I bought my very first synthesizer. At first I thought about a digital synthesizer or an analog one. Monophonic or poly phone? I mainly focused on other factors at the end though. Who played what and why and for which price? In the end I was left with the Korg Minilogue, the Arturia Minibrute and the Arturia Microbrute. I somewhat ended up with the Arturia Minibrute.
Good basic knowledge for modular synthesis.
When you’re confronted (like me) for the first time with modular synthesizers it’s quite a lot. Arturia Microbrute is a very basic analog synthesizer. It’s quite a cheap and affordable synthesizer. If you buy a new “copy”, you’d have to spend 250€. That’s about the prize of 4 iPhone X’s. And that’s the prize of a new one. I bought myself a used copy and I was quite happy and surprised. A very raw and brutal sound. You must understand this: Analog sound is in a lot of convenience-steps a huge step backwards. In a software synthesizer aka VSTi you have presets. Presets are somewhat finished settings of a synthesizer sound. With most of the analog synthesizers you have to do the tweaking yourself. You need to fully understand which knob does what. So you won’t generate a sound by default. When you plug in the audio cable into your sound system and the audio cable into your synthesizer and you connect the power cable with the synthesizer and you’ll turn on the synthesizer… you might not hear anything at all. You must tweak and experiment and learn until you know which parameter affects what. At some points you might panic and think “what did I do wrong” or “which knob messed up my sound?”, but that’s a big part of the learning curve. I also mentioned VCV rack in an older post of mine. It’s basically the Arturia Minibrute, but more complex and free and complex and completely software based instead of hardware based analog hardware. So you might want to check that one out too.
Some personal experiences I made so far:
I never learned the real advantages and conveniences that software synthesizers had. I took them for natural. I thought every synthesizer in the world would somehow be synchronized with each other. So when I recorded a track the other day, I played in some parts with my guitar and generated some drums with it completely digitally. After that I had to start pushing the “REC” button in my DAW. So everything was running rhythmically, EXCEPT FOR THE ARTURIA MINIBRUTE! Now there are a couple of ways fixing the arhythmicality in this track. The first option would’ve been to play stuff in real-time while recording in the rhythm. This limits the melody by your music-playing skill drastically. The horror in this method is that you have to play a part or segment for 20 – 80 times until you say “f*** it” and you take the best skit of the recording. When you have to play a lick / a loop or a piece 20 times, it gets reaaally annoying. You either use the best bit and loop it or you use various variations that you somewhat like. Sometimes you make mistakes while recording your bits and you might consider keeping that stuff. I did this here and there. It’s quite amazing what mistakes can generate. Or you use the sequencer. I used the sequencer for this track. I gotta be honest. It is not a very complex sequencer. The notes you hold-on while playing, these notes will be played. You can choose the pitch and the arpeggio and the rhythm that is playing at the moment, but other than that there’s not many options to choose from. Then again… I’ve never stumbled over THE sequencer. I somewhat know their functions and I am somewhat dependent on them, but I wanna see seriously crazy options integrated in them. So it’s a basic sequencer, but that’s not to bad. It’s definitely enough for my very first analog synthesizer and I can’t complain. I didn’t want to sell the synthesizer right after purchasing it. So this one is really a keeper. Back to the song-recording story. The record function in my DAW was running, my sequencer in the analog synthesizer was running, but both didn’t have the same rhythm. So I had to tap the “metronome function” of the synthesizer. Imagine it this way: The DAW put’s out a metronome sound. So while the metronome sound of the DAW was playing, I had to tap the speed of the running sequencer of the analog sequencer in the same rhythm as the DAW was putting out. The cool thing is that you can hear that the sequencer is sometimes faster and sometimes slower. This gives your track a unique and own-sounding touch. In this digitized era, arhythmicality is sometimes somewhat necessary. Sometimes you need chaos to appreciate order. I know that Chris Clark used this effect also on some levels on some of his songs. A rule of thumb is for me personally: You hear somewhat strange rhythms? Analog hardware is behind that kind of sound.
“Lemme guess. You had no idea what you were doing.”
Yes, yes and yes. That is completely right. Sometimes you make song after song after song and get comfy with what you’re doing. That is a very dangerous head space, since it gives you a routine and your newer songs will sound more and more like your older ones. At some point you might have a professional sound achieved and a routine for making tracks. That’s where I personally intervene myself. Music shouldn’t be about routine. My personal definition of good music is either:”Wow! What is that? That is new! I never heard something like that” or “This is a nice blend of instruments, patterns and lyrics and they fit each other”. I mean yeah, 99% of music fits perfectly for your setting that you were looking for, but also feel like 95% of music is the same ol’ same ol’. Nothing new on the table and still following the rules of 50 years old pop songs. The Minibrute forced me into new territories that I wouldn’t have left otherwise.
What will the future bring?
I need to build in the Arturia Minibrute into more tracks to know its advantages and disadvantages. I will keep you informed about positive stuff and negative stuff that will happen to me when I tweak its beautiful knobs.
Would I suggest it?
A definite “yes” is needed at the end of my “storytelling”. Are there better beginner synths out there? Analog or digital? Probably. I take music lessons for playing the keyboard. My keyboard teacher knows quite a lot about these synths. He himself said that it’s a very minimalist attempt of an analog synthesizer. It sounded quite bad when he said it, but I am nevertheless happy with it. I hope this will never change and that I’ll always be able to enjoy and play it.