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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Buddha Machine Variations No. 19 (Broken Steps)

A series of focused experiments

This patch follows up the one from two days ago, “Step Wise,” No. 17 in this series. There, as here, alterations in square waves were used to instantiate some melodic activity amid what otherwise would be a more static operation. The difference is that in “Step Wise,” a single square wave went back and forth, slowly alternating at an even pace between relative high and low. Here the square wave is a little more complicated, a little more rough, a little more varied. And what it produces happens in murkier territory.

There are four channels of audio going into the mixer at the end of the chain, all at pretty much the same volume level. The source audio at the start of the chain is one loop from one Buddha Machine, first generation, going through granular synthesis. The granular synthesis then goes into a filter bank that splits the audio into bands spread across the spectrum.

The first and second channels are simply mid- and low-range bands from the filter bank. The third channel is where the echoing effect comes from: a series of staged delays activating on a low-level band of the filter bank. The fourth channel is more for background haze: a high-level band from the filter bank goes through a granular delay and then through some heavy reverb.

I’m not going to list all the modules used, since they’ve been used in recent pieces in this series to the same purposes. The main thing to keep an eye on is the left side of the tiny screen on the bottom level, the black module three in from the right (it’s an Ornament and Crime running an alternate firmware called Hemispheres, specifically the Scope utility). That’s a scope image of the voltage that’s motivating the changes in overall pitch. That little blue object hovering in space is taking the output signal of the combined Batumi/Dixie/S.P.O. modules and sending it both into the octave control of the granular synthesizer, and into the Ornament/Hemispheres oscilloscope. If you watch it, you’ll see horizontal lines go up and down, and occasionally splinter. The wave causing that visual activity is a somewhat complex one that combines two square waves in the SPO: a slow-moving one from the Batumi, and a slightly faster-moving one from the Dixie. The pitch of the latter in turn is itself being occasionally altered in pitch by a sine wave, also from the Batumi. That’s all parsed in the S.P.O., and yields the relative volumes shifts in the initial granular synthesis of the source loop.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here’s a straight-on shot of the synthesizer:

Video originally posted at There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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