Yearly Archives: 2020

Pain in the resistors

Well that was a pain in the… resistors.

Finally got the new 3320 VCF module working after tearing my hair out a little. With the lockdown, I’ve had to source the components in dribs and drabs and can’t always get the exact components stated on the circuit board.

About a week ago, I finally took delivery of the last capacitors I needed then excitedly plugged it in and heard… nothing.

A bit of headscratching later, I chanced upon the idea of sending a voltage through the CV input which initially did nothing, until I swept the filter knob, which revealed a comb filter type noise, but only when the knob was pointing straight up. Resonance did nothing to the sound, and I had silence at either end of the filter range.

Where do I start?

My first thought was that perhaps the 100k B potentiometers were faulty, or that I had bought the wrong ones and got my Linear vs Exponentials in a twist. So, I checked stock at http://www.thonk.com and fortunately they had some.

Then, this morning, I had the joy of desoldering the old pots and installing the (arguably superior) new ones. Unfortunately, it didn’t fix the issue.

I checked my soldering again – all looked sound to me – so as a last resort double checked that I’d used the correct resistors. And low and behold, the 91k resistors I had been sent (and which were in a bag labelled 91k) were actually 910k! In fairness, the difference between the two is just a red stripe rather than an orange one, and even my wife wasn’t sure what colour they were when I asked her to check. So I desoldered all four of them, and replaced with 100k resistors (the closest I could find) and I’m pleased to say the module sprung into life.

I still didn’t have any resonance though, but tracked this down to some damage I’d inadvertently caused on the board around one of the resonance knob pins. I could just about work out where the pin was meant to be going though, so added a jumper wire to link to the appropriate resistor, and I have resonance too!

Whether the 100k vs 91k resistors makes a difference to the sound, I’m not really sure, but it sounds good to me and I’m currently enjoying feeding some sample and hold through the CV input.

This was the first time I’d built a module just from a PCB and Panel, rather than a full kit, and it definitely makes me appreciate the convenience a full kit gives you, even if I did save a bit of money along the way.

Thanks for listening!

Four posts in four days! Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has listened to my #loopathome tracks on soundcloud and metapop. It’s a marked difference to the trickle of listens I usually get on soundcloud, although it’s also true I haven’t been particularly productive over the last few years.

I’ve obviously been a lot more blocked than I had realised, and whilst a large part of that is due to the disruption of moving the family home and taking on a massive rebuilding project over the last couple of years, I do still get time in the studio but generally procrastinate or create little 8-bar loops that I decide to throw away due to self-doubt.

But, this weekend of experimentation gives me much to feel positive about and look forward to, as well as putting me in touch with a new group of talented musicians from around the world. Let’s keep it going!

Out From The Cold

Day three of Ableton‘s #loopathome and it was a strange one. The challenge this time was to follow a list of instructions and see what the end result would be.

Following instructions

The first line of instructions read… “Go to the kitchen and listen to the sound of the refrigerator…”. I really wasn’t sure what to expect after that start, but I thought I’d go with it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Unfortunately, our fridge is really quiet so I had to resort to the freezer instead. After struggling to try and synthesise it’s noise, I decided to do an impersonation of the humming sound which turned out to be a stroke of luck as it also provided the source material for the melody lines too.

Where is this going?

By the time I got to step three of the instructions, I was contemplating giving up as I just couldn’t see how a piece of music would emerge from this. But I decided to stick with it and duly followed instructions by sampling the sound of a can of beer, a glass and some of my recently delivered graze snacks. (Or at least, that’s how I interpreted it)

Suitably refreshed, I set about editing the raw sounds and came up with some great ring-pull percussion, fizzy hi hats and a lovely bell like sound from the beer glass handle. Slamming the (empty) glass on the desk gave me the kick drum.

Once I had a basic beat laid down, it was time to add some melody lines. Taking the humming sound as my starting point, I managed to coax some beautiful glassy noises from my voice.

For the interweaving melodies, the technique I used here was to play the same note progression three times, but each time an octave higher and at an increasing tempo.

Even if I do say so myself, I was really happy with the finished track and it gave me goosebumps the first time I played it through.

So, here is ‘Out from the cold’.

What a great weekend of experimentation! And I might even have beaten the writers block I’ve been (silently) suffering with for the last couple of years. Thanks Ableton!

Radio Poland Calling

Day Two of Ableton‘s #loopathome and for today’s challenge I’ve been limited to only using sounds from the Polish Radio Experimental Studio Archive, or PRES for short.

PRES were similar in many way’s to the UK’s Radiophonics Workshop, and the sound pack Ableton supplied was a treasure trove of weird and wonderful noises.

As a new piece of music started to emerge from my experimentation, it became clear that things were moving in a dark, down-tempo direction. Perhaps most surprisingly, even with the constraints around the source material, the end result is still very much a ScarKord sounding track.

I wonder what tomorrow’s challenge will bring?

Gizmophone

Today was day one of Ableton‘s #LoopAtHome and they set a challenge to build and record your own ‘Gizmophone’ instrument. Unfortunately, I had urgent gardening to attend to (?) so only managed to hack something together at the last minute, using whatever scrap items I could find. This included an offcut of windowsill, a metal Ikea leg and some old wire I found at the end of the garden. And this is the result…

I did manage to include a Piezo condenser mic too, but it had terrible background hum, so only really worked for short percussive noises which I combined into an Ableton drum kit. I also dialled in a smattering of the Corpus effect to make the sounds ring a little more, but only at 5.5% wet.

Some sounds were actually Ok!

The revelation though was the metal Ikea leg. When tapped with a spanner, it made a high pitched bell tone that was (almost) in tune. I created a patch using Ableton’s sampler instrument, sorted out the tuning then duplicated it with slightly different filter settings before panning each version slightly left and right.

Another technique that worked really well was swirling and scraping the spanner inside the wire springs, which created a lovely rhythmic texture which I layered behind the main percussion sounds. Lots of editing of warp markers in that one, as well as some Beat Repeat to add variation, but really pleased with the end result.

I created a quick demo of my ‘instrument’ so you can hear what it sounds like. Some additional kick, snare and synth bass was added to fill the sound out.

And if you fancy having a look ‘under the bonnet’, I’ve even zipped up the Ableton project folder too!

Gizmophone Project

It only uses stock Ableton plugins, so should work fine (have tested on my Microsoft surface and iMac) – Ozone Elements is on the master channel, but you can just ignore that if you don’t have it installed yourself.

Isolation Loop Waltz

Finally found time to write some new music. For inspiration, I turned to the Isolation Loop packs kindly donated by Hainbach and Jamie Lidell and it’s been a really fun way to spend an evening.

I started by creating a sampler patch, based around one of Hainbach’s atmospheric piano tape loops and stumbled across a lovely chord sequence which sounded both melancholic and uplifting at the same time. Whilst I could easily have employed time-stretching to make the timing more uniform, much of the wonky charm came from the samples being sped up and down so I left it as it was.

Turning to Jamie Lidell’s pack, he provided some lovely vocal Ahh’s, which I manipulated to create a gentle lead sound which provides the melody line. It’s doubled up with a glassy, FM synth patch as well which just helps it cut through a little better.

I deliberately avoided using a metronome or any quantizing, just to see where it took me, and the result was a Lo-Fi, electronic waltz. (Or at least, my interpretation of one).

The drums are a combination of noises from the Hainbach Test Equipment loops, hi-hats extracted from one of Jamie’s drum loops, some electronic drum sounds courtesy of Daniel Miller’s ARP2600 and a few sounds created on my own Eurorack system.

The buzzy bass note is also from one of the Hainbach Test Equipment loops.

The last layer was a sustained violin chord from Spitfire Audio’s Albion Tundra, just to boost the higher frequency content. This was a trick that the Art of Noise always used to employ, layering clean, crisp synth parts on top of their crunchy, low-bit Fairlight samples.

Once I had the basic parts down, I did a quick ‘live’ launchpad arrangement in Ableton, before adding a bit of Valhalla’s Shimmer Reverb on the FX send to glue the parts together. And there you have it!

In these strange and somewhat scary times, it’s great to see Artists so generously sharing raw material like this.

Reference Tracks

I’ve long heard about the virtues of using reference tracks to compare your mixes against, but never actually got around to trying it myself. That might all be about to change though.

One of the creators I subscribe to on Patreon is Reverbmachine. If you haven’t heard of Dan aka Reverbmachine before, he’s definitely worth checking out as he does some excellent tutorials on how to recreate the synth sounds from a variety of songs, including 80’s classic such as Shout by Tears for Fears. Patreon subscribers also get to download his remakes as Ableton Live sets too, which are definitely worth the small monthly fee.

In his latest Patreon post he goes into detail of how he gets so close to the original sounds and yes, you’ve guessed it, reference tracks are a large part of it. He goes on to describe the Ableton Live template he uses, based on the instructions in this article.

https://patches.zone/reference-tracks-in-ableton-live

I’ve just followed them myself and now have a shiny new template to use and abuse. Of course, the real trick will be in finding the right reference tracks to compare against, and to that end, iZotope have some suggestions that are worth considering. Certainly agree with their first choice of Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ as it’s such a rich, well mixed track with lots of space for the different parts.

https://www.izotope.com/en/learn/4-popular-mixing-reference-tracks-and-why-they-work.html

Looking forward to seeing where this little excursion takes me!

Triple Mantis

Not sure what the plural of Mantis is, but I now have three of the Tip Top Audio cases of the same name, laid out end-to-end on my desk like a mini mission control.

Mission control

Analog Synth Mantis

To the left is the Analog Synth Mantis which is probably the more ‘vanilla’ of the three cases. Built around three different oscillators (OSC303, Tip Top Z3000 and the Doepfer A-110), each with a separate, dedicated filter (VCF303, Intellijel uVCF and Doepfer A-105 respectively), as well as the usual array of VCA’s, ADSR’s and LFO’s (Mainly Doepfer or Erica synths modules).

Dinsync’s excellent Modseq module allows me to do some repeatable Sample and Hold style manipulation of the filter cut-offs, or paired with the Ladik Easy Quantizer module, makes a mean bassline sequencer for the OSC303.

Other modules of note include the FoH Choices joystick, which is paired with the clever little Ladik Joystick Math module which makes it a lot more flexible, and a small selection of Make Noise modules including the Moddemix and LXD which are both great for teasing out plucky, percussive sounds.

Digital & Sequencing Mantis

The middle, Digital & Sequencing Mantis has something of a split personality. The top row provides the master clock for the whole system, which I have distributed between the three cases using a combination of different powered multiples to create a semi-permanent clock backbone.

It also provides additional sequencing and quantizing capabilities, courtesy of a Turing Machine with the Pulses and Voltages expanders and the GMSN Pure Sequencer, both paired with Doepfer A156 Dual Quantizer. These are great when I want something a little more unpredictable than the ES-40 / Ableton Live combination or my Beatstep Pro. Alternatively, the sequencers work great as modulation sources for my percussion modules.

The lower row houses my ‘Digital’ modules, including the obligatory Mutable Instruments trilogy of Braids, Rings and Clouds, as well as Erica synths Black Hole DSP which has some lovely Shimmer effects. A Mutable Music Things ‘Ears’ module rounds things off, used primarily to trigger the strum input of Rings.

Gates & Percussion Mantis

Moving to the right we have the Gates & Percussion Mantis which has a wide variety of drum and percussion modules as well as gate triggers, clock dividers and logic modules which are great for coming up with abstract drum patterns.

The sound sources themselves include the ALM Taiko modules (Still on the lookout for the limited Haswell’s Taiko if one ever comes up on eBay or Muffwiggler), multiple kick drum synths (With the Hexinverter Mutant Bassdrum being a current favourite) and a selection of Tip Top Audio 808 modules.

It’s worth remembering that percussion modules don’t have to be limited to providing drum sounds though, as many have pitch CV inputs which allow you to use them for basslines and tuned percussion alike. They also often have built in VCA’s and envelopes, further increasing their effectiveness for a relatively low cost.

Also in this case are some additional effects courtesy of the Sara VCF filter from DinSync, ALM’s EQ and Music Thing’s Spring reverb module. There’s also a passive ring modulator I made with some germanium diodes which is pretty unique sounding.

And last but not least, we have the Audiodamage ADM09 USB audio interface which is normally linked to an iPad 3 running the stunning Borderlands 2, granular synthesis app. You can coax some amazing sounds out of Borderlands, particularly when feeding it a diet of modular synth noises from the ADM09.

One day, I might even learn what it all does 🙂 Seriously though, I’ve just signed up to the Learning Modular Patreon page which gives regular hints and tips on how to get the most out of your modular synth, as well as free access to a course of your choice on the main Learning Modular site. Can’t be bad!

I’d hope I’m comfortable with the basics, so went with the ‘Level 2 Eurorack expansion’ which is very comprehensive and appears to be regularly updated to keep it current. Chris Meyer who created and presents the course has a great knack of making complex concepts sound easy and I’m learning so much already. Here’s an excerpt from the course…

The only danger is that I’m now lusting after a Mordax Data module, having seen Chris demonstrate his one. I’m sure I can make it fit somewhere 🙂

3320 Filter module

Well, this house building business takes a lot more time than I had expected, and whilst I’ve become something of a dab hand at building airing cupboards and fitting out utility rooms, I’m finally coming out of the other side and getting a bit of time to work on my music.

I’ve recently taken delivery of a third Mantis case (someone should have told me this Eurorack hobby would turn into an obsession!) and am working out what modules to put into the gaps.

DIY time

As you can never have enough filters, I decided to go DIY and search for something interesting for the last 8HP of the ‘Analogue Synth’ Mantis case.

This led me to a PCB and Panel kit by Guru Gara Synth, based around the 4-pole 24dB CEM 3320 filter. The filter was used in lots of classic 80’s music technology including most notably the Prophet 5 synth (Rev. 3), the Fairlight II, PPG Wave 2 and the Oberheim OB-SX – none of which I would ever expect to be able to own! (Unless Behringer feels like cloning them of course).

The kit doesn’t come with any build instructions, but the PCB is very clearly laid out, so that’s no biggie. As the CEM3320 has been out of production for some time now, I went for the AS3320 from soundtronics.co.uk which is a modern equivalent and very reasonably priced. From the YouTube videos, it does sound rather nice!

More info on the 3 Mantis cases themselves and how I’ve configured them in a future post.

Dubscapes

Dubscapes was a collaboration with Cosmo Valseca of Clear Air Turbulence and features a video from PixelPusher.

It started life as some 8-bit arcade machine drum patterns I sound designed, which I left for Cos to play with after our writing weekend some 10 years ago. (My how time flies!) Cosmo expertly fused them with a electro dub track he was working on and the result is Dubscapes.

Anyway, based on the low number of YouTube views, I guess not many of you will have heard this so I thought I’d share.