Totally tube-ular: weird and wonderful sounds of Erica’s new Fusion modular system

The synth world may be quieter this April, but that isn’t stopping the saturated, screaming sounds of tubes. Erica Synths have both a new system and new modules, true to their post-Communist, tube-loving legacy.

I’m going to say some words, but let’s marvel for a moment at the grungy, powerful industrial instrumentalism here first:

Tubes and Latvian electronic instrument heritage were part of what got Erica Synths started some years back. The Fusion series modules put those tubes to new and innovative purposes – a sign that the age of tubes isn’t out of new ideas yet.

And the other side of Erica’s formula is this: make new modules, but also make new systems into which those modules fit. That gives a coherence to their modular offerings – each module you buy has a larger system in mind already. You can invest in the system itself as an integrated instrument, or just take advantage of the individual module designs – you still get that sense of how it might fit into a larger whole, with or without the system in your rig.

Three new Fusion modules are here, and quite frankly I’m pretty intrigued by the VCA/waveshaper/ring mod with or without the system:

Fusion VCF3 is a new resonant lowpass filter that combines vactrols and vacuum tubes. It’s got a steep slope (24 dB/octave), a uniquely rich sound, and – surprise, they also threw in motion recording so you can store modulation patterns right on the module.

Fusion Modulator is a new set of modulation tools that reveal how much time the Erica gang have been thinking about the classic EMS Synthi lately. (See also their SYNTRX, not so much an EMS clone, but a from-scratch instrument built around the Synthi workflows – new sounds, historic interface.)

Basically, you get two looping envelope generators with all the options. It’s one of the more versatile modulation sources I can think of recently.

Fusion VCA/Waveshaper/Ringmodulator is the rum chocolate sauce of the bunch. Two pentodes – that’s the electronic circuitry we’re talking – operate together variously as an amplifier, waveshaper, and ring modulator. The idea is, by applying voltage to different stages of the amplifier, you get all those different applications.

It’s tremendously powerful sonic stuff. And to me, it widens Erica’s palette from the BBD delay line stuff we’ve heard before – which is still very much evident in the sounds you get from the new Fusion System, when you want them.

Just how good does it sound? Let’s listen to Headless Horseman:

The other nice thing about the Fusion System II is that it is not terrifically expensive, if you do want the whole system. You get two VCO2s, the VCF3, the modulator, the VCA/Waveshaper/Ringmodulator, and the Delay/Flanger/Vintage ensemble in one skiff case for EUR 1950 (minus lid and VAT).

You can also buy the modules a la carte, though, if that’s more in-budget.

The Modulator and VCF3 are available now; the System II and VCA/shaper are inbound on 5 June.

Of course, money, period in this economy is in short supply for a lot of people. And for the rest of us, I do recommend yesterday’s guide to the latest stuff in VCV Rack and – absolutely grab the Erica Synths modules available free there. The Wavetable VCO is part of why I’m so very addicted to Rack in the first place; Octasource is great, too, speaking of modulation ideas. We can window shop for the days we’re buying hardware again.

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Extreme dub delay, in the new Ninja Tune-Erica Zen Delay

We can talk a lot about engineering. But at some point, you pack vacuum tubes and DSP and chips together, and you get a delay that’s extreme enough to have Ninja Tune and Coldcut printed on it.

Yes, meet the Zen Delay, a new unique stereo delay from Erica Synths, but carrying the Ninja Tune label on it. So, yeah, the record industry is now so bad, we’re making analog delays. Wait – that’s kind of awesome. Stereo delays are more fun to some of us than records, anyway.

Now, I’ve known about this thing for quite a while, so if it seems like I’m raving, I’m not getting that from the press release. Dr. Walker, the underground acid master from Germany, first clued me in to this project with Matt Black, Ninja and Coldcut co-founder. Ninja’s logo is on it, but it’s really both the baby of Ingmar and Matt – part Air Liquide, part Coldcut – with all the sound elements from Riga’s Erica.

The idea is pretty simple: make a stereo delay that you can dial from gentle stereo warmth and space all the way up to extreme dub and screaming overdrive.

Erica sent me a late-stage prototype to test, and I spent a lot of time with it. The trick here is really the combination of analog and digital ingredients:

Stereo delay. You get a precise, full-ranging stereo dub delay, with as little as 1ms all the way up to 5 seconds, and it’s syncable.

