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Holy Bot

Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

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music studio

Entering the Matrix

I got a reasonably priced Oberheim Matrix-1000, originally released 1987. It’s a polyphonic synth with six voices, two DCOs per voice, fully analog signal path and extensive modulation routing options – and its sound is beautiful.

But yeah, it’s a rack module and without editing options via the front panel, and it has a thousand presets and only 200 of them are editable remotely via MIDI.

The trouble with this particular item was that the fifth voice chip was broken (which I found out after buying). Moreover, the firmware running the synth was slow and contained bugs.

Fortunately someone on the internet has updated the code and they have made it available on a EPROM chip, so I ordered that. I also found a replacement voice chip and got that as well. Installing the new firmware and voice chip into the old machine was easy enough – the chips are just sitting in sockets. The voice chips counts from right to left (one to six) and are marked U101-U601.

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Minimal Bedroom Studio

As a consequence of scaling down my home studio, I sold two audio interfaces, Apogee Duet for iPad & Mac and Propellerhead Balance, to acquire an Apogee Quartet instead. (Yes I was checking out the newer Element 46 and even if the Element series audio quality and mic pre technology are a step above, the Quartet’s specifications are good enough for me, and more importantly I wanted/needed 8 outputs and a convenient front panel control.)

I decided for a 4-channel audio interface because I didn’t need 20+ hardware synths and drum machines up and running all the time. All that stuff took up too much space and I didn’t really use them. They were connected to a mixer – functioning more or less as a patchbay – and now that mixer is redundant. Remember, limitations drive creativity and all.

With the current setup, I’m able to insert outboard gear, not only to use Minitaur and Mopho as analog instruments, but also as signal processors/external filters. That is, with a little bit of routing in Ableton Live, I can send hardware and softsynths to the Moog ladder and Curtis low-pass filters.

Right now I got three analog monosynths (Minitaur, Mopho and SH-101) connected, and Analog Keys operating as an analog polysynth, master keyboard, sequencer and MIDI to CV converter. I can record all synths mentioned on separate tracks at once.

The plan is to switch gear depending on the project. It’s a clean, minimal setup which seems to suit me.

Recently, most time has been spent tweaking the setup, experiment with the gear, and programming and sound designing on the synths. I haven’t made any real compositions for a while though.

Next up could be a cassette tape recorder (to be able to make some lo-fi tape compression/saturation). And I think I’ll get the Strymon Deco pedal and put it in an effect signal chain.

Downscale for Creativity

At one point I had all gear connected, like this. That’s over 20 hardware synths and drum machines, integrated in a working and sort of intuitive ecosystem. The idea was to be ready and not having to unpack and reconnect shit, which could be time-consuming and kill inspiration in the meanwhile.

But, I tried this setup for a month, and for me it didn’t work that well. Every time I saw the pile of stuff I suffered a little from some kind of performance anxiety, I froze. It was like all this premium gear was looking at me and saying, “we’re just perfect and you got all possibilities in the world man, why can’t you produce better music? You’re not worthy.”

In spite of its purpose, the setup with all gear mounted and routed had become counterproductive. Truth is, I always worked best with constraints, regarding concept or gear, and to some extent, even budget. For me limitations do drive creativity.

Therefore I disassemble the gigantic keyboard stand and everything on it. (Also, I live in a relative small flat and a home studio like this takes more space that I can afford.) I haven’t yet worked out a storage system for all gear, but I think I put (hide) them in some drawers.

The new idea is to only have a master keyboard/MIDI controller, an audio interface, a mixer, a pair of studio monitors connected to a DAW, and then temporarily plug in the hardware I want to use for a certain project. Right now I’m working on three tracks and there are only four synths on my desk: Elektron Analog Keys, Moog Minitaur, Roland SH-101 and Casio CZ-101.

New keyboard stand, four tiers, compact living. Early December 2016.

Here’s my setup as of today. A bit crowded.

Find Old Synths in Tokyo

So I went to Japan for holiday. I stayed in Tokyo the whole time, which was pretty enough of experience for a first time visit.

The trip wasn’t really about electronic musical instruments, but Japan is the promised land of synthesizers (and electronics in general) and home of Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Akai, Casio, Kawai et cetera, so I just had to check up on some old vintage stuff.

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I hoped to make a bargain on an authentic TR-808 but the prices where quite the same as in Sweden (around 3100 USD). Although the supply seems to be much greater, e.g. at Five G on Takeshita Street in Harajuku, they had five Prophet-5s in good condition, a couple of TB-303s and serveral MS-20s. I didn’t have room to get a full-size keyboard, otherwise I’d have bought a cheap Prophet-600.

I also went to Echigoya Music in the building on the ninth floor across from Tower Records  at Shibuya, and that’s where they had the TR-808 (and a TR-909 for what it’s worth).

So I did’t buy any old analog gear, but I got a used MS2000R for around 150 USD at Creator’s Land (a part of Sofmap, on the top floor in the building where its MacColleciton is, in Akihabara). This shop didn’t offer so many analog synth from the 80s but newer stuff like Alesis Micron, Arturia MiniBrute, and they had Technics SL-1200/1210s really, really cheap.

Hard Off has a used music equipment section in one of its stores on a smaller street in Akihabara (sorry for not being more specific). I wasn’t lucky this time though, but I think that you can get good deals there.

On top of all this, Tokyo was a great city, and I can truly recommend you to visit.

In lack of a real article here’s the corner of the bedroom. Not much have actually changed sinced the last man cave shoot. (I’ve bought and sold some gear, such as another SH-101, another Juno-106 and a Kick Lancet.) The latest addition to the setup is the mighty Analog Four. I’ve also made a couple of tracks in this corner of the world. The item on the far left of the desk is a sewing machine – not mine though.

Oh No, the Man Cave!

Okay this is gonna be list of things, totally nerdy.

Background: One of the more popular posts on this blog is a photo of my home studio. But there have been some changes and additions since it was taken a year ago.

  • MacBook Pro Retina 15-inch 2,6 GHz 16 GB RAM, computer. A pretty good laptop, actually the best I’ve ever had.
  • MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 15-inch 2,33 GHz 4 GB RAM, computer. It’s the blurry thing in the background. Nowadays it’s been dumbed down to mainly work as a server for streaming music and video around the apartment (what a waste).
  • Propellerhead Balance, audio interfaceI replaced the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 with this one, not because I felt the former interface lacked anything, but I like Balance’s integration and unique features with the software I’m using, and the sound quality and built are top notch. (And when I first got the Scarlett 2i4, I imagined I’d be DJing and shit, but that didn’t pan out that way. I also thought I’d be needing the MIDI I/O, but I don’t use hardware as much as before.)
  • Propellerhead Reason 7, digital audio workstation. Been gradually switching from Apple Logic Pro 9 to this awesome software, at least it’s been awesome since version 6.5.
  • Yamaha HS 50M, powered monitor speaker. The best looking speakers ever made. (I’m thinking of getting Genelec 8030B and get rid of the sub, see below, but they’re ugly as fuck.) 
  • Yamaha HS 10W, powered subwoofer. Added since the picture was taken. It’s placed very unscientifically in the corner under the desk (I know it’s probably the worst spot in the entire room but wtf).
  • M-Audio Axiom Pro 61, MIDI controller. Not as a real piano, but quite alright semi-weighted keybed. Maybe the overall best controller out there.
  • Midiman Oxygen 8, MIDI controller. Old cheap shit. Small but great when programming sound design. Also due to it’s placed on the left side; you know, left hand on knobs and right hand on computer keyboard.
  • Shure BETA 58A, vocal microphone. A classic mic for occasional vox recordings. I got it recently and haven’t really put it to test yet, but great to have when you need.
  • Fender Squier Bullet Stratocaster HSS, electric guitar.budget instrument, which still is usable with the right processing, and player of course.
  • Roland Juno-106, polyphonic synthesizer. An old analog machine. Had it for year, still works, but rarely used.
  • Sennheiser HD 25-1 II, on ear headphones. I think these are great, a balance between quality, comfort and price.
  • Klotz and Cordial balanced cables. I dunno anything about cables.

Now, one might ask where’d he get all that paper to get all this stuff? Let me tell you it was not by selling music made with it.

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