Man Cave: Roland System-8 : All’s well that ends well.

It’s most gratifying to see Roland Corporation take note of my comments regarding the System-1m – surely so, as each has been addressed exactly to my specification. There is now a control to dim the green lights – it requires at least 5 hours to blind a test rat where it previously took 30 minutes max. Switches and doodads are all placed at the back, and there is a reasonable number of memories displayed on the sensible LCD display which also tells you what the control you just diddled did. Let that be a lesson to them.

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If I have any major critique, it’d be that it’s not very usable on stage, being so black you can see your face in it. The machines it replaces – the Jupiter 8 et al. are colourful and with good reason – you can see what you’re doing. I’ve got a lamp directed at it but it seems to gobble up light and spit it back out as green circles. Chlorophyll?

I did say replaces. I mean that. I mean that as far as music making goes you’d be hard pressed to find a reason to hang on to your ‘legendary’ Roland keyboards. Up the end of this I’ll try give you a list of what is worth hanging onto.

As you switch between the main synthesis software and the two free ‘plug out’ emulations – the Jupiter 8 and Juno106 – it’s interesting to see the lights go out for each. The System 8 is a 2 oscillator + Sub oscillator device with some extra features – notably sideband filters and extra wave forms. The Jupiter loses the extras and the Sub, the Juno drops down to just one oscillator. It’s as if you’re switching off parts of the computer brain a la HAL9000, and I came to see little point to doing it. Because the System-8 is a super-set of the older machines, it does all they did, and far more.

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Does it sound like a Jupiter 8 or JUNO106? Seems to. Don’t care that much. If Roland wanted to illustrate their reasons for never going back to the old models they’ve done an excellent job.

Does it sound like the System-1? Mostly. You’ll see two filter settings, one for reproducing the S1’s filters and ‘improved’ S8 filters. The oscillators are identical. The LFO has some extra weird and wonderful modes. The Sub is also available for LFO duties as on the S1. The sideband filters are interesting but really are fixed flanges with a fancy name. More effects, which are welcome. Very similar, but better.

Does it sound like a Good Roland? One of the things I noticed about the Boutiques was the extra bass and treble, much higher than say the JP8080. You need to boost EQ on the JP8080 all the way to get the same timbre, then you’re in the same league. But the S8 is already there, especially with the Tone knob set one way or the other. This is a full Aira product and so goes up into the dog howling frequencies without the aliasing you get from the little boxes. For their part the Boutiques seems to be able to make nastier sounds by their limitations.

The S8 does the ‘Roland chocolate’ sounds. It passes my ‘make a noise like a Kawai 100F test’ by using the cross modulation. It does everything you want… as long as you don’t go past 1987. At that point the S8 has nothing to say, and all the reasons people went on to newer machines are all still there.

You get no digital wave forms (as on the JD series) – you can pretend to despise them, but too soon you’ll lament their absence. The little SH32 can make some sounds the S8 can’t reach. The Fantom can go places that the S8 can’t even sketch. Even a D50 has some advantages (sound editing not one of them).

Although it has a polyphonic step sequencer, it doesn’t seem to have a phrase sequencer like the JP8080, or the V-Synth (which pays tribute to the 8080 in many respects). If there is one, the manual is giving few clues. Added: yes it’s there, not well explained. The sideband filters don’t seem to have quite the subtlety of the V-Synth, although that could be my inexperience.

Sell your old keys, keep the young ones. Get rid of that old Juno before it gets too wobbly (in which case you can use a menu setting for how wobbly the machine you’re emulating) and use the money to buy some strong lamps.

Make that sound!

I’m increasingly required to reproduce music I made a long time ago. There’s a lineage of sounds based around particular equipment sets, which I can quickly summarize starting a few years in:

  • Slab Horror – MS20’s, tape.
  • Big Bigot – DX7, SH101 and AKAI Sampler
  • Bad Mood Guy – Mirage and DX7
  • Rotund – ESQ, TX81z
  • Cuisine – SY77 and S10 Sampler
  • Gigapus – MKS80, EPS-16 Sampler, Oberheim Xpander. <– expensive!

You can see why I have re-collected some antique gear: the AKAI sampler is required for Big Bigot for example, where Rotund For Success will need a TX81z. You can get away with similar gear for standard patches, the DX7 is well emulated. In some cases the sound is especially troublesome – and worst of all is that MKS80. Back then they were cheap, damn they are expensive now. Oi.

Here’s a sound I am keen to make – the first part of “Tiny Wounded Bird”.

That there is pure damn MKS80. Or is it? Surely there is something you could use to get just that, but it’s not easy. Let’s look at some of the parameters.

  • Really sharp attack – much sharper than most DCO machines.
  • Cross modulation – the metallic sheen.
  • Two layers. One of them has a pitch envelope.
  • Detuned oscillators – the MKS80 has a monophonic mode that allows it.
  • Bass boost – one of Roland’s cheat machines with EQ built in.

And being an early Roland machine it’s around the time that you could put the VCA too high. The Jupiter 8 can have this fault, but in the Jupiter 6 it’s fixed (unless like Graham Revell told me way back in the 80’s, you get it modded to be controllable.) It sounds to me like it’s too high here.

So then, which cheaper alternative would you use?

  • JX anything – envelopes too slow.
  • JP8080 – it does a really good attempt, after all, it’s a Jupiter. Turn up the bass and treble, make the two layers. Just not quite the analogue overload of the original. V-Synth is similar but still trying.
  • System 1 – it does the analogue no problem and can do most of the MKS80 bass. It’s not able to be two layers though.
  • Boutique JP08 – well actually, close. But it’s being a Jupiter 8, and so not quite the same heft.

I’m going to try the Blofeld next. But somehow that’s just… Not Roland.

Damn this nostalgic madness.

End of Tour – Part 7

And now, at last, to the only gig we’d actually expected to play. The Cold Waves festival runs over two nights in Chicago and we were part of the Saturday line up which was designed to be a bit more ‘family friendly’. The very family friendly Front Line Assembly was up top, with PWEI being the other ‘grown up’ band. Severed Heads was at the head of the kids table with Cocksure playing right alongside and then there were youngsters who will no doubt one day be the grown ups (unlike us).

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Back home exactly the same thing but it’s called Foota.

But first to reach the Metro. That day the CUBS WERE PLAYING. The Cubs are a popular hitball team in Chicago. Hitball is a game which involves many people dressed in blue crowding all over the place blocking all traffic. It looked to me like they were winning but apparently they lost otherwise everything would be on fire.

Once we got there, seemed like just as many people milling about backstage. Bands bands bands. Greets from the Metro owner who had last greeted us 25 years ago holy shit. As much as I like to be all friendly to everyone, for me playing live is just too anxious making to handle that crowd, and I apologise to anyone that I gave a startled ‘are you a sadistic dentist?’ look. Most of the time I tried hiding in the SEVERED COCKS room.

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Although we had played live together before, finally got into chat with Chris J Connelly, seen here channelling his ‘drunken shit in a business suit on a Saturday night’ stage look. In LA it had been gold chains. We had thought that LA costume was entirely serious, more fool me twice.

But there were old people I needed to see. The last time I met Bill Leeb was in Vancouver, way back. We were both in our mid 20’s. He has grown enormously tall since and I have shrunk. Both he and cEvin Key prove that the ratio of height to width is a prime factor in success in Industrial Stardom, something which I will never know.

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The Industrial height rule. Fulber don’t care shit.

But they will never equal our ability to attract bears. It was like Jellystone Park, I tell you. Bears.

Festivals are nerve racking because you have to get on/get off mighty fast and if something is fucked up then you die (hello Antwerp!) They were setting up sound checks pretty efficiently, but I was getting freaked out about if it was going to work. It’s partly from not having played in big line ups that often over the last decade. The only fuss was (as always) about the main video which was being projected onto drum kits and I had to choose a smaller screen. I think it’s OK. Hell, most people watch videos on a mobile.

Once the table was set up and the signal was happening, it was all just fine.

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I should say here that the festival is a supporter of the Hope For The Day charity, which helps people at risk of suicide. Part of the tour show was of course Dead Eyes Opened, with Stacy dancing on screen, and I had added a short video title acknowledging that she was not coming back. The tour came to an end in a poignant moment.

Backstage and the same number of people were milling about but it had settled into a different crowd, more about the society than the performers. I guess I’m more comfortable about getting things up and happening than partying them down again and after processing another extensive round of bears, decided I’d do one last BBC Nature Show through the streets of Chicago. Stewart was happy with a bottle of scotch and a place next to the mixing desk, so I grabbed my shit and swung outside.

The game of hitball was still winding down. A few boys were half heartedly punching each other in the streets while the girls tried to pull them apart. The bars were pumping ooga chaka. Drunks were vomiting into smart phones. It could be any western city, everything and nothing, The Saturday Night. That’s the thing about tours; all those hotels, planes, back stages, the disassociation is complete, you’re just passing through, enacting a ritual, everybody you meet n greet has a role and a script. Walking through the streets, Frisco to Chicago, it’s almost like you want something to break the glass and haul you out of there. But really not.

Instead I spent Sunday in the hotel room. There was a lot to not think about.

Tour Drily – Part Six

Hello Tampa, or as it turns out, Ybor City, which is where cigars were first carved out of phosphate or some such thing. Something something, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

We were met by a friendly man called Curse, who oscillates like a sine wave between Tampa and Austin, apparently a thing you do in the southern synthesiser music trade. He took us to rooms at a goddamn HILTON where I glimpsed THE LARGEST BED I HAVE EVER SEEN and only then told us we had to go straight to the fucking venue. How could I perform, thinking about that bed? Sleeping somewhere in that vast confection of padding?

Not so much a bed as a way of living.

Not so much a bed as a way of living. Yeah, I took photos of the hotel rooms. I like hotel rooms, OK? This one was a Hilton, and every light in the place was turned on as if to say, climate change is caused by Florida, buddy.

In Florida, we were too small, or perhaps it was too big, for us to play alone. We supported Pop Will Eat Itself, and there were advantages to this. Firstly, one may get off stage earlier and drink all PWEI’s rider. Secondly one may blame PWEI for anything bad that happens, while claiming virtue for everything good. And no encores, none at all. The main worry is when the main band has a drum kit and a hundred microphones to set up, your chance of a sound check becomes wistful, although we did get there in time.

Here was Michael Pilmer of T Shirt fame, and his henchmen, dressed in identical knife costumes, the camera tilted to show their evil. Did I mention we wore Holy Fuck Knives T shirts every night? We did. And we sold them too. Michael and Robert made these. We also got some special stickers to cover our apples.

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A bit of a barn, quite large, too large for us alone. The first band on, (I am sorry I have been very remiss about the first bands in each case but I am in the zone at that point, anyway,) the first band on was the first actual rock band we’d encountered the whole time. I mean they did r-o-c-k, did the moves, stood on the wedges, spooned, mutually masturbated, I mean if there is a library of rock gestures, they held all the library cards. I don’t think Stewart had seen such a thing before, and was awed. Me, I’ve seen ZZ Top. Once you’ve seen the best…

We played. At least one guy was crying. At least he was the one I could hear sobbing over the PA. The audience in Ybor City was a bit ‘intimate’ for the size of the place (which we could immediately blame on PWEI, see how this game works?) but they had a fine old time.

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Pilmer over on the right giving the finger. An enduring symbol of Southern Hospitality. Actually I think the gent over at the left with the beard should get in contact so I can send something worthy. Best audience member ever.

PWEI I think were too big for the stage. They do this pacing thing, back forward. They looked like when tigers get put into too small cages. For a moment you wonder if you shouldn’t be wedged behind a table. But that leads to keytars, and the thought stops there. Shudder.

At the end of it all, I grabbed my backpack and launched out into the turmoil of Friday Night in Ybor City. They were young, sexy, swarming and mostly Cuban. I marched through it all, some kind of alien grey, block after block, seeing it all unseen. Nearly every gig I managed to walk back to the hotel at some ungodly hour and somehow that was turning into the best thing about the whole tour. Like a BBC Nature programme.

At the hotel, that bed.

Tour Dory Part 5

Weird double coastline thing near New York. No idea.

Weird double coastline thing near New York. No idea. As you may have gathered I spent an awful amount of time looking out of airplane windows, moaning quietly.

Stewart’s back is held together with paper clips and knitting needles and these started to fall out around this time.┬áIf his top half fell off that might be disagreeable and remove some of the melody. For my part I was enjoying the extra octave that had appeared under my usual vocal range, but not the dull ache that was hanging around my voice box. Experience is that I have limited time before it collapses spectacularly, as it did when we were being recorded in Adelaide (damn it). And once long ago in Chicago. Bad.

Such that we sounded like a bickering old couple even more than usual, him telling me to keep quiet and me telling him to stay down. The good thing was his missus was already in NYC and had a physiotherapist booked if we could get into Brooklyn from JFK Airport in time. Cab unwilling but eventually got there, and rolling and pounding took place.

Brooklyn is not the Brooklyn I remember. It’s like somebody bought it all and made it into BrooklynLand – a sanitised version of what was there. I mean, I only ever seem to get a single day in NYC ever, I must win a prize for least amount of actual time spent over three visits. But in a way I am privileged to have seen it 30 years ago and kept that in my head all these years. It’s much better now, believe me.

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We walked with the promoter to Rough Trade, a combo record shop and venue. He was pissed off that the venue had to be changed at the last moment but I really liked the feel of the place. Not a cupboard, a goodly warehouse space near Bushwick Inlet park with a view over the bay to the city skyline and there was the Chrysler Building that I’d 3D modelled in the All Saints Day video. Sound check and then take out meatballs, which I gather was highly appropriate for Brooklyn. Stewart went off somewhere, while I did The Meet And Greet.

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Actually Stewart had noticed a problem with where the Severed Heads CDs had been placed…

… which he fixed up. Good job!

Now, that sounds pretty gruesome. People pay to meet you before the gig, and get some special seats and souvenirs. That means you can’t just hang with other people, which seems a bit la-dee-dah. I tried be the least wanker possible and make everybody feel welcome and I think I managed to do this as much as having eaten too many meatballs allowed. In a way it’s good to get that done and not have to worry about it. Of course various people wound up in the dressing room, but they had a good tale to trade for the beer. Kind of like when Batman is climbing up walls in the 60s TV show.

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Early on. Unconvinced. Show us what you’re made of. Walk on Coals.

New York was the biggest show as an individual band. You’d hope so, seeing as it’s the biggest city. I’m too connected with the west coast to feel welcome there yet, it was a good show but they were chin scratching the way people do in places where they get everything – what is this band that hasn’t bothered with NYC in decades?
I told them that Texas yelled louder and that sorted them.

I guess the only other anecdote was some guy making hand shadows on the projection, which Stewart caught but couldn’t tell me because he was busy actually playing keyboards, you know, that thing DJs can’t do. Once he got me I sent a cheery fuck off to the person who was doing it, which seemed to please the rest of them no end.

Two encores as had become usual. We really have to figure out this encore thing.

I walked home. There were a few stars. I made the mistake of walking past the after show drinks and was immediately set upon for photographs, in which I probably looked like Bagpuss covered in Emilies.

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Interlude: Remixes Wot I have done

Let’s have a short break from the Tour Dairy. I’ve had cause to collect some remixes wot I have done. There’s not many when you hide the ones I did for whore-money, a shameful period in the lean years that none shall know. All of these were done because somebody in the band took the time to ask nicely and there was a moment.

Because I don’t own these, you only get medium quality mp3 here.

Red Martian – Supercomputing. USA. 2005

Red Martian wanted to try some drum machine dub / cold wave. I was thinking Wire, Magazine, that period where guitars were just sources of texture. There’s a hell of a lot of fixed frequency flange here as I did air traffic control – confine everything to its own frequency range. It’s almost all comb filtered. About 90% in, I felt that I’d lost the band’s style somewhere in there, and started to drive it, drive everything to the point that distortion was resonating through the tuned filters. Like a computer on fire.

Atone – Demigod. Australia. 1997

The band gave me a bunch of loops and no instructions about how they wanted them to appear. I thought OK, we’ll sort them into neat little piles. Like shore front architecture. Then I built combinations of the parts intersecting in moire patterns across the hard left and right. I’m not sure they knew what to make of the result.

Plastikman – Mind Encode. Canada. 2010

Got a friendly request from the Plastikman, who had a boxed set of CDs coming out and wanted some older dudes to line up the end of the last disc. There was really bugger all to work with here. There’s a beat and some waft and I scratched my head about how you could give it any warmth. So I cut a loop of the main riff and started piling samples from a 1930’s elocution film. Thinking about My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, it really needed some funking up and charm. I added a lot of sloppy riffs to make it less damn clinical. So when the original melody comes in at the end it adds to a motley rabble of noises.

Seabound – Poisonous Friend. Germany. 2004

Again, a friendly request from the main dude. In comparison too much source here, in bad need of a haircut. But they didn’t want it too far off the radar and maybe have it as a alternate mix. It still had to have the electropop thang. I just tried to have as few sounds at once and move things out of each other’s way. On reflection I should have gone hard on it, deleted large slabs of cruft, made HOLES. HOLES are THE GO.

Tauchsieder – Clubbed. Scotland. 2007

Seems like you either get too many passes or a single loop which you somehow have to coax into being music. This one came to me as the main heartbeat and again, like Plastikdude I’m thinking, how do I make a 1000 flowers bloom? The answer is Dr. Zachary Smith biggie penis porn and plenty of it. I just love the original Lost in Space Horns peaking through the main sound. Drum programming because it’s called ‘Clubbed’, right then?

700 Hours – Boxcar. Australia. 1992

Oh I did this so long ago and knew fuck nothing. So I tried to make it sound like Severed Heads and that wasn’t right at all. So the snare is annoying and it’s too thick and blah blah. Sorry. Still I like the end bit after the drop.

Maestro – Darlin’ Celsa. France/Scotland. 2015

Got a nice note from Tiger Sushi. A chance to prune some charming pop music, let’s take it. The band had got it all down on 24 track, but they’d made it 24 sounds all the way through and the first thing was to cut it way back to as few things as I could get. Like you don’t need 3 lots of Juno60 all the time. You need maybe one, twice. Drums needed snap crackle and pop. And if you’re going to do that voice pulse thing let’s do it TOO FAR.

Red Martian – Glasses Cannot Go To The Puzzle (Tall Glass). USA. 2005

Well I’ve done more Red Martian tracks than I’ve had hot sauce, so here’s another one. I really think I got the damn Magazine sound I wanted. And it sounds nice and miserable. Still blasting the fuck out of resonators.

Snog – Hooray!. Australia. 1998

Of all things, a compilation on SONY. Hah! OK not too many sources, and all I really I want here is to accentuate the snogness of the thing – which is all theatrical and 50s sci fi. Up the end I let myself Head it up a bit, you can pretty much tell.

Tour Dairy Part 4.

Here begins more serious plane rides. Not 12 hours like we get to & from Australia – we as a nation have built this into our psyche. It’s a war, we fight valiantly, we win. Rather these are flights that drain a little blood, ever so gently, so you don’t notice it straight away.

An hour is just up n down with a drink if you’re quick. Two hours gets you a bit of reflection as the landscape rolls slowly below. What is that place? Are they carving pumpkins? Do they have proms? Three hours or more brings on a weary dejection, and there were going to be a fair few more of these before the week was out.

At a guess we travelled across Idaho, Utah, probably Colorado (without getting anywhere near Time Universal and Coordinated dammit), and a large slab of Texas without there being much of anything to see until Austin came up the window. I mean it isn’t the Great Australian Fuck All, a large void of void where for example they filmed Pitch Black. It was farms, towns where Wal Mart was coming soon, a silo.

The promoter had been told to take good care of us and he did it in style, we got shown the sights and told the eats and pointed at the local store for anything. He told us the Texas State Capitol is Taller Than The One In DC. I was really grateful for the hospitality, but the plan was (a) not to drink any more beer Jesus fuck and (b) enter the deepest oblivion as soon as possible for as long as possible. There had been no sleep for days, it was time.

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Y’all are sleeping in TEXAS now.

12 hours of black under the Tallest Capitol goes here.

Next morning we set out to see Austin. Imagination never fits the reality, I imagined that we’d be stationed in the inner city pretty much everywhere, but only Chicago matched the idea. We were near the Austin cultural centre which petered out pretty quick into what I guess is the hotel district, and after a quick diversion where Siri insisted we walk thorugh a hotel lobby we found the centre of town. Which was the centre of town. Nice. Temperature going up folks, got to get back to the shelter. We talked about media, programming, what materials would be needed for another tour, where money could be found. Serious things for a band that was supposed to be shutting down..

The gig was a barn like bar, pool tables and Coke stained glass, although the promoter had brought a bunch of ‘industrial’ bands there over the years it still felt like a place where a rock band comes on and the crowd goes THANK GOD FOR SOME REAL DAMN MUSIC. I mean this is the place where Beers Steers and Queers came from, and I know because I met Phildo the very man who sang just that. He takes care of the aircon these days he said.

Most of my night was with spent ranting with this gentleman:

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not wearing this mind you

who had followed us over from the Los Angeles gig and brought some more friends. I got to hear about growing down here and moving over there and visiting Australia and the whole lifestyle that goes with wearing such a hat. I think we should collaborate on something, God know what.

We played. It was good. People hooted n hollered. I don’t think the place was in danger of filling, not on a Wednesday. I mean, fuck, Wednesday is Jazz night at the pub next door to where I live. But they had a loud good time.

I love a gig where you can walk home. 2AM or thereabouts. There were very few stars. Or maybe just too many coloured lights.

We were playing New York later that day,
and so the ride was only hours away.
The Taxi. The airport. The TSA.