Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A New Secret Weapon?

A few weeks ago, I was in Denver chatting with William Mathewson - the man behind the WMD pedal and modular company. As part of the interview, I asked William what his favorite module design was, and he mentioned the Synchrodyne. I'd heard of it, but never tried one, so on the way out of his office I asked if I could take one for a test drive.


I've not yet come fully to grips with this module, but the concept is crazy: use a filter that needs a clocking mechanism, then put that clocking mechanism under the control of a VCO. Then also have a phase-locked loop built-in that can be used to influence (or even drive) the oscillator, with all of the accompanying drift and mis-locking. The result is something I'd never heard, which can vary from a bit-reduced blaster to a buzzing ripsaw. Use the PLL to track a sequence, and the whole thing gets wobbly - and in some ways alive!

Machines can amaze when they seem to have minds of their own. They can also make their makers proud. I understand why William is into this design - it is outright amazing.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Mini Key Attack!!!

While I was gone...

... it appears that minikeys have taken over my studio! In a surprise move - due mainly to the temporary $59 price - I picked up an Akai Key 25 device. This thing is sort of a Frankenstein mash-up of the Akai APC Mini and a cheap-o keyboard. But it's got a couple of things that I like that were left out of the Mini (the keyboard, obviously, but also transport play/pause and record buttons), and it is nice to have a Live keyboard easily at hand.

This is actually a bit of a disappointment with the mini keyboard for the JU-06. There is no way to turn off the local mode of that keyboard, meaning that any use of the keyboard will sound the synth engine of the JU-06. So that keyboard is useful when doing sound design on the 06, but is otherwise kind of useless in a MIDI-based system.

Obviously, there will still be some conflicts (mostly in my head) about using this vs. using the Push, but I'm sure I will cope. Talk about first-world problems...


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Different Teaching System

Well, after a few video tests, it turns out that my "teaching system" - a Pittsburgh Foundation 2 system with a few added modules - didn't really work out too well. The main problem is that a 90x1 case system was difficult to track in detail on a non-HD video, and the left-to-right orientation of the modules made it difficult to track the signal and CV flows.

So it was time to rethink. I decided to go in the back closet and bring out the lunchbox case that Chris Blarsky had built for me and give that a try. I just got done loading it with modules, which includes all the basic modules from the Foundation 2 system, but also updated one of the oscillators to a "Waveforms" module, and one of the envelopes to an "Envelopes" module. Now I have all the signal flow on the top row, all of the CV devices on the bottom row, and initial video tests look really, really good.

So, videos coming soon!


Friday, November 20, 2015

The Power of Three

I've long felt that the optimal bass synth was a single oscillator with a great filter. Minimoog enthusiasts threw feces at me for even suggesting that less than three oscillators was an acceptable quantity. I countered with discussions about phase cancellation, tuning irregularities and such stuff.

I finally got around to hooking up three discrete oscillators to the AJH Mini Mod's Moog-like mixer/filter, and my head is twisted. Not by pure bass (which I still think is benefitted by a single oscillator), but by plain ol' awesomeness. Damn, it sounds great, with a little clipping from the mixer, a nice bounce from a combination of the velocity and the key-follow, and a basic triple-unison tuning structure. Sounds a dream.

So, my old friends, I come to you with half a hat in hand. Three oscillators sound really nice. So do other quantities. Now get back in your mom's basement and make some more music! I dare you!


Saturday, November 14, 2015

A New Companion

Yesterday I got a new companion for my system - a brand new Push 2. I'd gotten the Experience Lite on Tuesday at the meetup, and my unit just showed up on Friday. Nice.

I spent about 45 minutes with it last night, and expect to bang on it over the weekend. But my first impressions are:

  • The pads are a huge, huge improvement. The come close to My Favorite Pads Ever (those found on the Maschine), but are different from a playability standpoint: the are nearly flush to the surface, so you can wiggle your finger around the surface and play swiggly melodic lines - something you'd never be able to do on a raised surface like the Maschine. Unlike others, I did jump onto the sensitivity settings, but found that the default was about as usable as any other setting. But the available settings for pad interface (sensitivity, gain and dynamics) are more extensive than any other pad surface I've used. Mega-points for this!
  • Hurry for clear octave up-and-down function keys during note entry!
  • The display is awesome. Just awesome. Inspires you to edit off the screen. In fact, once set up, I think I naturally played without looking at the screen for the rest of the 45 minutes. Super-easy to negotiate almost everything.
  • I've got more to learn on this thing. And somehow it seems like it'll be worth it.
  • The only negative? So far, it is the size and weight of it. But if that's all I've got to complain about, I'm in good shape! More coming up soon.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Aw, Jeez.

Leave it to ol' Chris, my buddy. Wanted to cheer me up. Let me try out his new Roland Boutique JU-06. He knew that I was a 106-guy from way back (I've owned at least one for at least 15 of the last 20 years...), and that I'd be pretty picky about how this sounded and felt. On the other hand, I needed to be cheered up, and I had some time this morning to play around.

Oh my.

I really, really like this thing. It fits conveniently on the corner of my desk (unlike a 106), has a nice interface to my compu-tron (unlike a 106), is super-visible in the dark (unlike a 106) and is cheap (unlike a 106). If I was to be honest, there's a little bounce that is typical for a 106 that isn't quite there on the JU-06, but that could just be my imagination. The level of detail on this thing, combined with the the sound (which is, frankly, excellent) means that I AM A BIG FAN.

I needed a little polyphony in my life. I needed it with controls (sorry, Blofeld...). 4-voice isn't going to kill me, and neither is $299. A nice companion to my little modular rig, but also a nice alternative to completely virtual soft-polys.

More fun to come, I'm sure. You'll be able to hear an example of this as the bumper music for the next podcast (#103).



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

See? I lie sometimes...

(a recent sighting in my rig)

Sometimes it appears that I don't know what I'm talking about. In my "Five Modules That Didn't Work For Me" posting, I pointed to the Tiptop Z4000 as a module that was tough: it had weird scaling on the ADSR pots, some hard-to-get controls for scaling and offset, and a lack of CV attenuators. So I dropped it.

And started looking for an alternative.

No luck.

The fact is, there is no decent VC-ADSR that will fit in a skiff format, is easy to find/attain, and works consistently (and the way I want it to work). So, as a result, I come hat in hand back to the Z4000. And it is fine, especially combined with a CV Tools (for attenuation) and an O'Tool (to make sure my deviator setting is kosher).

I sometimes wish that I was one of those bloggers that was never wrong, had a rock-solid opinion that never wavered, and could carry the day against the hoards of nay-sayers. But, alas, I'm probably a more typical modular guy; never satisfied, always searching, often misguided.



Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Well, as expected, replacing the two encoders (pan and resonance) and giving it a good scrub-down was the key. I now have a fully operational death star ESX-1! I needed to get a good SmartMedia card reader/writer, so that bumps the overall price up a little. The full monty is:

$90.00 - ESX-1 in "as-is" condition
$15.00 - replacement encoders
$18.00 - replacement 64Mb SmartMedia card
$13.00 - SmartMedia reader

Total cost: $136.00



Monday, October 26, 2015

My New Project

I'm a big fan of the Korg ESX-1 Drum Machine (and, as a result, really hate the new ES-2). It was my main 'keyboard' and sequencer for my last tour, and I buy and sell them regularly. I recent sold my last one, and was aching for another - but didn't want to spend too much. Up on Craigslist pops up an "as-is" ESX-1 for $90, and I snagged it.

Here you see it in partially disassembled state. It reeks of pot. Every ESX-1 I've ever bought used has reeked of pot. Really? What's up with that?

Turns out the only real problems here are some shot encoders - and which Syntaur was happy to sell replacements. Those should be coming in today, and I'll probably have a working (but still stinky) ESX by the end of the week! Total outlay including memory card? About $130.



Friday, October 23, 2015

AJH MiniMod Ladder Filter review

I stated earlier that I'm a bit of an East Coast lover - I always want at least part of my modular system to have a classic Moog-y sound. This was pretty easy with the 5U system, because that's the alter at which they worship. However, in Euro world, there is a lot more interest in West Coast (or sometimes 'tween Coast) synthesis, and so there's rather little that is super-East Coast focused.

I was going to provide a review, and this MW thread reminded me that I need to talk about it!

AJH is diving into East Coast synthesis in a big way, and I recently picked up the Mini Mod filter. It uses voltage rails that emulate the internals of the Minimoog, and a UI that combines both a ladder filter and a Moog-style audio mixer.

And the damned thing nails it for me. Its reactivity to modulation input has the right 'curl' to it - it's easy to dial in an AR or ADSR to get that growl in the CV response. The resonance whistles appropriatey, and the mixer overdrives in a really awesome way. I generally use it as a filter for my modified Pittsburgh filter, although it really makes a Braids light up in a great way. The filter is clearly East Coast - it's not that useful without a classic 80's oscillator set - but have a pair of oscillators screaming out a fifth and it is golden.

I'm going to buy some more of these modules; the contour generator is next (since I think that envelope will light things up even better than my Peaks filter...), and I'm curious what it'll be like in a year or so when I have an entire AJH voice...

... 'cuz you know it's going to happen!

(for what it's worth, other East Coast things I've tried are the Minitaur, the Macbeth Micromac R, the Macbeth X-series devices and the various Moog-like things by Doepfer and Analogue Systems devices. So yeah, I'm not a novice at trying this in Euro...)



Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Another Gem

I got another module yesterday that I keep thinking I don't need - until I don't have one. That's the Make Noise Function, which is one of the great unsung tools out there.

I know it's not "Half A Maths" - I've got a Maths too. But there is something too useful about dropping this into an 8HP hole and getting a snappy envelope, trianglish LFO, trigger generator, slew generator, track-and-hold and other cool stuff.

In order to put it into my performance rig, I pulled one of my Peaks and replaced it with the Function. It's a killer addition, and one of my favorite little (8HP or less) modules, and I won't ever be caught without one again.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Combining Efforts

Well, after fishing out the ol' Goike case and using it to test drive the Tidal Wave, I decided that this was just the way to go for Modular #2. So I brought in the Teaching Rig (a Pittsburgh Foundation 2 system) and put it all in there - along with a C&G IIO module to make it really easy to monitor patches as I was working on them.

Fired it up and it sounds pretty cool. If nothing else, this will make for an expanded teaching rig - so I can show people some of the crazy as well as the bread-and-butter.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Something new in the house...

Something new showed up at the house today! It's gonna take a bit to wrap my noggin around this thing, but the idea of a "voice module" that isn't a straight East Coast voice seems like a pretty compelling idea. I'll play a little and report back.

Cheers, SnazzyFX!


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Decision...

Maybe not as big as the Lebron decision, but more important to me...

I had a weird experience this weekend: I needed to quickly create the audio bumpers for my podcast, and quickly fired up Ableton Live. Dropped in an instance of ACE, and instances of my favorite drum kit and another polysynth, used some Mono Sequencer instances, and had a nifty track in about 10 minutes.

And, sadly, it sounded better than anything I've composed on the Octatrack.

I love the Octatrack for its compactness. I love it for its ability to toy with samples in unique ways. I love the plocks and the crazy scene/xfader system. I dislike the short sequences, the disconnected MIDI system and the remember-too-many-button-punches user interface. Love the Flex Machines. Really dislike the Pickup Machines.

I'm considering selling it (again!).

I need your help. Talk me out of selling? Talk me into selling and refocusing on Live (and MFL devices)? Quit whining and enjoy my first-world life?


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Prepping for the Shoot

I'm working on a video series on synthesis, and am setting up a corner of the house to be a specific patching location. This way, I don't have to worry about setting up lighting and camera position every time I want to pump out a video.

Work continued today, with the Foundation 2 system wired and tested through a Yamaha MS-202 powered speaker. A couple of Ikea lamps will provide LED-based lighting. Next up is the installation of the MIDI keyboard and placement of the video camera mount.



Monday, October 5, 2015

I'd Forgotten How This Works

Yesterday, I went with my son to Microcenter to pick up a pile of parts that is going to become his new gaming computer. I was struck by how, given my limited knowledge of current computer hardware (too many years of Mac/laptop action...), doing this stuff was similar to what beginning modular users run into:

  • There are forums about this stuff, but most of the discussions are way too detailed - and way to coded - to be useful to me.
  • When I do visit a forum, most of the posts are the equivalent of "This thing is excellent!"/"This thing is shit!"/"This thing is too expensive!" Tiresome.
  • There are endless similar things, each of which seem to have proponents, that are at vastly different prices, packaging, features and details. Head-swirling.
  • You can spend 110% of your money on getting what you want, even though it will perform about the same as if you'd spent 90% of your money.
  • There are namebrands that people spit at, other names that are lauded. Looking at the spec show practically no difference, but people are really, really adamant.
  • Most people walking around the showroom were getting advice from a friend - someone that is proposing that the newbie purchase exactly what they've purchased.
  • I, not having an opinionated friend in the area, found a sales guy to help. He sold me exactly what he's purchased in the past (plus, probably a few things that have decent spliffs).
  • In adding things up, the thing you don't think about (graphics card on the computer, case/power for the modular) end up eating far more of your budget than you would have imagined.
  • After spending a lot of money, bringing it all home, and piling it on the table, you realize that you are a long, long way to go before anything cool is gonna happen.
This effort reminded me to be thoughtful, compassionate and helpful when people ask me for help. FWIW, I could have really used a "Modular Grid for Gaming Computers"!


Friday, October 2, 2015

Oh Yeah - my other modular!

In exchanging email with Mark Mosher, who has been getting into u-he's Bazile patchable softsynth, I realized that I'd never mentioned my other modular, my real traveling modular:

u-he ACE

It's super-simple, but it reacts the way I'd expect. It's got some quirks (i.e., NO FREAKING VCA'S????), but is fun as hell. The UI is - to me - preferable to Bazile because I can actually see it; it is contrasted right, and the controls are large enough to deal. I actually most often use it for percussion synthesis. I had been using Drum Spillage, but its kit system is sorta opposed to the Live Drum Rack, so I use ACE to develop individual drum sounds, then rack 'em up.

Cool as hell, and fun as hell too. $80 (or so) well spent.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Different Kind of Modular

I had to dig this out for a proposal I'm doing with a friend, and thought you all might be interested in this. It's a modular of a different sort - it is one of many (in my case, three) "Performance Bug" devices that I use for certain kinds of performance. You start these up and "plant" them in the performance space; the programming (in Python, using a custom audio library I created) randomly captures, delays and replays audio snippets, thereby adding a sort of "memory" to the room.

It's really a simple system, with a Raspberry Pi 2 (in an Adafruit enclosure), Samson Go Mic and Kinivo amplified speaker. The combo comes in at a little over $100, but is really powerful. I also have a little $10 wireless network bit in there that allows it to live on a network; the result is a group of devices that can talk to each other, potentially share sounds, and generally interact with the performers in unique ways.

Very fun project, and something I'll be using more in the future.


Monday, September 28, 2015

In Search Of...

I want a voltage-controlled ADSR envelope. I know - they are part of the tyranny of the keyboard player, and I should be happy with an infinite number of Maths. But, alas, I sometimes want to sequence with an ADSR, and I'm in a quandry.

And this is something that is too hard to do in Modular Grid.

I want a VC-ADSR of a reasonable width, and a short enough depth that it'll fit in my Tiptop Station 252 case. I really want the VC part, because it provides for some interesting options in an otherwise static sequenced line. But I don't want goofy response curves, and I don't want goofy scaling of the controls. Basically, I want a simpler version of the Tiptop Z-4000 VC-ADSR, but without the odd scaling of controls - or the extra features like the unknowable Deviator.

Does anyone know of something that might fit the bill? In less than, say, 12 HP? Am I dreaming the dreams of the stupid?


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stepping away for a second...

I've got a business trip, followed by a personal trip, so I'm going to take a few days off to attend to this stuff. I'll be back next Monday!


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From England with Love

The latest entrant in my search for the Perfect (for me) East Coast filter, we have the AJH Synth Mini Mod Transistor Ladder Filter. AJH has gone a little over the top with Minimoog circuit emulation, with well-managed internal voltages that are the same as the original, and an attention to detail that is a little scary. I just put it in this morning, and early reports would be good (it is significantly different from the 904a emulators out there - ballsier and more responsive to envelopes). Perhaps the best part of this filter is the inclusion of a Mini-style 3-input mixer that distorts nicely at the top of the range. Really does dirty up a Eurorack system.

So far I likey. More info in a week or two, when I've had a chance to find something to be dissatisfied with!!!


Monday, September 21, 2015

A Box'o'Fun

Friday night, my friend Wally stopped by with a real box'o'fun - the Abstrakt Instruments Avalon. Here we have a fuzzy photo mainly provided to prove I actually got to put my hands on the thing.

And man, it is fun. Unlike the x0xb0x, all of the controls are super-accessible, and the whole surface seems really well developed for "feel-based" editing and performing, rather than having to gawk at a screen or (especially) a computer screen. While I like the Octatrack and all, the Avalong is one of those boxes that you could love - and love it almost immediately. It also is as solid as a rock (Wally pointed out that it could be a great self-defense weapon).

Pretty damned awesome.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

BEAPing for Cycling

Just a quick note to check out my 'Few Minutes With BEAP' video I did for the most recent Cycling '74 newsletter release:

Open it up big to see it in action. This gives you a quick sense of how easy it is to create a simple modular system within Max 7. I'm going to be doing a few minutes video every month or so, so maybe subscribe to the newsletter or something to keep track.

You can find the subscription thing at the bottom of the main Cycling '74 site.



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Filter Finder Deluxe

I'm in the middle of writing my book on modular filters, and it reminded me of one of the best filter-finding situations I'd run into. I was in Portland for a Max Workshop - which was being held in a store that sold modular gear. That's as much as I knew when I flew into town.

That store was Control Voltage.

I got there and my jaw hit the floor. I'd spent a lot of time around amazing synthesizer systems (most notably, in Grant Richter's basement...), but I'd never been in a situation like this - hundreds of modular, all available for hands-on testing, and all for sale.

I spent over two hours obsessively trying out many filter types. I'd assumed I'd love the Ripples filter, because I'd loved every MI device I'd tried up to that time. But I came away thinking 'Meh'. Similar feelings over a lot of different filters - until I ran into the Pittsburgh Filter (the first Pittsburgh module I'd ever tried) and the Filtare SEIII (one I'd never heard of, let alone tried).

A hit to the pocketbook and they were mine. They have both been part of my modular systems ever since. But it was the opportunity to do "this vs. that" tests of dozens of filters  - and trying them out with the oscillators that I prefer - helped me more than the buying/selling spanking machine I'd spent the previous years enduring.

So - visit your modular retailer, and take advantage of their willingness to show you the world!


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

For Lack of a...

... damned polyfuse. I purchased a bunch of Thonk kits for the Mikrophonie; it was my goal to 'finance' my purchase with the build-out and sale of several other kits. Alas, I got around to building 'my' Mikrophonie today, only to find that the kit was short one polyfuse.

Sadly, I took it to the local electronics shop (JB Saunders in Boulder), and they looked at me like I just dropped in from Mars. "You called it a what?", they said. "Is it resettable?". It's smaller than a pencil eraser, so no - it's not resettable.

It seemed like I'd just walked into the General Store of some 50's sit-com, and the old guys were saying "You know, in my day, britches were made from that hard denim - why, you couldn't even skin a 'possum one these con-founded new things."

Look like I'm gonna have to Mouser some of these, which means I'm going to be $10 to ship a .04 cent part...

Grrrr. Note to kit manufacturers: count twice, seal the bag once.


Monday, September 14, 2015

More build-outs

In an effort to get a Mikrophonie for Really Cheap, I bought three of the kits, built all three, and am selling two to cover some of the cost.

If you aren't aware of the module that Mike Metlay claimed was "The real reason for me to get a modular!!!", you should check out the video and text at Music Thing's site:

When people experience this thing, they have one of two responses:

- "Oh, yeah!!!"
- "Oh, no..."

I'm definitely part of the first group, and with the rough front panel, simple finger-scratches and taps are a modulator of madness, and this actually gives you a reason to shout at your modular! Got problems at work? Take it out on your modular! Horrible commute every day? Scream into the little hole!

Too much fun!


Friday, September 11, 2015

The Complete Unknowability of Pickup Machines

I've been working with the Octatrack's pickup machines lately - this is the part of the Octatrack that wants to be your looper. Or my looper. During my first go-around with the Octatrack, it was the Pickup Machines that threw me off the couch, stepped on my head, and spit in my gaping mouth (or at least that's how it felt).

But now I'm more comfortable with the machine, and have decided to tiptoe into the P.M. neighborhood again to see if I'd get beat up. Luckily, a lot more Elektronauts postings have shown up since I first tried, and I've learned that One2 is my best friend, followed by LEN = off. If you aren't an OT-head, that won't mean much - but it should tell you about the level of obscure that exists with this thing.

So what I'm finding is that, if the sequencer is off, and my LEN settings are all off, and I use One2 for the input triggering type, I can record all sorts of different loop lengths. But somehow, magically, the system adjusts everything for me, giving me nice hospital corners for looped content - even if that's not what I wanted. I want messy, dammit!

I just ran across this posting:

Elektronauts Posting

...and it gives yet another alternative for odd timing loops. So I'll give that a try. I do notice that if all the LEN setting are off, the whole idea of master and slave tracks goes bonkers in kind of a good way, and the result is pretty cool (if rather straight-forward); I did a hell of an interesting track last night with the input being only a running podcast. Capturing and looping little phrases turned out downright spooky.

So my work continues, but at least I don't feel beat up. But if you are an Octatrack user and know of a good way to deal with odd length loops, please drop me a line!!!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Temp Fix for Missing Panel Lights

For some reason, some module makers seem allergic to plastering their modules with LEDs. I'm not sure why - I'm not sure that I've ever found myself in the position of saying "Gee, I really wish I didn't know the status of that incoming CV voltage." So, since some of my favorite modules are a little LED-challenged, I came up with this little hack:

Adding a Division 6 jack-lamp to a Tiptop Stackable means that whatever I plug into is also auto-magically monitored. So when I need to know the output of a uFade'd LFO that's going into a Ripples Freq input, it's my Stack-Lamp (or Lightcable???) to the rescue!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Another Custom Piece (another 10-turn pot or two...)

Another custom piece that I want to share is actually a module that I use to manages a nightmare. Which nightmare? The nightmare of being thoughtful about exponential FM depth, and being musical about the whole thing.

When I listen to people that are doing FM work, so often I hear 'full on' depth of the exponential FM input, or (at best) a little depth modulation of the incoming FM signal. I, personally, find that the depth of modulation is critical in creating a musical result, so I want high-precision control of depth for FM sound design.

Chris Blarsky (of NINstruments fame) created another 10-turn wonder for me: a two-channel attenuator featuring a fairly firm 10-turn pot for each channel. Now, I can route my incoming FM signal into the TENuation module, very carefully tweak the depth of the signal, and use that for FM input. This is much more detailed than the typical tiny and 100-degree effective depth control built into most oscillators.

You could do something similar with a multi-input attenuator (like my CV Tools, for example), but there is something about a 10-turn pot, a dedicated module, and a clean approach to FM modulation depth that really speaks to me.


Monday, September 7, 2015

All Things Radio (Music)

Wyatt and I just finished a build-out of three Radio Music modules; one for me, and two for sale. So if you are in the mood for a built RM (rather than a kit...), they are selling to friends/family/MW-people for $150/each without an SD card.

One of the cool things about this is seeing Wyatt become a fantastic solder-monkey. He's been doing cabling for a local synth guy, and he's gotten to be a much better solderer than me. I think some of it is that his eyes actually work!

I've really been having fun with my Radio Music - I'm using the standard downloadables from the RM site, but I tweaked the card init settings so that it does immediate resets on station change, so I can get rattling and shaking soundscapes by running through the sounds.

One of the better uses of 4HP that you are going to find!


Sunday, September 6, 2015

More Tele Typing

So I got a chance to do some work with the Teletype yesterday, and the results were pretty awesome. Here's a picture of my programming in action:

My assumptions about what the Teletype would be were all wrong. Here was my thinking 'ladder':

1. It's probably about live coding!

Actually, it could be, but that's not where I found myself. It is actually more like coding a reaction to incoming events, and that takes planning. Also, there are some pretty extreme limitations (like, for example, the limit of only six lines of code for each trigger/system event), so planning/optimization is important.

2. It's probably like programming an ArdCore on the device!

Not even close, because you don't do coding-style structures: rather, you have snippets related to the following events:

- Any of the eight input triggers
- The firing of a metronome
- The startup/init phase of the system

Nothing else, really, so there you go...

3. I get it - it's a tracker!

There's a tracker personality in there somewhere, but I didn't make it that far, because I started writing a weird-o shift register system and never came out of that k-hole. This is one of those cases where the limitations helped me push some personal limits, and the result was a wonderful little 4-note ASR with an internal clock. All in 10 line of code!

So there you go - my first-day feelings about the Teletype. You can see a lot more people talking about (and learning about) the Teletype on the crazy lines ( website that Brian Crabtree set up, or dig around MW to see what people are saying.

But I had a hella good time!


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Oh Dear...

Well, I got my monome Teletype, and am going to start working with it over the weekend. But what have I done? Maybe got me an ArdCore++? Or something else? We'll see.

I'll report once I figure it out!

Side note: What the hell is it with monome modules and screw alignment. I get that most people have sliding-rail systems for module mounting, but the spec is available, and screw hole positioning should be possible. My other two monome modules are all chewed up by my Dremel-work; this one had slots that were *almost* in the right position, but I ended up cocking up a few screws trying to angle them in. HUFF!!!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

(Many) Loopers Have Issues

I've become somewhat of a looper freak. It turns out the building up complex track with your modular, using a looper as the 'multiplying device', is both a useful and fun way to create a track. Over the past few years, I've tried a bunch of different loopers, and now I've got a bone to pick

Most commercial loopers that I've used (or tried) have a fundamental problem for me: they will only loop in time. You create a 'master track', then every other loop that you record has to be some even-numbered multiple of that track length. This is great if you are trying to be Reggie Watts and making a tight beat. But what if you are doing a sloppy ambient piece, with drones sliding in and out to create a never-ending harmonic swill? Can't do it.

I've gotten to the point of poring over user manuals before buying a looper so I don't get stuck with this problem. You see, I want to be able to choose whether or not loops are synchronized, and use the differing modes for different composing processes.

So far, the biggest 'losers' are all Electro Harmonix loopers. I love the layout of these loopers, with their front panel mixers, easy bouncing functions and great sound. But there is no way to de-sync. The looper (i.e., Pickup Engine) in the Octatrack is similarly hamstrung, requiring all loops to slave to a master loop's length.

Sorta-winners include the Boomerang looper pedal, which does have a de-linked mode, but is so non-visual as to be a complete head-fuque. Much better is the Boss RC-505 - a device I was using until recently. It has the most flexible looping engine I've ever worked with, but is combined with some of the worst internal effects I've ever heard in a Boss unit.

I'm currently experimenting further with the Octatrack; rather than using its Pickup Engine loopers, I'm trying to get comfortable with live sampling into the standard sampling engines and working with that. Not sure it'll work, but I'm trying.

Do you have a looper that you love? Does it do de-linked looping? If so, let me know your experiences - I'm all ears!!!


Monday, August 31, 2015

The Love/Hate Relationship

I remember a time, when I was fresh off of 5U modules and onto Eurorack (thanks Paul S.!), when I thought that the best module I'd ever seen was the Synovatron CV Tools. It adds! It subtracts! It multiplies and divides! It has blinky lights! It slews! Oh man - it was the kind of module that just didn't existing in 5U land.

But then I got a really small skiff, and it was pretty much too deep. Then I ran into an Invy and that did most of the stuff (minus the blinky lights) in just 4HP instead of 12. And the MI Shades even has blinky lights. And the Triatt does most of those functions, too, in 6HP. And, and, and...

And I've tried, but any time I replace the CV Tools in my rig, it always comes back to me. I actually sold it one time to try to rid the house of it, but I couldn't - I ended up buying another because it had to be there. Too useful, all of the controls and displays are too obvious, and even the depth is just workable within a Station 252 case, so it stays in my loving arms.

This is a parable for all of you that might sometimes be too quick to move to the newer, smaller or sexier thing: be careful what you cast aside, for it may be your true love.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Just in case you missed me jumping up and down on Facebook...

Another great podcast chat, this week with Pittsburgh Modular mastermind Richard Nicol.

The Art+Music+Technology Podcast #94

Richard was willing to talk about his background, his design philosophy and even his personal system (shockingly small...). He also opened me up to re-looking at some of his newer modules; in particular, he pointed out that the Game System module is really a way to provide 8 different, idiosyncratic sequencers in one fun-to-play-with package.

I'm not much of a game guy, so when this was first announce I was a little 'yawn'. But now that I understand where it is coming from, it certainly seems worth a try. You see, I'm come to dislike the majority of 'random' things, but idiosyncratic provides some options that 'well thought out' can't, and I'm sorta up for that now. Of course, I also have that monome Teletype that I've got to crack into...

Oh, by the way, the hour-long set at the Full Moon Festival was wonderful. The sunset show, me basking in the glory of the coming evening (and full moon), and sharing the mix with the soft rattle of the nearby stream; it was magical. Thanks to Wally and the MESS crew for giving me this opportunity!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

The USPS Drum Machine Box

If you are like me, and you like drum machines, you probably buy and sell them a bunch. However, most of the boxes you get don't fit a drum machine properly, so you end up either overspending on bubble wrap or you cheap out with old newspapers (and the recipient of the drum machine ends up with a cool machine flopping around in its box).

At one point, I was complaining about this to our mail person, and she said "Hey, did you see these new big boxes?" She pulled one off the shelf, and wow - it was perfect. It's about 1 1/2 times the length and 25% wider than the typical mailing box, and it fits perfectly for things like my ESX-1 (fare thee well...), an R-8 or even a TR-8. It gives you enough rooms to properly pack, but doesn't overdo the air-space.

The only downside is that it is a flat rate box, and it is a "Large" size, so you are out roughly $18.00 to ship. But the result is a box that fits, a modest amount of packing material used and really fast delivery.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Next Up on the Performance Scene

Thanks to my friend Wally, I've got a performing spot at the upcoming Full Moon Festival (put on by MESS). Far up in the Rocky Mountains, this is going to be a great opportunity to play out with the Octatrack; I've put together an hour set that is a mix of my-favorite-martian DJ'ing and live performance. I'm seamlessly moving back and forth between full-on performance and track playback - which is going to feature the work of one of my favorite artists: Alva Noto.

One of the coolest thing about this gig is the way that MESS puts together stages. They have two stages: a Moon Stage and an Earth Stage. The Moon Stage is where you would get the more typical festival work, featuring a lot of dance-worthy, pumping tracks. The Earth Stage, on the other hand, allows for an eclectic mix of experimental, down-tempo and dubby tracks.

In order to honor this plan, I've put together a custom set that combines the minimal/experimental work of Noto, the Jazz-Meets-Techno work that Andrew Pask and I do, and the darker minimalism that I typically do. Oh, and a bunch of French-influenced tracks. Completely left-field, but in a pretty interesting and surprising way.

Luckily for me, the Full Moon Festival actually has a place for something like this. Getting excited!


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Current State of the Beast

Yesterday's post caused a bit of a kerfluffle. I thought I'd even out the coverage by the current state of my main rig. Everything is pretty much 'golden' except for that Triatt at the top right - I still feel like something else might go better there.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Five Modules That Did Not Work For Me...

Often, modular users are a bragging lot - they spend a lot of time talking up the wonderful purchase they made last week, while selling off all of the previous week's bragging tools. But we have a unique opportunity as modular users: we get to add or subtract components of our instrument without actually having to completely change instruments. This gives us great opportunity.

Alas, I'm going to do something that few do: I'm going to list some modules that I didn't enjoy using. Some of these are from companies that I greatly respect. Some of these are world-class modules of their type. But I'm in the great position of being able to be very picky, and these didn't pass my personal tests. I'm going to try to talk about 'why' as well as 'what', but as you will see, there is a fair amount of voodoo in the discussion.

So let's go!

#1: Qu-Bit Nano Rand

One of the cooler 4HP devices out there, the Nano Rand suffer from two issues that I couldn't handle.

First, as with other Qu-Bit items, the lighting is outright obnoxious. In this case, an extremely bright RGB LED is pointed up at a clear knob; the result is that the knob blinks at the clock rate, and is colored to determine the mode you are in. You can defeat the light by using an opaque knob, but then you can't easily tell your mode. Or you can move the light, but then different colors have different levels of illumination. I know some people love the super-blinky modular system (the number of YouTube videos of this verifies my thoughts), but I can't stand something that distracts me from my work.

The second problem - and one that will always grind my gears - is the loose/wobbly knob. About as bad as the original Buchla 200e knob-wobble, this reeks of "I'm gonna fall apart during your most important gig."

#2: Tiptop Audio Z4000 VC-EG

Man, I wanted to like this one. Easy on the HP, and voltage controlled throughout. But turning the knobs was so stiff that it literally hurt my hand, and the ranges were such that I couldn't get to the point of 'feeling' the settings. Thus, it slowed down my patch-creation by about 100% - which is a big problem during live performance patch creation.

I'm also not a big fan of super-tiny interface elements, and both the Attack Slope switch and the Deviator knobs were pointlessly small. I know it was necessary to keep the HP down, but the result was pretty unusable for me.

#3: Circuit Abbey Tripfire

I file this under the "Just Doesn't Work For Me" category. The comparitor works fine, I guess, although I had stability problems any time I tried using it. But the gate delay was just bogus - the mode switchy thing is unknowable, and the lack of 'memory' for the gate delay means that, unless you were working with incredibly slow gates, you just weren't going to get a usable output.

I've had a love-hate relationship with CA devices since I started my Euro system building. So many of them seem to be perfect for my needs when I look at 'em. And so often they just don't help me when I buy them. Whenever you see me selling a CA module, you know that I tricked myself into buying one again.

#4: The Harvestman Tyme Sefari and Sound of Thunder

I've had both v1 and v2, and - kind of unique to my experience in the modular world - I've never, ever gotten a single good sound out of these. I suspect that The Harvestman's response would be "That's 'cuz you are a fookin' idiot!", and he might be right. But somehow I just consistently make poor choices about settings and trigger, and never end up with anything that is worth hitting a record button.

This is a case where some people find a module to be the Center Of The Universe for them, but it doesn't work for me. So we'll label this as an 'idiosyncratic mismatch' and move along...

#5: Make Noise MMG Filter

I might just blow up the Internets by suggesting that something Make Noise makes isn't The Best Thing Ever, but I have to go there. I'm a die hard Maths addict, and use the OptoMix on every patch. But my attempts to make something good happen with the MMG have always gone awry.

I find this filter to lack character in a way that made me actively avoid it during performance. In fact, this is kind of an interesting dynamic: the things that I find myself attracted to during performance is the true test of my need to keep that module. I go through great efforts to learn modules before I gig with them, so inevitably there is an alignment between what I want to hear when I'm performing, and how much I like a module. And avoiding a module during performance is an equally powerful story.

So there you go - a MN module I don't like...

So there you go - a few notes on things that didn't work for me. You'll note that (with maybe the exception of the CA module...) I don't suggest that they don't work - they just didn't work for me. That's an important distinction to understand, and is a useful way to consider your module build - and to determine when a module might not be right for you.

See you over at MuffWiggler's Buy-Sell-Trade forum!


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sample! Hold! Slew! Noise!

Continuing my favorite odd-ball modules (which means that I'm not going to cover the Maths...), today I cover the Analog Solutions SH-NZ module.

How could anyone get excited about a noise module? Well, for some reason, this module provides me with sampled noise (using the built-in sample-and-hold-and-slew circuit) that sounds right - and every other module I've tried in Euro-land sounds wrong.

Another nice thing is that there is a one-wire modification that normalized the noise output to the S&H input, which I have of course done. Now, except for a clock source, I don't have any patching required to make it run.

AS modules have a lot of shite involved in using them. Often, their ranges aren't quite right (for example, the high end of the noise source setting produces weird results), and they use a power connector that is, well, stupid. But once you get past that, you end up - in this case - with the best-of-class module in the Euro World, and something that you will use for all sorts of functions.

Are you worried about there not being different colored noise? Sheesh, that's what a filter is for...


Friday, August 21, 2015

One of the better $32 I've spent...

... is on the simple-yet-amazing PassiVac Vactrol-based VCA. Available at this etsy link (!), this is a passive module that does an active module's work - it provides simple VCA control of a signal with another signal. How can something work - and light an LED! - without a power connection? Well, it uses the current of the signal and control voltages to drive the whole thing.

There are other Vactrol VCA's out there, but they aren't 2HP, and they are $32. I have this sitting right next to a Pittsburgh LFO2 in my rack, and it gives me access to a nice bit of voltage control without breaking the bank (or my HP allocation) to do it. Since this is a passive module, there will be plenty of voltage droop, so it isn't something that you'll want to use for precision VCA work. But for basic, run-of-the-mill voltage controlled depth or level adjustments, you can't really beat this little guy.

Highly recommended!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Another 4HP of Wonder!

Today I heap praise on another of my favorite modules - the Intellijel μFade module. This is another Swiss Army Knife of a module, since it can act as a mixer, crossfader (it's primary stated purpose), VCA and weird-o waveshaper.

I haven't had this nearly as long as the LAMP-1, but that doesn't matter - I fell in love with it the second it came in the house. I have it sitting right next to my two modded Pittsburgh oscillators, and it is my oscillator mixer as its everyday module.

But where it really gets fun is when you CV-control whatever it is that is running through the A and B channels. Having two oscillators tuned to the same (or similar) frequencies gives you an alternative way of adjusting harmonic content without filtering. But it gets even more fun when you start pushing crazy waveshapes and wavesequences through this module, then using a not-quite-normal LFO waveshape (I'll often use two mixed sawtooth LFOs running at different speeds) to drive the mix setting. You can get massively complex sounds without having too many modules dedicated to the task.

The big modification of my μFade was the replacement of the V1 knobs with a set of V2 knobs (Intellijel μModules are all on a version 2 except for this one...); this makes it fit in with the other Ijel modules I'm obsessed with, and the whole thing is wonderful!

Much recommended.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Praise of Almost The Simplest Module

(photo by Eva Lewin - see below)

I'm going to gush about a few modules over the next few days, and the first is probably one of the simplest powered modules I own. It is also one of the things that makes my rig look really cool, and is also super-helpful when doing gigs.

That module is the Synthwerks Lamp-1 module.

This little 4HP module was one of the first Eurorack modules I bought, and has stuck with me through tons and tons of other system changes. Why so important? Well, first of all, it sits at the top-left side of my case, which is a perfect spot to have some multiples for distribution of oscillator pitch CV. So that's useful.

Then there is the USB lamp connection and dimmer. When I got the LAMP-1 (used) from a Muffwiggler seller, it didn't have any lamp - the knucklehead I bought it from didn't bother to mention that he'd lost his lap. So I jumped onto Amazon and found a GoalZero Luna LED Stick Light. This provides 10 LED lamps across most of the surface of my Station 252 case, and adds a cool Buchla-esque feel to the case that makes it a fan favorite as well. It is also wonderfully small for packing and traveling.

And travel it does, because it gives me a great performance option: no matter what the environment that I'm play in, I will always have the same illumination that I use when I'm geeking out in the living room. This gives me a warm blanket of familiarity, and helps tamp down the Everything-Is-New-Again feeling when you set up for a gig. Surprisingly helpful.

Of all my 4HP modules, this is clearly one of my favorites, and will probably follow me around for years to come.


(The photo at the top of this post was done by Eva Lewin during a recent (no)poem gig in Des Moines, IA. Eva's work was amazing; you can see more of her work here.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Oy, is it really Promo Time?

Just got a note that, to continue my adjunct teaching gig at DU, I needed to send in an updated CV. Just what do they think I've been doing lately?

So I pulled together a one-sheet and shipped it off; hopefully that'll work for everyone. But I really had trouble pulling together all of the stuff I'd done this year; an album release, a bunch of workshops and speaking gigs, teaching several classes, helping ship Max 7 - yikes!

But putting it all down in some useful format is next to impossible - and I've been getting bit by it recently (for example, the art museum wanted more up-to-date info than the creaky stuff on my web page...). So, somehow, I need to find a way to work up the excitement to beef up - and clean up - my CV/resume/website.

But I'd rather pull teeth...


Monday, August 17, 2015

This week with Dennis DeSantis

If you aren't yet a subscriber to my Art + Music + Technology podcast, you are missing out on some cool people talking about their history and work. It started out as a lark, but is turning into a pretty interesting oral history project.

This week I talk to Dennis DeSantis, the Ableton guru and author of the book "Making Music - 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers".

During our discussion (which is podcast 92!), Dennis talks about the process of creating the book, but also some of his experiences working with people at various stages of the production process. But my favorite part of the chat was a discussion about the role of expertise in the development of modern music. I've always found Dennis to be an amazing guy, but this talk reinforced why he was the right guy, at the right time, to be producing this book.

Take a listen, and let me know what you think!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Simplest Things...

... often go unstated. I'm preparing for a set at the upcoming Full Moon Festival, and wanted to include a track by one of my favorite artists: alva noto. I got the track, pushed it to my Octatrack and was immediately struck by how awful it sounded.

Not the track, but the playback. It was jittery, off-speed, and messy. I started going through the entire Octatrack settings mess, turning off effects, processes, master track goodies and anything that could have been interfering with the sound. But nothing helped.

So, last night I was (<sigh>) reading the Octatrack manual in bed when I ran across the section that talks about preparing a sample for playback. In this section, it describes setting the TSTR (Time Stretch) function so that the track would play back in sync with the tempo of the Octatrack.

But, you see, that's the opposite of what I wanted to do! But that's when it hit me - I'll be the time-stretch function was on. And indeed it was, and the second I turned it off clarity rained from the speakers. SCORE!

This reminds me of the people that talk about how awful Ableton Live sounds for track playback, and how everyone's first advice is to turn off time-stretching. How I didn't connect that advice with this issue is beyond me, but it shows you what can happen when you assume knowledge that you don't have.

Anyway - all good now!


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Another One Bites the Dust...

So, do you want to know exactly how fiddly I am about my module selection? Today, I sold my Mutable Instruments Links module. It's a basic utility module, and it had some nice features.

So I put in in my Station 252 next to all my other MI modules, and that's where the problem started. You see, every MI module has an icon and a band along the top, and the MI icon and a band along the bottom. But the Links doesn't have the band at the bottom, and it was bugging me.


So I put it up for sale, and today it hit USPS on its way to a new owner. Now, I'm sure that there are many people howling, crying and throwing their shoes at the screen right now - because that sounds like the stupidest reason that anyone could ever have about not wanting a module.

But I believe strongly that, when designing an instrument, you have to beware of cognitive "speedbumps" - things that cause you to pause, even for a microsecond, about the organization of said module. Guitar players will often dump an instrument if the neck is 1/16th of an inch too thick, or the volume control fits in the wrong place on the crook of their pinkie finger. I think of my modular in the same way that I think of my guitars, and the lack of consistent panel imagery threw off my immediate sense of the "Mutable group" in my rack - and therefore caused me to have to think for a microsecond more than I needed to think. When I replaced this with an Intellijel mult and Triatt (one of my "Intellijel groups" is just to the right of the MI group...), I immediately felt more comfortable and confident in the use of that section of the modular without thinking.

I actually believe it was more than the lack of a band. This is one of the few cases where MI put too much stuff in too small of a package - the face is almost all jacks, each of which serves a different purpose. The result is too much thinking - and the speedbump process begins.

First world problem, but in this case I can afford to be picky, and to engineer the instrument that allows me to be most productive.


Friday, August 14, 2015

More Physical Modeling!

Recently, my Cycling '74 friends and I took on a new library of objects for our 'pet projects' site, For our second project, we took on an update of the PeRColate object - some of the most amazing objects ever to grace Max's face.

Featuring standard instrument model, oddball instrument models (a blotar?) and other funky object, the PeRColate objects (originally created by Dan Trueman and Luke DuBois) had started to fall out of spec with the latest version of Max. So our little band of mad-folk took on the object set and brought it up to speed with updated objects, completely re-done help files and some great examples.

If you play with Max, you will definitely want to check out the PeRColate objects. You can get this updated package - and check out Tom Hall's excellent examples - at the maxology PeRColate page.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Here we go (again)...

Just in today...

After much soul searching, I decided I needed to retry my hand at the Octatrack. I had one in the past, and it drove me a little crazy. But I have a new weapon to use in learning this beast:

My friend Mark Mosher.

He has become the most serious user outside of Elektron themselves, and I'm glad to say he told me he'd help me. I'm not sure he knows what he bought into!

Time to hit the video pile!