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.

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 (
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 :


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 :