The Electronic Garden's Joystick Journeys: The VCS3 Collection
For for Kontakt 2 and later, and Reason 4 and later samplers
Welcome to the weird, whacky and wonderful world of the EMS VCS3. This unusual instrument was developed by EMS in the late Sixties and intended as a portable electronic music studio. Unlike more famous instruments of the day, the VCS3 was initially released without an accompanying keyboard. As such, it was embraced (often by those under the influence of certain mood enhancers) as a resource for special effects. It became an electronic voice for space rockers, psychedelic bands and sound designers. The VCS3 and its big brother the Synthi 100 were used by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to create effects for many programs, including of course, Doctor Who. With clever marketing ("every nun needs a Synthi"), the VCS3 and its electronically identical suitcased brother the Synthi A became mainstays of the European rock scene. EMS itself was a hot spot, visited by many musical stars of the day.
What made the VCS3 so endearing? Why does it claim ridiculously high secondhand prices to this day? Perhaps because, keyboard-free, it invited atonal experimentation. Or maybe because it looked like the flight deck from a Gallifreyan time machine. It certainly wasn't because it stayed in tune! In fact, when the keyboard was eventually released, many musicians quickly discovered that its oscillators were hopelessly undependable, drifting and wobbling like spec of cosmic dust in a solar storm. Maybe its appeal came courtesy of that crazy push-pin routing matrix (which took the place of patch cords, but traded 'em for some pretty nutty cross-talk). It's an awful lot of fun to blindly stab pins into that thing and see what happens!
I can't guess what makes the VCS3 a classic. Maybe its all of those things, flaws and features both. Maybe it's the piercing sound of the diode-based ladder filter or the techo-squall of its ring modulator. No matter. The VCS3 is a delight and well worth the investment if you can afford one. Unfortunately, they have become rare and are now priced right out of reach of the working musician.
This particular collection of samples was created in order to capture the VCS3 in all its chaotic (and sometimes noisy) glory. This isn't your run-of-the-mill synth collection. Yes, there are a number of chromatically "in-tune" patches, multi-sampled up the keys. Many of these were created with the help of Expert Sleepers' awesome Silent Way MIDI-to-CV conversion software (http://www.expert-sleepers.co.uk/), but many of them were made by painstakingly adjusting the VCS3's "Scale" knobs. Why? Because that's the way my heroes did it way back in the 1970s. It means that sometimes the oscillators surge and beat against one another in interesting ways, especially when the matrix is full of pins!
So yes, there are some bread n' butter patches here: leads, basses and pads. However, all of them have the unique character that is purely EMS. In addition to these sounds, there are many freaky, crazy modulated effects. Some have been multi-sampled, while others are one-shot affairs. There is a full 64-note multi consisting of nothing but single percussive hits, each and every one an unusual sound effect. There are also some long, sustained joystick jams that can serve as special effects, space whooshes, drones for your sonic space explorations.
Most of the patches are dry, though there are a few with a bit of echo or other effects. For the most part, however, the only effects you'll hear are from the VCS3's ring modulator and spring reverb. I'll leave the processing to you. I deliberately shunned noise reduction. This is what a VCS3 sounds like, warts and all. Sometimes it hisses, hums, crackles and distorts, and I happen to like that about it.
There are also 101 REX files in the set. These are looped effects created with the VCS3's LFO (the third oscillator) and brain-boggling, looping "trapezoid" envelope generator. They're clocked to 100, 110 and 120 BPM. Some of them chug along quite nicely (if noisily), while others lurch and lunge like a drunken rhinoceros with little or no concern for rhythm.
In all, you get:
Not bad for twenty bucks! Do be sure to check out the Freebie page, where I've selected a handful of patches and loops from the set for you to download and use in your music. As always, even our freebies are license-free for you to use in your tunes!
Buy one format, get 'em all
Note for Kontakt users: Copy the whole file to your hard drive intact. You may need to tell Kontakt where to find the samples upon initial use.
The Electronic Garden's Joystick Journeys: The VCS3 Collection can be purchased for $20 USB via PayPal.
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