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Archive of the Winter NAMM 2010 Category

Mellodrama: a New Documentary about the Mellotron

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the Mellotron? You’ve certainly heard the classic keyboard that subbed for real flutes, choirs, and string ensembles in the ’60s and ’70s. What was its relationship to the Chamberlin? Both were early analog samplers that used recording tape to play back instrumental sounds. Although the Chamberlin came first (Harry Chamberlin actually invented sampling in the late ’40s), the Mellotron got considerably more exposure thanks to such popular songs as the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields? and the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.?

Mellodrama CoverYou’ll discover practically everything you ever wanted to know about the Mellotron and the Chamberlin in Mellodrama ($24.95 from Bazillion Points Publishing), a new documentary directed by Dianna Dillworth. The film was screened at the 2010 NAMM show in January and released on DVD a few days later. It features interviews with the inventor’s son, Richard Chamberlin, and with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, Patrick Moraz of Yes, Ian McDonald of King Crimson, and many other Mellotron and Chamberlin enthusiasts.

Mellodrama traces the history of these groundbreaking instruments from their humble southern California beginnings to their 21st century resurgence and today’s cult of serious collectors. I already knew that the Chamberlin was originally designed as a home entertainment keyboard, and that the earliest samples were recordings of Lawrence Welk’s orchestra. Until I saw this movie, though, I had no idea that Chamberlin’s first salesman took the idea to England, where he claimed the design as his own and found financial backers to start the company that would manufacture Mellotrons. And that’s just one of many stories. If you’re interested in the history of electronic musical instruments, Mellodrama is not to be missed.

Universal Audio Has Been Busy

Massive PassiveOne of the most obvious trends at NAMM was partnering between companies that make audio hardware and software or between manufacturers and distributors. Universal Audio, a company with a long history of collaboration, announced several new partnerships to develop plug-ins for its UAD-2 DSP platform. Working with Manley Labs, UA expects to release an emulation of the Massive Passive stereo equalizer sometime in March. Collaborating with stompbox maker Dunlop, UA is also developing models of classic effects from Dunlop and MXR.

A more far-reaching arrangement was made with the Harman Group, which encompasses numerous pro-audio manufacturers. UA announced forthcoming plug-ins that model Lexicon reverbs, AKG spring reverb, dbx compression and other processing, and even Studer tape machines. Speaking of tape, pioneering manufacturer Ampex is returning to the pro recording market after a long absence to partner with UA in emulating not only tape machines, but the tape itself. Taken all together, these collaborations will result in an even greater variety of processing plug-ins for UAD-2 owners.

Serious Ivory Update

Ivory II, the latest version of Synthogy’s flagship software, is easily the most realistic sampled piano I’ve ever heard. Ever since Kurzweil released the K250, authentic-sounding sympathetic resonance has been the holy grail of digital-piano designers, and the folks at Synthogy have finally hit the mark, doubling the realism of an already fine virtual instrument in the process. In fact, I’m probably as excited about Ivory II as anything I’ve seen or heard at NAMM.

NAMM Day 3

mcdsp.pngSaturday started for me in a NAMM-like way, with the sound of a marching band outside the window of my hotel. I looked out and sure enough, the band that always walks through the convention hall to open the Saturday edition of NAMM was in the parking lot rehearsing. It was a huge band, with uniforms, tubas, and twirling flags. It was pretty wild.

As far as products go, Saturday was an interesting one for me. I saw the new McDSP 6030 Compressor plug-in. It models a variety of vintage compressors and lets you select the module you want in a graphic rendition of a “lunchbox” style processor. It looks really good. I didn’t get a chance to hear it (the noisy NAMM floor is not a great place for audio demos), but, based on everything else McDSP puts out, I would be willing to bet that it sounds awesome. Colin McDowell, McDSP’s CEO told me that all the compressor models were “tweaked” a bit to offer some variations on the sounds of the units they’re modeled after. It’s due out in May, price TBD.

On the subject of compressors, I saw an impressive hardware compressor from JDK Audio (which is part of API), called the R22 ($1195, available now). It’s a stereo bus compressor based on the one in the Paragon touring console, which was popular in touring sound rigs back in the pre-digital days. One highlight is called the Thrust switch, which preserves the high end on your transients when you are really squashing the sound. more

The KAOSS Pad for Pros

Kaossilator ProFans of KAOSS are excited to hear about Korg’s new Kaossilator Pro, a touchpad-based synthesizer with built-in electronic sounds and acoustic samples, as well as 25 preset drum patterns. The x-y touchpad can cover either a single octave or the entire range of pitch. You also get a gate arpeggiator, an internal vocoder, and loop-recorder banks that allow you to create 4-bar phrases and store them to SD cards. The Kaossilator Pro has stereo I/O on RCA jacks, MIDI In and Out jacks, and MIDI over USB. It’s expected in March for $460 retail.

Spectrasonics at NAMM

Spectrasonics 64-bitSpectrasonics‘ big NAMM announcement is the version 1.2 update for its Steam Engine-based plug-ins, Omnisphere and Trilian. Enhancements will include cross-platform 64-bit operation (yes, for Mac users, too), new “juicy” filter algorithms, and an improved browser system. A public beta for current owners will be available on January 22, with the official release on February 22.

Big Names Intro New Waves Plug-Ins

Eddie Kramer Waves plug-inAt the Waves press conference this morning, plenty of new products were unveiled. My favorites were the Signature-Series plug-ins from Chris Lord-Alge and Jack Joseph Puig. Each features dedicated plug-ins for vocals, guitars, drums and more. They’re due out in March and will cost $800 each. Puig and Lord-Alge were both present at the press conference and talked about and demoed their plug-ins.

Waves also announced two plug-ins modeled from classic processors used by Eddie Kramer: a Helios mic pre and a PIE Compressor. Kramer demoed the plugs and said, “When I plug this in I feel like I’m home again. Indeed, the plug-ins sounded very impressive. Kramer played a stereo room drum track, first without processing (which sounded pretty good), and then with the two new plugs dialed in. The track sounded awesome; deep, punchy, and nicely compressed. The Kramer plug-ins are due out in February and will come in native and TDM versions.

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Waves announced Horizon, a premium collection of over 50 plug-ins. Available in Feb $5750 Native, $9500 TDM.

At NAMM, Focusrite announced the Octapre MKII Dynamic ($699), an audio interface with a Focusrite pre and compressor on each channel.

The Bridge lets you use Scratch Live from within Ableton Live. It also lets you open ALS files in Scratch Live.

Mackie is showing the new Onyx 1640i at their morning press conference, now with Digidesign-approved Pro Tools compatibility.

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Day of the Spiders

SpiderIVEditLine 6 has updated the Spider line of guitar amplifiers, announcing new models as well as a free firmware update and a computer-based editor-librarian. The update, called Spider FX Infusion, delivers 28 new effects to the Spider IV and Spider Valve MkII amplifiers, bringing the total to more than 50.

The software programs, Spider IV Edit and Spider Valve MkII Edit, let you create and edit your own presets and trade them freely at customtone.com. The catch is that using the software requires an FBV foot controller. However, I’m more excited about the two new foot controllers than anything else. For $199, the FBV Shortboard MkII has 13 assignable, high-quality footswitches and a nice footpedal, and the $99 FBV Express MkII has 4 switches and a pedal. Both have USB connectivity and tremendous possibilities as real-time controllers for any MIDI user

The Next Eigenharp

eigenharp-alpha.jpgIt was quite a day, our first day at NAMM 2010. I was probably most impressed by the new midrange Eigenharp, the Tau. For those unfamiliar with the Eigenharp, it’s a totally original MIDI controller from the U.K. that combines buttons, keys, and a wind controller. The previous two models, the Pico and the Alpha, cost about $500 and $6,000, respectively. Obviously, there was room for middle ground, and at $2,800, the new Eigenhard Tau fills that gap. The Tau is practically identical to the Alpha, but with fewer keys and a less deluxe finish. You can count on EM to review to Eigenharp Tau when it becomes available in a few months. Matter of fact, I can’t wait to get my hands on one!

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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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