Saturday, September 19, 2009

Unstable Oscillators and Musical Passion.

Highly unfinished: will be finished at a later date.

Mr. Haible wrote in his Living VCO web page:

"Every few years there seems to be a heated debate how 'stable' a good-sounding VCO should be, or shouldn't be. I never quite understood how one can make an almost religious question out of this."

I wished to address this in a stable environment, no pun intended.

Music IS a religious (or more importantly, spiritual) experience. Why do you imagine that massive pipe organs were built into acoustically-designed cathedrals? To move the individual (leaving the purity and motives of mass religion out of the issue). To awe. To bring up goosebumps and provide a sense of something greater than the individual. Tibetan Buddhist instrumentation includes specific choices to effect specific energy centers in our makeup.

Inspiration: arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity.
Muse: the source of an artist's inspiration.
Inspire: Spirit.

"But that's the task of art," Lotze said. "To advance the spirituality of man, over the sensual."
-The Man in the High Tower, Phillip K. Dick.

Occult meaning aside, music and sound directly effects the individual and their momentary demeanor. A joyous group song will lift the mood of the individual. A funeral dirge will serve as catharsis and an appropriate context. Beautiful sound lifts our moods/spirits. Ugly sound supresses it. Indifferent sound merely wastes time for those seeking the beautiful, seeking goosebumps...

We always seek in music that which pleases us, be it beauty or ugliness. It must be -effective- beauty or ugliness. It must move us, it must make us respond, it must please us, provide us with something we did not have before that moment. Some folks need music merely as wallpaper, as a seeming companion not taken note of but missed if removed; I need music to change my environment, my mood, to take me on journeys, to transport make me tap my toes, to sway about... Is that too much to ask for? No, for I have found it many times, and those sources still provide after all these years.

That last being from Larry Fast regarding his amazing Synergy album "Cords".. "If the listener is transported, I know that I have succeeded", if I may paraphrase. I was lucky enough to find that recording around 1978, when I was a stereo fanatic and it was recommended in a magazine as an excellent listening test...

Music such as this gives me goosebumps. Major goosebumps. Up the back of my neck, on the top of my head, up and down my arms...why would I settle for anything less, at any place in the audio chain?

I just don't hear that much discussion regarding >>compelling<<, inspirational audio equipment, at least in the modular field. It certainly appears among tube amplifier fanatics, both in the stereo field and in the guitar field...but not in the modular world. For me, the combination of a set of 901 series into The Filter produces a combination of beehive and growl that I could listen to all day (and likely have). To be musically compelling, for the gear to demand to be used, is the goal for me. When a sound appears which is a joy to play, that is the sign that something is right. It is being compelled through a positive experience. It is happiness. My favorite gear provides me with happiness. It is a pleasure to use, not only to listen to. This is imperative. Much falls away against these criteria.

-I've rarely backed away from a piece of music/sound gear, but the old Event 20/20BAS did it. An early version, when swept professionally, revealed something like a 4dB midrange boost prior to a 4dB dip. I couldn't listen any longer. Also, hard dome tweeters have never been friends of mine. An early Mackie 800 series, swept in the same tests, demonstrated extreme accuracy, but a huge bump just out of the high audible range:

Tests are beginning to show that we perceive sound with more than the ears. The bones, the cartilage, even the liquid inside us and our very skin vibrate along and transduce sound, to an extent. This may or may not add to the experience some audio engineers had a while back when a newly-delivered board showed oddities on a few channels. When the tech came out, the engineers insisted that certain channels sounded different. The tech eventually found that on these channels, the input transformer ground was left floating, or some similar foible. There was a resulting oscillation far, far above human hearing, which resulted in an audible artifact, every time. It was at 60KHz or 160KHz; you'll have to Google it up to confirm.

Engineers in Nashville are said to be able to hear the difference between API EQs with transformers wound with nickel and (whatever the regular material is). And they choose between them for their resulting character. The differences between Minimoogs are far more audible than this, and it can easily be determined that some are more desirable than others, and not always due to oscillator stability. David Kean has the first Minimoog prototype in Minimoog form, and it sounds like it's about to burst into flames. It's that good. Amazing synth. I wish that its character could be quantified and marketed.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm no fan of the earliest Curtis ElectroMusic ICs. The late, great Tim Smith confirmed my aversion, stating that they had low-level odd harmonic distortion, among other things. Sounding "pinched". Shrug...

Most certainly, the differences in oscillator waveforms fall easily into these categories and capacities for differentiation. Those with waveforms not true to their names, such as the triangle on the early Moogs and the Curtis 3340, are easily selected for against that which is technically correct and pure. Sometimes these differences and genuine impurities produce a more pleasing result than their pure cousins. I for one go only for the more pleasing result...and find in there, in the early Moogs, etc.

Also, while at a listening comparison of Aspen Pittman's then new (magnificent) VIPre tube preamp, I mentioned that one of the other brands was producing inharmonics, quite like when the ear distorts from a loud, pure tone. Aspen brightened, saying that the unit in question had amplitude-dependent distortion of some sort, and that I -was- hearing something as I'd described.

-The pro audio I most crave includes these: Fairchild 670, Teletronix LA2a, Pultec EQP1A, Groove Tubes VIPre, Manley Vari-mu, API 550 series, etc. Note the preponderance of tubes, transformers, and discrete circuitry including discrete opamps. I offer that some synthesizers provide similar inspirational results. When I had the ADAM S4c monitors, I spent a lot of time listening to my music collection, to hear recordings I had not pulled out in years. Decades, in places. That's when you know you're on to something. When you have a musical instrument in front of you that causes you to forget what time it is, to forget that you haven't eaten in ours, when you look up and it's 3AM, and you don't know where the time went...that is the sort of experience I crave. Why would I settle for anything less, at any place in the audio chain?

This is my passion, my joy. This post is intended to be explanatory and nothing else. I must follow my joy, and perhaps learn not to make others wrong when their joy differs from my own.

I also note that mastering EQ can have 0.5dB increments. Mastering engineers know what small changes to make, where to make them, and when. This extremely subtle engineering can make all the difference in the world to your recording. After time, you can begin to hear changes so subtle, as you explore them. Then go back to for example, my current home stereo amplifier, an otherwise fine Sherwood with 2.0dB steps in bass and treble level. WOW. Like being hit with bricks! (Well, fine except for the digital component; you can hear the amp come out of muting when changing to and from zero volume to the first increment.)

-An extremely odd aside: Once at the Hollywood Sapphire Group dinner, an A/B/X test had been set up, and we were to write down our perceptions of the selections. It turns out that one or two of them were merely the metal in the selection switch itself. However, a highly-regarded microphone manufacturer and I compared notes and we agreed upon audible differences between the two switch-only settings!