SY-1000 - Synthesizing Strings with the SY-1000

Started by arkieboy, March 22, 2020, 04:50:04 PM

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Using Gordon Reid's articles about synthesisers a guide we're going to look at practical ways to programme 'string' sounds with the SY1000.

You should follow this along as a tutorial and then go back through this and play around with some of the parameters.  There is no one perfect string sound - you'll want to tune it for each song you use it on, so understanding what makes it tick is important.  And the sounds I will end up with deliberately aren't going to be brilliant because this isn't about spoon feeding you sounds.

The original GR article is here

String Synthesisers
... or more accurately we're going to look at ways to get the kind of sounds first available through string synthesisers.  If you want real strings you can trigger some samples via midi.

String synthesisers were developed using 'divide down' technology from cheap 1960s organs because analogue oscillators were expensive.  The grand-daddy of all string synthesisers was a custom instrument made by inventor, session musician and composer Ken Freeman.  There was only really one proper String Symphoniser that Ken built and used himself - because he couldn't afford a Mellotron - but his technology was licensed in a cut down form (well worth a read).  Ken was a skilled session musician and the full blown prototype II and IV appeared on a string (ehem) of hits in the 70s including Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds, an album dear to my heart in that it set my musical taste to this day.  That said there were dozens of commercial units including the Logan String Melody, the Roland RS101, 202 and VP330, Elka Rhapsody, Arp/Solina String Ensemble, Moog Opus 3 - and my favourite of all, the Eminent 310 which was the foundation of much of Jarre's early work.  With cheaper polyphonic synthesisers appearing the need for this kind of electronic instrument pretty much died out, but to this day, every respectable, performance oriented synthesiser needs some kind of 'string sound'.

Looking for movement
Proper string ensembles have lots of people playing at the same time, each with a slightly different sounding instrument at different bowing intensities and different vibrato feels and speeds, which results in the lush sound.  Ken's legendary prototypes used three oscillators each with their own vibrato circuits to produce a lush sound: we can get 6 oscillators with 6 LFOs in the SY1000 so we ought to be able to make quite lush sounds if we're careful about how we set them up.  We also have the legendary Roland chorus to further spice up proceedings, and Ken himself used an old WEM Copycat to make his Clavoline sound richer - we have several delays too.

We'll start with the 'init' patch from Bluesbird using the 'Dynamic Synth'.  Quickly turn the filter resonance down to 0 and head back to the OSC section.  The 'init' patch has a single saw waveform which on its own is a boring buzz.  String ensembles have oodles of natural chorusing, so we're going to start building ours from here: change the waveform to 'detune saw' and instantly everything starts to become more interesting.  Turn the detune up to +20 and you get lots of movement, but its sounding more like the basis for a honkytonk piano rather than strings so turn it back to +5 or so where you should get a gentle chorusing effect.

If you drag the dedicated chorus block just right of the 'Bal 2' mixer and turn the depth up to 60, and then turn on the master reverb with 'hall 1' and bump the effect level up to 59 - when did you ever hear the sound of a 30 piece string section without it being in a concert hall with considerable reverberation - you're doing better than some 70s keyboards already.  But we haven't got started yet.

Go back to the oscillator section and change the waveform to 'super saw', and take the detune down to about 9.  That's altogether more interesting now, and could be the departure point for a whole bunch of sounds so we'll save that as 'basic-super-saw'.  Super-saw is a lovely little Roland innovation that came with their virtual analogue synthesisers that emulates lots of stacked sawtooth waveforms all detuned from each other - for us that's a great source of movement.

That's just one instrument.  What happens if we copy that across to INST 2?  Well, it gets louder, but if we detune INST 2 using the 'fine' control to about -6 we'll introduce some more movement, and if we then go to LFO1 on INST2, turn it on, set the rate quite slow at about 12, set the pitch depth to 4 and turn the 'SYNC' off so that the LFO isn't retriggered with every note you're really starting to get lots of movement.  I decided to turn down the chorus depth here to 40ish because it was a bit too much.  I think this is a decent basis to go on to work on the filter and the amplifier so I saved this in the .tsl as 'dual super-saw'.

Volume envelope
If you get 30 people trying to follow a conductor they're never going to be perfectly on time, some people will be a little early, some later, and anyway string take a little time to speak.  So we want to change the volume envelope to reflect this.  If you go to the AMP section on each of INST 1 and INST 2 and set them to at least -8 then you'll get something more string like immediately.  For this patch I'm going to go about -13, but you might choose something longer for swells, or slightly shorter if you're trying to do something like Paul Carrack played on 'Oh Yeah' for 'Flesh + Blood' by Roxy Music.

There are some choices here.  If you choose a 24dB filter, or the (Moog 24dB) ladder filter then you'll need to open the filter up a bit.  I prefer string sounds from Oberheim-like synthesisers which have a 12dB/octave filter - they're brighter/buzzier and sound more like strings to me.  You should flip backwards and forwards between the filters here to work out how they sound.  I'm going to go with about 76 for the cutoff as the kind of sound I want, but I'll back that off to 70 because I'm going to put +10 on the filter envelope depth to give some dynamics to the sound.  If you play at different picking intensities you'll now get some articulation into your sound - something you'd never get from a Solina!  Obviously closing down the filter makes a darker sound, opening it up more seems to 'synthy' to me, but its your sound and your synthesiser so don't let me tell you what to do.

Checkpoint and variants
Well it doesn't sound much like 30 violins, but its a decent string pad!  I've saved this sound as 'string-synth' because you can do a lot with this basic sound.  Easiest change is the pitch of INST2 to +12 which gives you 'octave-strings'.  Or you could detune strings 5 and 6 by an octave so you get a wider sound (8ve-strings-bas).  You can slow down the AMP envelope (slow-strings-bas).  But there's a lot more than that too, try using a band pass filter, adding a little resonance, adding a phaser and echo rather than a chorus for that Jarre effect.  You'll also almost certainly want to go to CTL/EXP and set CTL3 to be INST:CONTROL/INST ALL HOLD/MOMENT so you can use CTL3 to hold the sound.

Finally I've deliberately done nothing with INST 3 because I have some ideas for a later instalment here.  You might repeat everything I did for INST 2 to get more richness and movement, or you might experiment with VIO to get some bow into the attack, or CRYSTAL to get something like D50 Fantasia.  Or you could wait for me to get round to episode 2 of this occasional account of my experimentation with the SY1000.

Anyway, keep your social distance and stay safe!

Main rig: Barden Hexacaster and Brian Moore i2.13 controllers
Boss SY1000/Boss GKC-AD/Boss GM-800/Laney LFR112

Other relevant gear: Line 6 Helix LT, Roland GR-33, Axon AX100 MkII
Oberheim Matrix 6R, Supernova IIR, EMu E5000, Apple Mainstage, Apple Logic, MOTU M4


Thanks arkieboy.


Thanks Arkie , that's Fire right there!


MUCH appreciated Arkieboy!


It immediately reminded me of the 70s sci-fi show The Tripods on BBC. Great job!


Slow string bass patch is great for recreating the scene from the Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind when the ETs are learning the tune :)
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