Modular Diary

A few weeks ago RileyGuy posted his Audulus version of the Euclidean Circles Eurorack module, and ever since then I’ve been thinking that it would be nice to include a visualisation of the Euclidean distribution of beats within a cycle.

I started with an adaptation of the Euclidean sequencer in the Audulus library to include a visual display, and after experimenting with different (circular) layouts settled on two horizontal rows of 8 in a µModule version. The horizontal rows seem to read most easily, especially when selecting shorter cycle lengths.

RileyGuy has since expanded his uClidean Sarlaccs module into a deluxe version that includes on and off-beat (gateable) outputs. I simply added a set of Euclidean distribution indicator lights to the circle of gate inputs and included an extra ‘hits’ knob in the center. The length is calculated from the start and end steps, and the offset determined by the start position. A (green) output in the very center provides the Euclidean output, with the idea that the other gate outputs can be selected manually using the lights as a guide.

Modular Diary – 082

A while ago I was looking at a few examples of circular sequencers and wondering why there weren’t more following this form. RileyGuy has since posted his Audulus clone of the wonderful Euclidean Circles eurorack module, built referencing Biminiroad‘s 5 Step Gate-Trigger Shape Sequencer. Biminiroad posted a demo of an earlier version of that sequencer with the outputs triggering different aspects of a single snare module – which got me thinking of the Basimilus Iteritas Alter, a module that I’d still like to take a closer look at.

Buchla provided some of the inspiration for Bimini’s rotating shape sequencer, and I came across a video of Don Buchla himself demonstrating his Polyphonic Rhythm Generator. The video, titled How Complicated Could a Metronome Be?, is unfortunately a little difficult to watch due to some shaky filming, but fascinating nevertheless.

Modular Diary – 069

Thinking about different types of sequencers and how they affect the music one makes with them: The difference between the slow precision of the Orthogonal devices ER-101 that I was looking at a few days ago and the playfulness of the Klee, for example.

I got to looking up a little about the Klee Sequencer after Rob Hordijk mentioned it in the wonderful modular tutorial that he gave in Leeds recently. That video covers much of the same ground dealt with in the Basic Electricity presentation given in Berlin in 2015, shedding light on many of the same topics from slightly different angles.

The interesting thing is that Hordijk actually favours simple sequences, preferring to work a little magic through various kinds of modulation, particularly the use of envelopes. Compare for example the section beginning around 13 minutes in the Leeds video, to the section beginning around 7 minutes in part 2 of the Berlin video.

Modular Diary – 066

Sitting in a room, somewhere in the world, making something.

After looking through some of the snapshots documenting the early days of building Serge systems, I for some reason got to thinking of the Orthogonal Devices website that I bookmarked a few months ago. Perhaps it’s the picture of the tree on the about page that helped establish it in my mind as a place where someone is quietly going about making something with a very particular character and focus.

Mantra: To create tools (as in pencils and violins) for self-expression.

Looking at the videos on the page for the ER-101: Indexed Quad Sequencer is an exercise in what at first seems like excruciating patience. But while taking a look at How far can I get in 10 minutes? I found that my attention remained very much on what I was hearing as I watched the programming actions on the screen and gradually got accustomed to the world of hardware and sound as it unfolded.

Modular Diary – 062

A Sunday side-track: Conway’s Game of Life on Audulus.

There’s a good Wikipedia article on the Game of Life, a cellular automaton devised by John Horton Conway in 1970, in which one creates an initial pattern and watches how it evolves according to a set of basic rules governing transitions for each step in time:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by underpopulation.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overpopulation.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

Depending on the pattern that one uses to seed the game, the transformations fall into an number of categories: The most basic are static Still Lives, Oscillators (with different periods), and gliding Spaceships, all of which can be combined to form more complex patterns, while others might be chaotic in nature. Certain patterns reach a static state or cease entirely after a specific number of transformations, while others evolve continuously.

Jjthrash has been working on an Audulus patch of the game and while he hasn’t yet implemented a form of output I’ve found it fun to tryout different patterns and watch their evolution.

A number of musical applications of the game have already been made, some of them covered in a few articles on Synthtopia. Quincy is one of them with some good video introductions on how the patterns can be put to musical use. I’m looking forward to having these generative sequencing possibilities available within the Audulus sound world.

Modular Diary – 030

Interesting post on Synthtopia today on a web implementation of the 1971 Triadex Muse – a digital algorithmic sequencer. Donald Tillman, who implemented the sequencer in HTML5 and JavaScript, explains on his site that it includes a 31-bit shift register fed by the unusual ‘theme switches’ on the sequencer.

Shift registers are something that I first learned about via Rob Hordijk telling about the workings of his Rungler. In a masterclass on noise generators he explains the basic shift register principles and usage (at around 6′ in the video) before going on to tell a little about the history of how he first came to make use of it in a musical context (from around 10′50″ onwards) – and how a happy accident in that first encounter laid the ground for his Rungler, Benjolin, and Blippoo circuits.

The Audulus forum has also, once again, proved a fertile learning ground with an interesting discussion and example patches in the Rungler thread.

Modular Diary – 027

A week ago I wrote about (circular) mechanical sequencers and a lost post that I’d seen on a (re)construction of one for modular use. I still haven’t found the post, but in my searches for material on linear FM yesterday did come across this circular cardboard sequencer. There’s a fun video in addition the post on how to build it.

And that reminded me of some funny little bits tacked onto the end of some episodes of Reply All. Here’s one, and here’s another.

Modular Diary – 021

I‘ve been taking a look at putting together a quantizer for custom tunings in Audulus – there’s been a little activity on that front in the forum. I have in mind something that builds on the small ratio modules that I was using to tune a sequencer in a previous post. Something very flexible that can be changed on the fly with the possibility of additional ‘hand-tuned’ deviations from the basic ratios. A kind of hybrid between systematic and empirical tuning.

Since it’s taking me a little time to figure it all out here’s a little experiment with changing the tuning on the ARP ODYSSEi from Equal to Analog while running a simple sequence. The deviations are subtle but nevertheless quite noticeable (often a little flat in relation to equal temperament) – at some point it could be interesting to measure them precisely and put together a little list that could be used in other contexts.1

Here’s the unadorned sequence – two cycles in equal temperament followed by two with the analogue tuning:

ARP Equal Analogue

And a longer jam trying out the analogue tuning at different transpositions as well as playing with the length of the sequence.

ARP ODYSSEi Analogue Sequence

  1. See, again the Richard D. James interview with Tatsuja Takahashi. 

Modular Diary – 020

I was watching a video of Lars Lundehave Hansen’s Lunar Eclipse and got to thinking of mechanical sequencers (to take a step even further back than the analogue ones). I seem to remember seeing a post about someone constructing an electro-mechanical sequencer with control voltages so that it could be used in a modular set-up. I unfortunately haven’t been able to find my way back to that post, but remember it as being based on a circular switch similar to the one found on the 1959 Wurlitzer Side Man. It also go me thinking of the Polyphons that inspired the sound-sculpture that Ida Raselli presented in a recent Frankenstein’s Lab. Finnish sound artist Martin Bircher used a similiar Symphonion as the basis for a hand-cranked MIDI sequencer.

In a way it’s surprising that circular forms aren’t more common in sequencer design. There’s the Buchla 250e (that Benge used in his tour of sequencing modular systems) or iOS apps like Patterning or dot Melody. I can’t think of much else.

Modular Diary – 019

As I mentioned a few days ago I was intrigued to find out about the the EM-u modular sequencer on Darwin Grosse’s Art + Music + Technology podcast, but had a hard time finding more information on it. Digging through Benge’s blog I discovered that he too had difficulties gathering information on the workings of this device. I also came across the picture above, some more videos, and an entry with a detailed explanation of setting up a 32 step sequence on it.