How quickly can you oscillate?

I’m all over the place in the new issue of WAMM. It’s madness, I tell you. Who knew i was “famously tongue-in-cheek?” Who knew I was famous? Who knew I had cheeks? Who knew these subliminal messages I’ve been implanting in my songs would take effect someday?

But seriously, is that a cool cover with Tara on it or what? And don’t say, “Or what,” because if you do I’ll hunt you down and force-feed you spicy pickles.

I think it’s pretty neat that the Arp Omni-2 got a mention in an article that takes a look at how electronic elements have been seeping more into local music over the last little while, in some pretty unexpected places. This got me all wistful, and my wife began to flash before my eyes. You know…my imaginary wife. She sure knows how to slow-dance in the dark.

The Arp Omni-2 came into my life back in 1997. My on/off/invisible piano teacher (“Dust in the Wind”, as we so fondly refer to him around here) was selling it, and I thought it might be kind of cool to have. At the time my equipment consisted of the Clavinova that served as my go-to digital piano for ages (and it’s still here today, with plenty of life left in it, even if the real piano has relieved it of some of its duties), a cheap Sony tape recorder, and a stopwatch. That was the entirety of my “studio”.

I didn’t know a thing about analog synthesizers. And though I managed to coax some interesting sounds out of the thing, after a while it seemed pretty limited and not very tweakable. I was much more interested in digital synths that did most of the work for me. Before long the Arp’s place on top of the Clavinova had been taken by a Yamaha W-5. Aside from a few brief appearances here and there (the title track on SINGIN’ THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP, “Light in the Terrace” on LIVE AT THE NAKED GIRAFFE THEATER, and “Rippin” on YOU’RE A NATION, all from 1999), it served as a glorified shelf for almost a decade, often submerged beneath backup CDs and dust, and rarely was there electricity running through it for any length of time.

a closer look

A few years back I decided on a whim to dust the thing off. To my amazement I found it was capable of making a lot more sounds than I thought it was. Turns out I just needed to know how to better manipulate the VCF, LFO, attack, release, decay, and other such slidey things. After years of exclusively working with digital synths, I also came to realize the Arp was capable of a certain warmth you just don’t get from digital synthesis.

Since then I haven’t made nearly as much use of the thing as it deserves, but it does have a bit of a spotlight moment on the second half of “The Ass, Enchanted with the Sound” on the newest album, and there’s a non-album track that showed up on Myspace briefly back in the summer called “An Avalanche in Hell” that’s nearly all Arp Omni-2, all the way through. I guess I just don’t want to overuse it.

When it fits, even in a supplemental role, it imparts something no digital synth can. I’m not sure how to describe what that is exactly. It’s got a certain funkiness to it. The bass section has a wonderfully lo-fi thing going on too, and I need to find more ways to incorporate it into songs. One of the keys no longer works, I’m sure the guts could use some servicing, and there’s a dissonant drone that will develop sometimes depending on what keys are played (you can hear it happen near the end of “The Ass…” right around where the synth in the right stereo channel drops out), but on the whole it’s still in good working condition. The one note that isn’t available to me anymore is easy enough to work around, and I kind of like that drone popping up occasionally at unexpected moments.

Now I just need to get a Prophet-5, a Juno-60, and a Jupiter-8, and I’ll be set. Not that I have any room for more keyboards around here.

Still, between the Arp Omni-2, the Korg Triton LE, and the Yamaha w-5 (the last two of which haven’t been getting much love lately), it might be an idea to get back into making synth-based music at some point. I’m not sure it would come out sounding much like GROWING SIDEWAYS did, since at this point I’d have a hard time not throwing in other, more organic sounds, but it could be fun to spice things up a bit. Maybe it would be an idea to not limit things sonically to one synth per album. I mean, NUDGE YOU ALIVE was a W-5 affair, GROWING SIDEWAYS and WHO YOU ARE NOW were completely Triton-centric, and the Omni-2 just pops up for brief cameo appearances here and there on albums that are not very synthy at all. Maybe it’s about time they all learned to play together.

I didn’t know this, but apparently sometime in the 1970s Arp made what they called a “Matrix Edition” of the Omni-2. Only fifty were ever made, so they’re pretty rare. I think they look nifty.

the "matrix" version

On a different subject: it might seem like I joke a lot about the “studio” being dusty and chaotic. But I assure you the dust ain’t no joke. I actually didn’t realize just how serious it was until people started drawing faces and things on my drum shells. Dusting needed to be done. It was long overdue. But before that happened, I thought I should preserve the dust drawings for future generations to enjoy. I’m not sure who drew what here. Katie might have drawn one of the faces. Or maybe it was Nik. Or Anna. Or Kiwi.

dusty-drums-1

dusty-drums-2

I left my own little message mere moments before recirculating the dust and wiping it out.

dusty-drums-3

The next album is starting to come into focus a bit more. I guess you could look at it as the third entry in a loose trilogy. Not that there’s anything thematic connecting the albums, or even running through them individually, but I think there’s a certain aesthetic that’s been developing over the past little while, beginning with CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. It seems to broaden in scope and mutate a bit with each successive album, but I think after this one it might be time to do something different altogether. Then again, what I plan on doing and what ends up happening are often two different things, so we’ll see what transpires.

There are a lot of different ideas in the works, some of them longer-term projects than others. The list of potential albums I outlined in my first-ever post here has grown and changed quite a bit over the past twelve months. The main thing I’ve got my focus back after the “lost year” that was 2007 and the subsequent fallout that threw everything off-balance for a while. It’s nice to be accomplishing things at a somewhat reasonable pace again. Almost like old times.

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