All posts by quollism

About quollism

A creator of quollity stuff.

The DASYRAC approach

Eurorack is very easy to blow the bank on. Not for nothing do people call it Euro-crack. There are hundreds of different modules which do all kinds of different things and it’s very easy to run around like a kid in a candy shop buying anything with pretty blinky lights that makes a vaguely cool sound.

I knew this going in and I wanted to be smarter.

It helps to focus on achieving a particular goal. In my case, I wanted a voltage controlled, chaos-infused mad science lab – something that has minimal overlap with the tech already on my computer. I came up with the following guidelines to help me stay the course.

Analogue signal path wherever possible

Why? I’ve got loads of digital sounds on my computer already. No need to add even more! Analogue gear behaves in more interesting unpredictable ways than digital when pushed and digitisation can add nasty artefacts.

But… pure analogue circuitry can be annoyingly unstable, imprecise and generally fiddly, even when it’s well-behaved and recently built. Re-patching a sound perfectly is nigh-on impossible.

And so I’ve got sample playback (Radio Music and Disting Mk 4), digital delays (Chronoblob, Crush Delay – the Crush is very lo-fi though) and a digital processor (Clouds). The Disting has a nice high sample rate which helps things.

Digital timing for precision, analogue handling for fidelity

Why? DASYRAC needs to be able to hold a tempo for multitrack recording, and digital clocking is steadier. Analogue is generally still better for audio-rate modulation – the sample rate of digital can easily misinterpret or distort rapid signal changes that analogue circuitry deals with perfectly capably.

Surface controls only, preferably with CV

Why? Automation is cool, menu diving without a mouse sucks and multi-functional knobs are too much effort to remember.

But… menus can hide complexity & reduce the module size, leaving room for more modules.

And so… I have the Tuesday procedural sequencer Tuesday, the multifunction Disting mk 4, the clock manipulator Little Nerd, and the texture synthesiser Clouds whose clunky UI so annoyed its inventor that he discontinued it. All of these CPU-based modules require some menu-diving and/or have modes and other stuff. As long as they’re useful and limited in number, they’re fine.

Decoupled from the PC and MIDI-based control

Why? I’ve looked at a screen to make music for 25 years and I’m utterly bored with it. Also being able to separate gate from pitch is awesome. You can’t really do that with MIDI unless the individual instrument lets you. It’s absolutely possible to inject MIDI and computer-controlled CV into Eurorack – I just don’t want to.

And yet… recording and mix is all digital because using analogue recording media as well is pointlessly limiting when it comes time to compile something.

Ephemerality over reproducibility (no presets!)

Why? I am tired of preset surfing and I’m not on anyone’s clock.

But… patching manually is slower, even when you know exactly what you want. Either I record that cool sound or lose it forever, and disk space is ultimately still finite.

And so… Tuesday has hard-coded scale presets, Disting mk 4 has some presets in there too, and Little Nerd can be preset but I don’t use it like that.

Keep single module spend less than A$250 where possible and don’t spend more than A$500 on a single instrument

Why? Eurorack is cumulatively expensive enough as is, let alone high-end Eurorack. Second hand modules are fine too.

But.. in keeping my module selection low cost, I miss out on some very shiny stuff. Really shiny.

And so… The Tuesday, the Make Noise 0-Coast and Korg ARP Odyssey were all north of half a grand. Clouds, Chronoblob, Fluctuations Magnetiques and Deflector Shield were all more than $250 each. None of the DIY modules have been more than $250, though some have come pretty close. πŸ™‚

DIY if it’s feasible, cheaper and equal quality

Why? It’s cheaper – the cost of assembly is a big chunk of the sticker price! It’s doable if not always simple. I get to learn about electronics. Also, soldering on my back patio is a lovely way to pass the time.

But… DIY needs equipment and if a DIY module breaks, I have to fix it myself.

The one time I bailed was.. Clouds! It’s possible to get DIY kits because Clouds is open-source hardware, but it involves a lot of surface mount component soldering. I do not like surface mount component soldering.

Modular components over contained black boxes

Why? Black boxes with no control points are just less fun. If something is part of a system, I prefer it to allow that system to alter what it does instead of just doing its job.. because you never know what you might get it to do. If there’s just an in and an out, well, it had better do something pretty awesome…

But.. black boxes mean less of your system is tied up and you can do more cool stuff at once. It’s a trade-off.

And so.. The Little Nerd doesn’t accept anything except for a clock, but it does cool enough stuff with that clock that it’s OK. The 106 Chorus only has an in and an out but it sounds fab. And the Ladik Waveform Animator.. well.. it’s 4HP of black box yumminess.

Multi-function over single function

Why? A versatile module means you can do more with your system. I’ve noticed that the analogue modules tend to be more versatile in what they can be used for while the digital modules seem to be designed with a specific purpose in mind. A function generator like the Befaco Rampage can do so many things that it beggars belief, which is why it and its better known cousin Maths are in nearly every Eurorack setup there is.

But.. a really versatile module has more chance of being used early in a patch, which means choosing which of its many tricks it will perform for you. The Disting mk 4 has almost 70 different modes, for instance, but I only have one of them so I can only have it do one of those seventy things at once. Maybe I should get another one…

And yet… I don’t mind the odd one-trick pony like the Feedback 106 Chorus or the Ladik Waveform Animator in my rack because they do their job so nicely.

Unpredictable/chaos-guided systems over explicit/periodic instructions

Why? It’s more interesting to build a patch which shape chaos in interesting ways than building up intentional order from nothing. It’s also way quicker to carve away the notes you don’t want with a quantiser than program in the exact sequence of notes you do want. Just saying.

But.. building a nice chaos-taming patch requires more experimentation than plugging notes into a sequencer.

Monophonic over polyphonic

Why? Polyphony means doing more than one thing at once, and that cost more money than just having one thing going at once then multitracking it. Also, years of listening to chiptunes has taught me pretty much every trick in the book when it comes to getting bang for buck out of a single oscillator. And there’s always the option of smearing arpeggios into a drone with a bit of delay or spring reverb.

But.. it makes performing complicated things live much harder. Not that I do live stuff on my rack. It also means a lot more patching.

And so… multitracking isn’t the only answer to this. I can also use samples from DASYRAC itself courtesy of the Radio Music or the Disting Mk 4, both of which have sample playback.

DASYRAC – the whole story!

Note: This article will be updated with new information and links over time.

DASYRAC (Digital/Audio System Yielding Retro Auditory Coolness) is my voltage-controlled audio mad science lab, containing sixty or so Eurorack synthesiser modules. I started putting it together in early 2017 partly as a 40th birthday present to myself and partly as a practical introduction to electronics. Once I figured out what I wanted from a modular synthesiser setup and how to solder, there was very little to stop me. πŸ™‚

The Eurorack bit

Jargon-busting: Eurorack modules have a standardised height of 3U – that’sΒ  133.5mm to the rest of us. The widths of the modules is measured in horizontal pitch (HP for short). 1HP is equal to 5.08mm. My smallest module is all of 2HP and my widest one is 22HP.

DASYRAC is housed in a 9U (= three rail) 104HP Synthrotek Cheeks Of Steel open rack, a 104HP Tiptop Z-Ears + Z-Rails rack and an 84HP Tiptop Happy Ending kit rack for a total of 500HP. The modules are powered by one Tiptop uZeus power supply and two 4ms Row Power 30 supplies. The modules connect into shrouded IDC power connectors at the back; the Row Power 30s are daisychained to run off a single 90W laptop power supply, and the uZeus runs off a 2A power pack.

The actual Eurorack modules

Each module is listed with a “rack-up” date. All the dates are for 2017.

The majority of DASYRAC’s modules were built from DIY kits as sold by stores like Thonk (UK), Befaco (Spain), Noise Kitchen (Czechia) or by individual vendors like Sonic Potions (Germany) and WORNG Electronics (Australia). All the kits were supplied with all the necessary through-hole components unless otherwise stated.

Over time I want to build up a commentary about what each module does and how it does it, why I wanted it in the first place, what surprised/disappointed me, whether it actually does the job, sound demos, etc. Since that’ll take a while, the [modulargrid] link will take you through to the module’s entry on Modulargrid where you can read about it while I get my act together.

