An over simplified explaination
This is a simplifed explaination to illustrate subtle points. Actual usage involves a combination of both East and West Coast techniques.
Most music synthesizers are East Coast and are used for subtractive synthesis. This is the classic VCO-VCF-VCA patch, with ADSR envelopes for the VCF and VCA. The oscillators usually have very simple waveforms such as sawtooth and square wave and the filter is used to produce the timbres. This setup is easy to understand and operate, e.g. by a keyboard.
The three primary synthesis modes in West Coast instruments are additive, non-linear waveshaping and dynamic depth FM. The classic patch in a West Coast instrument involves two blocks. The first is a complex oscillator which supports both non-linear waveshaping and dynamic depth FM (e.g. Buchla 259 or Serge NTO). The second signal processor is a low pass gate (e.g. Buchla 292). The primary timbre generation is done directly with the oscillator, the low pass gate just tweaks the amplitude and frequency character. Instead of a keyboard, these two blocks are controlled with a sequencer or complex envelope generator, with multiple outputs routed to all the factors of the timbre. West Coast instruments produce a larger and different set of timbres than the East Coast instruments.
DIY West Coast projects
- Electronic Music Wiki:West Coast
- Mod Wiggler forum:East what? What coast? What what?!
- Mod Wiggler forum:examples of classic "west coast" synth music?
- The Secret World Of Modular Synthesizers, Weird Science – The SOS Guide To The Modular Synth Underground by Al James, April 2013