Friday, 29 January 2010

Synth Hero!

Jean Ga just alerted me to this marvelous website, which i can recommend also.....

.....mostly because it contains the amazing video:

Synths in Poland

Heres the website of the people who serviced my Fender Rhodes last year. Maciej came over and did it during his rounds in the UK. Nice bloke! That second picture reminds me, I need to get my Roland tape echo serviced

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

E&MM Beach Babe

Finally here's a picture of a very English beach-babe playing a Roland MC202, quite a common sight in the early eighties

E&MM Emerson

Next is an extract from the feature on Keithy-boy. Its not an interview, he sort of just wrote the whole article about himself which is pretty cool

The First Live Moog 
I couIdn't wait to see one of these instruments and found that Mike Vickers, who used to be with Manfred Mann, had one of the first Moog modular systems in his flat in London

I went round to see it and asked him if I could use it for one of my performances with the orchestra. He told me that it wasn't really meant to be moved around, that it was really for studio rather than live performance. Anyway, he was willing to have a go, so what happened was that he hid behind the instrument while I played it live, jumping up occasionally to make the necessary patch changes. It amazed everybody because of all the new sounds that were coming out. They said "What the hell is that?" I can't remember the name of the actual Moog system I first used, but it had no sequencer on it, although there were some oscillators, envelope generators and a lot of other stuff. I tried changing the patches but the whole thing looked to me like a telephone switchboard. I finally sorted it out but it took a long time

So I became the first person to use a synthesiser on stage and obviously wanted to get hold of a Moog instrument for myself. I wrote to Bob Moog asking for all the specs. He told me there was no 'live' model, but he had produced a new version which had a preset box, which might make live performance easier. All this stuff arrived over from America and I had it in my flat and didn't even know how to start to get the thing working! (There was no instruction manual.) In desperation I called up Mike Vickers who had it at his place for three days and finally got it going

The preset cards gave me a fair variety of sounds to work with. You couldn't alter the oscillators except with the jacks. There were very few things that were actually able to be preset. Presetting was mainly for the 3 oscillators that I first had, so that you could get 5ths or any other interval you wanted. Also the filter. Any changes like from sine to square you still had to do by changing the jack around. It was quite small really, just with 3 oscillators, a filter bank, a set of envelope generators, a set of attenuators and that was about it really. The first problem was getting it to the hall and keeping it in tune. There was absolutely no way of tuning it except by ear. Consequently you had to do this all evening

Later, I designed a system where you could switch off the audio out and put in a frequency counter, so that I'd be playing the organ with my right hand, I'd have the audio switch out, I'd play an A, and if I got a read-up of 440, I'd know I'd be in tune. But it was all a very risky business. Most of the time I had a limited patching arrangement where I just needed to make a few alterations. The preset box did help a lot. This instrument that Bob Moog sent me was not generally available it was just that he was very interested to see how I got on with it. I did meet Bob when I went to America and he stood there in the wings and was absolutely blown away - he couldn't believe the way the instrument was being used. He was very keen from then on to work closely together and often came up with suggestions for improving this or that function

The Moog system was expanded considerably and I had a sequencer and another row of oscillators - it got so big, I couldn't even reach up to it and tune the damn thing any longer I think Bob now has the full system that I used sitting in his factory as a piece of history - I haven't seen it for the last three years. If I looked at it now I'd probably be back to square one again in using it

I used to use the sequencer basically just for the gimmick value it offered on 'Brain Salad Surgery'. I'd written this music about computerisation with very heavy lyrics, and the idea was that the instrument sort of took over in the end - it worked well on stage. The sequencer would be programmed to go through this change of notes and speed up until it blew up. It was very good visually - dry ice and all that

Talking about the move from Moog to Korg, it was really to do with Bob leaving the organisation. I felt I'd lost that contact which had been so important between Bob and myself. I thought that Norlin music tended to ignore the professional musician and catered more for the general keyboard buying public who wanted cheap gimmicky instruments. But the MiniMoog has been one of the most successful mass produced instruments

The move to Korg
So my relationship with Moog dwindled off when Bob left and while working on an album in Nassau in the Bahamas, my engineers (who often showed me new gear) brought in a piece of Korg equipment, the PS 3100 polyphonic synth. It seemed to offer the programming facilities that I wanted, but when I recorded with it, it turned out to be very thin in quality. Anyway, they gave it to me so I had it stuck on the side and I tinkled around with it, but if I wanted a big fat sound, I'd still go back to the Moog stuff far more reliable from a tuning aspect than thase early Moogs I used. I've got the 3300 and the 3100 polyphonics. I also use the Sigma, Lambda, and the Vocoder - I get an amazing harmonica sound that's very bluesy on this one. I just use the built-in keyboard and my voice. In fact with this new instrument that Korg are building far me now,I wanted the vocoder built into. it. They looked at me in amazement and said "Are you serious". I think they sort of lost interest in the vocoder, and maybe they're not all that proud of it, but I think it's unique as a saoloing instrument. I've got the Mono/Poly, the Poly 6, the 3200, and the BX-3 organ. I've just received the digital delay and they've given me a sequencer as well but I haven't tried these out yet. I think the sequencer's an old analogue one that they've stopped producing

MP3 of the track Face to Face from Nighthawks by Keith Emerson:

E&MM Fairlight

Ive been reading that E&MM magazine from May 1983 and it's so damn enjoyable I decided to put some of it up here. First up is a letter from Kim Ryrie, co-inventor of the Fairlight CMI. Bear in mind The CMI had only just been released

Dear Sirs,
I read with interest the March issue of your magazine and in particular, an article by Francis Monkman and his comments on the 'Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument' (C.M.I.) and Synclavier II

We are grateful for this comment that the "Fairlight is far more pleasing as a whole package", but he did make some other points on which I would like to comment for your readers' interest

Conceptually, 'The Fairlight' is a "Computer Musical Instrument" (C.M.I.) as distinct from solely a Digital Synthesiser like the Synclavier II. This implies fundamental differences in the systems design philosophy and hardware requirements

FM based digital synthesisers must do very high speed calculations in real-time to achieve complex synthetic sounds and do not require large amounts of memory to store sounds. The C. M.I. on the other hand manipulates very large amounts of previously computed (or sampled) digitally stored sound waveform. This is then blended and manipulated in real~ time with less computational overhead than is necessary for digital synths. This concept allows ANY sound to be produced in real-time because any waveform, regardless of complexity can be stored in the (large) Random Access Waveform memory. Here, waveforms can be further manipulated, blended with other sounds, re-drawn, re-computed and so on. On playback, groups of wavefo'rms can be manipulated and blended in real-time, giving a very high degree of real-time sound control

From a practical point of view "Natural" (psyco-acoustically organic-like) voices cannot easily be synthesised in real-time even using 16 bit mini-computers and this is apparent when one listens to the sum total of sounds available on these type of machines

Where the goal is to produce complex Synthetic type sounds, the Digital SynthesiS technique is efficient and allows effective real-time control. Variations of this technique are used in Synclavier I and II, Synergy, Yamaha GS-1, Crumar Development System and Prism. These systems are (to varying degrees) capable of producing dozens of 'Natural-like', sounds including a variety of classical and popular instrument sounds. From a practical viewpoint, these "Natural" sounds are not simple to design, and are normally supplied in the sound library from the manufacturer

Systems using Waveform manipulation for polyphonic production of sampled sounds are the Fairlight, P.P.G. Waveterm (although I am not sure if this is functional yet) and the Emulator. Synclavier II has optional hardware which digitises sounds onto a winchester disc drive in real-time. This can be played back monophonically under speed control (pitch) from the keyboard. However, this does not distract from the fact that Synclavier II is primarily an FM synthesiser; control functions are for the most part inoperative when using sample to disc, because the latter is in effect behaving as a high quality digital tape recorder with pitch control

On the technical side, 'The Fairlight C.M.I.' contains four microprocessors and two of them are configured to operate on opposite clockphases into common memory which, in this context, provides ample processing power for manipulating waveforms

Regarding Mr Monkman's query about synthesising something like an analogue filter sweep on the 'Fairlight', I must admit that our promotional I iterature doesn't mention capabilities of this type, though you can be assured it is a trivial matter. It is done using fourier waveform computing techniques and allows upto 32 'harmonics" to be individually 'controlled by separately "drawn" complex envelopes. The "sweep" Can be manually controlled in real-time by using one of the live controllers to selectively move through the wavetable

I hope this information maybe of i nierest to your readers, and we continue to enjoy the unique technically oriented musical format of your magazine

Kim Ryrie Managing Director Fairlight Instruments Pty. Ltd.

I Want

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Electronics and Music Maker 1983

Here is the full cover of the EMM magazine in the last post. It features Emerson's home set up - in the barn that I believe later on saw some kind of 'tractor incident' where a lot of his equipment, including a Yamaha GX1, got trashed. Anyway, here you can see a nice Korg set up, with a Monopoly, Poly 61 and the unusual MS50 mini-modular monosynth. The mixer is the Soundcraft series two 16-4-2. What I find interesting is that there is also some kind of chicken on a perch behind him. I wonder if it has MIDI? More likely a cereal-port

Interestingly, look at the text there at the bottom left. It says 'INTRODUCING THE MIDI' and in the article itself it keeps referring to it as the MIDI which although sort of correct [as in 'the musical instrument digital interface'] it never got used like that, it became a noun

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Soundcraft Stuff

I drove up to Manchester / Oldham today to pick up these beauties from ebay. We are turning studio 2 into a an analogue room so we can record bands and stuff. Thanks to Mike Tunng! More to follow on this, but here are pics of the new Soundcraft Series 2 console [mid 70s] and the Soundcraft 760 2 inch 16 track

I met the sellers in Oldham where they are building a great looking studio in an old mill. They have a lot of space, the live room is 3000 sq ft. Really nice guys! [they gave me an old copy of Electronics and Music Maker from 1983 that had this picture of Keith Emerson on the cover. Nice mixer!]

Phaser Tests

I decided to make a comparison of the varoius Phaser units around the studio [and the 2 new ones I got in the post today - the Smallstone and Mu Tron. Thanks Omidyar!]

The test material is a Linn LM1 sequence going through the Studer 902 mixer with some Lexicon 224 on the snare, some Telefunken spring reverb on the bass drum, and the toms and hh are going through a Roland SBF-325 Flanger and Vesta digital delay. The whole lot is then going through a dbx 118 compressor. Its all in mono too becase the phasers are all mono

Okay, so here's a taste of the phasers. They were all set to full phase with slow modulation

1] Electro-Harmonix Smallstone phaser. This one is from the Cold War era. It's quite an interesting story probably and I haven't googled it yet but the result is a a black box that looks like a land mine

2] MXR Commande Series [1981]. A cheap plastic pedal that replaced the Phase 90 orange pedals of the 70s

3] Mu Tron Phasor II. This was released in the late 70s, and is exactly the same as one half of the Bi Phase phasor phaser

4] Roland 100M 172 module. From the lovely 1978 modular series

5] Serge Modular. Made in the mid 70s in california and uses bananas

Monday, 18 January 2010

Solar Point, The Moon

When I was in California I was secretly scouting for dream houses. I saw a lot of cool places and decided if I was to one day move out there it would be Beverley Hills, Mullholland Drive, Hollywood Hills that I would want to be. Who wouldn't? But today I found this property which is in the desert 2 hours from Hollywood but might as well be on the moon. It would make the perfect Boutique-Recording-Studio-Pod experience

Skyview Dome House- Harold J. Bissner, 1968. Built in a starkly beautiful desert location, this home by famed architect Howard J. Bissner is a futuristic dwelling that is high drama from the moment it appears on the horizon. It sits, or rather has landed, on a 150 ft. cinder cone where it surveys 60 acres of wild, untamed desert-scape

The house is a dome with slender legs that hug the top of hill. As you snake your way up the drive that spirals around the hill, making your way to the top, your first views of the house are impressive, but not nearly so awe-inspiring as the views of the desert landscape that surround you. Once you reach the top of the hill though, the architecture takes on a more prominent role in your experience. The 2500 sq. ft. structure is composed of massive curved timber beams that form a dome, all open-beam wood on the inside, and covered with a smooth stucco shell on the outside, with arched openings around the entire perimeter of the house. The shell-like dome reaches beyond the outer wall of the house, which is an uninterrupted 360 degrees of glass, to create a deep overhang that shades the interior from the brilliant desert sun

From the interior, these arches frame 360 degrees of breathtaking desert and mountain views, as well a private 4 acre lake and gorgeous sunsets. The rooms of the open-plan interior radiate out from a central service core of natural stone that contains the 2 bathrooms and storage areas. Carved out of the stone cylinder, a fireplace surrounded by a sunken conversation pit is a focal point of the living area. Partial block walls create the spaces for a hallway and two large bedrooms, while leaving the space overhead completely open, emphasizing the loft-like openness of the home. There is also a fully-equipped kitchen, open to the living space, that features original wood cabinetry matching the built-ins that surround the conversation pit

More than a beautiful, comfortable place to live that provides a feeling of shelter and security, this home is a means to transport the occupant to endless views of the mountains, lake, desert floor and hills of ancient volcanic rock. It is fitting then, that it should resemble a space ship. From any of the 18 sliding glass doors, from the 600 sq. ft. sundeck, or from the observation deck at the very top of the dome, the views that this home affords are otherworldly

from this website
$750,000 [£460,000]

Sunday, 17 January 2010

My MCI Trip

Now that the MCI 416 is fully up and running in studio one, I thought it was time to post pictures of the acquisition

After finding the desk on ebay and contacting Jack, the seller, I paid him a deposit and made my travel arrangements. I left London at 0900 hours local time from Paddington

The flight was delayed by several hours due to bad sky. However eventually I was on my way

I arrived at Daytona beach and it was sort of still the same day, a very long one... But I was pretty excited to see the desk and finally meet Jack, so he came and picked me up

On the way to his place there was a crazy storm boiling up, which it seems is quite normal for Florida. I thought it was meant to be really sunny and nice all the time....

There she is! While we were going through some rudimentory tests and things his house took a direct lightning hit and it blew his power out. I will never, ever forget that moment, storms are exciting. Luckily no damage was done and I went back to the hotel


The next day Jack [on left] enlisted the help of two strong friends and we spent the day getting the console into Rick's [far right] SUV. It fitted in with less than an inch to spare! Then we went to the pub and got very drunk. Jack is a very kind and special man who is a bit of a legend having worked as a producer in Nashville for years and that's the sort of person you want to spend the evening with in a local bar. I had walked on to the set of Cheers. The MCI itself had spent most of it's life in Nashville, and had been used on many great recordings. Chris Kimsey ( Rolling Stones engineer-producer) spilled a cup of coffee into it on one occasion. According to Jack [aka Stackatrack] "I was sleeping in the front office couch when he awoke me at 3 AM saying "Stack, I believe we got a bit of a problem"...when I got to the control room the meters were all pegged and the monitors were crying quite loudly....I powered it down and called the MCI service tech@ 3:30 AM...He got it up & running in a couple hours and for the next 30 years never let me forget waking him up"

Rick took the SUV back to his garage and parked it up for the night. He had driven it into the garage with people in the front with him and it only just fitted. When we came to get it out the car had risen up and now it was wedged inside his garage. We had to let air out of the tyres to get it out

I stayed at Rick's house which was cool because he had a drum kit and studio set up in his front room, which overlooked the pool where I had a night-swim in the rain. We left For Miami that same night at 4am. Rick is a very interesting person who has a theory about Atomic Physics and how to create world peace and harmony and free energy. This is what we discussed on our epic 5 hour road trip south to Miami. All to the soundtrack of his crazy-ass tropical music! At one point he started playing harmonica solos over the top of it

Finally we get to Miami and find this really remote little office in the giant sprawling airport. The company I chose to transport this delicate item are called Dangerous Goods Of America and usually transport very dangerous stuff like explosives and chemical warfares. I left it in their capable hands

I spent the rest of the week in LA visiting Richard and family and generally checking out that scene, and then I was on my way back home, via the Grand Canyon

Eventually the MCI arrived here in London after being held up in customs for a few weeks. When it arrived we got millions of polystyrene peanuts everywhere

I kept it upstairs for a few months while Alan went through it all and I made space downstairs in studio one. There was very little that needed doing to, just as Jack had said

And here it is in place, and it is amazing and well worth all that hard work getting it over here. Thanks to Jack and everyone I met on my trip I truly hope to see you all again one day

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Visitation From Above

I had Rick Wakeman in the studio today. YES!

He came in to be interviewed for a BBC2 doc on rock bands which will air in May. They wanted to use my synths as a backdrop. I'll get a better pic when the program comes out I hope, but here's one from my telephone

Here's a track from a film he did the music to in 1981 called The Burning. It's a slasher movie

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

TAC Matchless FS

I am not selling this, I'm just noting that it is for sale. This desk has been on ebay before, so maybe the previous buyers pulled out for some reason. Anyway the starting bid is £1k. Its from this studio in Stockport, and has had some pretty cool records made on it

The TAC Matchless was introduced as their flagship music console in 1984. Here's the background to the TAC range. Langley are still going and make upgrade kits for most of the TAC mixers, which apparently greatly improves the sound and gets round the problem of obsolete spare parts


Today saw the completion of a mix of a track by me and Richard Sen. We were trying to think of a name for our collaboration when Richard looked at the Minimoog we used for the bass line and saw the word 'Modifiers', so there it was. This is the first full mix done on the MCI 416 and I can report that I am amazed with the sound it gives. I had previously done a mix on the dxb but decided to start from scratch today on the MCI now it's fully up and running. When I compared the two mixes side by side there was a real difference. The analog one is bigger, warmer, richer, fuller, things like that. Heres an MP3 clip

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Look At This Object

Hello. I just saw this car on the way in to the studio , its just round the corner. It's a DeLorean DMC-12

What's so special about the DMC-12? Well for a start it's got gullwing doors and secondly there were only 17 right hand drive models  produced. It was designed by Giugiaro who was responsible for some of the most iconic cars of all time. It was developed in the late 70's and finally came out in 1981. So it's rare, beautiful, late 70's / early 80's vintage and appeared in a sci-fi film. Therefore it qualifies for Object Of The Day in my book...

Monday, 11 January 2010

My Hero Bob Moog

Here's a nice little article about BM, my hero as well, and a great photo

A Pile Of Old Boxes

That's what you'd think if you saw these in a junk shop but "what?" - it's a standard 1978 Roland System 100M in it's original packaging.....

The seller has some amazing stuff, and I bought my Yamaha CS30 from him a few years ago...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Whiteness

On the days I don't take the train I drive in and this is how it looked yesterday morning....

Eno's Preference [I didn't know that]

Some days I take the tube to the studio, and recently I've been reading the excellent Eno biography by David Sheppard 'On Some Faraway Beach' on the way up. Its been particularly good on days when I have worked with Foxxy because he's in the book quite a bit. Today I read about Eno's [and Connie's] favorite brand of mixing console:

So that means many amazing albums have been at least tracked on an MCI [JH-500?] desk. From the Compass Point website:

In the late '70's and mid 80's, Compass Point was one of the great recording studios of the world. Artists came from around the world to record in the Bahamas. Many major producers utilised the facilities, including Chris Blackwell himself, in his role as record producer. The resulting records sold in the many millions of copies worldwide. AC/DC's Back In Black, widely regarded as the ultimate, and largest selling, hard rock album of all time, and soon to be largest selling ALBUM of all time, was just one of the many great albums recorded at Compass Point Studios. Some of the well known artists who were a part of early Compass Point were:

AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, U2, Robert Palmer, The B-52's, Talking Heads, Dire Straits, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, The Cure, Adam Ant, James Brown, Duran Duran, David Bowie, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Mick Jagger, Whitesnake, Status Quo, Tom Tom Club, Madness, Spandau Ballet, Third World, Grace Jones, Joe Cocker, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Eurythmics, Julio Iglesias, Power Station, Roxy Music, Thompson Twins, Wings, Julian Lennon, Bad Company, Average White Band, Carly Simon, and many others

Here is Chris Blackwell [Island founder] and engineers at the desk

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Ridiculous Snare Patch

I spent a few hours making a drum sequence for TW, [atoms] and here is the the anatomy of the snare sound: