karl heinz stockhausen

The synth, explained

Daytripping to Milan my daughter and I - you know the intro of Il vecchio e il bambino on Radici, no? That interplay between the synth and the flute. My daughter asks what instrument on earth makes that buzzing bubbling twirling sound. 

It’s a synth, Sara.

What is a synth?

Karl. Heinz. Stockhausen. Come and help me. Ehm… basically you need two things. One is a very simple piece of electronics that creates a sound which is… how to say? Flat. It can be just high or low. Like the water on a pond, you know? It can be more or less deep, but its surface is perfectly flat. Ok?


Good. Now you take another thing. It’s called oscillator. The oscillator is… the oscillator is like a stone you throw into the water. The stone could be small or big, heavy or… well, different stones create different ripples on the water, and the waves will be wide or narrow, smooth and soft or angled and rough, and the same thing… the same thing happens with sound… you can even use a second oscillator, which is like throwing two stones at the same time… Ok?

Ok. But, what is a synth?