Testing G-Stomper Producer on Android – and how it helped unlock new rhythms

It started with some feedback from a musician and music theorist to a developer. What happened next: this powerful set of Android music tools evolved some new rhythmic chops.

Android doesn’t get a lot of musical love, despite its popularity. But while the assortment of apps is a fraction of what’s available on iOS, some of the choices that are there are real gems. That opens up possibilities in case you prefer Android as your smartphone (some of which already get into tablet sizes), or if you’ve picked up an inexpensive Android tablet.

In this case, CDM reader Jon Stubbs had bought the Planet-h line of apps, and decided to get in touch with the developer about some additional rhythmic features he wanted. The results exceeded his expectations.

I’m recently back on Android myself with a Huawei phone and I do have a tendency to, uh, collect devices, so I found this fascinating. Jon asked if we would reprint his review. And it has everything I love – engineering and music theory meeting to let you do more with music-making. Here’s Jon:

Exploring rhythm

As a life-long learner, composer, performer, teacher and tinkerer, I’m obsessed with exploring new rhythms. It’s not just a pursuit of odd-for-odd’s-sake. Rather, I love hearing and crafting compositions where delightfully unusual rhythmic elements are presented in a blanced and compelling context.

This obsession began with the humble triplet and the music of Zimbabwe. I studied jazz and was accustomed to the well-worn rhythms of swing and triplets. Later, I found my way into the community of Zimbabwean music, where I was surprised to hear entirely new triplet-based rhythms; and where even the triplet grid itself has a “swing” that is refreshingly different from the even “grid” of western music.

Around that same time, I started creating quintuplet (5 steps-per-beat) grooves using a couple of drum machine apps. These apps forced me to fake the beat divisions using 16th notes, but I was still able to get my feet wet. Then I discovered the wonderful Metronomics app by John Nastos, which allowed me to delve into more unusual ideas. [Ed.: That app, dubbed a metronome for “real musicians,” is available on macOS, iOS, and Android, all three – you can also run it on Windows or Linux in an Android emulator.]

The grooves I eventually made with quintuplets, septuplets and nonuplets were serious fun – especially when using the technique of starting out with ordinary rhythms but then shifting them to fit the new subdivisions. The results are glitchy grooves with a new flavor of “shuffle”; these beats are quite natural sounding after only a few listenings.

A Simple Favor

From time to time, I’ve submitted requests to mobile app developers that they expand their step-rate (steps-per-beat) options to allow for greater exploration of new rhythms. Though my requests mostly go unanswered, I have had a few successes. However, no developer has met my requests with as much enthusiasm and determination as Andreas Graesser of Swiss-based Planet-h.com. The scope and quality of his G-Stomper Producer app are massively impressive, giving the user immense creative and sonic freedom.

I originally asked that he add quintuplets and septuplets to the existing step-rate options. He responded saying, “I have room for six more options”. We settled on expanding the step rates to include 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 16 steps-per-beat! He made this change for all four apps in the G-Stomper lineup.

We worked together on ways to integrate time-signatures so that they
look and act the way experienced musicians expect them to. For example,
most mobile apps treat 6/8 (if they include it at all) as equal to 3/4–
(3 beats, each divided into 2 or 4 steps) but 6/8 should actually be two
beats with triplets (3 or 6 steps per beat). It is the same with 3/8,
9/8, 12/8, where the dotted-quarter note is the actual beat (and NOT the
quarter, nor the eighth). Andreas had to make a few special cases to
reveal more information than a typical time-signature would allow, yet
without making it hopelessly confusing for seasoned users of his apps.
He found an elegant set of solutions.

Andreas puts great care into the documentation– which is essential for this feature-packed, deep software. The docs were updated to clearly explain the new features. We both had very specific ideas about how to communicate things. We even debated over how to format a table. When there were a couple of button labels that were unclear to me, Andreas quickly adapted the docs to make things more clear. It was a fascinating and fun process.

G-Stomper apps

The apps in the G-Stomper product line include:

All of these apps provide slightly different features, approaches, and workflows. Yet they all use the same expanded system for step-rates and time signatures. It’s worth mentioning here that every step can be individually shifted by 32 micro steps (separate and apart from the timing system).  G-Stomper Producer provides the most flexibility by providing the aforementioned step-rates, 1-16 steps per bar, 1-8 bars, all on a PER TRACK basis. That means the kick, hat, snare, (or user samples) can all have their own timing setup. The other G-Stomper apps use a more standard groovebox approach with rhythm settings applying to all the tracks of a pattern. I like the flexibility and power of Producer, but I also appreciate the ease of workflow in the Studio, Rhythm, and VA-Beast apps. There are several best-in-class features in all of the apps, but rather than list them here, you can try out the demo and discover for yourself. 

If you’re an Android user and maybe you thought Caustic was the only game in town, you owe it to yourself to check out G-Stomper Producer. There’s a whole world of new sounds and rhythms to explore!

Jon Stubbs

www.jonstubbsmusic.com

G-Stomper Producer is available for $12.99 USD via Google Play or Amazon. A free demo version is also available.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.planeth.gstomperproducer

https://www.amazon.com/gp/mas/dl/android?p=com.planeth.gstomperproducer

Planet-h website:

https://www.planet-h.com/

The post Testing G-Stomper Producer on Android – and how it helped unlock new rhythms appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Roland’s Boutique JU-06A JUNO is insanely fun

It doesn’t look like much. The latest Roland Boutique might even give you a sense of deja vu – because Roland did a tiny JUNO before. The difference: this time they got it right.

I’m the last person to want endless remakes of old synths. But a JUNO is something special. I assume I’m not alone in this – if I’m in someone else’s studio and there’s a JUNO-106 or JUNO-60 lying around, I’ll usually say let’s plug in that. It’s not even necessarily that they’re my favorite analog polysynths; it’s that something about them has a unique ability to blend into a mix, and be versatile in a number of situations. It’s also a pleasant early 80s sound that seems to blend well with more contemporary timbres, too. (I’ve found plenty of other artists who seem to feel similarly, ones whose opinion you should probably value more than mine, so I don’t feel I’m going out on a limb.)

Okay, so a JUNO is something you just want handy. And you don’t want it to be a plug-in – that’s terrible for jam sessions and live. The full keyboard is now pricey on the used market, takes up a lot of space, and is now at an age when it starts to break down. (I’m a few years older than these Rolands, and I start to feel their pain. Literally. I look forward to the digital remake of me.)

So you do really want an inexpensive hardware remake.

You would then presumably want it to be small and portable, so you can always keep it around.

You’d want it to still sound like a JUNO.

You’d want it to be playable, so you could use it as a sketchpad or easily work it into jams and live sets.

You wouldn’t want it to be terribly expensive.

The JU-06 that launched this whole oddly-named Roland Boutique phenomenon almost got this right, but then mostly screwed it up. There’s a step sequencer, but no external clock in. (There’s MIDI clock in, just not analog clock in.) It’s overly authentic in that modulation isn’t tempo synced – even though it’s now a MIDI device. There’s a step sequencer, but it shares the same buttons as the patch controls, a guarantee that you’ll wind up accidentally changing patches at an inopportune moment.

It sounds good, like a JUNO-106. But lots of things sound good now – and the JU-06 was mediocre enough that you start to go back to the thought that maybe a plug-in isn’t such a bad idea.

Roland are now back with the JU-06A, and not only does it fix all the issues with the JU-06, but I think it’s just edged out the SH-01A as the Boutique synthesizer I would buy first.

Step sequencer, external clock in, and a little toggle switch to make this either a convincing JUNO-60 or JUNO-106.

Everything is fixed now

Courtesy Roland. Apologies to anyone wanting to sell your JU-06.

The JU-06A doesn’t look radical, but little differences make this something you want to keep rather than return.

JUNO-60, too. Inside, Roland have added a second sound engine to emulate the 1982 JUNO-60, as well as the 1984 JUNO-106. There’s a toggle switch on the front panel that lets you swap models – an advantage of going digital. As with the other Boutiques (apart from the Studio Electronics collaboration), this is circuit modeling (ACB). But it sounds terrific.

Adding the JUNO-60 adds some more idiosyncratic sound options. In addition, you can reproduce the noise of the vintage chorus (with parameters tucked in settings for off/half/full noise). There are lots of other details that give this tiny box some of the growl and warmth of the original and its filter without taking up much space. Someone I’m sure will do some obsessive comparison, but it’s uncanny enough to be fine in a mix.

In addition to the step sequencer, the arpeggiator and chord modes here replace the less-useful touch strips for pitch and mod. HOLD works with both arp and chords, and the arp works with chord mode, too. Unfortunately, you can’t program individual chords into the step sequencer.

Chord and arpeggiator modes. This makes a major difference in playability. There are now simple chord playback and arpeggiator controls on the left-hand side of the unit, replacing the mostly pointless touch strip pitch and mod. Chord mode is lovely on a poly, of course; you get just 16 slots for chords, but that’s about the amount I can remember, anyway. Each memory slot can be edited from the front panel.

The arp is similarly basic but useful – you get up, down, and up/down modes, a range (from 1-3 octaves), and a rate knob, which always divides the master clock. It’s pretty basic, but all the controls are dedicated, which is great live.

There’s also a dedicated HOLD button, and the arp will work with both the HOLD and CHORD modes.

On its own, that would still be too limiting, but fortunately there’s also —

A step sequencer. 16 steps times 16 patterns, all monophonic. And now this also works with external clock – there’s a little minijack next to the sequencer itself (odd positioning, but it works).

The step sequencer is surprisingly usable, with practice, on the front panel. You can switch steps on and off, TR x0x style, and also enter in steps one at a time from the onboard keyboard. You can also use an external keyboard for pitch entry – like the Roland Boutique keyboard dock, or something else via MIDI in.

What’s evidently missing, which was on the SH-01A, is the ability to add individual chords to steps. That’s too bad, though what you get instead is, the monophonic step sequencer becomes the root note of the chord when chord mode is on.

LFO and Delay Tempo Sync. Both the LFO and Delay effect can now be clocked free, or synced to the master tempo. That’s obvious, but for some reason the JU-06 lacked it.

There’s more user memory. You get both 64 dedicated slots for each mode – JUNO-60 and JUNO-106 – which doubles the slots on the JU-06, and lets you effectively keep a library for each instrument.

The Ribbon Controllers are gone. If you particularly desire touch strips for pitch and mod, you should pick up a used JU-06 and not this. I don’t miss them, though, and I think most people will vastly prefer the chord and arp.

Fun in use for fans of tiny things

If I had one gripe about the JU, it’s the ongoing Boutique form factor. These units are compact and lightweight, but there’s still this strange docking scheme. That lets you choose either a keyboard or a little box that lets you tilt up the unit. (That’s the DK-01 docking station and the K-25m keyboard dock.) They each run a little under $100 street, with the keyboard costing more.

Back panel I/O. A minijack affair, but you do get full-sized MIDI DIN.

The upside is, of course, if you buy multiple Boutiques they don’t all have to have keyboards. But they do make you feel like Roland is squeezing you for extra cash (well, because they are), and the impression of the actual design is sort of toylike. My JU-06A review unit came without either, and my delicate aesthetic sensibilities made me not want to dock it in the silver 303 or beige 909 docks I had around, so I found… okay, actually, the thing is even more portable and lightweight without it, is still usable, and just has some funny edges. In an ideal world, this would have USB host so you could plug in anything; in this world, I’d probably still use a different keyboard and not the keyboard dock.

Roland wants you to budget extra for a dock that folds up the unit, or this kinda-okay mini-keyboard.

But I got over it. I love tiny things. The JU is small enough to fit in your backpack, and since it’s battery powered, you can sprawl in bed and program nice step sequences for a gig the next day.

This thing is definitely Japanese in scale – the land that miniaturized electronics in the first place. So if your fingers fit comfortably on tiny controls, you’ll love it. If not, you’ll (justifiably) hate it.

Assuming you can handle it, though, I think the JU-06A is a total joy. I took it to a jam session with some studio neighbors and a live club gig (disguising the unreleased hardware’s identity), and it excelled in both cases – enough that people clearly responded to the sound.

The step sequencer would definitely benefit from parameter locks, but then maybe that isn’t the way to think of the JUNO. With the stupid-simple step sequencer, chords, and arp, you can just go wild with the (tiny) LFO and (tiny) envelope controls and (tiny) filter, and this thing is a performance beast.

I’m sure I’ll get some pushback from people who think it’s still a toy, who hate that it’s digital, who are interested in a certain clone manufacturer rather than the company that did the first JUNO. But no matter. This thing is still affordable, it’s got loads of controls, the sound engine is clearly good enough, and the digital aspect makes it practical, flexible, and power efficient.

It’s not the only compact remake poly in town – the Yamaha reface cs is now running about $300 street, with a keyboard. But the JU-06A to me is now an ideal addition.

So yeah, Roland I should… probably let you know I’m keeping this one.

The post Roland’s Boutique JU-06A JUNO is insanely fun appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Review: SubLab sub-bass synthesizer plugin by Future Audio Workshop

FAW SubLab screen

Future Audio Workshop’s brand new virtual instrument takes on the 808 and sub bass sounds that have become quite popular in various music genres such as trap, hip hop, drum and bass and future bass. The aptly named SubLab lets you combine three sound sources to construct your bass sounds: A synth, a sample playback […]

The post Review: SubLab sub-bass synthesizer plugin by Future Audio Workshop appeared first on rekkerd.org.

Hands on Erica Synths Techno System, dream industrial modular

The modular world is replete with ideas – but what would a complete modular concept look like? Erica Synths’ Techno System is just that rare kind of concept, a modular made for dancefloors rather than chin scratching, and a total vision instead of just components parts. So we thought it deserved a proper techno test drive.

The modular for techno

We’re one year following the debut of the Techno System at last year’s Superbooth show in Berlin. But with this year’s edition having brought still a fresh avalanche of gear – from Erica, alone – now seems the perfect time to take a step back.

To give Techno System a proper run, I teamed up with producer Jamaica Suk. Apart from running her own label Gradient, Jamaica is a rising star on the techno scene, as well as a resident of the impossibly hot Pornceptual queer party series. (Full disclosure: we also share a studio. Pornceptual for its part is hot enough that its Boiler Room wound up – no joke – on Pornhub after YouTube dropped it.)

The Techno System is a Eurorack modular, so it’s both a complete system you can buy in a case – that’s what we tested – and a set of modules. That is, you may not personally drop four grand on this full rig, but at the same time, the Techno System itself serves as a nice demo for all the individual modules inside.

Making a “Techno System” isn’t just a marketing ploy. Techno – and related industrial and EBM sounds – can be safely said to be a big driver behind the growth of modular. The days of modular just being about noodling and chin scratching are over; these machines pound dance floors and top charts. And while DJs now turn up to gigs with just USB sticks, the pro techno circuit, particularly around Europe, is such that it makes sense at a certain point to graduate to using something that feels like a real instrument.

So, yeah, the elephant in the room – the Techno System definitely isn’t cheap, at about four grand for the full system. That’s a steep ask compared to desktop, though as Jamaica pointed out to me, it compares favorably to the cost of building your own rig – often winding up without something that’s terribly usable. And it is something some artists, at least, will pay off by gigging with the machine.

For Jamaica, that meant even a small skiff full of modules already cost about half the price of Techno System on its own. And Erica’s hardware offers an escape from her previous hardware workflow – doing a lot of menu diving. (Jamaica compared the experience to the menu-oriented work she does on Elektron gear.) The only menu on the Erica rack is on the Drum Sequencer; this rack is bestrewn with knobs. And it’s covered with patch points, meaning you can make sounds that are dynamic and organic and weird and unexpected.

So let’s see if this system can live up to its aspirations – and if there are individual modules you should watch out for onboard, too.

To set the mood, here’s a jam on the system as Jamaica and I were hanging out in the studio with it. (My arms, in case the hair didn’t give that away.) Mayhem and destruction? Oh, yes, indeed. Expect more; I was quickly filling up my drive with song ideas. Maybe I’ll put them out under a psuedonym. “DEATHBL0GG3R?” “D0RKDUSTRIAL?” No?

A complete system

The Techno System is a set of modules for “rhythm based music production” – think techno instrumentation, but of course what you do with it is up to you. On the surface, it seems fairly obvious: you get a bass module, percussion parts (kick drum, snare, toms, clap, hats, cymbals). There are processors (two-in-one effects, two-in-one drive). And there’s stuff to compose and put this all together: a modulator, an expansive sequencer, mixers, and jacks to the outside world.

As you’d expect at this price, you get everything – a handy patch book and user manual, a bunch of nice patch cords, the power supply, and a lovely rugged case. (You have to pay extra for a leather strap; we left that bit out.) The case is solid and surprisingly luggable – you could absolutely take this as a carry on and tour with it. (For the love of God, avoid checked luggage.)

The thing is, that description sounds vanilla – and this beast is the opposite of vanilla. Latvian builder Erica have imbued this with their usual, raunchy, violent post-Soviet sound aesthetic. There’s just a whole lot of engineering detail here that gives this set up of modules its unique character.

And it’s clear straight away. The first time I saw it live, as sweaty Erica associate and Riga-based producer Kodek destroyed a dance floor with it. That’s not just to gush – there’s a specific reason Erica have gotten that sound. Module by module (and to be honest, I wound up looking at this after playing with it – as in “why the heck does it sound this crazy, anyway?):

The heart of the sound: a distinctive, brutal combination of bass and drums.

Bassline. This module to me is the star. The oscillator is a newly remade version of Doug Curtis’ legendary CEM3340 analog oscillator – the sound you know from classic Oberheim, Korg Mono/Poly and Poly- synths, Roland SH-101 and Jupiter-6, and many others. Instead of using someone else’s clone, though, Erica work with Riga’s own Alfa, who have been manufacturing their own version in Latvia.

Erica’s stroke of genius here is combining that three-waveform oscillator with a transitor-based sub-oscillator for more bass, plus their ultra-violent Acidbox-style filter, plus a detune that’s actually not a detune but two bucket brigade delays acting like one. What you get from that potent brew is leads and basslines that can go full spectrum from melody to noise, and a filter/detune combination that makes it absolutely punch people in the gut. And it makes perfect sense in a modular, because all that insanity lends itself to patching, from the frequency modulation input to modulating the filter.

I should, like, talk about the rest of the modules, though.

Bass drum. I briefly mistyped “ass drum.” Freudian slip. Yes, this will give you classic kick sounds. Again, though, Erica worked a ton of magic here – the tune depth and tune controls are immensely satisfying, you get a Drive in case this thing isn’t dirty enough for you, and ample CV.

Snare. The Snare is probably the unsung hero of this rack – Jamaica has taken to using it even for hats. So even though Erica call this “909-inspired,” the fun is really making full use of the Noise Tone and “Snappy” control and patching in CV, which makes this more of an all-purpose percussion module.

Toms, Clap. The Toms and Clap are actually the only particularly vanilla modules here – they’re conventional toms and clap circuits, just with loads of patchability, including on accents. But that’s the advantage here of buying a modular – you don’t have to leave these in their normalled behavior. Both sound great; I just wish the Toms had some more control or variety, maybe more a complaint about analog toms generally. (Decay is 370ms – 955ms, which in practice means you don’t touch that knob much.) As set it and forget it modules, though, they’re great.

Hi-Hats D, Cymbals. These are PCM-based, but they’re run through a voltage-controlled amplifier that again have that snappy, aggressive Erica envelope sound. This time, Erica work again with Latvian maker Alfar for their version of the 3330 VCA chip – and then add their “I’m at a sweaty warehouse rave” envelopes to them. (Maybe I’m projecting.) If you leave these normaled and don’t dig into them, they also could go a little vanilla. But there’s a twist on each. The hats module will loop open hi hats, which can almost sound like a unique decay. The cymbals have ten custom crash and ride samples – and combined with CV patching and decay controls, just as with the snare, you can abuse the cymbals module into stuff that sounds nothing like a ride.

Sample Drum. We actually got our Techno System delivered without the Sample Drum, but it’s a worthy module inside or outside this system – a pretty essential implementation of sample playback in a Eurorack format. There is a hole for it in our system… but more than that, the Sample Drum is a place you can augment the unique Erica sound with additional sounds of your own, obviously.

The sequencer acts as heart of the system – with quick-to-access controls by push encoders and buttons, and lots of patch points.

Sequencing and workflow

So that covers sound – and you could actually just pick your favorite modules and drop them into a rack. But the system part of the Techno System is really about combining the sound engine with modulation, mixing, and sequencing in a coherent way.

The Drum Sequencer is normalled to the percussion parts inside the rack, so while you can re-patch triggers, you can very quickly punch up a drum pattern quickly.

Drum Sequencer. One Erica idea I wish I had thought of – the sequencer uses a numeric keypad that feels like a classic IBM keyboard, with LED indicators behind – instant 4×4 grid. No velocity sensitivity, but that’s not really what this brutal machine is about, anyway. Everything else is select-able via some (mostly) intuitive trigger buttons and two push encoders. Once you squint your way through the included manual, you’ll find working is really quick, with all the expected basic figures – set last step per part for basic polyrhythms, set sequence play modes (back/forwards/pingpong/random), copy, mute, and string together multiple patterns.

So far, that sounds like a conventional sequencer, but the Drum Sequencer’s modular side gives you 16 full dedicated triggers, and 12 accents. The accents are really what it’s about when it comes to making more dynamic productions – enough so that Erica even implore you in the documentation not to forget them.

There’s also a dedicated CV/gate track. You can map pitch to one of a set of fixed scales and modes, then dial in or play melodies with gate. That could serve as a melody for the Bassline, or something else. (Sometimes I found myself using the Modulator for the Bassline CV in, instead.)

Erica have also included two LFOs on this module, which augment the LFO outputs on the Modulator module. These LFOs are optionally tempo-synced, so you can quickly generate rhythmic LFOs directly from the sequencer. It’s hidden in some menus behind the encoders.

Having all those triggers makes sense if that’s what you’re looking for from the Drum Sequencer in a larger modular rig, but it feels a little unbalanced in the context of the Techno System. I would gladly sacrifice a few of those sixteen triggers and twelve accents for even one more CV/gate track or another LFO, for instance.

Overall, though, working in this unit is terrifically fast and enjoyable.

Finally, a numeric keyboard for something useful – doing techno instead of doing accounts.

Erica have done a lot with the hardware since its release, too, adding more musical features (like CV slide, gate tie, song mode, auto copy bars, and more), plus tons of fixes. Check the full changelog:

https://www.ericasynths.lv/news/drum-sequencer-update-changelog/

Modulator. This module is totally essential – otherwise you wouldn’t want a modular system like this in the first place. There are two independent LFOs with morphable shape (including noise waveforms) and phase / rise / envelope controls. You can sync them from an external clock – here, that means probably patching the Drum Sequencer into them – in which case the rate controls divide or multiply the clock signal. Or you can run them free, though I long a bit for a switch to give me different ranges. Cleverly there are both outputs and phase-shifted outputs for each LFO, and you can link LFO2 to LFO1 but still use the rate knob as a divider.

Probably the confusing element of this is the triple-function RISE/PHASE control, which determines envelope fall time, and phase shift, and filter cutoff. (Actually, it’s even quadruple-function, since there’s both a lowpass- and highpass-filter.) But in practice, part of the pleasure of those knobs is to stop worrying and experiment, anyway, so they’ve been arranged in a way to encourage some intuition.

Dual Drive. You want more distortion? You get more distortion – three additional flavors of overdrive, in each of two independent circuits, with really flexible patching. If you haven’t gotten it yet, yes, Erica are all about industrial, distorted, concrete-shaking sounds. “Dual” is right, too – if you don’t patch the second input, the two distortions will operate in series. (Hey, dawg, I heard you like distortion…)

Dual FX. This is a wildly powerful effect, but here I do wish we got a small OLED – its power is largely hidden. A push encoder hides different delays (mono/stereo/high-pass), reverb, still another distortion called Ripper, plus a unique dual pitch shifter. There’s also a save function so you can store parameters with each effect. The effect sounds fantastic, but is also fantastically confusing – Erica’s only feedback is in binary on the LEDs.

The Dual FX’s saving grace is that it sounds like some very expensive effects, even though inside is the fairly conventional Spin FV-1 digital chip. And you do get two patchable CV inputs. But I think this particular module is due for some rethinking. That may be partly my own bias – I think the whole point of hardware modular ought to be giving us intuitive hands-on control, not taking away useful visual feedback from digital hardware and software.

Mixers. Rounding out the Techno System are some terrifically useful mixers – and if Erica show off their approach to aggressive envelopes and raunchy sound on that side, here they show they can also make things functional and practical. At first, it seems a bit odd that you get a stereo mixer, a 7-input Drum Mixer, and a 6-input “Mixer Lite.” But in practice, the arrangement adapts itself to a variety of use cases.

The 7-input Drum Mixer neatly pulls together a percussion grouping, with vactrol-based compressor on each for still more punch. And you can send to mains or aux sends. The Mixer Lite gives you more or less the same idea in a more compact 6-input version.

The Stereo Mixer, as advertised, lets you position across a stereo field but also includes flexible routing and internal limiting.

Multiple modules for mixing and routing help you integrate the Techno System with the rest of your studio or live rig.

The result of all of this is, you can easily compose a mix of percussion both when it comes to live performance and production. Actually, maybe it’s telling even that both Jamaica and I liked it. She had a setup that worked well for her largely outboard, hardware-based setup; I had configurations that worked well for composing in the box in the computer and making stems. And when we wanted to jam live, the separate mixers worked well, too.

Really, the only challenge is working out whether you want to rearrange them in the rack, as the mixing component is where you tend to wind up with a bunch of cable spaghetti. So I do wish here Erica had normaled outputs as they did with the sequencer, and then just let you override that behavior.

But at the very least, if it looks like Erica just filled out a rack with every mixer module they make (which honestly was kind of my kneejerk first impression), that’s not the case at all; this grouping makes loads of sense.

The outside world. I expect a lot of people will use this rack alongside a computer, so it’s worth noting: the Drum Sequencer has a MIDI input, which you can use for clock. That saves you a more expensive arrangement. The Link module also provides convenient full-sized jacks which attenuates outbound signal.

In use

A modular system that already has ideas about how it’s going to be used may sound like an anachronism. But in practice, it’s anything but. There’s a natural workflow here. Punch in rhythms on the Drum Sequencer, reroute some accent tracks and triggers to add some spice. Wire the Modulator into FM on the Bassline and dial in unruly timbres, then tune the filter envelope so it’s banging up against the drums. Add drive and effects to the percussion until it sounds dangerous.

Part of what I think makes Erica special is that they come out of a particular context – both engineering and musical. The engineering has grown out of the legacy left behind in one of the USSR’s former major manufacturing hubs, the city where a lot of Communist-era noisemakers were fashioned. And they’ve connected to the grimy, industrial warehouse-friendly music weirdos of the former east, too and … well, all of those of us with similar natural tendencies. They sit at that essential overlap of engineering and sound practice.

So I do recommend getting to hear a Techno System whether or not you’re even going to buy one. The sum of these parts really is something greater – this thing hums and breathes and growls and bangs around and spits out big bursts of noise like clouds of exhaust. Sometimes we wound up recording random accidents that came out when we stopped the transport. This is one of those pieces that feels alive.

While I focused on sound, Jamaica focused on ergonomics. Trouble with repetitive stress makes it hard to use the computer for long periods of time – and even hardware menus can be painful, literally. She says that the Techno System has helped her work more comfortably, and that means more musical productivity.

Conclusions

The Techno System is a luxury item, without question. I am happy that one has taken up residence in our studio. (Thanks, Jamaica.) If you want a complete vision of percussion, modulation, sequencing, and a killer bass, and this is in your budget, it’s a beautiful choice. And of course we’re not in an outrageous price range for something you plan to make an instrument.

Just as important, the Techno System represents a lens on how a modular rig can be coherent, and can offer some new ideas. And it can apply to a popular genre, not just experimental ones.

I also think it’s worth really endorsing some of the modules inside – which proves the idea that a great way to sell individual modules is to give them a larger context. (That’s something Erica has done in a way few others have – other than those largely echoing historical systems.) I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these in desktop form, too, which knowing Erica may be possible.

The Bassline is simply genius. I’d buy a small skiff just to work with it. The Dual Drive also is a convenient way to add signature Erica distortion. And my gripes about programming Dual FX aside, there really isn’t a single dud in the group.

That said, of course working with modular comes at a cost. I think software and desktop systems should continue to push this kinds of hand-on control, but apply modularity that copies this accessibility without the wires. (Yes, they still get tangled and you still wind up with the wrong lengths.)

So can you use cheaper gear, software, non-modular stuff, battery-powered stuff? Of course! And some of us really should keep going that route. What’s comforting about the Techno System is, it proves the modular route is also staking out sound, personality, and utility all its own. It’s not just gear fetish. Whether you buy this rack or not, anyone who loves sound is likely to appreciate the very fact that it exists. And that’s a good sign for our maturing music tech scene.

More videos…

Still want more? Check these:

A terrific sound demo from Erica that really represents the system nicely:

We didn’t yet get to fully test the Sample Drum module that has now been added to the Techno System – but first impressions are great. Here’s a walkthrough:

And while it’s the earlier revision of the rig, you get a full-on extended jam from Erica’s “garage” streaming:

https://www.ericasynths.lv/shop/eurorack-systems/techno-system/

The post Hands on Erica Synths Techno System, dream industrial modular appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Hands on Erica Synths Techno System, dream industrial modular

The modular world is replete with ideas – but what would a complete modular concept look like? Erica Synths’ Techno System is just that rare kind of concept, a modular made for dancefloors rather than chin scratching, and a total vision instead of just components parts. So we thought it deserved a proper techno test drive.

The modular for techno

We’re one year following the debut of the Techno System at last year’s Superbooth show in Berlin. But with this year’s edition having brought still a fresh avalanche of gear – from Erica, alone – now seems the perfect time to take a step back.

To give Techno System a proper run, I teamed up with producer Jamaica Suk. Apart from running her own label Gradient, Jamaica is a rising star on the techno scene, as well as a resident of the impossibly hot Pornceptual queer party series. (Full disclosure: we also share a studio. Pornceptual for its part is hot enough that its Boiler Room wound up – no joke – on Pornhub after YouTube dropped it.)

The Techno System is a Eurorack modular, so it’s both a complete system you can buy in a case – that’s what we tested – and a set of modules. That is, you may not personally drop four grand on this full rig, but at the same time, the Techno System itself serves as a nice demo for all the individual modules inside.

Making a “Techno System” isn’t just a marketing ploy. Techno – and related industrial and EBM sounds – can be safely said to be a big driver behind the growth of modular. The days of modular just being about noodling and chin scratching are over; these machines pound dance floors and top charts. And while DJs now turn up to gigs with just USB sticks, the pro techno circuit, particularly around Europe, is such that it makes sense at a certain point to graduate to using something that feels like a real instrument.

So, yeah, the elephant in the room – the Techno System definitely isn’t cheap, at about four grand for the full system. That’s a steep ask compared to desktop, though as Jamaica pointed out to me, it compares favorably to the cost of building your own rig – often winding up without something that’s terribly usable. And it is something some artists, at least, will pay off by gigging with the machine.

For Jamaica, that meant even a small skiff full of modules already cost about half the price of Techno System on its own. And Erica’s hardware offers an escape from her previous hardware workflow – doing a lot of menu diving. (Jamaica compared the experience to the menu-oriented work she does on Elektron gear.) The only menu on the Erica rack is on the Drum Sequencer; this rack is bestrewn with knobs. And it’s covered with patch points, meaning you can make sounds that are dynamic and organic and weird and unexpected.

So let’s see if this system can live up to its aspirations – and if there are individual modules you should watch out for onboard, too.

To set the mood, here’s a jam on the system as Jamaica and I were hanging out in the studio with it. (My arms, in case the hair didn’t give that away.) Mayhem and destruction? Oh, yes, indeed. Expect more; I was quickly filling up my drive with song ideas. Maybe I’ll put them out under a psuedonym. “DEATHBL0GG3R?” “D0RKDUSTRIAL?” No?

A complete system

The Techno System is a set of modules for “rhythm based music production” – think techno instrumentation, but of course what you do with it is up to you. On the surface, it seems fairly obvious: you get a bass module, percussion parts (kick drum, snare, toms, clap, hats, cymbals). There are processors (two-in-one effects, two-in-one drive). And there’s stuff to compose and put this all together: a modulator, an expansive sequencer, mixers, and jacks to the outside world.

As you’d expect at this price, you get everything – a handy patch book and user manual, a bunch of nice patch cords, the power supply, and a lovely rugged case. (You have to pay extra for a leather strap; we left that bit out.) The case is solid and surprisingly luggable – you could absolutely take this as a carry on and tour with it. (For the love of God, avoid checked luggage.)

The thing is, that description sounds vanilla – and this beast is the opposite of vanilla. Latvian builder Erica have imbued this with their usual, raunchy, violent post-Soviet sound aesthetic. There’s just a whole lot of engineering detail here that gives this set up of modules its unique character.

And it’s clear straight away. The first time I saw it live, as sweaty Erica associate and Riga-based producer Kodek destroyed a dance floor with it. That’s not just to gush – there’s a specific reason Erica have gotten that sound. Module by module (and to be honest, I wound up looking at this after playing with it – as in “why the heck does it sound this crazy, anyway?):

The heart of the sound: a distinctive, brutal combination of bass and drums.

Bassline. This module to me is the star. The oscillator is a newly remade version of Doug Curtis’ legendary CEM3340 analog oscillator – the sound you know from classic Oberheim, Korg Mono/Poly and Poly- synths, Roland SH-101 and Jupiter-6, and many others. Instead of using someone else’s clone, though, Erica work with Riga’s own Alfa, who have been manufacturing their own version in Latvia.

Erica’s stroke of genius here is combining that three-waveform oscillator with a transitor-based sub-oscillator for more bass, plus their ultra-violent Acidbox-style filter, plus a detune that’s actually not a detune but two bucket brigade delays acting like one. What you get from that potent brew is leads and basslines that can go full spectrum from melody to noise, and a filter/detune combination that makes it absolutely punch people in the gut. And it makes perfect sense in a modular, because all that insanity lends itself to patching, from the frequency modulation input to modulating the filter.

I should, like, talk about the rest of the modules, though.

Bass drum. I briefly mistyped “ass drum.” Freudian slip. Yes, this will give you classic kick sounds. Again, though, Erica worked a ton of magic here – the tune depth and tune controls are immensely satisfying, you get a Drive in case this thing isn’t dirty enough for you, and ample CV.

Snare. The Snare is probably the unsung hero of this rack – Jamaica has taken to using it even for hats. So even though Erica call this “909-inspired,” the fun is really making full use of the Noise Tone and “Snappy” control and patching in CV, which makes this more of an all-purpose percussion module.

Toms, Clap. The Toms and Clap are actually the only particularly vanilla modules here – they’re conventional toms and clap circuits, just with loads of patchability, including on accents. But that’s the advantage here of buying a modular – you don’t have to leave these in their normalled behavior. Both sound great; I just wish the Toms had some more control or variety, maybe more a complaint about analog toms generally. (Decay is 370ms – 955ms, which in practice means you don’t touch that knob much.) As set it and forget it modules, though, they’re great.

Hi-Hats D, Cymbals. These are PCM-based, but they’re run through a voltage-controlled amplifier that again have that snappy, aggressive Erica envelope sound. This time, Erica work again with Latvian maker Alfar for their version of the 3330 VCA chip – and then add their “I’m at a sweaty warehouse rave” envelopes to them. (Maybe I’m projecting.) If you leave these normaled and don’t dig into them, they also could go a little vanilla. But there’s a twist on each. The hats module will loop open hi hats, which can almost sound like a unique decay. The cymbals have ten custom crash and ride samples – and combined with CV patching and decay controls, just as with the snare, you can abuse the cymbals module into stuff that sounds nothing like a ride.

Sample Drum. We actually got our Techno System delivered without the Sample Drum, but it’s a worthy module inside or outside this system – a pretty essential implementation of sample playback in a Eurorack format. There is a hole for it in our system… but more than that, the Sample Drum is a place you can augment the unique Erica sound with additional sounds of your own, obviously.

The sequencer acts as heart of the system – with quick-to-access controls by push encoders and buttons, and lots of patch points.

Sequencing and workflow

So that covers sound – and you could actually just pick your favorite modules and drop them into a rack. But the system part of the Techno System is really about combining the sound engine with modulation, mixing, and sequencing in a coherent way.

The Drum Sequencer is normalled to the percussion parts inside the rack, so while you can re-patch triggers, you can very quickly punch up a drum pattern quickly.

Drum Sequencer. One Erica idea I wish I had thought of – the sequencer uses a numeric keypad that feels like a classic IBM keyboard, with LED indicators behind – instant 4×4 grid. No velocity sensitivity, but that’s not really what this brutal machine is about, anyway. Everything else is select-able via some (mostly) intuitive trigger buttons and two push encoders. Once you squint your way through the included manual, you’ll find working is really quick, with all the expected basic figures – set last step per part for basic polyrhythms, set sequence play modes (back/forwards/pingpong/random), copy, mute, and string together multiple patterns.

So far, that sounds like a conventional sequencer, but the Drum Sequencer’s modular side gives you 16 full dedicated triggers, and 12 accents. The accents are really what it’s about when it comes to making more dynamic productions – enough so that Erica even implore you in the documentation not to forget them.

There’s also a dedicated CV/gate track. You can map pitch to one of a set of fixed scales and modes, then dial in or play melodies with gate. That could serve as a melody for the Bassline, or something else. (Sometimes I found myself using the Modulator for the Bassline CV in, instead.)

Erica have also included two LFOs on this module, which augment the LFO outputs on the Modulator module. These LFOs are optionally tempo-synced, so you can quickly generate rhythmic LFOs directly from the sequencer. It’s hidden in some menus behind the encoders.

Having all those triggers makes sense if that’s what you’re looking for from the Drum Sequencer in a larger modular rig, but it feels a little unbalanced in the context of the Techno System. I would gladly sacrifice a few of those sixteen triggers and twelve accents for even one more CV/gate track or another LFO, for instance.

Overall, though, working in this unit is terrifically fast and enjoyable.

Finally, a numeric keyboard for something useful – doing techno instead of doing accounts.

Erica have done a lot with the hardware since its release, too, adding more musical features (like CV slide, gate tie, song mode, auto copy bars, and more), plus tons of fixes. Check the full changelog:

https://www.ericasynths.lv/news/drum-sequencer-update-changelog/

Modulator. This module is totally essential – otherwise you wouldn’t want a modular system like this in the first place. There are two independent LFOs with morphable shape (including noise waveforms) and phase / rise / envelope controls. You can sync them from an external clock – here, that means probably patching the Drum Sequencer into them – in which case the rate controls divide or multiply the clock signal. Or you can run them free, though I long a bit for a switch to give me different ranges. Cleverly there are both outputs and phase-shifted outputs for each LFO, and you can link LFO2 to LFO1 but still use the rate knob as a divider.

Probably the confusing element of this is the triple-function RISE/PHASE control, which determines envelope fall time, and phase shift, and filter cutoff. (Actually, it’s even quadruple-function, since there’s both a lowpass- and highpass-filter.) But in practice, part of the pleasure of those knobs is to stop worrying and experiment, anyway, so they’ve been arranged in a way to encourage some intuition.

Dual Drive. You want more distortion? You get more distortion – three additional flavors of overdrive, in each of two independent circuits, with really flexible patching. If you haven’t gotten it yet, yes, Erica are all about industrial, distorted, concrete-shaking sounds. “Dual” is right, too – if you don’t patch the second input, the two distortions will operate in series. (Hey, dawg, I heard you like distortion…)

Dual FX. This is a wildly powerful effect, but here I do wish we got a small OLED – its power is largely hidden. A push encoder hides different delays (mono/stereo/high-pass), reverb, still another distortion called Ripper, plus a unique dual pitch shifter. There’s also a save function so you can store parameters with each effect. The effect sounds fantastic, but is also fantastically confusing – Erica’s only feedback is in binary on the LEDs.

The Dual FX’s saving grace is that it sounds like some very expensive effects, even though inside is the fairly conventional Spin FV-1 digital chip. And you do get two patchable CV inputs. But I think this particular module is due for some rethinking. That may be partly my own bias – I think the whole point of hardware modular ought to be giving us intuitive hands-on control, not taking away useful visual feedback from digital hardware and software.

Mixers. Rounding out the Techno System are some terrifically useful mixers – and if Erica show off their approach to aggressive envelopes and raunchy sound on that side, here they show they can also make things functional and practical. At first, it seems a bit odd that you get a stereo mixer, a 7-input Drum Mixer, and a 6-input “Mixer Lite.” But in practice, the arrangement adapts itself to a variety of use cases.

The 7-input Drum Mixer neatly pulls together a percussion grouping, with vactrol-based compressor on each for still more punch. And you can send to mains or aux sends. The Mixer Lite gives you more or less the same idea in a more compact 6-input version.

The Stereo Mixer, as advertised, lets you position across a stereo field but also includes flexible routing and internal limiting.

Multiple modules for mixing and routing help you integrate the Techno System with the rest of your studio or live rig.

The result of all of this is, you can easily compose a mix of percussion both when it comes to live performance and production. Actually, maybe it’s telling even that both Jamaica and I liked it. She had a setup that worked well for her largely outboard, hardware-based setup; I had configurations that worked well for composing in the box in the computer and making stems. And when we wanted to jam live, the separate mixers worked well, too.

Really, the only challenge is working out whether you want to rearrange them in the rack, as the mixing component is where you tend to wind up with a bunch of cable spaghetti. So I do wish here Erica had normaled outputs as they did with the sequencer, and then just let you override that behavior.

But at the very least, if it looks like Erica just filled out a rack with every mixer module they make (which honestly was kind of my kneejerk first impression), that’s not the case at all; this grouping makes loads of sense.

The outside world. I expect a lot of people will use this rack alongside a computer, so it’s worth noting: the Drum Sequencer has a MIDI input, which you can use for clock. That saves you a more expensive arrangement. The Link module also provides convenient full-sized jacks which attenuates outbound signal.

In use

A modular system that already has ideas about how it’s going to be used may sound like an anachronism. But in practice, it’s anything but. There’s a natural workflow here. Punch in rhythms on the Drum Sequencer, reroute some accent tracks and triggers to add some spice. Wire the Modulator into FM on the Bassline and dial in unruly timbres, then tune the filter envelope so it’s banging up against the drums. Add drive and effects to the percussion until it sounds dangerous.

Part of what I think makes Erica special is that they come out of a particular context – both engineering and musical. The engineering has grown out of the legacy left behind in one of the USSR’s former major manufacturing hubs, the city where a lot of Communist-era noisemakers were fashioned. And they’ve connected to the grimy, industrial warehouse-friendly music weirdos of the former east, too and … well, all of those of us with similar natural tendencies. They sit at that essential overlap of engineering and sound practice.

So I do recommend getting to hear a Techno System whether or not you’re even going to buy one. The sum of these parts really is something greater – this thing hums and breathes and growls and bangs around and spits out big bursts of noise like clouds of exhaust. Sometimes we wound up recording random accidents that came out when we stopped the transport. This is one of those pieces that feels alive.

While I focused on sound, Jamaica focused on ergonomics. Trouble with repetitive stress makes it hard to use the computer for long periods of time – and even hardware menus can be painful, literally. She says that the Techno System has helped her work more comfortably, and that means more musical productivity.

Conclusions

The Techno System is a luxury item, without question. I am happy that one has taken up residence in our studio. (Thanks, Jamaica.) If you want a complete vision of percussion, modulation, sequencing, and a killer bass, and this is in your budget, it’s a beautiful choice. And of course we’re not in an outrageous price range for something you plan to make an instrument.

Just as important, the Techno System represents a lens on how a modular rig can be coherent, and can offer some new ideas. And it can apply to a popular genre, not just experimental ones.

I also think it’s worth really endorsing some of the modules inside – which proves the idea that a great way to sell individual modules is to give them a larger context. (That’s something Erica has done in a way few others have – other than those largely echoing historical systems.) I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these in desktop form, too, which knowing Erica may be possible.

The Bassline is simply genius. I’d buy a small skiff just to work with it. The Dual Drive also is a convenient way to add signature Erica distortion. And my gripes about programming Dual FX aside, there really isn’t a single dud in the group.

That said, of course working with modular comes at a cost. I think software and desktop systems should continue to push this kinds of hand-on control, but apply modularity that copies this accessibility without the wires. (Yes, they still get tangled and you still wind up with the wrong lengths.)

So can you use cheaper gear, software, non-modular stuff, battery-powered stuff? Of course! And some of us really should keep going that route. What’s comforting about the Techno System is, it proves the modular route is also staking out sound, personality, and utility all its own. It’s not just gear fetish. Whether you buy this rack or not, anyone who loves sound is likely to appreciate the very fact that it exists. And that’s a good sign for our maturing music tech scene.

More videos…

Still want more? Check these:

A terrific sound demo from Erica that really represents the system nicely:

We didn’t yet get to fully test the Sample Drum module that has now been added to the Techno System – but first impressions are great. Here’s a walkthrough:

And while it’s the earlier revision of the rig, you get a full-on extended jam from Erica’s “garage” streaming:

https://www.ericasynths.lv/shop/eurorack-systems/techno-system/

The post Hands on Erica Synths Techno System, dream industrial modular appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The Casio CZ is a huge highlight of Arturia’s V Collection 7

Arturia’s V Collection 7 continues to expand as the go-to software library of every vintage synth you would ever want. But let’s focus on one new gem: the brilliant CZ-101 remake.

First off, V Collection 7 is worth a look. Arturia keep making their mega-bundle software instrument bundle better. That means both reworking the modeling inside these tools, and adding new features, as well as – of course – continuing to expand the library of available instruments. As modeling has improved, these instruments have gotten more and more like the originals in sound and not just in function and look. At the same time, Arturia keeps beefing up those originals with new features – so the authentic sound engines get new sound design features atop them.

The EMS Synthi V makes an appearance in the new V Collection, too – if your tastes go more 70s than 80s. And it’s a big deal.

Version 7 continues to balance the desires of the casual keyboardist and the obsessive synth sound designer – and everything in between. So if you just want to add a convincing Mellotron or B-3, you’re covered – with an all-new Mellotron and a total ground-up sound engine overhaul for the B-3 V2. Jimmy Smith Strawberry Fields Forever, check and mate.

If the idea of a whole bunch of unfamiliar keyboards and control layouts is unappealing, V Collection 7 also includes the new Analog Lab 4, which consolidates all these things into easy presets and macro controls, and hundreds of new presets in their “Synthopedia.” That way if you do want to look up the way a familiar sound was produced – then tweak it yourself – you can.

Of course, if you read CDM, your favorite preset may be “default template,” and the idea of getting lost for hours in a vintage synth control layout may be the whole selling point. For that crowd, the V Collection 7 adds the EMI Synthi V and the CZ-101 from Casio, circa 1985.

Photo (CC-BY-SA) Neil Vance, via WikiCommons.

The ability to just dial up a menu and say, “do I want an Oberheim SEM or a CS-80” is already pretty crazy, and the number of choices continues to grow. So my approach to V Collection is actually to ignore all those presets – apologies, dear sound designer friends – and try to focus on one instrument. It’s a bit like what you do in a packed studio – you pull out one piece of gear, and say, hey, tonight is going to be about me and this instrument and very little else.

I want to talk about the CZ-101 because it’s long been one of my favorite instruments, and it’s a fairly unsung one. The CZ is somehow too easy, too friendly, too compact, too inexpensive to have the kind of adoration of some of the other 80s and 70s throwbacks. It’s not a collectors’ item. You can still find them at flea makrets. So yeah, Arturia are quick to drop names who have used it, like Salt-N-Pepa and Vince Clarke. But to me the whole appeal of the CZ-101 is that it’s for people who love synths, not people trying to emulate their heroes.

Of course, you could for these reasons go get an actual CZ-101. That means Arturia has to sweeten the deal a bit so the software can compete. They did just that. Let’s dive in.

CZ V reproduces the simple hardware interface (at bottom) but also expands to this view with lots of additional visual feedback and features, at top.

Phase Distortion lovers, rejoice

The original CZ-101 is about two things: a simple front panel layout, and phase distortion. If you just want to drop the CZ into a session as-is, CZ V does that.

Phase distortion synthesis isn’t so much a different synthesis method as it is a compelling way of mucking about with two digital oscillators. It’s easy enough to dismiss PD as Casio’s cheaper, non-patented answer to Yamaha’s DX7 and frequency modulation (FM). But now as we grow more accustomed to digital, non-harmonic timbres, PD is better appreciated on its own terms – as a way of producing unique digital color.

In short, what phase distortion does for you is to add rich harmonic content to sound. It can be a distortion. It can sound something like a resonant filter – in its own way. And because it’s normally using synced oscillators – here’s the important bit – it’s way easier to control than FM generally is.

On the Casio, this allows some unique filtering and sound shaping and distortion sounds that can easily be controlled by macros. And on the Arturia remake, graphical access to envelopes and expanded power means that you can use that shaping creatively.

The CZ V kind of goes a bit nuts versus what an original CZ-101 would give you. Let’s compare 1985 and 2019.

