Friday, 28 November 2008

Keyfax - all the keyboards you can't afford.

Who else remembers this book? First published in 1985, later revisions had much less scary pictures of Julian on the cover. My copy is much loved and well thumbed - I knew it almost off by heart. I was the world's greatest expert on synthesisers I could sadly never afford.

A flick through the book now has given me a whole bunch of 'where are they now?' article ideas. There's long lost exotica like the Kinetic Sound Prism (Julian's 5th favourite keyboard at the time) or Beilfuss Performance Synthesiser. Wondefully retro home keyboards like the dazzling and complex range of Casiotones. And the just plain odd, like the RMI Computer Keyboard ...

I'll do some research on all these machines for you - as well as work my way through a stack of 'Electronics and Music Maker' I found in the loft. Ah, sweet nostalgia!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Well blow me! The Yamaha VL7

Oops, I did it again. I spotted this in the corner of my local pawn shop amongst the usual collection of casio home keyboards, with their 32 styles of auto accompaniment (I just love to rhumba). This exotic machine exuded quality, yet I'd never heard of it before. A quick Google told me I was looking at a 'virtual acoustic synthesiser' (thanks SoundOnSound) that once cost an 'affordable' £2,199 - and came laden with hyperbole - 'truely revolutionary', 'unbelievably good', a 'minimoog for the nineties' if it wasn't so darned expensive. Well, it wasn't so expensive now - I emptied my kids' piggy banks and staggered home clutching my latest essential toy.

I remembered virtual synthesis from the Korg Prophecy - rather than use samples, it would digitally model what happened when air was blown down a tube, or a string was plucked and damped. I also remember being quite impressed after a 2min demo at the back of a local music store, so I had high hopes for this machine. First impressions were less than impressive - I switched it on, did a couple one finger melodies (did I mention this beast is monophonic) and heard nothing my Fantom or JV-1080 couldn't do. Oh well, technology has obviously moved on ...

It wasn't until I read the manual and looked again at this machine it all started to click. It's got three mod wheels and two continuous sliders. It should also have come with a breath controller and a foot controller. This machine is all about control. So I set up the controllers, cleared my mind and tried to think 'flute'. Oh wow. It's obvious stuff, but the harder you blow across a flute (or down a whistle or pluck a string), the sound doesn't just become louder. It changes subtly, and every little nuance of that is modelled. Once I stopped bashing at keys and tried to get a feel for the instrument I was playing, I was blown away (if you'll excuse the pun).

So, I'm in love. I explained this purchase to my wife as a desire to turn a quick profit, but now I can't let it go. Infact, I've got eBay searches running to get the breath and foot controllers this machine is missing to get the full VL7 effect. And frankly, I think it looks quite handsome in the middle of the living room.

Quick Update

Eventually I did sell it - oh, how it hurt, but it was made quite clear to me that no new equipment could come into the house until this beast went. And if you put it like that, well ...

So on Ebay it went - and blimey, what a bidding frenzy. These machines are obviously still very sought after. So thank you to all the bidders, and eventually I made some four times what I paid for it. So now I have a full Paypal account, and I'm itching to buy something!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Super Stylophone!

I had a nostalgia spasm a few weeks back and bought one of the new model Stylophones. It brought me, oh, 15 minutes of fun playing along with CDs before it went on a shelf to gather dust.

So you cannot imagine how gutted I am to have missed this beast on eBay. Up until an hour or so ago, I wasn't even aware of the existance of the Super Stylophone - now I want one so much it hurts.

Yes, it's a 'pro' stylophone - it has *two* stylii (do you use them like chop sticks?) and a photo-cell that you can wave at to produce wah effects (just like my Fantom!). It has a range of sounds, it has controllable sustain/decay, it has vibrato and, err, reiteration. It's seriously rare and I'm sure would impress impressionable women.

Now, maybe you know all about these machines. Maybe you're sitting there at home, knitting stylophone covers with your dual stylii. But, if you're like me, and had spent most of your life blissfully unaware of it - but suddenly find yourself with a thirst to know more, visit 'The Stylophone Website' and be amazed by the matching amplifiers, the 'bass' stylophone (think TB303) and the rather cute Hong Kong rip off.

* UPDATE *  - it's back on eBay! I know some of you have been struggling to find me the perfect Christmas present ... 

Welcome to BleepStar!

For me, the mid 80s were the golden time. I was a carefree student and wanabee pop star - I had the time to sit in my student flat and twiddle my knobs (ooh err) and dream. And I dreamed of massive MIDI setups - DX7s, Fairlights, PPGs, effects racks and automated mixing desks. But alas, dream was I all I could do - a student grant doesn't extend to such exotica. So I had to work with ageing analogue synths with sticky sliders, improvised samplers made from digital delays, ancient PA desks and even tape loops.

So this blog is tinged with nostalgia for those days - if I saw a Fairlight now on eBay, would I buy it? Whatever happened to those strange bits of kit I used to use - Casio home keyboards, Gnat synths, Tandy echo units? If I found one now, would the limitations drive me mad - or offer me sonic possibilities outside the laptop driven, virtual synth norm? And let's be honest - where am I going to put all this stuff?