Retro Synth Ads has some great scans of various electronic music equipment from the 70′s and 80′s. It’s interesting to observe how the sophistication of advertising design in niche industries — like music technology — predictably lags behind that of the mainstream. These are pretty far along and represent output from some of the biggest names of the day, but examples like this and this are fascinating in their simplicity. I’m guessing the engineers who built the machines were moonlighting as their own designers in these cases. Loving the TL-12, makes me wish I had a MSQ-700.
Here’s some serious power on the cheap for your next photography outing. Gizmodo details how to sync your DSLR and iOS device up for wireless shooting and image transfer. I’ve been wanting a system like this but assumed it was insanely expensive, this method will run you about $75 (assuming you already own an iOS device). My only potential issue with it would be transfer speed; notice how there is never a continuous shot of the photo being taken and the image arriving at the iPhone. The remote shutter functionality is enough for me though.
Pictured above are some shots of the various models in Access Music’s Virus TI2 line. Of all the musical equipment manufacturers out there, I’d have to say that the Recklinghausen, Germany based outfit are making some of the most innovative and powerful sound synthesis tools available today. But aside from that, they’re incredibly beautiful and well-crafted machines. I’ve owned several and have to say I’ve always been amazed at the build quality and attention to detail they put into their equipment. I love how they take subtle cues from the past — the perfectly measured application of wood is a perfect example — while still pushing the design forward. As I’ve said before, it doesn’t get any better than stainless steel and wood, and the TI2 KB features a stainless steel/wood sandwich on the endcaps. Sort of like the amazing Jupiter 6 caps, but with wood (I sold a Jupiter 6 once. Worst mistake ever). But none of this comes cheap, these are also some of the most expensive synthesizers out there (probably the most expensive VA’s). I’d have to say they’re well worth the money though, the sound is unmatched and they’re built to last.
What I really admire about what Access is doing is that they’re doing it all from within the festering pit of mediocrity that is the music technology industry, an industry dominated by bad taste and terrible interface design. I don’t know what it is that drives industrial design in music technology, but you’d swear every new keyboard was designed by the backup drummer from Ratt. So I really admire it when a company steps up and chooses quality design over gimmicky superfluousness and nonsensical hyperbole (Tubes? Really? I bet they’re not even in the signal path). Roland is the saddest example of a once great company committing egregious latter day design sins. This is the company that brought us the iconic 808, 909, MSQ-700, SH-5, and Jupiter 8. Music machines with incredibly well thought out interfaces which were also durable and aesthetically pleasing. The best they can muster now are bloated, plastic, messes that look like a cross between a dvd player and a karaoke machine. And they don’t sound any better than they look. Oh yeah, once in a while try to reclaim their former glory with a cheap knockoff of their own product (to be fair, Korg is just as guilty of this as Roland).
But I digress… If you’ve caught some of my posts on the studio or seen the live show you may have noticed that I’m quite fond of my Virus C synthesizers. Of all the VA (virtual analog) synthesizers out there, I’d say the Virus has the most warm and unique sound. When it comes to VA’s, I think it’s all about the converters. The modeling can be dead-on but if you’re running through some space-age, 24-bit converters, the sound is going to be cold and rigid. That’s the thing that (used to) set the Virus line apart from the rest, the converters. They were warm and gritty, you could really feel the sound, it was authentic. First came the Virus A, which many still consider the best sounding of the Virus line (I wouldn’t know, I’ve only used the C line and on). Then came the B, which I heard had a little cleaner converters (read: worse). And right around the time I became aware of the Virus they came out with the C line. I was sold the first time I played one. They come shipped with the bucket full of useless euro-trance trash patches that are apparently legally required to preload on a new synth, but once you get past those and start digging in and programming, you can make them sing.
A couple years later they came out with the TI line and I got a TI Polar. To tell the truth, I was pretty disappointed by the sound. It was just too sterile, too pristine. They had apparently implemented the new 24-bit converters and you could hear it. I ended up selling the Polar and sticking with my C KB and Indigo Redback. Which was unfortunate, because the TI’s are just so beautiful. And also because Access no longer makes the mainboards for the C models. One bad power setup at a show and my Indigo is toast, for good.
I’m always geeking out on music hardware and have a soft spot for DIY projects like the one you see above. I came across this custom MIDI controller by William Logo and was pretty impressed by the looks of the thing, especially considering that it was built with off mostly the shelf parts for under $400. I’ve been wanting to build my own custom controller for the Tycho live shows (to control VDMX, which runs the visuals) but I’ve never found the time to get anything started. It’s nice to see someone pulled it off with some aesthetically pleasing results. And I’m really loving the vibe of the photos, great tone.
For all you music geeks out there, I’m just decided to lighten my VDMX MIDI controller load by swapping out the big Akai APC40 and heavy Vestax VCM600 for a Novation Launchpad and a M-Audio X-Session that I’ve had lying around. We’ll see how the new setup works out for the upcoming shows.
Moog just announced the new XL version of their Voyager synth. This is pretty exciting news considering the dearth of manufacturers these days willing to go out on a limb with a fully analog design. When I first saw the press shots I was really hoping it was going to be polyphonic, a modern Memorymoog maybe. But after checking the specs I was disappointed to learn that it’s just a mono synth like it’s Voyager brethren. What was even more disappointing was the price: $5,000 USD. While this is a beautiful piece of equipment and I appreciate the fact that they are produced on a small scale, that just seems like a lot for a larger — albeit still mono — Voyager with VX and CV tacked on. From what I can tell the same functionality could be had by getting a Voyager Rack and the expander boxes.
Also like the previous Voyagers, it’s pretty much in line visually with the original Model D design cues, which I adore. But I have a Voyager Rack and have always been disappointed by the body. The original Minimoogs had an incredible paint job and color scheme. Even the typography was amazing. The new stuff has a big sticker for the interface, as opposed to being screened directly on to the metal. It’s details like this that can really undercut an otherwise quality design. That being said, I’d have to say it’s still one of the prettiest synths out there, save for the Virus TI2 of course.
At any rate it’s still one of the most beautiful sounding musical instruments that you’ll ever hear.
And here are a couple of vintage Moog ads for good measure.
We’ve had the “Random Nostalgia” category on this blog for a while, but I think this is the first time a post has truly fit the bill. I was searching around my hard drive last night and stumbled upon this gem from my past, the photo you see above (sorry for the poor quality, I can’t find the original photo I scanned this from). I’m not quite sure, but this is probably from sometime around mid-1999 in Sacramento. This was the firs time I assembled what I would consider a proper studio, although it was just my bedroom (you can see the futon folded up in the right corner). I think before this I had a Roland MC-303 and SP-202 set up on a dresser in the corner so this was a big step up from that. This was also when I started using a computer to record; I had previously recorded everything into an ASR-X Pro sampler which could handle about 6 minutes of audio. I would then record the outputs of that to Minidiscs (still have a huge box of those I need to sift through).
This was before I really started designing but if you look closely you can catch one of my very early visual influences on the left wall. I rescued that tapestry thing from a dumpster; it depicts a waterfall made of rainbows. Pretty bad I know, but looking back I realize that color scheme and subject matter informed a lot of my earlier work. Not sure what happened to it, must have lost it in a subsequent move. The same goes for the other stuff, the only things I still have around are the computer keyboard, the grey box in the stereo cabinet and the wooden table in the foreground. I gave the keyboard stand to Dusty Brown and I saw it at the show in Sacramento this weekend, nice to know it’s still alive and well with the same Renthal sticker on it. As for the other stuff, it was either sold on eBay or junked (the milk crates that are holding up the desk, for example). Here’s a kit list of what I can make out from the picture:
- ASRX-Pro Sampler / Sound Module. Used this to make Science of Patterns a few years later.
- Roland JP-8000 Synthesizer.
- E-MU Orbit Sound Module (don’t ask why I owned this)
- Yamaha Stereo EQ
- Gemini 4-channel DJ mixer
- Sony MD recorder
Crazy story about the JP-8000, I put it on eBay about a year after this shot was taken. The winner of the auction was from the area so he came out to pick it up. It turned out to be Shaun Lopez, we ended up becoming friends and he still does mixing work on my tracks today (Daydream, Adrift, Disconnect to name a few).
If you produce music or do any DJ/VJing you may have heard of the Lemur, a touchscreen device that allows you to design custom controller interfaces and transmit via OSC. I’ve always wanted one and it’s the first thing I thought of when they announced the iPad today. At $500 it would be a great deal compared to the Lemur’s nearly $2000 price point. You’d just need software and I assume the guys over at TouchOSC already have something cooking. (I used the TouchOSC interface elements to make the mock-up above)
All you musicians, DJs, and VJs out there: Would you buy an iPad to use it as a multi-touch controller? (Comment) I think it would make a great DAW controller, kind of like a customizable MCU or Tranzport. I guess the main issue would be the interface, I don’t really know if the OSC over WiFi would cut it as far as latency is concerned.
Now if there were just a Photoshop to OSC plugin, you could be running a custom interface via touchscreen.