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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Happy 1st of April!

This I.D.I.O.T. technology sounds interesting… 😉

Matti / Turku Synth Club

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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

Some old Polymoog sound demos

Way back in 2005 I had a Polymoog Keyboard for a few months. It is a relatively simple synth, essentially an analogue “paraphonic” preset synthesizer with very little tweakability, but I thought it sounded amazing. Eventually I sold it to finance something else because I was constantly afraid that it would break, Polymoogs being notoriously unreliable. Because I only had it for a short while, it never ended up in any proper tracks, but I did record some demos with it during that time. As always, these are just to demonstrate how the synth sounds, not to be mistaken for proper music 😉

This one has some Moog MF-105 MuRF step filter action:

Hot pitch ribbon actiooon, chorus from Boss DC-2:

This is just a collection of sounds, chorus from Boss DC-2:

Matti / Turku Synth Club

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Tuijamaria – Pac-Man-Kuume (1983)

The beauty...

and the beast.

This is the bomb.

As many of my friends know, I’m a collector. Not the kind you fight in Mass Effect 2, but the kind that takes every chance he gets to find curious things from flea markets and yard sales. Besides the obvious synthesizers, drum machines and synth memorabilia, I collect among other things old videogames and records. The best thing happens when two worlds and collections collide as is the case now.

I have a small but well formed collection of videogame-themed records and this 7″ is perhaps the crowning jewel of that collection. Tuijamaria, who had previously scored a goal with her single Ai-ai-ai-ai-Jussi, teams up with the songwriting skills of American duo Buckner and Garcia and does a cover version of their great early eighties novelty hit Pac Man Fever. Of course Finland’s own Giorgio Sivonen is at the controls and the outcome is psychedelic to say the least.

The track starts with sound effects from the original arcade machine and they repeat many times later in the track, but the pulsing synth bass is what really gets the wheels turning. If you’re not fluent in finnish you’re really missing a big part of the weirdness in this song. The lyrics happily confuse VCR:s with game consoles and also mention Dallas and Pamela. Starting from the first pair of sentences “Kun ihan mamot tykkää Tarzanista sekä apinoista, niin on koko meidän jengi saanut kuumeen videoista!” Hahahahaha! Firstly “mamo” is a word I haven’t heard in a long long time.

Basically what it says is that Tarzan & his monkeys are for pussies and that their gang is now addicted to their VCR. And it just gets better from there. A lot better. Who ever did the translation should’ve been given a Finlandia-prize, it’s priceless. Oh, and did I mention the cover? For a videogame freak like me the frontside is really classy stuff, beautiful hand drawn rendition of Pac-Man complete with the Atari-logo and no mention of Tuijamaria at all. The backside again is a whole different story.

Sit back, kick off the shoes, turn up the volume, press play and get ready to start the weekend. You really can’t go wrong with this.

Oh, was that the sound of the mailman bringing me my new sampler? Have to go.

Ta ta!

Tomi / Turku Synth Club

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Satu – Matka Tuntemattomaan

Satu is a sexy synth hottie.

It starts with a laser, like every good song ever…

Then comes the insisting, driving octave-bassline, which forms the backbone of this 1982 finnish synth-orgy. The rest is history.

Satu Pentikäinen, who at the time of this single’s release was barely 20, had four years earlier had her first big hit with “Menolippu“, but this cover of Kim Wilde‘s beautiful Cambodia with a finnish title Matka Tuntemattomaan (A Journey into the Unknown) was distinctly more synthetic and therefore more interesting for me, myself & I. The song slowly grows with additional synth elements coming into play in every verse. I really really like Ricky Wilde‘s (Kim’s brother, who wrote and produced most of her hits.) songwriting and sense of melody on this and somehow the finnish lyrics for this ain’t half bad either.

From the cover it’s hard to imagine Satu to be in her late teens/early twenties. She looks more like 38, but I guess that was the style back then. Matka Tuntemattomaan is actually the B-side to this 7″. On the A-side there’s an unbearable version of a really awful Buck’s Fizz hit – The Land Of Make Believe – from 1981. Sometimes record companies just don’t get it.

Anyways, have a break from work and take a trip to the unknown, sponsored by the good people in Turku Synth Club.

Tomi / Turku Synth Club

 

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