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What is a Synthistrator?

Eric Tallberg
Eric Tallberg

When you listen to a selection of music, especially orchestral pieces that involve numerous and varied instruments, many of the individual songs have been pre-recorded and tested by a synthistrator.

More often called an orchestrator, though the distinction is somewhat blurry, a synthistrator is a musical technician who will use a synthesizer to experiment with various instrumental tones and arrangements. This pre-arrangement will provide an artist, producer, or the conductor of an orchestra with a test track for a particular musical piece. Essentially, the synthistrator will provide a blueprint for the piece.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

"Synthistrator" is a rather obscure term derived from the synthesizer, the device of choice in artificially creating the tone and distinctiveness of a specific musical instrument. The synthesizer is basically a computer with a piano-like keyboard attached to it. It was first used commercially in the 1960’s and it generates a variety of sounds by producing and then combining different frequency signals. Thus, a synthistrator, by utilizing the versatility of a synthesizer, is able to mimic the sound of virtually every musical instrument in existence. Orchestration of a piece of music that involves a diversity of instrumentation is a complex undertaking made vastly more efficient by the use of synthesizers. A synthesizer is designed to create a range of sounds or tones strictly its own, thereby becoming a musical instrument in itself.

There are subtle differences which are often ignored in attaining the uniqueness of a musical recording. The terms “instrumentation” and “arranging," though separate by definition, are in most cases, lumped together as “orchestration." Instrumentation is actually the manipulation of specific instruments appropriate to a piece of music. Arrangement is commonly the adaptation of a piece for instruments other than those for which the piece was originally written; arrangement can also include adding content to the piece. Orchestration, the final step in the process, involves the synthistrator in coordinating and testing the efforts of instrumentation and arrangement as well as the composition of the piece.

Synthestrators will select the separate elements of a particular musical piece, combine these elements using the synthesizer and thereby provide a “mock-up” of the whole. This synthesized mock-up is utilized in judging and adjusting the individual parts of the piece, hopefully providing something worth listening to.

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