NAMM 2017: New offerings from Synthrotek and Division 6

Our friends from Synthrotek teamed up with Division 6 for a delightfully noisy and retro NAMM display.

This unique enclosure has that future retro look at we at CatSynth adore. It is unfortunately one of a kind at this moment. But we had a chance to admire it. Sitting above the panels, however, was a new product, the Division 6 “Business Card Sequencer”, available as a kit. It’s a dual 16-step sequencer with CV and gate out, as well as clock in. Quite handy and smaller than my iPhone.

Division 6 also introduced Mr Crotchety. It is a control-less Eurorack module that generates a non-linear CV source. It also has the best name of any product I encountered at NAMM.

Synthrotek is also continuing to come out with new modules and such. This ribbon controller looked quite interesting to us, and fits well in the 1U area of their cases.

We can also see at the top of the image the enclosures that allow the Business Card Sequencers to be mounted in groups into a Eurorack system. And off to the right is the new Roboto module. It’s hard to see in this picture, so here is a demo from Synthrotek.

Roboto is an audio-signal transformer based on old voice-transformer chips. One could of course use this for “robot”-like vocoding, but also for manipulating another other type of sound that crosses the wires of a modular synth. We also quite like the logo. There was also an affordable in interesting-sounding reverb module, with degrees of freedom that turn it into an instrument rather than simply an effect at the end of the chain.

We are looking forward to seeing more of these modules. But we really want that future retro case!

@catsynth in the namms!!!

A photo posted by Synthrotek (@synthrotek) on

NAMM 2017: KOMA Elektronik Field Kit

Being immersed in music technology does not mean one forgets the joy and beauty of acoustic sounds, whether a finely crafted violin or the incidental collisions of everyday objects. Our friends at KOMA Elektronik introduce the Field Kit, which brings these worlds together in a single box.

The Field Kit fits quite a bit in a small space. There is a four channel mixer at the heart of the unit, which accepts input from contact microphones or other audio sources, with gain, mix level and tone controls. A radio section generates audio and CV from AM, FM and short wave signals. A DC section can be used to control outboard electronics such as motors, solenoids and LEDs. A signal generator section allows all of these tools to be used to generate more conventional signals for modular synths and other gear. It also includes utilities such as an LFO generator and envelope follower.

What makes this unit intriguing to us at CatSynth is the ability to use it an interface to physical objects, as shown in the photo above, with springs, marbles and other items used as input and output. It can be hard to wrap ones head around how that works in practice. This video from KOMA Elektronik’s Kickstarter page makes it more accessible.

We at CatSynth would love to get our hands on one of these, even for a couple of upcoming shows in February. It would be great to combine the visual and physical nature of the devices musical possibilities with video. Unfortunately, it isn’t shipping to the general public until May. We look forward to then.

More information available at koma-elektronic.com.

NAMM 2017: Fabulous Silicon Paradigm

One of the fun things at NAMM is finding new and unexpected technologies for music. We found an intriguing example in the Paradigm synth from Fabulous Silicon.

The uniqueness of this analog synthesizer is on the inside. Its architecture is based on four Apex programmable analog chip by Anadigm Corporation. What this means is that parameter changes rather than simply changing the voltage running through a fixed circuit, the circuit itself is reorganized. Many of us working in experimental technologies at the turn of the century were familiar with FPGAs, reconfigurable digital gates, but the idea of reconfiguring analog circuits in a single chip is a step beyond our thinking from that moment. How much of that is technological or cultural I cannot say, given that compared to the turn of the century we are in the midst of a renaissance of analog electronics in music. To make this concrete for others familiar with analog modular synthesizers, consider turning a knob or switch and having the synthesizer re-patched on the fly, or even turned into a completely different set of modules in response to CV input.

The prototype was unfortunately not working at the time we visited the booth and spoke with the Paradigm’s creator Bryan Pape. But we came away quite interested in both the musical and intellectual possibilities of this “paradigm.” We look forward to seeing this instrument in action in the near future.

More information available at www.fabuloussilicon.com

Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus and Other Modules

Last year, I was excited to see the debut of Rossum Electro-Music. This year, the excitement is that the Morpheus module will finally be available soon.

Since our picture, although appropriately cute, isn’t the best, here is an official image.

The Morpheus module features a 14-pole Z-plane filter similar to one in the classic E-MU Morpheus (which I still use in some of my music), but goes beyond the capabilities of the original. As it is a module, one can use any sound source with it rather than just built-in ROM samples. And all the the dimensions of the filter – which are visualized as a cube – can be manipulated in parallel from arbitrary CV sources. On top of that, a step sequencer allows one to move through different configurations of the filter in real-time.

I was only able to scratch the surface of the sound possibilities with this. One thing I’d like to explore is whether with all the degrees of freedom this filter is even more unstable than the original. That’s not a bad thing per se (as long as one has a limiter handy), as it can be a thing of beauty to bring a filter just to the edge.

The Morpheus is actually part of a full suite of modules that Rossum Electro-Music is offering. The Evolution ladder filter was already debuted last year, and is a fine filter in itself. There is also the Control Forge CV generator, Assimil8or phase-modulation sampler, and Satellite CV generator. It occurs to me that putting these modules together (plus a MIDI to CV converter) one could theoretically construct an “E-MU Morpheus on steroids”.

We at CatSynth shall eagerly await the public release of the Morpheus in the coming weeks and keep an eye out for things to come from our friends at Rossum Electro-Music.

NAMM 2017: Moog Music Tribute to Synthesizer Pioneers

This year our friends at Moog Music, Inc. had a very different sort of booth. Instead of the usual array of gear for demonstration, the space was bare and stark, with a simple kiosk and a wall dedicated to the many synthesizer players and innovators we lost in 2016.

It was a rough year for the synthesizer community. Among those we lost were Pauline Oliveros and Don Buchla, both of whom were memorialized here on CatSynth and whom I had known in person. There were also images and statements for Keith Emerson, Bernie Worrell, Isao Tomita, and Jean-Jaques Perrey.

Visitors were invited to wander the space in contemplation or with a mix of music from the artists on classic Walkmans. Visitors could also leave social media tributes to one or more artists and have an opportunity to win one of several current Moog instruments, including a Werkstatt, Mother-32 and even a new Model D.

We didn’t win, but were very touched by the way Moog used their space to pay tribute to the many heroes we lost in 2016. It was a unique and moving experience at this year’s NAMM show.

NAMM 2017: Dave Smith Instruments REV 2 And More

Edited to correct an “alternative fact” in one of our photos.

There were several new offerings at the Dave Smith Instruments booth this year. The most prominent was the new REV 2 polyphonic analog synthesizer.

The REV 2 is billed as a successor to the Prophet ’08, and features an architecture with two DCOs and two Curtis filters, along with numerous other features. It also has a built-in step sequencer. It plays very nicely and has a powerful sound, though perhaps not quite as “luscious” as the Prophet 12 that I regularly use in my own music. I expect the REV 2 will be quite popular.

Last year, DSI introduced the OB-6, a collaboration between Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim that features an Oberheim SEM sound engine. This year they have a tabletop module version of this instrument.

CORRECTION: This is a Prophet 6 tabletop, not an OB-6. There is, however an OB-6 tabletop module.

It has the same engine and a large array of front panel controls that make it a less expensive addition for someone who wanted the OB-6 synth but doesn’t need yet another keyboard.

Dave Smith also had another new collaboration, this time with Pioneer DJ. They introduced two new instruments: the TORAIZ SP-16 DJ workstation and the TORAIZ AS-1 mono synth.

The SP-16 is a sampler workstation with multiple voices and facilities for loops, triggers, and other features one expects from a beat-oriented tabletop synth, but also filters from the Sequential Prophet 6. THE AS-1 is purely a synth, featuring an architecture similar to a single voice of the Prophet 6. As such, the AS-1 is practical way to add the Prophet 6 sound to a larger setup.

As always, we look forward to seeing and hearing more of these new instruments from Dave Smith.

NAMM 2017: Percussa AudioCubes and Synthtor System 8

I have long been fascinated by Percussa’s AudioCube controllers. In fact, I have a pair of them that I use in live performance. Now Percussa introduces the Synthtor System 8 wireless controller and modular synthesis system.

The Synthor System 8 consist of a wireless controller and hub for use with the cubes and a digital modular synthesizer. The synth engine contains many of the features one would expect including oscillators, filters, waveshapers, and samplers. It runs on a dedicated ARM chipset running Linux, though it only runs the synth and thus avoids the performance and stability issues we all know from general purpose computer systems. It also supports a variety of I/O for connecting to other gear and to a computer workstation for recording.

You can see and hear a bit of the AudioCubes and Synthtor System 8 in action in this video.

The REMOTE (the controller/hub) is quite an intriguing addition in itself, allowing one to use the cubes without a computer thus reducing setup complexity.

Percussa is a very small independent company consisting of two members: Bert Schiettecatte and Celine Van Damme. Both are very nice and have been supportive of CatSynth and of the musicians who use their instruments.

You can find out more about Percussa and their offerings at their website.

NAMM 2017: Mike Garson Plays Synthogy Ivory II

Mike Garson is a legendary keyboardist. He is perhaps best known for his collaborations with David Bowie – indeed that is how we primarily know him. But he is quite the performer in his own right, combining avant-garde and jazz together into a very rhythmic style of playing. He was performing today at NAMM on Ivory II, the flagship virtual piano from Synthogy. You can see a segment of his performance in this video.

The performance, which lasted over 30 minutes, featured a variety of styles and ranged from improvisations to familiar tunes. It is quite virtuosic, but not for its own sake as the fast runs and driving low-note chords serve the music well. Towards the end he played in a heavy style that I like to call “avant stride.”

I was quite happy to get such a good visual and sonic spot to see him; and aftwords had a chance to think him for his music and inspiration to my own playing.

NAMM 2017: Erica Synths, LZX, Sputnik, Roland, And More

There are multiple superbooths of modular synth makers this year. We visited the first (and smaller) of the two this afternoon.

The folks at Erica Synths have a new DIY kit inspired by the legendary Soviet synth Polyvoks.

It’s a raw but sonically rich instrument and we at CatSynth could see using it. They have also updated their flagship black series.

We would be remiss if we didn’t also show their adorable logo 😺.

One thing we have observed this year is that many module makers have upped their game when it comes to visual design. We saw that with the Erica Synths offerings, but with others as well. Consider this Euclidean Circles from vpme.de:

The Charcot Circles is a collaboration of Studio Electronics and eowave. It is a rather complex and enigmatic module providing sequencing and CV with non-linear processing.

The round designs are reminiscent of Buchla synthesizers, which of course brings us to Sputnik Modular which produces Buchla-inspired “west coast synthesis” modules.

LZX Modular is all about the visuals, as their modules process video rather than audio. They have several new offerings, including an LCD display module and an all-in-one starter. You can see a little bit in this video.

New video modules from LZX. #namm #namm2017

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

The both also featured Roland’s AIRA series, including the System-8. The setup featured remakes of some classic Roland modules that we reported about last year in addition to the “plug-out” system.

It is interesting that Roland has moved its display of these instruments from their main area at NAMM to the modular-synth booths. It would seem they know their audience.

Finally, we have new offerings from Industrial Music Electronics, formerly known as The Harvestman. They still have the same characteristic orange knob style.

Among there new modules are the Argos Bleak, a CV processer, the Bionic Lester mk II, a capacitor filter; and our favorite name-wise, the Contempt, a dyamics processor.

Modular manufacturers haven’t lost their edge even as the industry matures.

NAMM 2017: Lowry Electronic Organs

Walking away from the Elektron booth, I espied these gorgeous instruments.

The Lowry Electronic Organs are at a basic level electronic organs with a variety of pedals, organ stops, two manuals, and such. But they also combine a basic synth engine with other sounds, rhythm patterns and more. They have multiple models of increasing complexity. Did I mention that they are gorgeous?

They are easy to play once one knows what the vast array of buttons are for. According to the representative I talked with, these are mostly used as parlor instruments, a statement piece for a living room or music room. But it is nonetheless a real musical instrument to be played like any other.