KORG’s nutekt NTS-1 is a fun, little kit – and open to ‘logue developers

KORG has already shown that opening up oscillators and effects to developers can expand their minilogue and prologue keyboards. But now they’re doing the same for the nutekt NTS-1 – a cute little volca-ish kit for synths and effects. Build it, make wild sounds, and … run future stuff on it, too.

Okay, first – even before you get to any of that, the NTS-1 is stupidly cool. It’s a little DIY kit you can snap together without any soldering. And it’s got a fun analog/digital architecture with oscillators, filter, envelope, arpeggiator, and effects.

Basically, if you imagine having a palm-sized, battery-powered synthesis studio, this is that.

Japan has already had access to the Nutekt brand from KORG, a DIY kit line. (Yeah, the rest of the world gets to be jealous of Japan again.) This is the first – and hopefully not the last – time KORG has opened up that brand name to the international scene.

And the NTS-1 is one we’re all going to want to get our hands on, I’ll bet. It’s full of features:

– 4 fixed oscillators (saw, triangle and square, loosely modeled around their analog counterpart in minilogue/prologue, and VPM, a simplified version of the multi-engine VPM oscillator)
– Multimode analog modeled filter with 2/4 pole modes (LP, BP, HP)
– Analog modeled amp. EG with ADSR (fixed DS), AHR, AR and looping AR
– modulation, delay and reverb effects on par with minilogue xd/prologue (subset of)
– arpeggiator with various modes: up, down, up-down, down-up, converge, diverge, conv-div, div-conv, random, stochastic (volca modular style). Chord selection: octaves, major triad, suspended triad, augmented triad, minor triad, diminished triad (since sensor only allows one note at a time). Pattern length: 1-24
– Also: pitch/Shape LFO, Cutoff sweeps, tremollo
– MIDI IN via 2.5mm adapter, USB-MIDI, SYNC in/out
– Audio input with multiple routing options and trim
– Internal speaker and headphone out

That would be fun enough, and we could stop here. But the NTS-1 is also built on the same developer board for the KORG minilogue and prologue keyboards. That SDK opens up developers’ powers to make their own oscillators, effects, and other ideas for KORG hardware. And it’s a big deal the cute little NTS-1 is now part of that picture, not just the (very nice) larger keyboards. I’d see it this way:

NTS-1 buyers can get access to the same custom effects and synths as if they bought the minilogue or prologue.

minilogue and prologue owners get another toy they can use – all three of them supporting new stuff.

Developers can use this inexpensive kit to start developing, and don’t have to buy a prologue or minilogue. (Hey, we’ve got to earn some cash first so we can go buy the other keyboard! Oh yeah I guess I have also rent and food and things to think about, too.)

And maybe most of all –

Developers have an even bigger market for the stuff they create.

This is still a prototype, so we’ll have to wait, and no definite details on pricing and availability.

Waiting.

Yep, still waiting.

Wow, I really want this thing, actually. Hope this wait isn’t long.

I’m in touch with KORG and the analog team’s extraordinary Etienne about the project, so stay tuned. For an understanding of the dev board itself (back when it was much less fun – just a board and no case or fun features):

KORG are about to unveil their DIY Prologue boards for synth hacking

Videos:

Sounds and stuff –

Interviews and demos –

And if you wondered what the Japanese kits are like – here you go:

Oh, and I’ll also say – the dev platform is working. Sinevibes‘ Artemiy Pavlov was on-hand to show off the amazing stuff he’s doing with oscillators for the KORG ‘logues. They sound the business, covering a rich range of wavetable and modeling goodness – and quickly made me want a ‘logue, which of course is the whole point. But he seems happy with this as a business, which demonstrates that we really are entering new eras of collaboration and creativity in hardware instruments. And that’s great. Artemiy, since I had almost zero time this month, I better come just hang out in Ukraine for extended nerd time minus distractions.

Artemiy is happily making sounds as colorful as that jacket. Check sinevibes.com.

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Polyend puts presets in your modular – plus run on a battery, anywhere

Hey, modulars are great. But you can’t call up presets at will, like on a computer. And you can’t head for a day of patching to the shore of your local lake. Or – can you? The folks at Polish maker Polyend are breaking the rules.

I think these are devilishly clever ideas – and there’s certainly some devilishly clever marketing.

Centralized encoders, grids for saving and recall, sequenced presets, an LFO, gesture recording – this unit does a lot.

