4×4Pole: Doepfer MKE vs Novation – Revenge of the Wheels

March 25, 2013

I’ve had some time to return to and investigate the wheel connectors on the MKE.

Remember that, when I tested the Novation wheels the range was minuscule. It turns out that the wheel receivers are calibrated to Doepfer’s own standard. It also accounts for the narrow range wheels have normally, due to the spring on the pitch wheel and the large diameters.

A closer look at the Novation wheels revealed 2 x 5K linear pots like so:


The Doepfers are 10K so I decided to use a trusty joystick, this time with the spring intact, to see if it could be used as a mini pitch-wheel.


The result was disappointing. At rest pitch was always at maximum, and moving the stick to one side again swept through the range an a narrow band. No, this won’t do.

To see if I could exactly define this range, I attached a standard 10k linear pot. Again, same result. Hmmm.

So, how could I limit the range of a pot?

Thankfully the answer came quickly and it’s such a simple fix it’s almost embarrassing…

…how about if I just twist the Novation pots in their housing? This way I could tune the range by hand. So, after cleaning the solder off the pins, I plugged the Novation wheels back-in, loosened the pots and re-orientated them.

First, the potentiometer tabs needed to be clipped-off. (I now know what they’re for – holding the pot in place!)


Then plugged-in (after removing the solder I left on the pins 😛


And, by Jove, it works like a charm!

The main caveat is when re-orienting the pitch-wheel pot – you need to account for the spring, so best to have MIDIox or other such monitor open to see when you’re at zero before tightening the nut. The pots are d-shaft, so in this case I could easily find zero.


Here they are with their pots newly-oriented and wheels re-fitted.


Everything is now up-and-running with the MKE. Superb!

Buoyed by this success, I’ve decided to adopt a modular approach to the 4×4 pole enclusure, wherein the synth section will be detachable from the Keyboard.

Because, who knows, I might want to build a 4xLadder Filter at some stage…


Cheap Bastard: Rast and Baugruppenträger

March 23, 2013

This one will be a slow-burner, but since I was passing Ikea:


Rast (Euro 11.95) – a simple, naked nightstand that is exactly the dimensions needed for a 19″rack. It just need rails, upon which can be hung…

The Baugruppenträger (Euro 30.35 is 3-HE Eurororack compatible and comes with rack ears.

Total Cost: 42.30 euro

Next to investigate: power supply options.

Shruthi-1 Modding Session

March 22, 2013

I’ve been a bad boy, skiving-off to further molest my Shruthi-1.

These mods have been brewing for a while, as I fiddled and took notes from the Mutable Instruments forum and the Mutable Wiki. They are surprisingly easy to implement, once you gather the right components, and they are providing good learning points for the 4×4 build.

KK, on with the details…


There are 3 filter switches…

  • 1. Select 2 or 4 pole filter.
  • 2. Choose either of 2 bandpass modes. I haven’t quite got this one working yet. I think I need a new switch.
  • 3. A switch to allow the audio input to be used as FM modulator on the filter. An input level knob is also added to provide more control. Initial tests of this are very promising!

And two new knobs…

  • 1. A separate FM control knob allows a degree of filter feedback. It’s quite subtle, but adds lovely harmonics to the low-end. I’m going to see if I can beef this up.
    EDIT: Thanks to the helpful guys on Mutable forum, I removed the 47k resistor and used a C10K reverse audio pot to give a nice transition from subtle to a harsher FM grit. Lovely.
  • 2. Then there is the drive knob. This one is great! It overdrives to distortion very nicely. An output volume control is necessary to attenuate, because this can get loud. Shruthi size belies and delights yet again.

I’ve also put a LED on CV1 out. This can be hooked-up in the mod-matrix to provide visual feedback of modulation parameters, including tempo-synced LFOs. It works brilliantly, and the brightness is also adjustable from the mod matrix. CV2 is also available and will be used for the same purpose. This is going to look great on the 4x4Pole!

And of course, the 2 joysticks. I am loving these. In a moment of madness I imagined an interface dominated by an army of these fellas. It surely will happen 😛

Now, I could squeeze all these entrails into the standard enclosure, but I feel that would be unfair to poor Shruthi. I’ve really gutted this guy, so it’s time to buy some new clothes, with enough space to include these and any future mods. I already partially atoned by replacing the filter caps with fancy styroflex thingies. That’s a new OLED too which makes a big difference. Finally, I took the chance to re-align the boards, and now everything is where it should be.

I’ve already designed and ordered the case: the Shruthi NoisyLitteBugger edition should be ready next week 😉

4×4Pole: Doepfer MKE vs Novation KS Keybed

March 21, 2013

Amongst several boxes of goodies to arrive today was the Doepfer MKE. I took a bit of a punt on this, as I wasn’t certain that my scavenged Novation KS4 keybed would work. There’s a surprising dearth of information about the Novation keybeds. But all the clues pointed to it being a Fatar keybed (Diode matrix, Aftertouch strip, 16 Micromatch connectors), and thus fully compatible with the MKE.


I thought it would be an opportune time to pick-up a Doepfer DIY synth for the next project – the slide into Modular with Little Dieter. For now, let’s focus on the MKE….


It came with a 9v power supply. Overall it feels pretty well-built and sturdy. The LCD is adequate, but those buttons have gotta go. Yuck.


I wanted a quick test so I hooked-up the wheels, with MKE spitting data out to MIDOX.


Modwheel and Pitchwheel are recognised, however the range is extremely narrow. The MKE manual makes mention of these inputs being tailored towards Doepfer’s own ‘accessories’:

‘…the voltage range ~ 0 … 1.6 Volt corresponds to the Midi data range 0 … 127. The reason for this limited voltage range is the rotating angle of the wheels we offer as spare parts. An output voltage range of ~ 0…1.6V was measured for these wheels if they are connected to GND and +5V as they do not cover the complete rotating angle because of the end stoppers.’

This is going to need some research, so another day. But what about the keyboard?

First I needed to make cables using 16-strand flat ribbon and 2×8 pole male Micromatch connectors, and thus saving myself a small fortune.


With both keyboard cables connected, I could immediately see the notes being received by MIDIOX, but the zones were reversed. A quick swap of the cables remedied that.

Keyboard working! And with a smooth velocity response 😎


And so to Aftertouch. I was most uncertain about this one working. The Fatar cable has four pins, but the MKE only accepts three. After a while of random and fruitless jumper-switching I hit upon the brilliant idea of reading the MKE manual (doh!). There it was, in the appendix, the key to success. Only two connections are needed, necessitating a little hack using header pins and a dexterous disposition …



My scepticism came crashing down as the pressure signals appear on screen. A quick change of settings from the crappy-but-adequate interface and aftertouch working perfectly. What’s more, the aftertouch curve seems just fine, so no messing with switching resistors. Yeeeehaaaw…



Right, I am feeling pretty good now. Just mod- and pitch-wheels to calibrate and I’ve got myself a very nice, expressive master keyboard.

Is niiiice, I like-ah.


4x4Pole: Preface

March 18, 2013

‘I am a man of projects’

Being into something of a building binge at the moment, I’ve decided to extend myself for the next outing and do something quite special.

The ideas came to me in a rabid haze and before I knew it the Postman had delivered 4 sets of PCBs from Mutable Instruments. Specifically, 4x4 Pole Missions, with the notion of turning them into a 4-voice Pole-mixing polysynth, but with flexible MIDI routing allowing splits and other combinations.


It must have lots of knobs, either via a MIDI CC controller, or by using the Shruthi Programmer. To keep my options open I also bought 2 of the latest run PCBs. Thanks for the sweets Frank 🙂


It also demands lots of joysticks for real-time control. If I use the programmer I lose the CV inputs on one of the Shruthi’s, but that still leaves room for 6 joysticks on the other three units. Oh yeah.

Further, I wanted to scavenge my neglected Novation KS-4 for it’s key bed and Pitch/modulation wheels. After some uncertainty I’ve found that I can probably re-use them via a Doepfer MKE MIDI board. It’s been ordered…


The components for the 4 Shruthis have also been ordered. A lot of soldering and testing of the individual units should keep me occupied for a few weeks.

Another idea I’m looking into is incorporating a small mixer with pan controls and possibly a Send.Master FX. As this is a bit beyond me at the moment, I feel I should leave plenty of room in the case for expansion and further modification.

Finally (for now) I’m thinking about integrating my unbuilt MIDIpal to make it a control powerhouse. Perhaps to keep it modular – separate the keyboard/wheels and leave room to slot-in the 4×4, or whatever I choose to build in future.


Adding Gamepad Joysticks to Shruthi-1

March 15, 2013


I built my first shruthi last year and the poor little bugger has been poked and prodded since. Not only is it a great synthesizer, it is also a fun playground for a beginner audio noodler like myself.

One of the standard Shruthi mods is to attach controllers to the 4 CV inputs. These can be mapped to multiple parameters in the mod matrix, providing oodles of modulation possibilities.This could be controlled by knobs or touchpads or the like.

The most accessible method is to attach a 10k linear pot to the points on the control board (left of the LCD).

Looking at the pot, the legs should be connected thus:
1: +5V
2: CV (1-4)
3: GND

On the Mutable Instruments forums I read that PS3 gamepad joysticks are basically 2 10K linear pots assigned to X and Y coordinates. The only problem is that the spring can’t be removed without destroying the mechanism. I want the joystick to stay where I put it.

After a lot of searching, it was apparent that few joystick met this criterion, and they tended to be expensive; 45 euro for the Doepfer version, and an extra tenner for the shaft. Bugger that.

Then I came across this excellent blog post detailing how to remove the springs from an Xbox controller.

Not having an Xbox controller to hand, I instead ripped-open an old, broken Logitech PC gamepad I had thankfully kept – along with many other boxes of junk. The hoarder vindicated 😀

EDIT: You can also buy the joystick components separately if you wish. Here’s a good source: Uk-Electronics.

Click pictures for full size:


Removing the PCBs is easy…


..and there are our little beauties..


Noticing that the joysticks were similar to the Xbox ones, I proceeded to follow instructions in removing them from the PCB and then their springs.

The joystick housing need to be carefully de-soldered from the gamepad PCB…in this case there were 15 points attached to the board. Make sure they are all free before prising the whole thing free. Solder wick is essential.


The spring and button are house in the plastic base. Bend the metal legs to release it. It just pops out.


With base removed (and thus spring and button)…


Once the spring is out the mechanism is unsupported and will probably fall apart. But it’s easy to re-assemble – it’s just 2 pieces. The potentiometers can be snapped-off and reattached also. Very elegant design. To keep the shaft in place permanently, I soldered small wire supports like so:


For testing, I plonked it onto a piece of polystyrene…


Then I wired-up both sets of pins…


..and connected them to the Shruthi CV points…


At first I thought it wasn’t working, however I had wired the wrong CV pads! Switching to the correct ones in the Mod matrix brought a huge smile to my face. The joystick works perfectly, goes where you want it, and STAYS there.


Initially I kept the wires long for a reason; I wanted to test how sensitive the CV inputs would be to interference. At this length I noticed no adverse effects.

