The Smith's Journal - May 2009

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We are back

Tags: Drumming, Computers

Apologies for a long period of zero activity on my websites. It may all appear quiet here, but I've been superbusy with teaching and also major computer upgrades. And I hope my lack of email contact while it was borken isn't making me too unpopular with loved ones. I've written lots of stuff for this Journal in the previous few months, but little is finished yet. Soon I'll slot in the articles to fill in the gaps. There's also the issue of photographs. Since getting a digital camera for Christmas, I suddenly have lots of new pictures and now videos too. I'm still stunned by the concept that I can now make my own films, but I'm not sure yet where all this is going to go, or how many more elves I need to hire to do all the processing work, but we are working on it, not to mention the massive backlog of analogue photos still to be scanned out of my collection of 8000+. Life is too short: I need a good robot assistant.


Wearable computing nearly ready for prime time

Tags: Computers

Check out this TED video demo of The Sixth Sense. With the advent of new more intelligent search engines and computational knowledge engines that can answer questions, having a simple portable system like this could be great. It's still reasonably cheap to implement and would hopefully be free and open to use like the internet.

But after the initial WOW factor wears off, the more I think about this, I wonder... Clever UI maybe, but really, how useful is it? Do we really want to have to rely on an external opinion/wisdom? How much longer would our shopping take if we obsess about checking up on every purchase decision? Maybe we would be more generally aware if we were not continually misled by advertising. And many countries in the world aren't spoiled by our overabundance of different consumer products to choose between anyway.

More importantly, what freedoms would we lose once this system became popular/the expected norm? Freedom to walk around or use public tranceport without one? Or just social acceptability?

"The future of computing is about CONTROL OF DATA." - maillemaker

The Future draws ever closer every day. The massive all-knowing eyes are for your own benefit, Winston. At least our children will be safe. Until the people revolt. Till then, be sure to show your fascist government how innocent all your email is.

Much of this smacks of technology for technology's sake. Just because we can do something, does not imply that we should do it. Industry forcefeeds us the latest toys of commerce and we gladly slave our lives away chasing them.

I'm nowadays more interested in things that can save me time, not slow me down and lock me into systems whose ethics or existence I don't agree with.

More and more I'm starting to think that our fragile reliance on tech is constraining us as human beings. Great advances are promised, yet they just entrap us further in the commercial world and its machinery. Our race has evolved for thousands of years without needing to be wired up to a primitive machine, and somehow this seems like a step backwards into a blind alley. Sometimes it's good to just unshackle yourself from civil-lies-say-shun and flip out while you still can.

Tod Machover & Dan Ellsey: Releasing the music in your head

Tags: Music, Computers

Another interesting TED talk came from cellist Tod Machover, although the star of the show (at the end) was undoubtedly Dan Ellsey. Not a dry eye in the house.


Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban

Tags: Places, Eco, Politics

This stunning building, the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, is the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh. It's certainly on my list of venues for my World Tour, along with Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. A modern castle of elegant curves and lines, it reminds me a bit of my designs for the Abbey I would one day like to build.


Jill Bolte Taylor: Stroke of insight

Tags: Misc

This TED talk is essential enlightening viewing for all humans.


Plugging stuff in

Tags: Studio

On Mon, May 04, 2009 at 11:25:43PM +0100, Malcolm Smith wrote:
> OK, I'm DEFINITELY going into the studio now after
> surfing my way back to happiness this evening. I am
> owed a whole lot of productivity which has been evading
> me since going to Studiospares.
> MUST... PLUG... STUFF... IN...!

Last week I managed to tidy up the studio and rearranged things into a fine new configuration to incorporate the Super Prime Time and Sony FX using cables I already have. Then last night I switched on the MicroWave, Sony's and Lexicon, and got rather enthralled with sound. My earlier attempt to demo the MW1 sounds was an epic fail; with poor signal level and no reverb, they sound lame. With nice reverb they come to life :-)

So although I didn't get much more plugged in, I found enjoyment. My MIDI loom is not solving what I hoped it would, nor is my cabling chart getting any more finished - maybe another day... But meanwhile I am enjoying sound at least, which is probably more important.

Wow, you want to hear what's emanating from my studio right about now! Since the (borrowed) balafons are leaving tomorrow, I felt obliged to record some samples of them before they go. So I reluctantly setup mics again in my Bowl Room, damped the walls and brought in the balafons one by one. I've not got my Frontier Tranzport wireless remote working yet, so I couldn't see audio levels as I played from the other room, but I captured some lovely glissandi and single notes to sample. I also recorded some Bhutanese cymbals that Bitzia's friend had lent me (and who now wants them back). In all I recorded 70mins of sounds (albeit some distorted) and listening back now (typing this in the office) with the Sony R7 on the "Taj Mahal" setting, my ears are convinced that I am in the back room of a massive cathedral :-) Magical. And checking out some of the other programs, they are truly stunning-close-your-eyes-and-you're-there kind of amazing.

IIRC this has been my first audio recording direct into computer! I now have a 10m-long headphone cable, so overdubbing is only waiting for me to find the willpower... :-)

Before I get too carried away with recording, I need to sort out backups and learn networking for the studio computer, so I can fling files around and proceed safely.


Cartwheels: my gateway drug to Tricking

Tags: Misc

It starts innocently enough. You learn forward rolls and handstands at school. Maybe even progress to cartwheels. (Although I doubt these days that Health & Safety would permit it.) As an adult, this kind of thing is just not generally done, possibly due to the large amount of space it requires when you're as tall as me.

Then someone passes you a link, you see some videos and before you know it, you're saying to yourself: "Hmmm, I'm gonna get out there and mow my lawn, clear the thistles, and fling myself about a bit...!"

I was initially inspired by some fine acrobatics in African drumming performances by Les Ballets Africains, and always loved watching gymnastics and popping. I'm not particularly into the kicks and big attitude, but am impressed by the moves from a standing start, especially the Axe2Aerial seen here at 1'46" that starts on one leg! I'd love to be able to do aerials and somersaults one day, but I realise that it's not just the kind of thing you rush into, and I need to get in shape first. I will keep it in mind though. It would be HARDCORE to go to a public place like a city street dressed in a full business suit, and suddenly just flip over and then carry on as if nothing had occurred :-)

[UPDATE: OK, cartwheels will take some time to get right; I'm straining my leg muscles painfully, so I'm going back to basics with handstands. I forgot how much fun they are! Once I can walk confidently on my hands for an extended time, I'll progress to other moves.]

Tricks TutorialsThere are some excellent articles on the TricksTutorials website about:


Optimising SSDs Talk at HertsLUG

Tags: Computers

[Note: I later made an executive summary of the practical applications of this idea, specially for all you busy executives :-]

At tonight's HertsLUG meeting, I gave a short talk to discuss optimising GNU/Linux to make best use of SSDs. In subsequent mailing list posts, Rob described usage of a ramdisk, and much later I alluded to my latest tips on building an audio workstation and promised to finish writing up this report. So here goes...

[NOTE: This journal entry was written up later on 2010-04-25, with updated links and content]

This HOWTO is intended to bridge the knowledge gap between bleeding-edge kernel hackers on one side, and the "OMGZ, imagine a beowulf cluster of those in RAID 0!!!!1!!11" crew on the other who have little clue of how SSDs work and just want uberleet performance without thinking about how to optimise things.

Since SSDs are a new and rapidly developing market, I'll leave it up to you to read Anandtech's informative SSD articles about the cutting edge and good reviews of new drives, also this SSD Comparison Guide. Obviously, bear in mind that many of the old IDE-CF (Compact Flash) adapters, which may seem like a good idea, offer poor sub-HDD performance in practice. And stay away from the cheaper, older SSDs, many of which were plagued by stuttering and massive delays due to terrible JMicron controllers.

OK, now that we're up to speed, we can begin. Here are my purely theoretical and as yet untested ideas for optimising SSD usage. Of course, as soon as I can test my theory, I will update this report, which obviously comes with the obligatory NO WARRANTY.

Reading this fine article, we see that as well as having a limited (albeit large) number of writes before they wear out and fail (which can be further optimised by Wear-Leveling), SSDs perform best when not written to excessively, due to slowing down when running out of room to grow files.

The real world performance hit varies from 0 - 14%.

More expensive enterprise-class SSDs often have more spare non-user-addressable capacity purely for block recycling, but at higher cost. Perhaps future firmware upgrades and next-gen new tech magic will get round this problem, but for now, there is a noticeable difference. The oft-lauded TRIM command can work wonders, but is not supported by older operating systems (Linux kernels older than 2.6.33, Windoze XP) and fails to convince me that it fully addresses the issue.

Luckily for us however, read speed is largely unaffected. So, from this, perhaps the best way to minimise writes to an SSD would be to only use one for things where data is often read, but rarely written, and keep the frequently-updated stuff on a hard disk. The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard describes:

"Static" files include binaries, libraries, documentation files and other files that do not change without system administrator intervention.
"Variable" files are files that are not static. [...]
Historical UNIX-like filesystem hierarchies contained both static and variable files under both /usr and /etc. In order to realize the advantages mentioned above, the /var hierarchy was created and all variable files were transferred from /usr to /var. Consequently /usr can now be mounted read-only (if it is a separate filesystem). Variable files have been transferred from /etc to /var over a longer period as technology has permitted.

Here is a listing of what space (in megabytes) is occupied by the directories on my stripped-down minimal Debian 5.0 ("Lenny") install, along with a brief description (mostly from FHS) of what they do:

# cd / ; du -m --max-depth=1
1	./lost+found         Damaged/recovered files following crashes
8	./boot               Static files of the boot loader
264627	./home               User home directories (optional)
21	./etc                Host-specific system configuration
1	./media              Mount point for removeable media
148	./var                Variable data
1744	./usr                Secondary hierarchy
5	./bin                Essential command binaries
1	./dev                Device files
59	./lib                Essential shared libraries and kernel modules
20	./mnt                Mount point for mounting a filesystem temporarily
514	./proc               Kernel and process information virtual filesystem
14	./root               Home directory for the root user (optional)
4	./sbin               Essential system binaries
1	./tmp                Temporary files
0	./sys                ???
1	./srv                Site-specific data which is served by this system
1	./opt                Add-on application software packages
1	./initrd             ??? (not sure why I have this, to do with Initial RAMdisk)
1	./selinux            Security-Enhanced Linux
267158	TOTAL

I'm not sure about /sys, but /media is like /mnt. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that moving this onto SSD might have no effect, but since it has no size, then it can just stay on hard disk. Other zero-size imaginary files such as /proc and /dev can also be ruled out of discussions of what to keep off our SSD, unless of course the OS wouldn't function properly without them on the same physical drive as /boot et al (although I don't see why not).

So, regrouping those together, we get:

SSD: only needs 1841MB! :-)
8	./boot
21	./etc
1744	./usr
59	./lib
5	./bin
4	./sbin

HDD: (or second non-pristine SSD)
264627	./home
14	./root
148	./var
1	./tmp
1	./lost+found

N/A: (virtual files, should these go on HDD?)
1	./dev
514	./proc (shouldn't this be empty?)
1	./media
20	./mnt (shouldn't this be empty?)

DON'T KNOW??? (should these go on HDD?)
0	./sys
1	./initrd
1	./selinux

NOT USED BY DEBIAN: (at least on my installation)
1	./srv
1	./opt

Perhaps two SSDs would be an optimal solution: one just for the mostly read-only files listed above, and then another for most commonly-used files which would get frequently overwritten. (Obviously have less commonly-used big files, like music and movies, on a big+cheap hard disk; laptop drives are almost silent nowadays, and plenty large enough.) This way, you'd keep the read-only one pristine and working at optimal performance, and more importantly, less likely to fail, which is quite helpful for an OS drive. Even better would be to choose each type of drives depending on their firmware optimisation, one for random write performance, and the other for reads. So we really need to see more good+quick+small SSDs (4GB or 8GB) on the market, not expensive larger capacity ones, please...

Re-rerunning the above test on my 64Studio audio workstation, we get:

# cd / ; du -m --max-depth=1
1	./lost+found
20	./boot
10349	./home
34	./etc
1	./media
3241	./var
1987	./usr
4	./bin
1	./dev
127	./lib
1	./mnt
0	./proc
105	./root
5	./sbin
1	./tmp
0	./sys
1	./srv
1	./opt
1	./initrd
1	./selinux
16455	./audio
1	./hd
267158	TOTAL

Grouping the mostly read-only directories, we get:

SSD: still only needs 2177MB! :-)
20	./boot
34	./etc
1987	./usr
127	./lib
4	./bin
5	./sbin

Just for reference, a friend's heavily-upgraded Kubuntu 10.04 machine has these numbers: [the /.config directory is something to do with QT as it just contains a Trolltech.conf file]

# cd / ; du -m --max-depth=1
1       ./mnt
92009   ./data
2       ./tmp
219     ./opt
1       ./.config
65      ./boot
0       ./proc
1090    ./var
1       ./media
1       ./selinux
7       ./bin
1       ./srv
1       ./dev
0       ./sys
8       ./sbin
14455   ./home
4827    ./usr
1       ./lost+found
495     ./lib
2       ./root
19      ./etc
113193  TOTAL

Grouping the mostly read-only directories, we get:

65      ./boot
19      ./etc
4827    ./usr
495     ./lib
7       ./bin
8       ./sbin
219     ./opt
1       ./.config
5641MB TOTAL, so an 8GB SSD is plenty large enough :-)

As well as Linux, this idea might possibly be adaptable for use on Mac OS X and the BSDs. As for Microsoft Windows, then I've no idea how that works internally since it is a closed shop.

I'm unaware how much research there has been into the above idea, so I'm throwing it out here for comment. I doubt there's any benefit from mounting these directories read-only, since you'd need to remount any time security updates needed to rewrite files. But IIUC, keeping them separate should on the whole prevent SSD rewrites and improve performance and long-term reliability.

I really need to test this stuff out, although I'm no benchmarking expert. Until I can afford an SSD (in Q4 2010 once the next gen come out with the transition to 25nm MLC NAND flash and market prices fall ready for Christmas), I should at least test that Linux will indeed run happily with /var and /root on different hard disks. [UPDATE: I have successfully verified that Linux runs happily with /var, /root and /tmp on different partitions from the main root filesystem (albeit on a hard disk, but no different in theory), although I forgot that the file /etc/mtab is frequently written to, but it's so small as to be mostly insignificant apart from stopping us mounting /etc read-only, which I've no idea if it's wise or not.]

[UPDATE 2: I finally just ordered parts to build a new computer, so we shall soon see if this all flies... I wrote more about SSDs too.]

Please feel free to email me any comments and thoughts you might have before I take this further and post my theories to Slashdot, LKML, Linus, Anand, et al...

These thoughts were inspired by fond memories of reading the good old Multi-Disk-HOWTO; especially note this from Chapter 9:

The only required directories that *must* be in / are:

/etc /dev /sbin

And lovely quaint gems like:

10.1 Home Systems

With the cheap hardware available today it is possible to have quite a big system at home that is still cheap, systems that rival major servers of yesteryear. While many started out with old, discarded disks to build a Linux server (which is how this HOWTO came into existence), many can now afford to buy 40 GB disks up front.
Linux is simple and you don't even need a hard disk to try it out, if you can get the boot floppies to work you are likely to get it to work on your hardware.


BBC Radiophonic Workshop concert @ The Roundhouse

Tags: Music, Studio

By chance I found out that the Roundhouse in Camden was staging a series of electronic music events, including a BBC Radiophonic Workshop Q&A talk followed by a concert to celebrate its 50th anniversary! For a synth freak like me this was unmissable, a chance to see some of the great grandfathers of English electronic music performing live on vintage instruments.

The talk promised "some surprise guests", but sadly they didn't channel the spirit of Delia Derbyshire, nor was she even mentioned until the concert. Present were Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland, Peter Howell and Roger Limb, together with "youngster" Mark Ayres who had been so instrumental in getting this show together (as well as recent reissues of the back catalogue). They did joke about the pressures of working with deadlines, in a curious department whose management (on the advice of a 'doctor') deemed experimental electronic music too dangerous to workers' health to allow them to work for more than three months in case they have a nervous breakdown!

Barry joined me for the concert in the huge circular hall that used to house trains. The stage was heavily laden with classic gear including a couple of Roland Jupiter-8's, a nice blue SH-101, System-100M, VP-330, ARP Odyssey Mk.I, EMS VCS3, Korg MS20, etc. The gents earlier said they were particularly happy to be performing this old music with a massive surround sound system, in that it would be the first time it had been heard with proper bass instead of the usual tinny TV speakers. They were also quite honoured to be able to showcase this music that was mostly created by boffins beavering away in solitary confinement within the bowels of the Beeb, never conceived for the stage. In addition to the synths, three of them also played electric guitar, and Roger Limb even added double bass. A backing group of "carers" included drums, timps+percussion, electric bass and a brass quintet.

I won't say much about the dire support act: some girl plugging in patch cables to an ARP 2600 while some guy stared blankly at a Mac. I'm amazed that some people still haven't realised yet that this kind of motionless screen-gazing is really uninspiring to watch, and it wasn't even saved by the tedious music which ranged from stale electronica to stomach-churning awkwardly clashing bass notes that just sounded fucked, as if the P.A. was set up wrong, with the really lowest notes bottoming out. Power electronics this certainly wasn't...

The main event began brilliantly however. The 2600+girl+guy was swapped out for an EMS VCS3 ("Putney") sat on a table centre-stage, facing forwards so the audience could behold its knobular glory. Amidst a cosmic spacelightshow, Dick Mills walked on wearing a scientist's white coat and sat at the controls of the Putney, bringing forth all manner of twittering meteoric sounds as his colleagues also joined him on the stage, also in regulation white coats labelled 'BBC Radiophonic Workshop'.

[ Dick Mills controlling the Putney | Dick Mills in cosmic lighting | Roger Limb on double bass | The great Dick Mills | Dick Mills and other Radiophonic workers | Taking a final bow ]

The music was a very varied evening of classics together with some unknown relics and some rather tacky things I didn't like, just showing that the Workshop was primarily a commercial venture. They finished as expected with Delia's classic Dr. Who theme, which sounded understandably amazing on this big system.

A History Of Electronic Music

Tags: Music, Studio

After the gig some dude was handing out CD-R's. On it are eight one-hour podcasts, which can also be downloaded from his website.

This gets right down to business, and not with Moogs; even the Theremin doesn't appear until the second hour! No, it starts way back, with the Telharmonium. This was a seriously big thing, a 14kW telegraphic music machine 50ft long weighing 200 tons with a velocity-sensitive keyboard! It was built in 1890 by Thaddeus Cahill, "an inventor of mechanisms for pianos and typewriters". Then it moves onto the Trautonium, and the first three musical examples happen to be from a fine Oskar Sala CD I own called "My Fascinating Instrument".

Next he chooses a lovely Messiaen piece for Ondes Martenot and piano, "Feuillets inedits No.4" from CD: "Ondes Martenot - Thomas Bloch Performs" {Thomas Bloch (om), Bernard Wissen (pf)} I'm confused, as this sounds like a different piece to this YouTube video of Messiaen 4th Feuillet Inedit. Wow, check the technique for the shimmery metal sounds from 1'35". Thomas Bloch's website lists many more recordings to check... But sadly this CD-R doesn't include the amazing Messiaen piece for six Ondes Martenots called "Water At Its Maximum Height", which may or may not be the same as the above (I am very confused now!). And sadly I really can't afford 32 CDs! I still remember hearing it broadcast on radio years ago. This is classic stuff. Here's an interesting version arranged for chamber ensemble and just one Ondes Martenot, albeit a quiet suboptimal recording. SPOILER WARNING: If you'd rather listen to the real PURE electronic version, which is much better, then don't click the link. It's not half as good as the real one, but it does convey the magical spirit of the piece.

[Sidenote: Hehe, Brian Eno thinks he invented Ambient Music in 1976! Well sorry but Arnold Schoenberg was first in 1905 with "Ein Stelldichein" ('A Rendezvous') and then Messiaen et al not far behind... But back to electronic sound... :-]

WOWZER! I only just found this, a new clone of the Ondes Martenot keyboard controller :-)

The rest of the CD-R's first episode is padded out with "Turangalila", then Part 2 features the theremin. Lots of tense, eerie, haunting stuff like Miklos Rosza's "Spellbound" soundtrack. It's rather unnerving, me typing away all alone up here with this spooky music... Luckily it then goes a bit kitsch with "Perfume Set To Music", only to start scaring me again with Bernard Herrmann's 1951 awesome score for "The Day The Earth Stood Still". Chilling!

Part 3 about the Hammond organ and Hammond Novachord has a high cheese-factor! The first half can be avoided apart from a very groovy latinelectro track "Bahia" by Pedro Moquecho And His Band (from the CD "El Fabuloso Novachord") which comes 29 minutes in (nice guiro!). Then some eerie Twilight Zone and other wacky soundtrack music follows, most notably, Gene Moor's "Carnival of Souls" (1952) and Harry Lubin's "The Outer Limits" (1964).

I didn't find Part 4 about tape music very interesting apart from "Low Speed" (1952) by Otto Luening.

Part 5 is about electronics in the 1960s and 1970s. He mentions Kagel and Cage, and includes electronic works by Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros, minimalist experiments by Reich, Riley, and other early computer music from Bell Telephone Labs (check the pictures of the Anechoic Chamber), as well as John Chowning's work in FM; his 1977 piece "Stria" is good, and sounds not unlike my own piece "Mirror" which also used FM (and which has since found its way onto my studio computer and may even be released soon!). There is also an excerpt of Jean Claude Risset's "Mutations" (1969), which includes the famous Shepard-Risset Scale of continuously rising/descending pitch. Risset also conceived the idea of using this auditory illusion for rhythm; check this excellent example of infinitely accelerating rhythm (also on this page in OGG format). I could dance to that all night! :-)

Then the programme moves onto the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for some classic British sound effects like the TARDIS and Dick Mills' "Adagio". Delia Derbyshire's work is also included, together with her White Noise collaboration, although not my favourite tracks. He ends by having the good taste to include Richard Denton and Martin Cook's groundbreaking 1980 Tomorrow's World theme, with its stunning choir sounds.

Part 6 - The Rise Of The Synthesiser - finally reaches Robert Moog, Don Buchla and Morton Subotnick's classic piece "Silver Apples Of The Moon". Moog users Walter Carlos and Isao Tomita are featured too. Then the mellotron is mentioned, with The Beatles and Rolling Stones, also Rick Wakeman's and Keith Emerson's (ab)use of Minimoog with YES and ELP.

Part 7 is about Krautrock pioneers Can, Faust, Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, quite rightfully so; this Kosmiche Musik has had a largely unacknowledged influence on so much since. Sadly too much time is spent dwelling on TD's later albums of stale digipop rather than the classic mid/late-Seventies era. Hopefully a future episode will feature Klaus' epic solo albums of that time, maybe also Ashra, Robert Schroeder, Peter Frohmader and Conrad Schnitzler.

Part 8 focuses on Kraftwerk and the Duesseldorf school: Neu, Cluster, etc. Along with the funk and disco scene, Kraftwerk are undoubtedly the forefathers of hip hop and house music. He mentions a story from Ralf Hutter describing hearing his album Trans-Europe Express being played in a club by a New York DJ in 1977. Ralf assumed he was playing the tracks from the album, but the three-minute song somehow lasted for ten minutes! On asking the DJ later (most likely DJ Kool Herc, pioneer of this technique), Ralf was told that he was mixing two copies of the record, re-starting one (cued up on headphones to be perfectly in sync) as the other ended, for as long as people were dancing (Risset all over again!). And so beatmixing was born...

