Christmas Sequencer!

Merry Christmas everyone! My search for a hardware sequencer took one step closer to completion: I just bought a Roland MC-8.

In preparation for the move to Chicago, I’m trying to bring down the overall foot-print of all the equipment. Since I never really took to the MIDI sequencer within Pro Tools, I’ve lugged around an ancient DOS computer to run my tried-and-true Cakewalk 5.0 MIDI sequencer. But sadly, having a computer just to run Cakewalk is a luxury that I shall soon no longer be able to afford.

So I started weighing whether to buy a Roland MC-500 or an MSQ-700. Both have their merits. The MC-500 is supposed to be quite advanced (even if it’s 25 years old). I actually had one once but never really liked it. The MSQ-700 is much simpler, so I thought I might take to it more easily. But simpler also means that it has less functionality.

The debate was cut short this morning when I stumbled across an MC-8. I don’t see many of these around, so I just decided to try that one out instead. The MC-8 was Roland’s very first sequencer. Thus it combines the complexity and cryptic nature of the MC-500 with the limited functionality of the MSQ-700. The worst of both worlds!

Sadly, my MC-8 comes without the super-obscure cable. So yet again, I find myself trying to source and construct a widely-rare interface cable. I’ll let you know how it goes.

An album is born

Things are moving around here again! I think I’ve mentioned before that I was spending quite a lot of time getting Plastiq Musiq, a beloved electronic record label, back off the ground. We just put out our first release, a little music compilation, but today I’m even more excited because the Cascading Slopes album has been released.

The album, A Quaker View of Synthesizers, has been several years in the making. Jacob has been writing this album while spending many a lonely month on the road, supporting his other band. Although I count Jacob as a dear friend, that has nothing to do with my feeling that these are truly some of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in quite some time. I’m really excited about the album and proud of what Jacob has managed to pull off! I’m glad to be helping out, even if in just a small way.

Here’s a music video from the album:

Quiet Times

Rack

Sorry, things have gotten a bit boring on here. There’s a lot going on right now. I’m getting married in three weeks, I’ve been working on relaunching an old record label, Plastiq Musiq, and I’ve been working on restoring an Arp Odyssey. I’ll post some pictures and an update soon.

I bought the Odyssey a while ago, but other than taking it out of the box, I hadn’t so much as tried to turn it on. I bought it as-is for a pretty cheap price, so I feared the worst. This last week I finally fired it up and found that it produced…no sound. So I opened it up and started poking around. The power supply was churning out good voltages, and it turns out that one of the oscillators is working. The second oscillator is totally dead, and the filter or VCA seems to also be kaput. So I’m poking around at that oscillator this week, trying to figure out which transistor is bad.

Sorry to be a bad blogger. I’ll try to pick up the pace here.

 

Unexpected Finds

Raymond Scott

 

Last week I walked into a thrift store and found a Raymond Scott album. Dramatic as this may sound, I was astounded…and still am. I’ve dug through so many crappy shelves of CDs at thrift stores that sometimes I lose hope. I do it for the surprise (and also because they are dirt cheap), but the collection of CDs usually doesn’t feel surprising.

And yet twenty years ago, somebody bought this Raymond Scott album and then very recently decided to donate it to the thrift store. I find both of those actions absolutely fascinating. Who, in this podunk town, bought this album in 1992? And why are they just now getting rid of it?

I only know of Raymond Scott because of my friend Jon. When I was a teenager and Jon has just moved to Ohio, I drove down to visit him for a weekend. The drive was tremendously boring and hoping to alleviate the pain slightly, I asked him if he had any music could recommend I listen to on my way back. That opened the floodgates to all sorts of music that shocked my 17-year-old ears. Not because it was vulgar but because it was so bizarre. Raymond Scott was one of those artists. He’s known for his lively 30’s-era Loony Tunes jazz, but also for being a very early experimenter of electronic music. Moog and Buchla got their start in the 60s. The artsy and academic RCA Synthesizer was 50s. But Raymond Scott predated them all with his strange proto-synthesizers.

So thank you, whoever-you-are-that-bought-this-CD-20-years-ago.

Speaking of early synthesizers, I made another historic discovery that same day at that thrift store. I’ve been been looking for this for about ten years and finally found it: a Hammond M-3 organ.

Hammond M-3

 

Here’s my little brother Daniel giving the organ a test run.

I’ve always had a soft spot for organs. I love organs of all sorts…from church-y pipe organs to electric rock organs, but of course the Hammond B3 holds a very special place. I’ve never expected to have a B3, but I remember a friend telling me long ago about the “close but not quite the same” M3 sibling. Ever since, I’ve kept me eyes open for this fabled M3 organ every time I visit a thrift store.

The vast majority of thrift store organs are made by either Conn, Yamaha, or Lowrey. They look sort of quaint but I’ve always been able to resist buying one. A couple years ago, I saw an old Hammond sitting off to the side in a thrift store. It looked decidedly older and had tubes in the back, but the model number wasn’t familiar, so I passed it up. About a year ago, I had another Hammond sighting, but this one was a slightly newer (70s) organ with solid-state electronics. Again, I walked away.

But last week, I finally hit the (minor-leagues) jackpot. I saw the organ sitting there, and I was struck by how much more of a serious and polished look it had. I felt the keys and looked it over and then managed to slowly slide it back away from the wall. I squeezed my way back behind it and crouched down to read the spec plate on its lower right side. In proud letters: Hammond M-3. I felt a harmonious rush of euphoria. I eventually figured how to switch it on (not intuitive) and played it for a little while, but then started to wonder what I would actually do with an organ and started considering how large and heavy it was.

I had almost worked up the resolve to leave it behind when one of the workers at the thrift store walked by and expressed surprise that it was actually working. We started talking and she mentioned that the organ had been sitting there for about a month and they really wanted to get it out of there. Never to pass up a good deal, I instinctively stated that I’d buy it for half the price and felt a minor victory when she encouragingly said she’d talk with her manager. Two minutes later I had bought it for $50 and the feeling of victory immediately melted back into a feeling of “what in the world am I going to do with this?”

I’m still wondering that question. Meanwhile, the organ sits out in the garage and waits. It’s got a glorious sound and I grow weak-kneed every time I switch it on and listen to its soft primitively-additive synthesis. I’m sure it will find a good home.