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.


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:

  • DX200
  • NUMBER 10
  • TO 127

Roland boxes aren’t nearly as friendly:

  • D2
  • NUMBER 10

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.


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?

5 thoughts on “Pottering, descriptions thereof.

  1. I enjoy reading your blog; A potpourri of (sound)technological, artistic and critical remarks. Personally I love reading about synthesizers (although I’m mostly a VST guy and born in ’87. If thats nostalgia it’s a projected one)

    What I like most is that you are a artist/musician working for more then 30 years on personal projects, you struggle, you thrive, but you have never gave up pursuing visions in your head. You have found no holy grail. Anyone that would tell they did is lying. The somewhat frustrated but honest Tom Ellard is what I like reading about most.

    And if this all sounds like some projection I put on you that’s not there, it probably is, because I am scared that I will succumb and never be able to hold on to my own personal artistic identity.

    • Personal artistic identity – that’s the key right there. Somehow you have to not care what anyone else thinks. Hard to do. Maybe William Blake could do it. Salinger apparently. Most of the rest of us poor schmucks are on Twitter trying to raise a feeble pulse.

  2. The Korg DW-8000 was nice in that you could “draw” waveforms that would end looking nothing like what you tried to put in. Also its piano keys felt nice.

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