All posts by quollism

About quollism

A creator of quollity stuff.

March 2018 round-up

Welcome to March 2018 – the month of the Cambridge Analytica scandal on the Internet, a ball-tampering scandal in Australia and a big-arse broken drill here in Perth.

In happier news, eastern quolls have been reintroduced to the Australian mainland after going extinct there, and both Krita 4.0 and Blender 2.79b came out in March 2018 too! Yay!

Here’s what I got up to.

Synthesiser!

Two new Eurorack modules arrived this month:

  • Befaco MIDI Thing (kit, racked up 6 March 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Erica Synths Graphic VCO (26 March 2018) [modulargrid]

The MIDI Thing has a simple but useful job: I can now drive my modular synth from my computer’s sequencer like any other external or virtual instrument, allowing finely controlled Nikmis-style baroque electronica… or whatever, I just link to Nikmis whenever I can.

The Graphic VCO is a multiple wavetable oscillator which allows etch-a-sketch style wave-cycle editing from the module itself. Its sound hearkens back to the gritty lo-fi digital scratch of Waldorf’s PPG Wave synths from the 1980s. Here’s a little sample with notes and modulation data coming from the TiNRS Tuesday.

 

After buying yet another set of dud bucket brigade delay chips off the interweb, I’ve abandoned the 106 Chorus build again. There’s too much counterfeit crap out there and I don’t want that chorus enough to keep buying duds. Yet.

Animation!

For now I want to keep upskilling with CGC’s awesome animation courses, then see how I go with texturing and painting. When Blender 2.8 is stable and feature-complete enough to make a short movie with, I’ll hop back into Fishtank and use it as a way of familiarising myself with this new version.

Also I drew a random monster bandicoot in gumboots thing. Maybe he’d be a good character build. What do you think?

Hello!

Animation exercises

I’m a couple of exercises shy of finishing CG Cookie’s Animation Bootcamp course. Here’s my exercise submissions for this month, starting with hand-animated physics to develop timing and spacing, then bringing in squash & stretch, drag/overlap and even some character animation!

The bowling ball here is OK but the other balls… eh…

This one is technically good but a little unexciting. It’s surprisingly fiddly to make a ball roll believably over a sharp point. Really proud I pulled it off.

Squash and stretch comes in here and I’m still a bit green with keeping it consistent.

These motion graphics are a little rough on the settle and lack a bit of whoosh on the zoom.

This is the first bit of character animation we got to do in the course. Pretty happy with how it turned out!

This exercise was about hand-animating drag and follow-through into the antenna. We got given a swoop motion to start with but I redid it. The anticipation came out a little bit “square” and the settle needs work, but the antenna work is pretty good!

The last two assignments are both walk cycles. I wanted to have them finished by the end of the month, but the day job is getting more intense and walk cycles are kind of hard.

Thanks for catching up with me. If you’ve got questions or comments, feel free to fire them at me on Mastodon or Twitter. 🙂

February 2018 in effect!

Here’s my February 2018. Let’s get into it.

Synthemabits

This month’s new Eurorack modules include

  • Music Thing Modular Chord Organ (kit, 1 February 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Joranalogue Compare 2 dual window comparator/logic module (12 February 2018) [modulargrid]

The Chord Organ I wrote a post about jazzy chords I’m trying with the Chord Organ, including a configuration to copy and paste.

The Compare 2 is a smartly implemented window comparator system that also makes a cute little robot face when doing its thing.

compare 2 has a face and that face is :E

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I experimentally tried streaming my patching sessions too. This is a 44 minute jam which starts off a bit slowly but it finds some nice little moments!

Movies and animation

Fishtank is parked because I’ve decided there’s something I need to deal with first.

Since I set myself the goal of becoming someone who makes animated movies, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about and getting practical experience in the pre-production bits. When it comes to outlines, thumbnails, storyboards, animatics and even 3D layout, I’m confident. But I’m too comfortable there to draw a line and move on from it.

At the beginning of this year, I resolved to work on smaller self-contained projects and exercises without extra strings attached. The effervescent Looch Muñoz posted an animation which brought home that I’d never looked into literal animation to any practical extent. So this month I dusted off my old CG Cookie account and got started on their Animation Bootcamp course.

For a few days, my spare time was all about the balls.

At the same time as I was learning how to see timing and spacing and how to manipulate them into illusions of mass and force, I felt like I was rediscovering my tenacity too. I was sticking with it. I was pushing through. I was learning.

I did four exercises over four days. I had a head of steam up. When it came time for exercise five and comparative ball bounces (basketball versus tennis ball versus bowling ball), my frustration got the better of me. I knew enough to know that I wasn’t getting as close as I ought to. My intuitions had outpaced my abilities.

This resulted in some impressively dedicated procrastination where I spent several nights in a row getting 24,000 words into an urban fantasy novella before writing myself into a corner and getting mired in rewrite hell. I’ve got it out of my system now, though. Sort of. (Not really.)

Animation-wise, I want to finish the rest of Animation Bootcamp as a priority. Having someone check my work and provide crit is invaluable. Beyond that I also want to tackle Wayne’s other animation courses at CGC to get my eye and confidence up many notches to where the prospect of animating doesn’t put me off so much any more.

And maybe in the process I’ll rediscover my tenacity again. That would be great too.

Jazz chords for the Music Thing Modular Chord Organ

The Music Thing Modular Chord Organ is a digital chord player for Eurorack. It is inspired by instruments like the Bontempi Organ where you press a button and get a chord. It’s also one of the cheapest ways to get polyphony in Eurorack.

The default chords didn’t do much for me though because I like jazzy chords! I came up with a quick palette of five-note chords which derive from some common musical scales. So if you’ve got your own Chord Organ and want to get jazzy, copy and paste this into the Chord Organ Config Generator, save it to your SD card and enjoy!

1 [0,4,7,9,14] major 6-9 chord
2 [0,4,7,11,16] major seventh
3 [0,3,7,10,15] minor seventh
4 [0,4,7,10,16] seventh
5 [0,3,6,10,15] minor seventh flat fifth
6 [0,3,7,11,15] minor major seventh
7 [0,3,6,9,15] diminished seventh
8 [0,4,8,11,16] major seventh sharp fifth
9 [0,3,7,9,14] minor 6-9 chord
10 [0,4,8,10,16] seventh sharp fifth
11 [0,4,6,10,16] seventh flat fifth
12 [0,4,8,12,16] augmented triad
13 [0,2,7,10,14] seventh suspended second
14 [0,5,7,10,14] ninth suspended fourth
15 [0,5,7,10,17] seventh suspended fourth
16 [0,7,12,0,7] fifth

If you haven’t got a Chord Organ but you’re a Euroracker and you want one, Thonk sells Chord Organ kits. It’s pretty easy to build too! And if you don’t know the first thing about jazz or music theory, have a play with them anyway. 🙂

The music theory parts for people who aren’t nauseated or enraged by music theory

The scales are the major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor and whole tone scales. There’s a couple of six-nine chords and suspended sevenths thrown in there to make up the sixteen. Each chord is voiced with five notes with the high note representing the tonality (minor, major or suspended). There’s a fifth right at the end in case the jazziness gets too much.

The relationship between chords and scales is useful to know because of the way chords reveal their originating scales four notes at a time. If you stick with chords 2 to 5, no matter what notes you play, you get a noticeably different harmonic colour from chords 3-10.

Here’s the scales which the chords belong to:

    major and natural minor scale seventh chords: 2 3 4 5 13 14 15harmonic minor scale seventh chords: 4 5 6 7 8 10melodic minor scale seventh chords: 3 4 5 6 8whole tone scale seventh chords: 11 12

And here’s how they derive from those scales:

  • major scale: 2 3 3 2 4 3 5 (Ima7 IImi7 IIImi7 IVma7 V7 VImi7 VIImi7b5)
  • natural minor scale: 3 5 2 3 3 2 4 (Imi7 IImi7b5 bIIIma7 IVmi7 Vmi7 bVIma7 bVII7)
  • harmonic minor scale: 6 5 10 3 4 2 7 (Imi/ma7 IImi7b5 bIII7#5 IVmi7 V7 bVIma7 VIIIdim7)
  • melodic minor scale: 6 3 8 4 4 5 (Imi/ma7 IImi7 bIIIma7#5 IV7 V7 VImi7b5 VIImi7b5)

The whole tone scale is symmetrical so chords 10 11 and 12 work fine from any degree of the scale. And there’s probably some other jazz scales those chords fit into as well.

January 2018 recap

Welcome to my January 2018 recap!

Other Perth folk will probably remember this fire..

the Tinies watch the #perthfire smoke drift over

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And of course we all remember the eclipse..

..but what did I get up to this month? Read on!

Synthesisery bits

I got a ribbon controller this month! It’s pretty cool!

I’ve loved the sound of the ondes Martenot ever since I heard it for the first time in the original “Ghostbusters” movie (pretty much the first thing in the movie you hear!). The ondes has a continuous controller called a “ruban” (as well as a keyboard), which is how it achieves those sweeping quivering notes.

The ribbon controller I got this month lets me have that some of that same expressiveness, and by expressiveness I mean hitting the wrong note a lot and having to cover it up with vibrato. Practice makes perfect!

Stuff I built

This is what I soldered together this month just gone.

  • Ornament and Crime polymorphic digital swiss army knife type thingy (3-5 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Music Thing Modular Magnetophon cassette tape head (16 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • RYO 3xVCA triple voltage controlled amplifier (18 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • RYO 2xVCX dual voltage controlled amplifier/crossfader and four quadrant multiplier (29 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Feedback 106 Chorus (30 January 2018) [modulargrid]

The Feedback 106 Chorus build was a bit of a disaster. It uses period vintage chips to get the genuine sound of a Juno 106’s chorus effect. When it works, it sounds bloody fantastic. When it works.

Usually I don’t bother with actual vintage stuff. For all the romance of vintage electronics, the reality is that they’re rare, expensive, unreliable, susceptible to failure, and even being counterfeited in the case of MN3009 chips. This chorus did sound fab so I at least wanted to have a punt at making one, but if the vintage bits turned out to be duds, I resolved to put the whole thing aside and cut my losses there and then. And that is pretty much how it went.

Unlike the 106 Chorus, I got the polymorphic digital module Ornament & Crime working after three nights of building and troubleshooting. This module of legend should keep me occupied for months while I discover everything it can do, let alone how to use that as part of a whole system. Here’s an early test of the o_C in “Harrington 1200” mode sequencing some pleasant Boards of Canada-esque chords.

 

A pleasant surprise this month is the RYO & Kymatica 2xVCX, a dual voltage controlled crossfader. Fading back and forth between two signals at audio rates creates all kinds of fun timbres, sort of like ring modulation (which the 2xVCX can also do). Here’s a little test I recorded which goes all the way from grimy analogue noise to happy little chords!

There’s enough space left for two more modules, both of which I’ve already picked out, but more about that next month! 🙂

Let’s talk Blender! And movies! And spaceships!

3D stuff

Alien Force

The secret project I mentioned back in November was some album artwork for the Alien Force EP. I did a big write-up on it which appeared on BlenderNation. The feedback has been a little sparse but generally positive!

Spaceship!

But that’s old news. Have some new news!

A moment in the sun

I am back in the sun (kind of)! Yay! (Kind of!)

At the beginning of the year I decided I liked the story mostly where it was. It’s the tale of a random labourer helping introduce a laser-obsessed geek to the Ultimate Laser Robot of his dreams. The current plan is to take the last scene of the story all the way through production as a pilot for the rest of the film, which means all I have to worry about for now is one single scene. My attention is contained to that one spot. Hooray!

I’ve been working on Scene 5’s art direction by rendering existing elements out from Blender, turning them into multi-layer images in Krita, then doing quick paint-overs to test out ideas.

Splitting up render layers to import them into Krita

To do this I render two EXR files – a multi-layer version with transparency and all render layers turned on to get each element isolated on its own layer, and a single layer non-transparent version which gives me the sky background.

Here’s the rendered layers fresh out of Blender, looking fairly pristine…

From there I applied filters and painted over the separate elements to test ideas out.

…and here is the same scene altered to get everything looking more decrepit.

In the repainted version the air is hazier, the route marker is crooked, the bus stop is falling apart and the road is sun-bleached. The scene’s still undercooked but this much better than trying to get my thoughts down purely in 2D or 3D. Yay for hybrid approaches!

Character-wise, I’ve been redesigning Pointy to make the character look and feel more like he actually is – a bit happier and younger and goofier.

Many Pointies. The one in the lower right is the current front-runner.

