Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sci-fi soundscapes with the Korg MS-20

Behold! The beautiful Korg MS-20. This little beauty belongs to Teesside University's music technology department, where I am currently in third year of my BSc. Yesterday I took myself off to one of the studio control rooms and started experimenting with it. Up until that point all I'd really done with it was noodle about like a wannabe prog rocker (sans the cape), and I wanted to see just what it could do. I should point out that I get a little over excited at times in this post, so please forgive my miserable writing skills.

Unfortunately this is the only photo I took, because the whole session was spend playing with the synth.
I've developed a bit of an interest into the old BBC Radiophonics Workshop, and I wanted to see if I could create some classic Dr Who-inspired sound effects. The patch bay is an absolute godsend for that sort of thing, but even without it the synth has some delightful functions hard wired into the front panel.

Unlike the Minimoog, the MS-20 has only two oscillators, but it is by no means limited. Oscillator 1 has a fully adjustable pulse wave, and Oscillator 2 can function as a ring modulator. The timbral possibilities these make possible are mind blowing. Using the ring mod in conjunction with the pulse width control of oscillator 1 and the pitch control of oscillator 2 allow for some absolutely filthy lead sounds, and with some careful modulation you can turn said lead into a living, breathing monster.

Another difference between the MS-20 and the Minimoog is that the MS-20 has two resonant filters, one high pass and one low pass, each with a slope of 12dB/Octave. Having two cutoff frequencies to resonate and modulate means you effectively have two more sound sources. Having the high pass filter also gives you a bit more control over bass frequencies, which can get a bit unruly if you don't keep them in check, especially when using feedback loops.

The audio processing capabilities of this thing are unrivalled. Apart from the fact that it can convert audio to a pitch CV (if you know what you're doing) the filters are perfectly suited for processing external audio. You can also set up a feedback loop, as it has two outputs. Plugging the headphone amp into the external input jack gives you a delicious growly sound that you can record through the standard signal jack. Whack a couple of effects in there and you can process the feedback, creating all sorts of weird sounds.

This recording uses every trick I mentioned above and more. Audio was routed out of the synth, into The Echo in Reason, back into the synth and then recorded out of the main output jack. The only other processing was to add a slight ping-pong delay to give it a bit more width (you've gotta love fake stereo). This isn't really music, but anyone who enjoys Sci-Fi from the 60s and 70s will probably enjoy it. This was recorded in one take, and it's a bit rough, but I plan on adding to it at a later date.

Check back soon for more analogue goodness, as well as new adventures in Max.
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  1. Nice one Matt! Check out the new Moog Sub Fatty.

  2. The sound demo was a bit boring! MS-20 can offer a lot more than this. It sounds like you just left the thing to run without doing much tweaking. You should try and do a bit more with this synth before realizing anything like this. Sorry man but I love this synth and is a poor representation.

  3. Unfortunately, i must to agree with Anonymous of 18 August... completely boring and underworked audio sample... The MS-20 deserves more, it's an incredible flexible and powerful beast. Your description above, instead, sounds encouraging. Post something better than this mind numbing (and not in the best sense) soundcloud file, man.

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