Prophet ’08 Versus Odyssey

It had been quite a while since I last played my Prophet ’08 Keyboard/Module pair.  Due to a dearth of keyboards, which I hope to be resolved in the coming months, I’ve had to sacrifice the DSI duo in order to control my other duo – the two Odysseys.  Today I thought I’d rearrange the mess of wires and play again the P’08s.  Yikes, what a contrast!  I was struck by the differences between the two instruments.  The same patches sounded quite distinct from each other.  The most noticeable quality is how much brighter the Odyssey is than the Prophet.  I most often use the Rev 1 filter. When you open it all the way, or even most of the way, it sparkles like glitter; to say it’s bright is an understatement.  But the same patches on the Prophet ’08 were amazingly duller, although I don’t mean that in a bad way.  I was actually impressed at how lovely the P’08 sounded – how rich and warm – more so than I had recognized in the past.  The Odyssey actually sounds thinner, although after a few minutes of playing, that thinness is no longer noticeable.

The sum of it all is this: contrary to all I’ve read and heard, and contrary to my own ten years of experience, I would conclude that the Prophet ’08 is ultimately a dark instrument, even when its 2-pole or 4-pole filter is open all the way, resonance or not.  I realize it’s known for having a bristly character, but that doesn’t require that it be exceedingly bright.

By comparison, the Odyssey – which does not have a bristly tone – soars into the upper frequencies and dazzles the ears with its brilliance.  But this is not at all to criticize the P’08.  I actually think more of it now and wish the Rev2 final OS update was finally available!

I must admit that I bought the ARPs partly because I was weary of waiting for the Rev 2 to reach its final polished state before ordering one, and because the last of the Odysseys were quickly disappearing.  Now one can only pick and choose from the units that are still remaining, whereas I definitely wanted a pair of the black and orange version. I have no regrets about buying them, though, because they nicely contrast with the P’08, and I love the immediacy and directness of the programming.  But still, the Prophet ’08 struck me once again as an all-round fabulous instrument for the whole gamut of music synthesis – from gigantic polyphony to mellifluous melodies. And I’m anxious to return to having the perfect number of keyboards – three – which is precisely what my musical ideas require.

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Improvisation #102 For Poly Evolver and ARP Odysseys

The brass patch in this improvisation was played on the Prophet ’08 Keyboard controlling two Korg ARP Odysseys. It is a classic sound with a twist: it has a double envelope. The master module provides the ordinary sound, as heard when a note is struck, whereas the slave module consists of a second brass patch with a brighter filter, a much slower attack, and a greater depth of reverb. Hence, the second module enters only after a note has been held for about two seconds. And since each module is panned to opposite sides, the first module sounds on the right, and then the second sounds on the left.

The familiar ethereal patch comes from the always sublime Poly Evolver Keyboard/Rack pair. Its dynamic range is part of the patch, thanks to a slow LFO that modulates the cut off frequency, while the filter is also altered using the modulation wheel for crescendi. It’s the LFO, though, that creates the breathing or heaving effect when long chords are sustained. This is a standard aspect in my sound design, which is intended to take what could be an otherwise static or sterile moment and animate it with a subtle life-like quality.

Incidentally, I stumbled across this tiny cabin on a small mountain where I often hike. I was given permission to use it on occasion. The thought of it somewhat torments me…in a happy sort of way! And when I say I’m “old school,” I mean this sort of really old school!

Instrumentation:
DSI Poly Evolver Keyboard
DSI Poly Evolver Rack
DSI Prophet ’08 Keyboard (as a controller only)
2 Korg ARP Odysseys

Effects:
Reverb from Lexicon MX 300
Delay from Zoom MS-70CDR

Recording:
Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder.

All music property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2021

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Odysseys Demonstration 1

This is a first experimental recording with my new pair of Korg ARP Odyssey Modules controlled by the Prophet ’08. Nothing brilliant; just a little minimalistic duophonic music, some sample and hold, and a pronounced stereo effect throughout. My main interest was to demonstrate the Odyssey’s filter.

Instrumentation:
2 Korg ARP Odysseys
DSI Prophet ’08 Keyboard (as a controller only)

Effects:
Reverb from Lexicon MX300
Delay from Zoom MS-70CDR

Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder

All music property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2021

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Mid-Spring Meditation

This is a new recording of an old composition. It’s a shorter version, less shrill, and more relaxed. The Poly Evolver provides the PWM piano accompaniment, while the Odysseys provide a soft string solo patch.

The ARP Odyssey was a favorite instrument of mine many moons ago when I played in bands. I had owned all three versions. Now I’ve got the Korg Rev 3 (black and orange). This instrument will be appearing center stage in future videos. It’s still “under construction,” with an effects unit and a keyboard yet to be added. But even as it stands, the combination of the two modules panned to opposite sides for stereo depth makes for a remarkable bi-timbral synthesizer.

Instrumentation
DSI Poly Evolver Keyboard
DSI Poly Evolver Rack
2 Korg ARP Odyssey Modules controlled by a DSI Prophet ’08 Keyboard

Bass
DSI Prophet ’08 Module
Hammond XPK 200L Pedalboard

Effects
Reverb from Lexicon MX300

Recording
Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder

All music property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2021

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The Korg ARP Odyssey

Last week I purchased a Korg ARP Odyssey Module. When I was young I owned all three renditions of the Odyssey. It was probably my favorite synthesizer, among all the models I’ve owned. Hence, I’ve been keeping a jealous eye on Korg’s reissue over the last couple of years, and, because I presently need a third instrument, decided to finally give one a try.

I have to commend Korg for the instrument.  It is of impressive quality.  The metal body is solid as a rock, rather heavy, the sliders have a bit of wobble but are still stable and precise, the switches are firm, and the general appearance is pleasing to the eyes.  An additional nice touch was to include in the package, together with Korg’s own new manual, ARP’s original diagram-rich owner’s manual, first published in 1976. I’ve been enjoying this little piece of history, and reading a bit from it each night. The old manuals are so much more interesting than the modern ones, and, coming from the days when synthesis was still new and fresh, comprise a miniature course in additive synthesis. And I must admit to feeling a touch of pleasant nostalgia with the turning of each page.

The tonal character of the instrument is clean, consistent, and leaning towards the thin side.  Although it has plenty of fullness in the lower registers and would make an excellent bass synthesizer, it is not boomy; the lower notes still sound clean and fit for fast playing.

It was an excellent idea to include the three different filters of the original revisions.  They’re each quite different in character.  The first revision is most distinct from the other two in that, when the resonance is turned up high, the voice does not lose its bottom end, but remains full as when no resonance is used.  And the filter in general is lovely.  I would say it’s the aspect I most like about the instrument.  A brass patch has a wonderful crispness to its quick envelope sweep of the cut off frequency – possibly the best I’ve ever heard.  Even turning up the filter 1’s cut off frequency all the way sounds magnificently brisk and bright, in a Curtiss sort of way. 

The character of the oscillators is also pleasing, and they’re reliably stable after only a few minutes of warming up.  You’re given only sawtooth and pulse width, although you can design a playable sine wave from the self-oscillating filter.  The square wave sounds pure and satisfying. 

The Odyssey offers a very different designing and playing experience from a DSI/Sequential instrument, almost the opposite.  Since the instrument has no program memory, the synthesist is left in an almost helpless state.  But the challenge can be met with creativity and planning.  For example, the oscillator waveforms are set by switches that can be changed in a split second.  You can go from PWM to sawtooth almost as quickly as you could hit a program button.  The same is true for the three filters, which could be the difference between having a patch that used a lot of resonance and then one that seemingly used none.  And the ease of using the very visual panel means that, with one hand, you could go from a mellow flute patch to a caustic filter sample and hold effect in only seconds.  In many cases, it’s just so easy to move from one sound to another, as long as you plan your sounds carefully with the changes in mind.  Of course, that can be limiting, too, so this sort of panel is not for everyone.

