Thursday, 18 December 2014

GTK Studio Update and general's been a while!!!

Back in August, I spoke about the changes made to my GTK Studio, basically after three years of collecting a rather cool gamut of music hardware, I sold the lot within a fortnight and replaced it with software. Well, nearly four months down the line and not one micron of regret at all, simply because I came to realise that hardware is not the way forward for me personally and that I could achieve far more with software. The added space has been wonderful, allowing the body and the soul to properly breathe and as for the electricity bill......

Anyway, as I said, not one regret.

In addition to the hardware being sold off, I also changed the furniture, removing the 2 metre worktop that served as my desk and replacing it with a small £25 computer workstation that takes nothing more then my monitor, mouse and keyboard. My Alesis M1 Active 520 monitor speakers are now on purpose built stands and I replaced my Evolution MK-261 MIDI keyboard with an Evolution MK-461C MIDI keyboard, I wanted the extra pots and sliders on offer and it compliments the 4 octave version, the MK-441C, perfectly. With an added Akai LPD8 MIDI controller, I have a lot of control over my set up. Not all the hardware went. I've retained the little Korg Monotron synths, the signal generators and the effects pedals, actually adding a Behringer US600 Ultra Shifter/Harmonist to the collection. Alongside the new furniture, I've added some pretty cool new software synths and processors to the GTK Studio computer, all because the bargains have been flowing like a good wine - if you know where to look and are a little patient, you really can snaffle some truly awesome deals.

So here's a little run-down on what's new in the studio and what's now residing on the GTK Studio hard drive:

Akai LPD8 MIDI control pad:

Whilst I didn't feel the need to continue using hardware, I have still needed some form of external control for the software. The Novation series of ReMOTE controllers are too large and cumbersome for my minimalist requirements, so I was quite delighted to get this little controller from Akai. It has 8 pads which can be linked to things such as Native Instruments' Battery 3 drum sampler or the various sample players from Superwave that I use. It also has 8 pots that are very handy for controller different parameters on both software-based synths and effects/processing units. The biggest plus for me is it's size as I can comfortably use it on my smaller computer desk without it taking a lot of space.

Evolution MK-461C MIDI keyboard controller:

I've never made any secret of the fact that i am a big fan of the Evolution MIDI keyboard controller. I have four of them now and the latest addition was the 5 octave MK-461C keyboard. You mat be wondering why I would go for this, considering I already have the 4 octave MK-449C, which is essentially the same unit, Well, it is to do with the extra octave on the keyboard and there are extra controllers, which makes a difference. Being a piano player, I like to have as long a keyboard as possible - if Evolution had made a full size 88 note version, I would have it. And as I said at the beginning, the Evolutions are simply great keyboards. Straight-forward, no fuss, easy to use and will talk to anything you connect it to.

Behringer US600 Ultra Shifter/Harmonist:

I know I said that I wouldn't be getting anymore hardware, but I gave myself something of a get-out clause when I added that I would still be looking at effects pedals. And here we are with the latest addition to my little collection. The Behringer US600 is basically a pitch-shifter with added harmoniser, and whilst it is primarily designed for use with guitars, it works great with vocals. I got this as part of an multi-media art project I am working on with my partner, Anne Mancini-Smith.

GForce The Oddity 2 synthesizer:

I got the the first incarnation of The Oddity, a very highly regarded emulation of the classic ARP Odyssey synthesizer, a while back and it's been a workhorse synth. When I heard about this update, I was more than  little excited and had my money there ready as soon as I could for the pre-order. My enthusiasm was further fed after talking with one o it's creators, Dave Spiers, at the I Speak Machine performance held at the Southbank Centre in London at the end of September 2014, and also by conversations with Tim Dorney of the group Republica who used a beta version when republica played as guests on the Autumn 2014 Boomtown rats tour. When my download arrived and was duly installed, I was not disappointed in the slightest, and now consider it to be one of my main "go to" synths. In fact, it's made some of my other synths redundant, it's THAT versatile. I love GForce software and over the course of the coming year, I will be adding another couple of pieces to the collection

ReFX Vanguard:

I've always had a high regard for ReFX products, notably their Nexus 2 rompler and this little beauty, Vanguard. It's full on, it's brash and it's in your face. Interestingly, many people WRONGLY consider that it's main use is for dance/club/trance etc music, but it is in fact perfect for less "banging music" style genres, as very capably demonstrated by ne of my favourite sound designers, BigTone (I purchased the 3 available BigTone soundsets when I got Vanguard). The on-board arpeggiator and gate are highly useful and with a little attention to programming, can create some wonderfully cosmic sequency rhythmic tones, atmospheres and effects. I ran a couple of basic sequences using Vanguard alongside the Oddity 2, ImpOSCar 2 and Omnisphere - you'll hear it on the "Hollow Sun" ;-)

Waves Abbey Road EMI TG12345 channel strip:

I like Waves products, they look great. And when you get something that sounds as great as it looks, it's a real bonus. And this is one of those bonus things. The Abbey Road EMI TG12345 is a channel strip based on the legendary mixing console used at the Abbey Road Studios during the late 60's and the 70's. Notable albums recorded on these consoles were by the Beatles ("Abbey Road") and Pink Floyd ("The Dark Side of the Moon", "Wish You Were Here"). Comprising a wonderful EQ section and compressors that are simply amazing, the TG12345 channel strip provides a certain warmth, richness and character to your recordings, whilst retaining a lovely bright crisp sound.

Audio Damage RatShack Reverb:

Sometimes, you need something really shit in your arsenal and nothing comes much shitter than the RatShack reverb from the bonkersly brilliant Audio Damage. Now you may be asking yourself "what the hell?" and it is as you must, but when I use the term "shit" in this context, it's a good thing. The RatShack Reverb is based on the truly awful Realistic Electronic Reverb from U.S. electronics company Radio Shack, and is a very true emulation, right down to hum and distortion as well as feedback capabilities. The beauty of this plugin is that when pushed to extremes, the sonic possibilities are quite something. Even Audio damage themselves state that RatShack "accurately recreates the suck of the original" and even going as far as saying that "never before has a vintage effect of such low quality been as painstakingly modeled as Ratshack Reverb v2.0". That's just about the coolest sales pitch I have ever seen. And yeah, I love the Ratshack reverb.

GSi GS-201 tape echo:

Keeping the theme of vintage gear emulations, we now have the GS-201 from Italian software house GSi. The more musically inclined aong you will immediately see that it's a recreation of the fanous and huighly sought after Roland RE-201 Space Echo unit. Let me tell you that having used RE-201's in my past, this little plugin really does an amazing job and I cannot recommend it enough. Lots of nice little detail and one feature that really sold the GS-201 to me as the lack of tempo-synching to your DAW - just like using a real echo machine. The analog quality is there as are the little foibles associated with vintage echo units such as shifting pitch when increasing echo rate, self-oscillation , wow and flutter and signal degradation on higher feedback levels. For the price, this little plugin delivers the kind of results you would expect on more high end products. 

Eventide UltraChannel:

Eventide. A wonderful name. And a company that makes wonderful products. Wonderful products that aren't in the lower end of the budget by any stretch of the imagination. That said, there is a certain truth in that you get what you pay for and quality is almost guaranteed with an Eventide product. I nearly fell over when I saw that Eventide were, for a brief period of time, giving this channel strip away, and what's more is that it is a fantastic product. With the Abbey Road EMI TG12345 channel strip you have warmth and character, with the Eventide UltraChannel you have clarity, crispness and an amazing level of control over your tracking/mix in one unit.

XILS-lab XILS 3.2 LE synthesizer:

Another emulation of vintage gear, this time a terrific software version of the classic and revered EMS VCS 3 XILS-Lab. This is a cut-down version of a fuller product, but what's missing doesn;t take away from the sound at all, as it's more akin to the priginlal this way. When you eventually get a sound out o it, it's fantastic - yes it's a bastard to patch up, particularly if you're a newcomer to the madness that is the VCS 3. And I think that's a part of the sheer enjoyment of this product because when you start to get something out of it after hours of head scratching, it's an achievement. The built-in sequencer is a delight, particularly when used in conjunction with the on-board delay. For those Jean Michel-Jarre bubbley moments, this is the biscuit.

