In "Every User Lies" at the excellent Coding Horror blog, Jeff Atwood refers in passing to the concept of the "active user" – the person who immediately runs the software without looking at the manual at all.
In my trying out of various softsynths (most notably the WayOutWare TimewARP 2600 and the GForce Oddity and impOSCar), I’ve found myself doing that – firing up Garageband, and opening the plugin in a track, then just fiddling with the presets. By this point I know quite well that doing this with an analog synth with a screenful of knobs and sliders is counterproductive, but I caught myself doing it anyway.
So I decided that if I was going to have any kind of a meaningful interaction with the plugins, I was going to have to work through the manuals and see what there was to learn, whether I decided to buy them or not – and to avoid wasting money on something that didn’t fit my headspace (and earspace). My TimewARP 2600 demo expired last year(and reinstalling/other fiddling about doesn’t wake it up again – I suppose I could wipe my OS X install, but that’s frankly not an option…), so I’ve concentrated on the Oddity, since the impOSCar, though swoonily gorgeous soundwise takes too much processing power on my G4. (Click and breakups bad.)
I was able to find the original Odyssey manuals at oldschool-sound.com, in addition to the GForce manual for the plugin itself, and I’ve started reading them through. Both are very good, and a very different experience from, say, the Ensoniq manuals – and most other contemporary manuals as well. These manuals assume that your goal is to build a framework of understanding before proceeding, so you won’t be lost in a maze of Too Many Options. I particularly like the advice from the original Odyssey manual which exhorts you to resist the temptation to simply crank all the sliders up. The author obviously had musicians like some I know in mind.
Frankly, in the case of these plugins, it’s really necessary to understand the signal routings and how everything is connected up if you want to be able to to do anything other than load presets. The original manual for the Odyssey is quite up to the standard of the 2600′s manual, with its outstanding step-by-step tutorial. (As an aside, any musician who wants to understand who subtractive synthesis really works should spend some time with this manual; as I’ve said before, even without a 2600 in front of you, it’s possible to get an amazing amount from this book.) It very carefully builds up from near the end of the signal path, gradually working backward and adding complexity as it goes. Quite a good read as well as being fun to follow along with.
I think that’s the key thing here: the machines are relatively speaking quite opaque, and unless you have some entertaining way in, you’re going to find it a bit dull.Then again, after all this, I’m still not finding the sonorities speaking to me yet – I think my current musical needs are actually better served by the Moog Modular V … which, again, needs more CPU than the G4 can give it.
Hmm. It’s entertaining anyway, and I’m finally getting to try out the instruments I missed in their first incarnation.