Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Becktone 3000 gets a face, and more modules

My Max/Msp-made interface for the Becktone 3000
I get obsessed with things pretty quickly, and I'm prone to just as quickly changing my obsession to a new one. That's what has happened recently, going from everything fishing all the time to everything music all the time. By no means have I given up fishing; but due to the colder weather, my lack of desire to freeze my *** off waiting for fish to bite, and my rekindled love for music and music technology, I have fully switched over to music-making mode.

I've been working on my virtual modular synthesizer, the Becktone 3000. A little bit each day; I spend about 3 hours in transit to and from work every day, and that time works really well as synth building time. On one train ride I'll build a ring modulator; on another I'll add another oscillator. It's has many of the features of physically building my own synth, but I can do it on the go!

The Becktone 3000 is really coming along. It is a fully working synthesizer, and I've been using it in the songs I'm working on. So far it's in 3 or 4 tracks on the holiday album. The other day I figured out how to make a ring modulator. To be honest, I don't understand the math of what's happening- something about one signal multiplying with another. All I know is it sounds pretty awesome! It sounds like this:

I've been researching vintage analog synthesizers to figure out what modules I should build for my own synth. Basically, each module does a particular thing to the sound. An oscillator module makes a pitch; a reverb module adds reverb to the sound; a ring modular makes the sound sound robotic and sci-fi, and so on. One module I've never quite understood is the sample and hold module. Again, not entirely sure what is happening exactly, but I certainly know the sound. If the sample and hold module can mess with the pitch, you get the classic computer working sound:

Creating sounds like this in an instrument I created myself, from scratch, is pretty much just as rewarding as landing a big bass on a lure I made myself! It's just as tasty as eating delicious beans made from scratch. Really, it's all the same. I don't know where this obsession with doing things myself came from. I certainly don't apply it to everything- I don't fix my own car, and I'm basically incapable of repairing my bike; but hey, this is a start.

Every few days I'll open up Max/Msp again, to try and wrap my brain around it. Max is that really difficult and confusing program I mentioned a while back; it's basically like Plogue Bidule but more powerful and harder to use. Yesterday I jumped in again. I decided to try making an interface for my synth in Max. This way I could move knobs in Max, which would send MIDI messages to Plogue, which would change my synth sound. And I could make it look however I want!

After a while, I figured out how to generate MIDI CC messages in Max, and send them to Plogue. The way things are set up are kind of like back end and front end- Plogue is the back end, the thing that makes the sound, but it's horrible to look at. Max is the front end; it doesn't make any sound itself, but it controls the thing that does, and it looks great. The benefit of doing things this way is I have complete control over everything, and can change any part that doesn't work for me.

When moved by my mouse, each one of those knobs sends a message to Plogue saying "Hey Plogue, change this! Move this!" What's even cooler is since I'm being consistent with which MIDI CC's control which parameters in my synth, I can control this interface with my iPhone. That means when I move the "Oscillator 1 wave type" knob on my phone, the "Oscillator 1 wave type" knob in my Max interface moves, which in turn sends a message to Plogue saying "Hey Plogue, change the Oscillator 1 wave type."

It all sounds very complicated, and, well, it is. I apologize for the technical nature of these posts, but I'm pretty sure some people reading this will be into it. Those of you who aren't into it, but have made it this far for some reason, don't worry! Pretty soon I'll be posting more recipes, and come Springtime there will be plenty of fishing posts.

The "guts" or "back end"  of the synth right now (version 74)

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