Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New Equipment: Korg DW-8000

From 1985, yo!
Waaaaay back when I was first on the lookout for a synthesizer ('95?), and all I had at my disposal was a cheap-and-cheerful 'Realistic' brand PCM keyboard, I spotted what I'm pretty sure was one of these (or perhaps the 6-voice model, the DW-6000) in a pawn shop. Fate conspired to not let me have it, and in all honesty it's probably just as well: I wouldn't have known what the hell to do with it at the time.

Lately this synth has been in my consciousness, thanks to various demonstration videos and online discussions that have come my way. Then, lo and behold, the very synth pictured above (including the funky-looking road case) came up for sale a few hundred kilometers away. So I made an offer and it was put on the bus. This post is not so much a review as some observations, my first impressions of the machine, and how it compares to some similar synths I already own.

I own two synths that share a similar architecture and vintage to this: the Roland HS-60/Juno-106, and Roland Alpha Juno-1. So I was expecting something of a mish-mash of these with some characteristics of its own, and so far that is my impression. Let me expand on that.

The DW-8000 is damn near the same size and weight of the HS-60 (ie. it weighs as much as a small planet), and the plastic upper casing reminds me so much of the Juno-1. The Junos mentioned both have DCOs (Digitally Controlled Oscillators) paired with analog signal-paths (amp, filter, etc...). Thanks to some kind of Voodoo, the DW-8000 has sixteen digital waveforms to serve as sound sources, along with an analog amp and filter.

The HS-60 has a marvelous resonant filter with self-oscillation; that is, if you turn the resonance up you get a piercing sine-wave added into the mix. The Juno-1 did away with this feature, which made things just a little bit lacklustre for me. I'm happy to say the DW-8000's filter does self-oscillate, and that's another mark in its favour.

There's not much point in comparing the controls of the DW-8000 to those on the HS-60, but there are similarities to the Juno-1: a series of buttons for choosing parameters paired with one master control for affecting changes to these parameters: a weighted dial (the 'Alpha Dial') on the Juno-1, and a slider on the DW. I have to say that I prefer the slider, and have not found my initial foray into programming the DW-8000 as tedious as expected.

If I have something negative to say about the DW-8000 it's about the keys. They are overly noisy (mechanically), and the spring action (though quick) is like you might find on a cheap organ. Perhaps I'll get used to it.

My particular DW-8000 still has the original (30 year-old) lithium battery for keeping the patch storage alive. One of my first priorities is to fit a new one. It also has a cigarette burn in the upper two keys that dates back to pre-1988 (when the previous owner bought it). I'm going to assume it also came from a smoker's studio, because it was covered in a film of brown tar when I acquired it (the innards are similarly stricken).

Innards. Also note the rust spots.
With my HS-60 in need of new voice chips, the DW-8000 has taken its place in the studio for now. I look forward to getting to know its sound and character through future projects.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2018 Update


Here's an update on my projects for the first quarter of 2018.

A lot of work has been done on the five remaining tracks for The Manitou's next 'proper' album (ie. not a soundtrack or an instrumental collection). Recording of the vocals was interrupted by a New Year's cold, but I'm just getting back into that now, so I'm hopeful for a February release. Some of these songs go back as far as 2014, so it's three years in the making, but a lot of the intervening time has been devoted to other things.

The album closer has seen a shift in writing style, and it feels good to be finishing at last and moving on. That said, the follow-up album will likely consist of songs from my aborted 2010 project 'Blips And Bleeps.' There are some good songs there that just need revisiting with fresh ears and a fresh perspective.

My band No More Cries has adopted a new drummer. We are currently at work on overdubs, vocals, and mixing of the album's worth of material recorded last year, and looking ahead to record album number two now that the band is a complete entity again.

I was asked to remix a song for Zwaremachine, having remixed a song for band-member Mach Fox many years ago. I took care of this over a weekend and found it a refreshing break. Stay tuned to the blog for details of the release.

Disco Antenna's debut album is complete bar the final mix. In the meantime you can hear both 'sides' as E.P.'s on our bandcamp page. We've chosen two songs for our next E.P. that we hope to work on later in the year.

Here's to a fantastic 2018!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Digital single: Nightrunner


A couple of years ago I entered a competition run by ADAM Audio. The brief was to create a thirty second piece of music based on an image (of which there were five to choose from, if I remember correctly). For more about that, check out my earlier blog post.

I liked what I made so much that I expanded it into a longer track, using the original material as the intro. Nightrunner was completed at Christmas last year, along with a handful of other tracks that are waiting in the wings. But it wasn't until testing some new video equipment that I decided to complete the promo video and release the track.

Video:

Audio:

The b-side is a track called 'Solve It': a quirky synthpop thing I wrote with the Korg MS-20 Mini, an iPad drum computer called 'DM2', the VTech Talking Whiz Kid, and TAL U-No-LX. My original idea was to have a friend of mine help me finish the demo, but he sent me enough material to make an entirely different song! So I finished it off in my own way and will revisit our collaboration at a later date.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Digital Album: Cybersonic: Music 'From A Fate Worse Than Death'


It's with great pleasure that I announce the release of my soundtrack to James Leeper's 'A Fate Worse Than Death.' This is a project that's been in the works since 2011. The soundtrack itself was finished early 2013, but the show didn't see a release until two weeks ago.

'A Fate Worse Than Death' is an original sci-fi thriller set in the Doctor Who universe, featuring ruthless cyborgs known as the Cybermen. I've been a fan of Doctor Who since I was old enough to know what TV was, and the sounds and music from the show are partly to blame for my love of sound and synthesis. So to write music in the style of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (who were responsible for those early soundtracks and soundscapes, and incidentally, have a new album coming out) was a dream come true.

You can hear/download the audio drama here:

Cybersonic adds up to 87 minutes of music. I've also prepared a much-shorter 'sampler' that includes some of my favourite pieces and is free to download. I could rattle on about the production techniques until the cows come home, but for once I'll keep it brief. The digital album on Bandcamp comes with 8 pages of liner notes in the form of a PDF, for those interested in the details.

Bandcamp player:

The music on Cybersonic is released under a Creative Commons by Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-ND 4.0). Need music for your sci-fi/horror production? As long as I'm credited, you can use it royalty free. Several cues weren't used in the final show, so you have a few originals to choose from.

No More Cries: Band Announcement.


A couple of weeks ago I became an official member of the local blues/rock band 'No More Cries' that have been mentioned here on this blog. It's one of those things that fell into my lap, so to speak. Being involved with the band in a 'behind the scenes' capacity for almost a year now, my responsibilities have gradually grown. Last week we did a photo-shoot with the four of us for upcoming promotional opportunities and the CD we're hard at work on (see above - that's me bringing up the rear).

As well as pushing my creative talents, being in the band is also a chance to improve my keyboard skills - not to mention take me way out of my comfort zone. In all it's been a great experience so far and hopefully it will continue.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Digital EP: Side B by Disco Antenna


Lots has been going on behind-the-scenes, so let me start with a quick update. Five finished songs for the new Manitou album are in the wings, and I'll be looking at releasing those now that the new Disco Antenna EP is complete. I've also been hard at work with the band No More Cries, arranging keyboard parts for their songs, and working with other local artists at Wild Bill's Studio.

Side B, as the title suggests, is the follow-up to Side A, the Disco Antenna release from last year. In due course both releases will be combined into a full album.


1. Disco from the Stars (suite) is a song that dates back to 2010, when Disco Antenna first became an entity. It was my attempt to write something in the disco style after Jimmy, my collaborator, and I had begun work on his song, 'There To Remind Me.' It existed as a rough demo for a long time, for which Jimmy provided some vocal ideas that eventually became 'Superstitious.' When I came up with a proper chorus for the track I decided the Superstitious vocals weren't really going to work. It wasn't until last year, and the success of the segue format of Side A, that the idea of making the two songs into one came about. There was just one problem ... it was such an ambitious undertaking that it was going to take extra time. But for me, it was worth it. We released 'Superstitious' as a single last year. I've since done some tweaking to the mix for this 18-minute 'suite.'

2. Prayer (suite). When searching the archive of Jimmy's material for another song to include on the EP, 'Prayer' jumped out at me. I'd actually suggested it would make good Disco Antenna material in an old e-mail. Unfortunately, between that e-mail and its rediscovery, Jimmy discovered he'd lost the vocals in a hard-drive crash. But all was not lost: he had the backing track and the original Orion session. It also provided him with an opportunity to write new lyrics for the verses. The demo was something like four minutes, maximum, and it wasn't my intention to stretch it out to 10 while adding my parts. I had, in the back of my mind, the idea to keep each EP under the maximum 24-minute running-time of half a vinyl LP. In this case, I had to go where the music led me.

Video:

Instrumentation-wise, these songs include the usual Disco Antenna kit: Synapse Orion, Novation K-Station, Orchestra Silver, Roland HS-60, Ticky Clav, Crumar Performer, our patented secret mix of drum sounds, bass guitar, and tambourine. A Yamaha TG-33 guest-stars on Superstitious, and a Yamaha FB-01 guest-stars on Prayer. Oh, and there's some Minimoog V for good measure.

Digital EP: No More Cries by No More Cries


I'm a bit late with this news, but the debut EP from No More Cries is now available as a digital download, having sold out its first pressing of 50 CDs. This was recorded by the band over the winter of 2016 at Wild Bill's Studio, British Columbia, and mixed and mastered by myself. It contains five original songs from the band's repertoire that best represent their sound.


If you love solid blues-tinged rock n' roll, then give them a spin.