Caustic brings Karplus-Strong synth to the iPad

While performing my daily ritual of checking for current app updates, I was pleasantly surprised to see that multi-component mini production studio Caustic listed, among other things, the addition of “KSSynth.”

There could only be one thing that meant… and indeed, it is an actual Karplus-Strong synth implementation.

KS is a modeling method generally referred to as “plucked string synthesis,” similar to the pluck tones of FM but completely different in implementation.

Rather than being a strict physical model, however, the KS algorithm is basically an observation of the nature of plucked tones… it produces a short burst of complex inharmonic sound that rapidly decays to a much simpler wave, not by specifically modeling string mass and damper position and so on, but like this:

  1. Load a wavetable with a random signal.
  2. Start playing out the wavetable one sample at a time.
  3. Each time a sample is played, average it with the preceding sample, and place the result back in the wavetable.
  4. Rinse, repeat.

The first time through, the wavetable produces the noise it was loaded with. The second time, it produces the first-order-averaged signal, which is the same as having applied the simplest possible lowpass filter to the signal. The third time through, the signal is averaged (smoothed and amplitude-reduced) a little more… and so on, until the waveform decays to a quiet sine wave over time.

A good overview of the technique can be found here at Columbia.

It’s a remarkably simple little algorithm but it’s rarely implemented in commercial synths because it requires a specific architecture not normally part of the classic ‘basic patch.’ The Korg Prophecy had it, as part of its toolkit of monophonic doohickeys. And there is at least one app (Orphion) that appears to use it, though without surfacing any parameters.

The Caustic implementation, however, is a fully polyphonic KS synth with essential (though not extensive) parametric control, so you can tune it from kotos to wood blocks to impossible clavinets.

So this is rare, and a great find… and I’m happy to report that it’s a lot of fun.

Tagged , ,

Invocation

For more than thirty years, the single constant in my life has been electronic music. From the moment I met and mind-melded with the big modular Moog in a university basement, the only thing that has survived decades and relationships and identities  – even through long fallow periods of doubt and silence – is this strange base state.

For the past several years that state has been unsettled and at a very low ebb, hostage to more personal demons than a staging of Night on Bald Mountain.

But a recent purge and rebuild has finally put together an environment I can function in, tools I can work with, music I can make again.

Ableton, Arturia, Native Instruments… these are the names I conjure with now.

Let there be good noise. So say we all.

 

stay still, ball sack

as an old rivethead, i probably find this a lot funnier than most of my friends will:

Ed’s Furry Fucking Guide To Metal, via jwz:

Tagged , ,

the long view

i came to a conclusion this weekend.

you see, all my life i’ve been jealous of conductors: they live their professional lives deep in beauty, immersed in a rare vibe. and they don’t have any required retirement… they do what they do right until they die, living their lives right to their real ends.

the same goes for the best musicians, of course, but it’s the conductors i see standing there, faces wreathed in concentration and bliss.

i’m not a conductor and not much of a musician, but i am a proven engineer. i did it professionally for a while. loved the work, hated the job. i’m about to become immersed in it again, as i begin production on my partner’s demos and projects (and of course my own, but that’s a different train of thought).

i think i want to do this for retirement. by the time i hit the end of my effective current career i’ll have sustained and worked with a small modern studio for quite a while. all i have to do is open it up, bring in local artists – probably the folkies and pagans, who would be best suited to such an arrangement – and make a side-living as a working engineer.

that’s a twilight i think i can live with.

amp my berimbau, baby

having been too overwhelmed recently to even think about music recently, much less write about it, i succumb for now to the youtube culture, and pass along some rock’n’roll shamisen:

Tagged ,

on making emusic

i am in fact a multi-instrumentalist. i play bass as a lead instrument, specialize in percussion electronic, ethnic and allsorts, and love to play with awkward instruments like the birembau, having a special fondness for things i can put in my mouth or gargle into, such as didjeridoo.

but above all, i am an electronic musician. i am one those people who *plays* synthesizers to make idiomatic music. i was the one who stood in front of the console moog and understood that the processes which its modules instantiated, and the control surfaces which it offered (knobs and sliders and switches and ribbons and things that looked like musical keys but really were just triggers and selectors in arrayed black and white) were the body of a new performance paradigm and another kind of music. not that this was any great revelation, since by the time i actually stood in front of that instrument, i had been listening to tangerine dream, klaus schulze, tomita, vangelis, larry fast, wendy carlos, etc for years beforehand.

my basic style was initially shaped by these influences, but has become more and more idiosyncratic over the years as i’ve tinkered and dabbled in the velveteen sedans of lounge music, the fluorescent concrete of pure freeform experimentation, the sweaty darkness of industrial, and so on. i have a tendency toward longform, an addiction to loops and arpeggios, and a trope for the drone.

i have never been an analog fascist… nor a digital one, for that matter. i buy instruments for their quirkiness, their particularity of sound, and the access of control. one of my main criteria has always been that there should not be a distance of more than two knob twists between the lamest factory preset and utter flatulent chaos. i’ve broken the rule very infrequently… most notably in the case of the emu morpheus, which has the same stupid “programming by periscope” interface that all emus do, but whose dynamic z-plane filter thingy is just too whacked-out to pass up on. i also gleefully employ software of many varities, mooshing together granular synthesis engines and oddball midi processors and drumulators (i love rebirth) with happy abandon. and i happen to be an expert on FM synthesis.

unfortunately, my most intensive period of creativity was several years ago, at the cusp of my nervous breakdown. since then i have put in a few of those lovely, long, scotch-soaked nights wrapped in my headphones… but they’ve been few indeed and very far between. most of my prior work is on DAT and minidisc, and those pieces which i had encoded in realaudio and put up on the web under my old name are now gone along with the remnants of a fading version of what was once me.

but the music… the music is me, and always has been, and has always been the truest. like my writing, it can be offputting or dull or opaque… but what you see or hear is my art, and the best i can do toward saying who i am.

-sigh-. i have been planning for some time, not only to get this equipment wired back up, but to remount the back catalog in MP3. when i do (soon, soon, i promise… this is more important to me than you might believe), you will be the first to know.

[originally written about five and a half years ago]

farting martians

well, the neuron finally arrived.

and i’ve spent several hours already, fiddling with the thing and muttering “what the hell?”

this instrument is idiosyncratic to the point of perversity… which is of course exactly why i’m so glad to have it. that, and it meets my primary criterion for an “interesting” synthesizer, in that you’re never more than one or two knobtwists away from total chaos. pick any standard pad (and none of them are really “standard” in the conventional sense), push one level into the editing parameters, flip the joystick in any random direction, and suddenly the string synth becomes the Martian Fart Machine. it doesn’t even load properly in sonar’s VST manager, reinforcing the impression that in using it you’re always just riding the ragged edge of collapse. it is in all respects appropriately and thoroughly funky.

the manual is a codex, written in what appears to be perfectly good grammatical english, describing some insane german engineer’s idea of what parametric resynthesis might be. it may as well be coptic, for all its relation to just about anything else in electronic music. the instrument is just weird, and the oddity of its interface and parameter space is perfectly in keeping with the wheedles, zwoops and gronks which lie immediately behind even the sine wave model.

alison finds it unmusical. which means of course that it’s perfect for me. no bass/pad/horn banks. no umpteenth instance of an electric piano. just pure electronic sonorities that move and shimmer and occasionally fall apart gracelessly in the way that only cranky digital engines can.

this thing is so right for me.

Continue reading

Tagged

synthetic therapy

i just bought a hartmann neuron.

well, almost. i actually bought the VS version, which comes with a proprietary controller for the synth’s unique features. i was ready to drop over three thousand dollars for the full keyboard, but the place near me that had one on its sales floor for the past few years finally sold it, and i decided to settle.

synthesizers have been really uninteresting for quite a while now… especially hardware synths, which have all followed a single basic template since the M1. a few have offered one variation or another on architecture, performance interface or even synthesis model, but those variations have been largely buried by the “workstation” monstrosities and their bloated approach to packaging and marketing. quirks have been increasingly hard to come by, especially in hardware synths, which no longer really support their own prices in the evolving digital music domain.

software synths have stepped into this void pretty well, with offerings from the stupendously comprehensive to the gleefully retro to the outright squelchy. i’ve been happy with what i’ve found as i’ve pushed more into virtual synths – enough so that i’m on the verge of selling almost all of my current keyboards. but the performance interfaces are never as satisfying on these things, and it’s still hard to find something so compelling that you’re willing to adopt it as your instrument – something that serves as more than just another module in a rack of redundant options.

enter the neuron, which, when i first tinkered with one a few years ago, filled me with that rare longing i get when meeting not just a new instrument, but a whole new potential. not just a new sound but an actual new idea, that invites art, in the sense of attentive, purposive exploration of a medium.

of course, the cost kept me away, but i never stopped thinking about the thing… unlike other interesting toys that have merely tickled my fancy. and when it became clear that i was likely to lose any opportunity to know this tool, to move my own art to the somewhere new that i really need it to go… well, there comes a point where you listen to the voice, even if it costs you a bit.

i would still have liked to have had the keyboard. but the VS will more than do. it’s being shipped from the UK. so i wait, and breathe a little deeply, and ready myself to Make Stuff.

Tagged

living inside herself

so we’ve finally got some music going here. our studio setup has hit a sort of critical mass. i’m becoming a mostly computer-based emusician – having worked with individual keyboard and rack rigs for most of my life – and am assembling a sequence that i can stand listening to. meanwhile, alison has broken through her approach/avoidance and is using the patchwork DAW i set up for her recently.

this phase started a couple of weeks ago when i recorded a bass riff and let her start noodling some soft synth chords over it. she took over the experiment from there, and has elaborated the thing into a entire track that she’s working out change by change, complete with multiple keyboard parts, funk bass (she’s taught herself to slap), and wukka-wukka guitar.

of course, the consequence of all this is that i finally get to hear what she sounds like… and of course, she sounds no little like the music she likes most: that sophisticated, jazz-inflected pop that used to actually be “arranged” and which, at its best, just manages to ride on the near side of that precarious edge between slick and schmaltz.

after four years, i discover i’m living with ali vanelli.