Without the light from the sun all life on earth would cease to exist. From this we can reasonably conclude that the sun is the source of all life.
Since God created all life we can further conclude that the sun is God, or at least an instrument of God. Many ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Aztecs and African tribes believed that the Sun was a God.
When things get burned they carbonise. This is what would happen if we moved closer to the sun i.e. closer to God. Fire, the artificial means of carbonisation created by man, replicates the effect of the sun, fooling the object into believing that it is moving closer to God.
This is why Toast Tastes So Good (yum!).
The bread is transformed from an ordinary food source into something that believes it is closer to heaven, which is reflected in its taste.
This is also why the ‘Body of Christ’ in Christian services is represented by a piece of toasted wafer.
Another example of carbonistion bringing us closer to God is the desire to obtain a tan which, like the toast, converts ordinary pale skin into something glowing and God like.
The book of common prayer based on text from Genesis 3:19 shows that in death, returning the body to dust through cremation can bring us back to God:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him and give him peace. Amen.
Peter Gabriel is a long established rock musician who’s music has reached people all over the world. We can reveal here for the first time that Peter Gabriel is in fact the Messiah, and that he has left us a number of clues over the years that help to reveal his true identity. Let us examine the evidence: •Peter shares his name with St. Peter and the angel Gabriel.
•He was a member of the band Genesis, the first book of the bible.
•He often uses religious themes, for example, the song The Blood of Eden; the Passion soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ and his CD-Rom Eden.
•Sinead O’Connor who appears on the song The Blood of Eden went from being a wild child to becoming a priest after befriending him.
Does she know something we don’t?
The greatest evidence we have is in the lyrics of his song Solsbury Hill where he describes how he met with God and how he revealed him that he was his son.
Let us examine the lyrics of the song:
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
[I] just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
‘Son’, he said ‘Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home’.
He is describing how he was told by God who he really was and how he had to come to terms with his status.
Later in the song he sings:
To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
He is saying that he has decided not to tell anyone about what he has learned in case he’s branded a lunatic. He also thinks about what new possibilities there are for him because he has miraculous abilities. He contemplates how his life has suddenly changed.
In the last verse he sings about how people are oblivious to his true identity and that at some point in time he will reveal his true self:
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Peter clearly feels he had this role thrust upon him against his will. In an interview with Musician magazine in June 1989 he stated:
Christianity is poured deep in my consciousness, whether I choose to or not.
To finish though, If you believe that Peter is the Messiah and that rock’n’roll will save your soul, take heed, because he also gave this warning in the 1972 Genesis song Apocalypse in 9/8:
666 is no longer alone,
He’s getting out the marrow in your back bone,
And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll,
Gonna blow right down inside your soul.
Pythagorus with the looking glass reflects the full moon,
In blood, he’s writing the lyrics of a brand new tune.
It is based on facts, events, people and places that exist or have existed. You, the inventive theorist, has subsequently drawn conclusions from the data available to formulate a theory, however absurd.
It can be about anything: historical events, unsolved mysterys, aliens, nature, religion, the origin of man, science, politics, murders, ghosts, the supernatural, conspiracys, the Titanic, the moon landing, corruption or Padraig Flynn, to name just a few.
•Did man actually step on the moon or was it all an elaborate hoax?
•Is Elvis really dead?
•Have we been visited by aliens?
•Is Sophie Ellis Bextor one of them???
Here, we gather evidence for some of the wildest theories out there: the bizarre to the hilarious; the strangely believable.
We present the evidence…
you decide if you believe it or not.
There is really no way to clearly define the “job spec” of a producer. For every skill you might deem necessary, there’s a successful producer who doesn’t have it. But there are a few qualities that producers have in common. A producer has to be good with people. He must be a leader, a motivator, a negotiator and a psychologist. He nurtures the artist to get their vision in focus and onto CD. A producer cannot produce without a vision. Sometimes this vision comes from the producer (or even from the marketing department of a TV production company) and the “artist” is just a figurehead. Most artists are too preoccupied with being artists to have the time or energy to figure out the technicalities of making a great record. This is where the producer comes in. He or she will not only be the bridge between the artistic and the technical, but also the administrative and financial. The record producer will decide how and where the record will be recorded, who, if anyone, will help to make it, what technical equipment will be used, how the budget will be spent, what material will go on the album, and how much the artist’s creative input will be supplemented. Sir George Martin says that a record producer is like a film producer and director rolled into one. On a less stellar level a good producer can earn his bed and breakfast just by good organisational and management skills. Practical organisation of the sessions can save thousands- offsetting part if not all of the producer’s advance and royalty. If producers didn’t pay for themselves many times over, no one would ever hire them1.
Perhaps at this point we should try to classify producer types, and give some examples of real life producers. I will use Richard-James Burgess’ categories2.
a) All Singing All Dancing King of the heap:
This type could easily be artists in their own right. They write the songs, play the instruments, sing the demos and engineer and program too. Their work is always recognisable even if the vocalist is unfamiliar. Their clients fall in to one of two categories- the all time great singers who don’t write but can deliver someone else’s song with conviction; or the puppets, such as soap stars or TV talent contest winners.
“I like to do everything” : Walter Affanasief- Mariah Carey and Michael Bolton.
“If you can’t come in to the studio and sing a song the way it’s meant to be sung, then you don’t need to be working with me” :Teddy Riley- Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown.
In the nineteen eighties Stock, Aitken and Waterman were the “hit factory” production team that literally created music careers for Rick Astley, Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue. Pete Waterman later went on to invent the band Steps.
b) Humble Servant
This type is almost always credited as a co-producer. They started out as an engineer, programmer, musician or co-writer, and often connect with an artist early in their career. When the artist goes “mega”, they become indispensable. This type is not a good choice for an artist who doesn’t have a strong sense of vision and direction, but is perfect for the self directed artist who needs someone to bounce ideas off. They will take care of all the things the artist doesn’t want to deal with or doesn’t have the expertise for- the administrative, technical and engineering aspects of the production process. They will act as an unobtrusive extension of the artist, and are comfortable to work with. Often the relationship lasts for a long time, and can be very lucrative for both parties. Andy Jackson- “You can roll in to the next album and it’s like riding a bike. You pick it up where you left off and you haven’t got to reinvent the wheel”3.
Few would admit that they fall into this category, but Steve Albini is probably the most outspoken example of this type. He has written a lot on the internet about how badly the industry treats the artist. He believes that the producer should not be entitled to points because they are not the creators of the musical work, merely the facilitators. As far as he is concerned, the standard 3% cut for the producer is just another way to steal money from the artist, because it’s the artist that sells the record and no- one else: “Remember that nobody ever goes in to a record store shouting ‘Give me the new album on label X, produced by producer Y, whose deal memo was hammered out by A&R guy Z and lawyers A B and C!’ People like records because they like music. You’re just sitting in the chair with wheels and pressing the button. Do not forget your place! You are not the star, and you must be content with that.” 4 Like Brian Eno, he believes that there’s no right or wrong way to do the job: “The band at hand, no matter how small in stature or weak aesthetically, deserves your respect. This also means you can’t lie to them, or misrepresent them to the label or the listening public. Perhaps the guitar player wants his guitar to sound like that.”5
This type often started out as bass players or drummers, because these are also collaborative roles. They enjoy collaborative situations and bring that band member mentality to their productions. They usually prefer to steer the band towards a unanimous decision and use their casting vote sparingly. Their hallmark is flexibility and a willingness to see the value in other people’s ideas. Their own ideas are thrown into the pot with everyone else’s, and not given more weight than those of any other band member. Their catch phrase would be “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”.
The majority of producers would fit in to this role, and I will give examples later.
d) Merlin the Magician
“The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it”- Theodore Roosevelt.
This is my favourite type of producer. Often they don’t even attend the recording sessions. Sometimes, his or her mere name on the album can get everyone fired up about the project, especially the A&R man who often feels that his job is more secure if he has a big name producing the band.
If Merlin does decide to spend time in the studio the direction he gives can range from the very specific, subjective and detailed to the vague, general and philosophical. Sometimes it can be quite obscure. Brian Eno is a good example of this type.
His approach is more about philosophy and inspiration rather than the technical side of music or sound. However, is strong on collaboration so he’s also a type C. His work with Daniel Lanois on every U2 album since The Unforgettable Fire is exemplary and broke a lot of new ground sonically. For example the drumkit was treated as a single instrument (often by using only one microphone) a move away from the more clinical multi- miked “American” sound perfected by the likes of Roger Nichols and Elliot Scheiner with Steely Dan. Like Albini he rejects the idea that there are “correct” ways to do things and thinks that we should “earn and enjoy from all the different ways we CAN do things.” 6 In keeping with his philosophy he developed his Oblique Strategies cards (see example 1 for an explanation).
Eno is a very cerebral character, and has a lot of worthy things to say: “Normally I don’t stay with the project for the whole time. I deliberately keep out so I can come back in and hear things with fresh ears. Some things will seem completely obvious to me straight away. Like ‘that doesn’t work, that works brilliantly, this is confused.’ I can very quickly, within an hours listening, set up an agenda which says, ‘This we must talk about philosophically, we have to look at that structurally…’ etc. His primary approach to a project is to establish the cultural territory: “Where are we culturally? Where are we trying to be? What books? What films? OK, if this is where we are, then we are not going to do that or that… let’s just get them out of the way and narrow the field a little bit.” “You want to create a situation where there is a meaningful amount of attention on something, rather than a small amount of attention on everything.”7 Burgess takes a similar approach: “I like to get right inside their heads, find out what they listen to, what movies they watch, where they hang out, what books they read, what type of people they are, what makes them happy, what upsets them…”. 8
Eno’s view of technology is a very useful one: “I can’t play any musical instrument, but what I can do is work with many of the interesting new devices that enable people to put music together. It was called cheating when I started doing it. Now it’s what everyone does. It’s called using a recording studio.” 9 But contrary to what that statement might imply, he is not attached to technology. He is well aware of the negative effects of the computer in the recording studio: “As more and more options have become available, and equipment more and more complex, the temptation can arise to forget the possibilities of simplicity. It’s a question of balancing external influences and technologies with your own instincts and beliefs.”10 He prefers musicians not to get hung up on the latest gadgets, and instead be comfortable with their personal skill set. Sometimes, all he does is to help the artist discover themselves. That said, he is still not averse to using a gadget if it aids the creative process. Because he is more of a philosopher he tends to collaborate with individuals such as Daniel Lanois, who is a very accomplished musician. He’s the one who takes U2’s jamming sessions and spots the elusive germ of an idea and preserve throughout the recording process11.
Many bands operate a kind of democracy, where no idea is pursued unless everyone thinks it’s a good idea. The only problem with this is that ego can get in the way. The singer might have issues with the drummer suggesting lyrics, or the producer might feel that he has to pursue one of his own ideas to justify his fee. Eno turns this all too common scenario on its head: Usually what people are practising is not democracy, but cowardice and good manners. We all have sufficient trust in one another to believe that if someone feels strongly then we let them lead…”11 So if the keyboard player wants to try an accordion solo, he will be given the space to develop the idea. And it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work- often a silly idea can lead to something great that is far removed from the original idea, but would never have come about if the artist wasn’t given the space to explore in the first place. It’s very rare that someone has a fully formed creative thought.13 Apart from the idea itself, the courage of the creator’s conviction can be a source of inspiration- Burgess: “Excitement and passion are more likely to produce a great record than conciliation and compromise”. On the subject of the ego attached to the idea, Eno talks about how he will take total control of a song for half a day and see if he can make it work. Sometimes it doesn’t, and of course anyone else can take the same role. He says “you have to have the respect for people who say ‘look you’re grown up, you can take an option and not pretend that it’s interesting when it isn’t.” U2’s Bono has said “With him we discovered the spirit in our music and a new confidence in ourselves.” This is an incredible endorsement, because major stars are not renowned for being very complimentary. No less than George Martin also rates Eno highly: “He doesn’t follow the herd like most people do… I admire him very much”14. Finally, here is Eno’s own take on the producer’s role: “What has become interesting is that artists are people who specialise in judgement rather than skill.”15
A very important aspect of production is teamwork. No solo artist does it all on their own, and neither does a producer. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is thought of as the solitary genius- he wrote some of the greatest pop songs ever, such as Good Vibrations and God Only Knows. But even someone as talented as he was needed a team. The peak of his achievements was the Pet Sounds album. He collaborated with the lyricist Tony Asher, and his session players were the cream of the LA jazz and pop scene. On the out-takes of Pet Sounds, you can hear him directing the musicians and the engineer during the sessions for God Only Knows in 1965. You can clearly hear how drummer Hal Blaine translates Brian’s musical descriptions into standard terminology. Brian was not classically trained, but that didn’t stop him from creating great orchestrations. He knew what he wanted to hear, and he used the studio and the musicians to achieve that. Brian would write out the chord names and hum or play the tune to Blaine. With the other musicians they would work out some sort of chart while engineer Chuck Britz set up the balance. But you can hear that they are still largely guided by ear, and what Brian hums or beats out. You can also hear the musicians making some suggestions. Wilson has no problem whatsoever using their ideas. This was a team that he had worked with for almost five years. In 1965 they recorded three Beach Boys albums, all of which went to number one in the US- clearly this was a good team!
Wilson was extremely influential. It was Pet Sounds that spurred the Beatles on to make Sgt. Pepper. These two albums were the point where record production started to be taken seriously. George Martin was the first person ever to be credited on a record as a producer: “Hearing Pet Sounds gave me the kind of feeling that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and you say, ‘What is that? It’s fantastic!’ It gives you an elation that is beyond logic.” Paul McCartney has spoken about the competitiveness between the Beach Boys and the Beatles in the mid sixties. Wilson has said of their Rubber Soul “That’s it. I really am challenged to do a great album.” Pet Sounds was his response. But when he heard Sgt. Pepper, he reportedly gave up- this was around the same time that his drug addiction became a serious problem. This competition really raised the standard of pop music production, particularly the application of orchestration and creative layering with multitrack recording.
Is probably the godfather of record production. He was the first to ever be credited as a producer, and the first independent producer. Prior to 1966, the producer was an employee of the record company. After George Martin discovered how much money his work made for EMI, he left his job there and forced them to rehire him and give him a royalty on every Beatles record. Unfortunately, artists are still legally employees of the record company, and very often don’t make as much as their producer! Martin brought his classical, avant garde and spoken work experience to his work with The Beatles, and helped to change the face of record production. In interviews, he often discusses the more ephemeral aspects of his work rather than the technical. One of his issues is snobbery towards pop music. He is in fact one of many producers who has worked with equal success in the pop and classical fields: “I’ve never subscribed to the view that pop music is trivial, though it’s ephemeral in many cases. There have been great moments in popular music, as there have been in classical music.”16 He has made his career by applying classical techniques to pop music, most notably on the arrangement and structure of their last album “Abbey Road”. Some of this snobbery probably arises from the fact that many pop artists never had a formal musical education. Martin doesn’t see education as a pre-requesite.17 But just to illustrate the point that no two producers are the same, here’s Arif Mardin’s contrasting view of this issue: “Some people think they know Italian if they can say “marinera”. In the same way, some people think they know music. No, you have to know the language”.18 Both have worked with great bands- Mardin with the Bee Gees and Martin perhaps the most successful band ever, The Beatles. It’s significant that both agree on what it takes to make a band great: Without a good song, they’re nowhere (Martin)19.
Is perhaps the ideal record producer. His achievements straddle the sixties, seventies, and eighties right up to today. He has produced Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Brandy, Carly Simon, Roberta Flack, Patti Labelle, and Jewel. And those are just a few of the females! He was instrumental in developing the groove driven music and falsetto vocal style that made the Bee Gees into megastars in the mid seventies. His latest success is Norah Jones, proving that he still has what it takes.
“I am particularly proud of I feel for you, by Chaka Khan” he says. “During the meetings, the brother of Chaka and me joked with the piano, by playing a riff and by singing “Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, tchiki boom, tchiki boom”. I thought afterwards: “Why not use this riff in a percussion part?” So we got the tape, and assembled certain passages randomly and backwards and so forth… Stevie Wonder came to play the harmonica, I added the sound effects in the mix, and the applause; the funky groove and the voice of Chaka made up the rest! In spite of all these disparate elements, it is not a jumble of sound; one still can feel the song. In a way, this song was the result of wanted accidents; it is a piecemeal construction that became an instantaneous hit. This experiment taught me a lot.”20 Like all good producers, Mardin is clearly an advocate of the happy accident, and letting the creative mind run wild. The key of course is to harness this into a cohesive recording of a song.
Respect, to quote Aretha Franklin, is his main criteria in selecting a project. “I don’t work with an artist if I don’t respect the artist,” he says. “Respect for the artist’s genius is vital to me in making excellent music. I love good music that is honest, regardless of the genre,” which explains why Mardin has been at the top of his game since the early 1960s. The song is also of vital importance to a Mardin project. “While technology has dramatically changed the way we now record,” he notes, “the song remains the same. Things go forward, but a great song is a great song.”20
This echoes the attitudes of Brian Eno and George Martin to technology, and it’s very important. It’s a very useful tool, but it doesn’t make a good song out of nothing. Mardin says: “It has to hit me in the chest. I cannot describe it. You cannot computerise it”.21 Too often I have witnessed the obsession with details that either make no difference or actually detract from the feel of the music. When people see waveforms drawn on a computer screen they become distracted from what their ears and hearts are telling them. I have often seen groups gathered around the screen watching rather than listening to the playback. My solution is to turn the screen off! The computer becomes a black hole, sucking in time and creative energy. Snare drums are moved by fractional amounts so that they line up visually, regardless of what it sounds like. Computers crash, discs get corrupted and the whole point of the song is neglected. Musicians forget what their skills are and what it is that they love about music. They become engrossed in operating the machines, when what they really need to do is let the engineer and producer get on with their jobs. This is the curse of the home studio. The producer is especially vulnerable, because he is the bridge between the artistic and the technical. There is a constant compromise between the take that feels good and the one where the snare sounds perfect. Phil Ramone: “Don’t stop, please don’t stop once you’re in and the mood is here.”22 “So many great records have been made- Bob Dylan’s Blood on the tracks- from run throughs, not even takes.” “We’re taping, you hear guys talking, you hear mics falling over.”23 Ramone is an excellent engineer/producer and a good musician. He is a perfectionist, but not to the point of ruining the magic that can happen when musicians are playing together without any expectations. In fact, his engineering skills are so good that he can get a superb and consistent quality of sound even though the microphones were being set up during the take! Flood: “But that human spark- quite often after the first time you go for it- you never get it again.” It’s all about preserving spontaneity So the skilled producer will allow technical imperfection if it makes the song feel right. The key is to always be recording, whether you’re ready or not! Flood “ …use technology to your advantage and don’t ever let yourself become used by it.”24 Bruce Swedien: “I learned from Quincy Jones to listen to your instincts. We have a tendency to cerebralise what we are doing, and it’s wrong. What we are doing must provoke an emotional response, not a cerebral response.”25
To quote Richard-James Burgess 26: The producer’s role is like a blank cube in Scrabble. The blank can be substituted for any letter in order to complete a word. The producer needs to become or supply whatever is needed to complete the record. On projects that have gone particularly well, I’ve felt that the production process is one of discovery more than creation, almost like an archaeological dig. The archaeologists know there is something precious there. They may not know what it is, how big it is or even what it is made of, but their job is to uncover whatever is there without damage. It’s as if the recorded already existed before you started work on it.
Clearly there’s no such thing as the average record producer.
Discography The Beatles
London: Parlophone/ EMI 1965
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
1967 The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys Today!
Los Angeles: Capitol/ EMI, March 1965.
Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)
Beach Boys’ Party!
April 1966. U2
The Joshua Tree
London: Island Records, 1988. Bowie, David
Albini, Steve: Nirvana.
Ramone, Phil: Bob Dylan, The Band.
Brian Eno: U2, James, Roxy Music, David Bowie.
Bruce Swedien: Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson.
Burgess, Richard- James: Landscape (also writer, vocalist and drummer); Spandau Ballet, Kim Wylde.
Alan Moulder: Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails.
Over 100 worthwhile dilemmas by Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt.
These cards evolved from our separate observations of the principles underlying what we were doing. Sometimes they were recognised in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition), sometimes they were formulated.
They can be used as a pack (a set of possibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from the shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case the card is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self evident.
A random selection of Oblique Strategies
Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
The tape is now the music
Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency
– the most important thing
Use an old idea
Left channel, right channel, centre channel
Take a break
Remember those quiet evenings
Emphasise the flaws
Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them
Work at a different speed
Twist the spine
Question the heroic approach
Overtly resist change
Is the information correct?
Define an area as “safe” and use it as an anchor.
Get your neck massaged
Discard an axiom
Make a sudden, destructive, unpredictable action; incorporate
This is a relatively rare late eighties sampler. The build quality is typical of Yamaha- very solid. It is a very deep 2U rack unit, and there are 3 very large circuit boards layered inside. It’s a 12 bit audio system, and samples at up to 50kHz in mono or stereo, although the top end is masked on the TX itself by the analogue anti- aliasing filters on the outputs. They give the instrument a “dark” sound, which is actually rather nice. The main polyphonic outs sound brighter than the eight monophonic individual outs. The transposing is nice and crunchy, particularly at lower sampling rates.
The original Yamaha OS was OK- as long as you were not in a hurry and didn’t mind spending forever actually sample anything. The Typhoon 2000 OS is available as a free download from Nu-Edge developments. It is a necessity for TX users. It can import Yamaha OS patches (not just the samples), and eliminates most of the problems with the instrument. Most notably, Typhoon uses a lossless data compression algorithm which gives a space saving of about 33%. This compensates for the double density disk format the TX is saddled with. The Typhoon OS disk includes some excellent sounds to demonstrate the modulation and sound quality. The drum kit is especially noteworthy, because it is created from basic waveforms such as sine, saw and white noise. Typhoon can import and export AIFF files on floppy disk, which is much faster than MIDI SDS or the RS-422 port which is only about 4 times faster than MIDI (as long as you have a serial port on your computer). There is even an optional emphasis parameter to compensate for the dark anti-aliasing filters.
Some of Typhoon’s features have not been beaten by more modern instruments- auto pitch tracking and sample mapping makes multi sampling very easy; straightforward file management like a DOS PC; portamento; extremely flexible modulation and layering; and a logical hierarchical system from sample to multi-timbral performance. Each sample can be mapped very quickly to the keyboard and treated like a patch on its own. For example you can have different pitch bend ranges for each sample, which is a nice effect for drums.
The filters are digital, and potentially interesting with a dedicated Yamaha DSP. You can create your own filters in the Yamaha OS but those are not useable in the Typhoon OS. Unfortunately there is not much depth to the effect of the filters- no big sweeps here! The phasing filter is pleasant though. Another issue is that pitch modulation can cause clicking with certain pitch and sample rate combinations. But despite these problems, the Typhoon OS makes the TX16W a very fast sampler to get around- you can even use your MIDI keyboard to access the menus if you wish. So for fast turnaround of noises into musical sounds, or for old style lo-fi sampling, the TX16W is a very nice instrument to have around.
Tips to make the TX sound more modern
Typhoon can read AIFF files from floppy, so you can bypass the onboard A to D. Make sure you stick to the 8 character filename limit, otherwise Typhoon will chop it down to 8 characters that may or may not make sense! And on a Mac, change the file extension to .aif. This makes the TX Recycle compatible too if you save each slice as and AIFF (from the dropdown in the Save menu). It takes some time to map all those samples chromatically from your beats, but it can be worth it to access the great modulation. Setting each beat slice to a different positive or negative pitch bend range gives an incredible effect.
This post is work in progress since June 9th, 2002. September 2006: First web version completed. October 11th 2006: Some typos corrected. December 31st 2006: New references added. January 1st 2007: Corrected name of Casio’s first keyboard. October 13th 2008: improved explanations of parameter values, envelopes, LFO, and tape storage. February 13th 2009: corrected name of Yukihiro Takahashi. Thanks to Michael Betancourt. March 8th 2009: Sales figures and new references and links added. June 23rd 2009: Added info on DAC frequency response. August 30th 2009: Created historical timeline; added link to Wiki and US patent. March 17th 2010: Added info about DAC offset calibration; revised pricing information. May 22nd 2012: Fixed some typos. April 16th 2015: Fixed some typos. February 16th 2019: Added video and link to Toshio Kashio museum, review of Virtual CZ. September 18th 2021: Added single cycle loops of CZ-101 waveforms. March 25th 2023: Lost the single cycle loops 🙁
Historical timeline 1980 Casio introduced the Casiotone 201, their first home keyboard. A great product and favourable exchange rates allowed them to achieve great success in Europe and the US.
1982 Messrs. Ishibashi and Masanori of Casio patent PD synthesis.
1983 the Yamaha DX7 was introduced, and soon became the biggest selling synth ever.
1984 Casio wanted part of this market, and after a two-year development period, they came up with a £30,000 system called the COSMO SYNTHESIZER which was was debuted at the ARS Electronica. The system was based on Casio’s own office computer called the FP-6000, which itself was pretty advanced at the time, with features like a 29 bit co-processor. It was a general development system on which sequencing, phase distortion synthesis (PD) and rudimentary sampling were possible. One was built for IsaoTomita but it never went into mass production.
The only other PD synth in the world was the similarly computer based Con Brio ADS, on which it was termed “phase modulation”. It seems that it was fashionable at the time for companies to develop incredibly expensive computer based synthesisers, but only Fairlight and the Synclavier would have any measure of success in this rarified market. Casio was a calculator manufacturer whose expertise lay in mass producing LSI chips. They had already produced the VL- Tone, a bizarre calculator/ synth combo.
1985 In February Casio brought their expertise to the pro synth market with the CZ-101. With its 4 octave mini keys it fitted in with Casio’s pocket calculator image. Its diminutive size contrasted with its big sound, and soon CZ sales were in DX7 territory.
1989 Ed Alstrom, Casio’s marketing manager, estimated 80,000 CZs sold worldwide, making the CZ-101 one of the most popular synthesizers ever.
FM vs PD Apart from the US patent here is very little information available on how Casio developed phase distortion, but it’s very likely that it was inspired by John Chowning’s FM. In Casio’s version, an envelope directly modulates the phase of a waveform, of which there are eight to choose from. In Yamaha’s original implementation of FM, waveforms are grouped together in eight algorithms, and the envelope controls the frequency of one waveform, which then modulates another waveform or waveforms depending on the algorithm. Technically, they’re different systems because the Casio operates in the time domain (i.e. phase) and the Yamaha works in the frequency domain, but the similarities are clear enough. Instead of introducing a completely new method of synthesis á la FM, Casio came up with a cost effective way to digitally implement the sound and feel of a proven technology- analogue subtractive synthesis. Furthermore, the design also has some features that give it a unique character.
User Interface The user interface is the usual “parameter access” which was in vogue at the time. There’s a pair of data increment/ decrement buttons, and a dedicated button for each parameter- just like the DX7 in fact. Compared to other similarly priced synths of the day such as Korg’s Poly 800 and the Crumar Bit One, the Casio is a breeze to use.
The parameters have an arbitrary value range of 0 to 99. The exception is the detune which is sensibly in cents, semitones and octaves. If you’re using a graphical computer based editor most of the time, this is not really a problem, but when you want to make a quick tweak on the synth itself, it can be a little frustrating. Ideally the scales would be in deciBels and milliseconds, but no editor I know of has worked these out for the CZ series.
Synthesis on the CZ
1. Architecture There are two discreet synths in a CZ, called “Lines” 1 and 2. Each line has an oscillator, the equivalent of a filter section called the DCW, and an amplifier section called the DCA. Detune only works when you mix or “add” two lines together. Line 1 can be added to itself, allowing one line to be detuned, and similarly Line 1 and 2 can be added, and only Line 2 can be detuned. So you cannot easily combine positive and negative detunings. In practice, this is a minor limitation.
2. The envelopes Each of these sections has its own eight-segment envelope generator. Each segment of each envelope can be as short as one millisecond or as long as a minute, and the level in any segment can be either rising or falling within a given range. A value of 99 is the fastest rate or highest level, a value of 0 is the slowest rate or lowest level. Using the first two segments gives you the classic ADSR type envelope, and after that it can be as complex as you like. The envelopes are probably the most unique and powerful feature of the CZ. Unlike most synths up to 1984 there is a dedicated envelope generator for pitch, as well as the usual timbre and volume, so with the two lines there are six in total. That’s a lot of control, and some very complex effects can be created quite easily. It is possible to use the pitch envelope to combine positive and negative de-tunings for example, or to add subtle analogue style drift to the oscillators.
3. LFO? There is one LFO, and this is for vibrato only. It would be nice to have one for each section, but the envelopes make up for this shortcoming in most situations. The ultimate no compromise solution would be envelopes that looped, allowing extremely complex waveforms. Intriguingly, this facility is available on Casio’s FZ-1 sampler. There are four wave-shapes and the onset can be delayed. The depth setting can be over ridden on those CZs that have a modulation wheel. On the CZ-1000 and 101, there is a switch instead of a wheel, so depth is fixed.
4. Oscillators At the heart of the CZ are eight distinctly different, harmonically rich waveforms: sawtooth, square, narrow pulse, a broader rectangular wave, a “split” saw/ square, and three “ringing” waves of the type that resonant filters produce in self oscillation. These waveforms were clearly designed to sound “analogue”. I’ve recorded the raw oscillator output of two different CZ-101s and come up with the same interesting results:
Theoretical wave shape
Actual Shape generated by CZ
Positive going instead of negative going.
Nothing like a square, but it is positive going at least.
Negative going, with a twist!
Resonance 1 (sawtooth)
Resonance II (Triangle)
Resonance III (Trapezoid)
According to Richard Young, UK product manager at Casio in the early eighties, Casio’s R&D “were very aware that digital sounds weren’t the be all and end all of sound creation and that it was important to make certain sounds warmer…” Clearly Casio were well aware of the advantages of the imperfections of analogue synthesizers, so they developed the CZ series with the co-operation of Yukihiro Takahashi of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Isao Tomita. I think it’s safe to assume that the resonant waveforms are modelled on the modular Moog- they certainly sound like they are. The rest of the waveforms share traits with those produced by analogue synthesisers such as the Yamaha CS series and Sequential’s Prophet 5. So much for what it sounds like- in actual fact, the resonant waves are generated by adjusting the tuning of two synchronised sine waves, with some additional processing to remove the noise that this generates. Sounds like Chowning’s FM again, doesn’t it? Clearly Casio’s engineers knew what they were doing- the waveforms they produced are the same musically useful ones used by the likes of Tomita and other talented synthesists.
You can select any wave on its own, or combine any two. The combination works by making a single cycle into two cycles, with waveform one making the first cycle and waveform two making the second. Discounting duplicate combinations, there are 33 possible waveforms- again, a lot of flexibility.
5. Filter (kind of!) The next step is the Digitally Controlled Wave-shaper (DCW). This works effectively like a filter, except that the only way to control it is via the envelope generator. There is no global cutoff setting, apart from whatever levels you choose in the envelope. At level of 0 it is “closed”, and a sine wave is produced. It’s easy to set the envelope to sweep smoothly from 0 to the maximum value of 99, and get the standard analogue filter sweep sound that was very difficult to achieve on the DX7.
For the waveforms with broad spectra, such as the sawtooth or square, the sound of the wave-shaper is very close to that of an analogue lowpass filter. For the waveforms with narrow spectra, like the so-called ringing (resonant) waveforms, the frequency of the ring increases as the wave-shaper opens, just like a resonant or bandpass filter. The CZ is actually carrying out time-domain processing, but as far as our ears are concerned it’s all in the frequency domain. The waveforms Casio chose are a very clever way of using minuscule DSP power to simulate different types of analogue filter. The distinct advantage over Yamaha’s FM that you can readily hear the effects of changing the waveform or the envelopes. Moreover, none of the parameters interact, e.g. if you change the pitch envelope, the waveform and amplitude envelopes remain the same. This makes it a much more manageable system than FM- you can mess around and get good results in time, or you can apply some theory and get excellent results very quickly- very much like a good analogue synth. Casio’s approach doesn’t give the perfect model of a typical analogue synth, but it has enough quirks to make it worthwhile in its own right, and retains the overall feel that makes subtractive synthesis so popular.
Additional features Talking of quirks, the ring modulator is quite interesting. In the same way that the DCW doesn’t quite sound like a filter, the ring mod sounds rather odd too if you’re used to analogue ones. And it’s not simply a logic NAND gate- there’s more complex mathematics involved. In fact, there are 3 different types of ring mod available if you use the Inside CZ SoundDiver profile from the Sealed website. Nonetheless, the CZ is strong on all types of clangorous bell sounds. Another useful quirk is that the two lines sometimes do not trigger perfectly simultaneously, so just layering Line one against itself (setting line select to Line 1+1′) can occasionally cause pleasant random phasing. All these little design flaws add up to make a synth in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, just like any other classic instrument.
Portamento and chorus All the CZs feature polyphonic and monophonic portamento. It’s the constant rate type which some players love and some hate (the VZ series improved this by allowing you to choose between constant rate or constant time) and all the CZs store this as a global setting, except the CZ-1, which can store it in one of 64 “combinations” (i.e. performance). This is an extra layer in the patch hierarchy, allowing storage of layers, splits and multitimbral performances. In solo mode it’s last note priority- again, some players favour this. The CZ-3000, 5000 and CZ-1 featured a noisy built in chorus effect which only had a depth control. It sounds pleasant enough and softens the sound nicely, but it’s easily beaten by any of the Roland units. The CZ-1 also stored chorus on/ off (but not depth amount) as part of a combination.
MIDI functionality Back in 1984 the CZ’s ability to play four different sounds simultaneously was a big deal. The CZ-101 and its sister CZ-1000 were the second ever multitimbral synthesisers- the first being the Sequential Circuits Six Trak (from the same year). Even though they are up to 8 note polyphonic, the 101 and 1000 are restricted to 4 notes in multimode, each part is monophonic, and chosen channels must be sequential. A further limitation was the lack of separate outputs. The CZ-1 was a step up with two separate outputs, but retained the restriction of manual note assignment. The notes were not dynamically shared across the parts- you had to decide how many notes each part needed from a maximum of eight. But at least the CZ-1 is polyphonic in multimode!
Casio sequencer The CZ-5000 is the only instrument in the range featuring a sequencer. It is the equivalent of two Casio SZ-1 sequencers. By today’s standards it’s basic, but very easy to use. The step programming is certainly worthy of note. There are dedicated buttons for note durations and rests. Phrases of different lengths can be programmed on each track, then looped. With a mute button for each track, it’s very easy to create interesting polyrhythmic music on the fly. It can also record velocity from an external keyboard. The memory capacity can be up to 7200 notes assuming you don’t use any controller data. Only one “song” at a time can be held in memory. Storage is to data cassette, which was slow but reliable. Sys-Ex can be used if you have a computer based librarian capable of making the necessary dump request. Used in combination with a more modern sequencer it can be quite a creative tool. Interestingly, the sequencer-less CZ-3000 goes for about the same money today as the CZ-5000.
Other useful things The RA-3 RAM cartridge can be used to expand the 101 and 1000’s total memory to 32 user locations. The same cartridge will hold 32 sounds on the 5000 and 3000, but unfortunately these cannot be accessed directly. Instead, the cartridge sounds have to be loaded into internal RAM, so you’re still limited to 32 locations. The CZ-1 has 64 locations internally and in addition can access the 32 locations on the RA-3, but without the patch names, velocity or aftertouch data. The rare RA-5 cartridge had 64 locations and is fully compatible with the CZ-1.
The CZs have a pretty good MIDI implementation for the time, and consequently are well supported by modern editor librarians. I used to store my CZ-5000 patches on a freeware Mac program called CZ librarian 3.0. Later I upgraded to Opcode’s Galaxy. Thankfully, CZ Librarian used the same file format, so even today I still have all my old sounds easily accessible.
The presets are typical of those found on other Japanese poly-synths of the time- bright, bland but with one or two gems. They are good basic starting points for most types of sound though. There’s a wealth of patches available on the net, and the CZs are so easy to use that there’s really no excuse for not getting your hands dirty with a bit of programming.
Which CZ is the best? The CZ-101 and CZ-1 are probably the most desirable of the series; the 101 simply because it’s so small and cute! The CZ series excels at bass sounds, so the four note polyphony is ample. The CZs are also very good at organ and electric piano sounds. Particularly with the latter, the velocity sensitivity of the CZ-1 is a must. The keyboard action is not great- the velocity and aftertouch are far more musical when you have a decent keyboard controlling it via MIDI. Casio’s own VZ-1 keyboard, for example, is excellent. It’s a pity that Casio never made a rack-mounting CZ.
Sampling CZ sounds tend to sample very well, so a 101 would be a useful investment for someone who likes to make their own samples. Sounds with complex envelopes can occasionally be awkward, requiring more multi-samples. Most of the time though, disabling the vibrato is all that’s required to avoid a lot of multi-sampling. Similarly, many patches use the second line for nothing more than a detuning to fatten the sound. Sampling just the one line and detuning on the sampler is much better. Even sampling the basic single cycle oscillator waveforms provides some very useful raw timbres that provide plenty of scope for a sampler with a good synthesis engine. These waveforms are harmonically rich, and the superior transposing on a modern sampler really lets this shine through.
Speculation- the synth that could have been Casio decided to replace the hugely successful CZ series with the VZ series. These featured a completely new synthesis engine called interactive phase distortion (iPD). This method had the potential for more complex sounds, but combined with a very poor user interface were very frustrating synths to use. Programming is very difficult even if you use a computer editor. Some interesting sounds are possible but programming is not a rewarding experience. It’s impossible to predict what will happen when using complex modulations, and parameters are very interactive. I suppose that’s why they called it iPD. Unfortunately, it was not the selling point Casio hoped it would be.
If Casio had just made the VZ the equivalent of two CZ-1s, and maybe included the waveform drawing from the FZ samplers, an expanded version of the sequencer from the CZ-5000, a floppy disk drive and patch compatibility with the older CZs, they might have had another hit. Roland and Yamaha have been around for so long because they have always carefully built on past successes. Unfortunately, Casio were just too radical with the VZ and as a result of its failure they left the pro synth arena.
Casio synthesiser range (with honourable omissions)
Onboard patch memories
Other notable features
4 octave keyboard, 101 has mini keys and push buttons on the panel, 1000 has fullsize keys and membrane switches on the panel.
Like a 5000 without the sequencer. Tape data storage of patches.
8 track polyphonic sequencer. Tape data storage of patches and sequences.
Velocity, aftertouch, 2 assignable outputs, 64 layer/ split memories. Two assignable mod wheels.
Technical- the DAC Internally the CZ digitally generates a compressed waveform that is expanded in the analogue domain, a process known as compansion, which allows the 12 bit DAC to produce the theoretical equivalent of 14 bits. It is based on the same principle as dbx noise reduction, where the signal is recorded with compression and sympathetically expanded on playback. As anyone fortunate/ unfortunate enough to have used this system will know, it tends to add a certain colour to the sound, caused by the expander mis-tracking. Punchy lows, breathy highs, distorted dynamics and honkiness are among its traits. To give you an idea of the sound, the same method was used most notably in the Roland Dimension D and (as a very unpopular option) in the ADC of the Fairlight CMI II. It’s no coincidence that these devices are valued for the colouration of the sound.
The CZ-1 DAC runs at a sampling rate of 40kHz, and the filter rolls off at 20kHz. It could be interesting to completely bypass this filter circuit and possibly realise an improved frequency response/ lower noise floor. This seems to be common with Casio keyboards, where a heavy-handed LPF is used to lower noise at the expense of a duller sound.
Improving the sound The service manual is very good. These are relatively easy synths to work on. Most issues are very easy to fix, if you are confident about opening up the instrument and reading a schematic. One very common problem is best described as a kind of gritty “low bit depth” grunge which gets worse the more notes you play in a chord. This is not the natural state of the instrument. It’s actually the compander mis-tracking (see DAC description above). The procedure to fix this is detailed on page 59 of the CZ-1 service manual: DAC offset voltage adjustment. Note that it’s the same for all of the CZs. A voltmeter is suggested, but actually it can be done by ear. On the CZ-1 (and I guess the 3000 and 5000 also) the trimmer VR3 is located under the keyboard so it is necessary to completely dismantle the whole instrument. As with any electronics repair job, it is sensible to ensure that you have a large and tidy work area, otherwise you will loose screws! It is also a good idea to photograph each stage so that you can put everything back where it belongs.
A virtual CZ 1. ReFX PlastiCZ (discontinued) This plugin is the closest I’ve found on the Mac to a Casio CZ. It is a phase distortion synthesiser, but it lacks many of the Casio’s features. The basic waveforms are certainly bright, but they are not as harmonically rich as the Casio. The “resonant” waveforms in particular are a disappointment- they have a harsh metallic sound with limited timbral variation via the DCW. The envelopes are simple ADSR types, and there are only two of them, whereas a CZ has six. There is no LFO, a pretty serious omission. The ring modulator is pretty good, possibly better than that of the CZ because it sounds like a real one, or at least a model of a real one… One useful feature which the Casio’s don’t have is that you can mix the output of the ring modulator with the untreated outputs of the two lines.
The interface is excellent, among the best I’ve seen in any soft-synth, and the built in effects are a worthwhile bonus. Unfortunately the range of sounds is severely limited compared to a Casio, and the plugin has none of the character of the original synth. But I think, with a few little tweaks- better waveforms, 8 stage envelopes (six of them!), an LFO and CZ patch compatibility- this synth could easily replace a CZ. I suggested all of this to reFX but they decided that the market wasn’t big enough to justify the work. A pity!
2. Oli Larkin’s Virtual CZ (2014) This has two fantastic features that I think should be standard in any synth emulation: 1. It works as an editor for any CZ, and can read CZ SysEx files (but does not support CZ-1 Operation Memories) 2. The preset browser works across all plugin formats (VST, AU, AAX etc.)
In addition to emulating the CZ, it features superbly accurate emulations of both Casio and Roland chorus units. Another great feature is a Unison mode which sounds fabulous with most sounds, but is unfortunately monophonic (polyphonic is being considered in the next update).
Oli had difficulty reverse-engineering the Casio envelopes precisely. In my limited understanding of it, the real machine works using look up tables, and has some sort of variable scaling he could never quite work out. In practice, this means that some sounds will not be the same as the hardware. I found this particularly the case with some percussive sounds, or sounds with a fast attack. But not all of them!
In my experience this is the best editor available for the CZ. It’s much easier to do common tasks such as adjusting brightness with the DCW dial. You have the option of using simpler ADSR envelopes instead of the Casio multi-stage envelopes. Plus of course you can audition your sound immediately on the plugin, or even without a real CZ attached. Great for working on the move!
In general this plugin sounds smoother and bigger than the real thing because it does not closely emulate the companding DAC. This is a good thing! However because it is not a 100% perfect emulation, I often use my deep-sampled CZ patches in Kontakt instead of the plugin.
Pricing As of 2006, each of the CZ instruments seem to sell for around 100 to 160, in UK pounds, Euro or US dollars. The CZ-101 tends to be more highly priced, presumably because of its small footprint. The CZ-1 can be had for around 200, but it’s quite a rare instrument. The CZ-1000 is the most widely available, because it was the best value in 1984 with its full size keys.
There are a lot of CZs around, and they are very reliable machines even today. Common problems are failed displays and minor power supply issues- 101s often cannot be powered from batteries. This also means that memory is lost on power down. A computer based editor librarian solves both of these issues, apart from the inconvenience of having to reset the instrument and reload your patches. All good service centres can repair a CZ without any major difficulty. Given the low second hand prices and the number of CZs around, spare parts should not be an issue either!
*Alstrom, Edward in Powerplay VZ! De Furia, Steve ; Scaccaferro, Joe. New York: Hal Leonard Publishing Corp. 1989 Crombie, David and Wiffen, Paul
The Casio CZ book London: Amsco/ Wise Publications, 1986 (thanks to A. Miles for the book)
Cosmo The history of the cosmosynth and patches to download.
Moog, Bob Unexplored resources of the Casio CZ-101 Los Angeles: Keyboard Magazine, April 1986
Schlesinger, Andrew An Insider’s Guide to Casio CZ Synthesizers ISBN: 0882843672 NY: Alfred Publishing Company, 1988
Sealed Technical details on the hidden extra parameters in the CZ-1, and a Sound Diver profile to access them.
M.A.D. theory or Mutual Assured Destruction was a cold war theory stating that should one superpower attack the other, both would be annihilated. It ensured that a peaceful balance was maintained.
Do we feel that this reflects the two members of the band? Two sine waves wildly out of sync, merging to form one harmonious line; each element of their personalities bringing something new and different to the other, bringing order to chaos?
No, we just thought it was a cool name, but it does evoke our formative years- the late seventies and early eighties, when nuclear war was a cloud that hung over our heads. As kids back then, we tried to imagine the future: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Leon Theremin, Kraftwerk, Moog synths, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the Linn LM1 drum computer, Thomas Dolby, The Buggles, Tron, the BBC Acorn, Pong, 2000ad Futureshock.
madtheory recreates that futuristic vision from the past. The sound is retro futurism: music that acknowledges the past and moves forward into the future.
Barney seems innocent and sweet but in fact he is Satan.
