P Is for Phonogene

Danjec plays with speech in a Make Noise module


The ellipsis in the title of the track “e for …” can be read as referring to several things, among them both the operational status of the work itself, and the means by which it accomplishes its goals.

The track in question is less a finished work than it is a step toward something. As Danjec, the musician who uploaded it to SoundCloud, notes, he’s using the music as a means to experiment with something called Phonogene. Phonogene is a modular synthesis module that takes the tape recorder as its inspiration. From the Phonogene website:

The Phonogene is a digital re-visioning and elaboration of the tape recorder as musical instrument. It takes its name from a little known, one of a kind instrument used by composer Pierre Schaeffer. It is informed by the worlds of Musique Concrète where speed and direction variation were combined with creative tape splicing to pioneer new sounds, and Microsound where computers divide sound into pieces smaller then 1/10 of a second to be manipulated like sub-atomic particles.

Here’s what it looks like:


The Phonogene, like most modular synthesis modules, is not an instrument unto itself, but an element toward making an instrument, by working with it in combination with external sound sources and other modules. In Danjec’s hands, a short sample of human speech is tweaked this way and that above a burbling sequence of semi-random percussion:

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/danjec. More from Danjec, aka London-based Grant Wilkinson, at danjec.com, twitter.com/_muncky, and instagram.com/muncky (that’s where the above image was sourced). More on the Phonogene module at the website of its manufacturer, makenoisemusic.com. Make Noise is based in Asheville, North Carolina.

Disquiet Junto Project 0125: Yellow Disquiet Blues

On the centennial of the great W.C. Handy song "The Yellow Dog Blues," participate in a Studio 360 listener challenge.


Each Thursday at the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate.

Tracks by participants will be added to this playlist as the project proceeds:

This project was published in the evening, California time, on Thursday, May 22, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, May 26, 2014, as the deadline.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (sign up at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0125: Yellow Disquiet Blues

This week we’re going to cover a 100-year-old song. In honor of the centennial of W.C. Handy’s “The Yellow Dog Blues,” the radio show Studio 360 is holding a contest, inviting people to upload to SoundCloud their original rendition of the song.

These are the instructions:

Step 1: Download the sheet music here:


Step 2: Record your version. Studio 360 says, “Cover the song in any style, with any instrumentation; as traditional or as radically different as you’d like.” No, you don’t have to sing; it can be an instrumental version.

Step 3: In addition to posting your completed track to the Disquiet Junto group, upload your track to https://soundcloud.com/groups/1914-blues-challenge. Note: The deadline to be considered for the Studio 360 challenge is Sunday, June 1, at 11:59pm Eastern Time. So, if you want to just use this Junto project as a test run, you can wait until later in the month to upload a finished version to the Studio 360 group.

Deadline: Monday, May 26, 2014, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your finished work should likely be between a minute and a half and four minutes, but there’s no formal length requirement.

Information: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0125-junto360blues” in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 125th Disquiet Junto project — “On the centennial of the great W.C. Handy song ‘The Yellow Dog Blues,’ participate in a Studio 360 listener challenge”— at:

Disquiet Junto Project 0125: Yellow Disquiet Blues

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

The Disquiet Junto Project List (0001 – 0574 …)

Join the Disquiet Junto at:


More on the Studio 360 challenge at:


An Insect Lullaby at Dusk

A new track by Elian

The lovely drone “Individuality of Butterflies” is a series of slowly developing swells amid a light crush of white noise. Recorded by Elian, it appears as part of the recent free compilation Endless Intermission, released by the netlabel Subterranean Tide. The piece has the ebb and flow of a tide, and the warm enveloping aura of an insect lullaby at dusk.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/elian-1. Get the full compilation on which it originated, also for free, at subterraneantide.com.

Somber Tones for Somber Rooms

An album for/from Leyland Kirby's 40th birthday

In time for his 40th birthday, Leyland Kirby uploaded a 40-track set — one composition for each year — of short works under the umbrella title We Drink to Forget the Coming Storm. It’s an elegiac collection of nameless songs, each comprised of, as he describes it, “the same elements piano, digital strings and synthesized choir.” The result is a darkly angelic background music, somber tones for somber rooms:

At over three hours in length, the album is such a thing that the musician himself commented on its weightiness, saying in a note that accompanied the release, “[It] should be used sparingly in your own favourite track combinations.”

Kirby was born May 9, 1974, and for the 40 days (and nights) following May 9 the record is available for free. The album is set on bandcamp.com at “name your price,” which includes free, but certainly chip in.

A Noob’s Tale

Fiddling with my first modular synth rack


I’m just getting started fiddling with modular synthesis. Everything I know up to this point is pure book-learning. I’m like the Prioress in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. She has no firsthand experience of the culture (“And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, / After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe, / For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe”).

Here’s a snapshot (well, a ModularGrid simulacrum) of my rack, which I’m barely a week into starting to assemble. The stuff on the right of the rack I now have set up, while the stuff on the left is currently being nestled in bubble wrap and shipped to me. Mine is at http://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/96941; if there’s nothing on the left of that rack when you read this, it’s because everything has arrived. (The photo up top I originally posted to my instagram.com/dsqt account.)


Since it’s possible there are noobs even noobier than me, I’ll explain that ModularGrid.net lets you construct virtual sets of modules. I’m working in the Eurorack format, which is more compact than its predecessors. Many Eurorack modules are loving recreations of items from early in the development of audio synthesis. ModularGrid describes itself as follows: “a database for modular synthesizers with an integrated planner where people gather information and sketch out their modulars.” It’s a very helpful service. Every individual module links through to information about the module, and you can view racks that employ a given module, or share general characteristics with yours. Some helpful people assited me in getting my ideas together for an initial rack by posting their own rough starter sketches in ModularGrid. Speaking of noobs, whatever you read here that isn’t self-explanatory can be easily digested thanks to the numerous resources on the web about Eurorack modules in particular and audio synthesis in general. That’s how I’ve been learning. The discussions at muffwiggler.com/forum have been useful.

I have this equipment all in a Tiptop Audio Happy Ending Kit with the “z-ears,” which put it at a slight angle. And I have some colorful 6″ and 12″ cords.

The rack currently doesn’t have outputs or a mixer because I’m just putting it through my Behringer 802 mixer.

In advance of the arrival of the VCO, the EKO, and the Gozinta, I’ve mostly been (1) reading up and (2) doing some basic filtering of sounds that I feed into the Polivoks and then influence with input from the A-145. The sound quality should improve significantly when the Gozinta gets here. Mostly I’ve been using my Buddha Machines and my Gristleism as sound sources, but I’ll be using notes from my ukulele soon enough.

Once the VCO is here I’ll spend a lot of time on (re)learning synthesis fundamentals, mainly how the VCO and the LFO interact. (I spent way too much time wondering which VCO to get, and then waiting to hear back from non-responsive Craigslist people. I also missed out on some Muffwiggler.com forum sale items because I misunderstood the 100-post limit. I thought it was a 100-post requirement to participate in the marketplace. But I later learned that it’s a 100-post requirement to post items for sale. Anyone can buy. So, I lost on on a Dixie II. So be it.)

My main goal in this modular exploration is to learn how the tools work. But I know the best way to learn is to have a project, so I want to work on hazy ambient-quality sounds and some basic beat-making. I imagine I may add a step sequencer of some sort soon, but I’ll probably use Loopy on my iPad for awhile. If I add too many modules at the start, I’ll just get lost. Also, as inexpensive as the core components are individually, they do add up. Fortunately there is a large marketplace of secondhand modules.

I’d like to get a case with a proper cover and handle. I dig the waterproof Synthrotek ones, though I’m not informed about what to use that narrow 1U tile section for.

Anyhow, that’s where I’m at. If you’re already deep in modular/Eurorack activity and anything here looks like it’s gonna blow up, or anything looks like it’s missing, I’d appreciate being told so.