NAMM: Big City Music (Swarmatron, Jomox, Metasonix, and more)

Once again, one of my main destinations at NAMM was the booth of Big City Music, where I can always find analog synthesizers and exotic electronic musical instruments that defy categorization. There certainly was no shortage of modular systems, including this scary looking yellow box full of Metasonix modules.

Because Metasonix modules, especially the R55 VCO, take a huge amount of current, this case can handle a ridiculous 7500mA. That is half of a standard home electrical line. Other manufacturers besides Metasonix were represented as well. Just to the left of the case one can see the new vactrol filter from Koma Electronic, a module I recently acquired.

On the more exotic end, Leon Dewan of Dewanatron was on hand again this year to demonstrate the Swarmatron (watch as our feline mascot nearly gets carted away on the nearby Mellotron):

I tried my hand at it as well. The ribbon controllers feel different from anything else I have tried playing, but once I got used to the feel I was able to start using the instrument expressively.

Perhaps the most visually intriguing but confounding instrument at the booth was this little geometric puzzle with lighted transparent tubes sticking out in all directions:

It turned out to be a prototype for the Akasha synthsizer from Jomox. Today, J├╝rgen Michaelis from Jomox demonstrated his new device:

In the corner behind the Jomox devices was an increasingly rare analog TV monotor, which was displaying audio from Critter and Guitari instruments rendered using an audio-to-video converter (also by Critter and Guitari).

The simple video converter caught my interest, especially if I decide to do more with video synthesis in the near future.

Thanks as always to the folks at Big City Music for being very hospitable and supportive of CatSynth!

Big City Music at NAMM

One of the perennial destinations at NAMM is the both of Big City Music. They have quite a collection of both vintage electronic musical instruments and contemporary analog electronics.

The highlight this year was a live performance with a Dewanatron by Leon Dewan:

It was hard to hear it well in the hall environment, unfortunately.

I also was looking closely at some of the analog modular offerings:

Above as a system primarily with Kilpatrick Audio modules for both sound and control. Below is a case full of Metasonix modules, distinctive with their protruding vacuum tubs and yellow color.

Big City announced a new metasonix module, the Thyratron VCO. I was able to listen to it and other modules (VCF, Waveshaper, etc.). Metasonix modules look a bit intense (and their description text can be a bit menacing), but the modules themselves had an unexpectedly subtle sound. That is, until you pick just the right modulation, then it gets more interesting. The wave shaper remains my favorite of theirs.

Big City Music

One of the “destinations” at NAMM is the booth of Big City Music, who always feature an array of analog synthesizers and esoteric musical instruments.

This rack featured modules from Metasonix and Wiard:

I have been interested in getting something from Metasonix for a while. But there also plenty of things to consider on this “toy shelf”:

In the lower left is a circuit bent toy from the Speak and Spell series. Above it are various effects pedals from 4ms Pedals:

The pedals all have very appealing visual designs (especially the Bend Matrix in the foreground), as well as interesting sound. You can hear some clips on their website.

I had a chance to play the Persephone Mark 2 from Eowave:

It featuring a “duophonic ribbon”, which allows one to use two fingers on the ribbon simultaneously to play chords with continuous pitch changes and produce unusual elastic harmonies.

Here we see a Dewanatron, I believe this one is a Hynmotron, with two ribbons for controlling sound:

We have encountered the Dewanatron in a previous post.

We received a professional demo of of the Surfin Step Sequencer from Surfin Kangaroo Studio, including its remote control capabilities:

Finally, we had a chance to try out the new digital simulation of the classic Mellotron synthesizer:

It was set up such that one could play both the original (below) and the new digital simulation prototype (above). The simulation faired quite well in an A/B comparison, including trying to play both simultaneously.

Election fun, electronic music, and seriousness

Well, we’re getting close, and things are looking good:

(This is a live link, so it will show the final results, and we’ll see how “good” things really went.)

One delightful election story that is rather apropos of this site involves Brian Dewan. He was in the news this past Saturday because of his performances of historical political folk songs (think mildly irritating songs about Jimmy Carter, Nixon or Eisenhower), but Dewan’s true claims to fame are his unqiue electronic musical instruments, including Melody Gins and Dewantrons, and “Folk Synthesizers.” We at CatSynth are delighted to see politics and our own art form crossing paths in such a direct and public way. As for Dewan’s instruments – we want one!.

This reminds me of how electronic music crossed paths for me during the previous elections, when I attended ICMC in New Orleans in 2006; and in 2004 as well, when my fellow electronic musicians and I watched the defeat at a bar in Miami. Things are looking much better this time.

We at CatSynth have also been quite amused by some of the humorous and well-designed sites that have recently appeared, most notably This Flash animation depicts Sarah Palin as President (presumably after McCain’s untimely demise) in the form of an interactive game where you click on different objects (it reminds my a lot of Myst series and similar games from the 1990s). Humor abounds, as you uncover stashes from huge shopping trips, make Palin say goofy things like “Where’s Russia” and variations on “Maverick.” It is being updated every day through November 4th, and it’s always fun to come back and see what’s new. Hours, or least minutes of quality entertainment.

One thing that is not so entertaining: a mailer I received, using Barack Obama’s image and words to support Proposition 8. He is officially against it – though he hasn’t been particular vocal about the issue, mostly because of cultural blackmail in certain regions and among certain demographics. Nonetheless, it is really troubling, hopefully it doesn’t sway anyone in this largely Obama-supporting state.

The ad seemed largely targeted at African Americans, given the images and quotes from black clergy. It made me wonder about my own ethnic hertiges and their support for marriage equality. In particular, the Indian side of my heritage. I did find this survey thanks to Prerna. It suggests a 47% vote against proposition 8, which is far higher than I expected. Given my own experience (as well as the stereotypes of Indian Americans), I would have expected far lower, as we (i.e., South Asians) have an embarrassing track record on social and cultural issues. So on that note, I am somewhat optimistic. But both Prerna and I agree, “We can do so much better.”

And that’s true for the country as a whole, we can do so much better. Hopefully, we will chose that option, both nationally and locally…