Finally took delivery of a Synthesis Technology E560 Deflector Shield today! This first patch tweaks the speed of the frequency shift in reaction to the volume of John Cage‘s speech. The louder John Cage speaks, the more bubbly and swirly he sounds. Sounds wicked sci-fi in headphones. 🙂
It’s rainy here so I made some cosmic trickling noises.
I start with a clock signal. That clock signal goes into a random shift register which spits out a different new voltage every time the clock ticks. The voltage goes into a voltage-controlled filter with its resonance control set high so it’ll ring if it stays on one voltage for more than a fraction of a second.
The bandpass output of that filter goes into the aux path of a (crunchy) digital delay – this means there’s feedback path between the delay and the filter which “remembers” what noise the filter was just making and feeds it back to the filter as an input. This creates a subtle fade effect from one “drip” to the next.
It’s been 6 to 12 August 2017. I made some progress on Shot 3 and cocky is now dancing!
In terms of timing and action beats, this shot feels good to me. I’ll polish up the animation and maybe fiddle with the materials a bit more before I render it out, and then it’s onto shot 4.
I wanted to produce AAAAAAAAA on a two week schedule per shot, but that momentum is hard to maintain alongside the modular synthesiser stuff, getting an adequate amount of downtime from the day job, etc. I’m still doing a ton of things by hand though – rigging/skinning, materials, modelling, etc. There’s almost certainly some workflow wins to be had by using resources that already exist. Rigging and materials in particular come to mind – it’s not like I haven’t got Blenrig and Cycles Material Vault sitting there idle. Something to look into!
That’s all from the world of AAAAAAAAAAAAAA this week. (Truly, any amount of As more than eight is fine.) For synthesiser-related bits, stay tuned! 🙂
What’s a DASYRAC then?
DASYRAC is my voltage-controlled Eurorack modular synthesiser. It’s a synthesiser because it creates positive and negative voltages which turn into vaguely musical positive and negative sound waves when they’re sent through a speaker coil. It’s modular because it’s built up from modules and instruments which each have a specific role to perform in the process of synthesis. It’s Eurorack because the modules use Doepfer’s Eurorack specfications for size (3U) and voltage (+/- 12V & +5V supply rails, plus gate and pitch CV buses which only Doepfer’s modules seem to use).
Finally, it’s voltage-controlled because the modules are connected by patch cable and signal one another using voltages. Signal types include:
- triggers – a very short pip of steady positive voltage used trigger a modulation source or function generator, reset a sequence, etc
- clocks – a series of short triggers used for timing, usually evenly spaced
- gates – a sustained steady positive voltage which is held “high” for the length of a note or other event
- modulation – a non-steady voltage which is used to control module functions
- pitch – a voltage which is used to represent the pitch of a note, where one volt corresponds to one octave (1v/oc); usually steady, but not always
- audio – a varying voltage which rapidly swings positive and negative and is intended to be heard at some point
Because they’re all made of the same stuff (flowing electrons), these signals can play one another’s roles – audio and gate signals can both be a modulation source, sufficiently fast clocks can be an audio source, audio can also be a clock source, pitch can be a modulation source, modulation can be a pitch source, and triggers can even be an audio source as long as you’re into snaps and clicks. Part of the fun of modular synthesisers is just seeing what happens when you connect modules together in unconventional ways.
Here’s a recent photo of a cable-free DASYRAC with colour-coding to show what the different modules do. If a module has more than one function, it gets more than one colour.
The multicoloured thing at the bottom left is a Make Noise 0-Coast synthesiser – it’s not a Eurorack module itself, but it can patch into and out of DASYRAC just fine. As you can see, it’s like a tiny self-contained modular system in and of itself. There’s also an ARP Odyssey floating around somewhere.
Everything starts with a supply of tasty electrons from two power supplies (in red). All the active modules connect to the two power supplies at the back by ribbon cable.
- Middle row: 4ms Row Power 30
- Bottom row: Tiptop uZeus
The green modules are audio sources. They speficially create oscillating voltages which are intended to be heard aloud at some point. Some are more fully featured than others – the green module in the centre top row is an entire self-contained instrument – it’s a recreation of the clap sound from a Roland TR-909. Audio sources which produce a musical tone – oscillators – have a 1V/Oct socket which takes a pitch voltage. The green module at the top left is a sound playback instrument.
- Top row: Music Thing Modular Radio Music (digital sample player); Music Thing Modular Turing Machine (noise source); Mutant Clap (TR-909 clap instrument)
- Middle row: Befaco Even VCO (saw-core analogue oscillator)
- Bottom row: Doepfer A-110-4 QZVCO (through-zero quadrature sine wave oscillator); Befaco Crush Delay (crackly lo-fi digital noise); Bastl Instruments Noise Squared (digital square oscillators and noise sources)
- Tabletop: Make Noise 0-Coast (triangle and square oscillator)
- Not shown: Korg ARP Odyssey (fixed-architecture synthesiser which can be run as a plain CV-controlled dual oscillator if need be)
The blue modules are “non-audio” voltage sources and include function generators like the Rampage, step sequencers like the SQ-1, procedural sequencers and clock sources like Tuesday, and random voltage generators like Turing Machine. Their job is to provide discrete or continuous voltages which can drive melodies, rhythms, filters, or whatever else accepts voltage control. If they’re running fast enough, voltage sources can also be used as oscillators in their own right.
- Top row: Befaco Joystick (gate source and fun voltage generator); Music Thing Modular Turing Machine (random voltage & trigger generator); Hexinverter Galilean Moons (two slope/attack-sustain-release generators)
- Middle row: Befaco Rampage (dual complex function generator); TINRS Tuesday (procedural phrase sequencer and clock source)
- Bottom row: Sonic Potions Mal-2 (random smooth voltage generator)
- Tabletop: Make Noise 0-Coast (MIDI-to-CV converter; low frequency oscillator source; clock generator; stepped random voltage generator; simple slope function generator; attack-decay-sustain-release envelope generator); Korg SQ-1 (simple sequencer)
- Not shown: Arturia Beatstep Pro (complex sequencer with 2 x gate, modulation and pitch channels, 16 x trigger channels, clock source, etc); Arturia Keystep (keyboard with gate, modulation and pitch out ); Korg ARP Odyssey (gate, trigger and pitch source)
If the voltage sources put out voltages which aren’t quite right, that’s where the orange modules come into play. These modules are for manipulating voltages in different ways.
- Top row: Befaco Joystick (adds/subtracts incoming voltage); Befaco Dual Attenuverter (multiplies incoming voltage then offsets it)
- Middle row: Worng Electronics 3×3 mult (routes incoming voltage to multiple places); Thonk AT-AT-AT (triple signal attenuator to make things quieter); Befaco Rampage (turns gates into attack-sustain-release slopes); Erica Synths Pico Input (dual signal amplifier to make things louder); Mutable Instruments Links (makes exact copy of incoming voltage and sends to multiple destinations); Doepfer A-151 Sequence Switch (voltage controlled signal router); Befaco Slew Limiter (limits the rate of change of incoming voltage)
- Bottom row: CMF Half-Wave Rectifier (splits off positive and negative halves of incoming voltage); Befaco Sampling Modulator (samples and holds incoming voltage when triggered); Sonic Potions Penrose (quantises incoming voltage to equally tempered steps); Worng Electronics 3×3 mult
- Tabletop: Make Noise 0-Coast (signal attenuverter and summer)
The yellow modules are the effects and filters. Filters in particular make the incoming sound quieter at particular frequencies and also colour the sound in characteristic and desirable ways. They are “voltage controlled filters” (VCFs) because they take an input voltage to control their cutoff frequency, which is the frequency where the filters take effect. There’s also some effects modules for even more retro colour. Many of these modules can be made to create noises of their own without any input, which also makes them audio sources in their own right!
- Top row: RYO Aperture LPG (low pass gate, also usable as a VCA); Music Thing Modular Simple EQ (two-band EQ and EQ “tilter”)
- Middle row: Befaco Chopping Kinky (dual wavefolder); Doepfer A-106-6 XP VCF (state variable voltage controlled filter based on the Oberheim Xpander); Doepfer A-199 Spring Reverb (mechanical reverberation effect)
- Bottom row: Vintage Synth Lab VCF-74 (serial highpass and lowpass filter based on the Korg Minkorg 700s); Befaco Crush Delay (circuit-bent delay effect)
- Tabletop: Make Noise 0-Coast (integrated wavefolder and waveshaper)
- Not shown: Korg ARP Odyssey (switchable vintage low pass filter with CV cutoff control via the pedal input)
Violet modules are a special thing called VCAs – voltage controlled amplifiers/attenuators. A VCA takes two signals – an input and a modulating signal – and outputs a quieter/louder version of the input signal with amplitude/volume tracking the modulating signal. VCAs are where a long steady beeeeep sound is contoured into a short pip or a long mournful wail. Even better: a quadrature VCA can invert the incoming signal – chuck a sine wave into it as a modulator and you’ve got Dalek voices.
- Top row: RYO Aperture LPG (also usable as a VCF); Hexinverter Galilean Moons (with integrated envelope generator)
- Bottom row: Befaco A*B+C (dual full quadrature VCA with offset, also usable as a mixer); Bastl Instruments Skis (character VCA with integrated envelope generator)
- Tabletop: Make Noise 0-Coast (VCA stage including overdrive)
The last set of modules in indigo is for combining signals together. The modules can mix audio as well as control voltages.
- Top row: Bastl Instruments ABC (dual three channel mixer); Worng Electronics LRMSMSLR (left-right to mid-side encoder/decoder)
- Middle row: Doepfer A-138a linear mixer (four channel mixer with CV source on channel 1); Mutable Instruments Links (two channel unity gain mixer; three channel mixer)
- Bottom row: Doepfer A-185-2 Precision Adder (for combining pitch signals together, e.g. to transpose them)
Overall, DASYRAC is an eclectic system with features from the mainstream East Coast school (character filters, rich saw/pulse oscillators), the artier West Coast school (waveshapers, function generators, sequencers, low pass gates), old timey classics (spring reverb, shift register noise) and fun new possibilities (digital audio playback).
If you want to hear the sounds I’ve been making with it lately, check out my SoundCloud.
It’s been 30 July to 5 August 2017. I took this week away from the day job to relax and recharge, catch up on some movies, maybe get Shot 3 of AAAAAAAAA done. but mostly I wanted to get on top of an impending backlog of soldering.
The soldering I managed, and I made at least some progress on the middle goal too!
This cute little cockatoo will be riding the cactus in Shot 3. I want to have it rigged and ready to animate tomorrow. Since I have no more synthesiser kits to build, that could very possibly actually happen…
On Monday I’m back at the day job next week and I’ll be hitting the ground running, so we shall see whether this cocky gets to dance or not. Hope so!
It’s been 23 to 29 July 2017. I’ve got a week of leave booked for the week coming during a lull in the big day job project – and it looks like the weather will be nice and clear! Yay!
I made some progress on Shot 3 of AAAAAAAAAAAAAA last week – I modelled and rigged a cactus, and I got started making a bird. I’m aiming to finish off Shot 3 in the next couple of days by modelling, rigging and texturing the bird then animating and rendering it all After that, I can start thinking about Shot 4 and maybe even do some preliminary sound mix between tossing around scene ideas.
In bleepier news, my modular synthesiser (DASYRAC) is nearly out of capacity. Both of the power supplies are getting close to their limits, and the physical racks are so full of modules that I’ll be pulling older/redundant modules out to make room for more useful ones. There’s a lot of sourcing parts, waiting for postal services and soldering in my future, but it’s nice that I’m hitting a natural stopping point.
Thing is, I haven’t really talked very much about DASYRAC or the whole modular synthesiser bit in this blog aside from mentioning dead op amps and soldering burns from time to time. It’s a huge thread of my creative efforts that’s been all but invisible here, and that’s a bit weird because I’ve spent way more time creating voltages than pixels lately. There’s really no good reason not to mix it up a bit in the blog too.
That said, modular synthesisers are esoteric little beasts that take a fair bit of introducing to the layperson. It’s probably worth doing a blog entry about all by itself..
Editorial note: This entry was originally way more downbeat than it is now, so I decided to rewrite it to help consider my situation in a different light. Sorry for the wordiness.
It’s been 16 to 22 July 2017 and what a week I’ve had: a 2:15am finish on Thursday night; the emergency phase of this high-visibility high-priority project that I’m technical lead on got extended for an extra week; trying to get fit enough to do an hour of exercise a day, doctor’s orders.
End result? My sleep is super out of whack and I’ve been too tired to unleash whimsical mayhem on my grey cyclorama world. I honestly thought going into AAAAAAAAAAAA that I’d have the capacity to come up with a new scene every two weeks, but for reasons both within and beyond my control I’ve lost my focus and it hasn’t worked out that way.
To elucidate further: animation demands focus and patience and confidence. If I go in tired then I can’t think straight, I’m put off by the thought of sustained mental effort, and I can’t even decide whether I like an idea because I don’t have the presence of mind to give it lucid consideration. The extra hours of screen-staring are not great for my neck or back either. So the project waits for when I’m feeling up to it, whenever that is. If at all.
Accordingly, it’s been yet another slow-going seven days for poor old Shot 3. I’ve got a shot plan and character designs which were OK last I checked, so I’m theoretically ready to wrestle a happy little bird and/or a cactus out of Blender tomorrow. I might even get far enough to animate something.
Lately though I’ve been giving much more attention to music-related stuff than animation. Maybe it’s just the novelty of getting to be creative without a computer being intimately involved, maybe it’s just a relief to follow a procedure to get a working module instead of having to make creative decisions, maybe it’s because I’m learning interesting things in a new field, maybe it’s because I’m compulsively buying these kits and haven’t begun to deal with it like the expensive addiction it is, maybe it’s because playing with a synthesiser is something I can do while I’m tired and animation really isn’t.
If I’m being super honest, music is OK but I get a lot more out of unleashing whimsical mayhem than I do from soldering together linear shift register based clap modules or patching up envelope-controlled through-zero frequency modulation. It’s not like waveforms have silly muppet eyes, though sometimes my patches make cool shapes in a phase scope.
So even though I’m a bit stalled, I still want to keep going with AAAAAAAAAA at whatever pace I can manage because I need that kind of giddy absurd childish fun in my life and I want to build my animation-making skills up without intensive pre-production. I won’t always be able to knock out a new scene every two weeks, and that’s an annoyance because if I get stuck with an idea for too long I can’t help but tinker with it as it gets stale for me, but I’m sure I’ll suss it out if I can just switch off my soldering iron for a bit and show my animation some love again.
It’s been 9 to 15 July 2017. I don’t have anything close to a preview of Shot 3 yet – it’s been a week of lost evenings, product releases at the day job, visits from interstate and a pressing need for rest. Shot 3 and its bird/cactus japery is just going to take a while longer and that’s that.
Someone asked how I did the “zip” (smear) effect in Shot 2 and whether I used motion blur. I didn’t! It’s just extreme scaling on a few single frames.
Here’s the shot in motion (again):
And here’s stills of the smear frames where the head monk appears.
Here’s a screengrab from Blender:
The X and Z scale values are both 0.142 because I built the base character much bigger than it ended up being in the final scene, so I had to scale it down. The Y scale value is 1.492, over ten times the value of X and Z. This distorts the rig considerably along the length of the base bone.
This means the character covers a lot of the screen, and in a single frame I can draw the attention of the audience to what this little purple guy is up to. It ups the cartooniness, it strengthens the staging, and as long as the zip frames are spaced so that they have obvious visual continuity (i.e. no large spatial gap from one frame to the next), it’s a lot of impact for not very much time spent.
If I’d had more time, I’d have added a frame where the monk is distorted in more of a curve to follow the contour of the ground rising up into the pyramid, but it’s fine without it. (Next time for sure!)
There can be no discussion of smears and zips and such without linking a certain Chuck Jones short which is chock full of great smear effects. Who needs motion blur?
See you next week!
It’s been 1 to 8 July 2017. As hoped, I have a shot! Hurray!
As you can see, the animation is steppy instead of smooth and interpolated. This is a deliberate choice – I want to focus on the editing/writing/directing part more than finessing F-Curves. Even with less polished animation, everything still has to be staged and timed, making sure there’s only one thing to focus on at once, etc.
This took about 24 hours to render using a nightly build of Blender 2.79 with the new denoising feature. Blender 2.79 is going to be a massive release by the way – aforementioned render denoising, Troy Sobotka’s awesome filmic look-up-tables and the new principled ubershader are all looking awesome.
I have my next shot idea – there’s a bird in a tree – but nothing to show off yet. Please enjoy this video of musician and sound designer Oskar Sala playing his Trautonium in the meantime. (Sorry, can’t embed.) The thing with the dial on it is an analogue frequency shifter.
See you next week!
That was 25 June to 1 July 2017.
As feared, this week completely wiped me out and left little time for making the funnies. To top it all off, it’s very cold and rainy this weekend.
But I got a little bit done. Here’s a work in progress pyramid worshipper. This little person is a replacement for the stick figure from the original part of the shot. (I think I might have another shot at making the triangle.)
Next week should be less hectic and see the completion of Shot 2. See you then!