A few after action thoughts

A few more thoughts after writing my Genos snap review

Articulations are gonna take practice

The Yamaha Genos™ is a mini, ready-to-play, orchestral library. The player has a large number of physical controllers including joystick, articulation buttons and aftertouch. This is what draws me to Genos.

One big take away: exploiting all of this capability is going to take practice, practice, practice.

Fortunately, the Genos has a few features to ease the process.

The DEMO touch button is your friend. Each voice has a DEMO button that plays a musical phrase. The phrase typically triggers one or more articulations. The appropriate front panel button (ART1, ART2, ART3) lights up when the associated articulation is triggered.

Another helpful feature appears in the Voice Part Setup display. (Hit the front panel VOICE button to go there.) Genos displays a small icon next to the voice name for each available articulation. [See image below. Click to enlarge.] It’s a way to learn quickly what to try or do.

The Genos Data List PDF is another helpful resource. The Data List has a table of all Super Articulation 2 (SArt2) voices, including the articulations supported by each voice.

Reflections on my technique

It really is humbling to record yourself and listen to the playback.

I recorded my noodling and doodling while evaluating the Yamaha Genos. There were a few decent moments in the two hour recording and a number of musical divots:

  • Lost the beat when my left hand ran out of keys in the lower split.
  • Playing certain instruments (e.g., oboe) beyond the comfortable, natural range of the acoustic instument.
  • Pointless, wandering improvised solo lines.

The first two divots are partially due to unfamiliarity with the split point and positioning of the left and right hand voices. In retrospect, I didn’t drop the left hand voice an octave (via the Genos MIXER panel) and wound up playing the bass line quite close to the lowest keys. This problem is easily fixed technically when programming splits and layers for actual use. (Once I get a Genos. 🙂 )

Without setting the left hand range properly, I’m playing away and, suddenly, my little finger is hitting the end cheek (or whatever that inert block of plastic or metal is called). That moment of frustration just enough to throw me off tempo. (The huge reason why I hate 37-key keyboards.)

Playing outside the natural range of the acoustic instrument is mostly on me. I wanted to test the full range of the oboe (for example) and that was a deliberate choice. I usually assess a musical score ahead of time to determine if and when I can play a higher oboe line. However, a big “however,” I know there are times when I botch this — live in front of a congregation. My face flushes and I desperately think about how I am going to gracefully get myself out of the situation.

The third divot is all on me. Alot of my improvisations were down right embarrassing — solo lines that made noise and went nowhere. Some of the meandering was due to the Genos evaluation — pushing buttons to change a voice or randomly flogging the articulation buttons to see what they would do. However, some of the meandering is due to distraction and lack of engagement in what I was playing.

Self-reflection led me to a few rules that I need to follow when improvising:

  • Be full engaged with the music.
  • Don’t become distracted by the technology while playing.
  • Be deliberate. Play with authority. Don’t be tentative.
  • Play with intention.
  • Have a musical guide.

The best moments in the recording are when I was fully engaged with either the score or the backing track. I can sense this while listening. Without engagement, I’m a dead duck and I should just kick back and comp in sync with the beat. (Of course, comping requires a level of engagement, too!)

Being deliberate goes along with engagement. When you’re deliberate, you’re involved. It raises the energy level and mental concentration. All good.

The notions of intention and having a musical guide are very important. Intention means having a message and a direction. Know where you’re going and what you want to say. Otherwise, it really is random noise, even if it’s played in the pocket.

By “musical guide,” I mean a lead sheet or other kind of score. The lead sheet may be mental rather than paper. It’s a structure. With the structure in place, you can make the changes and play around the melody. It’s no wonder that many jazz improvisations start and finish with a head.

I hope these reflections help you out while I hope that I live up to them myself.

Let’s talk money

It always comes back to the money. 🙂

The Genos is not a cheap instrument. A large part of its cost is the research and development that went into the instrument. Yamaha outdid themselves with new SArt and SArt voices. (Yamaha finally broke the waveform memory barrier imposed by their previous generation hardware.)

However, let’s be rational about the price and strategize. Nobody pays MSRP (list price) for a car and you’re not going to pay list. Everyone advertises the Minimum Advertised Price (MAP), $5,499.99 in the United States. If you put in modest effort, you’re not going to pay MAP either.

Don’t just click “Add to cart.” Call. Don’t just call big on-line retailers. Support small dealers. That’s “deal-er.” Aside from good customer service, this is one of the main reasons why I call Audioworks CT.

You may choose to buy Genos somewhere else, but a little bit of phone shopping can save you rent money.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos: First contact (snap review)

Before I dive into Yamaha Genos™, I need to send a big shoutout to Frank Ventresca of Audioworks CT. I tested and bought my PSR-S950 from Audioworks CT. I’m ba-ack, having had a good experience the first time — largely due to Frank’s customer service. If you’re interested in trying and buying an arranger keyboard, I recommend visiting Audioworks CT and/or giving Frank a call.

For me, it’s about 140 miles one way from home to Audioworks CT. Preparations are similar to getting ready for a long day hike — only with sheet music instead of boots. The long car trip means that testing time is limited. I try to hit the driving sweet spot between morning rush on I-495/I-290 near Boston and the afternoon rush from New Haven and Hartford, leaving me about two hours to play.

After arriving at Audioworks CT, I found a three tiered stack: Yamaha Montage, Korg Pa4x and Yamaha Genos, from top to bottom. Thanks to a tip from Stephen on the PSR Tutorial Forum, I expected to see the Pa4x. With that foreknowledge, do I A/B the Genos and the Pa4x? I chose to focus solely on the Genos given the two hour window for testing. Frank, BTW, invited me to stay longer, but I knew that I needed to avoid traffic Hell later in the day.

I warmed up while Frank finished a business meeting. No music stand, so I used the Pa4x as a very expensive music rest. Once Frank was available, he quickly installed the Genos music stand.

I decided to listen through headphones rather than use Audioworks’ house system. It’s a good system, but I decided to go with my usual, lightweight headphones (Roland RH-7A). Headphones also freed up the LINE OUT which I connected to a Roland MicroBR digital recorder. This setup let me hit record, play and forget.

At the time of this writing, I pulled a few snippets among the noodling and posted them here. I’m trying to get my first impressions down fast and don’t want audio production to get in the way of my initial thoughts.

Before recording, I set the Genos EQ to flat and turned off the master compression. Audio is recorded direct to MP3 (192 kbit/sec). Not the best quality, but I was afraid of overrunning the rather small SD card in the MicroBR. After setting initial levels, I tried to forget that the MicroBR was there and that the red light was ON.

It’s humbling to listen to my noodling. Hats off to everyone’s main man Katsunori UJIIE, who seems to rip this stuff effortlessly!

Genos is an instrument

One shouldn’t have to say this, but the Genos is an instrument in the same league as Montage or Kronos. With the limited time available, I concentrated on Genos as a performance instrument first and as an arranger keyboard second. This approach is consistent with my musical priorities: church gig first, fun and possibly one man band (OMB) second.

As a liturgical musician, I play with a pianist on acoustic piano and a 12-string guitar. That’s a lot of rhythmic content right there. Much of what I play complements piano and 12-string guitar. Subconsciously, I fill in and hear these missing parts when practicing. Hopefully, you will fill in this context, too. If and when you hear the audio snippets, I’m playing fuller than I would with the group. There is always a tendency to “be the whole band” when playing alone. Apologies in advance.

The focus is on emulation of acoustic instruments, orchestra and pop. You won’t hear any synth and given the short trial time, you won’t hear many styles (unfortunately).

The FSX keyboard is a more robust keybed than the PSR-S950. The FSX action is heavier. You do get what you pay for. The FSX affords aftertouch; the S950 does not.

The Genos has three front panel articulation buttons to trigger voice articulations. The voice display shows the available articulations for each selected voice. (Nice.) The voice display also shows a drawbar icon for organ flute voices. Touching the drawbar icon brings up the drawbar display. (Extra nice.) I made extensive use of the voice DEMO touch button in order to play and sort through voices quickly.

The user interface is responsive. I didn’t get a sense of lag as reported by other players. I discovered that the MENU front panel button is your special friend. It brings up two pages filled with touch buttons leading to all internal settings. It’s kind of a “site map” for the Genos.

Strings

The Genos is like having a compact orchestral sample library in a portable, immediately playable keyboard. Think Garritan Personal Orchestra.

There are two major options for strings in addition to legacy voices: Kino strings and Seattle strings. The Seattle strings first appeared in the Tyros 5 before they were explicitly identified and advertised in the Montage. The Kino strings have a different character and the violin sections are panned separately left and right. Both options have multiple bowing and playing techniques (legato, spiccato, pizzicato) plus articulations. The options are also broken out into sections as well as the standard ensemble voices.

The Kino strings have more power and are more in your face than the Seattle strings. Dare I say, more bow? Where is Dave Stewart when you need him? (This review would be wittier if written by Dave Stewart, too.)

The voice DEMO feature is really handy when approaching a deep keyboard like Genos for the first time. I quickly settled on the “warm” variation of the Kino strings and Seattle strings. Either choice (Kino Seattle) would work as a bread and butter ensemble patch. I give the edge to Seattle because, well, they would sit better with piano and acoustic guitar, given our repertoire. Tyros 5 people, hold up your heads with pride.

With the loss of our group’s flutist, I’m play a lot of exposed solo lines using violin, oboe and flute. The Genos offers four Super Articulation 2 solo voices: Celtic Violin, Jazz Violin, Classical Cello and Pop Cello. The Celtic Violin is a good fit with our liturgical repertoire. The Genos cellos are quite good, definitely a big cut above the MOX6 that I currently play. I wish that I had more time to check out the cellos.

Meta-comment: Exploiting the Genos, especially its articulations and ensembles — will require practice, practice, practice.

Woodwinds

In the case of woodwinds, I need both ensemble voices (or layers) and solo voices (mainly oboe and flute). The Genos does not disappoint in either category.

I quite easily built and tried a few layers. It wasn’t difficult to create a workable reed plus horn layer — another bread and butter, every Sunday patch. Less is often more. It isn’t necessary to layer up a preset woodwind ensemble with French horn; sometimes a mellow oboe or clarinet will do.

The Genos has two SArt2 oboes (classical and pop) and an SArt “MOR Oboe.” The Classic Oboe is bright and thin, able to cut through strings. For exposed lines, I would prefer the Pop Oboe or MOR Oboe voices that have a warmer, fuller sound.

The SArt2 Classical Bassoon and Pop Bassoon are quite pleasant without moving into comedic territory. (Peter and the Wolf.)

Brass

The Genos has a mess’o’horns and classical brass. Symphony horns are quite useful in liturgy as pads and mid-range filler. Fanfare brass is too much except for the obvious holidays when all sorts of sonic mayhem can be let loose. The Genos has a wide range of horns from mellow to a brighter more open tone.

The brasher instruments (trumpet and trombone) are available solo and in sections. All quite good. Trombones are especially useful due to their wider range and deeper timbre.

The demo phrases for certain brass voices are way hotter level-wise than the strings or woodwinds. I had to adjust the audio record level way down to prevent clipping. Unfortunately, this affected the level for everything else that I recorded during the day. Sorry, I just spaced out and didn’t reset the level. (Argh!) So, you may need to adjust the audio volume at your end.

Drawbar organ

Huh? That’s not classical. Our church means gospel and a little Hispanic music, too.

I enjoyed getting into the Genos drawbar organ. There’s no undiscovered clone killer here, but Yamaha’s drawbar emulation will work in a lot of churches (and stages, too). I’m already quite familiar with Yamaha’s emulation having played both the MOX and PSR-S950.

The physical drawbars are a treat. The knobs are shaped like, er, classic drawbar knobs. The bars can be changed and played in real time, something that I miss on the MOX and to a large extent, the S950. If you select a preset, the physical position of the sliders does not directly relate to the sound, of course. The sliders are not motorized. When a slider is moved, it won’t change the sound until the slider “catches” the current internal bar value. That’s why Martin Harris “warms up” the sliders before playing the bars in his demo videos.

The new rotary speaker simulation is an improvement, but won’t knock the Neo Ventilator from its perch. Here, Yamaha have some work to do immediately:

  • The Drive parameter doesn’t seem to have any effect on the sound. (Thanks to Uli from the PSR Tutorial Forum for pointing this out.) Pushing the Drive to 10 doesn’t add any overdrive.
  • As mentioned in an earlier post, the rotor slow/fast and fast/slow times cannot be adjusted; only the horn (de)acceleration times can be adjusted.

Yamaha needs to fix these divots.

The rotary speaker sim is set too fast out of the box. This gave me a chance to dive into the DSP effect editing menus. I made the changes without too much difficulty and without a manual. Good job. I just wish that I could change the rotor (de)acceleration times, too.

This seems to be a good place to mention that sound programmers universally tend to set the times too fast, especially the ramp times. Players love it when it takes a while for those old, vintage belts and pulleys to spin the rotor/horn up and down. A lot of real B-players habitually hit the half-moon switch to keep the Leslie in its intermediate, changing state. Watching Gregg Allman do this in 1971 was a revelation that stuck with me for a lifetime!

Wot? No pipe organ? Genos carries over the quite excellent handful of pipe organ voices from Tyros 5. They’re good. Move along.

Pop instruments

Now that the main job is done, it’s time for the funk and blues.

You probably noticed by now that I haven’t said anything about the CFX and C7 acoustic pianos. You’re right and you won’t hear another word about them from me. They’re covered elsewhere, everywhere.

I did try the Suitcase Rhodes (oh, why this charade about names?), the Wurlitzer and the Clav. All will do the business. The Suitcase is still waaaay too polite for my taste in fusion. Think the fuzzed out bliss of “Mahavishnu.” That’s a 70’s Rhodes.

The SArt2 Funk Alto Sax and Funk Baritone Sax are welcome additions. I look forward to exploring those. The Jazz Flute sounds good to my ears and has interesting articulations. The Classical Flute can jam, too.

I took a listen to the new Active Bass (Music Man Stingray?) Sweet. Should provide new options when sequencing.

Then there’s the mess’o’guitars. I presume that 50’s is Telecaster and 60’s is Stratocaster? With all the DSP at hand, the electric guitars are instant “tone” with all of the right pedal-board effects dialed in. The jazz guitar sounds good. I often reach for jazz guitar when playing pop. (Need more technique, though. Practice, practice, practice.)

The sax and brass demos start out with the new funk saxes. The rhythm section demo includes Suitcase Rhodes, Wurli, Clav, CP80, Active Bass, electric guitars and jazz guitar.

Styles

At this point in the day, my ears and hands were getting trashed. I was hoping to try the styles that have been getting short shrift in on-line videos. Given the time that was left, all I could hit was “Mr. Soul” and “Soul Supreme” with the old chestnut “Acoustic Jazz” thrown in. All good for a fun-time jam.

Neither style was harmed by playing over them. I did jam quite a bit and got a decent Fishbelly Black organ tone out of the drawbar organ and rotary sim. Oh, happy day!

Workflow

You should be able to sense my time urgency at this point because my comments are getting shorter and shorter.

I played along with a few MIDI and WAV audio songs in order to assess the workflow for OMB. Even without playlists and registrations, the Genos has a much smoother workflow than the Montage in this regard. Montage designers should take note because many Montage players incorporate audio and MIDI tracks into their performances, too.

I botched a chance to try Revo drums with a MIDI file. I brought the USB drive that contains my WAV audio and MIDI backing tracks. I played along with “Just My Imagination,” a track that suffers from extreme “machine gun” drum rolls. Darn, with time pressing, I forgot to re-voice the file with a Revo drums kit! Bummer.

Summary

Genos is waaaaaay too much for two hours. Two weeks, two months, maybe.