Arturia’s effects mean you don’t have to listen to the CZ dry.

The modulation matrix makes this feel as much modern soft synth as 1980s hardware.

The original oscillators are there – sine, saw, square, pulse, resonance, double-sine, saw-pulse – as are the 8-stage envelope generators and vibrato and LFOs. You can even import SysEx from the original. But being able to program these features on a display makes sound design accessible.

In addition to making hidden CZ features more visible, Arturia have expanded what’s possible:

  • 32-voice polyphony (the original had just 8).
  • A modulation matrix – no, really.
  • More modulation: a Sample and Hold module, 2 LFOs with 6 waveforms, 3 sources combinators and an Arpeggiator
  • New effects – while an authentic approach to the CZ might leave it dry, now you get all the Arturia multi-effects (adding things like chorus and reverb sound especially nice, for instance)

There’s visual feedback for everything, too.

Where the CZ fits in

In some ways, the CZ-101 is weirdly going from dated 80s thrift store find to … ahead of its time? After all, we’re seeing modular makers embrace these kinds of digital oscillator effects, and phase and phase distortion even inspired the upcoming sequel to Native Instruments’ Massive, the new Massive X.

Envelope editing is powerful – and includes animated visual feedback.

The CZ architecture is uniquely suited to making a lot of different sounds – including percussion and modulating timbres and edgy digital business – with a minimum of resources. So there’s a noise source built-in. You can modulate with the noise source. There’s ring modulation.

Using the CZ, DADSR, and multi-segment envelopes, you can them sculpt those percussive and metallic timbres over time – including using the DCW (Digitally Controlled Waveform) envelope that morphs between a sine wave and distorted wave.

The reason I’m using the CZ V to talk about the new V Collection edition, though, is that it’s an instrument where it feels like Arturia’s authentic side matches up with the “vintage on steroids” additions. So, by the time you have something like the new Synthi, you’re already presented with tons of sound design possibilities. Arturia has added some amazing ideas there – a step sequencer, a beat-synced LFO, plus onboard effects, atop all the new graphical options for working with envelopes and modulation.

The thing is, on a Synthi, that starts to feel like too much. I almost was tempted with the Synthi to force myself not to expand the tab full of new stuff. If I want an open-ended sound environment on a computer, I can use Reaktor, not try to recreate a 1970s take on the idea.

On the Arturia edition of the Casio, though, all these additions help the CZ graduate from fun toy to serious sound design tool. The visual envelopes make more sense. Effects are something most CZ owners invested in anyway. And more polyphony means you can run one instance and do a lot with it. Heck, even the matrix is easier to follow than on the original EMS Synthi because the architecture of the CZ-101 is so straightforward. In other words, because the original did less, it’s both a good match for software remake and for some thoughtful additions – which Arturia delivers.

Check these templates for an easy way to get started making your own sounds.

Here’s a little sketch I made with this. This is all one patch – noise and ring modulation and layering the ring source, plus some DCW and pitch envelope use, are what generate all those sounds. I added Arturia’s Trid-A Pre and some reverb from Softube’s TSAR-1 Reverb and … that was it.

More on the products:

V Collection 7

CZ V

The post The Casio CZ is a huge highlight of Arturia’s V Collection 7 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Here’s what Polyend’s Medusa can sound like

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:

And, of course, be sure to read the full review:

Beneath Polyend Medusa grid and knobs, a wealth of possibilities

https://polyend.com/medusa/

The post Here’s what Polyend’s Medusa can sound like appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Beneath Polyend Medusa grid and knobs, a wealth of possibilities

It’s an analog-wavetable polysynth with an expressive grid – but that only begins to describe what makes the Polyend Medusa such a unique instrument. Here’s a deep dive into this hybrid synthesizer and what it means musically.

A year after its public debut, the Polyend-Dreadbox collaboration Medusa hybrid synth has gotten a flurry of updates expanding its capabilities. The Medusa caught my eye when it was previewed at last year’s Superbooth extravaganza in Berlin – and has since reappeared full of refined functionality at this year’s edition. The instrument combines Polyend’s expressive grid with a gnarly synthesizer made in collaboration with Dreadbox. So you get a hybrid analog-digital sound engine, which you can use in monophonic or one of two polyphonic modes, and a grid you can use for performance or sequencing.

That description seems obvious and straightforward, but it also doesn’t really fully describe what this thing is. It’s really about the combination of elements. The synth engine gets delightfully grimy – the Dreadbox filter can really scream, especially paired with frequency modulation. And the digital oscillators (from Polyend) stack to give you metallic edge and wavetable madness atop a thick 3-oscillator analog beast. The copious modulation and multiple envelopes provide loads of sound design possibilities, too – you can really go deep with this, since basically everything is assignable to LFOs or envelopes. (That’d be a lot of rack space to get this many oscillators and modulation sources in a Eurorack form.) Combining digital control and wavetables with Dreadbox-supplied analog grunge make this as much an all-in-one studio as a polysynth.

What really binds this together for me, though, is using the grid to make this more like an instrument. You can lock parameters and scales to steps in the sequencer, and then use elaborate scale mappings and expression options to put sounds beneath your fingertips. This isn’t about menus, but it’s also unlike conventional keyboard synths. The grid and one-press modulation and envelope assignment make the Medusa a portal to sound design, composition, and performance.

The workflow then fits spatially. On your right, you can sculpt sounds and (thanks to a recent update) make on-the-fly assignments of modulation and envelopes with just one press. On your left, the grid can be configured for sequencing and playing. Mix oscillators and shape envelopes and dial modulation live atop that. You can also use the sequencer as a kind of sketchpad for ideas, since sequences are saved with presets.

All of this comes in a long, metal case with MIDI I/O and external audio input. Even the form factor suggests this is an instrument you focus on directly. So whatever you do in sound design should naturally translate to sequencing and playing live.

Here’s the basic approach to sound design workflow – dialing in and layering different analog and digital oscillators, playing with wavetables, shaping envelopes and filter, adding FM (including on the filter), and assigning modulation. Improvised / no talking:

Let’s look at those components individually (now with some of the recent firmware updates in place):

The synth

On the synth side, the Medusa has a hybrid 3+3 structure – three analog oscillators, plus three digital oscillators, for a total of six. (There’s an additional noise source, as well, with adjustable color.) To that, you add a filter derived from the Dreadbox Erebus (highpass, 2-pole lowpass, and 4-pole lowpass). There are two fixed envelopes (filter and amplitude), plus three more assignable envelopes. You also get five (!) assignable LFOs. That’s just enough to be readily accessible, but also focused enough that it neatly structures your use of the onboard controls and assignable modulation and sequencing.

The idea is to mix analog + digital + noise in different combinations, which you can layer as monophonic lines or chords, or trigger in turn, with always-accessible mixer controls for each voice + noise.

Oscillator controls. The oscillator section does double duty as analog and digital, so you’ll need to understand how those relate. To save space, there’s a button in the oscillator section labeled DIGITAL.

With digital mode off (analog mode), you get control over the three analog oscillators, plus a pulse width control, and a frequency modulation control for FM between oscillators 1 and 2. You can select ramp, PWM, triangle, and sine waves for each oscillator. You can also hard sync oscillators – 1+2 (sync 2) and 2+3 (sync 3). Note that you will need to give the Medusa some warmup time for these analog oscillators to be in tune; there’s also automated calibration to tune up.

With the digital mode on, you control the three digital oscillators, and get a wavetable shape in addition to the four wave shapes, plus a wavetable control that modulates between different wavetables. (There’s no FM between oscillators 1 and 2, and you don’t get the pulse width control for the digital oscillators – which in the end doesn’t matter much given all the wavetable options.)

The other controls are doubled up to save space, as well. Instead of dedicated macro and fine tuning, there’s a FINETUNE switch. The FM knob has two functions, also via switches.

Modulation. There’s more modulation than you’ll likely ever need, between the sequencer steps, five envelopes, and five LFOs. Since there’s only one set of encoders and sliders, you choose which envelope or LFO you want to target. You can toggle that modulation on and off by double-pressing the controls for each.

The latest firmware adds on-the-fly parameter assignment, so you can simply hold down an envelope or LFO, then twist the parameter you want to target. That’s much more fun than scrolling through menus.

Sound design is a blast, but there’s some room for growth, too. LFO shapes morph between square, sine, ramp, and triangle, but there’s no random or sample & hold option, which seems an obvious future addition. Also, it could be nice, I think, to have different wavetables on different oscillators, or separate wavetable position controls. (At least for now, you can set LFOs to target all wavetables or just one wavetable when modulating position, so you can separately modulate the three digital oscillators if you wish.)

Now, you can assign both modulation and envelopes with just one tap, on the fly. With multiple envelopes and LFOs, combined with the sequencer, there’s plenty of choice for composition and sound design.

FM can be applied to the filter and between analog oscillators 1+2.

Musical ideas: synth

Use envelopes and modulation. Envelopes have free-flowing timing, but can each be (independently) looped, creating subtle or rhythmic modulation. And LFOs can be either free or clock-synced. With these two features in concert, you can create both shifting timbres and rhythmic patterns – while assigning them hands-on, rather than diving into menus. (That can be even faster than working with patch cords.)

Work with the different polyphonic modes. Mono play mode stacks all six oscillators onto a single voice, which is great for thick sounds. But the two polyphonic modes offer some unique features. P1 is three-voice polyphonic, with two oscillators per voice. P2 is six-voice polyphonic, and has one amp envelope for each of the six voices.

Change voice priority. In CONFIG > Voice Priority, you can set P1 and P2 from “First” to “Next,” and each trigger will rotate through each of the available oscillators. Remember with P2, that means you have separate envelopes. So you can retrigger the same pitch, or “strum” or roll a chord, or create rhythmic variations… it all makes for some lively variations.

Self-oscillate the filter with tracking. If you turn up resonance and crank TRACK on the filter, you’ll get self-oscillation that’s mapped to the pitch range. (You’ll probably want to turn down master volume here; I don’t yet have a trick for that, but you could also save lower oscillator mixer values with a preset.)

Go mad with FM. Frequency modulating the OSC 1+2 combination can create some wild ring mod-style effects as you play with different octave ranges and tunings.

The sequencer

I think one confusion about the Medusa is, because people see an 8×8 grid of pads, they assume the main function is sequencing. That’s really not how to think of the Medusa pad matrix – it’s better to imagine it as a performance and editing interface as much as a sequencer, and to see ambient/drone/non-metric possibilities along with the usual things you’d expect of an 8×8 layout.

Sequences themselves have a length from 1 and 64 steps. (Yes, with a 1-step sequence, you get basically a repeat function, and with a few steps, a sort of fixed phrase arpeggiator – more on how you’d play that live below.) Steps are fixed rhythm, with no sub-steps – I do wish there were a way to clock divide step length from the master tempo, or add subdivisions of a step, or even control step timing individually. For now, if you want that, you’ll need to do it externally, via MIDI.

You can set tempo from 10-300 bpm or use an external clock source. And you get control for swing, plus different sequence playback directions (forward, backward, ping pong, and random).

In NOTES mode, you enter pitch. With REC enabled but not PLAY, you can enter and edit steps one at a time. (Pressing a pad creates a pitch, rather than sets a step, so you’d use the big menu encoder to the right of the pads to dial through steps.) With PLAY enabled, you can live record, though everything is still quantized to the step.

The pitch and rhythm stuff is a bit basic, but it’s the GRID mode where the Medusa shines. There, you can set specific steps to contain parameter data. Again, this works in both step and live modes – in live modes, you’ll overwrite parameter data as you move a control. This is what some sequencers call “p-locks” / parameter locks, but here the workflow is different. You can stop the transport, and manually tweak parameters while holding a pad to modify parameters for that step. This means an individual step may contain a whole bunch of layered information.

At first, it may seem counter-intuitive to separate notes and parameter data on two different screens, but it opens up some new possibilities. You can step-sequence really elaborate sequences of timbral changes. Or – here’s the interesting one – you can trigger different presets as your sequence plays. That lets you ‘perform’ the presets – play with the timbres – the way you normally would with notes.

Not only do you have a powerful step sequencer page dedicated to parameter control, you can think of presets as something you can play live. I don’t know of another sequencer that works quite like this.

Musical ideas: sequencer

Trigger play modes, voice priority, sequence length live: With a sequence playing, it’s possible to toggle play modes (between unison and polyphony), and the Voice Priority setting (first or last, in either of the polyphonic modes), and sequence length, all live without impact sequenced playback. So you can have some fun messing about with these settings.

Use GRID for variation. The sequencer only triggers preset changes when the GRID mode is enabled. So you can start a sequence, then toggle your sequenced parameters on and off by switching GRID mode on and off. (You can combine this with live-triggered parameters – more on that below.)

Glide! Combining glide with the polyphonic modes (and adjusting the amplitude envelope, particularly Release as needed) will create some lovely, overlapping portamento effects.

Arpeggiate/transpose. You can now press HOLD + a pad to transpose a sequence live as it plays. With short sequences, this can be a bit like running an arpeggiator or phrase sequencer.

Performance pads

If you just use the pads as a sequencer, you’re really missing half the power of the instrument. The pads also work for playing live, with the option of up to three axis additional expression (z-axis pressure, and x- and y- position). The pads are also low-profile, so you can easily strum your fingers across pads.

Three-axis control can be a little confusing. Only the last pad adds modulation, and it takes a bit of muscle memory to get used to modulating with just the last finger press if you’re playing in a polyphonic context. But the pads are nicely sensitive; I hope there’s the possibility of polyphonic expression internally in future.

As an external controller, Medusa does support an MPE mode, so you can use this – like the Roger Linn Linnstrument – as an MPE controller with compatible devices.

The grid in general is expressive and inspiring. In particular, you might try one of the 40 included scales, which include various exotic options apart from the usual church modes. I especially like the Japanese and Engimatic options. You can also change not only the scale but the layout (the relationship of notes on the pads).

Musical ideas: pads

Drone mode. Use HOLD to trigger multiple up to six at a time and drone away (press HOLD, then toggle on and off individual notes). And again, this is also interesting with different polyphonic modes and glide. You can also use, for instance, the Z-axis pressure to add additional modulation as you drone. (One confusing thing about X/Y/Z and HOLD – since only the last trigger uses the X/Y/Z modulation, it can get a bit strange additionally toggling off that step as you hold. I’m working on whether there’s a better solution there.)

Use GRID for triggering: With GRID instead of notes, you can use individual pads to trigger different sounds, or even map an ensemble of sounds (setting up particular pads for percussion, and others for melody, for instance). This also opens up other features, like:

DIY scales. A new feature of the Medusa firmware adds the ability to store pitch in pads, and thus make custom scales. Turn GRID on, and REC, then with FINETUNE on, you can use the oscillator to tune a custom scale, including with microtuning. I’d love to see custom scale modes or Scala support, but this in the meantime has a beautiful analog feel to it.

Bend it: You can bend between notes by targeting Pitch with the x-axis. To keep that range manageable and slide between notes, I suggest a value of just 1 or 2 (instead of the full 100, which will slide over the whole pitch range as you wiggle your finger). You might also consider adding the same on the y-axis, since it is a grid.

Trigger expression. Not only can you trigger modulation live over a sequence in GRID mode, you can also use those triggers to modulate X, Y, and Z targets of your choice as a sequence plays. You can also try modulating expression in NOTES mode over a playing sequence.

Use external control. You can also map to external MIDI aftertouch, pitch, and mod, which opens up novel external or even DIY controllers. (You could connect a LEAP Motion or something if you want to get creative. Or combine a keyboard and the grid, for some wild possibilities)

Conclusions

Medusa takes a little time to get into, as you start to feel comfortable with the sound engine, and adapting to a new way of thinking about the pads – as performance controller plus separate note and parameter sequencer. Once you do, though, I think you begin to get into this as an instrument – one with rich and sometimes wild sound capabilities, always beneath your fingertips.

The result is something that’s really unique and creative. The combination of that edgy, deep digital+analog sound engine with the superb Dreadbox filter, plus all this modulation and sequencing and performance possibility makes the whole feel like a particular instrument – something you want to learn to play.

I really have fallen in love with it as a special instrument in that way. And I find I am really wanting to practice it, both as sound designer and instrumentalist.

At 999EUR, it also holds up against some other fine polysynth choices from Dave Smith, Novation, KORG, and most recently, Elektron. Most importantly, it’s unlike any of those tools, both with its unique and expressive controller and its copious controls and access to sound.

The presence of an instrument like this from a boutique maker, charting some new territory and in a desktop form factor and not only a set of modules, seems a promising sign for synth innovation.

http://polyend.com/medusa/

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