Pulse width modulation is an important patch for me; I use it constantly and in various ways – sometimes at a slow rate and moderate depth for bass sounds, sometimes at a moderate rate and extreme depth for solo patches.  But I nearly always use it with a vibrato.  So, the Odyssey’s single LFO is definitely an issue.  One solution is to use the first oscillator put in sub audio range as a source of modulation, but this allows only for radical types of effects, and not a sweet and gentle vibrato.  The best solution is the old remedy of assigning the ADSR generator to control the pulse width.  With a very slow attack, decay, and release, and no sustain, you can create an excellent substitute for a few seconds, until the envelope reaches the bottom of its sustain.  But for steady playing, it suffices.

That’s a short list of the positives, and there are many more.  There are, of course, negatives: that single LFO is definitely a drawback, as well as the only two-stage (AR) VCA envelope, the lack of a master tuning control, an octave switch that moves the keyboard up or down by two octaves rather than one, and the lack of programmability.  And as is always the case when I play on old school analog synthesizer, I also find the tuning to be a problem; even the oscillator fine tuning is too coarse.  I find myself adjusting the beating rates by lightly tapping the slider with the top of my finger nail.  And even that moves the pitch too much.  But worst of all, when using both oscillators and playing in a legato style, there is an annoying “click” with each note strike, due to the two-note paraphony.  I’ve noticed this on all Odyssey videos of both the original and reissue instruments, and it’s very bothersome.  I’ve listened carefully to this effect when playing the Odyssey with the other synthesizers, and it remains noticeable.  It doesn’t disappear into a mix.  You can eliminate it with a detached type of playing, but that often doesn’t suit the music; nor is it possible with long release times.  Plus, it’s difficult not to accidentally trigger the second note as you smoothly play.  Korg should have corrected this flaw and offered a switch that would select either mono or duo triggering. 

As to the future of the Odyssey in my set up, I’m undecided.  I go back and forth about it.  If I kept it, I would add a second Odyssey Module and possibly control the two with a five-octave MIDI keyboard, such as the Extra Deluxe MFG The Sixty-One with Module 01.

These are exciting possibilities, but one problem remains: in closely comparing the Odyssey’s general sound with that of the Prophet ’08, I’ve found that the two are very similar…very.  I’ve played the same patches on each instrument side-by-side – the ones I use most frequently – and I can’t say that I clearly prefer the Odyssey’s renditions.  I like both equally.  And the fact that – off the top of my head – a P’08/Rev2 can do anything an Odyssey can do and so much more, means that the Odyssey is a hard sell for now.

I really do like the Odyssey.  Having a non-programmable instrument, as much as it’s problematic, is also exciting in a backwards kind of way.  It makes you behave differently and do things you wouldn’t normally do on a modern synthesizer that has all the features.  And it’s a pleasure to be able to glance across a control panel – whether the instrument is on or off – and know precisely what sound is sitting there looking up at you.  This is one of the advantages of sliders over knobs – the better visual assistance.

The Odyssey provides a refreshing type of immediacy and simplicity, in the midst of a madly complex field.

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The Signs of the Times

“You know then how to read the face of the sky, but cannot read the signs of the times” (Mt. 16:4).

A piece of irreconcilable contrasts: different timbres, different tempos, different key signatures, and different moods. Trouble is coming.

The soft digital pad comes from the Poly Evolver Keyboard, while the reed organ comes from the Prophet ’08. The “zip” effect at the beginning of each P’08 chord is caused by glide.

A note on the Prophet ’08. I’ve read many complaints about the location of the modulation wheels being above the keyboard, rather than in the traditional place to the left of the keyboard. Personally, I find this location to be much more advantageous. It allows you – as I do constantly, including in this piece – to move the wheels while you’re still holding a bass note with your left hand. It enabled me to easily open and close the filter in this little ditty, without interrupting the music or leaving the keyboard. Whereas it’s much more difficult to do this when the wheel is to the far left. Then you have to do it with leaps and bounds of your left hand. Such is the case with the Poly Evolver Keyboard. I much prefer the design of the Prophet ’08.

