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Orbit 3 - Joranalogue

Orbit 3 - Joranalogue

by Ellison Wolf

The concept behind Joranalogue’s Orbit 3 Double Scroll Chaos Oscillator reads like a scientific journal to the extreme, and lo and behold, that’s where it originates from. Designed around a double-scroll attractor, sometimes called Chua's attractor after the engineer/scientist/theorist Leon Chua who theorized it, the long and short of the idea is this; imagine a particle in space orbiting around two equilibrium points of which various parameters—size, shape, and speed—can be altered, thereby altering the path of the orbit. The double scroll part of the name comes into play due to the shape of the orbits [one in the positive realm and the other in the negative] in 3D space with the two scroll-shaped orbit paths making up what looks like a Mobius Loop, or two interconnected-ish planetary rings, or an endlessly looping racetrack, or...Once you start tweaking the shape, it changes and warps into other dual scroll type relationships, some not so easy to define, some with more separation between the two orbits, some with less.
While some of the theory might be hard to conceptualize, understanding and enjoying Orbit 3 is really enhanced, and more easily understood, by connecting it to an oscilloscope, in my case the Mordax DATA, in XY mode. There’s too much theory and backstory on the design of Chau’s [as well as Edward Lorenz, thought of as the father of Chaos Theory] theory, and in turn the conceptual genesis for O3, for rumination in this review about chaos/what it means to be chaotic/etc., and while I can turn the knobs and flip the switches of Orbit 3, I am in no way a person who should be lecturing on chaos theory, however one look at my office will tell you that I am very familiar with various forms of living with, in, and around chaos. As such, chaos can mean different things in different situations; my messy workspace, the typical highschool classroom, etc., but in terms of mathematics—which Orbit 3 is immersed in—it has a much different meaning, to the point where I wouldn’t even recognize the definition as chaos. From the Orbit 3 manual:
“[Chaos] deals with systems exhibiting highly irregular behaviour, seemingly random, yet completely deterministic.”
I highly recommend that if you love math [that’s MATH, people!], reading, research, and modules with meanings/history, to dive in a bit and do a bit of reading about Chau/Lorenz and their theories. It’s fun, interesting stuff.
If the science behind the module, and maybe the terms are a bit confusing to you, then you’re probably not smart enough to use this module. Just kidding! The more I read about chaos theory and tried to understand the messy, yet deterministic piles on my desk, the more I realized that I should just twist some f’n knobs and see what Orbit 3 can do. And so I shall. But first, let’s go over Orbit 3’s physical attributes.
Orbit 3’s layout is by now familiar to those who know Joranalogue’s line of modules; silver and black front panel, neatly laid out with the top half being the controls and the bottom half the ins and outs.
For controls we have a FREQUENCY knob with a FREQ. MOD attenuverting CV input, DISTRIBUTION, which alters the character of the chaos by making the orbits wider, also has an attenuverting DIST. MOD CV input. There are two EQUILIBRIUM POINT controls, one for + and one for -, and two toggle switches for AUDIO/LOW mode and TAME/WILD mode. I admit to going straight for the WILD toggle first thing after power up. How can you not? Chaos = WILD, right? Well, not always, as I found out. Not obviously, anyway.
For ins and outs, most of the magic happens at Orbit 3’s six separate outputs, which are all out of phase from each other, separated by 60 degree increments. Each output also represents a positive or negative axis on a 3D plane, and are labelled 0/+X, 60/+Y, 120/+Z for the positive, and 180/-X, 240/-Y, 300/-Z for the negative domain, which reads a bit more confusing on the page than it does on the module. An EP [EQUILIBRIUM POINT] output rounds out the um...outs, and EP puts out a square wave every time an equilibrium point is being orbited by the imagined particle, with +5 at the output for the positive scroll and 0V for the negative. This output can be used for modulation, random gate/triggers, and as a square wave sound source at high frequencies. You can also patch EP into the RESET input—which is like a hard sync on traditional oscillators—to make Orbit 3 more stable as a sound source.
Since we’ve brought up inputs, we’ve got the aforementioned RESET, a FREQ. in for CV modulation of the FREQUENCY, DIST. input for CV modulation of the DISTRIBUTION parameter, and EP+, and EP- CV ins for modulating the positive and negative EQUILIBRIUM POINTS. DISTRIBUTION changes the nature of the generated chaos by making the orbits wider so that the oscillator will cover a closer path to each of the equilibrium points before moving over to the other point. EQUILIBRIUM, on the other hand, moves the equilibrium point away from 0V—the point of origin—altering the volume and nature of the signals. Moving both of the EQUILIBRIUM points can bring about a stable VCO or complete chaos. It’s in your control!
Using Orbit 3 as a modulator and patching two out of phase positive outputs [0/+X, 60/+Y] while in AUDIO mode and into two separate but synced oscillator’s exponential FM CV ins, and while turning FREQUENCY you can get some really unique waves for modulation. Turning it all the way CCW so the FREQUENCY is as slow as it will go while still in AUDIO mode, and the sounds you can get can go from extra-terrestrial to Amazonian, and that’s just in a basic 2 VCO/Orbit 3 patch with very little modulation. Flipping switches, turning knobs, and adding modulation to Orbit 3 brought in even more interesting variation.
Self patching the various outputs into the RESET while still just using the two synced VCOs brought about some strange and melodically usable tones and ditto for patching the outs into the EP- and EP+ CV inputs, especially when patching the + phase outputs into the EP- CV in, and vice versa. In short, mixing up your + and - ins and outs will yield some pretty cool tones, and again, messing with [or CVing] FREQUENCY on Orbit 3 brought about some really crazy X&Y visualization on DATA as well as super cool sweeping tones. In short, for audio rate modulation, Orbit 3 gives you a lot, and when you flip the switch into WILD mode, hold on tight! Well, sort of. There were many times when I could hear only a slight change but the visual readout on DATA changed dramatically, which made me ponder what it means to be wild. I think wildness is relative, and that something that might be wild for one person [a tattoo, perhaps], is routine for another, and Orbit 3, a CHAOS oscillator, is pretty wild as is, so sometimes that meant that switching into WILD mode was more of a chaotic mathematical change which didn’t fully realize as chaotic in the audible sense.
I spent a lot of time just flipping switches, turning knobs, and just seeing what happened in some pretty haphazard patch-everything-you-got type of patches and there were many times when it seemed like DATA just gave up, needing a beer or some meditation time, only to twist a knob or change something and have DATA go ballistic. It was a lot of fun and experimenting in this fashion kept me guessing the entire time. I never got to the point where I knew what would happen with a knob twist or toggle change. Having said that, it wasn’t like Orbit 3 ever changed character; I could never understand or predict its character. If you have a friend that this sounds like—beware! For use in modulation Orbit 3 is an excellent random LFO, especially with its six different outputs that made for some interesting decisions. Patching out of two or more closely out of phase [is there such a thing?] LFOs into one modulating destination brought out the more thought of definition of chaos when I patched the 0, 60, and 120 outputs into various oscillators CV ins.
Using Orbit 3 as an oscillator, as sound source, mind you, is a very noise-ish [as opposed to just plain noisy] affair with everything from wind gushes to white noise, from heating duct fans to something that sounded like my annoying ex-neighbors constant attempts at starting his rusty, long out of commission 76’ Camaro. The breadth of noise-based sounds from Orbit 3 is immense, and it’s hard to further describe the various micro [and macro] tonal noise shifts that Orbit 3 produces. Orbit 3’s overall range is vast, with the ability to go from about 7 minutes to 22khz, and it’s temperature compensated and tracks well at 1volt/octave, making it a very usable unique sound source. Modulating the FREQUENCY with a sequencer and watching the changes on DATA go from what looked like geometric tsunamis to 2D Tron-like backgrounds and all points in between—with the accompanying sounds matching their visuals—was a trying experience for my dog Olive, who at sixteen is an expert at weird and trying noises. I couldn’t tell if she was begging me to stop, or saying “Yeah, that sounds familiar," before leaving the room.
I liked using Orbit 3 as a sound source, and each of the six-phased outputs offer different sounds [well technically; each pair of 180 out of phase outputs [0/180, 60/240, and 120/300] sound the same], and doing a frequency noise sweep is surprisingly satisfying. Using it for percussive duties; snare, hi-hats, rhythmic rumbles, works great as there are so many sounds and it’s so versatile. It’s hard to even describe what you can get as there are just so many possibilities here. Some of the noises reminded me of the movie Predator, that sort of modulated clicking sound that came off as pretty creepy back then, but sounded cool as a melodic rhythm. Not that I’m one to condone more purchasing of modules, but having all six of the phased outs on Orbit 3 means that they’re all tied to the same frequency; great for some circumstances, but that might mean that if you want more separate sounds needing noise, you might have to find additional noise sources [like another Orbit 3], though you can certainly mix it up and use some outs as noise sources, some as modulators, etc. An Orbit 6, a Quadruple Scroll Chaos Oscillator would be pretty sweet!
I got some really cool bass tones in AUDIO/WILD modes by patching a S&H from Pamela’s New Workout into the EP+ input and by self patching Orbit 3 going from the EP out to the RESET, using either Z outputs, though I also liked the more treble-y grittiness of the Y outputs as well. Messing with the EQUILIBRIUM POINTS helped hone in a more stable sound, and patching a sequence from Xaoc Device’s Moskwa II into the FREQUENCY input brought about a more diverse spectrum of notes and tones.
Some of the most fun I’ve had with O3 is just patching two outputs into a stereo mixer, hard panning one left and the other right, and slowly sweeping the FREQUENCY both by hand and with a slow sine wave and a smooth random LFO in AUDIO/WILD modes. Then again...using O3 as a sound source and patching out of it into a few different modules—the WORNG Parallax for filtering, and the Anima by Ritual Electronics for envelopes—and I got some really excellent harsh noise bursts and I just kept patching and patching and patching until I got dirty looks, again from Olive.
In keeping with the academic nature of both Joranalogue, Orbit 3, and its inspiration, I’d like this thesis to end by stating that in summary, Orbit 3 is a module in which the more you learn, the more you will appreciate and enjoy all that it has to offer. You can most definitely patch it all ways until Tuesday without knowing a damn thing about it or chaos theory and have a grand old time, but learning a bit about its nature and about those involved with its creation and manufacture—whether directly or indirectly—will put you on a deterministic path back to the seat in front of your modular setup.


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