Categories
Blender Journals Modular synthesisers Music & Synthesisers

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.

View this post on Instagram

compare 2 has a face and that face is :E

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

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.

Categories
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)

Categories
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.

Modulargrid.

Categories
Modular synthesisers Music & Synthesisers Reviews

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.

Categories
Modular synthesisers Music & Synthesisers

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. 🙂

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.