Saturday, December 26, 2009

Trance and Tangerine Dream

To anyone who reads my posts, its not secret that I like Tangerine Dream and for that matter, Klaus Shulze. I also have to admit however, that it took me a while to decide to buy a Tangerine Dream album because when on my first listen, I heard a sequencer, I was turned off. It reminded me to much of the mindless dance music that I hear. OK, I know that is harsh and I have no problem with people writting music so people can dance. I think its a great thing but I am not sure that even dance music fans hold it up as high art. Not that Tangerine Dream is either but clearly, much more thought it put into their music.

So trying to be open minded, something that I admit is musically a problem for me at times, I listened to some trance. What I found was that most songs began pretty well and reflected some talent with a synthesizer but then soon introduced the same thump thump beat that dominated most dance music. It reminds me of a horrible idea "hooked on classics" years ago that took classical music and put a dance beat behind it, hideous!

I found myself wondering if these artists just got away from the dance beat what they might do because to be honest, what they are doing is not that different than the sequencer tracks on Tangerine Dream of Klaus Shulze albums. I myself am even thinking about venturing into more rhythmic music but I will surely not use the cliched dance beat.

Just picked of a Moog MIDI MuRF. A fascinating beast. With a few sequencers from the Radius inside my Korg M3, I night be able to create some interesting sequencers. At an MP 201 pedal and lots of room for Tangerine style evolution. Perhaps if I write something I like I can just add a cliched dance thump thump drum track out there and try to market it. Then again, perhaps not.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sound and Sight

I would seem to me, that in the world of synthesis, there is a strong connection between sound and sight. First, many of the synthesizers that have done very well are visually pleasing. The Minimoog and it's latter incarnation in the Voyager for example, allows the music an to clearly connect the abstract idea of a synthesizer patch to the visual cues of knobs. While not effecting function, I have to admit that even for myself, I like the wood of of a Voyager or Moogerfooger and the back lighting (mine is blue).

Synths that have not done as well are the Yamaha CS-80. Sure, Vangelis liked it not nearly as many were sold because in my mind, it was a cluttered layout and identifying what each control did, was not natural or easy. I have the softsynth version but have never liked it all that much. Interestingly enough, Alesis has somewhat repeated this in the Andromeda. Complexity does not always make for great music.

If the eye sees to much, it gets confused and it effects the unity of the music and the musician. The two work together.

So when I saw this little toy they callthe Tenori with it's myriad of flashing lights that remind one more of a video game than a musical instrument or sequencer, I was intrigued. I saw the bouncing ball mode (as I will call it, see the web site and you will know what I am talking about) and I thought right away, polyrhythms. What a great way to represent polyrhythms, balls bouncing up and down at different lengths.

I think what the Tenori does really well is allow the musician to see music moving in time, but it lacks the stuff of a serious instrument. It's sound set makes it seem like an arcade game and a toy. It has a weak set of effects as well and while able to use different scales, I did not see anything that made scales more visually pleasing. There are some hexagonal controllers that I think are fantastic for that. To bad no one could find a way to combine the temporal aspects of the tenori with the tonal/scalar aspects of hexagonal controllers.

Bottom line, $1000 for a toy is beyond my extravagance level. I have been on the market for a step sequencer but this is not it. The Orb also does not work for me because while the circular design is a nice gimmick, I see it as only that. A rather weak step sequencer with a gimmick. Genoqs makes some nice stuff and has some really power but its visually hidden and costly to boot, even more than the Tenori (by multiples). Plus, you need a computer for it and for me, this is a downside. I like self contained units.

In the end, I like the idea of Tenori but I find it's execution a bit weak and as I have alluded to, toy like. However, I think the direction that Tenori is going in, the idea of combining sound and sight is a good one and as I have said, has a long history of sauces.

I hope to see more from this company when they decide to make musical instruments and not toys. Not to be harsh, but that is calling it as I see it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tis the Season

Well, all the leaves seem to have fallen from the trees and narrowly avoided a major snow storm here which ended up as rain. Winter is such a dreary time of year and this time of the year with Christmas soon approaching is also a bit stressful. It is also the season for bashing Christians who apparently have now become responsible for all the woes of the world. Well, it's either us or George Bush, take you pick. I frankly blame the polar bears for everything including global warming for breathing to much, or is that humans, I forgot. I'll send Al and E-Mail. After all, he invented the Internet.

Politics aside, I do hope to spread a bit of Christmas joy this year and say Merry Christmas to as many people as I can.

So let it be said:

Merry Christmas!

There, it's done and now the PC police can come to get me.

On the musical front I am taking some time and considerable financial investment to take my hardware and turn it into a single powerful instrument. I need lots of cable, a few new gadgets (Switchbland and Moog MP 201) and time. The MP 201 is arriving tomorrow and I am back to my pseudo studio on Monday and Tuesday so I am hoping to start programming it with some presets I can use.

With the exception of using a patchbay, I am hoping to automate almost ever thing so at the hit of a footpedal, all my audio will re routed and MIDI routed. I will call this a meta preset of sorts.

I am also looking down the road at either a Macbook Pro or a Neko. There is a small Neko that I like and it might fit well with the studio. I might leave open some outs on the switchblade to be routed to an interface for the Mac and hopefully, be able to integrate MMC for use with the Korg M3 sequencer and Ableton Live. If I can add my plugins, I will have a very powerful studio and be able to hopefully start making a lot more music using both hardware and software.

Anyway, that's the plan. Whatever your personal faith, I do wish everyone a Merry Christmas and yes, I know that it's not PC but It's something good that I want to share and is that a bad thing? Well, I won't be checking with the ACLU on that one, they and all the PC nazis out there get coal in their stalking this year.

So once again, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Timbre Productions

I just wanted to introduce my small band of readers to a friend,

While we have not met, Allen and I have know each others for years now across the vast reaches of cyberspace and our love for sound, music, Absynth and a strange little additive synthesizer called Cube both of which Allen and I don't use much anymore although we both continue to love Absynth. I myself have the proud title of "Ex-Member" on the Cube web site which is a story for another day and to fully appreciate it a very long one although some of my posts here may have alluded to it.

Here is his web site:

I warn you that both Allen's music and for that matter mine is experimental so it's not going to sound like Beyonce if that is the type of thing that you like. Although I suspect that those who follow this blog probably don't but you never know:

You might also read or join the Absynth Group. It's a group I have posted to for years and is a rarely lively group including product developers and sound designers and some colorful characters. It fades in and out from time to time but if you listen closely enough you can pick up some interesting ideas even if you don't own Absynth:

Why not join, its free.

If you read the latest posts you will find what I think is some interesting dialogue between me and Allen in "Questions, Questions".

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Klause Schultz Timewind and Electronic Music

I just recently listened to "Timewind" by Klaus Schultz.

My first comments are simply this, in a word, outstanding.

This is a fine work of what I would call real "electronic music". I make that distinction because almost all music these days use some sort of keyboard. Those of you who may have read my other posts might now that my first experience of listening to electronic music was with Morton Subotnick's "Sidewinder" which I still consider to this day an excellent electronic musical work and reminiscent of the early electronic works of those like Karheintz Stockhausen and so many others that defined a unique period of experimentation. Many did not understand early electronic music and I synthesizer makers like Moog moved in from the experimental side and made it more accessible with instruments the the Mini Moog and the plethora of other synth makers that blossomed at this time. Electronic instruments like the Melotron and the the Minimoog and the later Prophet 5 defined an era of synthesizers moving from the experimental labs of universities that blended music, science and technology to the popular song playing on the radio.

So I lament the fact that if I go to a record store these days or even peruse the categories of Amazon for music, I find it difficult to find what category to look for the music that I know I like but has fallen beyond the boundaries that are definable in the world of pop music for perhaps the
most simple reason that its not pop music.

In my listening of his music, I don't see Schultz and the few others like him fit the pop designation, or in his latter work, the techno or trance designation. I find it amusing that some call him the father of techno. I have read interviews where its very clear that Shultze is his own man and he is not trying to fit his music into a genre or for that matter create one of his own. I find much of his music and that of Tangerine Dream gems in what is often a trash heap of music designed for mass consumption.

Music has always been defined in the past by instruments which by virtue of how they were played had limited scope. What amazes me is that with the advent of instrument with so much incredible potential, they end up being little more than a high tech hurdy gurdy or player piano. I listen to Shultze and I hear sounds that fascinate me. I find myself wondering, wow, how did he get that sound. That is what electronic music should be. In the same way, I have watched videos of emerging artists like Tara Busch using Moogerfoogers like instrument and again, I find myself interested in the way she is using them. This is what electronic music should be not music that sounds like it comes from a cookie cutter approach and cookie cutter sounds and techniques.

It's why when I hear anything with a thump, thump, thump in the background I almost immediately discount it. For people who like this, why buy records. Just get a drum machine and you can make you own .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Technology and Music

I don't know what it is lately but every time I see a video of some new technology that is touted as the next revolution in music, I find myself shaking my head. It would seem that these videos are dominated by those more interested in cool technology than music. Ultimately, music technology has to be about music and not technology. Each artist must decide what tools they need to produce their art. Even banging two rocks together can be done in a musical way and while I would not suggest that people create a new genre of music doing this (although it might be better than h... ...), my bad, I would suggest that music technology can also make some terrible music.

I recently watched a video demo of Buchla's lightening with some idiot looking more like he was being attacked by a killer fly than a musican and the music, if that is what one wants to call it, reflects that. You would think that Buchla would want to make a great video that demos their product in a positive way but the one video I saw, although not from Buchla, was absolutely horrible and probably some tech Geek more impressed by the technology and not very interested in the music.

I also point the finger at myself here. I wonder how much time I dedicate to technology and how much to improving my music of knowledge and my ability to play an instrument. Sadly, the technology that can be so desirable can also be a trap and a hindrance to developing musically.

I hope I can avoid this trap more in the future than I have at times in the past.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Adriane Lakes's "Morning Glow" - A Breath of Fresh Air

I have been wanting to write a review of Adriane Lake's "Morning Glow" for a while now. I have been listening to a lot of Tangerine Dream for the last several weeks with a little Pink Floyd thrown in and this album was a refreshing and welcome change on the lighter side of synthesis. I write experimental music so listening to "Morning Glow" was a bit of a gear change for me but I think trying to expand one's musical horizons is always a good thing and I like to support artists like Adriane who clearly are not just playing follow the leader and making an album that sounds like everything else. This copy cat mentality fostered by record companies is a disease that has plagued much of commercial music.

I found "Morning Glow" to have a light, fresh and at times whimsical style that I found refreshing and yet, at the same time, I found musical and technical elements that are well worth commenting on. Adriane's voice is also light, clear and pure but also full of expression.

"Morning Glow" is an interesting mix of synthesizers and vocals. I was impressed by the bass lines although as I will comment on some of the songs I would have used something more like a fretless bass. The last song "The Fullness of Life" showcases a bit of Adriane's synthesizer talents but I would like to see her explore her experimental/ambient side a bit more. OK, that's my bias, I admit that but my recommendation to her is to sit down one night with some headphones and Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" and see how to produce music without drum tracks. At times I found the drum tracks a bit to prominent and at times redundant from song to song. Perhaps more variation and different types of percussive instruments might work.

Here is a review of the individual songs:

So Beautiful

I liked this song. It's simple but very pleasant. It made me smile and that is always a good thing in life so thanks to Adriane for that. I also noticed a great deal of variation in the rhythm track along with background vocals and synths which was a nice tapestry of sounds that stand in somewhat stark contrast to the mechanized tracks of a lot of pop music I hear these days.

Jacques Cousteau

I don't think I can say I have heard an accordion being mixed with synthesizers before. It clearly makes this album unique but also illustrates nicely Adriane's lack of fear of being different and of trying new sounds and combinations of instruments.

Perhaps, a shuti box:

Who Are the People in My Life

I really like this song from the perspective of the melody. Adriane's vocals also shine on this song. It reminded me a bit of "Swing Out Sister" for some reason. I would love to hear Adriane experiment with jazz or perhaps a jazz standard. It might be a way to expand into something different.

Lost Umbrellas

I hear Adriane's clear background in classical music on this track combined with a quirky rhythm track. I would love to hear more of it on other tracks. However, this is also a track in which I found the rhythm track a bit to prominent in the mix. Perhaps moving the slider down a bit and adding some reverb to the piano might soften the mix a bit. It would make the song a bit darker but again, add some variation to the overall style of the album.

Only a Fantasy

The bass here is really interesting. A fretless bass would work great here. Adriane's sense of bass is different and unique and certainly adds a very personal stamp to all of the songs on this album.

Cadillac Cat

This is certainly one of the more whimsical of the songs but I really like the rhythm and bass lines here. This is one of my favorite songs on the album. A fretless bass might work well with this song.

This reminded me a bit of Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius playing "The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines"

Seven Again

This song is nice but it would be helped by some change in instrumentation. I would back of the rhythm track on this one as well. The piano might sound better if it where more bell like or almost toy piano like (i..e. the title).

Just for some ideas:

Blanket of Love

This song also has a nice bass lines. There is also some nice harmony on this song. The pads here are also very nice.

The Fullness of Life

I was impressed by Adriane's synthesizers here. This song clearly showcases her more ambient side. Come over to the ambient side Adriane.

Concluding Remarks

Adriane is a promising artist with an ingredient that is much needed in today's pop music, integrity. I don't sense that Adriane is trying to sound like anyone else and that's great to hear. I would love to see further development and expansion on her rhythm tracks although certainly "Cadillac Cat" and even "So Beautiful" showcase Adriane's capacity to use some interesting syncopation's. As I also stated here elsewhere, I would love to hear more from the synthesizers on the side of experimentation.

Thanks to Adriane for a very enjoyable listening experience and many wishes for a bright recording future.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Going to Extremes

I sometimes wonder if making life easy is always a good thing. I have to admit that while I purchased not one but two hardware synthesizers and a whole host of software synths on the desire to program them, I have sadly not done much programming and have looked to presets to give me an easy way to get the right sound. Technology is a wonderful thing but I sometimes wonder that is musical ease has made us lazy.

I find myself wondering if anyone in this century or the past has produced works as great as Bach's or Mozart's or other great composers. I suspect not but I also believe that it was the limitations imposed on these composers that made them great. Bach may not have had the instruments that I do today. Consider the harpsichord which does not even have the dynamics of a piano but for which Bach wrote many works. Such composers put everything they had into the notes themselves and finding cleaver and innovative ways to create something new within those limitations. Even the genre of their time was more limiting than the wide open spaces that define music today yet I would suggest that these limitations did not limit but enhanced creativity.

