A jaunt into Cold War history

This started out as a simple investigation. Then …

Folks who usually visit this site will wonder if their browser landed in the right place. Fear not. In addition to music and computation, I dabble occasionally as an amateur historian — computation and communications, mainly, early Cold War.

First, two book recommendations:

  • Garrett M. Graff, “Raven Rock,” Simon & Schuster, 2017.
  • Sharon Weinberger, “The Imagineers of War,” Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

Both books are extensively researched, well-written and good reads.

Mr. Graff covers the vast scope of American efforts to provide continuity of government (COG) in the face of a national emergency, nuclear war in particular. This topic is difficult enounh due to its scope, but he also thoroughly manages to cover six decades post World War II.

Ms. Weinberger tells the story of the Department of Defense (DoD) Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Many people simply associate ARPA with “The Internet,” but ARPA’s history and contributions are much broader than that. Her description of ARPA’s role in the Vietnam War is especially enlightening, further showing how wrong things went.

ARPA held the charter for America’s first attempt at ballistic missile defense: Project DEFENDER. Reading about Project DEFENDER reminded me about a series of National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM) written during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. These memoranda document key decisions and directives made by the president and the national security staff. Several of these memoranda assign the “highest national priority,” DX, to certain defense-related projects. Project DEFENDER is one of those assignees (NSAM-191).

DX priority (also known as “BRICK-BAT”) was created by the Defense Production Act (DPA) of 1955. David Bell, directory of the Bureau of the Budget in the Kennedy administration, wrote an excellent, concise summary of the importance and practical significance of DX priority:

“This national priority rating system was established in 1955 primarily for the purpose of alleviating development and production bottlenecks for major national projects of the greatest urgency. … This indication aids any project which is assigned the DX rating in matters such as: The assignment of the most highly quality personnel by contractors and government agencies; the scheduling of effort on the National Test Ranges; and in the competition for the allocation of all resources including financial support.” [David E. Bell, Memorandum for Mr. Bundy, “Request for DX Priority Rating for Project DEFENDER,” September 25, 1962.]

At the time, ten programs had DX priority:

  1. ATLAS weapon system and required construction
  2. TITAN weapon system and required construction
  3. MINUTEMAN (ICBM) weapon system and required construction
  4. POLARIS fleet ballistic missile weapon system (including Mariners I & II and submarines, submarine tenders and surveys)
  5. NIKE-ZEUS guided missile weapon system and required construction (research and development only)
  6. Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) including Project DEW DROP
  7. SAMOS (satellite-borne visual and ferret reconnaissance system)
  8. DISCOVERER (satellite guidance and recovery)
  9. MERCURY (manned satellite)
  10. SATURN booster vehicle (1,500,00 pound-thrust, clustered rocket engine)

All ten programs were key to the Cold War effort at that time: ICBMs, reconnaissance, and manned space flight. Taken together, these projects represented roughly 25 percent of the defense budget, leading Secretary of Defense McNamara to caution against overuse of the DX priority.

On September 23, 1963, President Kennedy signed NSAM-261 giving highest national priority (DX) to Project FOUR LEAVES. The White House diary for that day indicates that Project FOUR LEAVES is a military communication system. One of the enduring mysteries to this day is the exact system to which “Project FOUR LEAVES” refers.

One investigator, Robert Howard, claims that the White House Diary on the JFK library site describes FOUR LEAVES as a “military communication system.” (See “September 23, 1963,” if you can.) I have not been able to verify this personally due to a technical issue with the diary finding aid.

Reading Mr. Garrett’s book encouraged me to return to this mystery. We know from many different sources that the Kennedy administration was highly concerned about the vulnerability and survivability of the federal government under nuclear attack. I recommend the following resources about this subject as its scope is well beyond a blog post:

  • L. Wainstein, et al., “Study S-467 The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning, 1945-1972”, Institute for Defense Analyses, June 1975.
  • Thomas A. Sturm, “The Air Force and the Worldwide Military Command and Control System,” USAF Historical Division Liaison Office, August 1966.
  • David E. Pearson, “The World Wide Military Command and Control System: Evolution and Effectiveness,” Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, June 2000.
  • Bruce G. Blair, “Strategic Command and Control,” The Brookings Institution, 1985.

