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?