New spaces

It’s been a while!

We’ve moved to a new location which means I have a new space.  I like this one much better than the previous.  Acoustically it is likely not as reliable but it’s certainly more comfortable and inspiring.

I have been busy with moving, setting up and teaching sound design, acoustics and academic research.  My partner has recently acquired a full-time job so my teaching hours will be replaced with parental responsibilities very soon.

Aside from some sessions with Joe and Paul i’ve been mostly setting up a comfortable space.  We have some material i’m in the process of polishing for a release some time in the next couple of months.  It will be extensions on material we debuted at Oscillo Scape VI as the Musgrove Barrett Hetleveiker Trio.   Here is a raw mix of one section.

Flipped some gear, acquired some new stuff.

The Creative Wing

System-1m and Aira stuff is gone as I was struggling with the tendency to sound like every other synth-wave artist in love with John Carpenter.

Have been using the V-Synth a lot more since mid-year, sampling stuff onto it and making weird layers of sound.  For such a big expensive synth it makes really shitty sounding noise but I’m loving the roughness.  I’ve mounted it with the Push and PadKontrol (for the Axoloti) onto a drafting board I found while moving which gives it a useful angle.

Volca FM came and went, replaced by the Yamaha Reface DX.  Now the price is more reasonable, it’s an absolute gem for droney pads and relatively easy to program.  The Volca was too fiddly for my frog fingers and the 3 note maximum is more suited to mono sequences and basses that i’m less into using.

Nord Modular and Axoloti are still very much part of the setup.  Also acquired a Nord Drum as I am trying to imbue my tracks with unique rhythmic qualities that don’t rely on samples so much.  It cuts through very nicely.

The Mixing Wing

The Nektar Panorama P1 is a control surface which i’m using with Reaper (and maybe Logic).  Makes the process of mixing more pleasurable though it takes a little while to get used to the functionality.  Aside from mixing and transport control I can work at the channel level controlling EQ and other Inserts, apply automation and control instrument parameters if need be.  A very handy addition and very flexible.




Forming Thoughts

After a month of back and forth I’ve finally got the K-Mix working.  Kudos to Evan from K.M.I. for his technical support.  Go buy his awesome Max For Live device.

So now the box looks like this:

Axoloti driven synth box

I’m still using the Macbook to run the Axoloti editor for now but hoping I won’t need it during gigs.
The Pad Kontrol is a great cheap Gumtree pickup that is perfect as a controller for the Axoloti as I can:

  • run it directly from the Axoloti USB port – no additional power supply or MIDI leads necessary;
  • edit MIDI CC and Note values on the fly for encoders and pads;
  • setup an X/Y controller for unique parameter morphing (X/Y also has an interesting roll function);
  • send program change values which curiously not many new MIDI controllers do (K-Mix included).

The fact that it sends PGM values means I can ditch the Macbook (or use it for visuals) once I work out a reliable way of creating patch-banks in the Axoloti (it’s there – just not 100% trustworthy yet).

At the moment the routing goes like this:

Inputs to K-Mix

  • 1 = SM58
  • 2 = System-1m
  • 3/4 = Nord Modular
  • 5/6 = Axoloti
  • 7/8 = Aira FX

Outputs from K-Mix

  • 1/2 = Main Outs to Desk
  • 3/4 = to Aira FX
  • 5/6 = to Nord Modular
  • 7/8 = to Axoloti

So plenty of scope for interesting routing – and then there is the modulation routing with the Quad LFO and Sys-1m.

My current direction is towards a series of improvisations with the Axoloti environment as a reloadable patching frame-work sending MIDI to the other synths.  These will be things I can setup and perform – producing multiple versions from the same template.

The first of these improvisations is at the start of this post.

Below is an improvisation with Joe using the setup (sans the K-Mix).

One Last Gasp is out just in time for W.W.III (v5.15beta)

On hearing that Trumpy Mc Trump-face shot his load (of rockets) at a barren Syrian airfield I couldn’t help but feel that the world deserved another hour of comforting experimental music… so here it is… pay what you feel.

Using up all my CloudBounce credits I plopped this algorithmic monster out.  I figured I’d rather rely on robots to master the sounds herein for reasons perhaps obvious when you listen to it.  Analog warmth was certainly not a criteria.  I’m moving away from a “hands-on” approach to one more akin to tweaking the machine and the end result is some very odd moments that at times sound like contact-mic or field recordings, yet all is synthesised.

Tracks were generated real time and subsequently processed with Melodyne and sundry granular manipulators.  People expecting my usual chilled ambient drones may find some of it baffling but I haven’t gone full Hecker.  Learn to Fight in particular sound like robot versions of Joel Stern and I making free improvisational outdoor skronk.

I’m pretty happy with it: it’s a kind of angsty fist shake at a world I spend less and less time with given my responsibilities caring for Griffin.  My dad would have been 89 today.  I don’t imagine he’d like this much but I’m pretty sure he’d prefer it to watching shit go downhill as fast and far as it has since he’s been gone.

Hopefully someone will find this album enjoyable or therapeutic as I do.

It’s coming to the usual online streamers and sales places soon.


Axoloti Love

The latest addition to my black box of synthesis is a small but powerful wonder.

Axoloti Core
Axoloti Core

It arrived on my birthday after taking only 5 days to travel from Belgium to Australia.   I’ve had packages from Melbourne take longer.

The Axoloti Core is the brainchild of Johannes Taelman.  It’s a PCB DSP with AUDIO I/O, USB and MIDI Ports, a power barrel and an SD card slot.  It connects via microUSB to a Java based editor program on Mac, Win and Linux to allow for the construction of complex processing chains.

The initial kick-starter pitch was for a modern virtual modular inspired by the Clavia Nord Modular series with modern compatibility and nods towards DIY and Open Source.   The end result is a cross between an Arduino board and Pure Data (which the editor strongly resembles).


