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Passion for Electronic Music Information and Creation

September 8, 2011

My love for “Electronic” music began many years ago, around 1992 when NIN started getting popular as I was always intrigued with the sounds you could make with keyboards, synths.. etc. Now days we have software to produce these sounds. But years ago it was mostly hardware dedicated sounds. Through the years electronic music has thrived from groups during the 70s on. The Cars used their Prophet synth to create their classic sound. Brian Eno experimented with ambient techniques never before used, because at this time no one had heard of Ambient.

My personal favorite type of electronic music is “dark-wave” this is because of the crescendos and moody type atmospheres used in this type of music. It just puts me in a mood that I can’t describe, one personal favorite “dark-wave” duo is The Frozen Autumn, an Italian duo consisting of guy and girl both writing music together. They use Yamaha DX7 and Kawai K4, among other things, Yamaha DX7 this keyboard was around during the early 80s, I think about 82. Many groups during the 80s used this classic synth. In a minute I’ll go through what these synths can do, what they are known for. A synthesizer is a musical instrument that mimics real instruments but does this using “waveforms”, waveforms are what make the tones unique. There are simple waveforms that make up one type of sound on a synthesizer. You have waveforms such as Sine wave, square wave, pulse wave, saw wave, triangle wave, these are the basic types, there are many others.

With each type of wave combined you get unique tones. Every keyboard, synthesizer, or software type instrument use these waveforms to create sounds in one way or another. Organs were used during the 60s in many bands, the organ uses sine waves to create it’s signature sounds. By combining two waveforms that are sine wave, one high pitch and one low pitch sine wave, and a sine wave sounds like this duuuuuu, or beeeeee.  It creates chime like tones, or bell type tones, these wave forms are still used today and one type of synth that used these to make it’s sounds was the Yamaha DX7. When you use multiple sine waves, over 12 or more it becomes FM synthesis or Frequency Modulation. All these tones are combined in different pitches and octaves to form very unique sounds. In fact you can make any type of sound with an FM synth. Listen to groups such as “the Thompson Twins” during the 80s. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many use the DX7,  and still do today. With this type of synthesis a person can drum type sounds, to laser beam sounds, all types of thunder and  sounds that are unknown.

The unique thing about the DX7 is the use of algorithms or programmed complex patterns that uses mathematical equations to calculate how these waveforms are processed. Very complex things are happening here. The fact also remains, because these units were used in the professional music area, they were expensive and very complicated to use. The DX7 has many knobs and buttons to allow for shaping the sounds. There have been countless types of synths made from the 60’s to now. As time went on someone very smart started to create  “Software syntheziers” or soft synths, now being able to write music with just your computer and software, and many times no need for a controller or music keyboard to make the music, because now you can use the computers typing keyboard to play the notes, but without the added feature of velocity control that music keyboards have. I have been working with electronic music since 1999, being that the first type of software I used was fasttracker II. Another interesting thing about software music…  But for now we’ll dive into FM, with just pure sine waves you can do many things, but when you add other types of wave forms you get a kaleidoscope  of  new sounds.  For now, this is all I have to say, but later I’ll pick up where we left off.

Over the last 50 years, electronic sounds and music were created in B-Rated movies from the 50s and 60s to the more experimental types of electro that come from Germany, namely “Kraftwerk”.  Kraftwerk were the first to create as far as my knowledge, electronic drums, using metal plates and what appear to be small drum sticks made  from metal. They were the reason for the electronic music era, the Fathers of Electronic music, and other such groups were in this category.  Electro was born in Europe but to my understanding only, you can correct me if  I’m wrong. Another father of the electronic music age was Peter Gabriel,  many  new ideas were invented from him and electronic music became the norm for the 80s.  Depeche Mode played a huge role in electronic music, with their romantic style of synth pop, though they aren’t synth pop in my opinion. Darker moodier types of melodies sprang forth a more intelligent type of music with passionate beats and lyrics, there is no one else like “Depeche Mode”, I would consider them “Fathers of Electronic Music” as well. Let’s take Depeche Mode for instance, a mix of keyboards and instruments, a perfect blend between the two, haunting melodies that make you feel the music. Their use of many types of electronic devices and their deep drum beats only make them greater sounding to our ears.  I do not have full knowledge on the synths they used and now use, but over the years “Depeche Mode” had developed their own poetry of music that makes you move with their songs, truly a work of art.

The other thing I love about working with electronic music is the ability to flow with the music, since I use software to write, I have everything needed on the hard drive and then produce the music via MIDI or timeline with certain types of audio software. During the 80s much of the music created was synth driven music, listen to a John Carpenter movie and you will hear it flooded with electronic music, since John Carpenter could also be another “Father of Electronic music”, but more for the movie scene,  he is an inspiration to me as well.  But who could forget Vangelis, composer to the Blade Runner soundtrack. Clearly he is one of the Fathers to. Using a Yamaha CS-80, a very large and heavy sounding synthesizer, to write the score of Blade Runner. I write only what I know about from reading and so forth over the years. There is something gratifying about making electronic music, the will to create and from something from nothing and then it becomes your creation. Arpeggios are used heavily in Electronic music, another such love of mine is Industrial, since industrial is a very mature and real sounding Electronic style, with it’s EBM type militaristic one two kick and snare such beats, it becomes additive to listen to. Raw guitar distortion and the like, much of Industrial music is created with synths and drum machines. Clearly tons of sampling is used to make it, using “samplers” or devices that allow you to record sounds digitally to a floppy disc or other such storage device. Akai, though I have never had the pleasure of using, is used a lot in the Industrial scene, much of “Ministry’s” music uses all types of sounds and effects and repetitive keyboard presses of the same sound over and over again to make a point for the song’s personality.

Getting back to making electronic music, since we have the computer and “Audio Software” to help us write music these days, we can do anything that mimics hardware synths, the sheer power of the modern piece of audio software blows my mind litterly. There are many “free” alternatives to writing electronic music on the computer and one is use a  DAW or Digital Audio Workstation.. Professional recording studios use software to record their performances, however, some still use reel to reel tape recording for the analog aspect, but we won’t go into that. A DAW is software that uses tracks to record each part of a song, if you have bass, lead, drums, etc. There are many types of DAW’s: Steinbergs Cubase is one also, but these are not free. Lets start with trackers, since I began with them, I used the tracker Fasttracker II in 1999, this tracker was written about 1998. Trackers are for writing music using your computers keyboard. It looks like patterns on a screen and as you play the song after you write it, the screen scrolls with each part playing in what is called HEX code or hexadecimal, 16 digit numbering system, so in turn you would see  00 or FF and all these numbers mean something, think of it as machine language, but a counter system to tell you what part of a song you are listening to. With a tracker you add the sounds you want, ex: you have samples, drums, hi hat, snare, and so on. You could select the sound of your choosing and put that sound on track one. Now you have a sound for track one, you press the play button. Pressing keys on your keyboard sounds off the sounds from the sample you have assigned. But you hear them in different pitches, from low to high, depending on what key you press. Trackers are setup, not unlike a piano, there are major and minor keys. From Z key through P. By pressing keys, you can make music. Then by simply entering the notes accordingly and make a loop from one pattern, now you have a loop made and the beginning of a drum beat for your song. From here you add other samples to new tracks and create your composition.  Each pattern can have as many tracks needed, drums, hi hat, pad sounds, effects. After this you can take these patterns and copy them and change them around and make a loop between two patterns and a song has begun. This is just one way of making electronic music with your computer. I hope I have explained it well.. Until next time..

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