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Archive for December, 2008

Antarctica Bound, part 2

This is the second post from composer/performer/instrument builder Cheryl Leonard as she makes her way to Antarctica for a month of recording, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program.
Antarctica Bound, part 2
By Cheryl Leonard
Punta Arenas, Chile 12/29/08
Chile from the air
Finally got power for my computer and an Internet connection. Yay! We are supposed to leave on the ship tonight, but the port is closed at the moment due to wind so perhaps we will be delayed. If all goes well on the crossing my next blog entry should be from Antarctica.

After about 24 hours of grueling plane travel, my luggage and I have arrived safely in Punta Arenas, Chile. What a relief, I am finally on my way to Antarctica! more

Antarctica Bound

Antarctica Bound
By Cheryl Leonard
Cheryl LeonardCheryl Leonard
[For the next few weeks, we are featuring reports by a guest blogger, composer/performer Cheryl Leonard. Armed with a specially chosen kit of field recording gear, she is about to embark on a musical adventure to the icy continent. Ms Leonard will regularly post information about what it takes to record, edit, and compose in extreme temperature conditions. To read more about her adventures, you can visit her personal blog.]

In just a few days I am going to Antarctica, not to study the decaying ice sheets, or gawk at penguins from a cruise ship, but to make music. Each year the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program grants a handful of artists the opportunity to travel to the bottom of the world and make art about this remote place and the science that is happening there. My project is to create a series of musical compositions based on the forces that shape environments and ecosystems in Antarctica, using only sounds from the natural world. more

Doin’ the Math

numerology_2After roughly two years in development, Numerology 2.0 (Mac, $119) from software developer Five12 has arrived. Numerology is a multitrack, modular step sequencer. For each track, you build a rack combining step-sequencing and audio plug-in modules, then create rack presets, which you sequence on the track’s timeline. You can slave Numerology to your DAW using ReWire, MIDI clock, or MIDI Timecode, and Numerology provides four, 16-channel MIDI I/O buses for routing MIDI between it and your DAW. That lets you use it to play virtual instruments in your DAW, and you can also trigger preset changes directly from your DAW, thereby using Numerology solely for MIDI step sequencing.

Numerology 2.0 has modules for sequencing and manipulating just about any kind of MIDI message. Sequences can have up to 128 steps in any note-division, and many of the sequencers let you change the size of individual steps. In addition to step sequencers optimized for leads, chords, drums, and arpeggiation, you’ll find modules for generating, displaying, and processing CV (control voltage) signals for use within Numerology or for conversion to MIDI continuous controller messages.

One of my favorite Numerology tricks is combining separate step-sequencers for note gates, Velocities, and pitches. That lets you create an endless array of patterns by, for example, manipulating the individual sequence lengths and directions in real time. You can download a save-disabled but otherwise fully functional demo from the Five12 Web site (

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Related Topics: Emusician, Len Sasso |

Tonehammer Sampler Libraries

frendo.jpgI’m always happy to stumble across sampler libraries that feature unusual instruments and found sounds. That’s especially true when the prices are reasonable, and Tonehammer (, a partnership of film composer Troels Folmann and sound designer Michael Peaslee, qualifies on both counts.

Their current offerings range in price from $35 to $49, with bundles from $69 to $249 (for everything in their kit). The libraries are downloads (and often quite large) in Native Instruments Kontakt format (2.2.4 or later). The instruments are not locked—you can reprogram them, add scripts, and so on—and the samples are freely available 16-bit, 44.1 kHz WAV files.

One of my favorites is Old Busted Granny Piano, a must-have for your next Thelonius Monk tribute. The source is an old upright that has been unattended for at least 15 years, and from the sound of it, probably much longer. With its broken strings and absence of tuning, you can almost feel the cracked ivorys.

Another find is Peaslee’s home-built Frendo (shown here). It started with a trip to the hardware store for bailing wire, lag bolts, lumber, and steel framing, and ended up as a six-foot segmented contraption sitting on a large bass drum for resonance. It has five iron strings that are approximately tuned. You get bowed, hammered, and plucked samplings with two mikings. He calls it evil, withered, and full of bitter wrath, with absolutely no redeeming quality.

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Béla Fleck and the Flecktones at the Blue Note

Flecktones photo 2
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Béla Fleck and the Flecktones perform the second set on Friday night at the Blue Note in New York. Despite some iffy weather in New York, the club was completely sold out and totally packed.

The musicianship of the band was quite impressive, with Fleck on banjo (both acoustic and electric), Victor Wooten on bass, Future Man on Drumitar and drum set, and Jeff Coffin on sax and flute. The group mostly played material from their new CD, Jingle All the Way, which contains a selection of holiday songs arranged as only the Flecktones can. (For an interview with Fleck about the recording of this CD, check out this month’s EM Cast. To hear a a couple of audio clips from the CD, click here.)

The band’s virtuosic instrumental abilities were in full display in their Friday show. Although all four musicians were amazing, the most jaw-dropping musical moments of the evening belonged to Wooten. His facility on the bass was something to behold, whether he was playing tapped melodies while simultaneously holding down the bass line or rattling off rapid-fire funk and jazz licks. (For an interview with Wooten, check out the EM June 08 cover story, which also contains a video of Wooten playing bass in his studio.)

The band played a lengthy set, finishing off with its imaginative and incredibly complex arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,? in which each day is in a different time signature and key.

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XSEED Games Korg DS-10 !!!

I just spent a little while (well, all afternoon) “previewing” my grandson’s Christmas present, the XSEED Games Korg DS-10 for the Nintendo DS. To be honest, I had my doubts, but it is absolutely amazing. xseed_ds-10.jpg

You get two lead synths and four drum synths along with a six-track sequencer, mixer, and effects section. The synth controls are laid out in two screens (sound-editing and patching) and are easy to program with the DS stylus. Sequence patterns are also easy to step enter. You can record in real-time using the onscreen KAOSS pad or keyboard; the KAOSS pad is more fun than the keyboard.

The sound is decent, even through the tiny DS speakers, and fortunately, there’s a headphone jack. Here’s a short example recorded directly from that jack without any further editing.

If you’re reading EM and you or your kid or your kid’s kid have a DS, give this a whirl—you can pay a lot more for a lot less synth.

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Mixwit Shutting Down

mixwit.jpgThe mix-tape sharing site Mixwit is shutting down on December 27th. This was one of my favorite sources of music compilations, and I’m sorry to see it go. You can get more details on the Mixwit blog.

Founders Michael Christoff and Radley Marx plan to return with “a new company and new toys” in 2009, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

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Free Kore Sounds from Native Instruments

Kore Player

Native Instruments has released its free Kore Soundpack Compilation Vol. 1, which consists of 100 sounds and 700 sound variations taken from its collection of Kore Soundpacks. These sounds are compatible with both Kore 2 and the free Kore Player .

The sounds in the compilation represent a sampling (no pun intended) of those available in the various Kore Soundpacks. Here is the Soundpack list from the NI site:

“TRUE STRIKE TENSION – Percussive, suspenseful sounds for cinematic scores
ABSYNTH TWILIGHTS – Extraordinary ABSYNTH pads and soundscapes
DEEP TRANSFORMATIONS – Extremely powerful multi-effects suite
URBAN ARSENAL – Construction kits, grooves and instruments for hip-hop
REAKTOR ANIMATED CIRCUITS – Self-generating REAKTOR soundscapes
MASSIVE EXPANSION VOL. 1 and Vol. 2 – Brand-new MASSIVE sounds
BEST OF MASSIVE – Best synth sounds taken from the MASSIVE factory library
FM8 TRANSIENT ATTACKS – Cutting-edge FM8 sounds for modern electronic music
SYNTHETIC DRUMS – Versatile collection of charismatic synthetic drum kits
BEST OF ABSYNTH – Collection of atmospheres and pads from ABSYNTH

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Related Topics: Emusician, Mike Levine |

In Concert: Songs of David Byrne & Brian Eno

Last night I saw David Byrne in concert at Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte. Ovens has been one of my favorite venues since 1973, when I saw Pink Floyd there on their Dark Side of the Moon tour. The acoustics are outstanding, and I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house.

The theme of the show was “Songs of David Byrne & Brian Eno.? Every song was produced, co-produced, or co-written by Eno, without exception. Out of 21 songs performed, nearly half of them were originally by Byrne’s now-defunct band, Talking Heads, and nearly half were from the latest collaboration by Byrne & Eno, Everything that Happens Will Happen Today. Only one song, “Help Me Somebody,? was from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Byrne & Eno’s previous collaboration, but it was especially ambitious considering the original was based on samples (groundbreaking when it was released in 1981) of a radio preacher, and Byrne performed it live without any samples. The only song from one of Byrne’s solo albums was “My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks),? from The Catherine Wheel.

As soon as the band appeared on stage (all dressed in white, matching Byrne’s hair), he introduced himself by saying, “I’ll be your waiter tonight; my name is Dave.? They opened with “Strange Overtones,? from the new album, and followed with “I Zimbra,? one of four songs they performed from Talking Heads’ 1979 album Fear of Music.

“I Zimbra? marked the first appearance of three dancers, about whom I was skeptical at first, but I must admit they certainly added to the sense of movement onstage. They contributed considerably to “My Big Hands,? which was originally choreographed by Twyla Tharp, and to the Heads song “Air,? which had them dancing with Stratocasters.

One standout during the concert was the song “I Feel This Stuff,? which was actually much better than on Everything that Happens Will Happen Today, probably because Byrne had gotten so comfortable performing the song. All in all, the performance lasted nearly two hours, with no opening act. The final song of the second encore was “Burning Down the House,? with everyone standing on stage dressed in white tutus. And it really did bring down the house.

Not surprisingly, the crowd was most responsive to the Talking Heads songs. At one point they got so raucous that someone spilled beer down my back. Why is it that people who pay good money for good seats spend the entire concert on their feet, forcing everyone behind them to stand as well? And why in the world are some people so inconsiderate that they wear hats to concerts?

The band comprised three backup singers, Paul Frazier on bass, Graham Hawthorne on drums, Mark di Gli Antoni (of Soul Coughing) on keyboards, and Mauro Refosco (who’s played with They Might Be Giants, Steve Earle, and other notables) on percussion. Speaking of Giants, the new Byrne & Eno album was engineered by TBMG third-wheel Pat Dillett.Everything that HappensAlthough I could tell most of the audience was unfamiliar with Everything that Happens Will Happen Today, they nonetheless applauded those songs enthusiastically. I’ve been listening to it for a few months, and it’s a terrific album. It’s available on the Web as a download, CD, or deluxe package with bonus songs, a book, and more from (You can also read about more tour dates there.) But, I discovered, you can download it for less at If you want to get a taste of the new material, I suggest you download “Strange Overtones? from either site for free.

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Unlimited Free Downloads Discontinued by Soundsnap

Soundsnap screenshot

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” is an cliché that I’ve found to be true more often than not. Until a couple of days ago, however, Soundsnap—the Web site that since its inception has been offering free sound effects and loops that were uploaded by its users—was the sonic equivalent of a free lunch. This was especially true as of late, because its collection has grown a lot since the site’s inception. But when I went to Soundsnap today, I discovered that as of Dec. 7th, it has changed over to a subscription policy. It’s annual fee for unlimited downloading is a reasonable $149, with lesser charges for shorter term subscriptions with finite, albeit generous, download limits.

There is a silver lining: for those with minimal needs, Soundsnap now lets you register for a Free Account, which allows five downloads per month. That’s still a lot better than nothing, but not nearly as generous as it once was. According to Soundsnap, growing traffic at the site (up to 450,000 visitors a month) has resulted in increased software and hardware costs, and advertising revenue has been lower than expected. As a result, the decision was made to change the business model. In these tough economic times, you can’t blame them for doing what they needed to do. But it’s a shame that the free model didn’t hold up. In any case, it’s still worth a visit, and there’s no reason not to register for that free 5-download account.

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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.


December 2008
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