Friday, November 20, 2009

A room without a view

I've been away for a long time. There's a reason for that. I've been constructing something. I now have my very own room without a view. My studio. My own studio.  

For a musician, any kind of musician, this is a dream come true. The problem you're faced with as an audio artist is that you have to be free to experiment with sound.  Whatever you instrument is, as an audio artist, if you want to create, you have to make sounds, and that is disturbing to other people. That will limit you liberty to make sounds.  A studio,  is a room that you construct to give you sound creation freedom.  It can serve other purposes, but creation-wise, it is above all a freedom zone.

I have now my very own sound freedom zone.  The room is a piece of gear of important than most other equipment I had before. 

To have a meaningful output, an artist, any artist, needs two things. Freedom and discipline. My room gives me the means of audio freedom. It's now up to me to take this freedom and use it. Discipline is what I need to transform this freedom into actual artistic creation. 

PS: About the title, I'm a fan of Helena Bonham Carter, so it has to come out somewhere.  And my studio doesn't have any window.  So no view.

Friday, September 25, 2009

No guitar land

For your reflexion, here's a proposal for a new musical instrument.  It will be played by your two hands.

Left hand:
Your left hand will determine the pitch. So place your finger according to the chord or notes you want to get with this hand only.

Right hand:
You right hand determines the note trigger, its gate (or how long it will sustain), its intensity (velocity) and polyphony.  

So, if your right hand picks two notes, their pitches will be determine by the left hand position. Your right hand is responsible to dictate the phrasing of the notes: arpeggiated, legato, staccato, etc.

Like it so far?  Me too.

Using a traditional keyboard, split it at C4.
Left hand is below C4 and right hand is over C4.
Now pick a software that let you do splits and a bit of MIDI routing, and use the zone below C4 to determine pitch but WITHOUT note trigger.   Over C4 will be the triggers for the notes. If nothing is pressed on the left hand, you would get: EADGBE.  

Just a proposal.

Yeah, I know, we call this a guitar. But for a moment please forget the fact that a guitar can do this, and imagine how the guitar can be an inspiration for you. Forget the strings and think about the very basic concepts: 
left hand = pitch
right hand = gate

There's something natural about this, why don't you try it on whatever controller you have?

Be bold, be original: don't get a guitar.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obviously I'm dead

What else is there to say after such a long absence.  I mean, every blogger of this side of the  universe comes to a point where the more time you take to write your next blog entry ... the more painful it becomes.  So to the reader who isn't aware of my inner life, it's basically down to two things: I'm either not interested in writing anymore, or I'm dead.  Therefore the title.

I've got an article coming about the Triadex Muse.  Hope to to make it available soon.  But most importantly, I wanted to use the blog for two main reasons.

The first was that I thought I had things to say that might be of interest.

The second was to give me some kicks in the butt and have a window to show some of my work.  

So far, you haven't heard any musical work from me.  A partial failuire.  So I have to kick myself harder.  It's gonna hurt.

Ok, so what's the point of posting if it's just to say: hey, I'm posting?  None.  So I'll leave you my opinion on the current news:

Please, I'm gonna puke.  This tools serves one purpose: use Ableton Live like Ableton and Akai think you should use it.  A dedicated hardware for a software is for me like a total nightmare.  Have these people heard about Monome?  Someone please tell them.  We want OPEN, O-P-E-N, OOOPPPEEENNN hardware!!!  Geee.  Ok, now you can send me one for free so that I can change my mind ;-)

Ok.  Whatever.  Like if the world was missing yet another DAW.  It seems that software companies are like artists.  They are innovative it their first years, then they seem to stick to what people expect of them, and then they start to do stuff that nobody cares about.

Ok, so nobody is talking about this one, yet I find it to be one of the most refreshing host to see the day for a while.  Great fun to use, very flexible and lot's of user feedback thrown in.  More on it later.

