulation?” Because when you do that you kind of emboss the sound of the sample onto the sine wave.

As soon as I said that, Dave said, “How soon can you start?” The fact that you could use sample data for AM and FM (amplitude and frequency modulation), for panning, and for filter modulation really connected with me, from all the work I do with Ableton Operator using those techniques.

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James: My first time seeing it was in the hotel room as well. NAMM can be such a shell-shock experience, and after having a shot of tequila with Dave and his wife, and having Richard Devine and BT come in with me, I just sat back on a couch while Dave did his demo, and I didn’t get that close to it. Then a few months later my prototype arrived, and I was both surprised and excited to see it was a sample-based instrument. I didn’t expect that. The synth engine side of things is good, but the chance to mangle samples is the big story here.

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Drew: Well, I’ve been dealing with samplers for a really long time. I worked for Fairlight in ’80–’81 while I was going to Cal Arts , which was amazing, as I never could have afforded one. Later on, I got some Akais, and then a Prophet 2000, which I got way deep into. By the time I was scoring Æon Flux I was using four [Ensoniq] ASR-10s, and throughout this time I was lamenting that what we really needed was a great interface for working with a sampler. And now finally the Prophet X delivers on that. I always wanted to just grab some knobs and sculpt the sound, rather than have to go menu-diving. It was all, “button, slider, slider, slider, button, button. . . .” And 150 gigabytes of content! I know eventually I’ll be able to bring in my own stuff, but for now there’s plenty to explore. Between the sample manipulation, the synthesis, and some crazy effects I can do a lot. It’s a fantastic atmosphere maker. It’s almost a waste to go load up a great piano sound and go out and gig with it. It’s capable of so much more, and it’s very expressive and real-time.

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Rory: For me, the most exciting thing about the Prophet X is that finally hardware synth manufacturers are waking back up to the possibilities of sampling. I think computers killed off sampling in its hardware form a long time ago and everybody’s kind of danced around it, but nobody’s really put any big effort into it. Back in the ’90s, Akai samplers were the thing to have, and for every electronic producer, that was the cornerstone of your studio. And the hardware hasn’t kept up over the last two decades at all. Everyone has been obsessed with analog, and using samples as a sound source and doing sound design with them hasn’t really been a focus.

Now we’ve got all the convenience of being able to hook up your computer, and lots of RAM, and SSDs, and deep sampling with velocity splits and all that stuff, but having it in a hardware environment where you can really manipulate it is just brilliant. The Prophet X stands out for me as the synth of last year purely because of that sample engine.

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To be clear, you’re not talking about — for example — wanting to get more of the nuanced gestures of a nylon guitar. You want samples so that you can mangle them. You want fodder for synthesis.

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Rory: Yes, absolutely, as a sound source for synthesis. And that hasn’t been done for quite some time. The last synth that I can remember that sort of had a stab at it was the Roland V-Synth . They gave you tools to bend and manipulate and stretch the audio and do all sorts of things. I long lamented the gap. I thought it was really sad that no one tried much. I think in modular-land there’s loads of stuff — Richard would know more about that. But yeah, I hope the Prophet X is the first of many. It really broadens what you can do with the synth, especially when you’ve got a kind of analog synthesizer in there as well. Let’s not forget, it’s got two very good “analog-ish” oscillators and the analog filter and all that stuff to back it up. But the samples are what put it apart for me.

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Richard: I was actually confused at first. I was a bit worried for Dave when he showed it to me at NAMM; I was like, “Whoa, they’re making a sample-based machine?” And believe me, I’m all for samples. I use many samplers. I still have my Akai S3200 in my closet. So, like Rory, I came up field recording, and I capture and record sounds all the time, using all of these new formats for capturing sounds and making sample libraries. So, I was really excited, but kind of confused. Is this like a workstation keyboard? Do they want to cater to the keyboard players with clavinets?

And Dave’s been adamant that he has no interest in making a ROMpler. Never has…

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Richard: Exactly. That was my first worry. I suspected this might be their attempt at making some sort of workstation, but then after I started playing with it, I realized it wasn’t that at all. It was much more of a playground for sounds, and interactions between samples and synthesis. The way the architecture is set up, it invites you to play and discover how the interactions between those two worlds can be really interesting. And then it really opened up itself to me and I started to realize that if you just go into it with a different mindset, you get exactly what you put in.


