Saturday, 18 August 2007

Toys in the Attic

I must confess, I have gas. Pretty bad gas, too - and it's definitely not good for me. Gear Acquisition Syndrome, that is. If I had the money, we'd probably have had to buy a second home to cope with all the musical technology my heart has ever desired - the forty-or-more different amps, the vast array of pedals and multi-fx, and let's not even dare to get started on actual instruments...mmm, yes! (to quote Kate Bush)...sorry, drifted off into my little fantasy world there. Whoops. I'll try not to let that happen again, but I'm one of those ( immeasurably tedious) musos who has an innate, burning desire to find out exactly what happens when you twist..umm..THAT knob (partial resonance selector), then press the 3rd button down (oooh - lights up in a different colour!), and...oh, ok, wasn't quite expecting that. Sorry neighbours. Right, 4th button down instead (multiple velocity increment filter)...oh yeah! Now THAT I cool...oh, hang on, what's that irate shouting and banging I can just hear over my new, sonically-shattering ,best-synth-patch-in-the-world-ever ? Ah...oh dear.

And I know I'm far from being alone. At least in my case I've convinced myself that the motivation is curiosity, a pure, almost scientific, need to comprehend the true magnificence (or otherwise) of the latest metal-and-plastic box of delights to hit your local 100%-minimum-mark-up (but that's how they can appear to offer such great "special offers", so we all win, don't we?) retailer's display cabinets. Too many of us are simply giving in to far baser urges. We've all had them, those "Damn! I'm never going to play like [insert musical guru of choice here - unless that choice happens to be Noel Gallagher. That is a false choice, and shall be punished], my life is over!" moments. When you think you'll never be worth spit, you'll sell all your gear,and so you pick up your guitar to stuff it sadly into it's thin, barely-padded gig bag for the last time...but "Wait", says the cunning GAS demon in your head, "surely that's the problem here. There's nothing wrong with your spathulate fingers, practice regime that consists of playing the riff to "Nevermind" for 15 minutes every other day (if you can be bothered), or inability to keep your guitar in tune even for those brief quarter hours. You just need the right tools, that's all. Let's pop into town with your credit card, shall we...?"

Thus begins a lifetime's fruitless addiction to studying album-cover equipment lists, poring over photos of your hero/ine playing live, standing in the front row of gigs squinting at the rack in the right-hand back corner of the stage...the GAS demon is indeed a pernicious master. Now, if you play in a serious tribute band, I'd be the first to agree that having the right gear can be vital - accurately recreating early Pink Floyd purely digitally, without Binson Echorec or Roland SpaceEcho boxes just wouldn't be right and proper - but if you haven't got the necessary technique to play the music in the first place, no new toy is ever going to satisfy your craving. Or help your marital relationship when the bank statement comes up for discussion.

The biggest problem with GAS though, is that we're almost always ultimately disappointed. Unless you're smart enough to be building tech for yourself (a skill I envy greatly!), or you're heavily involved with a product's development, it's never going to be exactly right. And much like a bicycle saddle that's not been sufficiently fine-adjusted for your person, if you spend enough time on it, it's going to chafe. Only a little at first, so we can apply some 'mental vaseline' and get going again, but maybe a few months down the line you'll find yourself gazing into the window of a music shop, having lustful yearnings at the sight of the newly released upgraded model.

I went through this process myself with looping/delay devices - only mostly without the purchasing element, 'cos I was largely skint at the time (still am - kids are bloody expensive), so instead I would troll round assorted music shops trying out all the latest gadgets and wearing out many people's' patience into the bargain. I did buy a Boss RC-20, but that didn't feel right for what I was trying to do (sub-Eberhard Weber, relatively short duration sort of thing), so I traded-it in for a Boss DD-20 Gigadelay. Which is nice. But of course, it's not quite right! So I sat down to design the specifications of my ultimate looping delay - "How hard can it be?", I thought, one easy-to-lug-about box, plenty of footswitches and real-time control, I'll be done in 5..10 minutes tops, leaving plenty of time for a nice cup of tea.

What I stopped in bewilderment at, (after the 17th revision or so), was:

(ahem) The Gilmour Loops-a-Lot (tm)

* 4 inputs for multiple instruments, (standard and/or stereo jack & XLR, naturally!), with discrete 3-band active tone controls (or graphic eq's if the customer so desired) for each one - it'd be a modular design - and footswitches for input select/mute

* 12(!) colour-coded expression pedals, all software assignable. These could be used as simple volume controls for the different loops/direct sound, altering delay feedback levels, panning controls, etc

* At least 12 hours of "CD-quality" sampling time available, to be split between the (up to) 12 loops available - you'll get 18 discrete loops on next year's Loops-a-Lot-Plus!(tm)

* Full footswitch control over each loop, with all your favourites - start/stop, tap tempo, synchronise, undo, redo, fix hairdo, and a brand-new feature unique to the Gilmour Loops-a-Lot(tm), "PANIC", which would immediately fade-out what had gone so horribly wrong, and replace it with an audience-soothing factory preset soundscape, computer-corrected for the pitch and tempo you were playing in. This soundscape would be a digitally-averaged blend of work by artists chosen by the customer when ordering their Loops-a-Lot(tm). Replacement soundscapes would be available over the internet (for a very reasonable fee)

* High-quality metal casing (made from recycled cans), with robust "clumsy-fat-dude's-boot proof"(tm) switches and pedals (with rubber coatings from entirely sustainable sources, with the mobile phone numbers of the Amazonian tribe we fairly-traded with printed on the underside, in case you wanted to check). Completely non-slip on any surface (but of course), and watertight to a depth of 30m for those high-energy, post-punk, booze-fuelled pub looping sessions

* Costs under £100 (roughly $750 for you Americans, just to reverse the current international situation in high-tech pricing)

* Has it's own micro-biomass power generator, so the Loops-a-Lot(tm) will run for several weeks continuously on one medium-sized potato

Unfortunately it would also most likely be over 2 metres long, and weigh more than a JBL pa speaker (there is currently no substance on earth heavier than a JBL). But hey, all I'd have to do is stick a pre-amp valve in it somewhere (Marshall Valvestate, anyone?), have shop staff point out the way it glowed prettily when you turned it on, and I just know people would flock to buy it. Until Roland came out with a 24-expression-pedal, 4 days' worth of sampling, and digital-playing-assistant (no actual musician necessary!) version, that is.... 

1 comment:

Zornhau said...
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