Steinberg Cubase Elements 7:

I am a confirmed Reaper user, but I have a lot of old files that were created using an older version of Cubase and now as my system is 64-bit I was having some difficulty in accessing them. So, I bit the bullet and rather than buy the full Cubase program, I got this cut down version. I can now access old music files and that makes me happy. Don;t get me wrong, Cubase is a good program, as is this Elements version, but i do prefer the less bloated and equally feature laden Reaper.

Acoustica Pianissimo:

I both wanted and needed a good strong piano plugin that didn't break the bank and wasn't sample-based. Now whilst Pianissimo is sample-based, it ticks the boxes in everything else and then some. It uses a very effective combination of samples and physical modeling that provides for an amazing acoustic grand piano sound. The samples were done using a Steinway Model D grand piano, and this coupled with some rather complex signal processing and programming, effectively recreates the warmth, response, and playability of a real grand piano. You get alot of control over many differnt parameters, 256 voices of polyphony, and CPU usage is surprisingly very low. I've tried out quite a few piano plugins and I have to say that Pianissimo is one of the very best.

Minimal Systems Group Pro Gate:

A very simple piece of software but one that does exactly what it says n the tin, and does it so incredibly well. I've enjoyed using the Pro Gate on everything from drums to vocals to synth sequences and just about everything in between and each time, the pro gate comes but with the goods. Don't be put off by the low price, it's a premium quality product.

Minimal Systems Group Pro Channel:

I'm a massive fan of the Minimal System Group's products - I have quite a few of them on my system and use them all the time. Another channel strip and this one is as good as the Waves and Eventide. A big statement, but that's what I think based upon what I have experienced with this budget plugin that gives so much more than it promises. A high level of control over your sound, warmth, character and a certain sound quality that sets this aside from many of the other similar products on the market. The price is jaw-dropping and I have had nothing but great service and communications with MSG.

Minimal Systems Group Mastering Limiter:

Another excellent MSG product that sits on the master output channel and takes care of proceedings nicely. Coupled with the Waves C4 multi-band compressor and the MSG Pro EQ, the Mastering Limiter is a valuable piece of kit in my mastering chain.

Illformed Glitch 2:

Now here's a serious bit of sound-mangling kit, Clitch 2. The name is a massive clue as what this wee plugin is about and boy does it deliver. I used the first freeware version and loved it's chaos, it's lunacy and it's unashamedly destructive capabilities. This second commercial affair takes the originakl to new heights without falling down when you get there. Sharp, aggressive and satanically brilliant. get it. End of story.

IK Multimedia Vintage Compressors Bundle:

Completing my collection of processing plugins is this utterly excellent bundle from IK Multimedia. Comprising three emulations of classic compressors along with a compressor that has what one would consider to the best features of the ideal opto-compressor. On the emulation front are what are considered to be amongst the best software versions of the classic Urei 1176 Limiting Amplifier and Tectronix LA-2A Levelling Amplifier and the absolute holy grail of compressors, the legendary Fairchild 670. My initial fiddlings with these plugins have been a sheer pleasure and I fully get everything the reviews say about them. Used in conjunction with other products such as the Waves Abbey Road EMI TG12345, the MSG Pro Channel and the Eventide UltraChannel, theses compressors provide a wicked pallette of opportunities to create some very sweet sounding mixes. And yes, IK Multimedia are another company that I really like.

Tara Busch of I Speak Machine
And of course I have been majorly busy with photography, in particular, concert photography. Over the last year, I have had some amazing opportunities to photograph some fabulous performers including Midge Ure, Depeche Mode, Hazel O'Connor, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and The Meteors to name but a few. And in all of this I have got to meet some truly amazing people - the afore-mentioned Hazel O'Connor, the eternally fab Radiophonic Workshop and a leading light in modern electronic music, Tara Busch, along with her husband, film-maker Maf Lewis, who collectively perform as I Speak Machine. You can see my collection of concert photographs om my Flickr page by clicking HERE. I have a few concert dates lined up in 2015, the most exciting of which wil be to spend the day with electronic music supergroup, Node, at the Royal College of Music in London on the 27th February as they prepare for their concert that evening.

Radiophonic Workshop

Hazel O'Connor 
Bruce Watson - Big Country
John Cooper Clarke 
Grandmaster Flash
Bob Geldof - Boomtown Rats
I am still working away at the Review Elektro website, and I have to tell you that it is coming along nicely. The planned January 1st 2015 launch date is still on course ;-)