clockerty

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 ┬ÁScale 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.

random, on a saturday morning

I’m coming up for air for a minute here. Every morning and every evening I walk through my little music room on the way from or to the bedroom, and I stop and stare at the modular and the Machinedrum and all my cables and audio interface and I tell these things “soon, my children. Soon…” A couple of things have conspired to keep me from making anything that I feel like I’m wanting to share. The holidays, of course. I’m also late on a book I’ve been writing and drawing that will be out later this year. Actually, late on several books. So the nights and weekend where I’d normally be making noises, I’ve been in the studio drawing pictures.
However, I’ve not been completely unmusical nor uninspired. So with this post I’ll go over some of the things I’ve been doing and get some ducks in a row to start the new year.

1. Everything Goes: On Land
I don’t cross-post often. That is, I don’t talk much about my musical goings on when I’m wearing my illustrator hat, and I don’t toot that horn when I’m walking around the music-room. However, I’m nearing completion of this huge book and I’m pretty excited about it. It’s 56 pages of cars and trucks and bikes and here’s a small piece of one of the images.
the daily grind

2. Guitars
I have to admit something. I’ve not been completely faithful. I tell my synth that I’m busy working and drawing and that I’ll spend time with it soon. In reality I’ve been seeing another instrument. I didn’t mean for it to get out of control, to get this far. I didn’t think I’d fall in love.
See, it all started when someone gave me an old Squier Stratocaster. I once tried to learn to play guitar, but it didn’t stick, and one of my true regrets is that I didn’t learn when I was younger. This Strat sat in its case for six years. Then a few weeks ago I attend my son’s Christmas concert at school and I learn that he is playing the bass guitar. And he’s playing it well! So I got inspired and I decided to get the old white Strat out and see if I can figure it out. My kids got guitars and small practice amps for Christmas, and I thought it would be great for Elliot and I to take guitar lessons together. However, the old white Strat, once plugged in to the amp, sounded like crap. Scratchy and hummy and sad. Normally I’d likely have gotten frustrated and stuck it back in its case for eternity. But with my new-found fearlessness around electronics, I took the guitar apart to learn what makes it tick. Now, please understand that I know ZERO about guitars, especially electric ones, coming in. So I was happily surprised when I understood immediately how the internals worked. The pick-ups are wired to a five-way switch, which in turn goes through a couple of 500k potentiometers, and then to the output jack and to ground. Simple! The thing was that the wiring was brittle, the pots felt dirty, and the whole thing was just a mess. But hell, I can fix this. I have some 500k pots up stairs. All I need is a new switch, right?
Not so fast. I spent an evening on the internets and quickly realized that there are a million options. Different pick-ups, some switches are higher quality than others, if Fender makes it than it’s twice the cost than other switches (and I’m pretty sure Fender didn’t actually make the switch, so it’s probably the same switch…). I happened across a link to a company called Stewart MacDonald in Athens Ohio. They specialize in parts for guitars, and hallelujah they actually sell a pre-wired pickguard/electronics kit that comes with the pots and switch and new pick-ups and wires and all it needs is to be soldered to ground and to the output jack. I wanted a black pick-guard anyway, so for just a few more dollars than the switch and new pots, I had the whole set-up.
It took twenty minutes two night ago to put the old Strat back together. No more scratch, no more loose parts, nice black and white look, and hum only when expected (switch positions 1,3 and 5 — that is, when only one pick-up is selected). I don’t know good when I hear it, so to me it sounds great.
So now I’m jonesing to learn this thing and reading all I can about guitars and, of course, guitar pedals. (If you’re anything like me, and since you’re reading this there’s a good chance that you are, you’ll understand completely when I admit that I stayed up in bed the other night with headphones and watched pedal demo videos on YouTube for three hours…) Of course, I’m starting with basics so last night for instance I played B C D E F G on strings one and two until my fingers hurt so much I couldn’t feel the frets. I also got pretty good at playing “Shoo Fly,” which sounds especially stupid with my daughter’s 12w Orange Amp set with the overdrive and gain turned up.
Here’s the guitar.

I didn’t take any “before” pictures, but it looked just like this.
I would like to do a few more things to the guitar to make it even better. It could use a new bridge, for instance. Stewart Macdonald sells these for $70, but when the guitar new cost $120 I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile. I mean, does it make sense to put in a new bridge and maybe better pick-ups and tuning machines when I might as well take that cash and look for an actual Fender on Craigslist? In any case, I decided I’m not going to spend any money on guitars — this one or another — until I get good enough that I can sit down at Guitar Center and know what I’m listening for when I play different instruments. This Squier sounds okay to me.
(That said, the American Standard Telecaster in Crimson sure looks spectacular…)

3. This

It’s a Dancing Robot. Get it? It just made me laugh when I ran across it.

4. Pressure Points
I’ve had my modular synth for about a year now. And you know how I feel about it. I love making music on this thing. I’ve been really good at keeping the system I have to an enclosed amount of space, fitting it in the case I bought last May. Recently, however, I’ve been seeing that I could use just one more row of modules to do some stuff that right now I cannot do. One of the things that triggered this was seeing the new MX6 case from Monorocket. My current case is a Mission 9, also from Monorocket, and I like it a lot. If there’s anything I don’t like, however, it’s that stuff on the bottom row is hard to get to because it’s on the bottom row. In addition, I’ve been planning to build a joystick module that would have to go in a separate enclosure. The MX6 is built as a suitcase that opens. My Mission 9 is somewhat like this, but the difference is that the MX6 can hold modules in it’s “lid.” This allows two rows of modules to rest on the table horizontally and two rows to be vertical. What this encourages is the modules on the bottom two rows to be “performance” oriented, so I’d want to put the modules down there that would get a lot of use. Things that modulate, things that are physical controllers. Things like the joystick and my Z8000 sequencer, for instance. While thinking about this I realized that it would be perfect for the Make Noise Pressure Points as well. It’s a touch-sensitive controller, so it makes it possible to “play” the synth as one would with a keyboard (kind of) but with much more expression. Make Noise also makes a module called “Brains” that turns Pressure Points into a full-blown sequencer as well. Just as I was thinking about all this, I found a Pressure Points for sale used, and then a Brains on eBay. So out with the old, in with the new. I unloaded a couple of modules of mine that weren’t getting much and spring for the PP/Brains.
The Pressure Points arrived the day before I put the aforementioned guitar back together and if I had any fears that my obsessing over the guitar would make me love my synth less, one evening with Pressure Points assuages those worries. This thing adds a whole new world and dimension to playing the synth. No longer is it necessary to just clock a sequence and watch it go. I can play the thing now. A lot of folks who got a Pressure Points quickly got a second. I can really see how that makes sense. For now I’ll stick with one and get the joystick finished, and then see how I feel about it.

Here are some samples and small phrases from about an hour of playing with it the night I got it.

jibberish

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.

Looking around the internets a bit, I found this post from Audio Cookbook, a blog I read now and then, who uses the same device with the vocoder. That sounds great as well.

I have a pretty strong feeling that Max for Live is in my near future. Damn.

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 little delay

As I’ve written, earlier this summer a friend of mine gave me an old Boss DD3 guitar delay pedal. I’m a big fan of using delays and I’ve used them a lot in the stuff I’ve made in software over the last several years. But as with everything since I got into the modular thing, having a tactile knob to twist and buttons to mash is something else entirely, and creates “fun” where there was just “nice” earlier. So once I ran across the Flight of Harmony Sound of Shadows delay module, where the delay rate and feedback can be controlled with CV, I knew I wanted to go to there. I sold a few modules I don’t use much and ordered the SoS from Analogue Haven. It arrived Monday, and Monday night I spent several hours working out some kinks.
I hadn’t rtfm* yet so some of the controls and inputs were a mystery. And listening to these now two days later, I have no idea what I’m hearing in some cases. “sos four” for instance is repeating entire pieces of the clean phrase, but I don’t know how. [Edit: I figured it out. I’m modulating the rate with the Z8000 sequencer. When you don’t hear any delay effect, the sequencer has shut off the rate completely for those steps. It’s a four step sequence running slower than the main clock, so you get something like every other beat it’s on, then off again… or something like that] I do know that the frequent sucking sound on “sos one” is the rate being turned from on to totally off with an envelope, like an LFO.
As for other modules used, “sos one” was a Cwejman VCO6. Four five and six are a Hertz Donut. Some is sequenced by a Noisering, some with a Z8000 sequencer. I also think the last three were using my A134 VC panning module, which works as a crossfader as well, and is really nice for some pseudo stereo.
I realized this morning that I can route the delay signal into signal delay circuit and delay the delay, which with one in the right and the other in the left channel, will be loads of fun.
The SoS is a little noisier than I’d like at times, and since the delay chip was made for karaoke machines it’s got kind of a cranky glitchiness. But I can already see that this is going to be fun.

By the way, what was supposed to be sos two is explained on the previous post, and sos three was sucky so it didn’t make it up here.

*Read the effing Manual

not yet delayed

I’ve been loving my Boss DD3 delay pedal that my friend Greg gave me so much that I sold off some stuff I didn’t use or want, and got a Flight of Harmony Sound of Shadows module. Since this tune I’m posting here doesn’t use the delay at all, I won’t go into it much here. But while putting together some patches and sequences with which to test the SoS out last night, I stumbled across this little bit of goodness.
Basically it’s my two “normal” VCOs, the uLFO and the VCO6, sequenced by the Noisering. As I talked about in the previous posts, the EXT RATE knob is turned fully left so that while the CV output is random, the clock is straight. I’m sending the CV through a mixer to attenuate it a bit, then into a quantizer, then into my new Intellijel Buffered Mult, where I split it into two. With my previous unbuffered mults, this would have been less interesting because the signal would have dropped some. The buffer keeps that from occurring. Once it’s split, the sequence is piped into the VCO6 and the uLFO. The VCO6 is using the triangle wave, the uLFO is using its modified sine, with a LFO clocked every fourth beat adjusting that mod. That provides the slight buzz that rise each measure. The two VCOs are detuned, and it has a really nice organ feel. On some other patches I used a LFO to provide some wobble with the signals put through a filter which really added to that, but not here.
The result is quite pretty. The Noisering really knows how to sequence a bunch of random notes, and I’m loving that thing more and more. It’s random, but it allows so much control over that random. Oxymoronic, I know.

Enjoy. I’ll be posting actual results from several hours with the delay module soon. Including one that’s pretty similar to this.

donut and noisering and machinedrum

nightlife

This is basically part 3 in the series of doing stuff with the Noisering, the Hertz Donut, and the Plan B low pass gate. Go back and listen to that which is posted on 3 August and 5 August. This patch is essentially the same. The Noisering sends its random CV to the Hertz Donut, attenuated slightly. The Donut is in “Good” mode, and is connected to the Plan B Model 13 in “both” mode. The signal from the Donut is also attenuated somewhat, as it’s really easy to completely overdrive the Model 13. The envelope for the M13 is provided by Maths. Now the difference here is that the triggers for the whole thing are coming from a Machinedrum. The Machinedrum has a machine called GND IMP which is just a trigger pulse made for things like pre-MIDI drum machines and analog synths. I can sequence these triggers just like any other drum or sound on the MD. I have the track routed through external output F to the CLK IN of the Noisering. That triggers the random CV of the Noisering, and also sends through the clock out the trigger for the Maths envelope.

Now the interesting part here is in the first half of this track. You can hear kind of a little double trigger on each note. I couldn’t figure out what was going on here, thinking it was something happening with the Maths. But then realizing that the notes were changing between each of the little triggers on each beat, meaning that the Noisering was getting two triggers, I realized that the event was taking place on the Machinedrum, not the modular. I noticed that I had the wrong machine chosen for the Machinedrum. It was set to a ROM machine, which is meant for playing back samples, and not the IMP impulse machine. I don’t know — and I wish I’d checked — what the ROM machine was playing. I’m assuming that it had two distinct peaks, whatever it was, which created two triggers. In any case, it sounds great. Like it’s got this funky little swing going. At 1:04 you can hear it change back to single triggers as I swapped the machines out.

The track loops a lot with most of the change coming from the notes played by the Noisering. But closer to the end I’m punching in random steps on the Machinedrum’s sequencer, keeping everything quantized to 16th notes. (In case you want to try this at home, I’m using generic 1/4″ to 1/8″ mono cables I bought at Radio Shack for $5.99. Don’t forget to set the routing for whatever track you’re using for triggers to one of the four external outputs rather than the main output…)

more about donuts

The Hertz Donut VCO has become my favorite source of noise and tones. At one moment nice and calm and soulful, the next minute with a few tiny knob-twists or introductions of voltage, it rips your head off. That’s a good thing, and surprising to me since the main reason I like synthesizers is distinctly not for the head-ripping-off that they’re capable of (re: blinky boopity subtractive synths).
I spent an hour the other night working on variations to the church donut sequence I posted previously. The main difference is in the use of the Noisering as the clock source, and to a lesser extent, modulation of the FM index of the Hertz Donut’s second oscillator. These three sequences were outtakes from that hour of recording. On a synth forum I frequent, I was informed by James Cigler that when nothing is plugged into the clock-in jack on t he Noisering, the randomness of the clock is controlled by the EXT RATE knob, which leaks the random signal from the 2nd output into the clock. The EXT RATE knob basically attenuates this signal, allowing for full-on crazy clock, or when turned counter-clockwise, barely any random signal. This is great, and turns the Noisering into a very useful clock source for me. The only problem with it that I see is that the randomness isn’t voltage controlled, and when something is plugged into the CLK IN jack, it breaks the connection. It would be the monkey’s uncle if somehow the source plugged into the CLK IN somehow controlled the amount of that randomness. Instead it’s the other way around, the EXT RATE attenuates whatever signal is plugged into the CLK IN. Both are useful, but I suppose it would take a second jack and knob to make this work.

In any case, this first sequence is the Noisering clock being rate-controlled by a slow LFO sine wave into the CLK IN jack. (When a trigger source is plugged into the CLK IN, that becomes the source of the clock. This merely controls the rate of the internal Noisering clock).

This next one has nothing plugged into the CLK IN jack. About halfway into the sequence I start turning the EXT RATE knob which adds the random signal to the clock.

And this last sequence is longer at eight minutes. It’s also clocked by the Noisering, with some randomness in the signal. In this one there are a lot of different kinds of tones with various modulations being applied to the Hertz Donut and to the Maths, lengthening and shortening the envelope (which for you non synth-heads, means shortening and lengthening the note itself). Near the end the Plan B model 10’s ramp output is all over the second Hertz Donut oscillator, which adds that audible rise in the tone behind the decay of the sound itself. I love that.

All the delay is provided by the Boss DD-3 pedal. It’s convinced me that I need a voltage controlled delay like the Flight of Harmony Sound of Shadows real soon…

church of donut

You know how you can spend all day tweaking and patching and after hours you got nothin. Right? Then you decide, after dinner, after tv, just before dropping off to slumberland, just to try one little thing you have in your head. Say, one little thing like driving your Hertz Donut with CV from the Noisering, kinda attenuated a bit with a Plan B mixer so it’s not bouncing all over the place. The Donut sounds great through the low pass gate, so you plug the Maths into the Plan B m13 clocked by a basic LFO pulse, which also clocks the Noisering. So just something simple like that.

And luckily you were still awake enough to push ‘record’ on the laptop so as to save the result. And damn if that’s not the best patch you’ve made in a long time. I’d been told that the Noisering is a musical kind of random, but this was the first time I really attenuated it down without quantizing it, and it’s just lovely, isn’t it? Kinda spooky lovely. The FM tones of the Donut work perfectly with the notes that the Noisering is spitting out, and then I had it all go through a Boss DD-3 delay guitar pedal with a really fast delay, so it’s more of a reverb, and then to the computer for recording.

I hope you like this as much as I do.