and ) : C

Sunday, December 7, 2008

25 Awesome things I've failed to post on Music Thing over the last couple of months

  1. My new favourite Wikipedia page is Unusual types of gramophone records. (Thanks, Steve)

  2. Bleep Labs BitBlob is the only thing to buy this Christmas. A patchable synth encased in a pyrex glass jar complete with glowing monsters. $216, limited edition of 30...

  3. Another xmas essential is Benge's Twenty Systems album - a lovely booklet/CD package with twenty tracks recorded on twenty different systems, from Moog Modular to NED Synclavier. (More pics here at Hardformat)

  4. New synth #1: Dave Smith Mopho, tiny yellow all-analog synth for $399 (from Analog Haven). Like the button marked 'push it', don't like the lack of knobs.

  5. The Trons are a robot band from New Zealand (MySpace) (Thanks, Louis)

  6. Totally Wired is an interesting-looking obsessive documentary about the Berlin synth store Schneiders Buero. Trailer. (Thanks, Luka)

  7. Wonderful podcast #1: Welcome to Mars, the series about sci-fi and the cold war is now a book and CD (and Simon James, who did the music, has an album on the way)

  8. MT Reader (and MPC1000 JJOS guru) Nym got ADSR tattooed on his stomach.

  9. Where's the party at is a great-looking sampler module kit on a single PCB, complete with dozens of breakout points for circuit bending.

  10. New synth #2: Moog are re-releasing their Taurus bass pedals, in a limited edition of 1,000. $1,695, all analog, based on the original circuitry but with midi and proper memory. People have been asking for this in forums for years, but I'm amazed they've actually done it.

  11. David Dewaele from Soulwax (another MT reader) explains their extremely fun-sounding live setup to Future Music mag - a mix of Ableton and analog gear. Unfortunately, it's an audio slideshow, so rather than scanning through the article you have to listen for 8 minutes...

  12. Most people in Scandinavia now hate Goodiepal, apparently.

  13. Goldbaby just released a nice set of drum samples sampled through an EMU SP1200

  14. Yamaha released a bunch of stupid music-themed concept phones (thanks, Matt)

  15. Wonderful podcast #2: Us and Them is a genuinely mind-blowing collection of Cold War propaganda music - you can download all seven episodes from the sidebar of the Clerkenwell Kid blog

  16. New synth #3: Korg Microkorg XL - very long awaited follow up to the absurdly successful Microkorg (if they'd only sold the actual synths that appear in music videos, they'd still be rich). Gone are the wooden end cheeks and light up buttons, replaced by an interesting-but-ugly look slightly reminiscent of the Micromoog.

  17. Steim is now safe. The Dutch Council for Culture has agreed to help fund the Amsterdam home of strange clicky music and gestural interfaces. The blog-inspired letter writing campaign apparently helped. (Previously...)

  18. The Indamixx Laptop is a $499 netbook loaded with Linux music apps

  19. Such a shame this live audio to sewing machine interface is nothing more than a concept and a mockup. (Thanks, Fab)

  20. In the not-awesome-but-understandable camp, the Chimera BC16 is currently off-sale as they catch up with back orders (finally). Shortly before that was announced, they put up the price of the wonderful BC16 to £280.00. Still a good price, but not the astonishing bargain it was at £116, when it was first announced. (Previously)

  21. Korg Nano controllers are now also available in black. Not sure if that's an improvement or not.

  22. During brain surgery, "Banjo player Eddie Adcock was kept awake to perform while surgeons poked and prodded different areas of his brain." (With picture) (thanks, Samuel)

  23. In October, someone claiming to represent the New Yorker got in touch, wanting to buy paid links...

  24. Great clip of the Monkees and a big Moog Modular

  25. Eric Archer's 'sound cameras', hacked from old 8mm movie cameras, seem certain to become 2009's essential hipster accessory.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Banned: The Dettol ad encouraging mums to spray disinfectant into pianos

If you're a MT reader who has watched UK television in the last week, you've probably already been traumatised by a certain disinfectant advertisement: "The advertisement depicted two children seated at a piano. When one of them sneezed, a concerned mother reached for her can of Dettol and sprayed the keys."
The Music Industry Association (the trade body for music gear manufacturers) called in the Advertising Standards Authority: "The company explained that the idea its product might do harm simply hadn’t occurred to it and agreed not to screen the offending commercial again, pending tests to find out whether, in fact, Dettol did actually represent a hazard to piano owners."


Monday, November 10, 2008

Tom Bugs teaches DIY synth building in four hours

Had a great time yesterday at a synth building workshop in East London hosted by Tom Bugs. We built little one board synths with ten knobs, three oscillators, overdrive, line out, onboard speakers, touch points. Flickr set here. What I learned:

1. Soldering now holds no fear. Get a £5 soldering iron with a pointy tip, a cleaning pad, some skinny solder and some wire snippers. It's fine.

2. Well-designed kits are really easy to make. Tom's kit was perfect - well laid out, nice clear circuit board, great instructions (he should be selling the kits 'soon'). The quickest maker did it in about 3 hours, and that was slow and steady... (The Thingamakit is another really well done kit which is available now)

3. Musical accompaniment is important. We were lucky enough to have the Sun Ra Arkestra soundchecking next door.

4. Good lighting is also important. Soldering by candlelight = atmospheric, but not easy.

5. Tom Bugs has only been building electronics for five years - starting out with circuit bending. He's now at the point where he has an assitant to do the boring bits. He's a bit down on veroboard. He uses Eagle to design circuit boards, which are mass-produced in China. His next thing: modules for Frac-rac modular synths.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Review: Arturia Origin. It's big, it's expensive, it's sexy. Why don't I want one?

This is a difficult review to write. The point of Music Thing over the last few years has been to celebrate hardware when all around were defecting to the sensible, practical world of software synths and in-the-box mixing. Celebrating hardware not because it's better, but because it looks cool and is nice to have around. The best hardware is ambitious, bonkers, knob-covered and over engineered; where no switch is left unilluminated and there's always a joystick. Synths should be modular and/or white. Sequencers should be analog and involve copious blinkenlights. We should remember the mega synths of the past - the Yamaha CS80, the ARP 2600, the Roland Jupiter 8, the Moog Modular, and we should remember the crazy experiments of the early digital era - Dave Smith's gnarly Prophet VS.

Here, then, is one machine that does all that. The Arturia Origin is a big white synthesizer. It has a hand rest like an old studio console or an MPC60 (unfortunately curved steel, not pleather, but still...) It's made in France, of all places. It's a digital modular synth, containing models of oscillators and filters from Moog, Arp, Roland and Yamaha, plus a VS-style wavetable section. Editing is done on a little colour screen surrounded by knobs and buttons - just like the one on the prototype PPG Realizer - the German machine that anticipated soft synths and virtual analog long before it was possible.

So why am I not in love with the Arturia Origin? Why am I writing this, rather than playing with the thing? How come I've already taken the top off to have a look inside and see how it all works? Because the Origin has crossed that line - it's not a hardware synth, it's a computer in a box covered in knobs.

Please remember this isn't a real review. This isn't Sound on Sound. I've lived with this box for days, not weeks. I'm not a real musician, I haven't read the manual properly - most of what I say is ill-informed prejudice.

The trouble starts when you turn it on, after first plugging it in, using the OEM external power supply that must have cost 99p. (Seriously, a £1900 hardware synth only really makes sense if you're playing live. An external PSU only makes sense if you're desperately trying to cut costs. If Behringer can manage a proper internal universal PSU in £70 mixers, why can't you?) Anyway, when you turn it on, it takes 30+ seconds to boot. Because it's a computer in a box.

No, it isn't a literal PC in a box like an Open Labs Neko or a Hartman Neuron, so it will have taken serious R&D investment to design and build. The hardware was designed - in 2005 - by Wave Idea, a French company who make MIDI interfaces. What's frustrating about the Origin is that it's a computer in a box pretending to be an analog synth... and nothing more.

The presets are nice enough, although it's a shame that combining 40 years of synth design produces a bunch of trance noises. The switch-covered interface means its rather too easy to turn off the layers of reverb and chorus on all the presets. It's a bit unfair, but does leaves many of the patches sounding weedy and thin.

The fun bit is building new patches - delving in to that glorious vintage toolkit. And it's easy enough. You control the whole process through one one those big encoders with a push switch. I found it quick enough to patch together a basic VS - four wavetable oscillators, mixed by the joystick and running through (why not?) parallel CS80 and Jupiter filters. I like the little design features - the Yamaha filters look like knobs on a CS80.

The thing is - and here's where I'm so conflicted - I just wanted a mouse and a decent-sized screen (oh, the shame of it). I'd much rather have the beautifully realised screen-based Nord Modular editor - which reproduces the reach-and-grab simplicity of a real modular synth, while allowing for endless complexity. Because patching a modular synth is more than rearranging a few filters and oscillators. It's about weird connections - putting control signals through audio effects, building oscillators from envelope generators. The Origin is not a tinkerer's paradise. Apart from anything else, the modules are so restricted - no sample player, no FM, no granular synthesis, nothing that's been invented since 1986. And it's a completely closed system - it doesn't run VSTs or allow users to develop their own modules.

Perhaps there are hidden depths to the Origin - hidden away in menus I missed, or planned in future upgrades. It does much more than the £190 Analog Factory software/controller combo which presumably contains all the same synthesis algorithms. Unfortunately it costs as much as Analog Factory and a brand new mid-range MacBook Pro. That is a very, very big ask.

The Origin is a wonderful thing. It looks good, it feels good. I'm sure it's not overpriced for what it is - a boutique, limited-run machine with a lot of custom hardware and software. But I can't imagine who would be willing to pay £1,900 for it. It's too digital for an analog fetishist, too analog for a sound experimentalist. The potential of this box is immense - DSP power + screen + knobs + blinkenlights + wooden end panels. But at the moment it's just - tragically - boring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Johnny Marr in "The Story of the Guitar"

Alan Yentob's 3 hour series The Story of The Guitar has been simultaneously fascinating and irritating. Fascinating because there are plenty of great stories and interviews along the way, and irritating because it's the same old Great Men of Rock as ever: music history as written by Q Magazine.

Monday, October 27, 2008

7 things I learned building my first DIY stompbox

I just finished this very crude and not entirely DIY analog delay pedal. I didn't do any of the difficult circuit-building bits, I just re-housed a MODboard analog delay circuit in a big 1790NS box with some modifications. Here's what I learned along the way:

1. If you don't have the knack, soldering is a nightmare. Once you have the knack, it's really easy. 'The knack' for me was nothing to do with technique - it was just making sure they tip of the soldering iron was clean. I used Multicore Tip Tinner, a little tub of evil-looking grey stuff from Maplin. Grind the hot iron tip into it, and it comes out all shiny and silver and healthy looking. Then keep cleaning the tip with a damp sponge.

2. Drilling big holes in aluminium boxes is easy and fun if you have a step drill. I bought this scary looking Irwin Unibit 4mm-12mm, which made neat, quick, easy holes for everything I wanted - an LED, switch, footswitches, pots, 1/4" sockets. I just used a normal cordless drill.

3. Even with negligible understanding of electronics, it's easy to modify circuits to be more fun. I added the two momentary switches and the on/off LED just by poking wires into the circuit to see what happened.

4. The only difficult bit is planning. I didn't think to leave space for the pots and the jack sockets around the back. There's plenty of room, but I was fired up to drill some holes so I didn't work out where everything would go. It's fine now with a bit of fiddling and clipping spare plastic off the sockets, but probably doubled the time the project took (to about 3 hours, excluding shopping).

5. There's a lot to buy: now I have a soldering iron, a step drill, a glue gun, a multimeter... my next project will be much cheaper.

