Friday, 8 December 2017

And so it goes...

I had a great idea to break my deadlock with the Easel - a couple of them actually. The first involved a swap for the Kinesthetic controller but using the MIDI input when I wanted regular playing. I did need some assurance the K didn't suffer from the same grounding issues. My other idea stemmed from this; the KMR website shows a base setup (case/LEM208) which you can build on - it claims to have MIDI I/O which is where I thought: why not just add your own MIDI keyboard?
I thought about this overnight and realised that the website's claim is nonsense. It doesn't have MIDI I/O, it just has a couple of sockets awaiting connection to either a controller or MIDI module. I'd got quite excited about the alternate system I was going to put together too, ditching the aliasing mess that is the aux card and getting another complex oscillator. Oh well, back to trying to get a working keyboard, or giving up I guess.

A compilation came out today for which I provided a track, 1 second short of the required time, so doing my usual 'not quite satisfying' thing.

This is it

We've been without our large telly for a week now. I'd like to say I'm starting to respond to my environment and come alive, but actually I'm just watching the laptop more, which is even less stimulating than Netflix.

One of my absolute favourite things is this: I get to a point in a novel where I'm stuck. So I have a creative day, record some nonsense  then, after a pipe and a few hoppy beers, launch into writing. Suddenly I get past the point where I was stuck and magically get inspired to join something up I'd been meaning to for a while. Simple pleasures, I know, but still. A thread sorted that was in danger of dying. 

Still no telly. Sob.

Friday, 1 December 2017

On the other hand

I've gone on quite a lot about the Easel lately, mostly fighting with bits of it or picking faults. But the whole initial analysis thing isn't ever the whole story. This is why reviews used to take me longer and longer. The other half is using it, making music with it, and in this respect, I'm enjoying it  plenty. It has some similarities with the Synthi for pulsing oddness but ca be made to turn melodic and even virtuosic. A second hand one showed up today - older model without the arpeggiator. Made me dig into this one all over again and record some stuff. It fits my palette very well and I only made a couple of cockups (getting hold of wrong slider on both occasions, have swapped a couple of slider caps around) but can live with that. A few shorter patch cables so I could see better would help too. Oops, almost slipping into grumbling again. And I'm keeping this one. Slightly sad that seller didn't contact me  to try and get my keyboard issues resolved but if banana leads ever come may have to ruin one to try.
In short - good session and shows that limitations suit me well in my advancing years.
Programmed 'tuned noise' patch on the KS4 because I missed a particular sound and realised it was from the Micron.
Thought for the day: when Babylon 5 is bad, it's really bad.
In the same way that I always recognise the SH-101, the Minimoog, the Synthi, the Perfourmer, the Juno6, so I recognise the Easel. That is a good thing.
Did this

Oh yeah, Pat went out tonight so I did the Friday afternoon thing in the evening...

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Continuing with the Buchla Music Easel

The cool set of videos someone posted on muffs would have helped me understand the pulser and envelope behaviour so nice work musicalfungus! Good that I worked it out myself I guess but shows this thing really isn't always intuitive.

Struggled some more with the Easel generally, reckon I  understand most of it now, even the aux card which will be useful. The keyboard is not responsive enough, especially the area around key 18 which seems very temperamental, notably after it's been on for a bit. Also the 'pressure' seems very variable - it doesn't seem to depend on how much of my finger is making contact but some random element I can't figure. Not good,
Apparently I should try using the ground connection which may make things better, may even make the tuning more accurate. Trouble is they fitted a banana jack for grounding and I'll be buggered if I'm butchering any of my precious supply just to make it work properly! Have ordered some more leads from CPC.

The replacement keyboard hasn't shown up and KMR have been silent - perhaps due to the onslaught of emails I sent about various issues. Still torn about whether to take up their offer to ditch the thing and get a full refund but that's a last resort.

Last week I expressed my frustration with the Easel keyboard in a video

There's a long story about the envelopes, which I discovered after posting this:

Short answer is that it doesn't work as the manual (someone really needs to write a better one, for the current machine, one that doesn't claim program cards come with it, that the MIDI is shite etc. etc.). A guy has worked out a fix so if if I keep it I'll get Tony to do something. Tempted to get him to replace the envelope with one that works traditionally and bugger the authenticity.

Obviously still not up to doing a longer review, been close to giving up but not quite there yet. Cos of stuff like this:

So yes the pitch tracking isn't perfect, the envelope is naff, the aux card aliases like a bastard and I still don't have enough banana cables, but it inspires me to play as an instrument, which a bunch of Eurorack modules don't and never will. But the keyboard has to work better than it does.
I got an interesting document about solving keyboard issues from Buchla but Tony has pointed out that the grounding instructions don't improve on the existing grounding, through the mixer. Another user tells me to play without shoes. Willing to try that. Also willing to try both a replacement keyboard and grounding if I can find a grownup to make me a lead. Will ring KMR tomorrow if they don't get in touch.

Oh and our fecking telly died. Same way as my mum's. Seriously, bloody Toshiba, shite! Annoyingly, I can't remember where we got it and searches for the receipt have failed. So we'll end up paying a guy to fix it (hardware, power problem, the Toshiba support guy easily identified, suspect he's heard it a lot).

Almost finished the (short) review I've been labouring over, another module arrived. Eek! Good one though, tried it and instantly bumped up the 'do list'.

No great pix lately, sorry. Took my camera this morning but it told me it was exhausted. Probably the Easel finished it off, which is understandable.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Begin with a 'meh'

Yes, the Easel arrived.

OK  I knew about the wobbly knobs and I knew there was no manual and an external power supply. I'd asked several times about the MIDI and specifically how to set the channel - KMR didn't know and failed to find out but thought it was some power up option maybe. Well, it turns out there's no option because the MIDI is basically pish. It even makes the MIDI of the Korg MS20 Mini (with its fixed MIDI channel) seem advanced and useful. Unbelievably, it's the 21st Century and I have a synth locked in Omni mode. Seriously. I've written to them asking when this will be fixed but it sure didn't get my off to a good start. I created this cool percussive patch and wanted to sequence from the P3, not a lot to ask I don't think!

I'm so glad this isn't a review! I ordinarily make notes - initial impressions I keep to myself.
Here's the list version 1. You'd think this was a budget thing, new, rushed to market.

Not good if you like accurate tracking - but listening to Todd Barton's videos suggests that this is a common thing. Paul L confirms his doesn't track perfectly either. The tiny trimmer isn't for tracking/scaling as I hoped; it's a very fine tune.
External power supply
I like the case. Feels good. Whole thing is smaller and lighter than the Synthi. Not as well thought-out though.
I like the use of colour.
Knobs feel cheap and they wobble, especially those on the keyboard.
Another user from muffs just informed me:
you can´t clock the arp and play MIDI notes at the same time.. it hangs... If you want to play notes youmust disable MIDi clock send from your device.. 
Keyboard's transpose buttons should have bi-polar knobs to set values methinks.
This is like learning synthesis again from scratch (a good thing).
A printed manual would really have helped. For the aux card too.
It's very easy to bugger the tuning by grabbing the wrong slider. Having a whole row of them is actually worse than the Odyssey since the Odyssey at least set coarse tuning apart from all the mod depths. Uniform layout seems to be against Don's idea of more than 5 controls together being harder to use. Thank heavens for the fine tune!
MIDI - it's omni mode or nothing. Fuck! Doesn't even respond to MIDI CC64 or pitch bend. Somebody really just couldn't be bothered here. Or worse, didn't understand MIDI at all. I'm seeing this more and more.
Envelope is odd. I still need to work out all the nuances. Nice and punchy despite just being attack and decay, with the sustain parameter and that switch needing some practice. Hate reading manuals on-screen but I will have to and soon.
The other 1/4" jack seems to be a (fixed polarity?) sustain pedal input. Useful for keeping the arpeggiator going. ##update - avoid as it seems to do odd things to keyboard triggering.
The arp is pretty limited (2 directions) but it does sync to MIDI clock at least.
Not enough patch cables, especially if you bought aux card. I need at least another dozen - and some that are long enough to go between the aux card and rest of the module. Three of the cables are instantly tied up connecting the keyboard to the main module - surely something that could have been normalised internally then overriden if necessary.
Afraid the reverb is not gonna be very usable - it booms when you play the keyboard, flick switches, touch the synth at all... Stupid design. BBD delay would have been better. Maybe I'll grow to love it for percussion duties.
Possibly the K version would have been better after all given the keyboard's oddness and the daft plastic bits in between keys. Synthi keyboard is actually better to play. The 'black' keys have sharp edges - sharp enough to cut if you catch them at speed. Madness!
The sockets are tight. But a pile of bananas wobbles and needs care. Stoner alert as could easily catch a tower of them and break something.
The aux card may have been a mistake. It's a lot of money for a basic digital oscillator and noise generator  but the voltage control over the envelope stages seems to be a good feature. Already made good use of that. Oscillator could still be handy as a mod source though, freeing the other (plain) oscillator. Alarming how the whole module pushes down as you fit the card though. And I'll have to be careful not to catch it and snap it off. Design cockup: it sticks up and obscures some of the controls - making is difficult to access the 4 switches directly beneath it. Still feel it's more useful than the program card but perhaps I bought in haste (and based on Todd's videos). Early days though and I may be singing a different tune tomorrow. Hard to really assess until I get more patch cables. For £800 they could have supplied a few with the card - ones long enough to reach the sockets on the module.

My impression after a couple of hours: they did not set out to delight, these chaps at BEMI. With the general quality and shitty MIDI, it almost feels like it's made with contempt rather than love. After just a couple of hours, if someone asked me how much I thought this would cost, I'd probably estimate between £1,000 and £1500.

I hope that, after our first stoned bonding session, I'll feel a lot differently. Dearly hope. Friday afternoon probably.

Fear not, I will do a more full review as I learn my way around it. In fact I'll hold off posting this until tomorrow's session as I'm conscious that I didn't really say what I did with it, what its strengths appear to be right away, the things I actually like (yes, there are some) etc. etc.

Today (Wednesday) was frustrating because I spent most of the morning dealing with plumber. Got a couple of hours in in the afternoon and worked through Todd Barton's example patches and reading key parts of the manual.
Discovered what seemed to be a problem with a key not working.  Apparently caused by my use of the sustain input to keep the arpeggiator going. As this isn't documented I'm going to have to find out if it's something to avoid. The socket is labelled sustain but perhaps I misunderstood.

Got a reply from Buchla admitting that it's Omni on but no commitment to make the MIDI fit for purpose. Still trying to get enough patch leads to work with. Suspect many people buy the program card and do their cabling directly on the app. I have hardly been able to use the aux card yet.
I did get some typical Buchla noises today thanks to the examples and some messing with them.

Full review still to come as I'm conscious I still haven't totted up the good stuff. I have not given up. It makes the 0-Coast seem even more impressive though. ;)

Monday, 20 November 2017

Easely not Weasely

OK, some of my friends have asked: why on earth did you opt for a Buchla Easel rather than a bunch of Eurorack modules with the same capabilities or more? I'm well aware of the options.

It's an easy thing to answer: I liked the complete/closed nature of the Easel and its simplicity. If we were talking about yet another box for modules, yet another open-ended system to be expanded forever, then I'd be totally uninterested. Eurorack is already occupying a particular place in both my studio and headspace. It's why I'm keeping it constrained and limited.

I started a 15 min selbstportrait piece. It initially seems OK but I'm torn between making it melodic and conventional and something more abstract. Got a little while to think about it though so perhaps a new instrument will inspire me soon ;)

The Data album is done. I'm happy with it, at least at the moment. Of course a sensible person would sit on it for a few more weeks but I'd rather get on with something new. Onwards and... onwards.

Here it is

Theory now is that the Easel will be here next week having been sent last Monday. I guess customs like a really good sniff at stuff.

Reading an Alistair Reynolds with a very long-lived species not too unlike my Vaneer. Interesting that many of the same issues are dealt with, most particularly data gathering. OK, probably just a logical extension of an obvious idea but does make me think I'm doomed never to have a truly original idea. Especially interesting is a machine making transition to flesh - something I dealt with in 'From Beer To Eternity'. Oh well.

Easel here tomorrow! I even have courier tracking. Expect my next blog to be full of it. So to speak.

Friday, 10 November 2017

A splendid thing

Even though I was out of weed, an excellent Friday's recording session. Have a new 20 min track (cut down from 30) which I really like. Possibly needs a slight mix tweak or two but essentially sound.

Makes 'Data' a different thing if I include this rather than the iffy track.

Today I narrowly resisted sampling Seven of Nine saying: my alcove is malfunctioning.

Anyway, today I replaced a track from Data (wasn't quite thrilling me) with a cooler one.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Continuing indulgence

I just remembered I was supposed to write something to be used as sci-fi voice-over for a track. So .that's this morning's quest. Still not sure my voice best suited to the task, may ask John. Track tempo appears to be around 72BPM so I'll try and make the voice fit that naturally.

Yesterday's creation was rather different than I expected. Switches from the Minimal Techno brief to the Chilled Meandering brief. Will see if today's is closer to the original idea.

Feel bad I didn't go see Harvey last night, just slumped in front of telly (watched 2 Black Mirror episodes I'd already seen) and achieved little. Nothing.

Thursday, great day! Fixed yesterday's thing (I think) and recorded something new that I like, with polyrhythms where the main groove is in fives. More beer, plus chilli and later, gin. Big fun day. Stoned and watching Baraka. Hardly original but joyous.

Hmmm. On reflection, yesterday's track is about double the length it should have been. Heh. Can fix. Second half is the thing. Will see what today brings. It's coming together

Today brung a groovy thing at 130 bpm. Watching series 3 of Black Mirror. At last the one I hadn't seen. Good day, looking forward to Pat coming home.

I might have a new thing practically complete: Data. That's it. Using Ciklon to drive the kick today.

Always very suspicious when two recordings have a similar shape. Just saying.