KORG’s nutekt NTS-1 is a fun, little kit – and open to ‘logue developers

KORG has already shown that opening up oscillators and effects to developers can expand their minilogue and prologue keyboards. But now they’re doing the same for the nutekt NTS-1 – a cute little volca-ish kit for synths and effects. Build it, make wild sounds, and … run future stuff on it, too.

Okay, first – even before you get to any of that, the NTS-1 is stupidly cool. It’s a little DIY kit you can snap together without any soldering. And it’s got a fun analog/digital architecture with oscillators, filter, envelope, arpeggiator, and effects.

Basically, if you imagine having a palm-sized, battery-powered synthesis studio, this is that.

Japan has already had access to the Nutekt brand from KORG, a DIY kit line. (Yeah, the rest of the world gets to be jealous of Japan again.) This is the first – and hopefully not the last – time KORG has opened up that brand name to the international scene.

And the NTS-1 is one we’re all going to want to get our hands on, I’ll bet. It’s full of features:

– 4 fixed oscillators (saw, triangle and square, loosely modeled around their analog counterpart in minilogue/prologue, and VPM, a simplified version of the multi-engine VPM oscillator)
– Multimode analog modeled filter with 2/4 pole modes (LP, BP, HP)
– Analog modeled amp. EG with ADSR (fixed DS), AHR, AR and looping AR
– modulation, delay and reverb effects on par with minilogue xd/prologue (subset of)
– arpeggiator with various modes: up, down, up-down, down-up, converge, diverge, conv-div, div-conv, random, stochastic (volca modular style). Chord selection: octaves, major triad, suspended triad, augmented triad, minor triad, diminished triad (since sensor only allows one note at a time). Pattern length: 1-24
– Also: pitch/Shape LFO, Cutoff sweeps, tremollo
– MIDI IN via 2.5mm adapter, USB-MIDI, SYNC in/out
– Audio input with multiple routing options and trim
– Internal speaker and headphone out

That would be fun enough, and we could stop here. But the NTS-1 is also built on the same developer board for the KORG minilogue and prologue keyboards. That SDK opens up developers’ powers to make their own oscillators, effects, and other ideas for KORG hardware. And it’s a big deal the cute little NTS-1 is now part of that picture, not just the (very nice) larger keyboards. I’d see it this way:

NTS-1 buyers can get access to the same custom effects and synths as if they bought the minilogue or prologue.

minilogue and prologue owners get another toy they can use – all three of them supporting new stuff.

Developers can use this inexpensive kit to start developing, and don’t have to buy a prologue or minilogue. (Hey, we’ve got to earn some cash first so we can go buy the other keyboard! Oh yeah I guess I have also rent and food and things to think about, too.)

And maybe most of all –

Developers have an even bigger market for the stuff they create.

This is still a prototype, so we’ll have to wait, and no definite details on pricing and availability.

Waiting.

Yep, still waiting.

Wow, I really want this thing, actually. Hope this wait isn’t long.

I’m in touch with KORG and the analog team’s extraordinary Etienne about the project, so stay tuned. For an understanding of the dev board itself (back when it was much less fun – just a board and no case or fun features):

KORG are about to unveil their DIY Prologue boards for synth hacking

Videos:

Sounds and stuff –

Interviews and demos –

And if you wondered what the Japanese kits are like – here you go:

Oh, and I’ll also say – the dev platform is working. Sinevibes‘ Artemiy Pavlov was on-hand to show off the amazing stuff he’s doing with oscillators for the KORG ‘logues. They sound the business, covering a rich range of wavetable and modeling goodness – and quickly made me want a ‘logue, which of course is the whole point. But he seems happy with this as a business, which demonstrates that we really are entering new eras of collaboration and creativity in hardware instruments. And that’s great. Artemiy, since I had almost zero time this month, I better come just hang out in Ukraine for extended nerd time minus distractions.

Artemiy is happily making sounds as colorful as that jacket. Check sinevibes.com.

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IK UNO Drum: portable, $249.99 analog-PCM drum machine

Like the UNO synth before it, IK Multimedia’s new drum machine is a collaboration with boutique Italian maker Soundmachines, runs on batteries, takes up very little space, and it looks like a whole lot of fun, for EUR/USD 249.99.

As with some of the best-known classic drum machines, the sound engine is a combination of analog circuitry and PCM samples.

On the analog side of the sound engine, there are six drum parts: two different kicks, snare, clap, closed high hat, open high hat, and of course controls for shaping each.

On the PCM side, the default parts are toms, rim, cowbell, ride, crash. There are 54 samples onboard in total. And again, you can adjust Tuning, Snap, and Decay.

Sound samples are interesting – the kick sounds appropriately heavy and analog, and it sounds like you can glitch out those PCM samples, so … yep, I’m happy.

The voice architecture evidently lets you freely swap analog and digital parts as you wish to customize your kit, with up to 12 elements in each kit (and 11 of these can sound at the same time).

They’ve also added Drive and Compressor, both analog effects.

So that sounds already like a winning combination: customizable kits, plus some analog processing to make them punchier.

And then there’s the playing and programming bit. Touch entry has two velocity zones which you can map to sound parameters – so you don’t have to dive into a separate accent mode. You get 64 steps (with step and live performance), some serious automation recording (eight parameters per step), and even chaining up to 64 patterns together (for a kind of song mode). And you can trigger patterns live on the fly.

There are also some “performance effects” in the sequencer – Roll, Humanize, Swing, and Random.

More specs:

USB
2.5mm MIDI (with cables included)
Audio input for chaining – also routed through the compressor
400 g
4 AA batteries or power via USB
Ships in June
249 EUR/USD (not incl. VAT)

That little audio input with compressor makes this a nice companion to a number of little boxes.

They don’t say that you can customize samples, which may sound like an odd thing to complain about on a $250 box, except that some inexpensive machines have actually provided that (albeit some made it exceedingly difficult to do, like the KORG volca sample).

So sure, while everyone else eyes modules with prices starting for around this, I bet you could do a lot of damage with this little box.

https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/unodrum/

And they have a ton of tutorial/demo videos up already:

Uh… my music doesn’t sound like this, but maybe yours does?

And the specs with… okay, more of that song. (To be fair, my mood today for a mega-distorted 150 bpm acid techno track is probably not the best music bed underneath someone trying to explain how you feed power via USB or AA batteries. You could, like, shout over it into a vocoder?)

(You can still hire me to do your voice over / demo video. UnO drUM g1vv33s yoU meg444 Cr444zYYY ACID DRUGGY SPACECAT psych0000 so888uunnddsss! L0000kieee!! No? I charge by the hour, it’s easy. I’m sure Dr. Walker / Liquid Sky Berlin will join in our tripped out machine PR agency.)

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Ableton release free CV Tools for integrating with analog gear, made in Max

It’s all about voltage these days. Ableton’s new CV Tools are designed for integrating with modular and semi-modular/desktop gear with CV. And they’re built in Max – meaning builders can learn from these tools and build their own.

The basic idea of CV Tools, like any software-CV integration, is to use your computer as an additional source of modulation and control. You route analog signal directly to your audio interface – you’ll need an interface that has DC coupled outputs (more about that separately). But once you do that, you can make your software and hardware rigs work together, and use your computer’s visual interface and open-ended possibilities to do still more stuff with analog gear.

This is coming on the eve of Superbooth, and certainly a lot of the audience will be people with modular racks. But nowadays, hardware with CV I/O is hardly limited to Eurorack – gear from the likes of Moog, Arturia, KORG, and others also makes sense with CV.

CV Tools aren’t the first Max for Live tools for Ableton Live – not by far. Spektro Audio makes the free CV Toolkit Mini, for instance. Its main advantage is a single, integrated interface – and a clever patch bay. There’s a more extensive version available for US$19.99.

Rival DAW Bitwig Studio, for its part, has taken an entirely different approach – you’ll get a software modular engine capable of interlinking with hardware CV wherever you like.

Ableton’s own CV Tools is news, though, in that these modules are powerful, flexible, and polished, and have a very Ableton-esque UI. They also come from a collaboration with Skinnerbox, the live performance-oriented gearheads here in Berlin, so I have no doubt they’ll be useful. (Yep, that’s them in the video.) I think there’s no reason not to grab this and Spektro and go to town.

And since these are built in Max, Max patchers may want to take a look inside – to mod or use as the basis of your own.

What you get:

CV Instrument lets you treat outboard modular/analog gear as if it’s integrated with Live as a plug-in.

Trigger drums and rhythms with CV Triggers.

CV Utility is a signal processing hub inside Live.

CV Instrument, with complements existing Ableton devices for integrating outboard MIDI instruments and effects with your projects in Live

CV Triggers for sequencing drum modules

CV Utility for adding automation curves, add/shift/multiple signals, and other processing tools

CV Clock In and CV Clock Out for clocking Live from outboard analog gear and visa versa

CV In which connects outboard analog signal directly to modulation of parameters inside Live

CV Shaper, CV Envelope Follower, and CV LFO which gives you graphical tools for designing modulation inside Live and using it for CV control of your analog hardware

And there’s more: the Rotating Rhythm Generator, which lets you dial up polyrhythms. This one works with both MIDI and CV, so you can work with either kind of external hardware.

I got to chat with Skinnerbox, and there’s even more here than may be immediately obvious.

For one thing, you get what they tell us is “extremely accurate broad-range” auto calibration of oscillators, filters, and so on. That’s often an issue with analog equipment, especially once you start getting complex or adding polyphony (or creating polyphony by mixing your software instruments with your hardware). Here’s a quick demo:

Clocking they say is “jitter free” and “super high resolution.”

So this means you can make a monster hybrid combining your computer running Ableton Live (and all your software) with hardware, without having to have the clock be all over the place or everything out of tune. (Well, unless that’s what you’re going for!)

If you’re in Berlin, Skinnerbox will play live with the rig this Friday at Superbooth.

They sent us this quick demo of working with the calibration tools, resulting in an accurate ten-octave range (here with oscillator from Endorphin.es).

Watch:

To interface with their gear, they’re using the Expert Sleepers ES8 interface in the modular. You could also use a DC-coupled audio interface, though – MOTU audio interfaces are a popular choice, since they’ve got a huge range of interfaces with DC coupling across various interface configurations.

CV Tools is listed as “coming soon,” but a beta version is available now.

https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/cv-tools-live-coming-soon/

What do you need to use this?

For full CV control of analog gear, you’ll want a DC-coupled audio interface. Most audio interfaces lack that feature – I’m writing an explanation of this in a separate story – but if you do have one with compatible outputs, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the features here, including tuned pitch control. MOTU have probably made more interfaces that work than anyone else. You can also look to a dedicated interface like the Expert Sleepers one Skinnerbox used in the video above.

See MOTU and Expert Sleepers, both of which Skinnerbox have tested:

http://motu.com/products

https://www.expert-sleepers.co.uk/es8.html

MOTU also have a more technical article on testing audio interfaces if you’re handy with a voltmeter, plus specs on range on all their interfaces.

Universal Audio have already written to say they’ll be demoing DC coupling on their audio interfaces at Superbooth with Ableton’s CV Tools, so their stuff works, too. (Double-checking which models they’re using.)

But wait – just because you lack the hardware doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the functionality here with other audio interfaces. Skinnerbox remind us that any audio interface inputs will work with CV In in Pitch mode. Clock in and out will work with any device, too.

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SOMA’s PULSAR-23 semi-modular drum machine sneak peak

SOMA laboratory and enigmatic “romantic” engineer Vlad Kreimer have already delivered the strange and wonderful LYRA “organismic” synths. Next up: a drum machine.

The PULSAR-23 takes on that same “organismic” design philosophy, complete with rich, layered, deep space exploration sounds. With a full 23 independent modules, those powers turn to a drum machine design.

And maybe even “drum machine” doesn’t quite do this justice – you could just as easily imagine this as a percussion-heavy synthesizer. There are four independent loop recorders which trigger events, which you can clock into a single groove or leave to independent timing for more experimental rhythms. You can even set each channel to a sustain, so this is a noise/drone synth, too, not just a dancefloor object.

The PULSAR-23 was first announced last year, but now we get to see it move into its production form factor and – wow, it looks great:

It could be a gorgeous standalone machine, or you could see it as part of a larger modular rig. Full specs:

– 4 drum channels: Bass drum, Bass\Percussion, Snare drum, Cymbals\Hi-Hat
– 4 envelope generators with the unique ability to generate a sustain for the drum channels, turning them into noise\drone synthesizers.
– 4 independent loop recorders with the option for individual clocking. They record triggering events, not audio.
– Clock generator with an array of dividers as a very powerful tool for rhythm synthesis.
– Wide range LFO (0.1 – 5000Hz) with variable waveform.
– Shaos – a unique pseudo-random generator based on shift registers with 4 independent outputs, sample and hold and other cool features.
– FX processor with CV control incl. CV control of the entire DSP’s sample rate.
– Distortion.
– 2 CV-controlled gates.
– 2 CV-controlled VCAs.
– 2 controllable inverters.
– 3 assignable attenuators
– dynamic CV sensors for CV generation etc

Plus there’s MIDI control and sync, in addition to all the CV options. And if you want the really important specs – 52 knobs, 11 switches, 100 inputs and outputs for patching.

There’s also – “live circuit bending” whatever that entails, exactly?

This is the video from June 2018, where the PULSAR-23 was still just a bunch of guts – no pretty red case – but at least gives you an idea of the sound possibilities.

No lie here: SOMA will be way on the top of my list of gear to check out at Superbooth. I think this is poised to be a 2019 highlight.

Previously, we checked this out from SOMA this spring:

SOMA’s Ether is a high-sensitivity ear for your electromagnetic world

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Moog Matriarch puts all your analog sound shaping in one keyboard

Moog has taken the elements of their semi-modular line and given it a flagship – a patchable, calico-colored keyboard with sequencer, 4-voice paraphonic synth, and effects in one keyboard.

The pitch: even before you plug in cables to the copious patch points here, you can quickly get evolving strings of dreamy chords (or rich melodies), complete with delay and modulation. Those extra (analog, they want you to remember) specs aren’t just about more features. They’re about dialing in imaginative sounds. And so the Matriarch is an all-in-one keyboard that draws from Moog’s modular legacy, but in an integrated design you can use both with and without patching.

We’re definitely living in a weird timestream. When I started writing about music tech and joined Keyboard in the early 2000s, “workstation” keyboards were digital affairs, with functionality hidden deep in menus and screens. The key was to put as many instruments as possible – analog synthesis being seen as something retro and niche. Moog for their part had the Voyager, which took the Minimooog line in the direction of new analog exploration. But even Moog’s offering was primarily connected with MIDI cables, and had a touch panel right on the front.

Now, CV and gate – analog interconnects – are standard equipment alongside MIDI. People are happy to twist knobs rather than just dial up presets. (We, uh, could have told manufacturers that all along. Here’s a hint: if it’s fun, we’ll like it. Hence the term “play” music.)

And even if Moog are still (happily) outside the mainstream, there’s nothing saying their Matriarch has anything but broad appeal.

So here’s a keyboard proudly with wires popping out the top. And while Moog prominently tout “all-analog signal path” and “retro” design, we’re really seeing ourselves back in the parallel universe where analog synthesis never went away. On one hand, we’ve come full circle to some of the features first introduced in analog synthesis, but now it’s clearer what they’re for and how to make them more accessible. So for all its 1970s-derived features (Moog name included), the Matriarch is inventive in a way that makes sense in 2019.

Moog are pulling from the modular world, too, more aggressively than ever. Not only is this patchable, but the design does imagine a series of modules. So you get Minimoog oscillators, a mixer, classic Moog filters, envelopes and sound shapers. They’ve also built in a sequencer/arpeggiator.

The voice configuration allows mono, duo, and paraphonic playing modes, plus you have four notes per step in the sequencer.

My sense is what will make this interesting is the multiple modes on the filters combined with a Moogerfooger-like analog delay and tons of modulation. So you have dual ADSR envelopes and dual analog amplifiers, and two filters you can use in parallel or stereo or series. The delay is stereo (and ping/pong if you want) up to 700 ms – still waiting on Moog to tell me how short that delay can go.

Oh yeah, and ring mod possibilities also sound interesting. Plus they’ve got mults in there for making patching deeper onboard.

Specs:

Mono, duo, and 4-note paraphonic playability
Stereo analog delay with up to 700ms of stereo or ping/pong style repeats
256-step sequencer with up to four notes per step and 12 stored patterns
Arpeggiator with selectable modes (Order, Forward/Backward, Random)
Semi-modular analog synthesizer—no patching required
90 modular patch points for endless exploration
Expressive 49-note Fatar keyboard with patchable velocity and aftertouch
Four analog oscillators with selectable waveshape and hard sync per-oscillator
Full-range analog LFO with six selectable waveshapes
Dual analog filters with parallel (HP/LP), stereo (LP/LP), and series (HP/LP) modes available
Dual analog ADSR envelopes
Dual analog VCAs
Three bipolar voltage controlled attenuators with ring mod capability
2×4 parallel wired unbuffered mults
Additional simple analog LFO useful for adding modulation to delay, filters and VCAs
1/4″ external audio input for processing guitars, drum machines, and more through Matriarch’s analog circuits
Stereo 1/4″ and 3.5mm Eurorack level audio outputs

This is a Moog and a “flagship,” so it doesn’t come cheap – US$1999. That’s not to complain about the price, but it does mean if you’re in that budget, you have a lot of options. (Sitting next to me as I write this is Polyend’s Medusa along with Dreadbox, which has 6 voices instead of four, and some digital oscillators and modulation options that take it in a radically different direction from the Matriarch. Oddly, people complained about its price, and it costs half as much.)

I would personally be pretty tempted by Moog’s own Grandmother, the Matriarch’s baby sibling – with a street price around $800. It’s a monosynth, and the whole architecture is scaled accordingly. (It also has a spring reverb tank in place of the Matriarch’s delay). But you could use the saved money for a little Eurorack skiff.

That said, the Matriarch is a thoughtful, colorful, appealing new top-of-the-line for this family of Moogs. And it gets a Moogfest limited edition at the festival happening now – plus a lot of artists gathered who I’m sure will really want one.

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/introducing-matriarch

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Founder of music tech forum has died; outpourings of support for Mike McGrath

One of the largest forums for music tech nerd-kind this week reports the loss of its founder: Muff Wiggler’s creator, Mike McGrath, has died. The Internet responds.

I want to first say, my heart goes out to all of you who have lost a friend, a family member, a personal connection, or even a far-off but meaningful Internet connection.

Muff Wiggler, the forum, has for more than a decade been the single most influential online community for people interested in modular synthesis, as well as a range of DIY topics – it’s a common go-to for how-to documentation on electronics, among other topics. It has also hosted widely trafficked official forums for a number of brands, including the likes of Expert Sleepers, Hexinverter, Metasonix, and Snazzy FX. It’s been the object of love, of hate – but always has played a central role in conversations about music making technology and the voltage and circuits pulsing underneath.

And it’s worth saying that the whole project really began with one person, Mike – known by many exclusively online, but host to a community of strangers who often grew close. Like a lot of the blogs and forums that support the music tech community, Muff Wiggler and its creator have even become synonymous. I know personally how demanding that can be.

It wouldn’t be any exaggeration to say that part of the explosive growth of Eurorack and modular synthesis is because of Mike’s creation of the forum – one that inspired rabid consumers at the same time as it collected knowledge of how to engineer the modules.

Photo above, at top by I Dream of Wires, who interviewed Mike in their work on the evolution of the modern modular synthesis fandom.

The Muff Wiggler platform grew into other projects – a store, live events (like a collaboration with TRASH AUDIO in Portland, Oregon), and others, which helped people meet the man behind the forum in person, some of them flying from literally the other side of the world to do so.

About that name – it comes from a handle Mike chose that combined the names of two popular Electro-Harmonix effect pedals, Big Muff and The Wiggler.

For their part, a message from Muff Wiggler’s team promises they’ll keep the site going in Mike’s absence. Kent writes on a admin post: “The moderator and admin staff are going to take the needed time to get things in order and ensure the smoothest of possible transitions. It’ll be rough for a bit.”

In the meantime, there is an outpouring of sadness and gratefulness from people who knew Mike personally and those who knew him in the virtual arena – from the community of people for whom he created a home where none had existed.

The main thread on Muff Wiggler

Synthtopia obituary

Modular giant Ken MacBeth writes: “Mike McGrath……….I hope that you find your peace now……..RIP.”

Mike himself wrote in 2017 about his passion for the project in a Facebook Group, saying it began from wanting to learn about modular synthesis, amidst options that were “intimidating” – to create instead a place where you could make friends. And he talked about the importance of music and his machines in his personal life – in good times and in dark times.

Matrixsynth has a heartfelt obituary which traces some history – even before the forum, including the first blog posts by Muff Wiggler (back when it was just Mike’s alias):

Mike created the de facto modular synth forum on the internet … and he did it in a way that put members first. He created a platform for makers and users of synths to come together and engage directly with each other.

And yeah, I think all of us who have run enterprises on the Internet for music feel this one in our gut. Again quoting the mighty Matrixsynth:

I just can’t believe he is gone. As the host of this site, I feel like I lost a fellow compatriot. Someone I had history with through the ups and downs. Running a site can be a challenge, and just knowing he was out there doing his thing helped. I am going to miss him and the lost experiences we would all have had with him around.

RIP Mike McGrath of Muff Wiggler

Finally, long-time collaborator Surachai writes, “Mike is the connective tissue that bound almost every modular user when information was scarce.”

He goes on to say:

I invited whoever was interested in welcoming the overlord of the synthesizer community to a BBQ at my place and we were met with one of the kindest and smartest people to grace our lives….

His contributions to and maintenance of information cannot be overstated. His reach and ability to connect people cannot be overstated.

Mike McGrath / Muffwiggler

You’ll also find some videos online.

http://muffwiggler.com/

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/index.php

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SPICE is a one-stop modular distortion box – and it needs support

Saturation, distortion, warmth, fuzz – it’s what keeps a lot of us coming back to machines. SPICE is a modular distortion on Kickstarter, suitable for Eurorack or desktop use alike – and it’s getting reader attention partly because it isn’t over the funding line quite yet.

The big picture for SPICE from Plankton Electronics is modular distortion in an integrated, multifunctional design, with sounds ranging from digital crushing to tube distortion, ranging from warm saturation to grimy fuzz.

That functionality you can then get however you like. Want the whole thing as a single desktop unit? Go for it – even if you don’t own any other modular. Want to take that same integrated unit and rack it? Done – as a 38HP Eurorack. Prefer individual modules? Want them assembled? Want them as DIY kits you assemble yourselves? Every option is here.

This is all partly the story of a tube from KORG – the Nutube. This new Japanese-made tube, drawing from fluorescent display tech, sounds like conventional tubes but has an atypically long life and dramatically smaller size. And it uses a tiny amount of the power of tubes – think 2%. That’s not the only distortion / saturation on offer here, but it does allow a full complement of distortion types without requiring a bunch of power or space.

So you get to choose which distortion you want:

  • Clean amplification and filter, no distortion (“boost”)
  • Soft clip saturation
  • Hard clip saturation / distortion
  • Nu-tube distortion – one or two at once (for double double your distortion, double double your enjoyment… etc.)
  • Transistor fuzz (strong clipping)
  • Stomp box filtered high gain distortion, guitar pedal style

Distortion? Yes:

And you can combine these in loads of different ways – which is where the modular bit comes in. You can choose digital or analog, mix and prefilter, or apply an envelope follower to shape the sound.

And, of course, there’s feedback – lots of it.

It’s technical semimodular in that it’s prepatched for a lot of functions, but you can modify it from there.

Sliced into three modules, you get a choice [links to Modulagrid]:
NUTONE VCA and distortion based on the Nutube
SPICEVCF including the analog filter (LP, BP, HP) with tons of CV control and XMOD to self-modulate the filter
ENVF envelope follower

The tube module looks excellent on its own, but mostly I think the draw here is the combined distortion toolkit.

So how much does this cost? You’ll get actual hardware starting around 25EUR, and kits for around 55EUR+. Assembled modules start around 85EUR and then the full modular system will cost you around 450-500EUR, all in. (Prices will be more with VAT … and please, no more lecturing me about how the VAT system works, readers, I live in Germany and own a GmbH; most of our readers are outside the VAT system and don’t owe this tax. They’ve explained all the different prices on their site.)

Spice as modules.

I wasn’t so familiar with this Barcelona-based team before, but they’ve done some really nice work – and have gotten input here from a lot of our friends in the modular and synth community, from Endorphine.es to Befaco to Olivier Ozoux.

And even before I heard from them, a couple of readers wrote hoping CDM would cover this project as they want to see it funded. I hear you – I do, too.

I also love this idea – their SPICE Metapatch software is a Web-era take on the patch book. Instead of drawing with a pencil, you store patch ideas in a Web interface. (It’s still just a picture, but it means you’re free from erasures and terrible drawing skills. Hold on… that projecting thing I do, sometimes, that might be happening again.)

There’s 10 days left. They’re past the halfway mark, so let’s see if the CDM bump helps them out.

Plankton Electronics SPICE – Modular Saturation Unit [Kickstarter]

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Moog teases spectral shift invention for Moogfest

Moogfest is inbound, and that means some new, limited quantity creation of the engineers at Moog. This year it’s a fascinating looking spectral shift module.

The packed festival season is inbound, and whereas that once meant bands and crowd pleasers, now there’s a lot of advanced technology and electronic music – from SONAR to Superbooth to MUTEK to GAMMA to Moogfest, among others.

And Moogfest with a renowned synth builder in the name, of course some of the hardware is also “headlining.” Moog this year haven’t even named their creation yet, but it seems there’s some spectral/vocoder (check the carrier knob) processing going on. They describe it thusly:

This year’s design (shown here patched into synthesizers from previous years’ Engineer Workshops) explores how electronic instruments create an analog of the human experience, speaking directly to the way in which physical circuits resonate within one’s self to create a “Spectral Shift”…

Well, watch:

I’m in another country this Moogfest, but if you splurge on an Engineer Pass, you get to make this and take it home with Moog calibration included. The lineup is filling out, too, with the likes of Daniel Miller, nd_baumecker, Jlin, Martin Gore, GAS, Mor Elian, and others (just to name a few favorites).

More:

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/moogfest-announces-initial-2019-lineup

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The monster modular MacBeth Elements One, unleashed at last

It’s a module as big as Scotland and as loud as creator Ken MacBeth. But the module, spotted rarely like the folkloric monster it is, seems about to go from legend to product.

Ken MacBeth is a kind of esoteric mad genius of the synth world, so when he does flagship synths, he goes all out. The Elements line has come full circle; the Elements One was actually the first design, but it hasn’t yet seen the light of day. We got an all-in-one synthesizer in 2014 (now costing about five grand; originally listed at US$6499), the “Elements,” with a touch keyboard, and its successor, the EL2.

Ken’s vision: a “real sized” synthesizer (which for him means … very large) without “sonic compromise.” That original launch video:

That evolved into this thing with a keyboard:

But if what you want is the module that ate all the other modules, meet the Elements One.

And it is one module – a whopping 84HP / 3U in size. (I have a feeling the ideal Ken MacBeth skiff would arrive in the form of a tractor trailer. Comically, this was intended to be the first of five modules of this size – hence the number.)

Size of run: 50, planned.

Availability: “June/August.” (Those are … not consecutive months, Ken.)

We can go back to Synthtopia in December 2013 for some more clues. Think “spike” oscillators, noise, an “acidic” ladder filter, and ring modulator.

I poke fun (not poke so much as shove on something this size) – but there’s plenty to admire on these instruments, even if they’re not entirely mobile or cost conscious. They take a design nod from classic UK instruments in place of the fiddly, finger-challenging design of today’s Eurorack. And they afford tons of rich cross modulation and sound design options – fat sounding stuff.

That is, whether you want to adopt this and take it home, you do definitely want to play it. The new module will come to Berlin’s storied retailer Schneidersladen, says the manufacturer, and having played the touch keyboard iteration, I’m sure you’ll want to play this module there.

Even short of that, it’s gorgeous to behold, like seeing the Clo Mor Cliffs — okay, I’ll stop making trite Scotland references, it’s just I really would love a holiday to some natural landscapes and we’re all freaked out by Brexit. Apologies, Ken. Everyone makes 24/7 references to Kentucky Fried Chicken around me, so feel lucky.

Got distracted, cough —

Elements One!

And… presumably four more modules.

We await you.

Thanks Patrick DSP for the tip.

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Arturia’s new experimental synth – and Mutable Instruments’ role

It was only a matter of time before some of the craziness of the modular world came to desktop synths, too. Arturia’s new MicroFreak is a budget keyboard with a weird streak.

It’s also been the source of some confusion, because it in fact makes use of oscillators from open source hardware maker Mutable Instruments, but hang tight for an explanation there. (It’s not exactly the focus of this synth, but it is significant – and an interesting illustration of overlapping capabilities in the age of open source.)

$349 (299 EUR) – coming this spring.

Experimental features are making their way into the mainstream. Let’s count – and yeah, that product name MicroFreak fits:

A flat-panel metal touch keyboard (Buchla style), with poly aftertouch. (Doesn’t look like there’s MPE support, though, just poly aftertouch support?)

A matrix for modulation (something associated with synths like the ARP 2500).

Randomization features in the step sequencer – various functions along the top “spice” and “dice” and otherwise rearrange your patterns.

Oscillator features from Mutable Instruments’ open source Plaits engine – and modes like Karplus Strong (physical modeled strings/plucks), harmonic oscillators, and more exotic wavetables.

It’s still an Arturia design, no doubt – the digital oscillators get fed through an analog filter (this time the Oberheim SEM), and the preset storage and control knobs all look Arturia-like and more conventional. But it’s a blend between that and more leftfield hardware, in one very low-cost unit – $349 (299 EUR) this spring.

The resulting design looks a little like it was pieced together from different bits – an ornate keyboard versus a more staid gray body, plus four glaring traffic cone orange knob caps. But that price is terrific, especially considering a lot of modular cases start at that price – let alone what you’d need to even begin to approach these possibilities here.

And – the thinness is fantastic. It seems 2019 is a year of touch keyboards. Don Buchla would’ve been proud of us.

So let’s get back to the Mutable Instruments oscillators, which are one of the more interesting features here. We’ve confirmed that Mutable Instruments and founder/designer Emilie were not directly involved in the design, though she did sign off on the mention of the company name.

Mutable Instruments’ Plaits module code is available open source under an MIT license, so any manufacturer can pick it up and use it – even without asking, actually. That’s by design; Emilie tells us she intended widespread use. (An alternative for open source developers is to use “copyleft” licensing, which requires anyone reusing your stuff to release their source, as well. That would’ve been interesting – theoretically it would have meant Arturia would need to open source their additional oscillators and firmware. The GPLv3 license we’ve used on MeeBlip has this function, for example.)

Some of Arturia’s original copy was perhaps a bit overzealous and caused some confusion about whether Mutable Instruments was a partner on the design. They’ve since clarified that. For further clarification, read the statement on the Mutable forums:

So while it’s not a collaboration, it does show off the power of open source. As Émilie writes:

You can find Mutable Instruments’ DSP code in the Korg Prologue, the Axoloti, the Organelle, VCV Rack, and plenty of other bits of software or hardware. This is not stealing. Plaits’ code is a summary of everything I’ve learnt about making rich and balanced sound sources controlled by a few parameters, it’s for everyone to enjoy.

The important thing here is to differentiate between the open source Plaits modules, some new additions from Arturia, and then the Plaits sounds you get from Mutable’s updated modules. Let’s break it down:

Plaits oscillator modes:

  • VA, classic virtual analog
  • Waveshaper, triangle wave with waveshaping / wavefolding
  • FM (2-operator FM oscillator)
  • Grain, granular synthesis
  • Chords, fixed paraphonic harmonies (hello, trance music, then)
  • Speech synthesis
  • Modal (inharmonic physical model)

Those of us who have been playing with this on hardware or in the authorized versions inside VCV Rack will definitely appreciate seeing these elsewhere. (Really – can’t get enough.)

Arturia did add some pretty significant modes to those:

  • “Superwave” – detuned saw, square, sine, triangle waves, somewhat Roland-ish sound
  • “Harmo” – 32 sine waves for additive synthesis
  • Karplus Strong – physical string modeling
  • Wavetable – scan through wavetable modes

To me, those Arturia additions really anchor this offering, with some pretty fundamental ideas on offer. Put them together, and you should have something really versatile.

But okay, since Mutable Instruments doesn’t get any of your money when you buy the Arturia MicroFreak, did Mutable just give away the store by using an open source license? Well, no, not really – Plaits gives you a full 16 modes, an internal low pass gate, and does all its 32-bit floating point math in hardware that you can bolt into a modular case and interconnect via control voltage. Plus, you can get Plaits in software if you like – see the Audible Instruments Preview for VCV Rack, regularly updated.

Heck, that could compel us Mutable superfans into happily buying these same features multiple times, in Arturia’s hardware, in the pack for VCV Rack (which Mutable has elected to support charity), and in Mutable’s own hardware. Hmmm… a MicroBrute, a little skiff with some Mutable modules, a nice connection to the laptop, maybe again a Raspberry Pi. Okay, I’ll stop. Guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again…)

See:
https://mutable-instruments.net/modules/plaits/

And as for MicroFreak:

https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/microfreak/overview

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