Monday, December 26, 2016

Yeah. OK. This.

This is the kind of thing that I like to do. That you should do. That John Keston prods us to do.

Everything should go through this process, and I'm about to get into it with my newfound love for messing with the Live API.

I've got to start spending more time at John's site: The Audio Cookbook


Saturday, December 17, 2016

So I Have to Post it Here so I Don't Lose It...

Love the web! Hate the web!

Love it because every day I find something that charms and/or excites me. Hate it because I never can find the thing that charmed/excited me yesterday. Maybe that's the point of this blog - it's like a Flickr account for my happy sites?

Anyway, Tom Whitwell (MusicThing dude) has written one of the best creativity articles for 2016, and it's all about Python code. Actually, it's a way of thinking about using Python code to get out of your own way, out of your head and into making some music. It includes the source, and it runs pretty much out of the box on everything that I have laying around in my house.

Since I already had trouble finding it today, I decided to share it here - and now I'll know how to get at it!

After yesterday's long drive into Madison, a great (but sparsely attended) performance and a coughing-fits evening, I think I'm ready for something like this. It's also probably the impetus that I need to fire up my newly learned React coding poo-pile and get making my own graphical score generator. But the roadmap provided by this posting is awesome.

Thanks Tom!


Edit: I did this using React and Bootstrap - check it out at this link! And let me know if you want the source (which will eventually end up in Github at some point...).

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


This week is already chuck full of distractions. First, I had a great interview with Lippold Haken (designer/creator of the Haken Continuum) on the Art + Music + Technology podcast and have been dealing with the popularity of that one. I'm always glad when a podcast hits the mark. I also got in an Expert Sleepers' ES-8 that I'm working with for a series of article in the Cycling '74 newsletter (if you aren't subscribed, you should do it here). 

But the biggest distraction comes from the latest Web Audio Weekly newsletter from Chris Lowis, which introduced me to the WebAudio Designer by g200kg (pictured above). We've all been hearing about the Web Audio API, but getting into it is a bit of an eyepoke - and it seems to be in constant flux. Along comes WAD, and now playing/experimenting is about as easy as you can imagine.

Think of this as a sandbox to find out what the Web Audio world is capable of - and you will find yourself amazed at the level of coolness that can come squirting out of your browser. And, since it is modular in nature, it sort of fits may how-do-I-work philosophy. Whee!


Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Hits Keep On Comin'

Just got a note from my friend Stephen Taylor. It appears that microtonalist Erv Wilson has left our mortal coil. Erv was that intriguing inventor that clearly had an inner voice that spoke strongly, and and soul that listened carefully.

Stephen put together a kind of trippy overview of his work which you can check out here:

A group of people also collaborated on an iOS app that provides access to many of the Wilson-driven microtonal explorations with some very helpful diagrams. You can check that out here:

Microtonal music is an area that few choose to explore, but those that do often find a new voice for their work. If this hasn't been an area of interest for you, maybe you can consider this a gentle nudge in that direction...


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Take. A. Breath.

Well, the effect of the weekend has me floored. I was gonna do something about the Monome modules, but I need to take a breath.

If you haven't listened to my latest podcast with Geert Bevin, you might want to check it out here:

Or maybe you'd prefer a nice distracting movie?

Let's relax a bit, then I'll come back to you on those sequencing modules...


Friday, November 18, 2016

Aw hell - what terrible timing...

And right on the heels of Christmas, Thonk decided to put these in stock. I've been wanting one of these forever, since it is the perfect CV-controllable, multi-function-but-still-a-great-envelope module. Those state outputs? Perfect for gate delays. The CV ins? Man, CV-controlled envelope stages are my favorite system-level tweak. Want, want, want.

How are my kids ever gonna get the GI Joe With The Kung-Fu Grip?

Dammit. Have to wait. Dammit.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Got me Blocks...

Well, today I got my 'work blocks' - a pair of Roli Lightblocks, a Live Block and a Loop Block. Just briefly played around with these thing (along with David Z's objects in the recently released package) and am excited about building an interface for these. I'm not exactly sure what it's going to do for me yet, but I've never been scared of a semi-blank slate before!

I mean, these things look like a great launching point for something interesting, and watching some of the data (especially the multitouch data) is giving me a bunch of ideas. I have a suspicion that I'm gonna pair up my Blocks with a little Expert Sleepers ES-8 magic. I can imagine this as a central station for hybrid audio/CV explorations.

We'll see...


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Another VCA in a pinch?


I was playing around with a patch the other evening and I ran into an unthinkable situation: I ran out of VCA's. Now I use VCA's a lot - I use them to control the depth of modulation, for voltage-variant effects processing and, of course, for the level control of a voice. I needed to cook up some way to control things, but all my VCA's were in use by for modulation control - so I dug into my bag of tricks and got a kludged equivalent. But I thought it might be useful to share...

So here are a few ways to get that extra VCA when you really need it:

1. Look for those hidden VCA's!

You will often find hidden VCA's in modules that are called something else. For example, most ring modulators are the equivalent of VCA's that can respond to negative voltages. Feed 'em a standard positive-voltage envelope and you have yourself another VCA.

Another good example (and the one I happened to use to get myself out of a pinch) is to check out a voltage-controlled crossfader. This kind of module is nothing more than a pair of VCA's, with one of them fed by an inverted control signal. All I had to do was use the 'A' side of the module (an Intellijel uFade) and feed an envelope into the control signal and I was golden.

2. Clamp 'er down!

Another way to find a hidden VCA is to consider an unused filter. Lowpass or highpass filters often can extend their range to the point of completely cutting off the sound - and it kind of fades on the way out. The result is that you can use voltage-controlled modulation to alter the overall level of the sound - producing the rough result of a VCA.

I actually often do this on purpose; it's a very different sound than a typical VCA (and is maybe more akin to what a lowpass gate tries to accomplish). It's pretty effective with a 4-pole filter and a fat sawtooth wave, with the fade-in taking on the character of a big, round blob. Ultra-effective during a live show, and a bit more dramatic than a volume mod.

3. Zip up that rect!

Yet another sonically-rich way of volume control comes from voltage-controlling the width of a pulse wave oscillator. Most pulse waves can be turned all the way to 0% or 100% - both of which turn the oscillator into a static voltage offset, but not making any audible sound. The voltage control of this function is even more dramatic than the filter change, since you get a growl-to-wheeze movement that is quite unexpected. This one won't suit every taste, but sometimes it's an effective way of getting a unique sound - and voltage-controlled amplitude as well!

4. Twist it good...

Of course, you can always act as a VCA as well. Volume knobs abound in a modular system; don't be scared to grab one and become the best VCA in your rig! Too often, modular-heads want to build a system then sit back with a gin-and-tonic and enjoy the show. But creating dynamics by twisting that level control can actually accomplish something that will never happen with an automated system - it'll respond to your emotions.

Don't downplay the value of this, implying emotion in electronic music is tough enough already, don't disallow the value of some hands-on wiggling.

There are a bunch of other ways I can imagine this working: using logic modules with the right modulation combo, interactively mixing in an inverted version of a waveform, or extreme application of hard sync, but I'm not in a position to try these out at the moment. But hopefully I've given you some ideas about new ways to approach volume management without necessarily falling to the easiest answer - and maybe this will free up some VCA action for you to do more weird-o modulation as well!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Found it!

Or, rather, my good friend Gregory found it. I've been looking for this long form piece - something I did on a foggy afternoon in the Colorado mountains, featuring a Maths, SH-NZ, Optomix and (I think) Pittsburgh oscillator and filter. Super simple and minimalist, this is the kind of stuff I like to do when I'm in That Certain Mood (i.e., ready to cry...).

Gregory actually did some nice reworks/remixes of this that we will find a way to share - at some point. Until then, here's the original.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Heads Down, Mister!

Not sure what made me do it, but I was digging around for some details on my Yoga 900 Windows laptop and ran across a curious thing: people were complaining that their machine wasn't shutting down when they closed the lid. Most people complained that their battery got wiped, but nobody was moaning about overheating or anything.

Turns out that, in the energy settings, I get to set what happens when I close the lid. So I said "Nothing, please" - and there you go, the laptop is closed, but I'm still able to run whatever I need. I've been a Mac guy for too long - where something like this is unwise because of the need for cooling.

Anyway, this is the perfect thing for me to do for performance prep - especially if I'm using a new (or too-long-shelved) control interface - in this case, an Ableton Push 2. I've been wanted to dive back into it, especially with some of the goodies recently added. But if the oh-so-familiar Live interface is glowing from the screen, I just won't focus on the Push for anything but pad mashing.

But with the laptop lid closed, no problems. Focus returns to the surface, and I learn that thing about 1000 times faster than I do when the screen is shining. There are a few functions I've not yet figured out, but I'm getting there - and may well be using this for my next set of gigs. Doing on-the-fly sampling/slicing (of the modular) produces radically different results than modular + effect.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Twin Cities Synth Meet grooves (#1)

Yesterday I visited the Twin Cities Synth Meet, and got a chance to try out a few things. I also took a few photos - of course, asking for ultra-cheese Facebook faces!

This guy (can't remember the name, because I'm terrible with names...) had some interesting stuff in a small-ish system. Among the modules that caught my attention were a HackMe Vectr, a Blue Lantern quad quantizer, and a stand-alone Social Entropy Engine MIDI Sequencer.

I like that sequencer a lot. It seems to be a quick-work machine, supports a MIDI drum channel (so it would be a perfect match for a DRM, for example), looks like it support poly-rhythm sequence lengths and holds a metric ton of sequences and stuff. And it is small, and clean looking, and completely not-computer-like. I'm gonna have to see if this one might fit in my performance rig.

But I'll need to do some reading, because I'll want to support both manual and keyboard entry, I'll want to do partial (non-bar-based) switching and lots of modulation control. On the surface, it looks like that should be a go, but I need to investigate before diving in. At $665, it's not an off-the-cuff purchase. But on the surface it looks really, really good.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Podcast posted: #146 with Robert Henke

Robert Henke, fresh off a China run, took a little time to sit down and chat with me for the Art + Music + Technology podcast. We get a chance to talk smart about gear, collaboration, inspiration and the beginning of the techno culture in Berlin.

Robert is one of my favorite people in the world, and his latest release (VLSI - shown above, and just released onto Spotify) is a musical powerhouse. If you get a chance, give it a listen!

And, at the very least, check out the podcast!


Friday, October 7, 2016

That 185-2 Video I Promised...

Per Jase's request, I put together a simple walk-through of how I use the 185-2 for sequencer switch-ups while I'm playing live. Really makes for a much more varied sequencing system - and prevents the audience from falling asleep (sometimes).



Tuesday, October 4, 2016

OK - So What am I Missing?

OK - so I know that one of the ways to make people hate you is to act ultra-superior about your choices in life, and guffaw anytime anyone questions you about your choices. That's sort of the lingua franca of Muff's, and I can appreciate how that can be Chicken Soup for the Asperger's Soul. So I'm sure that's why nobody looks at my rig and says "Huh, a Rubicon, eh? How do you like it? What does it do for you?"

I wish I had a good answer, but right now the answer to "What does it do for you?" is:

It takes up 18HP.

Much like other Intellijel modules, the front panel speaks to me. Tons of options. Tons of ways to modulate things. Through-Zero FM - the platinum unicorn!

But the sad thing is that it's not speaking to me musically. Maybe it's that I can't find anything too interesting in the TZFM world. Maybe the soft- and hard-sync functions don't sound any different than anything else that I'd use and/or prefer. Maybe I've not been missing alternative sine wave types after all. 

Or maybe this, like many recent modules, this one doesn't communicate the analog/modular/oddity behavior that I learned at the hands of a Serge system, or an Aries before that, or an Arp 2600 before that. When we have every option available, we tend to either use:

a) all options in an unaware form (i.e. "I made this patch that I can't ever tear apart, 'cuz the magic will never come back"); or,

b) one set of functions in a limited form (i.e. "The super-saw on this is sooooo sweet that I'll never go back to a regular oscillator").

I generally tend toward the later, but I also get irritated at myself when I ignore too many of the options. That's at the heart of my problems with the Rubicon - I really want about a third of what is on offer (and you can keep the TZFM, for which I've not found a single musical use), and maybe take up about a third of the panel space.

In order words, I really just want another Dixie II! But then I'd need to fill up the rest of the rack, and the kids are starting to grumble about not having lunch money, and the vet bill...


Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Refreshing Change

Made a little change - can you tell what it is? The sharp-eyed among you might have said "Hey, you have a silver-faced Rosie now!"

You are correct! As my friends already know, I'm a complete tweak about certain things, and panel coloring is one of them. When he saw my setup, Wes Milholen of dropped me a line with an offer for a grayscale panel for my black-faced Rosie and I jumped at the option. That had always seemed like a bad anchor to the lower right of my system, and I was hoping it would be as cool as the PEG and Ardcore panels were.

And it is. Love it - thanks, Wes, for keeping our systems clean looking!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This Week in Northern Cali

Writing from Dillon Beach, CA, where I'm at a little work retreat with my teammates...

If you get the Cycling '74 newsletter, today you'll be seeing a bigger version of the above image, along with my rave-ola about a Max for Live tool I've started using for quick-hit track creation. But the key to the device - and my excitement about it - is the use of the iPad and the Mira app to control it.

This is a kind of 'modular' that I really like: moving functionality to appropriate devices in order to better serve the artist. Moving this user interface (and, in fact, many interfaces) to something like an iPad makes the system more focused, easier for the audience to appreciate (rather than seeing your head stuck inside a laptop lid) but maintains the full value of your computer/software/plug-in investment. This, control surfaces (like the Maschine, Push 2 and Livid Alias 8 - all of which I currently use) and Arduino-based sensor systems all provide alternative interfaces to your work, and represent one of the exciting futures of modular-based artistry.

Right now, I've been diving back into C++ and writing an extreme looper for my live use - I want something as versatile as the RC-404, but with a little less clown makeup and a few more channels and options. I also want to prevent menu diving - which is at the heart of the 404. So I'm writing the heart of a looper in C++, embedding it into a Max object, then building the interface in Max - and exposing with Mira.

I'm not sure that Max people have paid attention to what's happened with Mira lately. The price was dropped to $10, it now has a wired USB option (for Mac computers) and is a lot more stable. It's been incredibly stable for me, and is going to be Main Interface #1 for my looper system. I'll make sure I do a video as this develops...


Monday, September 19, 2016

Keystep Power Test

So, whenever I get a cool piece of gear that can work standalone - and that can run off of USB power - my first idea is "Oh man, I could just run that off the power on the Synthwerks LAMP-1 module!"

I can hear James from Synthwerks crying from here!

I know I'm not supposed to do this, and I'm sure that I'm risking clouds of locusts and hot hail, but it seems worth a try, right? A few things that I've tried in the past:

- McMillen Qunexus (worked as far as I could tell - the damned stereo output prevented a deep test).
- Arturia BeatStep Pro (did not work - too much amperage draw).
- Monome (it just laughed at me - in that evil Vincent Price laugh).

Since the KeyStep has a lot fewer blingy lights and stuff, I thought it would be worth a try. I wasn't too hopeful, though - the back has a plug for a 9VDC, .5 Amp input. If it actually needs .5/9V, it wasn't going to be happy with the output of the LAMP-1.

And it wasn't. In testing everything, I was able to get note and modulation CV voltages out, but the gate didn't produce enough of a voltage bump to wake up my Intellijel Dual ADSR or my Maths. Further testing, which included running the gate through the CV Tools (so I could buffer, amp-up and monitor the voltage) proved that I couldn't get anything decent even through that combo.

Now, there's nothing saying I couldn't just use a USB-power wart for this purpose. In fact, for you, I tried that as well. I grabbed the first crappy USB-wart I could find (this one was from some P.O.S. Asus Android tablet that I had, or maybe it was from an old Kindle), plugged it in, and everything worked perfectly: good CV and Mod voltage, good gates firing up any and all envelopes. Everything (including the sequencer and arp) worked fine, and I dropped a bit of time having fun with that.

In fact, the Keystep is just that: a fantastic sink-hole of fun. My word to you...


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Finding a Good Poly Pairing

So, as I'm reworking the writing/performing rig, I've got some decisions to make. Probably the most difficult for me is the selection of a polysynth. I'd love to have a hardware poly, but I just don't have the cash right now; instead, I need to choose from among the plug-ins that I currently have in my library.

My first thought was to focus on the Korg Legacy Polysix. The Polysix (which, IRL, is my favorite keyboard in history) works pretty well, but I find it incredibly unfulfilling. Why? I have no freakin' idea. For some reason, the UI makes me avoid making my own presets, and it's no fun to twiddle in real time. It also has That Virtual Analog Sound - a little hollow, not quite loose enough - in a way that doesn't work for me. So... not that.

The other obvious one is Madrona Labs' Aalto. I love this synth; for me, it is the Buchla that I want without having to write a check to Fake Buchla Inc. And it poly's up OK - a little heavy on the overhead, but generally worth it. It's also fun to program (although a touch small for live tweaking). If I have pause about it, it is that sometimes the patches are a little overwhelming, so a 4-voice chord can make All The Noise. So this is one that I'll use, but I also have to craft the right patches for the gig.

Next up on the checklist is Absynth, but I'm having problems buying in. Not sure why, because I've been using Absynth for as long as it's been around. Maybe I'm just exhausted with "the same ol'" and need something new - which reminds me...

I did a review of the Arturia recreation of the Synclavier, and that gives me some of the poly movement that I normally get from Absynth, but a different perspective (and programming interface) to spice things up. Maybe this is the tool-of-choice. Gonna give it a try, anyway.

So there you go - stream of consciousness decision-making right in front of you, but now I've got a plan. Aalto with some careful patch development, and Arturia Synclav for wash-y move-y stuff. Let's see how it goes!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Maschine has the Driver's Wheel (ATM)

Started playing around with a different setup - one that would allow me to change up my play environment from my work environment. I ended up pairing my Maschine (v1) on a Windows box with my modular, and am in the process of adding a few select plug-ins to the Maschine setup to round things out (mainly, a few effects and a polysynth or two).

The first thing I had to do was to make a group/sound for the modular to be sequence by - and to be mixed into - the Maschine workflow. This was pretty basic; I just had to make a sound that did MIDI out and audio in, then set up a keyboard layout to suit. Works fine, and the new arpeggiators and scale modes are quite easy to use.

But I really depend on one thing in Live that isn't available with Maschine: a tuner. I could use that hardware tuner I wired up a few months ago, but it would be nice if it was built into the system. Luckily, I ran across the MeldaProduction MTuner plug-in. It is part of their MFreeEffectsBundle, and was easy enough to drop into the machine (and not necessarily install a bunch of other goop). Pairing this into the user preset for my modular sound/group and I am set.

Similar to my experience working with the Push and Push 2 devices, I have a tendency to write things completely different than I do with a keyboard. Loads of fun, and a neat jumble-up of my system.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Doepfer A-185-2 Breakdown

Tom Hall put a comment into a previous post about the Doepfer A-185-2 module, and reminded me that I’ve really wanted to talk about what an exceptional and useful module it could be for almost anyone, but especially someone that is focused on maintaining 1 V/Oct pitch scaling even when you are heavily modulating the pitch. It’s called a “Precision CV Added”, which is pretty clear labeling: it adds CV voltages, but maintains a strict throughput of 1 V/Oct scaling.

Prior to getting this module, I tried modulating using smaller and/or ‘cooler’ modules such as the Intellijel Unity Mixer, my Synovatron CV Tools and a variety of other mixers. If the mixers didn’t have any gain (Unity, Manhattan), the pitch CV would lag – and octaves weren’t matching up. Mixers with gain could scale up to suit, but were almost impossible to tune correctly – it’s really hard to tune scaling. Then I stumbled on the A-185-2 and haven’t gone without at least one ever since then.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Precision mixing: This is the core duty of the 185. You put in your 1 V/Oct pitch voltage (from a MIDI-to-CV converter or sequencer), then add other voltages that will be used to create exponential pitch modulations. LFO’s, other oscillators, envelopes, slews – you can spend months trying every voltage in your system as a pitch modulation. Huge fun!
  • Attenuated precision mixing: Put your primary pitch voltage into any input other than the top one. Then put a modulation into the top voltage and use the attenuator to set the modulation amount. This control is a simple attenuator for the top-most input, but it really handy for FM and vibrato effects.
  • Pitch and Modulation Inversion: The switch on each input allows you to turn on (left), turn off (center) or invert (left) the input’s effect on the mix. You can do some rather insane stuff, including keyboard inversion (invert the pitch input), more complex mixing (invert some envelopes for dipped modulation) and performance-time on/off switching. But the inversion is something that takes practice before you fall in love.
  • Octave switching: A secret addition to this module is the fact that 1V voltage is normalled to each input. This means that any inputs that don’t have voltages coming in can be used to add (+ switched) or subtract (- switched) and octave from the main CV input. Since there are multiple CV inputs, you can actually add/subtract up to 3 octaves in addition to the standard voltage input.
  • Arbitrary pitch shifting: That top-most input channel is really special; not only does it normal to 1V input, but that 1V value runs through the attenuator. So you can set this channel to go down a fifth (7 semitones) to create more interesting pitch sequencing. Now, if you have this set up to a fifth, and use one of the other channels for octave switching, you can go [- octave], [- fifth], [unshifted], [+ fourth], [+ octave]. Put in a simple sequence, but actively switch between these options and you’ll find a real nice location for live performance.
  • Buffered multiple: Whatever is created from the precision mix is sent out all three outputs – and these are buffered. So you can use them for oscillator inputs and never get any pitch sag.
  • Output flip: There is also an inverted output, which may seem a little silly – except that some functions (like FM routing) can actually benefit from inverted output. I see so few people trying inverted modulation – and this dedicated output is actually a good reminder to keep trying it out!

Hopefully this gives you a reason to give this module a try. Totally worth the $99 you’ll have to spend to get one into your system.


Recording Magazine Review - Softube Console 1

Recording Magazine, September 2016

Just a heads up: The latest issue of Recording Magazine has my review of the Softube Console 1; I took it for a very long drive and wrote up my experience for the folks in Boulder. No spoilers here, but a quick spin through the mag (available at B&N and other magazine retailers) will give you the gist.

BTW, you should support these music magazines! A subscription costs less than a pack of cheap patch cables. And after all is said and done, if you are playing your modular but not recording it, did it actually make a sound?


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Where I'm at - and why...

So here's a current Modular Grid image of my Tiptop Station 252 rig:

I've ended up making a few rather interesting decision in constructing this thing, and I thought it would be useful to go through some of the thinking about it, row-by-row:

Row 1: The Intellijel Row

  • I used to think it was sort of funny that so many people build up system from one manufacturer's modules - until I build a few mix-and-match systems. Not always great. You get used to one modulation curve or tuning 'throw', and everything else starts to feel wrong. And one of things I'm getting from this system is how important feel is. So yeah, a row made mostly of Intellijel bits.
  • The non-Intellijel stuff are the following: The LAMP-1 (which is too cool for working in the late evening), Analogue Solutions SH-NZ sample and hold noise (which has a crazy quirk I've come to depend upon) and the Div6 Filtare SEIII, which has become one of my favorite filters.
  • I used to have a Dixie II+ in here, but I couldn't stand the switches. Octave switches work on a 5U oscillator, but somehow seem completely wrong in Eurorack. That, plus the fact that my Dixie II oscillators do a lot of duty as LFOs, means that the non-plus version hit the sweet spot for me.
  • The Rubicon oscillator is sort of my midnight playground right now. Half of it is (seemingly) unknowable, and the other half just works properly. This is a lot of real estate to hand over for a single oscillator, but that through-zero FM really does have a unique sound.
  • I've got a uMod in there right now, but I'm tempted to put the uFold back in there. Or maybe the uFade and something else. But there is a lot of depth to the uMod that I've not dug into yet, so maybe I keep it around for future exploration.
  • I tried a Polaris filter in this row, but I thought it sounded horrible. I'm sure I'll get beat up for saying this, but...  Intellijel is fantastic at making oscillators, VCA's, envelopes, and everything else, but I have never liked their filters. Not a one. The Filtare fits into this system so perfectly that I couldn't begin to consider anything else right now.
  • I know that the ADSR envelopes make this a little east-coasty, but I don't have to use 'em, and the Maths is right underneith, and it's nice to have ADSR's sometimes (for - sigh - techno night in my basement).
  • The uVCA is the best VCA anyone has made, hands-down. That's one I'd get in a fistfight over.

Row 2: The Make Noise Row

  • And this is what most people think of when they think "I'm gonna get me a modular system." But maybe there's a good reason for this - like the fact that it really does kick ass? The only non-MN stuff in this row is the Ijel multiple and an O'Tool scope module. The multiple is part of my Master Layout Plan (I like it when the cables do sort of an X pattern on the face of the modular), and the scope is the most important playing live tool in my toolbox - when it is hard to hear, I can get an idea of what is going on by watching the scope, and when it isn't making any sound, I can figure things out by scoping parts of the patches. That scope has bailed me out during dozens of gigs.
  • I know I crapped on the MMG in an earlier post. For most cases, I maintain that stance. However, following a DPO, it just sounds right. And the loose-ish knobs that MN uses really make for some excellent performance-twiddling.
  • The Moddemix is another reason I might drop the uMod in the row above. It really does sound great as a ring mod/AM module.
  • I think that I could work with a modular made completely of Maths modules. I love that thing more than I can tell. The ultimate do-everything module that actually makes you want to do everything, it is like have a Swiss Army Knife that was actually a best-in-class knife, best-in-class bottle opener and BIC fish hook remover. It defines awesome for me.
  • The DPO is such a great thing, but I hate tuning it - and keeping it in tune. Using those leetle trimmers for fine tuning (over an octave!) is not my idea of fun. I seldom do melodics on the DPO because of this.

Row 3: Soup-to-Nuts

  • This is the row where I put stuff that I neeeeeeed. The Yarns is the best possible MIDI interface for me. Love it! And the Rosie is the best outbound level+mixer combo I've used. In the middle are a bunch of gotta-haves: the A-185-2, which lets me do groovy pitch modulation without losing my 1v/Oct scaling. The Synovatron for control mixing, and the ArdCore with my custom quantizer/recorder/looper patch - I've gotta have it for live performance. The 4ms PEG is the anchor piece here, and something I use in almost every patch.
  • I didn't mention the AD Dub Jr. delay. I've got issue with those guys - a hurt-ass thing from over a decade ago. Nevertheless, this is the delay that features voltage inputs where I need 'em, so I'm gonna use it.
  • I had to use the Gray Scale panel for the PEG. I tried not doing it, but the clown colors really got under my skin. Believe me, it's hard enough having a black panel for that Rosie; I'm not putting up with blue and red! I like my Eurorack silver, my 5U black and my steaks medium well...
  • Similar with the faceplate of the Ardcore.
  • Why waste so much space with the CV Tools? I've tried, believe me. I've replaced it with an Invy several times - but the way that this thing is laid out, combined with the exceptionally clear and accurate LED metering, caused me to come running back every time I tried replacing it. So it stays.
  • The ArdCore expander may have to go, because I've got a Monome module that I'm dying to mount permanently in the modular. Right now it gets swapped in as-needed, and I really depend on the expander giving me clear status on the complexity of the sequence that I've recorded into the ArdCore. So I don't know - I'm going to have to sleep on this for another 6 months. Maybe I should get one of those little cases for my Monome set...?
So that's the verbalization of some of my choices. Think I'm crazy? Stupid? Due for a beatin'? Drop me an email or leave a comment!


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Back in action!

Sorry I've been out of touch - I've been a little busy of late. A few things happened since Spring:
  • I put some focus into the Modular Synthesizer Mastery books, and shot the first one out as a free e-book.
  • I sold off every bit of modular gear that wasn't attached to my gonads and decided to refocus on my core system.
  • I decided to quit teaching for a while; the DU experience was awesome, but I need more focus and fewer jobs.
  • I started programming seriously in both Javascript and C++. Who knows what that'll get me!
  • I packed up the family, sold the Colorado house and moved to Northfield Minnesota!!!
Any one of these would have made for a busy summer, but the combination was a bit of a beat-down. Alas, after a pretty great summer (and a lot of work on my new sport: bicycling), I'm getting back into the swing of things.

Some of my code is going to be showing up in some Cycling packages in the next few months, but I'm also going to share some goodies here. So stay tuned!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

In case you didn't see it...

eContact, an electronic music journal, has put out a new issue that is all about analog(ue) and modular synthesizers. The articles are pretty interesting looking - I just got the note, and haven't gone through them all yet - and I'm glad to see that modular systems are starting to get some academic notice.

So far, my favorite is an article by Andrew Duff called "Synths and Social Capital", which covers the social aspects of owning, trading and talking about synthesizers. Very interesting stuff, and very much aligns with my experiences.

Great stuff! Let's hope other institutions start taking modulars seriously!


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Turns out you can tune the damned thing!

Thanks to this Muff Wiggler thread:, and thanks to the fact that I'd bought a Snark SN-8 tuner for my classical/fusion guitar a couple of years ago, I decided to try making the necessary modification to have this be my new oscillator tuner. Took about 20 minutes (mostly spent putting together the Weller soldering iron and figuring out how I'd route the wire...), and I was golden.

How did I route the wire? I recently put a bunch of my tools in storage, so I didn't have a drill to make a mounting hole. Instead, after looking over the SN-8's one-sheet manual, I realized that I would never, ever, need to recalibrate or transpose the tuning of the device. So the hole for the calibration button was the perfect routing hole for my needs. Perfecto!

Oh, and it turns out the USB lamp plug I'm using on the Synthwerks Lamp-1 module is the perfect clamping point for the tuner. Wins all around!


Monday, January 18, 2016

Almost All...

I spent some time this afternoon rearranging a few things in the case, then decided to do a kind of massive patch using pretty much every module. In fact, all of them were used except for the Yarns, which waited patiently while a made a non-MIDI patch.

Cool little blippo sound, and I'm pretty happy with the current layout.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I Think I Made...

... a book. It's a freebie that is the beginning of a series I've been working on for a while. It's called "Modular Synthesizer Mastery Volume Zero: The Four Basic Patches". It covers the first four patches that everyone needs to know, and is free in exchange for your email.

Shoot a note to "" and I will (or, rather, some magical process will...) send you a copy. I'd appreciate your help in testing the book, giving me feedback and/or pointing out howlers. And cheers!!!


Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy Effing Holidays...

Damn, I hate wall wart power supplies for modular systems.

For some reason, my New Years Eve modular extravaganza was subverted by some gremlin wiping out all of the wall wart power supplies that I was using for my Pittsburgh-style cases. All dead in one day. Nothing else was affected, so I'm assuming some sort of craziness either in the distro boards or something else.

I ended up ordering a Tiptop Zeus board and Cincon power from Control Voltage just so I could have someone to blame in the future. Yeah, I'm that customer.