Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Vintage Holidays...

Proving that analog is much more than synths and psychedelic is much more than stoned guitars or TB303s I present a 15 year old recording that pushed the limits even for an underground band. Overdrive Date Master   was an indie rock/experimental psychedelic (that's what rock guys called Noise back then) band. we had a loud and sordid career throughout the 1990s playing the usual circuit of rock clubs in town and a few extra shows as here and there. We started with synths and guitars into a pile of effects along with some older drum machines and tape echos and usually ran everything into a wall of a half dozen or so tube amps we lined up onstage so we wouldn't have to use the pa. As we discovered more odd instruments (Casio saxophone, 8RPM record players, Library of Congress for the Blind pitch shifting tape recorders) we piled more delays and effects on the mix and kept pushing the reverb and vibrato on those Fender amps. 

Eventually we decided to just drop the guitars and any semblance of songs all together and did a show of just   playing and processing esoteric records, found tapes, and toys. We called this our "holiday party" and set up Christmas lights, put a Santa hat on the clapping monkey, and had Tomy robots running into the audience delivering Christmas cards and holiday treats. Perhaps it was because of the spectacle or maybe people just didn't mind the noise as much as we thought they might but the show caught on and eventually as other obligations and bands took hold Overdrive Date Master slept most of the year only to come alive for the one show a year which grew from small clubs to larger venues and eventually out of town festivals. 

Instruments would sometimes creep in but only if they didn't do anything musical. That wasn't too hard when the mandolin met stereo rack mount processors and more amps started showing up.

Vinyl played a big part in the proceedings and everything from "Songs of the Humpback Whale" to "How to Think by Steven Allen" and Chipmunks tunes played on 16 RPM (try it; the voices are "normal" and music is, well. appropriately possessed) had their turn. "Now Playing" placards adorned either side of the stage to announce to the audience what was being deconstructed before their very ears. Instruction records such as how to be an actor or even my favorite a "Do It Yourself Psychoanalytical Kit" fought with distorted and manipulated Holiday tunes while I hit the "Habanera" preset and we set our sites for the heart of the Sun. 

The mess always ended with various bleeps, bloops, echos, and holiday cheer balancing out ringing ears. It might not be what one expects from "Electronic" or ?Experimental" or even "music" but it always got us through another year.

Now for the first time in 15 years you can relieve the mayhem of the show that started it all. Free Download with inserts and additions for all.

"You can clap if you want to."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More "Live" with Dan Deacon...

I have a number of other more geeky and philosophical posts brewing but reaction to the last post on some off-the-beaten-bath live electronic music performers has promoted this quickie which I just HAD to share. Baltimore MD's own Dan Deacon has been a fixture for ages doing circuit bent opuses which build like a concerto in their emotion and intensity. With man handled Casios, 8bits, and wires Deacon is a true artist and he even writes with the same intensity. Here's his patriotic manifesto on America no less.

He's also been consistently dedicated to bringing the pings to the masses live as seen here in this 2012 SXSW concert set. Note TWO live acoustic drummers and vocals feature prominently (who says glitch can't meet human?).  Special note this was posted by NPR who does a LOT more than Big Bird folks.  NPR rocks as much as Deacon. They're both geeky, free wheeling, and magnificent. Bleep and Support on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kids Today!

I've been making electronic music and merging it with indie rock at various points since the late 80s.  Back then the divisions between genres and "Rock and Roll" VS  DJs or pre-recorded  parts were more of  a jumble. Hip Hop had made turntablism an art and of course the whole British synthpop movement brought out this new technology to the masses and bands evolved from "punk" to "new wave" and then some. As things crept on there was a merging of man and machine as bands started to incorporate drum machines or sequenced synthesizers into their live performances. In the late 70s we had groups like Suicide who somehow made dirty and frightening rock and roll with a Cha-Cha drum machine and cheesy organ. In the 80s technology hit top 40 radio with bands like the Cars and Devo and in the 90s the underground industrial movement with everyone from Psychic TV to Ministry  were pressing ""start" and then blasting onward.

Every step of the way there were vicious verbal battles by old school "musician" stalwarts who declared using prerecorded or sequenced backing tracks or arpeggiators and drum machines "cheating".  Jabs and diatribes were everywhere mocking hardware laden bands who "couldn't play an instrument" or "simply stood there". If  I had a dime for every time a self appointed manly guitar player made an effeminate reference about a synthesizer I could buy you a vintage Minimoog or '56 Les Paul.

Of course the evolution of mixing classic rock and punk with electronic instruments was much more nuanced and complex but if you'll forgive my gross simplification and go with me that sequencers, drum machines, and guitars, bass, and drums started to merge in live music more we can all proceed.

Still with me? Good.

For better or worse we have now grown into an age where complete live performances can (and are) done on a single laptop or with looping software and virtual instruments. I've attended Power Electronics as well as  techno shows where the "band" consisted of a singer and his ipod and in some cases, much to my surprise,  they rocked.  These required a certain suspension of the traditional view of what "Live music" is but you need not go further than current critical and indie darlings like "The Kills" or "The Submarines" to see what can be done with a guitar, macbook, and some feedback and good old reckless abandon.

I suppose I still hearken back to my roots of playing sweaty rock clubs with broken PAs and I like hearing live bass guitar and drums as much as I like to hear all the new things we get with wacky synths and samplers. What I find fascinating is when a young band who never knew about the past's arguments  mixes it all up and spits it out focusing entirely on what's been important throughout this technological revolution; the Music.

This past week I was flipping through internet TV channels on my Roku (how futuristic!) and came across a rebroadcast of a show that offered live in studio performances by various bands called "In the Basement".  I immediately went to one episode that demonstrates the ultimate in old school rock performance -  a concert with the reunited Iggy Pop and the Stooges. But in the best of the old school booking traditions this show mixed up bands and not only had the quintessential rock gods The Stooges,  it also had a younger band that played multiple synths, guitars, prerecorded percussion/sound, and live drums. And they had a dedicated charismatic live singer. And they rocked.

From Brasil of all places C.S.S.  ( blew the roof off the studio even after The Stooges.  The playing, arrangements, and songs were great but what got me was the feedback drenched 100% live transition between their two singles and the gleeful grande finale noise crescendo at the end. Seeing these younger musicians do that that reminded me what music is regardless of the instruments used. I first heard their album tracks on the GREAT indie phila. radio station WKDU a few years ago.  I liked what I heard but this performance took the recordings  and went to that *other* place where inspiration, groove, energy, and what makes us play music mix into a good sloppy and spicy stew. In other words, a LIVE performance.

The video clip is  about 9 minutes long and I highly recommend watching it in it's entirely to see the magic unfold right before your eyes. CSS would be the first to admit they aren't the most advanced players or tightest musicians but they are great at what they're doing and enjoying it which, in this case,  counts for just as much. The simple yet intriguingly intertwined guitar parts have that special something as do all the fun and creative synth and sound lines. And their unapologetically mined Disco beat turns what could be retro and stale into fresh and youthful again. Throw in some irreverent lyrics and almost a half dozen girls and boys swapping instruments and musical hooks and you've got a party that shows new can come from old. Especially if you remember why you're doing it in the first place.

Rock on.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I recently found an old cassette tape my friend Kent Williams had sent me back in the 1990s. You know when "tape trading" was all the rage and long before CDrs let alone digital recording. Well, to be fair I think DAT was the high end studio bees Knees.

Anyway those were the days when I'd pick up two cheesy analog pieces and do a "jam" twiddling knobs like a monkey not really knowing what I was doing and then declare I had written a "track". I guess in some ways not much has changed.

Anyway this is a silly two bit piece with the lowest of the low drum machines (a Boss DR55) and Roland SH101 monosynth I remember buying from a Pawn shop in south Philly during my lunch break from work. I set the drum machine to "Velveta" and threw a few note sequence into the SH101 and, well, recorded a track. And then promptly forgot about it forever. Until I found it on the ass end of a cassette tape this year.

What do we learn from all this? Perhaps a little about enthusiasm and youth and how friends make it all worthwhile. Or maybe just twiddling analog stuff is good clean stupid fun.

Either way, bleep on...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Meet Jim Coleman, Listen to Trees...

Every few months I tend to get restless and go internet surfing for posts or information on my many inspirations. Recently I was pleasantly surprised to find a new album and blog by one of my favorite musicians, Jim Coleman. Many of you may know him as the keyboard player in the seminal NY indie band Cop Shoot Cop  which combined unorthodox instrumentation (two bass guitars, scrap metal drum kit, and sampler) with  a driving raw energy focused into bursts. Their barrage of rhythmic noise often got them thrown into the "industrial" or "post punk" labels although they were always much more than that. Over the years the band honed this energy into surprising and coherent dramatic songs (still using the same instrumentation with occasional additions of horns or guitar) building dynamics and tension while still throwing the listener fresh shards of sound that were increasingly melodic and structured while never losing their edge. A big part of this  was the unconventional use of sound as an instrument and that's where Jim and his sampler came in.  Rarely loading in a "keyboard" sample he played sound effects, explosions, loops, and miscellaneous patterns as a noise virtuoso. Listen to the backwards building voices in "Seattle" or the clawing sirens and swooshes  in "Turning Inside Out" as just some examples.

