Making Music with the Internet’s Most Reviled Synthesizer


I recently bought a Red Sound Systems DarkStar eight voice, polyphonic, tabletop synthesizer. This feature packed virtual analog (VA) was released in 1999 by the British manufacturer. Despite a glowing review from Sound on Sound on arrival, the instrument didn’t quite take off and was discontinued, along with its younger sibling the DarkStar XP2, after just a few years in production. Even more curious than that is the amount of vitriol amassed for the DarkStar on forums all over the web. I could go on, but suffice it to say that “piece of shit” was among the milder comments.

So why bother trying to make use of an abandoned device that broad swaths of the community dismiss while more zealous members condemn? Well, digging a little deeper led me to discover that although the instrument does have its shortcomings it also has its strengths and at least a handful of people seem to appreciate the character and flexibility of the DarkStar. Five part multi-timbral, two MIDI clock sync-able LFOs per part, low-band-high pass switchable 12db filter, full MIDI implementation, and loads of modulation routing add to the depth of the synth. It also has some quirky features like a formant waveform on oscillator 2, ring modulation, and a random LFO shape that interpolates between the values.

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Music From Outer Space Creator Ray Wilson Needs Our Help

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I built my Weird Sound Generator (WSG) by Ray Wilson of Music From Outer Space in March, 2010. This was a really fun project and gave me the confidence to move on to loads of other endeavors including a delicate Roland MKS-80 Super Jupiter repair job in 2011. MFOS kits are a great way to learn about synth building and electronics. Extensive instructions and documentation are provided to make the process clear and enjoyable.

After all the help Ray has provided synthesizer builders and enthusiasts over the years, now he could use a little help from us for medical expenses due to stage 4 cancer. Whether or not you have had the opportunity to enjoy his instruments, music, or hilarious website please consider donating. Read the moving funding campaign and donate at the link below.

Click here to help fund Ray’s medical expenses.

Interview: The Mind of Video Artist Chris LeBlanc


Chris LeBlanc is a video artist who I have been collaborating with frequently for the last year and a half. The body of work that he has produced in this short period is remarkable. His improvised visuals for musical performances include mash-ups from rare VHS tapes of bizarre B-movies; usually of the sci-fi, horror, or fighting genres. He augments these mix tapes with circuit-bent Nintendos and a vast collection of other analog video devices to produce uncanny, audio-responsive, visual experiences that enhance musical performances and draw in listeners. Recently he added a modular video synthesis system to his rig and salvaged a nine-by-nine CRT video wall for display.

On Thursday, October 22nd Chris produced visuals for a solo performance of mine at a club with a projector and fifty-one flat screen monitors dispersed throughout the venue. Chris managed to display his video art on the projector and all of the flat screens during my performance. This lasted for about half the set until an irate bar manager found him and made him put the hockey game back on a few of the flatscreens. In addition to his performances he creates music videos and stills using the same equipment and similar techniques. After our most recent show I thought it would be great to share a discussion with Chris here on ACB. I interviewed him on what drives his decisions as an artist and how he makes his analog imagery so engaging while using content and technology from a bygone era.

Read on for the interview with Chris LeBlanc plus more videos and still photo examples of his work. Continue reading

Solo Hardware Set Thursday with DSI, Elektron, and Moog


I will be performing an all hardware set using the DSI Tempest drum machine, the Elektron Analog 4, and the Moog Sub 37 this Thursday, October 22, 2015. Fellow music technology wizard, Robert Luna, will start off the evening drumming with his band Houseluna at 7:00pm followed by my set at 8:30pm. The event is being held at The Pourhouse at 10 S 5th St, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


I’ll be playing a similar set to my last solo event, The Taming of the CPU, but with enough variations to keep it interesting if you happened to catch that show. Listen to the track below to get a brief sample of what I’ll be performing. We hope to see you there!

Interactivity Sonified Workshop at INST-INT

The INST-INT 2015 conference, exploring the “…art of Interactivity for objects, environment, and experiences,” just happened and I had the honor and privilege of giving a workshop at the event titled Interactivity Sonified. The intent of the workshop was to teach attendees to sonify their work by triggering, generating, and processing sonic textures or musical forms through interactivity. I covered several basic programming techniques for including sound in projects with input devices and numerical values. Touchscreens, microphones, cameras, gyros, MIDI controllers, or any other stream or set of incoming data might be used to add sound. The sonification of this information adds a whole new sensory dimension to interactive installations and performances.

During the workshop I covered sonification examples in and Max while looking at input signals from the Leap Motion, MIDI controllers, video camera, microphone, keyboard, and trackpad. We experimented with recording, looping, reversing, pitch shifting, and granulating sampled audio. We also looked at modeling waveforms and processing them through lowpass, highpass, bandpass filters, delays, and reverbs. Finally we looked at the convolution reverb in Max for Live trying out several of the IRs as well as discussing the technique of sampling impulse responses.

In this video I asked the attendees to pull out their headphones cords after completing the task of triggering sounds with a moving object. The resulting cacophony in the room was quite beautiful! I thoroughly enjoyed giving this workshop and would love to do it again. Please be in touch if you’re part of an organization interested in a workshop like this. For more information you can view the slideshow for the workshop at Keep in mind that the slide show just a fraction of the activities. Most of the time was spent applying code and examples to either trigger, generate, or process sound.

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