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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Live compositions on oscilloscope: nuuun, ATOM TM

The Well-Tempered vector rescanner? A new audiovisual release finds poetry in vintage video synthesis and scan processors – and launches a new AV platform for ATOM TM.

nuuun, a collaboration between Atom™ (raster, formerly Raster-Noton) and Americans Jahnavi Stenflo and Nathan Jantz, have produced a “current suite.” These are all recorded live – sound and visuals alike – in Uwe Schmidt’s Chilean studio.

Minimalistic, exposed presentation of electronic elements is nothing new to the Raster crowd, who are known for bringing this raw aesthetic to their work. You could read that as part punk aesthetic, part fascination with visual imagery, rooted in the collective’s history in East Germany’s underground. But as these elements cycle back, now there’s a fresh interest in working with vectors as medium (see link below, in fact). As we move from novelty to more refined technique, more artists are finding ways of turning these technologies into instruments.

And it’s really the fact that these are instruments – a chamber trio, in title and construct – that’s essential to the work here. It’s not just about the impression of the tech, in other words, but the fact that working on technique brings the different media closer together. As nuuun describe the release:

Informed and inspired by Scan Processors of the early 1970’s such as the Rutt/Etra video synthesizer, “Current Suite No.1” uses the oscillographic medium as an opportunity to bring the observer closer to the signal. Through a technique known as “vector-rescanning”, one can program and produce complex encoded wave forms that can only be observed through and captured from analog vector displays. These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms. Both the music and imagery in each of these videos were recorded as live compositions, as if they were intertwined two-way conversations between sound and visual form to produce a unique synesthetic experience.

“These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms.”

Even with lots of prominent festivals, audiovisual work – and putting visuals on equal footing with music – still faces an uphill battle. Online music distribution isn’t really geared for AV work; it’s not even obvious how audiovisual work is meant to be uploaded and disseminated apart from channels like YouTube or Vimeo. So it’s also worth noting that Atom™ is promising that NN will be a platform for more audiovisual work. We’ll see what that brings.

Of course, NOTON and Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) already has a rich fine art / high-end media art career going, and the “raster-media” launched by Olaf Bender in 2017 describes itself as a “platform – a network covering the overlapping border areas of pop, art, and science.” We at least saw raster continue to present installations and other works, extending their footprint beyond just the usual routine of record releases.

There’s perhaps not a lot that can be done about the fleeting value of music in distribution, but then music has always been ephemeral. Let’s look at it this way – for those of us who see sound as interconnected with image and science, any conduit to that work is welcome. So watch this space.

For now, we’ve got this first release:

http://atom-tm.com/NN/1/Current-Suite-No-IVideo/

Previously:

Vectors are getting their own festival: lasers and oscilloscopes, go!

In Dreamy, Electrified Landscapes, Nalepa ‘Daytime’ Music Video Meets Rutt-Etra

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The synth modules of winter: your Eurorack radar

The waves of synth modules never stop coming, as obsessed engineers keep making them and sound tinkerers keep buying them. So let’s catch up with what’s out there, in the wake of the NAMM show in California late last month.

Most of these are from NAMM, but there are some other sightings recently, as well.

Make Noise’s new modulation monster. Make Noise have made a name for themselves with some real weirdness that then shaped a lot of the music scene. The Quad Peak Animation System is the latest from them – a wild modulation system that can make vocalization-like sounds, with fast-responding multiple resonant filter peaks across a stereo image. In other words, this thing can sing – in an odd way – in stereo.

The best part of the story behind this is Tony Rolando of Make Noise partly got the idea calibrating Moog Voyagers … and now will apply that to making something crazy and new.

http://makenoisemusic.com/modules/qpas

Now we have multiple videos of that:

Low-cost Buchla. There’s a phrase I’ve never typed before. The Buchla USA company themselves are working to bring Buchla to the masses, with the new low-cost Red Label line of modules. This is 100 series stuff, the historical modules that really launched the West Coast sound – mixer, quad gate, dual-channel oscillator, filters, reverb, and more. There’s even a case and – of course – a touch surface for input, because keyboards are the devil’s playground. Good people are involved – Dave Small (Catalyst Audio) and Todd Barton – so this is one to watch.

https://buchla.com/

A module that’s whatever you want it to be. Nozori is a Kickstarter-backed project to make multifunctional modules – buy a module once, then switch modes via software (and of course coordinated faceplates). People must like the idea, because it’s already well funded, and you still have a week back if you want in.

http://kck.st/2TPKDdT

Lightning in a bottle. Gamechanger have a wild technology that lets you “play a lightning bolt” – basically, incorporating Tesla Coils into their hardware. They’ve done that once with Plasma Pedal, which we hope to test soon. With Erica, they’ll stick this in a module – and let you use high-voltage discharges in a xenon-filled tube. That looks cool and should sound wild; you get distortion with CV control in this module, octave up/down tracking oscillators for still more harmonics, and even an assignable pre/post- EQ. 310EUR before VAT, coming late February.

Erica Synths does the Sample Drum. This one’s sure to be a big hit, I think – not only for people wanting a drum module, per se, but presumably anyone interested in sample manipulation. Sample Drum plays and (finally!) records, with manual and automatic sample slicing, and three assignable CV inputs per channel. There are even effects onboard … which actually makes me wonder why we can’t have something like this as a desktop unit, too. You even can embed cue points in WAV. SD card storage. Looks terrific – 300EUR (not including VAT) coming late February.

One massive oscillator with zing, from Rossum. TRIDENT is a “multi-synchronic oscillator ensemble” – basically three oscillators in one, with loads of modulation and options for FM and phase and … uh, “zing.” Of course you could get a whole bunch of modules and do something similar, but the advantage here is a kind of integrated approach to making a lot of rich timbres – and while the sticker price here is US$599, that may well be less than wrangling a bunch of individual modules.

Actually, let’s let Dave himself talk about this:

http://www.rossum-electro.com/products/trident/

A module for drawing. LZX Industries’ Escher Sketch is a stylus pen controller with XY, pressure, and “directional velocity” (expression). LZX are thinking of this for video synthesis, though I’m sure it’ll get abused. US$499.

MIDI to CV, with autotuning and polyphony. Bastl Instruments’ 1983 4-channel MIDI to CV interface, complete with automatic tuning and other features, is one we’ve been following for a while. It’s now officially out as of 1 February.

Previously, including an explanation of why this is so cool:

Bastl do waveshaping, MIDI, and magically tune your modules

Don’t forget that Bastl also worked with Casper Electronics on Dark Matter, which I covered last month:

Bastl’s Dark Matter module unleashes the joys of feedback

Inexpensive Soundlazer modules. This LA company is actually known more for its directional speakers, but it looks like they’re getting into modules. Opening salvo: $99 bass drum, $69 VCA – evidence that it’s not just Behringer who may get into lower cost Eurorack. Check out their site for more.

Mix with vectors and quad. v3kt is really cool. Plug in joysticks, envelopes, LFOs, automatically calibrate them with push-button sampling, and then mix and connect all that CV to other stuff, with save states. Oh and you can use this as a quad panner, too. $199 now.

http://www.antimatteraudio.com/modules/v3kt

STG and Radiophonic 1 synthesizer. Radiophonic 1 is a terrific-sounding all-in-one, with a gorgeous oscillator at its core (also available separately). See Synthtopia’s video for explanation:

And Matt Chadra demonstrates how it sounds:

Slice and recombine waveforms in a module. Hey, you know how everyone keeps complaining there are no new ideas in synthesis? Well, Waverazor at least claims to be a new idea (with patent pending, too). Cut individual waveform cycles into slices, individually modify and modulate the slices, recombine. Okay – that sounds a lot like wavetable synthesis with a twist (albeit a compelling one), but we’ll bite. Or rather if you didn’t bite when this was a standalone plug-in, maybe you’ll like real knobs and a bunch of patch points:

https://mok.com/wr_dual.php

Control your modular with a ring. It’s funny how this idea never goes away. But here we are again – this time with crowd funding on IndieGogo, so maybe a larger group of people to actually use it. Wave is a ring you wear so you can make music by waving your hand around and … this time it plugs into a modular (the Wavefront module).

Watch this video and marvel at how you can do something you could do with an expression pedal or by using the same free hand to turn a knob, but, like, with a ring.

(Sorry, probably someone does want this, but… yes, it is truly a NAMM tradition to see someone trying it, again.)

Behringer are promising Roland System 100M modules. The German mass manufacturer was out ahead of the NAMM show with pre-production designs and prototypes based on Roland’s 100M series. Price is the lead here – US$49-99. Interestingly, what I didn’t see was people saying they’d opt for Behringer over other makers so much as that they might expand their system with these because of that low cost. Teenage Engineering also made a play for that “modular for the masses” mantle, though not in Eurorack.

Synthtopia did a good write-up of the prototype plans:
Behringer Plans 40 Eurorack Modules In The Next 2 Years, Priced at $49-99

Behringer did make this promise already back in April of last year – then, just in advance of the Superbooth show in Berlin – which I expect annoys other modular makers. But if you want Roland remakes right now, you can get them from – well, Roland, if at higher prices:

Roland’s new SYSTEM-500 modules, and why you might want them

Low cost, 2hp bells and grains and stuff.pocket operator modular system. And yes, while we might be talking about Behringer as the IKEA of modular, but for Teenage Engineering. TE have extended their pocket operator brand to a line of modular. It’s not Eurorack, but it is patchable and you can buy individual modules or a complete kit. I’m working on an in-depth interview with the teenagers, so stay tuned.

You actually do fold these things together – and prices run 399-549 EUR for a complete system.

https://teenageengineering.com/

That’s far from everything, but for me it’s the standouts. Any you’re excited about here – or anything I missed? Sound off in comments.

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Moog’s Sarin is a limited Taurus-based synth that sings high, too

They’re calling it the “analog messenger of joy.” Moog Music’s latest synth is an extremely limited run – and it turns the Taurus bass engine into an instrument you can play in any range. Meet Sarin:

There will only be 2500 of these, so the Sarin is a rarity and a luxury item. And it’s cheery and colorful, as was the recent Grandmother synth.

But the idea is interesting. Sarin starts with two Taurus bass oscillators – arguably one of the better Moog instruments, Taurus – and then modified those oscillators so you can play both the characteristic bass and higher-pitched sounds. Insert various mythical flying discussion here, Moog ad copy writers. But we’re talking about a new range of E0 – D8.

And that to me is the big question here — say what? I’m not sure what they modified or what this means, though the basic notion is interesting. (On a digital synth, we’d assume something with anti-aliasing, but these are analog oscillators!)

They also ship it directly with an editor – which is a cue other manufacturers really might consider taking up. (Of course, Roland has it easy, since at least one third party keeps doing it for them!)

Specs:
Steel chassis
2 “modified” Moog Taurus analog oscillators with hard sync (saw/square waves)
A Taurus ladder filter
Two ADSRs
Multi-wave LFO with MIDI sync
Glide with selectable type
Modulation sources: Triangle, Square, Saw, Ramp, Sample & Hold, and Filter EG
Modulation destinations: Oscillator Pitch, Oscillator 2 Pitch only, and Filter Cutoff

Now more of an expectation – synths should have editors for integration with your projects on your computer and easier access to sounds.

CV / gate inputs: filter CV, pitch, volume, gate, and yes, CV to MIDI conversion of course

The price is steep, as you might expect from “Moog” and “limited edition” – US$599. That means you might check the Moog used market, and … it’s still tempting to get a DFAM or a Mother-32 instead; Moog have to compete with Moog here a bit.

But it’s a unique idea, and this is for someone wanting a special splurge anyway. It’ll be part of the pop-up Moog House of Electronicus Pop-up (not a typo, there’s a whole back story about “an experimental gathering that took place on the barrier island of Tierre Verde during the 1970s”). That’s in LA this week during NAMM.

You can pick it up there, or they’ll ship to you, as well. There’s quite a nice demo from Nick Sanborn. (He’s evidently in bands called Sylvan Esso and Made Of Oak but I ruined my life by moving to Berlin and getting sucked into techno, so I don’t know those bands. Mea culpa. Nice sounds, though!)

https://www.moogmusic.com/products/sirin

https://www.mooghouseofelectronicus.com/pages/sirin

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Bitwig Studio is about to deliver on a fully modular core in a DAW

Bitwig Studio may have started in the shadow of Ableton, but one of its initial promises was building a DAW that was modular from the ground up. Bitwig Studio 3 is poised to finally deliver on that promise, with “The Grid.”

Having a truly modular system inside a DAW offers some tantalizing possibilities. It means, in theory at least, you can construct whatever you want from basic building blocks. And in the very opposite of today’s age of presets, that could make your music tool feel more your own.

Oh yeah, and if there is such an engine inside your DAW, you can also count on other people building a bunch of stuff you can reuse.

Why modulaity? It doesn’t have to just be about tinkering (though that can be fun for a lot of people).

A modular setup is the very opposite of a preset mentality for music production. Experienced users of these environments (software especially, since it’s open-ended) do often find that patching exactly what they need can be more creative and inspirational. It can even save time versus the effort spent trying to whittle away at a big, monolithic tool just go get to the bit you actually want. But the traditional environments for modular development are fairly unfriendly to new users – that’s why very often people’s first encounters with Max/MSP, SuperCollider, Pd, Reaktor, and the like is in a college course. (And not everyone has access to those.) Here, you get a toolset that could prove more manageable. And then once you have a patch you like, you can still interconnect premade devices – and you can work with clips and linear arrangement to actually finish songs. With the other tools, that often means coding out the structure of your song or trying to link up to a different piece of software.

We’ve seen other DAWs go modular in different ways. There’s Apple Logic’s now mostly rarely-used Environment. There’s Reason with its rich, patchable rack and devices. There’s Sensomusic Usine, which is a fully modular DAW / audio environment, and DMX lighting and video tool – perhaps the most modular of these (even relative to Bitwig Studio and The Grid). And of course there’s Ableton Live with Max for Live, though that’s really a different animal – it’s a full patching development environment that runs inside Live via a runtime, and API and interface hooks that allow you to access its devices. The upside: Max for Live can do just about everything. The downside: it’s mostly foreign to Ableton Live (as it’s a different piece of software with its own history), and it could be too deep for someone just wanting to build an effect or instrument.

So, enter The Grid. This is really the first time a relatively conventional DAW has gotten its own, native modular environment that can build instruments and effects. And it looks like it could be accomplished in a way that feels comfortable to existing users. You get a toolset for patching your own stuff inside the DAW, and you can even mix and match signal to outboard hardware modular if that’s your thing.

And it really focuses on sound applications, too, with three devices. One is dedicated to monophonic synths, one to polyphonic synths, and one to effects.

From there, you get a fully modular setup with a modern-looking UI and 120+ modules to choose from.

They’ve done a whole lot to ease the learning curve normally associated with these environments – smoothing out some of the wrinkles that usually baffle beginners:

You can patch anything to anything, in to out. All signals are interchangeable – connect any out to any in. Most other software environments don’t work that way, which can mean a steeper learning curve. (We’ll have to see how this works in practice inside The Grid).

Any in can go to any out – reducing some of the complexity of other patching environments (software and hardware alike).

Everything’s stereo. Here’s another way of reducing complexity. Normally, you have to duplicate signals to get stereo, which can be confusing for beginners. Here, every audio cable and every control cable routes stereo.

Everything’s also in living stereo, reducing cable count and cognitive effort.

There are default patchings. Funny enough, this idea has actually been seen on hardware – there are default routings so modules automatically wire themselves if you want, via what Bitwig calls “pre-cords.” That means if you’re new to the environment, you can always plug stuff in.

They’ve also promised to make phase easier to understand, which should open up creative use of time and modulation to those who may have been intimidated by these concepts before.

“Pre-cords” mean you can easily add default patchings to get stuff working straight away.

What fun is a modular tool if you can’t explore phase? Bitwig say they’ve made this concept more accessible to modulation and easier to learn.

There’s also a big advantage to this being native to the environment – again, something you could only really say about Sensomusic Usine before now (at least as far as things that could double as DAWs).

This unlocks:

  • Nesting and layering devices alongside other Bitwig devices
  • Full support from the Open Controller API. (Wow, this is a pain the moment you put something like Reaktor into another host, too.)
  • Route modulation out of your stuff from The Grid into other Bitwig devices.
  • Complete hardware modular integration – yeah, you can mix your software with hardware as if they’re one environment. Bitwig says they’ve included “dedicated grid modules for sending any control, trigger, or pitch signal as CV Out and receiving any CV In.”

I’ve been waiting for this basically since the beginning. This is an unprecedented level of integration, where every device you see in Bitwig Studio is already based on this modular environment. Bitwig had even touted that early on, but I think they were far overzealous with letting people know about their plans. It unsurprisingly took a while to make that interface user friendly, which is why it’ll be a pleasure to try this now and see how they’ve done. But Bitwig tells us this is in fact the same engine – and that the interface “melds our twin focus on modularity and swift workflows.”

There’s also a significant dedication to signal fidelity. There’s 4X oversampling throughout. That should generally sound better, but it also has implications for control and modularity. And it’ll make modulation more powerful in synthesis, Bitwig tells CDM:

With phase, sync, and pitch inputs on most every oscillator, there are many opportunities here for complex setups. Providing this additional bandwidth keeps most any patch or experiment from audible aliasing. As an open system, this type of optimization works for the most cases without overtaxing processors.

It’s stereo only, which puts it behind some of the multichannel capabilities of Reaktor, Max, SuperCollider, and others – Max/MSP especially given its recent developments. But that could see some growth in a later release, Bitwig hints. For now, I think stereo will keep us plenty busy.

They’ve also been busy optimizing, Bitwig tells us:

This is something we worked a lot on in early development, particularly optimizing performance on the oversampled, stereo paths to align with the vector units of desktop processors. In addition, the modules are compiled at runtime for the best performance on the particular CPU in use.

That’s a big deal. I’m also excited about using this on Linux – where, by the way, you can really easily use JACK to integrate other environments like SuperCollider or live coding tools.

If you’re at NAMM, Bitwig will show The Grid as part of Bitwig Studio 3. They have a release coming in the second quarter, but we’ll sit down with them here in Berlin for a detailed closer look (minus NAMM noise in the background or jetlag)!

Oh yeah, and if you’ve got the Upgrade Plan, it’s free.

This is really about making a fully modular DAW – as opposed to the fixed multitrack tape/mixer models of the past. Bitwig have even written up an article about how they see modularity and how it’s evolved over various release versions:

BEHIND THE SCENES: MODULARITY IN BITWIG STUDIO

More on Bitwig Studio 3:

https://www.bitwig.com/en/19/bitwig-studio-3

Obligatory:

Oh yeah, also Tron: Legacy seems like a better movie with French subtitles…

That last line fits: “And the world was more beautiful than I ever dreamed – and also more dangerous … hop in bed now, come on.”

Yeah, personal life / sleep … in trouble.

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The Stylophone goes totally luxe with the GEN R-8

You’ve seen the Stylophone as the mass-produced, toy-like original. And you’ve seen it as a relaunched digital emulation and as an analog instrument. Now get ready for the Stylophone as premium boutique instrument.

The Stylophone began its story back in 1967, and became one of the iconic electronic musical inventions of the 20th century – its appeal being largely to do with its simplicity and directness. The son of the original inventor, Ben Jarvis, went on to revive instrument under the original manufacturer name, Dubreq.

Now, the GEN R-8 is here with some advanced features and flowery description about British circuitry you might expect from the ad copy for a high-end mixing desk. There’s something a bit funny about associating that with the instrument so long known as a (very musical) toy, but – think of the GEN R-8 as a new desktop synth, the full-featured, grown-up monster child of the original.

Oh, and — it sounds like it’s going to be a total bass beast.

So you know in campy horror movies where someone gets hit with a growth ray or radiation or whatever, and turns into a city-smashing giant? Hopefully this is like that, in a good way.

Sound specs:

Dual analog oscillators (VCOs) and full analog signal path.
Divide-down sub-oscillators (one octave lower) and subsub oscillators (two octaves lower) – switch them all on, and you get six oscillators at once.
12 dB state variable filter – low pass, high pass, band pass, wide notch – which they say is their own proprietary design.
ADSR envelope, now with a “punchy” shorter hold stage when you crank attack and decay peaks, they say.

There’s a delay, too – based on the Princeton pt2399 chip, and “grungy” in the creators’ description – which you can modulate via time CV input.

And some classic overdrive, plus an extra booster stage – this part does actually sound a bit like classic British console gear.

And there’s a step sequencer – 8 banks, 16 steps per sequence, both for the internal synth and external gear (CV/gate and MIDI output).

Plus the whole thing is patchable:
There’s an LFO with eight waveforms and dual outputs, which you can patch to all of the CV ins or to other gear.
The patch panel has 19 minijack CV/gate and audio patch points.

The keyboard is now touch-based – so you don’t need a stylus – and has a sort of absurd set of features (MIDI controller output with local on/off, glide and modulation keys, three octaves of keys).

And it’s made of steel.

Price: £299 / $349 / €329
Availability: Late February 2019 [limited edition]

So it’s really Stylophone on steroids – fully patchable, with delay and drive and filter, MIDI and CV, ready to use as a new synth or as a controller tool with other gear (other semi-modulars, Eurorack, MIDI instruments, whatever). It does appear one of the more interesting new instruments of the year – one to watch.

Demo:

https://dubreq.com/genr8/

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