Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.

Tags: Popular Electronics

September 12, 2016

Sound Experiments 001 - DIY Noise Box...

by Chris Randall

Just a fun little Saturday afternoon project. My only comment not covered in the video is that, like all piezo-based projects, you need an amplifier of some sort to bring it up to modular levels. I use a Circuit Abbey Axis module, but any preamp will do. The Music Thing Mikrophonie is probably the best tool for this job, and handy to have in any case.

August 21, 2016

Tech Time No. 007: Voltage-Controlled Cassette Deck...

by Chris Randall

Like the subject line says... I was curious as to how the Onde Magnétique OM-1 worked. Originally, I thought that these super cheap little decks might be powered directly from the sequencer. I went out and hit a few thrift stores and bought several and gave that a try, with success rates that varied between "not at all" and "fuckin' nope." (I believe I briefly referenced this failure in one of the other Tech Time videos.) So I just set that aside with a shrug and moved on to other things.

However, last night I was looking at the OM-1 video again, and I was like "oh. Duh. He's just throwing 0-5V at the speed pot." So I busted out the video camera and soldered a jack right to the pot, and sure as shit, works like a charm, as the video above shows.

Something I didn't mention in the video: this isn't 1V/Oct. It's more like 5V/Oct. Sequencer 1 actually shows the voltage value you're shitting out the CV outputs in linear mode, so I was able to just put a tuner on the ass end, and scroll the voltage values until it was tuned to 12TET. I got 14 semitones total out of it, which is plenty for demonstration purposes. But if you're going to attempt this, you'll need a sequencer that can output linear values in addition to 1V/Oct. Sequencer 1 is, of course, perfect for this sort of foolishness. I'm sure there are others that will work fine, but I don't feel like talking about them.

When it comes to the cassette itself, take the lowest note you want to play, and record a note a semitone below that (so you have some wiggle room) on your cassette, and you'll end up with a full octave above that note.

You can clearly hear the portamento in the note programming later in the video. This is a result of the time it takes the motor to move to the new speed. This is an electromechanical process, so it's not instantaneous. Something with inertia needs to be accelerated or decelerated, and this takes time. Hence, fixed portamento.

April 5, 2016

Berlin Debrief...

by Chris Randall


Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few whiles, you are perfectly aware of last week's Superbooth 16 in Berlin. Schneidersburo is one of the largest Eurorack retailers (and via their Alex4 subsidiary, the European distributor for almost all North American Euro manufacturers), and every year they've had an Analogue Superbooth at MusikMesse in Frankfurt.

The MusikMesse has, in the last few years, become a hostile environment for boutique manufacturers, and Schneidersburo/Alex4 decided, to their credit, to make their Analogue Superbooth a stand-alone event, and put it in Berlin (where it's cool) instead of Frankfurt (where it's basically Dallas Plus Schnitzel). We'd been dreading the inevitable trip to Messe, so when Schneider's announced this event, we immediately jumped on board, as did virtually everyone else. All the larger North American Euro manufacturers were in attendance, with one notable exception. Essentially all of the European manufacturers were there, as well as many other companies that ran the gamut from one-dude-in-a-basement-with-an-invention on up to U-He, Ableton, Native Instruments, Roland, Korg, Yamaha, and Moog, along with several pro-audio companies.

It was, basically, all the cool shit in the music tech business under one roof.


The venue was the splendid former state radio building of the GDR, and while it was a bit run down, having sat idle for some decades now, the Schneiders folks did an amazing job cleaning it up and running the event. I'll admit that the potential for a clusterfuck of massive proportions was a distinct possibility, given the location of the venue (on the corner of the Ass End Of Nowhere and Bumblefuck) and the high cost of attendance. I am personally of the mind that these sorts of events should be free to the attendees, and I give any event that has even a moderate fee the side-eye, but in this case, the stars aligned and all went perfectly.

Schneiders organized it so the first half of the (very long) days were for trade only and the second half were for the public. Since we don't actually have a whole lot of trade to do, being distributed exclusively by Alex4, the first parts of the days were spent hanging with old friends and meeting new ones, seeing the new stuff everyone's working on, and talking about the industry. The public half of the days was outstanding; the people that attended were the best informed I've personally come across at one of these events. I didn't talk to a single "so... what does this... do... exactly?" n00B. (I despise those conversations, as I've worked in this business so long I just assume everyone I talk to has the same knowledge base I do, and when I find myself explaining how an oscillator works, my eyes glaze over immediately.)

All in all, this was the single best event of this sort that I've ever attended. We've been discussing not doing the major trade shows any more (NAMM in particular) because the signal-to-noise ratio is so bad that there's no noticeable return on our investment. This, however, was money and time well spent, and we very much look forward to next year.

Adam was unable to attend, as he had a vacation in Japan planned for the same time period, and due to personal reasons was unable to change the dates. So I took Jeremy Highhouse to work our booth for the public parts. I've been to Frankfurt many times, and spent a couple months in Hamburg and Cologne, but I've never visited Berlin. I only had about a day and a half to explore, but what an outstanding city! I loved every minute I was there, except for the first day. (And this is my fault, not Berlin's. Like some sort of diptard, I left my one and only coat in Phoenix, and arrived to a very cold and wet Berlin at 7AM, unable to get in my rented flat until 3PM, after 21 hours of travel. That was... amusing.)

It was great to see people in real life that I've known for years online and talk to daily, and to make a whole mess of new friends. Well worth the trouble of getting there. Special shout out to the Koma Elektronik boys, who are, quite frankly, the coolest people I've ever met.

May 4, 2015


by Chris Randall

For reasons passing understanding, I've decided I'm going to do my next release 100% Euro. So in my munificent free time the last couple weeks, I've been trying out different workflows to make that experience relatively painless, and by that, I mean that I'm looking in to ways that the context doesn't get in my way. My normal course of action would be to do everything in individual passes, and edit/mix/arrange in the DAW, with additional production being done digitally.

For this release, I'm hoping to avoid that and do entire songs in one pass. So I went through the trouble of assembling a Eurorack instrument-unto-itself; I'm still fooling a bit with the exact layout, but I pretty much have it down right now to something I can make complete tracks with. It's a 12U Monorocket case with a pair of Sequencer 1s and an obvious collection of modules. Taken as a single collective instrument, it needs to be learned and mastered. Which is what I'm doing right now.

The video above shows where I am in the process. This is by no means a musical statement, but rather just a recording of me exploring some different methodologies for performing with this thing, and learning what it is capable of. You'll note the thing I'm fiddling with off to the side, which is a Boss RRV-10 that I circuit-bent some years ago. It has made appearances in many of my videos, but it never occurred to me to "play" it in real time. So I'm experimenting with that here. The monome is hooked up to the Earthsea module, and I'm just using it to play the little melody that is running in to the RRV-10.

So, it's coming along. I think I'm getting close to being ready to patch some music in to life. I will be recording these tracks "stemmed" (in a manner of speaking) direct to 8-track tape, where they'll be mixed to my MTR-11 1/4" deck. I will _try_ to make a video of each performance, but I'm not making any promises there. Stopping a good creative flow to set up the camera, and deal with all that nonsense, is kind of a drag.

For an earlier snapshot of the current journey, you can have a listen to this (no video, sorry.) Unlike the above song, I made this before I made the decision to not multi-take things, so it is actually 4 passes, rather than one.

April 2, 2015

A Little Context...

by Chris Randall

As you've no doubt seen if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook or down the street in real life or whatever, we've been busy shipping our new module, Odio, which is a little 2-in, 2-out audio interface for using iOS devices in your Eurorack kit. Entirely coincidental to this, but alarmingly convenient, Chris Carlson finally updated his excellent Borderlands granular synth for iPad to v2.0.

Never was a match more made in Heaven than Odio and Borderlands, as Marcus Fischer's post yesterday on his excellent Dust Breeding blog proved. I thought a little video demo of using Borderlands with Odio might be appropo, so after my shipping chores were done for the day, I busted the above out.

In the video, the analog synth melody is coming from my full boat of WMD/SSF modules I just got this week, the hi-hat is coming from our Mad Hatter module, and the speech synthesis is courtesy of a prototype module I'm currently researching that runs a full emulation of the TI speech synthesis chip. (In other words, those aren't samples, at least in the traditional sense of the word.) The whole mess is sequenced via Sequencer 1.

You can hear in the beginning that the synth line is passing through the iPad via the AudioBus app. After a moment, I instance Borderlands. Since Borderlands is a synth, and not a real-time effect, the audio is interrupted. I then flip to the Borderlands instance, and record a couple measures of the synth line.

After fooling with that for a bit, I then move the speech synthesizer's output from the mixer to Odio, and record a bit of it, while I'm twiddling knobs on the prototype. What happens after that should be pretty self-evident from watching the video.

Anyhow, I think the video shows how powerful the Odio/Borderlands combination is. If you'd like to see videos of other iPad-based software in use, let me know your specific requests.

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