AES Section Meeting Reports

Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences - November 8, 2018

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On November 8th, 2018 the AES chapter at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences hosted a clinic with Conservatory instructor, Scott Murray. The clinic revolved around synthesis and sound design, and the creative adventure that this avenue of music making can procure. The primary goal of the clinic was to give students techniques and inspiration for them to get started on a synth journey of their own. The main topics of Murray's talk included oscillation, filters, envelope, and experimentation.

Scott Murray is a CRAS graduate who joined The Conservatory teach staff in 2011. He began his exploration into synthesis after graduation in 2008, realizing that sound could be manipulated and shaped to create a whole new world of undreamed-of sounds through synthesis. Scott brought along with him two of his own synthesizers to demonstrate his techniques for students. The first synth was a vintage, fixed, analog Moog "Micromoog", and the second was a digital, modular synthesizer (that he put together himself), which included modules from several different manufacturers such as Pittsburgh, Intellijel Designs and Soundhack to name a few. He explained the differences between the two synthesizers. Starting with the fixed, analog synthesizer he stated that these types of synths don't necessarily offer the specialized control of patching, but they are easier to use and are typically a cheaper option, especially for those who are first getting started on a journey of synth discovery. Moving to his digital, modular synthesizer he explained how the operator can choose which modules they want in their set up and the sound which can be routed via patching to create a cornucopia of options in designing sound. However, these synthesizers are more expensive, but they are far more expansive in the options that they can provide for the instrumentalist.

After introducing students to the synth instruments that he brought, he began demonstrating what the different waveforms sound like through each of the synthesizers, auditor-ally illustrating the lowest to highest frequency ranges the synths can provide. Adding oscillation to the mix, he informed students of how oscillators work in conjunction with the waveforms, and how they are what create the sounds that are responsible for the harmonically rich complexities behind the waveforms. He explained how raw waveforms into oscillators could be blended together to create a new and unique sound. Also, how having oscillators control other oscillators, when the first oscillator remains at the original frequency, then adding in a sweep to the second oscillating frequency. This creates the opportunity for the two of them to meet mathematically so they have the ability find that "sweet spot" of sound where they tune to each other and the operator gets the chance to fine tune this sound to find what they are looking for. He also demonstrated what white noise and oscillation can do in conjunction with each other while closing the filter to create sounds of nature like wind or liquid sounds that can be used in music or special effects.

Next Scott began down the road of filtering. He showed examples of standard different filters and how drastically they can affect the sound. Scott pointed out to the students that a sawtooth wave through a lo-pass filter is one of the most common types of filtering in synthesis. In conjunction with filtering, he demonstrated how you can shape the resonance by cutting off the filter to create different slopes to exaggerate a sound that you are trying to achieve. Scott stated that "...resonance is very classic synth stuff" and by adding resonance to filter sweeps you can create a myriad of wild, unheard of sounds. In this manner someone can artistically produce sounds that can be used for special effects in movies or video games, sounds that we don't normally hear on Earth, like footsteps on a foreign planet or sounds that a dinosaur or dragon might make. The possibilities are endless.

The next topic Scott discussed was that of controlling the envelope of attack, decay, sustain and release. At first, he demonstrated using simple envelopes, stating that the envelope is of the utmost importance in synthesis. The envelope shapes the timing of your instrument and Scott posed a very interesting point when he talked about the control available to the instrumentalist while using a synthesizer. He said that with a typically thought of an instrument, like a guitar or a horn of sorts, you cannot really manipulate your envelope, the sound it produces is the sound it will always produce. However, when you use a synth as your instrument you have the opportunity to change the envelope of your sound, the sound it creates one minute can be totally different from the sound it creates the next minute. He also talked about how envelopes are responsible for shaping the timing and how the envelope may be static at first, but when you change the attack and release manually, you can have divisions of the clock affecting the envelope as well. Scott also delved into the fact that a Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO) can be used if you do not have any keys to control the envelope, but you wouldn't use it for sound purposes necessarily, you would use it to modify the parts of an envelope to influence the filter. Controlling the speed of the envelope to play into the frequency and filter cut off. Again creating far more options and possibilities for musicians to use.

At the conclusion of his talk, Scott encouraged students to just get out there and get started using synthesizers, using experimentation to fuel the creative fire that synthesis can provide. One awesome quote that was particularly inspiring, especially for those just getting started on a synth journey was when Scott said: "There is no such thing as better in synthesis, just different and new". Although new sounds can take time to work through, he motivated students to self-teach in a trial and error manner to discover sounds that are unique and adventurous that a computer alone could not provide. Scott's discussion on synthesizers was very inspiring and invigorating, shedding new light on the fantastically creative world of synthesis.

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