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.



Catching up with Chronos

It’s been a while… managed to shift some piles of work into the “Out” tray just in time for…

NIME + Unconference

The New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference is on in Brisbane this year.

Some very exciting stuff to see / hear / talk about and I’ve been tasked with organising the Unconference at The Edge.  Amongst the guests we are blessed with DJ Sniff and the Sonic Manipulator demonstrating their approaches to performance and composition.

The Sonic Manipulator will also be performing at the showcase gig in the evening with fab local innovators, Feet Teeth, Hetleveiker and LopezDonado.


Noise Wall

Joe Musgrove, Adam Sussman and I provide audiovisual support to the closing night party of Ali Bezer’s Noise Wall.  Was pretty chaotic and we ended up losing the audience war to a nearby coast music band (think somewhere between RHCP and Led Zeppelin) but overall a fun night and some unique sounds.  Here is an excerpt.

Reaktor 6

In my period of catching up I’ve been getting back to Reaktor 6, particularly messing with the Blocks now that the user library is presenting some very mature options.  Michael Hetrick’s Euro Reakt Blocks are essential as is the Instrument Browser for drag / drop time saving.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 4.40.12 pm

One thing I have found kinda irritating is the Push knobs not being available for Blocks.  Despite PrEditor making them available for most ensembles the controls aren’t always consistently added which makes sense when you consider these are discrete modules to be connected as you wish in a more temporary fashion.

The best solution i’ve found is to add a M4L CC sender patch like ControlChange8 from Robert Henke and use Reaktor’s MIDI learn.  Saves the messing around for making crazy sounds.


Last bit of news – a surprise firmware update for the RC505 which has been crying quietly in my cupboard for the last few months.  The key changes for me are the ability to have up to three simultaneous effects on both in and out though I’d like it more if there was a way to route certain tracks through certain effects.  There are also a bunch of additional CCs to allow external assignment (which makes the guitar players happy) and a useful ALL CLEAR function.

Most disappointing addition has to be the monitoring function.  The phone jack used to just output headphone sounds – now you can choose which track to hear but sadly it is post-gain for each looper which makes it kinda useless for monitoring in my opinion.  Would be nice to have the phones monitor the input or pre on individual tracks before making them live.  Oh well – a missed opportunity. Overall there’s enough goodness to get it out again though – I bashed out a track with it in celebration of Roland’s surprise continuing support of a device I’d assumed they’d forgotten about.


Customising Aira

This track is a demo of the ability to customise the Aira digital modules – in this case a Scooper.  Have a listen.

Here is the full patch detail:

Short delay patch.
Short delay patch.

A simple single drum hit is running into that.  The short delay modules with modulate feedback are filling out the sound quite nicely which then flows out to a Demora with a higher delay time (around 6 seconds).  Later in the track I add external LFO input the Pitch, Filter and Delay lengths.

Due to the inaccessible position of the USB within a rack I’ve been forced to use the iPad app which communicates via audio data through a front patch point.  Rather like the idea of Commodore 64 data cassettes – and seemingly just as reliable.  It’s taken me some time to get this working as every time I tried to change the patch it would stop working requiring a factory reset. I thought there might be something wrong with the module and was scratching my head at the absence of similar reports online.

It took an extended look at the sparse instructions to work it out.

Remote-in patching
Remote-in patching

Doesn’t that look like a stereo jack pictured?

I’d been using a regular mono patch cable and nowhere had I seen it mentioned yet changing to stereo cable and suddenly it works.

I’m very surprised to have not read about this before now.


February Preparations

This is the second track i’ve contributed to the Weekly Beats site and I’m not feeling inspired to continue.  One of the major problems is that I’m finding it difficult to listen to the other contributions.  It doesn’t work at all in Chrome and seems to be sporadic on Firefox.  I’m also much more an album than singles person and I’ve neither the motivation to care about completing one track per week nor quite the time to fuss over them.

Working towards something i’m actually interested in working towards and having some motivation is important so i’ve decided to focus instead on the RPM challenge coming this February.  I finished one challenge but have never found the time to complete any more.  February is often a shitty month with preparations for return to academia taxing my time.  This year i’m determined to manage this transition by preparing ahead and setting some rules, goals and boundaries.

Working title:

  • Black Mercury aka Blood of the Slaves continues to be the leading holistic influence.




  • Ableton Live 9.6 and Push 2 with an emphasis on the sampling and sequencing functionality.  No Loopstation.
  • Focus on hardware over software for synth sources.  Software effects are fine.
  • Arrangements will include manipulated Digital Concréte sourced from publicly available online videos – streamed via Loopback – a fantastic new app the instantiates other apps as audio sources – meaning I can sample from “Chrome” 🙂
  • Construct and record arrangement in Ableton Live.  Attempt to edit tracks in Arrangement view but can also output to mix in Tracktion if required.
  • Pre-Master in Audition – though this pieces will likely be further refined for an official release.
  • Grounded theory approach to composition defined by workflow and refined by mixing.
  • Oblique Strategies cards for decision making where necessary.



  • Collect and evaluate current sketches for influence, sample sources
  • Start sketchbook / notebook / diary for ideas
  • Learn how to incorporate new modules in Aira Module Customizer.
  • Start patching hardware and saving interesting sketches for development
  • Play computer games as will not have time in February.
  • Collate and backup academic material.


