The Future Sound of Thor

Signature Sound Designers 1

The mighty Thor is one major feature of the new Reason. To help Reason users get the most out of this instrument, we have asked some seasoned synthesists to add their personal touch to the Thor patch collection that ships with the program.

The Designers

Richard Devine – Based in Atlanta, Richard is known for his tweaked-out beats and micro-edited productions. He has released material on labels such as Warp, Schematic and Sublight.

Richard Barbieri – His first fame came as a member of the UK group Japan in the 80s. He now tours the world and produces with Porcupine Tree – finds still time for solo work.

Pascal Gabriel – Between co-writing and producing dance classics like ‘Beat Dis’ and ‘Theme from S-Express’ to producing hits for New Order and Sophie Ellis Bextor, Pascal has picked up a thing or two about synthesizers.

Daniel Wang – A seasoned producer from California/Taiwan/Berlin, Daniel has made a name for himself making acid-infused neo-disco tracks for labels like Morgan Geist’s Environ label, Ghostly and Playhouse.

Manuel Schleis (Vengeance) – One of a kind, highly acclaimed sound programmer and producer most recognized for his distinct, trancey sound.

Tipper – UK nu-breaks guru Tipper has a keen interest in production and programming, something that is obvious when you listen to his layered, evolving sound.

Gordon Reid - Being the synthesis and vintage synth expert at Sound On Sound magazine means you know a thing or two about synthesis, so we are delighted to have Gordon on the team.

Morgan Geist – As half of legendary duo Metro Area, Morgan has released tons of old-school sounding tracks. His love for classic electronic sounds is evident in his Thor patches.

Plaid – Legendary electronica act Plaid probably needs little introduction. Since the early 90s they have produced brilliant and intelligent electronic music.

Sonic Boom – With a background in bands like Spectrum and Spacemen 3, Peter Kemble, aka Sonic Boom, has always found use of analog modular systems to add his signature drone sounds to his music.

Two Lone Swordsmen – The two-piece consisting of UK dance veteran Andy Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood was one of the most influential british electronic acts of the 90s.

These gentlemen have been using Thor for a couple of months now, resulting in the Signature Patch collection for Thor. They all have their unique approach to synth programming, and we spoke to a few of them about their work with Thor:

The Sounds

A couple of the sound designers sent us a set of sound samples, showing what his Thor patches sound like.

Richard Devine

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Swirl Bells (00:35)

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Sun Sparkles (00:36)

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Underwater World (00:37)

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Ribble Synth (00:44)

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Glass FM FX (00:44)

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FM Synth Tines (00:27)

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Night Sky (00:44)

Tipper

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Purple (00:33)

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Arp Bubbles (00:41)

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Morphic Circle (00:36)

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Giggle Hill (00:36)

The Roundtable

Propellerhead: What drew you to Thor?

Signature Sound Designers DevineRICHARD DEVINE - I have always been drawn to modular based synthesizers. They where the basic building blocks of my knowledge of sound design and synthesis. I was totally shocked, when I first saw Thor. I was so happy to see something like this integrated now into Reason 4. Now you have some really creative options for sound, and have a wonderful new synthesizer that is capable of making extremely rich sounds and effects.

RICHARD BARBIERI - I was interested to see how different in structure and design this new synth was in relation to Subtractor and Malström and how complex the modulation matrix layout would be. Six forms of synthesis sounded good.

DANIEL WANG - Of course I knew that Thor would be a virtual synthesizer, but what excited me most was the idea of combining subtractive analog synthesis, FM- and wavetable-style sounds, plus formant filters and multiple filter types, all in one module. Everyone loves the warm sounds of Moog and Roland, but those were never the only things in my studio. I've always used several Yamaha FM and formant synth modules and Korg digital synths too. Machines like PPG, Waldorf Microwave, and early Akai samplers combined digital oscillators with analog filters, and insofar as it is possible to emulate that sort of sound with a virtual synthesizer, i figured Thor would offer endless options,.. which it does!

PASCAL GABRIEL - The fact that all sorts of synthesis were available together and the Step sequence capabilities.

MANUEL SCHLEIS - I was curious about Reason, because I never had contact with it before. So I was very excited, what Reason can do and what Reason can not do. And I was surprised how good it actually sounds.


Propellerhead: What features/functions do you like best about it?

RICHARD DEVINE - I love the six different Oscillator types, in particular the FM oscillators are wicked. The Modulation matrix is also amazing. I have made countless different configurations of crazy routings, and patches with Thor. You can modulate anything with Thor, which is key for my music/ The Comb filters are some of the best ones I have heard yet. So musically useful, and textural.

Signature Sound Designers BarbieriRICHARD BARBIERI - As I mentioned, the modulation matrix allows for amazing sound manipulation and the assignable controls allow for realtime performance effects. The analogue style sequencer is really flexible, ideal for creating weird percussive patterns. It is great to have a sound shaper in the chain as well with possibilities to distort and saturate the signal a bit.

DANIEL WANG - I simply like the fact that you can have it all. I was just in Japan for 10 days, and our hotel in Kyoto offered an amazing breakfast buffet. Obligatorily, there had to be both Western and Japanese style food, so on one side you had bacon, hotcakes, yogurt and fruit salad, but then you could also have rice, miso, fish and sea kelp. My boyfriend and i went for both... It's like that with Thor...

PASCAL GABRIEL - As I mentioned before, plus all the filters available too, making an incredible palette of sounds in one machine.

MANUEL SCHLEIS - I really enjoy the comb filters, the Formant filters, the massive MultiOsc and the BIG BIG modulation Matrix.

TIPPER - Definitely the routing capabilities. Being able to do unorthodox complex routing using the matrix makes the world of difference when trying to manipulate sound quickly and drastically.


Propellerhead: What was it like doing sound design using Thor?

RICHARD DEVINE - It was amazing. I kept on discovering new sounds, and combinations routings. The sound possibilities are endless. It is a joy to use, and the graphical user interface is so elegant and straight forward so you can really get in there, and make things happen really quickly.

RICHARD BARBIERI - It felt pretty instinctive. It's laid out in a very logical and user friendly way. I started out with a Roland System 700 module when I was eighteen so I became used to working with "patched" set ups and routing. Thor is similar in that you can set complex paths, but you can also use it in a simplistic way and get some really nice synth tones straight away.

Signature Sound Designers WangDANIEL WANG - It was much more fun than I could foresee, but also in a bedeviling, slightly nutty way. I almost never touch Nintendo or Playstation, but it felt a lot like that - endless keystrokes until one reaches a bizarre sudden gratification. Several nights, I couldn't look away from the computer screen until I got a sound right. But I think that obsession is a characteristic of any interesting worktool - be it canvas, word-processor or instrument.

PASCAL GABRIEL - Brilliant! Easy set up, quick results, as simple or as complex as you want, depending on your mood!

MANUEL SCHLEIS - It was a lot of fun to discover this complex synth. The flexible filter routings and the versatile oscillator models for example give you endless combinations.

TIPPER - In all honesty... a little taxing on the eyes, but I do appreciate the aspects of having to include a huge amount of data with a limited amount of pixels. There has to be a trade off somewhere I guess! But other than that, very fun indeed.


Propellerhead: Tell us something about its quality, sound and sonic possibilities.

RICHARD DEVINE - The sound was tremendously detailed and rich. I really loved the way you could stack and layer the modules piece by piece to really work it one piece at a time. I was able to get some extremely beautiful pads, strings, and ambient sounds. The Oscillators had a beautiful range and could go extremely rough or smooth and warm. It’s very versatile and unique.

DANIEL WANG - Insofar as a virtual synth can emulate all these sounds in the digital domain, I found Thor simply wonderful. Amazingly well programmed and conceived. As for whether Thor, or any virtual synth, can reproduce the nuance of an acoustic guitar or a fuzzy Arp filter, that is a question more for music philosophers than technicians.

Signature Sound Designers GabrielPASCAL GABRIEL - I think it knocks spots of 'pretend' soft versions of classic synths. I've had a few people refusing to believe the sounds were part of Reason's armory when I used it Rewired to my DAW software.

MANUEL SCHLEIS - The quality is really good. It features a smooth hi-end and a massive bass basement. No annoying aliasing or other digital artifacts. A truly well programmed synth!

TIPPER - It makes some great sounds.....I’m always looking for abstract "unheard" sonics and there was certainly a decent quota of that.


Propellerhead:What kind of music to do you make?

RICHARD DEVINE - I make pretty odd music stuff. Think of Alien versus Predator, or if you were shot into the future 2000 years from now, and were listening to the music of alien machines. Very sci-fi, and disturbing at times. I usually do more sound design for video games/TV spots and Film scores. They usually call me in when the need some serious strangeness :-)

RICHARD BARBIERI - Many different styles really. My own solo work tends towards a textural ambient and electronic style. With Japan, the keyboards were very much featured and upfront, but I work with many different artists and the band I have been with for the last 13 years, Porcupine Tree, is pretty much heavy rock so it's more of a challenge placing the synth sounds and electronics within that context.

DANIEL WANG - I suppose I'm known for making "eclectic retro-flavored disco music with some nice chord changes and keyboard solos". Not boring repetitive minimal techno, or hiphop or indie rock.

PASCAL GABRIEL Eclecto-tronic Pop

Signature Sound Designers VengeanceMANUEL SCHLEIS - I produce many genres, ranging from chilling trance to commercial hands up to progressive / electronic minimal house. Many "Ghostname" productions.

TIPPER - All sorts, particularly in the squishy psychedelic area. I like bowel sounds. Liquidy-wobbley-weirdy type stuff. Just think of the antithesis of say, uh, Weird Al Yankovic, or someone like that.


Propellerhead:How could you see yourself using Thor in your productions?

RICHARD DEVINE- I have already been using Thor non stop in all of my recent production work and recently did use Thor for the new Nike Skateboarding website. I used primarily Thor for the sound clips, and moving sounds. It’s quite an amazing tool for sound designers who want to go in and carve out something new.

RICHARD BARBIERI - Whenever I have anything new, be it a synth or a gadget of some sort, I tend to use it a lot at first and it becomes integral to new compositions and then after a while it finds it's "place" within my set up. I use Reason instruments live anyway, so I'll definitely be programming up more Thor sounds for the next round of touring in the autumn.

DANIEL WANG - I've actually said in the press quite often that people should put down their laptops and try playing a real guitar or conga, because I think that, by nature, music made on a computer can often sound mechanical and repetitive. But in the end, I think that it totally depends on the user - it's one tool among many. I'll attach a good controller keyboard and just jam - it's great having such a super-powerful synth at one's disposal!

PASCAL GABRIEL - As my first port of call for great analog sounds. I haven't turned on any of my real vintage gear since I started using it!

MANUEL SCHLEIS - I use it via ReWire. It is a good addition to my other synthesizers. I really like to use Thor for deep saw basses or wide trancepads.

Signature Sound Designers TipperTIPPER - Well, as described above: liquidy-wobbley-weirdy type stuff et al.

Propellerhead: - Thank you guys for sharing this with us and may Thor always expand your sonic output!

Published: July 2007