Jun 132017

Ornament and Crime Eurorack Module

One of the pleasures of Eurorack synthesis for me are firmware updates. With them comes the opportunity not only for greater stability, but added functionality. Ornament & Crime is an open-source platform that has grown from a single function to 13 amazingly intricate and sublime routines. One of the developers who has contributed much to the Ornament & Crime module is Timmy Churches, apparently from Australia who on speaking about it had this to say, “O&C isn’t a traditional product designed, manufactured and sold by a single entity — it’s a post-capitalist artifact of the after-hours sharing economy, and thus mash-ups and overly complex pastiches are to be expected.”

With this in mind it is obvious to me that we will be seeing ever more complex modules coming out of this sharing economy. This portends exciting times for our future in that those of us bitten by this Eurorack bug will forever be finding deeper modules made the more so by community involvement with extending functionality using open-source platforms.

I have a special affinity for my modules that do employ firmware updates as there is also the possibility of alternative firmware versions that can radically alter the functionality of the device. Case in point are many modules from Mutable Instruments that support “Parasites.” These parasites often but not always leave the original firmware mostly intact and tack on some new functions that make the module far more valuable to their owners.

On the other hand there exists the opportunity to get a module to market sooner if the maker can start distribution of the hardware platform early and then involve the community to help shape the overall function. To that end we have modules such as the Orthogonal Devices ER-301 and the Winter Modular Eloquencer that were put into artists hands early allowing testers to feedback with the developers to fine tune things and respond to community requests for ease of use or added functionality.

Today was the day that the crew behind Ornament & Crime released version 1.3.0 of this modules firmware now it’s time to open up the 47 pages of dense documentation to learn what’s new and how to use it. Big thanks to Patrick Dowling (aka pld), Max Stadler (aka mxmxmx) and Tim Churches (aka bennelong.bicyclist) for their dedication to this project and making one of the great contributions to Eurorack synthesis.

Jun 122017

PCB closeup of the Ultra Random Analog

Like Terence McKenna once said, “The further you go the bigger it gets.” If you begin your own exploration of the world of modular synthesis you will learn that you have likely bitten off more than you want to chew. Case in point, tuning and calibration. After upgrading firmware there is often a requirement that the module must be re-calibrated. This is typically done by sending a 1 volt and a 3 volt signal to the device that signify particular notes such as C2 and C4.

On the other hand there is my Ultra Random Analog (URA) from Steady State Fate which is a random voltage generator. While following a tutorial for it I just couldn’t get the same effect out of it in the same way, as what was being shown in the video. At the time it would have been easily explained that I simply wasn’t understanding much of what I was trying to learn. Over on Muffwiggler I found a conversation about other units that weren’t calibrated correctly and it read like this was exactly my problem. I did the best I could but was very uncertain about what I was doing.

Fast forward some months and now armed with a better bit of knowledge I can tell that my URA is still not calibrated correctly. I first need to remove the module from the rig but leave it plugged in as it will need power to it in order for me to make the required adjustments. To do this I’m lucky enough to have an oscilloscope from Mordax called the DATA, it’s a great Eurorack module everyone should own. There are three things that require calibration on the URA a clock that sets a gating frequency and two noise sources that should fall between particular voltage levels. The clock for the gate is calibrated by listening and choosing a timing that works best for the owner of the module. The other two calibrations are a bit more involved.

This is where the oscilloscope comes in. I have to send a particular signal out of the URA into the oscilloscope that is set to sample the incoming signal at 10ms and measure the voltage from +10 volt to -10 volt. From the first output I need to adjust the left pot (the little round things) you see above on the sides of the chip. I have to be careful to not turn too far as these are fragile and easily damaged. I’m looking to set them so they are producing brief peaks of +10V and -10V on the oscilloscope. When I’m done with the first pot I move the cable to the other jack and start measuring its signal. Somehow I missed this part of calibration on the first pass those months ago, as the second channel is off my a mile. By the way, while the miniature screwdriver is touching the pot the signal is being skewed so you make a small adjustment and remove the screwdriver to get a clean measure and then go back to it again until you get the range tuned in.

Fortunately this isn’t a common thing that has to be done on many modules, but having the tools and determination to get it done let’s me know a little bit more of this complex hobby that has me feeling like a mad scientist from time-to-time. I think the writing is on the wall that somewhere in the not-to-distant future I’ll be soldering my own synths so when a module needs a simple repair I’ll have the confidence to do that too.

Jun 112017

The Cold Eurorack Monster Rig

No blinky lights, no patch cables, no electricity. The rig is cold. An emergency at our office required me to forego Sunday morning play time, then about an hour after getting to the office the electricity went out for a large part of our neighborhood. As I’ve pointed out in a previous post, this is a ADDAC Monster case with 10A of power on both the +12V and -12V rails. The case is 197hp/21U and full while I have another 783hp of cases that are slowly being filled up too. After seeing Colin Benders new rig he’s having built by Jan Willem Hagenbeek of Ginko Synthese I’m getting itchy fingers to discover the ergonomics he’s about to explore!

Jun 102017

Orthogonal Devices ER-101

It started with the ER-301 Sound Computer/Sampler on the way to dinner last year. I’d read about it and how Brian from Orthogonal Devices is known for incredibly well thought out modules. When I got my ER-301 a month later with no manual and one rapid-fire demo video from the creator himself, it was nearly incomprehensible. What was clear was the craftsmanship and attention to detail. Becoming more and more familiar with my modules I knew that I’d want another sequencer or two, or three to help round out my rig. The problem was that the ER-101 Sequencer from Orthogonal had been sold out for months.

Then just a few weeks ago somebody on Muffwiggler posted he was eager to sell his ER-101/102 combo for an incredible price, I snatched them up right away. It’s now two weeks since I received them in excellent shape, I updated the firmware and waited for a moment to either find a great tutorial or finally give in and read the combined 64 pages of documentation. A familiar name showed up “Daisuk” he shared the following video a few years ago and it was super helpful: https://vimeo.com/101873468 

So after a very busy day testing various levels in my company’s VR product titled Hypatia that we released to some lucky people yesterday who are getting a sneak peek before we put it up for sale next week, I almost reluctantly got to it so I could do my best in keeping up with the “Patch Of The Day!” Tonight’s entry features my first ever work with the ER-101 sending a gate signal to the Mutable Instruments Elements, a control voltage feeding the 1V/Oct jack and then another five CV’s modulating various parameters on the Elements.

Jun 092017

Orgone Accumulator

I can sense I’m on the verge of losing some of the naivety that has kept modular synthesis a mystery to me. There has been many a moment of absolute frustration that the language of control voltages and audio signals are something that has come to us from a parallel universe inhabited by a higher order of beings that are steeped in complexity.

There are mixed emotions that come with knowledge, even if it is yet a weak bit of knowing that you can identify that you are on the tip of the iceberg. It’s the place in the journey you start to understand that if you keep on the path, you just might arrive at that point off in the distance. The previously impossible is becoming a possibility.

I’ve tried committing to creating some small patch as a morning exercise so that I should start my day making new connections. I’d almost given up on that idea today, as I was running out of time before I had to leave for the office.

With just minutes to spare and the wife pressing me to finish getting ready, I powered on the rig and grabbed a few patch cables. Which voice to start with? It’s got to be quick. Ah, I haven’t touched the Orgone Accumulator in a minute.

First step was patching this oscillator to the Levit8 mixer and then get the signal moving. I’ve been relying on the Eloquencer a lot lately so I opt to patch into the CV out of the Varigate 8+. Pitch is now jumping around through the 1V/Oct jack. What next? Out of the Tides I send the Unipolar signal into the Orgone Accumulator quickly followed by signals from the Batumi and Mini Slew. I have an interesting sound going so I take the patch cable from the Levit8 and jam it into the Three Sisters filter but I know I can spice this up too. Out of the Spectrum oscillator I go for the saw out and patch it into the FM jack on the Three sisters. One last step by plugging the Sloth into the 1V/Oct jack of the Spectrum so I add a little more movement to the FM signal.

Patch is done, got to go. Then I have the realization on my way out the door, I understood enough to build this still primitive audio fragment in less than five minutes. It’s not great, it’s not even good, but mere months ago I could hardly get a signal out of even the most basic module. Naivety is being muscled out of the way by the developing strength of constant exercise.