Given the nature of the projects with DX priority at that time, it is plausible to assert that Project FOUR LEAVES is a military communication system for command and control of nuclear war.

At first, I was inclined to think of the four leaves as the four major components of the National Military Command System. In February 1962, Secretary of Defense McNamara approved a National Military Command System (NMCS) consisting of four elements:

  1. The National Military Command Center (NMCC)
  2. The Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC) Site R
  3. The National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA)
  4. The National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP)

In October 1962, he issued a DoD directive on the World-Wide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) that included these elements. According to DoD Directive 5100.30, “Concept of Operations of the World-Wide Military Command and Control System”, 16 October 1962:

The NMCS is the priority component of the WWMCCS designed to support the National Command Authorities (NCA) in the exercise of their responsibilities. It also supports the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the exercise of their responsibilities.

The NCA consists only of the President and the Secretary of Defense or their duly deputized alternates or successors. The chain of command runs through the President to the Secretary of Defense and through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the commanders of the Unified and Specified Commands.

By October 1962, these elements were well-established and the development of AUTOVON with its hardened sites was underway. The list omits the (then) highly secret government Mount Weather relocation site (also called “HIGH POINT” or euphemistically, the “Special Facility.”) There is a big difference in the secrecy attached to AUTOVON vs. HIGH POINT. The latter is rarely mentioned or discussed in Kennedy era memoranda even by its euphemistic name.

One needs to consider the strategic situation at the time. American assets were increasingly threatened by land- and submarine-based Soviet ICBMs. Warning time and reaction time was, at best, fifteen minutes, making it unlikely that the president could make it safely to the most survivable NMCS element, NEACP. The leadership also feared pre-placement of nuclear devices cutting warning and reaction time to zero. Given the small number of leadership nodes and short warning time, I cannot overemphasize the acute danger and probability of a successful decapitation strike against the highest levels of the American govenment (the NCA). The American leadership was aware of this vulnerability and feared it.

The only practical recourse was to increase redundancy, to preposition successors and delegates, and to make targeting more difficult for the Soviets. (Compounding the problem was the inadequacy of laws governing succession. This was before the 25th Amendment and makes for an interesting analysis including constitutionality.) The government needed to increase the number of relocation sites, to provide communication between sites and established command nodes, to provide the means to identify a lawful presidential successor, and to provide the means of issuing an emergency war order (EWO).

Thus, I’ve come to believe that FOUR LEAVES refers to the AT&T “Project Offices” as described in Mr. Grass’s book. In addition to AUTOVON, AT&T were contracted to design and construct five highly secret, hardened bunkers:

  • A site to support the ANMCC (Site R).
  • A site to support HIGH POINT.
  • A relocation site in Virginia, south of the D.C. relocation arc.
  • A deep relocation site in North Carolina.
  • A relay station between the relocation site in Virginia and the deep site in North Carolina.

The sites were linked by a troposcatter radio system. AUTOVON, by way of comparison, was interconnected by coaxial cable and microwave communications. The Project Office sites are often conflated with AUTOVON, but this confusion is likely intentional in order to provide cover for the Project Office construction and locations.

As a system, an important likely goal was continuing communication with the most survivable element of NMCS, NEACP. NEACP’s duty was to orbit at the eastern end of the Post Attack Command and Control System (PACCS). The EWO issued by the NCA aboard NEACP would be sent via multiple air-to-air and ground channels to bases and missile fields in the American mid-west. NEACP’s orbital area is determined by its ability to inject the EWO via air-to-air and air-to-ground links, and by its ability to avoid and survive a Soviet barrage attack. Thus, NEACP needs a large area well-outside of the D.C. relocation arc which, quite frankly, would be an unimaginable thermonuclear horror during an attack.

