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Archive for September, 2007

Moogfest 2007

I attended Moogfest on Saturday night, Sept. 22, at B.B. King’s in New York, and it was quite a show. The performances were excellent all around. Because of the number of performers, the sets were all relatively short, but there was tons of great synth playing all evening long.

Xenovibes, who won a contest to be the opening act, started the show, and featured Shueh-li Ong on a Moog Theremin as well as keyboards, and John Anthony Martinez on electronic drums. Spiraling followed with a pop-rock set that spotlighted lead singer/keyboardist Tom Brislin’s vocals and keyboard work (on a Moog Little Phatty). Don Preston did a cool, ethereal, improvised solo-synth piece on a Minimoog.

Adam Holzman brought a full band (which was killer) and did some cool, mostly uptempo jazz fusion material, using a Minimoog Voyager among other synths. T Lavitz (of Dixie Dregs fame) performed his set with Holzman and band and was both tasteful and flashy. Lavitz and Holzman both dedicated their sets to the late Joe Zawinul.

Neil Alexander showed very impressive jazz-rock keyboard chops during his set with his stellar band Nail. Alexander played a Roland AX-7 handheld, wireless MIDI keyboard that was controlling a large assortment of synths including a Voyager. His band later backed synth pioneer and music educator Herb Deutsch, who played through a vintage Minimoog that was one of the first 100 ever made.

Erik Norlander did a set (playing with backing tracks) where he was jumping back and forth between a Voyager, a Little Phatty, and an Alesis Andromeda (a synth he helped develop sounds for)–his solid playing really captured the prog-rock vibe.

Jordan Rudess performed along with Richard Lainhart, who played a Buchla synth to accompany him. Rudess played mostly ethereal material, but still was able to show off his amazing keyboard abilities, using a Little Phatty and a bunch of Moog effects boxes.

Thomas Dolby ended the show, and despite some technical glitches, did a spirted set. He was playing a Voyager as well as a bunch of software synths from Logic. He sang through his signature headset mic, and finished the show with “She Blinded Me with Science,” on which he was firing off vocal samples from an M-Audio Trigger Finger.

Two “Bob Awards” were given, one to Herb Deutsch and another to Gershon Kingsley, another legend from the early years of synthesis (he composed the novelty hit “Popcorn”). Both Deutsch and Kingsley gave acceptance speeches.

Both Moog’s Mike Adams, and Bob Moog’s daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa, spoke about the Moog Foundation‘s quest to raise money to save Bob Moog’s archives.

I videoed extensively at the show, and am putting together a feature for emusician.com that will include both interviews with the performers and clips from the performances. Look for it to be posted soon.

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Related Topics: Emusician, Mike Levine |

Obsessing over Obsessiveness

With all the wondrous studio tools we have at our disposal these days, the dilemma we often face is not whether we’ve done enough for a track, but whether we’ve done too much. If you have a large selection of plug-in instruments and effects, the temptation is too often to overuse them. Sometimes I find it’s useful to start muting parts during a mix and try a more stripped down approach–at least during some parts of the song.

A somewhat-related conundrum is knowing when to stop working on a project–especially when mixing. There’s definitely that point of no return when you start doing things to your mix that you’ll be mystified about when you listen the next day. “What was I thinking with that EQ on the vocal?,” you might say, or, “I can’t believe I put so much reverb on that snare drum?” You know what I mean. One way to combat this problem is to constantly “Save As” and rename your mixes as you go along. That way, you can always go back to where you were before that fog of studio fatigue rolled over you.

If you’re working with a deadline, there’s another set of considerations. Do you really want to work right up to the last possible moment? I’ve found that to often be a losing proposition. It’s much better to target a time to finish a least a couple of hours before your drop-dead deadline, so that you can rest your ears and listen afresh while you still have time to pull back that reverb send on the snare or fix that overly hyped EQ on the vocal. Of course, it’s easier said than done. I’ve worked on numerous projects writing music for commercials, and those virtually always have very fast turnarounds. To deal with that, I try to budget my time in advance. Say I have the weekend to do a project (which is often how it happens in the jingle world). I’ll set myself a schedule when I start, something like: compose on Friday night and half of Saturday. Finish tracking by Sunday morning. Mix by Sunday evening. Listen early Monday for tweaks before turning in the mix. Of course, I don’t always end up sticking to it, but I try, and it is helpful. Even if you don’t have a deadline, it probably makes sense to set some goals for yourself on a project to keep things moving along.

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Related Topics: Emusician, Mike Levine |

Over the Rhine’s New Album

Years ago I realized that any artist needs lots of talent in order to gain widespread recognition (yes, even those whose music seems completely worthless). I also came to recognize that being immensely talented and working hard offers no assurance that he, she, or they will “make it big.”

OtR_Cover
Case in point: I‘ve been enjoying the music of Over the Rhine since a few months after the release of their second album in 1992. With the recent release of their eighteenth album, The Trumpet Child, and despite well over a decade full of glowing reviews praising vocalist Karin Bergquist as “the greatest unknown singer of our generation,” well-deserved stardom continues to elude the Cincinnati-based band. However, The Trumpet Child is such a musical tour de force that perhaps OTR‘s career is finally about to take off for the stratosphere. On the other hand, judging by their history, perhaps not. In a world of megacorporate-controlled radio airplay and music marketing, cream does not always rise to the top. Nonetheless, if only through word of mouth, this new album should give OTR a long-deserved shot at stardom.

Thanks in equal parts to the continuing expansion of Bergquist‘s vocal talents and her husband/multi-instrumentalist Linford Detweiler‘s songwriting and arranging proficiency, The Trumpet Child is OTR‘s best album ever. My wife Pam has it in constant rotation in our kitchen and bedroom, and at least half the songs are so catchy that I find them playing in my head at random moments. For both of us, it‘s currently the number-one pick on our iPods. The songwriting is amazingly strong and every arrangement is perfect for its song. The musicianship is top notch, and Bergquist‘s singing is equal parts polished and sexy, demonstrating a stunning degree of expressive control.

I must admit, I have mixed feelings about drawing attention to OTR. For the moment, fans like Pam and I are able to attend their performances in relatively small clubs, without paying through the nose for tickets to see a band so far from our seats we can‘t distinguish their faces. However, some musicians are so deserving of success that it would be unfair not to let the entire world know about them.

Over the Rhine is currently touring, and I recommend you catch their live act if you get the chance; I think you‘ll be impressed. The Trumpet Child is available as a CD or an LP from OTR‘s Web site, or as a download from the iTunes Store. You can listen to alternate takes from the entire album on OTR‘s Web site.

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Related Topics: Emusician, Geary Yelton |

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The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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