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04 December 2010


Cast your mind back. Back into the mists of time, far back to prehistory (circa 2001) and recall, if you will, Yamaha’s Motifs 6, 7 and 8. The team that worked on the multitimbral, 62-voice polyphonic hardware Motif workstation that set many a muzo’s ears alight in years of yore is the same team drafted in to work on Steinberg’s successor to softstation Hypersonic 2: HALion Sonic 1. It looks promising already.

While cosmetically similar to Hypersonic, HALion Sonic offers a good deal more than its forebear and goes way beyond the comparatively limited scope of the original Motifs. Now seems like a good time to front-load this post with some interesting numbers...

15 November 2010


Three heavies ship from Sweden...

  • EZdrummer 1.2.1 | £99*

  • Drumkit From Hell EZX | £49*

  • Metalheads EZX | £49

  • Melodically, heavy metal was invented by the Christian church. Honest. At least, the perfect fifths of chanting monks underpin the genre. No, they do. A powerchord is typically a root-note and fifth. Slide it all over a guitar fretboard and you’re riffing. OK, so it’s more complicated than that, but it is reasonable to argue that rhythmically, HM, like much modern music, is rooted in the sounds of nature and aided by technology.

    Hitting a hollow log with a stick, mimicking a rapid heartbeat and encouraging people to groove, is technology and nature in cahoots. Kill a mammoth, stretch its skin over the end of a hollow log and you’ve a drum. While it may have taken until the Bronze Age to devise cymbals, rhythm instruments changed little until the early 1930s when Léon Theremin devised perhaps the world’s first rhythm machine, the photo-electro-mechanical Rythmicon. Let’s skip a few decades to land, with a satisfying thud, in the late 1960s and the origins of HM lyricism.

    Metal was a reaction against the loved-up, happy-lah-lah of hippiedom; something to remind us that life has a darker side and whatever it was you saw while on LSD might not have been The Truth. Heavy-metal drummers pounded their way through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s gradually taking up more and more space on stage with twin-kickdrum kits sporting an ever more ludicrous number of toms and cymbals, all while happily oblivious to the technological strides being taken in dance music. A company called Ace Tone, later Roland, had set the ball rolling in ‘67 with the mass-market launch of the Rhythm Ace FR-1. This rhythm machine was a synthesis-based, preset-only affair, hence comparatively limited, but it proved a hit among contemporary musicians and so development continued.

    05 November 2010

    SONIC CHARGE SYNPLANT 1.0.1 | £64.04 ($99)

    The virus is a cunning and immensely successful little sod. If the strain is based on ribonucleic acid, it can mutate very rapidly and thereby more efficiently evade the infected host’s immune system. But it’s also a bit stupid in that it’ll more readily, self-destructively, compromise the host, just as we slightly more intelligent humans do with the Earth’s eco-system. So what’s that got to do wiv bustin’ bangin’ toonz, innit? (Sorry, I’ll take off my hoodie). In terms of sound synthesis, genetics analogies didn't really have much relevance until Sweden-based developer Sonic Charge's kooky soft synth Synplant poked its head above the sod. Admittedly, this instrument's GUI looks more like flora than microscopic fauna, but the device appears to fare remarkably well in the wild and has proved highly infectious. A bit like the pandemically popular severe acute respiratory syndrome (or SARS virus to its friends), but more drop-dead groovy than plain-vanilla drop dead. After more than a year at large, here's a re-take on how Synplant is growing.

    22 October 2010


    There comes a time in everybody’s life when Cubase is not enough. To make things right, there comes a time when we need to ask for help, when our VST plugins get lost. Let me be your tech support. I’ll take the pain for you when the user guide is not on your side... Celine! Enough about running Cubase 5.5.1 as a 64-bit app on Windows 7 already! Yup, I’ve been shimmying around the interweb forums and one theme that recurs is the nightmare of lost VST plugins.

    20 October 2010


    Ere we polish the lamp to summon a refreshed version of lyricists’ friend Rhyme Genie, may I refer you to 23 June 2010? On that date, I posted searing approbation of Rhyme Genie 1.3, about which the developer, whom I shall code-name Pete, was ecstatically gratified. Unless, of course, you’ve already read the article and are blessed with an eidetic memory. No? OK, click here and we’ll hook up again presently... Welcome back. Now then, time has trooped on a number of leagues since June and we’ve now version 2 over which to pore.

    16 October 2010


    In the yoof-speak of yore, ‘bad’ meant ‘good’, and still does, apparently. More recently, ‘sick’ also means ‘good’, while ‘well sick’ translates as ‘jolly good’. It’ll not be long before ‘paraneoplastic’ takes on positive connotations, although it’s doubtful today’s young tearaways could spell it. While Native Instruments may present with mild dyslexia, naming its reasonably recently released Komplete instrument as Paranormal Spectrums (Spectra, surely?), the Deutsche developer certainly displays superior audio-assembling aptitude and could well push the bounds of English slang that little further. Thanks to the nature of the instrument’s creepy content, ‘ghastly, gruesome, macabre’ and more may come across to some as meaning ‘quintessentially delicious’ - we may even see the letter ‘g’ re-append itself to ‘chillin’. This Kore 2 instrument is sumptuously scary and, with Halloween approaching, now seems like the time to hide under the duvet, don headphones and audition the wicked thing (‘wicked’ meaning ‘spiffing’, in keeping with the terminological torture afflicted on language by tearaway teenage tossers).

    15 October 2010


    Right folks, it’s time to get linked in and have some fun. You’ll possibly have noticed a new gadget in one of the right-hand columns of this page. It’s a direct link to the MuzoBlog discussion group hosted by LinkedIn, a networking service used by thousands of professionals in all manner of industries, including music. People post resumés, messages, work up contact networks and generally stay, ahem, ‘in the loop’ so as to further whatever venture they’re adventuring upon. But MuzoBlog already has Facebook accounts for both muzos and industry types, namely Muzo Community and Corporate Muzo, as well as comment boxes at the base of each post. And a Twitter account (hey, be sweet and follow my tweets). So, why another interactive extra? Here’s for why...

    13 October 2010


    What is this that stands before me? Little black box that blinks at me. With green LEDs. It’s been about 10 years since Korg's Kaoss pad had muzos scratching their heads thinking: “Well, it doesn’t look like a synth. Or a MIDI controller, for that matter. Where’s the keyboard? The array of knobs and sliders? And what’s with the light-show?” While X-Y controllers feature on many a keyboard synth these days, to have the primary means of note input as merely a backlit X-Y touchpad initially confused folk more accustomed to plonking away on piano keyboards.

    With the original Kaoss pad, manufacturer Korg was actually making a kind of point, the point being that there must be a more spontaneous means of making music. At least, more spontaneous than having to spend an age learning how to tickle a tune out of the ivories. Non-pianists and DJs (ie, glorified record players) took Kaoss to their hearts, however. They rapidly realised that knocking out a tune did not have to entail mastering the art of bashing a row of black-and-white buttons. Kooky composers also embraced Kaoss and its potential for experimental musical musings. Korg copped all this and continued development, arriving this year at its most chaotic Kaoss yet, the Kaossilator Pro.

    25 September 2010


    The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ integrated, multi-faceted audio/visual exploration units gang aft agley. Eddie Izzard has been known to query such Burnsian verse. I mean, do mice make plans? Well, exploration unit and sound designer Biomechanoid, which describes himself/herself/itself as just such a unit on his/her/its website, certainly does, even if addled on Absynth. Not the wormwood-tinctured, 74% ABV Swiss barmy fluid (sorry, ‘medicinal elixir’) absinthe, but the Native Instruments soft synth, a copy of which is, of course, necessary if this article is to be of any relevance. Excessive green hours spent on Absynth can lead to dangerous addiction, as with the anise-flavoured beverage, and it would seem that Biomechanoid is so afflicted, having rustled up a six-volume sound set backed by more than 750Mb of original samples. Camel Audio sells the collection in two bundles: Biolabs Absynth Sounds Vols 1-3 and 4-6 at £39 a throw, although buying the full package makes more sense financially. Let me see, 39 plus 39 equals... umm... more than 65? Sounds about right.

    24 September 2010


    Stick your head above the parapet and await incoming. It’s a thought that occurred to me after a poster to an online forum pitched in with comment on MuzoBlog’s editorial voice, adding to a number of emails I’ve received from folk who seem a mite confused about the site’s raison d'être. That I should have the temerity to stand up and make my voice heard on the interweb is bound to invite sniping, made all the easier thanks to the the online anonymity behind which detractors lurk. But what the hey. My skin is thick, my testes large. The main whinge is that there’s too much of ‘me’ in the copy. It doesn’t read like the neutral, detached commentary you’d find in a print magazine or commercial online publication. The reviews are written in the first person from personal perspective, both informally and attitudinally, and I might even cuss a little along the way. Well let’s clear things up, shall we?

    23 September 2010

    ROB PAPEN RP-VERB | £109

    Try sitting in an anechoic chamber. I bet you’ll be calling for the ambience within hours, such is the unsettling nature of a non-ambient space. Reflected sound is all around us and it feels unnatural when missing. From the extreme of bawling your head off in the Grand Canyon to singing in the shower, humans are accustomed to acoustic feedback from the environment and without it, we get uncomfortable. When producing music, ambience presents its own set of posers. Close-miked acoustic instruments sound unpleasant because mic pickup is usually too tight to capture sound bouncing off the walls of the recording booth. Electronic instruments fed straight into the desk, or deployed as in-the-box plugins, are as dry as a recovering alcoholic, and just as interesting to listen to. More whistle-whetting is the special brew of the RP-Verb.

    22 September 2010


    It’s said you can tell when spaghetti is cooked by throwing it at the ceiling. If it sticks, it’s done. And you can tell when a sound engineer’s brain is cooked by the way he or she slings the spaghetti of electrical cables, inevitable in live performance and studio session, desultorily about when he or she is just about done in. With traditional bands, guitarists have it easy. Radio transmitters carry audio to pedalboards and FX racks, keeping cables neat. Sound engineers, meanwhile, have electrical spaghetti to contend with in order to deliver power, audio and digital data. You’d think synth players would be laughing up their sleeves, what with electronic keyboards and computers requiring little electrical looming. But then they boot Propellerhead’s Reason.

    20 September 2010

    FIVE12 NUMEROLOGY 3 PRO | £124.82

    Numbers affect human affairs more than we’d like. From overdraft to tax return, they serve to remind that we’re broke. We track the passage of time, counting away our allotted span; monitor the enervating effects of ageing with numerical data from medical check-ups; and when the end comes, gauge our popularity on the number of people who attend the funeral. Occultists study numbers, a practice called numerology, but all of the above have nothing to to with Numerology 3 Pro, the latest incarnation of Five12’s souped-up step sequencer and which is a damn sight more uplifting than the first three sentences of this review. Incidentally, if you’re using a Windows PC, look away now. We’re in OS X 10.4+ pasture from here on in. Right, putting morbid psychopathology aside, let us spruce up our sequencing smarts with a quick study on steppers.

    18 September 2010

    IK MULTIMEDIA iRIG | €29.99 / AMPLITUBE FOR iPAD | £11.99

    Back in Summer 2010, IK Multimedia invited guitarists to rock out with nothing more than their iPhones, earbuds and a natty variant on the previously desktop/laptop-only AmpliTube amp/FX sim software suite. Naturally, an audio I/O was necessary, hence the iRig, an inexpensive piece of hardware toting a 1/4-inch mono jack socket for guitar in, a stereo mini-jack headphone out and TRRS plug for analog audio hook-up to the iPhone or 2nd-gen-plus iPod Touch. Oddly, for a guitar gadget, the mainstream media went bonkers for it, with mention made far and wide of this backline and floorboard palmtop solution. The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian and more carried articles heaping mounds of praise, while a gazillion YouTube clips appeared bringing amateur axe-wielders widdling to the fore. At around the same time, a certain Mr Jobs had a new toy in the offing - a halfway house between an iPhone/iPod Touch and a laptop in the shape of the slender iPad. The iRig for iPhone having been near reviewed to death, let’s look at the iPaddy incarnation - not the cut-down freebie version, but the £11.99 commercial offering.

    20 July 2010


    Oi! Virologists! If one were to splice the DNA of H1N1 and H5N1, might pigs fly? OK, you can go away now while we Muzologists deal with a Viral Outbreak in Scotland that’s being spread by Camel. Which is a round-about way of saying that Edinburgh-based music software developer Camel Audio has [PR-speak alert] ‘brought to market’ a new library of sample-based instruments, the aforementioned Viral Outbreak. It’s the work of Canada’s Nucleus SoundLab, a company more associated with ReFills for Propellerheads Reason and, true to character, Nucleus has already developed a Viral ReFill, as well as a VSTi, both software incarnations of Access Music’s Virus TI, a hardware synth used by the likes of Depeche Mode, Hans Zimmer, Linkin Park, NIИ and many more.

    19 July 2010

    AAS TASSMAN 4.1.4 | ~£230 (~£65)

    What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a Tassman? I must confess when I first encountered this physical modelling sound-design tool shortly after its launch in 2000, I thought it a monster. Hence trepidation oozed from my very pores as I set to wrapping my brains about the latest incarnation. Would it drive me to Tassmania? Would I up-sticks and emigrate to Tasmania? Would I ever figure out what ‘tassman’ means? Actually, it's derived from AAS employee number three's name Stéphane Tassart, so that's one mystery solved already, Watson. Earlier Tassman releases were, as it were, something of a mindf*ck, such was the sheer wealth of patch-editing options available. And I’m not talking about patch editing in terms of tweaking the odd knob or slider here and there. Being modular, Applied Acoustics' Tassman enables you to build shiny new custom synths from scratch.

    15 July 2010


    Creationists are aghast at suggestions that God may not have put dinosaur fossils and sound designers on this Earth for a joke. And yet a US-based collaboration of sound designers, Heavyocity, ploughs gamely on - gamely being the operative word. Heavyocity is Heavy Melody Music and Sound Design, which supplies audio to the gaming, film and TV industries. But with their muzo hats on, the HM crew like nothing better than to generate Darwinian sonic mutations in the form of virtual instruments, a pair of which I have right here in the shape of Native InstrumentsEvolve Mutations Bundle, designed for use with the Kontakt sample engine.

    12 July 2010


    When mention of Camel Audio’s Himalaya: Pads sound library first hove into earshot, it brought to mind imaginings of herds of yak gambolling across the slopes of Jichu Drakey; the chortling of white-throated laughing thrushes. Of Nepalese maidens singing above the gurgle of Gandaki rivers; of compelling subsonic grind as the Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates grate. However, when the ergot poisoning wore off, it occurred to me that Edinburgh-based developer Camel’s latest dromedarian device may have more to do with the machinations of one Himalaya, aka the tersely surnamed Raphael S, a sound designer more associated with AAS Tassman than Tibet and with a more than passing predilection for physical modelling. Himalaya is, indeed, the individual behind this latest collection of sounds for Camel’s much-lauded sample-manipulation soft synth Alchemy.

    10 July 2010

    0/10 - SEE ME...

    Ohhh soddit! There’s something that makes me want to vom. I hate it. Something that not only bugs me, but rags me rotten. It’s a product of publisher pressure, wooly editorial thinking, water-muddying marketing manipulation and the fact that so many folk have the attention spans of gnats. With Alzheimers. “What are you blithering on about, Karl?” Yes, I can hear your brains (creepy, huh?).

    23 June 2010

    IDOLUMIC RHYME GENIE 1.3 | $24.95

    We’ve all done it: Ended a lyrical line with ‘orange’ or ‘silver’ and sat there thinking ‘bugger’. Rhymes do not always come easily. One becomes bottlenecked, which is wincingly galling when so much effort has been expended at the sequencing and tracking stage. Applying lyric content to a song provokes sweat levels similar to those experienced in the performance room of an overly expensive recording studio, so how to break through and give full throat to your poetic message? I’ve taken to Rhyme Genie, an app that has propelled my lyricism to unheard-of heights. And depths.


    Could it be that it was all so simple then, or has time re-written every line? Of code? A while back, I was the group editor of FututreNet, Future plc's online presence. All we did was hand-coded, Flash was still Macromedia's (and wasn’t very flash), the inter-web was grindingly slow and Google was still a twinkle in the eyes of two, now very rich, code-monkeys. How rapidly times change.

    19 June 2010

    TOONTRACK BEATSTATION 1.0.1 | £79.99

    It’s all coming back to me now: The feeling I had when first loading Propellerhead's ReBirth RB-338. “It looks like a toy,” I thought on first sight of the dual emulated Roland TB-303 Bass Lines plus TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines. Then I got into it and discovered ReBirth, now reborn as an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app, is not only fun to use, it offers much to muzos who like their acid lines squishy and their beats tight and pooky. It’s a similar story with Toontrack’s Beatstation, but with added grunge and the facility to use custom sound sources. It does look toy-like - even the skinny (four-page) get-started manual appears graphically designed to appeal to modern yoof - but this sound-mangling suite does have depth.

    15 June 2010

    EW/QL GOLIATH & STORMDRUM 2 | £351.17 & £281.93

    There are numerous ROMpler engines on the market, each front-ending large sample libraries and offering a degree of sound-sculpting. Soft samplers they are not, in that you can’t drop in your own audio clips and perform extensive modification. Rather, the ROMpler relies on typically huge banks of audio files, often of a specific genre or type, and such shaping tools as envelope generators, filters and ambient effects by which to customise them.

    13 June 2010

    WACOM INTUOS4 L | £399

    Deep joy hit me the other day with the arrival of a Wacom Intuos4 L graphics tablet. No, I haven’t lost it and turned MuzoBlog into a discourse on digital imaging. A graphics tablet is of similar function to a mouse and no matter how many keyboard commands you learn, you’ll still need frequent recourse to some kind of pointing device when coaxing music from a computer.
     Since the 1980s, I’ve used a multitude of mice, often for protracted periods; often with great intensity.

    11 June 2010


    The first MuzoBlog post, just to populate the page. I'm looking at Toontrack's new Beatstation at the mo and aim to have Native Instruments' Kontakt 4 nailed pretty soon. Yup, I'm all about music and the technology used to create it. You'll not find orchestral-type instruments here - I might flirt with flute and viola, but there are other sites for such traditional devices. 

    Sequencers, control surfaces, interfaces, mixers, monitors, soft synths, ROMplers, audio editors and processors, along with electric guitar and everything related, are among my specialities. So if you're a modern muzo, whether amateur, semi-pro or already nominated for an MTV Award, join in with your own comment on kit, songwriting, performing et al. Pick at my brains, make your voice heard, start an argument or whatever - if it's sound stuff for other musicians then it belongs on these pages.