Snowflakes Are Resting

Testing the “flux” function of the volca keys with a Tomita-ish piece.

The first time round is just the volca keys, the second with a Mini Kaoss Pad delay, and the third with the volca bass doing a passable theremin impression over the top. Listen to the tone of the volca bass. Can’t praise it enough.

The volcas are basically 16 step sequencers, but there are ways to get more out of the volca keys. First off, it has settings for 1/1, 1/2 and 1/4 tempo. If you set to 1/2, the sequence cycles once to every two cycles of the volca beats for example, so the unit’s 16 steps last 32 steps in all. At 1/4 they last four cycles, i.e. 64 steps. But even if you set the keys to 1/2 or 1/4 tempo, there are still only 16 notes in the sequence – they’re just spread out over double or quadruple the time. You can sustain those 16 steps, but you can’t play anything between them.

Luckily, the keys has another mode – “flux”. Flux allows you to play and record notes freely across any tempo without the 16 step restriction. The resolution isn’t infinitely fine though – after a bit of experimenting I found its limit at 8 notes per step – but still, that gives you 16 x 8 = 128 steps stretched over four cycles to play with.

Here’s how to input the notes cleanly ….

  1. set “tempo range settings” to “full”
  2. set flux on, tempo to 1/4
  3. tempo dial all the way down to minimum
  4. connect to the volca beats with the keys first in the chain
  5. set up a snare metronome on the beats ….
  6. set the beats snare on 1, 4, 8, 12 steps
  7. stutter time to 1.2 and depth to taste
  8. use active step to activate only the steps you want to record
  9. record notes

If you use the volca key’s Tempo Delay or an external delay, you can get some very nice sounding arpeggios.

Active Step is also useful during performance. Instead of enabling and disabling single steps, you’re dealing with groups of eight notes. I expect you can do all kinds of things with 128 steps if you plan ahead a little. If you use the keys in polyphonic mode, that’s 128 sustaining chords in 16 groups of 8.

Since the tempo is set to 1/4, and the tempo dial to something low, the beats will be crawling along. I was thinking though, you could maybe run the sync signal through a delay to multiply it x8 to get the beats and bass moving at a cycle of 16 notes rather than 16 steps. Something to try later.

STFU

A break between equipment change didn’t really work. I should have started up again the week after switching. Instead, no music and no posts for over a month.

This is the three analogue Volcas – beats, bass and keys. They’re all running through a Mini Kaoss Pad 2S ping pong delay and a Behringer RV600 hall reverb for width. I’m doing the Volcas to learn how to tweak parameters rather than play my way through a piece, but keeping things evolving and interesting turns out to be a lot harder than it looks. I’ve failed miserably here. Can’t keep my fingers off the keys.

This is the kind of thing I’m aiming for.

End Game

It turns out the littleBits keyboard isn’t faulty – it’s the oscillator causing the problem and it’s not a fault. The littleBits oscillator has a potentiometer labelled “pitch” and a little dial labelled “tune”. This is misleading. What the dial label should actually read is “calibrate”. I bet almost everyone using the kit thinks it’s a fine tune dial, but its real purpose is to adjust how the component maps incoming voltage to outgoing pitch. Very confusing.

Another piece using the sixteen steps of the SQ-1. This time you can hear clearly what the El Capistan is doing to the sequence. I wish the littleBits synth kit had a full ADSR envelope. It’s only attack and decay. Once you put the envelope in the chain, you lose the ability to sustain. The envelope just runs its course.

Up A Gear

Exactly what I need to do in 2016 – go up a gear.

This is the littleBits Synth Kit again. It’s amazing what this thing can do. I’m putting it through the BigSky and a Behringer RV600 for a bit of presence, but even without effects the patch sounds pretty impressive.

There are three sounds coming out of littleBits. I have the keyboard module pushing one oscillator. The output of that oscillator I’m splitting. One channel goes to the filter and the other to a further oscillator. The filter is being modulated by the Korg SQ-1. That’s the main sound of the piece. I’m not using the SQ-1 for pitch modulation this time. The other channel is basically the first oscillator modulating the second. That’s the big sound that comes in at 1:20. From the modules left over – a Random module and a filter – I set up a bit of percussion, the snare-like sound you can hear from the beginning. That’s also being driven by the SQ-1.

The BigSky is in shimmer mode, but with a very short delay. Shimmer mode allows you to double, actually triple up the pitch at various intervals. So it’s producing an extra voice one octave lower and one an octave higher.

The Volca Beats is doing the drums. More Volca next time.