Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
January 15, 2008

Hits You In The Chest Like an 808 Boooom...

by Chris Randall

I decided recently, for varying reasons (but mostly a massive desire to Just Know), that I wanted to learn everything there was about how the 606, 808, and 909 make their sounds. I have my Ideal x0x Drum Kit, which is a set I've painstakingly assembled, consisting of a 909 foot, 808 snare, 606 hats, and a mix of percussion from the three machines, some layered. I'm very happy with this kit and I use it a lot, but being me, I just can't leave well enough alone, and I figured if I knew the "why" of these sounds, I could theoretically use the concepts in making my own set, with its own mojo, not borrowed mojo.

Rambling aside, here's what I've learned: most anyone that has written on the subject of dissecting the various x0x sounds doesn't have the faintest fucking idea of what they're talking about. If I find four different learned articles on how to synthesize a 909 foot, there are four different topologies. If I build all four, I discover that at least three, if not all four, are complete fabrications, resulting in an unusable piece of shit sound that seems more like the farting of a large dog. This is the same for any of the key sounds. When you get to the "Cymbals" section of any of these various sources, they're all like "oh, those are hard. Here's how we faked it," with uniformly tragic results.

The first place I looked was the (I thought) excellent guide from Waldorf on synthesizing drums (it is here, but don't bother, seriously.) This guide is essentially worthless. They literally made shit up, because it sounded right. There is are a couple dozen articles from Sound On Sound in their "Synth Secrets" series, but those are, I've found, hit or miss. There are actually two separate articles in that series about the 909 foot, with wildly diverging topologies described. They could easily be talking about different drum machines entirely.

And heaven fucking forbid I read any forum post on the subject. Christ on crutches.

The long and short of it is this: does ANYBODY have any fucking idea whatsoever as to how to actually make these sounds? I've gotten close, real close. I'm fairly good at synthesizing percussion in general with both analog synths and boxes-n-wires softsynths, but I just can't seem to get the Mojo working, you know?

(And to save you the trouble of typing as if I'm some kind of dumb-ass ape, I'm not actually asking "how do I synthesize a 909 foot?" This is more of a meta rant. What I want to know is where the Magic Smoke is hidden on the schematic.)

January 14, 2008

The Big Bo, now in a convenient bite size...

by Chris Randall

Amid the din of ridiculous product offerings we'll see this week, there's one sexy, albeit somewhat over-the-top, offering from the king of all umlauts, B?sendorfer. Gearjunkies drops this press release announcing the CEUSmaster, a baby stage Imperial using a non-looped sample set from the Vienna Symphonic Library.

Sure, you can get the same deal with a lappy and a Roland controller, but really, why would you want to? Since there literally ain't no better piano, it would stand to reason that their digital offering would be of the same standard. I know one thing is for certain: just like the real deal, I won't be able to afford this.

January 12, 2008


by Chris Randall

One thing I don't care for, in the current (well, last five to seven years, anyway) trends of popular music is the incredible amount of production. While my tastes in music generally run to under-produced music to begin with -- Tom Waits, Neubauten, Grinderman, Cop Shoot Cop, that sort of thing -- I still listen to most of the Top 40, just to keep up with the Jonses.

What I've noticed, specifically in rock and R&B but in some other genres as well, is a desire by the producer (or, gasp, the band) to fill every possible moment in the song with the entire frequency spectrum of sound, and at least half of those sounds have some sort of plug-in trickery applied to them. Now, being largely in the business of making plug-in trickery possible, it's probably a bad idea to complain about that too much; it sounds like those "how to stop smoking" ads from Phillip Morris. But even so...

What got me on this line of thinking was that "Ladies And Gentlemen" track from Saliva that is used in the PS3 ad currently playing at every time out in every NBA game. That song is so totally overproduced as to almost be comical. There is literally no possible way a good rock band could play that live, let alone Saliva. It is just as programmed as any song by Autechre or Aphex Twin. (If you're not familiar, and for some reason curiosity gets the better of discretion, you can stream it here.) Another example that just pops to mind is Timbaland's "Give it to Me." I think it would be amusing to watch Nelly Furtado fuck the dropped beats up live; they wouldn't even make it to the first chorus. There is no way that song could be performed as you hear it, either, unless our current crop of pop vocalists learned polyrhythms overnight.

For my next Chris Randall record, which I'm starting this week, I'm going to go the other way entirely. I'm going to see exactly how much production I can do away with. We'll see how that works out, of course, and it may turn out to not work at all, but quite frankly, I'm of the opinion that you gotta start somewhere, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is.

In any event, no particular reason for this rant, except that I call 'em like I see 'em, and this is something I've been thinking about. Thoughts? Where do you draw the line when production "tricks" are now part and parcel of pop music?

January 9, 2008

AD Ricochet Update...

by Chris Randall

Ricochet is now at the point where it is pretty much fully usable, so I've made a Ricochet page in the AD store, with a screenshot and a couple of simple sound files that show in a minor way some of the special effects that it is uniquely capable of.

As I said the other day, we're just tidying up at this point. Then comes presets and the port to zany Mac land, and we'll be good to go. This is the most sophisticated product we've done since Ronin, with many new pieces of code (mostly in the UI area, but a new filter topology, plus the multi-tap delay itself) so we'll spend a bit more time testing than we normally would. But that said, it won't be long now.

January 9, 2008

MIDI Feets...

by Chris Randall

I need to get a MIDI foot controller, mostly for driving Live. It seems like my options are limited to the Yamaha MFC10 (pictured above) at $279.00, the Roland FC300 for $295, and the Behringer FCB1010 (which is essentially "inspired by" the Roland piece) for $149. Obviously, the last is out of the question, so it's either the Roland or Yamaha boxes...


Voodoo Labs makes a box call the Ground Control Pro which looks like it might do the trick. It's a little more expensive than the others, at $399 or thereabouts, but it seems to be of a quality that I would normally think is "not bad," as opposed to the plastic-o-rama of the others. I can use expression (or volume) pedals of my choice, rather than built-in ones. It seems to be a fairly nice choice, despite the expense. You gets what you pays for.

The only other realistic option is to build one myself, using an Arduino or Doepfer Control or something. This is obviously low on my list of favorite things to do, but it is a possibility.

What's the easiest way to control Live from a floorboard? Anyone have experience with the above boxes? What should I be looking out for?


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