This month will probably be forever remembered by me as the Summer of the Winter of 2016. To think that a year ago I was surrounded by the virgin-white purity of Utah’s decidedly chilly snowdrifts is almost unimaginable. Here I sit barefoot, doors and windows open whilst San Diego’s ions and ozone breathe cleansing breezes throughout my girlfriend’s beautiful home. Birds sing as the sun shines almost beatifically. Children and dogs playfully rejoice under cloudless azure skies. Life is as good as the day is warm.
A month ago, the scene was one of marked contrast. She of the beautiful home and I trekked into Southern California’s Orange County for the 2016 NAMM Show in Anaheim, where we attended their largest show in the organization’s 115-year history. From what I gather, we were just two of the over 100,000 attendees on the day we visited. That’s a lot of humanity to be sure and there were plenty of new and updated products to see, hear, and talk about, even if it took a bit of jostling and positional jockeying to do so!
The first of many product lines we took the time to speak with representatives from was OnSong (www.onsongapp.com), who’s multi-faceted iPhone/iPad application has been covered in this column previously. OnSong is a chord chart app that allows working musicians to import, create, organize, and distribute customizable chords-over-lyric sheets and set lists. Transposing can be done on the fly, as can tempo-based auto scrolling. In addition, they offer hardware for integration into your iPhone or iPad setup. The AirTurn Manos Universal Mount ($59.00), for instance, holds your device securely in any position, even with its case on, while the AirTurn PED ($69.00), AirTurn DUO ($99.00), and AirTurn QUAD ($149.00) all provide “hands-free” page turning and song selection solutions for the tech-savvy gigging artist.
Truetone (truetone.com), the company formerly known as Visual Sound, offers a line of guitar/bass pedals that are beefy in both sound and construction. Like a fine restaurateur, founder, and developer Bob Weil has kept his product menu small in an effort to focus on their quality, not quantity. To that end, he has succeeded wildly with his new V3 Series of pedals: Jekyll & Hyde ($265), is both an overdrive and distortion unit that’s been around a while, but with two major upgrades: “It now includes a bass knob that interacts with Treble so you can shape your tone precisely. There is also a new ‘voice’ switch that allows you to choose between classic open distortion or a more saturated tone.” Also offered are the H2O Chorus/Echo with an analog voiced echo channel and a fully analog stereo chorus capable of “true pitch vibrato,” providing a wide range of pitch modulation, from light and lush to Leslie, or “pulsating out-of-this-world effects.” The line is rounded out by the Route 66 Compression and Overdrive and the VS-XO Premium Dual Overdrive. Aside from their near indestructible road-worthiness, my favorite feature is the ability to mix in the “clean” signal to dial in the exact amount of character you desire, while retaining the clarity that is oh, so very important to getting the guitar to “sit” right in a mix. All of these devices offer “true” bypass or buffering through the company’s Pure Tone circuit, so that you can benefit from its excellent sonic character, even when you’re not using the actual effect!
By far, my biggest takeaway from the show was the long-awaited (if not overdue) introduction of Celemony’s (www.celemony.com) Melodyne 4 ($849, upgrades from previous versions: $149). AutoTune may seem the ubiquitous brand, but the feature set of Melodyne has always made comparisons between the two a ridiculous proposition. With its “set it and leave it” simplicity AutoTune may be easier, but its artifacts are easily audible and increasingly annoying. Conversely, Melodyne offers a daunting (to newbies and lazy producers) feature-set, with results that absolutely bury this nearest competitor. With the introduction of version 4, it takes a leap from its already lofty perch and reaches creative and productive heights that were previously unimaginable. While before, it could analyze and process both monophonic (vocal, saxophone, bass) and polyphonic (guitar, keys, strings) information, it ups the ante of its patented DNA (Direct Note Access) technology by making it available in a multi-track context. Also new is its ability to access the overtones of audio material, enabling users to affect a sound’s harmonics, thereby reshaping it’s characteristics into that of a completely different instrument. I watched in awe as one of the company’s engineers transformed an acoustic guitar part into that of a toy piano, with the subtlest of movements. This ability to create totally new sounds from time-worn standbys turns Melodyne 4 into a kind of audio-track-based synthesizer that presents literally endless creative possibilities! Stay tuned for a deeper exploration into what sort of hijinks one can get up to with this kind of audio sculpting power at their disposal…
Once again, my visit to the NAMM jam shook my brain like jelly. I’m excited to find out more about these and other innovations that thankfully keep on shining like the California sun.
Contrary to rumor, Sven-Erik Seaholm is alive and well and working in San Diego, where he provides recording, mixing, and mastering services and performs his own original music. www.kaspro.com, 619-675-3515.