Fidelity? High-quality sound? No – degradation! And if you don’t have a ragged VHS deck or cassette Walkman handy, these free effects racks in Ableton Live will sort you out.
Downgrade is the work of Tom Cosm, long-time Ableton guru. There are five effects:
— plus if you give him literally US$1 or more (you cheapskate), you get an additional Stutter rack.
Basically, you get loads of controls for manipulating downsampling, tape effects, saturation, distortion, modulation of various kinds, echo, vocoder, and more. It’s a sort of retro Vaporwave starter kit if you’d like to think of it that way – or an easy, dial-up greatest hits of everything Ableton Live can now do to make your sound worse. And by worse, I mean better, naturally.
Ableton have been gradually adding all these digital downsampling features (early on) and simulated analog tape and saturation effects and nonlinear modulation (more recently). Tom has neatly packed them into one very useful set of Racks.
Notice I say “Racks,” not Max for Live devices. That means these will mostly run on different editions of Live, and they’re a bit easier to pick apart and adjust/modify – without requiring Max knowledge.
What would a module behave like if it were built entirely around feedback – say, like one of those “zero-input” all-feedback mixer performances? Bastl Instruments teams up again with Peter Edwards to answer that question. The result: Dark Matter.
Dark Matter lets you add feedback to any signal, whether you want to use that as a bit of color, create rhythmic effects, or go completely wild. And since it is designed with the inspiration of zero-input mixer technique in mind, you can also use it as a signal source – a kind of feedback oscillator. Feedback by definition is about signal routing; Dark Matter runs with that idea and create an instrument around patching and shaping feedback in a modular environment.
It’s a new collaboration between Bastl and Peter Edwards, following their softPop instrument (and Peter’s own long-running Casper Electronics).
There are different kinds of overdrive. You can add sub-octave tones and other colors. There’s a built-in 2-band EQ (so highs and lows get separate control) – and that has overdrive, too.
On the rhythmic side, there’s a built-in envelope follower for ducking and gating and the like.
And there’s tons and tons of I/O and CV control, so this really was designed with a modular environment in mind. (That’s important – there are a number of Eurorack modules that seem like desktop tools that sort of got plunked into a modular case without much forethought; this isn’t that.)
But before we talk specs, creator Peter Edwards – himself an experimental musician as well as inventor – has some philosophical and spiritual things to say about feedback. Those are in the manual too, but let me highlight this passage. We’re “going deeper and deeper into the void” – gotta love those Czech winters, right? (Now turn in your hymnals now to “We Sing Praises of the Dark Shadows of Feedback.”)
So here’s what it all comes down to, the resonating soul of the amplifier and the recklessly over amplified external audio signal battling it out in the feedback thunderdome…
This is why I like to think of audio feedback as sort of the negative space around a sound, like a sonic shadow. A dark counterpart.
Feedback is wonderful. It’s the living, breathing, unpredictable, organic side of electrical sound. That’s not even just to say in the analog domain; as long as you steer clear of digital clipping, feedback has powerful potential in digital, too. It’s one of the reasons to use a modular environment in the first place, whether hardware or software. So I hope in addition to looking at Dark Matter, we dig into this topic generally. (I was just playing with feedback loops in VCV Rack, thanks to some tips from Kent Williams aka Chaircrusher.)
Embrace the darkness, and dive into the void of feedback.
Uh… oh yeah, tech specs.
-Input VCA with gain and soft clipping
-2 band equaliser with voltage controlled bass and treble boost/overdrive
-Voltage controlled feedback
-External feedback section for making and fine tuning loops through other modules
-Voltage controlled crossfade between input and feedback signals
-Input tracking envelope follower for adding ducking and gating effects
-10 I/O jacks for adding CV and making crazy loops
– 13 HP
– PTC fuse and diode protected 10-pin power connector
– 24 mm deep
– power consumption +12V: < 75mA; -12V: <75 mA
More details and online ordering available on Bastl’s Website:
I am definitely not collecting affiliate revenue on this if you buy it, but I wouldn’t really have the heart. If you buy it, and I meet you, I will buy you a couple of rounds. Just try not to drop it on my foot.
Latlaus Sky’s Pythian Drift is a gorgeous ambient concept album, the kind that’s easy to get lost in. The set-up: a probe discovered on Neptune in the 26th Century will communicate with just one woman back on Earth.
The Portland, Oregon-based artists write CDM to share the project, which is accompanied by this ghostly video (still at top). It’s the work of Ukrainian-born filmmaker Viktoria Haiboniuk (now also based in Portland), who composed it from three years’ worth of 120mm film images.
Taking in the album even before checking the artists’ perspective, I was struck by the sense of post-rocket age music about the cosmos. In this week when images of Mars’ surface spread as soon as they were received, a generation that grew up as the first native space-faring humans, space is no longer alien and unreachable, but present.
In slow-motion harmonies and long, aching textures, this seems to be cosmic music that sings of longing. It calls out past the Earth in hope of some answer.
The music is the work of duo Brett and Abby Larson. Brett explains his thinking behind this album:
This album has roots in my early years of visiting the observatory in Sunriver, Oregon with my Dad. Seeing the moons of Jupiter with my own eyes had a profound effect on my understanding of who and where I was. It slowly came to me that it would actually be possible to stand on those moons. The ice is real, it would hold you up. And looking out your black sky would be filled with the swirling storms of Jupiter’s upper clouds. From the ice of Europa, the red planet would be 24 times the size of the full moon.
Though these thoughts inspire awe, they begin to chill your bones as you move farther away from the sun. Temperatures plunge. There is no air to breathe. Radiation is immense. Standing upon Neptune’s moon Triton, the sun would begin to resemble the rest of the stars as you faded into the nothing.
Voyager two took one of the only clear images we have of Neptune. I don’t believe we were meant to see that kind of image. Unaided our eyes are only prepared to see the sun, the moon, and the stars. Looking into the blue clouds of the last planet you cannot help but think of the black halo of space that surrounds the planet and extends forever.
I cannot un-see those images. They have become a part of human consciousness. They are the dawn of an unnamed religion. They are more powerful and more fearsome than the old God. In a sense, they are the very face of God. And perhaps we were not meant to see such things.
This album was my feeble attempt to make peace with the blackness. The immense cold that surrounds and beckons us all. Our past and our future.
The album closes with an image of standing amidst Pluto’s Norgay mountains. Peaks of 20,000 feet of solid ice. Evening comes early in the mountains. On this final planet we face the decision of looking back toward Earth or moving onward into the darkness.
Abby with pedals. BOSS RC-50 LoopStation (predecessor to today’s RC-300), Strymon BlueSky, Electro Harmonix Soul Food stand out.
Plus more on the story:
Pythia was the actual name of the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece. She was a real person who, reportedly, could see the future. This album, “Pythian Drift” is only the first of three parts. In this part, the craft is discovered and Dr. Amala Chandra begins a dialogue with the craft. Dr Chandra then begins publishing papers that rock the scientific world and reformulate our understanding of mathematics and physics. There is also a phenomenon called Pythian Drift that begins to spread from the craft. People begin to see images and hear voices, prophecies. Some prepare for an interstellar pilgrimage to the craft’s home galaxy in Andromeda.
Part two will be called Black Sea. Part three will be Andromeda.
And some personal images connected to that back story:
Brett as a kid, with ski.
Abby aside a faux fire.
More on the duo and their music at the Látlaus Ský site:
Roland’s VT-4 is more than a vocal processor. It’s best thought of as a multi-effects box that happens to be vocal friendly. And it’s getting deeper, with new reverb models, downloadable now.
Roland tried this once before with an AIRA vocoder/vocal processor, the VT-1. But that model proved a bit shallow: limited presets and pitch control only through the vocal input meant that it works great in some situations, but doesn’t fit others.
The VT-4 is really about retaining a simple interface, but adding a lot more versatility (and better sound).
