Korg ARP 2600 FS – expression through Fine Tune, ADSR, Filter


Last year, I made a significant addition to our collection of instruments: the Korg ARP 2600 FS. This is a modern reissue of the classic synthesizer. The 2600 is known for its versatility and distinctive sound, and as the voice of R2-D2. It has been a part of several projects we’ve worked on. But practice sessions with the ARP 2600 have been the most fun.

Listen to the Piece

Here is a sample recording from recent practice sessions. The idea is described in detail below.

The Experiment

The core of this musical idea is simple: a repeated chord progression and all played as “up” arpeggios. But the development of the music happens with the manipulation of the tone. Actually playing the Fine Tuning adjustments, filter, and envelope settings.  These timbre changes and increase in tempo of chord progression cause the focus of the ear to shift. A classic approach found in minimalism. It’s a convention that works.

Performance Elements

Fine Tuning Oscillators and FM

The ARP 2600’s oscillators are its core voice. In this experiment, I focused on tiny adjustments to the FINE tuning between Oscillators 1 and 2 and 3. Playing this control created subtle variations in the sound texture but it has an impact on the ear. Playing the controls also help create the effective change/progression… which feels like expression in the music. At times adjusting the FM values of Oscillator 1 (from VCO2) create a type of tension. It’s a different expressive.

Mixing the Oscillators

The relationships between all three oscillators of the ARP 2600 is the last performance aspect. By adjusting the mix between them, we hear a rich, layered sound that evolves. This is where true potential of real instruments vs plugins happens… its more performance oriented as the user interface guides how the person plays it more intuitively. There is a smaller version of this from Korg and other clones, but this Full Size version and the original are “human sized” and feel easy to play.

The Result: A Developing Soundscape

Despite the looped nature of the chord progression, these adjustments in tempo and oscillator settings create a piece that sounds ever-evolving. It’s a 50 year old design, and the ARP 2600 continues to be a source of possibilities and useful classic tones. It’s not just about the notes we play, but how we play them and how we manipulate the tones that make interesting sounds and evolves music just as much as melodic and harmonic development.