NAMM Blog: Day 2 (Jan 14, 2011)
Yesterday, I ran into a friend who suggested I check out a soft synth program from Spectrasonics called Omnisphere 1.5, and I caught the tail end of a demo by keyboardist Jordan Rudess that day, but just what the Omnisphere program could do was still a bit murky to me. So today, I trekked back to the Spectrasonics’ booth and got a full 20-minute demo from the company’s founder, Eric Persing. Rarely have I seen a company’s founder having as much fun with his creation as Eric did.
He started out at the most basic level of synthesis with a simple sine wave and in a few minutes, demonstrated how the newest incarnation of Omnisphere offered seemingly unlimited creative possibilities for musicians. The program’s Harmonia, Waveshaper and Granular synthesis areas have been greatly enhanced by a “zoom” feature for each, that allows far greater control and visual cues for what changes are being made to a sound. As Eric stated during the demo, “You can really mangle a sound with these features.”
Perhaps the most innovative part of the new feature set is the “Orb,” a circular controller that is touch sensitive and includes a smart synthesis feature that reads and reacts to the original waveform and the input commands made by the user in real time. It’s hard to describe just how intuitive and powerful the Orb is, so keep an eye out for YouTube videos from NAMM showing its use. The Orb also is iPad ready, so you can use that screen, rather than a mouse to control it, which makes it even more fun and ready for the studio or stage right out of the box. It’s due on February 15, for current registered users, the upgrade is a freebie, if you haven’t got the program, it lists for $499.
Being a guitar player, I had to check out a few new guitars, even if they are ones that I can’t afford to buy. As I already own three guitars and a mandolin, a new guitar is not in my immediate future. However, that doesn’t stop me from playing some of the world’s best instruments at NAMM.
My favorite axe today was the Taylor Standard electric double cutaway model. With its chambered mahogany body, it provided a long, smooth sustain that I’m quite partial to, and a neck that reminded me of the Les Paul Deluxe that I played in the 1970s. Taylor makes their own pickups, which sound great, while the finishes available make this a truly gorgeous instrument visually, too. At $2695 retail, it’s an investment, but a guitar that can be a go to instrument for a lifetime.
I was also partial to the Taylor solid body Classic, a three-pickup guitar available in dozens of retro colors made out of solid swamp ash, for exceptional sustain. The Classic retails for $1995.
If what you are selling at the NAMM show is an instrument or gizmo for making music, what better way to demonstrate it than by having a band get up and play a few songs using your product? Show us musicians how your product actually sounds and works.
Today, I got to hear just a few of the talented musicians that companies invite to help persuade all us show-goers that whatever they are playing on or through is a “must have.” So around nearly every corner, you’ll find live music being shared.
Sennheiser mics had a tiny stage adjacent to their booth, where I heard a very tight five piece band, Magnolia Memoir, run through a few songs at noon today, using both Sennheiser’s excellent sounding hand held wireless mic, but also with the band members singing backups through nearly invisible condenser mics pinned to their clothes… when the background vocals started, I had to really squint to figure out how the guys were backing up the lead singer. All the vocals sounded great, as did this funky band.
At the Martin Guitar booth, I caught the first couple of songs by singer songwriter Mia Sable, gigging that day with a friend, Angel. Both of their Martin guitars used their on board electronics to give a full sound, with Angel’s EQ settings bright and Mia’s more mellow, providing a nice overall blend, surprisingly large.
Taylor Guitars kicked off their day of live music in the booth area with The Airborne Toxic Event, an acoustic five-piece with attitude. I only heard the sound check (a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”), with their arrangement’s carefully arranged guitar and violin lines beautifully supporting the group’s three-part harmonies. Naturally, they featured two Taylor acoustic guitars with on board pickups. (Later that day, Taylor would feature Barenaked Ladies and tomorrow, Coheed and Cambria!) Yesterday, Natasha Bedingfield did a set at the John Lennon Songwriting stage.
Not all the great music was by bands, however, as I heard an amazing percussion clinician at the Korg booth putting the latest version of the Wavedrum through its paces. With the ability to create loops, effects and an amazingly touch sensitive drum pad, I was stunned by the tabla demo I was hearing. As I later found out, the Wavedrum is the first electronic product to employ a real drum head playing surface for an authentic feel, combined with 100 built-in drum, percussion, and synthesizer sounds from around the world. You can plug your iPod into it to jam or practice with a track. Its on-board memory can store various combinations of sounds, with 12 of your most used sounds instantly accessible.
A few aisles down, I came upon talented bassists Victor Wooten and Steve Baily laying down some steaming funk bass grooves with percussionist David “Fingers” Haynes playing a small digital percussion synth/sampler at the PreSonus booth. A crowd of 70-80 people was grooving, with people swaying to the beat.