Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
 
December 4, 2013

The Synth Nerd Holiday Gift Guide...

by Chris Randall
 

I present to you the guaranteed-to-please good for all budgets Synth Nerd Gift Guide. You're here because someone you know is a Synth Nerd, and they have given you a link to this article, and said "anything off this list is fine." Well, they probably mumbled it, as your average Synth Nerd isn't much of a people-person. But you're here now, so settle in. You don't have to know what any of this stuff is. Just click the link for the amount you want to spend, then click "Buy Now." Easy peasy.

1. The Cheap Bastard (less than $25) You really can't go wrong with the Stylophone Retro Pocket Synth, which will set you back $24.99. Even if the Synth Nerd in your life already has one, or has an original one, or one of the new super-duper ones, they'll still find a use for this, if only to annoy their co-workers. I guarantee it.

2. The Cheap But Not A Bastard ($25 - $50) Another fun little pocket noise-maker, only a bit more capable. I chose the Korg Monotron Duo ($49.00) here, because virtually everybody bought a Monotron a couple years ago, and while it was fun and all, the shine has probably come off that penny. And of the three Monotrons, this one sounds the most interesting, in my opinion.

3. The Risk:Reward Ratio ($50 - $100) Now we're getting in to things that are actually useful to, you know, make music. Sorta. This is useful enough to actually elicit a "wow, you actually put some thought in to this and got me something you think I might like." Of course, you didn't. I did. But that'll be our little secret. Anyhow, if you want to drop a little more bank, go get that Nerd an Axle Grease Delay. It'll only set you back $69, and there are zero scenarios where a Synth Nerd isn't happy with a new analog delay. Especially one that is kind of semi-awesome. (For the money, anyhow.)

4. The Now We're Getting Somewhere ($100 - $250) If you're looking to spend a bit more, pick up a Korg Volca Bass synthesizer. ($189.) That is, if you want the easy way out (i.e. Amazon.) If you don't mind putting in a touch more effort, and perhaps risking not getting your gift before Christmas, then the thing to buy is the MeeBlip Anode. ($129). I personally think the Anode is the better gift, and I'd go with that, even if it's late. It'll show you care.

5. The Groove Is In The Heart ($250 - $500) I had to think about this for a while. My initial inclination was to go with the Waldorf Rocket, as it sounds very cool. However, I feel that it is overpriced at $329.99. It simply doesn't have the feature set or usefulness of other synths in this price range. Which is too bad. It's a cute little guy, with a unique twist on the tiny synth. No, in this price range, the hands-down winner is the Arturia Microbrute. ($299.) As of right now, this is probably the best value on this list, when you look at capabilities, feature set, and general usefulness. Very difficult to beat, and your Synth Nerd will be ecstatic. And you'll be happy because the keyboard doesn't have enough notes to play the lead line from "The Final Countdown."

6. The Hey, Big Spender ($500+) If you're gonna make it rain on your Synth Nerd, probably best to just give him a Visa gift card, because it's everywhere he wants to be.™ Just throwing that out there. But if you want something with a more personal touch, then I recommend the Korg MS-20 Mini. ($599.) I personally don't care for this synth, and I certainly don't want it for myself. But I'm demonstrably strange, and absolutely in the minority. Your Synth Nerd will definitely be happy with it.

So, there you go. Something for all budgets. Happy holidays!
TAGS: GASGrinch

 
November 26, 2013

Changeable Moods...

by Chris Randall
 

Silvertone...

While I was spending the last 7 days building modules, packing modules, shipping modules, and delivering modules, all kinds of fun things happened in the music tech industry, as it turns out.

1. Elektron Analog Keys - Interestingly, when Elektron first announced they were going to announce that they would be announcing a new product, my initial reaction was "hey, an A4 with a keyboard!" Then I got to thinking "nah, they wouldn't do that, would they?" So I went off on this harebrained mental exercise on what they were actually going to announce they would be announcing. Turns out, I was right the first time. Yay, me. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it at this point. The A4 has ingrained itself in to my WORKFLOW so much so that I don't really like the way I conceptualize its use to be fucked with. On the other hand, it would be snazzy to have a keyboard version. Apparently, they also announced that they'll be announcing another announcement soon, so we shall see. I'm obviously buying something from Elektron in the next couple months. I just don't know what it is yet.

2. MeeBlip Anode - I don't know why, but the word "anode" makes me want to get out my Crandall's Big Book Of Snark. It's a funny word. Whatever. New MeeBlip! I have the other two iterations, so I will, of course, buy this one. Although I'm of the considered opinion that Peter should just give it to me for all the joy I bring him. He won't, but he should. This one has all the controls nobody ever used removed, and an analog filter added. (The previous two had digital filters.) It's a Twin-T filter, the same one that makes the 808 Boooooooom, so there's that. $109 until Dec. 3, $129 thereafter. The MeeBlip family has always been, and will continue to be, the best value in hardware synthesis, and the Canadian Royal Mail will probably continue to suck. Immutable facts, ladies and gentlemen.

3. Cubase Adds Gesture Control - And strangely enough, Logic still doesn't understand what to do when I flip it off. Typical Apple DAWs, always playing catch-up.

4. Big Beat Is Not Coming Back - Who's stupid idea was that? Shit's sooooo 1996. I am working on a new EP. It will have guitar on it. I'm so sick of synths right now, I don't even...

In scrolling back through the week's RSS trail, that is actually kind of it. New sample set from Standard Beat Company that is worth checking out (one of Wade's better sets, IMO), I'm back to working on an iOS port of Phosphor, and Adam is working on the panel circuitry for the big-ass Audio Damage Eurorack modules. What are you up to?

 
November 16, 2013

It's The New Style...

by Chris Randall
 



Yay! A new module in our simple effect line-up, Freqshift. As the name implies, it is a frequency shifter. Originally coded by Sean Costello (ValhallaDSP) for us, and then extended by Adam, there is a ludicrous amount of functionality in this module. The manual is up at the Audio Damage site so you can read all about the various modes and how they're accessed.

It will be available next week at Analogue Haven for US$189.00, and at various other retailers the following week.

I've also bitten the bullet and made an Audio Damage page at Soundcloud so I can stop putting these modular and plug-in demos on my personal page. Follow that for a continuous stream of bleebles, blurps, and synth cricket sounds.

In further news, I've begun porting Phosphor to iOS; we're going to release several Audiobus-based effects over the next few months, re-contextualizing existing products for the iOS environment, but we thought it best to start with a synth. Since Phosphor is the only synth we have, there you go. This process will no doubt be tedious to my Twitter followers, as I live-tweet Adventures in iOS Programming. But at the end of the day, you'll have an extended version of Phosphor on your iPad for a couple of bucks, so deal with it.

In any case, if you want to know what the next few days will be like in my house, let me introduce you to a bag with 6500 knobs in it. This takes up a rather alarming amount of space.

 
November 6, 2013

Two Steps Forward...

by Chris Randall
 

Boing boom chack.

I got a Maschine Studio last week, and let's just state right now that it's a pretty nice piece of kit. In a nutshell, they've taken the original Maschine controller and broken out all the shift buttons to direct control, and added a jog wheel and a pair of whopping big hi-res color displays.

There are plenty of reviews out on the Interwebs, by people that specialize in that sort of thing, so I won't bother going over all the differences between the Maschine 2.0 software and its predecessor, or all the fine points of the new controller. Rather, I'll just toss off some comments that have come to mind in the last week as I've used it, and answer some of the obvious questions.

1. Not A DAW. There was a bit of a hope among a certain type of person (myself included) that the Maschine 2.0 software would turn it in to a full production environment, but let's make one thing clear: this software has its roots in MPC-oriented programming, and it hasn't strayed from that path. In order to function as a DAW, the software must operate in a non-linear way, and Maschine 2.0 is about as linear as it gets. The ability to chain Scenes to make a song is identical to the one in Maschine 1.x, and that hasn't been added to at all. Without a more advanced, less linear method of chaining patterns, this device and its software are still very much a sampling drum machine.

2. Renderless, So Render Less. The audio export function will only export the current scene. There is no method in which to render a song chain. If you're using it in stand-alone mode, the only way to record your performance is with an analog loopback or a separate recording device. One person's advice was "render the scenes, then put them together in your DAW." That's an awful idea for so many obvious reasons I won't go in to it. My solution, such as it is, is to build the song's parts in stand-alone, then instance Maschine inside Live, and use a Resampling track to record the performance.

EDIT: The above is not entirely correct. The "Export Audio" function exports the loop range, whatever that is. So if you've extended the loop range to encompass several scenes, then that's what gets exported. My mistake.

3. No Studio Required. As I said, the Studio controller is essentially the earlier controller with all the shift buttons broken out. I don't personally see the need for the jog wheel, which only duplicates functionality that is occurring where your hand already was. I could have thought of many better things to put in that spot, but they didn't ask me. The jog wheel is basically superfluous, for all intents and purposes. The displays make browsing for sounds and plug-ins and effects from Komplete very nice. However, if you're using your own library and 3rd party plugs, then you don't see them at their best. So you can live without it. In short, the Maschine Studio controller isn't strictly necessary; it won't limit your ability to control Maschine 2.0 at all, best I can tell. That said, it is a very nice controller, and is extremely well-built. It occupies a much larger footprint than the originals; it is, in surface area, roughly twice as big. However, the pads themselves, where the rubber meets the road, are identical to those in Maschine Mk 2.

4. Synthesize! The built-in drum synths are honestly a bit amazing. I don't know how they did some of them, and I am pretty well-versed in drum synthesis; I assume they're mostly a combination of physical modeling, traditional synthesis, and minor sample playback. You get a variety of starting points for each of the traditional drum voices, with 5 to 8 controls for the voice. In many cases (especially the snares) the result is indistinguishable from a sample. I wish these were a bit more out-there, but no complaints. I can always instance a synth to get what I need.

In any event, my feelings are thus: the Maschine 2.0 software is a must-upgrade. No joke, it is head and shoulders above the first iteration. As far as the Maschine Studio goes, it is extremely nice; if you already have a Mk 2, you probably can live without it, but why on Earth would you want to?

(Obligatory Caveat: I did not pay for the Maschine Studio; I received it as an NFR.)
TAGS: Workflow

 
October 26, 2013

Cycles...

by Chris Randall
 



When I first began releasing instrumental music in, what, 98? (I think that was the first Micronaut record, but I'm sure about 85 people will correct me...) most of the instrumental music I made had one purpose: to appear in Bunnim-Murray produced shows for MTV, Red Bull extreme sports videos, and X-Box games. I was pretty good at this, and from '99 to about '05 ASCAP checks were half of my yearly income, as a result.

The style of music I made throughout this period was Big Beat. That genre is now almost 19 years old now, counting from the release of "Exit Planet Dust," the first real Big Beat record, in 1995 . Weirdly, many younger people don't really know about it as a genre; they know the biggest acts, but never seem to connect them in to a cohesive group. I only discovered this last night when I put up that video, mentioning in my Twitter and Facebook posts that I thought Big Beat was ripe for a comeback.

So, a primer: Big Beat is easily described as sample- and breakbeat-heavy electronic music done with rock arrangements and stylistic nods. The key acts are, of course, Chemical Brothers (Exit Planet Dust, 1995), Propellerheads (Decksandrumsandrockandroll, 1998), and Crystal Method (Vegas, 1997). There are a bunch more, many of which put out some pretty amazing shit. The thing about Big Beat is that it wasn't really something you could make in your bedroom; to do it right, you needed more of a band presentation. This greatly limited the number of artists involved, and ultimately the form died out when the easier-to-make EDM styles gained popularity.

Anyhow, one earmark of a Big Beat track is the attention paid to the song structure; most tracks in this genre have a clear ABABCAB format lifted straight from rock music. (Or, more specifically, the popular industrial rock tracks of the early 90s, when that genre ruled the roost. You're welcome.) Perhaps that's why the genre appealed to me, specifically; I easily understood its structure, and it utilized my already-extant skillset.

When I got some of my tools shoehorned in my new office this week, I sat down to play and make sure everything survived the move, and the above video is the result. While it only loosely deserves the "Big Beat" moniker, having no defined structure (it is, like almost all my "live" videos, a pure improvisation), it borrows that genre's sound palette. And once I'd made it, I wondered out loud whether Big Beat was ever coming back. In my opinion, it's time. Can I get an "amen"?
 

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