Gronky isn’t in Scene 5, but he’ll be getting an ill-fitting hi-viz jacket when he does finally appear.

Alas, I got bogged down in story decisions around tone and character again. I’ve got some storyboards for that scene but without pinning down how I want to approach it all, I’m stuck. Bah!

I read somewhere that it’s better to have another thing to switch over to than beating one’s head against a single project, so I found one. I work on AMITS until I get frustrated, then switch over to this other thing until I miss working on AMITS too much.

The other thing: Fishtank

An ex-animator friend and I dreamt up an aquatic animated sketch-comedy series many years ago, something that might get picked up and lead to bigger things. We gave it the working title “Fishtank” and brainstormed a few ideas, but we didn’t follow through so it fizzled….

One of my ideas saw a little fish laying a massive guilt trip on its potential predators for daring to eat something so cute and helpless.

My key image, where Shark feels very conflicted about eating Little Fish..

 

A rough exploratory sculpt of the little fish with the big eyes

The predator in question is a great white shark who’s a bit of a softy and slow on the uptake.

An exploratory rough sculpt of the shark. Not quite there yet, but getting closer!

Will the little fish end up a snack, or will the shark get more than he bargained for? Yes.

“Fishtank” is a much smaller project than AMITS, and definitely better sized for one person to work on. I might not finish AMITS this year, but this one I could conceivably get done by the end of the year.

I’ve got the story thumbnailed out already. Here’s the second of five pages of story scribbles which I drew on actual paper in biro then scanned into Krita.

Shark tries to get a chomp in but Little Fish isn’t having it!

I’m really looking forward to writing the music for this as well. It’s going to be an utter hoot writing completely overwrought tragically sad music, like that 1960s library music which Ren and Stimpy used to superb effect.

Despite both projects being comedies, Fishtank is more classic slapstick and AMITS is more inspired by 1950s Looney Tunes which is as indebted to radio comedy as the silents, so they complement one another pretty well.

See you next month with more fish, more sun and the final pieces of DASYRAC! 🙂

Alien Force artwork breakdown

The secret project I’ve been hinting at since late 2017 was a sci-fi album cover for the trance musician Alien Force. It was completed back in November last year and has been waiting for a distribution slot since… until now!

Back in October 2017, Alien Force told me to make an album cover for him on the basis that I knew how to use 3D software. It would be unpaid work, but I took it anyway because it was something that would take me well out of my comfort zone. I appreciated that he asked me to produce something without seeing anything like a portfolio.

The brief was to capture something of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar but “menacing and awesome” too. After a month of back and forth outside of the day job, we settled on this:

Whoosh!

After slogging through one too many full 3D re-renders, I learnt the value of being able to iterate as rapidly and painlessly as possible. I broke the scene up into layers which would only come together at composite time. Each element (the background star field with nebula, the swirly orange clouds, the black hole and the spaceship with its jets) was rendered separately as multilayer OpenEXR and composited together.

The background nebula and stars are done procedurally, pretty much as Aidy Burrows and Gleb Alexandrov teach it in their excellent Space VFX Elements course for Blender. The swirly orange bits are from failing to make Gleb’s accretion disk shader to work but getting something usable anyway. If any of this stuff interests you at all, check out that course!

Don’t get too close!

The blown-out glow of the black hole was one of the key bits of Interstellar’s look which Alien Force wanted to keep. I used a super bright emission shader, Blur, Sun Beams and Glow filter to blow the glow out from a line a couple of pixels wide to something which better sells how bright it is.

Spaceship! The pink bits are sharp marks, the nicer way to get sharp edges while doing subdivision modelling.The grey texture map is used for displacement.

The spaceship is a relatively simple model which uses the “Follow Active Quads” UV unwrapping trick along with some 32-bit textures to greeble it up. This technique was the centre of a five year old thread on BlenderArtists called “Sculpting with UVs and displacements”. Definitely worth checking out if you ever need to build a detailed-looking spaceship quick!

Spaceship! With UV-mapped greebles…

The subtle outer glow of the spaceship was added in composite, something to make the silhouette pop against the nebula and stars. The green glow within the silhouette of the ship was a happy accident – I rendered out every single pass for the spaceship and stumbled on a mysterious pass called “DenoisingNormalVariance”. It made the end result look cooler, so that’s good enough for me.

