Monday, December 30, 2019

Back and Forth

At the left side of my "living room" modular, I'm having a Battle Royale between two great modules. On the one hand is the ALM/Busy Circuits Pamela's New Workout, which is a powerhouse of time-sync'd outputs - including LFOs, Euclidian rhythms, random selections and time divisions. On the other hand is the Xaoc Zadar (#2 of 2, since I have one in permanent installation in my studio case...), which gives me a quad set of envelopes/LFOs - and that have satisfyingly long times - exceeding 30 minutes in some cases.

I go back and forth...

The PNW is great as a master clock, and does a great job of rhythm division work (which is great, in combination with the Bitbox, for rhythmic goo). When I have this in the setup (in combination with the expander, which provides MIDI to the Toolbox), I tend to do rattling bangers that are heavy on the rhythm, and light on the ambience.

When the Zadar is in play, I tend to take advantage of the long timeframes to make much more ambient, fluid work. Also, some of those shapes in the higher banks of Zadar presets can provide real 'human-sounding' LFO action, and I love to draw those in.

I really like having a settled system, but this seems like it will be a forever swap-out situation. Too bad I can't get one of those other modules to be 10HP thinner!


Monday, December 23, 2019

A Hard Decision...

Making module decisions can be difficult - and often are informed by talking with other modular users. In last week's podcast chat with Eric Schlappi (, he talked about his performance rig, and the fact that he was more than willing to dedicate 20HP on the 4ms Dual Looping Delay as part of that setup.

Which got me to remembering - I did a lot with the DLD, and bailed only to dive deep into the Clouds. But now I find myself with two Clouds and no dedicated delay, and am kinda wishing for A Better Way. I found an inexpensive DLD on Reverb, and it is rocketing to my house as we speak.

One thing, though - I hate the white-colored faceplate on those things. So, luckily, grayscale is still making the alternative faceplate for the DLD, so that went on order right away as well. It would seem that I'm all set, right. What was so hard about this decision?

It's this:

Oh My God, that's a sexy beast. Whispering sweet loops into my ear, and little touchplate geegaws for live performance, and alternative start points and loop lengths, and...

... it is almost $600. So I'm going to spend some time with the DLD, remembering the fun I had with that. But if you know me, you can bet that I'll find a way to talk about this one sooner rather than later!


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Book One ... finally!

Well, it's been in the hopper for quite a while, but I finally released ol' Book One, which is my take on Oscillators and LFOs. It continues my 'experiential' way of working with modulars - one that focuses on getting the feel of the system as well as a knowledge of what it does.

It's cheap, readable on pretty much any electronic device you have access to, and might crack open an idea or two. I'm still finishing up the online content to support this, but I should have it available in the next day or two (on; in the meantime, there's plenty of text to read and patch diagrams to decode!


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Oh, Maybe My Joy-Rig?

Just saw this on Facebook:

That seems like such a powerful porta-combo: the MPC Live, a Microfreak and a decent effects processor. If only it would all fit on my lap...


Monday, November 4, 2019

End Of The Line

While I feel like a Timex watch (takes a lickin'...), I have decided to retire from one of my gigs: this month's edition of Recording Magazine has my last article in it: the finale of my Studio 101 series. It was such a pleasure to work with the Recording team over the years - I'd written over 200 articles, and had a chance to quash my G.A.S. in so many awesome ways. But I need to focus on some personal work, and that meant that something had to go.

So thanks to Tom, Mike, Lorenz, Brent, Tiffany and everyone for all of their support over the years, the opportunity to share my ideas and opinions with the Recording readers, and the opportunity to interact with some of the most amazing people in the audio industry.



Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The End of a Friend

There have been a lot of post, messages and CTA's about the release of the Catalina version of Apple's OS X. Many of them suggest waiting for software to be updated to support the new version, or warn of impending copy protection issues - or whatever. But for some of us, Catalina represents the death of a generation of software.

For me, the issue is "M" - the algorithmic software created by David Zicarelli, originally for Intelligent Music, and still sold by Cycling '74 (my employer). We've been concerned about the trend of Apple slowly turning out the lights for historically relevant software, but Catalina - by killing off 32-bit apps and libraries like QuickDraw - eliminates a generation of software that defined digital media art.

M is a particularly important piece of computer music history. Over the years, I've had dozens of composers talk about the albums they created using M, or the jump start that its spartan interface had on getting them to embrace interactive-but-generative music creation.

I guess I understand Apple's need to move on - but I wonder if this isn't another example of hubris on their part. They've always been happy to throw away the past, whether serial ports, FireWire, QuickTime, 32-bit software or even something as elemental as the QuickDraw graphics library. But it was also Apple that, back then, stated that QuickDraw was the optimal way to developer for the Mac. Might it not be useful to maintain some sort of compatibility?

I see people running age-old software on Windows 10, so it is clearly not impossible to do. I'm sure someone will say "Oh, there's so much extra cruft in Windows to support that old crap..." - but what about the cruft necessary to support the new crap? I never saw the screaming need for all the sausage needed to get the touchbar operational. Does anyone even know where their Apple Remote is - and if it still works? And let's make sure your Apple Watch can post your resting heart rate to Instagram or something. Pa-leese.

I might just be chuffed about this one because it directly affects me (because I always have a wonderful time when I play with M). I'm sure others would point to OS X and the death of Opcode Vision, or something else along the way. But I'm a bit broken-hearted about this one, and a little pissed off, too.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Cool Opening - via NAMM!

Earlier this week I got pinged by the good folks at NAMM to let me know about the opening of Music from the Sound Up: The Creative Tools of Synthesis, an exhibit about electronic music synthesis and the musical instruments that surround it. This exhibit, at NAMM’s Museum of Making Music (MoMM), is a unique interactive program that introduces visitors to the basic ideas of sound synthesis using metaphors like a sieve for a filter, or a bicycle wheel for a modulation.

It's a neat approach to opening doors for interested parties, and it's good to see NAMM embrace synthesizers (and systhesis), since it is a pretty robust part of the MI market at this point. If you find yourself in Carlsbad (which is a bit north of San Diego), check it out - and let me know what you think!


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Fun With the Zadar

Just set up the Zadar to be modulated by a S&H Noise source - modulating the envelope shape. It is controlling the level of a Benjolin output, so it's pretty abstract. But it's just kind of mesmerizing to watch...


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The New Old

Well, I do keep looking for The Perfect Beast. I thought I had it with the ol' 414, then the 424 MK2. But the seller of this thing - a Tascam 424 MK1 - pointed out an important feature: it runs at 'Slow' (half-normal) speed. That's 15/16 ips, at which point the tape wobbles and burps like crazy. I've already used it for a couple of upcoming tracks, and I'm a bit in love with it.

Alas, the purchase wasn't an unqualified success. I paid a hefty premium to get a deck in the original box, in 'perfect working condition'. Of course, it wasn't - there were level problems going to/from tape, several scratchy channels on the mixer, and the headphone output crackles constantly. The seller (local here in MN, goes by the handle That Tascam Guy on Reverb...) communicated for a while, deflected any time I suggested there was a problem, then just went radio-silent.

What, exactly, is it about tape decks that makes people unscrupulous sellers? I haven't gotten a straight sale on a Tascam deck yet, and I always take it in the chin when I sell because I mention everything. Is it cassette decks? Or is it Tascams? Or is it just an overwrought market for 40 year-old gear?

Anyway, it's working well enough for me to do the great wobbly low-fi recordings I was hoping for. Expect some half-speed drone music coming your way shortly! (Oh, and it really looks cool on top of the Output desk!!!)


Monday, October 14, 2019

How Does This Happen?

OK, so this might be a little hard to see, but I really don't know how this could happen...

I was rearranging the Intellijel 7u studio case to find room for the new Crow, and all of a sudden had a hard time putting in one of the screws. If you look at the top row of holes, you'll see that the second open hole from the left - well, it isn't tapped. No threads, no use.

Got me thinking: isn't there a robot doing this job? 'Cuz this looks like the kind of workmanship that used to occur when I was working on the industrial paint line ("Geez, boss, I guess I hung every 10th panel upside down. Sorry!"), but not the sort of thing a robot does. I mean, it's not like they take lunch break and need retraining for the afternoon shift.

So now I'm on the hunt for a 3mm tap. Dammit.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In a few recent photos of my studio rig, people have rightly noticed that I have a row that is almost completely dedicated to Mutable Instruments stuff. And I'll admit it: in most cases, the MI gear speaks to me in a kinda-analog-kinda-digital way, and I can find my muse in the work that Emilie has brought to the table.

But a few weeks ago I ran into a problem. I really, really wanted more voltage control over my envelopes, but the Peaks weren't having it. I started screwing around with multiple envelopes fed into some VCAs, and voltage controlling a different envelope, and a bunch of other stuff. Then I realized something: I needed to reconsider the idea of having two Peaks in my system.

Since I've always been a fan of Make Noise's Math - but didn't have space in this case for one - I figured that I might want to try plopping a Function (one of the envelope channels of a Maths) as a replacement for the Peaks. Two envelopes/LFOs dropped to one, and I was a little concerned, but I spent some time with it this morning and it fits like a nicely worn-in shoe.

So despite my rigorous desire for complete MI-ness across the whole row, it turns out a little flexibility makes for a great neighborhood. In modular terms. In my systems. In my studio...


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Yet Another OMG...

I interviewed him for the podcast, and was fascinated with his modeling of circuitry. And now he's decided to show us how he does it. Unreal.


Saturday, August 31, 2019


This entire post has been removed after some amazingly terrible choices by Behringer in their joke-ish postings. I will not support the company in any way - including talking about any use of their equipment. 


Thursday, August 15, 2019

A (Lack Of) Gold Rush!

Well, here we go. Looks like it's time for a gold rush in podcasting. I've received an astounding number of "we'll help you monetize your podcast - no matter how small the listenership!!!" emails, and new audio-related podcasts are popping up on an almost-daily basis. For example, in the above image, we have Insights From The World of Pro Audio, brought to you by Focusrite (via Tape Op - hey, don't those guys hate digital?).

I doubt that the CEO of Focusrite is going to hang out with dudes from the local Guitar Center, and I'll bet that Jack White will somehow be involved. That's about all I can come up with.

I'm also sure that I'll listen to the first one, scratch my head, and move along. I don't think stuff like this has the 'Long Run' in mind at all: podcasting is the groove of the day, so AdMen say "Let's do it!" Something else tomorrow? "Let's pivot." It's simply not the kind of thing that sustains itself on a purely-commercial basis.

Wanna make a million dollars on a podcast? I don't know if that's even possible, but if it is, it probably involves getting the exclusive story of someone's murder, serializing it in a lurid way, then dripping it out as part of a major publicity campaign, probably somehow including a Kardashian in some way. It's not going to come about by talking about frequency response curves.

Maybe I just love the dusty corners of the internet - and I'm waiting for podcasting to become a dusty corner again. I still read several email newsletters, blogs, online magazine and other No Longer Sexy media. Soon podcasts will become No Longer Sexy as well. Then we will be back to dedicated (maybe obsessed???) people talking about the stuff they love to the small audience that really, really cares.

And the Make-A-Million folks will go back into real estate and cosmetics where they belong.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Ode to the Ansible

I'm in the middle of a re-up of all my systems, and I decided to give something a try. See, I've been a monome-fan for a long time, and particularly in love with the Earthsea module, since it performed a sequencing function unlike anything else in my arsenal. I also played with the White Whale module a bit, but would always gravitate back to the Earthsea - until I needed the White Whale again.

In my new updated studio system, I decided to try the Ansible; I thought it was cool that it would allow me to switch between an Earthsea variant and a White Whale variant (the Kria app), and it would also host a MIDI keyboard when I needed it. And it was only 6HP, which was about what I had to offer.

Hooked it up on Friday, and spent some time yesterday getting into it. I started with the Kria/White Whale app, and ran into a lot of problems; it is different enough from the White Whale module that I couldn't transfer much of my previous knowledge, and some of the documentation was a little jibberish-ish, so I was having trouble following. Eventually, I figured out the loop function, the context switching, and yesterday (Saturday) I was doing some fun banjo-like breakdowns with the Mangrove. Fun!

Today (Sunday) I switched over to the Earthsea app and fell in love. First, the implementation is somewhat simplified, but it all feels completely like the Earthsea module. Secondly, they created a "Runes" key that changes the weird fingershapes into button presses, which immediately made me want to use 'em. Finally, the use of the front-panel buttons to move sequence-to-sequence is just plain fun to work, and hit me with the joy stick.

I'm going to keep playing around with this (next up - how does it work with a MIDI keyboard?), but it looks like it has earned its place in the studio system. Whee!


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Digitalis V3 (the Living Room Modular)

Well, today I finished up "Digitalis V3" - the third version of my Living Room Modular. The idea was to make a laptop-comfortable modular that would allow me to do complete compositions - and to be robust enough to survive multiple day's of on-again-off-again attention.

Things are based around a pair of 1010 Music's modules: The Toolbox (in FlipUI mode) and Bitbox (in Normal mode). These two give me an amazing set of options, with tons of LFO's, note and gate sequencers, sampling and synth functions. To add some further modulation sources, I have a Xaoc Zadar with the NIN expander (which is critical, since I can fire off one-shot envelopes with the expander's buttons) and the Intellijel 1U Noise Tools. Mixing and routing are handled by a pair of buffered 1U multiples and a 1U Quadratt, and visualization from a 1U oscilloscope.

But key to this system's sound is the backend. I've always - since V1 - had a WMD Overseer filter, which is now one of my favorite filters in the world. This used to feed into a Grayscale Supercell, but I traded that out for a Microcell, which gave me enough room for a DSI DSM02 (which I continue to love...) and a Pico Input. The whole thing is in my 4Ux104HP case, which fits nicely in my lap.

The above patch is my first full-in composition (called The Catskills), which will be part of my next release. Great fun!


Sunday, July 28, 2019

In Praise of 3HP

OK, I'll admit to being a number-obsessive. I've always preferred even numbers; as a kid, I made sure that I took an even number of steps between cracks in the sidewalk (and still do this occasionally), and like things straight-and-even.

So you can imagine how I felt about the first odd-HP modules that I came across. It was The Harvestman, and I just couldn't wrap my head around the reason that odd-HP would make sense - unless you wanted to get people to get matching pairs of modules (thus leading to an even number of HP). Grumble-grumble, I just avoided them like the plague.

As I got different cases loaded up, I'd always end up with a few HP that needed to be filled. Generally, I'd check out the offerings by 2hp, the makers of the thinnest useful modules in the land. I ended up with a lot of 2hp modules, but I never loved using them. Mostly, it was getting access to the controls - I often felt like I needed to use a tweezers in order to turn knobs or punch buttons.

Recently, I found myself needing a good input module, and nothing 2hp had would work. So I broke down and bought a Erica Synths Pico Input (at 3HP) along with a 1HP blank. Plopped it in the system and kind of fell in love. The extra 1HP made access to the shaft-y knobs a lot more comfortable, and plugging in cables (especially Stackables) was much easier and less ugly.

I've started replacing the 2hp modules with 3HP Pico modules, and I'm kind of loving it. That input module kills it, the dual VCA is simple and clean, and I just ordered an LFO/S&H and Envelope pairing that should also be cool. Takes a little more room (2 modules per 6HP, vs. 3 modules by 2hp), but I find these things a lot more fun to use. It's also opened my mind to other odd-HP modules, like the NIN expander module for the Zadar and that Roland Torcido.

But, you know, I'm going to have to double up on my sidewalk step-counts in order to make up for this!


Friday, July 26, 2019

In the Middle of Things...

Just a quick note: my new Output Platform desk came in, was assembled, and I'm almost done with wiring. I'll have a more detailed post later this weekend, but man - this thing is amazing. I've had purpose-built desks before (including Argosy consoles), but nothing seemed to fit my lifestyle as well as this.

I picked up a few things (most specifically: a Series 500 cage for audio tools) to augment the layout, but right now it seems pretty awesome. More anon!


Monday, July 15, 2019

This is what I get for my $2600?

(image left fuzzy - to give you a sense of the sound...)

Good gravy. 

I had to get an MRI on my right knee today - it finally got that bad. Alas, a 5:30am appointment to anything is never going to be good news, but at least the Minneapolis traffic wasn't too bad!

So I get in there, they set me up, then ask me "What kind of music would you like?" I asked what they had, and they said they'd play a YouTube playlist (*first warning*). I said "Try Pat Metheny" - then spent the next 10 minutes helping them understand how to spell it. It took me a minute before I realized I was talking to medical professionals, at which point I said "Meth, plus an E-N-Y". The got that.

Then they gave me these MRI-safe headphones. Given that I'd had to fill out a huge form about my lack of piercings, metal fingernail polish and embedded intestinal camera, I was wondering what these would be like. They were horrible - they fit nice, but the whole think sounded like I'd just gotten out of the pool, and couldn't shake the water out of my ears.

Combine that with the variety of bangs, whizzle-whirs a zim-zazzles that the Siemens MRI machine was making and I came up with two realizations:

1. There is a market for better sounding MRI-safe headphones, and
2. I should have chosen The Utah Saints for my MRI soundtrack.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

And a Side Benefit...

So, after putting the handle on the side of the case, I found myself swinging this thing onto my lap a lot more often - and a lot easier. However, I also started running into a hellhole - there is no way that the power supply is held into its place other than the friction of the plug.

What does that mean?

It means that there have been several times where I've been working on something, adjusted my chair - and the power unplugged, killing the unsaved work I was in the middle of performing. Piss me off? Oh yeah it did.

After the last time it happened, I found myself grumbling: "Grrr, why don't they have one of those little PS wrapper things to prevent the power from getting pulled out?" Then I looked at the handle, and I looked at the power cable.

And I ran the cable through the handle...

... and haven't had a power outage since then. Simple solution, right? But a great side benefit to the handle that I didn't expect, but has become a real treat.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Getting Out the Tools.

OK - I had to crack open the toolbox today. I've got an Intellijel 4Ux104HP case for my 'living room synth'. I love the thing, and the 1U row is perfect, holding modules for inputs modules, a mixer, the random toolset and an oscilloscope. The main row is a 1010 Music Toolbox, 1010 Music Bitbox, Zadar, Overseer and Supercell. Damn, I can make a lot of interesting noises with that setup.

But it's got a real flaw - and one that you won't notice when you are looking at the case on the Sweetwater site. When it is full of modules, there's no way to hold it! There's no built-in handle, and there is no way to grab it without squeezing the life out of one of the modules.

So I went over to the local hardware store, bought a closet handle, a tap (and handle) and a set of machine screws. Measure twice, drill once (for each hole), tap the holes and screw it in. Next thing you know, I've got a way to lift up the modular without threatening damage to one of my modules, and it also reinforces that I don't want to set it down on the side with the power switch.

Workin' for me!


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Josh Eustis Reveals

Dayam, that's a great little video. I love Josh's work - and it's cool to see/hear him put things together.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Well, that was answered!

OK - I get asked this question so often, and ELPHNT actually answers it in a useful and complete way. Thanks, dude - I owe you one!


Sunday, June 16, 2019

XAOC Zadar - experience

So, I had 10 hp left in my Living Room Modular, and I really wanted some envelopes. I'd been using an Intellijel Quadra, but after getting a 1010 Music Toolbox, I'd run out of space. One of the things I like about the Quadra was that each envelope could double as an LFO, but I wasn't happy that any voltage control required the 12 hp expander and it was too big anyway. So I starting fishing for options, and ran across the Zadar.

I loved the look of it, but wasn't too jazzed on the idea of menu-heavy functionality. I also couldn't tell - no matter how much I watched videos, read the mini-manual or read online postings - whether you could make the envelopes act like LFOs without triggering them. Nevertheless, I decided I had to go this way for maximum flexibility, and thought that I could used LFOs from the Toolbox to trigger LFO-like action if I had to.

It came in just before I headed out on vacation, and I was blown away. I spent the evening searching stuff out, to find:

- If you set the repeat count of an envelope to infinity, it knows that you want and LFO and just starts running. YOU READ IT HERE FIRST, APPARENTLY!
- The module doesn't save its state on power down. You can force a save by pressing and holding the menu button; it works, but you have to remember to do it.
- The controls that they chose to put on the four knobs are brilliant. Within 10 minutes, I was intuitively reaching for the right thing quite naturally.
- The warp control for curve manipulation provides way more flexibility that I would have expected. When I was researching the thing, I was obsessed with the waveforms that it implemented. But with the warp control, even the simplest triangle wave can provide a ton of modulation-worthy fun.
- The menu use is less invasive than I thought it would be with one exception: that LFO thing. Having to jump in to spin the repeat level up is a drag.
- I wish there was a bipolar output option (especially for LFOs), but maybe that is for V2?
- The single incoming voltage is pretty easily routed to the right place; super-intuitive.

There's more for me to explore - there's some sort of chaining system that might allow me to make that one-button-symphony I've always longed to make. But generally, I'm loving this little module, and having envelope times approaching 30 minutes (with only a few spins of the wrist) is brilliant fun.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Little Diversion

For the last almost three weeks, I've been on vacation. What do I choose to do on vacation? Something fun - and educational. So in addition to reading a ton of books, staining the deck and moving our photo library to the cloud, I ran through the Kadenze Academy class on plugin development using the JUCE framework.

I'd been using JUCE indirectly through the Max SDK, but it was fun to dig into the 'normal' way of using it. There are some things that are phenomenally good (like the mechanism for storing presets...), and the knowledge I have from years of programming Max stuff comes in really handy. But this was a great way to imagine a different way of doing audio work, and I suspect there might be more of this in my future!


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Just a Little Chuckle...

I always get a chuckle out of promo email that feature misspellings. In this case, Overloud drops a dime on their new "Bucked" BBD plug-in, which got me thinking - what would actually buck you off of a delay line? I'm pretty sure it would have something to do with random delay time modulation, but I'm not sure...


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

No pain, no gain

Some changes in play:

  • The Spectre suffered from the boot-problem-syndrome that affected so many AD modules, so it had to go. Luckily, the dude that I bought it from on Reverb is top-notch, and dealt with it with class. I owe Okie's for the assistance.
  • Replaced with the Malgorithm. Never had great luck with Industrial/Harvestman modules, and this one is falling about the same: too much self-noise ATM. I may need to work with it a bit more, but it isn't really speaking to me yet.
  • The bigger distortion piece meant a smaller VCA. Damn, I already miss the uVCA. We'll see what happens here.
Everything else is cookin' with gas, and I was able to prep a whole bunch of field recording pieces that I'll be using at the Jazz Central gig next week. I'm not going to be able to jumble this up much between now and then, so this is how it will roll.

Now I just have to get my crap together w/r/t MPC sets!


Sunday, May 5, 2019

OK - In the Pocket (for now)

OK - I've gotten all the pieces together, swapped the Rossum filter for something a little more fun (for me) and pulled a bunch of modules out of the Save Box for the modular sampler. The whole thing is based off a 1010 Music Bitbox - have I raved about that enough? I freaking love it, and I've mostly been tweaking/playing with a very small set of files (I haven't really started sampling or collecting specifically for this device yet). It hits the sweet spot of awesome and fun for me, and it also lives in the MPC mental world for me, so I'm quite happy.

I settled on the WMD Overseer filter, which gives me stereo coherence but with a simple, DJ-like interface. Sounds great, responds perfectly to modulation and has that funky tilt function. Love it! I'm also back to the Intellijel uVCA - still, to me, the perfect VCA implementation. It's like an old friend, and I never tire of using it. Combining that with the Supercell is a winning combo, since I often use the VCA for modulated modulations - and the Supercell/Clouds loves that action.

I ended up getting an Audio Damage Spectre - despite my deep-seated issues with those punks, and the fact that the module will never be supported. Again, I get stereo coherence (I think...) and some nice algorithms. Modulating the whole scene is that Quadra (I had to buy some jumper blocks to use it without the expander...) and a MantaMate, which gives me nice random stuff when nothing is plugged in, but also acts as a decent MIDI converter - and a host for the Manta, too. The Manta seems like a good option for firing off stuff in the Bitbox, but it also makes me wish for a good CV-to-MIDI (on 1/8") converter I could use to randomize access into that module.

Alas, you can't have everything.

It looks like I'll be using this for some sample action in my gig on the 22nd - unless I find a way to have the MPC handle this. One less piece of gear is always useful. In the meantime, this has become my sofa-modular, and I'm loving it to death!


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Sample System - Version 1

Here is the current version of the Sample Modular. The top (1u) section is a pair of QuadAtts and a pair of NoiseTools. The 3u section is a Quadra with Expander, 2HP VCA, 1010 Bitbox, Rossum Morpheus and the Supercell. Hella power.

So why would I be talking "Version 1" about this? Isn't it already perfect?

Nobody that has ever used a modular would buy the 'perfect' thing, but here are my issues (that I will soon resolve):

  • That Rossum filter is amazing, but I don't like it. Does that make sense? Not at all. But it's my reality, and I have to honor it. (Kind of pisses me off, though - because there is a lot in there to love...)
  • The 2HP VCA is just too dinky for fun. I've got to get back into a uVCA like the old days - even though that Supercell also has a VCA. But I use VCAs for variable modulation all the time, and I could use the real estate to do some damage.
  • I really want something for a little distortion, and I want it all in-the-box. I want to work on this by sitting in The Big Chair and fiddling it while I watch basketball or something, so it can't be an external pedal or anything. That's got to get added.

So changes are in the works - but this gives me a great platform for starting to work with the Bitbox. Version 2 additions are already on order (and will be cost neutral, thankfully), so here we go!


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Playing Games with Samples

I'm in the process of making the next 'special purpose' skiff for my system - this one being specific to working with samples. After digging in to a number of different sample-based modules, and actually getting hands-on most of them, I've decided that a 1010 Music bitbox is my future. The fact of the matter is that it speaks to me in a similar fashion to the MPC Live, and a nice cluster of firing inputs, is only modestly hyper-complex and looks damned cool.

I'll reveal the entire skiff next week (after I'm back from Expo), but suffice to say that it is built off an Intellijel 4u x 108hp skiff-ish case. I've got most of it pulled together - a lot of it was pieces that I got in trade or had hanging around the house. But it seems like a good sitting-on-the-soft rig, and I'm looking forward to adding this setup to my performance rig.

More anon!


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Berna Down The House!

I was rumbling around Synthtopia today, getting caught up on the latest news and checking out some of the coolische videos that tend to show up on Sundays. Looking at some older messages, I saw a winnerGiorgio Sancristoforo has created a version of Berna 2 for Windows!

I've long been a Berna fan - mainly because it forces you to think differently about synthesis. Because it is emulating an old tape music studio, you have to consider different ways of creating events (no envelopes!), contours (still no envelopes!) and pitch changes (no keyboards, either!).
These limits cause you to steer clear of your favorite techniques - because you just can't do 'em. Instead, you find yourself thinking about mixing and modulation ideas, creative ways of using a ring modulator, and splicing/mixing action on the bank of virtual tape machines.
If love this software - much like I love the other goodies by Sancristoforo. If you haven't tried out Berna, check it out at his site:


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Can't Do It...

So, with the recent destruction of my studio space, I needed to pare down my physical keyboard stack. My 'next studio' is probably going to be an Output Platform workstation/desk and a sidecar for the small modular - and that'll be it.

My first thought was that I could let the Nord Lead 3 pass along - so I pulled it out of the closet and set it up to make sure there weren't any problems with the encoders or buttons.

Ran through everything and found it all working as expected. Then I started selecting presets and tweaking controls. Bliss. I could take any preset and, with a few nudges, turn them into something that I could love. The way that the indicators give you an immediate sense of what's going on means that you always stayed connected to the patch - even with some of the less-used controls.

I realized that the reason I was obsessed with this synth - and the reason I went out of my comfort zone to buy it - was exactly this: no surprises. No hidden crap. No trick settings. All of it is right there for you to see.

I can't imagine anyone trying to make one of these today - it flies in the face of the 'endless encoder debacle' from DSI, and the parts count has to be humiliating. But I love it, and I can't sell it, and something else is going to have to go if I have to clear out some room.



Thursday, April 4, 2019

Why Do They Have To Take All The Good Stuff Away?

I was really sad to see that Red Bull and Yadastar have decided to pull the plug on the RBMA, Red Bull Radio and other projects related to global electronic music support. From what I can tell, they are going to roll things back to the country-level support, meaning that we will be less likely to see these amazing talks, on a comfy couch, with our heroes.

It was easy to take potshots at RBMA - they were supported by Those Evil Drink Makers, the were hogging the attention, or they were taking advantage of 'the scene' for their own profit planning. But I've probably learned more about some of my favorite artists by watching RBMA videos than almost anything else.

Some favorites? Let's try these (the links give the artist away...):

Amazing stuff. 'Nuff said?


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

See, it's not just me!

A quick shout-back to DJ Pangburn, writing for - with a great article on using Single Cycle Samples with your hardware. In addition to talking about how to use SCW's in typical samplers, there is also coverage of wavetable synths like the Blofeld and tuning them in something like an Octatrack.

As part of the discussion, there was also a pointer to my Single Cycle Waveform editor (, which was pretty cool to see. I hope this opens the doors for some new people to enjoy rocking out the cycles!


Monday, March 18, 2019

And all that work...

So, I'd just got done setting up my patchbay the way I wanted it to be. Ran snakes to both of the synth work areas. Got the podcasting mic situation set up as desired. And even got a multi-speaker monitoring setup arrayed the way I wanted to.

Then came the rain.

Here in Minnesota, as with much of the Midwest, there's been a significant amount of flooding. Sometimes it's because of bad storms, and sometimes because of melt before the ground is ready to absorb it. In any case, there it is - and my studio is no more.

I didn't lose any gear, but the work area I was in is basically destroyed. The carpet got soaked, and is now Mold Approved. The electrical got soaked, too, so I'm never going to be able to trust it. And it turns out that getting insurance support on any of this is based on how the water comes it. If it's a sewer backup, that's one insurance rider. If it comes in through the wall or floor (as is my case), that would be flood insurance. Conversely, if the water heater blows up, that's even a different one.

My trust in insurance companies has hit an all-time low. They are all bastard - each and every one of them. I've spent a lot of time with the agents; they could easily have looked at my policy and said "Hey Darwin, here in MN, this here thing is a good idea once."

No such luck. So now I'm going to be working off a limited amount of space, with a limited amount of gear - and a limited willingness to do it again. Seems like the last year of studio work was a massive waste of time and effort, and I'm really feeling down about it.



Sunday, March 10, 2019

My Favorite Modules: Quantizers

When it comes to 'fave' modules, quantizers always end up at the top of my list. This is especially true when we talk about 'playable' quantizers, like the Penrose shown above (from my work mini-system). These quantizers allow you to select the notes that you will 'snag' from all available pitches, allowing you to work within scales - but also to select interesting combinations of notes to build semi-determinate melodies.

I've tried just about every quantizer out there, and this little Penrose quant hits all the marks: selectable notes, triggered quantization (so you can determine when the quantization snags its next note - if that's what you want), and a highly-visible setup. This is really similar to my first favorite quantizer, which I was using back in the good ol' 5U days. That quantizer - the Moon Modular 565 quad quantizer - had a companion module (the 565D) that provided this keyboard-like interface:

One of my favorite performances was based on this thing. At the end of our Spark Festival performance, Tom Hamer was doing a little percussion bit, and I was feeding random voltages into this thing. I started reducing the notes until I was left with just a few notes. The Voltage Gods fed me the right value/octave combinations to do a sweet figure, and it ended perfectly. The audience loved it, and I looked like a hero.

In a way, a quantizer limits a modular to typically 'musical' results - in a way, returning to the tyranny of the keyboard. But it also allows me to experiment freely with voltage generation while providing a note-based constraint on the result, which is something that I find a neat combo. So I'm willing to live within pitch norms in exchange for the freedom to stretch out in other areas.

When I look at other people's systems, I see far fewer quantizers (or quant-like tools) that I would expect. Maybe that's why a lot of modular music sounds a bit like a woodworking shop; people are throwing out the pitch-baby with the keyboard-bathwater.

Too bad.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Oh Yeah - Remember...

Went to a show Monday night - saw Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain (Monome), and got a great reminder of something: playing is lovely. Since I've moved to Minnesota, my playing opportunities have been greatly limited - and I've not been pushing it, either. Going to MCAD and seeing my friend play helped me remember that you don't have to put on a Rush-level show to honor the audience, honor music and enjoy making some noises.

It was beautiful, and also a reminder that modulars, monomes, norns and other stuff can be used to make all sorts of music. You can make crunchy beats, but you can also make beautiful synthetic sounds - or even sing a little.

If you have a chance to see Brian and Kelli play, do yourselves that favor.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Preparing for the Next Round

I'm about to start work on my next performance/recording run, and that means it is time to get a project specific notebook. This time, it is a Maruman N246, a 40-page, 5mm grid spiral-bound notebook.

What is this notebook madness?

Well, I like to think of it in terms of an actual 'fresh start', and I like to have a notebook where I can jot down ideas, graphics, scoring ideas and hardware requirements. I like it to be spiral-bound (because it can lay flat, but also be folded upon itself for a smaller footprint), and I like a nice absorbent paper that won't also be hoover for food and drink bits. I've fallen in love with the Maruman series, because they meet all of those needs - along with one other serious thing.

They are small. Only 40 pages. It means that I'm not overwhelmed with the requirements of filling up a huge notebook for this project - rather, I'll have to be a little constrained in order to fit it all in (or so I hope). Grid notebooks can be pretty efficient anyway, and I think this one will be a winner.

I'll let you know in March and April, when this work should start seeing the light of day!


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

More About Sequencers

OK, so I'm a little obsessed. Ever since I had the old Arp 1621 sequencer I've been in love with hardware sequencing. Last year, I got a Korg SQ-1 as part of a work assignment, and have been enjoying its use, especially with small desktop modulars (like my Pittsburgh Structure-96 mini-system, and Kristin's 0-coast). And I have a very nice sequencing tool build into my Ardcore, but that isn't visual at all. And I wanted something placed into the EP-208 case.

So I've ponied up for one of these Div6 Dual Sequencers, and it's on its way right now. I dug into the state of the sequencing art, and didn't really like a lot of what I saw: many of the larger ones are a) too large, and b) too limited. I want it to handle two voices, be able to work separately out-of-sync or in-sync, and I'd like it to be quantized properly.

Seems like this will work - but as a backup, I also picked up a second SQ-1. 'Cuz you can never have too many of those, right?