What are all the synths hiding in Mutable’s modules (and their free VCV ports?)

Mutable Instruments packed a lot of different sound models into a single module with Braids and “spiritual successor” Plaits. Learn what they do in these videos.

Émilie’s work in modular is some of the most innovative of recent instrument designs. Braids and the later Plaits are so deep, in fact, that they can seem a bit like cheating – like the sound design work is already done for you in that engine. But that’s before you begin to appreciate the simplicity of the interface, on one hand, and the flexibility of being able to dial in entirely different models. Plaits and Braids break with the uni-tasker tendencies of modular; they can shift into very different roles in different patches. See the original source:

https://mutable-instruments.net/

Actually, sorry for saying that if you were trying to haggle down a used price. (Maybe complain about teal and French rose as colors? Dunno.) But it’s also worth noting that even if you don’t have a rack and hardware, you can explore the possibilities of these modules. Braids is available as Macro Oscillator, and Plaits as Macro Oscillator 2. Just download VCV Rack, and add the fully authorized port of the hardware as the Audible Instruments collection. As the code is open source, you have a one-to-one translation of the sound and function of the hardware, which is also useful in evaluating if you want to invest in the gear.

If you like reading, the manuals suffice for hardware and software – Braids, Plaits.

But even as someone who does like reading, video has proven a medium for people to go beyond just making a manual and talk about how they work, demoing sounds as they go.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t MK1 and MK2 so much as two really
distinct takes on the idea, each built from scratch, and each with its
own character and musicality.

Omri Cohen has built a whole series of episodes around the original, Braids.

Hat tip as ever to Synthtopia.

Check the full playlist – it’s an epic series. (Too much Civil War talk. “Dearest, it is now the 34th day I have been tweaking this patch, and I fear I may never return to our warm bed again…”)

The excellent and prolific YouTube channel “VCV Rack Ideas” has been covering Plaits. And just as you could translate the Braids series above from hardware to software, you can do the reverse and apply the VCV Rack notions to your physical rig.

Here are 15 tips and tricks:

There’s even a specific idea around melodic techno:

And, actually, bonus, let’s throw in my personal favorite Clouds even though I didn’t mention it in the headline. It’s a wonderful granular audio processor, and I imagine we’ll all be overusing it in this version when VCV Rack finally has a proper VST plug-in implementation, too:

It’s good stuff. And it’s been wonderful to watch Émilie’s embrace of open source lead to variations and twists. It’s something I talked about a lot with open source, but rarely got to witness in action – and it’s encouraging.

Speaking of which, if you’re doing interesting things with either the technology here or you’re particularly pleased with your musical results, and want to share tips or sounds, do get in touch.

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Natural-sounding reverbs come to Eurorack: Tasty Chips stereo convolution reverb

It’s one more way your Eurorack modular is starting to look like a total replacement for your computer: stereo convolution reverb is next.

Sure, you’ve got convolution reverbs in your DAW, and maybe a favorite plug-in. But this hardware adds some twists – not just delivering realistic modeled reverberation to your modular rig, but bringing some hardware-specific functionality on the way. It’s the work of Tasty Chips, known for their granular hardware.

Quick refresher on convolution reverbs – the idea is, a sound measurement of the space lets you create a fairly accurate model of how sound will reflect. You record an impulse (some broad-spectrum transient or sweeping frequency, so you capture a full frequency range), and the resulting recording in time can then be applied to any source you choose. So, why would you want this in modular?

You can record impulse responses right on the device. Fire up your starter pistols (okay, more likely sine wave sweep), and record impulses directly. I imagine some people might just tote a portable modular rig into a church in the town where you’ve got a gig. Sure, you could do that with a recorder, too, but – this is at least fun. run

Alternatively, you can capture synth impulses from your modular, and then run those little synth-y bits through your saved impulses. I’ve always loved this for sound design, even outside the “what does my local parking garage sound like as a reverb.” (Apple’s pro apps team must like it, too, as you will find a bunch of these sorts of impulses in Space Designer in Logic these days.)

You can crossfade between convolution files.

There are tons of hardware controls. Also some nice thought into options like pre-delay and position.

You get CV control. Here’s the modular part – you can use CV to control position, crossfade, and stereo width. Convolution reverbs are normally a set-it-and-forget-it affair, so I’m curious how this works in practice, but it does help make the case for hardware.