The composite was put through Troy Sobotka’s awesome filmic LUTs. This let me work confidently with a high dynamic ranges, knowing that the LUTs would bring out the missing dynamic range instead of clipping it or losing it altogether.

Default LUT in top left, filmic LUT at lower right.

Here’s a comparison between Blender’s default internal look and Filmic to finish off with. The biggest difference is visible in the spaceship. With the default LUT, the exhaust is blown out and the contrast on the ship itself is less. The Filmic LUT preserves more detail in the exhaust and brings out extra contrast in the surface details on the ship itself.

If you want to hear the Alien Force EP itself, you can have a listen on Beatport. It looks like in the process of slapping the logo on the black hole they also cranked up the saturation hard, but that’s showbiz. 🙂

Thanks for reading and I hope you liked this breakdown.

What I did in 2017

2017 was a rough year for me and seemingly a lot of other people. Here’s a recap of what I got up to.

Back in April I made RYGCBMK◯, a project which was weirdly central to a lot of what I got up to this year. Here it is if you want a refresher.

I’d wanted to try an abstract short set to music since I went to the Melbourne International Animation Festival in 2015. RYGCBMK◯ was my driver to learn procedural animation with Jacques Lucke’s powerful Animation Nodes system for Blender. I specifically wanted to synchronise abstract animation to a rhythm because I love that kind of synaesthetic stuff and I knew it would keep me going through an emotionally brutal bit of the year.

The end result was not perfect, but I got a high enough average score during the voting process for the Suzanne Awards 2017 to encourage me to try some more in the future. The important part was that there was an end result to speak of. It got done.

And it got done.. with nodes!

Working on RYGCBMK◯ also helped me tune into my artistic sensibilities. Given just shapes and sound to play with, the project took me away from complicated stuff like characters and dialogue to something which let me get a strong feel for the kind of work I want to put into the world.

I made important if not voluminous progress with “A moment in the sun” in its third year of development. I put together a new story reel in January and February, and a short stretch of that is good to go as is even with the big rewrite in May. Flipping Pointy from irascible and foolish to geeking-out cute was a decision that very much happened in the wake of RYGCBMK◯ too.

There was that secret project I can’t show off yet which happened in October-November. Here’s a concept which we abandoned.

The one we actually went with is way cooler.

I learnt Retopoflow this year as well – anyone doing modelling in Blender should grab it. Hard Ops is next on my list of useful plugins to get to grips with.

There was of course AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA which started strong but fizzled. AMITS now has a sweet cockatoo. Here’s AAAAAAAAAAA’s final resting point.

And then there was my first run at Inktober. I started practising with my brush pen and now my inking’s gone from “rubbish” to “slightly-less-rubbish”. This snail got the most likes on Instagram.

#inktober #inktober2017 22. Trail. A snail leaves a trail without fail!

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There wasn’t that much time for art or animation though. RYGCBMK◯’s soundtrack was part of a big jump back into music for me, something I did because I wanted a creative outlet but job stress was (temporarily) making the animation hobby unthinkable. Then it took over.

Just over eleven months after I impulse-bought that ARP Odyssey back in January as a shiny new toy to keep myself distracted, I’m now the owner of a 475HP Eurorack modular synthesiser which I mostly soldered together myself. I don’t need to look at a computer screen to make electronic music anymore (though the PC does come in very handy for recording) and the sound is even produced by old-school electronic components instead of simulated versions thereof. In playing around with it I’ve learnt a lot about how to patch and which modules are for what, but no doubt I’ve only just scratched the surface of what this thing can do.

To me DASYRAC looks sad and naked and unfulfilled without patch cables, but at least this way you can see the actual modules.

This krautrocky jam from early December is one of my favourite tracks I did this year.

I didn’t even know how to solder before I started putting DASYRAC together, but I noticed the kit builds were a lot cheaper so I gave it a try. Now I’m actually happier owning synthesiser modules which I put together myself than modules I bought pre-made, because I’m comfortable fixing my own work when it breaks. Most times when I sit down to prod a busted circuit with a multimeter and pore over a circuit schematic, I learn something new and interesting.

This is the schematic for Music Thing Modular’s Simple EQ with my troubleshooting notes. Looks like I forgot to solder one of the pins on an op amp.

So that’s what I learnt and did in 2017. (Mostly synthesiser stuff, to be honest.) This is what I’m taking away from all that for 2018 and beyond.

In terms of the modular synthesiser and music stuff, the build is almost complete. Once that’s done it’s all about learning my gear better and maybe getting some tunes released on Bandcamp. There’s one or two easy modules I want to have a crack at building for myself too, but that’ll need a little bit of extra equipment – it can wait.

A pyramid monk from AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

In terms of Blender stuff, I want to jump into some short, focussed and contained exercises – animation, modelling, or otherwise. If it’s animation, I source the soundtrack and character rigs from somewhere else. If it’s modelling, I source a design from somewhere else. I go with pre-made assets wherever possible. The key is not giving myself too broad a set of creative decisions to make at once so that I don’t get lost.

By pushing beyond my own creative sphere and not trying to do all the things, it’ll save me time, help me focus on specific tasks, broader my artistic horizons, get me analysing work by other people and build up my confidence and patience again with some experience. With less to do, I can hopefully finish more stuff and get it in front of people to start that all-important feedback loop.

Meanwhile, in the Sun…

As for Gronky and Pointy, I feel like I’ve lived with AMITS long enough that there’s no big surprises left – just a lot to execute on. If I can stay organised and find a good chunk of time every week to work on it (five hours a week minimum is a good pace), it’ll get done. It’ll probably be not the best, but at least it’ll be finished.

The day job may have other things to say about all of this, especially if I score the promotion I’ve been working towards and people keep departing, but we’ll see.

Happy New Year for 2018, and I hope the coming year treats you all well!

December 2017 in retrospect

Seasons Greetings! Although we are still a whole day and a bit away from the end of December, here’s a recap of what I’ve been up to this month.

A moment in the sun!

I last worked on our old friends Pointy and Gronky properly back in May. At the time I felt like I left the story in the best possible place. Pointy’s now a happy little nerd with a laser fixation instead of a simmering angry idiot who wants to get home. Gronky is still a big guy who buries things in the desert.

I’ve started looking for ways to bring the pace of the story up and creatively solve some limitations. So now Gronky digs things out of the ground lightning fast. We never see him do this directly, however – it’s always off-screen. He also buries things glacially slow, just for contrast. This helpfully marks the passing of time as Pointy interrogates the robot.

The line-up, as seen previously..

Speaking of Pointy, I’m revisiting his character design so it fits his new bubbly personality better. On the very first day of December, I rendered Gronky and Pointy together with the bird from AAAAAAAAAAAAAA out of curiosity. Two soft round characters next to an angular character made me realise how Pointy’s sharp edges didn’t feel right anymore. He’s still ultimately a 2D design in a 3D world, but now the spiky sharp angular edges are friendlier-looking flowing curves.

Choosing a design and realising it in 3D is January’s problem.

Other animated things

Other ideas included robot creatures who make weird and fun noises into a microphone while doing strange things. I’ve collected enough strange and delightful noises from the analogue synth which suggest whimsical robots. The working title is “Noisies”. Here’s a slightly hyperactive animation test in Blender Grease Pencil featuring a roboty thing who is definitely not Gir from Invader Zim beatboxing to the introduction of “One Note Samba” by Perrey and Kingsley.

I don’t think the timing is right to start on it yet, but it could be a fun little project one day.

Electronics and music

I expanded DASYRAC by quite a few modules this month, with three pre-mades and five kit builds! (It would have been six kit builds but no such luck.) The last couple of modules are waiting on parts or availability.

  • Music Thing Modular’s Spring Reverb mk 2 (kit). This was a replacement for my Doepfer spring reverb. It’s got a cleaner sound and has more features.
  • Doepfer A-124 VCF5 Wasp Filter Special Edition. The Wasp has a cult following, partly for being cheap and partly for sounding more like an intergalactic shortwave radio than a filter at high resonance.
  • Polaxis Talko (kit). Talko uses old-school linear prediction coding (remember the Speak’N’Spell from “E.T.”?) to say preset numbers and words.. or for robotic burbles and growls.
  • Fonitronik Cascade (kit). A cascading attenuverter for sourcing, attenuating, inverting and offsetting voltages.
  • Befaco A*B+C (kit). A dual quadrature VCA for attenuverting and offsetting signals under voltage control. This is my second one of these!
  • Bastl Instruments Tromsø (kit). This is a triangle oscillator which feeds into a comparator which in turn feeds into a sample and hold circuit, good for analogue “ratecrushing” to add some (fake) lo-fi digital grit over hi-fi sounds.
  • Doepfer A-152 Addressed Track and Hold/Switch. This is a combination of an eight-way switch, an eight-way track and hold and an eight-stage trigger out. Uses I’ve already found for this include a pitch CV distributor and something that allows “hocketing” (switching between oscillators from note to note).

