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UO / Music / MUS 227 / What does a synthesizer do?

What does a synthesizer do?

What does a synthesizer do?


MUS 227 Midterm 2 Study Guide

What does a synthesizer do?

Part I (Song Recordings) click on link to find song recording

1. Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, “Planet Rock” 

2. AGF, “Letters Make No Meaning (Weapons No War Germs No Disease)” 3. Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Uoon I” from Viroon 

4. Aphex Twin, “Nannou” 

5. Arjun Vagale, “Come Get Some” 

6. Augustus Pablo & King Tubby, “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” 7. Chic, “Good Times” 

8. Darude, “Sandstorm” 

9. Donna Summer & Giorgio Moroder, “I Feel Love” 

10. Frankie Knuckles, “Your Love” 

What are the characteristics of disco music?

11. Grandmaster Flash, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” 12. John Chowning, “Stria” 

13. Laurie Spiegel, “Patchwork” 

14. Morton Subotnick, “Silver Apples of the Moon” 

15. New Order, “Blue Monday” 

16. Suzanne Ciani, “Lixivation” We also discuss several other topics like What are the three basic categories of political science and comparative politics?

17. The Orb, “Little Fluffy Clouds” 

18. Wendy Carlos, “Switched-on-Bach” 

Part II Week 6 

▪ Analog Synthesizers

o Kraftwork, “The Robots” – The Man Machine (1978)

In the usa, the sound of house music symbolizes what?

▪ Advanced band’s philosophy of technology’s role in culture If you want to learn more check out What are the stages of the buyer decision process?

• Fused w/ machinery, one w/ technology

• “sound chemists” not “musicians”

o Voltage Controlled Synthesizers

▪ Models


• Buchla


• Moog

▪ Allows for automation of synthesis parameters; signals used to change  parameters

• Transistors were very important to development of voltage  

controlled systems

o Synthesizer Functions Don't forget about the age old question of What are the titles of ada?

▪ Sources (produce or generate signal)

• Oscilators

o Sine, pulse, triangle, & sawtooth waves

• Noise generators

o Usually the simplist

• Recorded & live sounds

▪ Processors (mostly a signal)

• Filters

o Low pass, high pass, band pass, notch

MUS 227 Midterm 2 Study Guide

• Envelope generators

• Effects

▪ Controllers (control behavior of another function – module)

• Physical Input Devices

o Keyboard We also discuss several other topics like When was georgia farm bureau established?
If you want to learn more check out Anthropology is the study of what?
We also discuss several other topics like What did watson and crick discover in 1953?

o Joystick

o Pedal

• Automated Controls

o Sequencer


o Donald Buchla (1937 – 2016)

▪ 1964, built custom synthesizer for San Francisco Tape Music Center

• Buchla 100 used voltage control & had 1st sequencer

o Metal plates instead of a keyboard

o Morton Subotnick (1933 - )

▪ “Silver Apples of the Moon” (1967)

• 1st full album of electronic music

o Suzanne Ciani

▪ “Lixiviation” Buchla Concert in 1975

• Buchla 200

• Voltage controlled filters

• Voltage controlled oscillators

• Sequencer

▪ Digital Audio, Early Computer Music, & MIDI

o Basics of Digital Audio

▪ Analog is continuous, digital is discrete

• Levels stored as numbers (bits)

▪ Encoding – Analog to Digital Converter takes snapshots of electrical  


▪ Decoding – Digital to Analog Converter converts # into electrical signals




continuous signal that  represents physical  


discrete time signals generated by digital modulation


denoted by sine waves

denoted by square waves


human voice in air

digital electronic devices


records wavelengths as  they are

samples into limited set of # and records them


noise accumulate

error doesn’t accumulate through stages

o Parameters of Digital Encoding

▪ Sample rate (time domain)

• # of samples of audio carried per second

o Measured in Hz

▪ Bit depth (amplitude domain)

MUS 227 Midterm 2 Study Guide

• Represents how accurate amplitude measurements are when  


o Higher bit depth, more data captured

o Synthesis

▪ Additive  

• Complex tones created by summation of simpler tones

▪ Subtractive

• Sound sculpting & filters

▪ Granular

• Combining very short sonic events (grains) to generate complex  


▪ Frequency Modulation

• Frequency of simple waveform is modulated by another frequency

Part III Week 7 

▪ Dub & Early Hip-Hop

o Sound Systems

▪ Usually set up outside

▪ Roaming party; incredibly built & powerful

▪ Charge admission; contest for the best party

o Dubplates

▪ Selector – plays records

▪ Deejay – “toasts” (talking or chanting)

• Needs instruments to talk over

▪ Dubplate – dub version of reggae tune on acetate recording disk

o King Tubby (1941 – 1989)

▪ Late 1960’s, King Tubby, sound engineer, remixed Jamaican reggae  


• Removed vocals to allow deejays (MCs) to rap over the  

instrumental, emphasizing the drum and bass

• Added delay and reverb

o This was the birth of dub music, which would later be an  

inspiration for hip hop

o Revolutionized instrumental production techniques and one  

of the primary pioneers of dub

o DJ Kool Herc (1955 -)

▪ Clive Campbell immigrated from Kingston, Jamaica in 1967 at age 12 to  the South Bronx in NYC.  