As some of you noted in comments when I wrote it up last time, it’s not a looper. (Roland or someone else will gladly sell you one of those.) But what you do get are dead simple controls, including intuitive access to pitch, formant, balance, and reverb on faders. And you can control pitch through either a dial on the front panel or MIDI input. I’ll have a full hands-on review soon, as I’m particularly interested in this as a live processor for vocalists and other live situations.
If your use case is sometimes you want a vocoder, and sometimes you want some extra effects, and sometimes you’re playing with gear or sometimes with a laptop, the VT-4 is all those things. It’s got USB audio support, so you can pack this as your only interface if you just need mic in and stereo output.
And it has a bunch of effects now: re-pitch, harmonize, feedback, chorus, vocoder, echo, tempo-synced delay, dub delay … and some oddities like robot and megaphone and radio. More on that next time.
This update brings new reverb effects. They’re thick, lush, digital-style reverbs:
… and the VT-1’s rather nice retro-ish reverb is back as VT-1 REVERB
Deep dark say what? So the VT-1 reverb already was deeper (more reflections) and had a longer tail than the new VT-4 default; that preset restores those possibilities. “Deep” is deeper (more reflections). “Large” has longer duration reflections or simulates a larger room. And “DARK” is like the default, but with more high frequency filtering. You’ll flash the new settings via USB.
And this being Japan, they introduce the pack by saying “It will set you in a magnificent space.” Yes, indeed, it will. That’s lovely.
The VT-4 got a firmware update, too.
1. PITCH AND FORMANT can be active now irrespective of input signal level and length, via a new settings. (Basically, this lets you disable a tracking threshold, I think. I have to play with this a bit.)
2. ROBOT VOICE now won’t hang notes; it disables with note off events.
3. There’s a new MUTE function setting.
I mean, a really easy-to-use pitch + vocoder + delay + reverb for just over $200, and sometimes you can swap it for an audio interface? Seems a no brainer to me. So if you have some questions or things you’d like me to try with this unit I just got in, let me know.
Just as recent electronic music trends have brought back taste in classic synths, they’ve resurrected classic effects brands, too. So it’s worth taking note of how Eventide is part of the new flagship Moog One.
It seems this has been brewing some time. When it comes to music manufacturers who began in New York and New Jersey, there’s Moog and there’s Eventide. (Well, and Electro-Harmonix, or Steinway if you want to get creative.) Founder Richard Factor: “I knew Moog before he was Moog.” That story, in Richard’s booming voice:
Eventide Engineer Tony Agnello also had a running friendship with Bob, say the manufacturers. This project brought the current Eventide team together with Cyril Lance, chief engineer at Moog, and his development group.
So, what do you get in the Moog One package?
There are five effects:
Those are the latest algorithms, as you’d find in the Space and H9 pedals, as well as the H8000 and H9000 hardware. You also get this nice display with tons of parameter controls.
These effects are available on the master bus. (The Moog One also has in-line effects for each synth.) So the reverbs can sit on those sends – the Moog One’s dual mono sends with stereo return, or single stereo send with stereo return.
If you spend a lot of time with Eventide effects, you’ll hear a lot of Eventide effects in productions. So integrating them with a synth – meaning signal path and routing are available via integrated controls (plus you need fewer cables) – that makes sense. And Moog need to sell users on the Moog One’s higher price point – it’s really a kind of studio in a keyboard. It’s just that unlike digital workstations of recent decades, which buried a lot of the actual synthesis, this one puts the synthesis at the front.
Roland’s revised VT-4 – the replacement for the first AIRA VT-3 – makes it look like someone finally gets what vocalists want in effects. More effects options, actual control over harmony, and MIDI could make all the difference.
The original VT-3 is a little too simple to recommend. A big dial locks you into some stock effects, without any parameter controls beyond pitch and formant. But at the same time, it is unusually direct and accessible, and it doubles as a USB interface, meaning for singers it’s carry-on luggage friendly. So as a cheap, fun effect, it does have potential. It’s cheap on the used market, but then so are a number of pedals.
