Get with the pro­gram­mers

We leave pris­tine sound qual­ity be­hind briefly and get on the blower to the de­vel­oper of the Phonec synth

Computer Music - - News - URL www.psy­chic­mod­u­la­

Your Phonec synth is, in your own words, in­spired by the sound heard at the start of VHS films. What is it about that style of sound that in­spires you to cre­ate mu­sic-mak­ing tools?

JR “I re­mem­ber sounds like this from my child­hood. There was just some­thing strange and mys­te­ri­ous about them. These ‘video lo­gos’ were typ­i­cally ac­com­pa­nied by re­ally weird sounds from some kind of ob­scure elec­tronic in­stru­ment. The au­dio was slightly warped by the worn out VHS tape, which added an eerie qual­ity to it. That’s what Phonec is all about. It’s the strange elec­tronic in­stru­ment from a child’s imag­i­na­tion. I cre­ated Phonec to tap into that vibe.”

What’s ac­tu­ally go­ing on with a piece of VHS tape to make it sound the way it does? And how do you im­ple­ment that in DSP?

JR “When I first de­signed Phonec’s Melt sys­tem, it was all by ear, rather than based on com­po­nents and how they op­er­ate. It’s re­ally a com­plex sys­tem of mod­u­la­tion go­ing on un­der the hood. With EchoMelt, we took the con­cept a lit­tle fur­ther and im­ple­mented an ex­tra Snag sys­tem. This mim­ics the way a tape might get caught in the rollers dur­ing play­back and then taken back up the reel. What you hear is a wild jump in pitch. So the Snag sys­tem uses a kind of mo­men­tary, ran­dom mod­u­la­tion that had to be spe­cially crafted.”

Your synths and ef­fects are said to vir­tu­ally ‘melt cir­cuitry’. Tell us more about that… “The ‘VHS Sound’ is kind of a mythol­ogy. I use the term ‘Melt’ be­cause that’s what it sounds like to me. It’s just an imag­i­na­tive way of de­scrib­ing what’s hap­pen­ing to the sig­nal. Like, if I de­cided to stick a VHS tape in the mi­crowave, this is what I imag­ine it might sound like.”

How do you see mu­sic tech­nol­ogy ad­vanc­ing, and how will this af­fect the process of cre­at­ing mu­sic soft­ware de­signed to em­u­late the im­per­fec­tions of ‘bro­ken’ equip­ment and retro gear?

“I think even­tu­ally the line will be­gin to blur be­tween dig­i­tal and ana­log, soft­ware and hard­ware. More ef­forts will be made to bring our vin­tage ana­log gear into a vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment, and at the same time, I think we’ll start to see vir­tual in­stru­ments and ef­fects be­ing taken out of the box. Per­haps as mod­u­lar com­po­nents that can be cus­tomis­able via a vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment. Who knows? But I think we’ll see more of a move in the di­rec­tion of cre­at­ing spe­cial­ity mod­ules and com­po­nents in both hard­ware and soft­ware.” What do you have planned next for Psy­chic Mod­u­la­tion? “I’ve got sev­eral ideas go­ing on right now. I’m plan­ning a new drum ma­chine. What I’ve got in mind here is in the vein of the gritty, sam­ple­based drum ma­chines of the 80s. I’m go­ing for an early EBM/In­dus­trial sound with this one. “I’m also slowly work­ing on an at­mo­spheric FM-hy­brid synth. It’s in the early stages, so noth­ing is set in stone, but it’s head­ing down a path that is not of­ten ex­plored. It will be a very un­usual in­stru­ment.”

“I use the term ‘Melt’ be­cause that’s what it sounds like to me”

Psy­chic Mod­u­la­tion Jack Reswe­ber

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