Dr Bing Klazenby writes with an inspiring idea: "I think Music Thing should consider investigating the importance of rubbish beards in pioneering music technology. I hope this site might be a springboard to such a feature.
"The trio of digital reverb pioneers [Mr Eventide, Mr Lexicon and Mr Ursa Major] looking like crosses between Open University lecturers and Charles Manson is a haunting image, I'm sure you'll agree. And surely those beards must adversely affect the early reflection patterns in these chaps' research studios?"
It's a worrying thought, Bing. Meanwhile, I've noticed that synth pioneers, at least Roger Linn, Dave 'Sequential Circuits' Smith and Bob Moog tend to be clean shaven and balding. What can it all mean?
They don't come up for sale very often, so if you didn't get what you wanted for Christmas and need a bit of cheering up, how about spending £1,000+ on a fully working Yamaha CS80? It's perfect for recreating the soundtrack to Blade Runner, and it weighs more than me. Of course, your synth snob friends will complain that it's merely a cut-down version of the Yamaha GX-1 - the vast and endlessly expensive organ-style synth that Keith Emmerson and Stevie Wonder bought. But considering the CS80 cost £5,000 in 1977, it's really a bargain. Sure, you could buy Arturia's CS80v virtual version, but in this case, it really isn't the same.
A couple of London DJs have launched Disco Aid, a project to use NYE parties to raise money for the Indian Ocean Tsunami victims. If you're running an party and want more info click here for news or contact email@example.com
ps: In 1986 Paul Hardcastle produced a Disco Aid single, featuring a stella lineup of mid 80s British stars including Mel & Kim, Pepsi & Shirley, Sinitta and Aswad... (Thanks Daniel)
OK, so officially I'm still on holiday, but here's a very quick one... Phillip Torrone has worked out a way to record 96khz audio on an iPod, for free. Which is pretty awesome, considering Apple deliberately crippled iPod recording, so that those $40 iPod Audio Recorder things can only record at 8khz, which is fine for speech, but not much else. Unfortunately, Phillip's solution involves installing Linux on your iPod, which is a fairly extreme solution. (via BoingBoing)
Thanks to Gabe for passing on this vast and bonkers page listing the effects on the human body of every frequency, from sub-bass rumblings (1hz is good for stimulating growth hormone) to musical notes (440hz is "associated with collarbones") to above human hearing (38khz is "used for bringing energies from other dimensions").
Well, buy me a Stetson and call me 'Dwight'. There's only one thing I want for Christmas, and it's a MSA Millennium Pedal Steel. Alan sent me a picture of his and, like anything made of titanium and carbon fibre, it's awesome. Unfortunately, I don't think I can stretch to $5995 for the full version, with two 10-string necks, eight pedals and five knee levers (must be a hell of a job to tune). They also make a nice noise, don't they?
Peter's back! After Vibraslap and Resonator Guitars, he has a Christmas treat for you: The Blaster Beam:
It's a monster: 18 feet of machined aluminium, with numerous strings and moveable (sometimes motorised) pickups. Japanese new-ager Kitaro plays his with a bow (like in the picture), or you can use an old artillery shell as a slide.
It was invented by ginger child star turned new age music guru Craig Huxley, who played Kirk's Nephew in Star Trek in the sixties. Ironically, the Blaster’s most famous appearance was as the voice of "Veja" in 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' in 1979. You can hear its awesome vibrations at the beginning of this clip.
So the Beam was ready to sink into weird instrument obscurity. But something very strange happened. According to this report, when Craig Huxley played his Blaster Beam at a concert in Central Park a decade ago "over a dozen women reported having intensely sexual feelings from the Beam sound, up to and including orgasm".
Even a synth version of the sound can have the same effect. "When, in flipping through my Xpander presets, I came to a sound called "THE BEAM" in honor of Huxley's instrument, the expression on her face abruptly changed. When I asked her what was wrong, she blinked for a moment and said, "Please play that again. Louder." I did so, and had the odd experience of watching her eyes glaze over as she half fell into a chair breathing hard. "I...*like* that sound," she managed to get out in a whisper." You can download the preset from the site, assuming you're one of the 2,000 people with an Oberheim Xpander.
SEE UPDATE BELOW
I was so intrigued to find someone paying over $100 for an old blank cassette tape that I've been looking into this shady network...
First up, I found German-based el355 who recieved 12 bids of up to $474.99 for his collection of 70 sealed tapes (including a Cobalt 52 and various Teac Open Reel gear). He was looking for $1,200, so he didn't sell.
His bid list is a who's who of the tape-collecting world, featuring big players like Jessydog (a rare US collector), who recently dropped $25 on a pair of BASFs, and efeler who spent almost $45 on a pair of Nakamichis.
The top bidder for el355's collection was another German, Heimoboris, who last month paid $112.49 for three Teac metal-reel cassettes. (That's one on the right, with the original $12.45 price sticker.)
Another American dealer is ceogc02 who also trades (inevitably) in WWII memorabilia.
I've been very disappointed not to find "Vintage Cassette Collector" magazine on the web, but this post (which does feature several Germans) gives a taste of what it might be like.
UPDATE So, most of the ebay links on this page have decayed, but a look at 'Blank Tapes' category in eBay shows that collecting is still going on: As I write, there's a "Sealed! Mint!" That's tape on Buy It Now for $30. Ten Sony Metal Masters recently went for $225.
Well, this awesome picture is really a gift from Brandon, who sent me the link to this page about Leo from Kansas, a man so obsessed with his Pro-One synth that he had a Pro-One shaped wedding cake. Then, he decided not to base it on a real Pro-One, but his own fantasy dual-keyboard synth. Good work, Leo!
I'm quite shocked at the violent force of nostalgia I experienced looking at Project C-90, a huge Russian library of pictures of old cassette tapes. I must have spent weeks of my young life worrying about Metal vs Chrome, and which brand was best (I remember a good batch of That's tapes that Richer Sounds were selling cheap). I also remember hearing tell of a fantastically expensive cassette that either a) Had an aluminium shell or b) Had little reel-to-reel spools that went round when you played the tape (depending on which of my friends I listened to). Anyone remember them? (Thanks to Tommy Walker III for the tip. Why don't you download his mixtape and tape it onto one side of a C90?)
UPDATE: Well, the tape with the little reel-to-reel spools was the Teac Cobalt (top left), which was presumably such a bad design for a cassette that they could only make them 52 minutes long. It's is now so rare and fondly remembered that one single tape recently sold for €75 on German Ebay. Imagine what you might get for the truly bizarre Teac Open Cassette System (top right).
So, things are really, really slowing down for Christmas Week. The most interesting story of the day is that Peter at Create Digital Music was right when the guessed that the mystery Apple lawsuit was all about their Asteroid sound card thingy. The most interesting product of the last couple of days is the Wetronome waterproof metronome, which is yellow and rubbery and pretty-much useless (unless you're a world-class swimmer, of course). So I've got to admire Harmony Audio for launching their kind-of-nifty-looking Firewire interface at such a dead time. No price yet, and pretty-much standard specs, but it does come in a nice aluminium box to go with your G5.
Here is a fantastic story from BoingBoing about the "awesome, gigantomongous, french-fry-esque pipe organ" at the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, with 6,000 pipes made of metal and wood and can deliver "gut-liquefying bass note". Apparently it even smells good, because the pipes are made of exotic woods.
Just in time for Christmas, the wonderful G-Media have produced Vintage Synth Top Trumps, the essential card game for the geek you love, just £7.95. (via Sonic State)
Exciting news in the NME which reports that Justin from the Darkness is playing a white Roland Axis AX7 strap-on keyboard on their current arena tour. Disappointingly, the only picture I can find of him, he seems to be riding a huge off-white tiger while playing a guitar (boo).
I knew about spring reverbs and tape echo, but until this morning, I'd never heard of oil-can delay, so I'm indebted to Joe for telling me about Tel-Ray: "Instead of tape, they used what looks like a tuna can filled with electrolytic oil. A tiny motor pulls a miniature rubber belt, spinning a flywheel armed with a pickup inside the can, acting like a recording head, sloshing it around in the oil to produce echo." These things were pretty mainstream in the early '60s - Tel-Ray licensed their designs to Fender, Vox and Gibson - so it seems extraordinary that I'd never heard of oil-can effects. The most popular myth about Tel-Ray is that the oil was carcinogenic and stuffed with PCBs. Geofex explain that the oil was made by Union Carbide, but isn't particularly toxic. A few years back, Bomb Factory released a Tel-Ray plugin for Pro Tools, but there doesn't seem to be any VST equivalent.
There's much joy to be had from the ESP Custom Shop site (thanks James), but I was particularly taken by this Statue of Liberty guitar. Now I'm no expert on American culture,
but isn't it a little bit, well, demeaning for the statue to be facing downwards? As an experiment, I wanted to see how the guitar might look in use, so here's a crudely photoshopped picture of Bruce Springsteen playing it. The statue's face is awfully close to... Well, let's just pray that ESP never make a guitar inspired by our dear Queen.
Belgian scientists studying a Mexican pyramid have discovered that it was build so that echoes off the pyramid sounded like bird chirps. The 'chirp' can be triggered by a handclap made at the base of the staircase. Essentially, it was a gigantic stone Eventide H910. (thanks Mikey)
Joshua from the actually-good-to-read Las Vegas blog Zen Archery writes: "I saw the story about the
loony in Los Angeles who hates drum machines, and thought I'd provide
something to remind people why we use drum machines in the first place."
My friend Peter has been investigating the Vibraslap, everyone's favourite bit of music-lesson latin percussion (click here for some free samples) :
"Did you know that the bizarrely shaped/named vibraslap is designed to imitate the quijada, a primitive instrument made from two donkey jawbones tied together? The teeth rattle when you shake it. You can buy a real quijada made in Peru here, although: 'Due to obvious supply limitations sometimes there is a waiting time for these very popular and hard to find instruments.' I thought it was a wind-up at first. Who'd have thought the vibraslap could be so sinister. It's a crazy world."
Stay tuned for Peter's extraordinary report about shamanic rituals involving Soviet military-spec handheld acoustic instruments...
I really don't have any excuse at all for posting this picture from the Pacific Northwest Synthesizer Meeting in September 2004, other than it made me smile. But it's December, it gets dark at 4pm in London (and possibly in the Pacific Northwest?) and we all need something to keep us going. For an almost infinite supply of cold-winter-evening filling pictures, check out Peter's Analog Heaven report over at Create Digital Music. PS: I'm going for 'Analog', but if you're a fan of 'Analogue', then let me know in the comments...
UPDATE: The guy in the picture is Toby Paddock, who also owns three Arp Oddyseys in different colours. He's playing a Syntar.
This is Rob Hubbard, the British musician who game-music heads revere above all others for his work on the Commodore 64. He has this entire site dedicated to his life and work. Sample quote: "It is important to appreciate the enormity of Rob Hubbard's music and the mesmerising effect it had on the generation who grew up with it."
Rob must be celebrating, because Swedish programmers have just released new software for the Commodore 64 (originally released in 1982). The software emulates the Roland 303 (originally released in 1982). But it's taken 22 years (ouch!) to bring them together. It's called Prophet 64, and it also does Prophet 5 sounds. Chris from Analog Industries spotted it. He's running a 303 emulator on a C64 emulator on OSX, which is too many acronyms for me. UPDATE: Now I wish I'd used this picture of Japanese jazz guitarist/C64 hacker/P.diddy inspiration Ryo Kawasaki to illustrate this story. (Thanks Tommy Walker III [mp3 mixtape])
There's a great story from LA Weekly about John Wood, a 53 year-old pianist who has launched a one-man campaign against modern music, making the fairly sensible point: “LL Cool J is Hulk Hogan” and distributing 'Drum Machines Have No Soul" bumper stickers, which are tragically snapped up by... drum-machine-using irony hounds. (thanks to Brandon for the pic!)
Thanks to Eric from Metasonix for reporting on the Analog Heaven meeting in Oakland on Saturday. If you're looking for insane spaghetti-covered modulars, EMS Synthi's and a not-inconsiderable number of men with beards, this was the place to be. I rather suspect that Eric was the belle of the ball, turning up with this, his prototype polyphonic vacuum-tube synth.
I was desperate for a good excuse to link to this post from Tape Op magazine, which is a brilliant thing about how to record handclaps. Sample quote: "If you have four drumers clapping perfectly in time, it sucks. But when you get your neighbor to come over, who will always slightly lag behind because he's so nervous, that lag spreads out the clap and gives you that 80's drum machine type of clap that is SUPER fat".
So, I asked Kate from The Priscillas to for her top ten cool records with hand claps on them: This would make a great album...
1: The Angels: 'My Boyfriend's Back'
2: The Ramones: 'Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio?'
3: Roxy Music: 'Do The Strand'
4: The Belle Stars: 'The Clapping Song' (Yes, sorry, that's the Aaron Carter version. Or here is the Baccara version, which I can highly recommend).
5: The Meters: 'Hand Clapping Song'
6: Santa Esmeralda: 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'
7: Tony Basil 'Hey Mickey'
8: Thee Headcoats 'Davy Crockett' (Let me know if you find this on the web)
9: Belle & Sebastian: 'The Boy with the Arab Strap'
10: Kenickie - 'Come Out 2 Nite'
Bonus Track: The best clapping solo of all time: 'Greased Lightning' from Grease. Obviously.
Here's a very slightly disturbing video of a North Korean 'genius kid' playing xylophone on a TV special. I'm expecting to find that it's actually an urban myth, and the story is something totally different, but meanwhile enjoy her playing and those cool kids playing melodicas with long plastic tubes round the backs of their necks.
It doesn't look like much, but there are some pretty big claims being made for the Hypnos Vocoder Brainwave Entrainment Device: It's an audio plugin (curiously, it's the old-fashioned Direct X flavour, not VST), which helps the listener with meditation, remote viewing, telepathy, out-of-body experience and lucid dreaming. It's the kind of thing Silva Mind Control 1970s remote viewing courses went in for. It was created by Richard Wolton from California, who also makes Screen Savers (like the look of his real-time earthquake saver). Of course, there are a few disclaimers attached to his mind-bending plugin: "Warning: Persons with seizure disorders or related neurological problems should not use this device," and perhaps most tellingly for a $799 piece of software (the normal vocoder without mind-control elements is just $49): "Due to the nature of this product, there are no refunds or returns"
Thanks to Ben for pointing me towards miniorgan.com, a beautiful collection of 70s-80s musical toys, from the Stylophone (1970) to the Music Lok (1992). Highlights include the Muson Synthesiser: "Kind of a Roland TB-303 but much cooler & cheaper", the Realistic Rhythm Box: "This is absolutely the most kicking toy-drum-machine I have ever heard" and the Casio VL-10, which looks suspiciously like my Alesis Ion. It also reminded me that my sister used of have a Mattell Magical Musical Thing which I'm delighted to learn was "A great masterpiece of the golden age of electronic musical toys".
I've always wondered what resonator guitars were all about, so when my friend Peter told me he was thinking of buying one, I asked him to explain. This is what he said: "Remember that crappy Epiphone Airstream Guitar you had? Well, if Airstream had ever built a guitar it would really have looked like this National Tricone - which was first produced in 1927, with an all-metal body and Chrysler building styling.
Before electric guitars, resonators were the loudest guitars you could buy.
The tricone has three metal speaker cones (resonators) inside instead of the usual soundhole - like the one on the right, which goes under the bridge. They give that metallic, buzzy slide sound associated with Son House and the other Delta Bluesmen. These days, resonators walk a tightrope between redneck naff (yes, they’re used by Country players and yes there was one on the front of 'Brothers In Arms') and blues cool, but I'm going to shell out sooner or later.
Alternatively, if you can't afford £1000 or so to buy a classic National like this and you're happy to cut holes in your favourite acoustic, you can buy a resonator conversion kit on eBay. Alternatively, cheap resonator copies cost from £150 upwards."
Thanks Peter. One thing I noticed is that some of these guitars are designed to be played in the lap, so have unfinished square necks - so if you're bidding on eBay, make sure you know which you're getting...
Genuinely shocking news about Dimebag Darrell, who was shot dead on stage earlier this week. I've never knowingly heard a Pantera record, but he was mentioned in every guitar magazine I've ever bought. I'm sure he'd be happy to be remembered with this, his utterly rocking range of Washburn signature guitars.
A few months back, I featured the Pyp-Bomb - a cute-looking guitar amp built into a section of toilet down-pipe. Now Gizmodo is linking to Acoustical Art, who build high (and low) end hi-fi speakers in... toilet down-pipes. $2499 (!) gets you a big floor-standing three-way thing (with a very cool bass reflex pipe), or $150 gets you the little units pictured above, with a 3 inch speaker, available in white, black, red, yellow and grey.
Five reasons to covet the $400 Zvex Nano Head half-watt valve amp as much as I do:
1: It's tiny. That blue box at the bottom? It's smaller than an iPod
2: Those teeny little valves? The were originally designed for use in ballistic missiles
3: It has a one-inch cooling fan on the side, and a tiny speaker on the bottom
4: It can power a full-sized Marshall stack loud enough to record with
5: Inventor Zachary Vex has the most flattering Googlism entry I've ever seen
I think Peter at Create Digital Music may have found a sequel to the now legendary 'This is rock'n'roll' Prodikeys demo video. He's got hold of this video of Nintendo execs demonstrating the 'Band Brothers' game on the DS handheld. Six of them standing in a meeting room, looking excruciatingly embarrassed, jamming away on what Peter reckons has the potential to be an interesting multi-player wireless sequencer (you can hum into the DS and it will turn it into MIDI).
So I'm trying to learn about valves as research for my column in Engadget next Saturday, and I stumbled across The Virtual Valve Museum, which has loads of pictures of wierd valves, including this Mercury Arc Rectifier. Just imagine finding that hiding out in the back of your guitar amp! Also, if you've just formed a band and are looking for a name, visit the site. It has sections on Heil Tubes, Micropups, Strobotrons, Surge Arrestors, Thyratrons, Trigger Tubes, Glow Modulators, Heptodes, Nuvistors, and, of course, Klystrons.
It's always interesting find out who reads Music Thing, so I was delighted to get this message from Rick Hubbard: "I enjoy reading your blog, and as America's only full-time, professional kazoo player and owner of the kazoo factory, I felt I should contribute something." Rick's new thing is the iKazoo, which costs 79¢: "Now you can jam with your iTunes. And if you can't afford an iPod, you can still get a white kazoo." He also has an awesome guitar.
This is the prototype for Scottish analogue synth makers Macbeth's new toy. The Macbeth M5 is (very roughly) a modern version of the ARP 2600, best known for being a: very cool, and b: covered in sliders. The M5 will cost £1995 and come in a huge steel box, with a built-in spring reverb and dozens of full-length sliders. It is pre-patched, which means that it works without a jumble of patch leads, but if you want to override them, small spaghetti is possible. (Thanks Ignatius)
Andrew Wanliss-Orlebar has taken up the challenge. I suggested that Songs from a Random House were the ugliest band I've ever seen. It was true then, but not any more. Andrew thinks these guys are called Reign, but doesn't know more than that. They're not this Christian rock group or this dude. If you're in the picture, get in touch!
By the end of the 80s, Giorgio had three Oscars and all the money in the world. He stopped making records (just doing occasional remixes for people like Mirwais, and producing the odd Bonnie Tyler track) and concentrated on... other projects:
1: He designed and formed a company to build the Cizeta-Moroder V16T, a sixteen-cylinder (64-valve!) sports car that would sell for $600,000 in the mid 1980s. The Sultan of Brunei was interested, but the company closed.
2: He was commissioned by a 'now defunct' Japanese company to build "The Moroder Towers" at an undisclosed location.
3: He wants to build a huge pyramid in LA, to be called the Moroder Millennium Pyramid
4: Giorgio's art is not good.
5: He claims to be " the owner and creative force of the internationally known electronics group, SAE California." Can he mean the long defunct cult stereo company Scientific Audio Electronics, which went bust in 1994?
6: He's now taken down the relevant page, but Giorgio was about to design an 'art park' in Blankenburg, Germany "featuring the world's largest pieces of digital art, videos, paintings, sculpture and multi-media exhibits. The park will be called the "Moroder Art Park." Elsewhere, he says "A large space will be needed for the Blankenburg collection as it will include some extremely large paintings measuring 100 meters long and 25 meters high."
7: As part of the Blankenburg project: "Moroder will also present a musical about witches entitled "Hexy" scheduled to open in a newly created theater in the year 2001."
THAT'S ENOUGH MORODER NOW...
I'm not totally sure that 'Tric Pic Industries Inc. is really a viable company. Their website says "Press Release" at the top and has a link saying 'Techinfo' which leads to a raw directory full of stuff about Chrysler boat engines. But their product, designed by Charles 'Chuck' Carpenter (who's apparently in Gary Moore's band) is clearly a winner: A guitar pick with a built in LED light, for $9. They're stocked by Tell Me Where On Earth (but you have to scroll right down to the bottom of the page).
This [6mb mpeg] is a fantastic little video of a guy drumming in the street on paint cans. No idea when/where it comes from. (From Kingblind)
The reaction to the this post of Moroder's early record sleeves was so enthusiastic that I thought I should also share the World's Worst Album Covers site. (Thanks Andrew)
This page is amazing. Robert from Santa Cruz has programmed Myriad's Virtual Singer software to sing with his own voice, sampled in some black-magic way. And he's used it to sing Nessun Dorma! (Thanks Mikey)
All this talk about black/white synths, and I've overlooked the rare and eccentric albino synths, like Tony Mason's Pink Casio SK1, about which he knows nothing (other than wondering if it was a Barbie special edition). Even better,
The Smithsonian has an ultra-rare pre-release white Speak & Spell.
Not a lot to say, really. It's a toilet seat shaped like a guitar, made by Marvin Maxwell of Kentucky. Currently out of stock, I'm afraid, perhaps because of the very reasonable asking price of $99. Only available in tobacco sunburst (though I'm sure a flamed maple version is on the way). He seems to do a full range of musical bathroom bits: drum stick towel rail, headstock toilet roll holder. NB: Steven Spielberg has bought a Jammin' John.
To do 'I Feel Love' properly, you need a gigantic Moog Modular. Fortunately, this helpful japanese site has a pdf which you can download to build your own. Out of paper.
I was planning to write a 'how to' guide, like they have in real music gear magazines, explaining how to do the bassline using free VSTs and stuff. Then I tried to do it, and it was much to hard. Fortunately, I'm in good company. Trevor Horn was obsessed by 'I Feel Love' when it came out, but didn't have the technology. Eventually, he hired a Moog at great expense and "couldn't get a bloody squeak out of it." (The trick? Half speed bassline + short delay)
In 1979, Giorgio said " It's nearly impossible to compose with a synthesizer. By its nature, improvisations are much easier, so I went into the studio and recorded "I Feel Love" as it was composed. All I used was an electronic bass line and an electronic drum. That's the big difference between normal and electronic recording.
Amusing people who have covered 'I Feel Love': Paedo-bait Vanessa Mae, Bronski Beat & Mark Almond who also used most of 'Love to Love You Baby', Blue Man Group (please don't click on that link), Songs from a Random House who are the ugliest band you will ever see, and Blondie, who played it live at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1980.
CLICK FOR PT.7: MORODER'S LIFE TAKES A SURPRISING TURN
Kilt? Mullet? Chest-mounted hexagonal MIDI drum pads? Dual strap-on keyboards? Foot-mounted drum triggers? Huge selection of 80s hits? Fixation with German techno? Canadian passport? Intimate relationship with Celine Dion? McRorie has it all. You must must must watch his video. It is truly awesome. (From Kingblind)