In the continuing efforts to merge hardware and software, I keep my eyes peeled for apps that will allow me to make life easier in the studio. If you have been following this blog, you will know that I’ve been working on building a Volca workstation that incorporates the use of iOS sequencers and controllers working along side these mighty units. To further this cause, I had been wanting a more graphic representation to make programming the Volca FM more intuitive. Enter Patchbase, by coffeeshopped LLC.
Before this app came along, I had been building control interfaces for one of my other hardware synthesizers in another app. I had planned to do the same for my Volcas, particularly, the Volca FM. This is all fine and good, and I do recommend the app that I had used(you can read about that here), but sometimes, you just don’t have the time to dedicate to building something, so you find another tool. Patch Base is a graphic interface for editing and creating patches for hardware synthesizers.
Patch Base is, as I just mentioned, a graphic interface for hardware synths. You can use it for a whole bunch of hardware, but I am focusing on the Volca FM, as it is the synth for which I most need it. For the most part, the editor is straightforward, it lays out the operators in front of you and lets you tweak all you want. You can design patches from the ground up, randomize a setting to give you an unexpected sound, or even tweak a stock setting. It also has capabilities to load up the original DX7 patch library into your Volca FM(for the uninitiated, the Volca FM is the DX7 in a smaller format). This means I can finally have the patch that Berlin used on Take My Breath Away…okay, maybe not.
Now, before I get into the nuts and bolts of this app, I should probably expand upon the Volca FM and what it does. if you are at all familiar with synths, the Yamaha DX7 was a game changer back in the early 80’s. One of advantages to the DX7 was that it had a way to store presets and could really cop the electric piano vibe. It departed from the analog synths at the time by having a digital sound engine. The way the DX7 worked also was different than analog synths, in that it used a different type of synthesis called frequency modulation. Developed by John Chowning, the idea behind frequency modulation(FM for short) was that you had a digital oscillator, called an operator that was essentially a sine wave, and you would use another operator to modulate the frequency of the first operator. You didn’t hear the second operator directly, but you would hear the effect that it had on the first operator. These operators were referred to as the carrier operator and the modulator operator. I believe it was referred to as additive synthesis, because in order to manipulate the timbre, you added an operator to the carrier operator. This is much different than analog synthesis, which was primarily subtractive synthesis in nature. The DX7 was arguably the most popular synth at the time of its release. The major issue with this keyboard was that it was very daunting to program a patch from scratch. The secondary issue was that most people didn’t have a firm grasp of FM synthesis principles.
Fast forward to present day. While analog synthesis has made a strong comeback and people are more forward thinking to take technology of the past and experiment with making unique and bold sounds, rather than trying to make a new tone sound like an old one, FM synthesis has also been making a comeback, as the sounds can be much more harsh and abrasive. This can make for one angry bass line(Dubstep anyone?), but if programmed properly, I have heard some very wonderful and warm sounding pads come off a, FM synth. Now, I have been wanting to get a DX7 for a while now, but can’t bring myself to pony up the due(not that they are expensive, I’ve seen them on eBay for around $350USD). I do have a DX27, the younger sibling to the DX7, and it’s a lot of fun to play. Once Korg had released their Volca series synths and drum machines, the game changed yet again, bringing the synth experience to a larger population at an affordable price. When the announcement came that Korg was releasing an FM-style synth, the buzz began, and everyone was hoping to recapture the DX7 spirit. Korg didn’t let us down. The Volca FM was, in essence, a 3 voice DX7 with a built in arpeggiator and sequencer.
While the Volca FM was much easier to program, it still took some time to work between the operators and get a sound quickly. This is where a Graphic control interface comes in handy. Patch Base tended to that need by providing users with access to iOS an easy way to program synths in this manor. I sat down with it over the last weekend to work on making new sounds for my Volca, and was treated to relatively instant gratification. the layout of the parameters made short work of getting a sound.
Now, I’ve spent a lot of time using four-operator FM synth apps and even the DX27 has four operators, but the DX7 and the Volca FM have six operators, thus more flexibility and with it, a slightly steeper learning curve. I really had to take some time to explore this new world, and it was pretty neat. Patch Base made that possible.
Right now, I won’t bore you with the details, but I will be making a tutorial video that goes more in depth on using Patch Base, so be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, here is the developer’s description of what Patch Base is:
Patch Base is a collection of patch editors for new and vintage synthesizers, enabling easy visualization, editing, and organization of patches.
* See what patches on your synth look like
* Edit the parameters of your synth in real time, while you play
* Save patches in Patch Base, and optionally back them up for free using iCloud
* Access your patch files on your computer via iCloud Drive
* Create random patches, and “init” patches as starting points for new sounds
* Play your synth for sound testing using the on-screen keyboard
Patch Base currently has editors for the following synthesizers, with more to come:
* Casio CZ-1, CZ-101, CZ-1000, CZ-3000, CZ-5000
* Clavia Nord Lead 2, Nord Lead 2X
* DSI Mopho and Mopho Keyboard
* Ensoniq ESQ-1, SQ-80, and ESQ-M
* Korg Volca FM
* Oberheim Matrix-1000, Matrix-6, Matrix-6r
* Yamaha DX7, DX7II, TX7, TX802, TX816, TX81Z
The app is free for download and to try out, ensuring that the app works with your hardware setup. For full access to all editor features, each editor is available as a separate In-App Purchase
As you can see, it’s more than just an editor for your Volca, so if you own any of the synths listed above, you should definitely check out this app. It is free, with limited functionality, but offers in-app purchases to unlock more features and a patch library. The price is pretty steep, but is well worth it if you like to create your own sounds. If this interests you, please purchase from the link below. It will help me to bring you further content and introduce mew apps as they come out.
As always, thank you for reading and happy apping!