Moogfest: Been There, Done That Finally

This past Friday and Saturday, I attended Moogfest 2016, an event that I’ve wanted to attend for several years.

Personal highlights were seeing and playing the Moog Minimoog Model D reissue, checking out the gear in the Moog Pop Up Shop, attending a talk featuring Tatsuya Takahashi (designer of the Korg Minilogue), getting to hear famed producer Daniel Lanois speak and play, and walking around downtown Durham, NC and the American Tobacco Campus. Downtown Durham is interesting in that it has such a distinct identity, much like downtown Roanoke, VA.

One of the unfortunate lowpoints was feeling rather underwhelmed after playing the Minimoog Model D synthesizer. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play the reissue of this iconic instrument and hope Moog’s effort to bring it back to production is successful. But I’m glad modern synths have advanced far beyond its 1970s era capabilities which for the most part it retains. At its heart it’s an instrument begging to be played. Howvever, at $3500 it’s a nostalgia piece. Nice to have, but not necessary.

Another downer was that there seemed to be few sessions for musicians and their needs and interests. Most of the talks I attended were geared more towards the engineer types which is fine. Without engineers we wouldn’t have synthesizers. Nevertheless, I’d like to see the addition of creative music making focused sessions in future Moogfests. After all, without musicians engineers wouldn’t have a market to which to sell their creations.

Overall, despite those relatively minor points, it was a very interesting and informative event which one should experience at least once. I’m hoping that since Moog invited a Korg designer to speak at this year’s conference that it bodes well for the possibility of Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim coming to speak at a future Moogfest. If that happens, I’ll definitely be attending again.

‘Til next time.

Windows 95: 20 Years Already?

Windows 95 Logo

Remember Microsoft Windows 95? Remember the startup sound?

Brian Eno wrote that. On a Mac. I had no idea the producer of many of U2’s best selling albums (e.g. The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, All That You Can’t Leave Behind) composed this sonic welcome mat.

It brings back nice memories of sitting in the computer lab as an undergrad student and being welcomed to my first excursions onto the internet by this ambient bit of music.

Anyways, with this past August 24th marking twenty years since its release, many around the interweb have been reflecting on Windows 95. Here is an article at that provides additional details and even some cover versions and remixes of its startup sound.

Use What You Have

Use what you have. That has become my motto of late, particularly in regards to music equipment. As a gear junkie, it’s easy to get trapped in the mindset that just one more piece of gear will spark some sort of creativity, crush any writer’s block, make me ultimately happy and solve all the world’s problems! Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. It’s easy to allow the desire for some piece of new gear to get in the way of, or the “latest and greatest” software release to distract from, the fundamental reason I’ve invested in musical hardware and software: making music.

I remember as a young teenager trying to eke every bit of functionality out of my first real synth, a Korg Poly-800. I learned to program my own sounds, to program the step-sequencer and to record it via a poor man’s multitrack (i.e. two separate cassette decks feeding into each other). It was all that I had and could afford at the time. When I had few choices in regards to gear or functionality, I was (if I’m remembering non-nostalgically) more creative. Nowadays, with the wide availability and affordability of powerful soft-synths and the myriad functions they come with, there’s almost too many choices to make when using a software instrument. They come with such an array of features and sounds that it would take a person years to explore it all. Now this is great for those just starting out in this crazy world of music-making as it provides a big bang for the buck, particularly if one is a cash-strapped teenager. But once you’ve spent some time creating music, you begin to realize that too many choices can lead to a stifling of creativity. More isn’t always better.

The DAW (digital audio workstation) that I use for recording, like most software, has periodic updates, typically on an annual basis. And like most software, there is usually a fee for major updates. This year however, I decided to break the cycle and stick with the previous version. Yes, the update that was released has new features I’d like to have and could find useful. But here’s the thing: “last year’s” version is really all that I need. Indeed, it’s much more than I need as there are features buried in it that I’ll likely never use. Can I record and mix audio? Yes. Can I record and edit MIDI data? Yes. Can I do pretty much everything I need to do from a recording studio standpoint with an older, non-current version of DAW software? Yes.

Another driving force for me putting off any new purchases and to use what I have is that, over the past several years, I’ve been moving back into the hardware world. Don’t get me wrong, software plugins sound great and are economical when compared to hardware, but the tactile thing is not there. And as a musician, I miss that. Sitting in front of a computer and mouse-clicking around in the GUI of a soft-synth program feels too much like work. Also, as operating systems are updated, the soft-synths I have today may not run on a future OS due to potential incompatibilities. At least hardware instruments, barring any breakdown in the components, will continue to be playable for decades. That’s not being seen, at least yet, with software instruments.

