Friday, December 28, 2007

WTB: Yamaha P70 or P60 digital piano

As part of my ongoing bid to get music out of my 'little room upstairs' and into the rest of the house (first step: Acoustic guitar in the kitchen), I'm looking for a digital piano for the living room. Obviously this isn't my first choice. My choices, in order, would be: #1: A Rhodes 88, #2: A big ol' Harmonium, #3: A really nice upright piano. However, money, space and neighbours have convinced me that a low-end digital piano is a good start (I'm a terrible keyboard player). So, if you have a Yamaha P70 or P60 for sale, ideally cheap, ideally in London, then please get in touch... (pic via Tarotoast)
UPDATE: Thanks for all the suggestions. I got a b-stock P70 from Dolphin Music, very happy with it, spent the evening clunking out Philip Glass very poorly.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Playing a musical instrument is better exercise than having sex (but not as good as chopping trees)

As part of my day job, I've been consulting the endlessly entertaining Compendium of Physical Activities, which puts all human activity on a scale to measure physical effort and the number of calories burnt. The lowest things on the scale are, reasonably enough, sleep (0.9 mets), and listening to music (1 met). The highest is "Forestry, Ax Chopping, Fast" (17 mets). To save you looking it up, 'sexual activity' ranges from 'passive, light effort, kissing, hugging' (1 met) to 'active, vigorous effort' (1.5 mets). I wouldn't want question the accuracy of the study, but 1.5 mets is the same as 'typing: electric, manual or computer'. Anyway, here are the records for musical instrument playing. To put it in context, 4.0 mets is the same as playing ping-pong. Unfortunately there's no entry for 'light mouse clicking'

1.8 Accordion

2.0 Cello

2.0 Flute (sitting)

2.0 Horn

2.0 Woodwind

2.0 Guitar, classical, folk (sitting)

2.5 Conducting

2.5 Piano or organ

2.5 Trumpet

2.5 Violin

3.0 Guitar, rock and roll band (standing)

3.5 Trombone

3.5 Marching band, drum major (walking)

4.0 Drums

4.0 Marching band, playing an instrument, baton twirling (walking)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tony-B Machine: The most awesome flash music game ever

From France comes Tony B Machine, which pisses on Rave Generator and Punk-O-Matic from a great height. If you've ever wanted to make really awful trance/pop using a Whigfield sample, then this essential. The interface is awesome, and you can sequence your button pushes on a grid, then release your 'recordings' in an album. Here's hoping that Tony B decides to put his interface design skills into making a real piece of music gear soon. Be sure to read the history page which shows how the site has evolved (I prefered the look of v2, with it's Bontempi Organ stylings...) (via Zfigz)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Working microphone in a solid silver ring

Joel at Boing Boing Gadgets has this splendid microphone ring from Etsy ($105, but sold out, obviously). You could hack the module from a $5 K-Micro condenser mic into a ring, maybe with the phantom powered electronics in a wristwatch...

I'm selling all my music gear...

Because now that I've found Rave Generator, my life is complete.

Chimera BC16 - Cute, CD-sized analog modular synth for $229

Love the look of this. The Chimera BC16 is a tiny circular mono synth - those holes are patch points (as you can see in this picture), linking together the VCO, LFO, Envelope, 24db filter, noise and ring mod. Orders taken now, shipping in mid Jan. Next year they'll be coming with the SM16 - a sequencer and MIDI/CV interface, and the PH303 - a $299 303 clone. And yes, before you write, it looks very similar to the Technomage Life which has been about to reappear for a year or two, but certainly isn't currently on sale for £115...
UPDATE: UK Prices are up: The synth (inc patch cords) is £116. The sequencer/MIDI interface (inc patch cords) is £136, both including shipping.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The only Tenori On demo video you'll ever need to watch

The chaps at JBs Music in Tunbridge Wells have even more fun with the Tenori On than I did... (Thanks Alex)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

How the Sony Walkman ad was made

Here's a short film about how the Sony Walkman ad (with all the musicians playing one note each) was made - at Alexander Palace in London in October. You might want to skip between 3:25 and 3:50 to avoid the marketing execs explaining how the ad embodies the maverick nature of some crap Mp3 players, but otherwise it's great. Were any of you there? The dude with the Moog Source at the front looks like an MT reader to me... (Thanks Fab)

Tell me about Karlheinz Stockhausen

I don't know anything about Stockhausen besides "great pioneer", "inspired Kraftwerk and Bjork", "not good for parties" and "made music for four helicopters". Anyone got any good stories?

Mark Mothersbaugh and Raymond Scott's Electronium

Inverse Room writes to recommend this great piece from LA Weekly about Mark Mothersbaugh and his amazing career and collection of music gear, which includes Raymond Scott's non-working Electronium - featured in the video above. As the gasps and grunts on the video soundtrack suggest, it really is the Holy Grail as far as synth collection goes, short of finding a working Teleharmonium at a car boot sale.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Extreme hardcore synth pr0n in 3D - Jean Michel Jarre live

Here's a short 'making of' promo for Jean Michelle Jarre's new 'Oxygene Live in your Living Room' album/DVD. It's half in French and contains a great deal of blah blah blah, but you can see the phenomenal collection of vintage gear he used to recreate his 1977 album Oxygene (live, without using MIDI or sync). The DVD release also includes the whole thing in 3D, which you watch using old-fashioned red/blue paper glasses. I couldn't make much sense of the 3D, and the music is fairly ponderous but the DVD is the finest synth porn I've ever seen. I want to see it in HD, to better watch the tape loops spooling up the back of the two-manual Mellotron or read the patches on the numerous EMS Synthis scattered over the stage. There's also a wonderful seven minute film with Jean Michel talking you through the gear, strapping on his Moog Liberation, showing off his Arp 2500 modular and playing an old 1920s theremin.
UPDATE: Here's the JMJ synth walkthrough video on YouTube.

