A great live set brews up new musical directions before your ears. It’s a burst of creativity and energy that’s distinct from what happens alone in a studio, with layers of process. From Liverpool (Madeline T Hall) and Moscow (Nikita Zabelin x Xandr.vasiliev), here are two fine examples to take you into the weekend.
Acid-tinged synths unfold over this brilliant half hour from M T Hall (pictured, top), at a party hosted earlier this year by HMT Liverpool x Cartier 4 Everyone:
I love that this set feels so organic and colors outside the lines, without ever losing forward drive or focus. It organically morphs from timbre to timbre, genre to genre. So just when it seems like it’s just going to be a straight-ahead acid set (that’s not actually a 303, by the way, it seems), it proceeds to perpetually surprise.
I think people are afraid to create contrast in live sets, but each shift here feels intentioned and confident, and so the result is – you won’t mistake this for someone else’s set.
Check out her artist site; she’s got a wildly diverse set of creative endeavors, including immersive drawing and sound performances, and work as an artist covering sculpture, sound, video and installation. (Madeleine, if you’re reading this, hope we can feature your work in more depth! I just can’t wait to release this particular set first!)
Darker (well, and redder, thanks to the lighting), but related in its free-flowing machine explorations, we’ve got another set from Moscow from this month:
It’s the project of Nikita Zabelin x Xandr.vasiliev, at Moscow’s Pluton club, a repurposed factory building giving a suitably raw industrial setting.
This is connected for me, though. Dark as it is, the duo isn’t overly serious – weird and whimsical sounds still bubble out of the shadows. And it shows that grooves and free-form sections can intermix successfully. I got to play after this duo in St. Petersburg and you really do get the sense of open improvisation.
Facing off at Moscow’s Pluton.
xandr aka Alexander has a bunch more here:
That inspires me for the coming days. Have a good weekend, everybody.
It’s a great time to love synths, even on a budget. The latest entry is the DIY Brunswick kit from Future Sound Systems in the UK. It’s simple (one oscillator), but weird and dirty sounding – and you can patch this semi-modular instrument to your own delight. And the price is under £99.
So yeah, if you want to mess about with synths and patch things together, modular is hardly your only option. There are loads of ways to make noise.
Brunswick made its debut at Synthfest in Sheffield earlier this month:
One oscillator (pulse/saw) only, but that’s paired with a multimode analog filter and analog envelope, and FM inputs to spice up the sound (plus other modulation). Add 24 patch points, and you can patch together other sound design options. The patchabilityhas obviously made this a hit; the first batch sold out but another is arriving in November.
Oh, and it says “BEEF” on it, which is important.
£82.50 means that’s just over 110EUR with VAT, or around US$100 (before shipping costs).
It is a DIY kit, not assembled. I’d say it’s an intermediate beginner build – nothing especially difficult, but it’ll take some time and you might want a simple project under your belt before you use this to learn soldering.
What’s notable is that Future Sound Systems are giving you a semi-modular instrument that works perfectly well on its own as well as a voice in a modular environment. They make a lot of other lovely stuff but more in the Eurorack domain.
It’s trending now just based on a Reddit member pointing to the box arriving, so I guess people want it!
Full Synthesizer Voice
VCO PWM & FM
2-Pole VCF with FM
Internal Triangle & Square wave LFOs
Internal Envelope & VCA
PLL & Phase Comparator
24 point Patch bay
Power: 2x PP3 9V batteries (+35, -20mA current draw)
Batteries not included
Dimensions: 194 x 120 mm
Patch bay I/O:
VCO 1V/Octave pitch control input
VCO PulseWidth Modulation input (normalled to LFO Triangle output)
VCO FM 1 input (normalled to LFO Triangle output)
VCO FM 2 input (normalled to Envelope output)
VCO “Sawtooth” output
VCO Pulse output
Phase Comparator input
Phase Comparator output
Phase Locked Loop input
Phase Locked Loop output
LFO Triangle output
LFO Square output
Low-Pass Filter input (normalled to switched VCO output)
Band-Pass Filter input
High-Pass Filter input
VCF FM 1 input (normalled to LFO Triangle output)
VCF FM 2 input (normalled to Envelope output)
VCA AM 1 input (normalled to LFO Triangle output)
VCA AM 2 input (normalled to Envelope output)
Envelope Gate input (normalled to LFO Square output)
It’s Eurorack without the big rack. Or rack modular that thinks it’s desktop. In any event, if you ever found a module or three you wanted to use without getting a big rack, or quick portability for a beloved module, 4ms may have a solution for you: 4ms Pods.
They’re cute. They’re cheap. They’re daisy-chainable. So if you don’t want that “cockpit” / “I’m outfitting a submarine command center” look, now you can take modules and put them in little handheld boxes you can move around, mix with desktop synths and effects, guitar pedals – whatever.
The daisy-chainable power designed just for this range also mean that you can put together a handful of pods pretty economically, since you only need to buy one with power supply. The pricing – the number being the size in hp, of course:
It’s been a decades-long wait, but now Moog have revealed a flagship polyphonic keyboard instrument – a new dream synth. It’s high-end, for sure, but it also reveals where the brand that became synonymous with synthesis sees us going next. We’ve talked to Moog to find out more on today, release day.
The last time Moog made a polysynth, Ronald Reagan was President, the Space Shuttle was the epitome of futuristic, MIDI wasn’t really even a thing, and to slightly misquote Douglas Adams, people were “so amazingly primitive that they still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.”
And let’s be honest. While Moog have been studiously revisiting the evolution of their polyphonic instruments, Moog are known for their monosynths, not polysynths. This could change that. Sure, the Moog One is expensive – you might still choose a poly from Novation, KORG, Arturia, or fellow American brand Sequential (now renamed to its original moniker from Dave Smith Instruments).
But it’s also beautiful, and deep. It’s going to top the wanted list of rockstars again, maybe in a way we haven’t seen since the 80s – as proven by the promo video (some of which feature those same 80s synth superstars). If we still cared about print magazines graced by keyboard covers, this would have a glossy special edition devoted to it with a pull-out centerfold that let you lie in bed and stare at its front panel on your ceiling.
As for the “One” part, well, that’s more about it being the one, as in:
— well, except instead of Wayne, apparently Suzanne Ciani and Chick Corea reached that conclusion.
To celebrate, Moog have rebooted their 1976 Polymoog promo film, this time with Jeff Bhasker, Suzanne Ciani, Chick Corea, Mike Dean, Robert Glasper, Dick Hyman, Dev Hynes, Mark Mothersbaugh, Mark Ronson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Paris Strother. (Hey, you left out the ghost of Liberace and the Queen of England. That’s a Jerry Lewis telethon-level cast right there.)
And given the price is $6k or $8k list, you’ll probably want to know more. So Moog are doing a first-ever AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit:
Plus there’s a live stream of them building these (with another discussion to follow):
About the synth
So, what’s the big deal about this big synth?
It’s really the blockbuster follow-up to everything Moog have been doing – take the Minimoog Voyager, then make each single analog signal path more powerful, multiple that times 8- or 16-voices (depending on which model you buy), and then turn that into three independent polysynths.
That is, the “tri-timbral” part means that you could think of this as three analog polysynths in one. Each timbre can be addressed separately, with its own sequencer, its own arpeggiator, and its own set of effects.
Three all new dual-output analog VCOs
Ring modulation and FM
Two independent analog filters
Dual-source analog noise generator
Analog mixer with external audio input
Three envelope generators
Effects, including Eventide reverbs (more on that below)
Preset recall, with 64 performance-fiendly presets loaded right from the front panel (and thousands more via the browser)
200 front panel knobs and switches
Mod Matrix for visual modulation patching (also more on that below)
Easy-access “Destination” button – hit it, tweak something, and you get instant assignment
Now, all of this matters, if you think about it.
What’s the reason people are into hardware? Easy: hands-on control. And this has a lot of it.
But why are people also buying modular? Well, in part, at least, they want deeper sound design possibilities – complex modulation that allows more sound worlds. And this does deliver a lot of that via its voice architecture and modulation offerings.
Why did manufacturers start making keyboards and not only modulars – even for people who had been big modular users? That’s easy, too – modulars don’t give you instant performance recall, and they’re (by definition) not integrated instruments. This does both of those things.
But we also see the advantage of time. We’ve come full circle to lots of one-to-one performance controls. But we also can take advantage of an integrated display, without trying to use it to replace knobs and switches. We’ve become more allergic to menu diving and hidden features. And computers have made us demand more of hardware – like those instant-assign destination buttons. This is a Moog for a time when hands-on control and depth aren’t mutually exclusive.
Let’s ask Moog
I wanted to know more about how the Moog One came about and how you play it, so here are some answers to those questions – though for more, of course, you can join the AMA thread.
Making a new polysynth was unsurprisingly on the minds at Moog. “Moog has a long history of polyphonic synthesizer development, beginning with the Moog Apollo project in 1973,” Moog tells CDM. “Although the Apollo never moved beyond the prototype stage, Keith Emerson’s use of the newly designed instrument during ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery Tour provided Moog with valuable feedback for the release of the Polymoog in 1975. During this 10 year span, 6 different takes on a polyphonic instrument where created, ending with the Moog SL-8 prototype in 1983.”
Players have never stopped asking for polys, nor has the idea ever died, Moog tell us. Some resistance came from founder Bob Moog himself, however: “In his later years, Bob was not keen on the idea of a new Moog polyphonic synth, knowing firsthand the challenges of creating one, but over the years we have been able to substantially reduce costs and have increased the stability of our analog designs to the point that creating an analog poly no longer seemed out of reach.”
So when did the Moog One start to come into being. “Officially, we began the research phase in earnest in 2013,” say Moog, “talking with artists and creators about what their vision of the ultimate Moog synthesizer would be.”
“By 2016,” Moog says, “we had the first hardware prototypes for the circuitry, with the first stages of a working Moog One prototype taking form in early 2017. Now that the Moog One has been realized, we only wish that Bob Moog was here to play the first chord.”
Okay, so how does it actually work, though? More details:
How modulation works:
Each of the Moog One’s 4 LFOs and 3 EGs have their own dedicated Destination Buttons for making modulation quick assignments on the front panel. Simply press the Destination on any LFO or EG, and the next knob you touch will set the modulation destination and amount.
For a modulation deep dive, the onboard Modulation Matrix provides immediate visual access to every possible combination of Moog One’s modulation sources, destinations, controllers, and transforms. The Modulation Matrix makes it easy to quickly program complex modulation paths while also giving an overview of all the modulation routings that have been set up in a given Preset.
What about the Eventide reverbs?
It sounds like two come from favorite algorithms known on the Eventide SPACE and related products:
Moog One was developed to explore what is possible in a polyphonic synthesizer, and Eventide’s breath taking reverb technology was the right fit. The Room, Hall, Plate, Blackhole, and Shimmer reverbs are all implemented using Eventide’s world-class algorithms with a few optimizations for use in Moog One.
A direct connection to service
There are some other changes coming, too. Moog are adding a chat feature so during business hours – 9-5 Monday through Friday Eastern Time – you’ll be able to ask questions of Moog staff in North Carolina, in real-time. (They’re quick to remind us those are “employee owners.”)
And there’s also that mysterious Ethernet port on the Moog One. From day one, it’s there for remote diagnostics and service. But more is coming:
Now, when a musician experiences issues that typically would require shipping an instrument back to the Moog factory, we are instead able to access their Moog One remotely and run a series of tests, calibrations, and whatever else may be necessary to best service their instrument remotely, which is a huge advancement and time saver for customer, dealer and manufacturer. While we can’t talk specifics regarding future product development, we can tell you that we have plans for the Ethernet port that will open new portals of creativity for Moog One owners.
Above, top: inside the Moog factory, as the first Moogs One are completed.
Moog One is out now, for real:
As of today, Moog One is available for order through all authorized Moog Dealers world wide. You can actually watch us building the Moog One right now through the live-stream player on the Moog website. Sweetwater will receive the first 150 units over the next few weeks, and we expect to begin shipping the Moog One to all US dealers in November, with international shipments starting shortly there after.
And what about those of us with budgets the Moog One doesn’t fit?
I had to ask Moog this, too – a lot of us are more in the market for $600 instruments than $6000. So what does this mean for us?
When we began development of the first polyphonic Moog analog synthesizer in over 35-plus years, we wanted it to be a dream-synth that pushed the limits of what is technically possible while still being an intuitive instrument for self-expression. This year we’ve released DFAM, Grandmother, and the Moog One, which are three instruments that cover a wide range of creative possibilities.
That’s fair, I think. As I’ve observed before, Moog have kept a range of products in reach of those on a budget – down to very affordable iPad/iPhone apps, but also including this other hardware. They’re releasing a fair number of products for a mid-sized manufacturer (compared to tiny boutique shops at one end, or mighty Japanese makers at the other). And since they first came up with their crazy Keith Emerson modular relaunch, while we have seen big-ticket rockstar items, those do appear to drive creation of more affordable analog gear and other devices and apps for the rest of us.
The Moog One will have a lot to live up to, because of its price, because of its obvious ambition, but mostly because of its name. But this looks tantalizing – a Moog poly that could be worth the wait.
I know a lot of the folks at Novation on a personal level well enough to say – they’re synth lovers, day job and after hours. What’s great about their latest video series is, some of that comes out.
Of course, yesterday we saw at least one user really hacking a Novation product, the Launchpad Pro, by modding the hardware using a firmware release from the company. And as one frustrated developer shouted at us in comments, that requires a bit of effort. (Not so much for you – you can download a file and use this easily – but modifying real-time firmware of hardware takes some practice!)
This isn’t quite that. These “hacks” have more to do with creatively abusing some features to push the hardware synths to the limit – Circuit, Circuit Mono Station, and Peak. The Circuit in particular has a user community that proved surprisingly advanced, squeezing everything they can out of this budget-priced hardware. But lately the more recent Mono Station and Peak are finding an equally devoted following.
Here’s the whole playlist, which covers sound design techniques (like oscillator sync – okay, that’s more a conventional technique than a ‘hack’), approaches to performance (patch change), working with clock and CV, and other features.
This raises a question, though – these are recent Novation products, so it’s pretty easy to get the manufacturer to do some hot tips.
But which instruments would you like to see covered – new or old – and in what way? What’s missing in tutorials? Let us know in comments. (I realize I just self-selected the answers to that with people who own these Novation synths, so I’ll keep asking this … but also curious what other stuff you Novation lovers own, too!)
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.
It’s dubbed a “Waveform Research Centre” – and Rotterdam’s gear-stuffed WORM laboratory is a science fiction playground for voltages, making music and visuals alike. Let’s go inside.
Dennis Verschoor is a mainstay of the Rotterdam experimental electronic scene, with some decades of artist experience to his name and the legendary Noodlebar performance series. Filmmaker Steve Guy Hellier joins Thonk’s Steve Grimley-Taylor to produce a short film about him and this amazing space: (thanks, Sonic State, hat tip)
From the description:
I first met Dennis whilst I was in the WORM studio on an artist residency in 2017. The WORM studio is like a geological trip through electronic music’s history but I was about to travel even further back. Strange ghostly tones emanated from the old vocal booth next door, it was this space that Dennis had filled with mid 20th century audio test equipment, going back to the roots of audio electronic experiments before commercially available instruments from Moog or Roland, before keyboards, back to Stockhausen, Else Marie Pade, Daphne Oram, Raymond Scott and the like. Why now? is this the logical conclusion of Mark Fisher’s cultural hauntology? do we end up back at the source? the sound of past futures? For Dennis it seemed more a way to dodge the hipsters, and invite collaboration.
Dennis and I had a friend in common Steve Grimley-Taylor, a lover of all things electronic and sound related (founder of Thonk.co.uk). When I expressed the idea of making a film about Dennis, Richard Foster from WORM kindly agreed to let us. This is a short film about Dennis, his journey and his room.
Steve Guy Hellier 2018
You know what time it is, kids? It’s gear pr0n, time. Some waveform pics to get your Friday night started right.
It’s equal parts Polish Radio Experimental Studio and starship control panel. The Apparatum by Warsaw’s panGenerator proves that not only can everything old is new again – maybe it’s even newer.
Take a look:
The Apparatum is a new installation that reboots Communist-era work from the space age, bringing visual and optical and magnetic concepts into a playful synthesizer concept. It’s the latest work from interactive/media shop panGenerator from Warsaw.
In the early adventurous work in electronic music, there was nothing to take for granted. So it makes sense that Polish pioneer Bogusław Schaeffer would imagine an entirely new visual language to accompany the new sounds humans were hearing from their circuits. His Symphony – electronic music cued the engineer with those hieroglyph-like visuals, and inspires the sounds and visual language here.
But maybe that’s what modernity is now: now that we’re no longer wowed by digital, we’re sophisticated enough to see new potential for magnetic and optical techniques that had been discarded in the march to the new. Artists/researchers like Andrey Smirnov, who delve into the world of Soviet optical synthesis and Theremin, have regularly wondered what an alternate future would be like if radical optical and electro-magnetic techniques had continued to develop. Now, in works like this (and work by artists like Derek Holzer) make that alternate reality our own.
The work also draws from the design aesthetics and the engineering of the original, legendary Polish studio:
The physical form is inspired by the general aesthetics of the Studio’s famous “Black Room” designed by Oskar Hansen. The electroacoustic generators and filters were arranged in a modular fashion inside two steel frames – the construction element that we’ve referred to in our design.
Magnetic tape was the primary medium used in the Polish Radio Experimental Studio. We’re also using two types of “tape samplers” – two 2-track loops and three one-shot linear tape samplers. To obtain noise and basic tones we’re utilising purely analog optical generators based on spinning discs with graphical patterns.
This may just look like digital tech aping the original, but they’ve genuinely made a hybrid. DC motors spin discs made of plexiglass, covered in opaque black foil on one side, with an LED and photoresistor. That optical detector feeds an analog signal, fed directly to the mixer. They’re real, opto-analog oscillators.
The magnetic part is real, too. 2-3 second tape loops record samples, with variable-speed playback, on top of 3 one-shots that move the magnetic head along the tape (with in turn varies pitch). So you have digitally-controlled magnetic tape and opto-analog synthesis – a fusion of past and present tech. It takes the historical sound techniques, but produces a more accessible, dynamic interface with the computer – digital input, analog output.
And visitors to the exhibition get real recorded results, too – just as they would if they stepped into the historical electroacoustic studio. There’s a printout of the score, plus a digital record uploaded to a server.
The historical use of tape is reimagined with real, digitally-controlled magnetic tape sampling.
The historical gear that inspired the new invention, side by side with the results.
Visual scores accompany the sonic creations.
The Apparatum will make the trip this weekend to Karlsruhe, Germany, where it will accompany an exhibition on now through the start of next year on the historical Polish studio:
Talk about less is more. The Arturia DrumBrute impact is sure to be a hit at US$349 for a packed analog drum machine – but its newfound focus and re-built sounds also make it more fun to play.
Fitting a drum machine into a smaller size and cutting the price this low does mean taking some things out. But it’s what’s left in that may make people find the DrumBrute Impact appealing.
Arturia has been trying their hand at drum machines for a while. It began on the software side, with the Spark series, but the workflow and functionality of that line never seemed to grab users quite like with Native Instruments’ Maschine or Ableton Live combined with Push, to say nothing of people who want to get away from the computer and use some hardware. The DrumBrute was promising, packing some novel analog sound circuitry together with workflow features from Spark and BeatStep Pro, but its sound felt like a work in progress. (Case in point: my studio neighbor has one and loves it, but he mutes the kick and replaces it with something else. Making drum machines is hard.)
So, that’s the surprise of DrumBrute Impact. The “impact” which I thought was just smart marketing for it being small and cheap actually is a clue to the fact that the Impact has all new circuitry inside. It’s the Arturia brain here, but the soul has been upgraded.
Finally, Arturia have made something that doesn’t just feel like another Roland TR drum machine. And that’s good, because much as I love the TR, having only that color is a bit like having a Wurlitzer but no Rhodes. But simultaneously, it also sounds like a new set of sounds you want to use, without requiring you to invest a huge amount of money in those sounds.
The result: this thing hits really hard. That matters. We’re humans. We like things that go thud. We can feel it. This isn’t theory; it’s visceral.
The sound engine:
You get a full complement of parts, each analog and with controllable parts. “Analog” remains something of a marketing hook, but the important thing about these parts is you get a set of sounds you can manipulate directly. That means:
KICK: pitch and decay
SNARE 1: snap and decay.
SNARE 2: tone and decay.
TOM: pitch, switch between high/low.
CLOSED HAT: tone
OPEN HAT: decay (mute linked to the open hat)
FM DRUM: carrier pitch, decay, FM amount, and mod pitch.
I’ll work on some videos and music in the coming days. Drum machines are all about taste, so you may differ, but I liked each one of these sounds – which is really hard to get on a new machine. (The TR has a huge advantage based on familiarity, too. None of us can really say what we’d think of it if someone brainwiped us and we hadn’t heard any the music made with Rolands over the years.)
More importantly, you get a huge range as you twist the encoders on these, with a sense of power across that range rather than that usual feeling of … okay, this is the sweet spot and the rest is shite.
Snare 2, for instance, can sound like a rimshot or a clap, even, depending on where you adjust it, and lots of things in between. Tom Low easily doubles as a kick with a darker color. The cowbell is an exception, but it’s a nice grown-up homage to Roland.
It’s really the FM voice that’s the big winner, though. And it’s clear you could not only cook up some unexpected percussion with it, but also hack it into a usable, potentially weird if you want, FM bass synth.
If you want lots of I/O, well… come on, this thing is $349. But you still do manage a mono mix out, four separate outs for parts, and dedicated clock in/out, MIDI in/out, and USB.
Arturia could have made this a fairly dumb box that’s just a sound engine, but they crammed a whole lot of powerful features for playing into it, as you might expect from some of their past outings. So you get:
Step sequencing with 64 patterns (64 steps each)
Song mode for chaining patterns
Polyrhythms (set each track to its own length)
Swing, either global or per-instrument
Random pattern variations
Pattern looper, beat repeat
Real-time rolls (with that touch strip again)
Multiple sync options: Internal / MIDI / Clock, including 1PPS, 2PPQ, DIN24, and DIN48
There’s even a metronome that automatically overrides itself on the main out when you plug in headphones.
You don’t have easy MPC-style note repeat, which I personally prefer to those touch rolls, and the drum pads are basic (though you get one for each part, unlike the more expensive Roland TR-8S). Other than that, it’s hard to complain.
One surprise is the distortion circuit. It’s nice, and adds some dirt, but I almost expected something raunchier. Anyway, it’s useful to have, and you can always run those outs through some distortion pedals and really go nuts. I did run it through some light effects and delays, and it sounds unreal.
I mean, what’s to say? This thing is going to sell like crazy. $349 / 299 €. Preorder now, full availability in August.
It’s turning out to be quite a summer for hardware drum machines, with the ongoing success of the Elektrons (and some updates), the breakout hit Roland TR-8S, the coming boutique MFB TanzBar II, and now this as your cost-effective choice. If you’re still failing to play drum machines live or writing dull drum parts, you have no excuse.
Yes, nests of patch cords and racks of modules will make noodle-y noise for chin scratching. It can also make pounding techno – and we’re going inside some of the sonic brains who’ve mastered that.
Our mission: let’s learn how people are actually using modular synthesis to express their musical ideas, and demystify some of the basic concepts in sound creation behind all those cool flashing lights and tangles of wire.
To do that, we need musicians like Florian and Leonard.
Florian Meindl and Leonard de Leonard will join us tomorrow in Berlin thanks to Roland organizing a visit in the artist center they’ve set up in Kreuzberg. These are two producers with a deep knowledge of music history and production skills as well as technical knowledge. They’re proof that musicianship is a combination of engineering and intuition. So whether you’re interests tend to beats or beatless, the main takeaway is that they can master creative sound design as an instrument.
Florian in the studio.
Florian has been a guest with CDM (and Roland) once before. He’s a real workhorse of Berlin’s techno scene, having produced music for about a decade and a half, various high-profile remixes (Hot Chip & Royksopp), and helmed a label (FLASH) that has released a who’s who of quality techno from around the world – with a stunning 130 releases, ranging from Sigha to Noncompliant, and not a dud in the bunch. I have to say from trying to juggle multiple threads like this, this stuff isn’t easy. He’s also some kind of ninja of social media.
Plus, for synth lovers, his Riemann Kollektion and Riemann Modular build businesses around boutique sounds and DJ tools and Eurorack modular, respectively.
Florian’s hybrid DJ sets effortlessly mix from club bangers to fluid modular improvisations – I saw particularly heavy, concrete-shaking sets at both Berlin’s Arena and Griessmuehle recently. I think the key was, the modular stuff never sounded like filler – it was just as dead-on.
Here’s a beautiful example of his music, which goes full-on dark and industrial without ever losing site of groove.
And because the future of DJing is also playing live, here’s his round-up of mixes and live sets:
Leonard’s stunning Sound Provider studio, otherwise known as “okay, that’s a good motivation to try to go to heaven when I die instead of Hell, maybe?”
Leonard de Leonard is a kind of sonic polyglot, a deep expert in modules and synths (well beyond my own modular knowledge – let me be totally clear about that), and with a resume across various genres, in composition, arrangement, and production. He’s also worked in sound design. You can tell a really clever producer/sound creator when it’s musically satisfying to listen to samples of their loops – like, his loop libraries sound better than a lot of producer’s tracks.
We’ll also get to look at Roland’s entry into Eurorack modular, a collaboration with Portland, Oregon boutique maker Malekko. What I appreciate about Roland’s work in modular, and why I would chose to work with them, is that they’re helping give back to the odd and wonderful underground collection of people now making modules. So apart from bringing back some of the vintage Roland System 100 designs that helped shape what modular looks like today, they’re also making a point of showing how their modules fit with other smaller makers, in a larger ecosystem.