Synthesizing Control Schemes

An aspect of synthesis that tends to get overlooked, at least in discussion, is the interface or control scheme with which you play your synthesized sound. There are so many ways to get an electronic instrument to respond to your gestures, and I’d love to hear some of the things people here have come up with. Control schemes that go deeper than the basics of adding a ribbon controller or a foot pedal, and turn your modular or other synth into something that feels like a brand new instrument.

Something I’ve been enjoying lately is using the pitch wheel on my Pro 2 to act like the lozenge of an Ondes Martenot (the bar you press to open its amplifier). Disconnecting its control from the pitch and rerouting it to the oscillator levels, you can pull it down to open the sound and let go to have it snap back to 0, but with a bit of natural sounding decay as the wheel travels. Keeping the main VCA open and turning up some delay lets the notes ring out in an even more natural sounding way.

Splitting the behavior of the synth like this, controlling amplitude with one hand and pitch with the other, really makes it feel like a completely different instrument and opens up a lot of expressive control that I just didn’t have before.

Another thing I’ve been interested in is patching together a velocity-based amplitude control. So a VCA controller that increases the amplitude of your sound the faster you sweep your controller. I haven’t yet been able to get it working right since I don’t have a proper analog shift register (gotten close using the D0 since it can behave similarly), but I asked about how to do it on MW several months ago and got a great suggestion from a user who goes by “authorless”. In case anyone wants to try it out for themselves:

I don’t know of one, but you could patch something up with an analog shift register (or two sample and holds and a trigger delay), a min/max, and an inverting mixer.

Whatever voltage you are wanting to measure would go into the ASR, two outputs would go into the min/max, max would go into the mixer at full level, min would go into the mixer at full lever, but inverted. In other words, you are subtracting the smaller of the two voltages from the larger giving you a voltage proportional to rate of change. You would have to mess with the clock rate feeding the ASR to get it suited to your playing style. You also might want to smooth the output voltages with a slew. You may also want to boost the output voltages. Faster clocks would make you able to track faster changing voltages, but they’d give you smaller output voltages, slower clocks would give you less resolution to detect quickly changing values, but give you larger output voltages.


I really can’t praise MPE enough. The Linnstrument has changed my whole approach to music.

But I still think about adding an Expressive E Touché for even more modulation capability. Once you start making the parameters react in a tactile way, it’s hard to get enough of that.


The Touché turns anything it touches to gold. Tactile, sensitive, highly interactive gold. I wish I had a few, as I would dedicate one for the Peak, one for the modular and one for the Analog Heat. I’m about to receive a Digitone and I fear I will find very much use for the Touché with that one as well.


I recently got a Keith McMillen QuNeo, mostly for supercollider. I basically just wanted more buttons and control stuff but I seriously underestimated how much stuff like velocity and pressure would make me rethink my programming. It’s really gotten me through the rut I was in and helped me expand my thinking on synthesis and control. I never really gave much thought to control schemes until this(my eurorack has 0 but that’s changing here soon).

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Funny, was thinking recently about the koma kommander for similar control:

Anyone have any experience of it?

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The “Synthesizing” in the thread title was supposed to be a verb, as in creating your own control schemes. So if bringing up a specific piece of gear, please describe what you’re using it for and how you’re integrating it into your patches.

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I revisited the Velocity Controller patch and got it working this time! Previously I couldn’t get the amplitude to drop all the way to 0 with no movement, and I think that must have been due to noise on the D0’s mod inputs. Getting those zeroed out and dropping the level of the Max signal in the mixer a little bit got the patch to close fully, so I imagine if you’re using a proper shift register you wouldn’t run into that issue.

Recorded a quick video using it to open a low pass gate. It creates a very nice, natural sounding effect. I’d love to do this with a couple ribbon controllers, one for the amplitude and one for pitch, in order to emulate a bowed string instrument. Though I wish there were a module that performed this function on its own so it didn’t take up so much of the rack.


That’s super cool! Now you need one of those rolling ball controllers like they have in those golf arcade games to send CV :wink:

I’m going to give this patch a try. Breath Controllers (namely the BC module from PulpLogic) changed expression for me completely. Using ADSRs is a thing of the past for me.

It’s not a piece of gear that I have, just your description of splitting pitch / amplitude brought it to mind:

and on:

I’ve done this before using a Leap controller - pretty easy as acceleration is a default parameter. The latency on the Leap trough Max is not great though…

Oh, I wasn’t replying to you specifically, it just looked with the string of replies like the thread was taking a turn towards being gear focused rather than synthesis focused and the mods moved it from Process to the Equipment section, so I wanted to try and steer it back towards what I intended. Sorry if I came across as rude, that was not my intention!

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Not at all! Just expanding on my post a bit…

As an improviser, I’ve long been interested in contour-segmentation as an analytical (and synthetic) technique for cognitively parsing structural details of generally non-harmonic musical surfaces—i.e. where morphological and statistical details are more salient than, say, that which is broadly teleological or internally-hierarchical. (cf. Marvin & Laprade 1987, Morris 1993, Polansky & Bassein 1992). Thus, systems like Xenakis’ UPIC have always seemed useful in that they extrapolate an analytically powerful technique on a very direct, practical level. (And Braxton’s work—among others—has long used contour as a specifically improvisational precept for decades.) However, I haven’t seen much in the way of hardware controllers that continue in this tradition. This comes close, though I don’t know much about its versatility. If anyone is aware of similar stylus-controllable HIDs, please let me know!

I have little to no experience with these either, but touch-capacitant ‘keyboards’ that generate CV but are not sequencers also appeal to me quite a bit. This is primarily due to their ability to program a rather discontinuous array of CV to be executed in real-time, rather than on sequential, linear grid-time (which is also to say that 1v/oct is not really for me), allowing one to suitably structure the temporal contour of such a CV array in isomorphism to the discontinuous contour of frequency modulation fx, gates, timbres, etc. specified via touch-array. The Elby ES25—which isn’t available yet—or the forthcoming Pittsburgh Modular Touch Controller are of interest. Please suggest other CV ‘touch-controllers’ that might be appropriate here, too! (though preferably ones that don’t mimic piano keyboards…)

[sorry to link paywalled stuff—sci-hub all day]

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Has anyone patched together a good flute-like controller? I was thinking earlier today how a row of those Pulp Logic FSR’s and something like Rebel Tech’s Tonic, or a mixer and a quantizer, could be really fun to play with. Using different finger combinations to produce different intervals.

gonna need one of these too, no?

This is what my wind instrument case is based around. This is kind of a cross-post from the Physical Modeling thread, but since you brought it up it might be worth going through some specifics:

This is not a fixed-patch setup. I have some basics, but it depends on what I’m working on each time. Things that are worth pointing out in terms of control:

  • SDS_Digital RIT M is “velocity” sensitive on the pad, so it can do more than loop CVs. It’s really neat to have in a case such as this
  • I don’t use Tonic as the de facto pitch control, but as an extra. If you notice I have the Precision Adder in order to be able to add the Slider (via uScale), the Tonic for very nice tonal jumps, and the Arpeggiator. When modeling an instrument it is highly important to find out about how the instrument is actually played. For example, Tonic is very useful for trumpet modeling as it makes you think in button combos. You can actually retune each button, but I never had the need to.
  • I do enjoy the option of the Precision Adder to add or subtract from the pitch CV. This can be lovely when you have something like an arp going on separately from your hands-on control of the pitch.
  • Breath control can be severly enhanced with comparators such as the Thereminator. Things happen at particular levels. Comparators can also be useful with whatever you’re using for Pitch control.

What you can’t see in that image is an Ondes Martenont controller which isn’t out yet.