Friday, December 25, 2009

Free Xmas Instrumental EP


For the holidays, this free vintage electronics instrumental EP...

The sound is totally retro and it's HERE

You can also listen to the album in streaming on archive.org.

Tracks 1 and 2 have been previously featured on this blog.
Tracks 3, 4 and 5 are remixes/revamps of oldies from the 2005 "Elevator Songs" EP.

Instruments : 90% analogue... lots of Moog Little Phatty everywhere, mostly Prophet 08 on track 1, Roland Juno-1 on track 2, and some Korg Poly-800 as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Xmas du Jour :"(I Wish You) A Very Lonely Christmas"


Here's my anti-carol for you!

Merry Christmas!


(I Wish You) A Very Lonely Christmas  by  khoral


"I wish you a very lonely Christmas

May your dreams fall through

May the Long Night feast upon your lips

May the Worm crawl on you

May the Crows hunt down your shadow and rob you of your youth

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

From the bottom of my heart, screw you

 

As you’re losing sight and touch and I don’t give a fuck

What happens to you

Have a very lonely Christmas"


Sunday, December 20, 2009

No We Won't

So... I was supposed to play last night but we cancelled.
Long story short, the shady, braindead, 40-something neo-hippie that was supposedly the promoter screwed us up on several counts and we refused to have any part of it.
Frustrating, but we'll be more careful in the future.
Anyway, stay tuned on the blog this week, because there'll be two releases:
- Tuesday 22th, I'll post my personal anti-carol for the holidays, called "I Wish You a Very Lonely Christmas".
- Friday 25th, I'll release the "Internet Age" instrumental EP I mentioned in these pages some days ago, a 5-tracks vintage electronica albumette.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Upcoming Gig : 19th

I've been damn busy these days, I'll post a couple of songs in streaming from the "Black Hole Years" album later on...
Right now, me and the boys in the Khoral band are getting ready for our 19th december gig.
I'll be sure to try and record it for the blog.
Si vous êtes dans le coin, nous jouons 65, Rue du Port Durand, 44300 Nantes, à 20h00.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Disco K : "Black Hole Years", the Unexpected Follow-up


This was my second commercial album, released in 2006 in digital format.
If you are a regular follower, you know that I'm sort of an electronic instrument buff, but I also happen to be a pre-WWII blues aficionado.
My heroes being Blind Willie Johnson, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House, Mississipi Fred McDowell, Blind Willie McTell, to name a few...


Lone Drifter
envoyé par khoral_kmore. - Découvrez plus de vidéos créatives.


The first album was very electronica and cold wave, so I went for the opposite approach regarding the follow-up.

"Black Hole Years" is a very lo-fi, dark, gritty, blues album, in the vein of Tom Waits's later works (with a mellower voice).
There are synths in there all right, but mostly big analog-style bass, some pads and some Mellotron.
The rest is slide guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, well, guitars... and clapping hands...


Nothing Sickened
envoyé par khoral_kmore. - Films courts et animations.

It was released on british netlabel http://www.acousmatic.co.uk/ and is still available on most digital distribution sites.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who's Got a Lexicon Reverb?


Me, that's who!
I was quite lucky to find this Lexicon MX200 last week at a pawnshop for a mere 99€.
A good deal for a great multi-effects I've been wanting for quite some time...

A little experiment with the Moog Little Phatty, Korg Electribe and Korg Poly-800 plugged into the Lexicon

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hands-On : Korg SV1


I won't pretend to do a review from playing it 30 minutes at a shop, but to chime in on the buzz surrounding the new Korg SV1 : my feeling is that it's a very nice instrument, and possibly the best buy if you're looking for a digital piano with outstanding vintage sounds (Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet...).

Where the SV1 shines is the multisampling of the mechanical noises, clicks and impurities that belong to a real instrument. It really gives a lot of life to the samples and once you start to toy around with the high-quality FX, you just lose track of time playing hypnotic waves of tremolo/phased Fender or hitting juicy RMI riffs. There are no menus or sub-menus on the SV1 : every function has a knob, which is refreshing for a digital instrument.

All in all, I was very favorably impressed and I'll leave the final word to Sound on Sound's Gordon Reid :
"Perhaps because we are so accustomed to affordable workstations delivering such anamazing breadth of sounds and features, the current rule seems to be ‘more is better, so lots must be best’. In contrast, the SV1 is not feature laden and it’s not designed to be all things to all players. Nor is it designed to be many things to many players. It’s designed to do just a handful of things, but to do them extremely well".

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Rehearsal Time


Our 19th december gig is steadily approaching, and we're ready to shine.
I'm playing here on a borrowed Airline guitar, fine, fine, retro instrument, and my Roland Juno-1.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Disco K : "Animal Fraud", Alien Homestead

Alien Homestead  by  khoral

Again from my 2005 debut album, this nice lush, Beach Boys-styled pop song.

Fun to listen again now, as it's clear that I really was into a more intense, sixties-like, wall of sound approach. These days I tend to go for a simpler, cleaner sound.

If you like it, check out the previous "Animal Fraud" post for info on getting the CD (real one, not burnt CDR).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Revised Review : Prophet 08


Going on my 1-year blog anniversary retrospective, here's a consolidated/revised review of the Prophet 08, which I first oversaw on dec. 3rd 2008. I've added a deeper review of the internal sequencer and lots of audio snippets and songs made only with the Prophet 08.


Prologue : there are two ways of testing a synth in a music shop. The first is to peruse the factory patches for 15 minutes and rush back home to post on the web how bad a decried instrument fare against this or that so-called vintage classic. I like to call this the Retarded Way. The other one is, with previous knowledge of the basic functions of the instrument, to carefully test each function and try to imagine beyond the factory settings how good it'd be for you.

This is 2009, not 1978 : the Prophet 08 isn’t the Prophet 5. It's not the same name, you see. One is called 5, and the other is called 08. The difference in naming tells you that it is a different instrument. If you've followed my reasoning so far, let's add that it isn't that important to decide if it's a real Prophet or not. It's more relevant to judge the instrument for itself. But our good man Dave called it a Prophet, so I might as well take a side : I do believe it's a Prophet, that is, true to the Prophet line.

The sound is rich and musical (possibly light on the low-end on pad sounds, but that's actually a bonus in my book, since it usually fits better in the mix for that very reason). Not all analogues need to be gritty... some, like the aforementioned Xpander, are smooth and sophisticated. The Prophet 08 fits in that category, while still being able of nasty, snappy sounds. In any case, it wouldn't be the first analogue gear to be found unimpressive by early "specialists", then to be considered a classic...

Unpacking : the instrument is well-built, lighter than most polysynths, especially analogue. It is unfortunate that the power supply be a wall wart, but other than that, it feels like a serious piece of gear. The interface is clean and well thought, with solid knobs – note here that they are very sensitive, and endless rotary, something I don’t care much for since it prevents you from acknowledging the parameters of a sound at sight.

audio example 1

audio example 2

audio example 3

The sound structure : what we’ve got here are 8 voices of good analogue signal, with a very sophisticated modulation system. More precisely, its analogue oscillators are digitally controlled, which ensures a very stable tuning while a special “slop” function takes care of the random drift we’re bound to expect. The result is most satisfying, and can be best described in good Trekkian fashion as “the best of both worlds” (and I promised myself I wouldn’t geek it up again…). You won’t get crazy over the oscillators going haywire at random, but at the same time the Prophet 08 sounds reasonably “sloppy”, as in “analogue sloppy”.

audio example 4

audio example 5

audio example 6

The Prophet 08 sound can be rich and smooth, even creamy, or – especially if you push the Audio Mod knob up – gritty and mean. The Prophet 08 makes excellent use of the stereo field too (you can “pan spread” the sound so that the voices are played alternatively on both sides, which can also be linked to the LFO), and the keyboard lets you control the sound with subtlety and character. Furthermore, each patch comprises two layers A and B, which can be stacked or splitfor deeper, more interesting sounds.



audio example 7

audio example 8

audio example 9

audio example 10

The sequencer : it is a gated sequencer, meaning that you have to press a key to play the sequence (or send a MIDI note), and it’s also a 16 steps sequencer : you have to program the sequence step by step, old school way… you can’t just record a pattern by playing the keyboard.

The sequencer, incidentally, is one reason why the Prophet 08 is a wonderful tool for creation. It allows you to juxtapose four different sequences on each layer (the Prophet 08 is able to layer two different patches, each one with their independent sequences running).

For instance, you can have the 1st sequence going to the oscillators (thus playing a melody), the 2nd sequence going to the filter cutoff (thus changing its value on certain notes), the 3rd sequence going to the filter resonance, the 4th sequence going to one of the four LFOs, etc, etc...
Multiply this by two if you're using the two layers and you got a pretty complex atmospheric track going on already.

To access the sequencer mode, press Edit sequencer, then assign the sequencer to a destination, using the Mod Dest knob. For basic melody programming, what you want to do is assign to OscAllFreq. By now, the 16 knobs that were controlling filter and envelope are reassigned to step programming. Turn each knob up to the note you want to program, and so on… If you want a step to be silent, turn the knob to the right until “Rest” shows on screen. If you want to use less than 16 steps, turn to “Reset” on the knob just after the number of steps you need (9th knob if you want an 8 step sequence).

The following examples are done with the Prophet 08 only, processed by the Small Stone.
Two Pads
One Pad
Prophet beat phased to death

Now, one important note : always remember that the Prophet 08 has two different layers, meaning two different sounds that you can stack up or play in split mode. Layer A and layer B are independent… when you press the Edit Layer B button, all knobs are reassigned to the B patch parameters. Whatever settings you use for layer B have no effect on layer A.

The same is true with the sequencer. You may program a melody on the layer A sequencer, and program a different melody on the layer B, or program a bass line on the A and a drum beat on the B… You can also program a sequence on one layer and no sequence on the other (for example, to produce a pad with a background melody).

Note also that the BPM and Clock Divide values for A and B are independent as well. If you change the tempo for the sequence in layer A, you have to change it as well in layer B, unless you’re after a polyrhythmic effect.

One last word : the sequence is part of the overall patch. You can’t program a sequence on a patch, then play it with a different patch, and to my knowledge, you can’t copy a sequence from a patch to another. The Prophet 08 is not a workstation! The gated sequencer wasn’t conceived to build complete songs, but to program grooves, complex and evolving pads, etc...

There’s a lot more that could be said, because the sequencer benefits from the extended modulation possibilities of the Prophet 08, but that’s the basic idea.

That said, the following sequences are singles patches, without effects or overdubbing.

prophetbeat1


prophetbeat2

prophetbeat3

On the run


The shortcomings: first, while the low-pass filter can be set to 4 or 2 poles, it stands a bit lonely in there. A bandpass filter would have been nice too, and so would have been a sub-oscillator, in order to beef up some sounds, but then again, stacking up 2 or 3 Prophet 08 parts will already fill up much space in your mix without the single sounds having to be too thick. Furthermore, patches can be split on the keyboard, or stacked, and the unison mode guarantees you won’t have to worry about getting powerful leads.

Another minor bit of criticism, there’s an arpeggiator all right, and I’m always fond of that, but it doesn’t have a random mode. I don’t understand why, but I would qualify this as minor, because it can still be addressed in a further OS update. There’s also a primitive sequencer, useful to work out some grooves and complex sounds, but it’s a gated one, meaning that you have to press a note (or send one by MIDI to the synth) to make it work. Here again, I don’t quite understand the rationale behind that decision, but I guess I can live with it. More importantly, you can’t process external sound through the filter. That’s always a neat trick and it’s a shame the Prophet 08 is lacking it.

Some noise and FX

Some noise and FX, the sequel


In summary : overall, the Prophet 08 is a great synthesizer, which should probably be preferred to most virtual analog synth in the same price bracket, especially if you go for the rack module. It’s not a workstation, and arguably it ain't the most complete polyphonic synth, but in a way, that's beside the point. The Prophet 08 is an instrument with its limitations, and there’s vast amounts of character and musicality here. It's complex enough to be versatile and thrilling to experiment with, but at the same time, elegant and straightforward, an instrument for musicians who don't care for fumbling through zillions of options and want something to play music with.

All Prophet 08 :

Place of Dead Roads

Bruce Springsteen's "The Promise"

Analogue, Numan-esque improvisation.
Apart from the big beat that comes in halfway through, everything was done with the Prophet 08, including the opening groove :
Fading Fast

Single live take of a Prophet 08 patch, without external sequencer or effects :
Prophet Jam



Patches :

Here's four simple Prophet 08 sounds I made :
Prophet08.zip

To load them into your synth, use anything that transmit sysex - on Windows, I'd suggest
Midi-Ox.

The B-xxx at the beginning of the sysex indicates where the sound is going to be put, so back up your own sounds first, because the corresponding patches will be replaced!

B1-15-StrangeWind.syx : It's a complex, ambient-rhythm pad. Use the mod wheel to change the tone.
As indicated in the file, it loads on 15, Bank 1, so back up your own sound in that slot beforehand if you don't want to lose it.

B1-25-Speedallish.syx : Electronic sequence, quite dynamic

B1-35-DoublePad.syx : An experiment with the Prophet's dual layering : a low pad morphes into a higher one

B1-36-4VoiceDreampad.syx : Another 4 voices analogue pad... use mod wheel to add some nice vibrato


Useful links
http://www.davesmithinstruments.com/products/p8/index.php
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb08/articles/dsiprophet08.htm
http://www.keyboardmag.com/article/dave-smith-instruments/Dec-07/32707
http://remixmag.com/gear/reviews/remix_dave_smith_instruments_2/
http://www.musicplayers.com/reviews/keyboard/2008/0308_DSI_Prophet08.php
http://emusician.com/elecinstruments/dave_smith_prophet08/
http://web.mac.com/mwalthius/Site/Videos.html
http://prophet5.org/


Specifications (from DSI's site)
5-octave keyboard with semi-weighted action, velocity, and aftertouch. Spring-loaded pitch wheel and assignable mod wheel.

256 fully editable Programs (2 banks of 128) with 2 Layers (2 separate sounds) in each Program.16 x 4 gated step sequencer. Arpeggiator.

2 digitally controlled analog oscillators (DCOs) per voice with selectable sawtooth, triangle, saw/triangle mix, and pulse waves (with pulse-width modulation), and hard sync. White noise generator.

1 Analog Curtis low-pass filter per voice, selectable 2- and 4-pole operation (self-resonating in 4-pole mode). 3 Envelope Generators: filter, VCA, and assignable (four-stage ADSR + delay); Envelope 3 can loop. 4 LFOs. Glide (portamento): separate rates per oscillator. Analog VCAs.

Dimensions: 12.1" (30.73 cm) W x 34.8" (88.39 cm) L x 3.875" (9.84 cm) H (2.25" at front edge; the feet account for 0.25" of the total height). Weight: ~22 lbs. (9.98 kg). Ins and Outs.MIDI In, Out, Thru, and Poly Chain.Main stereo audio output: 1/4" unbalanced.Output B stereo audio output: 1/4" unbalanced.Sustain pedal input: accepts normally on or normally off momentary footswitch.Pedal/CV input: responds to expression pedals or control voltages ranging from 0 to 5 VDC (protected against higher or negative voltages).Headphone output: 1/4" stereo phone jack.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Disco K : "Animal Fraud", the Glorious Debut


Going on this little retrospective to celebrate this blog's first anniversary, the first part in the Disco K series, that is, a look back on my incredible discography.

PART 1 : the "Animal Fraud" album.

This is my debut album, released in 2005.


Special Attraction
envoyé par muftix. - Futurs lauréats du Sundance.

In a way, it's a transitional work, from my very cold-wave, dark early music to the more poppy, open sound I go for these days.


The production probably isn't as crisp and clean as today, but the songs stood up very well, and some are my personal favorites. I still play live “Roadmaps for the Bugs”, starring american singer Oly, and “Special Attraction”, “Alien Homestead”, “Let it come down” are great little pop pieces.

UPDATE : about the recording process itself, I was using a fair amount of plugins at the time, but 80% of the overall sound is probably Roland SH-32, my first really good synthesizer and truly an overlooked gem, and the Korg EMX, which is still one of the most affordable yet powerful workstations. The pianos are played on a Kurzweil Micropiano.


Roadmap for the Bugs
envoyé par muftix. - Futurs lauréats du Sundance.

It’s a more experimental, gritty album than my late releases and it’s absolutely worth checking out if you like my work!

If you want it, please don’t go to any MP3 site, but directly to

the BUY BUY BUY page

.


It’s a real CD, by the way, real commercially pressed CD (not a CDR), with booklet and all.



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Obligatory Sarah Palin Reference (nov. 2008)

First part of my 1 year anniversary blog retrospective.
This was a november 27th 2008 article.
When I wrote it, I thought we'd have all forgotten about one Sarah Palin a year later.
Ha, well.
Anyway.

So, once upon a time there came analog synthesizers...


They were warm and funky, but they also ran on voltage-controlled leprechauns which made them unpredictable and generally prone to detune like if there was nothing that would make them happier than watching you hit your head on the floor in disgust after an afternoon spent trying to record a 4 parts harmony with a constantly drifting monophonic Arp Soloist (which incidentally caused Donald Fagen from Steely Dan to throw the instrument down the studio stairs and kick it viciously before setting it on fire).

Some were big, and I mean suspiciously big, and you could contact aliens with them.


(Young Mister Spielberg fiddles with an Arp 2500 synthesizer)

Others had funny names, like Multimoog.
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.

The new instruments had crazy names like D50, M1, or EPS.They looked clean and slick and mysterious and Japanese.
They had microprocessors and digital thingies that would magically produce sounds out of ones and zeroes.You could do a whole bunch of nice sounds you couldn't do before, but they also sounded stiffer, and thinner, and stiffer again. Oh, they were stiff all right.

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.

Then the real analog synthesizers came back as well, with new models and spacey names, like Andromeda.
The circle was full and that sort of things.

But now we ask ourselves :

Is virtual that virtual?

Is reality really real?

Is Sarah Palin really real, for that matter?

Here's what I think :
1) You can do good music with virtual analog and bad music with real analog.
2) When comparing two isolated sounds, it can be hard to tell some really accurate virtual analog from the real thing.
3) When you pile up tracks of real analog, it sounds a lot better than the same thing done with virtual analog, and that has to do with the imperfection of analog technology : the subtle drift of the tuning, the various quirks and oddities of that old school circuitry.
4) Either Sarah Palin is unreal, or I am unreal. Or maybe we're all part of Sarah Palin's dream. In all cases, I probably shouldn't have eaten all that raw fish.

To illustrate my point, here's the same song, from the "Strawberry Blonde" album.

It's the intro and first verse, without the vocals.
I first recorded it last year using virtual analog (hardware and software).

I've recorded it again this year using analog gear.

The mixing is better, that's a point, but further than that, it's clear that the same music played with real analog sounds fuller, richer, well, nicer!

And that's the end of that chapter.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Bloggy


Time marches on, folks!
This blog is one year old today.

Thanks for everyone who paid a visit, and especially my regular visitors.
Most of the traffic has come from the USA and France, so "thank you come again" for the first, and "revenez quand vous voulez" for the latter.

The following weeks, I'll post :

* Consolidated/revised versions of my synth reviews
* Shameless rehash of my favorite articles from the year past
* A little retrospective of yours truly's outstanding discography

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Electro Harmonix Memory Boy (first thoughts)


I'm a huge fan of EHX's analog pedals.
First, I bought a 1980 Small Stone phaser, then a new Small Clone chorus.
My next move was supposed to be the outstanding Deluxe Memory Man analog delay, but it's a bit too pricey for my taste.
So when EHX released cheaper, cut-down versions, namely the Memory Toy and Memory Boy, I couldn't resist anymore.

I'll probably do a little review at some point, but I can already post some experiments I did yesterday.
These are extracted from a new song I'm currently recording. They combine all three pedals.




Saturday, November 21, 2009

Inside the Prophet 08

Before you look at me like I am a crazy person, here's what happened : the early batch of Prophets was shipped with a set of faulty encoders, that tend to increase the value when you turn the knob counterclockwise too fast.
The issue took more than a year to develop with mine, but there it was.
I've contacted Dave Smith's support and they immediately sent me the Deoxit contact cleaner that you need to fix the problem, along with instructions.
Here's the official page about the issue : DSI Support

And first, you got to remove all encoders. Just pull them straight up, not too hard, and don't let the cat play with them. Trust me. You don't want that to happen.


Then, remove all screws on the top of the panel, and on the back of the panel.

If you pull up the panel, you'll see that it's connected with two ribbon cables to the main part of the instrument, and another cable connecting the Pitch and Mod wheels.
Unplug these three and take the whole panel away.


On the panel, carefully remove the screws that tie up the boards.

Now, you've got your board.


Put the Deoxit, one drop at a time, here in the little crack :


Repeat the operation three times, while moving the boards around to distribute the liquid.

Pull the whole shebang back together and encoders should work fine.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More Prophet 08 Super Fun


I'm growing really tired of reading moronic comments about how the Prophet 08 isn't this or that, so one last time for the record : whether you think it's a Prophet 5 or not is irrelevant, it's a fine, sophisticated instrument with incredible depth of programming.

Let me explain this instrumental demo a bit...
The Prophet 08 is playing the beat, which is fed to the Moog Little Phatty filter, itself triggered through MIDI by the Prophet and playing an arpeggio.
I then proceeded to add layers of Prophet 08, heavily using the sequencer.

The sequencer, incidentally, is one reason why the Prophet 08 is a wonderful tool for creation. It allows you to juxtapose four different sequences on each layer (the Prophet 08 is able to layer two different patches, each one with their independent sequences running).

For instance, you can have the 1st sequence going to the oscillators (thus playing a melody), the 2nd sequence going to the filter cutoff (thus changing its value on certain notes), the 3rd sequence going to the filter resonance, the 4th sequence going to one of the four LFOs, etc, etc...
Multiply this by two if you're using the two layers and you got a pretty complex atmospheric track going on already.

Atari Forever

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alive and Well

After a little break, so that some band members could enjoy their H1 flu in the privacy of their home, my backing band is getting ready to rumble!
First gig in Nantes, France, on december 17th at the Podium, which is a cabaret of sorts, it seems (http://www.myspace.com/cabaretpodium)
More details to come, and I'll try to tape the show as well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yet Another Mellotron




I ran across this new free Mellotron plugin the other day, from Artifake Labs.
There are two of them actually on the website, but the one I've tested is the RedTron MKV.
The features speak for themselves, so let's focus on how it sounds : very good but somewhat too clean and polished, especially if like me you're using the M-tron from Gforce.
While the M-tron sounds are often dirty and flutter quite a bit, the RedTron is smooth and pristine. That's a problem if you're after a certain grain, and a plus if you want tamer sounds that'll fit in every mix without being overwhelmingly lo-fi.
Overall a well-conceived plugin that's worth checking out (by the way, no installation needed, just a big dll to copy into your folder).

Features :
- Six sound types : 3 Violins, 8-Voice Choir, Flute, Brass, String Section, Cello.
- "Loop" and "Non-Loop" modes : as the original "Mellotron", each sound is eight seconds long but you can switch to "Loop Mode" and allows the samples to loop continuously.
- Layer possibilities & independent parameters for layer A & B (Volume, Tone, Reverb, Delay, Pan, Octave, Note & Attack parameters, Delay effect, Reverb effect, Global Pitch control).

On the same site you can also find a fairly good electric piano and an interesting orchestra plugin.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Totally Gratuitous Post


My sister has a new cat. He's called Yoshi.
Kitty, kitty, kitty!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Roland D50


Yea! A synth review!

I've been using the Roland D550 (rack version of the famous D50) for months, so it's high time I say a couple words about it.

The Roland D50 was a big success, featured prominently on a number of late 80’s hit songs, in a lot of ways, as symptomatic of the era than the Minimoog for the early 70’s.

There are two kinds of things you might want to do with a D50 : eighties-type pseudo-realistic sounds (strings, etc...) and weird atmospheric sounds and FX.


That doesn’t mean that the instrument cannot perform in synth leads or pads, but my personal feeling is that you’d be well advised to go for an analog or virtual analog synth instead. The best lead sounds on the D50 for instance rely quite a bit on its faculty to add acoustic characteristics to the sound. While it may not sound like a Prophet or a Moog, none of these fine analog machines can produce the intricate, evolving, ethereal digital sounds the D50 provides.
The Korg Wavestation comes close, but in an even more experimental, cold way, whereas the Roland D50 retains that odd, pseudo-realistic quality that gives its sounds a texture not to be found anywhere else in the market.

Strings for instance are outstanding. Not because they sound real, mind you. They sound like real strings the way a Mellotron sounds like real flutes. Hence the appeal. They have that special, imperfect tone that gives a mix a certain edge you don’t get with high-end sample-based instruments. Now you wouldn’t use a D50 in lieu of the Vienna Symphonic Library to do a serious soundtrack, but for a pop song, well, it works.


Ambient strings and FX


While 1987 musicians probably purchased it for pads or leads, these prove a bit dated to many 2009 musicians. But where the D50 unarguably still shines is sophisticated and complex soundscapes, the kind of weird, otherworldy sounds that set up a whole cinematographic atmosphere or add extra layers of sonic oddities to an otherwise regular pop song.

This is weird

The D50 uses what Roland called Linear Arithmetic synthesis, and what we would now label as Sample+Synthesis. A full patch is made of 4 “partials”, that is, waveforms, assembled into 2 “tones”. The “partial” itself can either be sawtooth/square waveforms with pulse width or a PCM sample (out of a ROM bank of 100 samples).

The basic idea is that a good deal of what characterizes an acoustic sound is its attack. So, to save space while still giving a somewhat realistic feel to the sounds, Roland shortened the samples to the instrument’s attack, and looped some of them as well. The result is a mix of sampled attacks of natural instruments and classic synthetic waveforms that you can then alter with a fairly decent resonant filter and a comfortable array of modulation options.


Synthesis itself is your usual subtractive synthesis with low-pass filtering. Playing around with the partial and tone configurations, the keyboard split-points and the three LFOs along with their complex envelope generators is sure to make for most interesting, sophisticated soundscapes.

While the D50 isn’t a workstation, you’ll find integrated reverb and chorus. I strongly suggest that you switch these effects off altogether, even if the patch sounds less impressive at first. Just work out a good patch without effects, and add the external reverb of your choice. While the chorus is all right, the reverb has that nasty, metallic sound we have come to know and loathe from the early days of digital synths.

I had read somewhere that with the Juno-1 and its PG-300 expansion, Roland had made programming optional, but that’s a bit extreme – while the programming interface is sorely lacking, you can still, if you’re motivated, produce your own sounds. The statement rings a lot truer with the Roland D50. Interface-wise, here we stand in a desolate, 1980-style landscape with no hope of doing any serious programming without buying the optional PG-1000 programmer or using software. If you can program a sound from scratch on the Roland D50 alone, congratulations, you have the patience of a saint.

I myself prefer the hardware option, which gives you instant access to most parameters, and turns the Roland D50 into a fabulously expressive instrument. I have to admit, the PG-1000 is somewhat cluttered, and it’s sometimes hard to be sure what will happen when you push this or that slider, but on the other hand, it makes the whole thing quite unpredictable and exciting. At minima, the PG-1000 allows you to tweak factory patches to your liking in a more user-friendly way, but what makes the controller a great addition if you can afford it, is being able to fiddle with that über-digital synthesizer like you would on an old-fashioned analogue.

The Roland D50, like most digital synths of that era, can be found for less than 200€ (and count something like 120-150€ for the PG-1000). It’s all good for the musician who’s looking for a cheap but professional synthesizer that still have tons to offer in terms of experimentation.
There was a hint of nostalgia in my own research of a D50, that is, the simple pleasure of owning a great instrument that had me dreaming when I was a teen, and playing some of these classic late eighties patches.

Demonstration of factory patches used by Jarre
The oh-so-famous Orinoco Flow sound

But obviously the D50 is a lot more than just an artifact of music technology, it’s a fine instrument with a character of its own and outstanding value-for-price ratio.

Some D50-heavy songs :

Resources:

A page to preview all the factory patches

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Single du Jour : I Can't Think of Words


Complete  song (and one of my favorite) from the recently released (and totally awesome) "Strawberry Blonde" album.
Miss Roxanne on vocals.

This was inspired by the life and work of Nick Drake.
I've recorded it several times, this, I think, is the 7th recording.

The song and album can be purchased HERE


I can't think of words  by  khoral

Monday, November 2, 2009

Papa's Got a Brand New Mic


I've been using the Rode NT1 for something like 12 years and thought time was ripe for change.

For the record, I've tested the Studio Electronics SE 2200A condenser microphone, which I heartily recommend if you're looking for a good sounding, well-built mic. It's a bit warmer and more detailed than a NT1.

I then tested the Studio Projects TB1 tube microphone... quite disappointing : unless you're desperate for a low-entry tube mic, the SE 2200A sounds just as good, but is a lot cheaper.

Finally, I tried the Bluebird, which I found very pleasing.
Great look and a warm, vintagey sound.
A bit pricier than the SE, but totally worth it.

Some useful reviews :

Friday, October 30, 2009

Atari Forever


Another tidbit from my old tapes (see previous posts).

Ha, I wish I could take credit for that one, but it seems like I had put some videogame music to tape for personal (and geekish) use.
Again, this must go back to 1987 or 1988, and I have no recollection whatsoever what videogame (or coder demo) it's from.
The only sure thing is it's an Atari STE music cue.
It's a nice little retro thing with technoïd bass and the coolest melody.

Non-descript videogame music

And by the way, DEATH TO AMIGA.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Casiotone from the Dead


To educate future generations about what it was like to live in the eighties, I dug even deeper in my dusty, dusty tapes and found a couple of funny Casiotone CT-360 improvisations (not my pic, by the way, I don't have the Casiotone I used at my place)...

Hard to date without carbon 14, but I'd say sometime around 1987, yours truly being 10 year old.

To the Casiomobile!

Casiotone away!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Oh So Ancient Tapes


All right, here's a couple of oldies from my tape archives (see previous post)

WARNING#1 : the audio quality is very very low, the recorder obviously needs to be fixed, the stereo section isn't working anymore and there's an awful amount of noise and hum.

WARNING#2 : the musical quality is even lower! I was about 15 or 16 at the time.

This one starts with some pseudo-drum&bass distorted beat and then switches for no apparent reason to weird cold wave synth and guitar work.

The drums most probably come from the Yamaha DD-11.


This one features prominently the Yamaha SY-35 which was my only synth back then, hence the super-cheesy digital pads!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back from the Future


Took my old, ooooooold 4-track recorder back from its dark, daaaaaaark hole in the attic.
This was my first serious recorder, which I used between 1990 and 1995 (switching to computer recording).
I have plenty of absurdly embarrassing tapes from that era, and if I can find some barely listenable ones, I'll post some.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Did you Do?


The blog has been quiet these days, but this cat ain't lazy, I've been working on the upcoming Police EP, with a nice, smooth rendition of "Walking on the Moon" in the box, along with a smashing (yes, smashing) version of the lesser known "Darkness" (from the brooding 1981 "Ghost in the Machine" album, check it out). I also recorded "Invisible Sun" but I'm not sure about the result, I'll redo that later on.

On other projects, I've got 5 outside musicians to contribute acoustic instruments for the "Hollow Lands" folk-blues EP (cello, harmonium, etc...) which is quite exciting.

And I've launched a myspace for the Tsinam/"Chasing Ghosts" side-project : www.myspace.com/tsinam
Not sure it will actually be ready for november 1st, but stay tuned.

This week, I'll try to add a record to the Listening Mode section, and possibly a Roland D-50 review.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Prophet Jam


I was playing around with a new patch yesterday and thought I'd record the whole jam to give another taste of the Prophet 08's power and depth.

So, this is a live single take of a Prophet 08 patch, without external sequencer or effects.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Myspace

I hate myspace.
The only thing I despise more than myspace is facebook.
And the only thing I loathe more than facebook is twitter.
My point is, I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the internet. But it seems you've gotta have a myspace account for promoting anyway, so there you go, besides my own solo myspace , I've opened a specific one for the live band, and it's right HERE if you want to add us.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Band is Alive

All right, my live band's demo is online, and we're in the process of finding gigs now.
Sound quality isn't great, I'm afraid, for various reasons, but it gives a sense of how the band sounds, and it's just a demo anyway...
Jérôme Guienne on bass, Etienne Bauquin on guitar, Jérôme Herbert on Korg M50, Romain Richard on drums, and I've played Prophet 08 and Moog Little Phatty.

Three songs from our tracklist :
1 : Mary's Mellotron Song (an oldie from an EP released some years ago by now defunct Papergoose Records)
2 : All Roads Lead (from the unreleased "Up the River" LP)
3 : The Way to Dusty Death (from the recently released "Strawberry Blonde" LP)

Live Demo (zip)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Million Songs


Things here are damn COLD, and you synth nerds know what it means : lousy oscillator tuning... ah, playing the Minimoog by the fire...
I wish I had a fireplace.
And a Minimoog.
But I digress, I just wanted to say that progress is being (slowly) made on the live band demo tape, and that I had a fine idea to spend the long winter evenings (so you can see there was a point in that coldness digression after all) (I mean, sort of) : recording a series of cover EPs about artists that influenced me the most.
I'm trying to pick up songs that aren't that too well-known.
There's going to be a 4-songs Bowie covers EP, a 4-songs Gabriel EP, and I'll do Syd Barrett, Police and some others (until I just drop dead).

For instance, the Bowie EP will look something like :
1 : Andy Warhol
2 : Ashes to ashes
3 : Shopping for girls
4 : A small plot of land (already recorded)

The Police EP might be :
1 : Darkness
2 : King of Pain
3 : Secret Journey
4 : Walking on the Moon (recorded too)

And so on...
No date yet, but probably one EP per month starting this december.

And to prove that in the end I don't give a hoolop (don't check, it's a word I just made up) about relevance, a mostly unrelated pic of a guitar neck.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Place to Go


Just a little tip of my hat to my friend John Fisher aka Ricemutt aka Bagger288 aka Golden Master who just launched his music blog...
You should definitely visit that, my guess is it's going to be experimental and weird and great.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Guitar is Nice


Another shot from yesterday's session...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live Demo Progress


Our guitar player Etienne passed by to add some electric guitar.
I'm hoping to finalize the demo this weekend.
The tracklist:
1 - Mary's Mellotron Song (old tune revamped)
2 - All Roads Lead (from the unreleased "Up the River" album)
3 - Who the Fuck are You (new song)
4 - The Way to Dusty Death (from the recently released "Strawberry Blonde" album

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Overdrive that Korg

Just having some fun with the toys...

To explain a bit what's going on in this improvisation :

- The Electribe EMX is playing the beat, which is fed to the TL FAT1 compressor with the input gain on maximum so that it's distorting like craze
- The Moog bass is sequenced by the aforementioned Electribe
- The Roland D550 does it fx/digital/weirdiness thing
- The Korg Poly-800 pads are passing through the Small Stone phaser pedal
- The cat is staring rather nastily at me (out of frame)



Friday, October 2, 2009

The Bassman Cometh


Recording session last night for my band's live demo...
Drums, Juno synth and voice already done, time for adding some punchy bass... our esteemed drummer Romain took the pictures, and next stop : keyboards and guitar.
The demo should be available here in a week.