Rob Papen’s Secrets of Subtractive Synthesis are revealed as new tutorial package finally arrives

Rob Papen Secrets of Subtractive SynthesisIt was more than eight years ago that Rob Papen originally revealed to us that he was creating a synthesis tutorial DVD. Much buzz and excitement ensued and since then, the synth king, as he’s fondly regarded here at T+S, has released several critically acclaimed virtual synths including RG, SubBoomBass, Punch and Blade, plus a series of effects plugins. And each year we wondered if the masterclass would be next…

A couple of months ago, Rob confirmed that the DVD, which by this point also included a 200+ page manual, was almost ready to be manufactured and as sample page spreads and video clips filtered our way, that original buzz was well and truly reinstated and we could see this package was going to be well worth the wait.

Rob PapenToday, The Secrets of Subtractive Synthesis, arrived at Time+Space HQ. This weighty hardback book, complete with four DVDs, positively exudes quality and synthesis goodness with stacks of hints and tips, diagrams, video references and more, it really is an eye opener whether you’re a novice synth player or a pro.

The day before Rob received his first shipment of books, I received an email from him in which he described how it was going to be such an odd feeling to finally receive the book after so many years. There’s little doubt that the feeling must be one of both relief and joy, and here Rob tells us why the project took so long, why he chose to do it in the first place and what readers will gain from owning it.

Hi Rob, congratulations on the release of The Secrets of Subtractive Synthesis, what was your original incentive for doing this project?
In 2001 I starting giving training here in my studio. After meeting fellow synth players, they asked me if I would also teach them.

Rob Papen dvdThe way I explain subtractive synthesis with my own method, is essentially how I learned it myself. At the time I starting using synthesizers, most had no presets memory and getting lessons or a training was not available or very rare so you had to learn yourself, how things worked. Reading the manual and trial and error.

Teaching I could have done in several ways. Showing a few interesting things, or give them a training which is useful from the base to the top. I had a brainstorming session and the idea of “The 4 Element Synth” was born.

On Saturdays in my studio, people followed this training and I streamlined it more and more. Resulting now in this book with DVDs.

First idea was to do it in Dutch but I am not very talented in writing and are more a math guy. Apart from that, I found out that (even with errors) writing it in English was much easier for me.

On the DVD you will hear some ‘errors’ in build up of sentences or the way I pronounce some words. But most understand fully what I mean. So English became the language of this project.

Rob Papen VideoWhy did it take so long to produce?

First thing I like to say is that it is good that I did not know that it was soooo much work. This project is done together with Jeroen van Iterson (, who was a supervisor and helped a lot to keep things very tight and organized. Without him it would never have been completed.

Writing the script took longer, because during the process you discover that you have to explain things which you had not thought of previously. For example the amplifier section of a synthesizer has only a few parameters but how it is connected and the confusing labels, it needs to be explained.

Jeroen van Iterson made a PDF of parts that I had to record once I had finished my script. About 140 items of screen captures, synth recording, audio recording, putting ‘arrows’ to the video recording… You can count one day for each item (at least) and wise that I did not realise this once I started. I am a very optimistic guy on this subject and thought it was a hill, but for some reason I needed glasses because it was a big mountain! πŸ™‚

Of course next to this project I am very busy with developing software products and sounds. So this project was next to my other work as well and simply was almost an endless amount of work.
Who is The Secrets of Subtractive Synthesis aimed towards?

The synthesizer players and producers who love to understand more of their synths.
For the ones that know synthesizers already, it still can be interesting because I have my own way of teaching and everybody (including me) is never too old or too clever to learn something from somebody else. πŸ™‚

Books arrivedWhat will users achieve by using this package?

If they read the book, watch the videos, the synthesizer will have less secrets for them.
They still need to read manuals, because each brand has their own way of doing things. But they will understand the big picture of subtractive synthesis after studying this book.

What makes the book/DVD so easy to use and learn from?

You can read the book and see it and hear it on the DVD. This combination makes it very powerful. Apart from that I dislike long ‘complex’ stories if something can be explained very ‘compact’.

What did you most enjoy about creating the videos and manual?

Having completed this project! It was like running a marathon without training and the ones that trained and do run marathons know that after 30km the marathon really starts.

Over should viewAnd the least enjoyable?
Because we continued to run into new things it seemed to have no end.

So now the book is released, what will you be working on?

Busy with new grooves and sounds for Punch and the BLUE-II project πŸ™‚

Do you think you will ever do another tutorial like this?!

It doesn’t even cross my mind… LoL

Thank you Rob and congratulations on finally reaching publication!

Click here to find out more about The Secrets of Subtractive Synthesis

Posted by Melanie Doidge

Having worked in marketing for over fifteen years with experience in various industries, Time+Space and the world of music production continues to be the most exciting of them all. With our brands consistently pushing the boundaries of technology with their products, the terrific DJs, Composers and Producers using them and the feedback from magazines and our customers, there's always plenty to tell the world about. Musical experience? I reached Grade 6 in piano back in my school days and am currently in the throes of trying to resurrect my abilities!


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