[AH] What I did for my Winter Vacation (another *long* NAMM report)

From Caloroso, Michael E
Sent Thu, Feb 10th 2000, 04:13

Today's my first day back on AH, lots of catching up to do...

I'd like to extend a HUGE thank you to David Kean for inviting me to
NAMM and making a dream come true.  Funny, setting up all that vintage
equipment didn't seem like work at all :)  We're glad you guys all
enjoyed the display.

I'd say that the highlight of the trip was meeting everybody and
finally being able to put a face to a name.  I never imagined that the 
internet community was so friendly, you guys ROCK!  Mark Pulver seemed 
a lot skinnier in person though ;)

Hey, AH is becoming a *name* now, I've had people asking about us when 
they saw my nametag.  We're (in?)famous.  What's next - the cover of 
Keyboard Mag? :)

This was my first NAMM show, I've had several people tell me I was in 
for an awakening and they weren't kidding.  I come from a small town 
and we don't see *any* of this great new or vintage analog stuff, this 
trip was the first time I've ever laid eyes and hands on a Moog 
Modular, Buchla Music Easel (neat synth!),  OSCar, CS-80 (including 
the inside of one at JL's shop - UGH!), Jupiter-8, Theremin (RCA *and* 
R.A. Moog), vocoders, Eventides, ARP Quadra, Emu Modular, Serge, 
Waldorf Q, Technosaurus, etc on and on and on, I was as impressed as 
everybody else.  Besides Bob and Don, I also saw Dave Smith of 
Prophet-5 fame stop by and glean over past memories.

I had a ball patching up the Moog Modular for the show.  Half of it 
was JL's, I added to his handiwork.  It was too bad the keyboard and 
EGs weren't working, but we got cool noises out of it with two 
sequencers running asynchronously and FMing on the filter.  Now I want 
one.  Damn, I envy you guys that have a Moog Modular :)

Award Nominees for the display:

Synth that made jaws drop: Roger Luther Moog Modular, no contest.
Most Photogenic synth: Buchla Marimba Lumina Gold
Most deceiving synth: Solina (it's heavier than my Memorymoog!)
Crustiest Keyboard: moldy oldy Fender Rhodes piano with *gold* sparkle
Most ahead-of-their-time synth: PPG realizer, the first VA circa 1987
Synth that garnered most interest: the Minimoog prototypes
Most out-of-place synth: Yamaha DX-7 (not David's idea :)

Top Ten comments about the display:

10: This Marimba Lumina lets you pitch bend with a MALLET?
 9: I used to work with [artist] on [album] using this [keyboard]
 8: Where do I meet this David Kean?
 7: I want to know what booth is selling Minimoogs.
 6: Who the hell is Michael Caloroso?
 5: I used to own one of those!  or I wish I never sold mine!
 4: How much would a big Moog Modular like that cost me?
 3: That's Minimoog Numero Uno?!?
 2: This booth is so cool!
 1: Are these for sale?

*******************
Alesis Andromeda/A6

Mike Peake was generous enough to bring one over to David Kean's place 
to give us a hands-on tryout a few days before the show.  As a happy 
owner of a Memorymoog and having been disappointed by previous 
attempts with the OBMx, SuperNova, and SE-1, I must say that Alesis 
has emerged with a sonic killer.

16 multitimbral voices of real analog VCOs, VCFs, and VCAs with 
modulation and configuration options up the wazoo.  Wow, this thing is 
LOADED!

They really came out of left field with this thing, but a lot of 
thought went into this piece and it sounds *great*.  Two filters, it's 
got a great 24dB filter, and I *love* the 12dB filter, it sounds so 
creamy.  That's the adjective I use to tell people at NAMM, it really 
sounds "creamy".  I loved the resonant flexibility of the filters and 
the fact they can be configured in lowpass/highpass/bandpass/notch.  
Extremely flexible timbre shaping.  The post filter mixer section 
(separate levels of each filter output) is a great touch.  Having been 
well acquainted with the great filter of the Memorymoog, this baby can 
run with the big boys.  And you can route external signals through the 
filter, the last two or all of them.

I couldn't believe the fat sound of this thing with ONE oscillator - I 
haven't heard so much timbre out of one oscillator since the era of 
Moog.  Sweeping a synced oscillator makes it *scream*.  If the 
oscillator was based on a Moog 921 module, it sure sounds BIG.  And 
THANK YOU for implementing a MIXER, not a balance control!  And 
there's a suboscillator for more beef, not as flexible as a third 
oscillator (beg more, Mike :) but it's a suitable compromise.

Mind you, this thing sounds great and they haven't added the *effects* 
yet!

