This file contains history of the Devil Fish modifications between 1993 and 1995. It also concerns spanking and the pleasures of oscillations under duress.
Following that is a posting to Analogue Heaven from someone who took
my advice on wiring up gear to form a new instrument and pushing the
well beyond comfortable limits.
Here is a long FAQ for the Devil Fish.
If you think it appropriate, please post it on my behalf,
otherwise I will figure out another way of answering the
The connection between the Devil Fish and spanking may seem a
little strange, but I am convinced that people seek powerful
transcendent experiences with Devil Fish music, and that
the same sense of adventure, and the same need for intensity,
is what motivates me in both fields. My softer sensual
side is similarly expressed in the Csound piece and my interest
DFISHFAQ.DOC 23 April 1995
~To: Denizens of the Analogue Heaven mailing list
~From: Robin Whittle, Real World Interfaces, Melbourne Australia
~Re: Devil Fish TB-303
I have heard that the Devil Fish modifications to the TB-303
have been discussed on this mailing list. I have not had time to
subscribe to the list recently. Damien Miller tells me
that one correspondent has stated that the Devil Fish blueprints
were stolen and that the last machine went to Richie Hawtin.
I find it fascinating how the most prosaic things can become
adorned with wonder and myth - ultimately becoming an object of
worship transcending utterly any roots they had in day-to-day
reality. Once someone from Sydney called me and was surprised
to find that I was an ordinary person - in contrast to his
belief that I had been the victim of an horrific industrial
accident which all but destroyed my hands, and that I soldiered
on with my work with the help of sophisticated prosthetic
manipulators attached to my wrists.
I assume that something of a folklore has grown up around the
Devil Fish, since it is rare, comes from a far away place, and
extends - in ways beyond normal comprehension - the
capabilities of a unique and idiosyncratic instrument which is
at the heart of an exciting musical explosion which takes us
all places that never previously existed. I would love to know
of any such myths/truths which are circulating, but I feel
bound to state as many of the facts as may reasonably be
1 - "There is another system." - Colossus (The Forbin
Project). There have been indications that some analogue
synthesis device known as "Devil Fish" is manufactured in
New York, and may have been used by SysEx and some other
artists. This was in late 92 or early 93 - before the Real
World Interfaces Devil Fish. Also I have heard that Paul
Schaeffer (who apparently plays on the Letterman show) uses
an instrument called a "Devil Fish". I would be _extremely_
interested in any information regarding this, partly out of
curiosity but mainly to avoid confusion if there are two
comparable products with the same name. There are many
aquatic creatures, including octopi and the manta ray (a
vegetarian) which have been dubbed "Devil Fish" at some time,
so it would not be surprising if more than one bottom dwelling
synthesizer got the same moniker.
2 - "Me no go down . . . " The name _Devil_Fish_ comes from a
song Dean Richards wrote in a band I was in during 1980 -
Equal Local. The song was called "Debil Fish", and I
understand this name came from a line in "Creature from the
Black Lagoon", in which a white guy has a boat, immobilised
due to something entangled round its propeller. He is trying
to talk a black guy into diving under the boat to fix the
problem. The black guy responds emphatically:
"Me no go down 'dere Massa! 'Deres Debil Fish down 'dere!!!".
I would appreciate confirmation of this from anyone who is
familiar with the movie.
3 - Real World Interfaces history. My musical instrument
business has been full time since June 1985. It started in
late 1980 when I devised modifications to the Casio M10 and
MT-30 portable digital polyphonic keyboards. I sent 450 sets
of instructions around the world to people who wrote and sent
a small payment. It was great - I got lots of positive feedback! Quite a few people did these mods as a business, so there are probably hundreds of them around. Devo use one on their fantastic "Easy Listening" cassette. Around 1983 I started doing extra memory for the TR-808, TB-303 and TR-606 - which were used live by musicians who had large repertoires. My MT-32 modifications were licensed to two people in the USA. Initially to "Beaverton Digital Systems" - which degenerated into a disaster. Secondly - with a really happy outcome - to David Neely (LA Custom Instruments) who is now in Nashville. All the other work has been modifications, and I have not (and will not) publicise these outside Australia since it is typically too expensive to send instruments to Melbourne from overseas. 4 - Devil Fish history. In February 1993, I was doing CV and Gate inputs for Ollie Olsen's TB-303 and I decided to try a few other mods. I think Ollie encouraged me to explore the possibilities. Certainly Ollie, through his encouragement and through his music, has been a tremendous inspiration for the Devil Fish. Check out Ollie's latest CD (the third as Third Eye - some of you may have heard Max Q, which was a previous project) "Dance of Creation". This is great music and Ollie has an elevated status in my pantheon of musicians. Third Eye CDs are on the Psy Harmonics label, with European and US licensees. They are distributed by MDS. People outside Australia can browse and purchase this and other Psy Harmonics CDs (under the MDS grouping) via Aussie Music Online at http://www.aussiemusic.com.au. (End of shameless plug and deification of Ollie Olsen - actually