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A volca Confession

The first volca I got was the bass, and it was the last of the modules I sold. I’ve had three volcas – bass, keys and sample – and I’ve owned two of them for over two years.

While they had their own ecosystem they never quite fit in my particular, DAW-driven, workflow.

The three detunable VCOs of the bass, and the ring modulation of the keys, are great features, but in practice, when I wanted a bass or a lead sound for a track, I sometimes tried using a volca first, but then ended up designing those sounds on other synths. Like always. While the volcas sound fine for the money, they are not on par with my other synths, well that’s just me.

Anyway, I recently acquired the discontinued monotribe, and oh man, that timbre is golden!

Its sound might be clicky, noisy and dirty, but I do prefer this tone over the analog volcas’. To my ears, the filter is so much better on the monotribe, and the LFO is wild and really dope.

I still have to test run it in context of a full track though.

I didn’t expect much of the drumpart, but it’s cool enough it turns out.

So yeah, try to get a monotribe if you haven’t already. I got mine to 70 USD, meaning it’s the next cheapest gear I’ve got.

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Tips for the monotribe

The Korg monotribe is a desktop analog monophonic synthesizer with an additional three preset drums sounds. Its sound is warm and rich but quite clicky and noisy – although I think I prefer this timbre over the newer volca series. The monotribe was released in 2011 and is now discontinued.

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How to Silent the VCO When Processing External Audio

The synth has an audio in port to feed external audio into 12 dB/oct lowpass filter (which uses the same circuit as the classic MS-10/MS-20). The crux is that the synth engine must be triggered to run the filter, meaning it’s not possible to process external audio solo (without being modded). But the LFO can modulate the oscillator so that it becomes nearly inaudible. The workaround below is not exactly neat, but should do the trick. On the monotribe, do as follows:

  1. Press PLAY button and then REC.
  2. Set RANGE select switch to WIDE and press the highest key on the RIBBON keyboard during the whole sequence.
  3. Set EG to GATE.
  4. Switch TARGET to VCO.
  5. Set MODE to 1SHOT.
  6. Set WAVE to SQUARE WAVE.
  7. Set LFO RATE knob to minimum speed and INT. to maximum depth.
  8. Select TRIANGLE WAVE on modulation waveform WAVE.

How to CV Control the monotribe with the Analog Keys’ Keyboard

OS version 2.11 allows the SYNC IN connection to be used as a pitch CV/gate input. This makes it possible to control the monotribe with an external keyboard or sequencer (which is great because the ribbon keyboard is almost impossible to play). There are many ways to do this, but the theory is the same: send CV and gate via a TRRS 4-pole mini jack – where gate is tip and CV the second ring.

Now I got an Elektron Analog Keys which can send both tip and ring from the same CV output, but to do that to the monotribe I’d need a special cable (sort of TRS to TRRS) and I haven’t soldered any yet. So until then, I hacked a workable cable with many different pieces I found laying around (e.g. the composite video cable was provided with a TV I acquired last year). Again, you can build this patch cable more streamlined, but here’s my solution:

  1. Connect a composite video cable to SYNC IN on the monotribe and connect a RCA connector, white male to white female and red male to yellow female. On the other end, connect a pair of adaptors, RCA female to mono 3.5 mm mini jack male and then another pair of adaptors, 3.5 mm mini jack female to 6.3 mm jack male and plug white in CV AB and red/yellow in CV CD on Analog Keys.
  2. While this setup only uses the tips, and demands both CV ports on Analog Keys, set CV A to Gate, V-Trig, 5.0 V and CV C to Pitch V/oct, C 3, 1.000 V, C 6, 4.000 V. (CV B and D are not used.)
  3. Download and install System Updater 2.11.
  4. Prepare the monotribe as described in the documentation that came with the download package. Activate CV/GATE mode, set the Pitch CV curve to V/oct and GATE polarity to high.

P.S. It’s also possible to create a feedback loop by feeding the headphone output back into the monotribe’s audio in. This will render a mild thickening, and if you have some kind of attenuator on the feedback signal path, you can dial in some overdrive too.

Envelope, Basics

In sound design, an ADSR envelope modulates the sound and sculpts its timbre thus changing its sonic character. ADSR is an acronym that stands for its four stages Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. The contour of the ADSR envelope is specified by three time-parameters and one level-parameter like this:

(A) Attack time is the time it takes for the signal to go from minimum to maximum when the key is pressed.
(D) Decay time is the time for the signal to drop to the designated sustain level (if it is not set to maximum, then decay time has no meaning).
(S) Sustain level is the level of the signal while the key is hold.
® Release time is the time taken for the signal to fade out after the key is released.

Note that the signal will jump to the release stage when the key is released no matter where it is in the envelope. Hence if a short note is played, the signal might not had time to rise to the maximum in the envelope, therefore release will be relative to the level reached in the envelope.

Envelopes can be applied not only to volume, but also to filter frequencies or oscillator pitches.

To correctly tune the pitch envelope modulation range:

  1. First turn the modulation/envelope amount knob down.
  2. Press the key and set the desired minimum with the pitch knob (offset for modulation).
  3. Turn sustain level all the way up, press the key and let the signal reach maximum.
  4. While on sustain, dial the modulation knob to the maximum pitch.

About cutoff modulation, the cutoff knob is the starting point of the modulation, that means that the sound will not be altered if cutoff is set to maximum.

Moreover, it is sometimes possible to inverted the envelope and reverse its behavior.

Envelopes, Basics

In sound design, an ADSR envelope modulates the sound and sculpts its timbre thus changing its sonic character. ADSR is an acronym that stands for its four stages Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. The contour of the ADSR envelope is specified by three time-parameters and one level-parameter like this:

(A) Attack time is the time it takes for the signal to go from minimum to maximum when the key is pressed.
(D) Decay time is the time for the signal to drop to the designated sustain level (if it is not set to maximum, then decay time has no meaning).
(S) Sustain level is the level of the signal while the key is hold.
® Release time is the time taken for the signal to fade out after the key is released.

Note that the signal will jump to the release stage when the key is released no matter where it is in the envelope. Hence if a short note is played, the signal might not had time to rise to the maximum in the envelope, therefore release will be relative to the level reached in the envelope.

Envelopes can be applied not only to volume, but also to filter frequencies or oscillator pitches.

To correctly tune the pitch envelope modulation range:

  1. First turn the modulation/envelope amount knob down.
  2. Press the key and set the desired minimum with the pitch knob (offset for modulation).
  3. Turn sustain level all the way up, press the key and let the signal reach maximum.
  4. While on sustain, dial the modulation knob to the maximum pitch.

About cutoff modulation, the cutoff knob is the starting point of the modulation, that means that the sound will not be altered if cutoff is set to maximum.

Moreover, it is sometimes possible to inverted the envelope and reverse its behavior.

FM à la Analog Four

One of my favorite synths is the Analog Four, and with the OS update 1.22 a while back, Elektron added new LFO synchronization modes and destinations and made this synth even more awesome. (If I only could take one of my synths to a deserted island, it would be the Analog Four.) Anyway, in short that means I’m now able to apply pitch tracked LFO FM behavior.

Here’s a way to start (not rules):

  1. Set triangle (as a substitute for sinus) waveform on an oscillator.
  2. Open up both filters.
  3. Set the LFO speed to any multiples of 16.
  4. Set the LFO multiplier to over 512 and synchronize it to the oscillator you’re working with.
  5. Let the LFO restart when a note is played on Trig Mode.
  6. Choose sinus as the LFO waveform.
  7. Set frequency or pitch modulation to the oscillator as LFO destination. (Also try different destinations later, like the filter frequency.)
  8. Set depth of the LFO modulation (or, if you’re using the first oscillator, let the second assignable envelope control this).
  9. If you use Depth A in the step above, then try to fade in or fade out the modulation.

Also, there’s a few videos on YouTube describing these methods, like this, which is a good walkthrough, even though it’s a bit unfocused and lengthy.

Happy New Bass

If you’re reading and following this blog you ought to be interested in bass. And because of that, I’m giving you two – not so obvious – techniques on how to accentuate your synth bass sound.

Using the high-pass filter to boost bass

Okay, so you know what a high-pass filter is right, and that its cutoff frequency is the point at where the filter limits the low frequencies and lets the high pass.

You also know about resonance, and that it’s generally used to give a brighter/thinner sound. (And when the resonant setting is cranked to max, some filters go into self-oscillation and which make them scream.) But when high-pass resonance is added, the note and overtones near the cutoff are boosted – in other words, this is lifting the bass.

Just use keyboard tracking to make the resonant peak follow the pitch of the note and cutoff to follow the keyboard. The fundamental note will now be boosted while the surrounding spectrum is unaffected.

Use two filters in series if possible, set the other to low-pass filter and reduce harsh elements of the sound.

Get bigger bass by focusing on midrange

To get louder bass it’s not always necessary to pump up the level or to boost the lower frequencies, no you could just draw more attention to the bass element. Add midrange to it – it’s almost a mindtrick, and it shouldn’t make the bass any muddier.

So saturate the overtones of the bass or sculpt the thud of the kick drum. This is also valuable when there are several sounds competing for room in the low end.

The Final Countdown of the microKORG

I thought the microKORG was okay sounding and quite fun even to program, but it was hard to find the right sonic spot in my productions for it; it competed with major league players, like the analog Minitaur and the Juno-106, or some great softsynths like the Thor. So I sold it (and by selling it, I made room for another purchase).

Still, just because there wasn’t any obvious place for the microKORG in my personal setup, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad or redundant synth for everbody.

Anyway, before I sold it, I printed down two generic bass sound designs, very basic but still good sounding.

The FM Bass

The first sound is a FM-esque bass, though it doesn’t try to mimic the style of the classic Yamaha DX7 of the 80s (for that, choose sine waves for both oscillators, carrier and modulator, and bypass the filter section entirely).

You can use a LFO as the modulation source for the oscillator, but in this case I’m using another oscillator to achieve a fairly complex overtone structure with only two operators. So by definition, the bass is actually a Cross Modulation (X-Mod) bass type. Let’s start by breaking down the oscillators:

Osc 1: SIN, 25, 0, -, –
Osc 2: SQU, OFF, 24, 0, –

The first oscillator (carrier) is set as a fundamental sine wave with no overtones. Some depth of cross modulation is added (in the patch below, adjust this with the modulation wheel).

A square wave is used for the second oscillator (modulator), with the oscillator modulation turned off, and detuned two octaves upward for harmonic-component effects. Also, try tweaking the tuning for different sounds.

Here’s the full program (another timbre was layered to fatten the sound up a bit):

*The default factory value, just skip to next setting.

Timbre 1
Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, LAY, MON, MLT, –
Pitch: -12, 0, 0, 2, 0
Osc 1: SIN, 25, 0, -, –
Osc 2: SQU, OFF, 24, 0, –
*Mixer: 127, 0, 0, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 37, 41, 23, 34
Filter EG:  0, 31, 0, 0, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, OFF, -16, –
*Amp EG: 0, 64, 127, 0, ON
*LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
*LFO 2: SIN, OFF, OFF, 70, –

Edit Select 2
Patch 1: MOD, 1.CT, -8, -, –
*Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
Patch 4: LF.2, PAN, 23, -, –
*Mod FX: FLG, 20, 0, -, –
*Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 320, 5, 6.00, 0, –
*Arpeg. A: 120, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
*Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, BTH
*Global: 40.0, 0, CRU, PRE, OFF
*MIDI: 1, ON, INT, -, –

Timbre 2
Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, LAY, MON, MLT, –
Pitch: -12, 0, 0, 2, 0
Osc 1: SIN, 0, 0, -, –
*Osc 2: SAW, OFF, 0, 0, –
*Mixer: 127, 0, 0, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 25, 11, 29, 42
Filter EG:  0, 31, 19, 0, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, OFF, -16, –
*Amp EG: 0, 64, 127, 0, ON
*LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
*LFO 2: SIN, OFF, OFF, 70, –

Edit Select 2
*Patch 1: LF.1, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
*Patch 4: LF.2, CUT, 0, -, –
*Mod FX: FLG, 20, 0, -, –
*Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 320, 5, 6.00, 0, –
*Arpeg. A: 120, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
*Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, BTH
*Global: 40.0, 0, CRU, PRE, OFF
*MIDI: 1, ON, INT, -, –

The Juno Bass

The other bass is merely a sawtooth, yet beefy, virtually analogish with emulated drift and such. It’s straight forward, yet powerful, and I think it showcases the strengths of the microKORG’s MS2000 sound engine.

There’s a number of ways to enhance this sound. For example, you can turn up the second oscillator, detune it a bit, add some chorus, and get a lead-like sound. Or you can modulate the cutoff slightly with a LFO to make subtle movements in the sound.

Anyway, here’s the program of the punchy single sawtooth bass:

*The default factory value, just skip to next setting.

Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, SGL, MON, MLT, –
Pitch: -12, 0, 0, 2, 5
*Osc 1: SAW, 0, 0, -, –
*Osc 2: SAW, OFF, 0, 0, –
*Mixer: 127, 0, 4, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 35, 12, 50, 45
Filter EG:  0, 25, 6, 30, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, OFF, -14, –
Amp EG: 0, 33, 101, 0, ON
*LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
*LFO 2: SIN, OFF, OFF, 70, –

Edit Select 2
*Patch 1: LF.1, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
*Patch 4: LF.2, CUT, 0, -, –
*Mod FX: FLG, 20, 0, -, –
Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 320, 6, 6.00, 5, –
*Arpeg. A: 120, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
*Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, –
*Global: 40.0, 0, CRU, PRE, OFF
*MIDI: 1, ON, INT, -, –

https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/212763639/stream?client_id=3cQaPshpEeLqMsNFAUw1Q?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

Last evening I made 16 drum sounds on the microKORG. This synth is okay and offers quite a few possibilities with up to four separate envelope generators, four noise generators layered multi timbrally, and a multi mode filter (with resonance able to self-oscillate and to be used as a sound source). Also, complex made easy with the modulation routings on the microKORG.

Some external compression and effects where added to these four drum patterns.

It is what it is. Truth be told, I don’t really remember why I bought the microKORG. They say it’s Korg’s best selling synth ever, maybe I wanted to know why.

Seq / Arp

Another post about the mighty MiniBrute. Here’s a tip how to hack the arpeggiator to act as the sequencer like on the newer SE model.

Just send the SysEx command: F0 00 20 6B 04 01 75 01 3E 01 F7  to your MiniBrute to enable the sequencer. And if you what the arp back, or if you have a SE version, then send F0 00 20 6B 04 01 46 01 3E 00 F7.

This information was published on one of the developer Yves Usson’s personal sites. You may also wanna visit for more information about how you can send SysEx et cetera.

Speaking of the MiniBrute. Right now I’m in the beginner’s phase, that is, messing around and making lots of noise, but not any songs. I experiment and come up with many sounds that are good enough, but there’s no saving patches on the MiniBrute. (I could take pictures of the knob settings, but I know I would never look at them.)

So it’s a different approach and workflow from what I’m used to, it’s more about improvising and jamming. Now I need to find a way to capture ideas and process them into compositions. I guess it has to do with some kind of multitracking. 

Anyway, it’s fun and I’ve hooked up the MiniBrute to my volcas (sample, bass and keys). The whole band is playing, I don’t even have to start any DAW.

P.S. About the image, well I had no printer at home, just my mad skillz.

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