Presets on a modular

First up: Polyend Preset. Okay, it’s not quite preset storage for your modular – you can’t sample the voltage level of other patch cords, so you’re going to have to remember some of how you patched together a sound. But Polyend have made a matrix of knobs and pads that gives you full nine different outputs. The encoders have variable RGB lighting for UI feedback and for checking values, and that’s paired with Polyend’s signature pads. It all looks ideal for live performance.

Here’s the workflow: you consolidate the parameters you want to control, save, and recall on Polyend’s own module. That gives you a centralized command station for tweaking all the rest of your modular rig. You have 9 CV outs – one of which is also an LFO. And you can restore and recall values. You could use that to save particular sounds as you’re working, or to set up a setlist of patches to play live. Or you could also ‘play’ those different values from the pads, or even sequence them (internally, or driven by external CV).

You choose continuous CV, scaled musical pitches, gate, or on the ninth encoder, LFO. Specs:

9 CV outs
1V/Oct, 0-10V, or gate output
32 onboard musical scales
Phrase automation – record and send out voltage changes – each output has up to 30 seconds recording
Instant preset recall (so you can play the grid, too)
Sequence from external gate / 0-10V

Hey readers – does anyone remember an April Fools joke about a year ago that featured ‘preset storing’ patch cables? It was a funny idea, even if it was obviously a joke. Looked for the video and couldn’t find it. And this is… kinda sorta that.

Okay, summertime, looks like we’ll have some modular in the park. Everything is running off that little power bank you see with the USB cable popping out of it.

Into the woods

Polyed Anywhere is also great stuff – it’s a simple power supply module with a USB input, to which you can connect a 20,000 mAh battery for modular busking, open air synthing, seaside noodling, whatever. (They were using this at the show.)

Future shot some video of these two together:

And a new Poly

Poly 2 is the latest version of their MIDI to CV converter. Trigger 8 voices, use Gate, V/Oct or Hz/V for pitch that works with anything, velocity, CC, and clock – and now it’s also got Smart Thru for daisy chaining, more onboard musical scales, and crucially, MPE compatibility. This isn’t the only game in town – we need some comparison to offerings from Expert Sleepers and Bastl – but it’s certainly one of the more capable.

I’m still most excited about Polyend’s desktop polysynth, though, not modular – stay tuned for that review this week, as Medusa holds up nicely even against the latest polysynths revealed this week.

No updates on the Polyend site as I write this, but check them out:

http://polyend.com

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Elektron turns Digitone into a polysynth keyboard

Elektron have taken one of their more inspiring recent products and added a keyboard. The result – an 8-voice polyphonic keyboard for 1320EUR, and a bunch of new playing features.

So yes, Elektron continues the move away from the company that makes powerful but mysterious boxes to something more hands-on. We’re going from menu diving to actually playing.

And indeed, it’s now the age of the polysynth. 8 voices for just over a grand ain’t so bad.

The Digitone was already sonically one of the most compelling instruments to come out of Gothenburg yet – a unique, powerful FM synth, so capable of all kinds of ringing, special timbres. Elektron haven’t been terribly creative with how they took the Digitone interface and made it a keyboard. A first glance shows something that looks like a fake image someone mocked up on Reddit.

But take a second look, and what you see is – lots of additional playing controls, a shallow design that keeps everything within reach (rather than putting all those buttons above the keys), and some new ways to play and connect Digitone.

In short, what’s new:

Multimap – basically think regions/splits on the keyboard, but which work for patterns as well as timbres

Eight assignable knobs (not on the original)

New portamento/arpeggio features

Per-track, separate outputs – making this ideal for people who like to use hardware effects

But the sum total of this is special – all the pattern and parameter lock features of an Elektron box, plus a bunch of keyboardist-friendly features. The Analog Keys was a first stab at this, but the Digitone Keys doubles the polyphony and looks friendlier.

Product image reveals where this product was possibly found – is that the cave Thor goes to? The bottom of … a magic Norse grotto? Don’t know?

