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.