It’s all very simple:
1. Start with the given: CUTE PURPLE DINOSAUR.
2. Change all U’s to V’s (which is proper Latin anyway):
CVTE PVRPLE DINOSAVR
3. Extract all Roman Numerals: C V V L D I V
4. Convert into Arabic values: 100 5 5 50 500 1 5
5. Add all the numbers: 666
The Theremin was invented by Lev Sergievitch Termen, or as anglicised, Leon Theremin. It is one of the few truly original modern instruments. Many other forgotten electronic instruments used its heterodyning method of sound generation- for example, the Ondes Martenot. Its invention was simultaneously a new way of producing sound and a new way of articulating notes. It solves a problem for electronically driven acts by also being visually interesting. In my experience, audiences find the sight of someone playing a Theremin very intriguing. It’s also great fun!
I was bitten by the bug around 1990, but at the time there was no easy way to get your hands on a Theremin. There was Bob Moog’s Big Briar Etherwave. Adding all the optional extra features to the Etherwave (especially the MIDI) makes it extremely expensive. Enter the PAiA. It doesn’t have MIDI as such, but, as we shall see, it does lots of things that the Etherwave doesn’t, as standard.
You may have heard of PAiA. They are probably the most successful supplier of electronics kits in the world, having been in been in business since 1970. John Simonton, the brains behind the company, has always been interested in music and audio. Mark Vail considered him significant enough to dedicate a chapter to PAiA in his excellent book “Vintage Synthesisers”.
So I was delighted to discover that this company produced a Theremin kit, the 9505 Theremax. I made my purchase purely on the basis of what I had read of PAiA’s reputation, mostly on the Internet. People were saying that this was an excellent instrument, with a tone very close to the 1929 RCA Theremin, which is the one that featured in all those Hollywood B-movies. Quite a few Theremins are available these days, as a quick search on the Internet will reveal. But the PAiA is among the cheapest, yet it is very highly rated among Theremin aficionados.
What it is:
The PAiA 9505 Theramax Theremin is a solid state instrument supplied as a kit. It is designed to play and sound like the classic RCA (valve) model designed by Leon Theremin himself. To quote the manual: “Theremax employs the same heterodyning principles as the original Theremins and produces the classic sound while adding embellishments made possible by the economy of transistors and integrated circuits”. It features control voltage outputs for volume, pitch and velocity (of which more later) and a gate/trigger output too, so it can be used as a controller for an analogue synthesiser. These features are expensive optional extras on the Etherwave.
Anyone who’s methodical and good with a soldering iron should have no trouble with this kit. A deep knowledge of electronics is not required. The instructions are concise, and the board layout is very clear. If you’ve never built a circuit board before, you may find the joba little tedious, because there are over 100 components to solder in. A good 25 Watt soldering iron is a valuable investment for this job. Weller and Antex make good ones. In fact, a good soldering iron and a set of electronics tools is essential for any studio. A warning: if you’ve never touched a soldering iron in your life, don’t start out soldering with this kit. Practice by making andrepairing leads for your studio. That said, the instructions supplied with the kit offer very good, clear advice for the less experienced, including “tips from the pros”.
Make sure you start the work in a well lit room where construction will not be disturbed. No kids or pets! Good ventilation is advisable, because the solder fumes are rather unpleasant. The manual advises that you solder in all the components in one sitting. This way you won’t loose track of anything. It took me about 2 hours. I didn’t rush it, took a few long breaks and it turned out to be quite a therapeutic exercise. The most difficult part is reading the resistor values. A colour coding system (industry standard) is used to denote the resistance, because the body of the resistor is too small to print numbers on. The manual provides a table of colours and values, but some people may have difficulty telling the difference between maroon and red. A magnifying glass will save you strain here. The whole task is eased by the manual, which manages to provide foolproof instruction without being patronising. Wiring the pots into the board is also a little awkward, because there are lots of wires and the board is relatively small. If you find yourself going cross eyed, take a break!
The kit includes a 110v wall wart power supply. This is useless on this side of the pond, and PAiA do not supply a 220v version. They included it in the kit anyway because it wasn’t economical for them to unpack it. That’s the attention to detail that keeps companies healthy. A standard variable power supply works fine instead, but make sure it is a regulated model capable of 12v@500mA. Unregualted ones will add 50Hz mains hum to your Theremin sound. Suitable PSUs are stocked by most hardware shops.
I decided to build my own case. Well actually, I got a carpenter friend to knock something up! This was very simple. I gave him the dimensions of the lectern case (downloaded from PAiA’s website) and he cut it from plywood. You could probably persuade your local DIY shop to do the same for you. The measurements are very accurate and should not cause any difficulty. The PAiA case is quite small, so light plywood (say eight millimetres thick) is the easiest thing to work with. Once this was nailed together it turned out to be very solid. PAiA point out that the Theremax can be built in to anything you like, from a shoebox to a sculpture. You could put yours into a mannequin like the Bonzo Dog Dooda band did in the sixties! The antennae are held on with butterfly screws, to allow you to dismantle them for transport. This makes it easy to create a left or right handed Theremin. There’s enough length in the antenna cable for this to work either way. For me this is another big advantage over the Etherwave, which as far as I know cannot be easily altered for southpaws. I would recommend that you purchase the front panel from PAiA. This is far easier than measuring out and drilling the holes for the sockets and knobs yourself, and it also looks really good.
The final step after assembly is to calibrate the oscillators. This could be an awkward procedure because it requires the adjustment of four inductors, which are not noted for their stability. However the manual details the procedure very clearly, so a little patience is all that is required. It took me about 30 minutes to do this, and the achievement of a perfect Theremin tone was very satisfying!
On the PAiA website there are some tweaks and tips for the Theremin. I aded the “gimmick”coupling capacitor,
which is very easy. It improves playability by reducing the lower range of the pitch.
As well as a sine wave tone, Theremax provides a square wave, which due to its rich harmonic content is useful for processing with outboard filters, or a synth with an audio input. The timbre knob allows you to choose between
sine at one extreme and square at the other. Theremax has Control Voltage outputs for pitch and volume which will work with Volt/Octave or Hz/Volt synthesisers. It can be interesting to double the Theremin’s tone with an analogue synth- it gives bizarre and unpredictable “musical” intervals. I tested this with a Yamaha CS10 which is a Hz/Volt synth, and it gave me a useful pitch range. Tthis reduced range has the advantage of being easier to play, but you sacrifice the true Theremin tone. A volt/octave synth should provide a much wider pitch range. The PAiA itself is capable of deep sub bass and almost supersonic highs in one swoop, so watch those speakers!
Because the Theremin has such a pure tone, most digital reverb units create a mush of sound. I recommend any Lexicon (obvious you might say!) or a Sony- I’ve used both. My preference really is for echo, the grungier the better. I’ve had best results with an analogue delay unit. However a Theremin sounds especially good without any effects at all, as it’s tone can be reminiscent of the human voice, particularly in the high register where it can be most soprano-like. A good (Lexicon!) ambience setting can be useful here. Experiment with the LPF or high damping parameter on your reverb unit- a dull reverb is often best. Orchestration is very important. In the Theremin track on the mp3 page, the simple Theremin melody is embellished nicely by the chords played with Mellotron and JJ Jeczalik sampled choirs.
According to Clara Rockmore, Theremin virtuoso, with the death of Leon Theremin, many of the musically useful features of the original Theremin circuit design were lost, along with his secrets for building and voicing theremins. A lot of research has been carried out over the years, and Bob Moog had some personal contact with Mr. Theremin shortly before he died. But having compared the two, I feel the Theremax has a more authentic tone than the Etherwave, and also allows more sonic variation. The Etherwave certainly has the aura of a more serious instrument, and has slightly more stable tuning. If you’re gigging the Theremax you must allow some time to set it up. On one occasion I found I had to go through the recalibration procedure about half an hour before an open air gig. I’m not sure if Theremax didn’t like the one hundred mile journey or the local electrical supply. Considering the (pretty significant!) difference in price between Etherwave and Theremax, the PAiA is a remarkable instrument.
