Friday, 30 October 2015

On "Fake Synthesis" and more

Something written on Twitter from a synthesist I admire for his in depth demos and rather spiffy narration style stuck with me recently. He was upset that someone had used the term fake synthesis in the context of a comment on Synthtopia when describing the new Roland Boutique synthesisers, which are finally getting some official (ie: not retailer) demo videos.

Now, very early on in my blog I decided not to get embroiled in this kind of argument and even wrote a long treatise on this very subject over a year ago. But rather than reinvent the wheel, it got me thinking about the whole idea of Fake Synthesis. I suppose what I am trying to get at is, if synthesis is fake then it has to be comparable to something and if so, then what is considered “real” synthesis?

Here are just a few of the common types that I am aware of in commonly used VSTs and hardware synthesisers:

  • Subtractive synthesis - start from a basic waveform then mix and filter
  • Frequency Modulation synthesis - pairs of waveforms as modulator and carrier
  • Additive synthesis - combine loads of sine waves together!
  • Granular synthesis - small samples played concurrently at different rates 
  • Linear Algorithmic synthesis - mix samples and waveforms, or partials, together to form the basis of attack/decay/sustain/release parts of a note.

While some of these methods are easier to use than others to make and change sounds for projects and are more widespread forms than others, none of these can be considered "the best" or "most proper" form of synthesis. If the definition of synthesis is to generate sound and be able change parameters to alter the quality of the sound you are making, then all are “proper” synthesis - whether you are making a pop hit or some artful musique concrete.

Why is it that Roland’s ACB technology that makes it a “fake” form of synthesis? The technology itself is a thorough recreation of Subtractive Synthesis, so it ought to be proper/real synthesis in the sense that it's a system for generating and sculpting sounds. to call an imitation of an existing synthesis style "fake" is just preposterous; I expect that the anger generated by the original poster comes from the instant dismissal of new products solely on what they expectations they don't meet (in this case, these are not a true analogue recreation a-la Korg and their ARP Odyssey but instead a digitally modelled version). Fake in the sense only that it's not exactly the same as the original; something that is not really feasible given the materials and components used then and now.

Haters gonna hate.

So what would a "fake" version of synthesis be? Something like a rompler that creates a sound and plays it back only? That's just a sampler then, though most romplers allow you to change things like pitch vibrato and volume, or at least add a filter to modify the sound in some way - in effect just like a very basic subtractive synthesiser. How about West Coast modular synth designs, which seem to steer well off the well beaten tracks of subtractive synthesis into esoteric wave folding and non-filter based timbre shifting weirdness - all this is also considered synthesis as well. Well beyond the scope of my blog and brainpower: what about a completely new way of creating sound not covered yet? Is that somehow fake because no one else has ever used it?