Rob Papen on his synthesis journey and what's coming up

Rob Papen on his synthesis journey and what's coming up

Rob Papen has been a friend of Time+Space for over thirteen years since he first got in touch with us in 2002 just as he was preparing to release his first virtual synth – Albino. Since then, Rob, who is based in Echt in the Netherlands, has released a string of highly acclaimed virtual synths, including Predator, Blue and SubBoomBass (among others) that have become an integral part of many studio set-ups around the globe from DJs to film composers.

Anyone who follows Rob on Facebook will know he’s currently working on several new products so we thought it was about time we caught up with him to not only find out what he’s up to but to also delve deeper into his synthesis journey…

Hi Rob, tell us about your childhood, did music play a major part in it?

At elementary school there were music lessons with the recorder and, at age 12, me and my sisters started organ lessons. These home organs with their cheesy sounds were very popular in the seventies. Reading ‘notes’ was not my strongest point. I preferred to improvise on the organ and my eye was on synthesizers already after hearing Jean Michel Jarre. So my organ teacher told me… ‘nice playing Rob but that is not what is on the music paper’.
 My dad worked in the music industry as a wholesaler so instruments were very common for us but we are not typically from a musician family.

We read in an interview that, at the age of 12, you were attracted to a career as a pilot due to all the knobs, buttons and dials. If it hadn´t been for Jean Michel Jarre and his array of knobs and buttons, do you think ´Captain Rob Papen´ could have become a reality?!

I don’t think so. I easily get bored and most likely I would fly ‘inverted’ for a while to have a bit of fun in the cockpit!
I am not serious enough for being a pilot, too much a creative person looking for the next challenge :D

You recently met Jean Michel Jarre at the Winter NAMM show - how was that? Was he familiar with your products?

Yes, that was awesome! My hero! And of course I am proud that he also uses my products. In one concert of his a few years ago I thought I heard E-mu Orbit-3 sounds, so already at that time I expected that he used my sounds.

In the 1980s and early ´90s, you were part of two bands - PERU and Nova who were one of the most successful Dutch synth bands, what are your fondest memories of that time?

The early eighties were an exciting time for sure!
 Synthesizers became more mainstream with the Korg MS-20 / Korg MS-10 and SQ-10 range.

The starting time was most exciting. Unlucky we didn’t really have a manager to expand the success of our music. Also, we went offline allot doing other music projects.

When this period of your career ended in 1993, you started releasing sound sets for synthesisers, can you tell us more about that?

First release was a ‘Signature soundset’ for the Waldorf Microwave. This was the start.
 At that time the success of our band was less and I started working also in a high tech music shop so there were a lot of synthesizers around me and contact with synthesizer brands did arise.

In the past I kept my sounds ‘pure’ for own use and the band PERU and Nova. But programming sounds was too much fun and I had the opinion that I had to do something with this talent I had. The soundsets for the Microwave were a big success. After this, factory presets followed for Ensoniq, Emu and also Access Virus, of which the Rob Papen presets became very popular.

Then how did you progress from that to making your first virtual synth?

I had my own ideas about features and how the synth should be built up. The first start was a custom built synthesizer by linplug, but there where too many downsides for me, so I looked for a partner and found Jon Ayres. Together with him I formed RPCX and we are behind all the current products. He is, in my opinion, the best programmer on this planet. Nothing is impossible for him, a joy to work together with him for almost 10 years now.

Tell us about your collection of hardware synths, which ones do you treasure the most and why?

The ones I still own each have an emotional meaning to me. This happens if you are 50 years old of course. The Jupiter-8 rangs 1 and behind it the MiniMoog, Microwave and Prophet-600. Beautiful instruments each with their own character.

And your personal favourite Rob Papen virtual synth and why?

For fast making sounds, I tend to catch Predator a lot. For more complex sounds BLUE-II. It depends… But on an island and only one synthesizer available, I would take BLUE-II because you can go all directions, real super synth.

Your virtual synths are inspiring for many different types of music makers, Blue II, for example, is as much a great tool for sound designers and soundtrack composers as it is for DJs. When you develop a new synth do you tend to have a particular user/s in mind?

There is always a vision behind a synthesizer. With SubBoomBass the focus was on making great bass sounds, but also ‘new’ types of basses and therefore the built-in tuned percussion and odd stuff.

Predator is ‘way fast’ to work with, since all major synth parts are visual.

BLUE-II is deep and awesome for super synth sounds.

RAW is the initial idea of two DJ’s (DJ Promo and DJ Freek-k) who sought more ‘distortion control’ inside the synthesizer itself, instead of using outboard gear.
We took this idea… threw a few of our own ideas inside of it and a ‘nasty’ synthesizer was born! RAW also can do more regular synth sounds and this is very good but the focus is ‘edgy’ stuff.

Anyhow, music making rules with our synthesizers. 
I love features, but they should be ‘functional’ and for music making.

You also have a line of effects plugins (Verb, Delay, Distort, AMOD) - what were your reasons for developing these alongside your synths?

In the past, I also mixed also a lot of our music and I am a ‘reverb’ addict. The sound I sought was never available as plug-in (not to my knowledge) so we developed RP-VERB.

RP-Delay is a bit ‘over the top’ features wise. But there are so many cool presets that users don’t have to tweak if they find it too complex.

What makes them different from other effects plugins?

Good question. I hope that they sound out in sound and deliver quality presets.

You released Blue II back in 2013, will there ever be a Predator II?

Sure, this is in progress. But it also takes some brainstorm sessions and jogging sessions to get Predator II. Note that Predator is already a very finished product. In detail, we will improve Predator, but most likely will also add some exciting new stuff without losing the ‘basic’ concept of Predator.

The concept becomes very clear in these two videos:

RG has 30% off at the moment - what types of music is it ideal for and why?


Essentially for Pop music, House, Hip-Hop and TV commercial works. Once you understand the concept, this is a very useful tool for getting a great guitar groove in your music. It will not replace a guitar player, but the things it does… it does fantastic.

Many producers love it, but it is not for everybody. I don’t see it appearing in Hardcore dance music for instance. But for this…we have RAW.

What are the toughest challenges for you as a developer in today´s music software industry?

The things around it. The business things…

And what´s been the proudest moment of your software career so far?

Well, countless moments at trade shows meeting happy users that enjoy the products! From pro to hobby musicians.
It makes me happy!

You´ve been teasing your Facebook fans about a new plugin that you are planning to release at the end of this month - can you give us any more details about that right now?

Just like RP-VERB, something popped up after Jon sent me a beta version of something. The sound was so great, that I thought it should be a plug-in because I like to also use it myself while making music :D
 Others confirmed that it indeed sounded great and DJ Free-K and others like DJ Promo and Rob Fabrie did bring up some more ideas and features which would be cool. So… it took far more time then planned, but it sounds great!
 This new plug-in is like a ‘professional saw’ for a carpenter. Everybody can use it, no matter what music you make. Of course there are many of these type of plug-ins, but ours makes sense because of its sound and cool features.

Click here to view all Rob Papen products and to download free demo versions

 Profile/headshot pic credit: Latakis Photographics