As I mentioned briefly in the previous newsletter, I’ve been designing a new potential studio. I had no idea how time consuming the process would be: Although I am working with an architect, I’ve still had to educate myself on a wide range of subjects great and small including Dolby Atmos immersive audio, acoustics, local building codes, heat pumps, lighting, windows, wiring (AC, audio, ethernet, USB, and HDMI), networked audio, flatscreen monitor mounting solutions, and even in-home elevators! (We decided not to go for the latter…)
I’ve been planning where every piece of equipment might go, and along with that I’m trying to anticipate every power, audio, and networking connection I might need – and where those should go, along with acoustic treatment and lighting for all of it. It has taken weeks. All for a room that may never get built, depending on what the estimated cost ends up being (did I mention I’ve been trying to write out a detailed equipment budget, above and beyond what the contractor is going to want to build this thing?).
Oh – and I’m learning DaVinci Resolve to better edit the videos I’m starting to create again, and trying to find time around the edges to work on my oft-delayed next album.
In short, I’m exhausted; that’s why I consolidated the past two months into this newsletter. But things have been happening that I still want to share, so let’s dive in:
- featured article: Sample & holds (aka stepped random sources) are one of the modules I use the most in my patches – and I’ve gravitated toward three alternatives that offer more in the way of control and feel that your typical white-noise-driven S&H.
- Alias Zone updates: I’ve been included in the latest Mixed on Focal playing list – rare for a self-produced and -recorded artist.
- Learning Modular updates: One of the subjects I get asked about the most is the different types of frequency modulation – so I made a new video demonstrating them.
- Patreon updates: More Superbooth reports, a WavPak for the ModBap Osiris, and an updated index that makes it easier to find articles (including the free ones!).
- upcoming events: My October mini-tour dates have finally come together. Maybe I’ll get to see some of you on the road? (Or via live stream?).
Stepped Random Sources
A lot of electronic music contains repetitive, machine-like elements, which only makes sense – after all, it’s machines that are helping create the music. This repetition is key for inducing trance-like states, whether you are zoning out listening to sequencer-driven music, or grooving on the dance floor.
I happen to like trance-like states – but I also like evolution and change inside my music. Part of it is I have a low threshold for boredom; part of it was being taken in by a pack of jazz musicians in my impressionable 30s. As I result, I try to patch my machines with the idea of replicating what a creative, easily bored, very human musician might play – trying to throw in changes in phrasing and timbre over time – as well as on every single note, if possible.
Since I don’t have enough free hands to manually adjust the parameters of every voice during a performance to add that human-like element, one of my favorite modules for achieving this goal is the sample & hold. In simple terms, every time you send it a trigger, it gives you back a voltage. Unlike a sequencer, this voltage is usually random, sampled from an internal noise source (although most also allow you to patch in your own voltage to sample – usually something like an LFO or smooth random source).
However, pure randomness can often sound no more human than machine-like repetition. Therefore, I prefer variations on the standard sample & hold module that either outputs voltage ranges that might be more human-like, or which allow me to adjust what range of values they will create – particularly while a piece unfolds. I’ve demonstrated three of those modules in the video above. To summarize what I like about each of these particular modules:
• The DivKid/SSF RND STEP contains three sample & hold sections with six independent outputs in only 4hp. Unliked a typical S&H, it outputs random values that are mostly small variations from 0v; the further away from 0v you get, the less likely that value will be produced in response to a trigger. I feel this more closely matches the way a human creates variations: most changes from note to note or measure to measure are small, but occasionally the human might throw in a larger change to punctuate a note or to otherwise grab your attention.
• The Mutable Instruments Marbles has three trigger pattern generators paired up with three “random” voltage generators. Those voltages may be stepped, or may glide between values; they can be any voltage, or quantized to notes in a scale; you can also decide whether those voltages are clustered around a central value, distributed evenly, or pushed toward more extreme values. You can even control whether they are biased toward higher or lower values. It also has a version of a Turing Machine built in, where it can generate note patterns that can evolve or be frozen. Finally, it also has a smooth random voltage output as well, and can sample an external voltage rather than just its internally-generated ones.
• The Frap Tools Sapèl is an update on the classic Buchla Source of Uncertainty random voltage generator. It has two identical sections, each with a traditional sample and hold (but no external input), a smooth random source (with control over the “noisiness” of the signal), a stepped random quantized to octaves (multiples of 1 volt), and a stepped random output quantized to semitones (multiples of 1/12 of a volt). Individual controls allow you to select how many different values the octave and semitone outputs will generate. There’s also a bias control (favoring higher or lower values) that can be switched on or off per output. As a bonus, it also outputs four different colors of noise, which I sometimes patch into the RND STEP to get different patterns from it.
These features are explained in the video above. If you click on the movie and view it on YouTube, you will find it has “chapter” markers for each feature of each module being demonstrated, making it faster to jump to a specific one.
Alias Zone Updates
I’ve been using the same pair of Tannoy NFM-8 monitor speakers for three decades now, so I’m pretty familiar with their sound. However, while my most recent album Water Stories was being mastered, what I was hearing wasn’t matching what my mastering engineer (Howard Givens of Spotted Peccary) heard. Out of curiosity, I re-patched my DAW to play back through my rehearsal monitors: a pair of Focal Alpha Eco 80s. I was surprised at how much more detail I heard; speaker technology has come along much further than I expected! This led to me getting a pair of Focal Solo 6 Be monitors for mixing going forward.
As a result of all of that, my track The Cave from Water Stories has been featured on the most recent edition (#5) of the Mixed on Focal series. These usually promote the recording or mix engineer who was hired by an artist or band; it’s rare that a self-produced (and self-mixed) artist like me makes the list – so I was rather proud.
Learning Modular Updates
Some of the most common search terms that brings people to my LearningModular.com website have to do with Frequency Modulation. I’ve demonstrated the technique in my courses and for a few specific modules in the past; the most comprehensive one was using the Endorphin.es Furthrrrr Generator complex oscillator. However, I didn’t have a video that went through all of the twists, turns, strengths, and weaknesses of the different types of FM – exponential, linear, and through-zero – in a general way. Now I do.
The video above starts with generic exponential FM, and then works through the linear and through-zero variations, including patch tricks like AC-coupling the modulator and using sync to keep the carrier/modulator oscillator pair in tune. I demonstrated this for our local Control Voltage New Mexico group before recording the video, and one attendee noted how much they enjoyed the progression from barely useable (in his opinion) to something pretty close to what you’d expect with a modern digital FM keyboard. I hope you find it useful as well.
I am closing in on 500 posts on my Patreon channel – most of them long form text or with videos (and in come cases, both). A good number of them are available free to all, and even more are available at just the $1/month level; the rest require a $5 or higher subscription. However, it was never easy to figure out which ones were available for who without a lot of click-and-hope on your part.
I finally took a couple of days and re-organized the index of all of my Patreon posts to show this information (I also fixed some broken links and deleted some out-of-date posts). So even if you’re not currently a subscriber, check out the index: There’s a lot of useful content up there, and a 7 day free trial if you want to try out a subscription to access a particular post that’s not free.
Plus, I keep creating new content – including since the previous newsletter:
- Superbooth 2023, part 5: Beepboop, Instruō, Befaco, Tesseract, Soundfreak (5v and above subscribers)
- Basic Concepts 04: Frequency Modulation (the same video as above, but with more explanatory text; 1v and above subscribers)
- What I Look For In…Sample & Holds (again, the same video as above, but also with more explanatory text; 1v and above subscribers)
- My New ModBap Osiris WavPak (downloadable wave files for the ModBap Osiris, and which with some effort can be cut up and used in other modules, plugins, and synths as well; 1v and above subscribers)
Since I’ve been juggling too many tasks lately – including the new studio design – I decided to pass on playing at Knobcon this year, and to open up that slot for someone else. I will still be attending the show, including hopefully all of the afternoon and evening Chill Out Room performances; feel free to say hello!
On the other hand, I can finally talk about my October mini-tour in North Carolina which I’ve been working on for most of the year, and, which I’m very excited about:
Wednesday, October 4, 7 PM, Asheville, North Carolina: Moogseum
Michelle Moog-Koussa – Bob Moog’s daughter – will be interviewing myself and Dave Rossum of E-mu Systems & Rossum Electro-Music about the evolution of modular synthesis from the 1960s to today. I will then play a roughly one hour set, followed by a question & answer session. There is room for a small in-person audience (I will be playing in quad in the room); there will also be a livestream in exchange for a donation. Click here for more information including links to tickets. For those who might be in the area, I will be in the Moogseum the day before playing with their vintage Moog modular (seeing if I can incorporate it into my performance somehow), and will also be hanging out during normal museum hours the day of the event chatting, signing books, and more.
Saturday, October 7, Durham, North Carolina: Slingshot Festival
Sunday, October 8, 7 PM, Charlotte, North Carolina: Green Vinyl Factory
I will be performing another one-hour set in quad, this time with Leo Wolf and Benjamin Sochko opening for me. We will also be fundraising for the citizens of Ukraine. Click here for in-person tickets, and here for the livestream on Bandcamp (available for playback for 48 hours after the event).
As much as I enjoy playing live, I have to admit I’m looking forward to finally getting a relatively uninterrupted block of studio time this fall. I have a lot of music to share with you, plus look forward to creating new works!
always learning –