Jack Rubinstein is a Chiptune musician in Las Vegas who writes music under the name solo name De La Decay, two piece Decaying Tigers and builds custom glitch equipment under the moniker Decaying Electronics. He can be seen posting on the Glitch Art Collective Facebook page
Michael Television: How did you start off with circuit-bending and modding electronics?
Jack Rubinstein: I make Chiptune music so the first thing I modded was my Game Boy. A few years ago I started with the pro sound mod then went to doing led backlights. The reason I did the mods because modified Game Boys on eBay were like $90 easy. I’m cheap and I wanted to get my hands dirty so I performed the surgery myself.
To compliment my chiptune music, I opened up a Nintendo NES. followed some instructions on how to get started on Casper Electronics web site and had real Glitch visuals for my shows. Before this I was using a GlitchNES cart from No Carrier. GlitchNES is a soft circuit bending tool. (It’s still one of my favorite visuals.) At this point I was happy with soldering and wanted more.
Were you part of the early era of console gaming? NES, Atari, Master System? When did you adopt that part of it. Do you consider yourself a gamer? Are you still a VHS / Laserdisk / Betamax purist? Did you formally study or is it something you’ve been into for a while?
Yes, I was a early Gamer. I was 5 when the NES came to the market. I got it for Christmas and loved it instantly. I’m an only child and having R.O.B the robot for help was awesome!! Although after a while I just use my feet for the second controller, it was faster. I like 2D side-scrollers and some RPG. But when the Sega Genesis hit I really loved the speed of Sonic and NES took a back seat for a few years. Video Games music and visuals have been the biggest part of my life so I can say I never adopted the 8-bit lifestyle it’s infused into my blood.
I don’t consider myself a gamer. I’m not up to date on the most recent games and consoles. I know a crap ton about retro gaming. I live in Las Vegas so we have great conventions. I Have attended everything from EVO to the Classic Gaming Expo.
I don’t game as much as I should because I’m too busy make Chiptune with LSDJ on a Game Boy; [takes me hours to create an original song.]
I do love the look of a VHS tape but I’m not a purist. I use DVDs and burn disks from Datamoshing to YouTube clips. I like using different video sources because they have different output looks after its Glitched. I went to a Vocational High school for T.V. production. I’m glad I went because the equipment we used was very antiquated and it took up many rooms. By todays standards you can do all of it on your laptop. But my teacher was a stiff and didn’t like any of the experimenting we did. The rules of editing a commercial is so boring back then. We were doing what car commercials are doing today with fast cuts and Drum and Bass. But I was in the class of 98′ with equipment from 78′
What sort of projects are you working on in the future?
The projects I have now are with people in Las Vegas. I do visuals for a monthly live show in downtown call Friday Noise. I’m doing collaboration with 710 Visuals. He’s more of the hippy visuals and I’m more robotic. I’d like to collaborate with people all over the world if I could.
You produce glitch art, circuit bent equalizers, video mixers. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that…
I wanted to make video Glitch unit so I created the Glitch Zapper. It’s a dirty video mixer housed in a Nintendo Zapper. I started sell them on Etsy and sold 28 so far in a few months. The reason I started selling them is because i wanted people to have a legit Glitch tool for cheap. Under $50. The next Glitch tools are around $200-$700. So my product has a purpose.
When I circuit bent my Videonics mx1 and posted it to social media no one has bent it yet and got some respect for my masters. So I circuit bent the Videonics titlemaker 2000 and got the Glitch Fx I was really looking for. And now I sell that one too I call it the Dream Crusher. $179 I found over 15 different Glitches on that unit.
My mx1 unit is for sale but it’s hard to track down the proper board to bend. It’s called the Psytronic.
Glitch has been around a long time and still continues, like Chiptune, to remain wholly popular in some circles, but still kind of underground to mainstream counter culture. Give me some examples of the sort of chiptune and glitch art you really inspired and what kind of visual and musical work you’re trying to put out there?
…Glitch fucking art. I Don’t care for App Glitch art to start out. If you do it’s your life and time used. I have never left a negative comment on someone’s app art. But it is a pain in the ass to go through the Glitch Art Collective and find pixel porn after pixel porn. It’s just not what I like. I like O.G. rainbow feedback and real sync corruption. The Masters I follow and talk to are Portland’s own BPMC (glitchart.com) and Florida’s Tachyons+
I was cruising Facebook the other day and stumbled across 2xAA’s video of a pitch control that stepped neatly instead of speeding or slowing an ungodly amount. Mind blown! Asking 2xAA about it, gwEm was the creator and it had existed a long time. Naturally, I wanted to know more about, because presumably you all want to know more about it. So I asked him. With my brain words.
MT: Hallo! Thanks for agreeing to do an interview.
g: Hi Mike! No problem, I thought it would be fun.
First off. I was pretty stoked to see this in action. People have been talking about such a thing for a long time. Then to hear you have built it back in 2003 blew my mind a bit! How did you come to the conclusion to build one and what was the catalyst? Who was involved?
When I first got started with electronic music it was as a drum’n’bass DJ using 12″ vinyls. I wanted a way of mixing in my own 8bit effects into the set, the Gameboy was a nice a portable platform.
Previously I’d designed a similar device for MIDI and Roland Sync24. I’d also done a basic LSDJ MIDI interface. I could see it would be pretty easy to combine and simplify the two projects and get what I wanted.
I did all the work on it myself and used the lab equipment at the University where I was studying.
How did you go about building the device and what experience do you have in electronics?
Johan Kotlinski, the creator of LSDJ, was a mate of mine and had already explained the tempo protocol used over the gamelink cable for LSDJ. Since it was very simple – just a constant stream of zeros I just needed a clock with variable rate. After doing some maths, I put together a basic 555 timer circuit with coarse and fine adjustments to make it possible to get a wide range of tempos and precise adjustment. If you’ve ever tried beat matching a drum machine with a tempo control you’ll know its tricky. Once I had the prototype built from veroboard I tweaked the values of some components to improve the usability a bit.
I have two degrees in electronics – a Masters and a PhD, plus my day job is the leader of a microchip design team.
Have you used this in any specific tracks?
Yes, but none of them have been released. In fact I sold much of my Gameboy rig to concentrate on my Atari ST projects. I used it in a few live performances in 2003/2004, including the one where I met Malcolm McLaren(!).
How much roughly would it cost to build one myself, on estimate?
Always in these projects the most expensive parts are the case and the knobs. If you can improvise these yourself then you can really save money. If not, all the components are available in Maplins or eBay. You can build one for less than £20. Getting the 6 wire gamelink cable can be a pain in the arse.
Are you interested in making a revamped one?
Yes, I’d like to add switches for push and pull similar to a CDJ. It should be very simple to do. They aren’t strictly needed for beat matching, but they would make things alot easier.
ONN’s writer and editor, Stephan introduced me to BASTL a few weeks ago and I was incredibly impressed at their range of instruments. What they do and do rather well is create instruments that snap together, as a kind of modular music unit, yet the devices can be used as stand alone items. The larger flagship piece seems to be the microGranny. BASTL are pushing it as their main instrument, above the expected entry level MIDI and SQNCR units, which kind of speak for themselves without having to go into too much detail. For the purpose of keeping things linear, we’ll talk about the microGranny and expand on the article later and where the MIDI and SQNCR units fit in to the Trinity line. This article is a collaborative effort as we both road-tested the microGranny 2.0 (hereafter know as mG2) at the same time.
What is the Granny, and what does it do?
In short, the mG2 is a monophonic granular sampler, capable of playing back samples from an SD card on the press of the 6 buttons on the top, or recording 8-bit samples using the onboard mic or input. It appeals to people who like to keep their samples and/or playback simple, gritty and lo-fi.
Mikee: “As the appeal to own one was too much for Stephan and I, we both purchased one from Error Instruments, receiving them at the same time, even though they both shipped from Amsterdam, mine arriving in the UK. As a big shout out to them, they sent us a pair of headphones , a spare cable and the 9v battery and MicroSD needed to use the mG2. I can’t rate that kind of service high enough. The communication was fast, the product was packaged brilliantly and the ‘gifts’ were a lovely touch. No greater generosity is appreciated.”
What we’ll both aim to do is cover 4-5 of the main features together and our opinions on this, to give you a round view of the instrument and what you can do with it.
Mikee: “The microGranny reads samples from the SD Card. When I purchased mine, the card came with the product. I picked up a read, the Kingston MicroSD Reader Gen 2 for under £2.00 online.”
Stephan: “The SD Card came preloaded with a number of interesting samples, ranging from the usual bells and drum fare to a whole bank of Slavoj Zizek samples (who, admittedly, has a very sample-worthy voice). Recording new samples to the SD card is easy via the on-board mic or line in. Just press record, pick a bank and you’re good to go! I did a little of piano and some voice recording via the mic and it sounded very nice. The microgranny also features an input gain, allowing you to record from various sources without experiencing too much harmful background noise. All samples are stored on the MicroSD card in .txt files, which also allows you to use the recorded samples somewhere else. It is worth noting that the Microgranny supports both 16- and 8-bit samples playback but only records 8-bit samples.
The Microgranny has a peculiar logical structure, which can be confusing when you start playing with it: the samples on the SD card are stored in banks. Each samples can be manipulated in various ways to form a preset. Every button can hold one preset. This decoupling between samples and presets allows you to, for example, take different ‘slices’ from one longer samples and play them on the buttons, MPC-style. Another consequence of this structure is that the original samples can never be changed in the Microgranny itself, which ensures your recordings are always saved.”
Mikee: “Introducing your own samples is fairly simple and I managed to cut and edit a few samples easily in Audacity and drop them onto the mSD Card. The actual re-sampling of the device is suprisingly good quality despite the lo-fi credentials. Beats and bass remain big, whilst clarity is not lost. In terms of what the microGranny does, it’s very slick and modern feeling in functionality. It’s hackable too.”
