switching cases

Last May I replaced my old Doepfer cases with nice Mission 9 from Monorocket. At the time I thought it would be such a great idea to record the entire process, speed the whole thing up and put it to music. So, I did the first part of that but until this week I never got around to completing the job.

Here’s the result. The music was made in December and features the two missing modules (Hertz Donut and Z8000) as well as a Pittsburgh Modular Vilfo that I didn’t have then, and have already traded out as well. Moving along.

The first half of the movie, the taking apart part, was filmed as video and sped up in the editing. The second half was a series of many many photographs taken every five seconds or so and stitched together. It has a jumpier quality to it. Enjoy!

ring those bells

I obtained a new low frequency oscillator module for my modular synth a couple of weeks ago. It’s called the Vilfo, from Pittsburgh Modular. This isn’t your typical LFO. Vilfo is an acronym for “Voltage Influenced Low Frequency Oscillator” and by voltage influenced they mean that it responds to CV quite differently than the normal frequency control that one would expect. This thing has a chaos streak in it that pushes and pulls against whatever you’re feeding it in an odd kind of way. My favorite use for it so far is to use it as a clock source, and then send it some other clock or sine wave. Normally, a -+10v signal would speed up and slow down a LFO. In this case it kind of makes the Vilfo hesitate some, then shoves it around a bit, then speeds it up, then stops it altogether. But not always.

So I had it drive a little sequence of bell ringing, where the bells are made with the Hertz Donut. The different bell-like tones are created by having the Z8000 sequencer ring the second oscillator on the Donut a bit differently each time the main sequence of notes repeats itself. The timing is all Vilfo, with all the hesitations and speed ups and downs caused by the aforementioned influencing, in this case by a Malekko Oscillator in LFO mode. I run the triangle wave from the Vilfo back into the sync of the Oscillator, which toys with the timing a little more. A little like a feedback loop.

I thought the result was appropriate for this holiday season…

Another Time, Another Place

Several weeks ago I was asked by Marc Weidenbaum to take part in a remix project for Tablet Magazine, an online publication on Jewish art, life, and culture. The idea was to take Klezmer songs and remix them for Hanukkah. Originally he tried to get traditional public domain tunes, but when that proved too impossible, more recent songs were added to the mix. I was assigned a raucous number by The New Klezmer Trio entitled Thermoglyphics. I was curious by the choice, as my musical mind lies in a different place than this song goes, and since I work with a modular synth and a drum machine — a little less emotive than the great clarinet of Ben Goldberg in Thermoglyphics — I held my head in my hands for several minutes after taking a listen.
Going back a ways, I love Klezmer. Love. Klezmer. I took up the accordion back in 1999 specifically because I’m the gentile guy over there listening to Dave Tarras and the Klezmatics. If I’d had my wits about me and wasn’t so enthralled with robotic synthesizer noises right now, I might have picked out the melody on my accordion and messed with that as sampled audio. Alas, I instead programmed it all by ear using a sequencer in Ableton Live and making sounds with the synth (details below, if you’re into that sort of thing). I spent a few days climbing up the wrong tree, thinking could make things at sound at least somewhat organic. But it was one morning while walking the dog that I found myself whistling the main clarinet part of the original where I kind of had that Eureka moment. I switched on the sine wave in my oscillators, put the notes in through a slew-limiter, which controls the portamento, or slide between the notes, and hit “record.” The modular synth was also used for almost all the percussion sounds in my piece. The various tracks were mixed and arranged in Ableton Live, and after a couple of small revisions requested by Marc, it was finished. He describes it as “Eastern European android folk music” which I think is entirely accurate and slightly wonderful.

Here’s the track.

You can read more about it and listen to the entire album, plus an interview with Marc, on Tablet’s website.

For those with a more esoteric interest, the VCOs used are the uLFO and the Malekko Oscillator for the melody, detuned a few steps on the chorus parts. The percussion is almost all Hertz Donut noises, with one clickity coming from the Microtonic plug-in. Volta handled the procedure of converting the MIDI notes from Ableton to voltage to the modular. The slew-limiter is the Livewire Dual Bissell Generator.

donut and noisering and machinedrum

nightlife

This is basically part 3 in the series of doing stuff with the Noisering, the Hertz Donut, and the Plan B low pass gate. Go back and listen to that which is posted on 3 August and 5 August. This patch is essentially the same. The Noisering sends its random CV to the Hertz Donut, attenuated slightly. The Donut is in “Good” mode, and is connected to the Plan B Model 13 in “both” mode. The signal from the Donut is also attenuated somewhat, as it’s really easy to completely overdrive the Model 13. The envelope for the M13 is provided by Maths. Now the difference here is that the triggers for the whole thing are coming from a Machinedrum. The Machinedrum has a machine called GND IMP which is just a trigger pulse made for things like pre-MIDI drum machines and analog synths. I can sequence these triggers just like any other drum or sound on the MD. I have the track routed through external output F to the CLK IN of the Noisering. That triggers the random CV of the Noisering, and also sends through the clock out the trigger for the Maths envelope.

Now the interesting part here is in the first half of this track. You can hear kind of a little double trigger on each note. I couldn’t figure out what was going on here, thinking it was something happening with the Maths. But then realizing that the notes were changing between each of the little triggers on each beat, meaning that the Noisering was getting two triggers, I realized that the event was taking place on the Machinedrum, not the modular. I noticed that I had the wrong machine chosen for the Machinedrum. It was set to a ROM machine, which is meant for playing back samples, and not the IMP impulse machine. I don’t know — and I wish I’d checked — what the ROM machine was playing. I’m assuming that it had two distinct peaks, whatever it was, which created two triggers. In any case, it sounds great. Like it’s got this funky little swing going. At 1:04 you can hear it change back to single triggers as I swapped the machines out.

The track loops a lot with most of the change coming from the notes played by the Noisering. But closer to the end I’m punching in random steps on the Machinedrum’s sequencer, keeping everything quantized to 16th notes. (In case you want to try this at home, I’m using generic 1/4″ to 1/8″ mono cables I bought at Radio Shack for $5.99. Don’t forget to set the routing for whatever track you’re using for triggers to one of the four external outputs rather than the main output…)

more about donuts

The Hertz Donut VCO has become my favorite source of noise and tones. At one moment nice and calm and soulful, the next minute with a few tiny knob-twists or introductions of voltage, it rips your head off. That’s a good thing, and surprising to me since the main reason I like synthesizers is distinctly not for the head-ripping-off that they’re capable of (re: blinky boopity subtractive synths).
I spent an hour the other night working on variations to the church donut sequence I posted previously. The main difference is in the use of the Noisering as the clock source, and to a lesser extent, modulation of the FM index of the Hertz Donut’s second oscillator. These three sequences were outtakes from that hour of recording. On a synth forum I frequent, I was informed by James Cigler that when nothing is plugged into the clock-in jack on t he Noisering, the randomness of the clock is controlled by the EXT RATE knob, which leaks the random signal from the 2nd output into the clock. The EXT RATE knob basically attenuates this signal, allowing for full-on crazy clock, or when turned counter-clockwise, barely any random signal. This is great, and turns the Noisering into a very useful clock source for me. The only problem with it that I see is that the randomness isn’t voltage controlled, and when something is plugged into the CLK IN jack, it breaks the connection. It would be the monkey’s uncle if somehow the source plugged into the CLK IN somehow controlled the amount of that randomness. Instead it’s the other way around, the EXT RATE attenuates whatever signal is plugged into the CLK IN. Both are useful, but I suppose it would take a second jack and knob to make this work.

In any case, this first sequence is the Noisering clock being rate-controlled by a slow LFO sine wave into the CLK IN jack. (When a trigger source is plugged into the CLK IN, that becomes the source of the clock. This merely controls the rate of the internal Noisering clock).

This next one has nothing plugged into the CLK IN jack. About halfway into the sequence I start turning the EXT RATE knob which adds the random signal to the clock.

And this last sequence is longer at eight minutes. It’s also clocked by the Noisering, with some randomness in the signal. In this one there are a lot of different kinds of tones with various modulations being applied to the Hertz Donut and to the Maths, lengthening and shortening the envelope (which for you non synth-heads, means shortening and lengthening the note itself). Near the end the Plan B model 10’s ramp output is all over the second Hertz Donut oscillator, which adds that audible rise in the tone behind the decay of the sound itself. I love that.

All the delay is provided by the Boss DD-3 pedal. It’s convinced me that I need a voltage controlled delay like the Flight of Harmony Sound of Shadows real soon…

church of donut

You know how you can spend all day tweaking and patching and after hours you got nothin. Right? Then you decide, after dinner, after tv, just before dropping off to slumberland, just to try one little thing you have in your head. Say, one little thing like driving your Hertz Donut with CV from the Noisering, kinda attenuated a bit with a Plan B mixer so it’s not bouncing all over the place. The Donut sounds great through the low pass gate, so you plug the Maths into the Plan B m13 clocked by a basic LFO pulse, which also clocks the Noisering. So just something simple like that.

And luckily you were still awake enough to push ‘record’ on the laptop so as to save the result. And damn if that’s not the best patch you’ve made in a long time. I’d been told that the Noisering is a musical kind of random, but this was the first time I really attenuated it down without quantizing it, and it’s just lovely, isn’t it? Kinda spooky lovely. The FM tones of the Donut work perfectly with the notes that the Noisering is spitting out, and then I had it all go through a Boss DD-3 delay guitar pedal with a really fast delay, so it’s more of a reverb, and then to the computer for recording.

I hope you like this as much as I do.

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.