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Minor MicroMoorg Project Progress

You may recall that a little while ago, I cut my venerable microKORG synthesizer in half in an attempt to build my own MicroMoorg style synth. As soon as we had it sliced apart, it became clear that putting it back together the way I wanted it was going to be a bit trickier than originally anticipated. So I just popped the guts back into the shell and kept it safe in its bag for a while longer to think about it.

Then, the other night, I had a revelation as to its construction. Initially, I’d been thinking about how to attach some plates to the open space between the two halves of the shell to hold the hinge, and then just tossing some pieces on the side for decoration. That’s when it occurred to me: by making the side pieces actually part of the structural integrity of the project, I could give the important pieces a lot more to hold on to. This seemed like it was going to be outside of my woodworking skills, so I sought professional help.

With a basic plan in mind and parts of the plastic shell in hand, I headed out to a local unfinished furniture store last night for some advice. I was hoping that they’d say something like “Oh yeah, we can just toss that right together for you!” Unfortunately for me, my little out-of-left-field project didn’t quite fit with their more pedestrian furniture building. Different lumber sizes, doesn’t quite fit into their existing jigs and frames, etc. However, I did get some good advice for how I could put the thing together myself, so I’ve got something to go on. Looks like a new miter saw and some hardwood lumber stock are in my future. Not generally two things that you associate with synthesizers, but hey, we’ll see what comes out.

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Calculating the Riddle

Way back in what feels like ancient history (but is actually just 2007), I released the first Psycliq album, an EP entitled The Mathemagician’s Riddle. Those handy with the Google can likely discern that the title itself comes from a fantastic web-based puzzle game I played some years prior called Planetarium. Specifically, one of the first puzzles in this charming game really struck my imagination well.

But what most people don’t know is that the album originally didn’t have a pronounceable or easily transcribable title at all. Instead, the odd symbol on the front of the album artwork, the schwa symbol (the upside down e) in the middle of the square-root sign, was going to be the title. The intent here was for it to be a mathematical computation on a nonmathematical symbol, sure to confuse mathematicians and linguists alike. And that was exactly the point – it was a riddle, see? I was apparently feeling rather avante-garde, or something like that. Ultimately, like many of my ideas, this was far too clever for its own good and somehow I had the good sense to have a real title for the album.

But, as you can see, I did keep the original artwork with its odd symbol, all the while thinking that my cleverness was fully intact. I laughed at my little inside joke, but that was until the other day at work when a colleague of mine, a mathematician himself, commented on the cover art, stating that it actually did have a value of about 17.52. Here’s how that works.

The schwa sign, it turns out, is based on the old Hebrew vowel symbol shva. This in turn can be spelled with the three Hebrew letters shin vav aleph. Hebrew letters apparently all have numerical values, a fact that I had learned from the movie Pi but forgot, which means that the schwa sign can be assigned a numeric value of 300 + 6 + 1, or 307. Take the square root of 307, and you get about 17.52, thus a perfectly reasonable answer to The Mathemagician’s Riddle.

Next, I’m sure someone’s going to try and execute the state machine on halt or fit a function to the graph on Results Not Typical. Nerds, stealing all my fun!

Music

House of the Rising Sun

After putting many hours into what was meant to be a simple cover song project, I am very glad to say that House of the Rising Sun is officially released and available for download.

Finally!

I’m not sure how many hours went into the production here over the last few months, but it’s easily one of the more complicated things I’ve done. I set out to stretch away from my comfort zone, experiment with some new software, and learn new techniques. Check, check, check, and check, more than I’d ever bargained for.

First off, this song’s just got a ton of layers going on. Many psycliq songs take a pretty straightforward rock band approach. You’ve got your drum kind of stuff, a bass instrument, a couple midrange bits to add texture, and maybe a melody up on top to carry things along. The first version of this has organ, drums, a couple guitars, bass guitar, two interlocking synths, a string pad, some sound effects, some vocals, and a solo line. And that’s just what I can remember off hand! It was quite a challenge putting all of these pieces together into something that sounded like a single song and not just a mush of noise happening. At least, I hope I accomplished that much.

Second, this was my first time around with a bunch of new versions of software, like ProTools 9, Reason 5, Amplitube 3, and others. Several of these were major upgrades with very different ways of working than what I was used to. I also had a few new tools to help the process, like the AKAI MPD18 drum pad, which works fantastic with Reason, and the nanoKontrol2, which works fantastic with Pro Tools 9. I also made an effort to master the songs a bit with TRackS3, and hope that I didn’t mangle the sound quality too badly in the process. But in doing so, I made sure to export all of the stems out to allow for remixes and the like in the future.

Third, and speaking of remixes, I simply couldn’t leave well enough alone. Once I’d basically gotten the main mix the way that I wanted it, I immediately started tweaking things around and making some experimental remixes. One of these added four additional tracks on top of the existing madness, if you can believe it.

There are four different mixes total in the single, with instrumental versions of each, bringing the grand total to eight tracks. The download also comes with a sixteen-page art booklet with illustrated lyrics, as well as a set of desktop wallpapers made out of the minimalist cover art. All in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal at only $2, if you ask me.

But you didn’t ask me, so I’m going to let you decide for yourself: go ahead and listen to it for free, right here!

If you like it, support independent music and tell your friends!

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A slice of MicroKorg

Inspired by the MicroMoorg project, I’ve decided to try and mod my own MicroKorg into a folding synthesizer. The control panel on the mK has always been a bit awkward to use, as you really do need to lean over it to read everything in the edit matrix. Plus, I thought it would just look awesome to have this little guy fold up like that.

As you can see, the first part of the project is taking the thing apart. Sorry for the terrible picture, but it’s all I have right now. Once we got everything out, we carefully measured where the components fit and found, as others have, that you can slice the chassis apart pretty cleanly between the keyboard and the editor panel. We used a dremel to make the cut, which worked fairly well except for some melting underneath the arpeggiator switches. There’s really just not much plastic there to hold things up once you cut away the bottom portion, so we’re going to have to figure out how to reinforce that when this all goes back together.

You might notice that last sentence is in the future tense.

Once we had everything apart, we tried to fit the hinges we had onto the remaining case only to discover that nothing quite fit the way we wanted it to. After mocking up a few different ideas, we decided to call it quits and put the basic unit back together. Needless to say, this was quite disappointing, but better to take this project a little bit slow and have better results than a quick hack job that nobody would be happy with. And most importantly of all, the MicroKorg needs to still work when it’s all done.

So the next step is going to be figuring out exactly how to reattach the two pieces so as to allow freedom of movement but maintain some level of structural integrity. I’ve got some ideas, but only time will tell what’s going to work in the end. We’ll be updating the blog here with progress, so stay tuned.

(I say “stay tuned” a lot, don’t I?)