Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Music Therapy

For a while now I have been fascinated by the work of Music Therapists. They are good people trying to help others using an art form that I hold dear to my own heart, music. I also am attracted to their simplicity in how they use music for therapy. At times I like to get past the knobs and sliders of my art form and enjoy a video that delights in the simple sound of a drum.

For a while now, I have also been interested in the psychological aspects of music. Music therapists use basic musical ideas in their work to bring healing and joy to others. In many ways it helps me at times to focus on my own music. Every time I compose music I am drawing on emotions and memories. Music for me is often self exploration, sound exploration and personal exploration and sharing.

However, what I don't share with music therapists is a desire to define my art. When I create music it's no holes barred. I use all sort of ways of getting the sounds I want. That said, many of the videos I have watched and blogs I have read on music therapy I use as starting off points to create something new. I take a basic form such as the beating of a particular drum and discover a broader musical context in the Electronic Music art form.

There is also nothing more rewarding that to meet people personally. In getting to know other artists I have found a common kinship with other sonic explorers. When navigating the unexplored country, there is no particular discipline. We have no conferences, committees, guidelines or standards. We just create. We so come together but to share, not limit, define or dissect.

In my discussions with music therapists and electronic artists I advocate for Music Therapy with fellow artists I but also share my art and others with music therapists. As much as I have found that music therapy enriches my art, it is my hope that what myself and fellow artists do can enrich music therapy.

I have found that what can be a strength can also be a weakness. As an electronic artist, I realize that much of what in do is unmapped and lacking a solid discipline, a weakness. But the strength is that as artists, we, in the words of a Santana song, are soul birds that fly in infinity sky. I see no boundaries for my music or the music of other electronic artists.

Music therapists are very discipled. However, in their strong desire to be respected, they often create walls around their good work. This is a limitation. As I share my world I am in doing so inviting Music Therapists to see with my eyes and hear with my ears and to join me in opening up the field of Music Therapy to the unexplored country. I want to assure Music Therapists of my continued support and respect but also invite you to fly with me in the infinity sky of electronic music and perhaps, we can cultivate some gardens outside the walls. You would be most welcome to visit the Electro Music Festival this year and give a presentation and allow us to share our music with you. If you are interested, let me know. We had a drum circle last year to :). I would love to bring our worlds together.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Animmog - Hype or Game Changer

As with most things in life, I suspect that the truth about Animoog somewhere between the hype and the reality. Is Animoog a great I synth? Absolutely! I would expect nothing less from the Moog. Am I going to toss out my hard synths and soft synth and wait for the I revolution to usher in a new world of synthesizers? Don't hold your breath.

The Animoog is the best sounding I synth I have heard. I give it a 10+ for that. For creativity, also a ten plus. It makes great use of the touch pad and great video to make for a stunning performance environment. The ability to see visually what is happening with the sound and to see the waveform is a fantastic idea. Again 10+

Ok, that is as far as I go on the hype side. In terms of filters it's limited and it only has a single filter. If it were a sot synth, this would not be overlooked but I synths seem to get a pass. It has very limited filter types. When I saw the filters in Abynth, I thought I had gone to filter heaven.

The envelops are simple ADSR types and they can't be assigned. There is also only a single LFO. Being able to select continuously between shapes is nice but the shapes themselves are standard fair. As far as I can see you can't make your own and you can't see them outside the oscilloscope.

Am I expecting to much for an I synth? That's my point. I Moog wants to use I synths to compete with soft synth, IMHO they failed. If they wanted to make a fantastic I synth that raises the bar for I synths and does some really impressive things, then they have done a fantastic job. In the end, I guess it's a matter of hype or function.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Too Many Knobs

I ind it interesting when I think back to how my style of composing and playing music has changed. I used to just find a preset I like, one of my own or sometimes a factory preset, and then play music with it. The art was in the notes and a limited amount of control (velocity, pitch bend and mod wheel). Knob turning was left to tweaking presets before the performance of the music.

With a DAW like Ableton Live its certainly possible to tweak parameters in real time and have the DAW record those changes. But dealing with a large number of parameters in real time is a daunting task. For this reason, a number of software synths now offer performance controllers. A convenient set of knobs or sometimes XY pads with which certain key parameters can be changed in real time with the idea that these changes are part of the musical performance.

Native Instruments did with this Kore which I always thought was a great idea but sadely Native Instruments has decided to drop Kore. Each Kore instrument has a limited set of controls. A similar idea is built into Massive and Abynth from the same company. Camel Audio's Alchemy has a performance controller section with a controller that looks very similar to Kore's that allow you to morph between different settings of the perofmance controls. Albeton Live itself offers instrument racks with performane controllers.

These only serve as examples of a capability that I am sure has been built into many soft synths. So we see now the musican also acting as conductor. So the art of the sound designer, musician and conductor/orchestrator have now been combined.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I'd Give It a Ten But You Can't Dance to It

I am writing this latest blog post to provide some impression, thoughts, conclusions and other such meanderings on what I experienced in Heugenot this year at the Electro-Music festival. I have been to the festival now for two years although I trucated my first visit. What impressed me the most about the festival is that I found a group of people who did what I do that is make "electronic music'.

"Electronic Music" has been around now for a long time but clearly defining what exactly it is is perhaps left to better philosophers than me. However, what was clear to me was that what I was listening to at this festival was not "dance music". If anyone came to the festival expectiing dance music and for example listened to Richard Lainhart would be sadly out of there musical element.

I am a would be student of Electronic Music history. I believe it has its roots more in classical music than any pop movement although the difficulty with defining it today is that is has been entrangled with pop and yes, with dance music. But the odd thing is that for the most part, those who write it don't write dance music. I know I am not making sense here but I guess what I am trying to say ever so badly is that while some people who make other kinds of music would call themselves electronic artists there is an "electronic music" that is a true genre however broad and ill definted. That genre is what I heard at the Electro Music festival and why I felt at home there. With people who where trying to do a version of what I do whatever that is.

A little side note here with a purpose. Its funny. I support and truely appreciate what music therapists do. They seem so together in clearly defining what they do to the point of having a certification process. I also appreciate the difference between therapist and artist and at times, I also find that desire to clarity everthing in music therapy a weakness as well. It seems closed in on itself and unable to benefit from other directions that might help expand it and allow it to grow.

No I come to the point of this blog. The "whatever that is" part. One thing that can be said of classical music is that through each era, each incarnation, each century there has been a way to define it. A set of methods, practices, ect. As music came to the 20th century, those practices began to dissolve. Despite the attempts of serialism, classical music took many different directions including it's spinoff, "Electronic Music", at least that is how I see it.

But now we have what? Drone music, space music, new age, krautrock, experimental, ok, i'm not going to give an extensive list but you get the idea. Defining what it is that we do is very difficult. But more than that, talking about it is even more difficult. If you want to talk about Bach you pull out sheet music. There it is. OK, sure, there is some degree of interpretation but for the most part what a classical composer composes is sheet music (to illustrate a point).

What an electronic artist does is programming, finding new instruments, finding new controllers, layering sounds, again, the list could go on and on. So where to we from here? I don't know but perhaps this blog is an invitation to some to start talking about what is is that we do as electronic artists so that we can pull out the electronic music equivalent of sheet music (at least metaophoricaly) and for the reall great music proclaim: "I'd give it a 10 but you can't dance to it" and so it goes...

Friday, September 2, 2011

What's Old is New Again

I think sometimes in a world of quickly moving technology we often believe that if we just keep moving forward that things will improve. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't but as I a writing this blog, I am listening to an instrument made my Hammond called the Novachord. This instrument is truely haunting and beautiful. It reminds me of another beautiful instrument called the Ondes Martenot. It seems a strange turn of events that just recently these instrument have been revived both physically and in sample form. Hollow Sun and Sonic Couture both offer sampled versions of the Nova Chord and Sonic Couture has a sample Ondes. There is also the French Connection which is an actually hardware CV controller that works like the original Ondes. No doubt the design for the Haken Continuum is at least inspired by this instrument.

A Twitter friend reminded me recently in a great blog just how useful "old school" techniques can be. In her case, she found a variation on a "old school" roladex a very effective way to keep track of business cards. Both the Novachord and the Ondes Martenot are both very old school and yet, by modern standards perhaps they don't have the range of many modern synthesizers but they also don't have the annoying property that they also sound like every other synthesizers. In a musical world that claims to be cutting edge, I often find that the real game if you want to make the big bucks is sound almost like everything else but put a little twist in it, not to much, so your music gets a notice.

For me, I have been enjoying some instruments from the past, "old school" instruments that don't sound the same. I guess I like them because I feel inspired by them. Hopefully I can use them in my music in the future and break away from the pack by going back to the future, sampled "old school" here I come.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Anyone who follows my tweets may have noticed that I have been posting a lot about some pretty esoteric instruments. Glass harmonicas, Cristal Baschetts, glass bowls, Boomwhackers and PVC instruments, bowed gamelons and other exotic and unusual instruments. So why am I so interested in these instruments? For a few reasons. An important one is that they are not expected. Modern pop musical culture creates entire genres from certain sounds, the hi gain distortion guitar sound of metal, the short percussive sounds and rhythms of hip hop or the deep bass of dub step. It's natural for us to like things that we are familiar to us and to copy one another.

One also does not need to look only to pop music. In some sense, classical music is based on copying styles and following the rules, coloring within the lines. Even serialism is an attempt to recreate a new set of rules. However, the great composers worked within a certain traditional framework but they did color outside the lines, sometimes way outside. 20th century classical is an example of this. It was not uncommon for these composers to use unusual instruments or even make their own. Messiaen looked to birdsong, eastern rhythms and instruments. Harry Partch made his own instruments.

Looking to the east for inspiration can also be found in jazz musicians who looked to the eastern musical tradition for new scales or the Beatles who introduced the sitar to listeners used to a stricly pop diet.

What I often find difficult in coloring outside the lines is that some listeners can't get past the difference. Handel for example was more popular in his time than Bach because he wrote music that was familiar and pleasing to the ear.

As for me, while it may not get me as many listeners, I refuse to imitate and monkey other musicians. I look to them for ideas but I don't let my music be limited by any genre. So, I hope that explains my unusual choice of instruments.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Glass Works

I have rarely reviewed any synthesizers or sample libraries but I wanted to at least say a few words about Sonic Couture's "Glass Works". "Glass Works" is a library of Kontakt instruments based on three rather unique and fascinating instruments. Instruments that so fascinate me that I am still in the midst of doing research on them and there is a lot out there to look at.

One instrument, the oldest of the three, owes its origins to a little musical trick that children learn when they are young. That if you take a crystal wine glass, wet your finger and rub it around the edges, you get a most pleasant sound. By varying the amount of water in the glass, the frequency of the tone changes.

Many musician's and composers toyed with this idea but perhaps the most renowned is Benjamin Franklin who actually designed a very effective design and made this instrument more accessible. Composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and Richard Strauss all wrote compositions for it. The rather mysterious figure of Mesmer better known for his hypnotic explorations also played one and attributed to it certain unusual mysterious effects.

Then we move to 20th century American classical music and the wild and sometime delightfully wacky world of Harry Partch. Partch not only composed music but made his own instruments including an instrument called "The Boo" and the instrument that made it into the "Glass Works" library, "The Cloud Chamber Bowls".

You can give them a try here. Have fun!


Finally moving onto "Le Cristal Baschet". An instrument which is as much instrument, art and acoustics experiment all wrapped into one, a statement in itself. It is designed by Frances Baschett based on chromatically tuned glass rods:

They have been used by various composers including, just to name a few, Thomas Bloch (who has written for many interesting instruments including the Ondes Martenot), Toru Takemitsu, Francois Bayle (who interestingly enough studied with Karlheintz Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer and Olivier Messiaen). Messiaen wrote music for the Ondes Martenot (which can also be found in one of Sonic Courture's libraries), Luc Ferrari (influenced very much by Edgar Varese). Clearly one can see the strong connection in that twilight between 20th century avant guarde and modern electronic music (pre electronica)

So that's a sort of brief tour of these instruments. What I find interesting is that fact that Le Cristal Bachett is really more of a concept if you will. Each Cristal Baschet sounds different related to the shape. Art and music seem to be strangely joined here as well as science. Here is there web site:


What surprises me here it the influence of Pierre Schaeffer who believed and wrote about a philosophy about how to categorize sound based on a broader philosophical school of phenomenology (of which I am an advocate). So many ideas seem to intersect here, so many intellectual and musical streams joined in a complex weave.

What makes glass instruments unique is that they are "non linear". I could give you a lot of definitions for this that would only make partial sense. What this really means is that a simple action such as moving ones finger over glass, can create a complex sound. I pulled a file of a glass harmonica off of Freesound last night and then magnified it. I was blown away. It is highly complex. Elements of AM and FM and waveshaping. Some of the papers I have read on the glass harmonica range from wavegides, to resonators to complex non linear physical models. The proof is really in the listening and all of these instruments have a haunting sounds.

Of course, Sonic Couture has now made it possible to change them in real time and create complex performances. I am impressed by this library of sounds not just because it sounds good but that it reflects a depth of thought that I rarely see from other synthesizers and sample libraries.

So, that is my humble review or reflection. Call it what you want to if you get a chance, read about these instruments. I think you will be amazed or dare I saw enchanted, mezmorized and haunted.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Crossing the Streams

I realize that I have used the term "crossing the streams" a number of times now on my blog and in my tweets. An explaination seems long overdue so here goes. First, two other expressions I use are related: "moving outside the box" and various allusions I make to the movie "The Matrix" (one of my favorites). I am not that crazy about the other two but the first was great.

What I like about the movie is the idea that one's own mind can become a kind of prison. While I am just using this idea as an analogy I do think that we get stuck in ruts in whatever profession or art form that we we are involved in. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone tell me that the reason that something should be done a certain way is because that is the way it's always been done and that is a kind of matrix. It limits creativity and in music, that is 90% of the ballgame.

To give you an example, I love the scene in Amadeus when Salieri, after killing his rival Mozart, is asking his therapist if he recognized a few songs. The one he recognized was Mozart's who he despises as a kind of musical creature. The song he did not recognize was Salieri's. Why? Because Salieri's was in the box. It was not bad music but it tried to stay in the lines. In music lines become cliches and music becomes stale if it does not break "out of the box". To break out of the box (or the matrix), the music an/composer must free his/her mind of old cliches. I truely believe that most pop music today is some of the most cliched music every. One person likes a certain sound and then follow it and then it becomes a genre. For example, I just recently learned what dubstep is which is really just a certain sound.

Now realize that I am a gear head and techno geek. I have three hardware synths and who knows how many soft synths and effects not to meantion Moogerfoogers and a few other guitar pedals. Moogerfoogers are not really guitar pedals, they are more like modulare synth modules but I won't get into that here. I also have a few mics and field recording equipment. What I try to do in my music is get out of the box. Now don't get me wrong, if you don't know where the box is, then you risk music sounding totally unintelligible. Believe me, more than once I have crossed that line. In some sense, to know how to go somewhere, you have to know where you have been. It's why I try to study music both its history and its methods. I always am open to learning from the works of the great masters be they classical composers, jazz music ans, rock musicians or the many other talented people making all sorts of wonderful music.

So to get away from the lines, you have to make a bridge. You have to plot a course. That is where all the techno stuff comes in. A ship for example can't just drift aimlessly. It has to plot a course so I watch demos and read manuals and ask questions. "What if I did this" is a common one.

Some of you might know about Alvin Lucier and Karlheintz Stockhausen. One of my mentors if only on paper and in sound. Both Lucier and Stockhausen asked the musical question: "what if I do this" but with musical compass in hand. They had some idea where they were going.

Another movie I really like is "The Perfect Storm" except for the ending. I actually hate the way the movie ends. Not every fisherman in a terrible storms died. I love the spirit of the captain who wants to chart deeper waters which in this movie is the Flemish Cap. You can look it up but its way of the coast of Canada and known for its good fishing but also bad weather. So finding better ways of doing things means risk.

So when I make music, I go out to the Flemish Cap of music as I believe Lucier and Stockhausen did. Well, not every time. Sometimes I stick closer to port. Not every time I go into deeper waters do I find what I want. I get a great idea but sometimes the reality and the idea don't match and I just turn around and come back to port. Music to me, at least the experimental music I write, is musical fishing. It's moving way outside the lines and trying to find a good catch, something that people will listen to and say wow, that's taking me somewhere I have never been, into uncharted musical territory.

So to get there, I try many tools. Psychology, psycho acoustics, technology, music theory, harmony, music history, even math. I don't draw what I see as arbitrary lines between these disciplines. I am not interested in creating a matrix to capture my mind but rather, searching for deeper musical waters and trying to create a new musical ocean in which others can also explore either by listening or creating themselves.

So "crossing the streams" is really about erasing lines not creating them. It's why I keep inviting music therapists and others into my world of music. I am trying to share what I have experienced good and bad. And hopefully, by breaking down those lines and sharing experiences, the music, music therapy and many other disciplines can benefit and we can fish in deeper seas.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review of Alchemy II - the mysteries of the attack transient

While I may get some keyboard players upset, I have always found being both a guitar player and a keyboard player very complementary although I always have to smile when the latest distorted electric guitar preset comes out and everyone thinks their Jimmy Hendrix on a keyboard. Truth is that what I have always loved about a guitar is how subtle and beautiful a guitar sounds when played by a talented artist. I would not classify myself as one but I can tell you that years of playing have given me a sonic pallet that can't be duplicated by cleverly placed samples. I can place my thumb behind a pick a certain way and get harmonics but I can't really tell you how. You have to feel it and hear it. I did not read a guitar for dummies book. I had to teach my brain by doing it over and over again until it became natural.

So what does all this have to do with Alchemy? Simple. Often, that quintessential aspect of how a musician plays, their style, is much more dictated by that short universe of the attack transient. Much (not all) of the magic seem to lie in that fraction of a second. Now enter the additive world. Additive synthesis is what we call linear. Put simply, it's made of parts that can be added together. Now for the interesting part. A guitar transient is what is called non linear which means that all those partials do a complicated little dance. In fact, I believe that grains are far more applicable than partial in the world of the transient. If the transient is a bunch of partials dancing, the dance does not easily reveal it's secrets. Partials dance in and out like the particles of sub atomic physics. In short, the additive model does not work to well.

The solution of the Akai K5000, a little known but powerful additive synth, was to use both samples and additive models. The transient was created with samples. Alchemy works much the same way and can mix or cross fade a sampled transient. This adds realism.

But here is another problem. One of the benefits of additive synthesis is that one can morph between one sound and another and explore that wonderful sonic universe in between. So far so good right. Well, sort of but to do this one has to connect the partials and if we are talking about transients it's a bit like trying to do a tango on a dollar coaster. Trust me, I gave done a lot of modeling and believe me, you can get some bizarre artifacts when trying to morph sounds and they don't always sound that good. I have re-synthesized many sounds and have reacted as if eating spoiled food, yuck, phooey. I have often felt as if my sonic pallet was assaulted. The secret is to start off with some good material. I always felt that was lacking in Cube. In fact, I always felt it was a collection of samples from experiments rather than an effective library. Alchemy has what seems to me a solid library and of course, one can always use ones own samples but be forewarned, some models just don't mix.

Try morphing a bell into a guitar and you will see what I am talking about. Bottom line this will confuse the re-synthesis engine. Also using AM will do the same thing. Re-synthesize a sin wave modulated by a sub audio LFO and then move it into the audible range. The re-sythesis engine will first interpret it as amplitude modulation and then see it as partials. First they are not there and then they are there like Schrodenger's famed cat or the Cheshire cat of Lewis Carol and said Alice. Here, we have the sonic looking glass. A thought experiment like this will show you that the world of additive synthesis gets stranger and stranger when you take it places it may not want to go.

I will have to have a part III soon. I will be working again with Alchemy soon and I will continue to investigate.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

First Impressions of Alchemy (part one)

Well, I have Alchemy now. For a long time I have not purchased any soft synths really for two reasons. The 1st is that I really don't need anymore and I am actually trying to reduce what I use. The second is that I wanted to at least have a rudimentary set of synths working on my MacBook Pro. I accomplished the later and I thought I might try my hand again at additive synthesis. My first experience was with Cube and let's just say that that experience did not end well.

I have to admit that there is still an inner Geek within me. OK, yes, I have a Bachelors in Math and a masters in statistics and another less geeky one that shall remain stealthy. I like an element of mystery. Here is the geek part.

1. Fourier
2. Helmholtz
3. Gabor

The first Of these tells use that any periodic (really important word) waveform is made up of simple sinwaves in frequencies that are multiples of the 1st (called the fundamental). The multiples are called partials.

The second tells use that these partials pare how we pwecieve sound. The 1st expressed a mathematical theorum that can be proved. The 2nd is simply wrong. That's will take me to the 3rd but that will have to be in part 2.

So the theory is that you can build any sound from sin waves (partials) so that has a kind of geeky appeal like when synths came out that let you draw waveforms. The problem is that no sound has a waveform that never changes unless a computer or electronics made it. As they say, therein lies the rub and a huge one it is. Well, to fix the problem those who wanted to create a form of synthesis had to divide up time into windows. Now let's now think of the windows as what we call the time domain and the partials the frequency domain. Once one enters into time periods less than the wavelength of the waveform. We enter the sonic twilight zone. Think about it and you might see why.

So it appears to me that Alchemy hides this little dilemma from the user and what Harry Gohs of Virsyn once told me was the dark art of additive synthesis, how to connect the dots, or rather, windows.

Confused, don't be if you stick with Alchemy. No one needs to know how an internal combustion engine works to drive a car. Alchemy hides it and that's good. It's nasty business.

So, Ok, this is all Geeky stuff and why would one want to bother making sounds from sin waves? After all you can sample (record) sounds right? Yes, but there are two advantages to additive synthesis:

1. You can do magic with time.
2. You can morph sounds

Morph just means one sound changes into another. Now some of you might remember the Korg Wavestation which did wave sequencing and cross fading (and very well I might add). Isn't cross fading the same thing? Do you want to follow the rabbit down the hole Alice? Turns out that fir most sounds pitch changes and, and here I become like a Nationwide agent and blow you mind, the pitch change in partials is not uniform. Trust me, morphing and cross fading are different. Alchemy does both of these as well as some really interesting variations. It also makes sense to mix samples and additive synthesis. Kawai did this with there additive synthesizer. It makes sense musically so kudos Camel Audio.

I will leave more of this to part Ii of this but there is a strong tendency to get wrapped up in math with additive synthesis and get list and loose the music in the process. Alchemy avoids this and IMHO is a much better synth than Cube.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Man and Machine Are Doing Fine

I always find it funny how some pride themselves on not using technology as if it were almost a matter of virtue. Truth is, I find technology innert in many ways. It's a tool. Carpenters can actually build houses without nails by making joints and using glue but most are made will nails and hammer and probably most with nail guns. Does that make the carpenters bad carpenters. Not at all, they just learned to use the tools. A good carpenter will make a great house without a hammer but he will make a better one and a quicker one with a hammer and an even better one with a nail gun.

So I bought an I-Pad. Yes, I know I said I would not buy one but I wanted to see what all the fuse was about. You know what. It's a hammer (of sorts). It makes life easier. I use it to surf the web (it's better than either my phone or laptop for that), I read books on it (now my bookshelf will not collapse) and I play my music on it (many times in the car). I also have a bunch of fun musical apps for it. Am I going to write the modern version of Beethoven's 9th with it? No, it mostly just fun and the other stuff. It makes life easier. Is that bad, am I somehow less of a person for giving in. No. I like hammers and I Pads and perhaps sometime when I am pulling up a book that would have been lost of the bottom of a pile, I will smile at those who feel that wasting time is virtuous. Just one way to look at it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Less is More

I have found that lately I have made somewhat a turn to the more introspective musically. One of my problems is that I have to much equipment and plug ins. There, I said it. Consider the simplicity of bag of gold clubs. Less than 20 clubs can navigate a gold course. I used to play golf a little but perhaps what fustrated me the most was perfecting the swing. But perhaps, therein lies the rub. Perhaps real artistry comes from perfecting ones swing using a limited number of tools. I guess this is somewhat of a question I am putting out there because I am not sure I have the answer and I suspect its a bit more complicated that a yes or no, black and white approach to music.

I have three synths: A Korg M3, a Moog Voyager and a Waldorf Blofeld. Then I have a lot of other soft synths but I want to talk hardware for now. My Korg M3 is a masterpiece of complexity. You want to change cutoff, ok, three menus down and to the left but make sure that you know what layer of sound you are talking about when you tweak it. OK, to be fair, if you can figure it out you can assign thinks to sliders, the joystick, the XY pad, ect., which is a nice idea since you can record those movements but you get the idea, not an easy synth to program. Modulation matrix? Forget it! There are so many ways to modulate and combine modulation sources that you get dizzy thinking about it. The matrix would be enormous.

When I was younger musically, I thought that was great. Make a synth with 10 layers of menus I would say give me 20. But I often find digging into that many menus tedious and unnatural. Am I going to sell my M3? Not a chance. The upside is that it makes beautiful sounds so I can excuse how awkward at times the menus are. And it has some great presets. Yes presets. Boos from the purist gallery.

Now the Voyager is another animal. It's simple. Very simple although the latest addition of MIDI has adds a few layers of menus. The Voyager is in face more like one big all in one module with lots of CV ins and outs especially if you get the expansion module and the CP 251 or get the XP which is basically the same but in one box. But the Moogs knobs are meant to be tweaked and add an MP 201 pedal, you have another sophisticated tweaking mechanism or to put it simply, an instrument. So tweaking is part of the performance, of the instrument. OK, you can do this with a Korg M3 but it's only 8 sliders and some other controllers try to remember which one does what.

The Voyager is meant to be tweaked as you play it. It reveals its secret in the tweeks. The subtle settings that provide a certain sound. It seems to me this is more what true artistry is. Not the bold or what I would call "let's see if we can make spot howl" approach, although I have given into that myself at times, but the subtle realms of musical expression that can be found in tweaking just the right know at the right time, lets call it improving the golf swing with the knobs being the clubs.

Then there is the Blofeld. An amazing little piece of machinery for the money. I read a add for some IPad wizardry to make the Blofeld one of the multilayered synths more like the M3. OK, but truth but told, most of the parameters you would need to tweak on the Blofeld that are going to work musically are right there. Only a few knobs you say? Yes, but buttons that change what those knobs do in a way that is so natural that I learned most of their functions in a day. I am still trying to learn Korg's KARMA system and forget about getting the software and talking it down more menu levels so deep that you come out in China.