▪ Started throwing Kingston-style parties, playing hard funk and soul –

eventually had his own sound system.

o Afrika Bambaataa (1957 - )

▪ “The Godfather,” went from being a gang leader in the South Bronx to a  community leader and DJ.

• Inspired by Dj Kool Herc, began hosting hip-hop parties and used  

hip-hop to draw kids away from gangs and into the Universal Zulu  


MUS 227 Midterm 2 Study Guide

• outlined the four pillars of Hip-Hop Culture:  

o MCing/rapping

o DJing (turntablism)

o Breakdancing

o graffiti art.

▪ Disco & Synth Pop

o Disco

▪ Spaces organized around the playback of recorded music by a DJ – the  “discotheque”

▪ social practice of individual freeform dancing

▪ music genre that established within this social setting 1969 – 1979

▪ born in downtown NYC

• clubs formed in abandoned warehouses and lofts

• underground, but it was inclusive

▪ dancer-focused

• DJs played obscure tracks, not mainstream music

• sensory experience: immersive lighting, quality sound systems

o Characteristics of Disco Music

▪ Powerful vocal lines often treated with reverb and other effects

▪ Driving pulse defined by  

• kick drum on every beat/on-beat (referred to as “four-on-the


• open hi-hat on every off-beat

▪ Around 120 BPM (beats per minute)

▪ Funk-influenced syncopated bass line.

▪ The sound is filled out with orchestration, keyboards and guitar; as  

synthesizers became more sophisticated and readily available they would  play a more prominent role in the sound.

▪ Typically utilizes longer forms for dancing to the repetitive, driving beat. o Chic

▪ (American band); one of most successful disco bands

• 1978 release “Le Freak” was a massive hit

▪ formed by guitarist Nile Rodgers in 1976

▪ Chic, “Good Times” (1979)  

• Sampled by many artists including:  

o ”Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang (Sugarhill Gang,  


o "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of  

Steel" by Grandmaster Flash (1981)

o Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder “I Feel Love” (1977)

▪ first disco hit to have a completely synthesized accompaniment.  

▪ driving beat of disco complimented w/ innovative sequencer to provide  driving bass line.

▪ “I Feel Love” would signal the end of the disco era and usher in the  

beginning of synthpop, techno and house.  

o Synthpop

MUS 227 Midterm 2 Study Guide

▪ influence from David Bowie, Kraftwerk, disco (esp Moroder)  

▪ characterized by repetitive melodic fragments, mechanistic

▪ overtly/celebrated synthesized instrumentation

o New Order “Blue Monday” (1983)

▪ formed in 1980, with former members of the post punk rock band Joy  Division (1974 - 1980) in the UK

• incorporating elements of electronic dance music, disco, and  

krautrock like Kraftwerk

• highly sampled and covered by other artists

▪ Oberheim DMX (a digital drum machine), Moog, and homemade  


Part IV Week 8 

▪ Origins of House & Techno

o House

▪ Originated around 1970-1980’s

▪ The sound of house music started in the basement of Manhattan’s upper  west side, inspired by late night post disco parties

▪ Freedom and equality movement from the epicenter of musical and  cultural evolution

▪ Genre symbolizes a unique moment in the history of the USA.  

o Characteristics of House

▪ Off beat hi-hat cymbals

▪ 4/4 rhythms

▪ Beats provided by drum machines

▪ Influenced by Disco

▪ House is more electronic and minimalistic

• easy to dance to

▪ House songs are repetitive with no to very little vocals

o Frankie Knuckles (1955 – 2014)

▪ Iconic NYC house DJ

▪ Godfather of House music

▪ 1997 Grammy award winner for re-mixer of the year (non classical)  ▪ Jamie Principle 1984 single “Your Love” became a definitive of  

Principle’s work and house music at large.


▪ SubGenre of House

• Took of in UK in the 1980’s

• Acid House-AKA rebellion child of house

o Turned UK clubs back to the place of dance

▪ Influenced  

• trance

• Breakbeat

• hardcore

• Jungle

• big beat

MUS 227 Midterm 2 Study Guide

• techno

• Trip hop  

o Ambient House

▪ SubGenre of House music, emerged in 1980

• Combines elements of acid house and ambient music

o Characteristics:

▪ 4 to the floor beat/four-on-thefloor

▪ synth pads

▪ “atmospheric”

• Emerged as post-rave “come down” music

• Ambient house founded by The Orb members

o The Orb (1991) “LiHle Fluffy Clouds”  

▪ 90s IDM & Glitch

o Intelligent Dance Music (IDM)

▪ post-techno, postrave music marked by individual experimentation.

▪ characterized by  

• innovative sounds

• processing

• rhythms

▪ meant for home listening

• music for the mind, not the body


• art techno

• ambient techno

• armchair techno

• brain dance

• intelligent techno

▪ Emerged in the UK in the early 1990s.

o Aphex Twin, “Nannou” (1999)

▪ Aphex Twin’s “Nannou” shows influences from Steve Reich (minimalism  “Pattern Music”)

• concrete sounds of music boxes and wind up toys

• small, noisy, high frequency sounds found in “glitch.”  

▪ The bass end of the spectrum is not present

▪ Released as one of the two B-sides of “Windowlicker”

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