MICHAEL CRICHTON: WHY POLITICIZED SCIENCE IS DANGEROUS

This is the second blog post with an excerpt from Michael Crichton’s 2004 bestseller “State Of Fear”. This time, I have reprinted the first Appendix of the book, which is titled “Why Politicized Science Is Dangerous”. While Crichton takes aim at the politicization of the Global Warming movement (since then rebranded as Climate Change), I feel that his observations apply to the COVID-19 pandemic as well. I hope to address that in a separate blog post soon, or include my thoughts on that here as an addendum. I truly hope the following will offer fresh perspective to those who seek it.

Imagine that there is a new scientific theory that warns of an impending crisis, and points to a way out.

This theory quickly draws support from leading scientists, politicians, and celebrities around the world. Research is funded by distinguished philanthropies, and carried out at prestigious universities. The crisis is reported frequently in the media. The science is taught in college and high school classrooms.

I don’t mean global warming. I’m talking about another theory, which rose to prominence a century ago.

Its supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. It was approved by Supreme Court justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, who ruled in its favor.The famous who supported it included Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; activist Margaret Sanger; botanist Luther Burbank; Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University; the novelist H.G. Wells; the playwright George Bernard Shaw; and hundreds of others. Nobel Prize winners gave support. Research was backed by the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations. The Cold Springs Harbor Institute was built to carry out this research, but important work was also done at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins. Legislation to address this crisis was passed in states from New York to California.

These efforts had the support of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the National Research Council. It was said that if Jesus were alive, he would have supported this effort.

All in all, the research, legislation, and molding of public opinion surrounding the theory went on for almost half a century. Those who opposed the theory were shouted down and called reactionary, blind to reality, or just plain ignorant. But in hindsight, what is surprising is that so few people objected.

Today, we know that this famous theory that gained so much support was actually pseudoscience. The crisis it claimed was nonexistent. And the actions taken in the name of this theory were morally and criminally wrong. Ultimately, they led to the deaths of millions of people.

The theory was eugenics, and its history so dreadful -and, to those who were caught up in it, so embarrassing- that it is now rarely discussed. But it is a story that should be well known to every citizen, so that its horrors are not repeated.

The theory of eugenics postulated a crisis of the gene pool leading to the deterioration of the human race. The best human beings were not breeding as rapidly as the inferior ones -the foreigners, immigrants, Jews, degenerates, the unfit, and the “feeble minded’. Francis Galton, a respected British scientist, first speculated about this area, but his ideas were taken far beyond anything he intended. they were adopted by science-minded Americans, as well as those who had no interest in science but who were worried about the immigration of inferior races early in the twentieth century -“dangerous human pests” who represented “the rising tide of imbeciles” and who were polluting the best of the human race.

The eugenicists and the immigrationists joined forces to put a stop to this. The plan was to identify individuals who were feeble-minded -Jews were agreed to be largely feeble-minded, but so were many foreigners, as well as blacks- and stop them from breeding by isolation in institutions or by sterilization.

As Margaret Sanger said, “Fostering the good-for-nothing at the expense of the good is extreme cruelty…there is no greater curse to posterity than that of bequeathing them an increasing population of imbeciles.” She spoke of the burden of caring for “this dead weight of human waste.”
Such views were widely shared. H.G. Wells spoke against “ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens.” Theodore Roosevelt said that “Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.” Luther Burbank: “Stop permitting criminals and weaklings to reproduce.” George Bernard Shaw said that only eugenics could save mankind.
There was overt racism in this movement, exemplified by texts such as The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, by American author Lothrop Stoddard. But, at the time, racism was considered an unremarkable aspect of the effort to attain a marvelous goal -the improvement of humankind in the future. It was this avant-garde notion that attracted the most liberal and progressive minds of a generation. California was one of twenty-nine American states to pass laws allowing sterilization, but it proved the most forward-looking and enthusiastic -more sterilizations were carried out in California than anywhere else in America.
Eugenics research was funded by the Carnegie Foundation, and later by the Rockefeller Foundation. The latter was so enthusiastic that even after the center of the eugenics effort moved to Germany, and involved the gassing of individuals from mental institutions, the Rockefeller Foundation continued to finance German researchers at a very high level. (The foundation was quiet about it, but they were still funding research in 1939, only months before the onset of World War II.)

Since the 1920s, American eugenicists had been jealous because the Germans had taken leadership of the movement away from them. The Germans were admirably progressive. they set up ordinary-looking houses where “mental defectives” were brought and interviewed one at a time, before being led into a back room, which was, in fact, a gas chamber. There, they were gassed with carbon monoxide, and their bodies disposed of in a crematorium located on the property.
Eventually, this program was expanded into a vast network of concentration camps located near railroad lines, enabling the efficient transport and killing of ten million undesirables.

After World War II, nobody was a eugenicist, and nobody had ever been a eugenicist. Biographers of the celebrated and the powerful did not dwell on the attractions of this philosophy to their subjects, and sometimes did not mention it at all. Eugenics ceased to be a subject for college classrooms, although some argue that its ideas continue to have currency in disguised form.

But in retrospect, three points stand out. First, despite the construction of Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, despite the efforts at universities and the pleadings of lawyers, there was no scientific basis for eugenics. In fact, nobody at that time knew what a gene really was. The movement was able to proceed because it employed vague terms never rigorously defined. “Feeble-mindedness” could mean anything from poverty and illiteracy to epilepsy. Similarly, there was no clear definition of “degenerate” or “unfit”.
Second, the eugenics movement was really a social program masquerading as a scientific one. what drove it was concern about immigration and racism and undesirable people moving into one’s neighborhood or country. Once again, vague terminology helped conceal what was really going on.
Third, and most distressing, the scientific establishment in both the United States and Germany did not mount any sustained protest. Quite the contrary. In Germany scientists quickly fell into line with the program. Modern German researchers have gone back to review Nazi documents from the 1930s. They expected to find directives telling scientists what research should be done. But none were necessary. In the words of Ute Deichman, “Scientists, including those who were not members of the [Nazi] party, helped to get funding for their work through their modified behavior and direct cooperation with the state.” Deichman speaks of the “active role of scientists themselves in regard to Nazi race policy…where [research] was aimed at confirming the racial doctrine…no external pressure can be documented.” German scientists adjusted their research interests to the new policies. And those few who did not adjust disappeared.

A second example of politicized science is quite different in character, but it exemplifies the hazards of government ideology controlling the work of science, and of uncritical media promoting false concepts. Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was a self-promoting peasant who, it was said, “solved the problem of fertilizing the fields without fertilizers and minerals.” In 1928 he claimed to have invented a procedure called vernalization, by which seeds were moistened and chilled to enhance the later growth of crops.
Lysenko’s methods never faced a rigorous test, but his claim that his treated seeds passed on their characteristics to the next generation represented a revival of Lamarckian ideas at a time when the rest of the world was embracing Mendelian genetics. Josef Stalin was drawn to Lamarckian ideas, which implied a future unbounded by hereditary constraints; he also wanted improved agricultural production. Lysenko promised both, and became the darling of a Soviet media that was on the lookout for stories about clever peasants who had developed revolutionary procedures.
Lysenko was portrayed as a genius, and he milked his celebrity for all it was worth. He was especially skillful at denouncing his opponents. He used questionnaires from farmers to prove that vernalization increased crop yields, and thus avoided any direct tests. Carried on a wave of state-sponsored enthusiasm, his rise was rapid. By 1937, he was a member of the Supreme Soviet.
By then, Lysenko and his theories dominated Russian biology. The result was famines that killed millions, and purges that sent hundreds of dissenting Soviet scientists to the gulags or firing squads. Lysenko was aggressive in attacking genetics, which was finally banned as “bourgeois pseudo-science” in 1948. There was never any basis for Lysenko’s ideas, yet he controlled Soviet research for thirty years. Lysenkoism ended in the 1960s, but Russian biology has still not entirely recovered from that era.

Now we are engaged in a great new theory, that once again has drawn the support of politicians, scientists, and celebrities around the world. Once again, the theory is promoted by major foundations. Once again, the research is carried out at prestigious universities. Once again, legislation is passed and social programs are urged in its name. Once again, critics are few and harshly dealt with.
Once again, the measures being urged have little basis in fact or science. Once again, groups with other agendas are hiding behind a movement that appears high-minded. Once again, claims of moral superiority are used to justify extreme actions. Once again, the fact that some people are hurt is shrugged off because an abstract cause is said to be greater than any human consequences. Once again, vague terms like sustainability and generational justice -terms that have no agreed definition- are employed in the service of a new crisis.

I am not arguing that global warming is the same as eugenics. But the similarities are not superficial. And I do claim that open and frank discussion of the data, and of the issues, is being suppressed. Leading scientific journals have taken strong editorial positions on the side of global warming, which, I argue, they have no business doing. Under the circumstances, any scientist who has doubts understands clearly that they will be wise to mute their expression.

One proof of this suppression is the fact that so many of the outspoken critics of global warming are retired professors. These individuals are no longer seeking grants, and no longer have to face colleagues whose grant applications and career advancement may be jeopardized by their criticisms.
In science, the old men are usually wrong. But in politics, the old men are wise, counsel caution, and in the end are often right.

The past history of human belief is a cautionary tale. We have killed thousands of our fellow human beings because we believed they had signed a contract with the devil, and had become witches. We still kill more than a thousand people each year for witchcraft. In my view, there is only one hope for humankind to emerge from what Carl Sagan called “the demon-haunted world” of our past. That hope is science.
But as Alston Chase put it, “when the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.”
That is the danger we now face. And that is why the inter-mixing of science and politics is a bad combination, with a bad history. We must remember history, and be certain that what we present to the world as knowledge is disinterested and honest.

In addition, I’d like to offer up one paragraph of the Author’s Message in that book, which precedes the Appendix reprinted above. Crichton makes several other astute observations, but I feel this one in particular merits further scrutiny in light of the “misinformation” and censorship that has surrounded the COVID-19 pandemic.

We desperately need a nonpartisan, blinded funding mechanism to conduct research to determine appropriate policy. Scientists are only too aware whom they are working for. Those who fund research -whether a drug company, a government agency, or an environmental organization- always have a particular outcome in mind. Research funding is almost never open-ended or open-minded. Scientists know that continued funding depends on delivering the results the funders desire. As a result, environmental organization “studies” are every bit as biased and suspect as industry “studies.” Government “studies” are similarly biased according to who is running the department or administration at the time. No faction should be given a free pass.

MICHAEL CRICHTON AND THE PLM

State of Fear by Michael Crichton | NOOK Book (eBook ...

I’d like to offer up and discuss an excerpt from Michael Crichton’s 2004 thriller “State of Fear”. Although a work of fiction, it was widely criticized for its controversial stance on climate change, and with all the noise another -equally important- aspect of the book was unfortunately overlooked: it exposes, criticizes, and condemns the politico-legal-media complex (PLM).

As much as the book offered a different perspective on climate change and its science, the part about the PLM really resonated with me, as it verbalized my own thoughts and feelings on the matter with startling clarity.

It does so through the fictional character of Professor Norman Hoffman, who has a long conversation with the book’s protagonist. I have edited that conversation into a monologue, stripped off the parts that are only relevant to the story, and what emerges is a remarkably astute assessment of today’s media landscape. Some of the references may seem a little dated, it’s from 2004 after all, but none of that invalidates the central argument.

PLM
If you study the media, seeking to find shifts in normative conceptualization, you discover something extremely interesting. We looked at transcripts of news programs of the major networks – NBC, ABC, CBS. We also looked at stories in the newspapers of New York, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle. We counted the frequency of certain concepts and terms used by the media. The results were striking.

There was a major shift in the fall of 1989. Before that time, the media did not make excessive use of terms such as crisis, catastrophe, cataclysm, plague, or disaster. For example, during the 1980s, the word crisis appeared in news reports about as often as the word budget. In addition, prior to 1989, adjectives such as dire, unprecedented, dreaded, were not common in television reports or newspaper headlines. But then it all changed.

These terms started to become more and more common. the word catastrophe was used five times more often in 1995 than it was in 1985. Its use doubled again by the year 2000. And the stories changed, too. There was a heightened emphasis on fear, worry, danger, uncertainty, panic.

“Why should it have changed in 1989?”

That’s a critical question. In most respects 1989 seemed like a normal year: a Soviet sub sank in Norway; Tiananmen Square in China; the Exxon Valdez; Salman Rushdie sentenced to death; Jane Fonda, Mike Tyson, and Bruce Springsteen all got divorced; the Episcopal Church hired a female bishop; Poland allowed striking unions; Voyager went to Neptune; a San Francisco earthquake flattened highways; and Russia, the US, France, and England all conducted nuclear tests. A year like any other.
But in fact the rise in the use of the term crisis can be located with some precision in the autumn of 1989. And it seemed suspicious that it should coincide so closely with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Which happened on November 9th of that year.

At first, we thought the association was spurious. But it wasn’t. The Berlin Wall marks the collapse of the Soviet empire. And the end of the Cold War that had lasted for half a century in the West.

This leads to the notion of social control. To the requirement of every sovereign state to exert control over the behavior of its citizens, to keep them orderly and reasonably docile. To keep them driving on the right side of the road- or the left, as the case may be. To keep them paying taxes. And of course we know that social control is best managed through fear.

For fifty years, Western nations had maintained their citizens in a state of perpetual fear. Fear of the other side. Fear of nuclear war. The Communist menace. The Iron Curtain. The Evil Empire. And within the Communist countries, the same in reverse. Fear of us.
Then, suddenly, in the fall of 1989, it was all finished. Gone, vanished. Over. The fall of the Berlin Wall created a vacuum of fear. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something had to fill it.

“Are you saying the environmental crises took the place of the Cold War?”

That is what the evidence shows. Of course, now we have radical fundamentalism and post-9/11 terrorism to make us afraid, and those are certainly real reasons for fear, but that is not the point. The point is, there is always cause for fear. The cause may change over time, but the fear is always with us. Before terrorism we feared the toxic environment. Before that we had the Communist menace. The point is, although the specific cause of our fear may change, we are never without fear itself. Fear pervades society in all its aspects. Perpetually.

Has it ever occurred to you how astonishing the culture of Western society really is? Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Average life spans increased fifty percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment.
They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can’t even see- germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful, and depressed. And even more amazingly, they are convinced that the environment of the entire planet is being destroyed around them. Remarkable! Like the belief in witchcraft, it’s an extraordinary delusion- a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell, and we must all live in fear.

How has this world view been instilled in everybody? Because although we imagine we live in different nations- France, Germany, Japan, the US- in fact, we inhabit exactly the same state, the State of Fear.


In the old days, citizens of the West believed their nation-states were dominated by something called the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower warned Americans against it in the 1960s, and after two world wars Europeans knew very well what it meant in their own countries. But the military-industrial complex is no longer the primary driver of society. In reality, for the last fifteen years we have been under control of an entirely new complex, far more powerful, and far more pervasive, the politico-legal-media complex. The PLM. And it is dedicated to promoting fear in the population- under the guise of promoting safety.

Western nations are fabulously safe. Yet people do not feel they are, because of the PLM. And the PLM is powerful and stable, precisely because it unites so many institutions of society. Politicians need fears to control the population. Lawyers need dangers to litigate, and make money. The media need scare stories to capture an audience. Together, these three estates are so compelling that they can go about their business even if the scare is totally groundless. If it has no basis in fact at all.

