Franz Ferdinand's Studio Procrastination Masterclass

Franz Ferdinand are posting video diaries on their website as they record their new album in Scotland (here's how the recorded the last one). They're very entertaining little films, showing that not much work is being done. In one, guitarist Nick McCarthy sets off into the countryside with a laptop and an M Box to "record a river and see what it sounds like backwards". In another, Alex Kapranos tries to demonstrate their Ackuset gear, which he says is the key to the Franz sound. But it doesn't work. Ackuset were a Swedish music company who built great-looking tape delays. Franz also have an Acuset mixer, which Alex says is one of only 7 in the world, four of which aren't working. Does anyone know why the Ackuset mixer is so special?

Electronic Musician's Emergency Adapters Kit

Zelle are a jewellery company, who make a huge range of fantastically geek-friendly products, like a necklace made of ¼" jack plugs, MIDI plug keychains and best of all the gold microprocessor bling necklace. But lurking at the bottom of their online catalogue page is this Electronic Musician's Emergency Adapters Kit - a $60 bag of bits and pieces. The idea is that "When Radio Shack is closed, you'll feel confident that you can handle any venue's crazy sound system setup".

Fliptone: It's the brushed aluminium iAmp

$699 gets you one Fliptone, a fantastically sexy-looking acoustic guitar amp in an aluminium briefcase, with rechargable batteries, digital effects and a flat-panel speaker. If you see a busker on the way home from work tonight, give them a twenty - they'll be saving for one of these. (via Harmony Central)

Homemade beer-based condenser mic

A guy in Mississippi is making and selling condenser mics out of beer cans. He's got a Pabst Blue Ribbon one for sale (currently at $15). It must be pretty hard to design and build your own condenser mic, and he's not getting much for his labours. The last Pabst sold for $24.99, although a Schlitz went for $51... (via TapeOp)

Circuit Bending festival in NYC

The Bent 2005 festival is a four-day festival of circuit bending. The full schedule is here. Random highlight: "Touch it! The Suzuki Omnichord” workshop with Joker Nies" (via Make)

Ebay of the Day: Wersi CX-1 Drum Computer

This is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time. I was planning to keep quiet and bid myself, but the seller will only ship it to Germany. It's a Wersi CX-1 Drum Computer, which looks incredible and is a combo analog drum machine and auto-rhythm machine. The two mp3 samples are awesome: Rhythms and basslines. So, if you missed out on the Movement Drum Computer that sold on eBay for $3,300 a couple of weeks back and you live within driving distance of Paderbom, Germany, then 1st May could be your lucky day. Currently, it's just €55.

A choice of entertainment for the day

You decide: Spend three minutes watching Dennis Madalone's America We Stand As One, which has convinced me that music is, in fact, inherently evil. OR, spend 45 minutes listening to this Radio 4 play about Delia Derbyshire, the genius British producer/musician/engineer who made the Dr Who theme music and lots of other things (scroll down a bit, it's at 13:00). Then, read more about Delia here. (Thanks, Bing and Jon)

Polyhedral speaker played with a violin bow

JD writes to tell me about BoSSA, the 'bowed speaker array' that's been built at Princeton: "This is a polyhedral ("spherical") speaker array that incorporates some kind of bowed interface to produce ungodly electronic noise/chamber music." The site has lots of video, sound and pictures. It's well worth a look, and considerably more original and musical than the everyday 'For my art project I strapped a MIDI interface to a cucumber/ping pong ball/ripe banana' nonsense...

Ebay of the Day: Maestro Rhythm'n'Sound

If your cult effects pedals box is looking a bit empty, you could do worse than pick up a Maestro Rhythm'n'Sound - a very weird guitar pedal with built in rhythms, fuzz and octave. Inevitably, the Beastie Boys and Crystal Method have used these, and it may or may not have the same Fuzz circuit as the Maestro Fuzztone, which was used on Satisfaction by the Stones. (Thanks, Brandon)

Awesome DIY Road-Cone amplifier

Chay from Kingston-on-Thames has built a self-powered speaker and amp into a normal police cone. He says: "I'm sure you are wondering 'how does it sound?' In a word, shit. However in its favour it is very loud, presents music quite acceptably, and is perhaps a little controversial." He's also built some kind of CD playing robot, . Good work, Chay. The world salutes you. (Thanks Simon!)

A big pile of Fairlights appears on eBay

It's the sort of thing you normally see in a VEMIA auction: One person is currently selling two Fairlights (currently at £102 for the Series 2 and £52 for the series 3), one Synclavier (already £1,120) and a Maplin ETI 4600 (which as any Music Thing reader knows, is a big modular designed by Kim Ryrie, who went on to design... the Fairlight.)
All these amazing synths are "cash upon pickup only in Box, Wiltshire, near Bath," which has lead several people (well, me and Rob), to assume that they're being sold by Peter Gabriel, whose Real World studio is in Box. In fact, they all belonged to Chris Hughes, who worked with Peter but is not him. Very, very excitingly: "the Fairlight 2 was the instrument used on Tears for Fears songs like 'Shout', and Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days"...

Why do ice cream vans sound the way they do?

Nothing sounds quite like an ice cream van, and this post on EM411 left me wondering how they work. This is what I found:
1) " Early models consisted of a hand tuned Swiss musical movement (like a music box) fitted with a magnetic pick up and the amplifiers used radio-type valves. In 1958 reliable transistors came on to the market and efficient amplifiers were built to work directly of the vehicle's battery." (from here)
2) British vans traditionally use 'Grampian Horn' loudspeakers (which cost about £60), pointed down at the road to disperse the sound.
3) Modern chimes, like the Micro Miniatures Harmony 64, have dozens of melodies burnt onto a chip, and can play 3-note harmonies, and have a built-in 37.5 watt amplifier to drive the horn. It costs about £220.
4) Today, there are very few companies still making ice cream van chimes. Micro Minatures are based in Staffordshire, while Magic Box are based in Jacksonville, Florida, where they sell ice cream all year round. Their product is a $100, 3 tune box with an 8 watt amp, perfect for neighbourhoods where loud vans cause complaints.
5) Disappointingly, nobody has created a VST ice cream van simulator.

Ebay of the day: Akai MPC3000. Lady not included.

If you didn't find the Headphone Porn or Hi-fi Porn exciting, then perhaps this will do it for you: ultraman6996 is a Japanese seller with a LOT of really expensive old music gear for sale on eBay at the moment (including a $30,000 Roland modular). Most of his auctions are straightforward, but his Akai MPCs are photographed being demonstrated by a girl in a swimsuit and stilletos, as you can see from this picture. There's more here and here. (Thanks, Matt)

Soundart Chameleon, R.I.P

Niall writes with bad news about the Soundart Chameleon (a very well-regarded universal DSP box, like a big brother of the Chiclet). It seems they've stopped developing the Chameleon MK2, and are going into 'hibernation' after selling off the last few Chameleons they have left. Having only sold 500 units, it looks like the forces of economics have closed in. More Details.

"Knowing the value would only make you nauseous"

Slash writes: "I figure many would like to see these drum pictures." I'd agree. They're of a 1920s gold-plated, engraved snare drum. We don't have enough drum stuff on MT, so if you have any stories, get in touch!

Dewanatron: World's most pretentious synth?

Jay writes to tell me about Dewanatron, an art/music duo who build very cool-looking synths, but claim they are "a family of instruments which hazard unpredictable behaviors and self playing tendencies. They make all previous and future instruments obsolete.." As Jay says: "I don't quite see where the unpredictability and such come from, except that the controls are all unlabeled". Dewanatron's pretensions continue on the 'About' page: "The operators begin a process which develops into a shape beyond the operator's authorship; the operators become gardeners, watering and pruning, mulching and composting sound. The music becomes a contrapuntal morass." You can hear that contrapuntal morass here. Mainly bleeps, some bloops.

The $16 USB microphone adaptor for your Mac Mini

This great post explains how a PS2 game called 'Singstar Party' comes with a USB mic input which works on a Mac. Best of all, you can buy the thing on eBay for next to nothing. (Thanks, Mikey)

Variax Workbench ships (finally)

Line6 have just released their Workbench software for their Variax guitars, which has been delayed since 31st March 2004 when it was first announced. Workbench lets you build virtual custom guitars which can be downloaded into one of their Variax digital guitars. It lets you tweak the thing right down to the kind of capacitors used in the volume and tone controls.

Cool industrial keyboards

I was reading about the Deck Keyboard, and looked at the site for it's parent company, TG3 Electronics. Forget that DX-1 DIY keyboard, I want a huge white medical keyboard with built-in trackball, scroll wheels, LCDs and faders. This page is a world of multi-coloured, reversed-out, built-in-monitor keyboard craziness.

New Roland TB303. Just £89, inc. postage

Anthony writes: "I remember in the early nineties, when people would tell me that you could get 303's for pennies back in the mid 80s, and I'd only half believe them. They weren't lying. Today, I received a 1986 copy of Sounds magazine. In the back, there's an ad for Soho Soundhouse (now better known as Turnkey)." The last three TB303s on Ebay sold for and $1025, £600 and $1875 (that one came with a TR606).

That Scratchophone thing? It really works!

This .wmv video shows Alari Thierry's Scratchophone in action, at a hip hop event in London last weekend. It looks like the thing really works. I'd love to see a marching band of DJs scratching in harmony like a samba school.

John's New Thing: Soviet Handclapper Pedal

My New Thing is a new regular MT feature. If you've bought something interesting and/or cheap, why not write in with a pic and some sound samples and a story? This week, John has a beauty...
What is it? "I got this for $20 on eBay, which seems like an eminently reasonable price for this little treasure of eighties cheese. As it happens, the sound is pretty good, with controls for pitch, release, and pad sensitivity. This [100k MP3] sample shows what a bit of tweaking does. I intend to run it through a Boss Loopstation to generate thunderous electronic applause at gigs."
Best bit: "Please note the ceramic capacitors. They're SQUARE! I can't describe to you the depths of geek pleasure this affords me. Perhaps somewhere out there is a Thai drum machine with electrolytics shaped like little pyramids...if there is, you know I'll find it." Thanks, John!

Build your own keyboard layout from scratch

Michael writes about the The Ergodex DX-1 - a $149 custom-configurable keyboard system, with up to 50 keys, positioned however you want them on a base station. "They talk about it as, and it is marketed as, a gaming controller," says Michael. "I don't know about YOU, but I don't see a gaming controller! Bundle this MF with Live."

150,000 new fans for under £30

I've been enjoying the Dream DJ Furniture series over at CDM, but this is the ultimate studio accessory: Red Hot Rock Shop sells three-sheet posters (6' x 9') of 150,000 fans at an un-named rock festival for £29.97. Obviously a crowd that size is a step down for most MT readers, but it's atmospheric nevertheless. [Product Page]

Cracklebox samples at Freesound Project

The other morning, I got a Cracklebox through the post from Steim (thanks, Michel). It's a very nice thing, and I thought I should share it, so I recorded this sample pack for the Freesound Project. If you can make anything musical from the samples, then a) you're an awful lot cleverer than me, and b) I'd love to hear it.

Another reason to love the French: Space

Thanks to 'Rude 66' on Analogue Heaven for finding this [15mb WMV] - the legendary video for Spanish Magic Fly by Space.

Fender's spinning disk echo machine

Frank writes from Kent: "I've been a gigging musician since the late seventies and have never came across a magnetized drum echo device before." He's just spotted this Fender Soundette from 1967/8, which used a spinning magentic disk, rather than a loop of tape, for delay effects (with a cool little orange window to watch the disk spinning.) There's a nice page about the Soundette here. Thanks, Frank!

Random picture of the day

Spotted by Paul on the Analogue Heaven mailing list on Till Kopper's website, it's Klaus Schulze playing in Linz in 1980. The big modular in the background sold on eBay a couple of weeks ago for £14,000.

New NIN single released in GarageBand format

Trent Reznor has released the original studio multitrack from his new single: "What I'm giving you in this file is the actual multi-track audio session for 'The Hand That Feeds.' This is the entire thing bounced over from the actual Pro Tools session we recorded it into. I imported and converted the tracks into AppleLoop format so the size would be reasonable and the tempo flexible." Details here, actual 70mb download here. Now, can someone strip out the sound files, so non-Mac users can have some fun? (Thanks to everyone who sent this in)

Machinedrum Userwave: World's most expensive sampler?

Swedish boutique synth makers Elektron have announced a new version of Machinedrum called Userwave, with basic sampling capabilities. It costs €1590 and has just 2mb of memory and 12bit samples. They say: "memory is limited for ROM/flash so you need to think about what you put in there. No endless sample library to stop creativity." Elektron have always been controversial. They sell synths whose specs could be duplicated by spending $50 on eBay (simple FM, SID synths etc), but cost £1,000+. Very importantly, everyone who has ever used one seems to say they're fantastic (I once spent some time with a MonoMachine. It was pretty baffling, but sounded like nothing else and definitely an expensive, well-made thing.) This slightly bad-tempered thread over at EM411 catches the debate pretty well. 'Djugel' points out that nobody complains about a £1,000 guitar which really does have the same paper spec as a £69 guitar.
There's an old-style Machinedrum here on eBay, starting at £400. If you're looking for a cheap sampling drum machine, the Korg ES-1 looks pretty good - they go for £100-£150 on eBay. (via GearJunkies)

Introducing... Video Thing

Long-time friend of MT Wiley Wiggins has just launched Video Thing which does for video tech/gadget stuff what MT does for music tech/gadget stuff. Highlights of his first dozen posts include: a circuit bent PXL2000, a cute singing kid, an amazing pocket-sized video projector, a mad 360° panoramic video and, obviously, some Analog Video Synthesizers. It looks like a brilliant site, so scoot over to and pay him a visit.

Why records are getting louder

And the award for 'Best music-related visual aid' goes to: This page about compression and mastering and why 'Livin La Vida Loca' is the loudest record ever made...

Coin-operated turntable sampler

Alex writes: "Here's a weird idea...this feller has created a freaky tonearm for his turntable with 4 infrared sensors on it. He sets the turntable going and puts coins on the platter which trigger the samples!". There are videos of the thing in action on the site (for those of you with proper internet connections...)

The Freesound Project

I'm on a very slow dialup connection on a laptop in Spain this week, so very few posts, and no pretty pictures. Tommy Walker III writes to let me know about the Freesound Project, with little explanation other than that "Its amazing...". It is: "a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps, released under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus License." Sounds great... for people not on dodgy dialup connections in Spain.

My New Thing: Dynacord VRS23

My New Thing is a new regular MT feature. If you've bought something interesting and/or cheap, why not write in with a pic and some sound samples and a story?
What is is?A rackmount analog delay, from 1982, with 'Made in West Germany' written on the back. 400ms delay, a weird stereo reverb setting (just lots of short delays), and a lot cheaper than the more famous Ibanez AD202, which costs up to $250. This was €100 from eBay Germany.
Good Bits: One knob per control - it's all there to tweak. It's big and heavy and properly made (the chips inside are all in sockets). The 12-LED meter glows beautifully. It sounds warm and solid and right with guitar or synth or drum machine. This [800k MP3] is an Alesis Ion piano part, first clean, then delayed - the wall of fizz and buzz and sizzle brings it to life. This [200k MP3] is just some VST synth and drum plinks delayed and tweaked.
Bad Bits: It's 23 years old and I'm sure it will die, and the BBD chips inside are getting rare. It is great to use, but pretty noisy, I'm not sure it really sounds any better than Ronin.
Should I buy one: Yes, if you like old, clever boxes, and you find one cheap.

VEMIA Auction: What you want to buy

Some highlights of the current VEMIA auction of old and geek-friendly instruments, with current prices:
MIMIC Sampler £19: This is an incredibly rare early sampler, made by the people who did the Movement Drum Computer. It doesn't actually work, though. (Top left)
EMT Plate Reverb £680: It's 8 feet long, and it's currently in Belgium. But how cool? (Top right)
Hawkwind's old Synthi £1800: It was once thrown across the stage in a fight, but now it's OK. (Bottom left)
AKG Modular Digital Delay £190: Almost certainly does nothing that your PC can't, but how great would would it look in a rack? (Bottom left).
Other highlights include: Maurice Gibb's Synclavier, an Oberheim 4 Voice, a Linn LM1 (the Prince drum machine), a Fairlight for £1830, and a nice-looking book about EMS Synthis.

Headphone Fetishists!

Thanks to Create Digital Music for opening my eyes to headphone fetishists. They seem to hang out at Headph0ne Phet1sh, collecting pictures of girls in recording studios, radio studios, and the like. I'd imagine that this video (it's just about safe for work) is pretty much the headphone porn motherlode, but I can't really see who's going to get off on this (very safe for work) video of women sitting in listening booths. If you're a headphone fetishist, why not get in touch and write about it for MT?

Who is Esteban? And what's up with his guitars?

David writes from Canada: "Here in Amerique du Nord we get these late-night TV infomercials for guitars by this guy named Esteban. They are astonishingly terrible displays of shameless ludicrousity." Esteban appears on the Home Shopping Network. This is his homepage there, selling four types of guitar and two types of Esteban fragrance. HSN claim that Esteban is an "internationally reknowned guitar virtuoso." This brilliant feature by Gilbert Garcia from the Phoenix New Times tells a different story.
Esteban is actually Stephen Paul, the 58 year-old son of a steel worker from Pittsburgh. He first appeared on HSN in November 1999, and by July 2001 he was selling 56,000 CDs in a week. How did Stephen become Esteban? He spent an uncertain amount of time in the 1970s with Spanish guitar legend Andrés Segovia, who he claims gave him the name 'Esteban' (Spanish for Stephen). HSN say that Esteban "is one of the few guitarists in the world to earn the coveted endorsement of legendary master, Andres Segovia." That endorsement came when Segovia signed a book for Stephen, writing: "To Stephen Paul, who loves the guitar and the guitar loves him." Segovia died in 1987, so can't clear the matter up.
Stephen certainly is an 'award winning musician', but those awards both came at the 2004 Electronic Retailing Association Gala Awards where 'Esteban' won Best Male Presenter for an Infomercial and Best Live Shopping on-Air Guest.
So what about the guitars he sells on HSN and through this bizarre website (check out this page, headlined "Dildo Bike")?
UPDATE: This site is now dead - the Internet Archive mirror is here.
David has kindly provided a summary of reviews from Harmony Central:
  • "I returned this guitar after the frets fell off. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND EVERYTHING HOLY..... DO NOT BUY THIS GUITAR"
  • "I cut my fingers on the frets. I had to spend Christmas morning in the emergency room getting stitches. The doctors looked at me like I was a complete lunatic, since I was covered in blood and paint from the fretboard, and screaming about how Esteban ruined my Christmas."
  • "I returned the entire package. They refunded me for two payments, but now they are using my Visa to take money out of my bank account again."
  • "My daughter bought it. She played it for a couple weeks. Then one day I arrived home from work and there it was hanging from a tree limb minus strings. She got so ticked off that she decided to turn it into a bird house. So far after 6 weeks in the tree no birds have moved in, but there is bird crap all over it."
  • 'Le Cybersongosse' modular synth for kids

    André writes: "I'm a French reader of your blog and I found him every time so interesting and so astonish." Which is the nicest thing anyone's ever said about MT. He brings news of 'Le Cybersongosse', a fantastically psychedelic music machine for teaching recording and synthesis to schoolchildren. I think it looks like a cross between between Sly Stone's organ, a Buchla 200e and Jörgen Bergfors' incredible DIY modular. This PDF leaflet explains everything. It's a hardware interface to MAX/MSP software running on a G5. If this is what passes for education in French schools, it's no wonder Daft Punk sound like they do.

    Strap-on Turntables? Not new...

    So, a Frenchman called Alari Thierry has developed the Scratchophone - a big half-egg shaped drum with a turntable and a gooseneck tone arm. No idea at all if or how it works (I'm guessing 'not at all') but you really have to watch this WMV video, which is amazing.

