The SQ-1 is a simple step sequencer, released by Korg in 2015. Although it is not as fully featured as other sequences (such as the Beatstep Pro), it does have some interesting features that make this an interesting machine to have in the studio, as an idea scratchpad. In my opinion, the four modes in which the sequencer reads the information given by the state of the buttons that lie bellow the two rows of knobs are the best part of this little machine. This tutorial is the accompanying text of the video I published on my YouTube channel demonstrating the Modes of the SQ-1.
The four modes are accessed by the MODE button on the left part of the front panel. Contrary to the modes shown on the previous tutorial, these MODES are input modes: they just allow the user to give information to the sequencer, which is then stored in its tiny little memory. Thus, the four modes are simultaneously accessible and played when the SQ-1 in playing. These modes are very simple, so this will be a short text. ;)
The first mode is called GATE ON/OFF. By default all buttons are active (button LED lit) and means that the gate will open (and a MIDI Note On event is generated) at the active steps. When the sequencer encounters an unlit button (inactive), that step becomes a rest (the CV Gate does not open and the MIDI Note On event is not generated). Despite this, the CV output will still output the voltage corresponding to the value set by the corresponding knob.
In my experience, this mode is great for creating rhythmic patterns. This thing of pushing buttons takes my mind away from the formalism of music theory and I start playing a game with the SQ-1 until I find something that pleases me.
The second mode is called ACTIVE STEP and it is a Korg classic, present not only in the SQ-1 but also in the Electribe and Volca series (and also on the many times forgotten Monotribe). Again, the default set is to have all the buttons active (LED lit). The sequencer will skip any inactive steps. This is substantially different from the previous mode, as a rest is not inserted. This allows for unusual tempo signatures such as 15/16 or 7/4. It also allows you to split a 16-step sequence into smaller chunks you can launch by carefully timing the activation of the new steps, and the inactivation of those in the old sequence (I usually do it in this order, at least).
As mentioned above, you can mix and match this mode with the others, in order to have, for example, a five-step sequence with a rest in the middle. If you happen to get a little bit lost and want to reset all buttons to their default state (this happens to me a lot), just press SHIFT+MODE to clear your changes and have the defaults on again.
The third mode is called SLIDE. By default, all buttons are inactive (LED off) regarding slide. When the sequencer encounters a step with SLIDE active, it will slide the CV output to the following step.
One neat thing to do in this mode is to have all steps active. This effectively transforms the SQ-1 into a wave-sculpted LFO (or even a dual LFO, if one of the 2-sequences modes is active), and because the voltages sent by the SQ-1 in the CV A and CV B outputs are compatible with most analogue gear, you can use it to modulate anything for which your synthesizer has a CV input. In the middle of the video, I disconnect the CV A from the pitch input of the MicroBrute and connect it to the Filter Cutoff. The result is very interesting, as now I can play a melody, with the timbre changing rhythmically. In my Berlin School Experiment 4, I use this technic, with the SQ-1 controlling both the Filter Cutoff and the Metalizer on the Microbrute, while I noodle away the main melody.
The forth mode of the SQ-1 is called STEP JUMP, and is a little bit different from the other ones. While the previous three modes may be considered “programming modes”, in which you dial in information that the SQ-1 will read and play for as long as it is playing the sequence, this mode is more of a “performance mode”, where the changes are all extemporary. Thus, you cannot save the state of the buttons in this mode. When you enter this mode, all buttons are inactive. If the sequencer is not playing and you activate one button, the sequencer will start playing from that step, instead of step 1. If the sequencer is playing, and you press one button, it will instantly skip to that step and continue the sequencer. Moreover, if you press and hold several buttons, it will circle through them, as if it were a temporarily active step mode. When you release the buttons, the sequencer keeps playing as if nothing happened. Thus, this is great for creating short loops within the sequence.
So, these are the four modes the SQ-1 uses for reading the information on the buttons. In the next tutorial, we’ll start the more “technical” matters, such as sync and MIDI.