  1. Doepfer A-138a linear mixer (27 March – 16 November) [modulargrid]
  2. CFM Bipolar Half-Wave Rectifier (kit, 27 March – 6 October?) [modulargrid]
  3. Tiptop uZeus power supply (27 March – 6 October?) [modulargrid]
  4. Erica Synths Pico Input dual amplifier (30 March) [modulargrid]
  5. WORNG Electronics 3x3x3 Passive Mult #1 (kit, 5 April – 16 November) [modulargrid]
  6. Thonk AT-AT-AT triple attenuator (kit, 11 April – 16 November) [modulargrid]
  7. Befaco A*B+C dual quadrature VCA (kit, 15 April) [modulargrid]
  8. Doepfer A-199 SPRV Spring Reverb (18 April – 29 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  9. Doepfer A-106-6 Xpander VCF (18 April) [modulargrid]
  10. Doepfer A-151 Sequential Switch (18 April) [modulargrid]
  11. Mutable Instruments Links buffered multiple & mixer (24 April) [modulargrid]
  12. Befaco VC Slew Limiter (kit, 29 April?) [modulargrid]
  13. Befaco Rampage dual function generator (kit, 30 April) [modulargrid]
  14. T.I.N.R.S. Tuesday procedural sequencer (8 May) [modulargrid]
  15. 4ms Row Power 30 power supply #1 (22 May) [modulargrid]
  16. WORNG Electronics 3x3x3 Passive Mult #2 (kit, 26 May) [modulargrid]
  17. Bastl Instruments Noise Square waveform generator (kit, 26 May) [modulargrid]
  18. Bastl Instruments Skis dual decay/VCA (kit, 28 May) [modulargrid]
  19. Vintage Synth Lab VCF-74 low pass filter (30 May) [modulargrid]
  20. Befaco Sampling Modulator sample and hold (kit, 10 June) [modulargrid]
  21. Sonic Potions Penrose pitch quantiser (kit, 15 June) [modulargrid]
  22. Doepfer A-185-2 Precision Adder voltage summer (15 June) [modulargrid]
  23. Sonic Potions Mal-2 source of chaos (kit, 16 June) [modulargrid]
  24. Doepfer A-110-4 QZVCO Quadrature Through Zero VCO (21 June) [modulargrid]
  25. Befaco EvenVCO (kit, 24 June) [modulargrid]
  26. Befaco Crush Delay (kit, 25 June) [modulargrid]
  27. Befaco Chopping Kinky dual wavefolder (kit, 25 June) [modulargrid]
  28. Befaco Joystick (kit, 2 July – 21 August, re-rack 18 November) [modulargrid]
  29. Befaco Dual Attenuverter (kit, 7 July) [modulargrid]
  30. Bastl Instruments ABC mixer (kit, 7 July) [modulargrid]
  31. Hexinverter Galilean Moons dual EG/VCA (kit, 14 July) [modulargrid]
  32. Hexinverter Mutant Clap (partial kit, 21 July) [modulargrid]
  33. WORNG Electronics LRMSMSLR stereo/mid-side processor (pcb/panel, 1 August) [modulargrid]
  34. RYO Aperture LPG low pass gate/VCA (kit, 1 August) [modulargrid]
  35. Music Thing Modular Radio Music sample player (kit, 1 August) [modulargrid]
  36. Music Thing Modular Turing Machine mk II stepped random voltage source (kit, 2 August) [modulargrid]
  37. Music Thing Modular Simple EQ (SMD kit, 3 August) [modulargrid]
  38. Ladik L-010 Waveform Animator (7 August) [modulargrid]
  39. Synthesis Technology E560 Deflector Shield frequency shifter/phaser (17 August) [modulargrid]
  40. Eowave Fluctuations MagnΓ©tiques quadruple VCF (21 August) [modulargrid]
  41. Expert Sleepers Disting mk 4 swiss army knife (1 September) [modulargrid]
  42. 4ms Row Power 30 power supply #2 (6 October) [modulargrid]
  43. Alright Devices Chronoblob digital delay (6 October) [modulargrid]
  44. Mutable Instruments Ears contact mic/amplifier (6 October) [modulargrid]
  45. Music Thing Modular Pulses mk II random trigger source (SMD kit, 13 October) [modulargrid]
  46. Transient Modules 8S Sequencer (kit, 14 October) [modulargrid]
  47. Bastl Instruments Little Nerd clock manipulator (kit, 14 October) [modulargrid]
  48. Mutant Instruments Clouds texture synthesiser (20 October) [modulargrid]
  49. Horstronic Arcade Button trigger/gate (kit, 6 November) [modulargrid]
  50. RYO VC Sequencer (kit, 7 November) [modulargrid]
  51. RYO TrigXpander trigger source (kit, 7 November) [modulargrid]
  52. 2hp Euclid euclidean rhythm generator (13 November) [modulargrid]
  53. Music Thing Modular Voltages mk II graphic random voltage source (kit, 27 November) [modulargrid]
  54. RYO Optodist overdrive (pcb/panel, 27 November) [modulargrid]
  55. Bastl Instruments ABC mixer #2 (kit, 28 November) [modulargrid]
  56. Music Thing Modular Spring Reverb mk II (kit, 4 December) [modulargrid]
  57. Doepfer A-124 Wasp VCF (4 December) [modulargrid]
  58. Polaxis Talko linear predictive coding speech synthesiser (kit, 5 December) [modulargrid]
  59. Fonitronik Cascade attenuverter/mixer (kit, 5 December) [modulargrid]
  60. Befaco A*B+C dual quadrature VCA #2 (kit, 6 December) [modulargrid]
  61. Bastl Instruments TromsΓΈ VCO/comparator/hold (kit, 27 December) [modulargrid]
  62. Doepfer A-110-6 TTZQ VCLFO trapezoid core through-zero VCO (27 December) [modulargrid]
  63. Doepfer A-152 Addressed T&H/Switch (27 December) [modulargrid]
  64. Ornament and Crime digital swiss army knife (kit, 5 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  65. Doepfer A-198 Trautonium ribbon controller (15 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  66. Music Thing Modular Magnetophon cassette tape head (kit, 16 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  67. RYO 3xVCA (kit, 18 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  68. RYO 2xVCX dual four quadrant multiplier/VCA/crossfader (kit, 29 January 2018) [modulargrid]

Pending

Patch pals

Patch pals are mini-circuits which live out in “cable space”. They don’t need a power supply to do their job.

  • Befaco 6-Way Mults (23 June)
  • Mystic Circuits 0hp OR gate (kit, 26 October)
  • Mystic Circuits 0hp AND gate (kit, 26 October)
  • Mystic Circuits 0hp Vactrol VCA/LPG (kit, 26 October)
  • LMNTL 6-way mults (27 November)

External instruments

Most of these instruments talk to DASYRAC using voltage control and are where it all started, long ago in the ancient times of January 2017.

  • Korg ARP Odyssey synthesiser (23 January)
  • Korg SQ-1 sequencer (24 February)
  • Arturia Beatstep Pro uber-sequencer (3 March)
  • Arturia Keystep keyboard/sequencer (7 March)
  • Arturia Drumbrute drum machine (28 November)

Beepboops take over!

It’s been 5 to 11 November 2017 and it’s been an extremely synthesiser-centric week!

Beepity boop boops

Sunday was showing a friend around my modular synth to show her Eurorack in the flesh and get her pumped for her upcoming electronic engineering degree. That seems to have set the tone for the whole week.

On Monday evening, I got my parcel of DIY kits from Thonk and soldered together a Horstronic Arcade Button…

The Horstronic Arcade Button is not just a #diy #eurorack button, though it definitely is that too.

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

…then on Tuesday evening I soldered together two RYO modules, the VC Sequencer and the TrigXpander…

Most of a #diy #eurorack RYO VC Sequencer… panel comes next!

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…then on Wednesday evening, I spent time testing out said modules which I had no time left for on Tuesday, resulting in this strangely pleasant noise..

 

On Thursday evening I spent putting together a particularly big order to Thonk, and on Friday evening I was testing out sample playback on the Disting Mk 4 and creating lovely crunchy triplet beats.

 

And finally today (Saturday) I started mindmapping an overview of analogue vs digital voltage control sequencers to see if it’s worth following up. There’s a surprising amount to talk about for little circuits that just eat pips and spit out voltages.

What’s behind the dots? Wouldn’t you like to know…

So that’s pretty much been my week, which leads neatly into..

The last of the weeklies

After 3 1/2 years of weekly blogs (since May 2014 when I started “A moment in the sun”), I’m going back to a less frequent posting schedule again. Without a consistently active production to talk about, touching base every single week has begun to feel strange and perfunctory. There’ll be posts here in the future, but only when I have something worth saying. πŸ™‚

It’s goodbye then to “see you next week” – so see you ’round! πŸ™‚

Inktober week 5 (and a whole lot more)!

It’s been 29 October to 4 November 2017 and there’s been a little bit of everything this week!

Inktober

Here’s the rest of my Inktober drawings, including a happy little robot:

#inktober #inktober2017 29. United! Everyone brings their own thing to the team.

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#inktober #inktober2017 30. Found! Robots are good at finding things. #invaderzim

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#inktober #inktober2017 31. Mask. It's dinosaur Halloween!

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It was a challenge to work with physical media for a bit, but I’m glad it got me learning how to work with the brush pen. I’ve carried around that pen with me every day for two years so it’s about time I got some use out of it.

It’s been good to pick up a slightly larger following on Instagram as well and see what people are up to over there. It’s definitely not just for selfies, though there are a lot of those too.

The return of AAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I’ve got a quick and dirty “mouth foley” soundtrack happening for AAAAAAAAAAAAAA, finally. Like many 1980s kids, I thought Michael Winslow’s character from Police Academy was awesome and tried to copy what he did.. and I’ve never really stopped making weird noises with my face since! πŸ™‚ It’s certainly a helpful skill to have for stubbing out funny sound effects quickly…

The soundtrack is a little bare right now but I wanted to share it anyway because I really like how those monks sound. The pyramid shot’s working nicely now that it has sound.

Happy little beeps

To finish off this week, here’s a few happy little beepboops from DASYRAC. The rack is getting pretty close to full up now which means having to make decisions about how to use the space I’ve got, and whether I want to free up existing space to put something else in. There’s also a couple of misbehaving modules which could use some troubleshooting, but I don’t want to make too many more changes. They get kind of expensive!

Here’s a lovely sound I got out of DASYRAC last night. It uses the hard sync on the Befaco EvenVCO driven by another oscillator sitting at a constant pitch to turn a little pentatonic melody into an Underworldy drone. I like it. πŸ™‚

 

See you next week!

Inktober, week 4!

It’s been 22 to 28 October 2017 and Blender Conference 2017 is in full swing! If you couldn’t make it either, there’s live streams from the venue and a Twitter hashtag for livetweeting. There’s a handy schedule of presentations on the website too.

Friday’s presentation highlights for me included:

RYGCBMKO didn’t make it to the conference film festival selection in the end, but it scored better than I thought it would!

Here’s this week’s Inktober sketches.

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

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#inktober #inktober2017 23. Juicy! Go away, silly rotten banana!

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#inktober #inktober2017 25. Ship! An airship in this case, with a lazy passenger.

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#inktober #inktober2017 26. Squeak! An elephant fails to take notice of what's underfoot…

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#inktober #inktober2017 27. Climb. A little tardigrade climbs a gigantic hair follicle.

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#inktober #inktober2017 28. Fall. It's got a different name in Australia. πŸ™‚

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See you next week for the last of Inktober!

Inktober, week 3!

It’s been 15 to 21 October 2017 and the blog has actually pretty busy this week! There’s been lots of music posts and a huge write-up about tips and tricks for Blender Conference.

Speaking of Blender Conference, I’ve entered RYGCBMKO into the Suzanne Awards which are voted on at the conference. The selection is narrowed down by internet polling so please go and vote!

Also this week, I’ve picked up an unpaid-but-going-to-give-it-a-shot-anyway-type commission as well. I can’t say too much about it except that it’s the polar opposite of the low key cute quirky stuff that I usually do. Should be quite the challenge!

I’ve been cutting back on Twitter this week too and it’s been like taking a big pointy stone out of my shoe. I’m still popping by once a day to skim through notifications and signal boost stuff about quolls and Blender, but it’s not on my mobile devices anymore and it’s honestly quite the relief!

And now, on with the inks!

#inktober #inktober2017 15. Mysterious! I think this squirrel might be up to no good..

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#inktober #inktober2017 16. Fat. Well would you just look at that chubby little.. uh.. I have no idea.

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#inktober #inktober2017 17. Graceful. Something a little more abstract/experimental.

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#inktober #inktober2017 18. Filthy! The day the dog snaps its lead and goes for a swim in the local swamp..

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#inktober #inktober2017 19. Cloud. A little surrealism tonight. πŸ™‚

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#inktober #inktober2017 20. Deep! A cute little angler fish says hi.