Scripted Midi Drama factory patch
Scripted Midi Drama factory patch

As with all virtual modular environments there is a learning curve and you have to really want to work in a patch based environment.  Similar to Reaktor there are a lot of lower level elements required to patch things together and like Max and PD, your time will be spent browsing the community forums a lot.  While i’d suggest this board isn’t ideal for newbies, many of the modules come with PD like help patches accessible through the rt/clk context menu.  There is also this beginners guide by Jan Vantomme; worth a look even for the well-versed synthesist as it elaborates on the unique syntax with some straightforward examples.  The Shbobo Shnth could do with something similar.

The pay off to this learning curve is the ability to generate all kinds of unique patches combining synthesis techniques with sampling, wavetable and granular manipulation, algorithmic composition and MIDI processing.  It seems to be the broadest system i’ve come across attached to moveable hardware with 700 factory modules and modules can be coded which is perhaps why there are an additional 1300+ community modules.

Module code
Module code

As with the Arduino, code is uploaded to the board which can then be disconnected, rebooted and transported anywhere.  As the Axoloti Core is focused on DSP it already has enough elements for it to function as a synth, audio or MIDI processor without the need to solder additional elements though it also features numerous points to allow for the addition of encoders, switches, LEDs.

Over the last four years i’ve been on the look out for a Nord Modular G2 Engine to use as a “brain” for my setup.  They show up only rarely on eBay and are always priced beyond the realm of impulse purchase.  The Axoloti is a €65 bargain in active development offering more than the G2.  I’ve integrated it into the Black Box as a central nervous system, taking USB control from a NanoKontrol for now and MIDI notes from the Novation Circuit.  This MIDI will be parsed, augmented and sent on to the System-1m and Nord Modular.  It’s already mostly working, I just need to move towards making it compelling and usable in a performance environment.

The track at the top is my first attempt at loading a sample into the table for granulation.

To conclude I must confess to betting on the wrong horse initially.  The Axoloti kickstarted around the same time as Patchblocks which i’d already bought into.  I recall the Axo developer throwing some shade at the minimal specs of the PB and his very Euro arrogance was slightly off-putting.  In hindsight he was right – the PB really utilise the ability to connect multiples together to create a functioning set of modules.  With only one PB initially I found it underpowered for what I wanted to do and I was reluctant to “collect them all” when the later ones featured a different pin connection making them incompatible with my original.

While I’ve only had it one week my experience with the Axoloti has been the opposite – i’m still pretty much gaping at the near limitless potential, struggling to work out where to actually start.  I absolutely recommend the Axoloti for anyone interested in modular DSP, electronic instrument building and alternate approaches to synthesis.

YouTube is full of different examples of its usage with the work of Matthew Tyas being particularly compelling.  Here are two examples.


Relatively small black box


Musgrove Barrett are playing at the first Small Black Box in the returning series.

This happening will eventuate at:

East Brisbane Bowls Club – 38 Lytton Rd, East Brisbane QLD 4169

4pm – 9pm (Acts start at 6pm)

$10 entry

Here is a sampling of what to expect from one of our recent rehearsals.

I’ve been reworking my setup with the introduction of a moderately sized black box.

February '17 setup

(Trying to) K.I.S.S.

"I make the best doomsday. It's true."
“I make the best doomsday. It’s true.”

Hey, we’re not dead yet!

During the usual record-breaking heat of Brisbane summer it’s not easy to be productive but i’ve managed to work towards a few things.

  1. I’ve joined the Electronic Music Philosophy FB group which is an interesting forum for stimulating ideas not stifled by an academic setting.  The convenor Andrew Lloyd runs an excellent blog and occasionally posts challenges, the most recent being to compose a piece with only one item of gear as an audio source.  I chose the Shbobo Shnth, working to make it sound like Richard Skelton in negative space.  The full results are collected on this eclectic podcast.

    Feb 12, 2017. East Brisbane Bowls Club.
    Feb 12, 2017. East Brisbane Bowls Club.
  2. Small Black Box returns on Feb 12, 2017 and Joe and I are honoured to be among the artist scheduled to perform.  For those not around at the time, SBB was an essential monthly experimental series that ran from 2001 to 2005 in various venues throughout Brisbane.  Here is one of the earlier ones…

    So I’m working on a computer-less hardware setup for this performance.  The following video demonstrates it all synced from the SQ-1. The K-Mix will allow me to disperse the sound to QUAD. It should be noted that I don’t plan to make squiggly doof-doof the entire performance – this is merely a test that it does all work.
  3. RPM challenge is on again.  As you may realise I’m typically not very good at completing this – I’ve managed to complete it once.  Balancing work, parenting and creating is never easy but it’s often far worse in February due to preparation requirements for academia.  That said a fair chunk of Black Mercury was developed during this time.  So my plan this year is to not have a plan aside from focusing on Push 2 / Ableton sampling and software synths with a low-key ambient vibe.  I just recently picked up a ROLI Block and plan to try out the MPE with compatible synths like UVI Falcon, Madrona Labs AAlto, Kaivo and Logic’s Structure.  Also plan to try sending LUMEN visuals through it but so far that isn’t working.

The weird and the sad


Very sad to hear about the death of Mark Fisher.  Having read occasional K-Punk articles as well as his books Capitalist Realism and Ghosts of My Life which most eloquently express a frustration with the political and economic aspects of modernity that encourage even less-poetic souls to recoil in horror, shrinking back into a nostalgic echo chamber.

I will read his latest with an additional ache. Finding a way to artistically manifest, discuss and express your depression doesn’t make it go away.

Here is an improvisation.  It changes nothing but I appreciate the opportunity to do this.