wolf sanctuary

This week hasn’t been the easiest. This track felt like an appropriate reflection.

Recorded with some Commodore 64 SID chips, a bunch of Eurorack, drones, some guitar, and far too many effects pedals.

Whoahoahoah what’s going on

I haven’t posted in a while, but that isn’t as a result of a lack of activity… quite the opposite. It’s been a fairly busy couple of months. I head over to Japan for 3 weeks shortly, so before we go on a short hiatus, here’s an update on what’s been going on… complete with lots of pictures.

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My grunge pish band released our debut album, which was recorded in just three days in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. It got partly funded via Kickstarter, and we have vinyl on the way, which is pretty exciting. You can order a digital/tape/vinyl copy by clicking on the artwork below…

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and if you are supremely lazy, then you can stream below… right from this page:

We have our album launch gig on Saturday in Glasgow at the 13th Note, with the awesome Ex Wives. Come along if you happen to be in the area… it should be a good one. Click through on the poster for the Facebook event.

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The stage will look something like this… but smaller.

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Eurorack

I was always totally confused and intimidated by the world of Eurorack, but I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up getting involved at some point. I started out by getting a single 3u row skiff case, and a few modules…

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and ended up progressing to a wooden 6u rack cabinet…

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and eh, this is the current state of affairs…

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The whole thing is helping me understand synthesis and signal flow a lot better, which is definitely a good thing. I am still investigating how best to incorporate the wonderful sounds that the various modules create in my music… but it’s just a matter of taking the time. I suspect it will form part of a cup fungus┬árelease in future, though the possibilities are (dangerously) endless. The lights and… tactility of the whole thing is irresistible, and I’m looking forward to devoting some attention to it after the Japan trip.

One cool module worth mentioning is the SID Guts. It uses a C64 chip for producing sounds, which of course is something I had to try out. I ordered a chip from some ‘specialist’ seller on eBay, and it was so badly packed that it turned up like this…

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Needless to say, I was not happy. I sent it back, and took the opportunity to get an 8580 SID from elsewhere. I’ve got 6581 chips in both my TherapSID and the actual C64, so good to try out a bit of variation.

Despite all of my Eurorack desires, I’ll be stopping at two rows for now. I have a third row all planned out, but it’s probably wise to take a step back and release something based on the gear that I already have before plowing ahead any further.

Moar GameBoys

Because you can never have too many. I finally got my act together and finished up a project that I’d had on the back burner for a while – an all ‘white’ DMG, complete with white backlight, frosted white case, white case LEDs, and glow in the dark buttons. I even used white wire on the inside. It looks pretty awesome…

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So what’s next?

Once I come back from scowering the various second hand electronics shops in Japan, I have a bunch of different projects that I want to pull together:

  • A new, full length unexpected bowtie album, written on LSDJ.
  • A mini album, written entirely on Houston Tracker 2 – using a calculator.
  • A compilation of remixes and b-sides.
  • A new cup fungus release.

So plenty of things in the works.

 

Hungover music making

On Saturday night a few of us headed out (full of rum) to belt out classic power ballads for a few hours. It was good times.

We didn’t feel all that great on Sunday though. Normally I’d just lie about and eat rubbish all day, which eh… I did anyway. But Lee aka radiomoths┬ácame round and we recorded the base of a new track with a bunch of different pedals, synths, and the C64. It’s all de-tuned and sounds a bit like the soundtrack of some robot death march from a film. Lee also took photos that I’ve stolen from his blog.

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After we were done, I ate some more rubbish food. Not too bad a way to get through a hangover.

 

Bringing my Commodore 64 to life

Gameboys are great, but arguably the classic analogue chip sound belongs to the Commodore 64.

The C64 was my very first computer, one that my parents got me when I was only about 4 or 5. As a result, it holds a particularly special place in my heart. Sadly the actual one that I had from back then disappeared at some point, but I tracked down a replacement later on, complete with one of the coveted working 6518 sound chips (or ‘SIDs’).

For ages I’ve wanted to bring the C64 back to life and use it as a vintage analogue synth, but the space required to leave it set up was always prohibitive. In my foray back into music, I decided it was time to take the plunge.

I already had all the bits and pieces I needed, including a really sweet expansion device called the ‘MSSIAH‘ cartridge, which plugs into the back of the ‘breadbin’ and adds MIDI support. Making use of a composite video to HDMI convertor that I use for my N64, I hooked it up to a monitor, and hey presto…

My desk is a bit of a jumble just now with various things on the go, but that’s not where it’s going to live permanently.

For the technically curious, here I’m using a C64 DIN out to phono/composite cable, with the video end going into an AVI to HDMI box for the monitor, and the audio portion connected up to my headphones using a phono coupler and phono to mini jack cable. This is just the testing setup though. When I switch to actually recording with it, I’ll be using a VGA monitor and running the phonos straight to a mixing desk for output.

I’m going to use it in a couple of different ways: to play directly as a synth, but also as an external synth controlled by the Gameboy, using LSDJ as a sequencer (see my previous post on this…). Using a MIDI thru box, I could run different channels into different devices simultaneously, which would sound amazing.

There’s loads of things to explore with the C64, which is pretty exciting, and should keep things fresh. Here’s a couple:

C64 SD tape emulator – To save sounds and patterns and all that you need an external device to store them on. The C64 used to rely on either cassette tapes (!) or floppy disks… and not the kind that most people are familiar with, but large, 5 and 1/4″, truly floppy disks. As it turns out, I actually have both of these…

  
  
but they’re not the most practical – taking up a lot of space and being a pain to use. In the past few years some intrepid people have developed gadgets such as a C64 cassette tape hardware emulator – that plugs into the back and allows you to save onto SD card. They’re pretty smart, but relatively pricey, so I need to see how much I’m actually going to use the thing before I commit.

Second SID – You can install two sound chips in the C64 with a bit of modification so that it can play polyphonically, and make it really sing. This doesn’t look too difficult to do, and could be a fun project for later down the line. I’d be interested to see if I can run two different chips (with different sound qualities) simultaneously, but I’m not sure if it’s possible because of voltage etc. Needs further research.

Picture upscaling – the video output was never designed for modern monitors, and certainly not to be run over HDMI at 1920×1080. As a result, the picture looks terrible – and the controls are almost incomprehensible with my crappy eyesight. I’m sure there are ways to improve upon it, such as through the use of a decent upscaler, but it also needs a bit more exploration.

The most important thing though, is getting it working as a synth first and foremost. At the moment, the sounds sound pretty weak. I suspect that might be because I’m not running them through an amp – so I’ll check that out. I’ve ran the diagnostics and the chip is fine, so it’ll require a bit more investigation. Just a matter of getting time to sit down and play with it.