Return of the synth cake! (Also vintage guitar FX cakes)

It's been a while since our last sighting of a synth cake, so I was delighted to hear from Benjamin, who writes: "My friends in the band Freezepop had a synth-cake party and they made..." this awesome SH-101 cake, an almost equally awesome (although lacking the tic-tac buttons) Oberheim DMX cake, and also these vintage guitar pedal cakes. A world salutes you, mighty synth cake makers.

$1,600 reverse loudspeaker makes your room quieter

Wired News have a nice piece on tiny studios and the Bag End E-Trap, an active bass trap - a microphone, a 10" speaker and some DSP, which can counter the excessive bass you might get in a resonant room. It takes a day to tune the trap to the room. Studio designers WSDG have a heavy duty technical paper (.doc link) on the subject.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blackbird Rider carbon fiber acoustic has a hollow neck

This is the Blackbird Rider, a $1,599 travel acoustic guitar made from carbon fiber. They claim it's close to unbreakable: "You can play in a tropical rain storm and Rider will be fine. It can withstand a fall on a concrete floor without breaking.". The neck is just hollow carbon fiber, with no truss rod and a resin fingerboard. Even the headstock is hollow, so the whole thing is one resonant chamber. (via Uncrate)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Arturia Analog Factory Experience keyboard - first review

What is it? It's a hardware controller for Arturia's Analog Factory plugin, which emulates 7 classic vintage synths (Arp 2600, Mini Moog, Moog Modular, Prophet 5, Prophet VS, Jupiter 8, CS 80). £229 / $349. LINK

What's good? I love the idea - a piece of software made real.It's a great looking, great feeling little keyboard made in China by CME. The design ticks all the Music Thing boxes - it's (off) white, it has real wood end cheeks, a nice semi-weighted keyboard, really solid, heavy, all-metal chassis, 11 continuous knobs, 4 ADSR sliders (NICE TOUCH!) and a snapshot system pinched from the Nord G2. I like the idea of a tweakable preset machine, like a modern day Matrix 1000, but with 3,500 patches. On each preset, you can change the volume envelope (slightly frustrating if the filter envelope is fixed), the filter cutoff & resonance, LFO rate & amount, and four other pre-selected parameters. Arturia's emulations sound fantastic, though I'm not qualified enough to judge how accurate they are. The Arp sounds raw and clunky with a boingy spring reverb. The Prophet VS sounds gritty and digital. The Moog Modular sounds huge, etc. If you want to know about the software, Create Digital Music and Sound on Sound can help.

What's bad? Aaaaagh! It's software. Installing it had me typing a 32 digit number four or five times until it took. I installed it on my laptop, and it's now impossible to move to another PC, without (at least) contacting customer support and buying a Syncrosoft key for €14. Yes, if I'd paid £229 for it, rather than borrowing one to review, I'd have thought harder about where I installed it. But why should I have to? It's lame. For £250 you can buy a new XioSynth, MicroKorg, or Alesis Micron or a used Juno 6 or JP8000.
If you're a professional musician, or you're trying to get great sounds in a hurry, or you enjoy tidiness and efficiency, then Analog Factory is perfect. It's quick to use, far better sounding than those cheap hardware synths, and all your settings are saved automatically. If, like me, you're a no-talent tinkerer, who enjoys fiddling with gear and recording bits of music, then the Analog Factory Experience might be a disappointment. But that's just me. If you enjoy software synths, then there are a few relatively minor niggles. The keyboard will output midi, but the controller numbers are all fixed, so you'll have to teach other synths to understand it, rather than vice versa. And there's very audible stepping when you're tweaking some knobs, i.e when tweaking the cutoff frequency on a resonant filter.

So... If you get on with software synths, and you want a fantastically sexy little controller for a huge collection of great synth sounds, buy this now. If you want a sexy little synth, don't.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ten man orchestra from Finland plays only 303s

Here's Jori Hulkkonen conducting his 303 orchestra at the UMF Festival in Turku, Finland in August. The sound is really awful, and you can't see what's going on, but it's a nice alternative to all those laptop orchestras. (Thanks, oerfil)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

20 non-boring Christmas gifts for musicians which cost less than £100

See also: 11 crazy expensive Christmas gifts for musicians, and my 2005 Gift Guide, which still stands up OK.

1. TapeOp Magazine The coolest magazine about recording and excessively expensive music gear is now available free in the US, UK and Europe. Free

2. Akai E2 Headrush The awesome looper/delay pedal used by KT Tunstall in this ace clip (and by countless people in other YouTube clips) £95 UK|$199 US

3. Lap Steel My wife bought me a lap steel for my birthday this year, and it's awesome. They're cheap, easy to play and cool-sounding. Make sure it comes with a tone bar, or they won't be able to play it on Xmas day. £50-90 from eBay UK|$100+ from eBay US.

4. Spooky glass hand that plays Chopin. $16.95

5. Pocket Pod Powerful little headphone amp and effects box with sounds 'borrowed' from vintage gear. £65 UK|$130 US.

6. Oliver Sachs: Musicophilia Amazing book about how people become obsessed by music, which I wrote about here. Amazon UK|Amazon US

7. Something from BugBrand Tom Bugs (who I wrote about here) makes beautiful little noise boxes in his Bristol lab. He doesn't have much in stock at the moment, but it's worth checking back. £7 - £130

8. A print by James Joyce You can't buy any of his excellent music gear paintings but there's much to love in his shop. £75 and up.

9. Vox Amplug Tiny headphone amp which plugs directly into your guitar and looks like a teeny vintage amp. I'd buy the AC30 flavour. $40 US|£30 UK

10. Something from Liam Devowski Liam does awesome illustrations and graffiti of synths. Perhaps if you ask him nicely, he'll sell you something! $POA. Similarly Dan McPharlin makes incredible tiny cardboard synths, and takes commissions.

11. Artec Big Dots Most guitar tuners are incredibly boring, but this one, which looks like the floor of a '70s nightclub, will make any guitarist happy. £40 UK|$70 US

12. Hello Kitty guitar A custom Squier strat in black or in pink, it's not quite as cool as the Japanese original by Fernandes, but still fine. $150 US|£134 UK

13. Moog-inspired music Any of the CDs on this list would make any geek happy. Particularly 'Switched on Nashville'... Amazon US|UK

14. Vintage microphones Vintage microphones are surprisingly cheap (plenty go for well under £50) if a bit unhygenic. They're easy to buy: if they look cool, they are cool. Even if they don't sound so great, they're nice to have around. Avoid modern 'retro' Elvis microphones.Vintage mics from eBay UK|eBay US

15. Something from Etsy There are plenty of great homemade/one-off crafty gifts for music geeks at Etsy. Try some of these keywords: synth, Moog, boom box, cassette, and 83 pages of guitars.

16. Audio Damage Effects If the person you're buying for makes music on a computer, one of these will surprise and delight them. I'd recommend Dr Device, Replicant or Phase Two, but buy the one which you like the look of. $29-$49

17. Casio DG20 MIDI guitar Classic '80s techno kitsch revived by this Flight of the Conchords clip. Because the world is crazy, these actually go for up to £300... eBay UK|eBay US Oh, yes, there's also the Flight of the Conchords DVD: UK|US

18. Korg Mini Kaoss Pad Touch pad DJ effects box for glitchy electronic fun $199 US|£95 UK

19. Nanoloop 2.2 Is a cult homemade cartridge which turns the Nintendo Gameboy Advance (or DS) into an 8 channel synth and sequencer. GBAs now cost next to nothing on eBay. €65

20. Build your own guitar kit Not so much a present as a sentence to a January of tinkering and painting. £54 from Thomann. Alternatively, a generous Warmoth gift certificate would satisfy a more serious fiddler.

Dear reader, what do you want for Christmas. Leave an anonymous note in the comments, and maybe a loved one will be inspired...

YouTube Korg Kaossilator demos are funny

Korg's little Kaossilator touchpad synth came out in Japan last week, so a handful of demo videos have appeared on YouTube. White sunglasses baseball cap dude is definitely the funniest (he has more of the same) and Kaossilator blues is the most musically unlikely (harmonica blues solo). Meanwhile, American yellow glasses dude will make you never want to hear or make music ever again.

eBay of the day: The Ringflute. It's a flute. In a ring.

There's not much to the Ringflute (eBay link) that isn't in the subject line. It costs $39, is made of ABS plastic with ultrasonically welded seams and it was invented by James Johnson, who came up with the idea after, er, trying to demonstrate ocarina fingerings to a Chinese busker using a piece of hosepipe. You can find out more at, which includes this classic 'way to much reverb' sound clip. There's also a $500 wooden version, if you get into it...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

War Machine! The VST plugin for... WAR!

The War Machine is a new plugin from PowerFX containing 87 samples of "Machine guns, Missile launchers, single shots, rocket blasts, cannons, flame throwers, tanks, jet fighters and earth shattering explosions" which come in a sample player, each mapped across the keyboard. What's stopping you buying it now? Well, it's $99, for a start. (via HC)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Christmas Gift Guide 2007 pt 1: Price No Object

Buying Christmas presents for music geeks must be a nightmare. If you're rich and generous, this list might help. The guide continues with more affordable bits later this week.

1. Elektron Monomachine MkII The ultimate all-in one boutique synth, and it will look great on any coffee table. $1440 / €1290 direct from Elektron.

2. Something from Vince Clarke's studio For a long time, Vince Clarke has had the most awesome looking studio in the world. Now he's moved to Maine, and is selling off all his gear. eBay link

3. Recording The Beatles This book is a vast, beautifully-produced labour of love. Comes in a slipcase that looks like a reel of tape. It's $100 plus $52 shipping to the UK (Ouch!). Recording the Beatles.

4. A synth subscription Every month, you'll get a new module to build into a midi-controlled analog synth. The addiction to new modules comes free. $120/month for 12 months from

5. DSI Prophet '08 It's black. It's knobby. It's analogue. It's got so many twinkly lights, you won't need a Christmas tree. US: $1999 from Analogue Haven Europe: £1412 from Thomann

6. Tenori On I was a bit underwhelmed, but as a Christmas gift, it's unbeatable... US: Not available. Europe: £599 from Dolphin Music or Rubadub.

7. Little Boy Blue Modular Synth Its a sexy little battery-powered synth built by Jessica Rylan. $395 direct from Flower Electronics.

8. Manikin Memotron A gloriously unnecessary digital Mellotron. Possibly the most stylish synth available (all white lacquer). US: $2,699 from AH Europe: £1412 from Thomann

9. Monome 128 It's a beautiful wooden box, with 128 light-up buttons on top. It's a lot cooler than it sounds. $800, shipping from 14th Dec,

10. Dan Armstrong Plexiglass Guitar Imagine finding that under your tree... US $1,399 from Pedal Geek UK £1069 from Dolphin Music

11. Nord Wave Huge, awesome Swedish-made megasynth with wavetables, FM and analog modelling. £1395 from Dolphin Music

Friday, November 16, 2007

Anchorsong gigs in London, plus the amazing Jel looking for gigs in SF

I'm not sure how Music Thing became the clearing house for incredibly talented MPC beat-makers looking for gigs, but it's no bad thing.

The video above is Jel from Anticon, who plays his MPC live, with no sequencing. His new blog speaks for itself: JEL IN BEDROOM LOOKING FOR GIGS!!.

Meanwhile, Londoners now have no excuse for not seeing Anchorsong playing live. He's playing at Jimi Mistry's Sunday afternoon session at The Brickhouse in Brick Lane this Sunday, then doing two nights with The Woodentops at the Water Rats in Kings Cross on 10/11th December.

