Soviet Tek

A couple of months ago I became a little bit obsessed with drum synths – it started off after I randomly bought a TAMA Techstar TS602 drum synth and 2 drum pads off TradeMe, I posted this snapshot at the time:

drums

I bought it on a whim but really love jamming with it, and I was also really surprised at the range of very useable sounds I could get from it – useable & interesting, boooom, sctk etc etc. But two drums does not a kit make, so I kept an eye on TradeMe for any other such elements and a while back another TS206 came up for sale, and separately a set of 3 hex shaped drum pads. Now I was starting to get somewhere! But seeing how the analog drum synth units were not really sought after (the first one didn’t sell at all & I bought it after it was relisted a couple of times) I started to wonder if there were any other analog drum synth units that might be equally as rewarding AND under appreciated… Plus I was really interested in another drum synth brain for more variety, so after spending a few hours on youtube I found what I was looking for! If the Tama TS206 units are interesting & a bit idiosyncratic, my discovery was totally anachronistic – I had never heard anything like it! Next stop eBay!!

So I found one in ‘as new’ condition bought it & waited… and waited… and waited. It was shipping from Ukraine and I started to wonder if it had been lost amongst the turmoil that country is going through, but just as I was starting to give up hope, my patience was rewarded:

drums

Fantastic! Old school shipping, in a sack, with a lead seal no less!!

drums

Unwrapping…

drums

Huzzah! Behold my new/old FORMANTA UDS VINTAGE ANALOG SOVIET USSR 7-CHANNEL DRUM MACHINE SYNTHESIZER!

drums

I haven’t fired it up yet but lucky for me it is 240V, all I need to do is swap the plug to the local variety & look out!

drums

So what was it that made me take a punt on such an obscure device? Well, while everyone else seems to be pursuing new boxes from either Roland or Elektron, I watched this video & I was sold on it surpassing either of those options when focused primarily on the idiosyncratic quirk factor!

Now I know people who own Elektron boxes etc will say ‘oh of course my ABCDEF box could do all that’ but heres the thing: ‘could’ vs ‘would’ – lets face it, in this day & age, anything ‘could’ do anything. Any number of plugins ‘could’ do a version of what the Formata does, but there is a world of difference between the possibility of something & the reality. Listen to that video, it sounds completely bonkers at times! And its bonkers I can plug my drum pads into & ah… go even more bonkers!

drums

See heres the setup – still in pieces, but pending some free time & finding a drum rack to mount it all on, look out!

drums

So I have four channels of the Tama Techstar TS206 drum synths, seven channels of the Formanta drum synths, the HumDrum, a Boss Dr PAD DRPIII, an Amdeck PCK-100, 5 drum pads (+ 2 more on the way), some drum sticks & the motivation to combine it all into one fiendishly mutant franken kit!!

I didn’t make the connection at the time, but Formanta are the same Soviet analog synth company who made the Polivoks synth, which I own the r1982 VCF filter module cloned by Harvestman (he has also created eurorack versions of the Polivoks VCOs and the Modulation generators)

Polivoks

But researching a bit more about Formanta, I would love to have bought the pads that they make, but also check out the guitar/keytar for playing drums!

Polivoks

More info on Russian Synths at RussKeys site

Detritus 307

 

> 38 Wonderful Moments In Closed Caption History #funny

 

> a great ad for effects processing?

 

> oh to have a few well placed contact mics on these machines!

 

> love these sushi plates

 

> inside the Paris home of Pierre Henry (thanks Miguel!)

 

Walking City from Universal Everything on Vimeo.

winner of Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica 2014 by Universal Everything

see other winners here

 

> great overview of Foley via a PDF article by Benjamin Wright (thanks Peter!)

 

interesting sculpture (or youtube/facebook/soundcloud like generator?)

 

> love this beat shelf

 

> Ted Talk: DIY Orchestra of the Future? (thanks Carolyn)

 

> The long slow vanish of Britains illustrious recording clubs (thanks Grant!)

 

> some beautiful work via the Sonic Arts Award 2014

winner of the Sound Art category: David Hochgatterer, TIME TO X

TIME TO X is a 96 channel sound installation that transforms the fourth dimension (time) into a geometrical dimension (x). The listener can physically move in time and has the possibility to experience audio in a new way.

 

winner of the Digital Art category: Tim Murray-Browne – The Cave Of Sounds

The Cave of Sounds is an interactive sound installation exploring the power of music to bind individuals together and the visceral urge to use technology to broadcast our identity. Inspired by the prehistoric origins of music as unifying force, the work is formed of eight original musical instruments. Created during a ten month residency at London’s Music Hackspace, each instrument has been designed and created by a member of that community as an embodiment of their own artistic practice. But although each instrument is personal to its creator’s artistic practice, every few weeks we have met up to explore and understand each other’s ideas, and our place within the ensemble as a whole, in a process analogous to a ten month jam session. The final ensemble encapsulates the balance between individual and group expression that we practise when we create music together.

