OCR fun: Video Effects, National Times April 1983

Australians show they can conjure their own video magic.

Two young Australians are trying  to crack the new high technology market created by the growth of special video effects in television. MARGARET WERTHEIM reports.

conjure

THE world market in video effects devices is dominated by a few large companies such as the English Quantel, the recognised leader in digital  effects,  and  the American Grass Valley. Where there used to be just cuts from one program to the next or at most a simple fade or dissolve, there are now complex manoeuvres from each shot to the next; inserts of one moving picture into another, so much in evidence in sports casts;  and a mind boggling array of effects for warping, moving, changing the perspective and in general altering a TV image, as viewers of the Don Lane Show of late will know.
In short, the video effect has come of age and very much into its own.
Some interesting work is  being done in Australia by two men who hope one day to market  their  products  alongside their corporate compatriots. Stephen Jones, of Heuristic Video in Sydney, and John Hansen, of Vision Control in Melbourne, are both creating their own video effects using the latest in video technology and up-to-date microprocessor systems.
Although from different  backgrounds – Jones from psychology and Hansen from engineering – both evolved from the alternative video network in Australia. Both have. been associated with  Bush Video, the first alternative video enterprise here, which was responsible for setting up the cable video network at the Aquarius Festival at Nimbin in 1972.
In the early stages of their  career both were active as video art. Hansen designed light sculptures and made electronic jewellery which he exhibited in  Australia, New York and Milan and Jones made video tape pieces, one of which ha been bought by the Australian National Gallery.
After graduating in psychology from the ANU, Jones went to Brisbane, where he discovered the Brisbane Access Video Centre and began giving  workshops to architecture students, teaching himself as he taught them. In Brisbane he participated in a number of video performance events including a major piece “Regions”, with music by Colin Brumby.
He became involved in the hard core technology of video when he helped build the television studio at the Paddington Access Video Centre, now Metro Television.
After the PAVC was liquidated in 1978 he began working on his own and in 1979 built his first video synthesiser, an analogue device which generated moving patterns and colours.
In 1980 he received a grant from the Australian Film Commission for the plans of a second, more complicated, analogue synthesiser. Both have been used extensively in underground video clips for bands like SPK and Severed Heads and in video and pieces by numerous video artists. He is now working on his first digital device, the DVS (Digital Video Synthesiser).
Although not a large scale device, such as those used in major video production houses, it offers a wide range of effects, some of which Jones believes are unique. How, in the face of such sophisticated competition, does Jones think he can capture part of the market? His answer is that if you could come up with a new effect people will be interested, but the effect probably only had a lifetime of 12 months since audiences tired of them so easily.
Since it is a smaller product  it will sell for considerably less than the major devices and will thus be available to the many smaller  production houses unable to afford a large scale effects device, which start at around $100,000. Jones hopes to have a demonstration model ready for the Institute of Radio and Electronic Engineers video trade fair to be held in Sydney later this year.

Hansen, who ls a qualified electronic engineer, first became involved in video synthesis in 1971. In 1974 he received an Art Council grant to develop  a  video synthesiser which  was a hybrid  analogue digital device for generating patterns. He was then in an ideal position with a background in both video and electronics, to begin using microprocessor chips in video processing when they first became available here in 1976.
Since then he has been developing his own video processing devices. In 1982 he formed a company with a group of people developing video projectors and experienced video personnel. The company, Vision Control, has three separate wings; professional consultation in the area of computer graphics, product design and video production. Under the product design wing, Hansen is continuing development of digital video effects and computer graphics systems. He ls now working on a device to be called the Conjure.
The Conjure will incorporate all the effects Hansen has developed so far, including a capability to allow artists to paint pictures in video just as they would on canvas; 3-D effects; and a unique assortment of video and computer graphics facilities. The Conjure is a large-scale, computer controlled system with sophisticated software for manipulating and creating video images. Hansen sees it as being a future competitor, on the world market, to the major digital effects devices being offered by Quantel and Grass Valley
It is an impressive achievement for such a small operation as Vision Control and augers well for the future of the video industry in Australia. Vision Control also offers a production house facility. It does not have its own video studio or broadcast-quality equipment, but claims to fill a gap in the video production sphere. The devices that Hansen and a small group of programmers design are available for use through the production wing of Vision Control, which has established a good reputation among the television stations and production houses in Melbourne.
One of the major problems  associated with the new era of video effects devices is that producers of commercials, film clips and programs are often unfamiliar with the scope and possibilities of the new technology. Technicians who may be expert operators of the equipment are not necessarily good communicators.  The  technology is advancing so fast it is very difficult for non-technical people to keep up. Hansen sees Vision Control as providing a blend of technical expertise and the services of a team of experienced production personnel who between them will be able to satisfy even the most fanciful of clients. Already they have an Impressive list of credits behind them, including the logo for the Parkinson in Australia series, countless commercials and a range of film clips. Jo Lane, one of the production team, has been responsible for many Jo Jo Zep clips.

Vision Control hopes that when it production house  goes into high gear later thus year it will be called on to provide effects for many more film and video clips, commercials logos and film titles.
Jones and Hansen say there ls a real lack of understanding in industry about what it costs how long at takes to achieve impressive results. Advertising houses and TV station which may be prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting an effect done overseas expect to get it done here on the cheap. Hansen cites the example of the station that wanted a logo to rival the impressive computer graphic of Channel 9. They wanted it, he said, within a week and only wanted to pay $5,000. The 9 logo, done in America, is reputed to have cost $200,000. Ironically Nine is now looking at a sophisticated computer graphics package designed at Vision Control.
Given the time and money,  Hansen believes it could have been done here, probably for less. It is a Catch 22 situation.  No one believes you can do anything until you actually do it, and they’re not going to give you the money to prove it until they see you can.” The same problem applies to getting finance to develop the devices themselves. Venture capital for high technology products is not easy to come by in Australia. But things are looking up. Jones, who is basically a video expert, now has the assistance of a trained computer programmer and a financial adviser in charge of marketing his new device.
Hansen, whose long involvement  with  computers, computer graphics and video puts him in an ideal position to make the best of both worlds,  is  finding  himself much in demand as a consultant on projects as diverse as designing a graphics system for a major new computer to creating a video version of a Brett Whitely painting for a forthcoming exhibition.

Postscript: the DVS was not completed, as there was not enough funds to buy parts needed for the design. The Fairlight CVI was released a few years later, which had less power. They are not related. We had a small Conjure in the studio – it was basically a vector illustration machine.

OCR Fun: The Daily Telegraph July 1983

Case for home-grown synth.

with Richard Pree.

IT is a strange phenomenon of Australian music that while overseas bands such as New Order or the Human League can regularly top our charts, home grown electronic new wave Is virtually unknown.

Why?
In 1979 Gary Numan toured Australia and although his image and stage act really belonged in the Kraftwerk robot era, his concerts were sellouts and his records went to No 1.
Three years pass. The Human League tour. Apart from a bass guitarist,  they are total synth. Again the concert is sold out, their album, Dare, goes to No 1, and still not one Australian band follows their lead.
The agencies blame the record companies for not picking up local product, and the record companies reply by saying there is no local product to pick up.

A spokesman for EMI says: “Sydney just doesn’t have the venues to support all the music that’s around, and synthesised bands are having to compete for that exposure. We’re always looking for new music and good bands and I’m not aware of any stance against synthesisers, I just don’t know of any synth bands existing.”

Virginia Moncrieff from 2JJJ says: “A lot of record company and agency people seem to have a very closed view of what the Australian public want. A lot of the bands being signed now are still belt-it-out rock and rollers – they seem to want to stick to a good thing. Real Life and the Venetians have recently broken a lot of ground, but it’s taken a hell of a long time before anyone was willing to take the risk.

That there is prejudice against synth players is obvious. As Virginia Moncrieff  points out: The Musicians Union have a very hard line – to be a member you’ve got to say you play keyboards –  not synthesiser.”

One  of  Sydney’s first synth bands, Severed Heads, is typical of the older style of machine dance synth bands and the problems they encounter. Lead singer, Tom Ellard,says: “We need so much equipment on stage to play live that we often fall back to tapes. The one time we did play with all the gear, we hit the start button and all we got were little puffs of smoke. The set began and ended right there.

We’ve been around since 1979, but it’s only been in the past year or so that people have actually approached us to play. In a few months we’re going to put out an album in England and it should do very well. The hope is that Australian audiences will pick up on it as an import on its way back.

