February 29, 2012

Out of the Silent Planet: Synthesizer/Orchestral Soundtrack Song

As you can see, I'm sort of on a kick right now, but can you blame me after what happened yesterday? This song is amazing though. I really love it. It was recorded by Stephen Heidenreich who lives in Martinsville, IN.

February 28, 2012

The Kilns

The exciting thing (the one that I mentioned in the last post) did happen today! I went to The Kilns: The Home of C.S. Lewis, The place where he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. I hiked through the woods in the back. It was magical... in a bleak sort of way. I was thinking of visiting his grave and The Eagle and Child pub, but I think I'm going to save those things for later in life.

The Last Battle Musical by David Carr 1978

Along these lines, something very exciting might happen today, but it's too soon to say exactly. I have very high hopes!

February 27, 2012

Hello Earth

"In some ways I thought of it as a lullaby for the Earth. And it was the idea of turning the whole thing upside down and looking at it from completely above. You know, that image of if you were lying in water at night and you were looking up at the sky all the time, I wonder if you wouldn't get the sense of as the stars were reflected in the water, you know, a sense of like, you could be looking up at water that's reflecting the stars from the sky that you're in." - KB

Hounds Of Love was launched with a laser light show party at the London Planetarium on September 9th 1985. Seven days later the album debuted at Number One where it stayed for the next four weeks.

February 26, 2012

Church Synthesizers

The first analog keyboard I ever owned was a Roland RS-09. My mom gave it to me. It used to be the only instrument they used for services at our church in the early 80's. The church, by the way, was Abundant Life Fellowship in the smallest town on Earth: New Waterford Ohio. It was started by my grandparents in '82; converted from an old auto-mechanic's shop (I guess it was an auto mechanic who had an affinity for Swiss cottage architecture). Anyway, soon enough the church put together a band and my mom moved on from the modest RS-09 to the lofty Hammond B3. The RS-09 was banished to a closet and forgotten about for a decade until a twelve year old me happened upon it. At first I thought it was kind of lame. It was analog, but not really a synthesizer. It couldn't make twinkly space sounds and I'm ashamed to say that was about all I cared about at that age. But sixteen years latter it is now my favorite instrument of all time. I could not live without one. I'm actually full blown obsessed with it.

I used to go to my church in the middle of the night and practice playing synthesizers. There is a certain, wonderful feeling of being alone in a church at night with most of the lights off and making sounds that wouldn't normally be heard in that setting. Sometimes when I pass by a modest little church at night I wonder if (well… i hope) there's a kid in there playing synthesizers. I'm sure there rarely is. I wonder how many discarded synthesizers are in closets, basements and attics of churches all across America. We have no way of knowing.

The last image I'd like to leave you with is the thought of a girl in her early twenties playing a Roland RS-09 to lead a worship service by herself for a very small congregation late one Sunday night in 1982. While I love silent, Quaker worship services, the thought of it happening with just my favorite instrument in an intimate setting sounds so magical. The irony of it all is that I've certainly experienced exactly that, I was just too young and stupid to appreciate it.
It will never happen again.

February 25, 2012

A New Spirit Happening! Ghost Box

I can't believe how little music I post here. Though, I rarely find anything new that I really get excited about (and by new I mean: from within the past five years or so). But I've recently become completely infatuated with the Ghost Box label (http://www.ghostbox.co.uk). They have such a strong concept. I'm new to the whole thing, but I dare say it's the strongest concept I've seen in a label since the legendary Sarah Records. They have such an amazing image and vision for the whole thing.

I'm currently listening to Belbury Polly's From An Ancient Staralbum. By the way: I believe the band's name is a nod to the fictional town of Belbury from C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. And perhaps the song title The Hidden Door has a similar link?