OK, I know, I can be a blatherskite at times. But my numerous words are only to suggest that sometimes its nice to have a really familiar set of clubs so that one that sunny day when the sun is in the right position and the wind is just right, the ball can soar into the sky and the music can find heavenly heights.

Then again, you can buy a Jupiter 80 and have a whole orchestra playing at the same time. I'm just not sure it's in tune and who can track 80 golf balls hit into the sunny sky? Hope the analogy works.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Short Review and Reflection on the Jupiter 80

It seems that what is old is new again. Certainly Roland's new Jupiter 80 is no exception. Roland seems to be trying to take advantage of some of the programming they have already done for the V-Synth and their new "super natural" pianos (whatever that means). I sense that they are using something likened to the V-Synth "AP Synthesis" and combined it with the new "Super Natural" modelling. It's hard to tell. This synth seems is strong in two areas: Layering (massive layering) Instrument Sounds OK, nice, but in a way the two are contradictions. If you want to do arranging then sure, having a lot of layers is a plus but then get one of the "Vianna" packages or another set of instrument samples and let loose. Yes, but you might respond: "It's a performance instrument!". OK, sure, but then don't layer. I see the two as a contradiction. This is like having a symphony orchestra with every instrument trying to be the soloist. Perhaps I am wrong here but just saying. I do like the touch screen. Some have a problem with it but having a Korg M3, I can tell you that I prefer the way Roland creates screens that look more like a massive collection on knobs and sliders. By the way, that is what it would take and why this instrument does not have them. The preset keys are nice for performance and after all, that is what this instrument is about except if you really used all the layers it would drown every other member of the band with its wall of sound approach. Nice collection of ins and outs including digital. A slight improvement over an M3. Effects - yawn, clearly imported from other keyboards, nothing new here. Might I also point out that Korg M3 effects let you modulate many of the parameters which can be very powerful. I don't see that here but this is a cursury review. Corrections welcome. D-Beam - old Roland tech - yawn Stereo recorder - why bother when lots of nice little portable units are available - Icing on the cake - lots of sugar. OK, I don't mean to be so harsh here and if someone dropped one of these in studio for free I would have lots of fun with it but I have come to the following conclusion. That synthesis is about modulation and expression. I am thinking particulary about the Eigenharp. Not really an instrument per say but much more than a MIDI controller. Find a more integrated way to combine a controller like that and an expressive model like AP synthesis or whatver is in the Jupiter 80 and it would peak my interest. That also said, the new Korg Kronos is far more of a heavy weight (an OASYS for the poor). So what does the JP 80 add to the mix of lack luster offerings in the synth word. Nothing much other than what is old is new again. Perhaps one day, something that is new will in fact truly be new but until then. P.S. Roland - still waiting for you to come out with new expansion cards for the V-Synth. Or did you ever intend to do that? Sure, packaging old tech is a lot cheaper when you can sell it for the cost of a workstation.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Hidden Agenda

As many of the music therapists who follow me know, I am always trying to encourage you to use synthesizers in your therapy. There are a few reasons why. First, I respect what music therapists do and I feel that music can have as much healing power as medicine does just in a different way. The second reason is that friends always share what they love. Before I was in high school I stumbled across a Morton Subotnick album "Sidewinder". At that time I did not have the slightest idea what the difference between a Moog and a Buchla was but years latter I can talk about models and modules with barely a thought. I know the difference between music box and mini Moog and many other sonic tid bits. I have knowledge that I want to share not only with other electronic artists who understand all the technical details of what I am talking about but to those who may be new to electronic music and synthesizers. I love to teach and share what I know. The third reason, and perhaps the most important is that I really do believe that synthesis has a lot to bring to music therapy for reasons that I will discuss. It is also my hope that my attempts are not annoying. I am not trying to be pushy (well, maybe a little) but it's only in the interest of trying to show some friends something new and perhaps helpful. Up until know you have been silent on my electronic music tweets but things can change right?

So why use synthesizers when there are drums, pianos and guitars (which from what I have observed are the tools of the music therapy trade)? Well, first, they are more flexible. I know that some of music therapists use what I would call arranger keyboards which are small versions of the old home organs. These can be nice but there are a whole universe of more powerful synthesizers that can open up a sonic universe to the listener and musician.

I realize that the first limitation might be price. I can understand that but a piano is not cheap nor a guitar (at least a good one) There are also software synthesizers that are sometimes only 1/10 of the price of a hardware synthesizer. I have some hardware synths but for a specific reason. For a starter synth for those who already own a laptop a soft synth might be a better chooice. I use soft synths as well. Other than a Kurzweil K2000 which I sold, my first softsynth was Native Instrument Absynth (an amazing synth by the way but perhaps not a good starter synth). I notice that MTs seem to be into laptops. A low cost audio interface and what is called a DAW is the price of admission into the soft synth world. Some MTs also use garage band (a low costs DAW - digital audio workstation - which comes with Macs for free). That will get you started and before long you will be using Ableton Live :) Sort of an inside joke but many electronic artists including myself use it for reasons that are way to complicated to explain in a short post. If you are really interested some of my Twitter friends have great web sites with demos you might want to watch. Just ask and I will introduce you.

I would also suggest to you that there are a lot of free synths and effects out there. Absynth is not one of them but a freeware synths can be a good introduction into synthesis. Start with subtractive if you are interested. Most synths in fact do some form of subtrative synthesis.

I also would add as a caveat that mobility is an issue. I almost got a hernia moving an 88 key Korg M3 up a flight of stairs. It's a great keyboard and has piano like action but not mobile. For those who don't have roadies, size can be an issue with hard synths although there are some nice small ones that are a lot easier to deal with. There are also a wide variety of cheap controller keyboards out there. And when you ready, Ableton controllers :) MTs should just let me know and I can recommend some of them.

Soft synths weigh nothing and install onto your laptop. Interfaces are small and a low watt amp is loud enough to use in most applications is enough to go mobile. You can put it all in a backpack.

So you might still ask why? Simple, synthesizers are much more flexible than real instruments. They can make an incredibly wide variety of sounds which may open up new avenues when working with a client. For example, I have boomwhacker samples so if I want to play boomwhackers I can do that on my keyboard using a form of synthesis called sampling. Thee are also a wide variety of drum samples from diffferent countries that will literally turn you keyboard into a drum kit.

There has also been an explosion of new controllers which could be used to open up a musical universe to those with limited mobility which I see as a major advantage. Body movement and even brain waves to mention just a few can be used to control a synth. Products like Percussa Audio Cubes provide multi-sensory feedback (see, I am learning your vocabulary). The Cubes glow and are easy to move and create music with.

I also think that various minimalistic music forms might help autistic patients. The repeating yet changing patterns of a sequencer might give them something to focus on.

So that is my agenda. I don't want it to be hidden but if I am annoying at times trying to get you to cross the streams. My version of advocacy :)

I wish all my music therapist friends the best of success in your carriers and God bless you efforts to help people with the gift of music. If you are interested in following the rabbit into a vast landscape of new sounds, let me know and I can get you started. Where it goes from there is up to you.

P.S. - There is an Electro Music festival in Heugenot NY. A good time is had by all. It's lots of fun and lots of great people and perhaps a way to follow that rabbit. Warning however, once you get hooked on synths well, there is no helping you after that so take heed :) Us EM types are already addicted so it does not matter to us :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why I am not anti MIDI

I am publishing this as a retraction of sorts. I want to clarify that I am not anti MIDI or event to some extent quantization. However, with a lot of the new technology that is available I fear the technology will dehumanize. The use of technology for electronic music has always been around but many of the early works of electronic music, such as those of Karlehintz Stockhausen, were wondeerful experiments in using technology to explore sound. They were not at all de-humanizing but rather a exploration of how the human person encounters sounds and their organisation in music.

I am very much a technologist I just fear that it becomes follow the leader even if the leader is not all that talented. Kesha is a great example in my mind of the abuse of technology at the service of a creating music that is little more than a form of glitter to sell an empty musical box to a subculture.

What do I like? Well, obviously from my last post the Wavedrum. But I also like some products that might surprise people like the Tenori-on. Why? Because it humanizes sequencing again by putting variations in sequences at the thumbs of the musician. It's both creative and playful.

I also like the Eigenharp although the expense takes it a bit outside my range. I see it as a very expressive electronic instrument. I like the Haken Continuum because it breaks away from the pitch bend/mod wheel domination. There are more products I could mention but I use these as solid examples.

What I try to do in my own music is go back to a more experimental time in electronic music before the domination of the drum machine and the dance beat and the glitter and find ways to use technology to create art that allows technology to be a tool of the human person not the focus of the art. I even want a Octatrack to use it in a way that is not intended for and perhaps break the de humanizing trend.