… and taxes.

Aside

Pardon me, I have to shut all comments as some fool is trying to post several hundred fake handbag spams a day. Like it’s at 9000 spams and counting…

UPDATE: down from 300 to 7 today. I don’t know if bots eventually get ‘bored’ and pages move down a list. We’ll lock down for a while. I’m on Twitter anyway.

UPDATE: it relentlessly seeks to sell handbags, 10,000 spams and rising. It is insatiable. All comments locked until it moves elsewhere.

Death

maj13

Hello 2 dogs and one person. Today is about death, or at least the meaning of death which is associated with the card;

  • Ending of a cycle — Loss — Conclusion — Sadness
  • Transition into a new state — Psychological transformation
  • Finishing up — Regeneration — Elimination of old patterns
  • Being caught in the inescapable — Good-byes — Deep change

according to The People’s Encyclopaedia of The Cloud.

I actually owned a tarot card pack when I was very young. I liked having a ‘system of everything’ – wouldn’t you? It’s why people become programmers, they get to control a small complete everything. Pity I didn’t understand the meanings back then – which pre-teen would get what Death was about? Better to be a mystic and control the full everything, but anyway…

…anyway, the last few days I was thinking – ‘this really is a complete load of shit isn’t it?’ By it I mean pretty much everything that everyone seems to have turned into ‘everything’. No, hang one, that’s not very helpful is it? Start again…

If you live long enough you get to see the cycles. You see the dawn, the inkling, the enthusiasm and the swelling ’til it bursts and the retractions and denials. I wrote about that last time. But more than that – now talking about the cycles from the outside – they go beyond laughable, beyond tedious – they become painful. Somebody gets in your face about the grandeur of something you already saw die again and again in a lonely corner and you feel pain.

I want out of that cycle.

Part of the fault is that I am powered by enthusiasm which is a dirty fuel, and runs out quickly. You can get a lot done quickly on enthusiasm, but when it runs out you are left dangling over the void. Another role comes along and you get your enthusiasm up for that one – a little less, a little shorter. Another role might get you started for a while but the cycle is now obvious; just jumping from role to role is no real progress. And you are confusing your enthusiasm for something with it being actually worthwhile.

When really the first question should be ‘is this worthwhile?’

Worthwhile to whom? If I make 1000 YouTube videos showing pictures of huge breasts while talking about computer games I’ve played – sure, that would do nicely for a large number of people. Those that dislike that kind of popular culture still measure how many people cite a paper or attend a conference – popularity is always the winning argument no matter what’s being debated. It’s pretty funny watching managers that want to ‘apply quality frameworks’ and ‘certify research value’, go into a panic when the sales aren’t there.

But this is about more than poor old academia. It’s about the ‘everything’ that we have built. In the country of the blind, the guy with Google glasses is king. He’s going to wander around a 3D visualisation of reality and we’ll all keep a hand on the shoulder of the next guy.

Bruegel_1568_Parable-of-the-Blind

The guy on the ground is the futurist – the rich one that made up some science fiction. About to fall on his ass is the great communicator, the journo that writes a pop science book or two. Armed with his walking stick, next up, the academic, with the business man, the worker and the consumer a few years behind. The joke is none of them are blind. They just have adopted a way of seeing, a personal technology that cloaks the world around them. They put the Occulus Rift on their heads and went on Facebook.

Visualisation is a post-punk word that has just walked back on stage to wild applause. Even though the stasi are watching I can’t clap, I just can’t do it any more. The irony of the blind men making a blinding device is too much. Visualisation is a very practical business in a limited sense, been around at least since people drew what dinner looked like on cave walls. X-rays are good and so are speedometers. But the blind men don’t mean that – they mean overlaying data on top of things to tell you what you are seeing with a few ads. Zoom out and fill your eyes with big data.

repin_cossacks5

Dogs and their person; hear me: 24 years ago, driven by insanity of enthusiasm and fear of unemployment I made a computer assisted teaching presentation about Ilya Repin’s Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, on an Amiga. You could fly around the painting, call up information about the painter and the situation that was described. It was a marvel of the dawn of New Media, a proof of the glorious future to be. Now we can do it more and bigger and in 3D and I am not really sure if it was worthwhile the first time. I certainly know that previous experience is unwelcome.

What happens when you walk away from the procession?

051_768px

The other direction leads to muddled, incoherent mysticism of the type that Reich and Jung and Dee indulged in their old age. Sounds fucking great, some necromancy and visits to Pluto on a flying demon – hell I don’t care, so long as it blows a mind or two. Because popularity is never going to be a guide to risk, and risk is what is sorely lacking.

The tarot cards are back in use and the Death card is face up.

Innovation

Twitter is a great place for bon mots, quips and dips. But the meals are not filling. I have to bring a line of questions here to have a chance of saying anything at all.

The question is about innovation, a word I get to hear in education all day, every day, along with bird calls, whoops and other sounds of the jungle. It’s a pretty sound, innovation. It sounds like somewhere they would visit in Star Trek. That may be why people use it so rapidly and vapidly.

Innovation exists, but it’s gone before you see it. It was there in a side room somewhere, ignored. Then somebody walking by was struck by the idea. They put it in words. Somebody else turned it into a set of principles. A lone wolf followed those principles in some private space, and was called a loopy or a visionary. More likely loopy, because the visionary is the person that tries the idea again in a larger space, dropping the bits that don’t fit the context. An academic ‘gets the picture’, they write a paper, they give a TED Talk, the idea is on TIME.COM, it’s being misrepresented in the newspapers, there’s a conference with a panel of visionaries that agree this innovative practice is exactly what we must put into practice everywhere no matter what.

By the time it’s hit ‘best practices’ as documented in Power-points by the Innovation Panel at the company executive level, the idea is a set of callisthenics for staff to learn in 2 hour training sessions. They make feeble attempts while preserving their experience gained over years of trench warfare. The new thing is absorbed into a wide folklore of practices, an archaeology of new things. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but the machinery has already spun off in pursuit of a new innovation.

Like most things it starts with action, and is turned into words because words are easily counted and peer reviewed. The words then replace the action.

I have been through this many times. Probably the easiest to describe is computing.

Dickheads.

Dickhead

1979 dickhead. I think that’s a punch card on the shoulder for some dickhead reason.

I was the only person in my high school or anywhere I knew that had a personal computer. I used it to make simple art and music. Other students called me a dickhead. In 1980 I enrolled at university in mathematics, because I had a vague idea about making computer based art. There was nothing there either which made me a depressed failure, so I switched to history of science, because that was more fun (but also I’ve since realised that universities are good for hearing about people like yourself that are dead.)

Somewhere in that period Time Magazine declared The Personal Computer Revolution. I was now a pioneer dickhead.

I got drunk, did music and kept making computer art stuff, meeting up with a small bunch of other people who were also reject dickheads. By the end of the 1980′s we dickheads were starting to show up in galleries and exhibitions, the curators of which happened to be walking by. This caused some academic somewhere to ‘get the picture’ and spout the name ‘New Media’ which was an innovation that must be defined, funded and taught. Much words were penned about electronic media, cyber arts, linkages and French philosophy. By 1990 there was one computer at the university that ran PhotoShop and way too many journal articles.

The early 90′s were a fun time for me, playing the tame dork, ready to explain computer stuff to the Common Man over the TV, radio, newspapers and conferences. Oh the conferences; to be sitting on a panel with my fellow cybernauts, telling the audience of educators and funding bodies about this innovation that was going on, hurry hurry, get with the system. I was no longer a dickhead – according to one newspaper I had geek chic.

This tame media geek role was something new. I’d just waddle onto the telly, predict online sales or DVD and wander off again, feeling cheerful because no one had called me a dickhead recently. But others ‘got the picture’ – what if you charged the audience to hear this futurism? What if you made it REALLY expensive and only CEOs could be there? What if you called it TED? You would have the innovation industry,

I was outclassed by the late 90′s and had to go and get a real job. But being knocked down can knock a bit of sense into your head. Cut to the chase; here I am now, an academic in charge of a media arts degree. When I went to university in 1980, what I wanted was not even a glint in the vice chancellor’s eye. Not even peer reviewed. It was actually innovative, and no one had got it yet.

Innovation takes place in the underground. If you are reading about it in a newspaper or a university handbook, you are seeing the innovation industry, which runs about 3-5 years behind the thing itself. These can be good and successful things, but they are not the innovation itself. And that’s why any discussion about how the powers can support and develop innovation is baloney, because they can’t see it. Creativity, maybe, creative industry sure thing.

Once an innovation leaves the underground, you can’t put it back. So the idea of revisiting the innovations of the past to try regain inspiration are doomed to failure. Retrofitting the past can be pretty, but it’s well said that the past is foreign country.

Relax. Some kids are out there doing it for you. You just can’t see them.

Soggy’s Saga

You will remember I am sure my dear neighbour Soggy the Sailor. If you have forgotten, please do refresh your memory.

sailor

Soggy has been absent on a long voyage to the land of Hipster Douche, having fought many great battles against taste and relevance, battles I must admit I hoped would lead to his falling in a volcano and it hurting. Instead he returns triumphant, a golden fleece in his paws. I am not sure what it it is, but if I may be allowed a guess it has the dreary beige earnestness of The Best Of Glenn Campbell, although with a bit more Country and Western twang.

Of course the best way to play Glen Campbell is loud and proud at 3AM. As always, I’m amazed at the ability for his insipid gruel to work its way through my walls and keep me from the oblivion I crave.

And as is always the case with Soggy, he and some other turd will adopt the same instrument as his muse, plunk away at it sporadically over the hours and then (I guess) fall into a stupor about 5AM. His guitar is as bad as his fiddle. Fuck him.

I have a new friend, Party Girl That Yells Over The Top Of The Universe. She has the kind of voice that strips paint at thirty paces and she seems to enjoy holding parties somewhere diagonally behind my place which always end up WITH HER OPINIONS BEING ELEVATED OVER ANY PERSON THAT DARES TO TALK BACK. Good times, sad times, any time is right for yelling. Laughter must be shared with the entire Pacific Rim, otherwise there might be some Fijian that isn’t paying attention to her. Right now she has met up with another of her kind and in the manner of two knights colliding in a slow motion joust, the two of them have been YELLING ANGRILY OVER THE TOP OF EACH OTHER ABOUT SOME SHIT DOESN’T MATTER for about an hour. Like a dogfight, it needs a bucket of water thrown over it.

When I was twenty something I did have heated arguments like that. But as I wasn’t able to breathe through my arsehole I had to pause every now and then.

The argument has worn out and we’re back to her just yelling OH MY GOD, I’M SO TRASHED every minute or so, as if to stake out the limits of her sonic cesspit. If I may say ma’am, you are a dreadful bogan and the suburbs are calling you. Answer their call.

Thing 666: destiny

The portents were all there – the fussing with waveforms, the obscene level of interest in Roland system exclusives. It starts with Aspirin and it ends up with Heroin, or in my case the evening my hand slapped eBay hard for a card.

$_57

SR-JV80-04 VINTAGE SYNTH – artefact of an era when Roland JV synthesisers lumbered unchallenged through prehistoric tropical forests. A hardware sample library with waveforms from Roland’s stable of ancients, plus some mysterious additions from MG and KG and OB, whoever they may be. Quite a few different cards were made and bless you if you wanted the Hip Hop one, but I’ve been after these particular waveforms since I encountered that orange thing and realised that it was the Abbot And Costello Meet The Wolfman to the Bride of Frankenstein of my dreams.

What use? I have paid a small army of Japanese sound engineers wearing identical uniforms to make looping samples of their equipment library – probably the same library as seen in the recent AIRA videos. They’ve done a better job than me, with sources I can’t match. Look through available sample libraries from software vendors you’ll rarely find the raw sounds. You’ll get lots of interpretations of the sounds, legally unique but not what I want. The card represents access; technical and legal.

photo

Actually they want as much old crap as they can eat.

You will be astounded to hear that there are bearded men on the Internet who argue over which box should house this card. The consensus is that it must live in a JD-990 because warmth, phatness, monster cables – who the hell knows why really. I tend to trust those souls that have owned various boxes and say they all sound much the same. The JD-990 was the last of the D generation, followed by the JV-1080. I don’t know what the D and V mean. I do know that the JV-1080 was Roland’s biggest thing in years, a huge seller. The JV-2080 was much the same but had a big screen, and the pinnacle is the JV-5080 which had people selling their daughters, but probably not too many daughters, as cheaper boxes soon arrived.

$(KGrHqMOKpYFJlzlQvD7BSdzbi,F,!~~60_57

Knowing my disease, some day a JD-990 will come. Meanwhile fleacore rules say that small cheap box is best. The JV-1010 is the first one of these cheap boxes and has the same guts as a JV2080 + a card called Session built in. It’ll do nicely.

There’s no editing available on the box itself and so you have to run a cut down version of Emagic Sound Diver, particularly quaint on a Windows machine where the Mac OS7 graphics look tres moderne. Works pretty nicely mind you; the 4 Roland tones roll along an endless panorama of sliders and knobs…

diver

clicken to biggen

Sonically it’s a mixed bag. The basic sounds are tiny samples compared to today’s software, and have obvious loop points. If I wanted an oboe I’d stick with NN-XT. The Session card has a sweeter sound, let down a little by the low sample rate (apparently 32KHz) which some people then claim is ‘warmer’ (rule 34). As with all audio hardware the slight imperfections of cables and amplifiers add a little noise that works like a studio exciter, a bit of natural sparkle.

The waves that come with the Vintage card are good in that morbidly obese Roland way. As you run through the list you notice duplication – the first two are JP-8 Saw A and JP-8 Saw C. (Where’s the B? It’s over on the main wave bank. Mysterious east at work). Inspect the presets to find that their slight differences are combined to create analogue-like drift and disparity. Strings will have more variations that basses. The different sounds are sometimes subtle and sometimes recognisable, you’d have to be very obsessive to need every single one of them but the obvious ones do make sound design easier.

The filters are Roland filters and no one is going to write a sonnet about them. If you really were hoping for an authentic OBX sound you’re not in luck, although few of the waves have original filter sweeps in them, notably the wretched TB303. Compare the sampled Prophet 5 sounds with the sounds made by the AN200. Yamaha have access to the circuits of the original and have designed their failures, the JV doesn’t know how to fail on that level. The AN200 is wilder and greedier for the spotlight.

But let’s be honest, you don’t buy a box with Roland on it looking for punk. Roland is summery afternoons, small children splashing at the beach, your favourite pullover. The JV will always be the warm fuzzies up in the gearshift of your next anthem.

jd990

Aristotle and Newton on Colour.

As I crawl my way through writing my thesis paper it’s a relief to talk about some of the ideas I cover, using words that are not quite as carefully chosen. There’s time when I’m sitting at my desk for quarter of an hour or more agonising over a single word; that one is too loose, this one implies I am claiming something that I can’t prove. Here I can write like Humpty Dumpty.

Go on ask me a question. Anything.

Go on ask me a question. Anything.

At first glance you wonder what the hell Aristotle’s on about when he says all colours are made from black and white. That seems unlikely to survive the first experiment, silly old Ancient.

For a start there’s a language issue here, black and white are better described as bright and dark, and these are better described as daylight which is yellow and bright, versus night which is blue and dark. That makes more sense, we can see how colours range over the course of a day, and Aristotle was always one for starting with the bleeding obvious, or with ideas he called endoxon, things you have to accept -  like black holes – because somebody smarter than you worked it out.

One of my sources wonders if he ever saw colours created by close proximity of black and white. Like this;

bridget_riley-scaled1000

That’s Bridget Riley BTW who is too cool for school.

bridget-riley

I actually think the ancients experienced the blinking of light and dark when sunlight spills through trees etc. Black and white blinking makes colours.

benhams_disk

duchamp

In this theory colours like red are made of lots of bright while greens are loaded with dark. But how do they look so different to their sources? How is it that they mix to make other colours? This is where I am most invested because I want to show that music serves as an endoxon. Aristotle says (being careful not to credit Pythagoras because that guy was a complete myth) well think of musical notes. You get a string and you twang it and you get a distinct pitch. You divide that string into exact ratios and you get other pitches. Musical notes are divisions of other musical notes, and it’s pretty damn likely that red is a certain ratio between blue and yellow. Of course if you can’t get red from mixing these two then you’re not doing it right.

