Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New modules and "The Sword"

Many delays in my posts due to a sequence of things:
1) HP Deathly Hallows released
2) My Birthday (26 now)
3) Family in town to visit

Of course, right there between 2 and 3 I got the final "big" shipment of Modules from Analogue Haven. I say "big" because it was more than 1 or 2 modules (8 to be exact) and will likely be the last shipment of such a quantity. I still have a couple more modules to purchase, so it's not the last of the orders...just the last of the "big" ones.

This order brought the Plan B Model 28 Tap Clock (fucking outstanding!), Plan B Model 10 Poly Env (super cool and a great alternative to regular EGs), Livewire Dalek Modulator (super sweet, and my first real oscillators, even if they don't track 1v/Oct), as well as some general Doepfer modules (A-138c Mixer, A-150 Voltage Control Switch, and A-160 Clock Divider). The final module, which I was overly surprised about was the Doepfer A-105 SSM LP Filter. This is basically a Curtis-based filter that is supposed to sound like the Prophet, Mono/Poly, anything that used a Curtis filter. I've never really experienced a Curtis filter before, so I didn't know exactly what it sounded like (it's always hard to tell how much a filter influences the character of a particular synth when it's built in), but it is really great sounding! The top end is nice and bitey without being harsh or gritty. It's a perfect complement to the FrequenSteiner! I'm really glad now that I decided to add a second filter, especially this one.

The Dalek Modulator is also very cool and I have really been enjoying having a real oscillator to play with. Gone are times of having to use the FrequenSteiner self-oscillate just to get an audio tone. The timbres that can come out of the Dalek are quite interesting and beyond what I expected, even with my experience with the Moog MF-102 ring mod. They certainly do each have their own sound. The fact that the ring mod section can be used independently of the oscillators is also very cool.

I know I'm incredibly behind on the video demos and I will get working on some very soon, but in the mean time, enjoy the following audio demo.

In this patch, the main "lead" sound is actually my guitar through an Effector-13 Soda Meiser with a fairly conservative setting being run through the Doepfer A-105 SSM LP filter which has it's cutoff frequency modulated by the Smooth output of the Plan B Heisenberg Generator. The signal is then run into a VCA being opened by an ADSR triggered at a 1/4 note (thanks to the Doepfer Clock divider and MIDI clock from MachineDrum)

Also running into that VCA (it has two audio inputs, each with atten) is the second audio source which is the Dalek Modulator Ring output. The Carrier is tuned to "E" and is not being modulated. The Modulator, however, is being fully modulated by a CV signal from the Livewire Dual Cycltron which is being attenuated through a VCA by the "Difference" output on the Vulcan Modulator. This is what is causing that rhythmic "shift" in timbre in the background.

The output of the modular+guitar then feeds into the Moog MF-104 analog delay with the Frostwave Resonator in the delay's feedback loop. This just gives the delay a more "tape" sound because each repeat gets a little more filtered and band-limited sounding. I was going to modulate this and get some dub-feedback stuff in there, but I got lazy.

The drums (and MIDI clock for the modular) are from the MachineDrum. Some of those sounds might be preset ones and others ones I programmed, but it's just a simple pattern. I really like the kick sound, it has a lot of attack so it's easy to hear on small speakers, but there is a lot of bass down on the bottom.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

VCAs fucking rule!

Pretty self explanatory I guess, but months ago, when I was asking my friend Brandon about modulars. and just general advice on what kinds of modules to check out, he said "you'll want several VCAs". At the time I thought, "ok well I'll get an exponential one for the audio and a linear one for CV and that's all I need." For whatever reason, I didn't remember using VCAs very much at all when I had the Nord G2 and I think that lead to my bias. Well I'm certainly glad that I accidentally ordered an extra linear VCA (actually dual linear VCA) because I can't get enough of them. It's becoming that every time I pause to think "ok how can I get ..." I can do it with a VCA somehow. And of course, anytime you wish you had a 3rd, 4th, etc hand to tweak some knob...all you need is a VCA. Fucking rad.

modulars are cool


Monday, July 16, 2007

what the frac!?

So I'm not even finished with my 2 case euro-rack modular and I already have seen some frac-rack format modules that "I absolutely must have".

Of course, once the euro-rack is finished, that might turn out to be a gross exaggeration, but as of right now that's where it stands. The modules also do not have a direct euro-rack equivalent, so that makes them all the more covet-worthy. Luckily I have not found more than 1 "frac rack" of modules that I would like, so I wouldn't be sinking a bunch of money into it like I have with the euro-rack. That's at least comforting as well as the fact that the rack/PSU for the frac format is *much* cheaper than it's euro-rack equivalent (although to be honest, looks more bulky and "janky" than the Doepfer cases).

The module that caught my eye the most was the Blacet Miniwave. Thanks to zerosum's many demos, it's the one that I'd happily buy the frac format case just to have this module. It's essentially a wave-rom lookup module but can achieve many things because of this. Quantizer, Oscillator, Fuzz, Wacky-ass-control-voltage-source, etc. There's also additional ROMs that can be purchases and each wave form is CV selectable in the bank. The only thing that comes close to this on euro that I know of is the Doepfer A-112 Wavetable Sampler/OSC and it doesn't seem anywhere near as versatile.

