You can easily hear the effects of the horn.
January 30, 2013 12:55 PM   Subscribe

The Ceiling Janus. Just a beautifully designed ceiling-mounted rotating speaker, for instant room-filling psychedelia at the turn of a knob.

"This Specimen began in 2011 after I received a call from Jack White. He inquired about our Double Spinning Horn Speaker. He said that he wanted me to turn it upside down and hang it from the ceiling. After a long pause, I said it would take a little engineering. "
posted by anazgnos (31 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Ooooh I want one.
But yeah, $18,000.
posted by chococat at 1:05 PM on January 30, 2013

I'm getting a little seasick just looking at it, but holy cow, the sounds that thing must make in the room. Leslie systems are totally awesome.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:17 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Somehow, seeing that makes me feel like I'm about to end up inside an angry weather balloon.
posted by sonascope at 1:25 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

The rotating speaker is cool (and thankfully so far, far outside my budget that I can just enjoy it without lusting for it). His/their guitars are also pretty cool, and not unreasonably priced for boutique, made-by-the-hand-of-a-craftsman instruments. Neat stuff.
posted by mosk at 1:29 PM on January 30, 2013

Damn, I really want to hear that in person.

The Wikipedia entry about Leslie speakers is really interesting.
posted by malocchio at 1:31 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Between recent news of the nightclub fire in Brazil, and the description of "bent birch plywood [...] finished in nitro-cellulose lacquer", I'm thinking you might want to keep the pyrotechnics away from this.
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 1:42 PM on January 30, 2013

That is some beautiful craftsmanship right there.
posted by orme at 1:44 PM on January 30, 2013

posted by panaceanot at 1:55 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Teleporter, goin' up!
posted by xedrik at 2:11 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why would one want to go to the trouble (or pay $18,000) to obtain an effect probably more reliably (and certainly more portably) delivered in software? And what value does the effect add to the listener's experience?

In short, wtf and wtf.
posted by fredludd at 2:33 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you ever heard, say, a Hammond B-3, live, with a Leslie speaker?
Really, completely not the same as some shitty software plug-in or amp sim.
It's happening in the room, it's using the room. It's organic and visceral.
Why play a guitar?
posted by chococat at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

Why would one want to go to the trouble (or pay $18,000) to obtain an effect probably more reliably (and certainly more portably) delivered in software? And what value does the effect add to the listener's experience?

Listening to a video of the thing in action, it's easy to have that perspective. So there's a little pitch and volume modulation, big whoop. But listening to a Leslie live is an entirely different experience. It's almost like that effect that test discs for home theater systems use, where the sound pans around the listener from left front/right front/right rear/left rear... Hear a standard mono recording of that and you're like, so what. But hear it live in the room, and it's really something.
posted by xedrik at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why would one want to go to the trouble (or pay $18,000) to obtain an effect probably more reliably (and certainly more portably) delivered in software?

I can't answer for everyone but I find it visually pleasing, like a piece of art that also functions.

I wonder if Jack White was happy with the resultes
posted by Sailormom at 3:07 PM on January 30, 2013

emulating it in software would work about as well as those spatialization algorithms they have in crappy mp3 players. It's a spatial effect, as well as the frequency, amplitude and time based parts of it. The last three are easy to fake in software, the first isn't unless you have an extremely complex speaker rig which would make the $18k for this seem like a bargain. It's a one trick pony, but the trick is far from easy to clone.
posted by Perfectibilist at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2013

Wish I could remember the name of the Dallas band I saw (in D/FW somewhere) about 12-13 years ago, kind of a post-rock outfit, maybe shoe-gaze, where the guy had a home-made Leslie speaker. It was very, very cool. As someone familiar with guitar effects, I agree with those here saying it's an inimitable effect for a guitar in a small-ish room (no experience with such speakers and a Hammond, though I can imagine...).
posted by resurrexit at 3:20 PM on January 30, 2013

It's an art object that is enjoyable for its design and beauty and the thought that went into it, reducing it to mere function and whether or not software could do the same seems a little...reductive. Then again maybe fredludd was just doing a parody of the stereotypical clueless technophile response.
posted by anazgnos at 3:23 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

software is "cheap". this thing is "deluxe". no comparison!
posted by crazy_yeti at 3:26 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I started audio engineering school back in 2006 I was a big believer in the necessity of physical instruments for achieving superb quality sound, and that software couldn't match it. This was 2006, and even though the technology then was significantly behind what it is now, I was still mostly wrong.

It really isn't until you're able to play, say, a piano simulator on the Grown Up equipment that you understand how good the reproduction is now. Even back then, there were simulators that relied not only on digitally rendered recreations of the pitches, but also thousands upon thousands of samples of every key and chord, struck at dozens of different velocity levels / attack levels / sustain levels/ etc with dozens of different mic positions on dozens of different pianos in dozens of room sizes etc etc etc. The breadth and scope and quality of simulated instruments is really amazing.

The catch, of course, is that not only is the real deal software for this stuff is still prohibitively expensive, but you need to build an entire room, floors and walls and ceilings alike with at least a dozen speakers to make use of the software. This is a control room designed specifically for this purpose, and we're talking easily $100k to get started there. Professional plug-in buying is an investment that I would need to write a business plan to justify the bank loan to begin.

Also, as others have said, the leslie and hammond sounds are something else entirely. If you've never been in a room with one cranked, I urge you to do so (with safe ear protection practices) because it' someone said, visceral is the right word. The sound waves can hit you in the gut and make your head spin at the same time. The pressure and intensity and meatiness is so strong you can chew on it. With digital what grabs my ear is the fidelity and perfect shape of the notes and that's immensely pleasing, but with these mechanical beasts they make you want to read Tom Robbins again when their warm breath hits you in the face.

On top of how awesome this thing probably sounds, it's also beautiful and whimsical and rad and that makes it an artistic badass toy and 18 grand seems about right. Want.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:55 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

I was once in a band where the keyboard player had a real honest-to-god Hammond B-3 and Leslie cabinet. It was a huge hassle to load in and out, but oh my god the experience of hearing it (especially from my on-stage position) made the trouble absolutely worth it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:08 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I understand cats are far more dangerous than we thought if left unchecked.

Given the right features and amplification, I suspect this could really help deal with that.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:34 PM on January 30, 2013

I first saw a leslie on stage a punk club a couple years ago. I couldn't really figure out what I was seeing at first.

I wish I was a rich dude, I'd have one in my music anteroom.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:50 PM on January 30, 2013

>I wish I was a rich dude, I'd have one in my music anteroom.

Hell, if I were a rich dude, I'd have one in my car.

Not to add to the dog pile, but as someone who has gotten waaaaay too into guitar effects recently, there are times when digital effects can trump analog effects. But for some effects analog still wins. Leslie/rotating speakers are definitely one of those cases, and in a live setting the impact of a Hammond B-3 pumping out through a big ol' Leslie just works.
posted by mosk at 5:43 PM on January 30, 2013

I've worked with speakers and soundsystems big enough to knock the wind out of you, vibrate things to pieces and make every drink in the house or club walk right off the tables to crash on the floors. I also make almost all of my music in software, so I'm neither opposed nor unfamiliar with software synthesis. (I'm also frustratingly familiar with not having enough clock cycles to set up the software audio delay, reverb, feedback and other effects I want to do. Good delay and reverb is crazy stupid computationally expensive, which is one reason why people still use dedicated hardware FX processors, analog or digital.)

And I've seen a big rotating dual-horn speaker in action and there is nothing at all like it. It's a very particular kind of tremelo, chorus, reverb, delay and self-reinforcing echo. Something about how the speaker spins and throws out what must be spiraling, overlapping layers of sound makes it a very intense, loud and warm thing to listen to, especially with a Hammond or a warm guitar. It bounces off the walls of a room in a strange way so many, many overlapping micro-delays hit your ears from many different angles.

It's incredibly shimmery and whispery when it's quiet and very saturated and glowing when it's louder and it can be outright terrifying turned up to 11, and it sort of makes things played through it sound sort of iridescent and rippling and holographic.

There's some kind of strange and deep modulation, reverberation, feedback and self-reinforcing constructive/destructive interference that happens with a Leslie, especially with a Hammond, a Rhodes or a warm guitar or something.

It couldn't really be accurately recreated with software unless you built some kind of weird, complicated phased array ring of blended/mixed speakers. I'm not just talking about a ring of speakers, but maybe some kind of dome or sphere with a carefully chosen blend of driver sizes and types, maybe with some audible as well as ultrasonic transducers or something.

And then you'd need some nicely complicated modeling software to make all of them work together to simulate a giant rotating acoustically-loaded speaker horn, and it still wouldn't be the same, because it's not actually a single or pair of loaded cone point sources that's physically rotating.

It'd likely just end up being cheaper and easier to recreate a Leslie, though such a speaker array could do other things.

Now a computer controlled Leslie? That could be super interesting. Something with an optical encoder and maybe even a high speed stepper or servo to control the rotation. You could get some really interesting effects by controlling the speed or rotating in "steps", or using a non-constant velocity with a pattern.
posted by loquacious at 6:55 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

How have we gone this long without mentioning Andrew Bird? See: building the sound garden, at the shop, and of course an array of Specimen horn speakers at every show.
posted by tmcw at 8:06 PM on January 30, 2013


Imagine a big hall with two or several in the ceiling, all spinning at once!
posted by Rash at 8:16 PM on January 30, 2013

I've been to Andrew Bird concerts where he uses one of these guys (on the floor, though, not on a ceiling).

And, I mean, it is pretty ridiculously awesome but it is also incredibly disorienting. The net effect is that small snippets of the same sound or note are reaching you at significantly different times from significantly different angles.

Here's a video from Bird's 2010 Gezelligheid concert with it in action.

Awesome effect? Yes. Definitely. Relaxing effect? Not at all.

(Also, Bird's Gezelligheid concerts at 4th Presbyterian in Chicago every Christmas are absolutely phenomenal.)
posted by ztdavis at 9:10 PM on January 30, 2013

In other words, what tmcw said.
posted by ztdavis at 9:11 PM on January 30, 2013

Nice design, but obviously not something the vast majority of working musicians would be able to afford.

The point about Leslies being most effective in a smallish room is an important one. Miking Leslie speakers so that they can be heard through a larger house PA system is kind of an art in itself, and you never really get the full effect, no matter how you do it.

From what I've seen, and assuming the availability of sufficient inputs on the console, most engineers start with at least 3 mics, one for the bass rotor and two for the horn. But as you'd expect, there are differences of opinion over which mics to use, exactly where & how to position them, etc. And in any event, you're only going to get a portion of the direct sound, never mind the first & second reflections, and all the other subtler stuff that happens when waves from a rotating speaker start hitting walls, ceilings, etc. and bouncing around.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 12:08 AM on January 31, 2013

Back in the early 70s, the keyboardist in the band found a cosmetically water damaged Hammond C-3 (B-3 with more wood), full pedalboard, and Leslie cabinet for $300.

Three. Hundred. Dollars.

He lived in a dinky apartment, so, between band jobs, his setup and my mattress furnished my 20' x 20' bare bedroom. Some of the best times I ever had consisted of waking up, having a smoke and a cup of coffee, and sitting in the middle of that sound for hours.

I have checked out every Leslie simulator software I could find, but nothing comes close by orders of magnitude.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:19 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's some kind of strange and deep modulation, reverberation, feedback and self-reinforcing constructive/destructive interference that happens with a Leslie, especially with a Hammond, a Rhodes or a warm guitar or something.

Whoa - I've been infatuated all my life with the panning-stereo 'wum-wum-wum' of the Fender Rhodes "Vibe" effect, but I never thought of plugging a Rhodes into a Leslie cabinet!! Dammit, I was going to put my tax refund check into savings this year, but I may have to rethink my plans...
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:48 PM on January 31, 2013

I spent a summer lugging around Scott Ligon's Hammond B3 and Leslie cabinet to every gig he played. And although it was a monster, the end result was it's own reward. This was before he played with NRBQ.
posted by Sailormom at 3:24 PM on January 31, 2013

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