Computer Music Dec 2008

2/2/2009 6:02 PM
You can subscribe to this wiki article using an RSS feed reader.

(This is a longer version than the one published in the printed Magazine.)

*) How did you first get into making music, and also DSP/programming? Did you feel driven to start programming in order to create the tools you needed for making music, or was it more casual than this?

I've had a profound interest for both computers and music my entire life. I started programming my first home computer when I was around seven years old, and I remember perhaps being 14 years old when I realized that the ultimate dream profession would be to develop synthesizers. I started dreaming up all these fancy features my synthesizers would have. It would be either that or game programming. No alternatives. This was in the eighties so I didn't quite imagine that I would eventually be able to perfectly combine my two major (if not only two) interests.

*) What did you work on before you programmed the Reason Malström synth, and how did you end up working for Propellerhead on it? And I guess the name of the synth was intended to be a contraction of your name (ie, MAgnus LidSTRÖM) - did many people pick up on this?

I think it was Ernst's idea (Propellerhead's CEO) to call the synth Malström. It is clever also considering that my first commercial product was titled Typhoon (which is an equivalent turbulence, but in the air instead of in the ocean). This answers your first question btw, I formed my company (NuEdge Development) for developing Typhoon, an alternative operating system for the infamous Yamaha TX16 sampling module. Through this project I met Marcus and Ernst from Propellerheads and I worked with them on ReCycle and Reason. They approached me after Reason 1.0 was released and asked if I wanted to contribute with a synthesizer that had a different character compared to the others in the rack. I didn't hesitate for a second.

*) Why did you decide to set up your own company, Sonic Charge? Has it been easier or harder than expected? Or just different?.

Sonic Charge came to life some raining evening when I got a bit overwhelmed by the size of the game project I was fighting with at the time (yeah, I hadn't given up my game-programming ambitions entirely). I thought, why not put up a web-site, develop a few tiny, really cheap plug-ins per year and see where that can lead to? My first product would be a super-minimalistic drum-machine that I even considered giving away for free just to get some attention. I called this little drum-machine MicroTonic... and a year later, I gave up on the idea of pushing out a few plug-ins per year. To answer your question, it is a lot harder than I expected, but it actually pays better than I expected as well.

*) µTonic is also available in a specially designed metal can, on a USB stick. What is the thinking behind this, and has it been a popular option? Will Synplant also be available in this format...?

The idea of putting MicroTonic on USB was born during some late-night discussions at NAMM with my dear friends from Bitplant. Bitplant came up with the entire concept of Tin Tonic more or less. I wanted to have something that was nicer to give away than just a registration key or a CD, and I also wanted to sell it as a luxury version of MicroTonic to keep or give to friends. A little something that you can be proud of owning, put on a shelf, forget for 20 years and then rediscover with a smile when you clean out the attic. I miss this with software only. There is a beauty to the constant development of software, but it is also sad that bits and bytes decay so quickly. We haven't decided if we want to offer Synplant on USB yet. It wouldn't be in a tin can of course, but rather in a seed bag or something.

*) How did you come up with the idea for Synplant? It's rather different to everything else out there. Was there one 'eureka!' moment where you immediately came up with the idea, or was it more slowly conceived? Was it inspired in part by any other computer music products?

It was a bit of both, first a little eureka when I quickly made the first usable prototype, then a lot of sweat to make it into a real product. The basic idea of randomizing and morphing patches as a vehicle for exploring parameter spaces has been around for as long as people have created synthesizers. What I think set Synplant apart is that I embraced and trusted this idea to its fullest and centered an entire product around random evolution. The swaying branches etc emphasize the metaphors of genetics and biology and hopefully it puts the user in the right mind-state so to speak. Originally I didn't even have the DNA-spiral for editing individual genes, because I wanted randomness to be the undisputed ruler of this product. I am however glad that I did include it eventually.

*) Has Synplant been in constant development since µTonic, or did you take a break? It's been a while!

Don't rub it in. Haha. After releasing MicroTonic 2.0 I worked with XLN Audio on Addictive Drums. Meanwhile I tried to finalize a follow-up product to MicroTonic. That product has not seen the day of light yet, and perhaps it never will. I discovered that it was impossible to work on more than one project at a time. After we released Addictive Drums in late 2006, I decided to have another shot at making a really small cheap plug-in. An in-between-the-real-products product so to speak. But history repeats itself and two years and ten trashed designs later, I had Synplant. Somehow, for once, I am a bit glad that things didn't go as planned. I let Synplant take its time to grow organically and it is almost as if this project has had a life on its own. There is no way I could have planned all that went into the Synplant development before I began.

*) Have you considered (or had requests for) a 'companion' product for Synplant, which would be more like a conventional synth into which you can import/export the same patches, using the same synth architecture? (rather than having an extra editing panel in Synplant, as some have suggested)

It is not a bad idea, but if you think of Synplant as genetic algorithms applied on a conventional synthesizer it is not exactly correct. The sound engine was developed specifically to work well with continuously morphing and randomized parameters. I am not certain that the metaphor of electronic hardware (the predominant standard of synth user-interfaces) applies very well to this synth engine. Not being limited by the knobs and sliders you have come to expect, I have been free to make a few odd solutions, for example for the envelope section. Besides, you have the whole performance thing with the mod-wheel morphing and different sounds on different notes etc that wouldn't easily translate back and forth to a more conventional synth.

*) What's next for Sonic Charge? Will we see quicker development in future, or is this not important? Will we see further outlandish products joining Synplant, or some more traditional efforts?

I can't tell because I honestly don't know and I think this is the charm with Sonic Charge. Making plans is a joy-killer and I want Sonic Charge to be filled with the creative lust that I only get when I have fun at work. Besides, if I had stuck to plans after MicroTonic there wouldn't be a Synplant today. So expect nothing and anything...