Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
What SMPTE basically does is encode a time code into an audio signal, kind of like the way a modem encodes data into an audio signal that you can send down a phone line. The idea is that you can record a SMPTE time code signal on one audio track of a multi-track tape (this is usually called "stripe-ing" the tape), and then when the tape is played back, the playback of the time code can be used to synchronize other things (such as sequencers) to the tape. This works because if the tape slows down, say, then the time code slows down too. Because SMPTE (the acronym stands for "Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers") was originally intended to synchronize video sources, it counts time in terms of hours, minutes, seconds, and frames from an arbitrary zero-time starting point.
Because SMPTE is used to sync audio to video and film, there are a number of different standards for the number of frames that constitutes one second, according to the visual medium being used:
- 24 fps: Film
- 25 fps: PAL video, used in Europe
- 30 fps: Black-and-white NTSC video, USA and Japan
- 30-drop: Color NTSC video, USA and Japan. This one is an oddball that compensates for the fact that NTSC color video is not exactly 30 fps; it's slightly slower. Instead of dividing the time code second into a non-integer number of frames, which would be really awkward, it has the frame counter skip two counts at the beginning of certain minutes, in a repeating pattern, so that the time code stays within a few milliseconds of the video. If you tried to sync audio to NTSC color video using 30 fps time code without the drop frames, at the end of an hour, the audio would be about four seconds ahead of the video.
So what does the electronic musician use SMPTE time code for, and how is it used? SMPTE time code is used in electronic music primarily to synchronize a sequencer (or some hardware containing a sequencer, such as a drum machine) to a taped audio track. Some seqeuncers have the ability to generate and read SMPTE time code directly. Some MIDI interfaces, such as the MOTU MIDI Time Piece / MIDI Express can generate a SMPTE signal to stripe a tape, and then on playback, read the SMPTE and translate it to MIDI Time Code (MTC). Consider a setup with tape, a SMPTE-reading MIDI interface, and a drum machine being driven by MIDI. At the start of the production, the SMPTE generator in the MIDI interface is used to "stripe" a time code on one track of the multitrack tape. This starts from some arbitrary starting point on the tape, which the SMPTE generator encodes as time zero, with time counting up from there. Audio tracks are then laid down on the tape, at a tempo regulated by a click track generated by a drum machine playing at a set beats per minute (BPM). The audio tracks may start at some arbitrary time past time zero on the tape.
After the audio tracks are recorded, the simple click pattern programmed in the drum machine is replaced by a full-up drum sequence. It is then needed to play back the multitrack tape in sync with the drum machine, so the result can be mixed down. The track of the multitrack tape which contains the SMPTE code is routed to the SMPTE reader on the MIDI interface. The tape is positioned at the start of the audio and the SMPTE time at that point in the tape is read. This is then programmed as an offset into either the drum machine's sequencer, if it has the ability to do so, or perhaps into the MIDI interface. When the tape is played back, this offset is subtracted from the current SMPTE time to determine where the drum machine should begin. Playback is started, and the MIDI interface reads the SMPTE time code and translates it to MIDI time code which is routed to the drum machine. The drum machine then plays back in sync with the tape. Further, unlike simple protocols such as DIN sync or MIDI Clock, the SMPTE/MTC combination allows the tape to be started at any point in the song and the drum machine will start at that same point -- no hand cueing is necessary, since the SMPTE code indicates actual time and not just clock ticks.
To summarize: For electronic music production: 1. If you aren't syncing sequencers to tape, or syncing two tape machines, or syncing audio to video, you don't need SMPTE. 2. If you are syncing to tape, but video isn't involved, you can use whatever frame rate is convenient. Most people who do this use either 25 or 30 fps because when you do time calculations, it makes the math easier.
Further reading on SMPTE time code:
Monday, January 28, 2008
On the other hand, in the most widely adopted large formats, there isn't nearly as much going on. Synthesizers.com has focused most of its development effort for the past couple of years on re-creating the Moog 960 sequencer modules -- a worthwhile effort, as far as it goes, but not exactly new. Cynthia has introduced two modules, but is concentrating mostly on offering its existing line in multiple formats, and they have dropped several older modules from their line (was I the only person who bought the StereOSpace?). Synth Tech had big plans a couple of years ago, but the business suffered a setback with the incapacitation of one of the principals (plus the tragic death of Stooge Panels co-founder Larry Hendry). They introduced the MOTM-480 and 485 filters, the very under-appreciated 510 WaveWarper, and the 650 MIDI interface. But a number of other planned modules, including a cloud generator and a fixed filter bank, had to be put on the shelf.
It's not all gloom and doom for large format manufacturers. Modcan continues to grow its line, particularly the MOTM-compatible B-series. Bridechamber's offerings also continue to grow (mostly in the MOTM format), and include a number of kits. However, there is nothing like, say, Harvestman's digital mangling modules being offered by any large-format manufacturer.
So is small-format the future of modulars? Are those of us with fat fingers facing a future of twiddling tiny knobs and breaking off teensy weensy 3.5mm jacks?
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
There don't seem to have been a lot of really innovative or out-there products this year. The Solaris was probably the most advanced synth present, but this wasn't the first time it has been exhibited (it was at Musikmesse Frankfort last year). An outfit called Sonivox announced a software package called Anatomy. I've read the description twice now and I'm still not quite sure what it does; it's a package of vocal samples with processing options, or a physical model of the human voice tract, or possibly both. In another example of the recent throw-objects-on-a-table-and-interpret-it-as-a-drum-pattern school of synthesis, an outfit called Percussia exhibited a product called Audio Cubes. They sense each others' presence, where they are in relation to each other, and which sides are facing which way. They connect to a computer using USB, and with an included appliction, they can be induced to either play loops, or send MIDI data to external synths and applications.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Monday, January 14, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
This was from voice 5. Voice 2 had a bit of offset, not this bad. The other four voices were already as flat as I could make them.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
More info and pics tonight, if all goes well.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
You can see the space where IC5 was.
There is some controversy as to whether certain lots of the 80017A are more likely to fail than others. The Wikipedia entry for the 106 claims that lot #41 units are most likely to fail, but at least one poster at Matrixsynth has disputed that, saying that all lots are equally likely to fail. The ones in mine are: voices 1-3 are lot 43B, voices 4-5 (including the dead one) are lot 42A, and voice 6 (which was replaced in 1991) is lot 61A.
To be continued...
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Thursday, January 3, 2008
- Cycle 24 -- represents the solar cycle that is due to begin in March 2008. A rather quiet bit that opens the piece.
- Prominence -- A solar prominence is a loop of the photosphere material that is made to rise from the surface as it follows the Sun's changing magnetic flux lines. Prominences are associated with flares and sunspots. Musically, this part is a bit of a nod to Jarre, with a pulsing bass line, pads, and lots of noises and things weaving in and out.
- Magnetic Revolutions -- The Sun's magnetic field is in constant turmoil -- in fact, it totally inverts itself (the magnetic North and South poles swap) every solar cycle. This part will be rhythmically, tonally, and scale-wise in oppressive turmoil.
- Storm -- The solar flare, and its effects on Earth: fried satellites, power failures, and Northern and Southern Lights. An improv piece using the EML 101. This was actually the first part of Solar Flare to be completed (it's been on the shelf for a while).
- Cycle 25 -- The following solar cycle, starting in 2020. How will it be different or similar to Cycle 24? This part is a re-statement of Part 1, with variations.