Monday, July 31, 2006
Lorin from the Mojave desert built a steam-powered synthesizer. "This project started as a discussion with my friend Lewis Keller. I kinda joked about the absurdity of a steam powered synthesizer, and how strange and inefficient it would be. Well, the idea stuck in my head and a year later, here is the Parker Steam Synthesizer." It's really a steam oscillator, which uses a steam engine to drive a dynamo. The output from the dynamo oscillates and it produces a rough sine wave. I'm slightly disappointed that there's electricity and amplifiers involved. I was hoping for some kind of steam organ which could produce square waves, followed by a steam filter and a steam envelope generator. Still, it makes Eric's Tube Synth look a bit modern and 20th century, doesn't it?
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Lukatoyboy writes from
Just got back from Synth DIY 2006 in Cambridge, and posted this Flickr Set. Highlights for me were playing with and drooling over Alan McKerchar's incredible EMS Synthi-style Soundlab Mini Synth here, and Paul Maddox's nice digital/analog Defender synth here. Plus, I won an Akai S2000 in the raffle!
Saturday, July 29, 2006
I'm about to head off to Synth DIY UK, so there's just time to post this fine picture of Mike from Swinging Tasty Bag's splendid Nord Lead 2X birthday cake. More pictures in this gallery. Previous synth cakes here. (Thanks, Circuit Master)
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Lyle writes with horrifying news that the new Miami Vice film, out this weekend, has no trace of Jan Hammer's theme, let alone the original video, which saw Jan playing his Fairlight and running about with an attache case. The trailer for the new film has Jay-Z & Linkin Park's 'Numb-Encore'. Their video featured a guy playing piano with an MPD-16 drum pad. It's hardly the same thing...
FMass writes: "Last night I was watching The Andromeda Strain, this seminal sci-fi movie from 1971. I was amazed by the soundtrack and this morning I went to check Gil Melle's website. I found this collection of home built instruments that I have to share with you right away!" Above, left to right: 'Electar 3', 'Wireless Synth', 'Tome VI', 'White Noise'. Gil was born in 1931 and got into the jazz and art scenes when he was a teenager: "When synthesizers were not available commercially, Mellé built them from scratch, and played... with the world's first all-electronic jazz group, 'Gil Mellé and the Electronauts.'" If you want to buy the 'Andromeda Strain' soundtrack on vinyl, it's a bit expensive (that's eBay item #2568002811).
Monday, July 24, 2006
Every few weeks, I get an email from someone saying "You should post something about Bhajis Loops. It's amazing!" It's a studio-in-a-box which runs on Palm handhelds. I've written about it a couple of times . So, finally inspired by this thread full of more happy users, I emailed Olivier, who told me (roughly) "Get a Tungsten T3. They've got a clever memory thing, they're cheap, and they're cool". So I did. Mine came with a Wifi card for £85, some go for £60. The software is $27, and you can buy 1gb SD cards for £10 on the 'bay.
What does it do? Loads samples and lets you sequence them. Each sample is like an oscillator - you can use a single wave or long sound, loop it, and run it through the filter/effects. You can sample directly from the built-in microphone. You can draw the waveforms from scratch. Most things can be automated. You can download free sample packs - the Fairlight CMI library, old tracker sounds, vintage synths and drum machines, or just dump your own samples onto the SD card. I've made this sample pack with Mellotron, Cracklebox and DSI Evolver samples.
Why do people think it's so cool? Olivier is a genius of interface design. The software is intuitive, logical and really quick to use. Drawing X0X drum patterns right onto the screen is great. Because it's quick and dirty and fairly lo-fi (like an MPC60 is lo-fi) it's fun, and I found myself avoiding micro-polishing hell. There's a very active user community always coming up with new hacks and tricks - three weeks ago, jngpng worked out how to do Ableton-style timestretching (roughly).
What's bad? Entering tiny little notes with a tiny little pointer on a bus rattling through South London is a bit fiddly. It's quite tempting to make really bad hardcore records.
What does it sound like? There are tonnes of user songs to download here.
Zachary Vex's latest (well, March 2006) invention is the Ringtone. Unfortunately, it won't make everything you play sound like the Crazy Frog. It's a ring modulator with the carrier signal coming from an 8 step sequencer. That sounds like blah blah science blah until you watch this [QT] wonderful demo video. I was so inspired, I spent a whole 25 minutes making this Nord G2 patch based on the pedal, which doesn't sound or look nearly as cool, but doesn't cost $349, either...
If you're stupid, there are amazing bargains to be had on Chinese Ebay. Item #320009394191 purports to be a 'RARE!!' Buchla 100 Modular Synth. The auction ended recently, perhaps because the 'Buy it Now' price was 8,000 Chinese Yuan, or £542. Yes, the seller has zero feedback (and the last picture is the back end of some home A/V amp). If your tastes are more modern, how about #320009813151 - a Clavia Nord Stage with a 'buy it now' of £94.
Now, in case anyone has missed the subtext of this post: If you try to buy crazy cheap classic synths from Chinese eBay sellers with zero feedback, you will most likely be ripped off. (Thanks, Angstrom)
Friday, July 21, 2006
Chia-Ying Lee is writing a thesis about Sonic Graffiti, and blogging along the way. At the moment it's a stream of more-or-less random ideas, including his 'Sound Cap' - which looks like the top of a spray paint can but can record, loop and playback sound. (via the splendid new Palm Sounds blog)
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I feel really old looking at the Numark D² Director. I have vinyl and Technics SL1200 decks which actually spin round. This thing has a USB port on the front, two on the back, a vast LCD screen which shows waveforms. You can bring your set on an iPod or a USB hard drive, then plug a USB keyboard into the thing to help you search for songs. You can record your mix back onto the hard drive. Numark say the aim is "ultimately simplifying the DJ performance experience." All this is just $799, which is significantly cheaper than a pair of SL1200s. Has the world gone mad?
Numark announced a whole load of crazy expensive digital boxes at Summer NAMM. The iCDX is a $999 CD player/pod dock, while the HD Mix is a all-in-one mixer, CD, 80gb hard drive, effects box for a slightly eye-watering $1,699.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
There's a typically baffling/silly interview with Aphex Twin in this month's Future Music magazine. When asked for a kit list, he says: "Sure. Raveolution 309, the Raven Max, MC-909 limited edition, Quasimidi Van Helden, MAM Freebass 383, Roland DJ-70, E-15, SP-808, Akai S3200, Behringer MX602A and all the Behringer effects that copy other things." When he's asked which software he uses, he says "UPIC by Xenakis puts almost everything else to shame. It's under 1mb and it shits on everyone." UPIC was a '70s experimental French system developed by Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, which is based on drawing on a graphics tablet. It's somehow connected with CCMIX, where they talk about it running on a Windows 98 system. UPIC seems to have developed into Iannix, which you can download from this page. He also talks about liking Ableton Live, but preferring LiveSlice for beat editing/stretching. He uses Etymotic Research headphones. My favourite Aphex Twin track ever is the demo version of Windowlicker, where you can hear that the whole track is put together with samples of him singing.
Monday, July 17, 2006
This year's Synth-DIY UK meet is on July 29th at Robinson College, Cambridge. It's open to the public - just stroll up and see the greatest celebration of synth geekery on earth, if pictures of previous years are to be believed: 2005, 2004, 2003. See you there!
In Sao Paolo, Brazil, Marcelo Giangrande makes MG amps and effects pedals, which you can buy (for $$$$$) at Pedal Geek or the wonderful Vintage & Rare Guitars. I like the sound of the pink 'That's Echo Folks' analog delay pedal, which comes with a photoelectric sensor on the end of a cable (not unlike this). The light sensor controls delay time, which must make for extreme wierdness. It's also hard not to love the Louis Vuitton-style Pub guitar amp.
I just spend 20 minutes making this image for an Engadget story which I then decided not to write. I don't need to tell you what it means, but I thought you'd enjoy it. The skull & crossbones is explained here. Obviously Roland did make a 404 later on, but not until their 'old rope' period.