The portents were all there – the fussing with waveforms, the obscene level of interest in Roland system exclusives. It starts with Aspirin and it ends up with Heroin, or in my case the evening my hand slapped eBay hard for a card.
SR-JV80-04 VINTAGE SYNTH – artefact of an era when Roland JV synthesisers lumbered unchallenged through prehistoric tropical forests. A hardware sample library with waveforms from Roland’s stable of ancients, plus some mysterious additions from MG and KG and OB, whoever they may be. Quite a few different cards were made and bless you if you wanted the Hip Hop one, but I’ve been after these particular waveforms since I encountered that orange thing and realised that it was the Abbot And Costello Meet The Wolfman to the Bride of Frankenstein of my dreams.
What use? I have paid a small army of Japanese sound engineers wearing identical uniforms to make looping samples of their equipment library – probably the same library as seen in the recent AIRA videos. They’ve done a better job than me, with sources I can’t match. Look through available sample libraries from software vendors you’ll rarely find the raw sounds. You’ll get lots of interpretations of the sounds, legally unique but not what I want. The card represents access; technical and legal.
You will be astounded to hear that there are bearded men on the Internet who argue over which box should house this card. The consensus is that it must live in a JD-990 because warmth, phatness, monster cables – who the hell knows why really. I tend to trust those souls that have owned various boxes and say they all sound much the same. The JD-990 was the last of the D generation, followed by the JV-1080. I don’t know what the D and V mean. I do know that the JV-1080 was Roland’s biggest thing in years, a huge seller. The JV-2080 was much the same but had a big screen, and the pinnacle is the JV-5080 which had people selling their daughters, but probably not too many daughters, as cheaper boxes soon arrived.
Knowing my disease, some day a JD-990 will come. Meanwhile fleacore rules say that small cheap box is best. The JV-1010 is the first one of these cheap boxes and has the same guts as a JV2080 + a card called Session built in. It’ll do nicely.
There’s no editing available on the box itself and so you have to run a cut down version of Emagic Sound Diver, particularly quaint on a Windows machine where the Mac OS7 graphics look tres moderne. Works pretty nicely mind you; the 4 Roland tones roll along an endless panorama of sliders and knobs…
Sonically it’s a mixed bag. The basic sounds are tiny samples compared to today’s software, and have obvious loop points. If I wanted an oboe I’d stick with NN-XT. The Session card has a sweeter sound, let down a little by the low sample rate (apparently 32KHz) which some people then claim is ‘warmer’ (rule 34). As with all audio hardware the slight imperfections of cables and amplifiers add a little noise that works like a studio exciter, a bit of natural sparkle.
The waves that come with the Vintage card are good in that morbidly obese Roland way. As you run through the list you notice duplication – the first two are JP-8 Saw A and JP-8 Saw C. (Where’s the B? It’s over on the main wave bank. Mysterious east at work). Inspect the presets to find that their slight differences are combined to create analogue-like drift and disparity. Strings will have more variations that basses. The different sounds are sometimes subtle and sometimes recognisable, you’d have to be very obsessive to need every single one of them but the obvious ones do make sound design easier.
The filters are Roland filters and no one is going to write a sonnet about them. If you really were hoping for an authentic OBX sound you’re not in luck, although few of the waves have original filter sweeps in them, notably the wretched TB303. Compare the sampled Prophet 5 sounds with the sounds made by the AN200. Yamaha have access to the circuits of the original and have designed their failures, the JV doesn’t know how to fail on that level. The AN200 is wilder and greedier for the spotlight.
But let’s be honest, you don’t buy a box with Roland on it looking for punk. Roland is summery afternoons, small children splashing at the beach, your favourite pullover. The JV will always be the warm fuzzies up in the gearshift of your next anthem.
As I crawl my way through writing my thesis paper it’s a relief to talk about some of the ideas I cover, using words that are not quite as carefully chosen. There’s time when I’m sitting at my desk for quarter of an hour or more agonising over a single word; that one is too loose, this one implies I am claiming something that I can’t prove. Here I can write like Humpty Dumpty.
At first glance you wonder what the hell Aristotle’s on about when he says all colours are made from black and white. That seems unlikely to survive the first experiment, silly old Ancient.
