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Boring synth stuff

Atonality n’ Stuff

One day, a long time ago, I was listening to podcast about synthesizers because of some school assignment or something. It was a couple of guys talking about ‘The Greatest Presets Evar’ or something like that, going through their favourite demo sounds on various synths and songs that they were in. Eventually, as they were wrapping it all up, they pretty much said that all these synth sounds weren’t that important, and that it’s just the notes that really matter. I’m not sure how literally they meant it, but I’m going to be a dork and whine about how the notes aren’t the only thing music needs, or something.

So, the notes in music are usually the only tonal sounds  in music, meaning that they usually have a single pitch, sometimes maybe. Pretty much, if the notes in music were the only thing that mattered, you could replace every instrument with a single sine tone at the fundamental frequency. This would sound retarded; imagine an album titled ‘The Well Tempered Hearing Clinic’, and you’re pretty much there. All sound is made of sine tones of various frequencies, phases, amplitudes and everything else. Every instrument usually has it’s own unique timbre, a lot of which is from the character of the harmonics or overtones, and the weird stuff they do. The fundamental frequency is just a boring old sine wave, and the harmonics are more sine waves at higher frequencies related to the fundamental, with the higher frequencies being usually attenuated. The way these harmonics are layed out and everything about them has a huge impact on the sound and even the shape of the…sound.

Anyways, this article was supposed to be actually about music, and not badly explained physics principles of sound. While some people love to ponder how music ‘connects our inner soul’ and all this other pretentious stuff, I’m just going to say that music is about mood and atmosphere. The way that musical harmonies and melodies n’ stuff relate with human emotions and whatever else is ridiculous and pretty bizarre. Surely, there’s some logic in it, as happy major chords ‘look’ calm and correct in an oscilliscope, while more dissonant chords tend to look more chaotic and wrong. It’s weird that certain relationships between constant frequencies seem emotional to us, but there’s a crapload more sounds that will affect our mood for pretty clear reasons. If we’re trying to make sounds with some sort of mood to them, using just math to get there is kind of lame, I would say. Some of these atonal sounds with a certain mood are sort of dependant on culture, but a number of them are probably pretty universal to humans, either because of our relatively limited range of experiences or some evolutionary thing.

So, I’m pretty sure if you make a chord like a major chord, but remove the 3rd (the one in the middle!), it will be neither major or minor, it could be happy or sad sounding, depending on the 3rd note you add to it. Let’s just keep those 2 notes, but ‘fill in the blanks’ with completely atonal sounds. Using a soft viola sound or something similar with a slow attack and craploads of reverb for the ‘chord’ with the sound of birds and a babbling brook in the background would probably sound happier than playing the chord with a harsh distorted buzzing sounds with chains hitting barrels and bears roaring in the background. You might expect me to post a song displaying this, but what I’m actually going to do is make an entire song using just white noises and a crapload of bandpass filters.

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4 Responses to “Atonality n’ Stuff”

  1. Ahh… I wanted to hear the bears roaring!

  2. I’m excited for this noise song.
    I’ve noticed that noise+FM can make some cool sounding synths. But to be honest, I have no idea what FM is. All I know is that it harshes up the sound a lot of the time.

  3. FM is frequency modulation. Basically, one oscillator acts as an lfo controlling the pitch of another oscillators. If the first oscillator has a really low frequency, it’ll make weeeooo siren sounds, but then as it gets into higher, audible frequencies, weird stuff happens.
    In Thor, if you have 2 analog oscillators and one noise oscillator, with the noise oscillator set to modulate the frequency of one of the analog oscillators in the little modulation routing matrix thing, the noise will randomly alter that oscillators pitch. At a low setting, it will add a little warble to the oscillator, and then mixed with the pure, non-warbled oscillator, a bunch of cool detuny phasing stuff will happen.

  4. Last paragraph made me laugh super hard. Did you end up making that white noise song?

    I agree with you that there has to be teamwork between music theory stuff and sound design. And I know I’ve said this before, but you are amazing at sound design, and I consider myself knowledgeable about the aesthetics of music. I really want to figure out how we work well together so we can make amazing music.


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