Since 1973 I have been interested in electronic music, especially in the design and construction of electronic instruments and recording gear. The equipment shown in the accompanying photographs has been built over this period, originally for stage work and more recently, with the construction of the tape machine, towards a complete home recording studio. I have now become more interested in producing tape music and less in live performances. After the collapse of my last group, an electronic duo using the computer rhythm unit I built over two years ago, to build a complete 'bedroom' studio capable of producing high quality, but cheap electro recordings seemed like a good worthwhile project.
I've finished the major bulk of the work, as the photos show. I now would like to produce a cassette which I hope will be 'released' by one of the small cassette distributors like 'Mirage' or 'Flowmotion'.
Photo 1. A general view of my set up showing the majority of the equipment.
Not shown is the 'mastering' 2 track recorder, monitor speakers and the recently acquired 'Great British Spring' reverb unit mounted in the workroom next door. The monitor speakers are Lowther PM7's in home built bass horn cabinets to Lowther '115' design. Also (my girlfriend's) Practical Electronics string synth, built by me, design by Alan Boothman.
Photo 2. 2 track ¼" master recorder. Built around an old second hand Philips EL3505 professional tape deck (for £45), fitted with new Branch and Appleby heads removed from an old Brenell machine I built years ago. The electronics and cabinet were designed and constructed by me, the whole machine costing only a little over £200. Features of the machine are, frequency response of ±1dB approx. 50-15KHz with full equalisation (NAB) facilities, clean and noise free bias and erase waveform from master oscillator, easily built in multiples for any multitrack configuration + phase connection at HF. I also have a 4 Track ¼" tape machine, simplified version of 2 Track electronics, it is built on an old Brenell 5 series tape deck I was given as being useless! I have modified the tape path through the deck to do away with the pressure pads and fitted, recently, Branch and Appleby tape heads.
I use a rack of 4 Dolby 'B' units with the above 4 track, to help compensate for some of the shortcomings of the narrow track format. Built using the LM1011 chip plus a filter and a couple of relays, etc., I have plans to build some more in the future. Also in the future are planned noise gates to fit in the rack, the circuits similar to the one already in my main synthesiser.
My small 6 into 2 stage mixer I designed and constructed about 6 years ago; it has echo send (stereo return), foldback, pan, bass and treble controls, switched monitoring and peak reading 'VU' meters. In the picture can be seen the pin matrix board which I use to 'patch' equipment together.
Photo 3. Main synthesiser I designed and built some seven years ago. Has very simple electronics using linear voltage control. It can be controlled by the keyboard shown (which, incidentally, has a digital code output) or by a guitar controller. This is an Antoria guitar with frets sawn into six sections and wired to electronics in the body (works OK but needs two hands to play).
There are some interesting features of the main synth worth listing, pulse width modulation of a HF carrier triangle wave to switch FET's to produce stable linear voltage controlled resistors (with elaborate HF filtering of signal I/P's and O/P's), on some devices, use of LDR's (VT833's) on some VCF's, these are quite fast devices, 3 way joystick controller, optional pedal board controller.
Just in the photo is part of my old Wireless World Tim Orr-designed synthesiser, though not much of the original remains, it was pretty bad to say the least!
About four years ago I built and designed an 8x4 sequencer. It is based on two op-amp (741) ring counters, one up to eight stages and the other 2 or 4. Sequences of 4x up to 8, 2x up to 16, 1x up to 32 are possible. Because of the ring counter arrangement individual stages can be switched in or out at will, and a second set of switches can be used to alter the sequence length. On the right is the driving VCO which will step between one step in 20 secs to 10K steps/sec. This can be overridden by an external trigger if desired. Step pulses and a cycle start pulse are available for triggering other devices. These are switches for manual stepping, reset to 1st stage and stop/go function.
My 3 channel auto phaser, designed and built by me again eight nine years ago, consists of three parallel wired 4 stage phaser circuits (LDR's again) swept by three LF oscillators manually adjustable. The three outputs are mixed and balanced with a direct feed. Can sound like music in the sky!
Finally I have a computerised sequencer and percussion unit. It contains a simple 2 VCO synthesiser, with envelope shaper, envelope generator, VCF, mixer, noise source (top half) and an electronic percussion unit (bottom half) with circuits to produce sounds like bass drum, high (snare) tuned drum, lower tuned drum, clave and high hat plus room for two more. The knobs mix the drum levels.
Underneath is housed a SYM 1 (4K RAM) microprocessor board and an 8 bit D to A convertor. One 7 bit port is wired to sockets and to the percussion unit while the other 8 bit port goes to the VCO's, VCF via the single DAC.
I have devised a simple program to output tables containing tempo indications, one line sequences, and 7 line percussion rhythms stored in memory. The program reads in addition a control table which tells the computer which sequences to play, the number of repeats (up to 255) of that sequence and the order to be played. This table can have up to 84 statements, and the program can cope with up to 15 of these tables. So when performing, up to 15 complete backing sequences and rhythms can be loaded in one memory dump, then started by merely pressing GO and a two digit number, and carriage return for instant start.
While performing, a certain amount of elementary real time control is possible. Bypressing 'C' key the sequence playing will continue to cycle indefinitely, pressing 'E' resumes the repeat count down from where it left off, 'A' advances to the next sequence at the end of the current one, and 'F' finishes or stops the program and returns you to the system monitor. The hex display during all this is used to show the state of repeat count downs and the number of sequences (different ones) played, thus giving cues when they are needed.
The whole thing was built for around £200-250 including the SYM 1, and in the last two years has proved to be worth every penny, for live performances as well as studio work. I have plans to build a more elaborate version in the future, when I get time!
Well, that's about it! I hope the above has been of interest. I would estimate the total cost of the complete set up at about £1,200, about the price of a Fostex A8! I'm sure you will agree that for a modest outlay enough spare time and hard work, the studio shows what can be done on your own. With good quality designs and projects featured in magazines such as E&MM, more people I feel could be tempted to 'have a go' rather than relying on commercial products totally, a much healthier situation I'm sure, especially in view of the sudden rising interest in electro music.
Feature by Ron Berry
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