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.