Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
August 10, 2005

The ultimate in vintage hybrid synths...

by Chris Randall

Back in my day, we walked three miles to school in eight feet of snow (or was it eight miles in three feet of snow?) and we couldn't afford a fancy digital-analog hybrid like the Evolver. We had to make do with what we had, and that was the IBM 1403 printer attached to the IBM mainframe computer. Once we were done computing ballistic missle trajectories, we took a much needed breather by teaching that printer to play "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," among many other hits.

Well, not "we" in the specific sense, but a more general American "we." Check out the recordings from a 1970 glitch/chip music performance of mainframe and printer with occasional banter. Computer History Museum.

August 10, 2005

Tiny Digital Roundup...

by Chris Randall

It's Wednesday, and that means it's time to send in the Rodeo Clowns, because we're having a round-up! This week, we'll have a gander at all the little digital synths that make life worth living.

The first contender for the all-time title of "Shit Chris Really Wants But Can't Seem To Obtain" is the Droid-3, which (like every cool synth these days) hails from Scandanavia. Denmark, to be precise. Those zany Danes have made something that is almost entirely, but not completely, unlike a SidStation. It's black. It has one knob. It sounds like death on a stick, and naturally, there are caveats. Danegeld, to name the first. It'll set you back US$599.00, as if we needed a sign that we Anglo-Saxons are still beholden to the Dane after a millenia. Oh, BTW, that's not including the plane ticket, which brings us to our second issue: if you're not in Denmark, you ain't getting one, because they won't ship over the border.

Next on the agenda, we have the ElectroKraft Space*Synth. This particular item also seems to be made of unobtanium, as the ElectroKraft site has removed all mention of it, despite the fact that they issued a press release announcing it only 6 months ago. Let's just pretend that it is available, for the time being anyways, and say that it is US$189.00, and ostensibly makes sounds just like the engine in the Donkey Kong coin-op. That's reason enough to covet one. I don't want an ApolloAxe at all, which is just another excuse for keyboard players to look like retards (as if we needed that.) So ElectroKraft, please actually release this unit! You can read about it from the original press release, which is available on Harmony Central.

If you read MusicThing, you know all about the Cracklebox. Personally, I find this little guy to be a bit annoying, bordering on Master's Thesis Stupid. (Maybe if someone made a table, upon which was projected an image of a Cracklebox, and you moved little disks of lucite around to Break Down The Barriers Between Performer And Audience, I'd be a bit more impressed.) But we're ecumenical here at Analog Industries, so it gets thrown in the ring with the rest of the toys. Read all about it at, then buy one for 50 Euro plus shipping, and impress all the Emo kids at your local coffee shop.

Our final entry comes from our Tuetonic representatives MFB, in the form of the PolyLITE. This boxen goes one better than the Droid-3 by having no controls at all. It is a four-voice DCO-based synth with analog filter and VCA that can only be controlled from MIDI CC messages or from the front panel of an MFB SynthLITE II. No sound samples that I can find, but NuLoop apparently will have them for sale Real Soon Now at 269 Euros.

Of course, there's the requisite Gameboy offerings like NanoLoop and LSDJ, and various other methods for coaxing badly aliased sounds out of gear singularly unsuited for the task. And there's Dave Smith's excellent Evolver, of which plenty has been said. If there are any synths of this ilk I've missed, feel free to throw a link in the comments section. There's one more scratching at my hind-brain, but I can't remember its name, and thus can't search for it. Maybe I'll remember by morning.

August 10, 2005

New ShinyBox ribbon mic...

by Chris Randall

ShinyBox has released another cheap-ass ribbon mic, the ShinyBox model 46. This one is even cheaper-asser than the last one I mentioned a couple weeks back, at only US$150.00, versus the US$165.00 of the somewhat larger (and less awesome, if the copy is to be believed) model 23. Like I said, I haven't tried these, so I'm not giving them my Official Stamp Of Approval or anything, but I mean, really, now. How can you go wrong?

Hit the ShinyBox site and judge for yourself. He has a no-questions-asked return policy, so there's really no harm in trying it out.

August 9, 2005

2/3 of the way to being a rock star...

by Chris Randall

Here's a progress report on the Great Kay Refinishing Pageant. All the StupidBurst paint was easily removed, as it was a rather thin coat. Took me about 45 minutes total of sanding. I then hand-sanded the body to within an inch of its life, which took another three or four hours. After that, I stained the back and sides with a deep walnut color. Today, I sprayed the body with about 6 coats total of polyurethane.

It is actually looking like a Real Guitar now. After I wet-sand the final coat of poly, we'll see where we're sitting, but I think it is pretty much done. It's funny how good the spruce/birch/whatever plywood really popped out once I started laying poly on it. You can't tell in the picture at all, but there's so many little knurls in it, it almost looks like bird's-eye maple. In any case, this guitar looks so much better now, and all it took was a little elbow grease.

August 9, 2005

Oh, that's Creative...

by Chris Randall

Let me just point out, before getting off on a rant, that if you're even remotely interested in using a computer for making/editing music, your sound I/O should be nowhere near the computer itself. The inside of a computer is a set of monkey bars, upon which the RF demon spawn of the various parts of the computer itself will play. (Parenthetically speaking, that's a hell of a metaphor, if I do say so myself.)

So, what do we have here? Creative Labs has figured out a new way to rip off pro-sumers: the X-Fi sound-card series. Now, the first thing I notice is that this is a PCI card with jacks on it. That automatically rules it out of the race for a Reasonable Solution To Your Pro-sumer Audio Needs. (See painful metaphor above for reasoning.) Basically, you take a run-of-the-mill Soundblaster Platinum Live XT-Whee, and you make it black as midnight, and give it some shiny gold bling, and you can charge 5 times as much for it.

Well, we don't cotton to that sort of thing in these parts. They're gonna be asking US$399 for this thing down at Best Buy (and that's _without_ the stupid service plan. Shit, don't get me started...) and I don't think you need me to go in to all the _actual_ semi-pro sound I/O you could pick up for that amount of money.

Okay, I need to go to my quiet place and converse with my power animal now. Wake me when this is over.


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