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"Nano" letter in latest Keyboard


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There was a letter criticizing miniature controllers, and software synths in general, in the latest Keyboard. Since there was an invitation to respond, and I don't see the topic here, I'm getting the ball rolling. It's awkward to criticize the letter, because the author gives so much praise to great hardware units. It's almost as though it's implied that to disagree with the letter would be to disparage these great hardware units. But, it strikes me that the entire point of the letter is made in the first sentence: "I just don't see the draw to all the software synthesizers, effects, recording software, and so on." It's perfectly OK not to see the draw, but it's not OK to criticize these things solely on the basis of not 'getting' them. No, I wouldn't take a NanoKey onstage, but it does suit a purpose. And, while the Wavestation and Oberheim Matrix are great instruments, that doesn't mean that Absynth or the Creamware Modular are any less great instruments, so set the snobbery aside. There's room for both in the world. No, you couldn't play a ripping lead on a NanoKey. But you could score a film with one. You could write an album with one (if you can keep it intact long enough, mine drops keys like my dog sheds hair). You could sketch out ideas with one, if you're out somewhere with a laptop. Different tools for different jobs.
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I don't disparage software per se. But it's hard to drum up any enthusiasm for the flood of cheap junk-fealing controllers that have taken over the market.



"I keep wanting to like it's sound, but every demo seems to demonstrate that it has the earth-shaking punch and peerless sonics of the Roland Gaia. " - Tusker


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I can sympathize with him up to a point; as some wise guy said, "Pressing 'Play' does not constitute a performance." I like a fair chunk of most keyboard musics, which includes some of what I call "grid music," created with just a Monome and 2 effects units or the like. Still, I think something vital is lost if you do not play at least one traditional instrument. You lose a vital connection to all previous music in favor of button-pressing. A steady diet of that alone eventually creates cookie-cutter noises whose novelty fades too soon.

I think the original writer is missing the boat. Yeah, I sometimes feel fatigued over wrestling a computer's oddities, but I would not give up either my hardware or softsynths. They have varied strengths I chose for specific reasons. I have no beef with someone who plays off-center controllers or pads; some of the results are wild. I'd just "feel better" if more users had a handle on a better range of things, actually playing a pad-based controller AND a keyboard AND a serious drum like the Mandala, where your human feel and technique tell the rest of the tale. Varying your rig and your approaches prevents 'grid-lock' and keeps everything livelier. I have yet to hear a Tenori-on virtuoso appear, but I'm not counting it out as a Could-Be yet.







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Every controller must be thought of in context with every other piece of gear that is connected to while it is being used to make music. The key bed on an old Moog does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of the whole synth. Alter the key bed, and you change something about the sound. Change the output transistors, and the sound changes again.

A former band mate and I were talking about this just recently. Years ago, a mutual music buddy of ours got to using the saxophone preset on an old synth. After his initial wow-this-is-just-like-a-sax fascination wore off, he found that it didnt behave like a real sax. He bought the mouthpiece wind controller and started learning it. It was cool for a while, but soon he wasnt totally digging it. He blamed it on the controller interface limitations, and got a Yamaha WX-5 with the Yamaha synth module. Wow! He was thrilled for a while. While it was better in many ways, he still found it to lacking. So, he got a sax. He has gotten pretty good on it. He still has his WX because it is fun and he makes some good music with it. He was looking for a real saxophone sound, and accidentally discovered that even a real sax is just a controller of sorts.

I am a guitar player, but own a Starr Labs guitar controller as well. No, it doesnt do the guitar thing even passably close, but its capable of so much more! Controllers are sometimes made more capable by dint of their shortcomings. Take step sequencers, for instance. They are the poster children for inherent limitations, but I get a lot out of my Schrittmacher. By its narrowly confining boundaries it forces me to be creative within the framework of its abilities, thereby steering me towards beats and phrasing that I otherwise would not find were I using a more capable controller, be it synthetic or real, whatever that is.

The traveling musician on the plane, using his NanoKey and laptop, will undoubtedly find a musical phrase that he would not have if he were back in his comfortable and way-too-familiar studio. And if you think that his controller is inadequate, check this out - I just bought a used Kurzweil ExpressionMate! I cant wait to see how unlearned I become!


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