Another of the items I purchased at that time was a Korg MS-20 mini analog synthesizer. It's a modern recreation of a popular synth from the late '70s and early '80s. The newer model is functionally identical to the older model, except that it's scaled down somewhat (using 1/8" jacks rather than 1/4" in the patch pay) and that it has a MIDI input jack (via 5-pin and USB connections). The world of analog synthesis was another realm I had dreamed about for years but never been able to enter. It seemed so esoteric, versatile, and just plain cool, and I'm so excited to be able to experiment with it now.
Ever since my first exposure to a synthesizer (probably via Joy Electric's song Monosynth which incidentally was released in 1997) I've wanted to know more, to play with a real hands-on-switches hardware synthesizer. I fiddled a little bit with some software synths in college but they didn't really do it for me - it was too hard to mess around and figure out what everything does, but when you've got a panel full of knobs it's much more intuitive.
The main difference between a synthesizer and a keyboard is that a keyboard generally just plays back sounds that have been stored in it (especially newer ones) and while you may be able to modify or create expression with those sounds, they're more or less locked in. A synthesizer generates its own sound through the use of one or more oscillators which create an electrical version of sound waves, moving back and forth. Synths can produce different wave shapes which produce different timbres, or tone qualities. After that, the signal can be routed through any number of modules - filters that refine the sound, envelopes that define the volume of a sound over a period of time, low-frequency oscillators (LFO's) that can control some other aspect of the synth, and many more. Some synthesizers are an all-in-one package with pre-selected modules available for use, while others are entirely modular, being constructed in a cabinet of whatever modules the player chooses. These are then hooked together using patch cords. The MS-20 is unique in that it is semi-modular, with the ability to play it straight out of the box or to patch the signal through different modules as desired. It's not quite as flexible as I had hoped and some of the signal flow is a little confusing, but it's still an exciting world that I love exploring.
One thing I greatly admire about David Crowder*Band is their ability to use electronic sounds to enhance music in unexpected ways. Crowder further exemplifies this on his excellent solo album, Neon Steeple. Because of my respect for this aspect of his music and because part of the self-assigned challenge for my December Project is to use at least two tracks in the production process, I would like to use the MS-20 mini to enhance my rendition of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel in a non-melodic yet musical way. Figuring out how might prove to be difficult, but it's also going to be a lot of fun.
Tonight I played with the MS-20 and my Zoom H6 audio recorder in order to play with some of the non-melodic sounds the synth is capable of producing. I recorded them on the H6 and tried out the overdubbing feature which allows you to listen to one track while recording another over top of it. For the first track I tried to create a sort of wintry soundscape, and then on the second layer of audio I was just trying to create some kind of bleep-bloopy effect on top. This is what happened: