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Look At All This MIDI - Part 2

Look at this. Look at this wonderful UI. This the Korg M1 UI (this screenshot being the iM1 app in particular):

From working with iM1, I began to understand more and more complex patch creation that I hadn't before, such as the LA synthesis from the MT-32 I had bought years earlier. And I wanted more to play with. I began to amass some more hardware, building out a rack with multiple units in it. With the MT-32 now crazy pricy, I sold that off for much more than I originally bought it for, instead grabbing a roughly equivalent D-110. I also got newer Roland JV-2080, and a few expansion cards, and a Korg Triton Rack. Soon I had amassed a massively complex setup of multiple rackmount units, a mixer, a MIDI switch, and more... And that became a hassle I quickly grew tired of.

It was time to downsize. I gradually sold off all the hardware (except the D-110, because nobody wants to buy those), replacing it all with one single unit: the Roland Integra-7. The Integra-7 is a superset of their JV line, with the internal ROM of the XV-5080, and every single commercial expansion board ever made for it, as well as another set of un-editable presets on a special expansion ROM (including another return of the Touhou fandom's favorite patch RomanticTp, which I also since learned originated from one of the JV expansion boards before ZUN made it famous in the SD-90). The full JV library is all I was originally interested in, but it also has a second synthesizer engine that's meant for much more realistic natural instrument sounds. And it also has a third synthesis engine too, a Virtual Analogue synthesizer, which gives even more options. Way more than I was expecting to get out of it originally, it really is an insanely nice all-in-one unit, that's going on more than eight years of being manufactured because Roland's not made anything to succeed it.

Because I do travel a lot (or, well, did, stupid pandemic), there's a number of software plugins I use as well as the Integra. I've still got the SC-VA which I use occasionally, as well as the Korg Gadget collection of plugins, and their software Triton which they introduced last year. Additionally there's a few more retro plugins I use when I want to make older-style sound, such as a few chip simulators, a VST emulating the Ensoniq SQ-80, and there's a VST version of the Munt MT-32 emulator, too. I've got a number of songs that use multiples of those together, which sometimes my DAW doesn't like and crashes and I have to reload a few times until it opens correctly (not actually sure which plugin exactly is the offending one). The particularly nice thing is working together with the Integra-7, because that's an ASIO device so I can route sound out from my DAW into it to play together with the Integra, and while I only just recently finished the setup for this, I can have everything playing out from the Integra through my monitor speakers without a complicated setup like with my previous rack hardware.

There's a couple more pieces of hardware I have still: keyboards. Before I sold the Triton Rack back off again, I needed a replacement screen for it, because I bought it cheap as-is/parts only because it had bad lines. I had originally found a local listing for a Korg Karma and saw it had the same screen, and was going to buy it and swap them, but it sold before that. But as I read about that keyboard, being a Triton engine together with a crazy music generator, that sounded interesting on its own, so I bought one from an online dealer. The Karma engine is cool, but really complicated to use, and I've been on-again-off-again interested with it, and right now I'm sitting at not interested anymore and want to sell it off again. I also threw in the EXB-MOSS virtual analogue board in the Karma, after originally buying it for the Triton Rack and holding onto it, and while that's a crazy board and part of why I kept holding onto the Karma, I'm ready to part with it (but if Korg makes a VST version of tht unit someday I'll be dropping for it in a heartbeat).

The second keyboard I don't have as much of an excuse for. Last year in summer going pandemic stir crazy led me to buying a Roland FA-06, which is basically a keyboard with a stripped down version of the Integra-7's three engines. That doesn't really give me any benefit though, being a little nicer to edit patches directly on the unit than it is on the Integra's tiny screen, but more limited in ROM size so only 2 expansions can be loaded at once, so I finally got over it and will sell it again. Because of their bulky size, I don't want to try and ship them, so both keyboards are waiting for until I feel safe selling them locally because of the pandemic. Hopefully soon I can get vaccinated.

Maybe somebody will want the D-110 then, too.

3/22/2021 1:36:27 PM

Look At All This MIDI - Part 1

Let's shift gears for a bit and talk about music. And more particularly, MIDI and such devices that I've owned for making music.

I grew up owning a Commodore 64, and knew the basics of synthesis from the manuals of that, but never had any tools for working with it. When I was a teenager was about the whole time when the internet was getting started, and MIDI's were the thing as it was before the MP3 and during the days of dialup. Our family computer wsa a Packard Bell, with a custom sound card/modem called the Aztech 2320. It had two MIDI playback modes, a built-in OPL3, and a software wavetable that was licensed by Packard Bell, but I think a version of Brookstree Wavestream. I didn't discover this software wavetable until a few years after we owned the computer, and after being accustomed to just OPL FM music, oh boy did the "real" instruments of the wavetable blow my mind.

In my 9th grade year, I was gifted another computer from a neighbor who had just finished up some computer coursework at is college. It was an NEC, but by that point NEC and Packard Bell were one company, so it had similar hardware as the family computer, including the same Aztech 2320. He originally was using it with Linux, but I didn't understand it at the time so reimaged it with the Packard Bell's image disc, and gained access to the Wavestream wavetable. From some random shareware disc, I think, I found a software for editing MIDIs, and then I first started to dabble with that.

As the years went on, into my adult life, as Windows moved on the standard Windows GS wavetable came around, but it's not all that great. I still kept the old computer around just for the other wavetable software, when I wanted to use it, but that's a hassle to work with so wanted to find some other thing. Somewhere around 2011-2012, I discovered the Roland MT-32. This was far before the retro gaming computer scene emerged, and MT-32's were something nobody wanted, so I picked up one for dirt cheap, but found the LA synthesis engine interesting but complicated to work with, and it didn't sound as good as I hoped, so I ended up shelving it.

Being that I'm a Touhou fan, this is where the Studio Canvas line of course enters. The fandom is obsessed with the SD-90, the device ZUN uses for composing, and trying to make things sound like his work. I became interested too, but not for the same reason. I simply didn't know there was any modern hardware like that anymore, thought it was all late-80s/early-90s stuff like the MT-32 and the SC-55 or the Yamaha MU-80. The original Studio Canvas line has three versions: the SD-20, SD-80, and SD-90. Each one served a different purpose: the SD-20 was a pared down version with the wavetable, but without any aftereffects units, limiting it to only the General MIDI 2 standard of chorus/reverb settings. The SD-80 adds 3 FX units, and the SD-90 also adds external connections for microphone/guitar/aux audio processing as well. I ended up going for the SD-20, just because of what I was looking for, which got some scoffing from a few others in the Touhou fandom (least of which was for them thinking it was inferior for having "less" presets than the SD-80/90, but one of the banks of presets on the larger devices is simply existing voices with preconfigured FX units, so there's nothing actually lost that post-processing elsewhere can't do anyway). A few years later, though, I traded it up for a SD-90 anyway, wanting to have the on-hand FX units rather than post-processing ones on the computer (though when I first got it I didn't even understand what most of the effects even did) and finding one for a great deal that was much less than what they usually sold for. To have an additional sound set from Yamaha, I also bought the MU-128 which was near the top of the line for Yamaha's offerings. I considered Korg's equivalent offering as well, the NS5R, but never did find one at a price I wanted to pay. Somewhere in here I also bought an SC-88, although I don't remember why exactly, then sold it off to a coworker (without the power supply, because the one that came with it was bad but it used the same one as the MT-32 so I just used that).

Some years later, I picked up an iPad, mainly for use when on planes rather than trying to use a bulky laptop in cramped economy tray. On there I discovered the Sound Canvas VA, which is a software recreation of the previous line of Sound Canvases, and particularly the SC-8820. This only had one FX unit, compared to the three with the SD-90, but a much larger and more varied preset list. And when I found that it also existed in a PC version as a VST for DAW usage, that eliminated the FX limit because multiple instances can be run. At that point, honestly, I lost interest in the SD-90 and wanted to use SC-VA going forward, so I eventually sold off the SD-90, netting more than I paid for it since I had bought it at a steal price originally.

On the iPad I also eventually found something else, too: Korg iM1. Another software recreation, this time of Korg's M1 workstation from 1988. The M1 was not simply a preset device, but was designed to let you custom edit the sound patches to be exactly how you wanted. I had dabbled with a few things over the years that were like that, but beyond the basics of ADSR that I had learned from Commodore days, I could never really wrap my head around them. But Korg iM1 was different. Because it has an absolutely beautiful layout, that breaks it all down perfectly to understand.

To be continued in part 2...

3/16/2021 2:40:28 PM