Interview – Neutron Sound

This interview is from the February issue of DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Check out that issue HERE.

Hi Jim, first of all let’s pretend we’ve never met. Who are you and what do you do?

I was born in Canada, but the majority of my school and youth was in
Oxfordshire, U.K. that is where I became interested in synthesizers when our music class visited EMS on a field trip and they gave us a loaner synthi.

After coming back to Canada I worked with a few more local bands, and have had many different jobs from bicycle mechanic to 3d rendering admin.

The first product I’m aware of from you is the Duofonik Dual SSM2044 Filter. Was that the first module you designed?

I had built other musical electronics, but not in modular format. it was mostly one off audio things. I also had a few DSP synthesizers that were mildly popular in the small sonic core scope community.

So how did the Orgone Accumulator come to life? It seems to blend multiple ideas over wavetables, crossfading, digital FM and AM, unison oscillator swarms etc.

I had made an arduino synth called “scarab” but it was a bit too complicated to make a DIY project for others to build, and I stopped working on it and went on to something else. then the teensy 3 was released. it is an ARM based 32 bit processor, miles ahead of the 8 bit arduino i had been working with, but i could still program it in the same environment, and even use much of my old code.

I prototyped the new version, and kept pushing it to do more. I added some ideas from my old scope synths as well I was quite happy with it at this stage and that was when thought it would make a nice DIY and started designing the panel. I went through a lot of iterations showing each design on the muffwiggler forums some of them were pretty wild! In the end knob spacing for fingers and practicality won out and (greyscale real name) helped me a lot with the 1.x DIY panel design.

1.0 boards and panels were produced and sold much better than I expected compared to the duofonik. I kept working on it after the release, adding more effects modes and tweaking controls.

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To cut any potential confusion can you outline the differences between the first and second versions.

DIY compatible changes in 2.0 firmware from the version in your original video.
the hardware is the same, but newer panels have some different labels. 8 effects instead of just detuning – interpolation – 16 bit output – in drum effect pulsar and x mode buttons swap CVs so you can modulate decay – pulsar mode (replaces tune lock).

Retail hardware upgrades:
– 4 layer circuit board has large ground planes which lowers noise floor.
– LED indicators and momentary buttons, rather than cycling through the effects they can be selected directly.
– wave selectors can be modulated with a control voltage.
– in drum effect, pulsar and cx buttons extend drum decay tail.
– manufactured by WMD.
– different layout, tapered knobs.
– needs extra programmer to program (WMD)

Finally can you tell us a bit more about what’s to come in 2016 for Neutron Sound?

i will not make a “line of modules” so everyone can have the same thing but with “neutron sound” on the panel. there are plenty of most modules you might need. Sorry “collectors”!

The orgone drum effect is quite popular. I am working on a module with 3 or 4 instances of the orgone drum, with a few additional goodies. An analog phaser with cv able feedback. Also a hardware version of the “rotor” that is in the sonic core sdk and John Bowen
Solaris. I still have not decided if i should make a discreet ladder version of the duofonik, most of the work is done, but there are similar filters already.

Interview – VCOADSR

Back in February I interviewed VCOADSR for DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Here’s the interview. Catch up with VCOADSR with releases here – http://vcoadsr.bandcamp.com/ – you can also see how his sound and set up has changed across performances videos from both me and Sonic State. Check out this one the Brighton Modular Meet for a good techno injection.

So Phil, for those that haven’t seen any footage of you playing live or being at a gig tell us about your set up. It’s centred around your 12U modular system but what else are you using live?

As you say my 12U eurorack modular is the centre of my studio & live set that’s organised into 3 monophonic voices, 1 polyphonic voice and a drum section section. These are all going to my Mackie Onxy mixer where I’ve got an Eventide Space reverb & TimeFactor delay pedals on the sends when playing live. The main musical ideas and rhythms are all being sequenced from the Sequential Cirklon sequencer but within the modular there’s a ton of internal sequencing and modulation to add interest to the various parts. Basically means that each gig I play is never the same which for me is important both as a live experience for the audience but also for my own interest too.

What’s your process in the studio? Recording jams, multi-tracking, running stems and then FX mixes etc. How involved is your DAW both in terms or arrangement of tracks and parts and also in terms of sound generation and/or processing? 

Last year I caught Moritz von Oswald trio playing at BLOC weekend that pushed me in the direction of early dub techno. I became really interested in the production ideas of dub in general and how the process of mixing itself was a performance when it came to playing the sends & returns. So for my new EP I wanted to experiment with some of these dub production ideas and decided to do the core composition and sound design on the modular and then once I was happy I’d multi-track several jams of the song, as if I were playing a live set, into Ableton. Then I’d edit these down into more coherent structured arrangements before running each stem back out to the mixer for further dub takes were I’d jam the sends and returns dub style. Every track on the EP was made using a variation on this technique even the remix track, at the end of the EP, went through this process.

What’s coming up from you next?

Well, apart from the new release I’m still focussed  on performing live to get my music out in front of people – to me it’s important that people get to experience the dynamics of live, and to be fair raw, electronic music that isn’t processed & compressed to death. Like any other live performance with an instrument you’ve got prepare and practice but this is also where a lot of my new material comes from so playing live more should lead to new ideas and tracks later in the year.

