John Bowen Synth Design

The John Bowen Chronicles: Part 1 - Orion

The John Bowen Chronicles: Part 1

Orion, there I was, with no job, no money, and no idea what I was going to do.

After a brief bit of consulting (with Native Instruments) and an odd interview at Digidesign, I decided I would take an even bigger chance than I had by leaving Korg - and that was, to start my own plug-in business, taking my rejected designs, and try to sell them as 3rd party plug-ins for the SCOPE platform. I announced my company, Zarg Music, via my website on November 24, 1999, and my first planned plug-in was the 'lead' synth design, called the 'Orion'. I started working on it that October, and by January I felt ready to go. It took me a few weeks longer than I expected to get all the pieces together (presets, debugging), but I did start selling it finally in March 2000.

But I had also decided something else in December - I would produce 4 synth plug-ins, and offer them as a bundle for the SCOPE community. The thing is, I had no idea how long each would really take to finish, and in retrospect, I set an incredibly ambitious schedule for myself...4 complete synths as a bundle, with the last promised by June!

I pre-sold quite a few bundles, which was a pleasant surprise, but also meant I had to work incredibly long hours to get them done. A typical day would start at 9 or 10 AM, and have me crawling into bed around 4:00 AM. Most nights I was exhausted but exhilarated - I was having a ball designing, testing, and playing my very own creations - without limits, without anyone telling me what could or couldn't be included, what was or wasn't possible...I had discovered absolute creative freedom using the SCOPE development system, and I was so excited!!

chronicles-Orion-v1_3 February 2000 - the Orion v1_3 - Admittedly, graphics are definitely not my strong point, and the early synths weren't much to look at. This is the earliest version I could find of the first version of Orion. At that time, I was putting the customer's name on it, since I didn't have any way of encrypting or protecting them. Really bad dark color! I think also I was offering them in a variety of colors - but all the old versions are gone, on a failed hard drive around here somewhere!

Even though it was fairly simple as my first plug-in for the Scope system, I was really inspired musically with a factory sound I was working on, called SinePad 1, and to this day I'm still extremely satisfied with the little bit of demo music I made.


chronicles-orion-v2plus Orion v2plus - this shows the next rev of the Orion, with the blue color I standardized on after all the v1 variations. This also shows the pop-up panels that had to be used, before the paging of graphics was 'invented' for Scope.

Orion v2_0 is the same synth without the popup surfaces....

chronicles-orion-custom-v2_0 Orion Custom v2_0 - by this time, I had a customer for the Orion who was continually asking me to add stuff to his Orion, and some of the additions were more filter types and the U No oscillator. I decided to make his edited Orion into something I would offer for sale as the Orion Custom. More popup surfaces were used to handle the added functions.

chronicles-orion_custom_v3_0 Orion v3_0 - the last version of the regular Orion, we now have the SurfaceGroup logic in Scope DP and the ability to have "pages" on the one surface - all the popup surfaces are gone, with page buttons instead. MUCH nicer!

Orion Custom v3_0 - the same 'paging' change for the Orion Custom. A huge improvement for the UI.

chronicles-orion_custom_v3_0-u_no Orion Custom v3_0 U_No - same synth, but showing the U No oscillator page. For reasons I'll explain later, the U No osc was dropped from the Solaris design, but you can start to see the evolution of the Solaris in these v3_0 shots of the Orion Custom.

Orion Custom v3_0 Filters - same synth again, with the Filters/Lfo/EQ page showing.

chronicles-orion_custom_ex-v1_0 Orion Custom EX v1 - Sometime around October 2002, I started in on expanding the Orion Custom to have many more elements. I dubbed this the Orion Custom EX (for EXpanded), and went through a lot of revisions with my beta testers, promising them a final version by late December. However, as I added more and more functions, it became apparent to me that this version was really taking on a new identity, and that I should be calling it a completely new synth. Thus began the Solaris plug-in.

The Orion today...

Listen to the sound today:

download mp3FeedbackLead.mp3
download mp3Synth4.mp3

Continue to the The John Bowen Chronicles: Part 2 - Dark Star.