Interviews

Ambient Online Podcast #36 (featuring synth4ever)

Hosted by S1gnsOfL1fe (of www.ambientonline.org and Ascendant fame), the Ambient Online Podcast series showcases new ambient music and interviews with ambient artists worldwide.

I was contacted by S1gnsOfL1fe to be a special guest on the show in December 2014, and below you can listen to our audio interview! πŸ™‚

  • Listen to interview from 14:30 – 42:45


Relaxed Machinery – Interview Questions

In January 2015 I was asked a series of interview questions by relaxedmachinery.ning.com member Cloudwalk, as part of a blog series on ambient synth artists.

  • Below I have posted my full text interview responses, to provide you with additional details (warning — it’s a long read!) πŸ™‚

 

1. How did it come about that you finally started working with synthesizers?
Well, I’ve always had an interest in electronic music (particularly ambient, chillout, IDM [intelligent dance music] and space music) since a young age, which eventually developed into a deep interest in hardware synths and subtractive synthesis in general.

My two biggest artistic influences towards the hardware synthesis and ambient music path are Tomitaand Autechre. Through school and self-learning, I also have some background in electronic and electro-acoustic music composition which further propelled me to explore sound creation/manipulation devices and ultimately, subtractive synthesis and synths which would allow for new musical creation.

  • Tomita
    It all started with my introduction to classical synthesizer-based music at around age 6, when my parents bought a record at a garage sale called “Kosmos” by Japanese synthesist/composer Isao Tomita, which I would listen to endlessly as a child. For those unaware, Tomita is world renowned for re-creating classical music pieces (ie Holst, Stravinsky, Wagner etc) using hardware synthesizers and effects, particularly in the early 70s and 80s using only analog technology — the results of which are amazing considering the technological limitations of that time.

    For me, his work is a form of sonic art that begs to be listened to with headphones lying down with the lights off… I find his music often transports me to other galaxies and solar systems, if you know what I mean. πŸ™‚ Tomita’s “Kosmos” album (listen to some tracks here and marvel at the cover artwork here) and his others such as “The Planets” and “The Bermuda Triangle” therefore set me on a path from an early age towards instrumental ambient space music, with a particular fondness for hardware synthesizers.

    Looking at the inside of the Kosmos record album liner as a kid, I would gaze endlessly at the photo and list of hardware modules, Moogs, Polymoogs, Roland System 700, sequencers and other technologies he used on the album, which I think planted a seed in me to blossom towards obtaining hardware synthesizers later in my life.

    In short, Tomita is basically my idol in the hardware synth/space music/ambient genre from which all my other sonic explorations and synth influences sprung from over time.

 

  • Autechre
    Note: I’m copying this content from my site at http://synth4ever.com/about-synthever/influences as it says everything about their influence on me.In the mid 90s, I was exposed to Autechre and the musical genre of IDM (intelligent dance music), and my life changed once again. I first heard a sample of the track β€œBike” from their debut album β€œIncunabula” and was instantly hooked. Something about the simple melody, beats, and soft sounding synth lines just grabbed my ear and wouldn’t let go. I bought the album and listened to it straight through.

    While there were some good tracks on Incunabula, it wasn’t until Autechre’s 2nd album, β€œAmber” that I became a true fan. This album is one of my favorite ambient/IDM albums of all time. Track 4 (β€œSlip”) and Track 9 (β€œYulquenβ€œ) especially just took me places, and from thereon in I was hooked for good. Their 3rd album, Tri Repetae, was equally amazing in a slightly more industrial-sounding fashion, with tracks like β€œClipper” and β€œEutow” being particular highlights.Anyway, Autechre has since gone on to do many more albums, some of which are completely abstract, and others which approach the musicality of their earlier efforts. They are masters of synths, beats, samplers and other gear, both hardware and software, and their creativity knows no bounds.

    Listening to Autechre’s music influenced me towards wanting to learn more about HOW the sounds they used were created (ie, synthesis), HOW and WHY they used effects and sequences to build atmosphere, how seemingly disjointed abstract pieces could come together in a cohesive manner… basically I found their creative process incredibly inspiring as they are so adept at leveraging traditional subtractive synthesis and other techniques (ie granular synthesis, MaxMSP etc) to the point that I wanted to create similar music as they did, someday (even though I currently do not use rhythm in my music, I can foresee a time where I may gravitate towards a more IDM/beat-based ambient style on some future albums). Hence their use of hardware, software and other techniques further led me on a path towards getting into subtractive synthesis.

  • Electronic music composition + electro-acoustic music
    I will add that on the music composition side, I won awards for electronic music composition in high school for musical pieces I composed on a Roland JV-30 hardware synth and Atari ST (for sequencing). High school was probably one of the first times I had exposure to using a synth in my youth (albeit a ROMpler), and I really enjoyed composing music and tweaking the synth’s various filters and envelope settings to get the sounds I wanted. Although it was limited, it fed a hunger in me to create and control sound in a way I found emotionally and acoustically satisfying.

    I also took a number of electro-acoustic music composition courses (manipulating recorded sounds to create soundscapes via hardware and software filtering, time stretching etc) throughout my university years in the early 2000s. One of my electro-acoustic compositions tied for 5th place at an international electro-acoustic music competition, for which I was commissioned to do another peice with was broadcast on Canadian radio and performed live at various electro-acoustic/ambient events in my city.Through the electro-acoustic music side of things, I had an opportunity to experiment with sound itself as music, learning about the properties of sound, the importance of the acoustic environment and other factors as they relate to sonic composition and by extension, subtractive synthesis in the future.

 

  • Ambient music collection
    Over the years I’ve collected a ton of ambient, chillout and IDM music and discovered many underground artists in the process via archive.org and various netlabels such as the now defunct Monotonik netlabel. Some of these other artists I have listed as influences on my website here: http://synth4ever.com/about-syntheverListening to others’ ambient musical compositions further inspired me towards wanting to make similar music, and hence eventually towards learning subtractive synthesis using hardware synths.

 

  • Playing drums in a band = synthesizers
    I took piano lessons for a brief time when I was young, but eventually ended up playing the drums from age 12. I’ve played drums in various cover bands and original projects in my city for 20 years now… mostly funk, rock, blues and progressive rock.In 2012, I decided that as much as I enjoy playing drums (and still do) and supporting other musicians in a band setting, I wanted to try some musical endeavors for myself that didn’t rely on any external influences or 3rd parties.So in December 2012 I decided I was going to get serious about learning subtractive synthesis and finally take my first REAL step at acquiring a hardware synthesizer, learning how they work etc. This leads me to…


2. What was the first synth that you started with?

The first synth I bought was the Access Virus B desktop unit… but I really wanted to get a Novation Supernova II. Here’s how it went down…

As mentioned I decided in December 2012 to start learning about subtractive synthesis and hardware synthesizers. To be honest, it was quite overwhelming at first as there is so much information and terminology to learn (ie what is the difference between multi-timbrality vs. polyphony, what is an LFO, what is a filter envelope vs. amp envelope etc.), and so many synths with various features on the market to choose from. As such I spent a good few months researching the basics of subtractive synthesis and the features of various synths before actually buying one. One of the key things I knew I wanted in my first synth was lots of hands-on control, as I prefer knobs and sliders for maximum real-time editing. I’m not really fond of menu-diving on tiny LCD screens for live tweaking.

After watching various Youtube demos I came across 3 in particular that blew me away at the time, all of which were created on the Novation Supernova II synthesizer:

After watching these demos, reading reviews and checking out photos of the hands-on interface, I knew this was the synth for me. I was particularly interested in the ability of the SN2 to control up to 7 simulataneous effects independently, as I love using and controlling effects in my music in real-time.

Alas, it was not to be — I was unable to find a Supernova II locally, and those that I found five hours away, the sellers wanted $1,500+ which I was not prepared to spend. eBay was scare and so I had to put my lust for a Supernova II on hold for the time being.

Even though I wanted a Supernova II as my first synth, I actually ended up buying an Access Virus B desktop unit off Craigslist instead for $550 (I reviewed it here, and here’s some photos of it). I had read positive reviews on the Virus B and listened to some demos and thought what the heck, I might as well give it a shot for now if I can’t get a Supernova II, and sell it if I do acquire one down the road. I picked up an Axionm 49 MIDI controller keyboard for $125 so that I could play notes with it, and began my first serious forays into harware synths and subtractive synthesis.

 

3. What was it like to finally work with this new world?
Truth be told, the Virus B was probably a bit of an overkill synth for me to start learning subtractive synthesis on. It is more complicated than traditional analogs like a Roland Juno-106 or Korg Polysix, it requires some menu diving to access various parameters, and has additional features not available on older analog polysynths which made it a bit overwhelming to take in all at once.

Nonetheless I recall spending many hours in the first few days and weeks reading the manual and trying to understand how the Virus B functioned and how the elements of subtractive synthesis worked, so that I could try and create some of the ambient sounds I was interested in. It was a challenging time and I did end up frustrated many times as I didn’t understand how certain functions worked, the concept of a modulation matrix, and other “deeper” elements of synthesis… but nonetheless I perservered until I felt I knew enough to create some initial musical noodlings with the Virus B.

