Modular to go: 4ms are making cute little $100 “Pods” for modules

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:

Pod20: US$55 unpowered / $99 powered
Pod26: $60 / $109
Pod32: $65/$119

It’s a clever idea, and they look really nice. Now they just need a nice carry case – a Podpod?

4ms announced these earlier today; “coming soon.”

https://4mscompany.com/

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The 1976 Polymoog film reminds us of when polysynths were new

In case you missed it, Moog’s re-release of an aging red-tinted, humming copy of the original 1976 Polymoog promo is a treat. And it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come.

Yes, there’s no question that a lot of today’s synths seem lifted from the pages of the 1970s, from monosynth to modular. And yes, a lot of keyboard chops today are shameful, though – well, if you’re going up against Chick Corea, you really ought to practice, regardless.

But there’s something charming about watching some of the great musicians of the last century explain what it means to use more than one finger at a time to play a keyboard instrument. And they approach the Polymoog almost gingerly, more a Rhodes with effects than a new instrument. That mid-70s sound is itself something unique and nice, and if anyone stands out as sounding contemporary, it’s Herbie Hancock. But you begin to appreciate that it’s only recently that the avant-garde and keyboard tradition have merged together in the mainstream ear. If we all bumble a little to keep up both chops and sound design, maybe we can be forgiven as those universes continue to squish together. It makes me optimistic.

Ten fingers, man.

In any event, going back in time is a wonderful historical exercise, and it just might give you some fresh musical ideas – or at least a different perspective on what you’re doing now.

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Moog reveal their first polysynth in decades – inside the Moog One

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:

https://www.reddit.com/r/synthesizers

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.

What else?

  • 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
  • Four LFOs
  • 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.

Availability

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.

More:

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/moog-one-polyphonic-analog-synthesizer

Meanwhile, in 1976:

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New Moog One polysynth costs US$5999-7999, available now

It’s called the Moog One but think 8- or 16-voice synth. And this is the “dream” analog synth in that it’s a luxury instrument, running up to US$7999 for the 16-voice model.

US-based retailer Sweetwater appears to get the scoop on this one. The big deal here: advanced envelopes, a deep, no-compromise architecture with two filters per voice and four LFOs, and features like routable ring modulation, oscillator Frequency Modulation, and hard sync. It’s also loaded up with I/O, both audio (including inserts for effects) and control voltage/gate. There’s even a LAN port that promises future expansion.

The Moog One is also a kind of high-end successor to the Minimoog Voyager, with an emphasis on live performance features (including a feature called User Spaces for storing and recalling settings), the return of the X/Y pad, and an insane amount of hands-on control – 73 knobs and 144 buttons.

And while we’re waiting on photos, the side panels are made from ash and the front panel from aluminum, plus it does look nice in this one cropped shot.

Sweetwater have a blog post on this:

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/first-look-moog-one/

And here are those specs. So we expect the usual attention to detail and find craft from Moog, if at a premium price above even the majority of boutique makers in this sector – US$5999 for 8-voice, 7999 for 16-voice.

It’s available now in the USA from Sweetwater (they even say “in stock” as I write this, even though there hasn’t been a formal public announcement yet).

8- or 16-voice polyphony
3 VCOs per voice with waveshape mixing and OLED displays
Unison mode (up to 48 oscillators on the 16-voice instrument)
2 filters per voice with filter mixing (2 multimode State Variable filters that function as a single filter, and a classic lowpass/highpass Moog Ladder filter)
3 DAHDSR envelopes per voice with user-definable curves
3-part multitimbrality
Separate sequencer and arpeggiator per timbre
Chord memory
Dual-source noise generator with dedicated envelope
Mixer with external audio input
Ring modulation with selectable routing
Oscillator FM and hard sync with selectable routing
4 assignable LFOs
Premium 61-note Fatar TP-8S keybed with velocity and aftertouch
Assignable pressure-sensitive X/Y pad
Digital Effects (Synth and Master Bus)
Eventide reverbs
Selectable glide types
USB and DIN MIDI
Save, categorize, and recall tens of thousands of presets
Create Performance Sets that make up to 64 presets accessible at the push of a button
2 x ¼” stereo headphone outputs
2 pairs of assignable ¼” outputs (supports TRS and TS)
4 x ¼” hardware inserts (TRS)
1 x ¼” external audio input (line-level)
1 XLR + ¼” TRS combo external audio input with trim knob
9 assignable CV/GATE I/O (5-in/4-out)
USB drive support for system and preset backup
LAN port for future expansion

Now we just need a big poster to hang over our beds, maybe – well, and to hear what it sounds like. Stay tuned.

But yeah, for the rest of us, you have other options from the likes of Dave Smith, Waldorf, and of course monosynths from Moog. So this will mainly be about curiosity as to what a polysynth can do when it’s positioned as a fully premium electronic instrument.

More:
https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MoogOne8–moog-one-8-voice-analog-synthesizer

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MoogOne16–moog-one-16-voice-analog-synthesizer

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A favorite sequencer gets more dimension: new Make Noise René

Forget about gear fetish: the delightful surprise behind the modular movement is that a whole bunch of people are interested in exploring weird new musical ideas. And one of the sequencer modules at the heart of it is getting a big refresh.

The René module wouldn’t strike anyone as something that’d turn into a big hit. This is an esoteric little device: a grid of touchplates and a bunch of knobs, which you then spaghetti-wire into other modules to make, uh, odd patterns.

But making weird patterns you can then shift around – well, that’s a lot of fun. And René liberated modular rigs from one of their major weaknesses: too often, people were stuck with rigid step sequencers that produced overly repetitive loops that would drive you insane. Basically, the “Cartesian” bit is, instead of having a line (those marching steps), you get a grid (x + Y).

So, here comes the René refresh. This is three-dimensional chess to the original model’s checkers.

The new model is three channels instead of one, three dimensional sequencing instead of two, and boasts expanded memory so you can save up to 64 states – no more long modular performances that sound great for the first three minutes and then … sort of exactly like that for the next hour, too.

This “three-axis” business is maybe a little exaggerated, but basically what you get is z-axis touch sensitivity, so added expression. Combine that with three channels of output, though, and you can in fact route a lot more control from this one module than before. And no doubt the additional memory will be useful in performance.

Here’s the full feature set:

  • 3 CV outputs for controlling pitch or timbre
  • 3 Gate outputs for generating musical events
  • Snake and Cartesian patterns available simultaneously
  • STORE all Programming in one of 64 STATEs.
  • New Z-Axis allows for modulating through any combination of 64 STOREd STATEs
  • All programming done real-time, programming of René is a key performance element
  • Visualization of pattern activity always displayed on left half with 16 illuminated Knobs
  • Visual indication of Programming always displayed on right half with 16 illuminated touch buttons
  • Communicates w/ TEMPI via Select Bus to Select, Store, Revert, Multi-Paste and MESH STATEs
  • Maximum amount of artist controlled musical variation, derived from minimum amount of analog data input
  • All new touch sensing technology tested successfully on the most commonly used euro rack power solutions

Of course, since the René first came out, it’s gotten a lot more competition. So it could be fun to see how this stacks up against other modular (and desktop, or software, even) sequencers.

René is available to preorder for US$525.

http://makenoisemusic.com/modules/rene

Since that’s my monthly rent, it’s worth saying Eurorack is still pricey relative to some lower-cost desktop hardware, to say nothing of computers. Clever software patching is great if you’re broke, or if you’ve a little scratch, something like Five12 Numerology.

But that said, this no doubt will go high on people’s shopping lists in the modular world – and it’s an impressive piece of work. Look forward to seeing more.

Oh yeah – there’s a GIF, too.

via GIPHY

https://gph.is/2CTzLbq

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Peter Theremin’s haunting music, on his great-grandfather’s invention

Most of us never got to know Leon Theremin (Lev Termen) or hear him play live. But we can take in his great grandson continuing the tradition of playing his invention – and Peter Theremin’s music is just as hauntingly human.

The Theremin has a special role in music history and the birth of electronic sound. Its sounds were among the first to suggest that electronic, not only acoustic, instruments could be expressive, that its electrical utterances could be like a human voice. It’s history is bound up with the history of US-Soviet relations, and the shaky relationship of electronics to espionage (and, in turn, the Communist sphere’s oscillating position on how acceptable electronic music would be). And is if that weren’t enough, the instrument also inspired Bob Moog to create synths, forever altering the course of the synth’s evolution.

But even with so many other choices now, there’s something uniquely pure and arresting about the Theremin’s sound and dead-simple design. And so among various international artists and in particular Russians carrying on that tradition, Peter Theremin (Петр Термен) is the one who literally carries on the inventor’s name. His music lives up to that, and then there’s the fact that he unmistakably carries some of the same DNA.

I got to here Peter play most recently last week at Moscow’s Synthposium, within walking distance of a lot of Theremin history in the Russian capital (not to mention the US Embassy where Maestro Lev once bugged the US Ambassador’s office, Trojan Horse style. (We really need to build one of these in a workshop. Anyone tried that?)

That performance is online:

“The Swan” as played by Clara Rockmore is one of my favorite Theremin performances ever, and Peter comes pretty darn close in his rendition for BBC Music:

Following his VKontakte page is the best way to dig through his music, if you don’t mind a little Russian text here and there – a login isn’t even needed. (VK is a social network mostly popular in Russia, where it’s based.)

https://vk.com/thereminmusic

His TEDx talk covers the history of the instrument (in Russian but with English subtitles):

Russian search engine Yandex posted this beautiful chamber music piece with Peter’s performance:

Oh yeah, and here’s what Peter’s all-Theremin booth at Synthposium was like … in fast forward!

Just be careful using this instrument to serenade the love of your life, you know?

Previously:

Watch Bob Moog play and talk about the Theremin

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7 Bob Moog images that say a lot about electronic music history

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.)

1974.

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.

1975.

Bob Moog fixing Patrick Moraz’s Polymoog in Switzerland.

1978.

Bob Moog and Less Paul with the LAB Series Amp.

1984.

Bob Moog, Suzanne Ciani, Roger Powell, UIW.

1988.
(date unconfirmed)

Bob Moog, Herbie Hancock, Will Alexander, NAMM.

1989.

Bob Moog lecturing at University of Michigan about Alwin Nikolias’ first commercially available Moog synthesizer.

1992.

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.

https://moogfoundation.org/

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Nerd cup: here are some top electronic music makers from Russia’s Synthposium

Russia is today as always a nation packed with engineers – one distinctive upside of the long shadow cast by the Soviet Union. Russian electronic inventors’ creations increasingly flourish worldwide, so now is a great time to check in with some leaders of the growing Russian maker scene.

Synthposium this week demonstrated again that Moscow can be a hub for electronic instrumental technology. A crowded expo room featured alongside talks and a full festival lineup in this land of Theremin and ANS. How engineering savvy is Russia? Literally, one builder told me in a discussion (recording coming soon) that his dad gave him spare parts from the radio equipment factory as toys. (I have an image of a toddler with a pile of diodes and resistors, which I know is … wrong yet somehow not far off.)

Now, part of the point of Synthposium was again mixing and mashing the Russian scene with builders from Europe and beyond, not to mention the consumers of all this wonderful gadgetry. (The lion’s share of the output of most of these makers goes to markets in places like Europe and the USA, more than to Russian customers, as a rule.)

But it was also a chance to give deserved recognition to the growing scene inside Russia – a scene that’s proud about its closeness and supportive atmosphere. Synthposium organized awards for top makers again. I got to give some input, as well as awkwardly handing out a couple of the trophies. (They were 3D-printed logos, and I think I mostly managed to bumble my way through passing them out and muttering “here is your … uh … letter S … enjoy it….”)

Last year already saw Polivoks and the spectacular Blade Runner-esque Yamaha CS-80-inspired Deckard’s Dream walk away with honors. Now, the class of 2018.

Поздравляем!

SAMSUNG CSC

Best synth: SOMA’s Lyra-8 / Pipe

Even in the middle of the analog renaissance, SOMA Laboratory is an outlier. SOMA’s Lyra-8 for instance is not only analog, but “organismic” – creator Vlad Kreimer taking a spiritual approach to its design and manufacture, born out in the futuristic soul that cries out from its circuits. (He describes three points to SOMA’s philosophy – “Instruments that invite you to listen to yourself, balance and interaction instead of linearity and control,” and “deep nature instead of imitation.”

Lyra began its life as a performance instrument just for Vlad, before he opened it up to interested customers. Lyra-8 is an eight-voice (hence the name) instrument with FM modulation and various new synthesis algorithms and extras applied to the original design, plus a doubled delay that gives it its unique alien sound. There’s no MIDI – this is truly an analog-centric design – but you can input external audio.

And specs don’t do it justice. Just listen:

The Lyra has gotten some attention, but just as interesting is the Pipe, a breath-controlled effects/synth instrument. If you’ve ever wondered what the love child of a didgeridoo and a talkbox born on a mining vessel on the outer rim would sound like, wonder no more:

Best Module – Keen Association

Four oscillators with controls for visually producing wave shapes. A tape player simulation. All in one module. Yeah, the visual look of the Buchla-inspired Graphic Waveform Generator Model 268e from Keen draws from classic Buchla tradition, but this Moscow-made module is a unique sound studio all its own.

Little surprise then that the Graphic Waveform Generator Model 268e got a nod in modules (though there are some other builders to talk about, too – stay tuned).

Here’s a nice tour of the module and a look at how it fits into a larger Buchla context:

There’s more Buchla goodness where that came from:

https://www.facebook.com/KeenAssociation/

Best FX/processing: Zvukofor

I’ve already shouted out Zvukofor Sound Labs from St. Petersburg as one of my favorite makers of grimy sound processing. Now this artist/engineer got attention at Synthposium for his C1 and Tahnx.

He wasn’t just showing some new kit, either – he also shared thoughts on the meaning and history of distortion.

Tanhx is all about saturation and how to control it musically:

Best DIY – Playtronica

We’ve followed Playtronica for some time now. Their TouchMe approach to musical interaction we’ve seen before, but they continue refining design and manufacture of their full series of products and the workshops around it.

And people never get tired of getting to make music by touching pineapples, as their booth proved again.

You can play with their instrument right from in your browser (with MIDI even, if you have supported hardware and browser software):

http://play.playtronica.com/

It’s really tough to describe just how much Playtronica have done in the scene in Russia – an agency, an interactive design collective, a set of artists doing interesting work on their own, and a force for education that’s spreading electronics interest again to kids. If you want a look at how engaging younger generations might reboot in this century in the post-communist period, this is one clue.

It’s worth checking their work:

http://www.playtronica.com/

Original design – VG-Line

Hey, even as a keyboardist myself, I’ll be the first to concede: it’s guitarists’ turn on modular now.

And that’s why VG-Line’s Gui2lar matters. It’s a modular system designed around the guitar. And it’s stupidly fun and practical all at once. Video here is in Russian, but is reasonably easy to follow even without the language:

Popularization – Fedor Vetkalov

If the likes of Andreas Schneider and Dieter Doepfer brought modular back and evangelized synthesis in Berlin, then look no further than Fedor Vetkalov when it comes to the east. Fedor not only is a cornerstone of the synth and modular scene in Russia from his Moscow shop, but has also worked the other way – introducing the best Russian builders to the world, whether it’s via artists touring through the Russian capital or online or at international events. There are few people who can be a better guide to the scene in Russia, and well, it’s also kind of hard to imagine the synth community without Fedor in it even outside of Russia, too.

Martin Gore from Depeche Mode at Synthman.

A post shared by Fedor Vetkalov (@fedorvetkalov) on

It’s been a pleasure to be back here in Moscow and St. Petersburg as always – more to come. And for all the other complaints we might have about current politics, I think we’re pretty fortunate today – crossing these borders, both for our humans and machines, is easier than ever. That makes our extended synth and music family feel close even as we come together across nations and languages.

For that I’m especially grateful for the cooperation of the Synthposium organization and the Goethe-Institut and other partners that allow this exchange to happen (and to live up to that “cultural exchange” business describes on my latest visa sticker).

This time last year:

New Russian music electronics you’ve never heard of, from Synthposium

(Okay, you’ve heard of them now!) Plus:

Balalaikas to synths, the Russians at Musikmesse cover the gamut

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Bastl TV: Patching and looping and Nikol teaches complex envelopes

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.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/hendrikson/

They’re obviously having a lot of fun with this:

Hendrikson

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.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/

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Immerse yourself in Rotterdam’s sonic voltages, in the WORM laboratory

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.

WORM Rotterdam is also a great all-encompassing event venue.

The WRC has its own Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Waveform-Research-Centre-1157781711025359/

Information on the Sound Studio:

https://worm.org/spaces/sound-studio/

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