Author Archives: scarkord

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.

Custom MIDI Slider Box Part 2

Thought I’d share a picture of my finished MIDI Slider Box. Really pleased with how it came out considering the limited tools I had access to.

I did initially have a problem with the sliders, but determined the wiper and pos (+) connections were wrong. In the instructions, it shows the wiper as the more central of the two terminals, but in the photos, the wiper is the outside terminal. I switched mine around, and voila, it works perfectly now.

Abandoned (ScarKord Expansion)

Here’s an impromptu collaboration with el-bo

It started life as an idea el-bo put together for the Sound Aesthetics, Show Us Your Music challenge, but subsequently abandoned.

I really thought it had potential though, so decided to see if I could develop it further and this is the result!

Again, in the spirit of the challenge, it only features Sound Aesthetics libraries.

Despite everything else that is going on in the world, I’ve not been this productive in years!

The Climb

Had a rare free evening tonight, so created track number three using only samples from Sound Aesthetics Sampling. As it was mainly built around the ‘Mountain’ sample library, I called it ‘The Climb’.

Although it’s a been released as a ‘Jason Vine’ track rather than a ‘ScarKord’ track, there is some pretty extreme processing going on particularly to get the percussion noises. It’s been a great exercise to coax these sorts of noises and patterns out of what are primarily melodic libraries.

Custom MIDI Slider box

Time for a new project, inspired by this post on Gearslutz. A custom DIY MIDI controller featuring three full size 100mm sliders and based on a Teensy 3.2. This will be used to control MIDI CC’s for my Kontakt libraries.

I sourced components as close as I could to the original post. The Teensy was from Amazon, the sliders and case from Farnell and I’m just waiting for some black 8mm slider knobs from eBay. Was difficult to find 100mm sliders and a case with the right dimensions in the UK so I’ve posted links below.

Bourns B10k Slide Potentiometer
Takachi Plastic Enclosure 30 x 150 x 100

Cost so far is around £50, but I already had some of the components such as LED, USB connector etc. Still quite reasonable though and I’m surprised something like this doesn’t already exist in the market.

The identity crisis

Well, it’s gone full circle. After writing a second song as ‘me’, I’ve now remixed myself.

First, the original. ‘Strange Resonances‘ was once again created only using sounds from Sound Aesthetics Sampling, namely their Mountains and Talua libraries, for their Show Us Your Music promotion. It’s darker than my other Sound Aesthetics track ‘Life In Pieces‘, reminding me of Massive Attack’s soundtrack work at times.

It was still a slower, cinematic track though, so I experimented with ramping up the tempo and it worked surprisingly well some 50bpm faster. The drums needed work though, so I went with a UK Garage / 2-step style broken beat which topped things off nicely. I also added some extra strings too for the extended breakdown section.

So, where to next?

Life In Pieces

Here’s a new piece of music I wrote this evening, using only sounds from the Fragments Kontakt Library, created by Sound Aesthetics Sampling.

You may also have noticed it isn’t released under my usual ScarKord moniker, but rather my own name. I’m just having a play at being a ‘serious’ composer for a bit, so anything vaguely filmic will be posted to that Soundcloud account, leaving ScarKord for remixes and more typical electronica.

Jumparoo

Wow, music lessons seem a lot more fun than back in my day 🙂

This is a piece of music I wrote with my son, James, for one of his remote learning lessons. He had to come up with a theme for a Mario / Sonic style platform game as well as a motif to play when the level clears.

This gave me the chance to introduce him to the world of 8-bit chiptunes, and also try out some new sounds. Namely the AudioThing Minibit and Impact Soundworks Super Audio Boy.

But of course, it can’t all be nostalgia, so I gave him a couple of unused ScarKord dubstep beats to play with too.