Low-Budget Bass Pedals, Big-Budget Sound
Ever since I first saw a prototype of Moog Taurus pedals in the early 1970s and then actually heard the production model a couple of years later, I’ve lusted after them. At that time, they were part of what was supposed to be the Constellation set of two keyboards and the Taurus bass pedals. One of the great sonic anchors in progressive and other flavors of rock (Genesis, Asia, UK, Rush, the Police, etc.), the venerable first-generation Taurus cost far more than most guitars or basses. As a result, most players – even those who could afford them – couldn’t justify paying such a high price. (Check out a picture and more details, as well as a video that shows the Taurus pedals in action.) The sound of the Taurus pedals was superbly fat, and at the heart of it was a lowpass filter based on the design used in Moog’s Minimoog.
The Moog company sold the lower-priced Taurus II, based on the Rogue keyboard synth, between 1981 and 1983, but it wasn’t very beefy sounding. In fact, it sounded rather wimpy and was not very rugged. I bought a set, was completely disappointed, and sold them ASAP. (You can view some good-quality pictures here.) Note: Not shown is the microphone stand-like pole mounted to the pedal module. This held the synth module at a height that made adjustments easy – the best aspect of the Taurus II.)
Today the revivified Moog Music is making a new Taurus 3, but at a list price of $1,995, this amazing update on the classic is still above the average guitarist’s reach. If it’s in your budget, get one – you’ll love it. If you have $679, there’s Moog’s Minitaur, which is a pedal-less, MIDI-controllable tiny bass synth monster that provides you with many of the Taurus’ sonic features, but you still need a MIDI pedal setup such as the Roland PK-6 chromatic pedal controller – and that’ll set you back $899.
Having spent my college days working with huge Moog modular synthesizers, I was spoiled at an early age. I’ve carried around in my head my ideal of Moog’s fat analog timbre, and it was constantly rapping on my skull to be let out. Then two things came along last year to free this gremlin: Moog Music’s Animoog app and Keith McMillen Industries’ (KMI) 12 Step controller. For a combined cost of less than $300 (plus the cost of an iPad, iPhone, or recent iPod Touch), it was now possible to get that bone-shaking subterranean growl on the relative cheap.
Lucky for me, my wife bought me an iPad 2, knowing how enamored I was of it (thanks, honey!). So, with my little black tablet I was halfway to synthi-bassy fun. Then I purchased the Animoog app for iPad. Animoog comes in two sizes: Animoog for iPad and Animoog for iPhone 4, 4S, and 4th Generation iPod Touch. The iPad version costs $29.99; the iPhone/iPod Touch version costs $9.99. The iPad version has more features, so you’re not just paying for screen size (and it’s important to know up front that you can’t move Animoog settings from iPhone to iPad or vice versa). My notes here only address the iPad version, so if you’ve got the iPhone/iPod version, I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Animoog display showing chromatic keys, range, and oscilloscope-style display that gives a good graphic approximation of what is going on when you trigger notes. You just have to learn what the heck is happening with the green lines and colorful shapes that morph as a note is played.
As soon as it was available, I bought a KMI 12 Step. Hot dang. It’s lightweight and compact (1.3 lbs., 17.5″ x 4.2″ x 1″), and is therefore easy to take to a gig or stash when you aren’t using it. KMI even gives you a slip-on cloth bag to protect it. And it looks cool: The 13 white translucent “pedals” – big buttons, actually – are arranged like the keys of a keyboard, but spaced far enough apart to accommodate your feet. They provide you with an octave that stretches from C to C, in a space of about 16″. Those and the other four control buttons have very bright LEDs in them that glow enough that you can see them whether you’re on a dark stage or in a reasonably well-lit studio.
The 12 Step has 13 pressure- and velocity-sensitive buttons with bright internal lighting, and a very readable LED display.
I found that the 12 Step draws too much current to be powered via USB from the iPad. Therefore, I sprung for an Apple Camera Connection Kit ($29.00). The kit includes two connectors, each with a different interface. The one you want to use with the 12 Step is the Camera Connector, which features a USB port. Just plug it into the dock connector port on your iPad, and then attach it via USB to your 12 Step. To make up for the power shortfall, you need a USB cable (USB-A to mini-USB) and a charger with a USB output. They’re cheap, usually sold as replacements for charging a phone. Plug that into the small USB port on the 12 Step. (For the curious, the Camera Connection Kit’s second connector is an SD Card Reader to import photos and videos directly from your camera’s SD card. Although you don’t need this for using the 12 Step, it is handy if you have a digital camera.)
Note: If you’re using an iPhone 5, you’ll need yet another adapter in addition to the Camera Connector: The Lightning-to-30-pin adapter. The one-piece, compact version costs $29.00, while a version with a 7″ cable between the Lightning jack and the 30-pin port costs $39.00. Eventually, there will be cheaper third-party equivalents, but for now Apple has a lock on them.
Camera Connection Kit: USB output (L) and SD Card port (R).
Connections are simple, and you can use either one or two outputs (stereo). You can also add an expression pedal to control some of Animoog’s parameters.
You purchase Animoog from the Apple Apps Store and download it right to your iPad. Easy. There’s also a free manual, available from Moog Music’s web site. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a strong understanding of synthesis, this tiny document may not prove too helpful. For an excellent demo of this app, check out this tutorial by Tim Webb on Synthtopia’s site. In about 17 minutes, you’re taken through the controls, the screen (it looks like a 1970s video game on steroids), and the sounds that are produced when you adjust settings. Watch it a couple of times, and use it as a guide when you’re exploring the app.
Even with a good tutorial or an understanding of wave table synthesis, most of what you learn about Animoog’s functionality comes through exploration. That is, you stumble around, tweaking settings until you find something you like. Because the iPad is so portable, you can sit on the couch, headphones or buds stuck to your ears, and just wander through the controls until you find sounds that please you.
Start with the sounds already in Animoog. You might think, “Lame! I hate presets.” Wipe that idea from your head. The Moog Music people have a whole load of preset sounds that let you hear what Animoog can do, plus you can tweak, tweak, tweak. Modify some of these presets and save them as your own once you have customized them to your taste.
Organize. Make sure to give saved presets names that are easy to identify. I typically try to have a “family” description for the first part of the name, just to make organization easier (Bass Ped Airy, Bass Ped Thump Buzz, etc.). Because they are listed in alphabetical order, they’re semi self-organizing, so use that to your advantage.
Remember what’s controlling what. You can change the keyboard setup on a program in Animoog so that it’s all white keys, various modes (Ionian through Locrian, plus whole-tone, minor and major pentatonic, etc.), plus you can set the range by sliding the green horizontal bar above the “keys.” You can even set the root note and tell it to only be monophonic. When you play the surface of the iPad, the keys you see are the controllers. However, if you hook up a 12 Step, the MIDI data sent from it overrides the preset’s “keyboard.”
Play with Timbres. Among Animoog’s coolest features is its Timbres section. It lets you select from a whopper list of textures and stack them in the pile on the left. Preview them by clicking “Preview.” You can select eight different ones or just one and repeat it. Your choice.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Remember that “oscilloscope” screen? If you slide the horizontal bar up or down, it goes through those textures.
And by setting modulation, as you hold a note, it sweeps through the textures. This will have you experimenting quite a bit. Remember: Auditioning the textures through “Preview” is their raw, unfiltered sound. It’s also in an octave that may have nothing to do with your keyboard or 12 Step settings.
Go low, go classic. For the classic, thick Minimoog/Taurus sound, your best bet is the LP (lowpass) filter setting with the drive turned up to suit your taste. This is a resonant filter (controlled by the “Res,” or resonance, knob), meaning it has variable feedback, so you can dial in thickness, harmonic brilliance, or trouble, depending on how extreme your knob twiddling gets.
Through thick or thin. Likewise, in the “Thick” module, the “Crush” and “Drive” knobs let you dial in some grit and fatness, much like the preamp controls on a multi-stage guitar amp.
Using the knob with the labels “Unison,” “2,” and “4,” you fatten things up by choosing how many voices are sounding simultaneously when you hit a note. The “Detune” knob lets you offset the tuning of the voices by up to an octave. A little out-of-tuneness really piles on extra fat (the oscillators on the original Taurus and Minimoog drifted – they were unstable – and that gave them their chorusy, corpulent tone), plus you can introduce a lot of ambiguity or just plain evil to the texture, so experiment a lot with this and the other Thick Module controls.
Delays, delays. Just like a classic delay, this one’s dead simple: Set the delay time, adjust the feedback (regeneration), and mix of “wet” and “dry” sounds.
Modulation changes everything. If you go to the Env/Mod (Envelope and Modulation) section, this is where you can spend a lot of time – some of it rather frustrating at first – adjusting how the low-frequency oscillator and envelopes affect four different modulations. Each lets you select a source, a control, and a destination. At first, ignore this section, and tweak other parameters such as timbres. The envelopes in the presets are largely very usable and don’t need messing with.
Orbit, round and round. The Orbit section shapes how the timbres are passed through whenever you hold a note.
With the X/Y Pad showing, hold a note and adjust the Rate, X Amount, and Y Amount knobs. You’ll hear the difference, believe me. Then take your finger and move the dots on the screen. Slide them around, and again you’ll hear some radical changes. Like the Env/Mod section, you might want to wait until you’re more familiar with Animoog before you start delving into what the Orbit controls can do to your sounds.
Path to complexity. The Path section is hard to explain, and I found that it requires a tremendously deep understanding of Animoog to use to good effect. Want the simplest complicate answer to what it does? Here goes: It consists of 14 lines with up to 15 points and changes the Timbre by modulating the voice locations along the X and Y paths. Sound like geometry class? Thought so. Read the Animoog manual, and then experiment with this one.
About the Sync buttons. The Orbit, Delay, and Path modules have a Sync button. Press it to turn it on (it glows), and it synchronizes the module’s rate to divisions or multiples of the BPM (beats per minute) clock ranging from 8 Wn (whole-notes) to 1/64 Wn. The BPM rate is shown below the main screen. You can tap the button that says “Tap” a few times, and the BPM rate changes to match your tempo.
Saving Your Sounds As Presets
After you find a sound you want to save, press and hold the “Save” button below the main screen. A dialog box pops up. It says, “Save Preset As?” and shows the current name with a blinking red cursor. You can type more after the name (for example, if it says “PhasedSpaces,” you can add “Distorted” or some other word to be descriptive), or you can use your delete key to delete the current name and then type a new one (“Bass Ped Fuzzy 1,” for instance). If you change your mind, just tap “Cancel.” It isn’t saved, but it doesn’t revert to the pre-tweaked sound, either.
Loading sounds you’ve stored from Animoog into your computer requires hooking up the iPad directly to your computer. It also requires iTunes, and that you configure iTunes App file sharing. There’s plenty of info in iTunes’ Help.
Place presets with a “.preset” suffix into a folder, or know where your backup folder resides on your computer.
Make sure files sharing is enabled and that your files are available to share via iTunes. Follow Apple’s instructions:
- Connect your iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad to your computer and select your device.
- Click Apps.
- Below File Sharing, select an app from the list, and click Add.
- In the window that appears, select a file to transfer, and click Open.
- The file is transferred to your device, and can be opened in the app you selected in step 3
- Then you go to the “Setup” tab along the top of the screen, tap “Presets” on the left column, and then tap “Import Presets” on the right side of the screen.
With Animoog running and the iPad connected to the computer, tap “Setup,” and then “Presets” and “Import Presets.” If everything goes well, it will take a few seconds, and they you should see a dialog box that says “Successfully imported 12 preset(s).” The number will tell you how many. Click O.K., and these presets are now in your Animoog arsenal.
You can download some favorite bass pedal presets I worked out and install them. Just right-click here, download to your computer, and unzip them. Then follow the import routine. Tweak them to your heart’s content.
A 4-track recorder? Well, yes, and one that’s both powerful and simple to use. You can’t plug in your guitar and record directly to a track. However, you can import tracks that you’ve already recorded if they’re among the extensive list of apps that are compatible with the AudioCopy function (iElectribe, BeatStudio, ReBirth, iKaossilator, and Cubasis, to name a few). The recorder’s easy to use, slick, and versatile. Each channel has a level slider, plus buttons for record, mute, solo, and loop – just like most recording software. It includes a variable-speed metronome, a control for setting the number of beats for a count-in, and a volume control. I found this is a great way to compare one preset to another. Just play something using one Animoog program onto one track, another onto another track, etc. Then just A/B them (or, A/B/C/D them if you use all four tracks).
There’s more to explore in the 4-track recorder. But one final thing: You can mix down and save your creation to SoundCloud. For this, you need a SoundCloud account.
If you’ve ever lugged around a big set of bass pedals, you’ll really appreciate the 12 Step, and it seems they thought of just about everything. Probably best of all, KMI has free downloads of its 12 Step Editor software for configuring the 12 Step (Mac and Windows), so you don’t have to go through arcane “press this, then that, followed by…” routines that so many devices make you endure. I downloaded and installed the software and connected my 12 Step to my iMac with a USB cable. In minutes I was editing the settings and saving them to the 12 Step. (I tried it with my laptop running Windows 7, and it worked identically.)
One of the great things about the 12 Step is that it can store 128 presets (it comes with 59 already loaded). Therefore, I was able to create different, easily recalled controllers, including some with greater velocity sensitivity (step hard, hear it loud, etc.), and some with octaves and chords programmed in. Yes, I said chords. Up to five notes can be programmed per pedal to be unleashed by each step on a pedal. (Note: An excellent overview is on the KMI website.)
This feature permits using a 12 Step for more than just filling in the bottom. Animoog is polyphonic, meaning you can play multiple notes simultaneously. You can see the possibilities, I’m sure. And through the software, you can create configurations for the 12 Step that are in various ranges, different chordal transpositions, and with varying numbers of pitches played simultaneously. In fact, you can program some disturbingly dissonant chords or even clusters (F, F#, G, G#, A, when you step on the F, for example).
You can do octave shifting (using the octave up and octave down buttons), which adds versatility. In addition, the pressure sensitivity of the pedals makes it possible to lean forward on them and bend the pitch, or you can set its response to produce more volume or open a filter more if you stomp the pedals harder. This dynamic response may not be for you right away, so until you get a good feel for the system, you might want to narrow the response range.
For those who have a lot of dexterity with their feet, or who sit most of the time while playing, there’s a port for using an expression pedal. An expression pedal doesn’t come with the 12 Step, so you have to find one elsewhere if you want to use one. Like a volume or wah-wah pedal, an expression pedal rocks forward and back, and this can be harnessed to change volume, filter parameters, or other MIDI Continuous Controller parameters.
The “brains” of the 12 Step program, which lets you configure the 12 Step to play individual notes or chords and save your settings for transfer to the 12 Step. In the bottom section labeled “MIDI Parameters,” you can set the pedals’ and an expression pedal’s parameters.
A typical first step (no pun intended) is to use the software to set up a basic chromatic keyboard arrangement or chord on each pedal. Since the pedals are arranged from C to C, it’s a good choice for a beginning.
Here’s way number 1:
Ignore the software and follow the excellent manual’s instructions for selecting preset configurations, which include a basic chromatic set, chords, octaves, etc. Step on “Select” and then step on a numbered pedal. To go up by 10, step on the “+Oct/+10” pedal after you step on “Select.” Then select a first digit and a second digit. To go down by 10, step on the “-Oct/-10” pedal after you step on “Select.” Then select a first digit and a second digit.
Here’s way number 2:
While in the software editor, clear each of the keys by clicking on a key with your mouse and then clicking “clear current key.”
Once each one is cleared, then click on the lowest key (C) and then click on C0 on the keyboard along the top. For those playing along at home or in our studio audience, it’s the third C from the bottom of the keyboard shown. Then do the same thing for each of the other keys, creating a chromatic scale that’s in a good, deep, bassy range.
Here’s way number 3:
In the software editor, next to “save” and “revert” is a pull-down menu. Click on it and select “O Chromatic Scale.” The keys now have values C2 through C3. That’s kind of high, so click on “transpose pitches,” and when the box appears to its right with a zero in it, click on that. You now see a transposition bar that lets you select any transposition by semitones (half-steps) from your starting point (0) up to +12 or down -12. Select -12. This drops the entire chromatic keyboard by 1 octave. Select “transpose pitches” again and drop it an octave again. This time the range becomes C0 to C1. Perfect.
When you’re done setting up the chromatic keyboard, click “save” under “Preset.” If you don’t like your setup, click “revert,” right next to it.
Okay, assuming you’ve clicked “save,” you’ll see this:
Choose a preset location in your 12 Step’s memory. If you haven’t done this before, try numbers 100 and above, which come unpopulated. This way you don’t overwrite another preset. Next, click in the “Preset Name” box and give your preset a memorable and descriptive name. Finally, click “save.”
That’s it. You’ve saved your basic chromatic pedal setup. You can set up five-note chords, non-chromatic sets, etc. But it’s up to you to read the manual and learn how to use such advanced features
12 Step & Animoog In Action
Once you have everything hooked up and turned on, make sure the 12 Step and Animoog are talking to each other. Tap “Setup” along the top of the screen, and then tap “12 Step Port 1.”
Don’t worry about the other parameters in Setup for now. As you get more advanced in your use of Animoog, you’ll explore this section more.
Press a key on the 12 Step, and you should hear something come out of your iPad and/or any recording equipment or amp you have the audio output(s) connected to. Also, as you step on a pedal, the keyboard along the bottom of the Animoog interface indicates the notes. Here’s an example:
Once the connection is live, it’s a matter of exploration and experimentation. Don’t forget to save sounds that you like. If you feel you have too many, save them to a computer and clear them from your iPad.
Want to hear some samples? Bet you do. Below are four monophonic (single-note) examples of different sounds, just to show what Animoog sounds like, and two that exemplify what you hear when you program the keys to play octaves and diatonic triads, respectively. Note: No effects, reverb, or other enhancements were added. These are just as they came straight out of the iPad with Animoog.
What if you don’t have an iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch? You can still put together a system controlled by the 12 Step. KMI makes the MIDI Expander ($45.00), a small box that lets you plug its USB cable into it and control other MIDI gear. If you have access to a MIDI synth or sampler, or if you have a recording program with samples, you can control them using the 12 Step and this device.
Keep your 12 Step on solid ground. Don’t put the 12 Step on a flexible surface, like thick carpeting with deep padding. It can flex, and you won’t get a reliably consistent key press. So keep it on a stiff surface.
Don’t crush your stuff. You don’t have to leave your iPad or iPhone/iPod Touch sitting on a chair or on the floor. IK Multimedia makes IKlip and IKlip Mini universal microphone stand adapter for iPad and IPhone/iPod Touch, respectively, that clip onto microphone stands, placing the unit at a good height for changing programs or making alterations to the sounds. They’re both priced the same ($39.95), and will probably come in handy for other applications, such as if you’re using recording apps, etc. (More info and pictures check out ikmultimedia.)
Check the KMI and Moog Music web sites for updates. Every so often, check out the web to see whether there are updates to either the 12 Step Editor or to Animoog. This is especially important since Apple may update its iOS for your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, and improvements to Animoog or the 12 Step editor may bring you new functionality that you’d otherwise miss.