In case you didn’t know this, I’m a huge fan of The Beastie Boys and while listening to the song Triple Trouble from their album To the 5 Boroughs I heard this line:
I got kicks on the one, seven and eleven, snares on the five and thirteen
So I programmed it into the Behringer RD-6 Analog Drum Machine and… it sounded pretty good! Of course the RD-6 is based on the Roland TR-606 which isn’t quite the machine that the Roland TR-808 was. I mean, the 808 is famous for many reasons. (By the way, the “TR” stands for “Transistor Rhythm”.)
Hey, I’ve been in bands and heard a lot of music, and yeah, it’s pretty recognizable rhythm. After I posted the video a friend of mine said “Now do it on the Pocket Operator” so I did that, but I incorporated three Pocket Operators, which seemed appropriate. Here it is.
I’ve got a Behringer RD-6 Analog Drum Machine and it’s battery powered! I’ve seen a number of video reviews of this machine and the reviewer always seems to say “It’s not battery powered, so you can’t easily take it with you…” But I’m here to tell you that you can take it with you (just like Steve Albini did with his Roland TR-606) and below I’ll show you how.
A battery pack that will hold 6 AA batteries. Each battery is 1.5 volts, so 6 of them is 9 volts. (And no, a standard 9 volt battery won’t work due to the low amperage it can put out.) I had some lying around that were like this but some have connectors on them like these. As long as they have bare wires at the end, you’re good. If they do have a connector on the end you may need to chop it off. (More on that later.)
You’ll need a 2.1mm Barrel Power Jack. I usually buy a pack of them. You only need one, so find one, or buy one, or buy a bunch and have spares. (You won’t need the matching receptacle plugs. At least not for this project.)
Important! All of the barrel jacks I’ve purchased have positive in the center and negative on the outside of the barrel/sleeve. In the world of musical things (well, guitar pedals at least) negative is on the center/tip, and positive is on the outside of the barrel/sleeve.
Here’s the back of the RD-6. You can see the symbol showing negative in the center/tip. Note that it also shows 300 milliamps. A 9 volt battery is 500 milliamps, so it will work for a while, but not long. The power supply Behringer gives you is 670 milliamps, but it’s not a battery, it plugs into a wall socket.
Right so we need to… reverse the polarity! Luckily it’s as simple as switching the wires around. Normally red is positive and black is negative, but we’re switching those. Make red negative and black positive.
Here’s mine. Now, it’s worth noting that I checked all of this with a multimeter. I’d advise you to do the same. Double check your work. If you don’t know what you’re doing, ask someone for help. This probably voids your warranty, and I cannot be held responsible for what you do. On with the show!
Oh, you’ll also need batteries! Any AA batteries will do, but rechargeable are preferred, at least by me. I’m a fan of the Eneloop rechargeable batteries. I’ve got some I bought ten years ago that still work. Grab a charger and 4 batteries and, um… 4 more because you need a total of 6 batteries.
Okay, stick it all together and you get a battery powered drum machine. Boom. Tsk. Boom. Tsk. I haven’t testing how long a set of batteries will last, but I’ll add that to the list of things to do.
Now, it’s not as nice as internal batteries that are built into the case, and if I actually use this on a regular basis I might think about adding in some hook & loop to attach the battery pack to the side. It might be better to use two 3 AA battery packs wires together, since those would have a flat back that could be attached to the RD-6.
I’d seen a few ideas and potential solutions online. One involved a DC boost converter, so I tried one but it didn’t work. Another involved using an overdrive guitar pedal, but I don’t have one…
What I do have are a bunch of Arduino boards of various types. I originally grabbed an Arduino Nano with the idea that I could capture the PO-14 output at 1 volt with an analog pin and then output a pulse on a digital pin as a trigger. The Arduino outputs at 5 volts though, and while I don’t mind making a voltage divider, I also had a Teensy LC on my desk, so I tested with that since it runs on 3 volts. And then, since my desk is fairly large, I grabbed a Raspberry Pi Pico microcontroller which also runs on 3 volts. I used the same Arduino code on the Pico as the Teensy (thanks to the work of Earle F. Philhower, III).
This is literally all there is to the code. I added an LED which blinks when a pulse is read, and then I just connected the signal wire to the same pin as the LED (and the other to ground) and plugged those into the sync in of the RD-6.
I’m new to all this syncing of musical devices, and this may be the wrong way to do it, but it worked for me. I did try to set the RD-6 as the master device and sync the PO-14 to it, but it didn’t seem to work quite right. The voltage may be a bit too high causing erratic behavior on the Pocket Operator.
Since this works, I’ll probably stick with it unless someone tells me it’s a terrible idea or tells me a better way to do it that is cheap, easy, or involves things I already have.
It’s done… Once again I’ve completed the RPM Challenge, to record an entire album in just 28 days.
There were a lot of ups and down this year, as usual, but by February 27th, I’d recorded 13 songs, mixed and mastered them and burned a CD.
Once again I feel that the songs may not be that good, but being forced to play, record, use Logic, and actually make something really helped me to learn new things, and have some fun in the process. For me the frustration isn’t in getting it done, but doing it well. Out of the 13 songs, there’s bit and pieces I like, and maybe one or two songs I think are strong, but overall, I’m really starting to feel that trying to make 10 good songs (or 35 minutes of good music) is tough… really tough… and I’m walking away this year not convinced I’ll do it again. Of course I probably think that every March.
New this year is a Fender Stratocaster I picked up used from the one of the guys in ZyFy. Having a good guitar really helped out. My bass is still the old Ibanez I’ve had for about 20 years. I’d love to have a Fender bass someday, but for now, the Ibanez is fine. I’m also running the guitars into a Behringer Xenyx 802, and from there into the Firewire FCA202. This seems to work well, and I now use the 802 for output from my Mac as well, running into an old pair of Bose speakers I’ve not found any other use for. So if nothing else, I’ve now got a kick-ass audio system in my office.
So anyway, the album is called “Frenetic Stereoear” and rather than just post all the songs here, I’m thinking of publishing them one at a time, with some commentary of each one. That should be fun…
Oh, I should also explain how I make these songs. It’s all improvised, and I don’t learn the songs at all, I build them as I go. I will typically find some drum tracks I like (or build them out of individual instruments) and then hit record in Logic and play along to the drums with either the bass or guitar until I find a riff (or bassline) I like. Once I’ve got something in place, I may do a few additional tracks, and maybe drop in some background sounds, then do a basic level mix and move on. I honestly kick these things out in about an hour, give or take a little. Most of these songs have just one or two parts, no distinct changes in percussion, and no vocals. This is part of the problem… I’d like to get beyond these simple songs. I felt I did a bit with Navasio in 2009 since I only did 5 songs, but I’d like to be able to spend more time on less songs and make them better. Maybe I’ll just record 4 or 5 songs next year and not actually do the “RPM” part of the challenge.
February is the month of the RPM Challenge. You know, record an album in a month… I’ve done it before, and was going to do it again, and to do it, I use a Behringer FCA202 FireWire audio interface.
Of course I also decided to upgrade to Snow Leopard this month, and for some odd reason, that rendered the FCA202 useless. It just wouldn’t show up anymore in the System Preferences as an audio input/output device. It did show up as a FireWire device though, so that was odd.
I ended up trying to replace the AppleFWAudio.kext kernel extension, zapped the PRAM, deleted cache files, removed audio units, different cables, using the power supply, tried logging in as another user, and on and on… I rebooted from my 10.5.8 backup and it showed up, so it must have been something specific to 10.6. I tried it on my MacBook Pro (10.6) and… it didn’t show up! Ugh, over to the Mac mini (10.6) and it showed up fine. I gave up for the night, convinced it was a 10.6 issue. The next day I tried it on a Mac Pro and MacBook Pro (both 10.6) and it worked, and then tried again on my MacBook Pro and it worked… so now it seemed that it was just the iMac I normally use to record to that wasn’t working. (I blame the “not working” on my MacBook Pro the night before to being tried/frustrated/bad cabling.)
I was pretty fed up by now, and sick of searching for possible solutions… I did find a post somewhere about the CoreAudio SDK and how it may install/updated the needed audio extensions to fix FireWire audio issues. One problem though, the CoreAudio SDK was last updated in 2005! But, the answer to that one was to install Xcode. I did that and like a little bit of magic, it worked.
So now I should be back in business, with the Behringer FCA202 showing up and selectable as an audio input/output device.
I wanted to blame Behringer for this weirdness, but honestly, it was something weird with my own Mac. I’m still not sure what it was, but I really should consider doing a clean install next time. My system has probably built up way too much cruft over the years.
Oh, and just a note… I’m not convinced this is the end of the issue. I left the Mac up and running last night, and this morning the Behringer disappeared again. But I’ve read that is can happen, and a quick unplug/replug of the unit fixes it. So… as long as that doesn’t happen while I’m recording, I may be ok. (This problem I’m more tempted to blame on Behringer…)