My first experience of music technology and sequencers was back in high school, where the music department was trialling a small studio consisting of Emagic Logic (3? 4?) and a Roland JV30 hooked up to a Tascam 488. I gave up my lunchtimes so I could delve into the world of recording my own music… once I’d figured how to arm a record channel and set the levels correctly.
Fast-forwarding, it’s all Pro Tools. Everything exists on a computer and the idea of creating sound is boiled down to idly skipping through presets on some synth you’re prodding with a mouse.
I’ve been more and more determined to try to find a way to create and record music with as little DAW involvement as possible. Some of this is out of a general dislike for computers, and some of this is out of a need to find another way to work. I recently took a step backwards and bought an old Roland MC50 sequencer: it has 8 MIDI tracks (each with 16 channels on), editing is done via a 2 line LCD display, and it saves data to single-density floppy disks. This sounds like a bad thing, but on the plus side, it takes ~3s to fire up, it doesn’t crash, and whenever an idea is floating around, you can grab it almost immediately. No driver issues, no sample rate problems, no software deprecation.
I’m running it with (more “win”s) an un-expanded Roland JV1080, an Akai S3000XL, and a (possibly the new love of my life) a Moog Sub37 – so there’s the balance of digital synthesis, old-school sampling and analogue balls. It shows how full circle we’ve come: 1080s and Akais that were far more expensive than the (old) analogue synths are now had for cheap, whilst a modern analogue synth will set you back some serious cash.
They’re all unique though. The Moog is a moog – everything is knob-tweaks, experimentation and (ultimately) hugely rewarding sounds that you can’t help but grin with. It’s strange to say, but it really is something you can’t get from prodding a mouse at a screen. I love the fact that the Akai is a blank canvas – again, we’re so used to firing up a soft-sampler and dumping in whatever multi-gigabyte drum set, that taking a step backwards you realise how much fun you can have creating something out of recycled sound. That weird chord at the beginning of some TV series. Sample it. The sound of Willy Wonka. Sample it. The 1080 is sort of an old version on Omnisphere. It’s a pain to edit but very rewarding in the long run. Ironically, it’s the sort of thing people now seem to be trying to emulate as a plugin…
There are a few quirks with working entirely on equipment dating from the early 90s. For starters, if you want to share your music with anyone you’ll need to rip it to mp3/wav, which means using the computer. Alongside that, my mixing desk doesn’t feature automation so I’ve been recording the output of everything sequenced by the MC50 back into ProTools and then automating the faders in there. There are some MIDI issues meaning PT won’t sync with the MC50 over MIDI (if that’s your bag), however it will over the FSK Tape Sync feature Roland bundled into the MC50 (basically, the MC50 generates a sound that I record into ProTools – when I play this sound back to the MC50, the MC50 starts playing in sync) – ooh, retro.
I’m dying to get hold of a Wavestation A/D, after Korg decided not to support AAX. Many years ago I paid roughly the equivalent price of a used Wavestation, for the Korg Legacy software collection – which now sits in a CD rack unusable. The Wavestation, however, I suspect would still be running smoothly.
Besides the lack of news posts, here’s a round-up of all things going on in the room at the moment…
- Analogue recording and mixing to 1/4″ tape now available, courtesy of a Studer/ReVox machine and an AMS Neve 8816 mixer.
- Josienne and I won best duo at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and got to perform
- Recording a live EP for the Will Pound Band
- Recording a couple of tracks for the new Jackie Oates album
- The wonderful Oh Sister has previewed some of the EP I recorded for her a while back – links on the homepage…
- The wonderful Daniel Pattison, a.k.a Hart has released some of the tracks from his EP I recorded – links on the homepage…
- Mixing an album for Brighton-based songsmith JinnWoo
- Recording an EP with the rather fantastic Emily Mae Winters
- Writing some strings for the upcoming Paul Heaton album
- Finishing an album for the majestic Robin Elliott
Further updates will, I’m sure, happen in due course…!
Who’s been in the studio recently…
.. and what’s hot and fresh out the kitchen…
Scoring, scoring and scoring at the moment. We’re playing at Folk By The Oak soon, with a string ensemble.. .which means arranging for quartet. The trick is to remember that samples don’t sound like real strings, and strings can do much more exciting things than “note on” and “note off”…
This eventually gets exported into Sibelius and printed out in glorious manuscript…!
new website… mind the slightly wet paint
Great day recording two tracks with fellow DADGAD player Raevennan Husbandes – can’t wait to share the results with the wider world!
New equipment time. I’m a big fan of getting things right on the way in – and having equipment that performs one function amazingly well, rather than one piece of equipment that performs lots of functions adequately. Since I already had a headphone amp, great preamps, and I hate the idea of being beholden to one manufacturer for all my software plugins, I’ve taken the plunge and got a Lynx Aurora 16. It does one thing and one thing only: convert between analogue (what you can hear) to digital (what the computer understands). And rather well it does it too…
Last week pretty much looked like this: