Thursday, June 4, 2015

Studio Session "Death of Conversation"

I made the video clip of me recording a part to the title track of my new album, "Death of Conversation"

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Theremin AND Musical Saw?.... am I dreaming?

So my friend Jacob sent me this link and I loved it so much that I HAD to repost it. This is so beautiful and awesome!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jupiter-8 DCB

I have been asked to give more details about the DCB connector in my Jupiter-8, which was written about in my last post here:

The above photo shows the typical style of DCB connectors that are found on the Roland Juno-60, later versions of the Roland Jupiter-8, the MSQ-700, OP-8, MD-8, etc, etc.  The photo below shows that style of DCB that my version of the Jupiter-8 has.

I cannot find my notes on the pinout for this homemade cable, as it has been more than 17 years and 3 moves (one across the country) since I made it.  The following link, however, shows the pinout for both versions of the cable. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Roland MSQ-700 Sequencer

This is partly a reply to Walter Ego's comment in my post MC-202, Master Clock, Electronic Music Studio Wiring Diagram, but also just my opinion on the MSQ-700.
The MSQ-700 was an early sequencer made by Roland, which was primarily designed as a MIDI sequencer, but it also has DCB (which was a pre-MIDI implementation that the JUNO-6, JUNO-60, and JUPITER-8 have... I don't believe that there are other synthesizers that used this format).  The only problem with this (and it justifies the need for 2 of them) is that there is a switch to make them EITHER MIDI or DCB, but not both at the same time.
The MSQ-700 also offers DIN Sync IN and OUT!  This means that you can easily daisy chain as many of these together and they will all stay in perfect sync and start at the same time, etc.  I use 2 of these in my studio and have a 3rd non-working one for parts if either of these break on me.  One of these is always in DCB mode, usually connected to the Jupiter-8, but sometimes connected to the Juno-60.  The other one is always in MIDI mode, but these days, I usually don't do a lot of MIDI sequencing.

The actual sequencer in the MSQ is good, but leaves a lot to be desired.  First off, only 8 patterns can be stored in the internal memory.  This is fairly limited if you want to store many different patterns in it.  It is not so bad if you just use it to make small, repetitive patterns or sets of patterns on the fly.  In both of my units, the internal battery is dead or removed so that it does not retain memory if you turn off the power.  I am fine with this because I use new patterns every time I use it anyway.
There is a song or chain mode where you can add any of the patterns together in any order, which is nice.  For instance, if you want it to play pattern 1 five times, then pattern 6 twice, then repeat this - it is very easily done.  There is also a "multi-track" function that allows you to play any of the patterns at the same time.  These can then be joined/merged into a single pattern.  It makes a lot of sense to me, coming from the world of 8-track reel to reel recording.  When I used tape machines, you had to choose what to record in what order, then you could mix and merge tracks to dump them to a single or stereo pair of tracks.  This, of course, takes away any editing capability of the single tracks once they are merged so you have to be sure that it is exactly what you want before the merge.
One thing that I really love about this sequencer is that you aren't confined to typical measures of 4/4 or 3/4 tempos.  Much like other Roland sequencers (TB-303, SH-101, CSQ-600, etc, etc), you can make the pattern as long as you want, say 7 quarter notes for instance, and it will repeat those in perfect time when synched to another source.  This is great for strange syncopation - having one pattern recorded where it repeats every 9 steps and another where it repeats every 10.  It gives some great movement to otherwise really repetitive, stagnant patterns.
Though I own 3 (including the broken one), I never had them all working at once.  I actually bought the 3rd one when one of mine bit the dust and went haywire.  This was mostly due to having the internal battery die and leak over the circuit board.  I have since cleaned it up and use it for parts.  I like having at least 2 working ones so I can sequence MIDI and DCB at the same time if I need to. 
One last note about the MIDI/DCB thing.  There are actually 3 different versions of the DCB cable.  Two of these have the typical DCB connector on both ends where the difference is one cable is bidirectional and the other only works in one direction.  The one direction cable was really used to connect two Juno-60's together, where one would play its own sound and the other would play both sounds. If you use the single directional cable with the MSQ sequencer, you have to reverse it when you load in sequences via the keyboard, then reverse it again when you play it back.  Another way around this is to use a MIDI controller, enter the notes in MIDI mode, switch it to DCB, and play the sequence back on the DCB device.  Robert Gutschow (other member of Pivot Clowj and House of Wires) is also a fan of the MSQ-700 and also has 2 or 3 of them, but has my old single directional cable.
The other type of cable was only used with early versions of the Jupiter-8 which has the connector on one end and a 0.100"-on-center pin receptacle on the other end.  For years, I didn't think that my Jupiter-8 had DCB and believed it to be an early version before they added DCB.  Then one day, I was at John St James' studio and he had his Jupiter-8 connected to a MIDI to DCB device.  I noticed that his cable was going into the Jupiter-8 without a DCB connector on the back, but through a small opening toward the bottom of the JP-8.  I went home and noticed that mine also had that opening and connector on it.  I went back to John's studio and used a multimeter to figure out the pin connections, made my own cable, and have been sequencing the JP-8 ever since. 

Friday, March 20, 2015


I rarely have sold anything.  Most of what I have, I have accumulated over a period of 28 years or so.  Most of what I have sold has been redundant.  Where there was a time that I could use 2 Juno-60's DCB'd together, multitracking and sequencing made a second Juno redundant and it was sold to a friend.
I also like to have everything set up so that I can just turn it on and play it.  If it is in "storage" or in the corner collecting dust, I question why I should have that piece of gear in the first place.  Although the studio is a collection, I don't consider myself a "collector", but rather a musician that likes to have options open.  Gear is always placed in a position where it is ergonomically useful.  Sequencers are placed next to the pieces of gear that they will be most likely used with.   To me, this is a very important detail in studio organization.

MC-202, Master Clock, Electronic Music Studio Wiring Diagram

Even though I tell people that I have been using the Roland MC-202 as my master clock in my studio for the last 20 years, it somehow does not sink in.  Many friends - who even know some of my methods - are surprised when I press 'play' on the MC-202 and everything starts up or when I turn the tempo knob on the MC-202 and everything follows suit.  I have even heard seasoned veterans ask "what just happened?"

Let me be clear about something though - the studio has grown up around this clock idea and it started only with a few pieces of gear, connected in a similar fashion.  As the studio grew, in came the need for DIN multiples and additional sequencers for various devices. 

Well... here is a wiring diagram of the synchronization between devices in the studio. 

For more information on synchronization techniques, see my other posts on FSK or DIN sync.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Acoustic Resonant Cavities for Electronic Musical Instruments

If you don't plug in your electric guitar and play a chord, does it sound like an acoustic guitar?  Of course not.  Why does a plucked guitar sound different than a plucked violin of the same pitch?  Why does an upright piano sound different than a grand piano?  In the world of acoustics, we often talk about the physical model of an instrument, or the things that make up an acoustic instrument (size, shape, materials, etc.).  In the electronic world, there are many digital physical modeling synthesizers, where the mode of vibration, materials, shape, size, etc, can be programmed to approximate an acoustic instrument.  That is not what the discussion here is about.  Rather, I will talk about my experiments in the study of acoustic resonant chambers, or cavities, on electronic or recorded sound.

Usually, in electronic music, this task is achieved by filtering and effects.  Here, though, I am going to write about actual, physical, real acoustic bodies and objects to run the sound through.

One of the main challenges to this approach is the transducer.  A transducer is the device that changes the one form of energy into another form of energy - in this case, electronic into acoustic energy.  A speaker or microphone can be considered a transducer, as well as record needles, guitar pickups, piezo elements, etc., etc.

The transfer of energy seen through a resonant cavity can be as simple as a speaker resting on a wooden box, facing toward it, with a microphone placed inside.  Likewise, it is a common studio practice to send a signal into an ampliflier and then mic it back into the system - this is called reamping and when using this technique, the room size and microphone placement have just as much influence on the tone as the type of mic and amp used.
Although I use the above techniques from time to time, I mostly make use of a talk box when I run sound into chambers and other spaces, then use various microphones to change the sound back into electronic form.  A talk box is something that is used traditionally by guitarists and inserted into the side of their mouth to make their guitar "talk" - using their vocal tract as an acoustic cavity to shape the sound.
Recently, I have been building various small resonance chambers and cavities for this purpose. 
Here are some photos of some cavities that I made out of my mouth using dental alginate and a 2 part silicone rubber.  They are very strong and flexible - one being an "ah" shape and the other being an "eee".
I suppose that I could just use my mouth for this purpose, but holding it in a repeatable shape for the duration of a song can be difficult.  This way, I can also stretch and bend these molds in ways that would be impossible to do with my own mouth.
Another cavity that I have been using is a simple collapsible chamber that I made with a discarded CDr case, pictured on the right.  I used a silicone rubber margin to make it air tight, but it is still able to move back and forth, changing the dimensions of the cavity.  This sounds like a flanging effect, but smoother, deeper, and more natural, if that makes sense.  I don't have any automation to move it back and forth so it is not really like a flanging sweeping effect - it is more like a fixed flanger that is tunable.  This sounds amazing on white noise. 

So why all the bother?  One thing that I love about actual acoustic instruments is how certain ranges of the instrument change drastically in the tone.  In some cases, such as an oboe or clarinet, the change can be note specific - in other cases, such as a guitar, the change can be due to the area that is plucked or strummed, which string or strings you play, etc.  Using these types of chambers on electronic instruments brings them closer (and sometimes convincingly close) to a natural sounding instrument.  In many ways, I view it as the sonic missing link between the world of electronic and acoustic instruments.
Other things that I have tried have a lot to do with sympathetic vibrations, which will have to be a topic for a future post.