Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Demo of the 200e!

Thanks for all the folks who have written with support, info, and questions since I started this blog. Let it never be said feedback doesn't work and based on readers suggestions I've started a Soundcloud account which I will use for demos of my journey for this blog and some other sounds from my instrument company DAEDSound.com. The direct link to that page is: http://soundcloud.com/daedsound

I started writing a detailed post on the 250e but decided to post this quick demo first just to get things going and have some fun. No, it's not really "Acid" in the traditional sense but, to me, Acid was/is always the "punk of techno" genres where you can do whatever you want and if it has that feel and attitude and is raw then it's ACID. I think this meets that criteria and given it's my piece, synth, and blog - it's ACID. :)

This is also one of the first things I've done as part of learning the 200e that is a bit more coherent than just random klangs and drones (which I like too!) but when I was looking for demos of the 200e most of the stuff I ran across wasn't, well, like THIS so I figure if I'm trying to show what the synth can do why not demo something a bit more unusual.

Latest tracks by DAEDSound

The patch is relatively basic and I don't touch the 250e once I get it started. There are three sound sources with four audio outs going into the 207e. I tried a bit of panning but it didn't work too well and I ended up correcting the levels a bit once I got it to my harddrive but outside of that there is no editing, effects, fades, etc. It took some fiddling with the levels as well, one thing I learned already is the output on the 207e is HOT.

The main output on the 259e goes into the 292e in gate only mode with the 250e pulse out triggering the 282e. I pretty much leave that alone and tweak the timbre controls on the 259e a bit.

The 261e has one output going straight into the 207e and another going into the same 282e/281e setup but I think I have the 292e in both mode.

The final sound of "Noise/HHats" I really dug. This was the ZOe which is also going into a 281e/292e combo platter in gate only mode. I am tweaking the decay in real time manually on the 282e to get the "open the highhats" simulation. You can hear that clearer in the beginning of the track but also in other parts. The ZOe is spitting out a Saw Up waveform with the bias switch in the middle and through zero on. No other processing at all. Very cool trick on the ZOe indeed to modify a Saw into noise like that. This is a great complement to the standard 259/261 pieces.

There are no dedicated filters on this and I'm not really touching the 292e once I get started. Most tweaks were done to the Timbre sections of each module and the decay on the Env like one would do on.. oh, say... a 303 :)

I'll cover what little I've learned on the 250e and another trick I figured out about the 259e Morph feature on future posts. For now, space out a bit and dig the beat.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Meet Mr. Modular Preset...

When we last left our hero he was mesmerized by the blinkenlights of the Buchla 200e. Today's post will be a summary of some of the things I discovered as we started talking to each other.

One of the unique features of the Buchla 200e modular is it's preset system. My configuration has the 225e module but another option which accomplishes the same purpose is the 206e. in "traditional" modular synths it's more WYSISWG in that with the knobs and cables patched the setting that are displayed are exactly what you are hearing. Not so with any preset synth and while this has been common since the early 90s when synths like Roland's Juno 106 replaced their Juno 6/60 as far as I know this is the first time a Modular synth company has employed presets. Given the complexity of the Buchla modules this not only makes sense but offers a great benefit but at the same time it takes some getting used to.

Case in point is what I used to consider the quintessential 200e Module, the 259e oscillator. This module has, among other features, a modulating oscillator (MO) with assignable and voltage controlled setting to influence the primary Osc, a wave table oscillator with dual digital banks which can be mixed via CV or the MO, a filter like Timbre control, various CV influenced Warping and Morhphing features of the wavebank, and, of course, separate audio and CV in and outputs for FM, CV scale etc. Looking at the module any of the knobs that drastically change the sound may appear to be set a certain way but in fact they are whatever is called up in the preset. So the visual setting might say the MO is turned off and not affecting the main wavetable Osc but in fact you could be hearing violent sweeps of both the wavetables and pitch as the MO does in fact mangle the hell out of it all. More odd is when I pull up a preset that has something set up (I got the system used so I don't know what the setting all correspond to) and the pitch knob on the wavetable Osc does nothing. One would imagine at the very least you could manually sweep pitch up and down with a pitch knob but I have found a few presets which somehow disable this (at least initially until I stumble upon the magic formula that changes that setting). The modules are DEEP and there is a lot going on in the CPUs and saved routing settings and I have found this type of thing in other modules as well including envelopes that seemingly don't take a pulse in to trigger and a sequencer that only runs from it's own clock and skips visual steps (more on the 250e in another post).

Again, this is not necessarily a good or bad thing and with a little reading of the brief documentation than came with my system I learned the REMOTE/Enable buttons on each module turn the preset recall on and off. So theoretically if you disable the 225e from talking to the module you have a more "standard" module that does show exactly what you are twiddling or patching into it. The catch is that also depends on the state you started your session at. when you turn on the system it recalls the last patch you worked on so if you left off with something being sent to the module that is not what is visually shows that will be resent and you will need to remember what you did to get it back to the "blank" state. I suppose what one does is create a bank of "template" presets which have a base state of all modules that you are comfortable with. In a way that is an amazing option and very helpful. But at the same time it is truly a different way of working than ever before on a modular and requires a shift in mindset to use and take advantage of it. One of the obvious limitations of modulars in the past was that they are "only" live and you never get the same sound out of them twice. Many users turned this "bug" into a feature and developed the habit of not only appreciating this but also using it as an inspiration to constantly move forward in their synthesis.

The 200e ups the ante in allowing some preset features that do in fact recall the sound (or sounds) you were working on the day or week before. But, as with most computer oriented things, it's not perfect (even with the latest firmware there are times it doesn't save everything on the first press or stutters on recall) and it comes with a learning curve.
I am at the point where I appreciate it and am starting to understand how to best meet the synth half way and use what it offers and merge that with my current personal style and habits. Where we go from here continues to remain an exciting mystery...

Friday, May 27, 2011


A few gratuitous gearporn shots of the new Help Wanted Productions Buchla 200e system. I've arranged the modules in a way that makes a bit more sense to me (and leaves the bottom row empty for cables, etc to lay flat).

Apparently this is an older case and the end panels are made of Zebra Wood with brass connectors which is no longer a standard option. Very nice touch to make such an electronic monster a bit more "organic".

[Update 6/1/11: I've been told the wood is Wenge, another exotic hardwood, not Zebrawood. Thanks for the correct info.]

Current module layout. I've moved the two Buchla Oscillators to the top row next to each other in between the 250e Sequncer and the 207e mixer and made a combo platter of the 266e,281e, 292e, in a row with the Cyndustries ZOe as a utility and test module on the end which makes a bit more sense for patching.

Still to come is an Eardrill 077 which I am hoping will fit in the space in the middle row.

I am familiar with the ModcanA format Zero Oscillator so having that in this alien machine is helping me put things together in some semblance of comfort. When I can't tame the 259e I just plug in the pulse out of the ZOe and get things right until I'm ready to go back and mess with the aptly named COMPLEX oscillator.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Skipping some steps..

I've decided to keep this sporadic diary of my experiences with the Buchla that arrived this week. Here she is right before shipping to me:

Will have some catching up to do but so far it arrived on May 26th and I opened it up, swapped some modules around, and started messing with it blindly. Very quickly realized this is NOT the technique to use with this machine. Unlike most other analog synths (including modulars) this is not overly intuitive even for a veteran synthesist like myself. There are scrolling menus and computers and alternative options for almost every module and the internal midi and patch information system is completely unique.

Yes, I suppose one can "turn it on, plug it in, and start making noise" but I unlike any other electronic instrument I am discovering to do *just* that is to really limit oneself and ignore purpose of having THIS instrument. I posted on a Muffwiggler forum a sentence which I think says it best, "This synth forces me to come to it, it does not come to me". Truth be told there are elements of that that are somewhat infuriating. But there is no point in getting a Buchla and then saying its base features should conform to every other manufacturer. Buchla and Assoc. are pretty upfront about making and selling their own very unique product and there is a method to their madness which they gladly explain in detail. The audio path of a Buchla uses slightly different grounded jacks to every other major manufacturer. It looks like a standard 1/8" jack as used by Euro, most frac, and other systems but it's not and you must used the Buchla supplied cables. The CV routings do use standard banana jacks but are ONLY for the CV routings. Unlike things like Serge or even ModcanA you can't mix and match audio and CV sources. And, of course, Buchla uses a 1.2 Vt/oct standard as opposed to virtually every other manufacturer from Moog to Make NOise. These are just the obvious conventions that you must accept to start to talk to the Buchla in it's own language.

The price for entry into the Buchla world is extraordinarily high. So high it forces one to really consider if these differences are going to be an issue upfront and if it's "worth" the effort". That question is, of course, impossible to answer without trying the system and therein lies a bit of a paradox for synthheads. Paying $1k to "try" something for a few weeks is one thing; paying $10k for a simple setup is another. So IF you take the plunge you can bet you are committed to giving the Buchla a workout on it's OWN terms. Perhaps I am projecting my own idiosyncrasies onto the process but for me one of the first questions I had to ask myself is, "Do I want to invest my limited time and energy into learning a new language and system?" After all, like many other semi amateur musician's I turn to music for relaxation, artistic expression, and fun. Do I want to WORK on my time off?

I have rarely been so challenged by an instrument upfront. Is that a good thing? Decades of Buchla owners, respected musicians' and manufacturers say yes. This blog is my attempt to make sense of whether or not it is for me. I hope you enjoy the journey

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Serge B gone...

This is a preliminary blogpost for a possible new blog on my voyage to the Buchla side. First post is a pic of my Serge synthesizer system which I traded for the 10 module Buchla 200e which will arrive week.