In the same way I look to the electronic composers of the past such as Karlheintz Stockhausen who did not have modern synthesizers, but perhaps did more to further the development of electronic music than any modern artist with 21st century tools. Stockhausen though more about sound because my having to work hard to discover various aspects of sound he spent more time listening and finding new ways within the confines of his technology which today we would find very limiting.

Music should always be about exploring new territory. All to often technology has trapped us in narrow boxes because it helps the commercial music machine to crank out album after album and consider how much more prolific were Bach and Mozart for example then many artists today.

So am I going to throw out my synthesizers today and get a good piano or guitar? No, and I already have access to a good piano and I have a good electric guitar but I do think that I perhaps need to spend more time thinking about the subtleties of my music rather simply relying on the technology to do my work. I admit that I am often musicaly lazy finding a certain preset "good enough" without trying to explore and refine a sound. So I guess I rededicate myself to respecting the music of the past and perhaps realizing that despite our marvelous tools, there is something to be said for working with less and not more (and this comes from a gear adict hopefull reformed).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fitting in with the Crowd

Anyone who has read my blogs probably knows that I am a big Tangerine Dream fan or at least of late. I am also a fan of Pink Floyd but after listening to a substantial sampling of their music and also time spam, I can see a distinctive pattern in both, the desire to fit in with the crowd. It's always an adventure in a record store to find Tangerine Dream that is often thrown in with New Age for lack of something better to call it although Tangerine Dream certainly had a New Age phase. but I would not call "Zeit", for sake of example, New Age.

Most genres define music and often have roots that are far more interesting that the latter forms of music that have become cliched and restrictive for the artist. Led Zeppelin for example started as a blues band with some other stuff thrown in. They were rather unique in their time but this type of music sometimes just called hard rock became metal. Zeppelin was creative often taking old blues riffs and transforming them. Metal bands seem content to just turn up high gain amps to 11 so that any signs of bad guitar playing get drowned out in a sea of distortion and then call it metal. Screaming as well is an obligatory element. That's so not so great vocal talents can sound like their hip.

The same with dance music. I am far from being a Madonna fan but if you listen to some of her early music you can find some interesting bass lines. Now I sometimes wonder if all the dance music is coming from a few drum marching settings.

So now beyond jazz and classical I try to listen to innovation. For Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd this was their early period for they tried to sound like everyone else. I listen to new artists as well because some of them have the courage to sound like, well, themselves, and not some musical cliche.

I know my music will probably never be popular and its only a hobby (sort of) but it's me. Do I take inspiration from others? Sure. I like certain sounds and try to copy the technique but never really exactly the sound because I want the sound to be mine. I don't' try to fit into any genre although I use the term "experimental" just so it fits into some category that is itself hard to define.

So sure, I will never make the big bucks playing cover music but my music is real, it come from my own creativity take it or leave it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you.

"Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you." These were the words of Alexander Graham Bell as he made something remarkable for his time, the first telephone. While I have not visited his laboratories, I was amazed one day to have the benefit of learning from a historian under the clothing of a small museum curator in Edison New Jersey. The museum contained many of Edison's inventions including early recording devices, amplifiers, lighbulbs and what even might be considered the first Bose Wave system (or at least a waveguide).

Amd then I think how far we have come and how much we are still stuck. Our telephones have become more sophisticated, many needing no wires at all, our records (once 78s) are now CDs etched with laser light. Some things, have remained relatively unchanged however. The electric light bulb is still close to the original and many other things have not really changed all that much.

MIDI 1.0 was a revolution in music technology in it's time. In 1983, it's first incarnation was published and much like the telephone, MIDI ins and out and thrus started to show up on keyboards until it seems that just about everything that can make a sound has a MIDI interface. At first, the standard was made simply to let keyboards speak to one another something that was already happening with several brand specific standards already.

When MIDI first came out, it worked well. Even a big stack of keyboards could speak to one another. But with an almost explosion these days of all sort of controllers, computer DAWs that can choke MIDI with CC messages and notes, not to mention the world of digital audio with its own standards and the modular synth revolution, the world of Music has gotten a bit more complicated.

I have a wonderful little book about the Telharmonium. It talks about the hope that of wiring a telharmium performance into the rooms of a hotel or even beyond. Futurist minds influenced music and technology and the hope of distributing music in new ways found a ready vehicle in the Telharmonium. Truth was that the thing was a beast. It literally weighed tons. It was impractical in the extreme and yet, it inspired minds to think bold thoughts and new dreams. I imagine, it was like that when Watson heard Graham Bell's words coming over a wire and Edison made his wonderful recording machines and light bulbs.

So lately, I have heard of new paradigms. Here are a few:


This one networks digital audio. Expensive and clearly only for large venues but...

Then there is Open Sound Control:

Products like Jazz Mutant's Lemur, Native Instrument Reaktor and Max/MSP all use this.

and more towards the DIY world, on a much smaller scale, is the Arduino, small, cheap but capable of connecting things in new ways:

So what made me think of all these things? My synths and foogers. I want to connect them and I would love to have a computer control all of it and sequence everything like some gigantic Telharmonium spinning its wheels and gears and making beautiful music.

A last innovation and while I have found it in limited ways, I would love to have something more sophisticated. Think of plugging everything into a box run by computer software. Digital audio, something that would replace MIDI, audio and control voltages. Then think VCS3 or, ARP 2500 modulation matrices write large with computer GUI and sequencer (with automation of everything). That's my vision of the future. Some may say it can't be done but then again, when Watson heard Graham bell asking him into the next room, I don't think he ever expected to be able to call anywhere in the world with a small computer that fits into his pocket.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

First Impressions of Tangerine Dream's Zeit

In a word, outstanding. This is real electronic music. Something designed to transform you mind into another sonic world. I have listed to Rubycon, Phaedra, Socerer and Zeit and Zeit stands out as the most courageous of the works I have heard of Tangerine Dream. I think even Tangerine dream at times tries to find some happy medium between experimenting and trying to market to a more mainstream group of listeners. This is music worthy of being placed in with the more serious, classical, art music side of electronic music.

A short note here to make it clear, as I have in the past, that I am opposed to drugs in any form which the liner note mentions. I understand that a certain ignorant segment of society that feels that need to take drugs to expand their mind. Zeit will take the mind to new places without any drugs at all! Zeit creates an atmosphere, like curtains or rain, Zeit creates textures which morph and blend and come together in this wonderful collage of sounds.

I want to learn more about Zeit. I wish there was more out there because this album first came out in 72 and these sounds are outstanding. No doubt a Moog modular would have been a big part of it but I would love to produce some of these sounds. Many sounds I hear in electronic music are cliched. I can identify who someone created them. These sounds are organic and delightfully electronic. They definitely take the mind to another place.

More later. I have listened to this album about 3 times now and I am not even close to hearing it enough. It gets 11 from me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Inital Impression of Rick Wright's "Broken China"

I have just been listening to Richard Wright's final solo album, Broken China. I wanted to see what other people thought about it so I read some reviews. What I found was not a wide spread of options but a clear split between those who really liked it or those who hated it.

As long as I have made music, its been solo and at least partially computer based (at least for recording). This is where Wright was headed and certainly is reflected in "Broken China" which was not true of "Wet Dream". I don't have "Wet Dream" which for some reason has become a collectors item. I guess because it's not being made any more although I have not researched that. From what I can see, "Wet Dream" is an easier transition to Richard Wright as independent artist and perhaps, free of collaboration, Wright went more in his own more experimental direction in "Broken China"

I like "Broken China". Do I like it as much as some of the more classic Floyd albums like "Dark Side of the Moon"? I would not really compare it. "Dark Side of the Moon" is at the height of what might be called Floyd's more pop era that appealed to the more adventurous rock fans who did not want to dive headlong into the more experimental side of electronics. Those, for example, who may not have heard of "Tarngerine Dream" or artists like Brian Eno. I found one review very revealing in that he preferred Eno to Wright but felt that Floyd could have collectively gone in a more experimental direction.

I like time lines because they help me to see when and what happened and get the big picture. The following is a list of Floyd's recent albums and Wright's two solo albums excluding Floyd's live albums. What is clear is that the band, like many bands, began to feel the stress of trying to keep three very artistic people together. Egos clashed but more between Gilmour and Waters. I suspect Wright may have been more in the middle of all this chaos and trying to figure out where he wanted to go. Wright clearly started his exodus during "The Wall" with his solo album "Wet Dream" coming out before this. Wright, in fact, did not collaborate on any of the songs in the album, sat it out comply for "The Final Cut" and then returned with Kurweil in hand for the remainder, eventually collaborating with Gilmour.

Reading the credits for the individual songs in "The Wall" makes it clear that Waters wanted to take creative control and went a bit off the deep end. After leaving, Wright returns but has now made into Kurweil samples his classic sounds from before. I see Wright at this point siting more on the creative sidelines although collaborating with Gilmour on some songs. The change in synthesizers is a clear indication to me of a new direction for Wright in a more supportive role and as such, Floyd's music moves more towards a showcase for Gimour who granted is a great guitar player but Wright is also a great keyboard player.

Wright, being much more experimental, finds a new vision in "Broken China" and I am sure has he lived, would have made other interesting and creative albums. I would have loved to have heard the opportunity to hear them.

Part of my acceptance perhaps for "Broken China" is that I am more on the experimental side myself. I don't like pop music all that much and I love those, like Wright, who can find those interesting places that synthesizers in the right hands can take a listener who is willing to go along for the ride.

This is an addendum to this blog but when I posted last night I had not listened to the final four or so songs of the album. No doubt, these pieces express Wright's wife depressed state of mind but perhaps his own as well. I suspect that Wright much like the "stone" in Pink Floyd's "Dogs" on animals, felt "dragged down by the stone", the bad blood of blind ambition which turns to stone and in Wright's case cancer. This is not a criticism of Wright. It's more a realization that the world of commercial music can take a heavy toll.

Perhaps it was Waters, perhaps Wright felt that he was at the end of a creative roller coaster ride with Floyd, for a time, or perhaps it was something else but there is a great deal of desperation in the last part of this album. Wright would live for years after this album came out fur I hope that in the end he had a friend, someone he could spend his final days.

Wright also seemed to not have those wonderful synth solos of his that are so well known for his work with Pink Floyd. Some disagree with me that gear does not mean much but to me, the fact that Wright traded in his Minimoog and VCS3 for a sampler is reflective of his retreat from a more creative and aggressive style. Perhaps, this album is more of a reflection of his wife and the difficult twists and turns of life with Gilmour and Waters, especially Waters.

A few other comments. I don't' know where he got the idea to get Sinead O'Connor to sing on the album but not a good mix. Celtic might have actually worked but not her. No one who tears up a picture of the pope can be truly Irish anyway. A bit of processed Celtic vocals might have worked nicely however.

Kudos to Miller and Bolton for the guitar work here. Floyd like but distinct. However, I also wished that the guitar solos might have been a bit more up front. A bit to laid back but great sound.

Here is the timeline for the more temporally inclined and interested:

15 September 2008 - Richard Wright - Rest in Peace (from cancer)

On An Island (Wright contributes keyboard and background vocals to Gilmour's solo album) - March 6, 2006

Broken China - November 26, 1996 (Wright's second and last solo album)

The Division Bell - (Wright collaborates with Gilmour on some songs) - March 30, 1994

A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Wright using only a Kurzweil K2000, Water's exiled, Gilmour writing songs with others but not Wright) - September 7, 1987

The Final Cut - 21 March 1983 (no Wriight, all songs by Waters)

The Wall - November 30, 1979 (Wright only musican, not credited for any songs)

Wet Dream - May 1978 (Wright's 1st solo album)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Some Comments on Paul Stumps "Digital Gothic - A Critical Discography of Tangerine Dream"

I would have to say that most of the material I have seen about musical artists is mostly personal information about them and some details about their albums and how they came about. That is why, after a read of the first few chapters of Digital Gothic I was very pleasantly surprised.

For some time now, I have been a student of early electronic music. I say early electronic music because most popular music is at least some level electronic today and early electronic music soon evolved from serious music that came from the 20th century avant guarde and before that the musical revolution in classical music that really started with Wagner to more popular forms of electronica such as techno and even at some level genres like hip/hop that originally came from scratch and soon devolved.

When I started to take a serious interest in learning about the roots of electronic music, I became a small project which I would love at some point to put in final written form. I took a serious academic book on the avant guarde and then a book of early electronic music and tried to find the overlap. I thought this overlap would be small but none the less there. What I found was a huge overlap and many of the artists in this book read like a whose who of early electronic music.

For a while, I thought this was a discovery that not many had found or wish to speak about. Not until I read about it in a place I would least expect, the first few chapters of a book on "Tangerine Dream". To name a few, Stump talks about the Telharmonium, the Ondes Martenot (and Olivier Messian's early works using it), music concrete and many of the early EM artists such as Karlheintz Stockhausen, Vladmir Ussachevsky, Pierre Shaeffer and even those like Luigi Russolo whose work has long since been lost but whose writting and influence not only on music but the modernist movement of the early 20th century are significant. Bottom line, Stump has clearly done his homework. In fact, Stump even suggests a connection between Tangerine Dream's music and German romanticism.

While I have not finished to book, I am looking forward to reading it. It reflects a level of scholarship that is sadly missing in most books on popular music and it clearly places the work of this popular but groundbreaking band into the greater context of German culture and the transformation in music that started with the avant guarde in the early 20th century.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Problem with Music Notation in Electronic Works

For a while now, I have been collecting musical scores of classical works of the 20th century. I a have some scores from Ligeti, Stravinski, Crumb, Debussy and a few others. I get these scores because I want to study the technique of composers who ultimately lead the way to the avant guarde and eventually early electronic music (back when music played by electronic means was something which was somewhat rare).

What most fascinates me when I look at these scores is not only technique but how composers notated what were often very unconventional methods, for example Crumb. Suffice it to say that George Crumb scores can look very different than most and even Ligeti's.

In my last post, I asked the question, would it be possible to notate Tangerine Dream? OK, perhaps some who are reading this find this whole concept absurd but its not that absurd is it? Think of vibrato, glissando and tremolo. Thee is notation for all of these. But lets get more complex here to challenge the analogy. Consider a simply push of a mod wheel which is modulating pitch (i.e. vibrato). There is nothing to indicate vibrato of growing intensity is there?

