Let me start by saying I love my polivoks filter and my malgorithm bit crusher. The Harvestman makes really unique analog and digital modules for the doepfer eurorack modular format. I could not live with out either of these, In fact when I was freaking out over the unstable tracking on my oscillators, I was going to sell my modular system, But I kept going, what would I do with out my custom faceplated Malgorithm and the brutal resonance of the Polivoks filter? Die I think. The Harvestman gave me the real reason to keep my modular, so I could make mean evil sounds, and skin peeling resonant acid sounds(Not to mention he is a totally cool guy to talk to, and yeah, I think he will get his guitar pedals out before Gun’s and Roses gets their new LP out). LOL. I really appreciate that Scott took the time to answer my silly questions.
BE: What is the modus operandi of your company?
Harvestman: Pretending like semiconductor technology advanced along the same timeline where Biff Tannen owns a casino. Recognizing the total disaster of raising a generation of programmers to worship high-level language instead of the silicon that makes it real. Designing electronic music devices with these awarenesses in mind.
BE: What got you interested in making modules?
Harvestman: I wanted a nice bitcrusher module for my modular system but there wasn’t one in active development when I first started playing with patchcords. Around this time I fortunately forgot most of what I knew about software development, starting over with a focus on embedded DSP. I’ve been writing exclusively in assembly for the last two years and my brain is ruined in the best way possible.
BE: Before you did harvestman, did you do anything else with electronics, and what age did you start tinkering?
Harvestman: I circuit bent (casio sk1s exclusively) starting in high school, and years later my work started incorporating patchable external control and explorations into a more fluent reverse-engineering of the instrument. Around this time I stopped the bending and started thinking about standalone devices to continue my work. At the time I was heavily studying music technology in an academic setting, but I wasn’t able to take engineering classes for credit. Now that I look back on it, those two years were sort of like buying time to teach myself enough discipline to produce working circuits, seasoned with some awesomely informative high-level signal processing lectures.
BE: What do you think separates you from the other boutique module manufacturers?
Harvestman: A focus on digital techniques and a healthy dose of iconoclasm? I think all of the designers have something resembling a common goal in that we work to bring new capabilities to a decades-old performance interface. And what awesome work it is. My modular setup that I use for composition and performance contains devices from a half-dozen designers and all those different design laws combine to form a really flexible instrument. There’s no better time to be a modular synthesist, I think.
BE: What void are you filling in with your products?
Harvestman: If there was ever a need for modular devices purpose-built for garbage audio manipulation, I guess I’ve got my slurry nozzle wedged in the void. I’m a discrete-time sleaze vendor.
BE: What is your favorite old school synth?
Harvestman: Probably the ARP 2600, everything you really needed in that decade except for the tape machine. The ultimate suitcase weapon for space jazz freakout. I’d love to try a black and orange one someday, I’ve only had the chance to play with a really beat up grey one. My favorite 80s synth (not counting the SK-1) is the MC-202… it’s like a calculator with a curtis chip inside… amazing industrial design with a good cv/gate interface that’s the perfect companion to a Eurorack system. I don’t have too much experience with vintage gear… too much awesome new boutique stuff out there these days keeps my attention. I’d say that the Buchla 200 series is among my favorites, but the new 200e is really where it’s at.
BE: What was your favorite video game console sound chip?
Harvestman: It’s a tough choice between the Atari POKEY and the Nintendo’s 2A03. I like the former for its unique shift register-based tone generation (the Harvestman Zorlon Cannon uses this technique as well), but the 2A03 has a ton of character packed into its five channels. The pitch glide, 4-bit triangle, “looped noise” mode, and delta-modulation sampling have a very unique sound compared to other game chips, and “real” synthesizers too. Check out the TIA (atari 2600 chip), it’s pretty fun. Like the POKEY’s hydrocephalic little brother. 5 bit frequency register (can’t even get an octave of pitches in tune), and the rest of the chip wrangles a single line of video at a time. Programming the thing to get post-Activision style results is kind of like trying to pull off the solo at the end of “Five Magics”.
BE: What do you think of the psp and nitendo DS music program things?
Harvestman: I have no experience with them, but I think they’re a great ideas (especially the korg thing). I’ve only ever played around with the old music sequencer on the game boy camera cartridge years ago. Klangstabil did a good 12″ using only that.
BE: Most of your modules are indeed digital, however, the polivoks is pure analog, and I must say it is my favorite thing from your company, don’t get me wrong, I love the Malgorithm bit crusher. But honestly what is your attraction to the lofi digital sound?
Harvestman: It’s a unique class of sounds that can’t really be reached through purely analog techniques. I’m a big fan of distortion and other means of severely corrupting a signal, and simple digital processing methods have produced some of the most savage noises I have ever heard. It’s also a really straightforward way to get aggressive and offensive sounds that are at home in outlaw electronic styles like power electronics, the second wave of rhythmic noise, and low-art identity enforcement, all traditionally achieving their ugliness though misapplications of analog amplification. Throwing some digital sacrilege into the mix just makes the ears hurt more and I’m happy to work to put these devices into such hands.
BE: What gave you the idea to turn digital strangeness into CV controllable Frankenstein monsters?
Harvestman: Two things: when I started incorporating gate inputs on some of my bent SK-1s, and also watching an engineer friend work on a project that turned a 2A03 chip into a MIDI sound module. While observing him I learned a bit about microprocessor programming, and how inexpensive ADCs can be used to give digital processors smooth, analog-like control behavior with the correct user interface. Once I acquired some engineering skills I was able to start designing modules that filled large functional holes in my personal system (bitcrusher, loop sampler, etc). Since going into business in fall 2007, my engineering chops have improved but my taste has not.
BE: What are you planning for the future?
Harvestman: Next month I’m moving to Seattle and hiring some help so I can deliver more modules on time. That gives me more time to design new devices, and get these guitar pedals out the door… the second half of the year will be very busy for me. At least 5 new modules coming out this year!
BE: Any new modules you can give us a heads up on?
Harvestman: First of all I’m doing a fully-featured bitcrusher pedal sort of like the Malgorithm. Then, a 4-channel guitar pedal adaptor module (to incorporate pedals into a modular system) with the ability to easily make feedback loops. I’ve also had a neat digital oscillator design near completion for a while, I need to spend a weekend writing some better code for it. I am working with more advanced DSPs for really weird effects you’ve never seen in a hardware modular before. The cooperation with Vladimir Kuzmin will also continue, with interesting Russian synth modules released that defy vintage Western circuit design conventions.
If you want products that mangle sound and get mean and have edge and get really filthy dirty check out just about anything by The Harvestman: http://www.theharvestman.org/. If you want to buy any of this stuff, head over to http://www.analoguehaven.com. In particular the the Harvestman section of AH. AND PLEASE, Tell Analog Haven that you found out about it from Velvet Acid Christ and make him feel guilty for not giving me better deals on stuff, JUST KIDDING. LOL.
Below is the video that got me to buy the malgorithm: