randy's Recent Posts

This year it seems desirable and possible for Madrona Labs to make a Soundplane to CV device. This would be primarily a Eurorack module, but the circuit could also be built into its own enclosure for use with vintage synths etc.

Normally I do most of my design work in private, and only announce a product when it's pretty much done. But we (Brian and I) are going to change it up this time. Because neither of us is that deeply into the Eurorack world, it makes sense to solicit input early on in the process this time. This is going to be a utility device (though hopefully an elegant one) — so before we get too far along, let's make sure it will be useful to you!

The basic idea

USB jack for powering the Soundplane. Module puts out CV / gates / mod outputs for individual touches. Like the Soundplane app, a zone map decides how the Soundplane surface is divided up into notes and what those notes are. You can switch between zone maps, and the name of the current one should be displayed somehow. Aside from this, visual feedback will be at least an LED per Z value. To keep costs low, probably nothing too graphical or fancy.

We're looking for input on things like:

How many voices?

Each voice of touch output will probably have 4 outputs for pitch, x, y and z. Setting up many voices on a modular is not the way most people use them, so I'm guessing that two voices of output will take care of 90% of what people want. We would probably add an expander module for more voices.

Any interesting modes?

A switch that changes z (pressure) into a strict on/off gate might be useful. Any other things like this?

Layout?

individual voice groups vertical or horizontal? voice outputs at bottom or top? I'm thinking top, because a USB jack on the bottom will go to the Soundplane.

Power?

The module will need roughly 250mA at 5v to power the Soundplane. Brian will correct me if I'm wrong. Then there's whatever computing and display the module needs to do, and the outputs. Do we need our own power supply, or a list of compatible Euro power supplies that we can point people to? Any choices in connectivity to make here?

Finally, we're still looking for a great name…

I do plan to add more models to Kaivo including tubes and so on.

I'm very glad the sound is inspiring to you! Thanks for the good words and i'll be here if you have more questions.

I hear this would be a good thing. There's no real easy way to do it now. The ability to lock any parameter to its current value will be a good fix for this and many other situations. I plan to add that in a future update.

You can always just make a directory with your current favorite scales of course.

I've heard you. But I won't be releasing another Aalto update for a while.

If you choose "Save as..." from the preset menu the file dialog will open into the folder you most recently loaded or saved a file to/from. Hopefully this will help you out.

Thanks for your support, and enjoy! See you around. :-)

Thanks. I stopped adding people for the moment so I can get other things done but, please stay tuned for the next phase.

Warmest holiday wishes to everyone! Though I love the big dinners with family and friends, winter here is also a great time for immersing myself in the lab and researching what's next. This particular image I took the other day captures the Seattle vibe I'm feeling right now—very grey and wet, but futuristic and optimistic. The suspended sculpture by Janet Echelman is called "Impatient Optimist" and you can read more about it here.

From now until January 6 2020, our year-end sale is happening! You can use the code DIY2020 to get 30% off all our software. If you're an Aalto fan but you've been holding out on getting Kaivo or Virta, now's the time. And yes, our simple bundle deal is in effect along with the year-end discount, if you choose to take advantage of them both. This results in some big discounts: adding Aaltoverb to your Kaivo purchase, for example, will set you back only an additional ten dollars or so.

I always think, maybe a silly amount, about the sale code: what word do you type into that little box to get the discount? Maybe because it's like a kind of incantation, and I want it to be a positive one. If there's one thing we can use more of in 2020 it's more DIY, so: DIY2020. Doing It Yourself doesn't necessarily mean just all alone in the comfort of your own Labs, but also and especially with friends, getting together to have fun and make culture. I wish you all the DIY time you can carve out in 2020, and when you have something to transmit, let me know! Hopefully I will be able to buy it on Bandcamp, where I found most of my favorite new music this year.

Finally, if you're looking for a last-minute gift, you should know that it's easy to give a Madrona Labs software license! A gift license can even be part of a simple bundle with one you bought for yourself and I'll be happy to transfer it free of charge (and judgement). Just email me at support@madronalabs.com to let me know. I'm taking Dec 25, Dec 31, and Jan 1 away from the computer but otherwise I'll be available within 24 hours (and almost certainly less) to help make your holiday dreams come true.

Is it possible you're using Logic in 32-bit mode? The only change I'm aware of is that I removed 32-bit support. Unfortunately I don't have Logic 9 here to try. I'll try to figure out what changed!

There's an option in the settings (gear) menu for turning off UI animations. Hopefully this will help.

The dials animating eat up a bunch of CPU on your Retina display because of software drawing and copying at the high resolution.

That's what I think is going on anyway.

Someday I want to make a modular environment...

Thanks for the thought. You can do it now if you don't mind editing the patches as text files. Open up the .mlpreset file and grab all the parameters starting "seq_pulse" and "seq_value" and paste them over the parameters in the other patch.

I realize this isn't a useful UI for every day, but maybe it will help if you have a great sequence you want grab once in a while.

Welcome aboard, and enjoy!

I'm not sure what was going on there. If it becomes a problem please let me know. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Hi, this thread is taking about a few things now! Which plugin do you mean, and which version do you have? I fixed a Virta problem recently.

I don't know what to say about the extra voices—since it doesn't seem to be bothering you I'll call it a holiday miracle, and spend my time on the MPE issue!

I got from another player a MIDI file demonstrating the problem, so I think we're good as far as reportage. Thanks.

I got another email just yesterday about what seems to be the same problem. I'm sure it's not your problem but something I did to the plugins. I'm just not sure why it didn't come up here in my own testing with MPE—maybe something Linnstrument does differently from Soundplane. I'll investigate very soon.

Meanwhile it should be no problem to grab an earlier installer, like 1.8.5 and to use that version if you just want to play. Here's a link to that: https://madronalabs.com/media/aalto/Aalto1.8.5.pkg You may have to remove the newer plugin files manually so the older installer will run.

I don't know what is going on when you hear more than 4 notes. Aalto only has four voices in there, really. Maybe the internal delay is ringing out the sound of previous notes (?)

It's very grey here too.

An update of Aalto and Kaivo to version 1.8.4 is available now on the product pages. This fixes a few compatibility issues that showed up in recent versions of Live, and a bug introduced in version 1.8.3 where Kaivo would stop making reasonable sound.

Aalto and Kaivo changes:

  • removed debug code that was causing a crash in certain hosts
  • streamlined OSC services
  • add master_tune program parameter, accessible via program text
  • fixed t3d input in unison mode

Kaivo-only changes:

  • fixed a filter bug that could lead to runaway noise
  • improve interpolation filters in Body

The master_tune parameter addresses the need of some players to move the reference pitch of A to some value other than 440 Hz. This parameter is saved with each patch. To edit it, first select "copy to clipboard" to get the patch as text then paste into a text editor. Change the value after "master_tune", and then paste the text back into the plugin using "paste from clipboard." I'll be adding a UI for this feature in the future but for now, this works and lets you tune Aalto to your old piano or whatever.

The interpolation filter change to Kaivo should not be too obvious, but may be noticeable as a reduced harshness when sending bright tones to the body.

Can you give me a little more information? Your operating system? At what step did things go wrong?

OK, that's a pain, but I'm glad you went through all that including removing the audio units cache because that's what I would have suggested next.

The only compatibility-related change to Kaivo 1.9.2 was the removal of 32-bit support. Since you're running Logic 10 this shouldn't be an issue for you.

When you have time, please open a terminal, type the command auval -v aumu Kaiv MLbs and send me the output. You can email it to me at support@madronalabs.com . AU validation passes here, which I test before each release, and just tested again now to make sure. The output of auval should tell me what's going on on your computer.

Sorry you're having trouble. Can you tell me what version of MacOS and Logic Pro you are running?

by Jason Caffrey
photo: Connor Bell

“I just mucked around until the machines made a sound.”

Karl Fousek laughs gently as he recalls his first forays into electronic music. Before he was drawn into the world of hardware synthesizers, the Vancouver-based composer and musician experimented with Madrona Labs software.

Multi-faceted VST beasts were too much for him to get his head around in those early days, while more straightforward soft-synths just weren’t “modular enough” to satisfy his appetite for manipulating tone and timbre.

“I couldn't get into the sound enough, so I needed the patch cables.”

Aalto hit the spot.

Fousek was impressed that Randy Jones’ plugin didn’t simply try to emulate venerated vintage West Coast instruments such as the Buchla Easel, but instead took the “synthesis ideals” the hardware embodied, and built on that heritage to forge a new instrument with its own distinct personality.

And he recalls time spent with Aalto as hours of happy exploration and learning.

“I really liked it. It taught me that with any piece of modular kit I could get my hands on, I could approach certain sounds or ideas that were baked into historical instruments. That was a huge lesson.”

Generating spontaneity

Fast forward to the current day, and Fousek is on a very different part of the learning curve. Broadly speaking, he has two primary creative concerns: playing live is central to his music, and he devotes much of his energy to making the electronics—in this case a Eurorack modular setup—work in that setting. Improvisation is a big part of Fousek’s performances, and he is constantly trying “to find a way to make electronics spontaneous, and playable, without losing what’s interesting about those kinds of instruments”.

And while he searches for ways to make his synthesizers perform “more like conventional instruments”, he also devotes attention to the other key aspect of his work: building generative systems that “produce things on their own without much intervention”.

These two strands might appear contradictory. On the one hand, building and refining a playable, responsive setup that can cope with the demands of live improvisation; while on the other, creating systems designed to execute predetermined processes with a considerable degree of autonomy.

But to Fousek, they are simply two sides of the same coin: complementary pathways to navigate in “pursuit of a similar goal.”

Generative composition is something Fousek is, by his own admission, “endlessly fascinated by.” Lacking experience of playing a conventional instrument, he gravitated towards electronic music because it “didn’t require the physical dexterity” demanded by, for example, a violin or a trumpet.

But there was another appeal too: the piano roll—that staple of computer sequencing—held a special allure.

Fousek “didn’t come from a formal trained compositional background,” and discovering music software that laid everything out in front of him “as if it was notated,” was a seminal moment. Indeed, finding “a generative system that didn’t have anything to do with those big Western traditions” was irresistible.

Fousek was hooked.

He also found huge appeal in random patterns. They “made a lot of sense” at the beginning of his musical journey, because a machine-generated sequence that was not strictly predictable gave him a platform to build on.

And while Fousek is now steering his work away from random elements, spontaneity is something that he still values highly in his music.

So how much of his work is composed, and how much is improvised?

“It’s really blurred,” Fousek says, explaining that his different album releases are composed or improvised to varying degrees.

His 2019 album, In The Forest—the soundtrack to a film of the same name by visual artist David Hartt—was, Fousek suggests, “probably the most composed. It had to meet certain requirements and some of the music was edited to visual cues.”

“Because I was working with another artist it had to match the overall project. That said, when I was working on it, there were really really long takes, like 20 minutes of just the machine doing certain processes. A lot of the composition was just going back and editing and juxtaposing some things.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Fousek’s 2017 album, Two Pieces for a Temporary Connection, is “almost all a huge live take.”

“Part of the B-side came straight out of the recording of a show,” he recalls. “The A-side was me rehearsing, doing 20-minute concert-length takes. And then just doing small edits afterwards to make it feel like a piece. It's a really raw, live thing.”

”Almost conducting”

Before taking to the stage for what could be a “loose improvised situation”, Fousek must first prepare his hardware.

That means planning his system setup in advance, deciding how much autonomy his synths will exercise—and how much he will need to intervene in what his machines are doing on their own. Increasingly, Fousek thinks of these preliminary decisions as compositional choices. Software remains an important studio tool, but he hasn’t been able to get comfortable with it on stage.

“The processes I run on a computer seem not to suit the immediacy of being on stage,” he says, and besides, “it’s not very hands-on.”

“I'll often build software patches that do really extended delays and other things that will capture bits of performance and extend them. And for me that works really well when you’re recording. But I find that stuff less easy to control in a live situation.”

The competing demands of improvisation and composed elements require careful calibration ahead of a performance. Which processes will the hardware handle itself? And how can Fousek assume control of any given aspect if need be?

The aim, he says, is to steer the performance, rather than take control of every detail.

Decisions such as the pitch of the next note, or the speed of a certain clock might be set up so that the synthesizer makes those decisions on its own. A feedback loop might, for example, then prompt the hardware to pick a new clock speed every eighth step in a sequence, “so the clock kind of becomes elastic”.

Fousek might restrict the hardware’s pitch range, or program an envelope so that the longer a note is sustained, the “more gnarly” it becomes. In this way he can keep the music flowing without having to command too many knobs and sliders.

“What you're doing when you're playing is you're almost conducting,” he muses. “You're guiding an overall process instead of actively being involved with every little micro part of the sound.”

The burden of pre-planning is lessened when Fousek plays live alongside other musicians, as he did for the 2018 album, Residual Time, which he recorded live in Montreal with saxophonist Yves Charuest and double-bassist Nicolas Caloia.

“I'm responsible for less sound and there's less responsibility for me to make all the transitions.

