Strawser Music

musings on keyboards, music, and design

One-Man Synth Band

My recent acquisition of a few new toys has inspired me to delve into YouTube land.

I keep seeing these demo videos online of synth-enthusiasts performing real-time playback of an intricate network of sequencers and synths….Korg Volcas, Arturia Minibrutes, Moog Modulars and the like. I can’t say that it’s been a style or approach I’m super familiar with, but they’re interesting to watch.

I picked up a Korg MS-20 (mini) and Arp Odyssey (reissue), thinking these would be a good hardware addition to my studio. I’m so used to using software these days that I thought a little bit of a shake-up was in order. These two synths require a knowledge of subtractive synthesis programming, and can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. Real-time manipulation of sounds is great for coming up with new sonic ideas, and really expands the capabilities of my own setup. Plus, neither of these instruments has any preset program memory, so you have to know how to program it in order to get different sounds.

The next addition was the Korg SQ-1 sequencer, which is surprisingly powerful considering it’s size. This thing really opened up some doors for me. I can trigger multiple synths from this device, while playing other instruments. And with the semi-modular patch bay on the Korg MS-20, there’s all sorts of crazy sounds that you can create with it. It also got me into thinking about the built-in arpeggiators that were already features a some of my existing synths (such as the Alesis Ion and Korg Prophecy).

A few weeks later, I became enamored of the Moog Mother 32 (especially the sale price I found at a local music store). Like the MS-20, the Mother 32 has a flexible patch bay (32 points), and a built-in sequencer, and capable of some pretty crazy sounds. In this video, I’m using the Mother 32 strictly for the sequenced bassline.

Lastly, I had to pick up one of the Roland boutique desktop synths, the JU-06, which is a modern re-imagining of the classic Juno 106. While limited in terms of polyphony (only 4-voice as opposed to 6-voice), and lacking a physical portamento knob, the JU-06 is a pretty faithful recreation of the original.

After collecting all my new toys, I decided to take a stab at pulling off some live “synth jams” and video taping them. This is the third one I’ve tried, and I’m still learning about good camera angles and editing (which another topic entirely I think). The other two pieces in the series (“Wires,” parts 1 and part 2) aren’t as interesting, but have some fun sounds. Naturally, I had to use the entire setup (which includes a Yamaha DX27S, Yamaha P200 stage piano, Moog Little Phatty, an Alesis QSR, and my newly-tuned 1972 Fender Rhodes Mark 1 Stage 73). The Yamaha Motif 7 and MO6 shown are not being used this time around.

This piece isn’t entirely improvised (I rehearsed a few chord changes and demoed some sounds first), but it’s otherwise live and raw. Just recorded direct into Logic.

Also, I could resist the temptation to cheese it up with the 80’s neon grid background.

Anyway, would love to get some feedback and even some suggestions on how to improve the setup, the video, or anything else. Hope you all enjoy it!

You Can’t Go Back


I thought I'd try and get back into the blogging game a bit. Trying to move around and not just post songs, but other content (photos, videos, etc.). I think if I keep things down to a "one post per month" pace, I can actually keep up with myself. For today's offering , I have a tune based on a very simple piano melody that I've been playing around with for a long time. Sonically, it's my attempt at getting in touch with my inner-Lyle Mays.
This song is about loss and regret, and about the realization that things done in the past can't be changed. It's contemplative, but not too naval-gazely (is that even a word?). I wanted to evoke both a sense of both repose, to think on these thinks on these things, but also a sense that life goes on, and moving forward is a requirement....especially since going back isn't an option anyway.

Is that vague enough?

Additionally, this song is actually helping me drive forward personally, largely for some technical reasons (that sounds vague too). To start, I've finally gotten my Hammond and Leslie sub-station set up and ready for tracking, and this song features the first-fruits of that little enterprise. I'm really excited about this, as it's been a dream of mine for many years to have something like that available to me, and now I have it in my living room! I hope to write a separate post on that project sometime in the future.

Also, this song is my first truly collaborative project involving outside technical assistance on my own original stuff. My good friend Chris Combs did a great job of mixing and mastering this song for me. He has an amazing ear and sensibility, and it was great for me to get constructive criticism from an informed professional. He could just hear things that I couldn't, and I learned a lot by watching him work. Be sure to check him out at Broken Bird Productions and on YouTube.

My hope is to continue having this outside influence so I can keep moving forward with releasing more material in the future. I know it's been said before, but it can be scary to give someone else the reigns over your own creation. My apprehension about this has kept me from really "going for it" and putting my own music out into the public square. I think it's time I start squeezing more music out of the bottleneck.

I'm also experimenting with new media players in WordPress. At the moment, I'm a bit discouraged with Soundcloud, and I haven't quite figured out which platform to use for this content, so I've been simply hosting it all on my own site. This player I'm using is called Wimpy, and it seems fairly easy to use. I've thought a bit about using Bandcamp (I have an account), but I wanted to see if I could try the self-hosted thing a bit more. Any feedback on this is appreciated!

At any rate, I hope you all like the song!

“Piano Men” Keyboard Rig Demo

I recently produced a 4-part demo screencast describing my keyboard setup I use for “Piano Men,” which is an Elton John/Billy Joel tribute band that I play with. It’s bit long (around 35 minutes altogether), but I’m trying to get the hang of producing these videos. It’s pretty thorough (I go into all the hardware, software, and synth plugins I use). Hopefully more to come in the future! Would love to get your feedback!

Almost Elton John

I just got done with a week of shows with Almost Elton John. We only did a total of three shows, but it was a very busy week, involving a lot of driving and plane rides.

We started out our run at the beautiful Rylander Theatre in downtown Americus, Georgia. Given that it was a "local" gig, backline was not provided for this show. I used this as an opportunity to break out all of the stops and I decided to set up the full rig. It was total overkill, but it was nice to have so many sounds right at my fingertips. This was a good chance to include the Moog Little Phatty as well. Setting all of this stuff up was a bit of a nightmare, though, and I won't likely do it again for awhile.

The full rundown:

  • Yamaha P200
  • Yamaha Motif 7
  • Yamaha MO6
  • Moog Little Phatty played through a Peavey Delta Stomp
  • MacBook Pro, Focusrite Scarlett, Korg NanoKontrol 2
  • Mackie 1202

Our next show was at what can only be described as a high school lunchroom cafeteria (although technically I think it was a "recreation center"). The staff was quite nice, and the setup was decent. There were some limitations given their staffing, and they could only handle 6 discrete monitor mixes. But they had a nice green room, and the place was clean, so I had few complaints.

The rig thim time around was a Yamaha S80 and a Motif ES8. I couldn't get a line from the FOH for my in-ears, so I just used the provided stage wedge. I also decided to use the audio inputs on the front of the Scarlett as a pass-through for the audio lines coming out of the S80 and Motif, which acted as a mixer to FOH along with the MainStage output.

In Palm Desert, CA, we had the pleasure of doing a gig with our spinoff group, Piano Men, which is a tribute to Billy Joel and Elton John. This time we were joined by the Desert Symphony, a local orchestra who have a 5 to 6 concert residency at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert. This was an exhilarating experience, since it's not every day that I get to play with a 50-piece orchestra. And to hear this material played with real strings and real brass was a lot of fun!

Since I usually play those parts, I was able to relax a bit on this gig (sort of). The venue apparently didn't think that providing all of my backline was necessary, so I was scaled down to just a single Motif ES8, which worked fine as it happens. I did some pre-game programming in MainStage and managed to get everything split up enough to fit all across one keyboard.

Moog Little Phatty

I recently picked up a Moog Little Phatty from a friend of mine. This thing is a lot of fun, and pretty easy to move around on. I've used it on two gigs so far, using it alongside my Motif 7. It's about the most stripped-down setup I've used in sometime (all in my ongoing effort to move away from relying on my MacBook rig). It's taking some getting used moving around on the Motif with the splits and stacks I've set up, but it's pretty functional. I'm using it for pianos, organs, and pads, while the Moog handles synth lead and bass duties.

The Moog is running through a Peavey Delta Stomp for delays and reverb.

 

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