Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 6, last updated 6/25/2013
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Figure 6.57 Frequency components after frequency modulation in Figure 6.56
Creating A Block Synthesizer in Max 6.3.4
Earlier in this chapter, we discussed the fundamentals of synthesizers and the
types of controls and processing components you might find built in to their
function. In Section 6.1 and in several of the practical exercises and
demonstrations, we took you through these components and features one by
one. Breaking apart a synthesizer into these individual blocks makes it easier
to understand the signal flow and steps behind audio synthesis. In the book,
we generally look at software synthesizers in the examples due to their flexibility and
availability, most of which come with a full feature set of oscillators, amplifiers, filters,
envelopes, and other synthesis objects. Back in the early days of audio synthesis, however, most
of this functionality was delegated to separate, dedicated devices. The oscillator device only
generated tones. If you also needed a noise signal, that might require you to find a separate piece
of hardware. If you wanted to filter the signal, you would need to acquire a separate audio
filtering device. These devices were all connected by a myriad of audio patch cables, which
could quickly become a complete jumble of wires. The beauty of hardware synthesis was its
modularity. There were no strict rules on what wire must plug into what jack. Where a software
synth today might have one or two filters at specific locations in the signal path, there was
nothing to stop someone back then from connecting a dozen filters in a row if they wanted to and
had the available resources. While the modularity and expanse of these setups may seem
daunting, it allowed for maximum flexibility and creativity, and could result in some interesting,
unique, and possibly unexpected synthesized sounds.
Wouldn’t it be fun to recreate this in the digital world as software? Certainly there are
some advantages in this, such as reduced cost, potentially greater flexibility and control, a less
cluttered tabletop, not to mention less risk of electrocuting yourself or frying a circuit board. The
remainder of this section takes you through the creation of several of these synthesis blocks in
MAX, which lends itself quite well to the concept of a creating and using a modular synthesizer.
At the end of this example, we’ll see how we can then combine and connect these blocks in any
imaginable configuration to possibly create some never-before-heard sounds.
Max Demo:
Block
Synthesizer
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