So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

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thelowerrhythm
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So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by thelowerrhythm » Sun Sep 06, 2020 12:28 am

And holy :foul: . That thing is alive.

Why the hell does my modular sound so STIFF in comparison? It's not even an issue of timbre, but how the thing moves. Something as simple as the envelope going on and off just seems really vivid. Altering literally any parameter sounded interesting. It was impossible to get it to do anything ugly.

What a bummer!
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by jfloftin » Sun Sep 06, 2020 3:25 pm

Hi welcome to the world of EMS! Here is typed out documentation I got from Robin Wood in 1994 about the VCS3 and Synthi 'A':

EMS Electronic Music Studios:

Synthi 'A' and VCS3

Conceived in 1968 by designer David Cockerell, composer Tristram Cary and Dr. Peter Zinovieff, the VCS3 and Synthi A were the first portable music synthesizers every to be produced commercially. Some 20 years laters composers, teachers and experimenters the world over can still find no substitute for what has now established itself as a classic design, and one still in production today.

The power of these two instruments lies in the pin-matrix or patchboard
system of interconnection, which allows the composer complete freedom in the
way the synthesizer's devices are harnessed. Unlike more recent pre-patched
or switch-patches systems in which the devices are hard-wired together and
oriented solely for keyboard playing, the Synthi A and VCS3 release us into a
largely unexplored world of abstract electronic expression. The inclusion of a
Ring Modulator and voltage controlled Reverb along with oscillators, envelope
and filter allows many unusual configurations of the signal processing chain.
Stereo outputs means that two totally separate sounds can be programmed
simultaneously, or single sounds given extra depth and perspective.
Possibilities abound for sophisticated treatments of external audio signals,
and the production of complex sound-effects.

The Synthi A and VCS3 are electronically identical, but housed in different
ways to suit different applications. The Synthi A is in a black ABS briefcase
for instant portability. The VCS3 is in an L-shaped hardwood cabinet with
spacious panels for more permanent installations. They were designed with the
following applications in mind:

- As an electronic music studio. With tape recorders, mixer, and other sound processors, to realize electronic music compositions.

- As a live performance instrument. With a plug-in keyboard controller, or using its two external signal inputs to modify sounds from microphones or electronic instruments.

- As a teaching aid. With its 'building brick' approach to electronic
synthesis it illustrates all the basic processes in a logical manner, as well
as amply demonstrating general acoustic phenomena (harmonic series, pitch, loudness, etc.).

- As a sounds effects generator. In theatre, film and broadcasting it provides ready access to a multitude of original effects and electronic atmospheres.

Two keyboards are available for use with the VCS3 and Synthi A:

- DK2 mechanical keyboard. A 3-octave duo-phonic keyboard with internal
oscillator and velocity-sensitive dynamics.

- KS Sequencer keyboard. A 2 1/2-octave touch-keyboard which can fit into the
lid of the Synthi A (thereby making an AKS) which an integral 256 event
digital sequencer.

A range of 1U rack-mounting modules is also available to expand systems still
further:

Octave Filter Bank
Random Voltage Generator
Pitch-to-Voltage Converted
Phase Frequency Shifter

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Oscillator 1: Range: 0.5Hz - 20kHz
Output: Sine (with variable shape) and Sawtooth

Oscillator 2: Range: 0.5Hz - 20kHz
Output: Square and Triangle
Shape control gives variable pulse width and rising or
falling ramps.

Oscillator 3: Range: 0.025Hz - 500Hz
Output: Square and Triangle (shaping as per Oscillator 2).

Noise Generator: White and variable coloured noise.

Filter/ Range: 5Hz - 15kHz
Oscillator: Cut-off Rate: 18Db/octave max.
Low-pass with variable resonance and sinewave
oscillation

Ring modulator: Transformerless integrated circuit design.
Input Rejection: 60dB

Envelope Shaper: A programmed variable gain amplifier of trapezium format with analogous voltage output

Timing: Attack: 2mS - 1s
On: 0 - 2.5s
Decay: 2mS - 15s
Off: 10mS - 5s + recycle inhibition
Triggering Modes: Via +4 volt gate from keyboard socket
Manual trigger from attack button
External signal input level threshold detector
Self-triggering in recycle mode.

Decay time is voltage controllable from patchboard

Reverberation: Dual spring-line unit with delays of 25mS and 20mS.
Max reverb time 2s.
Reverb-to-Direct ratio voltage controllable from patchboard.

