hunting the whale

folksingers wordbook

Lately guitar lessons have veered off into the theoretical, and I’ve not been sure what to do about it. My ambition and creative understanding of what this instrument can do has far outpaced my ability. I find that I’ve learned a lot over the last three years, but if you sat down with me and said “let’s play a tune” I’d be hard pressed to actually do this. I can play a 1-5-6-4 chord progression, or a 12-bar blues all day long. Additionally, I can hook up to a few effects pedals and a looper and improvise with pentatonics and modal scales until my fingers bleed. But it’s weird to me that I don’t really just know many, or any, songs.
So I’ve recently pulled out a book I found last year called The Folksinger’s Wordbook by Irwin and Fred Silber. There are about 1100 songs inside, but in all cases they’re printed only as lyrics and simple chords. There is no sense of melody, or any rhythmic guide. So with words and chords, you’re on your own.
And I think this is just great. I’ve decided to learn a ton of these and apply what I know from my lessons. Furthermore, I want to arrange them and play them on my various instruments. Even furthermore, it’s good fodder for working on engineering and recording. And then maybe if I’ve had a drink or three, I’ll sing something one day.
So the first tune I picked out was in the chapter on sea songs. There are a lot of whaling tunes, and I found a simple one called The Coast of Peru. It’s written as just Dm to C, and then Am to G. So, I guessed, key of A-minor. Or maybe C Major. Or maybe D Dorian since it keeps landing on D…
I flailed around with this for a few days until I was in lessons and my instructor, Lou, decided we should look at YouTube and see if there might be something there that could give us a launching point.

It’s in a different key, but at least we were able to figure out some of the melodic points. Especially in the second line where he goes up an octave. It also confirmed that it was in 3/4 time, as I’d assumed.

Here’s my take on it, roughly and simply. I transposed the song to D (E Dorian, actually), and worked out a little melody that somewhat follows the one Martin Hugill sings in the video. I plan to work on this some more this week and next, and hopefully soon sit down and flesh it out with a few verses. If you want I should sing, you could bring by some bourbon…

(Also, it’s worth noting, this blog and my output will likely not veer into the country western and folk section of the music store. Except for the occasional foray into the soundtracks I make for my children’s books, I’d like to think that to some extent, “experimental” will always somehow fit in iTunes genre category. Yeehaw.)

ligneclair

I’ve recorded a whole lot of music over the last seven years or so, but either never connected enough of it together to make anything like an “album,” or never really have got around to it.

These pieces I’ve recorded this summer with the looping guitar kind of came together and I think they work. So if you’re so inclined, head over to Bandcamp and get the release. Don’t forget to download the “bonus” PDF as well.

It’s a free download with the option to pay something if you like. I’d love to get some feedback on this; the use of Bandcamp, the tracks, the music itself. I hope to start doing this more often, creating series of works that hold together in some way, rather than the fits, starts, and pieces of things that I currently have on my Soundcloud account.

Here are the liner notes from the accompanying PDF booklet:

Dance Robot, Dance was begun in 2007 as a forum on which to write about that which I love, which is making electronic music. Back then, everything was made with a sequencer of some kind, and typically a synthesizer. Hence, Dance Robot, Dance.

In 2011 I began taking guitar lessons and while sequencing and oscillators are still important to what I hear and do, my Jazzmaster has kind of become the other woman, as it were, with whom I spend more of my free time than maybe I should. It’s a bit ironic to me that this first “release” I am making under the name Dance Robot, Dance is strictly electric guitar.
The tracks that make up Ligneclair were created with a sparkly blue Fender Jazzmaster, a pretty white Rivera Venus 3 and a shiny Vox Night Train amp, a Pigtronix Infinity looper, a Strymon El Capistan looper/delay, and an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai looper/delay. Several other stompboxes were employed as well. The recordings were made on June 27, 2013 and July 28, 2013 with a Electrovoice microphone and the line-out of the Rivera amp, recorded to Ableton Live via a Motu 828 mk3, and edited therein. Most of the tracks were left complete, front to back, with only a little EQ or somesuch added. A few of the tracks were originally 10-20 minutes of looping redundancy and were therefore edited in Ableton.

