Acclaimed music software designer Rob Papen knows a thing or two about creating unique sounds. The self-described “synth freak” and veteran of the Dutch electronic music scene honed his skills designing sounds for bands and synth manufacturers during the 80s and 90s. Nowadays he’s more likely to be found working on innovative new software instruments and effects.
From venerable soft synths like Predator and SubBoomBass to unique effects like RP-Verb and RP-Distort, Rob Papen products are known for their unparalleled sound quality, endless musicality and inspiring presets. We caught up with Rob to learn about his product design philosophy, and find out why he loves developing instruments and effects for Propellerhead’s Rack Extension plug-in platform.
Papen began experimenting with synths when he was a teenager, and played in several Netherlands-based electronic music groups including PERU, and later, NOVA. “At that time, it was important for electronic music groups to establish their own unique sound,” says Rob. “I was already the sound geek in the band, so naturally I helped create sounds that made us stand out from other groups.”
Rob also applied his sound design talents to create presets for early synth makers. His first foray into professional sound design was crafting patches for the Waldorf Microwave, a wavetable-based digital/analog hybrid synth used by artists like Nine Inch Nails, Hardfloor, Jimmy Edgar, Vangelis, and Crystal Distortion.
The philosophy behind Rob Papen ConcreteFX
After years of designing sounds for others, it was only natural that Rob started to create his own original product designs. “As a synth freak, I had my own ideas of how the features and functionality should be built up,” he relates. “The advent of software synths made it possible for me to pursue my ideas in earnest. In Jon Ayres I found a perfect partner—he’s an outstanding DSP programmer with amazing skills. Together we form RPCX (Rob Papen ConcreteFX), and this partnership has produced wonderful results.”
When Rob designs a product, he prioritizes musicality first. “My goal is to provide great-sounding products with presets that fit into a variety of musical styles, so customers can discover unexpected and inspiring new sounds. As a designer, it’s important to explore new directions while never losing sight of the fact that the products are built for making music.”
The Rack Extension difference
Papen sees a lot of value in developing products for the Rack Extension platform—both from the technological and business perspectives. “The Rack Extension platform opens up a whole new world for musicians,” he says. “And from the development side, the Rack Extension platform significantly expands our potential customer base. The Propellerhead user community is very big and it’s exciting to make Rob Papen soft synths and effects available right inside the Reason rack.”
“As with any development project, creating products for the Rack Extension platform takes time—but on the other hand, we save lots of time since Propellerhead handles the sales, distribution and support our marketing. That’s a huge support for us. And since Rack Extensions work across Mac and PC, we just have to create one version of the software and Propellerhead makes it available on both operating systems. We don’t have to worry about incompatibilities and differences between hosts.”
Rob Papen’s soft synths and effects have become some of the top-selling Rack Extensions in the Prop Shop. One of the most popular is Predator-RE, a workhorse synth that—in typical Rob Papen fashion—delivers scores of great-sounding, musical presets, and powerful sound sculpting features. And Rob’s not done—he plans on releasing even more incredible sonic tools for the Rack Extension platform.
“We want to release a dedicated Rack Extension synthesizer,” he concludes. “We’re going to introduce a type of synthesis that isn’t covered yet—as far as I know—and offer musicians more of a blank sheet compared to Predator or SubBoomBass, which come with tons of presets. I’m intrigued by the challenge of creating something new especially for Reason—something that will grow in Reason in its own way.”