A complex oscillator is a type of oscillator module that offers extensive sound design capabilities by combining multiple oscillators, waveshaping features, and internal modulation options within a single module. Complex oscillators are designed to produce a wide range of timbres and textures, making them a versatile sound source in a modular synthesizer system.
A complex oscillator typically includes the following components and features:
- Multiple oscillators: A complex oscillator typically consists of at least two oscillators, often referred to as the primary or “carrier” oscillator and the secondary or “modulator” oscillator. These oscillators can be used independently or combined in various ways to create rich and evolving sounds.
- Frequency modulation (FM) capabilities: Complex oscillators often provide built-in FM synthesis capabilities, allowing the modulator oscillator to modulate the frequency of the carrier oscillator, resulting in new and harmonically rich timbres.
- Waveshaping and waveform manipulation: Complex oscillators often feature waveshaping or waveform manipulation functions, such as wave folding, wave morphing, or pulse-width modulation, which enable further sculpting of the output waveform.
- Internal modulation options: Many complex oscillators provide internal modulation routings, allowing users to easily modulate various parameters, such as the oscillators’ frequencies, amplitudes, or waveshaping parameters using internal or external control voltage (CV) sources.
- Synchronization and tracking options: Complex oscillators often offer options for synchronizing the oscillators, such as hard or soft sync, or controlling the tracking between the oscillators, allowing for precise control over the harmonic relationship between the carrier and modulator oscillators.
The Buchla 259
The first complex oscillator can be traced back to the Buchla 259 Complex Waveform Generator, which was a part of the Buchla 200 series modular synthesizers, developed by Don Buchla in the 1970s. The Buchla 259 was an innovative design that combined two oscillators with extensive waveshaping and modulation capabilities within a single module.
The Buchla 259 featured a primary (carrier) oscillator and a secondary (modulator) oscillator that could be used independently or together to create complex and evolving timbres. The module offered frequency modulation (FM) capabilities, where the modulator oscillator could modulate the frequency of the carrier oscillator, as well as wave folding and other waveform manipulation functions. The 259 also provided various synchronization and tracking options between the oscillators, allowing precise control over their harmonic relationships.
The Buchla 259 Complex Waveform Generator set the foundation for the concept of complex oscillators in modular synthesizers and inspired the development of many subsequent complex oscillator designs in various synthesizer formats, including Eurorack, Serge, and others.