What Modular synths have taught me

When I started to produce music, my rig quickly grew to consist of more than 10 synthesisers; either keyboards or rack mounted units. I had quite a fair amount of MIDI and audio cables running across my room – everything neatly patched into other units so I could have each and every synthesiser on different audio channels in my computer. That was the end of the 1990’s and early 2000. I remember when I sold my Yamaha 01V mixer and went for a Creamware A16 to mix everything in Cubase instead.

I then discovered that virtual instruments could give me a quicker way of working, and I started to move towards a completely software based studio for a while. Well, almost. I’ve had the Clavia Nord Modular G2 for almost 10 years, but it’s actually on the fine line of being a software synthesiser too but with a hardware controlling unit – but I still count it as hardware since I can use it as a stand-alone unit. Anyhow, the virtual way of working gave me the speed I was looking for since I didn’t actually have to record anything and a total recall of everything when I switched between projects.

Then the modular synthesisers came along. It is a thing of the 1970’s, but I’ve never had an interest for them until now.
It was a day in March, 2013, when I received my first shipment of Eurorack modules. My best friend and studio buddy had been a modular synthesiser (dare I say fanatic?) user for a couple of years. He’d sold almost everything he owned, studio-wise, to build a huge modular synthesiser. And my own rack have now grown into an almost complete 9U 84hp wide beast.

What the modular synthesiser have taught me is that I can create a sound, record it, remove the patch chords and probably never ever be able to design that specific sound again. So if I’m not recording it – it’s gone. This tickled a certain side of me which I never saw or felt when working with a hardware based studio. It could probably be compared to something close to improvising on the Piano even though you could play it again if you try to memorise what you’ve just played. I could improvise making sounds and when happy accidents occurred, I could record it and carry on the adventurous journey through the sonic territory laying before my feet – or hands.

This has made me work with music in two ways.

1) I’ve started writing melodies and chord progressions before focusing on the sound meaning that I think I put a lot more energy into composing the melody itself instead of being seduced by sounds. When I’m happy with the melody I move to the next step – to create the sound itself which will bring the melody into life.

2) I’m creating sounds and recording them, then removing the cables and never look back. If I need to redo the song in a new key, or sometimes a different tempo, I have to rely on audio processing tools to fix it and if they can’t I need to create something else. I know some producers and creators have a real issue with this, but I find it exciting and original. It actually pushed me over the edge with my Nord Wave. I haven’t saved the latest sounds I’ve tweaked as presets. I just recorded what I needed and moved on.

Modular synthesisers have made me cherish hardware synthesisers in the same way as modulars. Luckily enough I don’t have room to start hoarding hardware synthesisers again but I’m most certain that I will, someday. Because I don’t need to store every sound I tweak on the front panel. I can use it just as I use the modular counterpart in the studio. Tweak a sound until satisfaction, record it and forget it.

There is a creative advantage with being able to recall a sound or setting swiftly, but working on a modular patch night after night, slowly tweaking it until perfection before deciding to record it and then simply erase it is creative zen to me – and I hope it’ll show in my productions.

Let me know what your approach to music production is. Are you stressed to produce a full song in one evening and then move to the next? Or are you spending night after night looking for that perfect sound?

Now I’ve got some more patch cords to jack in and some knobs to turn.

LP1 and LS1: Unboxing

I received a package with a couple of Soundmachine modules the other week but didn’t take the time until now to post something about it. Sorry.

It’s the LP1 Lightplane and a three-pack of the LS1 Lightstrips which was delivered extremely quick all the way from Italy to my doorstep over the weekend.

Say hello to my new friends.

Say hello to my new friends.


Neatly packed and arrived safely.

Neatly packed and arrived safely.

The modules were neatly packed in their respective box and Soundmachines even shipped washers so I don’t have to worry about rack rash when mounting them.

Power, screws and even washer was delivered. That's super nice!

Power, screws and even washer was delivered. That’s super nice!

The LP1 came with washers too, and of course a power cable and screws – but hey! – that’s standard and I didn’t expect anything less.

