Monday, April 26, 2010

Upcoming : Cover Series vol.3 : Bob Dylan

Mr Zimmerman is in town next July 1st, and here's an opportunity to see legend in the flesh that I can't afford to miss...

So, it seems à propos to dedicate the next Cover Series EP to one of my all-time favorite artists (I pretty much have in store everything he ever recorded, official or unofficial).

This Cover Series chapter will feature:

1 - High Water (a raw, dirty blues gem from 2001 "Love and Theft")

2 - Not Dark Yet (dark, bitter ballad from 1997 "Time out of mind")

3 - Huck's Tune (already released round these parts, from 2008 "Tell Tale Signs")

4 - Man in the Long Black Coat ( a Tom Waits-like masterpiece from 1989 "Oh Mercy")

5 - Lay Down your Weary Tune (unreleased song, 1963)

This will be released on May 1st.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We Went Live

So, we played yesterday at a nice event round here... good place, good sound, good audience.

More higher-res pics to come, and also the recording of the whole gig (or at least the best of it!), so stay tuned.

The setlist was :

1) Colour of Bone (from upcoming "Sinking Ship" EP)
2) The Ghost of India Supreme (from "Broken Sails" EP, 2009)
3) Nixonia (from unreleased "Up the River" LP)
4) Strawberry Blonde (from "Strawberry Blonde" LP, 2009)
5) Mary’s Mellotron Song (from the upcoming "Sinking Ship" EP)
6) Fell the Dog (from "Strawberry Blonde" LP, 2009)
7) Roadmaps for the Bugs (from "Animal Fraud" LP, 2005)
8) Lord of Rain, Lord of Snow (from unreleased "Up the River" LP)
9) The Fortune Song (from "Broken Sails" EP, 2009)
10) Nothing Sickened (from "Black Hole Years" LP, 2006)
11) Who the Fuck are You (from upcoming "Sinking Ship" EP)

And as a little encore : a solo version of "Opium Spider" (from the upcoming Sinking Ship EP) and "All Roads Lead" (from unreleased "Up the River" LP).

Gear-wise, I played Roland Juno-1, Microkorg and Boss SP-303.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Listening Mode : Stina Nordenstam, "This Is"

Stina Nordenstam is not only Swedish, she’s also my favorite female artist ever, and please, please, don’t bug me with your Lady Me-Me, Joanna Nothing, ImoHeap of Shit or, Jeebus forsakes, Björk… we’re talking serious here.

So, who’s Mrs Nordenstam, you ask… Mrs Nordenstam doesn’t do TV, she doesn’t do gigs, she doesn’t video blog and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t twitter.

Every now and then, she releases an album, then disappears again.

What separates Mrs Nordenstam from the vacant lot I’ve just mentioned is that Mrs Nordenstam is, at heart, a songwriter. You know, songwriting, that thing you’re supposed to do BEFORE you start monkeying around with the studio gear. And she writes some of the best songs, music and lyric-wise, I’ve ever heard.

I first encountered her music while idly browsing a record bin some 16 years ago, running across the intriguing cover of her second album. I was intrigued by the pensive, childlike figure of this singer I had never heard about, and even more so, was enthralled by the music, an odd combination of melancholy pop, jazzy moods and this peculiar, high voice.

She then went on to release more lo-fi, electric gems (“Dynamite”, “People are Strange”), and combined all influences in her outstanding 2004 “This Is” album.

The opening track, “Everyone else in the world” is the perfect introduction to Stina Nordenstam’s style : the subdued yet sophisticated arrangement, the intimate, upfront, whispering vocals, the beautiful lyrics and that very European, film d’auteur feeling.

There’s something magical about the way Stina Nordenstam dynamically orchestrates her songs. Take “Circus” : it starts with a muffled, treated guitar, and a lone, fragile voice, then suddenly builds up to a eerie chorus, flourishing like a fountain of ice : “I will be what’s left of longing on this earth…”.

The economy of means is remarkable, everything falling into place in a most delicate way. The diffuse melancholy of such “Stations”, “So Lee”, “Sharon and Hope”, and the poignant piano tune “Clothe yourself well for the wind”, is enough beauty to feel mandated to own that record, but then you’ll also find odd poppy diamonds like “Keen Yellow Planet” (in duet with Brett Anderson), “Lori Glory” (Beatlesque upbeat ditty) or “Welcome to Happiness” and its stark mix of filtered guitar and drum machine.

Stina Nordenstam’s last album, “The World is Saved” was released in 2004, and is quite a great one as well, but my all-time favorite, and one you should definitely check out, is this 2001 masterpiece.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Korg Poly-800

The reviews are back!

Today's Item : the analog polysynth Korg Poly-800.

First, to have something relevant to listen to while reading this little review : the following track is all Korg Poly-800.

Mutant Monty by khoral

The Korg Poly-800… here’s a quirky synth for sure.
It may look like a toy or home keyboard, but it’s a real, vintage analog synthesizer with plenty of retro character.

The interface (or lack thereof)

Now of course, this is a 1984 instrument, so don’t expect useful stuff like, I don’t know, KNOBS. What you get is a numerical board, a couple of value buttons and a graphical layout so you can understand what’s going on.

Programming obviously isn’t as easy and straightforward as it should, but as 80’s interface design goes, it’s decent. It certainly beats the Roland Juno-1, which is much more of a pain to program without its PG interface.

Oddly enough, Korg used sliders for functions like Pitch bend range or Oscillator tuning, at which point I should remind you that these are DCO, or digitally controlled oscillators, and they’re very stable. Why the dedicated slider, instead of a couple ones for filter cut-off/resonance, I have no idea.

The joystick is actually more than a simple pitch bend, as it also controls modulation and filter, a really nice feature.

The built is cheap, all plastic and please, please, beware of the fragile joystick, but its simple design seems to have aged very gracefully. Mine works like a charm anyway.

It works on batteries (yeah!) and again, because it’s 1984, you’ll find buttons on each side to use with a guitar strap.

Synthesis (play up to 8 notes at a time! with 1 single filter!)

Wait, did I say it was a 8-voices synthesizer?

Well, on the paper it is. If you only use one oscillator for your sound, a polyphony of 8 voices is what you get, but also your sound will often be thin and uninspiring.

For a richer sound, you’ll want to switch to the so-called Double mode, using both oscillators and reducing the polyphony to 4 voices.

Limited, eh? But it wasn’t so long ago you only had 1 voice, so…

I myself like the effect of notes stealing voices from one another on a limited polyphony instrument.

And speaking of limitations, let’s come to grips with the biggest : all oscillators pass through the same low-pass 24dB filter. So if you play legato, the filter envelope will trigger for the first note only, which makes for some funny playing.

This is a big limitation but one that I rather like, as it’s another quirk that adds up to a very distinct character.

The filter itself is a fine one, best suited for retro pads, sizzling analogue leads and early 80’s synthpop magic. A Polarity function allows for filter envelope inversion.

The oscillator section is quite interesting, as the Poly-800 uses additive synthesis to generate waveforms. The basic material is a squarewave, while on top you’ll add different harmonics at octave intervals, the volume of which reacts according to either a sawtooth or a squarewave form (that is, if you choose sawtooth, the volume curve of the various harmonics will be shaped like a sawtooth). Oscillator 2 can be be transposed on a full octave.

In Roland Juno fashion, Korg has added a great chorus, which should be considered an integral part of the audio chain.

Envelope (as in : lots of  'em)

Also notable is the rather complex envelope section. Each oscillator sports its own 6-stages envelope : Attack, Decay, itself split in two at Break point, with Slope setting up the time for envelope to go to Sustain, and finally Release.

If the Break point is set at a lower value than Sustain, what you will hear is the Attack, then Decay, a second Attack, and up to Sustain. A good way to create more sophisticated, evolving sounds.

The LFO section, on the other hand, is a bit primitive. A sinewave LFO controlling VCF and DCOs, and that’s it.


The Key Assign section too is reminiscent of my Roland Juno-1.
The Poly mode is the standard polyphonic mode you’ll use most of the time.
In Hold mode, notes will keep sounding until their voices are reallocated, as if all release values were set up on infinite.

Chord memory, often mistaken for a useless gimmick, is a great tool to create interesting sounds. Press Hold, then play a chord, hold it and press Chord memory. Every note will rep. Play a single C note instead and you’ve got a monophonic synth.

Finally, the Poly-800 features a simplistic 256 events sequencer and early MIDI.

So what?

Sonically, the Poly-800 falls square into the early 1980’s fuzzy, raw, poppy analogue family, and because it’s so overlooked, you’ll often be able to find a working unit for ridiculously low prices.

I bought mine 111€ shipping included on Ebay, and for such a fine analogue synthesizer, it’s basically a steal, so if you’re looking for eighties-styled analogue, and hesitate to pay 600€ or more for that soooo hip Juno-60, consider getting the Poly-800 instead, it’s no Juno-60 all right and you won’t show off with it, but it’s great value and I hardly think you’ll regret it.

I sure as hell don't.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Return of the Reviews

I've been pretty lax on reviews these last few months, and unduly so because there's still hardware and software in my armory I haven't talked about in some detail (Crumar Bit-01, Gforce M-Tron, Electribe EMX...).

That's why I'm busy writing a little piece on the handsomely retro Korg Poly-800, which I hope to finish tomorrow.

I'll also continue the Listening Mode section with a post on one of my favorite (well my favorite?) artists ever, Miss Stina Nordenstam.

All that and more in the next days.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

April 24th

Next gig 24th April...

Good place, good sound.

Looking forward to it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Microkorg goes Moog

As seen on a french forum :,moded-microkorg,post.5771584.html

I'd love that mod for my Microkorg.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cover Series 2 : Deer Me (Queen)

All right, there it is!

Four Queen cover songs, from the super-well-known to the ridiculously obscure.

You may download this free EP HERE


- the first ever produced piano and Moog orchestral version of "We Will Rock You"
- a languid, moody rendition of not-so-well-known ballad "Rain Must Fall"
- the raunchy, proto-funk groove of one "Action this Day"
- a poppy, Beatlesque, psychedelic "Life is real"

Instruments used : Moog Little Phatty obviously, but also Crumar Bit-01 and Korg Poly-800 on "Rain Must Fall", a fair amount of Prophet 08 on "Life is Real" and Roland D50 strings on "Action this Day".

Next albumette in the Cover Series will either be David Bowie or Kate Bush, depending on what's done before June 1st.

We Will Rock You by khoral