I know nada about mixing or mastering, so what you hear is what you get. Send suggestions my way.

These tracks were orginally posted on Soundcloud and I would like to thank the various Soundcloud users who “liked” and commented on them, thus encouraging this project.

The landscape photos on the tracks as well as this PDF were shot in June, 2013 along the highway north of Queenstown, New Zealand, at Landis Pass. It’s a lovely part of the world and you should try and visit if possible.

Brian Biggs
August 16, 2013

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.

layering reality

not necessarily friends

When Marc Weidenbaum first began the Disquiet Junto project five weeks ago, my first thought was that it seems like a good idea, but there was no way that I was going to be able to take part every week. Just due to the normal schedule of life — work, kids, partner, dog, “things to do,” friends… I couldn’t conceive of how I’d find the time every week to sit down, basically escape from weekend life and responsibilities, and make a complete track (update — I didn’t make this week’s due to the above issues).
However, a funny thing has happened. Having these projects has led to really thinking about process and workflow and goals in a way that fiddling around with gear previously never did. In my day-job I draw pictures every day, and in twenty years I’ve become a believer in deadlines. When I used to teach, I would tell students that if it weren’t for deadlines I’d never complete anything. It’s also kind of a running in-joke that a work is never “done.” Rather, one just has to find a good stopping point, and in my case the deadline is always that stopping point.
Screwing around with gear often creates interesting results, and I often post the results here on Dance Robot Dance. Quite often those results are twenty-second gems buried in eighty minutes of dreck. That signal-to-noise ratio isn’t really acceptable when one has to somehow fit it in between preparing dinner for the family, doing laundry, going to Ikea, walking the dog, and it has to be done by Monday night.
The genius of this project is that it’s an assignment. A specific goal is in mind, which has in all five cases been something I’d never have on my own attempted (field recording? me?) except for the Junto. Limitations are the key not only to the parameters of the projects, but to the workflow and process as well. I’ve written before that when staring at the sonic potential that is my studio desk, and multiplying that potential times infinite when software is considered, the very act of beginning can be daunting. The analogy I use is Photoshop. Given a piece of paper and a pencil, one can focus on the thing one wants to draw and focus on that creative end. One draws a line with a goal in mind. One can erase that line, again with the goal in mind, but chances are that there won’t be a lot of wanking with the tools. When faced with a new open file in, say, Photoshop, knowing that one can use any number of millions of colors, a smorgasbord of tools, and, even more importantly, one can erase and undo forever, never having to commit to anything. With the aforementioned time limitations imposed by ” real life,” this Disquiet Junto project just doesn’t allow for that.
So let’s review: by giving the assignment, the project takes away the lack of direction and focus inherent in sitting down and futzing with musical gear. And by requiring the piece to be done by Monday night, it takes away the possibility for indecision and mental masturbation that is inherent in never having to make anything permanent. For each project I’ve chosen a specific set of tools, sometimes at the beginning of a project and sometimes in the middle of the work, and really focused on what that tool does and how does it contributes to what I need, which in turn gets me to find certain limitations and personalities inherent and applied to my neat-o tools, which leads to better tracks and more interesting results.
The time limitation also encourages one to use what one knows rather than, again, putz around for hours trying out new things.On its face this might seem like an unacceptable limitation, given the want for creativity and breaking new ground. But what it really does is takes us back to that pencil-and-paper analogy. It’s easy to worry oneself into a corner with the idea that one isn’t “good enough” to record, or play live, or whatever. But when it comes down to just making a song and getting it out there, one uses what one has. Right? This plays a big part in this most recent Junto, which I’ll explain in a moment.

This Junto’s assignment was thus:

Plan: The fifth Junto project is about amplifying the inherent musicality of everyday life. Of all the Junto projects so far, this one may call for the lightest touch. Of course, achieving a light touch may require the most amount of work. The project will be accomplished by adding sounds (notes, riffs, tones, beats, noises, processing, drones, what have you) to a foundation track that consists of an original, unedited field recording.