On Coleman's latest release "Trees" the listener is treated to a gorgeous ambient electro-acoustic meditative journey. There are some darker edges but for the most part the album reads like an antidote to the tension and clamoring hyperactivity of the past. Is this the same artist who gave us the collage track  "Relief"  from an album titled White Noise?

It most certainly is.

I spoke with Jim recently and he has a great web page and blog where he gives a bio and some personal experiences and thoughts.  For this blogs sound obsessed purposes however highlights from our conversation were the moments where he emphasized his interest in sound going to back to when he was a child and used to play his dad's 45s on the wrong speed just to hear what would come out of the speakers. Classically trained in both piano and french horn he emphasized "what I wanted to be doing was sitting down at the piano and be making up my own stuff."  He eventually attended art school where he studied experimental film. In between creating new work from reels of found film and optical processors he started to make sound loops from stock footage films and would set up mics and a four track at parties and record the festivities for mixed playback later.

After Cop Shoot Cop ended Jim started working with other artists such as Italy's Teho Teardo and began what would seem like a perfectly fitted career in soundtrack work. His first piece ended up being used in the title credits of  US indie film guru Hal Hartley's "The Unbelievable Truth". He released two albums under the name Phylr with obvious synth and beat elements but as he himself describes his work "even when I do electronic music it's not what people consider to be electronic music". Amen to that.

His experiences and artistic experimentation lead to not only an obvious evolution but also a culmination which seemed to focus on, as he put it, "finding new ways looking at things we take for granted". It was in this mindset that Jim decided to mix things up again and challenge himself to work differently than he had in the past. Doing the basic track work on his laptop during morning and evening commutes Trees began to take shape. Once the structure was down he added other musicians and elements.

Trees is the first release on his new indie label Wax and Wane. It veers from gorgeous string laden modern classicism  to ambient percussive meditations and excursions into free floating sound sculptures. Moods shift and mutate and by the time it's over almost an hour later you feel both relaxed and rested.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the release is the variety of  tones and textures, sometimes all within the same song. The CD starts with what could easily be a classical ensemble piece "Sideways" but doesn't stay there wandering off  with short leads by horns and strings beckoning the listener to follow  until we arrive and the percussive raindrops of "Tracks". A guide vocal comes in on the next track "Dawn" with middle Eastern influences building until we arrive at a - dare I say it- culmination of all the pieces in "Closing". Trees ends with a coda track "Rain" which again revisits the sounds and textures used as though the listener were taking one short glance back before moving forward.


And speaking of moving forward Jim is already working on the follow up to Trees and has scheduled a live radio performance with the great Independent radio station WFMU December 18th at 9 pm

To me Trees and Jim's career serves as an inspiration to sound oriented musicians everywhere. When his indie band got big and imploded rather than going larger and moving to the West Coast machine he chose to focus on what made him happy and works both in the field he loves and outside it to maintain his independence and musical integrity. When distribution for seemed to stall he started his own label and has been doing publicity and online distribution and has lined up a physical CD release to be available soon via Cargo. He's made peace with the challenges of his life and has a comfortable perspective on where he's at and continues to do interesting and exciting work on his own terms. Trees is the organic and living proof.

But don't take my word for it. Here are a few links for further exploration into the world and music of Jim Coleman.


Soundcloud with various projects:

Trees Download from Amazon:

Trees Download from ITunes:

Trees Download from EMusic:

Jim Coleman Website:

Jim Coleman's Blog:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Let Me Introduce You to the Devil ( or Noise on a Budget Part One)

This blog is about sound and synthesis. Along the way I've often talked about the tools available or certain instruments I use. Because of my niche using modular synthesis many of the tools I mention,  however interesting and cool, are difficult to obtain. Once you start building a system things can get quite expensive very quickly as well. Premium prices for highly desirable instruments are nothing new of course. Collectors have paid thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for certain model guitars, amps, and yes, modular synthesizers for years.

The punk in me often feels the need to turn off the vintage machines and wall'o'modulars to sit down and do something immediate, simple, and satisfying. This could be a hand made noise box like my DAED Feedback Synth or something by Bugbrand  to a circuit bent gizmo or even stock toy that just does weird sounds.

But you hardly need to win the lottery or roll your own DIY noise boxes to make interesting affordable music. Those with  smart phones know you can download any number of apps that change your voice, make noises by waving your phone in the air, or even have complex touch screen synthesizers for 99 cents (or free). Yet you don't even have to go that far to find noise at your finger tips. If you're readying this blog on a computer happiness is only a mouse click away.

Both Macs and PCs will run Virtual Studio Technology or VST. You can download free host players and VST apps (they're called "plugins")  and load them on almost any computer from an old clunker to your office or school laptop. Future posts will explain the ins and outs of some of my favorite free downloads but for this first mention I'd like get right to the music and, in particular have you meet The Devil Inside.

VSTs come in all shapes and sizes but I am partial to the simple ones with easy to tweak interfaces. Easily accessible knobs or sliders- just like on a hardware synth- make playing with sound on a computer screen easy and fun. There are literally thousands of programs available from every type of company but one of my favorites is a small Spanish company called  ELOGOXA.

Their bio reads: "We offer our stuff for free, as we haven't any other interests more than learning and enjoy doing the plugins".  And Elogoxa doesn't just offer standard fare. Their plugins range from self generating ambient machines to dual tape loop simulators, odds synths, interesting twists on outboard recording gear, and, the inspiration for this post, an odd distortion laden feedback machine

Just like my handheld noise boxes you can sit down and tweak to your heart's content and just like modular synths you can get as complicated as you want or keep things dead simple. The Devil Inside starts it's synthesis with a multiple waveform distortion section featuring an inviting  graphical interface. It then adds  filter and waveshaper parameters, EQ, level, and envelope controls, and much more. But what makes this a stellar VST is it is much more than the sum of it's parts and the more you mess with it the more inspirational it becomes. With some practice you can make it wail, ping, crunch, or sweep evolving drones in real time.

Here is a track I did a few years ago to give an example of some of the tones and possibilities of this plugin:

Many hardware synthesists often lament the use of computers for music making. We like the tactile control and visual feedback from seeing a box with controls we can reach out and twist or press. And we don't  want to be tied to a computer which we use too much for email, work, or entertainment already. Music is the release from the day to day, not another reason to boot up the same machine we use all the time.

But some VSTs, like the Devil Inside, can bridge the gap between computer and hardware and capture the spirit of creative sound creation. Just as modular synthesis can offer endless possibilities for sound exploration, so too can these virtual tools.

As with any set of tools there are good ones and bad ones and the more experienced you are in using them the better your chances of getting a result you're satisfied with. That said The Devil Inside plugin lends itself to exploration right away and I believe even a beginner can get something unique and interesting right away. But don't take my word for it. You  can visit  ELOGOXA and download a copy of  at this link: for free. Go ahead, give the Devil his due.

Growl on.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ok, Original Mellotron Demo here...

I've received a lot of great feedback on the last post based around my odd track using samples from a 1960s demo video.  For those curious on the original source (and anyone who'd like to see how that mutated into the track from the previous post) here it is in all it's cha-cha glory:

I suppose there are a lot of similarities between the participants here and my real life. I do have friends coming by and constantly asking me what the Hell I'm playing.  Especially when I have the weird "musical computers" running.  Chalk up another source of inspiration that leads to the odd music we call "electronica"


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mellotron Demo Destroyed...

It's been a few weeks since I last posted and there are some exciting things coming up but rather than wait longer and longer I figured I'd at least post something in the meantime. This is a silly track I composed a few years ago.

The "musical" component of it comes from samples of a Zero Oscillator which is a particular analog oscillator capable of some extraordinary sounds. The Voice samples are taken from a 1960s video which demonstrate the famous Mellotron as a kind of home entertainment system. of course I destroyed both sources and messed with everything until it came out, well, like this:

The track was assembled bit-by-bit in Sony ACID incrementally moving and clipping loops here and there until everything made as much sense as, well, what you hear. It's a bit of a challenging track but if you can stick with it hopefully you'll get the sense of humor and pay off as well :)

Scratch on!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Modular Synthesizer Patch Demo #1

I started this blog to challenge myself to write about what interested me in Synthesis and explore some of the instruments I have. Along the way I've added many demo videos and tracks to help me clarify my artistic process and how I work. Some of these have served the dual purpose of also showing the tools themselves.

I'm thrilled to have the readers I do and recently received some positive feedback on my "process" demos. This has inspired me to start a new series called "Modular Synthesizer Patching". For some this may initially seem too basic but hang in, they will get more interesting. For beginners or those not entirely familiar with Modular Synthesizers hopefully they will demystify some of the geek speak you always hear me spouting on the blog and give a more basic approach to what these instruments can do. When possible I will try to include some examples of my creative process as well to wrap things up so it's not all shop talk. Let me know what you'd like to see, ideas, suggestions, etc. and I'll do my best to use your feedback as the series progresses.

Here is the first installment. I start from a "blank slate" with no sound or patching and build to a simple one oscillator patch with two different audio paths with some basic modulation, filtering, etc. At the end I show how this might start to turn into "music" :)

 Watch on :)


Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Member to the Family and A lesson in Live Modular Mixing...

After a few year wait (well, over a decade if you count rumors, I received my Fenix II modular from Holland this week.  I'm sure she'll be making a lot of appearances on the blog in the future and I'll give a more complete description soon but for now here is a little ditty I patched up this morning after coffee.

This patch uses only one VCO and has five main elements going into Mixer1 and Mixer2 and is a good example of how I "play" a live patch by mixing the elements up and down in the master stereo out in real time and tweaking.

 1. Square Wave into Mixer 1 Input 1 having it's pitch modulated by the internal sequencer

 2. Square Wave going into Mixer 1 Input 2. The wave is being fed into the wave multiplier which is being controlled by the same clock (LFO4) as the sequencer

 3. Sawtooth wave into Mixer 1 Input 3. This waveform is being fed into VCF2 which is being modulated by a sine wave from LFO2. You can hear it self oscillating more as the track builds.

4. Digital noise going into Mixer 2, Input 1. The CV of the digital noise is being modulated by the sequencer out as well.

 5. Analog Noise being fed into Mixer 2, Input 2.

The basic structure starts with me mixing in the analog noise and then digital noise. I bring the Wave Multiplied Square up in the mix and shortly mix down the noise and move the Square wave sequence to the forefront. Then I add in the Filtered  sawtooth and tweak the filter, digital noise CV and levels until we work our way back down and abruptly end on the noise beat. All of that mess is then fed into the internal phaser with the + and - outputs going into the dual left and right outputs.

There is no additional reverb, compression, or any panning or volume change in the mix. This is 100% live as recorded directly from the Fenix to WAV.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Demo. Track. Yes.

Earlier this month I sat down to do a post on the joys of the Buchla 261e oscillator. I've previously posted about how uniquely sophisticated and organic this digital/analog hybrid Oscillator is and I find myself coming back to it over and over again for all sorts of tones, timbres, and classic waveforms.  Like many Buchla modules the 261e contains much more than meets the eye. it's CV controllable modulation oscillator offers evolving waveforms and the main sine wave, while digitally generated, is extraordinarily round and wooly.  I've also raved about it's built in filtering and timbre controls which make this a number of modules in one. 

So with more exploration in mind I sat down to do a demo of both oscillator sections with a little tweaking. I  built up a series of complimentary sequences on the 250E and assigned various gates and CVs to the waveform input, and both pitch control inputs.

One thing lead to another and I "rolled tape" to capture my simple demo run through.  Then I liked what I was hearing so I separated the two oscillators and did a few more takes. Then I started to carve out three distinct lines from the 261e including both sine wave outputs as well as the modulated multi-waveform modulation oscillator output. Along the way I started tweaking the filter and timbre controls in time with the sequence to create something a bit more sophisticated that I originally intended and took the raw WAV files and started messing with volume and panning and fades to sculpt something musically out of the raw material.

Next thing I knew I added another synth (MS20VST) played live over top. A bit  more editing,  some added reverb, and by the time I was done I decided it really wasn't a demo anymore. So, now we get a new completed track.  I told you before how the 200e has a way of convincing me to do more than I thought I would.  This is certainly still a solid demo of what the 261e can do. I suppose it's good to know that might sometimes be more than even I intended.

This track is available for free streaming and download at Name-your-own-price including free as part of my new singles collection at the bottom of my bandcamp page here: Feel free to sample the other ware while you are visiting and, of course, bleep on.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Exile - Ambient Music from 1994

We're all synth lovers. Back in 1994 I released my first full length album without knowing how much of a valentine to analog filters, LFOs, and sweeps and pads it would be. Almost 20 years later it still does what I didn't even know I intended it to do.

This was released as a cassette album with two sides: "Open" and "Closed". Yes I was young, artsy, and more than a bit precocious but it was all in fun. Some of the tracks got more attention than others and the most ambient was picked up for a compilation by Arts Industria and got me some label interest. Here is "untitled #3"

This was the early 90s when float/chill/ambient was all the rage after all but as with all my work each track is different and even in the synth genre I couldn't sit still. To prove the point here is "Kill Yr 808" which has a keyboard solo somewhere between Sun Ra and Peter Gabriel:

Some tracks are taking a solo synth and going to town on one idea. The recordings heavily feature a Roland Juno 106, SCI Pro One, and Ensoniq ESQ1 but there is no techno (that came later and quite by accident for me).

The album is available for streaming free in it's entirety. Full download price (including two extra long bonus tracks) is only $7 with individual downloads only 75 cents. If you like, please buy and feel free to puruse the rest of the catalog to see where I've been since this one.  As John Cale once sang, I write reams of this stuff.

For analog purists I still have about a dozen cassette tapes for sale with their original photo copied and cut out JCards if you want to be all super retro smile

Thanks for listening and enjoy.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Buchla Ambient Track and "Accidents"

Following up on the track I posted in the previous entry, here is a bit more information on how it came about and some insight on what I perceive to be the creative process and how it can be enhanced by modular synths and organic technology in general.

The track started out as a short beat drive sequence at about 120BPM. Not very fast but certainly more rhythmical and up tempo. I also took advantage of the modular nature of my instruments by cross patching different systems. I ran the 259e oscillator into the Modcan Digital delay and a custom Analog Solutions Comb Filter built into ModcanA format.  I then went to the 261e and patched it into a low rumble drone that used internal feedback between it's Primary and Modulation oscillators. Dedicated readers of this blog might remember how amazed I was at the low "BoooooM" the 261e sine wave can spit out and I have been fascinated by it's capabilities ever since.

I had both oscillators being run by the 250e sequencer which was sending CV out to the pitch in of each osc and then also sending gates and triggers to the 281e envelopes and 292e gates. To make things a bit more interesting I started to program the pulse and CV in on the 250e and set it to different combinations of strobe and various advance/enable/sustain modes on the start/stop section.  As with a lot of my tinkering I wasn't entirely sure where I was going but I was trying different things to see if I found a sound or rhythm that appealed to my mindset at the time.

This is where I feel modular synthesis in general, and the Buchla 200e system in particular, helps to inspire me. Patching and programming modules is a far cry from picking up a guitar or sitting at a piano and hitting a key. Yet, at their core, they are all instruments used for making music. With a guitar you can bend the string or slide your finger up the neck to reach another note or tone. One a piano you can hit the key fortissimo or barely press it so the hammer slooowly meets the felt and the note is more or less coaxed out.

A modular synthesizer, by it's definition, offers openings and access to sound building blocks that don't exist in hardwired or closed systems. It's the fumbling with the interaction of these parts that make the equivalent of a sustained note or muted string to me. I feel my way around the patches starting with something more or less straight forward (in this case I wanted to process the 259e and have a sequence play the 261e sine wave) and then mutate and bend the patch until it starts to peak my interest. I call this the synth "talking back" to me and I often refer to it as a very organic process. With something as complex as the 250e sequencer and the modulation possibilities of the 200e's oscillators it's entirely possible to have the instrument come up with aural combinations and results you didn't expect. If you are going into the composition process looking to allow this to happen "happy accidents" can occur which bring about completely new directions for your music.

This is exactly what happened with the track in question. I usually make a patch I'm comfortable with and map out the modulations and mixing I am going to do in real-time and then sit down and record the track live pretty much sticking to my plan. I set up everything to what I believe it's  "start point" should be and pause the recorder anticipating I'll press go and we're off capturing what I laid out in my rehearsals and preparations. This usually involves stopping or rewinding the sequencer (or other tempo generator) and, in this case that is exactly what I did. What happened next, however, was the perfect "happy accident".

Instead of silence when I stopped the 250e I heard this fascinating organic drone emit from the Buchla. A strange pinging tone (a combination of the 259e modulated A/B waves and the comb filter and delay apparently)  started  *talking* completely alien to my involvement.  It was as though I had created an aural Golem and had set it loose and it wasn't until I stopped the sequencer and it's notes from pushing everything forward that I realized the patch was already moving.

I sat for a few moments stunned by the sound it was creating. Slowly I started to mix in the 261e and realized by turning up the level on the 292e I could allow enough of the strong sine wave through so it would feedback. It sounded like one of Robert Fripp's 1970s feedback guitar solos and with some practice I was able to "play" the 261e in this sustain/feedback mode like an instrument in and of itself. The final piece came through when I started to manually shift the steps on the 250e. By not clocking them I had full control over when the notes of the pre-programmed sequence changes. I could go forward, backward, or even skip steps as I saw fit with both the other tones flowing from the manual tweaks I gave them.

The result is the track "Down the Hill Backwards", a  titular nod to Brian Eno. I sat down to make a straight forward up tempo melody oriented electronica track. The modular, however, had other ideas and it wasn't until I stopped and listened to what it was telling me that I realized I had created something entirely different. The ability to interact with and instrument like this is what makes a machine "organic" and the creative process inspiring to me. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I do.

Here is the track one more time:

Talk on.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Buchla 200e Ambient track...

I've been busy in the studio again. Will upload a more complete post including patch details soon but for now enjoy this new track courtesy  of the 200e and some odds and ends.

Monday, April 2, 2012

You Got Chocolate in my Peanut Butter... and Inspirado..

Being an old Industrial/Noise guru I have always appreciated the clangorous metallic sounds that Frequency Modulation synthesis can offer. Being an experimental sound freak I have always liked the idea of mixing external sounds into the "wrong" input on modular synths and getting unexpected results. Feeding audio into CV inputs is one trick that never disappoints.

The Buchla 200e oscillators offer many options to get low bit rate aliasing and  glitch sounds. The 259e on it's own does weird wavetable freaknoise if you sweep it or even sometimes just try to track it via a quick CV or trigger. The 281e envelopes have a loop mode that can be organically triggered then modulate other audio parameters in an unusual rhythm (especially when fed by a Source of Uncertainty).

Yet sometimes I just can't resist messing with things further.

Here are a few experiments feeding the audio of a Vintage analog beat box (Roland TR606) into the FM inputs on the 200e. This causes glitching and twisted pitch triggering and gives an example of how you can make experimental music all the more... well, Experimental

First up is a stereo mix of the drum machine on one side and the 261e on the other. The clip starts with the solid tone of the 261e and then the Drum machine starts in. You can hear both together to give you an idea how audio modulates the Frequency of the oscillator. This is a far cry from trying to track the filter to pitch but of course that is the whole point. Throughout the clip I also manually tweak the Timbre controls a bit.

Second, we travel a little further down the rabbit hole. This is a clip of just the 259E audio with no dry signal. I'm messing with the waveform mix as well the Timbre. This is a good example of audio Frequency Modulation and what is can do for you (outside of scare cats and neighbors). 

Finally all this noise messing did what it usually does - it inspired me to try and do something more deliberate and "musical" (insofar as synth noise is musical).  This clip actually doesn't include any FM from the above examples but having heard those sounds for an hour or so I was curious about feeding the audio into more traditional inputs and seeing if I could get something in the same spirit.

This clip has the Drum machine being fed into the Preamp and then I'm taking two outputs from that. One is feeding a single channel of the Lowpass filter only section of a 292e and the other is going into my DIY Flight of Harmony Plague Bearer with the Source of uncertainty modulating the VCA input on the Plague bearer. Is it the "same" as the FM experiments? Well no. But can you see where one thing leads to another? If you can then welcome to the road of Inspirado...

Travel On...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bzzzz (Guest speaker)

I've been working on a post explaining some of the unique philosophy of Buchla Modules and, in particular, the 250e sequencer.  It's clearly going take a little more time and in the process I posted on a forum for some advice and hints. The great 7th Dan has been very helpful and in fact has a series of instructional videos on  200e modules among other things so while I'm still working I thought i'd give him some press here.

His Blog is here:

For those not entirely interested in detailed how to videos there are also things like this video as well as some pretty handsome cat pics. Something for all synth geeks!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Mystery Synth Reveal... or The Importance of User Interface

Synthesizers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes including "virtual ones"  There are some amazing software programs  like Reaktor or Rebirth and dozens (hundreds?) of IPhone and Android apps that mimic everything from classic drum machines to modular synthesizers. Passionate debates flow freely about whether such instruments are groundbreaking or simply stealing the hype of classic hardware and if you ask a dozen people if they sound "the same" you'll get a dozen different answers.

For my purposes most of the debates seem to be asking the wrong questions. While I have plenty of judgements and preferences ultimately I don't care if a synth is hardware, software, analog, or digital. What matters most to me is if it is inspiring, interesting, and if I am able to use it (or abuse it) to reach my aural goals.  There will be more about apps and VST plugins on this blog in the future but as an introductory post allow me to introduce one computer and hardware combination that , to me, got it right. The Korg Legacy MS20 controller and Software and yes, this is the instrument featured in the most recent "Mystery Synth" post.

For the past few decades Korg has been leading the way in making modern synthesizers that are interesting and practical. While Roland and others were making ROM based "grooveboxes" Korg came out with the ER1 - a true percussion synthesizer with multiple LFO waveforms for modulating in internal synth engine. Then they came out with the MS2000 a digital "Virtual Analog" synth with knobs galore, a built in sequencer,  tweakable useful effects, and of course midi. They even included features many mainstream manufacturers seem to have forgotten such as a wave scanning oscillator and a form of modular patch memory for modulations.

A few years ago Korg introduced the Legacy Collection. Virtual software copies of some of their most famous synthesizers including the Wavestation, PolySix, and MS20. The MS20 is truly a flagship classic analog synth. it is unique in sound and layout, has an amazing dual filter section which has been cloned and copied of decades since it's demise, and also offers a semi-modular patching system. Kord then went one step further with their virtual software releases by creating a new hardware clone of the MS20 synth itself right down to the original color scheme, knobs, and patchbay.  Some slight changes were made such as the use of 3.5mm jacks intead of the original 1/4" ones and , of course, there is no CV control or actual internal sound engine. However, the legacy MS20 controller hooks up to any computer via USB and then allows you to twist and tweak in controller knobs, patch the jacks, and process external audio or run it as a guitar synth just like the original.  This moves the legacy system from just another software clone to an actual clone of the Interface complete with all it's immediate features. quirks, and real time inter-connections.

Here is a short video demo I made showcasing how it works:

On of the reasons modular systems are so popular among hardcore synthesists and sound designers is they offer a tactile and visual interface that is both immediate and inspiring. Both Bob Moog and Don Buchla realized years ago it wasn't enough to have a box of circuits if you wanted to create ART.  It may be a throwback or clone of the past but by creating a mock hardware interface to go with their software sound engine the MS20 legacy instrument brings the old into the 21st century.

No one nailed the answer but there quite a few great guesses. Free downloads have been awarded. If you'd like to see more synthish contests in the future drop me an email via this blog.

And, of course,  Real-time tweak on!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mystery Synth Luv...

We synth nerds love to debate what is the "best" form of synthesis. Is it Analog? Digital? Modular? VST? Can you hear a difference? IS there a difference? What makes a synth "the best" or even just "good?"

Here is an audio demo of a synth to be featured in the next post on this blog. Can you guess what made these sounds?  This was recorded live, one take, with no editing.

 And what good would a contest be without prizes!

A free Download from the back catalog at Http:// for the person who gets closest AND a free download to the 15th and 30th person to submit a guess. So even if you have no idea you might get some cool free music!

 Two hints:

- This is a monosynth, it only plays one note at a time.
- There are dedicated knobs galore.

Email guesses HERE. Results will be posted later this month.

Guess on!

Friday, February 10, 2012

All sorts of goings on...

It's been a while since I've posted but it's not for a lack of activity. I have a new album from  Sweeping the Noise Floor almost finished, there are huge goings on from Buchla and Associates, and there are plenty of synth and noise machines floating around for upcoming posts.

To get us going here is a quick theme I did on the Yamaha SK30 organ/string synthesizer. Live one take old school and I even left the recorder "shut off" click at the end to add some lofi mojo :)

Here is a brief update of the new Buchla Company 

The first new module, the 267e is now available as well as a new ultra portable completed system the Buchla Skylab  which many are calling a new "Music Easel" type unit. In addition Buchla and Associates has formed their first ever partnership which was announced at the winter NAMM show. You can watch a short video with Mike Marins explaining that here:  

There also is a new update to the operating system for the 200e main computer (included in the 225e and 206e modules) and updated firmware for all modules (now operating on 3.x). I am currently keeping my system on the old firmware but hope to upgrade sometime in 2012. For now you can find experiences and opinions about the process and features in the Muffwiggler forums and in particular on this thread.

So there you have it, news, one new song, and a few hints of things to come.  The next post will be a return to form with some examples and more synthy geek stuff to follow but for now relax with the stringz'n'things and keep an eye peeled for the "new" Buchla Musical Instruments.