Now most classical musician use vibrato even when the notation does not call for it because its really one of those aspects of music that crosses the dividing line that I spoke of in the last post between performance aspects in music and musical composition and notation. OK, I agree that that all sounds well and good when dealing with physical instruments because the vibrato of a violin or cello or any other instrument is limited by the instrument. I falls within a fairly narrow range. But vibrato for a synthesizer can have a much wider range of both magnitude and frequency.

Now what if a notation where used such as vib (to indicate to begin the vibrato) and sens vib to indicate when it ends or reaches its maximum but aslo two small numbers, one to indicate frequency and relative intensity (perhaps a %).

What about pitch bends? I have been listening to "Tangerine Dream"s Socerror which has lots and lots of tricks with pitch bends. Perhaps simple glissando would do this?

I don't have all the answers here but you get the idea. I have always wanted to get some of Karlheintz Stockhausen's scores because his electronic music challenged notationb beyond its limits and yet he made up his own.

You may ask, why bother? The reason is that I can read a score of music and understand the technique quickly. I can't do that by listening to it nearly as easily. Musical notation is a tool so that not only music can be played but techniques also studied. What about serious electronic music? Are there ways of developing some notation so it can be studied. Perhaps not but the topic does fascinate me for some reason.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Notation, KARMA, Sequencers and Tangerine Dream

I could not think of a better title for this blog so I thought I would simply list all of the topics I hope I can bring together here in some synthetic whole. Today, I simply will introduce the topic and then edit and add to this entry as time permits.

By introduction, think of this. Most who probably read my blog are familiar with the electronic artist, "Tangerine Dream" whose music literally spans decades. They have appeared hundreds of times in performance, their albums are prolific to say the least and there music appears in many movie soundtracks. But my point here is not to plug their music, but to ask this. Would it be possible to create sheet music (i..e. traditional musical notation) for Tangerine Dream or for that matter much of electronic music? My answer is simply no. Not in any way that would convey the content.

In classical music, there is a very clear dividing line between performance (of the individual musician), conducting, and composition. The work of most composers, at least up to the 20th century, can be expressed in traditional music notation. However, both the musicians and the conductor add to that and interpret, or perhaps add, to the vision of the composer. Instruments, while varied, are also limited in types and in timbre. A trumpet, while capable of a wide variety of sounds, will always sound like a trumpet, a violin like a violin and so on. Synthesizers, on the other hand, are in many ways so much more expansive in what they can sound like but on the performance side, I would also argue more limited.

What fascinates me about Tangerine Dream, is how they use both sequencers and and performance aspects and blend them together into some striking and beautiful music works and yet, the line between performance, composition and conducting, is now blurred and the ability to create musical notation, all but eliminated save what might appear embedded in a sequencer.

In 20th century electronic music, algorithmic composition has also opened up a whole new avenue, music that is allowed in some sense to create itself with composition left up to certain rules and to chance and the aorist becoming not performer but conductor. Again, lines are blurred.

In Tangerine Dream, we have sequences which can be rather boring but by varying them, Tangerine Dream creates a flowing fabric of sound that is captivating. This is where I get to KARMA. For those who may not know, KARMA stands for Korg Algorithmic Real time Music Architecture. KARMA, by the very words of Stephen Kay, it's designer, is a "sequencer on steroids" and yet, I believe that that is a very modest statement. KARMA resembles a sequencer and an algorithmic composition tool but it is neither. What I am currently interesting in doing in my own musical projects at the moment, is looking for ways to join KARMA and analogue synthesis. This blog is in some sense my musings and thoughts on this and I hope, a means of getting some feedback from others. That's all for now and I hope, a means of introduction to what is a complex topic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Sequencers, Sonatas and Drum Machines

I have taken an interest lately in the electronic music group "Tangerine Dream". I have heard much about then but realized that I have never bought or listened to any of their albums so I recently got a copy of Phaedrus and Rubycon which are some of their most well know albums.

"Tangerine Dream", while popular in electronic music circles, does not make popular music and in fact, if you asked the average person on the street who they were, they would probably not know about them even though their work appears in many popular movies. Certainly if you asked someone who "Miley Cyrus" was or "Britney Spears" were, the would have a ready answer and probably be able to tell you what their latest pop hit is.

Now its my personal option, but I am going to back it up, that the music of "Tangerine Dream" is far more sophisticated than that of either Miley or Britney for the same reason that a sonata is in classic music. Why? In large part what I am going to call the drum machine syndrome. I honestly believe that one of the negative effects of the use of drum machines and sequencers is that they have brought a certainly laziness to music. I you can just use a few drum tracks and sequenced bass to create mega hits then you get lazy and I see most pop music as lazy.

I am listening right at this moment to Tangerine Dream's "Rubycon". Now this is full of sequenced tracks but about every 5 to 30 seconds, the sequence changes, sometimes by only minor variations. The sequence also slowly morphs in time. This creates a rather stunning and powerful effect.

It seems to me that this is not so different than the sonata form in classical music. In many ways, you can say that Beethoven's 5th is only based on 3 notes but its the variations that that make it a great musical work. For the same reason, its the variations in Tangerine Dream that make for great electronic music.

I am not saying that highly syncopated rhythm is a bad thing always but when its the easy way out in music and music become more like the mass produced products that role off an assembly line then a crutch that limits music.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Robert Moog - RIP

On the anniversary of Bob Moog's death, I wanted to post this quick blog. What impresses me the most about Bob Moog is that he took what was still at the time a new industry in itself (i.e. electronics) and realized what so few did, that circuits could make music. Moog also realized that it was not enough to create machines that were technologically savvy but electronic instruments that are musically savvy.

While we no longer have Bob with us, let us hope that his legacy will live on and that others can advance this wonderful field of making music with electricity.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's in a synth - Does Equipment Really Matter?

As my knowledge of various pieces of vintage synthesis gear grows (at least by reading about it), I have come to appreciate the classics. As there are classic songs, so there are classic pieces of equipment. I would have to place the Minimoog or perhaps Mellotron at the top of the list and if organs are also added the B3. Followed by others like the Prophet 5 and the ARP 2600 (a personal favorite of mine) and the ARP Odessey. Now one can argue that the gear does not make the musican and that is true but each of these synthesizers served a unique purpose.

First, the Minimoog was a dramatic scaling down from the Moog modular. But save Keith Emersons famous rig, modular monsters were something to fool around with in the studio. The Minimoog made things portable but it also did something else. Knobs moved from being the intellectual musing of sound designer steeped in voltages and waveforms, to become part of an instrument.

I posted this interview of Bob Moog by the Red Bull Academy:

Great inteview and what Bob clearly wanted to point out was the difference between a knob as a parameter in sound design and a knob that is part of an instrument. Every knob of the Minimoog was intended for performance.

Or who can forget Edgar Winters use of the ARP 2600 in his famous Frankenstein:

Synths like the Mellotron became almost the stuff of legends and rock grew up with these instruments. They are not just gear that can be interchanged, but sonic icons. There are so many wonderful examples and as you read a history of gear you also read a musical history book.

To does gear matter? Yes, it does. One last example. I recently listened to and reviewed Tara Busch's "Pilfeshire Lane". The equipment list including an "Optigan". It takes a real serious afficionato of fine synthesis gear to know what this is. The Otigan was a sucessor to the Mellotron, an instrument that in many ways is second to none in gear history and in many ways the first sampler. It used an optical technology to replace the tape reels of the Mellotron. One of the complaints about the Mellotron was that it was, and is, to say the least cumbersome. The "Mellotron Book" is a wonderful walk down a period of musical history long since past of the days of the mighty and quirky Mellotron from those who loved it to those who set it on fire and even through it down a flight of stairs. An instrument more loved and more hated than perhaps any. Loved if it worked and hated if it didn't especially during a gig.

Tara also uses apparently the only Melloman, a Mellotron upgrade using "Walkman's" of all things rather than the cumbersome and often faulty tape racks of the Mellotron. Also a rather unique instrument and apparently, according to Tara, the only one much like Winnie the Poos mythical tiger minus the tail (although there have been string reverbs made out of slinkies). Now the Optigan was perhaps more at home in, well, the home. It was much like the somewhat cheesy home organs of a time quickly disappearing, swallowed up by the likes of more sophisticated digital machines for the musically uninclined the can play a mean rhumba and also make the morning coffee. I personally prefer the Magnus Chord Organ. I almost bid for one of these on E-Bay:

You can't do any better than the wispy Italian reverie of Oh Solo Mio on the reeds of the Magnus.

Ha, you laugh but add some reverb and add a little flex capacitor work (or perhaps just Ableton Live time twisting) and you might have a few different sound. Perhaps, a new sound for a Logan's Run remake.

I degress.

Here is some info:

Now how can you beat this:

And perhaps, something just asking to be sent through a Moogerfooger or even Voyager filter. Ah, the problem with the youngins is that they can't think creatively. One to many purple MP3 players with Beyonce's declared marital status. Perhaps, just maybe, a few more Mellotrons or Otigan's or even the dreaded Magnus Chord organ for the pre-MP3 young ones, might be just the trick to teaching our young people that there is more to life than hip hop and yes, you may even learn to read music or at least those cheesy little chord charts. And for those who have listened to one to many Beyonce songs, yes, there are more than three notes in the musical scale. And for Britney fans, well, you can right lyrics that do more than repeat a word over and over again (and some that even make sense and have complete sentenced). My bad - oooh, see, even I can use modern lingo (although I don't text, hurts my thumbs and I need those to play music.)

Sorry for that divisive and cruel attack on pop Divas (appropriate bows in the direction of the appropriate record companies - or banks). I could be sued. Well, I guess I can always find a way to listen to Tara Busch in jail and remind myself that someone still has the creativity and artistry to make beautiful music with Moogerfoogers and Optigans. Or then again, what's in an equipment list?

Tara Busch - Pilfeshire Lane - It's all in the footnotes (and liner notes)

I once had a good teacher give me a love for footnotes. Perhaps it sounds a bit geeky but the truth is that this interest in footnotes in books and liner notes for CDs has served me well. It is the basis for many of the books I read and how I also again and inside understand of music that I listen to, that is, liner notes.

In these evil days of the Internet (ok, I know, thats what I am using now), one tends to believe that unless its hot off the fingers of a blogger, its not worthy of print. Newspapers are now in danger of going out of business and with Kindle, one begins to wonder if the book if not soon to follow.

Despite the fact that this is a blog, I am still nostalgic and yes, I do have a lot of books. Books have permanence and if someone bothers to footnote one, then all the better. It shows that they are serious about what they are doing and willing to share their inner thought process and basis for what they are saying. Something that our politicians should take a book out of rather than hiding behind legalize all the time. Lawyers, harder to get rid of than roaches.

OK, that's enough of the politics. I listened to Pilfeshire Lane last night and it immediately brought to mind two impressions. First, that it was unapologetically electronic (first plus - ok, I am biased but what can you do). Secondly, in so many ways the equipment list was very much like on of my favorite prog bands, Pink Floyd. The Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes took their prominent place (I recognized the B3 right away). Something new in their as well, a list of Moogerfoogers, The ARP Solina (used by Tangerine Dream and Floyd ("Wish You Were Here", "Animals")) and a few rare oddities that really caught my eye, the "Melloman" an odd "Walkman" based re-incarnation, and the Optigan, a little known optigal disk remake of the Mellotron that never really caught on. Of course, there is also the Vox Jaguar which Tara recently parted with.

I also see on Mike Walters list the Minimoog (suprizingly no Voyager). And of course, the ARP Axxe, a lesser version of the Oddessy.

What all this tells me is that Tara and her band have a love of vintage equipment which I do as well. Tara's music is also unique which is one of the reasons I like it. While reminiscent of the past in some ways, it is not a copy of the past. Artistic integrity is so lacking in many types of music and, in my mind, has rendered hip hop, an artistic graveyard (ok, sorry, had to get that little bash of hip hop in there).

To be honest in would be difficult to classify "Pilfeshire Lane" in any musical category and that is an often rare commodity in music today.

Congratulations to Tara and company for bringing some creativity (and electronics, vintage and otherwise) back to music.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Red Bull Interview of Bob Moog

I recently watched this video of Red Bull's Interview of Bob Moog which was posted by Matrixsynth on Twitter:

I always find that interviews like this often contain a few gems but you have to listen carefully. Moog mentioned a few things that I think are well worth repeating in a blog.

First, he commented on the low tech nature of the Moog Voyager and called it a 20th century musical instrument as opposed to a 21st century musical instrument. Even before the 20th century, he speaks of the history of brass instruments, woodwinds and the crowning of achievement of the piano in past centuries, which he called the greatest of the mechanical instruments. Certainly, any talented musician does not see his instrument as a limited instrument even though the range of sounds from any acoustic instrument is much more limited than a Moog Voyager or any other synthesizer. While the materials used in prior centuries were those of brass and wood, he speaks of how the field of electronics that changed the music of the 20th century. How true this is.

I love his nostalgic look at going into NYC and finding all sorts of low cost electronic components. I remember making a similar trip to Canal street in the late 70s. I was just a kid then and while I did not get into electronics as much as Moog obviously did, the lure of being able to create something from the raw components of capacitors, resistors, transitors and tubes had a certain magical appeal.

In the interview, Moog speaks lovingly of the Voyager as an instrument not simply a collection of circuit boards. Like all acoustic instruments, the Minimoog and Voyager have that magical sensory feedback that makes them instruments. If we look at a synthesizer simply in terms of what it looks like in an oscilloscope or worse yes, the computer program that produces it (like a Virus), then we loose site of the instrument. Instrument becomes machine and music becomes more product than true art.

As I listened to Bob Moog reminisce about his past achievements which certainly earn him an honored, perhaps most honored, place in the pantheon of synth designers, I thought of my own music. I call myself a composer, for lack of a better word. I realize that this is somewhat of a distortion. My work is largely improvised. Often, I do a lot of preparation before I record. Some of that can be sound design to create just the right patch or perhaps trying different effects. It may be trying to find the right layers of sounds to mix together but almost always, with some exceptions, my final product is the work of a musician and not composer. In other words, its a performance even if its just in my home studio.

I loved the question about asking Moog to look to the future, what he thought was develop in music in the future. You might expect him to talk about the latest computers or perhaps modulars but what he rather talked about controllers. I could not agree more. Like that magical interaction that occurs between musician and instrument, the world of controllers provides a rich universe well beyond the now almost cliched world of pitch bend and mod wheel.

One of my personal irritations with 20th century pop music is the tyranny of the sequencer. Have just the right mix of drum machine and sequencer and vocalist barely needs musicians. The magic of how musicians interact is replaced by careful crafted sequences and add effects to the vocalist and even those who may not be truly talented singers can find themselves making millions with the right marketing.

