linux synth tutorial: part 6

Another long one! In part 6, I jump from Xsynth to Specimen, a simple sampler, which is ideal for when you want to take a simple sound and quickly transform it in to a playable instrument. Specimen does much more than just playing samples, though — it can sculpt and shape them with envelopes, filters, and LFOs, just like you’d find in Xsynth.

Hi-res Ogg Theora version is here, or watch the Youtube version after the jump!

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linux synth tutorial: part 5

In part 5 of my Linux soft synth tutorial, I look at the concept of modulation — changing synth parameters over time. We saw an example of this in part 4, where we used an envelope to control the volume of a sound over time; modulation extends this to other parameters, such as the pitch of the oscillators and the filter cutoff. Modulation can use envelopes to change parameters over the length of the sound — in fact, there’s a second envelope in Xsynth-DSSI just for modulation — or the low frequency oscillator, or LFO, to perform repeating rhythmic changes.

Modulation can produce effects ranging from subtle vibrato through to sweeping soundscapes and alien sound effects. Either way, it’s a powerful way to breathe life and movement in to what might otherwise be a dull sound.

High-res Ogg Theora version is here, or watch the Youtube version after the jump!

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linux synth tutorial: part 4

In part 4 of my Linux soft synth tutorial, I look at Xsynth-DSSI’s amplifier section, and particularly the “envelope”, which defines how the volume of your sound changes over time. By tweaking the envelope, you can make your sounds fade in and out softly, hit hard and then slowly fade like a piano, or come on strong and then disappear just as quickly, like a xylophone.

High-res Ogg Theora version is here, or watch the Youtube version after the jump!

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linux synth tutorial: part 3

In part 3 of my Linux soft synth tutorial, I look at the next major component of the traditional analogue synth — the filter. The filter… uhh… filters the sound from the oscillators, typically cutting away at the high frequencies; the effects range from the subtle to the drastic, especially once you start tweaking that “resonance” parameter. In fact, analog synthesis is sometimes called “subtractive synthesis”, due to the way the filter cuts away parts of the sound.

High-res Ogg Theora version is here, or watch the Youtube version after the jump!

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linux synth tutorial: part 2

In part 2 of my Linux soft synth tutorial, I look at the oscillators in Xsynth-DSSI, the different kinds of sounds they can produce, and some of the ways they can be combined to create more interesting sounds. The oscillators create the raw synth sound, before it’s shaped by the filter and amplifier, so it’s more responsible than any other part of the synth for the general timbre of your sound.

Again, if you’re on Chrome or Firefox, or you just want to download it for later viewing, you can grab a high-res Ogg Theora version here, or watch the Youtube version after the jump!

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sketchbook: supercollider? i just met her!

It took some doing, but I got SuperCollider running a sequenced filter cutoff pattern effect. It actually does a little more than just changing the filter cutoff — it also gates the incoming sound, to get more of a synth arpeggio effect. Here’s a sample, running a cello sound (a soundfont played by Qsynth), with a stereo delay added for good measure:


mp3 | vorbis | 44 seconds

You can check out the code after the jump: Continue reading

how hard can step-sequencing a filter be?

Yesterday I had a suggestion to add a “woody” sound, like a bowed string instrument, to my “daybreak” track, and while I don’t think I’ll be editing that track now, it did inspire me to grab some instrument samples and see what I could do with them. One effect I wanted to try was running sound through a filter that has it’s cutoff frequency controlled by a step sequencer, which gives the sound a bit of a rhythmic, glitchy feel. Short of buying an Evolver, was there a way I could do this under Linux?

I tried a few approaches, and did actually get this working in a couple of ways, but none exactly to my liking yet:

  • JACK Rack can control plugin parameters using MIDI, so I set it up with a Calf Filter, configured the cutoff for MIDI control, and created a sequence of parameter changes in Qtractor. This was quick to set up, and it kinda worked, but the timing wasn’t stable — I’m not sure if JACK Rack’s MIDI support is meant to be used this way.
  • The next idea was to use a modular synth. I tried AlsaModularSynth, but I’m not sure that its step sequencer is generic enough to use for modulation, instead of playing notes — I had it all hooked up but just couldn’t get it working. Ingen looked a bit more promising, but it’s still very alpha, and crashed too often for me to be bothered dealing with.
  • Following that line of thought, I fired up Pure Data (“Pd” to its friends) and tried to get to grips with it. Pd is one of the many programmatic audio/music synthesis environments available for Linux, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to check one out; this seemed to fit the bill pretty well. Pd is a bit like a modular synth, but much lower-level — it doesn’t have a step-sequencer, but I was able to build one! I got a working setup, but the resonant bandpass filter I used didn’t sound ideal to me, and I had hassles trying to pull in a better one, either as a Pd add-on or through LADSPA. I could’ve actually built a better filter, but that wasn’t something I was interested in doing today.
  • Moving on from Pd, I had another crack with SuperCollider, another synthesis environment. Unlike Pd, which is graphical, SuperCollider is based around writing code, which should mean that it’s more to my liking. I can get sound out of it, and it has some good filters, but the sequencing stuff is gonna take a bit of work to get my brain around.

new track: daybreak

It seems a bit odd to post a new track called “daybreak” in the middle of a sun-blanketing thunderstorm, but here we are! This is the slowly evolving ambient soundscape from my last sketch, but polished up in to a finished track. It’s not actually vastly different to the sketch (it still runs the same full length), but I’ve smoothed over some rough edges, and added a tiny sprinkling of extra interest; not too much, though, since I didn’t want to spoil that zen-like mood.

It’s obviously very different to the beat-driven video-game-esque tracks I’ve posted so far, but hopefully it’ll find some fans!


mp3 / vorbis / flac: 7 minutes 22 seconds