Apr 242012

Random thought of the day: what’s up with what the world has ended up calling those wonderful electronic instruments that originate from a program in a computer? Yes, we all know them as software synths or virtual instruments (a.k.a. VIs if your character count is limited or you’re just that cool), but these names, however accurate, are pretty awful.

Think about recording software. We have plug-ins and digital audio workstations – not “virtual recorders” and “software processors.” Does the fact that the processing moved from a specialized hardware box to an all-purpose CPU really make that big a difference? What’s so “virtual” about these instruments? NOTHING. Sure, there may be a little more distance between the control surface and  wherever the processing is happening, but so what – it’s not like a Fairlight CMI was thought of as a virtual instrument just because it wasn’t a single, self-contained unit.

Ok, I get that Velvet isn’t the same as a hardware electric piano – but is it that dissimilar to what’s happening inside a Nord Electro? Not in my book. And what about the specialized, integrated hardware control of software instruments like Arturia’s Analog Factory or Native Instrument’s Maschine? The lines are blurring more all the time now, aren’t they?

I don’t think for a minute that this post is going to suddenly set in motion a radical re-naming of VIs and software synths, nor does it need to. What I hope we all can agree on is that the music is the sound that’s created – and that sound is as real as the sound made by any other instrument, whether acoustic, electric, sampled, modeled, or otherwise. Do you agree?

  2 Responses to “Virtual Instruments & Software Synths: accurate & awful names.”

  1. I agree. Lets call them “Instruments” and “Synthesizers”, “Samplers”, “Drum Machines…”. I for one consider Ableton Live + all my supporting VSTs + My Controllers (antennas, cubes, grids, keys, multi-touch) to be “My Instrument”. Just like enclosuer, lid, strings, hammers, keyboard, sustain pedals… make a Piano an “Instrument”.

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