Score For Sale News

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sound Programming Standards (Part 1) on the ENSONIQ ESQ-1, ESQ-M, SQ-80 & SQ-8L

No one ever went to "Synthesizer Jail" for not being consistent when designing sounds...  

But, if you want to be a synthesizer saint (like, say, Eric Persing) it wouldn't hurt to build your sounds with a view toward a handful of standards and conventions.

"Dullsville Arizona!" you say?

Well, with all the crazy "spaghetti" routings I've seen, I guarantee that a few programing conventions will help you dodge some serious sonic bullets.

The truth is, consistency and standards are a tremendous help when digging into other people's work--and even when revisiting your own sounds.  

I am striving to be more consistent.  Its not like standards don't exist. The hardware user manuals themselves included suggestions, and articles in the Transoniq Hacker added a little nuance as time went by.

These five categories of programming standards will give you the most bang for your buck:
  1. Suggested modulator routings 
  2. Patch naming conventions
  3. Removal of useless "dead end" references (a particular sin of mine!)
  4. Keeping patches in tune relative to each other
  5. Taming volume levels between loud and quiet patches
 This article covers the first two programming conventions. The following section is reprinted verbatim from the ESQ-M manual, which seems to have copied the section from the ESQ-1 manual without modification.


There are a number of Programming conventions that have been followed within the ESQ 1 factory Programs. They will help you to know where to begin when editing factory Programs. You may also find them to be handy rules of thumb to follow when creating your own Programs.


  • LFO 1 is used for Wheel Vibrato, when it is part of the Program.
  • LFO 2 and LFO 3 are available for other purposes.


  • ENV 1 is used for Pitch Envelopes (modulating OSC 1, 2 or 3.)
  • ENV 2 is used for individual volume Envelopes (modulating DCA 1, 2 or 3.)
  • ENV 3 is used for Filter Envelopes (modulating the Filter Cutoff Frequency.)
  • ENV 4 is always fixed as the overall volume Envelope ( DCA 4.)

Of course these do not all apply for every Program. Any Envelope can be routed anywhere you want it to go (except to DCA 4), and some Programs will call for different applications. But where applicable, the factory Programs follow these conventions.

Program Names

  • (/) Where a Program is Layered, a slash (/) is incorporated into the Name.
  • (+) Where a Program contains a Split, a plus sign (+) is incorporated into the Name.

In actual practice...


The suggested envelope and LFO routings make a lot of sense.  Where this scheme breaks down, as you might imagine, is (1) when you are using a specific modulator for multiple destinations, (2) when you don't want or need these common modulator applications, or a combination of those two exceptions.

In the real world, what you discover more often are confusing cross modulations that don't go anywhere and end up having little or no effect on the sound. This is accounted for in programming standard #3 ("Removal of useless 'dead end' references"), which we will address in a later article.

Program names

This turns out to be a more challenging rule of thumb, simply because each character is precious...after all, you only have six to work with!  The "slash-layer" ("/") and "plus-split ("+") naming convention has an obvious drawback.

Let's say I want to save my own piano patch layered with strings.  "PIANO/STRINGS" just can't be done in 6 characters.  "PNO" is is about the shortest phonetic abbreviation that makes sense.  There is already the world-famous PNOSTR patch, which is not a layer, so it doesn't use the slash.  Unfortunately, "PNO/STR" is not a possibility (thanks a lot, 6-character limit!).

If I shorten "STR" to "ST", I might be able to guess what "PNO/ST" does.  But what if I want to layer a Moog lead ("MOOGLG") with a french horn ("FRHORN")?  Six characters is often just too limiting to sacrifice a letter.  You risk sacrificing understandably in order to indicate split/layering.  You have to decide if it's worth it on a case-by-case basis.
I might want to name my bass/guitar split "Jaco Pastorius+Esteban", but clearly, even if I call it "JAC+STEVE", I'm still using too many letters!
Kirk Slinkard uses a convention in his commercial banks where he groups voices that are used ONLY as layers of previous sounds at the end of bank (up in the 30-40-ish range).  He puts parentheses around the layer patch name (e.g. "(REVERB)".  I call these patches "parenthetical layers", and its a good convention, especially if you have sounds which exist mostly for the purpose of layering (i.e. they don't stand as well on their own).  Layering two equally powerful standalone sounds don't lend themselves to "parenthetical layer" naming. 

Next time we'll take a look at a few of the other possibilities of patch standardization.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The caption read "Nancy Faust, who has been the Chicago White Sox’ organist since 1970, is retiring at the end of the season, and fans are not letting her go unnoticed. "

Take a closer look at that keyboard stack to see something else that shouldn't go unnoticed..

Thursday, May 5, 2011


We've loved the adventures of the Packrat for years, and find lots of his situations uncomfortably relatable.
Turns out the sentiment may be mutual...

Follow the ongoing Packrat saga at Dave Lovelace's awesome website, which I hotlinked the above image from without asking permission (hope that's okay, Dave!)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mandatory Viewing

If you have the slightest interest in synthesis and haven't seen this video, you'll thank me later:

This site was intended to be more than a Rainer Buchty and Kirk Slinkard appreciation society, but it hasn't turned out that way so far. So please excuse my occasional forays into synth hero worship.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Score for Sale Gets Pranked (in a GOOD way!)