Not really new, but I just tried it.  And loved it.  Might even buy it.  I've got quite a few softsynths already, so I try not to buy any new ones, but this one is very tempting.  There's a few things about its modulation that I'm not quite sure, but it's worth investigating.  A serious piece of software.  Looks very creative.  A rare thing.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Software Obsolescence and Music Creativity

It's a growing frustration. The time wasted leaning tools that becomes obsolete too fast, that is. Using technological tools comes with this frustration: you spend a great amount of your time learning the inside out of tools that you will use only for a certain time. These tools will then either be superseded by others or you will choose to willingly make a change for a concurrent one.  Because the grass is always greener on the other side. 

We know that and assume this risk when committing to a tool. Of course, these efforts are very small when you end up using a synth solely for it's preset. But even then, you will probably need a certain longevity for those synths so that if you call up an old song after making some changes to your system, all the notes are still sounding as they should.

So, we know the usual pitfalls: changing your OS will mean incompatible software or even driver problem that may lead to an hardware change (Audio/MIDI interface). In theory you should get it all up and working within a few driver and software updates. But sometimes the company that sold you your software will just not support it anymore. Or worst: they went belly up!

Of course, you can take actions to protect you from these situations. The easiest way is to committing all the tracks to audio files, so that you lower your dependence to plugins for older songs. You can also keep an old setup that will always work with your older software. It's unlikely you'll take that path because your components can still fail and be hard to replace. It's quite a commitment for keeping track of old mixes. Usually, it's not worth it. Good practice is then to consider your old songs to be left for dead after a year. If not, you should update it so that it stay current with your setup.

But I'm realising more and more that on top of that, an obsolete software also means wasted knowledge. The thing is, the more powerful softwares gets, the more complicated they become. So, when you commit - often with a fair amount of cash - to a product, you'll usually want to become good at using it. You want to make it fly. It's at this point that you also also realise that software manufacturers assume you have no real life and that you are willing to spend hundreds of hours to learn there things.

And so you learn. And become good at it. You become an expert, knowing all the keyboard shortcuts, and tricks to get special envelopes quickly, or twist the bus setting to get the sidechain to work, etc. But all this knowledge is wasted with a software change.  

My first sequencer was Hybrid Arts Edit Track. Didn't liked it much and latter went for Cubase 1 on Atari ST. When I switched to PC, I went for the natural choice: Cubase. When Cubase introduced the VST standard, I think it was with version 3, my computer wasn't up to this task. So I took the opportunity to take a look at the competition. And felt in love with Logic. So I went for Logic. Until version 5.51, moment at which time Apple announced that it took over Emagic and dumped the PC platform. Ok, so I decided to stick to Logic anyway. Well for a time. I mean, when you see ALL the other software making real-time audio sync to tempo, you start to feel left out in the cold. So I went to Acid 5. Then 6. Now 7. And the grass does look greener on the other side: Live. Or would it be back to Logic on Mac? Obviously I'm trying to stick to Acid.

That's without talking about all the abandonware I bought.  

Groovecube's Exciton 
A great piece of software. I still love it and use it. But no updates for 5 years now. Obviously I must consider that I will have to do without it soon as it won't work soon (Windows 7 coming, Intel I7 CPU, etc).

Virsyn Tera 2
You could argue that Tera is still current. For my part I was very dissatisfied by the protection scheme used that made it a pain to install. So I was not too hot for a paid upgrade when version 3 came up. But on top of that it wasn't made available for download. WHAT??? I had to pay 99E + shipping + customs + taxes ... Forget it. So I end up with a software I paid close to 300$ for that will be abandonware in it's current form. Because Virsyn won't update version 2 is it's not compatible with future evolutions.

ReFX Trash, TBL ... eventually QuadraSID
Yep, bought those 7 years ago. Of the 3, only QuadraSID is still updated, but for how long? ReFX has an history of dropping their products when sales drops. I don't expect QuadraSID to live much longer.

SpinAudio RoomVerb M2
I thought I was getting a good deal. The company closed it's site about 2 years after I paid more than 100$ for this software. Dead.

Native Instruments Kompakt
Got it with Acid, and it was dropped by NI a little while after.

And that's without mentioning the hardware I had to drop because it wasn't compatible with my setup at one time or an other: Yamaha DSP Factory + ADB AX88, Opcode 8Port/SE, etc.

So what can I do about it? Is there a lesson to be had? Yes and no. I'm convinced you must commit to certain tools and learn them. I think there's only one exception so far to the pattern I described: CSOUND. Not even Pro Tools: at one time or an other you have to drop your old hardware to get the new version, etc. But of course on the software side, pro Tools is a steady one. But you can't beat CSOUND. It's been there forever, it's solid, for any platform and it can sound like anything you want. The learning curve is steep and the time investment is tremendous, so it's not for everyone.

I'm not going 100% CSOUND, it's too much for me. But I think you must consider it if you want to avoid the above frustration.

The other shift I made was to see my recording session as a live performance. What I'm recording is my performance. Commit every track to audio, and that's it. But it's hard to make that shift. Still working on it.

How do you cope with obsolescence? 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fabio Biondi (Europa Galante), classical virtuoso

Today I'll take you a bit away from the usual electronic, synthesizer, soft-synth stuff.  We stay well inside the musical domain, but in a different area.  Classical.

I was surfing on YouTube this evening and listened to some Jordan Rudess stuff.  I'll probably make a blog entry alter about Jordan Rudess, but for the moment let's say that, although I appreciated very much his technical skills, I had to admit that musically speaking, we were not connecting.  Don't get me wrong: I liked what he was playing.  It was just not my cup of tea artistically.

I don't know how many of you are like me, but after listening to music that I'm not "that much" into, I need to compensate by listening to material that I feel more connected to.  The problem is, Jordan Rudess is a very skillful player, so I needed to listen to material that was at least as challenging technically speaking.

Spontaneously, my finger wrote the name: Fabio Biondi.  It was the first time I ever looked up Mr Biondi on the net, and I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few descent videos of him and his formation Europa Galante.

To me, Fabio Biondi is a great source of inspiration.  The first time I ever heard Fabio Biondi was in a Quattro Stagioni interpretation ... that literally blew my hat off.  I mean, wow.  He picked a composition that everybody knows, and interpretated it in a way that took it in a whole other level.  It felt like I heard this piece for the first time.  It revealed aspects of the material in bright new light.  Some of you might think: OK, so the guy got impressed because he  heard too few "contemporary" versions of Vivaldi's stuff.  It's not the case.  Although I'm very much into electronic music when it's time to compose, I'm much more into classical and jazz when I listen to music.  And I've heard my share of fair, and bad, interpretations of the Quattro Stagione - or of the full Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione.  Would I go as far as to say that the guy is a genius?  Well time will tell, but as far as I'm concerned, yes.  If you disagree, you'll have to at least admit he is, at the very least, a virtuoso.

So I invite you to get a listen to the man's work.  I've find this Scarlatti video that will enable you to hear his skill, with a descent audio quality:

And also:

Friday, March 06, 2009

5 reasons not to get a Monomachine or Machinedrum

Reason 1:
I can't like them.  In real life that is, because in pictures, on videos and in demos, they seem great.  But I've tried them.  More than once.  And I just can't like them.  Their sound, their interface. I just don't like them even if I try hard.  And believe me, I tried.

Reason 2:
They are expensive!  I mean, please!  We're not talking about analog circuits here.  It's a hardware platform with a dedicated software.  And limited functions. I prefer saving for a Kyma system.  Not that I plan to buy a Kyma, or that they are a replacement for Elektron stuff, but buy a Machinedrum & a Monomachine and you're getting in this price league, a Paca is 2970$. It's just that people consider a Kyma system to be in another league, being expensive and all this. Well just consider that a Monomachine and Machinedrum combo will cost the same as a Paca.  I'd think twice before spending that kind of money.  And thinking of it, I did spend that kind of money not too long ago, and I got an euro-rack modular for it.  I consider I got my money's worth.

