Cirklon, TB-3, & System Exclusive

The Cirklon has arrived. And as exciting as it is to receive something you’ve waited four years for, the feeling is a bit tempered, because even though the feature was announced as “coming” in 2012,  sysex in the Cirklon is still not implemented.; it supports only pass-through of sysex and backup/restore functions for the sequencer. This is quite a bummer, as I had been controlling the TB-3 by recording the patch dump strings from TB-3 and then playing them back to reload the parameters no matter which patch it is on. That won’t be possible if and until that feature is implemented, at least directly though the Cirklon. That means I have to explore workarounds, which fall into roughly two camps: 1) hardware & 2) computer-based. At the basic level, the TB-3 will still need to receive exclusive data at the time the song is loaded, either over DIN or USB midi, and that midi will have to pass through the Cirklon.  Let’s go through the hardware options first.

Sending System Exclusive over Hardware

Some other machine will need to be able to send sysex through one of the Cirklon’s ports. I have a Knobby and a BCR2000 that can  send sysex, but they each have problems. I can send 8 of the 11 parts at once, meaning i could load the parts with just 2 or three clicks, but copying and pasting those values into the editor is a time consuming and inefficient way to do that. The BCR2000 can send 125 bytes at a time in a single button press but the TB3 needs 422 bytes to completely encode a patch’s properties. It would be a bit easier but would involve not only coding them in and remembering to call them manually every time but also hauling a not-small piece of gear along just for the purpose of changing patches.

The other option just involves saving the finished patches to slots in the user section of the TB3 and just manually changing them. This would be the easiest live solution (if the MPC was excluded) but since the Cirklon can’t record sysex,  I would still need to record the patch data some other way. In this scenario, the MPC could be used solely as a way to send sysex patches to the TB-3 in a studio setting, with one cable going into it and who merges that info with a one-time sysex call, while for live i would just number the patches according to the set, save the patches to the user bank of the TB-3, and just recall them manually.

Sending System Exclusive over Software

I don’t own any USB midi controllers that send exclusive, and the list of cross-platform DAWs that support sysex is short if non-existent. As far as I can tell, Sonar, FL Studio, Cubase , Logic, and perhaps the latest version of Ableton support sending sysex. But both platforms have a software that can send sysex, like MIDI-OX for windows and Sysex Librarian for mac, but the problem is the automating of those  calls, which would only be possible with a DAW that was playing in time with the project. This presents its own set of problems, and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.

Conclusion

Going through this whole thought exercise though, has allowed me to see a way forward with the Cirklon, converting all the old tracks to the Cirklon, except for the TB-3 patch data and the samples that will need to be moved to the Blackbox. and triggered from there, so a transition away from MPC is possible., if long and painful and still includes the MPC for patch recording and playback purposes. Still, it’s always nice to see a pathway forward. The conversion from MPC to Cirklon will not be easy and will take time, but a new future awaits…a Cirklon future.

Future Retro FR-512 MIDI fix

I bought this touch capacitance keyboard, a keyboard similar in style to some on the Buchla systems, in 2017, and I loved it, but immediately ran into problems, which had me frustrated and looking for answers. The main thrust was that some midi devices were not picking up the output from the midi output. It seemed as though if I plugged it directly into a synth, everything was fine, but if I plugged it into my MPC or my midi box, no messages would be picked up. This inconsistency, and the fact that Jared at Future Retro didn’t know what the solution was back in 2017, caused me to have to work around the issue, by routing everything first through my BCR2000, which picked up the signals. This was a pain in my ass for a number of reasons, with the extra cabling and delay causing annoyance and headaches.

So a few weeks ago, I had mentioned this issue to someone and they suggested I contact the manufacturer again, and when I did, there was an answer to the problem. According to Future Retro, ”

 “[T]he MIDI buffer IC in the 512 does not provide enough current drive to control all MIDI devices out there in the world.”

So it was underpowered, but worked well enough so that some things didn’t show the issue during the testing phase. Further, he writes that,

“This IC can be replaced with a different part which should resolve the issue.”

Yes! And,  the solution is that,

“You need to replace part U6 (type MC14584BDG) on the jack PCB with a part type CD74AC04M96E4.”

U6 (FR-512 jack PCB)
The U6 location IC

I ordered the part online for a few cents and then had a local tech do the replacement, as it is very tiny and this is a very expensive instrument. And what do you know, it’s being picked up by the MPC now. It’s a shame that the MPC might soon get retired, but it’s great to know that I shouldn’t have this problem in the future with any other devices. Now that this is seemingly fixed, I’ve made the setup much more compact and eliminated a lot of overhead, and now won’t hesitate at all to use many of the arp, sequence, and chord features of this controller. And it should eliminate other issues. like the delayed values being transmitted after having clock go through two devices to get to it and notes and other midi data having to go though two devices to get back to the sequencer.

changes are coming

A significant change is on the way…the Sequentix Cirklon, what in the electronic music world is essentially Unobtanium. I signed on to the mailing list in July of 2017, and now, on February 1st, 2021, the unit is being shipped. It is not even the same sequencer I signed up for back then, as they have updated it to what they’re calling a Cirklon 2, which adds USB host support and a color touch screen, but is otherwise the same instrument as the first Cirklon. It appears that this means that the MPC2500 may not have a very long future ahead of it. I already bought a new sampler to replace that part of it. The only unknown is if the Cirklon can send some basic sysex or not, as my TB-3 depends on that to load patches on the fly.

I have used an MPC since the very beginning, first the MPC2000XL and since around 2017 the MPC2500. It has four midi outputs, and since I have shrunk my setup,  it has worked great since I use only three synths and an audio interface. Now that the MPC might be displaced, that turns into two devices, but since the Cirklon has 5 separate ins and outs, it works out great. The Sensel Morph has an interface much like the pads on the MPC, and if they work as expected, every single  function of the MPC can be replaced. And with 5 inputs as well, I should be able to record the midi coming from any of my external devices that send information out on 5-pin DIN plugs, like the FR-512, BCR2000, or the outputs from the TB-3.

It will take some time to move everything over to the Cirklon, if in fact it will send basic sysex messages.  (I know it doesn’t support parameter changes via sysex or instrument-level sysex definitions, but maybe I can just record the track data into a regular CK pattern. Fingers crossed.) It does come equipped with what looks like a basic SMF (.mid file) conversion to CK pattern type.  The instruments will have to be assigned, and the songs reassembled, but it appears to be possible. If not, I can always play the tracks into the Cirklon from the sequencer and press record, presumably.

It represents a few things for me. One, it is a change from the platform I’ve always used, the MPC-style, to a new sequencing paradigm. The MPC hardware is getting old and has to be maintained with new parts regularly. The sampling capability is very old and I waited until I found a sampler that was a worthy successor. And, the case for the MPC now perfectly fits the Virus and Cirklon. That’s just a case, a handheld 2U rack, and a backpack with the RYTM, TB-3, and BlackBox, and cables. A very light load with a maximum of power and control with . I won’t even need a taxi anymore. Now ready to blast off into the future.