For example, breast implants were claimed to cause cancer and autoimmune diseases. Despite statistical evidence that this was not true, we saw high-profile news stories, high-profile lawsuits, high-profile political hearings. The manufacturer, Dow Corning, was hounded out of the business after paying $3.2 billion, and juries awarded huge cash payments to plaintiffs and their lawyers.
Four years later, definitive epidemiological studies showed beyond a doubt that breast implants did not cause disease. But by then the crisis had already served its purpose, and the PLM had moved on, a ravenous machine seeking new fears, new terrors. This is the way modern society works- by the constant creation of fear. And there is no countervailing force. There is no system of checks and balances, no restraint on the perpetual promotion of fear after fear after fear.

“Is that because we have freedom of speech, and freedom of press?”

That is the classic PLM answer. That’s how they stay in business. But if it is not all right to falsely shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, why is it all right to shout ‘Cancer!’ in the pages of The New Yorker? When that statement is not true? We’ve spent more than twenty-five billion dollars to clean up the phony power-line cancer claim.

Twenty-five billion dollars is more than the total GDP of the poorest fifty nations of the world combined. Half the world’s population lives on two dollars a day. So that twenty-five billion dollars would be enough to support thirty-four million people for a year. Or we could have helped all the people dying of AIDS in Africa. Instead, we piss it away on a fantasy published by a magazine whose readers take it very seriously. Trust it. It is a stupendous waste of money. In another world, it would be criminal waste. One could easily imagine another Nuremberg trial – this time for the relentless squandering of Western wealth on trivialities- and complete with pictures of the dead babies in Africa and Asia that result.

At the very least we are talking about a moral outrage. Thus we can expect our religious leaders and our great humanitarian figures to cry out against this waste and the needless deaths around the world that result. But do any religious leaders speak out? No. Quite the contrary, they join the chorus. They promote ‘What Would Jesus Drive?’ As if they have forgotten that what Jesus would drive is the false prophets and fearmongers out of the temple.

We are talking about a situation that is profoundly immoral. It is disgusting, if truth be told. The PLM callously ignores the plight of the poorest and most desperate human beings on our planet in order to keep fat politicians in office, rich news anchors on the air, and conniving lawyers in Mercedes-Benz convertibles. Oh, and university professors in Volvos. Let’s not forget them.

“How’s that? what does this have to do with university professors?”

The world has changed in the last fifty years. We now live in the knowledge society, the information society, whatever you want to call it. And it has had an enormous impact on our universities.
Fifty years ago, if you wanted to lead what was then called “the life of the mind”, meaning to be an intellectual, to live by your wits, you had to work in a university. The society at large had no place for you. A few newspaper reporters, a few magazine journalists could be considered as living by their wits, but that was about it. Universities attracted those who willingly gave up worldly goods to live a cloistered intellectual life, teaching timeless value to the younger generation. Intellectual work was the exclusive province of the university.

But today, whole sectors of society live the life of the mind. Our entire economy is based on intellectual work, now. Thirty-six percent of workers are knowledge workers. That’s more than are employed in manufacturing. And when professors decided they would no longer teach young people, but leave that task to their graduate students who knew much less than they did and spoke English poorly- when that happened, the universities were thrown into crisis. What good were they anymore? they had lost their exclusive hold on the life of mind. They no longer taught the young. Only so many theoretical texts on the semiotics of Foucault could be published in a single year. What was to become of our universities? What relevance did they have in the modern era?
What happened, is the universities transformed themselves in the 1980s. Formerly bastions of intellectual freedom in a world of Babbittry, formerly the locus of sexual freedom and experimentation, they now became the most restrictive environments in modern society. Because they had a new role to play. They became the creators of new fears for the PLM. Universities today are factories of fear. They invent all the new terrors and all the new social anxieties. All the new restrictive codes. Words you can’t say. Thoughts you can’t think. They produce a steady stream of new anxieties, dangers, and social terrors to be used by politicans, lawyers, and reporters. Foods that are bad for you. Behaviors that are unacceptable. Can’t smoke, can’t swear, can’t screw. can’t think. These institutions have been stood on their heads in a generation. It is really quite extraordinary.

The modern State of Fear could never exist without universities feeding it. There is a peculiar neo-Stalinist mode of thought that is required to support all this, and it can thrive only in a restrictive setting, behind closed doors, without due process. In our society, only universities have created that- so far. The notion that these institutions are liberal is a cruel joke. They are fascist to the core.

And we haven’t talked about involution. It is the next step in the development of nation-states. Indeed it is already happening. You must see the irony. After all, twenty-five billion dollars and ten years later the same rich elitists who were terrified of power-line cancer are buying magnets to strap to their ankles or put on their mattresses in order to enjoy the healthful effects of magnetic fields. The same magnetic fields. They even sell magnets in the health magazines. No one remembers even a few years ago.

Of course, this is a somewhat unsatisfactory ending to the monologue, because the professor and the protagonist are interrupted and the latter has to leave. But I think there is enough here to stand on its own. Michael Crichton of course referenced the source material for his books. Below I’ll include those that pertain to this particular section. Thank you for reading.

REFERENCES:

The Risk Society and Beyond – Barbara Adam, Ulrich Beck, Jost van Loon – Sage Publications, 2000
Fear, News, and the Construction of Crisis – David L. Altheide – Aldine de Gruyter, 2002
In Athena’s Camp: preparing for conflict in the Information Age – John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt – RAND National Defense Institute, 1997
Darwinizing Culture – Robert Aunger – Oxford University Press, 2000
Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity – Ulrich Beck – Sage, 1992
News: the Politics of Illusion – W. Lance Bennett – Addison-Wesley, 2003
Governing with News: the News Media as a Political Institution – Timothy E. Cook – University of Chicago Press, 1998
Experts in Uncertainty: Opinion and Subjective Probability in Science – Roger M. Cooke – Oxford University Press, 1991
Post-Capitalist Society – Peter F. Drucker – Harper Business, 1993
Culture of Fear: Risk-taking and the Morality of Low Expectation – Frank Furedi – Continuum, 2002
The Culture of Fear – Barry Glassner – Basic Books, 1999
Tabloid Culture – Kevin Glynn – Duke University Press, 2000
The Anxieties of Affluence – Daniel Horowitz – University of Massachusetts Press, 2004
Private Truths, Public Lies: the social consequences of preference falsification – Timur Kuran – Harvard University Press, 1995
The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics – Mark Lilla – New York Review of Books, 2001
The Perception of Risk – Paul Slovic – Earthscan, 2000

YAMAHA MX88

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Sometimes less is more, and sometimes you can get a lot more instrument for a lot less money. That is absolutely the case with the MX88.

I bought it last year after I sold my Nord Piano. While the Nord was a great keyboard in its own right, I simply needed more flexibility, so I decided to let it go as the MX would do that for not a lot of money.

At $999, the MX is an absolute steal, and if you are in the market for a versatile gigging keyboard with 88 weighted keys, you should put it on your shortlist.

First of all, the acoustic piano sounds and plays better than its more expensive sibling the MOXF. Seriously, I had them side by side, and the MX felt and sounded more natural and dynamic!
The rest of the sounds are the familiar Motif XS stuff, although the MX does not sound as crisp as its progenitor, and some of the voices are a little stale and dated. Still, it covers a wide variety of sounds, and combined with its low weight makes this one convenient gigging machine.

To add even more value, Yamaha also includes a bunch of software, but I never bothered to download and install those, so they are outside the scope of this review.

In the year or so that I gigged the MX88, I really came to appreciate it; it wasn’t the best at anything, but it was good for almost everything. My main gripes with it are the low output level (the Krome that sits on the second tier is a LOT louder), and the external power adapter (which is common for keyboards in this price class). I also don’t love the GHS action, but in the end it is just so usable and practical that those complaints hardly matter.

It’s really great what $999 will buy you these days. If you don’t care much about programming your own, this board gives you the sounds of the old Motif XS at a fraction of the price, and that is going to be enough for a lot of people.

HEDD TYPE 05

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I bought these speakers in March this year, after hearing them at NAMM. I have lived with them for a while now and wanted to share my impressions, as there aren’t a lot of reviews of this model yet.

Frankly, for a while I wasn’t convinced these were right for me, as I felt they were fatiguing and disorienting. I almost returned them. But boy, now I’m glad I didn’t!

They sound very musical, they groove nicely and have plenty of vibe. It’s a modern sound, with surprising bass extension for a modest 5” woofer. It feels like they were tuned for contemporary music production, and they do that very well.

Initially I was a little taken aback by the deep bottom end, and tended to mix bass-shy as a result, but I got used to it quickly and now I don’t worry about it. I have found it is reliable and translates well.

I also love the green LED, which reminds me of the good old Genelec 1031A, a speaker I have fond memories of. And I really appreciate the fact that the signal path is all analog. I have nothing against DSP, but there is something to be said for this approach.

They have enough detail, there’s not much you’re missing on these. Dialing in EQ is effortless, with subtle changes readily revealed, and most importantly there are no surprises in translation. I can just get the vibe right and be confident it’s gonna sound pretty similar elsewhere.

If you want to know if they sound like the ADAM A5X, I’d have to say no. I was never fond of those, and always felt they were top-heavy and bottom-lean. The Type 05’s are better balanced to my ears.

Then there is the HEDD Linearizer plugin; you can instantiate it in any compatible host and it will noticeably tighten and “dry” up the sound. But it introduces a lot of latency, so I typically only use it when “mastering” (creating mp3’s or wav’s of the final mix).

Not everything is perfect, of course. They are pricey for 5” speakers, and the somewhat recessed midrange takes getting used to. People who love their NS10’s are not going to hit the ground running with these. And in my room the vertical sweet spot is somewhat narrow: my speakers are positioned so that the tweeters are at ear height when I’m sitting at my desk. When I stand up, the sound changes noticeably.

But in the end, it’s all good. I haven’t tried every speaker in this segment, but I feel the Type 05’s deliver the goods for their size and price. The best compliment I can give them is that I don’t worry about it anymore. I just get on with the job and trust that if things sound right here, they’ll sound right anywhere.

And isn’t that what a studio monitor should do?

ALTERNATIVE FACTS

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I have owned the KRK RP5G2’s for many years now, and they have done their job. When I first bought them, I figured I can’t ask for much more for the money.

But recently I found a used set of Equator D5’s online, and since it wasn’t a lot of money, I decided to go for it ad I had read good things about them.

At the time of writing, it is not clear whether or not Equator Audio is still in business; their website has been down for a long time, with only a brief message:

Thank you for visiting! We are currently performing scheduled maintenance and updates on the website.

Thank you for your patience!

But what sort of scheduled maintenance takes 3+ months? Just to recap: Equator Audio was founded by Ted Keffalo, an engineer/designer with a long pedigree, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago at the AES here in LA. The aim of the D5 (and, later, the D8) was to make high-quality monitoring affordable by selling directly to the consumer online. Initially, the D5 received unanimously rave reviews, but then came reports of questionable build quality and durability, and as things stand, it seems the company is in trouble.

Nonetheless, when I found a pair of used D5’s on reverb.com, I purchased them on a hunch, and I have been putting them through the paces for about three weeks now. Because I still have my RP5’s, I am able to do some meaningful AB’ing and I want to share my observations here:

  • The RP5’s have a lot of treble emphasis. This makes them sound much crispier at first, but it is fatiguing over longer periods of listening
  • The D5’s have a wider stereo image, and more bass extension. At first, they sounded muffled compared to the RP5’s, but after a while, it felt more like the RP5’s were overly bright. I’m still undecided, though.
  • The RP5’s sound good, but the bottom end is hard to judge on them. It’s like you hear the speaker more than the source material, down low.
  • The alleged questionable build quality of the D5’s soon became apparent; at higher volumes (not crazy loud, still nearfield level), bass-heavy material causes some kind of vibration in the enclosure. It’s not loud or particularly distracting, but it’s there.

To be fair, these are used speakers, and who knows what the previous owner did with them? I took a chance, and I may not have gotten what I needed. But the D5’s have really exposed the RP5’s for what they are: decent entry-level speakers, nothing more than that. What’s more, even though the D5’s may not be solution I need them to be (because of the noise), they have made it clear that I can’t go back, so it looks like I’m gonna need to invest in better monitors soon.

I’ll probably keep the D5’s, though. I appreciate what they offer, and I suspect that they will work well with a sub. With a highpass filter before their inputs, I reckon the LF noise problem will be taken care of.

In conclusion, this comparison over the last three weeks has reminded me just how different speakers can be, and it really gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Alternative Facts”. Which speaker tells the truth? I feel like they both give a different view of what’s going on, but I’m not sure that one is necessarily closer to the truth than the other.

On my shortlist of upgrades are the Genelec M030, Dynaudio LYD5, Neumann KH120, Pioneer RM-05, and HEDD Type 05. Interesting times ahead!

KORG KROME 73

korg krome 73.jpg

After more than 10 years of (mostly) faithful service, my venerable Roland Fantom X7 was starting to show signs of old age; stubborn buttons requiring multiple presses before engaging, crackling knobs, and this would happen during gigs at times.
I wanted to buy a Yamaha Montage 7, but they were in short supply, and I had to buy a new fridge at the same time, so I ended up buying this Korg Krome 73 instead. The rationale was that it should be enough to hold me over until I’d have enough for a Montage or a laptop-based setup.
The Krome is cheap, and it shows. It is made of flimsy-feeling plastic, but the upside is that it weighs next to nothing. You can lift and maneuver it with one hand.
There are no upsides to the flimsy keyboard action, however. It feels like something from the Fisher Price bargain bin, and it is without a doubt the Krome’s biggest shortcoming. It makes dynamic playing a challenge, as the velocity response does not feel intuitive, and often softer touches are not detected.
Also, while it is nice to have 6 octaves, I think it would have made more sense to have an E-E layout, rather than the C-C. that way, middle C would still have been close to the middle of the keyboard. Inexplicably, Korg does do this on the Kronos 73, so why they changed this for the Krome is beyond me.
Another pet peeve is the external power supply. Now I understand that is a factor in keeping the cost down, but the thin and bendy wire is simply unsuitable for road use. In fact, an acquainted keyboardist is already on his third power supply, and keeps a spare just in case.

But, of course, there is good stuff too. The Krome is cheap, but packed with value. First of all, it has a killer Rhodes sound that is great to play, even on that crappy action. The acoustic piano sounds very good, but it is let down by the action’s velocity response. I suspect that the Krome 88’s weighted action would work great with it. Organs and clavs do the job, and all in all the Krome delivers in the meat-and-potatoes keyboard department.
Synth sounds are good, too, but coming from a Roland Fantom I miss the warmth of the pads, and some of the softer stuff. The Krome does bright and punchy, but smooth and mellow is not what this things is all about.
Brass sounds are good, too. It doesn’t excel here, but it can definitely hang with the competition here.

Despite its shortcomings, I’ve come to like the Krome; as a second-tier board it makes a lot of sense, and it’s great value for money. I do wish Korg would have included USB-audio functionality, as its direct competitors (Yamaha MOX, Roland FA) do offer that. A regrettable omission, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending it to anybody who’s looking for an affordable but great-sounding all-round keyboard.

NAMM 2017: part II

As it turned out, I had some time last Saturday and decided to stop by NAMM again on my way to a gig. I was there for less than two hours, but that was enough time to check out a few more things.

One of the things I really wanted to check out, was Brazilian manufacturer Stay Music Stands. I found out about these guys two years ago, loved their keyboard stand designs, and wanted to get one. At the time they didn’t have US distribution, but the rep told me I could buy one of their floor models if I came back on Sunday right before closing time. I couldn’t make it and was bummed. So this time I made my way over there and was happy to learn that they have secured US distribution and will be available on Amazon soon. I was less happy about the fact that prices have gone up as a result, but that was -of course- inevitable.

Behringer had a large number of their DeepMind 12 analog synth set up, and that is a fun little synth at a competitive price. Direct competitors are the DSI Mopho, which is the same price but has only 4-voice polyphony, and the Moog Sub Phatty, which is a little cheaper but monophonic. DeepMind offers 12-voice polyphony, an excellent-feeling 4-octave keyboard, and aftertouch. I hope someone swill do a head-to-head shootout with these three synths. DSI and Moog are the analog gold standard, and it will be interesting to see if Behringer can take the fight to them, sonically.

By chance I walked into a demo by Shaun Martin at the Waves booth, which turned out to be for a new virtual instrument, Grand Rhapsody. It is a sampled acoustic grand piano, and sounded pretty good in Shaun’s capable hands, although the demonstration was occasionally marred by audible CPU spikes. Rep says it will be available in February for an introductory price of $69.

I also went upstairs to check out the Kawai booth. I’ve never had a bad experience with Kawai’s acoustic pianos, but I can’t say I have loved their digitals as much. This time I went to try out the MP-7, and I was not disappointed. I love the way it feels and the acoustic piano sounds are competitive, but while the rest of the sounds are good enough, I’m not sure the instrument’s over-all sonic footprint would compel me to deal with the considerable weight and bulk.
I also tried out the new ES-110, which is decent enough for the price, but it doesn’t really stand out. Still, it is a viable alternative to Yamaha’s and Casio’s offerings in that price range, and probably the one I would pick if I was shopping for something like that.

On the way out, I was surprised to see Neumann with a new active studio monitor, the KH-80. Surprised, as I tend to follow industry news, and this one somehow totally passed me by. It is a 4″ woofer version of their popular KH120.

That was all I had time for, although I do want to mention I nearly bumped into Stevie Wonder. I would have actually bumped into him, but for his security detail.

A few things I missed in my previous post:
Touch Innovations had two excellent multi-touch displays in their booth, one ‘regular’ and a very ‘Tony Stark’-y see-through model. They offer bespoke software that tightly integrates it with MacOS, but comes as a subscription only. The day I can ditch point-and-click for a true multitouch desktop experience can’t come soon enough, but it is really just waiting for the DAW developers to recode their applications for this new input method. Until then, products like these are a nice interim solution.

Austrian company Alpha Piano was there with two products. Their haute-couture (Porsche-designed) Alpha Piano, which is powered by VSL’s Imperial Bösendorfer sample library. It features an actual hammer-action, and comes at a price far north of $30,000 for the studio model.  Expect to pay about ten grand less for the “portable” touring model.
They also had their M-Piano on display, but something was wrong with the computer, and a demonstration wasn’t possible at the time. It looks like a really great idea, like the Roli, but better. And again, astronomically priced (~$12,000).

I did see a couple of other interesting things on the way out, like Thonet & Vander, a German speaker company making Bluetooth products that do not look like props from a Star Trek set.
All in all, this NAMM wasn’t as packed with new and exciting stuff as some of the previous ones, but it remains a great way to try out things you don’t usually see in the store, learn about new products you would otherwise never hear of, and it serves as a barometer for where the industry in general is headed.
As always, I’m glad I got to go!

 

NAMM 2017: Day One

The NAMM Show in Anaheim is a pretty big deal for manufacturers, dealers and artists alike. I believe only the Frankfurt Musik Messe can rival it in terms of size and scoops. But I doubt the Messe boasts as many A-list musicians. NAMM is where you can literally bump into Stevie Wonder or another legendary musician of your choosing. Oh, and I say day one, but I’m not even sure I’ll be able to go back tomorrow or over the weekend, as I’ll be pretty busy.

I’m covering NAMM from my own perspective, which is as a keyboardist and computer music producer. I won’t be talking about guitars, drums, or kazoos.

With major new products already having been announced the day before, my first stop was the Roland booth, where I got my hands on the new RD-2000. It looks great and seems thoughtfully designed, but I’m not sure just how new it is under the hood. It sounds good, but it all felt very familiar. Not to say that’s bad, though. What is new is deeper computer integration, which is an area where Roland had some catching up to do. At $2499, this keyboard seems like excellent value. I finished my Roland visit with a demo by Omar Hakim, Scott Tibbs, Jerry Brooks and Mike Phillips. It was a great mini-concert, despite some technical difficulties.

I veered off to the 88 lounge, where the acoustic piano manufacturers reside. My parents are both proud Bechstein owners and I was hit by a wave of nostalgia as the first thing I saw when I walked in was a pristine looking pair of their grands. But when I sat down and played one, I was disappointed. The sound, the action, this is not how I remember them.

Next stop was Korg, where I hoped to get my hands on the mysterious GrandStage, but all they had was a non-playable prototype. But it is amazingly compact, with the right features, and if it has the acoustic and electric piano sounds from the Kronos or even Krome, at a price close to the SV-1, this would be a total no-brainer. I could see this replacing my aging Nord Piano. I took a look at the Odyssey with full-size keys, and was surprised at how big it was. People were crowding around it so I didn’t get to play it. I’m not much of an analog guy, but this is the synth that is all over ‘Headhunters’, and for that alone I want it.

I really looked forward to getting my hands on Kurzweil’s Artis SE and Forte SE, as they are impossible to find in the LA area. I wanted to love it, but came away a little dissatisfied. At the same booth (AM&S), I got hands-on with the Studiologic SL88 controllers, both the Grand and the Studio version. They are identical except for the action, and I had my eye on the Studio as it is temptingly cheap at $499. Alas, I didn’t get on with the action, but the Grand felt really good. It costs more, but I’d say it’s worth it.

Right next door was Nord, where I got to noodle on the Nord Piano 3. It feels different from my first-gen NP, the action is a little lighter but with more snap at the bottom. I like my NP, but somehow I don’t see a 3 in my future.

Then I got to see some studio stuff, like the next-gen Aurora converters from Lynx Studio Technologies. The old ones have a stellar reputation, but the new ones are going to cost a lot more. An Aurora 8 USB retails for $1995, with the new one coming in at $2599. With Thunderbolt, it is $2195 and $2999 respectively. Ouch.

Apparently they have been around for a while now, but I hadn’t heard of HEDD, a German speaker company headed by ADAM Audio founder Klaus Heinz. I spoke with his son, who told me they have two guys at the factory in Berlin who do nothing but fold ribbon tweeters all day. When I commented that must be boring work, he shrugged and said they used to be watchmakers. Love that story.

I dug into a Silvertop at the Vintage Vibe booth, which really is as good as any Rhodes I have ever played (except maybe the short-lived and ill-fated Mk7). I would love to have one of these in my home studio, but I’d call this a luxury purchase.

I wanted to try Dave Smith’s Rev.2 but it was impossible to get near one. DSI seems to be very popular these days. But I was really touched by the Moog booth. Rather than having all their products set up, it was a sort of memorial/tribute to all the synth pioneers and legends who passed away in 2016. It seemed out of place and appropriate in equal measure.
Then I visited the Yamaha hall in the hotel next to the Convention Center, where Robert Glasper was having a little fun with the Montage. But in terms of products there was nothing new there, so I didn’t stay long.

After a long line and a short lunch, I descended into the basement where I found a couple of interesting things. First I found the booth of Schertler, a Swiss company making combo amps with gorgeous wooden cabinets. They specialize in amplification for acoustic instruments. Unfortunately, I missed the demo, just for that I may have to go back today or tomorrow. They have no US distribution at this time, but they will ship from Switzerland, with shipping and import duties on their dime, AND a 30-day money back guarantee. I fell in love with the cabinets and can’t wait to hear them.

Next I found Isovox, a Swedish company with an unusual product that almost completely encapsulates your head and microphone, giving you an actual vocal booth just about wherever you go. Interesting product, retails in Europe for 799 Euro. They await US distribution.

Another clever idea is the BomeBox. A small MIDI hub that connects to DIN, USB, Ethernet and WiFi, and allows configuration via a web app.

The Valente is a 61-key electro-mechanical keyboard (like the Rhodes and Wurlitzer) weighing just 50 pounds. It is made in Brazil and looks absolutely superb.

My perennial quest for the right keyboard amp led me to stop by the booth of Elite Acoustics, which had an ultra-compact combo amp with nifty features. First, it runs off an internal rechargeable battery, it has a USB charging port, and plays back bluetooth audio. It’s not really powerful enough fot the type of band situations I deal with, but I can think of scenarios where this would come in really handy.
Last stop in the basement was Shi Tuo, Taiwan-based manufacturers of studio furniture. Unfortunately, the rep spoke no English, but indicated someone who did would be there tomorrow.

Back on the main floor, I was surprised to learn about this keyboard manufacturer I had never heard of, Dexibell. Their Vivo S7 and S3 stage pianos felt like mature products. Hard to tell just how good they were from a brief encounter on a noisy exhibition floor, but I would like to try them out in a more appropriate setting.

I once again marveled at the sheer number of Chinese manufacturers with clone products, and next thing you know it was 6PM. There’s a bunch of other stuff I still want to check out, so I may have to come back tomorrow. If I do, I’ll post a follow-up report.

Plush Toy Zombie remix

I did this remix of “Plush Toy Zombie” by Cyan D’Anjou. I haven’t done this kind of music in a while, and it was refreshing and a lot of fun! I think I got too deep into the whole Smooth Jazz thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but in a way this was liberating!

Finished the whole thing really quick, too. Spend practically zero time on mixing it, just nudging the levels up or down a little, and some Alloy2 on the beat. That was it.

I’m definitely looking to do more of this stuff, so if you’re a rapper/singer, hit me up!