Modular Diary

Despite Hordijk’s warnings on the difficulties of implementing his Harmonic Oscillator algorithm digitally, I was keen to try out some of the ideas in Audulus. One of the aspects of the feedback loop involves using a cosine waveform to avoid the DC offset that would occur when feeding the sine back on itself. In the Hordijk’s diagrams he indicates a crossfade between the sine and cosine signals as part of the feedback loop, but I kept on running into the pitch drop problem that he explains is a result of the DC offset.1 I eventually gave up on the linear FM route and decided to try implementing it with phase modulation instead – with some success.

The morph from sine to saw has a different character than making a crossfade between the two waveforms since the saw edge gradually tilts rather than appearing as an abrupt vertical,2 and the sawtooth and square waves also have a rounder edge than the characteristic forms of these waves. I haven’t been able to achieve quite the same sharpness in the shapes that Hordijk does with his analogue implementation (compare the waveforms at the beginning of the second video) since the phase modulation begins to distort, but the somewhat more mellow quality that results also has a charm of its own. 3

I’ve put it together as a simplified µModule, with the addition of a control that adjusts the level of both the odd and all spectra simultaneously in relation to the sine.

  1. There’s more from Hordijk on FM synthesis on the old Clavia Nord Modular website, fortunately still available via the Wayback Machine.  

  2. I’m also curious as to why the inverted form of the waveform appears to be slightly lower in pitch. (In the case of this oscillator shifting the “All” knob in the positive direction results in what is commonly know as a reverse (or inverse) sawtooth. This is the default result of the pitch being fed back on itself.)  

  3. It is possible to increase the definition of the square wave a little more than I have, but that results in distortion when combining the square and sawtooth spectra.  

Modular Diary

My next stop while working my way though the treasure trove that is the NOVARS collection of Hordijk tutorials, has been his Harmonic Oscillator – a module I’ve been keen to take a closer look at for quite some time.

In the first of two videos he provides a general introduction to the basic idea of the oscillator – one in which the three classic parameters of sound synthesis: pitch, timbre, and amplitude, are all present, and all available for voltage control.

In the second video he takes a closer look at the algorithm that defines the oscillator: a sine/cosine oscillator that feeds back on itself via linear FM, creating a spectrum that contains all harmonics. A second spectrum containing only odd harmonics is created with a Chebyshev polynomial feeding back the pitch an octave higher. The combination of the two spectra creates pulse-width timbres.

Modular Diary

A few details on Rob Hordijk’s Dual Fader and my Audulus recreation of it: Hordijk makes clever use of normalized inputs and outputs to achieve a wide range of possibilities with only a few inputs and outputs:

  • Crossfading: 2 input signals, 1 output signal
  • Panning: 1 input signal, 2 output signals
  • Ducking: 2 input signals, 2 output signals

Since normalized1 inputs and outputs aren’t (yet) a viable possibility in Audulus I’ve simply included an extra output for the crossfaded signals. Another feature of Hordijk’s module is a 20db Gain control on two of the inputs to enable using external signals within the modular system. That isn’t something that needs to be thought of within the Audulus context, but those controls can also be used to introduce clipping distortion, so I’ve kept that as a feature. 2

Hordijk also includes a switch that changes between the crossfade output of channel A being routed to:

  • Both inputs of channel B
  • Only input 1 of channel B
  • Both inputs of channel B, but with input 2 inverted. That means that when fader B is set precisely to its center, the two signals cancel each other out resulting in silence. However if that fader is modulated at audio rates a type of Ring Modulation is heard, with a particular quality that is the result of the RMS curves.

I put together a simple demo.

I’m impressed by Hordijk’s take on a simple mixing module, both the way in which distinctions between levels and placement are eased, and just how much can be gotten out of what is essentially two crossfaders – especially when modulation is introduced.

  1. Normalized connections are ‘behind the panel’ connections that don’t require patch cables. However should a cable be connected the hardwired connection is broken and the patch cable connection takes over.  

  2. Soft clipping in my case, but that could be adjusted. 

Modular Diary

While taking a look at the difference between the Epoch Modular TwinPeak filter and the one that Rob Hordijk uses in his own system, I got curious about his Dual Fader module. At first I thought that it might not be all that relevant in the Audulus context, but the closer I looked, the more compelling I began to find it.

The NOVARS Research Centre has fortunately posted an extensive series of Hordijk tutorials (presented by the man himself) and I found it very useful to take a look at the two videos (#12 and #12a) in which he presents the Dual Fader.

My first take-away was the simple idea of using one half of a cross-fader as a VCA with an RMS curve, and so I put together a little Audulus VCA and a comparison patch with exponential and logarithmic curves.

Modular Diary

I’ve also put together a simplified, single input, micro version of the TwinPeak filter. The modulation input is set to only alter peak 2 by default, but this can easily be changed by opening up the hood and changing it to peak 1 or adding it to both.

The Hordijk Modular Blog suggests using multiple TwinPeak filters in order to achieve a complex filter with multiple resonant peaks, so I’ve tried something of that out in a little demo with the filters being triggered at sub-audio rates.

Modular Diary

I’ve also put together a version of the TwinPeak filter following the layout and design Rob Hordijk created for his own modular system. It doesn’t have the cross-fader that is a handy feature of the Epoch Modular version, but that’s not necessarily needed in the context of Hordijk’s system since it includes a Dual Fader module. There’s a directness and clarity in the pure symmetry of his design that I find very satisfying.

The site appears to no longer be online, but can fortunately still be accessed via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I also discovered the recently established Hordijk Modular Blog, which has an enthusiastic entry on the TwinPeak filter that includes an informative video in which Hordijk himself explains how the design enables not only a bandpass filter, but one with two peaks.

Modular Diary

Looking through, organizing, and reviewing the many Audulus patches that I’ve accumulated and worked on over the last year, I was reminded of the Hordijk TwinPeak filter. A simplifed version of it was included in the Blippoo Box that I’d put together, and I remembered that I’d meant to make a standalone version of it at the time – only to realize that that had already been tackled on the forum.

Here’s my fresh take on the Epoch Modular version demonstrated in the James Cigler video at the top of the forum thread, building on the updated modules and approaches that have been introduced over the course of the last year.

Modular Diary – 098

One thing leads to another. The BBC Archive recently shared a short film clip of Roger Limb demonstrating the EMS Synthi 100 in 1976.

In the replies to that tweet, I noticed a short video demonstrating the unusual dual envelope generator of the Synthi 100, and a search for more information on that led to a manual with a description.

That manual is hosted on the PIN Electronics & Ramcur site, manufacturer of the Hornet – an EMS VCS3 Putney clone. The site also has a blog, and among the entries I was very excited to find a post on the Belgian composer and media artist Peter Beyls, with reference to “the use of two EMS VCS3’s, communicating through a very long tape-delay-loop.” That is of course the Revox-Putney setup that Rob Hordijk has referred to as the inspiration for his Blippoo/Benjolin circuits and since Beyls used it as part of a series of mixed-media concerts we are even lucky enough to have some film documentation of it.1

I find the looseness of the mixed-media context, which reminds me in some ways of a wonderful Metamkine performance that I saw in Amsterdam many years ago, a fascinating insight into the origins of what would later become Hordijk’s ‘patch in a box’.

  1. Beyls was a technician at STEIM and so there’s also a lineage with Hordijk there. 

Modular Diary – 095

Mark Boyd (biminiroad) recently teased a little strange attractor on Twitter – and presented it in full detail as part of the Audulus Tutorial Livestream on Chaos & 3D Modules. “A chaotic signal is not a random signal” as Rob Hordijk pointed out in his Leeds Rungler Demo. The tutorial goes on to explain how those chaotic signals can be used to trace paths through a 3D cube that can be applied to mixing, sequencing, and modulation.

It’s a wonderful tutorial covering a lot of material. For now I’m content to let some of the strange attractor chaos sink in – wondering how it might be applied as a modern approach to introducing slight fluctuations with digital oscillators, rather than simply modelling analogue drift.

Modular Diary – 094

Jerobeam Fenderson’s oscilloscope music, or the works described in the article on the Digital Harmony of Sound and Light that I looked at yesterday, aim at building an art form based on direct correspondences between sound and vision. I got to thinking Strange Continuity: Why our brains don’t explode at film cuts, an Aeon video that takes a look at why out brains process film cuts so easily, despite their recent appearance on the timescale of human evolutionary history. The argument is that film cuts work because they exploit the ways our visual systems have evolved to work – the filtering already in place to deal with the constant blinking and saccades that apparently render us functionally blind for a third of our waking lives without disturbing our sense of a continuous visual experience.

I was thinking of how the continuity of sound provides a complementary sense to help glue all those visual cuts together – and indeed that is often how film soundtracks work, the Aeon video included. Conversely film cuts opened up our acceptance for abrupt musical juxtapositions – Stravinsky for example. The similarity of film and tape and their modern digital (DAW) counterparts in contrast to modular patches that don’t typically include abrupt transitions. In his talk at Basic Electricity in Berlin Rob Hordijk contrasts the tradition of Musique Concrete with the large electronic studios of the 50s – the studios that can be seen as the starting point of modular synthesis.