NAMM: Doepfer, Jomox, Black Market Modular, WMD, SSF

We pick up our post-NAMM coverage where we left off after the show. As stated in earlier articles, this was a great year for synthesizers, including analog modular synthesizers. For the first time, several manufacturers formed a super booth in Hall A in the main show floor.

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Holding court in the center was Deiter Doepfer himself with a giant Doepfer modular system.

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The new modules from Doepfer this year included an opto FET filter (an alternative to the popular vactrol filters), a quadrature thru-zero VCO, and a large trigger sequencer. The trigger sequencer has a nice appearance and provides a lot of outputs. It plays well with a new clock divider that Doepfer introduced as well. The FET filter has some interesting properties for doing FM filter effects as it can modulate much faster, though it apparently distorts at higher volumes.

JoMoX has been long known for its small tabletop instruments. This year, like several other manufacturers, they introduced Eurorack modular versions, including the T-rackonizer filter matrix along with some of their drum synths.

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Black Market Modular collaborated with Foxtone Music to bring the Colour Pallete to the Eurorack modular format. It’s really a “modular inside a modular”, where one can mix and match up to three “colour palettes” (expansion cards) that operate as standalone modules, each with its own VCA. They hope to release more expansion cards over time, which will be compatible with their outboard system.

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Another interesting collaboration featured WMD and Steady-State Fate (SSF). There are some basic modulesl, but also some specialized sound and control elements such as the Spectrum and Mini Slew modules. And all of them can put together in this neat little case complete with keyboard that supports MIDI and CV.

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This is only the beginning of what was on display in the analog modular superbooth 6990. More will be presented in subsequent articles.

CatSynth pic: Miles and his Custom Painted Moog EatherWave Plus Theremin

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Via matrixsynth. (PS: thanks for the shoutout for the app :) ).

This one in via L.T.

“After my beloved orange four legged companion ‘Charlotte the Cat’ passed on and ascended high into SynthCat heaven, I have realized that Charlotte was always annoyed with my collection of electronic keyboards and audio gadgets, (see the old Charlotte the cat photos at Matrixsynth)

I have since adopted a wonderful. large 4 yr old, 4 legged orange companion – Miles the Cool SynthCat.

See attached photo of Miles the cool SynthCat, chillin’ and relaxin’ with the Moog EatherWave Plus Theremin… looks like Miles has a much better attitude when it comes to sharing his space with Electronic Music Keyboards ,Gadgets and Gizmos.

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What do you think…. anyone have a caption for these SynthCat photos?”

The theremin is painted with green marine enamel for boats.

The late Charlotte has appeared on CatSynth many times. You can see one of her photos here.

CatSynth: The App! is live in the App Store

IMG_3592We at CatSynth are excited to announce the release of CatSynth: The App! for all iThingies (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch). It is available in the App Store now!

CatSynth : The App! brings you the odd world of cats, synthesizers, music, art and more in a beautiful interface optimized for your handheld device or tablet. New articles are added quite often, so we hope you come back frequently to check them out. And you can always make new and unusual music with the included Mystery Synths!

It should work on all devices running iOS 7.1 or later. Please check it out, maybe leave us a nice review, but most of all just enjoy it. And for our friends on the Android platform, don’t worry, we should be releasing the app for Android quite soon :)

app_store

NAMM: Tom Oberheim SEM Eurorack Module

This year, Tom Oberheim joined his fellow giants in the synthesizer world Dave Smith, Don Buchla, and Roger Linn at NAMM. He has rereleased the classic SEM synthesizer and introduced a new Eurorack module based on the SEM.

Oberheim SEM Eurorack module

The EuroModule SEM is a single voice of the standalone synthesizer. It has two VCOs, a VCF, two envelopes, LFO, and VCA. It’s pretty much an entire instrument in one, and it takes up quite a bit of space in a modular system. Where I could see it being of particular use in this environment route external CV into it.

The Tom Oberheim booth (under the name of his company Marion Systems) was a family affair, and indeed the entire Oberheim family was extremely welcoming and friendly.

The SEM module as well as a separate Phaser module are expected to be released later this year.

NAMM: SpaceHarp

There is usually at least one completely out-there “what exactly is that” instrument at NAMM, and this year that was the SpaceHarp.

It is visually unique, looking a bit like something off the original Star Trek or other early science fiction. Each of the circles contains multiple optical and sonic sensors which respond when the performer moves and blocks the light from above. The input from the sensor arrays is converted to MIDI for controlling an external synthesizer. I’m not exactly sure what the large illuminated crystal does, but it adds the classic science-fiction quality of the instrument.

SpaceHarp at NAMM

I did make an attempt to play the SpaceHarp.

It was fun, though not quite as easy to control as the description suggests. Given all the degrees of freedom, it was quite different from a theremin (even an optical theremin) in the way one interacts with it.

At a technical and visual level, the SpaceHarp was interesting. While it didn’t come across as a “must have” for me, I can see others finding this a useful and creative tool for live performance. The tendency towards New-Age hyperbole in their product literature was a bit of a turn-off, suggesting a different target audience. But perhaps it just needs another chance with some harsher and more abstract sounds, like from one of the many analog modules at this year’s show.

NAMM: Roger Linn and the LinnStrument

Our visit to Roger Linn Design featured both the man himself as we as the LinnStrument.

Roger Linn

The LinnStrument is an expressive controller with a grid of continuous sensors that capture independent velocity, X, Y and Z-axis position for each of multiple touches. As such, it is an extremely expressive instrument that can afford control as dextrous as a traditional piano keyboard in some ways more versatile between all the degrees of freedom and abstract layout. It is also quite compact.

LinnStrument

While the LinnStrument is primarily MIDI, it would be interesting to see it in a CV-based environment as well.

We were also treated to a demo by Roger Linn, including several of the featured sounds and programs.

We definitely appreciate his time talking with us and showing his invention.

NAMM: New Korg Synths and ARP Odyssey clone

One of the big announcements before the show was Korg’s new clone of the ARP Odyssey. It was up there with the Moog Modular and Sequential Prophet 6. So I had to see and play this one for myself.

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Like most of Korg’s recent reissues of classic analog instruments, this version of the ARP Odyssey is about 80% the size of the originally. I’m not sure what it is with Korg making things “just a little smaller” than the original. But it did have the sound of the original – I tried, somewhat poorly, to play some lines from Head Hunters. And I was happy to see that had the original industrial design, including the Helvetica-style red lettering on black background that remains very distinctive. It would be interesting to play this along side my vintage Octave CAT. At just under $1000, it’s even possible one day.

Another new offering from Korg this year was the MS20-M kit, a kit variation on the MS-20. It was paired with the new and very compact SQ-1 CV sequencer.

MS20-M kit and SQ-1 sequencer

The MS-20M has no keyboard, but that’s not much of an impediment as one can control it via external CV.

At the small end of the spectrum there was the LittleBits SynthKit, a collaboration between Korg and LittleBits. We actually have one of these kits at CatSynth HQ.

LittleBits Synth Kit

NAMM: Big City Music

A trip to NAMM always includes a visit to the booth of Big City Music. As always there was a mixture of old favorites (e.g.,an entire collection of Metasonix modules in a matching yellow case, the Mellotron, etc.), as well as new and unusual things. Upon arrival I was greeted by this rack containing Intellijel synth modules and a Mellotron rack-mount unit.

Mellotron 4000D rack and Intellijel modules

This the digital Mellotron M4000D in rack-mount unit. It sounds like the classic Mellotron in a unit that is more practical for live gigging or integration into a studio setup. Of course, there are no tapes in this one.

The polyphonic analog synthesizer from Schmidt was on display and I had a chance to play it.

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This thing is a beast! Beyond the polyphony, it has four oscillators and seven filters per voice. Quite feature rich and very playable. But it’s price is this instrument’s most infamous feature. It comes in at about $20K USD, similar to the price one might pay for the car to schlep it around in.

This odd but intriguing electromagnetic contraption was from boutique manufacturer Analog Outfitters. We still have no idea what it does.

Analog Outfitters

And of course there were lots of large modular installations, including this “Wall of Cwejman.”

Wall of Cwejman

It’s a dangerous booth to visit, as I start to get purchase ideas…