For musicians from Iceland, there are the inevitable stylistic comparisons to their fellow countrymen. But this doesn’t faze Ólöf Arnalds, so much so that the fingerprints of her contemporaries unassumingly appear on her two albums. Among her collaborators were none other than Sigur Rós’s Kjartan Sveinsson and Björk; with the former producing on both records and the latter volunteering her voice for a track off of Innundir Skinni, released this September on One Little Indian. While these heavyweights lent their talents, this album is completely Arnalds—intimate folk that makes you stop and want to sit awhile.
From the road, Arnalds answered FILTER’s questions about why she choose to compose some songs in English, how a South American instrument made its way into her music and, of course, what it was like to work with Sveinsson and Björk.Continue reading at FILTERmagazine.com
Non-Functioning EAS, An Unavailable Public File and Open Tower Site Gates Result in FCC Fines of $5500 and $3500
Earlier this week, I posted a Top Ten list of legal issues that should keep a broadcast station operator up at night. In two orders released today, the FCC found stations where these issues apparently had not been keeping their operators awake, as the FCC issued fines for numerous violations. At one station, the FCC found that the EAS monitor was not working, the fence around the AM tower site was unlocked, and the station had no public inspection file, resulting in a $5500 fine (see the FCC's Enforcement Bureau order here). At another station, the FCC inspectors were told that the station had no public file, and they also found the AM tower site fence unlocked, resulting in a $3500 fine (see the order here). These cases are one more example that, while broadcasters have plenty of big-picture legal and policy issues that they need to be concerned about, they also need to worry about the nuts and bolts, as the failure to observe basic regulatory requirements like tower fencing, EAS, and public file requirements can bring immediate financial penalties to a station.
The tower fencing issue is one that we have written about before. FCC rules require that public access be restricted to areas of high RF radiation, which are likely to occur at ground levels near AM stations. The FCC has many times issued fines for fences with unlocked gates, holes, or areas where there are gullies where a child could climb under the fence into the tower area. The FCC has been unwilling to accept excuses that the fence was locked "yesterday" or "last week" or at some other less defined time in the absence of proof, as they've heard that excuse many time. If the fence is open when they arrive, expect a fine.
EAS is another area where many stations have had issues. In this case, it appeared that the station operators were unfamiliar with the EAS system and how it worked, or why it hadn't received the required EAS alerts. I've heard from many engineers who work with the Alternate Broadcast Inspection Program ("ABIP") that this is a frequent problem at stations around the country. ABIP is a program that many state broadcast associations run, where they hire private inspectors to visit stations to assess their FCC compliance. If stations pass the ABIP program, they are exempt from a random FCC technical inspection for three years (though the FCC can still inspect a station which has passed the ABIP inspection where there are complaints or violations that are a threat to safety). These inspections can identify problems early, so that you can avoid fines later. All stations should consider such an inspection to avoid issues such as a non-functioning EAS receiver.
An ABIP inspection would also discover a problem that one of these stations had - no public file. Obviously, all full-power stations are supposed to have public inspection files. See our memo on the contents of the file for commercial stations. And all employees who could possibly be called on to greet an FCC inspector who arrives at a station should know where the file is kept. No file, or employees who don't know about the file, expect a fine.
Careful planning now, and undergoing an ABIP inspection can avoid fines later. In this case, a little prevention would have provided a cure from thousands of dollars of liabilities.
One of our favorite labels (Interchill) has a new remix album coming out November 9th. In the meantime grab this great remix from Six Degrees artist Gaudi (above). Can’t wait to check the whole record!
Check the info and video below!
Desert Phase, the fourth Kaya Project full length album, drew its inspiration from the time Seb Taylor and Natasha Chamberlain spent in some of the world’s largest deserts. Incorporating field recordings made while traveling across these windswept landscapes, along with additional studio sessions with several world musicians back in London, Desert Phase evokes colouful and dusty imagery of a timeless and mysterious terrain. Carrying on from where the digital-only Ummah Oum Remixes EP left off, Interchill decided to turn the distinctive Kaya Project sound over to the talents of a group of other accomplished producers to see what sort of re-interpretations would emerge.
Scattered across 3 continents, the select remixers represent a diverse range of musical inclinations from dubstep, breaks, glitch hop, techno, drum’n’bass and modern downtempo sensibilities. From New Zealand and Australia, Opiuo, Oblique Industries and Interpulse bring their unique skills to the forefront while US based producers Bluetech, EarthRise SoundSystem and Liquid Stranger each take their preferred tracks ‘Vijaya’, ‘Sundown’ and ‘Dust Devil’ into newly discovered sonic territory. UK based producers Tripswitch, Gaudi, Eat Static, 100th. Monkey and Seb Taylor’s three aliases Hibernation, Chaos By Design and Biotone, round out the tracklist with further globetronic treatments which offer further perspectives on the different phases of the desert.
The second release of its kind for Interchill, the Desert Phase Remixes album is a high calibre collection of divergent takes on the classic Kaya Project style. Each track opens a broader glimpse into the original piece while highlighting the individual tastes of each of the remixers and the diversity of their production techniques. The result is a digital melting pot of exotic influences and genre-defying grooves for dancefloors everywhere. Containing the best of both worlds, the remixes are an example of global fusion electronica at its finest and show the remarkable nature of intercontinental musical collaboration.
What if a gaping product hole for musicians were filled by a game company instead of a musical instruments company? There’s no need to imagine: pick up the new Rock Band 3 keyboard, and you’ll see what I mean.
Consider: most sub-$100 and compact keyboards have dumped 5-PIN MIDI DIN ports in favor of USB only – little comfort if you want to plug a keyboard into that DIY sound module or eBay treasure. (Alesis’ QS25 is one exception, but even a $150 M-Audio Oxygen is USB-only.)
And keytars? Fuggedaboutit. Strap-on keyboards or keytars are a great way to play keyboard lines, but they’ve tended to be freakin’ huge. They really do feel like strapping a full-sized keyboard on your shoulder, which can kill the joy of playing them. And the current “entry-level” model, Roland’s Lucina AX-09, has a street of US$600 or more. eBay bidders have made used items similarly pricey.
So, forget for a second that a game is involved. What if I told you you could get a cute, light little keyboard with MIDI DIN, intelligent MIDI mappings, and two great-feeling synth action octaves, all in a strap-on form factor with battery power, for $80?
Yeah. That’s what I thought. So whether you’re a hardened gamer or just looking for a nice, mobile keyboard controller, here’s an in-depth look at how MIDI works on the new Rock Band 3 Wireless Keyboard Controller – forever to be known to everyone outside Harmonix and Mad Catz as “the Rock Band keytar.”
The Hardware, Impressions
- 25 velocity-sensitive keys. (Velocity already gives a leg up over some stuff you can get on eBay. No aftertouch, though.)
- TRS port for stomp or expression pedals. (Right now, that means the bass drum pedal, until we figure out a DIY solution. It uses a little 3.5mm jack; working on finding out voltage specs.)
- 1-axis touch strip which maps to modulation and pitch.
- 5-pin MIDI DIN port.
- Xbox 360 (or PS3) game pad, wireless Xbox operation. (For wireless MIDI, you’re on your own.)
- Three AA batteries. (No external power.)
- Optional stand accessory. (This looks cute; I didn’t pick it up yesterday but may yet.)
- 4.6 lbs.
US$80 street, and also available bundled with the Rock Band 3 game.
I’ve handled a lot of “shoulder-mount keyboards,” and the simple reality is, a lot of them have pretty awful ergonomics. The Rock Band keyboard is about the best I’ve handled. It’s light enough that you can hold it in one hand, and compact enough that it’s about the width of a typical adult waist. That means it actually feels like a keytar sized to be played as a keytar.
The keyboard action is just a basic, unweighted synth action, but feels solid enough, and velocity response is consistent. I have to admit: I was very surprised by the quality of the keyboard. You could easily put this alongside so-called “pro” unweighted keyboards in the sub-$200 range and, blindfolded, no one would ever guess this was a game keyboard. I have no idea who built the action (it’s labeled “made in China”), but there would be no shame whatsoever in using it.
One oddity: F3, C4, and F4 each have raised ridges on the left-hand side of the keys, in order to delineate the keyboard as five keys, which allows it to be played with non-Pro songs and old games. With proper keyboard technique, though, you won’t even feel them, since the pads of your fingers will hit the middle of the keys. (That is, unless you have larger fingers.)
You also get a standard set of game controllers, and everything either sends a MIDI message or is used to toggle features on the keyboard. Not a button goes to waste.
The touchpad on the neck is probably the weak spot of the design. It’s usable, and conveniently located, but its response is pretty hard to control exactly. It’s also hard to hold down the overdrive button while using it, which is the only way to get to pitch. Then again, your left hand is likely busy holding the keyboard, anyway, just as on all keytars, so a pedal seems the better solution for anything really expressive. I’ll see how I adjust to it over time, though.
As with the guitar, operation is simple: plug in a MIDI cable.
Yeah, okay. There is something to be said for old-fashioned MIDI, huh?
Once you’ve plugged in, you get some surprisingly robust MIDI implementation:
Keyboard: 25 keys transmit normally, with velocity. (No aftertouch. I’m glad we get velocity.)
In drum mode, the keyboard transmits General MIDI drum parts, which is, of course, handy for playing drum patches. (It’s also handy for confusing the hell out of you if you didn’t know that’s what it did.)
Touch controller: 1-axis modulation. Hold down the “Overdrive” button, and while that button is held, it sends pitch bend – which makes pitch bend nearly unusable. (Too bad they didn’t just make the Overdrive button a straight toggle.) Works well enough for Modulation, though.
Octave: Octave up and down shift uses the X and B keys (on Xbox, or the left and right action keys), just as on the guitar – and just as on the guitar, you get four up, four down. Octave feedback is available on the LEDs.
Program change: Top and bottom action keys increment or decrement, respectively, program change. (Y and A on Xbox.)
D-pad buttons: As on the guitar, these toggle functions, though for the keyboard all four are mapped instead of three. Up turns on and off drum mapping, right changes the pedal to foot controller, down changes pedal to channel volume, and left changes the pedal to expression.
Transport controls: The Back, Guide, and Start buttons on the Xbox gamepad correspond to Stop, Continue, and Start MIDI messages, respectively – so if you’re tracking your next Rock Band Network song in Reaper, you can control your takes right from the keyboard.
Pedals: There’s one pedal port on the side. More on how to use this soon; I haven’t yet tried it. It’s a 3.5mm jack, but I have to find out the voltage. Stomp should work fine with a standard Rock Band drum pedal, and in the default mode, you can use that for a damper pedal. For expression, you need something that sends analog voltage.
Panic: Press the Back, Guide, and Start buttons simultaneously to switch all notes off. (Curiously, this appears not to be the same as on the guitar, but I can only test the keyboard to know for sure.)
MIDI channel: 1. Always. It’s always MIDI channel 1.
Note that there is no accelerometer output from the keyboard. Too bad; that would have been fun (and likely more useful than the two-fingered salute you have to do to get pitch bend from the touch strip). In fact, this sounds like a ripe opportunity for a little hack – maybe a strap-on board that transmits accelerometer and MIDI via Bluetooth.
Bottom line is, this thing is a joy for controlling computer synths or hardware, and may have just become my portable keyboard of choice, just because it’s fun to strap on. Of course, if you don’t care about the “keytar” form factor, any number of inexpensive keyboards will give you real pitch and mod wheels and some knobs. But if you want to play a keytar, this game controller has become, bizarrely, a must-buy.
As we find out more about the pedals, I’ll share that. In the meantime, enjoy.
Since the very first Guitar Hero game, musicians have found ways of converting game music controllers into genuine music controllers, through various hacks and tricks. But now, no hackery is needed: Rock Band 3′s new “Pro” controllers ship with actual MIDI DIN ports on the back. With the help of Harmonix, we get to look inside how that MIDI implementation works.
The Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang Pro-Guitar, designed as a collaboration between Harmonix and Mad Catz and manufactured by the latter, isn’t exactly a full-blown MIDI guitar. It has strings, but in place of fretting those strings, you instead use 102 fret buttons. (Stay tuned for details of the Squier Strat for RB3, which will be both – actual strings over the frets.)
Non-guitarists won’t mind the buttons: there’s no need to build up callouses. And the frets are located in the right place, so if you do know how to fret a guitar, you’ll find it usable. The other big upshot is price: with a street price of US$150, the Mustang is on the high end of game controller, but very much the low end of things that can simulate a guitar with MIDI.
I don’t yet have a Mustang on-hand — I’m hoping I can find a real guitarists to give one a full play test when it ships late in November. But I can describe how MIDI works on the device.
- Six actual strings sense velocity. (As you can see in the picture, they stop before they get to the fretboard, covering only the distance needed to allow you to strum them.)
- 102 buttons stand in for frets (17 frets, 6 buttons per fret)
- Power from three AA batteries
- 6.3 lbs
- Tilt sensor
- Xbox 360 game pad
- TRS port for stomp, expression pedal input. (Stomp pedals from the game will work; for expression pedals, we’ll need to do a hack or DIY solution.)
Here’s the pleasant surprise: just about everything onboard is mapped to MIDI, including even the game pad and tilt sensor. And there are even two play modes for additional flexibility when you’re working with MIDI.
Thanks to that 5-pin MIDI DIN port, you can connect the guitar to any computer or synth – even a post-MIDI vintage synth found on eBay. (No USB MIDI is provided, but a lot of audio interfaces and keyboards give you a MIDI in port “for free.”)
Configuration instructions: step one, turn it on. (The PS3 and Wii version will have an actual power switch; on Xbox 360, you have to hold down the Guide button, just as on other Xbox controllers.) Step two, plug in a MIDI cable (the one with 5 pins that we’ve been using for over a quarter century). Step three — there is no step three. Turn it on, plug, and go.
Octave: Increment and decrement octave are the left and right action buttons (X and B on Xbox).
Program change: Increment and decrement are the top and bottom action buttons (that’s Y and A on Xbox). Transmits on channels 1-6. No, really. There’s a program change message implemented on this thing. The default is 28, the patch for a clean electric guitar in General MIDI.
D-pad buttons switch functions for the pedal, from foot controller to channel volume to expression.
Pedals: Connect an analog pedal, and you can use continuous expression or volume. Connect a digital stomp (that is, one that’s either on or off, like the bass drum pedal), and you send a damper pedal / sustain message.
Panic: Mercifully, there’s an all notes off command issued if you press the Xbox Back, Start, and D-Pad right at the same time. (Hmmm – feels like ctrl-alt-del.)
MIDI channel: By default, the guitar transmits on channels 1-6 — that’s in order to transmit strings separately. Each of the six strings is a different channel.
Accelerometer transmits Modulation on the X axis, Expression on the Y axis, and Pitch Bend on the Z axis, and each can be toggled independently with shift (the Start key) + B, A, and X, respectively. (That’s a good thing, as controlling all three at once would be a little messy.)
Frets and strings: Here’s the tricky part, because you’re strumming something rather than playing a MIDI keyboard. There are two modes:
- “Strum mode.” Hold a fret, then strum the string. The note is sent when – and only when – you strum. The pitch is set by whichever fret is closest. That note is held until you change a fret.
- “Synth mode.” Strumming a string or changing frets will generate a note – meaning, if you like, you can use that fretboard as a 102-key keyboard. (Microtonal fans, go nuts.) Here’s the odd part, though – you need the strum to set velocity, so whichever strum you’ve last strummed is your current velocity. While it’s called “synth” mode, this is the only mode that allows hammer-ons and pull-offs.
We’re going to need to get the actual guitar and shoot some video before that really makes sense. But you get the idea.
You can adjust pitch up and down 4 octaves in either direction.
LED feedback gives you information on what’s toggled and what isn’t, though my guess is you’ll just listen rather than try to squint at the LEDs.
Want Real Strings?
If those buttons look unappealing to you, Rock Band 3 will have an alternative with real strings, the Squier Stratocaster.
In many ways, the Squier is more interesting – especially to actual guitarists, and not just people looking for a new way to fiddle with soft synths. With real strings, it ceases to be a toy, and while pricing and availability haven’t yet been announced, it’s likely to be the cheapest MIDI guitar solution out there.
I’ve confirmed that the MIDI implementation on the Squier will be similar to the Fender Mustang Pro – same channels and messages. It lacks the pedal inputs.
Engadget did a nice hands-on preview of the Strat, with photos and video.
With both “Synth” and “Strum” modes possible, I think Harmonix and Mad Catz may have a hit here. For someone who isn’t quite ready to commit to a MIDI guitar yet but just wants an alternative way to track some MIDI lines, it’s hard to beat basic input for $150, with frets in the right place instead of a piano keyboard. For other applications, I can imagine having some real fun – with the accelerometer and “Synth Mode,” the guitar becomes a very viable, absurdly cheap, velocity-sensitive controller for strange new synths and other creations.
It’s probably some of those oddball applications that will appeal most, as I suspect real guitarists will hold out for the stringed-fret Squier, leaving the buttons to the rest of us.
Beyond MIDI: These are wireless Xbox 360 controllers, too, so if you have any tool that can talk to Xbox controllers on PC, you should theoretically be able to rig up something wireless that doesn’t involve MIDI cabling. But I like the ability to plug into hardware synths with MIDI, no computer necessary, too – and as I say, those MIDI ports are often “free” on gear you already have plugged into your computer.
Stay tuned for when this ships.
Hopefully that gives you an idea whether you want to pre-order this sucker. Knock yourself out.
All photos courtesy Harmonix.
Slums and streets are his playground; a place where French street artist JR tries to affect social change with his art. JR was recently recognized for these efforts and was announced as the TED prize winner for 2011. He has now been granted one wish by the TED (Technology Entertainment & Design) community in order to try and change the world; which will be revealed at the award ceremony during the TED Conference.
Much like Bansky, street artist JR remains anonymous. With his two-sided project “Women are Heroes”, JR is owner of the ‘biggest art gallery in the world’, trying to emphasize the pivotal role women play in their own countries. He shoots them in every-day situations and posts their pictures on the top of slum rooftops or the Favela stairways of Brazil.
The other side to this project is posting the same images to Western countries, trying to connect two different worlds through art, creating awareness and understanding amongst humanity.
The TED conference will take place from February 28th- March 4th.
See the amazing slide show of JR’s photographs on the NY Times and watch his touching trailer WOMEN ARE HEROES here:
Some exciting news direct from the offices of Bear Funk, the label that also brought you Todd Terje, Idjut Boys and Chicken Lips will now be releasing the debut of disco house act Kotey Extra Band.
Entitled Full Length, this is the project of one UK native Stevie Kotey, the man who actually set up the Bear Funk label in 2002. The LP utilizes the powers of some very impressive names including Scandinavian disco prince Lindstrom, legendary keyboardist Chaz Jankel from Ian Dury and The Blockheads, Dean Meredith from Chicken Lips and finally Robin Lee of Faze Action.
A delightful long-player that will have disco fans salivating across the world, especially with George Demure’s sleazy vocal take on "Danger Eyes". This LP has been almost 10 years in the making after Kotey spent most of the time A&R’ing his label, in between putting out bits and pieces of his own. He says: "The aim of the extra band was to highlight some of these collaborations and have some fun."
Kotey Extra Band will release Full Length on Bear Funk November 30th
French producer Fulgeance will be putting out his third consecutive EP titled Glamoure at the end of this month.
Back in Summer of 2009, Fulgeance put out his Smartbanging EP which made us take notice. His new EP Glamoure is no different. The same Detroit-French styled ingredients is used on this EP as was used on the previous two EPs Low Club and Chico. Ghetto-tech beats mixed in with some seriously good boogie bass lines. Could make a grown man weak at the knees.
Low Club, Chico and Glamoure form a succession of EPs that lead up to Fulgeance’s album release next year.
This new EP and the following LP will be out on French label Musique Large, home to Débruit and for good measure a remix from Kelpe is thrown in the EP.
Glamoure will be unleashed on the 29th of October on Musique Large
Check out this rather suggestive ‘French’ video for the track: