Thursday, May 29, 2008

New from Goldbaby: Vintage drum machines on tape

Goldbaby, the New Zealand retro perfectionists behind the Tape 808 sample set, just released Tape Drum Machines Volume 1, with a bunch of fantastically kitsch vintage gear like MPC's The Kit, Companion's Four In The Floor and the very cute Yamaha MR-10. All of these are then recorded on four different vintage reel-to-reel machines and sampled. For $24. If you're too cheap, the free samples page has a lot of goodness.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Uncommon Sound: Vast two-volume coffee table book about left-handed guitarists

I spotted a copy of John Engel's book Uncommon Sound in Andys on Denmark Street, and couldn't believe it: two volumes, 19lbs, 920 pages, 2,500 photos. Entirely about left-handed guitarists. Unfortunately, I didn't have £140 ($299) to spare, and - being right-handed - I felt slightly opressed by the whole thing...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RozzoBianca is the best all-robot band yet

RozzoBianca is a Swiss "Robotical Freak Show" - a band with 4 different robots playing guitar, drums, megaphone and accordion made out of old industrial parts, controlled by MIDI, plus a singing skeleton. All RozzoBianca's videos are worth watching. This one has a great performance by the robotic megaphone, and a particularly scary bit from the drummer, Fredy Fantastico, who is way cooler than PEART, or even Yellow Drum Machine. More robot action. (Thanks, George)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gah! Someone just gave away a Yamaha CS-80 and a Minimoog on Freecycle London

This could be a wind up, but it has a terrible ring of truth to it...

"Offered. NW London music equipment (old but good) + other 80's stuff I am moving across the pond shortly, therefore need to get rid of quite a bit of equipment suitable for budding musicans who do not mind if the stuff is quite old. I'm not too sure if anyone wants this antiqueted stuff... quite bashed yamaha CS-80 (though in need of a bit of restoration it works)minimoog, which seems better preserved, a full size cello case... " (Thanks, Tim)

How good is your 'visual music intelligence'?

Remember Jake Mandell, the musician, medical student and Flash developer who created the Am I Tone Deaf? test? He's back with a new test to see how well you can relate sounds to shapes: "It attempts to measure one's ability to associate musical phrases with abstract shapes and symbols." Incredibly, I got 93%. How about you?
Since the Tone Deaf test, Jake has also done an Adaptive Pitch Test, and a Rhythm Test, which really tests musical memory - my sense of rhythm is abysmal, and I still got 83%. (Picture: Rodolfo Chikilicuatre)

Tag galaxy: a great way to waste a few hours

Bored? Go to Tag Galaxy, type in 'synthesizer' and wonder at the bonkers-ness of it all. For a better use of your time, read Chris's post about downloading raw NASA telemetry data and turning it into music.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

URGENT: Dutch music geeks Steim need your help

Steim is the Amsterdam-based electronic music lab best known around here for inventing the Cracklebox. They've done a great deal more - lots of work on experimental interfaces, touch, gesture etc. And now, Steim is in trouble: "Things are not well at STEIM. We are in the danger of losing our structural funding from the government, based on a review from the advisor board which called us 'closed and only appealing to a niche audience'. The outlook isn't exactly bleak, but at the moment our future is unclear."

If you're part of the 'niche audience' for Steim (i.e. you enjoy doing interesting musical things with electricity) then please click here and spend two minutes filling out an email form to write a letter to the Dutch government. Thanks! (Image via Mikest)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The 100 most clichéd clichés in pop song titles

Andy Baio has been writing about The Whitburn Project - a vast spreadsheet with data about the 37,000 songs that have been hits on the Billboard Chart since 1890. Those 37,000 song titles use a vocabulary of fewer than 9,000 different words, and here are the top hundred most frequently used:

ain't alone angel arms around away baby bad beautiful believe blue boy change christmas comes crazy cry dance days dear dream ever everybody everything eyes fall feel fire fool forever girl gone gonna goodbye happy heart heaven hey hold kiss la lady leave life light lonely love lover mama man mind mine miss moon moonlight morning mr music night nobody oh people play please rain red remember river rock roll rose sing smile somebody something song soul star stay stop street summer sun sweet sweetheart talk tears theme things think tonight town true walk wanna wish woman wonderful world young
created at

The Music Vest: Awesome sound for when you're just hanging around

Via Boing Boing Gadgets.

Amazing collection of old Fairlight demo tapes

Fairlight inventor Peter Vogel (who owns the domain name has posted a huge archive of audio clips - demo tapes, interviews and strange things sent in by users. If you're a historian of naff sounds and clunky drum programming, you'll be in heaven. There are a few strange delights, like a bizarre section recorded by David Vorhaus, friend of Delia Derbyshire and the man who recorded Orch 4, the most famous preset ever. (Picture: Ulrich Rutzel at the Fairlight) (Via DVDBorn)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Very quick BC16 demo video

OK. Next, I'm going to post about something else... Sound on this clip of the Chimera BC16 is just edited clips of five minutes of fairly random fiddling about - direct from the synth into a line input, with just a bit of compression. More Chimera BC16 bits...

Next up: The Chimera SM16 cute, patchable sequencer

With the BC16 mini synth shipping (probably - has anyone else got one?) here are the first pictures of the follow up - Chimera's SM16 sequencer, taken from a PDF factsheet on the Chimera Synthesis site. It has a tonne of features - CV & Midi outs, 16 steps or 2x8 steps, Midi sync/control. And it looks great. It certainly didn't ship on 31st March, as the PDF claims, but it should ship sometime, and it's £136. It would be nice if Chimera could deliver existing orders rather than developing new products... although, when I met him, Ben also told me more about the ph303 bassline synth, which has the most bonkers-sounding hardware interface I've ever heard of - not just knobs in a funny shape, but something completely different. Lets hope it appears sometime.

Will EMS be properly back in business soon? (Hope so!)

One of the most tantalising websites in the world is ems-synthi. It's the official page of EMS, the company co-founded by Tristram Cary, makers of the VCS3, and - at the very least - the British Moog. Anyway, that page is tantalising because it says "Original Synthi As, VCS3s and Vocoders are still in production", and offers a price list quoting £1800 for a brand new VCS3. Unfortunately, it also says "Last updated: 8th August 1998". I've never heard of anyone actually buying one. Now I've got a mail from Chris: "You might be interested to know I had an email from Robin at EMS. I was after a vocoder and wanted to know if he still had any lying around. He said that EMS has lain dormant for the past 6 years but that he was considering getting things going again and that email inquiries like mine served to propel things along a bit. I for one would love it if they started churning out the old gear again. He's a way off yet but I will keep you posted." Robin is Robin Wood, who was recruited to EMS as back in the late '60s and has been with the company ever since. Those prices are very unlikely to stick, given that - for starters - VCS3-style pin matrixes are made in Switzerland and cost around £300 each wholesale...

Then there's EMS Rehberg, a German spin-off founded by Ludwig Rehberg, who assisted with the Synthi AKS on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. EMS Rehberg sell the Virtual Synthi for €350, but also claim they can make a new/reconditioned Synthi 100 for €55,000.

The full story of the decline and fall of EMS is told in this wonderful piece by Gordon Reid from Sound on Sound. (Image via Easement)

Monday, May 19, 2008

How to fit a flash memory reader to your elderly sampler

If you're still using an old sampler (from an MPC60 to an Ensoniq EPS to an EMU Emax) and wrestling with floppies or zip drives, you might want this: The MCDISK-2 is a $110 external flash drive that plugs into your SCSI interface and is reliable and completely silent. More than this actual product, it's great that companies like SCSI for Samplers exist to support and develop machines that were long since abandoned by their manufacturers...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Wow. A Chimera BC16 has arrived.

Ben from Chimera Synthesis just popped round with one of the first production batch of BC16 mini synths. I'll write more in a few days, but first thoughts: It looks incredible. It's tiny (exactly the same size as a CD) and heavy, made from three slices of computer-carved white plexiglass bolted together with 7 hex bolts. It feels extremely robust (the patch leads are as sturdy as any tiny silicone cable with gold-plated plugs on each end can be). It excels at making VCS3-style strange noises. This isn't a bedroom operation with one guy and a soldering iron - these things are made (by machine and hand) in a factory. There have been lots of delays in shipping the first batches, and many unhappy early buyers still waiting. If they get that sorted out and these things are reliable, then I'd be hard pressed to think of a better way for a music geek to spend £136. More: My Chimera BC16 pics on Flickr, and previously on Music Thing.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dude wires his own muscles into an analog synth circuit

Cameron writes: "I've been working on a bit of DIY I think you'll find interesting; I built a little analog amp/feedback system and I'm using electrodes attached to my forearms to control the thing. The feedback path runs through my body and creates the oscillations you hear. It sounds a bit like a theremin but I would say it already has a broader sound palette, though keeping it under control can prove to be a challenge." My favourite line from the video: "Immediately, you will hear the sounds of my muscles." So. Is this BS, old science, or something new?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Boring survey: Is Music Thing working OK technically?

Keith writes: "Hi, I've been reading your blog for years now and took a break from the internet for about 10-12 months. I'm back on and I noticed you've redesigned the page but it loads really slow and crashes Internet Explorer for me every time. Firefox loads it fine but, again, really slowly."


