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Synthesizer Pop [Sep. 15th, 2006|03:52 am]
Another little "demo" track, with DotCom and 606 for the rhythm. This one is on more of a synth-pop tip.

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Cartoon Dub [Sep. 5th, 2006|04:22 pm]
New little track - "Cartoon Dub". Nothing too tricky on the synth side, just some tuned hits, some filtered noise hi-hats. I used a quickly-swept triangle wave for the kick instead of a sine wave, which is what people would usually use to make a nice kick drum (either from an oscillator's sine wave generator or from a self-oscillating filter). Since the triangle basically sounds like a sine wave but with more "buzz," I've found that it makes a punchier and more aggressive kick drum sound, almost like a 909 kick, which tends to cut through a mix when you have a lot of other lower-frequency stuff going on. I usually prefer doing 808-style kicks (all bottom end and thump), but since there was already so much going on in the low end of this track, I went for something that would cut through a little more. I had to cheat a little bit and use a plugin for the tape delay on the lead, because I don't have a tape echo. Everything else is 100% DotCom with no effects.

This isn't meant to be a full track or anything, just a little "test" or exercise. I've been listening to a lot of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Gregory Isaacs lately, and have always been a fan of King Tubby and Lee Perry, so I wanted to see if I could do a little synthesized dub track real quick.

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Dub Jam [Aug. 29th, 2006|04:29 pm]
"CP Dub"

Another little jam, this one built solely with the Moog CP-251, TR-606, and the DotCom, live to tape improv style. I was kind of going for a "what if Morton Subotnick did a dub track?" or something along those lines, kind of in the tradition of what Excepter is trying to do with their latest "noise dub" stuff.

Here's a picture of the setup:

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Basically what you're hearing is the TR-606 running through the DotCom's filter via the instrument interface, and one of the DotCom's oscillators generating a pulse wave which is run through the same filter. The 606's two trigger outputs are firing off each of the DotCom's envelopes, which go into multiples and are routed to the DotCom's amp, to control the oscillator's pitch, etc. The Moog CP-251's two LFO shapes (square and triangle) are routed into its mixer, with the combined output going to the DotCom's oscillator. I can "play" the knobs that control the Mooger's master LFO speed, and then the amount of each LFO applied to the DotCom's osc, as well as the offset of that combined signal (making it higher or lower in pitch), so the end result is a random melody generator that I can sort of "play" or at least direct by tweaking the knobs. Finally, the second DotCom LFO's sine wave is sloooooooowly sweeping the filter cutoff, which accounts for the long, slow high pass filter sweep over the entire mix to give it some extra spaciness. There's some more complicated stuff going on in there, like the Mooger's Sample and Hold modulating the pulse width of the pulse wave that you hear, but I don't wnat to get too complicated.

Kind of a boring actual end product, but the process involved was fascinating and can lead to more practical applications in the future, esp. once I get a DIN-sync box and can start laying down sync'ed parts like this on individual tracks to build a more complicated song out of it.
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Ok, I made my decision. [Jul. 28th, 2006|02:41 am]
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Oscillator 2 and basic modulation [Jul. 26th, 2006|01:59 am]
[music |yellow magic orchestra - technopolis]

I already wrote a big entry on the Q106 Oscillator, but now that I've added a second Oscillator, it's time for an entry explaining the cool new possibilities that a second oscillator brings to the system.

First, the obvious application: two oscillators playing together in unison generally sounds thicker and fatter than one oscillator.

First, here's a bassline played with just a straight saw wave from one oscillator.

Now, here's the same riff with two oscillators playing in unison - it sounds richer, thicker, and more interesting than the solo oscillator.

If you listen closely, you'll notice a slight phasing effect in that second mp3 - this is because the two oscillators cannot be perfectly in tune with each other, so there are all sorts of tiny fluctuations and phase relationships at work. Older synths like the early Moog modulars had notoriously unstable oscillators - they'd drift in and out of tune and were much more prone to fluctuation. Many theorize that this is a major source of "fatness" in analogue synths, so many modern digital synthesizers even include an "analogue drift" option that introduces minor tuning instabilities among their oscillators.

Intentionally tuning the oscillators further apart is generally called "fat tuning" - many synthesists will use three oscillators, and tune one slightly above and the other slightly below the middle one in order to get a fatter, thicker sound spread.

But what if we want to go further? The two oscillators can be tuned in any relation to each other. Here's the second oscillator tuned two octaves above the first one. It's a subtle effect, but one that might make a lead stand out more. Now I've tuned the second oscillator to a fifth above the first. It kind of reminds me of an old Commodore 64 game sound or something. With a third oscillator, we could even start to make basic three-note chords triggered from one key.

While it's fun to layer two sounds together, a much more interesting and obvious use of two oscillators together is modulation! By tuning the second oscillator down into lower sub-audio frequencies, I can use its output as a modulation source, patching it to modulate the pitch of the first oscillator for a subtle vibrato effect - or I can crank up the amount of modulation applied to the oscillator's pitch to take it straight into outer space.

Starting with a basic single-oscillator sawtooth wave, I patch the low-frequency triangle wave from oscillator 2 to the linear pitch input of the first oscillator. As the little riff plays, I start to crank up the amount of signal applied to the oscillator's pitch input - it begins as a little warble, and as I turn the knob, the sound oscillates more wildly and over a greater range until it's in outer space territory.

Here's the same thing, but with the square wave. I also vary oscillator 2's frequency (speed) in this clip, from the normal starting speed to significantly faster and significantly slower speeds. You can hear what a dramatic difference that merely varying the speed and amount of modulation applied can have on the sound.

And finally, the same as before but with the ramp wave. I can also use the sine wave and sawtooth shapes, but they're variations on the ones that I've just displayed, so I chose to stick with the most dramatic examples.

And finally, we can't forget pulse width modulation. Unlike the other waveforms generated by the oscillator, the pulse wave's actual waveform can be shaped and modulated, which I talked about the basic idea of the pulse wave and pulse width modulation in one of the early entires in this blog. By patching to oscillator 1's pulse width input, I can modulate the shape of its pulse wave. Here's some basic pulse width modulation - oscillator 2's low frequnecy triangle wave is modulating the pulse width of oscillator one's pulse wave. Like before, I vary the speed and amount of modulation just to show off some different sounds. The pitch doesn't change like in the previous examples, but the shape of the pulse wave rapidly changes from normal square to thin notch and back in time with oscillator 2's triangle wave. It's a cool effect, and one of my favorite synthesizer sounds for melodic leads.

Well, those are just some basic examples of modulation - either or both of those oscillators can be kicked into low frequency mode and then used to modulate anything else that can be modulated on any other module, so there is really a world of possibility - modulating the filter for rhythmic sweeps of the cutoff or resonance, modulating the amp to cut the sound in and out for a tremolo or gating effect, and so on. There's also a whole oscillator sync function that I'll get into when I write up the applications of having a second envelope generator.
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Still Alive! [Jul. 21st, 2006|11:36 am]
Yuck, I've neglected this journal! I've just been busy with life and other stuff, but I'm about to start this thing up again with some new entries to get caught up.

Here's a pic of the modular's current state:

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A little dark, but you can see that there are some new modules - another envelope, an external instrument input interface, two multiples. I'm going to do entries on those things and their applications next.

Also, I just traded/sold what little other remaining gear I had and ended up with some cash plus a cool Roland TR-606 drum machine, fresh out of 1982.

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While the 606's own sounds are cool but pretty limited, I mainly wanted it because it has two trigger outputs that you can program alongside its drum sounds, each of which sends a quick voltage blast out to whatever you patch it to - namely, my modular! Working with only the little 16-step patterns that the 606 can do, I'm forced to get creative and end up coming up with fun little "happy accidents" based on how the modular triggers in response to the 606's voltage outputs. Really, it's about getting into that mindset that guys like Giorgio Moroder and Phil Oakey (The Human League) had to be into back in the day; it's just more in line with the whole voltage-controlled modular way of working than using Cubase or digital sequencers. Not that I'm abandoning Cubase or anything like, but it's fun to have another, more primitive option for shake things up a little bit.

With the money that I have left over, I'm trying to make a decision whether to buy an old Roland MC-202 (early digital sequencer that spits out analogue voltages) or the Moog CP-251 (a little box that I can add to the modular that gives me the functionality of five or six modules without taking up any space in the cabinet). The MC-202 is a primitive, confusing "calculator"-style sequencer that makes it almost impossible to accomplish whatever melody or rhythm you set out to make, but the upside is that you invariably come up with all sorts of "happy accidents" that are more interesting than whatever you were initially trying to program. I'm interested in the idea of more sequencing options, especially weirdo MC-style ones, but I'd also like the extra functionality of the Moog CP, which would really add a ton of new stuff I can do with the modular.
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new demo [May. 17th, 2006|03:37 am]
Hey, everyone!

I'm working on a new entry for this, but in the meantime, here's a little demo I made with the system so far.


Kind of downbeat, but neat. I've got a bunch of other little tracks like this that I've made, and I'll be uploading them soon.
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Envelope Time! The Q109 Envelope Generator [Apr. 11th, 2006|02:38 am]
The Q109 Envelope Generator!

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When I press a key on my keyboard (through my Q104 MIDI-to-CV converter module) it generates a gate signal. This is a pretty simple on/off signal - when the key's pressed, it's on. When the key isn't pressed, it's off - not that nuanced if we're trying to make dynamic musical sounds, as that sounds that we're used to hearing from normal instruments tend to fade in and out, or have certain ways of attacking before decaying and fading away. The envelope generator takes this boring on/off gate signal and imparts a four-part countoured curve to it.

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Those four parts of the envelope are Attack time, Decay time, Sustain Level, and Release Time, or "ADSR." ADSR Envelopes are pretty much the standard on traditional analogue synthesizers, though the original Minimoog only had a three-part envelope. Some synths (like the Casio CZ series in the eighties) have attempted to employ more complicated multi-stage envelopes, but the good old classic ADSR always seems to win out for quick, intuitive, and useful control of sounds. While the system uses knobs for its envelope section, many synths, like my Roland System 100, use sliders (pictured below). I have to admit that I prefer using sliders when it comes to setting envelopes because I feel like you get a more visual representation of the shape of the envelope, but I've adjusted to the DotCom's knob system.

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If you take a look at the picture of the module at the beginning of this entry, you can see that each of these parameters has its own dedicated knob used for setting its value. "Attack" determines whether the signal fades in slowly (long or high attack value) or triggers immediately (short or no attack). After the signal reaches its highest level in the Attack phase, the Decay phase begins, in which the signal falls over the amount of time set by the Decay knob until it reaches to the Sustain point or Sustain level, the level at which it holds or sustains as long as the key is held down. Once the key is released, the Release phase begins, in which the signal fades out over the amount of time set by the release knob; long release means a long, slow fade out, while a short or 0 release means that it drops to nothingness immediately when the key is released.

Confusing, huh? It can be, but work with an envelope generator for just a few minutes and it becomes immediately intuitive, which is what matters.

Moog literature often refers to envelopes as "invisible hands" that can be programmed to turn knobs on a synth, and I think that's a great description for the practical applications of an envelope module. You see, an envelope generator doesn't make any sound on its own; it's a control module, meant to be used to control other modules in the system. By patching the gate in from the keyboard into the Envelope's input, then patching the output to an amplifier or filter, I can use the envelope's "invisible hands" to control how the amp or filter behaves when I press a key.

Here's some examples! All of the examples below use the basic sawtooth wave through the amplifier module, or through the filter, then amplifier module.

1. Normally, the oscillator's sound just drones on and on, but when I patch it into the amplifier, I can taper the sound down until I hear nothing. Then, I patch the envelope to control the amplifier's volume when I press a key. Depending on the settings of the envelope, the volume of the sound will behave differently over time. Here's a few little melodies.

This one has no attack, no release, no sustain, and a very short decay. You immediately hear the notes, and then they quickly fade out, like a plucked instrument.

Longer attacks and releases here; the sound fades in and fades out slowly.

Everything at 0 except Sustain, which is all the way up. Key press = note. Key release = silence. Not much nuance until the end, when I turn up the release so that the final notes fade out more naturally.

2. Now, let's use the envelope on the filter module instead of the amplifier! Normally, I'd move the filter cutoff knob to affect the sound as described in the Filter entry, but I can patch the envelope up so that its "invisible hands" will move the filter cutoff knob in accordance with the envelope setting. Let's do it!

Shorter Attack and Release settings sweep the cutoff when I hit notes, before I turn the Attack and Release up all the way for a few long, slow, eerie filter sweeps.

A shorter attack and then quick decay with zero sustain and release makes a brassy sound that quickly "opens up" as the note is played like the splatting and blatting of a tuba or trombone...

...while even shorter settings make it faster, fartier, and funkier.

By now, you should be getting a good idea of how the envelope affects the way that things behave - and this is only scratching the surface of its applications in even such a basic system. I could patch the envelope to control the oscillator's pitch, making it rise and fall with each key press, or I could even patch it to the pulse width input of the pulse wave so that it could change the shape of the pulse while over time (pulse width modulation). Instead of using the oscillator, we could repeat #1 and #2 but patch the noise source into the amplifier and filter, then use the envelope to contour the noise source's sound. Hissing white noise quickly becomes a cymbal or wind, while pink noise quickly becomes a snare drum or gunshot when the envelope is modulating the amplifier that the noise runs through. Many people use several envelopes in a modular system; the general rule is one envelope for each amplifer at the very least, but many people like to have several so that one can control the way the sound's volume behaves while the other controls the filter. Even better, once we get Multiples involved (next installment, coming soon!), one envelope's output can be sent to several different modules at once so that they all simultaneously respond to the envelope's shape when a key is pressed.

Well, that's more than enough for now. I've already received a multiple and my second oscillator, so the next two installments are covered, and I'd like to give Pulse Width Modulation and Modulation (aka "Stupid two-oscillator tricks") their own entries as well, exploring the real craziness that having two (or more) oscillators adds to the mix. I'll also be posting some music I've made with this little setup once I get this Cubase problem worked out (again, if anyone can help with that, I'd really appreciate it!). I've already made a dubby track, a hip hop one, and a Moroder-esque four-on-the-floor dance track, all 100% created with the DotCom system. Until then!
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The Q108 Amplifier [Apr. 11th, 2006|12:48 am]
Moving on...the Q108 Amplifier!

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The Amplifier is generally the final stage in a patch, as it allows me to control the final volume of whatever sounds I'm messing with. It's a pretty boring, utilitarian module, but it's essential. The term "Amplifier" is actually a bit misleading when it comes to this module, because it doesn't amplify the signal; instead, it attenuates it, so I start out with the full blasting signal, then use the "initial gain" setting to tone it down. The amplifier is generally used in conjunction with an Envelope Generator (coming up in the next installment) so that the sound of the waveform will fade in and out in response to key presses like a "real" instrument.

There's more to discuss when it comes to the amplifier, but I'll get to that in the Envelope Entry (next!) and the "Beginning Modulation Entry" after that, since I just got my second Oscillator and can now dive into all sorts of cool cross-modulation by using one Oscillator to modulate another, the amplifier, the filter, etc.
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some recording help? [Apr. 11th, 2006|12:39 am]
Hey, everyone -

I'm working on some tracks with the Dotcom setup right now, but I've run into a problem. I previously only really used VSTi's, which render directly to disc instead of recording in realtime, so it hasn't been an issue. But now that I'm triggering the Dotcom system over MIDI and recording the audio, it's reared its ugly head.

I know that some of you use Cubase SX, so I hope that this is one of those easy fixes that I'm just not thinking about. I've been recording a lot, and I've found that all of my recorded audio is a little bit "ahead" of the MIDI clock/MIDI notes - no real problem since all audio tracks are "ahead" by the same amount (in sync with each other), but it's become a problem when I want to excise a certain measure and copy and paste it - I'm losing the attack of the first note, which is really noticeable with kick drums.

Here's a picture of the situation -

What's going on? I figure this is a latency issue, but it seems like if anything, the audio should be late or behind, not ahead. Is Cubase trying to automatically compensate for latency or something, thus moving the audio "ahead" of the beat?

What can I do to fix this?
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