Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Book Choice #12:

Nicole Krauss: The History Of Love

An intricate plot, beautifully written - and one of the best novels involving Jewish culture since Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything Is Illuminated". Wonderful characters - especially the two children Alma and Bird.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Plug-In Spotlight #2: NI FM8

Native Instruments - FM8

Although I had no experience of the revolutionary Yamaha DX7, the cut-down DX100 with its short keyboard and simplified editing parameters was a defining sound in early Techno - mostly due to it's use as a cutting edge bass and percussion instrument by Derrick May. 

Via Neuro Politique's Matt Cogger I was fortunate to inherit Derrick's DX100 with it's familiar 'hard bass' preset and made it a feature of my own earliest productions.

FM synthesis seems tailor-made for Derrick May's brand of thoughtful, complex Techno. Sharp, angular with an icy emotion in it's clean, yet far from pristine digital output. With it's lack of deep bass, it also leaves plenty of space in the mix for the layers of percussion in those early Rythim Is Rythim (sic) releases.

FM8 - follows on from FM7 in being Native Instruments modern software equivalent of the Yamaha FM philosophy. 

The DX7 was legendary in it's programming difficulty and complexity. I must admit, parts of FM8 'Expert' editing features elude me, but thankfully there is a useful and quick 'Easy' editing section with the basic parameters that alter timbre and envelope shape. 

My favourite feature of FM8 is the often overlooked arpeggiator which has some powerful preset patterns and a neat randomize feature. The morph square is another intuitive performance tool which NI so excel in and a useful selection of onboard effects make this incarnation of FM synthesis the best yet IMO. Still unbeatable for edgy percussive bass and techy-tones.

Easier to edit than previous hardware FM synths.
Powerful arpeggiator.
Creative Morph feature.

In-depth FM synthesis inherently complicated.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Book Choice #11:

Roy Richard Grinker: Isabel's World

An excellent read for those interested in educating themselves about Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Introduces a different viewpoint from most books on autism as the author is both a father of an autistic daughter and an anthropologist. 

As a father of a six year old son with autism I found the first half of the book useful, if familiar solid ground as it neatly wraps up the current thinking on the rise in autism rates, it's history, possible causes, the role of genetics, etc.

The second half of the book was more interesting to me as this broke further ground than most 'guides to autism' style books, by taking a look at how autism is viewed in different cultures around the world - particularly S. Korea, India, South Africa and Native American.

Recommended to all parents, carers and researchers involved with autistic spectrum disorders.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Plug-In Spotlight #1: NI Massive

My dual quad-core Mac Pro has enabled me to increase the amount of plug-in's to complement my outboard equipment. The past few months have been spent trying out many of the demo's out there for AU as Logic 8 is now my preferred DAW for mixdown, and Ableton Live 8 my preferred DAW for song creation/composition.

Plug-in's have improved a lot since the days of my Pro Tools Mix 24/G4 setup and I now have no reservations regarding sound-quality when used in conjunction with outboard. This is an important point though - I still hear a 'thin/plastic' quality with finished tracks that are created solely with software synths. This is no 'hardware/analogue' snobbery on my part. I genuinely believe software synths are best when used sparingly in tracks consisting mostly of audio from hardware synths.

So here are my findings so far after trying many plug-in's this year, split into two distinct varieties - Instruments and Effects - although some plug-in's blur the distinction between the two.

Firstly let me state my philosophy regarding the concept of plug-in's. Personally I see little value and therefore, tend to avoid, plug-ins that aim to "clone" or "emulate" real hardware devices. I have little time for SSL or API "emulations" or Minimoog or ARP Odyssey "clones", no matter how accurate the coders claim the results to be. To me they are unoriginal and uninspiring. 

For me the excitement in the plug-in world comes from designs that would be either near-impossible or impractical to re-create with hardware. 

However - I do think it is acceptable for soft-synths to improve upon previous digital synth technology, as these clearly can be improved upon with todays computing power - which brings me to the first two plug-in instruments I most currently use, both of which expand upon previous examples of digital synthesis.


Native Instruments - Massive

I've been using NI Massive for over two years now. It reminds me of my old Waldorf Wave, which I reluctantly sold some years ago. It's amazing to think the power of that huge synthesizer with its waveform analysis, analogue filters and multistage envelopes can be superseded by a neat soft-synth with single screen GUI.

Of course, Massive does not have the true analogue 4-pole filters of the Wave, and therefore the general timbre is a touch more digital. However, Massive has dual multimode filters which can be arranged in parallel or series for a multitude of effects far beyond the capability of the Wave. 

Massive has three wave-scanning oscillators - one more than the Wave - and a modulation oscillator to create ring-modulation and filter FM effects. Various effects including bit crushing, delay, etc, can be inserted at different stages thanks to the editable routing system and most parameters can be modulated.

The modulation sources are perhaps my favourite part of Massive. The only drawback being most parameters are limited to one or two modulation sources and single control source. Morphable multi-stage envelopes, LFO's and step sequencers are all on hand for syncable modulation - implemented by an elegant drag and drop system. 

Eight macro controls can be setup for powerful real-time tweaking and of course, any control can be assigned to a Midi controller knob or slider.

Intuitive GUI.
Elegant drag and drop modulation system.
Dual mode step sequencer modulation: stepper or performance.
Powerful multi-stage envelopes.
Three main oscillators plus modulation oscillator.
Unique filter types.
Morphable parameters.
Re-routable effects matrix.

Only eighty-five wavetables currently available.
Limited single or dual modulation slots for most parameters.
Cannot import custom-made wavetables.