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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!)
2 “modified” Moog Taurus analog oscillators with hard sync (saw/square waves)
A Taurus ladder filter
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!)
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).
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:
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.
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.
Moog’s DFAM and Mother-32 have attracted their own dedicated following. Now a Kickstarter project aims to expand patching flexibility on the Moog and other semi-modulars – so you won’t outgrow them.
There are two product ideas in the FamilyTool line. One is a unit for adding multis and splits, which extends patching on semi-modulars like the Mother-32. (There’s no multi, which would let you duplicate a signal.) A second product is a case with internal power for making a little “baby” modular – without having to make the leap into Eurorack. (The latter could get more expensive and means more to lug around. Arturia also recently showed small cases with this idea.)
The product looks really nice, and gets hand-assembled in Munich. One interesting twist: they say they’re only marketing this on Kickstarter, so there won’t be any units for sale after that.
The MULT-OR-SWITCH is all about giving you more patching flexibility for more elaborate patches.
6 A/B switches for up to six switchable routings
2 of which are OR-logic mixers
No external power source needed*
Passive MULT (1:4 or 2×1:2)
Patching fun with 24 I/Os
And the case is perfect for, say, a DFAM owner who wishes they also had just the awesome Mutable Instruments Clouds to play with (which, seriously, is possible):
powered UNCPROP Case
Fits eurorack modules up to 20hp and 35mm depth (e.g. Clouds and MATHS)
Perfectly fits DFAM/Mother-32 and
Is a great addition to any other semi-modular synth
For heavy users & beginners
works as a 20hp standalone eurorack case/effects unit
Handcrafted wooden panels (walnut)
Pricing starts at EUR199 depending on which round you’re in.
Maybe the coolest option: you can spring for a workshop and dinner with the makers in Munich.
Or you can get a scarf, which sounds appealing to me.
What would a module behave like if it were built entirely around feedback – say, like one of those “zero-input” all-feedback mixer performances? Bastl Instruments teams up again with Peter Edwards to answer that question. The result: Dark Matter.
Dark Matter lets you add feedback to any signal, whether you want to use that as a bit of color, create rhythmic effects, or go completely wild. And since it is designed with the inspiration of zero-input mixer technique in mind, you can also use it as a signal source – a kind of feedback oscillator. Feedback by definition is about signal routing; Dark Matter runs with that idea and create an instrument around patching and shaping feedback in a modular environment.
It’s a new collaboration between Bastl and Peter Edwards, following their softPop instrument (and Peter’s own long-running Casper Electronics).
There are different kinds of overdrive. You can add sub-octave tones and other colors. There’s a built-in 2-band EQ (so highs and lows get separate control) – and that has overdrive, too.
On the rhythmic side, there’s a built-in envelope follower for ducking and gating and the like.
And there’s tons and tons of I/O and CV control, so this really was designed with a modular environment in mind. (That’s important – there are a number of Eurorack modules that seem like desktop tools that sort of got plunked into a modular case without much forethought; this isn’t that.)
But before we talk specs, creator Peter Edwards – himself an experimental musician as well as inventor – has some philosophical and spiritual things to say about feedback. Those are in the manual too, but let me highlight this passage. We’re “going deeper and deeper into the void” – gotta love those Czech winters, right? (Now turn in your hymnals now to “We Sing Praises of the Dark Shadows of Feedback.”)
So here’s what it all comes down to, the resonating soul of the amplifier and the recklessly over amplified external audio signal battling it out in the feedback thunderdome…
This is why I like to think of audio feedback as sort of the negative space around a sound, like a sonic shadow. A dark counterpart.
Feedback is wonderful. It’s the living, breathing, unpredictable, organic side of electrical sound. That’s not even just to say in the analog domain; as long as you steer clear of digital clipping, feedback has powerful potential in digital, too. It’s one of the reasons to use a modular environment in the first place, whether hardware or software. So I hope in addition to looking at Dark Matter, we dig into this topic generally. (I was just playing with feedback loops in VCV Rack, thanks to some tips from Kent Williams aka Chaircrusher.)
Embrace the darkness, and dive into the void of feedback.
Uh… oh yeah, tech specs.
-Input VCA with gain and soft clipping
-2 band equaliser with voltage controlled bass and treble boost/overdrive
-Voltage controlled feedback
-External feedback section for making and fine tuning loops through other modules
-Voltage controlled crossfade between input and feedback signals
-Input tracking envelope follower for adding ducking and gating effects
-10 I/O jacks for adding CV and making crazy loops
– 13 HP
– PTC fuse and diode protected 10-pin power connector
– 24 mm deep
– power consumption +12V: < 75mA; -12V: <75 mA
More details and online ordering available on Bastl’s Website:
From the mint-and-hot-pink labels to the wobbly pitch and effects, make no mistake: Dreadbox are teasing their upcoming Hypnosis with retro synthwave fetishists in mind. And from the sound, we’re okay with that.
In a surprise bit of pre-Christmas marketing, synth and effects maker Dreadbox have revealed this look at their next hardware:
And while it’s a “teaser,” they’re pretty much giving away the plot. Hypnosis is three effects units in one (you bring your own synth to the party):
1. Analog spring reverb, complete with a 3-spring tank and “unique pitch modulation circuit”
2. Stereo delay: analog Bucket Brigade Delay (BBD) for retro delay effects
3. Chorus-flanger with three different waveforms for modulation
It’s a trifecta, Neapolitan ice cream of effects – the three tastiest flavors in one. (Now I have to think about which flavor is chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry in this metaphor.)
And maybe Dreadbox just won the winter NAMM show before it even started. Let’s wait and see.
I mean, the synthwave party sort of happened a while ago, but then … chorus-flanger, delay, reverb, analog, none of these things ever really goes out of style. Waiting on price, want one anyway.
Kids today. First, they want synth modules with the power of computers but the faceplate of vintage hardware – and get just that. Next, they take for granted the flexibility of patching that virtual systems in software have. Well, enter TUNNELS: “infinite multiple” for your Eurorack.
TUNNELS is a set of modules that doesn’t do anything on its own. It’s just a clever patch bay for your modular system. But with the IN and OUT modules, what you get is the ability to duplicate signals (so a signal from one patch cord can go multiple places), and then route signals anywhere you like.
“Infinite” is maybe a bit hyperbolic. (Well, I suppose what you might do with this is potentially, uh, infinite.) It’s really a bus for signals. And maybe not surprisingly, this freer, ‘virtual’ way of thinking about signal comes from people with some software background on one side, and the more flexible Buchla patching methodology on the other. TUNNELS is being launched by Olympia Modular, a collaboration between Patterning developer Ben Kamen and Buchla Development Engineer Charles Seeholzer.
There are two module types. TUNNEL IN just takes a signal and duplicates it to multiple outs. In signal to out signal, that’s 1:6, 2:3 (each signal gets three duplicates, for two signals), or 3:2 (each signal gets two duplicates, for three signals).
You might be fine with just IN, but you can also add one or more OUT modules. That connects via a signal link cable, but duplicates the outputs from the IN module. (Cool!) So as you add more OUT modules, this can get a lot fancier, if you so desire. It means some patches that were impossible before become possible, and other patches that were messy tangles of spaghetti become clean and efficient.
Actually, I’m comparing to software (think Reaktor, Pd, Max), but even some dataflow software could use some utility modules like this just to clean things up. (Most dataflow software does let you connect as many outputs from a patch point as you want. Code environments like SuperCollider also make it really easy to work with virtual ‘buses’ for signal… but then hardware has the advantage of making the results visible.)
Tunnels is on Kickstarter, with a module for as little as US$75 (limited supply). But, come on, spring for the t-shirt, right?
TUNNEL IN: buffered multiple, duplicate input across multiple outputs
TUNNEL OUT: add additional outputs at another location – chain infinitely for massive multiple banks, or use as sends for signals like clock and 1v/oct
Add more OUTs, and you get a big bank of multiples.
I’d say it’s like send and receive objects in Max/Pd, but… that’ll only make sense to Max/Pd people, huh? But yeah, like that.
It’s not about which gear you own any more – it’s about understanding techniques. That’s especially true when a complete modular rig in software runs you roughly the cost of a single hardware module. All that remains is learning – so let’s get going, with Softube Modular as an example.
David Abravanel joins us to walk us through technique here using Softube’s Modular platform, all with built-in modules. If you missed the last sale, by the way, Modular is on sale now for US$65, as are a number of the add-on modules that might draw you into their platform in the first place. But if you have other hardware or software, of course, this same approach applies. -Ed.
Classic Style Polyphony with Softube Modular
If you’ve ever played an original Korg Mono/Poly synthesizer, then you know why it’s so prized for its polyphonic character. Compared to fully polyphonic offerings (such as Korg’s own Polysix synthesizer), the Mono/Poly features four analog oscillators which can either be played stacked (monophonic), or triggered in order for “polyphony” (though still with just the one filter).
The original KORG classic Mono/Poly synth, introduced in 1981.
The resulting sound is richly imperfect – each time a chord is played, the minute difference in timing between individual fingers affect a difference in sound.
The cool thing is – we can easily re-create this in the Softube Modular environment, using the unique “Quad MIDI to CV” interface module. Follow along:
Our chord progression.
To start with, I need a reason for having four voices. In this case, it’s the simple chord sequence above. In order to play those notes simultaneously using Modular, I’ll need a dedicated oscillator for each. Each virtual voice will consist of one oscillator, ADSR envelope, and VCA amplifier. Here’s the basic setup – the VCO / ADSR / VCA modules will be repeated three more times to give us four voices:
Wiring up the first oscillator.
For the first oscillator, I’ve selected a pulse wave – go with whichever sounds you’d like to hear (things sound especially nice with multiple waveforms stacked on top of one another). With all four voices, the patch should look like this:
Note that each voice has its own dedicated note and gate channels from the Quad MIDI to CV. Now, we need to combine the voices – for this, we’ll use the Audio Mix module. I’m also adding a VCF filter, with its own ADSR. Because the filter needs to be triggered every time any note is input, I’m going to add a single MIDI to CV module to gate the filter envelope. It all looks like this:
Now, let’s hear what we’ve got:
That’s not bad, but we can spice it up a little bit. I went with two pulse waves, a saw wave, and a tri wave for my four oscillators – I’ll add a couple LFOs to modulate the pulsewidths of the two pulse waves and add some thickness. For extra dubby space, I’m also adding the Doepfer BBD module, a recent addition to Softube Modular which includes a toggle option for the clock noise bleed-through of the analog original. I’m also adding one more LFO, for a bit of modulation on the filter.
Adding in some additional modules for flavor. The Doepfer BBD (an add-on for the Softube Modular) adds unique retro delays and other effects, including bitcrushing, distortion, and lots of other chorusing, flanging, ambience, and general swirly crunchy stuff.
Honestly, the characterful BBD module deserves its own article – and may get one! Stay tuned.
Here’s our progression, really moving and spacey now:
And there we have it! A polyphonic patch with serious analog character. You can also try playing monophonic melodies through it – in Quad MIDI to CV’s “rotate” mode, each incoming note will go to a different oscillator.
Want to try this out for yourself? Download the preset and run it in Modular (requires Modular and the BBD add-on, both of which you can demo from Softube).
We’re just scratching the surface with Modular here – there’s an enormous well of potential, and they’ve really nailed the sound of many of these modules. Modular is a CPU-hungry beast – don’t try to run more than one or two instances of a rich patch like this one without freezing some tracks – but sound-wise it’s really proved its worth.
Stay tuned for future features, as we dive into some of Modulars other possibilities, including the vast potential found in the first ever model of Buchla’s legendary Twisted Waveform oscillator!