Man Cave Review: Roland Clown

I have to admit some bias – that I have already paid for some of these ‘plug outs’ – both hard and software, and am seriously annoyed to have to rent (‘rent’ is such an ugly word when ‘subscribe’ sounds so charming) them again to be able to have the others. I acknowledge that Roland have some vague offer in mind for people that have helped them in this way, but it’s been long coming ‘soon’.

Like Adobe, Roland have found that holding their customers by the balls is rather warm and comfy – not for the customer mind you. And like Adobe, Roland’s cloud has some great stuff mixed with wiffy leftovers, and you can’t pick and choose. It obviously can’t compare to Arturia’s collection, which ranges across a wide swath of manufacturers, and even KORG’s small collection has more sonic variety, because KORG. I don’t know how hard things are for Roland at the moment, surely accordion sales are evergreen – but let it pass, we should talk about the software.

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Start with the good – By far the best deal in the box is the D50. It’s such a odd machine when you try program it yourself, but the people that made the original patches included here did an excellent job. The sounds are varied and useful, they complement the analogue sounds so popular at the moment. Yes, it’s ‘legendary’ but it’s also useful and you will use it. It comes with a reproduction of the original programmer which is a pity, that was a confused monster which was later improved upon by third parties. I would buy this.

Great disappointment that the JV1080 is CPU crazy, and unusable. From the moment you load it, the CPU meter surges up to 100 and bangs against it like a bird trapped in a house. It’s a ROMpler – why on earth does it need more CPU than the virtual analogues? Was the wiring in the JV that crucial? Same goes for the derivative SRX plugins – they aren’t optimised yet. I own a XV5080 and it’s a wonderful machine once you understand the way it thinks – just go the whole hog and give us an Integra-7. That’d be instantly worth the rent.

You’d think that the JUPITER-8 would be the one with the CPU problems, but it’s fine. I guess Roland has had to make it work in their little boutique boxes. I set it up next to Arturia’s JUP-8. Only this has original factory sounds so there’s much fluffing required to compare them – I found that the JUPITER was generally louder and more modulated/lively than the JUP, but with adjustment they were close. Other virtual analogues like the SH101 are much the same – where I know them, they’re spot-on, where I don’t, they seem spot-on.

I don’t really get some of the choices here – a software PRO-MARS doesn’t offer that much over other mono-synths and the SH2 is as dull as ditch water. The JUNO-106 is fair enough I guess, but the JX-3P was originally designed for people who didn’t care much for synthesisers, and it has maintained that distinction since. A collection should be based on sonic versatility, that each component has a virtue not covered by the others. The Roland ‘sound’ is here, repeatedly, and you’ll end up using only a few of these instruments for actual music.

I almost forgot to mention the TR808 and TR909. They’re fine. They sound like the old drum boxes, as do a thousand other replicas out there.

Back to me – and I did admit bias up front – the legendary thing is not working, because the SYSTEM-8 does all that stuff quite well thank you – as does alternatives like U-He DIVA. The D-50 is sonically different, as are the JV series. But how many things Roland actually sound different? They’re trying to sell breadth, where breadth isn’t their strong point. If I was running things, ASAP get the damn CPU under control, but try to get some un-legendary things like the V-Synth and Integra-7 in the mix so that everything in the box isn’t a different coloured spork.

Further lessons from magical kingdoms

In which we draw some technical conclusions.

Sanity Clause.

Before going deeper it’s worth a sanity check, in that the finances of our test subjects are beyond our reckoning. The rides described here cost around $100 million to create – and a whole land such as Universal’s Harry Potter is estimated at half a billion. What can we small makers learn from their construction?

Your short film is not going to be Star Wars – but the expensive failure of the latest Star Wars film Solo is lesson that resonates with any level of storytelling*. The successes and failures of giants still provide lessons for the rest of us.

3D video isn’t viable.

There’s a period from around 2010 to 2016 where Universal used 3D technology on rides such Transformers and the Simpsons – around the same time that cinema took on the format. The obvious Great Disappointment comes in 2016 when the Harry Potter ride was upgraded to remove 3D projection. Notably the more recent DreamWorks Theatre uses no 3D.

Meh

Meh… too dark

The reasons are familiar to any 3D cinema goer – I found the 3D glasses to be clumsy, dirty and to cut out light, making for a dark and distant experience. Instead Potter and DreamWorks use HD screens that wrap around your field of view, and frankly you don’t notice the missing depth.

http://www.leparcorama.com/2013/04/20/wizarding-world-of-harry-potter-and-the-forbidden-journey-universal-orlando-islands-of-adventure/harry-potter-and-the-forbidden-journey-fully-exposed-4/

Taken from http://www.leparcorama.com here is the Harry Potter ride, giant screens at the left and giant robot arm at right. Look at the curvature on that telly.

Seeing as we’re working on a smaller scale this brings up the question, which I think has moved from “is VR failing?” to “in what way is VR failing?” The parks are finding that glasses are not as effective as real world set building, and VR helmets are even less appealing. Notably Google is moving into something called “VR180” on the basis that almost no one actually looks behind them. It can be experienced on a helmet but will probably end up being a domestic ‘very wide screen’ projection system. This would represent an enormous retreat from the all-seeing 360 eye of VR.

And so they mix video and physical sets.

The latest rides use flat or curved video framed in built sets. No one believes that the video is actually part of the set, but so long as the two are designed to collaborate on story, the effect is accepted. Projection mapping is definitely a key skill as is set design.

Wall panels with video screens placed at the top. You can see at the top left a screen pretending to be one of the panels below.

But motion beats just about anything.

When you are being thrown around by large forces you’re immersed. In fact, some of the rides – Guardians of the Galaxy, The Mummy, and to a certain extent Space Mountain, rely on absence of visual cues. Motion simulators and motorised theatre seating is a proven and effective way to grab people, and no wonder some cinemas, even in Australia, are installing 4DX technology for feature films.

This is terrible news for the small designer, who’s unlikely to have access to this kind of effect. No matter how effective a VR headset may be, it can’t compete with motors. I can imagine some technology that would talk directly to your vestibular system, but not this year or the next.

Cheer Up: That we enjoy so many films without physical effects just comes back to the fundamentals – make us care and we’ll watch.

Except sound. Sound everywhere.

Sound is never neglected by the big players. The usual rig involves multiple speakers positioned on a ride car to provide a surround image for the riders. The sound stage for King Kong 3d uses a 22-channel mix, delivered on 16-speaker ‘clusters’ spaced along the stage. Disney places multiple speakers, as much as one per sound, so that they remain invisible to the audience.

Speaker arrays are beyond the reach of most small practitioners, but ambisonics has reached mainstream DAWs in 2018, and every sound designer now has the ability to produce a 3rd order image that can be subsequently mapped to speaker arrays if and when a specific project becomes available.

Haunted Houses.

Most of our vacation was spent being chased by scare actors in Halloween Horror Nights. Definitely something for a select audience, but something that could be expanded into a wider entertainment format.

Not so spooky in the daytime, but you can see the set building.

Not so spooky in the daytime, but you can better see the set building.

HHN includes a set of physical mazes, each about the same size as a small house, ground floor only. A queue of people goes in the front, weaving their way around in near darkness. Some parts of the house open up into wider rooms with set pieces – for example some sequential scenes from the old Poltergeist movie. The corridors are filled with hidden openings out of which pop scare actors, people in costume that pretend to stab or grab you as you go by. The noise level is intense – the Stranger Things house sounded like a plane taking off.

But a couple of things stop these from being scary. Most of all you’re one of hundreds of people flowing through these mazes at fast pace. The constant flow of people means you’re never in a state of apprehension, as tension is rarely allowed to build. If there’s a girl that screams in front of you, every scare actor will go for them and hide again by the time you get there. Lack of room means that the actors can only make repeated motions, although some of the better mazes had enough space for variation (the Universal Monsters maze was best for this).

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There are also scare zones in which the attacks are more free form and creative. They work better because the actors have creative freedom, but are harder to define and market. I think these are models for something new where a ‘swarm’ of characters gather you up into events, the way that massive online gaming works. And yes, I have no idea how you would do this. Yet.

* Don’t extend your population of characters so far that you need an encyclopedia. There’s only so much care to share.

Narrative, Media Art and Donald Duck

In which I go looking in Halloween USA for the pumpkin spice of contemporary media art, and find that interaction design is better done with personalities than push-buttons.

