VCVRackTutorial: Quad Delay Drum Destroyer

Patch file: http://cornwarning.com/xfer/VCV/QuadDelayDrumDestroyer.vcv

Bonus patch file (melodic) http://cornwarning.com/xfer/VCV/QuadDelayMelodicDestroyer.vcv

This is a demonstration of the utility of parallel repetition of the same basic signal chain. I like to think that it mirrors the musical idea of harmonic relatedness and modulation.  Instead of affecting pitch, this patch affects time, in a rhythmically interesting way.

This patch uses controllers (buttons), and modulation sources to crossfade between a dry signal — in this case a drum machine with some built in random variations — with the same signal delayed and filtered.

TOP ROW: Drum Machine

This uses a VCV Pulse Matrix to drive an instance of a Vult Trummor 2 (for kick and snare and a Hora Treasure Hihat. Each sound uses 2 rows of the Pulse Matrix — one set to play forward, and one set to play in random order.  The two rows are then combined using a NYSTHI Logic Module’s OR function. The random triggers are fed through Audible Instruments Bernoulli Gates to thin out the hits that get dropped into the pattern. You can turn up the balance knob on the Bernoulli Gates to get more randomness in your pattern.  In the saved patch, this is tuned to my liking.

DELAY ROWS: Wonky Modulation

These are all essentially the same. Going from right to left there’s a Submarine XF-201 Crossfader, that takes the signal from the row above — in the first case, the output of the drum machine mixer, and a delayed, effected signal.

There’s an AS DelayPlus Delay followed by an XFX F-35 Filter which is the ‘wet’ side of the crossfader. The delay times are set with voltages from the AS BPM Delay/HZ Calc module to musically useful values.

Crossfader Control

This is a bit tricky, and required some fiddling to get mostly right.  There’s an RJ Modules Button you can hit which will flip between the dry and effected signals.  The manual control is combined (via an NYSTHI Logic module) with a clocked random gate from a Matthew Friedrichs March Hare module, fed through another Bernoulli Gate to thin out the gates somewhat.  The March Hare’s Synced Random source is cool because the random gate signal is triggered on beat based on the clock input.

The output of the Logic ‘OR’ gate triggers an AS ADSR Envelope, which then controls the crossfader module.   The beauty of this arrangement (with the clocked random gate) is that A) the Bernoulli Gate gives you control over how much random triggering takes place and B) the envelope smooths out the crossfade, much like slew limiter (or a Befaco Rampage with rise/fall controls).  In particular the release phase gives a nice effect where it mixes back from the delayed signal to the dry signal.

To work properly — i.e. go from dry to wet 100% when the envelope is triggered — you need to right click/ctrl click on the NYSTHI Logic module and select 0-10V operation. It defaults to 0-5V signals, which will only turn the crossfader to 50%.

PLAYING THE PATCH

Push the buttons on the left side of the patch in order to manually bring the delayed/filtered signal in.

You can add some automatic triggering of the crossfade envelope by tweaking the balance on the Bernoulli Gates. Fully clockwise (i.e. no gates pass through, complete manual control) to any amount counterclockwise.   If you go close to full clockwise, you’ll get more delayed signal than dry most of the time, and the patch begins to sound like a demented robot version of Max Roach, continuously varying the pattern.

And since the delay/filter rows are daisy chained, you can have one or more of the wet signals coming through, and each row affects the output of the row above it.  I think it gives a really really liquid-sounding mixing of ghost hits and repeats.  It takes on a life of it’s own and only rarely sounds awkward or out of time.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

I can think of several things you can do with the patch to get even wonkier.

  • Use different left and right delay times on the delays. I gave up on this because it gets really hectic.
  • Use another crossfader to mix the last row back into the first row’s delay along with the dry signal from the drum machine.  This can go non-linear and overloaded with only a bit of feedback, so I’d use it sparingly, and put a NYSTHI 4DCB in front of the wet signal, because this kind of feedback through a long signal chain can destroy your signal with DC offset.
  • Use effects besides filters. Filters are the most natural thing to use.  One thing that will sound jarring is crossfading between the dry signal and an effect that adds stereo separation (like a stereo Chorus or Flanger).
  • Scale the envelope output into the crossfader, so that you don’t go all the way to 100% wet signal.
  • Get rid of the drum machine, use VCV Bridge for audio input and output, and load VCVRack + this patch as a send effect in a DAW.

Have fun, and let me know if you have any questions!

VCVRackTutorial: More ambient drones, more modulation.

PATCH FILE HERE: http://cornwarning.com/xfer/VCV/GenerativeDrones.vcv

Audio Example: http://cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/ChairCrusher-GenerativeShapedSines.mp3

This is a more complicated patch than with my previous tutorials, but I think it uses some techniques that might inspire VCVRack users in other contexts.  Note that I use many paid modules, that you’ll have to have bought to load the patch intact; but there are free modules to substitute for the paid ones.  One of the reasons why I think tutorials/patch descriptions like this can be valuable is that they describe techniques that can be applied with many different modules.  I could have done this patch entirely with free modules, but it would be slightly more complicated and harder to explain.

USING RAMPAGE FOR CYCLING ENVELOPES

The core of the patch is 2 instances of the BEFACO RAMPAGE. each of which can produce two separate envelopes. It’s based on a Eurorack hardware module, and in both it’s real and virtual incarnations, it can be many things: An envelope generator, a slew limiter, a comparator, and things I don’t even know about yet, like what the BALANCE knob is for.

For my purpose in this patch, I’m using it as a cycling envelope generator.  That means that instead of firing a single time, it will repeat every time it completes a full cycle.  The Rampages control the volume of each oscillator signal (via the Audible Instruments quad VCA), but it also triggers  the sample & hold modules that determine the pitch of the oscillators.

GENERATING NOTES

This is a pretty standard arrangement for my generative patches. A ML Modules Sample&Hold signal generates a random pitch voltage, which is quantized by a VCV Scalar Module.  The pitches are then passed through Fundamental Octave modules to transpose the generated pitches.

The ‘trick’ of this patch is that the EOC (end of cycle) of each Rampage envelope triggers the Sample&Hold that generates pitch.  That means the pitch of each note only changes when that oscillator voice has zero amplitude.

The result of this arrangement – random, quantized notes triggered at the EOC – is that the pitch changes only when a voice is silent.

THAT’S (ALMOST) ALL

This patch generates ‘edgeless’ tones — the slow attack and decay of each oscillator voice means there are never jarring changes in pitch or volume.  The overall volume of the patch varies widely, as different voices reach minimum and maximum volume, overlapping in time and occasionally getting loud or quiet.

There are ways to trigger pitch edges;  turning notes on and off in the Scalar module, or choosing different octave transpostions in the Octave module with trigger pitch changes.  But the natural state of this patch is meant to generate edgelessly morphing audio.

STARTING UP

There’s some complicated business in the upper right corner of the patch that’s necessary to get the patch running in the first place. The Rampage modules are set to cycle, but they wont begin cycling without an initial trigger.  The RJRModules [LIVE] Button in the upper left hand corner will trigger each Rampage envelope to get things going.

The Button is also fed through a NYSTHI Logic module, where it’s trigger is logically or’ed with the EOC signal from the RAMPAGE envelopes.  The resulting triggers go two ways: the pitch sample&hold are triggered, and the envelopes are triggered.

SOUND THICKENERS

There’s a row of four AS DelayPlus FX that are fed by output of each voice, and then into the mixer.  They’re set to random, long delay times – hand random, meaning I tweaked them to different values – and the combination of the delay time and feedback doubles each synth voice, delayed in time.

The organic ebb and flow of the sound of this generative patch is enhanced by the delays. You can mute them to hear the patch without the delays, and it sounds basically the same, but not as wide and layered.

There are also some UnfilteredAudio Indent wave shapers, one per oscillator, that distort the sine waves using the ‘Harsh Fold’ algorithm.  ‘Harsh Fold’ isn’t actually that harsh, at least when you use moderate gain values.  When you morph between pure sign and the folded signal, it makes a complex signal with sonic characteristics combining saw wave and sine sounds.

There’s also an AS Reverb Stereo FX on effect send A of the VCV Console and the send levels of each oscillator voice are controlled by the RAMPAGE envelopes, but the send level is controlled by a different envelope than the one for the voice’s volume; in other words, a particular voice’s reverb send level follows the level of a different voice.

RANDOM MODULATION ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE

There are 3 groups of four Matthew Friedrichs Hot Bunny modules that are set up to do random modulation on a slow time scales.  Since I like a bit more random in my random, the smooth output of each Hot Bunny in a group of 4 modulates the rate of its neighbor slightly, in a daisy chain.  It’s worthwhile to look at the outputs in a scope module to see how wonky the random signals get.

At any rate there are 3 things being modulated by the Hot Bunnies.

  • The rise time of each Rampage envelope.
  • The fall time of each Rampage envelope.
  • The gain level for each Indent waveshaper.

Since they all move relatively slowly, the modulations deepen the drifty ‘never the same river twice’ nature of the generated music, without making the results edgier.

VARYING RESULTS

There are several things you can tweak to change the output and get different sounds out of this without repatching anything.

  • Change the notes in Scalar – ctrl-click int he note boxes to turn scale steps on and off.
  • Change the scale in Scalar – click on the NOTES value and try other equal tempered scales, or load a new SCALA file for other scales.
  • Increase the modulation on the Indent waveshapers, by tweaking the AS AtNuVrTr ATTN and OFFSET modules to the right of the Indent modules
  • Tweak the modulation on the RAMPAGE modules with the quad VCA modules to their right.
  • Change the rise and fall settings for the RAMPAGE envelopes.   You can also change the range switches to modify the overall timescale of the envelopes as well, though if you use faster envelopes it can get hectic.
  • Change the scaling on the random values sent into the SCALAR to get a wider range of note values.  If you turn up the levels all the way, you’ll get some high, piercing notes, which I used the quad VCA levels to smooth out.

SCALING MODULATORS

There’s generally a scaler of some sort between each modulator signal and the parameter it’s modulating.   This is almost mandatory for modules without controls for the mod amounts.   They give you finer grained control over how the sound changes. If you download the patch at the link given above you will have  a snapshot of how I hand-tuned each of the modulation events.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There’s a whole world of generative patches you can create, but there are important questions you need to ask yourself:  How random is too random? How fast is too fast or slow? What pitch range and scale gives the result the feeling you want?

That’s the challenge of making generative music interesting. Purely random (or deterministically chaotic) sounds sound random and arbitrary.  Your goal is to come up with something that reflects human intention.  That’s true if you’re playing a traditional instrument or creating a generative instrument and letting it do its thing.

VCVRackTutorial: Using Multiple Waveshapers to Drone.

Making drones is fundamental to modular synthesis, as it removes pitch from the equation, and makes piece all about timbral texture. This started out as a simple test of various waveshaper modules.

http://cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-ShapedDrone.mp3

The patch is here: http://cornwarning.com/xfer/VCV/ShapedDrone.vcv

The core of this patch is using waveshapers to generate harmonically rich distortions of the original sine wave. Since the different waveshapers get mixed, and because they’re all processing a signal of exactly the same frequency, they interfere and reinforce each other. The sound changes restlessly and chaotically over the course of the recording, and you occasionally get ghost notes made when more than one overtone series collides.

The audio signal flows from left to right basically, feeding 4 waveshapers that get mixed and modulated by the keyframe mixer. This is a really good beginner’s patch.

I’ll describe the patch left to right. I liked that it fits mostly in one row.

LogInstruments Precise DC Gen

The DC Gen is used to choose a constant note to send to the fundamental oscillator.

Vult Caudal Mechanical Chaos Source x 2

This module is based on modelling a triple pendulum. Each output represents an arm in the pendulum’s position and velocity. Basically it sounds random but there are predicatable — if chaotic correlations between each output. These are hear to screw with the parameters on modules to the right.

4 x Different Waveshapers

I wanted to check out various waveshapers — the Lindenberg VC Waveshaper, The Vult Debriatus, Lindenberg West Coast VC Complex Shaper, HetricCV Waveshaper . They each have their controls modulated by the Caudals.

Audible Instruments Keyframer/Mixer

The Keyframer is being used a mixer, but it’s unique in that you can record a bunch of different frame volume combinations (as keyframes) and then morph between them, either manually (with the big knob) or by modulation, also coming from the Caudal.

NYSTHI 4DCB

This is a DC Offset remover, and it’s there because waveshaping can introduce a DC Bias that messes with a signals apparent volume (and also messes with speaker cones). This is used between each waveshaper and the keyframe mixer.

Southpole Balaclava Quad VCA

To introduce some variety in the patch, the VCAs are used to modify the level of the signal. This is tuned to be mostly a slow throbbing.

AS DelayPlus Stereo Fx

What’s a modular patch without some delay or reverb? This stereo delay is tuned to long delays (on the order of seconds) so that the live signal is combined with the delayed signal. This adds some fat to the signal, and also introduces stereo panning.

Southpole Balaclava Quad VCA + Vult Knobs

This is just a way to do a master volume knob.

VCVRackTutorial: The Turing Machine


The patch file: http://cornwarning.com/xfer/VCV/TuringMachineExample.vcv

Audio Example: http://cornwarning.com/xfer/VCV/TuringMachineExample.mp3

The two implementations of the Turing Machine Sequencer — in the case of this patch, the one from the Skylights plugin — are not immediately understandable without doing some reading of manuals, which is never anyone’s favorite activity.

Turing Machine sequencer have a property that is one of the best about modular synthesis (or in fact music in general) in that it takes a single simple idea and implements it in a way that can have surprising and musically useful results.

There’s a full document describing what the Skylight folks implemented here, but I think I can describe it very simply.  If you look at the byte symbol above, it shows how it is comprised of bits.  A particular sequence in the Turing Machine uses this byte (or 16 bit word, maybe) in two ways.

  1. The bits are rotated in the buffer.  And by ‘rotated’ I mean that each bit is shifted left, and the last bit on the right  is placed in the leftmost bit location.  This makes sense if you visualize it physically. If you had a row of black & white marbles, you take out the rightmost marble, and place it in the leftmost position, shifting all the other marbles right one space.
  2. In computing a byte is two things: a collection of bits, and the representation of a number in the range of 0 and 255 (or often, one of the ASCII characters).

The Turing Machine Sequencer uses those two representations to generate a pitch and a gate signal. The pitch is the numeric value of the byte, and the gate signal goes from zero to one when the rightmost bit is one.

That’s all that really happens, except for what the LOCK knob does.  When the knob is fully counter-clockwise, every time the sequencer receives a clock, every bit in the sequencer’s byte is replaced by a new, random value.  When the knob is at 12 O’Clock, half of the bits are randomized.  When the knob is fully clockwise, the sequence is locked, and none of the bits change.

So when you use the Turing Machine as a sequencer you have a choice between an always changing random sequence, an unchanging sequence, and a sequence that changes gradually over time.  This example patch comes with a locked sequence that sounds like a classic analog sequencer patch from Kraftwerk or Tangerine dream.

The output of sequencer is a tunable combination of chaos and order. It follows a very musical paradigm.  If the LOCK knob is somewhere around 3 O’Clock it means that the sequence playing changes very slowly a note or two at a time.

It also has one of  most charming features of modular synthesis: Because of how the pitches and triggers are generated, the pitches and triggers have a deep structural relationship.  A change in underlying data byte changes both the pitch and trigger in a predictable way. Well, mostly predictable, as it does it’s magic by random, probabilistic bit flipping.

When two things in music have that kind of relationship, where they’re both tied to different views of the same input, it’s something you can hear.  The sound of the SkyLights Alan Turing machine is the sound of that relationship.

Another about this patch is the quantizing setup of the pitch output of the Turing Machine:

The pitch coming out of the Turing Machine changes at every clock step, so I run it through a sample & hold triggered by the gate output of the Turing Machine.  This means that the note only changes when a new note is triggered.  Then it’s quantized by VCV Scalar.  I’ve selected notes that are a sort of 5 note scale, but different than the standard pentatonic scale.  This is followed by a Fundamental Octave module, that transposes up or down by one or more octaves.

This is kind of a standard setup for most sequencers that I use, because I want things to add up musically, and I want one pitch per note. You can certainly bypass the sample & hold and go directly from the sequencer to the Scalar Quantizer , if you want the effect of the note pitch changing as it decays.

Live @ I Hear IC 2015-02-20


http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-2015-02-20-Live.mp3

The idea of I Hear IC is to gather people from Iowa City to present brief performances in a local coffee house. Peformances were in the range of 10-20 minutes. Other performers on this night included Jazz singers, an improvisation from two Iranian musicians and a small ensemble improvising a new soundtrack for old cartoons.

In that context I knew that it wasn’t like playing an hour-long techno set; no one would be dancing so the kick drum didn’t need to be in the mix the whole time. As it happened I finally brought it in at around 6 minutes; this goes back to early 90s origins of ambient techno, when producers would do long beatless intros to tracks. The rise of ‘popular’ ambient — with the KLF and the Orb being the most famous proponents — grew out of never actually bringing in the beat. Sonically I think this piece has a bit of the Orb about it.

It’s also an instance of not holding anything back. I went back over projects on my studio machine and plundered them for interesting sounds and loaded them all together in one set where I could mix and match stuff that originally went with much different music. I recorded a lot of sounds from my outboard synthesizers, playing loop clips and tweaking knobs to get some movement. The main repeated pad changes chords but it was accidental — I discovered that the JP6 would change the pitch of sounds when I jacked up cross mod. Which is fun because I was playing a slider; the chords were not exactly in tune.

The basic framework was dictated by a tonal center of C Minor. The bassline is straight 16th notes playing C C Eb Eb. That kind of simplistic sequencing reminds me a bit of early Tangerine Dream.

VOLCA JAMMIN

Sometimes you try something and it’s accidentally kinda compelling. The setup was

  • Volca Beats
  • Volca Keys
  • Jupiter 6
  • Meeblip Anode
  • Eventide UltraVerb on one send
  • Audiodamage Dubstation16 on the second send.

This is straight up tracky. It’s live mixing/tweaking. I actually added effects and the anode while recording. There’s minimal EQ-ing on the Volca Keys and Volca Beats.  I did some limiting and EQ on the mix-down and edited out the 16 or so measures where the anode was doing this unpitched farting noise.

Syncing the Volcas to Ableton Live is kind of wonky. It seems to work marginally better if you set the sync mode to pattern. The only way I found to get it tight was to hit the ‘play’ button a few times quickly. If you just hit play once, it always starts out of sync. Somehow resetting the counter to 1:1:0 a few times while Live is playing gets things lined up properly.

http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-2014-10-07.mp3

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-2014-10-07.mp3|titles=2014-10-07|artists=Chaircrusher]

Getting a good Korg Volca{Beats,Keys,Bass} AC Power Adapter

I’m sure I’m not the only person who got their new Korg Volca thing home only to discover that the power jack doesn’t fit any of the AC adapters you have laying around. This is annoying. I for one have a box with about 30 different power adapters to check through. But I have found a good, cheap solution.

First off, what you need is this:

  • DC 9V
  • Center Positive
  • 1.7mm connector

According to this guy, Matthew Zipkin A Volca device never consums more than 80mA, so pretty much any 9V AC adapter has enough juice to power multiple Volcas.

The problem is the plug is an uncommon size, 1.7mm. If you want to try splicing something together look for the yellow-tipped plugs. If I recall correctly, old Sony CD Walkmans used the 1.7mm plug. But another solution is this: Adafruit sells 2.1mm to 1.7mm DC jack adapters for $2.50. They also sell a 9VDC Center-positive 1000MA supply for 6.95.

The Adafruit solution is actually cheaper than the AC adapters I just bought on Amazon.com, with higher power output.

You can also power multiple Volcas from a single supply with guitar effect daisy chain cable, if you buy enough 2.1mm to 1.7mm adapters.

adapter