my Roland TB-3 FAQ

I finally went and bought a Roland Aira TB-3, for a number of reasons. First, I’ve been wanting a dedicated acid machine for quite a while since I sold my FutureRetro 777, but I wanted one updated for modern production. Another thing I absolutely had to have: patch memory. Almost none of the currently available machines have that capability, including the TB-03 and TT-303. There are some vintage machines available with patch memory but I really didn’t want to go that route. I’d heard the sound of the TB-3 and I liked it, so the choice was easy: Roland Touch Bassline TB-3.

So now to integrate it into my system, which proved more difficult than I had expected. Here are some discoveries I made that might help you.

  1. Sounds can now be stored to a 16 patch user section. Stop the sequencer (in keyboard mode), select and/or edit your sound, hold the ENV MOD button and turn the value wheel left until you pick a desired user slot. Then press the PLAY/PAUSE button to save it. Only 16 slots, but plenty for a live show. The patches can be stored on your computer so that you can create a library of as many variations as you want while 16 reside on the machine.
    1. Keep in mind the user patch section is only accessible by the front panel and are not reachable with midi alone. Once you navigate to the user section, you can send it program change to change patches. The presets, however, are accessible with bank change and program change messages.
    2. Patterns cannot be changed via midi either. Front panel only.
  2. All patterns are saved automatically unless “Lock” is turned on. To set up Lock mode, turn off any record, PTN SELECT [hold] and then turn the value knob.
  3. In a live context, i don’t really like to use a machine’s internal sequencer or arpeggiator because they almost inevitably start out of time or fail to sync properly when they’re triggered. In the TB-3’s case, the sequencer would ALWAYS be running and I would have to select patterns manually live, which is not something you want to do. So what I do is just record the arp or sequence’s midi information to a sequencer, turn off the TB-3’s internal sequencer and switch to an empty pattern, and then play the information from my main sequencer. Here’s how I did it:
    1. First, clear out a pattern (hold PTN SELECT and press the CLEAR pad). I chose pattern 1-1.
    2. Now choose the pattern you’d like to record. I chose two: 1-6, a straightforward one,  and 5-7, a really slide-y one.
    3. Make sure midi is set to AUTO and not INTERNAL or it won’t respond to external midi clock. I also turned off the midi thru functionality so only the internal stuff is sent through the TB-3’s output. These are both set by restarting while holding down the SCATTER button. Here’s what mine looks like (midi is set to channel 6). Then press PLAY/PAUSE to save and exit.
    4. Now get your sequencer ready to record. Make sure there are no feedback loops since you will have midi cables both in and out of the TB-3 (this is where turning off midi thru functionality comes in handy). Press play/record on your sequencer, which should trigger the pattern, and record it into your DAW or sequencer. Stop at the end of the phrase.
    5. Now unplug the midi out cable from the TB-3, again to prevent feedback loops. If you try to trigger the sequence from the pattern you just played, it will try to play both the notes and will start the sequence, resulting in it trying to play two notes at once. There are two ways around this:
      1. Stop the sequencer on the TB-3 after you’ve pressed play on your main sequencer. Unless play/start is sent again, it should play indefinitely,  however, if the sequence is restarted, the same issue will occur…it will try to play both the notes and sequencer.
      2. Go to the pattern we had cleared out, pattern 1-1, and press play on your external sequencer. Now, no matter if the TB-3’s sequencer is triggered or not, the sequence plays properly. Still though, I go ahead and hit the PLAY/PAUSE button to turn it off.
    6. If this works, then repeat the same process for the more complex one, pattern 5-7 in my case, to verify that it works. Make sure to pick a simple patch. The sequencer sends out exactly what it plays, so when you play back on an empty pattern, it should sound exactly the same!
    7. Now you can use the TB-3’s internal sequencer to make a sequence, play it into your sequencer, and bypass the TB-3 internal sequencer with no loss of information. Additionally, there is no need to overwrite patterns you want to keep using this method.
  4. Now that we can control the machine externally, go to any pattern, and press PTN SELECT [hold] then press SCATTER to randomize the pattern and KEYBOARD [hold] then SCATTER to randomize the accents, glides, and octaves. Save the pattern by pressing REALTIME REC or simply play the sequence into your sequencer and play it back from there. No need to back up patterns this way!
  5. To change the number of steps (1-32), hold STEP REC and turn the value knob. To change to triplet timing, hold STEP REC and toggle the TEMPO button.

