Casio CZ-101 and my studio

A couple of months ago I bought a Casio CZ-101 synthesizer via eBay. Despite supposedly being in perfect condition, it had a problem with its LEDs such that it’s not immediately easy to see exactly how a patch has been programmed, but you can get around this problem and it’s still perfectly usable and fine otherwise. I complained to the seller and ended up paying only £20 for it instead of the near-£100 I had originally agreed to pay, so this was a bit of a bargain really.

This is another synth from the early 80s, but it’s very different to the Roland SH-101 and Roland SH-09 that I’ve bought recently because, rather than being a late analogue synth, it’s actually an early digital synth. It uses a synthesis technology called Phase Distortion which was developed by Casio in conjunction with the musician Tomita, and this tends to produce thin, clear and sometimes harsh sounds which can be quite unusual. Phase Distortion sounds are not dissimilar to the FM sounds produced from Yamaha’s DX synthesizers, but they do have a character of their own. It has an extremely 80s appearance and is covered in a very satisfying quantity of buttons.

Because it’s so small it actually doubles up as a very handy portable controller keyboard which I can take to band practices to control MainStage on my MacBook Pro.

As I now own two synthesizers which have ‘101’ in their name, Studio 101 has never been more appropriately named.

Edit: I’ve brought my musical equipment list up to date.

New synth: Roland SH-101

On eBay a while back I put a very high bid on an SH-101 as I was desperate to get one, and this one had some desirable extra features. Amazingly, however, I was still outbid. After a while the seller got in touch to give me a second chance offer, explaining that the buyer was messing her about and being rude. I explained that, because I’d bought another synth (the SH-09) in the meantime, I wasn’t prepared to pay so much any more, so I suggested taking it outside of eBay and I made her a good cash offer, just not one that was as high as my previous maximum bid. Then all went quiet for a couple more weeks, so I assumed she wasn’t interested, but suddenly I received another message from her saying that the buyer was still messing her about and being rude, so if I was still interested then she would accept my new offer outside eBay. (I couldn’t see any problem with making this offer outside eBay since we weren’t tied into an agreement at that point – please feel free to point out if this was in some way wrong, although it’s a bit late now.)

After some thought I decided to accept the offer, so I went round to pick it up. It was described as being in perfect condition but, as all items on eBay are apparently described as being in perfect condition regardless of their actual state, I didn’t really know what to expect. As usual it turned out not to be in perfect condition at all, as it has some significant cosmetic issues and some external damage. The main casualty is the amusingly-named BENDER control, which has lost its stick. Despite these problems, the internals were functioning perfectly so, although I was annoyed by the misleading description, I decided to buy it anyway.

Pleasingly, it still has its original box (now extremely rare). Even more excitingly, it also has the optional modulation grip, which enables it to be used in ‘keytar mode’. And, most excitingly of all, it has modifications. These enable you to control the filter cutoff frequency and pulse width from an external source (in my case from Logic via my new Kenton MIDI to CV converter), and there is also an input for an audio signal, which enables you to, for example, play a guitar into it and use the filter as a wah-wah effect

Before the burglary a few years ago I had an SH-101 on which I had made the filter modification, and since then I have been really missing it, so it’s wonderful to have another one with the same modification and more. It’s a sonically sensational synthesizer which has the rich timbre reminiscent of a Juno but also with the ability to squelch like a TB-303. It’s an amazing synth for fat basslines, searing filter sweeps, and other huge, wonderfully nasty sounds, and I’m exceptionally glad to have one back in my studio.

Film review: Doomsday

I’m forced to agree with Seamus here – Doomsday is possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen. It’s an appalling rip-off of Mad Max, Aliens and Escape from New York. The script is so unimaginably bad and cliched that it makes me dizzy with bafflement to think that anyone gave it consideration at all, let alone actually decided to film it.

My advice is: don’t ever waste your time watching this crap.

OpenOffice.org

For a few years I’ve tried to encourage users to use OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office, partly in an effort to save the company a fortune in licence fees, and partly because I despise Office’s part in helping to create Microsoft’s undeserved monopoly.

Users generally complain about this because OpenOffice.org doesn’t look quite as shiny as Microsoft Office and because you sometimes have to do things a bit differently, so when some users starting having problems with mail merges I assumed that this was just because things were a bit different to how they are in Microsoft Office. When I investigated this myself, however, I discovered that the users were actually correct: mail merges are quite badly broken in OpenOffice.org.

I’m therefore in the position of having to get people to use Microsoft Office instead, otherwise they can’t do what they need. I find this quite sad really. After years of development, plenty of hype, and the recent release of version 3, I kind of expected OpenOffice.org to do pretty much anything users would require of an office application, and certainly the more commonly-used functions such as mail merges.

It seems to be an unfortunate fact that, although it’s great on the server side of things, open source often doesn’t work too well on the desktop.

Instant messaging

I find it interesting the way people use instant messaging. Most people only seem to use the instant messaging system that is the most immediately available. For example: people who use Windows tend to use MSN Messenger because that’s what comes with Windows, and it starts nagging you to register from the moment Windows starts for the first time; people who use Gmail via the Web use Google Talk because it’s there automatically; people who use Macs often use the AIM network because that’s what iChat uses; and so forth.

But what happens when you want to chat to someone who uses a different instant messaging system to the one you’re using? I guess most people are happy to be philosophical and accept that they can’t talk to that person using instant messaging. I’m more determined than that, however, so I choose to use a multi-protocol instant messaging application, and this means I can connect to all known instant messaging networks simultaneously. This enables me to be as flexible as possible, and it means I’m never in the annoying situation of being unable to chat to someone because they’re on a different network to the one I use.

The application I use for this is called Adium, which is sort of a Mac-specific version of Pidgin because it uses a lot of the Pidgin code. It’s a wonderfully powerful and intuitive application which supports an impressive range of messaging networks. One particularly cool thing is that it recently starting supporting Facebook Chat, so I can get the benefits of that without having to bother negotiating the Facebook site. Hoorah.

Safari and Firefox

I’ve gone back to using Safari as my main browser. This is because I wanted to use a single system to automatically keep my bookmarks in sync across my Macs and my iPhone, and the only way to do this currently is to use Safari with MobileMe.

This is not a bad thing: I like Safari’s streamlined and straightforward approach, and I approve of the way it renders web pages so nicely. The curious thing is that it seems much faster than Firefox, yet when I started using Firefox that seemed much faster than Safari. I suspect this is because Firefox slows down over time as it accumulates bloat through normal usage, but I guess there might also be a psychology/perception aspect to it as well.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the release of Safari 4.