Measured Spaces

Measured Spaces
started life with the working title of SnoGlobes, those perspex domes with a scene in liquid and bits of confetti that make like snow when you shake them up. The idea of these almost cartoon, very tightly contained vignettes appeals to me (even though I don’t own one). It fits right in with my style of composing so I am almost surprised I didn’t use the concept before.

It wasn’t till right at the end that I swapped the working title for the final one and that name and piece goes back several albums to a track that I really liked but wasn’t right for the any album till now. It all came together as all good art does.

I hope you like spending time in these measured spaces. If you do, please consider pressing the Buy button just below the cover art.

Background and a Cautionary Tale

This album had a about 3 false starts. I guess I started trying to write too quickly after Versions. I played with writing something closer to the EBM I used to do as Aeroplastic Voice, the mixes were Ok but the art was poor. I came up with the concept of the tracks being about snow globes and it felt good. I tried to write what I felt I should write and the mixes were better but the art was still poor. I was frustrated as I had at least half an album of music but no matter how often I listened it was rubbish. Then I wrote “Industrial Town At Night” and I knew I was in the game. I threw everything else away and got to work.

All the other tracks came fairly quickly with none causing me undue grief. I was causing myself grief though in the sound department, I was getting a lot better at mixing, taking time to become a better mix-engineer (it was time and the latest software update focused on that area) but I was going through one of those, I need better synths things (see the posts on this blog). I was playing YouTube clip after YouTube clip and drooling over all the Analog synth coming onto the market. I felt that if I had just one of them I would be a better musician. What a load of rot, I know better.

Didn’t stop me though as I went and bought a Moog Slim Phatty (horrid name, what would Bob have thought), and what a tale that has become. I ordered unseen from my local music store. I had a premonition and kept telling the store guys they could open the synth when it arrived and have a play. They declined. I wanted them to for some reason. i had the same desire to open the box in the store but they were busy and the guy who served me I don’t know. I waited a week for my new synth and as I’m taking it out of the box, lo and behold the back corners are bent, paint is cracked and there are all the signs that this is a demo or used unit. I don’t really care about the latter but dropped electronics is prone to cracked circuit boards that don’t become apparent for a while and then crazy-time followed by failure. The store were good and said keep it whilst we get a new one sent out.

Clearly Damaged
Clearly Damaged

I started to use my bent Phatty and whilst it does sound superb on its own I quickly found that I was able to get the same sounds out of Thor with greater ease. That doesn’t mean Thor is a better synth as technically the Moog is far better as it has no parameter stepping and other subtleties but in use the hardware was slowing me down. I used Phatty in a couple of tracks but by the time the tracks were finished his sounds were not mix-leaders; and guess what, when asking other musicians to play spot the Moog, they were all picking Thor sounds!

Few weeks go by and no replacement Phatty arrives. I start to think maybe there aren’t any Phattys in the country and look around and find the same people who supply Moog in Oz also have the Telemark. Oh the conundrum. It is then discovered that I have to send the bent synth back before they send another (photos it would seem don’t suffice) so I am left with a gap with wires and an album I am powering through.

Analog Solutions Telemark K
Analog Solutions Telemark K

I chose the Phatty as it had full MIDI control whilst still sounding like a real Moog. I had fallen in love with the Analog Solutions Telemark K as it sounded like early Human League to me. Downsides were that MIDI was limited to Note On and Off only, no parameter control or patch saving (also I thought there was no distributor in Oz). I was also really taken with the Korg MS-20 Mini which I had played in a store, but that too had only Note On & Off via MIDI. I wanted it all as I know myself and I will not want to put up with audio tracks, I like to work on the mix and tweaks as I go and having to get performances right first go just isn’t really me.

MS-20 Mini
MS-20 Mini

What I had been doing over the last month or so was learn to emulate sounds I heard on YouTube and while it is not always possible to be exact, with a bit of knowledge, technique and most importantly and good ear it is possible to get most sounds without resorting to analog oscillators and filters. Analog is better, but so slightly that the downsides outweigh the upsides of a fully integrated software suite. I predict that in a few years with better better processors and the ability to run more complex physics models true analog synths will become curiosities. I think the instruments being released right now may be the last hurrah for the dream of wires.

That said, if and when this Phatty ever arrives (and I have my doubts by now) I plan to sell him. I’m taking lessons in composition as I think my money is better spent there. I don’t regret any of this as I have learned a lot from the process and it is helping me to be a better artist overall.

UPDATE: Phatty arrived and was completely new this time. I took one look in the box at the shop and swapped him for a Novation Bass Station II and am not looking back.

0 thoughts on “Measured Spaces

    1. Well technically I currently own a Slim Phatty (sigh). I started life with a Casio CZ-1000 then added an Emax I & II. These three synths I loved. Other synths that passed through my studio in descending degrees of like were: Yamaha DX-100, Korg DW-8000, Roland JV-880, Akai AX-73, Roland Paraphonic 505, Roland D-50, Roland JX-3P (these last two weren’t mine).

      To me the hardware synth that got away was the Alesis Andromeda. But maybe that was a blessing as I hear they are unreliable and I may have loved the sound but hated the instrument. I guess I’ll never know.

      To complete the list, in the early years of soft-synths I owned and loved Synoptic Probe as it was somehow so organic and pleasantly elastic and while simple, a very useful insrument. I really wanted AXS but it was already defunct and DOS was a bit archaic but the sound/feel was 70’s Arp lovely. Sim Synth 2 was enormous but so hard to use in a mix. But that landscape changed so fast as companies came and went in matter of months, taking their products down the gurgler with them.

      1. Why are you lacking excitement for the Slim Phatty? I almost bought one myself but decided to get the Doepfer Dark Energy for the “hands on, tactile” analog goodness.

        1. To some extent it isn’t anything against the Phatty as it does have a nice sound but the whole experience has been a pain and I just find that so far it hasn’t brought me anything I can’t do faster and easier in Reason (with a slight trade in smoothness).

          I wrote an article on Dark Energy and and that did seem like a cool instrument. It may well be more versatile than Phatty too as he can be limited in some ways with his simple architecture and hidden features. If you want a pile of synths and can have a bass/lead-liner then worth a spin.

          I think the reality is that I’m just not a hardware knobs & wires kinda guy. Some love tactile and messiness as it helps them feel creative. I’m not like that, I hate mess. I thought Phatty would be a bit like Probe (see answer above) but in reality I have found him to be a chore. Maybe something else like a Dave Smith Mofo would fit better but honestly with Reason suiting my temperament so well and my ability to make things like Super Mono-Synth that sounds so fat…

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