The Microgranny features 4 potentiometers which get different controls depending on the page you’re currently on. The Green page contains the following parameters:
Sample Rate: allows you to speed up or slow down the sample in semitones or cents, from +6 semitones to -36. The upward range is a bit disappointing for me, and does not allow for ‘hip-hop’-style pitched vocal stabs in most cases. The downward range is often too much: any sample tuned down -36 semitones is reduced to a low growl or hiss.
Crush: A distortion/bit-crush effect, this one really destroys your samples. Very nice to make heavy basses and to warp sounds beyond recognition. One downside of the crush is that it also amplifies the background noise, which makes it very hard to use on noisier samples.
Attack: This setting is self-explanatory. Increasing Attack increases the time for the sample to reach full volume when you play a sample.
Release: Also self-explanatory. Increasing Release increases the time for the sample to return to 0 volume when you stop playing a sample.
The blue page features parameters related to the actual sample playback. Before we dive into the settings it is worth noting that each sample is cut up into 1024 individual slices:
Grain size: controls the size of each grain, where a grain is defined as a collection of slices. If this setting is 0, no grain effect is applied and the ‘shift speed’ parameter will have no effect.
Shift speed: This setting controls in which direction the grains are played if the grain size is > 0. Shift speed controls the speed at which the microgranny travels through different grains. The shift speed can also be negative, which means the granny will playback samples slowly. The shift speed setting is the real gem in the granny, it allows you to play samples very slowly and ‘timestretch’ samples without changing their tuning, getting you some really weird sounds.
Loop start/end: These parameters are controlled by 2 separate buttons but are quite similar in usage. As said above, every sample is cut up into 1024 separate slices. Loop start controls which of these slices is played first and Loop end controls the last slice. Loop end can never be smaller than loop start, for obvious reasons, but otherwise these function as expected.
Mikee: “The display can be confusing at first, but the display has a ‘key’ on the instructions that help understand this. I found some older instructions that made this more apparent, so some understanding has been lost in design there. But it looks crisp.
The packaging that the mG2 came in is simple and clean. It matches the actual product itself and it comes with a lilac ‘seal’ – as the devices can be kit bought and resold, build quality can vary.
The whole ‘feel’ of the product is high quality and satisfying.”
Stephan: “The feel of the product is great, although not all the buttons feel as consistent. I agree with Mikee that the instructions on the Microgranny are a great help as the display by itself simply doesn’t offer enough information. I also agree with that it looks very crisp. It’s sure to turn some heads or get some questions from audiences if that’s your thing.
One word of warning is that the devices are handmade and that build quality may vary. Of course all parts are machine cut, but I can imagine that not every granny is as pristine as the one I got.”
Mikee: “There’s always some. I’m going to mention the obvious problem with being a kit as, my device is not powering with a charger right now. I’ve triple checked the voltage and it will not stay on. My solution I suppose, is to either talk to the supplier and see their policy on a fix, or open the unit and try to fix it myself. The latter is something I’m not always confident on unless I have a spare device knocking around. While it stands, if you want an mG2, you’ll need to consider building it yourself or relying on the supplier to do this for you. This is a boutique product so don’t be frightened to get your hands dirty.
Relying on battery. It really is a fun portable device but I personally wouldn’t use batteries in the live environment. The only place this works is for on-the-fly-sampling. The machine starts to bug out when running low. Classic signs are that the settings on one pad are automatically applied to others. You can tell the battery is running out because the SRCH function kicks in but finds no samples on board.
There seems to be a problem with storage, as in, you can ‘overwrite’ samples with effects and have to recall them every time you turn on. I believe this is actually a problem with battery power as this stopped happening once I’d put in a new one.
My feeling is that the microGranny 2.0 comes across as a really nifty toy sampler and that’s OK. It’s fun, powerful and well, sometimes a bit problematic, but it sits very nicely in small micromusic sets. For me, dropping in samples into a 2 x Gameboy set was a lot of fun, particularly with the time-stretched vocal samples and crushed effect.” The only downside I can see to this is that it’s difficult to switch through samples quickly between songs, so you’ll have to adjust the sample names accordingly. As your schematic is two characters (o1, 48, FG etc) you can order the samples into alphabatised names.”
Stephan: “CHARGER STUFF”
“One of the major gripes I had with the microgranny is the behaviour of some settings. Specifically, the loop start and end settings make a sample replay from the start when they are changed. This is a good thing, as it would cause inconsistencies if the sample wasn’t forced to replay. However, sometimes one of the potentiometers gets ‘stuck’ between two values, which makes a sample get stuck because it is retriggered continuously and instantaneously. This happened more often than I would like (but might be a construction error in my granny?).
Another thing which makes the product harder to use than necessary is the lack of a well-written manual. The granny is very intuitive, but a good manual would go a long way to explain some of the design intricacies.
One of the great features of the granny also turns out to be one of its greatest vices for me. As said above, you can’t really edit the original samples on your SD card. This is great, because it allows you to do whatever you want to your samples and not ruin them in any way. The downside to this is best illustrated through a real word example: At one point I recorded a friend singing some vocal line, which went well. Unfortunately I also recorded myself saying “1,2,3 GO”. There is currently no way to delete the “1,2,3 GO” from the sample itself. That is, every time I want to use that sample I have to go to the blue page and change the loop start to not include my own voice. If the Microgranny had included native resampling this would be a non-issue. As it stands now I have to record the samples to a DAW and then cut off the undesired parts and reload them on the SD card, which is quite a hassle.
Ultimately I feel the granny is a great device with a limited scope. If you want a full workstation/sampling solution you are better off using something like a SP-404 or an MPC. I’m very satisfied with it, although I’m not sure if it’s worth the money for most people.”
Ahead of BRKfest 2014, the tri-states third annual three-day Chipmusic festival, we caught up with Bertrand. a huge supporter and cog in the wheel of the Chipmusic scene. He hopes to raise enough to help himself and fellow journalist Leah Oakes make it out to Cincinnati, Ohio to document and enjoy the growing festival. In support of this, we offered to talk to Betrand and what he’s working on. You can help with their GoFundMe if you’re feeling generous. Every small amount, counts.
Tell us about your journey that brought you into writing chip music.
For Christmas in 2008, I somehow convinced my parents to buy me a CycloDS Evolution, the best DS flashcart on the market at the time. Some time in 2009, I found Nitrotracker on one of the many DS homebrew repositories that ran back then. I had wanted to start making music for a while back then after hearing my brother’s band, so I threw some terrible, free samples on the cart, and started making some horrendous music.
One of the free set of samples provided on Nitrotracker’s site was nitro2k01’s chip samples pack. I hadn’t started listening to chip at that time, but, with those samples and a rather limited sense of musicality, I tried to emulate the sound of the Gameboy games I had played when I was younger. They were so terrible, I quit making music until two summers ago when I finally caved in and bought LSDJ and a pre-backlit green Play-It-Loud DMG. The first song I made on that was so terrible, I put making music on hold again for a few months until I relistened to Auxcide’s of Atoms and Stardust, played the songs on the 2 carts and 2 SPs I’ve kept since I was a kid, and tried again to make music. Since last summer, I’ve been slowly but surely learning LSDJ and how to make (listenable) chip on 2xLSDJ.
What do you feel are your biggest strengths for writing chip?
I like to try different things with my music. Though I’m most comfortable writing 4-on-the-floor, songs with sidechained bass lines, I try not to stick to one genre for an entire song. I tend to do that, because I spend a few hours creating one section for a song then transition to another the next time I sit down to write again, creating a sort of patchwork style. That’s probably something I could work on, but I like the kind of tension that slapdash sound can create. I also spend a long time polishing songs, and when I find that one song in my mind that inspires me, I have to finish it and chip away at it until I think it’s ready.
Favorite and least favorite pieces of gear you own?
Honestly? My least favorite piece of gear is my mixer. If I had paid 50 bucks more, I could have bought a mixer that would support 2xLSDJ, an effects pedal array, and whatever else I wanted to add in (like another set of 2xLSDJ for anything live). You should have seen the ridiculous set-up I had for the song I played MAGFest 14 open mic. In addition to the two stereo channels I had my GBA SPs plugged into, I had two mono channels panned left and right respectively for a third SP, and a fourth SP plugged into my Aux Return.
My favorite “gear” is something I don’t even use in my recorded music: my family’s upright piano. It’s where I come up with the skeleton for all of my songs or flesh out a melody with chords behind it. If you listen to my music (and the music I’ll be putting out in the future) and try to play it on a piano, you’ll see just how much I write for that instrument. And I don’t even know how to play it. I just like sitting there when I’m starting a song and playing chords until something sounds good, then I record the progression(s) all the way through once, break down the chords into their individual notes (since I work best with sound, not theory), and sprint upstairs to start working on the song in LSDJ.
What projects are you working on right now?
For music, just today I actually solidified the concept for an EP I want to release this winter. It’s gonna be 3 or 4 tracks focusing on compound time signatures and time signatures other than 4/4. I’m using it to work on the repetition in my music. I also have a few tracks started for a concept album I’ll be putting out later summer/early fall next year. In true chip fashion, it’s about space.
I also write for chip, too. I’ll be posting my first review for a monthly series on The Waveform Generators’ blog next week, and I have a GoFundMe running right now to raise funds so that Leah Oakes (of Chiptunes=WIN) and I can go to and cover BRKfest 2014. I’ll be doing daily recaps with her, and interviews for ChipWIN and another, unnamed site. ;3 We’re also trying to get Glenn Dubois (founder of Clipstream) to BRK if we get enough donations over the original goal. If I can’t make it there, then I’ll be giving one of those ChipWIN interviews for a write-up sometime in the near future.
