flavor of the tweek

I found out how much my pay raise was, and while I’m not going to suddenly start spending a lot except to make bigger mortgage payments, I did want to get myself a lil’ something.

So here’s BeetTweek, which I was interested in when first announced but let it slip off my radar because it’s a bit on the pricey side for a controller due to its Extreme Fanciness. But controllers have come to be mighty important in the way I make music, and I’m worth it 😉

Aside from providing an excellent light show with its total of 97 multicolor LEDs, the knob provides haptic feedback. Which means that it’s motorized, and can not only move on its own but offer turn resistance, create detents/notches you can feel, springs that bounce its position back to where it wants to be, and so on. There’s also a knob recording and playback feature which can be used in any mode. There are 8 different modes in this version of its firmware:

  • Spring: the knob has a “home” position set by an input voltage; turning it by hand (or rapidly changing the voltage) applies a spring force that makes it once to bounce back and wobble into place. Outputs represent the knob angle and spring stretch, and the “augment” settings can convert the knob angle to an LFO. It’s a really versatile, useful and fun mode for sure.
  • Torque/Friction: inputs apply a small amount of torque, and friction to resist it. This doesn’t generate particularly exciting signals to be honest, but is meant as a combination of basic controller and a method to feel signals through the knob.
  • Indent: 8 “notch” positions around the ring can store and play back voltages — pretty basic stuff but a useful control option.
  • Ratchet: turns freely in one direction, resists and springs back in the opposite direction (which can fling the knob “forward” as you let go). The direction can be switched via an input, but there are no inputs that move the knob without using your hand. Offhand, I’m not sure how I might put this to good use, but I may think of something.
  • Turntable/DJ: sort of a cross between a county fair Ferris Wheel with neon lights, an LFO, and a tape loop. If you spin it, it will just keep spinning at the same speed. As the notches around the ring pass by, it can generate triggers or a synced sine or ramp LFO. It’ll also record and play back lo-fi audio (with sound-on-sound), influenced by the movement speed. You can sync it to an external clock and stop/reverse it with another input, then scratch it like a DJ. A versatile and fun mode for sure!
  • Sequenced Pluck: somewhat similar to Indent, but the paradigm is strings that you pluck by turning the knob. You can feed audio back into it to feel the vibration. There also extra outputs which I think offer expressive control, taking it well beyond the gimmick that it seems like at first.
  • Torque Curve: probably the most abstract mode, “plots” torque values around the wheel like an oscilloscope (synced with another input). It can sometimes have the effect of turning the wheel, but the main use seems to be feeling the shape of the wave as you turn the knob.
  • Orbit: a particle is magnetically attracted to or repulsed by the knob position (and also influences that position). You can spin the knob to get the particle to fly away, swing back and forth (maybe settling down, maybe not), or launch into a continuous orbit. Inputs multiply the force and affect the simulation speed, but don’t directly move the knob or particle. Outputs represent the angle difference, velocity and attraction force. This is a lot more fun than it probably sounds from my description, and generates cool wobbly modulation signals.

I found the module pretty confusing at first, because of a combination of things:

  • There’s a bug where sometimes when you select a mode, the backlight goes white (instead of the usual purple) and the encoder stops working. (Nothing in the manual mentions the backlight going white.) However, once you’ve used the knob recorder once, it doesn’t do this anymore.
  • Mode selection is a little different from described in the manual — there’s a second “page” of modes with a single diagnostic mode. Not a big deal, but combined with the bug, it threw me for a loop.
  • For a few modes I just didn’t read the manual closely enough.
  • Some of this stuff is a pretty new paradigm for me, particularly the modes where the main point is to feel a signal through the knob.

That said, I mostly get it now, and despite all the modes and the generically labeled jacks which change their meaning with each mode, I don’t think I’m going to need a BeetTweekCheetSheet for regular usage, nor will I need to look stuff up in the manual.

It occurred to me last night after I finally quit playing with it and went on to read a bit more Stormlight Archive before turning in quite late, that the knob angle outputs will be perfect for modulating Planar in its polar coordinate mode. Finding pairings for modules like this is great stuff, it’s kind of the soul of modular.

Speaking of which, I’ve been experimenting and getting along a bit better with Compare 2, and have decided to hold onto it. I’ve found that stereo PWM tricks are much more interesting with more complex audio input rather than basic periodic waveshapes. I’ve also found that using it with Clep Diaz is a fun way to generate different rhythmic gate patterns, which can then run in a different meter from another sequence and provide lots of variation. Using Compare 2’s multiple outputs to feed Drezno’s DAC inputs to generate a new steppy CV signal also works quite nicely. Generally, I just needed to think outside the boxes I’d previously constructed around the module in order to not feel so disappointed by it.

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