A moment in the sun Journals Modular synthesisers Music & Synthesisers

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.

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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. 🙂

Modular synthesisers Reviews

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.

  • 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.

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)

Modular synthesisers Reviews

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.


A moment in the sun AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Journals Modular synthesisers Music & Synthesisers

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.

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!

Modular synthesisers Music & Synthesisers Stuff I made

Patch of the day – Happy little polymeters

Time for a new patch! This one is all about skippy electronic space bubbles.


The melody is a conversation between orderly euclidean rhythms (courtesy of my shiny new 2hp Euclid) and the chaotic randomised voltages from the ever-dependable Music Thing Modular Turing Machine. The random note pitches come out of the Turing Machine, and the basic shuffle rhythm comes from the Euclid, but the Turing Machine’s Pulses expander also throws in an extra pip from time to time which adds splashes of interest. Lovely.

The reverse delay is some sort of magic achieved by the Synthesis Technology E560 Deflector Shield patched into the feedback line of the Befaco Crush Delay. There’s this one knob on the Deflector Shield I normally leave at zero, and here it’s at five-ish. I don’t know what it’s doing exactly but it sounds quite nice.

Add slatherings of spring reverb to taste.