Monthly Archives: March 2008

farting martians

well, the neuron finally arrived.

and i’ve spent several hours already, fiddling with the thing and muttering “what the hell?”

this instrument is idiosyncratic to the point of perversity… which is of course exactly why i’m so glad to have it. that, and it meets my primary criterion for an “interesting” synthesizer, in that you’re never more than one or two knobtwists away from total chaos. pick any standard pad (and none of them are really “standard” in the conventional sense), push one level into the editing parameters, flip the joystick in any random direction, and suddenly the string synth becomes the Martian Fart Machine. it doesn’t even load properly in sonar’s VST manager, reinforcing the impression that in using it you’re always just riding the ragged edge of collapse. it is in all respects appropriately and thoroughly funky.

the manual is a codex, written in what appears to be perfectly good grammatical english, describing some insane german engineer’s idea of what parametric resynthesis might be. it may as well be coptic, for all its relation to just about anything else in electronic music. the instrument is just weird, and the oddity of its interface and parameter space is perfectly in keeping with the wheedles, zwoops and gronks which lie immediately behind even the sine wave model.

alison finds it unmusical. which means of course that it’s perfect for me. no bass/pad/horn banks. no umpteenth instance of an electric piano. just pure electronic sonorities that move and shimmer and occasionally fall apart gracelessly in the way that only cranky digital engines can.

this thing is so right for me.

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synthetic therapy

i just bought a hartmann neuron.

well, almost. i actually bought the VS version, which comes with a proprietary controller for the synth’s unique features. i was ready to drop over three thousand dollars for the full keyboard, but the place near me that had one on its sales floor for the past few years finally sold it, and i decided to settle.

synthesizers have been really uninteresting for quite a while now… especially hardware synths, which have all followed a single basic template since the M1. a few have offered one variation or another on architecture, performance interface or even synthesis model, but those variations have been largely buried by the “workstation” monstrosities and their bloated approach to packaging and marketing. quirks have been increasingly hard to come by, especially in hardware synths, which no longer really support their own prices in the evolving digital music domain.

software synths have stepped into this void pretty well, with offerings from the stupendously comprehensive to the gleefully retro to the outright squelchy. i’ve been happy with what i’ve found as i’ve pushed more into virtual synths – enough so that i’m on the verge of selling almost all of my current keyboards. but the performance interfaces are never as satisfying on these things, and it’s still hard to find something so compelling that you’re willing to adopt it as your instrument – something that serves as more than just another module in a rack of redundant options.

enter the neuron, which, when i first tinkered with one a few years ago, filled me with that rare longing i get when meeting not just a new instrument, but a whole new potential. not just a new sound but an actual new idea, that invites art, in the sense of attentive, purposive exploration of a medium.

of course, the cost kept me away, but i never stopped thinking about the thing… unlike other interesting toys that have merely tickled my fancy. and when it became clear that i was likely to lose any opportunity to know this tool, to move my own art to the somewhere new that i really need it to go… well, there comes a point where you listen to the voice, even if it costs you a bit.

i would still have liked to have had the keyboard. but the VS will more than do. it’s being shipped from the UK. so i wait, and breathe a little deeply, and ready myself to Make Stuff.