That's it for talented MPC folks looking for gigs for a little while...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A typical Music Thing reader relaxes at home

I love love love this painting by Chris Reccardi from his show at the M Modern Gallery in Palm Springs, California. According to Boing Boing: "Chris is a veteran of the animation world, having worked on classics like The Ren & Stimpy Show, The Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack as a designer, writer, director, and even musician." The painting is called "How about fiddling with these knobs for a change, Aldo Cosmo?" 'Polyfonik', which features an excellent keytar, is also rich in awesomeness, and Op 2 is a rather more affordable gift for the Rickenbacker-owning bass player in your life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Village Voice on Public Enemy, the SP 1200 and the joy of old music gear

Ben Detrick writes in the Village Voice about the 20th anniversary of the venerable SP 1200. Here's Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee: "One day I was playing 'Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos' and it came out real muffled. I couldn't hear any of the high-end part of it. I found out that if you put the phono or quarter-inch jack halfway in, it filters the high frequency. Now I just got the bass part of the sample. I was like, 'Oh, shit, this is the craziest thing on the planet!'" (Picture shows KRS-One in the PE t-shirt at the SP 1200) (Thanks, Douglas)

How much energy is your music gear using?

Inspired by this post and an enthusiasm for gadgets, I just got an Efergy electricity meter. Among other things, I can find out how much my energy my 'studio' uses.

The mains powered bits of my 'studio' consist of: 1 tower PC, 2 LCD screens, 2 external drives, Pod XT, Nord G2, MPC1000, DSI Evolver, MFB Synth II, Emu Audiodock, Dynacord VRS23 delay, Roland TR-909 (thanks, Peter), an old hifi amp and a Anglepoise lamp with a low energy bulb (ha!).

The verdict: With everything on standby, it's drawing 0.035kwh. With everything on, it's drawing .660kwh. With the gear on, but the PC (and screens) on standby it's drawing .192kwh. No wonder it gets warm in there in summer.

The average cost of residential electricity in the US was 9.86¢/kWh in 2006 - let's call it 10¢ for ease of calculation (I couldn't find a sensible average rate for the UK, but this suggests 10p/kwh isn't unreasonable). That means: Keeping everything on standby for a year = $30. Keeping everything on for a year = $578. Keeping everything on for 3 hours, five days a week = $51 (+ standby).

My observations:

1) I thought all those horrible external PSUs would mean standby costing a fortune. It doesn't, really.

2) That computer does suck a lot of power. One more reason to love hardware over software.

3) If I was really worried about standby, an Intelliplug would pay for itself in six months.
4) I wonder how much big old analog synths or valve amps draw?

5) The Fit-PC is pretty sexy (draws 5w of power, no fan, smaller than a paperback, costs £150) but I'm not sure it will play nicely with Ableton...

Radiohead's awesome headcam music video

Got to love the video for Radiohead's Jigsaw falling into place, entirely filmed with five webcams mounted on bicycle helmets. It was 'directed' by Adam Buxton from Adam & Joe: "Anyway, there I am sat in Radiohead’s kitchen thinking “I’m in Radiohead’s kitchen!” and all around me are bits and pieces that I recognise or am curious about, but I’ve go to focus on the matter at hand, which is: what are we going to shoot in the next 30 hours." (Thanks Michael)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Laptop orchestras from around the world

A selection of laptop orchestras from around the globe:

1) PLOrk: The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (video)

2) The Tokyo Laptop Orchestra (video)

3) The London College of Communications Laptop Orchestra

4) The Seattle Laptop Orchestra

5) The Toshiba-funded virtual Laptop Orchestra (video)

6) The Moscow Laptop Orchestra (video)

7) The Berlin Laptoporchester (video)

Got any more? (Thanks, Josh!)

Pixelang: Programming language for audio, video, clever people

If you're the kind of person who enjoys coding on your way to work, you might want to try Pixelang, a new Palm OS / Windows / Linux programming language for video, which now has various sound synthesis possibilities. The always-excellent Palm Sounds blog has been playing with it for a while, and one of their readers posted a interesting/irritating Pixelang demo on YouTube. In short: Try this if you find Reaktor too simple to bother with.

Japanese melody road plays tunes through your tyres

Don't be distracted by the burst of DJ Mink's 'Hey Hey, can you relate?' at the start and keep watching. If you drive at 28mph along this road in Japan, the vibrations on your tyres play music. Presumably the next step is a duophonic version (different track on each side). Alternatively, here's how to mount a melodica in your car so it's played by the slipstream... (via Gizmodo, thanks to Steve and Martin)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Anchorsong is in London, looking for gigs

Ace live MPC dude Masaaki Yoshida, AKA Anchorsong, star of the Greatest beat-making videos ever, has moved to London, found a flat, and is now looking for gigs. If you're in London and have gigs, what are you waiting for? His email address is on his site.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Band play Abba's 'Mamma Mia' on numerous beer bottles

Haukur writes: "I thought you might like this band from Denmark (apparently dressed as the Pakistani cricket team) who play Abba's Mamma Mia on beer bottles". They're called Inflastikas, and they have a blog. But not a sampler, apparently.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Why is this electric guitar worth €2,500,000? Because it's made of pure cocaine

La Repubblica have a story (Google translation) and pictures about a 30-something guy who flew from Costa Rica to Fiumicino airport in Rome with a guitar (a black Squier Strat, with the label still on the scratchplate) and 10 thermos flasks in his luggage. The customs official noticed white powder leaking out of the guitar which tested positive for cocaine. Cocaine in solution was also found in the thermos flasks - a total of €2.5m worth. (Yes, there's some weird photoshop action in the first photo, not sure what that's about). Seems music-related smuggling is fairly popular: NY Times has half a pound of heroin in a guitar, and this chap 19kg of coke in three guitar amps 'bought while wandering around the shops in Trinidad', and these jokers wanted to stuff a piano with E and coke and bring it over from Holland. (Thanks, Paolo)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Infinite Response Vax 77: Folding full-sized keyboard to fit in overhead locker

This is the Vax 77 - a MIDI keyboard which folds in half, weighs 25lbs, is made of unobtanium powder coated Magnesium alloy and has two OLED screens (with a rumoured upgrade to a small polytouch screen). It's 77 keys because that's the most they could fit in and still make it small enough (when folded in half) to fit in an overhead locker. But, but, but, there's no price yet, and their site is just a bunch of renders. The most interesting suggestion for synth geeks is that the keyboard will have polyphonic aftertouch - the semi-legendary feature where each key can be pushed harder after the initial attack to control the filter (or whatever) of that individual note. It's the first time any manufacture has offered poly aftertouch for years. Synth designer John Bowen says in this thread and this one that there's nobody making a mass-market PA keyboard, so the Vax will have to be custom manufactured (rather than churned out in China) so expect costs to be somewhere between $$$$ and $$$$$. Still, it does fold in half...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Incredibly cool Zerotronics mini passive spring reverb

While I was at wandering around AES in New York last week I made a startling discovery. I'm pretty sure that I have now seen enough super expensive vintage-ey boutique rackmount audio gear to last me a lifetime. The first twenty boxes looked shiny and exciting, the next thousand didn't, really. Anyway, here is something expensive and boutique, but a bit different. Zerotronics make passive spring reverbs - line level goes in, mic level signal (+ reverb) comes out. They have no controls and no mains cable - just a monolithic black rack box with four XLR sockets on the back. Their new thing is the Mini-LE, which is the same principle but in a hardback book-sized box. Inside are two old-stock reverb springs for Baldwin electronic organs. Zerotronics found the springs on eBay, then tracked down an organ technician with a small stash. $795, limited run of ten units. More rock'n'roll but less chic are valve-powered stand-alone spring reverb units like the Guyatone FR-3 and Valvetrain Spring Thing. (More springy goodness) (Thanks Ian)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Q: What happens if you find a vast Moog Modular from 1969 in a cupboad at work?

A: The synth geek gods will smite you down... Guitarist Drew (aka badhatharry) works in Bakersfield at Buck Owen's Crystal Palace. Buck was big country star. In 1971, Jeff Haskell released Switched on Buck, an album of synth versions of his songs. It was recorded on a huge Moog Modular, bought by Buck in 1969. The synth has presumably been hanging around his Crystal Palace club/museum/restaurant ever since. Until Drew found it and asked his boss if he could get it out and fire it up - from the pictures it looks to be in phenomenal condition and must be worth tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also joined the Vintage Synth Explorer forum and posted a very polite 'Oh wow, I might need some advice' post, which has received a string of patronising, angry and jealous responses (representative quote: "You should REALLY put this thing away and stop messing with it... Put it back where you found it, apologize to your boss for the harm you've done to it so far, and hope they don't discover what you've been doing and fire you.") Still, I guess the huge modular synth is some kind of compensation... (via Matrix Synth where there are more 'hey, you are a moron' comments and a long response from Drew)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sequencer controlled by Rubik's Cube - playable online

American/Frenchman Douglas Edric Stanley is professor of digital arts at Aix-en-Provence school of art, where he gets to build things like this sequencer controlled by a rubiks cube. It's an installation thing, not very clearly illustrated in this video. More excitingly, there's a playable online version (instructions here). This is Douglas' point: Most electronic instruments have a more-or-less obscure interface (lots of knobs and buttons), which can be intimidating. However, once you know what the knobs do, they're often very simple to use, with limited possibilities. With this thing, the interface is very immediate (everyone knows how to manipulate a rubiks cube) but it's phenomenally difficult and complicated to actually play - because every move messes up another side.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

R.I.P Phil Dodds, synth guy from Close Encounters

Yann writes: "I don't know if you know about Philip Dodds...he was the guy who played the ARP 2500 in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He was VP of Engineering at ARP, he wrote all of the service manuals and
schematics and helped design and build many ARP synths, from the 2600 to the Chroma. He then went on to work for Kurzweil, developing the digital pianos. He was even involved in the creation of the MIDI standard. He also happened to be my uncle. I thought you might be interested to know that he died last weekend."
Phil is the young, nervous looking chap who says 'What are we saying to each other?' at 1:05 in the clip above. Read more at the AICC blog and Wikipedia.

Arturia's Analog Factory keyboard controller with little Moogy knobs

Arturia, maker of quality retro soft synths, are planning a dedicated controller for their Analog Factory software. This is the prototype from AES - 2.5 octaves, 11 knobs, four sliders, metal case, really nice chunky WOODEN END PANELS. Outputs MIDI and USB. Looks like $349/£229, shipping in January. It's being built by CME in China, unlike the rather more exepensive Origin and, for extra hotness Origin Keyboard

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Yamaha Tenori On review: Many good things, many bad

I've had the Yamaha Tenori On for about five days now, so these are first thoughts. Summary version: It's awesome that this thing exists, that Toshio Iwai got a chance to make it. It's intuitive (in the pic on the right, Alex isn't just jabbing buttons, he's holding down a function key and selecting sounds). Does that mean you'll want to spend £599 buying one for yourself? Well, I can think of better ways to spend the money. Epic list of pros and cons after the jump. I'd also recommend Sonic State's video review if you want something more in-depth and less opinionated.

The good things:

1. It's unique. Almost every part of it - the shape, the look, the interface, the sound - is unlike anything else I've ever seen.

2. It's fantastic that Yamaha used a tiny slice of their profits from selling electric pianos and workstations to let Toshio Iwai get his dream manufactured and into the shops. Even if it's only in a few record shops in Britain at the moment. It must have cost them a lot, and it's the kind of thing that's normally left to passionate enthusiasts.

3. It's a complicated, sophisticated little machine. It's self contained, with a real operating system, a detailed display and so on. I LOVE that it has batteries and speakers. It's slightly unfair to compare it with the sexier, cheaper Monome, which is essentially a bunch of switches and lights in a pretty box, with all the heavy lifting done by the computer.

4. 16x16 step sequencing is great - very fast, intuitive, fun way to enter beats and chords.

5. It uses a clever key/scale system, which makes it even easier to enter notes. You can really just doodle with your finger and make something which sounds roughly like music.

6. In the dark, it looks incredible. The lights on the back look ace. Play it in the evening near a window and watch the reflections.

7. Many of the sounds are great - there's a definite Toshio Iwai sound, if you liked Elektroplankton, you'll like these. Warm and organic and original.

8. It's great while running on batteries - very compact, quick to load, nice to sit on the sofa and fiddle. The weight of 6xAA batteries also makes it feel a bit more sturdy.

9. Choosing presets with one key for each sound = Very nice. (I can see where Art Lebedev is coming from)

And yet... the bad things:

1. No getting away from it. It looks and feels like a toy. The main buttons don't feel great, and they all rattle. It may be deliberate, so you can run your fingers across a row, but it feels cheap cheap cheap.

2. I think the main chassis is aluminum, but coated in so much plasticy varnish that it looks and feels like plastic.

3. Maybe a third of the 256 sounds are non-great General Midi sounds - piano, strings, bagpipes(?).

4. There's no touch sensitivity, and I haven't found any easy way to add any dynamics apart from track mixing - which can only be automated in the 'record song' system.

5. There's no hardware volume control. You have to fish in a menu to change it.

6. It's designed for people with four thumbs. If you're holding the thing in both hands, you can reach the 'shift' buttons, but then can't reach the main buttons, so you have to put it down.

7. It's absolutely not a synth. You can't modify any of the internal sounds in any way - no filters, envelopes etc. They're mostly very short one-shot samples (some loop, and a few evolve interestingly). There are no musical sequences or loops.

8. Every note is fixed length across the sequence. You can't have a long and a short note together in any sequence. You can't slide or tie notes together in any way, even in the real time 'draw' mode.

9. It feels a bit churlish to say it, but the effects are hopeless - a reverb and a chorus/flanger, both master effects on the mix - and both on by default.

10. The MIDI out works - it was quite fun hooking it up to four channels on the Nord G2 and triggering sounds. It sends MIDI clock, but doesn't seem receive it (The manual is ambiguous, says it recieves clock, but also says it only syncs to another Tenori - anyone experimented with this more?). I briefly connected it to the MPC, which would have been great, except the notes ouputted didn't play nicely with my programs, so... it would be a blah to make a workaround.

But most of all... It costs £599. That's $1,200. I can understand there are reasons for the price - a limited run, a more sophisticated machine than most boutique gear. But if they're selling this as an ultra-luxe treat for geeks, then it has to look and feel sexy and expensive. It doesn't. Yes, the comparison with the Monome is slightly unfair, but I suspect it would be a simple job to recreate all the Tenori functions on a Monome.

Many of my objections might be fixable with a software upgrade, but I suspect the Tenori is in a tricky place: I don't know if it's really lovable enough to be on every rich kid's Christmas list, and I'm pretty sure it's not geeky enough to be on mine. Which is a real shame. Most importantly, it's a really good lesson for geeks like me. It's easy to complain that big synth companies never do anything innovative or exciting. Then one comes along and does exactly that, and we're left saying 'not good enough'. Which is a real shame. But feeling sympathetic to Yamaha and Toshio Iwai wouldn't make me spend £599 on this.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Look what just arrived!

A Tenori On just arrived from Yamaha. I'll write more once I've got the hang of it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Deviant Synth is the synth blog for people who hate synth blogs

Deviant Synth is the new blog from Eric Barbour of Metasonix (among other contributors). Eric has helped Music Thing out many times with facts/background/knowledge etc. The blog has a great manifesto - "We want readers to post twisted, schizophrenic synthesizer bullshit. Anything posted will be taken down if it is at all synth-collector oriented, chiptune-related, dull, or sheeplike... Links to schematics of exact copies of CS-80 filters are not welcome. Neither are links to fansites for Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze, Can, Tangerine Dream, Ultravox, Gay Fairy Twinkle, or any other hideous 70s or 80s funny-haircut nostalgia keyboard act.... All tech must be ODD. Germanium transistors, arcane synth modules, vacuum tubes, steam-powered piston oscillators, whatever -- it has to be WRONG.. The picture above, of a prototype Sheryl Crow Sodomy synth is par for the course. Eric is looking for more contributors - anyone with a Wordpress account can post.

How to: Turn a pizza box into a laptop DJ controller in two minutes

Dave sends this excellent instructional video, showing how to turn an optical mouse, a greasy pizza box, a pair of scissors and some sticky tape into a reasonably functional DJ scratch controller. That said, I don't think it will be replacing the awesome new Livid Ohm Controller which Peter reports on at CDM.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yuri Landman builds incredible guitars for noisy bands

Pitchfork has a fantastic interview with Yuri Landman, Sonic Youth fan turned guitar maker, who builds multi-stringed, multi-bridged instruments for Lee Renaldo and a bunch of other bands I've never heard of. The interview is full of treats like this: "It's basically a two-string guitar with a built-in thumb piano. The strings of the guitar can be bent by a brake cable from a moped, which is connected to a foot pedal. When amplified, the thumb piano, which is mounted to the guitar body, has a very low and impressive sound, almost like a vibraphone.". There's a fantastically in-depth explanation of one of Yuri's guitars here on Wikipedia, and this clip of Yuri's band Avec-A is also very cool. PS: Was anyone in Amsterdam for the the Output Festival to see the Instrument Expo? (Thanks, Ben)

Tiny Music - the radio show

Nice to see this series of blog posts from two years ago er.. 'inspiring' 'The most valuable notes in history', a 15 minute show on Radio 4 last night (more). (Thanks, Jon)

Awesome East German electromechanical keytar found in New Zealand

Regular readers might remember the Weltmeister Basset, an extraordinary kind-of-strap-on-Fender-Rhodes thing. Well, Nick found one in Wellington, NZ for $250, and generously made this not entirely conclusive video to show off it's charms.

DIY mellotron built from four old walkmans

Here's a great (if slightly over-exuberant for my tastes) weekend project video from Make magazine, which shows you how to turn a bunch of $2 walkmen into a Mellotron (roughly). It was obviously inspired by Mike Walters, and his 14 walkman, 25 note Melloman. (Thanks, James)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dude releases 74-minute album on a single floppy disk

Jonas writes from Denmark to tell me that his band Batch Totem have released an album 'Trunkeret & Ikonisk', on a single floppy disk: "The audio is encoded in the GSM 6.10 WAV format [used to compress speech in GSM mobile phones] at various bitrates the disk holds 74 minutes of audio, that can be played on a computer with standard audio-players like Winamp, Windows Media Player and Itunes without any external codec installed." The music has been created specially for the format, (or as he put is "composed directly in the spectral domain") He says: "On certain tracks the amplitude and low bitrates produce 'ghost' frequencies according to the Nyquist theorem, and the algorithm of the audio codec meaning that very high frequencies and white noise can occur at very low bitrates. Using listening equipment with a subwoofer is recommended." There's a free sample track here: A Minor Prism Glow Number (42kb wav file, seems to play better in Windows Media than Quicktime, does cool things to the visualiser). I think it's safe to say that Britney won't be calling on Batch Totem to do her comeback album. Be sure to visit the Batch Totem website (it's just a directory - HTML is so last year). Previously: Dude releases album on NES cartridge

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Fairlight Xynergi can kick sand in the Optimus keyboard's face and make it cry

What's the coolest music gear brand in the history of the world? OK, Moog and Gibson and Fender, but then... Fairlight. Since their Nick Rhodes-fuelled '80s moment they've been making a lot of boring high-end media gear, but now there's this: the really absurdly awesome Xynergi Controller. Each key has tiny individual LCD display in it - as you can see in this awesome demo video (or this one). Estimated price? $28,000. It's been done before on the equally expensive Euphonix MC, and it does make the Optimus Maximus querty qwerty (sorry, Joel) keyboard with colour key caps look quite reasonable at $1500. The knobs round the display are also slightly reminiscent of the PPG Realizer or, more prosaically, the Arturia Origin. (via Gearslutz)

Vox Amplugs: A teeny-tiny AC30 to plug into your guitar

This is quite cute - Vox are doing a range of little headphone amps - one based on the AC30 with top boost, 'Classic Rock' based on a Marshall and 'Metal' based presumably on a Mesa Boogie. The circuitry is analog and runs on 2xAAA batteries. No idea how they sound, but they're quite nice looking. Disappointingly, they all look like AC30s, just with different stickers. £35, further bumpf at Vox website.
Incididentally, what is it with copywriters for music gear companies? They claim: "amPlug perfectly reproduces the complex and warm distortion that is distinctive of a vacuum tube... amPlug delivers full-fledged amp sound that will revolutionize your guitar playing." Both of these claims are clearly lies (the 'perfectly reproduces' and the 'revolutionize your guitar playing' bits). What was wrong with: "Sounds OK, looks OK, costs £35, what's not to like?"
AND ANOTHER THING: If Vox are going to put a Union Jack on their homepage and a London bus on their news page (despite having being owned by Korg since 1992), they should probably learn how to spell 'revolutionise' properly.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A 1983 Casio DG-20 electric guitar?

Yep, I know what you're thinking, and you're right. It was 1988. (Thanks, Jacob. More videos from Flight of the Conchords)

Insane Japanese/Finnish anime mashup: Vocaloid 2 singing Leekspin

OK, this takes a little bit of explaining. Vocaloid is a bit of Yamaha patented software which can sing - input the notes and the lyrics and off it goes. It's not sold by Yamaha, but in various different versions according to the voice. So, PowerFX have a version called Sweet Ann. Now you can buy an anime version where Hatsune Miku (some kind of schoolgirl sexbot) sings the words you've typed in. People have been making singing robot software for ages, but it's always just been a novelty. However, Vocaloid 2 / Hatsune Miku has been a huge hit in Japan (as I write, it's the best selling software on Amazon Japan). There are now tons of Vocaloid clips on Nico Nico Douga, the Japanese YouTube. The sample above is (as I'm sure you're now enjoying) a bonkers high-energy track with vocals from Hatsune Miku.(The original Finnish folk version is Leekspin by Loituma). The singing robots are here, and they're annoying. More on Hatsune at and Canned Dogs. Want more videos? this one is awesome, this girl seems to be really into it and this one should be on the Blade Runner soundtrack.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Incredible auction of vintage audio gear from BBC Glasgow

It looks like BBC Glasgow are auctioning off their entire studio. There are four auctions at the site - 1 and 2 are the most interesting, stuffed with strange old British gear, from patchbays, vectorscopes and sexy outboard (here's an RMX16, and this never-see-one-of-those-before Instant Personality Processor.) The real stars are the serious bits - numerous consoles, Calrec compressors, EMT turntables, and dozens of Rogers/BBC monitor speakers, including several LS5/8 models which are much geeked over by boffins, and come with customised Quad power amps. It does seem tragic that the BBC are losing all this stuff, and presumably the engineers who've kept it in perfect condition for years. Presumably BBC shows are now all made by 15 year-olds on laptops purchased from PC World, and monitored on iPod headphones. The auction ends on 27th Sept. (via Zanf)

This is cool: Korg KAOSSILATOR Dynamic Phrase Synthesizer

Here's something interesting from a big manufacturer. The Korg Kaossilator (that link might have gone dead by the time you read this): It's a (presumably) cheap little box. 100 sounds, controlled by the x-y pad from a Kaoss Pad. Left-right controls pitch, according to one of 31 scales. Up-down controls anything else - cutoff frequency, modulation etc. Presumably it's playing arpeggios locked to MIDI clock. I bet it's fun, although it's rather unfortunate that the babelfish translation of the leaked German page describes it as: "a new cliche Synthesizer in the vest pocket format". No price or date yet. (Via Supermel74 and many other forums)
UPDATE: It's confirmed and real, UK price is £117.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Music Thing Gear Sale 2

I'm selling a few bits and pieces to make space in my room:

DSI Desktop Evolver You know all about it - wonderful, clever 4osc analog/digital synth in a tiny blue steel box. This one is signed by Dave Smith above the logo on the top left and I'm selling it because I'd like a MEK. £275

E-mu Vintage Pro 1U rack stuffed with vintage synths, keyboards and kits. Nice mellotron. Four tweaking knobs, endless synth options and midi features. SoS review. £250

Drawmer 1960 Compressor Awesome stereo valve compressor/mic pre magic box. Very good condition. SoS review here. Selling for my friend Michael. £650 pickup only from SE London

Lexicon Vortex Famous minor classic rack effect - delay/mod/oddness effect. This one has slightly glitchy preset knob, but the footpedal works fine. Original box/manual etc. £120.

1963 Silvertone Guitar Built in the US and sold through the Sears Catalogue, I bought this in a record shop in upstate New York many years ago. It's one of these. It's very far from mint condition, it's not a classic vintage guitar, but it does look and sound cool. £120 pickup only (because I'd want you to see it first).

I'll ship and take paypal, but collection (South East London) and cash much preferred. Email me if you have any questions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Apple Logic Pro 8 and Logic Studio are here

Sergio writes to point out that Apple have quietly introduced Logic Studio - a very appealing bundle including Logic Pro 8 (which has had a major redesign and no longer requires a dongle), Main Stage - which is a new app designed for playing live - an instrument and effects rack, and a vast Studio Sound Library. It's $499. Considering you can pay £699 ($1400) for Logic 7 in Britain, that's a bargain. I'm in NYC in October, and suddenly a new Mac and this looks very appealing. First responses from:
GearSlutz: "Is this what we've been waiting for for five years? Not sure, but you can't say it hasn't been Apple-fied""
Analog Industries: "My initial impressions are extremely favorable"
Create Digital Music:"The holy grail of music software right now: make it easier for people to actually play with computers.
EM411:"Insanity. .. is anyone NOT going to buy logic at that price?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Never mind Britney, what geek designed that set?

You know you're an incredible loser when you watch Britney's bonkers comeback performance at the VMAs and find yourself thinking: "I say, doesn't that set look a great deal like a really large Korg Kaoss Pad 3?"

Dude puts drum triggers in pants, calls them DrumPants

Here's Tyler Freeman and his drumpants. It's not the newest idea, but he carries it off with some aplomb. Full details and how-to instructions are on his site, together with this rather alarming manifesto: "I am The New Artist. I paint with switches and resistors, capacitors and transistors. Instead of mixing pigments I combine electrons. My paintings do not have color or form, but rather signal and function." Well, OK there, Tyler. (via Brian and Engadget)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Poo bum wee: More from the Tenori On launch

Dave Green (of the inestimable Snackspot) was at the Tenori On launch last night and captured this picture of how punters were actually using the £600 innovative alternative musical interface. I wonder if Yamaha are regretting launching in the UK... Incedentally, aren't those lights pretty?

Live from the Tenori On launch in London

Well, I wasn't the Tenori On launch last night (babies!) but fortunately many people with YouTube accounts were. There's this interview with Toshio Iwai and a demo from Yamaha's Peter Peck here, and here's Toshio Iwai jamming on his music box. Over at Create Digital Music, Peter has been going a great job covering the Tenori On saga, as has Chris at Pixel Sumo, reporting a UK launch price of £599, which seems hella expensive, but - at this stage - the Tenori is a boutique, hand-made product. I'm sure if it takes off, they'll be churning them out in China for £69.99...
UPDATE: More interesting video from Sonic State.

1500th post - Music Thing is three years old

Music Thing was born three years (and a couple of weeks) ago with this post about Odd (the first month's posts are here). Thank you to everyone who's ever sent me ideas, left a comment or clicked on an ad. I don't post here as much as I used to, because doing this blog has helped me get a job I love which keeps me pretty busy. The blog has also inpired me to buy a load of great music gear which I really enjoy playing with. But I'm not going anywhere, so keep sending the ideas and subscribe to the Music Thing RSS feed, if you haven't already.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Can you identify this strange inside-out steel drum?

Can anyone identify the instrument being played in this clip of some hippy dudes. Obviously there's a jaws harp solo at the end, but what's the inside-out steel drum thing? (Thanks Michael)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sex toy or boutique audio gear... can you tell the difference?

I'm not sure what Michael was looking for when he found this page (NOT at all SFW) specialising in 'Electrical Fetish' gear (for people who are turned on by receiving small electrical shocks in unlikely places), but he saw some stuff which looks like it should be on these pages. Without cheating, can you tell which of the items above are naughty and which are from the Analog Haven catalogue?

RIP Daniel Hansson of Elektron, father of Machinedrum, Monomachine and SidStation

Very sad news from Sweden: Daniel Hansson, one of the founders of Elektron, who make the coolest, best looking and most imaginative synths and drum machines in the world, died in a car accident on 19th August. Details on the Elektron site including where to send messages, and a nice note at Die Monster. (Thanks, Mikael and Brandon, pic via Matrix)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New from Line 6 - the Pod X3 and Pod X3 Live

Vettaville gets the scoop on the new Pod range from Line6. There's a new Pod X3 to replace (presumably) the XT and a Live version. There aren't many details although Line6 forum speculation and leaked specs suggest it can do two amps at once, but isn't a whole new modelling system. It may also have guitar and bass models in one unit. I think it's remarkable that Line6 persist in making weird-shaped, weird-coloured things with plugs in strange places...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dude builds wah-wah boots from boots, wah-wah pedals, gaffa tape

John writes: "Howdy, Dano from Beavis Audio Research sponsored a small d.i.y. contest over the weekend. My entry was a pair of d.i.y. Wah-Wah Boots (with sneaky cable pants)." There's not really a lot I can add, is there? (Thanks to Gary, also)