Wednesday, 22 December 2010

New machine beginnings and considerations

So reflecting on this last year I've learnt and built a lot, and I have a large rats nest of a synth/noise generator pinned to a board. A lot of this has been built in the fashion it has due to getting the gig back in November. This was a brilliant experience but it locked me into building the way I was just to keep everything compatible and to get stuff together quick. There are a few issues to building that way however, the primary one is that everything is patchable including all power connections. I did this so that if I wanted to power starve any sections/modules I could...however I've never found anything that interesting using this all in all patching power just adds more cable clutter that isn't really necessary. Having everything on one level makes it larger horizontally and vertically - requiring longer patch cables whereas designs with circuit boards and front panels split the size between 2 levels allowing for more compact design. There have been some things I have been happy with though, I'm happy to keep using trimmer pots rather than fullsize ones, this keeps the cost of building massively lower, also the use of header sockets and small breadboard style patch cables is a method I will continue to use for the same reasons.

So to the new design idea. The picture shows the beginnings and first modules of my new modular noisemaker that is as yet unnamed. I want this beasty to be pretty portable and robust with the front panels being very patcheable. Just to put this in scale each panel above is 47 x 72 mm. As it stands I've built 2 x 4015 4 bit shift registers and 6 x 40106 oscillators, but for those in the know it will probably end up with, 4040 divider, 4011 pseudo ring mods, simple AREGVCA's, XOR's a plenty, 4069 LFO and some sort of active filter that I haven't quite decided on yet I may also consider a 4017 based sequencer. I have a few ideas about the enclosure design, mainly that it will have an angled front panel so it is good to use either standing or sitting and will have everything firmly attached so hopefully I can pick it up and go places with it and arrive with it in one piece!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Sunvox 1.6 is here

Possibly the best early xmas present ever, Sunvox 1.6 is here and it's rocking. Raise a glass to Mr Zolotov. Download and find out more here

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Finishing off

Been one of those good days where I get to finish a few bits off. I've packaged up the matrix mixer and even found 16 matching knobs out of one of my many scrap boxes of parts. I've also made a new reclining upright unit for my ghetto modular boards. It leans back around 25 degrees from vertical and provides a more ergonomic platform that also takes up much less of a footprint. It's again made from fibre board so my modules can be pinned to it.

I also posted the schematic for the matrix mixer at TSOL, but thought I'd post it here in case anyone's interested.....typically my schematic is a lofi affair eschewing CAD or other schematic software for a good old index card and pen!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Matrix Mixer update

Just a quick update as I've managed to finish the wiring on this tonight and have a bit of a play as it is now functional although uncased. The play consisted of a couple of bits from my CMOS synth stuff being patched through the mixer and my homemade spring reverb and a zoom multi effects unit being patch into the mixer as both outputs and inputs, so they can self oscillate/feedback.

Very rough and ready but has shown me the possibilities, here's the rough jam.

MATRIX01 by concretedog

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Matrix Mixer WIP

Just a quick post to show my current WIP project. It's a 4 x 4 passive matrix mixer. A matrix mixer is a mixer that allows you to create 4 different mixes from the same 4 inputs to 4 separate channel outputs. The beauty of this is when you begin to send outputs back to inputs. I'll hopefully find time to finish this this week and post some audio.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Warm Data at The Absurd

So last night saw me and my Warm Data colleagues headed over to Theatre Clwyd to take part in the absurd festival. It was a great night and we were made really welcome and all of the Warm Data sets got a really positive reaction. Above is the photo of my setup (apols for the low quality phone cam shot). The miracle of yesterday was despite a long journey which involved some madman running into the back of my car at a junction my big board of modules and wires made it without one wire disconnecting...amazing.

In a break from tradition, here's one with my ugly mug in it, mid set, taken by Lungwah himself.

This was a pretty landmark gig for me as my setup was entirely handmade the only exception being my trusty old mixer. It felt good to have made everything I played.

Nice one and massive respect to Andy and Sophie for working sooo hard to get this festival together....can't wait for the next one :) If you can you should try and support their events, keep an eye out via the absurd

And finally a massive thank you if you are one of the people who came and asked about my set/rig etc, when people are enthusiastic and interested like that it makes the hours slaving over a soldering iron really really worthwhile.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

big orange reverb box

In my continuing build up to next Saturday's gig I decided I needed to not only rely on my trusty fx units...but rather man up and build something of my own! I've been messing with springs/slinkys and piezo pickups but had never got round to finishing off a reverb unit. Until today :). It's a's hard to take a photo of it as the front is covered in clear acrylic so if I use the flash it just is a massive flash reflection. In the flesh however it is a very vulgar orange colour as that's all the paint I had. Basically in this there is an amp which you feed your signal into which then plays through a small 2" speaker, attached to the speaker cone is a small metal bar which is then soldered to the spring. I started with just a 6" length of spring but then soldered another length to the spring so now it has a much larger triangular spring...this means that with the different spring lengths you get different reverb times interacting. Attached to the spring is also a piezo disk which again connects via a soldered metal bar, the piezo acts as the pickup going to the desk. The frame that the mechanism is attached to is mounted on a big foam pad to try and decouple the mechanism from the outer box to stop external stuff effecting the spring vibrations.

Here's a test recording which is just some bleeps from some 4093 gated oscs being sequenced by a ten step 4017 sequencer. No other effects or post production on this, just the orange box.

orangeboxtest by concretedog

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

10 minute modules (ish!)

So I am moving along building my setup for the Absurd festival. Todays modules have been a pair of passive low pass filters and then a single low pass filter on an output board with volume control and jack output.

The nice thing about today is I didn't have to look at any schematics as simple bits like this have found their way into my memory, and having built so many bits n bobs recently, my soldering/making skills are pretty good. So much so that each module took less than 10 minutes.....:.....although I realised that I'd put the wrong value trimpots in the second board and had to de and re solder!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Absurd Festival

The great folks at The Absurd are having a grand festival on the 6th November at theatre Clwyd in Mold, North Wales. They have very kindly offered me a half hour gig on their second stage! There are some fantastic artists on (including many if the Warm Data brethren), and should be a cracking event in my opinion.

So I am building as much as I can to get a nice level of variation and movement in my sounds, all of which will be derived from my scratch built cmos synth diy stuff as pictured above. It's quite a challenge, but I'll be really chuffed to do a gig solely using my own stuff that isn't even hacked from other things like my circuit bending work.

Here is a rough 10 min jam from this evening's patching;

Blister by concretedog

hope to see you on the 6th

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Shifty Registers

Still building! I finished making a 4 bit shift register board the other day, a shift register is a form of memory. The memory consists of 4 slots that output their value (high or low) in turn with the values that are presented at bit 1 traveling across the 4 bits - stepping along each time a clock input is sent high. So if when a clock pulse occurs the data input is high.. that high travels down the chain through bit 1,2,3,4.

These are great for bringing some variation into this clip the shift register bit outputs are clocking my 2 sequencers so the sequencer only moves to the next step when the bit output it is attached to goes high...this means some steps last longer and some are shorter resulting in varied note lenghts from the oscillators. Also it means that the 2 separate sequencers (which have different numbers of steps anyway...4 and 10) change their positon in relation to each other all the time. However as the master clock supplied to the shift register is always regular the tempo of all the modules involved in this piece remain synched.

SHIFTY01 by concretedog

In a wild and wonderful place I like to hangout online The Sound of Logic (requires registering and human verification before veiwing the posts I'm afraid)..I got possibly the finest comment I've ever received in reaction to this piece from the Grand Dada himself......

"WHoley Jazz Improv. Batman! That was absutively wild! :D That sounded like a far BETTER rendition of something that one of those absolutely FRIGHTENING collections of Jazz musicians who love nothing better than playing completely random stuff as compared to each other, after 3 previous days of way too much stricknine splattered acid, coming down with qualudes!"

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Win a Concretedog synth.....

The ever marvellous Palm Sounds blog is holding a competition to win a small noisemaker synth I built and donated to him a while ago. Here are some videos of the synth in action that Palm Sounds posted.

To enter you have to write a track and publish it to the handheld music soundcloud account using portable/handheld kit. The competition will be judged on best track and most interesting/unusual kit used. Find out more and enter via palmsounds.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Today's Module, 6 channel mixer

Got a bit of time this morning and managed to get one of the modules of my todo list built. It's a passive six channel mixer. I've found that with these simple synth modules I'm building at the moment it's easy to make a patch that has over a dozen audio building mixers becomes inevitable! I've started using trimpots instead of regular potentiometers as they're much cheaper and also can be mounted on the board which means modules are more compact and I don't have to worry about front panels. I haven't posted every module I've made but thought that this one was quite neatly done and I took the photo above with the excellent old camera emulator "retrocamera" available on the android market.

This pic is of a patch I hooked up a while back and recorded this live track from...
Creeping from the trenches by concretedog

Its a slowburner with little movement in the first 50 seconds. Lots of frequencies in this so headphones/speakers recomended.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

This is a test...stay calm and carry on

Got a new android phone and am testing out a blogging application.

Random pic of current cmos noisemaker modules

Sunday, 1 August 2010

DIY Tuff stereo Contact Mics

I've been playing around with contact mics for years now and unless I've built them into something solid they have all met a death as the crystal surface on the disk is fragile and the solder joint attached to it usually falls off. Today I set about redressing this and made these tuffened contact mics.

Here's how I did it...STEP 1

I connected up the wires (other end is a 3.5mm stereo jack), soldered them and added some hot glue over the wires and the disk to act as the first bit of cable strain relief.


I insulated the wire connections (yep with gaffa tape...thats how I roll!) and then stuck an "S" of cable to the disk to act as a second defense from cable strain.

Finally (and here's the snazzy bit) I covered the entire surface and up around the cable with polymorph...Polymorph is an amazing plastic that you can buy online (I found the best deals for this are on ebay) that comes in granules. You add the granules to near boiling water and the plastic melts and becomes pliable. You have to work quite quickly but I managed to cover these disks well. You then allow it to harden and it is super tough when it's fully cooled. The only other thing I may do to these contact mics is to run a bit of silicon sealant into the bit where the cble comes out to make them fully watertight...then they can be used for hydrophones for underwater recording as well...

As for today...I just clamped em up to a slinky!

<a href="">slink_01 by concretedog</a>

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Been away...but still soldered

Spent some time camping but lest anyone think that stops me hacking stuff, this post is to dispell that notion once and for all!

I'm still pouring any rare free time into building a noisy modular "synth" using basic logic devices and whilst on hols I built the above board up which is a couple of oscillators built on a cd40106 IC. I also built up a pseudo ring modulator based on the cd4011 IC. (I may geotag where all the bits of this are's where these modules where put together)

These modules are now part of the growing collection of stuff making up my ghetto modular...of which I'll post an update soon. Last image is of my camping mixing/recording setup...the little mixer is great, built like a tank and powered of a single pp3, I bought it as faulty of ebay for £4.50 posted and the fault was the battery clip had snapped so an easy fix.

And here are the fruits of this little test field recording...pretty noisy as per usual!

<a href="">4011 Pseudo Ring Mod TEST by concretedog</a>

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Ghetto Sequencer

4 step sequencer with vactrol VCO from concretedog on Vimeo.

So any free time this weekend has been spent creating this..Here we have a 4 step sequencer built from a 30p cd4017 chip and based on this schematic the clock input (tempo control) is provided by an oscillator built on a cd40106. At the moment its controlling a ghetto style VCO (the lower smaller circuit board) which is another oscillator built on a 40106 but being controlled by a hand hack vactrol, basically a light dependant resistor stuck to an led covered in copious amounts of gaffa tape!( I was going to use heatshrink as it is more lightproof but I didn't have any wide enough.) I've kept the different boards separate and have used an old IDE connector with its pins soldered into groups to act as a patch area....this is useful as I plan to build a few different modules and a few more VCO designs and this can serve as a test environment...before ultimately building a bigger sequencer (there's 10 steps available on each 4017!)

I'll post more as I add to it.
(BTW the audio in the vid above is just captured on the mic on my cam)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Sounds from the Breadboard

I'm working hard, when I get the chance to, trying to make interesting synths and things from the CMOS range of chips I was talking about in the previous post.

Today I managed to get this beasty working (you know its getting a bit complex when you need a second breadboard!) So its 2 oscillators one controlling the clock/tempo of the sequencer and the other providing the sound...the sequencer is a pitch sequencer meaning each step is always on and you have some control of the pitch of the note.
I've added a duty cycle and a passive filter for some ghetto sound processing.

If you're a purist you may want to check out the first raw recording I made of this....

<a href="">ProtosynthRAW by concretedog</a>

or if you want to hear it sounding a bit more interesting this is me playing it through the trusty old Zoom PFX9003 fx unit, lots of low end on this one so headphones are recommended

<a href="">Protosynth9003 by concretedog</a>

In a massively off topic finish to this post I took a photo of a dragonfly yesterday that I'm really pleased with and have to share!(click to view larger version)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


Getting back into a bit of low end synth diy...I gave a friend the synth that I used to record "blackbox" (listen here) off my ep he was so pleased with it, it's inspired me to try and build some more stuff...I want to build not just a load of mixed oscillators but some kind of ghetto sequencer as examples as yet but stay tuned!

Above is the synth I gave to my friend being put through it's paces much to other party guests amusement!

I'm building stuff using the popular CMOS range of logic chips using info from the following excellent pages....they're pretty easy to work with and give pleasing whirs, blips and glitches with minimum cost.

Sunday, 25 April 2010


Following on from my last post...I've been using Sunvox on the Jornada a lot this last week and it's great how well Sunvox runs on such a minimal spec'd machine (206mhz proccessor). It handles multiple samples really well. Anyway I've written this track using just the Jornada and the Boss micro br and a gameboy advance sp. I used the br to record the guitar parts, the music tech pro parts off the gba sp and also to sample my resurrected yamaha DX11. All the samples were exported out of the micro br with no effects used and loaded back into Sunvox so all the effects are Sunvox only.

I've been brave (or foolhardy!) and uploaded it to a great chipmusic site,

Listen to and comment on it here

Friday, 16 April 2010

The dulling edge...Jornada 720 and Sunvox

I have this Jornada 720 pda from around 2001 which by modern standards is massively underpowered and has limited functionality in that it has no bluetooth, wireless etc...but there are numerous reasons why I still love it as a piece of technology. First and formost it is still the only device I have with a good sized useable qwerty keyboard that I can turn on and type into a txt or a word.doc within 5 seconds (instant boot, slight lag to boot pocket word). Its really useful when I am poking around hardware/circuit bending and want to make quick notes. It also has a magnificent battery life I still get 7 hours plus runtime from the battery (and I've got 2!) and when turned off it keeps charge for months.

In a fit of fiddly hacking about today I've got the mighty mighty Sunvox music tracker running on it. I have already got milkytracker on it which is excellent (head to this thread here if you need to know how to do this) but slightly annoyingly milky would only run in 340x240 resolution using a tiny bit of the Jornada's large screen real estate. Also I am really into Sunvox at the moment it's combination of tracker form with modular instruments and effects is a glorious combination and a credit to its creator. Find out more and get Sunvox for virtually every platform here.

To get Sunvox running on your jornada you will need 2 things. The first is to install gapi on your Jornada which is available for free here. Secondly you need to place a sunvox_config.ini file or sunvox_config.txt file in the directory you install Sunvox to. In the config file you need to put

"width 640height 240"

without the quotes of course!

Lastly...why do this? Well because I can..but also it is great to use portable tracker apps in something with both keyboard and styli input..I'm using sunvox a lot at the moment on my dell axim x50 which is great.. but for writing complex drum patterns a keyboard is a godsend. Finally finding new uses for older tech feels good and I think is important.

Post proudly typed on Jornada 720:)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

New Warm Data EP with Concretedog track

Released on 07.04.2010 is the new Warm Data EP "Data Protection". It features a track from yours truly entitled "This World". Feel free to check it out!

Concretedog - This World by warmdata

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Warm Data release DAT 017 Data Acquisition

DAT017 VIDEO PROMO from Warm Data on Vimeo.

A mighty fine video for a mighty release from the ever productive Warm Data lot (OK I know... I'm a bit biased!)

Listen to and purchase if you can from these places



Stay tuned for DAT 018 "Data Protection" featuring one of my tracks.


Saturday, 27 February 2010

Gameboy Camera and Windows XP

When I started getting into gameboy/chiptune stuff I took the classic beginners route of buying an old gameboy and a gameboy camera...due to the fact that the gb camera has a nifty little sequencer application within it..trippy h.

I quite quickly got interested in the images that the gb camera can take..with its low resolution and 4shade greyscale the images it produces can be quite mysterious. Combine this with the strange "trick" lenses (mirrors and panoramas etc) some strange effects can be had.

One problem quite quickly presents to transfer the images onto a computer. Many people have scanned the actual gameboy screen..which can produce good results, others have used supergameboys which allow gameboy games to be played on a snes console, you can then use a video capture device to capture images from the camera. The only commercial device that was ever marketed for connecting the gbcamera to a computer is the Mad Catz cable which connect between a parrallel port and the link port of a gameboy colour. I have found these Mad Catz cables to be pretty unreliable and indeed I couldn't get it to work on any of my older laptops that still have a parallel port...I'd also read that these cable don't work with XP....annoyed my cable sat under my desk for a year!

I then realised my desktop had a parrallel port and that it must be worth a try..eventually I got it have to reinstall the Mad Catz software each time you want to have a session capturing camera images...better than nothing I suppose!

Here is how I got it working this is based on numerous forum posts and collected stuff from around the tinterweb,

Turn on your PC and hold down whatever key you need that takes you into BIOS (f2 is coommon)

In Bios find your parrallel port settings (under "advanced" tab possibly) set your Parrallel port to "EPP" and make a note of the IO Range (mine was 0378)

Save changes and boot

Download this

Install the Mad Catz software but don't run the software yet

Unzip all the contents of the Porttalk folder you downloaded into the Mad Catz folder that was created when you installed the software...this would be something like C:\Program Files\Mad Catz\Camera Link Software\

Then open a command start, run and then type "cmd" and hit enter

In the command prompt you need to move into the directory you just placed the porttalk stuff in by typing;

CD C:\Program Files\Mad Catz\Camera Link Software\

then hit enter

then type;

AllowIO cls.exe 0x378

Note the last bit of that statement "0x378" that refers to the IO Range we noted before so change this to the value that you noted from your machines BIOS placing an x after the first digit.

Then open the Mad Catz software, it will ask you to set the range for your parrallel port so select the number that matches your IOrange will then ask you to select a paint program to edit the images, you can select one or cancel this.

You should then be able to download your images.(you need to read the gb camera instructions on how this works! basically you select a image in album and print it from the gameboy)..but unfortunately I have had to go through this proccess every time I want to download images as it only works for one session...not to bad if you have one or more gb cameras full of images ..but a bit of a pain if its for just one picture!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Replace Ram battery Resurrection...Yamaha DX11

I got given this synth a while ago (thats right for free!) in a non working state...when I turned it on it proclaimed on its little LCD "cng ram bat" thats what I did. I've had to do this on a couple of old bits of kit in my arsenal now and invariably when you find the ram backup battery it is soldered to the pcb via solder tags that are spot welded to the exception in this case (see pic below). It's sometimes hard to find the required battery with the solder tags welded on so most of the time a better option is to wire a small battery holder to the original pcb points that can hold a comparable battery.

So this battery is a cr2032 which is pretty common but I've still soldered in a battery holder so that in ten years time when I need to do this again I can just clip a battery in without breaking out the soldering iron. For those who may need to do this job in the future and stumble's not immediately apparent where the ram battery is once you get the back off of this synth...this picture shows the board (big green tick) and the corner (green spot) where it need to remove the six screws holding this board to the frame and I found I didn't have to undo all the connectors to the board just the one labelled "cnd1"..that allowed me to lift the board to a workable angle

That last pic shows how I attached a couple of short leads to the points where I'd removed the old battery and connected the new battery holder (actually one I'de scavenged from an old computer motherboard.. most of these use cr2032 to backup the bios ram in battery holders) I taped this into a little space I found so it wouldn't rattle and then put it all back together.

Then I've got nothing else done apart from playing around with it all afternoon! It's a great synth..people overlook them as they are interested in the DX7 which has 6 operators instead of the DX11's 4 but then the DX11 has 6 different waveforms available for each operator (the DX7 only has sin waves) so it's a pretty even match in my humble opinion and can with experimentation create some glorious digital fm goodness.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Native GBA tracking.... M4Gtracker

As yet unreleased in alpha stages...I've been playing with the alphas of this new tracker, M4Gtracker. It's being built by an absolute hero called Smiker...the work this guy is putting in is amazing with new alpha's peppering the last few days. Check the video above where he shows off the fm synth (stick with it sound begins around the 1 minute marker) and read more about it here.

It's definately worth following the progress and if you have a gba and a flashcart or an emulator give the alpha's a whirl.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

DIY Binaural Mics

My good friend Lungwah regularly uses in ear binaural mics and I've always dug the sound he achieves in his field recordings. Having recently got a boss micro br portable 4track recorder I wanted to not only use it as a 4track but, as it can record straight to wav or mp3, as a field recorder too.

So I've made my own binaural mics...its a really simple job. I found a couple of electret mic elements (I had a pair in one of my many scraps boxes but you could buy them here for example) and an old pair of earbuds that are large enough to house the mic elements. Simply crack the earbud cases open, desolder the headphone elements, work out which wire is signal and which is ground and then solder in your mic elements.
Most electret mic elements have 2 solder blobs on the back, one for ground and one for signal, the way to tell which is which is that the ground contact will have a trace going out to the case of the element. If you click the link above these are visible on the picture.

The earbuds I used had a small vent from inside to the exterior of the case anyway but I made it bigger to expose more of the mic element, you can see this in the picture just above the classy gold bands! I then used a spot of hot glue to hold the elements in place and reaassembled the earbud cases. I was done in about 10 minutes.

I'm pleased with the sound results from these and enjoy the fact that you can be doing a field recording and yet not draw any attention as you are only wearing earbuds....which happily had a L and R on them so I even manage to get them in the right ear!

I was asked in comments to upload a sample we are
<a href="">DIY Binaural Mics...walking in lunch hour by concretedog</a>
It's not the wildest thing I've ever uploaded, it's me just walking for a couple of minutes from my office door into town..highlights include, a pram wheeling beside me, cars passing, a phone ringing in a garage and some seagulls! It's recorded on the hifi (compressed setting) on the micro br, then exported on the unit as a mp3 transferred to computer for trimming and converting into wav (for bandcamp). I think you get a good idea of the soundscape if you listen to this through headphones.