Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That...

Thanks to my friend Steve for sending me this one.. Amazing graphics and name! Want one? They're made by Quinnamp.

A Children's Treasury of Ugly Synths: Part 2

7. Gleeman Pentaphonic Clear
We pick up our countdown of the ugliest synths ever with this extremely rare monstrosity, the clear version of the already rare Gleeman Pentaphonic (how dorky is that name?). Only 20 of these were built, so maybe even Gleeman knew. On paper, the idea of a clear synth whose guts you can see from the outside is kind of cool, but this is one of those cases where the reality just didn't live up to the promise.

8. Moog Sonic Six
Based on the Sonic V, a synth made by Musonics, who eventually bought out R.A. Moog, the Sonic Six clearly doesn't look much like prior synths with Moog's name on them. An awkward-looking panel layout and that lovely blue and brown combo we saw previously with the EML Electrocomp 100 combine to make for a pretty homely instrument. Not many of these were made, with most of them being used in educational facilities.

9. Multivox Firstman SQ-01
This is one synth whose ugliness totally makes me want one. Featuring a membrane keyboard (who ever thought those were a good idea?) and built-in sequencer, the synth section of the SQ-01 was quite simple, but MAN what a sound. Really thick, wooly synth bass.

I used to be a video editor. If I walked by this quickly, I'd swear it was a Beta deck. I'll let you decide if that's a good thing or not. Although it was not very well-known, those who have Voyetra Eights rarely sell them. Many consider it to be one of the best-sounding polysynths of the era. You can spot one being used in New Order's "Perfect Kiss" video.

11. Oxford Synthesizer Company Oscar
Look, the Oscar is an amazing synth, no two ways about it, but what a visual trainwreck! The Oscar was definitely one of the most unusual synth designs out there, and I suppose that makes it beautiful in its own way.

Maybe "ugly" isn't the right word, but the panel of this French synth is a chaotic jumble that looks more like engineer with attention deficit disorder's schematics than synth controls. I've never used one before, so perhaps it's a joy to program, but that layout makes my head ache just from looking at it.

Stay tuned for our third and final installment tomorrow!

New Albums from Depeche Mode and OMD in the Works?

Word on the streets is that we can expect to see new material from synth-pop legends Depeche Mode and OMD next year. OMD has already confirmed that they have begun work on their next release, to be called "English Electric". Depeche Mode, on the other hand, is scheduled to meet in January to discuss the next album, with recording provisionally set to start in March.

VCMG - Spock (Broadcasrt on RTVE Radio)

For those of you wanting to hear a more substantial sample of "Spock" the new single from synth-pop legends Vince Clarke and Martin Gore's new project VCMG, here's you go. I imagine there will be a ton of backlash against it since it doesn't sound like either one's work, but I actually kind of like it. Although it sounds like fairly standard minimal/tech, I think Clarke's hand can be felt in the synth sounds. What do you think?

Roland JX-3P on eBay

Info at the listing...

Open Labs MiKo on eBay

Info at the listing...

Freeman String Symphonizer on eBay

Info at the listing...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Children's Treasury of Ugly Synths: Part 1

If you've been a reader of this blog for awhile, you probably know I have a soft spot in my heart for ugly synthesizers. I can't really explain why, but there's just something about a synth that is aesthetically-challenged that appeals to me. And there is no doubt that over the years, synth designers have made some truly WTF decisions with the designs of some otherwise cool instruments. So I thought it might be fun to look at some of these. Over the next three days, we'll take a look at some of the ugliest synths ever made. These are just in alphabetical order, so I'll leave it up to you to decide which is the ugliest. Keep in mind, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so if you're offended by any of the choices, shut up.

1. Crumar Bit 01
The Crumar Bit 01 was the rackmount version of the similarly-named Bit One keyboard, a 6-voice digitally-controlled analog polysynth. Although it was actually quite a decent-sounding synth, it looked like a piece of lab equipment (which may actually endear it to some people). Bland white panels with a minimum of controls and a look that shows the difference between something designed by an designer and something designed by an engineer.

2. Dave Smith Instruments Mopho
After Sequential Circuits dissolved in 1987 (or more accurately, were absorbed by Yamaha), things were quiet from Dave Smith for awhile. (Although he was active... not many people know he was responsible for the world's first softsynth.) And the Sequential fans were not disappointed. Smith showed he still had "it" when it came to building great-sounding, unique instruments. One of his most-heralded new products was the Mopho, an analog mono synth that was known as the Pro One II during its development phase. True to its edgy name, the Mopho was a ballsy beast capable of floor-rattling bass and screaming leads alike. So what would you envision such an instrument to look like? You want to make it look as bad-ass as possible, right? So you can understand why a bright sunflower-yellow synth might seem a bit odd. And what is with that ugly font?

Electronic Dream Plant was a British synth manufacturer started by Adrian Wagner (who, according to Wikipedia, was a decendent of bombastic classical composer Richard Wagner). Their best known product was the Wasp, a digital synth with analog filters and a slew of unusual features. How unusual? How about the ability to run it on batteries, a built-in speaker, and a non-moving membrane keyboard? You'd be forgiven for thinking it looks like a toy, but it was actually a pretty cool sounding synth. But my God, what an eyesore! I assume the coloring was supposed to be like a hornet (close enough), and really, what musician WOULDN'T want to wail away an incredible solo on something that looks like a bumble bee? It is safe to say that if you were playing one of these onstage, you weren't getting laid after the show.

Since debuting with the extremely unique Sidstation, Swedish synth designers Elektron have wowed electronic musicians with a number of innovative products. The Monomachine was no exception, offering 5 independent synths each offering multiple types of synthesis as the basis for your sounds. The synth was released in a rather normal-looking rack version, as well as a keyboard version whose design was... eyebrow raising. Perhaps paying tribute to synths like the Roland SH-3a (more on that later), Elektron made the curious decision to place all the controls to the side of the keyboard instead of above it. It looks like someone sewed a drum machine to the side of a controller keyboard. I've never used one personally, so I can't say for sure, but it seems like it would be a bit of a pain to program.

5. EML Electrocomp Model 100
Where even to start with this one? Is there a color that clashes more with brown wood than bright blue? Good thing it was an amazing synth. 4 extremely stable oscillators, multimode filters, sample and hold, and a folding design that turned the synth into its own carrying case.

The Fizmo was the last product released by Pennsylvania-based Ensoniq before they were bought out by E-mu and eventually dissolved. And what a controversial synth it proved to be! The synth built on Ensoniq's "Transwave" technology, first seen in the VFX, and was essentially a form of wavetable synthesis with much in common with products from PPG and Waldorf. Unfortunately, it was also extremely buggy when first released and there were issues with build quality that combined to make the Fizmo a source of derision when it first came out. However, the synth has seen a recent resurgence in popularity on the second hand market as more and more musicians began to recognize the unique sounds it was capable of. Regardless of that, though, it remains an almost hilariously 90's-looking design. Almost makes you want to don a Cosby sweater and bust out some Bell Biv Devoe riffs...

What abominations are next? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Circuit Bent Casio SA-5 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Roland SH-09 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Jomox Airbase 99 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Novation Supernova II on eBay

Info at the listing...

Monday, November 28, 2011

1.27 GB of Free Samples from Sonokinetic Sampling

Sonokinetic Sampling is celebrating the holidays in the spirit of giving... namely, 1.27 GB worth of free samples available through their Facebook.

It includes:
-Full version download of the library "Carillon"
-"Felt Force One" library selections. 4 full monolite patches with large ensemble epic percussion performance and snare drum performances
-"Sultan Strings" Apple Loops of all the Hicaz style performances
-Including all documentation

Files: Kontakt, aif/wave (44.1kHz/24Bit)& Apple loops
(total >1000 samples)
Archive size: 750MB rar (unarchived: 1,27GB)
Time limited offer: From *Black Friday up to Cyber Monday 2011

First Look at Arturia's SEM-V

Overview of the Korg PS3100

Raul's World of Synths provides this excellent profile of the uber-rare KOrg PS3100.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Australian Artist Builds 23-foot Tall Theremin

Ever wanted to play a 23-foot tall Theremin? Well then, make your way down to the Southbank area of Melbourne, Australia where artist Robin Fox's monster creation will be on display for the next 3 months. This Theremin uses cameras to track pedestrians to manipulate its sound and undoubtedly drive the neighbors crazy.

Free Yamaha PSR-731 Drum Samples from Hardballs Records

Hardballs Records has released a free set of drum and percussion samples from the decidedly unballsy Yamaha PSR-731 in Kontakt and EXS-24 format.