I’m also an admin at LGBTune and their Midatlantic Coordinator, and we’re currently in the process of curating tracks for the compilation (which is still technically accepting tracks: see details here.
Where do you see the most obvious signs of self improvement since you started making chip music?
Since I started to write music again last summer, the one thing that had been a major stumbling block was taking the music and sounds I was thinking up in my mind and translating them into something listenable on LSDJ. I actually I had become so frustrated that I couldn’t get the sounds I wanted out of LSDJ that I had a huge creative block for about two months this winter. After skimming through the LSDJ save files I had accumulated over the past couple years and talking with Bryan (Auxide) and Sean (Awesome Force) about the program, I really started to be able to crank out the sounds I wanted.
What music training/experience did you have prior to writing chip?
I finished my 11th year in a school/college band on alto saxophone last May. I’d never really received much music theory training beyond scales, key signatures, and the basics in band. I think the things that really influence the way I make music now are not so much the theory, but the nuances you’re taught about over the course of practicing and performing in front of others for so long: how to shape notes, how a whole ensemble can work together and what typically creates weaknesses in their sound. Those lessons translate almost directly into my music today. What other music theory I know, I taught myself earlier this year then almost immediately forgot. I rarely use theory unless I’m covering a song, and even then I use it sparingly.
How many chip shows have you been to? Is there a particular show that’s been your favourite?
I’ve only gone to 8 so far, actually. I really want to say that Blip Fest ’11, my first chip show, was my favorite, and it’s certainly up there on the list, but BRKfest ’13 was definitely my favorite. Not only did I get to meet some cool new people there, I actually felt more involved in that show and with that group of people than any show before or after. The energy that weekend was ridiculous, and wasting all of my money on bar food and alcohol was totally worth it.
When did you first hear chip?
The same year I started writing on Nitrotracker, actually. It was during summer PE (fulfilling all of the nerdy, chipster stereotypes here) when someone heard the crap I was writing and asked if I had heard of chiptune. They didn’t actually listen to much but had heard some days before and suggested I look it up. The next day, I had the 8bit Collective’s jog/exercise compilation on my iPod and played it every day when we ran the mile and got hooked on nonfinite’s Northbridge not long after.
You have been writing your own chip for a while. How’s that going?
It’s been pretty tough, actually. I never imagined I’d just “get” making music, let alone making music on LSDJ, but I had hoped it’d come to me sooner. It’s been a humbling experience seeing just how much I still have to learn. At the same time, it’s been an incredibly gratifying experience. Submitting to Chipwin for the first time two weeks ago certainly felt rewarding. I take forever to write my music, though. It took me a month and a half to finish up that song. Remixes and covers usually take me a week to complete, or a few days if I’m really into the song/adaptation, but original songs are something else altogether.
It’s become annoying to me how slow my writing process for original songs is by contrast. I typically sit down at my family’s piano and just plonk out chords until a series of them sounds good. I’ll also find some progressions that are similar to the original one or otherwise work with those in the context of a song. From there, I’ll either think about them for a while or just throw them into LSDJ (which is nice, considering I use 2xLSDJ) and come up with a melody to go with the progression. I’ve come up with the melodies and general structure of the past three songs I’ve made or am making by zoning out in the shower or at work when things are slow. When I actually get around to writing and iterating on a song, I usually just go with what I think sounds good rather than worrying about what’s “correct”. Then I spend probably entirely too long listening and relistening to what I’ve made at every stage of its creation, shoving each version at Bryan and Sean until they tell me it’s alright (both of them have endless patience for this process, at least, I hope they do. I’m infinitely grateful to them for their help every time) and then I tweak a few more things until I think it’s fine, and a month later, I’ve got a song.
This is your 3rd BRK. Who are you looking forward to seeing? What are your favourite memories of previous years?
That’s just an unfair question considering the lineup this year. I finally get to see Glomag and Ricky Brugal live, and I’ve been wanting to see Tri Angles live after the change in direction he announced at last year’s BRK. There are some new faces and ones I’ve only seen briefly this year that I’m excited to hear; Corset Lore and diode milliampere just to name a couple. I’ve also always wanted to see the same musician live 5 times in the span of a year, so it’s great to see Trey Frey getting stage time at BRK again. ;3
As last year was my favorite chip/live show, I’d say it has the most fond memories, but losing Sean in a Walmart has to be one of the better ones. It’s where I met Bryan in-person for the first time, which was pretty awesome. Dissing him for so long to get there the first second I could talk to him was also pretty swell.
Seriously, though, the first BRK was the first real moment that I felt connected to the scene as a whole. It felt so great to see a show basically thrown together by one guy turn out so damned well and draw so many people. With the death of Blip Fest that year, it felt even bigger the next year to see how popular it had become and the fact that artists were being flown in from all over the world to play it was great to see and be even a small part of. Just meeting and talking to all these people far outshines any other experience I’ve had with the scene. No matter what chip show I’ve been to recently, I tend to enjoy hanging out with my friends more than being at the show itself, which I think says more about the people in this scene than it does about the quality of the shows.
You’ve traveled quite a lot to get to chip shows. What’s your local scene like? What’s the furthest distance you’ve gone for a show?
The farthest I traveled was to New York City by way of Washington, D.C. for Blip ’11. That bus trip actually wasn’t so bad with a few video game podcasts and 8bc songs stocked up.
My local scene is, to put it bluntly, almost dead. We have a few shows every year: Trey’s shows in the WV/western Virginia area, MAGStock, and MAGFest. Sometimes the Maryland chip folk put on shows, but, because of our close proximity to Philadelphia, and the fact that all the musicians in the Midatlantic scene are scattered across the three states in our area, any show besides the MAG shows/events typically get little to no draw. I’ve been trying to plan something to change that, but I just haven’t had the time or money to fully commit to it. With Daniel Davis (aka an0va) moving to Richmond, maybe that’ll change sometime soon, but for the time being, our local musicians remain fairly isolated, sadly.
Tell us a little something about yourself that people don’t know.
I like to talk a lot.
Wait, things people don’t know. Damn, that’s a bit tougher. That question has been the bane of my existence every time it’s been asked of me, because I typically wear my heart on my sleeve (and say way too much). That said, one aspect of my life that I typically never talk to others about is my family; specifically: my parents.
It might sound strange to mention them here, but they’ve seriously helped and inspired me throughout my life. As much as we piss each other off on a daily basis (and, oh dear GOD do we piss each other off), they’ve been the only ones in my corner during some of the roughest, loneliest parts of my life. They’ve taken me around the world, they listened to my brother and I when considered whether to adopt (three times), they’ve been there for me financially regardless of if it was smart to back me in the end.
That’s not to belittle my siblings, though. Those many times my parents just couldn’t deal with me, my older brother was always there to kick my ass and set me straight. Being jealous of his guitar playing was what led me to start writing music and is often times the force driving me to get better (mainly so I can just be better at something than he is). My three younger siblings are the harshest critics I’ve ever had in my life. My family is pretty tenuously held together at times, but they’re the things, the people I keep close to my chest, because without them, I wouldn’t be here and certainly wouldn’t be the same person I am today.
“A tannin is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids.” (Wiki)
Behold the Tannin! An awesome Midi controller that is made from a grip of potentiometers, buttons, LED’s and an arduino! The project was released on Hackaday.io and the project can be found HERE. The Tannin midi controller demo can be viewed HERE.
We’ve been chatting about this for a while and it occurs to me that we haven’t even started at the beginning. The Produino is Alley Beach’s own version of an Arduinoboy on a tiny, tiny board. He’s been working on this non-stop this year and it is right at the final stages of testing: ie, does it do everything it is expected to do? What does this mean to people like you? Incredibly. Affordable. Midi for Gameboys. The idea is to keep the solder points to a minimum, board as small as possible and full components as part of a kit. What I like most about Scott’s dedication to electronics, is his attention to form, components and size.
NeX has made the Midiboy a most wanted must have object: a fully complete Gameboy with MIDI embedded right into it. We want to make this an affordable product. We’re hoping to sell a kit for around 50 dollars with all the parts for you to make your own. For those who like to get less dirty, we’re hoping to produce a Midiboy 2.0 – A fully MIDI gameboy with no extra outboard components at the lowest price we can make them at.
I recently received a parcel through the post with a California post stamp on it. I was super-pumped, because Scott was sending me one of his CMOYs: a tiny, symetrical board, mini-jack in and out, potentiometer and LEDs that amplifies anything you plug into it to the max. It was mounted, fairly neatly in a Tazo tin. Sadly, the California customs decided that even though it was leaving the country, it needed its face smashed in, even if it didn’t have one. It arrived broken with a few leads snapped. It must have been used as a football.
Brilliantly though, its a kit that you put together yourself, so I just fixed it under his instructions with a couple of solder spots and it was up and running.
Because I wanted to paint the Tazo tin, I got viciously annoyed with the amount of adhesive on the tin and set up a tiny replacement box instead while I wait to get some paint thiner. The replacement box originally came with a foam insert for the mouse. I ditched that. The beauty of this tin is that you can see inside the board and LED.
The sound that you get out of this thing is MASSIVE. Why would you need such a thing? It’s a fun piece of kit to have around. It’s small. It’s fun and simple to make and it can amplify a hell of a lot in such a tiny box. Perfect for amping up Gameboys, Toy pianos, Speak and Spells. There’s a revision coming shortly and we’ll make these available. With the kit placed at about ten dollars, it’s hella cheap and hella fun.
With the advent of smaller, lighter software and clouded services and hardware such as the Chromebook, redundancy as access to files on the fly has never been more important. On travelling to the states to perform music to my friends, I found my LSDJ had corrupted. That wasn’t a problem, of course because I’d wisely backed up my tracks, but I couldn’t access them if I’d have left them on my computer at home.