  • 35-40mins of material that bridges the gap between Digital Concréte and Avant Goth electronica

Inspirations that I could never live up to:

  • Coil
  • Amon Tobin
  • Rashad Becker
  • Pimmon

Old sound New and various recommendations


I have a performance coming up – this is my plan:

signal flow

Not sure whether I will be using the KP3 KaossPad just as an alternate sampler or as a parallel effect at this point of time.  With a few base tracks and rhythms on the SP404 and some vague chord progression templates there is enough to make an fun semi-improvised racket.


The rediscovery of my GT3 multi-fx in a cupboard is a definate boon in the setup.  And i’ve discovered there is some helpful editor software for it now.

stompbox editor

All the parts of my setup have an editor except for the mixer.  The Venom one has even been update which is surprising after it was dumped by Avid.  Seems opinion of the Venom has changed somewhat since it’s price has been slashed and it’s having a mini-renaissance.

So i’ve been rather busy teaching 2nd year music technology students about synthesis.  The virtual modular fetish I went through is mostly very useful particularly when I’m reiterating the importance of understanding signal flow.  I’m finding Karma FX as the most useful for demonstrative purpose – though I still wish the amazing Vaz Modular was native to OSX.  Running it in emulators is something of a trapeze act.  We’re using Reaktor in class and I’m seeing the limitations – well – limitations maybe isn’t the word.  It’s like 3 people who refused to speak with one another threw the modules together.  There are lots of semi-repeated features, devices with a similar name that do something slightly different, modules that don’t work with other modules and some that don’t seem to work at all.  The documentation on these is sporadically useful and the students have complained bitterly.  Still I think if they’ve managed to see the seedy underbelly of synth production, even if it is at a visual programming level, they’ve maybe learnt something they wouldn’t have learnt using Massive presets.

In the time since I last wrote I’ve uncovered two old but very awesome plugins:


N20 from PSP Audioware

I’ve been looking for a multi-effect plugin that didn’t rely on overly granular effects and N20 seems to be the one.  It operates on a simple principle – 4 modulation operators connect to 4 effects.  Various cross-modulation can be programmed and is reminiscent of FM synthesis – easy to get results but very deep.  The effects all sound solid without the thin hi-frequency shrieking of many FSU effects.


Toxic Biohazard from Image Line

Speaking of FM synthesis, I was looking for a synth that could use the Galbanum single-cycle waveforms (that i’ve mainly used in Metasynth) and I found this awesome Vector / FM hybrid.  6 Operators – each can load in custom waveforms!!!  Then you modulate them in the centre matrix.  It’s the simplest FM synth i’ve ever come across.  I have to say i’ve never had much luck with FM8 which I hear is still the pinnacle of computer based FM synthesis.  It’s refreshing to find a synth that encourages experimentation in the way it is designed.  The following soundcloud examples were made in the process of learning to use it – both very simple effects to achieve.

On his blog, Ross Healy mentioned the Composing with Process podcast series.  This is a great overview of algorithmic music techniques and practitioners.   It also makes a great companion to reading Micro Bionic – a fantastic book covering experimental electronic noise from Throbbing Gristle, via Coil to all the great computer based noise from the late 90s / early 00s.

So this post has gone long enough – I have another post on the way about building instruments / software / hardware – stay tuned.


So after playing a little more with Toxic Biohazard i’ve discovered the Audio Unit version is VERY flaky w/regard to loading presets on Mountain Lion (it  frequently locks up the entire DAW requiring a FORCE QUIT).  VST version seems to be OK.  I’ve yet to ascertain if the same problem is existent in Snow Leopard.  An alternative is the more powerful / slightly less easy to program Octopus from Linplug.  I’m finding it an absolute joy for sound design, better in almost* every way from Toxic and FM8 with loads of modulation options, yet relatively easy setup and manipulation.  The *caveat is that it is ridiculously limited with regards to MIDI / OSC controllability.  I’ve yet to see if any other parameters get published in DAEs like Usine or Max/MSP but the major failing in my opinion is the inability to manually control the volume and modulation amplitude of each operator without using a mouse.  The fact you can draw the waveform for each op makes up for this though however it will never be a live synth while these limitations stick. Toxic is much more configurable for use with an external controller and the VST version could very well be a live workhorse.

The Included Middle debuts

This week Stacey and I debut something we’ve been cooking up for a little while.  Aside from creating Griffin (pictured with us to the left) we have been looking for a way to collaborate artistically and feel we may have hit on a somewhat novel approach.

Regular visitors to this site may recall this post where I called into question my own “album release” mentality as being totally at odds with prevailing trends.  Well dear readers we have seen some great artistic challenges to this notion and have been inspired to produce something manageable that will satisfy our urges and hopefully entertain some of you out there.

The Included Middle is a tumblr blog for sound/image/text we create.  Each fortnight, or thereabouts, I will create some audio, Stacey will write some text and one or both of us will provide an image.  There is no set topic each week but a title will be shared across the elements.  While they might loosely inform one another, there is no denotative reading required. No element dominates, it is a negotiated experience where the audience is free to construct meaning.
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AV Summer Fun

I’ve always been into deep immersion and I have to say, lecturing and tutoring is a major distraction; splitting my life into such quadrants means I pay little attention to anything. I’m an obsessive and need unrestricted time to immerse. Here comes summer, just in the nick of time!  Brisbane summer humidity makes me feel like broccoli in a steamer, therefore the pull towards research in the air-conditioned office and getting out and away from home is so much stronger.


Of major interest is the Re:live 09 conference which I am attending mainly as it features some key theorists mentioned in my Lit.Review / ACMC Paper. It also looks like the academic equivalent of a music festival with a smorgasbord of ideas, related in various tangents, to where my focus is.
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