A Day of Hardware Synthesizers: Out of the Box Workshop with Falling Islands

A Day of Hardware Synthesizers: Out of the Box Workshop with Falling Islands

Today, music production with synthesizers usually sits in the confines of your computer. While that is great, it may limit musicians from the true creative expression that comes from improvisation. That's why many of the top producers who make chart-topping hits are moving to an "Out of The Box" workflow, moving away from the DAW and using more hardware synthesizers and products to create their music. On the 10th of March 2024 we had the "Out of The Box" workshop with our resident Hardware Synthesizer expert Falling Islands, where he shared his philosophy on synthesis and how it enriches his music creation experience both live and in the studio.



Improvising on synthesizers unlocks a realm of sonic exploration, where the interplay between oscillators, filters, envelopes, and modulation sources fosters endless creativity. The tactile nature of tweaking parameters in real-time enables musicians to sculpt sounds with precision and spontaneity. Whether delving into intricate arpeggios, crafting evolving textures, or sculpting pulsating rhythms, the synthesizer becomes an extension of the performer's expression. Falling Islands demonstrated this with his opening improvisation with the Yamaha Montage M8X, Yamaha MODX7+ and our new SEQTRAK.

Layering sounds, modulating frequencies, and shaping envelopes in the moment created a dynamic and immersive musical experience. Falling islands demonstrated the synthesizer's versatility, allowing for seamless integration of traditional instrument sounds alongside futuristic electronic timbres, offering a rich tapestry of sonic possibilities.

While it seemed like difficult task to do, Falling Islands made it a point to demonstrate how anyone can improvise using a synthesizer, especially in hardware form outside of the box. He invited 2 members of the audience who has never made music before and asked them to choose a preset on the screens of the synthesizers. With keeping to the white keys on the keyboard both explored a plethora of sonics and musical tension that made it more interesting with the ability to unlock the sequenced drum machine in one of the patches.

At the end of the improvisation, Falling Islands emphasized that, if instead of synthesizers both were faced with 2 pianos instead, they would not have been able to take the sonic journey that they did. That is what makes the synthesizer unique, while a guitar, drum set or piano produces the sound that you predict, you never know with a synthesizer as it is the musical instrument of sound itself.



Falling Islands then approached the subject of Subtractive synthesis, a foundational technique in sound design, involves sculpting a sound by starting with a complex waveform and then subtracting frequencies using filters and modulators. Falling Islands very aptly described it as the process of turning a piece of granite into a roman statue. This method allows musicians to shape the timbre and character of a sound by emphasizing certain frequencies while attenuating others. Hardware synthesizers often excel at subtractive synthesis due to their tactile interfaces and dedicated controls. Unlike software synthesizers that may require navigating through menus and virtual interfaces, hardware synthesizers offer immediate access to essential parameters such as cutoff frequency, resonance, and envelope shaping through physical knobs and sliders. This direct interaction fosters a more intuitive and hands-on approach to sound design. Additionally, the dedicated hardware components of synthesizers often provide a more immediate and responsive feel, enhancing the overall experience of sculpting sounds in real-time. While Falling Islands demonstrated the subtractive synthesis concept on the Montage M8X, there are more affordable synthesizers such as the Reface CS that can allow users to explore what is the world of Subtractive Synthesis.


FM Synthesis

Falling Islands then touched briefly on FM synthesis, pioneered by Yamaha's DX series in the 1980s. FM Synthesis involves modulating the frequency of one oscillator (the carrier) with another oscillator (the modulator). This technique creates complex, harmonically rich sounds that range from bell-like tones to metallic timbres. As such FM Synthesis can recreate the sound of an electric guitar, or drums in a very specific way. While FM synthesis can be implemented in software, it often proves easier and more intuitive on hardware synthesizers. This is primarily due to the dedicated control interfaces found on hardware FM synthesizers for adjusting carrier and modulator frequencies, modulation depths, and envelope settings. The immediacy of physical controls allows for quicker experimentation and fine-tuning of FM parameters, resulting in a more direct and hands-on approach to sound design. Additionally, the tactile nature of hardware interfaces facilitates a deeper understanding of FM synthesis concepts. While many hardware synthesizers like the ModX7+ that Falling islands used to demonstrate FM Synthesis have dedicated controls for all these parameters, the original DX7 did not go to as deep in terms of editing ability. However, an easy entry into the world of FM Synthesis can be done through the Reface DX, Yamaha’s nod to the lineage of the DX7.


Why Synthesizers?

The appeal of the synthesizer as main musical instrument has grown a larger following as time goes, because it does not require virtuosity on an instrument but rather the curiosity to find sounds that no one has heard before. This is aptly summed up by Falling Islands in his monologue to end the workshop where he says: “A synthesizer can be anything you want it to be, that is why it’s my preferred instrument. It's kind of why I’ve adopted it as my instrument of choice. I like to press buttons, I can turn knobs, I can push faders, and I can really express myself using the affordances provided by these wonderful instruments. It's not just About the Keys and the melodies you’re playing, it’s also about the very sound itself…. How does a sound, sound like?”

Want to learn more about synthesizers? Be sure to check out our Synthesizers at any of the three Yamaha showrooms conveniently located around the island and seek some personal recommendations from our friendly service staff.


Yamaha Plaza Singapura

Yamaha Thomson Plaza

Yamaha Westgate

Store Locator: https://shop.sg.yamaha.com/store-locator/