Eventually I started recording some initial ambient demo videos of my noodlings and improvisations on the Virus B as I learnt the synth and subtractive synthesis. I decided to create a Youtube channel (http://www.youtube.com/synth4ever) to feature these pieces in an ambient style, and showcase various aspects of the synth that others did not when I had watched their demo videos.

In 2013 by a stroke of luck, I found a Novation Supernova II for sale locally for $400 nearly 1 year after I had the Virus B, which I snapped up immediately. I began learning its interface and creating demo videos, and soon began posting them to my Youtube channel as well. Over time as I learnt more about these synths, I started realizing that each synth is unique in its sonic palette, features and capabilities, and I decided that I would dedicate my Youtube channel and efforts towards showcasing various hardware synths in an ambient style as I learnt them.

After acquiring the Virus B and Novation Supernova II, over time I began to hunt on Craigslist for other synths I was interested to try. Over the past 3 years I have acquired 11 synths, 10 of which I still have in my collection (I sold the Access Virus C/Indigo 2 as its sound wasn’t for me). I’m currently on the hunt for a Roland Jupiter 8 at a reasonable price (ie $4-$5K CAD… if anyone has one in good condition they’d consider parting with to a fellow enthusiast, feel free to contact me :))

In general buying, trying and performing with synths is a fun (but expensive) hobby, and I’ve met some cool people that also share the same interests in synths and synthesis as me. That said I hope to continue learning about, performing and sharing my passions for ambient music, synths and synthesis with other fans and enthusiasts around the world…. hence the name “synth4ever” (http://www.synth4ever.com), as it is an ode to my love and passion for ambient music, synthesis and hardware synths in general, that will (hopefully) last forever.

 

4. It sounds like the Supernova II was a dream synth for you.
Well, at the time, I was just getting into synths so the SN2 was one of the first ones I saw that I really liked the interface, and the demos I watched at the time convinced me that it had a variety of sound sculpting capabilities which I was looking for. I also hadn’t delved into vintage analog gear yet (obviously a Jupiter 8 would be heaven to play, with it’s fully knob and slider-laden interface, but its prohibitively expensive) so I was only looking at digital/virtual analog synths at the time due to budget.

But now 3 years later, I wouldn’t call the SN2 my dream synth. It is a fantastic instrument in its own right, but as I learnt more about synthesis and experimented with it, I experienced some frustrations and shortcomings (covered in a review on my website). Since purchasing the SN2 (my 2nd synth) I’ve also had the opportunity to try many more synths since then, so I have gained more knowledge for the types of sounds and capabilities of various synths in general.

To be honest the concept of a dream synth for me can fluctuate — there are so many out there and they all have their personalities, capabilities, pros and cons. In the analog world I’d love to own a Roland Jupiter 8 and even a Yamaha CS-80, but the prices are out of control these days. Both of these are likely a “dream synth” for many players due to their vintage status and history, and of course sounds.

 

5. What was it like compared to the Virus B?

Sonically the SN2 is different, it has a more “timeless” kind of sound quality to it, whereas I find the Virus B to be somewhat “warm” for a virtual analog, even though its digital. The raw oscillators of both synths also differ, and I do find the Virus B’s to sound more “genuine”.

The SN2 interface allows for a lot of hands-on tweaking without requiring menu diving, and while the Virus B also has a decent amount of knobs, there is some menu diving required for access to certain paramters (effects, mod matrix etc). The SN2 offers hands-on control of up to 7 effects right from the front panel which is definitely a big plus, and I believe the effects are retained per patch in multitimbral mode vs. the Virus B’s single global/shared effects. As well the SN2 comes in 24, 36 or 48 voice models, which is quite a lot of polyphony whereas Virus B is 24 voices (rack is 16 voices).

The Virus synths often get pigeonholed as being “trance” or “EDM” synths, but I found them great for ambient space music soundscapes… the reverb is especially decent, compared to the SN2’s. The SN2 is one of Novation’s flagship instruments, if not still THE flagship from a bygone era, and it is still relevant today.That said I’d love to see Novation come back with a top-of-the-line Supernova III synth someday, which all the capabilities of SN2, Ultranova + new synth engine features and functions, in a fully knob-laden interface, with massive polyphony and even more power in the FX engine. I think that could potentially give the Virus TI/TI2 a run for the money.

 

6. Did it meet expectations when you first got it?

For the most part the Supernova II did meet my expectations but as mentioned in my review on synth4ever.com there were various quirks I came across which bothered me somewhat, which kind of tempered my enthusiasm. As well, I found the implementation of the front-panel mod matrix setup a bit awkward (right-to-left flow) compared to say, the DSI Prophet 08 for instance (select source, select destination, select amount… done). Nontheless I enjoyed experimenting with it as I was learning about subtractive synthesis.

 

7. Which board do you find to be your favorite that you play the most?
That’s a tough question. I go through phases where I gravitate towards certain synths or sounds, and play those synths more often than others. But generally speaking, my “favorite” synth is usually the most recent one I bought and am currently demoing.:)

In all seriousness, they all have their own sonic palette and capabilities which make some synths better at certain sounds or concepts than others. When I want to do some wavetable synthesis, I’ll fire up the Waldorf XT. If I’m looking for pure analog tones, I’ll turn on the Roland JX-10 or Alesis Andromea A6 (which I must admit, is a powerhouse and sounds amazing… but the Andromeda’s interface can be a bit overwhelming and requires patience to program). If I’m looking for instant “fun tweaking” without having to think too much about programming, the Novation KS5 is great (despite fixed modulation routings).

The Waldorf Q is actually very impressive as it can do so much, its specs are fantastic and it seems to have all the functionality one would need in a synth (3 osc, 2 wavetables, FM, ring mod, 3 LFOs, sequencer, arpeggiator, 4 envelopes, 2 multimode resonant filters with 6 filter types, vocoder, and much more)… if I had to downsize my collection the Waldorf Q would certainly stay, as would the Alesis Andromeda. I recently purchased a Roland V-Synth (screen-based editing, not so much live tweaking) and Dave Smith Instruments PolyEvolver (4-voice analog), and look forward to delving into and demoing them as well. The only synth I sold rather quickly after purchasing was the Virus C, as I found it had a darker tone and some sort of “digital sheen” that I couldn’t get rid of (especially compared to Virus B), no matter how much I tweaked… it just wasn’t for me.

I guess right now if I had to narrow things down to my top 3 synths, it would be Waldorf Q, Alesis Andromeda A6 and probably either the Waldorf XT or Roland JX-10 (or possibly Roland V-Synth or DSI PolyEvolver, once I get a feel for them). That said, with so many choices it can be difficult to dedicate time to each synth but if/when I get tired of a synth, I sell it so that the next person can enjoy it.

 

8. Your collection of synths is widely varied between older and fairly new models as well as digital and analog technology.

When I first started I only had enough budget/willingness to spend money on relatively inexpensivene digital/virtual analog synths; hence why most of the synths I own are digital. That said over time, by the time I bought my 3rd synth I realized I had acquired “GAS” (gear acquisition syndrome), lol. I was totally hooked on not only learning about synthesis, but on wanting to try out various synths as much as possible. Since most of the synths that I was interested in aren’t sold in music stores anymore, its only through the 2nd-hand market (Craigslist, eBay etc) that they can be found… and thus the only way to really try a synth, is to buy it from someone else.

So while my initial few purchases were digital/virtual analog, as time wore on, I found I wanted to try an actual analog synth, especially as I had never owned or heard an analog synth in the flesh. By this point I was ready to take the plunge in terms of finances, as analog gear is typically more expensive than digital.

So by chance when I decided to look for an analog unit, I came across an ad for an Alesis Andromeda locally, which I decided to check out. I had read the reviews and heard demos and was impressed at this machine’s capabilities, and I ended up buying it from a fellow enthusiast who had quite a nice collection of vintage synths as well. Anyway, it ended up being my most expensive synth purchase to date, but as I wrote in my Alesis Andromeda review, I was totally blown away at the sonic character of this, my first real analog synth.

Maybe this was due to the fact that it was the first time I had heard an analog synth, but the Andromeda felt alive, organic, and full of electricity… it is 16-voices of pure analog power. Today, it still sounds beautiful and powerful, and I now understand with even more clarity the debates that tends to rage online about the sound quality of analog vs. digital synths.

 

9. What do they all share, and what are you really looking for when you search for hardware?

What do they all share?

  • I believe what all of my synths share is an ability to be easily creative on the instrument, allow for deep sonic experimentation due to the flexibility of the synthesis engines, and provide a tactile interface for real-time control, tweaking and sonic exploration.
  • I am not really interested in “simple” synths that lack programming flexibility (ie preset machines, limited technical specs, no mod matrix etc) or monophonic units (limited voice count prevents full chords, ie for pads), especially when playing live.
  • I prefer polyphonic synths that have unique sonic character to my ear, with huge voice counts, hands-on interface, and preferably some built-in FX. The more features and capabilities of the synth’s engine and specs, the better for me… I like to have as many features as possible in a synth! πŸ™‚

When evaluating potential “next purchase” synths, what I typically look for is:

Β 1. What does the synth sound like?
What is the emotional response you get from the synth, when listening to it? Does it have a harsh character, a dark character, a lush/creamy character to the sound or otherwise? What do the raw oscillators and filter sound like? What do some of the presets sound like? I try to listen to as many demos as I can on Youtube, Soundcloud and elsewhere to try and get a sense for the sonic character of the synth. Of course, nothing beats hearing it in person, but that’s not always possible these days as certain synths may not be available locally. Once I get a sense for the sound, I decide if I am interested enough to look further into the synth and its various features, functions and interface. This leads me to…

2. Does the synth have a tactile interface for easy, real-time tweaking (ie knobs, sliders, switches etc)?
This is critical for me. I am not the type of person that enjoys menu diving and programming a sound slowly over time, piece by piece by jumping around within various LCD menus… I prefer the spontaneity of hands-on knob tweaking. Even if the synth does not have knobs, there may be after-market controllers that can be hooked up to the unit to give it such capabilities (ie Korg DW-8000 or Roland Kiwi JX-3P being controlled via KIWI controller or Behringer BCR2000 controller).So you must ask yourself, what type of synth user am I? Do I like to tweak in real-time to get the sounds I’m after, or be meticulous and precise in using exact parameters within LCD menus etc to build a patch bit by bit?

3. What are the technical specs of the synth? What are the features and flexibility of the synthesis engine?
ie # oscillators and shapes, # LFOs and shapes, filter types, # envelopes etc… does it have FM? Ringmod? Arpeggiator or step sequencer? How deep is the modulation matrix — how many sources vs. destinations? etc… in other words, how much experimental sonic experimentation can be done with the synth? For example, some synths with fixed modulation routings are not as flexible as others… but they may make up for such inflexibility in other areas (ie sound quality).

4. How many voices of polyphony does the synth have?
For me, the more voices the better, and absolute minimum would be 8. I like to use long release times for ambient pads and drones, and I loathe note stealing and voices getting cut off when playing various chords. The Waldorf Q+ would be great to own as it offers 100-note polyphony when using the digital filters… that said, I have found the Waldorf XT (10 voices) and Yamaha AN1x (10 voices) maintain their 10-note polyphony quite well and it is rare that I hear note stealing or abrupt cutoffs on long release times. On the other hand, the DSI PolyEvolver I recently purchased is only 4 voices and suffers from ample note cutoff when using long amp envelope release times, but I made an exception to my 8-voice minimum polyphony rule when purchasing it since it is a unique piece of kit (I hope to expand its polyphony to 8 voices by purchasing a PolyEvolver rack unit someday and polychaining the two synths together).

5. Is it digital or analog?
For some people this is extremely important, for me not so much. I enjoy all types of synths — analog, virtual analog (digital), wavetable (digital) etc. In my eyes all synths are unique in their own way and I enjoy exploring their sonic character and capabilities unto themselves. That said, there is something special about analog sound that simply cannot be reproduced in software/digital format, at least to my ears. It has a raw and organic quality that makes it unique unto itself. On the other hand, digital synths can do a lot of things analogs cannot, especially when it comes to mangling sounds or even getting into granular synthesis… hence, I like to enjoy the best of both worlds. πŸ™‚

6. Does it have effects built-in?
This isn’t a show-stopper but it’s a nice bonus if a synth has built-in effects of some type. While dedicated outboard effects racks and VST plugins exist, not everyone has the space, budget or time to invest in these options, or the desire to learn yet another piece of gear. So its always nice if a synth has some built-in effects, even if they may not be studio-quality. For my ambient music, my #1 preferred effect is reverb, followed by delay. Some synths may have delay, but no reverb… in such cases one must look to outboard gear, or route the synth’s audio out into another synth that does have reverb FX.

Overall when I look to acquire a synth, there must be something unique about the unit for me, whether its in terms of its sonic character or capabilities. There are so many synths on the market, it can be hard to choose or know what to look for when buying a synth. For my ambient style of music and my personal playing methods, I find certain synths fit my needs better than others based on the aforementioned points.

 

10. Are there some design aspects that are very important to you? I know you mentioned accessible live control.

Yes, tactile interfaces that enable real-time control (knobs, sliders etc)… as mentioned previously this is critical for me as I am not a fan of menu-diving/programming a synth in a tiny LCD screen. Other design aspects as mentioned that are important are the sonic character of the synth, voice count (polyphony), synthesis engine capabilities/specs and if the synth has any built-in effects.

At the end of the day though, when trying a synth you have to get a sense for how much fun vs. work it will be to use, to craft the sounds you’re after. If using the synth is a tedious chore to create sounds due to the interface or some other factor, you likely won’t enjoy the experience and thus not use it much. Again I point to the example of the Novation KS5 synth… its not the most flexible synthesis engine but for me its a lot of fun to just tweak around with, quickly and easily.

In that regard, do not discount the “fun” factor when it comes to buying or using a synth. It needs to be engaging and enjoyable for you, not frustrating. So keep that in mind when evaluating a synth as well.

 

11. And maybe there are some things that don’t matter as much?
Currently with the way I use my synths, I don’t really make use of multi-timbral live performance functions, so specs around multi-timbrality (ie 4 parts, 8 parts, 16 parts etc) doesn’t factor into my purchase decisions much, if at all. Perhaps this will change down the road if I make use of such functions, but at this time it has no bearing.

Also, when I mentioned I preferred huge voice counts on synths, this is true — especially when playing the synth live. However, as most music is multi-tracked these days, one can compose and create songs with even a monophonic synth by layering tracks in a DAW program.

Thus, do not be put off by a synth if it has a low voice count, if you plan to use it for layering tracks to write music. If on the other hand you plan to use the synth for live performance and need to play full chords or use pad sounds with long release times etc, then polyphony will probably be a factor for you.

Finally for me, I am open to both digital and analog synths. Each have their own specialties and fortes, despite difference in sonic character. So in that regard I like to keep an open mind on the digital vs. analog debate, as I am not an analog purist and enjoy working with both types of hardware. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I like to evaluate each synth on its own merits, whatever they may be. The digital vs. analog side of things is secondary, unless I’m specifically interested to acquire an analog piece of gear only (ie, Roland Jupiter 8).

 

12. So where do you find your synths? Do you get most of them online, off of EBay?

For the most part I find them locally on Craigslist, often searching for synths or posting an ad of my own for a unit I’m interested in.

  • I find buying locally is the best way to buy a synth — in person, so you can see it, test it, hear it… you don’t have to deal with shipping, duty/taxes, currency conversions or any unknowns if importing a synth via online purchase, from out of country. Nothing beats being able to see, feel and hear the actual synth in front of you, and checking the knobs, sliders, pots etc for glitchiness or other potential issues that might not be revealed in an online auction (until it ships to your door). Plus, when buying in person you can haggle with the seller on price if you want… but you also get a chance to meet and potentially network with other local synth enthusiasts/musicians in your city, which is pretty cool.
  • If I can’t find synths I’m interested in locally, sometimes I look on www.adhuntr.com (searches ALL of Craigslist in North America) and reach out to see if sellers are interested in doing a deal via PayPal and shipping (I obtained the Waldorf XT this way at a good price)… but for the most part its the riskiest method since it’s off eBay and I think PayPal’s fraud protection/refund policies may not be as robust compared to when buying on eBay.
  • Lastly there’s eBay. I’ve only bought one synth off eBay so far (Waldorf Q 32-voice, the experience of which I’ll talk about further on). In general I find eBay tends to be more expensive overall, plus you’re competing with people worldwide bidding on the same item so prices can sometimes skyrocket quickly near the end of an auction. For the most part though if buying online, the protections offered via PayPal/eBay Money Back Guarantee policy probably make it the safest way to do so.

 

13. I remember you saying in your Ambient Online interview that it is somewhat of a gamble ordering online, that you are never really sure what you get until the package shows up at your door.

Yes, it can be a gamble. Here are two examples why:

  • Waldorf Q
    Before I got my current yellow Waldorf Q 32-voice synth from a fellow eBayer, I had purchased a Halloween edition from a well-rated eBay store. I was assured by the eBay store the Halloween Waldorf Q was in excellent condition, was 32-voices, and that all knobs were functional (only one knob was listed as missing in their photos and description).After making an offer on the synth, waiting for them to ship, waiting 1.5 weeks for it in transit, having to pay duties at the post office upon receiving the unit… after getting it home and unpacking it turns out there were 6 knobs missing, half of the remaining 58 knobs were glitchy/non-responsive, and the unit was actually only 16 voices!!!I felt so deceived and angered by this experience, as it was the first time I had bought anything off eBay before.I filed a claim with the online store with photographic proof and detailed description, and was going to file a complaint with eBay if the store did not refund the money and take the synth back. Thankfully they did, but I had to pay another $100+ to ship it back to them and it was just a huge waste of time and money in the end.
  • Roland Jupiter 8
    Yes, I have considered bidding on Roland Jupiter 8s on eBay… at one point there was a great deal on one from Poland, I think starting bid was $2,500 or $3,000 USD. It seemed like a legitimate auction and I kept my eye on it for a few days. However, I was a bit suspicious about the auction as the user didn’t have much feedback, and the feedback he did have left on his account was for recent, non-related and small-value bids on other items he supposedly purchased. I tried communicating with the user but got lackluster response which raised further red flags.Anyway, the auction was to end around 4am PST on a Sunday and I was still curious if this was a legitimate deal. So I set my alarm and woke up at 3:50am, and logged into eBay. Watching the clock counter tick down, and with 10 seconds left, I had my finger on the BID button debating whether to put in a few thousand dollar bid on the line. Suddenly the price skyrocketed to like $8,500 USD with 3 seconds left, and someone won the auction.While I ended up not actually bidding, it was probably a good thing I didn’t. A few days later the account, ad and all related information had disappeared off the eBay website.I’m guessing it was a scam of some sort that was either caught by eBay or the user closed their account and made off with the funds for the poor guy that paid, or the user had a bunch of shill/bot accounts he used to artificially inflate the price so the winning bidder would pay as much as possible. Either way it was too sketchy of a situation for me to commit to pressing that BID button as there were too many red flags, and I’m glad I didn’t in the end… as much as I would’ve loved to purchase the JP8.

 

14. Do you find that nerve racking or part of the fun?

I don’t find it fun, I find it a bit nerve racking… because depending on the description provided by the seller, you expect the item to show up as described. If not, you have the option of returning it and trying to obtain a refund, but nobody wants to go through with that hassle and its better for both parties if everything is as described from the get-go so there are no unexpected surprises upon delivery/receipt of the synth or other gear.

 

15. Do you have any other advice for musicians who are hunting for hardware synths online?

Generally speaking when buying online (eBay, Craigslist, other marketplaces etc) you have to do your due diligence on the seller, the item being sold, the photos provided, description, communication and other factors to judge whether its legitimate or not. For the most part I’d say most sellers are probably good intentioned, but there can be scams or “embellished” ads out there that don’t really tell the whole story on what you’re buying, until you buy it and it (hopefully) arrives at your door.

  • Stay alert and watch out for scams —Β  if its too good to be true, it probably is. I’ve seen ads on Craigslist the past year in many cities simultaneously at the same time for Roland Jupiter 8s for $1,800-$2,200 with a phone # to call or email to contact… of course, its a scam as the individual is only out to get your info and ask for a bank transfer, or replies to emails in broken english and won’t provide additional info other than “use this escrow service to deposit the funds and we can arrange shipping”. Probing further with questions like “what’s the serial #?”, “is it a 12-bit or 14-bit unit?”, type of MIDI kit installed (Kenton or Encore) etc… little details about the synth that can help you evaluate if the owner is actually the owner or a scammer behind the keyboard. When you start getting BS that they can’t talk on the phone, don’t want to talk or have some excuse for not talking voice to discuss further to solidify a deal, that should be a huge red flag. Just walk away in that case. Above all else, go with your gut… if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t legit.
  • Do your due diligence on the seller.Β  I had a great experience when buying the Waldorf MicroWAVE XT from a seller in California who I found via www.adhuntr.com. Luckily he provided a phone # so I could call him and talk right away about the synth, to prove I was a legitimate buyer. I also did my research on him (ie found via Google that he had a music production business, a studio etc) which further helped convince me he was a legitimate seller. We discussed at length to get a feel for each other, worked out a deal for 50/50 payment via PayPal (50% up front, 50 upon receipt and testing of the unit) and he provided photos of the unit prior to me buying which satisfied my concerns about any cosmetics. The unit was professionally packed, shipped and worked well except for some minor glitchiness with one of the encoders, which is a minor quibble in the end. So that is one example of using Craigslist to buy remotely, however you have to do your due diligence on the seller if at all possible.
  • If you have the patience to wait, buy/sell locally — use Craigslist, Kijiji or other local buy & sell sites, or post your own ad on such sites to let others know what you’re looking for, that way you can see it in person. Actually buying online is probably the last resort for me, and only if I become impatient and want to obtain a particular synth more quickly (if its available on eBay or www.adhuntr.com), but generally speaking you can’t beat buying a synth in person for aforementioned reasons of testing the unit/negotiating before you buy.
  • Consider vintage synth tech shops, for a premium. As you know there are various vintage synth dealers and websites (ie Tone Tweakers etc) but some of the pricing can be at a premium, depending on the synth. The flip side is you can probably trust that the synth has been serviced to a high level and is in as good condition as you can expect, functionality-wise. Plus its great to talk shop with guys who know what they’re doing with the hardware and have likely seen it all. So if Craigslist, eBay etc don’t work for people they should consider seeking out the vintage synth shops online as well.
  • BTW for anyone in or visiting Japan, be sure to check out 5G Music shop — http://www.fiveg.net πŸ™‚

 

16. It seems like you had that desire to work with synthesizers for a long time. What obstacles do you feel we’re holding you back?

