[track art]

Flight of the Condor


2019/03/31 MSK 007 MSK 008 MSK 009 MSK 010 MSK 011 MSK 012 D-05 Pocket Miku
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Pulling out all the stops, so to speak. This ambient track uses most of the synth hardware I currently own, including all the North Coast Synthesis modules in my online store, plus a Roland D-05 and a Gakken NSX-39 "Pocket Miku." Recorded more or less "live": real time, one take, with hand adjustment of the synthesizers while playing a pre-composed MIDI sequence.

The lead is a pulse wave with a bit of chorus added by a Doepfer A-188-1 bucket brigade module; pulse width modulation on the oscillator and clock frequency modulation on the bucket brigade. Then that goes through a Coiler VCF, which provides most of the timbre.

The bass is a sawtooth though a Leapfrog VCF and then the germanium channel of an MSK 002 Asuka/Shinji distortion module (not available commercially, but that link goes to the plans on my SDIY page). It's the distortion that really makes this sound. The envelope from a Transistor ADSR gets inverted by a VC Octave Switch to control frequency modulation of the filter, while the uninverted envelope drives the VCA before the distortion unit - which has the effect of controlling the amount of distortion, since the distortion amplifier is being driven into clipping at the settings I'm using.

Several different modulation points for both voices are all controlled by a single Fixed Sine Bank; the eight outputs make it a kind of control centre for a large patch like this one. Then the lead and bass voices are mixed down with a Transistor Mixer to add just a little bit more colour before the output goes into a Mutable Clouds (used just as a reverb, much to the disappointment of its manufacturer...) and being sent off to the stereo mixer to combine with the two digital MIDI synths, which generate the pads. Much as I like analog electronics, I'm also a big fan of pad sounds, and honestly, digital is the right way to do those.

The MIDI sequence was derived by algorithmic composition, and I'll probably write a Web log entry about it eventually. The basic theme comes from the 1913 Peruvian zarzuela, or musical play, El Condor Pasa, by Daniel Alomía Robles (1871-1942); versions of this melody have been recorded by hundreds of musicians, and it is sometimes regarded as a second national anthem of Peru. One of the best known versions in the English-speaking world was by Simon and Garfunkel. My algorithmic version repeats phrases from the original in different keys and scales, sometimes pitch-inverted, in a way that's supposed to evoke a dreamy meditative state. It also generates a chord progression and bass line to go with the melody and the scales it chooses.

The code that generates the sequence is about a thousand lines of ECLiPSe-CLP (basically Prolog) that implements the intersection of several Turing machines (in the original meaning of that term, not the Eurorack module) and finds a sequence they all accept, by backtracking over possible solutions. When it works it finds a solution in a few seconds, but it tends to get stuck in local minima, so I typically need about ten or twenty restarts to get it to run to completion.

If after listening to it a few more times I decide this piece works as well as I'm hoping, then I may end up doing an even longer version (like a few hours); but for that I'll probably need to add several more themes and variations.

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