Category Archives: Synthesizer

You Are A Pearl!

Hi guys,

It’s been a while since I last posted anything here. Two years  and five months to be exact. The last time I posted, The Turku Synth Club probably numbered about a 70 or 80 synth enthusiasts, but at the moment there’s 365 of us. One synth-freak for every day of the year. This fall we held a big synth meeting and we’ve been spreading the message by having a course on synth basics for land lubbers in the local Turku library.
Wow! Never would’ve believed this would happen when the four of us met for the first time to have a beer and talk about our hobby with fellow synth-heads.

DSCN1014

This time I’ve dug out a real gem for you. As I probably told earlier, a local radio station decided to get rid of all their vinyl and I went there and bought approximately 400 7″ singles for my collection. There’s all kinds of weird stuff but this particular single is totally in it’s own league. A band called Freelance with another name Kätkä & Pietikäinen written underneath it. Basically the band consists of a multitalent musician Ippe Kätkä, whose job description on the record cover is – songs, arrangements, synths, machines, percussion and production – and a poet of somekind Seppo Pietikäinen whose area of expertese is – lyrics, spoken vocals, ideas, making coffee and taking care. On paper that doesn’t amount to much, but on record the combination is killer.

The song I uploaded is the b-side of the single Tanssitaan Mammuttiaikaan (Let’s Dance Back To The Mammoth Age) which is not the greatest song on the album. But the b-side is pure genius. As you can probably make out, it’s called Sinä Olet Helmi (You Are A Pearl) and it sounds like it could’ve been made by Pori-dwelling krautrock-folk-masters Rättö & Lehtisalo. It also makes me think that maybe Dxxxa D has been listening to this song to get the inspiration to make his own stuff. The single is on Bang Trax a legendary Lahti-label which put out a lot of really interesting stuff in the late 80’s. Keep your eyes peeled for that logo in second hand record shops. It’s from 1988 but it could be from 2088 as well. As soon as I heard the single I had to get my hands on the full length album and luckily found one copy lying around in a Helsinki record shop. I ordered it and the album is filled with weird, excellent music that’ll make you laugh out loud and sigh in amazement. It’s also got some really high class guest stars like Dave Lindholm on guitar and Henk Hofstede (of The Nits) on backing vocals. And on top of that, possibly one of the best album covers done in Finland in the eighties.
Sit back and enjoy. Maybe I’ll post something else from the album in the near future.

I’ll get back to you soon,
Tomi / Turku Synth

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Filed under Finnish, Rare synth track, Synthesizer

Flight of fancy

The cover is very bland to say the least

Tomorrow is once again time for my Softrock -club night in Bar Kuka. Been doing that for a little over 3 years now. Can it really be that long..? Anyways, usually a couple of days before these nights I go through the local second hand vinyl shops hunting for new softrock 7″ singles to play. Maybe also have a quick look in the fleamarkets for some Miami Vice -style garments for the night. Just to keep things exciting for myself and also for the public. This time was no exception. Yesterday I went to Kaakko on Yliopistonkatu and brought him 65 euros worth of vinyl from my own shelf to trade for 7″ singles.

As Kaakko’s prices are very reasonable (1-3 euros a piece for the kind of 7 inches I’m looking for usually.) it took a long time for me to find a suitable set of records to fill the 65 euro quota. I spent maybe 2 hours going through singles and listening to them and as I grew more desperate I branched my search to include also the Finnish Rock and Schlager -departments just in case… Well it was definitely worth the effort. Finally I ended up buying about 25-30 singles, mostly AOR, soft soul or disco. Many of those singles will appear in the future in Turku Synth, but I’ll start with this.

Flight 205 by Jokke, (better known as Jokke Seppälä of Sunshine Reggae -fame) is a rare jewel of a song. As soon as I put it on in Kaakko’s listening post I knew I had a winner in my hands. The song starts slowly with a synthetic imitation of a jet plane taking off, filter opening slowly. After the hard-rock-style cool intro, it starts as a slow & quiet verse with some synth flourishes. The real fun begins when Jokke gets to the chorus. Flight 205! And of course a vocoded voice seconding Jokke’s every desperate plea.

Thematically the song reminds me of Motors‘ only big hit Airport (of which there’s a quite good Finnish version “Lentoon” too by a guy called Tinni) where the lyrics wave goodbye to a girlfriend, who’s leaving the protagonist’s life through the aforementioned airport. Jokke’s story is different, but easily as sad. Musically the song reminds me more of Mike Oldfield‘s amazing Five Miles Out from his pop-period. Maybe it’s the fact that both songs mix vocoder -vocals with distorted hard rock styled guitars and both have this stomping beat to them. And again Five Miles Out is also a tale about aeroplanes and flying. It seems that in the early 80’s flying was almost as popular subject matter for songs as the far east. The B-side You Are My Life is nothing to get too excited about. A bland weepie, with no synth whatsoever.

Jokke’s Flight 205 was a double winner. At the same time, I found something new & exciting to post in Turku Synth and it also fits tomorrow’s softrock-bill perfectly. Soft but not too soft. There are more finnish and/or otherwise rare synth goodies on their way, but for now, fasten your seatbelts, put out your cigarettes, lean back and listen to Flight 205. Hopefully we’ll see tomorrow in Bar Kuka.

All the best (girls, All the best they got boys),

Tomi / Turku Synth

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Filed under Audio, Rare synth track, Synthesizer

Flying F!

Slowly in my life, I’ve come to realize that every good idea (and also every good melody) is already old in it’s infancy. Somebody somewhere has had the same idea a long time ago and usually they’ve even gone through with it. Maybe some five years back me and a couple of my friends dreamt about building our own midi-controllers with a bit more edge than the normal ones. We were making plans and drawings for building additional parts to a normal run off the mill midi-controller to make it look more “evil” or “heavy-metal”. There was talk of adding “Flying V” -type wings to one end and hanging the new beautiful heavy-synths from our necks like traditional keytars.

Well. Once I was visiting a  second hand recordstore in Uppsala Sweden, I came across this album by a swedish guy called J.C. Barreto made in 1981 which is like 25 years before we had the same idea. On the cover J.C. is posing with an unknown keytar, with added white Flying V -wings, dressed head to toe in white.  Just amazing! The back cover lists grand piano, Prophet 5, Minimoog and digital Clavatar as Barreto’s instruments and as the instrument on the cover sure as hell isn’t any of the three first one’s, it has to be the digital Clavatar -with the gui-tar-like “tar” -ending. The rhythm’s are provided by Korg‘s legendary Rockmate Doncamatic.

At first listen I was terribly dissappointed with this album. When there’s a rare unknown synth on the album cover, the album title is Dr. Love and the vinyl itself is transparent red, you can’t help but get a little excited. Actually I got v-e-r-y e-x-c-i-t-e-d!  But Dr. Love was a real turndown. There’s almost nothing to be heard of the SCI Prophet or The Minimoog here and the songs are all bland middle of the road funk-rock.

Then recently when I was going through my vinyls to sell some of them in a car boot sale, I had a second listen and realised that the title track is actually quite good. The whole album is heavily indebted to Stevie Wonder‘s late 70’s output, but there’s something completely disarming in this swedish guy with a cornrow-hairdo and a good style sense imitating the master. Dr. Love is definitely not the synthiest track ever featured in Turku Synth, but for the album cover alone it deserves it’s place in our blog. As it is also a very much scandinavian obscurity it’s probably not been seen or heard much outside of Sweden, let alone Europe.

Enjoy responsibly,

Tomi / Turku Synth

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Filed under Audio, Korg, Moog, Sequential Circuits, Synthesizer

Battlestar Synthetica

"Bye bye baby, baby goodbye."

Last week I sold my Yamaha CS-15. Yes, the exact same CS-15 you can see as the wallpaper of our synthblog. I was in desperate need of some cash and even though I really loved the CS-15, I thought that it’s sound and features were too similar to my Korg MS-20. It had some physical deficiencies (The pitch bend was missing the slider-hat and the portamento and brilliance slider had been broken off, although the little stumps still worked), so the asking price for it was a measly 450 euros. Usually a CS-15 in perfect shape goes for about 600 euros here in Finland.

Anyways the first one to give me a call about the CS-15 was none other than my old friend Jori Hulkkonen. He’s been in the business of re-acquiring the same set of equipment he had when he made his first album Selkäsaari Tracks and the CS-15 was the last piece of puzzle missing. At the time Jori was in Helsinki for his record release party for the Stop Modernists 12″ single Subculture, but he promised that he’d pick up the synth first thing on monday. I received a pile of e-mails during that weekend about the now reserved CS-15. Soon I had three or four guys in line waiting for Jori to pull out of the deal. On monday I saw a facebook -link concerning a demonstration of the new Roland Jupiter 80 -synth in the local SLSX -music shop and felt the need to go there. As Jori’s studio is right around the corner from that music shop we arranged to meet there and I took the CS-15 with me.

When I got there and parked my CS-15 somewhere in the shop corner, I noticed that basically I was there by myself. Jori was supposed to meet me there in 20 minutes, but until then I had to be the sole customer to take part in the demonstration of the Jupiter 80. I’m not a guy who goes to a synth-shop to play the solo to some Emerson, Lake & Palmer -song. I’m embarrased by my lack of skills and I’d rather watch a Youtube-video of a synth at home than go to a shop to try it myself. So I wasn’t too happy when I was left alone with the music shop guy and the Roland salesperson as he booted the JP80. Fortunately, as the demonstration got on it’s way, an older guy entered the shop to see the new Roland workhorse too, and soon after that a second one. Both of them laid their eyes on my CS-15 too and asked the shop clerk if that one was for sale.

I was not too impressed with the Jupiter 80. It seemed to be the same exact workstation-synth Roland has been doing for the last ten or fifteen years. Only this time they had given it a retro look and a legendary name. The Roland sales-dude was a talented player and an experienced sales person and he showed the three people there how the new Jupiter could sound JUST like a violin or an accordion. In my opinion that’s the whole problem with these workstation-synths. If I’d wanted to sound like an accordion player, I would’ve bought an accordion and not an MS-20. I don’t want a synthesizer that realistically mimics “regular” instruments. I want a synth that sounds like a synth. I want my synths to sound like melting plastic armour in a laser-infested space-skirmish, not like a guy blowing a flugelhorn in a white t-shirt. There’s a difference right there.

Enter Jori. After the Roland-guy showed the new customer Jori some of the tricks the J80 was able to do and even demonstrated the machine’s shortish boot-time after powering up (Basically all of my synths start instantly when I turn the power on), Jori asked the guy bluntly: “Who is this synth made for?” My thoughts exactly! Who needs a synth that’s teetering on the edge of serious analog-modelling power and being a multi-purpose kitchen appliance for schlager musicians? The Roland-guy had trouble answering Jori’s questions and Jori kept annoying him with comments about the synth’s menu-driven nature and “ease of use”. Basically almost every aspect of synthesis in the J80 is accessible only through the touch screen. The sliders and pots on the machine surface give access only to a couple of parameters for the machine’s 4 different “channels”.  Personally, if I wanted to control a synth with a touch screen, I’d buy an iPad and download a couple of Korg synths for it. I’d also save about 2400 euros in the process.

After Jori had harrassed the Roland guy for long enough we both asked him why has Roland taken this approach and direction in the noughties. Even though Korg has made the Kronos and all the other shitty workstations for schlager-music-one-man-bands, it has also made a lot of interesting products for people who are still interested in real synthesis. At the same time Roland has completely forgotten it’s great legacy and concentrated on workstations and “pro-audio”. Roland has forgotten it’s strengths and started to mimic a small swedish company that makes red coloured keyboards for musicians who play on the Turku-Stockholm ferry. That’s a weird niche market, but Roland is going to conquer it with it’s workstations. Nobody at Roland seems to realize how much money there is to be made by making new versions of the classic X0X-series drum-machines etc. In the past Roland catered for dance-musicians, nowadays they make gear for dansbands. There’s a difference again.

After we had had our say, we took the CS-15 and walked to Jori’s studio. As a downpayment for the Yamaha, Jori gave me the amazing battery operated Boss DR-55, forefather of the Dr. Rhythm -series and one more example of the style of equipment Roland should be making today instead of these 3000 euro moulinexes. But more about the Boss in a later post.

Sorry if I have offended someone. I just can’t see the point in these modern “synths”. The newest synth in my own collection was made in the year 1985.

Tomi / Turku Synth

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Filed under Drum Machine, Roland, Synthesizer, Yamaha

Word processing for musicians

I even got the original Yamaha carrying pouch included for the 100 euros.

I recently acquired a Yamaha QY-70 sequencer for myself. It’s the third time I have owned this little beast and now I’m not letting it go so easy. The first time I had this wonderful machine was around 2003-2004 when I lived in a small mostly swedish speaking city of Karjaa for a year. At that point my synth-collection comprised mostly of Yamaha’s Groove Factory -family of products. I had the wonderful AN-200 analog modelling synth/drummachine and it’s FM-synth sibling DX-200. I also had Yamaha’s top of the line groovebox the RM1X and a shitload of small Casio-keyboards and different toys that made noise. Still my absolute favourite piece of equipment at the time was this VHS-cassette sized portable sequencer with 16 tracks, easy programming and a huge collection of different voices.

I took the QY-70 everywhere with me. If I went to a bar or took a trip on a train, I had it in my bag and whenever there was a dead moment, I whipped it out and started fiddling with it’s minuscule controls. It runs on six AA batteries and has a reasonable amount of memory in it to write complete arrangements on the go. I still have a couple of minidiscs from that Karjaa year filled to the brim with short musical ideas and songs done on the QY-70. Usually I came up with melodical ideas when taking walks in nature or just when I was buying toilet paper from a shop. The sequencer was small enough to carry everywhere and write down those ideas as soon as they were born. I didn’t have to keep humming my melodies until I got home in front of my bigger sequencer.

At that point in my life I was very much into doing electronic music in the more traditional sense. I wanted to be Finland’s own DJ Shadow and was looking into buying a couple of turntables a sampler and a dj-mixer. Then came the unfortunate day that somebody was getting rid of their Numark TT-200 direct drive turntable and I had no money. I made a list of my equipment and the guy selling the turntable settled for a trade for my beloved QY-70. I thought about it long and hard and came to the conclusion that I needed the turntable so bad that I was ready to give my pocket size sequencer away. After all I was still left with my RM1X which was not exactly portable, but offered a bit more sophisticated controls and better sounds. I sent my QY to Tampere and in return got a spanking new turntable. I never looked back.

Until a few years later when I saw an old friend selling one. I bought it immediately for the sake of old times, but having used the RM1X extensively for sequencing for a couple of years, the QY seemed somehow cumbersome. Unlike in RM1X the small LCD on the machine displayed every bar in two rows and the controls were largely menu-driven. It didn’t feel as intuitive as the larger equipment with bigger displays. I just didn’t feel the need for owning one anymore. Songwriting seemed so much simpler on my current setup at the time. So I got rid of the QY for the second time.  I never looked back.

Until a few months back. Somebody sold 2 separate units of QY-70 for a 100 euros each. I dashed to my email and reserved the second one for myself. I no longer own the RM1X or any of the other synths I had in my Karjaa year. I’ve sold all of the analog-modelling instruments and grooveboxes and replaced them with genuine analog gear. I had also acquired an Akai MPC 2000XL for all my sequencing needs, which I still haven’t quite figured out. I have grown up with the Yamaha-style of step sequencing where I can see every note as a symbol on a timeline. If I want quarter notes on my Yamaha sequencer, I just have to place notes on every 8th place and that’s it. Simple and effective. After that the MPC-style of sequencing seemed a little bit too arbitrary and “in the air” for my personal tastes.

In the last couple of months that I’ve had my QY-70 back, I’ve written more riffs, melodies, drum parts and basslines than ever since my Karjaa times. I just love the way the QY-70 works and since this is the third time I own the machine I’m finally starting to get to grips with all the different aspects of the little machine. Now I am able to use the pattern-sequencing side of it with ease and I’ve also come to terms with the auto-accompaniment-machine, which on first contact I thought was dreadful. The QY-70 originally came out in the late nineties and it has taken me three machines and almost ten years to fully exploit all of it’s possibilities. It’s just one more example of sticking to your guns. When something isn’t broken do not try to fix it. Teach yourself a good method of doing things and stick to it. You’ll get a lot more results than with trying every new software/hardware a little.

Our drummer bought a QY-70 too from eBay Japan and now I’m trying to persuade for our second synth player to get one too. (You can buy them for as little as 80 euros if you’re lucky.) I’m dreaming of everybody in the band writing their own synth/bass/drum-parts at home in a certain key and then meeting in a park and syncing the three machines together with a couple of midi cables and blasting the newborn songs through a ghettoblaster. That would be a revolutionary way of writing new songs and trying new things. With the built-in playfx, transpose-abilities and midi in we could do semi improvised park sessions in the sunshine.

I’ve come to realize that the QY-70 for me is like a typewriter for writing music. The melodies and beats just flow from my cortex (or whatever) to the screen of my Yamaha. It is without a doubt the absolutely best way to record musical ideas for me. If I get a melody in my head I just turn the QY on and within five minutes I have it written down for later use. (And say what you want, but the built-in sounds aren’t that shabby either. They’re actually quite nice and there’s something for every style of music you can imagine.) That ease of use combined with it’s portability just can’t be beat. Not for me at least. Maybe someday there’ll be an app for iPad that does the same thing, but for now, I’m sticking with my trusty portable Yamaha. The only complaint that I can come up with is that the screen isn’t backlit, but that would consume the six batteries in a flash, so maybe that’s not a too bad thing after all.

Tomi / Turku Synth Club

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Filed under Akai, Synthesizer, Yamaha

Episode II, A new hope

Hello my dearest synthpeople. I’ve missed you.