In the hands of its audience, the work is crafted to provoke participants to connect and resonate with each other through musical expression. Visitors are free to experiment with the instruments, and experience first-hand music as a means of actively connecting with those around them to construct a shared creative space. Arranged in a circle with the instruments facing inwards, music here is not created for an audience. Like the process behind the work’s inception, music is an activity we do together rather than something we consume from others. Software linking the instruments gently adjusts their sounds to converge musically as well as detecting musical connections between participants and visualising them onto a central projection.

 

Mention/highly regarded Sound Art category: Kathy Hinde – Piano Migrations

The inside of an old upright piano, is recycled into a kinetic sound sculpture. Videos of birds are projected directly onto the piano to provide an ever-changing musical score. The movement of the birds trigger small machines to twitch and flutter on the piano strings. In this work, nature controls machines to create delicate music.

 

see other finalists/mentions here

 

Plasticine

A week or two ago, someone somewhere commented on a post I was reading, quoting Eno using plasticine as a metaphor for an element of his approach to music production. I appreciate this is pretty vague, but bear with me… Some time later I remembered the quote & went digging in google to see if I could find the source of the quote. I didn’t succeed but I did find this interesting quote via google books:

plasticine

The quote is from this book: Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture and relates to a discussion at CDM on why we love hardware for music production

I totally agree with some of the comments by the Stereolab guy in that book quote, but I think it also has something to do with another form of ‘control’. In software everything is controllable & remembered, and while this is often sighted as a blessing I rarely read mention of it also being a curse. The most obvious example is with regards to the use of delays: one of the many reasons I love Space Echos is that there is no automatic tempo sync – they must be dialled in by hand & by ear. And a vital part of that process of dialling in delay & feedback settings is that it is a process of discovery & happy accidents.

For me that process is creatively the direct opposite of starting in a perfect state & attempting to dial in “out of time-d’ness” from a perfectly tempo matched delay. Now of course no one insists that you must always use tempo sync, but with a lot of software it seems such things are default. And as mentioned in this deeply fascinating thread on MW by one of the leading & earliest developers for Eventide, despite people having access to a machine of infinite possibilities (e.g. H3000) only a small percentage of people ever used anything other than the default programs. While that also says a lot about how great the presets were/are it is also a different reflection on the role presets (and default settings) play in the creative process, and the more default settings there are the more insidious that role becomes.

 

Also from that MW thread, I LOVE some of the incredible gems of wisdom he mentions in passing:

“Easy to get lost in the endless parade of ‘I can so I will’. Instead of ‘it needs it so I will do it’. Lets not polish every ‘scholars rock’ into a shiny round pebble.

& re ilok:

“To pay for the privilege of having a company treat me as if I were already a thief does not sit well with me”

amen, brother!

My new BFF

binaural

One of my constant searches/google alerts for years has been for an affordable binaural dummy head rig, not because I had an urgent need, more out of interest & a desire to experiment with the medium (without having to spend US$8k on a Neumann rig).
Then a month or so ago I received a random phone call from a young woman who is planning a project which in terms of audio will be totally binaural. As she outlined the project I became more & more interested in the concept behind it – I can’t go into details about the project yet, as it is still deep in development, but as my motivation for experimenting with binaural recording grew, the universe eventually responded & now I am the owner of this vintage Sennheiser dummy head:

binaural
(photo by previous owner, thanks Dan in Melbourne)

First released in 1974 the original Sennhesier model MKE2002 came with a pair of omni mics and required the wearer to have a mullet for proper use. But times have changed, mullets come and mullets go, and while I bought the dummy without its original mics, I already had a plan in mind to use my DPA4060s instead. The original mics had a 9V power supply… that chin attachment is quite strange, which might account for the strange look on the face of mr mullet. The manual for the Sennhesier MKE2002 is here

binaural

But as always the proof is in the results, so before I go making any great pronouncements I will do some tests & see how well it images binaural sound with the DPA4060s. Here are two demos from the original model, hopefully it goes without saying but these require headphone listening for full effect.

I posted some photos to FB and asked for comments on peoples experiences with playing back binaural sounds on normal speakers and a few helpful people provided valuable insights, so I hope they don’t mind me quoting them here… (Please feel free comment if you have experience with binaural recording, first post is moderated so there will be a delay before it appears)

Joseph Fraioli: I find that speaker playback imaging varies depending on which mic system you use. The Neumann imaging sounds great on speaker playback, though with the dpa 4060 setup on headphones it’s amazing, while there’s a bit of a whole in the center on speakers.

Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen: The Neumann KU8i is built for being mono and speaker compatible. It also has more “mids” than the newer, more neutral sounding KU100 (I tested it in January for my online magazine FieldRecording.de)

Thanks Joseph & Sebastien!

One test I have in mind is to set it up in my garden & then slowly walk around it in 360 degrees, while making pretend insect sounds with a shaker. The dummy head has a mic stand mounting socket on the base (ewwww, where the spine would be?) so once I am confident with the mic placement & trust the mics are secure I am keen to try it on a boom too – literally putting my head & ears into places that are not necessarily safe or feasible for them to be.

Let the experimenting begin!