testing 142

I’m constantly figuring little things out about this synthesizer and I feel, in many ways, that in the five months I’ve had this modular thing I’ve learned more about synthesizers and sound than in the years and years previous working with software.

I recently added a Doepfer A142 to my system. This is a voltage controlled decay/gate. What it does is takes a trigger input, like from a LFO or in my case the MFB Seq02, and creates an envelope that consists of a very quick attack and a voltage-controlled and adjustable decay. What I was looking for was a way to create steps of different lengths from the sequencer to add some movement and, you know, funk. I could do this with my Model 10, but I like using the Model 10 so much that I figured I’d like to have something that is dedicated to sitting next to and serving the sequencer.

Soon after plugging it in, I started noticing that something wasn’t right with the A142. It didn’t have a “quick” decay, only a really muddy longish one. This was especially the case with manual control. When I plugged the CV in, I could get sharp clicky envelopes, but in manual they were anything but short even with the knob at 0. I discovered that on the PCB of the module there was a small trim pot, but I didn’t know what it did as the Doepfer site didn’t seem to refer to it.

So, as I do at times like this, I turned to the internets and started a thread at the Muffwiggler forum. I immediately got some help and much of it was quite thorough and technical. Just having others tell me that their A142’s work as expected at least narrowed it down to a problem with my particular module. One or two readers actually got deep into it and with this information I at least got the thing usable. The trimmer on the back adjusts the offset, which means that it adjusts the point at which the envelope starts getting longer. By turning it about a quarter-turn, it’s now set to where from 0 to 1, the envelope is about 1ms long. This is a good thing. A new problem begins at 1, because by 3 the envelope is more than 12 seconds. This in theory should take place at nearly a complete turn, like around 9 or 10. So the entire range of the envelope is now between 1 and 3, which means that very very small nudges to the knob result in very large changes to the length of steps from the sequencer. From incredibly staccato to very very legato.

To illustrate this, I made a video. It includes captions for clarity, but basically I set up a simple sequence in the Seq02 and make adjustments with the A142. You can see the minor little changes to the knob and hear the major adjustments to the step lengths. The advice from the forum was to solder a new resistor onto the PCB. I’ve been meaning to learn to solder…

uLFO

Got a couple of new modules this week. The MFB Dual ADSR will replace the Doepfer A140. It’s got two ADSR envelopes, each with a “hold” state as well as the expected attack, decay, sustain and release. The envelopes can be triggered individually or together, and they each have two outputs. This is all great.
The Bubblesound uLFO is at its heart, as its name suggests, a low frequency oscillator. But it’s more than just that. It can go really really slow — something like 20 minutes per cycle — and it can be tracked at 1v per octave at audio rate, which basically makes it a secondary VCO. I’ve been wanting to learn more about FM synthesis and this is my first module that has a linear FM input. Both of my VCOs, Doepfer A110’s, only have exponential FM (at some soon point I plan to replace the 110s with a Cwejman VCO6 and a Harvestman Hertz Donut but they’re hard to come by right now).

uLFO and MFB dual ADSR

One funny thing about the uLFO. On Monday I noticed that the response of the SIne Shaped output seemed odd. This is a unique feature of the uLFO. It’s got a regular sine output but it’s also got a “shaped” sine, which basically creates what the Bubblesound website calls positive/negative biased non-linear triangles. The wave forms look like waves as drawn by a kid on one side, and bumps or the McDonalds logo on the other. However, I noticed that the shapes it created were the opposite from the icons indicated on the panel of the uLFO. I made a little movie to send to send to Bubblesound to make sure that I was hearing it right.

I posted this to the Muffwiggler forum, which got mixed replies. To make sure I wasn’t going nutty I ran the waves through my CueMix oscilloscope which proved that yes, I was hearing it correctly. Later, David at Bubblesound wrote and confirmed my observation. Regardless of this little quirk, this is a terrific module and I look forward to posting more here from the uLFO.

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?

songs for the building of puzzles

When I make these little animated movies, I typically believe that I’ll able to simply dig into my huge folder of songs-in-the-works and various four-bar clips I’ve recorded and find something that will fit. And often that’s the case. However sometimes it’s not and i have to start something from scratch.

On Friday I recorded a little time lapse of my building a puzzle. This puzzle is one I illustrated for Mudpuppy last year. I like to put these things up on MrBiggs.com. I spent an hour or so first going through Ableton clips and song files, then through some of the stuff I’ve played around with in Numerology. Nothing really piqued my interest so I tried recording some sequenced loops using the analog modular I’ve been putting together. This should have been enough, but it just wasn’t coming together. I found myself getting wrapped up in the knob turning and sound making and not in the song making like I should have been. I couldn’t get the sound to even work until I realized that I had some settings wrong in Volta/Ableton. I was feeling rushed as the day was slipping away so I knew it was a doomed effort. After taking some time off and drawing (you know, my actual job) I fell back on what I know works. I opened up Numerology, dropped in a matrix sequencer Reaktor’s Oki Computer synth, which I know will give me some funny bleepy sounds with lots of modulation possibilities, perfect for this little movie.

Oki Computer, Reaktor
Oki Computer, Reaktor

Oki is an interesting little instrument in that it’s basically a wavetable synth and specializes in digital sounds and odd noises. I had Reaktor for a good two years before I started wrapping my head around this synthesizer, but now I can make it do what I want, more or less, and I have quite a few of my own presets that I use as starting points. Along with the matrix sequencer in Numerology, I had a modulation sequencer running Oki’s wavetable position knob all over the place. So I recorded about three minutes worth of playing the matrix “live.” This works really well for me with TonePad and other iPhone apps that I have, and it game me something useful here as well. I posted the five sequences I recorded. These are all recorded using the method described but with adjustments in the first five waves of the wavetable. About 1:15 into the song titled “Oki seq5” you can here the beginning of the loop that I ended up using in the final piece.

Once I had the main clip down I was able to add in some drums made out of bits of sampled electronic toys and various other bloopy beepy oddness, mostly cut and manipulated from these bits of recorded Oki.

When you watch the movie, you’ll hear a weird reversed-and-speeded-up bit as the puzzle is being taken apart. This is the main melody just reversed and, yeah, speeded up to about 180 bpm from 130 bpm. The kick drum and snare come from Audio Damage’s new Tattoo (not a good use of a terrific drum machine but still…), adding some frenetic banging. Then a few snare hits as I reposition the box, and a final little beep — originally an accident of the song looping back to the beginning at the end, but I liked it so I added it into the sequence.

I’m hoping to soon get something useful out of the modular. This weekend I’m planning a few hours with it so we’ll see what happens. Thanks for listening.

tattoo you

I’m a fan of the effect plug-ins that Audio Damage puts out. I own several of them and they are among the few that I have that are both utility plugs as well as just fun to work with. I also really like drum machines. So this morning started out just right.
Last night they posted their anxiously-awaited drum machine called Tattoo. So I spent this morning making beats over coffee. I’ll add some more and probably have more to say about Tattoo later. Here’s the first thing. It’s five separate patterns recorded into Ableton Live, with some delay, EQ, and compression tacked on in pieces.

say hello to my little friend

Several months ago, I sort of stumbled upon the concept of modular synthesizers. It was kind of a backdoor thing. I got interested in step sequencers first through Numerology and some tools in Reaktor. From this I began searching for videos of sequencers in action, and often they were running modulars in various iterations. This led me back to Reason for a while, string CV cables around for the first time, really, and realizing a lot of what I’ve been missing in that app. The Matrix sequencer suddenly became a lot more fun.
Having immediate access to the various controls and switches and knobs seemed pretty great and made my Alesis Micron suddenly less interesting. I imagined working with these actual controls to be far more creative than staring at the virtual versions afforded to me with the software I have. I recognize that tools like Reaktor and even Reason allow me to do things that there is no way I could do with actual hardware, no matter how complex, but watching and listening to these clips and grasping how they work, I learned more about how the software worked as well. Entire parts of Reaktor and even smaller tools like Jasuto for my iPhone suddenly seemed accessible.
So, a week or two ago, I went poking around eBay and landed myself a little modular synth. This is the baby version of the Doepfer A-100 system. It only includes ten modules — just the basics for making sounds and affecting them in limited ways. It’s not even remotely as flexible or powerful as even the more basic synthesizer plug-ins that I use regularly. But it’s a nice little fenced-in area for me to work and learn. Modulars are a very deep hole and it would be very easy for me to fall in it and have no idea why X is making that sound and Y is affecting it. Also, these things aren’t cheap.

Doepfer a100 mini

laboratory

This A-100 Mini has two oscillators, a low-pass filter, a mixer, a noise/random voltage generator, an envelope generator, one LFO, a ring mod, and a VCA. And it has a midi interface, which will end up being more useful than I originally thought. When I like sounds that modular synths make, I usually like the self-running burbly beepity patterns that seem almost random. These patches are normally made up of various triggering devices and multiple LFOs that this synth doesn’t have. Eventually I expect to grow this beast and get it there. In the meantime I’ve also bought (used!) a copy of MOTU’s Volta, which will run as a plug-in in something like Ableton Live and through sending control voltages over my audio interface, will give me a LOT of control over that which I have. Without Volta, I likely wouldn’t even be interested in such things.

I plugged this thing in on Sunday, hooked it up to an input in Live, and recorded the first ten minutes or so of whatever I could get it to do. These are pretty simple sequences, controlled entirely with the random voltage generator and the LFO, modulating the VCO frequencies, the filter cutoff, and some gain. Just after this short time of playing with it, I know I want/need at least one more LFO, preferably voltage controlled; another ADSR envelope, also voltage controlled; and maybe another filter — or a low pass gate. There has been a real explosion of interesting and creative design going on in the modular synth universe with many small homebrew companies building and selling odd little modules.

Here is the result of the first time spent with the A-100. Essentially it’s various modulations of the oscillators and filters with the LFO, along with various knob-turns. I expect to add more as I get a grasp of what to do with it. Stay tuned.

pretending a modular

I’m finding that I am really interested in modular synths, especially the idea of driving them with step-sequencers. Sometimes using a traditional piano keyboard and editing midi is no fun. When I troll the user library on the Reaktor site, I download all the oddball sequencers I can find. Inspired by this terrific video of The Subliminal Kid, I thought I’d just set up something in Reaktor and record the output.
This is the Monoliner sequencer running a patch in Carbon. The drums are a simple set-up in SineBeats. I mixed them together with a little mixer and recorded it in RecorderBox. It was more than five minutes long so I edited a bit in Ableton and added a little BeatRepeat in the middle part.

I have books on deadline, but I’d spend an entire week doing this if I could.

robot daughter

“Robot Daughter” is basically two samples, one of my daughter saying “I am robot daughter” and one of me saying “I am robot daddy”. Here is the former: [audio:robotdaughter.mp3|titles=”robot daughter sample”]
The files were chopped up in Recycle, then sequenced first in Reason, then in Live. I’m a big fan of the stutter-edit and this was my first try at using it.
[audio:robot-daughter.mp3|titles=”Robot Daughter”|artists=Dance Robot Dance]
I also have a thing about running vocal samples through various effects and recording the results. The idea is that if I listen closely, and if I’m as creative as I like to think I am, I’ll be able to use it in something later. This is the robot daughter sample looped in a Reaktor sample-player ensemble called “Pitchfomer.”

I recorded the results as I turned the knobs.
[audio:robotdaughter_pitchformer.mp3|titles=”twisted daughter”]
I hope to post a lot of this kind of thing in the future. The song, the origin of the song, and variations of themes.
And again, if you have any thoughts on the audio players, feel free to comment.