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!!!