Thomas: So I got a couple of new friends today on the Myspace page.
Belle: I saw that!
Thomas: But you know the worst part? I have yet to see anyone with a page that isn't absolutely hideous.
Belle: Yeah, like mine.
Thomas: Well, yours at least looks somewhat coordinated. But most people, it's like the Internet threw up.
Belle: Actually, you know what it's really like? Remember back when the Internet first got started? All the neon fonts and garish background images and huge titles?
Thomas: Oh no! You're right! When we all had blinking green text on orange backgrounds. I had a scrolling Bad Joke of the Day with the matinee tag, and embedded midi music.
Belle: Exactly. MySpace is the Web from 1992, but more annoying. Because at least we had the excuse that no-one knew what they were doing yet.
Thomas: It's a whole new wave of people discovering animated gifs and Java reflecting pools.
This is awesome: Middle-school and high-school kids from Manhattan built their own instruments and amplifiers as part of their art program. There's a short radio show hosted by student "DJ Kev" featuring their work. As Music Thing said, where was this when I was 14?
Along similar thematic lines, have you seen Konono No1? They play Congolese trance music through a homemade sound system, including hand-carved microphones and electric thumb pianos. It's... interesting.
I wanted a drum machine that I could control with $20 of game hardware, so I built it in Excel. A little weird, but I think acceptably eccentric. But Drumpad has its share of problems--funky implementation, non-standard compliant, and often unacceptably laggy when actually played through a joystick. The problem is that I'm trying to build a poor man's MIDI synth.
Well, if I'd thought about it, I would have actually done it with MIDI. CDM featured command line-based utilities, including a keystroke-to-midi translator and a drum sampler, a few weeks back that would make a fine project base. You can find them here. If you were to use ControlMK to link the joystick to those utilities, it's much more responsive, and it's still free. Plus, there's a lot of other fun hackable tricks you could play. I love the command line.
I've been meaning to mention this for a while: If you're interested in learning bass, or maybe even guitar, I've heard very good things about Rondo Music, which makes the SX and Brice sub-brands. People on the TalkBass forums rant and rave about these instruments. They're less than $200 (some of the guitars are less than $100), and although the build quality is sometimes rough (uneven frets, mostly) they are supposed to sound great and play like much more expensive basses.
They apparently keep costs down by making only a few set models, no customization or different paint jobs. And the interesting thing, to me, is that they're like the Costco of basses: in order to keep variety up, they change the lineup around constantly according to user demand. You never know what they'll be offering any given month--although the Fender imitations are pretty constant. They're a small operation, with a very attentive customer service rep.
I also love the way the photographer shows up in the chrome bridge cover of the classic J-bass here
Writing (and playing music) here basically serves two goals: A) practice, and B) steadily lowering the number of people who take me seriously. I count it tremendously successful on both counts. But to accelerate the process, I created a MySpace page for the pretentious solo project* as an experiment. You can find it here.
If you ever needed evidence that the best product is not necessarily the winner, try MySpace. I don't know anything about creating a social networking site, but I know that it's got to be better than that. Comments are handled in a very clumsy way. No-one tells you this, but bands need to sign up in a completely different section from the rest of the site. The default layout is hideous. All in all, it frightens me.
*Please, please, please do not ever take this seriously. People who take themselves seriously on the Internet are rapidly becoming one of my pet peeves. I would like to issue a disclaimer right now that almost all of the Internet, including the parts I didn't write, is most likely a colossal joke.
I'm waiting on a final editing revision back before I post this month's Best of B-SPAN. In the meantime, here is a picture of a very pretty bass:
Of course, I have car problems and tuition to pay off before I can even think about picking up another bass (not to mention the bad luck that I've had with them). But: I played the single-cutaway version of this on Sunday, and it's got a very nice sound to it. The hollow body gives it an acoustic clarity that's rare, and it sounded pretty good with chords.
For fans of Electroplankton, check out the Yamaha Tenori, developed by creator Toshio Iwai. It's a combination of synth, looper, beatbox, and music toy, all in a multi-touch interface. Looks very, very cool, and probably a lot of fun.
UPS has finally admitted that they lost or destroyed the Cort bass that I sent off for repair. They've sent me the paperwork for my loss claim. This means a "windfall" insurance payment, I guess. It's not actually free money, more like a return, but it's kind of nice anyway.
Maybe I'll order that Rickenbacker now after all...
I'm not really a fan of the whole chiptunes genre, but this review and guide to the Wayfar NES midi cartridge is intriguing. For about a hundred bucks, it lets you run a $5 NES as if it were a synth module with five channels. That's pretty cheap, and it sounds good in a retro kind of way. In this day and age of cheap four-octave keyboards, you could probably have a portable synth setup for less than $500. Tempting.
But a few questions, really: Why isn't there an SNES version of this, with its superior FM chip? What would this be like with a wind controller? Does blowing on the cartridge count? And why can't I get an NES-on-a-chip that'll do the same thing for $25 or so?
On the left, my new bass. On the right, what was almost my new bass. Not to scale.
The winner is a Line 6 Variax, which is one of their digital modeling basses. Line 6 has made a name for themselves by creating very good simulations of amplifiers (the Pod) and effects (my looper, the DL-4, is actually their emulation of a dozen delay pedals). The Variax is supposed to do the same thing for guitars, by picking up the sound from a piezoelectric pickup built into the bridge and processing it until it sounds like one of many vintage or inconvenient (upright or acoustic bass) instruments.
The loser is a Malden Motorbass, an exercise in stripped-down bass minimalism, which appeals to me. It's got just one single-coil pickup, which is all I ever use anyway, and one volume knob, because I leave the tone on the All-Star all the way up. I like the look of the Motorbass, too. What tipped the decision away from it was that first, it doesn't actually give me anything I don't already have, and second, it's built like a Precision bass, which means it's meant more for solid, simple rock basslines. I think I'd regret buying it after a week, because it doesn't really fit with where I want to go musically except in the minimalism.
The Variax is interesting, though, from a kind of cultural standpoint. After all, there's no more superstitious market than guitar players. By nature, most of them are wary of digital technology to begin with, so it was probably due to go down like a ton of bricks anyway. But even still, this is a piece of hardware that incorporates some extremely sophisticated electronics. Guitar players can even use software to completely customize the models, and on the Variax bass you can move the virtual pickup on single-pickup basses (like the Stingray or a P-Bass) back and forward on the model, which is pretty sophisticated. And yet, with all this technology, it's still being used to imitate a bunch of instruments averaging about thirty years old.
You can argue that there are both positive and negative aspects to this fact. The best part of modelling, either through Line 6 or through companies like Digitech, is that it gives players on a budget access to a wide variety of tones (with greater or lesser levels of realism). Most people don't have the money for a '71 Rickenbacker or a '69 Fender, so it's nice if they can sound that way for not a lot of cash. But on the other hand, this fetishization of the past can be one of the great blind spots of popular music. After all, when digital audio recording first showed up, engineers used it as nothing more than a limited version of tape. It was only when people left the restraints of that paradigm behind that digital audio really became more interesting, and more sophisticated production began to take off.
Either way, I'm looking forward to using the Line 6 as a recording bass, since its power requirements may make it a bit cumbersome live. In those situations, I'll still have the All-Star. It's a bit more photogenic anyway. But if I were really going for looks, check out this modification that takes the Variax guts and puts them in a custom-made exotic wood body. If only I owned more machine tools, and a work room to put them in...