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.

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.

Modules 5 and 16 – WORNG Electronics 3x3x3 Passive Mult

  • What kind of thing is it? A passive multiple. A mult lets you send whatever signal is travelling down a cable to multiple different destinations. Using a passive mult, the signal weakens the more places you send it to but for on-off signals like triggers and clocks, that doesn’t matter so much.
  • How is it useful? You can send one signal up to six new places, three signals out to two new places each, and with two signals you can send one to four other places and one to two other places. Here are some pictures with captions.

The 3x3x3’s input jacks all have a gold ring around them. Here it is fully connected. Yellow’s signal is going out to the pinks; green’s signal is going out to the whites and blue’s signal is going out to the reds.

Now we only have two inputs. Yellow’s signal still goes out through the pinks. Green’s signal goes out through the whites, and since there’s nothing plugged in under the whites it goes out through the reds too.

Yellow’s signal is still going out through the pinks, but since nothing is plugged in under pink, the white cables also carry yellow’s signal. The blue cable’s signal is carried down the red cables.

With no other input voltages, the yellow cable’s voltage (at the top) is being sent out to pink, yellow and red all at once.

  • How does it work? By joining switching audio jacks together on a circuitboard. Seriously, that’s all there is to it. They don’t come much simpler.
  • Does it work well? Definitely. This was the first module I ever got two of, even.
  • Are you still using it? I’ve replaced one of these with some Befaco six-way mults which live in the cable spaghetti. The other one is still racked up for now until I get some more six-way mults.
  • It’s a kit – how easy was it to build? It’s inexpensive to buy, safe and simple to build as an early DIY project and very useful – an ideal first DIY Eurorack module, I think! The only build problem I had was attaching the panel upside-down but that was easily rectified. 🙂
  • Surprises/disappointments? It works even better de-racked and living in cable-space!

The white cable is carrying a repeating falling voltage used to make a kick drum. Sent through the mult, the pink leads use the same signal to make the oscillator go PEW and also reset its sync to avoid clcks on some triggers and not on others because of interactions between the oscillator’s phase and the amplifier’s envelope. Without the mult, I’d need two separate envelope generators. Bargain!

  • Who made it (and where)? WORNG Electronics (Australia)
  • Stats: 3HP, passive (no power requirements)

Modulargrid.

Laying out and burning up

It’s been 8 to 14 January 2017. (How many times have you got the year wrong so far? My grandmother gets the actual century wrong, bless her.)

I had to squeeze my layout work around a family event on Sunday, but I did get another scene finished. I spent the rest of the week on miscellaneous things like catching up on unwatched animated movies and getting my sleep schedule back to something sensible. (Sleeping right during the week means having less sleep to catch up on during the weekend – and hence more production time!)

I finally started reading “Elemental Magic”, the standard texts on effects animation by industry veteran Joseph Gilland. The first Elemental Magic book is more “philosophy and approach” while the second is more practical instruction. Despite speaking from the perspective of hand-drawn animation, the author more than touches on CG. Simulations (like hand drawn) should fit a particular look and feel, even when it’s a particle system and mesher responsible for putting something on screen instead of an animator’s pencil. It’s great to get a sense of how an animation veteran observes and approaches their work and “Elemental Magic” is chock full of insight.

Pointy leaves a trail of dust in his wake in AMITS: Sombrero (temp materials)

I’m reading up on effects animation because there’s smoke and fire in AMITS: Robot. I’m not sure whether to go hand-drawn, wrestle with simulation or even adapt the metaball particle based smoke from AMITS: Sombrero – but whatever strikes the right balance between ease, speed, quality and art direction is what will get the movie made. Also it’ll make my layout more meaningful if I can draw smoke and fire more convincingly. 🙂

See you next week!

Mini-review: Ben Mitchell’s “Independent Animation”

Ben Mitchell’s book “Independent Animation: Developing, Producing and Distributing Your Animated Films” arrived while I was in Amsterdam. Ben is an animation journalist at Skwigly as well as an animator in his own right. His book chock full of war stories and advice from independent animators across the world – you’ll find Adam Elliot (“Harvie Krumpet”), Bill Plympton, Signe Baumane (“Rocks In My Pockets”), Nina Paley (“Sita Sings The Blues”), PES (“Fresh Guacamole”), Jonti Picking (Weebl) and many more talking about their experiences with funding, making feature films, development process, distribution and everything else. I’d highly recommend it to anyone outside of the major studio system looking for inspiration and guidance on the broader task of making animated films.