Yearly Archives: 2020

Christmas Acid

No socks for me this year. My in-laws bought me a red Behringer TD-3!

Have repurposed my old guitar FX pedalboard as a stand with built in Delay and Reverb. The Micromix allows me to blend the dry and wet signals as well as creating feedback loops via the second output of the reverb.

Kurzweil 900 MX Pt. 1

Picked up what I hope will be a bit of a bargain on eBay, the Kurzweil 900 MX MicroExpander.

There’s not a lot of information out there, but I believe it was launched in 1989 as part of their Home Product range and features 63 sounds taken from their flagship K250 including pianos, bass and strings. Being a home product, there are some compromises such as using phono plugs rather than 6.5mm jacks and having a wall wart power supply rather than a built in PSU, but it does retain the 12 note polyphony of its older sibling.

This particular unit looked a little worse for wear on eBay, with some scratches on the top and no power supply. It didn’t look too bad when it arrived today though, but I had no idea if it would actually work.

Connecting a spare 9V AC PSU, the MIDI light flashed on for a second, but it appeared the backlight on the LCD was dead. I could just about read the text though and navigate through the sounds – so far so good.

The 900 MX uses a 16 character, single-line LCD so I set about sourcing a replacement, finally settling on a Winstar WH1601 which you can find on eBay. Unlike my Akai S2000, the LCD isn’t wired directly to the circuit board, so this should make it much easier to swap out. I’ll follow up with more details once I get the LCD replaced, but for now, check out this video from Espen Kraft where he demos the similar 1000 PX

Update 8/1/2021

Still waiting for the replacement LCD, but it has at least shipped now so should arrive next week. Meanwhile, I’ve started reviewing the pinouts on the old LCD as it’s in 2 rows of 7 pins (plus separate pins for the backlight) rather than a single row of 16 as is on the replacement.

This website has been quite illuminating (pardon the pun) and revealed that the pins are numbered in pairs.

LCD 101 – https://www.spikenzielabs.com/learn/lcd_how_to.html

Akai S2000 notes

Have started work on upgrading my Akai S2000, so thought I’d capture some notes for posterity on how to get the Gotek floppy emulator working.

Swapping the Floppy Drive for the Gotek emulator

Removing the old floppy drive is just a case of removing 4 screws from the underside of the S2000 as well as the power and IDE cables. This gives you access to a further 4 screws which secure the floppy drive to the metal chassis.

Once separated, you can then mount the Gotek onto the metal chassis, connect the power and IDE cables to it and finally reattach the chassis to the S2000 itself via the 4 screws on the underside. All being well, it should then look something like this…

Gotek / Flash Floppy Configuration

The Gotek I ordered already had FlashFloppy pre-installed, so I went to their Github page to see what configuration settings were needed.

Using a USB drive formatted as FAT32, I created a file in the root directory called ‘FF.CFG’

I then updated it with the relevant parameters for Akai samplers which in my case were…

host = akai
interface = ibmpc-hdout
nav-mode = native

The instructions also mention setting jumper S0 which a quick Google revealed means ‘Disk 0’. Mine arrived set as S1, so I just moved the jumper to S0.

S2000 OS Image

The other thing you will need is a copy of the S2000 Operating system (preferably v2.0) in HFE format. I got my copy from http://akai.mnx2010.nl/ then copied it into the root directory of the USB drive.

And that should be all you need to get the S2000 to boot from USB via Gotek!

Further reading

Here are some links that helped me along the way…

HxC Floppy Driver Emulator Forum – S2000 thread
http://akai.mnx2010.nl/
https://jimatwood.wordpress.com/tag/akai-usb-to-scsi/
http://martin78.com/tag/sampler/
Akai S900 and S950 factory libraries

MIDI CC Sequencer 1.1

Couldn’t sleep last night. Kept having ideas on how to improve the sequencer, so in the hope of having a better nights sleep tonight, I announce version 1.1!

First addition is variable pattern length for each of the 4 sequencers, so you can create polyrhythmic patterns.

Next, I’ve added a toggle to switch between the original note-in trigger mode and a new host mode, synced to Ableton’s tempo. This allows for sustained notes to be played with the parameters being changed over time, rather than per note.

Then there’s a clock divider so you can choose what speed the host mode runs at.

And finally, I’ve changed the purple colour of the fourth sequencer to pink, because, why not 🙂

Hope you like the changes, I’m really quite pleased with them! Here’s a quick (and noisy) demo…

Only had one more idea, namely a slew level to sweep between the parameter changes rather than jump to them, but not even sure if that’s even possible yet. I’ll leave that for another time though.

MIDI CC Sequencer

Very pleased to announce another new maxforlive device, this time a 4 channel, 8 step MIDI CC Sequencer! Whilst it was primarily designed for my Korg NTS-1, I’ve made it configurable so you can choose any 4 MIDI CC’s you want to sequence by typing their numbers in the boxes at the top. By default, it’s mapped to the Korg Oscillator Type, Shape and Alt controls.

You might be wondering why it only has 4 knobs if there are 8 steps. Well, the design was inspired by one of my favourite Eurorack modules, the DinSync ModSeq where each knob controls two steps. So, taking the first green knob for example, on step 1 it would output a value of 25, but on step 5 it would output the inverse (102). The second green knob would output a value of 80 on step 2, then on step 6, it would output the inverse (47) and so on. After it reaches step 8, it loops back to 1 again.

It’s available to download on maxforlive now, and I’ll hopefully upload a demo video in the next couple of days!

Korg NTS-1 Editor

Well, the Korg NTS-1 editor is finished! Had to deal with a weird quirk where the randomiser was being triggered by both the note on and note off messages, but I managed to get around that by using the stripnote function which I’ve learnt is perfect for that sort of thing.

It’s available to download from maxforlive.com now.

** UPDATE 4th December **
I even got a retweet from Korg USA 🙂

How many projects…

… is too many?

I’ve got lots of things on the go at the moment, so thought I’d take a step back and summarise what I’m up to.

Korg NTS-1 editor

I recently picked up a Korg NTS-1 synth and have had a lot of fun trying out all the user oscillators, particular those from Sinevibes. There are one or two shortcomings, such as the custom controls for the user oscillators not being controllable via MIDI and some audible noise when powering the NTS-1 from my computer. Running on a USB battery pack sorts the latter issue out though I’m pleased to say. And as the user interface is a bit basic, I thought I’d build an editor in MaxforLive.

Korg NTS-1 Editor

I decided to revisit the patch randomiser I coded for my Meeblip Micro editor, but this time, triggering it with incoming MIDI notes. That way, each note will fire off a completely different sound. The seed for the idea came from a twitter post from Finlay Shakespeare, detailing his time working for Novation. The end result is something a bit like the AFX mode on the Novation Bass Station II, but completely random each time as opposed to cycling through presets. Sounds really good – most of the time!

To add some predictability though, you can control which elements are randomised using the toggles. With just cutoff selected, it works a bit like a Sample and Hold.

Still have a bit of work to do, not least to add more elements for randomisation and controls for the effects, but hope to have it available to download in a couple of days. Then I’ll be using it for a 1 synth challenge

Gotek Floppy Emulator

My first sampler was an Akai S2000 and I’ve been meaning to back-up my old sound library for some time now. For years, this was my main sound source and whilst it’s true that nowadays, we’re spoilt with the abundance of gigabyte sample libraries and soft synths, I have fond memories of what I could achieve with much more limited resources at my disposal.

I also know there are some sounds in there from equipment I no longer have, such as the dying EDP Wasp Deluxe that I found dumped outside a neighbours house (true story).

So, I’m going to install a Gotek floppy emulator and back up all my sounds to that. Not exactly sure how to do it yet, but I’m a fast learner!

But, just to be contrary, I’ve also succumbed to the Black Friday sales and bought lots of gigabyte sample libraries including Spitfire Audio’s BBC Core!

Guru Gara Synth Modules

I’ve purchased more PCB’s and Panel’s from Guru Gara Synth and already have a single full voice up and running in my Eurorack system (Oscillator, VCF, VCA and Envelope). Calibration was pretty straightforward and it tracks nicely. I also went with the more expensive CEM3340 reissued chips, as used in the Roland SH101 and MC202, and the oscillator sounds all the better for it!

I have another 2 oscillators and a second envelope to build next as well as a ring modulator.

Orchestral template

Although I’ve been using Ableton for many years now, my sequencer journey started back on Cubase on the Atari ST (That is if you discount the Cheetah SpecDrum module I had with my ZX Spectrum before that). I stayed with Cubase until around version 5, then made the move to Sonic Foundry’s Acid, before finally settling on Ableton.

So why the history lesson on my sequencers? Well, as I’m writing more cinematic stuff at the moment, I thought I’d revisit Cubase 11 and have been really impressed. It’s certainly a different way of working, but it’s amazing how much of it feels familiar too.

One of the main reasons for trying Cubase again was to build up the obligatory orchestral template, and finally make some sense of the various Kontakt sample libraries I’ve bought along the way. It’s a slow, laborious process, and getting the different libraries to play nicely together is a bit of challenge, but it’s strangely rewarding too.

TouchPortal editor

Of course, the downside of a mammoth orchestral template is how you navigate the thing, and this was another factor in choosing Cubase thanks to it’s powerful visibility agents (which I’m not going to even try and explain – lots of head scratching to work those out I can tell you!)

But even then, navigating through menus wasn’t much fun, so I’ve built an editor using TouchPortal that allows me to hide and unhide sections of the template, manage tracks etc. as well as having transport controls. Unlike other similar tools such as Touch OSC or Lemur, it’s a lot more straight forward to program too, although it is at heart, a glorified keyboard emulator. But, it works brilliantly for my purposes and is definitely a good alternative to something like a StreamDeck controller.

Incidentally, I did consider the StreamDeck controller app too, but was put off by the annual subscription for that. Plus, the limitation on 15 buttons.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. Oh, and I also need to finish my third Meat Beat Manifesto mix tape too. So I better get on, lot’s to do…

Meat Beat Manifesto – ScarKord Mixtape 2

Some days, you just need to listen to breakbeats. Today is one of those days, and inspired my second Meat Beat Manifesto ‘Mixtape’.

Certainly had fun chopping up and fusing the beats together. And thought I’d add a little downtempo outro at the end for those more familiar with Jack Danger’s back catalogue.

It also gave me the chance to take the new Cubase 11 SpectraLayers for a spin too and was amazed at how well it extracted the vocals from ‘Oblivion’. The mix was done in Ableton though, just because I find it quicker for this sort of thing.

And speaking of Oblivion, that segues nicely into some other news. I’ve been beta testing a new drum synthesiser plugin ‘Hex Drum’ for Oblivion Sound Lab which is now available. It’s inspired by the classic Simmons SDS series which is also the inspiration for it’s name. I even created a one of the preset kits too ‘ScarKord Sonar’. Definitely one to check out.