Two acid-y, space-y, terrific live electronic sets for your Friday

A great live set brews up new musical directions before your ears. It’s a burst of creativity and energy that’s distinct from what happens alone in a studio, with layers of process. From Liverpool (Madeline T Hall) and Moscow (Nikita Zabelin x Xandr.vasiliev), here are two fine examples to take you into the weekend.

Acid-tinged synths unfold over this brilliant half hour from M T Hall (pictured, top), at a party hosted earlier this year by HMT Liverpool x Cartier 4 Everyone:

I love that this set feels so organic and colors outside the lines, without ever losing forward drive or focus. It organically morphs from timbre to timbre, genre to genre. So just when it seems like it’s just going to be a straight-ahead acid set (that’s not actually a 303, by the way, it seems), it proceeds to perpetually surprise.

I think people are afraid to create contrast in live sets, but each shift here feels intentioned and confident, and so the result is – you won’t mistake this for someone else’s set.

Check out her artist site; she’s got a wildly diverse set of creative endeavors, including immersive drawing and sound performances, and work as an artist covering sculpture, sound, video and installation. (Madeleine, if you’re reading this, hope we can feature your work in more depth! I just can’t wait to release this particular set first!)

http://the-royal-standard.com/artists/madeline-hall/

And more music:

Darker (well, and redder, thanks to the lighting), but related in its free-flowing machine explorations, we’ve got another set from Moscow from this month:

It’s the project of Nikita Zabelin x Xandr.vasiliev, at Moscow’s Pluton club, a repurposed factory building giving a suitably raw industrial setting.

This is connected for me, though. Dark as it is, the duo isn’t overly serious – weird and whimsical sounds still bubble out of the shadows. And it shows that grooves and free-form sections can intermix successfully. I got to play after this duo in St. Petersburg and you really do get the sense of open improvisation.

Facing off at Moscow’s Pluton.

xandr aka Alexander has a bunch more here:

That inspires me for the coming days. Have a good weekend, everybody.

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A marvelous sound machine inspired by a Soviet deep drilling project

Deep in the Arctic Circle, the USSR was drilling deeper into the Earth than anyone before. One artist has combined archaeology and invention to bring its spirit back in sound.

Meet SG-3 (СГ-3) — the Kola Superdeep Borehole. You know when kids would joke about digging a hole to China? Well, the USSR’s borehole got to substantial depths – 12,262 m (over 40,000 ft) at the time of the USSR’s collapse.

The borehole was so epic – and the Soviets so secretive – that it has inspired legends of seismic weapons and even demonic drilling. (A YouTube search gets really interesting – like some people who think the Soviets actually drilled into the gates to Hell.)

Artist Dmitry Morozv – ::vtol:: – evokes some of that quality while returning to the actual evidence of what this thing really did. And what it did is already spectacular – he compares the scale of the project to launching humans into space (well, sort of in the opposite direction).

Watch:

vtol’s installation 12262 is the perfect example of how sound can be made material, and how digging into history can produce futuristic, post-contemporary speculative objects.

The two stages:

Archaeology. Dima absorbed SG-3’s history and lore, and spent years buying up sample cores at auctions as they were sold off. And twice he visited the remote, ruined site himself – once in 2016, and then back in July with his drilling machine. He even located a punched data tape from the site, though of course it’s difficult to know what it contains. (The investigation began with the Dark Ecology project, a three-year curatorial/research/art project bringing together partners from Norway, Russia, and across Europe, and still bearing this sort of fascinating fruit.)

Invention: The installation itself is a kinetic sound instrument, reading the coded information from the punch tape and operating miniature drilling operations, working on actual core samples. The sounds you hear are produced mechanically and acoustically by those drills.

As usual, Dima lists his cooking ingredients, though I think the sum is uniquely more than these individual parts. It’s as he describes it, a poetic, kinetic meditation, evocative both intellectually and spiritually. That said, the parts:

soft:

– pure data
– max/msp

hard:

– stepper motors x5 + 2
– dc-motors x5
– arduino mega
– lcd monitor
– custom electronics
– 5 piezo microphones
– 2 channel sound system

Details:
Commission by NCCA-ROSIZO (National Centre for Contemporary Arts), special for TECHNE “Prolog” exhibition, Moscow, 2018.
Curators: Natalia Fuchs, Antonio Geusa. Producer: Dmitry Znamenskiy.

The work was also a collaboration with Gallery Ch9 (Ч9) in Murmansk. That’s itself something of an achievement; it’s hard enough to find media art galleries in major cities, let alone remote Russia. (That’s far enough northwest in Russia that most of Finland and all of Sweden are south of it.)

But the alien-looking object also got its own trip to the site, ‘performing’ at the location.

It’s appropriate that would happen in Russia. Cosmism visionary Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov and his ideas about creating immortality by resurrecting ancestors may seem bizarre today. But translate that to media art, which threatens to become stuck in time when not informed by history. (Those who do not learn from history are doomed to make installation art that looks like it came from a mid-1990s Ars Electronica or Transmediale, forever, I mean.) To be truly futuristic, media art has to have a deep understanding of technologies progression, its workings, and all the moments in the past that were themselves ahead of their time. That is, maybe we have to dig deep into the ground beneath us, dig up our ancestors, and construct the future atop that knowledge.

At Spektrum Berlin this weekend, there’s also a “materiality of sound” project. Fellow Moscow-based artist Andrey Smirnov will create an imaginative new performance inspired by Theremin’s infamous KGB listening device of the 1940s – also new art fabricated from Soviet history – joined by a lineup of other artists exploring similar themes making sound material and kinetic. (Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, Sonolevitation, Camera Lucida, Eleonora Oreggia aka Xname share the bill.)

To me, these two themes – materiality, drawing from kinetic, mechanical, optical, and acoustic techniques (and not just digital and analog), and archaeological futurism, employing deep historical inquiry that is in turn re-contextualized in forward-thinking, speculative work, offer tremendous possibility. They sound like more than just a zeitgeist-friendly buzzword (yeah, I’m looking at you, blockchain). They sound like something to which artists might even be happy to devote lifetimes.

For another virtual trip to the borehole, here’s Rosa Menkman’s film on a soundwalk at the site in 2016.

Related (curator Natalia Fuchs, interviewed before, also curated this work):

Between art tech and techno, past and future, a view from Russia

And on the kinetic-mechanical topic:

Watch futuristic techno made by robots – then learn how it was made

Full project details:

http://vtol.cc/filter/works/12262

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Discover the surrealist charm of Kate NV’s music and films

It’s Moscow’s quirkier, playful side that’s probably easiest for us foreigners to miss. But Kate Shilonosova (Kate NV) is earning an international audience for her introspective, surrealist whimsy, and one that’s well-deserved.

Kate NV’s music is beautifully minimal and reflective. The Japan tour makes perfect sense – there’s a distinctively Japanese-compatible electronic aesthetic here. (The poppier nods to minimalism and extensive use of percussion remind me a bit of Cornelius, as do the hand-drawn graphics everywhere.) But her approach to found sound and sampling is equally enjoyable when taken in live. Kate was another highlight for me of Synthposium, and emblematic of Moscow’s experimental, open-minded, live performance-oriented electronic scene. Her own background is in punk and guitars, and she brings that musicianship and improvisational spirit even to this very different sonic idiom.

Live, she works with mics and small percussion and sampling (on various Novation gear and Ableton Live), pulling in elements in a way that’s accessible and fluid. And yeah, she’s the kind of producer who keeps a glockenspiel by her computer in her home studio.

She’s been picked up by RVNG Intl, the Brooklyn-based label with a particularly sharp nose for musical inventiveness. And her LP is terrifically charming. It’s also accompanied by cheery, trippy films from Moscow director Sasha Kulak. Watch “дуб OAK” (each is titled in a combination of the Russian and English equivalent of a word):

— or the extended film “для FOR”:

These films are also available in a generative form, which you can watch on her website – click, and you get different variations:

This project is based on works of Moscow conceptualist Victor Pivovarov,
more specifically on his series called “project for the lonely man”, 1975.
This movie is telling a story about one lonely man’s day.
Every time the button is pressed, the new, slightly different day is generated from the common routine actions.
Thus, creating the sense that all regular days are the same, but in its own way very different.

http://katenv.com/

To get a sense of the live set, here’s a representative set from last year: (Though I wish we had the video of this month at Synthposium! Will share if we get that….)

Her songwriting and singing are also exceptional, though; check, for instance:

Why is this woman smiling? She’s hanging out in Red Bull’s massive Cologne studios.

To get a sense of her tastes and DJ skills, here’s a mix created for DJ Mag – featuring Prokofiev, no less. (You know, I charted the guy and it’s like he almost didn’t notice.)

Lastly, of course, everything is better with a Japanese documentary:

I also love her series of illustrations on manuscript paper and glimpses she makes of her studio, which you can find on her Facebook and VK pages:

Postlude:

Mean YouTube trolls are mean. From the video I posted above, there are some angry comments blah blah guys mansplaining minimalist composers. What gives?

Oh, cool, you know who Steve Reich is. Some kind of expert then.

I think you can do better, trolls. You don’t look like you know what you’re talking about. You need to up your game. Let me help:

“I just talked to your mom and she wants your ‘Minimalist Classics for Babies Naptime Compilation’ album back.”

“You know so little about the early roots of minimalism you probably think La Monte Young is a cheap French perfume store!”

“What’s the sound of one hand trying to perform ‘Clapping Music’?”

See? Amateurs.

Anyway, I think she’s great, and I have, like, a really serious music education or whatever. If someone wants to argue with me they’ll have to get past these fightin’ mallets and my marimba.

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Peter Theremin’s haunting music, on his great-grandfather’s invention

Most of us never got to know Leon Theremin (Lev Termen) or hear him play live. But we can take in his great grandson continuing the tradition of playing his invention – and Peter Theremin’s music is just as hauntingly human.

The Theremin has a special role in music history and the birth of electronic sound. Its sounds were among the first to suggest that electronic, not only acoustic, instruments could be expressive, that its electrical utterances could be like a human voice. It’s history is bound up with the history of US-Soviet relations, and the shaky relationship of electronics to espionage (and, in turn, the Communist sphere’s oscillating position on how acceptable electronic music would be). And is if that weren’t enough, the instrument also inspired Bob Moog to create synths, forever altering the course of the synth’s evolution.

But even with so many other choices now, there’s something uniquely pure and arresting about the Theremin’s sound and dead-simple design. And so among various international artists and in particular Russians carrying on that tradition, Peter Theremin (Петр Термен) is the one who literally carries on the inventor’s name. His music lives up to that, and then there’s the fact that he unmistakably carries some of the same DNA.

I got to here Peter play most recently last week at Moscow’s Synthposium, within walking distance of a lot of Theremin history in the Russian capital (not to mention the US Embassy where Maestro Lev once bugged the US Ambassador’s office, Trojan Horse style. (We really need to build one of these in a workshop. Anyone tried that?)

That performance is online:

“The Swan” as played by Clara Rockmore is one of my favorite Theremin performances ever, and Peter comes pretty darn close in his rendition for BBC Music:

Following his VKontakte page is the best way to dig through his music, if you don’t mind a little Russian text here and there – a login isn’t even needed. (VK is a social network mostly popular in Russia, where it’s based.)

https://vk.com/thereminmusic

His TEDx talk covers the history of the instrument (in Russian but with English subtitles):

Russian search engine Yandex posted this beautiful chamber music piece with Peter’s performance:

Oh yeah, and here’s what Peter’s all-Theremin booth at Synthposium was like … in fast forward!

Just be careful using this instrument to serenade the love of your life, you know?

Previously:

Watch Bob Moog play and talk about the Theremin

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Nerd cup: here are some top electronic music makers from Russia’s Synthposium

Russia is today as always a nation packed with engineers – one distinctive upside of the long shadow cast by the Soviet Union. Russian electronic inventors’ creations increasingly flourish worldwide, so now is a great time to check in with some leaders of the growing Russian maker scene.

Synthposium this week demonstrated again that Moscow can be a hub for electronic instrumental technology. A crowded expo room featured alongside talks and a full festival lineup in this land of Theremin and ANS. How engineering savvy is Russia? Literally, one builder told me in a discussion (recording coming soon) that his dad gave him spare parts from the radio equipment factory as toys. (I have an image of a toddler with a pile of diodes and resistors, which I know is … wrong yet somehow not far off.)

Now, part of the point of Synthposium was again mixing and mashing the Russian scene with builders from Europe and beyond, not to mention the consumers of all this wonderful gadgetry. (The lion’s share of the output of most of these makers goes to markets in places like Europe and the USA, more than to Russian customers, as a rule.)

But it was also a chance to give deserved recognition to the growing scene inside Russia – a scene that’s proud about its closeness and supportive atmosphere. Synthposium organized awards for top makers again. I got to give some input, as well as awkwardly handing out a couple of the trophies. (They were 3D-printed logos, and I think I mostly managed to bumble my way through passing them out and muttering “here is your … uh … letter S … enjoy it….”)

Last year already saw Polivoks and the spectacular Blade Runner-esque Yamaha CS-80-inspired Deckard’s Dream walk away with honors. Now, the class of 2018.

Поздравляем!

SAMSUNG CSC

Best synth: SOMA’s Lyra-8 / Pipe

Even in the middle of the analog renaissance, SOMA Laboratory is an outlier. SOMA’s Lyra-8 for instance is not only analog, but “organismic” – creator Vlad Kreimer taking a spiritual approach to its design and manufacture, born out in the futuristic soul that cries out from its circuits. (He describes three points to SOMA’s philosophy – “Instruments that invite you to listen to yourself, balance and interaction instead of linearity and control,” and “deep nature instead of imitation.”

Lyra began its life as a performance instrument just for Vlad, before he opened it up to interested customers. Lyra-8 is an eight-voice (hence the name) instrument with FM modulation and various new synthesis algorithms and extras applied to the original design, plus a doubled delay that gives it its unique alien sound. There’s no MIDI – this is truly an analog-centric design – but you can input external audio.

And specs don’t do it justice. Just listen:

The Lyra has gotten some attention, but just as interesting is the Pipe, a breath-controlled effects/synth instrument. If you’ve ever wondered what the love child of a didgeridoo and a talkbox born on a mining vessel on the outer rim would sound like, wonder no more:

Best Module – Keen Association

Four oscillators with controls for visually producing wave shapes. A tape player simulation. All in one module. Yeah, the visual look of the Buchla-inspired Graphic Waveform Generator Model 268e from Keen draws from classic Buchla tradition, but this Moscow-made module is a unique sound studio all its own.

Little surprise then that the Graphic Waveform Generator Model 268e got a nod in modules (though there are some other builders to talk about, too – stay tuned).

Here’s a nice tour of the module and a look at how it fits into a larger Buchla context:

There’s more Buchla goodness where that came from:

https://www.facebook.com/KeenAssociation/

Best FX/processing: Zvukofor

I’ve already shouted out Zvukofor Sound Labs from St. Petersburg as one of my favorite makers of grimy sound processing. Now this artist/engineer got attention at Synthposium for his C1 and Tahnx.

He wasn’t just showing some new kit, either – he also shared thoughts on the meaning and history of distortion.

Tanhx is all about saturation and how to control it musically:

Best DIY – Playtronica

We’ve followed Playtronica for some time now. Their TouchMe approach to musical interaction we’ve seen before, but they continue refining design and manufacture of their full series of products and the workshops around it.

And people never get tired of getting to make music by touching pineapples, as their booth proved again.

You can play with their instrument right from in your browser (with MIDI even, if you have supported hardware and browser software):

http://play.playtronica.com/

It’s really tough to describe just how much Playtronica have done in the scene in Russia – an agency, an interactive design collective, a set of artists doing interesting work on their own, and a force for education that’s spreading electronics interest again to kids. If you want a look at how engaging younger generations might reboot in this century in the post-communist period, this is one clue.

It’s worth checking their work:

http://www.playtronica.com/

Original design – VG-Line

Hey, even as a keyboardist myself, I’ll be the first to concede: it’s guitarists’ turn on modular now.

And that’s why VG-Line’s Gui2lar matters. It’s a modular system designed around the guitar. And it’s stupidly fun and practical all at once. Video here is in Russian, but is reasonably easy to follow even without the language:

Popularization – Fedor Vetkalov

If the likes of Andreas Schneider and Dieter Doepfer brought modular back and evangelized synthesis in Berlin, then look no further than Fedor Vetkalov when it comes to the east. Fedor not only is a cornerstone of the synth and modular scene in Russia from his Moscow shop, but has also worked the other way – introducing the best Russian builders to the world, whether it’s via artists touring through the Russian capital or online or at international events. There are few people who can be a better guide to the scene in Russia, and well, it’s also kind of hard to imagine the synth community without Fedor in it even outside of Russia, too.

Martin Gore from Depeche Mode at Synthman.

A post shared by Fedor Vetkalov (@fedorvetkalov) on

It’s been a pleasure to be back here in Moscow and St. Petersburg as always – more to come. And for all the other complaints we might have about current politics, I think we’re pretty fortunate today – crossing these borders, both for our humans and machines, is easier than ever. That makes our extended synth and music family feel close even as we come together across nations and languages.

For that I’m especially grateful for the cooperation of the Synthposium organization and the Goethe-Institut and other partners that allow this exchange to happen (and to live up to that “cultural exchange” business describes on my latest visa sticker).

This time last year:

New Russian music electronics you’ve never heard of, from Synthposium

(Okay, you’ve heard of them now!) Plus:

Balalaikas to synths, the Russians at Musikmesse cover the gamut

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Balalaikas to synths, the Russians at Musikmesse cover the gamut

Some of it, you’d expect: accordions, balalaikas. Some of it, you’d crave: post-Soviet electronic sounds. And some of it would surprise you: ready to play some pineapples? Meet the Russian makers at Musikmesse.

There’s now growing bi-directional interest and involvement between Europe and the Russian Federation. For all that may be happening elsewhere in trade, geopolitics, and social media, when it comes to musicians, inventors, and makers, now feels like a renaissance in exchanges between Russia and Europe.

At least in music, the thing is, there are a range of instruments, traditional and electronic, that no one else makes quite like this – partly because of the history of the country and how that’s extending to new instrumental creations.

Superbooth in Berlin is becoming the go-to European show for synths and electronic music, but Musikmesse in Frankfurt, like NAMM in the USA, focuses across new music technology and traditional instruments. And those traditional instruments remain big business. What’s interesting looking at the Russian selections is how you get a range of instrumental possibilities.

Hosted by the Russian government’s Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia, some eight different manufacturers will show their wares. Yes, I think we’re probably not wrong when we assume these folks deal more with heavy industry and energy than they do, uh, weird stompboxes. But for once, we get the full mix. Have a look:

For accordion lovers, there’s Tula Harmonica and Voronezh musical instrument factory AKKO:
http://www.harmonica-tula.ru/
http://www.bayanakko.ru/

(Anyone who’s ever been to Musikmesse understands that, at this show, accordions are a big deal.)

Balalaikas may be the stereotyped image people imagine when thinking of Russia, but – you’re not wrong. And some of the new instruments are simply beautiful to look at, in new designs that nonetheless withstand the demands of traditional music. Balalaiker is making both balalaika and other folks instruments. They even come in black, in case you want to work these into your techno rig.

http://www.balalaiker.ru/

In percussion, there’s both a Moscow drum shop (Tsimbals), plus a Russian xylophone and bell maker (Forte).

https://musimport.ru/
http://www.forteltd.ru/

Lutner SPb exemplifies the kinds of businesses that cropped up in the 90s, post-USSR – a business founded in 1998 in St. Petersburg that has grown to regional and then national business in selling instruments. But they’re not just importing known brands from Europe, Asia, and elsewhere – they’ve also got some local brands to show, including vargans and plucked stringed instruments.

Of course, apart from folk music, Russia has long been known as a classical powerhouse. So serving those musicians (with the likes of Valentine Uryupin, Igor Butman, and others), you get wind instrument maker Atelier Goncharov.

But let’s get to electronics, before you think this CDM became Create Russian Folk Music.

In tech, the appeal of Russia is clear: it offers the rest of us the often peculiar noises of Soviet-era electronics with new innovations and engineering.

Oktava, founded in Tula in 1927 (that’s an industrial center south of Moscow), is hoping to find a wider audience for mics and headphones. You can read about some of their history, but – imagine a Russian answer to names like AKG or Neumann. Oktava’s studio mics are legendary. (I haven’t gotten to use any; I’m rather curious.)

I … think some CDM reader should pitch them on fixing their ancient Website, but you can take my word for it that they make respected professional headphones and microphones, along with a lot of other audio products that are less related (telephony, other audio products, hearing aids).

But you do get a chance to try headphones from people with a history outfitting the Russian (and Soviet) military:

Plus vintage mics like this:

Just now, they’re making some beautiful tube, condenser, and dynamic mics for studio applications building on that history – with more modern production techniques. Good luck with their Website, but I do hear good things about the products:

http://www.oktavatula.ru/

Modular maker SSSR Labs was the darling audience choice winner of Synthposium last year, and they’ve got a range of affordable, compelling Eurorack modules and module kits.

In addition to their own creations, SSSR serve as a clearinghouse for other unique modules and kits made in Russia.

And they’ve got an interesting deal if you already own one of their modules: “If you already own Kotelnikov or Matrixarchate eurorack modules, take them with you to get a FREE upgrade to the latest firmware version with audio bootloader! Valid for all units: retail and DIY builds.” (No new modules at Musikmesse, but that firmware – and 50% Russian production – is new.)

https://www.sssrlabs.com/

Our friends from Playtronica are also in town. In addition to unique performances and installations, they’ve been hard at work developing kits that will open up these same techniques to others – think Makey Makey for music. So their inventions Playtron and Touch Me use capacitance to turn anything – any object, any human touch – into musical interface. Other sensors cover physical interactions and motion.

Sasha Pas from the group sends CDM a spy shot, and it looks like they’re … busy with pineapples.

You can also catch the wonderful Jekka live tomorrow.

http://playtronica.com/toolkit/

Yerasov is making a whole bunch of stuff, including amps and combos and tube heads and accessories. But what may most interest readers of CDM is their growing range of compact, interconnecting audio gear.

There’s some really unique stuff, like a parametric EQ for bass, an impulse response-based cabinet simulator, and this tap delay, plus a whole mess of effects. Color me interested.

You’ll find loads of goodies on their site (also in English):

http://yerasov.com/

Also in the group: cable and connector maker Shnoor (look out, Hosa and Neutrik?).

Plus there’s a company called AMT, which is also doing loads of digital-based effects and amp simulations. (At last year’s Messe, I noticed loads of this stuff — as ARM chips proliferate in mobile devices, phones, and tablets, it seems digital chips are also powering lots of cheap new guitar effects.)

AMT comes from Siberia, it seems (with the “Siberian Guitar Gear / Built to Last” presumably making us imagine sturdy-looking people in layers of fur surviving harsh winters). And they’ve got some interesting ideas, like a 4-channel WAV player for backing tracks you can control via MIDI or footswitch, called (hilariously) the EgoGig:

http://amtelectronics.com/new/amt-egogig-eg-4/

They’ve also got some useful-looking DI boxes and load boxes and re-amp stuff:

https://www.myshnoor.com/

There you go – eight Russian makers you may or may not have heard of.

I’ll be partnering again this year with Synthposium in Moscow to bring you more.

If you’re at Musikmesse, you can visit the Russian exposition at hall 8 booth F66 (acoustic instruments) and in hall 4.1 booth E61 (for the electricity-powered stuff).

And I’m certainly interested in other countries’ wares, as our world of music technology becomes ever more decentralized and international. (What I will say about Russia: I notice that a lot of conversations around me even in Berlin slip to Russian as lingua franca, even without exclusively Russian people around. There’s a renaissance of invention all over what had been the former Soviet sphere, and its history, in music and culture, spans back far earlier than the 20th century.)

Now I wish I hadn’t made this so long, so someone could translate it into Russian. Oops.

Oh yeah, and you might want to free up September to come to Moscow. If you’re a nerd. And if you’ve made it this far in the article – actually, you definitely are, and you definitely should.

http://synthposium.ru/

See you in Moscow and Berlin.

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Polivoks gets a $500 post-Soviet sibling, realizing a dream from 1990

The original creators of the legendary Soviet Polivoks synthesizer are back with an edition that’s small and affordable – completing an idea they had in 1990.

It’s again a collaboration of two generations. As with the ultra-limited run Polivoks reissue, Russian engineers Alexey Taber and Alex Pleninge team up with original Polivoks creator Vladimir Kuzmin and the woman who evidently conceptualized that original design, Olympiada Kuzmina.

The first Polivoks was an artefact of the last years of the Soviet Union, as produced by the Formanta Radio Factory. (Go ahead – look up Kachkanar. This is definitely into the huge swaths of the Russian Federation I’ve never seen!)

And so its reissue reimagined that model, minus the keyboard, as original creator Vladimir Kuzmin worked with engineers Alexey Taber and Alex Pleninge.

http://polivoks.pro/

Now, again, we get a meeting of two generations. Vladimir Kuzmin and Olympiada Kuzmina, the woman who evidently conceptualized that original design, now work with the talented young Moscow-based engineer Arseny Tokarev of Elta Music Devices.

But this is no reissue. The mini was conceptualized in 1990 – but now sees the light of day as a 2018 product. And it’s a perfect way of making the mysterious sound world of the Polivoks more accessible and affordable today.

In case you can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet, there’s a Latin version of the panel:

The basic workflow of the original Polivoks is maintained, down to the distinctive use of the modulation (LFO) on the upper left corner and the signature knobs and labels. It’s just nicely simplified – one oscillator (“generator”) instead of two and streamlined controls.

They were clever enough not to just stop there, though. So there’s USB and MIDI. The oscillators are now self-calibrating – sure to disappoint fans of the unpredictability of the original oscillators but please everyone else. So no more waiting for the synth to warm up in winter.

But you still get that wild-sounding Polivoks filter, which screams out as you turn it, and the particular sound of the Polivoks multimode filter. That is, don’t look at a control and assume it sounds like a Moog – it most surely doesn’t.

Here’s the somewhat poetic narrative they’ve made with more details:

The idea of the Polivoks Mini analog synthesizer came into mind in 1990, as the junior version of its older brother well known Polivoks full synth. The aim was to develop a way simpler and lighter device that has less components, offers the same broad capabilities, and removes possible flows of the Polivoks full synth. As the result of this research a new minimalistic schematic appeared. It has fewer controls that are compensated by greater functionality.

For example, in the Modulator section the Form switch has been replaced by the controller with triangular oscillation in the middle position and sawtooth shape oscillation smoothly falling in the extreme positions. The controller for the envelope filter input set to zero in the middle position and smoothly increasing its value by turning the knob clockwise while turning the knob counterclockwise increases inverse voltage of the envelope generator. The main synthesizer sections, such as generator, famous Polivoks filter, multimode envelope generator are essentially the same as Polivoks’s ones and have their unique sound. In addition to that, the main generator of the Polivoks Mini doesn’t require any thermal stabilization or adjustment.

In general, the simplified schematic delivers the sound appreciated by wide range of musicians by minimal means but with new capabilities. The Polivoks Mini will be released as the keyboardless version with integrated USB and MIDI interfaces. The overall design of the Polivoks Mini is made in collaboration with Ms. Olympiada Kuzmina, Polivoks full synth concept designer.

Availability: Expected to ship April/May
Pricing: “Around” US$500

https://www.eltamusic.com/polivoks-mini

Vladimir Kuzmin walks through the design in a video (Russian only, but… everyone speaks synthesizer):

You know, at some point this was all about post-Soviet chic or the exoticism of instruments from behind the Iron Curtain. But I think a funny thing has happened – the synth world has actually re-calibrated to the point that musicians want to make these left-of-center sounds. And that makes this thing totally delightful.

Just as I’m excited for this year’s Superbooth in Berlin, I’m equally eager for Synthposium in Russia. I’m lucky to have my visa and get to meet people who love the same unruly sounds I do.

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Ivy is an epic 240-step hardware sequencer as sound installation

16 steps? 32? Phfft. How about 240 steps, with 240 sliders, over a space of 5 meters? That’s the latest vtol installation – and it’s breathtaking.

Don’t even think of trying this at home, kids. It looks like a nightmare build – that’s just 240 sliders alone. But in action, you can watch dazzling parades of red LED lights as they make their way across its expanse. The project is called “Ivy,” and it’s the creation of Moscow’s Dmitry Morozov, aka vtol (an artist moniker named after the vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft).

That’s impossibly costly and impractical, so this flies way past the more luxurious step sequencers we’ve seen of late (like Polyend’s seq or Koma’s Komplex. Behold its glitchy, bleepy dance:

While the scale is overwhelming, there’s one really clever sequencer idea that you could copy. While there’s just one big array of sliders, Ivy has multiple voices – hence you see more than one light blinking its way across the array. And those voices can be independent, added and removed at will and each with assignable tempo.

There’s some philosophical background to this, too. The installation interprets the “Open Codes” theme of a new exhibition at ZKM – Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (Center for Arts and Media technology) in Karlsruhe, Germany:

On one side, Ivy is a representation of an archaic method of electronic music programming for analog synthesizers. On the other side – gigantic scale and obsessive multiplication of simple primitive elements turns this project into an art installation, that is referring to the topic of graphic and physical organization of parameters in electronic music.

More:
http://vtol.cc/filter/works/ivy

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Check out some loving synth images and inspiration from Moscow

Even as rave culture faces new hurdles in Russia, nerd culture thrives. That was the feeling at August’s Synthposium in Moscow; here’s another look.

For an impressionistic feeling of the space station adoration of electronic sound production, here’s a montage shot inside the Expo, which somehow captures the milieu of the event and passion of its attendees.

Apart from space exploration, Russia has its roots in rigor both engineering and compositional, as nicely embodied by Synthposium artist Alex Pleninger. An interview (English subtitled) takes you inside his world, and an adeptness for machines then led him to the classic Buchla modular from … a Nintendo Game Boy. (Love that lofi camera.)

Lest you think Russia is all synth noodling, freestyling (seriously) was a lot of what I heard. Hip hop seems to be resurgent in the Russian capital. (Fight the powers that be?)

We also get fresh views of the gear.

Builder Vyacheslav Grigoriev was there representing VG-Line; here’s a look inside his workshop:

Vyacheslav Grigoriev, the founder of the VG-Line workshop and production, is Moscow’s chief man when it comes to repairing and modifying synthesizers. An expert in Soviet electronics, Vyacheslav is known for his modified and upgraded version of the cult RITM-2 synthesizer, as well as the TR-909-inspired desktop bass drum module, that goes far beyond the original. His workshop is a unique enterprise with a DIY attitude, that denies any corporate classification, where he repairs and manufactures synthesizers of different designs and basically lives. Grigoriev will join the Expo section and present his newly-engineered products at the Vintage Hall on August 26 and 27.

As we were wandering the expo floor, manufacturers were queued up to demo their gear in a convenient light box a series called Things had set up. Here’s a look at the (mostly) Russian entries – starting with VG-Line:

https://thngs.co/things/10267

The VG Line bass drum BD 9Q9. Totally analogue clone of legendary Roland TR-909 kick with wide range of settings, which original TR 909 doesn’t have — a switcher to extend decay and the pitch.

https://thngs.co/things/10257

https://thngs.co/things/10256

35 years after the release of the first model, the creator of Polivoks, Vladimir Kuzmin, decided to release an updated version, which already fell into the hands of many lucky people and, judging by the existing reviews, the legend has already returned. In the work on a modern embodiment, engineers Alex Pleninger and Alexey Taber took part. At the moment there are only 100 copies of the new Polivox and each of them is collected manually.

https://thngs.co/things/10279

You’ve seen Roland’s kit a lot lately, but for one international input, let’s add a Czech input – especially as Bastl’s Thyme just became available for preoder:

The Thyme is an effects processor that is best described as a sequenceable robot operated digital tape machine. With a lot of parameters at hand it enables the exploration of all the time based effects and the vast space in between their classical multi-effects categories (delay, phaser, reverb, chorus, pitch shifter, multi-tap delay, tape delay, tremolo, vibrato, compressor) and in stereo! Each of the 9 different parameters (Tape Speed, Delay Coarse & Fine, Feedback, Filter, extra heads Spacing and Levels, Dry Wet Mix and Volume) has a dedicated, very flexible modulation source – called the Robot – which can be phased out differently for left and right channel to create psychedelic new sound effects.

https://thngs.co/things/10260

and SoftPop, for that matter:

SoftPop is a playfully organic, semi-modular light and sound synthesizer with wide variety of sounds: from random dripping water pops to heavy subtractive basslines. Its fully analog core consisting of a heavily feedbacked system of dual triangle-core oscillators, state variable filter and sample and hold is played through an intuitive interface of 6 faders that provide countless combinations which can be explored by anyone.

https://thngs.co/things/10262

The Pribore MDP101 Baby connects to a computer or a phone via bluetooth, defined as a MIDI device. It has 2 assignable control knobs (Rotary Knob CC), 2 assignable keys (Button CC), 5 transport keys (Rewind, Stop, Play, Record, Loop), 1 angular acceleration sensor (accelerometer), for capturing emotions and expression (Motion Sensor), 1 battery for stand-alone operation, and a USB port for charging and connecting as a usb-midi device.

https://thngs.co/things/10263

From Playtronica came some of the more experimental, DIY / physical computing-tilted entries:

https://thngs.co/things/10205

Touch Me is a HCI device that turns human touch into music.
When the surface area or intensity of skin contact between two or more people changes Touch Me modifies sound output according to selected scale and tone parameters.

https://thngs.co/things/9879

And yes, for when you win the lottery / sell your startup / swap bodies with Trent Reznor or deadmau5 or Hans Zimmer (Freaky Friday!), it’s the Deckard’s Dream! That beats Blade Runner tickets:

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Gallery: Inside the gear-packed hall of Moscow’s Synthposium Expo

Gear Acquisition Syndrome has come full force to Russia. Both live stages and the gear Expo at Synthposium in Moscow last week made that clear.

The Expo was just one room – nothing near the sprawling event that was SuperBooth in Berlin – but it was just as appealing. Indeed, there was something lovely about having hands-on displays around the corner from live acts, as artists and festivalgoers intermingled, advanced electronics engineers and total newcomers alike getting to learn something. There was a similar feeling at the jam session demo room hosted by Schneidersladen at Berlin Atonal festival the week before. Moscow explored a disused wine factory; Berlin, a power plant control room. Vive l’après-industrie!

And oh yeah – kids love synths. Of course. Let’s have a look – or scroll to the end to find out who the juried winners were.

You can read my pocket guide to Russian boutique makers – one that’s sure to be updated.

New Russian music electronics you’ve never heard of, from Synthposium

Here, via the mainly official photos, you get a sense of the whole event. And it was international, not just restricted to Russia – meaning for many of those guests, it was their first visit to the country (from KORG’s Tatsuya Takahashi to the team from Bastl Instruments).

And the award winners…

Synthposium also hosted a juried competition for the most outstanding products of the show. As the first such competition in Russia, it’s noteworthy in itself – and I fully endorse their winners.

The moment of truth, pictured…

The first ever Russian awards devoted to music technologies are set to take place, with an expert jury giving recognition to the most creative engineers of musical instruments and devices.

Six nominations and winners:

The best eurorack module
Brand: SSSR Labs
Model: Matrixarchate

The best synthesizer
Brand: Black Corporation
Model: Deckard’s Dream

The best processing / fx gear
Brand: VG Line
Model: 12bitcrusher

Heritage Preservation
Polivoks.Pro

Renewed production
SOMA laboratory

Popularization: educational initiative
Playtronica

synthposium.ru

Photos by: CDM, Synthposium, (last shot) Valentin “Zvukofor” Victorovich.

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