For me, the solution is a hybrid setup of things I already own: select pieces of quality hardware instruments combined with a few pieces of powerful software. I have not only the immediacy and tactility of hardware instruments but also the convenience and power of software. For me, a focus on just one or the other is unduly limiting. A hybrid setup is, to use a well worn cliche, the best of both worlds.

At the end of the day, it’s not the hardware, it’s not the software, it’s not the latest and greatest gear that makes music. They are just tools that are useless without someone to play them. Take a second look at those tools currently at your disposal: the older instruments, that “out-dated” software, your aging computer. Squeeze every last ounce of creative juice from them to achieve your creative goals. Use what you have.

Moogfest Destination: Durham, NC

Exciting news announced today! The next Moogfest will be held in Durham, North Carolina, May 19-22, 2016. I’ve never been to this event as it has historically been held in Asheville, North Carolina, a 4 to 5 hour drive from my house. So to have Moogfest held locally? Can’t wait!

Moogfest Screen Capture

Another Reason I Love Moog

moog logo

Hmm. Maybe it’s time to go work for my favorite synth manufacturer. 😀

At the Moog synthesizer factory in Asheville, N.C., on Tuesday, Michael Adams, the company’s owner and chief executive, wanted to share some life-changing news with the entire staff.

“I’ve sold half the company,” he told them.

Anxious silence descended among the tight-knit group, many of whom feel a familial loyalty to the business, which has been likened to Willy Wonka’s factory for electronic musicians.

Then Mr. Adams revealed the buyer.

“I sold it to you,” he said, to a relieved wave of whoops, applause and happy tears, according to employees present.

Full NY Times article: Moog Music Becomes Employee Owned

Happy Birthday Bob!

Robert Moog Wikipedia Entry Summary
Today is the late Bob Moog’s birthday. I’m so grateful that he was on this planet and for his many technological contributions as they’ve had a tremendous impact on me musically and personally.

Thank you, Bob. I never met you in this world, but perhaps I will in the next. You are very much missed by many, but your legacy is alive and well. Happy birthday! 🎹

50th Anniversary of the Moog Modular Synthesizer

From the Moog Music Youtube Channel:

October 12, 2014 marks the 50 Year anniversary of the unveiling of the Moog modular synthesizer at the Audio Engineering Society’s (AES) New York convention. On that day in 1964, Dr. Robert Moog introduced the world to a completely new type of instrument that would go on to change the course of music history and influence decades of future instrument design. Told by a Moog engineer, Moog Historian, and Bob Moog himself, this mini-documentary explores Moog Music’s quest to resurrect the original methods, materials and designs used in the foundational modular synths. Through recreating Keith Emerson’s modular system, Moog Music rediscovers the power, elegance, and enduring legacy of its first instruments.

Find out more at Moog Music Modular System.

Footage of Keith Emerson from the film “Isle Of Wight” used with permission of Murray Lerner.

Photo of Keith Emerson & Bob Moog at 4:28 by Mark Hockman.

Blofeld Padishness

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up for my Waldorf Blofeld the recently released Analog Voltage soundset by Don Solaris and have been very impressed with how he has been able to replicate many of the vintage synth sounds from the 1980’s. I’m still playing around with them, but one patch that has stuck out as one of my favorites is “JX Darkness”, a nice dark pad in which the mod wheel opens up the filter.

Here’s a short video of me just messing around with it a little:

If you haven’t picked up this soundset, I recommend that you do. It’s well worth the money as it really shows the sonic possibilities of this unique synth.

MIDI: 30 Years Already?

This video is several months old, but I just got around to watching it. It’s a very interesting discussion about the impact of MIDI on musicians, engineers and designers during the first 30 years of its existence. Jordan Rudess, Dave Smith, Alan Parsons, Craig Anderton, the late George Duke and Tom Oberheim all weigh in on a hugely successful technology that is still at version 1.0 after three decades.

I found it wonderfully fascinating to watch and remember my own experiences as a young teenager, in the days prior to multi-timbral instruments, of being able to layer sounds from 2 or more synthesizers in a live performance setting. And to hear insights from these gentlemen about what MIDI has meant and means to them was a treat.