Zorx Electronics
Cicely - Expert Sleepers

Cicely - Expert Sleepers

by Ian Rapp

Jimi Hendrix is not a name one normally thinks of in terms of modular synths, and with good reason, as he was, of course, a master of the guitar and not synths. Yet, one of his signature tones, brought to life by the use of Roger Mayer's germanium transistor-based Octavia octave fuzz pedal, is one that translates pretty well to modular, and I’ve been using an Octavia clone DIY pedal that I built in some of my patches. I, however, still lament the fact that it has no CV control, and not much in the way of contouring. Enter Cicely, Expert Sleepers’s new octave fuzz, the latest offering in their all-analog module line. If you’re unfamiliar with this line of Expert Sleepers modules that have been rolling out for the past year or so, it’s a series of all-analog modules named after the ten tracks off the Cocteau Twins album Treasure.
An octave fuzz like Octavia (and Cicely) adds a top octave to the input signal, and I love it with guitars as it cuts through a mix really well and thickens up leads. A lot of times I put other fuzz/distortion pedals in front of an octave up fuzz pedal to mess with it, as more complex tones seem to confuse the octaving a bit, something I enjoy, and that’s why this type of fuzz works so well with modular, as the waveforms of any given signal can be so complex that all bets are off when running through an octave up, so I was excited to get to work with Cicely.
Cicely’s controls are straightforward: Controls for Gain and Gain CV IN, Centre and Centre CV IN, and a Mix control. Cicely also has two different outputs of envelope following (positive and negative), two Inputs, an Output, and a Mix CV IN. On Cicely you can really alter the tone, movement, and distortion amount in a signal—all things I could only have dreamed of for my imitation homegrown Octavia—via modulation. I always knew what I was missing in theory, but in practice it takes the effect to another galaxy.
The movement that the Centre and Gain CV modulation provides is immense, from slowly altering the gain amount to creep in the distortion to audio rate modulation of the Centre to get wavefolding-type of distorted drone. The Gain and Mix inputs are self-explanatory and I was curious to hear the difference between changing the mix and changing the distortion, as it can amount to the the same thing at the output if the modulation rates are matched; and with that in mind I had one slow LFO going into the Mix and a much faster one patched into the Gain, and the movement, the change was pronounced and interesting, heavily distorted at parts while the mix alternated between wet and dry. CV’ing the Centre and Mix in the same way brought similar results, but using a synced random LFO in time with a sequence added a definite unpredictability and edge to the patch. I did this with both a perfectly symmetrical slow triangle LFO, and with a more exponential- shaped envelope for a sort of bursting at the end of the distorted parts, and depending on the situation, I’m not sure my intention was successful—though cool—and it worked better in a really slow, sparse patch where the distorted signal was the focus, as well as a more repetitive patch that let the effect sink in after a time than it did something quick and one off. When synced and planned out, Cicely added nice punctuation to parts of a patch.
My second type of deliberate modulation was to do the opposite of the first, by increasing the gain as the Mix decreased. I actually felt a bit sad hearing the gain go to the max just as it was being squeezed out by the mix. It felt like somebody’s inner voice (in this case Cicely’s, I suppose) being drowned out by the unaffected signal. Sad! The Centre CV input was something I never would have dreamed of, and this applies an offset to the octave which gives asymmetrical clipping. With a square wave modulating this and the control at center being moved from side to side, you can really shift the wave around, which is really interesting for something like simultaneously syncing with a snare hit for emphasis, or during a long sustained note in a lead line. It has a phasing sort of sound, and looks like a mild form of wavefolding under the scope. I also liked doing this every other beat on a bass line to freak it out. If you have a -5 to +5V LFO to patch into the Centre CV In, you can modulate the full range of the control and go from fully negative to fully positive and squeeze all of the goodness out of it. A lot of Cicely’s parameters sounded very PWM-y, with that heady phasing that would work great incorporated into an octave up guitar pedal. Coincidentally, I did just this by playing a little guitar with Cicely using my Partscaster through my rig. I really tried to sync up my playing with the modulation of the Mix and Gain CV INs (slow moving triangle LFO), and it was pretty interesting chording and soloing in sync, using Five12’s Vector as my visual metronome, its LEDs blinking with each beat. Using Cicely as a straightforward guitar fuzz was pretty rad, and it got way more perverse fuzz tones than my clone pedal, especially when I’d stack it with other fuzzes and through some BBD delay. I’ve really been digging playing guitar through my Eurorack rig, and I’m waiting for the day that I see some rock band (I’m looking at you Radiohead/Jonny Greenwood) that does this in a live setting, thought it’s probably been done already, I’m just living under a large rock in the Northeast US.
The envelope followers on Cicely track the input signal’s amplitude, not at the output of the signal (not a whole lot of variation in volume of a squashed, clipped tone, is there?) and are a cool way to do a little self-patching of the Centre or Gain settings or sync up other modules/effects to Cicely. Filter sweeps, filter resonance, reverb amount…there’s no end to how to use the followers to expand on a patch. One way I did this was to mult out the reverb of a sawtooth-y lead patch coming from WORNG’s Acronym with one signal going to Cicely and the other to a mixer. Using the positive Env Out from Cicely to open a VCA that had Cicely’s signal—non-modulated, but heavily fuzzed—as the input to add some fritzy reverb tails to my mix brought out some semi-syncopated grit to the latter half of each note, really apparent when the BPM was slow and changes were more audible. Sometimes when I’m testing I like my patches to be really bare so that I can clearly hear the defined changes, and when it comes to fuzz, I like to crank the volume so I can hear how things open up. This was how I did most of my initial testing with Cicely, and once I was sure of how Cicely behaved, then I made more dense and full patches.
It seems as though the past few years have brought a real renaissance of fuzz and distortion to Eurorack, and there was a time I would have thought that patching a signal out of my modular and into a fuzz pedal was good enough, but those days are over. Flavors are many, CV controls are plentiful, and overall distortion options are on the verge of being staggering—nothing I’m too bummed about! Though I never did wind up lighting my modular on fire or patching with my teeth, I felt like along with some nice and tasty saturated sounds, I got plenty of “out there,” wild—I guess you could say “psychedelic”—fuzz and distortion tones out of Cicely, bending and twisting my signals into a territory far beyond, something I’d like to think Jimi would appreciate.

Price: $189