The National Association of Music Merchants, now known simply as NAMM, held a lovely little party for four days in January. With displays of gear from 1,500 manufacturers and the hallways packed with 85,000 attendees, it was a show that was a sonic circus of electronic innovation.
A NAMM show is loud, large and lengthy. Many people start losing their voices by the halfway point in the four-day event. Every hour is also full of intense longing. “I want one of those” you keep saying to yourself. “And one of those. And one of those. And five of those.” And so on.
The sheer size of the affair is daunting. You need to meander through about a million square feet of floor space to see everything. So what follows is hardly comprehensive. Nor is it a “review of the show.” Not that such a thing is possible by one writer since so many events take place simultaneously.
For example, I was watching a cool demonstration of how the Native Instruments’ Kore and Komplete products work when I spun away for a quick conversation with Phil X, guitarist of Powder (the band whose amazing stage show has been “borrowed” by Pink) before scooting over to see Jason Blum (of Deepsky) spin on the latest Denon DJ gear, which was right by the Tascam booth, where I asked a whole bunch of questions about their 24-track hard disk recorder. This all occurred in the span of a few minutes, and the same type of thing was happening all over the gargantuan Anaheim Convention Center.
There are people monitoring the sound levels all over the building, and that’s a very good thing. Even so, imagine aisle after aisle of booths from 1,500 manufacturers, each of whom wants to simultaneously demonstrate their wares at the 85-decibel limit. The din can become a physical obstacle to your health.
It was a pleasure to walk into the Fixed Noise booth and hear a quiet demo of OTTO, a software workstation to build songs and soundscapes using an included version of Kontakt 2. The 4 GB of loops, sequences, and individual “hits” of instruments is impressive, and OTTO offers the ability to create melodies as well.
One of the most memorable moments in the demo came when Fixed Noise CEO Jo Ardalan demonstrated some interesting connections between musical genres. “Drum & Bass is really fast Hip Hop,” she said, and proved it by quickly creating a Hip Hop pattern and instantly transmogrifying it into D&B by sliding the BPM from under 100 to above 150. I can’t wait to try some of these changes myself. At an MSRP of $199.95, the OTTO appears to be a bargain. Go to www.fixednoise.com and you’ll see that her company is branching out in other directions as well.
Feeling Bright About Blue
Another way to escape the din was in booths that offered headphones for their demos, as did Emerson Williams (www.emersonwilliams.com), the Scottish firm with certified mad scientist Dennis Marshall. Their guitar preamplifier, called the darkblue, grabs every single solitary microbit of the sonics in your axe and delivers all of it to your amp or recording device. Everything. Notes, harmonics, overtones, the works. The result is spectacular, like hearing your guitar for the first time.
Keyboard Without Keys
Imagine a piano/synthesizer with no keyboard, just a piece of neoprene (like scuba wetsuit material) with just subtle stitching to indicate the separation of the notes. Some sort of anti-ivory protest? Nope, it’s the Continuum Fingerboard from Lippold Haken (www.hakenaudio.com). A MIDI/Firewire controller that interfaces with any MIDI synth, sound module or sequencer, the Continuum enables you to control note expression in three directions.
Finger pressure is one way, most commonly a volume control, although you can pretty much program anything you want on this thing. Sliding your finger up and down on a “key” is another way to change your sound. And moving from side to side is a third, either in a string player’s vibrato motion or by gliding over many “keys” at once.
Consider the possibilities with the Continuum: pitch, volume, vibrato, sweeps, filters, sound shifters, and more, all assignable whichever way you want, and then playable in real time. It’s the look and feel of tomorrow’s synths today.
If you enjoy great guitar and bass pedals, you’ll want to know the guys at www.pigtronix.com and their sometimes oddly-named products. I think so highly of their Envelope Phaser, I used it on three tracks of my upcoming CRAZED + DAZED trance album with DJ Insane, and one of our songs is called “Project Pigtronix.” They also make pedals called Attack Sustain, Echolution, and Disnortion.
Speaking of pedals, visit www.gig-fx.com for sound samples of the Chopper, a dual-oscillator tremolo with stereo rotating speaker effect and delay. Out-out-stand-stand-ing-ing!
Endorsed by Bootsy Collins, the Ultron Optical Auto Wah from Guyatone and Godlyke Distributing is a monster. Info at www.guyatone.com along with sound samples.
Honoring Bob Moog
From the first Moog Theremin in 1954, the contributions of Bob Moog to electronic music cannot be overestimated. Certainly his legacy will live on with those of us who love the Minimoog, Micromoog, Voyager, Moogerfooger and more. In addition, his daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa, is leading a foundation that will endow scholarships, build a museum, sponsor concerts and competitions, and conduct an electronic music outreach program. Please visit www.moogfoundation.org if you would like to contribute.
Sights and Sounds
As mentioned at the start of this commentary, the show is too big for any sort of sane “coverage” but here are some shout-outs to folks and firms whose work stayed in my mind like the lingering notes at the end of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”:
* To Chris Cox for his spectacular set in the Pioneer DJ room.
* To Phil Gates for his impressive guitar chops as he enthusiastically demonstrated the Boss Micro BR, the world’s smallest digital recording studio (www.bossus.com).
* To TC Helicon for establishing the Voice Council, which is helping vocalists and voiceover artists everywhere.
* To Sheryl Bailey, who made her guitar sing in a beautiful blend of contemporary and traditional as she demonstrated the JazzKat amplifier (www.jazzkatamps.com).
* To Notion, whose composition and performance software lets even someone like me feature sounds of the London Symphony Orchestra in their recordings. Visit www.notionmusic.com for all the glorious details.
*To the adrenaline-fueled folks at XPresense (www.xpresense.com) and their new WAG wireless guitar effects controller.
* To McDowell Signal Processing (www.mcdsp.com) for their cool line-up of pro plug-ins.
* And to the Gyro Exerciser from Dynaflex (www.dynaflexpro.com), a handheld gravity-defying tool to help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome or other problems from finger to shoulder.
Apple vs. Microsoft
Apple had an impressive, large booth and knowledgeable techies on hand to showcase their latest hardware and software. But not Microsoft. And whereas the show featured plenty of drawings for products, including iPods, there was one booth offering a drawing for a Zune. Fittingly enough, the bowl for entry forms was empty.
[tags]GMan, Scott G, Music Critics Must Die, NAMM, National Association of Music Merchants[/tags]