Synthesizer Basics – The Homemade Cake Tastes Better by Passepartout Duo

Featured Artists/
Passepartout Duo

Course Contents

Passepartout Duo’s (Christopher Salvito & Nicoletta Favari) recent projects have revolved around the construction of analog synthesizers from scratch. These creations have provided them with a fundamental understanding and approach to synthesis that they would like to share using freely available open-source software. Despite the lack of accessibility to expensive hardware synthesizers, they believe that interested musicians and amateurs who develop an understanding of these machines through this free software, can gain new perspectives about how they approach music making and listening. Synthesis begins not with a basic understanding of Western music, but with the fundamental nature of both sound and electrical circuits themselves; therefore, it’s not necessary to begin with any musical background. 

Part 1, The Oscillator

What’s an oscillator? 

Types of oscillator ranges: :ow frequency (Hz), audio range (Hz-kHz), mHz range (computer clock) 

Types of waveforms: sine, triangle, saw/ramp, square/pulse 

Explanation of Pulse Width 

Explanation of Control Voltage 


1. patch to measure a signal on an oscilloscope 

2. patching to listen to the oscillator signal 

3. patch to modulating the pitch of the oscillator through a keyboard (explanation of V/Oct system) 


Part 2, Envelope Generator and Voltage Controlled Amplifier

What is an Envelope Generator? 

Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release 

What is a Gate Signal? 

What is a Voltage Controlled Amplifier 


1. patching the keyboard’s Gate signal to trigger the Envelope Generator 

2. patch to measure the Envelope Generator’s signal on the oscilloscope 

3. patch the oscillator signal through the VCA 

4. patch the Envelope Generator to modulate the Oscillator’s amplitude  

Part 3, Voltage Controlled Filter and Low Frequency Oscillator

What is a filter? 

Harmonics of waveforms, explanation of resonance 

Types of filters: Low Pass, High Pass, Band Pass 

What is an Low Frequency Oscillator 


1. Patching the Oscillators signal through the filter 

2. Patch to modulate the filter using the Envelope Generator 

3. Modulating the filter using the LFO 

4. patch to view the LFO and VCF output signal through the oscilloscope 

Part 4, Creative Patching

Recap explaining CV 

Explanation of audio-rate modulations 

Explanation of Sample and Hold 


Patch to modulate the oscillator through the LFO, both through FM (vibrato), and V/Oct 

Patch through the S&H the Filter, Oscillator, and VCA 


Passepartout Duo is a music group comprised of pianist Nicoletta Favari and percussionist Christopher Salvito. Making music that escapes categorization, the duo’s ongoing travel around the world informs the multi-disciplinary collaborations, instrumental compositions, and evocative music videos that constitute their body of work. The musical events they create focus on reconsidering the modalities in which people listen to and connect with music, and are cast from a wide range of aesthetics and disciplines.

The group’s 2020 LP release, called Vis-à-Vis, features compositions written for a portable handmade instrumentation that accompanied the duo during a month-long train journey across Central Asia. The instruments were created during a residency at the Embassy of Foreign Artists in 2019 (CH), and the album was produced during their residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in 2019/2020 (CN). The group’s Sound Envelopes project, featuring electronic musical postcards that connect people and places through sound, was presented at the Nakanojo Biennale in 2019 (JP).

The duo’s debut EP, a collaborative project with visual artists Yumo Wu and Yannis Zhang (CN), took inspiration from a small fishing village in the north of Iceland, called Ólafsfjörður (2018). The album has been broadcasted on Melbourne’s PBS, BBC 3 in the UK, Rai Radio 3 in Italy, and Chongqing Music FM 88.1 in China.

Passepartout Duo’s project throughout the Nordic countries in 2018 involved collaborations with composers and artists in northern Europe. The project was met with support from the Nordic Culture Fund and Nordic Culture Point, and was presented at the Dark Music Days Festival (IS) and the Summartónar Festival (FO).

The ensemble has also performed at prominent music festivals like the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK), the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival (US), the Festival de La Habana de Música Contemporánea (CU), and the Sounding Now Festival (SG). The duo was also awarded an ensemble fellowship at Eighth Blackbird’s inaugural Creative Lab in 2017.