Saturday, August 29, 2009

OhmSound FM softsynth

Just came across a new synthesizer today (or maybe more accurately, it came across me).

I have a Livid Instruments Ohm controller, designed specifically for VJing, but it's basically a MIDI controller that can be used for anything you'd like to use it for. You can use it quite easily with Ableton Live as it's USB plug-and-play. Mine is a beautiful wood and metal version, and it's just fun to touch let alone to use.

Livid recently updated the design of the Ohm and came out with the Ohm64. It's basically similar to mine except that it has a 64 button matrix rather than my 36 button version. What's new here is that I just got an email from Livid which aside from other software update announcements had an oh-by-the-way-here's-our-new-FM-soft-synth section. I've been putting off sending in my Ohm to take advantage of the Ohm Recycling Program, but now I almost have to do it just to have a go at the new synth.

It's called simply OhmSound, and it's a two operator FM synth. Two operators doesn't sound like a lot, but it's not limited to the "traditional" sine waves, you can change the waves to any number of waveshapes, complete with graphical LFO and envelope control of the operator levels as well. Tied to the Ohm64 controller, which lets you use knobs, buttons and sliders to control all the synth parameters, you end up with an easy to use and fun to play with synthesizer.

It's still in very early development apparently, and, Oh Yeah, they're also working on a sequencer as well!

This is totally cool, as Livid basically created a VJ controller but have now expanded its capabilities via software to turn it into something completely different from the original concept. I can't wait to see what else they come up with.

Update: Lived just posted three videos on the use of OhmSound.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nine Inch Nails - Wave Goodbye

Saw Nine Inch Nails last night, maybe their last ever New York show. They’re not my usual sort of topic here, but you have to love a rowdy “industrial” band that uses an incredibly cool modular synthesizer, has keyboards played live by all four band members and releases synth-heavy albums. Supposedly, they’re going to stop touring but still record new albums.

It was a great show, though. They played for almost two and a half hours, rocking hard the whole time although they did slow down for some tender moments as well. There were a few synth interludes, many of them sequences and rhythms to provide backgrounds for the rowdy guitars. It’s great to see a modular synth used live, and they actually tweak knobs and change sounds from time to time. It’s not just thrown in, they actually make good use of it, which is refreshing in a hard rocking band.

There are other bands I like who use synths for a bit flavoring. Dishwalla comes to mind right away, though they’re much more mainstream than NIN. Also Stabbing Westward, another industrial band from some years ago, had some great synth textures behind them. There are plenty of others out there as well, but those two are particular favorites of mine.

I probably shouldn’t write these at 2:00 am after getting home from a concert, but I just couldn’t help myself. I have more concerts coming up in the near future as well. There’s Todd Rundgren doing the A Wizard/A True Star album in its entirety, with Roger Powell and Greg Hawkes on synths. That’s in a week and a half. A couple of weeks after that is U2, although probably not so synth-heavy. I’ll most likely have things to say about both of those shows.

Update: I just posted some photos from the show on Flickr

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Morton Subotnick live at the Issue Project Room

I didn’t quite know what to expect as I made my way to Brooklyn to see Morton Subotnick play live. When I got there, sitting outside the room before they let us in, you could hear all sorts of bleeps and bloops coming through the closed door. Piles of synthesizers? The legendary Buchla? No way to tell from my side of the door. When we were let in, though, there was a small table with a Mac laptop and a Korg nanoKONTROL on it and not much else. Not what I expected, but then again since I didn’t know what to expect it seemed to fit.

The space was very interesting. PA speakers in four corners, seats in the center. It was small, too, maybe 50 seats if even that many. Hanging from the ceiling were 15 speaker pods, which I think had a separate computer controlling the sound going to them. We were surrounded.

Subotnick was introduced, and then still standing started to explain what he was going to play, what his near-term plans were, and several incredibly funny stories of things that happened in his career. He was very personable and very friendly, seemed quite at ease. My favorite quote, from when he was describing the record company exchanging his four-track reel-to-reel for a new, modern eight track version: “If heaven is anything like an eight-track tape recorder it’s a pretty good place.”

Then he sat down to play.

I don’t know. I was maybe expecting cacophony, maybe expecting “difficult” music. What I got was simply amazing. He started slowly, triggering sounds and bits of music, going back and forth between the nanoKONTROL and the Mac’s keyboard. He spent quite some time putting together complex rhythms and melodies, slowly building up steam, taking us along with him. It was fascinating, but more importantly it was good music. I guess I was expecting synthesized weirdness, but what he gave us was instead masterly. It was almost like an explosion of sound in reverse. It was the musical equivalent of an explosion on video played backwards. At first, all the parts are scattered and random, but over time they start to accelerate towards each other and then faster and faster they all coalesce into a recognizable whole. It was exhilarating, completely unexpected, amazing. And that was only his first piece, a bit of Silver Apples of the Moon.

His second piece was similar, but very different. He explained how he had Don Buchla build him an early envelope follower (if not the very first one). Subotnick would then sing into it, storing his voice on tape to use later to modify sounds from the Buchla. The second piece used this technique, and parts of it sounded eerily like heavenly choirs singing square waves. He also used the vocal-formed envelopes to start some long, evolving rhythmic patterns and the joint was rocking. He even took his hands off the keyboards a few times, sat back and raised his eyebrows when the rhythms turned into something interesting. Then he’d smile and reach for a knob on the nano and completely mangle it into something just as amazing but totally new, almost looking like an evil professor with a gleam in his eye as he did it. When the piece was done he got a tremendous ovation, and then it was over. It was fabulous.

It was bug music, it was slamming rhythms, it was synthesizers being thrown around among the 19 speakers above the audience. It was ethereal beauty, it was entertainment, it was mesmerizing. I saw in places where Tangerine Dream came from, where Robert Rich came from, and even where Moldover came from. And if they had been there at the end of the show, they would have eagerly joined in with the standing ovation.