Moog speaks of how music should be performance oriented and I believe one of the negative effects of sequencers is that they have divorced instruments from performance. OK, I use them but I used them to record what I am playing not to create it. The true magic of music is in "real time" as Moog expresses it in the interview.

Given Moog's comments about controllers, I find it interesting that the Voyager has a touch pad which goes beyond traditional XY control and also uses area, a very novel approach but clearly shows the desire to make the Voyager into more than a collection of circuits. Of course, the Therimin has also earned its place in not only the history of electronic music but still has a prominent place in the Moog product line.

So when I hear at times that the Moog Voyager is a throwback to the past with no polyphony and only semi modular, I think that it misses the point. The Voyager is an instrument. Who would look on a flute or trumpet or any of those instruments that so many spend years mastering and call them limited. The knobs of the Voyager and the universe of other possibilities for sonic design by using those plugs in the back of the Voyager not to mention the programmable options, make the Voyager a real instrument and perhaps a challenge to the lie that bigger and more complex always leads to better music.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Childhood and Music

When I was in my teens, the middle school that I want to had a wonderful program to go in about 4 times a year to see the Boston Symphony Orchesta. While my tastes in music were much more pop oriented at this time, I remember with fondness being exposed to music that may not have been immediately to my liking but that I did appreciate. I also played trombone in both the traditional school band and then again in the jazz band. My trombone has since been donated to a local NJ Catholic school.

My musical tastes have also changed in while they span a wide variety of musical tastes, I often come back to the classics for inspiration. Bach and Mozart and so many others still give me musical inspiration. One might wonder how an experimental musical composer takes inspiration in music that seems so distant from electronic and electro-acoustical music but the truth is that this type of music progressed first from the late 19th and early 20th century romantic music startinig with Wagner and then to those like Stravinsky and Debussy and right into the avant guarde and then those electronic pioneers of music concrete and latter electronic music. Those like Karlheintz Stockhausen whose picture even appears on the Beatle's Sgt. Pepper Album:

5th from the left - top row - guilty of German existential brooding as always - may he rest in peace.

Even before the likes of Bach, music goes back all the way to early plainchant at a time when music was advanced by the Catholic Church. In fact, classical music would not have advanced without its support of musicians such as Bach and Mozart.

And for those who think that this type of music is old and tired, try this recent newly appreciate writer of plainchant:

Music has been and will remain part of man's quest for the internal, for God.

That is why I find it tragic that our young people have been deprived of hearing this beautiful music and are almost forced by blind commercialism to listen to a music that in so many ways, they have been enticed to listen to. This of course does not mean that there is not something to be said of rock (although I favor a more progressive or experimental version of it) but why deprive young people of this music? If they hear it and reject what the hear, ok, but lets give them a chance to hear it. John Lennen when he heard his wife playing the Moonlight Sonata was moved to write the song because that appeared on the Beatles Abbey Road. If Yoko was deprived of classical music she would not have inspired her husband.

Groups like "Save the Music" are trying to save music in our public schools so the same education in music that I had in school can be given to our young people today so that they can here more than the latest commercialized trash on their MP3 players:

Despite the reference to "hiphop" on the front screen of this website, there is more to music than "hiphop"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Delia Derbyshire

Every once and a while, I come across a piece of musical history that peaks my interest as speaking to a particular aspect of music that is often neglected. At the moment, I have a collection of books on music that deal specifically with emotion in music. From the time I was young I have always been impressed by the ability of music to speak to our heart in a way that words can't seem to do at times. Even the musical intervals expressed in mere mathematical ratios can elicit responses. The mournful flatted 3rd, the more ethereal 6th and the queasy and unresolved 7th.

So what does this have to do with Delia Derbyshire. From what I have read, which is from what I can see rather limited which is a shame, Delia wanted to express emotion in music and wanted to know how to use electronics to do that. Certainly we have examples from classical music. The power and fear expressed by the Dies Irae, a Mass part. The Mass being an almost obligatory right of passage for composers such as Bach's "Mass in B Minor", Verdi's "Requiem", Mozart's "Requiem" and then in modern times composers such as Ligeti with his "Requiem" and Barber's "Agnus Dei" or more commonly known as the "Adagio for Strings".

For those who know Barber's adagio, they will think of the sadness it expresses which is why it was so effective in the movie Platoon or Ligeti's requiem that seemed to fit so well with the sense of awe of the monolith of Kubrick's 2001.

Even instruments seem to fit into emotional categories. Strings for example can bring about a feeling of sadness but also fear. Think of the famous shrill stabs of the violin used in the movie Psycho. The human voice of course able to express a wide variety of emotions. Or the sound of brass which seems to call us to attention as its higher order partials cut though the rest of the orchestra. Or the bell that calls the faithful to worship. What is it then that creates this emotion? Is it mere cultural conditioning or perhaps something else.

Now that we live in a world of synthesizers, our musical pallet no longer resides with the wonderful expressive but none the less limited capabilities of musical instruments. Derbyshire asked the question, can these synthetic sounds bring us that same emotion that musical instrument have done so effectively in the past?

Derbyshire had a degree in both mathematics and music from Girton College, Cambridge. Despite here use and understanding of the relationship of music and mathematics, she always placed the importance of human perception over a purely mathematical understanding of music. One of my personal beliefs about music is that the very concept of a sonic spectrum, while it has enhanced our understanding of sound, has also limited it because it leaves our human perception. One can ask the question: "If a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound". The real answer is no in my opinion. A phenomena occurs by which the air particles vibrate but a sound as we commonly associate it in our mind, is a perception. Pitch for example must have a listener but frequency does not.

I believe that synthesis has been handcuffed when it follows the model of believing that the sound of something can be express by its harmonics. Derbyshire knew that a true understanding of music has to lie in its perception, in more modern terms, in psycho acoustics. I believe it also lies in psychology and perhaps even our belief systems. We don't play music as much as it plays us. But how?

John Cage looked for this answer in formulas. He believed that music, once watered down to its essential parameters, was simply a matter of pushing the play button. Others, like Luigi Russolo and Karlheintz Stockhausen, understood that to understand sound we must group it not into categories defined by harmonics but in perceptual categories. This is of the school that I am part of.

So for me, when I write music, I no longer look to some formula from which I expect music to come but to my own perception of it and emotions which I know that I share with all human persons. And perhaps, somewhere in the beautiful sounds of music, we find something not only subjective but objective, a sense of objective beauty so often denies but somehow lurking in those magical responses that we get when we hear good music than not only appeals to our mind but to our emotions and to our soul.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The most sophisticated synthesizer of all

I titled this blog the most sophisticated synthesizer of all. I realized my error immediately when I realized that the most sophisticated synthesizer is the human voice. That being said, what I really had in mind is the violin (or really any in a broader category of bowed instruments). The bow truely offers a very subtle and effective way to control the timbre of a string. A violin for example, can allow the skilled musician to create such sweet and often subtle variations in the timbre of the instrument.

Now certainly, there are now knobs, plugs, sliders, switches or any of the normal parts of a module that would be part of a modular synthesizer. Or for that matter, the controls that you would find on any synthesizer soft or hard, modular or semi modular.

And yet, some musicians have spent their lives learning to play only that one single instrument, refining more and more their techniques. Often these techniques are learning just the right movement of the fingers and hands to create a kind of magic. And to add to the mystery, one can't really teach this other than by an exchange of listening and playing the instrument. An instructor can show technique and critique style by listening but ultimately, it is the work of the musician to learn by feel just the right way to play an instrument to get a certain sound. There is no patch sheet or preset to pull up or program change to make.

With synthesizers, we can get lost. There are so many options, so many sounds. We can see them and repeat them and often, just by hitting a button, turning a knob or moving a slider but the magic can disappear into a sea of possibilities.

Now I don't mind all those options. I can delight it going from parameter page to parameter page on my M3 to tweak a sound or design one from scratch but there is something about having a limited number of possibilities so that the ones that I do have stand out. I can learn to not just turn knobs but learn to turn them while I am playing so get just that right sound at the right time in a song. To me, the Moog Voyager offers this opportunity. A universe of sound is right in front of the musician and its all there. Not buried in menus but all accessible. It can all be part of the performance.

Sure, in the end there are limitations but if the violinist can delight in one sound, perhaps, I can delight in the beautiful sonic universe of a Moog Voyager and perhaps, find a sort of magic there that happens when a musician plays an instrument that with hard work, will give up its secrets in time to create beautiful music.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rick Wright, Pink Floyd, Synthesis and Just Saying No

It may perhaps seem odd that a devout Catholic would be so involved in experimental music/synthesizers and all things electronic. Truth is that I see electronics as neutral, able to be used for good and bad. It is in much the same way that I see music. I grew up with Pink Floyd. I always loved the sound of a synthesizer, processed guitars and arffully used electronics. So Pinik Floyd was a natural attraction. On the other hand, I am also strongly opposed to the use of drugs and abuse of alchhol not simply because of religious beliefs but because of what I have seen them do to people. I have seen the sad parade of people who have been destroyed by drugs and alchohol. I also lament the artists of the past who could have made a lot more music were it to for lives being cut short by drugs and alchohol. Syd Barrett is a very sad case of this. A man with a unique talent and sound who was foundational to Pink Floyd and yet took a voluntary walk into the darkness of drugs and ultimately, ending up not only out of the band but also living in osscurity and lamented by his friends in Pink Floyd who fondly but sadly lament the "black holes in the sky" in "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" which they saw when they looked into Barretts eyes.

I realize the drug culture that surrounds bands like Pink Floyd and it is this culture that I firmly condemn. However, I also realize good music and Floyd blending of instruments and often thoughtful commentary on life (such as the loss of their friend in the album "Wish you Were Here" and thoughful social commentary in Albums like "Animals" makes them musical artists worthy of note. It is the art I celebrate in this post which I wanted to make clear before saying anything more.

With that in mind I found Thanasis Tsilderikis article on Richard Wrights equipement most fascinating. Another brief caveat to this is that I do realize that there are certain errors contained in his article such as refering to the Prophet 5 as a Prophet V and calling it an additive synthesizer that are problematic but it is is equipment list that fascinates me and that is what I am writing about. Here is the article for reference:

If I had to look at the broad scope of Pink Floyds music I would break it up into period. The first is the period from "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" to "Atom Heart Mother". Then from "Meddle" to "Obscured by Clouds", then from "Dark Side of the Moon" to "The Wall" and "The Wall" to current.

Let me explain why at least in terms of Wrights use of synthesizers and keyboards that I have made this division (but also for other reasons).

End of Part I - to be continued - interupted again, I keep getting interupted.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Modular, Digital and Soft Synth - Different Worlds

It would seem that I have now placed my feed firmly in at least two of the four worlds of synthesis, non modular analogue, modular analogue, digital and soft synth. My first synth was actually a Kurweil K2000. I remember spending many hours with it. I finally sold it which in many ways I regret. For a while I was busy with many other things and music took a back seat. Then I discovered soft synths. When I bought the Kurzweil, software synthesis was not really around.

My first soft synth was Native Instrument Absynth. I was in this strange new world of the software synth that I really learned a substantial amount about synthesis. I dabbled with the Kurzweil but many times I relied on presets. But Absynth really brought me completely into the world of synthesis.

Then I was hooked. I have many soft synths and sample libraries. I also have a lot of vintage emulators. They provided a hands on introduction to the historic roots of synthesis. I don't see them as much as tools that I would use to make my music but they are invaluable in understanding some of the classics of the past like the ARP 2600. Understand the past, both in terms of music theory and electronics is important to me and I believe enhances my music.

For a while, I got lost down a dead end path, additive synthesis. I will post something on this because its a long and complex story. I am even banned (apparently permanently) from the VirSyn board) for simply pointing out a few facts. You can find my posts there in the Cube section and some others as well. The only poster to the boards with the title "ex member" which I bear proudly because unlike some, I can handle the truth . Enough said about that. Better to not open up old wounds.

After this, I bought a Korg M3. I am pleased to say that my relationship with Korg and my use fo the M3 has been a happy experience. Great sounds and pretty powerful engine but working with an M3, and I suspect many other hardware based digital synths, is somewhat different. Much of this is due to the lack of a full screen as with a computer. However, I find with the M3 the ability to combine modulation sources and the routing of effects to be far more powerful than a soft synth. KARMA, despite the fact that its creator Stephen Kay states is an arppegiator on steroids, is much more. Stephen is being modest. KARMA is an advancement beyond the concept of an arppegiator and not really an arranger like the Yamaha Tyros but something new and powerful and most importantly, interactive.

After this, I went a bit wild and bought several moogerfoogers. I guess it started with a few guitar pedals and frankly, a longing to get back to the time that I delighted in just deciding on how to route a few guitar pedals together. There was just something valuable about the experience of physically connecting things and turning real knobs. Analogue electronics also have their own personalities. Not everything is musical and finding that sweet spot in the turning of knobs to get a certain effect becomes part of the analogue experience.

I also admit to a great deal of admiration for those like Karlheintz Stockhausen or Alvin Lucier who worked with electronics far less sophisticated that my rack of foogers and made great works of musical art. There was a sort of magic in what they did and while playing a chord on my M3 and hearing a symphony is useful and in its own way magical, there was something more essential, perhaps closer to the heart, in working with electronics.

I love knowing that actual electricity flows through the moogerfoogers and the patch cords that connect them. Not mindless zeros and ones and computer programs that just run the same way all the time but something unpredictable and at least in part, mysterious. The fun of being able to ask "what if" and being surprised sometimes by the answer, sometimes delighted, other times not.

So when I saw the Zerooscillator, quadrature waveforms and morphing of waveforms not determined by wavetables in zeros and ones but by electricity which can be shaped and modified it made me realize why I want a modular. I don't' want a modular because of the same reason that some people hold onto vinyl. Frankly, I always found that argument a bit silly. Its not about warmth, although I do like tube pre-amps for legit reasons that can be proven, but for the reason that those streams of electronics can be shaped by a hand on process that is very different than tweaking patches on soft synths or my M3.

Am I getting rid of my soft synths and M3? Not a chance. But I want to use a modular to make my own sample library. In the end, I probably will play the analogue stuff as samples from my M3 or directly or using a soft sampler because its easier that way, but I want to be able to get at the raw sound that can only come from the circuits of a modular.

Before I do that, I want to know more. I want to be convinced that modulars can move beyond the beeps and bloops that I often hear and produce really amazing stuff. I know they can because I hear it in the sample libraries I have. So, for the time being I save and study and when I am ready, I will take a leap back and forward in time into modular synthesis.