Check out this document for the rest of the cheat codes. http://airainfo.org/files/tb-3_cheatsheet.pdf

How I Use the KMI QuNexus

The Keith McMillen QuNexus is a very flexible controller with great software. Even though its main function is a computer USB controller, at which it excels, it also is equally capable in MIDI 5-pin (with the expander) or CV control modes. It will even function as a MIDI-to-CV & CV-to-MIDI converter.

Channel 1 uses keyboard layer

What I’m doing now is using the QuNexus to trigger arpeggiators on separate patches in multimode on  my Waldorf Blofeld. Because of the software included, you can route any controller and any channel to any key or range of keys. In addition you can set the keys to “latch” mode so that you can trigger patches and have them stay running until you press the key again. Generally I route the bottom three or four keys to separate channels, in latch mode, and then assign my sound programs (each of which has an arpeggiator) to those keys, allowing me to trigger them like I would on a sequencer. Then, I route about an octave in the middle of the keyboard for the bassline, which I hold and change while performing. I usually leave around five keys above and below this middle section for other parts, so that I can have multiple melody or rhythm lines running, making sure that their transpose range is assigned properly so it matches the key of the main bassline. If I don’t need a full octave for a bassline, I’ll sometimes assign it to the five keys below the main section, or if I need a number of different arpeggiators or samples, I will assign each of those five keys to separate patches.

all other channels use controller layer. this one is set to latch with a controller assigned to tilt

In one of my more complex tracks, I assign the bottom three keys to a kick, snare, and hihat. With the next four keys, I assign each to a different one-shot sample which I trigger by hand when I want a drum break or want to trigger the vocal sample (to use samples you need the full keyboard version of the Blofeld or LicenseSL). The next section of keys I’ve assigned to a sort of “wub” bass, and the top section is an arpeggiated melody track that lays over the top. For the “wub” bass, I’ve set a modulation slot to vary the speed of the wub sound and then set up the tilt controller so that I can alter it live, and the upper melody section is set up similarly, except tilt acts to raise/lower the pitch of one of the oscillators. It has nine separate programs assigned to this multi, which gives me plenty of variety when trying to make dynamic, live performances.

Of course, the QuNexus is not a sequencer, so it takes practice to trigger the arps exactly on time, and there is even sometimes a bit of a lag in the arp “catching,” but with practice it is doable, and it’s even possible to trigger an arp at a different point in the measure than on the first beat of the measure so that you can creatively alter the rhythm as well, depending on exactly when the arp is triggered in the phrase. In addition, any samples that are set up stop playing as soon as the key is released, so it is easy to say trigger the first part of a sample but not the last part until you hold the key a bit longer.

Head, Hands, and Heart: H³

This is a proposal I wrote for submitting to Unsound Krakow. See more about what inspired this here.

They say that the sooner a smoker has their first cigarette of the day, the more addicted they are, while those who wait until later have a greater handle on their vice. So what does it say about our addictions that so many check their devices before even getting out of bed in the morning? How many smokers keep a pack in the bed with them so that they can grab a few puffs if they wake up in the middle of the night? Do they hold onto their cigarettes throughout the day, carefully cradling them in nearly every conceivable circumstance? This artist believes that our increasing reliance on devices feeds on quietude and rest, something that is increasing every day because of technological advancements and the resulting decline in the need for human labor. Many even consider driving to be an activity that is restful enough to attempt to interact with devices, so the bar to fully engage an audience is set pretty high, and the tendrils extending into the mind’s addiction centers run as deep as anything we’ve ever known.

So how do we combat something that may be more habit-forming than even our most addictive substances? One remedy is activity for which we need to be fully engaged, and the only ones that seemingly meet that standard are primal ones like when we play, eat, make love, or converse with one another. Those moments are “now” moments…ones that require our full attention. That’s one reason why this artist, a Chicago transplant now firmly planted in Krakow, has committed to 100% live electronic music so that every performance is a “now” moment both for the musician and audience, while at the same time shortening the distance between the technology and the art. He’s even taken it further by playing in Krakow’s open areas using only a single synthesizer and controller, which requires him to hand-trigger every sound that is produced, and gives ample opportunity for improvisation, another “now” activity. The artist also participates and contributes to those moments around him by programming facsimiles of the surrounding sounds – like police sirens, church bells, and birdsong – and when their calls appear in his environment, he has a ready response.

When performing like this, one needs to have three things fully engaged: head, hands, and heart, with a goal of inspiring the engagement of those same things in the audience. Head to keep track of everything, hands to translate ideas to action, and heart to forge an emotional connection with the audience. That’s why the artist has responded to the theme “Presence” with a musical project in three parts entitled “Head, Hands, and Heart: H³,” where each part is dedicated to one of the trio. H³ also refers to the name of the most abundant ion in the universe, which exists almost exclusively in the ultra-cool, ultra-slow expanse of interstellar space, and the stillness in which H³ exists is an analogue to the state of being that the music will request from its listeners. It’s not as if people are remarkably different from before we had all this information and entertainment at our fingertips – people still look for the same things, a real connection, a real emotion, things that inspire, and to connect with the now. This artist relishes the opportunity to continue his long-time exploration of genres like ambient and drone, to satisfy those other seekers who search for “presence” through the pure energy of music.

emulating mWave I patches on Blofeld

I wanted to see how close I could get my Blofeld to sound like some patches on my MicroWave, so first I made some notes for the settings of the original patch for reference. To understand what values I’m translating from and to follow along at home, you’ll need to reference the table of parameters at the end of the entry.

In general, things seemed to work out one-to-one, for example a 10 filter cutoff on MW roughly equals a 10 on Blofeld as they both go from 0-127. First set both octaves to -16, the equivalent of -1 on mW. Set osc 2 wavetable to #46 PWM Pulse and osc 1 to pulse. As for osc volume, the mWave has 0-7 for wave volume, so a 2 would equal about 36 (around 18 per step) on BF’s 0-127 scale and that translates to about 38-45 on osc 1 and 127 on osc 2, both routed to the same 24dB LPF. To translate the “startwave” and “startsample” wavetable parameters to the Blo, according to the manual

When a wavetable is selected, the parameters Pulsewidth and PWM serve to select the start point of the waves.

so that’s where I’ll be headed in osc 2 to start getting them close. I have the two synths set up and are playing them side by side to get a feel for how close I’m getting, and I have a feeling these are the key settings to get correct.

As it turns out you have to fiddle with the PW and PW Amount a lot to get it close to the sorta overtone but a 30 startwave was about a 30 PW and wasn’t quite sure where 87 startsample was, but a couple of locations in PW Amount near to the extremes seem to get closest, although it’s still not quite right, missing some brash overtones in the mid to upper register even with brightness turned all the way up. The MW also uses stepped (non-interpolated) settings for its wavetable and since the Blofeld is not stepped it would probably take a fair amount of modulations to get that part closer. I think the MW is being overdriven in the wave stage so that’s perfect for dialing in drive on the filter, tube or clipping at 19 or so. Here are my attempts, the first one is MW, and the second is Blofeld. Good headphones or speakers will be necessary to pick up the nuances when the filter is opened a little wider with velocity.

the original MW1 patch

the Blofeld recreation

Even though the tone is sorta there, to me the Blofeld sounds “rounder” on the attack, and the velocity doesn’t seem to open the filter as much. To address those, I changed the filter type to PPG LP,  added a little more filter env, modded the amp decay by ampEnv to give a more linear shape to the stage, and added a little pitch mod from filtEnv and got this. Sorry I played it a half step up haha 🙂

same Blofeld sound with linear envelopes/PPG filter

It’s still missing some mid/upper harmonics and the tone isn’t quite right but I think it’s closer than in the previous one in the lows and low-mids. I don’t really think the Blofeld is capable of fully emulating the natural tone of the microWave, there’s just something in the fullness of the basic tone that seems rounder on the Blo, that doesn’t “cut” as well as the MW, but in the context of a track, the patches will perform the same purpose. Below is a chart of the main values of the patch I was trying to emulate. Tell me what you think in the comments!

mWave patch: JCJ LOW BASS

 Wave1Wave2 Osc1Osc2 AmpEnvFiltEnv LFO1 Vol Filt
ShapesquarePWM Pulse R66Octave-1-1Delayn/a0ShapesinEnv Amt63Cutoff10
Startwave6230Semitone00Attack10Rate1Env Velo63Env Amt11
Startsample5287Detune-13Decay1428Symmetry0Keytrack0Env Vel52
Env Amount210Bend Range00Sustain182HumanizeoffMod 10Keytrack0
Velocity00Pitch ModenormalnormalRelease2813Level Mod SrcKeytrack Mod 20Mod 10
Keytrack00Delay1Mod 20
Mod 1linkMod 1Src: LFO1
Ctrl: Modwheel
Amt: 63
linkAttack50Resonance0
Mod 2Src: Filt Envelope
Amt: -2
linkMod 2Src: LFO1
Amt: 17
Quantize: 0
linkDecay0Res Mod0
Volume27

more Blofeld arpeggiator tips

Let’s see if I can re-create this drum pattern, TNGHT’s “Higher Ground,”  using the Blofeld’s onboard arpeggiators. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m sure it’s possible, and probably in more than one way. First thing I did was listen to the original track in super slo-mo and mapped out the basic pattern of kick, snare, & clap and put them into a 16th note grid. There is also a hi-hat, a few different snare patterns and rolls, a vocal sample and a lead that I’ll need to add, but I’ll start with the basic stuff.

The kick pattern above sounds like a big 808 kick drum with a long decay and  is on a 16th note pattern, but in the last measure, there is a high version of the kick that lands between the beats. It sounds like a triplet to me, so somehow I’ll need to make a kick pattern that has both a regular beat and then a triplet beat at the end. I had already made some of the other parts, the snares, the claps, and one of the snare rolls, along with the sample, but I still couldn’t get that last kick measure right, pitched up an octave and syncopated against the beat, presumably with a triplet pattern.

My first effort was to just make a triplet beat to see if it sounded right. So to make sure I set up a 4/4 kick and then laid a 1/8T beat, no user pattern, with a hihat sound over it. Yes, that worked. Then to try and make the beats land properly according to the grid, I made the 1/8T beat a 12 step user pattern like in the photo and it seemed to work well, coming around when it should against the 4/4 beat, so, I thought, just change the sound for this arp pattern to a kick, and try to lay a straight beat over it for the other sounds. Well, that didn’t work because the kick would come around too soon, essentially it’s in 3/4 and everything else is in 4/4 so I couldn’t get everything in the proper time.

Then I hit on it…I could just trigger the last two notes as a separate arp at the end of the measure. So I set up a copy of the original kick pattern with arp set to 1/8T…and it didn’t quite sound right. Then I changed to 1/8., or a dotted eight note and it sounded I thought exactly correct. Turns out it probably wasn’t a eight note triplet, it was a dotted eighth note. I left the last measure of the original kick pattern blank and trigger this 1/8. pattern for one measure at the end. It may be possible to latch the high triplet kick pattern so that it syncs with the other main kick pattern, but the closest I got was setting clock to 1/4T, note length 1/16, pattern length 12, with notes triggered on step 11 & 12, but that’s not quiiite right, although it’s close. Gotta keep working on it!

Using Blofeld as a Drum Sampler: Part 2

Last time I tried to use the Blofeld as essentially a drum trigger/sampler by chopping up the Amen break and placing different parts of it on different keys, which could then be triggered as one-shots by choosing it as the source of an  oscillator. This time, I wanted to go further, by taking multiple kick and snare samples and placing them along the keyboard, mapping the root note and highest note to the same value, and then triggering them by playing the appropriate notes. Now that I’ve switched to windows to run Spectre, this should be a breeze, so here’s what I did:

  1. I loaded two octaves’ worth of kick and snare samples in two different programs. At first I loaded the samples starting on the lowest note, but that didn’t work, so I started on C3 or C4, mapping a different sample to each note for two octaves. I repeated this process on a new program for snares as well.
  2. My next step was to create an init patch where oscillator 1 was set to the kick sample program and oscillator 2 was set to the snare program, with both levels turned down. This can be the starting point for both kicks and snares simply by turning up the level on oscillator 1 or 2.
  3. Then I took this init patch and created an arpeggiator with no user pattern, an arp note value of 1/16 and note length of at least 1/8 to 1/4 (1/2 overlaps other notes and shorter than 1/8 cuts off the release), which creates a 4/4 kick pattern.
  4. Then in the multi, I selected this patch and used the transpose setting to choose which sample played. I noticed that the transpose setting goes high enough in both directions to map a different sample to every note, if desired. I did the same thing for the snare sample and arpeggiator like for the kick in step 3, only I set up a user pattern so it would trigger on just the 2s and 4s. I don’t think fixed pitch does anything when you’re mapping the samples to single notes, and so the snare program was not set up with fixed pitch, but I should double-check that the sample is triggering at the same pitch as the original sample.
  5. I set up the one-shot trigger for a reverse snare using a sample from the snare program. With no arp enabled, this can be triggered whenever you want, again by using the transpose setting in multi mode to choose which note is played. That way before the end of a measure I can trigger a simple build.
  6. If you want to change the sample’s amplitude settings, you can shorten the sample using the VCA decay or attack, but you don’t have that much control over note length unless you map a single value across the keyboard range. That of course will change the pitch of the sample considerably as well. I also found that if you change the semitone setting the sample changes completely to whatever is mapped to that note, it doesn’t tune the sample.  But, you can tune the sample up maybe a semitone by using the detune knob; past 0 in the positive direction tunes the sample up. Interestingly, past 0 in the negative direction changes to the next lower note’s sample, which prevents you from tuning it down at all. It’s nice to know that there is at least some possibility of editing the note’s properties, and of course, the filters are fully available to shape the sample’s tone.

Conclusion

I now have 8 sound programs assigned: 3 one-shot samples for fills (snare, clap, and reverse snare), 3 drum arps (kick, snare, and hihat), 1 bass arp, and a polyphonic keyboard mapped to the top of the keyboard. Usually I am only playing 5-6 simultaneously, all triggered live from a keyboard, and it didn’t seem to choke or crash very much if it all so in performance-only mode it was pretty stable. I don’t recall it ever dropping voices, although I’m essentially using only mono patches and single voices other than the keys patch. Maybe there was the occasional arp glitch, but I’m not sure that wasn’t due to human error. I did have some issues when triggering many patches at once while simultaneously changing the transpose setting; the synth hung a few times, emitting a loud squeal. It also occasionally wanted to latch the arp when transposing and I had to push shift-play to break out of it. I really don’t think I’m using this synthesizer in the way they might have intended and I assume that is why it’s a little glitchy, but overall, despite the glitches, I’m pretty pleased with how versatile the Blofeld is showing itself to be in the sampling department.

Blofeld Sampling with License SL

Adding in sampled drums

The last thing I wanted to try was adding drum samples in place of the synthesized versions I’m currently using. So, I started with the Amen break, chopping it up on my MPC. Then I tried to load the samples in.

  1. At first, I could not get spectre and blofeld to communicate on Mac and could not upload samples. Factory settings were already loaded but every time I transmitted to the Blofeld it didn’t indicate it was receiving data via the screen and no samples were added.
  2. Next I tried saving the samples as a MIDI file and sending them to the Blofeld that way. This worked, but it took over 2 hours to complete. The amen breaks were loaded, and the factory sounds are overwritten and gone. Would not suggest unless you really have to and you are really sure with how Spectre has mapped the samples to the keyboard.
  3. I abandoned using Mac to upload samples, and as soon as I switched to Windows, everything went smoothly. Spectre updated the synth in seconds instead of hours. I’m not sure why the USB midi on my mac seems to work so poorly; I probably have something set up incorrectly there as I have trouble with other VST’s that use USB MIDI.
  4. I mapped samples to specific notes on the keyboard, the white keys starting at C2, and then the white keys starting at C4 for another set. This will enable me to play different drum parts by just moving up an octave.  I set root and high notes to the same value with ctrl-click & alt-click. Spectre automatically maps any notes in between assigned pads to pitched and sped up versions of the samples, and I don’t think the “fixed pitch” setting affects this. In fact, in the manual, it says that fixed pitch isn’t implemented.
  5. Another nice thing about the sampling feature is that all the parts play through a single oscillator, and of course, you can route any filter or env to control it. I can easily route a filter cutoff or volume using the performance features on the controller. The pads/keys can also be played like drum pads, and you can set up different velocity sensitivities per preset, of which there are four.

Simple Beats with the Blofeld Arpeggiator

House Beat

I want to use the Blofeld’s arpeggiators to create rhythm tracks that I can trigger manually, in essence replacing what a sequencer might be able to do. I thought my first try would be easy: a four bar beat with kicks on the quarter notes, claps and snares on the 2s & 4s, and a hihat on 8th or 16th notes. I thought, to do that, just set up the Clock value for each arpeggiator to the note value you want. But it quickly became apparent that it’s not that easy–the kicks and hihats work fine since they play once every division, but to make the claps and snares land on the 2s & 4s, coding them to half notes doesn’t work, because they will play on the 1st & 3rd beat when the arp repeats its loop, even if you trigger it on the proper beat. So I need to either delay the start of the arpeggiator by one bar, or explore the user patterns, and as it turns out, the arpeggiator doesn’t have a delay, so it looks like I’ll be delving more into the user patterns.

Dubstep Beat

kick step pattern #1

Before I do that, I thought I could at least program the kick without using a user pattern, so I set about creating a simple dubstep rhythm, 140bpm with the kicks on the 1s & 3s and the snares & claps on the 2s & 4s; a 4/4 beat in cut time. My first idea was to set the kick up as a pattern with a note only on step 1, pattern length of 8, and arp clock and length set to 1 bar. When the user pattern is set to off, this works great; once every bar, on step 1, the kick is triggered, no user pattern needed.

snare step pattern

But to program a snare on the other beats it would be time to go into the user patterns, so I set up a 16 step user pattern with a single note firing on beat 9, or the “2” of the beat. The clock value is set to 1/16 and the length value is set to 1/2. I set up the clap to fire identically to the snares, and when I started them from the keyboard, at the beginning of a loop, they indeed trigger on the 2s & 4s. The nice thing about user patterns is that they keep triggering on whatever note you fire them, so a clap triggered at a different point in the bar other than the first note will keep triggering in that position, unlike the first experiment with a house beat, where the arp was realigned once it looped around.

kick step pattern #2

When I realized I had set up the kick pattern with an 8 step pattern and the others with a 16 step pattern, I went back and made the kick like the snares, except firing only on step 1, with clock value set to 1/16 and note length set to 1/2 notes. Works exactly the same, it’s just a different way to go about it, but maybe it won’t be quite as confusing later.

