Korg M01 Video Review

Finally got a chance to put it together and upload it.

Youtube link

LED Matrix

Just a bit of filler while I catch up on my other synth projects. The next kit from Gakken, the “Pocket Miku Keyboard” won’t hit the shelves in Kyushu for at least another 2 weeks. There’s been absolutely no word from Gakken on the status of the auto writer doll kit, still tentatively slated for May. I occasionally check Amazon.jp to see if they’re taking pre-orders yet (usually starts happening about 2 months in advance), but the auto writer still isn’t listed.

Over Christmas, one of the things I asked for was just a large bag of mixed LEDs. Didn’t matter if they were scrap or untested. I just wanted a large pile of LEDs to have something to make stuff with. I received a total of 400 red, green and yellow LEDs, both large and small sizes. The first project was just to build a simple 8×8 single-color matrix. Yes, I did have the single-unit bi-color matrix before, but I had to leave that in Tokyo when I changed apartments following the 2011 earthquake.

The fun thing about LED matrices is that the number of patterns you can program for it on the Japanino is pretty much limitless (on the other hand, the number you can have at one time has to be whatever fits into the 14K EEPROM and 1K RAM of the main chip). I don’t have a lot of free time right now for writing new pattern code (I do have about 15 simple patterns, including the above “Matrix” movie credits-style “rain”, plus the English ASCII font set), but this is something I can always come back to later and play with as I like.

It doesn’t look that bright in full daylight, but it really shines at night with the lights off.

Korg M01 Review

(Opening song selection screen.)

The original Korg music arranger synthesizer, the M1, came out in 1988 with a $2,000 USD price tag. It was one of the first synths to combine preset sampled instrument voices with a built-in sequencer. In 2010, Detune, the Japanese software company made up of the people that worked on the Korg DS-10 emulator, came out with a Gameboy DS emulator of the M1, called the M01. It’s not an exact point-for-point copy of the M1, but that’s a good thing.

(Track and scene selection screen.)

I’ve been looking around, and it seems that the M01 was never officially released in the U.S. Initial price in Japan might have been around 6,000 yen ($60 USD), and most of the sites I’ve seen carrying it only have used copies, priced anywhere between $100 and $260. So I feel kind of lucky in snagging my copy for $50, which is more than I would have liked to pay, otherwise.

(Sequencer for the selected track and scene.)

When you turn it on, the M01 lets you set only two options, screen brightness and button layout. Or, you can share music save files with another user, or open up one of the save files to start composing. If you want, you can pick the Init file to start from scratch, or edit an existing file and save it under a different name to one of the 10 available slots (there also are 2 bonus and 2 demo songs). Within the app, you have access to the sequencer interface, which lets you program notes for up to 8 tracks. Or, you can switch to the keyboard or Kaoss interfaces to play music interactively with the selected instrument for real-time recording. The Mixer function lets you mute tracks, play one track solo, set volume levels, and specify how much of the FX you want applied to each voice. (FX includes reverb and delay with certain presets.)

(Instrument selection for a specific track. Using the Extras bank, here.)

If you’re wondering about the name “M01”, the emulator lets you select from about 330 instruments from 3 banks: the “M1” bank (which came out in 1988), the “01/W” (voices released in 1991) and the Extras bank. Most of M1 voices are gimmicky, like the cowbell or synth bass, with only 10 or so that I’d normally want to use. The 01/W and Extras banks are much better. Within the sequencer drum track you can program 8 drum effects at once, which is very nice. The other instruments are per-track, but have “A” and “R” levels you can tweak to modify the sounds more. Specifically, this is Attack and Release, with values from 0 to 15, and they work like you’d expect them to on an ADSR envelope generator.

(Drum sequencer.)

The sequencer interface is set up as “scenes”, which can be copied, erased, or inserted. Depending on the timing selected, one scene is 2 seconds long, and you can have up to 99 scenes, or 7,700 notes, in one song file. I did find the sequencer interface confusing at first. “Sel” lets you rubber band select multiple scenes or instruments and then drag them to another part of the screen. With “Copy”, you choose one scene and drag that to the location you want to do the copy operation to. This is limiting in that you can only drag, or copy-drag, to a location currently within your window. If you want to copy 1 minute worth of music to some section 1 minute farther into the song, you can’t. (Or, at least, I haven’t found a way to do it easily yet.) Within the sequencer, you can set gating (note ON time) and volume per note.


If you want to compose original music, you may instead want to get PC or Mac software, like Sonar or Sonic Forge, and do it on a computer. On the other hand, the beauty of the M01 is that you can carry it around anywhere that you can take a Gameboy DS. The sound is good, and the addition of the Kaoss pad makes it more fun to play with. If you’re just starting out with electronic sound, and you can get a used copy of the “game” for under $50, I highly recommend that you buy the M01. The onscreen instructions and button names are all in English, although the user manual is in Japanese. The game is easy enough to use, though, so that the user manual isn’t really necessary. In any event, I’d say that the real, bottom-line reason to get the M01 is that it makes for an inexpensive, decent drum machine.

(FX screen.)

(Kaoss pad.)


CD Review: Music to Moog by Gershon Kingsley

I got 2 CDs for Christmas, both of which were synth-oriented and included the music of Gershon Kingsley. I specifically wanted the second one for his recording of “Pop Corn”.

Gershon worked with Perrey on the “In Sound from Way Out” (1966) and ” Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music From Way Out” (1967, reissued in 1971 as “Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Spotlight on the Moog”) (from the wiki entry). After this, they followed solo careers, with a lot of Perrey’s music showing up on CD 2 of “The Out Sound From Way In” 3-CD set. To learn more about Gershon’s material, you need to check out things like “Music to Moog by” (1969), “God is a Moog” or the movie “Silent Night, Bloody Night,” which he scored (1974).

(Image taken from the Tower Records site.)

Music to Moog by (2007, Tam-Tam Media) consists of 11 tracks, mostly covers. Unfortunately, there’s no liner notes, meaning that this reissue really doesn’t help us learn more about Gershon’s approach to these songs outside of what we hear of them.

Hey, Hey – A kind of psychedelic 60’s piece where the main lyric is people chanting “Hey”
Scarborough Fair – Traditional Yorkshire ballad.
For Alisse Beethoven – Beethoven’s Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor
Sheila – Unknown ballad
Pop Corn – Gershon original
The First Step – Sounds like a 1970’s TV drama theme
Twinkle, Twinkle – A 60’s pop reworking of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
Nowhere Man – A reworking of the Beatles song
Sunset Sound – Soft pop
Trumansburg Whistle – Kind of a love song
Paperback Writer – Beatles cover

Funny enough, when I ripped the CD with Windows Media Player, it somehow managed to screw up the track numbering and “lost” “The First Step“. Anyway, these are all supposed to have been composed on the Moog, and Gershon takes advantage of just about every feature on it. Lots of frequency filter sweeps, and envelope shaping. While many of the songs sound campy now, like “Paperback Writer” and “Hey, Hey“, the main value this CD provides is as research material for students of electronica. “Pop Corn” is a great song, and “Twinkle, Twinkle” is as catchy as it is weird with its use of the LFO to modulate the audio oscillator pitch. I like “For Alisse Beethoven“, but it’s got a “wall of sound” feel that makes it come across as “muddy” to me. “The First Step” sounds a lot like a 70’s TV drama opening theme, which makes it kind of ahead of it’s time.

Again, I consider this CD to be reference material for anyone wanting to mess with synthesized sound. It’s also good if you’re a fan of the old Moog synth. Highly recommended.

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CD Review: The Out Sound From Way In

One thing that interests me about electronic music is the dichotomy between its use for novelty songs, and its relegation to simple background sounds. Most modern rock, even the techno stuff common now doesn’t really use synthesizers for much more than looping or frequency sweeping. If you’re just starting out with an envelope synth, it would help to check out the works of early rock pioneers like Kraftwerk, Rick Wakeman, Jean-Michel Jarre and Wendy Carlos.

Now, another prime resource is The Out Sound from Way In, a 3-CD set released by Vanguard and containing a remastering of the original Perrey and Kingsley The In Sound from Way Out album. CD 2 consists of two of Perrey’s albums, while CD 3 contains covers by Fat Boy Slim and Eurotrash.

(Out Sound from Way In CD cover. All images from the Vanguard site, used for review purposes only.)

Gershon Kingsley was a self-taught musician that fled Germany before WW II to settle in the U.S., where he graduated from the LA Conservatory of Music (from the liner notes). In the 1950’s, he conducted pit orchestras for Broadway shows. Conversely, the French-born Jean-Jacques Perry was playing accordion from age four, and had planned to become a doctor until he met Georges Jenny, inventor of the Ondioline (an early version of the modern synth). Eventually, Gershon started working at Vanguard records as a staff arranger, while Perrey worked as a salesman for the Ondioline and was making appearances on TV, including the Jack Parr Show. The two of them shared an interest in avant-garde music and they teamed up to record the 1966 “The In Sound from Way Out!”

(Original The In Sound from Way Out CD cover.)

A lot of their early songs make very heavy use of real sound samples (i.e. – barnyard animals), tape loops and sound effects, in along with the Moog synth. With their take on “The Dance of the Hours” (Alan Sherman’s “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda” song) the joke is the insertion of babies cooing. In later songs, especially “Third Man Theme” and “Flight of the Bumblebee”, Perrey starts focusing more on the synth side and making music rather than just doing gag songs. “The Unidentified Flying Objects” and “The Little Man from Mars” sound like something lifted directly from Spike Jones and His City Slickers and they fall firmly into the novelty category. But, even with the goofy “Swan’s Splashdown”, just about every synth effect that I’ve talked about here before – squarewave waveforms, the LFO, amplitude modulation, enveloping, resonance, filter sweeps, glide, plus panning and reverb – all show up on just the one song. If you ever wanted the perfect example of how to use the LFO for amplitude modulation, listen to their version of “Flight of the Bumblebee”. It’s an amazing cover. The challenge is to pick out which effect is being used at any given moment.

(Perrey & Kingsley CD cover.)

If you do decide to check out P&K’s work, get the 3-CD set. The “E.V.A.” cover by Fat Boy Slim, and “Flight of the Bumblebee” remix by Eurotrash are well worth the money entertainment-wise.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended to anyone interested in learning how to make electronic sounds.

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NSX-39 announcement

(Image from the Otona no Kagaku site, used for review purposes only.)

Ok, when I first saw this announced on Gakken’s Facebook page, I thought it was just a book published in support of some Vocaloid product. But Gakken activated a page on their Otona no Kagaku site that indicates that this is a pocket synthesizer. If you watch the video, you can see that it has a few operating modes with “voices” that either recite “do-rei-me” or a few other set phrases. There are two ribbon controllers – one is keyboard key based and the other is a linear ribbon. A vibrato button modulates the voice, and using shift-volume lets you shift octaves. Billed as the “Pocket Miku”, it’s mainly just an interesting toy, but the price is 4,980 yen ($50 USD), and it has a USB port you can plug into your computer and download your own custom phrases if you want. So, price-wise the Pocket Miku might be worth getting for the novelty value. Due out April 3rd.

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