For a start there’s a language issue here, black and white are better described as bright and dark, and these are better described as daylight which is yellow and bright, versus night which is blue and dark. That makes more sense, we can see how colours range over the course of a day, and Aristotle was always one for starting with the bleeding obvious, or with ideas he called endoxon, things you have to accept - like black holes – because somebody smarter than you worked it out.
One of my sources wonders if he ever saw colours created by close proximity of black and white. Like this;
That’s Bridget Riley BTW who is too cool for school.
I actually think the ancients experienced the blinking of light and dark when sunlight spills through trees etc. Black and white blinking makes colours.
In this theory colours like red are made of lots of bright while greens are loaded with dark. But how do they look so different to their sources? How is it that they mix to make other colours? This is where I am most invested because I want to show that music serves as an endoxon. Aristotle says (being careful not to credit Pythagoras because that guy was a complete myth) well think of musical notes. You get a string and you twang it and you get a distinct pitch. You divide that string into exact ratios and you get other pitches. Musical notes are divisions of other musical notes, and it’s pretty damn likely that red is a certain ratio between blue and yellow. Of course if you can’t get red from mixing these two then you’re not doing it right.
Seemed like no one could get it right for 2000 years.
At least he tries to explain a plausible solution. Newton couldn’t be arsed. He does two things that would make Aristotle hit the bottle. He shines white light (Goethe starts screaming here It’s not bloody white you moron!) through a prism and gets a spectrum. Which he then draws as a circle. Divided into seven colours because hey, you can write a music scale around that and la la la la European philosophical tradition. It’s not mathematically valid he says, but it’ll do.
Do you see a circle? I don’t see a circle. I sure don’t see that the colour at one end of the spectrum joins up with the one on the right using some bogus violet bullshit. OK, so he’s describing why mixing red and green makes yellow, which you can see in the rainbow, but also why blue and red make purple which seems hard as they’re either side of the seating arrangement. He really means that once you have multiple sources of coloured light then they intersect to create other colours, but that diagram just caused no end of trouble because it implied that the circle was a description of a physical structure related to music. And that confusion is the first step in the journey that I’m studying.
Yeah well back at work, flexing the old MS Excel. For the next three years I am in charge of a degree program. The previous Head of School asked me about my aspirations as ‘a degree leader’. Well I think I’ll start by counteracting current social and economic trends, inspiring a generation, single handedly converting Kunst Kamp into an industry supported Centre of Excellence in Media and then tutoring every one of them into a PhD candidate.
But that’s next week. Meanwhile, wavetables have been good, if you look up top you will see I am collecting some for you. Selfishly they are all suited to my own Blofeld, but that’s simply because I haven’t figured out how to create the whole variety of them, particularly the WTB format used by Nave.
Anyway I’m on to samples now. Given how powerful virtual synthesisers are now there’s less need for samples, but they remain a good way to share noises found in nature, or where the box is rare or the processing a bit much. Like everyone I’ve accumulated a whole zoo of samples that go with Kontakt or NN-XT etc. It’s tedious to have some here and some there, plus if I want to hand out freebies, then what format would be the happiest? Kontakt is often called the best but it’s not cheap. I thought to seek some middle ground.
Rather than upgrade Kontakt I went with Camel Alchemy, because
it was on special I think it will encourage me to mess up the sounds more often. It has its own format but will also load SFZ, an open format which uses simple text to lay out the samples. There are free players for all platforms including Linux, but it still translates into fancier formats if you must.
Of course being open format you expect trouble, and it arrives on schedule. SFZ 1.0 was first presented with a simple SFZ Player. This did well and so Cakewalk hired the author to embrace, expand and – not extinguish – but certainly muddle the spec. That leads to the so called SFZ 2.0 format used in Dimension. Then Plogue/Garritan decided a good way to advertise their ARIA Engine is to have a free SFZ player called sforzando. This adds so called ‘ARIA extensions’. OK, so the ideal is that if a player can’t understand part of the spec, like HTML it just ignores it. In reality it’s possible to create an SFZ file that works in one player but not in another. Merde!