February 23, 2012

Some Vague Notions About Music

I do wonder sometimes about the public display or release of music. Showing it to anyone certainly involves some degree of narcissism. Of course this isn't confined just to music, it'd be the same with any art from but as I am a musician this is my chief focus. George Fox had this to say about it in 1649:

"I was moved to cry also against all sorts of Musick, and against the Mountebanks playing tricks on their Stages, for they burdened the pure Life, and stirred up people’s minds to Vanity"

I do believe that modern Quakers feel quite differently about it, or at least they appeared to when I attended a concert at our meeting house (which has amazing acoustics by the way) last month. I'm interested in hearing what happens with music in the realm of Quakerism in the next few years. I'd love to hear some music that demonstrates the quiet and calm attributes of our faith. While I don't believe the music of Jon Watts embodies these traits, I think he's probably the first Quaker of our generation to put his music out there (Well, there's this little blip, -- yet to publicly release anything that would be considered Quaker music. Stay tuned.) and that should undoubtable inspire others. To be perfectly honest, I can't stand his music -- nails on a chalkboard could be an understatement. But of course I have such specific, narrow minded ideas about music that could only pertain to myself. Having said that, I'll leave you with a quote from my muse C. S. Lewis who seems to share my sentiment:

"Just because I don't like this music . . . isn't an ironclad guarantee that it's wrong everywhere, every day, for everyone."

February 22, 2012

Roland SPV-355 Review

I seem to have gotten a little off topic lately (though, what is the topic really?), and what better way to get back on than a good, old fashion instrument review?

I was really excited to get one of these. It seemed like the perfect little thing; a two oscillator, voltage controlled Roland Synthesizer. Well, it is that but not quite like I'd expected. The main thing I dislike about this synth is that the ADSR has been reduced to an ADS (didn't realize how crazy that looked till I typed it out!). So you have attack, decay and sustain but no release. It was meant to be the sort of synthesizer you controlled with other instruments; so besides the normal cv and gate ins and outs you also have an audio input and a little switch to select between voice, guitar and brass. The envelope follower is fine, and indeed -- if you have something with some release plugged into it you'll get that release that's missing. But the pitch to cv converter is pretty dodgy at best; not worth wasting any time on I don't think.

There's also no LFO, which is fine... I think that perhaps Roland tried to make this unit something interesting and in the process forgot about some of the basics. I suppose I should spend some more time with it though before judging it so harshly. On the up side: it looks beautiful and if you don't mind working around it's flaws is quite nice to have around, if not for practicality then for morale. I guess what it boils down to is that I just wish it was a rack-mounted SH-09 (which unfortunately does not exist).

Roland SH-09: Simple, Timeless, Elegant, Intuitive, Approchable.

From media@pcnet.comThu Mar 23 10:03:33 1995
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 1995 23:32:33 -0500 (EST)
From: Machine Media
To: "Stefan Gruhl (CIP 92)"
Cc: analogue@hyperreal.com
Subject: Changing MC-202 accent modes

> HOW can I access both seperately on my lovey 202 ???
> I thought it is VCA only. I hate this working without manual,
> the only positive thing is that you discover new features even
> after years! :-)

Yep, I think 95% of the 303 owners out there have never put it in tap
mode :)

" The notes with Accent usualy control the VCA, but it is possible to
control both the VCF and VCA "

Put the thing in play mode. Hold down the shift key. Hit the "accent" key
(cleverly disguised as a C# :) I will then say either "FA" or "A" in the
little LCD display window. It just toggles back and forth
between the two. I don't think you can make it say just "F" though.


Roland C-30 Harpsichord

Doesn't this song have a vaguely Narnian feel to it?

Sorry about that shade of blue.

February 21, 2012

Getting To Another World Is A Particular Problem: The Cursed Perelandian Opera

I don't think it is commonly known that there is an opera based on C.S. Lewis' sci-fi novel Perelandra. The opera was written by Donald Swann and David Marsh in collaboration with Lewis between 1960 and 1964. The sale of the film rights shortly after Lewis' death, however, placed a long-term embargo on its performance. Swann was bitterly disappointed about this; the piece contained, he considered, some of his best music. He said "I think of Perelandra with a great sense of yearning. There is a feeling of loss to be involved in such a huge drama and then find it not being performed all the time". It was Swann's dying wish that Perelandra should have a proper hearing. Thus far there have been only nine public performances.

Here are some photos of the 1969 student production in New York:

I can't for the life of me find any sort of recording (audio or video) of any of these performances. Supposedly some sort of professional recording was made of the June 26th 2009 performance but has not been released. This bit of The New Yorkers review of a 1969 performance is enough to keep me searching for one though: "While the rest of the twentieth century was writing serial, atonal scores, Swann was writing hummable melodies and lush tunes.". I love hummable melodies and lush tunes.

"The impact of it was that while composing it I was able to live ... in a dream world. I could live in places where eldila were walking around singing and talking. I worked on it in a little cottage in Suffolk where I lived with my piano in a quiet, secret world. " - Donald Swann

February 19, 2012

A Brief Digression

This morning I woke to what can only be described as a holy vision. It was a revelation of the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich. Peter and I did not take this lightly, so we immediately set about creating it. I won't get into the details of the sandwich as this isn't that sort of blog; but in the end it was all true, it lived up to it's name. I say all that to say that when we went to the grocery store to collect the ingredients, we happened upon this wonderfully designed bottle of maple syrup.

Since this is a rare double post (two in one day!) and admittedly has nothing to do with the traditional mild-slopian topics, I thought I would also tell you about a really neat little blog post I came across called Journey Into the Third Dimension. It's all about turning scenes from animated movies into three dimensional View Master slides.

See for yourself:

Dawn Treader Suite

Today while reading a bit of Sleuthing C.S. Lewis: more Light in the shadowlands by Kathryn Ann Lindskoog I found the following excerpt:

Apparently the name of the project was changed to The Sunrise Path, all the song titles were changed and the cassette was still released. Altogether it was fourteen pieces, an hour long composed by Stanley and Angelee Anderson. Not sure of the year, but it seems to be mid to early 90's.

Here are two low quality wav files I've found:


Update: I was reluctant to tell you (because I don't want to spoil the magical quality I'm trying to project onto this situation) that I believe the synthesizer used on the Dawn Treader Suite was the spiritless Korg 01/W. I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but I feel it is my duty to keep you informed in these matters. Lord knows there aren't any other blogs these days that care to inform the public about the apparent correlations between vintage synthesizers and the imagined realms of C.S. Lewis.

February 16, 2012

101 Sound & 106 Sound

There is at 251 west 30th street in New York City a place called Armens Music Shop. I happened upon it one day accidentally. I was at Rogue Music (a pretty sub par music shop) across the street. From the outside Armens looks like a store that might sell garbage, or maybe something between musical instruments and garbage. But inside, the store is jam packed with analog synthesizers; one stacked on top of the other, all the way up to the ceiling. Though, when you ask an employing about virtually anything; price, availability, the most basic questions. their only response is "check our website". Their website (http://www.armensmusic.com) is just a link to their ebay store. The whole thing is rather strange. They have a few interesting, custom, rack-mount versions of things (Juno-106, SH-101, MiniMoog, Source, TR-909), but I don't believe any of these are for sale. I don't know, maybe I'll try to get a job there someday and do a good job of it. That could be nice.

February 13, 2012

Roland Jupiter Narnia

Alright, I'll admit; this is a little far fetched, but if you've been reading for a while you're probably not surprised.

There are some modern notions that The Chronicles of Narnia are based on the seven planets of the medieval solar system. Not sure weather I believe it or not, but if you're interested there are a couple of books about it; The Narnia Code and Planet Narnia. Haven't gotten around to reading either of them but the documentary was interesting enough. Perhaps one day I'll get to those books.

Anyway, what I'm going to do here is compare the Roland Jupiter-8 with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe -- which is supposedly a story constructed around the planet Jupiter.

Jupiter is the largest planet, the JP-8 is quite large, but I don't know that LWW is particularly longer than any of the other chronicles. Hindu astrologers called the planet "Guru" which literally means the "Heavy One", indeed -- the first thing I noticed about the JP-8 was how heavy it was. The LWW on the other hand is quite light as far as books go. So, in the category of size and mass this is not a match.

The JP-8 is often referred to as Roland's "flagship" synthesizer and I suppose one would consider LWW the flagship Narnia book (not my personal favorite, but you know…). So in the department of the gratuitous use of the word flagship, we have a match!

In Roman mythology Jupiter was a sky god associated with thunder and lightning and his wife was Juno. I conducted my own experiment of putting a JP-8 in the same room over night with a Roland Juno-6. There was no romantic connection and I didn't really do that.

The final results of this comparison? Inconclusive. Stay tuned, next week we'll be comparing Prince Caspian with the Roland ProMars and The Last Battle with the Saturn-09.

February 9, 2012

Until I Return

Well folks, this will probably be my last post before I return home and even then I have a pretty hectic schedule for about the next month. But as always; I will try to post some insightful, little things whenever I can. Before I go though; I'd like to direct your attention to the dancing tree in the above picture. He seems like a really cool guy. And also I'd like to tell you that I've really been enjoying the Antarctica soundtrack by Vangelis on this trip. I strongly recommend it. That's all for now. Take care.

February 8, 2012

Sequencing My Life

It's something I've struggled with my whole life. I guess, technically, I hate sequencing... in the traditional sense. I grew up with a Juno-6 and it's lovely arpeggiator, so why would I ever need to sequence anything? The only sequencers I had as a kid were the simple step sequencers of the Korg Poly-800 and EX-800. It didn't take long to reach their limits. Then I found the Roland MSQ-700. A beautiful box, with a button, switch, slider or knob for every function. Perhaps the worlds most intuitive digital/MIDI sequencer. I spent my late teenage years in a basement with that and a Juno-106.

Then in my early twenties, deciding I wasn't happy with the 106's digital oscillators, I moved on to completely analog systems, and with that; analog sequencers, and then eventually away from sequencers all together. For the longest time I thought that sequencing wasn't for me, wasn't in the cards. But there are so many different ways to go about it (I've even spent hours and hours programming Roland PMA-5's). In the end I realized what I needed, which was the most logical, natural thing for me.

The Roland CSQ sequencers. Those hooked up to an 808 is heaven. It's such a tangible way to work. Store the CV note data in the sequencers and control the gate signals (when to step from note to note I mean) from the 808. Suddenly the 808's wonderful programming style is applied to synthesizers as well! I don't think I could ever go back to anything else now that I've found my perfect method. Of course, this in my own world, in my own studio. In the real word I'm sure I'll still sequencing things one note at a time, or however I can get by. Annoying little dots on a grid.......

February 6, 2012


Synthesizer Demos for Soundtracks

"Another big change had been the coming of synthesizers. Producers long, and understandably, frustrated by their inability to look into what the composer was up to and having to wait until the scoring session to find out what the music was going to sound like, discovered that the composer could make a synthesizer demo and play it with the picture. Today, composers are given far less time to write their scores than has been the practice in the past, and Angela said that to be distracted by the constant requirement to make demos of everything must be a giant headache."

I really wish some of these synthesizer demos had survived. Wouldn't it be wonderful to listen to your favorite soundtracks played minimally on synthesizers with bad quality recording?

February 3, 2012

The Most Modest Modular System

The Roland System 100m. It had three different rack sizes, the M-190 holds three modules, the M-191 and M-191J hold five. And most of their modules are multifunctional. For example; the M-110 module has a single VCO oscillator, VCF, and VCA section. So, you could cram a lot into three rack spaces. If one could get that M-190 cabinet and the 180 keyboard controller (with it's modest 2 1/2 octaves) you've got a nice, sensible set up. The dream.