By laying out faders, encoders, displays, and an 8×8 expressive grid, Polyend hopes you’ll play their Medusa’s synths sounds. So here’s some sound of what was going on in my studio.
Here’s a live jam, just getting a bit lost in the Medusa world:
It’s not really a demo so much as me enjoying what the instrument can do. Because they’re new, we rely on musical performance of instruments. But that’s not to say it’s obvious how to do so. We “demo” an instrument – even though we’d never expect to “demo” a violin (not any more, anyway).
A few features stand out to me as useful to play, which you’ll see getting some use:
Swapping and modulating wavetables: this was recently expanded with a bunch of additional wavetable sources; there’s a particular character to the Medusa offerings that I really enjoy
Grid Mode: this lets you sequence and even ‘play’ different parameters stored in each individual grid
Different internal scale modes (no custom scales/tunings or Scala support yet, though there’s a nice scale/mode assortment, and you can set custom tunings in Grid Mode by manually tuning them in)
Envelopes and modulation: obviously, this adds additional motion in the music; what sets the Medusa apart is on-the-fly assignment, which you can think of as a digital equivalent to patching cables
FM adjustment – well, just because this can sound wild, as frequency modulation does (both on the filter and oscillators)
Mixing oscillators: with three digital + three analog + noise source, you can add and subtract layers in the sound via the faders
I also went ahead and added some effects and an extended version of this live set:
The first recording is dry apart from some very very light plate reverb and compression. The SoundCloud upload includes my favorite Eventide effects – Ultratap [multitap delay], Omnipressor [compressor], Blackhole [reverb].
Here’s a more straightforward play with the different oscillators and basic voice structure:
It was the stuff of legends – a richly capable polysynth from the mind of Dave Smith, with only 800 units making it into the world. But now as makers chase the same clones on repeat, the T8 finds its way onto another innovative and overlooked flagship, today’s Sequential Prophet X and XL.
I wouldn’t normally write about sample packs, let alone add-ons for particular hardware. But Sequential’s Prophet X and XL are already uniquely sophisticated instruments – monster polysynths combining dozens of gigs of “deep sampling” sample content with analog synthesis, in a hybrid giant. The sample shop that assembled the sounds for that Prophet, 8dio, have gone back to painstakingly recreate the T8 as an add-on to the new Prophets.
The resulting combo could be the best modern Prophet available at the moment. The T8 had the soul of a Prophet-5 architecture, but was decades head of its time by unveiling polyphonic aftertouch keys (take that, MPE). Those T8 sounds, sampled here in detail, are a natural pairing with the Prophet X’s stereo analog filters, deep modulation, dual digital effects, and polyphonic step sequencer, plus its own superb keyboard.
8dio worked with Dave’s own, immaculately maintained T8 for the samples.
8dio has also made add-ons featuring the ARP 2600 and OBX.
The pack is just US$48, so while picking up a Prophet X or XL is hardly cheap, what you do get here for your investment is a serious alternative to assembling a bunch of software plug-ins for this sort of sound design depth.
The bad news here is really about a limitation of the new Prophets – Sequential doesn’t do polyphonic aftertouch or MPE on their new keyboards (though there is polyphonic glide). I’m rather hopeful that the reemergence of the T8 prods Dave and team to consider doing that, following Bay Area leaders like Roger Linn who helped drive the adoption of polyphonic expression in MIDI. These sounds deserve some control from more than one of your fingers at a time. (You get just mono aftertouch on the Prophet X/XL.)
But whether you’re a Sequential owner or not, it’s worth spending some time revisiting the T8 in all its 1983 glory – this is an early 80s synth that seems more like something you’d get now.
You absolutely should check out this copious review / history from greatsynthesizers.com for everything you could hope to want to know about this axe:
Elektron have taken one of their more inspiring recent products and added a keyboard. The result – an 8-voice polyphonic keyboard for 1320EUR, and a bunch of new playing features.
