Saturday, May 7, 2011

Frequency Modulation Synthesis

I want to talk about something today. That something is FM synthesis.

But what is it, you ask? Ever had a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive? Or perhaps an old Soundblaster sound card? Then you probably already know.

It's a way of synthesizing audio that was discovered by John Chowning in 1973. I won't get into the nitty-gritty, but I will say that you can make some really amazing sounds with it. Example? Thunder Force IV's soundtrack. Probably the best you can find on the Mega Drive. The quality is pure gold. Go look up the song Metal Squad (stage 8) in particular.

But FM synthesis does pose a bit of a problem: it's pretty difficult to engineer good sounds using it. If you can, then you're bound to create some awesome music. If you can't, well, there are quite a few Megadrive games that exemplify this. If you want to try your hand at it, though, there are a few VSTi's that utilize FM synthesis. One of the more popular ones is VOPM, which emulates the Yamaha YM2151, a sound chip that was very much similar to the Mega Drive's YM2612.

And now I'm regretting ever getting rid of my old Packard Bell with Windows 3.1 on it. Forgive me, I was young, and unknowing!

55 comments:

  1. Can you post any example tracks using this synthethiser?

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  2. Please write about Dragon Force. They play music to make music for video games.

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  3. i dont know a thing about making music, but i noticed how the quality of sound from videogames has been increasing lately

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  4. Maybe you could show us some of the sounds you've made sometime..?

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  5. I've heard of this before, but your description is more detailed than what I knew.

    I agree with the above posts, maybe show us your own samples? :)

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  6. Very interesting :) i would also appreciate an example!

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  7. Never knew thats how old systems made music, but just thinking about it made me nostalgia hard for Sega.

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  8. i've been playing around with getting a chip i desoldered from and old McDonals toy to modulate my tesla coil, it should be awesome :D

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  9. Didn't that it could make such a high quality. That's quite impressive.

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  10. I just love the old systems music, love how primitive and futuristic at the same time it sounds!

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  11. Chiptunes are great, old consoles really had some good sound hardware.

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  12. I think I once inadvertently fiddled with frequency modulation on Fruity Loops (the beat making program). Needless to say, the end result was an abject failure xD

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  13. Great post, i will search more about it. Thanks

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  14. I still trip out on old video game music tracks. Seems it was actually better when it wasn't so refined.

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  15. yeah, i miss those great tunes from back in the days

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  16. Is that the same kind of tune we could hear in Megaman? WOW, that was really ahead of its time :)

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  17. Interesting stuff, seems like you have a good grasp of the concept.

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  18. Yeah I would like to hear some of that sound

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  19. I had a MSX with basic on it. Shit was cash!

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  20. @SamanthaBlues Yes! Although the sound chip used in the NES (the 2A03) was a little bit different. Instead of giving the programmers full control over every channel, there were four definitive channels (oscillators) and one sample channel. Each could be manipulated in various ways, but there was a bit less control than what's presented with FM synthesis. But they're both programmable sound generators, nonetheless. If you're further interested, you should check out the program Famitracker, which emulates said sound chip.

    @Hadders93 Haha, don't worry man, it's not an easy endeavor! I'm still trying to thoroughly figure it out, myself.

    @Solidacid That's awesome, man. Let me know how it goes!

    Depending on how much time I have today, I might try to whip something up in VOPM for you guys. Gotta study for finals, though. Thanks for the comments!

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  21. @Pappa Püllï Awesome dude! The MSX was a really great system. Are you familiar with the Sound Custom Chip (SCC)? It was developed by Konami for use with their games (Metal Gear 2, Nemesis III, etc.) and it produced some really wonderful sound.

    For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX57tzysYQc

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  22. Ah the good ol' days. It brings me back to a much simpler time. Hah nice post, will follow for more to come I hope!

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  23. Memories. Memories. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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  24. Very intriguing stuff. Will be looking forward to more.

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  25. Are we talking about song modulations like shifting to another key?

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  26. I just found out something new today, thanks.

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  28. Makes me wonder what hte future holds for sound engineering.

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  29. @Tomgh A bit different than simply transposition. Basically, it's the concept of taking rudimentary waveforms (in the Mega Drive's case, primarily sine waves), and modulating them with other waveforms to create different sounds. Oscillators affecting oscillators, in a sense. Best way to comprehend it would be with some hands-on experimentation. Fortunately, there are a few VSTi's out there which allow for that.

    The sound chip in the NES is a bit easier to understand. I'll probably blog about that tomorrow.

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  30. I love this sorta stuff. VSTs are essential

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  31. Metal Squad (stage 8) sounds pretty f'ing awesome.

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  32. I still have my sega genesis :3

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  33. Wish I still had a sega genesis. The sonic games as of late are a little lacking.

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  34. Thunder Force IV is legit.

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  35. That sounds pretty cool. I would imagine its pretty tough to make music with that technique.

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  36. wow that is totally new for me, but it seems really interesting :) I will follow :P

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  37. Thunderforce has such a huge following in the Japanese music scene. I just wish they made more of those games

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  38. "Forgive me, I was young, and unknowing!"

    That's pretty much what I say every time I think about my old Super Nintendo. :(

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  39. Looked up the soundtrack - that is really awesome! Don't think I've ever had anything suporting it, too young I guess..

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  40. Great blog post on synths! not tryin to toot my own horn but my blog is all electro music which features these synths if anyone is interested!

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  41. Lol we were all "young and unknowing" at one point, right? Easily forgiven ;)

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  42. Hey great stuff. Paul, I'm definitely interested in a blog like that.

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  43. wow dude, I don't even know how to get some boxes in my car, but you seem to really know what your talking about.

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  44. sega genesis was the shiznit. i really want to hear other examples of this though.
    +followed

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  45. I'm looking forward to some examples. Old school sound is awesome

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  46. very interesting read, thanks!

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  47. Would love to hear the examples!

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  48. megadrive musics for the win.

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