December 26, 2012

December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas!


My dear old friend David has been out here visiting for a while now so we decided to record a Christmas song together. David runs the blog The Compleat Synthesizer so this song is those worlds colliding as two only can at this blessed time of year.  Amen!


December 17, 2012

Bags Time

I'm just going to say it. Everyone was thinking it and I'm going to say it. Sometimes vintage synthesizers come in really nice cases (I think some of those Arps had pretty great cases, remember those?). Remember that old Russian Roland knock off I was going on about a while back? No? Well, maybe this will refresh your memory: Электроника ЭМ 25


Anyway, that thing came in a really nice bag. And two different versions! Check 'em out:




And don't forget about this great bag!: http://mildslopes.blogspot.com/2012/04/luggage.html

Also, here is an english translation of the parameters on that EM-25:



For further reading check out the Museum of Soviet Synths:

December 15, 2012

Christmas Time Is Here


It's no secret that Christmas is my favorite time of year. I have my Christmas tree up and decorated, nine and a half feet --though I'm still looking for the right size candles for it. Last year I was in Germany just before Christmas and it was much easier to find Christmas tree candles. If anyone knows where to find them in America please let me know in the comments.  



In other news, I have bonded a bit with my Roland MC-202. I took it with me to Maryland where I was recording vocals and mixing the record, in case I needed to throw on any last minute synthesizer parts, and I did, and I was very pleased with the sound of this little box. I still agree with the popular notion that the built in sequencer is senselessly difficult, but I feel that way about most sequencers so I'm probably not the guy to ask about that sort of thing. CSQ or nothing! That's my motto. 

If only the MC-202's casing was metal rather the plastic... it would have been just perfect. It just seems a little toyish in it's plastic casing. I still like it. It is really portable. Sometimes that's important. You can just throw it in your bag and hop on a bus to Maryland. Easy!


Oh, PS, I'm working on a little Christmas surprise for you. 

December 7, 2012

The Roland Synth Story – Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College


Well, it is unfortunate that I wasn't in the UK while this Roland Synth Story thing was going on but luckily Mild Slopes has a corespondent over there, Samuel Hunt. Sam was kind enough to take some photos and write up a lovely article about the experience. Thanks so much Sam!  Here it is:


A bitingly chilly night in London blessed Roland UK on their 2nd night of a 3 day UK tour. The 28th of November 2012 marked the evening Roland UK dug into it's deepest and dustiest closets to bring Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College some truly outstanding vintage hardware.

As I entered the college building, a spiral staircase lead to a wonderful range of instruments which were available to play. Here, before the presentation, I finally got to try out the legendary TR-808. One thing that always amazes me when I physically see Vintage Roland gear for the first time, is the shear size of them. The TR-808 was so much bigger than I was anticipating, but the 909 stunned me the most. It's only an inch or so smaller (lengthways) than the SH-101! It just makes me think what could be going on behind the pretty faces of these huge drum machines.


The main piece of equipment I was looking forward to seeing/playing wasn't there, which was quite disappointing. Though the advertisements for the event stated a Jupiter 4 would be present, only the 6 and 8 models were to be seen (which is not a bad thing). Maybe Roland's was broken, seeing as the SH-1000 that was nobly sat between 2 newer, digital keyboards was pretty beaten up...


The electronics available to play in the foyer were a mixture of older and newer gear, the Roland: TR-808, Jupiter 50, Gaia SH-01, D50, SH-1000, Juno 60, V Synth GT, Jupiter 6, JP 8000, JX-8P with PG800 Sequencer, JD800 and Integra 7 Sound Module/rack unit.

After I had finished exploring the older products on offer I proceeded to the lecture theatre, where more Roland goodies were stationed.


The equipment on the stage (From Left to right):

Roland: TR-909, a grey SH-101, Juno 106, TB-303, TR-727, Jupiter 8, Jupiter 80 with 2 ipad virtual-control surfaces, a system 700 Lab with 701a keyboard, Doepfer Dark Time sequencer and a Line 6 M9 stomp box effects modeller.