UPDATE 2010-04-25: I notice some more Parts have been added:

Later programmes will feature:

So overall, an interesting series with some fascinating insights and good choices of music; there were a few omissions and tracks I wouldn't have chosen, but it would be no fun if he'd made exactly the same choices as me ;-) In addition to other omitted artists already mentioned, I'd also hope for some Francois Bayle, Jonathan Harvey, Bernard Szajner, Neuronium, Maurizio/Basic Channel and maybe even ON-U Sound, but he may have to come and raid my collection for those!


The Mellotron

Tags: Music, Studio

I just can't escape it. I love Mellotrons. Many of my musical influences and the formative records from my childhood feature these haunting sounds, which I had originally thought were synthesisers. Klaus Schulze was a master of the celestial choir sound. More recently, I'm falling in love all over again via the dark and ethereal inner space music of Dusty Lee's Angel Provocateur and Mauve Sideshow. I've also long been fascinated by Tom Waits' mysterious use of an earlier related instrument called the Chamberlin.

In a similar vein, check these fascinating accounts of a massively-multitracked choir created in the studio for the 10CC song: "I'm Not In love". This was back in the day when music was done properly in the recording studio. They later recorded custom tapes of those sublime sounds for their Mellotron.

"Each note of a chromatic scale was sung 16 times, so we got 16 tracks of three people singing for each note. That was Kevin, Lol and GiGi standing around a valve Neumann U67 in the studio, singing 'Aahhh' for around three weeks. I'm telling you; three bloody weeks."

In a BBC interview, Eric Stewart told how the song began as a bossa nova version, but was ditched by the band after Kevin Godley and Lol Creme dismissed it as "crap".


If Mellotrons weren't so damned expensive and unreliable I'd yearn for one. It's hard enough trying to resist buying this new DVD about them. There is of course the new Mk.VI and digital Mellotron (with a rackmount version due in September 2010!) and the Memotron, which all look very nice, but are still not cheap. Instead I shall use my sampler...


The Malcotron

Tags: Studio create The Malcotron, a digital version with multisampled choirs made from my own voice, processed with my favourite outboard gear. I don't know when I'll get time to do all this or whether I'll have the patience/RAM to store one sample for each key (possibly also in alternate tunings) but I'll need something to do once I retire. It probably won't sound like a mellotron, but will have my unique sound.

I already have a whole lot of harpsichord samples on DAT (some pianos too), captured at Dartington, single notes and arpeggios, which will one day be used in a piece called Harpeggiator (with Jupiter-6 ;-)

I also have Top Secret evil planz to modify a grand piano too, but that will involve:

  1. being able to afford one (my upright won't work)
  2. knowing some carpenters/engineers who can help realise my design
  3. having a large enough room to house the thing!


C-Thru AXiS-64 Pro MIDI ControllerAXiS-64 Pro and Opal MIDI keyboard

Tags: Studio

I've always been fascinated by harmonic relationships and years ago made plans for a composition called "Triads" - nothing to do with Chinese gangsters, but a piece exploring the magical patterns within musical scales. An English instrument designer, Peter Davies, has been developing his ideas for many years. And lo, now there's an instrument that uses this Harmonic Table: the Opal MIDI keyboard. Watch Jordan Rudess demo the C-Thru AXiS-64 Pro MIDI Controller to see how you can easily play widely spaced chords and 'impossible' progressions with ease. It's also reviewed at DeviantSynth. Here's a nice photo of one controlling an MOTM modular system. The cost in the UK is not mentioned, but including shipping from UK to USA costs $2000, so I doubt I'll be buying one just yet.

[UPDATE 2010-04-23: See also ZIA demonstrating the AXis-64 to play The Bohlen-Pierce Scale.]

Here's another very nice, but even less affordable new MIDI controller keyboard, with very cool design and polyphonic aftertouch: The Infinite Response VAX-77.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2009-05-02 - last updated 2010-10-30