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.

Science...
...SCIence...
......SCIENCE...

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
Mic>input>ringmod
Ringmod>distortion
Distortion>filter
Filter>output

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 http://www.doepfer.de/a1011_tec.htm, 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...