Earthling

Well actually, I've landed on this planet in 1973 in Egypt before travelling throughout the world to gather knowledge and wisdom in New York, Rome, Tunisia and finally France. I'm currently dwelling in Paris, hiding out in a dull job working as a computer expert and technical advisor for a small company specialized in office training.

But my real scope is far from there, I'm working to promote Sound Experimentation via electronic devices to get out the best of technology to please me degenerated ears (or holes if you got the picture of my face....) I'm in no way a guy trying to put tracks on a vinyl to get it rocking on dance floors. I'm no pro at all with no ultimate commercial scope. I'm just trying to please myself and to get the best of my personnal hobby and to share it with other "aficionnados" like me. So please stop telling me I'm an amateur... I now that all ready !!! But I personnaly think that I know much more on analog synths that some so called pros...

My only "official" musical experience originates from 7 years of hard work devoted to....classical violin which has completely disgusted me of music in my childhood !!! As I grew up I became attract by different music tendencies: Gothic Rock with Sisters of Mercy, Electro-pop with Depeche Mode and Ann Clark, and ambiance music with Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis...

It's only a few years after, when the first House music erupted in Europe (1986), when I understood what linked all these artists: the use of ELECTRONIC INSTRUMENTS. House music swept in but the voices kept on bothering me. The Newbeat era was hard and punchy but either too "punkinsh" (Alien Sex Fiend, Trisomy 21), either too commercial for my taste. Then came in TECHNO and it's legions of rave parties.

The revelation came with astonishing sounds, heavy basses and weird synth lines that really shattered my way of hearing sounds ( image my violin !!! ). That was IT: synth's and drumboxes and electronics could do miracles to get out of the casual, good sounding, "Singer-Guitar-Bass-Drummer" combination. Time has come for everyone to create it's own sound vibration.

Revelations.

When I decided to get into sound creation, I thought at first that you could do anything with a computer and a sound card: I WAS WRONG !!! A computer is good at recording samples editing, distortionning, changing, tweaking, mutating, processing, engineering and..... playing them back. In the end, the only thing you have done is processing a initial sound. This can be fun but It's really a pain when you have work them on the fly and to arrange them via sound tracker to get somekind of song with 16bit top quality. Computers and software left me frustrated and I decided to leave the computer, samples and all the tracker stuff apart while I was going for authentic synthesis.

Hanging around in music shops, I got an overview of what paths were awaiting me:

Samplers were huge, massive and expensive and was nothing but a dedicated computer designed to process high quality samples. No thanks, I already have a computer sir.....

Synth Workstations were cheap and fully laden but lacked sound editing facilities being mainly "preset boxes" with nothing more that the casual GM sounds in them.

PCM Synth modules sounded quite right but again MIDI control was too complicated for the beginner I was. And  what could I do with a 1U rack panel, a large LCD screen, a few hundred sounds and something like a hundred editing pages... Hey, where's the volume on that thing ! I've already said that I don't need a new computer !!!!

Finally, I stumbled over Analog synths. Simple: 1 knob = 1 parameter, direct access to sound parameters, and a delightful warm, organic sound that could be deep and expressive as well as weird and completely alien.

 

This was THE path I choosed, giving up polyphony and cheaper PCM units, for the Analog superior sound and expressivness. Finally I've found electronic instruments with a human dimension as each of them would be unique and required a real implication for myself to get the best out of it. Endless nights were in view.....

Hopefully, I was begining to work and to earn some money which got lost in the acquisition of my first synth in 1995: the Novation BassStation which seemed to be the only affordable and modern analog synth on the market by those times. My only other instrument was my PC computer with an Audiotrix Pro Sound Card for superior quality sounds over the standard SB16 of those times. The beginning was hard and the web helped to find info to find out what was a VCA from a VCF or a Env from a Gate... But my work paid and I learned to master computer editing as well as analog sound creation.

Expansion.

Bogged out with the lack of equipment I turned on mixing vinyls to get the grip on what Techno was really about. After raving off and buying loads of discs, I finally got out of my studies and began to earn money as Comptuter Advisor. When cash flowed in everything got fast and I decided to get my own Home-Studio to experiment myself rather than experiment with other's sounds.

I bought a cheap 16 input analog mixing console as a startpoint in 1996 before choosing a Roland MC-303 as an "all in one" box for techno tunes. It seemed weak and non-computer editable so I switched back on pro dedicated systems: A Novation Drumstation to get that mighty 909 and 808 kick for a fraction of it's cost. Then, I stumbled across a real bargain: a Waldorf  Pulse was on sale for half it's listed price due to a Paris bankrupt music store. A neat addition in my rack even if the beast seemed very difficult to master at first. I then took in a multi FX just to get a good toolbox over my beloved sounds the Boss SX-700 seemed to be be the best choice in those times. I got tired of working on my computer and editing manually each and every of those sound param's so I decided to get a hardware Peavey PC-1600 to get more expression during live acts by controlling in real time (and on the feeling) every controllers of the bunch of synth's I owned.

I got into Direct-to-Disk recording with my Audiotrix Pro and bought a CD-Writer to get all my stuff on CD to have low cost archives as well as demos for friends. Talking around me of my musical activities, I got a few good suprises at work. The first one came out of my boss who passed me down a vintage Roland MC-202 as well as various old FX boxes. Another collegue gave me up a great Boss Flange pedal as well as a crappy Roland CR-1000 drumbox. I thank them all here for their kindness.

These vintage analog instruments got me straight into electronics as I wanted to get my 202 MIDIfied in order to set it up in my MIDI setup. The web was a great source of knowledge and I finally got the guts to heavily modify my 202 for expanded CV control. Still remained the problem to control those 20 or so sockets with CV control voltages and the solution came up with the Syntecno TeeBee MkIII adding a GREAT acid synth in my rack as well as a fully laden CV interface.

As I was wandering the net in search of musical electronics info, I stumbled over Paia's in the US. Maybe the only company out there who has great catalog of customisable electronic goodies. I ordered a analog synth kit called the Fatman which was in turn heavily modified to suit my needs and became my VBS Glaucosaurus. Followed in MIDI to CV control kits to retrofit completely my 202 and to create custom application such as the TTDrums or TTFilter Rack and FX's. Really a good place to do your market as well with professional products and support.

Finally I sold back my crappy mixing desk that, washed out every beautifull sound I was feeding into it, to get a semi-pro Yamaha Promix01 digital console with MIDI, automation, FX and all.... This mixing desk have given me a new vision of sound creation and surprising quality for the price I paid it. Since then I began to get used working with gentle effects while I discovered what dynamic processors could do.

Recently I went lurking for a synth I always wanted to own for it's distinctive sound quality and sound creation possibilities: I found a bargain Oberheim Matrix-1000 which would give me plenty of work to explore the 1000 faces of that beast....

Optimization

After mastering my first digital  mixer, I realized I could use my computer at it's best by interfacing it for direct to disc purposes overriding my good old Audiotrix Pro and it's antique AD/DA converters... I when out to seek for a Digital bus interface for my computer to get a S/PDIF input directly to my Hard drive for recording. A trip in plain madness...

At first,  I got into real problems with a so-called "Pro" sound card the Guillemot's Home Studio Pro 64 and it's S/PDIF interface which lead me to open war with that consumer unrespectful company. I finally traded it with a real bargain: a Juno-60. It's rich and full sound is a great addition to my gear as it is the only keyboard I own. Althought already MIDI'ied I'm bought in a Kenton PRO-DCB interface to get it completly into the MIDI world and finally to get a master keyboard on the way. Maybe it's time to get back to musical gear after all.....

The next step in my quest for a valid digital I/O to pump directly from my Promix, digital to digital, on to my computer came with the SEK'D Prodif 24 which worked quite well as a dedicated pro range digital interface, but It was not very flexible so I traded it back for a Turtle Beach Fiji digital acquisition card with it's S/PDIF I/O expansion. The first one I had burned up in my computer and the second work with quite an amazing sound quality even if the driver kept on crashing time to time...

Meanwhile, I got crazy when I saw (and heard) the newest Yamaha's digital mixing beast: the O1V is the future with uncompromising sound quality and great features... I sold back my Promix 01 with a few other things including my MC-303, BassStation and CR-1000 and got the silver mixing desk in exchange. I got back to my music store and swapped my Fiji card with and Prodif32 Gold ADAT card to digitally interface my PC with the O1V: I was going into cheap sampling possibilities and cash was running low...

Finally, I bought for my birthday a Roland R-8M drum sound module to back up my Drumstation always out of voices due to it's rather low polyphony. That last acquistion is quite and outstanding vintage module with not much sounds but with a great punch and editing facilities. It would fill in my mixes with drums like the MC-303 used to do in it's times. With time, the studio is slimmed down with more pro-sounding instruments...

