Friday, December 26, 2008

Numerology 2.0

Numerology, by Five12. It’s your typical modular Moog sequencer on steroids, capable of chugging away furiously in the background whilst you lay down those exquisite textures on top in sequenced heaven. Oh, did I mention it’s software?

There’s good things and bad things about that. The bad thing, of course, is that it requires a computer to make use of it, Mac OS X to be specific. You can’t just throw a MIDI hardware box in a backpack and then later hook it up with one wire. That’s about all of the bad stuff, however. The good stuff is that it’s incredibly flexible and extremely powerful, and that’s with me really only scratching the outer surface of it. The beauty of Numerology is that it’s modular. You can drag in a new module at any time to add further controls. It’s tough to do that with a hardware box.

You can also have presets. In the screenshot I have six different presets, ranging from 16 basic pulses all at C3 in preset number 1, going on to increasingly complex rhythms as you change to the higher numbered presets. (I think the name “preset” is the tiniest bit unfortunate as they’re really closer to drum machine patterns rather than synthesizer presets. I don’t want anyone to think the program comes with preset sequences that you’re stuck with.) Note that you’re not limited to 16-step sequences. You can have as many as 128 steps, and there are several sequencer modules to choose from, including a polyphonic sequencer, a drum sequencer, and a matrix-style (i.e., piano-roll style) sequencer and arpeggiator. Plus, you’re not limited to controlling only the pitch of notes. You can also control velocity, step length, accent and many other parameters, including three CV values. In the analog synth world, CV stands for control voltage, but since we’re in the software world CV stands here for control value. You can route any of these parameters to any other parameter via the port patching area. In all honesty this is not something I’ve done yet as I’ve only had version 2.0 for a couple of weeks, but the potential for powerful modulations of all sorts is there.

I find Numerology 2.0 to be a lot of fun to play with and incredibly musical. That’s 2.0, though. For me, version 1.0 was not quite so usable. I’m not sure what it was, but I never really “got” 1.0, whereas 2.0 just seems to be intuitive and to make sense to me. 1.0 seemed overly complicated and hard to patch up to get it to run, whereas 2.0 seems ready to go. It’s quite possibly me, although I have to say that there are several how-to videos on the Numerology web site that may have made all the difference. It’s a simple concept, really. Make a video to show people how to use your software. I can’t quite understand why software companies aren’t doing it more often. Kudos to Five12 for taking the time and putting in the effort to make these videos. As a user of their software, I can’t say enough how much of a difference that has made for me.

I’m including a sequence I made a week or so ago. It’s only the “raw” sequence, no textures or other flavorings just yet but they’re coming. I’ve only just now read the section in the manual on how to synchronize Numerology with Ableton Live, so this piece is so far a stand-alone sequence. I’ll be able to fully integrate it into Live in the near future. You also need to run a program to route the audio around your computer. I installed Soundflower, but there are others. Numerology is not a plug-in that runs in other software, rather it’s a stand alone sequencer. It’s not at all difficult to integrate it into your recording environment, but it is something you’ll have to think about a little bit rather than simply selecting it from a menu in Live

The sequence in six variations is running in Numerology and is playing an instance of Arturia’s Minimoog V. There’s also a carefully timed delay as well, which is what’s letting the pulses continue on and which makes it seem at times to be more than one sequence. Once I get all the MIDI and audio routings set up and tested, I’m going to replace the soft synth with a real synth. I’ll post again when I get that finished, hopefully sometime next week.

I didn’t intend for this to be a review of Numerology, nor did I intend for it to be this long. I was only going to post an example sequence along with a few words of explanation. I guess I once again got a little carried away with my enthusiasm. Now all I have to do is figure out how to do that Tangerine Dream-style ratcheting and I’ll be all set. (You can see right at the beginning that the sequencer is moving very slowly, but on every other step Froese makes it put out five notes. Another example is at 1:30. Before that moment, the sequencer is putting out sixteenth notes, but after 1:30 it's spitting out rapid-fire notes for each step. Classic Tangerine Dream.)

Numerology 2.0, from Five12. US$119, but for a short time you can get it for $99. No, this is not a commercial or endorsement. I just happen to really like the software and find that it allows me to make music I could previously only imagine.

Update: the TD-style ratcheting is dead-simple to do. Just pick a note and set the Divide control for the number of fractional repeats you want.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The MMM Arrives

Snowstorm in New York City, modular synth in a plastic bag on the subway, just another normal day.

My Mattson Mini Modular arrived today. An entire year since I ordered it, taking a lot on faith, trading emails with George and getting pretty regular updates. And now it’s sitting in my living room with blinkenlights and a spaghetti of patch cords. It’s hard to even think of it as finished. It’s been a process for so long that it’s hard to think of it as a product. I’m not criticizing or anything, far from it. Some things simply take time to design, build and test.

It’s hard to describe how small it is. It’s shockingly small. The modules are half the size of my MOTM modules. The whole thing, all 22 modules, could fit in a large-ish backpack. I don’t mean a camping trip backpack, I’m talking about an on-one-shoulder book bag type of backpack. A Minimoog has 10 or 11 modules, more or less. My MMM has 22, with room for two more, and it’s smaller than my Mini. I could put together two more cabinets for a total of 48 modules and it would still be smaller than my Minimoog. And, it’s a modular. I can hook things up any which way I want. I have SKB popup mixer cases filled with MOTM modules. Each one holds maybe a dozen modules (if you get a bunch of small ones). I could fit the entire MMM modular with its 24 modules inside the SKB case and still have room for plenty of other gear.

I can see getting plenty more modules. I’ve had it for two hours, and I can already see needing more. I know, it’s a sickness. I haven’t even hooked it up to a keyboard yet, just patched together a pile of modules and flipped the envelope generator switches to make them cycle. It sounds great, too. I’ll post some mp3s over the weekend, but I can’t right now because all my gear is 1/4" and the MMM is 1/8" (sheepish grin). I’ll have to get some conversion cables before I can plug it into my audio interface.

George has shipped the first batch of MMM systems. I hope plenty more people order them and he can spend the next bunch of years making more and more modules. If you’ve been on the fence about getting one, get off the fence. It’s totally worth it. I’ve been the guinea pig so you don’t have to. Go for it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Too many b0xen

I posted a note earlier today to the Analogue Heaven mailing list letting everyone know that I’m going to sell some of these, but I wanted to post some photos as well as a bit more information. Here’s what I’m going to sell:


I put up a post on the x0xb0x a couple of months ago, so I won’t go into too many details about it except to say that’s it’s a really good machine. I’m selling it for US$850, exactly what I paid.

Future Retro Revolution

I bought this new less then six months ago. It’s in perfect condition, with the original box and manual. $650.

Korg ER-1/EA-1

These are a great pair of boxes, Korg’s first entry into the field. They’re unique in two interesting ways. One is that you can program several of the tracks to have a unique sound rather than having just the sounds the box comes with, and the other is that every knob is recordable, meaning that if you turn a knob, that movement is now part of the recorded sequence. Very powerful. $300 for the pair.

Future Retro 777 (NOT for sale)

This one’s why I’m selling the others. I’ve been interested in 303s, but they’re so darn expensive nowadays. Once I found out about the 777 that was it, I wanted one. The problem was that I was maybe a year too late and they had stopped making them. That’s why I got the Korgs, because they were good and they were affordable. A few years later when I had some money I got a Monomachine, mistakenly thinking it would be 303-ish. It’s an incredible box, but I view it as more of a “regular” synth than a 303. Earlier this year, I decided to get the Revolution. It’s another really good box, and it does the 303 thing. A few months later, I was a x0xb0x crossed my path, and even though I had the Revolution, I couldn’t pass the x0xb0x by. I was pretty happy with the state of affairs, but I did start to think about the fact that I was starting to accumulate the things. Then, just last week I came across a 777 on eBay which I won for a quite reasonable price. Finally, I had the one I had originally wanted, but in the meantime I had accumulated all these other boxes. That’s how I ended up here; I simply have too many of them. I have the 777, and that’s really all I need. So the others have to go to good homes where they’ll be played, with feeling. The 777 stays here, though, as do my Monomachine/Machinedrum.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Patrick Moraz Double Minimoog

It might take me a little while to get there, but give me a minute or two and I’ll make it. I promise.

