Boot Fair Find: Yamaha DD-10 Digital MIDI Drum Machine

Released in 1988, the Yamaha DD-10 was aimed at those who wished to annoy the hell out of their neighbours at 2am.  The machine featured 8-bit sounds, with some sounds reused at a different pitch, two-level velocity sensing pads and 26 drum, percussion and sound effect samples.  MIDI In also features, so you can trigger drum sounds with an external device.

Found this recently at a local boot fair.  Fiver.  Contained my excitement so the seller didn’t put the price up.  Boxed with polys and foamy wrapper.  No manual, strap or foot pedals sadly, but hey – what do you want for a fiver?

Another dream item for circuit-bending, as digital delay, resonant filters and other such larky modifications can be added if you know what you’re doing.  Inputs and outputs include External Power Source, Aux Out (L&R/L), Aux Out R, Headphones, Foot Pedal Jack and MIDI In.

98 Auto Rhythms, Power Switch, Volume, Tempo, MIDI Mode, Metronome, Roll, Restart, Stop, Intro/Fill, Manual Tempo.  A small keypad is used to enter numerical data for drum patterns, which is displayed on a 2-digit large LED display.

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Haynes Mk1-2K16 Synth Kit *Updated With Build Video*

Yes, the people who bring you those repair manuals for cars, vans and suchlike, have produced a DIY mini synthesizer kit.

9783645653459

Packaged in a picture-card box (above (which also doubles as the housing for the synthesizer)), the kit contains all the parts and instructions to make your own Stylophone-like synth (without the unnecessary stylus).

The kit contains a pre-assembled circuit board, potentiometer/switch, four micro push-buttons, a blue and green LED, loudspeaker, battery box, a whole metre of wire and a couple of nuts and screws.  The unit is powered by three AA batteries.

My soldering techniques are a source of national humour, and not wanting to ruin the kit (a present from my dear partner) I posted it off to the only person I know who can wield an iron in anger and come out the other side having for the job done quickly and efficiently.  I’m talking about none other than the fabulous Dr Andrew Armstrong, whose BackOffice Shows are the talk of YouTube (any one of those preceding links will take you to the same place – please take the time and courtesy to check out The Doc’s Channel as there’s something in there for everyone, I promise you.  And make sure you subscribe to his Channel too.

Don’t forget to click on any of the images for the BIGGER picture.

The synth kit is based on a processor made by a company called Holtek, a Taiwanese-based semiconductor design centre and provider.  The processors themselves aren’t widely used in the hobby community, and as a result, we don’t really know the type of chip used or its part number.  The source code of the CPU hasn’t been published either, and the manual of the kit only outlines the basic modes of operation.

When assembled and batteries fitted, the synth is operated with your finger by running it up and down the copper track (the manual helpfully notes that breathing on your fingertip first makes a better contact!)

The effects buttons allow for tremelo and envelope modulation.  On the opposite side of the keyboard are buttons allowing for sharp & flat notes.  The envelope modulation is enabled by pushing the lower right-hand button next to the green LED.  The amplitude of the sound signal is periodically changed, and the green LED begins to flash.  The range and speed of the amplitude change can be modified in ten steps by using the same push-button.  Each press of the button advances the effect by one step.  The flashing sequence of this green LED is changed accordingly.  The rapidly flashing LED indicates a rapid change of the amplitude by small amounts.  The the eleventh push of this button, the envelope modulation is disabled and the LED becomes constantly lit once more.

The tremelo button is next to the blue LED.  It changes the frequency of the note played periodically.  The blue LEd flashes this time, and the range of the frequency change can again be modified in ten steps by using this push-button.  The tremelo is advanced one step by each push of the button.  The slower the LED flash, the larger the frequency change.  The eleventh button push, again, stops the LED flashing and switches off the tremelo function.

It’s a nice little kit – well thought-out – and nicely presented in a stiff card box with faux synthesizer sliders and buttons printed on it.  If I ever get competent at soldering (don’t hold your breath) I may have a go at making projects for myself.  Meantime, I really DO suggest you go look at the BackOffice videos on YouTube.

Sincere thanks again to Andrew for his perseverance!

*Update*

Here’s a LINK to Andrew’s build video of the Haynes kit.  Enjoy!

Kraftwerk 3-D Catalogue Live Box Set

VIDEO

On 26 May 2017, on more formats than I care to mention, Kraftwerk release ‘3-D Catalogue’, a stunning series of album live performances.

Most notable is a 4-Disc Blu-Ray set, featuring live performances of Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans-Europe Express, The Man Machine, Computerworld, The Mix, Technopop and Tour de France.  Filmed in 3D (2D compatible for those of us still in the 20th century), the discs also feature the tour projections and films.  There’s also a 228-page book stacked with images from the tours.

There’s a 9-LP vinyl set, 8-CD set and two abridged versions of the 3D Catalogue collections.

The Blu-Ray set is going to cost £144.95.  Better get that house remortgaged.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Another landlark has just been reached.  My sincerest thanks to the 72,000+ visitors who’ve viewed my 900 posts 200,000 times!  These figures stagger me – simply stagger me.

I’m most grateful to you, the viewer, for sticking with me through thick and thin.  Thank you to the contributors, subscribers and particularly those who’ve donated to keep the blog going.  Thank you for all the comments, requests for help and information.  Couldn’t have done it without you.

Here’s to another seven years.  Thank you.

Steve

Roland Founder Ikutaro Kakehashi Has Died. RIP.

Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of the Japanese electronic instruments company Roland, has reportedly died at the age of 87.

The legendary instrument engineer founded the Roland Corporation in 1972, and went on to develop some of the most game-changing instruments in history. He was the mind behind the System 700 modular synthesizer, the TB-303 bassline synthesizer, the TR-909, and, of course, the TR-808 drum machine. Though the latter was rolled out in 1980, it has had a profound and lasting influence on contemporary music—specifically in hip-hop.

Ikutaro_Kakehashi

Pet Shop Boys Annually 2017 with Undertow Promo CD

The latest incarnation of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Annually’ was released (and arrived!) today.  Hardback annual (which I haven’t opened yet), together with a 3-track Promo CD EP of ‘Undertow’.  Tracklisting is:

  1. Undertow (Tuff City Kids remix)
  2. Left To My Own Devices (Super version)
  3. Burn (Baba Stiltz remix)

Some of these are already fetching over a hundred pounds on eBay.  Nuts.

BeatsX Black-ZML by Dre Unboxing

BeatsX by Dre, Model A1763.  Black/ZML.  Manufactured February 2017.

Wireless earphones with soft carry case, USB-Lightning Charging Cable, Rubber earcaps.  Wireless Bluetooth; Up to 8 hours’ wireless play; Removeable wingtips; 5 minute charge gives 2 hours’ play; Flex-form cable to control music and manage calls.

Boot Fair Find: Yamaha SHS-10R MIDI Keytar

In November 2010 I wrote about my love for my old Yamaha SHS-10 MIDI Keytar.  A couple of days ago, I dragged the missus kicking and screaming from our warm bed into the cold West London air to a bus which took us to the first boot fair of the year.  Within a couple of minutes I was pretty glad I did.  I saw the familiar box standing end-on next to a wallpaper table covered in the usual boot fair tat (Wade Whimsies, VHS videos of ‘Friends’, fake Russell Athletic grey joggers … you know the sort of stuff).  The first thing I noticed about the SHS-10 box was that it was the red model, generally sold by Dixons back in 1987.  This was confirmed upon closer inspection by the ‘centenary sticker’ that adorned the box (Yamaha was founded in 1887, if you hadn’t already guessed).  Box was a little tatty and at first I wasn’t sure there was anything inside.  The stall holder was hovering over the box, devouring a bacon roll which I silently prayed wasn’t dripping everywhere.  It wasn’t.  I picked the box up and peered inside the slightly tatty box flap.  There it was, red and shiny.  No polys sadly, and no batteries or power adaptor rolling around.  No manual either.  I found the strap already outside the box which was a nice addition.  First thing I did, as I do with all battery-powered items is a) to check whether the battery door was in place and b) whether there was any battery corrosion inside.  Happy to report the door was present and correct, and there wasn’t even a speck of dust inside the battery compartment.  On closer inspection, the SHS-10R looked like it had hardly been used.  There were no scratches to the red part of the upper plastic body, the LED display wasn’t scratched, all slider caps were intact, as were all the rubber buttons, mod wheel and the two guitar strap lugs.

“Worked last time I tried it”, the owner told me.  “When was that?” I asked, “1988?”  (Curse my stupid mouth sometimes.  I do say inappropriate things).  He said it had been working reasonably recently, and went on to explain how his kid had outgrown it, and had lived in a box most of its life.  The manual and charger had been lost in the mists of time, and batteries had never been stored in it.  He had no batteries to hand to test it, but promised me it was working.  I wanted it.  Price, I wondered.  What the hell was this gonna cost me?  Another stall had a boxed Casio keyboard which the woman wanted £20 for.  I guessed the Yamaha would be a similar price.  “Five pounds” the man and his wife chorused when asked.  I deftly paid the woman in twenty pence pieces (we always take loads of change to boot fairs – stall holders love it).  The man thoughtfully offered a free black bin bag for transport and for rain protection.

Click the images for a bigger version

If you’ve not read my original review of the SHS-10, or have no intention of doing so, you can stop reading here because I’m going to bore you with some of the main details of it.  Most of the UK models were grey.  If you lived in Japan you’d probably get a black one.  The red one, as I explained earlier, were retailed by Dixons and a few other select outlets.

The SHS-10 has 32 mini keys and a pitch bend wheel at the end of the grip.  It was six-note poly with 25 built-in sounds.  A built-in speaker allowed you to annoy the family with the arse-clenching demo of Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’.  The biggest boon of the Yamaha was the inclusion of a MIDI Out port.  It meant you could connect another MIDI device to the SHS-10 and control it with the keytar.  There was a 1/4″ output too.

Drums could be transmitted on separate MIDI channels, which was quite a powerful feature.  An external drum machine, for example, could then play a backing.  MIDI Start and Stop, plus Tempo Sync could also be transmitted and picked up by an external sequencer.  Other features included: intro, fill-in and ending buttons for the rhythms and auto-chords, vibrato, portamento and sustain buttons, tempo, tuning and transpose buttons, chord sequencer with battery-back-up, but no editing.

Sounds ranged from ‘synthesizer’ through to ‘music box’ with offerings such as ‘piano’, ‘steel drum’ and ‘saxophone’ thrown in for good measure.  There were 25 preset rhythms too, from ‘Rhythm & Blues’ to ‘Fusion’, ‘Samba’ and ‘Fanfare’.  A large red 2-digit LED showed preset and program numbers, as well as tempo for rhythms.  The sounds were quite impressive for this FM device.

The SHS-10 (and its bigger and rarer brother, the SHS-200) was a circuit-benders’ dream.  More complex sounds could be produced by hard-wiring an 8-pole DIP switch to the YM2420 chip.

I’ve loved playing with the SHS-10 again.  Manuals for it can be found aplenty online in PDF format, or can be bought for about a tenner on eBay.

*UPDATE*

I managed to sell the SHS-10 for thirty times what I paid for it!

Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II Triple Vinyl Reissue

PURCHASE HERE

Note – the MP3 download version has 24 tracks to the vinyl’s 23 – presumably it includes ‘Stone in Focus’.

Aphex Twin’s 1994 masterpiece Selected Ambient Works Volume II includes barely anything resembling a beat or any sign of typical song structure, yet the album continues to garner adulation generally reserved for holy music.

People have been testifying on its behalf for nearly two decades, as if it were capable of curing ills or healing the soul. Its synthetic construction belies the intuitive, human, melancholic and uplifting nature of the music. Some have speculated the album was intended by Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James as a farce, as if its über-minimalism was a joke played on an electronic community that relied so heavily on the beat; an expectation-defying statement from ambient-house’s young hero. The album induces varied responses and often from the same person.

A listener may go from being incredulous to drenched in tears within the span of a single track. Music critic Frank Owen described the music as “veering between an eerie beauty and an almost nightmarish desolation.” James himself described it as “like standing in a power station on acid.” The album’s raw emotional power is built upon the influences of Brian Eno, Erik Satie, Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Each of its tracks has an elegiac and desolate feel far removed from the tooth-rattling, drill-‘n’-bass or abstract electronica for which James was originally known. The soft, nimble flow leaves one in a tranquilized state. Throughout the album, James resists the temptation to layer the sound with beats or samples.

Instead, he relies on swathes of sound and harmonics and almost-implied pulses. When the music does incorporate subtle industrial sounds, rhythmic drums or muted samples, it is only to affect a menacing feel in the textures. Remarkably, for an album that is often perceived as difficult, Selected Ambient Works Volume II is quite accessible. Featured in films, commercials and video games, the music continues to offer an entry point for listeners new to the ambient genre while remaining a classic touted by connoisseurs.”