and ) : C

Sunday, December 31, 2006

eBay of the day: Disposable Pop Song

eBay item #270072387882 is a wooden and glass cannister with a circuit board inside and a speaker on top: "on turning a knob it dispenses an original pop song... After about four plays the song degenerates into noise, thus rendering the whole (song) contraption useless." Created by Yashas Shetty, an artist from Bangalore, India. 24 hours to go, it's currently just Rs 1250 ($25). (Thanks, Indira, via )

Saturday, December 30, 2006

How to play music with barbed wire and chainsaws

Jon Rose is an Australian violinist/artist/composer who has done many cool things. here (QT link) is a clip of him playing barbed wire with a violin bow: "One aspect of the barbed wire fence that appeals to me is that it becomes very clear where the notes are - if you miss'em it's quite painful. Also the scale articulated by the barbs is extremely unorthodox and about as far as you can get from the equal tempered scale upon which most western music is played. But the tyranny of the equal tempered scale is not a subject upon which we should dwell in the middle of an Australian desert.".
And here he is conducting an orchestra made up of violinists, a drummer, a pianist and several chainsaw players. There's a lot more interesting stuff, including a MIDI bow being demonstrated on daytime TV, at this page. (Thanks Sam)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Akai MPC1000 now really does play Pong

Now we can all play Pong with Philip Glass piano samples. JJ - the mysterious Japanese hacker who has re-written the operating system for the Akai MPC1000 - has had a super productive xmas. After fixing the file system (Akai left a bug which caused nasty file problems), adding a features from the more expensive MPC2500, and all new stuff like proper visual MIDI editing, he's started having fun. This video (my first on YouTube!) shows the custom loading screen and the long promised but not quite delivered Pong, which triggers samples of your choice (it also does something over MIDI, but I'm not sure what). If you have an MPC1000, you can get the $30 upgrade here. If you don't have an MPC1000, you can buy one here.
Previous MPC video action here and here .

Korg MS20 number 1 is on sale in Japan

I've covered the legendary Japanese synth shop Five G in the past, but Steven writes to point out that on this page they're selling an MS20 with the serial number '1' for ¥207,900 ($1,700). They seem to sell a lot of MS20s, usually for a hardly any more reasonable ¥98k ($825). If you're in the area, could you sneak in and get us a picture of the serial number?

It's... just like... painting with sound

Visual Acoustics is an nice online sound toy (or "Concept for interactive expression") - click, drag, it's fun. The software is by Alex Lampe, but the unfortunate words come from Lewis Moberly, a beyond-parody naming consultancy ("We created 'Ride the Tiger' for the Human Resources Programme at Novartis Consumer Health. Challenging and evocative, it commands attention in a multi-national institution") (Thanks Scott)

Beat-making with Ali-G

Brandon writes: "I know you must get a lot of emails linking to "How to make beats on the MPC" videos, but as an American, after watching Making a club beat on the MPC4000 I finally realize that some people in the UK actually do talk like Ali G." Seems to come from an organisation called Creative Mindsuk, who have a half-finished website: "C.M also offer services ‘for hire’...Promotional Flyering/ leafleting, Brand representation (in person or via modelled photos),Street-bookings ... Once you are happy with the proposal & allocated provisions, you will be invoiced and hey presto… your good to go…"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monday, December 18, 2006

Music geek fun with Google Patents Search

Last week Google introduced their Patent Search site, which searches patents going back hundreds of years. What could be more fun? Here is Bob Moog's patent for the Moog 'ladder' Filter, filed in 1966 and granted in 1969. This seems to be John M Chowning's patent for FM synthesis, which earned $20m for Stanford when Yamaha licensed it for the DX7. Here is Leon Theremin's 1925 patent for the Theremin. Here is Leo Fender's pickup patent from 1944 (here is Les Paul's). Here is the Synthaxe, here is the Fender Jaguar Jazzmaster, from 1959. Here is a fantastically cool 'Electric Self-Playing Violin' from 1905, and here is Anacleto Montanelli's Electrical Musical Instrument from 1893. Here is the Rhodes piano from 1964... and so on. Anyone found anything cool?
UPDATE: Rather than randomly putting words into Google, Don Tillman has actually researched this stuff. Here are his surveys of patents from: Moog, ARP and Mellotron/Birotron.

UPDATE 2: Casionova claims to have found the patent for the Demo Button, although I'm sure they had them before 1986. He also found this super-awesome Casio electric harmonica ("a main body having a plurality of ducts").
UPDATE 3: Eddie has found this 'Electronic Percussion Musical Instrument' designed by Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter from Kraftwerk in 1975 (it's only an 'ornamental design' though).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chad & Pharrell on how to spend $10k on music gear

Here is a nice clip of Chad Hugo & Pharrell Williams from the Neptunes talking about how to get started in music with 'only' $10,000. Their advice: Piano lessons, a ProTools rig and learning to DJ. Obviously, there are cheaper ways to start - like build a studio for $27 or $500 (Warning! Old, dusty links...)
More Neptunes on YouTube: Here is Chad showing you round his studio (Andromeda, Voyager, MicroKorg, and what might be a little Doepfer modular?) Here is Pharrell & Justin Timberlake's studio samba school. Here is a long, rambling studio session with Pharrel, a bored singer and a really irritating cameraman.

Like Waynes' World, but with synth geeks

Here is a video showing the good folk of Gearwire comparing an Roland SH-101 (cheap, plastic, classic collectable) with a Roland SH-201 (cheap, plastic, plain ugly). The good folk of EM411 have been having some fun with memorable phrases from the clip like: "And then you have yer pulsewidth.. it's.. how many times it.. goes back and forth" and "All this other stuff is affecting the signal to make this the same." More rockin' Gearwire action here and here. (Thanks Steve, and astroid)

The Walkman that makes music from sounds around you

Noah Vawtner is a junior Music Thing hero. He was part of the team who created the Chiclet DSP synth, the PSP Kick drum machine and other cool stuff like the 1 Bit Groove Box. He's just finishing his masters at MIT, and his thesis project was Ambient Addition, a Walkman-sized box with headphones and a microphone. It takes the sound from the microphone and turns it into (roughly) music - putting all the background noise through a vocoder/resonator which is running a chord sequence, and sampling and looping percussive sounds to make drum tracks. Yes, you have to watch the video to make much sense of it, but it's a fantastic idea. (thanks Brian)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music

Jon writes: "Hi Tom. The other day, my girlfriend came home with a leaflet for 'Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music'

She knows me too well. We went on a trip to Northleach in the Cotswolds to have a look yesterday. I tell you, this place is fantastic!

Along with the little gift shop, there's a museum packed to the ceiling with all sorts of goodies. They do a tour for £6.50 which lasts an hour and is well worth the trip.

I've got a bit of a thing for music boxes, and there are more here than you can shake a stick at, along with huge beasts from German beer halls and all sorts. We even got to listen to a Steinway player piano, playing Wagner recorded by Rachmaninov. I was like a kid in a sweet shop, and didn't ask half the questions (or take half the photos) I should have, as I was a little bit in awe!.

Highlights include the Midi pipe organ, an early cylinder music box, an Ariston disc-playing symphonium, and the original disc created for the 'Labyrinth' soundtrack, recorded for the film on a player borrowed from the museum.

You've got to go, you'll love it (probably)!

Guy with no arms plays the guitar

Can't argue with this, can you? And here is the one-armed guy from Def Leppard explaining how he plays the drums (warning: blurry) Meanwhile, here is the endlessly clever Michel Gondry doing a foot-related trick with a Rubiks' cube.
UPDATE: It looks like the guitarist is Mark Goffeney, bassist & singer with Big Toe, who are - by all accounts - excellent. (thanks Rob)

Monday, December 11, 2006

December... Time for Moog new product speculation

Good old Amos - he's the Moog tech support guy (and robot builder and musician) who first mentioned the Little Phatty on a message board. Now, in this interview on an official Moog website, he says:

What’s the most frequently asked question you get from users? “What MoogerFoogers do I need to make my guitar sound like a synthesizer?”

And the answer is… The answer is not any of our current ones, exactly, but we are working on some surprises in that regard...

Is there anything you can tell us about Moog’s next product? I can say it will defy expectations. It will be the most daring and boundary-defying Moog product to date!

What do you think? Moog fuzzbox/filter/envelope follower? Moog hexaphonic fuzz pickup with six-way polyphonic analog filters? A fantastically complicated, expensive and company-bankrupting guitar effect system like the EMS Synthi Hi-Fli (more) or the Arp Avatar? Something completely different? Maybe we'll find out at NAMM in January. (Thanks for the tips, John, get well soon!) (Image from alt-mode)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dude builds guitar from Wacom tablet

Really nothing to add. It's an old but amazing video of Jon Cambeul's 'Speech Guitar' - basically a Wacom pad and a Max/MSP patch. Here is a nice shot of Jon busking at the Futuresonic festival in Manchester. (Thanks again to Steven, genius of Max geeking)

Not eBay of the day: Peter Tosh's M-16 Guitar

YardFlex reports on the strange story of Peter Tosh's M-16 shaped guitar (which I wrote about here and here). The guitar was due to be sold (for charity) on eBay on Dec 3rd. News of the auction stirred up some legal claims in Jamaica (Peter had 10 children and his mother is still alive), and the auction has been cancelled. In this wonderful post, Peter's former manager Copeland Forbes tells the full story of the M-16 guitar, how it was made by a young fan, how buying a case for it was a pain, how it was lost in Germany, then found after an appeal in Der Spiegel, and how it was played a the biggest concert ever in Swaziland.
Anyway, if you're a disappointed potential bidder, there's always item 120062795791, which is still 99p (plus £35 shipping) with only a day to go.

Is my gear hot or not?

The splendid noise website NoiseFX is running an excellent Kewl Gear Contest, which is simply 'Hot or Not' for pictures of pedal chains. It's hypnotic! (Thanks Cementimental)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Gordon Brown says 'Mashups are the future'

In his big annual speech today, Gordon Brown, the UK chancellor, said that he wants to spend lots of money catching music and film pirates (who, in the UK, can't be penalised if they sell DVDs with hand-written labels. Only people who photocopy the covers can get in trouble). However, he also said that he wants to make it easier to produce 'transformative works' - i.e. bootlegs and mashups, like the Gray Album, The Avalanches original Gimix, A Night at the Hip-Hopera, and my personal highbrow favourite Glassbreaks. The Times says: "The report suggests that exemptions to copyright law should be allowed for “transformative works”. This would permit the use of copyright material in new and creative ways, so long as it did not detract from the value of that material or offend artistic integrity. It calls on the EU to amend the law to allow for that exception. It would allow “rappers” and other creators to rework old material." (These ideas come from the Gower Report Gowers Review, which Gordon seems to be endorsing)

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The greatest eBay category in the world, ever!

Of all the categories in all the eBays across the world, surely there's no finer category than 'Analoge Instrumente' on German eBay. It's a treasure trove of goodness, like item #160059220196 - this beautiful Mini Pops preset drum machine, made in 1969 by Keio Electronic Lab, which became Korg. Used by Jean Michelle Jarre (not this actual one) and yours for €99.
Elsewhere in 'Analoge Instrumente' right now, item 300055121568 is a great looking bit of weirdo vintage lab/music gear. It looks to me like a delay/reverb, but the seller says it works best as a fuzz box on his Moog. And item 250057054580 is a breathtakingly awesome-looking CRB Computer Band - which seems to be an old drum machine covered in buttons and switches, with two octave keyboard. Sort of like a MonoMachine. There's boards to build a 303 clone, leaflets about Theremins from 1930s Berlin, a super-rare MC-8 Microcomposer... Why can't every eBay category be like this?

Creepy guitar made from the body of a teenage girl

The Teenar was a 1986 art project by Lou Reimuller (yes, that's him in the middle picture). It's made from a vintage shop window dummy. Previous creepy, slightly NSFW guitars here and here. .. (Thanks to Boing Boing, and whoever sent this to me yesterday - I deleted your post because I saw 'Teenar' in the subject line and thought it was spam...)

Sunday, December 3, 2006

36 playable demos of vintage drum machines

Here's an old but wonderful link. Luke writes: "Hello! Look at this! It's cool! I just found this awesome web page full of virtual drum machines, thought you'd like to check it out." Alongside all the funky preset drum machines, Joseph Rivers' fantastic Keyboard Museum site is full of wonderful things. On that same page is a virtual Bee Gees Rhythm Machine, and here is a fantastic Flash explanation of how a vocoder works, complete with demos of different vocoders. Joseph, we salute you! (Thanks also to Viv and Ian and all the other people who've sent this in over the years...)

Nels Cline has a fuzzbox, and he's going to use it

John writes: "Have you ever featured
page? Nels is now the guitar player in Wilco. Nice shot of his pedals, and
a full description of what they do."
Nels' commentary is great: "The 80s were a dark time for a young person looking to get that nasal fuzz sound... Everything was all creamy, soaring... Dare I say it, MIDI-controlled, pre-fab hell." Scroll down for the splendid 'Amp Du Jour' tour/tech diary.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What's Dangermouse playing? Conclusive proof at last!

So, after this post (and this thread) most people were pretty much agreed that Dangermouse from Gnarls Barkley was playing a Yamaha SHS-10 keytar, but I couldn't really get my head around it. Now, thanks to an Anonymous watcher of MTV Germany, I can. Clever synth placement, Danger!

Dude tapes drum triggers to clothes. Actually sounds OK!

