Thursday 22 December 2011

LeafAudio Noisefoc Samples

A free library of sounds for Ableton's Simpler made with LeafAudio's Noisefoc synth.

From Manu: "We created a free library for Ableton 8 based on sounds of the NOISEFOC Synth - a 3-oscillator synth that can be built in our workshops as a diy-machine. The library includes 16 Simpler-Instruments that show the possibilities of combining diy-machines and professional production. It doesn't sound like that but yes, you can do electro pop with the sounds ;-) All sounds in this song except the drums are made with the Noisefoc library."

Noisefoc Ableton-Library Demosong by LeafAudio

The library is available here. Look out for LeafAudio workshops in Spring 2012 where you can build your own Noisefoc, Fuzz-O-Mat or Bumsss.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

4ms PEG Demo

Audio examples of the 4ms Pingable Envelope Generator. An update to this post.

Perfect for synced modulations, the PEG generates LFOs and envelopes which can be locked to a master clock. Once 'pinged', its variable slopes run at either the base time or are stretched/ shrunk to a divided/ multiplied rate. Here it is in action:

4ms PEG demo by navs

The PEG offers voltage control over most of its parameters, various trigger outputs, an analogue OR and a variety of triggering options. The toggle function can be a creative source of surprise, as it flips the activity of the two envelope generators. The curves can be extreme, especially when the skew is maxed in one or the other direction, so you might want to use a linear VCA. That said, a 'whiplash' setting is great with low pass gates.

I've only scratched the surface with this demo: you could try the PEG on drones, slow pans or feeding it to a quantizer for synced, stepped CVs. QNT trig mode allows gated repeats or trills like the Plan B Model 10 or Cwejman CTG-VC. When used with a sequencer, you could set different length envelopes per note, or use the toggle jack to combine the two.

The PEG is rich in possibilities, so make sure you read the extensive manual. Once you've grasped the concept, it's easy to use. If you've ever wanted to keep your wobbles in time, the PEG might be what you've been looking for.

Monday 19 December 2011

PT #20 - Hutchins' Anti-Glide Patch

How to compensate for frequency shift in exponential FM. Bernie Hutchins' Electronotes patch quoted in and cribbed from Allen Strange.

Exponential audio-rate FM is great for klangorous tones. Unlike linear FM, however, it's hard to patch dynamically. Changing the index results in a churning sound. The more you modulate the carrier, the greater the pitch shift.

Bernie Hutchins' patch counteracts this detuning by simultaneously pulling the frequency of the carrier down with an inverse envelope:

The modulator is patched to the carrier via a VCA. An envelope opens the VCA. The envelope is multed to a second VCA or ring modulator and multiplied by itself. The result is inverted and patched to the carrier.

Here's how it sounds: bernie1

With and without the compensation CV: bernie2

I'd tried this previously, as a work-around for my VCOs which don't have linear FM capability, but didn't get it to work satisfactorily. My mistake was to send the full inverted envelope to the carrier - it needs tweaking to find the right level. Don't expect to be able to set high indices. I found I couldn't push the envelope much above 2-3 volts before the compensation CV itself became apparent. Similarly, short envelopes seem to work better than e.g. joystick sweeps.

Despite its limitations, this patch offers a method for dynamic timbal control of VCOs that aren't capable of linear FM. It's a bit fiddly, but as Allen Strange writes, it's certainly worth a try.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Mystery Beatbox

Spotted at Schneidersladen. One of five, custom-built, apparently based on a Hohner drum machine, master clock operation only, price unknown. Sadly, couldn't hear it in action.

Full-size pictures are here. Thanks to Moondust for the loan of the camera and the delicious Swiss chocolate!

Friday 11 November 2011

Feedback Looper

A DIY expander for the Doepfer A-112 Sampler/ Delay/ Wavetable Osc.

Since re-buying the A-112 earlier this Summer, it's become a frequent feature in my music. The one thing I wished it had was a built-in feedback function for delay duties. This can be patched, but ties up a mixer, usually a four-channel, 8HP one. This passive 4HP mixer is dedicated to that task. It also incorporates a mod to bypass the A-112's filter and AC-coupling circuit which allows one to record and process CVs.

The source signal is mixed with the output of the A-112 via resistors. Feedback is controlled via a pot. A mult of the return signal is used as the main output. You can download the schematic and extra pictures here. Experiment with the values of the resistors to get the best results for your set up. I'm sure an active circuit would have been better, but to paraphrase Nicolas Collins: if it works and doesn't smoke, don't sweat it!

As with Bitsy, I used a PCB blank, this time from MFB. Thanks to Schneidersladen for the spare Cliff jacks and Cwejman-style knobs. They're D-shaft, but that's nothing a quick blast with a drill can't solve.

