Monday, March 18, 2019

And all that work...

So, I'd just got done setting up my patchbay the way I wanted it to be. Ran snakes to both of the synth work areas. Got the podcasting mic situation set up as desired. And even got a multi-speaker monitoring setup arrayed the way I wanted to.

Then came the rain.

Here in Minnesota, as with much of the Midwest, there's been a significant amount of flooding. Sometimes it's because of bad storms, and sometimes because of melt before the ground is ready to absorb it. In any case, there it is - and my studio is no more.

I didn't lose any gear, but the work area I was in is basically destroyed. The carpet got soaked, and is now Mold Approved. The electrical got soaked, too, so I'm never going to be able to trust it. And it turns out that getting insurance support on any of this is based on how the water comes it. If it's a sewer backup, that's one insurance rider. If it comes in through the wall or floor (as is my case), that would be flood insurance. Conversely, if the water heater blows up, that's even a different one.

My trust in insurance companies has hit an all-time low. They are all bastard - each and every one of them. I've spent a lot of time with the agents; they could easily have looked at my policy and said "Hey Darwin, here in MN, this here thing is a good idea once."

No such luck. So now I'm going to be working off a limited amount of space, with a limited amount of gear - and a limited willingness to do it again. Seems like the last year of studio work was a massive waste of time and effort, and I'm really feeling down about it.



Sunday, March 10, 2019

My Favorite Modules: Quantizers

When it comes to 'fave' modules, quantizers always end up at the top of my list. This is especially true when we talk about 'playable' quantizers, like the Penrose shown above (from my work mini-system). These quantizers allow you to select the notes that you will 'snag' from all available pitches, allowing you to work within scales - but also to select interesting combinations of notes to build semi-determinate melodies.

I've tried just about every quantizer out there, and this little Penrose quant hits all the marks: selectable notes, triggered quantization (so you can determine when the quantization snags its next note - if that's what you want), and a highly-visible setup. This is really similar to my first favorite quantizer, which I was using back in the good ol' 5U days. That quantizer - the Moon Modular 565 quad quantizer - had a companion module (the 565D) that provided this keyboard-like interface:

One of my favorite performances was based on this thing. At the end of our Spark Festival performance, Tom Hamer was doing a little percussion bit, and I was feeding random voltages into this thing. I started reducing the notes until I was left with just a few notes. The Voltage Gods fed me the right value/octave combinations to do a sweet figure, and it ended perfectly. The audience loved it, and I looked like a hero.

In a way, a quantizer limits a modular to typically 'musical' results - in a way, returning to the tyranny of the keyboard. But it also allows me to experiment freely with voltage generation while providing a note-based constraint on the result, which is something that I find a neat combo. So I'm willing to live within pitch norms in exchange for the freedom to stretch out in other areas.

When I look at other people's systems, I see far fewer quantizers (or quant-like tools) that I would expect. Maybe that's why a lot of modular music sounds a bit like a woodworking shop; people are throwing out the pitch-baby with the keyboard-bathwater.

Too bad.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Oh Yeah - Remember...

Went to a show Monday night - saw Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain (Monome), and got a great reminder of something: playing is lovely. Since I've moved to Minnesota, my playing opportunities have been greatly limited - and I've not been pushing it, either. Going to MCAD and seeing my friend play helped me remember that you don't have to put on a Rush-level show to honor the audience, honor music and enjoy making some noises.

It was beautiful, and also a reminder that modulars, monomes, norns and other stuff can be used to make all sorts of music. You can make crunchy beats, but you can also make beautiful synthetic sounds - or even sing a little.

If you have a chance to see Brian and Kelli play, do yourselves that favor.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Preparing for the Next Round

I'm about to start work on my next performance/recording run, and that means it is time to get a project specific notebook. This time, it is a Maruman N246, a 40-page, 5mm grid spiral-bound notebook.

What is this notebook madness?

Well, I like to think of it in terms of an actual 'fresh start', and I like to have a notebook where I can jot down ideas, graphics, scoring ideas and hardware requirements. I like it to be spiral-bound (because it can lay flat, but also be folded upon itself for a smaller footprint), and I like a nice absorbent paper that won't also be hoover for food and drink bits. I've fallen in love with the Maruman series, because they meet all of those needs - along with one other serious thing.

They are small. Only 40 pages. It means that I'm not overwhelmed with the requirements of filling up a huge notebook for this project - rather, I'll have to be a little constrained in order to fit it all in (or so I hope). Grid notebooks can be pretty efficient anyway, and I think this one will be a winner.

I'll let you know in March and April, when this work should start seeing the light of day!


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

More About Sequencers

OK, so I'm a little obsessed. Ever since I had the old Arp 1621 sequencer I've been in love with hardware sequencing. Last year, I got a Korg SQ-1 as part of a work assignment, and have been enjoying its use, especially with small desktop modulars (like my Pittsburgh Structure-96 mini-system, and Kristin's 0-coast). And I have a very nice sequencing tool build into my Ardcore, but that isn't visual at all. And I wanted something placed into the EP-208 case.

So I've ponied up for one of these Div6 Dual Sequencers, and it's on its way right now. I dug into the state of the sequencing art, and didn't really like a lot of what I saw: many of the larger ones are a) too large, and b) too limited. I want it to handle two voices, be able to work separately out-of-sync or in-sync, and I'd like it to be quantized properly.

Seems like this will work - but as a backup, I also picked up a second SQ-1. 'Cuz you can never have too many of those, right?


Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Point Of Meetups

I get a chance to talk to a lot of people about synths, software, music gear, DAWs and other goodies. Most of this 'talk' actually happens virtually - via email, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. But I'm also blessed to now live in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota), and we have a great meetup that occurs now-and-again. This meetup (the Twin Cities Synth Meet) is a great time to check out other gear, but mostly too meet - or catch up with - musician friends both new and old.

For example, that picture above is with Logan Erickson, a great local figure in the synth scene, and a person I interviewed for my podcast long ago. He's become a friend, and brought his new Chang-model Serge system to give some hands-on time for the locals. I always look forward to the Synth Meet to crawl out of my basement and spend a little time chatting with him - and checking out whatever craziness he brings to bear.

But it's not always about old friend - sometimes you get to meet new people, too. Bill Henson had a killer modular rig that looked largely DIY-oriented, and got my mind spinning with options from places like Befaco and AI Synthesis. Beautiful stuff, and Bill was more than happy to fill me in on any questions I had.

Conversely, sometimes you get to help out someone as well. Max Otto was wondering about the Monome Grid and modular, so I made up a little system to do a show-and-tell. Turns out he brought his system, and it was rocking that Supercell module. Took a closer look, and am starting to fall in 'humina-humina'.

Does any of this happen if I just sit around the house? Not a chance. Man, I love meeting my synth friend in meat-space, and I'm making a strong suggestion that you do the same!


Monday, December 10, 2018

OP-1 Take a Left Turn

Well, now that it appears that Teenage Engineering won't be producing OP-1's anytime soon (and the OP-Z isn't the right kind of replacement), it's Crazy Time. Given the limited production and massive desire for this product, I guess this was going to happen.

I remember the land grab for TB-303's. It started with people loving the thing. Then it continued with people buying them up an flipping them as the Crazy Money started flying. My wife, Kristin, was in Japan at the time, and during a visit there I picked up a used 303 with the CV/Gate mods professionally done (Thanks Five G!). It was great fun - but then a good friend started bugging me about wanting to buy it, and he decided he was willing to thrown Crazy Money at it, and I decided to let 'er rip.

Since then, I've picked up a TT-303 (whose sequencer is a few generations better while properly retaining the original's charm) for about 20% of what I got for the TB-303, and had a nice time with it. But I didn't regret selling the original. Not sure why, but I didn't. I guess I don't like being a participant in Crazy Time - nor being a holder of the Crazy Thing. I wonder what that means for the future of my OP-1...

I know so many people that will never sell something once they buy it. Maybe I'm unsentimental, and maybe I should be more careful about hanging onto my instruments. But I don't know - I'm not into it when the collectors start making it rain: that's normally my signal to move along...