impOscar – a Synth with a Soul

A couple of months back, I claimed I was not a very technically oriented musician; and I guess if I look back ten years, compared to that I’m not. But I guess there is a degree of geekery that just sticks to you when you start working with synths and music gear.

The last big studio I ran about ten years ago had over 20 different hardware synths, not to mention the plugins. So lots of stuff to fiddle with. These days, I like to keep things simple. I think getting the right gear is important, but it’s even more important getting rid of the wrong gear. Music is in the person, not in the gear – and surrounding yourself with all the latest toys can, at least in my experience, even distract you from the actual music itself.

That being said, there are a few little widgets which I would not like to do without. One of them, the Valhalla Shimmer reverb I wrote about a while ago. The other is the Yamaha SY99 (the only hardware synth I have left), which I’ll maybe write more about later. The third is this amazing synth plugin from GForce, called the impOscar.

The impOscar has been, after a fashion, modelled after the classic monophonic Oscar synth. But GForce have done a tremendous job with enhancing the classic. First of all, the impOscar is polyphonic. Secondly, this little thingy has such amazing range of expression that it’s boggling. You really don’t need much more than this one plugin for a huge range of analog sound beauties, ranging from basses to leads, from sound effects to lush pads.

While it is not quite as versatile, its sound quality brings to mind when I got my first Access Virus: it just blows everything else straight out of the water. (And I got rid of the Virus eventually, because it was *too* good: you really didn’t have to do much with it to make it sound great.)

The impOscar is challenging enough to have you do some intriguing tweaking, yet intuitive enough not to frustrate you to death. It sounds great enough straight out of the box to even slap some great presets on songs, but also invites you to do some tweaking to really take it off the ground. If there is one synth plugin out there that I think stands above all the rest, this is it. So go check it out on GForce’s website; they just released a new version of it.

Music from the Future of the Past: How a 15-Year-Old Melody Became the Key to Launchland

The main melody for the track “Tau Ceti Center” is something I wrote around fifteen years ago. For some reason I could never quite grasp how to get this theme sorted out, though. I think I have tried in one form or another to make a publishable song from this theme from at least the late 1990’s. I guess I had already given up on it, when all of a sudden early last year, it just clicked.

Playing with an impOscar, I stumbled upon the dual arpeggiator lines that carry the song along, with the theme played on a Mellotron woodwind. The secondary theme came soon after, and with that the orchestration also clicked into place. The rhythm track, though, was harder. Bear McCreary’s soundtracks for Battlestar Galactica and Caprica have been a huge influence for me in the past few years. Drawing from that inspiration, the first version of the song had a very ethnically influenced rhythm track (something like “The Wild”, but wilder). The song was too hectic, though.

I remember listening to a concert by Jerry Goldsmith (of Star Trek fame) in Oulu in mid-90’s. I had paid attention to how Goldsmith often used a drum kit with the orchestra only to play out a straight beat comp. I tried out this basic rhythm, and things clicked into place: at this point, the rest of the music practically wrote itself.

After 15 years and I don’t know how many versions, it certainly felt weird to have this song sorted out. It still does.