Analogue vs Digital Synthesis

What can I say on this subject that hasn’t been said before?

Try this…

I’ve never been convinced by the fetishisation of analogue synthesis (or outboard gear, or recording…). Soundwise, Analogue is what you want when have one synth part to carry the whole weight of the track – so it needs to be big and powerful. In the days of the monosynth, it makes sense to have a fat, bassy, harmonically rich sound as the *only* synth line. But in multilayered music, it’s a damn sight easier to mix and less tiring to listen to if each layer’s sound is a bit thinner and less harmonic. (I suspect Albino3 produces sounds that slot nicely into the mix because it is quite digital-sounding. For the same reason I used Finger Bassline to do the acid on my latest instead of Rebirth – less authentic-sounding, perhaps even a bit “plastic” if you look too closely at it, but I hardly had to do anything to get it to play nicely with the many other layers). I’d probably only use a genuine 303 if it was a 303-only track, Hardfloor style, then I’d want to hear all those harmonics singing away. But with many other layers above and below, pads and leads and squeaks and runners and basslines, those harmonics would be inaudible, their only effect to cause unwanted lack of clarity around their frequencies and make it much harder to get it mixed right. I reckon an analogue acid line would tend to melt into a somewhat background instead of being sharply defined,

I see Digital as having its own special powers. You’ll never get an analogue lead synth to cut right through the mix, or to trepan straight into your brain like cold steel and deliver a precise, controlled, zap of electricity, the way a nice sharp-edged digital sound can. And the psytrance kick is an example of Digital’s strengths – tightness, precision, highly focussed power, efficiency (use only the required frequencies and minimum necessary energy), exact reproduceability (leading, before long, to ubiquity… but unlike every other sound that has ever been in fashion, everyone seems content for it to remain the standard indefinitely, as it works so perfectly in balance with the typical psytrance bass, and it sounds flippin awesome on Funktion 1).

Analogue vs Digital to me is like Wood vs Metal. We need them both. You can’t say either one is objectively better. Both are useful in sombunall situations, for sombunall types of widget/music, in ratios that may vary significantly according to what you are making, and preference.

I’ve always tended to write the kind of music that, as well as being multilayered, has a certain feel to it that somehow implicitly mandates a fully- or mostly-digital soundscape. Without ever having planned it, almost all of my music evokes a backdrop of outer space. or hyperspace, or mindspace… There’s something a bit “sci-fi” about it. Such journeys call for a shiny sleek silver spaceship, not a wooden horse.

Wood’s home is down to Earth, down on the farm, in the lounge or kitchen, at a barbecue or chilling in the park, sweat and claustrophobia, flesh and blood, humour and lust and the unexpected happenstances of life… Wood is organic, and only a wide, rich, harmonic, organic, alive sound can appropriately convey the complexity and enormity of lifeforms, of life, of being alive. Whales have been synthesising suitable substrate sounds for the Song of Gaia for millions of years, but if you’d like to join in, an analogue synth is a rather more portable and easily controllable instrument, though let me be absolutely clear that they are unlikely to work underwater, and it is generally recommended to use the internet for communication, rather than the sea channels, not least in case some randy sperm whale misinterprets your wobbly bassline as a threat (or worse, an invitation)…

In short, take the rough with the smooth. Make room in your heart and in your DAW for both analogue and digital, and use your instinct to decide which should dominate for a particular track according to its setting, its feel, and its complexity.

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