The relocation site in North Carolina was the southern terminus of the chain. Local folklore describes the buried structure as several stories tall — much bigger than the one- or two-story cut and cover bunkers used by AUTOVON. Very likely, this site, known by locals as “Big Hole,” was a major emergency leadership node. Survival of this site and its peers depended upon absolute secrecy.

Is this analysis proof that Project FOUR LEAVES is the AT&T relocation project? No, but it does point in that direction. If FOUR LEAVES is the construction of the five Project Office sites, DX priority would compel AT&T to give highest priority to personnel, equipment, material and schedule above AUTOVON. Given the acute danger of nuclear decapitation, time was of the essence.

What of the five Project Office sites today? The relay station (Spears Mountain 5, Virginia) has been shut down. It is now the private property of its homeowner. (You Tube video) Troposcatter radio is no longer needed, supplanted by the redundancy and higher bandwidth of fiber optic networks and satellite communication. “Big Hole” has been mothballed.

The site in Virginia near Mount Weather is now a site of controversy. AT&T applied for a permit to construct a “data center” on the site. The permit was publicly contested and AT&T stopped the project (Project Aurelia) when publicity became too great. See the Loudoun County Council and Loudoun Now for additional information.

Peters Mountain remains in operation.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Pocket Miku pictures

Thanks very much to our friends at japan24net on eBay! They did a superb job of packing and Pocket Miku arrived at our house in record time. どうもありがとうございました

Now, the obligatory pictures! Please click on the images for higher resolution. Front:

The back:

With the rear cover off:

And finally, the money shot:

That looks like a 12.000 MHz crystal. Sorry, I didn’t have time to work through the data sheet and compute the CPU clock frequency. (96MHz maximum)

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

THAT Corporation

No, not the pronoun.

Just want to give a shout out to a local company which makes audio ICs for the professional equipment market: THAT Corporation of Milford, MA. They manufacture a line of integrated circuits including:

  • Balanced Line Receivers
  • Preamplifiers
  • Digital Microphone Preamplifier Sets
  • Digitally Programmable Gain Controllers
  • OutSmarts® Balanced Line Drivers
  • Analog Engine® Dynamics Processors
  • Blackmer® Voltage Controlled Amplifiers

ICs are available through Mouser Electronics.

Sparkfun has just announced balanced line input and output breakout boards using THAT ICs: balanced audio input and balanced audio output. Gotta keep these in mind for future projects!

If you’re a pedal DIY’er, be sure to check out THAT’s Pedal Page, too.

Round and round they go

Here’s a couple of new products to be announced at NAMM 2017.

The first product is a rotary speaker system that doesn’t use any rotating elements. It’s the Moon Amplification Skamp®.


The Skamp® has nine transducers in total: six speakers and four horns. There are two speakers and one horn per side. The DSP models a the physical movement of sound around a room by shooting the audio out each side in a round-robin fashion.


This design is a real head-slapper. Why didn’t someone think of it before? Kudos. I haven’t seen a retail price as yet.

If you want more info, you can check out the U.S. Patent:

Apparatus and Method for a Celeste in an Electronically-Orbited Speaker
US patent number: 9,286,863
Publication date: March 15, 2016
Inventor: Nancy Diane Moon

BTW, if you live in the USA, patent law does not allow “personal use.” So, forget about building this one in your backyard!

In the Something Red category, check out the Rock’N’Rolla junior briefcase turntable. You can get these guys in black, white, and teal, too. All set to spin your 33s, 45s and 78s.


The Rock’N’Rolla drew out a moment of nostalgia — the first time I ever heard Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze. In 1967, I was playing in a Motown, Soul, Top 40s garage band. The guy who was our erstwhile manager came rushing in and, breathing hard, said, “You’ve got to hear this!”

Being dirt poor teens, nobody had a working record player. The only player that could spin a record had a busted amplifier. So, we put the 45 on the player, turned it on, put our ears next to the tone arm, and listened to the needle scratch out “Purple Haze” unamplified.

I didn’t get a chance to cover “Purple Haze” until I moved on to the psychedelic band — which still covered a few Motown tunes lest we got our butts kicked. Cleveland, 1967.

Won’t be long, yeah!

Winter NAMM 2017 starts in two weeks (January 19). As usual, we gear freaks can’t wait to get our annual new product fix!

Roland jumped the field and announced a few new products at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). They appear to be rolling out a new consumer-oriented product line, “GO:”, for amateur musicians and music makers.

Roland announced two new keyboards for beginning players: the GO:KEYS (G-61K and G-61KL) and the GO:PIANO. Both products target the entry-level market currently dominated by Yamaha and Casio. This is a smart business move as the entry-level segment moves a lot of units and offerings in this segment have been getting stale. Here are estimated USA sales statistics for 2014 in the “portable keyboard” segments:

    Category                       Units            Retail value
    -----------------------------  ---------------  -------------
    Portable keyboards under $199    656,000 units  $ 64,000,000
    Portable keyboards over $199     350,000 units  $123,000,000
    Total portable keyboards       1,006,000 units  $187,000,000

    (Source: NAMM)

Unit volume is high, but price and margins are razor thin. Keyboards in the “under $199” category are sold mainly in big box stores, not musical instrument retailers. So, it will be interesting to see where the new Roland keyboards are sold.

The GO:KEYS is most similar to an entry-level arranger keyboard. Estimated street price is $299. Roland is selling two models: a model with Bluetooth support and a model without. Probably depends on their ability to get RF type acceptance in a country or region. The GO:KEYS claims General MIDI 2 (GM2) support among 500 “pro-quality” sounds. The GM2 tone set consists of 256 melodic instruments and nine drum kits. I produced quite a few decent backing tracks using the Roland GM2 sound set on its RD-300GX stage piano. If Roland adopted this set, then the GO:KEYS should sound pretty decent (at least through external monitors rather than its internal speakers). No manual yet so it’s hard to say specifically what other sounds are included. Even if they recycled some chestnuts from the old JV/XP/XV, there is hope.


The Roland GO:PIANO is, ta-da, a portable piano. This product has the Yamaha Piaggero line in its cross-hairs. The estimated street price is $329. Again, no manual, so it’s hard to assess the feature set. Pricing on both products places them at the higher end of the entry-level market. The inclusion of Bluetooth support at this price point is a significant differentiator.


Both the GO:KEYS and GO:PIANO are battery powered (six AA batteries) in addition to an AC adapter. Both products use one-off fixed field LCD text and graphics like the lower cost Yamaha and Casio models. The key beds look decent, but we will have to play them in order to assess feel and quality. At least the keys are full size — not mini-keys, thank you.

If the Roland sounds are indeed up to snuff, Roland may be able to take sales away from Yamaha and Casio. Yamaha has been coasting with its entry-level sound set for over a decade and the recent PSR-E453 refresh did little to rejuvenate the entry-level segment. It will be interesting to see if Roland can win sales and spur innovation at the low end.

The GO:MIXER is positioned as an audio mixer for your mobile phone. It is USB powered, however, with no battery option. The GO:MIXER has guitar, microphone, instrument and media player inputs with associated mixing level control. There is a stereo monitor output as well as a “center cancel” feature. The estimated street price is $99USD.


Although Roland promote it for video production, I could see musicians using the GO:MIXER for a quick mix in the field. It certainly has enough inputs that a small group of pals could plug in and jam away.

Aw, shucks.

It’s nice to get recognition for your work especially when it’s unexpected.

This week the littleBits project page is featuring my Arduino tone sequencer project. This is a good project for people just starting out with the littleBits Arduino and sound. Not very much hardware is absolutely required — just a littleBits Arduino, a power module and a synth speaker module.

littleBits is building an on-line community of builders, coders and inventors. They want to make hardware and software technology accessible to as many people as possible. This is a terrific goal and something that I believe in as well. It’s the main reason for this site, too.

If you build a project with littleBits, I encourage you to add your project to their site. Click on the “Upload your invention” button on their project page and the site takes you to a user interface (UI) that guides you through the process of uploading your invention. The UI puts your project into a standard project format. You are free to add as much or as little to your project page. I had the most success (and fun) with the new UI which littleBits are introducing.

Helpful hint: Browse a few of the existing projects before entering one of your own. Get an idea of the kind of information that is published on a project page. Create a rough draft in a text editor. Being prepared let’s you concentrate on learning the ins and outs of the UI without worrying about content at the same time.

My project page at the littleBits site provides just enough information to get rolling. The tone sequencer project page on this site provides more information about the software design and it has links to the latest code. (Yeah, I do update things when I find bugs.)

I’m using this project as a base for a more advanced tone sequencer that generates envelope trigger and filter modulation signals. The advanced sequencer integrates the Arduino with littleBits synth modules. Stay tuned!

NAND flash data retention

In my previous post, I raised the issue of NAND flash data retention. Even though vendors describe NAND flash memory as “non-volatile,” data can and will eventually be lost. The issue is “When?”

If this question peeks your interest — and it should — please read the Spansion Practical Guide to Endurance and Data Retention . This is a very well-written, easy-to-read white paper.

Basically, reprogrammable non-volatile memory is rated for endurance and data retention. Endurance is the number of sector erase operations that may be performed before failure. Erase operations are performed on a sector basis (i.e., not per-byte or per-bit.) Software can alleviate this problem by distributing erasures evenly across sectors, marking out failed sectors, data refresh, etc.

The Spansion 8Gbit NAND flash device (Spansion S34ML08G1) is rated for 100,000 erasures. Fortunately, we don’t write (and thereby erase) locations in wave memory very often. Further, we don’t write (erase) locations in voice, performance, pattern, etc. memory very often either. (Please don’t forget that user data is often stored in reprogrammable non-volatile memory, too!) As given in the table in the Spansion article, you could write (erase) a sector every 53 minutes (average erase frequency) or 27 times per day and still attain a 10 year device lifetime.

Data retention is the period of time for which data are reliably retained and retrieved. Data retention is affected by “temperature and voltage, electrostatic environment,
exposure to radiation, cumulative erase cycles, etc.” That’s right, data retention decreases with the number of erase cycles, too. Erasure introduces minute defects into memory cell structure and these defects accumulate. Fortunately, again, we’re looking at relatively low erasure frequency for wave and user data memory.

Quoting the article, “Spansion single-bit-per-cell floating-gate flash devices are designed to provide 20 years of data retention after initial programming when exposed to a 55°C environment.” Data retention time is 10 years when the cumulative erase cycles per sector is 1,000 erasures or less.

So, should you worry that your synth or arranger workstation will lose its contents? Probably not. I would worry more about pressing the wrong button at the wrong time and accidentally losing my work! (You are backed up? Right?) However, as a manufacturer, I would definitely anticipate some data failures in the long run and have a means to restore original factory programming through a field service program. The PSR/Tyros products, for example, do a quick wave memory self-check at start-up. One or two such failures have been reported on the PSR Forum. Presumably, the memory devices can be replaced and reflashed by a qualified service technician.

Sleep tight, but don’t forget to back up your data. Overall, you are your own worst enemy when it comes to data loss!

Yamaha MOX6: Retrospective

Yamaha are inviting MOX/MOXF owners to sign up for interview sessions about their experience with the MOX/MOXF series instruments. Participants must fill out a pre-interview survey. I decided to sign up and just completed the pre-interview survey. (It’s not too different from the recent public Motif/MOX customer survey, BTW.) This got me thinking about playing, programming and using the MOX6 and I realized that I have never posted retrospective comments about the MOX6. So, here goes.

The MOX6 is currently my “go to” keyboard for live performance. I like the portability of the MOX6 (a major pre-sales consideration) and take it to my weekly church gig. The MOX6 replaced my previous go to keyboard, the Roland XP-60.