Theremin is probably one of the most difficult instruments to play, because you have to tactile feedback as you would with, say, a violin, which is probably its closest relative. So you need a very refined sense of pitch. Actually, playing
Theremin is a good way to develop your sense of pitch. Clara Rockmore originally studied violin until a hand injury at an early age made this physically impossible. By chance she came across the Leon Theremin’s newly developed instrument, and adapted what she had learned. She developed many innovative techniques, such as aerial fingering, that allowed her to play rapid passages with legato or staccato articulation. In an interview in the 1970s, Rockmore lamented the fact that many people had come to her over the years to take lessons, but she had to turn them away because viable instruments (Leon Theremin oroginals) were not available. But most serious players agree that the current resurgence of interest has resulted in more musically useful Theremins being produced. The PAiA is certainly good enough to begin learning classical Theremin technique. It’s worth purchasing the tutorial video from the Big Briar website. You should also get to see Steve Martin’s film “Theremin, an electronic Oddysey”. It’s very moving to see what Theremin suffered at the hands of the KGB, and how close he and Clara still were, having been separated for many years.
A Theremin will respond to any sort of movement within proximity, so position it carefully at gigs. Often performers just whoop it up, not hitting an exact pitch, just using it as a theatrical device. This can be great fun! Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips uses an Etherwave for this purpose in concert.
A foot switch input allows muting of the internal tone source without disabling the CV outputs. Switching with it causes an audible thumping sound, but it is useful when you have no free hands. The Velocity Control Voltage lets you trigger notes on your synth according to how quickly you move your hand towards the volume antenna.
Like everything else on a Theremin this is quite difficult to master, but you may prefer not to master it and leave the results to chance.
The front panel provide volume and pitch trim controls. These need to be set prior to a performance once the instrument has warmed up, and often during a performance as well. The pitch trim is set by keeping your hand away from the pitch antenna and adjusting the output pitch so low as to be inaudible. However I often set this dial fully
to the left, because it reduces the pitch range and makes it much easier to play tunes. When set this way the Theremax has a range of about 3 octaves, so it needs to be muted when not in use, otherwise it will produce a constant audible tone. The “gimmick” coupling capacitor also helps to reduce the range.
If you don’t have a problem with building it yourself, The Theremax is superb value for money when compared with the Big Briar instrument. It also has some nifty features that no other models have as standard, such as the comprehensive voltage control facilities. It is an easy kit to build, and with a little care you get a superb
instrument. This is a serious Theremin at a very non-serious price.
Check out the very illuminating technical article on Theremin tone by John Simonton.
Bob Moogs company. They also sell videos, CDs and “minimugs”! CDs
by Theremin virtuosos Lydia Kavina Clara Rockmore available, as well as an instructional
video by Lydia and a documentary of Clara Rockmore.
Interesting electronic music site with good article on Theremin playing and
links to other sites.
History of Electronic Musical Instruments. Quite comprehensive, and count all
the other instruments that used Theremin’s heterodyning to generate their sound!
British company Longwave, who
make a solid state Theremin also based on the RCA valve classic, as well as a pocket Theremin.
Theremin web ring. There’s a very interesting interview buried in there with the man who played on the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”. It seems it wasn’t really a Theremin…
In 1997 I was working in Secret Garden Studios in Glanmire Co. Cork with Rupert MacCarthy- Morrogh. The Kelly Family were living in Cobh at that time, and used to use the studio for CD copying and rehearsals. One time they decided to do a vocal overdub, and brought in their own engineer from Germany, a gentleman by the name of Stuart Bruce. At the time, he was moving back to England with his family and setting up a studio in the Realworld complex. The Kelly’s didn’t do much work, so Stuart chatted with us all day! He was a great story teller. He gave us some cool tips for recording. He was a modest chap and I discovered afterwards that he had worked on a lot of great albums from the eighties.
Stuart in the Big Room
The thing at the back with the basketball ring in it is the diffuser in the main studio. This photo doesn’t do it justice, because in real life it looks like a cathedral. The door underneath the ring leads to the smaller room, which looks like a chapel. It’s very impressive, but compared to the other rooms it’s a bit freaky, so not many people use it!
We got on so well that he invited us to visit his new studio and to have a look at Realworld. So in October, after the APRS show in London, we did. The atmosphere at Realworld was amazing, and the staff were very friendly and chatty. We looked in on the Pro Tools editing session for a Shiela Chandra album and met the producer Hector Zazou who was very warm and welcoming. The sound of Shiela’s voice was very beautiful on the studio monitors. The engineer was hard at work backing up the session onto ADAT while everyone else was having dinner in the sumptuous dining hall.There was a chef and a chandelier- amazing! Even though PT was fairly new back then, we thought it was a bit odd that he trusted ADATs more than a CD-R, because we were using ADATs then and knew how unreliable they could be. Of course, CD-R turned out to be not so great either!
The Work Room
We had an Ace Ventura moment when we opened the sliding door in The Bunker, because the water for the mill runs underneath the building. The soundproofing was very impressive with the door closed!
At the APRS, Sony had a nasty looking bouncer standing next to the Oxford mixing desk on their stand. We avoided him and instead Richard Chappell showed us Peter Gabriel’s Sony Oxford. Did I mention that everyone at Realworld was really nice? Richard looked tired (I think there was a party the night before) but he was very happy to show us around the writing room and talk about equipment.
Sony Oxford desk in the Writing Room.
A corner of the Writing Room.
The building is amazing, all wood and stone. The atmosphere is inspirational, and it feels like a great place to make music. In the writing room I was in heaven, because the Fairlight famously used to incredible effect on Peter Gabriel’s fourth album (which lists the Fairlight samples used) was right there. I he got to touch that actual instrument, instantly curing me of my geeky synth spotting affliction (not really).
The classic Fairlight CMI IIx as used on Security, and clearly gigged a lot too!
We were so blown away by the place that we didn’t take nearly enough pictures. For example, Stuart’s own studio was based around an Amek Mozart and a couple of ADATs. He had 3 Akai S1000s, a Prophet 10, a Fender Rhodes and a rack full of synths and tasty outboard. One wall had shelving covered by a curtain. These shelves contained an exotic selection of guitar pedals, baby synths and drum machines. Stuart kept them there to help inspire musicians and keep them happy. We saw all the different rooms, which used different materials in their construction to give a range of acoustic spaces. All of these rooms were beautiful places to be, and also looked very beautiful.
Stuart’s Oberheim Matrix 12 and Roland JD-800 with Alesis MMT-8 sequencer
Stuart’s stupendous Prophet 10.
The place was crawling with Eventide Harmonizers. There was gear everywhere. There was a Mitsubishi 32 track in the corridor, and Peter’s EII was being used as an ashtray. To give an example of scale, our studio was based around an 02R. Peter’s keyboard mixer was an 02R. But there was a distinct lack of gear lust in the place, and no snobbery. Peter records on anything- ghetto blasters, ADATs, Sony 3348 and Pro Tools. It was all about inspiration, not gear. The mic collection was extensive and impressive.
Peter Gabriel’s Yamaha CP-80 piano with MIDI.
Peter Gabriel’s Hammond B3
Peter Gabriel’s Prophet 5, a Rev 2 I believe.
Peter’s Fairlight CMI 3
Our visit really showed me that the single most important feature of a studio is the atmosphere. This is down to the people working there, and the building itself. I also learned that professionalism is really about trusting people.