KORG Poly-800 softsynth from Full Bucket Music

fury800I still have my Poly-800, and it still works fine, right down to the noisy 256-note sequencer. My dad lent me the money to buy it in 1985 — I got one with the reversed keys, of course.

A lot of stuff was recorded on it that remains unreleased; “Ideal Planes” was probably one of the more listenable things I came up with, but I’m still going through cassettes from that era, and finding other segments and experiments that may be of interest.

I downloaded the the free version of the softsynth emulation this morning, though, because

“[It] raises the stakes slightly by offering two DCOs per voice – on the original, this was only possible when using the Double mode, which halved the polyphony. You can choose from two waveforms and each oscillator has additive harmonics ((16′, 8′, 4′, 2′).

Elsewhere, there’s a low-pass VCF, Noise, three envelope generators and a pseudo-stereo chorus effect. Enhancements in comparison to the original hardware include up to 64 voices of polyphony, and a ‘God Mode’ for real polyphony. The interface might seem a little fiddly, but MIDI Learn means that all parameters can be tweaked using a controller.” (from Music Radar)

Although I haven’t used the plug-in yet, I look forward to that extra DCO without the stolen polyphony. I’ll report back.

Firmware update via Modal app apparently fried the USB port on my Argon8

This is what I’d ba seeing on my laptop if I could still connect via USB. Photo courtesy Sound On Sound

Earlier this month I lugged my new Argon8 wavetable synthesizer to Mono Lake to do some recording.  I hooked it up via USB to my laptop, and fired up the Modal app for some patch editing. The app informed me a firmware update was available, so I downloaded it.

The synth was updated in less than 90 seconds. No problems.

Except the Modal app and my laptop no longer recognized the USB connection to the Argon8.

I rebooted everything. No luck. The Argon8 didn’t show up in the MIDI panel on the laptop. Hitting “refresh” on the app did nothing. Reinstalling the app did nothing. Running the firmware update again did nothing. The app still couldn’t find the synth.

The synth worked fine. The reason I brought it on the trip, however, was to modify factory patches. It’s reasonably easy with the app, but since the app wasn’t finding the synth, I had to do it the old-fashioned way: twisting knobs and saving custom presets.

I went back and forth with Modal support in the UK over the course of a week. They were patient and helpful, but finally told me they suspected the USB card on the Argon8 was hosed. They admitted this had never happened before. They offered to put me in touch with their US distributor, Voltage, but I never heard from the latter, and I’d already talked with Sweetwater, the reseller who originally shipped me the synthesizer.

There was no delay and no fuss — Sweetwater sent me a new replacement Argon8 immediately, along with a prepaid return label for the defective unit.

All that’s left to do is dump my custom presets as SysEx data so I can load them on the replacement unit when it arrives.

Thank you, Sweetwater (and Modal), for a fairly painless resolution to a situation that could’ve been a much bigger ordeal.

UPDATE (March 25, 2020): Let’s just say the process isn’t / wasn’t as “fairly painless” as I’d hoped. I can’t figure out how to dump the sysex patch data over MIDI without the Modal app — and, apparently, Sweetwater can’t either. Voltage, Modal’s US distributor, and Modal UK aren’t answering support requests. Hope to hear back from at least one of the three entities in the next day or so.

UPDATE (March 26, 2020): Voltage, Modal’s US distributor, didn’t “reach out” as Modal said they would on March 17. I sent Voltage a followup request on March 25, and another on the 26th, with no answer, no acknowledgment or autoreply.

I’d received some info from Sweetwater and, today, finally, Modal (after opening up yet another ticket) regarding getting the patch data off the defective unit using SysEx Librarian. The recommended process seemed like it was missing a step or two, but I tried anyway, in several different ways.

But after hours of various attempts to dump the sysex patch data into a laptop running SysEx Librarian with no luck, I’m giving Modal support one more day to see if they respond with more details. This has been going on since March 10, so it seems I’m jumping through all the requested hoops.

UPDATE (April 17, 2020): I finally got a call back from Voltage on March 30. Two of their employees were sympathetic and helpful over the phone. They offered to have me send back the defective unit, put a new USB card in it, dump the patches I’d made, then send me the patches so I could load them on the new synthesizer. This involved shipping a demo unit from Wisconsin to their office in LA. However, after several attempts to contact them again to work out the shipping address and other details, I got no response. After waiting two weeks I gave up, and returned both the defective Argon8 synth and the replacement for credit at Sweetwater.

(meanwhile, someplace just outside Lee Vining, CA)…

I find myself, as I often do, in the Eastern Sierra. I’m just north of Mono Lake. I head this way whenever I’m able to get time off work.

This time I brought more stuff than usual.

A couple months ago I purchased a demo unit of Modal Electronics’ Argon 8 wavetable synthesizer. Since then, I’ve been trying to learn its various knobs, patches, effects and other doodads.

The place I’m staying has no satellite TV, and very slow internet. It’s a good place to concentrate; the only real distraction is the view of the lake. It’s a good location for sketching out ideas and doing some recording (and re-recording).

I have an old M-Audio Firewire 410 interface that only works with old versions of OS X on old laptops. So I brought the old laptop. The Modal app, however — useful for patch editing and the like — only works on new(er) laptops. So I brought the new(er) laptop, too.

As misfortune would have it, the Modal app stopped recognizing the Argon after I upgraded the latter’s firmware this morning. The synth still works fine. So it goes.

More soon.

go outside. shut the door.

I think this is one of the first things I recorded. It’s the first track on the 8.81 – 1.83 cassette.

This was done in my bedroom at my parents’ house in Lakewood, CA in 1981. The title is taken from an Oblique Strategies card, as I was fixated on Eno’s “Discreet Music” at the time.

The found recordings were obtained by hanging a mic outside the window.

ultravillage interview

Mark Griffey interviewed me earlier this year for his ongoing Ultravillage project. While some aspects of the conversation seem a bit, um, exaggerated — I attempted to tone down certain portions after Mark graciously offered to have me fact-check — it’s flattering and more than a little overwhelming to see all this in print. And hey, there’s an embarrassing period photo to top it all off. </humblebrag>

you’re probably wondering why you’re here

Funharm?

Funharm was a low-fidelity home recording project that existed from 1981 through 1988. Most of the tracks consisted of improvised synth, guitar, and cheap rhythm machine, recorded straight to cassette, then overdubbed on a modified cassette deck.

Funharm issued two 90-minute cassettes that covered the first three years. For now, the 8.81 – 1.83 and Segments cassettes can be gotten via Discogs, and .mp3s, FLACs and other formats can be obtained on Bandcamp.

Other material is currently being located, edited, and cleaned up (but not too much). News regarding subsequent tracks and releases will be posted here.

If you’d like to buy stuff, need more information, or just want to chat, you can reach me at paul [at] funharm [dot] com.

Thanks for checking in.