Joystick controller:
X and Y parameters may control any functions
independently.

Meter: For Signal Level or Control Voltage monitoring
Also indicates memory availability when used with sequencer keyboard.

Inputs: 2 input channels (1/4" mono jacks)
High-level line inputs: 2.5V into 50Kohms
Microphone inputs: 5mV into 600 ohms
Both channels suitable for external CV inputs

Outputs: 2 output channels (1/4" mono jacks)
Signal Outputs (via VCAs): 2.5V into 600 ohms (with filters and panning).
Control Outputs (pre-VCAs): 10V into 10Khoms
Headphone output: 10V into 50 Ohms (stereo 1/4" jack)
Scope output: 10V into 10Khoms (via meter row on patchboard)

Power supply: 240 or 115 Volts AC. 50-60Hz. 25 watts.

Dimensions: VCS3: 43 x 44 x 42cm.
Synthi A: 48 x 38 x 12cm.

Weight: VCS3: 9kg
Synthi A: 7.5kg


Is that enough specs for ya!

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by thelowerrhythm » Sun Sep 06, 2020 5:54 pm

jfloftin wrote:
Sun Sep 06, 2020 3:25 pm

Is that enough specs for ya!
Its a start. :)

Thank you for that, that was really helpful actually. It also helps thst the friend who has one has three and goes way back with them. There's magic in that box.

Gonna put off having a child to start saving for one of these. :75:
"Ah yeah, you’ve got that strange blend of apathy and self-flagellation that somehow gets you where you want to go."

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by 3hands » Mon Sep 07, 2020 3:23 pm

thelowerrhythm wrote:
Sun Sep 06, 2020 5:54 pm
jfloftin wrote:
Sun Sep 06, 2020 3:25 pm

Is that enough specs for ya!
Its a start. :)

Thank you for that, that was really helpful actually. It also helps thst the friend who has one has three and goes way back with them. There's magic in that box.

Gonna put off having a child to start saving for one of these. :75:
The real Muffs answer would be to sell a child for one... haha!

I’ve played with a VCS3, and it did things I didn’t think were possible. I too may need to start saving for something like that. Or a Buchla Easel.
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by ersatzplanet » Mon Sep 07, 2020 6:08 pm

There is definitely a draw to a system built in one box and built with it's modules designed to work with each other. The Easel mentioned is another such box. The Synthi's have their limitations of course, but when you work within those limitations, they can put out some very interesting stuff. The AKS is possibly the most ergonomic synth I have ever owned for sure. Easy to get around on, and bring to the gig. Easy to play (for the sounds that I was using it for at least), and very pleasing visually. The fixed matrix (rows and columns dedicated to modules) was very fast to patch on once you got familiar with it. In may ways I miss mine (I had two AKS and a VCS3) but the style of music I played changed and they were not as practical. Funny now, decades later, I'm doing stuff that they would be perfect for! Too bad I can't get them for the $500 I got them for when I bought my first in 1975.
-James

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by KSS » Mon Sep 07, 2020 10:21 pm

@ersatzplanet
inflationtool.com sez -->$500 dollars in 1975: $2,476.14 dollars today

Not gonna help you much with EMS Cornwall, but could get you close with a few of the other options.

And there's the "synth with a diode filter" Rob Keeble worked on with Behringer, which seems more and more likely to be a Synthi-VCS3-ish thing.
Betting that will fit within the updated $500 value budget. ;)
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by sleestack808 » Mon Sep 07, 2020 10:30 pm

thelowerrhythm wrote:
Sun Sep 06, 2020 12:28 am
And holy :foul: . That thing is alive.

Why the hell does my modular sound so STIFF in comparison? It's not even an issue of timbre, but how the thing moves. Something as simple as the envelope going on and off just seems really vivid. Altering literally any parameter sounded interesting. It was impossible to get it to do anything ugly.

What a bummer!
Great Post. Very true. Sell everything you have and buy it. Instead of 25 things that cost 500 dollars, get a synthi. Everything adds up. And the synthi can do a LOT. Then, buy the cards Papz is making
Oh, and try and get an older one. PM me for advice

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by thelowerrhythm » Thu Sep 10, 2020 12:55 am

Ohhh, I will definitely not be getting one lol. Unless it's a Behringer clone, or I come into a bunch of money one day. One day...

Thankfully I've got them around to use whenever I want, or so I've been told. I believe it's two A's and a VCS3. Looking forward to a planned synthi improvised trio in the back yard.
"Ah yeah, you’ve got that strange blend of apathy and self-flagellation that somehow gets you where you want to go."

