Monday, August 31, 2009

Review: Dino Psaras Global Techno and Psy Styles

Libraries: Dino Psaras Global Techno and Psy Styles
Download REX/WAV/Apple Loops
Goa/Psy Trance, Progressive Electronica, Techno, Dance
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Today we're going to take a look at one of the latest offerings from busy samplemeisters Loopmasters: Dino Psaras Global Techno and Psy Styles. Psaras has been a heavyweight in the psytrance scene for many years now and his work is known for its stellar production. So can he bring that magic to a sample library? Read on.

Like most Loopmasters libraries, Dino Psaras consists both of loops and sample instruments in a wide variety of popular sampler formats. All the loops are available as REX files pre-sliced and ready to be dropped into your track. All told, there is over 700 MB of material here in 24-bit.

The loops are divided into sub-categories for your convenience. We start out with 40 bassline loops. These run the gamut from mid-rangey, galloping psy basslines, to pumping electro, to straight ahead trance. They're all very good and extremely energetic, but more important is the sound programming which is extremely authentic as you might expect.

This is followed by a folder of 'beat glitch loops'. These are heavily edited and processed percussion parts perfect for being used as fills or transitions between song parts. They're all very well programmed and high-tech sounding and would be an interesting change from old fashioned drum fills (not that there is anything wrong with those).

Next we find a selection of excellent hi-hats loops. These are all very electronic and occasionally feature some more synth laser type sounds, but all are very kinetic and would work in any sort of high energy music for the dance floor. Disappointingly, the kick loops folder only had ten loops in it. Given that this is aimed at straight ahead 4 to the floor beats, I guess there is only so many you need, but what is here is so good, it really left me wanting more. Each kick loop has its own distinct timbre and that mid-range punch that defines so much psytrance is here in abundance.

Next up, two folders of lead lines in various keys. Keep in mind that what defines a lead line in psytrance is a bit removed from the traditional use of the word. You're not going to find fluffy supersaw cheese here. Instead, you'll find a nice assortment of twisted filter groans, rhythmic synth coughs, and sci-fi weirdness. A few more melodic options are here too, but they don't seem quite as special as the more unusual loops. Psytrance is a genre known for its attention to sound design and that is indeed what sets these apart from more typical trance collections.

The final three folders are denoted as Loop Helpers, Neural Gates, and Runners and all are designed for dropping on top of your own snare and kick lines to add some complexity and movement. They each do this in different ways, though. Loop Helpers consist mostly of light, synthy hihat/shaker rhythms. Neural Gates sort of walk the line between percussion and sound fx with lots of filtered sweeps and choppy rhythms. These are more attention-getting sounds that would be best used for transitions and fills. The Runners section is the most varied with everything from full top end loops, to snare ghost notes, to weird synth percussion parts. Most of these are very light in sound and would work best behind your own drum parts to fill them out a bit.

Of course, man cannot live on loops alone, so an additional 31 sampler instruments are included as well. These consist of some distinctly housey chord stabs, a selection of long, evolving atmospheres, dropping and rising effects, hits, impacts, and spacey synth swoops, some very tight drums, and some cool heavily effects vocal effects. Keep in mind that although there are only 31 actual instruments here, many of them offer different sounds mapped across all the keys, so there is a lot more here than meets the eye at first glance. The sound quality is very good. I would've liked to see some synth bass sounds offered, but there's more than enough good stuff to keep you busy here.

If you're a dance producer or remixer, even if it isn't psytrance, you owe it to yourself to check this collection out. Although many of the sounds are unmistakably 'psytrance', most would fit in seamlessly in any sort of dance oriented style including house, trance, and any of the more progressive styles of electronica. The highly technical style might not be appropriate for every genre, but for those who appreciate the tweaky stuff, this might be a good place to start. [9/10]

Korg 707 on Ebay

A slightly stripped down version of Korg's DS-8. Note the unusual mod and pitch wheels. It also had pegs on the side so it could be worn on a guitar strap.

Info at the listing...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Native Instruments to Announce Kontakt 4, Guitar Rig 4, Komplete 6

Hints were dropped over the weekend that a big announcement was coming from Native Instruments this week, and it looks like we have at least a partial answer as to what that will be. A retailer (accidentally?) posted this link opening up orders for Kontakt 4.  On further investigation, there are similar links for Guitar Rig 4 and Komplete 6 as well.

What do you think it will include? Anyone have a wishlist for new features?

Rare Moog Minitmoog on Ebay

Nope, that's not a typo. Back in 1975 Moog put out this little preset dual VCO synth and, perhaps confusingly, dubbed it the Minitmoog.

