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On Saturday night I attended what very well may be the most memorable party of my life. The invitation said, â€śDress to impress,â€? and many guests did just that. The champagne flowed, the bar was open, and the entertainmentâ€”well, more than one person in the crowd said it was â€śFellini-esque.â€? Actors, mimes, and dancers from a performance-art troupe called Lucent Dossier appeared in costumes best described as â€śnaughty Elizabethan Cirque du Soleil.â€? They performed acrobatics while suspended from the ceiling, froze into human statues, served trays of top-shelf hors dâ€™oeuvres, and performed onstage in a series of musical pantomimes.
The event was the grand opening of EastWest Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The studios, designed in the early â€™60s by Bill Putnam himself, were formerly known as Western Recorders and later Cello Studios. Many well-known records were produced there, including albums by Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead, Madonna, Buffalo Springfield, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartneyâ€”the list goes on and on. In fact, the RIAA says that more gold and platinum records were recorded there than anywhere else.
EastWest Sounds, developers of such acclaimed sample libraries as Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra, Stormdrum, and Voices of Passion, purchased and refurbished the studio after it went bankrupt and sat vacant for several years. EastWest hired renowned French designer and architect Philippe Starck to help preserve this temple of sound and reveal the magic within its walls. Outrageously ornate furniture and a general â€śspare-no-expenseâ€? vibe lend an air of indulgent decadence to most of the rooms, suites, and lounges. The six studios, however, are preserved as closely as possible to their original state during their heyday, from the racks of vintage processors to the pockmarked linoleum floor. After investing millions of dollars to refurbish the 21,000-square-foot facility, EastWest plans to use it both as the companyâ€™s headquarters and as a commercial studio for hire.
Yesterday Yamaha launched the Avant Grand, an amazing feat of technology that digitally simulates not only the sound, but the physical experience of playing a fine grand piano. The Avant Grand combines meticulous multisampling, an ingenious speaker system, and an array of actuators that reproduce a pianoâ€™s acoustic vibrations in a design called the Tactile Response System. The idea is that if you close your eyes as you play, it feels and sounds as if you’re playing a top-of-the-line Yamaha CFIIIS concert grand. Four speaker systems are located in the same positions as the four microphones used to sample the source instrument, and two resonators reproduce the buildup of sound that a pianist hears and feels. Whatâ€™s more, the Avant Grand is a really beautiful instrument that squeezes a 9-foot grand into a 4-foot space. If youâ€™re at NAMM, donâ€™t take my word for it; visit Yamaha and play it for yourself.
Ableton had big news on several fronts at its NAMM press conference. At the top of the bill are Ableton Live 8 and Ableton Suite 8. Liveâ€™s Warp engine is improved to allow adjusting individual audio events on the timeline. Overdub recording is made easier and more like classic sound-on-sound hardware devices with the new Looper. New effects plug-ins include a vocoder, a frequency shifter, overdrive, limiting, and a multiband dynamics processor. The premium FM synth, Operator, gets a facelift and some new features, and youâ€™ll find a variety of under-the-hood workflow improvements.
Ableton Suite 8 adds a completely new sound library of grooves, presets, templates, and over 1,600 sounds. You also get a collection of Latin percussion instruments together with authentic clips and grooves. The new physical-modeled instrument, Collision, focuses on mallet instruments. Estimated release date for both versions of Live 8 is the second quarter of 2009.
Ableton has partnered with Akai to produce the APC40, a custom control surface tailored especially for live performance. It has 109 buttons, 16 endless rotary encoders, and 9 faders, and it conforms nicely to Liveâ€™s Session view for fast clip and scene triggering and control of Liveâ€™s plug-ins and mixer.
In another, much-anticipated development, Liveâ€™s partnership with Cycling 74 has produced Max for Live, which puts much of the power of Max/MSP inside Live. In short, itâ€™s a toolkit for making or modifying custom devices directly within Live. Ableton anticipates an active community of device creators to fill the pipeline for those disinclined to create their own. Max for Live will be available later in 2009.
On the communal front, Live 8 makes it easier to share live sets with one-click upload and download to Ableton servers, online access management, and intelligent file transfer to optimize transfer times. The procedure should begin beta testing within the next few months.
Learn more about all these features at the Ableton Web site.
Tonight I attended the unveiling of the Roland V-Piano, the latest instrument in the V-Series of physical modeled instruments. It was inevitable that a least one major manufacturer would pursue this particular golden fleece, as modeled acoustic pianos (first pioneered by the Modartt Pianoteq) offer many advantages over sampled pianos. In addition to sounding remarkably lifelike, the V-Piano lets you change the hardness of the hammers, lengthen the soundboard, turn copper-wound strings to pure silver, and much more, all with the twist of a knob or the press of a pedal, in real time. Roland has obviously put a lot of resources into developing and extending this technology, making it possible realistically emulate classic acoustic instruments, from Steinway to BĂ¶sendorfer, as well as dial up new pianos no one has ever heard before (or at least, not before tonight). With much fanfare that included a speech by Rolandâ€™s founder, Ikutaro Kakehashi, the evening wrapped up with a mesmerizing performance by legendary jazz pianist David Benoit and his trio.
I asked Stephen Kay, master synth programmer for Korg and inventor of KARMA, â€śWhat did you see at NAMM that impressed you the most?â€? Without missing a beat, he said, â€śSpectrasonicsâ€™ new Omnisphere.â€? So I strolled over to the Spectrasonics booth to have a look for myself. I had already missed a series of full-length demos given to large groups of NAMM attendees, so company founder and creative director Eric Persing graciously agreed to give me a brief personal demonstration. It was his final demo during NAMM, so I shot him. Weâ€™ll try to post a video clip on this site within the week.
Omnisphere is the forthcoming flagship soft synth from the makers of Stylus RMX, Trilogy, and Atmosphere. Containing many times the sample content of all those programs, it incorporates the new STEAM Engine, which will also be the basis of future Spectrasonics products. Omnisphere combines just about any synthesis architecture youâ€™ve ever heard of (granular, FM, polyphonic ring mod, timbre shifting, and lots more) with some very unusual samples, complex modulation routing, and a new technique for morphing one instrumentâ€™s harmonics into anotherâ€™s. And I was floored by its method for drawing and assigning finely detailed modulation envelopes and arpeggiation patterns in real time. Just about everything else I saw this week had a projected ship date around the end of February, but not this one. Look for Omnisphere on September 15 (they promise it wonâ€™t be late), selling for $499.
Today I had a semi-private demonstration of Kurzweilâ€™s PC3X, the resurrected companyâ€™s first new keyboard in several years to incorporate VAST technology. The latest variation in the old K-Seriesâ€™ synthesis architecture is called Dynamic VAST, apparently because you can specify as many components as you need to construct whatever sound youâ€™re aiming for, and you can save your own algorithms as starting places for future sounds.
The factory-programmed voices I heard very accurately reproduced a tremendous variety of signature sounds from music made popular over the past few decades, from Led Zeppelin and David Bowie to the latest hip-hop hits, and it absolutely excels at orchestral and piano sounds. Judging by first impressions, I was simply blown away by the quality of every patch, without exception. Running off custom integrated circuits, the PC3X is a 128-note polyphonic instrument with an 88-note keyboard and an onboard multitrack sequencer. Itâ€™s expected to sell for around three grand and ship by the end of February. Or as they say around here, N.A.M.M. (Not Available, Maybe March)!
Thereâ€™s something new at Universal Audio, crafted from hand-picked components, including new old stock (NOS) vintage vacuum tubes and custom-wound CineMag input and output transformers. Itâ€™s the LA-610 Signature Edition, a limited run version of UAâ€™s respected LA-610 channel strip, comprising a mic preamp, DI, EQ, and opto compressor. Only 500 will be manufactured, and each will be signed by Bill Putnam, Jr. With a black faceplate and an electroluminescent front panel, the Signature Edition costs about $500 more than UAâ€™s standard LA-610, and itâ€™s destined to become a collectorâ€™s item.
Maurice Gainen here. My studio, Maurice Gainen Productions (what else?) was profiled by Matt Gallagher in the Mix July ’07 edition. NAMM is awesome….I’ve been here almost every year for about 20 years. I recommend coming on Thursday first thing as it is empty and you can get maximum face time with all the reps, tech people and any of the many stars haniging out that you may run into. Highlight for me was running into Stevie Wonder and getting a picture. Other cool things: Mix publication Electronic Musician has been re-designed and looks great. Cool gear and software: Waves, Fishman “Aura” acoustic guitar shound shaping boxes, Guitar Rig 3, ProTools 7.4 “Elastic time”, Melodyne and Serrato Pitch ‘n Time. Nice live performances all over the floor. Free champagne and DJ jam 5:00 everyday at Propellerhead (Reason). Saturday is cool for networking and seeing old friends………it’s packed and loud, a real party. Final word: The gear is GREAT!! It’s up to us to make great music. Therein lies the challenge…have a good one! www.mauricegainen.com
Following up the success of its Duende FireWire DSP unit, SSL has introduced Duende MINI, a hardware box about the size of an external hard drive, but including the same DSP processing power of the 1U rackmount Duende. While the Duende comes with 32-channel capability, the $799 Duende Mini starts out with 16 channels–upgradeable to 32 for $399. Out of the box, Duende Mini includes SSL’s EQ and Dynamic Channel plug-in and can host other SSL Duende-powered plug-ins, such as the X-EQ and X-Comp. If you upgrade the Duende Mini to 32 channels and add the Stereo Bus Compressor plug-in for $399, you’d essentially have the same capability of the original Duende at the same price. Duende Mini is schedule to ship in February.
The folks at iZotope announced that their RX audio restoration software will be released soon as a group of five plug-ins. Each plug-in will handle the duties of one of RX’s five modules. The modules include Spectral Repair, which lets you zero in on a specific part of the audio using a spectral display, and then attenuate and otherwise process it. The Declipper takes audio that is clipped and restores it. The other modules are the Hum Remover, Declicker, and Denoiser. Overall, it’s an excellent Audio Restoration package, and with the plug-ins will now be even more flexible.
The plugs will be included with the standalone version of RX, which lists for $349 (standard version) and $1199 (Advanced version with additional tweaking options).
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