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HOW TO: Korg's ARP Odyssey

February 8, 2017

Back in the early ’70s, the Moog vs. ARP “war” was just as passionate as the Mac vs. PC debate is today. At the time, the Minimoog and ARP Odyssey were the two dominant mainstream monosynths. On the Moog side, the Mini offered three oscillators, Bob’s massive filter, and ease of use. On the ARP side, the duophonic Odyssey included lowpass and highpass filters, hard sync, ring mod, and incredibly sophisticated modulation resources.

Korg’s ARP Odyssey re-issues are available in a tabletop version, a module version, and the Odyssei app.

Even now, the classic Odyssey’s features are capable of textures that we normally associate with modular gear, which makes sense as the Odyssey was basically a slimmed-down version of the 2600—arguably the synth that first brought modular to the masses. So with Korg’s reissue of the Odyssey available in three formats (keyboard, module, and the Odyssei iOS app), it’s high time we took a closer look at its vast capabilities, using the tabletop version as our frame of reference.

OSCILLATORS

The Odyssey’s oscillators are quite complex, featuring independent variable pulse-width, hard sync, duophonic operation, and a slew of modulation options. Here are some tips for making the most of their features.

Single LFO detuning. Each oscillator includes its own independent modulation section for both pitch and pulse-width, so together they can do lots of animation tricks. For example, many sound designers rely on detuning to thicken a two-oscillator sound, with each oscillator retuned by a few cents in either direction. That’s certainly possible with the Odyssey, but a slicker move is to apply a touch of sine wave LFO to only one of the oscillators, while leaving the other properly tuned. Because the synth’s sine wave LFO is bipolar (its modulation affects the source both positively and negatively, with the base parameter setting being the “center”) applying a sine wave to only one oscillator adds motion to the detuning effect (see Figure 1.)

Fig. 1. Oscillator 1 is set up with a touch of LFO modulation on its pitch, which is a great way to add animation to detuning tasks. Note the Audio switch at the top: In LF mode, it allows Osc 1 to serve as an LFO via the S/H Mixer section. Oscillator 2 is configured for envelope modulation of the pulse width. Note that hard sync is active and the S/H generator is configured for pitch modulation.

Pulse-Width Modulation. These modulation resources also allow for LFO-based pulse-width modulation to be applied independently to each oscillator, so you can use the sine wave to modulate the pulse-width of oscillator 1, while using a sawtooth on oscillator 2 (perhaps with a touch of the above mentioned pitch modulation) for a really thick sound.

Another approach is to modulate the pulse-width of one or both oscillators via the Odyssey’s ADSR envelope. This adds a timbral sweep with a lot of harmonic character. Here are some rules of thumb for this type of envelope modulation:

Medium to long decays combined with a lot of modulation depth offer the most pronounced effect, which is great for sweeping leads and drones.

Increasing the attack slightly with a short decay gives the attack of each note a brass-like effect, especially when combined with a bit of pitch modulation on the other oscillator.

Setting all envelope parameters to their minimum (with maybe a tiny bit of increased decay) is great for adding a click-like transient to the attacks of notes.

Hard Sync. The Odyssey was arguably the first mainstream synth to offer hard sync on its oscillators and is enhanced greatly by their range of modulation options. In a nutshell, hard sync causes oscillator 2 to reset its waveform every time oscillator 1 completes a cycle. Classic examples of this sound can be found in the main leads for “Let’s Go” by The Cars or “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton. It was also a key component in many of Billy Currie’s leads for the ’80s UK band Ultravox.

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