Working with analog synths and your DAW - KeyboardMag

Working with analog synths and your DAW

Having worked with modular gear extensively over the years, I’ve collected a few techniques to tame these beasts and make them groove in lock step with my tracks and remixes. Each approach has different strengths and weaknesses—some requiring additional products to get the full effect—but in this month’s grab bag, there’s definitely a technique or two that will fit anyone’s budget.
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After spending a few weeks with Dave Smith’s extraordinary Pro-2 synth (reviewed Oct. ’14), and exploring its control voltage outs, intricate step sequencers, and tempo-synced LFOs, I was reminded of how circuitous it can be to synchronize voltage-based analog and modular gear to DAW-based productions. As CV centric synths become more commonplace, artists often find themselves missing out on the rhythmic amenities of soft synths, which are essential to dance music of all genres and much of pop as well.

Having worked with modular gear extensively over the years, I’ve collected a few techniques to tame these beasts and make them groove in lock step with my tracks and remixes. Each approach has different strengths and weaknesses—some requiring additional products to get the full effect—but in this month’s grab bag, there’s definitely a technique or two that will fit anyone’s budget.

Freestyling

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The easiest, cheapest and most straightforward approach to getting rhythmic material out of analog and modular synths is to record an entire session of your knob-twisting experiments, then sift through the recording for cool loops. This frees up the right side of your brain to have fun with your modular gear, while the left side does cleanup afterward. To get the quickest results, create a one-bar loop within your recording and move it around as your drums play until you find the right groove. If you really want to go deep, find multiple short segments of audio and reorder them to make an entirely new riff. Pro Tip: Ableton’s Slice-to-MIDI feature is ideal for this approach.

Mod Wheel Mania

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Study the specs of your other synths’ voltage outputs. In my rig I use a Doepfer Dark Energy, which connects to my computer via USB. Digging into the manual a while back, I discovered that it includes a CV out for the modulation wheel. This means I can draw in mod wheel automation curves or even elaborate step sequences (upper image) then route that CV to an input on my Oberheim SEM or Korg MS-20 Mini, resulting in instant gratification and a lot of flexibility. It’s also worth noting that Arturia’s MicroBrute (lower image) includes a tempo-synced LFO with its own CV out, so if you’ve got one of those, it’s time to experiment!

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Software Syncing

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Finally, if you’re really craving full integration with your DAW, there are several options for generating clocked control voltages. At the high end, there’s MOTU’s Volta plug-in, which includes sequencers, LFOs and even tools for tuning your voltage-based gear. In order to function properly, you’ll need an audio interface with DC-coupled outputs (such as MOTU’s UltraLite series). If you already have a compatible interface, then you can jump right in with Robert Henke’s freeware Max for Live plug-in, LFO 2.0, which includes synced features and can run multiple instances within a single session.