Full specs – yep, now I copy/paste. Stay tuned, as I’m heading over to see Elektron’s new studio in Berlin – further cementing our dear home as the electronic music capital of the world. (Though, please y’all, I love Sweden, too! Don’t take away an excuse to go there!)

https://www.elektron.se/products/digitone-keys/

Synth voice features
8 voice polyphony (4-part multitimbral)
Multiple FM algorithms
Multiple operator harmonics
1 × multimode filter per voice
1 × base-width filter per voice
1 × overdrive per voice
2 × assignable LFO per voice
Unison
Portamento
2048 patch storage capacity on the +Drive

Sequencer
4 × synth tracks
4 × MIDI tracks
Arpeggiator per synth track
Polyphonic sequencing
Individual track lengths
Parameter locks
Micro timing
Trig conditions
Sound per step change
128 × projects on the +Drive
8 × Banks 16 × patterns per project
Send & master effects
Panoramic Chorus send effect
Saturator Delay send effect
Supervoid Reverb send effect
Overdrive master effect

Hardware
37-key semi-weighted, velocity sensitive keyboard with aftertouch
Assignable pitch and modulation wheels
8 × user assignable rotary encoders
2 × 1/4” impedance balanced main out jacks
8 × 1/4” impedance balanced track out jacks
1 × 1/4” stereo headphone jack
2 × 1/4” audio in jacks
2 × 1/4” CV/Expression/Sustain jacks
128 × 64 pixel OLED screen
48 kHz, 24-bit D/A and A/D converters
Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port
MIDI In/Out/Thru with DIN Sync out
Physical specifications
Sturdy steel casing
Dimensions: W868 × D185 × H90 mm (including knobs, feet, and jacks)
Weight: approximately 6 kg

Miscellaneous
Dedicated MIDI controller mode
Overbridge enabled
3 year Elektron warranty

Included in the box
Power Supply PSU-3b
Elektron USB cable

Look forward to checking this out in person; I hear they will have it for us today in Berlin.

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Andreas Schneider on the significance of synths, just before Superbooth

Look past the modulars and wires: connecting people who make instruments and those who play them is at the heart of all Andreas Schneider’s endeavors. With Superbooth looming, we check in on Herr Schneider and his vision of what electronic instruments are about.

I got a chance to talk to Andreas during this final lead-up to this week’s festival. Superbooth has become trade show-cum-cultural happening, one of those chances to take a community that lives globally and online and make it face to face. Things you can expect:

  • Makers like Doepfer, WMD, Macbeth, Make Noise, Dadamachines, Polyend, and Erica Synths rubbing shoulders with the likes of Moog, Roland, and NI
  • Soldering workshops with Verbos Electronics, DIY kits from makers like Befaco and Birdkids
  • Lecture-concerts from makers (SoundHack’s Tom Erbe, not just modular makers), and artists (Caterina Barbieri, Richard Devine, Mark Ernestus, Mathew Jonson, Johanna Knutson)
  • The legendary boat cruise – now with a set by Daniel Miller, Mute Records founder (among other things)

With that event upcoming, I got to turn to how Schneider got started.

“The idea with Schneidersladen was, from the beginning – my client is not the one who’s buying the stuff, my client is the one who’s making this stuff,” says Andreas. “I met a guy who was not able to show off his drum machine and smile. And then I met another one who was not able to explain his synthesizers in the way that I understand it.”

“And I understood by talking to party people – this is what everybody needs. You have a drum machine, you have a synthesizer, you need a MIDI cable – push start and have fun. And I took this little setup in a suitcase and ran around Europe and visited all the shops and said – hey, look here, what kind of fun is this?”

Andreas and his shop have gotten a reputation around modular synthesis, and Superbooth with them, but Andreas says he never set out to build this empire around modular. “No, modular was happening to me,” he says. “It started with Doepfer, and Doepfer was opening his system to everybody else’s visions and said – build whatever you want. I helped him promoting that to the size where it is.”

I think Andreas is being modest here, in that he has unquestionably been an articulate advocate and salesperson for the format – filtering out the best stuff, managing distribution with often-unreliable tiny makers, and evangelizing a mindful embrace of music making on the instruments. He has been the public face of a project that has both ignited passion for these instruments and helped make people comfortable with them.

But at the same time, he shies away from making the format the message – even as the format has dominated his shop. “Modulars became so big that nearly all my staff in the shop is a modular nerd,” he says. “I think making music is not just modular.”

What he is about, though, is hardware. “It’s that haptical experience – even if it’s a knob to turn or a key to push,” he says. “Mono functional editing – on/off. Down/up. In/out.” He keeps only one computer – an Atari ST (the one PC, incidentally, with built-in MIDI).

It makes sense that Andreas found fertile ground in Berlin’s party-rich landscape:

“In the beginning it had nothing to do with musicians – educated musicians. It was those people who were coming from spinning records and understanding how to make people dance and have a good time.

“And that’s why I never had a keyboard in my shop. It was about the machine and the desktop unit and the concentration on the sound source. You need to listen – and you can’t disturb with your experience on playing a melody.

I had a thought that it could have been better if I wouldn’t have pinned this little niche to the musical instrument people, but perhaps to the furniture people or the DJ people. In the end, it’s decoration for our living rooms – or it could be. Or it could also be seen as something like a slot machine. Why not? And it would have been better. Because now those musicians – those ‘now we now how to make music people’, you have to do it this and that way – they dominate this thing at least by a certain percentage.

Modular will take center stage at Berlin’s FEZ this week. And that means another year in which the world of modular makers has become more crowded.

Andreas says he hopes the added pressure will push back against having too much of the same stuff. “The quality is getting higher,” says Andreas. “The pressure that you need to have good ideas is increasing.” What about rumors of a modular bubble? “I try my best to prevent the burst,” he says, “- by getting new audience to the scene.”

That scene will unquestionably grow this week – some examples of the DIY and workshop elements:

We’ll be reporting from Superbooth.

https://www.superbooth.com

Novation have done a video interview with Andreas out this week, too:

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Hardware VST? Steinberg Retrologue plug-in gets physical version

There’s plug-ins, and then there’s hardware. Well, just in time for Superbooth, here’s a hardware plug-in, from Steinberg – really.

Normally, Steinberg’s Retrologue 2 is a software plug-in. And it comes from the company that developed VST and launched the plug-in revolution, so naturally it runs as a VST.

But here’s the thing: the processing power to run software no longer means a CPU sitting inside a laptop or desktop computer. It might be an ARM chip on a phone or tablet. Or it might be a processor sitting inside a piece of desktop hardware or Eurorack module. This much is already true – but we’re only just beginning to see software development kits take advantage of that. Those toolkits already let you target Mac and Windows, and sometimes also Linux, iOS, Android, or even the Web. So why not hardware, too?

Swedish startup ELK MusicOS lets you run VST-based plug-ins just like that, on any device that’s running their OS. The OS has already been available as a target inside the VST SDK.

So basically what ELK have done with Steinberg’s Retrologue is show that off by running the whole thing inside a physical hardware enclosure – with some retro-looking faders and knobs and lights and even, yes, wooden endcaps. And they’ve done it just in time for the Superbooth show.

That might seem sacrilegious, except that a lot of the gear at Superbooth already has similar processing inside; this is as much about developers as it is a particular class of hardware.

Something is definitely in the air in Sweden, because when I visited Stockholm, Propellerhead showed off some similar cross-platform abilities in their Rack Extension format, which can also run on the Web (VST can’t do that, as far as I know), and on embedded hardware.

Speak of the devil – look what’s in the press folder for the Steinberg/ELK announcement? It appears there’s a patchable Propellerhead-based device there, too.

As Propellerhead and Steinberg expand the definition of what their formats can do, though, we’re largely in a pre-production phase. That is, this will work, but it may take interested developers of both hardware and software to ship something end users can buy and play.

And sure enough, this particular prototype is, for now, one of a kind – just a proof of concept. Of course, if people really love it, who knows what will come next.

More:

https://www.mindmusiclabs.com/

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SOMA’s PULSAR-23 semi-modular drum machine sneak peak

SOMA laboratory and enigmatic “romantic” engineer Vlad Kreimer have already delivered the strange and wonderful LYRA “organismic” synths. Next up: a drum machine.

The PULSAR-23 takes on that same “organismic” design philosophy, complete with rich, layered, deep space exploration sounds. With a full 23 independent modules, those powers turn to a drum machine design.

And maybe even “drum machine” doesn’t quite do this justice – you could just as easily imagine this as a percussion-heavy synthesizer. There are four independent loop recorders which trigger events, which you can clock into a single groove or leave to independent timing for more experimental rhythms. You can even set each channel to a sustain, so this is a noise/drone synth, too, not just a dancefloor object.

The PULSAR-23 was first announced last year, but now we get to see it move into its production form factor and – wow, it looks great:

It could be a gorgeous standalone machine, or you could see it as part of a larger modular rig. Full specs:

– 4 drum channels: Bass drum, Bass\Percussion, Snare drum, Cymbals\Hi-Hat
– 4 envelope generators with the unique ability to generate a sustain for the drum channels, turning them into noise\drone synthesizers.
– 4 independent loop recorders with the option for individual clocking. They record triggering events, not audio.
– Clock generator with an array of dividers as a very powerful tool for rhythm synthesis.
– Wide range LFO (0.1 – 5000Hz) with variable waveform.
– Shaos – a unique pseudo-random generator based on shift registers with 4 independent outputs, sample and hold and other cool features.
– FX processor with CV control incl. CV control of the entire DSP’s sample rate.
– Distortion.
– 2 CV-controlled gates.
– 2 CV-controlled VCAs.
– 2 controllable inverters.
– 3 assignable attenuators
– dynamic CV sensors for CV generation etc

Plus there’s MIDI control and sync, in addition to all the CV options. And if you want the really important specs – 52 knobs, 11 switches, 100 inputs and outputs for patching.

There’s also – “live circuit bending” whatever that entails, exactly?

This is the video from June 2018, where the PULSAR-23 was still just a bunch of guts – no pretty red case – but at least gives you an idea of the sound possibilities.

No lie here: SOMA will be way on the top of my list of gear to check out at Superbooth. I think this is poised to be a 2019 highlight.

Previously, we checked this out from SOMA this spring:

SOMA’s Ether is a high-sensitivity ear for your electromagnetic world

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Yamaha may revisit its legendary 1970s CS-80 polysynth

Yamaha is the one giant name that has mostly shied away from revisiting its past synth glory – but all that could soon be set to change.

For better or for worse, we live in an age of remakes and reboots. Oberheim and Buchla are back; Sequential Circuits is a name again (even if the instruments are new). Moog have reissued their Minimoog and their modular – even Keith Emerson’s entire rig. And two out of the three Japanese giants have reissued work-alike recreations – KORG the MS-20 and ARP Odyssey, Roland whole sets of their modular series along with TB-303, TR-808, and TR-909. (Sure, the Roland has digital modeling substituted for analog gear, but the fact is you could use their TB-03 by reading the manual from the original, even with its original sequencer mode.) These manufacturers are all going back through their own catalogs and original creators; then, of course, you also have Behringer additionally going after their work.

In all of this, Yamaha has mostly been the notable exception. The closest we’ve gotten to Yamaha even acknowledging its back catalog was the reface series, a set of mini keyboards with some hands-on control covering its FM synths, CS analog line, and electric pianos.

Of those three, I always thought the reface CS was the most compelling. Its faders do a decent job of distilling the hands-on feeling of the CS line into an ultra-compact form factor.

But that’s a far cry from the legion of hands-on controls the mighty CS-80 offers, or even the excellent duophonic CS-40M. (Actually, to me, the CS-40M would be ideal for an all-analog remake, much like the ARP Odyssey and MS-20 were – just shedding some of the physical bulk of the original.)

It seems Yamaha are digging into that. A thread on yamahamusicians.com suggests they want to take on their CS-80. Yamaha’s back catalog is immense and influential, but there’s nothing quite like the CS-80. To say it was a giant is to say it is both the instrument associated with Blade Runner and literally a 200-pound behemoth.

And now Yamaha wants to know a “basic conceptual direction if we were to make a new CS-80.”

Yamaha Idea Scale CS80 Questionnaire [thread on yamahamusicians.com]

As noted on musicradar

There’s some interesting discussion in that thread. Sure enough, people are open to digital recreations. Basically, don’t believe everything you read online; whereas loud-mouthed Internet trolls will scream and howl about digital modeling, these devices do well in the market. Roland’s recreations, for instance, have satisfied plenty of people with sound, and the digital modeling allows these devices to be not only inexpensive, but to run on battery power and to provide direct-digital (zero circuit noise) recording via computer.

I think the most intriguing comparison in that thread is to the Alesis A6 Andromeda. That instrument, still sought after online, heralded the return not just of analog but of one-to-one, hands-on controls – at a time when manufacturers forgot that musicians love turning knobs and moving faders.

I also think it’s worth noting that an avalanche of Behringer remakes have not appeared to dampen the desire of people to see remakes from the original manufacturers.

Yamaha make great, high-quality instruments, but it’s been a while since they were grabbing equivalent buzz – maybe not since the likes of the Tenori-On.

In the meanwhile, if you want an authentic CS-80 recreation, sell your car and get a Deckard’s Dream.

https://www.deckardsdream.com/

My guess is that Yamaha will not choose to go this route for cost, and that this ultra-luxury boutique instrument will remain your all-analog CS choice. It is absolutely the polysynth I would buy if I ever had, you know, money.

But could Yamaha pull off a digital remake in a smaller shell? Why not? They’ve already got deep workstation keyboards unlike anyone else’s; it’s about time they go Andromeda on those engines and give people more hands-on controls. They certainly have the manufacturing prowess to pull it off.

Photo: Pete Brown [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons“]

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Surge is free, deep synth for every platform, with MPE support

Surge is a deep multi-engine digital soft synth – beloved, then lost, then brought back to life as an open source project. And now it’s in a beta that’s usable and powerful and ready on every OS.

I wrote about Surge in the fall when it first hit a free, open source release:

Vember Audio owner @Kurasu made this happen. But software just “being open sourced” often leads nowhere. In this case, Surge has a robust community around it, turning this uniquely open instrument into something you can happily use as a plug-in alongside proprietary choices.

And it really is deep: stack 3 oscillators per voice, use morphable classic or FM or ring modulation or noise engines, route through a rich filter block with feedback and every kind of variation imaginable – even more exotic notch or comb or sample & hold choices, and then add loads of modulation. There are some 12 LFOs per voice, multiple effects, a vocoder, a rotary speaker…

I mention it again because now you can grab Mac (64-bit AU/VST), Windows (32-bit and 64-bit VST), and Linux (64-bit VST) versions, built for you.

And there’s VST3 support.

And there’s support for MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression), meaning you can use hardware from ROLI, Roger Linn, Haken, and others – I’m keen to try the Sensel Morph, perhaps with that Buchla overlay.

Now there’s also an analog mode for the envelopes, too.

This also holds great promise for people who desire a deep synth but can’t afford expensive hardware. While Apple’s approach means backwards compatibility on macOS is limited, it’ll run on fairly modest machines – meaning this could also be an ideal starting point for building your own integrated hardware/software solution.

In fact, if you’re not much of a coder but are a designer, it looks like design is what they need most at this point. Plus you can contribute sound content, too.

Most encouraging is really that they are trying to build a whole community around this synth – not just make open source maintenance a chore, but really a shared endeavor.

Check it out now:

https://surge-synthesizer.github.io

Previously:

Powerful SURGE synth for Mac and Windows is now free

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Founder of music tech forum has died; outpourings of support for Mike McGrath

One of the largest forums for music tech nerd-kind this week reports the loss of its founder: Muff Wiggler’s creator, Mike McGrath, has died. The Internet responds.

I want to first say, my heart goes out to all of you who have lost a friend, a family member, a personal connection, or even a far-off but meaningful Internet connection.

Muff Wiggler, the forum, has for more than a decade been the single most influential online community for people interested in modular synthesis, as well as a range of DIY topics – it’s a common go-to for how-to documentation on electronics, among other topics. It has also hosted widely trafficked official forums for a number of brands, including the likes of Expert Sleepers, Hexinverter, Metasonix, and Snazzy FX. It’s been the object of love, of hate – but always has played a central role in conversations about music making technology and the voltage and circuits pulsing underneath.

And it’s worth saying that the whole project really began with one person, Mike – known by many exclusively online, but host to a community of strangers who often grew close. Like a lot of the blogs and forums that support the music tech community, Muff Wiggler and its creator have even become synonymous. I know personally how demanding that can be.

It wouldn’t be any exaggeration to say that part of the explosive growth of Eurorack and modular synthesis is because of Mike’s creation of the forum – one that inspired rabid consumers at the same time as it collected knowledge of how to engineer the modules.

Photo above, at top by I Dream of Wires, who interviewed Mike in their work on the evolution of the modern modular synthesis fandom.

The Muff Wiggler platform grew into other projects – a store, live events (like a collaboration with TRASH AUDIO in Portland, Oregon), and others, which helped people meet the man behind the forum in person, some of them flying from literally the other side of the world to do so.

About that name – it comes from a handle Mike chose that combined the names of two popular Electro-Harmonix effect pedals, Big Muff and The Wiggler.

For their part, a message from Muff Wiggler’s team promises they’ll keep the site going in Mike’s absence. Kent writes on a admin post: “The moderator and admin staff are going to take the needed time to get things in order and ensure the smoothest of possible transitions. It’ll be rough for a bit.”

In the meantime, there is an outpouring of sadness and gratefulness from people who knew Mike personally and those who knew him in the virtual arena – from the community of people for whom he created a home where none had existed.

The main thread on Muff Wiggler

Synthtopia obituary

Modular giant Ken MacBeth writes: “Mike McGrath……….I hope that you find your peace now……..RIP.”

Mike himself wrote in 2017 about his passion for the project in a Facebook Group, saying it began from wanting to learn about modular synthesis, amidst options that were “intimidating” – to create instead a place where you could make friends. And he talked about the importance of music and his machines in his personal life – in good times and in dark times.

Matrixsynth has a heartfelt obituary which traces some history – even before the forum, including the first blog posts by Muff Wiggler (back when it was just Mike’s alias):

Mike created the de facto modular synth forum on the internet … and he did it in a way that put members first. He created a platform for makers and users of synths to come together and engage directly with each other.

And yeah, I think all of us who have run enterprises on the Internet for music feel this one in our gut. Again quoting the mighty Matrixsynth:

I just can’t believe he is gone. As the host of this site, I feel like I lost a fellow compatriot. Someone I had history with through the ups and downs. Running a site can be a challenge, and just knowing he was out there doing his thing helped. I am going to miss him and the lost experiences we would all have had with him around.

RIP Mike McGrath of Muff Wiggler

Finally, long-time collaborator Surachai writes, “Mike is the connective tissue that bound almost every modular user when information was scarce.”

He goes on to say:

I invited whoever was interested in welcoming the overlord of the synthesizer community to a BBQ at my place and we were met with one of the kindest and smartest people to grace our lives….

His contributions to and maintenance of information cannot be overstated. His reach and ability to connect people cannot be overstated.

Mike McGrath / Muffwiggler

You’ll also find some videos online.

http://muffwiggler.com/

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/index.php

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Novation’s Bass Station II just got an Aphex Twin mode, crazy features

The Aphex Twin-ification of synths continues – and who’s complaining? Novation’s Bass Station II gets some mind-warping mental sound features, including key-by-key madness from Richard James.

Bass Station II is the powerful analog monosynth from Novation, with sub oscillator, extra acid filter, ring mod, loads of hands-on controls, an arp and keyboard, and all the extras. And like Novation’s full range, it’s also been getting double-stuffed after the fact with extras via firmware updates.

In this case, the headline feature just happens to come from a concept by sonic experimental legend Aphex Twin aka Richard James.

It’s not his first time – as he’s done with some other makers, he encouraged sound design features on the Bass Station II before, in the form of micro-tuning. (Thanks, Richard, for advocating for this feature! Let’s join the revolution.)

So behind unassuming version 4.14, you get an “AFX mode” to get more Aphex Twin-y, and other features:

  • AFX Mode: key-by-key parameters on every note morph your sound (whoa)
  • Fixed duration envelopes (decay slider sets only the duration of the sustain stage instead of when envelopes release)
  • Detunable sub oscillator (so both macro and fine tuning controls can be applied to the sub – that’s the low oscillator beneath)
  • Envelope retrigger count (useful for drum synthesis)
  • Oscillator glide diverge – lets you set the glide time of oscillator 2 relative to oscillator 1 for… uh, diverging glides (think thick, gooey sounds and portamento special effects)

These are actually all potentially useful and deep, but AFX mode is both the most compelling – and the weirdest to explain. Here’s a demo video from Novation’s CALC:

So the basic idea here is, you assign synthesis parameters to each note. It’s a little like having sliced up samples and spread them around the keyboard, only here you’ve done it with different sound parameters. And this goes in different directions – different sounds that you play as an ensemble like a drum kit, what Novation describe as “seed” variations of a single patch, or more nuanced shifts up and down.

Really, it’s an extension of what all keyboard assignments do – only they normally do it only with pitch and crude tracking of pitch to one or two other parameters. Here, you can go further.

Really, it’s a slight misnomer to only make Aphex Twin references here, as you could get quite subtle and practical. But it’s also exciting to imagine going off the deep end with a single, mad preset.

I know people tell me the millennials like video better than reading or something or other like this, so I’ve captured a video of a prominent YouTube influencer trying AFX Mode for the first time and showing his reactions:

And yeah, CALC is … a busy, busy man.

Hella fun to play with. I wonder if something similar might be applied to the Circuit Mono Station. Let’s watch.

https://novationmusic.com/synths/bass-station-ii

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