It’s a situation where Fousek can think of himself as an individual voice, and use a smaller setup for what is more responsive music-making. In a solo performance he is more inclined to let a process “play out for a while.” But in a group improvisation changes “might come faster – there’s a lot of snap decisions”.

“Those guys are also incredible musicians,” Fousek laughs, “so I don't have to worry about them. If I make a really weird sound, they'll figure something out.”

Buying and selling

With seemingly endless options offering limitless possibilities, modular hardware has gained a reputation for being an addictive pursuit. While newcomers might ask themselves where to start, for seasoned synthesists such as Fousek, the bigger problem can be where to stop.

“I have in the past definitely spent too much time online looking at gear and talking about gear, so I'm trying to wean myself off. But I'm not nearly as bad as some people.”

For Fousek, the need to develop muscle memory ultimately trumps the temptation to keep adding or changing modules.

“I don't think I could get any work done,” he insists, and “when you start playing a synth like an instrument, at some point if you're improvising, you need to remember where a certain knob is.

“I mostly work with a small system. You can't change up the rack too much.”

That doesn’t mean that his setup doesn’t evolve. Fousek tends to tailor his synths to a certain project or a piece he has in mind. He’ll play that for a couple of years before making a record, and then he’ll want to move on.

From there, it’s a matter of selling his current modules and spending the cash on new hardware.

It’s a process he says is “getting a little frustrating”, so he’s working more with computers to avoid that.

“I'm trying to build my own synths, to move over some of the processes I've been doing with hardware to computer systems, to just extend them a little bit. But that's a really long-term project.”

Meanwhile Fousek says that while he has no new material ready to be released immediately, he has plenty to keep him occupied.

“I finished an album that was off the tour I did last summer, but that's been sitting on the shelf. I'm not totally pleased with it, so I have to go back to that.”

And, Fousek says, there is “loads and loads of archival work” that he is slowly editing—most of it recorded on borrowed vintage gear.

Musical megalomaniac

Whichever tools Fousek chooses—hardware, software, or a combination of both—it is clear that he will be led by tone and timbre.

“I really like sound, I'm so inside of it,” he enthuses. “That was one of the reasons to get into modular synths - to be inside the sound in a really specific way. I can get it exactly the way I want to be. [...] Before having access to that kind of equipment, I remember being really frustrated.

“With off-the-shelf synthesizers, other people were making decisions about what the sound is. I want to go in and start with just the sine wave or something, and then add on parts, so it's only what I want.

“I don’t know if that sounds megalomaniac?”

Despite this obsession with building bespoke sounds from their most elemental raw materials, Fousek’s music can also nod strongly towards the rhythmic heritage of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich or Terry Riley.

“I do consciously make an effort to think about rhythm and deal with it. I'm interested in sound, and the texture of it, but so much of the music I grew up with is, is rhythmic first in a lot of ways, or doing interesting things with rhythm alongside timbre. I think I have a weird impulse to not want to make purely ambient music, and to not want to make functional dance music—which is mostly I think where people would go to when they think about rhythm.

“I don’t know why. That's just the music I want to make.”

Thanks for the clear report. I'll take a look ASAP.

Thanks for the kind words.

I can't think of any presets offhand that use the repeat dial. The value on it is the frequency in Hz. Turn it up to 1.0 and you should see the output light start blinking. You can set the attack and release to values near 0.5 to get a nice ramp up/down. And the envelope diagram will show you what's going on with the sideways bracket at the bottom showing the repeat duration.

You could set the seq rate to 0. Depending on what you are doing getting it to resync when it starts up may be an issue, but if you control it with say MIDI automation you should be able to put the startup control change anywhere near the right time, and the clock should sync back to the host clock.

You may or may not have noticed: ENV2 in Aalto has a repeat dial that makes it into another LFO.

Oh sorry re: attenuverter! They're the little dials on patcher outputs. Attenuator + inverter. I could have sworn this was in the manual. Some people started calling hardware modular knobs this originally.

Thanks for the careful report, I will investigate.

Have you tried Bitwig as a host? Its modulators make it easy to effectively have an LFO for every parameter you can modulate. I've tested it with Aalto and they work well together. Most any host could be used to set up a bunch of LFOs, but having a good interface as Bitwig does helps a lot.

Anything you can send an LFO to in Aalto you do via the attenuverters—and these give you the ability to invert the LFO and modulate the destination up or down.

The vox technique Christian wrote about also works in Aalto.

Thanks for the suggestion!

I agree an on/off switch is needed somewhere but yes, most hosts have them. Not a dumb idea! Glad you're enjoying Kaivo.