Roland have apparently been listening, though. Just as the fun but simplistic TR-8 was replaced with the sample-loading, all-around improved TR-8S, so to the VT-3 has gotten a revamp. The Slimer-green trim is gone, but more importantly, you now can control the way it sounds, via expanded effects options and controls. And it does MIDI input.
Here’s the thing: there are lots of great sounding vocal effects out there, but none of them seems designed with singers in mind. They fit into two categories: pedals that seem to have been created by guitarists, or “studio” boxes that have way too much menu diving. (If you can think of an exception, shout in comments.) The VT-3 was already significant in that it was live friendly. Now the VT-4 fills in the gaps the VT-3 left open.
From the VT-3, and still a good idea:
USB audio interface functionality (so you can use this with a computer)
XLR mic in with phantom power, plus minijack in
Four faders: pitch, formant, balance (for controlling wet/dry of the effect), reverb
Push-button preset recall
Dedicated bypass switch
But new on the VT-4:
A friendly “key” dial at the top right
Direct access to “vocoder” and “harmonizer” modes
Multiple effects at once
MIDI input – so play in the notes/harmonies you want for the vocoder, harmonizer, and pitch engines
Variations for all the effects
It’s finally what you want to sing with, whether you’re a great singer or can barely sing at all – direct access to effects, performance-friendly controls. Singers don’t necessarily want to have to do everything with their feet or in pages of menus. This hardware’s designers seems to understand that.
It’s the effects that appear to be totally overhauled. The only variations on the VT-3 are printed directly around the dial – as in, you get two alternatives for the auto pitch, and that’s it.
On the VT-4, there’s a whole slew of effects hidden behind the variation buttons. (Those buttons still double as preset storage and recall, so what you’ll likely do is explore to find the ones you like, then lock them in at the top.)
There are still some toy-like presets as on the VT-3 – though some of those are interesting for processing drums and the like. In addition, though, you also get a bunch of new, musical effects, and enough variations that you can dial in what you need.
There’s a chorus effect (categorized inexplicably as “megaphone.”) There’s a model of the classic Roland VP in the vocoder, along with talk box, advanced, and Speak & Spell (sorry, trademark – “spell toy”) variations. The Harmony option lets you choose intervals (fifth, third, forth below, and combinations, though you can also use MIDI for more). Even robot has octave options and a new feedback variation.
Also, that fixed “reverb” is now really a multi effects unit – reverb, echo, synced tempo delay, and dub echo are now available.
I’d likely buy it for those upgrades alone, but then you can also use a MIDI keyboard as input to control pitch.
I need to research more how multiple effects work and exactly how these models relate to those available on the VT-3 and other Roland AIRA and Boutique series models. But generally these days Roland are constantly improving their modeling and sounds, thanks to architectures that are more flexible than those of the past.
There’s a nice gift for Red Bull Music Academy attendees: a hardware convolver effect from the man who led the team at KORG that gave us volcas and minilogues. Here’s a sneak preview.
The Granular Convolver is a collaboration between Tatsuya, now working as an independent designer and relocated to Germany from Japan (while still in an advisory position with KORG), and Berlin’s own E-RM Erfindungsbüro, maker of obsessive-quality clock devices. (Founder Maximilian Rest is the design mind there.)
I’ve got one in-hand, and will detail its operation with some sound samples shortly, but here’s a quick teaser.
First, a Jony Ives (sorry)-style video from Tats:
The important thing: this Raspberry Pi-powered device feels amazing, like a heavyweight metal luxury item, and makes wonderful sounds.
The basic operation:
1. Record a sound snippet.
2. Play back that sound snippet via a granular engine.
3. Convolve that playback with a live input, combining the two sounds – the timbre of your original sound, the envelope of what you’re playing now.
There are also some features for storing and recalling presets, which make this performance friendly.
Why this matters: it gives you an expressive way of “playing” an effect, like an instrument.
And it’s a unique boutique hardware making project, for the particular context of an event – very different than the mass-manufactured designs of something like the volca series. The units were all hand-assembled (by Tats himself) here in Berlin, and even the boards and cases were made here, as well, so it really is a Berlin manufacturing product in a way most things aren’t.
More on this soon – and you can bet if you follow any RBMA attendees, you’ll see some of their experiments with this hardware show up in social channels!
Czech builder Bastl Instruments are working simultaneously in modular and desktop instruments. But it’s not about choosing one or the other – it’s getting inspired to play musically, either way.
So Patchení s Nikol is back, with Nikol to show you some serious patching techniques. And yes, of course, this is a nice showcase of Bastl’s own skiff of modules. But it’s also a nice example of what you can do with modulated envelopes – adding modulation to an amplitude envelope to give it a more complicated shape than just attack and release and so on. You could certainly apply this to other modular environments.
Actually, one of my favorite modules Bastl have put out lately is this one: Hendrikson is designed just to make it easier to add stomp box and external effects to your modular rig. It gives you easy-access jacks for patching in your pedal or pedal chain, some handy knobs, and all-important wet/dry mix. Plus, you can patch control into that wet/dry to automate wet dry controls with your modular if you like.
Speaking of economizing, how about that Zoom MultiStomp you see in the middle of the video? It’s got a whole massive list of different effects, all of which you control, and a street price of around $100 right now.
Vaclav I believe turned me on to that Zoom. And now switching to the desktop hardware they make, here’s a personal testimonial about how much he’s appreciating their THYME looper – seen here played live and with some destructive looping.
Vaclav tells us: “I have been playing the THYME for quite a while and has a certain instrumental quality that is quite hard to master – as with any other instrument… it really became one of the most essential pieces of musical gear that I use all the time. I am really proud of it being a real instrument now and not just a dream that I had more than 3 years ago!”
I’m here in Moscow now for Synthposium where we’ll see Bastl at the Expo and in a talk on music gear business in the online age. Stay tuned.
This is a serious Frankenstein’s monster: a DIY synth made of a 1981 Casio keyboard, an AM radio, stompboxes, and more – and held together with glue and tape.
Legowelt is somewhere between modding, circuit bending, and instrument design here, concocting a kind of wonky workstation of weirdness from the cannibalized bits of other stuff.
Essentially, it’s a Casio keyboard fed through a series of effects and circuit-bent circuitry, with a looper pedal thrown in and an AM radio as noise source. Maestro Legowelt explains:
Enter the STAR SHEPHERD a synth I Build/bent/hacked/modified from old guitar pedals FX and EQ boxes, a small AM radio and a 1981 Casio 403 keyboard. The oscillator section is made out of Pitchshifter/Harmonizers/Sub Octavers and a graphic EQ pedal to create complex harmonic tones – transmorphed from the simple keyboard sounds fed by the Casio. The sound then goes through a bunch of circuitbend Analog delays, reverbs, Tremolos & Vibratos (figuring as makeshift LFO sources) and Wahwah pedals as filters. The AM radio is figuring as a random noise source. There is also a very simple keyboard style ‘sequencer’ made from a looper pedal.
The case is made out of cheap plywood and everything is held together with screws, glue and tape. There are also some LED strips pulsating from the inside for some extra intense magic.
It is very noisey, crackly and sometimes starts doing its own thing like some sentient synthesizer being that is alive. This makes it quite an adventurous experience.
It has all the spirit of electronics pioneer Reed Ghazala’s original notion of circuit bending: it’s modification of equipment as a way to “evolve” it into some organic machine life. But that AM radio alone gives it some unique and scifi sounds. It sounds like a whole studio for some rich communist-era space epic. And the formants on the filters give you the impression it’s singing to you.
Oh yeah, and there’s a painting, entitled “The Star Shepherd guiding his flock through Palm Springs”. Of course:
Your store-bought synth is now way too new, too generic, and involves too little taped-together assembly.
More of this on the official site, which has an impressive 1996 Web design: