tascam tape delays

recording tape delays
recording tape delays

A year or so ago, a friend of mine sourced me a beautiful Tascam 34 four-track reel-to-reel tape deck. The idea was it was a loaner, as my slow crawl from software to hardware in my musical adventures had made me analog-tape-curious. A while later, he himself made the move from recording to tape, to using a UA Apollo and the various UA plugs that come with, and no longer saw the need for these decks he had, so he offered the Tascam to me to have and to hold.
When I’m practicing guitar, or noodling with the modular synth, the deck sits at eye-level on my desk, on top of my Motu interface, and just kind of stares at me. It looks like a bug-eyed robot. I haven’t used it nearly enough, and until recently I wasn’t really sure what I’d use it for anyway. Yes yes, I can record on it. And it sounds really good. A natural compression with a little hiss and a lot of fun control with the varispeed… But I just hadn’t really got it going.

Last week I stumbled upon a video:

And it occurred to me that I have everything I’d need to do this. Well, actually, I didn’t have a mixer, as I’d just given mine to a different friend, and I’d not yet replaced it with the Mackie that I’d ordered. But I do have Ableton and a good audio interface (Motu 828mk3) with enough ins and outs to be able to easily route this. So that I did.

For a couple of years, tape delay emulations have been my favorite type of delay effects. I love the sound of the degraded signal after the first couple of echoes. My Strymon El Capistan is my desert island stomp-box, being the one I’d keep if I had to get rid of all of the others. I use the GSI WatKat free plug-in more than I probably should. And a year ago I created a chain of Ableton effects to simulate an over-saturated tape delay in Live.

But routing this delay up through my deck is when I finally really understood exactly what’s going on and why. I have to admit that, frankly, it’s sort of a pain in the ass to set up, and the sound isn’t really any more amazing than I get through the El Capistan. It certainly doesn’t have as much control (no moving heads, no looping) but with EQ, it definitely has the tone control and when it starts howling with feedback, it’s sublime.

I recorded a half hour of noodling with an electric piano in live (via MIDI keyboard) and another half hour of guitar playing, direct into a channel in Live and using a few plugs like the amp/cab in Ableton and U-he’s Runciter, which is a fantastic filter/fuzz plug-in. I edited the 76 minutes down as much as I could, and the result is this track.

The dry signal is panned left and the delay from the tape deck is panned right. I ran the signal from the piano and guitar into a send track in Ableton, the send track was sent directly to the tape deck’s input, and the tape deck’s output, the delays, went to a second input channel in Ableton. As the video shows, this gets a simple slap-back echo. It’s not until you use the aux send on this second delay track that the fun begins with feedback and multiple echoes.

The next day I took some bits of this recording, reversed them and slowed them down, playing with Ableton’s warp modes. This became the track “outside over there.” The sound of a reversed delay is one of my favorites and just makes the piano and guitar melt and weave in a way I really like.

Look forward to more of this kind of thing.

looping looping gnipool looping

return to ChCh

I’m getting boring.

I have a lot of neat-o gear. In fact, I have what I might say is too much. The only reason I don’t say I have too much is because I frequent internet forums dull of people who are way way deeper down the hole than I am. I’m lucky that I have teenagers, debt, and other hobbies or else I’d be in real trouble.
But I digress. I’m getting boring. All I want to do for the last many months, music-wise, is sit down with the sparkly blue Jazzmaster and make guitar loops. I’m perfectly happy to sit for hours with this guitar plugged into any one of the several looping devices that I have* and dig deep. Granted, before hitting the looping device in use at the time, the guitar first goes through any number of the other gear things that I have. But still. It’s just a guitar, right?

These are Jazzmaster through various pedals to the amp, a Rivera Venus 3. I think I recorded these with the built-in mic of a Zoom H4N recorder.