And thanks to being digital, you can choose what that delay is – tape, tape pingpong, “digital” (sounding more or less like your basic digital delay), or a special fifth mode. (On mine, that fifth mode was something called “crossover,” which wasn’t terribly useful. Now, it’s a vintage delay with some nice lo-fi touches, I’m told, but I haven’t yet gotten to test it, as it’s actively in development.

Multi-mode filter. There’s a 24dB filter with resonance, which you can use in lowpass, highpass, or bandpass modes.

Valves! Valve saturation and overdrive are what really complete the package – you’ll spot that lovely tube popping out of the top.

Tempo controls. There’s CV in, plus MIDI in, plus tap tempo, so you can use external time, free time in milliseonds, or tap in a tempo.

There’s also clock division, in “beat” mode (which wasn’t available yet on the firmware I first tested). Push and hold the TAP button, and the delay time knob becomes clock divider/multiplier – down to an eighth of the beat, and up to 8 times the beat. (This will actually increase the potential length of the delay up to 50 seconds, so I guess fast bathroom breaks are now possible onstage!)

High-quality digital engine. High-spec ADC and DAC combine with a 24-bit, 48k digital engine.

Stereo (1/4″) jack ins, stereo jack outs, MIDI in, CV in (on full-sized jack, not minijack), plus 12V power.

So in other words, you get the precision and precise timing of the digital delay, plus the ability to choose different delay models in a single unit. But the overall impact is very, very dirty, when you want it to be – thanks to that analog overdrive. So when you want warmth or grime or total insanity, you can dial that in.

“Complete package” and “dialing” are also essential, because Erica have really leaned in to the heavy, vintage, metal feeling of the box. It’s 870 grams of metal here (almost two pounds), with one-knob-per control, and each knob is a big, smooth-feeling dial.

This is a box for your hands, not your feet – something that you do want to reach out and grab and adjust. That makes it ideal for studio and live production. I can absolutely see wanting this live.

Erica have been in this territory before, with their screaming Acidbox (based on the Polivoks filter, and sounding just as angry and Soviet), and the Fusionbox. The Acidbox is terrific, but it’s like having a giant bottle of hot sauce at the ready – it’s just this mental USSR-style filter. The Fusionbox is the nearer comparison, and it might still be the one you want, since it has flanger and ensemble stereo in addition to delay.

But make no mistake – as a dubby delay, the Zen Delay is just about perfect. Easy access to the Drive setting, the useful dubby delay modes, and that magical distortion make it something truly special. And it’s only something Erica could do – it combines their custom DSP, their lovely Latvian-made chips, and this analog into one box.

To anyone who says no one is “innovating,” maybe it’s just a misunderstanding of what musical innovation is. Erica’s creation here is a kind of new vintage. The starting point is some traditions, but constructed into something that you haven’t had before – which is basically what instrument design has always been about.

Pricing: pre-order at €499 + VAT, with the first 300 units with a limited edition Zen Delay t-shirt at a discounted €454 + VAT, from the Ninja Tune and Erica Synth websites.

Ships in December.

Now, you may or may not have half a grand to spend on a delay that you won’t get until Christmas. But, if you do, this is clearly a nice way to go about it.

I’m editing some sounds and will post at the end of the day. But this short video with The Bug sums it up beautifully:

The press release claims this is the first effects unit to be produced by an electronic label, though I’m not entirely certain that’s correct. (Some CDM reader probably has a tiny label that ran off a few pedals, I’m guessing, before I jump out on a limb and go along with the claim!)

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Vector dreams, in a new book on sound-modulated light

Like alien artifacts dug up in sci-fi, once-forgotten technologies are resurfacing as newly futuristic. And so behold vector synthesis – that moment when signal for light and sound intertwines.

It’s all the topic of a new book from artist/technologist Derek Holzer. Here’s how in-demand this story is: a mere glimpse of his MA thesis on the topic already drummed up demand for a printed copy. That edition gets a Kickstarter boost in Vector Synthesis: a Media Archaeological Investigation into Sound-Modulated Light.

And the Cathode Ray Tube gets a new lease on life.

Derek isn’t just digging into media archaeology. He’s also part of a movement to resurrect this vector tech – and the audiovisual fusion inspired by it – through events, workshops, and open source tools. (Just beware – one day, you’re pa in Pure Data, the next, you may be rummaging through display tubes.)