Reason 3:
I want USB.  Or Firewire. MIDI is about 25 years old now.  Ok, it's still fine to get the connection with other hardware gear, but come on, we're mostly using plugins now, right?  So, if I'm gonna get a plugin sequenced by my Monomachine, I should get this done with a bog standard MIDI jack?  USB connection is getting pretty standard now with pretty much any hardware synths now.  If we're talking about a synth that is also a very reputable sequencer, and that just hit MkII last year ... I expect it to have a USB or FW connexion.  Oh check this, they came up with a TM-1 interface to get better timing, er, from the computer to the external.  Oops! Sorry, it's the opposite we need.

Reason 4:
Of all the gear that's been release in the last years, these are some of the most revered and sought after.  It's growing to a cult status.  Personally, I stay away from cults.  The idea of a cult instrument is pleasing, but should not be a factor in the buying decision.  You buy gear to increase your sonic palette, not for adoration.  Although we often do on accasion fall into this trap.  The analog vintage trend was very much a matter of cult items.

Reason 5:
I like the idea of those piece of gear.  I dream of owning them when I see the ads.  Their marketing works: I WANT THEM!  Yet, I've been offered a Machinedrum for 800$ and a Monomachine for 900$... and I could just not like them in real life. So? I'll let them live in my dream, and see how I can come up with a setup that would get me the kind of result and control I expect from them, but with my current gear.  That's more creative than buying another 1000$ box to sit there and making the kind of bleeps all the DJ on the planet are making with this exact same instrument.

It all comes down to: what are you going to do with your gear?  If you plan of investing hours and hours learning a piece of hardware inside out, the Elektron gear are probably worth exploring. And so is my 300$ Alesis Micron.  I kid you not.

Be bold, be original: don't get a Machinedrum or Monomachine.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bass with guts: Hotelsinus ReeseBassline

Sometimes you want the full gamut of oscillators, filters and modulation, but sometimes you don't. A very flexible architecture is fun: bringing in complex modulations with combinations of envelopes and LFO will get you complex and expressive sounds.  But it's also very time consuming and not the fastest way to get to the result you want fast.

On the other hand a very specialized synth with a limited palette might be OK on occasions, but those limitations might become frustrating if too limited and having a gallery of very specialized instruments is usually something that is far from ideal.  

So, if you're like me, you'll want some powerful synth to get the job done for certain kind of sounds with well chosen parameters and some fixed choices already made. This is the case here with Hotelsinus ReeseBassline.  A free VST instrument that is built for bassline.   Usually this would mean: yet another 303 clone. Thank God, not this time.

I find that Hotelsinus made good choices to put together an valuable instrument. This means that it's got what it needs to make a descent 303 emulation, like you expect of any synth with "Bassline" in its name. Saw/Square oscillator, amp envelope, low-pass filter, distortion, glide setting for the portamento.

We're talking of a single oscillator synth, but it's got a unisson mode that you can push to 8 voices with variable detune, so that you get have a massive sound in no time. Then you take this massive sound into a double-filtered (LP & HP) distortion. Here you get only what you need, three knobs: LP, HP, Amount. If there's one thing a don't like about the ReeseBassline, it's the way the signal is sent from the oscillator to the distortion.  There's no way to set what the velocity modulates. It seems to be fixed to the volume of the oscillator before the distortion stage. This sometimes leads to a schizophrenic behavior at high distortion level where a low velocity gives a soft undistorted sound and a high level gives a massively distorted and compressed sound, with little variation in-between. Maybe I would have placed the velocity to affect amplification after the distortion stage, not before, but at some settings this isn't such a problem. I think that a switch to choose between those settings could be useful.

Next we have a a triple filter: band-pass, low-pass and high-pass.  Not a multi-mode one, but three independent filters.  A change from the usual single 3-mode filter! This choice of path is good, but I'm not sure I quite like the chosen filter type.  A matter of personal taste maybe.  

Then the signal goes into a phaser (why don't we find them more often?), a switchable stereo-widener, and a final multi-mode filter. A chorus could be expected in this path, but then the massive 8-voice detune more than makes up for it.

The end result is a loud, raw, strong and large bass sound. One that you can use easily and that is musically useful. The way ReeseBassline distort and compress it sound gives it a very manageable behavior that will make it a instrument I like to use in lots of situation. I've read a few comments on this synth saying that there's nothing here you can't achieve with other more complete synths. This is absolutely true. What I like here is the choices that are made and the limits that are set. Limits are good for creativity.  You want limits. They just have to be well chosen, and what I like here is the choices made and, above all, the end result.

For the Drum and Bass, DubStep, Reese-like sound ... I don't know and don't care either.  So I can't comment on that. One thing for sure, this thing is not subtle.  You get a punchy sound that gets the job done.

Sadly I must also add that there's a bug in it that makes it go into an unwanted high pitch tone on some occasions.  For that reason, it can't be used in a live situation.  I hope this will get fixed as it is annoying. It's also here that I must repeat that it is is a freeware.  So it's a terrific value, but it also means that the developer may have only limited time to support it.  The last update, 1.3.1, dates from march 2008.

PS: please note that I managed to not use the "fat" word once! A hard task with such f*t  instrument.

More information:

KVR thread:

To know more on HotelSinus:

The VST page:

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A brief history of Analog Shift Registers (ASR)

There are obvious modules: VCO, VCF, VCA, LFO, EG (ADSR, AD, etc). They are the basic building blocks of synthesis and you can't do without them. You need them and every aspiring sound designer has a good idea of what to expect of them.  

There's also the less obvious modules. The ones you learn about along the way.  Not absolutely essential, but useful nonetheless: S&H, Ring Modulator, Clock dividers, Slew Limiters. These are creative tools that will stretch your sound pallet, and are well documented. Any basic book about synthesis will be mentioning them.

Then, there is what we'd call more esoteric modules. The ones for which you must take a pause and either mentally figure how they could be actually used or, take a plunge and experiment ... and waste a lot of time having fun with unexpected results. Here you'll find special designs like MOTM's Cloud Generator, Livewire's Dual Cyclotron, Plan B's Heisenberg Generator. You'll also find more generic ones like Random Control Voltage Generators, Trigger Delay, and Analog Shift Registers.

I'd like to spend some time on the latter one: Analog Shift Registers aka ASR.

My first contact with Analog Shift Registers was in an interview Electronic Musician did with artist Steve Roach. The interview was revolving around the integration of the latest modular technology in the making of the Possible Planet Album. Among the modules used, Steve puts a focus on the impact that Plan B's Analog Shift Register had on it's composition. It caught my attention.

Ok, so what is an ASR? An ASR module is a sophisticated S&H. It will, at every clock pulse, sample the CV value of the input and makes it available at the first output. So far, it's a basic S&H. The thing is, a ASR has many outputs, and what it does is that at every clock pulse, it shifts the value of output 1 to output 2, and likewise, value of output 2 gets to output 3. So at every clock pulse, the CV values gets' shifted to the next output with the exception of output 1 that samples a new value at every clock. 

An article by Stan Levine in the 1976 November/December edition of Synapse, leads to think that the ASR was an original concept of Serge Tcherepnin: "His approach from the beginning has been a personal one; Serge designs for an individual, not a mass market. Serge's are modular systems including, VCOs, VCAs, VCFs, and some modules of his own invention, such as, positive and negative slews, the smooth and stepped generator and the analog shift register."

