The Evolution of TweakHeadz Lab
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by the Tweakmeister Rich

The Evolution of TweakHeadz Lab

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Rich's First Studio? Nah!  There were even earlier ones! (1975)  

Rich's First Studio?

Lets say I started with 2 cassette decks, a guitar and a Moog Prodigy in 1984. (I could go back far earlier, but lets not, OK?) The Prodigy was a spin-off of the Mini Moog technology, with a few dozen knobs and the now famous Moog Filters. I learned by carefully tweaking the knobs, one could get lots of emulative sounds, and cool effects, like thunder. Then, the big thing was getting the Moog to sound like brass, woodwinds, drums, and, of course "the ultimate string sound".  No one wanted the synth to sound like a chirpy, bubbling analog synthesizer. (That was for University tweak-heads into Morton Subotinik and the like) Now all the manufacturers are scrambling to make their DSP chips sound analog and produce those unstable grungy, nasty little blerps with 24 bit squeaky clean sound engines. Some come close.  But many forget the inaccuracy and problems with these synths.  Many of us just wanted to get through a track and have the synth stay in tune.

The Concept of MIDI Drops from the Sky

Multi-tracking really got the home studio craze started with the advent of under-a-grand-4 track cassette recorders. Like many, I started out as a guitarist.  Soon, I wanted more than having four tracks of guitars playing.  The Moog was great because it could do the Bass. OK.  Then I had to have drums. At the time, the very first Linn Drums were out. Multitracker's everywhere drooled, but they were WAY too expensive. Then a cheap little box, the Boss DR-110 "Doctor Rhythm" came out, a non-midi's handheld Roland job. It sounded, mmm, like distorted cardboard. After plopping down for the DR-110, I plopped again for the Yamaha RX-15. I recall remarking how the cymbals sounded like real metal and not compressed air--that's what sold me. It sounded somewhat like drums at least, based on some voodoo "PCM" technology, that the manual described at length in Yamaha Speak (which if you ever tried to read a Yamaha manual you understand). In other words it made absolutely no sense. But on the back panel was this mysterious 5 pin jack labeled "MIDI" and a 1/8 jack labeled "sync out".  

Now, I thought, if you could just get a computer to do the same. It fell on me like a ton of bricks. Yes! You needed a computer, a sync box, a drum machine, and a "multi-timbral" MIDI synth and you can be "an orchestra!"  And out of this primordial gear, the concept of the MIDI studio came home to thousands of credit card holders around the world. Despite 19% interest rates on average cards, we bought and bought. 

 

Its a challenge to try to express the how mind blowing this event was back in 1985. The gauntlet had been thrown down. Here was the chance for any musician to totally produce their own musical art totally by themselves. I drove my bike 5 treacherous miles to the first ever computer superstore and slung a new commodore 64 in my backpack and peddled home.  

My next synth was the Sequential 6-trak, the first dedicated multi-timbral synth, which I programmed to death till the buttons no longer incremented. I also got the Model 64 and Model 910 sequencers, which ran on a Commodore 64, and included a crude editor librarian, perhaps the world's first. With this package, the multi timbral computer-based midi studio became a reality, for me and many others who could only afford a few grand to put it together. And it was crude and rude and buggy. I remember having to bang on the keyboard during many a mix to free up stuck notes. Back then, not all the manufacturers agreed on even the basics, like what defines a "note off". The Dr. T's Keyboard Controlled Sequencer came out the first viable MIDI composition program, with teeth. It too a year to figure it out, but once you did, it was--and still is--an incredible source of musical inspiration. Emile Tobenfield--hats off too you--. KCS allowed one full unrestricted an unabashed creative manipulation of midi data. And with it, Midiphiles began looking at musical freedom right in the eye.

The then ubiquitous Casio CZ101 was next, with its challenging 8 stage envelopes and pure digital "phase distortion" sound. You could finally do nice clean digital bell sounds (for the bulk of us who couldn't pop a few grand for the venerable DX7). We all wanted "digital" sound then. Why? Analog was so "sloppy" unstable, imprecise and often unpredictable--hmm, getting the picture now...? You really couldn't get a clean bell tone with analog gear. Wendy Carlos released "Digital Moonscapes" filled with bell-ish sounds and no one on a budget could get them--until the CZ101. The Casio had a cheesy, endearing quality. It had a whopping 4 voices. That brought my total voices to 10, and I was wild with thought of what I Then could do. (Today, lessee, I have about 256--yes, manufacturers, I am quite satiated, thank you--hint. rather than invest in 128 voice technology, lets go back to real potentiometers, OK?) Back then you had to do the math and count every voice. There was no "dynamic allocation" either. You had to set the number of voices in advance. Every composition was a left brain math problem before it got off the ground.

 

 
This was my "Alley Shack" Studio, in a ramshackle garage apartment. Note my "new" Atari ST, which just replaced the Commodore 64 at this point. I was running Notator 1.12 at the time.

 

 

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Fun Stuff

Pictures of 270 Home Studios
10 years of Namm Show Highlights
History of TweakHeadz Lab
Gear at TweakHeadz Lab
Philosophy and Music
The Showroom
Gifts for Musicians
Metaphor and Your Song
Tweak's Music
Add a Banner to your Site
Basic Music Theory
How to Make Money in your Studio
Famous and Inspiring Quotations
The Final Exam
Test Answers
Vocalists at Tweak's Lab
Studio of the Future
The Newbie Guide
Another Site Map
Building a PC for Music (old)
Why we Think Today's Musc Stinks
Transformation in Dance Music
We Used to Make Money on MP3.com
About TweakHeadz Lab
Tweak's SEARCH Engines
History of Home Recording

 

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