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Pocket Operator Album

Hey, I’m recording another album. You may know I recorded three albums as part of the RPM Challenge back between 2008 and 2011, and before that I did other recording, playing, performing, and touring. So this isn’t totally new…

What is new is that I am recording all the “songs” using only Pocket Operators. Those tiny little synths that make bleeps and bloops. I started acquiring a collection of them in the summer of 2021 and at this point I’ve got four of them, and I use three or four in song. Also, all of these songs are short! Nearly all of them are under one minute in length.

I should point out that I am far from the first person to produce a Pocket Operator album. Others have done it, though that really wasn’t the inspiration for this. Basically, someone asked for it! Splorp is (partly) to blame. Yeah, seriously.

Anyway, head on over to peteprodoehl.bandcamp.com/album/po-sounds and grab it if you want it. It’s a “name your price” thing, so it can be free. If you pay for it I’ll probably just use the money to buy more Pocket Operators. Oh, I also plan to keep going, so more songs will be added over time.

Oh, if you prefer these songs with some (uhhh) visuals, you can check out the YouTube Playlist which has some older material not included on the album. (The album versions pull the audio from the video and just do a quick cleanup to make sure the levels are good, but otherwise there is no editing.)

Too lazy to click those links? Just use the player below. If you want to use these songs for anything let me know. There’s a 99% chance I’d be cool with it. If you want me to record something else for you, get in touch with me and we can discuss it.

(Note: This is not a physical album and I’m sure it will not be one in the future. The photo at the top is just a silly graphic I made.)

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Pocket Operator Programming Chart

I’ve been doing these Pocket Operator Jams for a while now and I noticed that the more complex ones (with multiple Pocket Operators) require some notes when programming the sequences. I was hastily jotting down notes but then I came up with this Pocket Operator Programming Chart. (You can download a PDF of it!)

Pocket Operator Programming Chart

The way it works is simple. You can keep track of each PO by number (or name) and then create the sequence, writing the pattern numbers. You can just leave it blank when you want a PO to drop out (or write in a blank pattern number). I’m still experimenting with this stuff but it’s definitely come in handy. I’ve said it before, programming music sequencers is a little like programming computers, but more fun.

The paper is super-handy to look at and follow along with while you set the sequence for each PO. I tend to read the chart, count out loud, and press the appropriate buttons. Works for me.

This 16 step chart works for most of my jams since it keeps things under a minute at 80 bpm. Since the PO-12 and PO-16 can only chain up to 16 patterns, this works out well.

Here’s some examples of using the chart.

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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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Triple Trouble (à la Beastie Boys)

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.

Want more drum patterns? Check out 808.pixll.de

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That DAWless Thing

Recently I posted about my history of music making and my love of the Pocket Operators. Now if you don’t know what a DAW is, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and basically it’s a computer with music making software. GarageBand, Ableton, Logic, even Audacity. There are tons of pieces of software to turn your computer (or tablet or mobile device) into a music making machine… and I don’t really want to use any of them right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love computers, and I love creating things. I mean, I often spend 8 to 10 hours a day using a computer, staring at the screen, moving a mouse and typing on a keyboard. And for my own sanity, I want some time away from that. I want to be able to get away from my desk and be creative and have fun and not have to be disrupted by alerts and notifications and the lure of my browser and email. Doing DAWless means you can walk away from the computer, disconnect, and still be creative.

One of the reviews I read for the Pocket Operators was from a dad who said it was the perfect gift for his son, “No boot up, no login, no screen time, no advertisements… just him pushing buttons, turning knobs, and making beats.” There’s something kind of beautiful about that.

Another friend of mine who used to play in a few bands said that with a you child at home it became difficult to meet up with other to jam and make songs, but he could do it all at home on his own with synths and other gear. (Jamming at home alone with headphones is also pretty pandemic friendly!)

Honestly I think my goals with this all are to have fun, explore sound, and maybe even make music that I actually like listening to. So far I’m doing well with those goals, so I’m pleased with where things are going. Oh, if you want to check anything out, here’s a YouTube playlist!

Here’s a few interesting articles about the DAWless thing well beyond what I’ve discussed here: