Volca tunes

For Christmas 2015 I bought myself three Korg Volca mini-synthesizers, a two-octave MIDI keyboard and some bits & bobs to wire them all together. I also set myself the task of regularly composing & recording pieces of music to encourage my long-dormant musical skills to creak back into life. This page will show some of the results along with any thoughts, comments or insights that accompany them.

I'm using GarageBand to record things but the only tweaking is levels & panning, all the tones, sounds & effects are coming from the synths themselves.

The full list of my recordings can be found on the Volca archives page.

Recent additions

Onslaught started as a technical exercise - a 'barber pole' progression where the last chord leads back into the first one. I let my mistakes lead me away from too much symmetry which was challenging at times but gave the piece a bit more life. The mix is quite rough but I like the driving feel.
Volca Keys, FM, Bass & Sample.

Enroute is very unusual for me - a piece in a major key! Not a conscious decision at first but it led into places I'd not really investigated before, with mixed results. The drum pattern is nicely quirky but is a bit buried in the mix. Another piece with a 13-bar pattern, something I seem to be returning to periodically.
Volca Keys, FM, Bass & Sample.

Interferon went off in unexpected directions from the outset - after choosing an unusual (for me) chord sequence I attempted to 'disguise' the progression and ended up with lots of things pulling in different directions. The drum accents are poor and I couldn't find a melody to tie it all together but it has an interesting unsettled feel to my ears.
Volca Keys, FM, Bass & Sample.

Timecap is a cover of Time Captives by Arthur Brown, recorded as a tribute to Ikutaro Kakehashi, developer of the Bentley Rhythm Ace drum machine. A quick sketch and a bit wobbly but a fun exercise. I made a point of not listening to the original before recording this so it's a copy of a memory which is an intriguing concept.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Shortrun was another 'dutiful' piece - written because I hadn't done anything for a while. It has a typical 'repeating sequence with building arrangement' format but with some nice tones & changes. I like the transition from the middle eight back into the verse.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Ratracing began with the intention of producing a Germanic trance electronica feel but I got quickly sidetracked into a (fairly) conventional verse/chorus format. Partly down to my lack of forward planning and the restrictions of the Volca programming systems. The end result had some very disparate elements and was very rough & ready but in some strange way it gelled into a whole (at least to my ears). Some failed experiments in there but trial & error is usually my style.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Isotope was another exercise in uneven bar counts. The initial tracks were quite harsh and didn't vary enough but I managed to salvage something with the overdubs, even though it remains a bit monotonous.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Twostroke was a return to bleepy pop but with another uneven bar count to keep it interesting. This was quick & easy to put together and lots of fun to record.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Embiric was an exercise in blurring the points where a pattern starts or ends, there's a simple melodic sequence that plays all the way through while the accompaniment attempts to disguise the repeats. It's pretty obviously an intellectual rather than purely artistic endeavour but it still manages to have some charm.
All done on the Volca FM.

Transherence emerged from an attempt to salvage some of the elements of a discarded work - as I tried to rearrange them into a nicer pattern the piece went off in a very strange direction. The playing is quite leaden and the overall arrangement doesn't progress as much as I'd like but it still has an unusual (for me) tone that I rather like.
Volca FM, Bass & Sample.

Lagerfingers was created after a night out drinking when I came home filled with buzzing energy. The sequences were created & recorded in the small hours, layers & texture were added the next morning. Another song where I used whatever was left on the drum machine after a previous piece. Over-busy & very unpolished but I like the driving groove.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Slipback was a deliberate attempt to create something more upbeat and less challenging for the listener. A nice groove in the sequencer lines and an interesting semitone drop in the middle of the phrase. I liked the muted tones in the arrangement contrasting with the brash 'sliding' lead line.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Twice around the block was a bit of fun, another piece that came from me forcing myself to sit down with the instruments despite feeling uninspired. Quick & easy to do - one run through with the sequencers with just a couple of wash tones to fatten it out.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Peristalsis was a simple little piece, a single repeating pattern with a bass line & some texture. It was nice to keep it sparse and uncluttered.
Volca FM & Keys.

Rumbletums was based around a drum pattern with very simple lines & chords to keep it rolling along.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Headlong was produced after a fairly barren patch - I forced myself to sit down & create something. The 10/8 rhythm and three-bar phrase were used to avoid slipping into easy habits and find something unusual, if not new. It was composed & created very much 'on the fly' and is a bit lumpy & uneven but it has a nice, driving feel and all in all I'm quite pleased with it.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Retronaut was a bit of fun with some good old bleeps & whooshes, no messing with subtlety. There's a nice 'lumpy' feel to the end result and I liked the 'slurring' pitch bend in the middle of the phrase (although I can't remember where I heard this effect). Lots going on but a nice little groove.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Favourites

Ratchenik was built around a 7/8 râčenica rhythm with bombastic power chords over the top - lots of fun! The structure was heavily influenced by the technology, having all four Volcas synched together makes synchronised changes quite a challenge! It's interesting (& sometimes inspiring) to have to work around these sort of restrictions but I can see the appeal of using the computer as a central controller. This tune came fairly quickly & easily and in most cases I just went with my first idea each time.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Descent has some nice discordancy & harsh tones - I started out with a descending chromatic line and didn't worry too much about how well the overdubs fitted. A bit strained but that was the intention.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Autonomic was a 'dutiful' track - composed & recorded because I hadn't been playing for several days. I'm still exploring & learning about the FM and discovering the delights & frustrations of FM synthesis, hence all the wiry, edgy tones. More of a learning exercise than a creative endeavour but sometimes that's what's needed.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Loyal opposition started with three sequences of different lengths going in & out of sync with each other, then had lots of overdubs to smooth it all together. More arrangement than content really. I like the almost impersonal relentlessness of it and all the rhythm patters fighting against each other. Definite echoes of Run Run Run by Hunters & Collectors.
Volca FM, Keys, Bass & Sample.

Accretion was pure self-indulgence, an improvised tonal collage quickly put together late one night.
Volca FM & Keys.

Afterimage was my first piece with my new FM synth, a marvellous instrument that is bafflingly complex to program. My first tone was the usual fake gamelan gong that comes with amateur twiddling of FM synthesis but I wallowed in the ringing semi-tonality and quickly came up with this.
Volca FM.

Pocketsize was a cute little song that sprang up around a relentless & driving bass and sequencer pattern. I set out to keep it light & sparse and didn't go back to redo smaller playing mistakes, which made it quick & easy to put together. Lots of fun!
Volca Keys & Bass.

Exosphere was an exercise in mood, repetition & lots of reverb. It was interesting to balance a feeling of openness with enough backing to provide a shifting context for the unchanging sequence.
Volca Keys & Bass.

Modulo 14 grew from a mistake - I forgot to reset the phrase length on one of the sequencers so it kept drifting out of phase with the others. Having discovered it I realised I liked the effect so I completed the track around it. A bit hurried - the bass & drums are very simplistic and the mix didn't really get to where I wanted it - but it was a beautiful sunny day outside. More of a sketch than a finished piece but there's a nice groove in there.
Volca Keys, Bass & Sample.

Sample&hold doesn't actually include a sample and hold unit, it just has that quasi-random sound. A bit of fun really - most of the track was recorded in one take with an improvised solo in the middle. It's rough & ready but I wanted to capture the immediacy and sense of wildness. Also an excuse for a ring modulator solo.
Volca Keys, Bass & Sample but no external keyboard!

Redqueen started as a fairly simple bleepy pop tune but went off in odd directions while I was recording. The key change that was going to be the middle eight became a repeated transition (which changed the sound of the top sequence lines), I missed a pattern change in the middle of a take and didn't notice until it was too late to correct, and slowly an air of melancholy crept in. The end result is a bit disjointed but has a nice feel to it.
Volca Keys, Bass & Sample.

Mayfly is a song out of nothing - after playing about late one night I discovered the bouncy main sequence and decided to do a quick study with it. I let it play all the way through, added a very simple bassline (just two patterns) & a metronome kick drum pulse, then layered some texture on top. Finally a couple of melody lines & a descending middle eight and it was done. The playing is a bit wobbly at times but I wanted to catch something in the moment.
Volca Keys, Bass & Sample.

Interrupt is a nice, boppy little tune that came together relatively quickly. I like the way the chorus slowly blends into the verse and the gradual build-up of the rhythm through the song.
Volca Keys, Bass & Sample.

Behemoth came from an experiment with the Bass unit - having two simultaneous lines that interfered with each other. This led to a minimal melody line that changed hugely when played by different synth voices and then a bunch of more or less glitchy (eccentrically filtered) overdubs to fill it out. The resulting piece was very hard to mix to suit speakers, headphones & earbuds, the end product is the headphones version. For some reason I couldn't keep it as dark & brooding as I'd originally intended but that's often the way with my 'arrange it as you go along' method of composition.
Volca Keys, Bass & Sample.

Ersatz zwo was another attempt with the sequences from a previous track, almost a remix. A better attempt but I'm still not happy with it. All three Volcas.

Bloodless was a very quick study that developed a mechanical & robotic feel that I quite liked. Very minimal - a one-note sequence with minimal bass & drums, then just a few overdubs to flesh it out. All three Volcas.

Offset is based on a one-note sequence with the 'melody' set by filtering & modulation. On top of this I added heavily filtered layers and changing chord sequences to offset the essentially similar lead lines. Lots of fun to do! All three Volcas.

Hacklete was quickly thrown together to cheer myself up after a disappointing previous track - I didn't linger over anything and went with the first chord sequence or line that popped into my head. There's not much to it but it was an excellent tonic for my mood. All three Volcas.

Phase space began with an unexpected rhythmic interaction between two basslines and grew from there. There's more than a hint of early Tangerine Dream about it which I didn't realise until late in the recording but quite liked anyway. All three Volcas.

Swamplands was unusual in that I played the bass line on the Keys and used the Bass for the mid-range sequences. Easier to get the changes done as there's lots of repeating sequences so not so much finger dancing on the controls. All three Volcas.

Rise is another exercise in layering & mood, helped along by an unusual scale and a driving 10/8 rhythm. With more time I would have extended it, making it drop down and build up again, probably with some sort of melody over the top, and added more & more varied percussion. But overall I'm quite pleased with the 'rise of the machines' vibe. All three Volcas.

Droplets is based around a nice, bleepy little sequence and became an exercise in layering. All done on the Volca Keys.

Bouncy the Rat (I've been watching Dollhouse again) uses the Bass for the main sequence and the Keys for everything else.