Monday, 21 December 2015

Roland Boutique JU-06 - Testbericht

Der Roland JU-06 ist eine gelungene Nachbildung eines Klassikers der analogen Ära: des Juno-106 von Roland. Wie bei einem echten Analog­synthesizer gibt es beim JU-06 für jeden Klang-Parameter einen eigenen Regler, was zum Fummeln und Experimentieren einlädt. Trotz seiner nur 4-stimmigen Polyphonie ist der JU-06 ein vollwertiger (quasi-)analoger Synthesizer, der auch dank des günstigen Preises seinen Weg in jedes Musikstudio finden sollte.

Als einer, der die analoge Synthesizer-Ära noch miterlebt hatte, konnte ich nicht widerstehen, als Roland seine Boutique-Linie angekündigt hatte. Ich musste einen haben! Ich hatte mir vor dem Kauf diverse YouTube-Videos über alle Boutique-Module angeschaut, und natürlich hat es mir das Top-Modell, der Jupiter-Klon, besonders angetan. Da ich aber in den 80ern in den Kellern der Musikalienläden an diversen Juno-60 herumgeklimpert hatte, während allfällige Jupiters vorsorglich ausgeschaltet waren, liegt mir der Juno-Boutique trotzdem etwas näher. Daher habe ich bewusst einen JU-06 gekauft.

Die meisten Testberichte bestätigen, dass der Sound des JU-06 dem seines Vorbildes sehr nahekommt. Ich selber kann nur sagen, dass der Sound grossartig ist: warme Pads, grelle Bläser-Klänge, aggressive Bässe... wer die Presets durchklickt bekommt schon rasch einen guten Überblick über die Bandbreite der Synthesizerklänge, derer der JU-06 fähig ist. Und im Manual-Modus zeigt sich erst, wie schnell und einfach sich Klänge auf einem analogen Synthesizer komponieren lassen.

Ich besitze einen Yamaha DX7 und glaube daher, die Vorzüge einer hands-on Bedienung einigermassen zuverlässig beurteilen zu können, die "echte" Analog-Synthesizer dadurch bieten, dass ein eigener Regler für jeden Klangparameter zur Verfügung steht. Hier ist an den Boutique Modulen nichts auszusetzen. Sie bilden die Benutzer-Oberfläche ihrer Vorbilder getreulich nach und laden geradezu zum Befummeln ... sorry ... Experimentieren ein. Beim JU-06 sind die Reglerwege auch genügend lang, um jenen sweet spot im Klangspektrum zu treffen, den man für seine Kompositionen benötigt.

Da sich die Geräte der Boutique-Line als mehr oder weniger getreue Nachbildungen der analogen Keyboards verstehen, darf man allfällige Einschränkungen auch nicht unbedingt als Mangel verstehen: der Juno-106 hatte nunmal nur einen Oszillator, und beim JX-3P gab es zwar 2 Oszillatoren, aber keine Pulsweiten-Modulation. Insofern ist die Nachbildung vorbildtreu.

Natürlich ist es schade, dass Roland nicht gleich den ganzen Weg gegangen ist und das Modul 6-stimmig gemacht hat -- wie das Original. Aber ich erachte auch diesen Makel als gerade noch verkraftbar. Wer unbedingt mehr Stimmen braucht, kann ja ein zweites Modul dazukaufen und kommt dann immer noch massiv billiger, als wenn man irgendwo einen "echten" Juno zum Liebhaberpreis erstehen muss.

Wer sein Modul vor allem mit dem Sequenzer seines Software-Aufnahmestudios bespielt, wird kaum je an die Grenzen stossen. Ich habe einen Synth-Song spurweise via MIDI eingespielt (Bass, Pad, Stakkato-Akkord und Arpeggio) und das Resultat tönt phantastisch. Die vierfache Polyphonie reicht dann vollkommen. Beim direkten Bespielen mit dem Keyboard fällt halt vielleicht schon mal der eine oder andere Ton über Bord, vor allem wenn man Akkorde "legato" spielt.

Zu bedenken ist vielleicht auch noch, dass die Ausgangsbuchse ein eher untypisches 3.5mm Format aufweist. Man sollte daher nicht vergessen, gleich ein passendes Adapterkabel mitzubestellen. Dasselbe gilt auch für das MikroB-USB-Adapterkabel, das man für den batterielosen Betrieb benötigt, und das leider nicht im Lieferumfang enthalten ist.

Wer in den analogen Synthesizer-Klängen der 80er Jahre schwelgen möchte, kann mit einem Gerät aus der Boutique-Linie nicht gross daneben hauen. Ich jedenfalls würde den JU-06 nicht mehr hergeben und spiele bereits mit dem Gedanken, noch einen JX-03 dazu zu kaufen...

Monday, 23 November 2015

Roland Boutique JU-06

I've just received the brand new JU-06 sound module of the Roland Boutique range. These are compact 4-voice polyphonic synthesizer modules that are modeled and named after Roland's most famous vintage analog synthesizers. This one's modeled after their Juno 106 synthesizer that was quite popular in the 1980s. There's also a JX-03 reminiscent of the JX-3P, and a JP-08 that is modeled after Roland's Jupiter-8 flagship synthesizer.

So far I've played it using the presets and can only say that they sound great! For a while I had contemplated buying one of the reface series by Yamaha, in particular the CS analog synthesizer. But then I stumbled over the Boutique line, and there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to buy one.

I have always dreamed of owning and playing a Jupiter 8 -- now garnering collector's prices on eBay that exceed even those charged for brand new boards back in the day. Nonetheless, it was a conscious decision to skip the JP-08 and go after the simpler JU-06 module. What puts the Juno closer to my heart is the fact, that as a teenager I actually played it for hours on end in the basement of music stores where the keyboard section was invariably located. While I may have seen a real Jupiter 8 once or twice in a store, I never played it because the expensive stuff was usually turned off and I didn't dare turning it on -- or asking a clerk to do it for me. Alongside the Korg Polysix, the Juno range of synthesizers was among the boards that I considered buying before the Yamaha DX7 came along.

I still own the Yamaha DX7, and therefore I think I can appreciate somewhat authoritatively the advantages of the hands-on experience offered by true analog synthesizers. If you can't twiddle the sliders and knobs to find that sweet spot in the soundscape, what's the point? I think (and find my mild prejudice supported by watching several YouTube review videos) that the sliders on the JP-08 are just a bit too tiny, at least for me -- and for now. If you disagree and aim for the JP-08, by all means go for it! I just got a tax rebate and might buy one myself. But for now I want to slide sliders, push buttons and wrest the heck out of my first half-real analog polyphonic synthesizer that I ever owned. I may even make a short YouTube video myself to showcase the little beast!

I'm sure you want one, too. You know you do.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

New Age Tune

When I sit down to tickle the ivories, so to speak, of my Yamaha MOX synthesizer I usually call up a piano voice in order to exercise my clumsy fingers and get into the proper mood. The other day, I played a few chords using the Ballad Key piano layer voice and found a chord sequence that had a sweet kind of New Age ring to it. I recorded it and added a step-recorded arpeggio using the Airy Nylon voice. It sounded really pretty. I was onto something. I recorded a simple drum pattern on top of all, and found a gentle lead synth voice (Soft RnB) to play a melody alongside it. It's a bit dull but fits the mood perfectly. Later, I added a Kitaro-ish bridge melody using a Bouzuki voice to lead to the finale of the tune. After I had assembled the instrumentation and recorded all the noises, I built the actual song using the MOX's pattern chain function. In essence, I run section A endlessly and then simply mute and unmute the various voice tracks whenever I think it's appropriate. Easy.

While listening to the finished piece for the first time, images appeared in my imagination, and I hadn't even had a single drink. The pictures that matched those in my head most closely were some that I had seen on the photo-blog by Hanspeter "Happy-Hapsi" Schär. He's a hobby/freelance photographer with professional equipment and stellar talent. He took a series of images of the young Emme river in the Emmen valley, the latter better known by its German name of cheesy fame Emmental. They were perfect to carry the mood of the song, so I had to have them for the music video. After I'd asked for – and obtained – permission to use a few of them in a video, I ...  well ... used a few of them in a video. What did you expect? The result can be watched below.

It is a bit faster than the usual New Age tunes that people listen to in order to reach higher levels of spirituality, and the drum pattern doesn't help either. But it's a rather quiet piece nonetheless. And the stunning pictures in the video should provide ample justification for anyone to suffer through the song.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Two New Instrumental Compositions

I have just uploaded two new instrumental compositions on the YoshiMusix YouTube channel. They are both "old" pieces that I carried around in my head for a very long time and needed to get out. Both tunes are sort of movie sound tracks without the movie (it only plays in your head).

The Chase

The Chase is based on a motif that I had carried in my head for at least 20 years. It is a bit like the notes that accompanies a character in a movie: soft when the mood is somber, fast and hard when he's in distress, for example racing towards his destiny. The Chase is in the second category.

The drum pattern drives the pace: There's no messing about, you need to run! A synthesizer bass line supports the pace and the mood of the song. The motif is carried in the chorus of the tune in tree stages by two trumpet ensembles playing an octave apart: At first it is announced, second it is questioned (or is it?), and finally it is delivered. In between the choruses a distorted guitar improvises a moody if not imploring solo that gets harder each round.

I'm quite happy with the result, both with respect of my performance and how it matches up with the tune in my head. I can let it go now.

Por qué no te callas

It is one of those tunes that occasionally spring up in my mind for no reason whatsoever. When I hear it (in real or previously in my head) I imagine someone riding a motorcycle through the Spanish countryside -- sun in the sky, wind in his hair (no helmet, obviously), no deadlines looming....

The tune starts with an acoustic guitar playing a sweet little melody, accompanied by an electric piano. The melody is then carried over by a trombone (trumpet, actually), and then finally resumed by the guitar. In an earlier incarnation, the percussion was lighter, but I think the more modern, heavier and faster drum pattern goes very well with the tune.

This piece got its name ("why don't you shut up?" in Spanish) at the very last minute, when I remembered the incident during the 2007 Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, when King Juan Carlos I of Spain had to silence Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez because he kept interrupting Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's speech. The tune is a happy little composition that has absolutely nothing to do with the Chávez-incident, perhaps apart from its title suggesting a response, should anyone interfere with your listening to it.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Making of Making the Welt a Bötter Place

I was asked by a friend, how I made Make the Welt a Bötter Place (the song, not the video) and when I told him, he suggested to write it up for all the millions of people who seem not to care about the song in the first place. Which I found both intriguing and futile. So I did just that.

The song was recorded on a Yamaha MOX6 synthesizer using mostly preset voices. I wanted the song to be ready for the 2014 World Cup and decided to keep it simple and stick with presets for the time being. I didn't really expect the song to rattle the world, to be honest, so why waste any effort. Vocal recording and mixing were done in Cubase AI 5 that came free with the synthesizer.

The origin of the song was a running gag segment in the Swiss Sunday Late-Night Comedy show Giaccobo-Müller called Wise Words by Sepp Blatter. The FIFA corruptor president has at times some difficulties articulating his thoughts, and in the show some of the more peculiar ones were re-branded as "wise" words. When I saw the sketch about him wanting to make the Welt a bötter place (apparently swapping vowels) I thought that his slip of the tongue sounded very much like the chorus of a bad rock ballad. That thought sparked my imagination. I started recording.

Piano track

I don't really remember how the melody came about but I usually start playing the MOX using the Full Concert Grand piano voice, so I guess that's how. When I had the piano motive I also had the ending because I found it nice to end the song with the same motive. Recording the piano track required several takes, two dozen or so, because I tend to miss keys, and editing single notes seemed tedious. Starting over appeared easier. To keep the rhythm smooth, I quantized the track. I didn't quantize the ending because I wanted it to slow down.

Drum track

I checked the built-in drum arpeggios in the MOX for one that matched the song, but didn't find a suitable one. So I recorded a simple drum pattern myself. It obviously lacks variation, but then the World Cup loomed. However, I think I managed to record a nice drum break before the ending choruses.

Guitar solo

A rock ballad needs a guitar solo, and so did mine. I decided to jettison another verse and use the section for the guitar solo instead. The guitar voice is a No.1 GTR AS1&2 distorted guitar.

Guitar accompaniment

So far the song sounded surprisingly well, but a bit thin at the verses. I checked the guitar arpeggios for a suitable accompaniment pattern, but there are not many generic ones that are suitable for a wider range of genres. So I had to record one myself. To get a strumming effect, I couldn't quantize the track, which is why one or the other note is a bit off. Later I found, that a second accompaniment track panned to the opposite side would help adding volume to the song. I voiced both guitar tracks using the Single Coil Chorus guitar voice. They play almost but not completely the same notes.


To add gravitas to the second chorus and then the solo section, I needed a pad. I'm quite certain to have checked every single MOX string, synth string, and pad preset voice to find a fit. After some deliberating (and given Sepp Blatter's propensity to proselytize), I was very close to using the Nativity choir voice but eventually managed to resist. I ended up using the Strings & Choir pad. When researching YouTube for mixing tips, I found a video where the author recommended using a soft string pad to support the chorus. I added an almost imperceptible Lush ensemble string track for the final choruses at the climax of the song.


Initially, the song lacked something at the lower end, despite my playing the piano voice one octave lower. I added a bass track using the Finger PBs AF1 voice, but later found that my studio monitors mislead me a bit about the bass of the song. I had to subdue the bass quite a bit during the mixing session.


I cannot sing. Full stop. There's no need to lie about that fact. I. Just. Can't. Still, the song needed vocals, and because I don't have a singer at hand, I had to do it myself. After about 30 takes and with the help of a collection of VST plug-ins to gate, pitch-correct, equalize, filter and whatnot my singing, I eventually had something that I could just barely dare leaving in place.

Mixing was a chore because for technical reasons I had to mix all the music on the Yamaha MOX and then render the track as audio into Cubase. I then had to mix and balance the voice track, and when I found that in the mix one of the instrument tracks was off, I had to adjust that on the MOX and then re-render everything into Cubase again. And again. And again. And again.


I honestly think that I have a nice song with a pretty melody, fine lyrics, and all to the extent of my limited abilities fairly decently performed. The vocals leave a lot to be desired, and I mean a lot, but neither I nor the genius of modern sound technology can perform magic. So that's it. That's how I made the Welt a bötter place. Or not.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Joseph "Sepp" Blatter booed

In the 90th minute during the game Switzerland vs Honduras the face of FIFA president Sepp Blatter appeared on the big screen. He was instantly booed by the crowd in the stadium, as observed by this tweeter
Sifflé means "whistled at", or "booed".

Oh, well, I suppose his call to make the Welt a bötter place, or indeed my music video, has not yet reached the depths of the Amazon rainforest. Otherwise the audience in the stadium would certainly have connived at his (or FIFA's) corruption, tax avoidance and intimidation of governments.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Make the Welt an even Bötter Place

Eager readers remember vividly FIFA president Joseph "Sepp" Blatter's call to make the welt a bötter place, a call that through the magic of music became the unofficial anthem for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil: Make the Welt a Bötter Place by Q. Wehrli.

Of course, to turn this promise into action, we need to know about FIFA, its mission and its inner workings, and how it manages to unite the world around the World Cup. In the television report Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: FIFA and the World Cup the host of the program John Oliver manages to do just that. Knowledge is power, after all!

This is the FIFA, Q. Wehrli sings about. This is the World Cup, Q. Wehrli celebrates, with tax-free profits for sponsors and billions for FIFA, all paid for by the people

Fun-Fact of the Week: Did you know that Q. Wehrli (pronounced KOO WHERE-LEE) in Swiss German sounds very much like Couvertli (small envelope, from French couvert - envelope)? Not that that fact implies anything specific.