Our ginger feline friend Rufus returns, courtesy of iamshadowdancer on Instagram. He looks ready to serenade us with a new song.
He has a rather impressive modular setup! The upper case is by Goike. It contains a wide variety of modules – we see a classic Metasonix yellow, a Mordax DATA on the right, a Make Noise Maths, and many others that whose identification we leave as an exercise to the reader.
Among the more unique instruments that we saw at NAMM this year was the Blipblox, a fully functional synthesizer in a plastic shell reminiscent of children’s toys.
Don’t be deceived by its appearance. The Blipblox is a full-featured monophonic synthesizer with selectable signal topologies and oscillators; a low-pass filter; a sequencer; and even a drum machine. There is also a modulation matrix to complete the feature set. In some ways, it seems similar to overall style and concept of the Moog Mother-32, though it is of course a very different instrument.
You can hear a bit of our attempt to play the Blipblox in this video.
It certainly seems like an interesting way to introduce kids to synthesizers and both the science and art of sound. But it also seems quite usable for live performance – if it’s rugged enough for kids, it’s probably rugged enough for the stage. We look at it an immediately think of the repurposing of musical toys for experimental electronic performance via circuit bending. Whether a Blipblox is bendable or not is beyond the scope of this initial look, but it would certainly fit in with a setup that includes such modified instruments.
We continue to work our way slowly through the embarrassment of riches from NAMM 2018 with a look at new modules from Erica Synths.
The biggest of the new modules, both physically and in terms of garnered attention, was the Drum Sequencer module. It has an attractive retro look and feel with a raised keypad and red LED display, reminiscent of instruments and studio gear from the 1980s. It also features 12 independent trigger outputs and 12 separate accent outputs – of course in the context of a modular synth one need not use the accent outputs for “accents”.
The sequencer itself is full-featured with separate meter and length per track as well as independent shuffle and probability per step. The probabilistic step function is intriguing, and one I did not have a proper opportunity to explore at NAMM, so hopefully I will get a chance to do so in the not too distant future.
The Graphic VCO returns to a more contemporary design found in many digital Eurorack modules.
This module allows the user to draw his or her own waveforms Etch-a-sketch style to use in two simultaneous wavetable oscillators. In addition to mixing, they can be arranged in different topologies for FM, ring modulation, waveshaping and more. The waveform selections and configurations can be sequenced for continuously morphing sounds. It would be interesting to use with the Drum Sequencer.
The final module we looked at was the Resonant Equalizer. It is basically a 12-band bandpass filter with each band independently controllable via CV. One can also control all the bands with a single CV input for sequencer-based changes. Again, this feels like a module that would work well in tandem with the Drum Sequencer. It also has an attractive visual look for live performance use.
You can see all these modules in action in our recent video, which also features a “virtual appearance” by Tuna, the official Erica Synths cat 😺
We congratulate Tuna and rest of the team from Erica Synths on their offerings for this year’s show, and hope to someday visit them in Latvia.
Cat peeking out from a Roland MC-909 sampling groove box, or at least the shell of one. It appears to have been stripped of its display and surface controls – and probably the internal electronics as well – making it great for sits!
After a long hiatus, we have a new cartoon from J.B. (aka Jason Berry) today. This one features the story of Herbie Hancock’s transition to his funk band Headhunters, as related in his memoir Possibilities (by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey).
We resume of coverage of the 2018 NAMM Show after a few days break – and a nasty bout of “NAMMthrax” – with the latest spin on an old favorite: the Nord Electro 6.
Longtime readers know that I have been a user of Nord keyboards since I got my trusty Nord Stage EX back in 2010. It has served me well, but have sometimes been envious of the features in subsequent generations, notably the expandable Piano Library and Sample Library (the original Stage does not support the sample library at all). With the Electro 6, the separation from the Stage line is much more blurred, and it calls into question the need for a Stage at all for those of us who fell in love with Nord keyboards for their electric pianos. The Electro 6 supports up to 3 layers and splits (something previously limited to the Stage). The electric piano (and acoustic piano) section is enhanced with new layering features and its own filter section that allows one to dial in different tones within a particular model. And the piano library is expandable with 1GB of memory. The organ section uses the C2D engine, and a rock organ is quite handy in a variety of situations. The sample library allows for classic Mellotron sounds as well as a variety of others. The one section from the Stage that is missing is the independent A1 synth (similar to the Lead). Personally, it is the section I use the least, so I wouldn’t miss it if I moved over to the Electro. Plus, this model would be a little bit easier to schlep back and forth to gigs.
The Electro 6 comes in three models: 61-key and 73-key semi-weighted with mechanical organ drawbars; and the “HP” version with 73 fully weighted keys and LED drawbars. As a pianist, the latter would be my preference.
If you are already fortunate enough to have an Electro 4 or 5, the 6 probably won’t be a big enough change to warrant an upgrade, especially at the high prices these instruments command. But if one has been waiting eight years, it might be the time…