Monday, July 26, 2010

Shiv-r remix SAM

We have remixed SAM's track "Halluzinogen" from their latest album Brainwasher.

SAM - Brainwasher

On this remix I took the liberty of doing some impromptu guest vocals.  Check out a preview  mp3 here

Our remix appears exclusively on the limited Japanese edition of their album.  Order it here from Deathwatch Asia

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Moogerfooger MF-107/Freqbox

In continuation of Moog’s tradition of great gear with questionable names…

My MF101 review was straight forward, the only surprise being the shitty décor. An lpf is just that, and if you don’t understand the concept, do me a favour and go neuter yourself with rusty hedge clippers, or at least promise never to reproduce. Seriously, I bet you know what a guitar pickup is, so why not a low pass filter??? I really need to stop sharing my music tech news with coworkers…

The Freqbox is an entirely different. Even to someone who owns a machine that can synch to its own oscillators, it doesn’t compare. A modular with external input and a synchable vco yadadadada, maybe, but if I don’t have enough money for that, I’m going to hate on anyone else who does…

I’m not going to bore you with a rundown of the freqbox functions. First of all, I don’t really understand the mechanics of it, and am not especially interested in learning such things. Second, saying the “the fm knob increases the amount of frequency modulation applied to the oscillator” doesn’t mean dick if you can’t actually hear it (and I’m far too lazy to make audio samples, they are easy enough to find). Third, you might try moogmusic.com, just a thought.

Instead, I’m going to describe the first couple of days of freqbox bonding. The bonding was a little traumatic, seeing as I got a new audio interface the same day (fuck you to hell you fucking dickfuck programmers at MOTU… to be continued). Once things settled down on that side of things, I was able to sit down and spend some serious luuuuv time.

I was a little misguided as to what to expect here. I have used sync a bit with VA stuff, and never really been a fan. That said, it has always been the usual sync osc1 to osc2 or vice versa, usually for that big rising monotone lead that seems to rise without changing pitch, you know the one… or you could get the rusty hedge clippers. This isn’t nearly the kind of versatility the freqbox offers. I had done a bit of youtubing, buy mostly it was just wankers crooning about the worlds first ‘guitar synth’. Other reviews were good, I wanted another moogerfooger, phasers are for beatnicks… and so, shazam, I have a freqbox.

The misguided part was thinking it would follow anything more than the simplest inputs. I was working on a Shiv-r tune. I had a nice toy piano patch going for the intro of the song which I had already recorded from my Virus through my mf-101. I ran it to the freqbox… and damn did it sound horrible. When I say toy piano patch, I mean a few high pitched oscs, a little detuned and a lot of release. I bet your laughing saying “well duh, of course there wasn’t usable sync”, to which I say… try balancing new gear with the pressure of getting tunes done in a timely fashion and you will understand… I bet your wall sized modular doesn’t compensate for the complete lack of interest any label ever has paid to your tunes ever… anyway…

So I tried sending a simple patch to it and snap! the ever so voodoo magical tracking abilities mf-107 is famous come into play. Ok, I think the toy piano misdemeanor was some magical fluke of new gear teething, and in reality all is well. I go about my patch making business getting all kinds of joy by pushing the mf’s vco into all kinds of scratchy psy-ish goodness. Then, through scholarly interest, I tried pulling the mf osc out of mdma-land and back into just regular tracking of the input… and I get more scratchy goodness, but this time I don’t want scratchy goodness, so let’s call it scratchy badness (and yes, there is still tunes in need of finishing while I waste time on the twiddle stick). “fuckity fuck fuck” methinks, “perhaps the sync rocker is fucked” (to regress from not wanting to explain the functionality of knobs and switches, the 107 has a switch which alternates between the osc tracking the pitch of the input and the osc pitch responding to the amplitude of the incoming signal). I am seriously stumped. I turn it off and on again (digital logic applied to analog machine??). I watch more videos on the internet and wonder why my ‘thing’ isn’t the same as some other guy’s ‘thing’, then I had to go to work and try not to worry about my ‘thing’ for the remainder of the day.

Returning from work, I try a new patch and it is tracking well again. I fuck about with the patch again, and get the same problem again. Instead of reverse engineering whatever I did with the mf, this time I reverse what I did with patch, and it tracks well again. Since most of what I do is either out of the discernable pitch variety or stupidly de-tuned variety, there was a valuable lesson to be learned in this…

The mf tracks simple inputs well, add a second oscillator to the input and it gets a little unpredictable, add a third and you can kiss it all goodbye. Second to that, it won’t track anything too high pitched (it says in the manual the input should be lower pitched than what you want to the mf to put out, but at this point the manual was still in the box… where it belongs). Third, take a simple sound and run it through a hpf before sending it to the 107, weakening the fundamental frequency too much, and it won’t track.

I had read in an SOS review that claims it manages to find a ‘sympathetic pitch’ with guitar chords, but I have began to lose a little faith in SOS. The fact is, it doesn’t, but I still love it. I have had it for over a month now, so I will tell what I do use it for.

a) beefing up patches. That seems obvious, but not in the way you think. You can’t make a musical patch and send it to the mf thinking it will make it bigger and better, because it won’t track. I make a sound I like, then create a simplified version to send to the mf that is easier to track. Combine the original patch and the new one through the mf and you are in for some serious beefy business.

b) Oddly enough, percussion. I don’t meaning running full beats through it, I mean adding it single percussive noises with synch turned off and letting the volume of the source control the oscillator. I like this especially for bassdrums, though the result is a kind of flappy/clicky bassdrum which is not especially fashionable right now, but I do whats I wants and I likes it.

As for gripes about the box…

1. I got it in whitewash. After getting my 101 in whitewash I knew this was stupid, and my 107 is even worse quality. I had to get them to match, I’m just special that way. I am planning to rack mount them after I get a third (probably the ring modulator, don’t like phasers in any context, the murf seems like a many variations but at heart a one trick pony, as well as following Moog’s recent trend in stupid names for things…and the delay is overpriced, stupidly overpriced, I know bbd chips are hard to come by, but come on…).

2. There is serious colouring of the input signal. Thankfully there is a true bypass on this one, unlike the 101, but with the bypass off and the wet/dry mix set to 100% dry, you would think it would sound something like the original. Instead, it sounds like it’s been run through a low pass filter. Perhaps a necessary evil to help it track properly, but evil it is, nonetheless.

3. As I learned once upon a time as a young man, analog oscillators are always ‘on’ and obviously true for the freqbox vco. This means there is something like a gate that stops the sound of the osc when the input amplitude falls below a certain point (I guess it is a ‘squelch circuit’, I’m not the most educated type). That is all good, but when the env tracker is pushing hard on the vco, that cut off point is marked with a noticeable glitch that is similar to a guitarist muting the sound of the strings. This is inevitable, but the sensitivity of the “gate” needs to be adjustable to cater for differing inputs. I am under the understanding it is adjustable… by opening the back of the unit and adjusting a trim pot. Having a front panel pot to adjust this would have been grand… perhaps replacing the dumb ass stompbox switch. Moog belongs to the synth man, the guitar man can get his own damn hero.

Moogerfooger MF-101/LPF

Like with my Virus review, I’m going to start my little thoughts with the story of how I got this thing into Bangkok.

UPS delivered to my door in an obscure little building in the northern outskirts of BKK. What an age we live in. I do wish to whine about import taxes though… damn import tax blows…

Although I’m sure you all know this, it’s a filter in a box. It’s Fairly similar to the original Minimoog filter, and as far as I can tell, identical to the Moog LP filter (sans MIDI triggering or real envelope control etc). It has a 2pole/4pole swtich, and an envelope follower that tracks the input amplitude, but simple is good. I got the whitewash version, and at the risk of starting the bitching to early… the white is not exactly the best. The wood version looked hot enough already, but I just had to be different and get the fancy white one. It turns out this is just very very very badly painted wood. I mean, it looks like a kindergarten project. Moog seems to have gone all out with their crazy range of woods and backlight themes lately, which is very cute, but if they are delivering things like this, I would say stick with the original versions.

I’m in a list mood, so here we go:

Pros:

- Good price. Well not so good if you are thinking of it just as a LPF that takes up a lot of room on the desk. Good considering it sounds just as Moog does, ie. very good. I think back when these were sold as “Big Briar” they were a lot more expensive, but the build quality was better. As long as the insides stayed the same, I’m not too fussed.

- The drive is very satisfying, especially on low frequencies.

- The difference between 2pole and 4pole is very noticeable, as you would expect. Unfortunately, on a lot of other gear including my Virus, switching slopes doesn’t really get the results one could wish for.

- The env follower is very effective on the “fast” setting, even for sounds with a lot of release, it tracks perfectly.

- The resonance is ever so Moogy. There is something about the resonance on Moog filters that is so distinctive, especially on high settings with the filter very open. It adds a kind of nasty hiss that is just, nasty. I’m probably sending myself deaf and killing my speakers with supersonic ribbish.

-It also does something odd when the env amount and resonance are set quite high, the cutoff is fairly open and the incoming signal is fairly constant in volume (ie. fast attack, full sustain and no release… I’m not sure if this is making any sense). It adds a strange sizzle that I have not been able to catch since I stopped using the Waldorf D-pole plugin many years ago. In theory, any filter with an amplitude follower should do this, but these are the only two I have found that do it just the way I like it.

Cons

- There are two settings for the env follower, “fast” and “smooth”, on a rocker. Basically it seems to effect the attack time only, or maybe the release as well. I would hardly expect a full ADSR on something in this price range, but having a pot here sweeping the between the two values would have been nice, even if it had increased the price a little.

- Why is there a mix knob? Maybe guitarists using it as a wah wah thing need it… I don’t know, I never wah. I do know I don’t need to mix wet and dry on a filter. Maybe a heavily driven single could be mixed with the dry to add “depth”, but seriously, “depth” would have to be one of my least favourite words. So, I will reiterate, why is there a mix knob on a filter?

- Added to that, when the filter is as low as it can go, ie. more or less silence, and then you turn up the volume high and listen really hard, a little of the dry signal is coming through. Practically, this isn’t important at all, and I reeeeaaalllly shouldn’t be pushing the volume up with the filter at 20hz (the resonance was on zero so my monitors were relatively safe, but anyway)… I expect more than that!

- It would have been a lot nicer, and smaller, if it weren’t doubling as a stompox. Guitarists with their bluesy wails and drunken, clumsy feet don’t rate highly in my world. It also makes patching the cv controls a pain seeing as the jacks are at the back of the unit.

- There is no true bypass. The big ugly stompbox switch will bypass the filter, but not the drive. I don’t really mind, seeing as the drive sounds great anyway, but it makes it difficult to see exactly what the thing is doing to the sound.

- Bob’s grandchildren should be taken off the décor committee.