A moment in the sun Blender Journals Modular synthesisers Music & Synthesisers RYGCBMK◯ Stuff I made

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.

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!

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!