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#inktober #inktober2017 21. Furious. Someone is a little upset they dropped their ice cream…

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There’s ten more days of Inktober left, then it’s back to projects.

Jam of the day: Not your dad’s vocoder

The Mutable Instruments Clouds is one of the most popular Eurorack modules ever. It was intended to be a “texture synthesiser”, an instrument which uses granular synthesis in order to extract a texture from an incoming signal.

Granular synthesis is just the “default” mode, however. There’s other ways of extracting texture from sounds and sure enough, buried on secret firmware number 4 is a happy little phase vocoder! Rather than explaining how it does what it does, take my word for it that it can smear any dynamic sound into a static timbre using complicated maths which gives engineering students lifelong PTSD. I was using this trick to create drones back in 1999 by “misusing” the noise removal feature of Cool Edit Pro.

Anyway – sound goes in, drones or whooshes or wibbly noises or crackles come out. Here’s what it sounds like.

There is no actual synthesiser in this recording aside from Clouds – I played a D5 chord in on the electric mandola (2200 if anyone’s keeping score) and froze the timbre in place to create the drone. Then I played in some other notes live over the top. Add a bit of delay to smooth it out and that’s all there is to it!

Despite its popularity, the designer of Clouds discontinued it earlier this month, citing disappointment that “feedback and reverb got stuck to the maximum setting, resulting in a never-decaying smudgy howl of hype”. This is part of the reason I avoided it for so long, because I didn’t want to.

Patch of the day: Wire speaks to wire

Reverb is an electronic effect which gives any sound signal the illusion of reverberation. Spring reverb does it by electromechanically vibrating one end of a set of springs in a tank, then recording the vibrating strings to create a pleasantly “wet” metallic ringing.

Behold my happy little Belton spring reverb tank, ready to be patted soothingly.

This short ambient piece was made using a spring reverb effect, but it’s not actually reverberating anything except itself. I sent its output back into the input to create a feedback loop. This made the springs ring uncontrollably after a few seconds, but I can mute the springs with my fingers to quieten them down.

There’s been a bit of reverb and delay added afterwards to space it up a bit. πŸ™‚

How to Blender Conference: Quollism Bumper Edition!

Hi all! I’m not going to Blender Conference this year but I attended Blender Conference in 2014, 2015 and 2016. After reading Looch’s great article, I remembered I was planning to chuck in my own two cents on how to bconf!

Well, ok, more than just two cents. Here’s what’s helpful to know..

My first Blender Conference in 2014. Banner by Andy Goralczyk.

Blender Conference

The Blender Conference is scheduled to run Friday-Saturday-Sunday. This is just the presentations: in terms of hanging out with fellow Blenderheads, it’s potentially a Thursday night to Monday night kind of a deal. If you head over to De Balie on Thursday night, it’s almost guaranteed there will be a few earlybirds already there having drinks and being sociable. πŸ™‚

By the way – if you have a project or other work to show off, keep it on you! I was working on a movie during the conferences I attended; I had a tablet and headphones so I could show a work-in-progress version and get valuable feedback on it from my fellow attendees.

Also If you’re stuck for a way to start a conversation with someone at the conference (e.g. on Friday morning while waiting for De Balie to open), ask them “So, what do you with Blender?”. Easiest ice-breaker in the world!

If you’re on Twitter, your official conference hashtag is

Events

On registering, you’ll be given a badge and a schedule, plus some other goodies. If you signed up for the Saturday dinner, your ticket for that will be included too. Don’t lose it!

As Looch said, once you get the conference program it’s good to plan out where you want to be. I like to circle my picks on the schedule with a pen and keep it in my pocket. πŸ™‚

Ton Roosendaal giving the 2016 keynote.

The keynote and farewell with Ton are no-brainers – get a seat early if possible.

Definitely go to the Suzanne Awards on Friday night. Some films are in contention for an award, and some of them are secret exclusives just for conference attendees. There’s an early and a late screening. I’d recommend the late screening instead because the audience is a bit drunk/stoned and that’s more fun. Don’t forget to vote afterwards!

Definitely go to the lightning talks on Saturday evening. (If you’re giving a lightning talk, try not to go over five minutes!) Do not believe anyone who says they’ll definitely finish their single-person movie project in time for next year’s Suzanne Awards because they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Aside from that, don’t feel compelled to be at a presentation for every single moment of the conference – the bonus of actually being at the conference is the opportunity to hang around and chat outside or upstairs. (Also, free sandwiches!)

The real conference happens outside..

Definitely try to make it to a presentation that’s about something completely different from how you use Blender yourself. The lightning talks are good for that, but the more in-depth presentations are eye-opening as well. Blender gets used for all kinds of cool stuff you might not even know about!

Do be prepared to occasionally sit through a talk you’re not that interested in to make sure you’ve got a good seat for a popular talk that you _are_ interested in. Hjalti’s animation talk is often standing-room-only. πŸ™‚

Definitely drop in for the Blender Insititute Open Day as well, even if you’re just popping in for a look. The conference is officially over by then so the Blender Institute folks are much more relaxed instead of running around making sure everything’s running smoothly.

You may even run into this guy!

Transport

Negotiating the airport

Those flying in internationally through Schiphol may benefit from the following info.

Schiphol is big. There might be a long hike between your arrival gate and customs. If this is your first international flight, I suggest legging it to immigration as quick as your feet will let you. Have your passport ready and waiting. Fortunately, the Dutch immigration people are pretty cheerful and are the nicest first impression of any country I’ve ever had.

Once you get through immigration and customs, you’ll probably have people walking up to you and offering a taxi service. Brush them off, no matter how official their gear is. The proper taxis are outside at the taxi cab rank.

Windmill break! This is the windmill at Brouwerij ‘t IJ, much favoured by Blender Institute employees.

Also right outside immigration at customs, you can pick up a local pre-paid SIM with Lebara. They can pop out your old SIM and activate your new one on the spot. This is worth doing if you’re going to be out and about with Google/Apple Maps or using social media to coordinate meet-ups. Even if you’ve got international roaming on your phone, this might work out a lot cheaper depending on your carrier. Something to keep in mind!

Leaving the airport

Keep walking and you’ll eventually come to the entry hall. There you have the choice of turning left to go to the train station or turning right to find a cab. You should be able to see an automatic kiosk which will let you purchase an OV-kaart (a rechargeable Dutch public transport pass). If you’re going to be doing any sightseeing in Amsterdam or you need to use the trams or trains to get around, you want one of these. Cash or card is fine and you can flip the machine over to English if need be.

If you want to catch the train to Amsterdam Centraal, you’ll need at least twenty euro on your OV-kaart unless you’re paying for a one-off ticket.

There’s also an airport shuttle bus for 5 euros which might go past your hotel. Check ahead of time.

This is Dubai. Dubai is about eight hours from Amsterdam, just over halfway from home for me.

If you want to taxi it up to Amsterdam, you’re looking at around a 50 euro fare or thereabouts. (The way I see it: if you’re at the tail end of twenty hours of travelling and fighting off delirium, getting someone to drive you directly to the front door of your hotel is probably a good idea.) Shuffle past yet more dodgy taxi hawkers with your luggage and veer right to head outside. Follow the directions to the taxi cab rank. I like the Tesla taxis the best because they’re zippy as heck and can even use tram tracks as required. Noice!

Local transport

An amsterdam of bikes.

Amsterdam is a fantastic walking city and an even more fantastic bike city, but it can be a lot to take in at first! If you’re on foot, make sure you’re not accidentally standing in a bike lane like a tourist. Always keep an eye out for bikes, trams and cars. And take care not to fall into the canals!

If you’re doing some sightseeing and bikes are not for you, I highly recommend availing yourself of Amsterdam’s excellent tram system by getting the aforementioned OV-kaart and installing 9292.nl on your smartphone. The trams need you to have at least 5 euros of credit left on your card to use them. Heavy rail between cities requires 20 euros of credit.

Leidseplein by night.

De Balie is just around the corner from a square called Leidseplein. The trams that run through Leidseplein are 1, 2, 5, 7 and 10. The 1, 2 and 5 all terminate north at Amsterdam Central Station, while the 7 and 10 run more east-west.

The Blender Institute building is on Entrepotdok. You can get from De Balie to the Institute a couple of ways. You can catch the number 10 tram directly from the Leidseplein stop, get off at Hoogte Kadijk, wave hello to the Windmill, backtrack the way you came past the service station, walk through the trees and head westwards up Entrepotdok until you see the Blender Institute logo.

You are here!

And since you’re in Amsterdam, you may as well know that the filming location for “Tears of Steel” is the northernmost bridge of Reguliersgracht where it intesects with Prinsengracht. Just don’t freak anyone out with your robot hand if you do go there. It might not end well. (The Oude Kerk where the movie “takes place” is up in the famous Red Light District, but that’s pretty easy to find.)

2015: Tiny Numbat is awesome in space!

Food and drink

First off: there’s coffee, tea and water at the conference. There’s also sandwiches for lunch. Yay, free stuff!

Leidseplein itself is an entertainment district with lots of restaurants, most of which are overpriced tourist traps. On any night of the conference, people peel off in packs to grab dinner. It’s good to follow the lead of people who know the area and therefore know which places are good to eat at. Expect to be constantly invited in by hawkers/spruikers, and don’t feel bad about brushing them off.

A cheap option: vlaamse frites! (Flemish chips) – and yes, that is dipping mayonnaise just like “Pulp Fiction” said.

Dinnerwise, have maybe twenty euro in bills and change to pitch in for the cost of your meal. Tipping is optional. If you’re short on cash, there’s a blue ATM/cashpoint which accepts credit cards on Leidsestraat across from the newsagent.

Said newsagent is also the closest source of cheap-ish Red Bull that I’ve found to De Balie. It also has an OV-kaart recharger in the back. The closest really good coffee I’ve found is at a place called “Sweet Cup”, down Lange Leidsedwarstraat.

I don’t drink so I have no idea where there’s a good pub. I also don’t smoke cannabis so I don’t have any recommendations for a nice gezellig coffeeshop either. πŸ™‚

Local tasty things to eat include stroopwafels and poffertjes.

Be on the lookout for small plastic marsupials when enjoying poffertjes..

Language

English. Seriously. Everyone in Amsterdam speaks English.

Careful of those horens!

The only reason to actually learn Dutch as a tourist is to eavesdrop on people or for pronouncing placenames. “Oe” is pronounced “oo”, “oo” is pronounced like “aww”, “ij” and “ei” are pronounced something like “eye” or “ay” depending on your accent, “ui” is pronounced something like “ow”, “r” is pronounced “GHHHH” and “g” is pronounced something like “KHHHHHHH”. Don’t try to pronounce “Ruigoord” without adult supervision.

“Alstublieft” means either “please” (e.g. “spa rood, alstublieft”) or is said when handing something over. “Dank u wel” means “thank you very much” to someone you don’t know; “dank je wel” is for someone you’re more familiar with.

If you really want to learn Dutch for some reason, Duolingo has a Dutch course.

Literal non-obvious translations from top to bottom: pouch-devil, ant-hedgehog, tree-kangaroo, pouch-marten, bird-beak-animal.

That’s it

May the 2017 Blender Conference is the best one yet and hopefully I’ll be up there again myself again before too long! Tot ziens!

Jam of the day: Brainburner (excerpt)

 

This is a jam for anyone who enjoyed the harder house tracks like Rollin’ and Scratchin’ or Rock’n Roll on Daft Punk’s album Homework. It’s a spiky glitchy drone with some nice polyrhythmic percussion and that’s it – maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but I like it. πŸ™‚

Tech notes

I used two of my new modules for this! The Music Thing Modular Pulses mk 2 is outputting a randomly generated six note rhythm tapped at two points for the clap and the hi-hat. The modulation state of the drone is being sample-and-holded in sync with a Euclidean rhythm out of the Little Nerd. The drone is feeding into the Voltage Control Lab VCF-74 Mk 1 where it’s being frequency modulated; that’s fed into a Ladik Waveform Animator then on to the Eowave Fluctuations Magnetiques filter bank through a parallel low-pass and band-pass filter.

The drone is just sitting at one steady note. So why does it sound so lively? The experiment was to see what would happen if I put a pulse wave through a low pass filter and then put that through the waveform animator. The animator only works on waves with gradual transitions which means a pulse wave goes in and out unchanged, but a low pass filter can introduce those transitions into the pulse wave by filtering the sharper frequencies away to make it transition more like a sine wave. The texture of the drone comes from crazy chaotic interactions between the filter frequency modulation, the waveform animator and the pulsewidth of the original oscillator.