Power, screws and washers here too.

Power, screws and washers here too.

Soundmachines have really considered these modules to be used in a skiff. They’re really not deep at all. And the LP1 being really flat as you can see below.

LS1 Lightstrip

Showing how deep the LS1 is. Skiff friendly.

LP1 Lightplane

Showing how extremely skiff friendly the LP1 is.

And finally a nice little test to see that they work as they should. Blinkenlichts!

Showing the mounted modules and their nice LEDs.

Showing the mounted modules and their nice LEDs.

So, what’s an LP1 and an LS1? Did you say “light”?
Yes. The LP1 is called “Lightplane” and the LS1 is called “Lightstrip” and that’s what they are – sort of. They both consist of a capacitive surface and some LED’s and a couple of jacks. Depending on where you put your finger, the module will output CV either between 0-10V or 0-5V. A jumper on the back sets either mode. The LP1 has three jumpers so you can decide if the different axises should have different settings. Well thought through. There’s another jumper on the back used to tell which direction you’d like to have the module mounted. Jacks up or jacks down? You choose.

So the LS1 is really just a fancy looking modulation wheel sort of controller?
Both yes, and no. Yes, it does the same job as a modulation wheel. You can use the “mode” button to switch between two modes. One where it always till return to zero after you release your finger and one where it will stay on the last voltage when you release it.
And no it’s not really a modulation wheel either since it has a nifty record mode. This is where the fun begins. You can record your finger movements and have the module to repeat it over, and over, again. Much like an LFO but with great control over the output.

And in the same way the LP1 is much like a joystick (used in vector synthesis), but with the same recording facilities as the LS1, hence making it a multi-dimensional LFO, sort of. Just like the LS1 it can be used with, or without, the hold mode as well.

It’s got 3 CV output: x, y and z. Practically enough the Morphing Terrarium has three inputs: x, y and z. Match made in heaven.

Both the LP1 and LS1 have got a gate output, which can be an input for some serious recording timings. Read more in the PDF manual.

I’m working on a demonstration video for the modules, but you’ll have to bare with me a few more days so I can find time and give you something worth watching. I have a patch ready using all my patch cables so it won’t be long now.

Meanwhile, just search for the modules at YouTube or Vimeo to get a good look at what they can do.

LP1 – Lightplane

Wrote my first post over at Medium yesterday and it goes:

Italy based Soundmachines designs and builds controller modules for Eurorack modular systems. I’ve tried their LS1, a Lightstrip, which sends CV signals depending on where on the capacitive surface you press. The Lightplane, however, is a multi-dimensional version of the Lightstrip. It has got three axes where the z axis is pressure based. With a record function, also found on the LS1, it can playback and loop your finger movements infact making it a multi-dimensional LFO.

Since you might want to have the module mounted upside down in the bottom row of a case, or perhaps in a skiff, there’s also a jumper on the back to switch the direction of the plane. If your finger goes up, the voltage does too.

I’m eagerly waiting for TNT to deliver my package of the LP1 described above together with a three-pack of the LS1. You can, simply put, never have enough controllers in your Eurorack system.

My modules will eventually be placed in a 6U base case ultimately focused on controller modules for my main 9U rack.

If you’re into Eurorack modulars, be sure to check out the Lightstrip or Lightplane modules — or perhaps any of the other modules made by Soundmachines. Listen to this description: “Modular robot singer complete with personality disorder”. Makes you want one doesn’t it?

URL: http://www.sound-machines.it/

Creating a sampled instrument

I thought I’d share some thoughts about how sampled my Eva Solo carafe and my crystal bowl to make instruments out of them.

I used an Audio Technica AT4041 microphone phantom powered by my Motu UltraLite mk3.

This is what it looked like;

Glass Pitcher and Audio Technica AT4041

Glass Pitcher and Audio Technica AT4041

I recorded the samples at 192 kHz so I could pitch it down and still have a lot of audio data available. I could literally play the sound at a fourth of the original speed and still have it in CD sample rate (44.1 kHz). With that amount of information I could stretch, compress, speed up and slow down and still have enough details without turning to the FFT domain.

Here’s an example using the carafe, of glass pitcher if you like. I’ve added some (okay, a lot of) reverb to it and added a pad in the background to make it more interesting. I think I finally chose to sample its neck (the narrow upper part of the carafe) and not the bigger lower part as the photo might indicate. The sound was too short and didn’t really have a pitch so it became more of a percussive instrument.

Then I brought out my crystal bowl. Not sure how old it is, or who made it. I actually inherited it from my grandmother who in turn had gotten it from someone. Just thinking about hitting it with a drumstick might sound like a crazy idea. Luckily, I don’t have any photos of the madness but I do have a sound file. Again, I sampled the bowl at 192 kHz to add as much information to the sound as I could and since the bowl vibrated for a while when hitting it it actually had a pitch which I could tune. I added some (okay, a lot of this time too) reverb to it and stuck a pad behind it to make it less boring.

Here’s the crystal bowl sound;

Our most creative track until today is still our remix of the fabulous “Butterfly Effect” song by Lamb which can be enjoyed here;

Now, dig out those microphone of yours. Put them really close to something and sample it. Play around with it make be creative. And HAVE FUN!

Toggling Oscillators in action

I built a Reaktor instrument based upon my ideas regarding the Toggling Oscillator patch initially created on the Nord Modular G2 to experiment with Wave Sequencing.

I’ve added the Source of Uncertainty macro by Peter Dines (make sure to follow this guy) – which he patched upon request since I had a hard time translating it from the G2 to Reaktor – to add some fluctuations to the pitch for that warm analogue feel.

If you’re a Reaktor user, you can download it here.

And this is what an arpeggiated melody sounds like with a bit of effects;

Happy patching!

Toggling oscillators

So I gave it a go to patch my Wave Sequencing patch from the Nord Modular G2 in Native Instruments Reaktor as I’m thinking about selling the G2.

I came to think of this solution when I was trying to do wave sequencing, a feature I really liked on the Korg Wavestation.

It was a lot easier than I first guessed. The name of the modules are different and the active voice number is an output found on the “Voice Info” auxiliary module. The MUX on the G2 can be utilised by the “Selector” module. So the actual trick looks like this;

Voice number and Selector

Voice number and Selector

By connecting the output of preferably different oscillators to the Selector module there will be different oscillators sounding for every key that is pressed; which will come in brilliantly when we’ll use an arpeggiator with this instrument.

Troubleshooting
Make sure to set the number of voices equal to the number of oscillators and inputs in the Selector; otherwise there might be silence when a voice number greater than the inputs on the Selector is triggered. If the voice number is lower than the number of chosen oscillators the ones connected to port greater than the voice number will never be triggered.

Hint
If adding six different oscillators, try to play arpeggios with more or less than six, but not exactly six, notes. That will make it move around in a very non-repetitive way which can make it really interesting.

Happy patching!

Summer Sales

There are some interesting Summer sales going on at the moment.

FabFilter is selling their plugins rather cheap now.

ILIO is having a sale too. Here’s what they have to say about it themselves;

When you purchase any Vienna Instruments Collection (Standard Library) between July 1 and July 31, 2013 you will receive one Single Instruments product* of your choice for free!

There is NO LIMIT to how many free Single Instruments products you can acquire!

* A Single Instrument product may be either a Standard Library or an Extended Library. The Full Library (Standard Library + Extended Library) of a Single Instrument includes two products and offers the complete samples and articulations on par with the ones of the big Vienna Instruments Collections.

iZotope sells their Stutter Edit with a discount and are also tossing in a sound bank at the same time.

And Waves have their Summer Spectacular. Worth checking out!

More EQ’s from Universal Audio

I haven’t got the slightest idea what’s up at the Universal Audio headquarters. But if you ask me, something it seriously wrong. Or maybe right. Right because apparently EQ’s sell – hence giving us a lot of them.

For some reason all Universal Audio seems to be doing now is shipping sound cards integrated with UAD cards – you know, they’re big outboard dongle – and new EQ plugins.

For the fun of it, I’ve compiled a list of all 13 (not counting SE versions of certain plugins) EQ‘s that today can be bought at Universal Audio;

  • API® 500 Series
  • Brainworks bx_digital V2
  • Cambridge
  • Harrison 32C Channel
  • Helios™ Type 69
  • Manley® Massive Passive
  • Millennia NSEQ-2
  • Neve® 1073 Classic Console
  • Neve® 1081 Classic Console
  • Neve® 31102 Classic Console
  • Pultec Passive
  • Sonnox® Oxford
  • Trident® A-range Classic Console

I’m not denying that they’re really good sounding and very good emulations. I’m only questioning how many EQ plugins the platform really needs. Universal Audio has also opened up their platform for other companies to develop plugins. Both the Brainworks bx_digital and the Sonnox® Oxford are results of that.

Waves have got their fair share of EQ’s as well. I’m counting 16 on their website if we skip the SSL channel strips, the REDD and count both the API 550 and 560 as the “500 Series”.

Waves have produced 143 plugins until today and Universal Audio have produced 56. That gives us an EQ density of 13.9% for Waves (counting all their 20 EQ’s) and 23.2% for Universal Audio.

Waves also comes without a big hardware dongle.

SCSI Card Reader

I had a Kurzweil K2000 VP a long time ago. I think I bought it back in 1998. I loved it. I was easy to work with yet super deep if I wanted to do something beside scratching its surface. It had 24 true voices, 16 parts and I still remember the scent of the thing. It was a beast.

I remember it came with a manual thick as hell (as two printed manuals really) and the available manual in PDF format reveals that it was 530 pages in total. Never had the energy to read it all though but I sure got a lot out of it still.

I sold it to save space and since it was the VP, owning a K2000R didn’t really cut it. Sold that one too. I wanted the K2500. And roughly a year ago I got a used K2500R at almost mint condition for as little as €300. And for coffee money I got the memory upgraded to 128MB RAM – which is its maximum amount.

On to the more important thing now. The K2500R has a floppy drive. And SCSI connectors on the back. My MacBook Pro has neither.

I managed to get an old PC running which I had, for uncertain reasons, hidden in the basement. I also had a box there with floppies for the old K2000 VP – sounds and patches that I’d made myself. Some of them were stored on ZIP disks as well. After some more digging I also found an Iomega ZIP Drive. It had a parallel interface so the PC that I dug out can in rather handy. Remember to keep an old computer like that if you’re working with an old sampler, like the Kurzweil K2000, K2500 and K2600. I made backups of all the sounds to the PC and moved them via a USB stick to my Mac.

Now. To be able to move files from the Mac to the K2500R, without using the PC and floppies, I’ve started to investigate the possibility to install a card reader (CF or SD) in the K2500R. And there appears to be a couple of ways actually.

One could find an internal card reader with a SCSI connector.
One could find an internal card reader with an IDE connector and a SCSI to IDE bridge.
One could find an external card reader housed in a box with SCSI connectivity.
Or one could find a floppy emulator!

I read through all the pages of this thread over at Gearslutz thinking that someone must have done this before me.

When looking at photos of the CF card reader integration it appears that the CF card must be connected through the PCMCIA adapter instead of going into the CF slot directly and the reason for this seems to be that the PCMCIA slot is assigned with LUN 0.

I really fancy the Floppy Drive Emulator. Not sure whether it’d work in the K2500R but it might actually do. Check this out if you’ve got some time over. Datex appears to have an emulator as well.

Searching eBay for items shows that there’s a lot actually. If I had the space a nice little SCSI tower box with both CD-ROM, 9GB HDD and a card reader would suffice – really. But I’m after the sleek and tidy solution; an internal card reader that sits in the 3.5″ drive bay of the K2500R.