For sure, the ASR takes it's root in CalArts as Serge was there at that period.  But so was Barry Schrader. Although it seems certain that Serge Modular Music System was the first company to offer an ASR in a commercial system, the concept first appeared in a serie of custom modules, known as the Fortune Modules built by Fukushi Kawakami for composer Barry Schrader in the early 70s. According to Barry Schrader, Fukushi asked him for ideas to complement the Buchla 200 aka Electric Music Box. This collaboration resulted in four modules, the ASR being one of those.
Now, what are the current ASR incarnations:

Serge - ASR
The Serge Modular Music System, or Serge synthesizer, was created by Serge Tcherepnin at CalArts. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first proposal of the ASR in a commercially available system. From, here's how this module is presented in the Serge Catalog:

"The ANALOG SHIFT REGISTER is a sequential sample and hold module for producing arabesque-like forms in musical space. Whenever pulsed, the previously held voltage is sent down the line to three consecutive outputs to produce the electrical equivalent of a canonic musical structure."

The circuit diagram of the Serge ASR can be found in the 1976 September/October issue of Synapse Magazine, p.30.

Plan B - Model 23 
Peter Grenader of Plan B offers his own version of the circuit in the form of the Model 23 a 3 output ASR based on a Atmel 2051 chip. I say it's own version, because Peter took notice of some caveats inherent to the ASR concept and made a design that wouldn't exhibit these problems. Quoted from PLAN_B_analog_blog, these are:

A) Outputs do not track the input voltage, making driving them with a keyboard problematic.

B) Output taps not tracking one another so that a voltages vary as they are passed down the line of outputs.

C) Incoming clock causing a droop in held voltages at it's falling edge.

Peter also gives possible usage of the ASR and points to some historical audio usage of it in audio examples. I would add to that selection an except from Steve Roach's Possible Planet that can be heard directly on Steve's site.  

Metalbox - Gate Comparator
I can't test this one, but according to the description, we're talking about an 8 stage ASR with what seems like a RCV. Wow! Seems very good.  More expensive than Plan B, but more that just ASR functionnalities. If you're into Frac-rac, it deserves a thought.

CGS/Ken Stone - ASR
Ken Stone has a ASR circuit available that differs form Serge's way of doing it, for the DIY fans among you. Or, if you prefer having it already built, you can have a look at Cynthia.

Cynthia - Psycho Shift Register
This one is based on the Ken Stone circuit, but like the Metalbox offering, the Psycho Shift Register module does more than just ASR. Here's from the Cyndustries site:

"Ken's latest development is his own modern and improved design of an Arabesque Pattern Generator similar to the classic Serge Analog Shift Register schematic originally published in Synapse years ago.  Thus it is incredibly useful for auto-compositional harmonies as it is, but what sets this version apart is that in this module it is combined with a certain popular little quad LFO called The Psycho LFO which is also from the lineage of the Australian Cat Girl Synth system. 

(...) when the "Link" switch is thrown, one of the oscillators acts as a simple clock driving the Analog Shift Register, while the other three are free to create the jumble of control voltages that the register actually shifts!

(...) an exclusive control voltage "Modulation" input has a hand in adding more of your own animation to the Monster. The unique "Blend" and "Character" controls are useful for transforming the total output from something joyous to downright disturbing!"

Doepfer  - A-152
I own a A152, and my opinion is that the claimed ASR function of the A152 will not get you the true ASR results you might expect.  The A152 is a switch. A very powerful and sophisticated one, but it will not push the value of one output into the next.  

Therefore, not a ASR as we defined. - Q960
I doesn't own a Q960, so I can't make a claim check, but I must say I'm sceptical about's as an ASR. But I can't verify, so here's how they put it:

"The Q960 is a 9 stage shift register. Each stage is linked to the next like a chain. Stage #9 is linked back to stage #1. Each stage is either ON or OFF.

Each time a shift occurs, the state of each stage is shifted forward and the last stage is sent to stage #1. In other words: a circular rotation."

So there you have it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

IceCream by CosmicBoy

How can you not like Cosmic Boy's IceCream, a free VST with a 8-bit/SID-like chip character. This instrument is just plain fun. It's success is in some clever details. First is the sequencer. The fact is, it's just a programmable LFO, but because it gives IceCream the typical sequencer sound of the SID chip, calling it a that way is fine. Two destinations are available, cutoff and pitch, there's a tempo sync division knob and a list of templates for the pattern. A "smooth" knob round things a bit, makink it more LFO-like. Quick, easy and it does the job. Too bad it doesn't offer to reset the sequence at key press, but it's OK.

Then there's the bit reduction that is at the bottom of the interface. Instead of making it global, you apply it individually to each of the two oscillators ... ahhh! To my knowledge, this is the first time I see a synth with a bitcrusher applied that way. It adds to the character of IceCream a lot. A nice touch.

There's also a nice 8 band EQ that is used to shape the sound, but this one seems out of place here. I mean, everything in the interface is colourful and simple with a minimum of control and then ... 8 bands EQ? I would have preferred a nice 3 or 4 bands EQ, or even treble and bass knobs to go with the spirit. Oh well.

The rest of the specs are more conventional: multi-mode filter, two ADSR envelopes, reverb and delay. Saddly the delay doesn't sync to the tempo, a strange omission. The XY pad and Harmonyx button are a nice touch too. The choice of a standard knob to vary the oscillators waveform is strange, as you don't see which waveform you choose, and the knobs makes you think it's continuously variable, while it's not.

Of course what strikes immediately the user is the not so serious candy-like interface. I like it, but I admit it might make some think this is little more than a joke. Believe me, this one nice VST that you have to try. It doesn't tries to be a faithful emulator of a C-64, Atari or Nintendo chip, it just takes bits form this and that and makes a instrument that is original, easy and fun.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scordatura ... Mac only

At least once a year I go through the old reflection: do I get a Mac.  It's been like that for years.  And as you already have guessed, I never get a Mac.  First of all, I don't feel like maintaining two platforms.  One is trouble enough.  Then there's the fact that Macs are too expensive for what they offer.  Well, that's true of any Apple product I guess.

It's not the machine, it's the software!  As a musician I don't care about how cute a Mac is, it's the darn software for it that gets me excited.  So, here's a new one that has just popped up.  If you're into microtonal music, you can't ignore it: Scordatura.

Here's how they put it: 

"Get microtonal music out of Finale, Sibelius, Logic, etc.
Use your standard controllers to make microtonal music.
Design your own custom microtonal MIDI control surfaces."

It's made by H-Pi, makers of the Tonal Plexus microtonal keyboards.  I can't talk about the product as I don't have a Mac.  But it sure triggers the dilemma again!  If you do have a mac, be sure to try it, it's a free beta download!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Rule #1

A rule made to force creative use of equipment and avoid cliche:

When a piece of equipment appears on the market and seems to be able to do exactly what you were hoping for, then you should refrain from buying it.

If you can't help it and buy it anyway, don't use it for what it was marketed to do. 

PS: When such a piece of gear appears and I feel the G.A.S rise, I turn to my existing gear first and see how I can reproduce a comparable tool with the equipment I already own.  It's usually very stimulating and it's been a driving force to some of my VMC patches.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Schrittmacher deception

I wanted to like the Schrittmacher.  Very much.  With all its knobs and buttons it was calling to be tweaked and played.  Yet I've tried it and it was an instant deception.  This thing feels cheap. Around 2000$ for a simple dedicated MIDI step sequencer, and they managed to miss the overall feel of the interface.

I can't say much about it's long term utilisation, as I've spend only a few moments with it.  But after a few moments, I didn't cared for it that much anymore.  I like the concept, I like how it looks, I like it's overall design.  But when I grab it, it doesn't feel good.  For an instrument that puts most of it's value in it's interface, that is a big problem.  Is it just me?  Maybe at half the asking price I would have forgive the knobs and buttons feel.  To a point.  But even there, the overall navigation and usage of this sequencer is not as intuitive as I would have liked.  Yes, you eventually figure out what is going on and how to achieve proper results.  But my comprehension was that this sequencer was to be all about ease of use, so that you grab it and start playing it right away.  By opposition to, say the Notron, that is notoriously complex.

