The Grabbing Hands
Have you won our DX100?
After all these months, our Write A Feature competition has a winner. Find out why it was so long coming, and read the article that won its author a Yamaha DX100.
When we asked readers to send in features to stand a chance of winning a Yamaha DX100 synth, little did we know how many would write in, how well they'd write, and how long it would take us to judge the competition. But now the wait is over.
WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. Some make bigger mistakes than others, it's true, but that's usually because they get more opportunities to cock things up.
Magazine editors get as much scope for error as any professional people I can think of. Just imagine it. Page upon page of information every month, all of which has to be religiously checked just in case an erroneous remark causes someone, somewhere to take issue with the organ.
On a larger scale, magazine staff can make a mistake by deciding to run a certain feature in a certain way, or by choosing one idea for an article in favour of another.
Back in February of this year, the staff of the magazine you're now holding made a mistake. A big one.
Yamaha had given us a DX100 polyphonic synthesiser (FM, 192 sounds, poseur's strap), which was pretty decent of them as these things retail at £350 in the shops. It was then up to us to decide how we should give the synth away in the magazine, and we spent a week or so thinking of ideas for a competition.
Now, no one member of the staff has admitted to coming up with the idea we eventually plumped for, but as the Editor, I take ultimate responsibility for most of this sort of thing - which is why I'm writing this now, and Goodyer, Trask and McGrath are in Corfu sunning themselves.
Write a feature, we told you, and you could win a DX100. More than that, the winning feature would appear in a forthcoming issue of E&MM, and the writer responsible would be taken on as one of our regular freelance authors. It sounded like a good idea to us, mostly because we're constantly trying to find out what the hell the magazine's readers are interested in, and partly because as competitions go, this one didn't look as though it should elicit too great a response, and judging it would be made all the easier.
Send us your copy, we said. And you obliged. In fact, over 100 of you obliged, each one penning a short but sweet 1200 words (the stated maximum) on the subject of your choice, presenting it to us in varying degrees of neatness, and occasionally submitting the odd bribe.
The volume of entries in itself wouldn't have been so bad if the standard of writing hadn't been so high. For while we were naturally a little chuffed at discovering how literate E&MM readers were, that level of literacy had given us a serious judging problem.
What all this boils down to is that only now, six months after we originally ran our Hold the Front Page competition, do we have a winner. It's been a long and miserable wait, but as I've said, we all make mistakes.
Before we leap straight in with the winning piece, a quick run through of the sort of material we received. We'd deliberately imposed few restrictions on the choice of subject matter that was allowed, and what we got was a wide range of submissions that fell, very roughly, into four categories.
First there was the crystal-ball gazing epic: titles like 'Frankfurt 1996', 'E&MM Ten Years On' and that kind of thing. Mostly these were uninspired and predictable, as were the spoof product previews - 'Zlatna Series III' et al - that were written in much the same vein. It's one thing to make predictions about 32-bit samplers, new methods of digital resynthesis and 64-voice drum machines, quite another to conceive whole new fields for music technology to embrace; sadly, very few people succeeded in doing the latter.
The second category covered features bemoaning the state of the modern music scene, technology's apparent inability to instil new life into music, and so on. Many of these were well written, but the sad thing was that although many entrants criticised music in '86 with pinpoint accuracy and biting wit, only a small minority offered constructive and original advice as to how we might go about changing things. Hats off to Tony Adamczyk of Nuneaton and Ian Carstairs of Durham for being the most inspired in this area.
Third come the practical features, which arrived with varying degrees of technical detail and accuracy. The pieces ranged from user reports of particular instruments and educational essays, to small software routines and programming features. There were even a couple of readers who chanced their arm by submitting the first part of a series. And there was some clear, concise writing, too, notably from Roger Bush of Cumbria, Gary Larson of Washington DC, Alec Evans of Portsmouth and Alan Andros of Newcastle. Ultimately, though, none of the educational pieces really struck us as being outstanding enough to win the competition. Many of them were useful in specific areas, but there was nothing universal that was head and shoulders above everything else.
Fourth and last came the personality stories: interviews with designers and composers, reviews of concerts, and personal anecdotes from musicians anxious to warn others away from the pitfalls they fell into. Most of the interviews and reviews of real people/events were on the dry side, though there were some clever spoof stories. More interesting, though, were the musicians' anecdotes, the stories of instant fame dashed by bad fortune, of great inspiration denied by intransigent technology.
And it's one of these anecdotes that has won its creator our Yamaha DX100. Step forward, Graeme Holiday of Ashingdon, Essex, for you are E&MM's latest prizewinner.
Graeme's piece summed up what many tried to say - that once you get caught on the carousel of new gear, there's no getting off. For us, his 1200 words said more about the current state of music technology than any other piece - and said it more succinctly, more objectively, and more entertainingly, too.
To all those who slaved over word-processors, typewriters, personal stationery and papyrus, we offer our commiserations and our thanks. You gave us a lot of reading pleasure and a few sizeable headaches, and we had a lot of fun.
To Graeme Holiday we offer our congratulations. The DX100 is on its way.
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A SAD but true story. It should serve as a warning to anyone considering buying their first keyboard.
It was November 1984 - I was happy. I'd got married the month before, we had a new house, I liked my job - everything in the garden was great. It couldn't last. It didn't.
It was an ordinary Saturday morning, I'd arranged to play squash with a friend and my wife was coming to watch. We played. I won. Isn't life wonderful? Then it happened. Alan (the friend) uttered ten life-destroying words - 'Come and see what I've bought the kids for Christmas'. It sounded harmless enough. It couldn't hurt.
After making sure the kids were out, the Christmas present was revealed - a Casio MT68 portable keyboard! Yeah, I know - why are you reading this pap if all I've got to talk about is an MT68? But this was just the start.
I was knocked out by this little machine - rhythm patterns, autochords, drum fills... you know the list. I had to have one. At this point Lynn (my wife) made her big mistake.
'You've got your Access card - why don't we go to Dixons?'. No, she's not for sale.
We went to Dixons, I parted with my flexible friend and the nightmare began. The Casio entertained me for about three weeks. I quickly tired of those rhythms and autochords and decided I needed a more sophisticated toy. I started to buy magazines - dozens of them. I still do - it's like a drug. I know every publishing date from E&MM to H&SR (and all the ones in between). I never calculate how much I spend on magazines. I'm too frightened.
Anyway, back to the plot. It was in one of these helpful magazines that I saw my dream machine. An all singing, all dancing, mega keyboard... The Yamaha PS6100. Now you're cooking! Four-track recording, FM sounds, PCM rhythms... the lot. If I bought this machine I'd never have to buy anything else. Where's Lynn?
'We could get a bank loan', I suggested. We had only been married two months - she still had a lot to learn, poor kid.
OK, to the bank. 'I wanna refit the kitchen', I lied.
'Sounds fair - here's 900 quid'.
It was January 2, 1985 - I had an MT68, a PS6100, a bank loan and a slightly dubious wife.
To be fair, I was quite impressed with the PS6100 - some of the sounds were great (vibes, electric piano, flute) and the auto-accompaniments would make any nurd sound like Bobby Crush. But I was soon to tire.
For a start I couldn't change any of the sounds and, having read all the various magazines, I felt what I really needed was... a synthesiser.
A trip to the local music store was obviously in order - they'd advise me, they'd tell me what I needed to make this aching and yearning go away (plink, plink, fizz).
To the music store I went. 'I know absolutely nothing about synthesisers', I declared. 'What should I buy?' Try as he might, the salesman couldn't hide the glint in his eye. 'Come and sit down here little boy - would you like a sweetie?'.
I could actually feel the wallet being lifted from my pocket. After much 'What does this do?', 'How much does this cost?', 'How many sounds has this got?', I decided all I really needed to make my life complete was a Yamaha CX5 Music Computer. This, at £499 plus large keyboard, the salesman assured me was a wise investment, and furthermore they'd take the PS6100 off my hands. Deal!
I rushed home to show the very impressed and interested wife. 'Very nice - when are you going to paint the bathroom?'. They're such understanding creatures.
I was content and I could program just about everything. But bugger me, this FM takes some getting used to. I was also not impressed with the rhythm box included. It sounded like a soggy Weetabix box (OK?), and although I had all these great ideas for songs I could only record one track on the CX5 (the four-track real-time sequencer was just a twinkle in Yamaha's eye then, and I didn't have the patience with the Composer program).
At this point, I hold the magazines wholly responsible for my next act of folly. I'd spent the last few weeks reading about drum machines and four-track cassette machines, and thus knew where my destiny lay. I convinced Lynn that one more loan would get me a Tascam 244 Portastudio and Yamaha RX11 drum machine.
She agreed, but I had to promise this would be the last loan. I also had to paint the bathroom.
So back I went to the music shop. 'I want one of those and one of those please' (just loud enough so everybody else in the shop would be impressed with what I was buying). The salesman was delighted and, as he cheerily waved me to my car, he said three words that cast a shadow over my happy day.
'See you soon.'
There was something haunting in those words. He said them with such confidence I knew he was right.
Well, the list just goes on and on. I'd recently started taking piano lessons (you ever tried practising the piano on a CX5?), so an electric piano became a necessity. Enter the Roland EP50. I soon got fed up trying to program the CX5 and decided to expand my synth collection, so it didn't take long to convince myself I needed a Casio CZ101 (I didn't need the CZ1000 as the EP50 makes a great mother keyboard - thanks, Roland). Next came a Korg EX800, which I consider my best value buy to date.
I had to get a mixer to save tracks on the Portastudio, but the recordings sounded dull. A trip to Turnkey solved that one, and I'm still quite happy with my Great British Spring stereo reverb (though I can hear my little room saying 'Go buy us one of those new Yamaha multi-effect processor thingies, Graeme').
So that is currently about it. It won't stop there, of course. How can I call myself a keyboard player if I don't have at least a DX7, a Prophet 2000 and a PF80? I really feel a need to upgrade to eight-track, and there's no point in doing that unless I've got decent processors. It's hopeless, I'm hooked!
Amazingly, my wife is still with me, even though I think she regrets the day she said 'Let's go to Dixons'.
I know some of you will feel this is pretty far-fetched (remember, it's all happened in under 18 months) but I promise you it's true. Believe me, if you're just about to buy your first keyboard, a year from now you'll be writing to E&MM trying to win the latest DX.
Take my advice - take up knitting.
Competition by Dan Goldstein
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!