Today’s entry in the continuing saga of Live Electronics with Your Old Pal Aen focuses on my electronic setup with my rock-ish band The Ronald Raygun.
Until recently, I was using a Moog Sub Phatty for most of my synth duties in TRR. I also used a midi foot controller to play bass notes, all my Red Panda effects, and an old-ass delay.
This was all kinds of fun, but Korg was really calling my name with that Minilogue. As usual, I flipped some gear and grabbed one. With some help from a Tascam Portastudio, I was solving problems and writing new parts with it in no time.
One of the Raygun’s newest songs (currently called Bunny) was pretty vexing, because I was imagining a huge wash of sound during a chorus that I was unable to get right. In my mind, I imagined two hard-panned guitars, my Ultra VI doubling the chords an octave down, and then a massive synth bass grinding under it. The closest I got was to play the chords on a Schecter Ultra VI while stomping the bass notes into the Moog via my enormous midi floorboard. Even that I was pretty iffy on, I don’t think I ever really nailed the changes.
With this in mind, I set up the Tascam and my new Korg.
I had ordered a couple “endless tapes” here: https://www.duplication.ca/shop/Endless-Cassettes/
I fished them out of my recently moved studio disasterspace and eagerly plopped one in the Tascam. Not only did I forget the length of the tape loop, but I wouldn’t even know how that translated to the “extra fast” recording and playback speed on the tape deck. So I watched the tape - there was a little white spot on it very near the beginning. I watched and watched and watched for what seemed like a lifetime, but finally the white thing came back around. 252 on the tape counter, give or take. NOTED!
Next I set to transcribing my chords and finding my spots on the keyboard. I had no interest in standing at the keyboard holding a chord for 252 counters. Luckily there are a few drone tricks on the Minilogue.
The first, and most universal, uh, synth hack is a simple matter of wedging shit in the keys. I read about this in an interview with The Beta Band many years ago. I remember them saying they preferred some synth over another because it was easier to wedge cardboard between the keys. SMART PEOPLE!
Unfortunately, my chords were not available in “chord mode” on the mini. Not a problem, because I am a smart guy who watches a ton of youtube videos about his gear before it arrives, so I knew that one of the arpeggio modes might do the trick.
In any of the arpeggiator modes, you can hold down the ARP mode selector and your current selection will latch on. If you select “poly 1” or “poly 2” your note selection will repeat in unison in time with the tempo control.
“WELL A DRONE DOES NOT GO ‘DOOT DOOT DOOT’ AEN.” No, I suppose it doesn’t. That’s why I crank up the decay, sustain, and release controls on the amp envelope so the arpeggio turns into a droooooooooooooooone.
1,008 tape counters later I had three endless chords, and one sub bass drone, each on their own track on the tape loop. So when that section arrives in Bunny, I stop playing bass, and slam those faders up and down to get giant 5 note synth chords!
I also found a huge, slimy bass sound as well, and quickly found I could cover and even improve my Ultra Vi part on the synth. Making this my first “all electronic” contribution to a Raygun song.
I got so high on my own hubris, I went ahead and loaded up the next endless tape, because I had more sounds to cover.
First up was my Moog/Particle drone. I had been meaning to address this one way or another for a while. I have to keep a close eye on the drone when we play live, to avoid as much “bass muddling” as possible. I do a lot of tweaking of the resonance, to squeeze the right amount of bass out of the signal, and sometimes I even need to jump up an octave, depending on the room, amp configuration, etc.
Of course, when you put a drone to tape, you don’t have much control over the sound, other than level, pan, and very basic bass and treble EQ knobs.
My solution was very simple, but so far, it has been very effective. On track one of the tape, I put the deepest version of the drone, and did a small amount of tweaking on the particle while recording, resulting in a slightly animated “breathing” drone.
On track two I played the drone an octave up, and tweaked the particle A LOT. The idea here was to have a lot of high end audio information that was constantly moving and changing. When it comes time to perform, I simply mix the tracks to taste via the volume sliders.
So with this new setup I went down from a synth, effects pedals, and a giant midi controller to a synth, a tape deck, and a tiny mixer. And maybe a bit more fun?
You may notice that leaves two tracks open on a tape loop… well, I can’t tell you everything, but I can tell you I recorded some drum machine action with a prototype for an upcoming Dwarfcraft Device.
