March 31, 2012

The Roland CSQ-600 Always

Now, I know what you're probably thinking. Things are getting a little watered down around here. Well now just hang on! While it is true that the slopes are diversifying a bit, we're still the same as we ever were deep down. And to prove it: here is a post all about my love and devotion for the Roland CSQ sequencers (specifically the 600 here).

I love everything about this sequencer. It is all CV and Gate. So simple! It's exactly what a sequencer should be. Four memory banks, which are so easy to switch through or chain together (in real time mind you!) with the flip of a switch. You're able to sequence the CV and Gate at the same time, or sequence either of them independently. And a function that I find invaluable is that by hitting any key on your keyboard controller while a sequence is running, it is instantly transposed to that key! So not only do you have an amazing sequencers here, it's also (in my opinion) a wonderful song writing tool. Do you have trouble coming up with interesting key changes? With this little guy you can hear every possible key change in an instant!

Well, that's all I have to say about that. These things are still going for a decent price (for how amazing they are), but they do seem to be a bit rare. I know that Vangelis used this and Sean McBride is currently making good use of it. I really can't say enough about it. It's everything I've ever hoped for in a sequencer and more. Amen!

Nitetime Pageantry

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Disneyland proudly presents our spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination in thousands of sparkling lights and electro-synthe-magnetic musical sounds."

The Main Street Electrical Parade is my favorite parade in the world. I saw it when I was a kid at the Magic Kingdom and was completely entranced. And it holds some other special, sentimental value to me but I can't really talk about it here...

It opened in 1972 and has been sponsored by General Electric and Energizer. The Music (Baroque Hoedown), was created in 1967 by synthesizer pioneers Gershon Kingsley and Jean-Jacques Perrey. In 1977, it was updated and arranged by Don Dorsey and Jack Wagner.

Supposedly Don used the following synthesizers to create the updated soundtrack: Moog Model III, Mini-Moog, Steiner-Parker Synthacon, Oberheim 8-voice, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Fender Rhodes Piano, New England Digital Synclavier II, Bode 7702 Vocoder, Roland MKS-80 Super Jupiter, Yamaha DX7 and Yamaha TX7. But as most of these synthesizers were made after 1977, some bit of information floating around is incorrect. Who can you trust?

Here's a great article about designing the parade:

And here's a very interesting article about ambient sounds at the Disney parks:

I think this is a good halfway point between where we are now and the fourth element I'm about to introduce to Mild Slopes. Synthesizers, Quakerism, C.S. Lewis and Epcot!

Stay tuned.......

March 27, 2012

Arthur Greeves

Arthur Greeves was C.S. Lewis' life long best friend. I'm about to start reading a book (a very big book!) of letters they wrote to one another between the years 1914 and 1963. There is very little information about him to be found so I'm hoping the book will shed some light. What I do know is that he was an artist and was deeply religious, practicing orthodox Christianity most of his life and then latter becoming a Quaker. He was also a homosexual, which is fascinating to think that he was surely, in part, responsible for Lewis' conversation to Christianity.

So many Christians throughout America quote Lewis as if he were the 13th apostle. I think there is a lesson to be learned here in how to treat people and also that God will use whomever He pleases. These modern notions that this one sin (if that's indeed what it is -- I do not believe so) is any worse than any other is utter nonsense. Lewis himself said in his autobiography (Surprised By Joy, 1956):

"There is much hypocrisy on this theme. People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily? I think that of very little relevance to moral judgement."

"Cruelty is surely more evil than lust and the World at least as dangerous as the Flesh. The real reason for all the pother is, in my opinion, neither Christian nor ethical. We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable"

Lewis' view may be a little outdated but I think he was headed in the right direction. Though, one must wonder: now that it isn't disreputable (and legally so in this country) or unmentionable, what is the current reasoning?

March 23, 2012

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe 1967

I believe these two clips are all that's survived.

On an unrelated note: here's an article from Keyboard Magazine from 1982. It's about The New Synthesizer Rock. I'm not really interested in most of the bands, but it's an interesting read none the less, and an interesting time to be sure.

March 22, 2012


This little friend came in the mail today:

Guess I'll just throw it on the pile with the rest of them...

I'm kidding. I only have one tuner: the one that came today. Up until now everything has been out of tune.

If you like Boss (Roland's little brother) stuff, this is the best website:

The Wood Between The Worlds

I was setting up my new MIDI patch bay a couple days ago and I thought: since I have these nice, old fashion MIDI cables (you know, the ones I wrote about a few months back), well, how can I put this? There is a wonderful book called The Magician's Nephew, it's one of my favorites. In the book there are yellow and green magic rings that can transport you out of this world and into a wood between words. The yellow rings take you to the wood and the green ones take you out. So I thought I would use my yellow MIDI cables to take me to the patch bay (the proverbial "wood", if you will) and the green to take me out. Just like in the story!

The Sequencer going in and out is a Roland MSQ-700. The patch bay is a
360 Systems Midi Patcher. Roland's offering (the A-880) didn't seem quit adequate, or at least not as aesthetically pleasing. That makes the 360 Systems Patcher the third non-Roland item in my studio, along with the Garfield Electronics Mini Doc (also pictured above), and a TASCAM computer interface. What's the world coming to these days?

Amendment: I also have a TASCAM cassette recorder.
I forgot about that. There are four items.

March 21, 2012

The Horns of Archenland

I've always loved synthesized horn sounds. I think they sound wonderful, and unlike real horns you can sequence them to have very fast progressions, which sounds completely unnatural but sort of other-worldly and beautiful. The Roland ProMars has some great horn presets, but it's very easy to make these sounds from scratch too.

I recently discovered that I didn't really know what the GATE + TRIGGER Control switch on my SH-09 did. Almost ten years together and still getting aquatinted! So anyway, there is a switch on the SH-09 for envelope control. It can either be set to Gate + Trigger, just Gate or LFO. What is Gate + Trigger? What is it's dark purpose? Well, if you only have Gate selected when you hit one note, keep it held down, and then hit another note: nothing happens. If you have Gate + Trigger selected: you can keep one note held down and then hit another note to trigger the envelope (well… only a lower note, because the keyboard is low note priority). This function is particularly useful in brassy sounds, which, by the way benefit from having all the envelope controls set pretty low except for a good deal of sustain.

For more information see the SH-09 manual or Practical Synthesis for Electronic Music page 14. Or this great article from Sound on Sound: SYNTH SECRETS Part 27: Roland SH101/ARP Axxe Brass Synthesis

March 15, 2012

Hiroshi Sakaguchi - Music For Planetarium, Roland GR-500

I have a fascination with Planetariums, especial the old fashion kind: the ones that still have that big iron ball with the thousands of pin pricks to make the stars. My earliest memory is a field trip in 8th grade and since then some of my most cherished memories are from planetariums. Sometimes, when I'm alone in a big city I'll make a point to visit the planetarium. There's no better way to feel even more alone than to go into a room with lots of people you don't know and be plunged into the infinity of space.

I don't know much about this piece, Space Theater - Music For Planetarium, but I think it's wonderful. It was made mostly with a Roland GR-500 guitar synthesizer but also a Roland System 100, Korg MS-50 and it looks like there's a Space Echo in there too (how appropriate!). It's sort of Durutti Column-esq and it's a half hour long! Turn off the lights and let your mind drift away...

Roland Keyboard Instruments

These would be so much more appealing if they had CV & Gate. But that's true of most things in life.

I just read in a magazine today that Akai's newest midi controller keyboard has CV & Gate outputs. Things seem to be looking up!

March 14, 2012

Armen's Music Shop New York, NY

About a month ago I made a post about this music shop on the west side of Manhattan. While I still don't like the way the store is set up to just go in and browse (not possible), I must say that their repair shop is top notch! I've used so many repair shops in the past few years: East Village Music --pretty standard to poor, no frills at all, Rogue Music --down right awful, Main Drag --fine.

So I took my RS-09 to Armen's. One key was triggering about three notes, expecting that they only fix that (all I asked them to), it came back to me in top notch condition! Switches and buttons that were missing were replaces with original Roland parts! The contacts were all cleaned! The 8" slider in the organ section (that has never worked in the past sixteen years I've had it) was fixed! And of course the key in question was fixed. I was shocked and have got to recommend them as the number one repair shop in New York City for analog synthesizers. What a pleasant surprise.

March 13, 2012

Darkest Dreaming by David Sylvian

I don't know if this is the official video for this song, but I hope it is. It's Wonderful! Have you ever found yourself in this setting? Walking alone too late at night or too early in the morning?


David Sylvian sang a wonderful duet with Virginia Astley on the song Some Small Hope. Small world.

With Synthesizers at Night

This is a lovely drawing that one of my readers made of me as a kid practicing with a Roland RS-09 at night in my church sanctuary (based on my post Church Synthesizers from a few weeks back). You can see the full picture here:

She also wrote a lovely piece about how magical memories can be and the way we sometimes bend good memories just a little to be even more wonderful than they actually were. I think I have a habit of doing this, a habit that I've probably completely given into at this point. But what's the harm really?

It's also interesting that she just happened to dress me in exactly what I wore most as a teenager: Chuck Taylors, jeans and a black t-shrit.

Thank to Tona for this beautiful picture. It's amazing to see one of my favorite memories come to life after all these years.

March 11, 2012

The Synthesizer: Book

Roland's late 70's Publication The Synthesizer, is one of my favorite books... or series of books. Last time I went traveling I brought a few with me. I spent the whole trip worried that I'd mess one of them up but I wanted to read them so badly that I just had to bring them. Well, now I needn't worry about ruining my physical copies while traveling because Analog Industries have begun to scan this wonderful work and are offering it as a PDF download. Splendid! So far they have:

  • A Foundation For Electronic Music
  • Multichannel Recording For Electronic Music
  • Practical Synthesis For Electronic Music Volume One

You can download them here:

And thanks to the It's Full of Stars blog for the tip!

March 10, 2012

The Magician's Nephew

Here is a photo of a stage play adaptation of The Magician's Nephew with nice sets and costumes. When I was about five years old my Gramma took me to a high school production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (a girl from our church was playing the part of Lucy). By five I was already obsessed with Narnia and I remember having such a wonderful time seeing that play. It seems like Narnia stage plays are happening all the time but I still haven't managed to see another since that first one, and that was so long ago...

An Old, Weathered Friend

March 9, 2012

March 7, 2012

Roland Synthesizer Demonstrationsskiva

I'm in Scandinavia for the next few days so this seemed thematically appropriate.

I'll leave it open to your own interpretation.

March 4, 2012

Hannah Peel Underpass on Programmable Musicbox

Here we have Hannah Peel in a sensible (but maybe too brightly colored) dress playing that old John Foxx classic on one of her programmable music boxes. I've always liked this song; It has a wonderful, mysterious melody. But I've never liked Foxx's voice (an unpopular opinion I know), so it's nice to be rid of that. Anyway, it's a rainy Sunday in Belgium and this managed to push a few clouds away.

Is using the musicbox a bit like programming an antique sequencer in a way then?

Yes, in that you are using a punch card type of system, resembling early computer techniques when having to give digital instructions. Much like MIDI really.

I’m not sure how they made the card, but for me all the notes on the music box are made using a hole puncher and can take me sometimes a solid 12-18 hours to complete.

March 3, 2012

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but
for most of us it is only an imaginary country
- C. S. Lewis

March 2, 2012

Virginia Astley -- A Subtle Enchantress

Virginia is my current obsession. I don't know if it will last but it's been a long time since I've found an artist I've been so excited about. She embodies all the sobering feelings that I've been looking for in music lately. She's using synthesizers but not to grab your attention just to create the atmosphere she's seeking. Anyway, it's fun to have a body of work to explore again for the first time.

I'm going to go through her whole catalog and report back to you with my findings. I've already unearthed some lovely gems. I can't believe how forgotten she is, but I guess with today's flashy musical climate it's to be expected. I believe she was most appreciated in Japan. Bless her and bless Japan.

Thanks to Sean for exposing me to this ravishing beauty.

March 1, 2012

Orchestra Hits: Compairing the Roland RS-09 & RS-505 String Machines

As I told you in my
Church Synthesizer post, I've had an RS-09 since I was quite young and I've truly loved it for about seven years now. I recently acquired an RS-505 (I think one would also consider it a church synthesizer), which I had assumed would be just an expanded version of the 09. This is not so. I do like the 505 and I'm very glad to have it but I think it will still take some time to grow on me. One of the big differences between the two is the string sections. The RS-09 string section is meant to (or maybe just does) sound like a solo stringed instrument. Ran through some reverb I think it actually sounds like a pretty convincing violin (probably not to the trained ear, but, you know, at a passing glance -- what is the listening equivalent of a glance?). The RS-505's string section can't really sound like a convincing solo stringed instrument, but then the 09's string section in my opinion can't sound like a convincing ensemble. So neither is technically inferior, just different and for my own sensibilities I prefer the 09. But the 505 does have those bass and contra-bass sounds that are pretty great. Over all though the 505 has a much duller sound than the 09. The filter on the 505 just doesn't seem to open up as much as the 09. They are both wonderful though and I'm sure that before the end of the age comes to these slopes I will tell you much more about them. I haven't even mentioned their organ or synthesizer sections.

Also: Those organ-style rocker switches on the RS-505 take some getting used to. Which way in on, which way is off? I don't know! Unless you're some nice, old lady who's used to playing the organ. Of course there is a version of the 09 that also has rocker switches, but this is not the version I have. I have the other version. The version with those lovely buttons.