Synth Sounds: Old and New

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murmur
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Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by murmur »

Why is it that synth sounds used in a lot of the 80s/90s stuff seem so much better than those used in newer music? To my ears they do anyway, and I imagine others find the same thing.

This topic was inspired by listening to the compilation of A.B.O. material on Usagi, Documentation ‘89-‘93. I found the synth sounds really original and clever, despite being 30 years old. However, I’ve wondered about this relating to other projects. Club Moral’s song Hendrik de Man is one example. A friend brought up État Brut when we talked about this. The list can go on (recommendations appreciated!).

It strikes me that this is in spite of improved access to improved technology. Hardware synths are cheaper than they’ve ever been, and options like VCV Rack are more flexible and powerful than what anyone could have imagined back then.

Friends have suggested that it’s got to do with recording technique, either from using four-track tape machines or recording via amps. There’s definitely something to this, but I’m not convinced that’s the only difference between then and now. Does anyone have any other ideas? Or any suggestions for current projects working in this vein?

A stray observation: it seems like the sounds used by the artists mentioned are pretty minimal. Maybe this is part of it?
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by adult human »

murmur wrote: Wed Oct 04, 2023 9:25 pm Why is it that synth sounds used in a lot of the 80s/90s stuff seem so much better than those used in newer music?
Naive and barebones recording approaches imo. Shit mics, shit tape decks, zero idea of what they were up to. Just Doing It. The whole greater than the parts. They probably had way more clean sounding ideas in mind but just couldn’t do them.
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by ChicagoAnimal »

Weird quandary you are facing here, but interesting...

I think from a very basic high level take on this, your impression is solely in your own head here. We are dealing with a level of subjectivity directly connected to taste. I personally think those Club Moral synths are just....I just think of them as Club Moral synth sounds, really. There's nothing there to my ears that is all that special in contrast to synth sounds of today. I certainly don't think a lot of these artists were as good as pulling sounds out of their synths in the ways that say....Underground Resistance were? That is not a quality judgement, either. I love Club Moral and those groups and have a huge respect for their aesthetic and greater artistic decisions.

Really, not much has changed in the way of synthesis since that time besides the customizable frontier opened by affordable (more affordable rather than previously, prices are still high) modular synthesizers/Eurorack. There's more synths, but I am not convinced that there is really a huge jump in terms of like technology (aside from Eurorack and computer music).

That all being said, I have noticed there is a different feel on older noise/industrial/PE recordings that is warmer and thicker. This has to do with tape saturation. I have heard that tape was produced with higher quality in those days, perhaps that is why? Also, a lot of these YouTube rips of old noise/industrial stuff is literally coming from old tapes - these things change sound over time.

Also - and I think this is the main culprit - a lot of people in noise/industrial right now don't really understand synth architecture or how to "play" their synths. So what you get is a LOT of "lowest note taped down and filter sweep" kinds of songs. Very little composition attitude or stretching the capabilities of a synth beyond the initial dopamine reaction of sub-bass drones. Hobbyist constraints. I think about this a lot.
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by adult human »

ChicagoAnimal wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 1:32 pm what you get is a LOT of "lowest note taped down and filter sweep" kinds of songs. Very little composition attitude or stretching the capabilities of a synth beyond the initial dopamine reaction of sub-bass drones. Hobbyist constraints.
This is it here. “I want to make music that sounds like those records and this will do” attitude of today vs “I want to make music I’ve imagined but not heard before” approaches of the yesteryear. I still think the constraints of having little access to equipment drives a lot of what Murmur is asking about yet it’s arguable that replicating a scenario such as that in pursuit of the same effects is the opposite of what contemporary artists should be doing. We all heard what happened when those lovely kids in Copenhagen decided to do those industrial bands as an excuse to wear matching t shirts and play synths thru guitar amps in a big room. A whole lot of whateverish mimicry despite a lot of the ideas being the same as all these incredible influencing artists. As much as I was never a big fan of the project I think about something like Iron Fist of the Sun whose sound really stood out for its rejection of lofi droning muck in favour of clean buzzing, melodically progressive synth work
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by ChicagoAnimal »

adult human wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 3:29 pm
ChicagoAnimal wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 1:32 pm what you get is a LOT of "lowest note taped down and filter sweep" kinds of songs. Very little composition attitude or stretching the capabilities of a synth beyond the initial dopamine reaction of sub-bass drones. Hobbyist constraints.
This is it here. “I want to make music that sounds like those records and this will do” attitude of today vs “I want to make music I’ve imagined but not heard before” approaches of the yesteryear. I still think the constraints of having little access to equipment drives a lot of what Murmur is asking about yet it’s arguable that replicating a scenario such as that in pursuit of the same effects is the opposite of what contemporary artists should be doing. We all heard what happened when those lovely kids in Copenhagen decided to do those industrial bands as an excuse to wear matching t shirts and play synths thru guitar amps in a big room. A whole lot of whateverish mimicry despite a lot of the ideas being the same as all these incredible influencing artists. As much as I was never a big fan of the project I think about something like Iron Fist of the Sun whose sound really stood out for its rejection of lofi droning muck in favour of clean buzzing, melodically progressive synth work
Were they using amps? I doubt it. Running synths through guitar amps would make shit sound pretty gnarly , not....uh...you know.

Interesting enough, I think that once you understand how fucking BAD some people are at playing/programming their synths and how little they understand them, it really begins to demystify a lot of projects that put a lot of effort propping themselves up with surrounding references.
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by holy ghost »

ChicagoAnimal wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 1:32 pma lot of people in noise/industrial right now don't really understand synth architecture or how to "play" their synths.
^ Me for the last 6 years trying to figure out my MS-20 (and wishing those Behringer Roland Juno clones had been around because all I want to do is make John Carpenter type sounds now).

In all seriousness synth guys from the 70's/80's spent their whole lives figuring that shit out - and it wasn't as easy as plugging into a focusrite box to record your stuff. All that stuff goes a long way in getting the best sound out of that stuff. As the old saying goes, "buyeth a Moog doth not maketh you Rick Wakeman...."
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by murmur »

adult human wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 3:29 pm
ChicagoAnimal wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 1:32 pm what you get is a LOT of "lowest note taped down and filter sweep" kinds of songs. Very little composition attitude or stretching the capabilities of a synth beyond the initial dopamine reaction of sub-bass drones. Hobbyist constraints.
This is it here. “I want to make music that sounds like those records and this will do” attitude of today vs “I want to make music I’ve imagined but not heard before” approaches of the yesteryear. I still think the constraints of having little access to equipment drives a lot of what Murmur is asking about
I think this gets to the heart of what I was asking about, at least clarifies it to me. In hindsight I should have titled it synth use rather than only sounds. Equipment obviously informs both, but I think I was detecting the difference in attitude you both describe. Thanks!
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by ChicagoAnimal »

I think that - perhaps - a new frontier in noise/industrial/power electronics synth playing and programming is finding ways to dig into music theory (in conjunction with some of the more advanced/academic techniques found in Xenakis, Parmegiani, Ferreyra) and make some wild new takes on the established genre tropes. I think Puce Mary got close to this. If you listen to everything post-Persona, she is very clearly thinking about keeping things in time, contrasting timbres, and everything is in tune.
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by Remi »

holy ghost wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 5:46 pm
ChicagoAnimal wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 1:32 pma lot of people in noise/industrial right now don't really understand synth architecture or how to "play" their synths.
^ Me for the last 6 years trying to figure out my MS-20 (and wishing those Behringer Roland Juno clones had been around because all I want to do is make John Carpenter type sounds now).

In all seriousness synth guys from the 70's/80's spent their whole lives figuring that shit out - and it wasn't as easy as plugging into a focusrite box to record your stuff. All that stuff goes a long way in getting the best sound out of that stuff. As the old saying goes, "buyeth a Moog doth not maketh you Rick Wakeman...."
If I may, John Carpenter used Prophets (mainly the Prophet 5) and not Junos. If you can deal with the interface, Behringer's Pro 400 sounds very convincing for its price. I haven't used it but I just sold their Monopoly and it was really well done (a 12 kg beast too.)

