Programming a Synth for Wind Control (part 2 of 2)

jv1010

Part 2: It’s an ill wind that blows no good

Part 1 offered simplified theory of why most stock synthesizer patches don’t work well with a wind controller, and summarized a few guidelines for making a patch wind-friendly. Part 2 discusses the specifics of creating a wind-friendly patch on the Roland JV-1010, but could be applied to many other Roland synths, and probably other makes and models as well.

In the architecture of Roland’s JD/JV/XV series, a patch consists of four tones, each of which can be assigned a different waveform and tweaked independently. Each tone is further divided into sections for waveform, pitch, amplifier, MIDI key follow, filter, and LFO. You can apply CC02 to parameters in some of these sections, and set the degree to which CC02 affects each parameter. This is done in a control matrix, which has been a part of Roland’s design for several generations of synths. It seems each generation allows more tonal and effect parameters to be linked to more continuous controllers, which provides for increasingly complex patch behavior. In addition, there are patch-wide settings, such as patch volume, portamento, bend range, and tuning, which apply globally to all tones in the patch.

Basic steps – creating a WC-friendly patch

The following steps describe how to create a basic wind-friendly patch on the Roland JV-1010. The patch will be created from scratch, which is actually easier than modifying an existing patch. You can start with a known quantity, and avoid having to second-guess and undo settings.

Patch editing on the JV-1010 requires installing and setting up the editor software (SoundDiver, originally supplied with the module) on a Windows PC. This is necessary because the JV-1010’s 2-digit display and front panel offer very little programming capability. If you have a module with full display and control panel, you might be able to go directly to the programming steps.

A MIDI interface and its driver are also needed to get the computer and module communicating. A MIDI interface that has dual channels — two MIDI INs and two MIDI OUTs – will allow the WC and computer inputs to both drive one output to the module. You can then audition sounds as you tweak. My preference is the Roland UM-2G (http://www.roland.com/products/um-2g/). An alternative is a single-channel MIDI interface, with a MIDI merge box for the WC.

If all this prep sounds overwhelming, you might decide to stop now. If you’re ready, here’s how to continue:

  1. Connect the computer, MIDI interface, WC, and module, turn everything on.
  2. Run the editor software and set up the editor as needed to establish communication with the module.
  3. Using the editor, load all the patches from the user area of the module. Find an unused or unneeded patch and open it.
  4. Initialize the patch. This will load a waveform into the tone and reset most settings. You now have a basic keyboard
  5. Click the patch’s Patch Common section and assign Breath as system controllers 2 and 3.
  6. In the Patch Common section, set the “Key Assign” parameter to monophonic (MONO). If the patch is polyphonic, it may “pile on” new notes without turning off the old – definitely
  7. Turn off all but tone #1.
  8. In the tone’s Wave section, assign the desired waveform. This should be a “sustaining” waveform, i.e., a brass, wind, or bowed string instrument, or a continuous electronic wave (sine, square, triangle, etc.). Percussion waveforms (piano, drums, etc.) don’t work quite as well for wind control.
  9. As a starting point, set the tone’s “Gain” to “6dB.” When you complete a pass at creating the patch, you can raise or lower the level.
  10. Set the “Level” in the tone’s Amplifier section to zero.
    Note: A patch can contain multiple level settings with various labels. Some of these affect the complete tone or the whole patch. The “Level” setting you want is located in the Amplifier
  11. In the Amplifier section, set the sustain portion of the tone’s envelope to maximum. This will provide “breathing room” so that CC02 can raise the tone’s volume level.
  12. To eliminate dependence on attack velocity, check and set the sensitivity of all velocity controls in the Pitch, Filter, and Amplifier sections to zero.
  13. In the tone’s Controller section, assign CC02 to the tone’s “TVA Level” parameter, and set CC02’s control level to maximum. This allows CC02 to control volume.
  14. Save the patch. Play and re-tweak as needed.

But wait…there’s more

Developing a WC-friendly patch is usually an iterative process. You can expect to repeat the process as you play the patch and think of ways to improve it. You may also want to enhance the patch as a result of learning more about your synthesizer and the instrument you are trying to emulate. Here are a few additional programming tricks you can explore:

  • Activate the other tones in the patch, copy and paste the original tone into them, and create layers that use the same or different waveforms. A common trick is to assign a white or pink noise waveform to one tone, and dial in a small amount to serve as breath noise.
  • Set up tones to increase in volume at different rates, or for one tone’s volume to decrease as another tone’s volume increases (cross-fading).
  • Simulate attack transients. For example, if your module contains a string attack waveform, you can use assign it to a tone, and make the tone sensitive to attack velocity. When you tongue the note more strongly, the waveform sounds to simulate the chop of the bow.
  • Configure the tone’s filter (TVF) as a low-pass filter, and adjust filter cutoff to initially make the patch slightly “dull.” Then, tie CC02 to cutoff and adjust the degree of control. Breath pressure will increase brightness, simulating how some acoustic instruments brighten as they are played louder. You can also create “wah” effects, or tie breath to filter resonance.
  • Modify LFO rate, depth, or delay to vary with breath pressure. This provides vibrato that is more realistic than what occurs when a patch is assigned a static LFO rate and depth.
  • Vary effects parameters (e.g., reverb time) with breath pressure.
  • Use the new patch as a template to create new patches just by swapping waveforms.
  • Experiment, experiment, experiment.

If you are trying to emulate an acoustic instrument, you can study the instrument to determine how it responds when played, and how CC02 and pitch bend can help you realize the desired result. For example, brass and reed players might want to apply lip vibrato in place of relying on the patch’s LFO setting. The WX7’s reed isn’t quite as supple as a cane reed for applying vibrato, but it can be used for that purpose by setting the tone’s LFOs to have no effect, and then setting patch bend range to respond as desired to your lip action. A good book for studying instruments is “A Synthesist’s Guide to Acoustic Instruments” (http://www.amazon.com/A-Synthesists-Guide-Acoustic-Instruments/dp/0825610893). It’s relatively inexpensive, and while intended for programming keyboard patches, it is worth having for its analysis of the physics of different instrument families.

If you want to create more “synthy” sounds, the process is both easier and more difficult. Some synthesizers contain generic waveform building blocks (saw, square, triangle, etc.) that you can use like acoustic instrument waveforms, and the same programming steps still apply. However, you might not have a target sound to work toward, so you are more on our own to determine when you are finished.

In the end, synthesizer programming and playing are all about creativity, expression, and meeting requirements. It is also a subjective process. When you get the patch to respond and sound to your liking, you can treat it as one more arrow in your synthetic quiver, just as a guitarist reaches for one guitar or another depending on the song. You start out learning to “play the patch,” but eventually, the patch becomes secondary to your interpretation of the music.

This entry was posted in Music Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.