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!


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Aalto and Kaivo on Sale!

Randy Jones, of Madrona Labs, has announced that all of Madrona's plug-ins are 30% off. That means Aalto is $69, and Kaivo is $90. You use the coupon code "PARABOLA" in the Madrona to get the deal - good through September 1.

If you haven't checked out Madrona's plug-ins, you are in for a surprise. Aalto is the closest thing to the wonderful-yet-irrational world of the Buchla - without going bankrupt. But for me, Kaivo is the deal: a toolbox/playground for physical modeling which opens the door for crazy experimentation, or sometimes just a nice guitar.

This is probably my favorite plug-in for wasting a Sunday afternoon, and I've used it a lot (in conjunction with my modular and Ableton Live, of course) to create the sound beds for the AMT podcast. It's a steal at 90 bucks, and a great way to support a great company.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mark Mosher's Overview of the TW802 WinBook Tablet

Here is a brief overview by Mark Mosher (of the Modulate This! blog) on his experience borrowing my WinBook TW802. His desire was to find a way to have an "Absynth Machine"; here is his feedback:


I tested the WinBook. My conclusion is since having Windows in this small form factor is both a plus and the product's undoing. Unlike an iPad, where app interfaces scale and are designed for the form factor, Windows apps that would run on your desktop are very hard to read or simply don't fit. If you used Max or something and turned it into a black box you didn't have to interact with, it might do the job  - but it's too underpowered to trust with off the shelf applications unless they are super lean. So this is a non-starter for me.

Here are more detailed notes on my testing:

  1. I couldn't get my novation NIO (USB1) soundcard working. It's ASIO driver went on, it lit up, no audio. I ended up using the WASAPI driver for testing using headphone jack.

  2.  It's underpowered for Abysnth. Absynth works, but more complex patches stress or overload the CPU. If you played single note drones you might get away with it. Interestingly, latency was reasonable for live performance for lower CPU patches. Because it's underpowered, if anything goes wrong recovery takes too long. Example, I switched audio drivers in an app. the app hung. I tried to kill the process, that took like 45s.
  3. The screen is too damn small for use live. Text is teeny - but man it's hard to read.  You could never use your finger to manipulate the interface without losing your mind.

  4. MIDI Bridge ran and cubes function, but the interface  didn’t fit in the dimensions of the screen (1280x800). At this point I'd rather just wait for a Percussa hardware box.
  5. I loaded BeatStep MIDI Control Center, but it's interface wouldn't quite fit on the screen either.
 - Mark

Many thanks to Mark for this overview from a typical software user. I'm particularly focused on using it with Max, and will have more information on this shortly. Whee!!!


Monday, August 10, 2015

The Next Test Device

Right now, Mark Mosher is using the TW802, but I have another test unit that I'm going to be playing with over the next few days:

It's a crazy lil' beast, with one full-size USB port (which will be handy, I'm sure...) and plugs directly into the HDMI port of a monitor or projector. I'm going to see how this performs, if it can deal with video at all, how well it deals with audio and how it integrates with Max (and other software I use).

I already know there are going to be pros and cons. One of the pros will be that, using it with a large screen TV or monitor, I'll have a lot more screen real estate than with the TW802. But it's also going to be pretty useless in a car. So at this point I'm not sure what I'll find - but I'll be that a lot of the usefulness will be based on its video performance.

More info in a bit!


Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Front End for my Rig

Well, I've been using the Korg ESX-1 as a combo sequencer/keyboard, but it sorta sucked for the later use. So I've put together a new front end built off of some ancient tech I had tucked in the garage.

Starts with the iConnectivity iConnectMIDI2 (non-plus). I originally got this when I reviewed it for Recording Magazine, and it has been in use on-and-off over the last few years. For all of the things that it does, including iOS connectivity, computer-to-computer connections and MIDI thru functionality, I'm most entranced by its ability to be a MIDI host for the host of USB MIDI controllers I've got.

Now, if I combine this with a Korg Microkey 37...

I've got a nice keyboard front-end for my teaching modular. Given that the whole thing was hidden away in the garage, I think I scored - but if I needed to redo this from scratch, all of the components could probably be bought off of eBay and Amazon for about $150 or so. Hella deal until Paul Schreiber comes out with that new MIDI module (which has a USB host function).


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Localized Sound

Today I finished editing the podcast that will be released tomorrow - featuring Dan Trueman. Dan's done many things, but one of the things that he'll go down in history about is the development of the laptop orchestra. In our discussion, he points out the importance of the individual speaker for each performer; he points out that this gives a different perspective for both the performer and the audience about the locale of an individual's play.

Laptop orchestras generally use the hemispherical speakers shown above (available from Isobel Audio), since they radiate in all directions, and are relatively small and short.

Today, Mark Mosher and I had a followup meeting about our recent tour, and one of the things that we found rather disappointing was the lack of clarity about who was making what sound. Mark already uses the Bose L1 Compact, which is easy to haul, set up  - and it sounds great. I used to have a full-on Bose L1 system, but it was too powerful; I could have blown the walls off of most of the places we've played with the volume set to 2. But I think that, at some point, I'm going to have to invest in an L1 Compact system so we can do balanced individual monitoring.



Friday, August 7, 2015

Alas, Arturia, I Bid Thee Goodbye

Can't do it. Can't get into the Arturia BeatStep Pro. I really want to like it! It's got everything I'd hope: simple project and sequence saves, flexible track length, clear playback indicators and a reasonable set of control functions. So what's there not to like?

If I could explain it, I could probably scoop out that side of my brain and be in a much better place. You know how sometimes you feel a problem without actually being able to name it? That's where I am with the BSP. It's cool in almost every measurable way, and for some reason I know that I'll never gig with it, I'll never use it for a recording and I'll never want to base a system off of it.

In a way, this is related to how I deal with my modular. Several of my friends make jokes about how quickly I buy and sell modules, and how I don't actually embrace new things very often. On the other hand, I stare in amazement as they buy up modules, get new cases to hold the new modules, and expand their systems seemingly without end.

I really think of the various bits and pieces that I have as instruments, and therefore they are as idiosyncratic to me as a Les Paul or a Zildjian cymbal. Each thing has to feel right, sound right, and contribute to my success as an artist - or it has to go away. The karmic hit that I feel when I have non-useful gear around me is overwhelming, and actually reduces the amount of music that I can produce.

All that to say: I'm not keeping the BSP. It is cool in every measurable way, but it is not an instrument for me. Sorry Arturia - I thought we had a chance with this one...


PS: Let me know if you want a good deal on a slightly used BSP!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Oh yeah - the very best modification in my system...

... is the one that I make, with a custom sketch for the SnazzyFX ArdCore!

The ArdCore is actually my design, brought to Euro by Dan Snazelle of SnazzyFX. I originally did the ArdCore in 5U for the final project of my Masters degree at University of Denver; you can see me jabber about it here:

Although I've created a lot of sketches that I've shared as part of the project, my everyday ArdCore sketch is a multi-use sketch - a CV/note recorder with a built-in quantizer, and looped playback of whatever is in the recorder buffer. Breaking it down, that means:

- It quantizes voltages coming into the A3 input, and outputs the quantized value out the DAC output.
- It records the quantized value whenever the A4 input is high (or the knob is turned past half-way).
- It plays back individual quantized notes whenever it receives a trigger in the trigger input.
- The A1 and A2 knobs control the starting and ending points of the note loop, so I can have up to 64 recorded notes, but only play a sub-set of them at any given point.

This, in combination with randomized input when you first turn on the system, means that I can quickly record a bunch of random notes, then use the loop points to find cool spots within the note series for me to use. This is really fun in live performance, because I can work with seemingly random note series, but always return to whereever I started - which gives the performance more of a planned concept.

Great fun, super useful, and worth the HP that it takes. Killer!


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sometimes I Miss the Big Guy...

Very busy day, but just wanted to post a rememberence...

Talking with Jim Lewin reminded me of the good ol' days - the days when I was 5U focused. I had a big dog system, and made God's own sound.

Alas, it is now disassembled, and parts have gone to the four winds. It's a lot different working with a much smaller Euro system (which, in many ways, has more capability), but there was something really satisfying with that machine.



Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Just got back from the mini-tour with Mark (Mosher), and am kind of going through my memories of the performances that took place. The overriding thing that surprised me was that my Korg ESX-1 was completely underutilized. Not only did I not use the sampling engine, I never even turned on the sequencer's transport. It served one sole purpose: acting as a series of buttons that would stimulate the MIDI port on the modular!

Now, I love the ESX (I recently found an SD card version, which made it much more lovely...), and was sure that it would become an integral part of my performance rig. I custom created a bank of sound that would be conducive for the sort of scary-ambient soundscapes I generally make, and I made a number of banks that had well-tweaked effects and channel settings that I could depend upon during performance. I rehearsed with the machine so that I could immediately hear a problem and fix it in the fly - the actual hard work of learning a new instrument.

So why wouldn't it work for my performances? Here are a few reasons I've come up with:

  • Within the fluid manipulation of analog synthetics, the use of samples sounded way too prepared. I want people to understand that I'm hand-managing the things that they are hearing, and there just isn't that much you can do with the samples in the ESX that isn't bloody obvious.
  • In comparison to the sounds of the digital part of my modular, the sample playback of the ESX sounds lame. I've got three digital sound sources in my modular: an MI Braids Swiss Army Oscillator, a Qu-Bit Nebulae granular player, and the Music Thing Radio Music sample switcher. Each of these creates a much more dynamic digital soundscape than the ESX. The Korg is fun on its own, but it gets kind of swamped in these environs.
  • There's no way to do real-time resampling. Or, at least, there is no way to do it that doesn't make me want to take out my eyes with a spoon. Loop selection, for example, is a nightmare.
  • The use of repetition, even the 8-bar variety, doesn't seems to fit. I'm not sure why, but even using the long-form sequencing of the ESX-1 sounds really mundane in this context. I applaud the ESX-1's 8-bar pattern sequences, but the inability to have different length tracks means that your ear immediately latches on to the repetitive elements - unless you are hands-on the controls at all times. But I'm hands-on the modular, so I can't pull it off.
So where do I go from here? I don't know yet; I'm going to continue my experiments with the Beatstep Pro,  and I'm starting to sniff around the Elektron Octatrack again (having Mark as an ally might make this the winning move...). That'll probably mean that the ESX-1 will have to go - which is a pity, since it is so damned fun...

But rust never sleeps!!!