Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
January 18, 2008

NAMM-tastic News...

by Chris Randall

Obviously, I'm not at NAMM (what were the odds?) so I'm in the same boat most of you are, sitting back and reading the seemingly unending stream of press releases like all the other plebs. Quite frankly, this is for the better, as my temperament would probably get me in trouble were I actually to attend. So I have to live vicariously through Dave Gamble, basically.

That aside, here's the obligatory post of Things I Find Interesting So Far in all the press releases. With one exception, I haven't actually beheld any of these products in real life, so my bullshit detector is working at a low threshold. We'll see how that works out. Anyways, I'll say ahead of time that I don't find the LinnDrum II, the MiniMoog OS, or the Virus Snow interesting, really. I have great respect for two out of the three companies, but nothing new here, really. Just old stuff re-packaged for a different price point.

Moog MP-201 Multi-Pedal: At first pale, you're like, "oh, an expression pedal. Whatever." Or at least I was. Then I started to think about it, and realized how slick it was. This is the Controller Pedal Of The Gods, able to do most anything. Assuming (and this is a bit of an assumption on my part) that the buttons and pedal can be assigned to any ol' MIDI CC, this will fit in to my foot-pedaling world so perfectly I can't really believe it. I'll certainly be getting one as soon as they're available.

Sonalksis Mastering Suite: These will be fairly slick. They haven't put anything up on their website yet, but it was "announced" at NAMM. Four plugins, and to my ears much better at software limiting than other stuff I've heard. Dave did a hell of a job with these. And no motherfucking iLok bullshit.

Line 6 ToneCore DSP Development Kit: (Note that the link goes to Digital Pro Sound's iteration of the press release. That site is the worst ad farm on the planet. They make Sonic State look like, well, me, in comparison.) I know this was announced last year, but it looks like it is finally gonna be released in a couple months. This is a little module that fits in Line 6's ToneCore dock that has a chunk of blank DSP and some RAM and some knobs, so you can program your own guitar effects. I think that, for guitarists, it is a pointless product, but for those of you that get your giggles turning Furbies in to Overlords Of Sonic Death, this is about the best thing since diagonal cutters. Time will tell, but I think we'll see some interesting things come from this.

I've been keeping my eyes open, but nothing else has really caught my fancy. New 3.5 OS for Eclipse makes me happy, but I can't remember my damn username and password for the Eventide site. (And they FINALLY discovered HTML 1.1, it seems.) Anything I missed here that is on the down-low cool?

January 16, 2008

Note to bloggers: It's spelled "fuck," no asterisk..

by Chris Randall

We're about to see a metric fuckton of asterisks in today's RSS reader, because Eric Barbour decided to call his latest product, a guitar amp of all things, "Fucking Fucker." I'll be honest: if I knew it would get that much press, I'd have lobbied for naming Ricochet "Fucking Delay" or something.

Why someone isn't offended when they see "f*ck" or "*uck" or "Fu*k" or (for the more linguistically adventurous) "fuc*" but is offended when they see "fuck" is completely and utterly beyond me. The word, at least in America, is so entirely ubiquitous and without any real meaning that it is really just a verbal tic, like "uh" or "like." When this blog first started getting a lot of traffic, I would get an email every other day or so from people that were, like, "love the blog but do you have to swear so much?" As if I gave a fuck or something.

Luckily, that has petered out.

What I find interesting is thus: Eric found out with one product that he could (a) get away with this naming scheme, and (b) it would provide a certain amount of press. This is all aside from what the box actually did. While I sort of envy him this discovery, if Marshall had released any of those products, everyone would be all like "are you fucking kidding me? This shit is broken." With or without asterisks.

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?


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