Sunday 17 November 2013

Nord Coast - Micro Modular Patches

Performance patches created on the diminutive yet powerful Clavia Nord Micro Modular.

I'd seen these odd shaped and coloured boxes lying round in studios gathering dust before. But it wasn't until I saw Rastko Lazic's inspiring video that I took the Micro Modular seriously. Here is a collection of patches, driven solely by the Micro Modular's three knobs:

Yes, it sounds digital and you need to jump through hoops to get the editor to work on a modern Mac operating system, but it's worth it. I've used the G2 demo for years to try out ideas, so I was used to the workflow. The NM engine doesn't have some of the conveniences or modules of the G2. But, as ever, there are workarounds. If you get stuck, consult the Nord Modular Book, edited by James Clark or Rob Hordijk's workshops.

In his video, Rastko uses a new Faderfox controller to play his patches. The two make a perfect pair, but I didn't want to be tied to a USB host i.e. computer. The older FF controllers are less flexible when it comes to custom assignments, so I built my own. I used a Doepfer Pocket Electronics kit and a perspex sandwich. The joystick is a small, game controller type.

With that built (and an old Faderfox controller now bought ...), I've realized that the beauty of the Micro Modular is its simplicity. With some canny patching you can get a lot of mileage out of three knobs! Download the album to access the patches and try them yourself.

Here is a link to Clavia's sound-bank. If you're using a Mac, the V3 Editor will run with varying degrees of stability and frustration under emulation. I have both Win XP and 10.6 versions running under VMWare Fusion on a 10.8 system.

Monday 14 October 2013

Mungo d0 Delay Demo

Sounds and thoughts on the Mungo Enterprises d0 dual channel delay.

The d0 can be a simple echo for audio or CVs, but it also allows the times and depth of control needed for tuned Karplus-Strong synthesis and DX7-like audio-rate phase modulation.

Here's how it sounds:

Download the EP for more recordings (basic runthru, random tap tempo, flanger, audio-rate phase mod, cv delay (envelope), comb cancellation, karplus, filtered repeats).

There's been discussion on the d0 here and the Mungo range in general here. The d0 is a quality delay but some users are frustrated with the Zoom function and a lack of documentation. The controls do take some getting used to. I'm grateful I got to try the module first, buying it 2nd hand locally. jnlkrt, outlines most of the d0's quirks here. Bear these in mind to get the best out of it.

Here are some of my thoughts:

The Zoom function is essential and should not be sold as an optional extra. Because of the way it works, the panel knobs are not always WYSIWYG. It took me a week to get a feel for Zoom: switch down to get into the right zone, mid for 'normal' changes, up for fine tune.

Once you have zoomed a parameter, the knob range becomes 0 to 10, even if it is nominally -5 to 0 to +5 like the bi-polar controls. So, if you have selected a zone around plus 3, when you release the Zoom switch the knob covers that range from fully CCW to fully CW.

The slew setting influences the delay time response. This might sound obvious, but I caught myself wondering why the delay time wasn't changing only to hear it catch up seconds later! PM sounds require a fine balance between mod depth, delay time and slew.

To gain voltage control over the slew time, null it (fully CW) and use an external VC lag like the Sport Modulator. Slewing even seemingly smooth control voltages like sine waves can have a radical effect on the end result.

I made some of the recordings in my demo before I'd located a source of noise in the d0's output. Musically, they were interesting so I kept them. When unpatched, the CV inputs and Z outs carry a DC offset. Depending on the settings (gain, feedback) this can cause crunch and clipping. For a cleaner sound, null unused inputs or use a dummy plug. A filter can be useful in the feedback path.

The build quality of the board is good, attention to detail on the panel less so. Despite having slots for the mounting screws, they are 2 mm shy of the Doepfer standard. Keyed headers on the PCB power connector are welcome, but the orientation might confuse: -12V is 'up'.

The Mungo d0 is unique in its sound and range. Other modular delays I've tried were limited by comparison. I didn't find the controls or interface insurmountable. When something odd happens in use it's usually a welcome and musical surprise. In future, I'd love to try the rest of the Mungo range at my local dealer.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Patch Tips #26 - Let's Make an Envelope

Deconstructing the AD envelope. An extravagant but enlightening exercise in understanding how triggered slopes work.

I've been looking into the circuits used in attack/ decay envelope generators and thought it might be interesting to patch one from its basic building blocks. I took my clues from a design described by Barry Klein and René Schmitz and Ray Wilson's Skew LFO to come up with the Skew-velope. Here's how it sounds (MP3).

And here's how it works:

A trigger sets a flip-flop high. Its output is slewed. When the slew signal hits a peak threshold, a comparator turns the flip-flop off and the signal starts to fall. When that voltage hits zero volts - i.e. the envelope ends - another comparator turns the flip-flop on and the process begins anew. Feedback helps shape the envelope. Here is a PDF of the patch and modules I used. Ironically, you may find yourself turning to Maths for its secondary functions in your experiments!

So, why use 8 modules to replicate something that can be done with one? It helped me understand the characteristics of these sorts of contour generators. For example, why re-triggers are ignored during the rise phase, making use as a delay/ divider possible. It also helped demystify Maths & its Serge forbears. Analogue envelopes rely on some form of logic and switching to work. These multifunction modules make some of those processes available to the user.

For more, read Tim Stinchcombe's paper on the Serge circuit.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Fonitronik Triple Vactrol Resonators

A short demo of the forthcoming Fonitronik mh21 Triple Vactrol Resonators - three vactrol controlled band-pass filters, as found in the Korg PS3100.

The layout and features of the mh21 are not finalized, but this recording should give you an idea of the resonator's sonic character.
In a word, juicy.

First you hear a summed signal. From 1:00 onwards, you're listening to two detuned VCOs which I patched into two filter inputs. I panned the outputs left and right. Both VCOs receive the same pitch CV. Depending on the frequency of the oscillators and filter cut-off, the signals seem to disappear and reappear. Let it swirl!

Thanks to Matthias for the loan of the prototype.

Friday 21 June 2013

June 29 - Richard Scott & Navs Live

Join us for a special Basic Electricity at Sonic Dimension/ Club Magdalena on Saturday, 29th June. Richard Scott & Navs will play their own pick-of-the-patches and top the evening with a rare appearance as modular synth supergroup, Banana Jaxxx.
Alright? Not 'arf!

Basic Electricity live at Sonic Dimension 2
29.6.13 • 22:00 • Club Magdalena • 10243
MagdalenaResident AdvisorFacebook

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Basic Electricity - Concert this Friday

Join us for Basic Electricity #9 this Friday, 19th April when Max Loderbauer makes his solo debut on Buchla 200e synthesizer and Erik Dower goes head-to-head with the Boom Doctor.

More info here. Facebook event here.

BE#9, 19.04.13, Doors: 21:00
Kastanienallee 77 (Kino)
10435 Berlin (Prenzlauer-Berg)

Looking forward to seeing you at BE#9!

Friday 29 March 2013

Super Sawtor Demo

A review of Happy Nerding's Euro-format sawtooth animator.

As the name suggests, the Super Sawtor is designed to produce the sort of multi-oscillator unison sounds known from certain Roland synths and dance genres. Feed it a single saw, triangle or sine to get a dense, buzzing cluster. Too Trance for you? Have a listen:

The two tracks should give you an idea of the Sawtor's sonic scope. If you want to hear more, pay as-you-like to download the source files (10 tracks, @ 25 mins).

The Sawtor is solidly built and simple to use - the only parameters are the dry/ wet mix and the amount of spread. Its internal LFOs change speed in response to the incoming signal's pitch. That keeps the amount of spread even for most of our hearing range. The result is rich, vibrant and less prone to the phase-cancellations I know from my Roland Super Jupiter. Indeed, although it is analogue, the Sawtor emulates the beating of a digital super-saw.

It's this 'intelligent' modulation that sets the Sawtor apart from Doepfer's sawtooth animator and draws a parallel to Cyndustries'. It also limits its use. The only parameter you can affect is the 'spread' i.e. the number of stages. Once activated, the saw-multiples are constantly in motion. They can't be 'stopped' and spaced statically to produce new waveforms as is possible with Doepfer's A-137-2. To improve audio fidelity, the Sawtor is AC-coupled. This rules out certain CV-processing tricks.

So, does that make it a one-trick pony? Yes, but only in the sense that spring reverbs or fuzz boxes are too. Because you can't independently influence the modulation speed, the choice of input becomes important. Gated, sync'd, FM'd or even polyphonic sounds can make interesting fodder if you want to go beyond the Hardcore Hoover. But maybe that is to miss the point of the Super Sawtor: it makes one VCO sound like many and does so without fuss.

Many thanks to Igor for the module and for answering my questions.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Basic Electricity - Concert this Friday

Heads up for BE#8 with Wolfgang Seidel & Eliad Wagner and myself this Friday. Usual venue, usual time, unusual music and cold IPA! More info here.

BE#8 Friday, 01.03.13. Doors @ 21:00, music @ 22:00 sharp. Kastanienallee 77 (Kino). 10435 Berlin P-Berg.

Got the fright of my life at Schneidersladen today:

Sorry, Wowa … the new modules in white I can understand, but that's going too far ... ;)

Saturday 19 January 2013

A-143-1 Modification

Adding voltage control and a combined trigger output to Doepfer's Complex Envelope Generator. An update to these posts (1, 2).

The A-143-1 is king of the shonky rhythm. There's something about the swing generated by its four chained envelopes and comparators that is hard to replicate with a VC-LFO and sequencer. This modification provides two features I wanted when using the A-143-1 as a wonky clock: a combined pulse stream to control other modules and an automated means of influencing the rhythm.

For the latter, I chose to add simultaneous voltage control to the threshold of all four comparators. For me, this is the parameter that makes the A-143-1 tick. It means a single CV can be used to stretch and shrink the rhythm without affecting its inherent groove. Think 'Funk Soul Brother'. Just as importantly, the modification can be accommodated on the original panel.

The Comparator outputs are chopped down to 1ms pulses, so they can easily be mixed without the need for a 'proper' logic circuit. They are also hot enough to ping filters. Add a Sample & Hold to grab values from the A-143-1's bipolar mix out and the results can sound like this:


The star of this mod is the H11F1 Photo FET Optocoupler. It may not have the cachet of a VTL5C3, but this vactrol alternative might make a better choice for some synth mods. It's smaller, cheaper and, most importantly, has a fast, linear response.

The circuitry used in this mod is simple. The difficulty arises out of the need to quadruple the parts. You can download my build-notes here (the usual DIY disclaimers apply!) to see how I went about it. See this thread for more A-143-1 modification ideas.

To close, today's Patch of the Day offers a musical example of this modification:

The patch uses just two envelopes, sometimes chained, sometimes running as LFOs. The new combined trigger was multed to ping a Cwejman RES-4 and trigger a S&H and CTG-VC envelope. The A-143-1's mixout was sampled by the S&H and sent to the RES-4's FCV and CTG-VC's Attack CV-in. The RES-4's audio output was sent to a VCA-4MX and multed to an A-199 Spring Reverb. The 100% wet signal was sent to a second VCA/ mixer channel and opened by the CTG-VC's envelope. Altering the threshold changes the timing and also the CV that is sampled from the mix output.