Posts Tagged ‘Frank Zappa’

New Old Gear :: BOSS TW-1 T-Wah

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The BOSS TW-1 T-Wah (a.k.a. the Touch Wah on the earliest versions) is my latest guitar toy. I’ve wanted an auto-filter for ages, mainly for playing Inca Roads and other FZ mid-70s vibes, and remembered that Larry Carlton used the TW-1 for a while in the 80s. (Having since revisited the clip where he shows the TW-1 on his board, he actually says he uses it every two years, and not to buy one, which is exactly the kind of perverted recommendation/warning  that I like.)

I paid £55 for it on eBay, which I think is a pretty good deal for a MIJ BOSS pedal from Roland’s golden era (roughly 1978-85 in my estimation).

Powering vintage BOSS pedals

One slight annoyance about this and other old BOSS pedals is that they don’t use a standard PSA-type power supply. Apparently, the idea behind the power supply design was for you to daisy chain several pedals, so they are designed for an unregulated 12V input, and then step down the voltage internally so that there is plenty of juice for all the other pedals. So the pedal runs at 9V internally, has a connector for a 9V battery, but needs a 12V input.

If you plug in a 9V supply (as I have tried), you get a dim LED and the pedal doesn’t function quite fully as you’d like. After all, the 9V input is then running through the same stepdown circuit that was intended for the 12V input.

Elsewhere on the web it is stated that if you daisychain the pedal with other BOSS gear then you can use a normal 9V input as having a common ground will bypass the stepdown. I have tried this out and it is not true – I used the output from a TU-2 and the pedal behaved the same as if you plug a normal 9V input in. (Perhaps the output of the TU-2 is isolated from the input and the GND is not shared, therefore the stepdown is still engaged?)

Ultimately I connected the pedal to a 12V tap on my T-Rex Fuel Tank Chameleon and normal operation was restored (although there’s something wrong-feeling about plugging a BOSS pedal into a 12V supply).

Sounds

I’ve really enjoyed playing this pedal so far. I got it for playing leads à la Inca Roads, which it does very nicely, but have also found it to perform well for rhythm parts as well (and not just the furious-right-hand-funk people always demonstrate with this type of pedal).

Because the filter is triggered by attack, you can keep it closed by using the volume control on your guitar, which can act as a proxy for the peak control. This reduces the amount of gain you have, of course.

One cool effect I found is hitting a chord with the volume on your guitar set low (so as not to open the filter), and then rolling the volume slowly up to full. As the volume increases, the filter doesn’t open but the gain increases – because the filter is still closed it’s like rolling in a very deep, menacing texture. Something akin to the volume swells early on in Forty-Six and Two, but darker.

There is a big difference in the behaviour of the pedal with active pickups, and I imagine the same would be true of humbuckers.

The down/up switch on the pedal is a nice feature, but the ‘down’ setting sounds strange to my ears (and not in a good way). The settings I have fixed on are ‘up’, and both ‘peak’ and ‘sens’ set to 12:00.

Conclusion

Like Larry Carlton says, you’re not going to use this pedal all the time, but I have found myself reaching for it much more than I thought I would. Because it is an inherently dynamic effect, it forces you to play as such, controlling the filter with your picking. This is the best kind of practise: the kind you don’t realise you’re doing (i.e. the not completely life-suckingly dull version).

In the negative column, it’s very much not true-bypass, and having it in the signal chain sucks tone on par with older Electro-Harmonix gear, which is not something I normally expect from BOSS, even their non-true-bypass pedals. (To be clear, this is not a pedal geek allergy to anything that’s not true-bypass – it’s a real deal problem.)

In summary, the TW-1 is a vintage pedal that sounds good, unlocks some cool new playing techniques, and makes you think more carefully about pick dynamics. With that, and the fact that it’s not wildly more expensive than a new DS-1, I can forgive the power supply idiosyncrasies and tone suck. If you see one for cheap and fancy something a bit different, go nuts.

Music :: Kongor-ol Ondar / Dance Me This

Kongar-ol Ondar, the Tuvan throat singer who attended one of FZ’s 1993 music parties and got as close to mainstream culture as any throat singer had before (or since), died aged 51 last July following a brain haemorrhage. Frank’s fondness for and adoption of Tuvan styles in his later work is something that makes his untimely passing all the more upsetting — Dio Fa sets a pretty high bar for fusing the unusual with the unusual, and we are left only to imagine the possibilities.

In tribute to Ondar, the ZFT posted a Synclavier piece featuring his vocals to the ‘of consequence’ section of Zappa.com. There’s not much to go on aside from a hint dropped by the Idiot Bastard, but it’s very possible that this piece is from the legendary, unreleased Dance Me This album, and is likely (at least an excerpt from) ‘Calculus’, a piece executed with Synclavier software created by Todd Yvega designed to follow the Tuvan’s no-beat ‘free time’ rhythms.

A helpful person has uploaded the piece to YouTube, and it’s embedded below. Now if the ZFT could prioritise Dance Me This and The Rage and The Fury for release ahead of all the Roxy business (which has been going on for decades anyway), that’d make for a great 2014. Arf!

Zappa on the Business of Music

This comes via Andrew Greenaway on the Twitter and is the work of Carl King & others on YouTube.

Certainly a wonderful and very creative tribute, and the audio captures Frank at his best; I don’t think there’s any way you would contest a solid block of argument like this. Really fantastic visuals (and a great score).

Frank Zappa Curses Ronald Reagan on MTV

Fast forward to 6:30 for Frank hexing Ron with a Mojo Doodad.

Frank Zappa: Technology, Business & the Web

During his lifetime, Frank Zappa was an inspirational free thinker, a compelling speaker and, often flying right in the face of the norm, held absolute conviction in his beliefs. For me, he was also the greatest and most inventive composer and guitar player to grace the planet.

Business Nous, Technology Vision

In addition to those bitchen’ factoids, Frank is also a business and technology hero of mine, and it’s maybe not so widely known how switched on to these fields he was throughout his career.

From the very earliest days of his career, Frank was determined to maintain creative and business control of his own product – by 1969, he headed a pair of record labels (Bizarre/Straight), releasing his own solo & Mothers of Invention material as well as other artists, including Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley and Captain Beefheart. In the mid-late 1970s, Frank demonstrated his absolute commitment to control, entering a legal spat with Warner Bros. records after they refused to distribute the ‘Läther’ four-LP box, instead chopping it into four separate album releases. He was vindicated in court, winning back the rights to all of his MGM & Warner Bros. recordings. All of his releases post-1979 appeared on his own Barking Pumpkin or Zappa Records labels.

After years of complacency, poor management, lack of innovation and an inability (or unwillingness) to explore new business models, many major record labels are on their knees today, a direct result of their ignorance of digital distribution – a concept invented by Frank way back in 1983. In fact, Frank’s idea to distribute music over a phone or cable connection was designed specifically to save money on distribution and curtail piracy. Yes, not only did Frank predict Napster, LimeWire et al, but he also came up with iTunes as a means to prevent the recording industry meltdown we’re now in the midst of.

Frank’s embrace of the latest technology began before the days of the Mothers of Invention – even in the early 60s he worked with a 5-track multitrack recording system, when such a setup was very high technology indeed and restricted to only the most expensive recording studios. In the 1980s, he began creating music using the New England Digital Synclavier digital audio workstation, largely obviating the human performers he had relied on for the rest of his career. As the Synclavier’s technology progressed, Frank stayed at the cutting edge – adding disk drives to store samples and more and more memory for multitracking. Compare the (Grammy award winning!) Jazz From Hell album with the final masterpiece, Civilization Phaze III, to hear the difference between the cutting edge FM voices of 1986 and the most sophisticated wavetable synthesis available in 1993. Frank’s Synclavier in its ultimate form was specced with 640MB of sample RAM. (In 1993, my desktop was running Windows 3.1 on a 486 with 4MB of RAM.)

FZ Online, 2011

Even in his absence, Frank’s following today is stronger than ever, thanks greatly to the dedicated community of fans using the web to share, enjoy and spread the word. Tomorrow, I’ll share my favourite Zappa-centric corners of the web, but for now, Easy Meat.

Welcome to Lumpy Gravy


Welcome to Lumpy Gravy indeed. The site appears no different today than yesterday, but behind the scenes it’s a whole different story.

After 6+ months of good service, Uncle Meat, the HP DL380 which has hosted this site since October of 2010, has been replaced. Running a system which was designed to (and formerly did) occupy a corporate datacenter in your home sadly proved impossibly noisy, and Uncle Meat was moved to the garden shed shortly after coming online.

This was actually a pretty decent (if hacky) solution – the shed was freezing cold all winter and noone went outside because of the unfriendly weather. However, things in Sussex have taken a turn for the lovely, and with temperatures outside approaching 30 degrees, Uncle Meat has met a couple of issues which have precluded its continued employment.

This DL380 sports a pair of 2.80GHz Xeons, which are great for number crunching but, because of their NetBurst architecture, kick out a phenomenal amount of heat. Because of this, running 24/7 in 30 degree plus heat (even with the window open) is not the most reliable environment, and a far cry from the air conditioned datacenter it formerly called home. The noise of the cooling array is what evicted it from the house originally, and with more time being spent in the garden it’s no longer an okay place for Uncle Meat to be.

It’s been great fun learning the ropes on this machine, but life must continue and this site now has a newer, quieter and faster home – introducing Lumpy Gravy.

Lumpy Gravy is a decent step up in specification despite coming into existence on a shoestring budget, and it’s been designed with practicality in mind from the outset. Specs are as follows:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.40GHz, 4MB L2)
  • ASUS P5KPL-AM
  • 2GB Corsair XMS2 DDR2
  • 500GB Western Digital Caviar Green HDD
  • Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit

The Core 2 CPU is a decent amount quicker than the pair of Xeons it replaces, and has much better energy saving features. It’s running at a cool 30 degrees using only the stock Intel cooler, spinning at just 850rpm (= quiet!).

Even though this is definitely a system on a budget, I went for decent quality RAM – Corsair XMS is designed for overclockers and both DIMMs have heatsinks on either side. Because I’m not overclocking, this should be a really stable solution (it’s always very reassuring to be working with components well within their tolerances). I’ve been building with ASUS boards since the late 90s and they’ve never given me any reason to change allegiance. This one has really nice square VRMs which are designed to fit perfectly with the outer fins of the CPU cooler – a neat touch which helps with heat dissipation and should keep this rig stable. It’s running a G31 chipset, with a minimal 8MB RAM shared with the integrated GMA 3100.

Western Digital is another brand I’ve used almost exclusively for over a decade now, and their current range of Caviar drives is very well thought out, providing clear options depending on the system builder’s priorities. In this case, my priorities were minimal power consumption, quiet operation and long term reliability. The Caviar Green was the obvious choice for me – it spins at 5400RPM (quieter, longer life) but has 32MB of cache memory, ideal for a web server.

I’ve also taken this opportunity to upgrade Ubuntu to the latest and greatest – 10.10 in 64-bit. Yes, I’m only running 2GB RAM, but this gives the opportunity to upgrade past 4GB in the future, as well as the (occasionally noticeable) performance benefits of running 64-bit software.

So that’s Lumpy Gravy, the new home of zebpedersen.co.uk and my associated ‘cloudy’ bits and pieces. I’m currently working on a handy guide for anyone porting a WordPress site from one machine to another, and there’s some exciting new configurations I’m working on with Apache 2 which will be written about shortly as well.