Digital Is the New Analog
"Digital is the new analog." I don't know who said it first, but I've been thinking that for a good while now.
I have nothing against analog synths; we all know and love the iconic sounds of the Moogs, the Prophets, the CS80s and all the other great synths of yesteryear. Many of us also love the new analog synths, which have been coming out at a steady pace during the recent decade. Some of them are clones of existing hardware, while some of them are all-new creations and reimaginings.
However, my personal conviction is that digital technology and digital synths are what is most important in the field of synthesis going forward.
Let me share with you some of my personal story to prove my point. As a pre-teen, I got very interested in electronics. I spent countless hours soldering together designs, some more complicated than others, but all relatively simple after all. Sometimes they worked on the first try, sometimes they didn't, and troubleshooting was difficult. I had connected the wires wrong, or soldered a component the wrong way around (an expensive mistake when you're buying components on your pocket money). Sometimes it was just a bad soldering joint. But all in all, it was fun.
So I know a little bit about analog electronics. Back then it was the early 1980s, and at some point I started to hear more and more about integrated circuits and even those new "microprocessors". That got me into home computers and elementary programming, even though I admit that at first, most of the time it was really just playing games.
But pretty soon things got real. In high school I started to learn more and more about programming, and I was really disappointed when my maths teacher was resolute about "not fiddling with any of that computer stuff". Luckily computers was also a subject in my school, and it had a sympathetic teacher. So I ended up writing a text-based adventure game about my school and its staff, and sold it to the school. That was the first time I got paid for writing code.
As I was learning more and more about programming and computers, I gradually became less and less interested in analog electronics. Most of the interesting stuff was happening in the digital domain, and resistors, capacitors and diodes were just the landscape surrounding the city, the supporting cast for the star performers: the controllers, the microprocessors, the memory chips.
I became a software developer, a programmer, a coder. I think that's something I've always been at heart, although I've worked as an educator, a journalist, and a consultant too. Let's just say I know a bit about programming. The biggest professional kick I get is from thinking about how software is organized, how it processes its inputs, how it produces its outputs, and how the whole immaterial but not formless world of a program is constructed.
Software is also at the heart of digital synthesis and digital audio. General-purpose microprocessors and dedicated digital signal processors are all crunching numbers that make up the most flexible representation of the audio that we ultimately hear when some components (those traditional ones) finally convert it to sound waves. It's software that stores and loads the audio, manipulates it, chops, normalizes, transposes, converts, translates, filters, and much more.
Against this backdrop, is it any wonder that I'm most fascinated with the forms of synthesis that happen in the digital domain? Some of it may emulate the analog circuitry, to get us the sound of the failing old synthesizers before the last one of them drops dead beyond repair (which is going to take some time, but anyway). Some of it (if not yet most of it) generates new sounds with interesting methods that don't have the baggage of analog emulation, or virtual analog.
It is those new and interesting sounds, generated with digital methods, that are most interesting to me. I can appreciate the sound of an analog sawtooth wave being swept by an analog ladder filter as much as the next guy, but there is so much more potential in sample-based synthesis, frequency modulation, phase modulation, or additive synthesis, to create sounds unheard of, sounds as difficult to describe as the analog stalwarts, but new, modern, clean, fascinating, fresh, animated, and evolving.
That is why I love digital synths. That is why I created digitalsynth.net.
Thanks for reading!