Jason Wild, from one of Sydney’s largest musical agencies, Nucleus, says: “We don’t have any bands based primarily on synths, even though bands such as IQ are very professional. People have tried to market them but with very little success. That worries me.”

Despite this there is a small army of new, more commercially oriented synth bands on the way up. Playing at small inner city venues. bands like Sea Monsters, Legion of Grin, Idiom Flesh and Bring Philip  are  trying to change audience attitudes. The manager of Frenchs put on new synth dance pop band Legion Of Grin about a week ago and was impressed. “We were taking a risk because people here have come to expect rock and roll, but everyone  was dancing and it was a good night.”

We may be having labour pains at the moment but one day we could well give birth to our own Human League.

OCR fun: The Financial Review 1981

I’ve been told that it’s difficult to read some of the scans in our image library. They were not designed for that, and are really thumbnails of the collection. But I am starting to OCR them, because that also makes them easier to find online.

This is an account of the so-called “cassette revolution” that appeared in the Financial Review, which why the word marketing appears so often. As you would expect it predicts much that never came true. It’s a useful document for people who are selling cassettes 30+ years later.

It took a few hours to clean this up, and there are still errors. Such is OCR.

Cassettes spinning up a wildly different market. By Joanne Pemberton, Financial Review October 1981

Punk bands threatened to force changes in the recording industry for a time around the turn of the decade until the record companies mass marketed a suitable substitute – but the record industry never really had much to worry about. Its grasp of marketing and eventually its ability to absorb major trends, has been absolute. But now there is a chance cassettes will make life more difficult in the future. There is a new market the record industry has missed.

ROCK music released on cassettes marketed through the import record shops and mail order businesses, and promoted by word of mouth around the pubs where the bands play, is starting to make an imprint on the Australian music industry. Cassette recording and distribution groups have established themselves in the music strongholds of Sydney and Melbourne, with more in Queensland, Adelaide and Wollongong.

They are marketing local groups playing the music crowds go to hear in pubs around the suburbs and some of the best of overseas groups not available on local commercial releases.

The fact that they are not catering for the mass markets does not matter – the techniques of cheap cassette reproduction mean quality can only be maintained over short runs in any case.
Cassettes are cheap to produce in low volumes and let the marketers sell a high quality product from outside the
mainstream for a fraction of the studio price.

They are also doing very well. Allan West of Anthem Records in Sydney says independent tapes comparatively outsell everything in the shop. Virginia Moncrieff of Sydney radio station 2JJJ says tapes are now selling neck and neck with records and may even have a slight edge particularly in hot places where tapes are a more lasting buy than records.

A locally produced independent cassette retails for as little as $2.95 for four tracks, comparing favourably with singles at $2.50 for two tracks. But it is not yet what you could call an industry. The cassette makers are dealing basically in a submarket and profit is not the sole or even major motivation for an lot of the marketers.

The resurgence in interest in cassettes as a recording medium was exemplified in the marketing by ex Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren of the group Bow Wow Wow as a cassette band. Last year Bow Wow Wow put out an cassette called C30 C60 C90 Go! an ode to the wonders up hometaping. With lyrics like “C30 C60 C90 Go/ Off the radio I get a constant flow/ Cos I hit it! pause it! record it and play/ Or turn it rewind it and rub it away/” the irony was not lost on EMI which released the cassette and has watched home taping cut heavily into its record sales. Bow Wow Wow’s releases have appeared on vinyl records at the same time, as even as cassette band cannot ignore the saleability of the pretty graphics on record covers.

In Britain the tape movement was spurred on by a very popular sampler of new music put together on cassette by the influential rock newspaper New Musical Express and the independent record label Rough Trade. The NME/Rough Trade C81 as it was called consisted of 24 tracks and 81 minutes of new music for about $A4.70. Although cassettes like The C81 may be cheap in the UK, by the time they reach Australia air freight and the sales tax placed on imported prerecorded tapes to protect the home market have boosted the retail price to $14.

In Australia however Terse Tapes run by Tom Ellard from his home in Sydney’s Balmoral Beach put out in 1980 a C60 guide to the best of British cassette bands for $3.00 simply by having the bands send over contributions.

