Category Archives: Reviews

Review Behringer Poly D

I have had the Behringer Poly D analog synthesizer for a couple of months now and have done a major project, so I want to do a quick review of it.  First, as always, I need to give a quick history lesson.  Why?  The Poly D is a Minimoog clone (sort of, in a way…).

(Skip to the review if you don’t want to read all of this, or the videos at the bottom)

The Minimoog was released in 1970 and was the first synthesizer that you could pick up in a normal retail music store.  It was one of the earliest synthesizers aimed at stage musicians and was extremely popular.  Even though Moog soon had a lot of competition in the portable synth market, such as the EMS Synthi (used by Pink Floyd*) and the different Arps (used by many, including Genesis), the Mini was so huge that most people used the terms “Moog” and “Synthesizer” synonymous.  And it did find its way into pop, rock, r&b, dance, jazz and beyond through the 70s.  Even in the 80s, it was the main synth on the Thriller album and was used by most of the early Technopop bands.  In the 90s it helped create the emerging electronica and electronic dance music. 

In other words, the Minimoog is one of the most iconic synthesizers of all times.

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Final Thoughts on Little Dorrit

Charles Dickens at his Desk in 1858 – This was from Wikimedia and I make no claim to ownership

OK, confession time – I did not finish Little Dorrit until last night.  I have a lot of excuses (other reading, a huge amount of writing, etc.) but for the most part they are just that, excuses. 

Anyway, when I was about three-quarters of the way through, I drew up a list of talking points.  Well, after finishing, I have some other things to say…. I will mention these talking points, I just won’t spend as much time with them as planned.  Still, maybe I will spend too much time on them ;) (long post warning…)

One thing that I noticed when I was deep into the book was that Dickens had spent the first 100 pages or so (my copy had 787 pages) just introducing characters and planting a few seeds of plot and subplot.  When I started reading, I only did a few pages at a time, usually before going to bed.  The problem was that there was no plot or substance to get my teeth into at first and so it was a real chore getting through the first 200 pages – I spent almost 4 months on those pages and less than 4 days on the other 587 pages!

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First Impressions – Sequential Prophet Rev 2

I picked up a Sequential (DSI) Prophet Rev 2 polyphonic analog synthesizer a couple of weeks ago. After two weeks of playing, I decided to make a recording and talk about it.

First a few terms. “Analog” means that the sound is created by electronics as a continuous electrical signal which is then manipulated by other electronics. I know,obtuse, but that definition is a contrast with “digital”, which means the sound is created and manipulated by a computer. Most of the first commercial synthesizers were analog.

I said it was a polyphonic synthesizer (poly-synth). In this case “polyphonic” means more than one note can be played at once, sort of like a piano, with each note being distinct. The distinct note is called a “voice” – my Prophet Rev 2 is an 8 voice synthesizer (16 voice Rev 2s exist – more about this later). The way this works is that each voice is played by a completely different synthesizer! In the late 1970s, Dave Smith perfected a way for a computer to store values for a synthesizer so that all of the different voices (synthesizers) could have the same sound though the user only has to set up the sound once (one set of controls). It also let the user save sounds. This instrument was the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. It helped to revolutionist the music industry and, actually, music itself.

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Review – Behringer VC340

B VC340

Last week I received a Behringer VC340 that I ordered a few months back.  This is a recreation of a classic synthesizer, the Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus, which was made in 1979 and 1980.  Although the production of this synthesizer was short, it, along with the rackmount version, the SVC-350, is found all over music of the early 80s, including artists as far apart as Vangelis and Laurie Anderson.

The VC330, like the original VP-330, instead of being a general synthesizer is divided into three main parts: a string synthesizer, a “human voice” synthesizer and a vocoder.

The string synthesizer is just what it sounds like, a synthesized string ensemble sound that uses simple analog technology of the day.  String synths were very popular in the late 70s and the Roland version can be heard on a lot of music by a wide variety of artists.  It offers a simple tone (brightness) control, attack (how quickly the sound starts) and release (how quickly the sound fades after you take your hands from the keys). Continue reading

Review – Korg ARP Odyssey

Korg ARP Odyssey

I just picked up the Korg recreation of the classic analog synthesizer, the ARP Odyssey.  I first started playing with the instrument on Friday and it is Monday morning, so this is more of a “first impression” than an actual review.  Before that first impression, I should talk about the instrument a little.

A Brief History of the Odyssey

Back in the early 1970s ARP released the Odyssey as a direct competitor for the Mini Moog.  The Mini had the famous big, phat sound, but the Odyssey, besides being less expensive, had a lot going for it.  It was duophonic (you could play two notes as opposed to the Mini’s one), it had a ring modulator (creates complex harmonics), you could synch the oscillators (forces them in tune with each other, even when you try to force them out of tune), you can put an envelope on pitch, there was sample and hold (S&H), there was a simple high pass filter, and you could do some more complex modulation routings. Continue reading

Hidden Figures – Almost a Review

hidden-figures

A few weeks ago, I read the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.  I really liked the book and can’t imagine the movie covering one tenth the ground it did.  There is so much context and background in the book, and yet I know the author was still only scratching the surface.

This is not a review of the book (review = excellent.  Read it).  I just want to say something about the book, something that I thought about as I read it but that is even more relevant after the recent events in Charlottesville.

A lot of this book is about racism at its ugliest, but also how some people were able to rise above it, or perhaps “rise in spite of it” would be a better phrase.  A little background about how hard it was for people of color, and blacks in particular, to get ahead in the pre-World War II era was needed to place the events of the book in context.  There were black professionals back then, but for the most part they were segregated, dealing with the black community at much lower pay than their white counterparts.  The idea brought out in the book that they had to accomplish twice as much to achieve half of the recognition, unfortunately, is still with us to some degree to this day. Continue reading

Book Review: Possibilities – Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey

possibilities

If you were to ask people to list the five greatest living jazz musicians, Herbie Hancock would make it onto most people’s list.  If you asked for the top ten jazz musicians, those with the greatest influence, of all time, he would make more than a few lists.  If you are of a certain age you might remember his pop/jazz/hip-hop crossover hit, Rockit, its great video and the MTV Award presentation.  If you are a keyboardist of a certain age you may consider his solo on the song Chameleon as one of the greatest analog synthesizer solos ever recorded.  And many know him from his days as the pianist from Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet.  I would say that in many ways Herbie Hancock was the great inheritor of the Miles Davis legacy.  Miles never stood still, and claimed to have “reinvented jazz five or six times”.  Herbie followed in his footsteps by never following in anybody’s footsteps, including his own.  His music constantly shifted and changed.  Sure, he did occasionally do a little nostalgia, like the whole VSOP thing, but for the most part he tried to do something different ever few years.  Remember, this is a man who has won fourteen Grammys and an Oscar, and has received many other honors.

Being a music lover who is into jazz I had to read his autobiography, Possibilities. Continue reading

Book(s) Review – Imperial Radch Series (Ancillary Justice, Sword and Mercy)

ann_leckie_-_ancillary_justice-jpeg

There are a few things that I need to talk about before I begin this review.  First, the review is for three books, Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, the three books in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch Trilogy.  Or is it the first three books of her Imperial Radch Series?  I believe it’s a trilogy, but time will tell.

I try to make sure there are no spoilers in my reviews.  In this one I take it to an extreme.  There is something you will figure out in the first chapter or two of the first book, Ancillary Justice.  It is perhaps the core idea of the series.  But to me it was a “wow, very cool!” moment when I discovered it.  I’d feel evil if I took that moment away from you.  I am going to talk about things you’ll find out along the way, but they aren’t the “Wow, very cool!” type things as this fundamental concept of the author’s universe.

One thing you’ll figure out later in the book is what the names of the books are about.  In this universe an “ancillary” is a human body that is controlled by another intelligence as part of a larger, cohesive unit.  The “bigger” intelligence is usually an artificial intelligence of a ship.  That isn’t a great definition, but will do to get you started.  And what are the ships that have these “ancillaries” tied into their network? There are generally three types that are important in the books (again, with a grain of salt), all three being armed military ships with the ancillaries being used, in one role, as soldiers.  The three ships are the huge troop carriers, the Justices (i.e., like the first book), the much smaller, faster Swords (second book) and the Mercies (third book).  I’m not sure exactly what a Mercy is except that it isn’t as well armed as a Sword, at least not for ship to ship combat.  So, we have three ship types and three books with the ships in the title, which, at least in part, is where my guess that the series will stop at a trilogy comes from. Continue reading

Book Review – Neil Gaiman American Gods

neilgaimanamericangods

A month or so back my sister posted a trailer for a new Starz series called “American Gods”.  I asked about it and her response was, “Are you kidding me!?! You haven’t read the book!?!”  Sorry, no.  Well, she told me it was a must read, particularly since my main genre, at least for my books, is urban fantasy.  So I read it….

First, a little administrative task: I need to tell you that the book I read was the “Author’s preferred text”, 10th anniversary edition.  It has been edited from the original release and some material that was removed (like 15,000 words) was added back in.

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The book American Gods begins with the main character, Shadow, waiting to be released from prison after serving for three years.  With an introduction to some of his fellow prisoners you get the idea that it was memories of his wife that made his time in jail bearable.  As he waits for his release, the tension in the air increases, like a storm brewing on the horizon.  With just a couple of days to go he is called down to see the warden.  He is told that he is being realized early.  Why?  Because his wife had died in an auto accident.  The woman who made the wait worth it would not be there for him.  On his way home to the funeral he bumps into a mysterious man.  This is a meeting that will totally change his life, change his life and more, much, much more…

OK, that’s how it begins.  I don’t want to get too deep into it because I don’t’ want to let the cat out of the bag about the premise of the book.  “Premise” might be the wrong word.  There is a truth behind the people Shadow meets both in his real life and in his strange dreams.  As a piece of “speculative fiction”, there is one thing you have to believe to make it real.  It isn’t the biggest secret of the book and most reviewers will tell you up front what it is.  I mean, just look at the title.  I don’t want to let it out because it is fun to discover it at the same pace Shadow does.  No, it really wouldn’t be a spoiler if I told you, particularly since the whole book is about it and you’ll find out sooner than later, I just don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun. Continue reading

Book Review – The Yearbook

 

yearbook

“The Yearbook” by Carol Masciola

Lola Lundy was more than a misfit. After her mentally ill mother’s suicide she was hustled off from foster home to foster home, usually leaving by running away. She was a poor student who had a criminal record. Not edgy enough to be cool she just did what she needed to do to survive. Shortly after arriving in the Ohio rust-belt city where her mother had ended her life, Lola slipped into the school library in an attempt to escape attention and be left alone. This was the start of an adventure that thrust her back to the town’s heyday of 1923 where she was different enough to gain attention. One of the people who noticed her was the handsome, studious Peter. Lola thought she had found her soulmate, but before she could go on she was whisked back to the present.

Was it a dream? Perhaps she was going insane, like her mother. Maybe she just needed a place of refuge where she could fit in and perhaps the still growing, clean city of the 1920s, where everything seemed possible, was just the place her mind needed to go. To Lola, however, it was perfectly clear. She believed she really did go back in time and was desperate to return, desperate to find her true love who she had left almost ninety years behind.

The Yearbook is a YA novel by Carol Masciola. It might be described as a time travel romance with a psychological edge. Continue reading