Berna 2, a retro application created with Max / MSP

In the 1950s, various artists visited electroacoustic music studios to record, as they contained large devices such as oscillators, filters, tapes, etc. However, Giorgio Sancristoforo has included all of these equipment in a single program for Mac and Windows, so that you can experience retro sounds on your own computer.


The ancient electroacoustic music studios

Although in this article we are going to talk about Berna 2, it is also important that you know the electroacoustic music studios of 1950. They had large equipment that made completely electronic music, without real instruments. Normally, these studios were widely used for the recording of albums or soundtracks, for example, Louis & Bebe Barron from the movie Forbidden Planet and Time’s Encomium by composer Charles Wuorinen. This last song was recorded with the RCA Mark II Synthesizer at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center studio, New York.

If you listen to any of these works, you will be able to enjoy the experimental electronic music of the time, so we invite you to listen to it on the Internet.

Another striking aspect of this music is that, to create it, the studios had to have several large and heavy devices that could not be comfortably moved from one place to another. Perhaps this is the most surprising thing about Berna 2, as it can emulate the sounds of these devices very well and its retro user interface makes you feel like you are making music in those old electroacoustic studios.


About Giorgio Sancristoforo

He is an Italian musician, sound engineer, and enterprising software developer who was born in 1974. From a young age he has been interested in electronic music and in recent years has created audio programs for computers, including GleetchlabX, Radioaktivnost and Berna 2.

Most of his software projects have been developed in Max / MSP, which is an environment created by Cycling ’74 to make music and multimedia, especially modular. Also, in 2018 he composed the album Ooame, Machine Translations, as he is also a composer and music producer.


What is Bern?

It is an application that emulates the electronic instruments of the 1950s and other equipment that were available in Cologne, Germany and at WBR Studios. This application summarizes the sounds and functions of various retro devices used in music or film production.

It is not a synthesizer to use with your MIDI keyboard, nor can you open it in DAW programs, however, it is useful to experience with your own ears what was happening in the electroacoustic music studios of the time. Perhaps you will perceive sounds such as suspense, action, video games, etc., since it has sinusoidal oscillator modules, filters, virtual tapes, etc.

In 2009 Giorgio published the first version of the Berna on the Internet, but he continued to update it to this day. The latest version is 2.2, in which Sancristoforo has updated the images and user interface a bit, but still offers the classic 1950 sound.

In addition, this is an inexpensive program , as it has a price of 12 euros, so that many people can buy it and explore retro electronic sounds on their computers. Likewise, it is important to know that you will not need too much space on your computer to download it from the Sancristoforo official page, since the file is compressed and only weighs 136 MB.


Bern in education and her relationship with Max / MSP

For Giorgio, the objective of this application is to give contemporary music teachers and students a tool that imitates the sound and characteristics of old synthesizers . In addition, it serves as motivation for students to make an application with the Max / MSP environment, which is currently available for Mac and Windows.

This is a system specially designed for programmers, whether formal or self-taught, as it does not require codes, but rather works graphically. Sancristoforo even learned it on his own, using the user manual and, of course, thanks to his knowledge of modular synthesis.

It was with Max / MSP that he designed the Bern application and became so specialized in this creative tool that he has taught at the prestigious SAE Institute.


Bern 2.2 and its versatility

This application is one of the most versatile for creating experimental electronic music, as it brings many ways to create new sounds that, if you record them in layers, give an abstract auditory sensation. We are saying that you will be able to make your own electronic music album with Berna 2.2. Likewise, it will be possible to create a musical background for your pop, rock, house or dubstep songs.

On the other hand, if you are a DJ, this application will be able to give you unique live effects, which will make your music more exciting. That is, you connect the computer to the general mixer and configure the application looking for an authentic and striking sound. You can accompany with a certain note that adapts to the rest of the music or simply through effects.

In the cinema it could also be very useful, since it has different oscillators that you can combine among them, generating square, rectangular or sinusoidal waves. Everything will depend on the genre of the film, although the sounds may be more easily adapted to suspense and video game soundtracks.     


Matrix, Giorgio Sancristoforo’s favorite object

Because Giorgio is a fan of modular synthesis, in many applications he has used the Matrix object from Max / MSP. This is an interface where module connections are made. For example, to make Berna sound you must select the oscillator number you want to hear and send it to one of the Mixer channels.

Of course, before playing any Berna module it will be necessary to activate the audio, which you can do by changing the large button from OFF to ON. When you have selected it, it will turn red, indicating that you can now raise the different channels or Faders of the general Mixer.


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