Well, hello my friends… and welcome to… uh… a blog post. It’s been a particularly busy time as of late and well, I’ve got a lot to report. I suppose the hard part is where to start… the album? Yes there… the familiar. We’ll start there and warm you up before we get, you know, weird.
I announced this on my facebook somewhat recently, but nothing’s nearly as real as it is here. Okay, so, one more time – Impedance is officially the title of my upcoming, 2nd (uh… sophomore…), LP. It’s gonna have these tracks, not in this order:
- A Thought
Why? Because these songs are a distinct and complete creative unit of work. They came into existence together, and brought me to a new place creatively. Now what is happening I clearly see as a new body of work, separate though derivative, of these songs; the first songs I wrote without a computer.
The Terminal’s First Songs
Even more exciting is the fact that every single one of these songs is pretty far along. 4 mixes are well on their way and the remaining 2 are ready and starting probably today (or, by the time I actually publish this article). I’m going to try to see if I can call these mixes done in March but, no hard deadlines here.
These things take as much time as they do…
If you remember just a couple months ago, Pyrrhic was the working title of the record. If you’re particularly detail oriented, you may also remember that there is, indeed, a song on my plate titled Pyrrhic. I think we’re still going to go with Pyrrhic as the title of the next record, as I particularly enjoy the sentiment of that word, however… we should really be talking about Bio.
Burden of Irrational Optimism began immediately following a long (32 mile) walk on a beach carrying about 40lbs worth of stuff. That’s old news though; why are we talking about Bio? Because Bio is when everything changed.
Writing music on a series of devices like the terminal has been a peculiar experience for me. It’s more as though I’m writing one long song in many different places, in different spaces and times… but they’re all that song. Ultimately… yea, that song manifests as different tracks, but they all sorta fit together. You just keep writing it, you just keep going deeper.
But then, without even realizing it, you went too deep and you’ve gone somewhere else entirely. That’s what happened with Bio. The song has changed. With Pyrrhic I knew it was the new song going deeper, but I really liked it and had hoped to shoehorn these two songs in with the songs I already had ready for the record. Alas, that was a terrible idea – these songs deserve their own, unique, depth exploration.
There are quite a few aspects to this new song in play already:
- Trust Issues
These are all written around improvisation as a goal. Creating building blocks I can almost just toss around like it’s nothing. And, when you remember the rules of your system, then you can pull off some fun moves (a musical ‘haduken’ if you will). They all re-use a lot from one another (like the bass sounds I made for Bio and Pyrrhic show up a lot).
If we consider the depth to which we can explore a small handful of simple ideas, I think we will find simple to be quite fucking deep.
Now, to get into the weeds a bit. I’ve been particularly busy figuring out how I could better organize my synthesizers for travel. Yes folks, we’re going on the road. So… only 8 synths, a couple delays, sequencer, 3 effects units, midi routing stuff, power strips, and a 32 channel mixer… how hard can it all be? Oh yea, and the cables.
If you’ve ever seen The Terminal in my studio, it occupies quite a bit of space. I have it setup on 3 keyboard stands and one music stand. 4 stands in all. It’s a ton of space and it’s not particularly well utilized space at that. Here’s a diagram, because diagrams are cool.
There are other problems:
- Despite me labeling cables and all, it takes forever to setup for lots of reasons:
- You have to figure out which jacks to use on each device; it’s always different for each device. And, there’s a lot of them.
- You make mistakes on just about everything you touch (oh god and the mistakes area so time consuming).
- Each device has a different wallwort (plug). This wouldn’t be a big deal except that you’ve got to read the plugs and the devices to figure out how to pair them up by matching voltage and current settings.
- Every time you get out your devices, it’s a game of tetris figuring out how they all fit
- And then there’s all of the midi connections. There aren’t enough ports on the splitter; you’ve got to remember which devices have midi through and won’t cause other midi problems (you know, jitters, latency) within the setup.
- Oh, and you have to setup 4 separate stands.
- Transportation is a nightmare scenario. Nothing has cases. Even if they did, if you use a case for each device individually, you’d end up having to sort through an epic pile of synths while unpacking. That means identifying each device, remembering where it goes in your setup so you can find it when you’re playing, and then making sure you don’t forget it when it’s time to clean up.
- You know, I think I may have even talked about some of this stuff before…
Anyway, it’s bad – that’s what you need to know. So… uh… what do we do?
Thinking about these problems, I started to realize why modular synthesis is so damn appealing. You can actually transport you’re own excessively custom setup. Yea… well, I mean my system is modular… just… the modules are really fucking big.
But modular synthesizers have one important thing my setup doesn’t, a way to tie those modules together; it’s not like you have to piece together the whole modular every show as you’ll just bring you’re pre-configured eurorack. I quickly started to wonder, what could The Terminal learn from modular synthesis? What if I could consolidate my big devices into something like a eurorack case? What if I could make the setup more dense in a way that also made setting it up easier?
And I can. I just need a a couple pieces of wood, some velcro, a patch bay and… cables. The idea is simple – line a bunch of velcro across a slat of wood, stick my devices to it. While I’m at it, wire them all ahead of time for power and midi. Finally, create an audio wiring interface that’s simpler to manage on the road.
Then, with that new module, just add a tier to two keyboard stands and voila, “dense-fucking-synth-setup”. Yes, it’s going to end up more complicated than that but, this idea will work out just fine… you’ll see.
Keyboard Stand Drama Party
I did the easy stuff first – I bought the keyboard stand additional tiers and installed them. Remember that I said I had three keyboard stands? Right, so I only upgraded 2, my spider stand (it’s a column and it’s fancy), and my cheapo X stand that the mixer sits on (I figured the mixer wasn’t going to work with another kind of stand.. yanno?). I also have a Z style stand that I decided I was going to move on from for a variety of presently undisclosed reasons.
Upon adding the third tier to the spider stand, I quickly learned that I could layer something ‘taller’ on the top layer and that the 2nd and third tiers would work well for the long synths that aren’t particularly tall. The choices for the top then became either the epic terminal module (see below) or the Moog – whichever didn’t go on top of the third spider-tier would end up atop the mixer.
Okay… the mixer’s stand now has a second tier thanks to the wonders of amazon. This is all fine and good, but this particular 32 channel mixer is pretty deep, by a couple feet. And the second tier… reaaaaaaaaaly shallow, less than a foot. This means that anything that goes atop the mixer is going to be hard to reach. Mixer-stand tier 2: Not a good place for knobs I need to go to on the regular.
And that made the decision easy – the epic terminal module would go on the spider keyboard stand, the moog would, somehow, go over the mixer.
Terminal Module .001
Based on everything I’d learned about what my keyboard stands would require of me, I went out and well… bought a piece of wood. It’s a long story, but getting that wood cut right was tough for me (my god.). I brought it home, stained it, and all of the scraps, black. After the wood dried, it was time to start playing with the synthesizer layout.
Immediately I learned that I cut the wood too small but, I found that if I used good enough velcro, I could have devices off of the edges a little bit. This bought me some freedom, but not enough to include the Elektron Analog Heat on the module board; oh well.
Cabling came second. I attached the patchbay, which was bigger than I thought it was going to be (and this is particularly dumb because I already owned one), the midi splitter, and a power strip. Sparing you the gory details, cabling took a while. After connecting everything, well, I got it all on there, but man is that board crowded.
Placing the module on top of the spider stand, here’s what it looks like:
— carl to insert dope picture here —
Module .001 Prototype Design
That picture… oof. Here’s the basic layout of the module unit:
Notice how much simpler it looks without the cables. And maybe this diagram isn’t quite to scale.
Remember how I said the big idea with this module was that it was pre cabled and would be more easily setup? There are three aspects to cabling:
- Midi (which I often just call ‘control’)
I imagine Electrical and Midi pre-cabling will make sense to most people without an explanation. Now, audio, that’s where things get a little more interesting. You may notice above the blue patchbay. The idea here is this:
- Every device has it’s audio outs, and ins, god knows where on the device
- Finding these requires looking at each device, each time. It really does.
- Fuck that, what if I didn’t have to do all of that and could just, plug a buncha shit in without thinking about it?
And that’s where the patchbay comes in; all devices are pre-wired to it. It will have a map of what goes where, which I can easily follow. Just go down the list and plug each thing into it’s designated port. Boom; Done; Winning.
The rest of is is about access. That is, the things i need to access the most are easiest to reach – the rytm and the sequencer (squarp). The rytm is to the left to act as a weight counter balance to the patchbay. Other than that – the mission was basically to “make everything fit”; standard issue tetris.
Terminal Module .002
This module is vastly less exciting. Basically I needed to stick the Moog and the Heat somewhere and that somewhere being in that narrow area above the mixer. The main challenges here are:
- The Moog weighs 16 fucking pounds and I don’t want it to slide off and destroy the mixer
That’s about it. Turns out velcro really can do anything. And of course, the heat was easy. This module looks like:
Yep – pretty simple. Here’s a picture of the mixer unit:
— carl to insert dope picture here —
A new setup for the Heat
Now, this setup inspired one particularly exciting change, the role of the Heat. If you recall, the Elektron Analog Heat is an analog distortion effects box. I bought it a while back thinking, “fuck man, I’ll distort things like I do in my DAW (you know, ableton) productions.” but that’s not what happened.
Instead I ended up using the Heat on a send to add a little bit of clean distortion on all of my channels. Basically I was creating the effect of an old analog mixer that was driven too hard. This has an effect of making the whole mix just, juicy as fuck. An incredibly good thing, but done in a somewhat sloppy way.
Remember, if I want each track to have ‘a tiny little bit of distortion’ then I’ve got like 16+ sends to the Heat. And, uh, it’s all done in mono, too, as I couldn’t really spare… two sends.
And you’ve got to wonder, what if, I could have all that distortiony goodness with less setup? What if I could do this in stereo? And what if I could have a send back for yet more effects? (cause you know, I need more effects). Well, having the heat so close to the mixer inspired me to just have the mixer run it’s stereo out through the Heat. This means all sounds I’m generating get this treatment and I really don’t have to do much more than that.
Oh, and I get my send back. Here’s a diagram to illustrate how this works:
Terminal Module Prototype Wrap Up
Phew. I didn’t cover everything. It took me weeks to work all of this out and I learned a ton in the process. Ultimately, I have a more consolidated setup, that setup sounds better, and I have an extra send 🙂
Sadly, I have to build part of it again, but better. More on that later. Anyways, here’s the new diagram:
You’ll notice that this diagram has two big squares, instead of 4 smaller squares. Less is better. And sure, pics or it didn’t happen….
— carl to insert picture of the whole fucking thing —
And that’s it for now. We’ll touch base soon as the album is moving along and well, we’re already working on version 2 of Terminal Module .001 that will include more space, places to hide cables, and even a second midi bus for clock sensitive devices. Exciting stuff eh?