Here's Chris Mandra, who - like many of us - thought 'I'm really good at drumming on my leg. I should, like, connect that to a drum machine and a max/MSP looping patch and some footpedals'. Only he actually did it, and it sounds OK, doesn't it? (via Adam Baer)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Drummer seeks SERIOUS band

Jim writes: "As the saying goes, 'I saw this and thought of you...' I was doing a SSL Dealer event in Sweden this week. Whilst idly looking over the "musician's board", I saw this. "Drummer seeks serious band". How serious do the others have to be?" Thanks Jim, and sorry for all those mean things I said about you...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Nintendo DS hacked into cool wireless MIDI controller

UPDATE: Here is the download.
This is what German hacker/student/musician Tob, who created the cool NitroTracker old-school tracker app for the DS has been working on: Software to turn put easy-to-use MIDI into the Nintendo DS using WiFi. Previously, you've had to use hardware. The DS obviously sucks as a keyboard, but is great as a little X-Y controller like a Kaoss Pad, and presumably there's no reason why he can't build a simple XOX drum programmer, a little Lemur clone, or even a virtual Monome. Tob is still developing the software - as you can see from the video, it's in a pretty early stage - but it will be released ASAP. And even if you don't have a DS, stick with this video long enough to hear the guy playing 'We Will Rock You' though the onboard sounds... (via the wonderful Robot Porn blog, which is currently building a MIDI Keytar. Thanks Philip)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How to find out if you're tone deaf

Here is a quick flash test to see if you're tone deaf or not - you listen to a series of musical phrases in pairs, and have to decide if they're different or the same.
It was created by Jake Mandell, who is a true renaissance man. Originally a producer of some repute, he also worked for Native Instruments in Berlin, helping to develop Reaktor and Absynth. Now he's at Medical School, specialising in Neurology. (Full bio here). The Tone Deaf Test is "purposefully made very hard, so excellent musicians rarely score above 80% correct". This is clearly true, because I'm certainly not an excellent musician, and I got 83.3%. How about you? (Thanks, Stefan)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Eight fantastic old-school hip hop videos

Arvind writes from Sweden: "In response to the posting named "Booooooom! When loudpeakers catch fire" I'd like to present to you a music video from the enthusiast sub-genre of high school girl hip hop dealing with the joy of oversized car audio systems: 1) L'Trimm - Cars that go boom. Plenty of speakermounting action, flattops and even a little easter egg for the geeks at 1:32 - might that be a TR-505?" Thanks Arvind, here are a few more bleached out, pastel coloured old-school delights:
2) Schooly D: I don't like Rock'n'Roll
3) Digital Underground: The Humpty Dance
4) UTFO: Wanna Rock
5) Whodini: Rock you Again
6) Steinski & Mass Media: We'll be Right Back
7) Ultramagnetic MCs: Traveling At The Speed Of Thought
8) Rock Steady Crew: Uprock. Got more? Put them in the comments.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lasse Gjertsen, superstar video editor

Here's 'Amateur' the wonderful new video from Lasse Gjertsen, who makes music by editing video - his previous clip, Hyperactive was seen half a million times, and attracted a host of imitators and spoofs, like Supershitty Beatbox, these guys, this guy, this fellow from Portugal and this dude, who isn't really so good. With 'Amateur', Lasse has really taken it to Da Next Level. (Thanks to everyone who sent this in - and also everyone who wrote about the Air Guitar Shirt)

UPDATE: Here is a (rather clickly) guitar version of the same thing. Anyone know where Michel Gondry's 'Drumb and Drumber' short film is on the web? He's here playing the small child drum kit...

Friday, November 10, 2006

eBay of the Day: SynthAxe Midi Guitar

eBay item #260050128118 is a SynthAxe - the ludicrous £10,000 midi guitar that every 80s twiddler had to play - which I wrote about here. I've never seen one for sale before, and certainly not an especially vile red one... Yours for $4,800, pool table not included.

Music Thing Shop is open. Breakages must be paid for.

So, the MT Shop is now open at At the moment there are only a few items and probably a load of mistakes and things that don't work. Have a look and let me know what you think. More to come over the next few weeks. No 'Stairway' and no 'Jump', please.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Christmas starts early, when Santa is rocking the Pro-5

Sabastian writes: "I was browsing through a Musician's Friend catalog, looking at cheesy christmas greeting cards. It's a lot of Santa jammin' on his tele and kittens playing violins but then I spotted Santa rocking out on a Prophet-5. He's also wearing a tie dyed shirt over a tie dyed background, it's pretty ridiculous." Wait, if you look closely at the picture, is that Santa's pink belly hanging out from under a cropped tie-dyed shirt? Festive. Anyway, if you're smoking meth right now, you can
Buy a pack

using my new affiliate link (the Music Thing shop is imminent, BTW - thanks for all your help).

What's Danger Mouse playing?

I went to see Gnarls Barkley in London at the weekend, and spent most of the gig wondering about the litte red keyboard that Danger Mouse had balanced on top of his Wurli. To my amazement, this thread at Vintage Synth Explorer has so far failed to find an answer (beyond 'maybe a USB QWERTY keyboard'). Any ideas? [Pic via khawarz]
UPDATE: We have a winner! (It's a Yamaha SHS-10 keytar!)

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

When Minimoogs cost £375

Is there a word for the intense feelings of longing, sadness and discombobulation that I get when I look at this collection of old second-hand ads from Future Music, c. 1988? (via Dr Ben and Matrix)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

How to: Turn a bowl of water into an $8 audio controller

Sebastian Tomczak is an Australian musician/programmer/video game hacker. This video shows how he turned a laser pointer, a bowl of water, a solar panel and (I'm guessing) a Max/MSP patch into a (nearly) musical instrument. He's developed the concept into the Toriton Plus, with five lasers. It's beautiful, although I get nervous seeing that bowl of water next to a laptop... (Thanks, Steven)

Awesome bike-mounted soundsystem in India

Anonymous writes: "My friend just got back from India, where she attended a wedding and saw some amazing home-grown mobile sound systems and bands." Here is the scene above, with the dude under the umbrella rocking what looks like a Roland SPD-20, and here is an incredible bike-mounted sound system. I think the two shots show parts of the same huge carnival float. MT has a few readers in India (70 visits in the last week) - please send pics if you have this kind of thing on your doorstep...

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Idle speculation: Moog Big Phatty on the way?

As the nights draw in, it's time for some idle speculation (and poor-quality photoshop work) about new product launches at NAMM in two months' time. I doubt we'll see it this year, but my hunch (and it is just a hunch) is that Moog are developing a polyphonic synth based on the technology in the Little Phatty. Why? Shortly after the Voyager was released, Bob Moog said 'We could build one...But we're not going to'. Back then, he was working with the Voyager - a fantastically expensive hand-built machine. Now, with the Little Phatty, I think everything is in place for a realistically-priced poly synth.

What do the different parts of a synth cost? Look at Dave Smith Instruments: An Evolver Rack (four voices and a very minimal interface) costs $1,349. A PEK (four voices, a 5 octave keyboard, tonnes of rotary encoder knobs, wooden ends, an awful lot of blue LEDs and a big steel box) costs $1,050 more at $2,399. So, keyboard and interface costs just over $1,000.
What about voices? Voices for the small-run, very boutique, all analogue, all discreet, Studio Electronics Omega 8 seem to cost $350 each (Two voices = $2,299, Four voices = $2,999).

If we assume Phatty voice cards cost the same, it would be possible to build 8 of them into a PEK-quality keyboard for $3,850, just $400 more than the top-of-the-line Moog Voyager. Four voices would be $2,450 - cheaper than the Alesis Andromeda (which admittedly has 16 all-analogue voices.)
Is this what Moog are working on? I don't know, but it would be cool if they were. Would you buy a Big Phatty?


Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Guy is pretty good at playing his drum machine

Here is a clip of someone who calls himself "the Amazing David "Fingers" Haynes" drumming on an old and very battered Alesis HR-16B drum machine (triggering sounds from a Yamaha DTExpress). It's not quite this, but I love battered old plastic gear.

Dude builds most awesome fuzzbox in the world ever

Will you just look at this! 15 knobs, 16 switches, five classic fuzz circuits (including Fuzz Face, Big Muff Pi, Colorsound Tonebender), wooden panels and FIVE VU METERS! It's a thing of hideous beauty built by Dano, aka Beavis Audio Research, and there are rough instructions to build your own here. Be sure to check out the rest of the Beavis Audio site, for loads more projects, including DIY tube amps and rackmounting $10 Danelectro 'Fab' pedals.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Can you recommend any of these gear dealers?

Part of building the Music Thing Shop is finding 'partners' who'll actually ship the stuff out and take your money. I'd be very grateful for any feedback on buying from these companies:
• Sweetwater
• Musician's Friend
• Dolphin Music
• Thomann
• Zzounds
• Nova Musik
(And yes, I know that Analogue Haven is cool, and we're working on doing something together)

How to roll up your cables (properly!)

I've always wondered why my cables are all tangled and dangling from a coat hook on the back of my office door. Now I know. I was reading this page about training courses for roadies (or 'stagehands' as they like to be called). It quickly becomes clear that roadies' main issues are: a) Incorrect cable rolling b) Abuse of flight case castors c) Lewd language d) Body odour.

I had no idea about the politics surrounding cable rolling: "Our company rolls all cables in the circular method - thumb and forefinger style. However, we also teach over-and-under, because stagehands also need to know how to do this for other customers.". I was baffled by this, and unfortunately this explanation didn't help. Finally, I found this page from the Sound Institute which promises "nice-looking, twist-free cables that provide fast set up". I wonder if someone who can do this could post it on YouTube, a bit like this...
UPDATE: Thanks to Kåre, my dream has come true: Here is a video explaining how to wrap cables correctly, using the 'over/under' technique.

Sculpture made from studio soundproofing

From Florida artist Onesock, who says: "Material is auralex, the sound dampening stuff found in recording studios. Its all clamped together, will sew later". As one commenter says: "Frank Gehry eat your heart out!". Onesock also does a great line in Cassette Tape Art.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reactable - Incredible multi-user desktop interface

This wonderful clip shows Reactable - a research project from Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. It's a translucent table with a camera and a projector underneath. The camera scans the positions of various blocks, which can be twisted and linked. We've seen this kind of stuff before - Audiopad seems the most similar, and multitouch might be more practical - but I'd love to play with this thing myself... (thanks, Bram)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Coming soon: The Music Thing Online Shop

As part of an effort to rid this site of mobile phone and 'trader blog' advertisments, I'm currently testing my html skills to the limit trying to build a MT online shop to sell the sort of music gear that I'd like to buy myself. It won't be a real shop, but (hopefully) an interesting selection of products which can be bought through other people's shops in the UK, US and Europe. So, if you run a fantastic online shop selling music gear and want to get involved, do get in touch. If you've ever done this sort of thing yourself and have any advice, that would also be very welcome...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Macbeth M3X2 - The real man's modern mono synth

Ken Macbeth is, without a doubt, the most macho synthesizer maker in the world. He's a big Scottish guy with a king's name, who builds huge, expensive synthesizers out of sheet steel and transistors, and uses neat Irn Bru to etch his circuit boards*. His monumental M5 is a £2,000 patch cord and slider covered monster. This is the prototype keyboard version of his MiniMoog inspired M3X2 - all analog, lots of discreet components, MIDI and no patch storage (patch storage is, obviously, for pussies and southerners). Price will be a lot, but not as much as the Moog Voyager - Probably £1-1,500, with the rack version probably slightly less. Initial production will be 25 of the keyboard, 30 of the rack. I can't wait to see one in a box. *Not actually true.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Learn to disco dance the Finnish way

Some musicians find it hard to relax and get with the beat while performing on stage. If you've got a gig coming up, take some time to watch this helpful instructional video. As we know from Armi & Danny's delightful video clip, the Finns are both stylish and rhythmically gifted. (Thanks again, Kati)

Dude builds a talkbox from an amp, a plastic bowl and some stickers

This page is a wonderful account of one man's twenty year quest to build himself a talkbox* to recreate Zapp's 'More Bounce to the Ounce': "The first time I heard that computer voice come out of my mouth, I almost cried tears of joy. I called everyone and explained that I’d finally gotten a Talkbox. Whether they wanted to hear it or not I demonstrated the sound until they either hung up or became irate."

Alongside full instructions on how to build yourself a talkbox, there's a 'Top 20 Dopest Talkbox Songs', including The Eagles, Peter Frampton, Nazareth and Dr Dre. Then there's the 'Top 7 Worst Talkbox Songs', including Bon Jovi, obviously.
*The coolest and least hygenic guitar effect ever, which pumps the guitar/synth sound up a rubber tube, into your mouth, and out to a microphone.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Build yourself a Spring Reverb for $2

It's all in the headline: here are the instructions. There's also a $115 plate reverb which looks like rather more hard work...

Music Gear for sale in Second Life

I've never been to Second Life, but - inspired by this Wired feature - I've been trawling the shops for cool music gear. Dissapointingly, I've found no vintage synths (supergeeks will have to make do with this) and rather a lot of new-agey crap. By far the most prolific SL music-gear-maker is Robbie Dingo - you can buy his guitars, percussion kits, pianos, bagpipes and Hyper-Flutes here. A steel drum costs L$120 (40 cents in real money), while a Hyper Flute - which seems to let you create your own music - costs L$3,000 (around $10). Most Second Life instruments are really toys - they'll play a couple of sound loops and animate with your avatar. Some are slightly more advanced: Robbie's 1965 Fender Stratocaster (L$400/$1.40) "loops a funky pattern that can be transposed via the menu system to any key whilst remaining in time". How many guitarists can say the same?

