Haken’s ContinuuMini is expressive, post-keyboard sound for $899

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.

It feels like an extraordinary development.

https://www.hakenaudio.com/continuumini

* 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:

La Voix Du Luthier & The New Shape Of Electronic Sound

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Explore sonic inspiration, via this artist’s approach to Novation’s Peak 1.2

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

More info:
https://novationmusic.com/news/peak-v12-firmware-update

The update is free via Novation’s Web-based tools:
https://components.novationmusic.com/

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.

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Ableton’s Creative Extensions are a set of free tools for sound, inspiration

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.)

Creative Extensions: New in Live 10 Suite

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.)

https://www.ableton.com/en/packs/by/amazing-noises/

https://www.amazingnoises.com/

http://apps.amazingnoises.com/

If you’re a Max for Live user or developer and want to recommend one of your creations, too, please do!

Want some more quick inspiration / need to unstick your creative imagination today? Check out the Sonic Bloom Oblique Strategies. Here’s today’s:

And plenty more where that came from:

http://sonicbloom.net/en/category/oblique-strategies/

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Peak is the new polysynth from the creator of Novation’s classics

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.

peak_overhead-hr

peak-plus-stand_3quart-left_v2-hr

peak_rear-hr

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.

Ask.audio have some terrific in-depth videos:

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Watch artist Blawan go hands-on with the monster Arturia MatrixBrute

The term “beast” may be overused in describing synthesizers, but the massive, heavy, feature-packed Arturia MatrixBrute certainly deserves the term. Now, we get to hear and watch as Blawan takes us on a tour.

Blawan is one of my favorites in adventurous techno, not least for his unique skills in playing live – because finding great DJs is still considerably easier than finding artists who can produce on the spot. So he’s a smart match to launch a new series pairing artists with gear, run by Electronic Beats and German-language Bonedo.

Now’s a good time – the MatrixBrute has been around a while, and has even added more features (because it didn’t have enough?!) like real-time recording and a matrix arpeggiator.

I love that this thing exists, even if I’m not sure I’d want one myself. It’s inspiring in that it seems to have said yes to everything it possibly could.

And this is a terrific tour. If you have more questions for Arturia, I’m also catching up with them, both in Frankfurt this week at Musikmesse and again in Berlin for Superbooth.

Also, I want to go hands-on soon in the studio with DrumBrute – which is, let’s say, both smaller and more affordable than this.

https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/matrixbrute/overview

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Dave Smith REV2 is like getting a Prophet 08, squared

Dave Smith’s collaboration with Pioneer tends to the minimalist side, but not so the new DSI keyboard. The REV2 is all about more.

While it’s not called a Prophet 08 II or something, the REV2 is rooted in that earlier synthesizer. It still has two DCOs per voice. It still opts for the sound of Curtis filters at its core. (In other words, you had better like that particular flavor.)

rev2_front

rev2back

The ’08 “squared” business is all about newer and more, in this year’s model. So this is a 16-voice standard configuration over 8. (8-voice is available, and … heh, actually may still be the more sensible option, now made more affordable.)

It’s also bi-timbral, with stacks and splits.

There’s now waveshape modulation – perhaps the most compelling addition. Vary pulse width of each of the four waveforms, or use an LFO or modulation source.

And while you have the same effects, you get more of them, plus a more extensive modulation matrix for applying them to more places. So that makes reverb, delay (standard, bucket brigade), ring mod, and distortion more powerful.

And there’s a new polyphonic step sequencer, with 64 steps and 6 notes per step, ties and rests, and of course external sync.

You also get more premium features for your premium price, with USB support, integrated power supply, an OLED display, and better keyboard.

rev2_top

To be honest, I’m a bit torn on these things personally – though don’t mind me. I never could make myself fall in love with packed-to-the-gills digital workstation synths, and so I have to say even in the analog domain, I rather prefer more purpose-built, minimal synths to monsters like this one. That said, I think if you want a monster, this one is very likely going to be on your short list – it has an exceptionally balanced set of features and a mature and beloved sound. So while the Arturia MatrixBrute has gone hog-wild with features, for instance, and the Behringer has entered the market with their cut-rate do-everything keyboard, I think Dave Smith is still going to have a big, big say in the market among synth enthusiasts.

And it’s not a terribly huge investment, either – especially in comparison to what you could easily spend on a Eurorack, if what you want is a playable keyboard synth with loads of features, you’d rather have this.

Coming in April, US$1499 8-voice, $1999 16-voice.

www.davesmithinstruments.com

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So Behringer’s analog synth is a poly, and other revelations

Behringer continues to leak out teaser videos about its upcoming analog synth – and with the rest of the industry out on summer vacation, they’ve got pretty much everyone’s full attention. There’s a few things you can learn from their latest video – not least that I was dead wrong, and this is a polysynth, not a monosynth. (Oops.)

There’s an arpeggiator.

It’s got at least four voices – you can see them lighting up. In fact, those voices are lighting up a bit like it’s swapping voices from an arpeggiator, like KORG’s Mono/Poly.

There are separate LFOs (at least as evidenced by the differing LFO rates mentioned in the video.) You can see clearly marked LFO 1 + LFO 2.

You can use it in unison mode with a poly unison detune (see that big fader).

The previous video set this one up, but didn’t show quite as much (though some more on the LFOs, oscillator settings…)

I’m going to just go around now saying …

” … Peaceful … ”

Here’s our previous still grab of the full synth (it flashes for just a moment in the first video):

behringersynth

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So Behringer’s analog synth is a poly, and other revelations

Behringer continues to leak out teaser videos about its upcoming analog synth – and with the rest of the industry out on summer vacation, they’ve got pretty much everyone’s full attention. There’s a few things you can learn from their latest video – not least that I was dead wrong, and this is a polysynth, not a monosynth. (Oops.)

There’s an arpeggiator.

It’s got at least four voices – you can see them lighting up. In fact, those voices are lighting up a bit like it’s swapping voices from an arpeggiator, like KORG’s Mono/Poly.

There are separate LFOs (at least as evidenced by the differing LFO rates mentioned in the video.) You can see clearly marked LFO 1 + LFO 2.

You can use it in unison mode with a poly unison detune (see that big fader).

The previous video set this one up, but didn’t show quite as much (though some more on the LFOs, oscillator settings…)

I’m going to just go around now saying …

” … Peaceful … ”

Correction: he’s saying “beautiful,” evidently. I felt peaceful, though, so maybe I was projecting.

Here’s our previous still grab of the full synth (it flashes for just a moment in the first video):

behringersynth

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Let’s make some ridiculous sounds with KORG’s minilogue

By now, you’ve heard about KORG’s $499 minilogue analog polysynth, and the next question is: how does it sound? I’ve been playing around with it, and I can at least say this: it isn’t boring.

I’m wary of sound samples. Most synths are capable of producing some sorts of good sounds, unless there’s literally something wrong with the way they’re engineered. And likewise, the experience of using an instrument goes beyond what an out-of-context sound can describe.

But with that in mind, I’ll share some somewhat random excursions here. My guess is that (cough) more respectable synthesists will post the bread and butter stuff, KORG will likely produce something that applies to some sort of genre (other than my favorite genre, “take-out ramen noodling”).

minilogue 9

Four analog voices on their own are not going to be so interesting; analog oscillators (they’re VCOs) ought to deliver something reasonably reliable. It’s really the design around that where you start to enter new territory. And there, the minilogue has chosen a few simple options that add a lot. Ring modulation and cross modulation let you color those oscillators significantly, aided by visual feedback from the OLED oscilloscope. The delay circuit isn’t the delay found on the monotron delay or volca KEYS, but the principle is similar: add a feedback circuit around the delay and go wild. (That means you can significantly alter the sound by adding resonance with shorter delay times.) The filter is comparatively tame, as it should be – you’ve already got four parts and eight oscillators and that crazy delay, so the filter is the opportunity for adding some order.

And then there’s the sequencer. I was very often using all four automation slots at once.

Here goes. First, some assorted selections of “okay, that sounds interesting” experiments:

And one extended freak out:

If anyone says this is “volca”-like, I think the likelihood is, it’s the ability to add grit to the oscillators with modulation, and feedback via the delay circuit. Neither of those is particular to the volca line, and the sonic character here is different. But what Tatsuya and team have done again is make access to those qualities immediate in the interface.

We’ll have the full review posted later today.

If you read Japanese, Tatsuya and Masahiko Sakamaki did an interview with the Huffington Post.

If you don’t, there are still lots of pictures of their work over the years, plus this charming DIY synth from some years ago (Tats says he built it, unrelated to the minilogue):

diysynth

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Modal Just Blew Up Analog With 8-Voice Polysynth, More

008-2

UK maker Modal Electronics last year surprised the synth scene with a move into premium analog. This is luxury synthesis – the Aston Martin of synthesizers.

Well, it turns out they were only getting started. The product line for 2015 today gets a full range of models. And the 008 is the new headline instrument – an 8-voice analog synth that’s worthy of pinning up to your ceiling and staring at at night, boys and girls (or, um, “grown-up” boys and girls, perhaps).

Where to begin?

008

The 008 has two analog oscillators (VCOs) per voice. You can blend waveforms for new waveshapes.

There’s a 16-multi-mode filter, with notch and phase and combination modes in addition to the usual business. Two LFOs, each audio rate, each with multiple wave shapes, each with MIDI sync.

And there’s stuff that reminds you why you have a polysynth – like oscillator and frequency filter modulation.

Without a single patch cable or any deep menu diving, there’s also quite a lot of modulation. Choose from eleven sources, and route everywhere, with each destination with its own depth.

And there’s a 2-track, 32-step sequencer with you can transpose on the fly, plus an arpeggiator.

Put this in a body that’s bestrewn with controls so you more or less never have to touch a menu for anything powerful. Each of the first 16 steps on the step sequencer, for instance, gets its own controls.

And you can sequence any control parameter, animating transitions between modulation or filters. Connect via Ethernet to perform updates.

The keyboard is set up for performance nicely, too. In addition to the aforementioned sequencer and arp, there are also some powerful splits and stacks, quick recall banks for presets, and more. And there’s a semi-weighted Fatar bed for keys. You have an X/Y joystick, which you can assign to … what, anything? Nice.

And you get two audio inputs for the filter.

Still not enough? They promise an expansion board with multiple-voice output over USB audio (driverless) and effects.

No word on price, but this is coming in the summer. I think it’ll cost … well, a lot. But boy is it drool-worthy.

008-4

008-3

001

Okay, so the 008 is the synth you dream of. The 001 is the one you might actually own. At €1,850 / $1,995, it’s not astronomical for what the Brits here are promising as far as quality. And it brings a lot of what was tantalizing about the 002 (and 008, even) down to earth.

001-3

It’s still 2-voice duophonic – with the same architecture per voice as the 002.

That means you get a digital/analog hybrid with 50 different waveforms. There’s a beautiful filter with morphing. You still get two LFOs per voice, plus a global LFO. There’s an analog signal path once you leave the oscillators – no digital conversion – so you combine the versatility of those digital oscillators with the analog goodness of the filters and whatnot.

You also get the powerful step-sequencer and arpeggiator and parameter morphing and Ethernet connectivity and the rest.

You even get the 4x CV analog ins and outs and connectivity and new optional digital board and that lovely joystick.

Basically, you get all of this in a duophonic package that’s not out astronomically priced. And that seems a very good thing.

001-2

001

If you really want the 002′s exact architecture, there’s also a rack-mount version of that.

002r

All in all, some truly beautiful stuff. The 008 could be 2015′s dream synth, and the 002 may be the one to actually save up for.

Yes, we’ll be visiting this week. If you’ve got questions, let us know, and we’ll pass them on in an interview.

See the full range:

http://www.modalelectronics.com/

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