259 Complex Waveform Generator Internals

For your enjoyment, a short edit from a recording this afternoon. I employed the same patch used for a collaborative performance with Don Hassler for the recent Atlanta installment of the International Noise Conference at Eyedrum. One might assume that there are a number of external sound manglers being applied, but everything, with the exception of a slight reverb added in ProTools, is generated on the Buchla Series 200.

Chaotic Synthesis

A few months ago, I created a series of recordings in response to an incredible article highlighting some of the most remarkable properties of the Buchla Oscillators of the 100 and 200 series. The article is Dan Slater’s Chaotic Sound Synthesis, published in Computer Music Journal, Summer 1998 Volume 22, Number 2, ISSN 0148-9267. Here is a photograph from the article, of a CBS Performance System 3 featuring a chaotic patch:

CBS Performance System 3 with a chaotic patch - photo courtesy Dan Slater

This article was also available for a period on the web, at a time when there was very little info of Buchla systems to be found. If only those who now decry what they perceive as “secrecy” on the part of Buchla users knew how hard it was to find out exactly what a Kinesthetic Input Port was ten or more years ago! In any case, I digress.

The article is a wonderful resource filled with several very interesting approaches to creating chaotic sound – and once my 200 was operational, I almost immediately began directed experiments in order to explore some of the territory Slater describes.

Chaotic Synthesis Recording #3 (edit), August 2009:

If you would like a copy of the entire (19:40) recording, I have self-produced a limited CD release of 20, priced at $10 to be sold at some upcoming shows. E-Mail me if you’d like to order one. Here is a photo of the CD and the single sided bristol “cover” – that features an illustration of the patch used for the piece:

CSR3 CD edition

For some other demonstrations of Buchla VCO cross-modulation characteristics be sure to check out the following links:
Christian Mirande’s 258 Demonstration video
Mono-Poly’s 158 Demonstration audio
Mono-Poly’s 144 Demonstration audio

3 Edits

Here are some snippets of three recent tracks – all single-take recordings of the buchla 200 without any additional equipment. Reverb was added in protools afterward. The patch developed for “A Difficult Embouchure” is more or less what is at the core of each of these tracks, with deviations and additional modules besides the 259 and 266 occasionally being incorporated. Self Playing Suite (edit)

Comprised of several (~12) single-take segments of a single patch, between which I made adjustments mainly to the timing and timbral parameters at work (but without changing the actual patch interconnections).

12.23.09 (edit)


This experiment was conducted in a similar manner to playing the “Operation” boardgame. The 259’s modulation oscillator CV output was fed back to its processing input, and in addition, several other CVs were stacked to this same connection (4 or more). For the duration of this track, I merely held the banana plug connection inside the jack but didn’t not fully plug it in, touching it erratically to the sides, making or breaking the connection. At various points, gate modes were altered as well. This is a bit unusual in that few (perhaps none) of the other tracks using this core patch make any use of the 292C Lopass Gate at all.

1.20.10 (edit)

This track represents an attempt to replicate a track from December which substituted the 258C for the 259 I most often rely on as a sole or primary source with excellent results. This track lacks the subtleties of the original (which relied heavily on sine>square transitions), but has more variation due to the 259’s expanded capabilities. The 275 was critical to this piece in adding character/dimension.


Continuing with the patch I’ve been using lately – the core of which is the 266 and a single 259 – while directing the experiment toward including “movements” (7, in this instance) within a single self-playing recording:

And from Saturday – two takes of the same Self-Playing sequence (or rather, with two patch cables added for the slower, second take). This experiment deviates from a standard sequence with nested loops through the use of second external clock source under the influence of random values also advancing the 250e. Some reverb added in protools:

4-H Club (in response to a drawing)

Golden Blizzard – an artist collective of which I am a member – was recently selected to participate in More Mergers & Acquisitions on display December 10, 2009 – February 14, 2010 at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. Seeing that the collective has something of a history of self-celebration and operates at times like a recirculating delay line overdriven with feedback, we decided to each reinterpret a single arbitrary, older piece of work for the show.

Golden Blizzard
4-H Club, 2006
22 x 30 inches

Although I had originally planned on a different approach, in the end I chose to respond by recording a piece with the Buchla and reformat one of the solid state audio players I created for the most recent Golden Blizzard show (seen here). Below is a photograph of the finished player installed in the gallery:

Jason R. Butcher
4-H Club, 2009

And of course, the track itself – All Buchla 200, with processing/editing by way of ProTools:

The show opens December 10, 8-10PM.
Although I’ve spoiled the surprise as to my own work – I’m sure my Blizzmates’ work will amaze and stimulate you.

11.27.09 Self-Playing Recordings

I spent most of the day leading up to the evening performance with Don Hassler at Railroad Earth (excerpted here) developing a Self-Playing patch that could be deviated from for the show. Most notable between these two recordings, the performance excerpt, and “A Difficult Embouchure” (recorded two days later) are changes to control of the Lopass Gate and function generator patching. My goal with each of these patches, was to avoid the easiest solution – some method of randomly addressing 250e stages. In these 11.27 recordings, a pair of function generators controlled aspects of the 266, which were fed back to the 281, as well as to the 259s. I scaled back further for “Embouchure” which began as an experiment to see with how few cables I could achieve a sufficiently interesting Self-Playing structure – but instead led to the elimination the function generators and gating altogether, instead using a rapidly changing fluctuating random voltage to pulse the quantized and distributed sections of the 266 patched to a single 259.

The video, of a descent in the elevator of Smith Tower in Seattle, seemed to be a fitting match and a fun way to deliver a Self-Playing track. Seeing that Self-Playing work is relatively valueless in the time domain, the counting down of the floors here seemed to me to function nicely in place of any discernible dynamic in the overall recording. Thus you know – at least approximately – when you may expect it to end.

A Difficult Embouchure

A Self-Playing Experiment for the Buchla 259 & 266 only.

As evident in the photo, a great deal of feedback occurring between various sections of the 266, with outputs coupled to all voltage controlled parameters of the 259.
A warped woodwind awaits:

Holy Terror

Unlike the first few weeks (or even months) after my 200 came to life (01.09) – which saw me running through some of the vast timbres the instrument is capable of with great abandon – I’ve been spending my time lately trying to examine subtle properties within the instrument and develop greater proficiency in playing and composing with it.

This often takes the form of small exercises.

I turned my attention this Saturday once again to the 221, and after concentrating for some time on the touchplate surface itself, I settled upon the joystick – or 2D voltage source as it is described on the panel. The initial purpose was to try to develop accurate control when using it in instances where it affects pitch – that is to say where any mis/use might be easily distinguishable by the listener. Seeing that the entire 221 moves laterally (to provide a proportional voltage output which one could use for vibrato, etc), one has to be careful when moving the joystick not to shift the entire surface of the 221.

In any case here is what resulted from the latest exercises – I offer you Holy Terror:

The track is comprised of three takes. In each, I gradually decreased the Y coordinate of the 221’s joystick, while using my other hand to modulate stereo placement of both 207 panning channels via the lateral CV output. The joystick’s Y axis CV was patched to the Primary Osc of a single 259. Amplitude modulation was being provided by the Modulation Osc, which was in turn phase-locked to the Primary Osc. The timbre section was being altered through some arbitrary 250e/266 strobe addressing (the details of which I can’t quite recall). The Primary Osc output is fed to a 292 channel (set to combo – knob at 100%), and sent to a panning channel of the 207 and a 275 channel with the send/return directly connected. This 275 mix output was then sent to the other 207 panning channel.