Thursday, June 25, 2015

Almost there...

The idea of building a Modcan B series system came up in my head somewhere by the end of 2012. I then planned on a theoretically ideal system that met my musical ambitions and financial capacity. I was lucky enough to find someone in Germany willing to part with most of his own system. First modules arrived by the end of March 2013. Shortly after that came another, larger batch of modules... just about enough to have a small but coherent and effective system that could be used in stand alone. Now it's a little over two years in the making, having taken the opportunities to buy second hand modules as they came within my reach. Not that I do not want to support Modcan directly, but the cost to have new modules shipped and imported from Canada to Belgium is quite prohibitive with arbitrary import taxes, handling fees and 21% VAT added on top of the already hefty but still decent prices. After all, in buying second hand, the manufacturer has been supported once already and the customs had their share as well, so I don't feel bad when offering correct return on investment, with little or no loss, to the seller of these second hand modules... I think this way of doing is fair to all parties !
I only bought one module (35B Spring Reverb) direct from Bruce, and that ended up to be very expensive with all the above extras...

Anyways, enough money talk, I now have the feeling the White Dwarf V2 project has come to maturity. In fact, when looking back at the initial plans, I find the current system being very close to how I imagined it to be back in 2012. It has taken me a little further than I projected, but in essence it is the instrument I dreamed of !

Given the format of the modules, its actual size and footprint are still very reasonable, with tremendous creative potential, wonderful ergonomics, fantastic build quality and bags of character, both esthetically and sonically. This all adds up in a system that is equally pleasant to play, to listen to and to look at.

As you will see in the following pictures, I've now set up the system in three more or less distinctive functional groups.

First we have the base console with CV generators and delay effects:

2x 61B Quad LFO, 60B Quad EG, 05B Dual LFO, 59B Digital Delay, 73B Dual Delay

Then we have the main cabinet, with focus on treatments and processors:

40B Dual Multimode, 36B 4075 LPF, 16B Dual X-fade, 39B Frequency Shifter, 35B Spring Reverb, 44B 904A LPF, 67B 48dB LPF
07B Noise/S&H/RM, 06B Phase Shifter/Timbre Mod, 2X 31B 4VCA, 27B Dual Mixer, 21B Dual VCA Panner

Finally we have a dedicated oscillator bank:

4x 01B VCO, 58B VCDO, 62B Dual VDO

The three cabinets are of my own design, the base console is 100% DIY, cut and assembled in my kitchen... pine wood with Congolese Wengé stain finish. The main cab and the oscillator bank were cut and assembled in a wood workshop, plain walnut with natural varnish.
All three cabinets have their own IEC inlet with power on switch and fuse. Each sports a Mean Well RD-3513 PSU. The base console has a Rob Hordijk made power distribution board, the main cab has two Cynthia boards and the oscillator bank has a DIY board... all with assorted DIY power connection cables.

Even with different form factors, different looks and different functional siblings, the three cabs fit together nicely to form a coherent, well balanced, flexible and powerful single instrument, with a strong and charismatic identity, and that integrates perfectly into my working/living environment: 

This set of modules provides for all the basic needs and beyond I have in my current musical project.
Actually the system has come to a point I don't feel the need anymore to extend on its functionality.
That being said, I might consider swapping out some modules, for example to get other filter flavors or to integrate some different functionality for specific applications. 
Of course, you will have noticed there's still a 1U gap in the base console to be filled with a module. This "missing" single module would most likely be a "space filler" doubling on already existing functionality, like a 3x1 mixer, or a dual cross fader, or a dual VCA, or even a reverb, or maybe something "fresh" like a 66B Control or even a Clock or a Switch... I'll see what comes up, hopefully soon !  

Ok, now enough blabla... let's go back to making music !

Friday, May 15, 2015

Invasion of the suitcase synths

This week my humble home studio literally was invaded by suitcase synths...

The case on the right contains a lovely "Music Easel", with a DIY 208 clone and an original BEMI 218.

Next is a no less lovely, genuine EMS Synthi AKS in its  recognizable Spartanite case, pictured here at some other occasion.

Then we have a massive DIY Buchla 200 series clone... still some works in progress, but fully functional, truly beautiful AND sounding fantastic ! The 218 is a recent BEMI one.

Last, but not least I'm tempted to say, we have my very own BEMI Electric Music box, aka "Music Easel"

I always felt the need to have a self contained, compact, portable yet powerful and charismatic modular system aimed at performance and improvisation. The two original instruments I considered, the Synthi and the Music Easel, were inaccessible due to the insanely high prices of the former and the extreme rarity of the latter. So, it was with excitement and enthusiasm that I learned about the intention of BEMI doing a reissue of the Music Easel back in 2013. This was an opportunity I had to take, at last an affordable instrument for me ! I pre ordered directly from BEMI in february 2013 and the wait was long, full of anxiety because of the negative reports on the early models BEMI produced and delivered. It was a sunny day of May 2014 when I finally got custom clearance and picked up my coveted Easel. Excitement was at climax and it was with great relief and satisfaction that I unpacked an apparently perfectly well built and assembled Easel.

Playing the BEMI Music Easel is nothing short of a thrilling and fascinating experience. It definitely has that unique playability and ease of use, those peculiar attitudes and that very charismatic sound. It sure acts and sounds different to an original or even a clone, and despite all the problems BEMI had in doing this reissue of an instrument that gained quasi mythical status (those also have their lot of problems...), this 2014 Easel is a truly fantastic electronic music instrument, doing exactly what I hoped it would do and it brings a very interesting expansion to my musical project, in its own particular way. It really is an "electro organism", living a life of its own, temperamental, sensitive and highly expressive. So many new sonic paths to explore and so many new musical encounters to be had with fellow artists and creators... good times !

I've replaced the original 200e style knobs by Rogans, because everyone knows that an Easel sounds better with Rogan knobs :-) 

It loves to play and communicate with my Moisturizer, PT Delays and home made matrix mixer.
I'm still considering adding some other bits to expand on 208 functionality, but that really is no necessity for the time being, as the use of program cards opens it up a little more... working on an expander/break out box of some sort seems like an interesting way to go in the first place...

Here's how it is fitted in my current setup :

Here's a little video with two short excerpts ( smartphone capture, sorry...) of the first improvised performance I did with my Easel, together with my friend Constantin and his Synthi, in September 2014 at Huis23, Brussels, for the "All connected" series of events curated by Floris Vanhoof.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Synthé modulaire - compilation 2015

For the fifth installment of the annual compilation of works by the active members of the French speaking forum about modular synthesis, Synthé-modulaire, we chose the question mark as a theme.

The question mark is the global symbol for questioning and interrogation, mystery and doubt. Questions arise from statements and statements arise from questions, an interactive concept that relies on curiosity.

By presenting this collection of untitled pieces by unidentified authors we hope to stimulate your curiosity, to give you total freedom in making up for your own statements in regards to your own questions. One will take a piece as a statement, while the other will take that same piece as a question. The whats, whys, whens, wheres, whos and hows are all up to you, the only thing we can say, and that you can take for granted, is that modular synthesizers were part of the production process for all presented pieces. Enjoy !

The compilation is available for streaming and download over here :

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Zeitdehner's first digital EP out now

It is with great excitement and some pride that I may announce the release of a first digital EP for you to enjoy on Bandcamp : Zeitdehner - Today

The set consists of two "nocturnal" pieces. The first one being rather linear with a single evolving texture produced on the BEMI Electric Music Box, aka Music Easel, with two Bugbrand PT Delays.
The second piece is a more sophisticated affair, with more elaborate imagery, making use of all my currently available modular equipment.
Both tracks were, as always, recorded live in one take, no layering and no post production.

These pieces are best to be enjoyed on a high quality audio system, in a calm and comfortable setting in favor of total immersion.

Thank you for giving it a little time and attention.

Cheers !