Kürzlich wurde ein allgemeines Statement von Schneidersladen (von Andreas Schneider persönlich) bezüglich der Preise von Eurorack-Modulen getätigt. Wieso fallen die Preise und was bedeutet das?
Nerdland ist ein Staat, der heute viel mehr Beachtung findet. Während man bis in die Achtziger hinein eher ein unbeobachteter kleiner Sonderling war, findet man sich seit den Superbooth-Jahren in einem unerwarteten Licht wieder. Die Module waren früher eher rar, heute scheint eine kleine Industrie vorhanden zu sein. Und sogar „Discounter“ stellen sich so ein System hin und übernehmen damit eine Funktion, die bisher ein kleinerer „Laden“ innehatte.
Solche Entwicklungen passieren nach und mit einem „Hype“. Manchmal weckt man auch den Krauter um die Ecke: „Manni, räum doch mal die Ecke mit den Düdelkeyboards da hinten frei, da gibbet in Berlin jetzt immer sone Messe, das ist ein ganz großes Ding – wir stellen da ein Modularsystem hin, du hast doch Ahnung“. Das passiert aktuell in einigen Läden, denn von dem neuen Glanz möchte man auch etwas abhaben, wo sich sogar einige Bands neuerdings auch ganz gern damit umgeben. Und wenn einmal Leute kommen und ein Modul gekauft haben, kommen die auch wieder – „das ist wie ein Abo“, würde „Manni“ wohl sagen. Wie in den Achtzigern mit Synthesizern. Aber nach der Zeit gab es auch eine Zeit, in der Synthesizer irgendwie „out“ waren. Das lag nicht an den Instrumenten, nicht einmal an den Musikern. Oder doch? Fakt ist aber auch, dass Schneidersladen in Teilen große Anbieter bedient, andere Hersteller oder Läden suchen und finden sich. Der ganz normale Wahnsinn.
Andreas Schneidersagt, es gäbe Preisverfälle, da sich einige Hersteller direkt über größere Vertriebe verteilen und sich dann auch freuen, jene Präsenz anbieten zu können. Einige davon kommen über Alex4/Schneidersladen an diese größeren Verkaufsstellen, andere direkt über diese Läden und andere wieder über eigene Wege. Wenn also ein Gerät oder Modul billiger wird, würde „Schneidersladen“ selbst ebenfalls die Preise senken. Es täte leid für die, die zuvor das gleiche Modul oder Gerät teurer gekauft haben, aber man kann sich diesem Verfall natürlich nicht verweigern und reicht die neuen Preise an die Kunden weiter. Es gibt andere Hersteller, die ähnliches anbieten und es gibt neue, größere Hersteller. Die Mehrzahl der Hersteller ist jedoch kein Massenbetrieb. Wer Parallelen zu den nichtmodularen Angeboten sieht, kann dennoch Parallelen erkennen – das ist eben auch einfach ein ganz normaler Markt, so er sichtbar für alle geworden ist. So wechselte bei klassischen Synthesizern von heute auf morgen der Preis des DSI OB6 mit dem des Prophet 6, immerhin 300-400 Euro Unterschied. Wie kann sowas sein? Doch zurück zu den Modulen und der Preisgestaltung …
Preise und Gründe
Der Hintergrund ist, dass die Leute zur Beratung natürlich lieber zum Fachgeschäft gehen und dann am Ende beim „Billigeren“kaufen gehen und sagen: „Du hast doch den Namen, das muss doch reichen.“ Tja – aber fragt dich selbst: Kaufst du billig oder doch da, wo man immer Hilfe bekommt? Das ist keine neue Sache. Nur bei Modulen ist es neu, da diese bisher eine Art Schattenleben führten, in dem andere Anbieter keine ernstzunehmende Warengruppe sahen. So auch deren Verteilung. Viele verkaufen direkt oder eben nicht selten über Schneidersladen, ganz verträumt und einfach.
Alle Hersteller haben Kosten für Herstellung und Teilebeschaffung. Es sind nicht selten Kleinstanbieter, die Module bauen und dann natürlich Teile und Bestückung selbst machen oder aber in Fernost anfertigen lassen. So etwas hat Einfluss auf den Preis. Denn nur höhere Auflagen verbilligen ein Modul. Eins! Nicht alle!
Immer wieder oft diskutiert in den Foren wurden potente Hersteller, die vielleicht noch keine Module anboten. Sie sind jetzt auch da. Die können höhere Stückzahlen finanzieren. Aber die Folge so einer Entwicklung, auch ohne große Hersteller, ist: Durch die reine Menge an Angeboten ändern sich Preise und der Druck, etwas anderes zu machen oder wieder vom Markt zu gehen. Aber bei denen, die es gibt, wird es (erst mal) billiger.
Das möchte Schneidersladen durchreichen an die Kunden. Das ist gut so. Andererseits muss man für die Module von immer mehr Herstellern auch dauerhaft Abnehmer haben. Und die Hersteller müssen sich überlegen, wie sie ihre Module und Geräte vertreiben lassen wollen oder ob sie es direkt tun. Oder den guten alten Fachhandel, so wie Schneidersladen weiter konsequent beliefern, der wiederum bei Bedarf die Großen füttert. Es gibt nicht viele solche „Schneidersläden“, aber so langsam gibt es hier und da neue Ecken in Läden diverser Größen. Wie viel Platz ist dafür in Zukunft?
Wie hältst du es damit? Günstiger ist besser? Ist das gut, dass die Module auf diese Weise billiger werden? Wer genau wie viele Module wie genau herstellt und das vorfinanzieren kann, spielt dabei eine große Rolle. Und die Hersteller können sich schnell freuen, aber seit den Superbooth-Tagen weiß natürlich auch der Letzte, dass Modular etwas ganz Großes ist. Jetzt. Wie wird sich das entwickeln? Welches sind die Gründe? Wo liegt die Ursache? Bei der Menge, dem Vertrieb, der Mode oder der Entscheidung der Kunden? Oder der Hersteller? Bei den neuen Herstellern? Den Großen oder Kleinen?
Wir sagen, dass es so läuft wie bei Hifi-Komponenten oder anderer Elektronik auch. Es ist nur so, dass die klassische „Stereo-Anlage“ heute auch einen anderen Stellenwert hat und Moden und Trends ihren Anteil hatten. Wieso soll das bei Modulen anders sein? Also wird es mehr Preisgewirr, plötzliche Änderungen und sterbende Hersteller geben und auch eine Sättigung. Obwohl gerade die Module erst einmal eine neue Absatzidee sind und viel versprechen. Modelleisenbahnen werden auch nie fertig! Oder sind es doch gezielte kleine 1-2 Rackeinheiten große Live-Zentralen, die da entstehen und dann „erst mal nichts mehr“? Wann kommt das nächste Erstmalnix und die Rahmen platzen. Und wann kommt der große günstige Hersteller und macht es anders? Es ist eigentlich erst einmal nur „anders“, ist das gut oder schlecht?
With the proliferation of modules, the phrase “Eurorack bubble” has been floating around for a while. But now it appears to be translating into falling prices.
The basic problem is this: more demand means more interest, which translates into more manufacturers, and more production. So far, so good. Then, more distributors pick up the goods – not just boutique operators like Schneider, but also bigger chains.
Where’s the problem? With too many modules out there in the marketplace, and more big retailers, it’s easier for the big retailers to start to squeeze manufacturers on price. Plus, the more modules out in the world, the greater the supply of used modules.
Andreas Schneider has chosen to weigh in on the issue personally. You can read his statement in German:
There’s actually a lot there – though the banner revelation is seeing the cost of new modules suddenly plummet by 30%:
You asked for it: Due to the increased demand for Eurorack modules in Europe, even the large retailers for musical instruments are now filling the last corners of their warehouses and buying complete production runs from manufacturers and everything else they can get. Some manufacturers might be happy about this, but the flooding of the market already leads to a significant drop in prices here and there, some modules are already available with a 30% discount on the original calculated price and yet were still quite hot the other day!
As SchneidersLaden we have decided to go along with this development and of course offer corresponding products for the same price to our customers, although most of them have already bought them when the goods were still fresh and crisp! We’re almost a little sorry about that, but hopefully the hits are already produced and the music career is up and running? Nevertheless, sorry – but the decision for this way lies with the manufacturer and was not our recommendation!
By the way… we don’t advertise with moneyback-warranty… we’ve always practiced it. But please: get advice first, then buy – like in the good old days. Because it’s better to talk to your specialist retailer – we know what we are selling. And by the way: We do free shipping throughout Europe and there are Thursdays on that we are in the shop until nine o’clock in the evening …and real CHAOS serves creativity.
That had to be said – end of commercial break.
Okay, so some different messages. To manufacturers, with whom Schneider seems to place a lot of the blame, the message is to avoid glutting the market by selling so many units that then they lose their price margin. (That seems good advice.) There’s also a “dance with the one that brung you” attitude here, but that’s probably fair, as well.
To buyers, work with specialists, and please research what you buy so you don’t shoulder retailers and manufacturers with lots of returns. That seems good advice, too.
(Hope I’ve paraphrased that fairly.)
It does seem there’s a looming problem beyond just what’s here, though. For the community to continue to expand, it will have to find more new markets. It does seem some saturation point is inevitable, and that could mean a shakeout of some manufacturers – though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The used market should also be a worry, though on the other hand, some people do always seem to buy new.
I’d echo what the two posts here say, which is the synth maker world will likely be healthy if manufacturers and consumers do some research and support one another.
Before anyone predicts the sky is falling, I’ve had a number of conversations with modular makers. Those with some experience seem to be doing just fine, even if some have expressed concern about the larger market and smaller and newer makers. That is, those with some marketing experience and unique products still see growth – but that growth may not translate to greener manufacturers who are trying to cram into what is becoming a crowded field.
Electronic music is understood by the general public mostly through artists – tech is just something in the background with knobs. But there’s more to the story than that.
And while it’s certainly well known in synth loving circles, Berlin has accordingly been techno capital and club capital, but is finally getting recognition as a mecca for technology.
These two films take you inside one retailer and one manufacturer that have each championed the return to boutique sonic electronics, to patch cables and modular synthesis, and that have resisted anything like mass market mentalities or commodification.
They could have easily been mistaken as throwbacks, but there’s some futurism to the visions of both Mark Verbos and Andreas Schneider. Schneider’s name is associated with Berlin, having established his shop as the hangout, wallet emptier, and community pillar of the synth scene. Verbos, who was himself once a Berlin resident, has only recently brought the modular business he established in New York City across the Atlantic. And even though their wares are unmistakably fetish objects, I’d say both brands make their value proposition through a commitment to adventurous sound. So yes, you get vintage-looking knobs and slightly anachronistic telephone switchboard interfaces. But the investment, their message says, is in exploring strange new worlds and undiscovered sounds.
Schneidersladen, toured by Synth Anatomy, is a clinic and community hub as well as a place to surrender to gear acquisition syndrome. And it retains the same personality and idiosyncracies that mark the larger synth loving scene.
Mapping the Schneider empire is getting tricky these days, but the short version: Schneidersladen in Kreuzberg is the new retail iteration of what was once Schneidersbüro (at Alexanderplatz, the old location)). ALEX4 is a distribution company. Superbooth, while once just an actual booth at the Musikmesse, is now an event series with its own production company.
At Verbos Electronics, Mark – who cut his teeth as a Buchla expert and repairperson – walks through the passion that drives his business in high-end modules. Side note: Mark is also a consummate live techno musician on his own instruments, having fired up these boxes in the likes of Berghain (and, back in the day, the old Ostgut and Tresor). Hearing him play should leave little doubt that these machines are for dancing, not just chin scratching. (You can, of course, attempt doing both at once. Full support.)
SchneidersLaden, Superbooth Berlin and Irrupt have teamed up to introduce Supersounds, a collaborative sound library featuring a collection of royalty free loops and one shot samples. Artists from Andreas Schneider’s team took their personal modular rigs and beloved hardware to the IRRUPT Studio in Berlin. There they recorded their favorite patches and spontaneous inspirations to […]
From a crowded stand in Frankfurt to a sprawling show in East Berlin, Superbooth has become a modular mecca and the premiere synthesizer summit on the world calendar.
And if you think about it, that’s pretty astonishing. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) in California remains the destination for the musical instrument industry at large, and it and a number of other events draw big crowds of synth lovers. But Superbooth has become a kind of extension of synthesizer inventor history, of modular subculture, and of the best parts of the Internet today – the bits that just nerd out about cool toys. One- and two-person shops stand literally shoulder to shoulder with major manufacturers.
In short, it’s the triumph of the weird.
“Normal” trade shows these days are what can seem anachronistic. The “trade-only” moniker at NAMM (or Germany’s Musikmesse) has always been confusing, with tire kickers tangled with industry, and a collision of instrumental segments that seem increasingly distant from one another.
Like the quiet, sprawling metropolis of Berlin itself, Superbooth never feels crowded. People amble and linger and chat and chill – all the verbs you never associate with trade shows. But it doesn’t feel like a local synth meet, either. There are 250 exhibitors this year, with stands from names like Ableton, Akai, Avid, Bitwig, Elektron, Eventide, IK Multimedia, KORG, Mackie, Magix, Moog, MOTU, Native Instruments, Nord, Novation, Propellerhead, RME, Roland, ROLI, Softube, Steinberg, Studio Electronics, Waldorf, and … yes, even mighty Yamaha.
Those join a who’s who of modular makers, with an increasing number of American brands alongside what appear to be all the major European names (including Russia).
So, it’s significant that the morning hours are dedicated to trade and professionals, while the afternoons open to the public. “Will you be at Superbooth?” has become the stock question for the synth and electronic end of the waters. And since this is not just a corner of a show with drums and guitars and trombones, you do actually talk to one another and connect.
Novation hit it out of the park with both Peak and Circuit Mono Station. Bastl Instruments fed us THYME, DUDE, Kong … and their own line of custom-brewed coffee. Behringer had their infamous Minimooog Model D clone to try. Elektron revealed the Digitakt, as Jomox and MFB unveiled boutique drum machines. And of course there were loads of new modules and other toys … not to mention Yamaha with a robot that plays keys.
Last year, this happened – two new Novation synths.
(Compare the inaugural 2016, when Superbooth was more limited to niche modular and analog creations, and many brands still made waves at Frankfurt Messe. By last year, Messe was mostly silence.)
This year, I think you can expect even more big announcements. Given the attention Novation got, I wouldn’t be surprised if a big manufacturer made a splash – even from Japan’s big three, all of whom are in attendance.
Of course, the charm of Superbooth is, those big manufacturers won’t really have any particular advantage over tiny shops. (Well, apart from if you have deeper pockets, you get the cool room with the Soyuz module …)
And I think you can expect … oh, wait, I can’t tell you. I don’t know anything. Expect nothing.
(Oh, one note – I think we’ll continue to see a cottage industry in 5U modules – that’s the larger format – especially as Moog’s own recreation of its vintage modulars is out of reach of most budgets.)
As Superbooth gets deeper in the gear territory – not just for modular geeks, but synths fans in general – it’s also building out its roster of musicians. Those reflect some of the Berlin in-crowd’s refined tastes, but this year they also suggest another line.
Superbooth wants you to think of synths and modular as an instrument, in the classic sense of the word.
So you get Caterina Barbieri, a classical guitarist-turned-modular artist, and Leon Michener on a prepared grand piano. There’s Berlin electronic legend Bernd Kistenmacher on synths, and composer Udo Hanten on 5U modulars.
Stephan Schmitt, founder of Native Instruments and father of Generator/Reaktor, will play on his own unique C 15 keyboard, made by his new hardware venture Nonlinear Labs. Carolina Eyck will play Theremin; famed producer Tobi Neumann will play ambient with Fadi.
The night program is also packed with some big names: think #instantboner, T.Raumschmiere & FucketYbUcKetY, Ströme and Tikiman, Boys Noiz with 2244, ATEQ, and GusGus.
It’s not entirely “underground” in character – these are established, premiere artists, and perhaps associated then with established, premiere modular gear, which while increasingly affordable isn’t exactly cheap. But then I think you can also expect lots of unofficial off events and afterparties to spring up, postcards to spread around – and it’s still Berlin. So be sure manufacturers will organize spontaneous jam sessions, visiting nerds will promote gigs, and lots of sound geekery will be had in the days during and immediately around the event. You might want to clear your calendar, plus some, like, recovery time.
On the workshop/talk side, there are various DIY offerings, as well as a female/non-binary program meant to counter-balance an event that has tended to skew fairly heavily male. Daniel Miller, Uwe Schmidt, and Mark Ernestus are in discussion, plus you can catch Lady Starlight, Andrew Huang, Lady Blacktronika, and Mylar Melodies.
The biggest rival to Superbooth I imagine will be Moogfest back in the U.S. of A. – unlikely to have, say, boutique Russian makers at it, but likely to attract some modular purveyors who won’t make the Transatlantic flight. And Moog of course will figure big at their own event. Moogfest also dwarfs Superbooth as far as festival lineup and talks. I’d also keep an eye on SONAR Festival, whose extended tech program often focuses on the European tech scene, plus Music Tech Fest in September.
But as far as synth makers in one place and synth news, Superbooth is the big bet for new tech. I’ll see you there.
Electronic musician – mad scientist – inventor LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER is taking his synth bike on tour, finally answering the question “how can I have more synth, but get exercise and a tan?”
And for all of you stuck in a windowless basement studio, that means he can do his jam in places like the landmark Tempelhofer Feld airport in Berlin. It’s busking, with wheels.
Synth shop Schneidersladen is another obvious destination:
And the invention itself is just mental – a bunch of electronics strapped to a bike, with the advantage of mobile sound and even backpack recording, now in its second iteration.
This is just one of many, many weird and wonderful things this UK artist does, as an inventor, magical oddball personality, and virtuoso live performer maelstrom of sonic energy. Those are on his Facebook page, natch.
In just its second edition, Schneidersladen has turned the Superbooth into the world’s coolest synth gathering and most focused electronic music gear get-together. The Berlin-based event attracted a who’s who of international music gear makers, from modular to desktop, tiny to huge.
So that led to the inevitable question: “what have you seen? What’s cool?” Sometimes you got to that topic before, like, “hello, how are you?”
Well, while there was a litany of great new stuff, particularly (unsurprisingly) in the modular sphere, here are the prototypes and gear launches that I think represent the best of the best.
We’ll have follow-ups in the coming days, including some interviews and high-quality gear audio samples. But these stood out – both for me and for other folks I talked to. (Oh, and if I missed you, just get in touch or leave a comment! And, uh, next time, put a Soyuz capsule next to your booth and I probably will get attracted to it like a bee to honey.)
That’s how to do advance press – Sound on Sound reprints were available alongside the Peak. Then again, most people focused on … playing with Peak, and doing their own review.
Novation. Superbooth is still about boutique makers and tiny shops, but credit is due to some of the bigger players. Novation’s entire engineering teams were on hand to show off their latest two synths, the Circuit Mono Station and Peak. And these instruments were terrific hits, appreciated by fellow engineers and musicians alike. The big test: people couldn’t get enough of playing Peak. That’s a good reminder that the synth market will never become just a commodity: these are instruments. You have to fall in love with them.
They’re just prototypes, but these handy widgets Bastl had scattered over their booth look really promising, too.
Bastl coffee, your editor’s single favorite product of the show. (Junkie.)
Bastl Instruments. Novation might have “won” Superbooth, were it not that they were right next to the plucky Czech wizards of Bastl. And this booth had everything. Not only were two of the biggest products of the show there (the softPop synth and Thyme effects processor), but Bastl’s corner was bestrewn with other great ideas. There were tiny mono mixers (Dude). There was a project to work with a friend to roast sustainable coffee, partnering directly with farmers in Colombia. (The roaster is set to travel to Latin America to work side by side with said farmers. Thanks, Bastl, for keeping me awake by brewing this.) There was a lovely glossy zine full of essays and crisp black and white photos and, in Bastl’s words, “Eastern European broken English.” There were cassette tapes. There were performances with drum triggers hooked up to a modular. And there were even literally ideas sprinkled over the booth, in the form of LEGO-like widgets for combining signals and adding patch points. Bastl just seem to be endlessly overflowing with ideas, and they keep shipping them.
I’ll cover softPop separately, in that I think it’s so great. Here’s a video of it in action, triggering a light.
Elektron Digitakt. Elektron made a strong showing in 2017, both hosting a massive blowout concert/party at the Funkhaus Friday night, and showing the one bit of kit absolutely everyone wanted to get their hands on. Their new Digitakt sampler/drum machine was probably the single hardest bit of gear to demo, out of sheer force of popularity.
But the hardware looks and feels and sounds terrific – and crucially, it looks like they’ve totally nailed workflow. The key here is, no more menu diving – everything is quick and accessible. Can’t wait to review this one. It seems poised to become the dominant drum machine hardware out there.
Also, the other good news on Digitakt is that external sequencing features look significant. That could make this not only a great standalone machine, but a live performance hub / computer replacement.
Jomox have their own new drum machine. Okay, so the Digitakt is great, and a beautiful mainstream device. But does it have any more eccentric competition? Yes. Yes, it does.
JoMoX may not be a known name outside of enthusiast circles, but this Berlin-based drum machine maker has been the secret sauce of techno specialists for years. And finally, there’s a new hybrid analog drum machine. Is it going to appeal to everyone? No. Is it decidedly old-fashioned in some of its design decisions? Yes. But JoMoX has a sound and performance features that other drum machines can only dream of. It’s like buying an Italian sports car – it may not be as purely practical as something else, but that doesn’t matter once you’ve fallen in love with this. Creator Jürgen Michaelis is a genius, as far as I’m concerned, so we’ll have to take a look at this. It’s too soon to judge just yet, but it could finally be a worthy successor to the legendary XBase 09. (“Legendary what?” Trust me on this. Or just watch the video above.)
MFB have made a compact Dominion. This might just be the sleeper hit of the show for synth lovers. While Behringer was crowing about making synths on a budget, Berlin boutique shop MFB actually promised to pack loads of synth functionality on the lavish, powerful Dominion into a tiny case – and project a price for around $500. Whoa. It’s as idiosyncratic as MFB normally are, with tiny controls and lots of hidden features. But that’s part of why we love them, and at this price, with insane amounts of modulation, they may have a hit.
Also quietly announced at Superbooth, MFB’s little-known Nanozwerk synth is now in Eurorack form. Its simple, clear architecture is actually perfectly suited to that market – I could see it forming the bread-and-butter basis of someone’s modular rig.
Eloquencer. I think this is my favorite module of the whole show. Coming from designers in Barcelona, it’s termed a “controlled chance sequencer.” What that basically means is, you have granular per-step control over randomized variations of all parameters. You can use that for subtle variety and humanization, or crank it up for more randomization. Now, there are lot of sequencers around, but this one deserves mention just for its attention to detail. Moving sequences around is easy. Separating a part of a sequence from the master clock is easy, allowing you to run freely or clock off an LFO. (Why doesn’t computer software let you do this, actually?) You can punch in sequences, generate them randomly, play them live. And the small screen gives you just enough feedback to keep track of where you are.
It’s honestly about the cleverest hardware step sequencer I’ve seen, bar none. Some people may wind up getting it even to use outside of a modular context, though having the patch points is interesting. (With that in mind, they did show a prototype external housing.) This one is definitely on my review list, and I hope to make a visit to all the great hardware vendors in Barcelona, as well (hello to Endorphin, for instance).
4ms Spherical Wavetable Generator. “Who needs another oscillator?” is a charge I routinely hear levied at the modular market. (“Who needs another synth?” is another reasonable question we all manage to avoid!) Well, here’s one answer: make a really great wavetable oscillator. That’s what 4ms have done, cleverly repurposing the (equally genius) Spectral Multiband Resonator‘s design. Here, it works perfectly, giving you easy additive access to bands and dial-in access to wavetables. Also, by toggling the buttons above the bands, you can apply parameter changes to just one band at a time for subtler sound design. (They hadn’t quite resolved this in firmware yet, but it was already promising.) You can also route signals in.
I can’t think of an oscillator module that delivers this much sound. You could almost throw this alone in a suitcase and call it a day. And the patch points and control layout all make sense in this form factor and modular environment.
Tungsten. Game hardware was doing handheld music making before handheld music making was a thing – see the Game Boy scene, for instance. Now, there’s a chance to rekindle that spirit, but with a new, Linux-based core. Tungsten is a project out of Canada’s Kilpatrick Audio, who apparently decided to take a break from making very lovely, sensible modules to do something a bit more leftfield. It’s a rigorous throwback – there’s no touch screen, just arcade-style buttons – but an open approach and lots of connectivity, plus a simply adorable form factor, suggest this idea might finally have some legs. (We’ve seen abortive attempts to do the same, but they came with more proprietary approaches to software, overly clunky form factors, and a lot of money blown on Musikmesse booths. Superbooth and open and design that learns from the appeal of the Game Boy seem a better recipe.)
PreSonus have a modular-friendly Thunderbolt interface. So, the interface connection wars are over, and Thunderbolt has (mercifully) won, both on Mac and now finally Windows. PreSonus have a promising interface that both promises sub-1ms latency via their drivers, and offers DC coupling for connection to modular if you so desire. And they have some strong opinions in the video about running natively rather than via DSP. Plus they’re projecting street price of US$999. More on this when they do their formal announcement.
Music thing’s Magnetophone. Okay, this one was already shown at last year’s Superbooth, but it’s easily one of the best modules of the show – and now it’s just about ready to ship. Coming from our friend Tom Whitwell, who made the jump from music tech writer to modular maker, it’s a stroke of sheer genius. Connect a magnetic tape head to a modular, and then perform by running it over tape. Finally, you can live out your Nam June Paik / Laurie Anderson fantasy, in about as complete a sound nerd convergence as one can imagine.
Polyend SEQ. This product deserves special mention I think partly for feeling like one of the best-crafted industrial designs at the show. The encoders, the custom pads, and the aluminum and oak body feel like pure luxury. And having 32 steps and 8 tracks physically laid out without any menu switching is uniquely accessible. I’m not totally convinced yet by the actual sequence editing, which wasn’t yet complete in firmware. But between SEQ and the high-end PERC PRO robotic percussion system, this company out of Poland are proving that it’s possible to create new innovations for deep-pocketed electronic musicians. And it’s nice to see someone pick up on the craftsmanship statement the original monome made, and not just its grid design.
Sound Semiconductor and Rossum. I think the quietest news at Superbooth may have been the best – prepare to get a little geeky for a second. Ron Dow and Solid State Music, founded in 1975, are an unsung hero of the electronic music revolution. So you know Dave Smith and MIDI – but Solid State also helped propel the industry with cheap chips that formed the building blocks of a lot of the gear that would come. Now, the original engineers (including Dave Rossum) are making new VCA and VCF chips, improving on their original designs. The upside here is, you get engineer-driven, musician-friendly chips from the original creators, instead of reverse-engineered clones. Part of the mark of Superbooth as opposed to other shows, and how many engineers were gathered in Berlin, was evidenced by all the engineers crowding around Dave and Ron and checking out the specs.
