WEB SITE OF THE MONTH
Of the many sites dedicated to modular analog synthesizers, one of the best is Roger Luther's Moog Archives (www.moogarchives.com). Launched in March 2000, the Moog Archives offer an extensive menu of Moogiana.
Luther, who traces his interest in synthesis back to his first experience with a Moog modular system in college, became an employee of R. A. Moog and stayed with the company through the various ownerships and name changes. During that time, Luther collected the items that make up his online resource.
As you would expect, the Moog Archives include photos of the major Moog instruments. However, you can also take a photographic tour of three Moog factories, learn about the people behind the scenes, and see one-of-a-kind instruments that are rarely covered elsewhere. For example, the site offers a photo of a Minimoog built into a Hammond XTP organ, shots of a large custom modular-Moog cabinet being built, and oddities such as the portable potentiometers called Port-a-Pots.
The Lists page includes a reference chart of celebrities who purchased Minimoogs and modular systems and the dates of their purchases. Would you have guessed that Micky Dolenz of the Monkees bought a Model III before the Stones, the Byrds, Hendrix, or the Beatles?
The Documents pages feature ads, the patent for the Filter Ladder, and technical drawings of early synth components. Two reprinted articles that are particularly interesting are Robert Moog's January 1954 piece about building a theremin, from Radio and Television News, and the historic “Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules,” which first appeared in the July 1965 issue of the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society.
Other treats include the RealMedia clips showing promotional material made for the 1976 NAMM introduction of the Polymoog. The video clips feature Dr. David Luce (who helped develop the Polymoog), Chick Corea, and a strange commercial that looks and sounds like a glam-rock version of A Clockwork Orange. Whether or not you're into vintage synths, visit the Moog Archives to see how well designed it is. It's attractive, easy to navigate, and well organized.
Phil Burk's SoftSynth.com (www.softsynth.com) recently released an update to its audio toolbox for Java, JSyn 14.2. The upgrades include a pitch detector, EQ and resonant filter modules, new graphical user interface (GUI) tools, audio recording capabilities for Mac and PC, and support for multichannel audio cards. The most recent applet is the WebDrum (www.transjam.com), a drum-pattern editor that lets site visitors simultaneously jam online together. You can also chat with the other site visitors. To experience WebDrum, download the freeware JSyn browser plug-in. A JSyn software development kit is also available at SoftSynth.com.… Since 1969, Musicians Contact Service has been a useful and inexpensive fee-based way to find gigs. Its online presence, MusiciansContact.com (www.musicianscontact.com) offers similar services from your browser. Talent seekers visiting the site include booking agents, production companies, managers, and producers. The list of services includes job offerings for musicians and listings for artists seeking representation or seeking work with a band. Celebrity clients who have used Musicians Contact Service include Cher, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Ozzy Osbourne, and Frank Zappa. Membership listing fees are $59 for six months and $99 for a year. Tone Depot (www.hamptonplace.com/tonedepot) is a resource for settings and patches for amplifiers, keyboards, and effects pedals and processors. Site visitors can post their own patches. Vintage effects include the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer and Maestro Echoplex; amp companies represented include Ampeg, Laney, Hiwatt, Marshall, and Mesa/Boogie; and pedal manufacturers covered include Boss, DOD, ProCo, and Zoom. There are also pages devoted to recording tips and the gear lists of well-known guitarists and bassists, including Jeff Beck in his Yardbird days, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, and even Stryper's Oz Fox. Tone Depot is aimed at the tweak-head within you.
Have you ever wanted to play around with a really big echo chamber? The Silophone (www.silophone.net) was one of the biggest in history. Located in Silo No. 5, a monolithic grain elevator near the Quai des Écluses in Montreal's Old Port, the Silophone was a sonic art installation that let Web users listen to the effect the towering reinforced-concrete structure had on uploaded audio files. The brainchild of architect Thomas McIntosh and composer Emmanuel Madan, collectively and enigmatically known as [The User], the installation “recycled noise and ambience finding poetry and meaning in the landfills of technocracy,” according to the Web site.
Built in 1958 and since decommissioned, the silo was cited by architect Le Corbusier as a masterpiece of modern architecture. The structure is 650 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 150 feet tall. Its interior is divided into 115 vertical chambers, each 100 feet tall with a diameter of about 25 feet. That organ-pipe-like arrangement has complex acoustical properties and produced a reverb decay nearly 20 seconds long.
To play the Silophone, visitors picked one of more than 3,500 sounds from the Web site's library or selected a WAV or MP3 file to upload from their hard drive. The sound was then transmitted to the silo and broadcast on speakers inside. Microphones captured the resulting echo and transferred it over the Internet to desktops as a live RealAudio stream. The round-trip took about 40 seconds.
