the Knobconclusion

Nobody at Knobcon had the Dreadbox Hypnosis for sale. After more research, I found that there was a revision after the original release, and the one I tried was that new version, and I should make sure that’s the one I get. Also I’m still thinking about the details of connections and placement in my rig. But it’s definitely on my mind.

I drove home, feeling pretty exhausted and not really having a lot of interest in food. Getting home gave me a bit of an energy boost though, so after telling my stories and putting stuff away, I racked up the Harmonic Shift Oscillator and gave it a go.

It sounds gorgeous on its own, with FM-like-but-not-exactly-FM tones. FM produces sidebands potentially above and below the fundamental, and increasing the modulation index brings in more sidebands — this is described by “Bessel functions of the first kind” as discovered by Dr. John Chowning. It’s complex. Whatever HSO’s technique is, cranking up the Level doesn’t bring in more bands in the same way. You can dial Stride down to very near zero, so it’s not like it can’t produce undertones, but you have more control. It never goes all the way into noise like FM does, and you can modulate Stride with an LFO without generating a whole pile of weird aliasing madness. You can get some nice bell-like tones and deep percussive oddities, and a decent variety of other timbres from it, as well as slow beating and tremolo.

The two outputs are 90 degrees out of phase with each other, and you don’t have to worry much about mono compatibility issues with it — any cancellation is temporary and limited to some of the harmonics but not the fundamental, and in fact just blending the two in mono can be useful. There are a lot of other things you can do with the two outputs — combining them in Mystic Circuits Ana is fruitful, using one to modulate a delay or filter on the other works nicely, using one to switch the other on and off to create new shapes, etc.

It also has an expo FM input and handles it beautifully, with or without combining it with Level/Stride. Modulating Level or Stride at audio rates can also work well.

It gets up to high enough audio rates to clock Drezno or Interstellar Radio — while it’s not perfectly stable up there, the whole point of using those modules in this way is to add noise and grunge anyhow. In fact, setting Level and Stride can add additional flavors to it and thus it’s more flexible at this than Synchrodyne was. It doesn’t go quite as high in frequency, but I could always gain another octave by ring-modulating the sine and cosine outputs.

So, it’s a winner! I have not yet tried it with distortion, or Koszalin to attempt to bend the partials back into harmonicity (it would have to be tuned very carefully!), or explore what Spectraphon does with it. But I will.

I didn’t take a day off work tomorrow for recovery and I hope I don’t regret that.

…I should have taken a day off work today for recovery.

Overall thoughts about this Knobcon:

  1. My first time, I was a relative beginner and it was extremely valuable to see and try lots of gear and see how people were performing with it.

    On the second time I had a bit more experience and a lot more musical focus, enough to provide additional context and perspective from which I could learn some more through observation.

    This time, I have a lot more practical experience and theoretical knowledge. I know what I like and the kind of music I want to make. My rig is in a very good state where I don’t want to change much regardless of how cool other options are. There are a few things I’d like to improve, both in terms of how stuff works and how I play. Therefore Knobcon hit very differently. I had a good time, but it wasn’t as valuable or inspiring to me overall.
  2. The gear stuff mostly confirmed to me that I want to stick mostly to what I already have. The one thing I bought was for a change I was already considering, it’s just that the opportunity happened to strike. (And ironically I researched the module a little online before going in for the live demo.) The one other thing that I’d like to pick up is in the category of stuff I already knew I liked. The thing I’d like to buy in the future when it’s available is just a refinement of a module I’ve enjoyed for a while, and I didn’t get much more info than I would have from an online announcement.
  3. The performances were a good time for the most part. I learned from them too — I learned that I do not want to deal with the challenges they pose. I feel like recording live gives me the kind of spontaneity I want, but mitigates the risks. Also, the big thing I learned is that filling a specific time with a performance is hard when you are improvising — you either need to plan some kind of form in advance, rehearse, and keep an eye on a clock, or you need to be very nimble with transitioning to something else to keep it fresh.

    I do want to work on issues of precision in my improv. The very first performer Friday had dead-on precision with his violin playing that matched with the sequencing, and I’ve been thinking about that. The third one had reckless abandon and I thought that worked very well for her music, up to a point. The techno folks had flawless execution of everything they did, although the nature of their tools helped with that. For me personally, I’m thinking visible metronome, a bit more planning and practice of riffs, and probably just more practice with the Seaboard (and bass!) will be of great benefit.
  4. I guess I need to accept that there is too much going on at Knobcon to catch it all in any case. And I’m just out of shape and oldish and there’s the long drive before and after to deal with. If I go again, I will just be more chill about it, and also give myself more time after — maybe even before. But I think I will probably skip it at least for the next few years.

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