Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.

Archives: January 2006

January 10, 2006

Synth In A Month...

by Chris Randall

Collin Raffel is building a complete DIY modular synth in one month from various kits, and he's keeping a photoblog of the process, which should prove interesting. You can view it here. On the Synth DIY mailing list, he said "When I am all done I will add a big page that will contain all details, soundclips, etc, as well as how much it cost and any advice for anyone who also wants to try to build a fully capable modular in a month."

Sounds like a good plan to me. I think you'll find from watching this that building a modular is nothing to be afraid of. It's just time consuming (and quasi-expensive.) However, it's far from difficult.

January 10, 2006

Need a console? Here's a good one...

by Chris Randall

What is that maxim? Wish in one hand, shit in the other... Peter Gabriel's 72-channel (would that be 144 inputs at mix with the small faders?) SSL G, yeah, the one from the big room at Real World, is for sale, for what I feel is quite a reasonable price, considering its pedigree, condition, and features. For only ?85,000 you can have one of the world's most listened-to tracking consoles in your own home. Of course, that doesn't include the cost of building an addition to house this ginormous console, but that aside...

January 9, 2006

Macworld begins Tuesday...

by Chris Randall

It seems everyone is fairly convinced that the Jobs "oh, and one more thing..." part of the Keynote will be the unveiling of the Intel-based iBook and iMac models. I know the last time I mentioned this, there was some dissent, but I know in my heart of hearts that I'm right this time. Well, we'll know by 10:30 tomorrow (PST), won't we?

I'm reasonably excited about this, because my iBook is about to head to the great pile o' forgotten laptops, so I'll be an Early Adopter of the Intel iBooks. It'll be entertaining, to say the least.

January 9, 2006


by Chris Randall

So I scored a copy of FXpansion's BFD for Christmas, from Santa Claus of all people. While there are some issues, which I'll touch upon briefly, the basic idea of the plug is to completely obviate that most annoying of creatures, the drummer. And it does this in pretty convincing fashion. After spending some time learning the ropes, I threw it in a song and was immediately impressed with the fact that I couldn't tell it wasn't a real drummer. I imagine a good drummer could tell, but those are few and far between, so there's not much danger there.

Of course, the ability to actually program drums that sound like drums is a plus, so some experience with the real thing is necessary; it's not a Magic Box or anything. There are some included MIDI grooves in various modern styles, and I suppose they're usable, but not my cup of tea. The plug (which is essentially a sample playback engine) makes it relatively easy to get a kit that _sounds_ like a set of drums; the actual programming needs to be _played_ like drums in order to complete the illusion.

The included kits are pretty good. Some modern kits and some vintage ones, for a range of sounds. I like the Slingerland set the most, except the foot is just about the biggest piece of flab you're gonna find. So I swap that out with one of the other feet, and I'm in business. You get control over the 3 sets of ambient mics (room, overhead, PZM) and the close-mic'd set. Adjusting these parameters to taste gets you your sound, whatever is appropriate to the song.

CPU-wise, it isn't much of a hit. It is hard on RAM and the drive, but I've got tons of both, so not much problem there. The only real problem I have is getting a good balance between the foot and the snare. Just using the stereo version of the plug, it's difficult to find a place where you can hear both. You have to use a lot of room or overhead to really hear the snare, and when you run the plug through a compressor, it brings out the room more, so it's a bit of work to not end up with "When The Levee Breaks" kind of shit.

The other problem, and it isn't so much of a problem as a matter of taste, is that normally when the foot gets hit, or the lower toms, the snare will also make quite a bit of noise. There is none of this here; they obviously turned off the snares on the drum kits when making the samples. This one added bit would really set it off, I think.

UPDATE: If I paid more attention, or read the manual or something, I'd know that this isn't the case. Some of the kits have the snare on for every hit, and others have an extra foot 1/2 step below the normal one (that I didn't notice because it was on the bottom key of my controller) that has the sound with the snares active. Thanks to musicjon for pointing out that I'm stupid. Don't make a habit of that!

Anyways, this is a stellar piece of work, and Angus and company should be proud of it. I strongly recommend it if you do any sort of music that requires "real" drums, and you don't want to go through the heaving mess of problems that Captain Caveman brings to the table. It's $329, and worth every penny.

January 8, 2006


by Chris Randall

Discounting the whole Myspace aspect of the deal, it seems there is a feature-length documentary on the life of English producer and father of green things, Joe Meek. There is a sort of a teaser available at the Palmdoor Films site, with some of the audio from the film.

I guess I never really thought about it too much, but I kind of expected the music to be, well, weirder. For some reason, it's pretty much middle-of-the-road contemporary 60s britpop. Joe Meek is best remembered for having the bad luck to be working in England in the recording industry at the same time as George Martin, and will forever be overshadowed by that simple fact.


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