Friday, September 26, 2008

DSI Mopho

There’s a new synth called the Mopho, just announced by Dave Smith Instruments. It’s small, bright yellow, inexpensive and for me totally fascinating. It’s only 5" by 7.5" and contains one complete voice from the Prophet ’08. Sweetwater claims it will be available the week of October 5th and cost US$400.

It has four dedicated buttons for cutoff, resonance, attack and decay/release. It also have four assignable buttons under a two line display. That may not seem like much to program something as interesting as a Prophet ’08 voice, but DSI has two answers for that. One is that they’re including a free Mac and/or Windows editor, and the other is that if you happen to have one laying around you can use the front panel of a Prophet ’08 to access almost everything in the Mopho.

I say “almost” everything because there are a few nice additions built into the Mopho that the Prophet ’08 doesn’t have.

The first addition is a set of suboscillators. Each oscillator now has a sub. I’ve done some good basses on my ’08, but now with suboscillators I fully expect to be able to blow the roof off the joint. Next comes an audio input. You can process external audio with the Mopho. But it’s not only that as you can also gate the synth from the audio input. This means that the Mopho can be silent until it detects audio at its input, then once it does, all sorts of things can happen.

Now let me talk a moment about the awesomeness of the Push It button. I’ve been wondering how I could do some of my tunes live as I used multiple Prophet ’08 tracks on some of them. With a Mopho or two, I can simply push the button and have it latch the sequencers on. Instant performance backgrounds. Plus, you can use it in conjunction with the audio input to gate the Mopho so the sequencers play only when audio is sensed at the input. Can you think of any other synthesizer that can do that? And even if you can, can they do it for $400?

There’s been a bit of growsing on the Analog Heaven mailing list about the Mopho. Much of it is because it’s a super bright yellow, which for some reason has upset a few people. Personally, I have nothing against yellow as I’ve owned both a Waldorf microQ rack and a full Q rack in the past. (I sold the Micro Q so I could get the Q, then I sold the Q so I could get a black Q keyboard.) All consideration of color aside, the Mopho is arguably more powerful than a Minimoog, it’s the size of a large format paperback, it comes with free editing software, and, as if all that wasn’t enough, it’s friggin’ cheap.

I’ve already ordered mine from Sweetwater.

Photo credit:
Photo is from the manufacturer’s website
Dave Smith Instruments

Processing 2

I haven’t posted for a few weeks, and I thought I should mention why that’s so. My last post was about Processing, and since I wrote that, it’s taken up pretty much all my spare time. I’m still learning the language, but it’s actually a good bit easier than I thought it would be. I’ve worked in a number of scripting languages before as well as flirted with “real” programming in C many years ago and RealBASIC more recently. This has given me a good headstart in learning Processing as I’m more or less familiar with the general concepts. Even for someone with no prior programming experience however, it should be easy enough to pick up if you start with a good book. I’m using Learning Processing, and I’ve found it to be clear and easy to understand, even if you’ve never had any previous programming experience.

The best part, though, is that as I’m working my way through the book, new ideas for interesting things to do constantly come to mind. I’m not advanced enough yet to be able to pull them off, but I can see that it won’t be long before I’ll be able to. Starting from zero a month ago, I can see possibilities now of what can be done. I don’t know yet how to generate sound or output MIDI, but I can see that once I get to that point there I’ll be able to have my sketches, what programs are called in Processing, make noise. It should be relatively “easy” to make a string module that drifts down the screen from the top to the bottom. Once that string moves past a certain point, a note could be triggered. Now make many instances of the string module fall at random times, or trigger random notes when they fall, and all of a sudden you’ve got programmatically generated music. Easy to do? Maybe not, but possible with a bit of sweat and hard work? Definitely. There are also possibilities opened up by doing a little programming for the Arduino board to make use of sensors to trigger things in Processing, or conversely, for taking the output of Processing sketches and making them do things in the physical world rather than just on a screen.

There’s also a Processing community forming. Earlier this week I went to the first meeting of the Processing Study Group at NYC Resistor. The room was pretty much filled to capacity with a wide range of people interested in visual and musical programming. There were a lot of beginners, which was good, and the atmosphere was pretty charged up with lots of enthusiasm. I’m totally looking forward to next month’s yet-to-be-scheduled meeting, and hopefully I’ll be ready with a few interesting code examples I’ve been able to cook up by then.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several weeks; diving into Processing. I’m going to resume my “normal” amount of posting about synths and music. In fact, I’m going to write a post about the new DSI Mopho as soon as I finish this one. I did, however, want to explain what I’ve been doing lately and why my posts may have seemed to taper off. I’ve got plenty to write about, though, so hang in there.

Friday, September 5, 2008


It’s funny how things work out sometimes, bad things and good things. The bad thing is that my laptop died. The Firewire ports disappeared, which isn’t that big a deal except that I need them for my MOTU Ultralight audio interface. No complex recording in Ableton Live without it (although I did manage to record two Elektron Monomachine tunes in GarageBand on my iMac). The ports have been dead for several weeks now, but it just hadn’t been convenient for me to be without my laptop for a week or so, mainly because I had been scheduled to take a series of three Arduino classes at NYC Resistor. I’d become interested in the Arduino because I figured if I learned enough of the programming language I could do some interesting music stuff with it. Sadly, this was not to be as the iCal calendar links I downloaded were in the wrong time zone and I showed up for the first class four hours late.

So I missed the programming class, and was a little bummed as I was really looking forward to it. I’ve done a bunch of scripting over the years and have sorta dabbled in programming but not really gotten serious about it. That was on Saturday. On Monday I saw a post on CDMo (on my blogroll on the right) about a book called Learning Processing. I’ve been interested in the whole visualist/VJ thing for a while now and have looked at Processing a time or two, so a new book on Processing for beginners sounded just about right, especially with what happened with my Arduino class. It was good timing, so I ordered the book. It hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s on it’s way.

Then, on Thursday, first on CDMu, also on my blogroll, I started seeing talk of a new version of iTunes. The most interesting thing about it was rumors of the new visualizer, supposedly Magnetosphere, which apparently used to be downloadable but lately no longer available. Regardless of the truth of the rumors or the lack thereof, the demo movie of Magnetosphere is absolutely beautiful. What cemented this for me, however, was that the visuals were generated in Processing, so we’re now back around to the beginning, starting at programming for the Arduino (whose IDE is based on Processing, by the way!) through a series of incidents and and coincidences involving music and computers and ending up back at programming, in Processing.

But aside from the incredible visuals, the music, also, of the Magnetosphere video was hauntingly beautiful. Simple, interesting, calm, but also, just, compelling. Thankfully a link on the page took me to Trentemøller, where I more or less instantly bought and downloaded the album The Last Resort. Excellent, beautiful; calm but rhythmic, ambient but dance, simple but complex. Highly recommended.

So. I haven’t posted for a while, much longer than I wanted, as I’m without my usual computer. But because of that “impediment” I’ve been opened up to new possibilities through new music and upcoming new endeavors. I’m not deceiving myself that learning Processing will be easy, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to do incredible visuals (and music) like Richard Lainhart’s Lux, done in After Effects and then rendered, or the incredible generative visuals of Robert Hodgin’s Magnetosphere, hopefully on computers everywhere after next week’s iTunes announcement. I hope I’ll be able to use Processing to make visuals that evolve slowly and interact with my music, ideally in live performances. Maybe a lofty goal, but one I think well worth pursuing.

Does this post exactly reflect the stated purpose of this blog? Not exactly to the letter, but I feel it’s definitely following the spirit.