Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Trying (difficult) new things

It's interesting - I've made several conscious, committed attempts to broaden my musical and technical horizons over the past couple of years; New instruments (electric upright bass), new tech (not new actually, but new for me - Kyma), studying Objective-C, and others. And what I have learned is that, for the most part, I was already focused on the things I'm meant to focus on for the past 3 decades plus, and if I'd been meant to incorporate any of the above into the sphere of my main working life, I would have very likely done so a long time ago. Now, I don't view any of these experiences, or the attendant hard work they entailed, as a waste - Far from it. One must stretch in order to find out the parameters of one's abilities and interests. But it's very interesting, on the tail end of a lot of serious, exploratory work in the above areas, to discover that you really were already covering all the bases that really make sense for you, and need to be very careful about where you direct your energies.

Snapshot of this moment

So. It's been awhile, and there's a lot that's happened, but I'll be my usual vague, cherry-picking self here and just touch on some key events.

I did another H9000 demo for my friends at Eventide recently at the January 2019 NAMM nightmare, just like last year. They're a great company, with great people, and the 9000 is superb. They also made a video of me at home doing some of the same things in a less horrifying enviroment. You can find it here if you're into that sort of thing. As I mention at the end of the video, you can also find me on IG. Much like this "blog", I tend only to post when I think something's particularly interesting or funny, or I'm severely irked by something that needs expounding upon. In other words, pretty rarely, but less rarely than I post here. So if you find that my taste resonates with you, follow me there. Or don't. It's of little to no consequence, as with most of social media.

I have also been working with my friend Jeff Martin of the band Idaho, whose music I have been a fan of since the mid-90s. We met randomly at a gig a few years ago, became friends and eventually started working together. Our aesthetics and tastes line up very closely, so it's an easy collaboration. To this end, I built a mobile rig around the H9000 to use with that project, and it's been working out swimmingly. There's a glimpse of it here.

Back in the aforementioned "irked" category, I've noticed that there's a whole generation or two out there of people using "vintage" synthesizers who have a) little to no programming talent or aesthetics, judging from the endless stream of unwatchable Matrixsynth video posts, and b) have zero awareness of this. In fact, I had a chat about precisely this with an accomplished and dear friend of mine (who you have probably heard of, but whose name I'll omit here to protect his privacy) the other day, so it's generally been on my mind of late.
As a result, I'd like to take a moment to rant irritably about some key truths that these idiots have clearly completely missed.

So here goes.

1. Not everything Oberheim and Sequential made in the 80s was good. Much of it wasn't. Specifically, the OB-Xa, OB-SX, OB-8, Matrix-6 and Matrix-1000 were all terrible-sounding and/or lacked key programming features (such as cross-mod) of the actually good instruments Oberheim made, like the OB-X, Xpander and Matrix-12, though the latter two lacked the sonic "size" of the X and the SEM units. On the Sequential side, the Six-Trak, Multi-Trak, Split Eight and MAX were all awful as well. This period definitely represented the "bad old days" for Sequential. The T8 was not bad, due to its fantastic poly-aftertouch weighted keyboard, though at the end of the day, said keyboard was still controlling a declassé Prophet-600 (the Prophet 5 and 10's cheaper, anemic descendant.)

2. The Chroma Polaris SUCKS and has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE RHODES CHROMA. This is why it's a fraction of the Chroma's price.

3. The overblown dinosaur cousins of the DX7 that Yamaha produced after it are NOT WORTH BOTHERING WITH. Specifically, the DX5 and DX1. It's still Yamaha FM at the end of the day, so don't believe the hype. There are A LOT of better-sounding ways to do FM these days, for a tiny fraction of the price.

Bottom line: Just because something's from the 80s and was made by a major manufacturer of the day doesn't mean it's worth anything. Old != good in all cases, so use your ears. Speaking of which, if you insist on buying 80s synths, at least take the time to familiarize yourself with some of the people back then who were doing unique, personal and creative work with the instruments of the day, and have taste. Joe Zawinul, Rainer Brüninghaus, Richard Barbieri, Mick McNeil (Simple Minds), Rupert Greenall (The Fixx) and PJ Moore (The Blue Nile) are all great places to start. DO NOT, on the other hand, listen to The Cars or Rush if you're looking for good examples of refined, highly-personal synth programming approaches. If you can't discern the fundamental difference, perhaps you're barking up the wrong tree.

Friday, January 27, 2017

I first met Expressive-e guys at NAMM last year (as mentioned in the previous post - I really need to update more!) and fell instantly in love with their Touché controller. A year later, they're in production and about to ship. They brought the current proto over to my studio
and I used it to control my Eurorack system. Here are some snippets of the results (these are external links, as I the vids are over Blogger's 100Mb limit):

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pretty dense time the past few weeks - Had 3 dear friends staying with me, at the same time as 3 of the guys involved in the Synclavier, which I am an avid user of. We all went to NAMM, and I'd also agreed to do some informal demos of the new hardware and software for some prominent film-sound and film-music guys here in town, all of whom are or were Synclavier owners/users. That was productive. At NAMM, there was considerable interest in the Synclavier name, which was interesting given the long absence of that company from the scene. The most interesting thing I saw at the show, by far, was this device, which was fantastic. The developers (pictured below) came over to talk to me about it at my studio, and it look as if I'll be doing some beta-testing for them over the next few months. There was a lot of work done on my Synclavier system, including building and testing a mini-system, which is ongoing. Also had meetings about the impending restart (and finishing) of development of v1.0 of the long-suffering "secret iPad project". Very pleased about this - more as it gets closer to being done.

All in all, a great time from start to finish.

Currently working on some music that I'm pretty excited about. Trying to get enough puzzle pieces made so that I can lay them out on the floor and shuffle them around until a record reveals itself.