he is a normal, but visionary, person.) It became clear that there were more mods to do than could be done on an ad-hoc basis, so I returned Ollie's machine back to normal. The first Devil Fish was for Krishan Knowles, a member of Sydney collective Clan Analogue. This machine was finished on 21 April 93 and had most of the final Devil Fish mods, but the overdrive (oscillator into filter) went only to about 20 times normal. The modifications were on matrix board. Later, I replaced this with proper Devil Fish printed circuit boards. Here is an approximate quote from a conversation with Krishan in July 93: "We are smoking our brains out with this new Devil Fish, down at the studio with Cubase and a MIDI to CV converter. The 303 is just smoking me . . We've never heard anything like it . . just freaking out and literally bouncing off the walls shouting 'Yeah! Yeah! This is what we want! This is what we want!'" Then I designed some circuit boards and a front panel so I could do the modifications properly. The first one was my own 303 - which later went to Richie Hawtin. This is serial number -001. (Krishan's was 000.) Ollie Olsen got the first full Devil Fish mod (SN 001) and he was over the moon when he got it - staying up all night getting sounds from it. His sleeping flatmate Geoff Hales (and a great musician too) thought some of the sounds were from birds. That was 29 May 1993. The last Devil Fish mod was for Ken Evans in Brisbane in April 94. Two went to (Australian born) Johnny Klimek in Berlin. I sent my machine to Richie Hawtin in Canada. Gus Till - who helped Ollie with Max Q and the first Third Eye CD has one. I think he is in France. Of the 18 Devil Fishes, four are outside Australia, three and in Queensland, one in Adelaide one or two in NSW and the rest in Melbourne. I planned the Devil Fish so that it could be set to achieve anything that a standard TB-303 could do. However I later discovered that my accent filter sweep circuit behaved significantly differently with repeated fast accents - crucial for some acid sounds. So I introduced a new three position switch, which fixed the problem. Devil Fishes are version 1.0 or 1.1 - functionally identical but the 1.1 is slightly simpler inside after I got the 500 k Alps pots I wanted. Versions with the extra switch are 1.xA. With repeated accents, a standard Bassline's filter goes up at the first accent, and gets a bit higher with subsequent ones. This gives an emotional response like something is being poked or hit and its just can't cope - its cries gets higher and higher. The 1.x version Devil Fish would go high at first, but subsequent accents gave a slightly lower filter frequency. Both these are valuable modes and can be selected with the new switch in the 1.xA. There is a third mode like the original one, with a super slow slide up and down, so the filter frequency is still falling after the accents disappear. Only about four machines have this extra switch. It doesn't matter for the great majority of things which the machine can do. One thing I am really against is the idolisation of particular machines. Some people just have to have the pure, original machine, so they can sound just like their heroes. This is fetishism of a boring, narrowing kind. (Fetishism is fine when it leads to fresh combinations - I have a substantial collection of exotic corsetry.) Some people have said "I will get two 303s - one to keep original and one to turn into a Devil Fish." There is no need for that (with the 1.xA switch), however it is true to say that I have never fully described exactly how the TB-303 and the Devil Fish work. You _do_ need to fully understand them to make the Devil Fish replicate a TB-303 exactly in all circumstances, but I personally have no desire to slavishly copy a subset of the new machine's range. You do _not_ need to understand anything to get great music out of either machine. The instructions I have supplied have been perfectly adequate for exploring the many aspects of the Devil Fish - including areas which I have not got into yet. However the primary limitation on the number of Devil Fish mods has been my own inability to do them since April 94. 5 - What is happening??? In the last three years I have been doing a lot of unpaid work on consumer advocacy in telecommunications - particularly privacy issues including telemarketing and Calling Number Display (Caller ID in North America). I have also been writing about the communications revolution. I have run out of Devil Fish boards, and need to redesign them to include the new switch, to make the slide time trimpot a proper front panel pot, and to clean up various difficulties with the old boards. I also need to make more progress on "The Bridge" - my flexible MIDI to CV converter which I have been promising for much longer than I would like to admit. Since October, I have been working on a big report on the future of the music industry. This was supposed to be one month's work as a consultant to a Federal Government economic think tank - the Bureau of Transport and Communication Economics. It was a fascinating project and I spent many months on it, for no extra pay. The result is a 350 page paper "Future Developments in the Music Market" of which 100 copies have been printed and sent to key music industry people for feedback and as background for the Contemporary Music Summit in Canberra on 27 April. We will be working further on this to produce a BTCE Occasional Paper which will be properly printed and sold through the Australian Government Publishing Service. I retain the copyright to the paper in its current form and I will soon be making it available . . . . see: http://www.firstpr.com.au/musicmar/ .
6 - Emma Chisit. By June I hope to have new printed circuits
and a new front panel. So I should be able to do more
modifications. The Devil Fish will _never_ be available as a
kit - it is way too complicated, so don't believe anyone who
offers such a thing. TB-303s will have to come to Australia,
and transport costs must be added to the modification costs.
The price is likely to be $550 Australian (just over US$400 at
present). [!!! Note Sept 96: Actually it took another year
and the price is higher.] In addition it is typically necessary
to replace all the pushbutton switches. This is $60, including
a flexible plastic dust cover which I put between the switches
and the buttons. Dust, particularly flecks of skin (the main
component of household dust) gets in the switches and coats the
contacts - causing intermittent operation. So keep you TB-303
and TR-808/606 out of the dust as much as possible. The
switches are fine if they protected from dust - for instance
the same switches in a DX7 work forever.
When I am ready to do more mods, I will contact Analogue Heaven
and the people who have called me in the past year.
7 - The future. I need to work on the MIDI to CV converter.
[!!! Note Sept 96: Actually the converter is in limbo. The
Devil Fish is the most important project.] That will take a lot
of work. After that I may design a stand-alone Devil Fish
analogue synthesizer - no keyboard or MIDI, just the synth with
CV and gate, and inputs for CVs to activate Accent and Slide,
and to control filter frequency. This could be a long way off.
Ultimately I would like to make a Devil Fish with MIDI, and a
"bar at a time" inbuilt sequencer which would be ideal for
studio/live real-time manipulation and programming. I also want
to make some music, continue with consumer advocacy and do some
to the things that ordinary people do - so future Devil Fish
developments will happen far slower than I would like.
8 - What does the Devil Fish do? After all this, I am not going
to give a full description of the machine! For one thing
it would take another few pages. For another I don't want
other people using the ideas - it would be far more interesting
if they devised their own modifications.
There are extra knobs and switches on the machine to the left
of the volume control. There are extra inputs for CV and Gate
etc, and for audio in to mix with the oscillator and to
frequency modulate the filter. The result is the weirdest,
strongest, thumpiest machine I have ever used. One thing that
people say is that MiniMoogs are "fat" - but the Devil Fish is
the "Monster Below"! It can do some highly idiosyncratic
things quite apart from its heavier duties. One myth is that
the Bass Station (excellent name!) is comparable to the TB-303.
It is an ordinary synth, with standard well behaved filters.
Nothing compares to the 303 (except clones such as the Deep
Bass 9), since only a few synths (Moogs, Synthi AKS, VCS-3)
have diode ladder filters, and no other machine has the accent
circuitry, which affects the volume and filter in ways which
cannot be replicated with modular synths.
The Devil Fish does not have an extra oscillator, but it
does have an external input. The Devil Fish principle is for
a single chain of processes (not two oscillators in parallel)
to be doing things which range from "electronic naturalesque"
to "mechanical overdrive" - through the use of unusual circuitry,
high signal levels, and in one case, a filter FM feedback
system which can elegantly approach chaos. Those who recognise
that complex things like a love life can benefit from wise or
reckless overloading of certain elements (for instance a hard
spanking) are well on their way to understanding the Devil
Fish. In this case the filter is driven well beyond normal
limits. Like an ultimately appreciative spankee, its noises
and gyrations provide depth, complexity and emotional heat
which is exciting and highly satisfying for all concerned. (As
when any gentleman heats up a derriere, there is no permanent
damage.) Boosting the oscillator level to 20 times normal was
good, but there was a promise of even greater excitement at
even higher levels. I decided this called for the clothesbrush
treatment and whilst examining various combinations of standard
resistor values, decided that the pair which gave 66.6 times
the normal level was the most auspicious. (Gentlemen, if you
think that all that women want is what they say they want, then
you need to read some romantic spanking fiction written by
women, for women. An excellent source is "Sassy Ladies
Magazine" - PO Box 4516 Lexington, KY 40544 USA US$12 for a
sample issue. From their advert - "Independent, feisty women
find they still need strong, caring men.")
Although Devil Fish have been used on a number of CDs - I have
not heard anything yet in which it really pounds or sings. (It
also has subtle, subterranean voices too.) The closest thing is
from that notable Detroit gentleman, Richie Hawtin, before he
had the Devil Fish - "Krakpot" on "Recycled Plastik". (There is
an overdriven, distorted fragment of this on HyperReal - I
think it sounds even better than the CD). Here is what I faxed
him when I heard the CD:
"My definition of Techno is 'machines cranking over -
lovingly tended' - and the result is a curious impression
of mindless processes clashing and running like ghost
freight-trains endlessly towards their throbbing destiny.
I think _Krakpot_ is fantastic! This scorpio like pursuit
of intensity indicates that you are just the sort of
musician the Devil Fish is intended for. I look forward
to more music in this vein. Drive things into distortion
- make it seem like they are busting to get out of something.
I think there is a lot of fun to be had with physical
processes like driving synth sounds into old valve radios
really loud and miking them up inside a tea-chest."
- - - - o o o o 0 0 0 0 o o o o - - - -
I would really appreciate information about rumours and other
synths of the same name. I will post to Analogue Heaven when I
am doing the mods again. Please check out my "Future
Developments in the Music Market" paper at the WWW site soon
and let me have your comments. It is aimed at informing
leading edge musicians about the extraordinary future - which I
think will be so good for us as musicians, listeners and as
In the mean-time, don't wait for exotic instruments from
faraway places - gather whatever instruments, effects
processors, amplifiers and microphones you have got, wire them
all up and consider them as a modular synthesiser. Investigate
feedback loops and tweak them beyond stability. Now find which
spots are particularly sensitive to stimulus and consider the
whole thing to be a highly spankable [school-girl/boy, man/
woman] (insert your preference). Dim the lights, flex your
arms, turn on the tape-recorder, forget about the world
outside, and with your Polaroid camera ready, deliver the
punishment your studio/synthesizer needs to find its true voice
- wailing into new musical territory.
Cheers - Robin Whittle
Date: Sun, 30 Apr 1995 15:30:47 -0700Robin Whittle - First Principles: email: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.firstpr.com.au
From: Bulbous and Flapping < email@example.com>
Subject: Spanking the TB-303
Mark Kolmar writes (re emulating the 303):
> I approach this strictly from trying to understand what this cult of 303
> is all about, and gleaning what can be gleaned from the behavior of the
> 303 in order to be able to apply that to other gear, and to music that
> probably has little-to-nothing to do with the "acid (tm) sound". Hell,
> not much to do with dance either.
I experienced a 303 for the FIRST time yesterday!
It is a majick box ... guaranteed to bestow wondrous powers on whomever
should possess one!
I loved it! It is IMPOSSIBLE to get a bad sound out of it ... that's why
people love it ...
Robot, Gus, LxRudis, & Void all came over to my place in Oakland yesterday
We hooked up Robot's 808 (master clock) to the 303 and Void's Korg MS20 &
Lx's mini-moog and my serge (NOTE: NO COMPUTERS-NO MIDI - all pulse based
clocking) and ran everything thru whatever echo, reverb I have laying
around ... sent a voltage control from the 303 sequencer into an oscillator
on the serge for pitch ... that made for some weird noise ... those serge
osc's are _soooo_ fat ... it took about 4 hours to put everything together
And, with Robin Whittle's ghost hovering and smiling nearby, we then
cranked everything up to the edge and delivered the necessary punishment
for almost 2 solid hours ... Spanked those modules! ... which screamed for
mercy and begged for more ..
So I must have a 303 and an 808 ...
The 303 in combination with the serge is a lethal weapon .. Robot did some
great beats (Gus consulting) ... Void & Lx providing excellent noise bursts
... Robot & Gus mixing ...
I live in crack city -- people were hovering around on either side of my
apartment (they usually hang one block in either direction) last night ...
listening to the demented robot spawn of electron apocalypse cascading from
the upstairs window over the sidewalk ... it was wierd ...
About half way thru I asked Robot if we were doing acid or trance or what
and he said, "We are doing fucked-UP music ..." and indeed we were ...
So attn: all techno/acid/rave gods & goddesses out there: FUCKED UP music
is the next big thing! Brought to you lovingly from the humble crew in
Bagdahd by the Bay ...
We got about 1.75 hours on DAT ... will be editing in a couple weeks ...
So GOD BLESS the 303! Anybody selling one?
Next time I hope I can get enough time to patch something _interesting_ on
the serge ...
By controlling the voltages, we control the frequencies, by controlling the
frequencies, we can control the human mind. .... but God knows the machines
took over our brains last night ... who is controlled and who is
Pondering the Great Reality ... and spanking my modules ... and they spank
Machines: Sergemodular & misc. | "Investigate feedback loops and
Macintosh forever! | tweak them beyond stability. Dim
PG: Bird's Wing II, Novice | the lights, flex your arms, forget
Pig: Pot-bellied, 2 yr. old male, Yoshi | about the world outside, deliver
life's work: http://www.slip.net/~atombee | the punishment your studio/
synthesizer needs to find its true
voice." - Robin Whittle, creator
of the TB-303 Devilfish mods.
Perhaps you may be interested in Carson Fitzgerald's article in Salon Magazine which was prompted by the above Devil Fish FAQ.
Return to the main Devil Fish page.