Jan 2004

12/8/2007 1:27 AM
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Posted on Thursday, January 15 @ 01:06:29 CET by patcharena

We spoke to Magnus Lidstrom, the man behind Reasons "Malstrom" GrainTable synthesiser and more recently the developer of MicroTonic - the brand new drum synth VSTi from Sonic Charge. Read on to see what Magnus had to say!

PA: How long have you been using synthesisers, and what was your first synth?

Magnus: My own very first "real" synth must have been the ESQ-1, around 1986 or 87 (still have it!). The second synth I bought was the Yamaha TX16W sampler (still have that one too). I later developed an alternative OS for the TX16W called Typhoon. That was sort of the start of my career in the music technology business.

PA: What music inspires you?

Magnus: Apart from the obvious answer (which is electronic music in all forms), I tend to like music that evokes images and creates moods rather than music that is catchy. Basically, I am not very interested in pop. I listen to mostly instrumental music. Music that can work as a background score to whatever I am doing and feeling. I also like to dance my head off from time to time.

PA: What are your favourite hardware synths, and why?

Magnus: This has changed much over time. Five or ten years ago, I would probably have answered K2000 or something. Before the studio-in-the-computer revolution, the "workstation" synth was justified because you had a flexible and powerful synth that could form the basis for your productions. Now when the computer has taken over that role entirely I think synthesizers that are more specialized and have their own unique character are much more interesting. A favorite in the studio for the last few years has been the Electribe ER-1 (no surprise). I must also confess that, from time to time, the original 303 is still surprisingly cool.

PA: What are your favourite software synths, and why?

Magnus: I guess "Reason" is not a valid answer, right? You can actually view Reason as the modern version of the "workstation" synth, even though it is marketed as a studio-in-a-box product. Otherwise, there are just too many software synthesizers today. Picking a single synthesizer that stands out from the crowd is almost impossible. I probably have not had time to fully explore what the market has to offer either.

PA: How did you learn, and what was your motivation, to start coding software synthesisers?

Magnus: I am 100% self-taught in programming. When it comes to DSP, I have only read Chamberlins Musical Applications of Microprocessors, a true classic when it comes to books about synthesizers. I have always fooled around with sounds and computers. I made a sampling program for my Apple II when I was a little kid. Later on, when I was developing games on the C64 I seldom got further than programming the music engine. I met Marcus Zetterquist (one of the founders of Propellerheads) in the middle of the 90's after doing Typhoon for TX16W. We talked a lot about making real-time synthesis on standard personal computers. At that time, I did not fully believe it. I clearly remember the evening he first showed me a very basic 303-simulation on his Macintosh. A few years later, Propellerheads had made ReBirth and I had developed my own totally incomprehensible, but ... interesting studio-in-a-box application. It never made it into a publishable product though.

PA: As the man behind Malstrom, Reasons GrainTable synth, what made you decide to work with the Propellerheads to produce a Reason instrument rather than releasing it as an open-source plugin?

Magnus: I had done work for Propellerheads for many, many years as a consultant before the opportunity to develop the Malstr�m came up. Marcus simply called me one day and asked if I was interested in doing a synth for Reason. It was an honor. Who would miss out on a chance like that? I had done some work on Reason 1.0 and I knew it was going to be big.

PA: Do you plan on releasing a VST instrument that utilises GrainTable technology?

Magnus: Not at the moment. I am asked from time to time if I could develop the Malstr�m as a VSTi, but I do not feel that it is a decision I can take alone. The Malström was developed tightly with the Propellerheads. However, the Malstr�m is much, much more than just the graintables and I do believe that the graintable technology is something that I could develop a bit further some day.

PA: GrainTable synthesis is said to be a mixture of Granular synthesis and WaveTable synthesis. What do you find so interesting about these forms of synthesis?

Magnus: I had been playing around with a piece of software called TurboSynth. TurboSynth had a quite cool wavetable synthesis. (Not real-time of course. We are back in the early 90's now.) The coolest thing was that you could load your own samples into it and create series of short periodic wavetables from them. Suddenly you could change the timing of a sound without affecting the pitch, and even do stuff like rearranging the wavetables and make one sound morph into another etc... I did some experiments of my own with improving this technology and I even managed to surprise myself with the results. Much later, I finalized the concept when designing the Malström. I realized that what I was doing was in fact combining some of the ideas behind granular synthesis with some of the ideas behind wavetable synthesis; hence, the name "graintables".

PA: Your new company - Sonic Charge - recently released MicroTonic, a VST instrument plugin for Windows. Does this mean that you are no longer working with Propellerheads?

Magnus: No. One thing does not rule out the other. I still enjoy a close contact with the Propellerheads. Speaking for myself, I think (and hope) there will always be some form of collaboration between us.

PA: Will you be releasing MicroTonic in any other formats (e.g. VST for Mac 0S X, AudioUnits)?

Magnus: There is a great demand for a Macintosh version of the MicroTonic so this is something we are considering. If we decide to go for it, it would be Mac OS X only.

PA: Is anyone else involved with Sonic Charge, or is it just you?

Magnus: It is mostly me, myself and I and my brother Fredrik. We help each other out from time to time. I also annoy my friends as often as I can, including my girlfriend, asking for their opinions. There are few things better than having a friend giving you a simple yes or no answer to a question that you cannot decide on yourself.

PA: Can you tell us anything about what other products Sonic Charge are currently working on and what you have planned in the future?

Magnus: I think that the continued development, marketing and support of the MicroTonic will take most of my time for the next few months. If it goes well, I do have ideas for products that would complement the MicroTonic well and fit the image of Sonic Charge. Unfortunately, it is too early to be specific yet. It pretty much depends on the outcome of the MicroTonic.

PA: Where do you think synthesis will take us over the next 10 years?

Magnus: That is nearly impossible to predict. Think of how much has happened during the past 10 years. Obviously, computers are going to be extremely powerful and that will be practical for developers. Not having to bother with performance issues will make it much easier to experiment with things that you perhaps only can do in theory today or at least not in real-time. One experiment I already did with the MicroTonic was to leave the old techniques of using tables behind and instead use more or less exact math to generate the sound. It works great. Creating bigger and more complex sounds will be no problem in the future. Perhaps the greatest challenge will still lie in making convincing simulations of complex instruments such as the human voice. I am a bit skeptical myself. I doubt we will ever hear a pop star singing with a computer-rendered voice. But then again, I may be wrong. This is probably exactly what is going to happen. It has probably already happened. Don't all pop stars sound the same nowadays? :-)

For more information about Sonic Charge MicroTonic click here.