Secondly, the Blacet Binary Zone is a voltage pattern generator. It also has on-board lag processing and accepts internal clock. It makes some rad sounding control voltages and the only way that I can explain is it is to have you check out that product page and listen to the demos. I might be able to cook up something similar with several of my planned euro modules, but why not have one module that serves the same purpose. I love tempo-accurate random stuff so this is basically right up my alley.

The third module is the Wiard Noise Ring. This module is essentially a random voltage generator (ie sample + hold), however, it has logic to govern the frequency of drastic changes and how drastic the change is. Think of it as a more musical sample+hold. I think this would be a very interesting complement to my Plan B Model 24 (Heisenberg) as I consider it a very "musical" sample+hold.

There are also other interesting offerings particularly the Borg and Boogie filters from Wiard. These look cool and would certainly fill out the extra spaces of a frac chassis, but I'm most interested in the main three that I listed. I'm not one of those guys who needs every kind of variation of filter or oscillator, but I don't think I can pass up the unique functionality of the MiniWave, Binary Zone, and the Noise Ring. I also *REALLY* like the Wiard Woggle Bug, but that is not made in the frac format. As much as I want one, I can't justify investing in a 3rd format just for that...sure there are other rad 300 modules, but I'll just be carried away to the poor house; albeit with a fine soundtrack ;)

Either way, it's a long way out...both in time and money.

Monday, July 02, 2007

ah, sweet edification

I've been spending spare minutes with these new modules every chance I get and two in particular had me stumped on their internal operation. It's funny that I would discover the mystery of these two on the same day, both by accident.

The Plan B Heisenberg Generator and the Livewire Dual Cyclotron have been the proverbial enigma for me; the Dual Cyclotron particularly more than the Heisenberg. The Heisenberg I actually had pretty well figured out except for the relationship between the two "halves"; particularly the "Chaos" knob on the smoothed output half. The Dual Cyclotron I had basically no solid idea on...I mean, I kinda did, I could obviously hear how things changed, but I had no idea specifically what the various knobs actually did. Just turing knobs blindly is fun, but eventually you want to know what you're doing...it certainly makes recalling a cool sound a lot easier.

As I said, the Hesienberg wasn't that much of a mystery. The various knobs all have specific names which are very descriptive of their function. Mean, Deviation, CV control of these, etc. However, what I was confused about was the Chaos control, which, based on it's location, solely effected the Smooth (slew limited) random output half. What seemed very odd was that with Chaos set to 0, the Smooth output voltage did not seem to change at all; with the Chaos up high (2 o'clock +) the output voltage would be very erratic, "Chaos" even. ;)

Still, I couldn't tell exactly what it was doing. It seemed like Chaos controlled additional modulation of the sample and hold already clocked by the "Meter" knob at the bottom of the module, but then again, sometimes changing the "Meter" knob did not seem to alter the Smoothed output. Until today, I just chalked this behavior up to an "endearing quirkiness" of the module. While showing the product page to a colleague at work, I noticed a link to a block diagram of the module and how it integrates its Atmel 2051 Micro Controller. Of the 20 or so times I had studied this page before I bought the module, I never noticed this. It clearly indicates that the "Chaos" knob is the control for the LFO/Clock controlling the sample and hold for the Smooth output. It's basically the "Meter" knob's equivalent on the Smooth output half. Simple. :P

The Dual Cyclotron, however, was much more elusive. It has virtually no documentation, er, actually no documentation. The creative description of the module as a design taken from the Roswell spaceship crash wreckage is cute and adds some general character to the coolness of the thing, but it's far from helpful on indicating how the hell it does the cool shit it does.

As far as I got to figuring thing out was that there are 3 separate oscillators, two identical ones (presumably the "cyclotrons" and a 3rd oscillator which seemed to be the primary voltage output source. All 3 had "Symmetry" controls, just like the Vulcan Modulator, so I figured they did the same as on the Vulcan which is shift the positive peak of the waveform to either side of the center Y axis (like a pulse width, but for any waveform). It sounded like it did that too. The two cyclotrons each had speed range controls (selectable knob for "Stretched, Normal, and Compressed") and the main oscillator had a switch for LF (low freq) and AF (audio freq). Everything else I only had a vague idea on, and as I found out today, almost the completely wrong idea.

No less than 10 minutes after discovering the block diagram for the Heisenberg, I'm in the bathroom and notice an old copy of Electronic Musician which had a feature on analog modular synths by Gino Robair (June 2006). I had read this article before, but it was certainly more interesting than the dozen other articles in the magazines I have read multiple times in the bathroom. Low and behold, what do I find but a perfect and simple description of what each control on the Dual Cyclotron does!

It's a lot of info, and I understand the module a lot more now, so I want to save it for the video demo. Now I'm confident it's gonna be a good one. :D