Zorx Electronics
Three Body Triple FPGA Oscillator - Schlappi Engineering

Three Body Triple FPGA Oscillator - Schlappi Engineering

by Ellison Wolf

I know that some folks are meticulous when it comes to how they arrange their patch cables. You’ve got those cutout wall hangers that look like combs with giant gaps and big teeth, DIY 3D-printed github CAD designs, Kickstartered gizmos that utilize the best [and worst] that technology has to offer, and on and on. Me? I have a drawer. It’s a place where cables of all shapes, sizes, colors, widths, and types get thrown into at random, and while it’s a pretty big drawer, it ain't pretty in there. It’s the place where Knurlies disappear, where random company swag mingles with old NAMM tradeshow badges, and where stickers get so old and dehydrated that they shrivel up and accrue a white sticker-backing border all the way around. Some of my cables are so lost in this drawer that they haven’t seen the light of day for centuries, stuck in the darkness beneath the strata of more recently acquired cables.
Well, the core has been tapped, cable relics unearthed, light brought forth. I’ve had to dig deep in this drawer because of the new Schlappi Engineering Three Body, with its fourteen outputs and eighteen inputs that are available. That’s a lot of cabling, and I’ve utilized every modulation input, and each output in order to attempt a glimpse at the full potential of this module. And that potential? It’s vast.
The Three Body is an FPGA-based 30 HP digital three-oscillator behemoth of phasing and FMing goodgodness. At first glance it’s quite intimidating, with knobs, switches, and jacks all over the place, but after a few deep breaths it’s easy enough to settle in and find your way around, and not nearly as daunting as it may seem. With its intuitive layout, it’s easy to identify that all of three of the VCOs share similar traits with the center oscillator [VCO 2] being the focus with the outer VCOs [1 and 3] effecting this main one.
Each VCO has controls for COARSE/MULT, FM INDEX, and PHASE CV. VCOs 1 and 3 flank VCO 2 on each side [that makes sense, right?!], and there are FINE DIV and PHASE INDEX controls that that reside between each outer VCO and the VCO 2. Littered throughout are LEDs and toggles, which again, are symmetrical and consistent. Each VCO section has switches for TYPE [Free and Ratio], FM MODE [Exp and Lin], and RANGE [Hi/Mult and Low/Div]. There are so many combinations of switches that there are charts of the combinations on the quickstart guide, which reminded me of a Punnett square from my school biology days.
Most of the thirty two inputs and outputs are at the very bottom of the module, and this placement makes for pretty easy patching in what could have been a jungle. VCOs 1 and 3 have inputs for V/Oct/RATIO, PHASE, FM, FM INDEX, and SYNCH, and VCO 2’s section consists of those as well, but also has PHASE 1 and 2, and PHASE INDEX 1 and 2 CV inputs. Along with a TRANSPOSE input, that totals the eighteen inputs. Whew! As for the outputs, the VCOs 1 and 3 each get four outputs [sine, triangle, saw, and square], and VCO 2 has six, with an additional cosine and cosaw outputs totalling fourteen.
There’s all sorts of normalization going on and the manual explains this well, but there’s also text under some of the controls explaining what is being normalled. It’s pretty great that you can patch into the TRANSPOSE input to control the pitch of all three VCOs at once, if desired, and and while this normalization is somewhat expected, it’s also a smart and efficient way that makes this module very versatile, and—dare I say—more compact and organized than it could have been. Not an easy task with all that’s going on here.
Simply patching a sequence into any VCO’s 1V/Oct input and patching from any of the outputs, lets you start twisting knobs and toggling toggles at random, enough to start your phase/FM explorations. While the Three Body is unabashedly a digital module, its one-knob-per-functionality makes it feel like an analog device so if you can stay on track, you can usually tell what’s going on. There’s nothing hidden here; what you see is what you get, and this is a really powerful concept in a really powerful module. It’s not necessarily easy to wrap your head around what’s going on once a patch becomes more complex, but the relationships between the three VCOs in and of itself is interesting to think about, even without the normalization.
The Three Body can definitely get chaotic with many, many ways to do so. Near-infinite modulation opportunities can easily turn any output into a wall of noise, which makes it a great source for [weird] snare, percussive bursts, and creepy basslines, but conversely, the Three Body can get utterly beautiful tones, stunning even. The cleaner FM bell tones can sparkle, and through a snappy VCA with some reverb can leave a sonic imprint for days. I do find that when I want to go that route—to get something clean and beautiful—that it suits me to start off simply, like having all VCOs in Free mode and running off the same TRANSPOSE input—and to expand from there, especially if I’m shooting for something melodically coherent. That’s really how I’ve run with this module in order to get the most out of it intellectually and musically; by slowly moving forward, methodically experimenting, and seeing where it can take me one step at a time. I might not remember right off the top of my head exactly how a certain combination of toggle settings will react to one another once a patch gets dense, but there’s never a point where I can’t take a breath and know exactly what each toggle position means and what it controls.
The cosaw and cosine waves are 90 degrees out of phase with their non-co counterparts and in combination can give a phase-shifty sound if you’re running 1V/Oct-synched VCO outputs in tandem, or even detuned in Free mode. The fourteen different waveform outputs give you an infinite variety of options for sounds and modulation, and you can route two different hard left and right and get all sorts of stereo fun. You can synch two of the VCOs by patching out of one into the others SYNCH input, while leaving the other VCO in Free mode, detuned however, to drone on and on. The Three Body is great as a drone. Slow LFOs patched in, slightly detuned VCOs…The ideas and options are endless, and when you start modulating one parameter of one of the VCOs that effects a parameter of another VCO you enter a maze in which every choice effects numerous things, including the choice itself, where you can never go back, perhaps the source of the name of the module. It’s a feedback loop in real time, and it’s a good thing that life isn’t like that. Imagine taking a bite of a peppermint ice cream cone, and the next thing you know, just by sheer peculiarity of choice relationships, you suddenly find yourself riding Space Mountain at Disney Land. That happened to me once, but it was a long time ago. If you can untangle the web it would all make sense, there’s a certain 5D logic somewhere, but the web is an impenetrable mass of sticky silken thread, so good luck with that. In that sense, the Three Body leads you surfing a never ending black hole, with clear views of a constantly changing world that you can view, but never quite reach and participate in, all due to one initial twist of the knob. I spent quite a bit of time trying to understand the Three Body’s behavior and thinking about how changing one parameter, twisting one knob, could, and would—effect the overall sound and characteristics somewhere down the signal chain. How turning the FM INDEX up on VCO 3 would effect the PHASE INDEX of VCO 2, and therefore the PHASE INDEX of VCO 1 due to the normalization that occurs. Of course you can break any normalization and forge your own way, but even patching into an input with normalization from the output that it’s normalized to yields different results than the normalization itself, something that stumped me a bit, but that I also appreciated, if nothing else than for the additional options due to that, not that there’s any shortage of options! The Three Body really got me thinking about relationships, as well and since everything is well-labeled and as intuitive, there’s nothing to decipher so much as there is to ruminate, to be thoughtful of. I actually even theorized an interpersonal family situation in relation to this modules VCO interactions, one that I’ll spare you from ruminating on here, but will still admit that the Three Body helped me better understanding an annoying sibling. The Three Body can mend fences.
I was able to get some really inspiring tones out of the Three Body. On top of endless variations of noise as well as crystal clear bells, I found some excellent FM metallic alien reptile sounds that I really liked that were great for basslines, I got some peaky cat squeals by feeding an attenuated triangle wave into the 1V/Oct input of VCO 2 with the cosine out [though all of the outputs sounded equally as feline] with VCOs 2 and in Free mode, and VCO 1 in Ratio. Adding a little PHASE INDEX 1 to VCO 1 gave this patch a nice touch of FM-y grittiness. Those were two of my favorites that I’m able to somewhat describe, but there were many. Sometimes you’d have to go a bit down the line, like if you wanted to effect the PHASE CV on VCO 3 you could patch into that input, or instead, you could patch into any of the inputs on VCO 1 as that’s what the PHASE CV on VCO 3 is normalled to. It’s a bit like chess, really; many moves ahead.
It helps to have a good grasp of FM synthesis and phase modulation, but even if you don’t yet, the Three Body is a great learning tool for that, and a truly excellent sound source and sound designing module. There’s something very special and different about Eric Schlappi’s approach to making modules, and using the Angle Grinder, Boundary, 100 Grit, and the Three Body [I haven’t had a chance to dive deep into his other module, Interstellar Radio] all together and it becomes apparent just how unique and special the Schlappi Engineering vision and line of modules is. I’m a fan of all of Schlappi Engineering’s modules, but the Three Body is becoming my favorite. Make room for it in your rack.

30 HP +12v 95mA -12v 50mA
Price: $550