Sunday, May 8, 2011

FM Synthesis: A short beginner's guide

As many of you know, the Yamaha DX7 is often one of the first synthesizers you come across while searching for a well known, cheap vintage synth. The DX7 is not a usual synth, however; it uses a different form of programming called Frequency Modulation. FM synthesis is not the type of thing you can learn from just by fiddling with knobs, especially since the DX7 uses only one knob for a data input. Last summer I owned a DX7 for a couple of months and purchased a used book on how to program it from someone online. While I eventually sold the DX7 because I found the user interface for programming too difficult, I still use FM synthesis on my computer using Native Instrument's FM8, a solid program that offers visual representations of the waves you're using and a spectrogram of the different frequencies and their harmonic content. For tutorial purposes, I will be demonstrating on a browser based FM synth from Angry Octopus (who's more recently created the famous Webotribe, a browser based version of the soon to be released Monotribe).

CTRLR: Free Software MIDI Controllers for tons of Synths

Ever had trouble getting MIDI messages to work correctly with your DAW? Look no further. CTRLRs are user-programmable MIDI apps that work with Logic and Ableton, among other programs, or in their in stand-alone app. I sent the creator of micronAU and midiO an email a couple months back wondering if he had cooked up anything else for the DSI Tetra, and he sent me this way to the CTRLR board. While the CTRLRs were originally handwritten, the newest version makes it easy for anyone to create their own for their specific needs, and users can also export their panels for others to use. Best part of all, is that this is all FREE.

This is a huge win for anyone who uses a retro-synth that lacks an app, or anyone who uses the DSI synths which have pretty awful software available. Check out the site and download the app. If you're savvy enough, you could create your own CTRLR and post it up for the rest of the forum! Pay it forward, right?