There you have it. Genos? Yes, I played one. As you can tell from this quick review, I’m more enthusiastic than ever about Genos.

Need more information about Super Articulation voices? Please look here.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos: Position and promotion

The first public European demos started over the weekend. I’ve been watching Peter Baartmans and Sander Tournier put the Genos through its paces.

The whole experience has me thinking about how the Genos is being positioned in regional markets, mainly, western Europe versus North America.

First off, the arranger keyboard culture is completely different in Europe than the United States. Arranger demonstrations are big public events. One recent demo had over 500 attendees in the audience. In some venues, audience members buy tickets! This is unimaginable in the United States (except iPhone).

The European demos show off a broader range of styles. In this aspect, I’m comparing the European demos with videos made for American retailers (Guitar Center, Sweetwater, and Kraft Music). The European demos cover everything from jazz to rock to EDM to classical to traditional European pop. For the latter, think outdoor cafes and biergartens where you can spend hours with a few hundred like-minded souls. Not to mention that acquired taste, Schlager. (And that’s not a beer!)

The American demos concentrate on contemporary musical genres and styles. The Genos has new acoustic and pedal steel guitars, so Nashville and country get special emphasis. Martin Harris highlights the Kino strings coming more from a cinematic or singer-songwriter perspective. These are customers that Yamaha hopes to hook in North America. With all of its articulated sounds, the Genos is a mini-library of sampled instruments both pop and orchestral.

The American videos avoid any whiff of cheese. Unfortunately, many American listeners regard (too) many musical styles as “cheese” and the typical Guitar Center clientele are the worst offenders. Thus, you won’t hear traditional European pop in a video targeted for American retailers. In the U.S., arranger keyboards are regarded as the evil spawn of the cha-cha home organ. After playing Montage and hearing the Genos demos, a lot of folks need to adjust their thinking.

Yamaha run a risk, here, because on-line media is world-wide. I’m thinking about the videos for the Dexibell drawbar organ. A few people saw one video which didn’t fit their musical taste and bad-mouthed the Dexibell to high Heaven. They never moved on to the other videos which had some very tasty jazz.

At this point in the Genos launch, it’s a little difficult to dig out the deeper jazz, soul, R&B, and funk possibilities of the Genos. You need to wade through a lot of video to even get a sniff.

The customer base for high-end arranger keyboards is aging. Even the European audiences have a lot of “gray heads.” (I’m getting grayer by the day, too. 🙂 ) Yamaha and its dealers want to entice a younger crowd with arranger keyboards. But, they have a dilemma. A young person today does not have the disposable income for a $5,500 (USD street) keyboard, especially when they can make music with their smart phone, tablet or laptop. The entry price to EDM, for example, is much lower than the price of a Genos.


[Source: Yamaha Easy Product Guide, 2017; Click to enlarge.]

Yamaha led the Genos campaign with EDM. This gave the Genos a youthful cachet, but alienated many people in the historical customer base for high-end arranger product. Folks wondered, “Did they drop the big band styles?” However, let’s say that Yamaha did put a schmaltzy big band tune into the Guitar Center video. Instant turn off. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a big band tune. I grew up listening to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, but that was my father’s music. (BTW, I respect that music; I just don’t play it.) Most people can’t look beyond the end of their own musical nose.

So, where do Yamaha find customers with sufficient disposable income and maybe the time and interest? Back to the 80s! The Genos has some excellent styles that allow note-for-note covers of famous 1980s pop and rock, including synth-heavy 80s pop. We all tend to relate emotionally to the music of our teen years and early 20s. Let’s take 1985 as the midpoint, subtract 20 years and look to people born around 1965 or so. They were teens when 80s music was happening. Thus, Yamaha are targeting people in their late 40s and early 50s — old enough to have the disposable income for a high-end arranger while young enough to rebuild the aging customer base.

Well, I hope this ramble has given you a different perspective on Genos and arranger keyboard marketing. The Yamaha demos are carefully designed and scripted to appeal to target market segments. Where do you fit?

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski