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Holy Bot

Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

Month

March 2015

Bass for Dummies

Here’s  a song I’ve made with the volca bass and keys, https://soundcloud.com/johaneckerstrom/house-of-missiles.

The bass sound is actually programmed in Step Mode as a simple pattern in 1/16 notes, and then resampled a few times with different manually movements. There are not many effects on the bass, just a multiband compressor and a little Haas for stereo width. (Then of course side-chain, triggered by the kickdrum.)

Breakdown

The bass sound is made on the volca bass. First group all three VCOs together (VCO GROUP) and turn them on (VCO1, VCO2 and VCO3 lit). Leave PITCH 2 off but detune PITCH 1 (down) and PITCH 3 (up) for a thick unison effect. Have the first (VCO1) and second (VCO2) oscillators generate a sawtooth wave and the third a square wave (VCO WAVE).

On the low-pass filter section (VCF) you’ll need a little resonance to make the LFO go well into audio range, so put PEAK level on 11 o’clock.

Set CUTOFF frequency at 11 o’clock. (As for knob movement, slightly raise CUTOFF level at the same time as EG DECAY/RELEASE drops.)

Now, set the LFO RATE to max and TARGET to CUTOFF modulation. Adjust intensity (INT) to 9 o’clock or so. This little trick – modulating the filter cutoff point (or pitch) with an audio range oscillator – introduces some buzz or grit (read: distortion) to the sound. And if you turn down the intensity a bit, you will get a fat analog sound.

Turn on the envelope generator for volume (AMP EG ON). On the EG section, set ATTACK to null, DECAY/RELEASE to 1 o’clock – turn this knob to about 10 o’clock and back again – and CUTOFF EG INT to 10 o’clock.

Problems

There were two technical problems with recording the volca modules: first MIDI latency and second, mono recording.

I’ve spent an hour or two trying to solve the MIDI offset, but didn’t succeed. In the end I just ignored it. (Well, someday I will fix it, for sure.)

And about the mono recording. The volca modules (bass and keys) are each a 3 VCO strong monosynth, and both of them have a stereo audio output. I can’t make much sense of this, but I could connect the each device to (A) a mono or (B) a stereo pair input on the audio interface (Propellerhead Balance). I chose to mono to save input ports. Moreover, I’ve read somewhere that the so called stereo, is just one mono signal rendered as left and right. This might be wrong though.

A microKORG Growl Bass

Hi, here’s how to make a dupstep wobble/growl bass on the microKORG. Or at least a good starting point. The raw sound is pretty standard, still full and with some fine overtones, that you should be able to take a step further with compressors, saturation and effects outside of the microKORG. Just resample an process.

You can manually change (or automate) the wobble speed with LFO 2 > Frequency, which is tempo synced to the BPM set on Arpeg. A > Tempo. Alright, start with initializing a program on the synth and follow the money.

Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, SGL, MON, SGL, –
Pitch: -24, 0, 0, 2, 5
Osc 1: DIG, -, 61, -, –
Osc 2: SAW, OFF, 0, 0, –
Mixer: 127, 100, 10, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 38, 53, 0, 0
Filter EG:  0, 64, 127, 0, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, ON, 0, –
Amp EG: 0, 64, 127, 8, ON
LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
LFO 2: SIN, VOC, ON, 1.3, –

Edit Select 2
Patch 1: LF.2, CUT, -40, -, –
Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
Patch 4: LF.2, CUT, 0, -, –
Mod FX: ENS, 20, 12, -, –
Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 60, 7, 1.00, 3, –
Arpeg. A: 140, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, –

Analog for the Masses

image

This is the Korg volca bass on top of my master keyboard. The volca bass has a true analog synthesis, with three VCOs and a nice sounding filter (that uses the circuitry of the legendary miniKORG-700S from 1974).

The volca bass is very direct, very easy to learn. It’s tactile and inviting to play. It’s also small, like a VHS cassette, and the build is sturdy enough for the price point.

True Analog

I wanted a sound source that couldn’t be imitated digitally, and I actually wanted something well-defined (limitations somehow inspire me, while a tabula rasa has always been connected with anxiety for me). So I looked for a new analog sound engine and found the volca series.

It’s my third Korg, but the microKORG uses DSP analog modeling and the Polysix for Reason, a softsynth, uses CMT (Component Modeling Technology) to replicate the sound and parameter response of the original analog hardware.

The Sound

I like the sound of the volca bass, it’s rich, beefy, punchy and unmistakably analog. It may be inspired by the classic Roland TB-303, but the volca bass sounds different – it has its own sonic signature. Well I don’t mind, and I don’t make acid house anyway.

It’s easy to produce sounds for a wide range of music genres, like electro, electronica and EDM and even detuned old school EBM basses.

First I thought I’d be sequencing the volca bass externally in a DAW, and then resample and mix it with other instruments. I didn’t think I’d need the built-in loop sequencer, but now I admit that sequencer is part of the instrument itself: I mean, one will come up with phrases and riffs (with slides, octave jumps and such) in real-time that one never would have on a timeline in a DAW. Now I can resample, comp and edit the shit out of these loops.

The Keyboard

The ribbon controller, or the multi-touch half-step chromatic keyboard, is odd and confusing to say the least; it has inverted colors fucking up your head and begins with an A, instead of a standard C. Not a big deal though, I can live and trigger notes on an external keyboard via MIDI in.

Bass or Keys

I decided to go for the volca bass, and not the volca keys, because I wanted both sawtooth and square waveforms, and independent control of the three oscillators.

Some people say volca keys is more versatile as a standalone module, but I’m more a composer and a sound designer, than a performer, so the extended loop sequencer, polyphony and voicing options of the volca keys, were less important than the waveforms to me. They also say the filter on the volca bass sounds better than the one on volca keys, but it’s supposed to be the same filter so I don’t know. The volca keys is said to be more noisy, due to the digital delay that generates background noise.

Anyway, I’m now thinking of getting the volca keys too. Even if some features overlap, the different modules have their own niche and complement each other; surly Korg and engineer Tatsuya Takahashi designed them with this in mind.

And it could be fun too, because these devices are made for synchronized chaining of multiple volca modules (and even monotribe).

Modding

Recently Korg has designed some instruments so that they are mod-friendly. The company even published a reference schematic for the predecessor, monotron, and labeled solder points on the printed circuit boards of the volca series for modding and hacking.

For example, I’ve always thought the snare sounded weak on the volca beats, but that can be modded by placing a 104 capacitor across position C78 on the PCB.

In the same mindset, Korg released a SDK (Software Development Kit) and library that encourage people to code their own applications for the volca sample.

Wishlist

Of course I’d like to be able to set the volume for the individual VCOs, and to level distortion and accent et cetera. And even if I don’t mind the lack of MIDI out, I wouldn’t mind it either.

But some things I’d like to change with the volca bass. As I don’t value portability as high, I’d rather drop the built-in speaker, switch the 1/8” mini jack to a balanced 1/4” jack, remove the battery slot and include an AC adapter. I guess these changes would make the volca bass less a toy and more a studio instrument.

It’s still fine, it’s great actually.

But with them features some clever modding could accomplish, the volca bass would be perfect. In theory that is, I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t yet made any music with it.

https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/196211394/stream?client_id=3cQaPshpEeLqMsNFAUw1Q?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

Here’s something for you night owls.

Doubleretro

Recently I got an original microKORG. It’s something like a modern classic, first released in 2002, and is still in production. While you don’t by a book by its cover, the microKORG has a distinctive vintage look. Now 13 years on, it’s retro in a new sense – it’s meta- or doubleretro.

image

Anyway, it’s hugely popular and not without reasons. The microKORG is a DSP analog modelling synthesizer/vocoder from Korg, and one of its best-selling synthesizers ever. It’s pretty well covered on teh internets so I shouldn’t delve further into details here.

Inspiration

Usually I’m abusing softsynths for my productions, so to sum up what I now was looking for was some inspiration by stepping outside the software ecosystem. For that I wanted some hardware that could produce both warm rounded and cold sharp tones, had a reasonable deal of oscillators, a sharp filter section and MIDI controller functionality. Among others, the microKORG matched this.

Moreover, it also has an arpeggiator and a patch system that let you assign different modulation routings. And it’s possible to run external audio source via the microKORG and process it with filtering and effects.

The microKORG’s signal path is straight forward and easy enough to follow, but programming a sound is a little bit muddled, due to all diving into the menu system to find the right parameter to edit. (When hooked up to a computer, there’s this software, the SoundEditor, but its interface is simply awkward.)

Two-thirds of the stock presets are bad, but it’s alright because these encourage you to make new, own and better sounds. So far I’ve made like 10 usable sounds.

Limited Space

Because my home studio is very small, I needed something compact that I would be able to squeeze in. First I had some trouble with noise interference and hum. It was probably ground loop, which I manage to solve by re-arranging some gear. (And no, this time I wasn’t looking for any rack versions or modules like Nord Rack 2X or Mopho, even if both of them are terrific synths.)

In this case, the microKORG suited my setup, mostly because of its size. The mini-keys didn’t bother me. If I ever need to play live, I’d anyway use my full size master keyboard with semi-weighted keys (Axiom Pro 61). By the way, I think the microKORG’s design is overrated and its build could be more sturdier.

Compared to the microKORG XL+ or R3, I prefer the raw sound of the MS2000 engine to the MMT analog modelling.

Beyond the Hinterlands

I think I’m done with Dragon Age: Inquisition, at least for now. Finally, after a hundred hours and thousands of foes slain.

Now, was it all worth it? Well, let me put it like this: the game’s scope is its bless and curse.

For obvious reasons you don’t want a small or limited RPG. You want a big game, right? And DAI is enormous with lots of locations, missions, loot, collectables and what have you.

You could spend hours doing side quests and investigating shit – not advancing the main story at all. And here lies some of the game’s charm: to be totally buried in its lore.

But a world this big is populated with so much stuff it hurts.

I mean, how many of these hours are well-spent? Some quests are pretty pointless – and being that special chosen one, whom you are, the Inquisitor and all – well, collection plants for some random dude in the forest isn’t really worthy your royal lifestyle, nor does it make you feel any heroic.

For sure, many hours are spent on collecting a certain amount of a certain item, killing a certain number of enemies et cetera. In short, DAI is full of nonsense that isn’t very interesting to do. And If you’re a grown up, playing a game of this reach is surly a time investment. With all (intruding) responsibilities in everyday life, playtime is lacking nowadays.

Still, like many suckers before me, I ended up doing plenty meaningless side quests – not because the were any fun, but because the completionist in me demanded it.

Anyway, DAI was kinda great, but in a way I’m glad it’s over (for this time).

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