Robbie (who is British) has a blog about Second Life instrument making. His greatest claim to fame was creating the guitar used by Suzanne Vega when she played a gig in Second Life - as far as I can work out, this is just a prop - she was playing a real guitar into a microphone, whch was beamed into the concert. There's a great video about making the guitar here.

Other SL gear manufacturers include Neurocam Audio, who produce headphones and microphones. How does a microphone work? It "serves a purpose: It changes your chat to GREEN in the chat window, allowing the event host the ability to be noticed above noisy crowds!".

Finally, just L$1 (1/3rd of a cent) buys you a Cigar Box Guitar as featured in Make Magazine.

Does this all seem a bit strange to you?
UPDATE: A house full of synths here and a cool groovebox here. (Thanks, Stella)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

OMG! Belinda Bedekovic is playing with Borat!

Remember Belinda Bedkovic, the Croatian erotic keytarist? She appears in this promo video for the Borat film, jamming with Borat while wearing the same transparent top/metallic bra combo that she was rocking in this YouTube video from some time ago. Either her entire existence is a cruel prank, or it could be time to find Leoncie a part in the next Adam Sandler movie. (via Analog Industries)
UPDATE: OMG! OMG! She's real: Here and here are articles from a Croatian daily paper about her appearing with 'Alijem G'. (Thanks, Anonymous)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Super-hot giant vintage tape echo

Matrix Synth featured this great story about FiveG, the expensive but goodie-packed Harajuku synth shop (previously linked here). The flickr set from the shop includes this picture of a weird-looking science-lab tape echo machine, making the normally cool Roland Space Echo above it look distinctly mundane. Their price list calls it a Philips Tape Echo (and it's ¥148,000 - £670) Anyone know anything about this unit? If you've got one to sell, I'm sure Goldfrapp want five of them for their next video...

eBay of the day: Spectacular, vast, 24-track reel-to-reel

People talk about analogue synths all the time, but there is something spectacularly, primally analogue about eBay item #250038798544, an enormous, monolithic Otari MTR-90 24 track two inch tape recorder from 1987, complete with 24 VU meters and a beautiful NASA-style remote control unit. This one is on eBay for £2,900, which I suspect is a tiny, tiny fraction of the original price way more than these things normally go for, apparently. It's being sold by Eurythmics' Church Studios in London, and the auction page is a treat for lovers of analogue porn, with many lingering closeups of the record heads. They're also selling a huge stereo reel-to-reel, currently just £199, and some big ol' monitors. (Thanks, Frank)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Paul Lansky's Radiohead Adventure

Paul Lansky was one of the first electronic/computer music composers, and he's still a professor at Princeton. Here is his charming account of being sampled by Radiohead. A short loop of his track Mild und Leise [mp3] became the chord sequence for Idioteque. "Mild und Leise was composed in 1973 on an IBM 360/91 mainframe computer. I used the Music360 computer language written by Barry Vercoe. This IBM mainframe was, as far as I know, the only computer on the Princeton University campus at the time. It had about one megabyte of memory, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (in addition to requiring a staff to run it around the clock). At that point we were actually using punch cards to communicate with the machine, and writing the output to a 1600 BPI digital tape which we then had to carry over to a lab in the basement of the engineering quadrangle in order to listen to it. It uses FM synthesis, which had just been worked out at Stanford, and also a special purpose filter design program written (in Fortran IV) by Ken Steiglitz. What's especially cute, and also occured to Jonny Greenwood, is that I was about his current age, when I wrote the piece - sort of a musical time warp." Somewhat cooler than hanging about with Radiohead is this short clip of Paul being taught to play the Theremin by... Leon Theremin! (Thanks Martin)

Whistler - the music program for non-musicians

Sp3ccylad writes about MyDreamApp - Pop Idol for geeks. People with ideas for a new software package compete for votes - the winner is produced and marketed. By far the most interesting idea is Richard Whitelock's Whistler - a music application which uses whistling, humming, drumming or clapping as the interface, and can fix timing, quantize notes etc. Seeing as the current front runner in MyDreamApp is Cookbook: "A Mac OS X application that will streamline many kitchen-related activities", I think Whistler deserves our support and votes...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cool little synths that run on batteries

This great article by Madtheory will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Casio CZ range of synths, from their origins in a $30,000 computer system called COSMO to the ultimately doomed VZ range, featuring "interactive phase distortion". We had a CZ-101 in my school band, and it's part of the small but wonderful pantheon of 'cool battery-powered synths with mini keys' alonside the Yamaha CS-01, Korg MicroKorg and Yamaha DX100 (Can anyone suggest others?). More CZ-101 memories here at Retro Thing. (Thanks Tyler)

"Portable Roll-Up Style Electronic Drum Pad Set"

Paul writes to let me know about the Drum Frenzy Portable Roll-Up Style Electronic Drum Pad Set - the follow up to all those roll up keyboards which have moved in phenomenal numbers from gift catalogues to the backs of cupboards over the last couple of years. Drum Frenzy does look more fun, with 32 sounds and various songs to play along with. Unfortunately it doesn't have a MIDI out, and it's presumably not touch sensitive - but a rollable, touch sensitive MIDI drum pad could be quite useful, perhaps?

Awesome physics experiment involves fire, loud music

If you enjoyed vibrating rice, and levitating paper cups, you might like this clip of flames dancing along to a selection of jazz and rock music. It's called a Rubens Tube, and you can build your own here. Just be careful. (Thanks, Bryon)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

UA's super-hot new microphone preamp

This is Universal Audio's new remote-controlled preamp. There's a half-rack box to leave somewhere discreet, while this exceptionally nice-looking remote sits on your desk, where you can stroke it. It's a stereo mic pre, plus a headphone amp (with reverb and eq for monitoring). Create Digital Music have the full details (or here is the official site). I'm sure it will sound fantastic. No price yet, but expect it to be somewhere between 'lots of monney' and 'a very great deal of money'. Perhaps you should just print out this hires image and stick it to your desk...

Monday, October 9, 2006

232mb of really hardcore mucky gear pr0n

Different Skies is a three seven day 'Electronic Space Music Festival' which finished in Arcosanti, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago. It always attracts lots of people with huge quantities of gear, which you can watch in this epic and slighly hypnotic video (it's a 232mb QT movie, and the server isn't the fastest). If you don't have the patience, there are plenty of pictures here. (Thanks, Jeff)

New Renault has 3 ipod docks and 'mixing desk'

Catering for a slightly ravier customer than the VW Guitar, Module Records Blog reports on the new Renault Twingo concept car, which features not one, not two, but three iPod docks, and a mixing desk built into the dashboard:
"Twingo Concept has found inspiration in youth culture and in its love of music and freedom. The centre console features a USB port as well as sockets for devices like Apple's iPod and the Nokia Smartphone. A mixing deck built into the dashboard is ideal for partying with friends. The musical focus is also reflected in the highly visual graphics of the dashboard, the upper part of which features a pattern based on the graphic equalizer bars with which music-lovers are naturally familiar. It is evocative of the bass rhythms that will pound from the door-mounted speakers and contrasts with the matt finish of the lower part of the dashboard."
No, I have no idea what kind of mixing desk might be built into the dashboard. There's a tantalising picture on the Module Records site, but that's it.

Lovely minimal online sequencer

Here is a tiny, minimal flash sequencer, which should keep you occupied for at least ten minutes. It's a little bit different from this sheep-based online sequencer. When you've finished, you can design some album artwork at (Thanks, Jon)

Sunday, October 8, 2006

This little white box can do magic, apparently

This is the Creative XMod, a little €80 box which plugs into your computer as a soundcard. Their main claim is: "X-Fi module for PC and Mac restores MP3 music beyond studio quality". It's not clear how they perform this wonder, but they say: "The Creative X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity audio processor puts your music and movie audio through a two-step quality enhancement process. First it converts the audio into 24-bit/96kHz quality, then it remasters and selectively enhances the audio by analyzing and identifying which parts of the audio stream have been restricted/damaged during the compression stages to 16-bit and then to MP3. The result is music that sounds cleaner, smoother and has more sparkle, and movies that sound more realistic than ever before!" Could it be a touch of EQ and a compressor, perhaps? Whatever, let's hope that some professional studios buy one quick, so they can catch up, soundwise. (Thanks, Taras)

Friday, October 6, 2006

A free guitar with every Volkswagen

VW are giving away a free guitar with every car sold betweeen October and December (in the US only, I suspect). The guitar is made by First Act, an interesting company who got rich selling children's guitars in Wal-Mart. They're very marketing savvy - with a large custom shop churning out one-offs for people like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Franz Ferdinand. The innovation in the VW guitar (alongside ugly knobs, a seatbelt-themed strap and a VW gang-sign on the headstock) is a built in active analog amp modelling circuit, which I'm guessing works a little like a SansAmp pedal. It means you can plug the guitar straight into your VW car stereo and... well, I'm not exactly sure how you're supposed to play in your car, but that's the idea. The fairly ghastly TV ad featuring Slash is here, and there's more to make your toes curl at