i8

Lessons learned

I have been playing with the Pro 2, Tempest, and S3 for just a few days now, but these were enough to learn quite a few things that will strongly influence the design of the i8 synth and g3 grid. Most of these things had been pointed out to me by designers or musicians earlier, but I am just starting to understand them:

  • The more knobs, the better
  • The more ports, the better
  • The less features, the better
  • High-quality knobs matter a great deal
  • Quick lookups of soft knob assignments is paramount
  • Drum pads should be grouped together

Most importantly, I am developing a better understanding of the true benefits that crosspoint switching can bring, while gaining a better appreciation for the challenges of multi-channel synthesis. Let me elaborate on these two points:

Crosspoint Switching

Initially, I got excited by crosspoint switching for the ability to dynamically patch a knob to an analog port, or for the ability to perform dynamic patching much faster than what is possible when patching cables manually.

While these two benefits remain entirely valid, I am starting to believe that the main benefit of crosspoint switching is to be found with dynamic patching, and the fact that patches can be recorded and reapplied instantly.

Indeed, the whole point of a modular synthesizer is to let musicians spend countless hours fiddling with knobs and patches, looking for the perfect sound. But when that sound has been found, it can be very difficult to recreate it, especially during a live performance.

Dynamic patching enabled by crosspoint switching solves that problem, without removing anything from the tactile experience of playing with a modular synthesizer. With this realization, our focus will switch to the facilitation of dynamic patching, with less emphasis being put (initially) on the more arcane benefits of crosspoint switching (low-frequency patching for example).

Multi-Channel Synthesis

Using the Avid Pro Tools | S3 with Logic Pro is giving me a much better appreciation for the benefits of using such a powerful control surface with a multi-track composer. From Logic Pro, you can quickly add instruments or loops on as many tracks as you want, then control your tracks from the S3 control surface.

But trying to replicate this user experience with a synthesizer is not quite the same. My Digital Instruments Pro 2 hybrid synthesizer is monophonic, which means that if I want to record a multi-track session, I can only record one track at a time. I could go for a polyphonic synthesizer like the DSI Prophet 12, but I would not get 12 analog ouputs, and controlling the 12 polyphonic voices individually is everything but easy.

The way most musicians deal with this limitation is by having multiple instruments, but this makes for a very complex and expensive setup. It also requires the learning of different user interfaces, making it harder to conduct live performances.

With that in mind, one of the primary goals of the ISHIZENO i8 is to provide a truly polyphonic instrument that can be configured as 8 totally-independent monophonic synthesizers. In other words, submodules should not be conceived as discrete sound processing unit. Instead, they should be considered as complete synthesis instruments, capable of producing 8 individual tracks in parallel.

This last point will be developed in more details soon…

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