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.
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!
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...
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!
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!
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!
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.
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 winner: Giorgio 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: http://www.giorgiosancristoforo.net/softwares/berna/
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.
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...):
A quick shout-back to DJ Pangburn, writing for Reverb.com - 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 (http://scw.sheetsofsound.com/), which was pretty cool to see. I hope this opens the doors for some new people to enjoy rocking out the cycles!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?