Based on the first handful of results, just over 10% are complaining of slow loading. I've cut the number of posts on the homepage from 20 to 10. Might also move that huge Google map. A couple of people asked whether the ads make any money. The Google ones make a bit (about £4k a year, hopefully) but the others are struggling to pay their way, so I'll look again at them. Thanks, by the way, for all the compliments.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Squarewave Parade: Fine boutique gear you can actually buy

I'm always talking about my name and citysake Tom Bugs, but his cool stuff always sells out within hours of being announced. Meanwhile, Squarewave Parade have a shop full of cool-looking things, like the Safeplace - a $59 handmade metal shaker with a contact mic inside it and a tone control on the outside, the Mole - a $229 filter based on the MS20, Downgrade - an analog pseudo bit reducer and Parade - a $44 kit with a circuit board and various pots, which is six squarewave oscillators to tweak together.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chimera BC-16: First video of tiny, cute, round modular synth

Here's the first clip of the Chimera BC-16 mini synth in action (covered previously). The synth messageboards have been all over the BC-16, starting with "this is awesome", moving on to "I've ordered mine", then "It hasn't arrived yet", then "It's a hoax" and finally "It's a scam." I don't see any reason to think it's a scam (I can think of about a million easier scams that don't involve designing a tiny circular modular synths) but they're obviously having a hard time meeting customer orders. Still, after seeing this video, I just ordered one myself for £136. Lets see if it turns up...

Monday, May 5, 2008

My Clari-Fi magic box arrived. What do you want to know about it?

Remember Clari-Fi? The $50 passive gadget which makes lots of big claims about improving the sound of MP3? Despite my scepticism, the inventor has kindly sent me one to try. Before I get to cracking it open and posting pictures of the guts, what experiments would you like me to perform?
My initial thoughts after five minutes of listening via those fancy Sony PFR-V1 headphones:

1. Quality control = fail. My one has a loose connection so one channel cuts out unless you hold the wire in.

2. It's certainly cutting off a bit of top end, but much more subtly than the 'treble reducer' EQ preset on the ipod. I also felt I was getting a rather different midrange but I have ears of clay and wool, so who knows?

3. I feel I can hear a bit of distortion at high levels - fairly warm, soft distortion that isn't there when the module is absent. The module cuts a lot of volume (maybe 10% of the travel of the iPod volume control), so that could account for this. It certainly overdrives when placed after the headphone booster that comes with the PFR-V1s, but that's probably not a fair test.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Pod: Community Techno Unit

This clip left me laughing so much I was almost unable to breathe at work today. It's Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh, in The Pod, a short-lived series from a few years back: "The Pod are a late eighties electronic dance outfit trying to cope with the mid nineties post rave come down." There's a lot more goodness on YouTube, including Techno is not a Joke, a three part animated series, and this bizarre interview with Donna Air. (Thanks Michael)

Jomox T-Resonator: Knobs + analog filters + digital delay + feedback = fun?

This is the new thing from German boutique gear maker Jürgen Michaelis, the Jomox T-Resonator. As a fan of knobs, feedback, delay and filters, I'm quite intrigued, and I love the bonkers-ness of the diagrams all over the case. Some of the sound samples are great (like this one) although judging from Big City Music's video demo, it's pretty hard to control (this clip is a bit more musical). Anyone tried one yet? They're £200 from Thomann, $399 from Analog Haven.
UPDATE: Here's a much better video from Big City Music, via Matrix.

Help find all the surviving music gear shops in the world

View the map at Google (it's much easier than scrolling round this little
window. Zoom right in - there are loads more spots than in this view)

The most common question asked by Music Thing readers is "I'm visiting London/Tokyo/Doncaster. Can you tell me if there are any good music gear shops?" With the recent demise of Sound Control it's increasingly hard to find real-world shops where you can see and play with music gear, let alone see vintage or boutique stuff. So, here's an editable Google Map. I've started by plotting a (very) few shops around the world - just tiny placeholders, because I haven't been to most of these shops.
How to get edit the map yourself: Click to the Music Gear Shops map. If you're logged into a Google account, you should be able to click 'EDIT' and change text, add new points, add pictures, links etc (remember to hit 'Save'!). The 'Edit Rich Text' option lets you add pictures, enliven links etc. Let me know at Music Thing Tips if you have trouble, or add something particularly cool.
UPDATE: 150 entries in the first 12 hours - wow!

Very pleasing video of five metronomes syncing together

Man takes five metronomes ticking randomly. Puts them on a slightly mobile plank held on two tin cans. Metronomes run in sync. Magic. Now I'd like to see someone really mess up György Ligeti's Poème Symphonique For 100 Metronomes... (via Kottke)