Oli Freke

Tech House / Techno / House

Filtering by Category: Music related articles

Sometimes you just have to TECHNO

Craved some techno; found a nice set from D.A.V.E the Drummer from 2011.

Fun fact: I used to share an office with The Liberators (Stay Up Forever) and Smitten Records at Kinetec Records some years ago. DDR, Roland the Bastard, Stirling Moss, James Kinetec and other luminaries of the techno scene were always making their heavy techno records in the studio* behind the shop. 

Have had a soft spot for hard Hackney techno ever since. :-)

(*Am now reminiscing about the Korg Mono/Poly in there. Can't remember what else except a Moog Prodigy, which I had to borrow for a gig once)

Moog Modular 15 – iOS app mini-review

I’ve tried a few synths / sound generators on the iPhone, but have never really got on with them – the Audulus is too confusing; Wobble is silly (but fun for a few minutes); Technobox is actually a really good 303 emulation (but such tiny teeny controls). 

And now Moog have got into the act with a highly faithful reproduction of their classic Moog Modular 15 system from 1973:

Of course, that cost £5500 when released in 1972, and the iPhone app costs only £22! 

And as the price has shrunk, so has the interface. Like really shrunk — onto an iPhone. And this is the problem – time and time again manufacturers of all software emulations of classic synths all make exactly the same mistake: reproducing physical hardware in graphics. It just doesn’t translate. It’s too small, it’s too fiddly and my eyes are now killing me from the strain of looking after only 30 minutes. It’s kind of compounded on the Moog 15 as unlike the Technobox they can’t show the whole system on one screen, you have to scroll around madly zooming back and forth to work out where you are, all the while trying to drag little simulated cables that obscure the names of panels and controls.

You get the idea. I wouldn’t mind having that version if they also had an alternative interface which was quicker to use. One quick idea - given that modular synths are all about the patching, why not just have two columns of drop down menus and select your ‘in’ and your ‘out’. Man that would quicker than trying to  drag cables across this thing. 

Then a couple of simple pages with BIG fader controls for filter cutoff, resonance, envelopes.

I mean the thing sounds amazing and rewards work with beautiful sounds, and it can be synced with Ableton and all kinds of cleverness. It just needs to be a pleasure to create patches with as well. And yes, I could have used an iPad, but my iPad 2 is not supported and why sell it for iPhone if you're going to recommend using it with an iPad?

So, back to you at Moog to make the worlds first useable iPhone synth! 

Top 10 synth presets article

I should have thought of writing this! A not-geeky-at-all* article on Music Radar on the top 10 synth presets of all time:

Top Ten Synth Presets Of All Time - Music Radar

*except a lot geeky

Before reading it, I thought I'd have a go at predicting the choices. Spoiler alert - I only got 3 out of 10 - go back to synth school Oli! 

My predictions before I read the artlcle were: 

  1. Roland Juno 2: #69....What the? ('The Sound of the Hoover')
    As a veteran of the late 90's hard house scene, this was a staple of the genre. Originally debuted on 'Mentasm' by Joey Beltram, it was such an important sound that I had a Roland Juno 2 to generate it authentically - with the external programmer box as well.
    Now available as various VST plugins for your DAW...

  2. TB-303: Not sure if this counts as a preset. The whole machine is the sound...

  3. Roland TR-808: Kick drum, clap, snare, and above all cow-bell. Again, not really a preset as such. I expect they mean digital synths that have recallable sounds. 

  4. Roland D-50: DigiNativeDance. Was used all over the place for a while - I remember it as the last sound of the Grange Hill theme tune (not the brilliant original theme tune, one of the later worser ones)

  5. Roland DX-7. One of the electric piano sounds? I didn't have DX-7, but know that this was the classic sound off of off it (sic). 

  6. Korg M1: the organ sound used in all house records

  7. Korg M1: the Italilano piano sound used in all house records

The RESULTS are in - how did I do?

  1. YES! I am a genius.

  2. No..not a preset machine, obvs.

  3. No..also not a preset machine, obvs.

  4. YES! I am a genious

  5. YES! (though I didn't know the patch name)

  6. Should be on the list..

  7. Should be on the list...

What else was on the list? You'll have to read the article!

Spotify Playlist...

Hey, I've been bunging tracks I like into a Spotify playlist and groupling them by quarter. Cool, huh?

Here's the Jan/Feb/March 2016 one:

Lots of interesting things there no? A range of all sorts too. Hopefully you'll dig some of it. The biggest surprise for me was the Paul McCartney track - I didn't know he wrote stuff like that and I like to play it to people and get them to guess who it is. They invariably say 'Hot Chip'. 

Notes and Neurons - music & science

Here’s a fairly long, but very interesting, presentation about of how music and the brain works. Well worth a watch. Best bit is at 59 mins - Bobby McFerrin 'plays' the audience...


  • Music accesses ‘normal’ emotions, but also deeper ones that aren’t accessed in other ways, perhaps can be considered ‘primordial’.
  • Almost all cultures through time and geography used the octave and fifth. The other intervals can vary.
  • There is some evidence that spoken language reflects the pitches of music. A descending minor third is found in sad speech, a rising minor second found in angry speech. Try saying ‘OK’ using those pitches.
  • Further – this was only really found in negative speech; happy speech didn’t tend to have a strong pitched content.
  • There is a scintillating part at 59mins where Bobby McFerrin ‘plays’ the audience. Leads us to consider how our brains anticipate next notes in a melodic sequence. If you watch nothing else of this, watch this 2 min sequence.
  • Commenting on the above, Bobby McG says it proves the audience ‘knows’ the pentatonic scale, but I wonder if other scales could be primed with different notes, such as a major scale, or even minor.
  • There is a connection between learning music at an early age with higher intellectual performance when older. (OBVIOUSLY!

The future of synthesizers

I have seen the future of Synthesizers on this year's Eurovision! And it's round! Very round. And also, um, round. Basically round. 


Musically, of course, the songs were generally awful, though less novelty than usual. (which is a shame, bad novelty music is much more entertaining that bad middle-of-the-road music).

Despite that, interesting to note the influence of drum'n'bass and dubstep on a couple of the tracks. London beats are leading the way, as ever!

A nice Spotify app - Boil the frog

This is easily my favourite of the many Spotify apps out there: Boil the frog

Boil the Frog  is a Spotify App that will create playlists that gradually take you from one music style to another by analysing adjacent styles and creating an arbitrary path from one to the other.

Sadly not available to the public yet, but the creator of it, Paul, kindly did me one that went from Dubstep to Beethoven. Check it out: Dub-hoven

Roland’s missing Bassline synth…

Roland is well known for it’s TB-303, TR-808 & TR 909 synths and drum machines, but it also made others in this numeric series: the SH-101, MC-202, and so on. However, it never made a ‘404’ of any sort, which leads me to create this HILARIOUS info-graphic:

Fun extra facts: 'TB' is an acronym for Transistor Bass; TR is Transistor Rhythm and MC is Micro Composer. However, there does not seem to be any consensus on 'SH' - perhaps SyntH??? Shut up, that was fun. 

Musical Museum, Kew.

Visited this excellent museum last weekend.

The 1850’s equivalent of an iPod: musical box


This is a 185o’s Swiss-made barrel driven music box. Along with the usual ‘comb teeth’ tines, it also has an organ, bells (hammered by little brass wasps) and a little snare drum. The museum’s director freely admitted that the organ drowned out the other instruments and could only play four (non-changeable) tunes.

It would have cost £50,000 in today’s money.

Four tunes!!!

It’s violin stretching time!


It’s a bit difficult to see from this picture, but it’s a coin operated music machine that automatically plays a violin accompanied by a piano. The violin reminded me of nothing so much as the Dalek being tortured in the last series of Dr Who. It’s strings have been lifted away from the body and a complicated system of levers press the strings at the right points to get the desired note, whilst rotating celluloid disks are held against the string to sound it. The little disks have two speeds and the strings are further made unhappy by being stretched back and forth to give two speeds of vibrato.

The overall effect was surprisingly good and has the advantage of being able to play all four strings at once.

Not a Record Player


At the same time as gramophone records were being developed, music boxes with disks instead of barrels were also immensely popular. Their advantage over the £50kSwiss models was that they had interchangeable disks and could thus play more than 4 songs. Owners of the Swiss box claimed theirs ‘had better sound quality’ and ‘why would anyone need more than four light classical songs played by bells hammered by brass wasps?’. Those people went onto to buy Zunes for similar reasons.

Gramophonic Excitations


Before electricity gramophones were clockwork and the sound had to be reproduced by careful use of a big horn.

They were also recorded by shouting down a big horn to cut the disks. This is roughly as convenient as syncing a Zune to a PC and slightly less absurd than ‘squirting’ an expirable mp3 to another Zune user.

(I don’t know why I’ve suddenly got it in for Zunes. I guess this all reminds me of pointless format wars which are almost obselete the moment they’re won.)

The Wurlitzer


They even have a Wurlitzer rising through the auditorium floor. It’s the 40’s equivalent of a sampler. Every sound under the sun required to accompany silent films – it’s based around a full size pipe organ with meaty 16″ sub-bass pipes and tiny 2″ pipes that I couldn’t flippin’ hear they were that high!!. Not only that, it has xlyophones, marimbas, drums, waterphone, and sound effects like waves on a seashore, sirens, woodblock and a hilariously unconvincing horse trot created with a coconut.

Typically, the idea for the Wurlitzer was invented by an Englishman, but the unimaginative English at the time weren’t interested and he had to go to America to realise his vision.

I highly recommend a trip to the museum – the above is a tiny tiny selection of their player pianos, theremins, music boxes, orchestions, and much more.





Hence, I’ve had to pull the jack plug half way out of the 3.5mm adaptor, as you can see on the lowest cable below:


And same on the CV input on the Moog side – jack has to be pulled out half-way so the tip makes contact with the ring sheath:



This is reminding me a great deal of the Fry & Laurie sketch, Flushed Grollings.

But it’s cos I just bought the (surprisingly expensive) silver box above, which now connects the Moog to the computer so that I can sequence the Moog using Logic. Huzzah.

Now enjoy to the power of analogue in the mp3 below. A nothing riff really, but we get into Soulwax/LFO territory quite easily…


Note: if you are planning on this activity yourself, I’m very happy to recommend System J for the hard-to-get-hold-of “Cinch Jones 2 prong plug to 3.5mm jack cable” that is required.  (A 50/50 split on all afiliate sales, didn’t we say James?

BBC4: Krautrock: Rebirth of Germany

Huzzah, finally! A documentary about German instrumental progressive rock between 1970-1979. And about time too.

Tonight: BBC4 Krautrock: rebirth of Germany
(tons of great krautrock youtubes on there too)

Following on from last week’s Synth Britannia (which was really only about early 80’s pop music and the bands who we are all overfamiliar with these days), I’m really looking to learning some new things tonight.

Despite my claims that my new band On Rails is inspired by Krautrock, I’m not actually a massive obsessive of the genre. I used to listen to Can and Faust a bit, but I don’t know that much about them. And I only heard Neu! for the first time a few years back. (At which point I realised  that Stereolab weren’t quite the sonic pioneers I’d previously thought…)

Thinking about it, I was more on the electronic side (surprise!), so was far more obsessive about Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze, Manuel Gottlieb etc. I expect those guys will get a mention too, but I think the programme will concentrate more on the ‘rockier’ and more experimental bands.

Anyway, am looking forward it.

One caveat: I notice on the programme’s press release they cite Kasabian as influenced by Krautrock. Surely some mistake? They may ‘say’ that to get a bit of credibility, but they pump out the same dreary indie-rock as anybody else – and are about as related to interesting music as Robbie Williams. Fuck off Kasabian. And Franz Ferdinand, while we’re at it.

If you want to hear a proper modern band influence by krautrock, listen to On Rails. Can you see that getting to #1? EXACTLY!

Ben Burtt @ NFT

Ben Burtt is the sound designer behind some of cinema’s most iconic sounds – the light saber, Darth Vader’s voice, the X-Wing fighter, Chewbacca, and all the other brilliant effects from Star Wars.

Not only that, but he’s also worked on many other Hollywood films from the Dark Crystal to Wall-E. When a friend suggested we went to a talk at the National Film Theatre given by Burtt I leapt at the chance.

Ben showed how the sound design for Star Wars had come about, not just through his own personal interests, but through the overall evolution of film in the 20th century.

He started with a truly strange clip made by Edison in 1894 – showing a man playing a violin with two men waltzing together in front of him – which apparently is the earliest surviving film that has synchronised sound. Being cumbersome and expensive it didn’t go mainstream until the late 1920’s. Everyone knows The Jazz Singer was the earliest talkie, but Burtt showed a clip from a Don Juan film dating from a couple of years earlier with synchronised sword clash sounds in a fight sequence. Ok, they sounded like knitting needles clashing, and the whole picture was absurd to the modern viewer, but it was a small seed leading to the modern action movie genre.

After that, Burtt presented some of the influences and ideas behind Star Wars: a magnificant 70mm excerpt from Lawrence of Arabia (man, that film needs to be seen on that scale on that print – absoutely extraordinary. With regard to Star Wars – think Tantuine), some Tarzan clips of Cheetah (think Chewbacca), and Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (fantastical and alien creatures)

Then we got into how he actually made the sounds for Star Wars. Now, we’ve all read bits and bobs about the sound of the light saber, etc, but this is what he said during the talk and therefore pretty much the definitive methods for creating these iconic sounds:

The Light Saber
Is in fact comprised of two sounds: 1) The flywheel from a film projector Burtt used to operate. This flywheel which when interfered with would slow down and speed up, producing a very musical change in pitch. On it’s own sounded very much like the hum of a transformer, but very smooth. Burtt said it was a nice sound but too smooth to match the aggression of the lightsaber so required another sound layered with it: 2) the rasp of a transformer from a tv set. A very buzzy, clicky transformer sound that sits over the top of the sound: you can hear the discrete clicks of it in the film layered over the top of the smooth swooping noises of the flywheel. This layered sound was then played by an amp in front of which Burtt waved a microphone mimicking the swoop of the lightsabers in the film, producing a doppler effect on the original layered sound. Voila!

Darth Vader
Excitingly Burtt recreated this for us on the spot using a scuba oxygen tank. The intense breathing sound of Darth Vader is the microphone placed inside the respirator while breaths are taken through the respirator. Produces that distinctive electronic rushing of air. Talking through it sounds just like Darth Vader! We applauded! Apparently lots more sounds were produced to accompany Darth Vader to simulate all aspects of his life support system, but were deemed too much, and the respirator sound is the only one that made it through to the final cut.

This was a young bear in a Californian zoo that had been deprived of food for a day and then teased with food. The mournful and pitiful sounds of Chewbacca are that bear! We heard the original recordings and they are really not that different from how they ended up in the film. Poor bear – we saw a little film of him. But it suffered only a little to contribute to a great film.

Laser weapons
If you’ve ever twanged taut metal or been near railway tracks when there’s an approaching train, you’ll know that long stretches of metal resonate sound in a very pleasing way. Burtt auditioned many high tension metal guylines of pylons, and found the perfect one somewhere in the desert. Tapped with a wedding ring, it produces that lovely recoiling sound as the impact zaps up and down the metal. Recorded using a contact microphone.

Mosquito man
You know – the funny alien creature who tells the storm troopers where to find Luke. He has a sort of extended gas mask affair like a snout. Anyway, it’s a vocoder seeded by some Harrison Ford out-takes that Burtt found on the cutting room floor (or rather the bin of discarded audio)

Giving a robot a tangible character when it’s really just a glorified wastepaper bin is a challenge. It was solved using great sound design. Burtt avoided synthesizers for the most part on Star Wars, but used one for R2-D2. He said that he would come up with equivalent lines in English for what R2-D2 would be ‘saying’ and twiddle the filter and other knobs of a synth whilst reading the lines out loud, to try and articulate the words using the synth. He obviously got quite good at it! A similar challenge was required for the voice of Wall-E, which Burtt also produced. That seems to have been created using a formant/pitch correction type process.

Burtt and his team spent lots of time at vintage air shows recording turbo-prop aeroplanes (one of which crashed – I think he said no one was killed). Those recordings were then processed and pitch-shifted down to produce most of the spacecraft noises. For the record I think the hollow open roar of the X-wing fighter is one of my favourite sounds ever. I must pitch shift some turbo prop plane recordings!


I think one of the reasons the sound effects are so successful in Star Wars – and Ben Burtt certainly says this was their intention – is that they are mainly based on real-world sounds. This gives them a root in the world and a richness that can’t always be achieved by electronic means alone (certainly not in the mid 70’s anyway) Chewbacca sounds like a real creature because he’s really a bear, and spaceships sound like spaceships because they’re real military aircraft*.

*apart from the fact that spaceships wouldn’t make a noise in the vacuum of space. But then Burtt also pointed out that tyres always screech in the movies – even when driving through oil or mud. Film is hyper-reality, so let’s not split hairs…

Of course, the sound design is just one element of many that makes Star Wars the epoch defining film that it turned out to be – John William’s score, the primal tale of good vs evil, cool spaceships, maverick pilots, etc, etc – but it is an often overlooked factor – without good sound design we simply wouldn’t believe the fantastical things presented on screen.

Following Ben Burtt was a brief talk by Norman Wanstall, who is the British sound designer behind the early Bond films (Dr No, Goldfinger, etc), which Burtt said was a big influence on his work. Norman is a pleasing old school boffin type you could imagine working in the BBC Radiophonic workshop whilst wearing labcoat and tie. By a fun co-incidence, I’d just watched The Ipcress File the night before and then here was Norman who turned out to have also done the sound design on that too!

A Good Night Out!

Geeking and Popping

Armed with only some sinewaves, a vintage valve oscilloscope, the Flippers and an incurable fascination with visualising sound a thing has been produced. It is a sort of musical thing with a sort of visual thing.

It’s been accepted into the virtual festival GeekPop.

You can see it here: http://geekpop.podbean.com/2009/experimental/onrails

It’s like an amazing rock video without the rock. You’ll love it because it’s lovely.