  • Doepfer A-110-6 TTZQ VCLFO. The A-110-6 is a through-zero trapezoid-core oscillator. Normal oscillators stop oscillating when their oscillation voltage drops to 0 or below, but a through-zero oscillator treats a negative oscillation voltage as a mirror of a positive oscillation voltage – a negative voltage just means “oscillate in reverse”. You can use this to create otherwise unachievable frequency modulation sounds. Here it is in action.

through zero oscillators in a nutshell

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I’m at a point now with the modular synth where I’m recreating particular synthesiser topologies or experimenting with techniques as learning and familiarisation exercises instead of adding more stuff to what I have. With a modular synthesiser it’s hard to know precisely what I’ve got, because different modules connect to one another in different ways.

I still want to try to build my own simple modules to fill a couple of gaps. I wouldn’t hate to have another buffered mult or a window comparator, for instance, and both of those things are relatively easy to put together from op amps.

I impulse-bought a theremin kit at the local electronics store. It was a bit disappointing. People go on about how cool theremins are but I find them forbiddingly fiddly and I much prefer the sound of the ondes Martenot.

That’s all for now! Thanks for catching up. 🙂

Modules 36, 45 and 53 – Music Thing Modular Turing Machine Mk II with Pulses and Voltages expanders

  • What kind of thing is it? The Turing Machine is a clock-driven stepped random voltage and trigger generator. Clock-driven means you have to hit it with a pip of voltage to make it do something, and stepped means that the voltage output switches instantly from one voltage to the next instead of transitioning gradually. You can also set the randomness to zero and use the write switch to turn it into a binary step sequencer. The Pulses expander is a cascading trigger source which uses the Turing Machine’s voltages to send out triggers, and the Voltages expander uses that same set of voltages to create a stepped random voltage output which is truly analogue instead of quantised to eight bits like the Turing Machine’s main out. There’s also a random noise generator which is always going.

voltages is voltages! love them little blinky slider pots 🙂 #Eurorack #diy

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  • How is it useful? Random voltages can be used as the basis for the pitches of notes, a non-repeating modulation source, etc. The randomness can be controlled either by using the big friendly dial and by a control voltage. If you feed it an audio-rate clock source like a pulsewave from an oscillator, it can act as a randomising waveshaper, or you can use it as a graphic oscillator with the Voltages expander. Random triggers meanwhile can be used to set off drums or other instruments. It also looks very impressive with all its blinky lights.
  • How does it work? Inside the Turing Machine is a shift register. A register’s job is to accept and maintain values (in this case, ons and offs), and a shift register can shift those values when commanded, kind of like they’re on a conveyor belt. Every time the module is triggered, the values all move along one spot BUT there’s a certain probability (set by dial or CV) that the outermost value of the register could change from on to off (or from off to on). The Turing Machine’s shift register’s state then feeds into a digital-to-analogue converter where it’s turned into an 8-bit voltage, and out it comes.

a short informational video on what the Turing Machine's blinky lights actually mean

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So is it analogue or digital? Both. The Turing Machine is analogue in the sense that it doesn’t have a fixed sample rate, but digital in the sense that its workings are driven by discrete values (on/off) and the output is an 8-bit voltage (one of 256 possibilities). If by “digital” you mean “it has a CPU”, it’s analogue. But if by “analogue” you mean “it doesn’t contain a DAC and the output voltage isn’t stepped in any way”, it’s digital. The Voltages expander sends each step through a slide potentiometer which makes it a bit more analogue than the main Turing Machine module.

  • Whose YouTube demo convinced you to buy it? Mylar Melodies made a strong case, but Divkid’s demo sold me when he ran it at audio rate at around 22:25 – that was my breaking point. 🙂

  • Does it work well? For sure. Being able to control randomness with CV is super good fun when the module is clocked at audio rates, although if it doesn’t have a 50% duty cycle at high audio rates it sometimes doesn’t clock properly. It’s possible to switch the randomness off entirely and use it as a binary sequencer with careful use of the write switch. The Turing Machine’s Noise output is handy but needs amplifying to be useful.
  • Are you still using it? Absolutely. The Turing Machine is one of those go-to modules that epitomises Eurorack’s cool factor for me – it has blinky lights and does many useful things with tech that’s been around for ages (in this case, 4000-series CMOS chips). Not for nothing does it show up in so many racks.
  • It’s a kit – how easy was it to build? The main module was easy, although this was the 23rd Eurorack module kit I’d built and that includes far more complicated builds like the Befaco Rampage and the Hexinverter Mutant Clap. The Pulses Mk II expander has SMD components which I’m still getting used to working with, so that was the more memorably difficult build! And the Voltages Mk II was easy-peasy, as promised.
  • Surprises/disappointments? I researched this one pretty well so there hasn’t been anything too surprising or disappointing aside from the quiet noise out.
  • Who makes it (and where?): Music Thing Modular, kits sold by Thonk out of the United Kingdom.
  • Stats: Turing Maching Mk II is 10HP, Pulses Mk II is 4HP, Voltages Mk II is 12HP again.

ModularGrid: Turing Machine, Pulses, Voltages (all Mk II)

Module 4 – Erica Synths Pico INPUT

  • What kind of thing is it? It’s an amplifier that takes two mono signals or one stereo signal and amplifies them from line level (1.23Vpp) up to modular level (~5Vpp).
  • How is it useful? It lets me bring audio signals in from normal gear to use in the modular. With this, I can run the Odyssey’s audio out or a guitar pedal into DASYRAC at the right volume. It’s also great for raising the volume of native modular signals which are too damn quiet, and thankfully there’s volume knobs to control the amount of gain.
  • How does it work? It’s an amplifier so it’s got amplifying circuitry in it, the stereo routing is (probably) done with switched jacks, and I’m not experienced enough to guess the rest 🙂
  • Does it work well? Yes. It’ll take a stereo signal at the top and break out the left and right to the two outputs, or it can take two mono signals too. There’s a green LED for when the signal is the right volume and if the signal gets too loud there’s a red LED to warn you of clipping. It all comes in a petit 3HP package like the rest of Erica’s Pico module range.
  • Are you still using it? Now that I’ve got a Drumbrute with individual outs for each drum channel I can see myself making much more use of it.
  • Surprises/disappointments? The automatic stereo splitting was a very nice surprise – no need for a Y cable! Hooray! The harsh clipping is a bit disappointing though.
  • Who makes it (and where?): Erica Synths of Latvia.
  • Stats: 3HP.

Modulargrid.

November 2017 happenings

Greetings, interweb. Here’s what I got up to in November 2017, starting with…

A secret project!

Can’t say much about this yet. It was a freebie album cover which I took on for the experience and to stretch my abilities beyond my comfort zone. I relied heavily on a certain Space VFX series and a classic thread on BlenderArtists for inspiration and techniques.

Once the associated project is out, I’ll show it off. 🙂

Animation and other Blendery stuff

The speedy green antics of AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA have been shelved for the foreseeable future. My heart’s not in it, but at least it yielded a great little cockatoo rig who also fits into the visual style of AMITS. Maybe he can hang out with Gronky and Pointy…

Does the cockatoo need big thick eyebrows as well? Answers in the comments.

Speaking of those two, I patched a nice zappy electricity arc sound for the robot in AMITS. This is a random five second excerpt from that session. (Warning: loud.)

Electronics and other beepbooping

Through the magic of soldering, I’ve added distortion, another audio mixer and another sequencer to DASYRAC’s arsenal of goodies. Here’s the distortion, featuring its quirky LED limiter section.

at least I got the Optodist finished. look at those little green blinkers go!

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I also bought a drum machine because I got tired of patching together basic drum sounds every time I want a beat. I’ve started looking into Arduino to see what I can do to trigger it from the patchbay instead of needing to rely on MIDI.

I started doing write-ups on all the modules in DASYRAC too. There’s about fifty of them so I’ll still be doing write-ups a year from now if I can’t get through more than one per week.

That’s all for November. See you again soon!