anything less would be unCVilized

I’m basically completely used to the new headphones now, and appreciating the extra detail I’m hearing with them.

Voxengo just released a plugin called TEOTE, an acronym for “That’s Easier On the Ears.” It adjusts the spectral balance of the input to bring it closer to a theoretical ideal — with minimal adjustment it just magically makes stuff sound better. This one uses multiband dynamics, which is a bit fancier than Soundtheory Gullfoss, and to my ears it seems to sound better on most material.

Tools like this are great for me. My mixing process isn’t the meticulous, surgical adjustment and perfect fitting together several individually recorded parts — rather, it happens partially as I build up my parts in preparation to record, and partially as a big part of the recorded performance itself. A tedious manual search for places in the spectrum that could use a tiny boost here and a narrow cut there would take me out of the creative flow, but slapping an automatic plugin onto the channel to see if it sounds better does not. (If there’s a drastic improvement, that means there was a lot to correct in the first place, and it’s probably worth a little of my time to investigate.)


Two things arrived on my doorstep today. First the bad news: after nearly a full month of shipping, the DAFM synth arrived from Spain. Its wonderfully crisp OLED display showed something for about 6 seconds and then died, the USB power cable unusually warm. Switching cables and chargers didn’t help.

Since I have had second thoughts about even needing another synthesizer, I’ve written to request a refund rather than a replacement. We’ll see how this goes.

The other thing is much happier: u-he CVilization. I spent about 90 minutes playing with the matrix mixer mode before even looking at the others, and… it’s a game changer honestly. It handles audio quite well, and is as easy and intuitive to dial in as I had imagined and hoped. But it also encourages taking control voltages to new places, and that seems to be its major strength.

It is a very good friend to a sequencer, especially something with multiple channels and not necessarily its own quantizer, like the 0-Ctrl.

Mode 1 can mix audio of course, but also CV, with handy muting, inversion, quantization and sample and hold. I had a patch going where it:

  • served as a feedback mixer for Mimeophon-as-resonator (with mutes for the original input, the feedback, or the final output, and the option to invert the feedback for a different character)
  • selected between or combined (using mutes) two pitch CVs from 0-Ctrl, with sample+hold and quantization. And also, allowed for mixing in some audio from another channel — which served to slightly randomize the pitch while staying within the scale and maintaining the overall melodic contour. It was gated by 0-Ctrl’s dynamic gate output, so I had control over the rhythmic pattern as well as swing/timing.
  • routed both pitch and audio to Mimeophon’s frequency control, so it simultaneously tracked pitch and added FM… again with a mute switch.

That’s a heck of a lot more than an analog mixer can do. And also, since it’s 4×4 rather than the AI008’s 4×3, it’s easy to set up stereo feedback matrices with ping-pong and so forth.

Mode 2 is the sequencer and sequential switch, and though it took me more time to grasp it, it’s also a very powerful friend to 0-Ctrl. Rearranging incoming control signals and interposing other values (fixed or random) into the sequence, driven either by a clock division or using a different sequence length, can really extend and bring variations into what would otherwise be a short and very repetitive sequence. I didn’t even mess with self-patching, which could potentially be really useful with the sample+hold feature. (It can also route audio, switching different sources and destinations around or silencing it, and that is probably going to have some use as well.)

Mode 3 is the “Mucorder”, which is purely for control voltages. It’s less like Marbles than I first thought — but again, a really good companion for 0-Ctrl. Record up to 16 steps, and let it mutate either by overwriting with values from its own input, another channel, a random shift up or down, or harmonization with the first channel. Each channel can have a different recording length, which allows a lot of polyrhythmic interplay. It’s another winner.

I haven’t tried mode 4 yet, but rather than manipulating CV quite as much, it pans/routes its four inputs smoothly across four destinations. Planar can either oan one signal to four outputs, or four inputs to one output… but I suspect it will be a good controller to rotate multiple things around the world with CVilization, and likely a powerful tool for drones.

So, wow. I was expecting a mixer and a quantizer, but I got quite a lot more than that.

auction action

Luftrum’s 10th annual music industry charity auction is now underway. This time the proceeds go to MusiCares COVID-19 relief.

This one’s just getting started, and it typically takes a couple of weeks to really get rocking. But last year’s auction raised $31,075 for the World Wildlife Fund to help protect rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia. Dozens of plugin and sample library developers and some notable hardware manufacturers contributed a lot of cool stuff to the effort. If you happen to be a maker and seller of music gear, please follow the link and click on “Contact Organizer” to join in.

4 years ago, this auction is what started me in modular synthesis with Mutable Instruments Rings (and a quick purchase of Tides and Peaks to go with it). So it’s like passing a personal milestone when it comes up each year. In subsequent years I’ve seen a couple of others buying their first modules and growing into modular synth buffs.

And if some tempting modular goodies make an appearance, I’ve got 24HP of free space now with no specific plans. As it turns out, what I’ve actually used my Disting EX for in recordings has mainly been crossfading and ring modulation. Mutable Instruments Blinds, which I was already considering as a replacement/consolidation for the AI008 Matrix Mixer and one of my two Shades, can do those things. The Disting sold very quickly, since demand is still higher than production and shipping speeds can handle, and I ordered the Blinds.

I’m holding onto AI008 for now because I’m still waiting on that pinstripe tape to try color-coding it. Could be the available space will expand to 32HP though.

I also decided I don’t need two Rings anymore — the combination of Mimeophon, FX Aid, E520, Shelves, and a mixer are quite potent for resonator purposes. But I’ll always keep one Rings to rule them all. 😀 The spare one also happened to go quickly, traded for a Mystic Circuits Ana, which handles some of the other things I used Disting for occasionally plus a few other fun tricks.


And now, it’s book review time! Only in my usual style of “I read this and I liked it” because being critical is a lot of work and I read for fun.

I had this pair on my wishlist for a while, but borrowed electronically from my local library. A fun, mostly lighthearted fantasy thing that borrows more than a little from D&D monster manuals and surprisingly a lot from rock & roll. There is a wizard named Moog. In the first book, old crusty mercs “get the band back together” to save one of their daughters (and in the process, a city, and the world); the second was said daughter wrapping up her own adventuring career.

I’ve just finished the first of these, and it was brilliant. It’s kind of equal parts fantasy and horror but in a science fiction setting; the writing style and characters are hilariously snarky while the subject matter is as grim and creepy and moody as you’d expect from a story about space necromancers.

The setting is creatively different, mysterious and, well, cryptic — I kind of get a Gene Wolfe vibe from it without the pretentiousness. The characters are the best though. Some of the language is very much present-day slang (e.g. “I couldn’t have noped harder”) but it completely works to convey the kind of attitude the main characters have. These are books that I might want my own copy of, depending on whether I feel like the second one is as strong as the first.

bad hair day, good synth day

The Medusa arrived yesterday — a bit late, box damaged, but synth intact.

It’s the sort of synth where, if I tried it for five minutes at Knobcon or something using its factory presets, I’d almost certainly have walked away and not looked back. Probably in under five minutes. The presets are, for the most part, awful.

But once I figured out what I was doing with both the synth section and the grid, and started exploring a little… this is one extremely cool piece of gear.

I understand why so many of the demos and several presets are bland: the analog oscillators only do the classic simple shapes, the digital ones are raw and basic but not in a particularly gnarly or exciting way, and the filter doesn’t have much character of its own. It’s a clean slate and you have to do your own color mixing, to mangle some metaphors. With judicious tuning, use of the oscillator sync, FM, copious modulation sources and all sorts of clever tricks available with the grid sequencer/performance controller, if it sounds boring it’s the musician’s fault. Synthesis means the assembly of smaller parts into a whole, and that’s what has to happen here. It can certainly do beautiful, brutal, quirky or scary, and it’s not even difficult to get there. It can’t do everything, but that’s why I have more than one synth… 🙂

As with most synths it really benefits from some reverb or delay. Every other Dreadbox synth has one of those built in; this doesn’t. This is not a problem for me at all, but it does contribute to some of those lackluster demos since people seem to think it’s “cheating” to add external FX.

The grid is brilliant. Note mode lets you select (or create) a scale, and also set the layout to the interval of your choice (or a “guitar” mode); it’s a combination that is really great for jamming, thinking differently about intervals and chords, or playing runs that would be (almost?) impossible on a piano-style keyboard. The velocity setting doesn’t work very well with the onboard synth and honestly is best turned off, but pressure and X/Y movement can be assigned to various parameters. Grid mode is a sequencer that’s mostly intuitive (with a couple of odd quirks) and lets you assign not just notes and chords to any individual step, but ties, steps that randomize on each playthrough, and parameter settings. Between that and the paraphonic modes — and the way those modes interact when you’re using FM or sync — it’s definitely got some unique capabilities.

The Lyra-8 was inspiring and influential, leading me toward the 0-Ctrl and certain techniques. But I do think the Medusa is the better choice for me now and for the future.

repeater

Carefully Introducing Problems was released in early June. I recorded nothing new in June, and two tracks in mid-July. Things have broken loose though; in the last couple of weeks I’ve finished 6 tracks. Perhaps it’s the big refresh that my modular synth went through, or perhaps I’m just coming out of a funk.

I mean, it’s still the Corona year, America feels more like a failed state than ever, and I’m still tired and tense all the time, and I feel like everyone’s just trying to hang on and survive. I was thinking today about a former coworker who said (many years ago now) that she admired me because I was always trying to improve myself, and I kind of wonder when I stopped doing that. But still, I feel like making music.

Phonogene arrived Saturday. An old one, with the ugly knobs Make Noise originally used (but with the wrong colors) and a panel that looks as if it was dirtied and cleaned a few times in its life. But it’s got the firmware update from 2013 at least. I’ve got some replacement knobs on the way, and might pick up the Grayscale replacement panel if I feel it’s warranted in a couple of weeks or so.

The old version as it’s supposed to look, vs Grayscale’s staid but unambiguous version.

Phonogene was discontinued in early 2018 and was succeeded by Morphagene — which has higher sound quality, more memory, stereo, multiple layers for true granular synthesis, SD card saving and loading, etc. But there are those who prefer the Phonogene’s charm and simplicity, and I believed I’d be among them. For smooth granular I’ve got Clouds; for blurry spectral time manipulation there’s the E520. Phonogene is more for raw 90s “clicks and cuts” style manipulation, combined with synchronization of other modules. As I’ve found, it suits my music quite well.

I don’t have much thought about what could go in the remaining space. (18HP, plus a possible 8 more from the MG-1 and a possible 4 more if I “hide” the ES-6 inside and access it through the PassThru.) I don’t need another oscillator, that’s for sure, nor more effects, and I think I’m fine on modulation sources. I figure, I should hold off to see if something else brilliant comes along, or my musical needs evolve. So I’m declaring this “version 4.0.”

Quick summary:

  • “0.0” (Exploration) was learning Eurorack and exploring.
  • “1.0” (Suitability) was when I thought I had a fairly stable system I could live with, which would only mutate slowly. The focus was on complex oscillators, wavetables and resonators.
  • “2.0” (Consolidation) replaced a lot of stuff with an ER-301 Sound Computer, and moved it all into a single case with a lot of empty space.
  • “2.1” (Effects Dive) had me trying out a Rainmaker, Erbe-Verb, Doepfer BBD and more pedal effects.
  • “3.0” (Focus) was realizing that Version 2 was kind of wrong for how I want to make music (even though I learned a lot), and reverting to what I liked best about 1.0.
  • “3.1” (Integration) switched me from Maschine to Bitwig and the ES-3/ES-6.
  • “3.14” (Harmony) saw me adding the Lyra-8 and think more about the performance aspect of my process.
  • “3.2” (FM Overkill) was sort of a refinement phase, a further refocusing and embracing of what I liked. That began in late 2019.
  • “4.0” (New Waves) includes selling off my effects pedals, adding the 0-Ctrl and Planar and the Pod 60 case, and switching from the beloved Hertz Donut and E352 to Shapeshifter and EnOsc.

time is weird. frequency is time. timbre is frequency.

I’m still feeling that time is crawling and flying simultaneously. Maybe that’s just the new normal. It’s probably always been true, but maybe the pandemic made me notice it more.

The partially formed concept I had for the album I’m working on is related to time — entropy, the “arrow of time” and how it relates to life; the opposing but complementary forces of Preservation and Ruin, from which Harmony arises, from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

Except that the tracks I’ve recorded really aren’t that much in line with that. I’ll just keep recording stuff, and see what happens I suppose 🙂


I wound up with the 4ms Ensemble Oscillator (ENOSC) and am hugely impressed with it.

Trying to keep the technical description part of this short — ENOSC begins with the basic concept of additive synthesis, but instead of fixed harmonic frequency ratios between the partials, it lets you choose from preset or custom-defined chords, scales, or non-octave repeating interval sets, within or outside standard Western 12TET tuning. The idea is to explore the whole spectrum between additive synthesis and music theory. You can also detune them for lush chorusing effects.

On top of that, the partials can FM each other, using the root or highest partial s the modulator, or each modulating the next higher. Combining that with different frequency intervals can give extremely rich results!

And on top of that there’s a phase shaper and a wavefolder, each with three modes.

The sets of partials have three different output assignment modes, but unfortunately each of them can suffer from phase cancellation issues. Thankfully I’ve built up a pretty good roster of ways to deal with those, it’s just something I’ll have to keep an eye and an ear on.

Overall, the sounds this thing can produce are diverse and… kind of alarming to be honest. Pipe organs are easy, and as others have said, using it for drones feels like cheating. I’ve accidentally created really brassy horns with a sort of grace note attack, with no envelopes at all, just as a consequence of the crossfading as the Root input changes along with cross-FM. It’s done vocal formant “yai yoi oay” type stuff, 808 style hi-hats, a combined bassline/chord stabs, wild FM percussion, and some almost Karplus-Strong like power chords. The thing is full of sweet spots and it’s very easy to get something good out of it, but I feel like it’s going to take a while to familiarize myself with it so I can more or less predict what will happens when I change one aspect of its current state.

ENOSC is 16HP, and feels like it’s deceptively small — like it’s trying to fool people into thinking it’s humbler and simpler than it really is. It also tends to eat attenuators for breakfast — any CVing you do needs to be really cut down to size to work well. So it probably should have been 26HP, like the 4ms SMR and SWN as well as E352 and Shapeshifter. It deserves the larger stature 🙂

I’ve gone ahead and put the Faderbank, HD mk2 and E352 up for sale. The kinds of sounds I’m getting from my current rig without them are perfectly suited to what I want to do, while giving me a whole lot of mad ̶s̶c̶i̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ engineering exploration.

I also bought a used Phonogene, for semi-lo-fi varispeed tape loop stuff — something I have missed since trying W/. The looper and Spectral Time Machine in E520 are their own things, good but not the same as that; Clouds is granular and also different; Mimeophon is not quite there with its hold feature. Bitwig doesn’t really do it live or in such a hands-on way, though I’ve made decent use of its sampler in the Grid.

I’m going to pass on Casper/Bastl Waver, after watching a video demo where the sounds are just not very appealing, there was some nasty clipping and some thresholds where the level suddenly jumps.

My past few tracks have used a LOT of moderately slow LFOs, which made me think a bit about maybe Zadar or a DivKid 0chd — but I do have plenty of available CV outputs and can assign them to LFOs in Bitwig, so I won’t go there.

I feel I’m at or near a “version 4.0” of my modular synth, and maybe I will write up a summary of it, like I did with what I had near the start of this blog.

the bell and whistle orchestra

Saturday morning I went ahead and rearranged my modular setup, discovering my plan for the Pod 60 wasn’t going to work. Pod cases are pretty shallow, and some modules just won’t fit in them. When people report the depths of modules on ModularGrid, they don’t always take into account connectors and cables on the back, so that 28mm module isn’t necessarily going to fit into a 34mm deep case. Also, there was really no way I was going to fit a flying bus cable in there to sneak in an extra power header. So I revised the plan on the fly, and I think it’ll work out. Monday when the custom snake cable arrives, I’ll rewire my studio rack box and see how everything goes.

Shapeshifter arrived yesterday afternoon, and it’s a delight. If considered solely on its strengths as a wavetable oscillator, it’d be a disappointment. If considered solely as a TZFM complex oscillator (using only sines), it’d be… okay, but not spectacular.

It’s all about synergy, though. Things that I thought were extra “bells and whistles” turn out to be part of an unusual orchestra, each one multiplying the awesomeness rather than simply adding to it. The patch I have playing right now while I write this has:

Osc1: “Harmo2” wavetable with the position being slightly modulated by an LFO. It’s playing a minor chord inversion.
Osc2: “Flute1” wavetable.
Main output: Osc1 and Osc2, ring modulated.
Osc2 FMs Osc1 mildly, while Output 1 phase-modulates Osc2 very shallowly.
There’s a touch of comb filtering delay driven by Osc2’s frequency.

Change any single piece of that — the depths of modulation, the ratio of the two oscillators, either wavetable or position within it, disable chord mode, use Tilt, remove the ring modulation or change to some other algorithm, enable oscillator sync… and it could be a radically different sound, but probably still awesome.

Just having FM and PM working circularly leads to magic. Sometimes the oscillators will spontaneously synchronize, in a fragile sort of way, and bring something completely new. Go too far and it’ll just spit and hiss and bubble like a rabid reptilian cat-thing; hit it just right and it’s cellos from heaven. Sometimes when it’s running too wild all you have to do is change the combination mode and it’ll fall into line, or it will start to sound like 1500 Game Boys all playing the same chord in a cathedral. Possibly underwater.

So it’s a little unpredictable — the module is well named — but as much I like spelunking in sonic caverns of possibility, we’re going to get along just fine.

I think what I’m going to do in a few days is put Hertz Donut mk2 and E352 into boxes and see if I miss either of them. That seems to make more sense than trying to directly compare them. In terms of playability I do think it’s a match for the Donut. In terms of features and sound, it’s kind of completely different from E352, but seems poised to play a similar role in how I use it in my music.

Akemie’s Castle is safe. I feel like it’s the FM master, and also better at big dense chords than anything else.

I’m thinking that Loquelic Iteritas, Orgone Accumulator, and others that largely do their thing by having two oscillators modulate each other in various ways, are less likely now. VCOs more along the lines of Ensemble Oscillator or Odessa would be more likely to offer something complimentary but different.

moving parts

The Synthesis Technology E520 Hyperion Effects Processor arrived Saturday. It is indeed a lovely and powerful piece of synthesis technology. As with every one of the brand’s modules, the build quality is really solid and sharp-looking. The LCD on this module is the brightest and has the best contrast of any I’ve seen on a piece of music gear (though this photo really doesn’t show it that well). More importantly, the interface is really smooth and easy to use, with very little shuttling around in menus (with the exception of one feature I will never need) and some of the things it can do to sound are nearly unbelievable.

The E520 has several different algorithms, with the possibility of more to come in future updates. I could (and started to) write up descriptions and mini-reviews of all of them, but that would be long, and probably boring to most people, and you could just look at this for the dry technical version.

So I will just say: there are a bunch of delays, each with unique features and character. Like the ability to change the sample rate of a delay while still staying locked to a tempo, or just shift the sample rate way down to make the delay darker and warmer. Or filters, pitch shifting, pattern-based delay, a “beat repeat” style delay, or a spectral delay that shifts different frequencies by different amounts of time.

There are some other time-domain effects, like a shimmer reverb, granular pitch shifter, sound-on-sound looper/recorder (with beautiful lo-fi tape degradation stuff you can dial in), frequency shifter, flanger with diffusion (which also doubles as a Karplus-Strong short delay), phaser, chorus, wah, etc. And there’s a “dual mono” mode which lets you select two simplified effects and chain them or run them independently.

There are some spectral effects which are kind of out of this world. If the module only had the Spectral Crusher algorithm, it’d still be formidable. Several years ago, I wrote some experimental VST plugins that manipulated sound in the frequency domain — but they were awkward, put a heavy burden on the CPU, and mostly just gimmicky. But Spectral Crusher does several of those in a way that is highly useful.

A normal (time-domain) filter reduces the strength of certain frequencies — for instance, a lowpass filter lets lower frequencies pass, while suppressing higher ones. (Filters generally also have side effects on phase, resonant peaks where they increase levels of some frequencies, and so on which are exploited musically.)

But imagine turning that sideways — filtering out frequencies based on their incoming strength. You could take the strongest bands in a signal and cut them off, letting other harmonics and noise through — and then since the fundamental was probably one of the strongest frequencies, maybe pitch shift the results down an octave. Or you could apply compressor logic to thousands of individual frequency bands. Or you can force the levels of individual bands to decay more slowly than normal, yielding a kind of reverb.

Honestly, as much awesome stuff as this one particular algorithm can do, I feel like there’s incredible potential for even more manipulation of this kind. Granted, a lot of it would probably just sound like mush — but it’s an area I think we will see explored more in the future.

Anyway, there are some other spectral effects — a “drone maker” that slowly samples and sustains bands with a slow fade, a delay with spectral pitch shifter, a delay that applies variations in delay time to different bands, and a “Spectral Time Machine” looper that reminds me of Red Panda Tensor but more (and smoother, since it’s spectral rather than granular). It records audio in the frequency domain, applies feedback effects to it, and lets you play it back and overdub at any speed — backwards, forwards, even completely motionless — with pitch shifting independent of the speed. It’s pretty magical, although apparently was a little underappreciated by the beta testers.

So, yes, it’s quite good. Worth the large amount of rack space it takes up — though honestly, I think for 95% of usage it could get away with half the knobs and jacks. It’s got that flexibility for the edge case situations though, and in modular, that can sometimes be a make-or-break issue.


What else in the Eurorack world? The Pod 60 has been sitting here waiting to be filled up. The Sweet 16 controller should arrive today, so I could move everything over — but I will wait a few days before setting everything up, because my custom snake cable is also shipping now. That way I can rewire the rack with my audio interface and PDU all in one go. I bought a used Shapeshifter and it should be on its way soon. So all this is coming together pretty quickly.

I tried a couple of other firmware options on my Starling Via. META strikes me as a mini-Plaits and mini-Zadar in one module — doing different things depending on mode and looping settings. Oscillator and drum synth; wavetable-based envelope and looping envelope; “sequencer” and looping sequencer (although really those are just “envelopes” with weirder data). I liked the oscillator and drum stuff, but I think I’d rather go with an actual Zadar for the fancy modulation source if I were so inclined, since its display and warping capabilities make it more intuitive.

I tried OSC3 next, and will stick with that for a while. Basic oscillator shapes plus phase modulation, but with two “side” oscillators that have unique detuning features. It has an output that signals the beating frequency between the oscillators, so you could synchronize other modulation to it; you can also synchronize the beating to an incoming clock, which gets pretty wild if you use varying rhythms. And it’s got a chord mode that sounds nicely thick in a chiptuney sort of way, which complements the Via platform’s VCAs and sample-and-hold for some wild AM drones. I’ve got faceplates for OSC3 and META incoming, so I can switch between thus (and the SCANNER and SYNC3 I’ve already got) without being confused about the interface.

I figure I am headed for a “version 4.0” of my modular, but I don’t quite know what that looks like specifically yet. It all comes down to how I feel about Shapeshifter in usage and sound. My rough prediction is this:

  • I’ll probably like Shapeshifter very much in terms of sound and feel. It’ll probably be “grab and go” enough to replace the Hertz Donut.
  • Shapeshifter’s design is primarily a complex oscillator, which happens to use wavetables — wavetables are a weaker feature in it. E352 is primarily a wavetable oscillator, which has other tricks (and TZFM was literally an afterthought). The way I use my E352 in general is that the unison, FM etc. are the primary feature and wavetable morphing is a secondary axis of modulation and variation — so therefore, chances are I will feel like Shifter can replace the E352 as well.
  • Unless Shifter has a very specific FM character to it, I will probably decide — after stewing about it — to keep Akemie’s Castle for now. Yeah it’s big, yeah it’s power hungry, but nothing else I’ve heard in modular sounds like it, and it’s not just the chords or the quasi-harmonic-oscillator thing I do with it.
  • And I’ll probably decide against filling the available space with a Verbos Harmonic Oscillator. It’s big, and pricey, and I’m kind of already using some similar techniques with Castle anyway.
  • I could decide I do want another oscillator though — perhaps Rubicon (a top-notch analog oscillator that does TZFM and is praised for clarity) or Orgone Accumulator (a sort of generalist digital oscillator with some neat sounds) or Odessa. Or I might recognize that Shifter, Castle, Kermit, and whatever the Via is being today, and also the Angle Grinder when it’s not being a filter, are enough 🙂

knock knock

Who’s there?

Opportunity.  It's Opportunity.

Thanks to an offer I could not sanely refuse, I have a 4ms Pod 60 coming. This is a slim, 60HP powered Eurorack case that I don’t have room for… unless I replace my 16n Faderbank with a Tesseract Sweet 16, which I totally can do. (And the Sweet 16 has CV inputs it can convert to MIDI and i2c messages along with the faders. Neat!)

So that gives me +36HP of free rack space (for a total of 40, or 48 without the arcade button) and some relief to the -12V current burden on my main case’s power supply, for pretty much no budget hit.

Aside from the Sweet 16 itself — and the cheap little Mazzatron Mult+PassThru I ordered before this happened, which might free up another little bit of space — am going to sit on my hands and not order more stuff until the E520 arrives… really for real this time. That doesn’t mean I won’t plot and ponder!

slow churn

I haven’t been feeling super creative lately, so there are only two candidates for the next album recorded so far. Otherwise it’s just been a little bit of experimentation, and bit of thought into “finishing” the modular.

Back when preorders opened for the SynthTech E520, it was offered in both aluminum and black panel versions. I chose the black to match my E352. Naturally, production of the black panels was delayed, so while some of the other early birds have been receiving their modules, mine is probably going to show up around the start of next month or so.

I have a WMD MSCL compressor/limiter on the way. While I have a couple of strong favorite compressors in the software world (DDMF MagicDeathEye and NI SuperchargerGT), having one in analog hardware might have some benefit in feedback loops, sidechaining, or overcooking signals a bit. A lot of people who don’t use software like it for “mix glue,” but I’ve also heard some demos of it used on individual channels, and it seems promising.

That leaves 4HP unclaimed in my case, or 12HP if I put the arcade button aside. I’m thinking about waveshapers, and there are a few options:

  • There have been leaks about the upcoming Intellijel Bifold, which is 8HP and has both Buchla and Serge style wavefolders and a crossfader between them; they can be used independently or together, or it can act as a ring modulator or VCA. So that’s a neat option.
  • WMD C4RBN (Carbon) was also recently announced: a 4HP filter with an input saturator and an output wavefolder. But I don’t like the filter character at all from what I’ve heard, although to be fair, most sawtooth-through-resonant-filter-sweep demos make me cringe. I didn’t much like their MMF filter when I demoed it at Knobcon before either, though.
  • Casper/Bastl Waver is a badass “wavefolding drone mixer” that seems extremely relevant to my interests. I absolutely love the sound of it in demos. My concern is its hefty power consumption. I suppose I could still add a secondary PSU to the case if it comes to that, though.
  • Xaoc Jena is an 8HP “binary transfunctioner” — essentially a wavetable without the oscillator. It’s part of the “Leibniz Binary Subsystem” — requiring the Drezno module, which is 12HP. As Deckard in Blade Runner might say, this is both a benefit and a hazard. I’d have to pull out another 8HP of something to make way, and that’s a hard choice.

Leibniz is a cool system. Drezno is basically two modules in one: an 8-bit ADC, converting an analog input into 8 binary outputs which have their own front panel jacks and are also passed to the next module in the subsystem. (With that section alone, you can use it as a sort of multi-step comparator, turn an LFO into rhythmic gates, or send those “bits” into a mixer to create other waveshapes from modulation or audio signals.)

The right side of Drezno converts 8 bits to an analog output. The fun here is that bits can be manipulated in between — ignored, inverted, cross-patched, delayed, divided, or independently generated — and can be processed by other modules in the subsystem. Both the input and output clocks can be overridden externally, so you can use it for sample rate reduction and bitcrushing effects, or clock it like a sample-and-hold at the speed of a sequence. You could patch it as a binary shift register, freezing patterns of bits that rotate left or right or travel in unusual paths.

Jena interprets the 8 bits from the ADC as the index into a wavetable, and outputs its own 8 bits. Typical use would be to feed Drezno a linear ramp “phasor” so that Jena moves smoothly through the table. The tables consist of interesting audio and LFO stuff, Walsh functions (which let you combine complimentary sets of square waves at different harmonics for an alternative form of additive synthesis), and drum patterns. Jena also has a synchronous mode which can use the input signal as a “hint” but remove any imperfections in how it scales or resets, plus a phase modulation input.

So that offers a lot of possibilities, but something’s got to be sacrificed if I go that route. Perhaps I could put a module in reserve and rotate things in or out as the whim strikes. Or I could pull out my rarely used Gozinta and one of the Shades and see how that goes. Perhaps the E520’s scope mode will make me feel less need for the O’Tool+. Perhaps I could DIY or acquire a breakout box to patch my modular to the audio interface without using the Bastl mults (or make a very simple box for those two mults). Or maybe reconsider a 4ms Pod, which is a compact case I could put controllers in and a little overflow space — though fitting it right in front of the case could be a little awkward. Hm. (For that matter, that could fix the power issues and allow for that Waver…)

Anyway — not making any decisions until I play with the E520. I don’t really need another waveshaping option, it’d just be cool. 🙂

touch copper

The 0-Ctrl arrived on Saturday, and I’m very pleased with it. My first impression was that it exactly met my expectations and hopes — the form factor is perfect, the touchplates work perfectly even with my dry skin, fit on my little stand in front of the modular is perfect, it feels great to use, it’s fun and inspiring and works almost exactly like I thought. Maybe a little easier to dial in tunings and grooves than I expected, and surprisingly musical when combining unsynchronized internal and external clock sources.

When only using an external clock, the gate lengths and the dynamic envelope times are still based on the internal clock, so the Speed and Time settings as well as Strength are still relevant. The dynamic gate and main clock output will result in different rhythms depending on the setting, which is a neat way to get some interrelated parts going and vary them easily. I threw together a quick jam with the E352’s two outputs:

Working with the 0-Ctrl does make me nostalgic for the 0-Coast — though more in terms of feel than sound or features. In theory, I like the idea of a more compact, simple modular. But in practice, I really like the setup that I have and what it does for my music.


Experimenting with the Disting EX, I found I could get better PLL-like results with the XOR logic gate algorithm than the pitch tracking algorithm… and than my actual A-196 PLL module. So that’s one more module to sell. There’s an EMW Fixed Filter Bank on the way, for feedback, distortion and some band-separating tricks of various kinds, and only 2 HP of free space unclaimed. (4 if I decide I don’t need the 2HP Trim that I have, which is possible.) Nothing’s really calling out to me for that space though.


On another note (that pun never gets old!), someone recommended Freakshow Industries plugins, which I’d never heard of up ’til now. I like their aesthetic and their “steal” policy, though I found Mishby (“Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Built You”) worth the full price, giving some lovely semi-tape, semi-“digital” degradation and chorusing. It sounds especially good in front of Supermassive.