Last night I went to Guitar Center in Beaverton to pick up a music keyboard, which basically makes the RETROvan a mobile media studio in addition to software development.

Meet the AKAI Professional Advance 49, a NAMM Best-of-Show award-winner from 2015. This technology is lightyears ahead of the keyboards, samplers and drum machine kit Gary Tobin and I assembled in the 1980s, when I was really into composing via MIDI. Electronic Arts’ Deluxe Music Construction Set was the bomb on my Mac, back then. It was the one app I’d want to have on a desert island.

No, I’m not a musician per se. I was forced to take music lessons as a kid (piano, wind and guitar), but I was always a better listener than a player. I do have a passion for composition, seeing as how that’s really an exercise in programming. And now I seem to have developed a deeper interest in lyrics and social commentary, inspired in part by recent releases from some of my favorite artists.

Now that Phase 2 of the RETROvan project is wrapping up, I had been researching a variety of equipment options (things to do and see) but as soon as I saw this keyboard it just screamed out Star Trek! It bears an uncanny resemblance to the various control consoles on the original USS Enterprise set, like in the Transporter Room:

The keys are semi-weighted and they have both velocity- and pressure-sensitivity. So they feel great, and the action should get even better over time. But the best feature is all the backlighting. Those drum pads are fully programmable, including the LED colors. When the AKAI is turned off, it’s all black & white. But turn it on and it lights up like Olivia’s face on a warm spring day:

This keyboard comes in three sizes: 25 keys, 49 keys and 61 keys. But the RETROvan’s table/desk is 24×48″ and it has to support my 27″ 5K iMac. So the Advance 49 was just the right length for me. Its control layout is very efficient and compact, measuring 29.5″ x 11.5″ x 3.63″. So both it and my Mac’s keyboard/trackpad fit nicely up front and I can just slide up and down the bench seat. What about the “missing” keys you ask? No worries, most keyboards can span ten octaves by simply hitting the Octave ± buttons. And that’s all you need for composing, versus live performance.

I plan to spend some time learning the system along with Apple’s Logic Pro X software. That DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) can also produce music notation (sheet music) with lyrics. And yes, I have a trove of lyrics that are begging to lay down tracks. I also have about a hundred 8MM home movies and old independent films that I’d like to do some narration over, and some sound-tracky stuff.

My son Steven is an accomplished bassist, so maybe he’ll collaborate. And of course my in-laws (Robbie, Conor and Kevin) are all brilliant musicians. Me? I can get a sound outta almost anything. Just ask Mazy.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play…

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