Category Archives: Yamaha

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

A couple of vintage synths for sale

Sometimes I wish I had continued my childhood hobby of collecting stamps instead of synths.

Stamps take so little space and you can get shitloads of them from fleamarkets for basically no money at all. Then again there’s no real use for old stamps. My synths I use every day. Well it’s once again time to sell a couple of synths to make room (and money) for new ones. Just 10 minutes ago I put up a classified ad in muusikoiden.net, which is the best website in Finland if you want to buy or sell second hand music gear. It’s not an auction, the prices are fixed and I like it that way.

This time I’m trying to get rid of my erratically working Juno 6 synth which I just can’t seem to have the time or energy to get fixed and then there’s the Korg DW-8000 analog/digital hybrid synth which I just don’t use anymore. It’s just sitting there gathering dust, and it would be better off in a new home with a new excited owner. On top of those two beauties there’s a really rare and beautiful Yamaha TA-60 solid state amplifier from early 1970’s for sale. I just don’t seem to have any use for it although it’s easily the most beautiful guitar-amp I’ve ever seen.

Here are links to the ads I just put up. If you’re interested in any of them, just e-mail me.

http://muusikoiden.net/tori/nayta.php?id=506563

http://muusikoiden.net/tori/nayta.php?id=506573

Tomi / Turku Synth Club

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Filed under For Sale, Korg, Roland, Yamaha