If you’ve spent any time at all reading the stuff on DanceRobotDance, you know I love my Machinedrum. It’s a fantastic drum machine that deserves better than me. The only real problem I’ve had with it is that with me sitting at the desk, and it sitting on the desk, the little screen where one sees parameters and information is really hard to read. It’s best when the MD is in one’s lap, but that’s not really a good place for it in most circumstances. The Machinedrum comes with two little holes drilled into its sides and a set of ears for mounting on a rack, but I don’t have a rack. I’ve seen some examples on the internets of people having made some metal or wood end cheeks to set it at a 30-degree angle, and exploring this I found that the manufacture of custom cheeks like this was just going to be more money or hassle for me than it was worth.
Enter ProModular. ProModular is a small outfit in The Bronx, New York, made up of one dude named Stephen who like me, frequents the MuffWiggler synth forum website. I’ve been interested in his custom modular synth panels for some time, but since I don’t really keep any permanent open spaces in my synth, I’ve not found the excuse to get any. I wrote to him a while back to inquire about etching a robot onto the front panel of a joystick kit I’m working on, but I’ve not got around to completing that. So when he posted a few weeks ago that he was going to start making these cheek panels for the Machinedrum, I jumped up and down.
They’re currently 25 bucks, and I even got some custom robots I designed etched on the sides. They look even better in person, and they make the damn thing a whole lot easier to see and work with. Very happy with this.
Several weeks ago I was asked by Marc Weidenbaum to take part in a remix project for Tablet Magazine, an online publication on Jewish art, life, and culture. The idea was to take Klezmer songs and remix them for Hanukkah. Originally he tried to get traditional public domain tunes, but when that proved too impossible, more recent songs were added to the mix. I was assigned a raucous number by The New Klezmer Trio entitled Thermoglyphics. I was curious by the choice, as my musical mind lies in a different place than this song goes, and since I work with a modular synth and a drum machine — a little less emotive than the great clarinet of Ben Goldberg in Thermoglyphics — I held my head in my hands for several minutes after taking a listen.
Going back a ways, I love Klezmer. Love. Klezmer. I took up the accordion back in 1999 specifically because I’m the gentile guy over there listening to Dave Tarras and the Klezmatics. If I’d had my wits about me and wasn’t so enthralled with robotic synthesizer noises right now, I might have picked out the melody on my accordion and messed with that as sampled audio. Alas, I instead programmed it all by ear using a sequencer in Ableton Live and making sounds with the synth (details below, if you’re into that sort of thing). I spent a few days climbing up the wrong tree, thinking could make things at sound at least somewhat organic. But it was one morning while walking the dog that I found myself whistling the main clarinet part of the original where I kind of had that Eureka moment. I switched on the sine wave in my oscillators, put the notes in through a slew-limiter, which controls the portamento, or slide between the notes, and hit “record.” The modular synth was also used for almost all the percussion sounds in my piece. The various tracks were mixed and arranged in Ableton Live, and after a couple of small revisions requested by Marc, it was finished. He describes it as “Eastern European android folk music” which I think is entirely accurate and slightly wonderful.
Here’s the track.
You can read more about it and listen to the entire album, plus an interview with Marc, on Tablet’s website.
For those with a more esoteric interest, the VCOs used are the uLFO and the Malekko Oscillator for the melody, detuned a few steps on the chorus parts. The percussion is almost all Hertz Donut noises, with one clickity coming from the Microtonic plug-in. Volta handled the procedure of converting the MIDI notes from Ableton to voltage to the modular. The slew-limiter is the Livewire Dual Bissell Generator.
I got some Dance Robot Dance stickers made. They’re 2.13 x 2.75 inches, red and black on vinyl. Perfect for you laptop, synth case, notebook, window, friend, whatever. If you want a couple, leave a comment below with a mailing address. If you have some to trade, send ’em along to me, Brian Biggs. The address is PO Box 25922, Philadelphia PA 19128.
Recently I’ve been thinking about getting into Max for Live. I know enough about it to know that I’ll never explore it depths to any reasonable extent, and I know that if I do I’ll likely not get much else done. In the past year I’ve dived into modular synths as well as teaching myself about electronics, both of which are pretty endless journeys. But it’s the very fact that I’ve learned so much about electronics and audio via the modular that M4L has become even more interesting to me.
So the other night I opened up Ableton in demo mode so that I could mess with M4L. I couldn’t edit anything, as I did the 30-day demo of Max last year and therefore Max won’t open on my laptop. Kind of silly, but maybe for the best. Since I was limited in what I could do with this demo, I decided to just play with some of the M4L content. I’ve always liked Pluggo, so I found an instrument called Vocalese in the Pluggo collection.
Vocalese is a weird little thing where various vowels, consonants and plosives are selected with various notes. So in theory one should be able to hit certain notes in certain orders and make the thing talk. That seems like it would be either tedious or fun. Instead of going that direction, I hooked that into the MIDI from the M4L step-sequencer, and pressed go. Immediately my headphones were full of aliens chattering away. I recorded two sequences. One is sixteenth-notes and no real thought over what was going on. The second one I slowed down the sequencer, skipped some steps, and changed the durations. This gives the output a much more, I don’t know, realistic (?) result. I then added Ableton’s frequency shifter for effect.
En lieu of me actually having anything to post that I made (it’s been a month of drawing) I have these three videos I’ll put up instead. The first two I found about a year ago and were instrumental in my getting into modular synthesizers. One is Charles Cohen working his Buchla Music Easel. I saw Charles at a synth meet-up here in Phailadelphia about the same time and he’s just great. The second is The Subliminal Kid working a big Macbeth M5 with a Moog sequencer. I really like how the beat just kind of appears out of no where. The third movie here I just found today. It’s Keith Fullerton Whitman playing his modular. I have a couple of cds from KFW (Generator is my fave) and I just have no idea how he’s pulling the sounds and sequences out of this thing.