Thursday, December 13, 2007

Music gear for dance class

For the past three years I've been providing musical accompaniment for a dance class. The first two years I used some hand drums and small percussion toys, and also made the occasional melodic gurgle on a tin whistle or alto recorder. Last Spring I wanted to add a keyboard to the set-up, but the only one I had was my old Kawai K4, which was wired into my computer for recording. Having to continually disconnect and reconnect it each time I took it out did not seem like fun, and I didn't have a decent amplifier for live use anyway.

I decided instead to try one of those cheap synths with built-in speakers. The one I bought secondhand worked well enough, but was not quite loud enough to do the job. And after being banged around a bit in transport it developed the annoying habit of shutting itself off every now and then. So when the new season began this past Fall I had to make a decision: buy a more powerful version of the above cheap synth, or get a regular synth and buy an amp.

My elderly K4 has some great sounds, but not the nicest keyboard touch. So it would become the gig synth and I would get a new MIDI controller keyboard for home use (I have a nice bunch of soft synths in the Mac, so no need really for a sound-generating snyth). I lucked out in that a friend gave me a full 88-key controller on indefinite loan that was surplus to his professional needs, so the money saved from that was set aside to help buy an amp (more on that later).

But to get this stuff to the class I needed cases! Yes, I could go and buy new or used ones (if I could find the right size when looked for used), but my usual resourceful thriftiness kicked in and I made my own. In the basement of my new place I found some large sheets of coroplast, so I cut two down to size, scoring them with a knife and then holding the corners together with duct tape. Once both pieces were done each was lined with blue camping foam, and both halves are held together with a bungee cord.

The old K4 goes into a plastic bag just in case any water seeps in, and since I was running out of foam the last strip was cut up and taped in pieces inside the lid.

Now, back to the amplifier...

Because all my gear is usually moved by bike I need to keep the weight down. So no 300-watt amps please! After a bit of research and talking with pro keyboard friends it looked like one of the Behringer amps would be good, but both the local stores did not have the one I wanted in stock. Since class time was closing in I tried the advice of Dave at Dave's Drum Shop and bought a rig he recommends to drummers needing to amplify an electronic drum kit; it's one of those subwoofer / satellite speaker systems used for computers and game machines! While such a system is not really made for gigging it sure is small and lightweight, and I figured that if it didn't work out sonically I could always find another use for it. The one I settled on was a Logitech Z4:
It actually sounds quite decent, and adequately fills the classroom with sound (though I found this past weekend that it was just barely loud enough for the space in which we had our semi-annual Community Day). And having all those separate pieces meant it needed to be consolidated into one package for easy transport, so once again duct tape to the rescue! I also taped some screening over the satellites since they had open fronts:

Then I of course had to make a case for this as well:
A dead innertube was used for a handle, and taped in place underneath to keep it from coming off the box entirely when it was slipped aside to get the lid off.
The entire set-up has worked out just fine. It sounds good, and is lightweight and easy to transport. Some days I feel almost too clever for my boots...

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