Writers block is a bitch. It seems like it’s been forever that I haven’t written anything that grabbed me, or slogged through finishing something just to finish it only to hate it later. When I get like this, it’s like having audio dysmorphia. Not matter how many times I look in the mirror, it doesn’t look like it’s me staring back.

Recently, I was in the studio working. Well, not really working. I was playing around with one of my synths and something on the modular. I recorded a little of it and messed around a bit in Live. When I played it back, something happened that hasn’t happened in a long time. “That’s NoiseTheorem!” I thought. I had finally seen myself in the mirror.

It’s hard to put my finger on what it was that actually triggered that reaction. I instantly had more ideas for the track and took down some notes. I’ve been playing with sounds since to find timbres that match what I have in my head. I hope I can sustain this one. It’s been *too* long.

A Strange Happening

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a hardware synthesizer kind of guy.

I started making music in the late 80’s and early 90’s when computers were just not capable of the sorts of DSP magic we see today.   In fact, beyond MIDI sequencing, computers were not of much use.   In a MIDI based synthesizer rig like mine, I didn’t even deem it neccessary, and I actively resisted giving up on my various hardware sequencers.

That was then.

For about the last 10 years or so, its been very possible to work completely inside the box while composing.   Everything from sound design, sample capture, arrangmeent, mixing, mastering and even publishing can all be done inside one box.   It is also amazingly convenient to do so, since you can just load a single file in your DAW instead of having to take notes and reset dozens of devices back to a prior state.

But still…I resisted.

I love my hardware synthesizers.  I love the way it feels to play an instrument that has a case and controls purpose built for the synthesis engine inside of it.  I love exploring their nuances and tweaking them to get just the right sound.  And I love, love, love, my modular synthesizer.  It’s a playground for electrons, and I get to build the rollar coasters.  Working with it is a joyful, almost meditational, experience.

But something is wrong.  While I’ve got a room filled with hardware, I haven’t actually recorded a single sound from any of it in almost a year.

A year!

It all started a few years ago when I adopted Propellerheads Reason as my new DAW.   The convenience of that environment coupled with it’s flexibilty have completely changed my workflow.  It’s gone almost *completely* inside the box.   As I’ve gotten to learn how to really use Thor and NNXT, it’s slowly become just more of a chore to work with anything outside the box.  I may *play* with my hardware, but almost exclusively compose inside of Reason.

Considering my signficant investment in hardware, what does this mean?  Should I sell off all my gear and just work with my iMac and a controller?   Is that really the future?

At this point…no.   I can’t see myself giving up that which I worked so hard to build.   My instrument collection is more than a composition tool for me, but something I can look at that I feel I’ve earned.  Maybe that’s a little weird, but it’s how I feel about it.

Back to composition.



One Trick Pony

A friend of mine once lamented that the Korg Wavestation was just a one trick pony synthesizer that, once you had exhausted that trick (and he argued it had been played out by 1997), that it was boring and useless and no one needed it. I disagreed with him. Having owned one, I thought it’s trick was making the user hate it via its absolutely awful user interface.  I posited that it had a lot of potential that just couldn’t be easily tapped with that editing interface, and that the reason no one had driven it much further than the classic presets was because its UI discouraged experimentation.  We came to a stalemate and changed the topic.  I could only be proven if someone decided to put a modern interface onto Korg-style wavetable synthesis and, at the time, that seemed very unlikely to happen.

That discussion took place on about 12 years ago, and for the last few years, Korg has had wave sequencing (similar but not exactly like) that which was in the Wavestation.  I think I can safely say that I was right and he was wrong.  It’s a dream programming wave sequences in the Kronos, with it’s large touch screen and responsive UI.  Is it perfect?  No.  It also lacks a few things the WaveStation had (you need to go into combination mode in order to do 4 way vector synthesis, btw).  To balance that, though, it has *tons* of stuff the original didn’t (dual resonant filters, and enough modulation sources and destinations to make use of it).  It’s also a full on sampler which means you can load your own custom wave forms to be wave sequenced.  That opens it *way* up.

I think if I could point out any gripes about it, they’d be the aforementioned 2 element limit without going into Combi mode,  I’m disappointed that wave sequences cannot be used with MOD7 or the other synthesizer models that let you use an internal sample.  Mod7 with wave sequencing would have taken the Kronos into legendary territory.  Korg seems bent on issuing a new and incrementally more powerful Kronos every year, so maybe we will see this in a future iteration (if so, I will definitely trade up).

So, Yay to wave sequencing in the Kronos.  It’s not a one trick pony of either kind.



Not a bad evening

Aside from an absolutely DISASTEROUS hockey game I watched, I spent some time in the studio. I started playing with something yesterday that is evolving in my mind as a long form ambient broadcast. Tentatively titled 'Lethologica', it's got a nice modular noodle with some beats and samples under it. I'd like to do some more sound design for it and load up the Octatrack before I record it. The hard part, as always, will be finding the time to do so. Maybe I need to take a Work From Home day Thursday…



Ye Olde Crap Pile

In my studio, I have a stack of keyboards and modules I affectionately call ‘The Crap Pile’.  These are instruments that I usually acquired on a bargain because someone needed space, needed money, or just wanted to move on to something else.  A few of them are deeply sentimental instruments that I don’t use much, but can’t bear to part with (Korg Prophecy, I’m looking you).

Currently, this rig consists of a Yamaha QY700 sequencer (drunk e-bay purchase), Ensoniq ESQ-1 (bargain with a dead battery), Ensoniq EPS16 Plus (bargain curiosity), EMU E6400 (pure sentimentality) and Kurzweil K2600Rs (because sometimes I need to Kurzweil).  There are also a few peaces that made their way there from the actively used pile such as my Korg EMX1, Korg Prophecy, Novation UltraNova and my Akai MPC1000.

Looking at that, it’s a pretty damn powerful, if largely antiquated rig.  A copy of reason could easily handle *everything* that rig can do and then some (Reason, after all, has a mixer and FX).

Still..I can’t part with it, and I regularly think about setting it up as it’s own Island of Misfit toys.  I’ve got enough space in here to keep it all setup.  All I’d really need is a MIDI through switch and a mixer and it would be a nice place to go when I want to play in a more limited sand box.

Limitations spawn creativity, they say.  I’ve always been more of one for exploration among excess.   A change of place wouldn’t hurt.   Maybe some real good will spawn out of it.