Trends seem to cycle. This is true in just about every aspect of culture. Granted, there’s always a variation on a theme, something to modernize it a bit more, if you will. Sometimes, it takes modern technology to recreate something vintage.
When I first discovered software synthesizers, I thought that this was a great learning tool in helping me understand the concept of synthesis. The more I learned, the more I discovered the history of the synthesizer. I eventually started buying hardware synths, learning that the visceral quality made it much more satisfying to experience. The trouble is, most of the synths I would love to acquire are either vintage, thus costing more money than I can afford to spend, or rare. Thanks to the resurgence in synthesizer enthusiasts, manufacturers have answered the call by reproducing modern takes of their classic synths. Still, in order to quench the thirst for these new classics, I’d have to trade my first born in order to afford the lot of them. Re-enter the soft synth.
When the iPad came along, I immediately saw the potential here to create a platform for portable and powerful instrumentation. Sure enough, I started seeing synth apps pop up on the App Store like zits on a teenager. Once again, the need to study synthesis was readily available and more importantly, affordable. I found some great analog style synths that would help me get the sounds I heard in my head for a fraction of the cost. What was really interesting was that until recently, most major brands didn’t jump on this immediately.
Moog was the first company that I am aware of that made a synth app from a hardware manufacturer. They also took a completely different route than rehashing a classic synth. Moog chose to make something called and Anisotropic synth engine. Basically, you had waveforms you loaded up and could morph the sound via a scope screen that let you draw a path, to which a note would “follow” the path, thereby changing the waveform. You still had effects, such as filters and detune, so it wasn’t completely foreign to traditional synths, but it was still a new concept.
Shortly after, companies like Korg jumped on board, recreating their vintage hardware synths in app format. Arturia, most famous for their V collection in software for computers, also jumped on board, recreating the Moog Mini and eventually, other vintage fare. I could go over the history forever, but that would be very boring.
Right now, it appears that Korg is leading the pack with some amazing recreations of their classic gear, and if that wasn’t enough, they bring a production workstation to the party by way of an app called Gadget. This app has reasonable facsimiles of other brand name synths, and even a couple of new ones that don’t actually exist in hardware versions. To really sweeten the pot, some of their newer releases of synths have been made to work within Gadget as well.
I suppose at this point, you’re asking, “Brian, what are you on about?” Okay, so maybe you haven’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
The point is, Vintage synths are cool, but most of the really good ones came out before my time. To find one in pristine condition would cost money that a majority of us don’t have. Software fulfills that need to create sounds of the days gone by, but were most synths ahead of their time? I believe so.
So why are many companies re-releasing modern takes on classics? I believe that there is a whole new generation out there that can use these instruments in ways that were originally intended, creating sounds that previously didn’t exist.
You see, when the synthesizer was first invented, I believe many traditional musicians had no idea what to do with them. Eventually, there were a few notable musicians who braved new territory and began to experiment, most notably, Herb Deutsch, Wendy Carlos and Keith Emerson, were among a handful of synth pioneers. Even in the 80’s Musicians were forging sounds that were a deviation from a traditional instrument, groups like Kraftwerk and Tubeway Army most readily come to mind. Still, I believe they were really just trying to electronically recreate acoustic instruments.
When the digital age came upon us, we began to see devices such as samplers and PCM sample based keyboards, which were geared more for performance and presets. Most musicians started getting rid of their analog stuff(I really wished I would have started buying them then, I’d have owned them for very cheap). Very seldom did musicians stray from a preset.
As modern music progressed, so did the sounds, and the younger musicians of today are hearing something quite different in their heads than the older generations had. I know when I bought my DX27, I had no idea that this synth was part of a family of synths that were heard on a vast majority of the popular music on the radio in the 80’s. I just thought it made some really gnarly bass sounds.
So have we progressed? I think so, because of software, these classic synths can be manipulated in ways that their hardware siblings couldn’t even attempt. The lid has been lifted and we now have very high quality sounds that can be augmented until our fingers go numb from touching a screen. I am currently in love with an app that is the soft version of a modern classic hardware synth. I probably would have been bored with its original version, because I can do so much more with the software.
If you’ve made it this far into this post, I applaud you, as I think I just aimlessly rambled on over a series of paragraphs. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that as musicians, we are being awarded the opportunity to use modern versions of vintage gear and see how far we can push the boundaries of creating sounds. I also believe our mindset has finally caught up with just how forward thinking the inventors of the synthesizers were. Please share your thoughts on how you feel about companies re-releasing modern versions and apps of classic gear.
As always, thanks for reading and happy apping!