An Instrument's Voice

Every music instrument has its own unique voice and that includes instruments such as synthesizers that are normally considered to be more general systems. In a nutshell, with acoustic instruments the voice emerges from a combination of physical attributes such as the vibratory stimulus, the vibratory medium, size, materials, shape, plus, in the final analysis, the evolved level of the spirit that's putting it all into play. The issue can become a whole lot more complicated when you begin to factor in style such the difference sounds expected of a trombone if it's used in Dixieland jazz, cool jazz, bebop, experimental, classical, etc. With electronic synthesizers that voice emerges from a combination of conceptual models of how to generate and process a wavetrain from beginning to end - the tools for operating on frequency, amplitude, waveshape, time, and the evolving virtual space they create in combination. The lowest level voice of an electronic synthesizer comes from using unaltered or only slightly altered presets (factory thoughts) in producing music. In electronic music if the source of the sound is easily identifiable, the composer is most likely still in the early stages of exploring the instrument and, just as likely, still in the early stages of becoming a composer.

The subject of the voice of MetaSynth surfaced on the U? Software list.

Subject: Re: UILIST: unmistakable ms clich?s
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2000 14:20:56 -0700

>I've often wondered if Metaynth isn't actually an instrument. Despite it's
>incredible flexibility and options I was struck by how similar in sound the
>material on Metasynthia 1 was. The program itself does seem to have a voice
>of its own. Anyone care to comment?

From: Ron Pellegrino <>
Subject: Re: UILIST: unmistakable ms clich?s
Date: Sun, 13 Aug 2000 14:42:53 -0700

Ron Pellegrino - The similarity in sound that you're observing is because most people are still working on the surface of MetaSynth. It will take time to plumb its depths. Today in the early stages of synthesizer exploration most folks don't stray very far from the presets either literally or conceptually. It's also important to remember that most synthesizer users are not interested in being original (discovering their own voice); they're simply trying to get a handle on the software so they'll use whatever aids are available (presets).

The question (What is the voice of MetaSynth?) is one I posed to Eric and Edward at the opening of MetaCamp. What came out of that and subsequent discussions was that MetaSynth was a "personal voice enabler" (my expression but one that covers the bases). One good example is that using the record function you can seed MetaSynth with any sound of your choice and, using MetaSynth's sensational collection of tools, cultivate that seed according to your personal preferences and desires (your voice (of course colored by the functionality of the tools)). Using that concept as one of your compositional approaches makes MetaSynth one very powerful instrument for personal expression. There are other approaches.

The U? products make it easy up to a point; if users don't go beyond that point, of course, there'll be a strong similarity in the output (the beginner's synthesizer voice). On the other hand MetaSynth's tools also make it possible to range deep and wide, so if you're willing to pay the learning dues you can just be your own creative self.

If you're interested in digging a little deeper into the "voice" issue, check out the essay I did called Discovering, Cultivating, and Using Your Own Voice.

Another thought to consider seriously is that MetaSynth can be considered one of a collection of modules in what amounts to the U? electronic arts synthesizer (MetaSynth, MetaTrack, Xx, ArtMatic, and Videodelic). A number of times I've observed Eric move from application to application (module to module) in the process of demonstrating his approach to the creative process. Seen from the MetaView that collection of modules is beginning to look like my dream synthesizer (for decades I've been creating visual music systems configured with various module sets from my hardware and software collections). I've been actively involved in the electronic arts world since 1967 and I've worked with and collected an enormous number of hardware and software instruments. My U? electronic arts synthesizer (fully configured now) is easily one of the best tools I've ever had the pleasure of exploring. For the most part my other studios have been sitting there waiting for me to finish my U? explorations. At the rate that U? turns out software, those studios may be sitting silent for awhile.

Ron Pellegrino

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