Now, how to house it?

Conveniently, it turns out that all the joystick legs will fit snugly into the honeycomb side panels, but they need affixing. However the pins are close together, so some insulation is in order. I used some heat-shrink tubing. To keep things tidy should I wish to re-wire, I attached all GRN and 5V wires to pins (discarded resistor legs), leaving just single pins to be soldered to the control board.


Notice that the wiring must be consistent if you want both joysticks to behave in the same way.


There’s plenty of room for the wires to fit snugly in the case. Note that the additional switch is not needed – it for 2/4 pole filter modes (another easy mod).


For today, to keep everything steady. I’m using some ‘blu-tack’. I’m waiting for extra components for more mods, so I’ll be taking it apart again soon. When satisfied I will probably glue them on. I also found two tiny covers to put on the shafts. Cute.


And there you have it: 2 cheap (free) modulation joysticks, without springs, for your Shruthi, or any other purpose you might be dreaming. I know I am….



Mutable Instruments: Building Anushri

March 13, 2013

Timelapse of my Anushri build over 3 sessions.
Audio is recording of the first-noodle. All sounds from Anushri in a single pass, only light reverb used.
Great fun to build and play. Listen to that filter!

Kit from, and big thanks to, Mutable Instruments

Tempest Kits: Starship Stim v1

March 6, 2013

OS 1.3 is coming soon and it’s looking good. So I’ll be pushing out some ‘proper’ kits after it’s release.

This first kit is a taster – it has no drums. Rather, it is the soundtrack from an imagined life aboard a roving interstellar craft. No samples used – this is a nice workout for Tempest’s analogue side.

The top row of pads are drones – various ambiances, the bottom row are computer and ship noises. Bank B is fully stocked – 32 sounds in all.

To activate a drone, press one of the top 8 pads. The sound will continue until it is stopped or it’s voice is stolen. Several of the drones are designed to ‘choke’ each other so as to help prevent a cacophonous mess. But that’s largely up to you. It’s easy to go overboard.

To stop a drone, select a sound by pressing Shift + pad and press the Mute button twice. By pressing the Solo button twice, all sounds will be cut except the currently selected pad.

It takes a little practice but learning to coordinate it all is good for improvement of live tweaking chops. YMMV.

Use the volume and filter controls to get a nice balance between the drones and twist the bottom eight pads to your preferences. There’s lots of LFO action going on here, and slight tweaks can lead to nice surprises.

All sounds are velocity sensitive. Some are pressure sensitive. It is recommended to use seperate outputs and lots of FX 🙂

Play around with them (they don’t bite) and have fun!

Here’s a quick demo direct from Tempest’s main output. One take, no sequencer. A fraction sent to reverb.

I bet you can do better, so:

Here is the Kit:

..and the individual sounds:
These will likely import to your ‘User3’ Folder.
Exported from Beta I will update these as new betas are released.

If you make something nice with this, leave a link for da Massive.

I am open to Kit suggestions, but these must be backed by DRY audio examples.

Lemme know 😛

Curtis Mayfield – Doo-Doo-Wop Is Strong in Here

March 6, 2013

I’m obsessed with this song at the moment:


Tempest Recipes: Claps

February 19, 2013

I received a stern e-mail from the ether demanding to know when I’d provide a clap recipe. Rather than disappoint, and to avoid any risk of painful retribution, I’ll channel some ideas.

In the tradition of previous recipes we’ll nail-down the basic concept, leaving you with abundant noodling fodder. Let me preface by saying that Tempest makes fantastic claps!

The essence of the clap is that it is several sounds in one, each offset by a tiny amount, differing in volume, pitch and other nuances. Think of several people clapping at the same time – they will never hit at exactly the same moment. Multiple individual sounds separated by a few milliseconds produce a chorus effect that responds beautifully to reverb. Clap sounds are as varied and important as snares, and can scream individuality. So let’s make a basic clap template that you can twist to your own desires.

Initial explorations looked at using Tempest’s MIDI delay, but the available delay times are not short enough. Then I tried using square and sawtooth LFOs to quickly turn Oscs on and off. There’s a Guiro in there somewhere. Not great for claps though. If only there was something like a ‘crack module’ as found on some software synths….

The good news is that we do have a way to do this in Tempest: we create custom ‘cracks’ by using the envelopes and their (blink and you’ll miss it) delay parameter. Not to be confused with the MIDI delay, this parameter is accessed in the envelopes screen by scrolling 2 pages to the right and ‘delays’ or offsets the triggering of the envelope. With 5 envelopes we have bags of flexibility and control, more than enough to rival the crack of dawn.

The question is how exactly to use the envelopes? We could use one envelope per oscillator and have 4 sounds play in rapid succession, or we use 1 or all 4 oscs mixed and modulate the VCA so that it opens and closes very quickly. Or a mixture of both approaches.

  • To keep everything simple for now, just load the ‘Resonant 4k noise’ sample into Osc3 and pitch it down to -12 semitones.
  • Turn Amount values to zero for all envelopes, including the Amp envelope. We want these under full velocity control.
  • We start with the main Amp envelope. Leave it’s delay at zero because it will sound first. I set it’s velocity amount to 127 so that it is always the loudest portion of the clap. If you don’t already know – to set the velocity amount for an envelope, it’s on the second page of the envelope screen. Alternatively, when on the first page in the envelope screen, press shift to reveal the Velocity Amount (‘VEL AMT’) control. Use a short decay of around 20.

We can set different decays for each envelope. They can overlap without cutting each other. This brought to mind some interesting layering applications that I have noted to explore in a future recipe….
Back to our clap:

  • Keep in mind that our goal is a quick succession of hits that trail-off. To begin our ‘crack’ go to the pitch envelope, scroll 2 screens to the right and set the destination as VCA level. Yes, the pitch envelope is freely-assignable like Aux1 and Aux2 😯

The Amp and Filter envelopes are hard-wired, however don’t forget that, if we wish, we can still assign them to VCA level in the ModPaths…

  • For now, give the pitch envelope the same decay (20) and a delay of 30. Scroll back to the first screen and start turning-up the velocity amount. You should gradually hear the first ‘crack’ being introduced. Leave it at around 30. Essentially, it’s the Amp envelope re-triggered with new settings. To make it more ‘clappy’, reduce the delay to a value of 5 and let’s move-on to the Aux-1 envelope.
  • Here we repeat the same procedure but using different decay(25), Velocity Amount (40) and delay (8) amounts.
  • Then onto Aux 2 envelope, rinse and repeat. As this is the last part of the ‘crack’ give it a slightly longer decay (30), lower velocity amount (20) and, of course, a longer delay (11).
  • From here’s it’s mostly about balancing the envelopes. The key parameters being delay, decay and Velocity amount, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Notice how, when switching between envelopes, the screen stays on the delay page. This makes it easy and fast to tweak the crack to your liking across all Oscs. Combined with the tonal power of 4 oscillators, 11 on-board clap samples, not to mention a healthy injection of chorus and reverb, I would be very surprised indeed if you don’t find the basis of your perfect clap in there.

With 8 ModPath slots there’s absolutely no excuse to go wild – using each envelope to modulate various other parameters (pitch, pan, etc) at each stage in the crack module. That is an enormous amount of clappage, snappage and bappage. More than I could hope to continue writing about. But then, you are probably way ahead of me by now…

Note: I did make a crude attempt to measure the range of the Envelope Delay. At an amount setting of 127 there is almost 6 seconds between initial sound and it’s sequel. With amount set to 64 the time interval is approximately 3/4 second, and at zero there is no repeat. An amount of 74 equates to around 1 second. This indicates a log-scaled control. However, for claps we shouldn’t need to become bogged-down in spurious precision when we can just trust our ears. The delay does get short enough and you already know what a clap should sound like, no?

Tip: Try this with your snares/sticks etc. with even shorter envelope delay times – you may be pleasantly surprised!

Tempest Recipes: Bells and alien idiophones

February 6, 2013

Based on a request from DSI forum I had a new look at making bells. I did try this before but I wasn’t convinced of the results. If I want a bell sound I typically go to FM synthesis. But I had another look and came-up with some nice results, especially on the weirder side (as the title suggests). Below is a basic recipe. Perhaps not the most natural sounding, but a start to your own efforts at least.

  • Triangle in both Osc 1 and Osc 2.
  • For this patch we want an harmonically pleasing sound so that we can play the bells chromatically. Start by pitching Osc 2 down up to C4 and Osc1 an octabve higher at C5.
    If you want more inharmonic, clangorous church bells, start with the pitch Osc 2 at D#1 and work your way up.
  • Detune Osc 2 to approx 30, or more for a more inharmonic sound.
  • Set the Amp envelope – AD mode with zero attack, and a fairly long decay (60). Give Amp envelope amount a good boost at 100. Now go to ModPaths and self-modulate the Amp envelope decay with a positive amount – around 30. This should already have at least some bell-like characteristics – play up-and down the keyboard. Similar to a toybox / glockenspiel maybe? Your ears can guide you on those paths. But a dose of LFO action here serves-up some quality variants.
  • LFO1 mapped to Osc2 frequency, random shape and a tiny amount – 1-2 shoudl be enough to introduce a slight randomness to the tail.
  • Filter 4 pole – Close cutoff just slightly (120) zero resonance and slowly turn-up the Filter FM (Audio Mod) knob. There are tons of cool analogue sounds here – everything from changing the tonality of our bell to weird-ass glitches as the resonance is turned-up. Modulate the filter parameters with both LFO’s and see what I mean.

In fact, at this stage I got totally diverted away from bells into crazy modulation land – with lots of great results. If you’re stuck on bells the above will at least get you going I hope.

Oh, and don’t forget to pile-on both chorus and reverb – both really vital here. You could also try compressing the snot out of the output – the more I use it the more I love Tempest’s compressor.

Tempest Recipes: Tuned woods, sticks and clicks

February 1, 2013

The classic way of synthesizing woody sounds is to use square wave oscillators. In extension to our cowbell recipe, the relative tuning of two Square waves throws-up many useful, if not entirely natural, woody sounds.

Quick and dirty, first we’ll play around with a single square wave so as to get a flavour of what’s possible and, critically, to set the envelopes correctly.

  • Osc 2 Square around D#2 to start. Initially set osc mix to 0/100
  • Amp Env amount around 60, decay from about 50 but play with it. This is a good place to add a little peak. For clicky stick sounds, reduce the decay to zero and slowly turn-up the peak. But keep in mind that real-world sounds do not end so abruptly, and are usually accompanied by some decay and/or reverberation.
  • 24db LowPass around 60 (just enough to lose the harmonic ‘fizz’), No resonance, No Filter FM. Filter Env decay 40, Env amount 40.
  • Go to Modpaths and modulate Amp Envelope Decay with the Amp envelope for a nice curve. There’s a lot of tweaking here – negative values gives more hollow tones, positive values shorten to a click – a sound in itself that has some applications.
  • To tighten-up the sound, set the HighPass filter to about 40 or so.
    Now bring-in the Amp Feedback to gives a pretty convincing ‘knock’ to the sound. Usual warning here – used the fixed velocity to set the Amp feedback to provide the heft, but just before ”squeaky’.