Pre-Production: First, you will make an audio field recording from everyday life. This track will serve as the foundation for your piece. This recording can be made anywhere — on the bus, or while riding a bicycle, or sitting in a field, or waiting in the lobby of a building, or in the kitchen, wherever. There are only two rules regarding the field recording: (1) Do not include intelligible voices unless you are certain that recording people, wherever you are, is legal. (2) Do not edit the field recording, except to fade in and out to achieve the desired length. Chances are you’ll record quite a bit, and then select your favorite segment. You might even, after starting work on one foundation track, make decisions about what constitutes a good foundation and then go and make a new field recording.

Length: Keep the work to between two and five minutes.

Sensibility: In the end, the foundation field recording track should remain fairly discernible in the mix.

I happened to be walking out of a grocery store when I read this email, and since I knew I’d be looking for something to record as the basis that had some significance, I opened FiRe on my iPhone and hit record. I recorded the drive home, and became enamored with the tick tick of the turn signal as a rhythmical base. Once I took a listen to the recording I was bummed that it sounded awful. The internal mic of the iPhone just didn’t cut it. I don’t usually mind inherent flaws in equipment, but this had a lot of noise, was very low-level, and had a weird distortion through-out. So the next day when I had to go to the grocery store again, this time with my 13-year-old son, I carried my little M-Audio digital recorder along for the ride. I recorded the entire trip — shopping, paying and the drive home. But the drive home, again, with that tick tick of the turn signal was what I fell for and ended up using.
The music I recorded was based on a D G A progression that I’d learned that week in my guitar lesson. We’re dealing with triads, and these chords are using just the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings with the first D chord starting on the fifth fret. It’s a simple little thing but sounds nice and worked well. After recording the first set of chords at 84bpm (which by the way is the BPM of the turn signal of a 2001 Honda Civic), I just played against that in my headphones for about a half hour. Plucks, strums, rings, different settings on the amp and pedals, different patterns within the chords… just trying to get different sounds so that I could edit it all together later.
In the end, the parts I used were either straight from the guitar to the amp (a Vox Night Train) or with a Real McCoy RMC3 Teese Wahwah, set just so the filter is on a bit, which really gives this G&L ASAT a nice tone and even overdrives a little.

These are some of the guitar parts, isolated.

[audio:http://dancerobotdance.com/audio/junto05guitarsoverlay.mp3]
This first one is two overdubbed parts. I really like the overlaying.

[audio:http://dancerobotdance.com/audio/junto05guitarrock.mp3]
There are two variations on the same thing here — only the first one is in the final track.

Lastly, after playing the guitar parts, I had the inspiration to drag my accordion out of its case and see it might work out. I’m happy to say that it worked out brilliantly. It’s no lie to say that in the year I’ve been taking guitar lessons I’ve learned more about my accordion then in the ten years previous. My accordion lessons ten years ago were about reading music and developing technique for playing. They were never really about understanding how music works and why it’s structured the way it is. That’s a topic for another post, I realize, because I could cover a lot of ground with that.

Here are the accordions near the end of the track, isolated. The very last bit you hear is some editing in Ableton to have the accordions jive with the beeping of the car when the door is opened.
[audio:http://dancerobotdance.com/audio/junto05accordions.mp3]

So here’s the finished piece.

In the end, I don’t think it comes together as well as I’d like. But that’s part of the nature of this Junto project. To me, it’s like sketching. Just get it down. Yes, I could have edited the original field recording. I could have worried about the levels differently. I could have rewritten and edited parts to make it hold together. But instead it was time to make dinner for the kids and get some work done. And move on to the next project*, having learned a lot from this one.

rose's water ice

* After all this, I didn’t get the next week’s project done. I’m way under-water with my current children’s book deadline. Number seven is due tomorrow night and I suspect I’ll be able to get to it. I hope so.

it's just a guitar

I’m gonna talk about the guitar here dropping the analogy from the last post. Upon further reflection, I’m not having an affair, really, and I’m not breaking up with my synth. I suppose the closer example would be that I’m perfectly happy taking on multiple, um, lovers.
What brung me to the guitar and keeps me with it for a year now is the same thing that moved me from software to hardware in 2009. Playing an instrument is better than playing a computer. Certainly the computer is an instrument of sorts and that argument is an interesting one. But dude, it’s not the same. A relationship is a valid analogy, frankly. Programming software to make music is to a real human relationship what an online affair is to playing a real instrument. Simplified, easy, without the messiness, but ultimately far less satisfying as well. The modular synth hardware is, to me, somewhere in between. More tactile than a computer, obviously, but also closer to programming than playing an accordion or a guitar. I pick up a guitar and in about eleven seconds I’m playing. I turn on the modular and I consider what I plan to do, and start patching. Even with my relatively small synth, this takes some thought. It ain’t rock-n-roll.
It wasn’t too long after this guitar discovery of mine that I bought a Doepfer A119 for my synth, which is a preamp and envelope follower. With it, the modular basically becomes a large effects box and the guitar a versatile oscillator, and I can easily run the guitar through its ring modulator, filters, Fm the sound, and anything else I can do with the synth. The A119 produces gates as well, so events can be triggered with each string pluck or chord strum. I’ll definitely write more about this with examples.
I also now have a growing collection of pedals. These reproduce many functions of the modular, when it comes to driving the guitar through them. For instance, I can patch up an auto-wah with a filter, a VCA, and a Maths. But like with the guitar itself, just plugging into a pedal straight to the amp is just easier and more immediate. And since much of what I like about this route is the immediacy, I have pedals. Fuzz, tremelo, chorus, vibrato, delays of course… I love ’em and pretty soon I’ll write all about ’em.

What this is leading to is that the whole thing is coming around full-circle, see. Last week I was listening to some of the samples of Christopher Willits guitar on CDM and started thinking of tools to play with loops and samples in an interesting way. I have Max for Live and Reaktor and both of them provide a wealth of tools in which one can mangle and shuffle and wreck loops in fascinating ways, I decided it was a good time to spring for Audio Damage’s Automaton, mainly for the immediacy (natch) and for the pretty graphics. I’ve always loved Conway’s Game of Life ever since I saw Brian Eno talk about it at a tech conference in San Francisco in 1995. It blew my mind back then, and I love how software designers have used it as sequencers in different ways (in fact, I think it’s a good subject for a future post). Reaktor has a drum machine called Newscool, which is one of my favorite ensembles in that package. Audio Damage went another direction with it using it not to create notes and sounds, but to eat them.

It’s just a start, and a too-long one at that (more than four minutes), but below is a simple 16-note guitar loop (B-E-G#-B-E-G#-B-E, A-E-G#-A-E-G#-A-E) recorded into Ableton, and then attacked by robot monkeys. Along with Automaton, I used Max for Live’s Buffer Shuffler (trying to see how much overlapped with Audio Damage’s Replicant — the answer is a little) which is what is creating the backwards recording sounds and some of the misplaced parts of the phrase.

Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet picked this up this morning, which is always a bonus.

The unfortunate reality, now, is that today is Christmas Eve and the hour or so I’m taking this morning to write about this is the last hour or so I’ll have for the next week, at least, to do anything not resembling family adventures and holiday cheer. But my resolution for 2012 is twofold.
1. Make more sounds.
2. Write about it here.

Happy Holidays.
[audio:http://dancerobotdance.com/audio/automaton_drd.mp3]

i've been having an affair

Baby, I have a confession.

I know you’ve been suspecting something like this for a while. And I’d like to say you’re wrong, that you’ve been imagining things. But you know I’d be lying, and I love you too much to lie to you, baby. So here it is.

I’ve been seeing someone else.

I know. Don’t think I don’t feel miserable about it. It started out simple enough. We met on the internet. I thought I could keep it under control. We were just supposed to see each other now and then. Every two weeks, actually. On fridays, for forty-five minutes. However, it quickly got out of hand. She demanded a lot of me, and I couldn’t say no. It was every week for a while, now almost every day. Sometimes for several hours at a time. I can’t keep away.
You two have a lot in common, you know. I’m sure if you met you’d be friends. She’s not as complicated as you, not as intellectual. Don’t take that the wrong way. You know what I mean. Yes, I suppose you could say it’s mostly physical. But that’s no small thing. You each satisfy a different part of me.

What does she look like? Well, here, I have a picture.

the other woman

That birds-eye maple and tortoise-shell just knocks me out.

What’s that? You think she’s cute too? Um… you want to what?

Is that French?

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.