Synthesist Mark Steiner shared this interesting and often bizarre look at the BBC2 – an expressive breath and bite MIDI controller.
In the video, Steiner demonstrates using the BBC2 in a range of ways, from playing the blues to creating psychedelic electronic sounds.
“The BBC2 is an amazing instrument,” notes Steiner. “The breath sensitivity is so expressive. The bite is durable and so good for vibrato etc. And the bonus of the side to side and up and down motion capture is really cool and a lot of fun… and it tracks so very well.”
Here’s what Steiner has to say about the video and equipment used:
This device is fully midi.
To get it into the analog modular gear, I send the midi into a Doepfer Midi to CV (control voltage) converter module.
Then, very importantly, I takes the 128 steps of the midi breath (now converted to voltage/CV and I put it through a slew module (Doepfer in this case). I only ad a very small amount of slew and test to get it just right… but this really makes for high resolution (but still VERY fast and snappy) note attacks. Compare for this the last part, Qwerty Blues, with Daydream blues playing. When I played Qwerty Blues, I hadn’t yet discovered this trick. The attacks in Qwerty blues are ok… not back… but listen to how snappy and smooth and precise the attacks are for the synth parts in Daydream Blues… and still VERY fast articulation.
Some of the modules used from there for the tones vary but I’m using a Pittsburgh Modular VCO module for the sound waves, and their VCF – Filter modular as well.
The vocal formant/vowel part uses a Grendel Formant module… with one grid of XY you can smoothly through the chart reach all vowel sounds in all human languages. German and English vowels are specifically charted out in the module’s manual.
In “Daydream Blues” I play the great, Korg Minilogue, but here just use as a midi controller for the modular. In “Pines Near the Elysium Canals” I play an Akai MPK Mini keyboard to play the modular.
The intro to that piece where I scan the Martian canals and map is an amazing digital synth called ANS Synth, which is a version that recreates a very older image to sound synth made by Russian engineer Evgeny Murzin in 1937.
The scanned Martian canal images were made by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877 (the circular maps) and the flat canal map was actually made by the US Airforce in 1962 and used for planning the Mariner 4 flyby , though mainly out of tradition or as an anachronism.
The trampoline synth part was recorded outdoors (with a long USB extension cable) and then later played back as midi into the modular.
The CV controlled lights go from the TEC Breath unit into the modular via the same midi to CV converter and then into the Steiner CVLED, which is a CV LED controller I created… just one prototype is all. I severely shocked my self about 7 times during the development of that. (I’m a good designer and a very amateur electronics person.)
But it works well now and runs 3 channels of high power LED light arrays.
A few patch/circuit notes:
In “Daydream Blues” it is the same patch the whole time doing both music and synthetic chatter/talking. I set the sensitivity in the TEC software so that if I raise my head past a certain point, breath control gradually drives the pitch higher and higher. So if I’m facing upward fully, even small amounts of blowing raise the pitch drastically, but only a little if my head is normal and level.
On “The Pines of Cydonia” I took the midi recording from the TEC unit and reversed it. Then I had that midi play the modular sound and lights while Christa blew bubbles so artistically. Then I reversed that sound and video and merged it with the video of my head from when I played the midi for those sounds in forward time. So you see me play a synth in forward time but the performance drove the synth and lights backwards, illuminating Christa and the bubbles. Technically the hardest patching and video shoot I’ve ever done, which needed many full reshooting sessions on different days and setups. Christa was great too and patient. And always took directions so well to get the effect wanted on the video reversal. On one test for this we tried both bubbles and blasting whip cream from a can into Christa’s face and on her head (here eyes were covered). The whip cream was problematic though and the bubbles looked so great. You can see her whip cream covered head in the intro of this video. It’s color and image processed though so it just looks strange and creepy. More footage of that test is on my vid channel. It’s worth a look, kinda interesting. Thanks, Christa!
If you’ve used the BBC2, share your thoughts on it in the comments!