Whoah – 2017 just seemed to blow right by and it’s now the Winter of 2018 in the hills of southern Ontario. Lots of snow and cold temperatures now but things were cooking over the past year!
Drums / Percussion
Once again the big news about the drums is the amount of play they received last year. There have also been a few setup mods in both my Gretsch studio kit and the Pearl Export gigging kit.
Like last year my primary gigging kit, a 35 year old Pearl Export 6-piece kit has become a 5-piece kit. I’ve pulled the 14″ rack/floor tom (it’s a rack tom but mounted like a floor tom) from the setup. This has lightened my load by one medium sized drum and the heavy-duty floor stand which holds it. Classic Rock doesn’t need more than a 5-piece and as the number of gigs I’ve been playing increases along with my age (don’t laugh kids…. it’s going to happen to you too : ) I find I can get along with a few less toys if it lightens my load-in and load-out work.
The Pearls themselves are doing great and sounding wonderful! No gig cases but lots of care when transporting and handling them. For the past few shows I’ve been putting Evans dampening rings on the batter heads. This started because of volume constraints at a venue we were performing at but during the show a sound engineer I have great respect for told me that my drums sounded incredible. WTF I thought??!?! From where I was sitting they were fast attack / fast decay and kind of blasé. Sure they were tuned great (see Tune-Bot from last year’s Year In Review) but they seemed a bit damp from where I sat. Several people also came up to me that night claiming the drums sounded great. Remo Pinstripe batters with Evans Blue Hydraulic reso heads and an Evans ring. Who knew?!
The Gretsch Renown Maple kit used in the studio is still in its full 8″ through 16″ glory. This kit is used for different types of music ranging from Heavy Metal to Jazz and is equipped for anything. Once again the core set (snare, kick, rack, floor, ride) are in the classic position making it easy to switch between kits and making it comfortable for most drummers who visit the studio to play.
We had a very busy year building synthesizer modules in 2016 and I’d first like to thank those people who purchased our modules. Thank you very much and I hope you’re having a great time wiggling with them.
There were some very interesting builds last year which have now been added to Lower West Side Studio‘s product lineup. Some larger format modules like Yusynth’s Fixed Filter Bank and Voltage Controlled Panning Mixer with Output Module (wow, that’s a mouthful) are among these new offerings. There’s also been a scaled-down version of our popular CGS01 Sub Oscillator / Harmonic Sequencer from 2U to 1U with no loss of features.
We’re very excited about 2018 and looking forward to adding more new products and value-adding to our existing lineup!
Other than that we didn’t change too much in the way of electronics in the studio. One that did happen is that an AKG D112 mic died. The capsule went and I was told by multiple repair sources that it wasn’t worth repairing. That sucked. Of the two D112s we have this is the one that never left the studio or saw a tough day’s work.
The mic was replaced with a Shure Beta91A. The 91A is a half cardioid condenser microphone in a flat form factor. It’s awesome sounding for kick drums with the added bonus of not needing a mic stand.
2017 saw consistent growth of Lower West Side Studio‘s modular synthesizer. The year started with the completion of the Phoenix portable system which was being built early in 2017. This system was excellent not only as an adjunct to the main Swan modular but as a stand-alone system which could be (and was) used at different locations.
Phoenix grew and changed during the year, particularly when another portable cabinet, this time 1U high by 11U wide was added. This third system, named Winslow, was originally designed for percussion / sequencing but has since become my effects rack of modules including distortion, overdrive, different phase shift flavours and a recently completed module called a Neural Agonizer by Tellun Corp. It’s definitely not your grandpa’s reverb!
Phoenix proved very helpful in 2017 both at the Introduction to Modulars & Synth presentation I gave at Long & McQuade in Owen Sound, Ontario and at Drone Day 2017 celebrated at the same store.
With a sequencer, some oscillators and a very cool Sea Devils filter from STG (among other modules) I was able to pull off a pretty good rendition of Pink Floyd’s On The Run and then break down the patch with the visitors at the presentation.
Drone Day 2017 was also a lot of fun with Long & McQuade’s staff and customers joining in to the two and one half hour drone session. Instruments used included conventional guitars and basses, modular and slab synthesizers, iOS apps and bizarre electro-noise making effects. It was definitely a weird afternoon! Thanks again to Jarret and Owen Sound Long & McQuade for hosting these events!
Like with drums, 2017 didn’t mark a big year for slab synthesizer additions. Two new controller keyboards were, however, added to the gear pool. First and foremost is the new Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 keyboard controller by Native Instruments. I love this keyboard! The second, added at the very end of the year, is an Akai MPK Mini MK2.
The KKS61 is the primary keyboard for working in the control room where composition and mix-downs are mainly done. The keyboard is used with software synthesizers both from Native Instruments and third parties although it’s also a great hardware synth controller. Details on the KKS61MK2 can be found in this review done back in October.
The MPK Mini was added because a; it was on sale for a good price and b; it is small and eminently portable making it perfect for “anywhere” composition. While not the last word in keyboard feel it is very well built, simple to use and small enough to take along with you.
While I feel there is nothing that sounds or feels as good as hardware synthesizers there are some great sounds that can be achieved through software and shouldn’t be ignored simply on the basis that they’re “not real”. I’ve been avoiding software synths in the studio for some time but in 2017 I though it would be fun to peek under the hood of this inviting yet strange world.
There were two areas examined last year; sampling / sample based systems and full-on software synthesizers.
The former cannot be discussed without the mention of Native Instruments and their Kontakt sampler. Having used the free player version of some time now a full license was purchased for the studio. The full version of Kontakt is incredibly powerful for both creating and manipulating samples. Speaking of samples, the full Kontakt comes with a huge library of sounds! It’s pricy but anything good is worth paying for.
One of the primary uses I’ve found for Kontakt is sampling sounds created by the modular synthesizers. Since the patches can’t be saved and reproducing them is never quite the same samples are often taken from the modular then stored and used for sample based patches. It is definitely a great way to preserve and present the sounds created.
While discussing sampling I’d also like to mention the benefits of multiple types of samplers. I often create samples through different means then pick the sound I prefer. Sampling through Kontakt yields different results from sampling on, say, a Yamaha Motif XF keyboard or a vintage EMU sampler. Those subtle differences are what makes each sample unique and give a wider selection for composition.
There were three software synthesizers added this year; Sunrizer, Zebra2 and PG-8X.
Sunrizer is a synth by BeepStreet that I’ve been using on the iPad for a few years now. It’s very powerful and produces some incredible sounds. The VST version is just as good plus moving sounds between Mac and iPad is a great convenience.
Zebra2 by uHe is a phenomenal soft-synth capable of creating breathtaking soundscapes. A huge third party following has provided for some excellent collections of presets.
Both these longstanding packages are awesome but it would be nice to see an update from the vendors introducing some new features and particularly support for the NKS control standard.
PG-8X is an incredible shareware version of Roland’s JX-8P by Martin Luder. It can be used as a stand-alone application or as a VST. PG-8X is so close an emulator that you can load actual JX-8P patches into the software providing a huge wealth of existing presets. The VST sounds beautiful and is definitely worth checking out.
2017 was definitely a busy year for making music!
Fizzbin was again focussed on original tunes in the studio and we have compiled a great live set. Unfortunately there were no live shows for Fizzbin in 2017 but January 2018 will start the year with our first live show with the new material.
This year we got a few more practices with my old high school buddies and Johnny G from Coming of Age and Altered Fate. Because of scheduling conflicts we didn’t get to rehearse as much as we wanted to but we did put together a great set of heavy classics that are a blast to play. We’ve also added a dedicated rhythm guitarist to our lineup freeing John up to focus solely on vocals. We’re already lining up rehearsals for this year so hopefully there will be more to report in next year’s Year In Review. Oh… and the band has chosen the name Midnight Trauma.
The big action in 2017 was focussed on Coming of Age. This year was a huge year for live gigs for CoA. We have been having a wonderful time playing at venues and events in and around the Grey-Bruce area. We performed at Collingwood’s Canada Day festival, Oktoberfest as well as a host of other great locations. We even performed a gig at Toronto’s legendary Linsmore Tavern.
2018 is already shaping up to be a great year for concerts so keep an eye on our show schedule to see where we’re performing next.
So that’s what went on in and out of Lower West Side Studio in 2017. This year were planning to do more, play more, build more and create more than ever before.
Here we go!