Info at the listing...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Open Thread Friday: Your MOST Favorite Synth Sounds?

Okay, so the topic of the day is the opposite of last week's... what are your most favorite synth or electronic sounds? It can be a general type of sound or a specific sound used in a song you like.

I've got too many to name, but I've always been a fan of the Yamaha CP-70 piano (think U2's "New Year's Day"), and the metallic synth playing the two-note motif in Depeche Mode's "Stripped". Come to think of it, I also love the string/voice sound on that trick. Also, pretty much every sound on Nitzer Ebb's "Belief" album.

So what are your faves?

Bizarre "Sonica" Analog Synth That Looks Like a Sitar on Ebay

Apparently 650 or so of these were built, but this is the first time I've ever heard of it. Anyone have any experience with one of these? The oscillator was built by Serge Tcherepnin, better known for his well-known Serge modular synths. Apparently Donna Summer bought a number of them to create a 'Sonica Orchestra'. Weird!

More info at the listing...

You can also read more about the fascinating history of the instrument and the people behind it here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cool Blog for Old People

If you're an old coot like me, or even if you just have an appreciation for the alternative music of the 80's, you should definitely check out (Relax, the seemingly gory URL is a lyric from a Pixies song...). The blog covers bands from the era, news on reissues, remasters, reunions, and other words begining with 're-'.

Incidentally, the stack of tapes at the top of the page looks SO much like my cassette collection from back in the day that it's scary.

Try It Out: Instant Retro Street Cred With Spring Reverb

I want to start a semi-regular feature on this blog called 'Try It Out' that will encourage you to try some different types of effects you might not have considered before. I'm retroactively including the Ring Modulation article from last week. So for today's article, I'm going to discuss spring reverb.

Back in the days before digital and plug-in reverbs, reverb units worked quite literally by having a physical object that vibrated to simulate the sound of natural reverberant spaces. For instance, vintage plate reverbs used transducers to vibrate an actual piece of sheet metal which was in turn amplified via pickups. Spring reverbs worked on a similar principal but instead vibrated a spring which was attached to a pickup. The obvious advantage of spring reverbs was that they could be made much smaller, opening up more portable options, often built into guitar amps, or even synths, such as the Arp 2600. They sounded quite a bit different from plates too.

For lack of a better descriptor, spring reverbs sound, well - springy. There is a distinctly lofi, underwater feel to spring reverbs that make them instant vibe machines. There is just a certain atmosphere lent to tracks by spring reverb that is hard to describe, but instantly identifiable. It's the sound of trip-hop. It's the sound of countless famous guitar tones from the 50's and 60's. It's the sound of countless dub recordings and those influenced by dub, such as Martin Hannett's jaw-dropping production for Joy Division. And often, it was the sound of pioneering electronic music such as the menacing, metronomic knock that punctuates Kraftwerk's underrated
"Hall of Mirrors".

You can find spring reverb sounds in most modern convolution plug-ins, dedicated spring reverb simulators, many classic digital reverbs, some amps, and even via more modern hardware units from manufacturers such as Doepfer and Vermona. With these sounds available so widely, there is really no excuse not to try it out. The sound won't be to everyone's taste for sure. It's a murky, subterranean kind of sound that sounds best with music that embraces those elements.

Here's a little sound clip to help demonstrate the effect:

An Open Invitation

I just wanted to invite readers here to come over to, a new fan forum for my band, Assemblage 23. Even if you have no interest in my band, we DO have a dedicated tech forum and I'd love to get non-fans involved too so it can almost be an extension on Waveformless. Since we are starting over from scratch, the user base isn't huge yet, but feel free to come on over, sign up, and talk tech. Everyone there is super-friendly and I think people familiar with the previous forum will agree that it's always been a place devoid of the usual internet drama and hostility. So come on and join us! ONE OF US! ONE OF US! WOOZLE WAZZLE! WOOZLE WAZZLE!

Roland SH-3a on Ebay

Roland's first non-preset monosynth. Probably most famously used on Blondie's "Heart of Glass".

Info at the listing...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Klaus Schulze feat. Lisa Gerrard on Tour September 2009

Via Synthtopia.

For our readers in Europe, this looks like it would be a pretty cool tour to see. I never realized the two had worked together.

Choirs Without Samples

Here's a great article on synthesizing choirs using (ideally modular) analog synths.

Waldorf Microwave XTk on Ebay

I've got one of these and love it. Definitely one of Waldorf's better products.

Info at the listing...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sampling Gold Mine Part 2: The British Invasion

A while back, I posted this link to a huge online archive of classic educational/scare films from the US. The other day, BoingBoing posted this collection of public information films from the UK. (Warning: some are a bit graphic). I don't know if any of these are considered in the public domain or not, so I make no claims as to the legality of sampling from these, but if you don't tell, I won't.

Does Making Music Turbo-Charge Your Hearing?

Wired recently posted an interesting article about research that shows that musicians can pick out conversation from noisy environments better than non-musicians. I guess the idea is that since musicians learn to deconstruct music into its individual parts when they listen to it, they are better able to do the same when listening to speech in loud places. I suppose a bit of touring will give you ample practice at that, too. This definitely doesn't apply to me, though. I have a terrible time hearing what people are saying to me in a loud club. Maybe I'm not actually a musician!

Moog Liberation on Ebay

I'm going to say right off the bat that I am firmly in the anti-keytar camp. But if you MUST, you may as go with a classic.

Info at the listing...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Selective Gating for Fun and Profit

If you've been a regular reader of this blog for awhile, you've probably seen my previous articles about gating (if not, look here, here, and here). Today I'm going to take a look at a less conventional way of gating that can create some cool special effects.

For purposes of this article, I'll refer to it as 'selective gating', although gating is by its nature selective to begin with. In this case, however, we're going to use a side-chain to close and open a gate to selectively let through a massive reverb which we can then trigger rhythmically. I'm going to be doing this in Logic, but you should be able to replicate this with any gate effect that allows side-chaining.

1. Open up your DAW and program a simple four on the floor rhythm. Render your kick and your snare out separately and place them on their own audio tracks.

2. On your snare track, assign a bus to one of your sends. Set your wet/dry level to about 50%.

3. On the send itself, insert a reverb and call up a REALLY long, ridiculous preset. You want something really over the top here.

4. On the same send, insert a gate after the reverb. I'm going to use Logic's Silver Gate, because it's simple and has all the settings we need.

5. Create a new soft synth track and insert a simple synth on it. The sound isn't important because we're only going to be using it for triggering. You want a sound that sustains as long as you hold it and with zero release, so when you let go of a key, the sound stops immediately. I'm using Logic's EVB3 organ simulator since organ sounds generally have this precise amp envelope.

6. Assign the output of the soft synth track to another send. In this case, I'm assigning it to Bus 2 (the output assignments in Logic can be found right under where you assign what instrument is to go on the track). We don't actually want to hear the synth, so change Bus 2's output assignments to 'No Output'.

7. On your gate plug-in, set the ATTACK, and HOLD settings to zero.
We want the effect to be severe. Set your RELEASE to something low, but not zero, or you'll get clicks at the end of your gated sounds. You'll also want your THRESHOLD value set low because you'll want it to trigger any time it receives the side chain signal (our synth). Finally, set the SIDE CHAIN INPUT to Bus 2, the soft synth track we just created.

8. If you hit PLAY now, you shouldn't hear any reverb at all, just your boring old dry drum track. This is because the gate isn't receiving a side chain signal to open it up. So, select your soft synth track and hold down a note. You should now hear your snare being fed through the massive reverb.

9. Where the fun comes in is in playing different rhythmic patterns on the soft synth track so that the reverb cuts in and out in an interesting way. And since you can record the MIDI of the soft synth, you can quantize, edit, and experiment to your heart's content. If you've done everything correctly you should hear something like this:

Arp Odyssey Mk II on Ebay

Info at the listing...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Open Thread Friday: Your Least Favorite Synth/Electronic Sound

Woohoo! It's Friday, kids! Today's topic: what is your least favorite synth or electronic sound? Every electronic musician I know, no matter how into synths they are, has at least one famous synth sound that is like nails on a chalkboard to them. For me, it's a toss up between the DX-7 Rhodes preset that was like a plague in the 80's and the Roland TR-808 'cowbell' sound. So what's yours? It can be a synth preset, a sound from a drum machine, a sound used in a famous song...

Yamaha DX-5 on Ebay

Definitely one of the less common members of the DX family...

Info at the listing...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The DJ Mouse

(Click picture to enlarge)

This is kind of an interesting idea...
Read the full story on Engadget.

Pre-order My New Single

Time for a quick self-plug (that sounds filthy). My new single, "Spark" will be out September 25th on Metropolis Records (Accession Records in Europe). I've opened up pre-orders on my webstore for anyone who is interested. Orders placed on my site will ship a week before the official release date. Check out samples from the single here (scroll to the bottom).

