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Still Alive, Approaching the Holidays

I still function! Though with the month I’ve had, that’s somewhat surprising. I did manage to get into the studio long enough to lay down some ideas on a couple of songs for the next album. I like where things are going so far, and there’s still a lot of potential to be had. I haven’t really begun recording in earnest yet, and with the holiday season soon upon us I won’t likely dive into full production mode until the new year has landed. With that in mind, I’m currently thinking I’ll be able to have the new full album in your hands sometime mid to late next year. If you want to be among the first to hear about it, sign up for the newsletter mailing list! I’ll announce behind-the-scenes plans there before anywhere else.

Speaking of the holidays, this means that it’s time to pick out this year’s Christmas song. For those of you just joining us, for the past few years I’ve taken some time away from regular music production to put my own personal touch on a Christmas classic and released it for free on the site here. I’ve already covered “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and last year’s “In The Bleak Midwinter.” That leaves quite a lot to choose from, and I need your help to decide what to do this year. Frontrunners are:

  • Winter Wonderland
  • Away In A Manger
  • I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
  • Little Drummer Boy

Although I am definitely open to suggestions. Want to vote? Comment here or on Facebook, tweet at us, send an email, or dispatch a courier pigeon to a predetermined set of coordinates with your desires inscribed upon it. But however you do it, let us know what you want for Christmas from Psycliq, and we’ll do what we can to get it to you!

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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!

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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?)

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Sensitivity (in the drum department)

When I first got the Akai MPD18 drum mad controller, I immediately noticed that I had to hammer on the pads to get it to register much of anything. While playing on the pads did feel much more natural than playing drum patterns on a keyboard, the fact that I had to hit so hard did detract from the overall experience. Plus, it kinda hurt my fingers.

I poked around the internet for a bit and found out that my problem was far from uncommon. Why this didn’t come up in any of the reviews that I’d seen for this unit ahead of time, I don’t know. But as with many common problems these days, the solution was also ready to be found on the very same internet. Pad corx are simply little circles of very thinly sliced cork cut to exactly cover the underside of the rubber pads on the MPD18 (as well as all of Akai’s other drum controllers, it turns out). I poked around on the net and saw a handful of glowing recommendations, so I ordered a set.

They came in the mail about a week back, and installation was completely painless. They seriously just stick on to the bottom of the rubber pads, resting right on top of the sensors on the PCB. After using them for a few days here, I can gladly add my voice to the chorus of glowing reviews.

The transformation was immediately noticeable. Instead of having to jab the pads to get anything to register, I could now gently let my fingers fall by their own weight and have appropriately light-touch signals be picked up by the computer. Amazingly enough, this didn’t lead to spurious hits or a lack of volume control. On the contrary, I feel like I have much more control than before, and can actually use the whole expressive range that MIDI is capable of. I was even able to rattle along a fast hihat section without it skipping, which was an important and welcome change of behavior.

If you’ve got an Akai MPD or MPC, you really should do yourself a favor and pick up a set of pad corx. They are well worth the tiny cost for how well they help a very real problem. I’ve been using the MPD to track out scratch drums on several new songs already, and I will likely be using it to program many of the drums on the new album.

Speaking of the new album, if you want to be the first to hear anything about it, then you should sign up for the Electric Goodies newsletter. Incidentally, we’re changing things up with the newsletter, but more on that in another post. For now, if you want to sign up, just go here and drop your email into the form!

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Now We Begin Again

As you all know, I’ve been in the process of upgrading the studio. Over the weekend, I finally got the rest of my packages and got everything installed and running. Now with all of that overhead out of the way, I can finally sit down and begin working on music again. Once I get my head wrapped around these new tools, I’ll start putting up a few blog posts about what’s what. I will say, though, that it’s nice not having to jump through a half dozen hoops every time I want to open a program now. It’s the beginning of a new era! Until the next upgrade is required, of course.

This has taught me that waiting for sales and special offers really pays off though. The way I calculate it, I spent about a third of what I would have if I had paid full price for everything. The makes my inner cheapskate very happy.

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Sale Madness!

In case you haven’t heard, the folks over at IK Multimedia are having a pretty sweet sale right now in celebration of their 15th anniversary. Basically, buy any bit of their stuff, and you get 15% off and another product of theirs (of equal or lesser value) for absolutely free. Can’t beat that with a stick.

I was in the market to update my copy of Amplitube anyway when this sale came around, so the timing was really great for me. Most of the guitars in Psycliq recordings have been piped through one version of Amplitube or another, and the new version has some great capabilities to it that I can’t wait to exercise. I picked up T-RackS 3 Deluxe as my free download, and hope to use it for better mixing and mastering of my stuff from here on in. Maybe I’ll even issue remastered versions of old tracks or something, who knows?

Anyway, they make good stuff and it’s a great deal, so you should go check them out.

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The MicroMoorg

I ran across this awesome little project the other day: The MicroMoorg. It’s an awesome little mod to the venerable (and versatile) microKorg synthesizer to make it look a bit more like the classic analogue synths from Moog, such as the Minimoog. I am so jealous of this that I’m very strongly considering pulling together something similar for my own microKorg. However, I think that I’d want the hinge to still allow it to collapse, so I could keep lugging it around in the same case I’ve been using for it. Still though, very sweet little setup, that.

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Coverage

I’d like to shake the cobwebs off of my production skills by doing a cover/remix kind of song. There’s a lot of good music out there on the planet, much of which I’m unfamiliar with. So, dear audience, what song should I do?

Back when I did the Kickstarter project, I had an option to let supporters have me cover a song of their choice. Only one person took me up on that, and they challenged me to cover Monsters by Electric President. I had never heard of the band or the song, so it was an interesting exercise to say the least. I ended up having a blast flinging that song into some place it wasn’t really meant to go.

With summer upon us, I want to take on that challenge again. I want you, the world, to tell me what song I should try and cover and give it a bit of Psycliq flair. Any results will be put up for free as part of the Mergers & Aquisitions album.

I know there’s a lot of good stuff out there, so let’s hear it. I’m officially Open to Suggestions.

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Electric Goodies

Update: Due to some recent oddities with Google Groups, we’re moving the Electric Goodies newsletter onto another service. To sign up for that, go here instead: https://madmimi.com/signups/join/35668

Just a quick reminder to check out the electric goodies mailing list. Members are still getting free behind-the-scenes MP3’s, and I even just sent one out tonight. To join, go to http://groups.google.com/group/electric-goodies or send an email to electric-goodies+subscribe@googlegroups.com today!