Kirk Slinkard pulled a pretty good practical joke on me. He sent “scans” of what were very credible pages of the old Transoniq Hacker, with the amazing 3rd article in his Sounds of Trek series (as mentioned in the previous post).

I keyed-in the patches, marveled at the programing, and tossed it in my “To Do” pile to upload and add to the original "Sounds of Trek" article.

Months later--after I posted part 3 in fact--“Civilian Kirk” (as he is called), revealed that he mocked-up the 3rd article. -It was not a Hacker original.

Well, I fell for it. His detailed patch sheets were dead ringers for the old Transoniq Hacker hand-typed table format.

But even if the format was an inside joke, the content itself is pure gold. It's a real article, mind you, with great new patches. It just never appeared in the original Transoniq Hacker.

Needless to say, if I had any idea I was sitting on a new Slinkard article, I never would have sat on it for so long. My apologies to Kirk for the delay, and my apologies to the legions of ESQ/SQ80 users for keeping these sounds from the synth community.

So, I'm proud to host this brand new article by Kirk Slinkard! Many thanks, Kirk, for sharing these great sounds with the ESQ/SQ80 community. Live long and prosper!

PS, these patches work great on the SQ8L VST, too. So everyone can get in on the fun!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Even More Star Trek Sound Effects for ESQ/SQ80

Veteran sound designer Kirk Slinkard sent me a special third installment (!) of his Star Trek Sound effects series. Which I promptly sat on for several months.

Not for lack of enthusiasm, mind you, as the sounds are amazing. Let's just say I got stuck in my own personal time warp (Cough *college!* cough!)

The wait is over! Go to the Star Trek feature to read the page about the new sounds, and download the bank, updated with 8 additional Star Trek sound effects!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Getting Sequences in ESQ/SQ80 Format

Someone recently wrote the SQ80 list asking for sequences of current pop songs. Many gigging musicians consider these sequences their 'bread and butter', as they become the backing tracks of a set list.

Like many of you, I am a DAW based studio musician, so I have no sequences to contribute, but I do have lots of info:

If any of you remember "Monster Dan" from the Transoniq Hacker days, he is still in business [links open in new window]:

He does pro arrangements of (American) top 40 hits. He has thousands, and has retained his SQ80 format (at least as of a few years ago when we exchanged emails). For a pro gigging musician, buying these sequences would be a good solution.

Margus Kliimask has very generously developed a Window's based ESQ/SQ80 sequence converter, but I think it is 1-way only (I'm on a W3 phone and can't confirm):

Finally, Gary Giebler still sells his very-capable MS-DOS based 2-way sequencer translation tools! He even has a new storefront with new tools:

It's my guess that a contemporary computer will need an emulator to run them. I have used DosBox successfully for a ton of stuff:

I don't have the Giebler tools, though. Can someone confirm that they still work either with or without DosBox?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Alan Wrench ("He's named after what he is") Award

"If you alter the Cutoff Frequency Knob while the Resonance Knob is set to a high level, you can create a type of sound that is attainable only from a synthesizer."
-- Roland Juno-106 Owner's Manual

We know what they're trying to say, but imagine a similar statement apropos of a guitar (or bagpipes, or a nose flute).

Sometimes just ya gotta smile.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tim Conrardy, R.I.P.

We were saddened to hear about the recent passing of sound designer Tim Conrardy.

I became familiar with him through his Atari ST website. The Atari ST was arguably the first general purpose computer suited to music applications, thanks to its onboard MIDI port. I had exchanged several emails with him before I realized he was the same Tim Conrardy whose sound design I had enjoyed for some time. As fellow sound designers, we were able to strike up a spirited friendship. If you have a taste for adventerous sounds (and can run Windows VSTi's) then take a look at Krakli Cygnus.

In the midst of all the emails and forum posts we exchanged, I was surprised to discover that he was an American. Surprised, simply because his sound design demonstrates a European sensibility. I think this aesthetic is obvious even to casual listeners.

Tim had an Ensoniq connection through his Atari site--the great Esq-apade for the Ensoniq ESQ-1. Esq-apade is one of the “Caged Artist” editor series, developed by Bob Melvin and distributed by DR T Software in the late 80’s. It is available only for the Atari ST, but you can have it up and running through an emulator within half an hour thanks to the great resources on Tim’s site.

Tim will be missed, and the world is a poorer place without his skills and his dedication to his craft. He leaves us with a wealth of sonic possibilities which the world had never before heard, and which are available for anyone to use.

A memorial website has been set up in his honor with biographical info, and links to both his sounds and the growing list of soundware and software which are being released to memorialize a great guy and a true artist.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Welcome to the Score for Sale Blog. New this month is a detailed look at the performance notes of the great Technosis patch banks, which are still available from Soundengine.

We've beefed up the hands-on section with expanded info about the LFOs (including a special LFO rate time and tempo calculator).

While we're on the LFOs, take a look at William H's affectionate and informative take on constructing LFO drum machines and arpeggiators on the ESQ1. The excellent tips he gives work equally well on the SQ80, ESQ-M and SQ8L VST.

And we close with a feature page on using the built-in overdrive effect. You knew there was a built-in overdrive effect, didn't you?

Coming soon is a user demo area and a place where you can upload stuff for our contests and features.