The lecture was presented by Sean Montgomery, Roland's senior Products Manager for the UK. The evening was based around the time line of Roland products, starting from the very beginning, when Ikutaro Kakehashi started Ace Electronic Industries Inc.


The most important and groundbreaking machines were featured in the timeline, a presentation that spanned more than 40 years ofroland instruments. I think it was a little sad they only briefly touched on the SH model line, and the RS products didn't get mentioned. However lot's of little pieces of information I never knew cropped up about various models. A very interesting one was said about the SH-101, apparently it is a monophonic version of the Juno 60. I was very surprised at this because I would never had said the 101 sounds like the 60. I've tried to achieve the sorts of sounds my 101 is capable of on the Juno 60, and it's just not possible. But I think this could be an example of the beauty of Roland's older instruments, were they have designed a machine to sound like or behave like a currently existing instrument, and instead of it actually sounding or behaving like they intended, something new and beautifully unintended was born. Another notable example of this is the TB-303.

Interesting fact #2: The Jupiter 4 was designed as an organ top synthesizer. Who knew!

Interesting short clips were shown throughout the timeline. The SH-1000 had a very short video of being used on the now-defunct English television programme Blue Peter. A very grainy and pulsing video demonstrated the preset flute sound found on this instrument. It was hauntingly nice.

When the timeline reached the System 700, Richard Barbieri (from the bands Porcupine Tree and Japan) took to the stage and briefly ran through the process of making a sound on his System 700 lab. He created some truly lunar and otherworldly sounds from this dark machine, I thought the 700 was going to be close in sound to a system 100m, but now I don't think this is true.


Gareth Bowen was next to step to the stage once the evening reached the Jupiter 8 mark. He quickly demonstrated the famous brass and pad sounds that apparently many people strive for. One of the outputs was broken, and halfway through a progression the synth came booming through the speakers and nearly took the crowds heads off. He was a brilliant player, and after a little research, I found he spent 9 years playing piano in Buckingham Palace!

After the vintage Jupiter saga, Graham Massey from 808 state and Jody Wisternoff of Way Out West performed an impromptu collaboration and demonstration of the Roland SH-101, TB-303, Juno 106, TR-909 and 727. Everything was synched up to each other and the outcome was a very heavy acidy-dance track. I wouldn't say I was a fan of this kind of electronic music, and this was the first time i'd heard of 808 state, Way Out West and Japan for that matter. But these musicians swear by Rolandinstruments and glided around their unique interfaces with natural ease. I admired this. The TB-303 bassline was programmed within seconds by Jody, and from what I understand, that is very impressive.



Interesting fact #3: Graham pointed out an overlooked function of the 909. It has a sequencer built into it. A separate and very simple sequencer for an external instrument that can be used along side the drum sequencer. This is a great tool if you wanted to simply and quickly add a bassline underneath a newly created drum beat, or it could save you from buying a separate sequencer depending on how you write/perform.

The Roland timeline of products went through the 90's, 2000's and up to today. The finale was a masterful version of the James Bond theme performed by Gareth on the Jupiter 80 and Jupiter 8, which was nice to see them up against each other. When he was comparing 'exact' sounds on each model I felt the Jupiter 8 was more endearing and characteristic, but that's not to say the Jupiter 80 didn't sound great. It uses some very interesting technology so it can recreate natural behaviours of acoustic instruments such as violins and brass. The trumpet emulation could have fooled anyone in the room, it was extremely life-like. Sean mentionedRoland being under fire for naming the instrument the Jupiter 80, but he explained it is not a reincarnation of any Jupiter instrument, though it can behave very similar to them.


The night rounded off with a question and answer session to the guest performers and Roland UK team. Most questions were uninteresting to me, a lot of specific queries on certain 808 State albums and so forth. Though an Irish fellow asked the last question, one that sparked an interesting response. He asked Sean Montgomery if Roland would ever make any of their old gear again. He joked and tried to avoid the question, but honestly admitted that they will not. Roland has many beliefs, and one is that they always head forward with their musical instruments, and not step back. Sean explained Mr Kakehashi feels strongly about this, and as he is still alive, 'it' wouldn't happen. I feel this was taken by many people in the audience as an extremely subtle hint, though I could be wrong. Who knows what could happen in the distant future? Would it be a good thing if 'it' did happen?


