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"