Mary Ellen Bute, Ben Laposky, Lyn Lye, Norman McLaren, Desmond Paul Henry, James Whitney, John Whitney Sr., Dan Sandin, Steina Vasulka, Woody Vasulka, Larry Cuba, Bill Etra, Mitchell Waite, Rosa Menkman, Cracked Ray Tube, Andrew Duff, Benton C. Bainbridge, Philip Baljeu, Jonas Bers, Robin Fox, Robert Henke, Ivan Marušić Klif, Jerobeam Fenderson, Hansi Raber, Ted Davis, Roland Lioni, Bernhard Rasinger, and the Kikimore group.

The book traverses history, philosophy, and a decent amount of practical experimentation – it’s history and how-to and invention all at once. That’s perhaps fitting for today’s media art. It’s not just a whiz-bang demo of something new that fades. It’s practice and technique, in a time-warp jump between past and future.

25EUR gets you a copy in a beautiful edition with 122 pages.

And yeah, we’ve covered this phenomenon before:

Check out the book now on Kickstarter.

More (ah, okay, WordPress even embeds this for me now automatically – neat):

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SPICE is a one-stop modular distortion box – and it needs support

Saturation, distortion, warmth, fuzz – it’s what keeps a lot of us coming back to machines. SPICE is a modular distortion on Kickstarter, suitable for Eurorack or desktop use alike – and it’s getting reader attention partly because it isn’t over the funding line quite yet.

The big picture for SPICE from Plankton Electronics is modular distortion in an integrated, multifunctional design, with sounds ranging from digital crushing to tube distortion, ranging from warm saturation to grimy fuzz.

That functionality you can then get however you like. Want the whole thing as a single desktop unit? Go for it – even if you don’t own any other modular. Want to take that same integrated unit and rack it? Done – as a 38HP Eurorack. Prefer individual modules? Want them assembled? Want them as DIY kits you assemble yourselves? Every option is here.

This is all partly the story of a tube from KORG – the Nutube. This new Japanese-made tube, drawing from fluorescent display tech, sounds like conventional tubes but has an atypically long life and dramatically smaller size. And it uses a tiny amount of the power of tubes – think 2%. That’s not the only distortion / saturation on offer here, but it does allow a full complement of distortion types without requiring a bunch of power or space.

So you get to choose which distortion you want:

  • Clean amplification and filter, no distortion (“boost”)
  • Soft clip saturation
  • Hard clip saturation / distortion
  • Nu-tube distortion – one or two at once (for double double your distortion, double double your enjoyment… etc.)
  • Transistor fuzz (strong clipping)
  • Stomp box filtered high gain distortion, guitar pedal style

Distortion? Yes:

And you can combine these in loads of different ways – which is where the modular bit comes in. You can choose digital or analog, mix and prefilter, or apply an envelope follower to shape the sound.

And, of course, there’s feedback – lots of it.

It’s technical semimodular in that it’s prepatched for a lot of functions, but you can modify it from there.

Sliced into three modules, you get a choice [links to Modulagrid]:
NUTONE VCA and distortion based on the Nutube
SPICEVCF including the analog filter (LP, BP, HP) with tons of CV control and XMOD to self-modulate the filter
ENVF envelope follower

The tube module looks excellent on its own, but mostly I think the draw here is the combined distortion toolkit.

So how much does this cost? You’ll get actual hardware starting around 25EUR, and kits for around 55EUR+. Assembled modules start around 85EUR and then the full modular system will cost you around 450-500EUR, all in. (Prices will be more with VAT … and please, no more lecturing me about how the VAT system works, readers, I live in Germany and own a GmbH; most of our readers are outside the VAT system and don’t owe this tax. They’ve explained all the different prices on their site.)

Spice as modules.

I wasn’t so familiar with this Barcelona-based team before, but they’ve done some really nice work – and have gotten input here from a lot of our friends in the modular and synth community, from to Befaco to Olivier Ozoux.

And even before I heard from them, a couple of readers wrote hoping CDM would cover this project as they want to see it funded. I hear you – I do, too.

I also love this idea – their SPICE Metapatch software is a Web-era take on the patch book. Instead of drawing with a pencil, you store patch ideas in a Web interface. (It’s still just a picture, but it means you’re free from erasures and terrible drawing skills. Hold on… that projecting thing I do, sometimes, that might be happening again.)

There’s 10 days left. They’re past the halfway mark, so let’s see if the CDM bump helps them out.

Plankton Electronics SPICE – Modular Saturation Unit [Kickstarter]

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Ninja Tune are doing their own multi-delay, and it looks wild

Hey, if running a label to release music seems a daft idea these days, there’s always selling hardware. And Ninja Tune’s new hardware effect looks like it’s got some serious potential.

Gear guru and underground weirdo music impresario Ingmar Koch and his Liquid Sky Berlin / blog get the scoop here. But already from the hardware we can tell a few things:

  • The hardware sure looks like Erica Synths’ stuff. (Casing and knobs are a dead ringer for the Acidbox. So whether or not they did the engineering, they may have done the manufacturing and enclosure.
  • It seems to have a big tube. (See also Erica’s love for Polivoks-era, ex-USSR tubes and recreations.)
  • There are multiple delay modes: Stereo Delay, Tape Delay, Ping Pong Delay, and BBD Delay (Bucket Brigade – think classic chip delays)
  • Feedback, delay time, and tap tempo
  • A multimode analog filter (lowpass, bandpass, highpass) with overdrive knob
  • MIDI IN, which suggests you also get MIDI sync (good!)
  • CV in for analog control (and one control I’m unsure of, maybe pulse in – who has better eyesight than I do?)

So, it’s apparently some retro-style chip delay with analog filter and … tube for overdrive? That could get nicely nasty.

Plus if Erica was working on this, having tried their Acidbox line, expect all the right kind of mayhem.

I’ll be eager to get hands on this. The involvement of Ninja Tune suggests our friend Matt Black of Coldcut had some input with this, and he does love his tech.

More – photos of the prototype:

pure gearporn: ninja tune zendelay – hardware news leak []

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Learn electronics with the vintage Side Man drum machine

ENG_SIDEMAN_PREVIEW from Darsha Hewitt on Vimeo.

Darsha’s sound electronics class is in session – and it’s a little different to what you’d normally expect.

Rather than a bunch of animations of electrons moving about, sound artist and educator Darsha Hewitt has created a long-form video tutorial around the world’s first commercial drum machine.

Wurlitzer’s Side Man 5000 is hardly practical by modern standards. The pioneering 1959 hardware weighs some 38 kg, and is controllable only via push buttons and a speed fader, pre-programmed to happenin’ grooves like “rhumba.”

Inside, though, this gadget is an electro-mechanical wonder. And taking it apart and making it work again is an opportunity to understand how that technology worked, introducing ideas ranging from the basics of how a tube works to some novel ideas of how to use moving wheels to produce rhythm. You’ll be reminded both what a cathode is and how machines can produce music.


Darsha Hewitt leads with a friendly, patient style accessible to even those with no electronics background – but if you are interested in the intricacies of this hardware, there’s plenty of detail for you, too. The SideMan she’s got is one of only a handful left, to say nothing of the few in proper working order. That means that this is also the most comprehensive documentation yet of the Wurlitzer device’s innards.

The series is presented in episodes, with the teaser out today and the first episode launching on October 6. Or meet Darsha and celebrate the series in person, if you’re around Montréal:

03.10.16 – Advanced Screening and Q&A hosted by Jonathan Sterne @ Mutek_IMG Montréal
04.10.16 – Side Man 5000 Sample Salon Workshop @ Goethe-Institut Montréal

It’s great to see Darsha completing this project, having collaborated with her on a past MusicMakers Hacklab for CTM Festival. I got to visit Side Man in person; it’s an amazing machine.

Disclosure: CDM did publicity support for the launch of this series (and a little video editing), for which we were compensated. (Our coverage of the machine is not sponsored, though – we think it’s a cool project!) Additional funding was provided as part of the “Art and Civic Media” program – Innovation Incubator @ Leuphana University – Lüneburg. Further support provided by Foundation for Art and Creative Technology and Bauhaus-Universität Weimar.






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Metasonix Have Made an Immoral Drum Machine from Vacuum Tubes


Drum machines. They’re predictable. So much so that the biggest controversy about Roland’s high-profile entry into the market with AIRA was whether they should remake the 808/909 or remake the 808/909 as analog.

Enter Metasonix. They would like to make the differentiation point of drum machines whether you still have your ass or not once you’ve heard them.

And so, we see the D-2000, the long-awaited (long-dreaded?) successor to the D-1000, but, say Metasonix, more extreme. (“Tweaked,” “maximized,” and “pushed.”)

How would you describe the sound? Absolutely terrible. (You know, nicely horrible. I mean, probably not in a way most of us would spend money on, but… well, read on, as we ponder just who would. Because they must be interesting.)

Not everyone can actual create products in a way that could be termed trolling – and still sell them. This is that kind of product.

Basically, what you get is three tunable drums made from the resonance of tube-driven bandpass filters. Those are tuned with vactrol photoresistors – a resistive circuit that combines an LED and a photoresistor. Drive controls give you overdrive. Then you add two noise cymbals, also using tubes (to gate the sound). You can also link one of the noise circuits to one of the pitched drums, for a “snare”-ish… thing.

And then if that weren’t dirty enough, the whole lot of them is fed into a tube preamp.

The original D-1000 had its own sequencer. Here, the focus is on sound: there’s literally a hole left for the sequencer you want. (8HP lets you add Eurorack or something else; they’ve got a couple of suggestions.)

Also interesting: you can feed anything as a pulse, or use an audio signal as the trigger. You can output that squashed tube-overdriven main out, but also the individual drums (essential). And there’s, naturally, CV ins.


It is “rude and immoral.” Metasonix amusingly concede that they’ve had customers think their gear is broken – sorry, that’s how it’s meant to sound.

I mean, of course, all of this is ridiculous. The unit will set you back US$1895 – and that’s if you can buy it at all. It’s exclusively at Big City Music. (Someone, somewhere here in Europe will buy one and pay the import taxes – you go, person.)

It’s almost as though the whole product is an insult to … sort of everyone. Not taking the hint, Synthtopia commenters jump onboard to savage the unit as a painful waste of money. (Though, to anyone saying this sounds like farts, I want sound samples of your farts.)

They’re missing the point. It is a painful waste of money.

And it’s completely brilliant. It’s nice to see Metasonix’s insanity back in the game.

Big City – D-2000

It’s a limited run, so … yeah, obviously, this is a limited run.

I mean, you really actually should probably buy an Octatrack and then just get some distortion pedals – they’re just US$1299 at Big City, and while they’re not getting Overbridge, they’re beautiful music machines. Or even get a volca sample. Or, probably, just about anything and a distortion pedal.

But, then, should is not a word that can even be applied to this machine. Immoral is right. And I’m glad it exists. And to anyone crazy enough to buy it, I want to meet you. I … just might keep a cell phone on me and have my escape vehicle ready with some backup. But don’t take it personally. Seriously, let’s hang in your … studio … a bit. Also, you’re buying lunch: you can afford it.

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Exclusive: Metasonix Prototype VCO, the R-55 Thyratron – With Tubes

Metasonix, the maker celebrating the mad science of tubes for making wonderfully-terrible noises, reveals to CDM that next week they’ll unveil a new Voltage Controlled Oscillator. Behold, videos! From top:

“A prototype R-55 thyratron VCO is controlled with a Makenoise Rene sequencer, with an R-54 VCO tuned to track along.”

“A prototype R-55 thyratron VCO tunes along with an R-54 VCO, both driven with the same CV.”

Analog: you can scare small children with it. In a good way.

And as if you needed another reason to visit their booth at NAMM – or follow along as we visit them virtually here on CDM – Metasonix will have this prototype at the Big City booth. Big City Music, a California treasure trove of boutique music hardware and analog goodies, is a place I’m always willing to evangelize. Metasonix writes CDM:

“This is a prototype, the finished ones will be slightly different.

If people want to see more, the R-55 will be on display at NAMM, at the
Big City Music booth (6735). I won’t be there but Josh can demo it.

They are expected to ship May 2012.
BCM is getting an exclusive distribution on these and the quantities will be limited. ”

Eric Barbour’s Metasonix TX-3 iCunt

Click here to view the embedded video.

Each NAMM Show, Metasonix’ Eric Barbour attempts to top himself with ever-more offensively named and styled vacuum tube audio boxes, and this year was no different.

This video captures a Hertz Donut through the Metasonix iCunt prototype.