Here's a free virtual synthesizer for Mac OS X from France, where all the fine Arturia virtual emulations of classic synths like the Moog Modular, MiniMoog and Arp 2600 come from. Could it be the Perrier they drink? (Can I mention that I really like French people, culture, and food and that the "freedom fries" thing was really stupid and leave it at that?) Okay, Le Synthé V3 is an excellent software emulation of the EMS Synthi, a.k.a. the "Dark Side Of The Moon" synth. The Synthi was a very cool little three-oscillator synth that had a plastic membrane keyboard and folded up into a suitcase. Along with Pink Floyd, Brian Eno was an early proponent of the Synthi. The on-board sequencer can be used in your Pink Floyd cover band and you can also process external audio through the unit. The small size of the real Synthi makes for a great virtual layout. While not quite as graphically flashy as some of the Arturia emulations, Le Synthé's interface is excellent and easy to understand. Easy-if you've used a Synthi before. The plug-in defaults to a completely "off" state with no sound whatsoever being generated. Five knobs, buttons, and patch points need to be moved just to generate a single oscillator tone. I credit many hours with a real Synthi and early Buchla synths for my signal flow skills, and this virtual synth will hone your signal flow chops really quickly.

The keyboard window is faithful to the original, and there are several new modules as well, including an eight-octave filter bank, delay, recorder, oscilloscope, and spectrascope. Some other cool updates are MIDI capabilities and VST plug-in compatibility. Two unique features to the original are retained: the X-Y joystick controller, and the X-Y matrix patching grid. Rather than patch cords, small pins were inserted in holes on an X- Y grid to make audio and control voltage connections. Pierre Couprie is a musician (you'll hear some of his music when you visit his site to download this) who programmed this with Max/MSP from Cycling '74. Sure, compared to some of the commercial virtual instruments, this has some bugs in it. But hey, did I mention that it's free?!? I kind of like the quirkiness-like a real vintage synth. Factor in the fact that all the documentation is in French (although Pierre did make an English version of the software itself, and you can translate the web page into broken English), and playing with Le Synthé is not only fun but an adventure too! Plus, it sounds great! Big thanks to Thom Monahan for turning me onto this. (free download;, click on the ligciels link))

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More