Fortunately, I’d been wise enough to zip everything and upload it to Google Drive, so I quickly downloaded them and got to work loading them onto my spare cart. With instant access to the files that matter in an emergency, I was graetful that the contents of my files went with me.
Twisted Wave is an online editing package that allows you to import music from your Google Drive. You simply need to grant access from your Google Account and a currently free service is truncated 30 second clips. If you spend a further 30 seconds signing up, you can edit full content. During the beta period, purchasing is disabled and the limits are 20 minute documents / 10 hours storage. The software comes with a variety of basic features such as cutting, marking, looping, copying and pasting, and goes further to adding in VST effects of the standard variety. As a tool, it is clean and concise and allows to to export to your Soundcloud account.
Twisted Wave isn’t even a replacement to Audacity despite being just like it, but….. it is a free beta, compact, use anywhere, browser-based ‘awwwww shiiit’ reducing tool when you’re in a jam. Give it a try.
We here at ONN have had a long journey with these Produinoboys. We have them functioning now with MGB so far, but were waiting for them to be tested with LSDj and Nanoloop. For clearance issues, the boards will be about .2″ wider, which is hardly noticeable, and quite frankly, it’s VERY close to our expected measurements. Another small yet noticeable change is the resontator is now smaller, and safer. the last resonators were very easy to cause issues due to exposed pads all around the component, which poses for shorts, and crashes (DONT PANIC!). Due to budget constraints, we have not been able to submit these final circuit boards to production, but will be ordered on or before march 27th. if you would like to contribute to the manufacturing of boards, whether it be donations or a few encouraging words, comment below.
Thursday Customs has recently rolled out a new product, the USB Boy. The device functions like an Arduinoboy in every way, except for the fact that it lacks USB ports. For ages, the integration of LSDJ and other Gameboy music software into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) has been a thing of mystery and awe. In this feature we’re going to go into detail as to how you can take advantage of this MIDI port-less device to open up your world of mobile production and composition. Click here for a full video review, read on for more details!
Composition with LSDJ
The LSDJ MIDI OUT + Live Sync patch is something that first appeared in 2011 and was something experimental in nature – essentially, LSDJ was used as a MIDI sequencer as well as a tracker to generate noise out of the Gameboy. This meant that anything you could hook up to a MIDI cable via Arduinoboy could be programmed/played by a Gameboy to some degree. Some artists such as Auxcide exploited this on a brutal level, using as many as 4 or more synths and 6 or 7 Gameboys in unison to create jaw-dropping textures and tunes. The Sync maps allowed for the Gameboy to be slaved to receive special MIDI data rather than send it. One example would be creating loopable tunes in Ableton Live or other session-based DAWs with MIDI loops corresponding to certain chains in LSDJ. This allows for Live mode utilization in LSDJ without touching the Gameboy, handy for strictly sequenced tunes and heavily improvised jam sessions alike.
Application for the USB Boy includes things such as being able to compose on the go, and feed note data into a DAW. The if LSDJ’s tempo matches your DAW’s master tempo, recording note data is as easy as hitting the record button in your DAW then pressing START on the Gameboy. Benefits of this are being able to track songs for DAW usage while away from the computer, as well as sending data in realtime to control things such as DMX lighting or effects loops in DJ software. One could easily record their song data as MIDI and use those MIDI files in VJ software with both LSDJ and the USB Boy set to Master, enabling someone to create highly detailed visuals to go with their music.
MIDI OUT is a spectacular function, and MIDI IN via the LSDJ keyboard mode and midiGB software allow for spectacular exploitation of realtime Gameboy performance at its highest level. The LSDJ keyboard was designed years ago to enable LSDJ users to perform their tunes live, on one channel at a time, and have better input for their compositions on the Gameboy. With the USB Boy those same functions are still present, with the option to use a real USB MIDI keyboard or finger drumming controller such as the Novation Launchpad or MIDI Fighter to provide note input. For some folks, one channel in LSDJ isn’t enough, and they crave more input. The midiGB ROM is a free homebrew software for the Gameboy that allows for simultaneous yet independent control over the pulse, wav, and noise channels. The catch is that while these sounds are highly modifiable and extremely easy to color (MIDI CC’s will change parameters), it typically can’t outperform the level of detail LSDJ can create in sound design. midiGB is definitely a go-to option for keyboardists wishing to jam on a Gameboy as a hardware synth along with soft synths in their DAW or even other hard synths.
Another excellent opportunity for compositional freedom is the LSDJ keyboard function of the USB Boy. It is possible to map MIDI controllers to certain notes and macros that are user-defined, allowing for a custom workflow. Gone are the days of having to locate and modify a compatible PS/2 keyboard or punch in entire songs with your thumbs. The power is in your hands and under your fingers to utilize MIDI automation and MIDI controllers to create a workflow that fits your needs. Currently there is support for using only one Gameboy with the keyboard function at a time, but that may change as time goes on and LSDJ and the USB Boy are developed further. A change in the composition process by using MIDI controllers may be frustrating or liberating, but always flexible given the nature of MIDI mapping, something the PS/2 keyboard modification doesn’t allow.
