Interview By: Rodney Clark
Steven Roeder runs a web page known as THESQUAREWAVEPARADE.com where can find some pretty intense modules called Parasites and other mind boggeling inventions. The kind of things that just might make your next bending project easier or just add a new twist. I asked Steven a few questions, trying to make sense of what exactly his new Parasites are and how a bender might use them. To be honest…these things might humble you and your build skills! Take warning…
Q: So it looks like you have a new module out called a PARASITE…What does it do, how does it work?
Steven: That’s hard to say, but on purpose the first intention was for them to be the equivalent of a software plug-in for benders that will fit inside of the device being bent, but then as they developed some of them started taking the direction of mini lo-fi synth modules as well. Its hard to just limit them to those areas though. Each one is designed to do as much as it can in as many different though basic ways as it can. Some are little audio effect devices like resonant filters, some are meant to take the place of a potentiometer and give you an easy self contained way to modulate the resistance, and still others generate sound / noise / control signals etc… I tried to cover as much ground as I could to give myself a good foundation to build upon. Also one of the main goals from the beginning was to make each one capable of running on a wide variety of power sources. They will, in nearly every case, “Parasite” off of the power supply built into the device you’re using it to control.
Q: So it sounds like there are more than one PARASITE? How many Parasites are there in total?
Steven: I have 12 to start with and there are a lot more to come. A passive and active ringmod, sample and hold, reducer, mixer, several amps, other vco’s and lfo’s, a vca or two, other filters, a vcf or two, a few distortions, an octave up and octave down, pwm, a little sequencer, eq, and i’m sure a lot more after that.
Q: How would I know which one I’d need or want for my build? It sounds like they vary a lot.
Steven: Well on each page you will find a description and a list of features and specs, as well as a pdf instruction manual and some basic samples. So if you take a sec and read through them they should help you pin point the capabilities of each device and it’s range of use. if you have any questions or thoughts i have a little message board up to help out with that or you can always just email me.
Q: What kind of builds would you say the parasites were intended for?
Steven: Again I tried to make them each as diverse as possible in the hope that the user can find a use I hadn’t even thought of. The main uses I had pictured in the beginning were your general toy / keyboard bending project, your diy lo-fi synth boxes, giving people an easy way to add modulation to their APC’s, homemade osc’s and effects pedals, and of course using them as building blocks to build yourself a custom modular synth / or HOST. I forgot to mention that they are built being able to power many from a single supply with no additional parts, just snip the battery leads and solder them all to a single 9vDC wallwart ( with enough amperage ) and they will all work. I know what its like trying to take your first few steps into real modular synthesis. Its expensive, confusing, and it seems that there are no simple answers, so I decided it was time to give people another lo-fi choice. With the parasites everything is as simple as I can make it, possibly to a point of disbelief or disinterest but I wouldn’t have spent all this time if I didn’t stand by them.
Q: What kind of builds have you applied it to, and what was the outcome?
Steven: Up until now they have been living on breadboards so most of the testing was done with other parasites making sure they liked each other. I also made sure any audio processors would handle external audio well, mostly line or toy level stuff, some may need a preamp to work with guitar level. If you don’t have one I have a booster and a pre on the way. I also kept a breadboarded 40106 osc around that I could plug into just because they are so simple and easy to work with. This is what most of the samples are made with so far. When i get time I’ll elaborate on those as well as post tutorials showing the steps involved for using them.
Q: How much does each unit cost if I were to buy one?
Steve: Deciding price has been a bit of struggle. I have to warrant all the time I’ve spent designing these, the boards, collecting all the odd parts, the time to build and testing every single one before its shipped. Right now they are all only $29 but the other 8 will be higher and lower. Hopefully with many more to come.
Q: Who or where should one go to get one of these PARASITES?
Steven: I have a little store on my site that I sell everything from. but with the upcoming SATO store I might just merge the two to make it easier on myself.
Q: Is there a guarantee on your work…are these things tested before you ship them out or something?
Steven: I have a one year warranty for parts and labor and then pretty much just parts cost after that if there is anything expensive involved. I test every single unit for full functionality before it goes up in the store
Q: What goes into inventing one of these type of modules, I mean how did you come up with the idea?
Steven: Need or want for the most part. just paying attention to those moments when you’re sitting there staring at a problem or possibility and saying, “I wish I had a…..” is what drove me to start developing these. That and a general frustration with limitations and the fact that there have not been very many new steps taken with bending lately. I know that might sound odd to some people and I guess I do live in a bubble of sorts but I haven’t truly seen any “new” bending achievements reached lately and certainly not from myself. So i thought I would give others some new tools to help move it forward a bit and see what happens.
As for the actual process, first I have to sort of justify the device and the time and cost that will go into it. Ideally it would need to serve at least a few different functions in various types installations. Like the clatter for example is a variable clock fed optical switch, meaning there is an adjustable timer controlling the actual switch which is done within the IC using light so the transition from “off” to “on” is smoothed out a little. It can be used as it is for simply making or breaking a connection between two bend points and adjusting the rate of the clock to get it to sync to a rhythm or create one itself, or you can run audio straight through it to use it as a vibrato / stutter, or run it at a really fast setting and use it as a pseudo ring mod and then there is also a crude voltage controlled input allowing you to send it an lfo for example and modulate the rate. But then there are some things that are just fun to make or things that are more of a utility like the mimeo which was something I have been dreaming of since I started bending. You know how you always find bends that will change the pitch when you replace it with a larger cap or add a parallel cap but no matter what when you try adding a pot into the layout it will just not make it adjustable. well i bumped into some general docs someone had written about a method of falsely increasing a capacitor’s size by a fixed amount with just a few parts and an opamp. So I threw it up on the breadboard and started messing with the basic idea and not too long after that I had come up with a fully adjustable capacitor with a smooth, enormous range and the pcb was small enough to hang off of a 16mm pot. No more needing to use a row of toggle switches dropping more capacitors in and out. Drill one hole, solder two wires, and you’re done
Q: How did you first get your start? Did you take courses at a school or was it more or less a self journey?
Steven: No i’m all self taught. Not that I’ve had or taken the chance, but I don’t think I could function in a structured learning environment very well. My real background has been in writing, recording and engineering spread over the last 15 years now, but I’ve never felt right about pursuing it as a proper career. So I’ve just taken shit jobs and fought for time to work on my own stuff on the side, which is tough. Moved around the country and ended up at one of those incredibly depressing, what have I done with my life, soul sucking, thankless jobs as a default at the new place and couldn’t take it any fucking more (go to school kids!). So for my 30th birthday I gave myself the best present I possibly could. I fucking quit! I had a few dollars saved up and a low cost of living so I started a little short lived label that I quickly ignored (but will return to soon) to work on the suchaturnon.com stuff which I started because I didn’t know how it worked and had always wanted to learn ( yes it will return very soon too), and then started building little oscillators and bending thrift store finds since I had more time. Sold some but kept most and then found Tom’s bugcrusher over on Colin’s board – http://experimentalistsanonymous.com/board/ I had been wanting and asking out loud for a hardware crusher forever and built the first dual 9v version (i think?). Loved every second of it and asked for permission to do the first 10 downgrades as clones and he was cool enough to let me, thank you so much Tom!. and that was it…. I was really happy with the way they turned out and it just hooked me. After that I literally stuck my face in my computer screens for months and months without moving, reading everything, following circuits until they made sense, bothering people with longwinded emails, making a fool of myself in all the forums asking the stupidest questions and destroying threads with my idiocy ( thank you all by the way !!!! the diy synth / noise community is filled with some of the nicest, most intelligent and patient people on the planet, not sure where I would be without you ) and when I wasn’t doing that I was face down in breadboards proving that everything in my head was either right or wrong. Trial and error is king. I’ve learned so much by failing they should teach a class on it.
Oh and my first real bend was the display of an alarm clock about 8 years ago maybe, I’m bad with dates
Q: Anything you want to add?
Steven: I would really like the idea of hardware plugins like this to take off. Maybe we will start to see some other designers join in with their own creations. We can all work out a couple minor guidelines to follow and give the format a name. Maybe even collaborate on new stuff. If anyone is interested you know where to find me.
Wow…thanks Steven!! If you want to check out his new devices they are available at thesquarewaveparade.com I’m sure you’ll want to check back there every so often, just to see what’s new. I don’t think he’s giving up anytime soon!