On the consumer side, I got my first play on Rossum’s Morpheus “Z-plane” filter, seen above. Now, what I want to say is, this runs the dangerous road of putting effectively a high-end software plug-in a modular. But I can’t say that – because using this module is simply a delight. It sounds absolutely delicious, and that color screen and luxe knobs are a joy to use. It feels like one of those few modules you’d really want to splurge on and treasure. And it’s an example of the high-quality, serious gear now available in modular, stuff that feels like real tools.
The new Assimil8or also looks cool:
Polivoks gets a proper clone. Interest in Soviet-era synthesis just keeps rising, but now that the secondhand market has worked out that we want this post-Communist stuff, it’s expensive (not to mention typically unreliable). And clones have been scattered. Now, finally, the peculiar Polivoks synth gets a real all-in-one reissue. It’s authorized by the original designer, and modernized. Unfortunately they’re doing only 100 units.
I can tell you my Moscow-based Russian friends were excited by it.
I’m curious how the Polivoks legacy and growing Russian synth scene will evolve in the near term. I should be visiting the Russian capital (again) for Synthposium later this summer, so it’ll be a good chance to check in on them.
Erica Synth’s Dual Filter. While Polivoks gets its own reissue, Erica in Riga, Latvia are also operating with some of the humans and manufacturing capacity of the former Soviet synth production. (Riga was an industrial center of the USSR.) And in a crowded modular market, I think Erica deserve credit for putting together complete systems of gear. The dual filter is an elegant, intelligent design to add to that portfolio.
Yamaha’s beautifully unnecessary Reface robot. Here’s how you show up to Superbooth. You show up with a damned robotic keyboard connected to a massive number of knobs. This crazy project was produced in collaboration with Fukuoka’s Anno Lab.
But I list it here for another reason. Japan’s big makers are finally returning to their nerdy roots. KORG gets it, with products like volca and analog remakes. Roland gets it, with a splashy booth inside a space station mockup and experiments in modular and AIRA and boutique. Yamaha gets it, with products like Reface and a renewed commitment to synthesis. Casio … hey, where’s Casio? I want a new CZ. (Answer: at Musikmesse, showing a bunch of digital pianos. And that’s fine. But I hold out hope for them to get religion and remember they were once a great synth brand. Because I want a new CZ.)
All that and cool space stuff. FEZ Berlin somehow tops the Funkhaus for cool ex-DDR venues that work perfectly for synth fairs. The Communist-era space props everywhere just added to the fun.
That’s it for now – we’ll keep bringing you in-depth Superbooth coverage all week, in our usual slow news fashion.
Even in the age of the Internet, there’s no substitute for seeing people face to face. It just seems now we want a more concentrated dose – one or two really big international gatherings where we go all-in. And apart from California’s mighty NAMM show, it seems there’s nothing quite like Superbooth.
Here’s a preview, some highlights from last year – and don’t worry, if you can’t make it to Berlin, there will be a continuous livestream to the world and coverage we’ll deliver from the various partners covering the event.
With just one past edition under its belt, Superbooth has become the nerd singularity on the year’s calendar. And perhaps that because the team behind it, led by Berlin synth boutique legend Andreas Schneider, understand that the nature of such things is cultural before it is industrial. That’s not only about the culture of the people using the instruments, but those making them, and how the elites of the two have always worked hand in hand. (You can’t imagine Bob Moog without Keith Emerson and Wendy Carlos, Don Buchla without Suzanne Ciani and Mort Subotnick, Roger Linn without Hank Shocklee, the Synclavier without Jon Appleton, Tadao Kikumoto without Afrika Bambaataa, and … I could go on all day like this.)
So, yet again, Superbooth is a cultural statement. The weird is center stage, and the mainstream is at the periphery. Tiny vendors are superstars; big vendors sit on the sidelines. Analog and modular are first-class citizens; computers are the interloper. If you give a talk, you’re often also asked to give a performance, with equal time to each.
And bound through all of this is a statement about history – both of the synthesizer in general, and its unique character in Germany. Maybe that’s also Berlin’s edge over LA – whereas LA is a beacon to all that’s shiny and new, Berlin is the capital of a country that’s uniquely in touch with the history of electronic sound. (And of course, in turn, what makes that so interesting is that it’s often this history that most fires up the youngest generation – the kids who unapologetically embraced vintage instruments. The digital natives also had no idea that “digital” was originally assumed to replace something else.)
Oh, screw it – enough lofty words, let’s put it another way:
Superbooth is a place you can see Tangerine Dream on your ferry boat ride. You don’t get that on those Anaheim Disney hotel shuttles.
(If the excellent #INSTABONER are more your speed, they’ve that, too, via separate ticket.)
Superbooth is really multiple events in one:
A “Messe” with nearly 200 exhibitors, from a who’s who of Eurorack modules to mobile apps to big names in audio gear
A marathon music festival of concerts, both at the venue and at partner events around the city (even beyond what you get from a typical Berlin weekend, which for electronic music lovers is already insane)
Workshops and DIY, from beginning to more advanced
Lecture programming, generally combining talks with performance demos – so not just talking heads (and this is what’s getting streamed, too)
And then beyond that, this is now apart from NAMM one of the only times that the international scene comes together live and in person. It brings together a lot of Europe who can’t make the trip to the USA – and a lot more of the USA, Japan, and rest of the world are making the haul to Europe.
I spoke to Herr Schneider himself and the organizers about what to expect from this year.
The big thing is — more. There’s both more quantity and more range in the offerings. This is by no means a modular-only or analog-only show, either, as every major digital vendor has rushed to be part, too. (It seems, like the music scene itself, they’ve also fled Frankfurt am Main for Berlin’s fresher, more international music climate – leaving Musikmesse’s halls almost completely stripped bare. I did have some nice, uninterrupted meetings there, though.)
Superbooth I expect to be as wonderfully chaotic as ever, as full of ear-deafening din that the machines themselves.
As before, boats (and now better transit connections) will lead showgoers from Berlin’s center out to the former east. This time, the event takes place in Köpenick, the cosy suburb on the Spree that once apparently housed the families of the DDR elite. (The ex-radio facility Funkhaus will still hold Ableton Loop, but Superbooth swapped venues.)
Andreas has shared some other picks.
In the history area, you get the likes of Krautrock specialist Wolfgang Seidel.
There’s lots of new fare for kids, too. Schoolchidren will arrive in the morning, get schooled in modular, then present their own compositions by noon.
Adults can make things, as well, with a big DIY area with free soldering iron access. There’s the famous rotating modular carousel camped out at C-Base, the geek haven that occupants claim is the wreck of a spaceship. And there are even workshops and events available without a ticket, encouraging new people to get involved.
In stark contrast to the usual consumer-oriented artist offerings at most trade shows, Superbooth instead delivers events like Kasia Justka making cooking sounds with bacon and eggs.
Last year’s participants were more gender balanced than the manufacturers and presentations, so this year there’s a particular focus on women, led by Superbooth’s own Jessica Kurt – rounding out presentations and getting more female-identified artists access to knowledge.
To get a feel for what this is all like, here’s SonicState’s epic tour through the sprawling complex from last year:
I was lucky enough to be part of some meeting of minds, demonstrating that generations of analog and digital, software and desktop hardware and modular, can all come together in some new fusion at these sorts of events. (Our best conversations were backstage, though!) The guests: Stephan Schmitt (Native Instruments/Nonlinear Labs), Roger Linn, Robert Henke (Monolake), Tony Rolando (Make Noise), Julian Parker (Native Instruments).
I already have a huge agenda, and I’m glad to add more to it. So if you’re planning to be there, give a shout!
We’re really proud of our MeeBlip anode synthesizer. It’s gotten some great reviews, and you’ve made some terrific music with it in a bunch of genres. It’s fully open source hardware, but you can get it out and play it right away even if it’s your first synth – as far as we know, it’s the first widely-available synthesizer hardware that can say that.
So, to celebrate anode, we’re bringing out a special limited edition for summer. As you’ve no doubt noticed, it comes in a new creamy white case. But the controls have been updated, too. People liked the wavetable mode so much, we’ve made that the default, so you can dial in a wide range of sounds from the front panel. And to give you blindingly-quick access to envelopes, there’s one knob for amplitude and one knob for decay. Sound performance has also been fine-tuned, so it’s even more responsive.
We’re only making 250 of these, hand numbering them, so once they’re gone, they’re gone. (The original anode will remain available, both direct and at worldwide dealers.)
I got to jam on dual anodes with the legendary Andreas Schneider and had an obscene amount of fun. (Thanks to the ever-prolific Synthtopia for featuring this video.) That’s Andreas on Jomox Xbase09 drum machine. I used a Future Retro Zillion as sequencer, which worked delightfully well once I learned to let go and embrace the Zillion’s generative way of thinking. Here’s the result:
I’ll say this, too: I’ve been taking my anode wherever I play, even syncing it to Traktor and playing atop DJ sets. Because it’s so small, there’s never a second thought about whether you’ll have room. And while it seems like there aren’t a lot of knobs, we worked really hard to make sure the knobs you want are there. It’s been terrific to work with James Grahame the engineer/designer on this. And to our existing MeeBlip owners, do keep sending us music and videos and so on on our MeeBlip Facebook page or @meeblip on Twitter.
We’re fixing a whole bunch of stuff with MeeBlip and CDM’s webpages this summer, so thanks for your patience on that – I think you’ll really like what happens when it’s done, and you won’t have to wait too much longer. My apologies for having broken some things, but don’t hesitate to get in touch with James and me for anything you might need.
What a week it’s been. Musikmesse in Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest gatherings of the music instruments industry, was host to a range of new gear, new technologies, and new revelations.
I decided it’s finally time to crown my own picks as the most significant appearances at the show. Not because I have any particular right to do so, but I felt strongly enough about who was deserving.
First, some honorable mentions:
TC Electronic (and The Guitar.) Musikmesse’s guitar presence may not be at its peak in terms of floor space. But the standouts of guitar technology are looking brilliant. TC Electronic has a big range of new products, including a very clever looper – I think they lead this category. Roland’s BOSS division has a great new guitar synth called the SY-300 (which garnered nearly as much attention from guitarists as Roland’s AIRA did for synth lovers). Orange had an overflowing range of products. Gibson is coupling their guitar stuff with production from Cakewalk, Tascam, and others (making use of those recent acquisitions, in stark contrast to 1990s Gibson). There are even beautiful new Marshall amps.
Roland, for AIRA Modular. This hardly needs an introduction at this point. Roland’s all-in strategy will give us a new SYSTEM-1 with loads of patch points and rack-mount-ability, a bunch of new effects that work standalone or together on a tabletop or in a Eurorack modular, and a 500 series analog series made in collaboration with Malekko. The digital stuff sounds great – wild and unruly, not tame and boring, whatever word association you may have with “digital.” And the analog line with Malekko is also excellent. It’s too soon to judge the finished product; these were prototypes. Several people noted concerns about power draw from the digital units, and I wasn’t very happy with the feel of the controls on the units on the floor. But I’m glad to see Roland be this agile and ambitious, and I look forward to doing a thorough review of the finished models to give them a proper test.
Elektron. Also worth a call-out are Elektron for their approach to Overbridge integration of their analog gear and computers. Yes, it’s over a year since they first promised Overbridge at the last Musikmesse. But I’d rather wait for something done right than used something rushed, and the first look at what’s coming in the summer is promising. Overbridge really makes the line between hardware and software all-but-invisible. The Elektron standalone is as good as ever, but now you can route audio in and out as easily as if it were an extension of your DAW, and dive into deep editing options that are more intuitive and visible onscreen. What wasn’t yet available to demo was the sample loading interface, which on the current Analog line is fairly clumsy. But there’s clearly appetite for this.
Erica Synths. I thought maybe the modular scene had made its big product announcements in January at NAMM. But then makers like 4ms managed to finish still more modules in time to demo prototypes or make announcements this week. The biggest news, though, came from Latvia’s Erica Synths. Even more than Roland, Erica had a complete picture of how their synth line fits together, from DIY kits and weird sounds made from resurrected Soviet-era Polivoks tech to a fashionable “black” line of modules, graphical units, and a case. We’ll have a video walk-through of everything with Erica captain Girts.
oSo, those are the honorable mentions. But who was surprised to win the Golden Nerd Princess, the hitherto-unknown but soon-to-be-coveted prize awarded to the best of the show? (And yes, that trophy is full of bubbles. Seriously.)
Without further adieu, the winners.
CDM BEST OF SHOW: MIDI Polyphonic Expression – Bitwig, ROLI, Roger Linn, et al.
For all the wonderful things happening with modular, it’d be a sad world if our only interface idea were 1960s telephone patch cords. And that’s why MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) matters. It’s not a new spec, per se – everything it does it does with the existing MIDI protocol. And it still leaves room for HD MIDI and OpenSoundControl.
But what MPE does finally do is standardize on a way of adding expression to polyphonic controllers. It works with creative new hardware – initially, the LinnStrument, Haken Continuum, ROLI Seaboard, Eigenharp, and SoundPlane. It works with software, like ROLI’s new Equator soft synth.
And I was impressed that MPE has a lot of backing, including the likes of Apple (Gerhard Lengeling) and Moog (Amos Gaynes) – not just the usual alternative controller scene.
I eventually took the trophy over to Bitwig for the simple reason that there, you could see the technology in action even outside something like the ROLI booth. A Roger Linn Linnstrument was connected to a Bitwig Studio beta, where it was able to easily control a built-in instrument. Bitwig can record and edit the controller data seamlessly.
And being able to play this sort of data – not just draw it with a mouse – to me really humanizes the performance possibilities. It was also nice to see Bitwig showing a product that was not their own, demonstrating the sort of historical connectivity that marked the first connection of MIDI between Dave Smith’s Sequential Circuits and Roland back in the 80s.
So, to all the folks behind MPE – and particularly Bitwig, ROLI, and Roger Linn for making it visible at Messe as a possible future for music making – I’m pleased to award a Best of Show.
CDM BEST OF SHOW: SCHNEIDERSBÜRO.
Roland may have made a big leap into modular and Eurorack. But the company did so right next to the Schneidersbüro “superbooth,” home to Andreas Schneider and his long-running Berlin synth boutique and more recent ALEX4 distributor. There, all manner of synth wildness spilled over table after table of wacky gear. Roland themselves almost seemed like they wanted to crowd in on the action; they were spitting distance from Eurorack originator Dieter Doepfer himself. It seems some Roland product rep even appropriated a large number of colored knob caps out of Dieter’s gumball machine to liven up one of the AIRA demo units.
And at the center of all of this is the legendary Herr Schneider and his team. They have been boldly championing the work of brave independent synth builders on both sides of the sea to anyone who will listen – perhaps over one of their infamous glasses of absinth-plus-bubbly that start to get poured more briskly toward the end of each trade show day. And it seems that even industry heavyweights are now considering the impossible, embracing ideas that were once far too niche, too difficult, and too weird.
The AIRA modular was undoubtedly the most talked-about product of the show. But then it has to be observed that even the AIRA was in orbit around the Schneiders’ booth – and that, invariably, it was that booth that attracted the greatest wide-eyed crowds. There, they got to see devices that would never make it to mass-production, down to even breathalyzer-to-CV inputs or KOMA’s “quad” hat, a construction helmet with portruding speakers.
Full disclosure: CDM’s own MeeBlip is distributed by ALEX4; I’m fortunate to play a duo with Andreas this Thursday in Berlin at the unofficial post-Messe get-together, one spotlighting a lot of the American builders visiting for the show. But then, what I’m describing – this ability to draw people in – is something I’ve experienced first-hand. Andreas is one of the loudest voices (literally) for the industry, to buy stuff that’s lovingly made, that’s weird and wild and not boring.
If you see the trend as Eurorack, you’re missing the point. Schneiders proves again and again that music gear that’s fun and weird and cool can win out in the end. And for creating what was unquestionably the center of gravity in all of Hall 5.1, Andreas and company fully deserve a Best of Show.
And congratulations to Malekko, Endorphin.es, Analogue Systems, Sound Machines, Fraptools, Make Noise, Soulsby, Vermona, E-RM, Tiptop, Verbos, Doepfer, 4MS, Abstract Data, Kenton, Polytec, Pittsburgh, Koma, Haken, Macbeth, Abstract Data, I’m forgetting some and the orchestra is about to play me off — all of the folks who make being in this booth so interesting. (Plus a shout out to our neighbors at Moog, as we’re all continuing a very long legacy.)