It’s been quiet here on our blog for well over a month now. It’s all because I got a real dayjob for a change. And not just any dayjob but one that is a measly 100 kilometres away so when I’m not working I’m either on my way there or on my way back home. Luckily my job as a graphic designer is situated in my old hometown of Rauma and that means that I can at least save some money and spend a couple of nights now and then at my parents’ house. The upside is that now I can maybe afford to buy some new synths now and then (without selling any of the old ones) and the downside is that we haven’t had a proper synth meeting since I started working.

A lot of things have happened synthwise in my life since april fool’s day. I bought an old dear friend (Yamaha QY70) back and have been utterly blown away by it’s quality and ease of use. I also bought some other interesting stuff in a second hand shop and that got me to listening to my old cassettedemos and finding a pile of songs I didn’t remember ever recording. More on those things later and some new synth-rarities from my 7″ shelves too, I promise, but for now I want to post this small documentary about, well, me. Three lovely journalism students had to shoot a 5 minute documentary on a subject of their liking, and of all things they picked my synth-enthusiasm. The documentary is completely in Finnish with no subtitles, but there will be a dvd with director’s commentary and multiple languages and camera-angles released for the christmas market 2011. The film is called “Hunting For The Perfect Synth” and it’s amazingly brief. The two Annas and Jonni shot 90 minutes of raw material which they edited into this 5 minute shortie.

Usually when you see yourself on screen you feel squeamish and uneasy, but for some reason this little movie didn’t make me look like the complete idiot that I am. So, please enjoy tonight’s movie and I’ll promise to try to find the time to write new synth stuff here more often. The worst part is over and now I feel quite relaxed in my new job. It’s going to be a good ride. (Did I mention that Rauma has probably the best second hand shops I know…)

Tomi / Turku Synthesizer Club

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Filed under Meeting, Synthesizer, Video, Yamaha

The Soundtracks Of My Life

My wall of John Carpenter movie soundtracks.

I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter. I love his movies, but most of all I love the music he wrote for them with his associate Alan Howarth. At the same time it’s very very minimal and constrained but delivers the mood perfectly. For his masterpiece Assault On Precinct 13, Carpenter wrote a score that used basically twenty different versions of only one central theme, but oh what a theme that was. When I first started toying around with synthesizers more seriously, I tried to emulate Carpenter’s style of pulsing one note basslines, long, eerie pad sounds and a hihat ticking nervously. Never quite got the mixture right though. Our band, Nightsatan can perhaps be seen as a continuation of that ongoing quest to achieve the feeling of tension and anxiety through music.

As you can see from the picture, my absolute favourite movie from Carpenter is Escape From New York. I have five different pressings of the soundtrack vinyl and I’m still looking for the spanish and german pressings. For starters I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies. As a kid watching rental-VHS movies they were my favourite kind. Nuclear war had destroyed the world and only a handful of punkrocker-looking people had survived and started fighting each other. Perfect. Secondly there’s just something about Snake Plissken that makes the Rambos and Terminators of this world flee in panic. Snake Plissken is truly the most badass character in the history of cinema. And the soundtrack for this movie is exceptionally good too.

As some of you might have already noticed, my “Wall of Carpenter” includes one soundtrack that isn’t by the master himself. That’s because I only had 14 Carpenter soundtracks and the wallhanger is for 15 vinyls. The placeholder vinyl until I find the fifteenth Carpenter, is the soundtrack for the cult movie Liquid Sky by russian director Slava Tsukerman and it has it’s place on this wall, because like Carpenter, Tsukerman too made the music for his movie himself. The film’s storyline of aliens running out of gas for their flying saucer and landing in New York to collect the chemical that human brain excretes in the moment of orgasm to fill their gas tanks is wonderful enough, but the soundtrack is something utterly mindblowing.

Excluding the “hit song” Me and My Rhythmbox the album was completely recorded with a Fairlight CMI “Computer Musical Instrument” an early digital sampler that only a handful of people could afford on it’s release in 1979.  The sound of the Fairlight is instantly recognizable and unimitable. But for this album they went completely over the board with it.

The melodies heard on Liquid Sky’s soundtrack are at the same time very childish and unmusical, even dischordant, like a child getting their hands on an expensive synth for the first time and at the same time quite complex and somehow remniscent of classical music and the minuets of 17th century France. Somehow this music manages to alienate the listener completely from the western tradition of hearing music and fits the overtly psychedelic imagery of the movie perfectly. It’s like the sountrack to a feverish nightmare. It’s been sampled among others by Trevor Jackson for his Playgroup project.

So if you ever come across a vinyl that looks like this, be sure to pick it up, I ordered mine from Australia and paid well over 40 euros for it.

Tomi / Turku Synth Club

The beautiful vinyl cover.

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Filed under Audio, Fairlight CMI, Rare synth track, Synthesizer