Some brutal handmade electronic sounds live, from Balfa

It’s Friday night; you want to set the mood. How about some violent electronic sounds from the handmade electronics of Spain’s Balfa? ¡Por supuesto!

We premiered Balfa’s music video and explored the range of his dynamic music last month. It’s time to return to check in on his live performance:

Details:

Live performance @ Eufònic Festival – 6th September 2019
Live improvisation while exploring the handmade devices I built. All the sound is generated only by analog crafted machines and synthesizers.
Video produced by Nektar Studio – IG: @nektarstudio

If you read Spanish, he did an interview in his native tongue with Red Bull accompanying the premiere of this live set documentation:

Mira en exclusiva el singular directo de Balfa

Previously:

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Quick! This ffmpeg cheat sheet solves your video, audio conversion needs, for free

Video, audio, convert, extract – once, these tasks were easy with QuickTime Pro, but now it’s gone. ffmpeg to the rescue – any OS, no money required.

It’s Friday, some deadlines (or the weekend) are looming, so seems as good a time as any to share this.

ffmpeg is a free, powerful tool for Mac, Windows, and Linux, with near magical abilities to convert audio and video in all sorts of ways. Even though it’s open source software with a lineage back to the year 2000, it very often bests commercial tools. It does more, better, and faster in a silly number of cases.

There’s just one problem: getting it to solve a particular task often involves knowing a particular command line invocation. You could download a graphical front end, but odds are that’ll just slow you down. So in-the-know media folks invariably make collections of little code bits they find useful.

Coder Jean-Baptiste Jung has saved you the trouble, with a cheat sheet of all the most useful code. And these bear striking resemblance to some of the stuff you used to be able to do in QuickTime Pro before Apple killed it.

19 FFmpeg Commands For All Needs [CatsWhoCode]

And on GitHub: https://gist.github.com/protrolium/e0dbd4bb0f1a396fcb55

There are some particularly handy utilities there involving audio, which is where tools like Adobe’s subscription-only commercial options often fail. (Not to mention Adobe is proving it will cut off some localities based on politics – greetings, Venezuelan readers.)

It’s great stuff. But if you see something missing, put it here, and we’ll make our own little CDM guide.

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Around VCV Rack modular community, eclectic flowing sounds

A funny thing happened on the way to the VCV Rack forum. In a paradigm many still stubbornly imagine as chin scratching noise, software modular makers are producing beautiful, liquid electronic sounds.

The latest fruits of these labors can be heard in volume 3 of the Switched On Rack series. Actually forget that this has anything to do with software at all – what you get is really a perfectly gorgeous compilation of experimental sounds, lush textures, expansive ambient music, intelligent rhythms.

It’s hypnotic, warm, entrancing stuff:

What strikes me is actually how coherent the result can be. Despite coming from an open submission online, the results hold together both than … well, than the vast majority of various artist compilations! I occasionally hear some familiar sounds, particularly from the influential Mutable Instruments-derived stuff, but even that in a good way. It’s almost unfortunate that this is associated with a tool, and people might miss the musical significance.

But maybe that isn’t incidental at all. There’s always this question of what makes a scene. Having access to the same set of instruments and tools is always significant to music-making – VCV Rack itself is free, and even paid add-ons are relatively affordable and one click away. And not only that, but VCV Rack users also have various ways to share tips about modules, whether they prefer reading forum posts or sending messages to friends or watching detailed YouTube tutorials.

Or they can even simply post videos of their patches to share and inspire – and even if you prefer not to try to squint to see what they’ve done, it might still prompt you to try an idea or find a previously unknown module.

For developers, this also demonstrates that you don’t necessarily need a comprehensive online strategy to make users do this. If you make inspiring tools, they may well do it on their own. (In CDM parts, we’ve seen this story repeat, from Eurorack hardware to the open monome community to live coding and even larger phenomena like Ableton Live use.)

https://switchedonrack.bandcamp.com/album/switched-on-rack-vol-3

For still more music, one person I’ve been following closely is Iowa IDM maestro Kent Williams aka Chaircrusher. Not This Time, his newest, is crisp, brain-tickling stuff. It isn’t 100% VCV Rack here, but the mind dancing textural precision is very much influenced by his Rack workflows, which are, quite frankly, where I’ve gotten a lot of my own tips. Kent does what I tend to do, which is to start ideas in Rack, then record them multitrack (using the NYSTHI modules for the purpose), finishing tracks in a DAW (Ableton Live). I personally expect to continue to do this even when there is a plug-in of Rack available, as it makes a nice compositional process.

And I love the artwork. It also comes with this poetic, provocative accompanying text to puzzle over:

Somehow the main point of the story got lost in the telling. The digressions were full of details too specific to be true.

Over the course of a long life, the past disappears. New memories arise of alternate timelines, things that were never to be.

The ax laying rusted in the tall grass might cut again.

I have forgotten her face and her name, but the memory of my feeling for her is so vivid.

People are outlived by the smell of the cigarette smoke on their possessions.

What I want is to hear the music that no one makes, and to which no one will listen.

Everything is deadly if you wait long enough.

http://chaircrusher.bandcamp.com/album/not-this-time

So this really is somehow the point – some of the people close to their tools will be the ones working together to push a shared musical language forward, together.

For more on VCV Rack and the community – which now runs on an excellent independent forum as well as on The FaceBook:

VCV Rack: vcvrack.com
Community Forum: community.vcvrack.com
Facebook User Group: www.facebook.com/groups/vcvrack
Sign-up sheet: docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1FUi3cekjhm_WmEocb7KXg_qdnIYosZIyQyr1i_Q6EK4/edit#gid=0

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Accusonus Rhythmiq is an AI assistant that works with your rhythms and control

“AI” in the popular imagination has become a vision of machines making the music. Rhythmiq is a new plug-in that’s the opposite – software that promises to let you do more with your own grooves.

Rhythm is one of the areas where machine learning seems already to excel. The science around these AI techniques at the moment focuses on just this sort of pattern recognition – it’s powerful for analyzing time-domain nuance, like grooves. So for anyone who complains about the cookie-cutter impact of “on the grid” music software, AI might actually offer some hope. “The grid” no longer needs to be a mechanical, perfect division of the beat or repetitive groove and swing. You can train machines on recognizing more sophisticated patterns, and producing variations accordingly.

I’ll go into a deep dive as far as how Rhythmiq works at another time, but you can certainly count it as an early attempt to chart music software into just these waters. And yeah, the whole idea here is to get more out of your own loops. Accusonus have even produced an elegant-looking interface with hands-on controls so you can dial in what you want interactively.

The basic workflow is this:

Add a loop. Yep, you can use your own sounds.

Make variations on that loop, by turning an on-screen knob (or mapping that to hardware) – essentially guiding the software algorithms where you want them to go.

Play the variations in real-time as you jam, even without looking at the screen, for fills, breaks, build-ups, drops, and, uh, whatever else you want as you play.

Yep, it has controls on it. So this isn’t just a ghost in the shell – the whole idea is to give you something you can play. It’s machines as more interactive, not less.

This is in stark contrast to the primitive way you might be tempted to work with loop- and sample-driven software and hardware. That use case is more like: start a loop, let that loop play repetitively forever, and attempt to jam over top of that loop as it gets progressively more annoying. (Whee!) Sure, that works really well for music that relies on repetitive patterns – behold, the mystery of the techno 4/4 kick. But it applies pretty poorly for everything else.

This also demonstrates that the real-world applications of AI may be more sophisticated, and more appealing to actual musicians, than some of the popular fantasy. We’ve been told for years that AI needs to be autonomous – that it needs to replace us as humans, or come up with ideas when we’re uninspired. If you talk to actual data scientists working in real-world applications of machine learning, though, they will routinely still refer to their work as “AI” without being concerned with this autonomy. Why? Well, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain:

  • a) because it’s not presently possible to make that sort of autonomous machine code, and
  • b) because there isn’t necessarily a real world demand for it.

