Thursday, March 31, 2011

M-Audio Venom Demo Part Deux

Another improvisation on the Venom.
Some nasty high frequencies here and there : that's one nicely unpredictable instrument!
As for the previous track, all Venom, no external drums.

The Aching Void by khoral

Sunday, March 27, 2011

M-Audio Venom Demo

I couldn't resist, could I?
I bought this bundle of badass fun yesterday and here's a first demo.

All sounds are from the Venom.
No external drums.

I already talked about the sound. It's real edgy and noisy and inspiring.

I do have a major gripe though, interface-wise. You can't program sounds without the software editor.
I don't mean that it's inconvenient without the software.
I mean to say that you absolutely NEED a computer, because most editing functions aren't accessible through the synth LCD menus.
For instance, you can't select the oscillator waveforms on the synth. That's done with the software editor.
You can select the FX type and its mixing level, but you can't change the FX settings.
And so on.... 
This is really a problem.
I understand that a synth in that price range can't have a decent array of knobs, and surely its modulation matrix is best taken care of by the software editor.
But no access whatsoever to the whole editing process via the synth? That's preposterous. 
These drastic limitations mean that you just can't take the synth away and program stuff.
You need a computer at all times.
I really hope manufacturers will understand at some point that the reason why we buy hardware instruments is because WE DON'T WANT TO USE THE DAMN COMPUTER.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hands On : M-Audio Venom

This is not a review. I don't own the instrument (yet!) so these are merely first contact impressions from fiddling on this at the music shop.

Let's put it simply : I was indeed impressed!

The build is good, although it's all plastic, unsurprisingly for a machine in that price range.

I can't say that the design is inspired or inspiring, but it's certainly functional. One problem though is that the writing is very pale, making it somehow difficult to read at places.

The interface is simple but easy to use, you can't expect a vast array of knobs for that price, so you've got to be a little more patient to program the beast than on a Prophet 08.

Let's not dwell on the specifications, the official site says it best :

The sound?

Well, I wasn't expecting much when it was first announced at the NAMM. I though "yawn, another virtual analog, what's the point...". Then I heard that it was a synth with an edge and I saw Mark Motherbaugh from Devo claiming how great it was, so my curiosity was piqued.

It IS badass! This is not your polished, clean digital synth, but neither is it warm, fuzzy like an analogue.

The sound bites, gnarls, cuts, growls... it's nasty, cold, distorted, futuristic, glitchy. The factory presets using the Multi mode showcase some mindblowing, earbleeding, eyespopping grooves.

The contrast is outstanding with my Prophet 08, which has a rather complex sequencer engine to build up some musical grooves. The Prophet 08 is elegant and sophisticated, the Venom is brutal and clinical. Which is why the synth interests me, by the way, it's such a departure from my other instruments.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Glen or Glenda

Is Ed Wood’s “Glen or Glenda” good or bad ?

Well, if you think the answer’s easy, you haven’t seen this one as much as I do! Which is probably far too much.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about at all, allow me to present the curious case of Edward Wood Jr.

Ed Wood has been nicknamed the worst film maker of all times, and its wacky masterpiece, “Plan 9 from outer space”, the worst movie ever. Of course, it’s not true. Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of “so-bad-it’s-good” movies, and a lot of “plain-awful-bad” movies, and there are far worse directors than good ole Edward Junior, and far worse movies than the mightily cheap “Plan 9”. It’s not that “Plan 9” is a good movie, mind you. Boy no. It’s bad!! It’s really awful!!! But it’ also damn entertaining and full of misguided poetry and morbid imagination. It’s surely cheap and badly done, but like Tim Burton’s biopic reminds us, it’s also a real film d’auteur, the uncompromised vision of a man. The man was flawed and the movie sure is too. That may not be Citizen Kane, but it’s got far more soul than most “serious” films out there.

But let’s go back to “Glen or Glenda”.

This is the story of Glen. He’s straight, he’s got a beautiful wife and he can’t help dressing like a woman. This puts Glen in a somewhat awkward position vis-à-vis the rest of the social world.
We see Glen walking down the streets in full glamour attire, we see a doctor lecturing us on the relativity of morals.

Oh, and we also see the Devil, people maniacally laughing at the camera, voluptuous dancers, girls getting whipped on a couch in the middle of a dark, empty rooms, we see mayhem and destruction, nursery rhymes, stock footage of trampling bulls…

And Bela Lugosi.

I know most of his lines by heart. He’s the puppet master, you see. He lives outside the film and probably outside of sanity, in a XIXth century room full of books and skeletons, making chemical experiments with an evil grin and generally observing with amused détachement the vagaries of the world.

The film begins with Lugosi, and he’s the thread that sorts of tie the whole mess together conceptually.

It goes like this (from memory) : the bottom half of the screen shows stock footage of a busy American street, the top half shows Bela Lugosi. He’s watching the bottom half with a smile, and says in a wonderfully slow and Slav voice : “People... all going somewhere... all with their own thoughts... their own ideas... all with their own personalities”. Video of bulls running. Lightning. Lugosi’s face, lit from below by a stark white expressionist light, his face contorting with a disturbing blend of giddiness, disgust and puzzlement : “Beware! Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys... Puppy dog tails, and BIG FAT SNAILS... Beware... Take care... Beware!”. And so on…

Why, you ask, why? How should I know? I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of bizarre sexual innuendo, but how is it related to the rest of the movie, and what’s the meaning of all the weird dreamlike action?

Who cares? It’s a flow of consciousness thing. Ed Wood is basically throwing at us every weird picture he can think of.

You don’t really question why there’s a couple of old loons the size of action figures on the floor in a David Lynch movie, do you? Or the crazy imagery of any dream or hallucination or madness scene in any other movie?

Why must Ed Wood’s movie be treated differently? If the answer is : because we all know he’s the worst director of all times and we’re supposed to make fun of his films, then you’re probably the kind of person who blabbers “goffer” like a Pavlov’s dog whenever “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is mentioned.

“Glen or Glenda” is a movie about isolation.

There’s a voice-over narrator (Ed himself) who says : “The world is a strange place to live in. All those cars. All going someplace. All carrying humans, which are carrying out their lives”.
The man who utters these words is out of the loop, disconnected from what common people take for granted. These are the words of a man who is so much at odds with society that the simple fact of other people living the “normal life” is a source of wonder and disbelief. It’s such a harsh, direct statement of one’s isolation : “The world is a strange place to live in. All those cars”.

That’s what Lugosi meant when he said : “People... all going somewhere... all with their own thoughts... their own ideas... all with their own personalities”. He’s basically commenting on Glen’s inability to fit in. Which, of course, is Ed Wood’s inability to fit in.

That’s the reason why Ed Wood is putting on screen all these disjointed grotesque images, like a cut-up or a surrealistic montage.
The world doesn’t make much sense to Ed.
People carrying out their normal lives look insane to Ed.
So, Ed is showing us what makes sense to him, and what makes sense to him looks like a random mess to us. “Glen or Glenda” is about what it’s like to be a misfit.

Ultimately, Ed Wood’s message with this is : you think I’m fucked up, but it’s the society you live in that’s dysfunctional.

In the end, whatever you think about the movie, you’ve got to admit : there’s something inspiring in Ed Wood’s tenacity to flesh out his personal fantasies and demons, to make a work of art in the cheap exploitation circuit, to do something that matters in, of all places, Hollywood.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Alzheimer for Synths

Damn, my new JX3P has memory problems.

I just lost the presets I programmed when I first got the unit.

Obviously the battery is dead, but I can't find much useful information anywhere, except that it might be soldered to the circuit board, which, er, doesn't help at all.

If anybody has more info on battery change, I'd be glad to know about it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

That Old-Fashioned Thing Called "Song"

So, there's a new REM album : "Collapse into Now". I happen to be a huge REM fan, ever since 1991's "Out of Time" and my favorite album ever is the elegant, sophisticated, brilliantly written "Up" from 1999.

There are two reasons why I love that band. First they write some of the best songs ever. Second they've got one of the best singers ever.

That said, I was quite disappointed by their last offering, which I think is a rather uninspired, hastily put together, clumsily mixed rock album. That's probably why I wasn't expecting too much of this one. But I was wrong.

