Every rare once in a while, I stumble across something on the Internet that is so unique, overlooked, and vital, that I feel I need to point it out to somebody. SY Programming is one of those finds. Written in 2002 by Mr. Janßen, it's seemingly a how-to guide on programming the Yamaha SY77, an overlooked digital synthesizer from the post-DX7 years. But once you start reading this paper, it becomes clear that this document is so much more.
If you've been reading my sporadic reviews on synthesizers and software over the past couple years, you'll likely guess that I've been looking to uncover some of the missing links that lie somewhere between early modular analog synthesizers, early digital synthesizers like the Synclavier, and current software synths (many of which are iOS-based) that can emulate nearly any hardware synth ever made.
At some point, I'll write a review of the SY77 that I bought on reverb.com (for a small fraction of its original cost), but for now, I just want to suggest that anybody who is interested in digital synthesis (FM in particular) — or any signal creation or modulation approach really — should read this 61-page document. What makes it so unique in my mind is that it's presented in a very formal, academic "technical paper" format, but it's written in an easy-to- understand style that takes a complex subject and makes it immediately accessible. Janßen's background is in robotics, and he holds several patents in that field, which clearly qualifies him to discuss technical matters. But he seems to realize that most of the people who will want to read this paper are not scientists or programmers, but producers and musicians, and he speaks directly to the latter group. His explanation of John Chowning's FM synthesis algorithm is the easiest to understand I've read, as he breaks it down into very basic, practical, conceptual blocks and examples — and only at the very end of the paper does he get into the actual math and theory behind FM synthesis. As a bonus, the paper includes a comprehensive overview of pretty much every analog and digital synthesis method invented, covering both history and theory, and even offering some real-world examples of synths that implement those methods.
If you're interested in synthesizers and synthesis techniques, especially FM and Yamaha's overlooked AFM, SY Programming is a must-read. -JB