I also think that guys from the 70's/80's who used synths were extremely rich and/or engineers, or working in arts or for radios or companies who needed to use that kind of gear. I mean, you know nobody could afford synths unless they built them themselves. And when synths became available to more people with either basic mono synths by the end of the 70's or synths like the DX7 (which nobody knows how to program anyway because FM synthesis is a pain in the neck) people stopped worrying about programmation unless they had the time to do so. Even when you think of Junos, Prophets, Minimoogs, etc, the interfaces are rather "simple."

Also, I think that nowadays, people think they can get freaky with eurorack or expensive pedals because the companies tell them they can but in my humble opinion, there's no programmation involved when you use semi-modulars which already have lots of pre-routing done behind the panel for almost immediate use, or when you use Chase Bliss pedals or a Microcosm that messes with your sound so much you can't even discern the original source nor understand what's going on. Or like, when you go Rings into Clouds. You're not doing anything but using pre-routed stuff for you. It's not always a bad thing, but I feel like it's cheating the hobbyist too ?

Not everyone does that but the companies with all the nice layouts or blinking lights care more about shifting units than the unsexy Doepfer modules.

And the MS20 patch panel is an abomination. It's not even for smart people, and I'm sure even Make Noise wouldn't be able to botch layout so well. Coincidentally, I just took mine out of the shelf this weekend with the intent of using it more and try to understand some of it better because it's more practical to carry around for gigs than my old and suite reliable Kawai. I don't like its sound though, so hopefully eurorack will be handy in that case.
Violent Shogun / Hattifnattar / Cryptofascisme / etc:
http://yesdivulgation.bandcamp.com
Droit Divin:
http://droitdivin1.bandcamp.com
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http://lavabdx.bandcamp.com
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by ChicagoAnimal »

Remi wrote: Mon Oct 09, 2023 9:10 am
holy ghost wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 5:46 pm
ChicagoAnimal wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 1:32 pma lot of people in noise/industrial right now don't really understand synth architecture or how to "play" their synths.
^ Me for the last 6 years trying to figure out my MS-20 (and wishing those Behringer Roland Juno clones had been around because all I want to do is make John Carpenter type sounds now).

In all seriousness synth guys from the 70's/80's spent their whole lives figuring that shit out - and it wasn't as easy as plugging into a focusrite box to record your stuff. All that stuff goes a long way in getting the best sound out of that stuff. As the old saying goes, "buyeth a Moog doth not maketh you Rick Wakeman...."
If I may, John Carpenter used Prophets (mainly the Prophet 5) and not Junos. If you can deal with the interface, Behringer's Pro 400 sounds very convincing for its price. I haven't used it but I just sold their Monopoly and it was really well done (a 12 kg beast too.)

I also think that guys from the 70's/80's who used synths were extremely rich and/or engineers, or working in arts or for radios or companies who needed to use that kind of gear. I mean, you know nobody could afford synths unless they built them themselves. And when synths became available to more people with either basic mono synths by the end of the 70's or synths like the DX7 (which nobody knows how to program anyway because FM synthesis is a pain in the neck) people stopped worrying about programmation unless they had the time to do so. Even when you think of Junos, Prophets, Minimoogs, etc, the interfaces are rather "simple."

Also, I think that nowadays, people think they can get freaky with eurorack or expensive pedals because the companies tell them they can but in my humble opinion, there's no programmation involved when you use semi-modulars which already have lots of pre-routing done behind the panel for almost immediate use, or when you use Chase Bliss pedals or a Microcosm that messes with your sound so much you can't even discern the original source nor understand what's going on. Or like, when you go Rings into Clouds. You're not doing anything but using pre-routed stuff for you. It's not always a bad thing, but I feel like it's cheating the hobbyist too ?

Not everyone does that but the companies with all the nice layouts or blinking lights care more about shifting units than the unsexy Doepfer modules.

And the MS20 patch panel is an abomination. It's not even for smart people, and I'm sure even Make Noise wouldn't be able to botch layout so well. Coincidentally, I just took mine out of the shelf this weekend with the intent of using it more and try to understand some of it better because it's more practical to carry around for gigs than my old and suite reliable Kawai. I don't like its sound though, so hopefully eurorack will be handy in that case.
Great points here! Aside from the MS-20 point...how dare thee?!?!?

For a lot of people in the 70-80's, being a synth player was their job, which seems to be the privilege of very few these days. It's one thing to have an Air BnB in the your basement unit, it's another to run a hotel.

I get a real kick out of these sexless ambient synth Instagram shorts where you have a plant, a Microcosm, a 5 unit modular synth (which easily hits the $1k mark even in its size....fyi I use and love modular but lets be real here), and a tape loop. I think the idea of these videos - and by extension this is a sort of mentality a lot of new electronic musicians take up - is that by washing source through these circuits that the product is tantamount to some blissful advancement in sound.

A lot of the new spatial effects I see really just degrade and reduce the sound to cavernous nonsense.

Good synth sound design/programming has a lot more to do with appropriating utilities (multipliers, CV sends from a computer back into synth, etc.) and understanding a little more about music theory that the music technology magazines will let you on to believe...
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by Remi »

ChicagoAnimal wrote: Mon Oct 09, 2023 5:31 pm
Remi wrote: Mon Oct 09, 2023 9:10 am
holy ghost wrote: Thu Oct 05, 2023 5:46 pm

^ Me for the last 6 years trying to figure out my MS-20 (and wishing those Behringer Roland Juno clones had been around because all I want to do is make John Carpenter type sounds now).

In all seriousness synth guys from the 70's/80's spent their whole lives figuring that shit out - and it wasn't as easy as plugging into a focusrite box to record your stuff. All that stuff goes a long way in getting the best sound out of that stuff. As the old saying goes, "buyeth a Moog doth not maketh you Rick Wakeman...."
If I may, John Carpenter used Prophets (mainly the Prophet 5) and not Junos. If you can deal with the interface, Behringer's Pro 400 sounds very convincing for its price. I haven't used it but I just sold their Monopoly and it was really well done (a 12 kg beast too.)

I also think that guys from the 70's/80's who used synths were extremely rich and/or engineers, or working in arts or for radios or companies who needed to use that kind of gear. I mean, you know nobody could afford synths unless they built them themselves. And when synths became available to more people with either basic mono synths by the end of the 70's or synths like the DX7 (which nobody knows how to program anyway because FM synthesis is a pain in the neck) people stopped worrying about programmation unless they had the time to do so. Even when you think of Junos, Prophets, Minimoogs, etc, the interfaces are rather "simple."

Also, I think that nowadays, people think they can get freaky with eurorack or expensive pedals because the companies tell them they can but in my humble opinion, there's no programmation involved when you use semi-modulars which already have lots of pre-routing done behind the panel for almost immediate use, or when you use Chase Bliss pedals or a Microcosm that messes with your sound so much you can't even discern the original source nor understand what's going on. Or like, when you go Rings into Clouds. You're not doing anything but using pre-routed stuff for you. It's not always a bad thing, but I feel like it's cheating the hobbyist too ?

Not everyone does that but the companies with all the nice layouts or blinking lights care more about shifting units than the unsexy Doepfer modules.

And the MS20 patch panel is an abomination. It's not even for smart people, and I'm sure even Make Noise wouldn't be able to botch layout so well. Coincidentally, I just took mine out of the shelf this weekend with the intent of using it more and try to understand some of it better because it's more practical to carry around for gigs than my old and suite reliable Kawai. I don't like its sound though, so hopefully eurorack will be handy in that case.
Great points here! Aside from the MS-20 point...how dare thee?!?!?

For a lot of people in the 70-80's, being a synth player was their job, which seems to be the privilege of very few these days. It's one thing to have an Air BnB in the your basement unit, it's another to run a hotel.

I get a real kick out of these sexless ambient synth Instagram shorts where you have a plant, a Microcosm, a 5 unit modular synth (which easily hits the $1k mark even in its size....fyi I use and love modular but lets be real here), and a tape loop. I think the idea of these videos - and by extension this is a sort of mentality a lot of new electronic musicians take up - is that by washing source through these circuits that the product is tantamount to some blissful advancement in sound.

A lot of the new spatial effects I see really just degrade and reduce the sound to cavernous nonsense.

Good synth sound design/programming has a lot more to do with appropriating utilities (multipliers, CV sends from a computer back into synth, etc.) and understanding a little more about music theory that the music technology magazines will let you on to believe...
Regarding the MS20, I am not sure. I have to admit, I've been able to use OG MS10, MS20, MS50 and an SQ10 before, and I thought they sounded great, definitely better than the Mini version. Besides that, I guess I enjoy the tweakability of most of the synth's parameters but I don't like its filters, which I believe really makes a synth' sound. That and the non-sensical and chaotic patch panel. I think I may be able to get around them if I use my eurorack leftovers as processor and maybe my Serge for the modulation. We'll see.

Ultimately, in my humble opinion, what matters most when using synths is whether one gets the sound they're looking for with what they use (and again, I think it's usually all about the filters and the few extra quirks) and then whether the workflow suits them.

A sine wave, whether it comes from a Behringer or a Cwejman module, or a Casio or a Moog synth, will be a sine wave. It'll be more or less stable and more or less clean but I doubt most people would make the différence. However, a synth, whether it comes as a single panel or modular device, must be able to convey the ideas and stir up the creativity of its user the most effortlessly possible.

If it makes sense to the artist whether they use a Sequential Six-Traks or a Casio VL-Tone, it's all that matters.

I'd be tempted to say that the older and cult artists used whatever they could get their hands on and went for it without wondering twice about it.

I also think that with the fact synths became more widespread and more easily available from the end of the 80's onwards, the fact it got always easier to record yourself first on tape multitrackers and then on DAWs at home, with the spreading and widening of the underground scenes and then the Internet, people took notice of what went on, began to compare their sounds or techniques with eachother, or just copy eachother because it's always difficult to do better than someone who did something that worked out well before you, and it led both to some outbursts of creativity (IFOTS is a great example, I'd add Haus Arafna to the list) and a ton of less inspired copycats because a good throbbing bass almost always does the job.

And the ambient/synth/chasebliss/tapeloop scene is depressing. If you search for tape loops on Bandcamp, all you find is the same kind of generative ambient that never goes anywhere. It's terrible.
Violent Shogun / Hattifnattar / Cryptofascisme / etc:
http://yesdivulgation.bandcamp.com
Droit Divin:
http://droitdivin1.bandcamp.com
Lava:
http://lavabdx.bandcamp.com
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by Cementimental »

Not really an answer to this question, but absolutely every time someone posts on SI like "HAI IM NEW TO MAKING POWER ELECTRONICS I HAVE [list of £10000 worth of new synths and gear] HOW DO I COPY THE SOUND AT 02:39 IN THIS 80S DEATH INDUSTRIAL TRACK!?!" and I take a listen to said track, the sound is just uneffected vocal mic feedback.
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Re: Synth Sounds: Old and New

Post by holy ghost »

Remi wrote: Mon Oct 09, 2023 9:10 amIf I may, John Carpenter used Prophets (mainly the Prophet 5) and not Junos. If you can deal with the interface, Behringer's Pro 400 sounds very convincing for its price. I haven't used it but I just sold their Monopoly and it was really well done (a 12 kg beast too.)
Absolutely fair - you may!! I really just don't think I am ever going to click with the MS20 - so I sold it!! I was looking at a Behringer Poly D but I think I'm going to pull the plug on a Behringer Odyssey this weekend. I don't JUST want to sound like John Carpenter I also have a huge love of Herbie Hancock's electric funk of the 70's so I think I'm going to just hunker down for the winter and learn how to use this thing. I have a "basic" understanding of music theory so let's see what happens in the spring. I find the lack of a patch panel totally liberating!! Everyone says the Odyssey is the better build so I'm excited.

Side note I sold my MS20 to a really chill dad who was buying it for his teenage daughter's birthday - who showed up in a Throbbing Gristle shirt - if you're somehow reading this forum good luck and I hope you love it!!!
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