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by artilect99 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 4:13 am

Can you be more specific about what was so amazing/different about it? I've never heard one in person, just curious.

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by MindMachine » Sun Sep 13, 2020 12:24 am

I don't feel they are close to worth the money, but they are a unique 'organic' or 'systemic' instrument. Each is somewhat unique and the interaction between every patch pin can be a novel dive. It's a different take on what most are used to. Very strong sound for sure. Unique.
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by Pelsea » Mon Sep 14, 2020 1:18 pm

artilect99 wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 4:13 am
Can you be more specific about what was so amazing/different about it? I've never heard one in person, just curious.
I think it comes down to the difference between a system and an instrument. An instrument is simple and immediate. It easily becomes an extension of my body so that I think music and the music happens. The Synthi is an example, as is the Mini-Moog, Easel, 2600, and a few other legendary synthesizers. A system is a collection of modules. You can patch them into the same architecture as a Synthi, but you have to find that architecture first, then spend a lot of time adjusting things that are fixed on the instruments. (It's a lot like finding the words in Jumble.) This eats up session time and musical focus. Furthermore, there is alway the temptation: "What would it sound like with the Xlyberg instead?". Experimentation is a good thing to do and fun, but it's not practice. In an hour, you could discover everything a Synthi can do (ten minutes, really) and move on to using it for music.

Many Wigglers have it both ways by putting together a small case with a select set of modules that is left patched all the time.
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by KSS » Mon Sep 14, 2020 2:01 pm

well said, Pelsea!

Except the last part. Everything these can do in ten minutes? Or an hour? Nah.

But your "instrument" points still stand, even if that last part's pretty far off the beam.
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by Pelsea » Mon Sep 14, 2020 11:15 pm

KSS wrote:
Mon Sep 14, 2020 2:01 pm

Except the last part. Everything these can do in ten minutes? Or an hour? Nah.
Fair point—I played bassoon forty years and didn’t discover everything that was possible. However, a reasonably experienced wiggler should be able start making actual music within a half hour. (Subtlety can come later.) I’m not dissing the Synthi in any way, it’s just that intuitive and responsive an instrument.

[An AKS was my first electronic instrument. Somewhere in the University of Iowa archives is a video I made in 1974 playing it surrounded by swirly analog effects.]
Books and tutorials on modular synthesis at http://peterelsea.com
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by thelowerrhythm » Thu Sep 17, 2020 4:23 am

artilect99 wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 4:13 am
Can you be more specific about what was so amazing/different about it? I've never heard one in person, just curious.
I've been thinking about this a lot and I think I just need more time with it to be able to put it into crispier words. The biggest takeaway that has persisted for me is its lack of rigidity. It felt like an instrument rather than a tool. Some of what Pelsea said above rings true for me in my impression. Or at least I can see where they're coming from.
"Ah yeah, you’ve got that strange blend of apathy and self-flagellation that somehow gets you where you want to go."

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by carbonhazard » Thu Sep 17, 2020 4:36 am

My friend has a VCS3 and it sounds magnificent. That said I'm not sure I'd want one, the patching is so weird and slow that it's less of an instrument of music and more of an instrument of science, hah.

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by KSS » Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:21 am

carbonhazard wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 4:36 am
the patching is so weird and slow that it's less of an instrument of music and more of an instrument of science, hah.
Same could be said about flute, sax or bassoon keying. Weird. Slow.

I bet someone like papz or ersatzplanet could patch quite quickly and effectively.

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by MindMachine » Fri Sep 18, 2020 9:34 pm

KSS wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:21 am
carbonhazard wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 4:36 am
the patching is so weird and slow that it's less of an instrument of music and more of an instrument of science, hah.
Same could be said about flute, sax or bassoon keying. Weird. Slow.

I bet someone like papz or ersatzplanet could patch quite quickly and effectively.
Exactly the same.
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by thelowerrhythm » Sat Sep 19, 2020 12:02 am

carbonhazard wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 4:36 am
My friend has a VCS3 and it sounds magnificent. That said I'm not sure I'd want one, the patching is so weird and slow that it's less of an instrument of music and more of an instrument of science, hah.
I found the patching to be really intuitive and quicker than cables. Maybe my normal patching is glacial, though. :despair:
"Ah yeah, you’ve got that strange blend of apathy and self-flagellation that somehow gets you where you want to go."

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by ersatzplanet » Sat Sep 19, 2020 11:44 am

MindMachine wrote:
Fri Sep 18, 2020 9:34 pm
KSS wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:21 am
carbonhazard wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 4:36 am
the patching is so weird and slow that it's less of an instrument of music and more of an instrument of science, hah.
Same could be said about flute, sax or bassoon keying. Weird. Slow.

I bet someone like papz or ersatzplanet could patch quite quickly and effectively.
Exactly the same.
Patching on the Synthi can be really fast after you get familiar with it. There were versions of the Matrix that had the section breaks etched into them and some didn't (lines at 2/3, 7/8, 9/10, 14/15, C/D, H/I. and K/l). These versions got to be even faster. The advantage in the Synthi is that the matrix was always wired the same way (on both the VCS3 and Synthi A's I had). You get to depend on the VCO outs being in the same rows place and the filter inputs being in the same columns. It got to the point that a casual glance would be all you needed to tell something was wrong with a patch. This, like KSS posted, was not immediate and got better over time. Sort of like a Arp2500. After a while you almost heard the right number of switch clicks to get you to the right row without looking.
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by nickbaba » Sat Sep 19, 2020 5:23 pm

Yep. I hear ya. There's a reason these little portable synths are still regarded as classics, 50-odd years after they first appeared. And why people are willing to hang on the wait list for 10+ years to get one. And why pre-owned ones go for the price of a decent family car.
It's an instrument, and like any instrument has its limitations and its strengths. I love my eurorack stuff, but a synth where all the parts have been designed to work together, and yet leaves space for the operator to patch creatively, is another beast altogether.

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by MindMachine » Sun Sep 20, 2020 12:13 am

Funny how patch sheets from 20 years ago mean nothing today.

Seagulls: more like fingernails on chalkboard
Crickets: silence
Boomerang Echo: fizz
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by Biom » Mon Oct 05, 2020 3:02 pm

Great thread. Thank you for sharing all this info!
Absolutely agreed with a "system vs instrument" statement.

Here's a recent video with some interesting explorations:
Ghost in the machine for sure.

There was another thread somewhere here, dedicated to "birds-crickets-nature" patches on different synths. AKS nailed it most accurately to me.

Also very curious of what 20th century avant-garde music was made on AKS/VCS3. I'm aware of some Synthi 100 pieces, but not the AKS, which was always a little bit on a rock music side of things for me. Happy to be mistaken, though!

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by MindMachine » Fri Oct 09, 2020 10:56 pm

Biom wrote:
Mon Oct 05, 2020 3:02 pm
Great thread. Thank you for sharing all this info!
Absolutely agreed with a "system vs instrument" statement.

Here's a recent video with some interesting explorations:
Ghost in the machine for sure.

There was another thread somewhere here, dedicated to "birds-crickets-nature" patches on different synths. AKS nailed it most accurately to me.

Also very curious of what 20th century avant-garde music was made on AKS/VCS3. I'm aware of some Synthi 100 pieces, but not the AKS, which was always a little bit on a rock music side of things for me. Happy to be mistaken, though!
Yes the AKS/Synthi is most well suited for "birds-crickets-nature"in my experience. The post before yours mentioned Seagulls and Crickets. I can scan those patches but as I mentioned, over the years those patches don't make sense on the same machine. Things have changed.
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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by ersatzplanet » Sat Oct 10, 2020 1:56 pm

MindMachine wrote:
Fri Oct 09, 2020 10:56 pm
Yes the AKS/Synthi is most well suited for "birds-crickets-nature"in my experience. The post before yours mentioned Seagulls and Crickets. I can scan those patches but as I mentioned, over the years those patches don't make sense on the same machine. Things have changed.
I used to call it "Ray guns grom Mars" or "Bug music" myself.

I once got a gig making whale sounds for a record of poetry that was made with underwater microphones of actual whale sounds. The recording of the whales was not very good, lots of background hiss and other noises. I used my AKS and made whale sounds like the ones on the recording. Really easy with the joystick. They used a great plate reverb on it and it sounded MUCH better than the real thing. Worked great.
-James

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Re: So I spent an hour with a Synthi A today

Post by KSS » Sat Oct 10, 2020 5:49 pm

^ There's a funny comic in that story. Involving talking whales. Like the one -I can't find right now- with the Serge. Thought it was XKCD, but maybe not? <--Probably PackRat
Anyways, cool story James!
Last edited by KSS on Mon Oct 12, 2020 7:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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