The Ondo Music Editing Phone

Thanks to my friend Jesse for sending me this item. Seems pretty interesting in concept at least...

The Ondo Music Editing Phone

Pink Floyd Talks About Recording "Money"

Awhile back, I posted a clip from the Classic Albums series in
which Pink Floyd discussed the synth part from "On the Run".
Here is another clip from the same series in which they discuss
recording "Money", including how the sound effects loop that starts
the song was created. Even if you're not into Pink Floyd, it's worth
watching just to see the deconstruction of the mix, as there is a lot
of valuable info on how they did things. Plus, Alan Parsons's
pirate shirt is pretty boss.

Metasonix S-1000 Wretch Machine on Ebay

Info at the listing...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Backing Vocals

All too often, we as musicians are focused on the foreground elements of music - guitar solos or driving drum beats or hypnotic synth basslines, or perhaps most of all, lead vocals. While this is undeniably important, it sometimes comes at the expense of not paying equal attention to the background elements. This is a big mistake because the more well-crafted those background elements are, the better those lead elements sound. These support players help to highlight and reinforce the lead elements and give them the "larger than life" sound that is the trademark of a professional sounding recording.

This is perhaps nowhere more evident than with vocals. When you hear a song on the radio, 9 times out of 10, you're not hearing just a single vocal track. There's usually harmonies, doubling, and other backing vocals there to make the lead vocal sound even better. So today I'm going to brainfart out some random thoughts on the use of backing vocals in music.

• Imperfection is Okay

Keep in mind that backing vocals are just that - vocals in the background. In some cases, they may be barely noticeable, just to add an 'edge' to a vocal. So don't worry about giving the vocal performance of a lifetime for backing vocals. In fact, a little imperfection might actually sound nice, within reason. Multiple vocal tracks have a tendency to "average out" instances where you might be a little flat or sharp, and the result is often a pleasant sort of chorusing. Which brings us to...

• Double It

Even if you don't want to try anything fancy, at least give a try to double-tracking your vocals. Chances are, you're doing multiple takes of your vocals anyway, so set a good one aside, put it on a second track, and mix it behind the lead vocal according to taste. Because you're human, you're never going to sing a melody the exact same way each time you sing it. Take advantage of that and the "averaging" effect I described above. You get the same fattening effect as chorus, but in a much more natural and pleasant way. Or, double your vocal by singing the second layer an octave above the first for yet another cool effect.

• Harmonic Convergence

If you want to try something a little more advanced, try singing harmonies. If you're like most people, this won't come naturally at first. Your natural tendency will be to sing along with the lead vocal than to harmonize with it. When I first started using harmonies, instead of trying to come up with them by singing against the lead vocal, I'd try to tap them out on a keyboard while I listened to it. I personally found this a bit easier, and it didn't take much time before I was able to do it with my voice on the spot. So if you're having trouble coming up with anything coherent by singing, try playing along to the vocal with whatever your instrument of choice is.

• Don't Compete

As I keep emphasizing, your backing vocals should be just that - in the background. Don't let them compete with, or even dominate your lead vocal. The lead is the star of this movie. Your backing vocal is that character actor you really like, but whose name you can never remember. It's there to make the star shine brighter. One way of helping to ensure that happens is to use EQ properly on your backing vocals. Your backing vocal doesn't need to contain as wide a frequency range as your lead. So my first move with most backing vocals is to make a big ol' low-end cut from about 200Hz and below. I'll sometimes add a tiny boost somewhere around 3-5k to add some presence. If you listen to the track soloed, it would sound a bit thin and weak, but behind a lead with a more robust range of frequencies, it'll sound great.

• Compressing the Issue

I tend to compress my backing vocals quite a bit harder than the lead ones. By doing this, I can mix them in at a lower volume level and they'll still sound loud enough. This allows for some nice 'barely there' effects, but is useful as a general rule in keeping your mix clean. You can't go too extreme or it'll pump and clip in a distracting way, but the lower volume level will definitely cover up some of the more unnatural artifacts of heavy compression within reason. I've also had some interesting results from not compressing the backing track at all. This can work for very subtle chorusing effects when the second track is mixed low.

• Spread Out a Bit

If you're doing multiple tracks of vocals, you should definitely play around with them in stereo. As a general rule, your lead vocal should always be front and center. But mixing the backing vocals a little off-center can really help fatten up your overall vocal sound. Try using a stereo spreader, too. Sure, it won't be mono-compatible, but honestly, I think the days where we need to sweat that too much are behind us.

• Snip Snip

The closer your lead and backing vocal match in terms of the rhythmic delivery, the slicker it will sound. The best way to do this is to rehearse the vocal a lot before you actually record it. If you know the song inside and out, you are more likely to sing each take consistently, so the parts will line up correctly. Even then, your timing is bound to be a little off, so I like to cut the backing vocal up by word and align each one with the corresponding word in the lead vocal. But like I said, imperfection is not a bad thing. You may prefer the more natural sound of an unedited backing vocal. The perfectly-lined up ones do sound really nice, though.

So what about you? What kinds of techniques do you use when you're dealing with backing vocals?

Oberheim OB-12 on Ebay

This virtual analog was the subject of a lot of controversy when it first came out, namely because it didn't involve Tom Oberheim in any way, nor did it really fit in with the rest of the Oberheim family sound wise. But in recent years I've seen people speak out about how underrated it is once you get over the fact it isn't a "real" Oberheim synth. I've never played one. Anyone out there have any experience with this one? Opinions?

Info at the listing...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Create New Rhythms Instantly in Stylus RMX

Spectrasonics's Stylus Rmx is a great piece of software for all things rhythm-oriented. It's a great way of centralizing your drum loops in a single place where you can experiment with layering, effects, and even the structure of the loops themselves. In the latest version, they added some great new features that allow you to produce instant variations on any loop to expand your options still further.

But, before this feature was added, I liked to experiment by triggering one loop's slices from another loop's MIDI file. This is kind of a variation on a trick I know a lot of fellow musicians used to do back in the day of hardware samplers. Just for the hell of it, I'd occasionally load up the sequences for a song, and then load in the wrong samples for each track to see if anything interesting came out of it. A lot of times it was garbage, but quite a few times it also produced something cool and unexpected. Here's how to do it in Stylus.

1. Open up an instance of Stylus RMX and select a loop.

2. Drag that loop from the MIDI file drag and drop window (the little blue box with the name of the loop in it) and drag the MIDI file from Stylus's interface to the software instrument track Stylus is assigned to in your DAW. This creates a MIDI file that will trigger the slices of your selected loop. As you can imagine, this gives you more flexibility with loops and allows you to actually edit them to your heart's content. But we're not interested in that for now. Hit play in your DAW and you should hear your loop play as expected.

3. Now, select another random loop in Stylus and hit play again. Stylus will trigger the slices from your newly-selected loop with the MIDI from the first loop you chose. You can keep selecting new loops until you find something interesting. Because every loop will have slices of varying lengths, often the results are very strange and off-kilter - perfect for IDM stuff. Some results will be more musically coherent than others, but remember if you get something that's cool, but not quite there yet, you can move notes around in the MIDI file using the piano roll editor in your DAW.

The more loops you have, the more variations and happy accidents await you!

Electronotes Modular on Ebay

Info at the listing...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Clear Sequential Circuits Pro One

Spotted this over on RetroThing, apparently from an ad. Does anyone know if this was a real, working model? If so, I think I need it. Oh, and I will also need the $5,000 or so it would probably fetch on eBay. Thanks.

New Reaktor Blog

Came across this cool new blog about all things Reaktor. I always thought Native Instruments really dropped the ball with their documentation for Reaktor, so I'm always happy to see when someone else shares their knowledge. It already has some helpful tutorials and looks like one worth watching. Check it out!

Update: Hollow Sun's Free Polymoog "Vox Humana" Samples Posted

Just letting everyone know that Hollow Sun has posted a sampled version of the famous Polymoog "Vox Humana" preset (made famous by Gary Numan) on their website. What I didn't realize when they first announced it is that it happens to be free! Kick ass! Samplist Jeori Peeters did this one in addition to the Strings 1 and Strings 2 presets which are also available for free on Hollow Sun's site.

You can grab it in Akai S5/6000, Native Instruments Kontakt 3, or Alesis Fusion formats from the Hollow Sun site. Or, if none of those formats are what you're looking for, check out Jeori Peeters' website for a ton more.

Pictures of Various Bands' Studios

There's a cool thread going on over at the Vintage Synth Explorer forums where people are posting pictures of the studios of some famous artists. It's interesting to see how compact and "home studio" looking many of the more recent ones are. The times have really changed. I have to admit the picture of Hans Zimmer's studio made me pee in my pants a little.

Quasimidi Rave-O-Lution 309 on Ebay

Item is apparently in good condition, but slightly blurry. ; )

Info at the listing...