I didn’t believe the BOM on Wednesday when it said that the miserable morning we were having was going to give way to a clear night, but they were spot on, and after getting back from NIN around midnight it was the perfect time to track down Comet Lulin. It’s moving across the sky pretty quickly at the moment (a good few degrees per day), but I knew it’d still be fairly close to Saturn, so I found that in my binoculars and then just started panning around from there.
It took a little while, but eventually, I found Lulin in my binoculars. It wasn’t exactly a spectacular sight — little more than a faint, roundish smudge, really — but after studying it for a little while I thought I could just make out the bright central spot of the comet’s nucleus. After checking the star charts for any fixed objects in that location (just as Charles Messier would have nearly 250 years ago) and finding nothing, I’m sure that what I saw was indeed Comet Lulin.
I was hoping to get a glimpse of Comet Lulin last night, but unfortunately, the weather didn’t co-operate. Lulin was closest to Earth on the 24th, but for at least the next week or so it should be quite bright, as comets go — visible to the naked eye, if only just, in a clear, dark sky, and relatively easy to spot in binoculars from suburbia. At about 9:30, things were looking good last night, with just a few clouds visible, so I thought I’d get the telescope out to try to track down M1. By the time I was set up and had found where to look, though, more clouds had rolled in, and I had to give up the hunt. By midnight, which was when Lulin should have been coming in to the field of view from my front yard, the sky was just a blanket of clouds.
Ah well, such is this hobby of mine! It looks like we’re heading in to a stormy weekend, so I’m hoping that either tonight (though it’s not looking good so far) or tomorrow night will deliver the goods.
Here’s a quick first demo of the Blofeld in action — there’s not much to it, so I’ve just called it doofy crap. I laid down a few quick beats in Hydrogen, programmed a quick sawtooth lead in to the Blofeld, set it up playing some recorded patterns, and then just let it all run while I twiddled the Blofeld.
I got off the proverbial pot on the weekend and picked up a synth — I went with the Waldorf Blofeld. I’ve spent a few hours poking at it, but I’ve really only scratched the surface of it so far. I’ve auditioned perhaps a tenth of the 1024 presets on the thing, and there’s some great stuff in there, but I’m sure it’ll really shine once I have a good grasp of how to program it.
I’ve already spent a little while editing some of the preset sounds and designing new ones from scratch, and it’s awesome fun. The matrix of buttons and knobs on the right gives you quick access to the most common parameters, and while you have to dig in to menus on the LCD to get access to the deeper parameters, it’s all quite straightforward. The LCD has its own controls, separate from the matrix, so you can use both independently.
Getting it set up was a piece of cake, too. It’s designed for use with a computer, so it uses USB for MIDI connectivity — I plugged it in and it Just Worked ™. I still have my old keyboard synth there as a controller, and it took just a few seconds to route the MIDI out from that in to the Blofeld through the PC. There was new firmware to install, but it was just a case of playing a special MIDI file to it from the PC.
Just a quick post to mention that World of Goo, the beautifully presented and very clever indie puzzle game that was probably my second favourite game of the year for 2008, is now available for Linux. If you previously bought it direct from 2D Boy for Windows or Mac OS X, you can now download the Linux version for free. Otherwise, you can buy it now and get access to all three version for US$20.
With the cash from my Amiga sale still burning a hole in my bank account, and the prospect of a $950 Tricky Dick Fun Bill in my future, I’ve been taking a good look at the small hardware synth market. So far, it’s looking like one of three options:
The X-Station is a bit of an all-in-one — it connects to a PC via USB and provides an audio input, virtual-analogue synth, and an excellent set of controls. The keyboard’s semi-weighted and sends aftertouch, and the knobs and sliders can be reprogrammed to control any external synth you like, as well as its internal synth. The synth engine isn’t super-powerful, though — it’s farily typical virtual-analogue stuff, and it’s monotimbral.
The Evolver’s a weird blend of analogue and digital synthesis, with real analogue oscillators and filters combined with digital wavetable oscillators and digital effects. It’s monophonic (that is, it can only play one sound at once), but it’s capable of all sorts of crazy crap, and the built-in step sequencer makes it perfect for creating sounds that change dramatically over time. Apart from just making crazy sounds, it’s a very interesting effects processor, too — you can run audio in to it and through the filters and effects, even triggering envelopes based on the incoming input level.
The Blofeld is almost like a “best-of” model, combining the virtual-analogue synthesis of the Waldorf microQ and the wavetable synthesis of the Waldorf Microwave XT. In this case, the wavetables refer not to individual wave samples, but collections of them, grouped in to tables. You can sweep through a table in real-time while a sound is playing, which can create all sorts of sound morphing effects, and that’s before you get to the filters. It’s also 16-part multitimbral, and has up to 25-note polyphony, so it should have enough power to handle entire compositions.
I considered some others, too, like the Alesis Micron and the Dave Smith Mopho. The Mopho is a pure-analogue monophonic synth, but for the money, I’d rather the Evolver — it’s much more capable, and I’m not hung up on the analogue/digital thing. The Micron can make some great sounds, and it’s cheapish on eBay, but it’s real-time editing features are very limited. I thought about an older second-hand synth, too, but the real analogues are too big and bulky, and too prone to problems. An old virtual-analogue synth like a Nord Lead or Access Virus would be great (almost all of Empires was done on a Virus), but they’re still in the $1k+ region.
At the moment, the Blofeld is my front-runner. The X-Station would be awesome to have as a controller, but it’s limited as a synth, and there’s no point having a great controller if I don’t have much to control. I could always sell my big synth and get the 49- or 61-key X-Station later on, though. The Evolver has character no software synth will ever match thanks to its real analogue components, but being monophonic just makes it too limiting for me right now.
I want a workhorse synth that I can throw a bunch of parts at simultaneously, but I also want something that’ll make some interesting and unique sounds, and the Blofeld seems like it would fit the bill nicely.