    Oh dear. Vestax have invented the strap-on turntable

    It's not an April Fool. It's Vestax's scratch-o-caster turntable guitar. It doesn't really play records - it plugs into a CD player, which is controlled by the 10" vinyl platter. (Pictures and details at and Gear Junkies)

    Free MPC2000 for every Music Thing reader!

    Mark writes: "Here's a dumb flash MPC2000 sampler I made a few years ago: LINK." Thanks, Mark, that kept me entertained for a good five minutes. So, if everyone has a go, that's eight-and-a-half weeks of endless pleasure you're giving Music Thing readers.

    Bitbox - more flashing LEDs than ever before

    Chris from the increasingly fine Pixelsumo blog writes: Bitbox "is a performance interface by Brian Crabtree. Before I mention anymore, check out this 7mb video (quicktime mp4) which will explain everything. Each row of buttons is a sample. You press a button on that row to start playing the sample and an LED moves along each column providing visual feedback as to the loop position of the sample. Samples can be started anywhere along the timeline by pressing buttons further along."
    This is really a brilliant concept. There's a little problem that the guy in the video looks like a crab-handed dork while he's playing the thing, but I'm sure that's not an insurmountable difficulty.

    Wow! Nice-looking, useful new product from M-Audio

    Gear Junkies have the scoop on iControl - a Garageband-dedicated controller with transport controls, a shuttle wheel, lots of buttons and encoders. Details are sketchy at the moment (It seems to have audio out, but not audio in) and the big questions will be "Will it work with Logic?" and "Will it work with a PC to control Cubase?", but I'm just pleased that:
    a) It doesn't have any horrible shiny silver plastic
    b) It has fake wood end cheeks
    c) It only costs €142. Result!

    Everybody needs a video guitar!

    Reevo at Ektopia has this story about Livid Instruments' video-playing guitar, which seems to take the 'keytar' concept onto a whole new level. It's a good week for 'video instruments', with two mainstream offerings at MusicMesse: Korg's MPC-inspired Kaptivator and Edirol's CG-8 Visual Synthesizer.

    Rackmount your entire life

    If you're the kind of geek who reads The A-Z of Analogue Sythesisers before bed, then you'll appreciate that few things can't be improved by being rackmounted. So you'll be delighted to learn that Canford Audio sell wine racks, fridges and book shelves. As Gizmodo point out a rack of hot, humming vintage gear might not be the best place to store that bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, but it will certainly confuse your other half...

    A tale of three guitar boxes

    Three interesting guitar effect boxes announced today at MusicMesse:
    Economy: Korg Pandora PX4D: I had a Korg Pandora a few years back, and was astonished - they cost about £130 and are perfect headphone/practise amps, with tonnes of effects. What's new about this model? It combines guitar amps and bass amps, which is brilliant for guitarists who also want to play bass.
    Club Class: Korg AX3000G: It looks like another Boss/Line6 big black pedalboard clone, but there are two interesting things here: First, it has a Adrenalinn-style step-sequencer for effects/filters built in. That must be fun. Second, no price has been announced, but this PDF from a Romanian music shop (!) suggests it's just €404 (£275), £50 less than the Line6 PodXT live which seems pretty reasonable.
    First Class: TC G-System: CDM got the scoop on TC Electronic's very beautiful shiny-button-covered guitar system. I'm not at all convinced by the weird convertible rack/floorboard thing (Do you really want a rackmount box sitting on the floor exposed to beer spills?) and the price is bonkers: €1395 (£955).

    Pro Tools - now available as software

    In the "boring, but interesting" folder: Pro Tools have just announced Pro Tools M Powered. In the past, PT would only work on PT harware - the cheapest of which was the £320 M Box. The new software is a cut-down version of Pro Tools which will work on any modern M-Audio hardware, from the Audiophile 192 upwards, and can make recordings that are compatible with any other Pro Tools system. BUT: The software itself costs $350. So, if you want to start out in Pro Tools, you're probably still better of with that sexy M Box...
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