Check out the video to hear all this stuff in action, and keep on tweaking!
Hello again, friends!
You know that feeling when you get a new piece of gear and you want to put it in everything all the time? Well, that’s me and this Drumbrute from Arturia. As I was preparing for the “big production” demo for the Super Wizard I thought it would be PRETTY IMPORTANT to demo the pedal with a drum machine.
So we shot the guitar demo, and then hurried on to the Drumbrute. It became clear as we shot that it wasn’t quite a Super Wizard demo, nor was it really a Drumbrute demo.
There’s a handy word for that on youtube: Workout. The video below is a live document of me getting to know the Drumbrute, and mangling it through our Super Wizard, Happiness, and an Earthquaker Afterneath. Also, faithful director of photography Jesse Johnson does some very high tech lighting effects with his phone.
I was pretty pleased with a lot of the sounds, and the vibe got pretty cool, too. The step repeat function is still a little tricky for me, as you’ll see. Im used to the Electribe Sampler’s response, which requires you to hit a pad almost a moment early to get your repeats on time, whereas the Drumbrute wants you to be “in” the step for it to be included in the repeat. If it doesn't make sense when you read it, it may become clear when you see me screw it up.
But, no big deal, I’m LEARNING HERE! Regardless of my noob status, I managed to get some distortion out of the rig, as well as a pretty malevolent drone. Great success!
Until next time, keep learning, keep tweaking!
Since we’ve been putting out pedals with control voltage capabilities, we’ve also been drowning in emails asking questions about control voltage, so I am going to try and knock out some education here.
First up is the Moog situation. The video here describes the basic ways one can use Dwarfcraft’s CV signals with one of Moog’s most popular synths, the Sub Phatty. Have a look if you’re curious. I’ll also write out a ton of information below, for those who prefer the written word to my mumbling and stammering.
There are currently three Dwarfcraft pedals capable of putting out CV. The ARF, Twin Stags, and Happiness. Any one of these CV outputs will have a noticeable effect on the Moog’s CV inputs.
You will notice our CV out jacks are 1/8” and the Moog keyboards require 1/4” cables. Of course, Moog’s eurorack style synth, The Mother 32 will handle 1/8” cables without an adaptor. I haven’t had much experience with that one though, so go ahead and send me one and I promise I will make videos.
Your options for going from 1/8” to 1/4” are many and varied. Perhaps the most convenient option is to purchase a cable with two different plugs on the end.
However, an adaptor (either up from 1/8” or down from 1/4”) will do the trick as well. If you haven’t got an electronics supply store near you, a quick search on your preferred digital marketplace should bring you to quite a few options.
My personal favorite solution here is to make a cable with a tiny plug on one side and the big one on the other. It requires a spare patch cable and the purchase of some 1/8” plugs. I simply snip off the original 1/4” plug at one end and replace it with the 1/8”.
Once you’ve got your synth, your CV source, and your cable, you’re ready to start getting weird. Plug that cable into the CV out of your Dwarfcraft Device. Plug the other end into one of the many Cv ins on a Moog.
Plugging into the “FILTER CV” jack will send your external CV signal to the filter cutoff section of the synth. Play some notes with the keyboard. This should produce a familiar filter sweeping sound that follows the rise and fall of the CV signal. The range of this motion may be little extreme for your tastes. No problem! Put that CV through a volume pedal before the Moog. Then you can reign in a Cv signal to your liking. This holds true for all the inputs.
You probably have a pretty good idea of what happens here. You can swap out that cable from the filter jack and put it into the pitch CV, and hear that same control signal modulate pitch instead of the filter cutoff. Running an LFO into this control isn’t really how most folks would use it, usually a sequencer’s output would be connected here to program melodies. But we’re not slaves to these ancient rules! Crank that LFO rate way up and hear weird things!
This one gets a little complicated. Run whatever you like into this jack, but it’s only going to act as a trigger for the amplifier envelope. If you’re unsure about envelope generators, I’ve got a video for that, too.
The envelope in this video is a Pittsburgh Modular envelope for Eurorack, but the principles remain the same. Send it a trigger, it makes a CV shape, and the output volume follows.
When using the KB gate on a Moog synth, whatever note was last pressed will come through as the envelope opens up the amplifier. This is handy for droning situations, but if you intend to sequence your synth via CV you would want a KB gate signal in time with a pitch CV. Using the KB gate can also go nicely with our next input…
It stands for “External Audio Input.” This has been a feature on countless synths over the years, allowing you to process any audio signal through a synthesizers onboard effects (usually filter and VCA). To hear your external audio processed, you’ll want to turn down the internal oscillators via the front panel mixer of the synth. You’ll also need to trigger the amplifier envelope, either via the keyboard or CV into the “KB GATE” jack. TA-DAAA! Your synth is now an FX pedal!
This one is an interesting control option. A CV input here will define the master volume. As I understand it, this is the last stop in the circuit, which means your VCA will still function as usual. Imagine this input as an invisible hand cranking your volume knob around in time with a CV signal.
I hope this was informative and fun! If you’re interested in more information on modular synthesis, I made an intro series (with help from Pittsburgh Modular) a while back that should get you going…
Hey everybody! It’s your Old Pal Aen!
Taking a quick break from live electronics to get back with one of my old flames, guitar projects. Last week I had some time in Minneapolis, so I packed up a bunch of gear in the hopes of trading up to a 70’s (or 70’s style) stratocaster at Twin Town Guitars. I spent at least two hours in the store playing EVERY guitar and bass I was interested in. When the dollars and cents were figured out I was a little short for any of the vintage instruments I was after, but something else really stuck out: a Fender Starcaster.
I was really hoping to get a guitar with a vibrato, though. Luckily Twin Town had one Bigsby kit - a B5 Vibramate kit. The kit lets you plop a Bigsby on just about any guitar with a Tune-o-Matic style bridge, without drilling into the instrument.
I was a little nervous, because aside from a few pictures of the finished product, I couldn't find much info about installing the kit. But that’s probably because it’s REALLY REALLY EASY and you probably don’t even need the directions. You just remove the stop tail of the bridge, and replace it with the vibramate bottom plate. Bigsby even includes american and metric screws so it’ll fit in either kind of post hole.
After you’ve got that bugger on, you just screw the arm and roller bridge assembly onto the plate. It takes ten minutes. By far, the hardest part of the whole operation was stringing the thing up, which turned into a two person job. Even with that bit of frustration we had the Bigsby on, new strings and a first tune done between ordering Thai food and going to pick it up.
It’s worth noting that if you’re a real perfectionist, this process might leave you a bit peeved. The body of the Starcaster is pretty curvy, which leaves you a bit of a gap between bigsby and guitar butt.
I only finished this last night, but everything seems solid! I’ve also read that the additional mass of the bigsby (and it is massive, my friends) can give the guitar some more volume and sustain, which is always a nice bonus.
You may also be wondering “how the hell does he get the arm in that totally useable position over the strings?" As far as I’m concerned, this is a must-do-mod. You can probably grind that big lump off the bigsby with a variety of tools, but I went to a nearby jeweler who had the job done in about 3 minutes.
She used a “super pro” version of the Dremel tool most of us have knocking around. Those nicks on the arm are from my attempt with my entry level Dremel. Whoops, I hope the guitar police don’t come for me. I’m not sure why the Bigsby insists on keeping the arm out of the most useful position, but at least we found a way around!
I can totally recommend the Starcaster, as it has a boatload of my favorite features: glossy maple neck, big headstock, big deep tone on the neck pickup, bright but full tone on the bridge pickup. Bonus points for being semi-hollow bodied. I played it on a few songs with The Ronald Raygun on Monday night and was delighted with it’s harmonic feedback prowess, thanks to the resonant vibrating body. And if you keep the fuzz on, you can holler right in the F-holes and hear it come out your amp!
Learning is HARD. It seems like it was a lot easier in school, when I was used to it. These days I find myself in the middle of a project moaning to myself:
“WHY IS THIS SO HARD?!”
And then I realize it’s because I do not know what I’m doing. I’m learning how to do it, while I do it, and often times it turns out OK. The older I get, the more difficult it is to start a brand new thing.
These days I’m learning how to use hardware electronic instruments. Previously I’ve worked long and hard making electronic music, mostly with computers. That method is more about composition than performance. You have a zillion variables, but almost all of them can be visually edited, automated, or otherwise carefully instructed by the composer. When it’s done the computer plays it all back for you, and you can say “Hell yeah, that worked!” and send it on its way.
There is a great pleasure in working physical machines for music. I like the feel of turning knobs, pressing keys, bending strings, hitting drums. I like the word “tactile.” Please don’t wear it out though. I’ve had a number of Moog synths over the years. Great machines in that they are user friendly up front, but also very deep thanks to MIDI and even direct DAW integration. With The Ronald Raygun we’ve been rocking a Moog or two since 2012, but in a very “live band” context, no midi sequencing or synchronization. All the “tight” or “timed” electronics you hear on our songs were done in Propellerhead Reason. Which is handy, because it’s where we recorded and mixed a lot of it, too.
In an effort to combine the physical pleasure with the electronic sound, I’ve been picking up bits of hardware, first the Volca beats, because I love drum machines, and then the Electribe Sampler, because I love drum machines that can play samples, too.
I generally use the sampler by itself. Although it is very capable of integrating with lots of other equipment, it’s (relatively) simple interface and portability (BATTERY POWER?!?) let you do an awful lot quickly and easily, provided you are cool with doing music “on the grid.” It took me a while to remember, but I actually fucking love making dance music, even though I’ll never be able to dance worth a shit.
The Volca Beats practically dares you to hook up to effects. The built in delay effect gets the mind running right out of the box. Thankfully I have a job that affords me a great many effects pedals. I tend to leave it by the testing station, hence all the instagram videos of Dwarfcraft devices with no knobs mangling the patterns churned out of the VB.
So for my first trick/video I wrote a very simple pattern on the sampler, knowing that I could clock the sampler with our Happiness pedal, utilizing one of my favorite effects combos, fuzz into filter, in perfect sync with a drum machine. Just because I was feeling masochistic I added another keyboard into the mix. It turned out pretty well, but was still kind of “rock bass with effects” in my opinion.
Last week I started experimenting in earnest with electronics only. Don’t get all shitty with me, I know the bass is an electromagnetic instrument, therefore it is electronic. I know amplified music is electronic, you know WHAT I MEAN WHEN I TALK ABOUT ELECTRONIC INSTRUMENTS. THE THINGS OLD PEOPLE THINK ARE NOT INSTRUMENTS. Anyway, I thought I was pretty clever when I split the voices on the sampler left and right in order to process them separately via effects pedals. And I thought I was pretty clever when I remembered my loop pedal had two inputs. Perhaps the most clever was the Boredbrain Patchulator. When using that handy little patch bay, you don’t have to decide what order to put the effects in! You just pick a bunch you like, and try out combos without ripping up velcro and re-arranging all the pedals!
The video below shows you pretty much the first cool sound set I came across. It doesn’t seem quite complete, but that’s OK. I’ll be using this technique, and patch in an upcoming full band performance for our new Echoes video series (coming sooooooon!).
Well, It worked, more or less! Like I said, I’m still learning this. I’m actually enjoying learning this, now that that learning muscle isn't so out of shape. I worked on the setup off an on for a few days, testing equipment and sounds, all while fighting off the head cold you can hear so well in the video. And then it took another couple hours to get familiar with the raw sounds, and the processed products. Last night I had all my parts chosen, my patch cabled up, and sound checked.
“camera rolling!” I shouted into the camera mic. I ran back to the control room and hit record. I scurried back to the table.
“audio rolling!” I shouted into the mic, and SPLAT. A big old blob of blood fell on my hand from my sick AF nose. Oh great.
“CANCEL.” I yelled even louder and I sat down to sop up my bloody nose.
“Why is this so fucking hard?” I asked myself. And then I remembered: I don’t know what I’m doing. Thank goodness for that nosebleed. It forced me to sit down and have a think, rather than just blasting through, and staying frustrated.
Nope, I don’t know what I’m doing. But if you want to watch me learn, you’re quite welcome. There’s another synth on it’s way to me, so expect another installment soon. I think next time, as much as I love my amps I will dump everything to a mixer and directly into Reason, so I can maintain better level controls. Oh, and you can bet your sweet bippy I’ll wreck some shit with that Necromancer.