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Screenshot 2018-01-29 01.38.20

Harmonic Rotator

Here's a video of me playing around with a MIDI script sent to me by Robby Kilgore. This script is a "harmonic rotator" that emulates the voice rotation function of the classic Oberheim Xpander analog synth. This rotator function is most notably used to its fullest extent by Saxophonist and EWI-ist Michael Brecker.

What is a "harmonic rotator" you ask?

I first became interested in random harmonic generation when I heard some early computer music while in college. I found it interesting and unique in that while it was unpredictable, when the programming was handled in the correct way, the resulting “music” - if randomly generated sound can be called that - had the potential to be mesmerizing. In 1987 Michael Brecker released his album “Michael Brecker” and one of the hallmark sounds on that disc was his use of the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and synthesis to create an amazing palette of sounds. One of the most interesting things he did was to use a feature of the Oberheim Xpander module to randomly rotate through a series of harmonies. It works something like this:

The Xpander had a setting called “Rotate Mode” with 6 voice polyphony. Michael was able to turn that into an amazing harmonic tool by creating two zones on the synth, one with two “static” voices set to re-trigger and one with four rotating voices in rotate mode.

Oberheim Xpander Rotate Mode:

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Voice 1 & 2 are static intervals set in semitones above or below the input note. Assuming a C3 is played, the static output would be C3 and G3 (seven semitones above C3 or +7). Every time C3 is pressed, the static voices will sound the parallel 5th C & G.

The rotating voices are set (relative to C3) to -10 (D2), -7 (F2), -8 (E2) and -2 (Bb2). Every time C3 is pressed the static 5th plays as well as one of the rotating voices in sequence.


Play middle C (C3) four times:
Voices 1 and 2 always play a parallel 5th C & G
Voices 3, 4, 5, and 6 play in rotation D, F, E, Bb Output would be [DCG], [FCG], [ECG], [BbCG]

And there ya have it, harmonic rotation. This can be an extremely powerful performance tool and when done randomly can be an amazingly creative a powerful compositional device. With patience and time spent working out harmonies, you can get some amazingly fresh sounding harmonic progressions out of this thing.

Playing around with Robby Kilgore's rotator script in Logic


Dynasample Xpression

I have written before and I still maintain that I'm not particularly a fan of wind synthesis as a repalcement for acoustic instruments. I don't think the technology has reached a point of being viable in that capacity and honestly, if I want a flute sound, well I'm gonna pick up the flute. Ditto for clarinet... And if I need trumpet or trombone I'll call one of the myriad cats I know and have them play for me.

There are some very good emulations out there - Sample Modeling and the SWAM instruments, programming by Ilya Efimov, etc. But the expressiveness is still not quite there. Yet. That said, while not necessarily a topic for Logic or Mainstage, nonetheless I am a huge fan of the Dynasample Xpression. 

Ingo Scherzinger sent me a unit a little over a year ago. I was skeptical of the nature of its sounds - being mostly acoustic emulations. It didn't take long for the instrument to win me over! In short, it's very playable and I immediately found use for it in my studio for doing mockups of arrangments for clients. I have a template set up in Logic with tracks for all the usual horns I would write for and I just literally play in the parts from the Xpression (audio, not MIDI). With a little creative mixing and some tweaking, it almost always provides a solid reference demo of whatever I'm writing at the moment and is frankly immensely quicker and easier than setting up all my horns and tracking that way (not to mention the impracticality of calling a trumpet or 'bone player at 3am to come lay down some demo tracks...) I find it to be a perfect studio companion.

The Xpression comes damned close to being as expressive as my acoustic instruments. Ingo has done a remarkable job of programming this instrument to be responsive, flexible and just plain FUN to play. The list of things it can do is astounding, and I have had a massive amount of fun playing it and playing WITH it. Beyond very good sounding emulations, the chord mapping and rotator functions are super cool, opening up an entire pandora's box of possibilities for live performance and also useful compositional tools. I've been up to the elbows in the guts of the thing and I still feel like I'm barely scratching the surface of what it is capable of.

If I had any complaints they would be that I would like some synthesis oriented sounds - some classic Oberheim and/or Moog type souds would be most welcome. I would also really love it if the unit was in a standard 19" rackmount case so I could easily throw it into my rack with my other hardware. Small complaints for this instrument though.

Do yourself a favor and check it out. You won't be sorry.

I am posting the overview demos that Ingo did so you can hear it directly from him. Also, Ingo is a fantastic guy and his technical support of the Xpression is unparallelled. Support of a kind that is non existent for most hardware and software in the wind synth world. He spent a lot of time with me on Skype and email, helping me to set up the Xpression the way I wanted to work with it.

Check out the videos below and take a look at the Dynasample website here.

DynaSample XPression - Overview Part1/3

DynaSample XPression - Overview Part2/3

DynaSample XPression - Overview Part3/3

Here's Me Playing With the Xpression Chord Mapping


Creating A Unique Identity on the EWI

I think ultimately the question we all ask ourselves becomes: “What creates a musical identity on an instrument?” I’ve posted this question before on other wind forums and have gotten minimal input from others. This is one of the questions that I have been asking myself for years, and has literally kept me awake some nights mulling it over!