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