Recently I have been finding certain workflows in the studio frustrating, in particular those that use products that are there to make our lives easier, apparently. I think largely this comes from the software domain although we are seeing this in new hardware too. The sorts of products are seemingly more focused on delivering ease in creating a specific genre, and as a result often covering many aspects to ensure greater appeal, than say something that has a greater focus in a particular way of working, that as we can probably see in the history of equipment, can either succeed and become a standard, or fail terribly and as a result often be picked up in the second hand market and be used in different ways, sometimes defining other standards.
I come from a background using a wide range variety of equipment to make music or sound work, such as the ease of pattern creating in the SH101, the micro editing and sequencing of samples in Technosound Turbo and OctaMED, to patiently building and programming with Max/MSP and Supercollider.
I wouldn’t claim any of the above are generally better or worse, in any way, but I would say each provides a unique way in which creating is pushed and pulled into places that might not be so easily reached otherwise.
I remember reading about Autechre learning from one piece of equipment, to then push that methodology or sound into another piece of equipment. I think this was possibly noticeable with the introduction of their Nord Rack/Lead equipment and it’s vast midi controllability, and then their subsequent complex almost general midi sounding works, the later being perhaps a consequence of the former and it’s workflow.
Recently I have acquired a mid 80s Yamaha QX1 midi sequencer, and already I can see this taking over some of the grunt work which would normally be coming from the Atari STE running Cubase, as today’s upload will show. It’s the combination of many things that make the QX1 quite possibly the best piece of equipment I have bought in recent years. A specific box dedicated to one main task, with the sound of those buttons as you rattle through the menus, and the internal map that slowly forms in the mind as the initially complex system becomes ever more clearer with each use… it’s a dream.
The Yamaha QX1 is by no means making my life easier in the context of recent innovations, I can edit on the fly, I have to wait for things to “execute”, the 5 inch floppy disc often getting stuck in the drive. But it ‘is’ making my life easier through it’s insistent nature of pushing me to work a certain way, pushing me to listen to less, to concentrate on the areas that need the work, and feeling a justification of less, not that it should ever need it.
The Yamaha QX1 delivers with seemingly no effort, an internal web of systems, surprising sonic rewards and the reconnecting of how the brain thinks about constructing sound and dealing with genre. It shows how far removed we are from certain ways of working and listening.
I would like to see more products made that challenge our creative minds, that require a certain mastering and uncertainty, with results that are more pushing for a sound of the future, than adhering to genres of the past. I think there is a huge difference in how technology can be shaped for the creative world, compared to a world of convenience.
Today’s upload, although a touch more experimental than the previous, is still playing with the Transition Revoloution 808 sounds, having that slight 90’s electronic feel to it. I suppose a classic sound is almost guaranteed when using such iconic sounds, although perhaps iconic sounds used in less iconic ways yeilds something worth exploring.
Much of that classic iconic sound comes from the machines sequencing, tweakability and interaction with buttons, dials and settings. I’d even say the look of a the machine goes a long way into ensuring the user falls inline with iconic methods.
It has been interesting seeing the reactions for the recent reveal of the latest incarnation of Rolands classic machines, specifically with the TR-09, and although this version comes with less green which is surely a good thing, it does come at a size that perhaps challenges its rather appealing price.
Words such as “Roland have done it again” have been circulating, and largely speaking I agree, although I am not entirely sure I see it from the same perspective. The design of the TR-09 is questionable and clearly a result of them building to the predefinied chasis of the whole boutique range, with its spaciously placed buttons on the left leaving the rest of the controls crammed into what’s left.
However, this crammed and cheap chasis seating the new software driven 909 tech did strike me as interesting, and reminded me of the many machines that have quirks and annoyances in their original build and design. How often those compromises defined the users creative output, contrubuted to style and often sub-genre after sub-genre after sub-genre.
Along with its closely placed dials, the TR-09 has only a single audio output, which I have to say is quite appealing. Perhaps a single output beckons a period of all very dry or very wet drum signals as apposed to the finely crafted and arguably overly-mixed-to-dull-perfection we are often exposed to these days. Perhaps a 909 driving the hell out of fx, only to be then given a dry singal shortly after, perhaps that is a more refreshing structual shift than a well balanced reverberant clap, hat or kick drum.
I have to say, although it is compromised in its design it additonally instills a reference to older machines flaws too, and what with there being not a Tron green in sight and a sweet sound to boot, it is making my wallet itch.
Let’s see what September brings, but until then, enjoy todays sounds.
Todays upload is a bit of a studio jam, mainly getting my ear in, the fun before the work, and also experimenting with syncing to the laptop from Cubase. Despite what some might say, midi on a laptop is dire compared to the Atari, as is pretty much everything in a laptop really. Don’t get me wrong, I love working in the computer, but it doesn’t come without it’s fair share of issues, and generally ones that can’t be exploited, or at least, I have yet to find many ways.
This jam consists of the Transistor Revolution samples of the TR-808 and TR909, although I am only using the 808 here, and not many of them.
As someone who owned an 808 years ago, I have always preferred the sound of them in the sampler over the real thing, although the speed of use and the indivual outputs alway being the biggest win over the Akai S2800 with it’s compromising 4 outputs. Still, rarely do I use more than a handful of sounds anyway, so 4 outputs does just about fine.
The sampling of these machines also adds that extra tweakability, pitching, filter, tightening with the envelope etc. One thing that was an issue, was the machine gun style quality of the sample, most noticable on sounds through reverb sounding the same, athough there are ways to combat that, but ultimately those hats, it’s all about the hats. I like the machine gun quality of a repeating sound, but what the Transistor Revolution offers is the option to use round robins to pick from many samples seemingly identical. The Transistor Revolution is pretty amazing, if a little glitchy…computers…and being a sample, well, you can’t get closer to the real thing than a sample, add to the fact that most music back in that era would have also used samples as that was a period more people tried a bit harder to do something new and interesting. Still, much of what is under the banner of what was once an idetifying genre, is now more a social tag come new pop industry. It’s popular after all.
More of the same, enjoy.
One synthesiser I used extensively back in 2000 was the Nord Rack 2. At the time I was still sequencing my gear with the Atari STE running Cubase, and the Nord Rack got explored in depth due to midi control on everything. I didn’t switch to audio based software, initially on Windows 98, until a little bit later. I remember the transition to a more computer based approach being a difficult one for me. The Nord Rack 2 slowly got put aside during the computer phase, being used less and less until it almost got sold along with my Nord Modular. Luckily my girlfriend at the time threatened to leave me if I sold either. That girlfriend is now my wife. Lucky guy.
Back at the end of 2013 I brought the Atari STE and Cubase back into my studio, but unlike back in the 90’s, this Cubase come with a manual, a big binder in-fact.
I tend not to read manuals all that much, and typically for me I tend to miss some pretty obvious stuff sometimes. I often find myself wishing a piece of equipment does something I believe it can’t, until I think this long enough to double check in the manual, often realising I was wrong.
This has happened again.
While flicking through the Cubase manual for keyboard shortcuts, I stumbled upon a module I had pretty much forgot about called ‘The MIDI Processor’. I vaguely remember playing about with it as a teenager, but typically for me at that time, anything that required dipping into computers was incredibly boring. It has only been through a combination of choice and necessity that I have ended up not only using computers more, but earn a living coding on one.
I know many of the uploads on this blog come from the Nord Modular, but if I had to pick a favourite of the two, it would be the Nord Rack 2 for sure. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Nord Modular, but it’s always struck me as a sort of intense and intelligent friend, that although you love them dearly, sometimes, not even all the caffeine in the world can get you in the mood for that conversation.
Today’s upload explores the MIDI Processor, partnered with an old friend I can relax with, and one I know we will be hearing more from, the Nord Rack 2.
Since learning the Space Echo can produce a entirely wet signal (plugging in a dummy jack), I have been wanting to experiment with this using only the tape as a live fx. I’ve found the delay can be short enough if the rate is as fast as it goes. Suprisingly what delay there is still present competes quite well with computer buffer delay issues, which has some ironry.
I am finding more and more there is a need to leave the laptop out of the studio unless totally essential. Taking it to the studio was becoming a habbit, and preventing me from creating music. For me, it just gets in the way and has unsuable issues occuring far to often. As a result I have resorted back to DAT tape, which is great. I am not sure why I stopped using it, I suppose habbit and illusions of convenience. I may look more at the new digital recorder by Tascam, but i’m startiong to feel my Tascam DAT is doing a good enough job, and will do fine for now. I am quite looking forward to experiencing once again the affects in recording that tape delivers, like having to finish a track as not wanting to waste tape, or the feeling of seeing a shelf full of tapes, oh no, all that space will be used…pfft. Somehow, seeing an actual tape and not a file burried in a hardrive, gives me a definite assurance and result of action. The forgettable or hidden file on the computer just doesn’t seem to give me the same sense of satisfaction and progress. It’s always a ‘work in progress’. How I tire of things being left undone.
