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?

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


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.

playground soundtrack

The video is from last August, 2008. The main melody was one of my many hundreds of little unfinished 4-bar pieces of things that I have tucked in my Ableton folder. When I shot this video, I knew I needed something perky. I randomly opened a few Ableton projects and came across this one called at the time “Beep Repeat.” Yes, I name things so that months later I have zero idea what they are.
It got elaborated upon and after messing with the timing, it fit pretty much perfectly. A friend said it sounds like busy.

three drives

I first discovered Reason back in 2003 and spent a good deal of time playing with the demo of version 2.5. I was working on an animated promo for a book I had written and illustrated that was to be shown at a French book festival in Paris. With the idea of “driving” in mind, I meant to make something that would feel like it was in motion. This song, Drive, was the result. Eventually, it got replaced as the soundtrack to that animation, and I spent a little time making different versions of it over the years.
In 2005 I made one with a more synthy beepy feel. I used Reason for this as well, this time with Matrix running Malström for the bell in the background, and Subtractor as the main synthesizer. This was used by my friend Barbara as a soundtrack to a movie she made for a graduate thesis project. It worked well for that.
Two years later, I had made a little movie following my son around a playground on our bikes and I needed a soundtrack. So once again, I repurposed “Drive.” This time, I exported the MIDI from Reason and brought it into Ableton Live, using Operator as the main synthesizer. I added drums and made it much more complicated.

Here are the three versions of “Drive,” followed by the movie that used the third version as a soundtrack.