December 1, 2012

Barren Landscape


  Sorry it's been so quiet around these parts lately. I've been scrambling to try to finish the Cascading Slopes record. I took a bus to Maryland, to my dear friends Justin and Joanna's to record vocals and do final mixes of all the songs at their home studio. I've been working on this album for about two years now and it feels good to be this close to completing it. Things are going well.

In other news:
  1. It was C.S. Lewis' birthday two days ago. Happy belated birthday! 
  2. My friend Joanna that I'm staying with owns Ronnie Martin's old Roland Juno-106. It's the 106 he used on the Joy Electric album CHRSTIANsongs and perhaps Old Wives Tales as well. It still has a bunch of his patches saved in it including  some chirpy sounds that were probably used on the song Birds Will Sing Forever
  3. Looking forward to listening to the new Joy Electric album when I get home.

November 21, 2012

Roland MP-600

Here's a review of the Roland MP-600 from the Nov / Dec 1978 issue of Polyphony magazine. 




November 19, 2012

Tone Color


I feel the same way about musical tone color as I do about visible colors. They should be elegant and subtle. But sadly subtlety has gone out of style. 

I recently sent a new song I was working on to a friend and he commented on how closed the filter was on all the sounds I was making. I took that as the greatest of compliments!



Upon hearing most electronic music these days, I think "is the filter broken!", because it's always wide open! Not in use! I understand that people love those unfiltered, buzzing sawtooth waveforms, but what about moderation? Think of seeing a splash of bright color on a painting that is mostly muted. Think of hearing a bright sound against a backdrop of dark sounds. Variation is what's interesting!

Color and music are in an equally bad state these days. All of our old favorite movies have been remastered with their colors blown out and over saturated beyond belief... and music is no better. I could go on and on but I think I've got my point across. I'll try to lead by example.

November 17, 2012

Archenland-09 Prototype


In my opinion the most wonderful of all the lost prototypes. The Archenland-09 was sort of a mix between an SH-2 and an RS-09. It was a standard two VCO synthesizer with polyphonic presets for organ, string and brass sounds plus room for four programable patches --a modest amount of programability by today's standards but charming and useful non the less. 

It was proposed in 1979, the same year CBS's animated version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe aired. Roland's bold (and some might say bizarre) use of Narnian imagery is probably what killed this project off so early in it's development. 


I'm still hoping that someday, like Aslan, this glorious synthesizer will be resurrected from the dead with some deep magic from the dawn of time....

November 16, 2012

The Roland Synth Story


So, it turns out that perhaps Roland has finally come to appreciate their own heritage as much as the rest of us. They've scheduled three dates at universities in the UK to showcase some of their old products. Thanks to Sam for the heads up on this!

Here is the official press release from Roland:

Roland has come a long way since its inception in 1972. Its synths, drum machines and effects have been used on some of the most famous records ever and have helped artists push sonic boundaries, creating new sounds and even radical new musical genres.

Taking part over three dates in November, the Roland Synth Story tour will explore this rich history through a roster of artists and experts. It’s an exciting opportunity for visitors to learn more about Roland synths, speak to three musical icons and even get their hands on some classic Roland vintage gear.

The panel of experts, including Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree and Japan), Graham Massey (808 State) and Jody Wisternoff (Way Out West) will all talk about their experiences creating electronic music as well as discussing their favourite Roland synths. They’ll also be on hand to answer questions and chat to visitors after the event.

All three guests are intrinsically linked to the history of the synthesizer. Richard Barbieri’s first ever synth was the Roland System 700, and he’s never looked back. His band, Japan, notched up numerous hits in the ‘80s and they became a cornerstone of the influential synth-pop movement.

Graham Massey infamously named his band ‘808 State’ after the famous Roland TR-808 drum machine, which – along with the TB-303 – was an essential component to the way the band produced their music.

