Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Digitale Grütze - Waldorf Microwave

The sound of a Waldorf Microwave 1 (Rev A) Wavetable synthesizer, highlighting its 1980’s digital charm.

The Microwave 1 can sound delicate or brash. In this example I wanted to show the artefacts that are part of its character.

Some of them can be coaxed or intentionally set, for example by overloading its digital mixer or using stepped modulation to switch wavetables abruptly. Others are less predictable, like the sound of it breathing.

I played parameters in realtime via the MWAV editor. The recording is a single pass, edited in length.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

DIY Trigger to DIN-Sync Box

Building a small passive adapter to control DIN Sync devices with triggers from your modular or other voltage sources, like Expert Sleepers’ Silent Way.

I’m years late to the game, but in case you haven’t already got something like this, here’s some encouragement to build your own trigger to DIN-Sync adapter. It’s as simple or as fiddly as you want to make it and the results are worth it: using Silent Way’s Sync Plugin has allowed me to teach my old Roland dogs a new trick: swing.

DIN-Sync devices need a minimum of two command voltages (+ a ground reference) to work: a clock and a run command. See the Wikipedia entry on DIN-Sync for a picture of the relevant pins. How you connect these will depend on what you chose to build. You could use sockets, as I did, or, for example, cut the end off a DIN-Sync cable and solder jacks to the wires in question. Don’t forget to connect the ground between the two. Here are some close-ups from the adapter os from ES made.

The box I built has three outputs. These are just passive multiples. I use an old Expert Sleepers ES-3 which has no problems driving two instruments; I doubt a third will be a problem. As DIN-Sync expects 5V triggers, i.e., the sort of voltages our modulars generate, you could also run your 808 directly from an analogue source. Just bear in mind that your clock needs to be running considerably faster for things to work as expected, e.g., 24 pulses per quarter note.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Wolfgang Seidel’s Freeartslab

Basic Electricity stalwart Wolfgang Seidel sent me these new additions to his freeartslab Youtube channel.

The first two videos feature music from his collaboration with the wonderful duo Lan Cao and Gregor Siedl, aka Zicla. The synthheads among us might enjoy the conversation between Wolfgang's Buchla Music Easel and his old friend Conrad Schnitzler's EMS Synthi A.

If you like the music, you can get a copy of the trio's CD 'Optimistic Modernism' from Moloko Plus Records.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Video - Navs live at Powwow

I had a lovely time playing at Powwow last week. If you missed the stream, here is the full video.

The line-up was Navs, Uchi, Wilted Woman, Goldwiener + Luma/Chroma and Hainbach. It was the first Berlin Powwow to be held at Patch Point’s new store in Neukölln and in stereo.

My 6U case contained the usual suspects - Cwejman, Mungo, Makenoise, Toppobrillo - with the new additon of a Harvestman Piston Honda MkI. It's a wavetable oscillator, packed with timbres and glitchy surprises - an oldie but goldie.

Thanks to Darrin and Stefan for organising the evening and setting the stage, to Uchi and Wilted Woman for their wonderful sets, Luma/Chroma for her mesmerising visuals, to Paul for his excellent camera work and Wouter for that suit!

Bleeps & Bloops Reimagined

A fun experiment, applying events that might be clichéd in the modular context to preset sounds. Inspired by the CV to MIDI compositions of Konstantine, the piano playing of Quentin Tolimieri and rediscovered due to this forum thread.

Recent discussion of a piano module reminded me of something I did a few years ago where I used a simple Clavia G2 patch to control a Yamaha QY10. It’s a small MIDI notepad from the 90’s that has a rubberised keyboard, sequencer and PCM sounds … drums, piano, double bass, horns, strings etc. In other words, the antithesis of the timbres we know from the modular synth. Here’s what it sounds like ‘sequenced’ by a stream of random MIDI events:

The Patch uses the G2’s MIDI modules to send both keyboard and random notes to the QY10. Flicking through the MIDI channels on the Yamaha itself causes hanging notes and weird stuff.

It’s all quite entertaining - the above recording was played live and edited for brevity. If you want to hear music made by someone who does this properly, check out Konstantine aka Paranormal Patroler. He knocked us out at his Basic Electricity concert with his CV to MIDI set using Doepfer and ADDAC conversion.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Thru-Zero FM Explainer

How to get the best results from your analogue thru-zero linear FM oscillator. An explainer in response to questions about the Doepfer A-110-4, but which is also applicable to other TZ-FM VCOs.

The A-110-4 seems to be more prone to pitching artefacts than other thru-zero (TZ) VCOs. That might partly be due to the specific design, but general considerations like the tolerances and sensitivities of analogue designs also play a role. Another issue might be perception, e.g. when certain modulation depths make it hard to discern the original pitch of the carrier.


Ignoring the actual implementation (frequency- or phase-modulation), the reason digital FM is easy is because it’s clean. There are no DC offsets or pitch instabilities to ruin the result.

Here is an example using the Clavia Nord Modular G2. The carrier is always heard and only the modulator is enveloped. The frequencies of the two oscillators are fixed but the FM amount is manually increased: 01-TZ_clavia-digital

The carrier was tuned to B3 and the modulator D#5. I chose these pitches by ear to show an effect which might be confused for pitching at higher mod depths. When the modulation recedes, we get a sound similar to guitar feedback. This shows that it’s possible to find combinations of frequency relationships and modulation depths that will sound ‘wrong’ even when patched digitally. In an analogue system, frequency drift or tracking inconsistencies can worsen the problem.


But weird C:M ratios are not the main problem. The real enemy of dynamic linear FM is asymmetry caused by DC offsets. If the modulating wave is not centred about zero, the sound will churn. Here’s the same G2 patch, this time with some virtual DC offset added: 02-TZ_clavia-digital_virtual-dc-offset

To avoid this, some FM inputs are AC-coupled - the signal is filtered by a capacitor. But this is not a magic bullet. If the offset is large enough and being swept dynamically, the capacitor will have a hard time eliminating it. The most likely cause for DC offsets are the modulating oscillator itself, or more precisely its wave-shaping circuitry. I have had best results with Doepfer’s A-143-9 Quadrature sine-core oscillator.


Analogue TZ-FM involves switching to generate ‘negative frequencies’. No matter how finely timed, there is a moment of indecision which may be audible as a growl or rumble. DC offset makes this worse as it shifts the switching point. Lower initial frequencies (aka Bias, Symmetry or LFreq) allow more modulation and brighter sounds, but the cost is lower accuracy and more ‘bum notes’.

THE A-110-4

The Doepfer TZ-VCO switches between two oscillators. This method has pros and cons. If the two VCOs do not respond equally to modulation, the resulting FM will sound ‘off’, even if the modulator is clean and the switching point is accurate. This cannot be trimmed by the user. To mitigate pitching artefacts at the point of switching, calibrating the TZ transition can help.


As Cynthia Webster says in her humorous video showing the difference between thru-zero and normal linear FM, without TZ “half the modulation is gone”. As you’ll hear, the frequency relationship between carrier and modulator also plays a role.

The first VCO you hear in the next two examples is the Zeroscillator, then the A-143-9 which I have modified for standard linear-FM.

If the carrier’s initial frequency is high enough and/or the modulator is higher in frequency than the carrier, the tonal result is very similar:

The real difference between thru-zero and normal linear FM is apparent when the modulator is slower. As you can see above, instead of adding gentle folds, the modulator pushes and pulls the carrier through zero. TZ allows deep levels of modulation, even when the carrier’s initial frequency is low. When this is the case, there is a big difference between normal and TZ linear FM in the possible tonal result: 04-TZ-low-initial-freq_ZO-A-143-9

One last thought on this as the Zeroscillator video is much quoted when the question “what is thru-zero FM?” is raised: toggling the “Through Zero” switch on the ZO does not yield ’typical’ linear FM; normal linear FM does not sound like this: 05-TZ-not-typical


I have concentrated on the audio effects here, but VCOs that can go thru-zero have other uses when they themselves are used as modulators. For an idea, try this patch for a thru-zero frequency shifter and listen to your sounds swap stereo sides.

I hope this explainer helps you with your TZ-FM experiments. The files folder is here. If you’re not sure about the analogue results you’re getting and need a digital ’control’, download the Clavia Nord Modular G2 demo. If you’re on a Mac and 10.7 or higher, you can run the demo under Wine. There is info here or an installer here.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Powwow 4 - Feedback

Here’s the recording of my live set at the fourth Berlin Powwow session which you can buy from my Bandcamp.

For this performance I wanted to explore feedback and the obstacles and modifiers one can place in the loop. The key players in this were delays, filters, non-linear functions and malfunctioning components.

My main analogue patch featured a Cwejman RES-4 in a loop with a Bananalogue Serge WVX. The combination of four frequency bands of oscillation might have been enough, but placing a Cwejman VCEQ-3 in the chain to dampen or boost the feedback added another level of complexity. A stressed coupling capacitor and scratchy Folds pot on the WVX added to the unpredictability and fun.

Live, I love my Clavia Micro Modular for two main reasons: patch recall, which allows me to set a scene or chop between moods, and polyphony. The virtual feedback patches in this set were simple, but switching them to two or three voices added complexity and interest, for example asynchronous panning or the beating of multiple sine-wave oscillators. You can do it with a ’real’ modular, but at a cost!

This set up is flexible and just about portable. It’s still completely live in that each patch either has to be built or played by hand. But the addition and convenience of the Micro Modular does cause me to question how we approach playing live with a modular. With many musicians turning up to gigs with their rigs pre-patched, is there a difference or even a need for the real deal?

Thanks again to Goldwiener, Hainbach, Paul da Fonk and Mark Berman of Powwow for the opportunity to make some noise.