The trend to cassetting in this country is not just a cultural implant. Indeed Australia has been noted for its innovation in the area. Virginia Moncrieff says an Australian parallel with Bow Wow Wow was the popular Sydney band the Sunnyboys who released their first single on both Cassette and record. The tape released through Festival even had a few more tracks on it.

“But though say 800 may be sold of this release only 400 will be taken into account by the record companies because cassettes do not count in the record charts. That is why so little emphasis is given to their marketing and quality” she says.

The most publicised tape group in Australia would have to be the alliteratively titled “tantalising taster of tape and type” Fast Forward Cassette Magazine. FF was started last December by radio announcers Bruce Milne and Andy Maine from Melbourne radio station 3RRR and has had excellent press and promising sales. According to Andy Maine Australia’s first regular cassette magazine is not losing money and is even making some though not a great deal. “We did not set out to make a fortune though obviously there is money-making potential there.”

Invitingly packaged in a slimline plastic pouch designed by Michael Trudgeon, the third member of the FF group,for $3.99 the listener/reader receives about 60 minutes of previously unreleased music interviews. chit chat and humour along with giveaways like crosswords and photocopies, an information sheet with photographs, contact addresses, lyrics and biographies.
The material is both local and overseas and issue six provides a comprehensive guide to amateur cassetting.

The main drawing point of the package however appears to be the previously unreleased recordings of bands. According to Malcolm Crane of the Sydney import record shop The Record Plant,”it is difficult to see people replay the chat sections, though you do not usually re-read printed magazine articles either. Issue six sold mainly because of the inclusion of stuff by the band Hunters and Collectors.”

Most of the new independents with limited audiences use mail ordering and manufacture as demand goes to keep costs down. Miscellaneous Musick from Wollongong founded by Christella Pink. has so far released 63 cassettes through mailorder.

In an interview with Wollongong fan magazine Check One Two she said it was the only tape library in Australia that could sell for less than $2.00. The fact that Check One Two is a “Fanzine” put out by a couple of Wollongong school kids says a lot about what marketers would call the positioning of the cassette market and the degree of credibility cassette music has won among its consumers.

Wollongong also produced the now defunct TwoTapes company but it is soon to reappear as another tape company called That’s Life which will sell C90 tapes for $5.00. Its producer Tim Vanderberg said the tapes will be of exceptionally high quality as masters will be made on metal cassettes which have a higher quality sound than vinyl.

The Sydney import record shop The Record Plant said it literally had independent tapes arriving on its doorstep all the time. One such arrival was a tape sent by the Queensland band Xiro with four tracks priced at $3.00. While The Record Plant says it knows nothing of the band. Xiro’s two tapes Religious Wars and Half the Profits sold half their stock. Malcolm Crane says this is not bad at all for an independent.

Allan West at Sydney’s Anthem Records estimates that it would cost about $85 to have a master copy of a record pressed and then about S300 to have 250 copies pressed not counting the cost of record covers, distribution and royalties to the band. The cost of a vinyl pressing becomes cheaper as more copies are produced, but tapes hold an obvious attraction for bands who can afford to record but not to put out a limited edition single.

The retailers of the new independent tapes say that while it may be easier to make money on cassette recording – all that is needed is two tape decks – they do not seem to have the selling power. “With a cassette you cannot pick it up and spin it on the record player. It just does not have the same physical presence as a record”, Allan West says.

Some tape artists have opted for the safer path of conventional distribution through a record company, but even in this case it is usually an independent. M Squared, a Sydney based independent record company is producing tapes but only as an adjunct to its vinyl releases. An M Squared recorded cassette called B Songs by Mark 2 and released through Underworld Tapes is a professionally produced, eight track cassette retailing at $2.95. Much of the M Squared material however is distributed by mail order.

Similarly in Adelaide Girl/Boy. a recently formed tape company will have its releases produced, distributed and promoted through larger concerns like the independent record company Missing Link in Melbourne.

Michael Green of Gaslight Records in Melbourne pointed out that small independent cassettes like M Squared sold well in the shops though he said this was mainly due to a loyal clientele. Allan West said “We only stock the local cassettes, the ones that are not available on albums. We used to have no tapes at all but its now grown to about twenty different titles. “The market for cassettes is expanding slowly and from the producers point of view a week or running off 60 copies of a cassette has got to be cheaper than vinyl pressings.”

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the independent tapes is their marketing. In England. Bow Wow Wow released a tape called Your Cassette Pet in an cute little fliptop pack. The NME Rough Trade C81 also had a nod in the direction of attractive packaging with the inclusion of a 32 page C81 owner’s manual.

Bruce Milne of Fast Forward believes that the reason that cassettes have traditionally had such poor sales in the past was their boring packaging. “We thought, why not make it exciting. There are so many things you can do. So we went to plastic: and tin factories and even thought of putting the cassette in a sardine tin. “We are always thinking of changing and at the moment I would like to develop the booklet and include more photos and make il an entity in itself.” Andy Maine says that the end of the year will see a longer FF with a corresponding price rise.

Tom Ellard of Terse Tapes however believes the packaging of cassette should not be an issue at all, conceeding though that consumers love running their fingers through the package.
In the past Terse Tapes have been sparsely presented in sandwich sized plastic bags containing two photocopied information sheets. Ellard has now reverted to the traditional casssette box which other independents use.

Christella Pink says that Miscellaneous Musick is a tape company because the low costs “allow greater freedom with art and music.” To some in the tape fraternity however, the lack of profit geared constraints has meant that the output of the independent tape companies tends towards the esoteric and elite.

FF has however broadened its scope and plans to include in future issues recordings and graphics by the English band The Cure, and roc German electronic outfit Kraftwerk. Both bands were impressed with FF product and according to Milne “Jumped at the chance to contribute.”

FF’s emergence into the mainstream has been due, according to Tom Ellard, to it being bland enough lo go into every home, a point that Andy Milne agrees with. Lauded by the American and English rock press FF received perhaps its highest accolade when it was given a plug by Ian Meldrum on the ABCs Countdown.

The changes in music retailing that these cassette marketers foreshadow imply that recordings on vinyl or tape are unlikely to become more homogenous. Certainly for sections of the market flexibility, low overheads and the ability to move very quickly are becoming more important. The result may be than the music industry itself will end up a very different beast.

Aged Cheese

The vinyl remake of Eighties Cheesecake is out and about for SIXTEEN BUCKS.

http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/tom-ellard-80s-cheesecake-lp-out-now/

TomEllard_80sCheescakeJacket-300x300

If you’re thinking, hey that cover looks like a cassette sleeve, it’s because it’s the original cassette sleeve. Unfolded and blown up to 12 inches. It was going to be the CD cover for a while but – Hell I dunno, but this is what museums do to us all, they make everything “authentic”.

So I need to explain the track listing. This went back and forward a few times. First it had to come down from a C60 length. Then I wanted to replace some of the tracks I didn’t like with some I did, but then the label wanted the ones I didn’t like and the new ones as well and that wouldn’t fit and then we took some off and put them on the Dead Eyes Opened B side because that was authentic, really. So it’s quite a mixture of reasons for what you get, all of them good reasons, if a little roundabout.

I did mention before that there some refurbished tracks on the LP. It’s all from the sessions in which I made the two cassettes, Snappy Carrion and Eighties Cheesecake. But sometimes I would make a decision about mixing or editing which turned out bad, and given the majority of it was bounced around a 4 track (or just two cassette decks) the bad decision could be disaster for an otherwise good track. Bummer.

In 1985 when I backed up everything to digital, I kept all the parts. When I started to reassemble the material in 2013, the technology allowed some quite nifty repairs to be made. Noises that should never have been added (oh god that shitty attempt at a syndrum!) could be removed, either by microedits, filtration or just a whole day of cutting and pasting from the raw sources. And noises that should be there could then be added on top as nature intended it – like The East Is Red.

The tracks 303B The East Is Red, The Ritualistic and Babies are all refurbished and there was one more that didn’t make it on. Some of you would have heard bits of these of the years, but not as complete as they are here.

But is this a George Lucas moment? Of course! Unless you’re listening on a SONY cassette tape – well it’s just wrong isn’t it.

Self Review

I have lived with copies of our old albums for a short time now and have formed an impression of them, and would care to report this.

The difficulty being that, not having a working turntable, I am not able to describe what they sound like. But I can rely on reports.

If it were a boiled lolly, Since The Accident would be a humbug. City Slab Horror is supposed to be bone coloured, but is obviously butterscotch.

Bt742wCCUAA9rJB

I would imagine that when the vinyl was black on Since The Accident it would sound infinitesimally different to when it was white. If one was very particular, this would be disturbing about once every second. For most people they would not be particularly worried. I watch it spin and would like it to spin much faster, so as to make colours, but this is not possible.

When you buy a copy, you have to put the record into the sleeve. This last step probably prevents it from using batteries until you’re ready to switch it on. Or it’s to connect you with the physicality of the object. Or something.

The records are heavy. I stood and held one for quite some time, feeling the weight. It weights much more than a 1970’s RCA space age pressing which were designed to be incredibly light and flexible, because that was the best idea. They weight a little less than the Eastern European press-them-like-tractors because that was the best idea. Maybe these are a red sports car.

We played it at a radio station here in Sydney and I was pleased that the music was in fact ours. When we made our first album back in 1979, EMI put an album by the Bushwackers Band there by accident. We thought a while and then told them. It was a near thing.

proxy

I have been told that the quality is very good. It should be, given that it’s actually from the master. There is a sticker on the front that claims I have remastered these albums. That’s not true. I did nothing except reproduce the recordings properly. That’s why the sound is better.

In ‘The Wire’ magazine they have reviewed these records as ‘a blueprint for a possible musical future’. Given that we are in that future I was curious to see if the reviewer was game to make a comparison between the blueprint and the reality. He did not. He did mention Aphex Twin which reminded me I was reading The Wire. But I worry now about how you can talk about being prescient after the fact. It’s like a time travel paradox.

It’s a good review actually because the writer describes how uncomfortable we were between the polarities of pop and opposition. Like whatever we did was never going to satisfy somebody who wants totality. If you wanted a theme that described Severed Heads that’s it right there and so if the reviewer is hearing that, these are good records.

Now I really should buy a new stylus.

Purchase desirable physical objects of limited manufacture.

dead
Dead Eyes Opened replica vinyl. Click on the image.
MR034_300
Since The Accident replica vinyl. Click on this image.
MR035_300
City Slab Horror replica vinyl. Click on this image.

These objects may be possessed for a small fee. Other objects that may soon be possessed in a similar fashion are:

Eighties Cheesecake. Status: delayed for artwork revisions.

Ear Bitten. Status: in planning. Expected in 2015.

Clean. Status: in planning. Expected in 2015.

The comparison.
The comparison.

Terse Tapes then and now.

You’ve seen all the old pictures. How about some new pictures? TERSE TAPES was brutally murdered around 1998. But it rises again, starting right where it was stopped, as if the war never happened.

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The famous BOOFHEAD as seen on stages all over North America. Like all Ensoniq equipment of that period it is built out of pure brick shithouse. It still holds patches from Rotund For Success, and will punch you if you dare erase them.

20140607_210110

There underneath the ReVox is a Roland Luxury Yacht, which was too cool in about 2000. No sound is too chorused for this opulent box. Note the authentic SCSI drive. Beneath is a very battered S612 sampler, not the same battered sampler as was used on Big Bigot. A near relative with the same neurosis. The mixer is sitting on an Alesis ADAT which hasn’t seen the sun for many years.

korgs

When they do a Star Trek reboot reboot, they are welcome to film ‘Mount Knobs’. Here are all the twiddles a man could desire. From front to rear – the Roland SH32 will never win prizes for looks, but certainly for bloops. The KORG Radias is the slick silver grandchild of the old MS years and a great Xmas decoration. The blue box is a JP8080 and yes, supersaw but not always. And a virtual PolySix, which (it should not surprise you) recognises the knobs on the Radias.

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A small part of the post modern world sneaks into frame, as a Blofeld sits atop of ‘Yamaha Peak’. The two groove boxes below house faux Prophet-5 and faux DX-7 cards. Prop them up on decorative plate holders and voilà – the knobs are in reach of the engine driver. The Blofeld is about to get a nasty shock when a V-Synth XT rack gets plunked above. Like a Mopho hidden at back, it’s driven from elsewhere.

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And here is the nerve centre of the whole enterprise. Tiny keys for tiny fingers. A Micron is caged under a MiniNova, it too is run from elsewhere and will have to put up with being second fiddle. The scary thing is that there is more than this, too high or deep to see.

All of it is being used right now to make a new recording…