Youtube especially spoiled the audio quality of this piece. Try listening with head phones.

Instrumentation:
DSI Poly Evolver Keyboard
DSI Poly Evolver Rack
DSI Prophet ’08 Keyboard
DSI Prophet ’08 Module

Bass:
DSI Prophet ’08 Module
Hammond XPK 200L Pedal Board

Effects:
Reverb from Lexicon MX300

Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder

All music property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2020

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Improvisation #101 for Poly Evolver Keyboard and Prophet ’08

The Prophet ’08 provides an intermittent soft flute pad and at the end a bright string patch with a slow filter sweep, while the Poly Evolver provides a warm string patch in which the modulation wheel controls the filter dynamics.

Instrumentation:
DSI Poly Evolver Keyboard
DSI Poly Evolver Rack
DSI Prophet ’08 Keyboard
DSI Prophet ’08 Module

Bass:
DSI Prophet ’08 Module
Hammond XPK 200L Pedal Board

Effects:
Reverb from Lexicon MX300

Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder

All music property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2020

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An Autumn Walk

Just a dreamy improvisation that recalls an easy saunter through the woods towards the end of the fall foliage season. I love the bright autumn colors in New England, but I love even more the weeks after the leaves have turned pale or fallen, yet before the first snow. There is no quieter time for a hike, since all the leaf-peepers have returned to their cities and their busy lives, abandoning the woods to those of us who never leave them.

My wife took this picture, unknown to me, after we had spent a lovely Sunday afternoon by a swamp. Yes – Sunday by a swamp. I sure know how to show a girl a good time!

This piece makes use of similar patches on the Prophet ’08 and Poly Evolver Keyboard. The improvisation begins with a bi-timbral sound on the former and then changes to a swirling digital sound on the latter, and so forth throughout the music. The piece consists mostly of descending parallel thirds and sixths, which represent the falling leaves. At the end, both patches are combined for the chord progressions.

Instrumentation:
DSI Poly Evolver Keyboard
DSI Poly Evolver Rack
DSI Prophet ’08 Keyboard
DSI Prophet ’08 Module

Bass:
DSI Prophet ’08 Module
Hammond XPK 200L Pedal Board

Effects:
Reverb from Lexicon MX300

Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder

All music property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2020

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Improvisation #100 for Poly Evolver Keyboard and Prophet ’08

This improvisation is an experiment with a patch that appears only at the end of the piece. It uses two different digital sounds from the Poly Evolver Keyboard, and a third sliding string sound from the Prophet ’08. The latter patch has a wonderful effect, but it’s quite clumsy to use.

Instrumentation:

DSI Poly Evolver Keyboard
DSI Poly Evolver Rack
DSI Prophet ’08 Keyboard
DSI Prophet ’08 Module

Bass:
DSI Prophet ’08 Module
Hammond XPK 200L Pedal Board

Effects:
Reverb from Lexicon MX300

Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder

All music property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2020

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Improvisation #99 for Poly Evolver Keyboard

There are so many fabulous new synthesizers available theses days; and yet, here I am still twiddling around with my old Poly Evolver Keyboard. Well, it makes perfect sense, because the PEK is still an astoundingly beautiful sounding synthesizer that holds up beside the latest and greatest new instruments.

The pad in this piece is made on the Poly Evolver Keyboard/Rack combination, and the dynamics are controlled by the modulation wheel. Although during the darker portions of the music the patch is quite warm and analog-ish, there are actually two higher-pitched digital wave shapes that are heard when the filter is opened . The bass is provided by the Prophet ’08 and played on the pedal board as usual.

Instrumentation:

DSI Poly Evolver Keyboard
DSI Poly Evolver Rack

Bass:
DSI Prophet ’08 Module
Hammond XPK 200L Pedal Board

Effects:
Reverb from Lexicon MX300

Performed live and recorded directly to a Tascam DR-100 MKIII Linear PCM Recorder

All Music Property of THE MUSICAL SYNTHESIZER, 2020

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