Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Refreshing Change

Made a little change - can you tell what it is? The sharp-eyed among you might have said "Hey, you have a silver-faced Rosie now!"

You are correct! As my friends already know, I'm a complete tweak about certain things, and panel coloring is one of them. When he saw my setup, Wes Milholen of dropped me a line with an offer for a grayscale panel for my black-faced Rosie and I jumped at the option. That had always seemed like a bad anchor to the lower right of my system, and I was hoping it would be as cool as the PEG and Ardcore panels were.

And it is. Love it - thanks, Wes, for keeping our systems clean looking!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This Week in Northern Cali

Writing from Dillon Beach, CA, where I'm at a little work retreat with my teammates...

If you get the Cycling '74 newsletter, today you'll be seeing a bigger version of the above image, along with my rave-ola about a Max for Live tool I've started using for quick-hit track creation. But the key to the device - and my excitement about it - is the use of the iPad and the Mira app to control it.

This is a kind of 'modular' that I really like: moving functionality to appropriate devices in order to better serve the artist. Moving this user interface (and, in fact, many interfaces) to something like an iPad makes the system more focused, easier for the audience to appreciate (rather than seeing your head stuck inside a laptop lid) but maintains the full value of your computer/software/plug-in investment. This, control surfaces (like the Maschine, Push 2 and Livid Alias 8 - all of which I currently use) and Arduino-based sensor systems all provide alternative interfaces to your work, and represent one of the exciting futures of modular-based artistry.

Right now, I've been diving back into C++ and writing an extreme looper for my live use - I want something as versatile as the RC-404, but with a little less clown makeup and a few more channels and options. I also want to prevent menu diving - which is at the heart of the 404. So I'm writing the heart of a looper in C++, embedding it into a Max object, then building the interface in Max - and exposing with Mira.

I'm not sure that Max people have paid attention to what's happened with Mira lately. The price was dropped to $10, it now has a wired USB option (for Mac computers) and is a lot more stable. It's been incredibly stable for me, and is going to be Main Interface #1 for my looper system. I'll make sure I do a video as this develops...


Monday, September 19, 2016

Keystep Power Test

So, whenever I get a cool piece of gear that can work standalone - and that can run off of USB power - my first idea is "Oh man, I could just run that off the power on the Synthwerks LAMP-1 module!"

I can hear James from Synthwerks crying from here!

I know I'm not supposed to do this, and I'm sure that I'm risking clouds of locusts and hot hail, but it seems worth a try, right? A few things that I've tried in the past:

- McMillen Qunexus (worked as far as I could tell - the damned stereo output prevented a deep test).
- Arturia BeatStep Pro (did not work - too much amperage draw).
- Monome (it just laughed at me - in that evil Vincent Price laugh).

Since the KeyStep has a lot fewer blingy lights and stuff, I thought it would be worth a try. I wasn't too hopeful, though - the back has a plug for a 9VDC, .5 Amp input. If it actually needs .5/9V, it wasn't going to be happy with the output of the LAMP-1.

And it wasn't. In testing everything, I was able to get note and modulation CV voltages out, but the gate didn't produce enough of a voltage bump to wake up my Intellijel Dual ADSR or my Maths. Further testing, which included running the gate through the CV Tools (so I could buffer, amp-up and monitor the voltage) proved that I couldn't get anything decent even through that combo.

Now, there's nothing saying I couldn't just use a USB-power wart for this purpose. In fact, for you, I tried that as well. I grabbed the first crappy USB-wart I could find (this one was from some P.O.S. Asus Android tablet that I had, or maybe it was from an old Kindle), plugged it in, and everything worked perfectly: good CV and Mod voltage, good gates firing up any and all envelopes. Everything (including the sequencer and arp) worked fine, and I dropped a bit of time having fun with that.

In fact, the Keystep is just that: a fantastic sink-hole of fun. My word to you...


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Finding a Good Poly Pairing

So, as I'm reworking the writing/performing rig, I've got some decisions to make. Probably the most difficult for me is the selection of a polysynth. I'd love to have a hardware poly, but I just don't have the cash right now; instead, I need to choose from among the plug-ins that I currently have in my library.

My first thought was to focus on the Korg Legacy Polysix. The Polysix (which, IRL, is my favorite keyboard in history) works pretty well, but I find it incredibly unfulfilling. Why? I have no freakin' idea. For some reason, the UI makes me avoid making my own presets, and it's no fun to twiddle in real time. It also has That Virtual Analog Sound - a little hollow, not quite loose enough - in a way that doesn't work for me. So... not that.

The other obvious one is Madrona Labs' Aalto. I love this synth; for me, it is the Buchla that I want without having to write a check to Fake Buchla Inc. And it poly's up OK - a little heavy on the overhead, but generally worth it. It's also fun to program (although a touch small for live tweaking). If I have pause about it, it is that sometimes the patches are a little overwhelming, so a 4-voice chord can make All The Noise. So this is one that I'll use, but I also have to craft the right patches for the gig.

Next up on the checklist is Absynth, but I'm having problems buying in. Not sure why, because I've been using Absynth for as long as it's been around. Maybe I'm just exhausted with "the same ol'" and need something new - which reminds me...

I did a review of the Arturia recreation of the Synclavier, and that gives me some of the poly movement that I normally get from Absynth, but a different perspective (and programming interface) to spice things up. Maybe this is the tool-of-choice. Gonna give it a try, anyway.

So there you go - stream of consciousness decision-making right in front of you, but now I've got a plan. Aalto with some careful patch development, and Arturia Synclav for wash-y move-y stuff. Let's see how it goes!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Maschine has the Driver's Wheel (ATM)

Started playing around with a different setup - one that would allow me to change up my play environment from my work environment. I ended up pairing my Maschine (v1) on a Windows box with my modular, and am in the process of adding a few select plug-ins to the Maschine setup to round things out (mainly, a few effects and a polysynth or two).

The first thing I had to do was to make a group/sound for the modular to be sequence by - and to be mixed into - the Maschine workflow. This was pretty basic; I just had to make a sound that did MIDI out and audio in, then set up a keyboard layout to suit. Works fine, and the new arpeggiators and scale modes are quite easy to use.

But I really depend on one thing in Live that isn't available with Maschine: a tuner. I could use that hardware tuner I wired up a few months ago, but it would be nice if it was built into the system. Luckily, I ran across the MeldaProduction MTuner plug-in. It is part of their MFreeEffectsBundle, and was easy enough to drop into the machine (and not necessarily install a bunch of other goop). Pairing this into the user preset for my modular sound/group and I am set.

Similar to my experience working with the Push and Push 2 devices, I have a tendency to write things completely different than I do with a keyboard. Loads of fun, and a neat jumble-up of my system.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Doepfer A-185-2 Breakdown

Tom Hall put a comment into a previous post about the Doepfer A-185-2 module, and reminded me that I’ve really wanted to talk about what an exceptional and useful module it could be for almost anyone, but especially someone that is focused on maintaining 1 V/Oct pitch scaling even when you are heavily modulating the pitch. It’s called a “Precision CV Added”, which is pretty clear labeling: it adds CV voltages, but maintains a strict throughput of 1 V/Oct scaling.

Prior to getting this module, I tried modulating using smaller and/or ‘cooler’ modules such as the Intellijel Unity Mixer, my Synovatron CV Tools and a variety of other mixers. If the mixers didn’t have any gain (Unity, Manhattan), the pitch CV would lag – and octaves weren’t matching up. Mixers with gain could scale up to suit, but were almost impossible to tune correctly – it’s really hard to tune scaling. Then I stumbled on the A-185-2 and haven’t gone without at least one ever since then.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Precision mixing: This is the core duty of the 185. You put in your 1 V/Oct pitch voltage (from a MIDI-to-CV converter or sequencer), then add other voltages that will be used to create exponential pitch modulations. LFO’s, other oscillators, envelopes, slews – you can spend months trying every voltage in your system as a pitch modulation. Huge fun!
  • Attenuated precision mixing: Put your primary pitch voltage into any input other than the top one. Then put a modulation into the top voltage and use the attenuator to set the modulation amount. This control is a simple attenuator for the top-most input, but it really handy for FM and vibrato effects.
  • Pitch and Modulation Inversion: The switch on each input allows you to turn on (left), turn off (center) or invert (left) the input’s effect on the mix. You can do some rather insane stuff, including keyboard inversion (invert the pitch input), more complex mixing (invert some envelopes for dipped modulation) and performance-time on/off switching. But the inversion is something that takes practice before you fall in love.
  • Octave switching: A secret addition to this module is the fact that 1V voltage is normalled to each input. This means that any inputs that don’t have voltages coming in can be used to add (+ switched) or subtract (- switched) and octave from the main CV input. Since there are multiple CV inputs, you can actually add/subtract up to 3 octaves in addition to the standard voltage input.
  • Arbitrary pitch shifting: That top-most input channel is really special; not only does it normal to 1V input, but that 1V value runs through the attenuator. So you can set this channel to go down a fifth (7 semitones) to create more interesting pitch sequencing. Now, if you have this set up to a fifth, and use one of the other channels for octave switching, you can go [- octave], [- fifth], [unshifted], [+ fourth], [+ octave]. Put in a simple sequence, but actively switch between these options and you’ll find a real nice location for live performance.
  • Buffered multiple: Whatever is created from the precision mix is sent out all three outputs – and these are buffered. So you can use them for oscillator inputs and never get any pitch sag.
  • Output flip: There is also an inverted output, which may seem a little silly – except that some functions (like FM routing) can actually benefit from inverted output. I see so few people trying inverted modulation – and this dedicated output is actually a good reminder to keep trying it out!

Hopefully this gives you a reason to give this module a try. Totally worth the $99 you’ll have to spend to get one into your system.


Recording Magazine Review - Softube Console 1

Recording Magazine, September 2016

Just a heads up: The latest issue of Recording Magazine has my review of the Softube Console 1; I took it for a very long drive and wrote up my experience for the folks in Boulder. No spoilers here, but a quick spin through the mag (available at B&N and other magazine retailers) will give you the gist.

BTW, you should support these music magazines! A subscription costs less than a pack of cheap patch cables. And after all is said and done, if you are playing your modular but not recording it, did it actually make a sound?