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Book Review: Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard: From Presets To Power User by Simon Cann

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Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard: From Presets To Power User will take you into the world of exploring sound through the use of software synthesizers. It will provide to you the basic principles of digital audio and sound creation and an exploration into the world of synthesizers. It will guide you through the building blocks and elements of synthesis and provide in depth insight into what goes on under the hood.

The goal of Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard is to develop a deeper knowledge of synthesis and give you the ability to understand how the tools and techniques can be applied. It covers four main areas – getting started with digital audio, modules, architecture, and sound design. The focus here is about the mechanics and not about creativity.

This book is for those who have never worked with digital synthesizers and want a good place to start to understand what they are and what they can do. It is also for musicians who want to solidify or expand their knowledge to make better use of their tools. It is also for those who want to build, share, or even sell their own synthesizers. Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard is 368 pages and is divided into 9 chapters.

Chapter 1, “An Introduction to Digital Audio and Software Synthesis,” begins with what you need to get started in software synthesis. This obviously requires a music making computer with right software and appropriate equipment. It then goes into four synthesizers that are used in this book – Zebra 2, KarmaFX Synth Modular, VAZ Modular, and SynthEdit, and how to set them up. Finally it gets into bit depth, latency, and other items you will need to deal with when working with computer based music systems.

Chapter 2, “Getting a Grip on Synthesizer Programming,” now looks at a simple synth that the author has created using SynthEdit – and it is available for download — that will help to illustrate his points. Here you will look at the basics of synthesis, how to use this synth to learn the various functionalities of a synthesizer, and creating sounds.

Chapter 3, “Synthesizer/Patch Construction Basics,” examines the mechanics of constructing synthesizer/patches in a modular environment using the four synthesizers featured in this book. While you are only looking at simple synthesizers, all of the principles are the same no matter the size or scale you may eventually work with.

Chapter 4, “An Introduction to Sound Sources,” addresses the fact that up to now you have been looking at subtractive synthesis, but this is not the only way to create sounds. Here you will look at other methods, such as using additive techniques and modulation techniques. Now you start off looking at wave shapes that are common to synthesizers then at oscillators as sound sources, and finally at sample-based synthesis.

Chapter 5, “Filters,” looks at the ones that pretty much all of the full featured synthesizers offer; while they may be similar, they are different in terms of sound. In this chapter you will look at the various filter types, the parameters, how to control the parameters, and at the filters themselves in the featured synthesizers.

Chapter 6, “Modulation and Control,” looks at “automatic” modulators – that is, modulators that you set up to behave in a certain and consistent manner. The three main types will be envelopes – a level that changes over time, low-frequency oscillators – one that oscillates below audio threshold, and step generators

Chapter 7, “Global Controls and Other Modules,” will now bring together the last few modules that either doesn’t appear in all synthesizers — their use is limited, or they don’t fit into one of the other categories. These include global controls, amplifiers, switches, mixers, splitters, inverters, multipliers, and more.

Chapter 8, “FX Units,” examines the reasons why you should consider using FX that comes with the synthesizer as well as the reasons why should not. Here you will look at deployment of FX as well as some of the different kinds of FX — distortion, delay, EQ, reverb, etc.

Chapter 9, “Creating Sounds,” is all about getting the right synthesizer to create the right sounds. Some of the considerations include the architecture, which modules get connected, filter configuration, CPU considerations, and design philosophy. This chapter also looks at sound design and the building of sounds.

Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard really delivers on all accounts. From the very beginning where there is a nice history of synthesizers that provides a deep understanding that really sets up the rest of the book. The entire book is logically thought out and well-written and delivered.

Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard focuses on teaching users about synthesizers and how the principles apply and about using them with different synthesizers – these can even be used with the hardware-based ones as well. If you are wanting to learn about synthesizers, want to become more proficient at using them, or even want to learn how to build them, then I very highly recommend that you add Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard to your reference library.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.