Wednesday 16 November 2022

Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1 ma:SSaKred

128mm wide, 78mm deep, 17mm high (excluding controls)

I got this about 100€ tiny brick of a synth, Korg NTS-1, or Nu:tekt. You build the case yourself and it has that rugged circuit board aesthetic. There's also promises of customization, both in hardware and software.

So, is this the Arduino of synths? Well, yes and no.

Yes, because it can be modified, and there are pins for accessing inputs and outputs. Yes, because it is very tiny. No, because the software architecture uses uploaded modules and it is not as "open" as an Arduino is. Yes, because you can also compile your own modules. No, because there's not a huge row of pins to access every meaningful aspect of the synth.

NTS-1 is not unique, there are several build-yourself-a-synth models around. The self-building aspect is at least partly a gimmick. But it's a nice product idea, potentially bringing the cost down a little. NTS-1 was really simple to put together with the instructions, no soldering or extra tools were needed. I used a somewhat larger screwdriver than the one supplied.

There are a few pins and soldering points that can be used to expand the synth. MIDI, audio and the sync clock are present both as ports and on-board connections. The real changes to the sounds and functionalities are done through uploading different modules.

I had somehow thought I could also use Nu:tekt as a MIDI-controlled adjustable filter, something you don't see that often. To my disappointment the audio-in is diverted to after the filter, and you can only select whether you want mod/delay/reverb affect your audio input.

But this is not the end. It is possible to upload new oscillators, modulators, delays and reverbs via the Librarian app. So I could add third party filters from DirtBoxSynth just to fix my grievance. This added some ~€10 to the cost of this device. Whether these filters are as good as the fixed ones, I can't vouch for.

The Librarian app

I also learned the architecture is shared between Korg Prologue and Minilogue, which means there's a wider market for these modules. Not all modules might be applicable for the context of NTS-1.

The Librarian app is only available for Mac and Windows, but fortunately it worked well in my 2012 Mac. A glance at the coding side makes me feel it wouldn't be impossible to compile my own effect (there are tutorials and examples) but it's doubtful I can do the math for anything useful.

Apparently an imported module only fits a particular category, so you cannot upload "bitcrusher" to Delays or Reverbs, it has to go to Mods. If so, I cannot choose to chain the DirtBoxSynth filters with the bitcrusher, it's either/or, because both go to Mods.

Ok, let's look at the more physical side of things.

The headphone is at the other side

The boards and the elements are meant for constructing the default box, so it's not a set of legos. Still, the process is nearly reversible and you are not stuck with the box you built. It should be easy to remove one of the four 1mm side panels, and replace them with your own, for example.

About that "nearly reversible". Because the instructions said so, I cut off the four screw holders from the board corners. As far as I see now they do not need to be removed when making the standard case. So, be aware when building the case you are making a permanent change! 

The controls are integrated to the top panel, which doesn't look too simple. The ribbon keyboard input connector looks a little tricky, attaching an alternative keyboard is probably not going through that route. Either find out what the pins between the top/bottom do, or use MIDI.

Header pins and four screws keep to cover in place.

The NTS-1 has no patch storage, but this is a minor inconvenience, considering all parameters can be transmitted via MIDI Control Change messages. There are Oscillator, Filter and Envelope types, with A and B parameters for each. On top of that you can have Mod, Delay, Reverb, LFO and Tremolo. There is also a rather full-featured Arpeggiator.

Like all the audio and sync ports, the MIDI port is 3,5mm one, with tip-ring-sleeve arrangement. So one of the first customization decisions might be whether you need an adapter cable (be aware of Type A and Type B) or build your own full-size MIDI port using the solder points inside. This is what I did, not long after putting the thing together.

The USB also connects the device to your computer as a visible MIDI device, so whether you even want to use the MIDI port for connecting is up to you.

Adding the full-size MIDI port

The box was even easier to open than to put together. The front or the rear panel needs to be removed before the circuit board can be lifted out.

After removing the board it is easy to access the through-holes for MIDI, AUDIO and SYNC. Note that 5v and 3.3v can be drawn from here too.

I soldered in a header strip for testing. Then I realized the jumper cable heads would not fit under the cover, so I instead added a tiny layer of prototyping board. A ribbon connector might have been helpful here.

This way I can solder/de-solder wires should I need to change them. I wouldn't want to heat the actual Nu:Tekt board too many times.

The MIDI in "tip", "ring" and GND("Sleeve") need to be connected to a MIDI DIN-style connector.

I soldered the wires on the proto pads, as it was too tricky to nudge them from the underside after the board had been fit to place. There's one more layer of that header strip keeping the board higher.

I could have soldered the wires beforehand from the more correct direction, though.

Internally, MIDI channels are 0-15, in hex 0-F, whereas software and documentation refers to them as 1-16. This discrepancy sometimes rears its head and creates confusion, but I've become used to it.

How to change the MIDI channel? Consult the manual. Plug in the Korg and press REVERB at the same time, you get to the parameter menu. Find the parameter CHL with the Type knob and change them using the B knob. Push ARP to store the parameter to the internal memory.

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Zoo 2022

The largest Finnish Commodore 64 demoscene party, Zoo Party, took place in Orivesi campus 28-30th of October, 2022. Although 2021 saw the mostly-online "World Wide Zoo" event, there really hasn't been a proper Zoo party since 2019.

Given the somewhat lacklustre Assembly 2022, I had mixed expectations. Have sceners been sharpening their weapons and ready to release their pent-up creativity in full pressure? Or do we get to see a small batch of zombified entries?

The Party Bus arrangement made it easy to join from Helsinki to the party location somewhat east of Tampere. A train would have worked well too. It was already known there would be rather many participants, and the bus was quite full. As the evening turned from the depressing grey to night-time darkness, the atmosphere began to build up.

It was nice to see the campus setting had far more space than that hotel at Akaa, and the accommodation was very good.

At this point I have to say the Akaa hotel (2013-2019) had a nice atmosphere and the mezzanine added some "dimension" to the space. Yes, having a sports hall as the main party space just doesn't have that Kaurismäki/David Lynch feel that the tiny hotel had.

But still I'd say overall this location wins and when it comes to sitting in front of your C64 and enjoying the party audiovisuals, the architecture doesn't matter that much. Also, in Akaa the bar in the party hall was something of a mixed blessing.

The responsibility of feeding, when carried by the party organizers, was unclear at times. But as there was an arrangement with the house kitchen, the breakfast and supper were professional. As a welcome bonus, Wide Load additionally provided hot dogs, if you were there at the right time. Now there were no pre-bought beer tokens, and beer did flow freely, up to the rumored 700 liters in total.

Entering the foyer, one was greeted with arcade game selection from Reprocade: Wizard of Wor, Crystal Castles, Tempest and Klax. I was able to try each one quickly during the party. 

The merchandise was there too, notably the obligatory Zoo T-shirts and the new Finnsids II SID album. The exhibition of Game Boy art, displayed on real Game Boys, was an additional curiosity. That's a rather hardcore display format for graphics! The entrance space also hosted the flea market on Saturday, and you could also upgrade your C64 with diverse gear. I bought a replacement PSU and I'll discuss that in another blog post.

As usual, there were a couple of talks. One was Miha Rinne, a long time game industry professional and the author of the graphic novel Journeys in Game Industry (Matkailua Pelialalla). He told of resurrecting a very old C64 game project called Undead, with side-scrolling zombie smashing fun. The completely new version will re-use the concept of that old game with new graphics and sound. Interestingly for me, at least some of the background graphics had been mocked up with Multipaint.

Lasse Öörni AKA Cadaver, of the Goattracker fame, is of course also known for the C64 games such as Metal Warrior and Hessian. He showed interesting details about the tools and cross-development environments he had built for game development.

Both of the presentations seemed to highlight the importance of self-made (or in-house) tools that can be even particular to one game project. In Rinne's case this approach enables the designer to build game content without having to become entangled with the coding. In contrast, Öörni, coding everything on his own, could explore the possibilities of memory- and speed optimized level storage through creating his own map editors.

The musical acts were there too, such as Terracuda (Deetsay/Tero and Barracuda) and 8-bits high. I would enjoy these shows but somehow tend to miss them as there's either something else to do or I'm already asleep. At least 8-bits high are gigging here and there, so you don't have to go to a demoparty to hear them.

Off to the compos.

Zoo Kids was a fun competition for kids, let's say the daughters and sons of middle-aged sceners. The works were submitted remotely (I doubt many would bring their kids to Zoo) And it was nice to see Multipaint used for this purpose too.

For the SID music compo, my seat wasn't probably at the best place so I grew a little weary of the fat kick sounds and had to move farther away. After the party, I enjoyed some of the winning works at the comfort of my home. To me SIDs are best enjoyed in small quantities, and Zoo often has dozens of pieces!

In the graphics compo many reported that Multipaint was part of their tool palette, which was a pleasant surprise. Clearly, over the the years the software has grown steadily in popularity to the point that a number of people came to comment on the software, often with some development ideas.


I worked on my compo entry image for quite a while and to me Cartoonzone represents quite well the kind of picture I really want to do currently. It combines Multipaint work with modest sprite multiplexing. Unfortunately it did not do especially well at the compo, I hoped it would land in the top 10.

The more jokey PETSCII, Samantha Fox Strip Poker, actually did reach position 6. Overall the compo had a solid selection of great works, but PETSCII perhaps isn't able to impress me so much as it did back in 2013-2015. Perhaps Peak PETSCII has been reached?

Samantha Fox Strip Poker

Earlier in the autumn, I still had some hopes to contributing to the game compo, but these hopes withered as the deadline loomed. Especially the last few weeks before the party were not conducive to finishing a game project, doing the graphics entry was enough. Although the number of entries was not high, the quality was pretty good. Perhaps not a surprise the more humorous and "demoscene-esque" of the games won (Burger Ninja) rather than the one I felt had a solid game concept (Knight Trap).

And let's not confuse this Game Making compo with the games compos. Lumberjack was surprisingly exciting to follow as the players one-upped in what appeared to be quite an intense and stressful game.

Cosmic Convoy

The disc cover compo doesn't have that many entries, so it wasn't impossible to get into 3rd position. It's a compo I have often wanted to contribute to. But I rarely get into the mood before the party, and when at the party place the time is often spent on other things. This time it was possible and there were some spots where I could advance the drawing while eating and listening to others.

I'm a little confused why Party Feature and Wild Compo need to exist as separate categories, but I guess it's more comfortable to submit to Feature things that would be at the party in any case, such as logo banners. The Wild I guess is still reserved for the video works and alternate computer platforms.

Oh, and by the way why is it ok to play SIDs on top of graphics entries, but not ok to show graphics while SIDs are playing?

The demo compo was so late and we knew there would be a huge number of long-ish demos, so frankly I had a nap during it. But from what I saw the quality and number of the best demos was really high.

So, yes, to answer my question, it looks like Zoo and the C64 sceners were back in full force.

Zoo 2022:  5/5, I'd take part again.