Friday, July 31, 2015

The second best modification in my rig...

... is the modified Pittsburgh Oscillator (or actually, two of them...).

I think Pitts gets a raw deal from people because they are inexpensive, and (thanks to the Foundation systems) tend to be the first thing that people get. But some of their modules are best-in-class pieces; people rave about the Filter module, and I think that the Oscillator is, along with the Tiptop Z3000, in a race for 'best sounding sawtooth-core oscillator'.

So what is so hot about my modified Oscillator? Well, I had a nice talk with Chris Blarsky (of Ninstruments fame...) about how I liked the sound of this oscillator, but I didn't really care for the difficulty I had with precise tuning - especially in a live context. I showed him the board layout, and asked about doing a mod where there would be a 10-turn pot instead of the standard 270-degree pot.

He thought about it for a minute, then said "Sure". I was going on a business trip, and he started cranking. Partway through the trip, he calls me up and says: "Um, with the 10-turn pot in there, it doesn't seem like the fine tune knob does much. Do you think there is something that could work better? I thought back to my experience with the 5U Q106 (my fave oscillator ever...), and said "Octave switching!". So now, in addition to the 10-turn tuning, I have an octave switch - a perfect addition for a live rig.

One thing that people say is "I need to do dive bombs - how could that happen with this setup?". Well, apart from wanting to scoff at dive bombs, I'll say that Chris managed to find some very light-touch 10-turn pots. I can easily put my index finger on the edge of the knob and spin in all 10 turns in an eye-blink. I've had other 10-turns that were super stiff, so I can understand the question. But somehow, Chris nailed this one, and I've got the best sawtooth oscillators I can imagine!


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Working with the Winbook Tablet

So, I got a lot of notice for that tablet/BeatStep article I posted. And, as you can imagine, I've been burning the midnight oil working on this system. Current look/feel:

First of all, you can see that I now have a mouse. A Microsoft Bluetooth mouse. Cost about 1/3 of the cost of the tablet, but worth every cent. No need to jack into the single USB port, so no need for a hub. And it allows me to work at the higher-resolution level with the tablet - and therefore see more of my patches and desktop.

Secondly, I've started doing *real work* with this system. It's going with me on the mini tour, but I'm not sure if it is going to be onstage yet. I'm hoping so, but I need it to do most of what I'm currently doing with the ESX-1. Part of what I'm doing is to make sure it works stably with my BeatStep.

(Note: The following is true only for my Winbook TW802, but will probably help for others with Atom-processor-based systems they are trying to use for music.)

A couple of notes already:

- This has a Realtek audio system, so <sigh>. ASIO4ALL seems like it should be a charm, but it only works at a real low latency setting - but the latency is actually very high. Using the WDM and/or MME drivers work best.

- Turn off Wi-fi. People that are used to doing music with Windows boxes already know this - wi-fi interrupts in the worst, and most-often, way.

- When working with software, watch out for bone-headed development. For example, I'd love to use the standalone version of the Image-Line DrumAxx software. The problem? Image-Line decided that they didn't have to do channel-limited MIDI, and the BeatStep puts everything out on a single MIDI line. Hence, the DrumAxx  plays the drum output - and both of the sequencer outputs, too. Makes it useless.

You'd be surprised about how many software packages has some sort of chink in their armor. You could get around it by making some Max wrapper - but you probably don't want that extra overhead if you don't need it.

There's a start! I'll let everyone know how it is going.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I didn't know about these tutorials...

I was in a marketing meeting today; someone asked me what I thought of the Max tutorials start start from downloading the app and goes all the way through video looping. I told 'em I'd never heard of that. Here's the pointer I got:

And here's the first one embedded:

I hope you find them as interesting as I did!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

And at my Right Hand...

Last night, I was doing some practice and recording time with the modular, and ended up charming my own pants off (figuratively). Some of it is because I'm using a basic generative system - but not a computerized one. Instead, I'm using a looper (the Boss RC-505 desktop looper) that has some peculiar characteristics that really work for modular synth-ing.

The reasons I like this device include:
  • Scads of memory - I've not yet hit a real limit in actual use.
  • Very clear visuals of where you are at with the loops and recordings.
  • Straight-forward volume control for each loop - no guessing!
  • The (optional) ability to run loops out of sync.
That last point is the most significant - and it's where I'm getting my generative flow from. Basically, it emulates the classic "tape loops of different length" process, where different loop lengths cause a constantly-changing chordal series out of a few recorded monophonic lines.

I've been doing this for a long time in live performance, but now I'm really confident in using the 505 alone. This means that I can, if I desire, work live without a computer. In some situations, this is the perfect setup - and I'm glad I found a way to do it!


Monday, July 27, 2015

Too Cute for Words

I'm going to be writing more about this for Cycling '74, but I spent some time yesterday trying to come up with a non-laptop performance system centered around the Arturia Beatstep Pro.

Now, what you are seeing isn't a perspective problem - it's a tiny computer. In fact, it's a small tablet running Windows 8.1 - and a Max percussion patch that I'm working on! "Sure," you may say, "you can afford them thar Windows Surface machines!".

To which I say "No, this is a Winbook TW802 tablet that I got at Microcenter. My open box unit cost $79, but you can get a new one from them for $99."

Produces enough USB power to run the Beatstep Pro, the audio output is good enough to push my mixer, and I now have a backpack-able Max-Beatstep performance rig that actually has a likelihood of being fun!

Check out the TW802 at Microcenter,  or on Amazon (where it is a lot more expensive).


Sunday, July 26, 2015

The filter that won't go away.

I've got a problem module. It's like a case of the crabs - you do everything you can to make it go away, but it just won't. Day-am.

Said filter is...

... the Division 6 Filtare SEIII.

For some reason, this filter has gotten a bum rap. It tightly sized (at 8 HP), has good cutoff and resonance characteristics, and it has plenty of voltage control.

So why have I been so hot to get something else? I dunno - maybe it's the fact that other people have sort of crapped on it on the Muff Wiggler site. Maybe it's because its front panel doesn't scream with any sort of character. Maybe it is even the cheap looking knobs that don't really match up with my other modules.

But maybe it's just that I get drawn it by The Fantastic New. You know what I mean? Make Noise comes out with the MMG, I'm going to dump the Filtare for that. Mmmph, not as good. New Aion Moog-like filter? I'm sure that's the replacement. Nope, didn't do it. Go back to a classic, like the Bubblesound SeM20! No, not right.

In every case, I get these things, give them a twirl, maybe even get a little entranced - then I try the Filtare and - boom! I realize that's the sound of music for me. So maybe I've learned, and will stick with this guy.

But I wouldn't bet on it - I seem to be a fickle lover...


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Preparing for a gig...

I'm in the process of getting ready for an upcoming set of gigs with Mark Mosher (of Modulate This!); we are going to do a mini-tour (basically, a long weekend drive) that puts us in Lincoln, NE on August 1 and Des Moines, IA on August 2. You can find out more about us (we go by the name "(no)poem") and the gigs on our site:

or our Facebook page:

The above snap is part of the self-generating feedback-based imagery system that I'll be using during the gigs. I'm putting the final touches on the patch (which is based off the 'Cyclotron' patch in the Max 7 Examples); if you are interested, I'll put the patch up for downloading in a couple of days.

So let me know via comments!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Addition of a new (modular) child

I got a new baby yesterday:

I'm calling it my "teaching system". "What", I'm sure you are asking, "do you expect to teach with this rig?" Well, a couple of things:

  • First, I'm most of the way done with a book on modular synths. I'll be accepting mail contacts (for when it is done) soon-ish, but I have to start working on it now. More on this in a few weeks.
  • I teach "Sound Art" at a local university, and want to start introducing modular synths into the discussion. But my Tiptop system will just break the students' heads. Something like this is a lot simpler, and the Big Knobs help people understand where the 'fun stuff' occurs.
  • I do a bit of workshopping (and expect to do more in the future). Have a modular of any sort on stage and you get people's attention quickly!
Thanks to a little help from Jason at Control Voltage, I was able to ditch the two blank panels and put in a Pittsburgh "Toolbox", which does noise, slew and sample & hold. Missing pieces from a teaching system now in place.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Kicking off the Blog!

Hi all! Darwin Grosse here - software developer, writer, teacher and Complete Modular Head. This blog is going to be about all of the things that I'm into - and all of them are tied into modularity within electronic music and media arts.

So this means software (Max, Reaktor, Hollyhock and others...), hardware (Eurorack, 5U and others) and the interface with the rest of our art-world. In addition to working on it for a living, I also am the world's biggest fan.

Above is an older version of the TipTop Station 252 that I use for my performing and primary recording device. It changes constantly, although some things (like the O'Tool, Maths and Braids) never seem to change. But part of this blog will be watching the constant churn of my systems.

So, with little further ado:

The AllThingsModular Blog!