One of the great names in synthesis, founder of a brand that helped define what electronic sound is today, was lost over the weekend. ARP Instruments founder Alan R. Pearlman died Sunday the 6th, and synthesists worldwide remember the legacy he leaves.
Pearlman started ARP and was a principle engineer, specifically of the ground-breaking 2500 and 2600 modular synthesizers.
It may be hard to conceive now, but there was a time when ARP and Moog were major rivals. And it’s worth noting that Pearlman was uniquely advanced in his vision. Even as an engineering student in 1948, he looked forward to a time not so far off “when the electronic instrument may take its place … as a versatile, powerful, and expressive instrument” – provided those engineers paid attention “to the needs of the musician.”
And so in 1977, when Close Encounters of the Third Kind imagined an instrument that was far enough advanced to communicate with aliens, they chose the ARP 2500 that was Pearlman’s first commercial instrument. And Close Encounters were far from alone, as even the Martian voices were ARP 2500 produced in Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.
Other notable 2500 instrumentalists: David Bowie, Jean Michel Jarre, The Who… and Eliane Radigue:
The 2600 was itself legendary enough to be fairly dubbed a holy grail.
And speaking of space aliens, the one Doctor Who variant that matches Delia Derbyshire’s haunting whoo-whoo sounds with some sparkles and badass bass is also made on an ARP (the Odyssey), by Peter Howell:
And while the Rhodes Chroma originated at ARP was hardly a huge success, it is in many ways a template for the computer-integrated workstation-style instruments to follow.
Richard Boulanger notes the unique musicality of this engineer’s vision and the impact it had – and that leading right up to his illness, he kept dreaming up new instrumental ideas:
.Yes, even at 90 and beyond, Alan R Pearlman was still dreaming of new circuits, modules, and controllers!) Undeniably, Alan R Pearlman was an engineering genius. Everyone recognizes that his synthesizers were beyond brilliant. But I truly believe that the heart and soul in his machines drew their spirit and life from Alan’s musical virtuosity on the piano, his truly deep musical knowledge, his passion and enthusiasm for “all” music, and his nurturing and generous support for young composers and performers, regardless of whether they were into classical, avantgarde, film, fusion, rock or pop. He wanted to make something that we could play with, that we could play on, and maybe even learn about music as we played (check out his “Learning Music Through Synthesizers” book and his MSL boxes). Alan R Pearlman created truly playable electronic musical “instruments”. He made aesthetically and ergonomically beautiful instruments, and beautiful sounding instruments. His synthesizers opened our eyes and ears to new sonic worlds
He recalls first seeing the Buchla, and the impact of Moog’s controller approach. The company was named with his nickname (and initials ) – ARP. And arguably ARP’s approach to matrix switching (ARP 2500) and hard-wired control even with patch cord access (ARP 2600) is still valuable today.
Just how modern can the ARP designs be? That was proven when KORG revived the Odyssey recently, with some input from Pearlman, along with a collaboration with ARP co-founder David Friend.
And while we think of Moog and Buchla, ARP also significantly contributed to a lot of the technological innovations of the modern synth, as evidenced by this list of ARP patents (thanks to Synthtopia for spotting that):
Think of it as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop of the east: the Polish Radio Experimental Studio produced unparalleled electronic sounds and inventions for decades. Recognition of those accomplishments is growing – and now Ableton are collaborating to produce a free pack of sounds and tell the PRES story.
Vital stats on this project:
Who’s behind this: Poland’s national cultural institution Instytut Adama Mickiewicza (IAM) commissioned the library from Ableton and contributors.
Where do the sounds come from: Works made at the studio by composers Krzysztof Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora, and Ryszard Szeremeta, 1970s-80s, comprise the original sound material.
Who built the pack: Project coordinator Michal Mendyk worked with Ableton Certified Trainer Marcin Staniszewski.
What’s in there: 300 sounds, loops, and effects organized into Drum Racks, plus custom Effect Racks, all pre-mapped with macros (making them easy to use with Push or other controllers)
Check out the pack and a full article on the studio and its history at Ableton’s site (plus more on Marcin Staniszewski and his music):
Lots more links there, but the history to me is the most compelling. Paralleling the hot-and-cold relationships of experimental sound and music technology in East Germany and the Soviet Union in the same period, there was a precarious relationship of electronic sound to the government in Communist Poland. Michal Mendyk tells the story of studio founder Józef Patkowski to Ableton:
Paradoxically, a couple of years earlier, it was Sokorski who introduced social realism and radical political and aesthetical censorship in Polish art and culture. He was famous for having said about Witold Lutosławski, one of the leaders of Polish music vanguard that “he should be thrown under a tram”. So, in 1957 the same guy was responsible for creating the most experimental music centre in the whole Eastern Europe! He later said that Polish Radio Experimental Studio was his way to redeem his previous sins. This is one of many example of how paradoxical cultural and intellectual life in an authoritarian system can be.
Here’s a great documentary on the studio:
And for an imaginative take on the studio’s work, see our previous story:
The story of electronic music making is ultimately a human one, even as those humans work with machines. So as the Bob Moog Foundation plans a Moog museum and expanded education, we share seven images from the archives that follow a thread through that history.
The Bob Moog Foundation is a non-profit American organization dedicated to continue the legacy of its namesake. And now they’re expanding their educational project for kids, the Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, which uses sound technology to teach engineering and science as well as culture. Plus they’re raising funds to create a physical Moogseum. And to do that, they’ve got some classic instruments to give away as fundraising items in a raffle (details below).
There are tons of amazing images and artifacts now in the foundation archives. But let’s examine a few that capture a set of moments across that history. Thanks to Bob’s daughter and Moog Foundation Executive Director, Michelle Moog-Koussa, for sending these to CDM. (Captions also courtesy Michelle.)
Roger Powell and Bob Moog with custom modular controller designed by Bob for Roger, at Radio City Music Hall.
Roger donated this controller to the Bob Moog Foundation, and it is now part of their archives and will be present at the Moogseum.
Bob Moog fixing Patrick Moraz’s Polymoog in Switzerland.
Bob Moog and Less Paul with the LAB Series Amp.
Bob Moog, Suzanne Ciani, Roger Powell, UIW.
Bob Moog, Herbie Hancock, Will Alexander, NAMM.
Bob Moog lecturing at University of Michigan about Alwin Nikolias’ first commercially available Moog synthesizer.
Chick Corea and Bob Moog, Asheville Civic Center.
About that raffle:
A Memorymoog, Moog Source, and Moog Rogue will be offered as first, second, and third prizes, respectively. The Moog Trifecta Raffle marks the first time in the Foundation’s history that it is offering more than one raffle prize.
The raffle begins on August 27, 2018 at 12:01am EDT, and ends on September 24, 2018 at 11:59pm EDT, or when all 5500 tickets sell out, whichever comes first. Tickets are $25 each or five for $100, and can be purchased here: http://bit.ly/MoogTrifectaRaffle
Funding raised from the raffle will be used to expand the Foundation’s hallmark educational project, Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, and to help fund its newest project, the Moogseum, which was announced last week. The Moogseum, a planned interactive, immersive facility that will bring Bob Moog’s legacy and the science of sound and synthesis alive for people of all ages, will be located in downtown Asheville, NC. It is expected to open in April 2019, with an online Moogseum to follow later that year.
All three synthesizers were built in Moog Music’s Buffalo, NY factory in the early 1980s, have been fully restored, and are in excellent technical and cosmetic condition with minor flaws typical with vintage instruments.
The Memorymoog, serial number 1460, has an estimated value of $7,500. It combines six voice polyphony to create a unique polysynth with three voltage controlled, articulated oscillators. Each voice has its own 24dB voltage controlled filter. It is often referred to architecturally as six Minimoogs, and is renowned for its rich sound.
The Memorymoog being offered has been retrofitted with a sequencer and MIDI capabilities, normally found only in Memorymoog Plus models. It has been meticulously serviced by vintage synth specialist Wes Taggart, a lauded technician for Memorymoog restoration.
The Moog Source is a 37 key, two oscillator synthesizer with unique features such as patch memory storage, flat-panel membrane buttons, single data wheel assignment, and more. It has two voltage controlled analog oscillators and the legendary 24 dB Moog filter. The unit being offered is serial number 2221 and has an estimated value of $2,400. The Source has been used by such legends as Tangerine Dream, Jan Hammer, Depeche Mode, Devo, and Vince Clarke.
The Moog Rogue is a compact, two oscillator monophonic synthesizer often referred to as “small but mighty” for its legendary powerful bass sounds. Versatile and user-friendly enough to be used as the Taurus II Bass Pedal synth, the Rogue has been used by Will Butler of Arcade Fire, Vince Clarke, Peter Gabriel, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, Howard Jones, and more. The unit being offered, serial number 4462, has been restored by acclaimed restoration house Tone Tweakers, and is valued at $2,000.
There’s East Coast (Moog), there’s West Coast (Buchla) … and then there’s much further East. Roland’s SYSTEM-500 descends from the Japanese modular tradition. Now we have the details of their latest Eurorack renditions.
The SYSTEM-500 continues the collaboration between Roland and Portland, Oregon-based boutique maker Malekko Heavy Industry. CDM broke the story (at least in English) when the SYSTEM-500 made a cameo at an event in Berlin.
The other important thing to know is that Roland has taken some of the inspiration for the design of these modules from its early 80s SYSTEM-100M (which in turn drew from the 70s SYSTEM-100). They’re not reissues and they’re not copies – but they do take some sonic features and the interface approach from those modules. With much of the boutique community drawing from Buchla and Moog, this means Roland is a little different. At the same time, since they aren’t slavish recreations (except giving you the SH-5 filter, for instance), you get a slightly more up-to-date take on what these things are about and who they’re for.
Hey, Roland, you could also do a MIDI interface and call it the MPU.
Cost: US$399.99 street
The pitch: A place to get started
What it is: It’s an all-in-one synth module – basically three modules in one to get you started with a single voice. You get an oscillator, a filter, and an amplitude envelope. The idea is to give you a single module that gets your modular started. You could actually bolt this into a rack and get started – it takes inputs and outputs line output so you could hear what you’re doing. And while there are competing modules that do the same, this one is pretty economical, and it comes from Roland’s own heritage – it’s modeled on the early 1980s 100m Roland synth, which also had the goal of being a starter synth.