My tactic is to store samples in the least complex format – SFZ 1.0 Then open that in whichever device will read it, e.g. Alchemy and save the patch after tweaking. As the actual samples remain unaffected I can always roll back to the source. So long as I’m just writing new resource pointers I can have multiple formats.
I’ve owned Wlodzimierz Grabowski’s Extreme Sample Converter for ages … and it hasn’t been updated in ages. Best software ever but won’t open recent Kontakt files. He’s promising a new version 4, but meanwhile I took the chance of spending your PayPal on Chicken Systems Translator. This has a reputation for being cantankerous and I am here to vouch for that reputation. It works, but getting there can be a real journey involving multiple buses and some mule rides.
So let’s say you decide to join this up-swelling of openness and wish to have a SFZ sampler of your own. I’ve had a good rummage and when using Cubase I think I’m going to settle with Cwitec TX16Wx. This allegedly is inspired by the Yamaha TX16W box – not to be confused with an exact emulation of the TX16W over here. (For a box I never saw in life people sure love it.) In Reason I’ll have to adapt to NN-XT but frankly I only use Reason as a source of crazy CV modulation of my physical boxes. If you’re using Logic, well that’s your own fault. In Pro Tools land, there’s now an ARIA player in AAX.
So everybody can soon enjoy my 1000 Great Noises Made By The Kawai 100F sample set!
1st of January. Sounds pretty sweet. Except it’s the day before 2nd of January and – bugger it, I am then back at work. The last trumpet of holiday cheer is here.
So then, back to waveforms. Our Birmingham Correspondent has chided me for not paying attention when he explained Zebra, which does indeed create transwaves. Fortunately I didn’t have to buy the whole caboodle to get the oscillator section as it’s included the free Zebralette. I’ll let this guy explain Zebra, even though he’s pretending to be Andrew Kramer. No one can be Andrew Kramer, it’s just not possible. This bit don’t matter too much, you can use any means by which to create interesting single pitched sounds.
The important part is – to get the sound into the Blofeld as a wavetable you have to generate exactly 128 waves at the right frequency to fit one second at 44.1KHz. That’s not any particular pitch and I spent a stupid amount of time doing the maths to try make a MIDI note event on F2 last for the exact duration to get 128 cycles. I failed, endlessly and tediously – if the pitch is even slightly wrong the wave drifts out of frame and sounds horrible. Seemed like the vacation was going to end with a whimper, and without much hope I tried one more search for wavetables and convert and nerd desperation. And I found blacktomcat666.
In case that makes no sense to you, he’s taking a sampled word ‘ensoniq’ and through his own Windows software called Audio Term, translating it into a PPG style wavetable which he’s showing ready to be sent to the Blofeld. And I’m screaming like a little girl.
The guy is a genius but he needs a publicist; the software was hard to find, I had to go bouncing around discussion boards looking for him. Yes, it looks a lot like the PPG Wave Term interface which is kind of cool once you get the hang of it. It does more than convert samples to PPG but that’s what I needed.
So I made some samples of various bits – Zebralette, some analogue gear, odd noises. The Zebralette samples work almost perfectly because they are using the same principle and stick to a single pitch. Anything pitched or based on noise will be washed away in a vocoder effect, and you’d need to use the Blofeld’s sample playback instead. Even so, some hard synch sounds made on a Jupiter 8 came out nicely with a bit of pitch bend.
As with most free software there’s no manual. If only it was the start of the break and not the end I’d make one, but things turned out right after all. Still, the career train waits for no man, and next stop is MS Excel CIty,
Rather than leave the year on that last sour note, I thought to mention a few things that are making my little corner of the world just that bit neater. That’s of no interest to anyone, but seeing as no one reads this it’s incredibly relevant.
Sevcom.com has been running for a long time. Actually I can’t remember how long exactly, must be about 18 years. The Australian Film and Sound Archive did a backup earlier this year and I was going to let it decay gently, but turns out that there’s just one more thing. The site’s been converted to a WordPress install which is going to make updating more likely in an era where I’m middle management, time poor and unlikely to want to do jack shit after work. Please visit.
Christmas follows the law of diminishing returns and at this stage of life, where family are dead, diaspora or insane it’s simply a period in which my middle management position gets a back seat to vague attempts at having a creative life. A year ago it was all HH computer game all day, this year the vacation is pretty vacant and so pottering about.
1. (intr; often foll by about or around) to busy oneself in a desultory though agreeable manner
(Apparently the Internet has decided that Pottering means shoving a broom up your backside, jumping in the air and pretending to be Harry Potter. The Internet is wrong, because many opinions divided by each other tend towards zero.)
This is an innate behaviour of the ageing male. Young women and the *gendered are welcome, but it really does seem to go with ugly pullovers and odd socks. My old man had a large model train layout that never got anywhere. I worried why he never seemed particularly worried, but having reached middle management I see the sheer beauty in incompleteness.
However, my generation are about synthesisers – their purchase, arrangement, connection, twiddling, reading of manuals, disconnection and rearrangement, augmentation and every now and then actually using the stupid things to make music. I have enough synthesisers real and virtual to equip a large orchestra. It’s very messy and that’s the entire point. Most of all I’m obsessed with redeeming Thing 04.
You’ll recall that this was a frugal purchase on the basis that it was nearly useless. It will require a great deal of tweaking and fussing and seemingly being cross about it while secretly enjoying the pointlessness of it.
I can poke numbers at it over MIDI and get a hint of the potential. But the editing software is old and it doesn’t ‘see’ my keyboard, so I have to type the notes as numbers and I need a modern way to talk to it. Because it’s one of Roland’s JV series of synthesisers I could adapt something that works with them. That leads to looking at Roland JV’s, thinking it would be easier to use one instead, finding something cheap, tabulating the included waveforms, learning I need an extra voice card, seeing that they only can be found in America, realising that it’s not the bloody point and all I’m doing is trying to get this bit of junk to make a useful noise.
That can fill endless happy hours. I’m probably a Mastermind contestant for Roland synthesisers of the 1990s.
With VST instruments you’re using Continuous Controllers – e.g. CC#43 might control the filter. Machines of 90′s use System Exclusive messages – much harder. My Yamaha boxes are not too bad, they use messages that go something like this:
SYSEX MESSAGE FOR
SET KNOB 43 (FILTER)
Roland boxes aren’t nearly as friendly:
SYSEX MESSAGE FOR
I HAVE SOMETHING FOR
DO THE OTHER THING
DID YOU GET THAT ALL OK?
Instead of referring to a particular knob, the Roland way is like sending a letter to a street address, a consequence of the way JV’s work. The Yamaha AN200 has 5 voices that are all two oscillators through a filter making the one noise. The Rolands have many patches, each of which is made of as many as four tones, each of which is two waveforms and a filter. So you might have 64 filters to talk to and each of them set to a different patch. There’s also a checksum in the message to double check that the box got the right set of hexadecimal. Like a Facebook relationship, it’s complicated.
And in moments of sanity I ask if it would be easier to just rip the waveforms out of this thing and put them in a more modern box. The JV’s are sample players, so if you got JD8000 SAW out of the box and put it in Thing 01 instead that would be enough? Not easy. Here I am, money in hand, ready to buy the waveforms from Roland. Here is Roland, unsold hardware in warehouse, in no way allowing the waveforms off the physical chips. I’ve sampled the D2 sounds, edited them into single cycles (yes, they mostly are) and they are in the Blofeld. But you know, that’s messy.
Here a entire universe of pottering about is opened. What’s the difference between a JD8000 SAW and a JP8 SAW? Why would you choose one over the other? That’s very interesting if like myself you thought A = A.
Three square waves. Half the people not reading this say ‘yeah of course’, the others say ‘since when are any of these square waves?’ I say, how do I make waveforms like this? I’ve used FM and additive and subtractive and yada yada and I don’t quite know a control method which will create sound shapes like this. I’m looking at the output of various Things on a VST oscilloscope and it’s being instructive. Found a waveform designer. What could come from all of this?
Prefixing “Un” is a growth industry in 2013 and set for peak nausea in 2014. Music suffered this affectation in the 80′s with “Anti music”, which engendered “Unsound” which got a nice tour schedule, presumably on the basis of what wasn’t on offer. Now that the scribblers have encountered sampling technology we’ve got ‘uncreative writing’, a petulant response to plagiarism, ‘so I’ll plagiarise everything! Naah naah!’, displaying about as much merit as the Christmas carols played on dog barks we got in the early days of sampling. If you ask a scribbler about the worth of uncreativity, they inevitably carry on about plunderphonics and hip hop albums from 20 years ago. Guys, we wore that out a decade ago and it’s time for glitch poems, do please keep up.
What it really means: I need to keep a cop out from what I am doing in case it gets criticised.
2. “Thinking with”.
Everybody is thinking with. They’re thinking with painting, thinking with sound, thinking with sacking workers. It’s the most pompous possible way of saying that you completed a work process, usually a very traditional one, and then reflected on what happened. That’s like a first year university exercise and it’s shameful to hear senior people patting themselves all over for doing something so bloody obvious. Given the only alternative to “thinking with” is a lobotomy, I guess they earn a pass.
What it really means: I had to ply my trade, and am embarrassed that somebody might think I was just a tradesman.
Everybody do the robot. Take any old ‘new media’ proposal, replace the word ‘computer’ with ‘robot’, get grant. I already said this many times, all that has changed is that the university wanna-be’s – the corporations that call their workplace a ‘campus’ – are getting heavy with the robot as well. My suspicion is that all the people who worked on AI and robotics in the 1960′s have retired and the youngsters have dusted off their blissful ignorance and are going to run this dream one more time, with feeling. I can’t tell you that AI is always going to fail, but I can tell you I’d rather bet on a horse. For human/robot relationships please see Disneyland. I’m serious, they worked it out decades ago.
What it really means: Computers are associated with dorks, I don’t want people to think I’m a dork so I’ll talk about robots.
Some god please punish the person that came up with ‘STEM’ – the useful studies of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics*, also known as ‘the humanities are useless garbage that should go die somewhere’. It’s like C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures rolled into a simple slogan STOP THE ARTS for maximum affront and argument. The Arts continue their degrading attempt to hang with the cool kids via idiotic me-too scientism – the ‘social sciences’ and ‘art metrics’. One particular act of desperation is trying to align with some hard science, any hard science, to rub off some of that sweet funding – and this has come to be known as ‘STE-A-M’.
Why does Science need the Arts? Particularly as the Arts have thrown away every distinction and advantage they once had to offer. Yes, they could once make beautiful illustrations of the data that science creates, except of course we don’t teach how to make beautiful illustration any more, merely the idea of getting some support staff to do it. The Sciences can do that just as well, thanks very much.
What it really means: I do too have a real job! I’m an ideas man!
* The only jobs in STEM are weapons. So a slow clap for all that.
I can hear programmers already gnashing their teeth. Programming, coding, is fucking hard work. So when somebody waltzes in and describes scripting or filling in an event questionnaire as ‘coding’, go right ahead and school them. No, clicking together Little Bits kits is not coding. It’s good to know that you can re-arrange elements to personalise your consumption, but only if you realise that you are still a consumer re-arranging the symbols that the actual coder has provided. Choosing from an a la carte menu, you are not the chef. Either gain the skills and be the chef, or give respect to the person that did the actual coding – yet again the craftsman that the artist fails to respect.
What it really means: I don’t want to be seen as a consumer, and so I’ll claim that I’m a collaborator instead.
Here’s a non-word that fires off my spell checker. Once upon a time you would be an artist, but then everyone was an artist. So then you would be a band, or an art collective, but then everyone was that. So you would be a label or a gallery, but you know what. So now everyone is a curator and that’s the best of all. A curator is anyone that likes some stuff, and organises that stuff somewhere. In the 80′s you would make a mix tape for your girlfriend, but the 21st century converts that to ‘curating a series of audio recordings in an emotionally significance sequence on the most appropriate analogue format to evoke the relevant time period for the collected works’. Sounds like a full job! Already people are curating curators.
What it really means: I may not be able to paint, but I can fill a room with paintings. I am better than artists.
7. Clouds. Still happening.
Where a year or so ago you had the suspicion that your private files were going to be used for spam and surveyed by the NSA, this year you actually know that’s the case. You might remember that you were assured that wasn’t so, and frankly if you don’t feel like a farm animal you need to wise up. This is more about the continuing utopian rhetoric of ‘the cloud’ as a universal spice for any possible teaching or collaboration no matter how ineffectual or meaningless. The unopened textbook is not improved by the unwatched YouTube lecture and time spent in turd polishing is better spent on working on the content. The worst possible case is when information is edited down to fit in cloud delivery. They used to do that to women’s feet to hobble them. Don’t call that a breakthrough.
What it really means: Same Great Taste Now In New BITE SIZE Foil Pack!
Maybe I’m getting old, but that seems a little harsh. I think there’s actually something else afoot. Let me try to get there.
Any statement that talks about art is problematic, and having the word ‘sound’ in there is only a small part of the deal. The question ‘what is art?’ is a well known idea pit. Like the famous money pit, you can keep on throwing ideas into it and never touch the bottom. Some people refuse to answer the question on that basis, but I am protected by being a ‘dumb-fuck musician’, and like the small child, can endlessly fail to see the clothes.
Duchamp is a guide and he points out that an unseen painting is not yet art. When it is displayed the audience provides the other side of an alchemical process, where two ingredients form a greater impression than the components. The gallery is nothing without the painting and vice versa, the two combine to create the art. And the roles of artist and curator are entwined, to the extent of antagonism from each recognising the forced collaboration.
If you accept a ready made by Duchamp as art, then why not the Tracy Emin bed? I personally don’t accept the bed – here’s where I part with Duchamp by saying that the inscrutable is required. Not all the energy comes from addition, some of it comes from what is hidden – even from the artist themselves. I call that ‘the birds’, which are the pricks and urges that compel creation and made poor Henry Darger an artist long before his books were discovered by the culture industry. Duchamp was compelled by things he did not know and says so, which makes me think he talks about ‘art’ in a different meaning to his own creativity. All the evidence I have is that Emin executed a single idea according to plan. For me Emin is a designer that provided a site and culture specific public exhibit.
None of this is categorical. Marclay’s The Clock is also obviously a single idea according to plan, but becomes inscrutable by the sheer excess of process – the unreasonable amount of execution. Marclay has (among other achievements) taken process up to the more human level of obsessiveness, and the result is therefore more interesting than the cold schema would suggest.
(This is the worry with the ‘production thesis’ or any attempt to measure and force metrics on creativity. But that’s another problem.)
‘Sound art’ is no better or worse than any ‘X art’ really. From what I am hearing the ‘sound’ is such a minor part of it that the distaste of musicians is overwrought. There may not be any sound involved and in general music is still alien to the visual arts. When I asked about one particular work, the artist conceded that it could be a ‘video’ piece in that there was a signal, some noise that disrupted the signal and an interesting response from the people affected by the disruption. But he pointed out that ‘video’ still is a visual art and that’s the problem.
I asked what then is the point of sound art, and he said that it was about thinking with sound. That is, so much thinking with visual art has only got so far – vision is limited in where it can go, and there are experiences and ideas and inspirations that could come from thinking outside of images. I can’t fault the idea of expanding the tedious old ‘ways of seeing’ to become ‘ways of seeing and listening’, and I think we can all agree that this brings something more. In the negotiations for space and recognition there are going to be compromises, but the movement as a whole is worth the support.
Thinking with …
However this last Friday I was accidentally at a book launch and heard from a panel of art historians about an exhibition in the Venice Biennial in which an older exhibition was completely recreated, up to building copies of the walls of the old gallery space in the new. I wasn’t entirely clear whether this was a good or a bad thing as the panellists insisted on talking International Art English.
But it struck me how certain they were that this was an earth shattering idea – that a curator could now put on a show which reiterated the work of an earlier curator. While they bickered about who was the most important person involved old or new, at no stage did they touch on the most obvious failing of the whole idea – that the original exhibition had the artists come and work with the space. The copy just took the works out of whatever museum they had entered and placed them back in roughly the same spot. Artists didn’t matter except as a name check list. It was what Stockhausen would call a postcard of the original performance and God know why the authenticity of the bloody radiators was worth so much discussion in comparison.
Anyway, several times throughout the talks one or more would talk about thinking with curation with such nonchalance that it must be a commonplace in their own ivory tower. This is more worrying than ‘sound art’ – a deeper, more encompassing point of view where any practice that doesn’t run fast enough will be absorbed into ‘thinking with…’.
Immediately it’s our duty to find as many examples as we can. Thinking with spray cans. Thinking with pasta. Thinking with Twitter. Thinking with not thinking too much.
Thanks to hhhneil for the inspiration; a name which acknowledges the flea market in the history of electronic music.
If you are serious about ideas such as ‘legendary’ and ‘vintage’, if you are impressed by the antique, concerned with overt quality – you do not understand fleacore. If you distinguish between the earlier and later filter of the MS20, if the weighted action of a 102 key controller is important to you – you do not understand fleacore. If you think MOOG is ever the answer – you do not understand fleacore.
The history of electronic music is fleacore. When people now buy a TB303 for $1200, they are spending $40 for the box and $1160 to emulate the man that once went into a pawn shop to buy the $40 box that no one wanted.
That’s how art works. No one bought a Van Gogh from Van Gogh.
Fleacore is the joy of limitation. The misuse of an intention that is best forgotten. Fleacore is hilariously thwarting the engineering designs of a decade; disco, acid house, nu jack swing, hip hop. It is the decade that taste forget – forever.
Fleacore is an insignificant box, preferably without keys. Better still, it runs on batteries. It is never bespoke, never modular, never impressive. It is a cheap, plastic, wobbly, flawed, inscrutable array of LEDs and bezels. It is a piece of crap.
No one wants fleacore, except fleacore.
Fleacore is the badly written Roland manual, leading to useful mistakes.
Fleacore is not smug and ironic. It is making do and muddling through. It is doing the best under strained circumstances, like darning a pair of socks. Fleacore is humble.
You have heard fleacore and you admire it. You have heard it in the works of artists before anyone said a kind word to them. The press would have you think that ‘youth’ has something to do with it – but while there are still youths, they now think they are worth something. Youth has nothing to do with darning socks.
Spend very little on an implausible box. Confronted by its garish sullen face, you shake your head and sigh at the stupidity of it. You try to find something here and there, and on the verge of giving up, a miracle takes place. Then you ‘get it’.
The End to Things.
For 10 months I plotted and planned the few items I would sorely like to have, and come the end of teaching I set about it. What no one told me was (and surely some of you could have) the idea is not cleanly exhausted. Meaning that every purchase inspired another line of thought which required another purchase to complete it. Big feedback problem!
Eventually I did this – chose a piece of fleacore that was not going to happen. I mean, lots of luck buddy you ain’t ever gonna find that, not in a bazillion years. And this worked, although for entirely the wrong reason. This is the story.
Around the turn of the century, Yamaha did an odd thing – my two favourite elements right there. They took a variety of synthesis techniques and miniaturised the circuits onto cards. The PLG-DX is a DX7, the PLG-AN is a Prophet 5 and so on. The idea was that you would buy their expensive devices of the period, and plug these cards into them to add extra noise creating sources. Sounds like a great idea, the reality must have been more like Atari’s inventory of unsold ET carts, because the card idea gets dropped pretty quickly.
These cards now cost more than synthesisers actually built around the cards, which means people rip them out of fully working keyboards! This makes the whole thing batshit crazy, and I thought OK – let’s make finding fleacore built around these cards the next challenge. The AN200 is not hopelessly difficult, it shows up every now and then. But the DX200 is really hopeless, as people rip the DX7 out as soon as look at them. It could delay a year or more.
Fate is very clever lady, and saw what I was up to. An AN200 turned up straight away for $400. That’s enough for me to shake my head and feel wise and mature. A second one appeared a few days later for $200. Level One Complete, dammit. But the DX200, no way, I am in Australia. One showed up in the USA for a stupid price and $100 postage and sold that day, which gave me a sense of calm and peace, that the quest had finally come to an end.
Another immediately showed up in Seattle, near Sevcom HQ. For a reasonable price. An angel sat on my shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel said this was planned to be quixotic, unrequited, to slow down this moral decline, to give time to consider one’s place in nature and the pursuit of balance. The devil says, fuck man, I already PayPal’d.
