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Keith Emerson On Korg.
Gordon Giltrap On MIDI Guitars
Peter Oxendale On Sampling
Keith Emerson is one of the world's most respected keyboard players. Together with Greg Lake and Cozy Powell he has reformed E.L.P. and produced a powerful album. We spoke to Keith prior to the world tour.
"When Greg and I got together to work on some demo tracks we auditioned a few session players before we learned that Cozy was available. I've known Cozy for some time, in fact we used to race each other at Brands Hatch. We got him in and it worked out very well.
"This album has taken about a year to complete during which a lot more material was written than we could use, so we've had to cut that down. For the recording we tried a number of studios in London but we weren't happy with the drum sound, so we went down to my barn studio and set up there. We recorded the backing tracks there with the Fleetwood Mac Mobile. The rest was then recorded at Maison Rouge.
"I've been using my old GX-1, together with the DW8000, EX8000, two Poly 800's and the Korg effects. I'm impressed with the factory presets on the DW8000 - one sound is just like the lead sound I used on "Lucky Man", using the big Moog modular system. In fact I've used some of the presets with very little alteration, perhaps changing the VCF settings here and there. I like to use MIDI to get a mixture of tone colours - layering sounds from the different instruments and mixing the level of each to produce the final sound. What I like most about the Korg instruments is that they are so straightforward to use. I've been through the complete range of Oberheims and Kurzweils and the manuals are so complex. When you're in a band situation you've got no time, and if you want to change a sound you need to do it quickly. With the Korgs I feel safe because they're reliable and you can see what you are doing instantly. If the new patch works, you can save it straight away.
The world tour starts in August and Korg will be there up the front..."
The new Korg DDD-1 Dynamic Digital Drums has touch sensitive keys - the harder you tap the louder the sound. Each instruments pitch, decay and output level can be set both before and after programming a pattern. Eighteen supplied sounds plus complete sets of new sounds via ROM cards are available. The sampling board allows you to sample your own sounds. Rolls and flams of different speeds can be played automatically. Full MIDI spec and separate outputs plus internal memory of 100 patterns and ten songs up to 9999 bars can be stored on tape, on RAM cards or via MIDI to the Korg SQD-1 or other device. Tempo tap facility plus audio trigger of the DDD-1's sounds is possible. The new Korg DDD-1 is at last a drum machine that sounds and plays like a real kit.
From Ian Hunter to Bonnie Tyler, from John Cale to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Belouis Some, they all have one thing in common - on keyboards Mr. Peter Oxendale, BMus, GRSM, LRAM, ARCM. Having just finished a book called "The Simplified Synthesiser" we thought him well qualified to talk to us about sampling. This is what he had to say:-
"I've been recording with Frankie Goes to Hollywood recently, I've just started recording with Belouis Some (we are supporting Queen at the moment) and I've been doing some producing and recording for Bonnie Tyler - so it's really important for me to have a collection of good samples. I've been getting more into the programming and doctoring of samples and I find it great fun. I've been taking a lot of my own samples from multitrack recordings that I've been involved with. On multitrack it is much easier to get a clean, isolated sound to sample. You can get some samples off records, CD is the best. I've heard that a lot of people use a Big Country album for good snare sounds.
"The new Korg DSS-1 digital sampling synth is actually a lot more than just a sampler because you've got three separate ways of creating waveforms. Firstly, you can sample like other sampling synths and that's very straightforward. Secondly, you can create a waveform by harmonic synthesis. This is where you set the levels of 128 harmonics. Thirdly, you can draw your own waveforms. The display on the DSS-1 shows time whilst you move the slider up and down to draw the waveform. This is very healthy because you can create individual sounds without much knowledge at all. It's fascinating and these facilities give the product more life span.
"You can sample or create 16 waveforms on the DSS-1 at one time and then doctor these waveforms through all the controls and store 32 different programmes in the memory. This makes up one "system" — 16 samples and 32 programmes with each programme being a different treatment of the sampled waveforms. You can store four of these complete systems on each disc, so it is very convenient. It is like having four DW8000's per disc.
"Until the DSS-1 came along everyone had problems with the looping of samples. Unless you join the beginning and end of the loop at the same amplitude then you will get glitching. This has been a standard problem for years. For example on the Fairlight you have to put the waveform on the screen and find the start and end points that match. But on the DSS-1, if will do this for you. It has an auto cross search and cross fade functions which are very useful indeed.
"The physical display is great - especially the programme directory - because without writing notes everywhere it is easy to forget what you have got on each disc with multi sounds and keyboard splits everywhere. (I have got hundreds of discs where I don't know what's on them.)
"I would only ever use stereo outs, and very few people put down eight different sounds at once. Most people work on one sound at a time anyway and the DSS-1 has a built-in programmable EQ and two digital delays to process each sound. It is a powerful synth as well as a sampler — you cannot live by samples alone! For example, most people stick to analog strings. I still stick to the Poly 800 for string sounds live. This "link" function allows you to create the perfect string sound. The ideal would be a marcato strings (sampler from Beethoven's 5th) for your attack, with a looped analog string sound for the end. I've got some nice string sounds from Wagner's Parsifal but for warmth you cannot beat analog - especially in rock and roll.
"I will be using the new Korg sampling piano for the Bonnie Tyler tour. The idea of the library of good samples loaded from ROM is excellent because really good multisamples like these are very time consuming to produce. With its full MIDI spec, as well it is an ideal mother keyboard - does anyone want to buy a CP70?"
Many people have said that because of MIDI, guitars will never be the same again. Certainly, it brings the guitarist totally new capabilities. Originally only for solid body players, the concept of linking guitars to synthesisers is now a reality for acoustic players because of Ovation and Takamine.
Playback managed to track down Gordon Giltrap, one of the most respected electric-acoustic guitarists between recording sessions for his first solo acoustic guitar album, and get his views on the Ovation GTM6 MIDI guitar system. This is what he had to say:—
"I've always been interested in the guitar synth idea, but all the ones I've tried, like the Roland, have always seemed much too complex. This Ovation MIDI system is much more, how do you say, user friendly. Also, being primarily an acoustic guitarist and used to writing and performing on Ovations, I find this much more comfortable to use.
"I'm hoping to use the Ovation MIDI guitar in all aspects of my work, composing, orchestrating, and recording. I do all my composing on acoustic guitar and here the MIDI acoustic guitar is a tremendous breakthrough. I have always thought orchestrally and now I can recreate it all myself. The system has a sequencer built-in and a hold facility for playing over chords. Using it live is one of the most exciting aspects - one man sounding like a whole orchestra.
"I haven't had to change my playing technique to use the Ovation MIDI system, the tracking is really excellent. Listening to the sounds coming from the keyboard or expander rather than the acoustic guitar sounds is strange at first, but with correct adjustment of the MIDI unit it plays beautifully.
"I have worked with keyboard players since about 1975 when producing the albums 'Visionary', 'Perilous Journey', and 'Fear of the Dark' - my music demands that symphonic approach. I personally have never played keyboards, I've never had an affinity with them, so this is a fantastic breakthrough for me. Sometimes lines that I've written are guitaristic in nature and so do not transpose easily onto keyboards because they do not fall well under the fingers. These things have been difficult to work out, so here the MIDI guitar saves time. I would even go so far as to say that I can play things using the Ovation MIDI guitar that would be virtually impossible on a keyboard. Certainly I can do things that a keyboard player wouldn't think of doing because I'm playing keyboards through a guitar.
"My Adamas guitar has always been my first choice, but the Ovation Balladeer with MIDI fitted is fast becoming one of my favourites. The shallow bowl is comfortable to play standing up on stage and when sitting down and writing. The cutaway facilitates getting to the upper frets, which is an advantage with the MIDI system, and the frets are nice and fat. I've been using Ovations on stage and in the studio since 1976. Contrary to what some people think I bought them myself, and I use them because I believe in them.
"I am currently working on various projects, sound tracks for a new Virgin film and a BBC feature film, doing some jingle writing and producing library music. I'm also working on a new project together with Rod Argent, Bob Howes and various other musicians with a performance planned for later this year".
The system has been developed in conjunction with the Shadow Company and is based upon the Shadow MIDI system but with added features specific to Ovation and Takamine guitars.
Each system comprises of a special pickup and multiplexer fitted to the guitar which is then connected by a standard stereo jack lead to the rack mount unit. The rack mount unit then has MIDI outputs to connect to synthesizers, etc, and audio outputs for normal amplified guitar sound. The system includes triple footswitch and an easy use chart. Here's a summary of the other main features:-
- Individual string sensitivity controls.
- Dynamics control (affects touch sensitivity).
- Built-in guitar tuner.
- Each string can be sent to a different synth, if required.
- Each string can be transposed up or down 3 octaves in semitones.
- Program chains of different sounds for recall by footswitch.
- Hold facility allows a chord to be held on synth whilst guitar is played over the top.
- 1000 note built-in sequencer.
- Pitch recognition time of 6 milliseconds or 2 vibrations, whichever is greater.
John Zaradin is a brilliant classical guitarist. Trained at the Royal College of Music and the Paris Conservatoire, he has given live television and radio performances all over the world. He was the first musician in the UK to take delivery of a Takamine classical MIDI guitar. Playback spoke to him recently to see what effect MIDI had had on him.
"The MIDI system greatly extends the scope of the classical guitar. The guitar player has been on his own in the past because the guitar sound is a specialist sound. The MIDI guitar allows the guitarist to identify with other orchestral sounds and reproduce and compose with these new sounds. I have previously used different studios and musicians to achieve a wide range of sounds, but now I can do much more myself.
"From a performance point of view it expands what I can do. Many modern theatres are designed for speaking and not for classical guitar — they are often acoustically dead. I have been using a Takamine Hirade guitar with a small amp for a couple of years but now with the MIDI Takamine the range of sounds is much greater. Recently in my Brazilian show I've been joined by flute, bass, drums and percussion, and for Ronnie Scotts we added a keyboard player. Clearly now I can add some of these parts myself.
"I send my demo tapes overseas and people who would like me to do a concert tour sometimes are unable to afford my keyboard player as well. So the MIDI guitar will bring me more work.
"Ever since I started playing the guitar, I've had to imagine certain sounds that I can now obtain. For example I've just been playing some Bach suites arranged for cello. I've linked the guitar to a synth that has a cello sound and I can now play it as it was written. It improves your perception of the music. This means that it can also be an educational tool. We've just started a summer school and for teaching orchestration the MIDI guitar will be invaluable.
"The classical guitar player now has a doorway into the world of sounds only previously available to keyboard players".
Playback - Autumn 86
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