So yes, Elektron continues the move away from the company that makes powerful but mysterious boxes to something more hands-on. We’re going from menu diving to actually playing.
And indeed, it’s now the age of the polysynth. 8 voices for just over a grand ain’t so bad.
The Digitone was already sonically one of the most compelling instruments to come out of Gothenburg yet – a unique, powerful FM synth, so capable of all kinds of ringing, special timbres. Elektron haven’t been terribly creative with how they took the Digitone interface and made it a keyboard. A first glance shows something that looks like a fake image someone mocked up on Reddit.
But take a second look, and what you see is – lots of additional playing controls, a shallow design that keeps everything within reach (rather than putting all those buttons above the keys), and some new ways to play and connect Digitone.
In short, what’s new:
Multimap – basically think regions/splits on the keyboard, but which work for patterns as well as timbres
Eight assignable knobs (not on the original)
New portamento/arpeggio features
Per-track, separate outputs – making this ideal for people who like to use hardware effects
But the sum total of this is special – all the pattern and parameter lock features of an Elektron box, plus a bunch of keyboardist-friendly features. The Analog Keys was a first stab at this, but the Digitone Keys doubles the polyphony and looks friendlier.
Product image reveals where this product was possibly found – is that the cave Thor goes to? The bottom of … a magic Norse grotto? Don’t know?
Full specs – yep, now I copy/paste. Stay tuned, as I’m heading over to see Elektron’s new studio in Berlin – further cementing our dear home as the electronic music capital of the world. (Though, please y’all, I love Sweden, too! Don’t take away an excuse to go there!)
What if Novation put everything great about their recent analog and digital synths into one keyboard? That appears to be exactly what Summit is – and it looks like a show stealer.
The information is leaking via German media through a couple of print and online outlets (Beat and delemar.de so far, with the Facebook post of the latter picked up by Gearnews. Oh, and, uh… there’s an image sitting around on Novation’s site.
And it’s too good to sit on this time.
16 voices digital/analog hybrid, bi-timbral modes, 60 wavetables, multimode filters, and then tons and tons of onboard controls – four dedicated LFOs right on the front panel.
3 oscillators per voice
An arpeggiator with pattern and chord modes
A 61-key keyboard with conventional pitch and mod wheels
Stereo outputs (or 4x mono)
Okay, so why all those keys? Think performance – layers and splits and dual mode and that powerful chord/arp/pattern business, all at your fingertips.
Times like this I miss writing for Keyboard in print. But I’ll let you figure the rest from photos. And be sure we’ll head to that booth – I’m glad I’m bringing a couple of friends, as maybe then we can do four- or six-hand performance on this for you, provided Novation are bringing a working unit.
2200 EUR appears to be the price – and while that’s nothing to sneeze at, it’s tough to get this much bang and hands-on control for your buck any other way.
Oh yeah, and this does mean a shot across the bow of a certain rival manufacturer who has been posting “what-if” scenarios and random images. It appears Novation has done the actual engineering to finish a product here. But Novation’s coup here may be packing all the sound and modulation controls of a polysynth up front without having an overwhelming layout. No vintage instrument pulled that off – so instead of repeating the past, they’ve come up with a new design.
More when we talk to Novation Thursday.
(Bass Station 2.5 is also in this leaked image, but that we’ve seen already. It’s still cool.)
Of course, this is a leak so – all bets are off until we get official information.
And now your German word of the day is stimmig.
Novation Peak was a megahit at Superbooth, and it seems the gang from the UK have done it again.
Yamaha is the one giant name that has mostly shied away from revisiting its past synth glory – but all that could soon be set to change.
For better or for worse, we live in an age of remakes and reboots. Oberheim and Buchla are back; Sequential Circuits is a name again (even if the instruments are new). Moog have reissued their Minimoog and their modular – even Keith Emerson’s entire rig. And two out of the three Japanese giants have reissued work-alike recreations – KORG the MS-20 and ARP Odyssey, Roland whole sets of their modular series along with TB-303, TR-808, and TR-909. (Sure, the Roland has digital modeling substituted for analog gear, but the fact is you could use their TB-03 by reading the manual from the original, even with its original sequencer mode.) These manufacturers are all going back through their own catalogs and original creators; then, of course, you also have Behringer additionally going after their work.
In all of this, Yamaha has mostly been the notable exception. The closest we’ve gotten to Yamaha even acknowledging its back catalog was the reface series, a set of mini keyboards with some hands-on control covering its FM synths, CS analog line, and electric pianos.
Of those three, I always thought the reface CS was the most compelling. Its faders do a decent job of distilling the hands-on feeling of the CS line into an ultra-compact form factor.
But that’s a far cry from the legion of hands-on controls the mighty CS-80 offers, or even the excellent duophonic CS-40M. (Actually, to me, the CS-40M would be ideal for an all-analog remake, much like the ARP Odyssey and MS-20 were – just shedding some of the physical bulk of the original.)
It seems Yamaha are digging into that. A thread on yamahamusicians.com suggests they want to take on their CS-80. Yamaha’s back catalog is immense and influential, but there’s nothing quite like the CS-80. To say it was a giant is to say it is both the instrument associated with Blade Runner and literally a 200-pound behemoth.
And now Yamaha wants to know a “basic conceptual direction if we were to make a new CS-80.”
There’s some interesting discussion in that thread. Sure enough, people are open to digital recreations. Basically, don’t believe everything you read online; whereas loud-mouthed Internet trolls will scream and howl about digital modeling, these devices do well in the market. Roland’s recreations, for instance, have satisfied plenty of people with sound, and the digital modeling allows these devices to be not only inexpensive, but to run on battery power and to provide direct-digital (zero circuit noise) recording via computer.
I think the most intriguing comparison in that thread is to the Alesis A6 Andromeda. That instrument, still sought after online, heralded the return not just of analog but of one-to-one, hands-on controls – at a time when manufacturers forgot that musicians love turning knobs and moving faders.
I also think it’s worth noting that an avalanche of Behringer remakes have not appeared to dampen the desire of people to see remakes from the original manufacturers.
Yamaha make great, high-quality instruments, but it’s been a while since they were grabbing equivalent buzz – maybe not since the likes of the Tenori-On.
In the meanwhile, if you want an authentic CS-80 recreation, sell your car and get a Deckard’s Dream.
My guess is that Yamaha will not choose to go this route for cost, and that this ultra-luxury boutique instrument will remain your all-analog CS choice. It is absolutely the polysynth I would buy if I ever had, you know, money.
But could Yamaha pull off a digital remake in a smaller shell? Why not? They’ve already got deep workstation keyboards unlike anyone else’s; it’s about time they go Andromeda on those engines and give people more hands-on controls. They certainly have the manufacturing prowess to pull it off.
Vember Audio owner @Kurasu made this happen. But software just “being open sourced” often leads nowhere. In this case, Surge has a robust community around it, turning this uniquely open instrument into something you can happily use as a plug-in alongside proprietary choices.
And it really is deep: stack 3 oscillators per voice, use morphable classic or FM or ring modulation or noise engines, route through a rich filter block with feedback and every kind of variation imaginable – even more exotic notch or comb or sample & hold choices, and then add loads of modulation. There are some 12 LFOs per voice, multiple effects, a vocoder, a rotary speaker…
I mention it again because now you can grab Mac (64-bit AU/VST), Windows (32-bit and 64-bit VST), and Linux (64-bit VST) versions, built for you.
And there’s VST3 support.
And there’s support for MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression), meaning you can use hardware from ROLI, Roger Linn, Haken, and others – I’m keen to try the Sensel Morph, perhaps with that Buchla overlay.
Now there’s also an analog mode for the envelopes, too.
This also holds great promise for people who desire a deep synth but can’t afford expensive hardware. While Apple’s approach means backwards compatibility on macOS is limited, it’ll run on fairly modest machines – meaning this could also be an ideal starting point for building your own integrated hardware/software solution.
In fact, if you’re not much of a coder but are a designer, it looks like design is what they need most at this point. Plus you can contribute sound content, too.
Most encouraging is really that they are trying to build a whole community around this synth – not just make open source maintenance a chore, but really a shared endeavor.
Want some evidence that the future of expressive digital instruments and MPE is bright? Look to Haken’s ContinuuMini, which emerged over last year, bringing greater portability and a US$899 price to the out-there controller.
Forget anything else, and listen to this gorgeous video (using a clever setup with an Onde acoustic resonator*:
Why does the ContinuuMini matter?
Expression really is a combination of sound and physical control. Say what you will about piano keyboards (and some electronic musicians who hate them certainly do) – the reason an acoustic piano is still expressive has to do with the sound of a piano.
So when we talk about MPE, a scheme for allowing polyphonic expression through MIDI, we’re really talking about allow greater depth in the connection of physical gestures and sound.
If this is going to catch on, it’ll require more than one vendor. I think it’s wrong to assume MPE’s future, then, is tied solely to ROLI as a vendor. From the start, MPE was an initiative of a range of people, from major software developers (Apple, Steinberg) to hardware inventors (ROLI, but also Roger Linn and Randy Jones of Madrona Labs, for instance).
And Haken Audio has been a boutique maker pushing new ways of playing for years – including with MPE on their Continuum. The Continuum may look arcane in photos, but feeling it is a unique experience. The ribbon feels luxurious – it’s actually soft fabric. And the degree of control is something special. But it’s also enormous and expensive – and that means a lot of people can’t buy it, or can’t tour with it since it won’t fit in an overhead.
I believe that what makes an instrument is really finding that handful of people to do stuff even the creators didn’t expect, so if you can lower those barriers for even a run of a few hundred units, you could have a small revolution on your hand.
That’s what Haken have done with ContinuuMini, which closed crowd sourcing late last year and has started shipping of the first hardware.
Here’s what sets it apart:
It’s a Continuum. Well, first, nothing else feels like a Continuum. That feeling may not be for everyone, but it’s still significant as a choice.
It’s continuous. Because you aren’t limited by frets or keys, there’s a continuous range of sound. This is a controller you’ll want to practice, finding intonation with muscle memory and your ear. And there are artists who will want that subtlety.
It has internal sound. Like its larger sibling the ContinuuMini has an internal sound engine. That means that it’s not just a controller. Haken have conceived control and sound in a single, unified design. You can play it without connecting other stuff. And the builders have worked on both the physical and aural experience of what they’ve made. I think that’s significant to anyone making an investment, particularly in an age in which abstract controller hardware tends to stack in our closets.
It’s 8-voice polyphonic, as well. The ContinuuMini isn’t just a controller: it’s a complete, gorgeous polysynth and a controller, for this one price.
It connects to other gear, without software. Bidirectional digital control – MIDI, with MPE, MPE+ – and bidirectional control voltage analog (with converter) are possible. That means you can play the ContinuuMini with gear and software (like recording MIDI and MPE in your DAW for playback), and likewise the ContinuuMini can control your software and gear. There are also two pedal inputs so your feet can get in on the action.
It’s only a quarter kilogram. 9 oz. You can tote the bigger ones with a case but – the ContinuuMini is incredibly portable.
* Synthtopia has a great, in-depth interview on the Onde and Pyramid, acoustic resonators that make an electronic instrument feel more like an instrument and less like “something disconnected that produces sound through speakers” as with conventional monitors:
Novation packed new sounds – and 43 new wavetables – into an update for their flagship Peak synthesizer. Sound designer Patricia Wolf writes to share how she approached making some of those new sounds.
