This is a "preview" of my "Tiny Synths, Mighty Sounds" documentary film and book ( -slated for Nov./ Dec. 2018' release ). The full two part interview will be included in the book and referenced in the film. Part 1 ( below ) will give you an interesting glimpse into the mind of one of Brazil's most fascinating electronic designers.
The story of Paulo's founding of Electronic Music Works is an inspiring tribute to the human spirit. Rising from difficult circumstances, Paulo's hard work, boundless energy and determination has resulted in EMW, one of the world's most intriguing synth manufacturers. Whether you're a synthesist in search of new sounds or someone looking to be inspired by what the "entrepreneurial spirit" can accomplish, Paulo's story is not to be missed.
Paulo Sergio dos Santos founded Brazil's EMW ( Electronic Music Works ) in 2009. Under his leadership, EMW has released a wide range of Eurorack modules, synths and MIDI devices. His products are both innovative and surprisingly affordable. The interview below will give you some insight into Paulo's "out of the box" design and marketing objectives.
CTN: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your electronic design background and how EMW came to be?
Paulo: I grew up the early seventies ( space age ) and my father worked as an electronics technician, so, as far as I can remember, I was surrounded by electronic equipment, components, benches full of projects and things like that. I was always seeing my father assembling audio amplifiers, radio frequency transmitters and all kinds of new projects that appeared in the electronics magazines at that time.
We used to listen to a lot of music too, through the big pair of loudspeakers that he had built for us. We listened to various types of music -always a very varied scene. I remember that at the age of 7-8 I listened for the first time to Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" song and felt something strange related to that sound atmosphere.
I studied electronic engineering from 1986 to 1991 here in Brazil, and after that I started to assemble my own electronic lab -putting together some ideas and projects that I had in mind. Here in my country, it is like that -you do whatever you need to make some money, it's not a stable economy. So, I worked repairing home appliances, doing some projects for radio-stations, etc.
Shortly thereafter, I learned to program computers and made a radio automation software for AM/FM radio stations among other things. Building my own synthesizer was always a dream of mine, but I had to wait until I reached a proper condition and had sufficient resources to embrace a challenge that big. My first experiences with filters, oscillators and some analog effects began early, I think around the early 90's.
So, finally around 2004 I started to deal more seriously with audio design and started building the first projects and modules. It was a long way because after work with these circuits I never walked back. It has been a "day by day" journey. EMW began officially in 2009, but I already had many designs ready and strongly tested, like the MIDI Patch Banks and Patch Synthesizers, the WCS-1, among others.
The WCS-1 was one of Paulo's earliest products. Remini- scent of Oberheim's "SEM" ( Synth Expander Module ), it gives electronic-musicians a complete single voice synth in an attractive, affordable desktop module.
I personally own two WCS-1x's and love their beefy "old school" sound. Check out my full review of the WCS-1x on the "Gear 1" page of this site.
The WCS-1 has a curious story. I made a prototype three years before putting the first video on You Tube, but I had the idea that it was too simple and was not worthy of being released to possible customers. But after seeing other companies launch very simple designs with kind of "weak" sound, I finally decided that the market would receive well this tiny synth too.
CTN: Even though EMW is a relatively young company, you have an extensive line of products ( i.e: synths, Euroack modules, analog and digital drum modules, patch synths, etc. ). Do you have a team of engineers designing your products or do you do all of the product design yourself?
Paulo: I always worked completely alone, no other teams were involved in the designs, from electronics to front panels. I developed my ideas from assembling and modifying the most common circuits until I reach a point that satisfies my ears. What helped me a lot was a good reference from many synthesizers I owned. I had what I believed to be the biggest synth collection in South America.
I always compared the sound of my modules with the "Gods", like the ARP 2500, all EML line, Moog, Steiner Parker, Roland and many others. This helped me a lot and also turned me into a perfectionist -always working to reach that sound that I listen to and think,....I definitely would spend my money on this.
The EMW production line. You can see some partially assembled WCS-1x's in the top right corner. Paulo tests his synths and modules against "industry standards" like ARP, EML and Moog ( -to see if they "measure-up" ). Owning two of the WCS-1x's myself, I can confidently say that they DO!
CTN: Let's talk a little about your "WCS-1x" ( Wave Composition Synthesizer ). With it's $300.00 ( U.S dollar ) price tag, it's quite a bargain! Can you tell us about it's key features, how it's unique "WCO" works and give us some details about it's analog signal path ( -after the DSP "WCO" )?
Paulo: Yes, the price is really a little out of phase, but this turned out to be an opportunity for many people around the world to be able to check out what our projects can offer. The name "WCS" ( Wave Composition Synthesizer ) was invented by me to best describe it's oscillator wave composition characteristics. The micro- controlled digital circuit works producing the main square wave in a high frequency and forming the other components along successive divisions, that's what I can say. This feature combined with a well-tuned two input analog VCF give the unit it's unique sound. The only thing digital is the oscillator, the rest of the module's audio path is totally analog.
The "WCS-1x's" Wave Composition Oscillator is also available as a eurorack module ( -one of EMW's growing line of modules ). The module features the "WCS-1x's" Wave Composition Oscillator section and MIDI In and MIDI Thru connections.
When I first saw EMW's line of eurorack modules I almost mistook the site for Doepfer's ( -due to the incredible variety of modules available! ). Paulo and EMW must be working "day and night" to put out this many interesting Eurorack modules and synths!
CTN: How many waveforms can the "WCS-1x's'" WCO simultaneously generate? Are these "modelled" waveforms or samples taken from actual synthesizers? ( -and if samples, can you tell us which synths were sampled? ).
Paulo: The "WCS-1x" can produce six simultaneous waveforms. These waveforms are not stored in any type of internal memory, they are not wavetables. They are created in real time from subdivisions of a high frequency main wave.
CTN: The "WCS-1x" has a very warm and musical "Moog-like" sound with some very snappy envelopes. Are the electronic components ( i.e: capacitors, diodes, transistors, I.C. chips, etc. ) you've used in the "WCS-1x" ( -or some OTHER design factor you can tell us about ) responsible for it''s genuine "old-school" analog sound quality?
Paulo: Yes, you've touched upon a key point in all EMW designs and philosophy. We are committed to recreating the spirit of the old machines. Yes, we are concerned with innovation, but not to the point that we lose that powerful sound and feel that made those synthesizers famous for in the first place.
We use only "through-hole" standard-size components. We also do not design our circuit boards using software intended to create digital circuits. We prefer to draw each circuit board by hand. This assures that we do not lose any characteristics of the old machines ( -and we do not introduce ideas and patterns that won't fit and serve the analog circuitry well ).
"We are committed to recreating the spirit of the old machines" -Paulo Sergio dos Santos.
And that philosophy is carried on with EMW's "EMW-200", an homage recreation of EML's venerated EML-200. It was arrived at only after countless hours spent comparing the "EMW-200" prototype to the original. Improving upon the original ( -by replacing it's simple mic. pre with an LFO to modulate the VCO's ) and up-grading the original's ( limited range ) VCO's with wider frequency range VCO's. Improvements also included replacing the original EML-200's damage prone "spring tank" reverb with a more reliable digital delay line.
CTN: Are these same component choices and design factors used in EMW's OTHER synths, modules, etc. ? ( -explaining their genuine "analog sound" quality ).
Paulo: You are right. We use the same design philosophy in all our Eurorack modules and synthesizers. The magic happens within the fine tune and choices we made in the creation of each circuit. Some EMW modules make a mix between digital and analog technology, but I always take care to isolate the bad effects of the digital over the analog. In the "WCS-1x", for example, we separate the circuits into two distinct boards, the Digital Board that is positioned below and the Analog Board that stays above and well separated from the first.
CTN: Let's talk about some of your other synths. I've noticed your "A2" and "P-Synth 1" Synth Module and "Micro Modular" System M1 and M2 are no longer in production. Why did you decide to discontinue them? Do you have any plans to put them back into production in the future?
Paulo: These other projects were ideas that came to life mainly because I have a problem. I have too many ideas! In their short life, the EMW's philosphy still lives and you can find each nuance of these projects in our line of Eurorack modules. If you wish, you can have an "A2" or a "P-Synth" made with modules in the modular format, and I see many advantages in this approach.
By now, we do not have any intention of bringing these projects back into production. We have many new ideas for the Eurorack line and we will keep working on the direction.
Improving upon EML's original EML-300, the new "EMW-300" controller/ expander module adds an automatic trigger to the volt- age generator ( -turning it into a sixteen-step analog sequencer ).
Combining it with the "EMW-200" opens up a whole new world of sonic possibilities for the adventurous EM experimenter.
CTN: Now let's talk about your line of Eurorack modules. You have quite an extensive line ( -almost rivalling that of Doepfer's! ). Can you tell us about a few of the modules you're most proud of? As well, can you tell us about any ( new ) modules you're working on?
Paulo: I've been working a lot in the last years to put together a set of modules, almost ( 120 ) until now, that have some distinct features. Sometimes it's just sound quality accompanied by an attractive price. Sometimes it's the exclusiveness of some implemented resources or sometimes it's one that makes what you cannot find in another module on the market.
Mostly, what every EMW Eurorack module has is a shared "soul" that translates our passion and our philosophy. I have some beliefs, for example: I believe that a modular synthesizer is a piece of equipment that, like every other musical instrument, needs to be played BY hand. Another belief is that, when creating a patch on a module, you must stay focused on your sound ideas and never on some module's operational detail or second function button. If you stop to think for a fraction of a second on how your module operates, you can lose some great inspiration. So, we design our modules to be in close harmony with that.
The EMW VCO-104, a basic building block for any modular system. With sine, triangle, square and sawtooth waveforms, pulse-width modulation and related features -this VCO assures you of a solid sonic foundation for shaping, filtering and modulating.
Adding multiple VCO-104's will quickly add girth and "fatness" to your sound. Remember, no synth can ever sound "fat" enough. More is always better!
You look to an EMW modular system and focus on the sound creation process, not worried or thinking about reading the module's manual again in order to remember how it works. You just keep creating your innovative sound-patch.
Those modules with functions-over-functions-over-functions seem to me to have been imagined by someone that never really touched a full modular system. Now, I can hear someone saying: "But this way I will have to buy too many modules. It's easier to have ( 200 ) functions on a 2U single piece of good ideas". The fact that a modular is a big thing; it's good to have many modules and it is pure fun to have a wall full of them.
So, in my opinion, if space or a long-term investment is a problem, it's better to start thinking about working with a computer.
EMW's Phaser-12. One of several Eurorack phaser effects modules the company offers. If you're into processing your Eurorack sounds, be sure to check out EMW's extensive line of effects processing modules. You're sure to find several to your liking.
Feeling proud is a complicated thing to a guy like me. I am always thinking about innovation and a way of implementing an idea, creating or improving something that someone will use and enjoy, so there's not much time for contemplating a proud feeling.
I can surely say that I like the combination of my modules. I like the way they generate ideas when working together. It's something that transcends the logical analysis of four or five modules alone.
EMW's "Stereo Enhancer" module is a tantalizing glimpse of things to come. Already, Paulo is working on three ( new ) modules ( i.e: the "Wave Stereolizer", the "Stereolizer Processor" and the "Audio Pro-cessor" ) that will create stereo effects in a new and unique way.
Also on the drawing board are EMW versions of Roland's SH-5 filter and SH-5 envelope generator. Do these guys ever sleep!
Yes, I am working now on ways of creating stereo effects in a never ( -as yet ) explored way. There are three ( new ) modules being prepared. One is named the "Wave Stereolizer", the second is called the "Stereolizer Processor" and the third is called the "Audio Processor". In the more traditional vein we will soon launch our own version of the Roland SH-5 filter and a faithful EMW version of the SH-5 envelope generator.
This is the first half of our interview with Paulo Sergio dos Santos. We hope to post the rest of his interview ( Part 2 ) ( -in an upcoming issue ). We are very grateful to Paulo for taking time from his busy design schedule to do the interview. We look forward to printing ( Part 2 ) when Paulo has the time to finish our questions. His interview will also be featured in my upcoming book "Tiny Synths, Mighty Sounds", slated for release sometime around Nov.-Dec. 2018'.