How To REALLY Play A Synthesizer

Claude Woodward, aka The Sonic Manipulator, shared this video, which demonstrates his custom MIDI controllers and how he uses them to bring more expression to live synth performance. 

Video Summary:

This video is all about using all the controls of an analog synth plugin in real time in a musical way. I meant this as a way of showing how articulating the sound is key to expression. It ended up being more of a demo of my ‘Claude Controller’ and related gear that I built for the purpose of maximising this. The principals can, of coarse be transferred to other controllers.

As a way of promoting this approach to synth performance, I am working on making some of my controllers available as kits, Please send your comments etc and together we can get synth playing back in the lime light!

11 thoughts on “How To REALLY Play A Synthesizer

  1. I’ve been thinking about control surfaces a lot lately. He has really gone for the kitchen sink approach– i.e., have controls for every conceivable parameter and get comfortable with using them in improvised performance. He has achieved something quite special (and “super important” as Stephen said).

    It’s not clear to me why this is so much better than say, using a BCR2000 or BCF2000 to control a MIDI rig. It is clear that having controls consistently mapped and memorized will allow more expressive playing.

    I think a foot controller or two are useful, as well as a breath controller. I’m less interested in the head tilt stuff just because it seems to hard to read notation (if that’s what I wanted to do).

    I’m probably going to build a control box using a MIDI CPU (Highly Liquid) that I bought a while back. (Unfortunately, they are currently sold out as of 9/4/16). It won’t have nearly enough pots to control all those parameters, so I’ll have to be more selective. I’m not interested in adopting someone else’s control scheme or building a DIY kit– as I’m already too far along on my own rig. My big question has to do with choosing what MIDI CC #’s to use when controlling a synth in this way. Also, how & when to use 14-bit NRPN’s.

    1. Hi Stub……….the reason my system works is the keyboard-like layout. It gives you a frame of reference that’s intuitive. You start seeing sound shaping like you see note playing as part of the performance. And like I mentioned, it’s possible to notate CC movements using standard music notation!
      I used CC20 – CC90 but missing the 60’s.
      I recommend the Arduino platform – cheap to buy and tons of online help. I’ve used Mega’s for my gadgets and you can get little 16 channel multiplexer boards for unlimited analog in’s.

      1. Thanks, Claude! That’s very helpful. I’ve just added your comments to my notes and will include them in my work. Also thanks for the advice about the arduino stuff. The snag I ran into with the Highly Liquid board is that the docs and forums are all pretty advanced, and they have not responded to my requests for help. If I get stuck with the MIDI CPU, I might switch over to Arduino!

        Best wishes, and thanks for all you do.

  2. great. but i can’t hear nothing of all those nuances because of the delay. it’s like cooking a delicious meal out of fantastic ingredients and then putting a layer of salt all over it…

    1. Let’s give you a different analogy. Imagine that you visit a planet where all music is performed in an echoey canyon.

      Or imagine a visual artist who doesn’t want things to be “too focused”.

      Or imagine a poem where every every every word word word word…..

      But I’m kind of with you on the salt analogy. I don’t use delays & verb like that very often. I think sometimes synthesists get a little self-conscious about the static nature of the waves, and use FX to make it “epic”.

      1. i do get the point of using delay in music. but by overdoing it, the delay gets all the focus. just as the reader of the poem poem poem will be more focused on the structure of it than, say, on the story. with so much attention on hundrets of parameters of the synthesis it just seems unfair not to have hundrets of parameters to control the delay as well… (still great video and impressive layout and playability of so many controls over the synthesizer – don’t get me wrong!)

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