Modulation options are far vaster than an OB Matrix synth.  A great 
big LCD with soft knobs let you dig deeper into the machine.  After 
Mike demonstrated it once, I navigated on my own with no further 
assistance.  I didn't need to peek in any manual - a sign of 
successful intuitive design.  It's great to see that a standard 
convention of navigating is maintained all across the board, something 
sorely lacking in many other user interfaces.

EGs - three of them, snappy at minimum times, 130 seconds at maximum 
times, an extra decay AND release control (not seen since the 
Kurzweils), and the slopes are selectable from linear to varying 
curves.  Three LFOs and a S&H.  Variable portamento slopes and rates.  
The Ring Mod is sweet - try two oscillators, one a fifth below the 
other and hear what OBESE sounds like.

A Ribbon controller?  Too much.  You guys are TOO much!  At last, a 
Unison mode that lets me define the number of voices.  A crucial tool 
(also featured in the Memorymoog) for convincing monophonic lines.  
Separate outputs for each voice - *OUCH* I'm still pinching myself, 
this can't be true.  I forget, did it have monophonic pressure?

Parameters are expressed in relevant units (seconds, frequency, +/- 
percentage, etc), not useless abstract numbers.  A damn shame more 
manufacturers don't do this.

And finally, a synth with a NAME, not a model number.  THANK you!  
Comes in two flavors, dark blue and maroon, COOL graphics that don't 
distract and doesn't clutter the panel legends.  Well, they distract 
just a little in that the oscillator and filter sections look like the 
hourglass curves of a woman ;)  I wouldn't have been surprised to see 
it with reversed color keys :)

Besides the hands-on experience, I also saw the Andromeda in action in 
Alesis' demo booth - fat brasses, smooth filter sweeps, multiple LFO 
patches, and - 

"Caloroso Piano"?!?  Seems that one of my "happy accidents" from the 
demo party made it into the Andromeda preset library.  I'm flattered.  
Great to see my name associated with a killer product.  Is there a 
"Resonant Peake" patch in there yet?  ;)

Hats off the team responsible for this.  You've created a monster.  
Even in its current "85% complete" state with no arpeggiator, 
sequencer, or effects, I'd buy it as is.  It is now officially on my 
"must-have" list, and in the last ten years I can count on one hand 
the products that make that list :)

Usual disclaimer applies, I just LOVE this machine!  I think I can 
finally leave my Memorymoog home :)

*******************
Alesis DM Pro Drum Kit

Way cool drum controller for he-man drummers, not desktop tappers.  
Pads have REAL drum heads on them (not that silly practice pad Simmons 
surface) for realistic feel.  The snare pad has separate edge trigger 
for rim shots.  It is SO nice to do snare rolls on these things.  
Finally, a realistic hihat controller with closed, mid, and open hihat 
plus foot closed.  I love the crash cymbal that FEEL like crash 
cymbals, and the fact you can choke them like the real thing.  And a 
ride controller with separate bell ride trigger.

They thought of everything except the 48 inch Chinese gong trigger pad  
:)

So where's the analog content?  It's a MIDI controller, innit?  Ever 
trigger a Simmons SDS1000M from MIDI?  So there... ;)

*******************
AH Party

Oh my god, what a party... if it wasn't enough to have so many AHers 
show up, the two Analog Synth Pioneers show up and let loose for a 
historical event.  Mucho thanks to Glenn Gregory for hosting, what a 
great place for a gathering.  Also to all the others who supplied 
parking, food, drink, toys to jam away on, etc.  I was glad to see 
many other AHers share in my enthusiasm for the Buchla Marimba Lumina 
controller (Thank You Don Buchla and Joel Davel) and the Andromeda 
(Thank You Mike Peake and Alesis!).

Amanda's dog blew me away - I couldn't believe the tricks it could do 
for a robot, just amazing.  The 21st century is definitely here, 
finally a pet you don't have to clean up after - you just feed it 
batteries!

*******************
Big Briar Performance Synth

It's here, it's almost done, it's got what we asked for, and Bob's 
open for more input.  I know, we can't hear the Mephisto either, but 
we're talking *BOB* here. Bob has my name down for one when it's 
available.  Maybe we didn't hear it, but we're talking about the MAN 
here who BUILT this industry.  After hands-on experience with his 
Theremin and the MF Low Pass Filter, this thing's GOTTA sound good.

Looks like a big MoogerFooger pedal with a keyboard.  MIDI I/O, lotsa 
rear panel CV patchpoints, wheels, Mono Pressure, 3-1/2 octave 
keyboard, two LFOs with extensive sources and routing that can be 
synchronized to MIDI clock, keyboard gate, or external gate.  *THREE* 
oscillators with voltage-controllable variable waveshaping from 
triangle to ramp to variable pulse.  *TWO* low pass filters, 
switchable between 12dB/24dB.  External input, white/pink noise.  A 
real mixer with on/off rockers.  Oscillator sync, FM, and OSC 3 can be 
switched to subaudio range.  Two ADS EGs that can be triggered by 
keyboard, MIDI clock, or external gate.

And no A440 switch :)

Between the Andromeda and Bob's new synth, the second age of Analog 
has officially arrived!

*******************
Big Briar CP251 Control Processor

A lot of useful power in a seemingly innocent box.  Brian Kehew at the 
Big Briar booth was happily patching into Moogerfooger pedals to 
further torment the timbre of his Minimoog.  Four input mixer for 
audio *or* DC signals (read: control voltages) with dual +/- 
complimentary outputs.  Lag processor with separate rise and fall 
rates.  A voltage-controlled LFO with triangle and square waves.  
Sample-and-Hold with external trigger inputs (normalled to LFO), NOISE 
input normalled to noise (can use other signals for sampling input, IE 
triangle waves from LFOs), and stepped and smoothed outputs.  Two 
attenuators, handy as "mod wheels" for LFO and S&H but not limited to 
that application.

*******************
Bosendorfer Imperial Grand

The Rolls Royce of pianos with a price tag to match, but nothing 
sounds like it, nothing sings like it.  When you press down on a key 
you can FEEL the string vibrations through your fingers - very 
stimulating.  Steinways don't do this.

Whaled away on Ragtime and improv - ah, refreshing to play a 
*weighted* action after trying out so many spring-loaded keyboards.  
Call it "time out".

*******************
Buchla Marimba Lumina

The 21st century has arrived, even though it's officially less than a 
year away.

This thing blows my mind.  Don Buchla has conjured up yet another 
amazing controller.  There's far more under the surface than just a 
marimba controller.  The mallets give you so much control over the 
sound and it doesn't stop at just striking a bar (that's marimba-speak 
for a key on a keyboard).

For starters, you have four independent mallets, and it senses which 
mallet you hit the bar with.  You can configure independent sounds for 
each mallet.  You can modulate the sound by moving the mallet up and 
down on the bar, pitch bend, filter open/close, fade in, whatever.  
Still not impressed?  The bars are not only position and velocity 
sensitive, they're impact sensitive.  I heard a layer patch where soft 
strokes play a lush string sound and hard strokes play a tympani 
sound.

MIDI I/O.  Arpeggiator that follows your playing (key changes).  
Ribbon-style controller for the mallets.  Two CV controller inputs.  
Sturdy and low profile, the frame is less than two inches thick.  
Built-in Yamaha XG sound chip, patches are surprising good.  User 
Interface is manipulated entirely with the mallets and it is very 
intuitive - I didn't even need a manual.

Watching Joel Davel (note the correct spelling Mark) perform on this 
was a treat.  Mark Goldstein is not only the software designer, he's 
also a master mallet player like Joel, as anybody who visited the 
Nearfield Multimedia booth has witnessed.

David and I enjoyed the company of Don Buchla and Joel Davel in their 
hospitality suite after hours where they had a Marimba Lumina set up 
to entertain guests.  I started playing "Dueling Banjos" and Joel 
joined me for the second part, and when we got to the bluegrass 
section (picture if you can two mallet players playing bluegrass 
picked instruments!), Don was thoroughly enjoying the show.  I wish I 
had thought of doing that at the AH party, you guys would've enjoyed 
it!

*******************
Encore Electronics Knobby

Finally - a knob box that transmits sysex messages - just the thing 
for Oberheim Matrix 6/1000 boxes.  At a great price, too.  Software is 
EASY to use to configure the box.

*******************
Motion Sound KBR-3D

A Leslie cabinet in a keyboard combo amp.  Good idea, sounds great.  
They had a Hammond XK-2 hooked up to it.  12AX7 tube preamp on the 
front end (you can overdrive it), solid state power amplifer, it 
CRANKS.  Has a stationary channel for piano sounds and the like, and 
an enhanced 3D channel for string and stereo pads.

Kevin Lightner proceeded to amaze me with his Hammond chops.  I was so 
awed watching him that I forgot that Joey DeFranscesco was standing 
behind us.  No I'm not kidding, the Monster of Jazz Organ was there.

*******************
The Kurstins

Husband/wife jazz duo, I stood in amazement hearing violin and upright 
bass timbres out of a theremin - TOO MUCH!  Great Minimoog playing, 
great jazz licks, they really impressed me.  Look for a forthcoming 
debut CD.

*******************
Korg MS2000

It's got knobs, but boy does it sound tinny.  Four voices ain't bad 
for the money.   After struggling to figure out how to kill the chorus 
effect to hear the raw audio, I walked away.  Beyond the knobs, it's 
not intuitive.  Not impressed.

*******************
Kurzweil 2600

Great sounds, all the great Kurzweil library sounds are there, but 
they need a knob interface to tweak VA sounds, not sliders.  I want a 
ribbon controller now that I've tried it.

Forget the PC2/PC2x keyboards and their cheaper counterparts - not the 
same sounds as their big brothers.  You get what you pay for, and 
those great sounds are worth the money.

*******************
Oberheim OB12

see Viscount

*******************
Nova Supernova 3.0

Disappointing.  I played with a 2.0 (see my review in the archives) 
and this wasn't much better in raw sound, I'm not counting the 
improved effects.  The best FX in the world won't make a lame synth 
sound great.  I could've sworn the filter sounded better on the older 
firmware.  And yes I used headphones on both units.

But a great machine for the money.  It just lacks in beef for my 
taste, especially for three oscillators.

*******************
Roland

Great booth (Roland-ville anybody?)  Eh, nothing interesting at all.  
In and out in less than a minute.  Went there just to say I was there.  
Now they own Rodgers?  Great.  What's next - groove approved pipe 
organs?

*******************
Studio Electronics Omega-8

With a little arm-twisting from Cary Roberts, I visited their little 
booth off the beaten path.  Huge, HUGE sounding stuff, real analog all 
the way.  Yes, you can feel the sound from these things.  Lotsa knobs 
too.  A wee bit expensive, kudos to the St. Regis brothers for packing 
a ton of analog fury in a four space rack.  Wish I had come back to 
tweak with the raw sounds.

*******************
TBS Mephisto "The Harley for the Sound Purist"

Not much to say about an empty shell with no electronics from a 
company with no recognition in analog synths.  Motorized pots?  $50-
$100 each, thirty-six of those and we're already up to $3600 worse 
case in motorized pots alone.  By the time it's done, it'll be a 
Harley all right.  I know some Harleys that retail for five digits.

Nice gimmick, wrong approach.

Box looks good though, I could build one of those too.

*******************
Technosaurus System C Modular

Nice sounding modular, I got to patch up something from the start and 
it sounded good.  Great filter with multiple 12dB/6dB 
lowpass/bandpass/highpass/notch configurations (needs a 24dB filter 
though).  A serious contender for my potential modular purchase.  Love 
the cabinet which resembled the Roger Luther Moog Modular.  Wild color 
scheme but pleasant, doesn't get in the way like ART reverb panels.

Oscillators sound great and are rock solid.  Kevin Lightner told of a 
system he left alone for hours and the oscillators never moved.

I REALLY like the fact that the patchbay and cords don't get in the 
way of the panel controls.  Great ergonomic system.  The controls 
aren't squeezed together like Doepfer's (who I couldn't find, BTW).  
Good modulation options on all the modules.  The Triple Resonator 
module sounds tasty, wish I tried it there.

Me like a lot.

*******************
Viscount OB12

An embarrassment to the Oberheim name.  Didn't hear the factory 
presets at all, so it's not a slam against the sound designer (who's 
on AH and is a good friend of mine).  I judge an analog synth with 
knobs by playing with my own sounds, not the presets.  I spent a total 
of five minutes mucking around and left.

Well... Viscount has a LOT to learn about good sounding VA, and our 
fellow AHer is guiding them.  But the OBMx sounded better than this, 
and that's not saying much.  At the same time, the machine's not 
finished, but then again neither is the Real Analog Andromeda which 
just buries the competition.

*******************
Van Koevering Interactive piano

Probably the best user interface I've ever seen but beyond the piano, 
the sounds were lousy.  Got to hear this seven year old prodigy whale 
away while Vako showed him the goods.  This kid was *way* too good.

*******************
Waldorf Q

Just as Mark P was anxious to dissect the Andromeda, I was also 
anxious to dig into the Q, but failed on two opportunities.  The first 
time I stopped there was too much noise, the second time it was 
quieter but I was kicked out so they could do a demo.  I was going to 
try a third time on the last day but there was no time.

Note to Waldorf: bring headphones.  I asked, they didn't have 'em.

What I did hear: nice pads, GREAT vocoder.  Too many knobs is never a 
bad thing, and I liked the interface.

I REALLY wanted to hear more from the Q, especially to hear those 
three oscillators and the cross modulation options.  Sigh.

*******************
Yamaha

Yawn... in and out in less than a minute.

*******************

MC
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Opinions (and mistakes) expressed herein are my own and not those of my employer.