Why you should practice DJing

I’ve never really been interested in the art of DJing, but lately I’ve started lusting for a Digital DJ Controller. Why? I think the spark came when I visited one of the huge DJ stores in Tokyo a while back. They had rows and rows of beautiful controller lined up, and I have to admit that it was pure looks that pulled me in.

At the time I had only a vague idea of how they work, but I guy in the store was kind enough to give me an overview of the standard controls and he also gave me a quick intro to Traktor and Serato DJ.

As I got home that night I downloaded the demo version of both and started playing around with them. While they are limited they do contain all the basic functionality, and since then I’ve been fooling around with more and more often.

Here are some really cool takeaways, and the reasons why I’m now considering buying an actual controller:

1. Building a library of tracks to practice with has forced me to listen to and buy a lot of new music. This has ben crazy inspirational and a really good kick in the ass to explore and listen to more music! (Especially more mainstream music.)

2. Practicing mixing has taught me a ton of new details about track composition and timing. How long is a typical trance lead in? Lead out?

3. Rhythm practice and appreciation of EQ and frequency bands. Understanding what to take away, what to emphasize and how to adjust speed and tempo to seamlessly blend and mix tracks has forced me to think more about where in the frequency band certain sounds or instruments lie and why.

4. Greater appreciation for sampling. I’ve found myself not just listening to more music (remember 1 above?), but also out in record stores digging through old vinyls and CDs looking for interesting, fun or just unusual loops and sounds to sample.

I think dabbling with DJing (really, I suck but hey…) has gotten me thinking about structure, tempo and sound in new ways. Before I could talk and reason about it, but now I feel like I ‘understand’ and can appreciate it even more.

If you haven’t tried it yet, I really recommend you do!

Echigoya, another synth power-spot in Tokyo

In January this year I presented the FiveG store in Harajuku, Tokyo, but the city is home to many other fantastic gems for synth heads. Today I’ll post some pictures from the Echigoya Music (えちごやミュージック) store in Shibuya.

Along with FiveG, I would list Echigoya as probably one of the best spots in Tokyo to go searching for vintage or just used synthesizers and other studio gear. It’s a small shop but filled floor to ceiling with some really fantastic gear. Prices are reasonable too, and the manager is more than happy to assist with shipping to just about any region of the world.

To get to this store you get off at the Shibuya station and walk towards Harajuku along the JR (Yamanote) line tracks. You’ll bump into Tower Records on your right side.

TowerRecords

Echigoya will be across the street.

EchigoyaExt

You have to take the elevator up to the 9th floor.

EchigoyaElevator

Inside you’ll find keyboards, synth modules, rack gear, accessories and tons of other gear.

E_Keyboards

Look at that, a used Korg Volca Beats makes a surprise appearance. I would have bought it but my mind is set on a Elektron Machinedrum now…

E_VolcaBeats

Lots and lots of gear.

E_Keyboards2

If I had the means I would have picked up a SEM or two…

E_SEMmodules

Lot’s of MPC goodness. With some custom skins too…

E_MPCs

On a side note, when I was walking back to Harajuku I spotted this charming sign near the Yoyogi park:

Sign

It basically says that all unauthorized live music performances using amps are forbidden in the park. The background is most likely that this has traditionally been one of the most popular spots for amateur bands and performers to do impromptu shows. Thus, today the area was entirely devoid of any music and mostly desolated. Sad to see such a nice ‘tradition’ go, but I’m sure they will find other spots across the city.

Check out the Echigoya Music website here!

Pelican cases are amazing!

’nuff said.

Really though, I’m currently in Japan and for the trip I brought the portable setup described below. I checked in the pelican case at the airline counter thinking that it’s content should be well protected by the hard case and the inline foam.

When I picked it up again at the baggage claim in Tokyo there were some serious dents in the case. One of the corners had been shaved down by about 3mm and there were some deep indentations in the protective risings on the lid.

At first I was worried that it might have fallen from some high up place, like the top of a stack of suitcases on a carrier truck, but then again this is exactly the kind of scenario I was imagining when I decided to go with a pelican case.

Once I arrived at the place we are staying I got all the gear set up and connected and it turns out that nothing was damaged and everything sounds and works just fine. I have to say I’m impressed with the fantastic quality of the case and I highly recommend it to anyone planning on traveling with sensitive musical instruments.

SKB 61 Key Case For Access Virus TI2

Quick review for all of you looking for a road-worthy case for an Access Virus TI 2 Keyboard.

I’m about to move some gear over a great distance and I’ve been looking for suitable, rugged cases for my keyboards / synths. Check out my other posts on the cases and solutions I’ve come up with, but today we’ll focus on the Access Virus TI2 Keyboard.

The Virus TI2 is a 61 full size key synth measuring roughly 40″ long by 15″ deep and 4″ tall. Based on this size I decided to get the SKB Roto-ATA 61-Note Keyboard Case from Amazon since it’s interior dimensions matched the requirements and it looked rugged enough.

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 10.29.38 PMFirst in terms of build quality I would say it’s a 7/10. Not bad but also not as good as a Pelican case for example. I have no immediate concerns that the case itself will break in any joints or details, but the sturdiness and thickness of the plastic is not as high quality as I had hoped for. Still, with sufficient padding it should stand up to shipping / transportation just fine.

The included padding and wedges are of high quality, but because of the tight fit it is hard to use the wedges that are supposed to keep the keyboard from sliding around inside the case. You can squeeze them in there but then there is no room for any additional padding. I opted to leave them out and instead wrap the synth in large format bubble wrap. I also added extra foam, that I had left over from a pelican case, on the sides. Last I added sheets of bubble wrap below and on top of the synth to give it some extra padding from accidental bumps and such.

All in all I think it worked out just fine, and I feel pretty safe about seeing the Virus off in this case.

Meeblip and MIDI (a fix)

Last year I ordered a Meeblip (the easily assembled kit) and I’ve been in love with this little grey box ever since! It is simply one of the most affordable and fun hardware synths (that actually sounds great) that you can buy right now. I use it mostly for bass sounds, but it can just as easy do great lo-fi leads as well.

One issue I ran into some time back was that while the unit would respond great to MIDI from a keyboard controller like my Novation boards, I just couldn’t get it to respond predictably to MIDI notes when played from a clip in Ableton Live. I tried experimenting with channel settings, offsets and gate lengths but nothing helped. The box would only catch ever 20th note or so.

Yesterday I sold my Novation SL MKii 49 to finance a new reverb unit (Lexicon MX400, more on that later) and so today I was cleaning out some MIDI settings in Live. When I did, I noticed that the Meeblip was set to receive MIDI Sync (as in clock) from Live, with seemed unnecessary so I turned it off, and behold, the MIDI notes now trigger exactly as expected.

I double checked by turning the Sync out ON again, and the problem immediately returned, so I’m pretty sure this was indeed the problem. I’m not sure why the Meeblip isn’t just ignoring the Clock, but apparently it confuses the MIDI note / trigger / gate implementation in the box, so turn it off if your Meeblip is not responding as expected.