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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » 2020 » January » 11


Mura Masa: on why he’s swapped sunny pop for moody nostalgia

Delivered... Michael Cragg | Scene | Sat 11 Jan 2020 11:00 am

He’s the in-demand producer who has worked with BTS and Chic, so why has Alex Crossan left it all behind for grungy guitars?

In a cramped south London rehearsal space, producer Mura Masa, AKA Alex Crossan, is quietly losing the plot. Takeaway boxes and empty bottles rest on crates full of wires, while a small rug added for ambience is covered in upended cardboard boxes. Heat, meanwhile, is provided by two whirring laptops, their screens full of chunky colour bars representing something technical Crossan doesn’t even attempt to explain. The 23-year-old only got back from Asia yesterday, marking the end of a tour in support of 2017’s Grammy-nominated, self-titled debut, which saw him collaborate with A$AP Rocky, Damon Albarn and Christine and the Queens. Now he’s got to figure out how to play his forthcoming new album RYC (Raw Youth Collage) with a full band, hence the place looking like an unmanned stockroom.

While that sun-dappled first album poked and prodded at the pop zeitgeist, fusing tropical house and trap while joining the dots between Disclosure and Jamie xx, its grungier follow-up offers a sonic volte face. Out go the uplifting bangers and in come dense guitars – fuelled by his childhood obsessions with bands such as Joy Division, Talking Heads and Blur – and a lyrical heaviness that reflects, well, 2020. “[My debut] was about pop music, essentially, but trying to come at it from an oblique angle,” Crossan says, perched precariously on a cardboard box. “I think in the past five years that grand obelisk of ‘pop music’ has been destroyed, because as the next generation come in they’re really not interested in genres. Anything can become pop.” He also sees the lyrical themes of this new, looser kind of “pop” shifting, too. “I think there’s a real appetite for vulnerability and emotional transparency. We’ve had a good decade of ‘Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care’ and people are like: ‘This isn’t reflective of what’s happening geopolitically any more.’” He smiles knowingly at that last bit. “They want something that connects to the world they’re living in, and I think there’s something about the guitar that’s really expressive.”

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KORG add two more Nu:Tekt kits: headphone amp, valve overdrive

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sat 11 Jan 2020 3:17 am

KORG are adding to their inexpensive, easy put-them-together kits with a headphone amp and valve overdrive.

The Nu:Tekt line came out first with the NTS-1. That’s still the most exciting Nu:Tekt, in that it’s pretty close to having a voice from the ‘logue line – and since it supports the ‘logue SDK, you can run a variety of downloadable third-party oscillators and effects on it, some of them free.

The valve overdrive and headphone amp are not really anything like that, but they do look like fun and useful tools, and they’re still delivered as a kit.

There’s no soldering or anything advanced on these kits – as far as assembly, they’re the musical equivalent of those snap-together model airplanes for children. But on the other hand, they’re the opposite of a lot of our consumer society today. You still handle the parts and put them together.

OD-S Overdrive kit parts. All photos courtesy KORG.

And while that’s just busy work, KORG are keeping with the idea of customization with each of these products, which is interesting – especially from a big music gear brand, and not just a boutique operation. The customization takes different forms on each of these two new products.

Short version:

  1. There’s a tube-based overdrive effect
  2. There’s a tube-based headphone amplifier

…and each lets you modify parts to customize its sound, if you so choose.

OD-S Nutube Overdrive

KORG have been pushing their all-new, all-analog Nutube tubes, made with Noritake Itron Corporation. They’re small, energy-efficient, and stable compared to vintage tubes, but offer similar sound.

So just as the NTS-1 put a ‘logue synthesizer voice into a compact kit, so does the OD-S give you quick and easy overdrive access in your own little overdrive pedal. And that’s appealing to synthesists and guitarists alike, I think.

Part of what makes this interesting are the controls. There are two gain knobs instead of one. There’s input gain, as you’d expect, but also TUBE GAIN, which adjusts the load on the tube – so you get a second timbral control to color the distortion, in other words. And there’s a switch with two overdrive types / ranges – low and high.

But what’s customizable about it?

Well, that’s the fun part – this thing is built to be modified. As KORG explains:

For advanced users who want to customize their tone further, the modification-friendly layout allows you to change out discrete components to create your own unique pedal to match your desired tone and performance. The possibilities are endless. Circuit diagrams are readily available in the download section.

Of course, if you’re advanced enough to do that, you could also just build your own overdrive from scratch. But the nice thing here is, your basic layout is done, you’ve got a housing, you’ve got that cool, modern tube, and you can just swap out parts. That puts you in the role of the engineers finishing and tuning a design rather than trying to start one from scratch.

HA-S Nutube Headphone Amplifier Kit

On the headphone amp, you also start with the Nutube, but apply it to a warm headphone amp. (Blah blah “audiophile” something something. Hey, if it sounds good, I’m in.)

KORG have included a switch so you can choose whether or not the tube adds harmonic content. That gives you an option of a colored or clean sound; hopefully the clean sound is useful for monitoring applications.

But as with the OD-S, you can make modifications:

For further sound modification, we have included two OP amp options for the output: the premium audio oriented “MUSES01” and the industry standard “NJM4580”, both from JRC. These can be easily replaced so even the most purist audiophiles will be able to customize and adapt the sound of their HA-S to their heart’s content.

For advanced users who want to customize their amplifier even more, the circuit diagrams are readily available, making it really easy to change discrete components and make your own and unique headphone amp matching your desired tone and performance, the possibilities are endless!

To me, this doesn’t look as generically useful as the overdrive – I’d prefer my headphone amp to be as neutral as possible, and I’m not particularly interested in modifying it, especially if I need to monitor a mix for production. I realize that probably means I’m not the target demographic anyway.

But they’re both nifty ideas, and they demonstrate that KORG are up for sharing kits containing small but tasty bits of their tech. There’s not any other big maker doing anything like this, and it builds on work KORG has already done, like making hackable analog instruments and releasing their MS-20 filter circuit.

It also shows that hackable and open can be made manageable by focusing on a particular area. That seems to broaden appeal of those sorts of modifications, and brings music gear back full circle to an era when manufacturers posted circuit diagrams as an expected part of documentation.

CDM is awaiting final availability and pricing on these products. Let us know if you have other questions for KORG.

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