Explaining a Synth

A couple of times now I had to explain what that mystical instrument I claim to play is or does. Frankly, I never succeeded clearing things up. Today for example, when I told my co-worker that I spent the last night soldering the Ambika, which is a synth and a synth generates sounds electronically, unlike a keyboard, while it looks pretty much like a keyboard, she said: “So you’re a DJ?”
And that was one of the better responses, whereas others would be sudden loss of interest and something along the lines of "Ah, hm, nice weather, innit?

So, how do you explain to someone very random in 1-2 short sentences what a synthesizer is and perhaps attract their curiosity? Mentioning bands like Depeche Mode or Alphaville doesn’t seem to help either…

I usually just casually mention that it is a device I use that makes bleeps and blops, and is worth quite a bit of cash…

This gives both parties the option of backing out, and anyone truly interested can then inquire as to what I’m doing more specifically, and the rest can then either not care, or pretend to be interested in the cash aspect, which I can then tone down (ohh, it’s not for the faint of heart building them, and buying them relies on a good deal of knowledge about their worth…etc etc…), and steer the conversation towards something I can quickly extradite myself from, looking for greener pastures…

I most often explain that I take electricity from the wall and limit it in certain ways that it turns into sound and the ways I change parts of it make the sound different. And I then say that any noise that happens to be in a song or movie that isn’t an instrument is a synth.

In response to the common DJ question: djs mix bleeps and bloops, I make bleeps and bloops that they mix

Haha that’s nice and short about the DJ thing!
I wasn’t sure if I should even bother trying to explain waveforms, but maybe saying they come out of a wall outlet makes it imaginable.

Im married for almost 10 years. All explanations are obsolete.

I showed someone at work the panel I had etched for my MB-6582 and he looked confused as to what all those terms like LFO meant.

Some people are just too interested in Football and TV shows to learn anything.

I just show them a photo of the studio and tell them it is all about the blinking lights.

^ Lol! I shall do that!

@6581punk at least he even looked at it.

I just tell them it’s a great way of spending cash and getting to avoid human contact if they seem to be “normals” - interested in reality TV, football or some other boring shit like guitar-based music…

If it’s interesting people I usually tell them that it’s a great way to make music and hopefully be able to entertain people.

Something I said some time ago regarding modular synths when asked the dreaded there are people who enjoy listening to these sounds? It’s like the fashion industry - the layman says “who will wear that?”, some VIPs can actually make use of it artfully, and in 10 years - with a bit of darwinian selection - a watered-down version of it will be absolutely everywhere in the streets.

Also, the kids seem to enjoy the sounds made by these:

i’m the only who sings the lead synth from Terminator OST during the explanation?

@elhambre: Almost correct. Sometimes I whistle the imperial march instead.

Nine voices in my head tell my all the time i’m normal and the tenth hums the melody from Tetris to this™

That’s a really interesting connection you have there Thijs, never thought about combining kids with modular synths. Could be really fun!

@thijs: I’d like to see that studio with patch cables connected. Have a feeling it would be messy. :slight_smile:

I remember when I wasn’t to sure about the separation of midi and audio. But once I actually had to work with Midi it became clearer very quickly :wink: Now, these days I try to explain what Synthesizers and Midi are and get mostly frowning. “But how?”, and “You guys are crazy, this isn’t music”, and I “noo, it’s not I guess, …, but it can be

It’s also funny to mention that my Japanese friends have a totally different view of them “Shintisaizaa”. Not only do they take them as granted, girls and boys alike, they love them, use them. Also they combine them really well with classic instruments. But for us it’s always DM and Kraftwerk, sorry just saying …

But regarding an explaination: It’s maybe all about seeing and feeling the instrument, so playing it and maybe explain a little bit of law of waves with strings, pipes and how it also applies to electrons, showing an oscillation while listening to them at the same time - and the rest is, of course to be discovered for each one individually.

Haha, that’s the studio of d34dr4t. Just add the Mickey Mouse helmet. I liked it when the Epic Meal Time dudes showed up at one of his shows in Montreal with a meat Cthulu made from a fairly large octopus, bacon (of course!) and what not on stage when he played Cthulu Sleeps.


Here’s a nice interview where he chats about this stuff for a bit.

I guess in the end it doesn’t matter what you do exactly; once you really get into something, even just a little, most people won’t have a clue what’s going on anymore.

This whole threat reminds me of the one time when i was helping loderbast do visuals at a party.
We had a whole table with circuit bent video mixers and diy video synths. And although the DJ was clearly visible from everywhere in the room i was asked like ten times if i couldn’t play “that” song or more electro in general. At first i explained but then just responded with a “yeah, of course”.
Some people (mostly girls) couldn’t grasp the concept of the visuals and the music not being completely tied together.
But maybe it was just their drunkness.