This is a good album.

Some would say that it's a fallback to their classic sound. Well, that's only true if you specifically refer to the "Out of Time"/"Automatic to the People" acoustic-tinged production (and parts of "Green"). It's wrong if you consider the indie rock sound of their first five albums. It'd be more accurate to say that it's a return to the sound of unarguably their most commercially successful period. Also, it's fair to say that none of the lovely new-wave-ish electro touches of "Up" and "Reveal" are to be found here, and that, contrary to these two specific albums, this one doesn't mark any clear departure from what it's usually identified as the trademark REM sound.

And oh, by the way, all of the above doesn't fucking matter.

That is, it matters if you're concerned about style over substance. Otherwise, it's just a distraction from the fact that these are really good songs.

You know, "song", that combination of chords, melody and words that's supposed to move you regardless of whatever instrument you're playing it or if it's recorded as new wave polka or free jazz metal.

I know, I know... that talk about substance over style, it's a little quaint in the age of Lady Gaga, right after the Björk era and before the next shallow media act, but there you go.. What matters in an album is the songs. They're good or they aren't. Then only you may wonder about the production.

Now from some artists you expect a different style every time, like Bowie. Because that's what they're good at, reinventing their style. Some artists you don't really give a damn. Who the hell cares if Neil Young dig the same mine album after album? I don't. He sure tried a bold move, sonically speaking, with his last "Le Noise" album, and boy is it misconceived and overblown by critics. And in any case, what really bothers me about Neil Young's most recent output is that the songs aren't as inspired as in the past, ever since, let's say, 2000 "Silver and Gold". I don't care if "Silver and Gold" could have been recorded the exact same way in 1970. Why should I? Every song on this album is a masterpiece of songwriting.

But back to REM.

Here is a solid folk-rock album, with a beautiful tangle of acoustic and electric guitars, with the occasional horns and accordion. It's tastefully produced and a lot more intricate and sophisticated than a casual listen will reveal.

The songs are really nice. The acoustic ballads especially wouldn't feel out of place on "Automatic" or "New Adventures", may it be the glowing, Dylanesque "Oh my Heart", the ultra-melodic "Überlin" or the direct and poignant "Walk it Back". And it goes on : "Me, Marlon Brando...", "It Happened Today", "Blue" (with Patti Smith!), all of this just grows on me listen after listen.

We get treated to a number of jumpy, almost psychedelic pop songs in the mould of their "Green" album : "Mine Smells like Honey", "That Someone is You"...

Sure, there's some repetition here and there. "Überlin" is reminiscent of "She just wants to be" from the "Reveal" album, and "Blue" is obviously a (lesser) rewrite of the classic "Country Feedback" (one of my favorite songs) on the "Out of Time" album.

Also, I've got to say that overall the album is short, with at least three totally redundant and tepid rock songs : "Discoverer", "All the Best" and "Alligator". That last song especially stands out as the most superfluous song of the album. It sounds like a rehearsal jam over a clichéd guitar riff with Stipe howling out a single-note melody over and over. Totally pointless.

And the lyrics... well, I'm not so sure about them either. Some are classic obscure Stipe, others are just plain embarrassing, most notably the awful "Drive" parody in "Every Day is Yours to Win" (gee, just that song title makes me want to throw up).

But hey, let's not focus on the negative. Sure, there's a feeling ever since "Around the Sun" that the band is past its prime, but that's something that happens to everyone, so it's somewhat irrelevant to dwell on that at this point.

It's a nice electro-acoustic work with great songwriting, superbly performed and sung, and I think it'll stand up the test of time nicely, whereas the bolder (for REM) "Accelerate" is already forgotten (by me).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Roland JX3P Demo

A simple improvisation on my new Roland JX3P.

Drums from an old hip-hop sample collection I forget the name of.

The JX3P has that incredibly open and popppy 1980's sound. Just love it.

Roland JX3P Demo by khoral

Monday, March 7, 2011


Most extravagant movie theatre ever (in Amsterdam).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Back from Amsterdam

What a great city, stunningly preserved from the horrors of modern architecture.

Lots of water as well, which is nice (and hookers and dope).