Improvising with Korg SQ1

Last Saturday I got my hands on a Korg SQ1 step sequencer. This was released with the Korg MS20 Kit and Module. Having been a long time Ms20 user, now using the MS20 mini this was a no-brainer; its built specifically for it with the Hz/Oct CV setting. It also does Korg little bits, 5v (v/oct) and the sync out will drive any of the Volca units as well. It has two channels A and B, and these can have chromatic, linear or Major/ Minor settings. As a sequencer its very old-school, which is one of the reasons it attracted me; you have 4 modes 1- note on and off, active step, slide and jump. Because these are accessed consecutively with the Mode button you have to keep your pattern in mind. In Gate mode (note on and off) if you turn a note off, the sequencer turns it into a rest, but still counts all the notes. In active Step, however, it only plays the notes selected, which if they’ve been turned off on the previous page, sound silent. The advantage of this is one can create complex compound timings, and with 2 channels, theres a lot of fun to be had here. The last two; slide means it will play a glissando between two or more selected notes (but if using MIDI these come out in semitone steps), the final page Jump, will hold and ratchet any note, so if you hold down two or more it turns into an arpeggiator

The knob gives some useful sequencing order options, including the ability for channel B to affect duty cycle for each independent step, and slides.

Midi implementation is basic, you get a 5 pin din MIDI adapter which plugs in the top, and you’re supposed to be able to sync it to a master clock via USB, I tried this and it crashed Ableton badly (despite Ableton recognising it), when I looked further into this and loaded a driver, Ableton promptly failed to recognise it being connected, despite computer OS finding it. This might be a windows 10 issue though, and to be honest, doesn’t bother me because I can use the analogue gate in to sync to my beatstep if required, which works well.

Those who have successfully clocked it with USB in have had other issues, namely cant transmit on the MIDI out with the USB synch running in Ableton, and more oddly, it does the reverse of what Ableton asks it to do, it runs when Ableton is on stop and plays when stop is pressed!!!

Therefore my advice is use CV/gate out (as really designed) and analogue sync in.

In theory you can use the analogue sync in from anything including an audio source, which I’ve yet to try (must not exceed 20v)

The instructions are not particularly clear, and need to be read thoroughly- esp the gate polarity, which by default is set to +, which you can change on start up and its then set.

So here it is in action, with a paraphonic sequence, channel A driving VCO1 on the MS20, Channel B driving VCO2

Next time I will be synching the Beatstep to SQ 1, having the two sequencer running different time structures

About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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5 Responses to Improvising with Korg SQ1

  1. Paul Ashington says:

    thanks for in depth review , @ the manual , its not great is it ,, I have a question about the steps , should the step condition remain after a power down and back on or is mine a faulty unit.

    • I found it keeps the steps if the batteries inside are ok, but once they go, and they go quickly because they’re outputting voltages, then its lost on powerdown. The manual is awful, and the MIDI implementation is bizarre- it appears that the MIDI output is converted from the generated CV voltages, because altering the output voltages appears to change MIDI notes!!! I look at this as being strictly an old school CV device, and use it as such, so it intergrates brilliantly with MS20 and also the Volca series of units. I got round the MIDI clock problem in the end by using a volca beats drum machine to take MIDI in, then synced the SQ-1 with the Sync out on volca beats going to sync in

      • Paul Ashington says:

        I will try with batteries in but was powering it from a powered usb hub.. odd I would have thought usb hub would be ok,, also I wonder is it safe to use the usb and have batteries in..

  2. So far Ive powered mine from USB hub but with batteries in- no problems as yet

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