The Making of Belizean Heat: Part 1 – Ella’s Garden

The first song on the album takes its name from the beautiful botanical garden at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Lodge. It was made by Ella Baron and has the largest collection of orchids and air plants in the country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent a fair bit of time exploring the grounds recording birds and crickets, which you will hear at the start of the track. I also recorded a fascinating creature I had never heard of before: A perfume bee. These iridescent green insects rub their bodies against particular flowers to scent themselves to attract a mate. I sampled this recording into Izotope’s Iris, which allowed me to convert it into a pad sound that I layered with the main repeating string melody.

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Perfume bee approaching an orchid

Stylistically, the song was heavily influenced by Aaron Static and Fort Road’s remix of Ghosts, by Thomas Newman from the Road to Perdition soundtrack. I wanted to try to make something with a similar stately epic grandeur.

While I was busy gathering recordings, my wife was taking photos, including the ones used in this post. She has since used these images as source material for clothing design, like the dress below which used the orchid picture featured above. If you would like to see more of her work, be sure to check out http://www.juncodesign.com

BLACK+ORCHID+flare+dress-front
Black Orchid Dress by Junco Design

 

While making this track, I had a lot of fun using the Octatrack as a step sequenced filter bank, both for field recordings and my trumpet. Basically I would set different filter cutoff and resonance values to the sequencer and add some delay and it would turn any material into a groove. I used this technique to generate a lot of the drifting glassy rhythms you can hear throughout. Here’s a short clip of me experimenting with processing my trumpet.

 

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Review: Intellijel JellySquasher Analog Compressor & Tone Shaper Eurorack Module

I have to admit that I wasn’t terribly interested in this module when it first came out. I suppose this is partially because I have grown used to getting my compression from software plug-ins rather than hardware. There’s some great analog emulations out there, and software has a level of precision that is hard to beat. At least that’s how I felt until Danjel gave me a demonstration of an Acidlab Miami running through the Springverb into the Jellysquasher. He was able to quickly dial in this gritty, breathing, monstrous, dub techno tone from a simple drum groove and I was blown away. Toms transformed into growling synth swells. After that abrupt about-face of opinion I was eager to get my hands on one.

What Is It?

The Intellijel Jellysquasher is a single channel analog compressor and tone shaper. A compressor is a device that controls the volume level of a signal. If the signal becomes louder than a set Threshold, the volume of the signal is reduced according to a Ratio. In the case of the Jellysquasher, the threshold ranges from -40 to +17dB, and the Ratio can be set anywhere between a subtle 1.3:1 all the way to “infinity”, or hard limiter to really crush the signal. The speed that this reduction is applied is called the Attack, and the Release is the relaxing of this reduction.

A Makeup Gain can then raise up the overall volume to compensate for this reduction in level. Conveniently, the Jellysquasher has a Wet/Dry control that lets you blend the original uncompressed signal with the compressed signal to taste. This is sometimes referred to as New York or Parallel compression. It’s a very useful technique because it allows you to subtly thicken or crush a signal, but maintain your dynamic range. I’ll often perform this with sends and returns, but setting a balance with a single knob is far simpler.

Read the rest here: https://ask.audio/articles/review-intellijel-jellysquasher-analog-compressor-tone-shaper-eurorack-module

Belizean Heat Out Now!

I’m excited to share my latest album, Belizean Heat! It features nine songs that are each built around field recordings gathered during a short visit to Belize I took in 2015. If you listen closely, you’ll hear birds, crickets, underwater reef crackling, and a persnickety naval radio. One of my favourite recordings was of a massive colony of grackles.

This sound collage has many of the original recordings I used in the album.

The music I’ve made with and around these recordings is stylistically diverse. Hol Chan and Wind Dancer are influenced by Synthwave, Hideaway is an ambient piece, and Xibalba takes influence from South American chicha music. If you’re interested, I’ve made a Spotify Playlist with my album, along with some of the songs and artists that shaped it.

Over the next few weeks I’ll discuss the stories behind each song and share some pictures from my trip.

 

Synthesis Essentials: All About Oscillators

Oscillators. The raw sound source that spawns the diverse range of tones and timbres spewed by all synthesizers. They come in different shapes and can be produced by a variety of techniques to make your imagination audible. If you consider the fact that all of the sounds we hear are vibrations in air, oscillators are creating synthetic vibrations that become sound once connected to a speaker. Instead of moving back and forth like a guitar string, the oscillator cycles between positive and negative voltages.

If these cycles take place between 20 and 20,000 times per second they are audible to the human ear. The rate of these fluctuations determines the frequency, or pitch of the tone, and this is tuned to produce the notes struck by the keys. We call one full fluctuation a cycle, or period, and refer to the shape that these oscillations take as a waveform. The shape of the oscillation determines the timbre or tone of the sound.

 Types Of Oscillator

Sine, Triangle, Sawtooth, and Pulse (or Square) are the four most commonly utilized synthesizer waveforms. Sine waves represent the pure tone of a single frequency, which is called the fundamental. The other waveforms have added harmonics or overtones that take place above the fundamental. This can add brightness, complexity and texture to the sound. Sawtooth waves are the most harmonically rich, because they have harmonics every integer above the fundamental. Therefore a sawtooth wave played at 100Hz will have harmonics at 200Hz, 300Hz, 400Hz and so on. Each successive harmonic descends in amplitude, or volume, by half and this cascade creates the descending sawtooth shape.

Read the rest on Ask.Audio here: https://ask.audio/articles/synthesis-essentials-all-about-oscillators

Review: Soulsby Synthesizers Oscitron

The Oscitron from Soulsby Synthesizers is a lot of things. It’s their first Eurorack synthesizer product. It’s an 8-bit digital oscillator with wavetable sampling, selectable audio engine resolution, multiple filter types, scale quantization, portamento, bit reduction and preset memory. Amazingly, they managed to squeeze all this functionality into just 14HP. This is achieved through the clever use of two knobs that also function as buttons.

You Know I Got Soulsby

The top function knob has two menu rings, and pressing it toggles between the red and green menu sets. This selects the page of parameters that the bottom button will edit. Additionally the Oscitron has knobs to control fine tuning, pulse width, filter frequency, filter resonance, and phaser offset. It provides 1v/Octave CV inputs for pitch and filter cutoff frequency, as well as inputs for pulse width, filter resonance and phaser position. There is also a clock and audio input for sampling new waveforms.

I was pleased when I opened the box to see both a detailed manual, a quick reference card, plus a cute pair of mini wood cheeks. I really appreciate it when manufacturers make this kind of extra effort. I generally prefer hands-on manuals to PDFs and I’m a sucker for wood cheeks on synths. Another unexpected discovery in the box was a little 2HP module called the Uni-Five with its own reference card. I reached out to Paul Soulsby to ask him about the Uni-Five and he was happy to give me a thorough explanation.

Paul explains : “the reason for the Uni-Five module is partly because the Oscitron is digital and partly to do with Eurorack theory! Like the Atmegatron, it’s 8-bit digital and only recognises voltages between 0V – 5V. In fact, voltages outside of this range would cause damage, but luckily it has loads of protection against this. If anything is connected out of that range it’ll just clip it to either 5V or 0V.  There’s two approaches to deal with this in the Eurorack world, where anything between -10V and +10V is fair game. I can have on-board attenuation, but the issues with that are: What kind of attenuation do I provide? Bias, attenuation, both, and over what voltage range? Or I can say: better to handle all bias and attenuation myself, so I can customize it for my own system.”

He continues: “when I developed the module, I felt that user customization was more appropriate. However, when I got to beta testing, users kept wanting to put a bipolar LFO into the filter, to make it go wah-wah-wah(!) and found the negative part of the LFO cropped off. I decided it should have some biasing and attenuation for the most common situations (5V LFO and 8V envelope). So I had the option to redevelop the entire product (which would have increased the HP and would have needed all parts prototyped again), or create a separate module, which would be much quicker, cheaper, and simpler, and could also be used with other 5V modules. So that’s basically the option I went with!”

Check out the rest of the article here: https://ask.audio/articles/review-soulsby-synthesizers-oscitron