Friday, March 2, 2012
Mystery Synth Reveal... or The Importance of User Interface
For my purposes most of the debates seem to be asking the wrong questions. While I have plenty of judgements and preferences ultimately I don't care if a synth is hardware, software, analog, or digital. What matters most to me is if it is inspiring, interesting, and if I am able to use it (or abuse it) to reach my aural goals. There will be more about apps and VST plugins on this blog in the future but as an introductory post allow me to introduce one computer and hardware combination that , to me, got it right. The Korg Legacy MS20 controller and Software and yes, this is the instrument featured in the most recent "Mystery Synth" post.
For the past few decades Korg has been leading the way in making modern synthesizers that are interesting and practical. While Roland and others were making ROM based "grooveboxes" Korg came out with the ER1 - a true percussion synthesizer with multiple LFO waveforms for modulating in internal synth engine. Then they came out with the MS2000 a digital "Virtual Analog" synth with knobs galore, a built in sequencer, tweakable useful effects, and of course midi. They even included features many mainstream manufacturers seem to have forgotten such as a wave scanning oscillator and a form of modular patch memory for modulations.
A few years ago Korg introduced the Legacy Collection. Virtual software copies of some of their most famous synthesizers including the Wavestation, PolySix, and MS20. The MS20 is truly a flagship classic analog synth. it is unique in sound and layout, has an amazing dual filter section which has been cloned and copied of decades since it's demise, and also offers a semi-modular patching system. Kord then went one step further with their virtual software releases by creating a new hardware clone of the MS20 synth itself right down to the original color scheme, knobs, and patchbay. Some slight changes were made such as the use of 3.5mm jacks intead of the original 1/4" ones and , of course, there is no CV control or actual internal sound engine. However, the legacy MS20 controller hooks up to any computer via USB and then allows you to twist and tweak in controller knobs, patch the jacks, and process external audio or run it as a guitar synth just like the original. This moves the legacy system from just another software clone to an actual clone of the Interface complete with all it's immediate features. quirks, and real time inter-connections.
Here is a short video demo I made showcasing how it works:
On of the reasons modular systems are so popular among hardcore synthesists and sound designers is they offer a tactile and visual interface that is both immediate and inspiring. Both Bob Moog and Don Buchla realized years ago it wasn't enough to have a box of circuits if you wanted to create ART. It may be a throwback or clone of the past but by creating a mock hardware interface to go with their software sound engine the MS20 legacy instrument brings the old into the 21st century.
No one nailed the answer but there quite a few great guesses. Free downloads have been awarded. If you'd like to see more synthish contests in the future drop me an email via this blog.
And, of course, Real-time tweak on!