Check out Part 2 of this series, where the designers get deeper into the Prophet X's unique approach to sample-based oscillators.


Meet the Panel

Richard Devine
Facebook
YouTube
Soundcloud Examples (various instruments)


Rory Dow
www.boxedear.com


Drew Newman
www.drewneumann.com


Francis Preve
www.francispreve.com


James Terris
www.jamesterris.com


Mitch Thomas
YouTube Playlist
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User avatar
Tj Shredder
KVRAF
2963 posts since 6 Jan, 2017 from Outer Space

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X

Post Sun Jul 14, 2019 4:53 am

Could we get all six to give us one personal Prophet killer sound with an explanation why they think its so cool and a short musical example?
What is inspiring compared to an in the box synth like VCV or the Grid? (which in theory should be able to do the same and more...)
I stopped using hardware synths decades ago, and except for my (too short) meeting with an Arp 2600 I don’t miss much...
Finally the LinnStrument brought me back into synthesis.
Is there a plan to make a sound module without keyboard, but MPE support? (Not that I could afford it though...- ; ( 90% of my hardware is controllers, and the rest is computers...

User avatar
Batmosphere
KVR Expert
4 posts since 9 Jul, 2019 from Northern California
KVR Expert

Voicing the Prophet X, part 2

Post Wed Jul 17, 2019 8:38 am

Sound Design Roundtable, Part 2: “There are just crazy opportunities to build stuff that’s never existed before.”

Welcome to Part 2 of our roundtable with six members of the Sequential Prophet X voicing team. (Read Part 1 here.) In this part, moderator Jerry Kovarsky and the panel go deeper into the instrument’s unique sample-based oscillators. Several of the sound designers will be following along here as well, so please add your comments and questions. For more on the panelists, see the links at the end of the article.
—David Battino, editor


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Jerry Kovarsky: I think the Prophet X’s sample manipulation is an important area for people looking at the instrument to understand. I watched a lot of demo videos and read the comments, and because of the depth of the 8Dio samples and the fact that the material is there to make a deep acoustic sound, some people were going, “What were they thinking? All that great sound and only eight-note poly?”

It’s almost working against itself for those samples to be so complete because people are expecting it to be just, “Here’s the piano patch, here’s the guitar, here’s the string ensemble.” But actually, you’re going in and picking one component out of that piano element and going, “Finally, I can deconstruct the piano and just use this piece.”

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Mitch Thomas: Yeah, there’s no doubt that the architecture on paper initially felt like a hybrid ROMpler. And I hate saying that word, not with Dave and not with his product now that I know what it is. But I felt that way when it landed in my lap. They had actually asked me to do sample-based sounds, and I was like, “That’s not what I do. I do crazy, scary, weird stuff, so I don’t know if I can make you a string patch.” And they were like, “No, no, no, that’s not what we meant. We just wanted you to use the samples however you want.”

In your crazy, destructive way.

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Mitch: And I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s better.” Then I got into it, and like Richard [see Part 1], I found that when you said, “Can I do this?” the answer was yes. And that was scary. But then the next question was, “Should I do this? And will anyone else care if I do?” So, that’s the way I see it. It’s a crazy powerful machine.

What were some techniques you really liked, things the engine allowed you to do to the samples?

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Rory Dow: A lot is made of the deep sampling stuff, but one of the things I enjoyed the most was that you could pick one sample in a multisample and stretch that out across the keyboard, which gives this instant vintage effect. There are a bunch of old samplers that did that really well and it sounds fantastic. When you pitch one sample down 24 semitones, you’re in a different alien world. You’re changing whatever it is: It could have been a standard piano or a guitar.

There are some really great multisamples in the Prophet X that are designed specifically for that. They’ve got a different atmosphere or a different voice sample on every key. So, if you do that, and then combine it with modulating start points, end points, and loop points, you get into that territory I was talking about, which is just mangling samples as a sound source rather than trying to have them sound like whatever they originally were. And I love that.

And, I’ll put the words in your mouth: The quality of the samples and hardware allows this stuff to stretch without falling apart. It’s not so obviously aliasy. Well, it’s a different type of sound. Nothing is bad, but it’s different.

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Rory: Nothing wrong with 8-bit samples!

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Drew Newman: I also love the Sample Stretch parameter. There are a bunch of multisamples that have a different sound or synth wave on each key. Like, all the Prophet VS waveforms are in there. So, if you find one you want to use you press that button and voilà, it’s stretched across the whole keyboard and sounds great. You can also go into some of the atmospheric stuff that 8Dio put in, and just take this one weird, airy element and layer it in against the other stuff you have going on. It’s so quick to do these things given the great interface.

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Francis Preve: As I was saying earlier, I first gravitated to the audio rate modulation tools. I also deeply appreciated having an excellent sine wave. You can build so many interesting things with one, not just from audio rate modulation of it. One of the tricks I did was adding a really high-pitched sine wave and making it extremely velocity sensitive, so when you smack something it would add a glistening element, maybe four octaves higher.

Another thing was that Tracey from Sequential said to make sure your Layer B was in there, so I designed around hybrid sounds, where either A or B would work on their own, but together they would create something that was complex and cool. People who are more live performers might use Layer B to create a split setup, but as more of a producer, I liked making two separate sounds that could come together in a nice layer. The other thing I liked was using the sliders as macros, to bring in effects, or changes to the effects, or the AM modulation stuff.

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James Terris: I’m really with Francis about the sine wave thing. I used to ignore them; I was all about filters back in the ’90s and early 2000s. Everyone wanted that [Korg] MS-20 sound, with really aggressive filters. It’s only about a year ago that I started to explore using sine waves, and really no filter. There’s a beautiful purity to it; maybe it’s from all the Eurorack gear I’ve started buying, along with the Buchla Music Easel. I’ve found that there’s so much power in wave-folding and things you can do with manipulating sine waves, maybe just bringing something to the attack of a sound. I never had gotten into the DX7 and FM synthesis, as it was a little too unpredictable for me. But now that we’re not trying to create imitative sounds with it, I’ve found it to be a beautiful form of synthesis that I’m really enjoying exploring.

Also, as Francis mentioned, I enjoyed using the sliders and specifically the mod matrix to craft sounds that were multiple different timbres based on the position of a controller. Many of my sounds can be four or more sounds in one depending on where your controllers are. And that’s a concern for all of us: Will people move all the controllers around to find all these things we designed in? I wish there were notes for each sound so we could point out all the cool things we did.

I thought, “Wait, can I use the sample to modulate another sample?”
—Richard Devine



At Ensoniq we made performance notes for all of our sounds to describe all that. And we had the programmers fill them in when submitting their sounds.

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Drew: And filling those damn things out often took longer than creating the sound! But coming back to this macro concept, the effects are well integrated into the signal path and the mod matrix; they’re not just sweetening at the end of the signal chain. So, you can use LFOs, keyboard position, and such to change something that starts out very basic and dry, and then modulate delay feedback or delay time to change the whole ambience. I liked modulating the pre-delay in the plate reverb with an LFO to add a slight chorusing.

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James: I liked doing that with the tape delay, assigning rate and feedback to aftertouch. You can lean into the sound and step into a different dimension. It harkens back to the old [Prophet] T8 vibe.

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Mitch: What rang my bells was that the Prophet X is an insanely powerful sound design engine. There are just crazy opportunities to build stuff that’s never existed before because of the sheer number of samples they put into it. You take that and combine the analog elements and Dave’s innate ability to design an intense modulation matrix that is still easy to use. . . . Some of the things he’s put in there, kind of stealing from the computer world, are perfect: Being able to touch something, then touch something else and you’re done. Or pressing the Show button to see a parameter: That’s a design feature. It’s not for most people playing on the stage. It’s for people who are in there, digging and tweaking.

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Richard Devine: When I first got the Prophet X, I really liked the two high-resolution digital oscillators. And then you have their waveshaping modulation capability, and the stereo filters are analog. And then you have four envelope generators and four LFOs, and the modulation matrix is awesome. When I started playing around, I thought, “Wait, can I use the sample to modulate into another sample?” An LFO could modulate one sample and then that sample modulates into the other sample, so once you get into the modulation matrix, it was like Mitch said: “Can I do this? Wait, I can do this!”

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Drew: The first instrument I can think of that used samples to modulate other waveforms was the Yamaha SY77. It was a nice feature and allowed you to do some interesting atmospheric things. It moved them away from that clean six-operator FM sound.

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Francis: It has an embossing effect on the sound of the sine wave/whatever, and for panning it does that in a moving stereo field. To my ears it’s not as controllable as it is for AM, but maybe there’s more I need to explore. For FM, on the other hand, that’s a dicey proposition; you can use a touch of it to add grit and flavor to a sound, but add more and it quickly gets chaotic. FM likes pretty simple waveforms in general.

Richard, you were talking about using the sample’s amplitude as another envelope shape, but still getting the timbral quality. My experience with both waveshaping and having complex samples modulating something is you can only add a little bit before it starts breaking up into sidebands. How did you find it to work with?

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Richard: That was an interesting idea, because I’ve been doing a bit of it with the modular stuff, and I hadn’t seen it in a keyboard. I’m using some of these new-generation Eurorack sampler modules that do really sophisticated things with samples, like the [Orthogonal Devices] ER301 or David Rossum’s ASSIMIL8OR. So, you start thinking about samples differently. You don’t just think about playing and layering them up musically. You start looking at them as actual wave shapes, or modulation shapes, or modulation sources. That can open a wide variety of different sounds, depending if they’re tonal, not tonal, or rhythmic in some way. You start thinking about things differently as opposed to just the tonal content of the sample. You start looking at what the tail end of that sample is doing.

So, you limit the sample playback to that area and say, “Okay, I’ve got a shape. . . .”

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Richard: Yeah, you start hunting around. I was hunting around the whole library looking for sounds that are articulate decays and glitchy. I started thinking, “Oh, this could be my modulation source for something else.” I came up with all these weird, heavily modulated and cross-modulated textures that were moving and doing all kinds of weird things, and I actually came up with some sounds I’d never heard before.

And that’s the goal, right?

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Richard: Exactly. Just by saying, “Hey, can I do this? I can do that. That’s cool.” I thought that was really great.


In Part 3, the sound design panel shares tips for uncovering the unique personality of any synthesizer. Read it here.

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User avatar
vurt
addled muppet weed
48642 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 2 posted)

Post Wed Jul 17, 2019 9:07 am

say hi to rory for me :D

rob_lee
KVRAF
7684 posts since 16 Oct, 2006 from North East UK

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 2 posted)

Post Wed Jul 17, 2019 9:11 am

RORY is da f**king man.. never heard of the other ones.. Go Rory :lol: :lol: :lol:

Peter [KVR]
KVRer
7 posts since 13 Sep, 2017
KVR Expert

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 2 posted)

Post Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:05 am

Check out some of Richard Devine's work. He's been doing creative things for many years...

User avatar
vurt
addled muppet weed
48642 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 2 posted)

Post Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:24 am

Peter [KVR] wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:05 am
Check out some of Richard Devine's work. He's been doing creative things for many years...
indeed, some very cool stuff :tu:


ive met rory a few times though, which is why i was saying hi ;)

User avatar
Batmosphere
KVR Expert
4 posts since 9 Jul, 2019 from Northern California
KVR Expert

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 2 posted)

Post Tue Jul 23, 2019 7:45 am

Sound Design Roundtable, Part 3: Mastering a New Instrument

Welcome back! In the first part of this roundtable, six members of the Prophet X voicing team gave an insider tour of how they approached Sequential’s flagship synthesizer. But as moderator Jerry Kovarsky’s recorder kept rolling, the panel branched out to share tips for uncovering the unique personality of any synth. Here are some key insights from that discussion. The panel includes Richard Devine, Rory Dow, Drew Newman, Francis Preve, James Terris, and Mitch Thomas (see links to their work at the end). We hope this series inspires you to add your own sound design stories, tips, and questions.
—David Battino, Editor


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James Terris: I want to add something to the concept of finding a synth’s personality or strengths: Sometimes a weakness can actually be exploited and became a favorite feature. The paraphonic mode on the Sequential Pro 2 was kind of an afterthought, but it became one of my favorite things. I’d use it to sequence through waveforms, almost like wave sequencing.

