Author Topic: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)  (Read 25790 times)

Ekstasis

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The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« on: July 31, 2008, 12:40:58 PM »
I have been a musician for many years, but it is not until now in the latest years I have got a deep interest in ambient music, especially Steve Roach & Robert Rich but also a lot of dark ambient such as Asianova etc.

I have been creating mostly extreme metal in the past, I have been adding synth pads etc, but now I have come to a point where I want to make ambient music professionally. Since I am a metal guy I am not so sure about the basics about the process of the creation of ambient music. Of course I know a lot already, as that Reverbs are very important, but I really not sure how to create such deep and warm/cold drones as Roach or R.Rich, so really all information tips and advices are very welcome.

I was for many years kind of anti digital technology in ambient, since I thought both Steve Roach, Robert Rich and more artists where far superior in terms of sound quality, but I have since then changes my opinion, we are definitely going in the the digital age, and the digital technology is here to stay.

I have tried many many virtual instruments for computer, recently I did also discover that an control unit for my virtual instruments would open up whole new possibilities to "morph" sounds in real-time, feel free to recommend me control units as well. I have seen Steve Roach use some kind of control unit on stage to form and shape the sounds, would be interesting to know what he use to make such swirling/floating sounds/drones.

I have had a lot of free time this summer, so I have been trying out many different instruments, you can read my impression of these below. Feel free to recommend me other instruments/sample libraries that is worth to try.

Spectrasonics -Atmosphere,

Has good sounds, but it sounds kind of obsolete compared with many products on the market today, but while they might sound good on their own, I do not found many of the sounds useful, this seem to be a problem with many VST instruments, that samples are often very multilayered, and often the sounds are played in more the one note, which is bad if you want to play your own chords, however, I find this instrument mostly useful Psychedelic Trance etc, not so much for deep space/dark ambient  (waiting eagerly  for omnisphere)

Native Instruments - Massive

This is simply the best virtual synth I have tried, compared to everything else I have tried this is by far the most impressive one, the multilayer effects are very impressive. I have yet not gone through all samples yet, but the most relevant samples sections such as pads and atmosphere etc..."Massive" seem to have the same problem as many other Virtual instruments, the samples is way too multilayered, sure it sounds cool alone, but it gets damn hard to use the samples in a the right context, so I really wish it was more "boring" samples such as a lot of pads, not many "normal" or "static" synth pads, which would suit for mor meditative ambient such as Matthias Grassow etc, it seems harder then I thought to get the sound of Grassow, I have yet not succeed.

Native Instruments - Absynth 4

This instrument have a lot of cool sounding samples and sounds, they all sounds hypermordern, so it would be most suitable for electronic music in general I think, less suitable for the ambient music I want to create. About the Samples they got the same problems as "Massive", they sound very good alone, but hard to use them in music.

Native Instruments - FM8

This synth did not give much impression on me, the sound quality is simply not in phase with either Massive or Absynth 4, also the sounds in FM8 does not fit the ambient music I want to create, once again more mordern electronic music.

East West - Colussus

I was in general very disappointed with Colussus, when I read the description that it was selected for the best virtual instrument of the year, I really thought it would be something remarkable, the reality is the quality of the samples does vary, the Drone section have some impressing sounds I must admit, but once again, East west does the mistake to make sounds very very multi-layered, which makes it hard to use the sounds in music. The piano samples sounds fantastic, a lot of the ethnic instruments as well. The "Pads" section needs to be bigger, it was actually very mediocre, it seems very hard to find good usable "pads".

Zero G - Altered States

Hard to believe that this instrument was released 2008, it actually sounds like it is from 1998 or something, these samples are in general very poor sounding.  However, their is still a lot of cool sounding sounds though, but they are not top quality... And the samples are not multi-samples, so each sound is "pitched" unlike for instance NI "Massive" which sounds way more smooth.


Zero G - Outer Limits

This instrument was crafted by Ian Boddy and released in June 2008, so I had high expectations, for ambient music I think this instrument is one of the most useful ones, however you certainly will need more instruments to complement this, but for effects and general strange sounds this is very impressive. Outer limits does include a lot of the sounds I seek, but yet this instrument I will use secondary, to add cool atmospheric and effects in the sounds, however I am not able to create deep/warm/meditative drones ála steve roach/Oophoi/Robert Rich, with this instrument, at least not yet.

Zero-G - Morphology

Also crafted by Ian Boddy, it is very similar to "Outer limits" but not as impressive..
It still have some very impressive sounds and effects, but as all other instruments above, I miss more simple sounds which can actually be used in music, instead of multi-layered samples I prefer to combine own combination of layers on my own..

Native Instruments - Kontakt 3

This instrument is not so recommend for ambient music, but more recommended for other types of music where you need "real instruments" etc, but for ambient music and soundscapes their is better instruments.

----------------------------

What I am thinking of trying during the coming months is "Convolution Space" by best service.
http://www.bestservice.de/detail.asp/en/plug_ins_vi_synthesizer/convolution_space/202083a193p173p209p52
I am very eager to try this instrument, this seem to cover a lot of my kneeds, especially when creating more dark and esoteric space/cosmic ambient.

also "the black box" seems interesting, but I am still skeptical of the sound quality of these samples, since they are kind of old.
http://www.bestservice.de/search.asp/en/202083a193p173p209p52




mgriffin

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2008, 01:05:45 PM »
Hello Ekstasis, and welcome to the Hypnos Forum.

That's quite a big, long post to read.  My quick response to what you've written is that you might be best served by learning a few synthesizers very well, and using them to create sounds of your own rather than using presets. You might find that a given synth, for example Absynth, has a completely different character once you move past the presets and get into programming it yourself, from scratch.

The same idea goes for sample libraries... if you use them as a significant part of your own work then you're unlikely to come up with a sound that is your own.
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) hypnos.com | http://hypnos.com | http://twitter.com/mgsoundvisions

ffcal

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2008, 01:17:01 PM »
Hello Ekstasis.  Have you worked with analog synths before?  If not, I think you might find analog synths or software analog synth emulators like the Arturia Moog more transparent in showing you how electronic sound is created.  From there, I would add in effects such as echo and reverb, but too many effects at the outset may make difficult to troubleshoot what you are hearing in case you want to modify it.  Those presets you are describing probably have quite a few effects attached to them.

Forrest

Ekstasis

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2008, 01:31:40 PM »
Hello Ekstasis, and welcome to the Hypnos Forum.

That's quite a big, long post to read.  My quick response to what you've written is that you might be best served by learning a few synthesizers very well, and using them to create sounds of your own rather than using presets. You might find that a given synth, for example Absynth, has a completely different character once you move past the presets and get into programming it yourself, from scratch.

The same idea goes for sample libraries... if you use them as a significant part of your own work then you're unlikely to come up with a sound that is your own.

Hello M. Griffin, it is really nice to see you here on the forum, since I know your music, and like it really much.
I would really like to know how you create such deep sounds.

When you say "synthesizers" I assume virtual synthesizers are included, cause from what I know viritual synthesizers are now days better then hardware synthesizers for many reasons.

And yes you are right, the key in creating ambient sounds must be the knowledge to morph and shape sounds. I have not experimented much with that,more about going through thousands and thousands of samples. Using the mod wheel on my Korg K61 keyboard can sometimes give positive results, however, I have come to the conclusion I need some kind of control unit, which I can control the virtual synthesizers on the computer, and maybe some kind of footpedals ?
And a control unit to control the mixer in Cakewalk Sonar I guess would be very useful also.
What DAW controllers are recommended ?

I am really interested to know how ambient musicians do work when creating the music.
I have a lot of knowledge when it comes to recording already, but when it comes to ambient music I am not as experienced. But I find it important to have the right software/hardware setup, to get a good work flow to begin with..since this is very fundamental especially in this type of music which is all about the "flow". I want to create myself conditions where the technology do not limit my inner creativity/ideas, the music should be an reflecting mirror of the music in your mind,  to process of creating music is about transform this abstract inner essence into what we call  "music. As it is now, I feel I do not create music from the inside, but from the outside.



mgriffin

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2008, 01:44:01 PM »
I would say you're focusing too much on "which tool do I need?" and not enough on doing interesting things with whatever tools you have.

I'd like to think that I could make an interesting album using just about any kind of sound source, using the right kinds of effects, and putting the sounds together in the right way.  Many beginners aspiring to make ambient music make the mistake of worrying too much about the huge number of choices for sound sources, keyboard controllers, effects units, audio interfaces, software, computer hardware, and so on.

To me, that's like an aspiring architect spending years worrying about what brand of paper and pencils to buy, instead of just sketching buildings and thinking about design, about space and surface and texture and light. 

Seriously, who cares what DAW control surface you have?  I don't even have a DAW control surface, and most people use DAW software just fine without one.

Just get a couple of synths or a synth and a sampler, throw out the presets and create sounds from scratch that sound interesting to you, get a good reverb and maybe an EQ and some kind of a mixer (or a multi-channel audio interface and you can do the mixing in your computer).  After a lot of work and experimentation and trial and error, if you can't make decent ambient music using those tools, then the problem isn't the tools.
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) hypnos.com | http://hypnos.com | http://twitter.com/mgsoundvisions

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2008, 01:48:05 PM »
I don't have a strong opinion on the "soft synth vs. hardware synth" debate.  I would say a decent argument could be made that you can do very good work with soft synths and don't necessarily need to have any hardware synths, but I would absolutely not go so far as to say soft synths are "better" except from the angle of saving space in your studio.  In fact, I don't think I would trust an electronic musician who had never owned a keyboard synth! 
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Ekstasis

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2008, 01:51:52 PM »
Hello Ekstasis.  Have you worked with analog synths before?  If not, I think you might find analog synths or software analog synth emulators like the Arturia Moog more transparent in showing you how electronic sound is created.  From there, I would add in effects such as echo and reverb, but too many effects at the outset may make difficult to troubleshoot what you are hearing in case you want to modify it.  Those presets you are describing probably have quite a few effects attached to them.

Forrest

Hello, I have worked only with digital synths before,  I am going to try Zero-G Phaedra Ultimate Analog synth during this week, we will see if I like it.

About the Arturia Moog, I did check it on the website the "Analog Factory Experience" software/hardware combo, I did like the interface a lot, but the actual sounds is not something I like, they sound very old school 70s sounds, this is not at all the sounds I want.

Ekstasis

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2008, 02:00:52 PM »
I would say you're focusing too much on "which tool do I need?" and not enough on doing interesting things with whatever tools you have.

I'd like to think that I could make an interesting album using just about any kind of sound source, using the right kinds of effects, and putting the sounds together in the right way.  Many beginners aspiring to make ambient music make the mistake of worrying too much about the huge number of choices for sound sources, keyboard controllers, effects units, audio interfaces, software, computer hardware, and so on.

To me, that's like an aspiring architect spending years worrying about what brand of paper and pencils to buy, instead of just sketching buildings and thinking about design, about space and surface and texture and light. 

Seriously, who cares what DAW control surface you have?  I don't even have a DAW control surface, and most people use DAW software just fine without one.

Just get a couple of synths or a synth and a sampler, throw out the presets and create sounds from scratch that sound interesting to you, get a good reverb and maybe an EQ and some kind of a mixer (or a multi-channel audio interface and you can do the mixing in your computer).  After a lot of work and experimentation and trial and error, if you can't make decent ambient music using those tools, then the problem isn't the tools.

Yes I agree with you, but I think this is the case of any musician in his/hers early phase, to focus more on the technology instead of develop your own talent and skill. I will not deny that I am in the same phase, I definitely do not use my current technology which I have access to to full extent. However there is not for no reason why I try to build up these conditions which in the end will give me more "artistic freedom"...So yes I still agree with you but at the same time you should not make it hard for yourself if there is tools that will increase your inspiration and creativity. The hardware/software you use is of course very important one cannot deny that, either if it is consciously or unconsciously them music is a produce of what you use when creating the music...so of course it is important that you use the right methods and tools during the creation.

Ekstasis

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2008, 02:06:30 PM »
I don't have a strong opinion on the "soft synth vs. hardware synth" debate.  I would say a decent argument could be made that you can do very good work with soft synths and don't necessarily need to have any hardware synths, but I would absolutely not go so far as to say soft synths are "better" except from the angle of saving space in your studio.  In fact, I don't think I would trust an electronic musician who had never owned a keyboard synth! 

My logic says me that this must be wrong, today hardware synths are actually a combination of both software/hardware, it is like it has an computer inside, the only difference is that today computers have more cpu/memory power, which allows you to use more complex patterns, I think it was different maybe 3 years ago.
I would be surprised if any hardware synth was as complex as NI "Massive" for instance. 

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2008, 02:17:17 PM »
A hardware synthesizer only has a "computer" inside it in a metaphorical sense... the same way your microwave oven has a "computer" in it, meaning circuits and microprocessors.

A hardware synth is designed and assembled for one purpose only, which is to make sounds given a certain set of rules (parameters) which can be varied within a certain range by programming.  Hardware synths, most of them at least, include oscillators... REAL oscillators, not emulated or virtual oscilators such as the ones in any soft synth.  The difference between a real oscillator and a software interpretation of an oscillator, or real filter and a software interpretation of a filter, those are the differences between a hardware synth and a software synth.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that all soft synths sound bad, but to argue that a hardware synth is just the same thing as a soft synth, except that a hardware synth can't be used with a web browser and Quicken and Excel, shows a complete misunderstanding of what a hardware synthesizer is.  A soft synth is a virtualization of real components, dedicated circuits and so on, that actually exist inside a hardware synth.  It's like the difference between the tire on the car in your garage, and the tire on the car on your TV screen when you play Gran Turismo... one of them is a virtualization of the other, not an equivalent.
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Ekstasis

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #10 on: July 31, 2008, 02:57:50 PM »
A hardware synthesizer only has a "computer" inside it in a metaphorical sense... the same way your microwave oven has a "computer" in it, meaning circuits and microprocessors.

A hardware synth is designed and assembled for one purpose only, which is to make sounds given a certain set of rules (parameters) which can be varied within a certain range by programming.  Hardware synths, most of them at least, include oscillators... REAL oscillators, not emulated or virtual oscilators such as the ones in any soft synth.  The difference between a real oscillator and a software interpretation of an oscillator, or real filter and a software interpretation of a filter, those are the differences between a hardware synth and a software synth.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that all soft synths sound bad, but to argue that a hardware synth is just the same thing as a soft synth, except that a hardware synth can't be used with a web browser and Quicken and Excel, shows a complete misunderstanding of what a hardware synthesizer is.  A soft synth is a virtualization of real components, dedicated circuits and so on, that actually exist inside a hardware synth.  It's like the difference between the tire on the car in your garage, and the tire on the car on your TV screen when you play Gran Turismo... one of them is a virtualization of the other, not an equivalent.

Yes you are right, however, I can't really verify which is best soft vs hard oscillators, to be honest I think they are very similar nowadays, a lot has happen in the last 2-3 years. In fact, I am not sure how an oscillator works physically, if it is only a microchip I see no reason why it could not be able to replicate it in digital binary code...
However, are we talking about analoge oscillators it is of course harder since it is not digital.



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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2008, 02:58:38 PM »
Hello Ekstasis.  Have you worked with analog synths before?  If not, I think you might find analog synths or software analog synth emulators like the Arturia Moog more transparent in showing you how electronic sound is created.  From there, I would add in effects such as echo and reverb, but too many effects at the outset may make difficult to troubleshoot what you are hearing in case you want to modify it.  Those presets you are describing probably have quite a few effects attached to them.

Forrest

Hello, I have worked only with digital synths before,  I am going to try Zero-G Phaedra Ultimate Analog synth during this week, we will see if I like it.

About the Arturia Moog, I did check it on the website the "Analog Factory Experience" software/hardware combo, I did like the interface a lot, but the actual sounds is not something I like, they sound very old school 70s sounds, this is not at all the sounds I want.


I was thinking that an analog hardware or virtual interface would be useful for purposes of breaking down the sound into its basic components (VCO, VCA, VCF, ASDR, and so forth).  These are basic principles that you could apply to other virtual or hardware instruments that had sounds you found more interesting.  Starting with a complex opaque interface seems to be putting the cart before the horse.  I found it much easier to program my first digital synth because I had had basic training on a Moog Mark V many many moons ago.

Forrest

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #12 on: August 01, 2008, 05:18:32 AM »
About the Arturia Moog, I did check it on the website the "Analog Factory Experience" software/hardware combo, I did like the interface a lot, but the actual sounds is not something I like, they sound very old school 70s sounds, this is not at all the sounds I want.

The sounds are very old school out of the box, but they can be tweaked a bit (but not as much as other softsynths) and then sent through effects to achieve the sound you're after.
Jonathan Block
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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #13 on: August 01, 2008, 11:47:08 AM »
"It's not the pen, it's the author."   ;)

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #14 on: August 01, 2008, 11:58:59 AM »
I think this is the case of any musician in his/hers early phase, to focus more on the technology instead of develop your own talent and skill. I will not deny that I am in the same phase, I definitely do not use my current technology which I have access to to full extent.

If what you say is true (and I don't think it is, not the way you mean it) then you need to get out of this phase as quickly as possible. If you think Steve Roach and Robert Rich make their soundscapes by pushing presets you are dead wrong and are heading down a dead end path. Both of those artists make their own sounds from scratch. What you need to learn is the basics of synthesis, how a synthesizer works so you can make your own sounds. I would recommend getting a book or taking a class or maybe finding something on the web before taking another step.

Just about all the soft synths you mentioned can make very good ambient sounds. The reason most of those presets suck for ambient music is because most people who buy those synths don't make this kind of music, so the programmers make sounds that will help sell them. Once you know how synthesizers work you can make all kinds of interesting sounds with them. I've made some really interesting long evolving sounds using Absynth and FM7.

Hardware vs software synths, my take is they are just tools. They both have advantages and disadvantages, I tend to mainly use hardware but I also use software whenever it seems right. I know for a fact that Steve hardly ever uses softsynths, and Robert uses a couple of softsynths but mostly uses his hardware. In the end its really about ideas everything else should be their just to help you realize them. Good luck.
Take care.

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solyaris

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #15 on: August 03, 2008, 12:46:09 PM »
I have been a musician for many years, but it is not until now

...

Of course I know a lot already, as that Reverbs are very important, but I really not sure how to create such deep and warm/cold drones as Roach or R.Rich, so really all information tips and advices are very welcome.

....


Ciao Ekstasis,

Personally I hate sw synths and also hw synths indeed ;)
And how say that you need synths to compose "ambient music" ? ;)

But let focus on great artist you mention, and specifically on Robert Rich that I know better on instruments choices and sounds paths: even if I admit Robert often used a top-up technology (I think this is "only" because his perfectionism), the focal point is another one:

The "warm" drones he realized at times of sleep concerts (an unsurpassed beauty until now immo) was realized with a real rudimentary instrumentation ... the sustained lap steel guitar and a home made synt (if I well remember);

So, what is important, is the sound "architecture"/dream/vision (call it in the manner you prefer) you have in your mind; not the tool you have in your hands!

paradoxically, worst the tool, better the final result (this is my joking slogan) :)

I programmed for a lot of time DX7 (the HARDWARE gear) and even if appreciated the analogical "malfunctions" .. ;) at the end of the day DX produce waves from an "algorithm" (all all digital machines, sw or hw) .. that's bad!

The best source wave, the more complex is the ACOUSTIC wave ... especially when the wave is produced by your body direct interaction with some "instrument" ...

I hope you don't considere this a provocation .. because I'm serious on this topic.

all the best
giorgio

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #16 on: August 04, 2008, 11:47:34 AM »
I haven't had time to tackle answering this post yet although I think everyone else did a fine job.     I think I'm just mirroring a few other posts...

Basically it boils down to music is music and gear is gear and what you do to make music has very little to do with exactly what gear you use.   Whether you play guitar or piano or synths or harmonica or drums or you name it... they're all tools and in the right hands they all can make beautiful music.   

Granted - certain styles lend themselves a little more naturally to certain instruments.   You're more likely to hear someone shredding guitar in a metal tune or a banjo in bluegrass.   With ambient music, just like in rock music, pretty much anything goes.   

If you want to use synths - whether hard or soft (it doesn't matter) - pick one or two and get to know them really well (I think Mike G said this right at the top of the thread).    Almost any synth can make any sound if you dig in enough.   

If you want to use guitar - by all means go for it - there are many wonderful ambient style guitarists out there.   Regardless of the instruments you use and the effects you use - it's all in how *you* use them. 



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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #17 on: August 04, 2008, 12:17:21 PM »
Imagination is far more important than whether you're using a soft-synth, hardware synth, field recordings, acoustic instruments or whatever (obviously accordians are completely unacceptable).

Without imagination and a bit of compositional nous, you may make some interesting sounds, but not necessarily some interesting music.

I don't use synths myself, but I don't think that they are the spawn of the Devil. Sound sources are just that - sources. I use primarily electric guitar and field recordings (usually binaural). In my view, processing any sound source is a very interesting (and perhaps somewhat overlooked) part of the whole compositional process, there's much more can be done than just using reverb and delays.

cheers
Pete

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #18 on: August 04, 2008, 01:41:01 PM »
(obviously accordians are completely unacceptable).

That made my day.

...and the rest of what you said was defintely well said.   

(did I just put 'said' twice in one sentence?)

From the Department of Redundancy Department,

John

p.s.  But yes!   Absolutely - the gear, what instrument you play, what effects you run it through - all of that doesn't mean a thing if you don't have it in you to be imaginative and creative...    I've heard people with absolutely killer chops that for some reason just don't have that intangible 'something' in their music.  Maybe it's a spark of soul or ... something.   
John Koch-Northrup .: jkn [AT] johei.com .: owner / artist .: http://relaxedmachinery.com .: http://twitter.com/jkn .: http://flickr.com/johei

Ekstasis

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Re: The creation of Ambient music (for musicians and artists)
« Reply #19 on: August 04, 2008, 03:23:29 PM »
About the Arturia Moog, I did check it on the website the "Analog Factory Experience" software/hardware combo, I did like the interface a lot, but the actual sounds is not something I like, they sound very old school 70s sounds, this is not at all the sounds I want.

The sounds are very old school out of the box, but they can be tweaked a bit (but not as much as other softsynths) and then sent through effects to achieve the sound you're after.

You are probably right, I have never really experimented with pure analog sounds like that...but if one pitch it done and make drones..they might produce good sounding drones who knows..I have installed Zero-G "PHAEDRA" which is purely based on analogue sounds.