Acting honorary Game Room Studio chief maintenance engineer Jeff works on my beloved DI

The Expressivee "Touché" device

The mini-Clav during testing

The Expressivee guys

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

NO MORE fucking blank grid controllers, please.

God, I am so sick of them. Grid controllers with blank, featureless, non velocity- or pressure-sensitive buttons everywhere. THESE ARE UNIFORMLY TERRIBLE. People who produce these miss the basic tenets of good instrument interface design, the first of which is NEVER DON'T BE SENSITIVE! If you were curious about the second one, it's NEVER DON'T BE INFORMATIVE! Give musicians EXPRESSIVITY and PLENTY OF INFORMATION so they can play, well, expressively and don't have to expend cognitive effort remembering what any particular blank control does at a given moment (and yes, of course I know about Push, but it only works properly with Live and has no polyphonic aftertouch, as well as the same blank buttons I'm complaining about here.)

In the case of devices with lots of buttons on them which are intended as musical controllers, making them incapable of any kind of touch sensitivity and not giving them any display capability IS STUPID and renders them largely useless for anything other than the dumbest on/off capabilities.

To recap:

THIS is stupid:

..and THIS is REALLY stupid:

However, THIS is definitely the right idea. Too bad it's fake and seemingly can't exist yet, given the current state of the art in materials (I would love to be proven wrong about that, btw.) Just for the record. I would happily help fund a kickstarter campaign for this product, if anyone out there figured out a way to do it - click the image:

Friday, August 2, 2013

It's an actual update!

Welp, seems like it's about time for an update, since some visually-interesting stuff happened. There are a lot of photos which will take time to post, so keep checking back. NOTE: I have noticed that the videos I post here don't show up when opening this blog on iOS devices, so for now, use a computer for lucky best viewing!

Above: Ostrava "Colours Of Ostrava" festival, Czech Republic.

Above: This was the Junas festival, held on the site of a quarry in France from hundreds of years ago, apparently. Translation: White dust getting on everything (and I wear a lot of black, not so great in this case) and EXTREMELY FUCKING HOT during the day (ditto.) 
This turned out to be the only gig on the tour in which I had all my gear, as Air France lost most of it shortly thereafter. 
This is the street where the studio in which we rehearsed was located. Lovely light there.

I had to do this a few times, due mainly to airline baggage handlers' brutality.

This is Kheireddine M'Kachiche, AKA "Kem", a wonderful violinist and all-around lovely guy.
Rick Cox, my dear friend/collaborator and one of the most innovative and fascinating musicians I know.

The rehearsal space in Junas, exterior.

Above: Würzburg.

Above: Berlin Atonal. It took place at an amazing, gigantic disused power station from the 60s that used to supply electricity to all of the former East Berlin. The bottom photo was taken by a pro photographer during our concert. The terrible, shaky video is me walking around during the Borderland (Juan Atkins/Moritz Von Oswald) soundcheck, as we'd just arrived and were a bit dazed at the sheer size of the place.

Above: Isola Maggiore, Perugia, Italy. Again, EXTREMELY FUCKING HOT. At soundcheck, my H8000 was too hot to touch, and we had iPads shutting down with temperature warnings. Back in Perugia itself, note the underground city - it dates back to the middle ages. Also note the Ravioli Tartufo Nero - I ate as many black truffle dishes as I could get my hands on while in Italy. Last shot: Me outside the hotel in Perugia, exhausted and not looking forward to what proved to be a nightmarish trip home. Oh, and here's today's Final Thought: FUCK AIRLINES. The commercial air travel world is just absolute shit these days. Air France ultimately found my gear and cheerfully shipped it to me at home THE DAY I GOT BACK. This means I did 1 out of 5 gigs without most of my stuff. How, you ask? It's MAGIC! Anyway, the airline industry desperately needs some Steve Jobsian character to come in and disrupt things utterly. Having said that, it's particularly the worst here in America. United fucked up so badly on my trip home, via a toxic cocktail of technical failures and incompetence, that what should have been a horrible one day trip turned into an unbearable two day trip. Something must be done.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Southwards And Back

Well, whaddya know- Something post-appropriate happened. I went to Sao Paulo with JH to play at SESC there (apparently there are SESC venues all around the country but they're not all as nice as the one we played at), which we did. Twice. What follows is the photographic evidence. Longtime readers of this "blog" may notice a familiar face; That of my dear friend Hu (whom I'd never actually met in person until now.) She graciously showed us around town a bit and was generally awesome. Conclusion: I had a great time and Brazil is fascinating. And they know food and drink.

This is a quick pan around the city from the patio at the SESC cafe. It gives some sense of how big SP actually is- It's sprawling.

Note the statues on the tops of the buildings- They look alarmingly like someone getting ready to jump, but when you realize they're on all the surrounding buildings it's pretty interesting.

They have book dispensers in the subway, apparently.
Breaded meat. Loveliness.
Indescribably wonderful, yet non-alcoholic.
We've all been pronouncing it wrong- It's "gua-ra-NA."
Guava-paste pie and ice cream. One of the single best taste experiences I've ever had, hands-down.
Hu's "salad bar" choices at Rascal. Fantastic.
Jamie photographs the stage. We document everything, always.
The beginning of lunch at Bar da Dona Onça.
Hu's choices for me at Rascal. I went through this plate so fast even I was shocked.

Hu laughs at my novelty-sized pout.
From my Ramada Inn 10th floor balcony
Subway art (of which there is a lot in SP.)
More SP subway
Even more SP subway
Still more SP subway
We'd just got in and I was predictably tired but happy to be there.
Yes, I'm ending the photos, appropriately enough, with dessert. Trite? Yes, but just look at it.