Next Project: Korg R3 Aftertouch Hack

Not there yet, but it’s in reach: An Aftertouch, e.g. channel pressure control, retrofit for the Korg R3 synth.

Korg R3 under press

 

I really like the Korg R3. No, there’s more: I bought it second-hand out of very rational considerations, and ‘ve come to love it deeply. There are people who don’t like it for its plastic housing, for the limitations in comparison with its more expensive sibling, the Korg Radias, others hate it simply for not being a first-generation Microkorg. In my experience, it’s an excellent virtual analog synth capable of doing massive bass as well as very unusual pads. It’s versatile, it’s compact, it’s cheap, and it sounds great. And unlike the Microkorg, it’s got a proper keyboard, albeit without aftertouch.

For some reason, the MIDI Thru jack in my R3 stopped working today, which is bothersome, but also a welcome excuse to open the R3′s housing and take a look inside. I had this idea of equipping it with an aftertouch sensor for even more variation and liveliness in playing. And now I’m confident it would work, although I won’t be able to do the mod for some time.  Weiterlesen

Insert ___ here – new connections for an old mixer

Look: My little old Behringer Eurorack MX1604A mixing console has four insert jacks now, just what you need for a four-channel compressor. After a day spent with sick kids, a little soldering and drilling felt just right.
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I have been shopping on eBay. Looking for a reverb to go with my rediscovered Oberheim Matrix synth, I acquired a rack containing a Lexicon MX, and a four-channel compressor. Lucky me.
This is when I noted that my mixer has no inserts.
Well, I fixed it. Took me about 3 hours. You need: 4 6.3mm stereo jacks, shielded 3-wire cables, soldering iron and being prepared to use it, a 12mm steel drill.

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I’ve put my modded IO Dock on eBay!

It’s the first ever IO Dock outside Alesis’ labs to feature a USB hub, it’s the most successful project in this blog, and I am selling it. 20140523-105055-39055060.jpg

It was a simple hack on a crazy notion, and I’m really happy how it all turned out, getting noted by Discchord and Synthopia and others. More importantly, it’s a simple solution for a real problem, and it just works.

I’m also a lot more confident that it’s a good hack: The modified IO Dock has been in use at home and in the band for over a year, and the hack has been successfully replicated by some very smart hackers – over at Churchnerd’s blog you’ll not only find a description how to do it that is way better than mine, he also found a simple and elegant way to make the modded dock work with the iPad Air.

So why am I selling? I’ve got a good reason: Money. :) Apart from that, I am using an iPad Air now and switched over to another interface – a third-hand Novation X-Station keyboard/synth/fx combi with class-compliant USB Midi and Audio in/out. Best solution in the practice room for the time being, and if I’m getting a good price on my IO Dock, I might go out and get a Focusrite iTrack Dock to use at home.

However, I encourage you to try the hack for yourself, and I am confident that it will work with the new, lightning connector enabled, IO Dock 2.

A couple of things I have learned:

  • Some people are really scared by the bullshit warnings that advise you not to open the housing.
  • Anybody who can solder a cable can do it.
  • The hub matters. I was lucky to pick an active hub that works in my setup, a Belkin F5U404. If the hack does not work, and you have excluded switched in/out ports and messed-up USB connections as the cause, you may try another powered hub.
  • Use connectors, don’t solder it into the IO Dock – although you need 2mm pinstripe plugs/sockets that are hard to find, it is worth the effort: you’ll be able to test and reverse the hack.
  • Lab-test first. Dremel later. Before soldering or dremeling anything in the Dock, start with a simple workbench test – open the Dock, unplug the connector for the iPad, connect it to the hub with the modified cables you’ve made.
  • If you overload the IO Dock by drawing too much USB current, it just shuts down. So far, no harm has been done, still I think it’s a good idea to be careful and never connect more than one 500mA device.
  • When you are hacking the IO Dock anyway, you might think about adding a power-on LED connected to the hub’s 5V supply – I always regretted not having done this.

One thing left to do: Many, many thanks for all the feedback, the ideas and the improvement. It made it all worth while. Whatever the turnout of my auction is.

Matrix Modulation control included: iPad editor for the Oberheim Matrix-6/1000

Remember what I wrote about my attempt to build an iPad editor for my vintage Matrix-1000 analog synth with TB Midi Stuff? That it’s a pity that, due to the rather eccentric MIDI implementation of the Oberheim machine, I couldn’t build a controller for the modulation matrix? Tell you what: it works now.
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TB Midi Stuff – which is an absolutely great universal kit for building MIDI controllers, looking great and much cheaper than Lemur – has recently gained a feature that allows to send three-variable Sysex commands. And this is important – let me tell you why. (BTW, for those who can’t wait: Download links to the Matrix-1000 editor panels can be found in the TMBS forum.)

Let me explain the problem, and how to solve it with TBMS.

The Oberheim’s matrix control – one command, three parameters

As I’ve written before, the Oberheim Matrix-1000 has a couple of quirks and issues, especially concerning the modulation matrix, the analog synth’s strongest asset. Almost any other sound parameter within this synth can be controlled individually with a tailored MIDI Sysex message (something like: F0 10 06 06 1A xx F7, translating as “Listen synth, control coming up, setting vcf, to VALUE, thatsit”); the matrix modulation paths are set by a command sequence like this: F0 10 06 0B 01 xx yy zz F7, translating to “Listen synth, modulation coming up, setting modulation path 1 now, FROM, BY, TO, thatsit.” What this means is: If you want to have full control over the modulation matrix, you have to be able to craft a Sysex message with at least three parameters.)

TBMS from version 2.2.4 on has a feature to achieve this: Masked variables – variables where you can set the bits you want to control. They can be up to 21 bits large – equalling three 7-bit MIDI values. So instead of sending three independent values, you tell TBMS how to craft a 21-bit variable containing the three parameters – and send this.

Step by step:

  • Define a global variable by entering Edit mode, selecting Page Settings in the upper right corner, scrolling down all the way, and adding a user variable. I’ve called it “mod0″, for modulation path 0; I’ve made it an internal variable, don’t worry about assigning it a range and max and min values for now.
  • Now, define a controller for the third of my three parameters – MIDI parameters are 7 bit only, e.g. between 0 and 127, equalling a hexadecimal value of 7F. Hexadecimal numbers are what you use in Sysex and masked variables, so what you do is add a Variable Message, select “Set Variable with Mask”, and set the mask to 7F. (My values are 0-32, so no setting the “Signed” switch for this parameter. Remember to set the “Minimum Value” and “Maximum Value” to 0 and 20.)
  • Define a controller for the middle parameter – just as with the one above, only with a slight modification: Set the mask to 3F80. — Why is that? It’s 7F shifted left by 7 bits, and as you remember, parameters in MIDI are 7 bits. One noteworthy thing about the middle parameter: In my case, it takes values between -63 and +63, so I’ve set the “Signed” switch here and set the “Minimum” and “Maximum” sliders to -63 and +63.
  • Only the most significant parameter missing now: Add another control for the first parameter, shift the mask by another 7 bit, and get 1FC000. Set Signed, Minimum and Maximum as desired (I used a 0-20 range here.)
  • Go back to Edit mode, call up the Page Settings, scroll down to your user variable, and add a MIDI message to it: Make it a Sysex message. Set Variable Size to three-byte and – this is important – Message Format to Linear (Little Endian). “Little Endian” means that the lower values are sent first; as we’ve made our first controller control the lower 7 bits, this is just right. Set a Sysex message, which in my case is “(F0)10060Bxx(F7)”.
  • I guess there are not that many people who have followed my that far – but if you have, you may have noticed that the variable is supposed to transmit 3*7=21 bits of information, resulting in an integer range of 0 to 2,097,151. You can actually set that value in the Sysex range control setting,.

    So whenever you tweak the controls for Matrix modulation path 0, TBMS constructs a three-byte, 21-bit message, which it then sends as part of a Sysex control message.

    Enjoy!

    The most recent version can be found in the TBMS forum. Dropbox link to V0.4 here and here. Please remember that there are two nasty bugs in the Matrix-1000 firmware – you cannot control ENV2->VCA and ENV1 Sustain via TBMS in consequence -, and that the editor only sends Sysex, it does not receive and interpret it.

Reclaiming the Matrix: new life for an old beast via iPad control

Update: there is now a working editor template for editing Matrix-1000 sounds via the iPad with TB Midi Stuff. Other than stated below, it is now possible to control the modulation matrix as well - read more about it here. The buggy parameters unfortunately still won’t work.

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I’m just rediscovering a 25-year old piece of analog hardware: my Oberheim Matrix-1000 synth. It’s worth rediscovering: The analog circuitry is still cutting through any mix; it’s a nasty classic. And it’s a simple 1 HU 19” rack unit; power supply included, no wall warts.

So yes, for a vintage piece of equipment, it’s handy. Unfortunately, the Matrix-1000 is a pure expander module without a single controller – no real-time tweaking the sounds to your desire. Which is a massive disadvantage to an otherwise extremely clever and versatile machine, as I’m not the first to discover. Before Access started to make very expensive top-quality VA synths, they did a hardware controller; you’ll occasionally find one on eBay for around € 700. Translating as: “It’s a monster if you can only get a controller for it.”
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My favourite digital music device is the iPad. So I’ve started making my own iPad controller interface, based on the cheap TB Midi Stuff controller kit. It’s an early version, still some testing to be done. And there’s a couple of things you need to realize about the Matrix-1000 before using it with an external editor.

Wie kommt das in die Hosts-Datei?

Kein iPad-Update über iTunes – statt dessen ein Tablet im Wartungszustand und beim Versuch der Wiederherstellung penetrant “Error 3004″. Wieder einmal ist die Apple-Fehlermeldung selbst null hilfreich, wieder einmal kommen über Google Antworten: ziemlich dadaistische und dann auch eine nützliche.

Tatsächlich: in der HOSTS-Datei – eine Art Sammlung von Umleitungs-Schildern zwischen meinem Computer und dem Internet – findet sich der ominöse Eintrag, der Zugriffe auf gs.apple.com auf 127.0.0.1 umleitet – wenn ich das richtig verstehe, auf einen Server auf meinem Rechner selbst. Ist ja schnell entfernt (und dann läuft alles wieder) – aaaber wo zum Geier kommt so was her?

Wieder einmal einsehen müssen, dass ich leider nicht zu den 1% zähle.

iPad Air: Shut up and take my money!

Yes, I know. We’re all a bit disappointed with the “New New New iPad”, a.k.a. iPad Air. And remember what Apple pulled off when they discovered that they had a game-changing new component, the Retina display, but the overall hardware wasn’t up to the level yet – they sold it as the iPad 3, only to be replaced with the iPad 4 less than a year later.

No, I’m not bitter with Apple over that. Well yes, I am, but the problem with my iPad 3 is that processing power has become an issue when using it for making music – an important use case for me. Waldorf’s Nave is a dream of a soft synth, but it’s pushing my iPad to the limit – run Nave, and you won’t be able to run much else. So processing power is increasingly becoming the driving force in deciding on what to buy and when.

The least thing that you could say about the iPad Air is that it’s going to drive down the prices for iPad 4′s. But considered that the Air is sporting a variant of the last-generation Apple A7 processor, you can expect it to have about double the processing power of an iPad 4, or about six times the performance of the iPad 3. That’s presumably worth a hundred Euros extra.

To get rid of the iPad3 now might be a good idea anyway. See Tim Webb’s analysis over at Discchord:

The iPad 3 shipped with an inferior processor incapable of keeping up with the huge retina display, and suffered a life-time of sluggish performance and annoying bugs. Developers consistently tell me that the majority of their bug reports come from iPad 3 users.

Now there you go. Unfortunately, this means that my carefully hand-modded IO Dock becomes obsolete – the iPad Air, due to its smaller bezel and different overall dimensions, just won’t fit, and there’s the issue of the Lightning connector which the IO Dock doesn’t have – although there are reports that an adapter would work, this would mean additional tinkering, soldering, dremeling. With hardly any chance of producing satisfactory results.

So what I’ll probably do is build a USB setup from scratch, with a modded Lightning-to-USB-adapter capable of charging the iPad; maybe with a powered hub, and a multi-channel interface like the Akai EIE. (Good list of class-compatible, iPad-friendly devices here.) It’s far from perfect, and maybe sometime I’ll integrate it into my own Dock. Once again, terra incognita.

Nur für echte Männer und echte Frauen: Superdrive putzen wie ein Fonzie

Das ist jetzt nicht wahr, oder? Habe mich so auf den Bügelabend mit meiner wieder heimgekehrten “Brazil“-DVD gefreut – da der Wohnzimmerfernseher belegt ist, am Schreibtischmac. Aber der angejahrte Mini-Mac weigert sich, die DVD auch nur im Bauch zu behalten – genauso wie die ersatzweise herbeigeschaffte “Breaking Bad”-Scheibe.

Okay, das “Superdrive” zickt. Selbst nachdem ich einen Firmware-Hack zur Entfernung des DVD-Regionalcodes rückgängig gemacht habe. Dass ich mit dem Problem nicht allein bin, ist schnell ergoogelt – und die Erklärungsversuche, die da gesammelt und sauber kategorisiert aufgelistet sind, sind beredt Zeugnis für die menschliche Fähigkeit, sich kompletten Unsinn über Ursachen und Wirkungen einzureden (die so genannte “Gefühlte Fehlerdiagnostik”).

Ich habe es da eher mit der Weisheit meines großartigen Vaters, dessen Erkenntnis aus X Ingenieursjahren ist: Wenn in der Elektronik etwas kaputt geht, dann ist die Ursache in fast allen Fällen eine mechanische. Verschleiß, Korrosion oder, viel banaler, Dreck.

Also putzen.

CC BY-NC-SA Zsolt Müller/muzso.hu

Ein SuperDrive von innen – CC BY-NC-SA Zsolt Müller/muzso.hu

Für das bisschen Staub nehm’ ich doch jetzt nicht den Mac auseinander! Das haben sich in den diversen Kommentaren auch schon andere gesagt – und zu brutalen, aber einfachen Alternativen geraten.

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Hammerhacks: Das gehaltene iPad und das verschwundene Keyboard

Ist noch gar nicht so lange her, da sah meine gemütliche kleine Krachmacherecke zuhause in etwa so aus:

Krachmacherecke: Keyboard und Rack

Dann kam so nach und nach noch ein wenig was dazu: ein Hardware-Synthesizer, das IO Dock und ein IKEA-”Lack-Rack”-Style-Schränkchen für den HiFi-Receiver. Und ich sah, dass es gut war.

Doch auf einmal ist die ehemalige KRachmacherecke nahezu unheimlich – ähem – gemütlich:

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Was ist passiert? Musste die Technikzone verschwinden, weil sie die WAF-Grenzwerte gerissen hat? Ja und nein – Antwort nach dem Klick. Weiterlesen

Give me a hand: Looking for the perfect iPad Beatbox companion

proberaumI love Loopy. The nifty little looper program by this mad Australian guy has become the fourth member in our little band project; it looks gorgeous, it works flawlessly, and it’s so simple to use: Just load any rhythm loop into Loopy, auto-stretch the sample to time, record additional audio or loop live, switch between loops with MIDI PC commands – which my FCB1010 foot controller is happy to supply.

You need additional tools, though. Loops coming from my favourite beatbox have to be post-processed for dynamics and overall punch. And playing around with the free Launchpad app by Novation got me thinking. What Loopy doesn’t do, though: just trigger loops and samples. And songs have to stick to a very rigid timing grid, normally 4 bars; otherwise you’d switch loops just in the middle of your chorus track.

Organic Proto-Beatbox Band

Why bother? Why not just use Ableton Live or, if you want to spare yourself having to drag a laptop around, buy some dedicated hardware? An Akai MPC, a Roland SP-404, an Electribe, or: Bloody hell – just use whatever sampler groovebox you like.

Which is what I’m going to do, only that I’d like to buy it as an app. Everything stays in my iPad, another advantage being that due to perversity of the app store economy, software is usually a fraction of the price of more traditional solutions. (Which is why we will probably never see an iOS version of Ableton Live.)

So just pop over to the app store and just find a sample-based, loop-based beatbox app. Can’t be that hard to do, no? It is. A friendly way to describe the abundance of music apps would be “very rich organic growth”. So many programmers and small companies have started their own music apps, which is a great thing. Sadly, hardly any of them get it right.

Looking for the perfect companion

It’s easy enough to name what I am looking for:

  • A simple live-playing mode similar to Ableton Live or an MPC
  • Different trigger modes: one-shot and loop-based
  • Ability to import and export loops
  • Time-stretching
  • App has to work in the background
  • Has to be controllable via MIDI

On top of that, Audiobus. And a couple of simple processing tools would be nice.

Google didn’t help much. So I started a table, which is far from comprehensive, but I’m opening up it for you to supply additional information.

This is what has been found so far:

My favourites so far? Most apps by traditional music hardware manufacturers seem to be severely limited, their main object being a marketing tool for in-app purchases. I’d go for Protein Der Klang, but it doesn’t have MIDI. So I’d settle for Beatmaker although I fear that it is too large and too complex.

So if YOU’d like to give me a hand, and know a thing about beatboxes or two, help to make this table useful by supplying additional info. (Just follow this link to the Google Doc). I suggest keeping discussions and opinions to the comments (in the table and in this post) and keep the table to facts-only.