NAMM 2007

January 25th, 2007

Despite arriving early to NAMM this year, I’m a little late getting to the report, but that’s ok, since I think everyone has already hear the big news from the Propellerheads and the announcement of a new synthesizer aptly named “Thor”. Right around 10:30am on Thursday morning, James Bernard went into a demonstration of the new Polysonic Synthesizer. If you thought Reason’s synths already sounded pretty phat, then the sound from Thor can be considered “morbidly obese”.


One of the more impressive changes to the display was the rotation of the monitors at the Propellerhead Software booth. The demo machines were switched to portrait mode so that you could get a huge rack on the screen.


The main focus of the Props display this year was a demonstration of talent and making music and having a good time with Reason. Every day at 5pm, things would wind down and laptops would make there way to the booth where a little impromptu jam session took place. James, Tage and Steffan put together some cool mixes on the fly - no sync.


Every artist presentation drew massive crowds as the esteemed guests demonstrated their secret techniques with Reason. DJ Babu had a really interesting demo of using Recycle to cut up samples for retriggering in Reason.


Here’s a real meeting of the minds - Arabian Prince, DJ Babu, and James Bernard.


Rob Pointer aka Robtronik, Interviews DJ Babu for Propellerheads TV.


Mocean Worker getting ready to demonstrate how to whip up a kosher Elvis remix in his Manischewitz Matzo Shirt.


Jeremy Ellis is a new addition to the props roster. James discovered this pad virtuoso at the DEMF, and set him up with a Reason alternative to his MPC. There will be video of Jeremy’s performance, and you will be stunned by his skill with the pads. He put on one of the most exciting demos i’ve ever seen with Reason.


So if you’ve seen that clip on youtube of Alvin Mills and some unknown guy playing jazz drums off an Alesis HR-16, then this picture will look familiar. This is drummer and drum machine virtuoso, David Haynes. He was brought in by EastWest to demo EZ Drummer. Watching guys like David and Jeremy makes you realize that talent is now cultivating around technology.


EastWest also had their new “Fab Four” plug-in on show which featured a sample set produced by Beatle’s Engineer Ken Scott. This plug-in touts a 64bit sample engine and features a variety of instruments from the Beatles Era which were recorded through a signal path similar to the original Beatles Recordings. What the material doesn’t explain is that they called upon John Hinson of Revolution Recording Equipment to build REDD.47 mic pres and modify an Altec compressor to the EMI RS-124 specs for this project :-)


My friends, the Merkle Brothers of Bitplant, are now officially established as probably the best Music Software GUI designers in the business. They even worked on one of the new EastWest plug-ins, and this year they have stretched their talents to developing booth displays for Camel Audio. Some the other projects include the new plug-ins from Wave Arts.


When bitplant first formed, I was hired for some whopping megabucks as an employee (inside joke). I got my Christmas bonus in the form of a T-Shirt.

Bitplant has also worked on another very special project called Addictive Drums from XLN Audio. I had actually seen the beta version of this when I was in Stockholm last year visiting Sonic Charge/Mr. Malstrom: Magnus Lindstrom. This is definitely one of the coolest drum plug-ins that you would not have seen at NAMM. It’s a multi-channel sampled drum system, but the MIDI and groove implementation is really unique in that you can drag and drop sequence files to quickly structure a drum groove, then mix it to your tastes. Lars and Niklas of XLN Audio were busy walking the floor, but sadly didn’t have a booth to show this great new product.


Sporting the new Bitplant T-shirt, I was forced to go out and pose with some booth babes. I was tempted to crack a line about Graphic User Interfaces, but they certainly didn’t need any upgrades. They were quite funny though, bossing around the Merkles on what angles to shoot and insisting on using flash. The girl on my right said, “Listen to us. We’re professionals! It’s better with Flash!” - she could be a spokesperson for Adobe/Macromedia.


Our friends at Arturia had some exciting new products on display. They were introducing their new Hardware - uh yes, i said it, hardware synth called the Origin. It’s basically a stand alone unit that runs a combination of their softsynths along with sequencer and effects. The array of controls allows for some wild modulation routings to create some mega patches.


Arturia also had a Jupiter 8 emulator that had that classic 80s analog sound. It looks and sounds great. They had this really cool jazz player demoing the sound throughout the show playing some old progressive style synth keyboard stuff. It was impressive at first, but after several days it became a bit much to listen to. It couldn’t be avoided since the Arturia booth faced directly at the Props booth. It was interesting to hear Jupiter go up against Thor :-)


Clavia had their new C1 Combo Organ on display which had some cool features including an 11 pin output to plug into your leslie, along with a brake switch. So you don’t have to haul around a 300lbs B3, but you can still drag around at Leslie 110.


Along a similar vein, but ultimately much cooler was the reintroduction of the Rhodes Electric Piano. No this is not a virtual or sampled based device, this is the real deal! The Rhodes Music Corporation introduced the new Mark 7 Electric Piano line, complete with hammers, tines, springs, and pickups…. oh and MIDI (out).


The 61 Key Stage version with the cool retro styling in Red. 88key, 73key, and 61key models are offered along with amplification systems and all of the classic Rhodes features that make the unique tone. The action is more like the later model keyboards so it can be played faster and easier than the early models. The Rhodes is Back!


C Thru Music introduced a very unique MIDI control surfaced called the Axis-64. It’s based on a circle of 5ths layout in a honeycomb pattern where you can quickly generate chords by pressing a combination of contiguous buttons. It seemed odd at first, but after a few minutes I was coming up with some interesting chord progressions and harmonies. The buttons are velocity sensitive and scalable.


My friends from Loopmasters were down in Hall E and shared a booth with Percussa who had their Audio Cube controllers on display. The Audio Cubes work typically in pairs with optical sensors that interface with the other sensors and connect to a computer via USB. The sensors can be configured to respond to other cubes or to reflections. They had a set of cubes interfaced with Ableton to trigger different clip combinations as well as initiating effects. The control software was a max patch which allows you to translate data as well as control the color of the cubes.


A trip to NAMM wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the Analog Heaven booth where they featured a big display on the Cynthia Zeroscillators


At the back of the booth, there was an interesting filter unit called the Ebbe und Flut from Schippman Music of Germany. The unit sounded very smooth and features a number of input and cv/gate points.


The more I look at the Livewire Modular systems, the more I’m tempted to dive back into the gear lust craze. Ironically while cruising the booth, we met Steve who is a Reason user and works at Livewire building these units :-)


At the Moog Booth, we were treated to a Theremin demonstration from Pamela Kurstin. It’s amazing to hear this instrument played with skilled hands. Ever notice that the great theremin players are all petite women? I think there’s a correlation between body mass and the ability to play this instrument well.


During Pamela’s performance, she dropped in a nasty sounding effect on the theremin which gave it gritty edge. This was a new moogerfooger effect called the MF-107 FreqBox. Input signals modulate the internal vco for some unusual sounding results. Unusual meaning “Very Cool”


One of the showcase displays was at the E-mu booth where they had a vintage E-mu Modular on display. The top unit is from E-mu’s personal collection, but the bottom unit is from a private owner who built a custom MIDI to CV interface. This was being driven from the demo station where they showed the new “Synth Swipe” feature of Emulator X2. This is an automatic sampling system that sends notes out to a MIDI synthesizer and samples the audio coming from the synth. The regions are automatically sliced and mapped. Here’s the real kicker… the regions are automatically looped.


Under glass at the Universal Audio booth were a couple of interesting looking devices. These were protos of a new desktop control system designed to be handy DAW expander devices. One is a mic pre and the other is a control room monitor mixer.

I guess that wraps up my little view of the Winter NAMM Show. I’m off to bed again to get over this cold/flu/fever/uffa thingy.

THOR Polysonic Synthesizer

January 24th, 2007

Ok, the full NAMM report is coming, but please don’t get your expectations up too high. I seemed to have caught some kind of bug during the trip and have been ill since I returned. In the meantime, you should check out the news on the Propellerhead Software Website and check out the sneak peak video shot during the 2007 Winter NAMM convention where the props unveiled a new synthesizer called “Thor”. Aptly named since Roland has cornered the market on the Roman Gods, it’s only right that the Scandinavians start a tradition of synths named after Norse Gods.

Deathline International

December 15th, 2006

I managed to catch my friend GW playing keys for the group Deathline International. They had a gig last night at the Voodoo Lounge in San Jose, which isn’t too far away, so after missing previous opportunities, I finally saw them perform. GW has talked about the group for ages, but I had no idea what to expect from this industrial quartet. Quite simply, they were fantastic! The band had a great energy and Deathline Int’l style reminded me of my favorite groups from way back to my high school days. They dropped in a couple of cover including a great version of “Tainted Love.

The opening act was a solo act, Unwoman that featured Erica Mulkey who sings, while playing cello with Reason backing tracks. I was really enjoying her performance, but she cut her performance a bit short due to technical difficulties with the venue. I ended up getting one of her CDs to listen in more detail to this interesting blend of electronic, acoustic, and voice, and was impressed with her talent. Anyways, I thought it was cool to go out and randomly meet another Reason user :-) Link to Unwoman on MySpace.

Sound Man - WWII to MP3

December 14th, 2006

I attended the San Francisco AES meeting earlier this week at Meyer Sound Labs in Berkeley. After signing a NDA, members we’re welcomed into the Pearson Theater where we were given a presentation of about the facility from Larry the “O”. Obviously this cozy little theater sounded fantastic - duh, i did say it was at Meyer Sound Labs - and it was quite comfortable with a very elegant modern style. After the presentation we relaxed to screen the documentary film by Don Hardy titled, “Sound Man - WWII to MP3″.

The film focuses on the life of Jack Mullin , a radio engineer assigned to the army signal core during WWII. During a mission through germany, procured a couple of German Magnetophon tape recording devices and shipped them back to his home in San Francisco. Upon his return from his tour of duty in Europe, he worked to restore and improve the magnetophon units. This eventually led to the start of the American Tape Recording manufacturing industry started at the AMPEX corporation.

Apparently Mullin was also handy with a film camera as well, and he was assigned to film his activities through europe, so this documentary featured some fantastic old images of his missions. While the interviews were interesting and in some cases very funny, the old footage and Mr. Mullins and the interview with Mr. Mullin was by far the highlight of the film.

Check the Trailer posted on YouTube:

The Producers Conference

November 22nd, 2006

Similar to the event in Stockholm a few weeks ago, Propellerhead Software organized the Producers Conference last weekend where users from all over California attended. One person had even flown up from Los Angeles just for the event. Organized by Robert Pointer, the Props US rep, The Conference turned out to be a great event at the Recombinant Media Labs in San Francisco.

In the days leading up to the event, Rob was concerned that only a handful of people would show up. We were setting up pretty early Saturday morning, and around 8:00am, people started lining up outside. By the time we started, the room was at capacity! Despite the early morning hour, we were all happy to see the die hard Reason users show there support.


The presentations cut across a variety of topics James Bernard and I had presented a couple of combinator related lectures, and Erik Hawkins presented an NN-XT Sampling …uh… discussion, and Arabian Prince talked about using Reason to produce a variety of work. I think everyone will agree that Arabian was the most interesting out of this lot, especially when he spoke about winning a little bet he had with Dr.Dre about producing tracks with Reason vs. Dre’s MPC. Yes, Arabian won using Reason!

Despite being a little rough around the edges, the day seemed to go pretty well. I had been up since 6:00am and the event went until about 5:00pm. Despite being over-caffinated, I was still sluggish all day long. I’m pretty certain there will be another Producers Conference in a different city. We’ll get the details smoothed out for the next one, and hopefully make it an evening event rather than a morning thing :-p

Reason Producers Conference in San Francisco

November 11th, 2006

I’ve a few more days here in Stockholm before returning home where I have to get ready to do this all again next week at Recombinant Labs in San Francisco. James Bernard and Arabian Prince will coming up to present the North American version of the Propellerhead Software Producer Conference! Hayden Bursk from Line6 and Eric Hawkins from the Berklee School of Music will also be presenting seminars on techniques of using Reason.

I’m sure many of you have read about the workshops at my favorite space in SF. here’s a chance to come check out Recombinant Labs. Registered Reason users have a free pass if you sign up on the Propellerhead Software Website.

Thank You Sweden!

November 10th, 2006

After a few days in Stockholm, I finally have a moment to relax. The trip over was fairly painless, with the one small exception of the family with the little baby sitting a few rows in front of me on the long haul from SF to London. I still managed to take a few catnaps and the jet lag was not as brutal as I had anticipated. I managed to sleep through the night and wake up Thursday morning to prepare for the Producers Seminar organized by Studio Magazine and Propellerhead Software.

The conference was hosted at the IDG offices in Stockholm and over 120 attended the seminars being presented by James Bernard, Erik Jansson, Niklas Olovson, Andreas Tilliander, and me. It was a great evening with 10kr beers, and lots of cool music. Participants were asked to bring in their own work for critiques–I heard a rumor that one person’s stuff was so good he might get some kind of deal from a person who heard his stuff! I wanted to thank Studio Magazine and the props for the invitation to come and lecture.

It was really nice to meet the many Swedish Reason Users including Daniel aka eXode, and i appreciate the audience participation from those who sat in on my lecture. I had been warned that participants might hesitate asking questions, but i found the reception quite warm. Many thanks to all who attended!