I think a few factors:

1. The initial mystery of subtractive synthesis – while I have always been interested in ambient electronica, I didn’t comprehend a lot about subtractive synthesis at a deep level when I first started out. Learning something new like subtractive synthesis at first seemed a bit daunting and a significant time investment… but I realized my concerns were unfounded once I started getting into it, as the concepts became clearer with hands-on practice with a synth.

2. So many synths on the market – there are so many synths on the market I wasn’t sure where to start, since I was still learning about the various elements of synthesis and what different synths could do on paper. Trying to take in all that information was initially overwhelming, and had me researching for many months to learn about the various types of hardware synths, features etc.

3. Budget – I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money on my first synth, and I was a bit unsure about what type of synth to buy in the first place. As mentioned previously I was initially interested in the Novation Supernova II, but ended up getting an Access Virus B as my first due to scarcity of the SN2. At the time, dropping $500+ on a synth seemed like a big deal to me (and it still is)… but it’s nowhere near some of the prices some synths can command these days. Anyway, once I acquired GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), the budget issue sort of became less of a concern, lol.

4. Playing drums in a band – As mentioned previously I have been playing drums since age 12 in various original projects and cover bands over the years. I had considered doing my own music for some time but never pulled the trigger. It wasn’t until 2011 that I decided to take a break from the drumming and look into synthesis, and in 2012 get serious about buying my first synth. So in that regard I guess I was fulfilled somewhat musically by playing in bands over the years, but after so many years of playing other people’s music, I wanted to try my hand at making my own, and that’s when I decided to delve into synthesis headfirst.

 

17. And through all this trial and error, what is the most rewarding part of it for you?

I think the most rewarding part of working with synths, learning about them etc is when you have enough knowledge to be able to create something new that you didn’t think was possible… ie, a type of patch that you envision in your head, and then being able to actually realize it in the real world by adjusting/programming the parameters of the synth within the rules of subtractive synthesis to achieve the sound you want.

The most rewarding moments for me are when I’m surprised at the sounds the synth can produce which I do not expect. For example, in this Waldorf Q demo I did, I was quite impressed by the synth’s ability to output a flanger that is fully controllable by the user, which led to some amazing real-time sonic soundscapes. I wasn’t expecting the results I got from using the flanger and so was it was very rewarding to be able to create that type of sound in the demo, and just run with it.

Another rewarding aspect is learning about each synth – their intricacies, character, features and sonic footprint – and then being able to compose something meaningful with the synth, musically speaking. I enjoy delving into what makes each synth unique in its own way, and trying to showcase each synth to the world via my demos and music. It is rewarding to know that people are enjoying the demos and music, and hopefully learning some of what the synths can do in an ambient context.

 

18. Finally, if you like, tell us a little about your everyday life. I know you are from Canada. If you don’t mind saying what town you live in, what you do for a living, and what your home life is like.

Well generally speaking I’m trying to maintain a sense of mystery around the synth4ever name — I like being anonymous (sort of like Daft Punk). πŸ™‚

What I can tell you is that I’m based on the west coast of Canada, I have a somewhat creative day job in the business sector, and enjoy a peaceful and non-stressful home life (eating healthy and keeping fit is part of it).

 

19. Also, time is really an issue with a lot of ambient artists. With your extensive music with and review of the synths you work with, how do you find time for it?

My work schedule is a standard Monday-Friday, 9-5 so overall I have time to devote to the synths and music in the evenings and weekends, but not everyday. I find if I do something too much (ie try and compose songs etc) it can start to drain me mentally and creatively, so sometimes I need to take breaks too.

I’m also a bit of a night owl so staying up late buys me some extra time when I need it… I have on occasion recorded demos and music at 2am or 3am (weekends only) when I’m feeling the urge for it. When you’re in the moment and enjoying the music, time becomes secondary.

I update the www.synth4ever.com website as needed and it only takes up a few hours when I need to add new synth reviews/photos etc, but typing up the reviews can take a bit of time sometimes.

So overall I can dedicate the time I need to synths and ambient, but I can’t and don’t do it everyday. I use the synths and play music when I feel the need to from within, and try to record demos at least every few weeks to keep things fresh on the Youtube channel as well.


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