Lately I’ve been using a capo (yes the kind for guitar) to hold down a note on the KeyStep in order to drone a note on the Novation Circuit’s Synth 1 while playing notes on Synth 2. It’s awkward but works. Today while prepping for ISSTA.ie I stumbled on a way to drone a note on the Circuit with the KeyStep and no capo necessary! Here are the steps to drone Synth 1 and then play new notes/sequences/arps on Synth 2:
1. Make sure the KeyStep is setup in Keyboard Play mode by pressing Shift and Oct+.
2. Enable hold by pressing the Hold button.
3. Put the KeyStep in pause mode so that the pause/play button is flashing.
4. Hold Shift and press the low F to set the KeyStep to MIDI channel 1.
5. Play and hold the note(s) you’d like to drone (anything but the low Gb because you’ll need that key to switch channels)
6. Keep holding the note(s) and switch to MIDI channel 2 (Shift + the low Gb).
7. Un-pause play/pause and release the note(s)
Once you’ve lifted the note(s) you can re-pause or play arps or seqs on Synth 2 because essentially you have a stuck note on Synth 1 (just double tap stop to unstick the note). If you don’t want to hear Synth 2 when un-pausing, just make sure it’s down in the mix. This trick works while the Circuit is stopped or playing and will continue until double tapping stop on the KeyStep. It’s even possible to change the existing stuck note(s) by following the same steps. It’s easier than it reads, as you will see in the video below:
I composed this track and performed it live while limiting myself to using three electronic instruments: Novation Circuit, PreenFM2, and a Moog Sub 37. Afterward I added a recording of a Tibetan tingsha bell that I captured using a matched pair of Rode NT5 condensers. The instruments were sequenced using the Squarp Pyramid, which might technically be considered a fourth instrument, but it is not a sound source.
The track starts out with a Rhodes loop that I played into the KP3+ with an LFO sweeping a resonant high pass filter. Next I start to bring in Euclidean patterns on each of the four Circuit drum parts. These are generated through individual tracks on the Pyramid. I have it setup with four Euclidean patterns per track bank for a total of sixteen. This way I can mix and match all sixteen patterns on the Pyramid and even swap them or combine them with patterns on the Circuit.
I also use Pyramid to sequence the bass and synth chords on the Circuit. In addition I have a track for the Sub 37 that I mute while soloing, and a track for the PreenFM2. The Sub 37 is in “local off” mode, so whichever track I have selected on Pyramid determines what instrument plays. I find the keybed and flexibility of the Sub 37 perfect as a controller and sound source. Thanks for listening and check out my new album Isosceles for more like it that’s actually mixed and mastered properly. ;-)
In my mind, sound design is at its best when it is a process of discovery. At its worst it can be an unfortunate exercise in mimicry. I am fascinated by the process of discovering sound through happy accidents. One of the techniques I have exploited frequently in this regard is synthesizer patch randomization. For example, the Yamaha TX81Z sounds great when randomized, or better yet, “degraded” with shuffled parameter values interpolated based on a time unit or clock division. The PreenFM2 has patch randomization built directly into the instrument!
So, it wasn’t long after picking up a Novation Circuit that I had the urge to use a similar shortcut to mine fantastic and otherworldly sounds from the unit. Full MIDI specification for the Circuit is available so that development of a standalone randomizer is possible, but Isotonik Studios published a free Max for Live editor in partnership with Novation. Max for Live patches are inherently editable so I decided to start there.
It took me a couple of hours to get into the guts of the editor and setup a drop down menu for randomization. The drop down has choices to either “randomize all” (not quite all parameters), or randomize one of seven sets of grouped parameters like the oscillator section, mod matrix, or LFOs. At his stage I haven’t included the EQ section, voice controls, or macro controls. I probably won’t add the EQ, but the macro controls might offer some interesting possibilities. The image above shows a simple subpatch I made that takes a bang and outputs the random values for the oscillator section. Unfortunately, I can not legally share my mods based on Isotonik’s and Novation’s EULAs. However, you’ll need little more than a basic understanding of Max to do this yourself. Checkout the video and let me know what you think in the comments.