Porta Two owner’s manual

The Tascam Porta Two Ministudio owners manual:

Bada-bing

I like this unit a lot. Weird flat rubber knobs, though. I guess they were still figuring it out in the 80s.


I made this out of two wide chunks of poplar (unmounted it looks like a comb ya know?) The tongues are one inch wide, the small cables get 1/4″ slot, the big boys get 5/16″.


I recently went to an old blog that I like but is never updated. It was made by a circuit bender, a really good one, who would add loads to the circuitry/controls, and the results were always aesthetically pleasing. I’d visit probably once every six months to a year, and having learned a bit about electronics in that time I could glean a little more from the writeups and half-schematics.

And now it’s gone. Deleted!

Of course the creator of the site had no idea I’d found it so useful and inspiring, and there are fees for hosting a website. And of course there’s the wayback machine. But more and more I’m finding wonderful old sites with dead links and broken images.

There are no broken images on social media, however. Most blogs I’m thinking of died in the mid-late 00s. Seeing a crazy DIY synth online begs the question for me: what did the maker find so exciting about this thing in particular? How did they get into this? Care to share any schematics? And why do I, the user, feel like scrolling instead of actually asking these questions?

I am (like a lot of people right now I imagine) sensing a lack of community. And of course it’s not necessarily strictly our intention that fosters that, but the tools we use too.


Oh hi! Look it’s been over a year since I posted here! What the fuck!?

I’ve got my tentacles around something good and I don’t want to let go. I can feel good about grocery stores again but I’m not sure I want to. Coming out of the cave, parched, there’s fear and a knee-jerk retreat to minuscule comforts. There’s heat from friction with an excitement for expression, boundaries, showing up as my full self regardless of what strings may need to be cut. Good riddance, hello!

This synth has 8 voices, individually tunable, though not so easily because they have a huge range. It has lots of feedback loops, cross-modulation, no presets, and lots of non-linearity. It can sound melodic and ethereal or dirty and glitchy and everywhere in between.

There are a lot of things I got wrong, obviously, including making the case too small at first. I just read the tape measure wrong. There are so many intimacies around making something like this for me that it’s hard to talk about almost. I feel like I’m showing off with a cheap 2-D explanation of some stranger’s trip abroad. Come hang out in my room and we can play it if you want. AMA. I’m all ears (no arms).

In any case it’s an attempt at control, and the result is this complex 8-legged monster whose grip on predictability is just light enough. I welcome its influence.


     

The spiders are going crazy on the jobsite these days, a huge reno in the middle of framing. There are eggs in the lumber pile and I crushed one between some sheathing accidently. Birds have moved in and all our attempts to peek at them and their cute eggs are met by all the sharpness of a freaked out fleeing mom.

It’s a modified Lyra-8 in case you’re wondering. Everything I learned about this before the build was from the soma documentation or this modwiggler forum. I posted more technical details over there if you’re interested. And here is me playing it.


A collection of the widespread violence by the forces of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Here’s a simple breakdown of abolishing the police. It’s a new idea to many, but it is a more realistic, helpful, and scientific approach to community safety–the job police purportedly provide.

Excerpt:


What have I been up to you ask? Trying to navigate the new world. Enjoying the space I have while lamenting the turmoil others are in. Filling in the space with electronics projects.

The projects keep piling up and scattering a bit, which I understand is totally normal. I put together a dintree quad VCA about 6 months ago, and after reading,reading,reading, drawing up a wiring diagram, soldering and wiring it up, I plugged it up and it worked! Then I realized it wasn’t quite acting normally! Then it died!

So basically I gave up. In the back of my mind was a mopey asshole who said, “You don’t really know what you’re doing. You’re not really good at anything, just mediocre at many things. Where would you even start?” Etc.

And of course coronavirus, and also I have all this stuff lying around for building electronics… so I decided to start a little smaller, simpler. I stumbled upon an attenuvertor schematic (here) that looked very simple, and I’d made a passive attenuator to get my feet wet a while ago, so I decided to convert it. It worked and worked beautifully. Subtlety can be so fun, and upsidedown voltages opened it up all the more.

So with an actual working module under my belt I picked up the ol VCA, sat with it for a bit, re-flowed some solder joints, and voila!

All this is to say, you can do it! Mistakes and breaks are not only part of the process, they’re good! Our model of learning is a dumb one: accruing knowledge first, then applying said knowledge with confidence. I learn that that’s bullshit over and over.


White Awake combats white supremacy by focusing on educational resources and spiritual practices designed to engage people who’ve been socially categorized as ‘white’ in the creation of a just and sustainable society.”



Here are some panels from the comic/album The Bureau which I spent the morning listening to and reading. Listen here. And read it here.


Circuit bent megaphone toy:

What have I done?


Some thoughts after jukai

Jukai is the Japanese word for the zen ceremony of “taking the precepts”. Basically you vow to take sixteen precepts seriously in your life after some time meditating with each of them. And on the surface they’re kind of weird and dumb. Do not kill. Do not lie. Do good. Why would anyone care to devote so much time and energy to these basic and obviously good things and what does that have to do with zen?

Central to my commitment and enjoyment of zen is the notion that there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to actually escape the demands, responsibilities, and bullshit of life. Meditation is meant to bring you here–in all its complexity and regardless of circumstances. Bowing and chanting too. Part of jukai is sewing a complicated bib, called a rakusu, by hand. There’s you and you’re sewing a rakusu. For hours. You don’t pay anyone else to do it, no prayers will whisk away your frustration at your lack of skill, and sewing it drunk will not make it more fun.

So taking up these confusing and vague statements during meditation is a great way to watch yourself squirm under moral imperatives. Should we do good? Of course! How do we do good? That’s a much messier, much uglier answer.

Zen is also constantly pointing to the deep intimacy of our relationship to everything. Taking the precept of not stealing reminds us that we’re on stolen land. Taking the precept of not misusing sex reminds us of all the terrible violence against women only now coming to the mainstream. Taking the precept of not killing reminds us that the apparent agency and safety of some relies on the exploitation and murder of brown and black bodies. Whether we like it or not we’re deeply implicated in all of this.

So taking these vows and being part of a community that is dedicated to both exploring and holding others accountable to these precepts is a great privilege. Let’s get to work.


Adding switches to the Fostex X-12 erase head

I’ve been making cassette tape loops recently, which necessitates disabling the erase head while recording. Constantly placing and removing a tiny sliver of tape and aluminum foil over the erase head got tedious quick. I’ve added 4 switches to turn on or off the erase head for each of the four tracks.

Here is an article that goes into more detail. It only posits the wiring though, and after some more research I learned that ideally there is a dummy load so the voltage that would’ve gone to the erase head doesn’t go somewhere else, potentially messing with biases.

SO. Ground wires to the erase head (black on the Fostex X-12) were left in place and the SPDT switches are also wired to a separate erase head that is taped inside the case. Here’s my crappy diagram of the erase head wires:


Highly recommended. The trailer does it no justice, but here it is anyway:


Contrapoints. Yes yes, 1000 times yes.

Also been watching a lot of Hainbach recently. Both recommended.


Circuit bending an old crappy Radio Shack pedal

I picked this up at a yard sale thinking it was maybe an actual reverb pedal, but when I tried it at home it was just a very short delay pedal, which I already had. So it sat on my shelf for a bit before I remembered that I have the tools to alter electronics, sometimes for the better.

The first step was to desolder the sliders on the board and replace them with pots. I also sacrificed the battery bay (because 6 AAs??). Then I had plenty of room for knobs and switches.

Bending this was pretty straight forward, in that if I found a bend I’d usually incorporate it. Bends on somewhat simple hardware have a way of interacting that’s impossible to discover without soldering.

Here’s the plate once I drilled (too many) holes:

And here’s the board once I soldered it:

Designing the face plate on a computer and gluing the printout to the metal was a first for me. In retrospect, since there are many ways bends interact, I’d make the face plate without labels to make it a little more exploratory and experiential. I’d also use thicker paper.

The original sliders live on as the bottom row of knobs. I found two distortions and an actual reverb (two other kinds of pedals!!) as well as a couple sometimes-useless others. Have a listen! (The initial sound is the dry signal.)