Today's Patch of the Day is a jam with two feedback paths: the output of the A-112 was first sent to the A-199 spring reverb before being returned to the mixer. The oscillator was the A-143-9 QLFO, itself receiving a little feedback to bend its sine into a triangle.

DIY can be fun and frustrating but it's worth the effort, especially if you end up with a module that meets your own needs. As ever, the usual disclaimer: modding your A-112 will void your warranty, carry out at your own risk!

Three Thru Zero

Comparing the thru-zero linear FM response of the Cyclonix Cyclebox to the Cyndustries Zeroscillator and Harvestman Hertz Donut.

I like timbral oscillators and use them in my live sets. The Zeroscillator is too big to gig with, so the Hertz Donut usually takes its place. While it packs a lot of features into a small space, the HD is less than hi-fi, so I was hoping the better-spec'd Cyclebox might be an alternative.

In this comparison, I've focussed on thru-zero linear FM as that is what I'm interested in. For demos of the Cyclebox's other features, look here.

dynamic, sine-on-sine. (0:00) zo, (0:09) cb (lead out)

ibid. (0:00) zo, (0:25) cb, (0:45) hd

Despite a firmware upgrade, the Hertz Donut tends to break up in the upper registers. Here's how the three cope with higher pitches:

(0:00) hd, (0:06) cb, (0:13) zo. (0:21) zo, (0:28) cb, (0:36) hd

I matched the pitches of the principal and modulating oscillators by ear, using mode 0010 on the CB for examples 2 & 3. On the ZO & HD I increased the modulation depth as far as I could before pitching artifacts were evident. The CB's FM index was set to full.

As you can hear, the CB doesn't seem to allow the same level of modulation as the ZO & HD, so it sounds muted by comparison. This can be addressed to an extent by increasing the gain, but as this feeds the wave-folder, the results are not the same. It's not clear from the manual whether the internal ratio setting is discrete or in semi-tones, but this might explain why it's easier to achieve clangorous/ bell tones on the ZO & HD. Overall, the CB's linear FM response reminded me of the Livewire AFG, namely better than most non-thru-zero VCOs, but lacking in brilliance.

The Cyclebox is more hi-fi than the Hertz Donut, but because I couldn't push the index as far in a dynamic FM patch, I found it lackluster. Both digital VCOs offer a built-in modulator, smaller footprint and more stable FM. However, despite the inaccuracies of analogue, I prefer the thru-zero linear FM tones of the Zeroscillator.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Patch Tips #19 - Morphase

A look at and listen to the Zeroscillator's quadrature outs.

Often overlooked and sometimes misunderstood, the Zeroscillator's morphase function can yield stunning sounds or be used as a complex modulation source.

The outputs offer four phase-shifted versions of the main oscillator (0, 180, 90 & 270 degrees). They can be wave-shaped from triangle to amplitude-compensated square via sine.

This morphing can be manually or CV controlled. A three-way switch determines how the outputs are affected: both, independent, inverse. The CV inputs (A & B) are unattenuated, the manual pots act as an offset.

With the switch left, an LFO patched to 'input A' sweeps the 0 & 90 degree outs from triangle to square and back. With the switch right, the 0 degree output morphs as before, but the 90 degree tap sweeps from square to triangle. With the switch in the middle position, two CVs are required, A & B, for independent morphing.

Here's how it sounds:


Quadrature wave-shaping. 0 & 90 degree outputs panned left & right, dry.

The recordings give an idea of some of the stereo effects possible using just two outputs of the Zeroscillator. Example two features linear FM, while clips 1 & 3 show off one of my favourite patches: zero bias, modulator to FM in. This is another form of wave-shaping and is a great source of plucked string sounds.

The quadrature sines are not as pure as the main out and might need calibration to ensure similar waveforms at similar settings. Of course, as soon as one introduces dynamic wave-shaping, this is less of an issue. The quadrature outs can also be used in LFO mode for panning duties, but you might be better off getting an A-143-9 for this. Aside from the price difference, the QLFO is the best ZO modulator I've found, due to its clean sine and negligible DC-offset.

The Zeroscillator is a complex beast and needs some patience and care. However, the sounds it's capable of are worth the effort.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Bugbrand WOM Pro

Some sounds from Tom Bugs' DIY Workshop Osc Machine Pro.

I've just built my WOM Pro, which I got from Tom at his recent gig in Berlin. Despite its simple looks, the WOM is capable of a wealth of complex, ear-shredding noises:

Bugbrand WOM Pro by navs

The kit comes with all necessary parts, excellent instructions and was a joy to build. The schematic reminded me of some of the circuits in Nicolas Collins' Handmade Electronic Music, some of which I used in my Trobetronic40. What makes the WOM special is its power starve, touch plate control and, I suspect, its CMOS-based mixer. The latter seems responsible not just for volume control, but also the way the oscillators interact. Click here for more info on the build.

The WOM Pro puts out enough juice to be plugged directly into the modular and, used with an envelope follower, random generator and the Borg filter, is capable of Benjolin-esque sounds. Try setting the VCO range switches to a midway position. The resulting uncertainty opens up another can of bug-sounds.

Thanks to Tom for an excellent kit. I was going to give the WOM away as a present, but it's too much fun - highly recommended!

Tuesday 1 November 2011

navs.modular.lab is three today!

To celebrate the blog's third birthday, I've finally re-uploaded my old content and released a new EP, 'Keep the Smash'.

The seven tracks were recorded over the summer and feature the sounds of my modular and the unruly Sunsyn. Some of the pieces involved MIDI, others relied on audio edits and digital processing. Part of the fun was setting live patches in a new context, as in iirc or Smudge. The Sunsyn continues to surprise, refusing to do what you want, but nevertheless giving you something interesting. As you can hear in the title track and The Kick, I've learnt to give in to its whims.

'Keep the Smash' can be bought from my Bandcamp page for €2.99 or more.

Once I'd found a suitable solution, re-uploading three years' worth of content was straight-forward, if time-consuming. I settled on Sugarsync as it offers 5GB of free storage and doesn't have a monthly bandwidth cap.

Going through my old posts, I found some forgotten gems. If you missed them first time 'round, here are a few of my favourites: Buchla Bore, The Organ Grinder, Hands-On Experience, Releasequence.

If you do find any dead links, let me know in the comments section.

Enjoy the restored content, the new EP and your modular - here's to another year!

Cheers, Navs.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Sport Modulator Explained

A lot of people are confused by the Toppobrillo Sport Modulator. They needn't be. As you can see from the easy-to-follow diagram below, using the SM is child's play.

When patched correctly, the Sport Modulator should sound like this.

If your Sport Modulator sounds like this ...

... you have done something wrong. Please consult the diagram and start again.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Even More Hazarai!

Modifying the Electro Harmonix Stereo Memory Man w/ Hazarai delay pedal for external tap clock. A follow-up to this post.

Two years on from blogging Rechner7's project, I've finally modded my SMMH, a delay which features heavily in my recordings and live sets. I'd never found the original tap tempo function a hindrance to getting interesting echo, but was inspired to give the mod another look after seeing Mr Biggs' video of his project. I'm glad I did, as the additional inputs have yielded a few surprises.

Here's how it sounds: smmh_mod1.mp3

I kept my mod simple, adding one external clock jack, a three-position switch (on + HP filter, off, on without filter) and a softer response tap button. The internal changes consist of Ken Stone's Gate to Trigger and Doepfer's Gate to S-Trigger circuits. Here's my perf-board layout. As r7 originally warned, the most difficult part of the operation was removing the PCB from the enclosure. After a few frustrating attempts, I gave up, masked the PCB with paper and drilled my holes with the board in place.

So, was it worth it? Yes, but not for the reasons I originally assumed. While tempo-syncing is nice, I actually prefer the sound of echos which are not perfectly in time. The new momentary switch was a last minute decision and I'm glad I added it. It's less clunky than the original foot-switch and makes tapping easier. That doesn't mean the clock input is redundant - it comes into its own when fed with random gates, for example from a tail-chasing Wogglebug.

As you can hear, this is where the real fun starts: smmh_mod2.mp3

Thanks to Rechner7 and Mr Biggs for answering my questions and for their encouragement. It's a simple project that helps integrate the SMMH with the modular, so highly recommended. As ever, the usual disclaimer applies: modding you pedal will void your warranty and is carried out at your own risk!

Friday 14 October 2011

Bitsy - Stepped CV Generator/ Recorder

A DIY Ring Counter based on Ken Stone's Gated Comparator circuit.

My inspiration for this module was Grant Richter's Wiard Noise Ring - a random CV generator with a form of memory. While I liked its ability to capture an eight note sequence, I found it hard to control and wanted some method to reliably input my own data.

I first thought an analogue shift register - a chain of sample + holds - might provide the solution. Thanks to a prod in the right direction from Matthias of Fonitronik, I discovered Scott Stites' Klee sequencer and later Rob Hordijk's Rungler and Ken Stone's digital shift register circuits.

Using a CMOS chip like the 4015 or 4021 won't allow you to sample your own CV stream, but the end result is the same. A series of zeros and ones is converted into a stepped CV via a DAC, in this case an R/2R network. Feeding the last stage of the shift register back to the input allows you to hold a sequence. Here's how it sounds:

I built Bitsy as a companion to the Wogglebug, which provides the clock and data, via its burst output. Like the Klee, it can also be programmed via a sequencer or manual gates. To simplify the design, I left out the input comparators of Ken Stone's circuit. A switch is used to manually hold a sequence. The last stage is also available, allowing VC over new/ old data selection via a sequential switch like the Doepfer A-151. An LED reflects the voltage level.

I used the DIY Layout Creator to plan my perfboard and a 6HP Makenoise blank as faceplate. This was the first time I'd made a parallel board, which meant using wire connections for the jacks etc. However, the benefit of this was I didn't have to be totally accurate when drilling holes.

Thanks to Matthias for the hint and to the designers of the original circuits which inspired this project!

Sunday 9 October 2011

Patch Tips#18 - ADSR 'Free-Run'

Using a gate delay and comparator to trigger 'full length' ADSR runs, achieve looping ADSRs and delayed looping of AD envelopes. As suggested in this thread.

Unlike AD envelopes, ADSRs generally need a gate signal to fully complete their cycle. The gate determines the duration of the sustain phase of the envelope's run. So, what to do if your sequencer only generates triggers?

With a gate delay like the A-162, set the delay to zero and the length to taste. If using Maths' channel 1, the rise sets the delay time and the fall the length of the gate, available at the EOR. This provides the gate that the sustain requires. This mimics the response of AD envelopes like the VCS, which complete regardless of gate duration.

If you then mult that gate to a comparator with a suitable threshold, you'll get a second gate when the first expires. I used the Sport Modulator with the multed gate fed to the bottom input and 5V as a threshold reference sent to the top input. The middle output provides the comparator function. Mix the two gates and feed them to the input of the gate delay and you've got a looping ADSR.

The A-162 is great for these sorts of tricks and can also be used with AD envelopes which have an End Out (VCS, Maths, A-143-1) to achieve the Envelator's delayed looping.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Tom Bugs Live in Berlin

If you're in Berlin this Friday, be sure to catch Mr Bugbrand, Tom Bugs, at the Auxxx in Prenzlauer Berg:

Kastanienallee 77 (Lichtblick Kino) 10435 Berlin
Friday 7th Oct. Doors @ 21:00, Show @ 22:00

"Legendary analogue electronic instrument inventor Tom Bugs comes over from Bristol with his personal BugBrand Modular setup for a discussion and performance." More info at the Auxxx blog.

Monday 5 September 2011

From Bananas to Blippoos

Some pictures from a day in Richard Scott's studio.

Richard's studio is an Aladdin's Cave of Banana-jack synths. The Buchla VCO was on its way to its new owner, so I was lucky to get a chance to hear it. While it looks fantastic, I wasn't taken by its sound. Financially speaking, this is probably a good thing. The Serge & CGS system was much more to my taste. I was surprised at how familiar I was with its patching vocabulary, due in part to certain Serge-inspired Euro modules, and was able to dive straight in. The Bugbrand is a cracking, compact system with a gutsy sound. But of all the synths in the studio, I lost my heart to the two Hordijk boxes, the wonderful Blippoo and Benjolin.

Thanks to Richard for a wonderful afternoon and the pukka pakoras!

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Release: Basic Electricity #1 Live EP

For those who couldn't make it to the recent Basic Electricity event at the Auxxx in Berlin, here are the recordings of my set.

Making their debut at this gig were the Doepfer A-199 Spring Reverb, A-112 Sampler/ Wavetable Osc. & Cwejman FSH-1 Frequency Shifter. They were supported by the usual suspects: RES-4, MMF-1, Toppobrillo Triple Wave Folder & Sport Modulator, Harvestman Hertz Donut, Makenoise Wogglebug and, of course, the EHX Stereo Memory Man w/ Hazarai.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Patch Tips #17 - Sport Detector

Using the Toppobrillo Sport Modulator as a slope detector.

One of the most interesting aspects of Mono-Poly's performance at the recent Basic Electricity night in Berlin was his use of slope detectors to generate rhythms. Feeding a pair of Ken Stone/ Elby Designs CGS762s with the outputs of his Wiard/ Malekko Noise Rings yielded unpredictable, yet in sync, patterns.

I'd previously tried the patch example in the Sport Modulator manual without much success. Inspired by the results Mono-Poly got from this configuration, I gave it another shot:

Sport Detector by navs

I used an LFO, reset by a clock divider to feed a Wogglebug which sampled the incoming CV at a rate set by a master clock. This CV was sent to the top section of the SM and an inverted version to the bottom. Lag for both sections was @ 2 o'clock. This setting is important as it determines the SM's reaction time and hence the accuracy or otherwise of the resulting gates. When the CV is rising, a gate is output from the top END (left channel), when it's falling from the bottom END (right).

In the examples, I toyed with the clock divider's reset, the LFO speed and also injected some chaos via the Wogglebug. As you can hear, this is a great way to generate pulse patterns on the fly.

Basic Electricity #1 Video

A video compilation of Basic Electricity #1 from Gabor Molnar via Mono-Poly.

Richard Scott, Mono-Poly, NAVS at Lichtblick Kino, Berlin 29.07.2011 from Gabor Molnar on Vimeo.

Thanks to all who attended and took part - it was a very enjoyable evening. I'll post the audio of my sets soon and look forward to the next event!

Monday 1 August 2011

Ring-Mod Round-up

An overview of five balanced-, or ring-, modulators: the Intellijel μMod, Makenoise ModDemix, Fonitronik mh-31, Doepfer A-133 and Cwejman VCO-2RM.

RingMod Roundup by navs

These modules have a different approach, feature set and, as you can hear, sound. The Cwejman is a classic two-input, one output affair and I included it as a reference as it has good rejection and headroom.

On the face of it, the additional features offered by each manufacturer set these modules apart. However, given that the basic concept is the same, these differences might not be that wide. The μMod's 'Q' function, for example, seems to be a bipolar offset, something that could be patched externally with the Cwejman or by increasing the manual gain on the A-133. Similarly, the auto-AM/ pseudo-SSB modulation offered by the ModDemix's normalizing could also be covered by a dual module like the Doepfer. Incidentally, it's a shame neither of these dual modules can be used as a mixer out of the box. Pre-patching a signal to one of Maths' attenuverters and using the uni-polar OR output as modulator would yield a function similar to the μMod's rectification switches. The mh-31 utilizes rectification as part of its 'RM' process which might explain its characteristic sound.

Two technical points to note: when used as a VCA, the μMod I tested displayed a small amount of carrier bleed (audible in the example above), but I'm sure this can be corrected by calibration of the 'Q'/ offset. The A-133 suffers bleed too, but this is understandable due to its lack of centre-indent pots. At low 'strength' amounts, the ModDemix displays an unusual response - the processed waveform seemed more typical of AM than the 'attenuated' RM I'm used to from the A-133. Both the Makenoise and Doepfer are DC-coupled, so I wonder if this difference is down to the circuit employed.

In terms of sound and function, I saw the closest parallels between the VCO-2RM & μMod one the one hand, and the Doepfer & Makenoise ModDemix on the other. The mh-31 is the most unorthodox design and doesn't easily fit in either camp.

To my ears, the Cwejman and Intellijel have the cleanest tone, with the Makenoise and Fonitronik well-suited to more abrasive timbres. While not as transparent as the VCO-2RM or μMod, the A-133 can be both clean or driven to distortion.

Thanks to Schneidersbuero for the loan of the Intellijel & Makenoise modules.

Patch Tips#16 - Analogue Logic

Using the A-172 Min/Max as a voltage limiter.

Today's Patch Tip is taken from this discussion on limiting the output of a Wiard Noise Ring. Self Oscillate's suggestion of using a min/ max module is a simple but ingenious solution that deserves re-posting. Not only can it be used to limit the level of a stream of CVs, applying a threshold in this manner can also clip audio waveforms, dynamically if desired.

"… feed the NR output to a max/min module, together with a fixed voltage which determines the highest allowed pitch. then use the min output. the higher notes will not exceed the fixed voltage, while the lower notes get through unchanged."

As Self Oscillate notes, the benefit of using a min/max module is that, unlike general attenuation, the lower CVs are unaffected. When applied to audio, this results in a 'squaring-off' of the waveform at a pre-determined level. Experiment with the A-172's outputs for positive and negative clipping.

I'd previously used the A-172 and Maths' OR output to trace the peak contour of two sources, but hadn't considered doing the reverse. Thanks to Self Oscillate for this useful application of fuzzy logic!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Doepfer A-112 Sampler/ Wavetable Osc.

Rediscovery of another Doepfer classic - the A-112.

This module was in my first order five years ago. It survived in my system for a while and was sold without much remorse. Since then, we've been treated to several dedicated delay modules, The Harvestman's Tyme Sefari & Piston Honda and, more recently, Make Noise's Phonogene. These modules share much in common with the A-112 and got me wondering why I'd ditched it - was it because of its lo-fi character or because I wasn't ready for it?

Doepfer A-112 Demo by navs

As you can hear, the A-112's 8-Bit nature means it's dirty, noisy & crunchy, but not to the extent that it's musically unusable. Far from it: it can make a huge difference in, or form the basis of, a patch, adds character and, despite its limited 128 kilobyte memory, is bags of fun.

That said, the interface isn't perfect - it's too easy to accidentally wipe a stored wavetable due to a false flick of a switch - but it is immediate. Also, Doepfer's Sample Dumper application is in need of an update & port to OSX as this is key to getting the most out of the wavetable mode (I borrowed an old laptop running Win98!). Another criticism is that sampling at the highest resolution (Tune @ '10') also caps the highest pitch CV it will respond to. Conversely, I'd also like it to go slower because of its ability to record CVs. A simple mod (remove passive filter jumper and bypass cap C11) makes this possible. Details are outlined in this message at the Doepfer Yahoo group. A simple dual gang switch would be a quick mod If you want both options.

The Harvestman & Make Noise instruments might be a refinement of the original concept, offering better fidelity and more functions but they also come with a higher price tag and take up more rack space. If you're ok with its gritty sound, for the €150, 10HP entry fee, you really can't go wrong with the A-112.

Today's Patch of the Day features the A-112, RES-4 and a Wogglebug:

Doepfer's Sample Dumper can be downloaded here. Wiard's Wave256 & Move256 can be found here, more wavetables are available at the Wiard Yahoo Group.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Navs Live @ Basic Electricity #1

I'll be playing live on Friday 29th July at Basic Electricity #1, hosted by Auxxx in Berlin. Noodle-Chef Mono-Poly and WiGi-Wizard Richard Scott are also on the bill on modular and Buchla Lightning.

The Auxxx is in the Lichtblick Kino and is an intimate venue with comfy seats and good sound. If you're in town, it would be great to see you!

More info at the auxxx blog.

Basic Electricity # 1

Mono-Poly (NL): Modular Synthesizer
Navs (Berlin): Modular Synthesizer
Richard Scott (UK, Berlin): WiGi/Buchla Lightning

Kastanienallee 77 (Lichtblick Kino)
10435 BERLIN

FRIDAY 29th JULY 2011

Doors Open 21:00
Show Starts 22:00

Tuesday 28 June 2011

4ms VCAMatrix Demo

Pre-production black faceplate VCAM. Final version available only in silver/ aluminum.

The 4ms VCAM is a 4x4 matrix mixer containing 16 SSM VCAs, mutes and offset/ attenuation pots. For more information, click here.

4ms VCAMatrix Demo by navs


The VCAM looks great and is logically laid out. The mute buttons are responsive and a joy to play. The trims are not as fiddly as one might think - I can still get my large fingers in for live mixing of levels. I was worried I might get lost in the forest of knobs & switches, but it quickly becomes second nature. The routing caused some initial head-scratching, but that's more down to the possibilities than layout. The easiest way to grasp the VCAM's concept is as a standard mixer with auxes/ busses - if you do though, you might wish for more inputs: 4 aren't enough if you want to replace your external mixer at a gig. Also, this isn't necessarily the role the VCAM was designed for - the fun starts when mixing different sources.


The VCAs sound clean, are musical when overdriven and respond nicely to audio-rate AM. The VCAM is 'louder' than my Cwejman VCAs at a setting of '10' i.e. you can get unity gain manually on the 4MS, whereas the Cwejman leaves headroom for eventual CVs.

The punch afforded by the VCAM's soft limiting is great, however, there is a flip-side to the chosen response: at lower CV amplitudes, the envelope is 'pinched' and equal-power crossfades are tricky, though not impossible.

I asked Dann of 4ms about this and he suggested using higher voltage levels for crossfading (0V-8V and 8V-0V linear envelopes). The voltage is limited past 4V, so everything below that is linear, anything above fairly constant, so dead spots are avoided. This is the easiest way to crossfade without resorting to a log- and anti-log sine. The forthcoming 4ms PEG will apparently make this process easier.

This amplitude-dependent response requires pre- or post-VCAM attenuation to match levels. This was my first surprise with the VCAM: despite its features and size, it needs some supporting modules, or, like the QMMG, you need to use other channels to get the most out of it. For example, for a gated AM sound, you might want to patch your modulator to an external offset/ attenuator like the A-183-2 or A-129-3 prior to patching it to the CV input on the VCAM. Another example might be it's use as an VC effects send mixer. Because gating happens on a per-channel input - i.e. there is no normalization - you would need to pre-gate your signals: if you gate your 'dry' VCO signal on channel 1 and then open your 'FX send' on channel 2, your signal would be a constant, un-gated tone. Depending on the patch, another solution would be to simply mult the envelope.

This is not a criticism and makes absolute sense given the VCAM's structure. To be honest, I'm sure part of this is down to the temptation to run an entire mix through the VCAM, effects and all, which might be to miss the point. The VCAM excels at feedback patches, where one might not need all four channels to generate complex sounds. Part of the fun is in the control, the other in not knowing which routing will lead to which result. Mixing different sources (audio, CVs, FX & filter loops) can lead to unexpected, sometimes chaotic, cross-modulations. 

I didn't think I could get excited by a bunch of VCAs, but the VCAM opens-up new possibilities. Having all routings in a patch in one module makes it perfect for performance and experimentation and watching sixteen LEDs glow in a grid is truly mesmerizing!


Factory settings for the VCAM's max gain are calibrated for 'soft limiting' rather than clipping, which I find sounds very musical and makes a nice contrast to my 'character-free' Cwejman VCAs, so I'm happy to leave this trim as is.

The manual trim pot is set to give ca. -55dB of attenuation and means the corresponding LED is dim but not off, which is a useful indicator of which channels are actually muted. However, it does also mean that signals are not fully cut. This might have an effect if it is part of a feedback loop. The problem arises when the input is a CV or when the CV controlling a VCA is inactive (e.g. an un-triggered envelope @ 0V). Without muting the channel, it will continue to mildly affect its destination. For the former, the answer is to simply mute the channel. In the case of the idle CV, or if you want more attenuation, a trim might be in order.

Many thanks to Dann for a cracking module!

Monday 13 June 2011

Navs Live @ 48 Stunden Neukölln

I'll be playing live at 48 Stunden Neukölln this Saturday, 18th June. Weather permitting, I'll be setting up around 2 p.m. in garden 20 in the Hand in Hand Kolonie, Rütlistr. 8, 12045 Berlin.

Here's a taster of what it could sound like:

Die Luxus Luege by navs

If you're in town, it would be great to see you for an afternoon of electronic sounds in the open air.

Friday 10 June 2011

Doepfer A-199 Spring Reverb

With so many cool new modules being released, it's easy to overlook some of the classics. Similar to my A-156 quantizer epiphany, I've only just discovered the Doepfer A-199 Spring Reverb. Primitive though the effect may be, it's breathed new life into my system.

Here's a demo of how it sounds and some ideas for patching the feedback path:

Doepfer A-199 Spring Reverb Demo by navs

I'd tried the A-199 before, but wasn't taken by it: I guess I was looking for reverb, when I should have been listening to the effect for what it was. While on a recent hiking holiday, I came across an old, rusted gate. Because of its age and construction, opening and closing it generated wonderful, resonant/ reverberated sounds. I 'played' this gate for a full five minutes and spent the rest of the walk thinking about how one might recreate its sound. The A-199's time had come.

Today's Patch of the Day features a Cwejman RES-4, the A-199 and Metasonix R54 in the feedback path:

The one criticism that's leveled at the A-199 is its tendency to hum, but, keeping the module far enough away from the PSU and the springs outside the case, I haven't noticed this to be too bad. I'm also happy with the sound of the stock Belton tank, but if you want to change it, consult this spring reverb wiki compiled by Tim Stinchcombe for a suitable replacement.

The A-199 is a lot of fun. It can add simple ambience to sounds or be patched as a special effect. This module was the missing element in my system, adding space, colour and character - spring reverbs and modular synths seem to be made for each other.

Thursday 9 June 2011

New Neulant van Exel Cases

Spotted at Schneidersladen. Cases come in a choice of colours and wood. PSU is a Tiptop Audio Zeus. Prices TBC, but could be around €1100 for the large (18U) and €800 for the small (9U) versions.

You might remember Neulant van Exel's portable case, the Klangformer.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Server Update

Turns out my server is not down: the domain was allowed to expire and my content deleted.

I'm looking into a solution for my audio files, either on a new server or at Bandcamp. In the meantime, I'll start migrating my pictures to Google's Picassa.

I don't know whether edited posts are re-sent to subscribers or followers, but don't be surprised if you get a slew of old posts in your inbox!

This situation was caused by mis-communication which was out of my hands. Having to re-upload three years' worth of content is a royal PITA, but there is a positive side. It has served as a wake-up call and allows me to reorganize the blog to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Pinch and a Punch for the 1st of the Month

My server is down and, with it, most of my content.

Hopefully back up soon!

Monday 18 April 2011


I got a chance to play with the prototypes of the 4MS VCA Matrix & Pingable Envelope Generator this past week while Dann & Jeannot were visiting Berlin. As the layout & features of both modules might change, I won't go into detail. Here's a quick, uncommented, run-through:

4MS VCAM & PEG Demo by navs

The VCAM works as you'd expect: it's a matrix mixer with the added benefit of SSM VCAs & mutes, capable of processing both CVs & audio. The LED mute buttons, in particular, would be useful in performance.

The PEG offers tempo-sync'd envelopes/ LFOs with control over multiplication or division of the envelope time, contour shaping tools and various trigger outs. With a little feedback and when run at audio-rates it can produce chaotic results.

Thanks to Dann for bringing them round - looking forward to the final versions!

Friday 15 April 2011

Release: Trans Europa Exzess

Studio version of my set at the Schneidersbuero Superbooth event at the Saasfee Pavillion last week.

I took a 6U system to Frankfurt, which was the same rig I used for the above recording: 4MS RCD + breakout, Analogue Solutions MX224 & SH-NZ, Cwejman RES-4, MMF-1 & VCA-4MX, Doepfer A-133, Makenoise Wogglebug & Maths, Plan B M15 & M12, Toppobrillo Sport Modulator & Triple Wavefolder and, of course, the EHX Stereo Memory Man w/ Hazarai.

This was the first time I received the full security check the airport, involving a visit to a special room and swab test on the case. A tip for modular travelers: when asked whether you are a DJ and your equipment is a mixer, answer 'yes' to both questions.

Thanks to Andreas and all involved - it was a great evening!

Thursday 31 March 2011


A heads-up about Schneidersbuero's Superbooth tour, TransEuropaExzess, which kicks off with a special evening event during the Musikmesse next week in Frankfurt.

Look forward to the new Modular Merry-Go-Round, drinks and live performances from 4ms and others at the Saasfee Pavillion on Thursday, 7th April from 9 p.m.

More details about the Superbooth here.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Patch Tips #15 - Non-Linear Distortion

I recently stumbled across the Nord Modular's exponential shaper module while looking for something to bend a signal. The ShpExp works with transfer functions to generate non-linear distortion. This can give a sound edge, without totally shredding it. Of course, my next thought was whether it would be possible to patch something similar with my system. As usual, Rob Hordijk had the answer.

The trick involves generating a signal at twice the frequency of the source, which will then be used to modulate the amplifier. The easiest way to do this is to patch multiples of the source to both inputs of a ring modulator, effectively multiplying the signal by itself. This performs full wave rectification and, in the case of sine waves, frequency doubling. Patched to a linear VCA, a sine wave is bent like this:

Here's how it sounds:

Mono- then Duo-phonic signal. Clean Cwejman signal path (MMF-1 sine, VCO-2RM RM, VCA-2P)

Mono- then Duo-phonic signal. Dirty Doepfer signal path for added crunch (MMF-1 sine, A-133 as RM, A132-1 VCA)

Feeding the rectified, frequency-doubled signal back to the source, rather than the VCA, will bend the sine into a triangle, albeit with a different pitch. Try varying the FM-CV amount, other VCO waveforms or even polyphonic signals for seriously warped shapes.

I used the VCO-2RM and A-133 which, being dual, allows one to cascade and further multiply the modulator. Frequency doubling or rectification can also be achieved by feeding +ve & -ve signals to a min/max analogue logic module like the A-172 & Maths' OR processor or Doepfer's A-119 ext. input module, as per this Patch Tip. Like the A-133, Fonitronik's forthcoming mh31 and Makenoise's modDemix provide one-stop solutions.

I'm not sure if this process is in fact single-sideband modulation as the modDemix description suggests, but it's certainly closely related to Amplitude Modulation which will be the subject of the next Patch Tip.

Saturday 26 March 2011

New Releases on Bandcamp

Two collections of modular music for Spring:

ClubTransModular features material for my performance at the CTM.11 festival in February:

The Best of Patch of the Day, vol.2 is a collection of more of my favourites from the past year:

Both releases are available for €3+ each or €1 per track. Enjoy the sounds and thanks for your support!

Saturday 5 March 2011

Metasonix R54 Supermodule

Tracks like a zombie, but kicks like a mule - my first taste of yellow.

As Metasonix own video makes hilariously clear, you're never going to play Switched on Bach with the R54. Feed the Supermodule with the appropriate combination of CVs, however, and you can coax deep drums, watery plops, rubber basslines and tortured-animal sounds from this unruly, tube-based VCF/ VCO.

Metasonix R54 Supermodule by navs

Taming the R54 is complicated by some crafty normalization - both the audio and CV inputs also function as outputs. Silent Way failed to map a suitable set of voltages, but this is hardly surprising given the amount of slew of the vactrol-based inputs. I've found plugging every socket helps, typically a short trigger to the audio input and an offset, 'pitch' CV and short envelope to the rest.

The R54 is a wonderfully idiosyncratic oscillator and makes a great, if contrary, companion to the green in my system. While other VCOs might be a better choice for melodic lines, for low-end wobbles and percussive patterns the R54 is hard to beat.