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:  

I...soft piano tone 
II...hard piano tone  
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: