A filter phrasebook

Guitarists haven’t embraced the new wave of filter effects with the same fervor as DJs and remixers, but that just means there’s more room for the filter fiends among us. Here are some tips to help you speak fluent filterese.

Filtering simply means boosting or cutting particular frequencies within a signal. The tone controls on a guitar or amp are filters. But when we speak of filter effects, we usually mean a process where the blend of frequencies changes over time. Consider the wah-wah pedal–the one filtering effect every electric guitarist knows. Wah pedals are bandpass filters, which means they boost specific frequencies within a signal while removing those above and below. Pushing the pedal changes the pitch, or frequency, of the filter. Bandwidth (sometimes called Q) refers to how wide a swath of frequencies is affected. Differences in bandwidth are among the traits that distinguish different wah pedals.

Notch filtering is the inverse of bandpass filtering, as a usually narrow frequency band is removed. Notch filtering is most often used to diminish unwanted noises, but it can also create subtle phase-shifted sounds.

The sweeping sound associated with analog synthesizers is lowpass filtering. Here, only the lower frequencies are allowed through the filter. The cutoff frequency (the highest frequency that can pass through the filter) can be defined by the music’s dynamics or by an envelope generator–a synthesizer circuit that lets you specify how quickly the filter opens, and how long it remains open. Guitarists are most aware of envelope generation through envelope followers–such as the Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron and that ’70s classic, the Mu-Tron III–where the filter envelope (and thus its cut-off frequency) is controlled by the player’s picking dynamics. The usual formula is louder equals brighter, but some devices let you reverse the equation.

Most synths and filter pedals also let you specify the amount of resonance-that is, the amount of emphasis the cutoff frequency receives. Resonance (sometimes referred to as regeneration) can add anything from a subtle edge to a brain-scrambling shriek. If you hear a high, whistling sound that swoops down in pitch as the filter closes, that means the tone has a lot of resonance.

Highpass filtering reverses the lowpass formula-only the upper frequencies make it past the filter. It’s less common as a guitar effect, but it can be great for generating eerie crackling sounds that can cut through any mix.

Classictone & Custom Valve 80

When Leo Fender launched his first 4×10 combo in 1954–the venerable Bassman–did he have any idea how popular the design would be? Not only did Marshall cop the Bassman’s circuit for its first amplifier, but the 4×10 speaker configuration proved to be a hit, as well, providing a bright, punchy tone with tons of dispersion. As the years went by, 4×10 combos of all types–especially the Fender Super Reverb–graced numerous recordings and stages. These new 4×10, all-tube combos from Koch and Traynor aim to bring modern refinements to the classic quad template.

Koch Classictone

Hailing from the land of clogs and gouda (i.e., the Netherlands), Koch Amplifiers has been making a name for itself stateside in recent years. The Classictone combo, Koch’s newest model, sports Clean and Overdrive channels with bass, treble, and midrange controls for each. The Clean channel has a single volume control, and Overdrive packs gain and volume knobs. Master controls include reverb like no other best analog reverb pedal (courtesy of a full-sized Accutronics tank), presence, and vibrato depth and speed. The included five-button footswitch allows you to switch channels, activate the vibrato and reverb, turn the effects loop on or off, and disengage the master volume.

Construction. The Classictone is ruggedly built. The black Tolex is neatly applied over a plywood cabinet, and the heavy-duty steel chassis sports a clean layout with nearly all of the circuit components (including the two Groove Tubes EL34s and four 12AX7s) residing on one large PC board.

Tones. Plugging a variety of guitars into the Classictone (including a ’72 Fender Tele, a Strat, and a Hamer Studio) yielded an impressive array of crystalline clean tones. The Clean channel’s EQ is conservatively voiced–don’t expect any severe sonic tweaks–but that’s okay, because the Classictone is one of those amps where the tone controls can be set at noon, and the amp still sounds good. Crank up the Clean channel, and the Classictone sounds like a vintage 4×10 combo on ephedrine. The tones exhibit the stringy detail and throaty honk that have put 4×10 combos on the map, while offering a more modern vibe with a crisper, less spongy attack. Very cool. The reverb doesn’t quite go to surf-extreme, but it’s super thick and musical. The vibrato is also excellent, yielding a choppier response than what you get from traditional Fender vibrato.

The Overdrive channel also features an EQ section that’s more suited for mild tone tweaks than sonic facelifts. With the gain halfway up, I got searing tones that were rife with rich midrange and sizzling (yet sweet) top-end. With single-coils, the treble was a bit bright, but a lower presence setting fixed that in a snap. The Classictone is also very dynamic, bending instantly to the will of your touch, or your guitar’s volume control.

Traynor Custom Valve 80 YCV80Q

The latest amp in Yorkville Sound‘s Traynor line, the Custom Valve 80 YCVSOQ, offers dual channels, each with an EQ complement of treble, mids, and bass. Channel 1–the overdrive section–also sports a gain control, a boost switch (which can be activated via the included two-button footswitch), and a scoop function. Channel 2 has a single volume control, as well as Bright and Expander buttons. Global controls include master volume and reverb.

Construction. Inside the Custom Valve’s painted 18-gauge steel chassis you’ll find all of the pots, jacks, switches, and tube sockets (for the Sovtek 5881s and three 12AX7s) mounted to PC boards. The plywood cabinet’s black leatherette covering looks okay, but there are slight imperfections where the material hugs the nooks and crannies.

Tones. Channel 1 (remember, this is the overdrive side) yields tough, ballsy tones with kick-ass midrange snarl. Engaging the boost produces the same tone–only louder–so I chose to leave it on all the time. There is plenty of gain on tap, but I found that keeping the gain around the half-way mark prevented the tones from becoming overly smeared–especially when playing complex chords. Even so, I was able to coax effortless feedback at reasonable volumes. The Scoop function is surprisingly effective at turning this combo into a modern-sounding shred machine with tightly focused bass and a savage, instantaneous attack.

Channel 2’s clean tones proved satisfying with every guitar I used. Bassman-esque clean tones are the order of the day–especially when you crank the master or disengage it completely. Although these tones don’t quite have the upper-midrange complexity of a ’50s Bassman, the Custom Valve fides the clean/dirty fence better than most amps in its price range. The bright control has enough power to give humbuckers some single-coil shimmer, and the Expander button–which boosts lows and highs–produces a glassiness that’s especially useful for darker, humbucker-loaded guitars.

Powers of 410

The Koch Classictone pulls off the nearly impossible feat of sounding vintage and modern at the same time. If you get giddy imagining what a Marshall JCM 800 from 1954 might have sounded like, you’ll love what the Classictone has to offer.

The Traynor Custom Valve 80 will delight vintage tone hounds and modern rockers who seek a flexible, powerful, and stageworthy amp. With its hip tones and unbeatable price, the Custom Valve 80 is a dream for working guitarists on a budget.

JURY BOX

Koch Classictone

  • Pros Loud and extremely flexible. Killer tones. Speaker-simulated recording out. Switchable master volume.
  • Cons Expensive for a production line 4×10 combo.

Trynor Custom Valve 80 YCV80Q

  • Pros Stout tones. Flexible EQ. Enough headroom for nearly any situation. Affordable.
  • Cons Some cosmetic sloppiness.

Using Waist Cinchers – Three Stages to Do It Right

Waist training is the technique of slowly narrowing the size of the waist by utilizing a corset. The process was used widely in the Victorian period, but went out of fashion some time later. In the last few years, the use has made resurgence – mainly due to celebrities like Kim Kardashian using waist cincher openly. The use of a cincher, along with a proper diet and good exercises, can slim down your waist well enough. It can give you a sexier body shape and you can permanently remove the extra pounds from your waist.

The First Stage

While you are training your waist, you have to remember that your waist would slowly get accustomed to the constriction of the corset. You need to allow some time to your corset and break it in so that your body and your dress do not suffer any damage. You need not train too much in the initial weeks of your waist training. During the first week, you need to wear it for anywhere from 1-3 hours only. Your corset wearing should not exceed over 3 days every week. You should reduce your span of corset wearing until you get comfortable enough inside it. You should increase the span of wearing slowly, once you get adjusted. You are advised to always remove your corsets while taking steam or sauna baths or while taking showers or swimming.

The Second Stage

Gradually go on increasing the span of wearing a exercise waist trainer by 1 to 2 hours until the time that you feel comfortable wearing it throughout the day. Wear the dress on the first clasp set and it is only when it has been used enough that you should begin to use the second clasp set in order to tighten the corset. As your waist size gets reduced in size, you will not feel your corset sitting as tight on you as before. You will get more and more comfortable with time. You can move on to the next size so that you can go on with your waist cinching regimen. In the course of a few months, you will feel comfortable wearing the dress for a maximum of 10 hours every day.

The Third Stage

With a good corset bought from this blog, you can get rid of the first 2 to 4 inches quite easily. However, it is the last 4 or 5 inches that take about 1 – 3 months to be eliminated from your waist area. However, reducing every half inch from then on can take about 6 months to a whole year. In the first few weeks, your body can be compressed by some measure very easily. After that, the corset begins to compress your bones and internal organs. As a result of this, you should move down your corset size with care and ideally with proper consultation with your physician at every step of the process. Keep in mind that the body shape of every individual is different and you need to proceed with your waist cinching regimen at a pace that suits you the best.

Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD Turntable

In the past few years, there have been many attempts to recreate the feel and response of a DJ turntable using audio CDs in place of vinyl. The problem with CD players has been the lack of a “hands-on” way to stop, start, and reverse the playing of the audio in real time, including slowing down the sound with a finger, the way DJs do.

Pioneer has solved this problem brilliantly with the CDJ-1000. It allows DJs to play any audio CD, and apply standard DJ techniques such as scratching, reverse, stutter, and more. It also combines a “hot cue” sampling function with three memory locations for triggering user-defined “bookmarks” from the CD while the song plays; bookmarks can be set anywhere on the CD.

The key to the CDJ-1000 is its realistic-feeling rubber platter and ease of use. Simply load a CD, press play, and once the CD is spinning, you can play the turntable in many vinyl-like ways. If you want to stop the CD momentarily, just press your finger against the platter and hold it there. The music will stop instantly. Let go, and it begins to play again, just like a real turntable. There are also knobs for slow-down (brake) and wind-up speeds.

Once your finger is on the platter and the disc has stopped, you can do traditional scratching by moving your finger back and forth without lifting it off the platter. Within minutes, any DJ who is used to vinyl will be right at home on this unit.

The CDJ-1000 also has a standard pitch-control slider for speed adjustment, and a reverse switch that plays the audio backward – something you usually can’t do with a CD!

In the real world, I’ve found the CDJ-1000 to be a great tool. I can burn vocal tracks or beats of songs that I’m producing onto CDs, and then scratch them. This is also a great tool for bands who travel and want to scratch their own tracks live. Certain groups like Massive Attack have been doing this for years by burning tracks onto vinyl for use in live performances, but this is much quicker than waiting for the pressing plant. And cheaper, too!

If you’re a die-hard vinyl user, I won’t even try to tell you to change, but if you want to have the ultimate in flexibility, and preserve your vinyl collection, you owe it to yourself to try the CDJ-1000.

Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD Turntable

  • Pros: Intuitive, fast, easy to learn – especially for vinyl DJs.
  • Cons: Platter is smaller than 12″.
  • Bottom Line: Make use of all of the CDs in your collection, plus get new life out of your sample libraries.

Creating the market, not following it

In the early ’80s urban music pioneers began artfully scratching, slowing down, and reversing LP records, giving rise to the DJ art form. It was only natural that the turntable would emerge as their primary creative tool: The LP record was still the most widely used format for listening to music, and there was at least one turntable in just about every household. In the ensuing 25 years consumers abandoned their turntables and LP records, first for cassette tapes, then CDs, and now, mp3 files and the immensely popular iPod. Yet the sonic effects achieved by a deft hand manipulating an LP still define the DJ’s craft. Harnessing this advancing digital technology while facilitating analog-based performance techniques has created what Jack O’Donnell describes as a “transitional” period in the DJ market. As CEO of the Numark Group, he enjoys a unique vantage point. Aside from being a leading purveyor of DJ gear, the organization also serves as a corporate umbrella for the Alesis and Akai product lines.

To grasp what O’Donnell means by “transitional,” you only have to take a cursory look at the dramatic expansion of the Numark product line. Fifteen years ago the company effectively served the market with a selection of traditional turntables, phono cartridges, and analog DJ mixers. Today the market requires a much broader product range. Traditional turntables, like the popular TTX model are still very much in evidence in Numark’s product lineup. However, there are also a dizzying number of products that marry traditional turntable feel with various digital storage formats. There’s the new HDX, which combines a removable 80-gigabyte hard-disk and a standard size turntable platter, allowing the DJ to transport thousands of songs to a job and still enjoy traditional turntable performance. The iDJ and the iDJ2 are slick, portable units that turn a standard iPod into a full-featured DJ rig. Debuting at Summer NAMM is the iCDX, a control surface that enables the DJ to scratch, loop, and play songs from any device equipped with a USB port, whether it’s a laptop or a portable disk drive. The HD MIX is a self-contained system combining a hard drive, two jog wheels for scratching, and a mixer, centralizing all DJ controls and music in a single, portable unit. And, then there are over a dozen rack-mounted variants that offer different combinations of scratch capabilities and digital storage formats.

Assessing this varied product selection, spread out in a conference room at Numark’s spacious headquarters in Rhode Island, O’Donnell steers clear of expressing personal preferences and refrains from sweeping predictions about the future of the market. Part of this stance is the by-product of humility acquired in over two decades of product management. “Fifteen years ago I predicted that the phono cartridge would be dead in five years,” he jokes. “It’s still an important part of our business today and I’m a little less willing to make predictions.” More importantly though, his outlook reflects the conviction that DJs, along with the R&D staff at Numark, are still in the process of sorting through the different product configurations and have yet to render a verdict on the optimal format.

The first generation of DJs grew up working with the most common form of playback of the day, the turntable,” he observes. “The newer crop of DJs has grown up in the world of digital music formats and have an entirely different outlook. Our job is to offer products for both groups, as well as those users who occupy a middle ground. That’s why there are so many products in our line. We can’t foresee the next format, so we experiment, listen to our customers with an open mind, and remain flexible.”

While O’Donnell may not be entirely clear about what the ideal DJ rig will look like in five years, he has no doubt about what Numark needs to do to remain successful. In short, it all comes down to a heavy investment in digital technology and R&D. He says that in the “pre-transition” era any distributor could link up with OEM manufacturers in Taiwan, make some modifications on consumer audio products, and come up with a reasonably competitive DJ line. It’s not that easy anymore. Existing consumer audio products no longer lend themselves to DJ applications. (Ever try scratching or reversing a tune on an iPod?) This forces companies like Numark to develop a much higher level of engineering expertise. “The digital signal processing capability that allows you to manipulate a stream of digital audio and scratch, play backward, or change tempo in real-time is not something that you can buy off the shelf,” he explains. “You need a lot of in-house engineering skills.”

O’Donnell was one of the first in the industry to recognize this need for advanced R&D capabilities, and over six years ago, began positioning Numark with series of strategic investments and acquisitions. In 2001, he purchased Alesis, a pioneer in digital effects processing and recording technology. In late 2005, he acquired Akai, the company that virtually invented digital sampling. Akai and Alesis continue as strong product lines in their own right, and a conscious effort has been made to maintain each brand indentity. However, marrying three product lines under a single corporate umbrella has provided a foundation of digital expertise. This capability is evident both at Numark headquarters in Rhode Island and at the company’s engineering facility in England. It’s also reflected at Wavefront Semiconductors, an independent subsidiary based in Seattle that develops digital microprocessors for other music products manufacturers.

Pooling the engineering resources has resulted in a range of potent synergies. Some are straightforward, like being able to order Motorola microprocessors in higher volumes to get better pricing. Others are less obvious, like developing cross-platform operating systems that can manage effects processing in products ranging from an Alesis Fusion workstation to an Akai MIDI sequencer. Most importantly, this collective R&D effort has spawned a steady stream of innovative new products that open creative horizons and generate new sales opportunities for retailers.

Under Alesis banner, the company is offering a line of products that taps into the growing interest in “podcasting”: posting on the internet for downloading. At Summer NAMM, Alesis will be exhibiting two complete podcasting kits, one based on Firewire, the other on USB, that offer everything you need to mix and record eight channels of audio for placement on the web. O’Donnell says that this new product category will appeal to a nearly limitless range of users. “Just about anyone could find a use for this,” he contends.

At Akai, advanced technology is evident in the new MPD24 USB/MIDI Pad Control Unit. The new unit borrows the velocity and pressure sensitive pads that made Akai’s previous “Music Production Centers” the standard among hip-hop performers. However, it can interface more effectively with external storage devices, making it virtually impossible for DJs or producers to run out of space for their assigned sound.

Numark is pushing the product envelope with new applications that enable the DJ to seamlessly incorporate visual images with music. The NuVJ video controller is the first offering in what promises to be a rapidly expanding family of products. Designed in partnership with ArKaos, a leading developer of video processing software, the NuVJ console allows DJs to trigger images and video clips, add effects to them, and mix them with a cross-fader tool that looks a feels like a standard DJ mixer.

The hardware controller works seamlessly with existing DJ gear and the software is compatible with most computers and laptops. “In the past, the ability to incorporate video With music was constrained by the cost of processing power,” says O’Donnell. “Now that that’s no longer an issue, we’re working to create an entirely new video-based product category. Every DJ isn’t going to rush to incorporate video, but for some, video can be a beautiful complement to the music. We think this has tremendous potential.”

Over the past three years retailers have reported that the DJ market has suffered from flat sales. O’Donnell shrugs off the complaint, in part because Numark’s sales have been on a steady upward curve, but also because he feels that the market is on the cusp of significant growth. Drawing an analogy with the consumer electronics business, he relates, “Five years ago, if you talked to any big electronics retailer, they would tell you that their television business was dead. Consumers were content with their Sony Trinitrons and didn’t see any reason to upgrade. Then you had the introduction of these great flat screen plasma televisions, consumers got excited, and all of a sudden, televisions became the industry’s hottest product category.” Can Numark’s expanding array of digital DJ gear have a similar affect on the DJ market? O’Donnell answers with an emphatic affirmative. “We’re not just reacting to market trends, we’re creating trends with innovative new products,” he says. “Our current array of gear, not to mention the stuff we have in the pipeline, will bring people into stores and spark demand. We are giving DJs reasons to upgrade their rigs.”

Throughout his career, Jack O’Donnell has demonstrated an uncanny sense for harnessing technology to address consumer needs and wants. In the late ’80s, as a vice-president of Stanton Electronics, he was one of the first to appreciate the emergence of the DJ market, and tried to persuade his superiors to address it. When they shrugged off his suggestions, he acquired Numark and pursued the market himself. With similar acumen, he identified opportunities at both Alesis and Akai that others in the industry overlooked. Given this track record, his bullish forecast for a coming DJ boom deserves more than a respectful hearing.

Korg Kaoss Pad 2

As obviously ideal as the new Korg Kaoss Pad 2 Dynamic Effects/Controller is for DJs, other performers, regardless of their instrument, the type of music they play, or the nature of their live performances, shouldn’t miss giving it a try. With its unique control interface, the ability to switch easily between three stereo inputs (Phono. Line and Mic) and its capabilities act as both an effects processor and a MIDI controller the device could easily find a home in anyone’s live or studio rig. And gear snobs be warned … it’s a mistake to dismiss the new KP 2 as a toy. It may be small enough to pack along with your average laptop, but it packs a fair bit of power and has a large variety of applications. Beyond traditional live performance use and being a fantastic tool for adding interesting textures in the studio, the machine is perfect for anyone working on live music for dance, multimedia audio-art installations and is simple enough that anyone can use it to great effect.

Overall the options for sound manipulation are impressive – The Kaoss Pad‘s 100 preset areas are divided into five main sections: 50 general effects (Filters. Modulation, Delay, Reverb and SFX), 20 BPM FX/Beats, 15 synth patches, 5 Vocoder settings and 10 preset sample playing options. An actual text list of these presets is printed right on the front panel, making only a simple LED display necessary, so there’s no need to scroll through endless pages looking for what you need and plenty space for a variety of hardware controls.

It’s these controllers that make this unit such a pleasure to play. Particularly its primary controller – a good sized track pad that allows the user to apply effects to vocals, sounds input by other hardware as well as manipulate a selection of onboard synth patches, BPM effects and drum loops in a variety of ways. For all its simplicity, the track pad is an incredibly versatile interface. Alone, or combined with the KP 2’s other controllers, different types of movements and combinations of movements applied to different areas of the track pad allow the user to create rhythms and unique textures from basic sounds generated by both external and internal sources. Thus opening up sonic possibilities that are not easily duplicated using other machines.

By tapping the track pad, or rubbing it diagonally, vertically or horizontally along its X and Y axis and you can control a number of parameters for a given preset. For example: when using the machine’s LFO Wah setting, dragging your finger from side to side will adjust the speed of the effect and dragging vertically will adjust the depth. When using the Filter and Delay effect, horizontal movement controls cut-off frequency and vertical controls delay level. Parameters vary from preset to preset. The track pad also allows a great deal of control over the KP 2’s onboard synth patches, providing the user with a means of controlling such parameters as pitch, speed, modulation, echo feedback, reverb level and more. Similar control is possible when using the unit’s onboard beats; including such parameters as decay time, mod depth and choice of several drum pattern variations depending on the chosen preset.

Additional controllers include a Data knob for switching programs that doubles as a tempo change control for BPM effects and the KP 2’s onboard rhythm patterns, a Tap BPM button, Hold button, effects depth knob, eight assignable buttons to save your most used Kaoss Pad setups and the Pad Motion/Mute lever. This last feature enables the user to save the results of almost four seconds of pad movement temporarily so that the same manipulations can be used repeatedly during performance.

And there’s more – new to this version of the Kaoss Pad are two buttons that allow the player to sample roughly six seconds of sound each, play them back at any time as a raw sample along with other sounds, or use either sample as a sound source to be affected and manipulated using the units effects or its dedicated sample playing presets. The latter allows the player to use the track pad to control a number of options through 10 sampler specific presets, including forward play, reverse play, level, scratch, loop start/loop end times, and time stretch.

Beyond being powerful and having a well-organized performance interface the KP 2 also has great physical details and lights up in all the right places making performance a breeze regardless of the light level on stage. The bottom line it’s sleek, it’s fun and it’s powerful. No, it’s not necessarily going to replace your current FX unit, but that’s not the point. Far more than a FX unit with a unique interface, it’s an instrument in itself: a versatile machine that will inspire far more creativity than your average rack mounted FX interface.

You want to be a DJ?

Get the right gear no matter what you can afford to spend.

The electronic music craze has spawned one of the fastest-growing markets in the North American music industry. In Europe, where the genre is already well established, electronic music is responsible for the conception of countless bedroom studios and such an explosive proliferation of DJs that you can’t swing a record bag without hitting a few. The fame of DJs in Europe is pretty much on par with that of pop stars in North America.

One result of this interest in making and playing electronic music is that DJs–whether in Europe or in North America–have more choices than ever when it comes to gear. The purpose of this article is to help musicians choose the right gear at the right price for the kind of work they want to do.

The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you want to mix records and CDs or whether you want to create the music yourself, taking it from your initial creative impulses to performing the tracks live or seeing them preserved on vinyl or CD. A lot of music producers especially in the dance genre, begin their careers as DJs, buying music produced by others and learning firsthand what makes people dance and what sends them off the floor to get a drink or visit the restroom. By contrast, other producers desire from the start to get involved in every stage of the creative process, making their own music from scratch. Either path you take will involve spending significant sums of money on the gear you’ll need to express yourself musically,

THE ENTRY-LEVEL DJ

When it comes to DJ gear, the beginner’s choices are pretty simple. The basic requirements are two turntables or CD players and a mixer with at least two channels. You’ll also need a sound system and a pair of headphones so that you can hear what you’re playing. (If you want to save money, you can use a pair of home-stereo headphones.)

A range of good, inexpensive turntables is out there. The ones to look for have direct drive and pitch control. Beyond that, just find a model that you like and can afford. You might want to check out the Numark TT1910 ($299), the Gemini XL-500 ($299.95) or the PT-1000 ($499.95), and American DJ TTD-2500 ($319).

To mix CDs, you’ll need two variable-pitch CD players; models to look at include the American DJ DCD-PRO200 ($699), the Gemini CD-9500 ($789.95), and the Next NCD-5000 ($549). Also, Numark offers the CDN-34 ($1,150), which consists of two CD players and a mixer in one compact unit.

The other essential piece of DJ gear is the mixer, You’ll need one that lets you crossfade one track seamlessly into another to create a sensation on the dance floor (of course). The bare-bones requirement is two phonograph channels, each with a level control–but even many inexpensive mixers come with three channels. Most also offer 2- or 3-band equalizers on each channel for more control over the sound. Different mixer-models have different feels to them, and each has-its-own sound. Some less expensive mixers are the Vestax PMC-03A ($160) and PMC-005A MKII ($250), the Next PDJ-22 ($125) and CMX-460 ($290), and the Numark DM2000-X ($240).

THE ENTRY-LEVEL PRODUCER/REMIXER

Novices who have no equipment and little or no musical experience will want gear that is easy to use, versatile, and inexpensive. If you aren’t familiar with electronic instruments, you may have a difficult time with even the simplest operations. Flipping through the user manuals of some synths, samplers, or effects processors, you’ll quickly realize that you might have an easier time reading the complete works of Shakespeare in Sanskrit. Fortunately, some manufacturers do provide user-friendly interfaces that make life easy for the beginning producer/remixer. The Roland Groove Boxes and the new Electrix products are machines that you can use intuitively with satisfying results. They provide a wide array of preset patterns and sounds that can be quickly spliced together into tracks. The WarpFactory ($499), FilterFactory ($479), and MO-FX ($499) from newcomer Electrix offer knobs and switches that you can use to manipulate sounds on the fly for instant results. The Roland MC-303 and MC-505 Groove Boxes ($695 a nd $1,495, respectively) will make you feel like a pro in no time flat.

If you happen to own a computer with decent speed and adequate memory, then you have one of the most versatile and powerful tools available to an aspiring producer. A wide assortment of software can take the place of hardware-based samplers, synthesizers, mixing boards, sequencers, and effects processors. One affordable example is Cakewalk Pro Audio 8 for Windows. For $319 you get a sequencer, a virtual mixing console, hard disk recording, and 32-bit effects processing. Steinberg Cubase VST (Mac/Win; $399) is another powerful tool that can turn your computer into a digital music workstation. Keep in mind that you may need to upgrade your PC’s sound card to make the most of any music software you install.

If you don’t already own a computer, however, buying one might be prohibitively expensive–especially after you factor in the cost of all the software and accessories you’ll need. One of the most versatile stand-alone machines is the sampler. Armed with a good sound library (or with a desire to invent or capture your own sounds), a sampler can replace many of the functions of a synth, a drum machine, a sequencer, and an effects unit. Not all samplers will be able to perform all of these duties, but most can tackle at least a couple of them. Two great all-around samplers that provide a multitude of tools are the Yamaha A3000 ($1,999) and the Akai MPC2000 ($1,599 base model). For a no-fills unit, check out the Akai U40 Riff-O-Matic ($239.95) or the Boss SP-202 ($395). For a sampler loaded with features, check out the Roland SP-808. It costs $1,695 but includes an analog synth simulator, an 8-track hard-disk recorder, a built-in lomega Zip drive, and effects.

Some affordable units, such as Yamaha’s RM1X MIDI sequence remixer ($899) and Korg’s Electribe. A and Electribe R modeling synthesizers ($499 each), provide remix-oriented, real-time controls. Such devices might include an analog-style digital synthe sizer, drum kits, a sequencer, effects, and more.

If you’re using more than one piece of gear, you’ll need some kind of mixing board to control the level, pan, and EQ of each sound. The Mackie MS1202-VLZPRO-($459) is a 12-channel board with a 3-band EQ and stereo bus on each channel; it should suffice for a small personal studio.

You must also consider what-you-will use to record your tracks. As everyone knows, cassette tapes are pretty noisy and lose a little bit of their fidelity every time you play them. You want digital recording. Again, if you own a computer you can take advantage of some excellent software that allows you to digitally record onto your hard drive. You may have to pick up a second hard drive to hold your recordings–digital audio takes up a lot of space. You may also want to investigate a DAT recorder or a CD burner.

THE NEXT STEP

When you’re ready to spend more money on your DJ rig, you’ll probably want to buy components that have better construction and superior sound. For the last couple of decades, the industry-standard turntable has been the Technics 1200 ($699.95). This extremely rugged, high quality deck is found in the vast majority of clubs and party venues. A recent entry that is challenging the 1200’s dominance however, is the new Numark TT-1 ($549) turntable, which offers similar quality and adds some new features, such as increased range in pitch control via a joystick controller, if you’re interested in mixing CDs, look for a professional-quality dual CD player, such as the Denon DN-2000F Mk3($999) or DN-2500F ($1,600). The DN-2500F even offers limited sampling capabilities.

When the time comes to upgrade your mixer, two top-of-the-line models are the Pioneer DJM-500 ($1,199) and the Roland DJ-2000 ($1,495). Both have four channels and allow the DJ to apply real-time effects such as delay, flanger, and filter.

Whether you’re just getting started in deejaying or personal music production or you’re expanding an already successful setup, it’s important to lay out your goals and then look for affordable equipment that will help you fulfill them. Don’t be afraid to talk to DJs, musicians, and equipment dealers, or to post questions on Internet forums. You won’t to talk about what gear they like and don’t like. Advice from other DJs can be invaluable. After all, even the biggest names on the charts were beginners once.

The future of Alesis

After acquiring the Technology Pioneer, Numark CEO Jack O’Donnell outlines his plans for the company.

As vice-president of sales and marketing for Stanton Magnetics and Picketing, two of the leading phono cartridge brands, Jack O’Donnell was one of the first to recognize the potential of the DJ market. Cassette tape and later CDs sent turntable sales into a tailspin. However, O’Donnell managed to soften much of the blow by aggressively catering to a growing DJ market. In 1990, he simultaneously helped persuade Vestax of Japan to create a line of DJ mixers and established U.S. distribution for the product.

Numark Electronics, one of the pioneers of the DJ market, ran into acute financial problems in 1991. While most industry observers gave the company up for dead, O’Donnell saw great untapped potential. In 1991 he acquired the company. Last year, Numark posted sales of $37 million. When Alesis Corp. filed for Chapter 11 in May, O’Donnell stepped in, initially providing cash to keep the company going, and then acquiring the company’s assets outright.

Alesis burst onto the scene in 1985 with a line of high-value signal processing products that utilized RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) technology. In 1991, the company virtually created the project studio market with the introduction of the ADAT digital multi-track recorder. Over the past few years, the ADAT lost market share to newer hard-disk-based recording products and Alesis was forced to dramatically cut prices. Declining sales ultimately coupled with operational ineffiencies pushed the company into Chapter 11. Alesis is in a turnaround situation, but O’Donnell is confident that the company can be restored to its former position as a cutting-edge industry innovator. “I was grateful for the opportunity to acquire Numark, and I’m equally grateful for the chance with Alesis,” he said. In the following interview, he elaborates on why he is optimistic about the future for Alesis.

What was it that attracted you to Alesis in the first place?

Jack O’Donnell: Alesis has great technology. Several months prior to the NAMM show, before I had any idea they were having any financial difficulties, I approached them about using some of their technology. I was very impressed with the AirFX unit and some of their chip technology, which I felt could be integrated into the Numark product line. We were in contact on a number of issues, and then the talks just went cold. After not hearing from them for a couple of weeks, they approached me about an infusion of cash to bring them forward. Looking at the core group of engineering talent and the products on the drawing board, I thought it was a great opportunity.

Are you planning to fold the Alesis organization into Numark Electronics, or will it continue as a stand-alone operation in Santa Monica, California?

JO: Alesis will definitely remain as a stand alone company. At some future point, we might consolidate financial, credit, and logistical operations, but I don’t want to dilute the Alesis engineering and sales and marketing effort. The best ideas come from sales and marketing people talking to end users. To get this kind of input, we need a core group focusing exclusively on Alesis. I have great confidence in the people at Alesis. They are one of the major assets that made the company successful in the past.

Will Aiesis founder Keith Barr continue to be involved with the company?

JO: We’re still talking, but at this point, his future with the company hasn’t been determined.

While the ADAT has been the highest profile Alesis product, the company has also been involved in the keyboard, mixer, and signal processing markets. Are you planning to continue addressing all these market segments?

JO: We are planning to remain in all the markets we are currently involved with: recording, keyboards, signal processing, and speakers. Actually, I would like to make the line even broader. The Alesis semi-conductor division has developed chips that haven’t been fully capitalized on. I look at some of these chips that are on the drawing board and I can envision all types of new product categories that we could tap into.

Could you elaborate on some of the new product categories that are under consideration?

JO: I wish I could, but right now it’s premature.

The Alesis ADAT HD, the hard-disk successor to the successful ADAT tape recorder was introduced at Winter NAMM. Do you plan to go forward with the product?

JO: The ADAT HD was certainly one of the strongest products that was introduced at the NAMM show. If it weren’t the financial difficulties at Alesis, it would probably have been in the market by now. We are very optimistic about the product and I fully expect to have it in the market very shortly.

Even though you plan to maintain Alesis as a stand-alone operation, do you envision any points of cooperation between Numark Electronics and Alesis?

JO: Alesis is dedicated to the recording musician with no particular interest in pursuing the DJ market. However, some of their core technology is applicable to Numark’s customer base. Just as we’ve partnered with Korg to include the KAOSS pad controller on some of our DJ mixers, I can seem incorporating certain Alesis products. The Alesis AirFX is a perfect example. It’s great technology, it’s value priced, and it has an interactive format that is a natural for DJs. On a less obvious level, the Alesis Semiconductor division is producing some outstanding chips that are waiting for broader applications. Some of the chips that have been designed for Alesis products are also applicable to some of the ideas we have for the Numark product line. So to answer your question, Numark and Alesis will be separate product lines with distinct identities, yet there will definitely be some technology cross over.

Are there any OEM opportunities for the Alesis semi-conductor division?

JO: People are just waking up to how versatile and inexpensive Alesis chips are. Right now, almost all the chips are going into Alesis products. However, we have some very well-known OEM customers within the industry. We haven’t fully exploited this business yet, but I think there is tremendous potential.

Introduced in january , the Alesis ADAT HD is a hard-disk based replacement for the ADAT. “We are very optimistic about the product and I fully expect to have it in the market very shortly,” says Jack O’Donnell.

Grab a Partner: Working with DJs

Occasionally I’m asked why I collaborate with DJs when I do a dance remix project. In fact, the question usually comes out like this: “Why do you work with DJs? You’re already a keyboardist and a producer. What the heck does the DJ do when you’re remixing a track?

The answer is as varied as the collaborations themselves. Some DJs have experience with grooveboxes and wave editors. Other DJs have an encyclopedic knowledge of music and beats. Consider how much time you spend learning about filters, sequencers, and the latest effects plug-ins. Well, professional DJs spend the same amount of time honing their craft, perfecting segues, checking out new tracks, and spinning live sets.

While I love doing remixes on my own, there’s a lot of knowledge that these cats bring to the table, and we all know that more knowledge is a good thing, right? So this month, we’ll be covering the various ways that you can collaborate with DJs to break new ground with your sound.

THE COLLEGE OF MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE

One of the indicators that a DJ is worth his or her salt is the depth of their musical knowledge. If they’re obsessed with having the latest tracks before everyone else and they can rattle off a litany of every significant hit and underground white label record – organized by genre, label and year – then you know you’ve struck gold.

Why’s this important? Well, for one thing, someone with this degree of meticulous attention can turn you on to tons of new tracks that are likely inspire and move you. For another, they can listen to your mixes and make recommendations based on what the current trends are. Like it or not, remixes are to music what fashion is to clothing. If you’re doing something that’s sooooo last month, a good DJ will steer you in the right direction.

What’s more, because of their practical experience in clubs, they know what the crowds like. Accordingly, they can tell you what kind of response your track will get, and what labels will be most receptive to your sound. In a way, knowing a successful and knowledgeable DJ is almost like having a virtual A&R veep around.

ARRANGEMENTS

Arranging a dance mix is very different from writing a three-minute pop song. Often, newbie remixers miscalculate how long the various segments of a remix should be, with introductions that are too short and breakdowns that aren’t long enough. One of the keys to dance floor success is to build momentum with your arrangement.

Because their livelihoods depend on it, good DJs instinctively understand the elements of a good remix arrangement. They know how to hype up a crowd with the right type of breakdown, and how to bring the choruses back at the right time for maximum impact. For example, Licious, one of the DJs I’ve been working with for the past year or so, has helped me develop some techniques for constructing killer intros that are easy for novice DJs to mix into, yet are also interesting enough to keep the crowd’s attention as they evolve. One very simple formula he uses is to start with drums or percussion only, introducing new elements every eight measures. Then he waits at least 24 bars before bringing in the bass or rhythmic synth parts.

MASTERING

Club sound systems often sound radically different than your home studio monitors. It can be hard to get a handle on how to deal with the low end, much less the overall EQ and dynamics of your mix. If you’ve partnered with a DJ who has a residency at a local club, they’ll often let you try out your mixes on the club system before the crowd arrives Better still, your DJ can mix your tune into another song, so you can hear your track in relationship to an established hit. This ear-opening courtesy has saved my butt on more than one occasion. Until I heard them on the club system, I would’ve sworn those mixes were club-ready. While the track plays at the club, grab some paper and take notes. Sometimes there are many subtle adjustments that you’ll want to make, and your notes will ensure that you remember them all.

THE MIX MAN COMETH

Gabriel & Dresden are quickly becoming one of the hottest progressive remixing teams around, reworking tracks from top artists like Annie Lennox and Britney Spears. In a recent discussion with Josh, the keyboard-playing and programming half of the duo, explained how working with Dave Dresden raises his mixes to new heights.

“With over 30 remixes under our collective belt,” says Josh, “I can tell you without a doubt that working with Dave has changed the way I make – and think about – music, for the better. Dave’s 17 years of buying music and DJing gives him a perspective that is unique. His ear is tuned to what will work on the dance floor as well as what will still be remembered when the lights turn on.

“I’ll admit that it took me a while to get used to the idea of working with someone who wasn’t a Logic wizard or a synth-programming god, but now that we’ve done so much together, the lines between the technical and creative roles have blurred. We communicate on a musical level, and whatever needs to be done on the computer to make that happen, I just do it. I view him as an equal even though I’m working the gear. It’s sometimes hard for us super-technical geeks to let a bull/DJ into our china shop/studio, but I couldn’t recommend it more. It will seriously change the way you do things in ways you couldn’t predict.” Coming from a source as successful as Josh, this is sound advice to consider.

Techno Tools: Jammin’ with DJs

DJs are starting to be recognized by traditional musicians as artists in their own right. After all, being a DJ does require musical skills. The DJ has to match beats precisely to create seamless transitions between tunes, be a wizard at crossfading between songs and loops, read a crowd’s mood to program the right grooves and songs, and, of course, do that scratching thing. But where does all this leave guitar players? With a nice hole to fill, that’s where!

I recently performed at the Battery Park Festival in Cologne, Germany, playing guitar over sequenced loops. I’ve found that E-Bow, distortion, and feedback work particularly well over dance beats, and I’ve also discovered a few other ways to get the most out of guitar/dance music collaborations.

Let the DJ control your level. Typically, the guitarist will play more or less continuously, and the DJ will bring the guitar in and out of the mix as needed. A direct setup is optimum–given the intense noise levels at the average dance club, miking your amp isn’t really an option.

Voice your EQ properly. Dance music has lots of low end (kick drum and bass) and high end (hi-hat, shaker, etc.). Boosting 1kHz by 6dB to 8dB lets the guitar “speak” and cut through the mix without cranking up the volume.

Be sensitive to transitions. A sustained, distorted chord that swells in and out–or a singing high note with lots of whammy action–can help smooth transitions between songs and loops. As DJs use headphones to cue up one turntable while another turntable is playing, you may want to use a “Y” connector to tap your phones into the DJ’s headphone output. Hearing what the DJ hears will alert you to upcoming key or style changes.

Sync delays to the tempo. Dance music typically hovers in the 120 bpm to 145 bpm zone. This translates to quarter-note echo times of 500ms to 413ms, respectively. If you’re not sure of a song’s bpm, start with a 450ms delay and add just enough feedback for a couple of repeats. (The more feedback you use, the more important it is to nail a precise delay time, otherwise each successive echo will sound more off the beat.)

There’s a whole world of dance music out there, and guitar has only begun to be integrated with it. Check out a dance club, get to know some DJs, and play a few jam sessions to see if you click. You might have a lot of fun–as well as open up a new live-performance option.