Our church group plays a wide spectrum of liturgical music. About one third of our repertoire is “soft pop”, one third is “contemporary classical,” and the remaining third is split between Gospel and traditional church music. I use sounds that range from soft pads, to strings, to classical woodwinds, to B-3 and pipe organ. That’s a lot of sonic territory and the MOX6 does a good job covering it. I would definitely recommend the MOX6 and its younger sisters in the MOXF series.

I have two banks of Voice Mode patches. I rarily, if ever, use Performance Mode or Master Mode live. The 16 voices in each bank are the sounds that I rely on for 95% of the repertoire. Sounds in the Favorites Category handle the remaining 5% of the tunes. I need to make quick voice changes while playing and the next sound I need is only one button press away. This is great!

There is one major downside to changing voices. The MOX6 cuts off the notes being played with the current voice when the next voice is selected (i.e., when the voice selection button is pressed). This is really bad. For example, I might be playing and holding a string pad at the end of a verse while selecting the voice for an upcoming solo. Nothing shouts “Phony” like a string section that gets turned off like a light switch!

I use quite a few classical instruments such as oboe, French horn, string section and brass. Generally, these instrument sounds are very good. The classical flute, however, could use some work. I would love to have Super Articulation voices come to the MOX/MOXF series. Yes, yes, I know I can program my own SA-like voices using Extended Articulation (XA), but SA and SA2 voices are so darned playable and expressive right out of the box. I wonder how many musicians have either the technical expertise or time to program SA-like voices? Providing the tools to make an SA-like voice is good, but it is really only part of Yamaha’s job. Yamaha’s sound designers are much better and clever than we are.

I generally don’t use factory voices. At the very least, I reduce the effect levels to get a cleaner sound for the natural acoustic environment of the church. I also build a set of layered voices (e.g., horns+woods, flute+clarinet) that I’ve come to depend upon over the years. Deep voice editing is essential.

I realize that I could create layers using Performance Mode and then select either voices or performances through Master Mode. Voice Mode layers may be a case of personal inertia although it means that I do not need to learn or deal with Master Mode. Yeah, laziness could be at play, here.

Quite a bit of repertoire is Gospel-inspired or flat out Gospel. That means B-3 organ. The MOX6 organ is sample-based, not modeled. I have several go to patches that have “my B-3 sound”. These patches use the Assignable Function (AF) buttons to bring in additional footages. The assignable foot pedal controls the rotary speaker speed. By and large, this gets the job done.

I still own and play a Nord Electro 2 (NE2). Ideally, I would have both the MOX6 and NE2 at the gig. Unfortunately, I do not have much time to set up and tear down, plus there is the added schlep factor of a second keyboard. I genuinely miss being able to play the drawbars. The NE2 rotary speaker effect is more visceral than the MOX6 rotary speaker effect even though the NE2 is an older and less current keyboard. Kicking the Leslie on the NE2 lights up faces; the MOX6, not so much. I hope that Yamaha migrates the Reface YC technology and controllability into the Motif/MOX workstations. We desperately need “scanner vibrato” emulation and rotary speaker improvements are always welcome. I would love to see the next Yamaha workstation threaten B-3 clones.

Speaking of organs, the MOX6 pipe organ is weak. It sounds fine on its own for relatively mellow organ pieces. Unfortunately, the sound gets lost in the rest of our ensemble (especially when we have two 12-string guitars drenching the spectrum). The Yamaha synth engineers need to visit the folks that produced the Church Organ expansion pack for the S-series arrangers or the folks who created the Tyros Organ World. These are some pretty fine pipe organs!

My other main use for the MOX is producing styles for the PSR/Tyros arrangers. The Motif/MOX series have a wonderful, built-in library of musical phrases (arpeggios). The factory performances (based on the library phrases) are well-programmed and are darned fun to play. Occasionally, a comment will pop up on a user forum wishing that the MOX was more “arranger like” with auto fill-in, etc.

This user-want prompted me to translate and create PSR/Tyros styles from MOX performances. I use Performance Record to put down the patterns for the four main tracks in the style and write the result to a Standard MIDI File (SMF). I transfer the SMF to a PC-based DAW (SONAR) where I insert the markers, program change, and effect selection MIDI messages for the style. Finally, I use a few of the third party tools available on the Web to insert proprietary style-specific information (e.g., the CASM and/or OTS sections) into the style file. The end result is a performance that plays like a style — on the target arranger, of course.

I enjoy this kind of “content creation” as much as playing. (This feeling should be plain from the posts and content on this site.) Each activity exercises different parts of my brain. I also get to explore the funkier, jazzier corners of my cranium.

One thing that is clear in either the synth or arranger user communities, is that people want to be able to add new musical content like phrases (arpeggios) or styles. A musician can create an MOX6 arpeggio, but this process is not for the faint of heart. Nor is this process at all efficient when a new “full” performance needs 24 new arpeggios! Future workstations should have an easier path for adding new user phrases.

The Motif/MOX Performance Editor app for iPad is a real boon for creating performances. This app lets me pull together a set of arpeggios in a user friendly and fun way. I would really miss this app because the MOX display is rather small and sometimes crowded. There is also a well-known learning curve when it comes to navigating the screens, menus and buttons. The app recreates much of the information and control implemented in the Motif series with its larger screen. (I have tried editing through the Motif screen recently and it is much better than the MOX. You get what you pay for.)

Performance Record is a great feature for song creation. Once learned, one can work really work fast. Currently, the musician switches arpeggios using the special function (SF) buttons below the display. The position of the buttons makes for awkward gestures when recording. It’s much easier to switch sections on an arranger where the buttons are located at the bottom left just above the keyboard. Perhaps synth workstations need a (programmable) row of buttons just above the keyboard, too.

My work process produces an SMF that I transfer to PC via USB flash drive. Clearly, I’m not using the DAW integration features of the MOX6. I think the market has passed by this aspect of the MOX6. There are many inexpensive MIDI controllers (like the Korg Taktile) that have a larger number of programmable buttons, sliders, knobs and pads. Further, these controllers integrate with DAWs like Ableton Live and are not focused on Cubase. If the DAW features were removed from the MOX6, I wouldn’t miss them. (I’m currently learning Ableton Live and use a Korg Triton Taktile as a controller.)

The MOX6 has been ultra reliable. Many people complain about “plastic synths.” The MOX has been robust enough although I try not to handle it too roughly. (Good advice for any electronics.) Metal may be reassuring, but that sense of security is heavy! I schlep the MOX6 at least once a week and often move it in and out of my studio. I like its light weight. The only reliability concern has been making sure that the AC adapter plug cannot be pulled out during performance. I usually wrap the power chord around the keyboard stand once or twice.

Overall, I’m a satisfied customer. I purchased the MOX6 approximately one year before the release of the MOXF series. MOXF features that I would appreciate are the additional options for assigning the knobs and the sample expansion memory. I purchased the PSR-S950 knowing that I could expand its sound set through its expansion memory and that its Church Organ expansion pack is first rate. If I had a MOXF, I would add pipe organ samples/voices. (BTW, I created and distribute a “scat voice” expansion pack for the S750/S950.)

I really enjoy playing the MOX6! Since I skipped the MOXF, I’m keenly interested in the next generation of Yamaha synth workstations.

How to import new MIDI phrases into MMS

The Yamaha Mobile Music Sequencer (MMS) app for iPad is a fun tool, but it cannot import MIDI files or new musical phrases. This limits its real-world usefulness. One way to import MIDI is to slave MMS to another sequencer and play MIDI track by track into MMS. If your goal is new phrases for remixing or composition, you then face the laborious task of cutting, pasting and editing new phrases. Overall, this process involves a lot of manual work!

I just finished experimenting with a backdoor method for importing new MIDI-based musical phrases into MMS. See this page for all of the gory details.

MMS phrases are stored in Apple binary property list files (plist) with the “yms2” extension. The Apple plutil tool prints plist file contents and converts a plist file between XML and binary form. The XML provides a way into the guts of a phrase file and lets you change phrase properties or, ta da!, replace the MIDI data with your own MIDI data. The MIDI data in the binary yms2 file is a Standard MIDI File (SMF). The MIDI data must be encoded in base64 text format when working with XML. Fortunately, there are plenty of base64 conversion tools available on the web.

Once you have a new yms2 file in hand, use Apple iCloud or iTunes file sharing to transfer the yms2 file to your iPad and MMS. Be patient, though. Sync’ing is not instantaneous and it may take several minutes for the phrase file to make its way into MMS.

As a test, I converted the main and fill sections of the PSR-S950 “Jazz Funk” style to 60 (!) new MMS phrases in yms2 format. As Lou would say, here’s your sweet taste. The ZIP file decompresses into 60 phrase files with the “yms2” extension. Through iCloud, you’ll need to transfer these files to the mobile documents folder belonging to MMS. When you launch MMS, it will import the new files and update its internal catalog of phrases.

Giving DetroitBeat “Soul”

I decided to have another go at Yamaha audio style conversion. This time I converted the PSR-S950 “DetroitBeat” audio style to an all-MIDI style called “DetroitSoul”. The name “DetroitSoul” seemed appropriate since most of the MIDI rhythm parts are taken from the Yamaha preset style “Soul”.

The conversion process was a little different.

  • Load DetroitBeat to set up the mixing console and the DSP effects.
  • Enter Style Creator and create a new style. Turn off the audio part.
  • Copy all non-rhythm parts from the MAIN and FILL IN sections of DetroitBeat into the new style.
  • Identify candidate donor styles for the MIDI rhythm parts. The “Soul” and “MotorCity” styles sounded the best (e.g., similar groove, no conflicting beats, etc.)
  • Audition the candidate MAIN and FILL IN sections. “Soul” was the best fit.
  • Copy the RHY1 and RHY2 parts from “Soul” into the new style (DetroitSoul).
  • Build a table of possible donor styles for the INTRO and ENDING sections.
  • Audition donor INTRO and ENDING sections which have the same length as the INTRO and ENDING sections in DetroitBeat.
  • Copy the donor INTRO and ENDING sections into the new style.
  • Double check and fix up the variation effect (DSP1).
  • Copy the OTS settings for DetroitBeat into the new style.

The process was smooth, but still required a lot of button pressing!

Here is a table with INTRO and ENDING section lengths. This table could come in handy when converting other audio styles to MIDI.

Section   DetroitBeat  Soul  MotorCity  FranklySoul  70sChartSoul
-------   -----------  ----  ---------  -----------  ------------
INTRO 1        1        (1)      1           1            1
INTRO 2        4        (4)     (4)          5            4
INTRO 3        8         4      (8)          8            8
INTRO 4        1         1       1           1            1

ENDING 1       2         1      (2)          2            2
ENDING 2       5         3       3           2            3
ENDING 3       5         4      (5)          4            4
ENDING 4       1        (1)      1           1            1

The parenthesized items in the table indicate the source rhythm sections that were copied to the new style. Please note that nothing was copied into ENDING 2. I couldn’t find an appropriate replacement and the ending sounded good enough by itself. Sometimes the right thing to do as a musician is lay out!

ENDING 3 ran on a little too long and the extraneous beats sounded like the drummer made a mistake. I shortened the section length to 4 bars.

DSP1 is configured as a SYSTEM variation effect. Here are the effect settings and parameters:

Category: REAL DIST
Effect: ST AMP VT

COMP SW          ON
COMP LEVEL       6.0
DIST TYPE        Crunch
DIST DRIVE       7.8
DIST EQ          Mid Boost
DIST TONE        7.0 

Overall, the end result is musical. The Soul beat is not quite the classic Motown groove. (Think “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” by the Four Tops.) I have a few phrases from the old Yamaha QY70 that might fit and someday I’ll look into it. In the meantime, enjoy the new style DetroitSoul.