Commodore C64 MSSIAH – Retro 8-bit SID sounds

I was lucky enough to receive a Commodore 64 for Christmas one year, I think it was 1989. The C64 had already been around for quite a few years, and my second hand “breadbin” came with literally hundred of games, how chuffed was I? I did once give music making a go on the C64, but it wasn’t very impressive (plus I wasn’t talented or patient enough back then)

A few years later I sold it in order to get a Commodore Amiga A500. It was the Amiga which first got me into music production via the amazing Tracker series of software (ProTracker, SoundTracker and NoiseTracker). The Amiga could play back 8-bit digital audio through 4 audio channels at the same time, something pretty amazing at the time. You made music by sequencing short audio samples and playing them back at different pitches to build up your song. Pretty intimidating, but after a few hours you kind of get the hang of it.

To round this flash back up, I eventually moved on to PC tracking, then MIDI sequencing with Cubase, which as you all know uses hardware MIDI modules, or VSTi “Virtual Instruments”.

So, how amusing it is that I’ve now gone full circle and am back to the C64 again. Why? Because of a little chip inside which we all lovingly call SID.

SID is a very basic sound chip, it’s not (strictly speaking) capable of digital audio playback, it simply has two oscillators on board capable of making beeps and boops. The creative and programmatic genius of the coders at the time resulted in some pretty great sounds and catchy soundtracks. The likes of Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish and Martin Galway will always be some personal heros of mine due to their amazing compositions which still sound good today.

The fact that the Commodore 64s SID chip was, in essence, a real mono synth, it what makes it so interesting today. The final SID chips produced were recently snapped up by entrepreneurs behind SID based hardware synthesizers, such as the SIDStation. This means that to make a SID based synth today, you have to harvest SID chips from a real C64 and use them in a kit such as the MIDIBox. This means that C64s are become quite a popular purchase from EBay.

It seems a shame to steal the SID from a working piece of history, so it’s very exiting to learn that there is now another option : the MSSIAH.

In a nutshell, the MSSIAH is five music applications and a MIDI interface all inside a single ROM cartridge which plugs into the C64 expansion port. Being ROM means that the MSSIAH menu loads within 2 seconds of powering on the C64 and the applications themselves take less than 15 seconds to load. So no waiting 5 or 15 minutes for a floppy disk or cassette tape to load!

I’ll explain some more about the MSSIAH in my next post.

Reborn will gig in 2009 if it kills me!

I was going though all the recorded material for Reborn. And you know what? Most of it is flipping awesome. Easily our best material ever, and no one is getting to hear it. Well, we had planned for the last 18months that we would be gigging in 2009, but we also planned to have finished and released tacks by the end of ’08, which so far is looking unlikely!

So what’s the problem? Well, it’s a logistical problem in part, also a free-time problem, and a motivational one! We’ve got plenty of tracks on the go, but none finished (as in, mixed and mastered) as it’s only once every blue moon we’re all in the same place long enough for the magic to happen.

So my new years resolution (yes, I know it’s only August) is to get the band gigging as soon as possible in 2009. I think a couple of acoustic sets would go down well too, and the new material will adapt well to acoustic.

So what can you expect? Well, alot more of the same! Techno-Grunge still abounds, but we’ve grown up a bit, and the music is a little more skilled and deeper. Since our new equipment is working so well, you can expect more live electronica happening too. If we can make it work technically, we may also get ourselves a live drummer to compliment the electronic drum machine and chopped drumloops which characterise our sound. As there’s live bass guitar and piano thrown into the new songs too (yes piano, I shit you not) you can also expect alot more shuffling around on stage and frustrated/confused sound engineers. It’s gonna be wild!

I know we’ve been saying all this for over a year, but really now it’s serious. We just can’t let this stuff go unheard. So get subscribed to the blog (or book mark this page) and keep watching for updates.

Keep on moving 😉

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Reborn’s Studio Amp Mixer

I’ve had this mixer since my Rave Generation days, it’s served me well. It’s very long in the tooth now. The turntable and both tape decks are screwed. It’s missing two fader knobs, the DJ/STUDIO/HIFI switch is crackly and the speaker sockets are really intermittant.

Sadly now, the front phono sockets are faulty, so I can only get an input using the 1/4″ jacks, which requires use of the “trim” pre-amp which causes alot of distortion.

But, I can forgive all that as it’s 23 years old. I can’t belive this puppy was £299 back in 1985, I dread to think what that is in 2008 money!

Anway, here’s the ad, sit back and enjoy !

Live Jamming with Traktor, Access Virus and RM1x

This could be a sign of things to come. We had a pretty good jam with all the gear running at once. Sadly BPM synch between Traktor and Cubase SX doesn’t seem to be possible.

The problem is that Steinberg decided to ditch the “sync to midi clock” feature after VST5. Which is total madness. That means that Cubase has to be the master unless you can supply MTC. Now none of our outboard gear supports output of MTC, so we’re stuffed!

The choices are to either go back to Cubase VST/32 V5.1r3 or get Ableton Live. Seeming as we have 3 legit copies of VST, I think I’ll just install that on the laptop instead!

Congratulations to Steinberg on fucking up Cubase again! I also hear that the latest version of Cubase, Version 4 (no I don’t understand the numbering either) has ditched support for Direct X plug-ins. It wasn’t made public till after the release either. What a spark of genius! That’s right, your £3000 worth of DX plugs won’t work anymore. Even more reason to stay on SX, or by the looks of things, roll back to VST !!

Guitar legends you may never hear of.

I’ve come across some really gifted guitar players in my time, there’s loads out there and sadly many of them won’t ever get the fame and recognition of Slash, Clapton, Cobain and the like.

Once such artist and friend of the band is Martin Ledger of the Bogus Brothers. I’ve seen the guy play, and he ticks all the boxes of being a total guitar genius, including the learning of more obscure strings instruments like the mandolin (which he mastered in a matter of months). I suspect if he saw what I’d written here, he’d probably be a little embarrassed. But this is my blog, so he’s just gonna have to take the compliment 😛

Anyway, my point is that even he was impressed with a video clip I sent him of Pat Metheny. Who is one of those guitarists I’m reffering to who most people will probably have never heard of. Certainly in the UK it’s even more unlikely as he’s the wrong colour and can’t rap, unlike Dizzee Rascal who is untalented and as previously declared; a total cock.

This guy Pat not only mastered other stringed instruments, but bored with mastering that challenge decided to invent his own! It’s a 42 (count them) stringed guitar, named the Pikasso. Although to call it a guitar is a bit ambiguous as it’s more like a guitar, bass, sitar and harp all rolled into one.

Here’s a clip of the guy in action with his multi-stringed guitar.

New Toy! Access Virus Classic.


As fans will know, Reborn are all about fusing synth/electronica with traditional rock guitar. Something quite commonplace now, but back in ’99 when we started, it was unheard of. Choosing the right equipment is paramount, and we’ve had a fair amount of gear. Our staple synth for some time was the Yamaha CS2X, but this soon departed to be replaced by some rather tastey virtual synths. A brief u-turn resulted in the addition of a Yamaha RM1X, which while good fun, hasn’t been all the CS2X has been. I’ve been experimenting with a few virtual synths, but nothing really comes close to a real synth in the studio. The old CS2X was a wavetable synth, so not really a true “analogue” synth. This was a bit of a disappointment when Walker and I started to get into the details with the CS2X, and is part of the reason why we weren’t too upset to see it go. That said, full blown analogue synths can be quite a handfull. So some moderation is required!After some (alot) of deliberation. I decided to get a decent analogue/virtual analogue synth. This means you functionally get an analogue synth, but you have presets and memory to save your patches. I read a few reviews, and checked out Harmony Central, and it seems the best by far are the Virus synths from Access. These take the form of a desktop/rack module, or a small 2 octave keyboard, or a full size keyboard.

Functionally, the Virus range has changed very little since it’s inception. There have been a few base versions, namely the Virus A, Virus B, Virus C and latest is the Virus TI. The TI is the first to show signs of real innovation since the Virus A, and now features direct Synth to Sequencer interaction via a VSTi. They call this “Total Integration”. This is pretty damn clever and means you have the best of both worlds, a hardware synth which uses no CPU, but a VSTi meaning it’s easier to mess with settings and record changes on-screen.

All that said, the TI is just too damn expensive, so I set about finding a second hand Virus. While on my travels I also considered the likes of the Korg Triton, Alesis Andromeda and Novation Supernova. But after hearing some audio clips of each synth, and checking the specs. It seems the Virus is much more geared towards that “Reborn” sound.

I finally found a rather crisp and clean Virus Classic for sale. The Classic is essentially a re-release of the Virus B with a different paint-job. If you shop around you can get these from as little as £250 for a scruffy one, or £450 for a clean example like this. That’s one hell of a saving over the original RRP of £999.

I’m still waiting for delivery, but will be posting up some audio clips as soon as I can get my grubby hands on it!

Nirvana – Still as influential as ever

It was refreshing to hear Zane Lowe’s masterpiece show the other night featuring Nirvana’s Nevermind. This was the album that changed my life back in 1991 and to listen to many of today’s bands and artists talking about Nirvana including Dave Grohl was very interesting. It proves what a true masterpiece the album was and how it is probably responsible for influencing a lot of the music we have had since, and even to this day.
You can listen again at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/zanelowe/masterpieces_nirvana.shtml

Good work!

Korn – The best band this decade?

To put forward my case I’ll start from the very beginning, over 12 years ago. Korn’s debut studio album was released, rather un-creatively titled Korn. With their career officially off the mark and out into hands of the masses and with tracks such as the timeless Blind and quirky Shoots and Ladders its fair to assume fans had high hopes.

I can only guess that most fans over the following five years had just about written off the band before the second studio album release Life is peachy. Oddly their third album Issues came in the same month, however I personally think this was a blessing because Life is peachy is by far their worst album, I have favourite tracks off all of their albums except this one, and with Issues concealing some of Korn’s darkest and most intense tracks it probably saved their ass.

Now we are taken into the new millennium and in 2002 their forth album Follow the Leader hits the market. This would be the first Korn album I picked up and bought, it was this album that I discovered the band and would never look back.
The first four tracks to this album are just pure and simply awesome and still sound fresh and original to this day. It would be hard to believe that the album as a whole could progress after such a solid beginning but with experimental rap offerings with the help from the likes of IceCude, Hip Hop bass line teasers, mean guitar riffs and the truly brilliant dynamic vocals from Jonathan Davis the album is a master peace.

With the band on a creative roll, later the same year their fifth album Untouchables came along. Interestingly I struggled with this one but it featured a handful of accessible tracks, Here to Stay getting commercial radio play and featuring on World Wrestling. It wouldn’t be for a few years later that I realised one of my favourite Korn tracks of all time was on this album, maybe a hint that they were ahead of their time.

2003 brought there sixth Studio album, admittedly at the time I was suspicious of what to expect after my disappointment with the previous but ultimately overwhelmed and relived. Take a look in the Mirror is probably their best, most solid album, track after track of heavy guitar riffs and vocal hooks. It’s dark, mean and kicks ass. Right Now, Here it comes again and Deep Inside are just a few to mention but there isn’t a bad track on the album and features Did my time, the title sound track to Tomb raider 2 plus a bonus track, a Metallica cover!

Korn had proved to me that they stood the test of time, after playing Take a look in the mirror to death it made it irresistible to listen to all their older albums and revive that (now officially self proclaimed) Korn fan.

In 2005 we had a Greatest Hits album and Seventh Studio album See you on the other side contained a few treats and some bonus dance mixes that would rival any super star DJ. And in 2005 a couple Live, rare and unplugged offerings suggesting the band had had their day, but a respectable one at that.

2007: And then…..I here that Korn have done MTV Unplugged and soon after released their eighth studio album. Admittedly the thought of Korn doing Unplugged made me very nervous. But, sticking to there philosophy of trying out ideas I was nicely surprised they’d pulled some of it off. Kicking off with a Latin version of Blind and introducing a couple of guests including Amy Lee and some Japanese Drummers, there are some really nice moments.

Their new album however, again not the most creatively titled untitled contains some of the most genius tracks I think I ever heard. Bitch we got a problem using exceptionally cool synthesized licks, Evolution sticking to Korn’s trade mark power choruses and verses packed full of rhythm, the album gets of to a winning start.
And then it comes to the track Hold On. Now let’s get one thing clear, I am a fan of music from a massive array of genres. I know music is ultimately down to taste but I like to think I have a pretty good idea. Taking into consideration Korn’s career, and thier moments of pure brilliants, one would think they had peaked along time ago.

Hold on is probably the one most single peace of pure and utter genius I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. With a couple of clicks of the drum sticks the trade mark Korn sound pours through the speakers and without any nonsense in kicks the punchy verse riff soaked with rhythm. Naturally the vocal melody perfection from Jonathan Davis completes the beginning. The Chorus has the head nodding appeal that even the Churchill dog would applauded. Into the second verse and in sneaks some random experimental analogue noises. Korn have somehow reinvented them selves yet without loosing their sound. This track is fresh, dynamic, perfection and pure fucking genius. And I dare say, the band has truly peaked.

It maybe unfair to single out a band as being the best but is Korn the best band of this decade? With eight studios albums under there belt, each containing experimentation, creativity and not a guitar solo in sight. Maybe not, but they sure as hell are one of them.