How other instruments influence your process with synthesizers

by @sellanraa’s suggestion off a sidetrack w @philmaguire about Getting A Nice Bass Guitar As An Adult.

How Does Your History And/Or Practice With Other Instuments Influence Your Process With Synths/Electronics/Whatever

as i detailed here: extinguishment

my first instrument is bass guitar and i enjoyed it but i have never been highly skilled nor did i ever Make It In A Band. as a tool for expression it definitely fell behind as my engagement with synthesizers and later software became really robust and meaningful.

at some point in the late aughts Richard Kamerman and I were lamenting the dominance of floorcore/home depot noise table sets and decided to Do Something About It and we called it Other Vultures. I thrashed my orig ibanez and uh vocalized and sent both through a boss delay/looper pedal and an amp. Richard did something to a taiko and some metal sheets. it did not require skill as much as it did stamina. we did this enough and it was fun and maybe people liked it.

in what my website says was 2013 i played an electronics and guitar duo with Daniel Fandiño where he played a classical style guitar with pretty minimal preparations (alligator clips specifically) and it clicked and a I either already had a new bass or i bought it shortly thereafter, for some alligator clips and took out a small electronics screwdriver and, you know, gave it a go.

i hadn’t tried this before bc my prior experiences with folks playing prepared bass guitar were not inspirational.

as a means to exit using a laptop and still making the music i want to make this worked out really well, and in terms of timbre and timing, had a huge influence on how i approach my modular builds. I don’t think I would have found as natural a feel for Elements and Rings if I hadn’t already been working with that palette.

i typed this up on my phone, i hope it’s coherent!

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To completely sidetrack this thread before it gets going (sorry) where is the discussion around getting a nice bass guitar… ? Am contemplating similar myself, but searched for this thread without success.

There’s no thread, just a couple of posts between @baleen and me in the Mutable thread :slight_smile:

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my suggestion is “get the guitar you like to play.”

Fair enough. I guess I was looking for some thoughts around this: Having come back to the bass market after a period of some 20 years or so, I found it a bit baffling and polarised between expensive reproductions and modern looking things that probably played very well, but looked a bit like pimped-out kitchen worktops. So some initial ideas of how to steer a path through this, in the context of the lines forum and therefore a sense of electronics and experimentation as well, might have proved helpful.

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I’d love some discussion around the relative merits of active vs passive pickups.

I’m a tone explorer, and my gut tells me to go active because it’s just going to provide more options. But when I discuss this with more advanced players than myself I often encounter surprising skepticism.

Heh, maybe I should have posted this in the future guitar thread?

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I think maybe what @baleen means is that you should try some different ones (even at guitar center). In my experience, buying an instrument (vs a synth) is a lot about what ‘feels’ right. How heavy is it? How many strings? Is the neck easy to play? It should inspire you when you pick it up and that can hard to formulate based on specs alone.

i apologize if my OP was confusing but this is not supposed to be a thread about How To Buy A Bass Guitar.

it’s supposed to be about how your practice with other other instruments influence your work with synths and software and electronics.

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I probably would not have been so keen to get into Linnstrument if it weren’t for a guitar background.

When I first started working with synths I felt extremely constrained in terms of my ability to add expression with the movements of my hands. MPE fixed that for me.

But I’m eager to get to a point where I can use an actual guitar in a similar way. Hexaphonic pickup? Perhaps…

Playing instruments has instilled in me a need for interfaces that are tactile and easy to use. The miniaturization of everything in eurorack is very uncomfortable to me - as a format it was a smaller version of modular synths to begin with. I find myself trying and rejecting things due to this, as good as they may sound or as useful as they may be.

In terms of sound, instruments make me think about phrasing and pacing, especially since with synths, the physicality is not the same. A saxophone player runs out of breath, but a sequencer runs forever.

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Of course. This is why I apologised and politely asked for redirection initially but was then replied to here?

Anyhow, I see Jason has now got this thread on the agreed track.

so to clarify or simplify -> revisited an instrument in a new context with a different approach (or preparations, little fx or processing, no laptop) allowed me to explore it in a way not based on playing Cure tabs, but based on my practice with synths and electronics, and how that created a kind of feedback loop into my practice with synths and electronics.

this worked out in these ways:

even a couple/three alligator clips on 3 of 4 strings significantly restricts ease of movement around the neck, and placement of my right hand on the body. this slows me down (a high goal of mine) and forces me to focus on the sounds and phrases i can get out of “where i am” on the instrument.

these preparations, while rather mild, still alter the harmonic quality of each string so that i just can’t play western, interval based riffs, so forget all that, find the places on the instrument where some meaningful relationships lie, and go from there.

as this was explicitly a way to get the laptop off the table, I wasn’t creating material to be further processes, I wasn’t trying to build an atonal racket either. my general approach was to try and fail to recreate the tones and gestures I would have with a desktop synth and laptop. so when I transitioned to eurorack, I was trying to recreate this approach I developed with the bass guitar, as opposed to trying to recreate something I had already done with a more similar toolset (analog synths and reaktor or max).

I grew up playing piano and cello, picked up a bass at 16 and started playing in loud bands shortly thereafter. with the latter, I always enjoyed just being part of the glue/foundation for others to go wild on top of. my last band leaned pretty hard into improv/instant-composition so that helped keep it interesting for me (after burning out on verse-chorus-verse rock).

my modular interests align far more with piano in that it’s a very personal, cathartic way of exploring sound with little thought put towards having it heard by others. part of this is stage fright - it’s much easier to hide behind a wall of noise w/ 4 others vs performing Cage or Bach at a recital.

re: active/passive pickups on bass - I had a newer Hartke bass at one point w/ active pickups and it was great for a nice chunky Jesus Lizard tone, not so great for like Motown or Jaco vibes. I got lucky and went out of my comfort zone and bought a frankenbass ('78 Fender Jazz neck w/ '78 P-body) on ebay at a good price about 15 years ago and haven’t looked back.

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As a child I was interested in sounds and composition before I really was into any particular instrument. I loved tape recorders, the way the little Magnus organ my grandma gave me would “breathe” when keys were just barely down, the sound of marbles rolling around in a metal bowl, the contrabass xylophone we had at my school, the way notes on a piano would slowly decay while the sustain pedal was held down. (This infuriated my grandma because I wasn’t playing “proper songs” and that’s not how one was supposed to use the pedal… good thing I hadn’t heard about prepared or bowed piano at that point :grinning:)

The first instrument I really learned seriously was violin, but I stopped playing it when I graduated from high school. If there is any influence on the way I currently make music, it might be in the 99% monophonic nature of an individual violin-family instrument (double stops are the rare exception and those are just fifths) and the sparse chords in the ensemble as a whole. There might be 20-50 individual instruments, but in terms of monophonic lines there are five at most.

I played Rhodes in the jazz ensemble in high school – not well, since I still really didn’t grasp chords, but I did learn to improvise and jam on jazzy-sounding scales. I think it had more rhythmic influence than anything, which was continued many years later when I joined a taiko drumming group. (The inventor of modern kumi-daiko, Daihachi Oguchi, was a jazz drummer.)

I’ve been playing with synths since the 80s but never really got serious about trying to create finished works until about 2003, and didn’t really feel like I was starting to find “my sound” until last fall or so. During that experimental phase there definitely were points where jazz had a big influence. I feel like I’m philosophically closer to my childhood musical ways now though.

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for me, traditional instruments and synthesizers have a very isntrinsic link in composition—i like to use synth patches as sort of an extension of my piano, bass, and so on such that they are both augmented with greater life than they might’ve had originally.

for example, if composing a solo piano piece, i might use a percussive synth an octave down to lend the hammers more weight in higher intensity sections or lightly fill negative space with some amount of texture in softer ones.

because they are so different in nature, they seem to fall easily into timbral counterpoint.

Debussy and Xenakis beg to differ with the five at most bit :wink:

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We never played Debussy or Xenakis in middle school, high school, or Florida West Coast Youth Symphony, unfortunately :grin:

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loving this thread so far, it’s ones like this that really reaffirm my interest in the community aspect of electronic music :blush:

so i figured i’d chime in with my experience as an “electronic musician” since i really relate to this topic. i’m a drummer-turned-guitarist who is self-taught and i more or less come from the generally obtuse and unforgiving school of “cutting my teeth on playing in loud grindcore/experimental bands”. still involved in that sort of thing, playing mostly drums in a few projects. that being said, i picked up an interest in playing guitar as my primary musical focus around 2012 and jumped headlong into working with unconventional tunings, playing techniques, etc. it didn’t take long before i was buying pedals, expanding the sound palette and moving away from “grating and dissonant” toward “dense and melancholic”. (the artists that inspire me the most tend to be bands, so aspiring to the heights that groups like GY!BE reach in terms of sound and orchestration is a bit of a challenge when working alone, but a welcome one.)

for as long as i’ve been playing guitar, i’ve been really interested in polyphony. making the most out of the limited capabilities of the instrument, incorporating as many strings as possible when selecting chords, finding ways to sustain them for long periods of time, layering them on top of each other, playing them at unreasonable volume, and so on. this practice carried over into my subsequent interest in hardware synths, synth design + architecture, sampling, hardware sound processors and effects, and eventually eurorack.

when i first started learning about synthesis i was absolutely starry-eyed at the idea of having lots of oscillators to endlessly tweak which could be played as chords, but quickly learned that analog polysynths are more or less prohibitively expensive, eurorack or otherwise, and was then kinda put off of the idea of being a “synth player”; i was also reticent to invest a bunch of time and money into learning a whole new instrument in the process, since i was still in the midst of exploring the possibilities of the guitar and becoming more comfortable playing it. this is, however, around the time that MI Clouds was in development/being teased out slowly on boards, demos were appearing here and there, and it occurred to me that what i lacked in funds for an infinitely expandable polysynth, i could potentially make up for with the possibility eurorack provides when it comes to configurable sound processing. i’d learned all the fundamentals of the format already from combing synth forums for a few years, and had a strong grasp on manipulating my instrument of choice from explorations into live guitar processing, shoegaze-esque techniques, looping and sampling, etc.

anyways, cut to today, and i still spend most of my musical energy on developing ways of integrating guitar into a primarily “live electronics” workflow; an assortment of gear that i’ve cobbled together over several years to make dense soundscapes and collages with.

i guess i just wanted to share since i haven’t come across many other folks with such a rediculous and varied assortment of hardware pieces working together for the purpose of real-time sound collage that uses a more traditional instrument as the sound source. i do sometimes envy folks with a more unified “format” for approaching this though, whether it be all euro, just a laptop, a pedalboard, or otherwise, and it’s been really insightful reading about others’ techniques here!

i unfortunately don’t have any formal releases to share (way too self-conscious to put out any recordings, for now at least), but i do have some clips on my instagram (i’m also “bellemnop” on there), and pretty much all of them are manipulated guitar unless otherwise noted. sorry this is such a long post but also thank you for reading if you’ve got this far haha, i can get carried away since this topic is near and dear to my heart!

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hmm, honestly the only cross-influence between synths and my main instrument (electric gitboard) is the way I process them - run everything through reverb, phasers, and delay until it becomes a wash…but that’s kind of a non-answer to the question posed I think.

the missions I give to my guitar + pedals and my modular (and pedals) are pretty discreet and defined. the synths provide a backing pad or drone, with the guitar providing the melodic elements just because I find it infinitely easier to do the melodic navigation I want with my guitar. the guitar does something the modular (in it’s current form, I really don’t feel like buying 50 scale/quantize modules) can’t, and vice versa.

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My background is in bass guitar. Moved to electronics through exposure to experimental music, particularly 20th century electroacoustic music. I’m very much into making work that is simple in terms of structure and tools, and are generally centred around drone, noise, and ‘sound bed’ ideas. I think my bass practice feeds into this, I generally think of what I’m doing in terms of solid foundations.

Also @baleen my old bass teacher fixed up a battered 80s Japanese P-Bass and it was such a lovely instrument. He offered to sell it to me dirt cheap but I turned it down for some reason. Only time I’ve ever regretted not buying an instrument.