Sunday, December 30, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3: After-Game Thoughts

Assassin's Creed 3 spoilers are in this post. Also, this post assumes you are familiar with the Assassin's Creed series' aspects and AC3 in general.

So my father was kind enough to get me AC3 for Christmas. I don't think he knows the gravity of that gift.

You see, around 10pm last night I finished playing the storyline of AC3. Of course, I still have a lot to complete, but the story is complete. And Ho-ly CRAP. I'll be damned if that wasn't the best game I've ever played.

First, the updated physics and aiming engines are a HUGE relief. Combat is much smoother, and free-running is both easier and cleaner. I mean, you still have some problems when free-running and in heavy combat which can cause problems, but they are severely reduced in number. Sadly, this also means that when they do fail, it's pretty catastrophic. And, because the engines are meant to keep doing what they are, it's hard to recover. You can avoid this by playing VERY cautiously and precisely.

Then, the storyline. As with all Assassin's Creed games, you aren't actually playing in the past, but in the present as Desmond Miles, accessing memories of his ancestor assassins through the Animus, in this case you mainly follow Connor. Thus, you technically have two stories at once. In AC3, Ubisoft went INSANE with the story.

The historical part, taking place in Revolutionary Colonial America, is crazy from the start without you knowing it. Desmond has a Templar in his family tree. It gets weirder when you get to the point where you team up with Connor's father. There are numerous twists and turns throughout, too. It's crazy.

Then, in the modern story, you need to travel around the world collecting First Civilisation power sources to open a gate in the cave-like space where the Animus is set up. Once you get all of them and plug them all in (all the while following Juno's story about what she and the other First Civ gods tried to do in the cave), you open the gate which leads to Juno's little 'death sphere' (yes I made that name up). Bear in mind that this modern story takes place slightly before 12/21/12. Ubisoft used this date in the main story to further the point of Juno's sphere. At the end --

I should probably point out, MAJOR EFFING SPOILERS HERE!!!!

Anyway, so at the end, Minerva (from AC2) and Juno talk about what they were doing and how Juno's idea would destroy the world. Needless to say, since Juno's idea was best, causing the world to explode to recreate a New World, Desmond decides to side with Juno and uses the sphere to cause a kind of aura around the earth, protecting it from a major solar flare.

However, Ubisoft was smart. The end, where Desmond causes the Apocalypse, the screen fades to white as Desmond is being tortured by the sphere. Then flash several images of the destruction of the Earth, and a radio newscaster is talking about what is going on. Really, what Ubisoft did was create the perfect frame for AC4, should there be one. As the actual game ended with a fade to white, the next game could be anything. Knowing Ubisoft, the newscaster part is really a fraud and in AC4 Desmond will wake up in a hospital or something with Rebecca, Stephen and his father. ^_^

Definitely, I would say play this game. I would recommend playing all 4 previous AC games so you really get the full story, as well.

Really, though, that was a very powerful ending. But the one thing I kept thinking every time Juno showed up was: I wonder if that dress actually could exist? I mean, it's a cool freaking dress/robe thing:
Desmond and Juno

But, ongoing with how awesome this game is, just because I've beaten the storyline, I still need to:
get 100% synch
play all the minigames
play all the sidequests
do all the random stuff you can do
finish all the ship missions

So basically, I still have HOURS of playing to do with this game. Dad, I love you for getting this.

And, really, this is the best choice for the price. $60 for this, whereas most other things I would want are synths or electronics for making synths, all of which can really only be used for music. Would I rather have a Mono/Poly sitting there waiting to be played and tweaked, or have AC3, which is cheap, has great music, gameplay, and an incredible story? I think the answer is obvious.

Saw-Core Oscillator

Hi all,

So you know how I occasionally e-mail synth manufacturers to get certain information about how their stuff works? Well, I did it again, but this time got a reply!

You see, I found Pittsburgh Modular's Oscillator range to be disturbing. It ranges from approximately .143Hz to, well, high, and it mostly tracks 1v/o. It also does FM and sync and other neat stuff, but DID YOU SEE THAT RANGE??
Oh, yeah, it's pretty too.
So, obviously, I set out to learn how to do it by first seeking the knowledge of those who made it. As I understand it from the reply I got, it's a saw-core oscillator using 100k pots for the frequency controls. Now, given my knowledge of how these things work, that is mathematically impossible, seeing as how I can get a max range of .5Hz to 110,000Hz with my oscillator given a capacitor swap (cool, huh?). Now obviously that goes about 90kHz higher than it needs to, so now I am trying to figure out how to lower the frequency set while maintaining range.
Swap the 10n cap between GND and TRIG for a 1u and you get super low frequencies :)
Should I have time tomorrow, I will build a saw-core oscillator (they're easy) and try getting a super wide frequency from it. If I can, that would be half the battle. I have several ideas in the works, but it is rather late and I have a lot to do tomorrow (assuming installing ductwork counts as 'a lot to do').
This might kinda work, right?
See ya tomorrow!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

4017-Based Sequencer

Hi all 14,000+ of you that have read this blog in 10 different countries! (That's just way cool to me)

So I came up with yet another useful yet super-simple synthesizer module: a full-width (that's 84 hp) 10-step sequencer!
Ok, so it's a little... odd, so let me explain the parts:

-First you see the Xanu logo with the description below it. :)
-Below that is the clock section. The knob controls the internal oscillator's speed, and that can be voltage-controlled via the 'Speed In' input. Or, you can insert your own clock signal via the 'Clock In'. This is slightly unusual, but I think having the option is useful.
-Then you get to the 10 steps. Each has a CV control (+9V to 0V), LED step indicator, and individual CV and Gate outputs. You'll also note the three-way switch. This can turn on or off each step, or can set that step to reset the sequence (so you can literally have a 1-step sequence if you want, or you can switch the 9th step to reset and have a musically normal 8-step sequencer)
-After that you have Hold and Reset inputs. Hold will hold a step indefinitely given a high gate signal. Reset will reset the sequence to step 1. Either can be controlled with anything that can create a high gate signal, even a +9V CV signal. Each also has an attenuated input, should you need it.
- Then you have 4 5th Outs. Each of these creates a high or low gate signal every 5 steps. Can be used with the Reset and Hold inputs for neat effects.
-Master CV and Gate are just like the individual CV and Gate, but each step outputs to it. This way you can, say, patch the master CV to an oscillator and sequence the pitch.
-I'm also thinking about adding a clock output, in case you want this sequencer's clock to control something else. It wouldn't be hard, at least!

You may ask why I did what I did here, and it's mainly for maximum patchability. It's totally possible you'd never use parts of it, but I'm sure you can see the usefulness of each part (assuming you know how most sequencers work nowadays)

And, since I'm a nice DIY synth person, here's the schematic:
This schematic isn't entirely accurate, mainly because my version of LTSpice doesn't have some of the parts. Given the description you can build it, though. You'll have to pay attention to your exact 4017 and its outputs, otherwise this schematic will be a bit wonky for you. Oh, and of course, you'll want to connect your 3-way switch's 3rd setting to your reset pin if you want that. You could also just patch a step's gate output to the reset input and use a normal on/off switch.
I actually learned something useful with this project (as I usually do): the 555 timer's speed is controlled not only by the resistor, but the capacitor between pins 1 and 2. The shunting cap is only for precision and can be just about any size (at least, between 1uF and 10nF). Using a 1uF cap, like in this circuit, you can get a frequency range of .5Hz to 1500Hz. With my normal oscillator (which will probably be changed now) used 10nF caps, and bottomed out in the hundreds Hz range and went out of the audio range. That's kinda useless given that it's the main source of sound in a synthesizer.
Also, given this new knowledge, I think I know how to create an LFO module: just use the clock circuit from this, use my oscillator's waveshaping section, add voltage control, and bam! Instant LFO module. Though I do wish I knew how Pittsburgh Modular got such an insane frequency range with their Oscillator...

Oh, and for those of you looking for pics of my modular, well, it doesn't exist. I don't have all the parts or skills to actually build these as modules. Given a number of pots, jacks, and the ability to work sheet metal, then I'll start building them.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Korg Monotron

So I've had my little monotron for four days less than a year now, and I thought I'd share a few of the neat things it can do, other than the advertised stuff. In no particular order:

FM synthesis
FM control
Additive synthesis
Sine waves
Radio-style band pass filtering
Annoy people
Low pass filtering
Make almost any synth sound like an MS-20
303-like basses
Useful sound effects
Teach basic analogue synthesis
Confuse people
FM-controlled complex filtering of additive waveforms morphing into sine waves (with just the move of a knob!)
Be an emergency flashlight
Detuned "supersaw"-like waveforms
Make that nerdy redhead like you more (true story)
Triple oscillator detuned supersaw and sine wave.
Portable dubstep machine
Juno-ish stabs
A mini "toy piano"

In general, it's a small supersynth and analogue multi-effects processor which is fun to play and cheap to buy.

Note: all of these are possible if you REALLY know how to use your monotron.
'Nother note: this only applies to the original monotron, not the duo or delay, nor any modifications. Those can do different things due to their nature. Though, if you have all three monotrons, you're in business.

And people wonder why I stress actually learning your instrument... you learn its idiosyncrasies that make it awesome! I also learned my DX7. Just try to fathom what that can do...

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Characters

So, I was kind of a noob a couple days ago and accidentally overwrote my Skyrim save where I beat Skyrim, including all quests, discovered all locations, and had the best weapons and armours in the game. Good going.

But, I'm trying to see this as a new beginning. I think I will try to play Skyrim as myself. What do I mean?

Well, I thought I would show you around to see my various different characters in all the games that I now play, just so you start to build a picture. Note, these are only customisable characters. From the top...

Runescape (also known as where Yoa was first created. Had this guy for several years now):

Runes of Magic:
WOAH, WOAH, MAN, THOSE LAST TWO ARE CHICKS!! Quite. I have a tendency to create at least one dude (Yoa) and one or two chicks (Avareth and Noey). Those two are Avareth and Noey, respectfully. Noey is based off of a friend I once had, and the other is 100% made up. I consider Yoa to be the brother of the two. And no, I'm not one of those creeps who acts like a girl in-game to get close to other players. Like reality, I tend to stay generally secluded. 
Well, I do actually have two characters in Oblivion (Yoa and Noey, I think), but seeing as how the next set of pics came out rather poorly because I have to take pics of my TV screen, just imagine Yoa with black hair and the Minecraft outfit and Noey a lot like the one you're about to see.

The first three are Avareth, the last is Noey.
Yup, I, Yoa, exist in reality as a DJ, electronic musician, vlogger, gamer, etc. Same outfit, too! The brown coat, tan shirt, and hat are kind of a theme, can you tell? And yes, I proudly support Korg. Hence the giant logo.
See the discrepancy? OMG THERE'S NO YOA IN SKYRIM!! Funnily enough, every time I've made a male character in Skyrim (the first of which was Yoa), the game froze and crashed repeatedly until the save file was wiped by the system. Super annoying.
But, now that I've beat Skyrim with Avareth (who I saved over), I see no reason why not to try to create Yoa again. If it crashes, at least it's not a whole lot of time put into either Yoa or Noey.
Expect a few 'Yoa in Skyrim' shots :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Runescape Poser

Hey guys,

So I'm not sure how many of you also know me in Runescape, but if you do you should know that I've logged in very little over the last few months.

However, someone else has possibly been playing as me. I logged in today to see that I had a totally misarranged bank with several high-value items being sold on the GE, including my Saradomin outfit and my awesome Dark Cavalier. I'm also missing almost all of my runes and all but 586gp (I had over 4 mil), but the person who was playing as me must have been a huge miner because I was in Fally mine and had 20k+ coal and a ton of gemstones.

Obviously, I've changed my password and taken other appropriate security measures, but I just wanted you to know that if you saw Yoa online, it probably wasn't me. Now I suppose I should sell some stuff and get my awesomeness back, eh?

Edit: Good-ish news! I now have around 6 mil gp from selling off that rubbish, and I got my hat back (the Sara outfit can wait as I'm not cosplaying anymore)! I did notice a few new things: my bank PIN had been removed (that's possible??), and there are a few people in the friends list I don't recognise (but that's because you can change your name, probably). There were also a few music tracks that I hadn't unlocked which I knew I did, so I have a new theory:

When Jagex did one of its bigger updates to Runescape, it may have corrupted some people's profiles slightly. Some of these problems aren't possible to do otherwise (I mean, locking unlocked tracks and removing PINs, really?). I think I'll contact Jagex about this, see if they might know anything (or, have an IP login list with times and dates, which I doubt).

'Nother Edit: HOLY FK I HAVE 98 MINING. And whoever was playing as me has been doing so quite recently and putting a lot of time into it, because I've been levelling up mining since at least mid-November up to Dec 7.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Choosing 3U Modulars

Hi guys,

So I was chillin' on AnalogueHaven (as I tend to find myself doing) and found that they were advertising Pittsburgh Modular. I decided, hey, why not? I went there to look up Gorilla Boxes (which cost way too much), but why not look around a bit? I also added the 4ms PEG and Cyndustries Quad Transient to my list o' wanted modules for the Monster Modular.

So looking through the PM section, I saw all the stuff that I normally do when I look at their stuff, except for one thing: the Foundation. It's a simple 3U modular system, 3U referring to how many rack spaces it takes up. Eurorack modules are 3U tall, so a 3U system is one row of Eurorack modules, usually fitting into a 19" rack (84HP).

Anyway, so I looked at it, and checked out the video, and was blown away. So then I decided to look up other 3U (Eurorack) modular systems by different brands: Doepfer (of course), Analogue Systems, Analogue Solutions, and Blacet. I looked at others, but decided to set myself a price limit  $1700 (about half of the Doepfer BS1, what I originally wanted).

The Pittsburgh system is $1700, Doepfer $1300, Analogue Systems $1200, Blacet (with LFO) $1300. Analogue Solutions only has two similar things: Telemetry $1600, Station-X $650. Neat fact: the AS Telemark (not Telemetry, mind) is part of the Monster Modular :) But I'm only talking about fully modular systems here, that's more like an SEM.

Now, you may just go for the cheapest, the Station X, right? Well, the thing about modulars is, well, modularity. Let's compare parts:

PM: MIDI-CV, 2xVCO, 2XLFO, ringmod, mult, mixer, MMF, 2xADSR, 2xVCA, output
Doepfer: Advanced MIDI-CV, noise, random voltage, 2xVCO, 2xringmod, mixer, LPF, VCA, ADSR, LFO
AS1: ringmod, mult, noise, S+H, clock, VCADSR+repeat, LFO, VCO, MMF, VCA
Blacet:VCO, MMF, ADSR, 2xVCA, splitter/buffer/mixer/VS, LFO (or MIDI-CV)
Telemetry:MIDI-CV, 2xVCO, LPF, 2xLFO, S+H, noise, ADSR+repeat, Joystick, pin matrix
Station X: MIDI-CV, VCO, LPF, VCA, EG, LFO, S+H, noise, clock

Personally, I would rule out the Analogue Systems and Blacet systems because Blacet is rather limiting due to limited functions and the AS is only special because it has a repeating ADSR, which is only somewhat useful, and has no MIDI-CV. Then I would rule out the Telemetry because, even though it is in a way dually modular (patching and pin matrix), it has a repeating ADSR and the matrix is annoying to use, just in my experience. Then, I would rule out the Station X because it's pretty unintuitive and not very functional.

Side note: You may wonder why I like the MIDI-CV stuff, though. That's because, along with doing automated patches, which is what most modular users do, but you can also connect your modular with MIDI and use an external sequencer or arpeggiator with it, or even just a keyboard.

"Wow, either he's picky or he just hates those brands..." Well, kinda both. I want a usable modular system with plenty of possibilities. That's my main thing. Which, also rules out Doepfer in this case (but not in the BS1 case) because even though I love the sound and it has a really nice MIDI-CV, I... well, there's many reasons:
-the MIDI-CV converter is complicated to use for many beginner modular users, and it ends up getting unused. Hence, Doepfer came out with simpler interfaces.
-it only has a low pass filter (LPF). Many more sonic capabilities can be had with more filter types.
-the random voltage module (noise+S+H) is only useful to a point and for certain things.
-It has less ADSR's, LFO's and VCA's, no mults, and has 2 ringmods. One is still pretty powerful.

'Nother side note: And, yes, if you really wanted you could buy individual modules and a 3U case and build your own 3U system, but usually, and in these cases, buying in bulk is cheaper than buying individual modules.

Don't get me wrong, I still love Doepfer, and if I found myself with a spare amount of cash to get a BS1 (with the other parts that I have planned) I would choose that over any 3U system. I also still respect the other manufacturers named here.

But, overall, I would say that the Pittsburgh Modular Foundation system is the best 3U system for the money. Yes, also the most expensive, but you can do everything from complex automated patches to a simple drum machine to making it a kind of MiniMOOG if you connect a MIDI keyboard. It is also the most useful and functional system, and has a really interesting sound and clean look. Unless something better comes out, I will probably be saving my money for one of these, even over a BS1 (just because of price and I want a modular NAO!!).

(As per usual, I wasn't paid or given anything to say any of this. All my own research :)

Oh, and thank you all for 13,000+ pageviews! That's epic!

P.S. I realised later after writing this that the Foundation is a fairly new modular system. Before this, the Doepfer Minisystem would prevail.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Going Modular!

So it's kinda been in the works for a while, but I've decided that I'm going to build a modular synthesizer!!

And no, I still didn't get the space and money for the Monster Modular, which I'm actually still working on. Nope, I'm going to build one, straight from scratch.

Well, by scratch I mean I'll take components and link them together in neat ways. Close enough.

Here are the modules, going from top left to bottom right: VCO, Waveshaper, Lowpass filter, Highpass filter, Dual Ringmod, Distortion, Multiples, VCA, Dual Slew limiter, Dual Manual Voltage Generator, EQ, CV processor, Dual Hard mixer, Waveshaper II, Mixer.

There are a couple wierd ones, so I'll explain those now:
The initial waveshaper is the one I blogged about not too long ago. The second one is actually a shaper that I have in progress.
Multiples is a series of jacks that are connected together. In this case, it's three sets of four.
Slew limiter actually creates a gradual change when a hard voltage change is applied.
Manual Voltage Generator is useful for changing parameters the same way. Also useful for slow complex LFOs or Envelopes.
The CV Processor is useful for delayed triggers, inverting signals, and clipping, which creates a unique waveform.
The Hard Mixer is actually an accident. I wired three oscillators onto one track on my breadboard, and it caused almost FM-like sounds. Neat stuff.
The Mixer is actually a series of 5 attenuators.

And, the neat thing is, I can build all of this. I can even do the panels with my spare aluminum (if I can find a safe way to mill it). Only problem is I need more materials. Potentiometers, silver knobs, 1/8" jacks (or I can make it not Euro and use 1/4"), all the rack mounting hardware, all the rack stuff, clear sticky paper to make labels... oh, and a proper power supply. Still deciding whether I should use a 9V adaptor and just run that into it, creating bipolar power supplies where needed, or if I should build a 9V bipolar power supply. That's probably the better route, except I really don't like the idea of dealing with mains power. And I also don't know how I'd connect the modules to the main power bus.

Definite first thing, though: get money to do all of this :) Though if I get a constant income we all know I'd just save a few grand for a Doepfer setup while building this, haha!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Simple Multi-Type Analogue Filter

Ok, so I cheated on this filter, I really did. But, it does some cool stuff!

So here's the filter:
Let's look at this in sections. The bottom section (those two components) is a passive RC high-pass filter. Vary the cutoff with the resistor. The rest of the schematic is an opamp-based Butterworth slope low pass filter. Vary the cutoff with the resistor labelled 'var'. This could easily be a highpass by swapping the var resistor and the .01u capacitor.

So, how do I get multi-type filter out of just this? Well, let's start with the details.

The highpass is 3dB/oct, meaning that every octave the cutoff frequency moves, the volume of the attenuated frequencies is 3dB lower than normal. This is a very subtle filter, but has a rather drastic effect.

The lowpass filter is 12dB/oct, which is quite drastic in all respects, minus filters with more attenuation (obviously).

Now, let's talk about actual filtering. More so, let's talk about the four main types of filter: lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and band reject. In this configuration, all of these are possible. Firstly, the low and high pass filters are naturally there. The band reject is easy, too: set the lowpass to about 25% and highpass about 75%, and BAM, instant band reject. Variable in all respects, too.

Now, for a band pass, you'd need a slight modification: a double pole, single throw switch, and a diode. You'd need to install it like this:
Imagine those three unconnected but close wires is the switch.
To the left, you get the above variation. To the right, however, you have a band-pass filter. The low pass output goes into the highpass, and that can create a bandpass. However, you can't do much else with this configuration. I think a different switching type should be in order, but for now it works well.
So, there you have it. A simple multi-type analogue filter. And, you can also create interesting combinations, like some of those found on Doepfer's A-106-6. It really is pretty useful. And, you can actually use switches to rearrange the filters and, thus, change combinations. You can even include feedback loops, should you want.
Only problem? No Q. No Peak. No resonance. But, hey, who needs that? Just set up an RLC resonator somewhere. I'm still learning how to use inductors, though.

Multi-Wave 555 Oscillator

So, as you all kinda know I've been enjoying the idea of a 555-based oscillator a bit too much. So today, I built the perfect multi-waveform 555 oscillator. As if it wasn't enough fun...

So, we'll just start with the heavy stuff, here's the basic circuit:
It's a basic 555 astable multivibrator (to be precise) with the top 500k resistor controlling frequency. On the output, you'll see 4 outputs and essentially 4 low pass filters (two on one output). The upper is a square wave, as expected, the next down is triangle, the next is sine, and the last is saw. Well, what I'm calling saw. Here:
As you'll see, green is square, blue is triangle, red is sine, and teal is saw. You'll also note that none of the waves are perfect (except maybe the square). That is because, due to the nature of RC filters, the capacitor is affecting the wave. You'll note the triangle wave, for instance, actually has slightly exponential curves, not straight lines.

So, about the saw wave: due to the capacitor's effect, an exponential rise and fall is created, with a peak at both ends. This is somewhat similar to how a saw wave behaves, except that saws are straight rises with linear falls. Unless... we look back into synthesizer history...

Take a look at any old Oberheim saw wave. Actually, I have one here:
You'll note that the rise and fall are slightly exponential, with the rise being inverted. This can be done with my saw; just adjust the pulse width (getting to that) and use a voltage switched inverter, and you'll get quite close.

Now, we still have three issues with this oscillator: how do you make it voltage controlled, how do you change the pulse width, and how do you make all outputs the same volume? I've figured this out, too.

First, voltage control. Nowadays, we have these fancy things called vactrols. This makes voltage control cheap and easy: the voltage is applied to an LED, whose amount of light is determined by the voltage. This shines onto a photoresistor, which changes resistance according to the amount of light hitting it. More voltage=more light=more resistance. Doepfer actually uses vactrols in some of their modules. Replace the resistors/potentiometers with the resistor end of a vactrol, and you've got voltage control.
How to change pulse width: this is easy, but has a problem. To change it, simply use a potentiometer for the 1k resistor between pins 8 and 7. This, being a resistor, can also be voltage controlled. The downside? It also affects pitch slightly. However, that can be easily fixed by changing the normal frequency control. This also means that all the waveforms can have pulse widths, which can create some very interesting sounds.

Finally, amplitude. All that filtering causes amplitude problems, especially for the triangle and sine waves. The fix? Use an amplifier! You can amplify the signals with either a buffer amplifier using an opamp, or use an actual audio amplifier, like a 386. I'd use the opamp, though, because even though it needs a unique power source (which is easy to build), it won't clip as easily as a 386 will.

So basically, this is the simplest analogue multi-wave oscillator you can build, as far as I know. Sure beats something like the Aries 317 or (heaven forbid you build this) the MiniMoog oscillator. Except, well, those don't have the same problems this oscillator does, but whatever.

Hey, next maybe I'll show you how I built my multi-type analogue filter! Actually... *starts writing next post*

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How To Make a Funky Bass Line

Record a voltmeter's buzzing when you connect the probes in continuity mode. Put that into a sampler two octaves down, and apply a bit of stereo spread and dual detuning, just for fun. Ringmod that with a sine wave of a moderate frequency, then low pass filter it. Then apply a phase inverter to the left side. Remove DC offset, then filter out any mono signals (that is, any signal that is the same on one side and the other). Sample the resulting sound.

Then, with that sample, apply a low pass filter. Record four times, each having a different filter cutoff. Layer all 5 tracks, the original having no filtering. Lower the volume of the highest cutoff frequency track, boost the lowest one, and pan hard left and right the two tracks with the most middle frequencies. Take the resulting layered audio into yet anther sampler, and apply a three-band EQ to it, lowering the highs and mids to an acceptable level. Then, play a bass line in the octave below the sample. Record.

Then (nope, not done yet, poor little sample), pan slightly to the left as the right side is now overpowering, and apply a limiting amplifier to get a respectable volume.

That is how you get the bass line in just one of my songs. If I do that with just digital means, imagine what I would do with an analogue modular setup. haha!

Friday, November 23, 2012

For a Musician...

...I don't seem to write much about music. Let's change that.

So if you're awesome people and fans of my FB page, you'll know that I'm working on getting an album out on iTunes, Amazon, Google, etc. The only issue is that, aside from the whole 'it takes money to make money', I need songs! I'm slowly working on it, but so far the plan is simple: it'll be a three part album with maybe 15-17 songs, covering three genres: techno (what I normally do), progressive house (think deadmau5 or Glen Morrison or Sydney Blu or... you get the point), and a little dubstep, just to reach into that market, which is quickly losing its reign. So far I have 15 songs in the works, minus transitional songs, so I'm good there. Of those, I think 5 are finished, and the rest are either close or still in progress. Doing good!

Second, I've been helping an awesome guy in (I think) England with his virtual synthesizers. Well, I've been a big enough help to him, not only testing and giving advice, but doing demo songs and preset banks, that I'm actually going to be in the official documentation for some of the instruments! Yay!

Also, if you have not been paying much attention, I've uploaded a few songs that weren't quite album material to my SoundCloud! Free songs!!

Finally, with the synth I was building, well, that will have to be postponed. It costs more than I had anticipated, so I've decided to let it chill in the background for a while, at least until I can afford it. However, I have been working on how to build a modular version of it, with tons of stuff for both CV and audio, so maybe the Triple Fiver will actually end up as a modular. Never know.

Oh, and about that YouTube series I was talking about, that will be starting soon, possibly mid-December, but knowing me it'll be the first Monday of next year. Sorry if you were looking forward to that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's Ready.

All it took was a 220nF capacitor.

I now have a fully operational high pass filter, which means I have everything planned out, it all works, and I can begin building.

The only untested item is a treble/bass range identifier, which will simply add a 1Mohm resistor to the oscillator frequency circuit. I imagine this will suffice:
The resistor and wire are both connected to pin 2 of the 555, and the upwards wire goes to pin 7. Easy.

Tomorrow, we build.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's Alive!!

Yes, back to electronics for a moment.

I decided to test the individual parts of the synth, together. So far I've just been building and testing each part (I've been referring to them as 'modules'), using my microKORG or guitar as a sound source if needed.

First I tested the oscillator and filter, which was difficult because they use different power supplies. I had to build a bipolar power supply just for the filter on a small corner of my breadboard. Talk about compact. But, they worked together beautifully!

I then built the distortion module between the filter. After adjusting the output capacitor and making sure wires were tight, I ran it again, oscillator>distortion>filter. Well, the filter worked, and the oscillator worked, but the distortion seemed to have problems. Adjusting the gain did nothing, and I couldn't use the diode clipper because it actually ended up grounding most of the signal. Go figure.

All this time, I was using but a single 9v Duracell. After having all that load on it, it's still measuring 9v. Go Duracell! Only power problem I had, aside from having to build a tiny bipolar supply, was when I swapped capacitors in the distortion module to a 10n (which, module by itself, makes for a neat highpass distortion), the oscillator acted as it does when you remove the power: a slow slew down in both pitch and volume. I didn't measure, but I assume the 10n cap introduced such a load that the battery temporarily died.

I had an idea for a highpass filter: a simple potentiometer crossfader fading between the clean signal and a moderately small (nF range) capacitor. It's not a true adjustable highpass, but it seems like it would create a seemingly highpass effect, at least to me in theory. Of course, I could always try to figure out how to make an RC highpass work.

Talking about that, if you look up an RC highpass, you'll see that you just have a signal input going into a cap, then out. There is a grounded resistor as well, but in my experience, if you make that a potentiometer, it doesn't sweep, but in fact at a certain point the signal drops out. Otherwise, it just uses the cap's capacitance as a filter. Annoying.

So yeah, that was my evening. Night, really, since I started around 3 hours ago at 10pm.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

pid (PS3) - First Impressions

Enough about electronics, let's talk about gaming (even though my pageviews have increased to 12k since I started posting about electronics -- thanks!!)

pid is a nifty platformer-type puzzle game. You can get the (somewhat long) trial on the PSS. If you're into that kind of game, keep reading. You'll want to know about this game.

Let's go through the whole process. Downloading and installing the game is pretty quick and painless (I personally took a trip to reddit while the 10 minutes passed). Then you get to the game menu and scroll down to it.

The screen turns into a nice little scene of two characters in a bus stop, it seems. It's blurred and rather artistic. Then the music plays, and I must say the orchestration and melody are quite nice. After listening to that on loop for nine hours (it really is a nice piece), you should then actually play the game.

The ESRB 10+ rating appears, then the main developer, Might and Delight, shows its simple logo. The main menu is rather simple: the word 'pid' in pink on a purple background. You press start, choose start game, and choose players and difficulty. After a simple loading screen with jsut the word loading and some dots, the game starts.

Your character, Kurt, wakes up and moves some lumber off of his body. You start in a cave, where one can assume Kurt fell into and had rubble atop him. The background music begins, which is quiet ambient synthesized pads, with water dropping and the occasional djembe-like drum playing. Then you move around.

The controls are simple: left stick moves and squats (by holding it down), X is jump, triangle is use objects, and select is your inventory. The first few levels shows you this. After that, it's all puzzles.

In the game, you must essentially move Kurt around to get him to various locations to continue to the next puzzle. This is done in the beginning by means of Beams, which last about 15 seconds and move Kurt wherever they point (opposite of the surface it is placed upon). You can use keys to unlock doors, use bombs to remove enemies, and other fun things.

I'll be totally honest, I'm not much of a puzzle platformer, but I like this game. I'm not going to go into a full review of the game as this is just a first impressions post, but after playing it for a while, I'd definitely recommend getting the game. Well, get the trial first, just in case you don't like it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Neat OpAmp Waveshaper

So I as messing around in LTSpice (what I use for running circuit simulations) and wondering what a passive Sallen-Key filter can do if you muck with the components. I used a square wave from a 9v-powered 555 oscillator circuit as the input and monitored the output.
Here's what I found. If frequencies look different, it's because I took pics of less oscillations. None of these actually change the frequency. Oh, and the resistor values are simulating a dual-ganged potentiometer.

Normal Setup (via Wikipedia):
Normal, with less input resistance:
Removing input feedback loop, 100k resistors:

Reducing input resistors to 10k:
And, because I found the difference between 10k and 100k fascinating, I tried 50k resistors, which created just a triangle wave with a slightly bent top, so I tried 20k:
As you can see, a 100k pot sweep can go from a triangle wave to a dirty saw wave. 
So, it seems that a Sallen Key Filter can make a better waveshaper base than a low pass filter base. Now I feel like building a simple device with two filter setups, with and without the feedback loop.


It's SCIence!

I swear, I'll have a really interesting hand made modular synth if I keep this up (and keep getting parts, of course)!
All it needs is CV capabilities... Oh, and a VCA would be helpful. LOL

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Teach a Man to Fish...

...and he eats for life.

Learning how to make a filter was like my fish. I say that because, in just 5 hours, I've completed the plan for the Triple Fiver. Yes I'm still calling it that.
It's a smaller image, but if you zoom and pan a bit you can see everything.

I did add a few things: two more oscillators, an input amplifier, a power jack, and two more jacks (I/O for the input amp). So, yeah, I pretty much went all out, at least as far as I'm willing to go for now.

A couple notes:

1) The diode clipper on the bottom right is acting as a stand-in distortion unit. I've found that actual distortion units suck to build, so for now it's this. The pot is supposed to be a clean mix, but it seems to bypass that entirely. Not sure how to fix that... except, I do know how to build a crossfader. Maybe in another version or something I'll build an actual unit. I mean, I have distortion pedals galore, so if I really need it it's there.

2) The I/O jacks may or may not need diodes to direct electrical flow. I'll have to test it.

3) If I wanted, this could easily be adapted to be a small 8-module modular (3 oscillators, 1 filter, 2 amps, ringmod, and distortion). Adding CV and other stuff would make it geared more towards that, though in a way it is modular, with all the I/O and stuff.

4) I added a few switches just for easier/more patching. You'll also note all of them are on-off. This can allow for a lot of stuff to go on, such as the oscillators going to both the ringmod and filter. Hm... patch idea!!

Oscillators> ringmod and filter

Actually, that would probably just create a muddy vocoder-like Dalek sound. Heh, I'm cool with that.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Doepfer Is Bloody Awesome

No, no, chill out, I'm not going to talk about modulars or anything, at least not now. But should I find myself with $2,800... --No!

What this is really about is how my synthesizer I'm building is finally starting to move on. If you are friends with me on Facebook (or subscribed to me), you'll know that I've been having problems trying to build a filter. I've tried everything from Sallen-Key's to SWP's filter, but nothing has worked. They were waveshapers or simply non-working. Now, though, I'm happy.

I went to, where Doepfer talks about how they designed their Vactrol and MS20 filters. I've been here before, but didn't understand a lot of it. Now that I've been studying electronics for a while, I know what they are talking about. I built their MS20 clone filter (without CV, of course) and, with a couple minor changes, it works!
Ok, not the best picture, I realise. Basically, on the left there's a 555-based oscillator. On the right is the filter, complete with cutoff and resonance controls.

I would upload sound examples, but by this point, I'd rather wait until the whole thing is complete. It's pretty close to completion now.

Speaking of which, not much is left. I only need to build the effects (ringmod and distortion) and the amplifier, test it all, then solder it all together and test it again. Then it's just the modularity and aesthetic aspects.

By modularity, you may recall I have jacks in and out of this thing: outputs from all parts, inputs into everything but the oscillator, not to mention power supplies (I decided to also put a power jack because I don't want to be changing this thing's batteries all the time).

As for aesthetics, I decided that I want it in a maple box with rounded corners, and give it Moog-style knobs (black ones with a white line and mother-of-pearl-like inserts).

Though, I don't know yet if I want there to be a separate amplified audio input. I could always use an external preamp, sure, but if there's one built in... agh, so many possibilities! I also am thinking of adding a 556, so that I have three oscillators, not just one. Chords and dissonance, woo!

Anyway, just an update for ya. Next I'll work on how to make a distortion. This should be fun...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Making the Triple Fiver

So I've started breadboarding my little synthesizer. So far I have a basic square wave going (I can't build the rest of the circuit yet) into a modified Sallen-Key filter. Problem is, well, that filter isn't too happy.

That is a video showing what it does so far. As I say, it's a fancy pulse-width modulatable, frequency tunable square wave oscillator. Except, well...

The output of the oscillator itself (running through a Marshall MG15, no effects, EQ set 10,0,0, mixed with some noise from a mic which was on the same channel) looks like this:

 Obviously, that's effects- and noise-laden, so to show it by itself...
However, though the filter, it looks like this:
So whatever is going on, it's not filtering, that's for sure.

Now, I should note here that this has not been properly tested. The first image was when I first made the oscillator work, and reached for the nearest amp. The second image I took just now, which is directly from the rebuilt oscillator, into a mixer with everything turned down, and into Audacity. The third was using the Marshall setup, but with the filter.

Yes, I said rebuilt. When I initially tried taking that image, there was no sound from the oscillator. It was just noise (of course I thought I somehow blew another 555). I cleared my breadboard and rebuilt just the oscillator :)

To be honest, I won't rebuild that bloody filter, at least not now. I don't have the proper parts, and the ones I do have have problems fitting onto the board because I got a small board.

Here is what I think is going on: the signal going to the filter isn't a square wave, but noise. That goes into the filter, which has improper parts and is possibly built wrong, thus giving a strange sound and unpredictable results.

If I have the time tomorrow, I will rebuild it all, make sure each part works properly, then blog (and maybe vlog) again. I really want this to work, man!!!

The bloody filter:

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Triple Fiver is Nearing Completion!

Yes, I am calling it that. It sounds just cheesey enough for me to like it :)

I'm getting close, anyway. I need to edit the right-most OpAmp (hence the random lines going various directions), change the filter from this boring Sallen-Key placeholder, and add on to the oscillator (allow for sine, saw, and triangle waves), but other than that, this should be a fully functional drone synthesizer!

It also has 10 jacks for input and output. This is mainly for external use (ie, with a modular), but can also be used for the individual effects: ringmod, distortion, filter, and amplifier. Or, you can patch the jacks together and, along with the internal switching, get some crazy sounds. And by crazy I mean complex, not random sounds, though that is possible as well (heck, input to the distortion, split the output into the two ringmod inputs, and you'll have noise!)

Now it's just a matter of getting the rights parts, putting them all together, and hoping for the best!

I made this with Designsoft's Tina-9, TI edition, if you were curious.

Dead 555

Overheating. No output. Smoke. Off and on buzzing. All signs that something is most certainly wrong.

In this case, I was working on building my synth, and I had the oscillator working. I had a 555 diagram all laid out to make a square wave, and it worked! I had to use other parts than what was described (replace a 1M pot with a 50k and a .02uF cap with a .22nF cap). But, using the 50k pot I noticed I couldn't get very low frequencies (I don't care if it can oscillate at 10kHz, I want like 1000 and less), so I thought that a higher rated pot (250k, my highest) would get lower frequencies.

So, I wired the new pot and breadboarded it, but I accidentally messed up the power situation and swapped the negative and positive (oops...). At first, it was sputtering - I thought it was a loose connection. As I let it run while checking connections, I noticed the smell of hot wires (similar to soldering). I wasn't sure what I was smelling. Maybe I had been working with wire and was imagining the smell. But then it happened.

A small, nearly invisible puff of smoke arose from around pin 1 of the 555.

Hoping it was actually a wire and not the timer, I simply released the power and waited a bit. I then put my finger on the 555, and almost immediately burned myself. I swapped the power supply around, thinking that I may have messed that up. It was able to burn me in less than a second. I took everything apart and noticed something: the breadboard under where the 555 was was partially melted! That's hot.

Lesson learned: power is a dangerous thing, even at only 9v, and making sure it's going the right way makes all the difference.

I'll get another 555 later and try it again. At least I know the square wave schematic works!

Friday, October 5, 2012

I'm building a synth! Kinda!

As a synthesist, I want ultimate flexibility. Well, I can't get that, but I can get close by building my own synth!

What it is is, well, a drone synth. In fact, it's like a Skychord Sleepdrone, but only one oscillator, 4 waveforms, a low pass filter, ringmod, distortion, and external input. So basically it's like a Sleepdrone with one voice but way more sonic possibilities.

What do you do with a drone synth? Well, if you hate the technological side of electronic music or you like synths to actually do something other than play a single sound while you tweak knobs, you'd probably use it as a doorstop or paperweight. HOWEVER, if you care to do such things as tweak and such, you'd make epic soundscapes, hard detuned sounds, and you can sample it and play the sound through a sampler!

For instance, take a $165 Sleepdrone3, a simple synth with three analog square waves that you can mix and change frequencies of (that Skychord probably made for about $40). You can sample it with slight detuning and make a heavy bassline, you can make ever-changing soundscapes, and you can produce harmonious harmonies. And we won't mention what you can do if you connect it to a modular or effects rig...

With my idea, though, you'll be able to do so much more. Sure, you can make drones. But you can also make sweeping filters, use it to make Dalek sounds, use it as distortion for a guitar or synth, distort your ringmodded sound, filter your bass for epic depth (the last three can be summed up as 'effects unit'), make coloured noise, or just use it as an amplifier.

However, I am thinking of an alternate idea that will allow for maximum patchability, so you can make it a guitar or vocal synth, have a multiplexed wall of sound (note this has one mono output, so that's saying a lot), still make noise (it's easy), and, well, that's all I can think of right now.

So, how's it work? Well, here's a diagram:
Makes total sense, right? No? Well, it has an NE555P IC as an oscillator with various waveshapers after that. It also has an external input. Both can be patched various ways to a ringmod, distortion, and filter. That goes out to the output to your mixer, effects, modular, amp, what have you.

NAQ (Never Asked Questions, because there are no FAQs)

--"If it's so simple, how can it do so much?" Because analogue synthesis is freaking awesome. It's amazing what a few simple things can do to audio.
--"How will you make it?" Well, I have a 555 and other parts, and with about $10-$20 I can get the rest of the parts.
--"Do you know it will work?" Well, I have the fine folks at helping me out, very slowly. For the most part, though, the ringmod, input and output, and patching are easy. They're helping me with the oscillator, amps, filter and distortion. I'm trying to keep it extremely simple, too. So basically, yes, I know it will.
--"How will you use it?" Didn't I just give a ton of answers to that?
--"Why?" Remember the KereMAX P? This is building up to that. This actually incorporates some of the KereMAX's features: full patchability, multiple waveforms, ringmod, distortion, a filter, and external input for every section. Obviously, the KereMAX has more stuff.
--"What will you name it?" Well, some would call it 'waste of time and money', 'stupid', or 'useless'. I'll call it the 555zYntH for now just because that's close to what all the schematics and block diagrams have for filenames. They're all 555synth or 555synthblk. And hey, if you write it in cursive it'll look neat.

And for those Skychord haters, I used them as an example because Deadmau5 noted one of their synths in a livestream, and so therefore one can imagine that they are at least well-known. I know there are other drone-synth-makers out there.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How to Safely Discharge a CRT Monitor

So recently I acquired a Cathode-Ray Tube (aka CRT) monitor. It wasn't hard: someone next door put it outside like it wasn't worthy of being indoors anymore. Poor little monitor.
But now, I have it, and what do I do with it? RIP ITS SOUL OUT OF ITS BODY!!! I mean, uh, simply take it apart.
Now, of course, it's not exactly normal to take apart a CRT given the imminent dangers of high voltages and impeding implosions. But, well, I guess I'm a risk-taker. Or an idiot. Either way, if you want to take apart a CRT monitor, you'll want to follow some safety stuffs:
1. Firstly, don't touch things that are big and somewhat scary. If that includes the monitor itself, you shouldn't work on it. Period. This also includes transformers, transistors, and of course tubes. Oh, and coils of wire are kinda scary too.
2. More importantly, you'll want to discharge the tube itself. This seems like it would be hard, but it's not if you know what you are doing. Let me show you:
First, clamp or otherwise strongly attach some wire to a screwdriver and shove it in the ground. 
Second, attach the same wire to another flat screwdriver. Then, use it to pry under the suction cup of the big only-slightly-scary wire. When you hear a slight SNAP, it's discharged. But, go deeper until you hit the clips that hold it in place, just to be sure. Then carefully remove the suction cup. Don't shove anything in the hole, though. The actual tube is surprisingly weak, and therefore you may break it, causing it to implode, spewing poisonous shards of glass everywhere. This is why, when I actually did it, I put a box over the monitor.  
And there you have it! A discharged Cathode-Ray Tube. Now, you may ask, "why do this?" Well, aside from parts (there are plenty), this makes the device now safe to work on! I personally grabbed it because I can use it sideways and with some adjustment as an oscilloscope running at 60 Hz. However, by the looks of how this is put together, I may just now have a giant pile of parts. I'll keep you updated.
"But what about the Ring Modulator you were building??" Mmm, yeah, that didn't go so well. I'm not really sure what's wrong with it. Why I feel like I can mess with high voltages and make an oscilloscope, I'm not sure. Never hurts to try (after it's discharged)!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Synthesis Chronicles: Extras

This may or may not be the final installment of this series. I'll tell you why after the end of this.

So I've been getting questions on exactly how the different parts of a synthesizer are actually synthesizer elements. It is true: most of what makes up a synthesizer isn't really helping with the actual synthesis aspect. In fact, the only thing that is synthesis is the most basic element: the oscillator. Yes, that's right: all you need to say you have a synth is a mere oscillator.

But how can this be? All synthesizers are huge things with filters and LFOs and ADSRs and all these other acronyms, how can this crazy guy say that an oscilaltor is a synth?

Simple: a synth is only three parts: an oscillator, a set of controls, and effects. Let's take this on part by part, looking up to modular synthesizers. As you may know, modular synthesizers are made up of, well, modules. Each modules does one thing, be it filter, make noise, make things louder, etc. Here we will look at each type of module and see how it all works together.

An oscillator makes a sound. It can be noise, a buzz, a sample, anything that is a sound. Sometimes oscillators have pitch controls, but in general that's all it is. It is the only part of a synth that actually creates something new.

Controls are really what affect everything. Controls are things like LFOs, ADSRs, wheel controls, pitch controls (like from the keyboard or the oscillator's control), and so on. Connecting controls to different parameters (filter cutoff, oscillator pitch, times on an ADSR) will change them. On modulars and CV-capable synthesizers, you can control these aspects with patch cables, which is good for automation as well as general connections.

Finally, we have effects. Think about it: after the oscillator, everything that makes the sound you hear is just effects. Yup, that's it. Effects. Filters, amps, distortions, waveshapers, all that fancy stuff is just effects. They shape the sound from the oscillators to create that 16-timbre soundscape that you were just listening to (well, assuming you just listened to soemthing like that).

So if all a synth really is is effects, why do we call the entire thing a synthesizer? Well, because the "original synthesizer", the accident that was an electromagnetic vibrator created in 1876 by Elisha Gray, was added onto to control the one single buzzing note and make it a somewhat musical device by Thaddeus Cahill. This "synthesizer" actually used what we now call additive synthesis, and was in fact a tonewheel organ. After that, people such as Bob Moog, Tsutomu Kato and Tadashi Osanai added onto it to create synthesizers.

And normally that's where this post would end, but I've more news for ya:

At some point in the near future (maybe tomorrow), I will be starting a webshow on YouTube. It will be pretty epic and I dont' want to give too much away, but what's really important is that the more advanced Synthesis Chronicles will now be on that webshow. I will advertise -- I mean politely inform you when the latest episodes are out.

Ok, now I'm gone.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

General Updates

As the title states, this is just a general update kinda thing, so if you're looking for something interesting, you may as well go to the first page of the Internet.

Firstly and certainly least important, the Monster Modular is completed! And by that, no, it does not mean I randomly found a place to place that $70K+ modular, bought it, and built it. What it does mean is that I have completed the layout of the MM:
It's kinda complex, I'm not going to go through it all, but basically it's a bunch of oscillators on the top left, Manglers and LFO stuff below that, Sequencers in red, CV stuff in Maroon, Filters in Yellow, etc until the far right stuff, which is all mastering and outputs. And yes, I do mean actual mastering: mixer, EQ, compressor, meters, etc. Pretty neat.

Secondarily, still with modulars, that Doepfer system has a new design, and it's something that's cheaper and, if I was thinking about it right, would have saved me a few hours of time. See, what I did know is that Doepfer had 'preset' setups, but I knew they did not have MIDI nor an external instrument input. But, last night I was thinking about it with a friend, and decided I can get their 1700 euro standard system with a 100 euro MIDI-CV converter, then just input any external audio to a mixer input and crank it up. Why I didn't think of that earlier, I don't know. But yeah, suddenly it's like 1800 euros instead of 2000, and still pretty fun and useful. And I can use Live direct to it via USB! Oh, and has a built-in mini-sequencer.
Random interjection; I did look into Paia for cheap modular action, but it sounds weak by itself, their main system is rather bland, and additional modules are kinda meh. Sorry Paia.

More importantly than just dreams are upcoming public tracks! I say public because there's more stuff to come (see below). So far in the works is a remix of Elmakay's "When I Look At You." So far it's not so awesome, but I hope it will be. Lots of re-sequencing. Also, I've got a couple house tracks which I'm not sure if they will be public or not. Lastly, there's a... thing, really. The file is Hard Aura, and it kinda is just that. Sounds awesome, though.

Promo tracks! Yes, these are the non-public tracks. I call them that because, when I think they are good, I will submit them to various producers/pseudo labels, like UKF, sublvl, and Monstercat. A little adventurous, yes, but if even one of them advertises any of my tracks, instant mass publicity, which means people will know me, which, well, if I can keep it up with tracks that people like, things could...
Gotta love using memes for serious purposes.

And finally, New YouTube stuff! Monday will be the first of a new channel setup. It will be a video explaining what it will be all about, but after that I'll have a weekly show on synthesis. I've yet to decide if it'll be a series kinda thing, like the Synthesis Chronicles, or if it'll just be random stuff. There will be other stuff, too, but all about music -- as I originally planned the channel to be for.