Released: November 2020
Equipment: Arturia Microfreak synthesizer, Arturia BeatStep Pro sequencer
Both the Argon 8 and Blofeld were wavetable synthesizers, using a table of waveforms to generate their oscillator sounds. This had become my preferred synthesis method (and remains so) but I'd been tempted by something very different - the Arturia Microfreak provided a long list of synthesis types, from things I recognised to stuff I'd never even heard of, all in a cheap and accessible package. Inspired to push myself out of my (developing) comfort zone I added one to my setup.
The Microfreak was a joy to play with. The controls were stripped down & limited but enough remained to give easy access to the essential elements of each synthesis type and to patch & modulate almost everything. With such variety I decided to use just a single synthesis method for each song (and to name it after that method) and to move on to a new one for each new track. The only real drawback was the mono output and lack of effects, the capacitive keyboard was a bit of a challenge but not troubling enough to drive me to plug in a regular board. I allowed myself reverb & echo while recording but the end results were still a bit thin to my ears, so although I released the collection on Bandcamp I didn't copy it over to streaming services.
On relistening I'm pleasantly surprised by the album. The sounds don't have the depth & richness of my other synths but the songs stand up pretty well. My punk album?
Harmonic uses different time signatures for verse & chorus, very unusual for me. Some nice harmonic choices on this one, and a nice flow.
Karplus bounces along with an offbeat song structure to match the scratchy sounds.
Formant is a (more or less) straightforward 12-bar, a playful little tune built from voice-like tones. It has a nice little twist in the middle eight before finishing with a cheesy double chorus. Great fun.
Modal is a nice mix of sharp 'plucked' sounds and smooth chord washes - I particularly like the double basslines. Some really nice development through the song, one of my favourites.
Super Wave uses very 'traditional' synth sounds in a muted little tune. I really like the contrasting middle eight.
Speech has fun with the speech synthesizer!
Waveshaper is built from washes of sound around a busy & relentless bass line. Another quirky middle eight.
Basic Waves used the Microfreak's built-in arpeggiator, adding some quasi-random elements to the central line. Still very thin though, alas!
Two Op goes all-in on the harsh, metallic sounds of FM synthesis. Yet another example of an interesting middle eight.
Having used most of the available synthesis types I went back through the tones I'd created and chose a selection of them for one more track, imaginatively named Microfreak. For some reason waltz time often encourages my melancholy/creepy side - a common visual image is of sad clowns playing music on strange, misshapen instruments & dancing together after the Big Top has closed. Needless to say this is one of my favourite tracks.