some assembly required

Since the release of 18 Points, I had (until a couple of days ago) been recording a bunch of little snippets, putting together patches in VCV Rack or Bitwig Grid, doing some experiments — basically starting stuff and not finishing it. That aforementioned kalimba/Hypnosis feedback patch was one of them.

But that gave me some raw material which I didn’t have any trouble finding ways to put together. Two songs in a row might not really be a “trend” of course. But they’ve been assembled from these pieces, using “Mix Paste” in Sound Forge. I’ve done some of that in the past of course, especially when recording bass parts or deciding that a song needs a little something else, but rarely to this extent.

It still feels improvisational somehow, even if it’s not entirely in real time. (Fake time, then?)

The second song in particular had something serendipitous happen — a synthesized “cymbal” sound used as an accent but which was exactly the right thing for its moment, which then mutated into a processed version that bridged the gap to a later synth part — it just sort of tied everything up neatly and made the whole form work.

I mentioned thinking about dipping my toes into techno a bit. A forum thread had me experimenting with an industrial beat, and I took inspiration from the Vamp Acid set at Knobcon, some Prometheus Burning tracks (particularly “Battery Drain”), and Manufacturer, maybe even a bit of poorly remembered Nine Inch Nails. (In that thread, we’ve pretty much come to an agreement that NIN beats and sound design were pretty great, and the lyrics… not so much.) This was done in about half an hour before work one morning, not having done anything much with beats since at least 2017 (aside from some idle playing around with Elektron Model:Cycles a couple years ago).

Then I cooked up a slowed-down variant with heavier kicks, more distorted and “corrupted” snares, and a ride cymbal that super-emphasizes the “bell” . I decided I liked that version quite a bit, and with some changes, it might actually make it onto this album project.

This morning I was just idly patching some stuff, and experimented with Mystic Circuits Ana changing up the regular stairstep patterns from Clep Diaz. It’s a pretty nice pairing, a nice little generative melody maker. I started tweaking the voice I was using for it — Shapeshifter through Natural Gate — and decided what it really needed was a kick drum. And then maybe some hi-hats, with a bit of groove from the velocity values as well as an LFO modulating things a bit. And let’s get some accents on that Shapeshifter… oh hey I still have delay assigned to Mod B and now it’s kind of a funky flanger thing. A little bit of compression and distortion and sidechaining, and… oops, I guess I kind of made a beat. It’s not going anywhere further than this stage, but there it is.

It’s not mind-blowing stuff; that bassline is a little too generative-sounding to be properly funky, and it needs some space instead of just being constant 16th notes. But it’s not awful either in certain aspects. Maybe the Techno Curse has lifted?

(I’m still going to stick with my thing… that drone, “dark ambient,” Berlin School-ish space. But maybe with a little bit more drums.)

I have a little space in my rack, and every once in a while I think about a comparator and/or latch to do something a bit more with that Doepfer switch I have. Then a thread came up on MW asking about small comparators, and I started weighing pros and cons. Someone mentioned the DPW Zero-2, which intrigued me before, and I went for it.

It’s a tiny, 2hp module of the type that I don’t really favor anymore, but I can make the occasional exception when it’s just jacks and doesn’t seem overcrowded. It’s a clever gizmo: an A=B comparator which clocks a D flip-flop, whose D input is normalled to !Q. What that means is this:

  • If you patch one thing into input A, the output just detects whether A is positive.
  • If you patch signals into A and B, the output is high whenever A is greater than B. (A simple comparator.)
  • If you patch a gate into D, the output will be synchronized by A=B. You can use this to gate a VCA without clicks (since it waits for a zero crossing), for smooth wave splicing controlled by a gate, to add jitter to a clock, and several other interesting tricks.
  • There are several different fun ways to patch it with Spectraphon audio outputs. And it gets pretty chaotic if you try to splice a signal and its own filtered version…

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