Saturday, October 27, 2007

Livewire Dual Bissell Generator Demo

As promised, it's a two for one weekend ;) Here is the video demo of the Livewire Dual Bissell Generator. A simple module, but one of my favorite "tweaking" ones.


Plan B Model 10 Demo

Man, I was really off my game today. Tripping over my own words and loosing my train of thought mid sentence. Thank god for video editing. I almost thought of keeping a gag reel, but it takes up so much HDD space.

With that said, I proudly present the Plan B Model 10 video demo.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Controller Quest

So in the process of mulling over this idea of making a custom Eurorack case, I finally decided that I do want to keep one of the Doepfer suitcases with a select few modules as a "performance" system; everything else would go into the custom made case. Hell, I might not even make the custom case and just get that Plan B case that was announced a while back...either way, I'm keeping one Doepfer suitcase as the "performance" system.

So that got me thinking about a controller for it. I don't want to have to use the Doepfer A-190 MIDI to CV converter as that will take up valuable space. I'd also like to have a unique (and better) controller than a shitty little MIDI controller. It's also a perfect opportunity for me to build something myself.

So my first thought was something with a joystick. I had wanted to get one of the Doepfer A-174 Joystick modules, but it always seemed like it would be taking up valuable space. Well, it turns out you can get the bare joysticks from Doepfer, and rigging them up as 0-5v+ attenuators seems relatively simple. Apparently they also come spring loaded (so the stick is always in the center). You can easily tear the springs out and make them free floating as well. Ripping the springs out is irreversible, however, so I thought of getting two joysticks, ripping the springs out of one, and adding a couple of buttons for triggers. Maybe lay it out similar to an old arcade game; I could probably even find the same style buttons. Perfect, this is simple, unique, and in theory, easy for me to put together. got me to thinking that, at some point, I will undoubtedly need to play something at standard pitches. So I revamped my design...keep the two joysticks, add a 2 octave keyboard, and maybe keep the trigger buttons if necessary (I could always use a keyboard key to trigger). Probably even add mults, and possibly even VCAs directly on the controller rather than take up more of that valuable space in the suitcase.

Well, I can't really find a definitive schematic or anything for taking a regular keyboard (like a fatar replacement, or even ripping the one out of my cheapo m-audio oxygen 8) and converting that to CV.

Does anyone have any leads on making your own CV keyboard? I spent a while googling around, and aside from this item on musicfromouterspace (which might not even be the right thing) I can't find anything.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


The comments (mainly Zerosum's) on the last Thingamagoop post got me thinking about demoing one application of the Thingamagoop. I was initially thinking of video ideas, but as I was playing around I got to jamming with it and it was too fun not to capture.

There is some modular processing applied:
The Thingamagoop (Ghost of Robot TB1X model, although that doesn't really matter) was plugged into the Doepfer A-119 Envelope Follower into the Ext. In of the Dalek Modulator. Ring Out of the Dalek into the Frequensteiner in bandpass mode, through the Doepfer VCA and then finally into the Moog MF-104 delay. There's some slight slow modulation of the Frequensteiner by the Vulcan Modulator and a touch of filter FM from the Plan B Model 15, the amount of which is being randomly controlled by the Dual Cyclotron.

Where the trick comes in is that I have the Threshold on the Envelope Follower set so that when I have my finger over the Thingamagoop's nose (blocking it's photocell), there is no gate output (and therefore no output from the Thingamagoop+modular). So I'm able to mute the sound just by putting my finger over the photocell.

Now, the modular processing imparts only a little bit of character; 90% of what you hear is the Thingamagoop and me flipping it's switches and playing with the LFO speed. It's pretty much impossible to pick out exactly when the FM of the Frequensteiner happens and the Ring Modulation is not that aggressive. I could have easily just run the Thingamagoop into the delay, but the modular added a nice character.

The left most switch on the Thingamagoop selects the "gate mode". Up is a square wave gate, controlled by the LFO speed. Down is no gate at all. It's pretty easy to hear when I switch back and forth. The right most switch is the pitch range. Down is low range, and up is high. You can hear me switch this a few times, in particular there are a few times where I simultaneously switch the gating off and the pitch to the high range...moving your finger over the photocell in this configuration leads to some really cool modulated tibres (which you'll hear). Adjusting the proximity of the "LEDicle" to the photocell of course also changes the pitch and the amount of modulation; I'm moving that back in forth in front of the photocell as well.
I'm able to do this all with the Thingamagoop cradled in both left thumb over the photocell, right hand fingers moving the LEDicle and switches and my right palm, and sometimes fingers, moving the LFO knob.

All in all, it's really fun to perform and improve with like this! :D

A simple Machinedrum pattern was used for some rhythm (no modular involvement there).

Enjoy, and please comment.

Latest poll...the winner is...

The Plan B Model 10 Poly EG!

Unfortunately, because I have family visiting this weekend, I won't have time to make a video.

However, because the Livewire Dual Bissell was leading the poll in the beginning and finished in a close second, I will do two videos next weekend! One of the Model 10 and one of the Dual Bissell.

So look forward to those for next weekend.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Ghost of Robot TB1X

I already had one Thingamagoop, but when I saw the special Halloween editions, I couldn't help myself.

Not only do I now have a special edition Thingamagoop, but I now have a different sounding one. Yes, they sound different and compliment each other quite nicely. I've had a lot of fun so far making each one self modulate the other.

I'll probably draw the line at 2...unless more special editions come along. I'm a bit of a sucker for special editions.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Plan B Model 15 Arrives

The Model 15 Arrives!!! My first oscillator that can track 1v/Oct. Color me ecstatic.

First off, let me say how bad ass Analogue Haven is. Shawn and Chuck and everyone there are the most incredible and nicest guys. I have always had a warm fuzzy feeling inside after giving them money; and it wasn't just because that meant gear was coming my way. If you are not currently giving them money, you should be. Shawn, you are the man!

Ok, so I've only played with it for a few hours last night, so the following is early impressions.

PWM. I see what people are griping about now. The "usable" pulse width range on the knob is pretty small. It's like from 10 - 2 o'clock on the knob, any further on the knob and the sound cuts out, presumably from the pulse being so small. HOWEVER, I completely see why Peter kept this feature. The sound that it makes as the pulse goes from really thin to kate moss thin sounds REALLY cool! It reminds me a bit of some of the sounds that Metasonix modules can make with the right knob settings. I think this feature of the Model 15 is very cool and really makes it stand out of the crowd. It's not your standard PWM, and I really like that. Personally, it would be nicer if it was spread out on the range of the knob a little more, like say 8 - 4 oclock. I don't mind the "dead" spots, just wish they were smaller.

Sync. I particularly like this Sync sound. I know people have complained it's not hard sync, but it has a unique character that is a nice timbral alternative. I have similar feeling towards it as I do the unique PWM; it's not the "standard" sound, but I like it. If you need the "standard" sound, get another VCO and now you have double the possibilities. Or for those who need to have a module that does everything; the Model 15A Expander sounds like it will clear up people's grips with PWM and Sync.

Waveforms. Holy waveshaping batman, these waveforms sound awesome! Granted, I don't have a lot of experience with the various available modular format oscillators, but I have played a lot of both analog and digital synths and I must say that this has the coolest sounding triangle wave I've ever heard. Normally, I hate triangle waves. To me they always sounded overly dull, almost as if something was not working correctly. It was like the inbred cousin of the sine and saw waves. In fact, I only listened to the triangle wave in this case because I accidentally plugged it in when I wanted to hear the sawtooth! Lucky me! Maybe the reason it has such a nice triangle is because it's the core waveform for the VCO. I don't know for sure, I just know I like it!
The sine wave is also incredible. It's very clean and loud, with the slightest touch of character. The sawtooth is still my favorite though. It's very "woody" and "organic" sounding. It pairs up perfectly with the Model 13 low pass gates for beautiful pluck sounds.

Bipolar Attenuators. I love bipolar attenuators. Love them. The only gripe I have about them is that very few modules (none actually to my knowledge) have knobs with detents at 0. This makes it very hard to actually have full attenuation (aka "0"), it's always a little positive or a little negative. This is especially true on the Model 15's Freq CV inputs because they are so sensitive. It's pretty difficult to actually have a CV patched in and have the knob set to 0; not without extremely gentle tweaking. You're not going to be able to turn it up during a performance and get it back to where it was very easily. This isn't really a problem with the Model 15 itself per se, more of a general problem with bipolar attenuators with non-detented knobs. And furthermore, maybe it's just me who gets a little bugged by this.

Morph Output. Man this is cool! I really dig the Sine - Saw morph, it's like another flavor of a PWM sound, but more unique sounding. Blending this output with the sawtooth outputs leads to some cool timbres; likewise doing Sine - Square and combining that with the square wave out. Audio rate modulation enhances this. Use of an envelop makes for a very cool "evolving sound".

Overall, this gets a glowing review from me. 2 thumbs up, if I had a third hand, I have that thumb up too. :D

I do plan on making a video demo, however, I want to spend more time with the module so that I really know it well before doing the demo. I'll also see about getting a loaner 15A Expander so that can be included in the demo since I bet a lot of people are going to want to see that as well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hardware Hacking

I've always been interested in electronics and how they work, but whenever I would decide to actually try and learn about schematics or whatever, the particular information source was always too "clinical" or assumed that I knew more basic fundamentals than did. Long story short, I always walked away going "ahhh, fuck it".

Since getting interested in modular synthesis I've been able to understand some of the more abstract fundamentals and concepts to general electronics. Also, through the brain-picking of colleagues I've been able to have a general idea of what resisters did, what capacitors did, etc. I still wasn't able to actually look at a schematic and understand what it was.

So I had been looking for ultimate beginners books that went about teaching through application; ie. making something, not just explaining everything like a spec sheet.
At AH Bay Area, I won a copy of the "Best of Analog Dialog" book which was a compilation of various application examples using Analog Devices ICs. I thought I finally had exactly what I was looking for... But, my heart sank when I started to dive into it and once again was saying to myself, "ahhh, fuck it".

Fast forward to the most recent TapeOp (no. 61 Sept/Oct 2007) and an interview with Nicolas Collins. Nicolas Collins is an "electronic musician" and teacher at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago. His book, Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking, is essentially based on his course of creating, modifying, and otherwise "abusing" electronic devices in order to make sound. Basically, it's like old school circuit bending (it's not exclusive to electronic toys) with a healthy dose of circuit design.

I must say, this book is absolutely brilliant. It's not written like a typical course book (in fact I wouldn't have known it was based on course material had I not actually read the intro) and it does not delve into great deal about general electronics or "engineering", it just gets right into actually making something.

Some fantastic examples are wiring up tape heads from cassette recorders or answering machines and swiping them over credit cards. Or making a piezo microphone and dipping it in "Plasti-Dip" (a plastic normally used to coat hand tools) so that it is water proof and usable to record under water, or even the sound of water freezing / ice melting!

By far my favorite part (thus far, I haven't even gotten half way through) was using a cheap CMOS inverter chip to create several square wave oscillators. He didn't actually explain schematics until you had a working circuit on a breadboard (with actual photos). I can now actually say that I understand many aspects of schematics now thanks to this. The way he will show you a modification to the circuit (swapping a resister for a potentiometer) with a real picture and then with the schematic representation made prefect sense and allowed me to better understand what the schematic meant. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

So anyway, long post short, go by this book. It's awesome. I already have several ideas for cool little instruments that I want to make, AND thanks to this book I feel like I can actually make them. Thank you Nicolas Collins!!!

Now I might actually understand what that Analog Dialog book is talking about after all. :D

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Recent pictures of the modular

It's hard to believe, but I haven't actually taken a picture of the modules all racked up before! :/

So here it is, in all it's glory. You'll no doubt notice these somewhat strategically placed holes. From top to bottom, left to right, they will be filled as follows:

Livewire Chaos Computer (not yet released)
Livewire Vulcan Expansion selector thingy (not yet released)
Plan B Model 14 Voltage Processor
Livewire Audio Frequency Generator (aka 'AFG', not yet released)
Plan B Model 15 Complex VCO (ordered and in transit)

Pretty different than the original "mock up" images from way back when. I hadn't even really planned a 2nd case at that point and now I'm already debating how I'm going to handle further expansion. Muff was right, it truly never ends.

Oh, coincidentally, this shot is of the patch I posted about last night; DalekInvasion. Kinda hard to see cause the shot was taken with my phone, but might help if any of you were having a hard time visualizing what I was explaining.

Monday, October 08, 2007


This track is more interesting as far as the patch goes than it actually sounds, but I wanted to share anyway...

The main sound source is one square wave oscillator from the Dalek Modulator. It's pitch modulation comes from two sources:

The first is the "stepped" output of the Model 24 Heisenberg, which is paced by one square wave LFO from the Vulcan Modulator, and fed through one half of a Livewire Dual Bissell Generator (slew limiter).

The second source is the other square wave oscillator from the Dalek Modulator, set in Low range and run through the other half of the Dual Bissell Generator. The rate of this oscillator is modulated by the other square wave LFO from the Vulcan Modulator.

Both of these sources are then fed into a Doepfer A-150 Dual Voltage Controlled Switch (only using one of the switches). The switch is controlled by the Model 28 Tap Clock. Every time the quarter note gate is output, it causes the A-150 switch to change from using the first modulation source to using the second. So what you are hearing is the two modulation sources "trading off" every quarter note.

Beyond that, the "main output" of the Dual Cyclotron is modulating the filter cutoff. The Dual Cyclotron has become my favorite filter modulation source. There's something very organic and chaotic about it's modulation and that leads to some very cool timbres when used to modulate a filter (sparingly of course).

Finally, the output of the modular is going into a Moog MF-104 Analog Delay, with the Moog MF-102 Ring Modulator patched into the feedback loop. If you listen carefully, you can hear the delay repeats slowly get more "spacey" sounding. In some cases, it sounds like is almost slowly starting to play in reverse.


Clock divider "always on" trick

So I thought of also adding a category covering "tips and tricks" as I find them. Hopefully you all find them useful. Obviously some will be specific to certain modules, but hopefully some, like this one, will work probably work for any brand of similar functioning module.

I found that with the Doepfer A-160 Clock Divider, when it's powered on without a trigger source, several of the outputs will be "on", sending out a positive gate signal.

When I'm working on patches, a lot of time I want the main amp VCA to be open all the time until I get a patch to where I want it. Until recently, I would patch the output of the filter directly to the mixer, but this was usually more effort since the volume of the signal from the filter might be too loud, or I would have to re-patch a few things when it came time to use the VCA (and then re-adjust gain levels).

Now that I've discovered that the Clock Divider will output a constant "on" for several outputs, I just patch one of those directly to the gate input on the envelope controlling the main amp VCA. Then, once it's time to "play" the patch, I can just un-patch the cable from the Clock Divider into the Gate output from the keyboard and I'm ready to roll.


The new look...and polls!

As you may have noticed, I took the time yesterday to update to the newer post-google Blogger templates. I mainly wanted to do this to try out adds (I'm not selling out or anything, I'm just curious on how much, if any, money that might bring in), but also mainly to add a Poll.

The first poll is in regards to the next demo video, it's on the right-hand side of the main page. Please vote so I can get a general idea of what you guys want to see next in terms of modules.

Thanks everyone!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Vulcan Modulator Demo

I feel like a right ass for not posting in so long. Work has been a bit busy and beyond that I've just been too lazy for my own good.

In effort to make amends, I bring you the Livewire Vulcan Modulator demo.