And in the Prophet X, the loop sync is something I found really cool for the samples. It sets up the loop repetitions to follow the host clock at different timing resolutions. I like glitchy things, the Thom Yorke/‌Radiohead sorts of things: the drumkit falling down the stairs attitude. I did a piano patch and assigned either the loop start or loop end to a wheel or a slider. I got a wonderfully rhythmic — but not quite predictable — thing that was like the sound of scrubbing the sample, like you can do in Ableton.

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Drew Newman: You can instantly get to the Orphan Black soundtrack kind of stuff. You start by dialing up a marimba, and it sounds great, but then you get it looping sideways, and you have it glitching in the middle of that, all mapped to the mod wheel or sliders, and you can quickly create a good 30-second cue: Job done.

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Francis Preve: Another thing that defines the personality of the X as compared to some of Dave Smith’s previous synths is that it has a new filter chip; it’s not the Curtis chips he had been using. It’s the [Korg] Polysix filter — an old favorite of mine!

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Drew: It’s the new SSI 2144.

Jerry Kovarsky: I think that flew under the radar for a lot of people: This was the first use of those new chips. I’d read a press release about them long before the Prophet X came out.

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Drew: Look it up on YouTube: There’s a great comparison video of the 2044 and the new 2144. There’s a little difference due to some extra circuitry, but they’re really close.

Video: SSI 2144 Filter Chip

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Francis: I just love that sound; it brings back memories of the sounds from the 1980s — the Polysix, the PPG. . . . I love the Curtis filters for the sort of “fizz” they can produce, but these are creamier.

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Drew: And they have a lot of things added to get character out of them. They have a drive parameter, there’s gain compensation for the resonance. . . . That’s one of the great things about Sequential: Along the way they absolutely figured out how to use those Curtis chips and get the most out of them, but they also did discrete 2040 clones in the Prophet 6. The Pro 2 is a combination of Tom Oberheim’s filter plus the 2040, but done discretely, not as a single integrated circuit. The OB-6 is basically the SEM filter, and now this new chip. They allow themselves to wander around and not stick to a singular “brand sound.”

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Richard Devine: I was getting some cool acidy sounds on the digital high-pass filter in the effects section. The filters on the Prophet X sound really nice. I always call it the acid test: I see if I can make the crunchiest acidy sounds, and I remember it passing pretty well.

So, you’re presented with a new synth. How do you go about exploring it and making friends?

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Francis: One of things I do is try to make it sound like other synths I know and love. The first sound I always do, regardless of whether it’s an analog synth, digital, software, or whatever, is [the Roland D-50] “Fantasia.” If you go through products I’ve worked on you’ll almost always find a patch called “Frantasia.” I’ve been such a huge fan of Eric Persing’s work, read every interview when I was coming up. So obviously that was easy to do with the Prophet X and all those samples. I take a little marimba, add a little supersaw and filter it down, and I can do “Frantasia.”

Video: Eric Persing on Creating Fantasia (2:51)

The second thing I do is explore FM and do that knocking house bass that was so popular. And I always do a Solina; I love that sound so much. And in making those patches, I’m forced to learn how to navigate the architecture.

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James: Similar to what Francis said, I have a go-to list. That knocking bass is a favorite. It’s a bit dated now, but there’s something so chesty, almost rubbery, about it. Solina as well. I like to explore FM by making that vocal, vowel-like, filter mod type of FM sound — a Daft Punk or robot kind of sound that was so popular in dubstep. That was one of my signature moves for a long time, although I’ve pulled away from it a bit now. I like revisiting those sounds because every synth is going to do it differently.

I also always test out the sine waves to see how pure they are, if there’s any aliasing, things like that. You can always roll off the filter a bit to cover that up, but I was pleased with how good the sine wave is in the Prophet X.

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Drew: Let me second — or is it third? — the sine wave thing. With a good sine wave you can take some of these metallic sounds and turn them into tuned percussion very easily, or go toward Balinese instruments so easily. I usually start with a synth by creating a default, or init, patch. I do like to find out what the character or personality of a synth is, if it presents itself quickly. My usual suspects include a pulse width-modulated string patch. I love Solinas, or even Omni 2s; it’s just a thing. Then a big brassy something, that bread and butter stuff.

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Rory Dow: I don’t think I have a methodology. You have to dive in at the deep end, and turn a knob, and ask questions, and fire off an email if you need to. It’s so much fun to do, and the pressure just makes it better. I suspect that everyone dials in ideas. I dial in a square wave bass patch just to hear what the filter sounds like because that’s got to be your frame of reference for everything going forward. But yeah, I think after that, anything’s fair game.

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Mitch: I’m definitely like, “I’m glad to meet you. Let’s find out who you are.” Occasionally I’ll go in with the mentality of, “I’m going to make something horrific right away and see what kind of disgusting noise I can make with the product.” And Richard [Devine] is an inspiration, because he can dig into things so deep that I don’t even know where you are, man. But I tend to get in there and find out if it can do something horrible. There are plenty of synths out there that almost can’t. They just do beautiful sounds, and that’s cool, but I like the scary stuff.

Yes, synth designers at times will limit parameter ranges because they feel like, “We don’t want to get complaints that it’s broken.”

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Mitch: Yeah, or that accidently you don’t get a bunch of sounds that offend people, or turn them off. But I usually just go in and start tweaking some knobs, and I guess that’s why the Prophet X was such an interesting piece to work on, because it was very unexpected to me, to get that super-powerful architecture. It took me a second to wrap my head around.


Check back next Tuesday for the conclusion of our sound design roundtable, where the designers reveal the moment they know a new instrument will be a winner.

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Batmosphere
KVR Expert
4 posts since 9 Jul, 2019 from Northern California
KVR Expert

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 3 Now Live!)

Post Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:15 pm

Sound Design Roundtable, Part 4: The Ultimate Test of a Good Synth

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Welcome to the conclusion of our four-part roundtable on synthesizer sound design with six members of the Sequential Prophet X voicing team — Richard Devine, Rory Dow, Drew Neumann, Francis Preve, James Terris, and Mitch Thomas. When we left off, moderator Jerry Kovarsky had just asked:

So, you’re presented with a new synth. How do you go about exploring it and making friends?

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Richard: It’s funny; I get asked that question a lot. When I get a new synth I break it down into different little modules. First, I look at what the basic sound sources are. What are the basic waveforms I have to work with? What are the ranges of those waveforms? Do those waveforms modulate at audio rate or not? Can they modulate each other?

And then I look at every other component in the system and I just try to understand how it all works before I start putting things together. What are the envelopes like? Are they snappy? Can I make percussion sounds with them? An important place I look at is the modulation matrix, because for me, the modulation matrix is where a lot of interactive play can happen between all of the different components in the system.

So, I tend to look at the system as an environment, and then how all of those components interact in that environment, and how you can use velocity, expression, low frequency oscillators, or envelopes to be the extra automators to make things more animated and interesting. I look at what I have to work with, and then play around with each component. It’s like little Lego blocks.

It’s like putting together a modular system and going, “What are the tools and how will they interact?”

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Richard: Exactly. And from there, a test I do with basically every synth I get is to imagine it’s is the only thing I have to make music with. I make a basic set of sounds. I make percussion sounds, bass sounds, lead sounds, pad sounds . . . every single type of sound you’d want to use in a song. And actually, I try to make a song with the instrument by itself; that way it will demonstrate to me what the synth’s strengths and weaknesses are. Some areas will be like, this has great effects, or doesn’t have great effects, really good envelopes, good modulation system, lots of expressivity. . . .  

You’ll start to discover what is good or bad about the synth or the environment you’re working in. And usually, the synths where I can make an interesting track with just that one piece of gear, those tend to be the winners that stay with me.

That’s interesting, because you have this whole world of making sounds for impact, but they don’t behave well with others. They’re too big — they occupy all of the frequencies. Studio guys I’ve worked with would often get so excited about a sound, and when you hear it by itself you go, “That’s small.” But they’ll say, “No, no, it sits in a track with other things. It plays well with others.” It’s two different worlds of sound.

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Richard: Yeah, you can make stuff that’s too complex. I’ve been accused of that many times, where I’ve made sounds that were so complex, they were unusable for other people. So, there were times I would have to strip things away and get back to the fundamental timbre, get it to be just a component within a bigger picture. I have to think about how other people are going to be using the sounds or the instrument, and the many different genres they’re going to apply those sounds to, whether that’s EDM, electronic music, smooth jazz, who knows.

I see Mitch smiling and I know where his head is going. He’s like, “Yes, you can! You’re allowed to have some of those.” That used to be what we aimed the “wake-up patch” of a synth to be. To grab your attention. You don’t need it in a track, but it’s just, “Look at me,” you know?

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Mitch: No, I was just laughing because Richard is looking for a long-term relationship and I’m just jumping in the sack!

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Richard: It’s okay; I’m in it for the long haul. [Laughter.]

I think the Prophet X is another one of those instruments that’s going to continue to unfold as it propagates out into the world. There’s just such a vast amount of resources in there. So much hasn’t been exposed yet, I’m sure.

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Rory: I think the real excitement is still to come. The real excitement is in user sample import — importing your own samples and really making the instrument yours. [Ed Note: We recorded this roundtable shortly before Sequential added this feature.] Because when you do that, it belongs to you. There is no other Prophet X that is going to sound the same, and I don’t know if they’re going to allow you to do this, but if you could just put all of your own samples into it and make it completely your own, I’m super excited about that because I’m sitting here with 30 years’ worth of sampling that I just want to stick in that thing and mangle. You know, it’s literally a lifetime’s worth of sounds that you can play with there. It’s so exciting.

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Richard: That was my first question to them when I got it: “Can I import my own samples?” And they said, “Not quite right now.” Ooooh! That would have been so awesome.

You guys were talking about the V-Synth earlier. I worked with Roland on the original V-Synth and the V-Synth GT where you can use your own samples and the AP synthesis and all that cool stuff. I would just connect my laptop to the V-Synth and dump sample upon sample and mangle stuff and record tons of stuff and then export stuff out. I was hoping the Prophet X would be kind of a similar thing like that, so I was bummed to hear that we couldn’t do that—

Yet. [Laughter.]

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Richard: There were definitely six or eight patches where I was so inspired, I was like, “I’ve got to make a track with this.” And it’s not often where I get a piece of equipment where it’s like, “All right, I’ve got to stop what I’m doing and record something with this while I have it.” And that actually happened five or six times when I was working on the Prophet X sounds. I was like, “Whoa, I have to record a track with this because it sounds so unique.”

And that just shows that Dave [Smith] really tapped into something with this instrument. Going from my initial impression that it was just like a ROMpler workstation keyboard to eight days in and, “Holy shit, I’ve got to make a song with this sound. I’m that inspired.” It pulled the carpet out from underneath me. I just started thinking about things in a completely different way to come up with new sounds, which was awesome.

I think it should be like that. It should be thinking out of the box, and I love that he implemented those features, because it broke open some new ground. At least for me. Maybe the sounds I made are completely useless to everyone else. [Laughs.] But I was inspired enough to want to make music with it right away. And to me, if you do that, that’s when you know you’ve made a great instrument.

Yeah, that’s the highest compliment.

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Rory: I would concur all the way. So often during sound design, I just thought, “I’ve got to record this — if not to make music with it, just to play it to other people and say, ‘Look what this thing can do! It sounds incredible! Listen to this insane sound I just made!’” You want to show it off.

I think the ultimate test of a good synth, or any good instrument I suppose, is that you want other people to hear it. Whether that’s putting it in a track or just recording it exactly as it’s coming out of the instrument and sticking it on SoundCloud for everyone to hear.

There were just so many moments of, “Oh my god, this sounds insane!” You’re going into uncharted territory. So often as a sound designer, you know what to expect from certain types of instruments. What’s really fun is when you get an instrument that just surprises you; it spits stuff out and you go, “Whoa, that’s just incredible. I didn’t know sounds like that could exist. I must record it immediately.”
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AnX
KVRAF
5058 posts since 17 Nov, 2015

Re: Insider Tour: Voicing the Prophet X (Part 3 Now Live!)

Post Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:22 pm

r0zzer! :hyper:

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