The pitch: A modulation source
What it is: It’s modulation in a box. Think ring modulation, waveforms, an LFO, noise, and portamento you can route into your other modules. This one is also 100m-based.
The pitch: A mixer in a module
What it is: The 531 also draws from the 100m history, but the important thing is really that it’s more of a conventional mixer in modular form. Now, part of the appeal of Eurorack is frankly that it is esoteric – but musicians at some point may expect mixers to behave more like mixers. So while you do get some voltage control (for panning), the appeal to me of the 531 is that it has, like, mixer faders and pan pots you can easily reach out and grab. There are even LED meters so you can see what you’re doing.
Oh, and you can plug line and mic level inputs here, too, so you can combine instruments and voice easily. Roland promises “boutique-quality,” “high-fidelity,” “low-noise” circuitry on this unit, which I take to mean it doesn’t suck. And the mic pre can be pushed into “pleasing overdrive.”
The pitch: The signature Roland filter from the SH-5
The SH-5 is a Chinese maritime patrol amphibious aircraft — wait. Sorry, wrong link. The Roland SH-5 was the 1976 classic of roughly the same generation as the SYSTEM-100 modules. Just as Moog made the Minimoog as an all-in-one keyboard monosynth with features of its modular system, so Roland made the SH-5 as its ready-to-play keyboard. And the SH-5 might be a household name with casual synth enthusiasts today, had Roland not eclipsed their own legacy with better-known 80s offerings like the SH-101 and TB-303.
But here’s the important bit: while a lot of modules have filter circuitry modeled on a Moog ladder filter or other well-known filter designs, the SH-5 has its own sound. It’s part multi-mode filter, part bandpass filter … which is to say, it really growls.
Growl how? Like this:
The 505 has no particularly fancy features. It’s just a straightforward, great-sounding filter. But it could be either the complement to the offerings above, or – for people who already have invested heavily in modular – it might be the one module you grab out of this lineup, just to add a bit of Roland sound to your rack. Just get ready to shove a fader up and down instead of twist a knob, because Roland likes vertical faders.
And we close with this image, which demonstrates that… uh… maybe the photo department needs to buy some shorter cables. (Looks impressive, though. Also, for some reason I either want a big bowl of ramen or a bag of Red Vines – or both.)
From the extraordinary first digital breakthroughs of the 70s, when lightbulbs stood in for LEDs, to what may have been the first use of the word “plug-in,” we the inventors of Eventide’s classics – who now have a Grammy nod of their own.
Rock and pop have their heroes, their great records. But when you’ve got an engineering hero, their work finds realization behind the scenes in all that music, in hit music and obscure music. And then it can find its way into your work, too.
These inventions have already indirectly won plenty of Grammy Awards, if you care about that sort of thing. But at the beginning of this year, the pioneers at Eventide got a Lifetime Achievement Award, putting their technical achievements alongside the musical contributions of Tina Turner, Emmylou Harris, and Queen, among others.
Why are these engineers smiling? Because they got a Grammy for their inventions. Tony Agnello (left) and Richard Factor (right) at the headquarters.
Electrical engineers and inventors are rarely household names. But you’ve heard the creations of Richard Factor and Tony Agnello, who remain at Eventide today (as do those inventions, in various hardware and software recreations, including for the Universal Audio platform). For instance, David Bowie’s “Low,” Kraftwerk’s “Computer World” and AC/DC’s “Back In Black” all use their H910 harmonizer, the gear called out specifically by the Grammy organization. And that’s before even getting into Eventide’s harmonizers, delays, the Omnipressor, and many others.
1974 radio advertising:
Here’s the thing – whether or not you care about sounding like a classic record or lived through all of the 1970s (that’s, uh, “not so much” for me on both of those, sorry), the story of how this gear was made is totally fascinating. You’d expect an electrical engineering tale to be dry as dust, but – this is frontier adventure stuff, like, if you’re a total nerd.
Here’s the story of the DDL 1745 from 1971, back when engineers had to “rewind the f***ing tape machines” just to hear a delay.
Eventide founder Richard Factor started experimenting with digital delays while working a day job in the defense industry, at the height of the Vietnam War, working with shift registers that work in bits.
Their advice from the 70s still holds. What do you do with a delay? “Put stuff in it!” Do you need to know what the knobs are doing? No! (Sorry, I may have just spoiled potentially thousands of dollars in audio training. My apologies to the sound schools of the world.)
Susan Rogers of Prince fame (who we’ve been talking about lately) also talks about how she “had to have” her Eventide harmonizer and delays. I now have come to feel that way about my plug-in folder, and their software recreations, just because then you have the ability to dial up unexpected possibilities.
Or, there’s the Omnipressor, the classic early 70s gear that introduced the very concept of the dynamics processor. Here, inventor Richard Factor explains how its creation grew out of the Richard Nixon tapes. No – seriously. I’ll let him tell the story:
Tony deals with those philosophical questions of imaginative possibility, perhaps most eloquently – in a way perhaps only an engineer can. Let’s get to it.
The first commercial digital delay looked like… this. DDL1745, 1971.
So you’ve already told this amazing story of the Omnipressor. Maybe you can tell us a bit about how the H910 came about?