It all started many years ago when I got Chris Squire’s solo album Fish out of Water. I’m a huge Squire fan, and I’ve always loved that album. The problem is, I only had it on vinyl so I couldn’t really play it anymore. I don’t really like re-buying the same albums again and again, except for a very few. (Some notable exceptions are Close to the Edge, of which I have far too many copies, mostly because I kept wearing them out from playing the LPs so often when I was a lad, and also 2001, which sorta counts and sorta doesn’t because it’s both a book and a movie and I have several copies of each. But I digress. Although I -did- warn you of that at the beginning.)

Anyway, I’ve never really loved buying music from iTunes because of the DRM, although I’ve bought a good amount of music there over the years, so I’ve recently started to buy mp3s from Amazon’s music store. No DRM, which is actually rather refreshing (but I digress again). The beauty of this is that it’s actually pretty inexpensive for many older albums. I got Fish Out Of Water and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway for US$14 for both of them together. That’s not a bad deal.

I’m getting there. Trust me.

The point of this is that I just about a week ago got Fish Out of Water, and while I certainly remembered the album, I had more or less forgotten that Patrick Moraz plays most of the synthesizers on it. It was almost a revelation. After the first time I listened to it, I almost immediately played the Relayer album. And that brings me to Moraz’s incredible synth sound. I’ve had Relayer since the early ’70s when it came out, but despite having played many synths in my time I was never sure how Moraz got that “liquidy” in-motion kind of joyful sound out of his synths. 

If you want to hear what I’m talking about, it’s in the middle of The Gates of Delirium, after the “war” section but before Soon, right after the drum bashing and right before Steve Howe’s slide guitar solo. The Moraz solo synth part comes in at 12:48 in the studio recording. It’s like he’s got a slow sweeping LFO on the cutoff frequency at the same time that he’s got a much faster frequency modulation going on for vibrato (which maybe he did with the pitch bend wheel). Incredible technique.

I was just a little too young to have seen him with Yes, being only around 13 or so when he was with them. I’ve seen him play with Bill Bruford several times on their piano and drums tours, though, so I don’t feel deprived too much. But ever since I got Relayer I’ve always wondered what he used to get those sounds.

So naturally, in order to find out I turned to the Analog Heaven mailing list, where I enjoyed a good discussion with several people who were there at some of those early ’70s Yes shows, and where I was also directed to various YouTube videos. It turns out that Moraz played a pile of Minimoogs! I was completely surprised when I found this out. I actually own four Moogs—two Minis, one a Model D and one a Voyager, a Little Phatty and a Multimoog. I would never have guessed in a million years that Moraz was playing a Minimoog. I’m going to have to try a few things now, such as a Harmonizer or my Moogerfooger phase shifter, to see if I can get something approaching that incredible sound. It just doesn’t sound like a Minimoog to me.

I’m almost there. I promise.

So, in my research I was directed to the Yes show at Queens Park, where I saw him playing some kind of odd keyboard thing that could do two notes at once. Not the one he played for the solo mentioned above, but a different one on the side facing the drums. Unfortunately, the only decent shot of it was from below him. You could only see that he was using both hands, but not what the instrument was. I couldn’t for the life of me think of a black duophonic synthesizer that existed at around that time. And now that brings me to the Cantos Music Foundation. Unbelievable! They actually have the very instrument Moraz was playing in the video. And guess what? It’s a Minimoog also! Apparently Moraz had the some custom work done on two Minis, one black and one natural wood. They took the electronics section out of one and the keyboard out of the other and swapped them, putting the electronics into the space the keyboard one occupied and vice versa. He ended up with a dual keyboard in one case and a dual Minimoog in the other, and those two-note synth lines I was hearing was Moraz playing both keyboards at once. In fact, you can see him doing that but using only one hand at times, leaving his other hand free to play something else. Another incredibly innovative technique and a sound that’s very hard to duplicate.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot this week. I’ve talked to a lot of people on the AH list, seen a lot of videos, and been to more than a few web sites. I was hoping to find a good photo taken from the audience so I could see exactly what Moraz was playing, but finding the Cantos Foundation photos was a huge stroke of luck. I’ve been to their web site before, and I’ve actually seen that photo before as well, but I never really made the connection between those early Minimoog photos and Patrick Moraz. True serendipity. I don’t often find myself in Calgary, but the next time I do I’ll be sure to drop by so I can see some of their amazing instruments in person.

Photo, number 79, used with the kind permission of the Cantos Music Foundation

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mattson Mini Modular - Almost Done

A few shots of the Mattson Mini Modular. I hope to have it in my hands soon.