Now is the time to start changing Osc2 pitch and to introduce Osc1 as another square wave, playing with their relative pitches and rejoicing at the beauty of our world. Take your time. When you have a good balance between the two levels/pitches, use this nice undocumented feature to tune all oscillators whilst preserving their relative pitches: press and hold the oscillator select button until all four Osc light appear. The Osc Pitch knob will now tune all Oscs simultaneously. Very handy. By this method we open-up even more tonal options. It’s also good to detune the Oscs – even quite extreme detuning has it’s uses here, especially at higher pitches.

  • To add some spice, we can Set LFO1 to modulate PWM of either or both oscillators. Plenty of tonal variations here – you should try the full range of LFO frequencies and amount.
  • Another LFO trick is to modulate the frequency of one oscillator with a high LFO rate. This also gives a huge variety of interesting tones. For a dullish hit, similar to hitting wet cardboard, try using the Random LFO shape set to Osc2 frequency rate 150, amount 100.
  • Filter FM without the resonance makes the sound more flabbly, and effect you might like.

During the process above you have undoubtedly discovered that effective sidestick tones are achievable at higher pitches, whilst at lower pitches we enter usable bass patch territory (remember our Donk?).

The logical extension of this is that our woods can be played chromatically, but these tuned sounds will require extra attention to envelopes and keyboard tracking parameters to maintain a consistent progression up-and-down the keyboard. If you are willing to spend the time here you can make very convincing Marimaba / xylophone type sounds, not to mention everything in-between (which I personally find more interesting).

Tempest Recipes: Congas

January 21, 2013


Using a low 808 conga sample (grabbed from here) as our reference, we see the key frequency is around 150 Hz.


So let’s go straight to…

  • Osc 2, triangle wave with Frequency of D2, Osc mix 0/100. Depending on taste, you can tune-up closer to 170Hz (F2), which gives gives a more familiar sound to my ears.
  • Use the 12db filter, zero resonance. Slowly close it until you arrive at a tone very close to our example. Just shorten the Amp envelope and you’re 95% of the way there.

But the last 5% is often the hardest part. Although inspection of the waveform reveals no visible attack transients, our example, although typically dullish, somehow seems more ‘slappy’ and definitely has more crisp high frequencies. Our version sounds more tom-ish than it should.

So let’s simulate the initial slap of the conga….

  • One possibility is to use FM. I found that putting a sawtooth in Osc 1 with a frequency of 2 octaves above Osc 1 (thus, D4) gives a nice tight snap. We just want a very brief impulse at the start, so use an Aux envelope mapped to FilterFM and set all envelope stages to zero and envelope amount to max – 127. We’ll only use the Peak parameter here (over the screen right-most softknob). Just give it a small amount of peak – anywhere betewn 0 and 5 – whatever brings out the snap but is not overtly heard. We’re really only hearing the envelopes working here – but it’s precisely the effect we want. It’s sounding more like a conga now, eh?
  • Another route might be to use a similar abrupt envelope on the filter envelope (which is free because we haven’t used it up to now). However I prefer the FM route and instead apply a small amount of Filter envelope with a fairly fast decay.
  • Further, using again the same clicky envelope applied to a noise or percussion sample gives similar results but can lead to nice surprises. But I would reserve noise for other duties.
  • Try the various noise sample colours mixed at a low level (<40). This can add a natural, almost reverb-ish quality to the sound. Always worth a tweak. In this case, careful mixing helps to accentuate the snap – helped of course by the Filter and it’s envelope, which must open briefly to hear the impact.
  • It’s also good to experiment here with creating exponential (bendable) envelopes – i.e. self-modulating the Amp and Filter envelope decays (as detailed in the manual). This is the ticket for the perfect snap.
  • At this stage, will all the effort put into snap, our sound is perhaps a little too clicky – there will be artifacts from the short envelopes. Giving the Amp envelope a little attack – around 6, temporarily gets rid of the artifacts, however they can be re-introduced, but with more control, by adjusting the other envelope attacks slightly to compensate.

Referring back to our sample now, we should be even closer (or not), however we’re still missing the ‘airyness’ of the tail. It just seems brighter and more open. The solution is to modulate the Lowpass filter with another envelope…

  • Attach another Aux env to filter cutoff with a moderate amount (35) and decay (40). This will sound too strong, so turn-up the attack until the filter opens more smoothly, adding some brightness to the sound as it dies out.
  • At this stage I always close the HighPass filter a little – just enough to cut-out the lowest frequencies whilst retaining the body of the sound. It just makes everything less muddy in the end.
  • Although this sound reacts pretty well to chromatic playing – there are some nice marimba-ish sounds at the higher octaves – for a Hi and Mid tome, I would repeat the process above. Apart from the difference in pitch, filter and envelope setting will also vary. For example,  lower congas tend to have a longer Amp envelope, with hi-congas being short and ‘pop’-y. But done once, you’ll have some nice conga templates to experiment with. Layering-in different perc samples and retuning throws-up some great new percussion sounds.

Reverb definitely adds a lot to congas. Essential even.

Making a Latin feel tune on the YAMAHA MM6 synthesizer

January 21, 2013

Stumbled over this vid on Youtube. A seemingly awful bedroom demo turns into a stunning surprise. Superb playing starting at 9:30. Made my day.

Hacking the FS1r Part1 – Zeeedit Patch Editor v2

January 18, 2013

A new version of Zeeedit was released on Jan 1st 2013. PC only.

People may well quibble about the license terms (42 euro locked to one computer), however I think it is an excellent investment if you intend to get serious use from the FS1r.
Sakura is also excellent, but Zeeedit wins on presentation – everything is laid-out beautifully in comprehensive overviews. This makes the FS1r very accessible to me. YMMV.

I decided to record my largely incoherent ramblings on Zeeedit – doing so provides an overview of the FS1r architecture. This will bore the hell out of 99.99999999% of people. But I think it might be be useful to the new FS1r owner struggling in the waves. Hence, and for posterity…

No loud noises in these ones…

Tempest Recipes: Bass Drums part 2

January 18, 2013

It’s perhaps no secret, but to get the maximum power out of Tempest, layering the analogue and digital oscillators is the way to go. There will be no silly discussions re: the relative merits of analogue and digital – this time less theory and straight into the mire.

Kicks are a matter of taste and vary widely between different styles. So let’s try building a flexible template that will allow us to go from boomy headbangers to more natural sounding kicks in a few knob tweaks. This is by no means the only approach, but it is one that has brought me satisfaction.

The three components we’ll use:

  1. A sub-sine to provide the body of the kick,
  2. a kick sample to provide tonal flavour, and
  3. the analogue oscillators to provide punch and click.

OK then…

  • Starting with an initialised patch, and based on the preceding sub-bass recipe, put a 130Hz sine on Osc 4 and for a start turn it’s pitch all the way down to -24. We’ll come back here to tune our kick…
  • In Osc 3 put one of provided Kick samples. To start, try one that has some interesting harmonics (the sample called ‘Nice’ is a good one). But no doubt you will want to try them all at some point, as these provide much of the character of our kick.
  • It’s essential now to play with the relative levels of Osc 3 and Osc4 – try to get a nice balance between the two.

Now, this should already sound pretty good and thumpy, without any filter or other settings. Which is handy because we can bypass the filter for the digital Oscs, leaving it free for other tasks.

  • So yeah – but all means bypass the filter. I usually set the Pre/Post filter setting at 20/80 so that a little of the signal still goes through the filter. As usual, it’s a matter of taste and experimentation. The cool side-effect of this is that in 16 beats mode, tweaking the filter doesn’t affect our nice low-end. Opens lots of creative opportunities.
  • Now let’s look at the Amp envelope. Of course increasing the decay allows more of the sub through. But we can also apply a little ‘Peak’ to give a more upfront sound. Peak is accessed through the rightmost softknob (above the screen) when in envelope mode. Here’s where we should set our primary velocity sensitivity also – v important!
  • If the tail is going to be long it needs some animation. Therefore map LFO1 to Osc4 frequency – using a triangle wave to get a wobble going. Personally I like to keep it fast and vibrant – but it can also be tempo-synced; try 8ths or quarters to achieve rhythmic pumping effects. Let’s control it so that the LFO rate slows as the sound decays. First set LFO amount to a reasonable figure (say 60) and turn the Rate all the way to zero. Now go into ModPaths and map Amp Envelope to LFO1 Frequency. As we increase the Mod amount we can hear the effect we want (assuming we have the Amp decay set long enough. As the decay is shortened the wobble effect become less obvious but it definitely contributes to the overall character. And for the better in most cases IMO.
  • Staying on the tail, and talking of character, set LFO2 to control All Osc Frequencies and try the Sawtooth (ramp-up) wave. Turn down the rate and set a healthy amount so we can hear our work – say 80. Now slowly turn-up the rate knob. Try various rate/amount settings whilst changing the Amp decay. I find this a great way to make a kick more interesting. Even at extreme settings there are plenty of sweet-sounding variants to surprise and delight. We can even sync this pitch rise to tempo – it can sound pretty cool in a 4/4 pattern when LFO2 sync is set to quarter notes and the Amp decay kept suitably long. Switching to the Reverse Sawtooth (ramp-down) gives us an extra pitch envelope which allows us to add a degree of punch to our digital Oscs. Loads to explore in the LFO’s – you know you want to…
  • Now would be a good time to start switching the Kick sample in Osc 3 and re-tuning our Sub in Osc4. As we increase the pitch of our Sub we may also need to adjust LFO1 and it’s control via the Amp envelope.

Ok, moving on to the Analogue oscillators. I’m tending to use these to create the attack and much of the punch. The general principle is to apply several pretty extreme pitch envelopes to Osc frequency. Resulting artefacts – clicks and squeaks – can be hidden behind the sounds of the digital Oscs and controlled to good effect with the filter.

  • I always start with Osc 2 with Mix at 0/100. This allows me flexibility to use Filter FM later if I wish (because, as we know, Osc1 is the FM modulator). TBH I haven’t found the Tempest FM very useful for kick-drums (yet) – it seems to impart a hollowing effect, but it’s always nice to have the options.
  • However, because we’ve bypassed the filter for the digital oscillators we can, if we wish, use the classic filter kick effect to supplement the samples in Osc 3 and 4. No analogue oscs needed. Therefore, as we have discussed in part 1, use the 4-pole filter, high resonance, low cutoff and use the Filter envelope to simulate the pitch-dropped sine. Lots of variety here. Always a viable option for punchy/squeaky kicks.

For this template I will continue to use Osc2, so open the filter and close the resonance.

  • Starting with a triangle, key follow off and wave reset on. Set the frequency at c3. If you’ve done the LFO reverse sawtooth to pitch mapping, you should already hear it’s effect on Osc 2. But it’s a bit weedy. Enter the pitch envelope. Set it to control Osc 2 frequency only and give it a healthy dose – say a decay of 30 and amount of 127. Yes, pretty extreme and you will hear the familiar squeak if you open the filter (but turn down the resonance first!).
  • But I’m not stopping there. I also use Aux env 1 to control Osc 2 frequency, again with extreme settings; short decay (20) and full amount (127) for now (but play with this setting). A little trick from the DSI Tempest forums – the envelopes can be delayed – in the aux env1 screen press the right arrow twice and set the delay to 3. This will cause a slight doubling along with a click. This one is a matter of taste but very worthy of exploration (not only for kick drums – it’s also perfect for claps and snares where multiple amp envelopes, slightly delayed, provide a convincing ‘crack’ effect).
  • As this will be all very squeaky, it’s time to close the Low Pass filter – just enough to lose the squeak yet retain a little body of Osc2. Now but using the Filter envelope we can control precisely how much of the squeak and click poke through with a decay of 20 and amount of 127 we are in pretty punchy territory.
  • Whilst the Low Pass filter settings are critical to getting the right ‘thunk’ and solidity, it is the High-Pass filter that holds most surprises. Just start turning it up. Of course this is filtering only Osc2, but it gives more control over the attack and provides definition and clarity . With reasonable HP filter settings and shorter Amp decay it’s possible to achieve quite natural sounding kicks – however this is also dependent on the sample used in Osc3. A little compression and Bob’s yer uncle.
  • Additionally, using the high-pass filter I find makes it safer to use high levels of Amp feedback. This can add some extreme clickiness or ‘knock’ for the hardest of hard kicks. But be very careful here because high Amp feedback + open filter = ouch for you and your equipment. However, judicious balancing of HP filter and Amp feedback alone provides huge variations. This on top of switching the sample in Osc3 and retuning the sub = who says that Tempest has no punch?
  • Mapping the sliders to Amp envelope decay, pitch envelopes and the filter gives plenty of sequencing fodder.

OK, enough babbling for now. In Bass drums part 3 we’ll finally make that surdo and try a timpani.

As always, I’m happy to accept corrections, suggestions and reasonable critique.

Tempest Recipes: Sub-bass

January 16, 2013

Analogue purists avert your eyes now. It’s time to look at the digital oscillators.

Logic dictates that having 2 digital-sample oscillators provides us with a massive additional palette of sounds. The on-board samples are pretty good, although they are short. To my ears many of the samples sound highly saturated, evident in a noticeable buzzing. Are these the boosted harmonics? Nobody is telling…

Consider a sine wave. A perfect sine wave contains only one harmonic – the fundamental frequency. Apart from self-resonating filters, analogue sines are not easy to achieve and only a few synthesizers have the option – even then these are not perfect sines. Given the choice, I prefer the perfect sine sample.

Today we will use the 130.81Hz sine sample to make a highly usable sub-bass patch:

  • Start with a initialized patch and hunt down this sample to put in Osc 3. Turn it’s pitch down to -24.
  • Use ADSR envelopes and set the Amp with an attack and release both at 40, full sustain. The idea is to get just the sub-tone on key-down without any envelope clicks. On key-up the sound should stop fairly abruptly. Set Amp envelope amount to a generous level (64 or so) and turn-down the velocity sensitivity to around 32.
  • Leave the Filter wide open with zero resonance. Since sines have no additional harmonics, there is nothing to filter.

This should already be a familiar sound – more ‘felt’ than heard. Alone it sounds unspectacular, but it shines when layered under a kick drum or dropped-in at key moments of your beat. It’s the ticket for copious low-end. Moving-on…

  • I like to give a tiny amount of pitch envelope – barely noticeable – to give the attack more interest. Because our amp-attack is set at 40, we need to give our pitch envelope a similar slope, however there are lots of interesting variations to be had with the pitch envelope. For this patch I’ll leave it at Attack of 26, decay 60 and amount 10. These settings are best set while a beat is playing so that the envelopes can follow the groove.
  • If you are finding it still a little plain, we can add harmonics with the Feedback control. But again, use the ‘fixed level’ option on pads to prevent unwanted surprises. Another way to add harmonics would be to use FM, that is using Osc1 with a low frequency at Osc mix 0/100).

Of course, playing this chromatically = deep subby basslines.

Tempest Recipes: Donk Bass

January 15, 2013

That familiar hollow ‘thwank’, mainstay of a gazillion garage records. Nevertheless a great foundation for our own, less cheesy variants.

  • Start with a square wave on Osc2 and set Osc mix to 0/100 so we only hear Osc2.
  • Use a 12dB filter with cutoff at 40 and a modest amount of resonance to start – say 30 also. Set filter keytracking to 15 or thereabouts. (To access this parameter, on the filter screen press the right arrow. The parameter is called LP KEY>FREQ).
  • Now use the Filter envelope to get our ‘twang’. Perhaps a decay of 60 and amount of 20-30. A pinch of velocity control – but not too much as we want to keep the filter fairly subdued. Bend it if you wish.
  • To give more volume, change the amp envelope amount to 32 and reduce it’s velocity sensitivity to 64 also (in general a nice compromise, I find).
  • You could also try adding a little pitch envelope – but short and barely noticeably to give the attack more interest.

Now we’ll apply some FM. Fellow fans of FM synthesis will know that the most pleasing sounds pop out when the frequency of the modulator(s) is at integer ratios of the carrier’s frequency. As we detune the frequency of the modulators we hear first a vibrato effect on the carrier. As we detune further we are led into to the familiar clangorous tones that only FM can do. Well, the same principle applies on the Tempest, although less dramtically. Nevertheless useful to know.

Even if you don’t understand FM, you can easily hear this difference. Osc1 is our modulator (which we don’t hear) and Osc2 (or more correctly, the filter input) is our carrier – what we hear. So…

  • ..put another square wave in Osc1 and set it’s pitch to one octave above Osc2 (C5 if you left Osc 2 at at default). Now turn-up the Filter FM (Audio mod) about half way. The sound should become perceptibly more hollow. Play with the filter and it’s envelope until you get the sound you want – in my case a bouncy bass where the harsher frequencies are still filtered out.

Now if you change the frequency of OSC1, one semitone at a time, you will notice the tone becoming less ‘pleasing’ and more metallic at certain ratios, but seems to ‘fit’ at others. Lots of scope for experimentation here. In particular where controlling the pitch and volume of Osc1 with envelopes should open the door to plucks and various weirdness. Next time….

For now, back to our bass. We could apply a little feedback to beef-up the sound. As you have probably already discovered yourself, velocity-sensitive sounds with feedback can give some loud and potentially damaging surprises if a pad is hit too hard. So for setting Amp feedback I first switch-on ‘Fixed’ level’ for the pad. In this way I know I am hearing the maximum feedback level at all times and thus it can be set more precisely. Usually just a small amount is sufficient.

Tempest Recipes: Apito – The Samba whistle

January 14, 2013

So it’s been a while – life and all that – but I’ve somehow found time to rekindle my love for the Tempest. Let’s get back to the business of making sounds on this thing.

To start, a nice ‘n’ easy analogue take on the apito – the brazilian samba whistle – otherwise used world-over by your friendly local match official.

  • Start with 2 Triangles – around F6 and F#6
  • Apply extreme detuning to Osc 2 (fine +/-40)
  • For the Amp envelope, use ADSR with a decent amount of sustain and shorten the default release time to around 30.

Sounds vaguely familiar, but needs some movement…

  • Arm LFO1 with the random waveshape map it to Osc1 frequency – a high rate 126 but only a small amount 5.
  • Map LFO 2 (square) to Osc 2 frequency and give it some welly with a rate of 120, Amount 83. This mimics the little ball inside the whistle.
  • Try both filter slopes with lots of Filter FM and a slight envelope to emphasise the attack. Also, use the high-pass filter with a setting of about 50.

As always, not set in stone – play around with it. You can spice it up, perhaps by adding a little pitch envelope or noise to model referee spit. 😛

Plenty of bonus sounds open-up when played chromatically, especially at low and high octaves where Tempest’s analogue character really shines through.

Try it through a nice delay. Mmmmm.

Honey Claws – Digital Animal

December 21, 2012

I really like these guys – first heard them on the Breaking Bad soundtrack – listen to more..

Miles Davis – Grammy’s 1982

November 17, 2012

great how he fucks with the audience!

Build a Clavia Nord Lead with Reaktor4

April 11, 2012

I’ve had Reaktor5 for a while, having snagged it in a promotion, in the hope that one day I might spend time to understand it and build my own instruments. I printed the manual for reading during trips and made some modest but slow headway in this manner.

There are no really good introductory tutorials for building your own instruments and FX in Reaktor. I’ve looked – they are all too shallow for my taste. I wanted a step-by-step guide to building a synth using different methods. Well, I’ve found one, and it’s much better than I expected:

Build a Clavia Nord Lead with Reaktor 4 (pdf) 

Yeah, so Reaktor4 it says, but it’s all valid and the perfect gateway for someone with a little synth knowledge to get their hands dirty with something useful. Really excellent.

The ensemble can also be downloaded for dissection: http://www.audionetwork.be/


April 3, 2012

This can of Kontakt60 has just saved me a lot of bother, and probably money too. I couldn’t find the much-heralded Caig Deoxit, but I was willing to give this austere-looking German version a go.

A tiny amount has solved my encoder issues with the Blofeld, fixed my jumpy dial on the XL-7, and rejuvenated the rotaries on an old Zoom guitar pedal. Everything behaves as new. In the Blofeld’s case it’s never been better. Magic stuff!

Tempest Recipes: Tom-Toms

April 2, 2012

Many varieties and sizes of tom-tom, but for our purposes they can be considered as basically snares without the snare. Electronic toms rarely sound close to the real thing, their whackyness often a signature. The function is what’s most important:

Tom-Toms are tonal instruments – that is, if they are pitched correctly relative to each other, they can play a tune. If they are tuned to the key of the track, you can play key chords with the Toms, which tends to provide a strong harmonic reinforcement. This is a phenomenon you need to hear yourself, but the recipe below should get you going.

Read the rest of this entry »

The OdoSynths Archive

April 1, 2012

If you’ve never heard of OdoSynths (where have you beeen?) then run straight away to The OdoSynths Archive and download these amazing VSTs for free.

This collection was lost and scattered after Odo stopped development in 2009. Since then there have been several attempts to locate many of them.

Then, just last week, Odo showed-up on KVR after all that time. I had to pounce on the chance, and ask him to resurrect his instruments. Unfortunately, he no longer had copies. So the call went out….

With help from KVR members (special props to Don and Spacedad), and of course with the kind permission of Odo himself, I’ve collected them into an archive that I hope will preserve them in pertpetuum, for the enjoyment of musicians and sonic explorers of the present and  the future.

FM synthesis nuts will find paradise with Six, DoubleSix, Purple, and Yellow – each fantastic and unique. There are also several drum machines – including sampler/synth hybrids, several excellent TB3030 clones, and a selection of the best SID emulations around.

Topped-off with beautiful GUI’s , this is a true treasure-trove for any synthesist. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Welcome back Odo!