Archive for the 'Gear' Category

Dec 10 2012

Nord Micro Modular Patch Demo

I’ve been fascinated by modular synthesis ever since I discovered what it was. Back in the mid 80s I had the good fortune to have nearly unlimited access to a massive Moog 35, two Moog 15 racks, a Moog sequencer, and a keyboard. These massive racks contained discreet purpose built modules that shared a common power source but, other than that, were completely independent of each other. One connected them with a series of 1/4″ audio plugs, sort of like one of those old fashioned telephone switchboards. While you were limited to the modules and patch cords on hand, there was a nearly limitless set of connection possibilities, some of which were never intended by the designers.

Without delving too deeply into synthesis, I’ll explain the four main tools: VCO, VCA, VCF, and Envelope Generator.

A voltage controlled oscillator creates the sound one hears. It usually can create a number of different wave forms, each with a specific and distinctive timbre. The pitch of the tone is controlled by knobs for gross and fine tuning, but can also be controlled by a voltage (+/- 5v, for example). The keyboard connects to the input of the oscillator and sends a specific voltage for each note that is depressed. It is also possible to send the signal of another VCO, or even an Envelope Generator, to the VCO to alter the pitch.

A voltage controlled amplifier is a simple tool to control the amplitude of a sound. As the voltage drops, the loudness decreases, and visa versa. Often, the VCA is modulated with a VCO to create an effect similar to a tremolo on a guitar amplifier. It can also be controlled by the EG.

The voltage controlled filter helps to shape the tone or timbre. It can do this by removing or boosting specific frequencies, or sets of frequencies, from the sound. Because the filter is voltage controlled, the amount of filtering and set of frequencies can be modulated independently, creating, for example, a ‘wah wah’ sound.

The envelope generator was not intended to directly affect the sound created by an oscillator but, rather, to produce a control voltage that can be used to alter the way other modules behave. The typical EG has four controls: Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release. These relate to how many acoustic instruments produce sounds. For example, if you pluck a violin string, the sound starts immediately. The attack is short, and sharp. If you bow it, though, the sound grows gradually. With a plucked note, there is no sustain, so the sound decays quickly and the string soon is back to rest. With a bowed string, though, the sound can sustain indefinitely and, when you stop bowing, the sound fades out. The EG helps to create these kinds of dynamics artificially, when triggered by pressing a note on the keyboard, or through other means.

One last thing about EG: If you listen carefully to a plucked note, you will notice a few other things. 1st, the pitch goes slightly sharp for just a moment, because the player is pulling on the string. Also, the set of frequencies, the harmonic content or timbre of the sound, changes very quickly, from bright to dull. One can use the EG to control both the VCO and the VCF to simulate these variations, and create amazingly realistic sounds. That, though, has never been my interest.

Clavia is a Swedish company that was at the forefront of Virtual Analog Synthesis. VAS uses computer processing to create models of electronic circuits. Their Modular synths are similar to the massive Moog synth, above, but benefit from having a larger set of modules, and the hardware being about the same size as a paperback book. The modules are laid out and connected on one’s computer, then transferred to the unit for performance. Not only can it be used to create sounds, but also to process or effect sounds, something I intend to explore further in the future.

In preparation for an upcoming performance I spent about a month creating patches from scratch and, in some cases, heavily modifying existing patches. I used a Korg Kaossilator Pro as the primary controller for the Nord Micro Modular. This device sends midi note and controller info to the Nord, much like a keyboard, but instead it uses a touch screen with assignable key and scale settings. Although the number of control signals, via midi, is vast, I chose no more than three for each patch, because that’s how many the Pro can manage easily.

Here are some screen shots of the patches, audio demos for each, and a brief description of the other controls. [Note: The controls are as follows: y=up and down movement on the touch controller; 93=a slider next to the touch screen; 94=a knob above the slider. Each is assignable to a single, or many, parameters in each patch.]

Hear 4-8-16. Control: y=Filter, 93=Bits, 94=OD

Hear Diso Deep Mod. Control: Y=Filter, 93=Phaser Depth, 94=Clip

Hear Diso Harm.

Hear Fat Triangle. Control: Y=Filter, 93=Chorus, 94=A/R

Hear Fat Triangle 2. Control: Y=Filter, 93=Chorus, 94=ModSpeed

Hear Filt Seq. Control: Y=Filter, 93=FReso, 94=Speed

Hear Orbitron. Control: Y=Filter, 93=Bits

Hear Pedal Steel Strum, and a slightly different version. Control: Y=Filter, 93=Speed/A/R, 94=Detune

Hear Space Race. Control: Y=Filter, 93=OD, 94=ModSpeed

Hear Spitty Grit. Control: 93=A/D

Hear Sweepy Time, and a slightly different version. Control: Y=Filter, 93=OD/CH, 94=ModSpeed/FM

Hear VocoLead Control: y=Filter, 93=Octave, 94=Vibrato

You can also hear a rather thoughtlessly constructed demo that features about two thirds of these patches.

Please feel free to ask me any pertinent questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

2 responses so far

Oct 06 2012

Live at the Health & Fitness Expo – October 5 & 6, 2012

The Arts Council for Long Beach was given a space at the Long Beach Marathon’s Health & Fitness Expo, and they contracted my Toaster Music cohort, Sumako, to curate it. He gathered a talented group of local artists to body-paint lovely bikini-clad models while I performed my unique brand of lap steel & synth based live looping. There was also a muralist working directly behind me. All in all, it was a really enjoyable experience, with everyone working at a high level, and sharing a sense of collective comraderie.

On Friday, I performed for just shy of 5 hours, and on Saturday I performed for 6. It was, ironically, a musical marathon of sorts.

I used two main sound sources: 1) My custom built Indy Rail Lap Steel Guitar, and 2) My beloved Novation Nova Digital Modeling Analog Synth.

The guitar runs through a series of effects: MXR El Grande Bass Fuzz -> Marshall Vibratrem -> Home Brew Electronics Psilocybe Phaser -> Danelectro Surf & Turf Compressor -> Ernie Ball Volume Pedal Jr -> Digital delay. On Saturday, just for variety’s sake, I swapped the El Grande for my cherished ZVex Wooly Mammoth. It was tasty.

The Nova is a great synthesizer, made by a company called Novation in the late 90’s. It is a computer based synth that simulates analog circuitry. It doesn’t have a keyboard, so it was being controlled via MIDI by a Korg Kaossilator Pro. This is a musical instrument in its own right but, in this case, I was using it as a ‘keyboard.’ The Kaossilator Pro can be programmed with both scale and key settings and, when I move my finger across the touch screen horizontally, it sends only those notes to the Nova.

Both instruments go into a GigaDelay, set for 8 seconds, via a Mackie mixer, where I do lots of stereo panning. You can see a photo of the rig, more or less, below.

Anyway, before I blather any further, here are excerpts from both days:

Craniundulant – Part 1

Craniundulant – Part 2

Part one consists of excerpts from Friday’s performance. I selected several complete movements and strung them together. It reflects more accurately what I do.

Part two was created differently. I divided the 6 hour performance into 10 minute segments and, from each segment, took a two minute chunk. These chunks have a 30 second overlap, where they fade into each other. Thus, you get a brief snapshot of the evolving performance without ever hearing a complete movement.

Here’s a crappy photo of my rig:


And here’s a photo, taken by Gertrude Erin Grayson IV, who is the talented artist that is painting the mural behind me:

Artist Village - Day 1

Here’s a shot of the Saturday crew:

Here’s a shot of the Friday crew:

Here are other photos, posted on facebook, and a bunch more posted by Sumako.

I must say that everyone really stepped up, and brought their ‘A’ game to the event. Everyone was really kind and supportive, and it was a real joy to be a part of the event. Mad props and kudos to Sumako for pulling this together with very little time. It was great.

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Nov 14 2008

Some Better Sandblaster Pix

Published by under Guitar Project 1,Sandblaster

I was unhappy with the photos I took a while back of the completed Sandblaster guitar, so I gave it another go:

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Nov 01 2008

New Cabinet for Kalamazoo Series 2 Amp

Published by under Kalamazoo Series 2 Amp

Some time ago my dear friend Mike gave me a non-functional Kalamazoo Series 2 Amp. It is a small thing, just 8 watts, made by Gibson in 1965. It was a low-end, entry level, guitar amp that used a British style tube design, and was made with the cheapest materials available. The box was particle board, the covering was a paper thin tolex-like material, and the speaker was probably made by CMI.

I handed it off to Mark Cox of Anything Audio and he rebuilt it, making a number of modifications I requested along the way.

After I got it back, and began to realize just how much of a wee screamer it was, I decided that living in it’s cheap and disintegrating particle-board home was just too sad. I knew a fellow, Larry Bott, whose artistic wood creations I’d greatly admired. I asked him if he’d be willing to fabricate a cabinet from scratch, and he said yes!

It’s not quite done yet, but it’s very close. He used beautiful African Mahogany, and is finishing it with a classic French shellac. I took a few pictures just so I could show it off, and here they are:

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2 responses so far

Feb 20 2008

A wee tune featuring bowed psaltery

Some time ago I acquired a hand-made custom bowed psaltery. Recently, I recorded

      a wee tune
with it. The tracks were recorded in Cubase SX3, and all the processing was done on the computer. I recorded the psaltery part first then, using an old Brian Eno trick, reversed the track so that it was playing backward, and recorded delay with it. The original track, with the delay, were then both re-reversed so that the original track is now playing forward, but the delay is reversed, fading in rather than fading out. All this was then run through the same delay so it has delay coming and going. I then added the two guitar parts.

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Oct 23 2007

Creating a bass – Step one: buy wood

Ever since, or perhaps even before, I completed the guitar project I’d dreamed of creating a custom bass. Encouraged by the results of the Sandblaster, I decided to undertake a 2nd instrument-building project: A bass.

I originally hoped to create an instrument using similar African Mahogany but, much to my dismay, large pieces of highly figured African Mahogany are becoming harder and harder to find. Old growth trees are now almost entirely gone, sadly.

Anyway, I began to expand my search to include other woods, and even several woods in combination. ( I just had this idea that one solid piece is somehow better… I don’t know if that’s true, though.) Anyway, I have a Taylor acoustic guitar with Sapele sides and back. Sapele is similar to African Mahogany, but it is heavier, darker, and more expensive. Also, like most popular woods, large highly figured pieces are hard to find. So, after many weeks of patience, John of West Penn Hardwoods selected some pieces that, ultimately, will end up as the body of my next bass.

There are three ‘sections’: The top, which is made of book-matched sapele, the middle, which is made of flame maple (soft), and

The book-matched top:

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3 responses so far

Oct 03 2007

Hofner Galaxie Guitar

This instrument was given to me by a friend who got it from another friend who found it collecting dust in her house. According to trusted sources, it is a Hofner Galaxie. There are a number of different models in that line, however, so more specific info would be most welcome.

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2 responses so far

Oct 01 2007

Sandblaster Logo Ideas

Published by under Guitar Project 1,Sandblaster

This first one is my favorite, so far:

This logo spells out my last name

This one is a bit of an homage to the Fender Telecaster logo:

Fender Telecaster homage

Personally, I don’t think the 2nd one will fit nicely on the headstock. The first one would, though…

One response so far

Sep 13 2007

Mystery POS Acoustic Guitar

All I know is that this instrument belonged to my mom, and that it was bought a long time ago, and probably for very little money. The neck is fat and thick, bowed, with frets that are super thin. It is difficult to play, and the intonation goes to hell if you wander above the 5th fret. It was intended to be a ‘classical’ nylon string guitar but when I replaced the frozen tuners, I strang (stringed) it up with phosphor bronze strings instead.

Gibson Victory Bass

One response so far

Sep 13 2007

Gibson Victory Bass

I am not exactly sure why I got this instrument. I think I saw a picture of one and fell in love with it. I found one in the recycler for a fairly reasonable price and purchased it. This is a fantastic instrument, made well, and solidly, with good electronics. It is American made. The only real downside is that it is incredibly heavy which, I’m sure, adds to its beefy tone. Still, I only use it for recording because, after playing one gig with it, I was in agony.

Gibson Victory Bass

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