Maybe CV/Gate outputs would have made me liked it a bit more, but the interface comments stays.  It's too bad as there isn't a lot of products in this class.  So my quest for the ultimate step sequencer is still going on.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chysalis Ni by Saltline

There is just SOOOO MUCH free VST synths and FX around.  I spend a lot of time trying them.  And you know what: I enjoy doing that.  But it gets  boring, since there is a lot of similar products.

Of course, there are exceptions.  

I like those moments: you download a free synth without knowing anything about it, but the snapshot looks interesting.  You drop it in your host and you go: "What the ???".  You play a few notes you wonder what is going on, then you tweak a few parameter and you're convinced: this IS different.

Chysalis Ni is not revolutionary, but that's not the point.  First of all, the presets are just plain fun.  They don't try to reproduce the "cliché" sounds we just can't stand anymore.  Some presets bends the thing and in doing so they show you where you can take this instruments.  It's far from the bread and butter category, but also it doesn't go in the glitch/FSU/weird useless FX category.  Refreshing. 

For me this is a good discovery.  You know how it is with freeware, because they are free we don't expect too much.  And then there are those like Saltline that don't seems to know about this and gives you the quality you expect from good shareware synths ... for free.

I won't use this in every composition, but I like having this kind of instruments available to trigger ideas.  I think the interface could be a bit clearer and easier to use, and if the sequencer could sent MIDI notes at the output it would be even better, but it's still very useful as it is.  And original!  A rare thing.  Oh, and did I said it sounds beautiful?  Well it does.   Go download it and give it try.  It will be time well spent.  Thanks to Saltline for this offering:

Boring details:
Chysalis Ni is a saltline VST instrument in VST format for the PC platform.  The technical specifications are irrelevant as they give no clue about the sound.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The BEST Virtual Midi Controller

Ok, so I said I was to talk about tools, so let's introduce one of the most important one, dare I say precious, to me: Virtual Midi Controller aka VMC.  Piano style keys are fun, but it's not something I swear by.  First of all the induce patterns associated with traditional piano fingering.  Nice if you're Liszt, but I'm not.  Second, they're not always at hand.  Laptop composing anyone?

So, I sometimes use my QWERTY keyboard as a way to input notes.  Like a lot of people, I'm sure.  So, a few years ago I went for a quest to find the best QWERTY to MIDI software there is.  I'm pretty sure I've tried them all, and my conclusion is this: Virtual Midi Controller is the best software in it's class.  No competition.  The top.  5 stars.
But it doesn't stop there.  This thing is completely customizable.   Ever heard of the Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee?  A great concept and very creative.  And you can program the equivalent of it here, in VMC.  Ever heard of the Axis controller?  Great isn't it?  Expensive also.  I've built my Axis program there in VMC.  Want your QWERTY to arpeggiate notes?  Go ahead.  And why stop at the QWERTY controller?  This thing can mutate any MIDI controller!
Please go check it out:
You can download the free version and make your mind about it.  If anything, you'll probably at the very least keep this light version and use it a lot.  But the full version is well worth the 20$, so you'll be going for it very soon.  Think about it: how much did you pay for your last hardware piece of gear?  We're not talking about a "me too" soft synth or FX here, but of a piece of software that will be possibly used every single day and that might change the way you do music.
Martin, the conceptor, is a nice guy and his software never got the exposure or the recognition it deserve.  Hope this post will help a bit.  If there's interest I might post some patches for it.

SoundCo - Virtual MIDI Controller

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's a good day to start a blog

Well, nothing special, but here's the start of it.  Hope you'll enjoy.  At first I wanted to focus on making it about music tools, then about music making, then ... then... nah!  Let's just go with whatever I got that day and you'll see. 

I hope to get people interested in some alternative music making tools and I'll give you my opinion about some gear, mostly soft synths.  There's SO MUCH stuff around, and I often observe that there's no opinions around talking about some of the software that I use and love.  So you'll get to read about it here.

Hope you'll enjoy!