The good thing about this single-mindedness is that it allows me to kind of focus on learning about some stuff that I need to learn about. Like recording, on the technical side. Typically, before I sit down and hit record, I decide on a particular method of capturing whatever I’m doing. For example, I have this fantastic amp that is somewhat noisy. So I’ve been trying to figure out some method to record where this is less of an issue. Also, this amp has a line out from the power section and it’s interesting to record this output while at the same time micing the speaker (which by the way is really awesome — the line out that is. It’s nice and tight and clear. The next time I do this I’ll take just the line out, and then set up a microphone about ten feet from the amp to pick up this more distant room sound. Stay tuned.)

Another thing I do is work on the guitar/music stuff by hammering away on modes and scales. My guitar lessons move a little faster in my head than my fingers do on the fretboard. I’ve been diving into and understanding modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian etc.) lately, and we’ve been working on triads and arpeggios alongside. But I rarely ever seem to know when these fancy things would be useful while actually playing songs. So I typically start out these looping sessions by repeating a couple of notes or a chord, and then playing some improvised loop on top using these modes and scales. I actually learn a lot this way, but it’s still all pretty much abstract theory. If I was jamming with dudes I have no idea whether any of this would be useful. (In related news, I recently glommed on to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl, and since I’m not the kind of guitar learner to want to learn to play, say, Jessie’s Girl exactly the way it was played on the record, Lou my guitar instructor is showing me how to use these modes and scales while working out my own rockin’ solo. Stay tuned for that too.)

The recordings below were made with the line out of the amp on the right and the mic’d amp (SM57) on the left.

Hope you like these. I like making them. Leave some comments, let me know what think you.

*Pigtronix Infinity Looper, Strymon El Capistan, Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man w/Hazarai, Korg Kaoss Pad, TC Electronics Ditto, The Harvestman Tyme Sefari mk2, Make Noise Phonogene, Teenage Engineering OP1, various software…)

Laredo, the Streets of

If you read this blog, I am pretty certain that you don’t tune in for the sounds of a lonely guitar on the high plains, or cowboy tunes strummed in a saloon. You’re here because, like me, you’re kind of synth nerd and you want to read about and listen to the finer points of control voltages and weird software.
The thing is, if you read this blog, you also know that I’ve developed an affection for the esoteric instrument called “the guitar.” When I’ve had a few hours to kill in the music room, it’s more than likely been in practicing pentatonics and managing the fret board than wiggling knobs and patching cables. This will not always be the case, i promise. Stick with me here for a bit. I’ve fallen for a diversion, but it will lead somewhere, eventually, that will come back around to beepy buzzy beats.

In addition to learning the guitar for the last eighteen months, I’ve also been trying to understand and learn about recording. I’ve been ingesting old TapeOp magazines and any information I can find on the internet about recording methods and gear.As I do this, I realize that I need to expand the purpose and mission of this website to include these newfound links and informations and, well, gear. I recently installed a patchbay, I now have a decent little mixer, and I’m all set up to where it’s very easy now for me to press “record” and create some tracks. Like many music hobbyists, I find that I end up reading about this stuff more than actually using it (there are legitimate reasons for this that I’ll get into some other time) and last Sunday I decided that I need to actually play some music and actually record it.

Just a couple nights earlier I picked up a very large book at a local bookstore called The Folksinger’s Wordbook, edited by Fred and Irwin Silber. As I browsed it, I ran across The Streets of Laredo, which is an old cowboy song that I like. I believe the first version I remember hearing was by Marty Robbins, and more recently I discovered an odd cover by The Blue Aeroplanes. So here I had the lyrics as well as the basic guitar chords. True to the old saying that all you need are three chords and the truth, the chords were D7, A7 and G. That’s it.

On Sunday, I set up some mic stands, opened a few recording tracks in Ableton, and set forth. First was the acoustic guitar rhythm track played to a click at 115 bpm. D7, A7, G. Done. I played around with some positions for the microphone, an Audio-Technica AT-2035 until I found something I liked, and I used a software compressor and EQ to get something I thought sounded good. Once this was down, I spent fifteen minutes or so recording some picking on the same acoustic guitar. Over the next hour, I recorded two or three tracks of accordion, some whistling, some singing, and various electric guitar tracks. The electric guitar was mic’d with an Electro-Voice 635, which is odd in that It seems to have a very low output. I plan to test this specifically, because I also noticed that my Onyx 1220i mixer seems to have a wildly different gain structure than the Motu Ultralight I use. When I had a mic plugged into the Ultralite, I left the input gain/trim at 0. I assume that this is unity. It recorded a nice clear sound at a good recording volume. With the Onyx mixer, I had to turn the gain up near its maximum to even get a usable signal at all, and it was still significantly quieter than the Ultralite. The last little bit on the gain knob ramps the input up from barely audible to overdriven. I don’t know yet enough to know if this something that is supposed to be — like they’re using different input gain methods — or whether it’s even an issue. With digital recording, I read the tracking levels aren’t as vital as they are in analog, since the noise floor is so low and the bit-rate is so high (48k in this case). I can (and did) raise the level up in mixing with no noticeable noise. So maybe it’s no big deal.

Once all the recording was done, I gave myself a break for a day, and went back on Monday to listen to the tracks. It was easy to pull out the whistling, singing, and all of the electric guitar since it was all pretty bad. The whistling and singing was terribly out of tune (I’m not good at either, though I would like to be) and the electric guitar parts were uninspired. I knew my window for time to record this was running out before the house got noisy with people, and I was not into it.

In the end, what I got was a bass line of accordion with two acoustic guitar parts. The rhythm strumming and some surprising lead picking. Surprising because I don’t remember all of what I did here and it’s all one take with no edits. It’s simple and might not warrant all 1000 words of this post. But I’m pretty pleased and it led to a week (so far) of thinking how I might add in the modular synth to something like this, and really giving some thought to recording techniques and some more gear that I could use (like a compressor). After mixing this, I thought of some stuff I’d like to try and make some changes, and I plan to get back in, maybe this weekend, and visit The Streets of Laredo again.

voices for your digital lifestyle

I’m back.
The studio is hooked up, everything seems to work, and as proof I was able to take part in this week’s Disquiet Junto project. It’s the 24th assignment that Marc has sent out, and it’s been since about number nine the last time I was able to participate.

This week’s Junto went like this:

This week’s project is about “functional music.” You will make four individual sounds that serve as alerts for digital communications. They will be in these categories:

1. email arrival
2. incoming phone call
3. new IM received
4. calendar event alert

The goal is that the four alerts will work together as a suite — that is, that they will complement each other, yet be distinct and recognizable from each other.

The term “functional music” threw me, but I went with my first intuition and made evil robot voices. The process began with recording my eleven-year-old daughter read the four alerts into a Zoom digital recorder. I then sampled those phrases into my Teenage Engineering OP-1 and pitched down a few steps. The OP-1 is such a nice little sampler. This was then plugged into the mixer and run through a Korg Kaoss Pad recording a variety of effects into Wave Editor on the Mac. I was perfectly thrilled with anything really, but when I added Sonic Charge’s Bitspeek plug-in to the vocals, it became what I heard in my head.
The alert beeps were made with Ableton’s Operator. I tried it first with a VCO on my modular synth, but the result sounded way to analog-ish. Operator is cold and digital.

I’m aware that no one in their right mind would ever use these in their actual phone. These alerts sound pretty great but for daily use would be annoying as hell. I might install them on my iPhone for a day (anyone know how to do this?). If you’re interested in doing the same, here are the four individual 16-bit WAV files in a zip archive.

I’m writing a long post about the studio hook-up. Stay tuned.

the horn and the whistle

it was a seagull

A week ago I posted about the ice piece I did for the first Disquiet Junto assignment, and wrote that I’d post about the second assignment “tomorrow.” Tomorrow came and went and here we are. The second project for Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet Junto went like this:

Disquiet Junto Project #2: “Duet for Fog Horn & Train Whistle”

Instructions:
Create an original piece of music under five minutes in length utilizing just these two samples:
Fog Horn: http://www.freesound.org/people/schaarsen/sounds/69663/
Train Whistle: http://www.freesound.org/people/ecodios/sounds/119963/
You can only use those two samples, and you can do whatever you want with them.

The horn is this:
[audio:69663__schaarsen__sfx-nebelhorn.mp3]

And the whistle is this:
[audio:119963__ecodios__distant-train-1.mp3]

Unlike the previous assignment, the ice, which was like pulling teeth, this one fell together in minutes. I knew immediately I wanted to draw out that horn as a long drone. I cut a section out of the middle and looped it back to front several times, taking care that the crossing points don’t click (which didn’t matter, really, since the reverb hides artifacts like that so well). I duplicated this track and panned the two identical tracks hard left and hard right, and dropped them each several steps in pitch. As I listened to them together, I started playing with changing the pitch of sections intermittently and seeing how they’d sound. I liked very much. I wish now I’d had some method or rule for these pitch changes, but really it was just a matter of guessing and listening. It ends up sounding somewhat random, which is what I was looking for, I suppose. I thought it sounded rather orchestral, which a few commenters pointed out as well.
I then layered-in the whistle track, hoping the two tones would play nicely. I pitched the whistle down an octave, which was fine if a bit boring, until it got to the very end of the track, in which there are two small little bumps, as if the person recording the whistle touched the mic or recording device. After enjoying the percussion of the ice on the previous Disquiet piece so much, I kept driving down that road. I cut the little clicks out of the whistle and deleted the whistle. The bumps became percussion, played at various speeds and rhythms. One of my favorite plug-ins, which happens to be a free one, is the delay you can hear on the percussion track. It created the feedback that ends up becoming that high static squeal at the end, with the frequency being turned down on the fade out.
And that’s really all it took.

I completed the third Junto project last night, which was a “live” project. More on that soon. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not.

ice and fog

A break from guitars today. Back to electronic seizure music, as the fiancée describes it. This post starts out with a lot of talky talk (seizure-inducing possibly) but bear with me. It pays off.

along PA state hwy 903

Say you’re standing in the middle of a field, and you know you have to go somewhere, and you can actually go anywhere, any direction you want. It can be difficult to decide exactly what to do, right? However, if you know where you need to end up, your choices are narrowed somewhat. Furthermore, if there is a clear path drawn, or visible obstacles that would force you into choosing between two or maybe three directions, the decision is easier still. Starting a piece of music with the number of tools, techniques, and possibilities that are available (and I mean readily available, not to just those who have a pile of gear) actually ends up causing problems, more often than not.

An analogy here is drawing or painting pictures. I’ll use this analogy since it’s what I do for my day job. If I sit down and I know I have to crate a specific picture, my job is usually pretty simple. If I don’t know what I have to make, but I’m limited to making it with, say, one red and one blue pencil, then that limitation is itself a direction. If, on the other hand, I have unlimited tools and the freedom to draw anything I want to draw, any way I want to draw it, then I more or less freeze up and stare at walls. When I used to teach illustration and I’d introduce Photoshop to a student who’d previously been adept and making work with a small tackle-box of oil watercolors and pencil, that student would usually, suddenly, not know what to do. Why? Because with Photoshop, you have access to more colors, more tools, more possibilities than you can ever dream of previously. As an instructor, I found myself spending a lot of time with students creating limitations. Finding destinations that made it possible to begin the journey, as it were. Later on students graduate and limitations are forced upon them as illustrators by the particular client’s needs, by the purpose of the work being created, and by the deadline. And even now when I carve out a day to work on “personal” work, as an artist, I will usually sit at my table, staring at the proverbial blank canvas wondering what to do next.

And it’s the same with music. When I get a few hours to hide in the little room at my house where I keep my music gear, I rarely have any direction in mind, but I do have a lot of possibilities. I could practice guitar, which I’ve been doing more than anything else lately, and try setting up a sequence of effects pedals that might set me off in some unexpected direction. I might try playing an old 45rpm record through my modular synth and see what happens. I might randomly dial in an eight-note phrase on one of my sequencers, and let it run with subtle changes to timbre or pitch, and hope it’s awesome. I might consider the amount of time I have, maybe an hour, maybe an afternoon, and think about what I can accomplish in that time. Anything that will take a lot of programming or re-patching might be off limits.

