Monday, December 29, 2008

The Serge

I tried really hard to come up with some kind of McCain "the surge is working" joke, but just couldn't. :( So anyway, this is the big Serge post, hopefully it does not disappoint.

As I mentioned in my recent post, over the course of researching the Buchla I started to see things that I did not like in my current system, or put maybe a more accurate way, advantages that I saw in other formats. Let's start with the most simple, and obvious, one. Banana jacks.

Using multiples in 1/4" or 1/8" is annoying as hell. I know it seems trivial, but *every time* I find myself wanting to use a multiple, it requires breaking half a patch down, exchanging cables and then retracing my steps so that I put it back together properly. With banana jacks, it's much more elegant. Need a mult? Just poke a jack in there and that's it. Seems like a small thing, but while it would be nice to have in Euro (really nice to have) it is almost required due to the level of functional density of each Serge module (not panel, but individual module - which is referred to as a "function block" in Serge-land). That brings me to my next advantage of the Serge. Functional density.

In Serge-land, they call this "patch programmability". Depending on how you patch a particular function block, you can achieve different results. The "Smooth / Stepped Generator" (SSG) for example, can not only be a S+H, but also a VC slew limiter, VC LFO (triangle and square), clock, LPF/LPG, lo-fi VCO, zero-crossing detector, and more with any combinations of these (that's right, most of those functions only require one half of the module!). This module is even one-upped by the "Dual Slope Generator" (DSG) which has an unprecedented number of patch programmable functions, yet on the surface, it's just an AD envelope generator. It's this "patch programmability" that really attracts me to the Serge system. The flexibility and range of sounds possible in even a single panel (or even M-odule) is rather astounding. Exhibit A is this fantastic demo from kkonkkrete which surfaced a few weeks ago.

Note that this video features only 2 M-odules, and throughout the video, some portions of the Sequencer A M-odule are not even used. It's quite amazing that the Creature M-odule (the one on the right side) is essentially a fully featured Serge system on it's own! This brings me to my next perceived advantage. Portability.

This is one of the advantages that I found in the Buchla which I think is very apparent here as well. A 3 panel Serge system would more or less be similar in size to a 12ws Buchla case and definitely give it a run for it's money, if not certainly beat it out feature-wise (but this isn't purely about features). My system, as it is now, is almost too large. I haven't even filled the case and I find that on many patches, some modules are just "in the way" and I end up having to work around them. A small detail, but to me it screams "you have to much shit that you don't use", and if I don't use it, it isn't that necessary. Maybe this just one of those "ebb and flow" things, but I like to have an efficient use of space, and when I find myself always turning to the same dozen or so modules, it's hard to fight off the urge to trim the fat, so to speak.

The final advantage is another one taken from my Buchla research and this is the dynamic control/interaction with the instrument. While it's no 222e Kinetic Input, the Serge TKB Touch Keyboard Sequencer is a very dynamic and expressive controller.

The sequencer is not unlike the mythical Milton (or maybe that should be the other way around). There are 4 "rows" of 16 steps. A standard clock steps through each of 16 stages, while a separate vertical clock with step through the 4 rows, allowing for 64 step patterns. Either the combined row output is available, or each row output separately, allowing for control of 4 separate modules for each stage. The direction of the sequencer can also change based on either a manual switch, or a trigger input. There is also a "random stage select" trigger input. When pulsed, it will select a random stage. And, speaking of stage selection, when the keyboard is linked with the sequencer, touching a key touchplate will immediately select that stage. It can be patched so that when pressing the key touchplate, the stage will be held and the sequencer will not advance. There is also key pressure voltage available, for more expression. Basically, it's the perfect combination of a keyboard controller and an analog sequencer.

So, until I've had some one-on-one face time with a Serge system and can make my final decision, I see some Serge in my future. My best assessment at this point would be to start with a Gator and Creature and add a TKB as early as financially possible. After using that system for a while, I'll have a better idea of what else I might need (if anything at all). That's another advantage of the Serge, not only can so much be achieved with only a couple panels, but it's pricey enough that you just don't go off buying more on a whim, something that happens with me constantly with euro. I just lack that willpower I guess.

My dilemma though is that I can't bear to part with a good chunk of my Euro system. Out of the modules that I use in practically every patch, I plan on keeping the following:

Livewire AFG (x2)
Livewire Vulcan Modulator
Livewire Dalek Modulator
Livewire Frequensteiner
Livewire Dual Cyclotron
Plan B M13 LPG
Plan B M14 Voltage Proc
Harvestman Stilton
Harvestman Evin (forthcoming)
Harvestman Tyme Sefari
Doepfer A-132-3

The Plan B M10s and M24 would be in there since those are used in every patch, but they have direct functional equivalents on the Serge. In fact, there's practically the same as the Serge DTG and SSG modules. As time goes on, I would consider loosing the Dual Cyclotron (which will be a hard one) and the Plan B M14 since both could be had in the Serge domain without too much trouble. As I said, I haven't had face time with the Serge VCO and Filters yet, so until I do, I can't imagine giving up the AFG+Frequensteiner sound. Even so, I can't imagine giving it up.

All of this Euro, plus some more, would fit rather nicely in one of the upcoming 9U A-100P portable cases that Doepfer has announced, which is what I would plan on transitioning the euro system into once they are available.

So, I'm not decided 100%, but this definitely feels like the direction that I want to move. Only time will tell.

I've linked to it where appropriate, but the "Ergres - Serge Fans" site has an extensive amount of info on Serge systems, as does Carbon111. They have been extremely helpful in the journey and if you are at all curious, I would suggest checking them out.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Teratoma - released

Sorry I'm lagging on the Serge post, it's coming. This is short though.

Just wanted to say that my first modular album, Teratoma, has been released. Just inside the deadline of the Muff 2008 Artist Challenge. The collections are composed almost entirely of the eurorack modular, except for a few cases where a hand is leant from the MachineDrum and Monomachine, and in one case, a Piano sample patch in Logic.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Long time no post

I'm very sorry for my long absence from the blog here. I'm rather ashamed of it and it's due to little more than lack of time and laziness. Mostly laziness.

What small amount of free time I've had over the last couple months has been devoted to trying to finish up tracks for an upcoming EP/Full length and just general hanging around on the Muff forum. Unfortunately for the blog here, all of my modular-related ramblings and thoughts are getting dumped there and not here.

Time for a change.

To catch you up a bit, in the midst of working on these new tracks, I also got bit by the bug to start performing live again. I've never performed with a synth before, but played a lot of guitar with the bands I've been in over the years. I miss performing for people. So, with that in mind, I started looking at ways to achieve that again. Using a laptop and triggering loops was more or less out of the question. I don't want to look like I'm checking my email in front of everyone, and for the most part it's very uninteresting to the audience, in my opinion anyway. The next step was to work with the SP-404 and come up with different textured loops that I could layer, turning on and off, along with the MachineDrum. I got started with building up loops and it quickly became an aweful, and uninspiring chore. The "sets" that I came up with were not very fun either. The sounds were static and interacting with them was rather...well...uninspiring. At that point my thoughts turned to using a modular live, but clearly the monstercase would be very cumbersome to lug around (although fun to look at, if facing the audience) and of course, had no way to quickly switch patches. And I wanted some dynamic way that I could interact with it, both via some sort of sequencer (which could be handled by the MD + Kenton) as well as some sort of "touch controller".

Enter the Buchla 200e.

First, some history on my exposure to the 200e. It was the first modular system that I looked at when considering buying a modular system. I saw the booth at NAMM and it certainly was the most visually appealing system, and the fact that it folded up *and* had preset recall was like the greatest thing ever. Had the price at the time (and now) not seemed completely out of my range, I would have went for it. The other formats were much more economical.

The 200e satisfied many of the "live performance" criteria I had set for myself.
-High functional density
-Ease of setting up patches (preset recall)
-Performance oriented interface (namely, the 222e touchplate)
-It looks fucking cool (ok, that wasn't a requirement, but it is a bonus)

After much toiling and going back and forth on pros/cons for what seemed like months, much of which went on in an epic thread on the Muff forum, I finally came to the decision that I was not going to invest in a Buchla. The main cons were:

-Sound. It doesn't sound bad, it's just not quite my thing...not for that price
-Price. It's not unobtainable, but it would be a significant investment.
-Having to give up Euro. Most of it anyway...part of the previous con.

There were other small negatives too. Audio and CV are different signal paths, some "quirky" behavior with certain features, not the end-all-be-all in flexibility. All of these were personal opinions though, and many of the reasons for these designs were quite valid - I'm not devaluing the system at all. It's just stuff that I did not particularly like and if I was going to make that kind of financial commitment, I had to like it.

Interestingly enough, I picked up a Monomachine MKII. I had begun to miss the MKI (which I had traded, along with my MD MKI, for an MD mkII) and felt I did not give the little guy a fair shake the first time around. I was right and I'm very much enjoying having the MnM back again.

However, a new "problem" arouse. As part of the research into the 200e, I was constantly comparing my current Euro system with the Buchla, in particular looking at what the Buchla could do and what my Euro could not (well, to be more clear, what it could not do as easily or achieve in a more streamlined manner). But what I took away was what I found to be shortcomings of my system, and to some degree, the Euro format/lineup.

Enter The Serge.

Stay Tuned.