Composition and Production with DAWs
It’s no secret that producers like Savant, Frostbyte, and Whitely use LSDJ now and then in their productions, often using LSDJ as both a creative exercise away from their computers as well as a core part of their sound design now and then. The USB Boy allows for fundamental tempo sync, meaning you can record from your Gameboy straight into your PC without the need to warp the audio to the correct tempo, as the Gameboy without external sync tends to drift. This also means it’s easy to sample, resample, and reapply your chippy sounds in new creative ways in your computer productions. It’s easy to make your creative cover tunes remixes with a vocal acapella, and expand your own LSDJ works with more synths, drums, and other sounds. It also makes it easy for folks who mix and master their own LSDJ releases to draw automation over their individually recorded tracks for things such as EQ and effects, again a consequence of not needing to warp the tracks to drift-less beat grid. As far as integration with computer productions, the sky’s the limit.
We’ve already touched upon the USB Boy providing the capability of live jamming in LSDJ and midiGB, but what about enhancing LSDJ-only performances? Or integrating your Gameboy tunes into a live band? Well, after doing extensive (read: completely unplanned and unrehearsed) testing, I found that it is profoundly easy to take your LSDJ game to the next level with the USB Boy. How easy is it? Read on for my personal anecdote.
Back in late December, I received the USB Boy prototype from Thursday Customs, asking that I provide a thorough examination, beating, and testing of the device where possible. As luck would have it, I was invited to play in a friend’s band the following month: Matt Owen and the Eclectic Tuba. They had a song called “Hyperdrive” which almost felt like an old Anamanaguchi tune, minus the NES. I asked Matt what I would do, and he said “play along, and solo,” which sounded great on paper. Matt’s band uses two laptops running Ableton Live to drive background instruments (like rhythm guitar recordings), send a tick to the drummer, filter in vocals and instruments for EQing, and provide softsynth support for the two keyboardists. For me to be properly mixed into a band whose drummer operates on a metronome tick, I needed to make sure my Gameboy was in time with that tick. Rather than simply press “play” on my sequenced part of their song (and solo section I pre-wrote), I thought it would be wise to bring the USB Boy and hook it up to Matt’s rig.
When I arrived at the bar, soundcheck took only seconds and I was nervous. I had not used the USB Boy too much yet, and was afraid I might not be able to play on the tune. However, as soon as I plugged the USB Boy into Matt’s Macbook Pro, drivers installed themselves, and when Ableton was loaded up, there was the “Teensy MIDI” device (the USB Boy) ready for action. Making sure to turn on the appropriate output functions, I threw the USB Boy into LSDJ slave mode. Later when it was time for Hyperdrive, it was as easy as turning on the Gameboy, putting LSDJ in slave mode, and then cuing up my segments while the band jammed and Ableton sent MIDI data to the USB Boy. I even have video from the gig!
Here’s footage of the whole ordeal! You’ll notice that something rhythmically was off – the band swung and the Gameboy didn’t. The big caveat here was that on the album, where I learned to program the song, the song was not swung. This was an overlook by myself and the band, which will be properly compensated for next time when we play together in March by taking better advantage of LSDJ’s Groove function. Overall the performance was awesome and the Gameboy mixed very well with the band. And shockingly, it was easy to jam along because the USB Boy was literally plug and play, aside from setting it up as a device in Ableton which took literally a few seconds.
Enhanced LSDJ Performance
In the LSDJ scene there has always been a special pedestal for artists who rock a 2xLSDJ setup, typically with a DJ mixer. Notable acts to do this include Knife City, Trey Frey, Roboctopus, and Galaxy Wolf. The big deal with doing live performance at clubs and bars with LSDJ is not only having a decent sized live audience, but also being able to approach performance more from the DJ end of the spectrum. This means effects, EQ tweaking, and transitions are huge parts of the performance. Often, hardware mixers cost upwards of $100 and provide the bare necessities for LSDJ: amplification, EQing, and a few basic effects. Some folks use devices like Kaoss Pads and guitar pedals to help color their sound, which adds more money to the live setup. Most bars use mono-oriented sound systems, meaning stuff like panning effects doesn’t really matter much and will have no effect in these venues. It’s possible to use mono-output in clubs to your advantage, as well as DAWs such as Ableton or FL Studio to design a highly capable software mixer on your laptop. Other software such as Guitar Rig, Izotope’s Trash, and even Traktor can be used to make your performance setup be feature-rich without breaking the bank. Expect an article soon detailing this process using the USB Boy! These techniques will work with 1xLSDJ works as well. Keep your eyes peeled!
In addition to being able to layer all sorts of effects, sometimes the ability to sidechain Gameboy audio fed into your computer make a world of difference – using high quality drum samples to beef up your tunes can help bring your sound design up to most standards held in EDM, especially with a bit of creative EQing.