Peak, in case you missed it, has been one of the more compelling new synths in recent years. Novation designed a unique-sounding 8-voice polysynth, melding digital wavetable oscillators with analog processing, per-voice filtering and all-important distortion all over the place.
As with other Novation products, they’ve also been adding features in frequent firmware updates, listening to users in the process.
The big deal in Peak 1.2, released this month, is 43 additional wavetables (which evidently some of you were asking for). But you also get:
16 tuning tables
Two more LFOs you can assign to anything (not just per-voice)
Pitch bend wheel modulation (if you like)
A quicker interface for the Mod Matrix
A new four-slot FX Matrix – so you can route four LFOs to effects parameters
A hold stage for the envelopes (on top of the existing ADSRs)
An option to initalize with current knob/fader positions (instead of defaults)
New soundpacks from GForce and Patricia Wolf
Now, as it happens, Patricia Wolf wrote us on her own to share what she has done with her 50 sounds. Patricia is leading what sounds like a great career working in sound design, and her approach to these sounds is really musical – including sharing these etudes of sorts fo illustrate them, inspired by the likes of BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneering composer Delia Derbyshire. Listen:
Here’s what Patricia has to say:
Hello CDM:) I am a sound designer and electronic musician based in Portland, Oregon. I am one of the official sound designers for the Novation Peak synthesizer and just made a sound pack of 50 patches for their firmware update launch. My soundpack is available for free through Novation’s Components App.
I created a recording demonstrating my patches in a musical/artistic way.
Patricia playing live in Seattle for Further Records. Photo Valerie Ann/DJ Explorateur, framed by video art live by Leo Mayberry.
This recording is a demonstration of the sound design work I did for the Novation Peak. I created 50 patches demonstrating some of the new features that the v1.2 firmware update has to offer. My sound pack is available for free with the update through Novation’s Components App. Select the Novation tab on that app to access them as well as GForce Software’s free patches.
The patches are performed with a mixture of Octatrack sequencing (using sequences from songs I have written) and live performance with a MIDI controller. I was inspired by artists like Delia Derbyshire and wanted to record little vignettes and sonatas using the Peak without other sound sources.
I made this recording so that friends can hear the sounds I made and so that other Peak users can get a closer glimpse into how I envision sound design.
The Novation Peak was recorded directly into a Steinberg UR44 interface. No external effects. Subtle mastering from Tokyo Dawn Labs software to balance recordings of different patches.
More on Patricia:
Patricia Wolf is an electronic musician, sound designer, and gallery curator based in Portland, Oregon. After years of working in the synth pop duo Soft Metals, Wolf became interested in exploring non-linear songwriting and new forms of synthesis. Alongside working with Novation, Wolf co-founded the gallery Variform which focuses on sound design and modern composition. Patricia Wolf is a recipient of the Precipice Fund, a grant funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, to explore synthesis in the contemporary art world.
On the surface, Ableton’s new free download today is just a set of sound tools. But Ableton also seem focused on helping you find some inspiration to get ideas going.
Creative Extensions are now a free addition to Live 10. They’re built in Max for Live, so you’ll need either Ableton Live 10 Suite or a copy of Live 10 Standard and Max for Live. (Apparently some of you do fit the latter scenario.)
To find the tools, once you have those prerequisites, you’ll just launch the new Live 10 browser. then click Packs in the sidebar, and Creative Extensions will pop up under “Available Packs” as a download option. Like so:
I’m never without my trusty copy of Sax for Live. The rest I can download here.
Then once you’re there, you get a tool for experimenting with melodies, two virtual analog instruments (a Bass, and a polysynth with modulation and chorus), and effects (two delays, a limiter, an envelope processor, and a “spectral blur” reverb).
Have a look:
Melodic Steps is a note sequencer with lots of options for exploration.
Bass is a virtual analog monosynth, with four oscillators. (Interesting that this is the opposite approach taken by Native Instruments with the one-oscillator bass synth in Maschine.)
Poli is a virtual analog polysynth, basically staking out some more accessible ground versus the AAS-developed Analog already in Live.
Pitch Hack is a delay – here’s where things start to get interesting. You can transpose, reverse audio, randomize transposition interval, and fold the delayed signal back into the effect. If you’ve been waiting for a wild new delay from the company that launched with Grain Delay, this could be it.
Gated Delay is a second delay, combining a gate sequencer and delay. (Logic Pro 10.4 added some similar business via acquired developer Camel, but nice to have this in Live, too.)
Color Limited is modeled on hardware limiters.
Re-enveloper is a three-band, frequency dependent envelope processor. That gives you some more precise control of envelope on a sound – or you could theoretically use this in combination with other effects. Very useful stuff, so this could quietly turn out to be the tool out of this set you use the most.
Spectral Blur is perhaps the most interesting – it creates dense clouds of delays, which produce a unique reverb-style effect (but one distinct from other reverbs).
And the launch video:
All in all, it’s a nice addition to Ableton you can grab as a free update, and a welcome thank you to Live 10 adopters. I’m going to try some experimentation with the delays and re-enveloper, and I can already tell I’m going to be into this Spectral Blur. (Logic Pro’s ChromeVerb goes a similar direction, and I’m stupidly hooked on that, too.)
If these feel a little pedestrian and vanilla to you – the world certainly does have a lot of traditional virtual analog – you might want to check out the other creations by this developer, Amazing Noises. They have something Granular Lab on the Max for Live side, plus a bunch of wonderful iOS effects. And you can always use an iPad or iPhone as an outboard effects processor for your Live set, too, taking advantage of the touch-centric controls. (Think Studiomux.)
Novation the synth manufacturer looks to be back with a vengeance.
In addition to the new Circuit Bass Station as its mono/paraphonic synth offering, the company has a new polysynth flagship. The UK company says they brought in Chris Huggett, the creator of the Bass Station, Supernova, and OSCar.
What you get is sort of an 8-voice synth inspired by the Bass Station II. You get eight full-featured new Oxford voices with a hybrid analog/digital sound – numerically-controlled oscillators that behave like analog oscillators, plus 17 digital wavetables for the full palette of digital sound. You can also use these as FM sources either way, and even cross-modulate for more sounds. (I’m hoping to grab some audio samples of that soon.)
And there’s full-featured modulation, too, with a 16-slot modulation matrix.
Each voice gets three ADSR envelopes and two LFOs each.
“Animate” gives the synths some live performance features.
There’s some unexpected flexibility here. Not only do you get resonant multi-mode filters on each voice, but there are three distortion points for each – pre- and post-filter and global.
All the expected extras are there, too: reverb, delay, and chorus, plus an arpeggiator, USB, MIDI DIN, and CV.
Components software for patch storage will work with this as on the Circuit line.
I haven’t had the chance to write it up yet, but Waldorf’s own polysynth announced at Musikmesse was out of reach to a lot of us, given that instrument will be “no less than” three grand. Novation give us a poly synth with wavetables and lots of features, at a price that’s easier to swallow.
This also means the competition with Behringer’s synth offerings is on a more level playing field than you might have imagined. Behringer’s synths can’t compete on price alone, given DeepMind and Peak each hover at around a grand. You’ll invest in the instrument you like better. And that seems like how it should be in the first place, particularly with some talented synth designers behind each. (Behringer is also at Superbooth this week, in a departure from what began as a very boutique-minded show.)
That said, what this isn’t is analog. So expect some forum debates about whether “true analog signal path” matters or not. Novation are quick to say this “sounds analog” but benefits from digital functionality. And I think that’s really the bottom line – if it sounds good, it is good. We’ll take a closer look this week in Berlin, so let us know if you’ve got questions.
Available in May. Pricing:
US = $1299.99 ex. tax
Germany = €1429.99 inc. 19% VAT
UK = £1249.99 inc. 20% VAT
There’s also a nice stand for around a hundred bucks, though that’ll be later this year.