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Devil Fish mods to the TB-303:

The Devil Fish and Spanking

Robin Whittle - 31 May 1999
This is a posting I made to Analogue Heaven mailing list on 23 April 1995.  I was not on the list at the time, but various rumours had apparently circulated, including one that I had lost my Devil Fish "blueprints" and would never be able to do them again . . . This was archived at

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 assemblage well beyond comfortable limits.

My post: Devil Fish FAQ of 23 April 1995

This was slightly edited in Sept 96 to correct inaccuracies and tidy it up.  Some web addresses were updated in May 1999 and January 2001.
Hi Damien, 

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
in lingerie.

                                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  (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:

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

Knox/Atombee's report on 30 April of a music session based on feedback and duress

Date: Sun, 30 Apr 1995 15:30:47 -0700
From: Bulbous and Flapping <> 
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
back ...


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: | the punishment your studio/
                                            synthesizer needs to find its true
                                            voice." - Robin Whittle, creator
                                            of the TB-303 Devilfish mods.

Robin Whittle - First Principles: email:

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.