Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Equipment: Roland JU-06

The JU-06 sitting atop its ailing predecessor, the HS-60 (Juno-106S).
Since the last update I've been spending a lot of time at Wild Bill's Studio working on other people's projects. The only project of my own that's seen any advancement is the new Disco Antenna record (Side B), which is just awaiting some last-minute vocals. With Christmas approaching like a bat out of hell, I'm looking to complete at least five tracks for the new Manitou album.

One of the things that's been holding me up is my ailing Roland HS-60. Ever since I rescued it from a thrift store, the integrity of its circuitry has been slowly disintegrating, to the point that it now pops and crackles like a popular breakfast cereal whenever I turn it on. The album in question relies heavily on its contribution. A lot of the parts were written using TAL's excellent U-NO-LX software (Juno 60 emulation). But the problem with that is this: any time you multi-track the same patch, an unflattering chorus effect is produced. Something to do with the digital waveforms being too similar. Something sciency, at any rate.

The JU-06, then, promised to be a new DSP/hardware emulation of the Juno-106/HS-60, and hopefully an answer to my problems. So far it's delivered, sound-wise - if not in other areas. Time will tell if it truly is a replacement for the original.

Here are some first impressions. The controls are a little smaller, but not terrible to work with. It sounds very close to the original. Recreating some of my U-NO-LX patches on it has accentuated the inaccuracies of that particular VST. I don't see this as a problem, however, since the U-NO brings its own flavour.

The USB and MIDI implementation are, quite frankly, terrible. For instance, USB is the only way to power it (aside from batteries) and doubles as MIDI and audio conduit. This would be fantastic but for one thing: when it interfaces with my DAW (Sonar 8 in this case) it becomes the sole audio interface, incapacitating my Focusrite Saffire Audio box that handles all my inputs and outputs. Luckily there are dedicated headphone and audio outs, and MIDI in/out jacks.

Connecting it into my rig was a complex operation. Mainly because of the way I have my MIDI controller (Akai MPK 25) set up. I use it for interfacing with VST's via USB. MIDI out and USB in/out can't be used at the same time, thus in order to control the JU-06 and VST's without unplugging this and plugging in that, the JU-06 needs its own USB-to-MIDI interface, then routing has to be done in Sonar so that MIDI out from the MPK points to MIDI in on the JU-06. Not a huge deal, but a person doesn't want to think about this kind of stuff when they want to make music!

One last gripe I'll mention about this synth: it can neither send nor receive sysex information. This would have been jolly handy for importing Juno-106 patches and exporting patches from the unit itself. However, the manual does state that the contents of the unit can be backed up via USB. I've not tried this yet - I was so annoyed by the audio interface screw-up that I uninstalled the USB driver - but this will bear investigating when I've filled the 64 patch memory slots.

So, it may sound like I'm 'hating' on this little machine, but for all its quirks it sounds amazing. And one thing I absolutely love about it is the ability to turn off the emulated chorus 'noise'. The HS-60 produces a barely audible white-noise sweep when you turn the chorus switches on. The JU-06 produces this same sound (a little louder and more digital, to my ears) but gives you the option of lowering it or turning it off completely. I used to run the HS-60 through noise-reduction software to overcome this. Some people might find that grounds for heresy, but I like a clean signal.

Now to get some work done!

Update: The JU-06 also choruses when the same patch is multi-tracked, but thankfully not when mixing it with U-NO-LX. I've also re-jigued my MIDI routing. The setup I described above would stop responding to MIDI input at random times. New configuration: MPK > computer via USB, MPK > JU-06 via MIDI Out, then the signal is routed through Sonar. Now that I know this is possible, I can route other synth modules in my collection in the same manner. I can see I'll be needing at least a 4-way MIDI switch box.

Update update: I'm pretty sure the 'chorusing' issue I'm hearing is simply a matter of the same chorus effect phasing when multi-tracked. Perhaps the HS-60 itself does this too and I just never noticed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

No More Cries

Since spring of this year I've been consulting with a local rock band, No More Cries. I was initially asked to help set up some hardware/software to get their 16-track recording studio up and running. This has led to new friendships and a deeper involvement with the band, their studio, and their recording projects. The website I've created for them is finally live (albeit a work in progress) here:

No More Cries play original songs influenced by the best rock music to come out of the 70's & 80's, and are fellow aficionados of vintage gear. They've also embraced what new technology has to offer. I hope my readers will enjoy my further adventures with these three fine human beings in the wilds of Central BC.

You can also follow the band on FaceBook.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Digital EP: Transmissions Part I

While I was working on Radioatomic, I had a few offshoot ideas that further explored the radio theme, to the point of incorporating snippets of distorted radio transmissions into them. This was the loose concept behind 'Transmissions.' The project has since morphed into a home for 'orphaned' experiments that came about from tinkering in the studio. I foresee a series of EP's of this nature, with a full album as soon as there's enough material. For now, you can grab Transmissions Part I here, or stream from the player below:

Bandcamp Player:

1. Microbes - Testing some new equipment gave rise to this Frankenstein's Monster of a track. I never quite knew where I was going with it from one minute to the next. While searching for a title, I found an old educational film about bacteria; a monologue from which tied everything together.


Equipment: Korg SQ-1 sequencer and MS-20 Mini (wobbly 'bassline,' panned left, and pink noise 'footsteps', panned center), iVCS3 soft synth (bubbly swamp noises, panned center) Korg Monotribe (space drum-thing sequence, panned right), Curtis for iPad granular synthesizer (pterodactyl sounds), GMedia M-Tron (choir), various field recordings.

2. Echo of the Telegraph - The Korg MS-20 synthesizer is equipped with CV (Control Voltage), and can be patched in such a way that it effectively plays itself. The usefulness of this is very limited, of course, but it leaves your hands free to shape the sound while it's blooping merrily away. One such improvisation forms the backbone of this track. To that I added TAL U-No-LX (melody), Crumar Performer (strings), cymbal, and synthesized percussion.

3. Trans Earache Express - Of the many recordings of trains I've made, I had one striking passage I wanted to build a song around. I called upon the Korg Monotribe to provide bass accompaniment (recorded live), and added a little percussion.


4. Ghost Box - In 2013 I worked on a soundtrack that could be described as steampunk-meets-chorale. I think it's one of the best things I've done, so I hope I'll be able to release it someday. This song shares some of the sonic characteristics and overall mood, with the exception of vocals and snippets of radio recordings. A 'ghost box,' in case you're wondering, is a radio wired to constantly cycle through frequencies in the hope that spirits will vocalise through it.


5. Lost Transmission - Written around the same time as Ghost Box. I took a lengthy recording of a transistor radio tuned so that the signal stuttered, and played it back at half-speed through a digital emulation of tape delay. I then came up with something complimentary on the Roland HS-60.

Video: Well of Souls

One more video for the Atmospheres stuff. I'd like to eventually do a 'making of' for this track, but in the meantime I have a new e.p. out so look out for that in a forthcoming post.

As previously mentioned, the Atmospheres_Part I e.p. is available as a free download via bandcamp. If you'd prefer to just snag this track, you can find it on SoundCloud:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Video: A Night In The Big Room

Now that the new studio PC is up and running I'm devoting some time to work that was interrupted by the change-over. This includes completing a new e.p. of various experiments that don't fit with the theme of the new Manitou album, and videos for some of the pieces from Atmospheres Part I.

A Night In The Big Room was inspired by the building you see in the video footage. I shot this sometime around 2007 on a VHS-C camcorder. For the story behind the sound collage, see this post.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Digital Single: Superstitious by Disco Antenna

A lot has been going on at Manitou Productions behind the scenes, including a major upgrade to the studio. Unfortunately, the time spent wrangling hardware and software has eaten into time that should have been spent creatively. I've also taken on some consultancy work, but more about that later. This post is to celebrate the release of Disco Antenna's new single: Superstitious.

Way back in 2010, when Jimmy sent me a demo called There To Remind Me, and Disco Antenna was effectively born, I was inspired to write a song of my own for the project. The working title was Escape Pod - because it had a spacey feel to it. This was quickly abandoned in favour of Disco From The Stars. Jimmy then laid down some improvised vocals: the essence of which you can hear on this track. As years passed and Disco From The Stars evolved, becoming more ambitious and sprouting a chorus along the way, much of the original feel of the demo eroded away. With the release of Side A out of the way, I turned my attention to Disco From The Stars with the intention of finishing it off for the follow-up. We both loved how it had come to sound, but also lamented the loss of the parts that had made the demo special. What to do?

Side A had familiarized us with the concept of creating extended disco 'epics' as well as the concept of songs that blend into one another to form a larger whole, or 'suite'. Thus, it became obvious to give Superstitious its own distinct place within the larger framework of Disco From The Stars. Elements of that original demo were brought back in and polished up to compliment the new production, half-baked ideas were cooked to perfection, and the best bits of Jimmy's vocal improvs were re-jigued to evoke the spirit of the demo while still creating something new and exciting.

The full 17-minute version of Disco From The Stars is still incomplete, but the section consisting of Superstitious is done and dusted, so it didn't take much to lift it out and master it for single release. As we did with There To Remind Me, it's released under a Creative Commons By-Attribution license: you may download and share it as you see fit. You may also use it in non-commercial podcasts or video productions as long as Disco Antenna are credited for their hard work. Here, then, are the pertinent links and embeds:

High quality download via Bandcamp.

Streaming Audio (SoundCloud):

Streaming Video (YouTube):

Work continues on the rest of 'Side B'...