Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Buchla Compilation Release!

One of the great things about being an electronic musician is the constantly evolving community on-line. There are forums, mailing lists, blogs, and sites which offer information and support on even the most obscure instrument, software, operating system, or vintage relic.  
Another benefit of this is it is easier to find other like-minded individuals and create and share music and ideas. Those of us older types remember the days of "tape trading" when the only method of having a friend in another state or country hear your music was to put it on a cassette and put in in a mailbox. Like, with postage and such kids. Gasp!
Some great music came out of those days. I personally participated in a Devo, AC/DC, and two looping, and numerous "Electronic Music" compilation tapes and CDs.  Perhaps in a more nostalgic post I'll muse on the joys and fun of those days but for today, the end of 2011, I'll take the leap forward and present you with an end-of-year present:  SIGNS: A COMPILATION OF WIGGLERS’ GRAPHICAL NOTATIONS FOR THE BUCHLA SYNTHESIZER. 
I'll let the curator of this fine release, Giorgio Sancristoforo, describe his efforts and the final CD as he does it best:
"Some months ago I’ve asked to the fellow Buchla musicians of the MuffWigglers website to participate to a collective experiment on music notation for the Buchla synthesizer. In the world of modular synthesizers music we often see free improvisations, sketches, etudes, but very rarely “composed” music with notation.

This experiment was an attempt to involve nowadays modular musicians in the field of composition by means of graphical notation.

The result is finally here. Signs is not only an amazing collection of mind blowing music, it is also the proof that notation in electronic music is alive and kicking and indeed deserve further explorations.  I want to thank with all my heart all the contributors of this amazing work. I hope you will all enjoy it."
The download "CD" release includes a beautiful 22 page  full color booklet with essays, bios, and descriptions of each of the pieces and artists. It is in high quality 320 KPS MP3 format and FREE!!!
You can download SIGNS as well as other fantastic cutting edge electronic music from the Gleetchplug Website here:  

I'm proud to have a track on this great compilation. It was both challenging and fun. For full details download the release and check out the booklet! 
Here is the full TRACKLIST:

1)Olga Kokcharova & Gianluca Ruggeri : Eidetic Landscape
2)Todd Barton : Altair II
3)Niklas Winde aka 7th DanSound : Men för helvete Älskling!
4)Cyril Baud aka Ernest Saint Laurent : Incursions 3
5)Didier Debril : Sequences
6)Giorgio Sancristoforo : Andante Molto Vago
7)David Talento : That Which Was Then Becoming
8)Lyonel Bauchet : Kinesthézic
9)Schleusolz : Waltzing at the shipyard 

I hope you enjoy listening to release. Happy New year and keep bleeping into 2012!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Old School Slider Synth ... the Yamaha SK30

This Blog is called the Synth and I and was started in part to explore both the topic of synthesis and the various keyboards, modulars, and other tools that exist. This month I was perusing the local classifieds and ran across an add for a most unusual classic keyboard that caught my eye. I've always kept at least one keyboard in the living room of my house plugged directly into an amp. this is so I have at least one simple instrument ready for just playing without any setup, concern for recording, or other complications. I suppose you could say it's my equivalent of the old piano-in-the-foyer that folks would gather around in the old days.

The keyboard that has occupied this spot in my home has rotated over the years. Originally it was a Wurlitzer 200A piano. Then I put a Roland RS09 organ/strings unit on top of that. Most recently it was my trusty Ensoniq KS32 which served as both piano, organ, and synthesiszer. But this month I decided to go back to basics. I wanted an old school, classic synthesizer with sliders for each parameter, multiple sounds, and most of all, something simple and fun to play. Enter the Yamaha SK30.

The Yamaha SK30 is made up of four distinct parts which can be output in any combination thanks to an onboard audio mixer. There are other instruments from the 70s and 80s that offered a similar type of setup. the Moog Opus3 offered a String, Brass, and Organ combo platter. The Arp Quadra had a Bass synth, Poly synth, Lead synth, and String synth and special phaser effect in an all-in-one-package. And, as mentioned above Roland offered a few variations of an Organ/Strings dual synth in the Roland RS09.

Yamaha seems to concentrate on the combo-synth for a few years making a few different varieties, each with their own features and sounds.  The SK30 lies towards the top of this evolutionary scale with four distinct sections featured in similar forms in the SK20 and SK50.  It also adds some other bells and whistles I have never seen on a combo synth and even though it was made in the late 1970s when I researched it i found it had a surprisingly robust design which explains why the one I found this month was in such good shape and fully working after all these decades.

On initial glance the SK30 looks to be a complicated beast. Sliders and buttons fill out the massive front panel and the effects and various split points often fight with each other for dominance on the full 61 note keyboard. But if you've ever seen a combi-synth or classic analog with sliders once you get to know it the design turns out to be remarkably user friendly.

Each section is broken down with it's own controls featuring a few presets and a manual section which allows you to create that part from scratch using the various sliders and buttons assigned to it.

There is the Organ section with multiple flute drawbars  and three adjustable percussion sliders similar to a Hammond organ:

There is the Polyphonic Synth section with a full analog Filter, Envelope, octave switch, and modulation settings.

The string section has three preset buttons with no editing. Each offers a similar sound but in a different octave range: 

And finally there is the Solo Synth section which offers a unqiue monosynth with Filter, Envelopes, flexible Portamento Modulation, and Waveform settings, two key ranges (including a manual bass setting) and even three assignable keyboard aftertouch effects .

On the back of the unit is more. Multiple and mix outputs for the individual voices, connections for CV/gate, various pedals (including volume, brilliance, portamento and sustain), a Leslie cabinet multi-pin jack and connector for an external full size floor pedal unit. All-in-All it's kind of a touch control synthesist's dream.

All this would be for naught if the sound of the unit didn't measure up but I am happy to say it does. In spades. The organ offers  a very  satisfying classic hammondesque sound, the strings add presence and the Poly synth is very flexible offering plenty of Prog, 80s/90s industrial, and classic synthesque sweeps, pads, and with some creative programming,  effects. And the solo monosynth is quite unique.  I read a review where the author claimed it was "almost exactly like a Roland SH101" and another that said it had a classic "Moog" quality. I'd have to say it is absolutely nothing like a SH101 and sounds, to my ears, much more raspy and raw than a Moog. It's similar to the other lesser known analog synth manufacturers of the time like Multivox, Siel, or - Surprise! - Yamaha.  Perhaps in a future post I'll delve into the SK30 monosynth on it's own  -  it certainly deserves the attention.  For now, I'll simply end with a virtual tip of my hat to a company that put everything but the kitchen sink in a heavy wooden framed analog and slider filled synth over three decades ago. One that is STILL playing 100% and both simple to use, inspiring, and a lot of fun. 

Tweak on!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Do you DO with All this Stuff Anyway???

The title of this post is a very valid and frequent question I get when someone sees my studio filled with synths and wires and steps over piles of power supplies, drum machines, stomp boxes and more. The answer is a big more complex but could be simplified into the short answer, "I make music with it". You can blame my Jr High School music teacher, Charles Terry, for introducing me to the very first synthesizer I saw in real life (an Arp Odysessy) and defining music as "Any Meaningfully Organized Pattern of Sound". Seriously, he was THAT cool and it just goes to show some things from your school days do stick with you.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual Musicology conference which was held in Philadelphia (my hometown) this year. One of the speakers played a clip of an interview she did with one of the pioneers of Detroit techno where he stated rather than worry or think about genres or types of music (House, Acid, Techno, etc) he just "made music" and put it out adding, "I leave the labeling to others".
My musical background both in appreciation and in training is diverse. I suppose that combined with seeing artists from all media who have always made their own path influenced me to never really do the same thing twice and to not pay much attention to where it would "fit". A short list of such artists would include Charles Ives, Chuck Close, Brian Eno, Controlled Bleeding, Hal Hartley, Joe Jackson, Louis Armstrong, and Reed Ghazala.

I founded in the early 90s as a vehicle to put out cassettes and do shows of my then new interest in electronic music. I released tapes, CDs, and eventually downloads and played hundreds of shows of everything from Ambient, Industrial, Power Electronics, Dark Synth, Techno, Handheld and 8bit, Indie Rock, and about a dozen other genres all of which really don't convey what the music is. Some is played with guitar and bass, other has DIY soldered noise boxes, analog or digital synths, drum machines, and theremins. All of it, as diverse as it is, comes from the same place. I have music on other labels and compilation CDs as well as various online sites and have collaborated with other artists, festivals, and frequently play as a band member in a few friend's projects doing everything from keyboards and bass to vocals and Omnichord. All the piles'o'gear come in handy but when it comes down to it I grab a few pieces and just go with them either solo or with others and make music.

As you may have noticed this post is liberally sprinkled with links to streaming and downloadable files. This year I decided to come into the 21st century and create a page with much of the back catalog. Not everything is up but more will be added. For now there are
XOXBOX live sets, Modular synth sets (including This One of my large ModcanA system which has been written about on this blog),
Guitar Synth and ACID music
albums, and more.

The official page which will be updated occasionally is at:

All tracks are free to stream and most are a name-your-own-price system. It's not the full picture and as you can tell by this blog hardly the end of all this. But to answer those that wonder "what do you DO with all that gear?" it will do for now.

Listen On!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Finding a good home for her and Guest Speakers...

As many synthheads know part of working with and owning esoteric gear is finding it. This frequently involves trades as well as buying and selling pieces, etc. In fact the acquisition of my 200e was only possible because I had acquired a Serge synth in various pieces over the past decade and someone wanted all of it for all of his Buchla system. Recently I posted one piece of my system for sale in order to raise some funds for other items. (A typical geek process - why use the money for something useful or necessary when you can buy more synths?!) I was thrilled when an acquaintance I highly respect wrote me to buy it. In the trading biz we call this "sending it to a good home" and I could think of no better place for this rare piece than with John Potter aka ether^ra.

The piece I sold was a Cyndustries Zero Oscillator in Buchla 200e format know as the ZOe. According to the official description: "The Zeroscillator is a full-featured electronic-music-quality analog VCO capable of linear frequency modulation through zero hertz and into negative frequencies". I have been a fan since they came out and in fact the owner of Cyndustries, Cynthia used one of my tracks in her first
ZO promo video for NAMM back in 2007. (See and hear it here.)

Alas, esoteric, boutique instruments aren't always easy to come by. In this care the Buchla version ZOe was a highly limited edition to start with, had some quirks, and there have been months going on years of delays in releasing the next batch. Anyone interested in the saga can pop on the Muffwiggler forum to find out more but suffice to say, customer service and ordering woes aside the piece itself is a wonderful tool for sound creation. Since I already had a Zero Oscillator in my ModcanA system and I knew they were in demand my ZOe went on the chopping block.

It turns out all is well and the ZOe from my system is happy in it's new home and already making music (the whole point of all this geekery).

Here is John's first demo using the ZOe in his system:

Also be sure to follow his blog on music and art at:

Finally, I wanted to post another page which is full of free MP3s using a Buchla. In addition to running Eardrill Chris Muir does some amazing music and all his pieces are worth a listen. I want to call special attention to one of my favorites, a cover of the Beatles song, "Blackbird" using a Buchla 200e system. Apparently this came about as a joke in response to some folks mentioning most demos of Buchla synths were more experimental in structure, noisy, and non melodic. I think this track combines the best of all those and is actually quite beautiful.

Surf on!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


One of the reasons I started this blog was to have a running diary or some of my synth and modular experiences. While I do use these instruments for songs and at times even construct full shows, albums, or sound design projects I also use them for... well, Therapy.

I find the act of turning on and plugging into all these boxes and wires can yield the same results as taking a long walk in the woods. Or meditation. It's relaxing, focusing, and cathartic. My large modulars reside on one table in my main studio and everything is wired up to a power conditioner. With the flick of one switch these sleeping monsters come to life.

I usually start by taking all the patch cables out picking a single initial sound source. This way I start fresh with no specific agenda. It's like the aural equivalent of clearing one's throat. Or mind for that matter. From there I patch and tweak the path of the original sound. Maybe it needs to be turned on and off (VCAs/Envelopes) maybe it needs to be swirled around some (Filters, Phasers, Delays), maybe it just needs to be heard. I stick with this one sound until another shows up starts it's own similar journey. Then the two go off in search of more. This method tends to lead towards minimalism where I focus on a small group of sounds but get them grow and evolve as the jam goes on. Getting a distinct aural impression from each piece is important and I spend a lot of time with mixers in my system bringing things forward, setting others aside, etc.

Modular synthesizers lend themselves very well to this process. You start with a single building block and , by their very nature, have to attach it to something else and then attach that to something else. And so on. Much like other art forms like painting or writing there are no real guidelines letting you know when you are "finished". You do something, refine it, take it out, put it back in, and keep going until you're either satisfied you have something worth looking, reading, or listening to or you throw it all away and start anew. The process is the thing, not the end result. Until, of course, you are "done".

Last night I sat down for one such session. It had been a few weeks since I turned on the 200e and I decided to challenge myself by incorporating something new into the system and then using only a handful of pieces to make something out of it. The result is this recording:

Play.Record.Volume.Tone. by DAEDSound

Using the method described above I started with running a pattern from my trusty TR606 drum machine into the 207e Preamp. I purposely overdrove it a bit (the 606 really responds well to being thrown into a warm bath of dirt) and then decided to run it into the filter only section of the 292e. The Mod Osc of the 259e is slowly modulating the CV curve allowing the low pass section to open a bit more now and then.

I then took the Env Detector output of the 207e and ran it into the CV in on the 259e principle Osc. The Mod Osc here was also internally patched to sweep between the A and B banks of the 259 and to make things interesting I added another cable from the Preamp out into the Warp CV of the 259 as well and mixed that in live.

Two happy accidents occurred. The first was I didn't recognize the pattern on the drum machine at first. I know my 606 VERY well and found this odd. When I took a look at it I realized the tempo was set down. WAY down. I liked it and left it that way allowing what normally would be cannon ball toms blasting to sound like slow creeping soft rolls of sound. The unique filtering effects of the vactrols on the 292e certainly added to this.

The second "mistake" was that the envelope detector triggered the 259s in a kind of bassline pattern which mutated a bit as I mixed in the snare and other sounds. Now of course the whole point of an envelope detector is to create a pulse or gate out based on the audio sound coming IN. But since I had overdriven the preamp a bit the bassline wasn't quite 100% consistent and adding and taking out other sounds in the audio path created slightly different rhythms. It's one of those "of course it does that" things when you look at it on paper but you never know how it's going to work out until you try your source and patch. In this case I liked it.

The final touch was when I started messing with the 261e. I had the Mod Osc slightly modulating the pitch of the Primary Osc but also manually tweaked the Symmetry, High Order, and Timbre as well as the overall main pitch. The result was a great growling and undulating tone that sounded static but was always moving *just* a bit. My favorite kind of drone.

I started by creating and mixing everything on the mixer section of the 207e (for my larger ModcanA Format modular I use a series of Cyndustries MixSix modules when I am in creation mode). For my new recordings I have now moved to a simple Zoom R16 digital recorder however. This means that once I have all the sections lined up in the 207e mixer I backtrack from that and plug a 1/8" to 1/4" cable directly into each sound and run it into it's own channel on the R16. This allows me to capture each sound on it's own WAV file and then I can easily import them and mix, edit, etc in my DAW.

I ended up liking the drone of the 261e during the recording so much I kept going on that long after I had turned off the 259e and 606 sounds. By having all three tracks recorded live and separately I was able to shift the 261e track to start earlier in the mix and then let the final end of that sync up with the fading out of the other pieces. Perhaps I'll do a more in depth post on recording minimal electronic music at some other point but prior to the R16 as a tool I would have most likely only recorded a live L/R stereo out of the entire jam with the fades and edits being done in real time on the mixing module or an external mixer. That has it's place and , as I mentioned, I still compose that way, but having separate WAV files makes things much easier to mix, edit, and mess with down the road.

Of course that introduces the whole "is this DONE?" aspect as well. But we'll leave that for another day and, for now, you can listen to the "final" mix of this track.

Geek Out!

PS: The title comes from an 8track tape release I put out by the indie rock band Overdrive Date Master (yes, we released an 8Track tape back in the 90s!). The pic on the cart was taken from the first page of a Wollensac mono reel-to-reel tape deck manual.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

D-I-Y Buchla... (Part One: I Have the Power!)

I have been making DIY and some custom ordered Modules in various formats for a few years. Mostly ModcanA and Frac format but also stand alone boxes and such. There is a thriving online community that supports self builds and other DIY enthusiasts even make small runs of PCBs and other parts for fellow builders. Forums at Muffwiggler, Electro_music, and even the Synth-DIY mailing list all offer great ideas, advice, and occasionally materials for those interested in "rolling your own" Synth modules.

Not surprisingly there is a very small amount of information on Buchla 200 series DIY modules. I imagine part of this has to do with the rarity and cost of the instruments in the first place. not a lot of folks trying to build to save money have $1.5K modules in their systems. But there are a number of other philosophical and practical reasons as well.

The Buchla 200e system is unlike any other modular. It has a complex series of internal busses and a computer that talks to all the different parts. Even highly professional 200e gurus and manufacturers such as Eardrill or Mark Verbos do not make modules in their series that are compatible with these connections. So, out of the gate we must concede any DIY attempts at modules will not truly be 200e compatible. Which is to say they will not talk to the preset manager among other internal things.

There also is the issue of the Buchla 1.2 octave CV "standard". This is different than every manufacturer including long out of production companies and all Euro, Frac, 5U, and other formats. So without some math work VCO and CV ranges will not track exactly as an actual 200e module.

So, what is a simple DIY builder then left to work with?

The answer is actually quite encouraging: The Power Buss which does power "standard" +/- 15vt PCBs and modules. Manufacturers such as MOTM, Blacet, Modcan, and DIY PCB makers such as CGS, Oakley, etc all offer modules or PCBs that run off the same power values as the 200e. This then in effect gives us access to a wide variety of modules which could be made and installed in a 200e system.

I will leave the philosophical discussion of what "should or could" be built into a 200e for a later post but concentrating on just the practical aspects of DIY Buchla modules let's start with the basics...

All DIY and manufacturer synth modules run off a positive (+), Negative (-) and Ground (gnd) connector. the two most common power ranges are the 12 volt Euro Standard (created by Doepfer in the 1990s) and the 15 volt MOTM/Blacet four pin standard. Since the four pin molex connector is usually used on 15 volt compatible to 200e modules and is readily available on most DIY PCBs I use that as the basis for my Buchla DIY modules.

The fun comes in when we look at the Buchla power and buss connector board. This is a very different looking beast but it's strangeness need not intimidate use as all we are going to use it for is to grab those three common connections for powering our module. I'm talking about the (+,-,and Gnd) connections.

The Buchla Buss and Power board and connector used in their cases and boats looks like this (The internal buss board is on the Left, a Buchla 200e module connector is on the right)

Thanks to the DIY community and Buchla aficionados we know the pin breakouts and part numbers for all these goodies. I got this from Aaron Lanterman's Buchla Tech notes webpage which also quotes Chris Muir of Eardrill. This link is a godsend for making the 200e innards and parts understandable.

"Power on a Buchla module is delivered from a dangling connector. There is a somewhere between a foot and a foot and a half of wire dangling from a module (strain relieved, of course) that terminates in an edac 306-010-500-102 connector.
1 Black: quiet ground 2 White: -15 3 Red: +15 4 Dark Green: +12 5 Orange: +5 6 Brown: noisy ground 7 polarizing key 8 Yellow: i2c clock 9 Green: i2c data 10 nc"
Don't worry if that sounds confusing. All we need for our basic purposes is the first three pins:
So if we wire out "standard" four pin molex connector to the Edac 10 pin Buchla connector it looks something like this:
Pin 1 = Gnd (Green)
Pin 2 = - 15vt (Black)
Pin 3 = +15 vt (Red)

Eagle eyes may notice the Edac 306-010-500-102 has ten connections and the Buchla Pin out above only lists 9 connections. This is because if you look at the 200e power board there is a notch at pin #7. I assume this is to make sure you only install the connector the proper way with pin 1 on the connector lining up with pin 1 on the power board. As you can see on the connector I used I marked this slot and cut off the pin so I would be sure to not reverse the connection.
The finished connector going from the four pin molex connector to the 10 pin Buchla Edacconnector looks like this:
(Note the notch lining up with pin #7 on the Buchla connector and Buss board)
All the standard disclaimers about doing this at your own risk, building, playing with power supplies and electronics apply here. Do NOT do this unless you have knowledge and experience making modules and with power supplies, connectors, soldering, etc. You are 100% responsible for your own music so you're 100% responsible for your own instruments as well.
To emphasize this a bit more consider outside of heath and other issues it's one thing to burn out your DIY module that cost parts and time. It's another to damage your $10k++ Buchla system and void your warranty. I did a world of testing the module with an external +/1 15vt power supply and then tried it out with my Frac panel and Modcan A System quite a few times before I plugged it into the 200e buss. And I started with a pretty much already self contained and assembled PCB (see THIS post for details) to go even slower. I am happy to report everything works and sounds great.
Stay tuned to this blog for other posts in the DIY series which will on both some tech points as well as ideas for modules which might compliment the 200e from outside manufacturer's of PCBs and Kits.
Solder an Soldier on!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Man Speaks...

While Poking around the beloved MuffWiggler Forums I came across this gem; a video fo a 2007 long lecture/interview with Don Buchla that I feel I just have to share here.

There are a few print interviews with Don Buchla and even more written about him and his ways in various books. He's not know for being verbose and here in an almost comical way he answers many of the interviewer's long run-on statement/questions with a simple "No" or "Yes". However, this interview in particular also covers some other topics such as his work with NASA and details on his career outside of making electronic instruments which I personally find fascinating. There is a section in the book, "The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde" where he talks about his ideas and work making resources for the visually handicapped which is just as original and open minded as anything he has ever put into a synthesizer module. This video offers more of the same in addition to some insight the creation of some of the early Buchla designs, how and why he chose some of the design philosophies he did, as well as covering some parts of the currently manufactured 200e system which this Blog started around.

It's a long interview and at times the interviewer's questions ramble but it's well worth getting through to get some perspective on one of the founders of modern synthesis which you simply won't find anywhere else. The last half or so of the video contains detailed explanations and some pictures and video demos of Buchla's various alternative controllers such as Lightening and even rarer prototypes, etc. It ends with a few questions from the audience. If you ever wanted to go beyond synthesis with Buchlidian philosophy this is the best place I have found to start.

Finally, there are more print and PDF interviews and insight on this MuffWiggler thread as well. All of these constitute a great resource on this fascinating man and his ideas and inventions.

Read on!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Together at last!

My repaired modules were returned earlier this month and for the first time ever my DIY pieces, EarDrill 077, Cyndustries ZOe, and all Buchla 200e modules co-exist in the same cabinet.

For anyone curious on the process Buchla and Associates is (surprise!) decidedly old school. They have a USPS PO box so no shipping via fedex or UPS, etc. I did get a chance to follow up via email with Karl but somewhere in the process my order got finished but not shipped back for a few weeks.

I left a Voicemail and a few emails but it wasn't until we entered the other old school technology - the Live Phone call - that we made progress. I called in the afternoon (PST) and a pleasant older gentleman (Don himself maybe?) answered. He was very polite and friendly and walked back to one of their rooms with me on the phone and said my modules were on the desk. Two days later they were on their way with tracking info emailed to me. Win/WIN!

I traded for my system and got it used and there was one LED out and an issue with the 250e's Dip switches not working. I was pleasantly surprised when there was no charge for the repair! They also paid shipping back to me (not insignificant when you factor in insurance for over $2k in modules). I know a few small synth manufacturers who operate like this and it clearly has to cut into their already limited margins. Contrast this with other manufacturers that void their warranty if you are not the original owner and some won't repair your synth at all if you did not buy it from one of their chosen dealers. All this to say it's one more "nice" thing about B@A that make it seem like the company really is not just a business but a labor of love. When you're dealing with a high end boutique manufacturer you expect a few quirks. It's really nice when you realize they are rather charming ones. Sure, maybe I could have gotten my order back sooner but if this is the way they do business (kind repairs for current owners, trustworthy, pleasant and friendly service) and, of course, perhaps the most insanely original modules available I'm happy to go with the flow.

Along with the order I bought some more 200e tinijack audio cables and a blank panel for more DIY madness. Stay tuned for the next chapter in the life of the Synth and I...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Audio Demos of the Buchlidian Plague Bearer...

As promised here are some audio demos of my DIY phaser module I built into my Buchla 200e system. The Plague Bearer is an amazing little beast made by Flight Of Harmony who make a number of unique modular synth modules and they also sell very affordable kits. I used the PB barebones pack which could not have been easier to assemble (one reason I chose it as my first powered 200e DIY project!)

First up is a simple demo of a single basic sound - a pulse taken from an Eardrill Pendulum Ratchet 077 module. I chose this because it was the simplest sound in my 200e kit and I could also use some of the divisions from the 077 to trigger and modulate other things in the patch to make things a bit more interesting. The audio demo is tame by FoH standards but it gives you an idea of some of the cleaner qualities of the phaser.

Flight of Harmony Plague Bearer Vs Eardrill 077 - DAEDSound DIY Buchla 200e module by DAEDSound

It starts with the simple pulse out and some manual tweaking of the input and gain on the module. Eventually I start to use the modulation inputs and throw it into an envelope to get things cooking a *bit* more. You can hear a the phaser sweep it's highs and lows rather politely with an occasional more juicy moment or something with a bit more grit.

And now for something a bit more Synthy:

Flight of Harmony Plague Bearer Vs Buchla 200e - DAEDSound DIY Buchla 200e module by DAEDSound

This audio demo is a bit lower in volume but has it's more raw and peak moments. I'm using a simple waveform out of the 261e into the PB. There is some manual and CV tweaking including running the mod oscillator into one of the DIY attenuators I made on the module and manually tweaking and feeding that into the Gain CV input on the PB.

For those interested here is a bit more info on the module itself. I'll do a more involved post on the DIY nature of it and tapping into the 200e power buss board etc in a future post.

The layout of the module is very simple. The FoH Plague Bearer barebone pack comes with a preambled and soldered PCB and has the four main pots already attached.

The top of the module pictured here is that with knobs for (in order from left to right) :

Input level
Gain Level
High Freq
Low Frequencies

The jacks underneath (again from left to right) are:
Audio Input
Audio Output
High CV in
Low CV in
Red banana jack is Gain CV In

The bottom section contains two DIY attenuators with the black banana jack being the Input, the colored jack being the Output, and the knob in between adjusting the amount of attenuation. After experimenting a bit I chose to use a B500K pot and a B1Meg pot to get the most flexibility and mix things up a bit. Given the sensitivity of the Input and Gain knobs and Gain CV input these come in very handy.

So there you have it. A strong filterlike phaser freaknoisepiece mixing with some sophisticated 200e modules. I look forward to seeing how everyone plays nice once I get my 250e and 266e back from repair in a week or so and will have more posts and demos then.

For now, Phase out!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Phase Me!

Super short post today just to mention I finally built my first powered DIY 200e format module. This is a Flight of Harmony Plague Bearer phaser with two additional homebrew attenuators.

Audio demos and more info to follow soon.

Swirl out!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wave, Hello!

While my Buchla 200e is still waiting patiently for it's repaired parts to be returned I thought I'd experiment a bit with some other manufacturer's modules that offer one thing the Buchla is well known for; Wavetable Synthesis.

I've been a huge fan of the sound of scanning wavetables since I first heard them on old industrial and pop records in the 80s. The PPG was world famous as used by Thomas Dolby among others. And Buchla came out with their cranky aliasing original 259 VCO waaaaay back in the late 60s and early 70s. Today you can get amazing wavetable synths from the Waldorf Microwave XT and even some virtual analog emulating synths like the magnificent Korg MS2000 have a Wavetable Oscillator in them. Not to mention VSTs, other software emulations, etc.

What once was the domain of binary hacked ROMS and freakish controlled voltage patchable modules can now be found on everything from Iphones apps to Atari and SID chip emulators.

But, as with most things software only, the spirit and soul of the machine tend to get a bit compromised when you take out... well, the machine! It's the interface of having LFOs and knobs and jacks run amok on a non-quanitized pinging, scraping wavetable that makes that raw digital-yet-organic connection synthheads so love. Enter the updated Wavetable Modular modules to the rescue.

My main modular system is in ModcanA format. As a result I have accumulated a few different versions of wavetable modules , each quite unique. Modcan currently offers two different modules the VDCO 58 and the Wiard/Blacet Miniwave. I also have one of their long discontinued original wavetable modules the 19A Wavetable oscillator. This has almost been one of my favorites due to it's "old school" musicality. It just sounds so smooth in it's own angular-digital way.

Both the Miniwave and the original 19A are carrier wavetable oscillators which require an external signal to drive them (usually a good solid Square wave does the trick). The VDCO is quite ingenious and actually offers more of a dynamic synthesizer all-in-one type module with frequency modulation being a bit part of it's operation as well as having a series of wavetables that modulate and affect the over all sound. It also , like the original Wiard Waveform City module of which the Miniwave descended, has it's own internal modulator (in the case of the 58a it's a form of sine wave).

OK what does all this mean? Well, for me, it's kind of the synthesis (sorry!) of man/machine/ and Sound (yes that has a capital "S". Analog modular oscillators by default have the means to be modulated and warps, but a wavetable oscillator, well, that is created to be warped and mutated. Tossing an LFO into one you can scan the various segments of sound and have a steady "note" sound like a highly programmed sequence (which, in a way, it is). Win frickin' WIN!

I used Wavetable synthesis extensively on my Baseline CD by Sweeping The Noise Floor. There are various modules floating in and about, the Waldorf and other Wavetable oriented synths, and more. Check out the link above for samples and you'll hear waveforms growing and creeping about throughout almost everything.

While down in the lab this afternoon I also whipped up a short demo of the above three modules sweeping, pinging, and all around wave tabling to give an idea of some of the mayhem that these offer. Quite different than the 259 or 259e but then again, that's the point, right?

This is certainly not a fully realized song but I couldn't resist getting a little arty and to me a wavetable just sounds good in some feedback controlled spring reverb. So, you get that.

Modular Synth Wavetable Demo by DAEDSound

Other modules used in this are a Cyndustries Programmer and MixSix, and a customized Doepfer Reverb module made into ModcanA format for me by the genius of MegaOhm Audio.

Scan on!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Just got back in town and am anxiously awaiting the return of my two 200e modules I sent in for repair last month. the 250e dip switches weren't working and the blue LED on the "A" section of the 266e was dead. I got emails from Karl and Don they were received and there was no additional charge for the repairs. Nice!

Here's a pic of the machine as it awaits it's repaired parts. Sad.

Fortunately all VCOs and other goodies are still 100% and there so I look forward to getting back in the groove when I get some downtime this week.

Hmm ... perhaps now would be a good time to try some DIY?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More with Less...

There are many ways to make music. Sometimes you can use a $15,000+ modular synthesizer. Sometimes you can use an abandoned yamaha dx21 and a delay pedal.

Both methods have their place.

When you combine an evening of good company, drink, and Kent Williams and I playing whatever we picked up off the floor of his son's room in Iowa City you sometimes get a pretty cool acoustic and ambient collage EP.

Like this:
Truthfully, I had as much fun making weird noises using three presets on the 4op synth as I have at times with my wall'o'modular synths. The spark was there and the need to explore was brought out and into focus. It also felt good to pick up a few odds and ends and make music without a second thought.

I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as we did making it.

Plink on!

UPDATE - 9/5/11:
A few folks have taken the creative common license and made some great work out of our original tracks. The EP now officially includes a fourth track by Michael Crooker with live drums and other instruments mixed in, out, and all around the original recording.

Check it out here:

Monday, August 22, 2011

On location...

I've been able to do at least one post a week since starting this blog. Alas I have been traveling for work in the midwest and will be on the move until early Sept so posts will be a bit more sporadic until then. Still lots of synthandi stuff to share Buchla and otherwise.

To be on topic a bit before I left I mailed two of the 200e modules to B&A for repair. Just got an email from Karl they were received and hopefully will be waiting for me when I return. I'll do a follow-up post then.

In the meantime here is an action shot of me and a new friend I met at the Iowa State Fair on my day off this week.

Bleat on...

Friday, August 12, 2011

225e and IPad Midi (part two)

In my last post I mentioned how the 200e is actually easier to use with midi than most other instruments. I'm specifically referring to the use of Midi control change messages (CCs) and the inherent modular capabilities of the 225e which bring these programming features into the old fashioned plug-and-play realm of modular synthesis.

Unlike a lot of other software or controllers, you don't even have to know what does what in midi cc for the 225e to do it's magic. Much like patching a cable from point A to point B you simply need to dial in the number of the controller you want to use, tell it what jack to come out of, and then you are free to go back to CV patching with banana cables just like every thing else on the 200e but with the added feature of being able to use any midi controller pad, sequencer, bit of computer software, etc.

Given the wide variety of freeware programs and affordable Apps this opens up a brave new world to interface with or control the 200e. There are VST or midi sequencers, dedicated LFOs, and even things like hardware midi delays and arpeggiators that can trigger, sync, or modulate the 200e on it's own terms.

Last post I used an IPad to send note and gate info as well as tweak the volume and filter sweeps. Here's a short video showing how easy it is to set this up in the 225e.

If you've never wanted to use midi or felt it wasn't worth your time (I've been in both camps and am still not a huge fan of midi) this might be a good starting place to add to your 200e in a powerful and very affordable way. Given the fact that Buchla and Assoc made the 225e such an integral part of their 200e design and philosophy ignoring this is missing out on a large part of owning a new Buchla. The good part is you don't need to learn a lot of tech stuff or have binary computer programming skills to take advantage of the great features the 200e offers. Back in the day you used to have to know sysex commands and language to send start and stop strings of code to do anything. Thanks to the mix of modern and classic (a common Buchla way of looking at things) all you need to know is how to use a patch cable and a programmer than is as easy as the 200e preset manager.

Tweak on.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Laptop, IPad, and 225e (part One)

I've been traveling and brought both my Ipad and laptop on the road with me. While away I saw this post on Muff Wiggler by forum member "eldancer" about using an Ipad and the app TouchOSC to control a 200e via midi. I've seen video demos of Ipads and midi and have tried to figure out all the connections and such before but never quite got there. That post was so cool I decided to try again and with some tenacity and some luck I finally got things working between a PC laptop, USB midi interface, software/apps, and an Ipad.

This is a demo video showing how I set this up. It's more of an instructional thing and doesn't go into great depth but it does cover all the points needed for starting from scratch and then playing music so I hope it's useful to folks on a few levels.

One thing I can say about the 225e is that it makes very basic midi functions VERY easy to program. For over 20+ years I have only used midi for very rudimentary functions like hooking a controller up to a module or doing a backup or single sysex patch dump. I've tried various midi and other controllers with software like the Peavey PC1600, Monome, and quite a few Akai and M-Audio things. Given my Midiot status (and no real desire to spend the time to change it) I just figured I'd never be bale to tap into the wealth of control the 200e offers. Well, I am happy to say the set up for this interface between the Ipad and the 200e, while not dead simple, was relatively painless and more importantly for the first time ever the process seemed intuitive and just worked.

The lion's share of that was how the 225e lays out it's midi controller functions, it's clear programming screen and multiple buttons to work with it, and the all analog patchable interface. Since getting the 200e I have never uttered these words but I'm happy to report the 200e design actually makes it easier to do things than on other synths. In this case those things are advanced programmable midi functions which is not insignificant.

For midi skeptics or folks who have a 225e and have never tried it I encourage you to take a second (or third) look at the process. You're not getting a poor mans touch controller here but you can make a custom interface that meets your exact needs and delivers very powerful results wihtout ever leaving the comfort of old school patching and tweaking (once things are set up of course).

Toggle on!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Song...

This blog presents the song I put together based on the patching from last weeks post. Here it is:
Play Nice by DAEDSound

As previously mentioned this involves cross patching between the Buchla 200e and a few standard and custom modules in my primary banana jack modular. For gearheads into the recording part of things my newest discovery and tool is a Zoom R16 multitrack digital recorder which has literally revolutionized how I record and edit tracks. The R16 allows you to record up to 8 tracks at a time - each with their own WAV file. Everything is recorded onto a SD card which you then can pop out and load into your computer. Since I do almost all my recording on hardware or tape and do all my mixing and editing on a computer this merges the gap allowing me to record *individual* tracks which I then can load one at a time into my DAW and edit, pan, fade, process, etc easily. Prior to this I was mostly recording everything to a live stereo track and doing all the part mixing live in the original take with various audio modules like the 207e or Cyndustries MixSix. Once the track was down I was more or less stuck with how the levels came in and out on the track and couldn't process each channel on it's own. With the R16 I run individual outs from each module into the 1/4" inputs and then dump the WAV files and import them one at a time. I still get to record and play the whole track live but I then have the flexibility to mix levels and process each oscillator or instrument further.

I guess I should point out the zoom R16 is a portable (it runs on batteries as well as AC) fancy pants digital multitrack. You can record, edit, mix, process, etc all on the unit itself. For my purposes I really am using it for nothing more than a glorified tape multitrack and the nice thing is it allows me to do this without interfering. I'm sure at some point in this blog's future i'll do a rant on technology and creativity and how they sometimes interfere with each others (the 200e is not immune to this either!) but for now I'm quite happy I can just "plug and play" and use this piece how I want to without forcing me to use work arounds.

For this song I recorded about five minutes of live playing on the two modulars and then overdubbed some live processed bass and drum playing. I wasn't happy with the drumming so I didn't end up using it and when all was said and done I ended up cutting and pasting different parts of the bass playing throughout the song. You can hear one of the live backwards leads at the very beginning of the track. For eagle ears and TOTAL gearheads all the bass playing is my trusty 90s Ibanez SR1000e into a Boss ME50B. The backwards stuff was done 100% live using the "Slo Gear" mimic on the ME50. Nice trick that.

The basic live playing makes up the majority of the track. At the end of the original take I did a noise jam on the modulars which I then also went off on when I added the bass overdub. When it came down to the mix since I had everything separated on the PC I was able to trim the end of the basic jam track and mix in parts of the noise jam earlier towards the end as well as insert some of the end of the track throughout and mix/fade the various parts together. So, in effect, this track was done live with one instrument overdub and then reassembled using the original take as the core and adding different elements of it throughout. This process allows me to capture the original inspiration of the track and it's take but then expand upon it and present it as moire than a simple linear composition. The image inserted here shows the mix with volume envelopes and cut and pasted parts fading in and out under the solid stereo foundation.

I'm enjoying this new twist on my old methods and will have more examples in the near future. It's only taken about a decade and a half but it seems I'm finally finding a recording system for modular synths that gives me the best of my desire for hands on hardware recording with simple automated longitudinal editing. Many more bleeps to follow. Enjoy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Now, you two play nice together...

The Buchla 200e has finally made it's way down to the master studio (leaving my kitchen table free for more pressing matter like eating and drum machines.) Last night I put together my first patch using modules from my custom Modcan A system and the 200e. After last week's post it might seem a little ironic that my first experiment was with filters on the Modcan but I was curious what the 259e would sound like with some help from the Cyndustries version of the Triple Resonant Filter designed by Jurgen Haible and originally manufactured by Paul Schreiber at MOTM. I don't have many traditional filters in my system and the MOTM is a great variation on a resonant phaser with a number of options that make it quite unique so i figured it was a good place to start. After getting some satisfying swirls and swoops I decided to cross pollinate and ran one of the Modcan 01A oscillators from the Buchla 250e sequencer. I also ran an LFO from the Modcan into the 261e Mod Osc waveform selector and then threw that audio out into my MegaOhm custom CatGirlSynth waveshaper.

This lead to more ideas, kind of a "you've got peanut butter in my chocolate - you've got chocolate in my peanut butter" type thing. Since I was running the Buchla oscillators into an analog wave folder and making them more like a CGS or other synth I looked at what I had to take my pure analog modcan oscillator and turn it into a more digital waveform a la Buchla. Enter the DAED/Fritz 5Pulsar module*. Feeding this the same LFO that was running the 261e I finished off with running the 250e CV out into the Fritz shaper CV and threw another waveform from the analog Osc into the Grinder section on the waveshaper for good measure. Happy with the results I decided to do a short track emphasizing this patch. I added some live drums and bass playing but wasn't very satisfied with the results so I ended up calling it a night and went to bed. As these things go the muse woke me up around 4AM and I ended up mixing the original stereo modular track with a bit of live bass w/effects and finished it off before breakfast.

Audio to follow shortly but for now enjoy the post and it's ideas of the first documented collaboration of my main banana modular and the 200e in the Help Wanted Productions studios.
Bleep on, out, and all around...

*NOTE: My ModcanA format Ian Fritz 5Pulsar is a custom design I made at They are available by special order in ModcanA, Frac, and other formats on request. This is a very cool design and really adds something different in the world of modular processors. The unit shown includes a simple wavefolder PCB which, sadly, has been discontinued by CGS.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Look Ma, No Filters!

So far we've established the Buchla 200e modular system is unique in quite a few ways. One of the most obvious and interesting things I've grown into is it's capabilities without the ever present analog monolithic Lowpass Filter than so dominates most traditional electronic music

Perhaps the most well known filter de
sign is the classic Moog filter. Deep, powerful, ballsy, and used on countless other manufacturer's systems. Then there is the basic Multimode filter which offers Lowpass, Bandpass, and Highpass filtering as well as sometimes adding a Notch filter option. often considered the one filter to have if you're having only one, a multimode filter offers maximum flexibility in sound in a minimum package.

Filter sweeps are more than classic, they are the bread and butter of most electronic music genres from techno to space rock. Where would bands from Prototype 909 to Acid Mother's Temple be without their ubiquitous Frequency Cutoff and Resonance knob twiddling?

Over a decade ago I started experimenting with filterless synthesis. Call it a self imposed limitation if you will but I wanted to see what I could get up to if I took this basic staple of electronic music out. Could I still make interesting modulations? Would the music still have sweeps and creeps and drips and bleeps?

Enter one of the main tools that helped change my mind about filtering, the might Korg ER1 drum machine. While other manufacturers were jumping on the Groovebox bandwagon and even throwing basic filter designs (complete with Freq and Resonance knobs) in their drum machines and samplers Korg went the other direction and built one of the greatest new drum machines adding a Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) modulation section with multiple waveforms (including noise!) amount and positive/negative directional controls and then allowed you to record live twiddling of all of this LFO madness and save it as part of each pattern.

All of a sudden warping a standard sine wave with a reverse sawtooth and pitch shifting the whole thing down two octaves seemed much more interesting than doing a simple filter sweep on the high hats or snare. You could minimally or drastically alter the sounds via waveforms just like the modulation sections of great old monosynths like the Roland SH101 (which also has a noise LFO waveform) or Sequential Circuits Pro One (a classic design of intermodulatiing VCOs).

Soon I became obsessed with waveform modulation with then lead me to explore all sorts of wavetable synths from the underrated Ensoniq SQ80 to the Waldorf Microwave and of course modular pieces like the Wiard Waveform City, Blacet Wiard Miniwave, original Modcan Wavetable 17A, and others. I even built a DIY 5Pulsar design by Ian Fritz which processed audio into waveforms. Filters? Who needs filters?

Well not to throw the geeky baby out with the bath water but filters still have their place in my music and processing. But my journey without them has helped me rethink their use (and potential overuse). I will happily admit there are few things more Emusically satisfying that tweaking the filter section on my Moog voyager but adding other elements make it really shine.

Enter the Buchla 200e. The system does have a filter module but in my experience I don't miss not having one in my modular at all. First of all the classic Buchla design, the 292 Quad Dynamic Manager, operates as the system's VCA in gate mode but also has it's own unique lowpass filter design as well which can operate in conjunction or separately from the gate function. if you insist on wanted a dedicated filter for the 200e you have the current choice of the 291e triple Morphing Filter or the insanely complex 296e Spectral processor - a 16 channel bandpass filter. If price matters both of these are on the higer end of the already high end price range with the 2926e currently costing the same as a small 200e system all by itself.

Fortunately as with most things Buchla, the complexity of the other modules in the system pick up some features that cover territory outside of their "primary" classic functions. Both the 259e and 261e digital oscillators have a number of features that offer filter like possibilities and truly warp, bleep, bump, and sweep with abandon - all without a classic Freg Cuttoff or Resonance control.

To see how far I could go with this I made a simple patch using both the 259e and 261e and set the 292e in gate only mode. I ran a sequence from the 250e into both and left their pitch CVs constant. I also set the envelope on two sections (one for each oscillator) of the 281e identical and constant. Futhermore I did not tweak the waveforms of either the mod or main oscillators while they were in motion.

What I did do was mess with the various Timbre sections of each oscillator; first manually and then with CV from their respective modulating oscillator sections. Behold an audio demo of Buchlidian "filtering" that uses no dedicated filters:

Buchla 200e Filtered demo with no filters by DAEDSound

The audio of this demo is split in a stereo image with the 259e on the left and the 261e on the right. The clip starts with the 259e and manual modulation of the Warp control. Then the 261e enters with manual modulation of it's various controls. Eventually I bring the 259e back and both Oscillators are modulated by their respective modulation oscillators with me manually adjusting the Mod index amount. Then all hell breaks loose with manual tweaking, crossing the Mod oscillators, patching into the CVs of the Symmetry, High Order, and Timbre controls, etc.

As with all things Buchla, the results are a bit skewed, unique, and left of center. But the aural sound of filtering is there regardless of the math used or names given to the controls. For those looking at getting a small 200e system and concerned about which module to get or leave out I would suggest the 261e does *not* need a dedicated filter to get traditional sweeping results. The proof is in the tweaks.

Bleep on!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Cousin....

Today I received a new module for the 200e from Eardrill. Not many third party companies make modules in Buchla format so it's wonderful to see a company dedicated to unusual and interesting pieces not otherwise covered by the main 200 line.

The 077 Pendulum Ratchet is a sort of voltage controlled clock/divider. There are multiple sections including an internal clock with tick and tock alternating outputs as well as external pulse controlled start, stop, and sync functions. Other sections include assignable and set clock divisions and some good old Buchlidian random generation thrown in for good measure.

Initial impressions are that it is built incredibly well. Everything is well laid out and the boards, components, and wiring are all top notch. It has a very high quality feel to it even down to the legending and faceplate which perfectly matches the 200e design scheme. According to Eardrill founder Chris Muir the 077 was designed with the possibility of connecting to the 200e buss but so far Buchla and Associates haven't made that available to any outside manufacturer. Fortunately that isn't so much an issue with the Pendulum Ratchet. While it certainly has some depth to it's functions, the overall design and layout make it very easy to see what it is doing at all times. This is one model 200 module that presets won't really be needed for.

I've been a fan of clock dividers ever since I started out with the simple yet powerful Doepfer A160/A161 combo. It's the kind of a module you really need to use a few times and then once you get the hang of it you wonder how on Earth you ever made a patch without one (or two). The 200e system doesn't have a dedicated pulse controller/divider and since the Eardrill 077 is extraordinarily generous in it's features this will clearly make a wonderful complement to the system. I only had a chance to spend a little time with it tonight but if my initial tests are any indication this may well be a "go to" module. It adds a different feel both in features and process to working on the 200e. It's very organic and has so many options I'm sure it will find it's way into everything from sequences to complex modulations to simple minimalist plinks, plucks, and pulses.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Video Demo: Poor Man's Touch Controller

I've been playing with some of the basic midi functions of the 200e. I kind of gave up on the internal routings (another post perhaps) and set all the modules to Buss A but then decided to more or less ignore that and just throw everything into one 225e fully patchable buss and CV patch everything the old fashioned modular way. I'm happy to say this works and I put together a video demo of me using an Akai MPD16 pad controller to control the 259e and both VCOs in the 261e:

The patch I'm using for this is a simple controller CV->Envelope-> VCA patch with both oscillators of the 261e and the main oscillator of the 259e. I have Buss E on the 255e mapped to midi channel 1 and am running the note on into the 282e gate ins, the pitch out into the CV ins on the oscillators, and to add some spice I'm running the velocity out of the 225e buss into three different sources each with a separate audio track. Velocity on the pads adjusts the volume of channel 1, Envelope attack of channel 2, and Envelope decay of channel 3. I do each sound individually and then mix and match towards the end of the video to give you an idea of what mayhem you can get up to with something as simple as this.

I call this a poor man's touch controller because it obviously is a far cry from something like a Serge TKB or the 200e's own 223e. The pad unit I'm using doesn't offer aftertouch and isn't as responsive as dedicated modular CV controllers. On the other hand it costs about $50 more or less and can be found on any craigslist or guitar center and, even in it's limited way, it opens many doors for real time interactive playing of the 200e.

My experience with midi and the 225e so far is both limited and less than overwhelming. When I used a standard velocity sensitive keyboard and the internal buses and external mapping I experienced slow response to playing notes and a sluggishness in controller CV. It's certainly possible I had something else interfering in the patch (see my previous posts on "hidden" preset settings) but given the emphasis on the computer and midi capabilities of the 200e this was a bit of a let down. I am still trying to figure out why my 250e only sets to buss D despite changes to it's dip switch settings. So far emails to Buchla and various forums haven't given a clue. In the meantime, it felt good to hit something and get some cool sounds. With a bit of work programming the controller and tweaking on the various CV ins on the 200e I'm sure this can sound a lot better and be much more expressive as well.

For now, enjoy the melodic sounds of a demo on percussive noodling.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How to Buchla...

Precious little is actually written by Buchla and Associates about what is possibly the most complex modular synthesizer ever created. When you buy a 200e module you get a short one or two page typed paper with a brief description of some of the buttons and featured of that particular module. This is apparently a well known conscious decision, made by the designer, to encourage the user to explore the unit on their own terms and come up with what it means to them. There is no hand holding when you go to the world of Buchla and in fact there is no electronic printed or scanned documentation of any kind officially available. This is "old school" only, ironic for an instrument that was ahead of it's time in the 1960s and now still holds that place.

This is certainly one legitimate philosophy regarding modular synthesis (and creativity in general if you want to take it that far). People learn by doing and you bring your knowledge and talents to the instrument and what comes out is based on your personal experience and effort.

I've often referred to Modulars in general as a "Master's Class" in synthesis. To use one at all
you must know certain basic building blocks of sound creation and the principles of voltage control. They are not the place to start if you've never seen or used a synthesizer. The more you know about patching, module functions, and audio and voltage routing the more successful you will be in getting what you want out of the process.

If a modular synth in general is a "Master's Class" then certainly learning and effectively using the Buchla 200e can be considered getting your Phd. The 200e is so unique and groundbreaking there are many features that not only are not apparent, but many are hidden
in computer sub-menus and color coded LEDS or otherwise completely non intuitive. Even long time experienced users of patchable synthesizers can easily get lost in the maze of hidden preset settings and run/stop options.

There are multiple busses that carry preset and other information. One could spend months or longer on the sequencer alone learning it's various sync, step, loop, and clocking possibilities. The Oscillators are digital hybrid voltage controlled aptly named "Complex" machines with separate audio and CV routings. Truthfully, a one sheet summary of face value functions isn't going to get you very far in learning how to use this monster.

Fortunately all is not lost thanks to our good friend the Internet. Support groups (that's really the best way I can say it where Buchla users are concerned) exist where other 200e users, experienced synthesists, or just plain curious fans post questions and offer advice to specific issues.

The two I have used the most are the Buchla Yahoo group and the Buchla/EMS/Serge Forum on Muff's in general is an excellent place to ask questions and get quick answers from like minded and helpful synthheads regarding pretty much any topic you can think of from gear to recording techniques, hardware or software. I believe Muffwiggler is the most populated place with actual users of 200e modules and even the most esoteric question usually spawns a useful thread with information you would never find anywhere else.

Plus you get lots of pictures of Cats and synths which I always think is a good thing...

In a thread on MW I came across another resource which I have received permission to repost here. Called the "Buchla Catalog" this PDF file is
a 3rd party compilation containing the most complete resource of 200e information, tips and tricks, third party module manufacturers, and more. It starts with all the information, pictures, and descriptions from the official Buchla web site (including pictures and descriptions of out of production modules) and then includes the famous (some might say infamous) Sound on Sound in depth review of the 200e system and it's individual modules. Included in this are working guides on envelopes and filtering using the various parts of the 200e that are unique to it (Timbre and Symmetry controls, the whole damn 292e, etc.) . It's an essential place to start studying for the Buchla oral finals.

The Buchla catalog was assembled by Ross Healy
and the current version is available free for download HERE. Ross is a great guy who keeps the catalog updated on his own time and dime and makes some damn fine music of his own which you can check out on his Youtube page (which also includes demos of the 200e as well).

For what it's worth I'll mention neither the "Buchla Catalog" file nor any of the forums online are endorsed or supported by Buchla and Associates. All is not lost however as despite their "hands off" philosophy of written support for the 200e they are available from their contact page to answer questions and support their products. I have written and received answers to some of my questions from all of these resources and, like modular synthesis in general, I feel a bit of all these options will yield the best results. If you know of other useful resources at this level please let me know and I'll update this post accordingly.

Bleep on professors!