This should particularly obvious in music, however. I think musicians want the machines to make the music for them in the same way that they want video games to play themselves, or to watch someone else doing it.

No, if you’re willing to invest in music technology, odds are that you do have some inspiration and ideas and you do actually enjoy, you know, making music yourself. Where the frustration comes in is that software works in ways that are often pretty foreign to the way we hear music. And that’s why Rhythmiq is part of a promising direction in adding intelligence to the music.

In short, this isn’t about making you dumber. It’s about making your music software smarter – more like you. Even as beginners, you are already pretty damned smart when it comes to understanding rhythm. (Seriously. Humans are amazing.)

Anyway, that’s the concept. Actually making this work involves some deep research and technology on one side, and requires some extensive testing in user music making on the other. I’ll be investigating both sides of that shortly. (I’ve already started looking at pre-release versions of the software.)

One note – this does still rely on audio content. That means you do have some of the audible artifacts of deriving portions of the sound from the larger sound material, which gives the loops some of that lo-fi, IDM sound – which you might love or not. It seems there is also potential in driving variations in MIDI (or other timing information) alone, and then triggering slices in a more conventional way.

But this is a huge leap forward for Accusonus’ technology, and delivers on some of what we saw previously in their Regroover plug-in. (See links below, which also go into some of the AI behind this.)

Also, stay tuned, as I’m part of a team continuing to explore the applications of AI and music. Following our work with GAMMA Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, we head next to a partnership in November with MUTEK.JP in Tokyo, again pairing data scientists and technologists with musicians and curators and lots of people fitting several of those descriptions at once.

Rhythmiq is available today. It’s US$99 through the end of October, $149 after that. And you can try a 14-day test version, so you don’t have to trust me or the developers or anyone else about how well it works; you can find out yourself.

You’ll be better off in certain hosts than others – yep, try Reaper and its free evaluation version if all else fails. According to Accusonus:

Compatible and fully tested: Ableton Live 10, Apple Logic Pro X

Compatible: FL Studio 20, Presonus Studio One, Cockos Reaper

https://accusonus.com/products/rhythmiq

There are a couple of marketing videos, but I actually think you should start with the playlist of tutorial videos to see how this works – especially if you’re trying the demo:

Here are the developers talking a bit about their thinking going into this, but I’ll try to get a little deeper with them about how it all works and why go this way:

Previously:

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Don’t upgrade to Catalina yet – here’s an easy explanation why not

I’ve done the deep dive. Here’s the easy explanation of why it’s too soon to upgrade to macOS Catalina – either if you’re pressed for time, or to forward to your friends.

macOS Catalina will break some music and visual software and hardware, because of changes to backward compatibility and some major new security features never before seen on a desktop OS.

The question is whether you want to find the incompatibilities and bugs yourself, or wait a while and let someone else do it for you.

Also, there is no reason to upgrade right now. Features like Sidecar, letting you use Apple Pencil and iPad as a second display/input device, are available elsewhere. (Try Duet. Or upgrade to Mojave if you haven’t already.)

So the fact I see people rushing to upgrade tells me they don’t understand why it’s a bad idea. Here’s why it’s a bad idea.

What could go wrong if you upgrade too soon

Some software won’t launch. Just one 32-bit dependency can break software like DAWs from launching. There is a tool that checks for whether apps are entirely 32-bit called Go64. But many DAWs and notation tools, for example, do require updates even to what could be labeled a 64-bit version.

DAWs will require an update before they work with plug-ins. Security changes mean that DAWs need to be specifically updated for Catalina in order to work. Check with your DAW maker. Ableton Live 10 in its latest, Catalina-specific release work, as does Apple’s own Logic Pro X. Many popular DAWs don’t have updates, and won’t until later in October (or even beyond that). And just because a DAW says it’s updated is not a 100% guarantee on your specific system, because —

Plug-ins and other tools may behave in unexpected ways. New macOS features for providing security permissions haven’t been tested in every combination yet. And new security requirements can also mess with software in obscure ways, because some of the things we do in music and visuals interact with input hardware (like keyboards and mice). Developers tell me this can cause unexpected behaviors – think bugs or even crashes with certain plug-ins or other tools. If you update today, you’re the one testing some of these combinations, even if you think your software is up to date. If you wait, you can let developers test it for you.

Some installers won’t work. A lot of older installers and uninstallers are 32-bit, not 64-bit. So if you update a system, then decide to install a plug-in or driver you forgot, you may hit a hard wall. If these are not actively supported devices or plug-ins, you may be unable to use them without rolling back the OS version.

You won’t be able to use iTunes with DJ software. Do you manage your music library with iTunes, then DJ with that library with Traktor, Serato, Rekordbox, and other tools? Do you use iTunes on the Mac for playlists and library management and then use Rekordbox to load the library on USB sticks? iTunes is removed from Catalina, it doesn’t run on Catalina, this functionality doesn’t work, and there’s currently no information on what workaround will be possible or how the new Music app will or won’t work with these tools. It’s very possible this will get fixed, but right now it doesn’t work and there’s no information on what the fix will be. Got it?

You’re going to see a whole bunch of dialog boxes. Yeah, about those new security features – the first run can be, uh, exciting. Here’s an image. Fortunately, this is only on the first time you launch software. It’s another example of why you should do major OS updates basically when you have no critical work coming up and some free time on your hands.

Printers and other hardware may need an update. Look around you. See every device you rely on? Double-check that device has support. Does that seem like too much time? Maybe wait some weeks or months, because it will get better.

How long is long, and who should upgrade, and how?

Even waiting two weeks helps. Various developers including heavyweights like Steinberg and Pioneer are saying they expect to have more information by the end of October. That may sound arbitrary, but it has to do with the amount of time developers have had to deal with final pre-release versions of the OS and, as of yesterday, the OS being out in the wild with all of us.

Who should upgrade now? Developers and system administrators or anyone whose job is support.

For everyone else, plan on this:

If you want to retain support for older plug-ins and drivers that may not be updated, expect to keep one Mac around that runs Mojave or earlier.

If you do want to upgrade, just use a second hard drive to test first. This is even more effective than making a full backup (though that’s always a good idea, too). Here’s an easy guide. But even if you’re thinking of a testbed system, you should probably wait 2-4 weeks minimum.

If you’re thinking of buying a new system, for now, these will all still run Mojave if you need them to do so. In the future, Apple may upgrade its Mac hardware in such a way that will require Catalina, so be aware of that if you need to run any old 32-bit tools.

Use a break soon to upgrade to … Mojave

For stable systems, many of us for years have simply lagged Apple by one year, because macOS is now on an annual autumn release cadence.

So now is – seriously – a great time to update to Mojave. That upgrade is still available from the Mac App Store. It’s now quite stable and thoroughly tested, and updates are available to most tools.

It’s also an ideal “long term” upgrade for the Mac for a long time to come. It has the most stable audio system of recent updates, it has support for most of the newest Apple APIs (even including Metal graphics), and yet it retains support for 32-bit software.

https://support.apple.com/macos/mojave

Download directly from the App Store

Hey, remember, some people still have Atari machines they use actively for music.

What about Windows? Look, all OSes are complicated to support. And yeah, Windows users, don’t get snarky yet. While Microsoft has excellent developer support and tends to prioritize backward compatibility in ways Apple does not, it’s very likely Windows will also face some challenges as it moves away from 32-bit support and deals with security threats. Basically, let’s leave OS wars for the 1990s and focus on what works best for your actual use case. Though I would happily engage in an Atari versus Amiga debate for nostalgia’s sake if someone wants.

Why would we ever want this upgrade?

Okay, good question. This isn’t limited to Catalina – you might even wait for the OS update after this one – but Apple is adding features that could eventually matter to the Mac. (It’s hard to compare this directly to Linux or Windows, but at least for Mac users.)

More iOS apps will work on the Mac. 10.15 is the minimum OS version that supports a technology called Catalyst that will make it easier for iOS-only apps to run on the Mac, too.

The Mac is getting more accessible. Users with disabilities will find additional features in macOS Catalina, both for people with impaired vision and those using voice control and entry.

There should be expanded performance working with visuals. We’re waiting on more test data on this, but just as Apple is dumping some old graphics APIs, you should expect enhanced video and 3D graphics performance from many of the new ones. (As I said, for now you do getthe Metal benefits under Mojave, though some specific features for working with for instance Apple’s own displays are Catalina-only.)

There are various consumer features, too. If you’re involved in game development, for instance, you may care that Apple Arcade is on the new Mac release.

And yes, I think for people with iPads, the Sidecar combination with Catalina will be great – though I’m sticking with iPad Pro / Pencil and Duet on Windows and Mac for now, personally.

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macOS Catalina is here; Final Cut update, Logic compatibility, who should wait

macOS Catalina is here as a free update today, along with updated information on Apple’s own pro apps. But music users should continue to delay upgrading for now.

I’ve already written about what changes in macOS Catalina, and why many DAWs, plug-ins, and hardware drivers will be incompatible without updates. You can read that full deep dive, which also includes resources on how to backup your system if you do want to upgrade, and how to retrieve previous macOS versions in case you want to upgrade to something like Mojave instead. (Mojave is now very stable, most readers and developers support, meaning a Mac upgrade that lags Apple’s annual upgrade cadence may make sense.) To catch up, check that article here:

The short version: Catalina adds security requirements for installers and software, and removes support for 32-bit code.

This isn’t an argument about whether or not those changes make sense – generally speaking, they do. But basically, if you have any need for stability and compatibility for critical creative work, you probably shouldn’t upgrade today. (And even if you do, you absolutely should back up everything first, and plan in advance how you would roll back the OS if needed.)

In fact, nothing has changed as far as the compatibility situation described in the article. Some developers do have updates ready for their latest software, as in the case of Ableton Live 10.

Most don’t, though, and it might only take one hardware driver or piece of software to ruin your day. Steinberg, for instance, referred back to their September 24 announcement and tell CDM they’ll need more. That illustrates just how fragile this can be – they’re working with Apple on issues involving their Dorico software and the Soft-eLicenser.

There’s also a lot of new technology in this update, meaning that if you really want a stable release, you need to wait anyway, even to give developers ample time to test the final build.

Start scratching off those lotto tickets, and this could be your desk. Final Cut Pro on the new Apple Mac Pro and matching display.

Apple Pro Apps updates

Here’s where I do have some news – Apple’s own pro apps are verified as compatible. (That isn’t necessarily a given, I might add.)

Apple says Logic Pro X and Motion are each compatible as of their most recent updates – Logic’s latest came in July, and Motion in March.

Now note, that does not mean you should expect entirely problem-free operation with Logic. Security changes are such that you could encounter unexpected compatibility issues with plug-ins – we simply can’t know until we have more real world testing data. You can help provide those tests, but you might not want to do it on your one and only production machine – not unless you make a separate external boot drive to run Catalina.

You’ll see in particular a significant notice in Motion that indicates that Apple has removed some deprecated media file support: “Detects media files that may be incompatible with future versions of macOS after Mojave.” (That may be related to 32-bit removals, but yeah, you might want to keep one machine around running an older OS, generally speaking.)

Logic release notes: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT203718

Motion release notes: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202203

Final Cut Pro actually gets a dedicated update, optimized for the newest Apple hardware and software tech, version 10.4.7. You don’t need Catalina to run this latest FCP – Mojave 10.14.6 is the minimum – but you do get some additional functionality unlocked if you pair the latest Final Cut with the latest macOS.

What’s new:

  • A new engine powered on Apple’s Metal graphics API that the company says delivers enhanced performance
  • Specific Mac Pro optimizations, as expected, and support for Apple’s Pro Display XDR hardware
  • Support for the Mac Pro’s Afterburner card
  • Specific support for Sidecar, which lets you use your iPad as a second display (wired or wireless)
  • High dynamic range (HDR) video grading, with color mask and range isolation tools (this may actually be the coolest feature, hidden in the fine print)
  • HDR video is now tone-mapped to compatible displays on Catalina only – and that’s across Motion, Final Cut, and Compressor
  • Select which internal or external GPU you want to use

Apple claims a 20% performance gain for editors on the current 15-inch MacBook Pro or 35% on the iMac Pro, versus the past release.

The important thing here, though, is that you get most of this with macOS Mojave. So I think there’s no huge rush to update – give this one some time so you can, for instance, test out on an external drive before you commit your production system to an OS that could ruin things. And that’s what pros should do anyway.

As always, this is a free update.

https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2019/10/final-cut-pro-x-update-introduces-new-metal-engine-for-increased-performance/

If you have further compatibility information (hello, developers), do let us know.

More on what’s new in macOS:

https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2019/10/macos-catalina-is-available-today/

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Polyend’s Medusa still looks unique amidst wavetable rush, and now it’s €798

With characteristic engineer’s modesty, Polish maker Polyend calls its Medusa wavetable+analog grid “slightly different.” But it’s really rather different, and a €798 price makes it more accessible.

TL:DR – the Medusa is a unique instrument sonically, nothing else has its control layout, the grid adds expression and doubles as MPE controller for other gear (including modular), and the price cut should bring it slightly more in range. (Plus you now get some colored knobs for customization.)

I’m honestly surprised, then, that it hasn’t gotten more attention, but I think it could be a slow burner. At the risk of being accused of shilling for Polyend, let me explain why I feel that way; you’re welcome to disagree, naturally.

Let’s get into it:

There’s an embarrassment of riches in the synth world now, both modular and desktop. And 2019 has quickly become a flood of instruments employing wavetable synthesis. At first, I thought that might make the more boutique, idiosyncratic Polyend Medusa lost in the crowd. But on reflection, I think now with all these wavetable options – and yes, more about those soon – the Medusa stands out.

I’ll be a bit blunt. One drawback of wavetable synthesis is that the sounds can become grating. And the same thing that makes wavetable appealing (wild possibilities as you modulate through the wavetables) can also make it tiring or hard to control (wild possibilities as you modulate through the wavetables). That’s arguably an objective assessment, even – the whole idea of the approach is, you get a bunch of harmonic and inharmonic content shifting quickly. We’re not accustomed to that in acoustic instruments or most natural sound. It’s exciting, but too much of it could then become like drinking hot sauce out of the bottle.

So with that in mind, Medusa’s split personality seems rather prescient. By pairing the three digital wavetable oscillators with three analog oscillators, the Dreadbox analog filter (to tame some of that harmonic content), and an analog noise generator, there’s ample opportunity to balance out the instrument’s edgier sounds with some warm body. And Polyend’s deceptively simple approach – putting dedicated fader smack dab in the middle of the unit – means you can literally just reach out and grab either side to adjust.

If you just want a wavetable synthesizer, in other words, you now have a growing number of cheaper options. But a big reason why I don’t want to part with the Medusa is, it has this strong tendency to be warm and fuzzy when you want it to be – and to mix hard-synced analog sounds with the wavetable ones.

That alone isn’t quite enough to set apart the Medusa, though, since there are various other architectures available. So now, some of the braver design decisions Jacek and Polyend made on the Medusa mean that it continues to stand out of the pack. That is, no one else is really attacking ideas like this:

  • The XYZ touch detection of the Medusa grid (which is still astoundingly precise and expressive, something that’s hard to nail on this sort of 8×8 grid)
  • MPE compatibility (now a MIDI standard for polyphonic expression, so you can use all those fingertips of yours independently, as intended)
  • Lots of independent modulation sources and the ability to route them with just a couple of button presses – that is, the five LFOs and five loopable envelopes – all without menu diving.

Here’s a beautiful demonstration of how well this MPE stuff works, using Polyend’s also-superb Poly 2 MIDI to CV converter. It really makes an excellent polyphonic controller for modular hardware and advanced MPE-compatible software synths:

On specs alone, other wavetable instruments do look competitive. But none so far under a grand offers this accessibility of modulation and expression that the grid and control layout of the Medusa provide.

And I feel now more than ever than owning the Medusa really is like having a unique Eurorack modular, minus the rack. And it’s one that you get attached to, rather than wanting to unscrew a couple of modules and put them up for sale used. (Yes, Dreadbox for their part even have a new line of budget modules. And they’re great, but note that you quickly reach the price of the Medusa, without a case, and with fewer capabilities and arguably even less-ready routing.)

All of this ought to be an answer to people droning on… Oh, wait – drones! I forgot! Drone mode is really superb, allowing you to latch tones and create gorgeous, shifting drones. You can spend hours doing this.

Sorry, got distracted there. Where was I? Oh yes –

People are constantly droning on (a much less appealing sound than music drones) about how there are no new ideas in electronic instruments, yadda yadda, everything is from the 70s, everything is a clone or remake…

The Medusa ought to be an answer to that, if more people paid it some attention. 3D grid sensing is absolutely new, as is the kind of integrated control possible here. Now, sure, individual elements like envelopes and wavetable synthesis and 24dB/octave analog filters are all new. But it’s peculiar that synths are suddenly held up to this idea of needing to reinvent fundamental building blocks every single time. If acoustic instruments were judged by the same standard, you could argue there was no difference between a bagpipe, an English horn, and a Cambodian Sralai because they all have reeds. The exact combination really does matter. You might love or hate the combination on the Medusa, but that’s the point – it feels like a particular set of instrumental decisions.

I’ve reviewed the Medusa already, though, and thanks to being slow with my review incorporated lots of the firmware improvements early reviewers missed.

But I do feel reasonably confident in saying it’s worth a look if €799 is now in budget. It’s definitely not for everyone. But why should everything be that? What the Medusa proves is, even doing something relatively obvious (polyphony, wavetable sound sources), you can still remain unique by taking some risks.

And if I didn’t cheer-lead a bit for that, it would mean I had probably ceased being myself.

Previously, full review:

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Make an ultra-simple DIY oscillator, inspired by vintage Heathkit

With a stupidly simple number of parts, you can make this oscillator on just a breadboard. Its inspiration is classic, vintage DIY gear from Heathkit.

Electronics class is in session with Synth Diy Guy, who has a detailed video explaining the hex inverter – the chip at the heart of this idea – and how it all turns into an oscillator.

His inspiration is quite clever: it’s the beautifully retro Heathkit model ET-3100 Electronic Design Experimenter. American builder Heathkit inspired early experimenters in computation and electronics – it even influenced some of the people who would go on to make the personal computer revolution. Their kits are laid out like consumer products, complete with handsome cases. And they’re models of simplicity – a fundamental notion in logic, wiring, and calculation would be laid out in spacious, minimalist demonstration boards. Built-in breadboards then let users modify the designs and learn more.

Here’s a breakdown of this particular model, on an equally retro (90s!) Website with other Heathkit models, as well:

http://www.vintage-computer.com/heathkit3100.shtml

You don’t need a Heathkit to try this, though – you can start with the hex inverter chip, and then try different resistors. He gives a complete, compelling explanation:

I’m posting this partly because I imagine we’ll get a lot of feedback from the electronics teachers and electrical engineers in our audience. (“No, that isn’t the simplest possible oscillator.” “That’s interesting, but it’d be better if you –“ Yeah, fire away.)

But I imagine even some of you with rudimentary skills could get going on this quite easily. Thoughts welcome!

Also, anything with hex in it is obviously cool. (Wait, hex inverter, that makes this less Satanic? Or … more?)

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What are all the synths hiding in Mutable’s modules (and their free VCV ports?)

Mutable Instruments packed a lot of different sound models into a single module with Braids and “spiritual successor” Plaits. Learn what they do in these videos.

Émilie’s work in modular is some of the most innovative of recent instrument designs. Braids and the later Plaits are so deep, in fact, that they can seem a bit like cheating – like the sound design work is already done for you in that engine. But that’s before you begin to appreciate the simplicity of the interface, on one hand, and the flexibility of being able to dial in entirely different models. Plaits and Braids break with the uni-tasker tendencies of modular; they can shift into very different roles in different patches. See the original source:

https://mutable-instruments.net/

Actually, sorry for saying that if you were trying to haggle down a used price. (Maybe complain about teal and French rose as colors? Dunno.) But it’s also worth noting that even if you don’t have a rack and hardware, you can explore the possibilities of these modules. Braids is available as Macro Oscillator, and Plaits as Macro Oscillator 2. Just download VCV Rack, and add the fully authorized port of the hardware as the Audible Instruments collection. As the code is open source, you have a one-to-one translation of the sound and function of the hardware, which is also useful in evaluating if you want to invest in the gear.

If you like reading, the manuals suffice for hardware and software – Braids, Plaits.

But even as someone who does like reading, video has proven a medium for people to go beyond just making a manual and talk about how they work, demoing sounds as they go.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t MK1 and MK2 so much as two really
distinct takes on the idea, each built from scratch, and each with its
own character and musicality.

Omri Cohen has built a whole series of episodes around the original, Braids.

Hat tip as ever to Synthtopia.

Check the full playlist – it’s an epic series. (Too much Civil War talk. “Dearest, it is now the 34th day I have been tweaking this patch, and I fear I may never return to our warm bed again…”)

The excellent and prolific YouTube channel “VCV Rack Ideas” has been covering Plaits. And just as you could translate the Braids series above from hardware to software, you can do the reverse and apply the VCV Rack notions to your physical rig.

Here are 15 tips and tricks:

There’s even a specific idea around melodic techno:

And, actually, bonus, let’s throw in my personal favorite Clouds even though I didn’t mention it in the headline. It’s a wonderful granular audio processor, and I imagine we’ll all be overusing it in this version when VCV Rack finally has a proper VST plug-in implementation, too:

It’s good stuff. And it’s been wonderful to watch Émilie’s embrace of open source lead to variations and twists. It’s something I talked about a lot with open source, but rarely got to witness in action – and it’s encouraging.

Speaking of which, if you’re doing interesting things with either the technology here or you’re particularly pleased with your musical results, and want to share tips or sounds, do get in touch.

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Natural-sounding reverbs come to Eurorack: Tasty Chips stereo convolution reverb

It’s one more way your Eurorack modular is starting to look like a total replacement for your computer: stereo convolution reverb is next.

Sure, you’ve got convolution reverbs in your DAW, and maybe a favorite plug-in. But this hardware adds some twists – not just delivering realistic modeled reverberation to your modular rig, but bringing some hardware-specific functionality on the way. It’s the work of Tasty Chips, known for their granular hardware.

Quick refresher on convolution reverbs – the idea is, a sound measurement of the space lets you create a fairly accurate model of how sound will reflect. You record an impulse (some broad-spectrum transient or sweeping frequency, so you capture a full frequency range), and the resulting recording in time can then be applied to any source you choose. So, why would you want this in modular?

You can record impulse responses right on the device. Fire up your starter pistols (okay, more likely sine wave sweep), and record impulses directly. I imagine some people might just tote a portable modular rig into a church in the town where you’ve got a gig. Sure, you could do that with a recorder, too, but – this is at least fun. run

Alternatively, you can capture synth impulses from your modular, and then run those little synth-y bits through your saved impulses. I’ve always loved this for sound design, even outside the “what does my local parking garage sound like as a reverb.” (Apple’s pro apps team must like it, too, as you will find a bunch of these sorts of impulses in Space Designer in Logic these days.)

You can crossfade between convolution files.

There are tons of hardware controls. Also some nice thought into options like pre-delay and position.

You get CV control. Here’s the modular part – you can use CV to control position, crossfade, and stereo width. Convolution reverbs are normally a set-it-and-forget-it affair, so I’m curious how this works in practice, but it does help make the case for hardware.

The excellent Synth Anatomy get the scoop on this and have some of their own take:

Tasty Chips Electronics Announced ECR-1 Convolver (Stereo Convolution Reverb) For Eurorack

No word yet on pricing or availability, so watch this space – but you will find other news on this makers’ granular and FM products:

https://www.tastychips.nl/news1/

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