Poor Signal to Noise Ratio

Electronic sound noodling/composition employing chiefly synthesizers of variable vintage.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Eurofied Gakken SX-150 MKII

The Gakken ANALOG SYNTHESIZER SX-150 MARKII is a (large) pocket sized ribbon & stylus synth from Japan (Made in China). These had been retailing for around the £100 mark up until recently. Then a tip-off alerted me to the fact that they could be ordered direct from Japan for £12 to £14, depending on the exchange rate, including delivery!

Well, I really had no option but to order one, er, or two...
It's a natty little thing along the lines of a Monotron but around twice the size and with opotional basic AD envelope controls and much better ribbon scaling.
It also has pressure sensitive momentary buttons for the VCF and LFO and comes with an instruction sheet entirely written in Japanese and a cheeky little sticker set for customizing your synth!
And, of course, customizing was what this was all about...
I had the idea that a modified Gakken SX-150 MarkII could provide the perfect accompaniment in my budding Telstar Attaché Eurocase, alongside the recently Eurofied Monotron Delay.
Now, there is a fair bit of advice online about modding the SX-150 MKI, but precious little about the MKII, which just happens to have a completely different PCB. However, with a little help from those good people at MuffWiggler, I drummed up the confidence to have a go. To be fair most of the Test Points on the board have their function marked (VCF, OSC, LFO, +5V, ENV, etc).
My dodgy soldering skills notwithstanding, it mostly does what I wanted it to. The oscillator kind of tracks to scale, the LFO's put out useable square and triangles and (with a bit of attenuation and amping, the envelope sends a signal and the filter receives one.

So here are a few demonstration videos. Just to be clear, these are in no way musical, simply a proof of concept type thing.
In the first, a gate is being sent simultaneously to the Gakken and the monotron from a homebrew battery powered sequencer. The raw oscillator from the monotron is also being fed into the SX-15o Line In and the raw oscillator of the SX-150 is being fed into the montron, so there's a bit of an uncontrolled mess going on. This is just an initial try out.

In the next test a scale is played from a minibrute, just to show the limit of the SX-150 range and then a simple arpeggio is played. In this, a CV is taken from the minibrute into the CV-in on the SX-150. Then the output from the SX-150 is passing through the minibrute (with filter wide open) just to use the VCA + VCA Envelope of the minibrute.

In the final test video, it all out oscillator war. There's lots of mutual modulation going on here between the SX-150 and the monotron delay. Towards the end a plain saw wave is also introduced from the minibrute. Apart from this though, the minibrute is only being used for it's VCA envelope.
Enjoy ;-)

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Verbos with a little help from MS20

Another, slightly more developed Verbos patch here. This time I've used the Env Generators and VCA of the Korg MS20 mini to provide a bit of animation for the intermittent drone sound coming from the Verbos.
Sorry, no video this time, but improved audio. ;-)
I should mention that the Harmonic Oscillator is being sequenced by the Voltage Multistage and put through the Amp & Tone Controller before being tamed by a Behringer Compressor and finally given a little bit of ambience by a Strymon El Capistan. Meanwhile, the Complex Oscillator is using the MS20's EG's & VCA and being given a bit of space by a Behringer Vintage Time Machine.
Good old Behringer, eh? None of this would sound any good without them ;-)

Friday, 30 January 2015

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Ensoniq SD1 - Dilemma continued

Well, the little panic I had a few weeks ago, about whether I could justify holding on to a synthesizer that I bought cheaply to sell on, despite really liking it's sounds has been kicked into the long grass.

The issue I had with the Ensoniq SD1 was that it fell foul of the Studio Manifesto, which I drew up precisely to prevent me from randomly acquiring too many synths (as if there could ever be such a condition). I'm giving myself the excuse of getting around the condition that it doesn't have 'one function per controller' by emphasising the importance of the limited live control palette that it does have. The photo above pretty much sums it up: A data entry slider, two momentary 'patch select' buttons, pitch & mod wheels and a keyboard (with polyphonic aftertouch!).