I am not this guy. But ain’t nothing stopping me now…
I’m so proud one of my colleagues heard I was collecting bad synthesisers, and offered one I might like – it shows my reputation for quality is growing. From that day I mercilessly hounded him for the transaction which he seemed to then mysteriously avoid. Perhaps he worried that a man of my standing knew something about the box that made it worth more. Perhaps it was pity for such a fool as would take this thing that he’d been using upside down as a stand for something else. But I was not to be turned and exchanged some trifling DOEPFER box that was just well made and useful.
A photo doesn’t do the D2 justice. It’s bright orange, made of metal and reminds me of something that would have steered a model boat in 1973. When you turn it on it spends the first few minutes doing a light show. Every time you turn it on. (It then dies, or at least until I got the right 9v adaptor.) When you push the play button it emits the most enticingly flabby, tired and hackneyed ‘dance music’ that the mind of Roland could devise. Ladies and Gentlemen, if a synthesiser could be compared to a font – this is Comic Sans.
Why would I want this thing? Well let me tell you about the time I spent 400 bucks on a new Roland box which was uglier, less versatile, harder to use, and in every way a miserable excuse for pathetic shit, so much so that I gave it away. Of course I mean the TB303 Bassline in 1982. I was one of (if not the) the first people in the world to make ‘dance music’ with it (referring to Eighties Cheesecake) so I am pulling rank and saying – if the Bassline is a classic, then this is a super duper classic.
Don’t just take my word for it – listen to this Internet guy:
I LOVE MY GIRL D2! I use a Krog microKONTROL midi usb keybord on her and let me tell you its the best! Im on my 2nd D2 groovebox! The 1st one i had I lost it at the pawn shop!(im still mad)Now this one i have now i got off Ebay and i LOVE HER! the 1st gear i had was the Roland mc-303 groovebox! The year was like 1999 i was poor! then i saw the Roland mc-505 and i fell in love with her! i never got one but i all ways played with
Actually, don’t listen to that guy. He’s nuts.
OK so how do we tame this shrew? Some reading tells me it’s the same as a MC505 Groovebox, but with all the controls reduced to a simple XY touchpad. That’s like ‘the same as a championship wrestler but with no arms.’ The noise is the same but the controls have had a pre-frontal lobotomy. The big issue for me is that Roland has left no way to change the damn waveforms. Seeing as the D2 is sample based that’s really bitter and twisted. Roland! Spend the 5 bucks!
Some more reading tells me that the MC505 uses the same voice structure as the JV series, although I’d have to quibble that ‘same as’ means ‘selected’. The sounds are half samples of Roland drum machines, and much of what’s left are saw waves of some sort particularly those from the wretched TB303. There are however a range of inharmonic clanks, bangs and noise loops which sound like they could work nicely once I load them up into the right patch. There’s four tones per patch, each being an oscillator with associated filter and LFOs so a bit of stacking should get somewhere.
The touch pad is much the same deal as a Kaos pad. The only fun thing is a DJ mode where you ‘spin’ the sequence backwards. That never gets old, ever. The XY mode is more useful in live tweaking the filters and LFOs, but not to any level of precision. Probably there will be a time where I will risk using the sequencing and arpeggio for some kind of improvisation but I need some decent noises first.
So I thought to myself – if I found a way to control a MC505 then maybe I could control the D2. Again and again I would read about a particular piece of home brew software that did this, but when I’d follow the link the Geocities or Angelfire host was long gone. I almost despaired, but after a titanic struggle of mouse clicks I found it. And it works!
It is in fact identical to the MC505, and rather shocking to see how much is hidden in the engine that’s ignored in the manual. For example there’s some kind of FM modulation as well as a delay mode that I’ll have to read about in a JV1080 manual I guess. You can at least change the waveform and sweep the filter and do pretty much everything you could hope from a bright orange tugboat. Once you have this ability the box becomes a decent sound module that can e.g. play four pianos through a ring modulator. By nature it wants to have the keyboard mapped to include all 8 parts, switching it over a multi mode fixes that by moving each to a different MIDI channel. It’s not yet victory, but I think there’s a distant chance that one day I will carry this thing on stage, push the button and produce that which will define 21st century music.