Recently I reviewed Rob Papen’s Urban bundle which includes Predator, Sub Boom Bass & Punch. These synths show off Rob Papen’s unique approach to soft synth design. There is no wonder why Rob Papen synths are as popular as they are.

Rob Papen is a visionary in sound design. Beginning as a musician in a Dutch Electronic band in the 1980’s, Rob Papen eventually found himself in the 90’s with a passion for synthesis while at the forefront of a new frontier in electronic music making. Computer based Soft synths were emerging as Rob Papen entered into the other side of synthesis, software synthesizer development.

Here we caught up with Rob Papen to dig a bit deeper into his journey as he’s built an empire in software synthesis.

For those that aren’t familiar, tell us who Rob Papen is?

Started working with synthesizers at age 15. First synthesizer was the Korg MS-20 with SQ-10 sequencer. Ahead of that I studied ‘home’ organ, which was very popular at that time. I did not like to play organ, but it was good to learn music of course.

In 1980/1981 I joined the Dutch electronic music band PERU (formed by PEter and RUud) and we made several records. We also had a side group with these same people called NOVA and with this we had a number 1 hit in Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. We where at that time the most successful Dutch synthesizer band. Our band stopped around 1993 and I started to do other things including releasing sound-sets for synthesizers.

Now, how did you transition into developing synths?

Todays computer opened the doors for me. With the birth of powerful computers and virtual synths a new world opened for me. Instead of making only sounds, I also could create new ideas for synthesizers. Of course I first had to find a good partner in developing these instruments and effects. Since I am not a coder, but more a synth geek and musician. This partner I found in Jon Ayres. As team (RPCX) we built our current product line. He is a brilliant coder and brings my ideas to life.

Of all of your products what is you favorite product and why?

Good one… they all have their special features and sound. On an island and only one synth available I would pick Predator. It is fast in use and still wicked.

What synths are at the top of your all time favorites list?

When I am making music 99% is software and my own gear only. What I like to do then is start from scratch and use little presets. Since this is also how I made synthesizer music in the past. Except for some drum sounds, I loved to tweak the sound to the music. Also synthesizer music is ‘music’ that should sound different. My all time favorite on hardware is my Roland Jupiter-8 and next would be my MiniMoog. But there is also emotional attachment involved. I’ve owned the Jupiter-8 since 1983.

What inspires you to develop new sounds and synths?

Fascination for sounds, audio and new things.

What is the process like for you when developing a new synth instrument?

The idea pops up and then I discuss this with Jon Ayres, if things are possible. We work it out together and Jon Ayres adds his ideas onto my basic idea. For instance, Blade was born during a jogging session, after I did a chapter for the book / dvd. In the book, I wrote a part on the ‘human’ input to a sound/synthesizer. In general this is the keyboard, controllers and the manual changes to the dials.

My idea was to draw your own movement in the sound. The XY pad comes to mind, but it is mostly limited to the filter, resonance and volume. I mainly wanted to control the ‘waveform’ or the ‘harmonics’ of the oscillator. This idea I discussed with Jon Ayres. The initial idea was a bit more simple than we have released. But the ‘easy page’ of BLADE is still very close to the original idea. So it is a creative process and I follow my intuition and heart. It all moves very spontaneously and I am way blessed by Jon Ayres who is IMO the best DSP coder of this planet.

You have a book called “The 4 element synth“, what do you hope to achieve with this book?

It is my own way of teaching ‘subtractive synthesis’ which is the most popular synthesis. I noticed during trade shows that there is a demand for a training that is complete, practical and compact. So I started it first at home with small sessions and now it is a complete book with 10 hours of video material.

Many DJ’s start to produce music and for them a synthesizer is a pile of ‘dials’. This book tells in a unique way how subtractive synthesis works and instead of going from one preset to another, they can do far more after they studied this training. I started with the Korg MS-20 which had no presets at all. Very frustrating that you could not save a good sound. At that time it was a ‘disadvantage’. The advantage is, that I had to learn myself how the synth worked. Trial and error…

Any plans to ever do a hardware synth?

We have a dedicated RP controller in mind for our software. But that takes time and is not so easy to produce. A full hardware synthesizer would be cool. Sure, but not easy since I am a synth specialist and musician and not a technician.

Whats next for Rob Papen?

Plenty ideas! Next will be “Prisma”. Of course I can’t tell anything about it yet, but the sounds it will produce will blow off socks :) We are also busy with BLUE-II…. which was delayed because of RP-VERB, RP-Delay, Punch and RP-Distort. LoL

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us Rob. We are looking forward to your new developments.

For more information on Rob Papen hop over to his site.

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