Solaris starting up.
Spring is typical. I mean, really really typical. Months go by and you work in a comfortable tempo, all is well and then suddenly - bam! Everything is happening at the same time. The magazines I work for want more material, I'm asked to make a gig so cool that I possibly cannot refuse and on top of that I get an email from John Bowen asking me if I could help him create some sounds from his hardware synthesizer, the Solaris, for the upcoming Frankfurt Messe.
You simply cannot say no to any of these things. And on top of that I decided to write a small diary of my thoughts on the Solaris.
I won't spend any time explaining the capabilities of the Solaris - read up on John Bowens webpage - but I'll try to sum it up. The Solaris is a hardware synthesizer built on dsp-chips. While the structure is fixed, that's only half the truth. The modulations are so extensive it would be closer to call it semi-modular. It has a large number of oscillator types, ranging from all the basic waveforms to wavetables from Waldorf and the original waveforms from the Prophet VS, to digitally reproduced waveforms from CEM-circuits and more. The filters stretch from Moog and Oberheim emulations to nasty comb filters and multimode variations. I could go on forever. In all my years working with synthesizers, I've never found anything like the Solaris.
Visually, the Solaris is very beautiful. The unit I got sent to me was black with led illuminated modulation and pitch wheels. When I first read about the development of the hardware Solaris, I was a little bit suspicious about the six displays and I was afraid editing would be a messy affair - but I am happy to say that the displays are not for show and make sound design easy.
Actually, due to the huge amount of modulation capabilities I doubt if this would have been possible in any other way. I know people who like working on the Virus TI - I don't. Although the layout is easy to understand from an academic point of view, I've always found myself lost among the menus and always ending up using the software editor.
Looking just at the number of parameters available, the Solaris dwarfs the TI - but thanks to the six displays - I never found myself lost in the same way as with the Virus. Each display is dedicated for specific tasks, such as filters, envelopes, lfos, oscillator and mixer. The largest display is located in the middle and it is here you do settings that affect the whole synthesizer.
Sound design on a new architecture is like walking in a cave with minimum lights. You have to feel yourself around and the first sounds that emerge often shows the obvious highlights of the capabilities.
Here are my personal favourites from the exploration of day one.