Today’s upload is exploring tape saturation on the Roland Space Echo, and is sequenced by the Phrase Synth on the Atari’s Cubase software. I love tapping those atari keys, something solid and definite about them, like the computer had yet to really be more than a few functions, and as a result it seems to have a solid purpose, as apposed to the variety of functions and endless confirgurations today’s slimline and light weight machines have.
I know what I need in the studio, and it’s not more options.
Recently I bought the latest version of the software Reaktor, and very good it is too. It seems I was probably later to the game than others, and perhaps this has been due to NI taking a rather grinding approach with some aspects of their marketing in the past. “Do you wanna make dope beatz…with machine?”.
However, their new direction seems to fit closer to my taste or perhps it’s I haven’t seen an annoying commercial recently, but with a clearly inspired software development angle, with a focus on ever deeper levels of play and experimentation, and cleaner interface, and the new Blocks Wired thrown in, well, it’s excellent value and sounds pretty special too.
The very useable and analogue sound of Blocks Wired, with it’s huge range of Blocks consisting of some excellent sounding filters and oscillators, partnered with its endless routing possibilties comparable to the Nord Modular, Audio Mulch, Bidule, Max etc makes it for very handy in the studio for both quick sketches or more complex modulation and connecting. It’s definitely a win for me, and for someone still using the Atari STE, that’s a nice win to be on the receiving end of.
I did have some issues with my soundcard, but then what software does play well with some Motu’s these days. One of the main reasons to purchase Reaktor, as odd as it might seem, was to be able to quickly route my soundcard and record out whatever I am playing, be it internal, external from the mix or a combination of both. Reaktor includes a very hady Tape Recorder right there in the main screen, which takes me right back to Audio Mulch ease. Annoyingly though for me, this glitches on record when using the Motu, which is typical. A quick work around using Motu’s own free AudioDesk DAW is doable but for someone like myself who dislikes having tons of software open on my computer when making music, it’s not ideal, but not NI fault, this one sits at the feet of Motu.
Today’s upload is a sketch I did a few weeks ago whilst in the midst of web design and coding choas, and perhaps that is why this sounds the way it does. A manic Robert Hood-esque interlaced 101 style pattern, moving through some scratchy filtering and horrible distortion on the reverb, reminding me of those days RDJ didn’t care so much for his funky production and made excellent tracks instead, such as Tamphex.
Actually, don’t bother listening to my upload, just listen to Tamphex at the link above, it’s obviously much better. “Why stop when the period starts” :)
The Moog Mother 32 is a machine that seems able to insist on the turning of its frequency dial. “Sweep me up and down”, “mouth my frequency”. Resist, resist.
Other notable machines that cause similar traits of insiting on how they are used, are iconic machines such as the TB-303, TR-909, TR-808 the SH-101 and the list goes on.
The Moog world of synthesis is one that I have had little experience or interest in when coming to my own music making. This is arguably due to never having used a Moog, or perhaps being able to afford anything branding the Moog logo. So when Moog began presenting a more affordable range of synthesizers, it’s not unreasonable to think my interest would grow. It didn’t.
When Moog annouced their Moog Mother 32, presenting a collection of beautiful demonstrations, something changed.
I am still working out what exactly changed for me from not being interested to owning a Mother 32, but I believe it is based on those key decisions made by a company in the production and marketing of a synth. The videos linked above are one such example, but also what specifically is on offer, how much or in my case, how little are aspects that I think sway me to click buy, or my wife to click buy as in the case of the Mothers :)
The Moog Mother 32 has just enough patching and sonic capabilities to keep you wanting more, and ensures a level of statisfaction that makes it both a joy and a challenge to work with.
The sequencer, although not immediately intuiative for a lazy type like me, does begin to make sense the more you play. Although the manual is incredibly clear, it’s playing that really helps with almost every aspect of this synth.
Today’s upload was a result of lots of exporation before settling on something very basic, tweaking that frequency dial like it wants me to. Although it could have easily gone into screaming frequency sweeping… that ain’t my thing. Manic frequency dial tweaking always sounds like lead guitarist solo-syndrome to me, and that’s not good or everyone except the man in the mirror.