Thursday, July 22, 2010

6 Futuristic Musical Instruments

NAMM shows have become big disappointments because you never see anything new anymore, but that doesn't mean that no new instruments are being developed. While you can read this article to see more than just these six futuristic instruments, these are the ones that caught my eye.



The K-Bow tries to enhance string instruments by embedding sensors in their bows. By measuring its movement, the innovative bow can detect how far it is from the bridge, how much it’s being tilted, the amount of hair tension, and the speed and directions of its movement. String players can now trigger and control effects like echo or reverbs just from their bow action.











Reactable is a synthesizer that acts like a game with up to four players interacting. The modular synthesizer is a digital table-top that manipulates sound by having users drag and rotate different physical blocks.








With Beat Bearing, users can compose different rhythms by picking up bearings and placing them into different slots, making for a more engaging and intuitive music-making experience (or so they say).







The Tenori-On is a device that attempts to merge the experience of playing music and drawing pictures. The futuristic musical instrument features a 16×16 matrix LED grid surrounded by an aluminum frame. Users can play sounds and create loops by pressing the LEDs for a certain duration. The Tenori-On can also join in on synchronized sessions with others who have a device, thereby becoming a collaborative song-writing experience.








With the Continuum Keyboard, musicians can slide their fingers up and down to digitally “pluck” the instrument. Depending on the performer’s playing technique, the device is said to accurately resemble the sound of an acoustic instrument. The Continuum Keyboard can also track 16 fingers simultaneously (you just have to either grow six more, or a new six-fingered hand).








The Double-Slided Controller looks like an electronic trombone. It incorporates two hand controllers embedded with sensors and two slides. The user manipulates the sound by arm and hand movements. An on-board computer chip programmed with music software generates complex sounds from the device.

Let's see how many of these actually catch on.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ken Scott, Greg Penny and 9 Elton and Bowie Tidbits

The other day I had the pleasure of hanging with producer/engineer's Ken Scott and Greg Penny to listen to some digital copies of Elton John multitracks. It's always fun to hang with both of those guys, but on this particular day it was even better because of what we were hearing.

If you don't know the name Ken Scott you surely know his work. He was one of the four Beatles engineers, produced four of David Bowie's best albums (including the influential Ziggy Stardust), Supertramp, Jeff Beck, Devo, The Tubes, Marivishnu Orchestra, and Missing Persons among others, and engineered for George Harrison, Elton, America, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran and lots more.

Greg Penny has produced a couple of Elton albums and KD Lang's biggest record Ingenue (one of my favorites). He's also done the surround mixing for every one of Elton's SACD and DVD-A releases.

Here are some interesting tidbits about Elton and Bowie from that day.

1) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road actually started in Jamaica but moved to France because the studio was unacceptable (no low end below 100Hz), and because Elton was freaked out by a near riot where the bus they were traveling in was rocked and nearly toppled over.

2) It's surprising how much the banjo shows up on Elton's tunes. Davey Johnson never played it like a banjo though, so it simply blends into the track as another harmonic element. Below you'll see a track sheet from Honkey Cat with the banjo track outlined. Also notice that it's 16 tracks, of which they only used 15!


3) Elton's early band of Dee Murray, Nigel Olson and Johnson was great both musically and vocally. When these guys were working up a song, it rarely sounded ragged (from the tracks that I heard) like most bands sound in that mode.

4) The hit song Rocket Man was written in 10 minutes over breakfast with the band.

5) Elton is very detached in the studio. Once his parts are complete, he's gone shopping and doesn't concern himself about the other parts (great for the producer though).

6) Elton was known by everyone in the London music circle by his real name - Reg Dwight. It took everyone a long time to stop calling him "Reg" after he became famous.

And these Bowie tidbits.

7) Bowie broke up the Spiders From Mars because they wanted a raise. This was mostly instigated by David's manager at the time, Tony DeFies.

8) Like Elton, Bowie hates the studio and was never around for any of the mixes. Ken says that he mixed all four albums by himself.

9) Over four albums, every Bowie vocal except one was done on the first take. The one that wasn't was intentionally broken up to sound different in two different sections.

There were a lot more great trivia and behind-the-scenes tidbits but I think we'll save them for the upcoming book that Ken and I are planning on writing, tentatively titled "From Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust."

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Black Hole Sun" Isolated Guitar Track

In the last post we listened to the isolated vocal of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." Today we'll listen to Kim Thayil's isolated guitar. Here's what to listen for:

1) He's a little out of tune during the clean intro. You never notice it in the track but it's a lot more exposed when isolated.

2) The song is performed in a Drop D tuning, which means that the low E string is detuned to D.

3) The most distinctive thing about the guitar track is the Leslie speaker effect used during the verse. A Leslie speaker, mostly used with organs (a Hammond B-3 and a Leslie model 122 is the classic combination), has a rotating treble horn and rotating drum around the low frequency speaker. It's been used with a guitar since the 60's, most famously in The Beatles "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The Leslie has a slow and fast speed, with Black Hole Sun using the fast speed and recorded in stereo.

4) The distorted guitar in the chorus is also recorded in stereo, as is the wah guitar solo (which Guitar World magazine ranked #63 among the top 100 guitar solos) and outro.

5) Listen to the noises at the end of each part before the next part kicks in. These would certainly be cleaned up if recorded today.



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Monday, July 19, 2010

"Black Hole Sun" - Soundgarden Isolated Vocal

There are not many songs that have the same standing in the music business as "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden, as is proven by the fact that the song has been covered by a wide variety of artists  (always a sign of a quality tune). Black Hole Sun was one of the biggest hits of the summer of 1994, won a Grammy for Best Rock Song, and was one of the hits from Soundgarden's Superunknown album. Here's what to listen for in the isolated vocal track:

1) Chris Cornell is truly one of the finest singers in the modern rock era. Not only is he pitch-perfect (which you'd expect from any modern production), but listen to how powerful his voice is even when he's not belting it out. Few vocalists are able to bring that kind of intensity while singing in their lower register. Also, listen to the control he has when he uses his vibrato. His is a truly special voice.

2) I just hate the distorted vocal sound. What was it with vocalists and distortion during the 90's? I remember having to fight with the lead singer on every project I did during this era because he wanted to put some kind of fuzz-tone or overdrive on his voice (it was only males singers). I hated it then and hate it even more now. Thankfully we're past all that today.

3) The vocal is very effectively doubled during the choruses. Chris is excellent at doubling as the 2nd vocal is very close to the first, yet different enough to add the girth that you'd expect from a double. He does vary a bit during the second and third choruses and breaks into a harmony for a few notes, but he hits the notes instead of searching for them so it's all good. His releases are also a little off at the end of the chorus but I bet no one's every heard that when the full song is played back.

4) The reverb is nothing special but it does sound pretty good for the situation. It has a medium decay and adds just a bit of depth to the track.


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Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Making Of 10cc's "I'm Not In Love"

"I'm Not In Love" was the biggest hit by the 70's band 10cc that's been covered by all types of artists all over the world. It's a pretty well-written song and considered a masterpiece in many ways, especially the production.

The band was really ahead of their time in the way they used samples as the bed for this track. For those of you who never used magnetic tape machines, you'll be both horrified and amazed to see what they had to go through to get what can so commonly be done with any sampler today.

This video is great in that it breaks down the production techniques and allows you to hear the isolated tracks, then how they fit in the track with the other instruments.



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