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Doktor Avalanche

By jd in Technology
Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 11:11:05 PM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)
Music

Who is this mysterious Doktor Avalanche? This is the story of perhaps one of the most advanced, certainly the most militarized, electronic drum systems in the world...


There is a British industrial rock group by the name of The Sisters Of Mercy. Their music has defined both the industrial music and gothic music scenes for many years, although finding their stuff in any country other than Britain can be a challange.

Some images of them in concert, at their website

Hits include "Vision Thing", "Doctor Jeep", "This Corrosion" and "Body Electric". A lot of their music is dark and angry, but not always. Their cover of Abba's "Gimme, Gimme" is definitely worth a listen to!

Ok, so that's something of the group. Now, what's this Doktor Avalance stuff? Basically, today, it is a military-grade custom-built PC running a 4-port MIDI interface to a ruggedized synthesizer. Now for the longer version of events...

Their drummer is a home-brew kit that they maintain themselves. Yes, there really are musicians who actually know how to use DOS, who can replace ISA or PCI cards without help, who know what non-volatile RAM is (and why it's useful) and who know exactly what they want, at the low-level hardware level. These guys are GEEKS!

Doktor Avalanche started life as a very primitive Boss DR55 drum machine. This, they soon replaced with a Roland TR606 (which they hardware-hacked with a drill, to gain more outputs), then a TR808 and a TR809.

By the first album, they were using a Oberheim DMX. By the second, they were using a Yamaha RX5, a midi system, and a computer to drive the whole operation. They replaced the Yamaha with an Akai S900, and wrote a massive set of samples for it.

Onstage, these days, they use the Akai S1000, and for recording they use the Akai S3200.

That's the drum machine. Now we get to the really interesting bit, the computer tech. The computers they had been using were ancient Compaq laptops, which were simply falling apart. Not good. They couldn't find any more modern off-the-shelf laptops which met their needs (sturdy to indestructable, able to run their old sequencer apps, able to drive the midi card, and able to carry without the aid of a large crane) so they turned elsewhere....

Elsewhere turns out to have been a UK Defence contactor, which (according to their web page) "makes military-specification field devices for launching bad stuff at even badder people." That, apparently, sounded appropriate, so they ordered a special shock-resistant rack-mounted 486-based High Availability 2-node system with plasma monitor and auto-switching power.

(They have had to put up with an LCD system, at the time the article was written, because plasma monitors were pricey for a while.)

Oh, and they also use DOS 3.3. Partly because the sequencer they're using doesn't work with anything much newer, partly because of the stability (zero crashes in a decade of extreme use), but mostly because the latency of later versions of DOS (and definitely that of Windows) is simply too great. They can't get a real-time system out of it.

So, there you have it. Those suspicious about the similarity between this article and the Doktor's web page are largely correct. I've tried to summarize the more interesting information from the tech pages, to give people a feel for what the Doktor is all about.

Most important of all, IMHO, is that, whether you like their music or not, whether you've even heard of them before or not, you can see that the technophobia of Lars@Metallica is not universal in the music world, and that there are musicians who aren't afraid of getting out the hacksaw or screwdriver to adjust the computer system...

Other technical stuff to do with the group can be found at SoM's technical page, which has links to tonnes of info and yet more links to the companies that supply all their gunk.

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Related Links
o The Sisters Of Mercy
o Some images of them in concert, at their website
o Doktor Avalanche
o SoM's technical page
o Also by jd


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Doktor Avalanche | 10 comments (6 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Industrial? (3.00 / 1) (#2)
by elemental on Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 06:23:34 PM EST

"industrial rock group"?

"defined the industrial music scene"???

Methinks you're familiar with neither The Sisters of Mercy nor industrial music (two very different things, I might add).


--
I love my country but I fear my government.
--> Contact info on my web site --


'Tis a matter of opinion. (none / 0) (#3)
by Anoymous 22666 on Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 06:51:12 PM EST

'Tis a matter of opinion. I've heard The Sisters called everything from rock to gothic to industrial to punk. In my opinion, you can hear a little bit of all of those in their music.

And your definition of "industrial" may vary from his - it's also a genre that doesn't really have a stereotypical sounding artist. (IMHO.) (But I do have to disagree with the "defining the ... scene" stuff.)

Anyway, a pretty decent quick, informative article. Thanks.

I just farted... And I blame the fiction section. - Psycho Les


[ Parent ]
Well according to their site. (none / 0) (#9)
by Dr Fau5tus on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 06:31:14 AM EST

[i]"We are a rock'n'roll band. And a pop band. And an industrial groove machine. And intellectual love gods in our spare time.[\i] So do with that what you will. :-) If I remember correctly (and I'm old enough to remember all those tedious magazine articles about 'What is Industrial') they were being called goths long before industrial was coined as a music genre term. Of course the correct definition for S.O.M. is: Deeply Silly.
_________________________________________________ I'm not censoring you, I'm censuring you. Stop complaining.
[ Parent ]
And that's what I get... (none / 0) (#10)
by Dr Fau5tus on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 06:34:37 AM EST

...for not clicking on preview.

[ Parent ]
Nice (none / 0) (#4)
by MisterQueue on Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 07:16:51 PM EST

Reminds me of Captured by Robots, not in a style way of course, but the spirit is there. I saw CBR! locally once, and not only is it an impressive feat, but it is rather amusing as well. *shrug*

-Q

-------
Publicly lame since 01/20/02

Good nut graph (none / 0) (#5)
by Bbonnn on Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 07:52:42 PM EST

I thought you were using poetic license in describing the "military-grade custom-built PC" but, later in the commentary, I see that it is quite literal. Cool!

I know nothing about electronic music but have several friends who are doing it actively. Many of them use ancient analog equipment and drool over "old school" synths, amps, etc.

So ... I say, put this out there for people like them.



Doktor Avalanche | 10 comments (6 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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