Sascha, are you a musician yourself or do you have some other sort of musical background? And how did you once got started developing your very own audio DSP effects?
I started learning to play bass guitar in early 1988, when I was 16. Bass is still my main instrument, although I also play a tiny bit of 6-string, but I’d say I suck at that.
The people I played with in a band in my youth where mostly close friends I grew up with, and most of us kept on making music together when we finished school a couple of years later. I still consider that period (mid-nineties) as sort of my personal heyday, musical-wise. It’s when you think you’re doing brilliant things but the world doesn’t take notice. Anyway. Although we all started out doing Metal, we eventually did Alternative and a bit of Brit-influenced Wave Rock back then.
That was also the time when more and more affordable electronic gear came up, so apart from doing the usual rock-band lineup, we also experimented with samplers, DATs, click tracks and PCs as recording devices. While that in fact made the ‘band’ context more complex – imagine loading in a dozen disks into the E-MU on every start of the rehearsal until we equipped it with an MO drive – we soon found ourselves moving away from writing songs through jamming and more to actually “assembling” them by using a mouse pointer. In hindsight, that was really challenging. Today, the DAW world and the whole process of creating music is so much simpler and intuitive, I think.
My first “DAW” was a PC running at 233Mhz, and we used PowerTracks Pro and Micro Logic – a stripped-down version of Logic -, although the latter never clicked with me. In 1996 or 97 – can’t remember – I purchased Cubase and must have ordered right within a grace period, as I soon got a letter from Steinberg saying they now finished the long-awaited VST version and I could have it for free, if I want. WTF? I had no idea what they were talking about. But Virtual Studio Technology, that sounded like I was given the opportunity to upgrade myself to being “professional”. How flattering, you clever marketing guys. Yes, gimme the damn thing, hehe.
When VST arrived, I was blown away. I had a TSR-8 reel machine, a DA-88 and a large Allen&Heath desk within reach and was used to run the computer as a midi sequencer mainly. And now, I could do it all inside that thing. Unbelievable. Well, the biggest challenge then was finding an affordable audio card, and I bought myself one that only had S/PDif in & outputs and was developed by a German electronics magazine and sold in small amounts through a big retail store in Cologne, exclusively. 500 Deutschmarks for 16 bits on an ISA card. Wow.
The first plugin I bought was Waves Audio Track, sort of a channel strip, which was a cross-promotion offer from Steinberg back then, 1997, I guess. I can still recall its serial number by heart.
Soon, the plugin scene lifted off, and I collected everything I could, like the early mda stuff, NorthPole and other classics. As our regular band came to nothing, we gathered our stuff and ran sort of a small project studio where we recorded other bands and musicians and started using the PC as the main recording device. I upgraded the audio hardware to an Echo Darla card, but one of my mates soon brought in a Layla rack unit so that we had plenty of physical ins and outs.
You really couldn’t foresee where the audio industry would go, at least I couldn’t. I went fine with this “hybrid” setup for quite a long time, and did lots of recording and editing back then, but wasn’t even thinking of programming audio software myself at all. I had done a few semesters of EE studies, but without really committing myself much.
Then the internet came along. In 1998, I made a cut and started taking classes in Informatics. Finished in 2000, I moved far away, from West Germany, to Berlin and had my first “real” job in one of those “new economy” companies, doing web-based programming and SQL. That filled the fridge and was fun to do somehow, but wasn’t really challenging. As my classes included C, C++ and also Assembler, and I still got a copy of Microsoft’s Visual Studio, I signed up to the VST SDK one day. At first, I might have done pretty much the same thing as everybody: compile the “gain” and “delay” plugin examples and learn how it all fits together. VST was still at version 1 at that time, so there were no instruments yet, but I wasn’t interested much in those anyway, or at least I could imagine writing myself a synthesizer. What I was more interested in was how to manipulate the audio so that it could sound like a compressor or a tube device. I was really keen on dynamics processing at that time, perhaps because I always had too few of those units. I had plenty available when I was working part-time as a live-sound engineer, but back in my home studio, a cheap Alesis, dbx or Behringer was all I could afford. So why not try to program one? I basically knew how to read schematics, I knew how to solder, and I thought I knew how things should sound like, so I just started out hacking things together. Probably in the most ignorant and naive way, from today’s perspective. I had no real clue, and no serious tool set, apart from an old student’s copy of Maple and my beloved Corel 7. But there were helpful people on the internet and a growing community of people devoted to audio software, and that was perhaps the most important factor. You just weren’t alone. [Read more…]
THE MAGNETIST is a short documentary about Micke, also known as ‘The Magnetist’, whose life revolves around cassette tapes.
Updates and a brand new release, basically. Since there is a minor issue with the latest TesslaPRO and Rescue versions concerning higher sample rate compatibility, I’m currently into bug-fixing and both will probably make it upfront the summer break. As the next major update you all voted FerricTDS to be the object of desire and I’m already sketching things on the drawing board but developments might not start before Q3.
I’m constantly extending and improving my Stateful Saturation approach and the next incarnation will bring authentic analog style distortion into VST land. It is basically a Variable-Mu based broadcast limiter design from the early days but which is modded to have detailed access to the amplifier distortion – it has warmth and mojo written all over! Patrick also joined in again and will perform his magic user interface artwork. An official announcement will appear very soon, so stay tuned.
Unfortunately, there are no news about 64bit support atm.
The basic idea to build a VoS style Enhancer/Exciter was already there way earlier but to that time it simply wasn’t doable until my ‘stateful saturation’ approach emerged. Later on and when I asked “how a modern exciter/enhancer should look like“, several concepts were laid out on the drawing board and I knew that with this exciting (sic!) new approach they all would be accomplishable w/o any compromises. Finally, one of them made it into a prototype which led to ThrillseekerXTC.
Old or modern approach?
So, is the audio Enhancer/Exciter just an ancient relict from the days of dull tape recordings or still a valid concept today? In the digital age, technology and production techniques completely changed and of course the production aesthetics did also. Opposed to the old approaches of audio excitation which mostly were focusing on high frequency loss restoration, the demand shifted towards other tasks as well. Presence and definition in the (upper) mid range is the name of the game and getting the low-end right is the key in a modern production. Instrument separation in a busy mix is a tough challenge, also.
What the heck is Mojo?
In some other cases (mostly digital productions) – definition, presence and transparency is all there but at the cost of a rather thin or sterile sounding production. Even worse, the HF department might be exaggerated too much during the processing chain and taming and sweetening is a challenge then. Some of the artifacts that we’ve found in certain analog devices might add tonal qualities described as thick, fat and round by ‘pleasingly degrading’ a sound source. This is what Mojo is all about. Whether that’s some circuit crosstalk, tape flutter or transformer distortion stuff alike. [Read more…]
The bewildering array of gear takes in anything from to EMI’s self-built stereo tape machines, a 1930s microphone, 1970s mixing board that travelled around the world recording classical performances, compressors that acted as “secret weapons” for making pop. There’s a 1905 piano kept purposefully out of tune, a 1950s Hammond organ used in many Beatles and Pink Floyd recordings, and a grand piano used by Emili Sande and Brian Wilson.
Quite recently u-he released his awesome “Tyrell” software synthesizer as a freeware for the german online magazine amazona.de. If you are seriously into synth based music production then this is a must try for sure. It does not feature any fancy fx section but just raw synth waveform combination and modulation which are executed brilliantly. Soundwise this offers true analog qualities which includes both, punch and balls as well as some mojo which you rarely find in digital synths as of today. [Read more…]