Patching music and visuals is fun, but it helps to learn from other people. With everything from apps (Audulus) to modulars (Softube, VCV Rack) to code and free software (Pd, SuperCollider, Bela), patchstorage is like a free social network for actually making stuff.
It’s funny that we needed international scandal, political catastrophe, numerous academic studies of depression, and everyone’s data getting given away before figuring it out – Facebook isn’t really solving all our problems. But that opens up a chance for new places to find community, learn from each other, and focus on the things we love, like making live music and visuals.
Enter Patchstorage. Choose a platform you’re using – or maybe discover one you aren’t. (Cabbage, for instance, is a free platform for making music software based on Csound.
If you’re a newcomer, you can attempt to just load this up and make sound. And a lot of these patches are made for free environments, meaning you don’t have to spend money to check them out. If you’re a more advanced user, of course, poking through someone else’s work can help you get outside your own process. And there are those moments of – “oh, I didn’t know this did that,” or “huh, that’s how that works.”
There are also, naturally, a ton of creations for VCV Rack, the free and open source Eurorack modular emulation we’ve been going on about so much lately.
Oh, yeah, and — another thing. This doesn’t use Facebook as its social network. Instead, chats are powered by gamer-friendly, Slack-like chat client Discord. That means a new tool to contend with when you want to talk about patches, but it does mean you get a focused environment for doing so. So you won’t be juggling your ex, your boss, some spammers, and propaganda bots in the middle of an environment that’s constantly sucking up data about you.
The free and open VCV Rack software modular platform already is full of a rich selection of open source modules. Now, Rack users get first access to the newest Mutable Instruments modules – and your $20 even goes to charity.
Mutable Instruments is unique among modular makers partly in that its modules are open source – and partly in that they’re really exceptionally creative and sound amazing.
Mutable’s Olivier Gillet was an early adopter of the open source model for music hardware, (along with CDM and our 2010 MeeBlip), starting with the classic Shruthi-1 desktop module (2012). But it’s really been in modular that Mutable has taken off. Even as Eurorack has seen a glut of modules, Olivier’s creations – like Braids, the Macro Oscillator, Clouds, and others – have stood out. And the open source side of this has allowed creative mods, like the Commodore 64 speech synthesis firmware we saw recently.
But Rack, by providing an open software foundation to run modules on, has opened a new frontier for those same modules, even after they’re discontinued. Rack’s ecosystem is a mix of free and open modules and proprietary paid modules. Here, you get a combination of those two ideas.
The software. (Macro Oscillator 2, “Audible Instruments,” in VCV Rack.)
Mutable’s Plaits, a successor to the original multi-functional Braids oscillator, isn’t out yet. And its source will be delayed a bit after that. But for twenty bucks, you get both Plaits (dubbed Macro Oscillator 2 inside VCV) ahead of release, opening up a wonderful new source for pitched and percussion sounds. Most of your money even goes to charity. (Actually, I’m happy to support these developers, too, but sure!) These are two of the more versatile sound sources anywhere.
The idea is, would-be hardware purchasers get an advance test. And everyone gets a version they can run in software for convenience. Either way, all synth lovers win, pretty much. Synthtopia has a similar take:
Maybe, maybe not but — on another level, even if this is just the model for Mutable’s stuff, it’s already good news modular fans and VCV Rack users.
And let’s not forget what it all sounds like. Here’s a mesmerizing, tranquil sound creation by Leipzig-based artist Synthicat, showing off Plaits / Macro Oscillator 2:
Another bonus of VCV Rack support for studio work – you get multiple instances easily, without buying multiple modules. So I can imagine a lot of people using elaborate modular setups they could never afford in the studio, then buying a smaller Eurorack rig for live performance use, for example. Check out Synthicat’s music at his Bandcamp site:
You’ll find a bunch of sound models available, from more traditional FM and analog oscillations to granular to percussive to, indeed, some of that weird speech synthesis business we mentioned. You also get a new interface with more flexible control and CV modulation, unifying what are in fact many different models of sound production into a single, unified, musical interface.
Loads and loads of models. Pop them up by right-clicking, or check the different icons on the center of the module panel.
As for Plaits hardware, here’s some more beautiful music:
When Mutable Instruments releases a new Eurorack module, its source code is kept closed to limit the proliferation of opportunistic “DIY” clones at a time when there is a lot of demand for the module and to avoid exposing dealers to canceled pre-orders. After several months, a second production run is finished and the source code is released.
In a collaboration between VCV and Mutable Instruments, we allow you to test these new modules before their source code is publicly available with the “Audible Instruments Preview” plugin.
We don’t intend to profit from this collaboration. Instead, 80% of sales are donated to the Direct Relief (https://www.directrelief.org/) Humanitarian Medical Aid charity organization. The price exists to limit widespread distribution until each module is mature enough to be merged into Audible Instruments.
I have no doubt this will get hardware people hooked on the software, software people hooked on the hardware, and everybody synth-y and happy.
The open hardware Braids macro oscillator gets an alternative firmware that brings new features – including a speech engine known from the Commodore 64 days. Speech synth means modular synthesis:
Mutable Instruments’ open, digital modules have been one of the best things about the modern modular revolution. And this alternative firmware is a great example of that. Without removing any of the existing Braids 1.9 features, you get new oscillator powers.
The banner feature here is the robotic text-to-speech engine SAM (Software Automated Mouth), known from the Commodore 64. Here’s that engine in action – glitchy and distinctive:
Naturally, that opens up some wild possibilities once you patch into it in a modular environment. Listen to this firmware demo for an idea:
It’s also very fun how this works:
There are three SAM entries in the oscillator model list, named SAM1 to SAM3. Each of these SAM models contain 16 different words.
SAM is configured to work similarly to a granular sampler. By changing Timbre, you “scrub” through the word selected by Color. With Timbre at 0 position, SAM is playing the first grain of the current word. With Timbre fully clockwise, SAM is playing the last grain of the current word. The speed of an envelope can control how fast SAM says the word, independent of the pitch.
If you send SAM a trigger it will automatically play the word, starting from the current grain, at the “natural” speed of the word. In this situation, the pitch input controls both the speed and pitch of the output.
It’s not all that’s on offer, though. You also get six oscillators, evenly spaced:
6xsaw, 6xsquare, 6xtriangle, 6xsine. 6 oscillators starting at the 1v/oct input, spaced evenly across the currently selected quantize scale. Color controls the number of scale steps between oscillators, and Timbre scans through various amplitude settings for the 6 oscillators. When the Braids quantizer is turned off, the oscillators are evenly spaced by semitones (controlled by Color)
There’s already a model of this on VCV Rack, so even if you don’t have the discontinued Braids hardware, it should be possible to use in software. I’ll see about forking it and report back. The Macro Oscillator under Audible Instruments would be the obvious starting place. (Any other Braids fans, other stuff you’d want to see in an ideal fork of the module? Maybe we can make a wishlist. Macro Macro?)
Sometimes, tech looks stylish in the way you’d expect it to look on the deck of a starcraft. So if Eurorack makes you think “old-fashioned,” meet the Klang, a chord creation module from Norway.
After years – okay, decades – of noodling about mostly in monophonic space, the modular scene is discovering polyphony. But that generates an interesting compositional question: how do you make chords accessible with the twist of a wrist, with patch cord signal and encoders?
Klang is a kind of dial-a-chord solution: there’s an encoder for each of the four voices in a chord, so to get a four-note chord, you twist four knobs. That’s straightforward enough, but it’s the visualization that gets interesting: there’s a retro-chic clock face on a color display, showing both octave and pitch. And naturally those encoders and the clock face are color coded so you can keep each pitch separate.
What time is it? Chord time. You can store up to 99 of these four-note chords, and step through progressions by button, or trigger or gate signal. Then you output each voice (note) via separate voltage outs.
That’s clever enough, but it’s really the presentation and packaging that make it. It’s probably the prettiest module I’ve ever seen.
Cost: unknown. But a few people did grab (less pretty) videos of it in action at Superbooth in Berlin earlier this month.
Rune Warhuus is the creator of this module. Please do follow him to encourage him to make more gear like this and post more gear pr0n. Thank you.
Just added gamepad and computer keyboard support to VCV Rack, soon to be released in Rack 0.6.1.
Joysticks are mapped to voltages -10 to 10V for each axis using the MIDI-CC module from Core with the new “Gamepad” MIDI driver. Buttons can be converted to 10V gates using MIDI-Trig. Similarly to actual MIDI controllers, click the CC or note name display to learn/assign a gamepad joystick/button.
“But I don’t have a USB gamepad controller!”
They’re super cheap on eBay or Amazon by searching “usb gamepad” for around $10. Compare that with $300 MIDI controllers, and this is more fun per dollar if you’re on a budget (so you can save your money for the next upcoming VCV module!)
The “Computer Keyboard” driver supports the QWERTY US layout and spans two octaves with octave up/down buttons.
This update also adds the ability to use the same MIDI device on Windows with multiple virtual MIDI modules. Previously this was caused by the Windows MIDI API requiring exclusive access to each MIDI device, so having multiple instances would crash. I have written a MIDI “multiplexer” that solves this.
Good stuff. I can also imagine an ultra-portable sound rig with a compact PC and a gamepad and keyboard attached – running Linux, of course.
Performing voltages. The notion is now familiar in synthesis – improvising with signals – but what about the dance between noise and image? Artist Oliver Dodd has been exploring the audiovisual modular.
Integrated sound-image systems have been a fascination of the avant-garde through the history of electronic art. But if there’s a return to the raw signal, maybe that’s born of a desire to regain a sense of fusion of media that can be lost in overcomplicated newer work.
Underground label Detroit Underground has had one foot in technology, one in audiovisual output. DU have their own line of Eurorack modules and a deep interest in electronics and invention, matching a line of audiovisual works. And the label is even putting out AV releases on VHS tape. (Well, visuals need some answer to the vinyl phonograph. You were expecting maybe laserdiscs?)
And SIGINT, Oliver Dodd’s project, is one of the more compelling releases in that series. It debuted over the winter, but now feels a perfect time to delve into what it’s about – and some of Oliver’s other, evocative work.
First, the full description, which draws on images of scanning transmissions from space, but takes place in a very localized, Earthbound rig:
The concept of SIGINT is based on the idea of scanning, searching, and recording satellite transmissions in the pursuit of capturing what appear to be anomalies as intelligent signals hidden within the transmission spectrum.
SIGINT represents these raw recordings, captured in their live, original form. These audio-video recordings were performed and rendered to VHS in real-time in an attempt to experience, explore, decipher, study, and decode this deeply evocative, secret, and embedded form of communication whose origins appear both alien and unknown, like paranormal imprints or reflections of inter-dimensional beings reflected within the transmission stream.
The amazing thing about this project are the synchronicities formed between the audio and the video in real time. By connecting with the aural and the visual in this way, one generates and discovers strange, new, and interesting communications and compositions between these two spaces. The Modular Audio/Video system allows a direct connection between the video and the audio, and vice versa. A single patch cable can span between the two worlds and create new possibilities for each. The modular system used for SIGINT was one 6U case of only Industrial Music Electronics (Harvestman) modules for audio and one 3U case of LZX Industries modules for video.
CDM: I’m going through all these lovely experiments on your YouTube channel. How do these experiments come about?
Oliver: My Instagram and YouTube content is mostly just a snapshot of a larger picture of what I am currently working on, either that day, or of a larger project or work generally, which could be either a live performance, for example, or a release, or a video project.
That’s one hell of an AV modular system. Can you walk us through the modules in there? What’s your workflow like working in an audiovisual system like this, as opposed to systems (software or hardware) that tend to focus on one medium or another?
It’s a two-part system. There is one part that is audio (Industrial Music Electronics, or “Harvestman”), and there is one part that is video (LZX Industries). They communicate with each other via control voltages and audio rate signals, and they can independently influence each other in both ways or directions. For example, the audio can control the video, and the control voltages generated in the video system can also control sources in the audio system.
Many of the triggers and control voltages are shared between the two systems, which creates a cohesive audio/video experience. However, not every audio signal that sounds good — or produces a nice sound — looks good visually, and therefore, further tweaking and conditioning of the voltages are required to develop a more cohesive and harmonious relationship between them.
The two systems: a 3U (smaller) audio system on the left handles the Harvestman audio modules, and 6U (taller) on the right includes video processing modules from LZX Industries. Cases designed by Elite Modular.
I’m curious about your notion of finding patterns or paranormal in the content. Why is that significant to you? Carl Sagan gets at this idea of listening to noise in his original novel Contact (using the main character listening to a washing machine at one point, if I recall). What drew you to this sort of idea – and does it only say something about the listener, or the data, too?
Data transmission surrounds us at all times. There are always invisible frequencies that are outside our ability to perceive them, flowing through the air and which are as unobstructed as the air itself. We can only perceive a small fraction of these phenomena. There are limitations placed on our ability to perceive as humans, and there are more frequencies than we can experience. There are some frequencies we can experience, and there are some that we cannot. Perhaps the latter can move or pass throughout the range of perception, leaving a trail or trace or impressions on the frequencies that we can perceive as it passes through, and which we can then decode.
What about the fact that this is an audiovisual creation? What does it mean to fuse those media for a project?
The amazing thing about this project are the synchronicities formed between the audio and the video in real time. By connecting with the aural and the visual in this way, one generates and discovers strange, new, and interesting communications and compositions between these two spaces. The modular audio/video system allows direct connection between the video and the audio, and vice versa. A single patch cable can span between the two worlds and create new possibilities for each.
And now, some loops…
Oliver’s “experiments” series is transcendent and mesmerizing:
If this were a less cruel world, the YouTube algorithm would only feed you this. But in the meantime, you can subscribe to his channel. And ignore the view counts, actually. One person watching this one video is already sublime.
Plus, from Oliver’s gorgeous Instagram account, some ambient AV sketches to round things out.
Moog’s Mother line have all had patch cables. Now, the Grandmother adds something else – keys. Oh, and a heck of a lot of colors. We talked to Moog to get the inside scoop on the new Grandmother.
Patch-ability is all the rage these days. There’s the rack modular scene, of course. But then we’re increasingly seeing patch points on desktop synths and keyboards, too. The idea is, you can create different modulation effects and a wider range of sounds by changing the routing of signal through the instrument. And while that’s possible on some electronic instruments using switches or menus or other features, here you just plug a cable from one point to another.
Moog’s own Mother-32 brought that concept to their modern desktop rangorie, followed by its drum synth sibling, the DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother). Now, it’s the Grandmother’s turn. (Any bets on whether they’ll keep going with ‘mother’ names after this?)
The Grandmother moves the patch points out of the big matrix found on the side of the Mother-32 and DFAM, and distributes them across the hardware. That makes it a bit easier to follow where signal flow is – though you’ll also need longer cables.
And you get keys.
Plus this definitely comes in colors, as you may have noticed. The Grandmother plays up the modularity by color coding each section individually. At first glance, it appears as though the Grandmother is a rack of separate modules, but that’s just a visual flourish – it’s an all-in-one design. (If you do want a keyboard that lets you change modules, see products like Waldorf’s kb37, or Arturia’s RackBrute, which attaches to their MiniBrute range, or any number of boutique products.)
• Hardware Spring Reverb can be used to process external sounds
• ¼” External audio input for guitars, drum machines, and more.
• Semi-modular – no patching is required
• Easy to use Arpeggiator and Sequencer
• Store up to 3 sequences with up to 256 notes each
• 2 Analog Oscillators with selectable waveshape and hard sync
• Classic 4-Pole 10Hz-20kHz Ladder filter
• Patchable 1-Pole High Pass filter
• Analog ADSR Envelope Generator
• Analog LFO with audio-rate capabilities
• 32-note Fatar keyboard with velocity
• All normalized connections can be interrupted for full modularity
• DIN MIDI In/Out/Thru and USB MIDI
• Patchable bipolar attenuator
• Works with Mother-32, DFAM, Eurorack modular systems and more
• 41 patch points with 21 inputs, 16 outputs and a Parallel-Wired 4-jack Mult
That makes a really interesting instrument, though I think it’s worth noting that some of the competition comes from Moog itself – the SUB PHATTY has a pretty powerful architecture for roughly the same price, and while it lacks those patch points, still has some flexibility for routing modulation and analog I/O. It also has patch storage.
But I think there’s more to the Grandmother than specs, and the formula runs like this:
A semi-modular design + spring reverb = far out, man
Adrian Younge did this wonderful artist video that demonstrates that:
Grandmother price is US$899 street. (List is US$999.)
We talked to Moog Music about the thinking behind the Grandmother. Here’s what we learned:
Lots of space for patching. Moog emphasize that you can play this instrument even without patching anything if you want. But if you do want to take advantage of the semi-modular side, now there’s room to grow – figuratively and literally. Moog tell us:
In designing a keyboard instrument, we have more panel space than we do in the pure eurorack format (where space is always a consideration), giving us more room for the patch points. The patch point locations also make connecting cables to other devices, like Mother-32, DFAM or Eurorack much more convenient.
Having said that; Grandmother can do extremely complex things, particularly through patching. For seasoned synthesists, all normalizations can be broken and Grandmother can function as a fully modular instrument.
The Grandmother can be a modular gateway. You can patch the Grandmother, DFAM, and Mother-32 in various combinations – or it can be a gateway to Eurorack.
The origins of the Grandmother circuitry. There are some new sounds here – and they give you access to some Moog modulars from the past. Moog tells us: “All three instruments share the same oscillator genealogy, but the rest of Grandmother’s modules are based on classic Moog modular circuits. The Mixer is based on the CP3, the Filter is based on the 904A, the Envelope is based on the 911, the VCA is based on the 902, and the Spring Reverb is based on the 905.”
About those colors. Moog will definitely get your attention with that color coding. It’s obviously partly there for show, partly to make it obvious that the different sections have different functions. And back to the original Minimoog, our modern subtractive synths are essentially all derived from combinations of modules.
There is some history here. Moog points to their Sonic Six, the Concertmate / Realistic MG-1, and the Moog Source as instruments that all carried the Moog name. That’s actually a little surprising – Moog haven’t traditionally focused much on those chapters in their legacy, as they’re not connected with Bob Moog. (Not to be blunt, but that’s like talking to Ford PR and having them compare something to the Edsel.)
To me, the Grandmother really has the most in common with the Sonic Six. It used just one color, but the color overlay was meant to suggest the modular structure beneath.
I’m going to guess this design will inspire some love/hate reactions. But yeah, to be fair, there is some Moog history of “bold color choices,” as Moog tells us, other than, you know, brown.
The keybed. Moog: “It’s a Fatar TP-9 with velocity sensitivity, which is a really great and solid feeling keybed.”
You can gate the keyboard. Moog points out something else of interest:
“One other thing worth mentioning is the ( Envelope / Keyboard Release / Drone ) switch on the VCA. Envelope and Drone may be obvious, but the keyboard release selection is actually very useful. It works like Keyboard Gate on older Moog synths, where a pressed note immediately sets the VCA to maximum sustain level. The difference is when a note is released in this mode, the VCA will follow the release setting of the Envelope. This option opens up a lot of added possibilities while keeping the panel fast and easy to use.”
Built in the USA. Yep, these do get put together in Moog’s factory in North Carolina.
If you’re going to Moogfest this week: I’m not at Moogfest this year, but if you are, you get a special treat. Moog tell us:
For those near Durham, NC this week – Guitar Center will have Grandmother synthesizers available for play and purchase starting 10:00am this Thursday at the Moog Pop Up Factory (free and open to the public), where visitors can also watch as we live build the new instrument on site. Then at 3:00 on Thursday, Moogfest attendees can hear Grandmother used in a long-form Moog drone performance guided by Nick Hook and Gareth Jones of Spiritual Friendship.
If you love synths, you’ll want a guide to Berlin’s Superbooth. What was still just an actual booth a few years ago has grown into one of the world’s biggest synthesizer showcases. There was so much new, it’s actually hard to keep track. Here’s some assistance.
About the festival: Superbooth, held in a former East German children’s community center in the city’s Köpenick suburb, was more packed in 2018 than ever.
That’s partly a sign of the growth of modular makers. This event calls Berlin home thanks to Schneidersladen (née Schneidersbüro), the boutique synth shop that became a landmark and a beacon to lovers of electronic instruments, particularly as analog circuitry and Eurorack modular synths have seen major growth in the 21st century. Andreas Schneider and his team, and later their ALEX4 distributor and the Superbooth operation itself, have helped champion those instruments.
But like that shop, Superbooth also gathers boutique makers of many stripes, plus big manufacturers like KORG, Elektron, and Roland, each of whom had commanding presences (among others).
The overall feeling is of a place where synth makers and musicians come together, with gear at center stage. (There are panels and performances, too, but they feel a pleasant side show to the workshops and booths.)
This year’s themes: There are still wires everywhere. But “analog” sound sources aren’t the major concern they once were – or, for that matter, classic gear as models (even if Behringer clones were a big buzz). Now, you’ll see plenty of computer-like sequencers in racks, digital oscillators (including FM synthesis), more alternative control interfaces (from touch to gestures to biosensing), and fresh ideas built around digital tech.
Actually, maybe the openness of ideas is a big part of Superbooth’s easy-going atmosphere. Because modules aren’t complete products in themselves, they often seem as much a physical embodiment of an idea as a product. Even with some builders marketing complete “systems,” there was a hunger to connect gear.
But even if you’re not into modular… Here’s the funny thing. Superbooth has managed to become the world’s premiere synth show, not just modular show. Computers were mostly eclipsed, and you didn’t see a lot of guitar- or vocal-focused gear, but every other object that generates sound – from desktop synths to Theremins – was on hand, with some pretty big news.
Okay, there’s so much stuff – I’m going to make this a really fast log with some in-a-nutshell descriptions.
Things I left out of this list:
1. Stuff introduced earlier / shown before (as at NAMM in the USA, earlier this year)
2. Things I forgot / didn’t see
On #2, please feel free to remind me or make a case for something you found interesting. There’s actually way too much stuff to cover everything, though, so I did intend to pick highlights but …. I’m sure there’s more.
Erik Norlander (also creator of the Alesis Andromeda) shows us the IK Multimedia UNO he worked on with Soundmachines’ Davide Mancini.
I’ve covered these already, as they made some of the biggest impact at the show (and on general audiences), perhaps with the exception of the Behringer clones (more on that in a bit).
MFB’s Tanzbär-2 was instant drool-worthy stuff, combining analog drum sounds, digital drum sounds with sample loading, and an analog bassline with easy access to sounds and faders. And it’s made in Berlin, so – score one for the home team.
The Polyend/Dreadbox Medusa is a deep synth paired with an expressive grid and extensive live recording and sequencing features. And as with the MFB, pretty much everyone I talked to instantly wanted one, so there’s that.
The $199 IK Multimedia UNO. Combining a powerful analog synth with a sequencer and lots of modulation, all in a battery-powered unit you can play right away at a low price, is an easy win. It’s also the work of a collaboration between soundmachines and IK.
Erica Synths Techno System just does everything you need for percussion and bassline and distortion and mixing thereof, and sounds amazing.
Roland’s SYSTEM-500 modules strike a nice balance between features of the 100m line, the SH-5, and newer ideas. Plus, again, Roland got to stake out the super-cool space-themed part of the building.
Bastl’s modules are noteworthy, even if not the most buzzed-about gear at Superbooth this year, for two reasons: one, I think they’ve got waveshaping interface down with Timber, and two, the 1983 MIDI-to-CV module does clever automatic tuning, for polyphony across modules.
Desktop synths and toys
The Center for Haptic Audio Interaction Research chair.audio. This is perhaps the most exciting innovation shown at Superbooth. Vibration-based sensing and haptic technology produces a control interface that behaves more like an acoustic instrument. It’s the result of a research team based in Weimar, Germany – check their complete site for an explanation, but more on this on CDM soon, for sure. The results are stunning – suggesting a new kind of performance interaction, and a window to the worlds of electronic sound that descends more from acoustic percussion and less from organs and keyboards. Watch – it’s jaw-dropping:
Dave Smith Instruments Prophet X. Dave Smith have gone to the high end with this one – it’s a new flagship Prophet, combining a digital 8-voice stereo digital synth, a new sample-based sound engine, and those signature DSI analog filters and circuitry. Basically, you get a Prophet workstation – part Prophet synth, part sample engine with 150 GB content, and all the extras. And it costs four grand, though this seems like a new generation of workstation keyboard / computer sample engine replacement. (Dave Smith for Hans Zimmer?) DSI have posted a complete product page. It’s sort of a shame Keyboard Magazine (USA) is no longer printed on trees, as obviously this would be on the cover.
Soulsby Atmultitron. This is like the 8-bit workstation to DSI’s high-res one. No gigs of samples or high resolution here – just a keyboard packing all of Paul Soulsby’s brilliant and weird 8-bit creations into a single keyboard with joystick and controls.
Pittsburgh Modular Electronic Sequence Designer. Sequencers were all over the place at Superbooth, but perhaps the most useful was Pittsburgh Modular’s entry – a 4-channel, 32-step sequencer with loads of performance and composition options. It’s a little like having a KOMPLEX Sequencer from KOMA, but in a more manageable form factor.
Twisted Electrons introduced some toys in the best sense. The 8-bit uAcid8 borrows from their bigger acid8 wavetable synth, while the 4-voice hapiNES is “inspired by” the NES game synth. Both have push-button access to some clever features like filter wobble, and both cost just 99EUR. The inspiration of the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators was left in the open – they even had a couple of those plugged into these, jamming together.
A hardware tool for the Prologue. KORG hinted that they were bringing hardware SDKs to play with that would allow developers to make stuff for their Prologue polysynth. KORG’s Etienne Noreau-Hebert talked to us about it. It’s basically one Prologue voice on a board (with cute lasercut side stands), with audio in and out jacks so you can hear what you’re doing, and exactly the circuitry you’d have on the full keyboard. Writing in C (with limited C++ extensions), you can make your own oscillators and effects, then ship them to the Prologue user base. There’s not much to this other than that, apart from a handful of conveniences like lookup tables, but it still seems like fun. And it’s the first instance I can think of that a hardware platform worked in this way.
Holon bio interface. This was crazy fun to play with. Using an Apple Watch or a custom wristband sensor (or just your iPhone), this interface tracks your pulse as well as movement. The upshot: jog around, and music responds. It’s like having a generative composer following you around, writing music for your workout – so that even when you pause to wait for a light to change at an intersection, the music answers accordingly. They also have a modular interface for this. Awaiting Apple approval. (holon.ist site seems not to be up quite yet, either).
Soundmachines Arches. Touch interfaces were everywhere, but Soundmachines’ Arches was a standout. Not only does it provide touchable strips, but you get light-up feedback, recording and looping, pressure sensitivity and z-axis control, and tons of patchability in addition to MIDI and USB. It’s really a gestural sequencing instrument as well as control interface, with loads of pattern controls for automating as you play. See the full product page for more.
Snazzy FX pedals. If you feel a bit left out of the fun as an instrumentalist looking for pedals, Snazzy has you covered – some brilliant and completely weirdo guitar pedals from the USA, found in the Erica Synths booth.
u-he Civilization. With lite-brite rainbow colors and just a few pots, the entry of plug-in developer into the modular world was a strange one. This module is a 4×4 matrix mixer – but, with some taps of those pots, it’s also a quantizer and sample & hold module – and all of that is color coded. Basically, a single space lets you command a bunch of connections and modules quickly, making Civilization an interesting choice for saving space.
It’s a bit nuts, but it also shows some of the advantage of multi-functional thinking from software blurring over into hardware.
Humble Audio Quad Operator. Hailing from San Francisco, Humble Audio have delivered a four-operator FM synth in a Eurorack module – complete with a matrix of pots. Everything can be modulated – and you can patch in audio signal. You can choose algorithms, or mix together your own sound shapes. It’s basically everything you’d want from a software FM synth, but in modular form – brlliant stuff, and hope to look at it more.
NERDSEQ is a chip music-style tracker in a module. It’s not new – I saw some pre-modular prototype years ago even at Musikmesse – but each year, its developer takes it further. This year, cartridges containing open source synths, including the full MeeBlip anode with analog filter, were available. So you can plug in an entire synth and use it in the tracker, just as easily as you would play Excitebike. Don’t blow on the synth cartridge, though.
You can plug in a game controller, too.
Hexinverter Mindphaser. Well, this is basically your dream oscillator – an analog “complex oscillator” with phase modulation and waveshaping. And in addition to beautiful controls and patching, it just sounds ridiculously good:
In a way, maybe this is one of the best Superbooth moments. It demonstrates analog circuitry, behaving futuristic – voltages making those computer bits a little jealous. (I may seem like I’m now anthropomorphizing numbers whilst my hypocrisy takes down the very name of my site, but just remember the CDM motto – the ‘d’ stands for whatever you want it to.)
I just wish I hadn’t failed to get on the Eurorack manufacturing craze or the cryptocurrency thing, because now I … can’t afford all that mindphasing. (Or at least, thinking about it is causing some mindphasing.)
Insane Clone Posse
Behringer have gone clone mad – with Roland Corporation circa 1980 (give or take a couple of years) being a particular target.
Roland’s SH-101 synth (1982), VP-330 vocoder (1979), TR-808 (1980), and even two pedals based on the JUNO-60 (1982) were on the show floor, not to mention the announcement that Behringer’s cut-rate Eurorack line will be based on the SYSTEM-100 module line. And no one can argue that Behringer are bringing back products that Roland won’t, since Roland has unveiled the SH-01, VP-03, TR-08 (and TR-8S and TR-8), and JU-06, plus their own SYSTEM-500 Eurorack, respectively. Behringer aren’t just copying Roland from decades past, in other words – their whole brand strategy comes straight out of the 2017-2018 Roland product catalog.
Behringer’s offerings are cheaper, yes. But those aren’t profits going to some rich fat cats: they pay for the marketing and support operations of Roland worldwide, which arguably helps create the market Behringer can then come in and exploit (and certainly which pays for some jobs).
It’s not just Roland. Behringer copied Sequential Circuits (now Dave Smith Instruments) Pro-One, though the prototype on the floor copied the look and feel more effectively than the architecture. There was also the ARP Odyssey, which had recently been re-engineered and re-released by KORG. And Behringer also showed the Neutron, which looks suspiciously in board layout like Moog’s Mother-32 semi-modular.
Nowhere to be seen: the DeepMind, the one synth Behringer created that’s actually new.
On the other hand, maybe what makes this less remarkable at this point is that the 101 and 808 in particularly already have countless clones in software and hardware. Behringer is, perversely, almost trading on their reputation for being the clone maker.
Behringer’s strategy (via parent Music Tribe) and its impact on the industry deserves more investigation. Past clones have landed the company in legal trouble with Roland/BOSS and Mackie. I’m researching that story and will report more separately.
But were there new products from Behringer? Well, no – not unless you’ve been in cryogenic stasis since 1982.
Meanwhile, the oddest reaction to this has to be this, from Synthtopia’s comments:
It justifies Behringer’s hardware clones with a reference to all the human … cloning … going on. Really, human cloning? Wasn’t aware.
Oh, so much weirdness. Want a beer tap in a module, for instance?
MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) is now an official part of the MIDI standard. And Superbooth Berlin shows it’s catching on everywhere from granular synths to modular gear.
For decades now, it’s been easy enough to add expression to a single, monophonic line, via various additional controls. But humans have more than one finger. And with MIDI, there was until recently no standard way of adding additional expressiveness for multiple notes/fingers at the same time. All of that changed with the adoption of the MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) specification.
“Oh, fine,” naysayers were able to say, “but is that really for very many people?” And sure enough, there haven’t been so many instruments that knew what to do with the MPE data from a controller. So while you can pick up a controller like the ROLI Seaboard (or more boutique items from Roger Linn and Madrona Labs), and see support in major DAWs like Logic, Cubase, Reaper, GarageBand, and Bitwig Studio, mostly what you’d play would be specialized instruments made for them.
But that’s changing. It’s changing fast enough that you could spot the theme even at an analog-focused show like Superbooth.
Here’s a round-up of what was shown just at that show – and that isn’t even a complete list of the hardware and software support available now.
Thanks to Konstantin Hess from ROLI who helped me compile this list and provided some photos.
Polyend/Dreadbox Medusa. This all-in-one sequencer/synth is one I’ll write up separately. That grid has dedicated X/Y/Z movement on it, and it’s terrifically expressive. What’s great is, it uses MPE so you can record and play that data in supported hosts – or presumably use the same to sequence oteher MPE-compatible gear. And that also means:
Polyend SEQ. The Polish builder’s standalone sequencer also works with SEQ. As on the Medusa, you can play that live, or increment through, or step sequence control input.
Tasty Chips GR-1 Granular Synthesizer. Granular instruments have always posed a challenge when it comes to live performance, because they require manipulating multiple parameters at once. That of course makes them a natural for MPE – and sure enough, when Tasty Chips crowd-funded their GR-1 grain synth, they made MPE one of the selling points. Connect something like a Seaboard, and you have a granular instrument at your command. (An ultra-mobile, affordable Seaboard BLOCK was there for the demo in Berlin.)
The singular Gaz Williams recently gave this a go:
Audio Damage Granular. The newest iOS app/desktop plug-in from Audio Damage isn’t ready to use yet, but an early build was already at Superbooth connected to both a Linnstrument and a ROLI Seaboard for control. Set an iPad with your controller, and you have a mobile grain instrument solution.
Expert Sleepers FH-1. The FH-1 is a unique MIDI-to-CV modular interface, with both onboard USB host capabilities and polyphonic support. But what would polyphonic input be if you couldn’t also add polyphonic expression? And sure enough, the FH-1 is adding support for that natively. I’m hopeful that Bastl Instruments will choose to do the same with their own 1983 MIDI module.
Polyend Poly module. Also from Polyend, the Poly is designed around polyphony – note the eight-row matrix of CV out jacks, which makes it a sophisticated gateway from MIDI and USB MIDI to voltage. But this digital-to-analog gateway also has native support for MPE, meaning the moment you connect an MPE-sending controller, you can patch that expression into whatever you like.
Endorphin.es Shuttle Control. Shuttle Control is both a (high res) 12-bit MIDI-to-CV converter and practically a little computer-in-a-module all its own. It’s got MPE support, and was showing off that capability at Superbooth.
Once you have that MIDI bridge to voltage, of course, MPE gives you additional powers over a modular rig, so this opens up a lot more than just the stuff mentioned here.
I even know some people switching from Ableton Live to Bitwig Studio just for the added convenience of native MPE support. (That’s a niche, for sure, but it’s real.) I guess the key here is, it takes just one instrument or one controller you love to get you hooked – and then sophisticated modular and software environments can connect to still more possibilities.
It’s not something you’re going to need for every bassline or use all the time, but for some instruments, it adds another dimension to sound and playability.
Got some MPE-supporting picks of your own, or your own creations? Do let us know.
What if you had all the modules you need to make techno and industrial in one rack? Meet Erica’s line of drum and synth modules. They seem to know their market.
Now, it’s meaningful this is coming from Erica. The Latvian-based company with some ex-Soviet Polivoks lineage has a knack for making simply mental boxes that bring that grimy, dirty industrial sound straight out of the actual post-Communist industrial landscape of Riga. If I had to sum up that user experience, it’d run something like this: turn knob, machine screams.
But that’s saying something. Making wild sounds intuitive is a feat. And Erica have earned their reputation by putting those sounds into boxes that are reliable, easy to understand, and deliver a punch without hitting the high end of the cost spectrum.
Running down these modules, you just have to keep nodding – yes, that’s what I want out of this module, and yes, that’s the sensible way to lay out these controls. I can’t really judge sound quality at a trade show, but the sound was good enough that it actually blew me away over the din of Superbooth, out of some small monitors – and that’s saying a lot. We’ll get to check out Erica’s crew at a club tonight here in Berlin, and this is one I think we’ll need to give a full review.
(Bonus: they’re also coming with the effects collaboration they built with Ninja Tune. I’m keen to see that, as well.)
I also think it’s totally reasonable to build systems around musical applications like techno. Plenty of modular instruments have morphed into particular configurations to make them musically accessible. And then since this is still patchable, you don’t have to make this sound like techno you’ve heard before – you can push that flexible sequencer and patch things together to bend something into your own genre and voice. Or, this being modular, you also have now a big line of components that could fill gaps in whatever setup you choose.
Here’s a look at those modules.
Sample slicing and triggering, WAV file (even imports CUE points), with assignable CV inputs. Actually, there’s nothing to say this has to be a drum module – it’s also a general-purpose sample slicer/module.
microSD for loading sounds.
Well, here’s your distortion. Three dedicated modes for each side, cascaded in series for extreme distortion. This is really the heart and soul of the Erica Techno System sound, and even if you didn’t get the rest of the line here, this one could be a must.
Built on the Spin FV-1 chip – a custom reverb platform – the dual FX has a set of custom mono and stereo effects from Erica’s in-house musician-madman KODEK.
It’s all about the bass – and here, those basslines will be more than a little acidic. Erica’s Acidbox proved how crazy their filters can be. It apparently inspired the filter here – so expect really aggressive, terror-inducing acid.
Full analogue circuit
BBD-based VCO detune emulation
Built in VCF and VCA decay envelope
External VCO FM and VCF cutoff CV inputs
Of course, what keeps this compact is, the sequencing all falls to the dedicated sequencer unit (or a sequencer module of your choice – Superbooth has had a lot of them).
Toms can easily be a throwaway, but here there was a lot of attention to detail. Toms has dedicated controls for low, mid, and high, and promises 909-inspired tom sounds. Erica says they built this in collaboration with e-licktronic – that’s the boutique/DIY maker who’s perhaps best known for their Roland clones and custom kits.
Erica are actually introducing three different hat/cymbal models. There’s an analog module (“A”) with accent and individual CV controls of everything, also made with e-licktronic. There’s a digital sample-based “D.” And there are sample-based cymbals (“Cymbals”).
It’s easy to overlook this one. But when you’re actually in the heat of the moment playing live, you need that ability to just reach over, twist a knob, and add in a particular part.
And the Drum Mixer looks just about perfect. It boasts vactrol-based compression to keep everything properly loud and intense without losing clarity, plus a stupidly easy setup for controlling compression and the various parts, with seven inputs and both main and aux outs.
Erica also plan a more compact 6-input “Lite” version of the same, and a 4-channel Stereo Mixer.
Oh yeah, and if you’re not into the black craze, they plan to release everything again in white.
Lastly, the sequencing here comes from the Erica Drum Sequencer. Announced in January, it debuted in March – but now it has some modules to sequence:
Features of that are numerous:
12x Accent outputs
1x CV/GATE track
2xLFO with independent or synced to the BPM frequency
Time signature per track
Pattern length per track
Shuffle per track
Probability per step
Retrigger per step
Instant pattern switching
Step/Tap record modes
16 Banks of 16 Patterns
Instant pattern switching
Midi sync in with start/stop
Firmware upgrade via MIDI SySex