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Dave Nelson Posts

A Different Kind of Keyboard

Novation SL MK3
Late last year I decided I wanted to learn how to play the Piano and to create some music. After a reasonable amount of research, a lot of research, I picked Ableton as my Digital Audio Workflow (DAW) and that led me to buying a Novation Launchkey 61 MK3.

Novation Launchkey 61 MK3

The main features that lead me to buying the Launchkey began with its Ableton Live integration. The quality of the really surprised me for a $250 keyboard, the keys are very “synthy” meaning plasticy and springy. But for the price, 61 keys, 16 pads, 9 faders, 8 knobs, transpose controls, a good sequencer, and arpeggiator it is pretty amazing.

But I made the mistake of going to Guitar Center too many times playing with Yamaha digital pianos and that got me to thinking I would like weighted keys or at least semi-weighted.

Novation Impulse 61

That led me to buy a used Novation Impulse 61 for $225. It’s a pretty old board and its integration with Ableton is not as good as the newer Launchkey, but it will work with other DAWs in ways the Launchkey can’t.

I really liked the keybed of the Impulse but after a couple of weeks with it I learned about the SL.

Novation 61SL MkIII

What can I say, the 5 LCD screens, CV control, semi-weighted keybed, and all those extra buttons on the Novation 61SL MkIII have really sucked me in. I love this keyboard for playing VST and other software synthesizers. Being able to see what it is the knob is controlling is HUGE! At $700 the price initially felt steep, but with all the features and the great keybed I think it is more than worth it, I think it’s a bargain.

Dig in deeper to all the features on the Novation website.

HappyMusic

2021 iPad Pro

I found myself using my 1st generation iPod Pro 12.9” from 2015 and 5th generation iPad from 2017 a lot and decided it was about time to upgrade.

I am using the iPad for:

  • Read books from Amazon using the Kindle app and technical books with the O’Reilly app
  • Write notes and manage tasks with Obsidian
  • Read comic books with ComiXology, the Marvel app, YAC Reader, and Smart Comics
  • Web Surfing with Chrome
  • Email with Fastmail
  • Reading Reddit
  • Watching videos using various streaming services
  • A game here and there, primarily Pinball, Chess, Solitaire, and Soduku
  • And other Internet “stuff”

None of these require a “Pro” iPad, but I have learned from my experience with the 1st generation iPad Pro that in an Apple product, a Pro device will be useful longer than the non-Pro version. We go through an iPad about every 2 years with our son, he doesn’t abuse them, but they get used 18 hours or so a day which really stresses out the battery causing it to begin to fail after about 2 years.

I’m not sure that the battery in the Pro devices is any better than those in the non-pro devices and I don’t use my iPads as much as Eli but I do no the 6-year old iPad Pro is still running strong where the 4 year old iPad only works for a couple of hours before needing charged.

Here are the other features that made me want the Pro over the non-Pro iPad:

  • Better screen
  • Better sound
  • USB-C charging and accessories
  • M1 processor which will hopefully mean that its usefulness will be 5 or more years
  • A good keyboard so it can be used to easily take notes

I picked the 11-inch iPad Pro over the 12.9-inch due to weight and bulkiness. The larger one is amazing for reading comics and watching movies, but the extra bulk and weight make it harder to use. I really like the idea of the larger screen, but I spend a lot of time holding the iPad and taking it from room-to-room, and the increased weight and bulkiness is enough to cause me to leave it behind. With the smaller one I find myself taking it everywhere.

Combined with a keybooard it is delivering on the promise of a lightweight portable with long battery life that NetBooks and the MacBook Air made, although it feels like it weighs more than the MacBook Air.

I’ve had the 2021 11-inch iPad Pro for a couple of weeks now and absolutely love it. With the right software and keyboard it is an amazing productivity and entertainment tool.

ComputersHappy

VCV Rack 2 and The Signal State

Eurorack Modular Synthesizer

What is a Modular Synth

From Thomann.de:

Simply put, a modular synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that consists of a multitude of different components (modules) that are used and combined to create electronic sounds. The individual modules are connected via cables (patch cables), switches, sliders and patch panels. In this way, a large number of connection options and permutations are possible. It is important to know that the parameters of analog synthesizer modules can be controlled by Control Voltage (CV).

Modular Synthesizers are EXPENSIVE! Like $1,300 for a very modest system. You can start with a Behringer Neutron for $330 or so and another $100 for a MIDI controller to play it, but I think you’ll quickly want many more modules which add up quick, in fact the case and power supply you’ll want to use will cost more than the Neutron.

ModularGrid

ModularGrid is a database and planner for modular synthesizers”

ModularGrid is a great site to build up a synth before you start buying things, it will quickly show you how easy it is to spend $4,000 or more for a modular synth.

Another problem for me was the lack of availability in the Atlanta area for any modular synthesizer equipment. Some of that is due to supply chain, but there are no music stores with a synthesizer department. And the online options are sparse at the moment, even the DIY kits that are available are few and far between.

Then I found VCV Rack 2 and a game on Steam called The Signal State and a whole new world opened up to me!

VCV Rack 2

VCV Rack 2 ScreenshotVCV Rack 2 is a free standalone modular synth application for Mac and Windows with a lot of available modules! As I am writing this there are 1,950 FREE modules and another 311 premium modules you can buy.

For $149 you can buy VCV Rack Pro and get a VST plugin that you can use in your Digital Audio Workflow (DAW), what makes this special is that you can use any modules in VCV Rack as effects, that means you can do things like use Valley’s Plateau reverb module on your tacks.

Omri Cohen has videos on YouTube to walk you through using VCV Rack including how to use it with Ableton, Reaper, and Bitwig.

The Signal State

The Signal State game screenshot

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, The Signal State puts your logic skills to the test with complex puzzles inspired by modular synthesizers. Repair machines, rebuild an abandoned farm, and be part of a revolution that will change the fate of agriculture once and for all.

Learning how the different modules in a synth work is a large part of the fun, but starting from nothing can be really hard. The Signal State game will teach how all of the basic and some of the advanced modules work and ways you may use them. It rewards you for creating the most efficient system to complete the puzzle.

I’m having a lot of fun learning about synthesis and how to use modular synthesizers to create cool sounds and music.

Music