The Silophone was equipped with 15 telephone lines, an ADSL connection, an outdoor P.A. system to broadcast the interior ambience to the local environs, and an FM transmitter on the roof. Occasional concerts and performances held at the site were carried by Radio Canada's cultural channel, and an audio-CD collection of sounds produced by the gargantuan room during the installation's yearlong run (which ended June 16) is near completion. Program calendars, historical descriptions of the building, and a list of credits and supporters can still be found on the Silophone Web site.
— Peter Drescher
DOWNLOAD OF THE MONTH
Sound designers and musicians no longer need to spend hundreds of dollars on multidisc sound collections that often contain dozens of sounds they will never use. By purchasing sounds online, you can buy only the ones you need, any time of day or night; one of the fastest growing sources for sounds online is Sonomic (www.sonomic.com).
The Sonomic site is well organized and easy to use. From the opening page, you can search through its massive sound database. You can search the entire database, search by category (animals, explosives, machinery, voices, and so on), use keywords to look for a specific sound, or search by production company. Sonomic gets its sounds from some of the best-known sound designers in the business, including Doug Beck Music, Clack Sound Studios, Titus, Q Up Arts, and Zero-G. When search results appear, you can audition the sounds using RealAudio's RealPlayer or Microsoft's Windows Media Player.
The search results window shows a number of useful elements about each sound file, including the file name, instrument, style, type of sample (loop or one-shot), bpm and key when appropriate, production company, artist, title of the sound collection the sample is drawn from, file size, and price. The sound effects window displays the file name, genre or category (humor, horror, and so forth), production company, duration, file size, bit rate, price, and whether it's a mono or stereo file.
Sonomic also features Soundbay, a free service that lets you store the sounds you purchase online and have complete access to your purchases without having to store them on your own disk drive. You can use the Sonomic search engine to search only your Soundbay once you establish it.
BAND ON THE WEB
Using synthesizers as live performance instruments in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was a dicey proposition. To begin with, the instruments were cumbersome, expensive, and temperamental, and users had to repatch the instrument each time they wanted to significantly change the timbre. The first ensemble that rose to the challenge of creating a significant body of work intended for live performance was Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. (www.mothermallard.cornell.edu).
Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. (aka Mother Mallard) was the brainchild of composer David Borden, who had become familiar with Moog synths through an association with the R. A. Moog factory in Trumansburg, New York. After a few years of working with the instruments, Borden began composing pieces on them. By 1969, with the help of composer Steve Drews and keyboardist Linda Fisher, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. was born.
The group released a pair of LPs on its own Earthquack Records label, both of which have been reissued by Cunei-form Records (http://cuneiformrecords.com). Mother Mallard's eponymous first release documents the band's music from 1970 through 1973. The second release, Like a Duck to Water, contains the music from ‘74 to ‘76, with keyboardist Judy Borsher replacing Fisher. Both reissues include previously unreleased tracks.
Mother Mallard's instrument setup eventually included three Moog modulars, two Minimoogs, an RMI Electric Piano (which was the only polyphonic instrument onstage), and a pair of reel-to-reel tape recorders. The music uses repetition as a basic structural element and emphasizes slowly evolving textures, timbres, and melodic contours. The popularity of the group's long-form pieces and the mystique of the synthesizer helped Mother Mallard build a loyal following and attract media attention. For example, the group was asked to contribute music to the soundtrack of the film The Exorcist. Although the Moog version of the band ceased to exist in 1978, its legacy lives on within its influential recordings.
Although the music industry has a standard communication protocol and hardware specification to represent various aspects of a musical performance, namely MIDI, a standard format in the area of musical notation has been much slower to develop. The Notation Interchange File Format (NIFF) was designed to be a robust nonproprietary score format that isn't platform or application specific. NIFF lets you share scores among various notation applications, which makes it easy, for instance, to distribute scores on the Web.
NIFF is much more precise in managing notated score details than the Standard MIDI File (SMF) format. Like MIDI, NIFF came about through a collaboration among manufacturers in the music business including Mark of the Unicorn, Musitek, Opcode Systems, Passport Designs, San Andreas Press, TAP Music Systems/MusicWare and music publishers, musicologists, computer scientists, composers, and engravers. Besides the page-layout and graphic information required to create a musical score, a NIFF file also includes MIDI information.
Musitek's SmartScore 2.0 music-scanning software takes full advantage of NIFF. In addition, Musitek has a freeware NIFF viewer and player (Mac/PC) available on its Web site (www.musitek.com/niff.html).