The point of all of this is that I’m creating arbitrary limitations. Building imaginary fences that allow me to focus on a smaller idea, a more manageable state of things, and maybe actually get something done. When I go back and look at my Soundcloud page, or at the work I’ve posted here on Dance Robot Dance, I can give a list, usually a long one, of limitations that were either forced upon me or I created myself that led to whatever it is that worked. (To that end, by the way, I put a huge chunk of my modular synth up for sale today hoping to narrow the possibilities down to the parts I like most and force me to work better with less, avoiding some wall-staring. If you’re in the market for a bunch of Eurorack synth modules, drop me a line or comment and I’ll let you know what I have.)

Two weeks ago Marc Weidenbaum emailed me about a really interesting project he’s calling Disquiet Junto. Disquiet being his website, and a “junto” being the name of a society that Benjamin Franklin formed here in Philadelphia during the early 1700s as “a structured forum of mutual improvement,” as Marc described in his initial email about the project. The idea here is that on Friday, Marc posts an idea for a piece of music. which is in fact a simple limitation, and gives until the next Monday at midnight to have the piece posted into the Disquiet Junto group on the music-sharing site Soundcloud.

I’ve done a few remix projects with Marc, which are sometimes difficult for the reasons I allude to above. Remixing a song is, to me, standing in a field and being able to go anywhere. I can do a lot of different things with a song, especially when I have several weeks in which to work on it. However, this new thing is right up my alley and I immediately signed up.

The first instructions/limitations came on January 5. “Please record the sound of an ice cube rattling in a glass, and make something of it.” The first part was easy enough. I took my little recorder down to the kitchen and recorded about six minutes of this.

[audio:http://dancerobotdance.com/audio/ice-sample.mp3]

This is when things could go awry, as the possibilities are somewhat endless with what I could do with this audio. I planned to record it through various hardware, but I only had time that Sunday night to plug the recorder into my modified EHX Stereo Memory Man w/Hazarai and see what might happen. The rest of the piece was done at my studio the next day, where I don’t have any music gear, so I was limited to software. This isn’t exactly a limitation, since between Max for Live, Reaktor, Reason, and any number of plug-ins anything can happen. I only gave myself about a half hour, so I opened up a few trusty Reaktor ensembles and went to work. Here is a tiny piece of the resulting audio. Left to right is the EHX Stereo Memory Man pedal, a Reaktor deal called Resynth, and another Reaktor ensemble called SyncSkipper.

It wasn’t too hard from here to pick out parts I liked and start sequencing them in Ableton Live. It wasn’t gluing itself together until I located a two-note guitar thing I’d made over the weekend through the WMD Geiger Counter. This created the loop that everything else could bounce off of. The percussion is made up of small and micro-small edits from these files I created, and once it was drowned in reverb (I’ve been really reverb-happy lately) I saved and exported. Here’s what I posted on the Disquiet Junto group.

Go to the group page and listen to the other entries if you can. There’s an incredible range of what people can do with the sound of ice in a glass.

True to his word, Marc sent out a note yesterday with this week’s Junto limitation: He sent links to two samples on freesound.org, and asked the Junto to create pieces under five minutes in length, using only these two samples, but allowing anything to be done with them. This one went much quicker, and I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

lost in space

I might be posting here just for the sake of posting. These aren’t the best thing I’ve made but I like them. I’ve been busy with the day job, and we moved into a new house, so June/July have been silly. Part of the move included taking the music gear (the synth, the machinedrum, a turntable, monitors, a mixer/interface, and various albums and small parts) to an extra room in the new house. This is great, because while the music gear has been in the studio I’ve found that I’m never getting around to turning it on. Basically, if I’m at the studio I’m drawing pictures, and if I don’t need to be there to draw pictures any more, I get the hell out. So now the music studio is sharing a room next to the bedroom, and it’s nice to just be able to make sounds and music while Sacha sleeps or watches a movie or whatever Sacha does. In just the two weeks it’s been there I’ve been using the gear much more. However, I’ve not been recording it much, hence the lack of sounds to share here.

Last week I tried something new. I plugged the turntable into the Machinedrum. I have the UW version of the MD, which acts as a sampler, and if I may say so, holy crap. I have a bunch of files to grind through and I’ll post some results of this soon. In the meantime last night I tried using my a150 VC switch to jump back and forth between the two oscillators in my Hertz Donut. The Donut was set at various modes at various times, and was driven with the CV from a Z8000 sequencer clocked by the Machinedrum and sometimes a Noisering. The a150 was switched with the pulse of a uLFO, with a Maths and an a147 VCLFO modulating the pulse width. This led to some interesting timbres that weren’t there using the HD the way it was meant to be used. Overall, however, it was mostly pretty harsh. Listening to the more than an hour of sounds today I found these sections that all seemed to be rather martian in origin. Therefore, Lost in Space. Thanks to Dr. Pizzoli for the Boss BB3 donation. I likey some delay.

mixing, matching

Recently on the Muffwigglers modular synth forum, the subject of making “finished songs” was brought up. The idea is that it’s easy to spend hours and days with a modular synth creating noises and short loops of music, but it’s very difficult to put things together in a way that has a beginning, middle and end. It’s similar to making pages of sketches but never being able to make a finished painting. Or writing paragraphs but not completing a story. This problem isn’t only with modular synthesizers. I find that it’s a problem with music in general. I’ve likely written here before that when I first entered the hole that is electronic music, it seemed simple to make “songs.” I had Reason, I had a little keyboard, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I used presets for the most part, and just strung loops together with drum tracks behind them. SInce then, my tastes in the sounds I make have become more complicated, and I have many many more choices to make when working. Not only do I have literally hundreds of ways to make sounds for the songs, both in software and hardware, but I have a lot more understanding as to how these tools work, and sitting down fiddling with sounds in these tools is in a lot of ways the more interesting endeavor.
Thinking about this issue after reading and contributing to the thread on the forum, I came up with a couple of thoughts. One is that in many ways and most of the time, it’s just more fun to turn knobs and record sounds. Conforming these results to a 4/4 beat at 125 beats per minute with verses and chorus is just kind of silly. Moreover, it becomes work, and I don’t make music as work. This is a thing I do to not be working. Secondly, a lot of what I do with the modular, as well as with some of the software like Reaktor, is done with changing speeds, no real musical keys, and a real lack of structure. The way I’ve been using my main software sequencer and DAW (Ableton Live) for years is with very rigid grids and loops. After the freeform music-making with the modular, attempting to put it all together in the confines of Live is a royal pain. I just lose interest.
So I brought this up, and immediately got some replies with suggestions. They spanned from simple ideas like merely quantizing the un-sync’d sequences to bars so that at least they “reset” at common points, to the more complex, like somehow sending out a “click-track” from the modular to a track in Ableton so that I can lock up Ableton to the recorded sequence later on. Last night I tried the more simple ideas, just using pieces of a thing I recorded the day before as samples in Ableton’s drum racks and lining some bits up in Live’s arrangement view, but rather than trying to quantize the loops, I just let them run free, unwarped. I like the results, and while it’s pretty tame, I can see the possibilities.

Everything you hear here comes from The Harvestman Hertz Donut, which is really an incredible module. The bass/drum line is made up of simple samples from the Donut, and the more gurgly chaos bits are small sequences. Here are some of the samples.

[audio:hertz-animals_beat.mp3|titles=”Hertz Donut weird rhythms”|artists=Dance Robot Dance] [audio:hertz-waters.mp3|titles=”water from a rock”|artists=Dance Robot Dance] [audio:hertz-weird-rhythm-also.mp3|titles=”strange sounds”|artists=Dance Robot Dance]

I plan to put together a downloadable package of sounds from the modular. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, let me know.

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…

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