Saturday, January 29, 2011

Polyphonic Moog

So, the Moog Little Phatty is monophonic, but you can chain up several instruments to add up voices.

Now the Slim Phatty is here and for a little more than 3000€ (!), you can get this lovely 4-voices Moog synthesizer.

All right, it's pricey, but do you really need TWO kidneys?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

One Year in Atari

New instrumental track.

This was mostly done on the Prophet 08 and Moog Little Phatty, with some Gforce Virtual String Machine pads.

One Year in Atari by khoral

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Listening Mode : Mr Bad Guy

Now here’s an unfortunate choice of cover!

But anyway, speaking of Queen materiel I had never properly considered, I recently got to listen to Mercury’s somewhat forgotten 1985 solo effort.

The reason why I had never really tried before is that I do own a copy of the « Freddie Mercury Album », and – wrongly, as it turned out – assumed that it did contain the same versions of « Living on my own » and such songs, plus irrelevant filler.

Well, I was wrong on both counts.

First, the 1985 album actually boasts very different mixes for songs that eventually appeared on the 1992 compilation.

While the 1992 compilation features rather embarrassing club mixes for « Let’s turn it on » and « Living on my own », the early-to-mid-eighties-pop fan can only approve of the way the original songs were produced : no cheesy 1992 techno beat, but steady 1980 synth bass lines, inventive instrumentation (the modern jazz solo on « Living… », some badly twangy guitars…) and Mercury’s soul-filled vocals.

The same is true about « Your kind of lover », much more primitive and 1950’s rock n’roll-esque than its clubbish 1992 remix.

The title track hasn't changed that much, except for that sophisticated orchestral outro reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s « The Trial ».

As for the songs that didn’t made it on the 1992 compilation, some obscure gems are also to be found.

« Made in Heaven », obviously, was heard afterwards on the ultimate Queen album, reworked in full electric extravaganza. The original version is more down-to-earth and quite beautiful.

But the songs that truly made my day are the two Lennon-esque, bittersweet ballads, « There Must Be More To Life Than This » (charmingly naïve, and aptly conceived for Michael Jackson) and especially « Love me like there’s no tomorrow », a cleverly written and arranged ballad with breathtaking vocals.

All in all, this 1985 came as a good surprise, and I do regret not having paid more attention before.

Needless to say, the album is hardly reissued these days, and that’s a waste, because this would be a far more interesting thing to do than to put out compilation after compilation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Listening Mode : Made in Heaven

Here’s another album I didn’t get to buy until lately… now Queen might be my favorite band ever, but when this ultimate offering came out back in 1995, I found it rather disappointing. That’s why for years it has been the single Queen album I don’t own. But hey, time went by and I thought I’d give it another try.

I’ve got to admit, there’s still a lot to cringe about.

Some of it can be excused. Yes, the material is uneven, with a bunch of subpar songs sporting very weak lyrics (“My life has been saved”, “I was born to love you”, “Heaven for everyone”), but the songwriting process was understandably shaky, with Mercury showing up in the studio whenever he felt good enough, asking for whatever could be sung upon. In such precarious circumstances, it’s hardly any wonder that some of the album is basically uninspired filler, while other songs like “I was born to love you” are perhaps unduly rescued from Mercury’s solo album.

On the other hand, what’s with the production? “Innuendo”, among other things, was remarkable for its somewhat timeless production, at a time when the late 80’s commercial sound still ruled king on most mainstream records. The production on “Made in Heaven” was awkward in 1995 and sounds all the more dated now, one good example being the cheap electric piano on “Too much love will kill you” or the FM rock arrangement for “I was born to love you”.

That said the album does have its highlights.
Songs I didn’t care about 16 years ago, they seem to speak to me now that, well, 16 years have passed…

Take for instance the evocative beauty of “A winter’s tale”. At the time I thought it was rather corny and dull. Today, for all its cheesy arrangement, it sounds contemplative and elegiac, Mercury’s dreamlike, surreal depiction of the mountain scenery outside his last residence in Switzerland.
I can also find merit in “Let me live”. Yes, it’s a standard rock tune, but it’s possibly the only song where Mercury, May and Taylor all sing solo parts.
I did warm up to “You don’t fool me”… a disco song harking back to the oddball days of “Hot Space”, but with a touch of hypnotic melancholy.

“Too much love will kill you”, on the other hand, was always a favorite of mine. It has become a signature song for May, but this version features outstanding vocals from Mercury (who oddly enough found it somewhat too weak to end up on “The Miracle” album).

The one song that always stood up, of course, is “Mother love”.
This was a gem in 1995 and it remains one of the band’s unknown masterpieces.
Brian wrote the music, Freddie the lyrics, and both recorded it a couple of weeks before the singer’s death.

The finished song is unlike any other in the band’s repertoire, featuring the most direct and confessional lyrics they ever put to tape. It can be argued that they share a sense of closure with “The show must go on”, but the latter is written in a poetic, metaphorical way. “Mother love”, by contrast, is simple, brutal and strikingly vivid in its depiction of helplessness.

“I don't want to sleep with you
I don't need the passion too
I don't want a stormy affair
To make me feel my life is heading somewhere”

This coming from the man who spent most of the eighties fooling around from party to party in the utmost promiscuity.

“I'm a man of the world and they say I'm strong
But my heart is heavy and my hope is gone”

The music is subdued, minimalistic. May’s usual Red Special guitar is mostly absent. Thus the trademark Queen electric sound is out of the picture, leaving chorused arpeggios drifting on a steady, muffled rhythm.
The man of the world is looking for a dignified shelter.

“Out in the city, in the cold world outside
I don't want pity, just safe place to hide”

The electric guitars suddenly erupt and soon draw away.
Mercury says : “I long for peace before I die”, before feeling too ill to sing any more. That’s why the last verse is sung by May, literally giving his voice to his friend’s dying words.

“My body's aching, but I can't sleep
My dreams are all the company I keep
Got such a feeling as the sun goes down
I'm coming home to my sweet Mother love”
Then the song abruptly ends in an abstract collage where fragments of live audience chanting and Mercury’s familiar a cappella singing can be heard.
At first, the idea had stricken me as odd, but I get it now.
This is the personal tale of a man who has reached the heights of worldly fortune and glory and finds himself naked and vulnerable before his own mortality.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's Up

Well, it's been quiet in here this month, but I've been quite busy.

I've recorded a new song called "Life on the Outside" for the upcoming "Up the River" album. It's a folk-blues, low-key balllad with lots of acoustic guitar... and banjo. Yup, banjo...

Also finishing to mix and master a new pop-electro single called "Nowhere Near".

I'll post some new music this week.

Friday, January 14, 2011

NAMM Beauty Shot : Tempest

But of course, the star of the NAMM 2011 is Dave Smith and Roger Linn's new analog drum machine, the Tempest.

I'll give my 2 cents about that later on, but let's first salivate on this great hi-res pic. A couple of photographs are floating on, but none as good as this one.

NAMM Thoughts : Korg KRONOS

So, the annual music gear extravaganza is on back in Cali-foh-nia.

Now there were two rather mysterious products that I was keen on learning about, the new Dave Smith project and the Korg Kronos.

Let’s talk first about the godly named Kronos from Korg.

Somewhat unsurprisingly it’s yet another workstation, and usually that’d be where my attention vanishes in thin air, but there’s something about the instrument.

I’ve never been a fan of workstations, because while they tend to deliver very professional and clean sounding tunes, they usually lack personality, and I’d rather own several distinctive instruments.

Also, it should be said that for all the grandiose commercial rhetoric from Korg about what a giant step for mankind this is, let’s face it, the Kronos seems at first glance to be a stripped-down version of the mighty Oasys.

But that’s the precise reason why I do find it interesting.

The Oasys is a powerful instrument, featuring several complete synthesizers, but it’s hugely expensive.

The Kronos boasts 9 synth engines, which cover quite many aspects of modern synthesis : you’ve got your sample-based synthesis, FM, analogue modeling, but also string modeling, the return of wave sequencing from my beloved Wavestation (now that’s a GREAT idea) and the acclaimed MS-20 and Polysix emulations.

With such a diversified package, one can dream about the interesting combinations of atmospheres it would provide.

How much will it cost?

Here’s the itch, it’ll probably be very expensive still, with rumors of a 2.999 to 3.999$ price tag, seemingly confirmed by this Nova Musik pricing :

More info :

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Listening Mode : Bryter Layter

In the mail yesterday, Nick Drake's second album, 1971.

Now here’s a fine album…

Why haven’t bought it before, I’m not sure. I am an avid Nick Drake fan, having been playing his debut “Five leaves left” and closing statement “Pink Moon” over and over for years, but I never managed to get a copy of the second one, “Bryter Layter”.

Well, there are reasons for that omission : while a great album in its own right, I believe “Bryter Layter” to be slightly inferior to its siblings.

It’s very short, for one thing : 10 tracks, and 3 of them are rather forgettable instrumental oddities that tend to verge on the easy listening (notably “Bryter Layter”, “Sunday” and their ghastly flute soloing).

The remaining 7 songs are beautiful, but suffer occasionally from awkward arrangements. The subtle drumming, the female choir are all right, but cheesy electric guitars and saxophones sound a bit off.

But anyway, it’s a nice album, Drake’s most poppy and mainstream effort, and yet, another failure that sent the aloof musician into the blackest pit of depression.

Nick Drake had predicted his own future on the first album : “So men of fame can never find a way - Till time has flown far from their dying day”.

Maybe that's why this “Bryter Layter”, for all its cheeriness, has a tragic flavor in retrospect. Where “Five leaves left” was melancholy and subdued, “Bryter Layter” sounds happy and hopeful. The third chapter, “Pink Moon” would reflect bitterness and despair.

Drake would then retreat deeper and deeper into isolation, lamenting his obscurity, seemingly unable to write. Coming back to the studio in 1974, rehashing older works, he can’t focus enough to sing and play his intricate guitar parts at the same time. He confides to a friend : « I can't think of words. I feel no emotion about anything. I don't want to laugh or cry. I'm numb… dead inside ». Not long afterwards, the singer dies of a drug overdose. Suicide ? Accident ? Freudian slip ? Who knows… the fact of the matter is, Nick was a misfit.

If there was only one reason to acquire this gem, it’s the other-worldly beauty of "Fly", surely one of my ten favorite songs ever.

Saturday, January 1, 2011