Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Visitor
(a Quin Martin Production . . . )

I've started work on my next album today. It will be called "The Visitor" for reasons that may or may not be obvious. It is in part an homage to The Man Who Fell To Earth, staring David Bowie, from 1974, I believe.

My last album was mostly re-workings of earlier renditions, but helped me get familiar with some new equipment. Even though I'm already off to a quick start with this one, I will be taking my time to work on this. I do have a few skeletons of MIDI sequences that I intend to bring into this century. I think the sound on this one will be more atmospheric, though I can hardly resist my pop influences.

All of Gary Numan's work for the past decade at least, has some kind of atmospheric intro section, so that nothing starts into a groove right away. My inclination is to combine atmosphere with a groove. Maybe I can keep it from being just noise!

I just registered all the songs from the last album with ASCAP, so if any of them get played somewhere on earth, I am due a royalty. Here, earth is defined in a rather limited scope. Maybe I should have called the last album Limited Scope. That would have been appropriate. It is interesting to me that anybody who can make some MP3's on their notebook computer, as I have, can make them available to sell on iTunes, napster, amazon, etc. with very little effort involved. It cost me fourty bucks to have somebody set all that up for me. All I had to do was upload the tunes to them and use paypal to secure their services.

For me it is not a question of how many I can sell. Rather, it is a matter of having them for sale. There is a status that is reached where some potential is leveraged against the economic market of musical ideas. Without some strong promotion or otherwise notable event, nobody will know my stuff is for sale. Errant iTunes power searches may yield a song that someone will play the snippet sample given. Perhaps I will buy some of my own recordings, just for fun. But I will have entered a playing field that is now almost level, among players who are like gods to me, who I've worshiped and admired for decades, or whom I see on television and go "I like that." I am my first critic and I like what I make. For me, it compares well with the songs I've purchased and if nobody else finds it, or gets it, or thinks it's cool, that's okay. For me, I think we have it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Inference Patterns Released

My latest album is now available to try out at SoundClick.Com. If you like synthesizer music, especially if you like Gary Numan's music from around 1982, this might be a winner for you. I'm quite satisfied with it. You can try it before you buy it. Available by the single, or as an MP3 album for $7.99. Order the CD for $12.99 from Cafe Press.

There's some new material and some of the songs are from my classics that have been re-worked with newer and more varied equipment. There are also a couple of remastered oldies like Velvet Elvis, and Reflector. Those were two songs that I didn't feel could be made any better except to be tweaked a little bit in Adobe Audition's mastering rack.

There is one very old recording of a live version of Myths About Paper, performed by my first band, A Presence Called Fred at the 1985 Poe Boy jam. I think that's my favorite live recording of my work, performed in a 1000 seat auditorium with good acoustics.

Also included is the 50th remake of Plastic Hand, the "apple mix", with all vocals sung by my Mac PowerBook. On the new stuff, my vocals are noticeably less effected, and made better by my M-Audio microphone interface. I use a Shure SM-53, and though I've had arguments with people who say, "that is an instrument mic," I just look at its frequency response curve, and like to hold it in my hand, so there it is.

Song List:

Myths About Paper 3.0
Prodigy 7
Laser Jack Ruby
Beryllium Zinc
Song on the Radio
Class IV
What are Pure Thoughts Not
Plastic Hand
Velvet Elvis
No Regrets
Myths About Paper Live

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Korg Poly Six vs. Roland Juno 6

Korg and Roland both came out with 6 oscillator polyphonic synthesizers around the same time. They were the first fully programmable polyphonic synths that ordinary people could afford. Twenty-some-odd years later, you can get them for next to nothing campared to a Moog, which has acquired an even greater prestige since Bob Moog passed away in 2005.

Those new MiniMoogs, the Voyager series, are some pricey mono synths. $2,100.00 - $3,400.00 in that range is pretty steep, though they are hand made and limited in quantity. I wouldn't mind having one, though it would be hard for me to justify when soft-synth MiniMoogs are available for about $200.00.

Speaking of $200.00, that's about what it costs to get a Roland Juno 6 on e-bay. I found one that was in great shape, for about that price, and it came with an anvil case that is big enough to house most of my long synths.

I got my Korg Poly Six for $100.00 at a pawn shop. It was beat to death though, and a couple of months after I had it, I discovered that the battery which backs up the memory had leaked acid on the circuit board. Things went downhill further when I used the wrong solvent to clean the key contacts and melted the plastic membrane that holds them in place. Oh well. I did get a few recordings out of it before it died, and I've still got it in case I want to destroy a keyboard on stage some day, a-la Nine Inch Nails.

I've read that the Poly Six is not too far distant in sound from the Korg MonoPoly, though the later has more flexibility in programming I believe, despite only 4 oscillators. The Poly Six has a very warm sound, whereas, everything you play on the Juno 6 has that characteristic sound of its filters. In this day and age, the polyphonic kind of voices that you might find in either a Juno 60 (the Juno 6 with a preset memory) or the Poly Six, either one, sound a little bland and weak. The Juno 6, having no memory, must have the controls set for each new sound, though that makes it a good performance keyboard if you like to mess with the knobs while you're playing it.

Okay, so the Poly Six has preset memories. It has a killer unison mode, where it becomes a very stacked mono synth. While mine was still alive, that's mostly how I used it, to get this really heavy airplane engine sounding bass voice. Interestingly, the Juno 6 can approach that heaviness in full polyphony. It has a sub-oscillator in addition to the pulse width modulation, much like the Poly Six.

To me the Juno has a place where you want it to be obvious that you're playing a synth, and be able to play chords and such. The Korg has more of a niche where you just want some pretty sounds, maybe a string ensemble, or synth woodwind sounds.

It is weird to me though that a Juno 6 still goes for around $200.00 and I'm seeing Moog Prodigy mono synths going from near $1000.00. I guess it is the name brand and that distinctive 24db Moog filter that is driving it. None of these synths are still being produced, though in a since the MiniMoog is in new production. Used MiniMoogs are going for upwards of $1500.00 and you're liable to get an early one with unstable oscillators that you have to tune constantly.

I'd say the Juno 6 is the must-have of the two old polys. The Korgs may be harder to find, and have that battery problem in every one, so if you get one, open it up immediately and dig that battery out to replace. One of the reasons I chose the Juno 6 over the Juno 60 was that I knew the '60 would have the battery peril, and they cost about $100.00 more. They sound virtually identical though, and I like tweaking the knobs and sliders while I play it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Secrets of the Moog Prodigy

I traded a toy casio keyboard for my Prodigy around 1987. It had one cracked key, but was fully functional and in good shape other than that. The guy who had it, thought it was probably worth about $50.00. God bless him!

I love my prodigy. It took me several years though to learn to like it next to my Realistic Concertmate MG-1, which is a somewhat similar Moog synthesizer, with a few different features. I had played the MG-1 so much that I knew it like the back of my hand. Both MG-1 and Prodigy are 2-oscillator monophonic synths, both have a 24db filter, the same number of keys, etc. I had learned to coax just about all the MG-1 could deliver, but it was laid out a little differently from the Prodigy so some of the controls on the Prodigy didn't mean the same to me at first.

At first I used the CV and Trigger output from the MG-1 to control the Prodigy (this was pre-MIDI for me) and though tuning could be a little tricky, I was able to get some really fat layered synth sounds from them. I was still enamored by the MG-1 though.

A few years later, after I'd been using MIDI sequencers and synths, I'd gotten away from the analog stuff for a while, but noticed that the Prodigy was increasing in value. I just saw one on e-bay today in fact going for $975.00! So I took out the keyboard from the MG-1 and replaced the broken one in the Prodigy. Now it is in very good condition. The output jack is a little loose, and it had been pretty dusty at one time, so I've cleaned it up quite a bit.

Now, about those secrets. I picked up a few tips about the Prodigy while reading things about it on the Internet.

Some people modify their Prodigy so that oscillator 2 will go down to 32'. A very simple trick if you don't mind not syncing the oscillators is to flip the sync switch off, tune the oscillators together, and then bring the pitch bend wheel all the way down. This gives you osc. 1 at 64' and osc. 2 at 32'! I like to switch osc.1 up to 32' and then you get this really phat as hell voice using both sawtooth especially. It rivals the textures of the MiniMoog.

The second trick involves the mod wheel. The LFO is selectable as a triangle wave or a square wave with a switch. If you move the switch, ever so carefully between them so that it is set to neither, then the mod wheel gives you manual control over the filter or the oscillators, depending on which of these you have selected. It's great for expression with the filter control while playing. If you set the cutoff low enough, and put in a little emphasis - almost self-modulating, then when your rock the mod wheel, you've got this huge range of expression at your fingertips. If you select to modulate the oscillators it gives you this really wild pitch bend, way more than one octave.

Moog Music makes this thing called the Mooger Fooger CP-251 that provides alternate LFO settings, sample and hold, PWM modulation, and some other stuff. I really don't feel like I need that. For one, I haven't found much use for the sample and hold stuff. The MG-1 can do that. It is good for making a "computer sound." Some of the demos I've heard of the CP-251 weren't that musical, and I can do strange effects on my computer.

In closing, the Prodigy is often derided as a basic synth, but is really a nice piece of work. It doesn't have a 3rd oscillator like the MiniMoog, but I think it really is the poor man's MiniMoog. If you want a Moog, and want to spend less that $1500.00, the Prodigy is a great alternative. If you're on a budget and can find one, the MG-1 is a great little keyboard. Prodigy's oscillators have triangle wave shape, but you can live without that. MG-1 has sample and hold if you can think of something to do with it. It also has a continuous and auto-trigger mode, though in a MIDI-fied world, those are not as useful as a MIDI/CV kit would be.

I play the Prodigy live and in the studio. I use it to write bass and lead lines, and base songs around the sounds I get from it. I also plunk around on a Roland Juno 6, from the same era, and used to play my Korg Poly Six until it died from a battery leaking acid on the circuits. The Korg though to me was only useful in unison mode, so was kind of a one trick pony. I'd much rather have the Prodigy than that keyboard. The Juno 6 is a nice polyphonic compliment for a guy who couldn't afford a Jupiter 8.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Do you ever have that dream that you're back in high school but you're only wearing your underwear? I've been having that kind of anxiety a lot lately. It comes from having a one track mind, and not being good at multi-tasking. Yes, I admit that I don't like to multi-task. I'm not even sure if you're supposed to hyphenate it.

I let my food touch, but when it comes to events and tasks, I like to focus on one at a time. I get nervy when there is more than one thing to anticipate in a day.

Maybe it is the anticipating that gets me in this state. If I have to anticipate everything, does that make me lack spontaneity? I may be a robot. I think I've got a single processor brain in a dual or quad processor world. I may be blowing this all out of proportion.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

M-Audio Fast Track USB

M-Audio is becoming one of my favorite musical equipment companies. I've been using Cakewalk Sonar 7 Producer Edition and Fast Track USB audio interface. When I bought the interface, I thought it was just some kind of digitizer that would allow me to connect a microphone or plug in a guitar or a keyboard. It turns out that it is like an external sound card, and has very good latency with ASIO drivers. I've been very happy with the purchase. There are better, higher priced solutions for this sort of thing, with more inputs, but this unit was really just right for my notebook/studio projects. The mic input is an XLR connection, and has worked well with my choice of microphones. Basically, for the price of a digital vocal mic, you get an interface that also handles my keyboards well.

I've recorded some Moog Prodigy lines and a few vocal tracks with it so far. The low latency means that I can play soft-synths without any problems. I've been using Moog Modular and Mini Moog soft-synths with great satisfaction.

My latest recordings are online at SoundClick