use what you got

One day last week as I was wrapping up at the studio, my son was asking about some of the modules on the synthesizer. In particular he was wanted to know what the ring modulator (Doepfer A114) did. We had some time so I patched some stuff together and tried to explain a concept that I’m not even totally familiar with.
We got something kind of cool going, using the Seq02 to trigger gates, send CV notes to the VCOs, and send CV to various parameters like the filter frequency. We didn’t have the computer with us so there was no way for me to patch the modular in via the MOTU Ultralite. So remembering that I had this little Blue Mikey microphone for my iPhone that I was given for Christmas, I grabbed that thing, attached it to the phone and opened up FiRE, which is a terrific recording app from Audiofile Engineering. I have the original Blue Mikey, which doesn’t have any line-in, so what you hear was recorded from speaker to microphone. The result turned out much better than I’d have imagined it would. FiRE has some gain control so I could keep the sound from clipping for the most part, but also keep the levels up near the limits. The phone was sitting about 18 inches away from my monitor and about four feet from where we were standing at the synth.

I like this clip as you can hear Wilson asking me about the patch as we pulled cords and tried new things. About 1/3 the way through we patched in the noise from the A118 through a mixer into the second input of the VCA. The result was a periodic drumming, which I believe you can here him “yeah yeah keep that!” at around 2:16. A bit later he asked about the A150 VC Switch. So we pulled a cord from one of the CV tracks out of the sequencer to turn the switch from in/out 1 to in/out 2, and we ran the A118 noise to the 2nd input of the switch with the original ring-modded patch going into the first input.
We played around with the switching starting at 4:14 and found something we liked at about 5:50. It was a pretty complicated patch for a little two-row system like mine, and you can hear Wilson say “you used up all of your wires!” near the end.

After we turned off the recording, I sent the file directly to SoundCloud from the iPhone itself, never processing it through anything on the Mac at all. I really love this system as it does a terrific job in a pinch, and while I can’t use much of the recording in any songs later on, it is a real “live recording” of the playing of that synthesizer. I’m impressed enough with the Blue Mikey that I’ll be upgrading to the new version with the line-in jack as soon as it is released next month.

Wilson’s been playing with Reason and Live about the same amount of time that I have. He’s built a small synth in Reaktor, and he’s got dozens of songs made in Garage Band saved on various CDs and hard drives. The modular is really interesting for him because of the tactile and physical approach to patching and knob-twisting. Nothing is hidden behind GUIs or multiple pages or magic computer dust. Here’s a picture taken of him about a year ago working with Sonic Charge’s Synplant synth in Ableton.

working with Synplant

i got a sequencer

I have sequencers running out my ears on my computer. I regularly use Numerology, Reaktor, Ableton and Volta to sequence soft synths and, lately, my modular via midi. However, a good part of the reason I’ve become sort of kind of obsessed with this modular business is the tactile control of buttons, switches and knobs.
To that end, I added a sequencer in the form of the MFB Seq02 last week. This thing is incredibly versatile for such a small thing. It can run twelve separate CV sequences of up to 32 steps each, or six CV and six trigger/gates. It’s got its own clock and it can be controlled by an outside clock as well.

I’ve not had much time this week to work with this thing, but today I set up a simple four note repeating sequence and just started patching. These are variations using pretty much the same four note patterns. Each track on the Seq02 can have one of either an A or B 8-step sequence, or both in a row. A three-way switch chooses which mode. So I just made two different four-note sequences, started the sequencer, and switched back and forth.

The sounds are coming from the A110 VCOs in various waveforms, and filtered at different times with the Model 12, the A120 VCF, and the A101-2 Low Pass Gate. The A101-2 is the thing that creates the plucky acoustic sounds. When you hear it you’ll know. I used MOTU’s Volta to send various trigger and step-sequences to both the Seq02 as a clock, and other modules for various modulations. I sometimes wanted various numbers of steps, where the Seq02 only allows one to choose steps on a global level. Meaning if I want one sequence of triggers to be four steps and another to be seven, I have to rely on the software.
The delay was added in Ableton because it sounds nice.

a little sequencing?


I was giving a small demonstration of my modular and Volta last night, so I had to wrap the brain around some stuff that I’d not otherwise understood. Here are some recordings from that 90 minutes. All of the tracks use Volta to run a sequence into the modular. There are some arpeggios in there and a delay from Ableton. I really like where one can go with this. When I’m noodling around with LFOs as a sequence and clock source, one can forget that the modular can actually sound like something more mainstream. Not that this is always a good thing….
Now I’m really looking forward to getting the Seq02 set up.

model 10 tweaks

I keep the “record” button close by when I’m working with the modular. I don’t really know yet exactly what I’m doing and I never know when something surprising and great will get spit out. These two files are cases in point.
They’re both caused, for lack of a better word, by the Plan B model 10 Polyphonic Envelope. The first one is using the m10’s End of Attack output to send a second trigger to the envelope that is opening the VCA. Because the rise, or attack of the envelope is quicker than the release, it gives it this little swinging feel.

The second one here happened when I was cross-modulating the frequency of the sine output on an A110 oscillator with a LFO as well as the model 10. The LFO was, I believe, sending the triangle wave out, and I was fidgeting about with the ‘fall’ knob on the model 10, as well as a little bit with the time base. It caused some great bubbling.

I’m trying to take time to explore each of the modules I have one by one and really understand what it is that they do. I suspect I’ll have more module-centric posts here coming along. I just bought a couple more pieces — a voltage controlled switch, a low pass gate, and a sequencer — as well as a larger case, so… lots to play with.