6. It's not cheap if you buy everything individually from Maplin: There are £12 worth of foot switches in this box.

7. It's very gratifying to slay a few demons (like soldering and drilling big holes in metal) and then end up with a solid, cool-looking thing that works, doesn't rattle, is unique and makes stupid noises. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SH Stompin' Bass: a real wooden stompbox

Tom writes to let me know about the Shadow Electronics SH Stompin' Bass, a miked up bit of wood for those times when tapping your foot isn't loud enough. It has active electronics and needs a 9v battery to work. Tom is sceptical, saying: "Cheap mic and a bit of wood perhaps? total cost...about a tenner", but Shadow reckon "Made out of chosen rosewood which is often used for high class bass guitars the Stompin’Bass works as a fantastic bass or bass drum accompaniment to your acoustic band." Acoustic?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gijs Gieskes beautiful spinning photoelectronic acid machine

The first few minutes of this great clip are a bit warble-warble blah-blah, but about 2 minutes in it kicks off into crazy acid noise. Full details of the box are on Gijs' site, including a PHP tool to design and print spinning disks according to the frequencies you've chosen. Love the highres pics of the box, complete with a hand-drawn, hand-etched circuit board...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sasha Frere-Jones on Timbaland

Great line from Sasha Frere-Jones in last week's New Yorker: "When you hear a rhythm that is being played by an instrument you can’t identify but wish you owned... you are hearing Timbaland"

Monday, October 6, 2008

Music Thing readers buy the coolest things

I've been running eBay affiliate links on Music Thing for a few years now, but only recently got into the eBay developer API enough to see what people actually buy after clicking on MT links. As I was fiddling with the system, it produced a very boring list of items - just random... stuff. It was a bit disappointing, because I'd hoped that Music Thing readers had better taste. THEN, I fixed the code and the real list appeared, together with a huge smile.
Here's a fairly random selection of MT purchases from the last few months (the links will die out if you're reading this in the future):

1. Moog Liberation keytar, complete with rainbow strap

2. 360 cannisters of nitrous oxide, for an enthusiastic chef, obviously

3. Maestro 'Rhythm Jester' vintage drum machine

4. Metal guitar pick made from an old Tanzanian coin

5. A dollar bill with Hank Williams' face on it

6. A musique concrete LP recorded by members of Paul Revere and the Raiders

7. A Suzuki Omnichord in brown, of course

8. Steampunk goggles with cracked lenses

9. A sealed tin of tobacco from the early '70s, made in Britain

10. A 150 year-old ring, a Victorian memento mori with a skeleton on it

The list goes on, endlessly cool, through 3D lenticular postcards and a vintage Steinberger guitar and a CNC router and afrobeat twelves and Eames furniture and a Tablebeast SK1 and Korean soft porn and 1920s sheet music and Cuban maracas and MegaDrive games and Doepfer modules and Black Sabbath t-shirts and on and on. In fact, in the whole list of 100+ items, the only real embarrassment is one Jamie Cullum CD. You know who you are...
ps: I know this post is a slightly strange invasion of your privacy. If I've linked to something you bought and you'd rather I didn't, just let me know and I'll take it down.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Behold the mighty Phantastron tube synth kit

I'm indebted to Deviant Synth for news of the Phantastmatron tube synth kit. It's a relatively simple $195 build-it-yourself kit to build a complex playable tube oscillator, based on WWII era Navy radar circuitry. The kit illustrated by a series of increasingly awesome videos: Building the circuit board, playing with a ribbon controller, and - seen on the right - processing voice.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The bearded music gear bloggers are talking on Twitter

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It's like we're really here... Dynamic picture via, image via Seven Woods Audio.

TV On The Radio's awesome vectorscope video

Nick writes: "TV on the Radio has a great video posted to their MySpace page. It sounds like a song composed of one synth track and looks to be run through an oscilloscope. I could be wrong about that. I can't tell what the hardware is. Anyhow, beautiful video. While I was watching I thought to myself, "I wonder why I'm not watching this on MusicThing"? I think it's a vectorscope - one commenter suggests from an SSL 9000. Anyone know more? Anyone willing to buy TVOTR a decent video camera?
UPDATE: It looks a lot like a DK MSD200. Thanks, Kåre.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why should rock stars expect to be rich?

You might enjoy a piece I wrote for Word magazine called Why should rock stars expect to be rich? - arguing that the future record industry simply won't be able to maintain the kind of salaries that pop stars of the last century were used to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Building a Bleep Labs Thingamakit

Dr Bleep was kind enough to send me a Thingamakit - his build-it-yourself light cell powered noise synth (it's the big brother of the Thingamagoop). The box arrived a couple of months ago and sat in the corner, mocking me. Fear of soldering is a terrible thing, and easily cured by a pair of Velleman crawling micro bugs - £10 from Maplin, 1 hour each to solder together, two happy kids, two parents with soldering fume headaches. So far, the Thingamakit is a joy (being assembled next to an open window and a desk fan). Every component is labelled, the manual is clear and helpful, with useful things like a big colour photo of how the populated board should look. The circuit board is was white until I gunked it with solder flux. Best of all, it worked first time. The kit comes complete with an unfinished 1790NS case and a drilling guide, but perhaps something more interesting will turn up.
Anyway, what should I build next?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The New Yorker on playing live with laptops

There's a nice piece by Sasha Frere-Jones in this week's New Yorker called Laptops go live: "To protect his Panasonic Toughbook, Gillis [Girl Talk] covers it in Saran Wrap and uses a mouse rather than the track pad. (“My hands just get too sweaty,” he explained to me.)" Above - Battles, who use loopers live, with the laptops just acting as sound sources.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The first ever photograph of a ukulele, being played by...

Just reading the wonderful Alice in Sunderland, which includes this photograph of three English girls taken in the Summer of 1858 playing machetes, the Madeiran predecessors of ukuleles (legend has it that three Madeiran carpenters went to Hawaii in 1879 and started making tiny four stringed guitars). Anyway, the photograph is the first time anyone took a picture of a machete or a ukulele, and the girl on the left? Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice in Wonderland...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tenori Off: The unplugged, acoustic Tenori On

Kentaro writes with exciting DIY news from Japan: "TENORI-ON is one of the coolest electric musical device: it is portable, easy to play and good for audio-visual performance. But I have not purchased it yet because it is expensive and a shortage in Japan. That is the reason why I made an unplugged version of TENORI-ON, so-called 'TENORI-OFF'" Exemplary hacking skills, Kentaro.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Waldorf Blofeld Keyboard: £599 gets you 49 keys and sampling

Always nice to see a new hardware keyboard, and the new Waldorf Blofeld Keyboard is nice-ish. Hard to really judge the look from renders (although it's already on sale at Dolphin) - but it's visually reminiscent of the discontinued Alesis Ion. Unfortunately, unlike Alesis, they haven't added any knobs - so this does little more than a £299 desktop Blofeld and a cheapo MIDI controller. And yet... the keyboard also includes 60mb of sample memory. It's far from clear what this means (the Waldorf blurb is: "Just imagine to add a vocal-like noise spectrum to a typical Wavetable pad, spice-up a virtual-analog solo sound with a strong attack sample or just process any other sample with the countless oscillator and filter modulations.") or whether a future Blofeld desktop upgrade can add the sampling option.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Alan Parson's '10 things everyone recording music should know'

More from Alan Parsons (Part 1 was here), via MT reader Adam, his all time best recording tips:

1. Keep cable runs short particularly low impedance I.e. guitars and mics. It WILL affect the sound. Having said that I don't believe expensive cables offer significant improvement.

2. Even the best instruments and recording equipment will probably sound like crap in the wrong hands. The reverse can also be true.

3. Don't suck the life out of a recording by overuse of limiting and compression.

4. Go for performance not perfection.

5. Log EVERYTHING on a recording so that anyone can pick up where you left off. Particularly tracks that should not be used - better still, get rid of them.

6. Always consolidate tracks (in other words all tracks should have the same start and finish times) so that they can be loaded onto a different platform. Give every track a meaningful name.

7. Even if your ideas are making all the difference, make the other person think they were theirs.

8. The two most important things on a great record are: 1. The Song. 2. The Song.

9. Never trust anyone in the music business with a vowel in their name.

10. The check is NOT in the mail.

Thanks Alan & Adam. If you live round the corner from someone famous, why not ask them to write a list for Music Thing...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Alan Parson's 10 best bits of music gear ever

MT reader Adam lives in California, near Alan Parsons, who engineered 'Dark Side of The Moon' and lots more. Adam kindly picked Alan's brain for me, persuading him to write this list of his all-time favourite gear...

1. Neumann Km84 Microphone - good for anything except vocals.

2. Fairchild 660 Tube Limiter - great for vocals and bass.

3. Drawmer Noise Gate - although modern plugins can do the job

4. Orban or dbx de-esser for problem sibilance on vocals

5. Audio Technica AT 4033 Microphone. I've been using this as a favorite vocal mic. for years

6. Autotune when used tastefully. Most times it is overused

7. The Fairlight and the Linn LM1 Drum Machine changed the world. I worked with both. It's hard to imagine life without Sampling and Drum sequencers

8. A real orchestra with a great arrangement and a competent conductor. It saves hours and usually $$ too

9. Yamaha Motif XS synth. Easy to use and great sounds

10. Any DAW for time shifting tracks in either direction by microseconds or several minutes. This is a newly afforded luxury in the digital age

Up next: Alan's top tips for music making. (Picture via SoS)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Studiospares Mono Valve preamp/eq has retro lab chic for £55

Thanks to cheap Chinese manufacturing and our endless faith in 'warmth', the world is full of really cheap tube preamps (the Art Tube MP is less than £30). This £55 Studiospares Mono Valve is a rebadged Soundking MAP100TU (the picture is actually a Norwegian version). Soundking are a vast Chinese factory employing 2,200 people. Even so, I'm strangely drawn to it. Why? 1) You don't see 'Valve' used so much any more, even in England, home of the Valve Sound System. 2) It has an eq (though it doesn't seem to be valve powered 3) It doesn't just have the same 12AX7 low-voltage tube that everyone else has. No, it has two 6N3 tubes, which are some Chinese number that nobody uses. I'm sure it sounds very ordinary, and certain that Eric Barbour wouldn't approve, but... 4. It weighs 2.1kg, as much as a brick. 5. It has a built in PSU rather than a wall-wart. 6. It looks ugly/beautiful. The only downside for me is the XLR output on the back (I'd need another cable) and the lack of an instrument input. Anyway, what's a better way to spend £55?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Music Video - Slipknot (All Hope Is Gone)

Music Video - Slipknot (All Hope Is Gone)

-download MV here-
Music Video - Slipknot (All Hope Is Gone)

Music Video - Kaiser Chiefs (Ruby)

Music Video - Kaiser Chiefs (Ruby)

-download MV here-
Music Video - Kaiser Chiefs (Ruby)

Music Video - Katy Perry (I kissed a girl)

Music Video - Katy Perry (I kissed a girl)

-download MV here-
Music Video - Katy Perry (I kissed a girl)

Music Video - Joss Stone -(Fell in love with a boy)

Music Video - Joss Stone -(Fell in love with a boy)

-download MV here-
Music Video - Joss Stone -(Fell in love with a boy)
pass :

Music Video - Rihanna (Disturbia)

Music Video - Rihanna (Disturbia)

-download MV here-
Music Video - Rihanna (Disturbia)
pass :

Music Video - Aly & AJ (Like Whoa)

Music Video - Aly & AJ (Like Whoa)

Music Video - Jojo (Baby It's You)

Music Video - Jojo (Baby It's You)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jörg made an excellent 'Speaking Object'

Love this: "during my 11 days at STEIM i did a working prototype of the second incarnation of the "speakingObject" (no better title still). it's basically a vocal synthesizer controlled by two buttons and a three axis accelerometer. it works without a computer. the two wires are just power and sound out. the finished object will work on batteries and include an amp plus speaker so there will be no wires at all." More at Jörg's site.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Google wonders if Music Thing is spam...

This arrived this morning from Google:


Your blog at: has been identified as a potential spam blog. To correct this, please request a review by filling out the form at XXXX

Your blog will be deleted within 20 days if it isn't reviewed, and you'll be unable to publish posts during this time. After we receive your request, we'll review your blog and unlock it within two business days. If this blog doesn't belong to you, you don't have to do anything, and any other blogs you may have won't be affected.

We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog like yours is flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this error. By using this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to bloggers like you instead of to spammers.

Thank you for your understanding and for your help with our spam-fighting efforts.


The Blogger Team

P.S. Just one more reminder: Unless you request a review, you won't be able to use your blog.

I wonder if it was that post yesterday about ugly guitars, which had a big mass of links saying "Sword guitars, Sword guitars with wings, Gun guitars" etc, all with links back to old stories. It did look a bit spammy when I wrote it - I've now taken it down. Or maybe it's just all the runescape gold comment spammers...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

ESP Samurai Kyomoto Special is the ugliest guitar ever made

On Sunday, Music Thing will be four years old, and I've never seen a guitar quite so eye-bendingly ugly as the ESP Samurai Kyomoto Special, built for Masaki Kyomoto, actor/musician star of Cutey Honey and Ai to Yujo no Boogie-woogie ("an entertaining drama that carries a message of hope in the boogie-woogie rhythm to all housewives around the country"). There's a nice shot of Masaki at work here.

PS. If you're wondering what the veiny, blue erect bit is, it's a fully working samurai sword. Good luck getting that through airport security. Anyway, many more gruesome ESP specials at Monmon's Gadgets. (Thanks, Raimon)

Monday, August 18, 2008

eBay of the day: Guitar photocopier

I just wrote a tweet describing a Jeff Beck replica tele as a photocopy. Then I found ebay item 140257976042, which is a real-life guitar photocopier. It's a big welded steel jig, a bit like a pantograph. Drag one arm over the first guitar body, and a router carves its shape into the second wooden blank. No idea if the system is really detailed enough to carve crucial bits like the back of the neck, but it's probably cheaper than a CNC machine, like the one carving a nasty BC Rich clone in this awesome video (with terrible music).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

eBay of the day: Moog Vocoder used by Monty Python

£2,950 gets you eBay item 300219454269 a 1979 Moog vocoder, apparently used by Monty Python on their 'Contractual Obligation' album. The seller promises 'more collectable audio gear from our Monty Python collection'. Somehow, it's not quite as attractive as Kraftwerk's original vocoder, which sold on eBay for $12,500 in 2006.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

KB Covers Logic keyboard shortcuts overlay

Logic Studio is a huge, complicated beast of an application. It has 389 preset keyboard commands/shortcuts, with another 587 commands waiting to be assigned. If there's a nice, neat diagram somewhere in the 1,800 words of printed documentation, I haven't found it yet. (Although Kent Sandvik describes how to print the list out yourself.)
So, on a post-pub whim, I bought a KB Covers Logic Keyboard Cover, which arrived a couple of days ago. It's a printed, embossed latex sheet which slips over the thin aluminium keyboard and shows 130 colour-coded shortcuts.

Good things: It works - the rubber sheet is pefectly moulded, fits very neatly, and comes off easily. Most keys are snug, although the space bar is a bit flappy. The printing is crisp and clear. Most importantly, it's a really useful way to learn Logic. I know that if a command merits a place on the overlay then it's probably useful. I immediately learnt how to zoom around the windows quickly, something I'd looked up in the manual a couple of times without any luck.

Bad things: Yes, it makes your keyboard look and feel almost exactly like the 16k ZX Spectrum I had in 1982. $39 is not cheap (shipping to the UK was a reasonable $8), but this is a specialist product.
I wonder if 70% of the value comes just from having a clear diagram of the most useful shortcuts (which happens to be stuck to your keyboard). I took a high res photo of the overlay with all the commands visible, but decided not to run it, because it felt mean to the company. Is that lame?
Overall: Happy!
UPDATE: The company don't mind, so here's the full sized image of KB Covers Logic overlay with all the commands visible.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Today is 808 day

Yes, it's 8/08/08, so here's an utterly random selection of tributes to the boomingest drum machine in history. Send more! (Above, is Dan McPharlin's 808)

808 State: Olympic (see what I did there?)

The Shape of things that hum 10 minute documentary on the 808 with Arthur Baker, Orbital, Coldcut

Blaque 'Boom like an 808'

Beastie Boys 'Nothing sounds quite like an 808'

Kelis: "I'm back with an 808 'cos I'm bossy"

Geishas with 808s

Felix da Housecat: "808s Give you power"

Sound on Sound's definitive history of the 808

Afrika Bambaata: Planet Rock

808 parts kit All the switches and knobs, including the coloured tap switches, for £99 - could you turn this into an awesome midi controller?

Tape 808: $19 gets you the best 808 sample set ever

Sounds like there's an 808 at the Party in my tummy

The Hobnox AudioTool has a beautiful 808 emulation, right there in Flash

How to make an 808 kick with your mouth. I'm not sure this gentleman has actually ever heard an 808 kick.

Rebirth with an 808, a 909 and two 303s, is free

Talking Heads: Psycho Killer live - the acoustic guitar / 808 version from Stop Making Sense...

(Inspired by Experimentalists Anonymous)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Red hot Chemical Brothers live gear porn

Ben from Galactic writes "my band played a show with Chemical Brothers, and I took some shots of the gear".

And here they are (click on the pics for big versions). Nice to see them keeping it old-school, with a very battered MPC3000, a knackered Octave Cat, two Akai S5000 samplers (complete with Zip Drive!), and everything covered in little coloured stickers so they know what to do.
It's a very long way from Daft Punk's Pyramid, which contains almost nothing but computers, controllers and copies of Ableton Live. There's another shot here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Music Thing (and the other gear blogs) on Twitter

Trying to keep Music Thing a bit more active, I've just added a sidebar from Music Thing on Twitter, which will hopefully be a feed of good quick links. You can always use the RSS if you don't want to get into Twitter. Anyway, just as I was fiddling with the sidebar, Peter at Create Digital Music, Chris at Analog Industries, and Oliver at Wire to the Ear all wrote about Twitter and started posting there. Their twitter accounts: Peter, Chris, Oliver. While we're on the subject of ultra late adoption of social apps, I'm looking for chums with good taste in music...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cute hardware upgrade for BC16 synth

Here's a tiny patchable inverter accessory for the Chimera BC16 mini synth "a little PCB (postage stamp) with four wires hanging out of it (the whole package is heatshrunk into a clear sleeve) - it's purpose is to 'invert' any control signal used on the bC16". Being sent out free to all BC16 owners(mine hasn't arrived yet).
UPDATE: It arrived! It's cute! Haven't tried it out yet...

Six-output pickups for stereo guitars

Paul writes: "I'm making some guitar pickups to sell that have a separate output for each string. These can be wired to 6 jacks, or to pan pots to a pair of jacks, or to a 7 pin out to a breakout box that has whatever configuration you want, etc. I installed one in an 80s Korean Squier to test it out, with pans to two jacks for stereo. Paul is the man who teaches NYC schoolkids to build guitars and oscillators and jam. Six-way guitar pickups aren't new, of course. Aside from all those midi hexaphonic pickups, Eddie Van Halen had a bonkers Kramer with pannable outputs. If you want one of Paul's pickups, they're $110 from paul at ubertar dot com.
UPDATE: A couple of mp3 demos, best heard on headphones: Hexaphonic 1 Hexaphonic 2.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Audio Damage Automaton: 'Game of Life' vs glitch

This video makes me smile whenever I watch it. It's so clever, and so bonkers, and so much more fun than almost any other plugin I've seen. It's the first look at Automaton, the new thing from Audio Damage - a glitch/buffer override effects unit controlled by cellular automata a bit like Conway's Game of Life. Since starting again with Logic, the only 3rd party plugins I've used have been from Audio Damage, because they look incredible and sound right. If Automaton is getting you interested in Cellular Automata, you'll enjoy this clip of game of life running on a half-built Monome.

eBay of the day: Anorectal Transducer. Yes, it's what you're thinking. Yes, it's used.

Noooooooooo! eBay item 380050845372 is a B&K Type 1850 Anorectal ultrasound transducer. Yes, you put it there, connect it to an ultrasound machine, and it produces awesome 3D images. The auction contains the unforgettable lines: "Comes in nice wood box. Came from working environment." Noooooooooo!32 I'm assuming that one of you dear readers has $2,499 to drop on this, and plans to connect it to Max/MSP and create the most terrifying musical instrument in history... (Thanks, Paul)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Just Blaze really, really hates the Akai MPC5000

Just Blaze delivers a funny, geek-tastic and devastating 2,700 word demolition of the the new Akai MPC5000 on his blog: "I don’t know if this is a drive format issue, a drive content issue, or bad OS programming that makes your unit sh*t itself, wipe, get a diaper, and pop 2 Immodium AD’s and then say 'Okay I’ll give it a shot'"
He says that someone from Akai called him offering an endorsement deal. He never got back to them, but bought an MPC5000 on impulse, and is now livid: "I may have generated a few million dollars in my career, and the cash spent does not hurt me financially, but that doesn’t mean I have money to burn at the expense of bad engineering and a tad of false advertising. I feel just as burnt as the dude who busts his back at a 9-5 just to save up enough money to go out and buy a piece of gear to pursue his dream, only to not have it work as it should." Not a good day to be an exec at Akai/Numark/Alesis Inc... (Thanks, Anonymous)

Incredible Japanese paper-powered minature pipe organ kit

You may have heard about the Japanese magazine Science for Adults (Otonanokagaku), which recently came with a $30 analog synth kit. I'm now completely in love with the magazine, whose Japanese only website is full of wonders. There's a great little pipe organ - be sure to watch the video at the bottom of the page. The magazine itself looks great - page after page of stuff about organs, waveforms, and building the kit (you can even download extra punch cards). Admittedly it's not quite as elegant as this all-paper pipe organ, but it looks a bit more practical.

Gakken, their parent company, also produce many other great things, including these awesome electronics kits, which look like EMS synths.

(Thanks, Paul)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Design inspiration behind the Omega Orion?

Andrew points out the similarity between the beautiful new Studio Electronics Omega Orion polyphonic mega synth and Chris Reccardi's wonderful painting "How about fiddling with these knobs for a change, Aldo Cosmo?" How about a super-hot spenderific keyboard version, chaps?

Omega Orion: analog synth as designed by Stanley Kubrick

Wow. This is the Orion Galaxy Omega 8, a new all-analog 8-voice poly synth from Studio Electronics. Well, the synth isn't completely new, it's an Omega 8 - the $4,600, 38lb mother of all modern analog synths - in a great looking new skin. Design is by boutique guitar amp builder Tim Caswell and someone called Antoine Argentieres, who seems to have no profile on the web at all, leading me to assume he's a pseudonym. No word on price yet, but expect it to be extra spendy with a £50 note on top.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

eBay of the day: DJ Turntables from the 1920s

eBay item 220262676074 is a great looking pair of record players, apparently from a radio station. I'm not sure they'll fetch $2,200 + $250 shipping, but they'd make a handsome drinks cabinet.

In Bill & Frank's essential book Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, there's a 1931 picture of Christoper Stone, Britain's first radio DJ, wearing black tie and leaning over a console a bit like this one.
In Frank & Bill's telling of the story, the first man in the world to ever play records in public for people to dance to was Jimmy Savile, who - in 1943 - hired a function room in Leeds and cobbled together a system from a turntable and a radio. By 1947, he had two turntables and a microphone. Jimmy's later claim to have invented rap music in 1962 is perhaps less convincing... (Thanks, Rachel)

A dodgy review of a didgeridoo

A dodgy review of a didgeridoo: "She started yelling, talking over me, and saying that I was 'still paying for shipping!' Based on this phone call, she has serious anger management problem.". (Thanks, Michael)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

DJ Frank has spent 3 years buying vinyl in West Africa

Here's a fantastic preview trailer for a documentary about New York DJ Frank, who has spent much of the last 3 years collecting old vinyl in Africa, where "People burn records, because for them it's an old format". He's trying to track down the fruits of the '70s African funk boom, before all the vinyl decays or gets lost, and meeting the people who made the records along the way. Much of the music is on Frank's Voodoo Funk blog.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Awesome photos of labs at night

It's nothing to do with music, but I feel certain you'll enjoy Seed magazine's Labs at night series. Above - the control room of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Not a blue LED in sight... (via Kottke)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If Stephen Hawking gave guitar lessons, he'd be Richard Lloyd

This video of Richard Lloyd (from Television) is wonderful and bonkers. Highlights: 3:00 when he starts chanting numbers and says "Agriculturalcadabra" and 5:38, when he orders his guitar to obey him. If you're really clever, there are lots of guitar lessons on his site, which includes Why is the guitar tuned like that?. (Thanks, Drew)
UPDATE: An anonymous commenter points out uncanny similarities between Richard's lesson and Alan Partridge explaining World Cup '94.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Isn't this the sweetest cassette tape you've ever seen?

It's like one of these Teac Cobalt 52's, but with a teeny tiny Roland logo on it. It's also the data cassette from an MC202 for sale in this auction. (Thanks Matrix!) Lots more on vintage cassettes in the archives.

Comment moderation on old posts

In my ever-exciting battle against the Chinese Runesacape Gold spammers, I've turned on pre-moderation for stories over two weeks old. Not a problem for you, dear regular reader...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Billy Alexander, the organ player with no fingers

"Billy Alexander was born with a birth defect on both hands & feet. Many surgeries, 8 years of professional organ lessons..." and here he is, rocking the Hammond B3 at a Church in Monroe MI, and playing the Tom Lanza show in Texas. (Thanks, Gareth)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chimera BC8: an 8-knob synth with a built-in sequencer for £75

Chimera Synthesis have a new thing: The Chimera BC-8 is a shrunken version of the BC16 - the cute little handheld modular. From the preliminary spec sheet: "bC8 contains a stereo headphone amplifier connected to a 24bit / 48KHz
digital to analog converter (same unit as used in the bC16). A powerful DSP generates a VCO and LFO (similar to the bC16), also the DSP performs VCF and VCA functions as well controlling the patching of functions to each other and running a simple but powerful ‘ one button’ pattern sequencer. bC8 is controlled by eight rotary knobs and one push-button. Four LED’s indicate battery status, LFO and EG level and other mode elements. bC8 pattern sequencer records the timing/duration of the button presses and all the knob settings for each action, these can be altered live for acid loops etc…"
Sounds like a lot of fun for £75, competing perhaps with something like the Korg Kaosscilator. More details as they arrive. Shipping later this month, apparently... (Thanks, Brad)

Analog VU meters spotted on new Samsung TL9 camera

Nice to see enthusiasm for VU Meters and analog controls spreading to consumer goods, with this unlikely-looking Samsung TL9 camera, which has dials (more automotive than recording console, unfortunately) for battery life and memory capacity. Strange that they'd photograph the thing with a flat battery. While we're on the subject, here's a VU Meter in a Favicon. (Via Engadget)

OT: Looking for great web developers in London

Sorry, this is completely off topic. In my day job at Times Online, I'm trying to hire a couple of full time developers to work with editorial and - hopefully - do some interesting things. So, if you know anyone, please do pass this on. Thanks!

Times Online is hiring web developers
We're looking for passionate, innovative web developers to help us win more awards, attract more traffic and delight our 16m users.

You'll need flawless front end web skills, Java experience within a J2EE environment and the ability to build small web applications and tools from scratch. You'll probably be comfortable using things like Flash Action-Scripting, Processing, Google Maps API, JavaScript, CSS, PHP, AJAX etc. You'll enjoy working with XML, forms, data visualisation, search, journalists, editors and graphic designers.

You'll be working directly with the editorial team at Times Online, both responding to breaking news and working on longer-term projects. This is a full time, permanent role, based at Times House in Wapping. The deadline for applications is this Monday - 21 July 2008. For more details or to apply (with a CV and some URLs of things you've made) write to tom dot whitwell at timesonline dot co dot uk

Very pleasing video interviews with Adrian Utley from Portishead

Sonic State spent a long time talking to Adrian Utley from Portishead about their new album 'Third'. The album is tiresome, but the videos are lovely, Adrian and daughter in his nice house/studio (in Bristol?), talking about the fun of making music. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Shame they spelt his name wrong on the title card...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

eBay of the day: Three Synclaviers on a Lincolnshire lawn

At dinner last week with Matrix, Dr Ben, FMass and Daniel P, the talk was of eBay item 190235556573: not one, not two, but three vast Synclavier systems. Three keyboards, six man-sized equipment racks, a very badly designed eBay auction and a starting price of £10,000. Fortunately, we didn't get drunk enough to bid. (Thanks, Chris)

Spooky Hammer Horror / Wicker Man / Theremin / MaxMSP mashup

Here's Spacedog at the Brighton Festival Fringe, managing to use a Theremin on a Hammer Horror-related track (a splendid cover of Willow's Song from the Wicker Man) in a way that isn't tiresome. Taking the sound output, feeding it into a Max/MSP patch which the pitch to scrub through a sample. Presumably you could to the same with a Kaoss Pad, but it does work very well.. Create Digital Music has the full tech specs. (Thanks, Sarah)

SenseSurface: Attach knobs and sliders to a laptop screen

The mockup image looks like a hoax, but it isn't. SenseSurface is a prototype system that lets you connect real knobs and sliders to any LCD screen. An x/y sensor matrix clips onto the back of the screen and attaches by USB. The sensor can pickup the position and movement of knobs attached to the screen (it's not clear how they're attached, but even a suction cup might work OK). The first prototype video shows the proof of concept. There are lots of questions (How do you close your laptop when it's covered in knobs?), but it's a nice idea - you could buy a cheap 19" second monitor and cover it in these things... (Thanks, Nick - via)

The twenty most popular Music Thing posts ever*

Just looking at my site stats (a rather depressing business, given how rarely I post these days) and realised I've never shared this list with you...

1. How the Mac startup sound was made

2. How the Microsoft startup sound was made

3. How the THX sound was made

4. The greatest beat making videos ever

5. Who is Esteban, and what's up with his guitars?

6. What are Daft Punk playing in their pyramid?

7. Sasha's new Ableton controller

8. New iPod does proper stereo recording (not sure I was right on this one...)

9. Dude releases his new album on NES cartridge

10. 10 guitars shaped like guns

11. Why do ice cream vans sound the way they do

12. Aphex Twin interview in Future Music

13. Blue Man group's musical toys

14. Italians build huge sub woofer tunnel

15. How the Intel Inside sound was made

16. Why is this electric guitar worth €2,500,000? Because it's made of pure cocaine

17. The worst music video ever

18. Learn to play guitar like a superdork

19. School band play Endtroducing with real instruments

20. 10 triple neck guitars

Not on the list is the most popular Music Thing spin-off, the Daft Punk Samples video, which has had 1.8 million views.

* Ever actually means 'since August 2006, when I started using Google Analytics'. The site started in August '04.

So, what does this all mean?

Stylish cable racks from Synthwood

The sheer volume of cables in my room is getting absurd - patch leads, kettle leads, snakes, USB cables, wall-warts etc. The least of my problems is keeping track of neat, short patch leads. Even so, it's hard not to fall in love with Synthwood's Cable Holder, which comes in a range of hardwood finishes for $35/45. A cheaper alternative is the The Claw from Middle Atlantic Products (as used by Carbon 111). Lifehacker offer 10 ways to get cables under control, by I think my needs are greater than theirs. Any top tips (apart from 'put them in boxes' or 'throw them out'?) Previously: How to roll up your cables (properly)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Music Thing music gear jumble sale

'Studio' clear out time...

1. DSI Evolver desktop with v3 firmware (And it's signed by Dave Smith!) £200

2. Ghetto studio monitor setup: Pair of Acoustic Energy AE200 passive monitors (Reviewed here in Sound on Sound) + Cambridge Audio A500 amp + chunky cable (there's a CD player too, if you want it). £100

3. EMU 1820m PCI audio interface, inc Audiodock, rack shelf, all the bits and pieces. Fantastic, rock solid interface if you can use PCI. Vista drivers are available. Reviewed in Sound on Sound. £100

4. Epiphone LP Junior, 'vintage sunburst' £100

5. 1GB PC2-6400 Ram for a 2008 iMac £20 (inc postage)

6. 1 x 17" and 1 x 15" LCD monitors. £25 for the 17, the 15 goes free to a good home.

7. Pentium 4 3ghz PC. Good case, 1gb ram, Zalman CPU fan, quiet PSU, chequered history, NO HARD DRIVE. Free to a good home.

I'll ship items 1 and 5 to UK addresses. Everything else is initially collection only from South East London. Email if you're interested. Bigger pictures on Flickr.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Want cheap vintage gear? Get a job at Sound on Sound...

Ben writes: "Here's a story you should write about on ur blog. Oscar advertised for 500 quid in Sound on Sound. I emailed the bloke. Reply below."



Date: Fri, Jul 4, 2008 at 11:15 AM

Subject: Re: Enquiry re mono synth in Sound On Sound Readers' Ads


Some bloke who works in Sound On Sound bought it before ad was even published.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Flame Echometer and Six-in-a-row - awesome experimental sequencers

Last year's most covetable boutique synth was probably the Flame Talking Synth - a little tweakable Midi speech synthesizer. For 2008/9, Flame have just announced two more beautiful little switch & knob-covered boxes (click on 'Preview 2008'). The Echometer seems to be a live-oriented sequencer, triggering loops from three red buttons, while Six-in-a-row is a bank of backlit, sequence-able buttons, like a self-contained Monome, or a boutique, midi-only Tenori-On. No word on prices or availability yet, but be sure to look at the Flame 'Projekte' page to see a whole mass of awesome handmade instruments. (via Matrix Synth)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So, I switched to a Mac to make music...

Thanks to everyone who participated in the great Mac or PC for Music? debate a couple of weeks back. The result was 22 votes for Mac, and 13 votes for PC, so I ended up buying a bottom-of-the-range 2.4ghz iMac, which works nicely (after a bit of messing about with DNS addresses). Assuming that cheap Logic Studio from Amazon isn't an ebay-style con, that should be arriving soon, together with a pile of non-Apple Ram. I'll probably get a used Motu 828 mk 2 firewire, unless that's a terrible idea (I need a few inputs, so won't be buying an Apogee Duet, before you mention it).
Now, MT-reading Mac enthusiasts, you got me into this position, what do I need to know next? Essential freebies? Good ways to learn Logic? Nice ways to integrate hardware into the system? Brain training to understand why they have the ALT and CTRL keys swapped round?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The eternal challenge of guitarist's fingernails

The strangest stand at the London Music Show was Amazing Nails 4 Guitarists, a tiny company run by "international celebrity manicurist" Midge Killen. She does Paul Simon's nails when he's in London, is a technical advisor for the London International Guitar Festival and holds a regular nail clinic in California for her US clients...
More than you ever wanted to know about guitarists fingernails:
1. The four basic methods
2. Many pages of The Guitarist's guide to fingernails
3. A 1969 patent for Method and apparatus for filing fingernails of guitarists, banjo players and the like
4. The history of guitarist fingernails 1554 - present
5. Creepy guitarist manicure masterclass on YouTube.