People LOVE to chat gear, more than music sometimes so let’s do just that! Which modules are used across the album. Without listing every single one, what stands out as the key pieces for say drums, bass sounds and the sequencing? 

So in terms of the melodic & bass content, on the EP and live set, these are coming from the amazing Akemie’s Castle by ALM and the Hertz Donut mkII by The Harvestman. The Akemie’s is by far the most interesting and versatile oscillator I’ve owned in the 6 years I’ve been using modulars, and having the chord output is the icing on the cake. It would be criminal if I didn’t mention the Makenoise QMMG – is vital to my modular setup with it packing in 4 VCAs, 4 LGPs, 4 LPFs & 4 HPFs in just 24HP! A real shame that this module is no longer manufactured. Drum duties are mixture of the 808/909 Tiptop audio drums as well as Dinky’s Taiko again by ALM and in terms of sequencing you won’t be surprised if I’m going to say the Cirklon. This is THE hardware sequencer to have IMHO and it is seriously deep in functionality – I’ve barely scratched the surface so far, after having it for about a year, but a word of warning if you want one you’re going to have be patient…I was on the waiting list for 200 days before mine was ready, but without it I don’t think I could play the type of live set I’d want to.

Interview – Rupert Lally Day One

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Interview is from Issue #4 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back from January 2016. 

I’ve been speaking to Rupert Lally for some time now and it’s been a pleasure getting to know him talking about modular and music. So when Rupert told me about his new release ‘Day One’ it was immediately something I wanted to share. If you’d like to get to know Rupert and his work I highly suggest checking out this interview (click HERE) on the Horizontal Pitch blog which is a nice link as that’s ran by Papernoise I’ve just covered on the previous page! Check out the ‘Making Of’ video above (or click HERE) and be sure to head to his Bandcamp to check out his other material.

So Rupert tell us about the release, did it spawn from a larger idea or did it grow organically from producing / performing one of the pieces?
In a way it’s 50/50 – the initial idea obviously came from wanting to create something around the idea of 24 Hours, (as the plan was always to broadcast the title track as part of CiTR FM in Canada’s “24 Hours Of Radio Art” Day, which takes place each January) so the idea of a 24 minute piece seemed a natural one. Musically however, the piece then developed from lots of short modular performance patches, which were more or less improvised, certainly I wasn’t thinking about how they would fit into the final structure.

What’s your process regarding recording the tracks are they all single performances recorded in stereo out of your modular or do you layer things and integrate other gear?
All the tracks on this release began in the same way: As improvisations with the modular built around a single patch, recorded in a single take from the stereo outs. Tracks 2-4, I felt worked well as longer pieces and so they remained more or less untouched. For the title track however, the improvisations were then edited down into 1 minute sections and 24 of them edited together within Live, in keeping with the 24 hours in 24 minutes idea. As you might imagine, the resulting piece didn’t transition that smoothly from section to section in a lot of places, so I began adding more modular lines over the top to make the whole thing fit together better. This included several passes of drones or SFX and a few instances where I created a harmony to something that was already there. In each case I would be tweaking parameters by hand as they were being recorded. I then added a track of percussive accents and sweetners using an old rivet cymbal from a 1950’s drumkit I used to own, and another using some household objects that I processed using the modular.

Interview – Mystic Circuits

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This interview is from Issue #4 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back from January 2016. 

This month I spoke to Eli from Mystic Circuits to find out a little bit about him and his modules.

Hi Eli, great to have you answering some questions here in the magazine. It’s been great to get to know you as we’ve started to work together first with the VERT video and the SWITCH video to follow in the future. The first thing people may be thinking (as I did) why the name change from Circuit Shaman to Mystic Circuits?

Hi Ben, thank you so much for the support and feedback.  I came up with the name ‘Circuit Shaman’ going out of high school when I already knew that I wanted to make strange synths.  By the time that I actually got around to using the name it turned out that someone had a patent on a line of guitar pedals that included the word “Shaman” in them.  Without boring you with legal details it seemed like I would have been able to fly under the radar for some time but then eventually the name would open me up to liability.  I spent roughly 2 months coming up with another name which I knew that I could trademark (the name Mystic Circuits is trade marked) to avoid this headache in the future.  Really I want to spend my time designing, not dealing with legal issues.  I look at the name change as a sort of blessing in disguise, at first I was upset because it delayed the module release but now I am glad because Mystic Circuits is really a better name.  Also as someone who spends a fair amount of time in the dreadlocked world of electronic music festivals, referring to oneself as a ‘shaman’ can come across as self-important.

Stepping backwards, how did you get into synths in general? And how did you get into DIY and ultimately creating your own modules? 

Back in high school I was in a punk band that towards the end of our career was actually pretty good, for a bunch of 14 year olds anyways (https://soundcloud.com/behindglassshadows).  We recorded a studio album and were getting booked for shows that we didn’t even know about until a friend asked, “Are you going to that Behind Glass Shadows show tonight?”  Talks of touring was in the works and things were looking up, then simultaneously everyone else decided that they weren’t into it anymore.  After years of diligent band practices and playing obscure venues!  Well I bought a copy of fruity loops after that because I knew that my computer would never flake on band practice or decide to quit the band haha.

From there my music got more and more complicated.  Bands like Hella and the Locust were the rage at the time and I was all about math rock.  I finger tapped my bass along with these really complex beats I wrote on the computer.  This song is probably one of the best that I have ever written, it’s a shame that I never recorded the bass track to it: https://soundcloud.com/60s-residue/babbling.  At one point I wrote a song that was so hard to play I asked myself, “Why do I spend all of this time writing this music when the same effect could be accomplished by improvising random noise?”  Since I couldn’t afford much in the way of guitar pedals I would raid thrift stores and circuit bend little kids toys.  I once made a giant bass made on a plank with bungy cords that had a contact mic built in.  Another thing was a wireless microphone made out of a baby monitor.  I think that I had about 20 feet of range before the signal turned into white noise, which was of course a feature!  I was so terrible at soldering its amazing that stuff even worked. I would plug everything in a circle, I barely ever used a mixer, and of course I had a silly costume.  It was lots of fun.  Here’s a good video, no costume unfortunately https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehrbPQtGGNI.

At the time I lusted over stuff made by Peter Blasser (Ciat-Lonbarde), Trogotronic, 4MS, that weird kind of stuff.  I knew that it was what I wanted to do, build these kinds of crazy boxes that make sounds no one has heard before (and a lot of fart sounds in between.)  I toyed around with going to school for some kind of experimental music degree but settled on Electrical Engineering instead because I figured that stuff would be harder to learn on my own.  I chose UCSD mostly because Miller Puckette teaches there (I was doing a lot of Max/MSP and Pure Data coding at the time) but also the engineering school there is very highly regarded.

Anyways I suffered through that and by the time I could feel my hands and feet again all of the companies that I was really into were building Eurorack modules!  Trogotronic and 4ms had re-released some of my favorite designs in euro format and Ciat-Lonbarde was using banana jacks instead of screws that were connected by alligator clips (soon to jump into Euro as well).  I think that one of the biggest appeals of Eurorack to me is that the electronics and design of the panel are the only 2 things you have to think of, power supply and case are already handled by the customer. So instead of making something that I know can survive being thrown at the ground full-force I can bolt a circuit to a piece of metal and the customer handles the rest.  I still plan on releasing guitar pedals and stand-alone synths but in the meantime Eurorack is a good stepping stone to get there.

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Where did the idea for the VERT module come from? 

Well the first module I did was the Turing Machine “Bytes Expander”.  As a sort of challenge Tom Whitwell (the Turing Machine’s designer) said in a Muff Wiggler thread that he would send some circuit boards to anyone who made the Turing Machine play time signatures other than 8 or 16.  Someone used some rotary switches to achieve the effect, and while it sounded good the lack of CV control was not satisfying to me.  In the thread I asked if a microcontroller solution would be sufficient and Tom said no.  I then went about making the Bytes expander, which has almost as much circuitry as the Turing Machine itself.  I built the whole thing using CMOS chips and in the process discovered this cool analog-to-digital converter chip called the “ADC0820”.  It basically converts an analog input to a digital number, but instead of sending out the digital value serially (aka as a set of pulses on one wire) it sends out each bit on a separate wire.  It’s the kind of thing that could easily be done on a single microcontroller but instead I did it with 6 chips.

Back then I had so many ideas for modules, I would work on one for awhile and then get bored of it and move to another, always doing work but never finishing anything.  At one point I said to myself that I had to come up with a module for which I could have a working prototype in a day and decided to see what feeding random voltages into the ADC0820 would do.  I was pretty happy with the results and even hooked it up to my Turing Machine expanders at the time to see how it would sound. You can actually hear a track that I made using the first prototype on breadboard and hooked into the voltages expander here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCfLyihfBKA).  That’s the point where it sort of hit me that any module that makes 8 gates can easily host a Turing Machine expander.  Many more are coming.

And how about Switches? 

I was thinking about how with the Turing Machine the ‘Voltages’ expander is basically like a sequencer where you can have more than one step active at a time.  If there is only one bit active in the Turing Machine buffer the voltages expander will work like a normal sequencer, but if 2 bits are active it will start adding together different steps of the sequence.  This is why changing one slider on the voltages expander effects a whole bunch of steps at a time: the slider value is being added to the output whenever the bit is active.  This got me thinking along the lines of “what if there was a sequential switch where more than one switch is active at a time.”  I wanted the switches to be bidirectional but because of the way that the summing circuitry works this simply wasn’t possible.  However with the addition of a “multi-purpose expander” access to each switch will be given individually and bidirectional patching will be possible.

So what’s coming up from Mystic Circuits this year? 

Oh geez I wish that I could tell you everything but there are a few noteworthy things that I can tell you.  First is that the Spectra Mirror, which I previewed at NAMM last year but hasn’t gone into production yet, is quite possibly about to start production.  I’m always apprehensive about saying “this is the last prototype” because I will inevitably wire a switch backwards and then while I am fixing that decide to add a new feature/ tweak the response of a certain part of the circuit and then 3 revisions later I’m like “this is the last prototype”.  However there are no switches on the Spectra Mirror so I am pretty sure this is the last prototype.  I am also planning on releasing a set of utility modules for DIY because you can never have enough VCAs.  Hopefully eventually there will be a complete “Mystic Circuits” system that is all DIY.  I am collaborating with Eric Fox of Foxtone/ Black Market Modular to build some ColourCV boards for the wonderful “Colour Pallete” module.  I am hoping to slowly work in some digital modules.  Right now everything is analog mostly because I enjoy routing circuits more than coding, not because I am some kind of purist.  Also I want to start doing some cheesy 90s style infomercial advertisements for the modules.  Oh, and guitar pedals.  Meh, I guess there goes another year with little to no social life.

That’s it for this month’s interview. Be sure to head to the Mystic Circuits website by clicking HERE to check out his modules. Eli also offers them as DIY projects with panels/PCBs and build documents for those keen to break out the soldering iron. In case you missed it check out the VERT video by clicking HERE.

Interview – Low-Gain Electronics

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This interview is from Issue #3 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back from the December 2015 issue. 

Hi Logan, great to be chatting to you and asking some interview type questions for the magazine. So tell us about yourself for those that don’t know. Who are you, what do you do etc.

My name is Logan Erickson. Born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota, USA.
Relocated to Minneapolis/St. Paul MN in 2003. I’ve always been a tinkerer of circuits since I was 14 when I got into electronic music, specifically the experimental/soundscape/ambient noise scene. I found Circuit-Bending around that same time and I was hooked (Thanks Stavros!). I began bending toys, converting them into musical instruments and building my own little noise synths and getting into modular SynthDIY. Kind of ended up it into a job through out high school. I found myself involved in the 8-bit/chipmusic scene around that time up until 2009 when I was building and developing a lot of products and DIY projects/tutorials related to that scene. Around 2009-2010 Eurorack was not quite popular but some really great products had come onto the market (MakeNoise / Harvestman /B ubblesound to name a few) and that was when I changed my focus to designing for modular. Having worked for a highly respected company in the Pro-Audio market, I felt I could take my experience and knowledge from that field and apply it to my own products. I quit my day job just about 2 years ago (this July) to focus on Low-Gain Electronics full time and haven’t looked back. It has had its challenges but it has been on of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

My knowledge of the scene isn’t great but I’ve heard a few times
now that you were involved in the chiptune scene, is that right?

That is correct. My first experiences with the chipmusic scene (if you can call it that at the time), was around 2000. I had purchased program called Nanoloop. Which is a 4 track synth / sequencer program on a Nintendo Game Boy cart that allowed you to create sounds, patterns and create songs using the synth engine of the Nintendo Game Boy. Being from the small town of Duluth there wasn’t anyone else in the area to my knowledge doing this. I used to perform in my high school talent show’s. My only outlet was MP3.com for this music and to my surprise there was a very small “scene” located on the internet. At some point I put the Game Boy down around 2002, and got a little more involved in my “real” synth lust. In 2006 though the chipmusic scene kind of found me again and I found this new program called Little Sound DJ (LSDJ) for the Nintendo Game Boy. At the time they were so obscure and hard to get because it involved using these hard to find programmable carts, that a used copy would sell for upwards of $300 on eBay. I loved the program, it was tracker based, which brought me back to using fast tracker and such when I was younger. I loved it so much that I wanted more people to be able to use this software. I sourced the programmable carts, and started selling the carts and offering a service of programming the carts for people if they could provide me with proof of their license purchase. I had no idea how much effect this would have on the scene at the time. I guess it was kind of like being a drug dealer I was asked to be an admin of a small online forum (8bitcollective) around 2006-2007. It only had about 500 members when I came on board. By the time the website went under we had grown the community to over 10,000, I had a monthly podcast with a good friend of mine (Unicorn Dream Attack) where we would showcase songs uploaded to the site. When the collapse of 8BC was inevitable a small group of us went on to start the current largest chipmusic forum that I’m aware of, chipmusic.org. I was heavily invested in this scene for 5 or so years. There was a lot of drama that went down during the 8BC end of days… I ultimately had to step away from the community for my own sanity. I still love the genre and dabble from time to time on my Game Boys. But I don’t think I’ll end up doing a 100% chip/8bit album ever again.

lowgain-short-bus-angle-01If people are following your Instagram and Facebook they’ll see you often work across many formats including circuit bent stuff, 5U and eurorack. What do you think the benefits of working across different formats are?

I got my start doing SDIY 5U projects. At the time that was what was available to me. Embarrassingly I hadn’t grasped the concept of Serge until I was able to use my friends Serge system a few years ago. It was kind of a life changing moment. It made me think about synthesis in a completely different way. I was shown the light! Since then I’ve always had a passion for 4U (Serge/Banana) and 5U (MU). This is going to sound terrible coming from a Eurorack Manufacturer… but I don’t care for the eurorack format honestly. The vertical height doesn’t lend itself to quite the interfacing that I prefer and due to it’s lack of standards, it tends to set off my OCD when it comes to what I feel is important in an instrument, Interface… And banana jacks!!! Eurorack is convenient, portable, relatively affordable and as far as options go… there is nothing that compares. It’s a larger market for sure. Which ultimately lead me to manufacturing mostly in that format. I have am however retooling the shop to support 4U and MU format manufacturing. I’ll continue manufacturing in
Eurorack, but my love for the interface and concepts behind Serge (Banana) and MU format modular synthesis will never die. They just work better for me.

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Possibly a daft unanswerable questions as different projects or needs call for different things but do you have a favourite synth / instrument? I.e. a closed system such as your Verbos case, The Harvestman Polivoks stuff, etc. The reason I’m asking is I’ve seen you building lots of 2600 DIY projects which really appeal as a full instrument and voice within itself. So I wondered if you had a particular soft spot for that or any other set up.

This might be a lengthy 2 part answer, but I’ll try to bring everything together at the end… 😉

In the last couple of years, I’ve come to a few realities in my life (and I don’t throw these around lightly with respect that those who battle with it worse than I do). I probably have some form ofADD and mild OCD. Because of this, it greatly effects my productivity in both music creativity and and in my personal / professional life. With regards to modular, I have been down the road (a few times!) of building the largest system I can in Eurorack. 4-6 voices running at the same time, a module per function, etc, etc. But what I’ve found happens to me is I get overwhelmed, can’t focus or have a lack of creativity because I go to the same modules for the same function every time. When I started making chipmusic, I was using a Game Boy… You have to understand the hardware to appreciate the music. The Game Boy has a 4 channel sound synthesizer.

You have to build every single sound from the ground up. It’sfour mono synths, so no more than 4 sounds can play at once. To create a song that has all of the complexities of what you’dnhear in a typical song you have to get really creative in your sound synthesis and structure. You have to exploit the limitations of this crappy little micro processor that ultimately was never meant to be used that way.

When I lived in Duluth we used to host these weekly events called “Experimental Tuesdays.” I performed for it quite often. My friend Alan (Sparhawk, of the local band Low) came up to me one night while I was setting up. He told me I had too much gear. I laughed and said that’s impossible. And he gave me the some of the most important words of wisdom. “Simplify, the more you have the more there is to go wrong.” I took that to heart. Specially after that performance, one of my circuit bent Speak&Reads literally smoked on stage. Thanks Alan, lesson learned! 🙂

I have learned A LOT from using such a limited piece of hardware (Game Boy) and apply this similar mind sent to the way I produce music now. Setting
limitations for myself and really try to focus on a simple setup and really force myself to push that system/instrument to it’s maximum potential. Exploit it’s weaknesses and use them to my advantage. So when I built these dedicated systems of say… The Harvestman Polivoks Iron Curtain system, or my Verbos Electronics System. I like the idea of sitting down in front of this relatively smaller/simple system and using just that. Maybe a few extra external FX, but just try to see what I can do with it. I view these systems as a dedicated
instrument. One that I have to learn and master. By learning the system, each modules potential, what they can and cannot do, it forces me to get really
creative with sound design. This keeps the creative part of my brain well
exercised. Instead of focusing on the non-important battle of… “What this system lacks is X & Y modules” also known as Euro-crack. Consumption. (worst words to ever come out of a manufacturers mouth right!? It’s not about what you don’t have, but rather how you use what you do have. Right?

Interface is everything when it comes to a synthesizer or drum machine for me. I have different experiences with different synthesizers based on two things.. how they sound and how they’re laid out physically.

Every time I sit down on an Arp 2600, two things happen, I hear all the classic sounds I’ve heard on records/films since the 70’s. But the interface also gets me inspired to create. I tell people this all the time… When I sit down to test a TTSH (Arp2600 clone) for a customer, I tend to spend a couple hours just
jamming on it every time because it’s just so much fun to play.

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It’s one of the only synths I can sit down in front of and literally get gitty and hyper-inspired to record an album using just that synth. Some of my favourite synths to use are the Arp 2600, Oberheim SEM/TVS-1, Serge/BugBrand format Modular, Roland Juno-60 and Tr-808.

The layouts and structure of these synths are perfect to me. Well spaced, thought out, comfortable and of course, they happen to be sonically amazing. A TR-808 has been beat (pun intended) to death with regards to it’s sounds. A classic for sure, but there is nothing really that new and creative about its sound. But when you sit down at the actual machine and start jamming on it, it’s a completely different world. I don’t know how else to explain it other than it comes down to it’s interface. And I’m pretty anal retentive when it comes to how I connect with a synth or drum machine. It could have the best sound ever but if the panel layout isn’t well thought out, it can be a deal breaker for me.

You’re most recent Low-Gain modules (both the SubMix6 and the CVP-1) have a new look and further support your previous range of modules which are more utility based. What draws you to want to make utility style modules as opposed to say a sound processor or generator?

I’m a little embarrassed to have had to change my aesthetic 3 times since starting to manufacture in Eurorack. Part of it was due to parts availability and the other was logistics. The first round of modules; ShortBus V1 and SubMix7 were done with PCB’s as front panels. The ShortBus was my first module and I wanted the panel to fit the theme of the module. School Bus yellow. SubMix7 was done with a green pcb simply because of conveniences of ordering PCB panels at the time. I used
Re’an knobs and when they dropped the soft touch knob (remember the great MakeNoise change of 2012!?!?) I kind of had to find a new knob that worked. At that time I wanted to re-brand my product to make sure it’s aesthetic matched the build/design quality that I wanted to be known for. The powder coated steel panels were inspired by two synth aesthetics, Roland System 100M and the Arp 2600. At the time I handled all manufacturing in house and had the panels manufactured in town. So I could drive over to the metal shop and inspect the panels in person. About 2 years ago though I switched over and retooled to having my PCB’s assembled out of house via pic’n’place to free up my schedule to focus on design. I ultimately just retooled to the Eurorack standard of Metal Photo processed aluminium panels. Surprisingly not cheaper to make, but cheaper to ship. One of the biggest headaches when dealing with module manufacturing is the vertical pitch of parts that fit on the front panel. Jacks, switches and Pots specifically are a royal PITA! The jacks I used on the gray panels, limited the variety of pots I could use. When I changed to the smaller style jacks it allowed me to have a smaller grid size (without sacrificing too much comfort) which in turn made me want to use a smaller knob. It just made a lot more sense to use a lot of what my manufacturer was already sourcing for their builds. There are A LOT of things to consider though when changing your aesthetic/product brand/image. You kind of have to think about every other product you want to make and how that will work in the long run.

That brings me to the Utility Question. I honestly cringe when I hear that word applied to the CVP-1 and SubMix6. I find signal routing to be essential building blocks and just as important as a VCO, VCF and VCA. You find mixers in every synthsizer made. Having said that, I’ll cave and accept the fact that they are in fact Utility style modules. I honestly don’t know why I chose to go the route. They are the essential in my work flow on any modular system, regardless if I’m using my own modules or another manufacturers. And having design them myself, I know they’re going to work how they’re supposed to, and fit a format that is comfortable for me.

In the long run, it hasn’t helped my business to have chosen these modules,. I mean I get it… there’s nothing glamorous about a mixer, a control voltage processor/signal router or a passive Logic OR combiner. Definitely not huge sellers in regards to numbers. But I take pride in the fact that they do what they’re supposed to do very well and my customers
who chose to support me, understand my design philosophy and “Get It”. I rarely see my modules come up second hand and that really tells me I’m doing something right.

lowgain-submix-front-01Tell us about your new module 2-Bits which is coming soon. What does it do?

2-Bits is a module I have been throwing around for a few years. The first prototype actually came into light around the time of the first Knobcon (2012?). Your most basic sequencer is centered on a few function blocks; A clock source, binary counter, multiplexer and a voltage source. In a nutshell I stripped the binary counter out of a 4 stage CV sequencer, added a fixed stage trigger sequencer, and a voltage scaling switch (0-5V or 0-10V). You have 2 bit inputs which are tied to the address lines of the multiplexer. Which is what controls what stage the sequencer is set to. If you understand how to count in binary then you can easily get the 2-Bits module to count from stage one to stage four sequentially. But where’s the fun in that? By using the two bit selection switches and external signal sources you decide which stage the sequencer goes to. The point of the module is to generate patterns that would take a long time to
conceptualize or would otherwise be very difficult to create. It’s kind of a happy accident machine! In the last few months I decided to add a trigger output on it which fires out a trigger every time the stage changes. If it helps to see how the stage selection works, here is the truth table.

lowgain-2-bits_render_edit

The module was originally inspired by a panel drawing Tom Bugs posted when he announced he was working on a new modulation sequencer for his BugBrand line of modular. It was kind of hyper inspiring and I said to myself… “Brilliant! I need something like that in other formats other than Bug!!” And drew up a schematic did a prototype pcb to proof the concept of how I would
have done it and it worked. I ended up tabling the project though for a couple of years because I’m not someone to just toss something together quick, slap my name on it and call it a product. A module design has to percolate a bit with me. Last year at NAMM I announced the DAC sequencer line (which is still happening BTW!) that was a heavily
expanded version of the 2-Bits module. An 8 stage version with built in flip-flip functions and trigger/gate sequencing with expansion modules. All in all I think I have 5-6 modules planned for that system. But it needs a bit more work on the interface design. One of the best things I got from NAMM this last year was the blank expressions on peoples faces of how the module worked. Once I explained it they kind of got it.. When they saw it in action they were hooked and loved it but still not quite sure what was going on. When it comes to instruments of creativity, I am a firm believer you should feel inspired to use something just by looking at it. It shouldn’t need a lot of explanation or demo videos to sell it. So I tabled the product line for a little while. In a way the 2-Bits module will be a nice entry level module to understanding the DAC sequencer system. And so far the responses I’ve heard with people are perfect… Once they understand the 2-Bits the DAC makes perfect sense to them! Mission Accomplished! Laughs

I think people will really like the 2-Bits module when it becomes available.. Hoping for January availability at this point (slightly delayed from my original projections of Fall 2015, but I wanted to make sure it was just right!) . Just proofing the last prototype! Street price should be the same as my other modules currently available, $199USD.

Finally, can you tell us about any new products or projects coming up?

Earlier I mentioned the my battles with the ability to focus. This has played into a HUGE part in my lack of product development/release schedule over the last few years. I am working on so many different things that I’m spread very thin and unable to focus on just one or two things. There are just too many things I want to do, and not enough time to do them! So I am making a small amount progress on a lot of really great things! That said, this new year is a chance to try forcing myself to focus on 1-3 projects at a time instead of 20! 2016 should bring a few of the main building blocks of a synthesizer though, which is a personal goal. Get my product line to a point where I can perform using my own instrument/system.

The “short” list currently consists of a dual vco, dual EG/VCA, 2 filters, wave shaping and the DAC Sequencer system. Not to overload that plate, but I also have an entire line of stand alone 1/4” desktop/rack devices that will compliment modular and guitar fx pedal users quite well. Next on the block though for completion after the 2-Bits is released will be the multi-mode filter and a drum/synth voice module that I think will turn quite a few heads. I don’t want to leak too much about it before it’s ready.

It sounds like a lot, and it is. I’m not planning on getting All of that out in 2016, but we shall see how it goes. I’m not a fan of the recent “rush to market” approach that I’ve seen start to happen in the last year or two. The market is booming right now but we shouldn’t be in a rush to flood it. I’d rather take my time creating something right than to push a module into production prematurely and only to be a splash in the pan for a week. Quality over Quantity: The lost business model

It’s being great to chat to Logan and get to know him, his ideas and more about Low-Gain too. Be sure to check out his website linked below and check out his Instagram page “lowgain” for picture and video updates lowgain-audio.com

Interview – Mutable Instruments on Braids

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This interview is from Issue #2 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back from November 2015. It was also part of the process of putting together my article and video on Braids for Future Music Magazine

When thinking about speaking to Olivier from Mutable Instruments many
questions spring to mind. I thought I’d keep things focussed by keeping theinterview questions about one module. That module is Braids. Which is one of my most used modules.

How did Braids come about? What was the idea with putting so many synthesis types in one module?

Around the end of 2011 I started collecting little bits of waveform synthesis code for what was going to be a factory-made version of the Ambika polysynth. My goal was to cover as many different audio generation processes as possible that could provide raw material for synthesis, and simultaneously to simplify the control scheme for these, by coming up with two well calibrated parameters covering a wide range of sounds within a given technique. I started with the Shruthi oscillator code and tried to push things further in terms of quality or control. About 20 or 25 of Braids’ synthesis models originate from that time. Then a couple of
things occurred: first I realized that a lot of the stuff I had written did not really make sense in the context of subtractive synthesis, so it would be out of place in a polysynth. And then, around mid 2012, I got really
sick of the polysynth project and ditched it. This is also the time I was starting to play with my first Doepfer modular system…

It became obvious to me that all these digital sound sources would be great in a modular system – there was nothing like it in the Eurorack format, probably because the few digital module makers at the time
focused on “deep” modules; while there are many sound generation techniques that are just tiny islands of sound you certainly can’t package into a big, deep module. Another idea came in… When I was patching the Doepfer system, I often found myself saying “hey I like this patch but it’s using all my VCOs and half my VCAs, can I have this in a box with just these two knobs and CV inputs that stick out, so that I can build something else on top of it?” – there were things I was building all the time like two or three sync’ed VCOs enveloped by the master VCOs for which I wanted a shortcut. I started adding these mini-patches to my “oscillator inventory” project.

As Braids has developed it’s now essentially a full voice. With envelopes
for tone and/or volume control. Was that the original idea? A multipurpose voice in a small space?

No, the original idea was not to make it a full voice. If I wanted to
make a voice module, there would be some kind of looping envelope/LFO
accessible on the front panel – probably an analog filter too!

Originally, I just wanted to give the ability to directly send a trigger to the module and get something to happen – sort of like the “Strike” input on some MakeNoise modules. So the original firmware had a built-in envelope that modulated the TIMBRE parameter, with just a few settings to make it louder and faster… and what happened is that almost as soon as the module was released, people asked me to make this built-in envelope control the VCA too – many were using Braids for percussive hits and they didn’t want to waste a VCA and envelope for that. With each firmware revision I added more and more settings to this built-in envelope – to the point that now it has A/D time settings and amounts for 4 destination.

This way of using the module is interesting because it deviates from the norm of building a single entity, a single mass of sound with the system. Instead, the modular becomes an orchestra with different performers each of them made of a single module or a small group of modules, and complexity is achieved not by interconnecting modules, but through layering, or rhythms. This influenced the design of the following modules in which I tried to provide ways of making the
module usable as a standalone source (for example by adding a built-in VCA in Tides, or a built-in drum sound source in Peaks).

Was the openness and power of soft synths inspiration for the device? And bringing that to a modular format that still offers hands on control.

I used csound in the late 90s and it always served me as a “map” of what’s possible in terms of synthesis. But I haven’t used softsynths throughout the 00s and 10s.

You can read my article on Music Radar for Future Music Magazine on Braids by clicking right here. Go on, click it, you love it, you know you want to.

Interview – RYO

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This interview is from Issue #1 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back from October 2015. Interesting to read it back a year on.

Hi Benjamin, so we’ve been working together on promoting RYO products with my videos since RYO’s first module the Optodist. How did that module come about? Why use vactrols in it and LED based limiting?

It was a bit surprising to see how few options for distortion there was in Eurorack at the time, let alone with voltage control. We wanted to do something that was unusual even for guitar distortion pedals and would work well for synth sounds. After several experiments with different ideas for distortion designs and both OTA and vactrol based voltage control, we settled for a vactrol and TL072 based design because we really liked the way it sounded and it was indeed a bit different to what had been previously explored in this field.

It did the job for overdrive and distortion well but it also had this smudgy smooth character to it that we hadn’t heard much in other distortion designs. The vactrols response to control voltages sounded really good with the overall distortion character of the module. The idea of the limiter was to tame the output a bit but we also found that using LEDs sounded really nice, and worked fittingly together with the name Optodist.
We chose to have the limiter switchable and an input level attenuator to add as much range and usability as we could, from a gentle VCA with minimal distortion or a smooth overdrive and all the way to full crank. We find that it always add something pleasant to the sound at practically any setting.

Tell us a bit about RYO in general, who’s involved, where are you based, when did you start the company?

My interest in synths and music production much originated from softwares such as Reason and vst plugins, I bought my first hardware synth as late as 2009, a Korg MS2000R, and after that I was pretty much hooked by the fun and directness of hardware synths and not too long after I had gathered up a little synth setup. Andreas has had a background in programming and some hobby electronics and shortly after we got together he started to find an interest in music equipment as well.

We got started with modular around the autumn of 2011 when we bought a Doepfer eurorack case and a couple of modules, the whole concept of modular synthesis was quite new to us so it was an initially baffling process to get the grips of this machine, so shortly thereafter we started hanging out on music forums and IRC chatrooms such as Muffwiggler and 99musik here in Sweden. Via the Muffwiggler chat we got acquainted with hobby electronics interested Tom who have a long history with using modular and other synths as a musician and over time the ideas and plans for a company started to grow.

The company was officially launched in the Spring of 2013, here in Gothenburg, Sweden. Andreas is the main driving force of the company keeping the administration in check as well as building instructions, research, circuit and PCB designs, building/kitting modules and more. My work involves most of the front panel designs and building/kitting modules. Tom is involved in doing research, circuit designs and support. None of us are working full time with RYO yet.

I really like your VC Seq module in 10HP it’s a nice compact module that’s just the right size to jam on for me. People may have seen the second video I created using two of the sequencers and expanders together, can you tell us anymore about further expansion for chaining modules?

Thanks! Yeah the VC Sequencer has quite a journey of redesigns and revisions. It started out as the idea of something really simple but fun and interesting as a concept, basically only 8 steps and the voltage controlled mode. Soon after development of that had begun we looked into the idea of having a more classic clock mode also to make it a bit more versatile and usable in more traditional sequencing applications.

This implementation was very close to see release until we stopped at the last minute more or less, and reckoned it would be a very cool thing to have trigger/gate outputs together with the VC mode. It was a feature that we reckoned we would later regret if we didn’t add, and so came the channel expansion header into existence! Around the same time we thought that as we’d already jumped in with one expansion header, why not allow them the possibility to chain together too?

The 16 step expansion is one of the projects we are currently working on, I don’t have too many details about it so far buy we what we can say for sure it will do a 16 step sequence (of course) with clock or voltage addressing but the by far most interesting thing about it will be the both clockable and voltage addressable X/Y snake/cartesian mode, using one input to control the horizontal rows and another for the vertical, as far as we know, no other hardware sequencer allows this with both clock as well as voltage addressing, so we hope it will open up some new doors for peoples musical inspiration! 🙂 One other certain thing is that it will allow you to run the voltage control both free running like on the VC Sequencer as well as syncing with the clock input via a built in S&H.

So I’ve already probed for sequencer expansion news, what else do you have coming up? Anything you can tell us in detail or tease us with?

Except the 16 step expander we are at full throttle on a vactrol vcf/vca with the classic vcf/lpg/vca modes. Tom is finalizing it as we speak. We also have a couple more small simple but very handy set of modules that’s been finished on the desk for a while.The first one is a 4hp 5-step sequencer (basically half a Baby10) with a switch for 3, 4 or 5 step operation, clock and reset inputs and as a bonus for the homebrewer, pads on the pcb for 5 gate outputs and a sequencer hold input for those who want to make their own expansion. More of these compact “building block” type of things are just about finished as well and we just need to decide a release order.

We want to complete a full voice in 2016. Exactly what order and technology they will be based on is for the future to tell. We have almost settled for the ARM platform for some future digital modules. Oh, and some sweet percussion!