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I’m in Los Angeles. Touristing, but following the hunch that contemporary media art is best studied from leading commercial practitioners than any academic project. That is, if I want to observe the cutting edge, I’m better off at Disneyland than Carnegie Mellon.

A commercial entity has no excuses – it has to study, set and hit strongly defined goals. If an audience doesn’t respond to the work, it gets fixed or folded. There is constant war between companies to seize the state of the art. If one creates the leading experience, the others are in quick pursuit. But by itself technology is not the key to their success, and I am keen to understand the storytelling design that underlies the best work.

(There are of course ‘living museums’ – that understand the join between the two worlds. They are also inspiring sources).

I’ve no illusion that I can produce anything that compares, but I’d rather fall short of the target than the periphery. I’m keen to understand commercial ‘360 degree’ media design – experiences, movies, rides, and merchandise, so I’ve been studying the two most successful theme parks (by audience) operated by Disney and Universal.

The full essay would be much longer than you’d bother to read here, so let me just provide an executive summary and some points.

In the best case, the narrative rules for storytelling hold true for 360 experience – people care for, and identify with a hero or group of heroes, they prefer a narrative that conveys learning and morals. I believe that the centre of any interactive media is the character (rather than e.g. the mechanics of interaction). This is why e.g. it’s called Harry Potter’s Wizarding World – immersion involves identification with a person or persons, in a world that is formed to illustrate their personal journey.

The audience does not care for interaction without meaning – it must be in the context of the narrative and world. And this Interaction must involve the same cascading levels of jeopardy as set out in a linear narrative.

The Narrative Arc is across all outcomes

I always come back to the standard lead line: somebody, somewhere, wants something. They discover a gift, which then involves them in conflict. In overcoming an antagonist, win or lose, they gain insight and are uplifted beyond the power of the gift. This progression is obvious in movies – but it is found in roller coasters as well.

In all the cases I’ve seen in LA, the movie (incorporating book, play, TV series) is the first outcome but there are alternate cases such as the game Five Nights At Freddies. In creating the movie, the designers necessarily come up with the elements that serve all the other formats.

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Is this a hero? Or scenery?

There is a someone who wants something. The hero. What do they look like? What’s their past? What do they want? What instead do they need? Harry Potter is 11 years old, an orphan, treated like a slave – copied from Cinderella (which addresses the same teen yearnings) he will be given a gift – with consequences. When the battle starts, hubris may bring him down. The character is crafted with a back story, desires and motives, a physicality, emotional weakness and so on.

The Character is the store of narrative ‘reality’, and includes at least

  • motivations (goals, back story etc.)
  • limitations (lack of insight, point where their risk-taking tips into failure)
  • embodiment (colours, physical attributes, clothing, etc.)
  • totemic items (things that illustrate the gift)

By defining the motives and limits of the hero and villain, the plot will mostly write itself. A movie follows a segment of the inevitable action up to the moral outcome set in a third act, after which a sequel will hopefully be required. The experiences are endless, a perpetual storytelling.

Harry Potter land

Harry Potter land. Bring your haptic controller, pardon me, magic wand.

This action needs a somewhere, and I’d argue that it too is generated when the characters are properly defined. In film these are generally called worlds. The theme parks I’m visiting are divided into lands, each being a confined sub-area in which the features are strictly designed to appear part of a world. Examples include Disney’s Fantasyland, Pixar Pier, and Universal’s Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, and Springfield. Usually there is a gate to each land, or at least a bend in the road that obscures one land from others.

(It’s reminiscent of computer game design, with walled levels, NPC’s, collectable weapons etc., and tempting to think that RPG gaming inspired this physical immersion. But the theme parks are much older than gaming – Disney derived his park in the mid 1950’s from older European parks he saw on his own study tour. Instead parks and games have common requirements and have cross pollinated.)

(When Disney broke these rules in Disney California Adventure, they suffered badly. The changes made since that ill-fated opening illustrate the point being made here).

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My hunch is that the tale of Nemo requires an ocean in which to be lost, and Toad requires a shiny automobile. Or, more accurately, the attributes of the character, such as Toad’s vanity and privilege, demand a situation in which they can be presented as a morality play. Design questions are answered by asking ‘what can, and would the character do in this situation, given their motives and failings?’

Rides

The Incredicoaster is the latest part of DCA to be reformed from the disastrous ‘mock California’ launch. It now has a story line based around the physical abilities of the Incredibles characters, expressed as movements of the coaster through chapters, defined by figures placed in tunnels on the track. The ride is narrated by speakers built into each seat, presenting a moral about the family working together. Notably the ride itself is not made longer or faster than before – it has instead been improved with an arc.

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The scream tubes first enforced to reduce noise pollution were made even longer to add in the narrative elements.

Jeopardy points in the story-line become the (apparent) jeopardy in the adult rides. For example, in Universal’s The Mummy a tussle between good and evil is enacted by throwing of the riders into a dark abyss filled with scarabs by the god Imhotep, from which they are retrieved (backwards!). Splash Mountain, Forbidden Journey, even The Simpsons Ride – all are narratives where a machine shakes emotion into the story. Some of the small children rides like Snow White’s Scary Adventures are obviously also narrative, while the carousel doesn’t seem to suggest any at all.

I also couldn’t see the jeopardy expressed in most of the lands, where the audience is free to wander. Perhaps events like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights are the start of something, which could be expanded outside of the horror genre.

The last point I can fit here, and one that still puzzles me, is about totems. The bears, mice, dogs and whatever-the-hell Goofy is supposed to be are all well within the long tradition of fables. Rabbits have been heroes all the way back to Africa, so that’s well documented. I wonder if the modern cartoon character – Minions for example – are the same psychological device and I think, yes, we have now adopted machines as we once did creatures.

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The second question is about totemic objects or ‘merch’ – the hats, t-shirts, lanyards, plushies etc. that bulge throughout every land. Are these simply souvenirs, or do they bring identification with the hero, or some more complex process? And what is their role when used inside the land, such as the wands used in Harry Potter than are actually haptic controllers for various ‘magical’ events?

Still a lot more to think about.

Man Cave: Sampler Battles – HALion meets Kontakt

I recently wrote about sampling, and the joys of not losing hardware in a seething pit of wires. That leads to a discussion about whether hardware is really worth it, but that’ll come when my flame-proof pants arrive from eBay. For now, let’s question an assumption I made – about Kontakt.

Good Olde Kontakt

Kontakt is the default software sampler. If you buy samples it’ll come as Kontakt for sure, occasionally with a dog bone for the Reason and Logic people. In a way it’s good that there’s some kind of standard, but it’s not an open or versatile one. I hoped SFZ would be the one, but Alchemy went Apple-Embrace-Expand-Extinguish. Kontakt is a good sampler, but that’s about it. No great innovation has taken place in a while and others are trying ideas that NI seems to have abandoned

Due to secret men’s business I have the opportunity to review some Steinberg products. Today I want to look at the strangely capitalized HALion 6. We will see it’s not just a sampler, but more akin to a workstation such as the Yamaha Motif.

Bear with me

Rather than provide various ‘zooms’ of interface (such as Alchemy) there are three different versions of the software:

  • Daddy Bear – the full HALion, which makes new programs. If you’re a big tough electronic dude like me, you get this one.
  • Mummy Bear – HALion Sonic which can play back programs from a rather large library of Yamaha sounds and synthesisers.
  • Baby Bear – HALion SE which is free, comes with no libraries at all, but can still play programs, some of which you can get for free.

Straight away I must try to explain the terminology. A program is a virtual instrument based on the HALion engine, which may have a macro GUI, and up to 4 layers in which multiple zones can be placed. Try as I might I still get layers and zones muddled. The easy way to think about it is a layer is a split on the keyboard – bass down the bottom, piano up top. Or different articulations of a single instrument. A zone is like a single sample spread across pitches, but each can be an entirely different synthesis type. Middle C could be a virtual synthesiser, A# a wavetable.

HALion6-large

A simple program might have a layer with sampled piano. A complex program might have a GUI resembling a Blofeld, driving two layers of wavetable synthesis combined with a layer of virtual analogue synthesis, all passed through effects. You may have 32 programs running through the mixer in stereo or 5.1. There is a complex system for natural musical phrases and arpeggios, but a host sequencer is still needed.

A HALion owner can sell their work to HALion SE owners without royalties to Steinberg. A program provides all aspects of the HALion engine to any version – loading samples, wavetables, virtual analogue etc. It’s a bit like Reaktor or SynthEdit but based around the paradigm of sampling.

The price of great flexibility is great complexity. You have to move back and forward between multiple windows which show the program at different magnifications – a sample waveform here, a stack of layers there. It’s rarely skeuomorphic, sometimes tending to the look of a database. Never quite as confounding as Reaktor but not for the casual user.

Layers and zones

Most of the time you’ll just drag and drop a sample onto a layer, creating a sample zone, and get to work. Unusually, you can also sample sounds directly into HALion. Otherwise you can create new empty zones – a 3 oscillator virtual analogue, or drawbar organ, wavetable, granular, or sample. You can convert a sample over to a wavetable or granular sample. I didn’t find the wavetable conversion to work especially well for anything but simple waveforms. Being spoiled by Alchemy, I would really like to see an additive synthesis mode someday. The granular mode works fine, but not at the default settings – you will always need to fiddle to get a good result. The VA does a pretty good MOOG thingy. I’m not that interested in organs.

An Achilles file format

One thing I like about Kontakt is that it can be made to save monolith files – all the samples, compressed with all the settings bundled into one. That’s a killer advantage when you have multiple drives, 1000’s of samples and only hell knows where that one disappeared. But a monolith file takes your sounds behind a proprietary wall, locked away from any other software.

Here’s the problem – I have difficulty in explaining the way HALion saves files. Like most samplers, by default it saves a pointer to existing audio files unless told otherwise. It can also be asked to collect samples into a new folder structure. But the equivalent to a monolith is a complex business – a VST sound container is something that bundles everything from the macro GUI to the samples, that must be registered with the MediaBay and located in a library which can only be moved about by a library manager – it’s daunting to the new user. You could argue that it’s good shared studio practice, especially so that users of the smaller Halion Sonic can load up sounds. But it’s not an inviting part of music composition. Given the problem of accessing sounds from multiple hosts most people will just keep the samples where they are and pray that none go missing.

The Verdict

Unless you are a dedicated sound designer, you probably should stick with Kontakt, which does what it does and no more. Then, if you admire the extensive Yamaha library or the Motif, you can go for HALion Sonic. But if you have dreams of being a sound designer, and given that HALion SE is free to all, you could master the full HALion and come up with some impressive synthesisers that others may buy.

I’m really torn between having a Fantom style instrument and my existing neat and tidy Kontakt monoliths. Sadly I think the moment I start actually making music the latter will win.

Barbara rUFO

For the last 12 years, every four years, I have made music about a mythical place called Barbara Island. This year sees the fourth and last chapter, titled Barbara rUFO, and I would like to tell the whole story of how it came to be, and why it finishes in 2018. This is a longish story, but don’t worry I’ll keep it tight.

We could start late in the last century, when I found two painted wheat bags on a telegraph pole outside my house. One of them looks like this:

AlanPhilp1

At the time 2018 seemed a long long time away. But time speeds up.

Over Barbara Island

In 2006 the National Art School held a fund raiser. I was asked to contribute a live performance, and I said yes. The school is housed in a very old prison with small stone cells, but the show was to be held outside. As it was winter, they would supply tiki lamps. I thought ‘tiki lamps!’ and started to make something a little Martin Denny and a bit stormy. As it turned out the night was very stormy itself, and the show had to be held in a small jail cell. Not very exotic.

At the time I was making what was to be the last Severed Heads album, called Under Gail Succubus. This was a silly band name I had come up with years before – I always thought it worth using someday. I added the live show to the main album as a bonus, and thought it would fun to call it Over Barbara Island. And so – Gail and Barbara.

It was the last full Heads album (although many years later some shorter special projects went out under that name). In 2008, the band was lowered into a grave.

A funny side note is that a local agency tried adapting some of Barbara for a Coca-Cola advert. Three attempts did not get run-it-up-the-flagpole, and so sadly Things did not Go Better With Barbara.

Return to Barbara Island

In 2010 the body was exhumed for the Sydney Festival, and as a consequence I was asked to perform at another charitable event – this time for Rainforest Rescue. Again, yes, and again it seemed a good time for palm trees. This event was more bumpy bumpy and so Return to Barbara Island is a lot more streamlined that the volumes before or after. I made videos for each track, but the screen was a gaggle of hexagons and so no one really saw what I was showing. And like the previous event I don’t think there was too much benefit for the Rainforest, but I got an album out of it.

Around this time I wondered of there really is a Barbara Island, and there is. It’s very cold, but maybe not forever.

Barbara Channel Three

In 2013 Severed Heads played the Adelaide festival. We were both dead and alive, an echo, and I was desperately trying to come up with new material with which to move on. But being a full time academic, delivering a computer game for the festival, and being carer for an invalid spouse I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t going to happen in time.

It was 2014 before this material came together, and here was the four year cycle demanding that it be obeyed. So it was to be Barbara again. Channel Three refers to radio and there are many radiophonic touches – but much of what appears to be shortwave is actually synthesisers. I’d regained a hardware sound studio, including some of the gear I had owned back in the 1970’s, so there’s some familiar old sounds in there. But to buy the gear I needed the job that meant I never had time to use the gear.

When the UK magazine The Wire requested some music from ‘Severed Heads’ it was a horrible dilemma – this was me, Tom, not Severed Heads. But without the old name there was no interest. I had to supply them with some of Barbara, which mean ‘moving on’ was yet again defeated.

This is around when I pulled out my wheat bag with the UFO message. 2018 was four years away, and it dawned on me that there must be a Barbara FOUr, actually a Barbara rUFO in this year. I needed to go back to the wheat bags.

Barbara rUFO

By now I knew of the UFO Man, Alan Philp. I had seen him standing out in the mall, sun hat on and wheat bag around his neck. But by this time he had faded from the collective memory and needed to be brought back. In 2017 Severed Heads toured on an image that recalled his message.

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But it was only in 2018 I found his image on a older blog site. This is Mr. Philp.

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We must respect the message that he gave us for decades. When the UFO comes this year, what will it want? Will be a handshake or a spanking? Will we end up gods, or meat Popsicles? This is what Barbara will tell us I hope.

Since 2014 I have become successfully underemployed, the band continues, the bad times that ran through all the previous chapters have faded away. I have just finished Barbara rUFO today. It is the last Barbara, and perhaps, UFO willing, the last normal album I do. It is time for change.

I hope you will like it, but please also hear the earlier chapters, they do not cost. I will let you know when the UFO lands.

White Board

There’s a white board on my wall on which multiple projects are set out. A few are finishing up – the 200 Aversion2 rat boxes are sent out, with a few still in doubt and replacements in progress. Some are items already promised – the last of the Barbara Island albums Barbara rUFO is here under the heading of LEGACY, along with a note that I spoke with Stephen R Jones about fresh copies of the old videos for YouTube. Some are new constructions, such as ‘Server360’ which I hope to evidence soon. But others are blue-sky-bullshit ideas – still just diagrams in notebooks. It’s these that have me hiding the white board from you, but as silence can seem like death, I want to give some kind of limited update.

(Plus, right now the house is under repair and there’s wood, bricks and rubble everywhere -– any work at all is a trial. At least the chance of sudden building collapse is being addressed).

Let me give a general outline of some of the projects.

One is called ‘Offog’ for reasons that once were obscure, but not now that Google is your friend owner. We’ve made quite a few small and inexpensive musical objects – starting with Blubberknife in 1982 and most recently with Aversion2. Following your feedback, we will attempt something more exuberant, exquisite, and expensive for a very few discerning customers. Something with bragging rights, made more valuable over time through the extra quality. A signal that we care enough about our work to take risks.

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This is not it.

We have some cool ideas competing for ‘Offog’. One is a more portable version of the Home Clavilux made by Paul Greedy and myself in 2013. That’s worth thousands of dollars – but what can be made for $50-$100? The touch surface computer alone was over a grand, but computers have become very small and very cheap.

‘Pretzel’ and ‘Las Vegas’ are entwined. I must stay vague – but I can point you at my previous game landscape albums – ‘HH’ and ‘Snowglobe’ (now combined as ‘Super Snowglobe’ as part of the experimentation). These are not so much games as virtual walking narratives, in which the participant is a sonic protagonist. I now move from making ‘built environments’ to ‘stages’ – which is more honest (does not claim an entire world), a smaller canvas, more strictly designed and controlled. Stages are not narrative landscapes with sounds here and there – they are strong visual frames for particular musical works.

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‘Pretzel’ will engage one person at a time, whereas ‘Las Vegas’ is a more ambitious system to entertain a large audience in many places at once. Their architectures should cross over, I hope, to keep the labour under control. Later this year we’re off to the USA to experience/document some of the leading theme parks – where I believe the state-of-the-art in staging, media production and presentation will be found. I think there is more to learn from Disney Labs than any traditional academic source.

‘Server360’ is not a complex idea. It follows up the Sevcom Music Server series of 1998 – 2004 but adds 360˚ sound reproduction. Although I’ve released experiments with ambisonic versions of our pop tunes, this kind of slow moving ‘textural’ music lends itself better to positional design. In an age where most people wear headphones, and quite often the same type of Apple bud headphones, there’s some certainty that you can deliver consistent ambisonic sound to a wide audience, and I feel this will eventually be a common feature. Both ‘Las Vegas’ and ‘Pretzel’ will feature 360˚ sound, and so this is a side mission to improve my craftsmanship for these larger projects.

You’ll notice that none of these things are standard albums. Like I’ve said in the past – I am not some sort of hyper-chicken laying out endless albums like eggs. Three albums – Aversion, Publicist and Barbara rUFO are supposed to tide us over for the long term. You could always listen to them twice! I also recommend the last Severed Heads albums – Beautiful Arabic Surface and Donut. There’s no use by date!

Man Cave: The Arturia Strikes Back

IN our last installment of the Arturia franchise, the once diminutive Smurf village took on a certain virility, which having been mentioned allows us to enjoy this image all over again.

The 6th version of the V Collection doesn’t advance the collection as a whole, at least not in matters that appeal to me, but introduces four new instruments of mixed virility. Two of them remind me of the bad old days of weakling Smurfs. So much so that I’ve waited on the 6.1 update to see if this lethargy has been corrected – it has to some extent, but not to my satisfaction.

Clavinet V sounds like a clavinet. Take the time to blow a party horn once, sadly, and move on.

DX7 V is very exciting at first glance. The original DX7 was such a inscrutable closed fist of a thing that I’m amazed I got anything out of mine. Every software replica is an improvement in that you have increasing hope of rapport with the sound, and I think Arturia have come up with the best interface so far. It would be the bee’s knees – if it could only manage more than piffling polyphony.

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Like the bad old days of the first V Collection, the CPU meter is halfway up the scale before you even play a note. I have a fast i7 machine, other complex tools run fine, Native Instrument’s FM8 runs fine, but DX7 V shits itself with any more than 6 or so notes. Something is trying to emulate the constant buzz/fuzz of the old Yamaha circuitry and it’s really not needed at all. Allow us to turn it off. I know that some accuracy will be lost, but it’s a tool, not an idol.

When it does work it’s a pleasure. The way in which operators are selected, tuned, filtered and modulated are all intuitive and effective. You must like being able to place on a resonant filter on a modulator, along with feedback, otherwise you’re heartless.

The other instrument with the problem is the Buchla Easel V. I see these come up on eBay for stupid amounts of money and I ask myself – why do the same people that complain about the short throw of the System-1 put up with that nasty touch keyboard? Where is the filter? No filter is like having a mouth with no lips. Humph. I don’t get it and I don’t like it, and so when it overloads the CPU I just don’t bother. There’s already Aalto out there, and I guess that’s enough of this sort of thing for me.

Which leads us to the two big ticket items, well big ticket in 1980 something. The Synclavier was the first, the Fairlight CMI 2x was next, both were insanely expensive and both rather laughable in this day and age … or not?

Synclavier V has the advantage of the original programmer leading the project. It was always a synthesiser foremost, and all sampling features have been left out, being a little quaint. Unfortunately that includes the ability to convert a sample via Fourier synthesis. What you get is additive synthesis by frames, plus complex FM modulation. You can find better additive synthesis in Apple’s Alchemy and IL’s Morphine, but the FM is more than a bit special, getting you to complex DX7 like sounds quickly and elegantly. And there are 12, not 4 channels of this which stack up rather nicely into lush space boings. Do you like ooooiiiiimmm-aaaaah-klunk? I do.

The Fairlight was sampler foremost, and inspired a whole chapter of music. Which is all the more impressive when you hear, yet again, how utterly crap the sampling quality was and is. No one in their right mind is going to swap Fairlight V for Kontakt. It’s probably there because you can re-synthesise the audio and get busy with Fairlight V’s own synthesis features. Two main techniques are on offer – a Spectral synth (not in the original machine) which bows through harmonic clusters to make a cool relative of a filter sweep, and the Time synth which moves through additive frames much like the Synclavier V.

What pumps this emulation are the Assigns and Function Generators, which map LFOs, envelopes and controllers to just about any part of the synthesis process, sensible or not. The rather stolid sampler becomes a wonderland of stupid unexpected what-the-fuck as you bend and stretch parts of the sound that we never supposed to do that sort of thing. If you love the Ensoniq ASR, you will love this too. There is hope for Arturia yet, I think they are letting their hair down.

There is also Page R. You may blow your party horn again, forlornly.

Cowardice

This last year I’ve done the things I was never going to do. I’ve abandoned Independence, I’ve abandoned quality, I’ve joined the cold grey mush that passes for online society. I’ve rolled over, four legs in the air and said fine, you win. Have a sniff.

Because when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter a rat’s. It’s not even as if I’ll get abused for it – no one cares that much.

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You can find my last two albums up on YouTube, put there by me. Which is kind of like taking your painting and leaning it against a dumpster. Partly because I kept finding it there anyway, and partly because a lot of people seem to eat out of dumpsters these days. It’s the banquet room of culture for the people who get their McDonalds delivered by Uber Eats.

There’s two ways you could run this thing. You could be completely uncompromising, willing to hang on to the final drop of blood. People like that get remembered long after they’re dead in somebody’s PhD thesis that no-one reads. I was raised on that stuff – the lone artist, the visionary blah blah – truly inspiring to 20th century me, but not that relevant in the 21st century. Horse and buggy heroics.

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And who am I to claim any special virtue? I make some pop music and some cute videos. This is the same disposable media that filled dumpsters since the beginning of sound recording. Am I trying to enthrone my bubble gum?

The other way is to say, OK, you can’t prejudge progress. Progress may be something you don’t expect, can’t anticipate. If you are progressive, then you ride with the changes, no matter where they might wander. Maybe shitty low quality audio on a video server is akin to the shitty low quality audio of a 7″ vinyl record. You go there, bravery rather than cowardice.

I have no idea which one. Which is why Aversion is a limited edition object, while Publicist is a throw-it-at-the-wall download.

I think this conversation is being held by an ever dwindling number of people, who think that the wider audience give a toss. They are under the illusion that e.g. vinyl sales mean a resurgence of interest in albums. I think it means a surge of interest in antique toys. It will give way to hula hoops. Music will not go back in the sleeve, it will wander wherever it finds a listener.

Meanwhile, abyss and staring.

Two albums! OMG are we going to drown? etc.

Yes, two albums!

You may recall we were talking about a subscription model. You were generally not keen on the idea, but the question was then really about, well, staying power. Because a subscription means you have to get something nice on a regular basis. Could the Sevcom team (yes, there is such) provide this? We can!

We were going to release these things late last year – and then an ancient Canadian radio recording got released on vinyl which sucked up all our air. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. Some more time to refine.

Item one is the long anticipated Aversion 2 box, with cards and wire rat. The music and rats were completed mid last year, but there’s been some considerable fussing since that time. We needed 200+ cases made in Japan. The cards had to be thick, but not so thick as to exceed 10g in weight. The whole thing has to be less than 2cm deep to be machine sorted and therefore ‘a letter’, and weigh less than 50g, or cost another 6 dollars postage. We have these things. It will go on sale soon, and you will get the music as a download straight away.

We anticipate that not every person wants to order an object, and so the other album is just a download. In 2015 I released a pop music record called Rhine, and since that time I’ve pottered away at a sequel of sorts called Publicist. That’s three years of agonizing over details, but at last I’ve worn out my patience with turning sounds up or down ever so slightly.

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“Staying Power”

I wouldn’t call Publicist a cheery title but it is pretty when it wants to be.

Both will be available very soon (I was thinking Easter Sunday was a good idea). In the meanwhile why not grab the free ‘taster’ which has moments from four albums coming some time this year?

https://severedheads.bandcamp.com/album/a-sevcom-sampler-2018