Jody Wisternoff uses a stable of Roland synths, including the Juno-106 and the legendary Jupiter-8, to make progressive house and breaks as one half of Way Out West. Their music didn’t just hit the charts, it also found its way into TV shows and video games.

Guests will also have the chance to get their hands on some rare and ultra-covetable Roland gear, including the following: Jupiter-8, Juno-60, Jupiter-6, Jupiter-4, Juno-106, JX-8P, D-50, JD-800, JV-1080, JP-8000 and XV-5080.





November 5, 2012

Old Neighbor


When I was six years old the kid that lived next door to me hung himself in his barn. He was fifteen and his name was Rick. Sometimes when he was working on his parent's farm I would wave to him and he'd wave back but I didn't really know him. I always wondered why he did it. I guess I'll never know.


Sometimes I feel like an old shoe.
I suppose everyone probably does sometimes. 

November 2, 2012

Thomas Dolby - Airwaves (Demo)


This was released on a Cassette compilation in 1981 by the Belgian label Crepuscule. Airwaves has always been my favorite Thomas Dolby song but I like this demo even more than the final album version. 




Dolby said that he recorded it in his back room in London well before he had a record deal. The drums are a Boss DR-55.



Little update: Just came upon this quote...
"At that time my equipment consisted of an upright piano; a Roland JP4; a MicroMoog; a Boss Dr Rhythm drum machine; a Tascam Portastudio 4-track cassette, and an Akai stereo cassette for mixdown." 

November 1, 2012

Roland MC-202


Well, I've sort of been on the fence about this for a while but i finally bit the bullet. I got an MC-202 today. Some say the sequencer is "needlessly complex", but with two tracks of CV and variable gate times I'm willing to take a stab at it. Besides, with the weather being what it is there isn't much else I can do. I'll be shut in for the next few days with nothing but the MC-202 and it's manual. No electricity. Just kidding, I'll have electricity. If I didn't, how could I... ?

October 30, 2012

Strange Sequence


A Halloween treat for you. It isn't much, but I don't really enjoy Halloween --do we really need a holiday to celebrate Lucifer and his devils? It's unfortunate because it falls right in the middle of my favorite time of year. There are so many wonderful things about autumn and Halloween is a blight on them all. 

October 27, 2012

Middle Eastern Synthesizers


Just came across this beautiful demo of the Roland SH-2000. I usually only enjoy music in western scales but this is just really stunning. I also like that polyphonic sound he's making on some other keyboard --at first I thought it was a midnight train going by outside his window.

I suppose there's a little bit of a nostalgic edge to this for me too. I reminds me of years spent in a dark break room in Adventureland at Walt Disney World with middle eastern music from the attached gift shop leaking in. I hated it at first but ended up liking it at some point.



If you're looking for more middle eastern analog synthesizer music I can recommend Synthesizing Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat by Charanjit Singh. It was recorded in India in 1982 with a Roland Jupiter 8, TR-808 and TB-303. People made a big deal about this record when it was unearthed a few years back, saying he'd invented house music way before it's time and things like that. Well, I don't really know enough about house music to confirm or deny that. But this album seems little more than a curiosity to me, especially after hearing the majesty of the above video.


October 25, 2012

Roland SH-2000: A New World of Sound


If you ask me, this is the holy grail of synthesizer ads! Everything about it is perfect. I want to live there. I think that someday I will. 

October 24, 2012

Campfire Synthesizers


I really like when analog synthesizers are played alongside acoustic guitars. I guess it's a juxtaposition but I think they actually compliment each other quite nicely. The first time it really occurred to me was when I heard La Petite Fille de La Mer from Vangelis' soundtrack for L'Apocalypse des Animaux. Well, thats the first time I really realized it. Now that I think about it I recall a few songs I recorded with my older brother when we were kids that I thought were pretty great probably for that reason. Here's a recent discovery:





October 19, 2012

More Deviations From The Plot


The Korg EX-800. I found one at a local pawn shop when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. At the time I thought it was interesting, but not any more so than any other synthesizer. At that age reading a manual wasn't really something I cared to do, and it's a good thing because they were a lot harder to find back then! Eventually I came to really love the sound of it. I didn't really know what any of the parameters did, I just scrolled through them and adjusted their values until I liked the sound. I realize now the reason I liked it's sounds, the reason it sounded a little more interesting to me than some of my other synthesizers, was because not only did it have separate envelope generators for the oscillators (well, the loudness of them going through the VCA) and the filter --which is fairly common, but it also had a separate envelope generator for each of the two oscillators. Now, this is something I've never seen before, save for other Korg products from this era.  



So, that is interesting but it gets slightly more interesting. The envelope generators are not the typical four stage ADSR's that we all know and love. They have six stages. Along with attack, decay, sustain and release, they also have break point and slope. What would this look like if music was a visual art you ask? Well, something like this:



What does it sound like? It can sound like sounds that are fading out then fading in again before they eventually and finally fade out. Which can sound even more interesting when you imagine that the two separate oscillators and the filter can all uniquely fade in and out in their own times. It means that you can synthesize your own delays. It means all sorts of things, but there's no audio demo to be found, and I don't own one anymore so I can't show you myself. You'll just have to trust me on this one. This little guy is built like a tank --sold metal casing. Nice little non-nonsense sequencer. Nice. Trust me. 


Amendment I: Also, I'd just like to say, and I don't normally say this, but yes, this does have digital oscillators... it also has digital envelop generators, and for whatever reason, I don't mind. There's something more solid, more sturdy about this thing than most synthesizers with DCO's. Is it just the solid metal casing tricking my mind into thinking the sounds and thicker than they actually are? Perhaps. But I don't think so! I don't...

October 16, 2012

Fairmont, Minnesota Monthly Synthesizer Meeting November 21st 1996


Good evening everyone, thanks for coming out tonight! Looks like we have a great turn out even though the weather isn't cooperating --I guess we all value synthesizers more than our own safety! I'm just kidding but hopefully the snow will let up by the time we're finished here! 

Anyway, the first order of business is that David Barnhart wanted me to let you all know that he's started a new blog, which is sort of like an online journal, called The Complete Synthesizer and you can find that by logging onto www.thecompleatsynthesizer.com. Thanks for sharing that David, we're all very excited to check it out! Also, Bill wants to know if anyone in the group has the Roland MC-505 software and if they'd be willing to copy it onto a floppy disk for him --is that right Bill?

Bill stands up sheepishly, "Not quite, I'm looking for the mkII operating system software, and if anyone is able to make a copy for me, I could provide my own floppy disk. Also, I still have an MC-4 for sale. If anyone's interested in that come see me afterwards during coffee hour."


October 14, 2012

The Human Factor


I feel as though Roland had the human factor in mind from the very beginning. The idea that people would actually be using their instruments as tools to accomplish a task. But, of course you've probably just about heard enough of my Roland propaganda. I'll admit that I myself might be growing slightly weary of it. Anyway, the Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus is a really great instrument. A friend of mine has one and I've used it a little on some recordings. Now, I'll say right now: I think vocoders are ridiculous. I'm sure you could do great things with them, and great things have probably been done without my knowing, but I've never heard something that I knew was a vocoder and thought "that sounds great!", mostly upon hearing a recognizable vocoder I think "That sounds awful!".

[The Human Voice section of the Mk-II version of the VP-330] 

Mostly what's great about this instrument is it's human voice sounds (made famous by Vangelis), which can be used as a carrier signal or independently from the vocoder. I prefer to use them independently, but if ever a vocoder were to sound nice it would surely be with these sounds. They actually sound like human voices. Some how Roland made analog circuitry sound like believable human voices. No one knows how. It's a miracle!  There's not much else I can say about it, but do read Roland's original advertisement for it (above). Also note that, if you factor inflation, the current going price isn't that different than the original price. 

October 12, 2012

Relinquishing Control


Sometimes I'm hesitant to write about things like this. There is a part of me that wants to keep my methods to myself. But the fact of the matter is, I won't be around forever and I don't want all my thoughts to die with me. Have you ever read The Giver? (You should!) also, it wouldn't be the Quakerly thing to do.

Someone recently asked me if there was any way to sequence a Roland RS-09 or Juno-6. Well, the answer is no; neither of these machines are able to be controlled externally (the Juno-6 has an input for it's arpeggiator clock, but this is another matter all together).  So, what is the point in keeping them around? 

Well, there are a few advantages. The most obvious advantage I see is that you will sound more unique because of it, esp. if you're making specifically electronic music. Everything is so sequenced and precise these days, I suppose people enjoy that --and I do appreciate a nice sequence but I also don't mind parts played by hand around or over it. And with the recording technology we have available these days one is able to do unlimited takes with no repercussions, except perhaps diminished friendships due to too much time working on music.  



Most of these machines are lacking control voltage inputs because they are polyphonic and control voltage is naturally monophonic. This is why the Roland 184 keyboard controller must have four CV outputs to produce four voice polyphony.  I suppose if Roland had added multiple CV and Gate inputs on their polyphonic keyboards they would have been a good deal more costly to produce. And besides that, if you're going to add all of those CV and Gate inputs, why not outputs as well? You see, they would have quickly become something that they are not --which is good old fashion keyboards meant to be played by hand. 

So why doesn't the monophonic SH-2000 have CV and Gate inputs? I don't know, but if you want to  hear "Funny Cat" it's your only option.

October 6, 2012

And Speaking of Joy Electric...


Here is Whose Voice Will Not be Heard the first track released from the forthcoming Dwarf Mountain Alphabet. The first time in over a decade that polyphony has been used on a Joy Electric release. Word on the street is that it's from one of the Roland Juno's.









Remember the Old Ways


...It is a favorite quote from Prince Caspian. Lewis certainly valued the old ways, especially those of the 19th century. "Chronological snobbery" was his term for the world's eagerness to get on with their modernness. I'm naturally inclined to agree with him but I do think (and this is only a very recent development) that in the same way one could be snobbish about modernness, one could also be snobbish about one's reluctance to it --perhaps even more so these days.  

In John Edminster's tract, Jesus Christ Forbids War (The Witnessing Coordinating Committee of the New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends 2007), he says:

"Today a great lie goes masquerading in Christ's robes. It appears wherever apologist for war, or lethal injection, or lying, ravaging the earth, or profiteering off human weakness, seek to persuade us that these evils are O.K for Christians to take part in. How easily they fool us! We're all too eager to imagine God smiling on all the old, familiar ways that the world does things: think how our ancestors bought into slavery, genocide, the whipping of children and the subjugation of women!"

October 2, 2012

A Young Catherine Bush


A wise man once said "Kate Bush never goes out of style".

One might just as well have said that quality never goes out of style.

October 1, 2012

Roland EP-09

It's manual says "The EP-09 is the first electronic piano with a built in micro-computer". They're referring to the arpeggiator. The manual goes on and on about how great it's arpeggiator is. It's not as good as the arpeggiators on the Juno 6 and 60; and it's virtually useless because there's no way to control it externally.

The EP-09 is extremely limited. I'm sure it pales in comparison to the EP-30 (the first velocity sensitive electric piano released by Roland in 1974) and the Roland EP-6060 looks much more versatile. I was originally drawn to it simply to complete my 09 family (along side the SH-09 and RS-09). There is something very special about all the 09's and the EP is no exception. It has four different sounds, the manual describes them as:  

PIANO 
I...soft piano tone 
II...hard piano tone  
HARPSICHORD
I...orthodox harpsichord tone 
II...a bright harpsichord tone 

These sounds can be mixed with one another in any combination to achieve varying degrees of brightness or dullness. In my opinion it sounds remarkable. I would describe it as a crystal clear tone, it's a tone that I would normally associate with the Juno series, but here we have it from an analog machine. It is polyphonic, I suppose I should mention that and speaking of polyphony: I also think the sound of the RS-09 (Organ and Strings) can be reminiscent of a Juno but the lack of decay and sustain controls make the short, punchy piano sounds of the EP-09 impossible to obtain. The EP-09 also lacks decay and sustain controls (it's "sustain" feature works more like release if you ask me), so of course the lush pad sounds of the RS-09 are out of the question. Each family member serves it's function in the house of 09. 

So, while it is incredibly limited, if you love the sound you'll be delighted by the EP-09. There is something very nostalgic about it. I'm not saying it's used in this song, or any of the sounds in this song sound anything like it, but it always reminds me of this sing in spirit and I think the EP-09 would have fit very nicely into this song:

September 30, 2012

September 29, 2012

September 28, 2012

#1 Joy Electric: The Art and Craft of Popular Music


When I first started making this list I was sure that The White Songbook by Joy Electric would be my number one. I've always considered that album to be the pinnacle of the JE discography, with it's beyond intricate programming and old world sentiment. There are a few songs on there that are as close to perfection as any synthesizer song has ever been: Unicornicopia, The Boy Who Never Forgot, Shepherds of the Northern Pasture, The Heritage Bough and the title track. I've listened to The White Songbook while driving through the countryside in Switzerland and perhaps had my first glimpse of Heaven on Earth. Indeed --even now I'm second guessing my decision. 



I recall Ronnie saying that the process of recording The White songbook was not enjoyable. And truth be told, it doesn't sound like it was an enjoyable process. It can be daunting even to listen to. The sounds are intricate to the extent that they demand your constant attention and the subject matter is equally heavy. There are no care-free vibes to be found. It's all remorse and longing. Ronnie has a history of making EPs that are somewhat reactionary to their proceeding albums. The Art and Craft of Popular Music could be considered that reactionary EP to The White Songbook



According to David Barnhart's extensive notes:






"The White Songbook was multitracked to four Tascam DA-78's. The entire thing was done on the System 100 and it was sequenced with the 104 sequencer module on the System 100 and with the built-in sequencer on Roland's SH-101."

A Roland RE-201 Space Echo was also used. I would assume that  The Art and Craft of Popular Music was made similarly since it was made so soon after, except that there is quite a bit of polyphony. I believe that a Roland RS-202 was responsible for this. Which would make sense as it was released in the closest proximity (1976) to the System 100 (produced between 1975-1979) of all the Roland string machines. 


[Joy Electric concert Anchorage, Alaska 1997. feat. Roland Juno-106]


The Art and Craft of Popular Music had a lightness about it that The White Songbook didn't. TWSB was a marvel of synthesizer ingenuity but The Art and Craft... was listenable.  Don't get me wrong, it still had fascinating sounds; the heavily delayed introduction to Such a Beautiful Thought is still a constant source of inspiration to me. Simplicity and subtle mystery abound! 

Songs like Ringing Bells, Mistletoe and Molasses, Farmhouse Fables, Come In Brother, Weep In the Sunshine, and the aforementioned Such a Beautiful Thought make up the core of the album and it would be hard to skip over any of them. 

It's old fashion and wistful and there's a vaguely Christmasy feeling to the whole thing. How could I resist?

There was also a wonderful remake of the Rainbow Rider (Ronnie's previous band) song We'll Last So Long. The Rainbow Rider version is great but this was a little cleaner and simplified. It certainly gave me a renewed appreciation for the song. 



It would be impossible to write about Joy Electric without mentioning Juan Gomez. Juan and his followers provided live theatrics for the band for years. His outrageous costumes and movements confounded many a non-suspecting concert goer. If memory serves correct, Juan was about 6'5". When he was all done up and in constant motion, he was intimidating, to say the least. My older brother and I toured with Joy Electric for a few years at the beginning of the last decade; him playing drums and me synthesizers. During that time we got to know Juan and he is a top notch fellow!

I'll leave you with the only song I could find and a personal favorite from The Art and Craft..., Mistletoe and Molasses.





And from the honorably mentioned White Songbook, Unicornicopia.




*I suppose it should be mentioned that The Art and Craft of Popular Music wasn't a proper album. It was a double disc set that included a retrospective of the first decade of Joy Electric's career. The first disc (the one I've been going on about) was B-sides and rarities, but they were all re-recorded at once for this release.