Not the best of days as whilst trying to repair the keyboard on my Roland Juno-D synthesizer, I broke the connectors between the keyboard and the main circuit board. Had I not got the Awakenings gig coming up in 6 weeks, I might have been inclined to try and sort it out. But, that is not meant to be, so I have sold it on as a "spares or repair" and I am on the look out for a new synth to replace it,
The promotion has now started on-line for the next Awakenings Evening of Ambient and Electronic Music.
You can get tickets using the link below.
It's always a great evening of music, and I am quite thrilled to be billed alongside two leading UK exponents of the genre in Nick Robinson and AirSculpture. So, for £10, you get three acts performing live and a recording of the concert a few days later inclusive. That's called value that is.
We've already started preparing a one hour set that will be completely live with no backing tracks or computers, relying on hardware sequencers and synthesizers. Also thrown into the mix will be test signal generators, an Atari Punk Console unit, iPhones, iPods and even a Nintendo DS for good measure. Anything could happen!!! We're also working on a graphics backdrop to accompany the music, mixing up moving images and still images from my own photographic collection, those of my partner, Anne Mancini-Smith and maybe one or two others (if we get permission!!!).
If you've got a spare evening on that date, your support would be more than very welcome and it would be great to see you there.
A few of my Facebook chums have been suggesting that I post up videos of when I'm messing about in my wee studio and as I received the Behringer EM600 Echo Machine pedal today, I thought it would an ideal opportunity to do just that.
The EM600 is basically a delay effect that is made of 11 delays all packed into one single pedal. You have Ping Pong, Reverse, two different multi-delays, Tracking, Sweep, Swirl, Slap and three different tap modes, all of which are exciting ways to mangle your audio signal. The EM600 has the capability to emulate the acoustics of various real-world environments from cathedral-like echoes to cave-like echoes, and everything else in between. I've only had a quick play with it today and I have to say that for what I paid for it, I'm mighty impressed.
So, the video below shows me sending a signal from my Korg Monotron in an effects chain, and then using the effects to alter timbre and pitch. It's raw and unpolished, but quite effective (if you'll excuse the pun) and certainly gives rise for development of the idea.
Through a bizarre series of events, I unexpectedly found myself on the train with author Stephen Roper travelling from my home city of Norwich to the Suffolk town of Ipswich to see Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark supported by my current favourites, John Foxx and the Maths in concert at the Regent Theatre.
Of note is that Stephen wrote a highly interesting book called "Backstage" which cover the career of Gary Numan from 1979 to 1981, it's well worth a read and contains interviews with various people who were connected with Numan at that time including John Foxx and Andy McCluskey. I was fortunate enough to get my copy signed by John, Andy and the other half of OMD, Paul Humphries. I 'm considering making it something of a mission to get the book signed by all the people that were interviewed in it.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand. Stephen and I arrived in Ipswich after a very enjoyable train journey, augmented by a bottle of a rather pleasant Pino Grigio wine, and made our way via taxi (the friendly driver was playing Kenny Ball on his CD player and that's NEVER a bad thing) to the Regent Theatre. During the taxi ride, we reminisced about the days when it was called the Ipswich Gaumont and all the bands we had seen there. Upon our arrival, we immediately made our way around the back of the venue because Stephen had arranged with OMD's Andy McCluskey to sign some copies of his book prior to the show, which involved two tickets for the show as well as access all areas passes. Okay, between the two of us, Stephen and I managed to turn this into a minor fiasco as we went to the wrong part of the building, leaving a very poorly Andy McCluskey waiting for us. After a couple of texts and a quick phone call, we got our bearings and found the entrance we should have gone to in the first place. There we were greeted by a security man who I would not want to argue with and we were taken through to see Andy. Despite being quite obviously unwell, he willingly signed the books (I took total advantage of the situation and got my copy signed as well - well why not?) and we talked briefly. Then, he went and brought through none other than John Foxx!!! Followers of my blog will know that Mr. Foxx is perhaps my favourite artist and to meet him again was quite a thrill. He was very charming, warm and friendly and we spoke for a few minutes about this and that, not least would he ever perform in Norwich again. Naturally, I got him to sign my copy of "Back Stage". I now look forward to the John Foxx and the Maths gig in Brighton on the 7th June 2013, where they will be supported by Vile Electrodes (who are supporting OMD in Germany this month!!!) and I will have a photo pass ;-)
We then made our way to the front of house to meet up with people I had previously met at a Gary Numan gig and also with the legendary Finnish man-about-Europe, Tapio Normall, before heading into the regent for the John Foxx and the Maths set. It was as good as expected. Powerful, current and an excellent performance. For me and my personal biases, I was wondering how OMD could be any better than this. When I first saw Foxxy and the Maths back in 2011, they were a four-piece, but now they comprise John Foxx (obviously), Ben "Benge" Edwards on electronic percussion and the rather gorgeous Hannah Peel on keyboards and violin. Every song was just right and a good balance between old and new material. Like I said, I'm biased, so for me it was always going to be good.
And then after a short break, it was time for OMD.
Now, I like OMD's music, but I would never describe myself as a big fan. Also, I'd never seen them live before this night. They were amazing. They were brilliant. I am now a fan. I was concerned for Andy McCluskey because when we met with him before the evening started, he was not well and he did not look well at all. You'd never know it was the same man. He's 6 years older than me and I tell you now, I wish I had a tenth of his energy!!! The set looked great, the band were well turned out and sound was pristine. the lighting was awesome and the performances were amongst the best I have ever seen from any band, new or old. OMD like to play their old stuff as well as their new and those songs felt as fresh that night as the first time I heard back in my dim and distant youth. Andy McCluskey is a proper showman, his "dancing" was entertaining (he often described it as "beautiful"), his connecting with the audience was spot on and his overall performance was outstanding. Paul Humphreys was the same, he doesn't have the "moves" and has something of a quieter manner in contrast to Andy's outgoing persona, but when he took centre stage for tracks like "Souvenir" and "(Forever) Live and Die", he mesmerised the audience and the roof nearly took off at the end of each song. They played the favourites such as "Messages", "Enola Gay", "Joan of Arc", "Maid of Orleans" and "Talking Loud and Clear", finishing up with the song that started it all for them, "Electricity". It was over all too quickly. From start to finish, it was pure, class performance and I can't rate them highly enough.
But it didn't end there. No. After a few minutes, we were taken back stage whereupon we met up again with Andy (who was looking much better) and also Paul Humphreys, with whom I enjoyed an interesting chat about music gear, which Paul seemed very enthusiastic about. After a short while, we said our goodbyes and Stephen and I were back on the train returning to Norwich.
It was a great evening all round. John Foxx and the Maths were simply excellent and it was a real pleasure to meet and chat with John Foxx. OMD were simply stunning, genuinely pleasant people to talk to and I am a convert. The two acts out-performed, in one evening, everyone I've ever seen live, before, during and after the main events, and that isn't something I say lightly. When you consider their statuses as pioneers of modern electronic music, and their respective achievements, it was so cool that they had time for Stephen and I, were interested in what we had to say and had no aloofness about them at all. The people impressed as much as the music and the performance. I wish I could say that about many others.
The morning after, I can tell you that I hit Amazon and downloaded some of the OMD albums that I didn't have.
As stated in my previous blog entry, there's some new gear habitating in the GTK Studio as well as some new software lurking on the GTK Studio Computer. So here goes:
First up, I'll take you through the new hardware starting with the small but most perfectly formed Korg Monotron Delay. I already have the original Korg Monotron (blog entry HERE), but as Korg thoughtfully and cleverly offer three different flavours, I thought it was time to sample the next dish they had to offer. The Monotron Delay is one very cool piece of kit and for it's size, is something of an analogue powerhouse.
The Monotron Delay has exactly the same build and layout as the original, that being five knobs and a three-way slider switch on the front panel, as well as the ribbon controller, integrated speaker, headphone output and auxiliary input. It's only when you check out the controls that the massive difference between the two become apparent, as well as the cosmetics of course. The Monotron Delay has the same black case and reverse coloured keys, but it's livery is definitely retro(ish) Sci-Fi paint job and under the hood, there's some rather nice analogue-style delay circuitry.
The Monotron Delay's name should immediately give away its unique selling point. The main attraction here is that Korg has crammed a small but perfectly formed delay circuit into the Monotron's case, but there are a number of other small changes. The single Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO) has the same reverse sawtooth wave as the original Monotron, however, the Low Frequency Oscilator (LFO) offers a square wave in addition to the triangle. On the Monotron Delay, the LFO only modulates the VCO pitch and doesn't have any effect on the filter cutoff. This Monotron is more about effects rather than melody, the four octave range of the ribbon controller makes it nigh on impossible to play any form of accurate melody line, but that's no problem as the delay circuitry is the main player here.
You can adjust the delay time from a few milliseconds to around roughly one second and the feedback control pretty much bypasses the delay at the lowest settings, but by turning it the feedback control, you go from slap-back echoes to some seriously dubby spacey, infinite repeats. As I said above, it's a small unit, but it has a massive sound, which is quite a surprise as there are a number of exciting effects that can be created.
The Monotron Delay is gloriously noisy, and when you start with the higher feedback settings, you get a lovely crescendo of white noise in with the signal. You can also feed external signals through the delay, and boy do they sound dirty. I think you get that I like this unit.
Next up is the deal of the century (yeah, another one). Taking pride of place alongside the Roland Juno-D and the Alesis QS6 is a 1990's classic synth - the Korg 01/W FD. I first played around on one of these little cuties at David Wright's Planet Recording Studio and I fell for it in a moment, so it was quite a thrill when one became available as you don't often see them up for sale. This was hailed as the successor to the classic Korg M1. Legend has it that the design team read the name of the synth upside down as it should have been the Korg M10, but the powers that be felt that 01/W had quite a ring to it. The 01/W sounds simply amazing with truly wonderful string/orchestral sounds and synth pads to die for. It's a 20 year old machine, but it still sounds relevent. As a keyboard, it's lovely to play with good action, velocity sensitive and of course, aftertouch. It has an on-board 16-track sequencer, which I have yet to try out, but this is something I will be doing very soon as I want to use the 01/W to run the rack synths during my Awakenings set.
I picked up three excellent effects pedals from Behringer, being the DD600 Digital Delay, UF300 Ultra Flanger and VP1 Vintage Phaser. I've been using these pedals with the Monotrons and the iPhone to great effect, so I intend to use them all as part of my Awakenings set in July. The DD600 gives a lovely clear delay signal and can go from metallic slap-backs to long and luscious delays that would be a space rocker's idea of heaven. The UF300 is a great little flanger and as well as the usual jet flanging, you can manually control the depth of the effect leading some really nice, rich sound washes, particuarly with synth pads. The same can be said of the VP1, a smart looking unit that is based on the legendary Small Stone Phaser as used by Jean-Michel Jarre. It's warm, luscious and with a nice long reverb, totally ethereal sounding.
With all the synths that have found their way into the GTK Studio, I had to reinforce the Unitor 8 MIDI interface, and I was rather fortunate to find a very cheap, but fully functional, Emagic AMT-8 8 in/8 out MIDI interface. It is, essentially, the same as the Unitor 8, but the important difference is that the AMT-8 has a USB connection - it's making a massive difference to how the GTK Studio equipment is now connected and also allows me to use some rather ancient, but very usable synth editing software called Sound Diver. The one drawback I have is that both the interfaces are not compatible with Windows 7, however I have got round this with a bit of lateral thinking in terms of audio routing and also by using my old Windows XP computer. Happily, all is working as it should.
On the software front, I've also been busy getting hold of new synths and effects.
I was very pleased to be able to pick up the VSTi version of the famous ARP Odyssey synthesizer, namely GForce Software's incredible The Oddity. It's an amazing rendition of a classic synthesizer as used by my musical heroes Billy Currie (of Ultravox), John Foxx and of course, Gary Numan. Coupled with an overdrive pedal and a flanger, you've got the classic Ultravox lead sound giving rise to lots of squeally moments, and it's also for great effects and synth drum/percussion sounds. I've been yearning for this piece of software for a long time and I when I found a U.S. dealer offering it at a rather competitive price, I had to go for it.
I had purchased and also got a load of freebie effects from Minimal System Instruments. This is a great software house that is putting out some very high quality products and really well worth checking. I have their Nebula Space Reverb and Punch Compressor (an emulation of the famous 1175 compressor). Both these units sound incredible, with the Nebula proving to be a great companion to the Hollow Sun sample packs.
Talking of high quality, music software giant Waves recently had their Q10 Paragrahic Equaliser up for grabs at a mere $9 - that was just over a fiver in proper money, unbelievable!!! The normal asking price for this unit is $99 so yes, a true bargain and one not to be missed. It sounds great, is very intuitive and gives any signal passing through it a real shine.
Also joining the GTK Studio software ranks is the most awesomely excellent CamelSpace from Camel Audio, How can I describe this piece of software? Insane. Essentially, it's a rhythmic multi-effects unit and it can do a whole load of audio carnage to your tracks by adding dynamic interest to any you put through it, be it synth pad, drum loop etc. It has a rhythmic multi-effect, to add dynamic interest to pads, synths, drums and more. It has a powerful 128-step 'trance gate' that can control the filter cut-off, pan and volume, an auto-panner, an enhancer, a flanger, a multi-mode filter, a stereo delay AND reverb . It's amazingly easy to use both through it's excellent GUI and using a MIDI controller and comes with a stack of presets to get you started. I anticipate using this a lot as I really like what it can do with all it's different modules interplaying. I love it already.
Whilst we're on the subject of Camel Audio, I downloaded their updated Alchemy Player, an excellent little freebie synth that features an awful lot of presets from it's flagship Alchemy synthesizer. I was very pleased to discover that you can buy the sound sets and use them in the player, so expect a few postings in the future as I start to collect those.
Through a stroke of luck, I got hold of another excellent soft-synth from Novation called the V-Station. This little powerhouse synth is an emulation of Novation's K-Station and shares it's flexible 3 oscillators, powerful filters and on-board effects. I like the raw sound of this synthesizer and it sits beautifully within a mix. Again, expect to hear it on "Hollow Sun".
Another software package I've been after for a while is the Waldorf Edition. It comprises an excellent filter called D-Pole, a very usable drum machine called Attack and the one thing I wanted more than the other two products in this pack, the PPG Wave 2.V, a seriously cool software emulation of the 1980's must-have synth, the venerable PPG Wave 2.2. The Wave 2.V is a hugely impressive piece of programming and has a very wide range of sounds and effects from anolgue sounding pads to extreme digital effects. I love this synth and look forward to getting under it's hood and playing around with it's inner workings. Of note is that designer of the original PPG Wave 2.2, Wolfgang Palm, was instrumental in the development of the software version. Not sure it can be any better than that in terms of endorsement.
My good friend Steven Howell has sent me through some more of his madcap offerings in the shape of the Optomotron and a new Alien Devices unit called "Sounds of the Universe", or SOTU for short. I love Steven's Hollow Sun products and they are already featuring VERY heavily on the next Geigertek album, which as you already know, is called "Hollow Sun".
Joining the GTK Studio drum/rhythm software section is a very interesting little bundle from software house Supewave. Called the Superwave 7x7 Bundle, it comprises two modules, the D-707 and the D-727, based on Roland's excellent TR-707 and TR-727 drum machines from the 1980's (I recall using a Roland TR-707 back in the mid-1980's and loving it immensely). The D-707 comprises the standard kick, snare, hi-hat etc collection of sounds whilst the D-727 is all latin percussion - a great combo and certainly prime fodder for effects units such as CamelSpace. The sounds are very faithful to the original and will sit nicely alongside Battery 3 and EZDrummer.
So, for now that's it on the hardware front, having said that, I do have my eye on some more effects pedals (a Behringer EM600 Echo Machine is on order and should be here soon) and some high-end software but we shall have to see how the finances pan out on that :-D