While clubs are empty, we’ve been getting an intimate look at how people play and imagine ideas. And one of the best sets from FACT’s new Patch Notes series features the excellent JakoJako – just when you might need some music that lets you calm your head.
There have been few surprise hits in the world of patchable instruments like Make Noise’s 0-Coast. But they just might have another hit – a tabletop, patchable, clockable controller-sequencer. And it’s adorable – and US$399.
We can’t dance to these sets in a club at the moment, so let’s use this opportunity to really watch what’s happening. Techno madman Florian Meindl takes us inside the craft of playing his fully live, all-hardware set. We’ve got detailed answers from Florian about how he works and plays, and copious links to all […]
It’s an uncertain world out there for music gear as in other industries – but isolate engineers, and you’ll at least get some code that helps musicians play.
Maybe that sounds obvious. But as our societies and economies and supply chains and shipping all shut down in phases around us, well – there’s always stuff like sending out firmware downloads!
Firmware updates are terrific because they keep your customers busy and you can ship them now over the Internet without running into weird new shipping problems. So it’s really important that the Mother-32 semi-modular synth gets all this good stuff in a free download this week:
Multiple sequencer directions
Improved and expanded clocking options
CV-addressed sequencer control
Selectable swing intervals
New pattern change behaviors.
Ability to ignore MIDI clock or start/stop messages
Improved LED visual feedback
Options to auto-save and write-protect patterns
Selectable analog clock input and output resolutions
Completely rewritten sync and timing engine
Note completely rewritten. This means both having the engineering forethought to make something that can be updated, and the kind of skill and employee retention that lets someone do this work.
I’ve tended to ignore some of the variety of gear to talk about particular instruments that get this kind of update, and obviously not just from Moog. It’s not going to make sense for every product, but it does give you an indication of a manufacturer’s commitment.
This is part of what has kept electronic musical instruments from becoming commodities in the way a lot of other tech has. We’ve seen a wide range of ups and downs in the industry in terms of who can attract and retain talent. Music really requires engineers who understand or at least can communicate with musicians – and we have to woo them away from companies like defense contractors who can pay a lot more.
I know making payroll and paying budgets is going to be tough for our industry like so many others. But let’s hear it for all the people in our business who do everything from pack and test our instruments to try to describe complicated music gear in press releases to designing and building it. There are small Eurorack and kit makers where all of those people are one person. There are bigger employers.
If anything gets us through this wild ride, it will be those people. So I hope you all both stay safe and stay supported – and stay in touch.
Oh, and mess around with step sequencers and make grooves in good health, of course!
The synth world may be quieter this April, but that isn’t stopping the saturated, screaming sounds of tubes. Erica Synths have both a new system and new modules, true to their post-Communist, tube-loving legacy.
I’m going to say some words, but let’s marvel for a moment at the grungy, powerful industrial instrumentalism here first:
Tubes and Latvian electronic instrument heritage were part of what got Erica Synths started some years back. The Fusion series modules put those tubes to new and innovative purposes – a sign that the age of tubes isn’t out of new ideas yet.
And the other side of Erica’s formula is this: make new modules, but also make new systems into which those modules fit. That gives a coherence to their modular offerings – each module you buy has a larger system in mind already. You can invest in the system itself as an integrated instrument, or just take advantage of the individual module designs – you still get that sense of how it might fit into a larger whole, with or without the system in your rig.
Three new Fusion modules are here, and quite frankly I’m pretty intrigued by the VCA/waveshaper/ring mod with or without the system:
Fusion VCF3 is a new resonant lowpass filter that combines vactrols and vacuum tubes. It’s got a steep slope (24 dB/octave), a uniquely rich sound, and – surprise, they also threw in motion recording so you can store modulation patterns right on the module.
Fusion Modulator is a new set of modulation tools that reveal how much time the Erica gang have been thinking about the classic EMS Synthi lately. (See also their SYNTRX, not so much an EMS clone, but a from-scratch instrument built around the Synthi workflows – new sounds, historic interface.)
Basically, you get two looping envelope generators with all the options. It’s one of the more versatile modulation sources I can think of recently.
Fusion VCA/Waveshaper/Ringmodulator is the rum chocolate sauce of the bunch. Two pentodes – that’s the electronic circuitry we’re talking – operate together variously as an amplifier, waveshaper, and ring modulator. The idea is, by applying voltage to different stages of the amplifier, you get all those different applications.
It’s tremendously powerful sonic stuff. And to me, it widens Erica’s palette from the BBD delay line stuff we’ve heard before – which is still very much evident in the sounds you get from the new Fusion System, when you want them.
Just how good does it sound? Let’s listen to Headless Horseman:
The other nice thing about the Fusion System II is that it is not terrifically expensive, if you do want the whole system. You get two VCO2s, the VCF3, the modulator, the VCA/Waveshaper/Ringmodulator, and the Delay/Flanger/Vintage ensemble in one skiff case for EUR 1950 (minus lid and VAT).
You can also buy the modules a la carte, though, if that’s more in-budget.
The Modulator and VCF3 are available now; the System II and VCA/shaper are inbound on 5 June.
Of course, money, period in this economy is in short supply for a lot of people. And for the rest of us, I do recommend yesterday’s guide to the latest stuff in VCV Rack and – absolutely grab the Erica Synths modules available free there. The Wavetable VCO is part of why I’m so very addicted to Rack in the first place; Octasource is great, too, speaking of modulation ideas. We can window shop for the days we’re buying hardware again.
As the TV car ads say – no money? No problem. VCV Rack can get you into some extraordinarily deep sound making for free. And thanks to a crowd funding effort, what’s available in the Audible Instruments range has expanded.
There’s a bunch of new stuff in the world of Rack for synth lovers. Here’s the latest round-up.
VCV Rack is a free, open source platform for Mac, Windows, and Linux that emulates a Eurorack modular setup, with support for free and paid modules. And it does some things physical hardware can’t do – well, unless you have magic powers that let you summon unlimited numbers of modules out of thin air and recall previous states in an instant. Thanks, software!
Module makers are regularly updating their stuff, so you’ll see a friendly red dot appear in the menu that tells you there’s new stuff to download. And there’s been lots of activity lately, especially from developers like Vult ( Leonardo Laguna Ruiz), Bogaudio, Impromptu, Count Modula, and others. (I recommend that batch right now, in fact – trust me.)
But two recent developments from VCV themselves merit mention.
A new Library
First, with all that healthy module ecosystem growth, recently the Library feature got a major refresh. Rack uses a browser-based system for finding and managing your module collection, called the Library. From the browser, you can find and install modules, purchase paid modules, and deselect modules you don’t want any more to declutter your collection. Log in to Rack on any OS, and your collection of modules is immediately available anywhere. (For instance, I regularly boot between an Ubuntu and Windows partition; modules automatically appear in both places. Install your Rack files on a connected drive like Dropbox, and your whole modular studio can live in the cloud.)
The old interface looked like a big spreadsheet, and was dull and a little challenging to navigate. The new interface is graphical, and lets you quickly look at just premium paid modules, or just free or open source modules, or jump to particular makers or tags.
Audible Instruments expanded
Audible Instruments is the set of modules based on the popular Mutable Insturments line of open source modular hardware. It’s not an official Mutable Instruments project (hence the name); it’s developed by VCV, but complies with Mutable’s open source GPLv3 license. It does show the power of open source tech, and may make you want some of Mutable’s hardware even more.
We got a one-two punch of Audible updates recently.
The big one is, Mutable Instruments Ripples got ported as Audible Instruments Liquid Filter, thanks to a crowd funding campaign. It’s a beautiful model of the filter, and as usual, you get a ton of features in a clear, minimal panel.
Mutable made this filter analog, so it’s worth checking the original module – a connection to the Shruthi synth lineage here.
Macro Oscillator 2 is now polyphonic. That’s huge news; this powerful oscillator really feels like a dozen or two modules in one space. There are eight pitched and eight percussive models, and a built-in low-pass gate in this single module. You can then make some extraordinary polyphonic patches using something like the excellent Sensel Morph MPE-compatible hardware – add a Buchla Thunder overlay and go to town.
Free stuff is great – especially because it allows Rack to be a tool for collaboration and teaching in a way other environments can’t. But developers need support. That’s why it’s encouraging that crowd funding enabled Liquid Filter, and why hopefully software modules with hardware equivalents (from Mutable Instruments to Befaco, Erica Synths and others) will encourage sales of the real gear.
I’ve been happy to buy software modules in Rack, partly because the instant gratification is great – and there’s some beautiful stuff to buy. I find I actually even enjoy purchasing this stuff – that combination of consumer satisfaction with musical inspiration with knowing you support the developers.
One way to support Rack itself is buying the proprietary modules developed by its creator, Andrew Belt. These modules appear under the VCV name. Must-have modules for me include Console, a performance-friendly mixer, and Router, a superb set of three routing modules:
For anyone feeling conflicted about saving money on a Minimoog from a certain clone hardware maker, let me present the Mockba Modular Model V – because you can’t beat US$20 as a price.
I recently bought the beautiful Stellare Modular Creative Suite, which comes with some wild options for organic modulation and sequencing.
And what’s this? cf now has a sample-based drum machine conveniently mapped to a numeric keypad? Well, I’ll take one of those and, please, some kind of weird mechanical keyboard kit! (Hmm, someone in Germany must be shipping now.)
Fiddling around with Rack I find endlessly inspiring. And there’s something grounding about having idiosyncratic, hardware-style modules as your building blocks – like having someone else’s personality staring back at you. Happy synth-ing to you! And let us know if there’s more we might cover in the world of Rack.
Eurorack may be known for its addictiveness, but some synth lovers suffer just as much for tyranny of choice. This tutorial cures both that and Buchla Music Easel envy.
The Music Easel, if you don’t know it, is a beautiful instrument – a lunchbox full of seemingly limitless possibilities. And you can even get a brand-spanking new rendition of the 1973 original, with the Buchla name badge (or their current incarnation).
But even though that instrument is known for its all-in-one design, there’s reason to think Eurorack as an option – greater flexibility, lower cost, each by a significant margin.
Or to put it another way, it’s a great way to understand different module choices without getting overwhelmed. And that’s where this video from Mylar Melodies comes in:
It’s a pretty good rundown of the Music Easel itself (meaning a useful explainer there), as it starts with the real thing. Then, mindful of limitations, it walks through a suggested system with related features, plus how to make sounds and sequence your ideas, too.
Also, there’s a big supporting star in the form of Arturia’s low-cost MicroFreak, so this gives you a taste for what that instrument is capable of – and how you might connect it, analog style.
(I’m also tempted to try some of this stuff in VCV Rack and other computer software – and the MicroFreak still holds potential.)
Amplitude modulation, frequency modulation, sequencing, and a techno jam – all bases covered!
Mylar Melodies promises more in this series.
It’s the first in a new “suggested systems” concept series I’ve been brewing for some months – using a small 62HP Intellijel Palette eurorack case to make examples of focused, purpose-driven modular rigs and then demo and explain them on camera. Eg. “Generative melody system”, “subtractive semi-modular synth expander”, “self playing drone machine”, and first and foremost “Buchla Music Easel-inspired synth”.
It’s based on the infinite number of “where do I start” posts where people are getting lost in this format as they’re paralysed by choice – so it’ll give some much needed tangible serving suggestions (far smaller than off the shelf systems, except the Erica Synths Pico), and it’s also a way to discuss basic modular concepts in a form that’s actually clear and digestible – which I just don’t think you can do when you have a massive modular on camera. And mores the point, I don’t want to glorify having a massive rig, full stop – I think it’s far better overall to glorify having a tiny one. So that’s what this aims to do.
Look forward to more in this series – it’s a great idea!