Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The label is Bitkins and you may get the CDR or MP3s here
I did covers of Springsteen's State Trooper, from the 1982 Nebraska album, and Captain Hook, a John Cale rarity from the live Sabotage album, 1979.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
After a while, the musicians got bored with the analogness and craved for new sounds and synths that wouldn't humiliate you in the middle of a lifetime's keyboard solo by going totally out of tune, Schönberg-style. The mere idea of an analog oscillator made them cry, at that point.
They had microprocessors and digital thingies that would magically produce sounds out of ones and zeroes.
Then the musicians got bored again and wanted some sort of X-Filesque hybrids, without the suffocating green blood, but with some analog character. Virtuality was big in those days, so the new instruments were virtual analog...Some were hardware and some were software, but they were all digital synths dressed in their analog brothers' clothes.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
So... what about it?
At first glimpse, the Wavestation suffers from the infamous "80’s interface" bug…. No knobs, but a LCD screen and some buttons. It sure looks slick, but what about programming? Well, I would certainly prefer a vintagish array of knobs to control the parameters in real time, but as digital synth design goes, I've seen worse than the Wavestation. The screen, after all, is quite big and although fumbling through menus and sub-menus isn't the most practical way to tweak the sound, everything is laid logically enough and with a little practice (because the manual is very thin), programming becomes somewhat easier. While the factory presets are decent (including the cool Mini Lead patch used by Tony Banks on "Fading Lights"), the Wavestation isn't a preset machine, but a real synth with vast programming capabilities.
This synth works with "performances", which are combinations of patches, each one able to stack up to 4 oscillators. That allows for very complex sounds, bearing in mind that the Wavestation is a vector synthesis synth, allowing the player to "move" inside the sound with a joystick (Dave Smith brought this to Yamaha and Korg from the ill-fated Prophet VS - my first synth was a Yamaha SY35, one of these surprinsingly rare vector synths). Toying around with the juxtaposition of patches, their respective envelopes, the split keyboard mode and the vector joystick is a perfect way to create rich, sophisticated, highly evolving sounds and landscapes.
This alone would grant you interesting creations, but the Wavestation has one more trick up its sleeve : wave sequencing. Simply put, it's a way of chaining waveforms in order to produce a rhythmic/melodic sequence (see pic below) that can then be supplemented with other patches, in unison or split mode. You can for example program a sequence for the left hand, juxtaposed with a bass sound, and a lead patch on the right hand, itself enriched by a pad… If programming a wave sequence will surely prove too scientific and tricky for most users, you can always tweak up an existing one by editing its waveforms and their duration, pitch, etc…... Of course, the overall effect is so distinctive that you can’t really use wave sequences that often in finished songs, but it's still a very fun way to experiment, improvise and try out ideas.
The Wavestation's main flaw, unarguably, is the lack of a proper filter. What we've got here is a digital non-resonant low-pass filter that doesn’t do much to shape the sound. This is really a pity, as we can but imagine how great the machine would have been with a good one, not even mentioning some bandpass, hi-pass or more exotic capabilities. Or even better, a combination of digital synthesis and analog filter, like what could be found on the Ensoniq SQ80. This serious issue forbids that the Wavestation produce any of the warm, smooth sounds of a D50, for instance, and explains why it excels in lush, but somewhat icy atmospheric pads and FX.
One final word about the built-in effects...… Like many digital synths, the Wavestation tends to rely heavily on them to make up for the relative weakness of its sound compared to that of an analogue polyphonic instrument. The effects supplied here are quite good, but I would definitely advise in most cases to turn at least the reverb off. This has a very metallic, harsh sound that needlessly contribute to the coldness of the sound. On the following audio example, a wave sequence is played, first with the built-in reverb the patch was created with, then with a VST hall reverb.
As you can hear, while the Wavestation's reverb provide for a peculiar ambience, it can prove difficult to make the whole patch work in the context of a whole mix. That’s why it might be a good idea to record the synth dry, even if it sounds a bit shallow at first, and then use a mellower, lighter reverb.
That's all folks
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The Little Phatty is an analogue monophonic synth with 2 oscillators and the classic Moog filter.
I won’t get into the detailed specifications, but let’s just say that all the usual basic functions are there, plus the very useful Overload knob, that helps you create a most musical and warm overdrive.
It’s a 100% analog signal path, but you get some of the comfort a 2008 keyboardist might expect : MIDI and patch storage obviously (it was before Moog Music got into the unhealthy retro fetishism that produced the Voyager Old School), but also a very useful auto-calibration routine.
It’s a superb instrument for sure. First, it’s a nice, solid piece of gear, with a lovely design. That may be kinda anecdotal, but that’s one point where hardware is superior to software as far as I’m concerned. Just watching that Moog thing makes me want to play it and create something and I very rarely get that feeling watching my switched-off computer. But more importantly, it sounds great. Interestingly, the oscillator section allows you to move in a continuous fashion from waveform to waveform, instead of switching from a fixed one to the other. The filter is the classic low-pass 24db that defines the Moog sound, but as a good surprise, it can be set in the OS menu to 1, 2, 3 or 4 poles. Note also that external audio can be fed into the Little Phatty, which is a very smart move. Just plug your digital drum machine on the synth input, put the oscillators' volume to zero and your dull lifeless beat magically transforms into groovy vintage perfection (okay, maybe not, but it's an effective trick in a lot of cases!). Sure, it ain’t the most versatile synth on the market. It’s a monophonic all right, suited for huge basses and soaring leads, but you won’t get the variety of sounds of the more expansive Minimoog neither... Nonetheless, the Little Phatty stands as a very useful addition to any studio, especially a computer-based one.
In conclusion, the Little Phatty may be something of a luxury. After all, you can get a Prophet 08 rack for approximately the same price, that is, 8 voices of analogue sweetness, but what you wouldn't get... is a Moog! It's truly something to switch the bastard on and automatically get that magical Moog tone. That's why the synth is worth every cent if you’re wanting to add the unmistakable Moog flavor in your mixes.Mooglead5.mp3
This is not a "best of links of the world wide web" blog but it's not a blog about my fascinating opinions on politics or the new Lost season (not that I would care anyway)...
I am a musician (check out my main site http://www.khoral.net/ for downloads and CDs) and this is my blog.
Here I will talk about music-making, post some gear reviews and sonic experiments, discuss synth-related news and showcase work-in-progress songs and so on...
I will also post on design, photos and videos.
So welcome, and hope you'll enjoy!