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.


Everyone here knows how much I like my Machinedrum, right? It’s a terrific drum machine made by Elektron. Well they recently introduced a new machine to their line up. It’s a sampler called Octatrack. Sampling isn’t my main interest in music; my Machinedrum does a little on its own, and what it can’t handle I pick up with my laptop and Ableton Live. But if I was performing and sampling, this would be a pretty slick purchase.
Anyways, the point is that Elektron released a new short film/advert for the Octatrack. This is really slick and may answer anew the old question, who is Kaiser Souzai?

To really get this storyline, it may do you well to watch these previous videos as well, for the Machinedrum and Monomachine.

my robots on the machinedrum

robots on my machinedrum

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.

robots on my machinedrum


Dance Robot, Dance

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.

Dance Robot, Dance

Dance Robot, Dance


On the Muffwiggler.com modular synth forum thread dealing with creative hangups and too many choices someone posted needing help with bridging the gap between noodling around with noise, and creating a finished track. A lot of electronic musicians get stuck on the idea of making “songs.” Some of us are perfectly happy merely creating loops of noise and drones for hours on end, while others feel like nothing’s finished unless it has a beginning, middle and end like a traditional tune.
Add to this the fact that with software like Reason, Logic, Live, Reaktor and VST plugs, one can pretty much implode dealing with the number of choices and decisions. Guitars and pianos just make guitar and piano sounds and don’t have presets (I guess if a guitarist uses pedals they can deal with the same problems, however). Synths and samplers are endless and cause a great deal of anxiety.

This list got posted today. I think it’s useful. Discuss…

170+ oblique strategies for electronic music:

1. Stop thinking of drums as KICK/SNARE/HIHAT
2. Use more 16th notes!
3. The relationship between percussive sounds and rhythmic noises can be a melodic relationship
4. Turn it into a melody
5. Turn it into percussion
6. Turn it into a pad
7. Think about a bongo player sitting in the street
8. Select a new random tempo
9. What Would Joe Zawinul do?
10. Make a cliché
11. Put in something off-key
12. Get reckless
13. Less logic
14. List your standard process from start to finish, now reverse it
15. If you dismiss an idea, stop and ask yourself why
16. Skip your first impulse and use the second one
17. Do something that isn’t 4/4 now
18. How can you make this fall apart
19. Play it backwards – the part, don’t reverse audio.
20. Pretend your mom is sitting next to you
21. Pretend your dad is sitting next to you
22. Swap midi clips between all elements
23. Keep everything, but change the order
24. Keep everything, but change the timing
25. Only one note at a time
26. Just play every other note
27. Think of something that seems like a bad idea, then use it
28. Play it like a child would play it
29. Play it with your knuckles
30. Play it with your elbows
31. What would you make if you knew everyone in the world was listening?
32. What would you make if you knew no one would ever hear it?
33. You’re not married to that octave !
34. Make your melody your bass line
35. Make a song with no drums at all
36. Make a song with only drums
37. Limit your options
38. Remove a part that’s giving you trouble. Just cut it!
39. What would your least favorite musician do?
40. Abandon normal instruments.
41. More everything!
42. Less nothing
43. Split the parts and play them with two instruments
44. Do it sober/drunk for a change…
45. Process something acoustic
46. start with something different
47. Stop. Turn a different knob
48. reverb or delay, but only for a little while
49. play less, faster
50. play more, softer
51. Take your favorite bit and make it unrecognizable
52. increase complexity, decrease density
53. Increase density, decrease complexity
54. Try to write the part with your voice
55. use your environment
56. Let the machines play, make some tea.
57. sample it, reverse it
58. Is modulation really necessary?
59. Use fewer patchcords.
60. Noise, or silence?
61. Turn it up to twelve and leave it there.
62. Plug an input into an output.
63. Use tracks with different tempos
64. Reach for the farthest knob
65. Delay the inevitable
66. Do that only once
67. Remember that old sound source you love but never use?
68. Don’t use the same old signal path
69. Unpatch everything and hook it up with intent for this specific project
70. Stick with the very first thing you try
71. Unplug
72. Copy it, alter it, repeat
73. Your mom
74. Reverse the loud and quiet
75. What insect — going where?
76. Play closer. Then farther
77. Record in silence. Add harmony
78. Return to the start
79. Start at the end
80. Pick a number. Use it
81. Reverse hands
82. An empty mind
83. Advance without fear
84. take a different approach to sequencing
85. change your clock source; ‘pattern’ not click track
86. go into unfamiliar territory; try something that you’ve never done before
87. use an element for something other than its ‘intended purpose’ (envelope/delay/filter as a sound source)
88. start with noise, then subtract
89. add layers
90. sculpt the feedback
91. cut it up and rearrange
92. build up, tear down *gradually*
93. patch it up silently before you turn it on, then adjust
94. add the element of *chance*
95. Constrain chaos
96. Halftime
97. Reveal Hidden Structure
98. The One is where you think it is
99. Take it outside
100. Overdub from memory
101. Let it slide
102. Nostalgia as a weapon
103. Make something out of sync
104. emulate a style you cannot stand
105. sustain everything
106. replace with a sine
107. repatch
108. stop writing. start painting
109. invert
110. sell everything. Buy new stuff
111. Stop Time, then resume
112. Play it so wrong it’s right
113. More digital
114. Close your eyes
115. Engage in intentional imitative synthesis
116. What would Springsteen do?
117. Pick out two odd “gear partners” and turn everything else off
118. Only use short patch cords
119. Make the sound with your voice
120. Turn off the effects
121. Make the sound smaller
122. Turn off the computer
123. repurpose your equipment
124. The studio is the instrument
125. Clean out the filter
126. Actually program a sound
127. Start recording, turn on a movie, mute the sound and write a soundtrack in real time for whatever you see
128. Think small
129. Think big
130. Remove one frequency band
131. End now
132. Blindly cut
133. Oppose it
134. Cage it
135. Unleash it
136. Bjork called, mix too tame
137. Too serious, make it laugh
138. Think of a note. Now don’t play it
139. Remove a beat
140. You play so many notes…
141. Compress time
142. Play when it’s wrong
143. strip it; invisible or naked?
144. Play the drum part on a keyboard, and play the keyboard part on the drums.
145. Imagine what the world sounds like to your cat (who can only hear down to 45Hz, but all the way up to 60K!!)
146. Learn the alphabet in another language.
147. Compose the theme song to the movie about your life.
148. Go to the zoo
149. Close your eyes and find your way twice around your home
150. Do two things; Show half of one, half of the other
151. pretend the computer isn’t programming you
152. sketch the project in a different material
153. Mute, don’t compute
154. Ring (modulate) the changes
155. Check your pulse, is it racing?
156. It’s hip to b square
157. Close your eyes, open your mind
158. Take a step back and move forward
159. Move your chair, brush your hair
160. Put your fingers in your ears
161. Make loudest voice but a whisper
162. Inspiration comes in many forms
163. Play with time
164. choose your least favorite element, remove everything else
165. choose an element and reverse the sequence
166. turn on the tv
167. turn OFF the tv
168. invert your chords
169. drop something and mimic the sound. don’t use the result for percussion. or do
170. Go as far as you can with the monitor – if not the computer – switched off
171. Draw up a list of your top five presets, and delete them
172. Silence at any time during the session should be eliminated unless as a deliberate tactic
173. Commit to your mistakes and take inspiration from them; do not undo or revert to any saved versions
174. Do not use automation at any stage, instead mix all sounds in real time
175. Bounce all audio and delete source tracks before each overdub
176. Do not overdub; do as much in realtime as possible. If the result is unsatisfactory, consider this a limitation of your system