Flip (Book) Over This Korg Demo

Beginning with the fundamental

One of the largest if not the largest synthesizer events just wrapped up in Germany. This would be Superbooth 2023, a huge showcase for companies that design and build synthesizer (and related) equipment. As the years have passed, it’s become easier and easier to experience Superbooth from afar (I’ve never been), thanks to the magical portal that is YouTube. I wanted to highlight one piece of gear in particular, and less so the gear than the manner in which it was presented. 

Tatsuya Takahashi, founder of the Berlin spin-off of the Japanese firm Korg, unveiled an “acoustic synthesizer,” and while the device itself is quite interesting, I was particularly struck by the simple means by which he explained how its unique sound-producing technology functions: the Korg Berlin team printed up a bunch of paperback flip books, a page of which is shown above.

At about the 1:41 timecode in the video, Tats, as he’s called, compares the physical motion within this synthesizer to that of a ruler on the end of a desk being plucked and “bobbing up and down.” Each flip book shows a different frequency, beginning with the fundamental, the lowest one. When Tats shows the first overtone, the flip book displays how the “arms” of the element within the device move in a different way than they did for the fundamental, and so on. The synthesizer itself looks (and sounds) quite interesting, but the presentation is a testament to what a clear communicator Tats is. The interview is well worth watching. It’s just 12 minutes long.

TWiS Listening Post (0002)

A review, a haze, and a video

This issue is just for paid subscribers of This Week in Sound. It’s an experiment, intended to supplement the usual Tuesday and Friday issues.

This past week I asked what readers, in a highly unscientific poll, what might encourage them to pay to support This Week in Sound, and the results strongly weighed in favor of ambient music recommendations and an extra email. This format accomplishes both those ideas. We’ll see how it goes. I’m enjoying it.

Today, we’ve got: (1) a review, (2) a haze, and (3) a video.

I wrote a bit more about Oval’s recent album, Romantiq, which I reviewed for Pitchfork on Monday, plus a pice of jagged ambient music by the Japanese producer Corruption, and a live (defined broadly) video by Ukrainian synthesizer musician Igor Yalivec.

Oh, and one additional quick note about last week’s issue: Those voices in the Karen Vogt remix by Yolanda Moletta were in fact Moletta’s own singing, not simply samples of Vogt’s original track — so, “echoes,” yes, but not literal echoes.

Out of Shape

A new documentary from photographer and director Anton Corbijn

Photographer Anton Corbijn has shot some of the most memorable album covers in the history of popular music, many resulting from lengthy collaborations with bands like U2 and Depeche Mode. He has 850 credits on Discogs. And now he has made a documentary about an even greater contribution to the visuals that package recorded music: the studio Hipgnosis, the lengthy discography of which includes Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, and Peter Gabriel’s first three solo albums, among many others.

The film also has the perfect title, Squaring the Circle. Perhaps he, or one of his many interviewees, will answer an underlying question: why has the square, one of the great skeuomorphisms of our time, persisted as the symbol for recorded music, long after 12” LPs, 7” singles, and CDs have been supplanted by cloud-based streaming?

All Mod Cons

I guested on the Podular Modcast's 250th episode

I had the great pleasure recently of speaking with Tim Held for his long-running Podular Modcast, a series that takes its name from Held’s emphasis on modular synthesizers. (Yeah, that’s me on the right.) And I was honored that my episode turned out to be the show’s 250th. We had a fun and rangy chat about synths, the Disquiet Junto, online communities, instruments as works of art, field recordings, and many other topics. Our discussion is the majority of the episode, along with interspersed music performance and some gear overviews by Held. (I appeared once previously on the show, back in 2018, for the Podular Modcast’s ninth episode.)

Numbers Stations by the Numbers

Lots of music beyond that famous Wilco track

I knew that the band Wilco had used audio from a “numbers station” in some of its music long ago. The song, “Poor Places,” appeared on the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which took its title from the source audio. Numbers stations were (and in some cases apparently still are) peculiar vestiges of Cold War times, simply voices sending out coded messages as sequences of spoken numbers, fully in public, usually on shortwave radio. Presuming the utilized code is strong enough, this information can exist out in the open, and be easily received by its intended audience, with no one else having any knowledge of what is actually being communicated.

This new video, from a YouTube channel called Ringway Manchester, runs through source numbers station audio that has been sampled on numerous music releases over the years. I had no idea this many songs had used numbers stations. And the comments below the video are full of additional examples and details (Thanks, Mark Rushton, for having shared this with me!)