Saturday, 18 May 2019

A master of the keyboards - Rick Wakeman at 70

Rick Wakeman, one of the most prominent rock legends and keyboard virtuosi, has turned 70 on 18 May.

At a young age having become known as a formally trained keyboard wizard in the progressive rock band Yes, he moved on to a hugely productive solo career, too.

Something that is absolutely essential to stress in Wakeman's case, when comparing him to other keyboard giants of the era, is that his phenomenal command of music theory and technical abilities were never self-serving and purely for show.

It is rare to have a keyboardist with vast imagination rendering vast orchestral and choral arrangements seemingly effortlessly, coupled with stunning technical ability - and still, not to have the musician venture into empty bravado just to show off his skills.

Apart from his classics like The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and the epic Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, some of his maybe lesser known concept albums like Criminal Record can demonstrate his ability to imagine huge instrumental pieces, with towering complexity but also with great expressivity - and making them seem effortless. One such track is Judas Iscariot from aforementioned album...

Whilst in the UK, especially with the arrival of punk, a lot of the excesses and visuals of the prog rock bands have gone through much ridicule, some of us had the fortune of accessing such music, very much including Rick Wakeman's monumental compositions via just the music alone.

Often the original album was not even available in certain Easter Bloc regimes that suppressed such music. Concert footage with capes and wizard outfits and knights ice skating on vast stage sets were absolutely impossible to get hold of.

Thus, one can never forget how 'accessing' such music through just the music, often via some third-hand cassette copy in the 1970s and 1980s of Communist dictatorships, was a life-changing experience.

The huge mistake in pigeonholing such music as 'prog rock excess' is that, obscured by the visual excesses of the era, the actual music is not analysed for what it actually is.

The musicianship of those bands, and that of Rick Wakeman, is still a lesson to myriad aspiring and competent, even successful, musicians today.

Sure, as he wrote in his inimitable style in his autobiographical Say Yes, there have been many hilarious stories and escapades both on and behind the stage...

Whilst he is renowned for the epic scale compositions, and the superhuman keyboard performances delivered with breathtaking technique, Rick Wakeman has often changed direction and could surprise fans with music that would never have been thought as something that emanated from his studio.

Such example is the absolute tranquility and subtlety of something like his Sun Trilogy, with the opening track of the first album below.

He often turned to solo piano, too, and leaving aside the many stacks of many synthesizers, could compose and perform exquisite gems of piano pieces, like the following from his album Night Airs.

His creative appetite and even his touring efforts have not stopped, still very active in both the studio and on stage.

Many happy birthdays, and continued inspiration for the future!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1 - The birth of a whole developer ecosystem?

At Superbooth 2019, KORG have introduced the Nu:Tekt  NTS-1 digital DIY synth.

The idea itself is splendid, but a significant aspect in these first few hours and days seems to be overlooked by most if not all initial reports.

The digital engine in the little module is basically the one inside the flagship Prologue and the Minilogue XD. The huge significance of users being able to write their own algorithms for any digital oscillator or effect they can think of was revolutionary, and covered on this blog, too when Prologue came out.

However, even beyond this, let's imagine for a moment that this little box of fun can be basically a relatively low cost developer platform for anybody who does not yet own, did not think about diving into, or was not able to dive into the world of actual synthesizer keyboards yet.

Anybody from tech savvy kids in schools to erudite tech enthusiasts approaching the world of sound synthesis & processing can use this little synth - and develop oscillators and effects usable in even flagship synths. The potentials for idea exchange and development are endless.

Once one got something working, it can be directly ported to the flagship Prologue synth's multi-engine, or to the Minilogue XD that shares same multi-engine basically. 

This could well be the device that possibly triggers the birth of an entire ecosystem and whole developer communities.

One may not have a Korg synth (yet), but can develop synthesis or processing modules that can be actually used on the "big" Korg multi-engine synths mentioned above.

Also, think of the "pull" from higher-end products... if one develops something on this, will want to hear it and try it out on a Minilogue XD or even Prologue...

In addition, if we think how this can get VST developers to get creative on this platform, at a low cost, it can really "explode" the possibilities and the range of custom algorithms.

Therefore, it is a very astute move by KORG, and it is highly significant how they open the product up rather than lock it into manufacturer preconceptions on how we should or could use it.

The video below is a Superbooth interview by Synth Anatomy: