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Sound Experiment for 2021-09-20

Here’s a fun sonic experiment. The RD-6 has outputs for each sound (well, some are shared) so I ran a splitter from the bass drum output and the clean signal goes to one input on the Dude Mixer and the other goes to the Monotron Delay and then out from there into the Dude Mixer. The third input into the Dude is the standard output from the RD-6 which is all the rest of the drums. (Minus the bass drum because when you output a specific sound it subtracts it from the main output.)

So that’s one channel for plain bass drum, one channel for bass drum through the delay (and the Monotron itself) and one channel for all the other drums/sounds.

Then it’s just a matter of twisting those knobs and coming up with crazy sounds! And that we did… at least we think so. Check it out!

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Synth Jams – Early September 2021

I’ve been dropping all these videos of synth jams over on YouTube but haven’t put any of them here, so I figured I would fix that.

This one is just Pocket Operators. They are tiny, limited devices that can still do a heck of a lot. They’re awesome and fun. I’m using a sync splitter so I can run them all into a mixer separately and adjust the levels. You can chain them all together, but it can be difficult to get the sound levels of each one set properly.

This one is a “Sonic Exploration” (or “Sound Exploration”, I mean, I don’t even know.) I can see doing more of these “knob twiddling” videos where it’s sort of organic and goes… well, wherever it goes. The Crave is a semi-modular analog synth, so it’s perfect for that sort of thing. The Arturia BeatStep is a fun sequencer and pad device that does MIDI and CV. (And I might have some more hardware perfect for Sonic (or Sound) Explorations coming up soon.

This one pairs the Pocket Operators with the Behringer RD-6 Drum Machine. I’m using the PO-12 Rhythm which is a “drum machine” it it’s own right as well, but it’s playing bass tones. There’s also a PO-14 Sub which is a bass sequencer, so… double bass I guess? The PO-24 Office rounds it out as… lead? Yeah, sounds good.

If you want more of this crazy sound subscribe over on the YouTube because I plan to keep going.

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Music X 3

I started playing music around 1987 and quickly formed a band (we were terrible) and then joined another band when that one ended, and on and on, until about 1994 when I was sort of done playing in bands. We had recorded, released music, toured, etc. It was a blast. As I’ve been reminded by The Beastie Boys, one of the greatest things you can do in life is hang out with your friends and make music together. Oh, since this was the 1980s/1990s things were not all computer/digital/fancy. We sometimes went into the studio and had someone record us, and sometimes I’d use a 4-track and engineer it myself. Simple. Did it sound great? Well, good enough!

Life throws a lot at you, and things change, and you change, and I didn’t really play music much again until around 2007 or so… And in 2008 I recorded and released an album as part of the RPM Challenge, which was a challenge for the month of February to record and release an entire album. By this time I had been doing some audio engineering at work and it was a great way to learn more about recording and engineering and using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation; aka a Computer) to create music. Typically I’d find/create some drum tracks, then record myself playing bass, and then record myself playing guitar. It was handy to be able to plug my bass or guitar into a box, feed it into the computer, and have dozens of different effects pedals in software. It was a lot of fun, and I’m proud of the fact that between 2008 and 2011 I recorded three albums worth of material. Again, some of it terrible, some of it not terrible. The important thing was that I enjoyed doing it, and I learned a lot in the process.

Well, it’s been a while, so it must be time for the Third Wave, as it were. This “wave” sort of started around 2017 I think. I started something called NoiseMaster 3000 which was me convincing myself and at least two other people that we should make all sorts of “sound sculptures” for Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2017. And we did. I built all sorts of noise machines and I had a lot of fun doing it. I even had some of them in a gallery show in 2018.

NoiseMaster VII

I then started to get interested in synth stuff, influenced partly by people I knew and was hanging around with at the time, but I also decided I did not want to jump into building a modular synth setup because, well… it seemed like a great way to spend way too much money and get sucked into something way too deep. Well, 2020 was a shit-show in many ways, and I didn’t feel creative at all for so much of it, but as 2021 rolled around and I had a modest budget for music gear, I jumped in (slowly) and got a few things. A Behringer CRAVE and RD-6, and some Pocket Operators. And… I’ve been loving it.

I am (once again) probably making terrible music, but that’s okay, because I am really enjoying it. It has actually really helped me creatively, and helped my mental health more than I could have imagined. So anything I spend on gear is really spent on improving my mental health, and when you put it that way, it’s worth it, right?

So if you want to check out anything I’m doing, see Instagram or YouTube (or even Twitter) where I post some of the (terrible?) music I make. I do plan to get better, but hey, maybe I won’t and that’s okay. I’m just here to learn new things, enjoy myself, and not go insane. So far it’s been working just fine…

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Pocket Operators

I’m kind of in love with the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators. I first saw one a few years ago. One of the guys I worked with at the time had one on his desk and I picked it up, pressed a few buttons and was like “Meh, I don’t get it.” Honestly it seemed like a toy, and kind of difficult to use. Both are true, and false.

The Pocket Operators are serious little machines capable of producing some amazing sounds. Part synthesizer, part sequencer, with the ability to sync with each other and with other devices, they’re just a ton of fun. I’ve only been playing around for a few weeks, but I’m hooked. And yes, they do look like “tricked out calculators” as Dana describes them.

They are pretty minimal as far as the user interface, which keeps them pretty cheap. There are 23 buttons, 23 LEDs, and two potentiometers, and a little one-color LCD screen which does not light up (so using them in the dark can be a little difficult). Through these inputs and outputs you can program sequences, adjust all sorts of parameters, create and replay patterns, and tweak the hell out of it.

I grabbed the PO-12 Rhythm model (which is “drums”) last month and had so much fun with it that after a few days I grabbed a PO-14 Sub (which is “bass”) to go along with it. They all operate somewhat the same so (to a certain degree) once you learn to use one, you can use others.

At first I was a little disappointed in the PO-14 Sub, I think because the PO-12 Rhythm was so awesome, but it just took a little more time to discover the awesomeness of the Sub, which also has a mini-drum sequencer built into it. Teaming them up together is also pretty cool.

Also, these things are super-portable, run on AAA batteries that should last a year or two, and work great with headphones. I’ve got a bit of a synth setup happening in my home office, but being able to grab a Pocket Operator and going outside or sitting on the couch at 5am and just building up some beats is extremely satisfying.

While I used the term “building up some beats” I should say that this is actually programming. Back when I used to build museum exhibits one of the components I designed for an exhibit was a step sequencer that kids could “program” and then “run” to hear the results. We had educational information about how programming a sequencer was like programming a computer – basically telling a machine what to do. I think when we talk about kids (or adults!) learning programming, we often just jump into computers and careers and don’t look at the bigger picture.

If you are unaware, long ago I was in a number of bands, and not quite as long ago, I was recording music. I enjoyed both of those experiences greatly, and getting back into making music (if you can call this that) has really got me excited about creating again, and sort of got me past a creative block I’ve been stuck in. So, I’m actually willing to say making noise with these things has improved my mental health.

There are so many YouTube videos (and just a few blog posts) about Pocket Operators, so I’ll share a few favorites below. Again, these devices are awesome! I mean, I don’t know that I’ll get all of them but, what? Oh wait… did I just order another one!?!?