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.
It’s been about 4 months now since I was able to get my hands on the Embody — Herman Miller’s latest flagship work chair — and now I feel like I’ve spent enough time in it to give a proper review. The Embody seems to be the logical successor to the throne of the ubiquitous Aeron chair and I have to say it’s a worthy one. I’ve had various repetitive stress related injuries throughout the course of my career so I’ve always been very sensitive to ergonomics. I’ve had Aerons and various other chairs but I’ve never really been truly satisfied with any of them. So it was with a healthy dose of skepticism that I approached my experience with the Embody.
Before I got the Embody, I had a hard time finding any definitive information as to whether it did in fact live up to the initial hype surrounding it’s release. I guess chairs are pretty subjective, there’s never really a one size fits all solution. I heard a lot of people debating whether it was better than the Aeron and Humanscale’s Freedom Chair, and still more debating whether it was worth the decidedly high price point. But everything I had read pretty much went out the window when I sat in the Embody. It really is as incredible chair, it’s the first one I’ve had that I’m not constantly aware of. It acts almost as an extension of your body allowing for much longer periods of sitting without the common issues I’ve had with most chairs in the past. The unique seat back isn’t just there for looks, it does wonders for my back which was usually the biggest issue when working for extended periods. The arms are very flexible and can be easily dialed in for a perfect height which goes a long way to alleviate wrist pain issues. All in all, the fit and feel are top notch and honestly like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The bottom line is that this chair allows me to work longer and focus better. And the Embody is definitely a step up from the Aeron and light years beyond the Freedom Chair (which I really don’t like at all) or the Mirra (which many recommended as a cheaper alternative to the Embody).
As much as I love the Embody I do have a few issues with it, none are deal breakers for me, but you should be aware of them if this chair is on your short-list. First up is the design. Yes, I ordered the orange/white which in retrospect was a mistake. It can really overwhelm the space visually. The chair is also rather large so between that and the color, it certainly is a presence in the room. I have since seen the black on black version which is much more subtle and highly recommended. Second is the mobility of the chair. In the studio I have to move around from station to station a lot and the sheer weight of the Embody makes this difficult. The thing is build like a tank which is great for durability, but it’s not a chair you’re going to be gliding around the office in. Or course, this would be less of an issue on hard surfaces, but the downstairs at the studio is carpeted and you almost have to get out of the seat to move it around. I do have the optional chrome base and I would imagine the standard plastic base is a bit lighter. Finally, at around $1100 (which is at least better than the insane introductory price of $1700 and can be much less with an industry discount, see below) it is prohibitively expensive. But as they say, “buy it nice or buy it twice”. As someone who makes a living sitting in a chair all day it’s not hard to justify spending a chunk of that living on a high quality chair. It allows me to get more work done and avoid injuries that in the past would put me out for a while making it well worth the premium.
All things considered the Embody is a huge winner in my book. It’s the most comfortable and functional chair I’ve ever used and will be in my studio for a very long time.
I am told that discounts are available on the chair through Herman Miller. I got mine direct and at the time they had a promo deal going on that brought the price down to $800 fully loaded. You might try contacting them directly to find out whether they have any promotions going on or whether you can get a designer discount.
Every year around this time I like to pretend I have a rich uncle or something and then think about what they would get me for Christmas. This year rich uncle would get me a Linn Sondek Limited Edition Retro LP12 with the walnut finish. I’ve been thinking a lot about home stereos lately, I really want to build a solid system for listening. For a long time I’ve lived by a rule that I’d only spend money on things related to making music or graphic design. This means I have a great set of monitors in the studio, but in my living room I listen to music on a $200 set of Logitech speakers. For some reason I never really thought about how ridiculous this was, especially considering how much enjoyment I get out of listening to music.
So I was walking down Market street the other day and stumbled in to San Francisco Stereo & Theater Systems where they had a pair of B&W 683′s on the floor. I plugged in my iPhone (I know, MP3 is not worthy of a hi-fi system, but it’s all I had), cued up Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve’s rendition of Midlake’s Roscoe and proceeded to melt into the seat. I’ve never heard sound like this. Yes, I have Adam’s in the studio, but that’s a near-field system designed for professional use. They’re meant to sound very flat and honest, they’re not necessarily supposed to sound pretty and warm and they’re certainly not designed to fill up a large room.
So this all got me thinking, I need to build a proper hi-fi. I have an old (but powerful) Denon hand-me-down amp in storage that I could dust off, just add some B&W’s and I’m set. But then I started thinking that I couldn’t bring myself to play MP3′s through a system like that so I would have to start rebuilding my music collection based on FLAC and WAV, which could take some time. Finally I realized this would still involve D/A conversion at some stage (which I was thinking could be handled by a spare MOTU 828MKII) so it still wouldn’t be ideal. This is when it finally occurred to me that I need to get a proper turntable and expand my vinyl collection.
Enter the Linn Sondek LP12, which apparently sounds incredible and — as you can see from the photos above — is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately it’s about $2500 so it’s never going to happen. There’s got to be some less expensive alternatives out there, guess I’ll have to dig around a little. At any rate, if my long-lost, wealthy second cousin is reading this, you can ship it all direct or I’ll take a personal check.