Built a small breakout module for my 4ms Rotating Clock Divider over the weekend, and spent some time playing with it. It’s got six switches that allow one to change some counting and reset behaviors of the RCD which previously were only available via jumpers on the PCB. I spent an hour or so afterward making some music and recording. While I was very happy with the results, I realize now that it’s kind of hard to hear what the breakout is doing in these two tracks. So instead of going into the RCD/Breakout and explaining the results, I’ll just post these guys for your listening pleasure.
The description on Soundcloud is as follows: The e350 Morphing Terrarium on the bass with an Anti-Oscillator FM’d by an Unkle Oscillator on the higher pitches. Note CV is from a Noisering through a µScale quantizer with the scale notes and intervals shifting. Pressure Points is the modulation sequencer. The delay on the high pitched part is from an EHX Deluxe Memory Boy set to dotted eighths. I love that delay pedal.

I’ll record something later this week, maybe, that better shows off the abilities of the RCD and the breakout.

morphing terrarium

It’s the perfect name for such an amazing VCO. The Synthesis Technology e350 Morphing Terrarium. It’s a wavetable VCO with three banks of 64 waves, arranged on a grid, controlled with an X, Y and Z knobs and CV. Since I sold the Hertz Donut I’d been missing the digital factor in my modular. I planned on obtaining the Flame Talking Synth, but when I realized what it cost I kind of thought that while it’s a neat pony, it’s just got one trick, and for almost the same moneys I can get this one used, which is a lot of tricks pony.
These tracks were recorded on the first days I had it, before I sat an expander next to it, designed by zeitdehnermod and negativespace from the MuffWiggler forum, which accesses a pair of jumpers on the PCB of the e350. The VCO is a very nice, very smooth operator in its default form. With access to the jumpers it can get angry. Which is good.

Each of these tracks are the e350 as sole sound source, unfiltered, sequenced with the Z8000, and followed with some combination of EHX delay pedals. For more info check out the soundcloud links on the tracks.

ringmod with µmod

I recently got a pile of new modules, replacing a bunch of old modules. Most of these are by Intellijel, a new manufacturer/designer from up in Vancouver (but whose website is way out of date). Intellijel announced a bunch of new designs in late December, and they’ve come to fruition recently. I got a new quantizer called the µScale replacing my A156, a panning/crossfading VCA called the Azimuth to replace the A134 (and maybe the A132-3, as this thing is really great). I also got a module called the µMod which replaced the A133 dual polarizer. I bought the A133 last year for its use in screwing with CV, but I found that I usually ended up using it with audio, as a ring mod. When Intellijel announced the µMod, the description seemed to cover the same territory as one half of the A133, plus a bunch of other features in the form of two rectifying switches and a “Q” knob. Since I never used more than one half of the A133 at a time, I sold that sucker and screwed in the µMod.
Below are three tracks recorded the first night I had this thing. They’re all using very short poppy envelopes made with Maths, and using the Azimuth as a VCA (which is fantastically quick).

The first one here is not exactly “musical,” as it sounds like tapping on a small block of wood. But one thing I love about a ring mod is the percussion.

This track makes use of my Stereo Memory Man w/ Hazarai pedal, with some semi-random triggers clocking its delay.

In addition to the above additions to the system, I’ve also replaced the Hertz Donut with a Malekko/Wiard Anti-Oscillator, and added a STG Wave Folder (which has not yet been installed). I’ll get some sounds from these dudes up soon. Oh, and have I mentioned that I’m obsessing over my new guitar?

showing off (tonight!)

modular synth, in fourths

This might be rather short notice, but tonight I’ll be showing the modular synth at a gathering of synth nerds in Philadelphia. Synth SIG is a meeting of peoples whom like synthesizers, whether they be analog, digital, or virtual. It was seeing Charles Cohen perform with his Buchla Music Easel at a Synth SIG in late 2009 that talked me into going this route in the first place.
I’ll be bringing the case full of modules, and my SMMH delay pedal for effect. Here’s the official announcement.

There will be a meeting of the SynthSig group on Wednesday February 9th, at 7:30 in the Connelly Auditorium, The University of the Arts, 211 S. Broad St., Philadelphia

The program will feature a presentation by Brian Biggs of his modular synthesizer equipped with a delay pedal. Also featured will be a presentation by Andrew Zahn, a Multimedia major, who will demonstrate his analog sound synth and digital control process.

In addition there will be discussion of synth apps available for the iPad and additional synth information.

All are welcome.

For additional information or requests to participate in demonstration of personal apps or devices contact Tom Porett:

switching cases

Last May I replaced my old Doepfer cases with nice Mission 9 from Monorocket. At the time I thought it would be such a great idea to record the entire process, speed the whole thing up and put it to music. So, I did the first part of that but until this week I never got around to completing the job.

Here’s the result. The music was made in December and features the two missing modules (Hertz Donut and Z8000) as well as a Pittsburgh Modular Vilfo that I didn’t have then, and have already traded out as well. Moving along.

The first half of the movie, the taking apart part, was filmed as video and sped up in the editing. The second half was a series of many many photographs taken every five seconds or so and stitched together. It has a jumpier quality to it. Enjoy!

ring those bells

I obtained a new low frequency oscillator module for my modular synth a couple of weeks ago. It’s called the Vilfo, from Pittsburgh Modular. This isn’t your typical LFO. Vilfo is an acronym for “Voltage Influenced Low Frequency Oscillator” and by voltage influenced they mean that it responds to CV quite differently than the normal frequency control that one would expect. This thing has a chaos streak in it that pushes and pulls against whatever you’re feeding it in an odd kind of way. My favorite use for it so far is to use it as a clock source, and then send it some other clock or sine wave. Normally, a -+10v signal would speed up and slow down a LFO. In this case it kind of makes the Vilfo hesitate some, then shoves it around a bit, then speeds it up, then stops it altogether. But not always.

So I had it drive a little sequence of bell ringing, where the bells are made with the Hertz Donut. The different bell-like tones are created by having the Z8000 sequencer ring the second oscillator on the Donut a bit differently each time the main sequence of notes repeats itself. The timing is all Vilfo, with all the hesitations and speed ups and downs caused by the aforementioned influencing, in this case by a Malekko Oscillator in LFO mode. I run the triangle wave from the Vilfo back into the sync of the Oscillator, which toys with the timing a little more. A little like a feedback loop.

I thought the result was appropriate for this holiday season…

Another Time, Another Place

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.

three videos

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.

i got delayed (again)

memory man and modular

Delay delay delay. I know, right? In the span of two months, I’ve done delay crazy. I’ve always liked the sound of a delay effect in music, and I used Ableton’s or Reason’s delays in pretty much everything I made before I fell down the hardware hole. At that point it got a bit more difficult since much of what I record and post doesn’t make its way into Live or any other DAW. Rather it’s just recorded into Wave Editor, exported, and posted. So until my friend Greg gave me his old Boss DD-3 in July, I was without delay.

That’s all different now. If you go back and listen to the stuff I’m posting, pretty much everything since July has some kind of delay effect in it. Sometimes it’s disguised as reverb, but it’s delay. After playing around with that Boss delay pedal for a bit, I wished for more control over the effect and got the Flight of Harmony Sound of Shadows module, which I wrote about previously. It’s a fun and lovely device, but it’s like the Boss DD-3 the way that a Panther is like my cat. I mean, they’re both “delays” but that doesn’t mean that they’re anything alike. Then the other day I came across an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man pedal on Craigslist. I picked it up yesterday and spent several hours with my modular synth plugged into it last night. In addition to most of the stuff that the Boss does, the SMM also loops, and is as the name implies, in stereo. Stereo is good because it has a default ping-pong left-right delay when a mono signal is plugged in. Furthermore since I like to use my Doepfer A134 panning VCA, it allows those two inputs. It would be great to be able to set each side with a different time delay, but since I’m not getting rid of the Boss, I can still do that (Boss on one side, Memory Man on the other). Another reason to keep the DD-3 is that it’s got a really nice sound as the delay rate is adjusted. While the Memory Man just cuts the delay until the new speed is reached, the Boss does it more naturally, adjusting the pitch. More like a tape delay. I’ll record these and post them at some point.

I recorded more than an hour of sequences run through the Memory Man, with much playing with the Sound of Shadows as well. It will take some editing to pick out the gems. But in the mean time this fifteen minutes was interesting to me and shows off the looping of the Memory Man, a couple of the delay modes, and has a lot of SoS as well (for the second half or so of the piece one can really hear the difference in the way they delay. Controlling the rate of the SoS’ delay adds something completely different, like a mocking tone or some kind of screwed up circus).

a soundtrack for crossing a bridge

Made a little time-lapse movie and a tune to go with it.

The tune is a snip of one of these ten-to-fifteen-minute long recordings I make while messing about with knobs and switches on the modular. I’ll record these things, then go through and steal bits and pieces that work as loops and phrases and samples that I play around with in Ableton Live. The percussion here is just some simple clicky stuff with a filter delay on it.