When I joined Eventide in early 1973, the first model of the Digital Delay Line, the DDL1745, had just started shipping. At that time, there were no digital audio products of any kind in any studio anywhere.
The DDL was a primitive box. It predated memory (no RAM), LEDs (it had incandescent bulbs), and integrated Analog-to-Digital Converters [ADCs]. It offered 200 msec of delay for the price of a new car — US$4,100 in 1973 which is equivalent to ~$22,000 today! The fact is that DDLs were expensive and rare and only installed in a few world-class studios. They were used to replace tape delay.
At the time, studios were using tape delay for ADT (automatic double tracking) and, in some cases, as a pre-delay to feed plate reverbs. Plate reverbs had replaced ‘echo chambers’ but fell short in that, unlike a real room, a plate reverb’s onset is instantaneous.
I don’t believe that any recording studio had more than one DDL installed because they were so expensive. I was lucky. On the second floor of Eventide’s building was a recording studio – Sound Exchange. I was able to use the studio when it wasn’t booked to record my friends and relatives. And I had access to several DDLs! I remember carrying a few DDLs up to the studio and patching them into the console and having fun (a la Les Paul) with varying delay and using the console’s faders and feedback. By 1974 Richard Factor had designed the 1745M DDL which used RAM and had an option for a simple pitch change module.
At that point, I became convinced that I could create a product that combined delay, feedback, and pitch change that would open up a world of possible effects. I also thought that a keyboard would make it possible to ‘play’ a harmony while singing. In fact, my prototype had a 2-octave keyboard bolted to the top. Playing the keyboard was unorthodox in that center C was unison, C# would shift the voice up a half step, B down a half step, etc.
Now you can “f***” (to use the technical term) with the H910 in plug-in form, which turns out to be f***ing fun, actually.
Squint at this outboard gear shot for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and you can see the H910 – essential.
I liked in particular the idea of trying things out from an engineering perspective – as you put it, from what you think might sound interesting, rather than guessing in advance what the musical application would be. So, how do you decide something will sound interesting before it exists? How much is trial and error; how much do you envision how things will sound in advance?
Hmmm. First off, it starts with a technical advance. Integrated circuits made digital audio practical and every advance in technology makes new techniques/things possible, and new capabilities ensue.
At the dawn of digital audio, the mission was clear and simple from my perspective. I had studied DSP in grad school and read about the work being done at places like Bell Labs. At the time, the researchers couldn’t experiment with real-time audio, which was a huge limitation.
It was obvious that if you could digitize audio, you could delay it. It was also somewhat obvious that you should be able to play the audio back at a different rate than it was recorded (sampled). The question was, how can you do that without changing duration? In retrospect, splicing is obvious and that’s what I did in the H910. Splicing resulted in glitches, however (I’m pretty sure that we introduced that word into the audio lexicon). So, my next challenge: I needed to come up with a method for splicing without glitches.
My design of the H949 was the first de-glitched pitch changer. With that project behind me, the next obvious challenge was digitally simulating a room – reverb. At Bell Labs, Manfred Schroeder had done some preliminary work, and I tried implementing his approach, but the results were awful. I came to the conclusion that I needed a programmable array processor to meet this challenge. This was before DSP chips became available. I designed the SP2016 and developed reverb algorithms that are now available as plug-ins and still highly regarded.
The “de-glitched” classic, the H949, also in plug-in form (thanks to Eventide Anthology).
Given that the SP2016 was general purpose, I had some other ideas that seemed obvious. For instance, Band Delays — create a set of band pass filters and delay their outputs differentially. Suzanne Ciani famously used Band Delays on her ground-breaking “Seven Waves” composition.
I also developed vocoders, timescramble, and gated reverb for the SP2016. The SP2016 had a complete development system that allowed third parties to create their own effects. The effects were stored in EPROMs (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) that plugged into sockets. We called them ‘plug-ins’ back in 1982 long before anyone else in the audio community used that phase.
Did I think that these effects would be musical? Yes! For example, while my goal with reverb was to create a convincing simulation of a real room, I mindfully brought out user controls to allow the algorithm to sound unreal. I was never concerned that an artist would have a ‘failure of imagination.’ I simply strove to create new and flexible tools.
On that same note, I wonder if maybe what made this inventions – and hopefully future inventions – useful to musicians is that they were just some new sound. Do you get the sense that this makes them more useful in different musical applications, more novel? Or maybe you just don’t know in advance?
I think that novel is good in that it broadens the acoustic pallet. Music is a uniquely human phenomenon. It conveys emotion in a rich and powerful way. Broadening the pallet broadens the impact. We don’t create a single static effect; we create a tool that can be manipulated. Our recent breakthrough with Physion is a wonderful example. We’re now able to surgically separate the tonal and transient components of a sound – what the artist does what does pieces of the puzzle is up to them.
It’s funny in that a sound is a sound. It’s tonal and transient components are simply have we perceive the sound. I find it amazing that our team has developed software that perceives these components of sound the way that we humans do and have figured out how to split sounds accordingly.
We’re really fortunate to have all these reissues. Your Grammy nomination referred mainly seminal, big-selling records. Do you think there’s special significance to that – or have you found interest in more experimental applications? What about your users, are they largely looking to recreate those things, or to find new applications – or is it a balance of those two things?
Well the H910 was used not only because it did something new but because it had a particular sound. In the same sense that artists prefer different mics or EQs or amps, a device like the H910 has a certain characteristic. The digital portion of the H910 was simple – most of the audio path was analog and the analog portion was tuned to sound good to me! Recreating the analog subtleties and (not so subtleties) was quite the challenge but I think nailed it. The Omnipressor is another case in point. That product deserves a lot more respect and attention than it gets and the plugin emulation is excellent. On the other hand, our emulation of the Instant Phaser isn’t even close. That’s why we don’t offer it as a standalone plugin. In fact, we’re working on a much improved version of it and are getting pretty darn close. Stay tuned…
On the third hand, our Stereo Room emulation of the original reverb of the SP2016 is very close, but even so, we’re not satisfied so we’re busily measuring it in fine detail with the hope of improving it. In fact, there are a couple of other SP2016 reverbs that were popular and we’ve taken a look at emulating those.
The Stereo Room plug-in recreates the Eventide SP2016 reverb. And while it’s really good, Tony says they’re still thinking how to make it better – ah, obsessive engineers, we love you.
And, yes while there’s a balance between old and new, our goal is always to take the next step. The algorithms in our stompboxes and plugins are mostly new and in a few cases ground-breaking. Crushstation, PitchFuzz and Sculpt represent advances in simulating the non-linearities of analog distortion.
[Ed.: This is a topic I’ve heard repeated many, many times by DSP engineers. If you’re curious why software sounds better, and why it now can pass for outboard gear whereas in the past it very much couldn’t, the ability to recreate analog distortion is a big key. And it turns out our ears seem to like those kind of non-linearities, with or without a historical context.]
What’s the relationship you have with engineers and artists? What kind of feedback do you get from them – and does it change your products at all? (Any specific examples in terms of products we’d know?)
We have a good relationship with artists. They give us ideas for new products and, more often, help us create better UIs by explaining how they would like to work.
One specific example that is our work with Tony Visconti. I am honored that he was open to working with us to create a plug-in, Tverb, that emulated his 3 mic recording technique used on Bowie’s “Heroes.” Tony was generous with his time and brilliant in suggesting enhancements that weren’t possible in the real world. The industry response to Tverb has been incredibly gratifying – there is nothing else like it.
Eventide’s Tverb plug-in, which allows you, impossibly, to say “I wish I had Tony Visconti’s entire recording studio rig from “Heroes” on this channel in my DAW.” And it does still more from there. Visconti himself was a collaborator.
We are currently exploring new ways to use our structural effects method and having discussions with engineers and artists. We also have a few secret projects.
How would you relate what something like the H9 or the H9000 [Eventide’s new digital effects platforms] is to the early history like the H910 and Omnipressor? What does that heritage mean – and what do you do to move it forward? Where do recreations fit in with the newer ideas?
The consistent thread over all these years is ‘the next step.’ As technology advances, as processing power increases, new techniques and new approaches become possible. The H9000 is capable of thousands of times the sheer processing power of the H910, plus it is our first network-attached processor. Its ability to sit on an audio network and handle 32 channels of audio opens up possibilities for surround processing.
Ed.: I tried out the H9000 in a technical demo at AES in Berlin last year. It’s astonishingly powerful – and also represents the first Eventide gear to make use of the ARM platform instead of DSPs (or native software running on Intel, etc.).
One major difference, obviously, is that you now have so many plug-in users – even so many more hardware users than before. What does it mean for Eventide to have a global culture where there are so many producers? Is that expanding the kind of musical applications?
As I said earlier, there is no fear of failure of imagination of our species. Art and music define us, enrich us. The more the merrier.
What was your experience of the Grammies – obviously, nice to have this recognition; did anything come out of it personally or in terms of how this made people reflect on Eventide’s history and present?
The ‘lifetime achievement’ aspect if the Grammy award is confirmation that I’m old.
Ha, well you just have to achieve more after, and you’re fine! Thanks, Tony – as far as I’m concerned, your stuff always makes me feel like a kid.
Also, because I know that bundle is out of reach of beginning producers or musicians on a budget, it’s worth checking out Gobbler’s subscription plans. That gives you all the essentials here, including my personal must-haves, the H3000 band delays, Omnipressor, Blackhole reverb, and the H910, plus – well a lot of other great ones, too:
Arturia now offer these classic instruments individually – with another 50% off through January 10 – and have video tutorials to teach you how to use them.
Let’s have a big round of applause for democratization. There was a time when something like the Fairlight CMI was so out of reach, just owning one would probably land you some big gigs. Now, you can get software recreations that offer you the musical possibilities of these instruments, for the price of a nice date night.
We already had a look at the full update of Arturia V Collection 6 – basically, the software versions of a whole bunch of keyboard instruments and synths, plus tools for organizing and playing them.
The story here is, maybe you really just want the Fairlight, or just the Clav, or just the Buchla, or just the DX-7. Now those three instruments are available individually.
The Buchla story is especially interesting. Apart from getting the authorized stamp of approval, Arturia say they’ve gone component by component modeling the original Easel. And while full rack modulars are all the rage these days, it’s really the way the Easel distilled that sound into a single, integrated design give it a singular vision. It’s not just the “West Coast” idea in terms of signal flow: it’s a West Coast instrument.
Then, take the reboot from Arturia and its new features, and you get a relationship that’s a bit like Bob Moog’s reimagining of the Minimoog as the Minimoog Voyager. It’s authentic, but it’s also modern.
The overview video explains the basic idea:
But now there’s a tutorial series with Glen Darcey. (End of an era: Glen, who managed a lot of Arturia’s recent successes including the Beatstep and ‘Brute lines, announced early this month that he’s moving on to start a new brand. We wish him the best!)
Glen also takes us on a tour of the Fairlight CMI, the ground-breaking digital instrument that defined digital as we know it. I always admired the Fairlight’s unique interface and workflow, so this seems to me as much a chance to get your hands on that as the distinctive sounds it made:
Flashback: a few weeks back we featured Steve Horelick showing off the same hardware back in the early 80s. Steve here is speaking to kids (hi there!), but you might know his voice from his terrific Logic videos from our present decade.
The DX-7 sees a terrific recreation here, one that makes editing uncommonly accessible – just in time for FM to see a full resurgence:
Clav fans, there’s a tutorial series on that, as well (plus announcement video to give you the big picture):
Pricing: 50% off the individual instruments makes them each US$/EUR 99, through January 10 only.
The full version of V Collection is US$/EUR 399 (normally 499), same.
Upgraders: you’ll need to log in to see customized pricing.
Arturia refreshed their mega-collection of synths and keyboard instruments, with new sought-after additions – including a recreation of the Buchla Easel.
Get ready for some numbers and letters here here. The resulting product is the Arturia V Collection 6. The ancient Roman in me apparently wants to read that as “5 collection 6” but, uh, yeah, that’s the letter “v” as in “virtual.”
And what you’re now up to is 21 separate products bundled as one. Inception-style, some of those products contain the other products, too. (If you just want the Buchla, sit tight – yes, you can get it separately.)
So, hat we’re talking about is this:
Synths: models of the Synclavier, Oberheim Matrix 12 and SEM, Roland Jupiter-8, ARP 2600, Dave Smith’s Sequential Prophet V and vector Prophet VS, Yamaha CS-80, a Minimoog, and a Moog modular. To that roster, you can now add a Yamaha DX7, Fairlight CMI, and a Buchla Music Easel.
Keys: Fender Rhodes Stage 73 (suitcase and stage alike), ARP Solina String Ensemble, Wurlitzer. And now there’s a Clavinet, too.
Organs: Hammond B-3, Farfisa, VOX Continental.
And some pianos. Various pianos – uprights and grands – plus other parameters via physical modeling are bundled into Piano V.
The bundle also includes Analog Lab, which pulls together presets and performance parameters for all the rest into a unified interface.
This isn’t all sampled soundware, either – well, if it were, it’d be impossibly huge. Instead, Arturia use physical modeling and electronics modeling techniques to produce emulations of the inner workings of all these instruments.
About those new instruments…
There’s no question the Clavinet and DX7 round out the offerings, making this a fairly complete selection of just about everything you can play with keys. (Okay, no harpsicords or pipe organs, so every relatively modern instrument.) And the Fairlight CMI, while resurrected as a nifty mobile app on iOS, is welcome, too. But because it’s been so rare, and because of the renaissance of interest in Don Buchla and so-called “West Coast” synthesis for sound design, the Buchla addition is obviously stealing the show.
Here’s a look at those additions:
The DX7 V promises to build on the great sound of the Yamaha original while addressing the thing that wasn’t so great about the DX7 – interface and performance functionality. So you get an improved interface, plus a new mod matrix, customizable envelopes, extra waveforms, a 2nd LFO, effects, sequencer, and arpeggiator, among other additions.
Funk fans get the Clavinet V, with control over new parameters via physical modeling (in parallel with the Arturia piano offering), and the addition of amp and effect combos.
Okay, but let’s get on to the two really exciting offerings (ahem, I’m biased):
The CMI V recreates the 1979 instrument that led the move to digital sampling and additive synthesis. And this might be the first Fairlight recreation that you’d want in a modern setup: you get 10 multitmbral, polyphonic slots, plus real-time waveform shaping, effects, and a sequencer. And Arturia have thrown us a curveball, too: to create your own wavetables, there’s a “Spectral” synth that scans and mixes bits of audio.
I’m really keen to play with this one – it sounds like what you’ll want to do is to go Back to the Future and limit yourself to making some entire tracks using just the Fairlight emulation. If you read my children’s TV round-up, maybe Steve Horelick and Reading Rainbow had you thinking of this already. Now you just need a PC with a stylus so you can imagine you’ve got a light pen.
The Buchla Easel goes further back to 1973. It’s arguably the most musical of Don Buchla’s wild instruments, bringing the best ideas from the modular into a single performance-oriented design. And here, it looks like we get a complete, authentic reproduction.
Everything that makes the Buchla approach unique is there. Think amplitude modulation and frequency modulation and the “complex” oscillator’s wave folding, gating that allows for unique tuned sounds, and sophisticated routing of modulation. It all adds up to granting the ability to make strange, new timbres, to seek out new performance life and new sound designs – to boldly go where only privileged experimentalists have gone before.
This video explains the whole “West Coast” synthesis notion (as opposed to Moog’s “East Coast” modular approach):
Arturia makes up for the fact that this is now an in-the-box software synth by opening up the worlds of modulation. So you get something called “gravity” which applies game physics to modulation, and other modulation sources (the curves of the “left hand,” for instance) to make all the organic changes happen inside software. It’s a new take on the Buchla, and not really like anything we’ve seen before. And it suggests this software may elevate beyond just faux replication onscreen, with a genuinely new hybrid.
My only regret: I would love to have this with touch controls, on iOS or Windows, to really complete the feeling. It’s odd seeing the images from Arturia with that interface locked on a PC screen. But I think of all the software instruments in 2017, this late addition could be near the top (alongside VCV Rack’s modular world, though more on that later).
But it’s big news – a last-minute change to upset the world of sound making in 2017.
Watch for our hands-on soon.
Intro price and more new features
Also new in this version: the Analog Lab software, which acts as a hub for all those instruments, parameters, and presets, now has been updated, as well. There’s a new browser, more controller keyboard integration, and other improvements.
Piano V has three new piano models (Japanese Grand, a Plucked Grand, and a Tack Upright), enhanced mic positioning, an improved EQ, a new stereo delay, and it’s own built-in compressor.
There are improvements throughout, Arturia say.
There’s also a lower intro price: new users get US$/€ 249 instead of 499, through January 10.
And that Buchla is 99 bucks if that’s really what you want out of this set.
The air horn is one of the weirder cultural tropes around today. It’s loud, it’s obnoxious – and it’s also ubiquitous, from radio ads to pop songs. It’s clearly out of its original context, but what was it’s original context, anyway?
The answer to that is more clear-cut than you might imagine. But it also points a finger squarely at us cultural consumers and producers – that too much copy-paste could become a literal, repeated warning bell.
Author Jeff Weiss actually wrote a beautiful essay for Red Bull Music Academy back in 2013″
In it, he lays out a solid case for why it’s more or less indisputable that the popularization of the air horn is the work of one man. And that man is Cipha Sounds. Any New York-area resident present there from the late 90s will be unsurprised that he made the air horn a star on Hot 97 at some point around the beginning of the millennium.
A documentary released earlier this year interviewed him about it:
If you watch closely as he demos the effect, you’ll see the giveaway that it was the radio version that broke the air horn into the big time. Primitive radio software used for triggering audio doesn’t layer multiple triggers subtly the way a sampler would. Instead, you get that weird stuttering, false-start effect you know. And the rest is history. (Bizarrely, this also means that producers ever since have actually been going out of their way to ape Hot 97 rather than even use a sampler normally, let alone make the sound of an air horn.)
But it’s worth reading Weiss’ full story, because it connects some other dots – and they say a lot about the evolution of hip hop and music production in general.
Here’s the condensed version. Like hip hop and modern dance music themselves, the air horn made its way over (evidently) from use in Jamaican sound systems, where the actual object must have been a handy noisemaker. New York was the gateway for hip-hop, generally. If you want one guy, look to Clive Campbell, Kool Herc, the Jamaica native. If you want one day (stretching things a bit), try August 11, 1977, West Bronx, and the birthday party for the guy’s sister (now what you doing for your next birthday gig?):
What’s interesting (as far as air horns) is that dancehall clash culture is where the innovation happened – in a hot, competitive party environment. By the 1980s, they’re part of a flurry of really loud sounds, writes Weiss:
At sound system clashes, the air horn stirred call and response chants. Cheap Casios flooded the market and Kingston producers programmed them full of synthesized gunshots, air horns and sirens. One performer, Jackie Lickshot, staked his fame on his ability to mimic gunshots with his voice, making him the dancehall equivalent of “Motor Mouth” from the Police Academy movies.
By the 90s, West Coast producer Ras G is claiming it as a signature – and is quoted in Weiss’ article explaining, “The air horn is just another link between the musical cousins that are reggae and hip-hop.”
But then, isn’t that it – isn’t what makes this link work the fact that the music keeps changing, stays loud and competitive?
Then again, maybe even the overuse of the air horn can become fodder for cultural commentary.
Somehow, it seems air horns found their way into Trump rallies. (Not wanting to delve too deep into the odder portions of the Trumposphere, I … stopped before I worked out exactly where. But somehow, it’s a thing – making an appearance in a rally crowd, then showing up in a series of videos on the debates.)
Now, as a pro-Trump instrument, the air horn would seem an odd choice, given the overwhelmingly white support for the now-President jarring with an instrument with hip hop and Jamaican roots.
But even there, the sound keeps changing roles. Vic Berger, the oddball video editor making parody videos of Trump and other political and social figures, has made the air horn an icon of the President.
So where do we go from here, once sounds are canned and easily reproduced?
I guess the question is whether we’re capable of recognizing the copies of copies, and whether we’re competitive enough to try something new. Even something that might seem, at first, loud and obnoxious.
Of course, I’d be happy to throw the air horn off a cliff – and it better not make a Wilhelm Scream on its way down. (Actually, cut that sound effect first. Please. Sorry, LucasFilm.)
At the moment when synthesizers are getting more economical, Moog are firmly establishing what the synth as luxury item looks like – and it’s this. The Minimoog model D is an exact recreation of the iconic original monosynth, starting production of that machine for the first time in three decades, down to even tiny details of circuits. And it’ll cost you – US$3499, limited run in America only.
That means we now have essentially two iterations of Moog Music. One is making luxury recreations of its original history, in their original form. The other is making new products and new designs – and for a larger audience (especially because of price).
Price alone isn’t really the issue. In fact, it’s easy to get hung up on the price and forget just how much more efficient production is now. The Minimoog model D Moog Music have just introduced is nearly a part-by-part recreation of the original. It even uses accurate through-hole rather than surface-mount production (which allows it to be more true to which parts are used). Yet it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the original.
Get ready for some sticker shock. The 1970 Minimoog price, adjusted for inflation using the USA Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index is…
Even deadmau5 would have trouble spending that much money.
The best part of the demo video is you get to hear Bob Moog himself talk about his creation:
But forget about the price for a second. What’s remarkable about the model D, like Moog’s Keith Emerson modular that came before it (at the last Moogfest, no less), is that it is an exact recreation. Think about that for a second. No other major brand is doing this. The closest is KORG, but their recreations are more modernized approximations – not unlike classic car reissues. And as such, their ARP and MS-20 were downsized and added features like MIDI; even the limited run full-sized MS-20 was modernized from the original and still kept a fairly low price tag.
The model D and Emerson modular are recreations, not approximations. They’re effectively starting up the old production line as if nothing happened.
It’s Moog Music as museum. And I think as a result not only the price but the peculiarity of what you get is likely to keep the model D’s appeal to a specific breed of musicians.
As historical curiosity, it’s fascinating. But it does, to me, represent something of a step backward – if an intentional one. Bob Moog himself didn’t repeat the Minimoog; he re-conceived it with the Minimoog Voyager, the very synth that launched today’s Moog Music.
Of course, that’s why I say there are two Moogs. The other Moog continues to imagine new instruments, like the Mother-32 and even new iOS apps. And these matter not just because they’re more practical or cheaper – they matter because they’re genuinely new. If you know the sound of the Minimoog already, you can find new sounds in their latest creations.
But I sure I’m not alone in saying this: the model D, while fascinating, still makes me long for a new Voyager — or Moog Music’s take on a polysynth.
Maybe what’s compelling about the synthesizer is that it does constantly transform. The history of the violin and the piano were eventually stunted (something even some acoustic builders what to change). The synthesizer can be an instrument that’s perpetually reinvented. And so that means I’ll keep looking forward to the new creations from Asheville, North Carolina – even as I marvel at the achievement of historical recreation.
Reverb: it’s something everyone needs. And yet in hardware, you almost always see the same couple of boxes. It seems about time for a new player. And OTO Machines, known for their BISCUIT 8-bit effect box and filter, might have just the candidate. BAM, coming soon, emulates the reverbs of the 70s and 80s. And in the demo, it sounds amazing.
Given that reverbs by definition emulate natural reflections, they’re really all about character. And if you’re going to invest in a hardware box, presumably what you’d want is a range of different character traits, and the ability to adjust between them.
That’s where it seems like the OTO folks are onto something. For their stereo reverb, they’ve gone back to late 70s and early 80s digital reverbs. The idea is not to sound like a realistic space, so much as it is to produce a musically flexible sonic character – the warmth and particular “grainy” characteristics of those older reverbs, plus the ability to tune an effect from very short delays to rich, longer reverb tails.
Now, it’s reasonably easy to find those qualities in software, but in hardware, your choices are more limited. And that’s why this demo video has me excited (and probably you, as well).
It’s a common misconception that “digital” hardware wouldn’t be unique, but that ignores all the design decisions that went into vintage digital gear. OTO talk about that in describing their process: they say they’ve been inspired by details like the converters (12-bit gain-stepping converters for 15-bit resolution, for instance), unique algorithms tailored to the limitations of slow processors and limited memory, and analog filters.
I think we’re on the verge of people realizing that those digital restrictions wound up producing musical results in the same way that analog circuitry did. Constraints focus good designers to make particular choices – perhaps to be guided even more by their ears. But whatever the reason, you are already accustomed to many of these sounds.
OTO have taken those design lessons, but they say they’ve also added some new algorithms. And it’s clear from the video that they’ve also provided a range of controls.
So, you get all the bases covered as far as kinds of reverbs:
Room, Hall, Plate, Ambient, Chorus, Non-Linear and Primitive
You get an input gain up to +15 dB, with analog clipping (phew), so you can get your input loud.
There’s still MIDI control when you want it.
The delay range can move from tight plates to long reverbs, and there’s a pre-delay of up to 500 ms (or 1500 ms with the TAP switch).
For tempo-synced effects, there’s an assignable tap tempo.
And there’s MIDI input, with CC and program change.
This also looks performance friendly. Apart from MIDI and tempo, there are three bypass modes (relay, spillover, aux), a freeze switch, and 36 user presets.
All in steel with Neutrik connectors and power in the box. At 460€, it’s spendy before VAT, so I’ll want to try the final unit – but on the other hand, if they nailed this, it could wind up being one of the most essential pieces of gear you own.
Okay, if I sound excited, it’s because I’ve heard a lot of a certain other reverb – one I love – that everyone has. And I’m ready for some diversity. Fingers crossed. Stay tuned.