Mininova is a powerful mini synth-vocoder made by Novation whose popularity has rapidly grown between musicians, due to it’s extremely versatile character, to its very good sound quality, to the goodness of the materials used to build it and, last, but not least, to its very affordable price.
Furthermore one of the most exciting features of this “small monster” is the very efficient vocoding system it offers…let’s say it, definitely an icing on the cake for the “Novation baby”.
Having choosen one of these toys as a part of my own setup and having appreciated it’s power in addiction to the easiness of programming it, I would like to show you how to build sounds using its synthesis engine.
And to do this, I would like to use the Mininova VST/AU editor that, instead of using the buttons and the encoders embedded on the synth, lets the programmer use the mouse and his computer supplying to him a software interface that shows the whole set of parameters in a more affordable way.
You can grab the software for free from the Novation web site: choose the right version for your operating system, download it, double click, next, next, next, finish. You’re ready to fly!
Load your favourite daw, create an instrument track and put the Mininova editor as a virtual instrument inside it. Obviously don’t forget to connect the Mininova to your computer using the USB cable and to turn it on, choosing “USB bus power” mode.
The editor will connect to your instrument and show the first patch present on the slot A000 (not the one you used the last time before turning off the instrument, sigh). Choose the first empty slot in which to put your brand new sound and….LET’S START.
For this first episode, what about creating a synth lead that Vangelis would love? Remember Blade Runner? I mean a synth lead like this one.
The music is the “Opening titles soundtrack” from “Blade Runner”, a film that you HAVE to watch, if you haven’t yet.
Awesome, isn’t it? Also, it seems a bit complicated to program…but not too much, believe me, thanks also to the versatility of the Mininova ehehehe.
The first thing you have to worry about when programming a timbre is to take a look to the scheme that briefly describes your synthesis engine, in order to fully control it without doubts.
So let’s start from the sound sources, aka the oscillators. Vangelis used to program this kind of leads on the Yamaha CS-80, that had two oscillators able to produce a square wave and a pulse wave with an addiction of a sine wave as an additional wave form. It’s a good starting point, isn’t it?
Go the the oscillators section of the editor and enable the oscillator 1 and oscillator 2 on the mixer, choosing for both them a sawtooth wave. In order to start giving the sound more character, let’s perform a small detune of the two waveforms….let’s say +6 for the first oscillator and -6 for the second one, using the “Detune cents” knob. Again, point to 127 the knob “Hard” in order to have a full sawtooth wave.
If you prefer, you could choose to use also a third oscillator to give the sound more strength, as shown in the above picture.
It’s the time to take care of the amplitude envelope: the only two things we have to adjust are the attack and the release phases, augmenting both them a little bit as shown. It’s all for this section, let’s take a look to the filters.
Regarding them, we have to remember that the original Yamaha CS-80 had got two filters: a resonant 12 db low pass filter and a resonant 12 db high pass one. So I guess we have to choose the same modules on the Mininova, that offers a lot of filter types to the programmer.
Choose a HP12 for the first filter and a LP12 for the second. Pick up the “Series algorithm” for the combination of two, rotate the “Balance” knob to the right and you’ve recreated the situation you have on the CS-80. Now, the most interesting part: we have to emulate the filter sweep of this timbre, that is the most inportant feature of it. Furthermore it’s not a static filter sweep ‘cause Vangelis used to vary it during the execution using the polyphonic aftertouch of the CS-80.
“Houston we’ve a problem”: the keyboard of the Mininova doesn’t implement aftertouch, only velocity, so what? Now it’s up to you, ‘cause you have several alternatives:
- Use the velocity to control the filter sweep
- Use the modulation wheel to control the filter sweep
- Use an expression pedal
For our timbre we choosed this approach: to use the modulation wheel to control the filter sweep manually and to use one of the tweak parameters of the synth to adjust the ENV amount on the LP12 filter in order to let the sweep become static. Furthermore we have choosen to let the aftertouch control the sweep, in case you would like to use an external midi controller that implements aftertouch.
Now we have to choose the effects: Vangelis used a lot of reverb with a long decay for his timbres so let’s choose a similar approach considering the Mininova effects section, made by 5 slots you can arrange in different manners.
For the first slot we choosed to use an EQ in order to add more loudness to the sound. The second slot is occupied by the “Reverb 2” with maximum decay. For the third slot a small amount of “Chorus 1” to give the sound more richness and for the third slot a little bit of Delay1.
Woilà, here it is our patch reproducing the opening titles of the film in a small audio clip.
Marvellous isn’t it? It’s all for now. By the way, remember to give it a name and to press “Save”. You have to do it directly on the Mininova or export the patch to the “Mininova Librarian” from the editor.
Good fun and stay tuned for the next article.