Thursday, 30 June 2011

Found Object

Much as it pains me to put up a video featuring the other Ultravox, I couldn't resist showing you this awesome slice of vintage synth madness. I saw it over on Found0bjects, as part of a 30 minute compilation of groovy 80s clips. Check it out below too (the 2nd vid) and be amazed at a very young Danny Baker investigating the Essex Futurists

PS, I want a space invaders jumper...

Found Objects Television 2 from Found Objects on Vimeo.

Vintage British Studios

I grabbed these pictures from the website in the previous post. They are pictures of vintage british studios. Pictures. Studios. Vintage ones. Angles. Wood. Knobs. Swivel chairs

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Word of the Week #17

Stone Me

When I moved in to this studio six years ago, there were a few bits and bobs I bought from the previous owner like the plate reverb and the big studio monitors and a bunch of stuff that looked like junk. So I had seen this little compressor knocking about usually buried under a pile of other broken things waiting to get fixed by Big Al. I often asked him about this particular unit because it looks well old and wonky and usually they are my favorite sounding things. But Al always said it was a piece of junk and anyway there were always more important things to fix so I forgot about it

A few days ago I was clearing through the huge junk pile that was in the small live room while I've been doing the refurb, and saw the compressor again and thought I would google the make and model just to see if it is worth fixing. So I put in "Audio and Design F600 limiter / compressor" which returned some very interesting results. Firstly it seems these compressors were not rubbish but in fact good enough to be put inside the legendary Helios consoles in the late 60s, early 70s. So far so good. Then I found an even more interesting article on a fab website about classic seventies recording studios. It describes the history of the Rolling Stones mobile studio, and in particular the recording of the legendary drum track on Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks. At this point i want to say that John Bonham is my favorite drummer of all time. Here is an excerpt from that article:

John Bonham had just received a new drum kit from the Ludwig factory. He was keen to try it out but the recording room was being used for guitars so a roadie set the kit up at the bottom of the Stairwell in the large entrance hall of the house

The height of the three story stairwell combined with the diffuse wood surfaces of the large hallway provided a fantastic natural reverberation. The sound of the Ludwig kit being hit by one of the most powerful drummers ever, enhanced by this wonderful acoustic, created magic

On hearing this, engineer Andy Johns realised that they had something special here. This was the place to record Bonham. Two Beyerdynamic M160 microphones were hung down the stairwell from the second floor, fed out into the mobile's Helios desk and heavily compressed with an Audio and Design F600 Compressor

OK, so now we are getting somewhere! I'm going to go back to Big Al and tell him that this wonky old compressor IS worth fixing, lets hear what it sounds like ASAP! So yesterday I told Al about all this and the fact that the A&D F600 was used on Bonham, and guess what he said? "But this actual unit came from the Stones mobile recording studio!" Kuma (the previous studio owner and the person I bought it from) got a job lot of stuff from the mobile recording truck back in the day - he played bass with Mick Taylor and knew the Stones crew and never bothered to fix the damn compressor either (Big Al was his tech too)

So there you have it - pretty anecdotal, I know, but damn - COULD THIS BE THE ACTUAL COMPRESSOR USED BY BONZO ON THAT DRUM TRACK!?!?!?! I know there is some debate over the specifics of the Led Zep recording process (eg, here), and it seems no one can much agree on anything ("...too stoned back then to remember" Big Al) but anyway, I'm saying that this IS that legendary unit, at least for a little while

Monday, 27 June 2011

Free Beauty

The problem with working with Big Al (the studio technician) is that every time we meet up he has some amazing new thing to show me / teach me, and we never actually get any of the things we need to get done done. For example, today he brought in an oscilloscope that he rescued from a skip at the university he works at. They threw out this perfectly working vintage oscilloscope! And some other stuff that works too!

So to test it out we set up a patch on the moog modular first with two oscillators and used the scope to produce a Lissajous curve, which describes the relationship between two inputs (when the oscillators are perfectly in tune they form a circle, if they are an octave apart a figure of 8, etc)

The second film is the Lissajous curve when the sequencer changes the pitch. Cool!

The third film is a single input from a dotcom oscillator (a much squarer-square than the 901!) through the moog filter. Beautiful!!!

UPDATE: I put up a fourth video of a new pattern, this time adding a third oscillator from the Arp 2500 (which is very stable compared to the moog) to modulate the x axis. It adds another dimention to the Lissajous curve. There is some distortion on the waveshape, possibly an earthing issue which I want to sort out

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Serge Trial

During the visit from Dave and Chris (see previous post) I told Chris I would show him how the Serge Modular works. So we sat down and started plugging in bananas and within a few seconds (minutes) we built up a really complex patch. It kept surprising us with the polyrhythmic patterns it was producing

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Big Fishes

Another thing that happened this week was a couple of visits from those nice people from GForce software. Have you ever checked out their website? Not only can you see all the amazing products they make, like the impOSCar, Oddity, Minimonster, and M-Tron, but there is also a ton of excellent synth related information (synthfo?)

Anyway Dave and Chris came here to play around on some of my big modulars. They are working on a top secret new product that I cannot tell you about, but believe me it's going to be way cool for synth-heads. We spent two days patching and sampling the Moog 3C, the Arp 2500, the Roland 100M, the VCS3, the Serge, etc, etc, by the end we were totally synthed-out!

Chris took a lot of hi-res pics of the equipment, and also had this cool little camera with a fish eye lens

These pics are all (c)2011 Chris Macleod

Friday, 24 June 2011

Black Moon

I watched a bonkers film last night. I'd never heard of it before, but its a strange early 80s thriller with a futuristic bent, which has a pretty good cast and a terrific Lalo Schifrin score. Plus it has one of the best cars ever to grace the silver screen, check it out!

Vintage Cornering

I've had a really busy week at the studio with various things going on. First up I wanted to set up a vintage corner in the new wood paneled section I have created. So I chucked the EMS VCS3 and DK1 into the back of the car, along with the Paia modular and some other stuff which I have had set up at home while the studio was half out of action

Then I set up the Serge, EMS and Paia modulars, which all seem to go together really well as they are all from a similar era. They kind of go with the decor too?

I kept a record of the work I did on the new live room, and below is the progression of Vintage Corner, from the first stage of soundproofing (with three layers of plaster board and a ton of mastic) to the decorative wood panels and flooring. Damn it was a lot of work

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Ebay of the Day II

This one didn't stay on the bay for long. I first saw it on matrixsynth, and then it mysteriously got pulled with no bids.....

The Yamaha GX1 is supposed to be one of the best synths of all time, even though it was originally sold as part of their home organ range! This one has had three careful owners (John-Paul Jones, Keith Emmerson and Hanz Zimmer) and had a starting price of $25k

From the seller: "Here's your once-in-a-lifetime chance to own one of the most famous keyboards in rock-'n'-roll history: the storied Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer owned by John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), then Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer/Powell [ELP]), then Hans Zimmer (film composer). Seller acquired it directly from Hans Zimmer in 2003 (authenticated). Yamaha's original retail/list price for the GX-1 was US$60,000.

Provenance: John Paul Jones acquired it circa 1977/78 and used it on Led Zeppelin's album "In Through The Out Door." It was featured on tracks "In The Evening," "All My Love," "Carouselambra" and "I'm Gonna Crawl." On "All My Love," Jones performs a nice string arrangement, and the horn solo demonstrates the GX-1's expressive vibrato capabilities. On the final Led Zeppelin tours, Jones used the GX-1 as his primary keyboard, performing string, organ, clavinet and bass/synth. parts (see photo #3: Jones performing on GX-1 at the Knebworth, UK shows in '79; the last time the original foursome performed together before John Bonham's death). Jones called the GX-1 "a joy," which replaced his repair-prone Mellotron.

Keith Emerson acquired the GX-1 from Jones in the mid-'80s as a spare for Emerson's original GX-1 (used with ELP in the late '70s). Emerson cannibalized some of his original GX-1 for the benefit of this unit. He used this GX-1 most prominently on the "Emerson, Lake & Powell" album & tour in the late '80s, and in the music video of the title track of ELP's "Black Moon" reunion album in the early '90s (see photos #4 & #5; keyboard on top of GX-1 not included). "Emerson, Lake & Powell" tracks featuring this GX-1 include "Touch & Go" and his synth. rendition of Holst's "Mars: Bringer Of War." Emerson sold the GX-1 to renowned film composer Hans Zimmer in the mid-'90s, who sampled various sounds on it (see photo #6: GX-1 in Zimmer's studio; Moog modular not included). The GX-1 was also used for recording sessions by musicians including Erik Norlander on his "Threshold" album. (Note: Keith Emerson's Wikipedia entry is incorrect: his original GX-1 [painted black] was sold to a European collector, and this unit was sold to Zimmer, then to the Seller)

This auction is for the: keyboard/console (including programmable cartridges; see photo #9), separate ultra-rare Programmer Module (see photo #11), and original Anvil-style case (used by Jones, Emerson, Zimmer and the Seller). Sale does NOT include: the GX-1's bench/pedal section, two TX-II speakers, and the programmable cartridges for the Pedal section only (which were not included when Seller acquired it).

It works, but after playing it for a while, it sometimes makes a noise and must be turned off and then turned back on. Being sold "as is." Seller can refer Buyer to several qualified GX-1 technicians. [Minor] tuning/calibrating will probably be required after shipment. Copies of any manuals (User/Technical/Service/etc.), brochures and other GX-1 information Seller has will be included. Has balanced outputs (see labeled photo #12), which may be custom. John Paul Jones had the switches/LED panel added (over the Electone logo area), which may be disconnected (appear to have no effect anymore).

Secure payment method negotiable with Buyer (Seller does not want to incur ANY credit card merchant/electronic payment fees, except possibly for a small negotiable deposit). Balance payable in advance or upon pick-up. Given size/weight, Buyer must arrange for pick-up & transportation (Seller won't ship); for example, Buyer may wish to use a professional music gear freight firm like SoundMoves (unit is presently in the San Francisco Bay Area).

Bona fide Buyers may Contact Seller with questions using eBay's Message feature. Seller will post relevant Q&A. SERIOUS BUYERS WITH ESTABLISHED, EXCELLENT EBAY FEEDBACK ONLY. (Unless you have the money to buy this item, then please don't inquire!)

Comprehensive information is available on the Web about the Yamaha GX-1, its features & technical specifications, etc. For example, Google "Yamaha GX-1 OR GX1" or "John Paul Jones GX-1 OR GX1"

Here's some miscellaneous information:
- only about 27-30 GX-1's were ever manufactured and/or sold (unit's Serial Number is 0076)
- the most powerful polyphonic synthesizer in history at the time
- 3 keyboards (2 standard manuals; 1 solo manual); volume pedal; retractable knee vibrato controller
- unheard of levels of touch control (touch/velocity-sensitive, polyphonic aftertouch, etc.)
- approx. outer dimensions of keyboard console 63"(L) x 31"(W) x 46"(H)
- top area (where other keyboards can be placed) is about 60"(L) x 10"(W)
- weight in Anvil-style road case is about/over 1,000 pounds
- was the basis for Yamaha's popular CS-80/etc. synthesizers

Bid now! Seize this opportunity to acquire a piece of music history!"

Ebay of the Day

Check out this beautiful vintage phaser that just sold on the bay. It fetched a surprising £698. This is the legendary phaser used on all your favorite kraut-rock records

Here's what the seller said: "This is one of the most famous effects units that were produced in the 70´s. The Compact Phasing "A" was made in Berlin by Gerhardt Schulte, and this thing was heavily used by Krautrock bands and electronic musicians not only in Germany: Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Oskar  Sala,  Jon Lord, Rubycon, J.M. Jarre, Pink Floyd...

It´s possible to use it in a very subtle way, but it´s more interesting when you play with knobs to get more deep, dramatic and esoteric tones

This is the rare white version which i bought some years ago from the first owner. The thing is in very good condition and comes with the original footswitch. You need the switch to get the Leslie-like brake sounds as you can start and stop the LFO with it"

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Paper Face

I have just supplied pictures of my Serge Modular system to Ken Stone, he of Catgirlsynth fame. He is into the early (pre-STS era) Serge synths, which are easily recognised by their paper-faced and laminated modules. So he has put together a website which is a growing resource for these rare and beautiful beasts, with pictures of known systems, catalogs, manuals and stuff

If you have any pictures and info about other Serge paper-faces get in touch with Ken via his site

I posted before about Ken's system here

Below are pictures of:

My system
A 1974 system
Ken Stones's system
Maki Hanada's system
Don Hassler's system

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Abbey National

I have posted about EMI mixing consoles before and before on this blog, so I was highly excited to see that there is arguably their best and most prestigious desk for sale at the moment. Unfortunately I don't think I can afford it right now, and for that reason I have become very sad. Because I know that this caliber of desk will NEVER become available again. This is the main console at the heart of Abbey Road between 1971 and 1984, so just think of all the amazing records that have its sonic imprint. It truly is a part of our national heritage, and I think it is as important to our cultural history as just about anything. So if there are any readers out there who want to help keep this important artifact here in the UK (in my studio) just let me know, I have shipped large consoles before from america

I have posted more on this over on my other blog if you are interested

The Arp

Yesterday I was playing around on the amazing Arp 2500 modular. Its a totally unique synthesiser experience! I had to get the manual out to look up the workings of the very strange 1005 Modamp. Its a Balanced Modulator, similar to a Ring Modulator, and you can do things like switch it on an off automatically. Actually you can do pretty much everything automatically on this thing, as the matrix switching is really good at routing things to multiple places, a bit like on the VCS3 but more so

The video I took is a bit rubbish, so below that are some mp3s recorded through the desk. I also sent the Arp through the Roland 201 Space Echo, which was made in the same era (early 70s)

Track one is the audio from the video, basically an FM'ed square wave being randomly played by the sequencer and S+H. The envelopes are amazing, probably the snappiest I have ever heard

Track two is the sequencer playing tones and the 1005 Modamp

Track three is similar to track one but adds a second oscillator tone

Track four uses the wonderful 1047 Filter / Resonator module, which has a great function where you can 'play' the resonating filter without needing an envelope. It gives a really beautiful percussive sound which you can play melodies on

Arp2500 sketchy1-mg by zackdagoba

Arp2500 sketchy2-mg by zackdagoba

Arp2500 sketchy3-mg by zackdagoba

Arp2500 sketchy4-mg by zackdagoba

Moulding New Sounds

I saw these two films over on matrixsynth, for more see here and here

Friday, 10 June 2011

Night Lights

MCI 416 console at night:

ARP 2500 modular synth at night: