Studio Blog, 2019-11-14

The STG Envelope Generator. Deep, yet accessible.

Tonight’s studio time was split between putting the Rubicon II through its paces and attempting to put together and play a set of live music. It was a good night, all in all. I’m really looking forward to putting it all together.

As I’ve commented before, I am not a fan of the way some Eurorack manufactures have decided to attack the second hand market by releasing MKII and even MKIII versions of their products. This has an effect of devaluing their earlier versions on the second hand market and making it near impossible to sell a MKI version unless you let it go at a ridiculous price. This is shortsighted, I think, because while the manufacture gets new product buzz with minimal effort, it also sticks a lot of users of the old version with the old piece and they may not be willing to dump at a low price to upgrade.

I’m mentioning this because the module I was testing tonight is the Rubicon II, which has been out for a while. I had the original Intellijel Rubicon, and it’s in the top 5 as far as eurorack oscillators go, in my opinion. I hesitated to sell it to get the Rubicon II for a long, long time because, well…see all I stated above. The over night depreciation caused by the Rubicon II meant I wanted to get more time out of my investment before flipping it at that kind of a loss. So now, a couple years after the Rubicon II was released, I finally bit the bullet and bought it.

Overall, I really like the Rubicon II, except for one really annoying ‘feature’. Instead of having a continuous course pitch knob, they have implemented an octave switch and a course knob that gives over about an octave or so range. I *hate* this arrangement. I can see its convenience for some, but being able to sweep the pitch by hand is something I actually do when I’m performing on the modular.

Aside from that, the things they added are nice. I haven’t gotten to deep dive into the more esoteric corners of its capabilities, but I can say it sounds damn good and the panel layout makes sense.

…But I’m still not sure I’ll sell the Rubicon I.

Live set.

The second part of the evening was spent trying to run through a live set on the MPC Live and Force. For the most part, it went pretty smoothly. I identified problems in the second track, and I’ll probably try to go for a fourth. I’m not sure I need to bring the modular/satellite rig after all, since the MPC and Force seem to have plenty to keep the ears interested. I am considering trying to take a track or two from the Dust album and see I can find a way to perform them that makes sense.

The first track is, right now, the best of the set. It was the first in the series that I wrote on the MPC Live, and it’s one of my stronger pieces.

I am trying to figure out what it is this second track needs. I keep thinking ‘voices’ as the answer, but I am not sure what form those should take. The song as a title and a theme, so I’d have to find something consistent with that them (and, as usually, my theme is dark and obscure).

The third track is written entirely on the Force and I’m not sure how well it goes with the first two. It’s much more structured and ‘industrial’ sounding. I need to pair that one down a bit. I think it runs the risk of being to…composed..if that’s the right word. My work sounds best to me when I focus on the interplay of sounds rather than try to construct sophisticated melodies. I need work with that strength and stay focused.

Over the weekend, I’m going to sit down and think about how to make the second two tracks better. Maybe I should go dust off my bass?

Team Spirit

Akai MPC Live and Force. TR8s pictured at the end for sampling purposes only.

For a long time, I’ve been working toward getting back to broadcasting lives sets. In my original rig from this, the equipment used was my modular, Octatrack and sometimes an Elektron Analog 4. While that rig worked, it had the limitation that it was less than intuitive to change songs from one to the next, so most of the broadcasts were done as one very long form piece (as long as an hour or more). In the next, overdue incarnation of R=C broadcasting, I want to break out of that mold and have the music over that time be made up of separate compositions pulled together in an improvised live set.

Because I’m rather pedantic about NOT wanting to use a laptop computer in this setup, I’ve been looking for hardware that could handle the task. To my surprise, this is harder than you think. Most samplers *still* max out at around a gig or so of available RAM, or have other limitations that make you still have to be memory conscious. In 2019, that just seems so crazy to me. I don’t understand why samplers don’t have 32gb of RAM (or more) and the ability to stream from disk as standard features.

Further frustrating me is that, apparently, no one *does this* except me, and all the hardware seems to be geared around holding a single project at a time, without any convenient way of switching or play listing projects (there are some exceptions to this, such as the Korg Kronos, but that is designed for a whole different type of gigging musician).

The team of gear I’ve finally settled on  is  The Akai MPC Live and Akai Force, with the Eurorack Satellite rig and Axe FX III (not pictured) also used.   My concept is that the MPC and Force will hande the songs, while I’ll use the modular for some improvised textures between the tracks.  There is the need, possibly, for a sample player / mangler of some sort that can stream very long samples directly from cards rather than loading them into RAM.   I don’t have a handle on what I’ll use there, yet (Elektron Octatrack, 1010 Music BitBox…a few options).

As far as content goes, I’ve already got 3 good tracks already written on the MPC Live and Force that I plan to use.  I’m not sure how well they make a set, but that will come with practice.   I don’t have a set date for when I’ll try to give the full set a go, but, of course, I’ll let all 5 of you who read my blog regularly know about it.

Too Strange to live, Too Rare to Die

My unfortunately mortal beloved

Today, as I was working with my Korg Prophecy SSP-1 Synthesizer and news was breaking of the Behringer TD-3, it dawned on me that there is a wonderful class of musical instruments from the mid 1990’s to early 2000’s that can’t ever be replicated.  Instruments like the Prophecy and Korg Z1, the Yamaha AN1x and Roland JP8000.  Instruments that, while they modeled analog instruments, the fact they were made by custom software running on custom chips that are covered under so many layers of intellectual property and trade secrets that *no one* exept their design teams know exaclty how they work.  What this means is that, while someone *could* in theory replicate, it would be a hell of an effort.  Significantly more than the efforts driving the analog re-revolution we’re currently living through.

This is a damn shame.  Some of these instruments are simply amazing.  I still have my Prophecy, bought around 1996 or so.   Though monophonic, there are few synthesizers today that come up to its specifications as a synthesizer voice.  3 oscillators, each capable of running different models, with 4 LFO’s and 6 Envelope generators…mix and modulation that would make a modest eurorack system blush… it is still an amazing instrument, one I still go back to now and again 25 years after it’s original development.

And it’s not alone.  The Korg Z1 is even better, having 12 voice polyphony and a digital output option  (If you have that, you’re truly blessed).  It was a fantastic instrument of it’s time, and so far ahead of what others were doing.  At some point, I’m going to need to track one down again (a huge power surge in 2005 killed my last one).

Korg, of course, wasn’t the only one putting out these instruments.   There was an absolute explosion of them.  Every  NAMM show, it seemed like another new company was getting into the game with something amazing.  Novation had the Supernova and its derivatives,  Roland put out the JP8000 and later V-Synths.  And, of course, there was and still is the Access Virus.

In time, all of these instruments will be permenantly lost.

I’m going to go play my Prophecy now.

Oscillating Wildly

I’ve got some holes to fill.

Trying to pick a Eurorack Oscillator is an annoying complicated decison.  There are so many of the fuckers flying around now that it’s hard to settle on just one.  This is made harder because it is for my Satellite case, which alread has the basic MiniBrute 2S oscillators to explore.  With the basics covered, I can go a little crazy and weird and if you’ve spent anytime in eurorack land, you already know…most of it is crazy and weird.

Making this harder is the fact that the Hex Inverter Mindphaser oscillator is not yet available.  I’ve been pining for it since announcemnt, and if it’s not released soon, we may have an international incident on our hands.

The first option, of course, is to raid my main case for modules.   That would just leave holes in the maincase I’d feel the need to fill, and I already really *like* the way that case is setup.   So lets just pretend that option is off the table.

On the more normal end of the spectrum, I’ve been tempted to pickup a couple cheap, old TipTop Audio Z3000 oscillators.   My first rig actually had two of these as it’s core and I really, really loved them.  Why did I move on?  Because case space was small back then and I was in full on experimental mode and the smash and grab was strong back then.   My one concern is depth, since those are older modules and this case is pretty shallow on the top row.  I’d have to find some depth specs first for certain.

Another option I’m really looking at is the Pittsburgh Lifeforms Primary Oscillator.  This one, I just find interesting.   I have a strange love for everything Pittsburgh makes, though I don’t have much of it for whatever reason.  I don’t like the look of the new stuff as much as their older, more traditional looking style, but the functionality at the price is hard to beat.   I like it, also, because its focus is on being crazy and not clean.

The final option I’ve been considering is an Intellijel Dixie II+.  I already have a Dixie II in the main case that I mainly use as an LFO or as a modulator for the Rubicon I have.   I think it would make a perfect ‘straight’ oscillator for the rig, but I may end up getting it for the main case and swapping the Dixie II to this case.

Speaking of the Rubicon, I could also get a Rubicon II.  I don’t know, though.  Kinda feel like I’m rewarding Intellijel a bit to much.  Their very quick cycles of discontinuing modules really tickes me off.   It’s a stupid personal gripe, and I really shouldn’t hold it against what is a great oscillator…but I do.

On the higher end, there is the Synthesis Technologies E352 Cloud Terrarium.  This oscillator looks absolutely amazing, and I’m sure it sounds amazing too.  It also has an amazing price and would take up a LOT of limited case space.  It also has a display and menu system which I am morally opposed to having in my eurorack.  Someday, I’ve just got to get over my principals.  This thing is so sick, I may just have to.

The last oscillator I’ve been considering, also of the higher end variety, is the Rossum Electronics Trident.  I don’t know where to begin with this one.   It’s big, crazy and very complete.   In fact, it probably deserves to be the centerpiece of a system all by itself.

This is quite a decision.  Oscillators are (usually) where the sound starts, so they are a defining piece of the modular puzzle.  I’m going to go watch some annoying alarm clock sounding YouTube videos and see if I can’t make up my damn mind.



Studio Blog – 2019-10-24

DrumBrute…I wish I could love you.

Sampling using dedicated hardware is fun.

Tonight, I built a drum kit on my MPC Live using the DrumBrute as a sound source. I did this the old school way where the audio output was plugged directly into the audio input of the MPC. No processing, just press record on the MPC and play the sound.

It was like going back to 1997 for me, working without a computer. It was very quick and physical, with the added efficiencies you get form working with a 7 inch touch screen.

And just because I’m nice, I’ve decided to share one of the kits I created. This is a very simple 16 sound kit. If you have an MPC Live, X or Akai Force, you can load the program into your system and go nuts with it. If you don’t have one of those, the samples are all .wav format (yay for standard file types).

Download it here: DrumBrute

Aside from that, I organized the studio a bit, dusted and cleaned and just generally made the workspace nicer. I think, someday, I need a bigger studio room.

This weekend, I’m going to actually do something with that kit I made.

Intellijel Dr. Octature II Review

The Flerken approves

Having begun working on my new satellite case, I thought it would be good writing practice to do some mini reviews of the modules I get for the case as I add them. Most of these modules will not be the newest, shiniest thing in eurorack land, but they will be either new to me, or something I obviously think is a good buy for someone else. Hopefully someone finds this all useful.

Physically, the Dr Octature II is quite a beautiful module. 14 hp in width and very shallow, so it should fit any case. The panel is adorned with 5 knobs (unfortunately, two of them are just pegs), two mode switches, 5 audio or CV inputs and 8 phase shifted outputs.

Starting at the upper left, the first knob you will encounter is the Q or resonance knob. The placement of this control feels a little weird at first, since usually the first parameter you’re lookin for on a filter would be the cut off. It makes sense in this case, though, because of the Octature’s equal focus on it’s ability to self oscillate. Under the Q knob, there are two small switches for mono or quad operation and one for VCO/LFO mode. The cutoff knob, which also would act as your course frequency knob, is in the center of the faceplate. There is a skinny little knob next to it for fine frequency control

On the right side there are two knobs for controlling the level of the FM inputs. FM1 input can be attenuated to zero while FM1 can scale or invert the signal.

The final knob control lets you clip the input for more harmonics (it’s too bad this can’t be switched to clip the outputs in oscillator mode). There is then also a peg to control attenuate the Q modulation input.

All in all, the panel is very clear and easy to understand. Unless you’re a complete synthesis novice, the functions should be immediately clear. All of the controls feel good (except the aforementioned pegs). A very nice touch is the level indicators above each phase output. In LFO mode, they are almost hypnotic as they phase in and out. This is just what you’d expect from Intellijel, who always makes great looking hardware.

My only grip is the plastic peg knobs. They just feel…awful.

In use, the Dr Octature II is both fun and useful. Having no other oscillators in my satellite case so far, that’s primarily how I’ve been using it and it’s been nothing but pure fun! The sine wave tone generated is so extremely clean, that putting it into a wave folder or sharper of some kind is absolutely mandatory. Another really fun option is to take one of its own outputs into its FM2 input and having it phase shift itself. Doing so gives you a lot of very cool textures (though be ware that pitch tracking will be affected). Running the sine into an STG .COM and/or WaveFolder gives you more harmonics to work with, and can give some very interesting modulation shapes when used as an LFO.

All in all, this module is a win. They are readily available on the second hand market, too, which makes them an even better deal! This is definitely a keeper module, and not one to be flipped later.

Arturia RackBrute 6u

The RackBrute 6u satellite rig as it currently exists. Lots of empty space to work with.

As part of the MiniBrute 2S bundle, I received a RackBrute 6u. I’ve already moved some modules to it and had some sessions using it, the main Modular and the MiniBrute 2S. I’d say if you’re considering a Brute, the deal with the RackBrute is hard to pass up. In my case, doubly so, since I was able to unload the Monorocket case I was only half using.

So far, I’ve only got the overflow from my old rig contained inside. This consists of an STG Envelope and .Mix, a few multiples, a Mutable Veils VCA/mixer and a small sequencing setup consisting of an old Pittsburgh Modular 8 step Sequencer, Intellijel uStep and uScale II. I also put the Tip Top Audio Fold Professor and Evaton Technologies RF Nomad for a little fun.

My focus for this satellite rig, I think, will be to make a self contained system with a few oscillators (ideally 3) a few filters (ideally 2) and then enough modulation to make it interesting. I would like this to be the rig I take live or focus on in live sets.

Modular Grid rendering of the Satellite rig as-is.

For the oscillators, I’m on the fence about getting some big, complex oscillator like the Rossum Electronics Trident Triple oscillator or Industrial Music Electronics Hertz Donut mkIII, or going with multiple smaller, simpler oscillators, like 3 Intelijel Dixie II+ or Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms Primary oscillator. I could also mix and match since I have the space.

Filters are a harder choice. In any system, really, it is the filters that determine the voice of the instrument. Having the Steiner Parker filter in the MiniBrute 2S, I’d like to get something smoother. Something that I don’t have represented. I’d love to find some dual filter topology to put in there. Possibly an Intelijel Morgasmatron or even an old Korgasmatron would do fine. I do miss my Doctor Octature mkII, and it would be nice to have one again. That one can also double as an awesome sine wave oscillator / modulation source.

Fortunately, there is no rush, and the second hand market for Eurorack has definitely turned to a buyers market. I don’t know that I’ll need to buy any of this stuff new.

Studio blog, 2019-10-06

I’ve missed a few weeks of studio blogging, but they haven’t been in productive. The last few weeks, I took care of a few long standing items while also making significant musical progress.

First off, I have made significant strides in getting to know (and love) the Akai Force. It seems do definitely be taking over the spot I’d had the MPC Live in as the MIDI/Audio centerpiece. It is by no means, as I’ve said, perfect, but it is very close! It lacks only a way, really, to cue up one song after another with minimal button pushing to be that perfect piece of live gear for the musician that doesn’t want to carry a laptop.

The second development, is that I took advantage of a pretty significant deal that Arturia was running and added a MiniBrute 2S to my rig along with a RackBrute 6u (it also came with a gig bag and cables for all of the above). With this purchase, I sold off the other Monorocket travel case that I was only half using anyway and transferred the modules to this one.

I have the idea now for a 3 or 4 track set. The first would be a modular improvisation on the MiniBrute + RackBrute, the second would be on MPC LIve, the third would then be on the Akai Force, with the final track going back to the MPC Live + Brutes. The idea is that I would be able to load it all up at the start of the initial set and then just play through to the end giving me round about an hours worth of material. The rig would be light enough to carry, so I could consider gigging.

And, yes, I am really starting to feel the itch to perform in some way again. What form that takes, internet streaming or actually finding venues is another discussion to be had.

As I am working on the pieces, I need to consider how to fill out that 6u. I want to make it its own rig, independent of the MiniBrute 2S if I can, but that’s not completely necessary. I already have spare utilities for it. I’ll post separately about that discussion.

Space..the final limitation.

For the last few days, I’ve been nursing a more than minor gear-boner for an Arturia MiniBrute 2S + RackBrute. I like the idea of setting that up next to the main modular and getting rid of my current overflow case, which would go a pretty good way to paying for it. I also like that there is a nice bundle available on that bundles the 2S, RackBrute and a case for the two. I have the idea in my head that I could take this simple rig with, perhaps, just the Akai Force to some undisclosed secret location and make music it on undisturbed by others for a weekend jam / retreat.

And that’s great. But honestly, I have no idea where I’d actually put it in the studio, particularly the case. I don’t have any large flat surfaces left, with the devices I have. There is the large space in front of the big modular where I could lay the case on its back, I suppose…but I’ve never really liked horizontal cases like that.

So I probably won’t get it because it just damned well won’t fit.