Seemed like no one could get it right for 2000 years.

At least he tries to explain a plausible solution. Newton couldn’t be arsed. He does two things that would make Aristotle hit the bottle. He shines white light (Goethe starts screaming here It’s not bloody white you moron!) through a prism and gets a spectrum. Which he then draws as a circle. Divided into seven colours because hey, you can write a music scale around that and la la la la European philosophical tradition. It’s not mathematically valid he says, but it’ll do.

Dispersive_Prism

Breaking it wasn’t the hard bit. Putting it back together was the real experiment.

Do you see a circle? I don’t see a circle. I sure don’t see that the colour at one end of the spectrum joins up with the one on the right using some bogus violet bullshit. OK, so he’s describing why mixing red and green makes yellow, which you can see in the rainbow, but also why blue and red make purple which seems hard as they’re either side of the seating arrangement. He really means that once you have multiple sources of coloured light then they intersect to create other colours, but that diagram just caused no end of trouble because it implied that the circle was a description of a physical structure related to music. And that confusion is the first step in the journey that I’m studying.

Newtons colour wheel

This is how hippies were invented. And why D is a truly bogus note.

Post Pottering

Yeah well back at work, flexing the old MS Excel. For the next three years I am in charge of a degree program. The previous Head of School asked me about my aspirations as ‘a degree leader’. Well I think I’ll start by counteracting current social and economic trends, inspiring a generation, single handedly converting Kunst Kamp into an industry supported Centre of Excellence in Media and then tutoring every one of them into a PhD candidate.

But that’s next week. Meanwhile, wavetables have been good, if you look up top you will see I am collecting some for you. Selfishly they are all suited to my own Blofeld, but that’s simply because I haven’t figured out how to create the whole variety of them, particularly the WTB format used by Nave.

ensoniq_mirage_dms8

My first sampler. Stolen by some prick in Spain in 1986. Give it back you son of a whore.

Anyway I’m on to samples now. Given how powerful virtual synthesisers are now there’s less need for samples, but they remain a good way to share noises found in nature, or where the box is rare or the processing a bit much. Like everyone I’ve accumulated a whole zoo of samples that go with Kontakt or NN-XT etc. It’s tedious to have some here and some there, plus if I want to hand out freebies, then what format would be the happiest? Kontakt is often called the best but it’s not cheap. I thought to seek some middle ground.

Rather than upgrade Kontakt I went with Camel Alchemy, because it was on special I think it will encourage me to mess up the sounds more often. It has its own format but will also load SFZ, an open format which uses simple text to lay out the samples. There are free players for all platforms including Linux, but it still translates into fancier formats if you must.

Of course being open format you expect trouble, and it arrives on schedule. SFZ 1.0 was first presented with a simple SFZ Player. This did well and so Cakewalk hired the author to embrace, expand and – not extinguish – but certainly muddle the spec. That leads to the so called SFZ 2.0 format used in Dimension. Then Plogue/Garritan decided a good way to advertise their ARIA Engine is to have a free SFZ player called sforzando. This adds so called ‘ARIA extensions’. OK, so the ideal is that if a player can’t understand part of the spec, like HTML it just ignores it. In reality it’s possible to create an SFZ file that works in one player but not in another. Merde!

This guy for example only like SFZ 1.0.

This ZAMPLER for example only likes SFZ 1.0. Bloody Germans.

My tactic is to store samples in the least complex format – SFZ 1.0 Then open that in whichever device will read it, e.g. Alchemy and save the patch after tweaking. As the actual samples remain unaffected I can always roll back to the source. So long as I’m just writing new resource pointers I can have multiple formats.

I’ve owned Wlodzimierz Grabowski’s Extreme Sample Converter for ages … and it hasn’t been updated in ages. Best software ever but won’t open recent Kontakt files. He’s promising a new version 4, but meanwhile I took the chance of spending your PayPal on Chicken Systems Translator. This has a reputation for being cantankerous and I am here to vouch for that reputation. It works, but getting there can be a real journey involving multiple buses and some mule rides.

v2-full6

So let’s say you decide to join this up-swelling of openness and wish to have a SFZ sampler of your own. I’ve had a good rummage and when using Cubase I think I’m going to settle with Cwitec TX16Wx. This allegedly is inspired by the Yamaha TX16W box – not to be confused with an exact emulation of the TX16W over here. (For a box I never saw in life people sure love it.) In Reason I’ll have to adapt to NN-XT but frankly I only use Reason as a source of crazy CV modulation of my physical boxes. If you’re using Logic, well that’s your own fault. In Pro Tools land, there’s now an ARIA player in AAX.

So everybody can soon enjoy my 1000 Great Noises Made By The Kawai 100F sample set!

sforzando

Pottering comes to an end.

1st of January. Sounds pretty sweet. Except it’s the day before 2nd of January and – bugger it, I am then back at work. The last trumpet of holiday cheer is here.

7seals

So then, back to waveforms. Our Birmingham Correspondent has chided me for not paying attention when he explained Zebra, which does indeed create transwaves. Fortunately I didn’t have to buy the whole caboodle to get the oscillator section as it’s included the free Zebralette. I’ll let this guy explain Zebra, even though he’s pretending to be Andrew Kramer. No one can be Andrew Kramer, it’s just not possible. This bit don’t matter too much, you can use any means by which to create interesting single pitched sounds.

The important part is – to get the sound into the Blofeld as a wavetable you have to generate exactly 128 waves at the right frequency to fit one second at 44.1KHz. That’s not any particular pitch and I spent a stupid amount of time doing the maths to try make a MIDI note event on F2 last for the exact duration to get 128 cycles. I failed, endlessly and tediously – if the pitch is even slightly wrong the wave drifts out of frame and sounds horrible. Seemed like the vacation was going to end with a whimper, and without much hope I tried one more search for wavetables and convert and nerd desperation. And I found blacktomcat666.

In case that makes no sense to you, he’s taking a sampled word ‘ensoniq’ and through his own Windows software called Audio Term, translating it into a PPG style wavetable which he’s showing ready to be sent to the Blofeld. And I’m screaming like a little girl.

The guy is a genius but he needs a publicist; the software was hard to find, I had to go bouncing around discussion boards looking for him. Yes, it looks a lot like the PPG Wave Term interface which is kind of cool once you get the hang of it. It does more than convert samples to PPG but that’s what I needed.

wavetermb

So I made some samples of various bits – Zebralette, some analogue gear, odd noises. The Zebralette samples work almost perfectly because they are using the same principle and stick to a single pitch. Anything pitched or based on noise will be washed away in a vocoder effect, and you’d need to use the Blofeld’s sample playback instead. Even so, some hard synch sounds made on a Jupiter 8 came out nicely with a bit of pitch bend.

As with most free software there’s no manual. If only it was the start of the break and not the end I’d make one, but things turned out right after all. Still, the career train waits for no man, and next stop is MS Excel CIty,

Pottering, descriptions thereof.

Rather than leave the year on that last sour note, I thought to mention a few things that are making my little corner of the world just that bit neater. That’s of no interest to anyone, but seeing as no one reads this it’s incredibly relevant.

Sevcom.com has been running for a long time. Actually I can’t remember how long exactly, must be about 18 years. The Australian Film and Sound Archive did a backup earlier this year and I was going to let it decay gently, but turns out that there’s just one more thing. The site’s been converted to a WordPress install which is going to make updating more likely in an era where I’m middle management, time poor and unlikely to want to do jack shit after work. Please visit.

Christmas follows the law of diminishing returns and at this stage of life, where family are dead, diaspora or insane it’s simply a period in which my middle management position gets a back seat to vague attempts at having a creative life. A year ago it was all HH computer game all day, this year the vacation is pretty vacant and so pottering about.

potter2 vb

1. (intr; often foll by about or around) to busy oneself in a desultory though agreeable manner

(Apparently the Internet has decided that Pottering means shoving a broom up your backside, jumping in the air and pretending to be Harry Potter. The Internet is wrong, because many opinions divided by each other tend towards zero.)

This is an innate behaviour of the ageing male. Young women and the *gendered are welcome, but it really does seem to go with ugly pullovers and odd socks. My old man had a large model train layout that never got anywhere. I worried why he never seemed particularly worried, but having reached middle management I see the sheer beauty in incompleteness.

However, my generation are about synthesisers – their purchase, arrangement, connection, twiddling, reading of manuals, disconnection and rearrangement, augmentation and every now and then actually using the stupid things to make music. I have enough synthesisers real and virtual to equip a large orchestra. It’s very messy and that’s the entire point. Most of all I’m obsessed with redeeming Thing 04.

d2

You’ll recall that this was a frugal purchase on the basis that it was nearly useless. It will require a great deal of tweaking and fussing and seemingly being cross about it while secretly enjoying the pointlessness of it.

I can poke numbers at it over MIDI and get a hint of the potential. But the editing software is old and it doesn’t ‘see’ my keyboard, so I have to type the notes as numbers and I need a modern way to talk to it. Because it’s one of Roland’s JV series of synthesisers I could adapt something that works with them. That leads to looking at Roland JV’s, thinking it would be easier to use one instead, finding something cheap, tabulating the included waveforms, learning I need an extra voice card, seeing that they only can be found in America, realising that it’s not the bloody point and all I’m doing is trying to get this bit of junk to make a useful noise.

That can fill endless happy hours. I’m probably a Mastermind contestant for Roland synthesisers of the 1990s.

With VST instruments you’re using Continuous Controllers – e.g. CC#43 might control the filter. Machines of 90′s use System Exclusive messages – much harder. My Yamaha boxes are not too bad, they use messages that go something like this:

  • SYSEX MESSAGE FOR
  • YAMAHA
  • DX200
  • NUMBER 10
  • SET KNOB 43 (FILTER)
  • TO 127
  • KTHNXBYE

Roland boxes aren’t nearly as friendly:

  • SYSEX MESSAGE FOR
  • ROLAND
  • D2
  • NUMBER 10
  • I HAVE SOMETHING FOR
  • SYSTEM ADDRESS
  • PATCH ADDRESS
  • TONE ADDRESS
  • POSTBOX
  • DO THIS
  • DO THAT
  • DO THE OTHER THING
  • DID YOU GET THAT ALL OK?
  • KTHNXBYE

Instead of referring to a particular knob, the Roland way is like sending a letter to a street address, a consequence of the way JV’s work. The Yamaha AN200 has 5 voices that are all two oscillators through a filter making the one noise. The Rolands have many patches, each of which is made of as many as four tones, each of which is two waveforms and a filter. So you might have 64 filters to talk to and each of them set to a different patch. There’s also a checksum in the message to double check that the box got the right set of hexadecimal. Like a Facebook relationship, it’s complicated.

And in moments of sanity I ask if it would be easier to just rip the waveforms out of this thing and put them in a more modern box. The JV’s are sample players, so if you got JD8000 SAW out of the box and put it in Thing 01 instead that would be enough? Not easy. Here I am, money in hand, ready to buy the waveforms from Roland. Here is Roland, unsold hardware in warehouse, in no way allowing the waveforms off the physical chips. I’ve sampled the D2 sounds, edited them into single cycles (yes, they mostly are) and they are in the Blofeld. But you know, that’s messy.

Here a entire universe of pottering about is opened. What’s the difference between a JD8000 SAW and a JP8 SAW? Why would you choose one over the other? That’s very interesting if like myself you thought A = A.

squares1-6

Three square waves. Half the people not reading this say ‘yeah of course’, the others say ‘since when are any of these square waves?’ I say, how do I make waveforms like this? I’ve used FM and additive and subtractive and yada yada and I don’t quite know a control method which will create sound shapes like this. I’m looking at the output of various Things on a VST oscilloscope and it’s being instructive. Found a waveform designer. What could come from all of this?