Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cute tiny robot plays drums, samples itself, plays again

This is the Yellow Drum Machine, a beautiful little homemade robot which finds surfaces to drum on, records it's own drumming (using one of these little £12 sampler modules) then sets off to find somewhere else to play. The videos are adorable, and strangely reminiscent of KT Tunstall doing a similar thing. (via Make)

Hedge fund looking for £55m to invest in vintage guitars

The FT reports that a small London bank called Anchorage Captial is seeking investment to buy vintage guitars, having noticed that the Vintage Guitar Magazine price index "averaged returns of 31.6 per cent for the past 17 years". Anchorage is run by guitar enthusiast Thomas Byrne, who is also behind BJ & Byrne Guitars, a new company hoping to build guitars in Britain (actually, in a workshop on Denmark Street in London) and sell them for £500-£900. If anyone out there has £55m to spend on vintage guitars, just send me the cheque and I'll pass it on. (Thanks, Fabio)

How Francis Bacon predicted the recording studio in 'New Atlantis' in 1626

Text not available
If you can get hold of a copy, I recommend the April 2008 issue of Sound on Sound, which includes Steve Marshall's epic 12 page history of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which was founded 50 years ago in April 1958.
His piece is full of goodness, but the thing that really amazed me was this "We have also sound-houses" quote from Francis Bacon's 1626 book 'The New Atlantis', which Workshop founder Daphne Oram had pinned on the wall of the Workshop. It's all there: "We represent small sounds as great and
deep" = Waves Ultramaximiser, "We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters" = a circuit-bend Speak'n'Spell, and "divers tremblings and warblings of sounds" pretty well describes my entire musical output.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Celemony Melodyne DNA: Has this man done the impossible?

This is Peter Neub├Ącker from Celemony. You've probably already seen this promo video of his new product, Direct Note Access. It's a new version of the autotune-type pitch correction software which - it appears - can work with polyphonic sound. Record a chord, and it lets you explode that chord and re-tune individual notes. I thought that this was impossible. Peter Neub├Ącker says "What doesn't work in theory can still work in reality."

Well, maybe. In May 2005, a startup called Zenph Studios claimed to have cracked the problem of polyphonic transcription. They analyse old piano recordings (i.e. Glenn Gould playing Goldberg Variations in 1955) and produce a high-resolution MIDI-type file with exact pedal movements and note/pressure data. They feed that into a Disklavier MIDI grand piano, and record the results. They've had good reviews (at least in audiophile mags) for the recordings.

The potential of this kind of polyphonic transcription is enormous - it would let you sample a performance, not just the recording of a performance. Zenph may be able to do it in a slow, precise, way - presumably with a considerable amount of human help, and they're just pulling out note data, not separating the actual sounds of the notes. Celemony are claiming a lot more. If it works, it's a revolution. It shouldn't be long before you can separate any mixed recording into unmixed tracks. You'll be able to turn any guitar into a guitar synth with no special hardware.

It's very exciting. Does it actually work? I can't imagine how it could, but I know almost nothing about signal processing or the theory of sound. That's where you come in... (More coverage at Create Digital Music)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Korg DS-10 turns your Nintendo DS into a vintage MS-10

This looks fantastic: An official, Korg-sanctioned Japan-only MS-10 for the Nintendo DS. It has two synth engines, a drum machine, and a 6-track XOX sequencer, complete with little draggable patch cables. No sign of MIDI in, but you can link several systems wirelessly to play together. I think I need a DS... (Thanks, David)

MFB Synth 3: A semi-modular analog desktop synth for £440

I have a MFB Synth II, which I really enjoy - a little blue Minimoog with a sequencer. It's wonky, lo-fi thing (I have to tune it with a guitar tuner) but I really like it, so I'm intrigued by the MFB Synth 3, which is launching at MusikMesse this week. It's basically a bunch of their eurorack modules in a desktop box. No patch storage (which I never use on the Synth 2) and no sequencer (both of which I use a lot) - it comes with a built in MIDI-CV converter. It's got to be the most knobs and patch points ever sold for €580.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Anechoic chambers are awesome

There is nothing not to love at Oobject's Guide to Anechoic Chamber Architecture. Above is AFJ International's tank-sized chamber, and the Auditory Localization Facility is a person-sized loudspeaker-filled geodesic sphere packing a generous punch of awesome. Less high-minded readers might also enjoy Nick Knight's rather splendid fashion/audio crossover The Sound of Clothes, which includes several not entirely SFW videos.
(Thanks, Will)

The Technos Axcel Mark 2 on sale soon?

Remember the Technos Axcel? Only 39 of the mind-bogglingly cool touch-screen resynthesizers were made in the early '90s (here's the essential Matrix Synth post on the Axcel). You can imagine how excited I was when this email arrived:

"I am Pierre Guilmette the Acxel inventor. Just a short note to tell you that we put an Acxel-II project on the rails, you can have a look on very preliminary information on and some rough sound examples that show the capabilities (some exaggerate effects for demonstration purposes). Any questions are welcomed. Best regards, Pierre GUILMETTE."

The new Axcel hardware is, rather disappointingly, not a huge LED-covered touchscreen tethered to a vast monolithic processor block. It's a PCI card, or a not-terribly monolithic 1U rack unit. As Pierre says, it's very early days, so I won't say too much about the sound samples.
Still, the spec promises optional 'touch screen graphic editing', so that will be fun once we've all got multitouch laptops.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sampling a Fisher Price Music Box Record Player

A pleasant evening at Music Thing towers, spent fixing up and sampling this ancient Fisher Price record player from my parent's attic. The Swiss-made music box mechanism was rusted solid and the tiny clockwork motor doesn't really give enough juice to push the records round at the right speed, but a generous application of 3-in-1 got the music box part working well enough to sample a few notes. This Fisher Price Sample Pack at Freesound is just random notes, motor noise and winding sounds, but it works well enough mapped out across the MPC... Previously on Freesound: Spring Reverb and Cracklebox samples.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

This is your brain on jazz

"Scientists... have found that, when jazz musicians are engaged in the highly creative and spontaneous activity known as improvisation, a large region of the brain involved in monitoring one’s performance is shut down, while a small region involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors is highly activated. - Here's the full report on Prefontal cortex and improvisation. I'm sure Teo Macero, who edited Miles Davis' jams into something worth listening to, would have been fascinated. (via CDM via J_Chot)