Saturday, 29 December 2012

Replacing ReBirth - 3OH3

I love Propellerhead software, you may have noticed. I've been using Reason since version 2.5, along with ReBirth RB-338. One of the biggest disappointments is that ReBirth was never properly updated to work with x64 Windows systems and Intel macs. I did find a workaround for Windows 7, but I use a Mac now, and PPC support was dropped with Lion.

So, this is where my combinator comes in. Contained in the orange box is one single Thor synth, but with a bit of creative mapping in the Combinator I've built something that gives you easy access to all the controls you will need to get filthy, squelchy 303 sounds without having to dive too deep into Thor.


I've set Thor up so that the filter uses an 18 dB/Oct slope (like the one in the 303), and the shaper provides the distortion. Thor's sequencer can be accessed by clicking "show devices" and you can use it to program patterns.

Glide is taken care of too; Using a standard sequencer all you need to do is start the next note event before the previous one finishes, or if you're using Thor's sequencer just extend the gate length.

Download it here
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Saturday, 22 December 2012

Dealing with a Stop and Search

First of all, this post has nothing to do with my usual subject matter. If you're here for musical goodness and geekery then I'm sorry, but this is something I feel I must say.

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/arimoore/
Earlier this week while walking to University I was stopped by two policemen on the street. They asked me to step to the side of the pavement, told me to empty my pockets and hand over my rucksack. One of them patted me down while the other searched through my bag, and then the contents of my pockets. I asked what I had done wrong, but neither of them gave any reason, but I was warned that if I didn't cooperate with them I would be arrested and taken down to the station.

I was given back the contents of my pockets, minus a packet of unopened cigarettes. I was told that I wouldn't be getting them back because "they may contain drugs". I was also warned upon taking my mobile phone out that if I took any pictures or video of them they'd arrest me for non-compliance. I was given no paperwork, but they took my details in case they needed to get in touch with me regarding the search.

The whole ordeal left me feeling very shaken up, and felt both upset and humiliated that I was singled out on the street, searched in public view and made to feel like a criminal.

I have since found out that what they did was not only against police protocol, but also illegal. Officers are required to do the following in the event of a stop and search:
  • Provide their name and the station they work at
  • Tell you why you were stopped and under which law
  • Inform you of what they are looking for before they search you
They must write down your details, but you are not obligated to give your name or address unless you are being arrested or are being reported for an offence. They must also provide you with a copy of the form they fill out, which must include in addition to the above the names and numbers of the officers. If they do not provide you with this information then they are breaking the law.

I was unable to write down the numbers of the officers at the time. I'll be honest, I was so shaken up it didn't occur to me. The optimist in me hopes that this is not a common occurrence, and that most members of the police force do stick to the law. However, if anyone reading this finds themselves in a similar situation I hope that this is some help to you.

Have a wonderful primary gifting season, and keep making music.
Matt
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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Adventures in Boot Camp

Over the last few days I've been giving my mac a bit of an overhaul. I decided not to wipe and start over, because firstly a lot of my software discs are at my house in Durham, and secondly because I just don't have that kind of downtime to play with. I did all the basic stuff, like cleaning up my library, deleting irrelevant preference files, repairing disk permissions etc, but the biggest boost involved installing a faster hard drive.

I looked at SSDs, but with the capacities of the drives in my price range being absolutely tiny I opted for a HDD/SSD hybrid, a 750GB Seagate Momentus XT (£89.70 from scan.co.uk). Writing this from the other side of a pretty simple imaging and restoration process, I can safely say that this drive is FAST. My Mac boots up in 15 seconds (from the bong to being able to open a program), and my audio sessions load their sample banks much quicker. In fact, every aspect of restoring my Mac to a bootable state worked absolutely flawlessly.

Except for all of the software from one company...

Microsoft Office decided to deactivate itself right in the middle of assignment season, so all of the Word documents I needed to edit were locked shut. To make matters worse, my installation disc along with the product key are back at my other house. The biggest offender though was my Boot Camp partition. To be fair to my Microsoft, this is an issue with the Mac not being able to boot from MBR drives without modifying the EFI, but it was still a pain in the backside. I decided that the easiest solution would be to reinstall Windows on a new partition and copy over the files I needed from the old drive (which curretly sits in a cheap USB enclosure).

Boot Camp is a bit of a mixed blessing, because by default it takes over as the main boot partition, so you have to change that in the System Preferences, or the Boot Camp Utility in Windows unless you want to boot into it every time. The other nightmare is going back to using the Ctrl key as the default modifier key. All of the shortcuts that I take for granted on the Mac have to be temporarily forgotten and replaced by the Windows ones. Simple things like copying and pasting end up causing endless frustration. The fact that Windows also defaults to the wrong keyboard map is also a bit of a pain, but switching to English (Apple International) - or some variation of those words will rectify that problem.

Windows also has a tendency to make my Mac run very hot - about 60 degrees C when idle. I don't know why this is, considering there's nothing registering in the task manager, but something is clearly going on in there because my battery only lasts about 90 minutes when using Windows, compared to about 4 and a half hours in OSX.

In a perfect world I would never need Windows, but let's face facts, it's the world's most popular OS. I don't mind it really; things are a lot better than they used to be in terms of stability. I'm not quite ready to make the jump to Windows 8 though, I might give that one a miss...
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Sunday, 9 December 2012

More Live Looping - "Feel Good Inc" cover by Josie Charlwood

I love it when I find something like this on the net. This is a smashing rendition of "Feel Good Inc" by Gorillaz, performed by the very talented Josie Charlwood.

Not only has she produced a great performance, she's also made a video explaining her setup, including what instruments and equipment she used and how it was all wired up.




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Thursday, 22 November 2012

ARP Odyssey Synth Jam - Spiral Sequence

Swiss synth Guru Bruno Ender Lee plays an original piece on his magnificent ARP Odyssey Mk III



Recorded on four stereo tracks with nothing more than a bit of stereo delay, this is a perfect example of how to get the most out of a single piece of gear. I've always loved the Odyssey (a favourite of John Fox and Billy Currie of Ultravox) and this shows off the capability of this little beast very well.

Check out his YouTube Channel for even more original synth pieces. His collection of analogue gear is bound to get you salivating!
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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Launchpad Sequencer - Step Indicators

Just a quick update on the progress of the sequencer I'm building in Max for my final year project. I wanted the Automap lights along the top of the Launchpad to show which step was currently playing, so I used the counter object in Max to trigger a chain of objects that turn each light on and off in sequence.

Here is an overview of the patch itself:


Download the patch here.

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Sunday, 4 November 2012

Free Juno-style Chorus Plugin from TAL

If you are looking for instant lushness for your synth parts then look no further. Togu Audio Line have just released a standalone emulation of the Chorus module from their stunning U-NO-LX synth - a near perfect emulation of the Roland Juno 6.

Chorus-LX adds that beautifully rich Juno sound to anything you like. I've been using it to beef up the sound of The Waldorf Edition today and the results are stunning.

Just like on the Juno 6 and 60 (although strangely not the 106) you can enable each chorus individually or both together. The dry/wet control is a nice touch that wasn't part of the original, and it makes the plugin that little bit more versatile. This is one of the best chorus plugins I have ever used, because it's so simple that you can get a great sound out of it every time.



It is available to download as a Windows and Mac VST as well as an Audio Unit, in 32 and 64 bit flavours.

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Friday, 26 October 2012

Now THAT is how to loop live

Trawling through YouTube earlier on I found this; one of the best live looping videos I've ever seen. I want as many people as possible to see this, this guy has serious talent. I love the choice of song too, nice to see a classic getting this kind of treatment - especially with results this good. I'm sure Peter Gabriel would be proud.



Keyboard geeks will notice that he's playing a Wurlitzer electric piano along with the legendary Roland  JX-8000. Another great feature of the video is that he uses the annotations to describe the looping process, as well as other features of the performance.

Anyway, Enjoy!
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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Developing a Step Sequencer using Max - Introduction

My big project this year for university is to build a step sequencer using Max. I'll be using a Novation Launchpad as an external controller, and hopefully by the end of this I'll have built something pretty versatile that I can offer up on here to try out.

I found a great starting point on YouTube thanks to dude837. His Max videos are absolutely great, so I encourage you to check them out. His step sequencer project provides a brilliant starting point for me.


My initial focus is getting the launchpad to set cells in the matrixctrl object, so I've downloaded a copy of the Launchpad Programmer's Reference, which is available from the Novation Website. It gives a detailed explanation of the MIDI implementation of the Launchpad, and how you can take advantages of the various functions of the device.

I've laid out my project in a series of milestones, and for the first the sequencer must be able to do the following:
  • Store a simple polyphonic sequence of 8 steps
  • Receive messages from the Launchpad to set cells in the matrixctrl
  • Select different tempo divisions
  • Output correctly formatted MIDI messages
Nothing too ambitious to start off with, but the purpose of milestones is to implement functions sequentially. It also gives me a chance to get things working properly so that I can iron out any bugs as they come up, rather than leaving me in debug hell at the end.
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Friday, 19 October 2012

Beer Bottle Organ

This is a placeholder post so that I can create a label for my university final year project. I will be documenting it here. Come back soon for some pretty awesome adventures in Max. In the mean time, here's a video of a pretty damn cool use of beer bottles.


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Sunday, 14 October 2012

MIDI Windchimes using Makey Makey

Ever wondered if you could use wind chimes as a MIDI controller? Well now you can, using nothing but cutlery, aluminium foil, copper strips, copper wire and a Makey Makey development board.
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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Home Made Ondes Martenot MIDI Controller (And Performance)

A truly fantastic idea here from an amateur instrument builder from Japan.

For those who don't know, an Ondes Martenot is an early electronic musical instrument that, as well as having a keyboard, had a ring that could be moved backwards and forwards along the instrument on a string, allowing for a very expressive performance.
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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Plugin Hoarding: Five reasons it makes you a worse musician


We all know someone who spends a fortune buying expensive equipment like effects pedals and custom guitars, and a good chunk of the time they end up spending more time messing about making funny noises rather than focusing on writing music. I admit, I used to have a lot of hardware synths, and I enjoyed getting weird sounds out of them, but as I became more interested in making music and working with artists to record tracks I began shifting over to a core set of software plugins, and my lovely vintage gear was largely ignored.

Hardware isn't the only thing that musicians hoard though; more and more I meet musicians who just have to have the latest NI synth plugins or Waves bundle -  or they spend hours on KVR downloading every free VSTi or AU they can find. Again, a lot of the time these musicians spend more time flicking between the different plugins trying to decide which one to use rather than developing their skills as a musician.

There are many reasons why both GAS and plugin hoarding are detrimental to your music making, but these five stand out to me the most.
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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Yamaha VSS-200 Drum Samples

I spent a bit of time tonight with my VSS-200 sampling the individual drums from the preset drum patterns. They aren't exactly the best drum sounds in the world, but they have a certain nostalgia about them for me that made it worthwhile.

Yamaha VSS-200
One of my VSS-200s

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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Keys: Weighted vs Unweighted vs Semi-weighted

A few years ago when I was looking to buy my first proper performance keyboard I was almost completely focused on sonic capability and sound quality. I wanted something that had a decent range of synth sounds and editing capabilities as well as realistic piano, EP and organ sounds. Other things I considered were sample playback, sequencing capabilities and even MIDI implementation. In fact, just about the only thing I didn't give any thought to was the actual keys themselves.

I ended up buying a Roland Juno-G, after hearing how good the Juno-D sounded at a college band practice. I was so excited when I ordered it, and when I got it the sounds didn't disappoint. It had all the bells and whistles I wanted, and it looked absolutely stunning.


The Roland Juno-G (top) above the much more satisfying Roland F-100

The problems started when I began trying to play more expressive Piano parts live. I had practiced them on my Roland F-100 - a fabulous digital piano with the most realistic weighted keys I've ever played (read more about that here) - and had gotten the pieces sounding exactly how I wanted them to. I even spent a few lunch times at college using the pianos in the practice rooms, and I was happy with how my playing sounded there. Switching from gorgeous weighted hammer action keys to flimsy, springy, featherlight diving boards was absolute torture. The pieces came out note perfect, but all of my hard work adding expression went out of the window. I began to really hate my Juno because of the way it felt under my fingers, and for a long time the only things I used it for were organ and synth work, areas where lighter keys are preferable.

The moral of the story is that the weight of the keys should depend on the job you want the keyboard to do. Playing piano parts on unweighted keys is like driving a car with boxing gloves on. Similarly, playing organ glissandos on a weighted keyboard is like trying to swim in treacle. Bear this in mind when buying a board, because it'll save you a lot of problems (and even injury) in the long run. Take it from me, playing Hammond parts on weighted keys can cause some pretty serious friction burns on the palms of your hands!

Of course these days there are a plethora of semi-weighted keyboards out there that claim to cover all bases. M-Audio's Axiom and Novation's Impulse lines are two I have first hand experience with, and I must admit they do offer a decent compromise, but they're nowhere near as responsive as a weighted keyboard when it comes to Piano works. That said, if you're not playing many piano parts they are absolutely ideal for musicians of all skill levels. There's good news for organists too; you're much less likely to biforcate your hand while doing your best Billy Preston-style palm glissandos on one of these than you are on a fully weighted keyboard.

The M-Audio Axiom 49 is the semi-weighted board I've had the most experience with.
My verdict? For serious players, have one weighted and one semi-weighted board. It make sense to cover all bases if you're playing different styles, particularly piano and EP work. Not only that, most mid-to-high level semi-weighted boards include a USB to MIDI interface, so you can hook up your weighted board using a standard MIDI cable for extra convenience. If you're not doing much piano work, get yourself a nice solid semi-weighted keyboard and cover all of your bases. Unweighted keys are ideal for beginners, as they're cheap, and they give you a chance to get familiar with basic keyboard skills without spending too much money.

Take heed though Roland, lightweight flimsy keys have no place on a £700 workstation, no matter how many bells, whistles, knobs or sliders it has.
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Monday, 30 April 2012

Depeche Mode - See You

I have here three more recreated synth patches, this time from the Depeche Mode song See You. Taken from their underwhelming second album "A Broken Frame", the song features sounds from the PPG Wave 2 wavetable synthesizer, a hybrid synth with digital oscillators and analogue filters and VCAs.

Bass

A simple snappy bass triggered by a sequencer that provides a solid pulse for the song. I used Subtractor to recreate it, although the original came from the Wave. I used a saw wave for the top end and a square wave an octave lower to give the sound a bit of grunt.


Download

Bell

Thor's Wavetable Oscillator
Thor's Wavetable
Oscillator Module
A classic 80s bell sound, full of rich overtones. I couldn't tell at first whether it was a product of wavetable or FM synthesis, but considering the DX7 wasn't around when the song was produced it pretty much had to be a PPG. This was a tricky patch to put together, because I had to scan through loads of different wavetables in Thor to get a suitable sound. I used two waves from the same wavetable in the end to create a layered bell sound.


Download

Synth Choir

Another classic PPG patch, this time using the PPG Formant wavetable, recreated for Thor. Again this was a tricky one to do, but I loaded the original track into Reason 6 (oh the joys of audio support!) and compared mine to the original as I created it. Obviously there are subtle differences, but I'm happy with the overall effect. Notice in the routing matrix that Rotary 1 controls how much the LFO affects the pitch. I used this to create a subtle vibrato so that the patch didn't sound so static.



Finally, here's a little clip of the parts in context (thrown together at the last minute in true TK style)

You need flash to play this content



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Thursday, 2 February 2012

CHOMP: The $50 Open Source MIDI Controller

I was checking my RSS feeds this morning and I came across a fantastic little bit of kit that an American high school student has built. It's called CHOMP (Configurable Hardware Open-source MIDI Platform), and he's currently trying to fund it through kickstarter. The best part about it is that it's only $50 US.


I've pledged $50, because I'd love to see this take off. I'd even consider buying a few of them if the project is a success. I like the idea of being able to build my own MIDI controller easily, and that's what this project offers; custom MIDI controllers without all of the hassle of programming your own Arduino board. That said, the production model will have a programmer header, so if you want to change the code you could do, as it is based on the Arduino standard. For instance, I contacted the project's founder, Max Justicz about using rotary encoders with CHOMP, and he informs me that with a small change to the code it would be possible to use them instead of regular potentiometers.

I just hope he manages to get it off the ground, it'd be a real shame if a piece of technology this useful wasn't a success.


Minimum donation is $1 US, and $50 will get you the board. If the project doesn't reach its goal of $25k then you won't be charged, which seems fair to me.
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Sunday, 29 January 2012

This is what I call good parenting

I was lucky enough to be encouraged to play music when I was a kid, I always had access to instruments if I wanted them. I always think it's good to encourage kids to play music, and I love to see them enjoying it. Everyone has to start somewhere after all.

I found this video via Synthtopia, and I was very impressed. Apart from the fact that the father is playing xylophone, keyboard, a coke bottle and a tambourine all at the same time, the kids are obviously having a great time, and they remember their cues better than some of the older musicians I've worked with. I couldn't not share it, it made my afternoon.

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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Together in Electric Dreams

Two more Reason patches for you, this time from Philip Oakey's hit song "Together in Electric Dreams". Yes, that song that everyone (including me until about 5 minutes ago) thinks is by the Human League. The two patches I've recreated are the pad from the beginning of the song and the big fat polysynth.

The pad is quite simple, just a filtered square with a short attack and a long decay. I fed this through Thor's chorus to give it the movement that it has in the original track, and also programmed the mod wheel to scale the LFO's effect on the amplifier, effectively creating a tremolo. This isn't a feature of the original patch, but I wanted to add it in to perhaps make the patch a little more versatile for other projects.


The polysynth is a pretty standard 80s sound, and is actually based on an earlier patch I posted called "So Juno". I set Thor up so that oscillator 1 uses a sawtooth wave and oscillator 2 uses a square wave, with pulse-width modulation being controlled by LFO 1, scaled by Rotary 1. Oscillator 3 is also set up as a square wave, but one octave below the other two as a sub oscillator. This configuration was used on Roland's Juno line in the 1980s, as well as the Korg Polysix. This patch only required the sawtooth and sub oscillators, so I turned off oscillator 2.

I assigned the mod wheel to control the filter cutoff, so as it is increased the filter closes, changing the timbre of the sound so that it sounds more like a pad. Once again, this is not a feature of the original patch, nor is this a feature of the original Junos, but I find that it's useful to be able to control the filter cutoff frequency easily.

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Saturday, 21 January 2012

Breaking Radio Silence

Hello! Happy New Year!

I've not posted anything for a while as I've had a fair bit to organise, but I've got some great stuff planned for 2012.

Reason 6

I finally have Reason 6 up and running, so all future project files will no longer be compatible with Reason 5 or below (Sorry folks, that's Propellerhead for you). Fear not however, as the vast majority of the patches I post will still be 100% compatible with Reason 4 and 5, and any patches exclusive to 6 will be marked as such. In the mean time, have a look at some screenshots of a recent session, paying close attention to the n

Drum Recording

Over Christmas I did some work with a good friend of mine Matt Dowson, an absolutely stellar drummer and an all round nice guy. We used my mac and interface and his microphone set to do some drum recordings in a church hall, and I'm quite happy with the results. Some video was taken of the day, so once the audio and video are all nicely synced up I'll pop that up.

In addition to this, in the next couple of weeks I'll be carrying out some recordings for my LinnDrum-style sampled drums. As part of my investigative study I'll be recording some one-shots of different drums and then processing them to sound like early sample-based drum machines, like the Linn LM-2 (LinnDrum) and the E-MU Drumulator.

Refill Review

Aside from my plans to carry on using this blog for my Investigative Study, I'll be talking a lot about my collection of Reason Refills. I want to do a (long overdue) review of Reason Pianos, as well as Abbey Road Keyboards, ElectroMechanical 2.0 and Fairlight Platinum by Bitley.

More Synth Patches

I want to explore different synthesizers, so I'll be doing a couple of tutorials on how to program the same patch across a range of different synths. This will be pretty easy for me, since I have Logic, Pro Tools and Reason to hand, as well as my Microkorg XL. I'll continue to upload patches for the Investigative Study as I create them (I have about 8 new patches for that to go up) and there are a few miscellaneous ones to go up to.

Don't forget to follow the site on Blogger, subscribe to the site feed or follow me on twitter to be notified of new posts!
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