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

Archives: February 2006

February 28, 2006

New Rhodes?

by Chris Randall

The following was posted on the Rhodes Yahoo Group:

From: "j brand"

To: [email protected]


Subject: [rhodes] Re: New Rhodes Model?

Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2006 23:42:53 -0000

Hi everyone,

We are working hard to finish five new models and intend to show at Namm
January 2007.

Website comming that will keep you informed by fourth quarter 2006

Any qualified Rhodes technicians wishing to be factory authorized for warrantee service repair can register when the company website comes on line.

I support your community and have appreciated the suggestions in
developing ,hopefully ,the greatest Rhodes electric piano line ever.

Further details were then offered in this thread on Gearslutz, to the following effect:

" Mr. Brandstetter has confirmed that the new instruments will:

be true electromechanical pianos, based on Harold Rhodes' design

mechanically follow (with improvements) the most recent production Rhodes, the Mk V

be fitted as standard with MIDI

be lighter, more roadworthy and more portable than any previous production Rhodes

be available in 73- and 88-note versions

offer many new features

have a striking visual presence, while obviously remaining a "genuine Rhodes" "

Now, that's some news I can get behind.

February 27, 2006

Big Pimpin' with the RCA Synthesizer Mk II...

by Chris Randall

Metasonix ain't the only game in town for tube synths. If you want to go vintage, you could do worse than the RCA Synthesizer Mk. 2, pictured above. (Or part of it pictured above, anyway...) Here is a recording of this beast in action, courtesy of, who have a pretty complete article about this synth, installed in 1958.

"Yes, but Chris, I'd swear that photo looks relatively current," you say to me. "Those aren't chairs from the 50s!" Good eye. The above picture, taken from this site, (one of a couple dozen, as you'll no doubt find out) is of the synth as it currently stands, still in its original home at the Computer Music Center at Columbia University. As far as I can tell, it is still in operating condition.

Take special note in the article about how it is "programmed," via punched paper rolls. That could really take the fun out of making music, I think.

February 26, 2006

MidiNES maxi-review...

by Chris Randall

Okay, so I've been fighting this incredible head-cold for like 3 weeks now. My sister brought me some bad-ass Belgian strain of sinus trouble when she came to visit, and I just can't shake this shit. So, knowing when to say when, I went to the grocery store and put up with the "are you sure you're not a meth dealer?" questions to buy some serious sinus shit. (For those of you that don't live in America, you can't buy anything with ephedrine in it off the rack any more, part of the War On Meth, which is entering its 20th year or so.)

The net result of this serious sinus shit, and my ingestion thereof, was that I was up 'til 3 in the morning, bouncing off the fucking walls. Which leads me to the following: the above screencap is of my now-completed Nuendo/Cubase MIDI device map for the Wayfar MidiNES cartridge. It allows full control over every parameter from one window. (On a side note, the program that Steinberg provides to make these things is really fucking lame.) If you own a MidiNES, you might want this, so here you go. Drop the XML file in /program files/Steinberg/Nuendo 3/Device Maps/ (or Cubase SX or whatever) and load that bitch up.

In use, the cartridge itself is actually rather limited. The triangle wave can't be edited at all, and the envelope features of the pulse waves are counter-intuitive to people used to normal subtractive programming. And, of course, the sounds it is capable of making in any case are chippy, so there's that to consider. But that said, this unit is still fun as hell, and quite useful. Once I rack it up, I'll be using it often for my Scanalyzer and Micronaut projects.

I whipped up a little demo that doesn't sound like the hell-for-leather chipfest stuff that is on the .:wayfar:. site. You can grab the MP3 here. This track has all five channels of the MidiNES playing, recorded in one pass. The triangle channel is doing the bass. The hi-hat is the noise channel, and the kick and snare are from the built-in samples on the sample channel. The melody and rhythm part are the two pulse channels. (And boy, does this shit rock or what? Sorry, Herbie.)

I squished the result with Waves RComp, and added a touch of Princeton 'verb (because audio without reverb is like cornflakes without milk), but otherwise it's straight MidiNES. You can plainly hear the noise that is omnipresent in the beginning. If you multi-tracked all five channels, this would have to be dealt with, either with gates or some noise-killing plug, as it would quickly build up in to a chorus of hell-spawned whistling.

So the verdict? Fun as fuck. Can you live without it? Sure, but why would you want to? $89 for the cart and like $5 for an NES, and you've got a chip-tastic synth that really doesn't sound like anything else, and has quite a bit of depth. That's a bargain by anyone's standards.

Now, to rack-mount it.

February 25, 2006

midiNES mini-review...

by Chris Randall

So I got a midiNES cartridge today, as part of my long-range plan to force Peter Kirn to give me his Nintendo DS. First impressions are generally favorable. If you're not in the know, the midiNES, made by .:wayfar:. is a Nintendo cartridge that gives a normal run-of-the-mill NES a MIDI input, so you can play the synth portion of the CPU directly from any MIDI source.

What surprised me on first listen was how clean it was. If you don't plug it in to a TV at all, and run it in its MODE 1, the noise floor is much lower than other methods for making chip music. It's actually lower than other (much more expensive) synths I have, interestingly enough. You can play two pulse channels, a triangle channel, a noise channel, and the sample channel simultaneously, and each is addressed from a different MIDI channel.

It is entirely programmed via MIDI CC messages, so I'm in the process of making a device map for Nuendo/Cubase, so I can just grab a knob rather than having to go through the whole process of sending it a CC through other means. I'll provide this map to anyone that wants it once I have it done.

So, full review and sound samples coming. But at first glance, it is a nice piece of kit. I need to get a Par-Metal 1U rack and a couple switches from Mouser, then I'm gonna rack-mount this bitch and it'll be on.

February 25, 2006

In Defense Of My Mixing Position..

by Chris Randall

I get a pretty healthy dose of letters regarding posts on this site, and the most common one I get usually reads something like this:

Okay. I get it. Mackie and Behringer mixers blow. What the fuck _should_ I buy if I'm on a budget, then? Huh, tough guy?

Let me make one thing clear right now: if you're just starting out, or you're a hobbiest with no intention of ever actually releasing anything, a Mackie or Behringer cheapie is going to be fine. In this business, you get what you pay for, and while a $199 mixer will, in actual fact, mix, there are trade-offs, and the main thing you're going to lose is definition, due to the low-quality op-amps.

When you see me repeatedly make fun of people for having Mackie and Behringer mixers, it's because they have several thousand (or hundred thousand) dollars worth of synthesizers, the best of the best, and they still submix with a $199 mixer. That's what I don't understand. If you can afford to buy four Jupiter 8s, you can afford to drop a grand on a mixer that doesn't blow.

My writing methodology is somewhat different than the normal synthesizer-based musician, so I'll grant that my opinion isn't of vast appeal here, but I'm of the firm opinion that any mixer at all is a bad idea. If you have an audio interface with 8 inputs, you should have 8 mic pres of reasonable quality, 8 eqs, and 4 stereo compressors. These should all go to a patchbay. There's no need for a mixer to submix at all. My own method only involves a pair of mic pres, two eqs, and no analog compressors in the signal chain.

But I tend to record things one at a time, rather than having all my synths chugging away simultaneously, so that method won't work for everyone. But for god's sake, if you're going to spend $10K on your synths, don't send them through a 3-cent op-amp. Please.


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