My boundless synthesis dream have widely upset my curiosity for Clavia's new Digital Modular concept with it's Nord Modular Synth. I think I'm going to trust there proved mastery of Virtual Analog Synthesis. The red beast will widen dramatically my sound horizon overriding all limitations of standard architectured synths. All my hope is that sound quality will be as high as my current analog synths but the idea of having a modular at home for such a low price is a possibility I just can't ignore. The red devil is by now ordered and it's 4U rackspace is already prepared in my setup... And I must admit,after extensibvely using it for a month or so this machine really makes wonders !!! The sounds generated are real top quality and the programming interface is really intuitive and helps greatly to create about any sound on earth (and elsewere...) for sake you know enough about sound synthesis... I tried to match it with every piece of my analogue gear and I must admit that it emulates almost all of them perfectly except for very specific sounding synth's (MC202 and Teebee) which retain their own characteristics. From now on, nothing will be the same and I would work at first on the Modular to get the sound I want as it's flexibility is awesome...

The Future

I have delayed the expense of my new computer since my upgraded Pentium 120 workhorse seems to suit my needs for the moment. Anyway, prices will undoublty drop again and again... Wiuth the addition of the Nord Modular in my gear rack my interest for the other synth's in my gear was slowly fading and I realised I owned to many different synth's to cope with effeciently. I finally deciced to to slim down my studio setup to only a few instruments that needed to know perfectly. this would start a new setup for 1999. The hardest decision I had to take was to switch to an "all in one sampler" to replace some of my analogue instruments. When I came to choose which sampler would do it right, I was going to find out there the ultimate "analogue sounding" sampler which sounded the least digital possible with the best synthesis section on the market !

Akai  range samplers are quite popular but there sound quality didn't convice me ( chilling digital sound ) and all desperatly lacked a fully laden synthesis section. The filters really stink !

Yamaha's A3000 was seducing on the spec's and possibilities but again it's sound quality was far from being analogue !!! In addition it's operating system seems to be nightmare to use and far too limited for what I had in mind.

EMU sounded well good and organic but with no real character on all of their sampler range. Even their E-synth had limited control facilities and a quite poor synthesis section for such a high price tag.

Finally remained Kurzweil with their user proven K2x00 range with top quality sounds, a complete fully laden synth section and loads of functions that justified it's price tag. This was a real synth take could turn into a great sampler..

In the end, I think I will go for Kurzweil for my first sampler as it's definitively not a sampler but a full synth that uses samples as waveforms. Any sample that goes through a Kurzweil seems to get a specific color. You can't say the same thing with the Akai range ! The K2000VP is now 6 years old while it's big brother K2500 sounds real great (24 bit DACs ???). The price difference is quite small between the two rack versions at about 650USD/EUR (1300USD/EUR difference for the keyboard ones !!!) I think that I'll take the K2500R with 128Mb RAM (I'm working in the computer field remember ?), ROM Blocks to boost up it's synth functions and an external ZIP drive to load via SCSI alll the samples made with the O1V and stored on my computer.

Still, I have to find out the money and the hardest decision was to choiose which piece of my gear will get sold:

The Matrix 1000 will go first with the Waldorf Pulse. All two can be partly reproduced by the Nord Modular as I actually used them as small modular synths thanks to their modulation matrix.

The mighty Juno-60 and it's Pro-DCB sidekick will go back on th market with a much higher price tag due to the revival for vintage gear. The modular can fully emulate juno sounds except for one thing: it's fantastic and unique chorus. Anyway, I'll buy one day a old chorus guitar pedal and it might well do the trick.

Finally, the R-8M and the Drumstation will have to go but I have sampled them extensively these past few weeks (about 240Mb for the Drum and 180 for the R-8M at almost every setting !!!) With the loads of percussion samples you can collect on the Internet and with the great analogue ones you can get out of the Modular, I think I will be able to feed enough drums to the K2500 to get rid of these two machines before their second hand price falls out.

All In all, I will retain le MC202 and the Teebee (absolutely impossible to get the same sound out of the Modular) , the Nord Modular, soon the K2500 and the TTFilter to reheat and grungelize those samples in case of... I will probably toss in a Fatar SL-161 61 note Midi master keyboard to take full advantage of the K2500R and the Modular. I will now concentrate on these few machines and only time will tell if I've made a good choice to get myself into digital based technology. I've got a whole new world to discover so see you soon ! ! !