Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

VST, AU, AAX, etc. plug-in Virtual Instruments discussion
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McLilith
KVRAF
1796 posts since 7 Jul, 2003 from Huntington, WV

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 4:59 pm

Someone recently said the following on KVR. I've removed their name, because my post really isn't about them personally. It's about synth culture in general. Roughly similar things have also been said by others in the past. Anyway, here's the quote:
Someone wrote:I hope this admiration for everything 80's, synthwave and stuff like that will die away as soon as possible...
This reminds me of something I've been wondering about lately...

I'll never understand this sort of thinking being applied to synth sounds. It isn't done for other instruments. Take the piano, for example. I never hear anyone say:
No One Ever wrote:"Egads! You're not going to use a grand piano on that piece of music are you? That's so very '1800s', and totally outdated! I can't wait, till everyone tires of this wearisome little 'piano fad' and finally moves on from it." :lol:
The piano hasn't changed too much from the 1800s, but no one ever nags about how outdated "that sound" is. Ignoring "prepared" pianos for a moment, you can't even change the sound of a piano substantially. They only options are to use the foot pedals, to get a paltry three different "presets" of the beast. :wink: Yet, few will criticize the lack of sound variety, or the fact that the basic piano sound has been around far longer than any of us have been alive.

In the synth world, each patch we create can potentially be a new and unique instrument, with its own sonic character, different performance attributes, etc. In a sense, we really are creating new instruments when we create new patches or programs on synthesizers. So, why don't we treat our different patches with the same respect accorded to other instruments? Why are synth patches treated like a disposable commodity, instead being given the respect of being a unique instrument in their own right?

I just used the piano as one handy example. The same could be said about guitars, drums, orchestral instruments, pipe organs, many folk instruments, etc, etc, etc. There are lots of instrument sounds which originated before we were born, yet we generally don't treat them as disposable, outdated, sounds and instruments. However, synth sounds are treated like "fleeting fashion statements", encouraged by many to never reappear after being used for a relatively brief period of time.

I dare say, the vast majority of the KVR crowd probably loves synths. So, why don't we treat our various synth sounds more like respectable instruments in their own right, and less like disposable fashion statements?

Note: I'm not picking on anyone here at all here. This is just something I've been wondering about for awhile now, and I thought it might be interesting to start a conversation about it. :)

Additional Note: I just want to make it abundantly clear, I don't hate pianos at all. Quite the contrary, I think they can be quite beautiful. Although, I did wonder at first if I really needed all 5 of the deeply-sampled acoustic pianos included in Komplete 12 — not to mention the 4 electric pianos that were also included. That's just a lot of piano in a single package. :wink: I have a different acoustic piano for each day of the work week, and two electric pianos for each day of the weekend. I'm abundantly blessed with pianos, thanks to the very good folks at Native instruments. :)
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vurt
addled muppet weed
46974 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 5:05 pm

if it helps im still in awe of how the components in hardware or the code in software comes together to create not just worlds but whole universes out of sounds :ud:

vibrations, everywhere.

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wagtunes
KVRAF
16141 posts since 8 Oct, 2014

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 5:09 pm

The answer to your question is a complex one and not something I really want to get into in depth but there are many reasons for this attitude. One reason is this.

The piano, as you pointed out, has survived for quite some time. It actually has a fairly neutral tune, meaning it's not overbearing like some synth tones which, by their very nature, are quite exaggerated.

In addition to that, the piano has been used for countless types of music, so it's not identified with just one thing, like classical for example. There's jazz piano, which is also very popular and fairly old itself. And so on.

Synths, on the other hand, especially those 80s tones, are just that. They've primarily been used for 80s sounds. They don't have a rich history behind them. So the sounds themselves, because of the narrow use, have become a cliche.

It's a good part of the reason why Prog Rock eventually died out. People got tired of hearing that Lucky Man lead because it was such a narrowly used sound, whereas the piano, violin, and other "traditional" instruments were used for so many thing.

And this is just one reason. Some people simple hate the sounds, always hated them, and wish they never existed in the first place.

In short, you can't compare the "traditional" instruments to these "specialized" sounds.

Right or wrong, they will always be viewed this way.

FTR, I love the old sounds, but that's just me.

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jancivil
KVRAF
18839 posts since 20 Oct, 2007 from No Location

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 5:11 pm

Well, synthesizers hold out the promise of novelty. As to the 80s some days it seems like 80s all the time here, maybe someone got sick of hearing about it. :D

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Benedict
KVRAF
2816 posts since 5 Mar, 2004 from Gold Coast Australia

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 5:27 pm

Some people (not pointing at Wags at all :nutter: :hihi: ) just have a problem with new things. Some people still think the Saxophone is an abomination.

An instrument is what people make of it. Some uses that people put pianos to I just think silly. If they were to become the All of piano-ism, I'd pray for the retirement of the piano. Sadly many uses that synths get put to recently are rather like that. It is the thoughtless usage that is the real problem - couple that with the general thoughtlessness of many and we do hear an awful lot of pointless noise.

The "synth" (incl samples) now it comes free in all DAWs (which can also be free) is simply the easiest instrument to use these days. Easy means that anyone can churn out any form of noise in minutes.

People point at the 80s but the stuff they do sounds nothing like Kim Wilde, Thompson Twins, Gary Numan... People are just trying to find new ways to do bad music and try to justify their laziness by claiming association with something with greater credibility (and no ability to defend itself). So in that sense, I am with the anti-Retrowave league. Unless of course, they can start making truly good music - melodies, variations, stories, emotions, and stop that god-awful side-chaining thing on every darned track like it was so eternally clever.

This is all coming from a die-hard Synthesist who generally writes unashamedly Electronic Music (note no D).

:-)

Funkybot's Evil Twin
KVRAF
6505 posts since 16 Aug, 2006

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:02 pm

When I hear comments complaining about the same old synth sounds or whatever, I just assume the poster is making glitch or dub-step or something I find equally as offensive. We all have opinions. Some people just tend to be absolutist about them and can come across like dicks.

The phenomena is not unique to synth sounds by any means. I had a professor in an intro to jazz class who held the same kind of attitude towards jazz versus all other pop music, particularly anything coming out of drum machines, synths, or samplers. He was young (probably late 20s or early 30s), but a total traditionalist, and held a very absolutist view about what "real music" was. It's the same thing as the guy [and they're always guys] on a synth forum talking about how classic synths need to go away.

Just ignore these people. You're not going to change their mind and there's no accounting for taste.

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Karma_tba
KVRian
966 posts since 12 Aug, 2004

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:04 pm

Things are different today....I hear every mother say....they just don't appreciate ….we get tired. What a drag it is getting old.

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wagtunes
KVRAF
16141 posts since 8 Oct, 2014

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:05 pm

Funkybot's Evil Twin wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:02 pm
When I hear comments complaining about the same old synth sounds or whatever, I just assume the poster is making glitch or dub-step or something I find equally as offensive. We all have opinions. Some people just tend to be absolutist about them and can come across like dicks.

The phenomena is not unique to synth sounds by any means. I had a professor in an intro to jazz class who held the same kind of attitude towards jazz versus all other pop music, particularly anything coming out of drum machines, synths, or samplers. He was young (probably late 20s or early 30s), but a total traditionalist, and held a very absolutist view about what "real music" was. It's the same thing as the guy [and they're always guys] on a synth forum talking about how classic synths need to go away.

Just ignore these people. You're not going to change their mind and there's no accounting for taste.
^^^This. Seriously man, don't sweat it because people will not like things for a crap ton of reasons.

Dirtgrain
KVRist
118 posts since 12 Jan, 2019

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:13 pm

I don't dismiss musical things like I used to in high school. Back then, I remember hating the pedal steel guitar sound in country music, and I dismissed both instrument and genre vehemently. I grew. I got into Willie Nelson (even tolerated the pedal steel guitar). I found myself digging the Ray Charles country album. Years later, I saw Robert Randolph--holy crap. Then I wanted a pedal steel guitar. Who knows what new things can be done with those '80s synths?

Music can be strongly tied to identity and self-image. Being critical of something might be about more than just a dislike--it might be about how a person sees himself/herself, in which case, it is probably not a good idea to overly pursue an argument on taste with such a one.

And then there is the KVR ego thing, which, after a few months, I have become familiar with. I'm pretty sure some posts on the forums are about boosting up a person's status/standing, flexing synth and music knowledge. You can never be sure about a given post, but collectively, I get a sense that is a thing here. Of course, it is not the overall character of the forums and is outweighed by the positive discussion and selfless sharing of knowledge.

Don't get me wrong, it's okay not to like something. But absolutely dismissing it has proven to be a flawed stance for me.

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wagtunes
KVRAF
16141 posts since 8 Oct, 2014

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:17 pm

Exactly. I don't like rap and reggae because the genres just don't do anything for me. But I won't put anybody down for listening to them or say that they shouldn't exist anymore. Live and let live.

Passing Bye
KVRian
778 posts since 5 Nov, 2014

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:21 pm

McLilith wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2019 4:59 pm
The piano hasn't changed too much from the 1800s, but no one ever nags about how outdated "that sound" is.
Right now again M1 style piano is "in" and all the rage in pop music, tomorrow will go out of style again, so if you do it tomorrow, it will sound outdated again.
So, why don't we treat our various synth sounds more like respectable instruments in their own right, and less like disposable fashion statements?
Because they are that actually, respectable instruments that go in and out of style, just like M1 piano.

Plenty of people are totally into cliches, being that 80s or today's top chart music, same sounds, same concepts and it's like hearing same song all the time, some genres got so big and defined, people just got bored of them and found another one and so on, some kept making same stuff all over again using same defined cliches, nothing wrong with that really, but that's how the things are, not everyone loves same cliches.
Googly Smythe wrote:
Tue Jul 09, 2019 1:39 am
Somedays it seems like we're not allowed to dislike anything.

Passing Bye
KVRian
778 posts since 5 Nov, 2014

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:57 pm

wagtunes wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2019 5:09 pm
Synths, on the other hand, especially those 80s tones, are just that. They've primarily been used for 80s sounds. They don't have a rich history behind them. So the sounds themselves, because of the narrow use, have become a cliche.
Exactly, that's what I was going to say, next time I will actually read the thread before posting. :tu:
Googly Smythe wrote:
Tue Jul 09, 2019 1:39 am
Somedays it seems like we're not allowed to dislike anything.

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jeffb01
KVRian
876 posts since 18 Apr, 2006

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 8:15 pm

Remember how all those songs in the ‘80s had saxophone solos. I didn’t think of it as a trend at the time - just what goes into a song. Guitar, drums, bass, and saxophone. But now when you hear a song with a saxophone solo, it sounds so dated.

waiting man
KVRAF
2625 posts since 30 Aug, 2001 from where dinosaurs are still alive

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 8:23 pm

Endangered species, really :hihi:

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BONES
GRRRRRRR!
8322 posts since 14 Jun, 2001 from Somewhere else, on principle

Re: Why so little respect for the synthetic "instruments" we're creating?

Post Mon Jul 08, 2019 8:45 pm

McLilith wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2019 4:59 pm
The piano hasn't changed too much from the 1800s, but no one ever nags about how outdated "that sound" is.
Of course they do. Well, I do. I'd never even think of owning one and whenever I drive past a piano shop I wonder who actually buys pianos any more. But you kind of contradict the point you are trying to make because in the 100 years prior to the 1800s, they changed quite a bit. So think of synths in 2019 as being like pianos in 1759, about half-way from invention to perfection.
Why are synth patches treated like a disposable commodity, instead being given the respect of being a unique instrument in their own right?
Because that way of thinking is far too limiting.
The same could be said about guitars, drums, orchestral instruments, pipe organs, many folk instruments, etc, etc, etc.
And I'd agree with most of it.
There are lots of instrument sounds which originated before we were born, yet we generally don't treat them as disposable, outdated, sounds and instruments.
Speak for yourself. I find most of those examples you've to be exactly that. What use are folk instruments outside of folk music? No heavy metal lead guitarist is going to put his guitar down to play a pan flute solo in the middle of a song, is he?
However, synth sounds are treated like "fleeting fashion statements", encouraged by many to never reappear after being used for a relatively brief period of time.
Much as many favour the expressiveness of the piano over a harpsichord.
I dare say, the vast majority of the KVR crowd probably loves synths. So, why don't we treat our various synth sounds more like respectable instruments in their own right, and less like disposable fashion statements?
Why would we? It makes no sense. We aren't restricted like other instruments, we don't have to be bound by their conventions.
Funkybot's Evil Twin wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:02 pm
It's the same thing as the guy [and they're always guys] on a synth forum talking about how classic synths need to go away.
The distinction needs to be made between 80s sounds and synths from that time because they are not the same thing at all. I think we use a lot of sounds that people would identify as coming from the 80s, synth strings especially, but we don't make them using old synths because old synths tend to be rubbish - no velocity, no after-touch, etc. We like to take those sounds and imbue them with some level of expression and treat them with modern effects to make them sound way better than was possible back in the day. The difference, beyond the obvious sound, is a lot like that between a harpsichord and a piano and, more tellingly, it is the reason the piano superseded the harpsichord. It had nothing to do with the sound, it was all about expression.

You just have to look at any plugin that attempts to offer those distinctive 80s features. In pretty much every instance they do it by making the sound deliberately worse - introducing noise, ruining the tuning, etc. Somebody has even gone to the extent of simulating scratchy pots/sliders (hopefully tongue-in-cheek but you never really know).
Dirtgrain wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:13 pm
Music can be strongly tied to identity and self-image. Being critical of something might be about more than just a dislike--it might be about how a person sees himself/herself, in which case, it is probably not a good idea to overly pursue an argument on taste with such a one.
Why not? People need to have the courage of their convictions and should be able to handle any such critique.
Don't get me wrong, it's okay not to like something. But absolutely dismissing it has proven to be a flawed stance for me.
That depends. The example you gave seems, I think, not to be a million miles away from stuff you liked already but for me, even though KMFDM and Ministry have used it, I am certain I will always hate pedal steel and even slide guitar. I don't even like acoustic guitar. I can put up with a bit in a song's intro or as a background element but any more than that I find intolerable.
wagtunes wrote:
Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:17 pm
I don't like rap and reggae because the genres just don't do anything for me. But I won't put anybody down for listening to them or say that they shouldn't exist anymore. Live and let live.
I don't like reggae as a genre but I don't mind the occasional reggae song and there is a lot of reggae influenced rock that I really like. It's just that a reggae band, like most hip-hop stuff, is just too one-dimensional and I get bored of it very easily. Hip-hop I find laughably absurd. OTOH, country music is just plain annoying.
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