The Need For Uncomplicated Sync
The market has recently seen the release of a number of new, small, electronic instruments that cater to musicians who want to create and manipulate beats, tunes, songs on the fly, unhindered by menu-diving or unwanted complexity.
In a stroke of genius, the concept of sync was also simplified and stripped down to its foundation: A simple clock, that just informs the connected devices of the time to advance to the next step every fraction of a beat. A clock pulse can be used, or indeed the individual output of a drum sound of a drum machine, etc. In the old days, MIDI Clock usually carried Start/Stop and sometimes Song Position information, making it possible to control the flow of an entire song from one device. This made sense when a single sequencer was used to compose and playback the entire song, but freeing the sync information from everything else actually makes it easier to create songs and soundscapes with modern gear. Individual instruments can be stopped and started without interrupting the flow of the overall beat, machines can be offset but still in sync creating interesting beat variations, and several musicians can collaborate and operate different gear without interfering with the pulse of the song.
Korg Volca Befriending the Doepfer Sync Unit
While the speed of the sync pulse differs somewhat between devices, they can usually be setup to agree, and I have successfully synchronized my Pocket Operator 14, two Korg Volcas and Arturia’s Microbrute arpeggiator to MIDI clock. In my case, I used an old Doepfer MSY2 sync unit, so that is what I will describe here.
Apart from the two DIN-Sync outputs, the MSY2 also features a sync pulse conveniently available on a mini-tele jack that can be directly connected to the instrument chain. But with its default setting, the sync pulse is much too fast, mimicking the DIN sync pace, leading to the Korg Volca screaming in agony if we just connected it. Unless you are making clock speed noise beats (in which case you can stop reading here) we need to find a way to divide down the pace of the clock.
Reading the manual for the MSY2 reveals how this can be done – by toggling the first four switches on the flipside of the unit to the “OFF” position in a way representing the correct dividend, the clock can be slowed down appropriately. Let’s see how this works out for the Korg Volca.
For you non-computer geeks out there, it doesn’t really help to be informed of such things as the format of the dividend being binary etc. Just think of the switches 1-4 in “OFF” position representing the numbers 8, 4, 2 and 1 in such a way that switch 1 in “OFF” equals 8, switch 2 in “OFF” equals 4, and so on. Switches in “OFF” position have their numbers added, and as Doepfer moves in mysterious ways, a single “1” is added to the end result. This means for instance that a dividend of 6, switches 1 and 4 needs to be in the “OFF” position, switches 2 and 3 in “ON”, and the result will be 4 (switch 1) + 1 (switch 4) + 1 (Doepfer constant) = 6.
So, where do we end up with the Volcas then? As it turns out, the Volcas feed on a clock signal of 1/8th beat, while the MIDI sync is generated every 1/96th. Thus, we just need to calculate that 96 divided by 8 equals 12, to find out our dividend! In Doepfer settings, this means that we need to set switches for the values 8, 2 and 1 (equals 11, and when 1 is added, becomes 12). If you can’t be bothered to figure out the switches I included a picture of the correct switch configuration to the right.
Simple as that, and now the Korg Volca should sync correctly to your MIDI sequencer of choice, and happily pass the correct sync down the chain to other units as well.
One Last Thing
Before moving on, a word of caution: You have to use a mono cable between the MSY2 and the Volca. I am not sure why, but when I tried using a short 3.5 mm stereo cable, the sync clock always seemed to reach the Volca at full 96ppq speed no matter the switch settings, which had me confused for a couple of minutes. Perhaps the stereo signal can be used to send different clock speeds to different units – and that is something that I have to test next!