How Vector Synthesis Works

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Vector synthesis is a fascinating way to synthesize sound that uses a software system that mixes different waveforms to make complex sound patterns.

The key to how it works is a tool called a vector controller. This is often something like a joystick or any other X-Y interface.

This tool allows smooth changes between different sounds. This leads to a big question: How does mixing waveforms with vector synthesis change the quality of sound and broaden the ways we can express music?

As we dig deeper into how it works and how it’s used, we can see that vector synthesis has a lot of potential to change the way we design sound.

Vector Sound Synthesis Decoded

Vector Synthesis lets you make complex sound patterns by moving different sound sources around with a joystick.

Sound designers can create unique sound colors by moving the joystick and changing sound settings in a way that feels right to them.

The way you move the joystick along the X and Y axes (i.e. left-right and up-down) changes the mix of sounds. This isn’t just a simple switch between sounds. Instead, it’s a smooth, constant blend between them that makes for interesting sound experiences.

The sounds you make are very interactive. You shape the sounds as they happen.

This hands-on way of making sound lets artists experiment with texture and timbre in unique ways.

How it Works

The main component of this method of synthesis is the vector control grid.

This is a two-dimensional interface that allows the user to control and manipulate multiple parameters of sound simultaneously. It typically involves four different sound sources placed at the corners of a square grid.

The user can then ‘move’ a control point within this grid to blend or mix these sounds. The position of the control point determines the balance of these four sound sources.

This allows for on-the-spot changes and blending of many sound waves in different ways.

A joystick is most commonly used to control which position of the grid you’re on. The final sound depends a lot on where the joystick is positioned. Sometimes, the path of the joystick can be automated using something called envelope shaping.

The sounds created through vector synthesis are full of detail and change over time. They also express emotion very well.

Making Sounds With Vector Synthesis

The vector control joystick gives you direct control over the sound blending. You can move smoothly between waveforms to make small or big changes in the sound.

You can also use envelope automation to set a path for the vector to follow over time, so the sound morphs without you having to control it manually.

Beyond the use of the vector control grid, the basics of sound synthesis – shaping ADSR envelopes, modulation and effects processing – work the same.

Here’s a basic workflow for designing a sound using vectors:

  1. Designing/Selecting the Sound Sources: This involves creating or selecting the basic sound waveforms that will be used in the grid, such as sine waves, square waves, or complex waveforms.
  2. Modulation: Adjust the frequency, amplitude, or phase of the sound sources. This can include envelope shaping, frequency modulation, or other types of modulation.
  3. Vector Mixing: Vector synthesis involves mixing two or more sound sources together in a dynamic way. This is achieved by moving a “vector point” around a “vector plane” (i.e. the vector control grid) that contains the different sound sources. The position of the vector point determines the mix of the sound sources.
  4. Automation: You can automate the movement of the vector point to add evolution to the overall sound.
  5. Effects Processing: Apply effects such as reverb, delay, distortion, or filters to further shape the sound.

Vector Synthesis Applications

Vector synthesis is used a lot in various areas where sound design is needed. By changing waveforms smoothly, vector synthesis lets us build exciting new sounds. These are important when making sounds that draw in listeners.

One of the best things about vector synthesis is that it’s interactive. You can change sounds as you’re making them. This is really useful in live shows. Artists can change their music to match the mood of the room.

It’s also very useful in things like video game design. It lets us make sound that changes with what the player does. This makes the game more immersive for the player.

Also, vector synthesis is very important in scoring films. It lets composers make sounds that change slowly, just like the story. This makes the movie more emotional and dramatic.

In terms of music production, here are some of the best uses of vector based synthesis:

  • Electronic and techno music sounds
  • Complex and evolving pads
  • Metallic, bell-like tones
  • Rich and layered soundscapes
  • Spacey and atmospheric sounds
  • Abstract and experimental noises
  • Sharp and cutting leads
  • Soft and airy ambient textures
  • Digital and robotic sounds
  • Warm and wide basses
  • Sweeping and dynamic effects
  • Crystal-clear and sparkling highs

Hardware and Software Tools

Vector synthesis uses both special hardware synthesizers and flexible software tools.

The Korg Wavestate is a popular example of recent hardware that has improved how we blend sounds. This is very useful, especially in creating dynamic audio for video games. The ever-changing soundscapes can make the gaming experience more immersive.

Korg Wavestate Synthesizer
Korg Wavestate Vector Hardware Synth

Software like Vector Pro VST has also been helpful. It lets us use vector synthesis in digital workstations and works well with other production tools.

This is great for producers of experimental music who want to discover new sounds and changing soundscapes. The easy-to-use software and hands-on hardware work together to give composers and sound designers a wide range of sounds.

Vector Pro VST Screenshot
Vector Pro VST

Some other popular VST and hardware options:

  1. Vector VST by Rob Papen
  2. Phase Plant VST by Kilohearts
  3. Falcon VST by UVI
  4. Absynth 5 VST by Native Instruments
  5. Sequential Prophet VS Digital Vector Synthesizer
  6. Yamaha SY22 Vector Synthesizer
  7. Korg Kronos Music Workstation
  8. Alesis Andromeda A6 Analog Synthesizer

What the Present and Future Hold

Vector synthesis is a staple of modern music and audio design. It allows music creators and sound designers to explore a wide world of sounds through the experimental mixing of waveforms and samples.

This opened up new possibilities for innovative sound design. It let artists combine traditional and unusual sounds, creating a wide spectrum of audio experiences. These can range from familiar to very unique.

The method of synthesis was introduced by Sequential Circuits in the Prophet VS synthesizer during the 1980s. It enjoyed substantial popularity during the late 1980s and the 1990s with synthesizers like the Korg Wavestation.

However, with the digital revolution and the advent of sample-based synthesis and digital signal processing, the popularity of vector synthesis waned a bit.

Nevertheless, vector synthesis has never completely gone out of style and still holds a unique space in the world of sound design.

Today, with the resurgence of modular synthesis and the growing interest in unique and diverse forms of sound synthesis, vector synthesis is experiencing a renewed interest. Moreover, numerous software-based synthesizers and some hardware synthesizers offer vector synthesis capabilities to cater to this renewed interest.

Although it may not be the most popular form of synthesis currently, it certainly holds a niche within electronic music production and sound design.

Future of Vector Sound Design

As technology gets better, vector sound design is set to evolve. This is due to improved tools and new ways of doing things.

Interactive ways of dealing with sound are a big part of this growth. The use of touch-sensitive controls, movement sensors, and even virtual reality are some of the ways that vector synthesis is being updated for today’s users.

In the future, vector synthesis will probably use artificial intelligence and machine learning as well. This could make difficult sound design tasks automatic, but still let the artist add their own touch.

Mixing human creativity with the power of computers will create new chances for exploring sound.

What to Do Next

Thanks for reading this complete guide on Vector Synthesis for beginners. Next up, deep-dive into another area you’d like to learn about:

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  • Physical Modeling Synthesis – Read Guide