The excellent Synth Anatomy get the scoop on this and have some of their own take:

Tasty Chips Electronics Announced ECR-1 Convolver (Stereo Convolution Reverb) For Eurorack

No word yet on pricing or availability, so watch this space – but you will find other news on this makers’ granular and FM products:

https://www.tastychips.nl/news1/

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Natural-sounding reverbs come to Eurorack: Tasty Chips stereo convolution reverb

It’s one more way your Eurorack modular is starting to look like a total replacement for your computer: stereo convolution reverb is next.

Sure, you’ve got convolution reverbs in your DAW, and maybe a favorite plug-in. But this hardware adds some twists – not just delivering realistic modeled reverberation to your modular rig, but bringing some hardware-specific functionality on the way. It’s the work of Tasty Chips, known for their granular hardware.

Quick refresher on convolution reverbs – the idea is, a sound measurement of the space lets you create a fairly accurate model of how sound will reflect. You record an impulse (some broad-spectrum transient or sweeping frequency, so you capture a full frequency range), and the resulting recording in time can then be applied to any source you choose. So, why would you want this in modular?

You can record impulse responses right on the device. Fire up your starter pistols (okay, more likely sine wave sweep), and record impulses directly. I imagine some people might just tote a portable modular rig into a church in the town where you’ve got a gig. Sure, you could do that with a recorder, too, but – this is at least fun. run

Alternatively, you can capture synth impulses from your modular, and then run those little synth-y bits through your saved impulses. I’ve always loved this for sound design, even outside the “what does my local parking garage sound like as a reverb.” (Apple’s pro apps team must like it, too, as you will find a bunch of these sorts of impulses in Space Designer in Logic these days.)

You can crossfade between convolution files.

There are tons of hardware controls. Also some nice thought into options like pre-delay and position.

You get CV control. Here’s the modular part – you can use CV to control position, crossfade, and stereo width. Convolution reverbs are normally a set-it-and-forget-it affair, so I’m curious how this works in practice, but it does help make the case for hardware.

The excellent Synth Anatomy get the scoop on this and have some of their own take:

Tasty Chips Electronics Announced ECR-1 Convolver (Stereo Convolution Reverb) For Eurorack

No word yet on pricing or availability, so watch this space – but you will find other news on this makers’ granular and FM products:

https://www.tastychips.nl/news1/

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The spirit of Synthi is back, in the new Erica SYNTRX

It’s the Latvian Synthi that never was – an all-new instrument, not a clone, built around the signature analog matrix.

England’s EMS Synthi AKS is simply one of the greatest-ever standalone designs for experimentation. The 1972 instrument inspired Jean Michel Jarre and Pink Floyd. But it’s not a modular – all that sonic possibility is designed into a single unit – and it doesn’t use patch cords. The patch matrix, that grid you see in the center, is where you create different sound routings.

The SYNTRX (“sintrex“) is a from-scratch creation from the Riga-based builder that uses this interface scheme. Shipping end of 2019, EUR2500 + VAT where applicable.

Now, for all the recreations and clones, it’s important to note that Erica Synths aren’t cloning anything. They even advertise the fact that the SYNTRX has absolutely no part of its schematics cloned from the original – there’s a twist, in a day when supposed “authenticity” usually trumps originality. (And yes, that could be read as a shot across the bow of clone-happy Behringer.)

But there’s some precedent for this. After all, think of how many instruments have a piano/organ-style keyboard manual, and how differently those instruments can sound and behave.

So think instead of the SYNTRX as the Latvian cousin the EMS box never had. The DNA of this instrument is all from Riga. Engineers from the Riga Technical University collaborated with Erica on the all-new design. The matrix is built around a digitally-controlled set of analog switches (32 8-channel switches), not mechanical connections like most matrices. That’s thanks to the Latvian-made chips from ex-Soviet maker Alfa – the AS16M1 IC, to be exact. (I took a tour of the Alfa facility in June, accompanied by FACT executive editor John, and again lamented my inability to speak Russian.) Each patch point is attenuated at three different levels, too.

More specs:

256 patch memory points

Automatic patch switching in performance mode, or via MIDI triggers

3 VCOs

Noise generator with color

Resonant analog filter

Ring mod

Spring reverb

Looping envelope generator

Of course a joystick – you need that

Input amp with adjustable gain so you can connect a mic to line levels (oddly enough, I spent yesterday afternoon singing the praises of using mics in modular settings for a workshop here in Ljubljana, Slovenia)

3 (!) voltage controlled amplifiers

Analog CV/audio signal level indicator plus output signal filter

Built-in speakers

Sample & hold circuit with individual clock

VCO 1 has an octave switch; VCO2 has sync

Attack/Decay mode on the envelope generator

MIDI input of CV, gate, modulation, (and for the matrix) program change

Aluminum enclosure, ash tree side panels

Those envelope and extra oscillator features, plus of course MIDI control and extra performance functionality, is all new to this take on the Synthi, as is the Erica circuitry. So it is unmistakably retro, but it is still a fresh remake, not a slavish reproduction.

https://www.ericasynths.lv/news/syntrx/

That said, is this an excuse to re-run the “every picnic…” and “every nun needs a synthi?” Come on. Does the pope take communion? What do you think?

Now please stop coming out with all this cool stuff I feel obligated to write about, Erica; it’s starting to make me seem biased.

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Erica’s Pico System III is a tiny, 450 EUR West Coast modular rig

The newest Erica system is an exercise in minimalism – analog, fit in a single unit. The price and size are absolutely as low as you can go – but with some deep sound capabilities.

Here’s divkid talking to our friend Girts about this one:

Erica Synths had been telling me this was what they were working on, integrating their analog circuitry and custom design onto a single PCB. That allows the cost savings that squeeze all this power into a 450EUR box, even with case (400 without the case; tax extra for us Europeans as per usual law).

But wow, even knowing this was coming, it’s better than I expected. You get West Coast-style experimentalism, complete with the snappy, percussive sound of LPG (Low Pass Gates) with resonance, and a unique waveshaper and signature Erica Bucket Brigade Delay. I can see why West Coast sounds are catching on – they’re distinctive, and can produce expressive rhythms and timbres both for experimental and dance contexts. And they’re fun – in a way that makes sense in a modular interface, specifically.

Plus all of this is somehow squeezed into something that still has enough mixing and modulation to work well for live performance. It’s no accident that Erica is populated by musicians and runs their own festival – they clearly love making instruments that work live.

All of this does require some insane miniaturization, so if you like spacious layouts for your stubby fingers and clear differentiation of what does what, this is very much the opposite of what you want.

For those of us who like creative systems, tiny things, and staying on a poor experimental artist’s budget, though, it could be a revelation.

Great writeup in German on sequencer.de (for DE speakers):

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The MOK WAVERAZOR DUAL complex oscillator looks sufficiently insane

“You can’t just do another boring oscillator” is now a mantra in the Eurorack world. Well fine – here’s this. It looks cyperpunk futuristic, and shows how hardware and software might continue to merge.

Here’s a terrific walkthrough from Ken Flux Pierce Fluxwithit:

It’s funny to me that people stress out about the absence of entirely new synthesis methods. The variations on those synth methods – subtractive, FM, additive, physical modeling, and so on – mean a lot. Sure, some version of everything I just mentioned already existed in the 1960s. But you’d still handily choose a 2019 studio over a 1969 one. Or to take acoustic instruments as an example, all kinds of instruments can be classified, idiophones (stuff that vibrates) or have a reed and mouthpiece. How they go about it is significant.

How the MOK Waverazor Dual Oscillator module goes about synthesizing sounds is taking wavetable synthesis, dividing it into slices, and then adding a ton of modulation capabilities. That doesn’t sound even like other wavetable synths, exactly, because the MOK approach lets you glitch and morph your way through harmonic content in novel ways.

This also gives you what they call Multi-Sync and Mutant AM. Multi-Sync combines traditional hard sync with surgical multiple sync points; Mutant AM is what happens when amplitude modulation collides with sequencing and slicing.

And it’s equally significant how all of this is controlled. The Eurorack module form of this is a unique hybrid – love-child of a desktop computer plug-in and a tricked-out analog module. So you get the visual display, with touchscreen navigation, guiding your way through all that wavetable madness with your fingertip, with visuals that seem to me like something out of The Last Starfighter.

In addition to lots of CV patch points, the makers have also been thoughtful enough to add MIDI and MIDI clock I/O directly – since that now fits on a minijack. (Oh yeah, they’re breaking all kinds of conventions.) Add the MIDI business to 20 inputs for CV, plus another two for high-resolution tracking – which can also be used for FM.

It’s blasphemous as far as what Eurorack norms looked like just a few short years ago. But it looks fantastic.

And it makes sense – the team is Rob Rampley, Taiho Yamada and Chris Compton, who worked on instruments like the Alesis Quadrasynth, QS8, Andromeda, Ion, Micron, Fusion, and others.

More details:

https://mok.com/wr_dual.php

And specs:

  • Patented oscillator design dynamically slices and recombines waveforms
  • 2 independent oscillators
  • Detailed and responsive multi-touch screen
  • 2 high resolution CV inputs
  • 20 modulation CV inputs
  • Modulation input metering
  • MIDI input (TRS, Arturia compatible)
  • Clock input for BPM sync of wavesequences
  • Audio input for slicing external sound sources
  • 3 Audio outputs (Audio 1, 2 and Mix)
  • Trigger output for external oscillator sync

US$599.95, but … there’s a lot of module in this module.

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Bob Moog with imposters on a 70s game show is one of the best things ever

Will the real Dr. Robert Moog please stand up? Early 70s panelists on the game show “To Tell The Truth” were stumped by an imposter.

It’s just – gold. I have no idea how we’re only seeing this now. There’s so much here.

You can hear people continue to mispronounce Moog even after hearing it a few dozen times, including pronounced by the man itself.

The imposters look and sound straight out of central casting (even the attorney), and the ones who are not Robert Moog are surprisingly adept at ad libbing answers.

Dan Lavery from Dymo Industries, one of the fake Bobs, may have been in the label/embosser market — but clearly if he were alive today, would be running a Eurorack business in his spare time. The guy is so uncannily good at being Bob you half expect him to try to go work for Moog following this panel and not to return to his normal life! Watch him grin ear to ear at what he’s pulled off.

Probably Bob misses out just because of his mild-mannered humility when answering.

At the end, Bob demonstrates the Minimoog. Listen to whoops of delight when he moves that filter, coming from legendary actor Peggy Cass. (“It sounds like the ocean” is also perfectly apt for shaped white noise.) The magic worked then just as it does now.

I also like the notion from Bob that what defines the term synthesizer is putting together sound from component parts. (I am simultaneously comforted that like the rest of us, he stumbles on explaining what an oscillator is in lay terms. I mean, it’s the thing that makes this sound.)

So, this blog business – sometimes you get scooped. And Synthtopia wins this round:

I think I owe Synthtopia a brand new Whirlpool washing machine for acing the best YouTube share of the year, while i take home a tennis racket bag this round. But it’s terrific.

E-I-E-I-MOOOG.

Now, can we figure out a way to get Laurie Spiegel on Jeopardy?

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Deckard’s Dream could be your reality, with Deckard’s Voice

Deckard’s Dream is a lavish, 16-VCO beauty, inspired by the Yamaha CS-80 and Blade Runner. But now for the first time, it could also be a module – and one within reach.

Creator Roman Filippov is teasing the new invention with this image. And naturally, it’s called “Deckard’s Voice.”

Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled round their shores. Burning with the fires of Orc.

Somehow to me personally, this is more exciting than the original, but then I’m always biased toward distillations of things. What you will notice is that all the luscious Yamaha-driven sound design features are present. So that means the essential hands-on control of envelopes, all the filters, and modulation. This is a bite off the full-sized Deckard’s Dream, but it has the same personality and workflow, if not all those layers of sound.

Apart from a more compact size (and the chance of something you can afford without being someone like Trent Reznor), then there’s easy access to patch points. And the CS-ish design is really suited to a modular environment, so it’s easy patching into the LFO and pulse width modulation, brilliance and EG levels, and different waveform component outs.

That’s relevant, because I think you can get a thick CS sound design without necessarily needing so many voices. For their part, even Yamaha made a monophonic CS-15; there’s still a lot to do with that single voice and modulation, especially with this much in the way of timbral and envelope control.

I imagine just as the flagship has been a luxury item, this could rapidly become one of the more sought-after voice ideas out there. It’s complete enough to start to have its own identity, but compact enough to still make sense as a voice inside a modular.

Of course, this could disturb some people, convinced that such a replicant might take over human studios, overthrow humans, trigger dangerous amounts of GAS in our already damaged Earth environment.

To that I say, of course —

Modules are like any other machine, are either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a hazard, it’s not my problem.

(“Too bad my credit card won’t live, but then again who does?” No?)

Deckard’s Dream site

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Need to chill? This 24/7 Eurorack modular radio has you covered

2019 – it’s a year when many of us are, let’s say, having some trouble chilling, relaxing, or … uh sleeping, to say nothing of meditating or studying. Fortunately, if you want a Eurorack modular solution, your ship has come in.

“Life can feel too fast sometimes,” say the creators. Yeah, no s***, especially with a world that is apparently actively on fire and run by people who seem to want to fan the flames rather than put it out. Wait, sorry, what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Chill. Slow down. Om.

Or rather, turn that Om into Ohm.

Dawless Jamming has an open call for meditative modular, extending on the channel’s patches and whatnot. Literally it came to the moderator in a dream, they say – “Rings into Clouds Forever.”

More details on the YouTube link above.

Breathe in, breathe out. Your patch cables are getting very heavy…

Let go of your fears and attachments. Do not worry about personal possessions… oh, wait, you let go of all of those already, you’re in modular…

Great stuff, though for me it still can’t top the soporific impact of this:

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Crossover VCV Rack modular: Vult goes hardware, as Erica adds free software

Hardware or software? Yes. Modular synthesizers, of all things, are blurring the line between the two. The popular Vult line of software modules for VCV Rack is going hardware, just as Erica Synths offers its popular hardware in a free software form on the same platform.

VCV Rack has rapidly established itself as a platform for other modules in a way that nothing else has. The software modular is free, with a rich free ecosystem, with only useful add-ons (from the developer and third parties) costing money. It’s also strikingly approachable for developers as well as users.

But that’s in turn leading to some fascinating crossovers.

This week, developer Leonardo Laguna Ruiz announced that his Vult module, which existed only in VCV Rack virtually, is now up for preorders as actual hardware.

Vult Freak incorporates a bunch of different modules in one (thanks, code modeling):

  • Tangents – Steiner-Parker filter containing three different variations.
  • Lateralus – Ladder filter.
  • Nurage – Low pass gate / Borg filter.
  • Ferox – CMOS filter.
  • Vortex – Russian fitler.
  • Unstabile – Circuit bent State Variable filter.
  • Stabile – State Variable filter.
  • Rescomb – Resonant Comb filter.
  • Vorg – MS-20 style filter

Demos:

I’ve used a lot of these in my own musical experiments in Rack, and do they sound good? Yes, they do. (Unstabile and Vortex are particularly delicious for those of us who enjoy rich, manic distortion.)

€225 buys you this stuff as physical device – and frees you from having to mouse around and worry about crashes or running out of CPU, natch.

A community of followers built on the VCV Rack ecosystem now are likely to follow Vult on into hardware. Preorder-ready hardware, seen here.

Maybe it’s the story behind the device that’s just as compelling – a few years developing a language, a couple of years experimenting in VCV Rack, then making the leap into hardware. There’s a bug that bites people who get into buying Eurorack, but there’s one for development, too.

I don’t doubt that some of the loyal users of the software will splurge for the hardware, too. And rather than blowing cash on something, then bolting it into a rack and hoping you can figure it out, the software-first model means many people who do buy Vult Freak will already know how to use it.

With that in mind, it’s also worth mention that Latvian titan of modular Erica Synths, with their expansive catalog, have made their first steps into providing software editions. Head to the Library on the VCV site, and you can grab a collection of Erica modules:

The new Erica offers, in software form – Wavetable VCO and Octasource from the Black series, and DRUMS from the Pico series.

https://vcvrack.com/plugins.html

They’re free of charge; just click ‘+ Free’ and update Rack and you’ll get them. Erica are a long way from porting everything they make in hardware – this is a tiny fraction of the full lineup. But they’re a decent taste of what Erica hardware can do. The Black Wavetable VCO is a uniquely capable oscillator with bitcrush and tons of wave modulation options. Octasource is a unique modulation oscillator, and its interface works differently from others, meaning having it in software form is really fantastic. DRUMS is ridiculously compact as is everything in the fascinating Pico series, but it’s a natural for cramming into virtual rigs.

https://www.ericasynths.lv/

I’ll be curious to see if this attracts some new Erica customers. Erica aren’t the first to do this, either – Befaco, Mutable Instruments (as Audible Instruments), and Music Thing (as Stellare) all offer software renditions of their hardware. It’s not hard to imagine at some point that VCV Rack will have a “buy hardware” button on the software. Softube Modular has software ports, too, of some big brands – Mutable Instruments again, the mighty Doepfer, Buchla, 4ms, and Intellijel all have software modules available.

The big difference is business model: VCV Rack is tending more toward either inexpensive paid modules as software, or free software that serves as a demo/preview of hardware.

A minority of electronic musicians live in a place where they can easily just run to a shop and try gear out. But more than that, software promises to create a new communications link between musicians and creators, year-round. We’ll see if that gives Vult a boost in the crowded modular world.

Check out VCV Rack on all platforms:

https://vcvrack.com/

And if you want a hand getting started, the legendary Jim Aikin has written a free e-book that explains what Rack is and how to use it, plus (the bit I liked most) gives a guide to the jungle of modules out there:

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