Pi Day Composition Redux

It’s a bit of an on-again-off-again tradition on Pi Day (3-14 in the United States) to share my composition based on the digits of Pi.

It was based on the binary digits rather than decimal digits of Pi, which seemed more universal and also more logical to work with. It uses stretched impulses and square waves for the sounds themselves. At least that is what I recall. It was written in 2011. It’s probably time to revisit the concept with a new piece…

NAMM 2017 Apocrypha and Final Thoughts

In this article, we go over a few remaining items from NAMM, and share some final thoughts as well.

The DATA module from Mordax takes the trend of built-in displays to another level. The large color screen displays a variety of functions, including oscilloscope, tuner , waveform generator and clock. It also has quite a few utility signal functions. It seems like quite the useful item for a medium or large modular system. Plus it looks great!

It’s a common problem with modular synthesizer systems to end up with 2hp empty and nothing to fill it with, except maybe a branded plate. 2hp quite literally fills this niche with a large selection of functional modules exactly 2hp wide.

We could all use extra multiples, or another envelope generator, or VCA. But their 2hp offerings include oscillators and filters. We could see these in various cases to get some handy functionality when needed.

Delptronics has made quite a few modules for percussion synthesis as well as for complex triggering of other modules. Their product line has grown; and we were particularly curious about the new spring module an its electro-acoustic possibilities.

We are always curious to see what 4ms has to offer, as the Spectral Multiband Filter has become one of our favorite modules for a variety of musical purposes. Their new offerings this year included a sampler module and tappable delay, which are shown in the upper right of the following photo.

There was of course more at the modular super booth and in the neighboring booths beyond what we have been able to cover this year. It will be inevitable that some products and manufactures don’t get mentioned in the blog, though we do have more on our Instagram feed during the show. We will have to figure out if there are any logistical changes we might want to try next year in order to see more while still remaining authentic and having the fun time at NAMM that we always do.


The trip home, despite the pouring rain and flooding in the LA Basin, ultimately turned out to be a pleasant one. I suppose I had a bit of a glow from the show, and full of ideas on how to move forward musically and personally in the challenging times ahead.

Even with the literal rainstorms outside and the dark pall cast by the political situation, inside the convention center we were all able to be ourselves and follow our passions for music and music technology. That doesn’t mean that outside reality didn’t intrude. It was impossible not to despair a bit on inauguration day; and by contrast Saturday with the Women’s Marches gave a bit of optimism. Mostly, I just kept doing what I came to NAMM to do. We hope you have enjoyed following our coverage, and we’ll be back doing it again next year barring some world-changing catastrophe (which unfortunately could happen).

NAMM 2017: Qu-Bit Electronix

Our friends at Qu-Bit Electronix have quite a few new modules this year, as well as a refresh of their overall design.

The heart of the new modules is Rhythm, a multichannel pattern generator with real-time control over variations. Together with the Wave multi-sampler and Chord four-voice oscillator, the new set forms an autonomous instrument in itself. But the Nano Rand is still our favorite 😉

You can see the entire suite of Qu-Bit Electronix modules inside a bubble in this video.

New Qu-bit modules in a bubble. #namm2017 #namm

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

You can find out more about Qu-Bit Electronix offerings here.

NAMM 2017: Bitwig Studio and BASTL Instruments

Music software maker Bitwig teamed up with modular-synthesizer maker BASTL Instruments as booth featuring hardware and software together. Bitwig’s new Studio software was running on a YUGE Microsoft Surface tablet and controlling a special BASTL modular system.

We wrote about BASTL Instruments last year, in particular about their modules that allow external sensors and actuators to be used with modular synthesizers and their unique “wooden” design for the faceplates. Bitwig Studio is a bit of a new discovery for us. It has many of the features and characteristics of Ableton Live!, but with its own more modular architecture for instruments and compatibility with Linux in addition to Windows and macOS. You can see a bit of these systems working together in our video.

So the question is whether Bitwig Studio is a reasonable alternative to Ableton Live! – for us, it would probably occupy the same functions as Live!: a secondary DAW to use with Pro Tools for performance elements, and a software hub for live performance. The demo suggests that it could do those functions, but whether or not it would a better option or not is unclear. In particular, Max/MSP integration would be missed. But it does have a powerful scripting system.

For BASTL Instruments, we are still most intrigued by their rich offering of external I/O beyond traditional musical instruments, along with their percussion synthesizers. The combination of this with a touchscreen DAW like Bitwig Studio opens up some new possibilities…

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

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: 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: 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: Elektron Digitakt and Analog Heat

We begin our real NAMM 2017 coverage with offerings from Elektron. Many folks in our community have been anticipating the Digitakt.

The Digitalk is a compact unit combining a drum synth engine, multitrack sequencer with both MIDI and audio capabilities, and sampler. This will be very handy for those who work with those classes of instrument and want a quick and easy set up. While we weren’t able to hear it today, the demo case had a rather interesting video background.

Also on display was the Analog Heat, billed as both an “audio enhancer” and “audio destroyer”.

We were able to play this one. The different preset settings were quite diverse and would add to live performance, given a good sound system. The equalizer and filter sections were interesting to play with as well. They had a clean sound that didn’t muddy the source. Unless of course you want it to. Then it can become the audio destroyer that is is billed as. This is clearly intended as the last in a chain for live use, a final stage before the PA or amp.