The arpeggiator has far more features than there is room to document in this short blog, but here are the parameters and some layman’s descriptions that turned out to be most important to me and that should help get you up and running in a jiffy.

  • Clock Mode: Choose how to trigger the arp.
    • off, on, one shot, latch
  • Clock: The number of notes to play per bar.
    • “1/4” is “4 on the floor” or one every quarter note, 1/8 will play 8 notes during the same time period, and so on.
  • Accent: Controls how loudly the note is played.
    • To play a “rest,” this value has to be set to “silent.”
    • Otherwise, *1 plays the note at its original velocity, while other values multiply or divide the provided value.
  • Length: The length of the generated arpeggio notes.
    • Negative values shorten notes and positive values lengthen them.
    • Audible staccato effects will occur if the length value is shorter than the clock value, while if set to “legato” the length parameter is essentially ignored and notes of a step are held until the next step is played.
  • Octave: After the initial pattern is played, repeat the pattern this many times, increasing or decreasing the octave each time before restarting the pattern.
    • A value of “3” gives the pattern a “3 over 2” feel as the notes don’t line up every time.
    • The “Direction” parameter determines the initial order of notes.
  • Tempo: The speed of the arpeggiator.
    • This value is overridden in the multi area.

Other values:

  • Step: Normally an arpeggiator starts at the first step and plays until the last. All of these modes except normal allow you to alter this behavior.
    • normal, pause, previous, first, last, first+last, chord, random
  • Timing Factor: Add shuffle feel to any pattern or step.
  • Glide: Add 303-type glide to any pattern or step.
    • To use different glide amounts on individual notes in a pattern, Glide amount must be set to off in the oscillator edit menu.
    • Otherwise Glide applies the same amount of glide for the whole pattern.

Waldorf Blofeld Multimode

The most basic setup

I have many plans for live performances, but my current studio rig is too bulky to move around easily and requires a power outlet, neither of which is good for on-the-go performing. So I found a battery with both 12V & 5V DC outputs for the Blofeld and my other USB-powered gear, and then connected a speaker directly to the final synthesizer’s output. The Blofeld does not draw much current, so a small battery like this will power the whole rig for two hours or more. Short of an iPad or laptop, I think this is about as small as you can get and still have something approaching the abilities of a full studio while not limiting in any way where you can create or perform, and all on a rechargeable battery!

everything is powered from that battery on the top left. 16 part Blofeld + 4 voice JX-03 to a single 1/8″ speaker

You might notice one omission here: there is no external sequencer present, just a keyboard controller. Instead, I plan to use Blofeld’s  License SL and its extensive arpeggiator features to bypass the need for a sequencer and sampler.  Shuffle and other parameters of the arpeggiator should enable me to create nearly any pattern, and with clever modulation, the variations for those patterns can be virtually endless. In this blog I’ll share what I’ve learned about multimode, and in a future one, I’ll get into the arp and sampling sections.  A table with the relevant multimode parameters for my configuration is below, and below that are some tips that I hope will help you if you’re just getting started.

Dope Robot 2nd Test Multi

Part # / Ch.Key RangeInstrumentArp TimingNotes
01F#2 - D#3arp bass1/8main Effect 2 settings
02C2-C2kick1/4alt kick arp @ C#2
03D2-D2snare1/2alt snare arp @ D#2
04E2-E2closed hihat1/8map LPF to CC
05F2-F2clap1/2
06D3-F6high keysinternal or external (JX-03)

Multimode Notes

  1. The arp tempo knobs have no effect in multimode, which was sort of weird, because they are available to edit, so the number would be changing, but the sound didn’t. But as the manual says, globaI tempo in multimode “affects all arpeggiators, all LFO and all Effects and overrides the corresponding sound tempo settings.”
  2. Effect 2 is a global effect for the entire multi, and it is always on Part 1, so if you want to use reverb or delay on any sequence, you need to set up Part 1 accordingly. You can even change the Effect 2 parameters of other programs in multimode, but if you don’t save it to the Part 1 slot, it will not be saved when you return.
  3. Effect 1 is available for Parts 1-4, but its parameters are still stored in the
    the second multi

    sound program, including mix level. Parts 5-16 have no Effect 1, so if your sound program depends significantly on Effect 1, place it into Part 1-4. A reminder:

    1. Effect 1: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Overdrive, Triple FX (S&H/Overdrive/Chorus)
    2. Effect 2: everything in Effect 1 + Delay, Clocked Delay, Reverb
  4. Multimode is the only area where you can filter incoming or outgoing midi data like program change, control change, etc. There is no global location for these settings.
  5. Be careful that the key ranges you have set up on the Blofeld match the key ranges set up on your controller keyboard.
ultra portable yet complete

Now that I have a proof of concept I can transition to using the extensive modulation options of the Blofeld and QuNexus to design patches that will make a live performance inspiring, engaging and fun. If there are any errors or you have any feedback, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks and good luck!

Future Retro 512 review

I received this piece of kit last week. Up to this point, other than my MPC’s, I’d never really spent any money on a good controller, but after I saw this, I knew it  would jumpstart my creative process. I had to make sure that the other similar keyboards on the market weren’t better suited for me than this, and so I also checked out the Sputnik and the Verbos, but neither had the feature set that I wanted, but more importantly, neither offered MIDI control. So after I gathered up the funds, I ordered it from Germany, to avoid the hassle of VAT, import fees, and shipping for it to be sent from USA.

However, it’s also led me to almost losing my mind. Here’s the problem…some of my hardware doesn’t see the MIDI messages it sends. The first thing I did when I got it was plug it into my MPC2500, but nothing showed up in the MIDI monitor page. So I plugged it directly into a module to test it, and it worked fine. So then I tested other controller keyboards into the MPC, and they showed up fine. But the output of the 512? Still nothing. Then I tried all the rest of my synths, and they all responded to the MIDI messages it was sending. If I then route the output of a synth’s MIDI THRU back to the MPC, the messages are received. So I tried some more experiments. First, I plugged it into my MOTU MIDI patchbay. Nothing. Then I routed the output to my old MPC2000XL, which picked up the messages. Then I routed it to my RME UFX, which appears to receive the messages fine. I suppose this means that I will have to route everything through some synthesizer’s input instead of through my sequencer’s input, but it’s not the end of the world. I just wish I could figure out the issue. I contacted the maker of the keyboard and he couldn’t figure it out either. And just today, I plugged the output of the 512 into my midi patchbay, and channel 1 didn’t work, but when I plugged it into channel 2, it worked great! I then routed that back into my sequencer. But sometime later, after I’d taken a break, the patchbay stopped responding to messages again, and no other channel responded properly after that. Bummer.

But as to the functionality of the 512, it’s great. The touch keys have very nice response and with the octave keys can send notes across a 9 octave range. It has built in scales and chords which can be mapped to just the white keys or all keys, so that you can play in any chosen scale and never hit a wrong note. Or play chords all over the keyboard with a single finger. The other killer feature for me is the real time swing which adjusts the swing percentage from 50-75%, something I could previously only accomplish in hardware by setting the MPC up to the exact percentage beforehand, and only for the selected track, having to remember to turn it off and on every time it was used. The arpeggiator is very nice as well, offering a wealth of different options which really breaks up the monotony of playing through different patches with arps, while still allowing real time altering of scale and transposition. It has a sequencer that I’ve used a little as well, but to me how this really shines is creating patterns, and the easiest way to do that is on the fly. It offers CV outputs as well, and since I only have one synth that even receives CV, it won’t be that useful to me now, but should I ever branch out into the modular realm, I’ll be ready.

This is a quality product from a good company, and I recommend it highly, although I wish my hardware wasn’t showing the issues that it does, but I have to assume that it’s my patchbay and MPC that have the problems, and not the 512, since most of my other MIDI gear responds to its messages. Already used it on some track ideas!