The thing is though, a lot of performance control can be wrung out of this meagre selection of controllers. Each of the demo tracks posted here comprises a live improvised play on a single patch. All the variation and shifting of timbre is down to subtle (and not so subtle) adjustment of these controls.

The second condition I have to get around is the thing about creating its own sound and not seeking to emulate any other instrument. Well, I guess it can emulate 'real' instruments, such as pianos, strings, horns, etc, but it's greatest strengths are in creating evolving pads and beds. I think this is well demonstrated here.

And the third condition about everything fitting into one corner? Well, I think that went out of the window a long time ago. So, for the time being at least, the SD1 has earned a reprieve. I will monitor its use though, as it's consuming a fair deal of 'synth real estate'. Just now, I haven't the heart to sell it.

So here are a few examples of why I fell for that sound and why it's still here. Each one of these improvised demos, as mentioned above, is just a live recording of some spontaneous messing about without practice or planning, simply in response to the patch selected. As such, the titles of these are all named after the patch being played. I should also mention that these are all recorded straight from the SD1 into the computer without any processing or external effects. I hope you enjoy...

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Testing new 'equipment'.

Okay, so this is a bit of a cheat really. It's more of a camera test than synthesizer. However, since I've just bought a new camera for my 'proper' artwork, I thought I could at least give it a bit of a try out on synth demo first. So, this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 shooting through a 14-140mm/F4.0-5.8 ASPH lens and recording through an external Rode VideoMic. Not that either camera or synthesizer are really being put to much of a test here - it's really just a bit of gratuitous messing about. It is, of course, useful to see how YouTube deals with the footage. This is the camera shooting in it's lowest quality video settings: H.264, 1280 x 720, Millions. AAC, Stereo (L R), 48.000 kHz. 25fps.

And here's another one...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Expensive Kicks

Well, I finally got the Amplitude & Tone Controller for my Verbos Electroncs modular system. This was to have been the final piece in the jigsaw - at least until they release another module. Wouldn't you know it if Verbos didn't manage to release their new touchplate keyboard module just before I got this! So, I'm still one module behind. Anyway, it's amazing the difference this little module makes to the self-sufficiency of the Verbos ecosystem. At last I can make bangin' kicks. This must be the most expensive kick sound I've ever made...

Monday, 29 December 2014

Ensoniq SD-1... ethical dilemma...

A few weeks ago I made the mistake of asking for a demo on an old knackered looking synth in the local Cash Converters. It was going cheap and I was curious. However, as it is in flagrant contradiction of my 'one control per function' manifesto and it doesn't even have analogue filers, I thought I was safe to at least try it out. Unfortunately, it sounded so good, even through the crappy little guitar practice amp they rigged up for me to try it with, that I felt duty bound to knock them down a few quid for cash and buy it. So I've cleaned it up, fixed a couple of loose sliders and tightened up the wobbly keyboard and - so I thought - it's good to go. The idea was that I could sell it on and make a small profit for my troubles. After all, it contravenes the said manifesto, I don't really have room for it and I didn't really have the spare cash to buy it with if I'm not selling it on. It's just a damn shame it sounds soooo good! In recent years I've owned a Korg Trinity and Z1 and a Roland JV-1080, all synths of a later generation that should, on paper wipe, the floor with this Ensoniq. Sadly, that's not the case and now I'm stuck with trying to find valid reasons to part with it. These all seem perfectly reasonable; I need the money, it's old digital technology (floppy disk storage), it's ugly, it's not one knob per function, etc. but these all melt away like a snowman in summer when I play it. I downloaded a stack of sysex patches to get an idea of the range of this thing and it's tremendous. I guess it's all to do with the wavetable synthesis, which I'd never properly experienced before. Now I know why people make such an issue out the difference between true wavetable synths and mere single-cycle sample and sysnthesis or ROMpler synths. Anyway, enough waffle for now. Suffice to say that I'll have to post some evidence here to back up all this enthusiasm. To be continued...