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.

Booth 5000 (Modular Synths) at NAMM, Part 1

Our friends in the modular-synth world are moving up at NAMM, with a collective booth at the front of the show right near giants like Moog and Dave Smith Instruments.  It’s a bit much to take in all at once, as modules and module-makers continue to proliferate.  This will be the first of a few articles covering just this booth.

One new set of modules, and perhaps the oddest, comes from BASTL Instruments.

BASTL Instruments

In addition to the wood texture, there are modules that can control motors, solenoids and other outboard electronic elements.  It does bring to mind some ideas for sound installations and live performances.  You can hear a bit of these modules in this video.

Soulby presented Eurorack modular versions of 8-bit processing modules more messing with voice and other input signals.

Soulby

Delays and looping seem to be a thing this year. 4ms had a new looper and delay module whose novel feature is audio rate control of the functions for unusual flange delays and other continuous effects.

4ms

While the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator is not new for this year, it is still one I am excited about.

QuBit Electronix has a new sequencer module with a circular pattern; and a new polyphonic oscillator with individual controls and VCAs. You can see and hear both of them in this short video.

@qubitelectronix polyphonic oscillator in action! #namm

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

Synthrotek is focusing on full systems, including a MIDI-CV converter that supports bi-directional clocks. One can use heavily modulated CV clocks to control time-based elements on MIDI synthesizers with this feature.

Synthrotek

And KOMA Elektronik returned with their massive sequencer, looking more refined. And it has a lot of lights!

KOMA Electronik Sequencer

More from this both and beyond in coming articles.

NAMM: KOMA Eletronik, QuBit, 4ms

Today we continue with the panoply of synth module manufactures that we say at this year’s NAMM show.

One instrument that garnered quite a bit of attention (and deservedly) so was the new Komplex Sequencer from our friends at KOMA Eletronik.

KOMA Komplex Sequencer

First of all, it is sleek and beautiful. But it is also quite powerful. It features four independent 16-step sequencers supporting both MIDI and CV/Gate. The sequencers can each be set to play in one of five modes (forward, backward, ping-pong, ping-pong reversed, random); and CV can be quantized to various Western scales (for those who need such things in their music). The size of control and combined support for MIDI and CV would be a lot in itself. I am definitely looking forward to seeing this ship in the near future.

QuBit

Qu-bit Electronix presented some modules that are also going to be our “want” list. The Nubulae may not be new for 2015, but it seems extremely useful compositionally. It reads and renders audio files from a flash drive, but with CV-based control for speed, pitch, and granular synthesis. The NanoRand is a tiny module that packs four different randomization functions along with a bright multi-color LED (it’s that big purple light in the photo above). Switching among the four functions via a sequencer creates some very intriguing musical patterns.

Finally, we at CatSynth were quite interested in the new Spectral Filter from 4ms. It is a spectral multi band resonant filter that can sculpt and amplify sections of a signal to create harmonic (or inharmonic) structures.

4ms

A unique feature was the circular control that allows one to “rotate” around the spectrum. I found myself comparing this to the newly released additive synthesis module from Make Noise (you can read about it here. They are both spectral manipulators and can some similar in particular moments, though they approach and instrument architecture is quite different.

New analog modular improvisation, May 9

Here is another improvisation, or perhaps a meditation, on the analog modular synth. Enjoy!

This one used most of the modules in the system, including the Metasonix R53, both Make Noise modules, the Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology, the Koma Electronic SVF-201 filter, the Polyvoks filter, and the Noisering from Malekko Heavy Technology, all mixed together via Pittsburgh Modular’s Mixer and Out. The Noisering was in many ways the foundational element for this meditation.

Please share your thoughts either in the comment section here or on SoundCloud.

Pitta of the Mind and Mezzacappa-Phillips Duo, Luggage Store Gallery

Today we look back at my latest performance with Pitta of the Mind at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, a show that also featured a set by the Mezzacappa-Phillips duo.

Pitta of the Mind is my music-and-poetry duo with poet Maw Shein Win. It was our fourth performance as a duo, and probably our most polished to date. As with our previous performance at last year’s Skronkathon, we selected a color as the overarching theme for the set. That time it was silver, this time it was blue, which was reflected in our costumes, props (including a little blue tree), and the content of some of the poems. The selections were a bit darker and melancholy than at the Skronkathon, and overall the set had a more serious feel. There were, however, humorous moments in both words and interpretive dance moves from Maw. For the music behind the poems, I used a variety of iPad apps including Sunrizer, Animoog and Bebot. The challenge was to provide sound that fit with the poems without overpowering them.


[Maw Shein Win. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

After the main course of our poetry-and-music set, I played a solo improvisation on the analog modular system as dessert.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

A subpatch with the E350 Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology, the Make Noise Maths, and the KOMA Eletronik SVF-201 filter formed the foundation, with other modules patched in and out during the course of the performance. I was aiming for noisy rhythmic patterns, and sometimes succeed, while at other times allowed the sound to move in the direction of longer drones or unstable chaos.


[Click to enlarge.]

The set was well received by the small but appreciated audience, and we got quite a few positive comments for both words, music and our coordinated blue outfits.

Lisa Mezzacappa and Noah Phillips opened with with a set of improvised music for upright base and guitar, respectively. Both are virtuosic improvisers, and I expected good things from their set. They explored a wide variety of extended techniques, some percussive and some more drone-like, and moving freely between more structured and free-form rhythms. Overall, the timbres, harmonies and textures were quite beautiful and visually evocative.


[Noah Phillips and Lisa Mezzacappa. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Interestingly, this was not the first time we shared the bill with the Mezzacappa-Phillips duo. We were all together at a show in Oakland in 2011. I’m glad we had the change to perform together again.

NAMM: Analogue Haven

The visit the Analogue Haven booth is another of the annual pilgrimages at the NAMM show. The highlight of my visit this year was a performance by Richard Devine on a system consisting exclusively of Make Noise modules.

This virtuosic performance showed what these modules are truly capable of with practice. The music moved between rhythmic staccato textures and longer resonant tones in multiple layers. It was also a showcase for the DPO, Make Noise’s oscillator, which was the only tone generator in this system. I have a Make Noise Maths and an Ecophon, and the performance inspired me to practice these along with the other modules to get more complex musical results.

Analog video is looking like a potential area of creative expansion, and LZX Industries was prominently demonstrating their video modules. Here we see our mascot being processed live.

One thing I would like to see more in video synthesis is interaction between analog audio, video and control signals.

On the opposite end from the modules was the massive Schmidt Eightvoice Polyphonic Synthesizer. A beautiful looking instrument with an interesting set of filters inspired be Moog and Oberheim:

This synthesizer is truly a labor of love by its creator Stefan Schmidt, who spent many years on this project. It remains to be seen if it will sell.

Other quick views from around the Analogue Haven booth included this demo of modules from Snazzy FX:

Percussion modules and a novel sequencer from Delptronics:

And the distinctive orange controls of the Harvestman modules.

There were three new releases from Harvestman, including a new Hertz Donut.

And the distinctive clean white design of Koma Elektronik, including the SVF-201 Vactrol Filter module and their infrared controller.

It is great to see the popularity of the analog instruments and new designs coming each year. If there are any drawbacks, it is that the field of available modules and effects boxes has become quite bewildering, and that the Analogue Haven booth is always quite crowded.

Analog modular improvisation

Here is a little track I created last night improvising with a few of the modules in my Eurorack system. Enjoy!

This analog modular improvisation featured the Wiard Anti-Oscillator and Noisering from Malekko Heavy Industry, Make Noise Maths, and KOMA SVF-201.

CatSynth video:KOMA Elektronik goes guerrilla at Musikmesse 2012

We at CatSynth can’t be at Muskmesse this year, so we are living vicariously through our friends at KOMA Elektronik.

ore information: http://www.koma-elektronik.com/musikmesse
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KOMAelektronik

As a small Berlin based analog effects manufacturer we have no large promotion budget, this is why this year KOMA Elektronik will go guerrilla at Musikmesse 2012. Instead of the “usual” booth the KOMA crew will be driving the press and everybody else who is interested in our products around in the “KOMA Cab,” and we’ll throw a big party on thursday night. You wanna fight the good fight with us?

PLAYING AT OUR PARTY (MARCH 22ND):

EMIL NIKOLAISEN & ÅDNE MEISFJORD (Serena-Maneesh, NO) (4AD)
http://4ad.com/artists/serenamaneesh

KAAP DE GOEDE HOOP (Planty Herbs, NL) (WAX-ON Records)
http://soundcloud.com/kaapdegoedehoop

O TANNENBAUM DJ’S (Ole Records, Berlin)
http://o-tannenbaum-berlin.de/

Analog Haven at NAMM

I often find myself spending quite a bit of time at the booth of Analog Haven at NAMM. It is an opportunity to see quite a variety of analog instruments (and a few not-quite-analog), and meet several of the small independent makers. The visit took on added significance as I cautiously wade into adding analog modular to my own arsenal of musical instruments.

We big with KOMA Elektronic, who showed off a prototype of their new Kommander, an infrared motion controller with multiple axes of control. It joins their existing effects boxes in their product line:

We also had fun with the fact the industrial design, particularly the geometric black-and-white pattern, match my own aesthetics in terms of dress and decor.

Make Noise is known for their unique and complex modules for audio processing and control. They had several new offerings, including the Echophon whose sound I quite liked.


[Click to enlarge.]

The Echophon is a collaboration with Tom Erbe of SoundHack, and is a reverse of the usual trend in that digital character is re-imagined in the analog domain. Make Noise also presented their first oscillator, the DPO.

Another module that particularly caught my fancy was the Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology. It is a wavetable VCO that contains numerous waveforms, but more significantly it has parameters for “morphing” or moving among the different wavetables. With the right self modulation, this can lead to very surprising and complex waveforms:

Another interesting new find was an analog modular video synthesizer from LZX Industries.

Like analog audio counterparts, the LZX modules generate, process and modulate analog video signals. Think of it as being the boxes that each do all the little pieces of an old TV studio but with creative routing and control. You can see a little bit of video below:

I did specifically ask about mixing audio modules with the video modules (LZX uses the standard Eurorack format), and was informed that yes, this can be done, though one would need to match the voltages between the two domains, and keep in mind that the frequency ranges of video are much higher.

Visual interest and catchy names are a big part of the inspiration in many of the small boutique offerings. These pedals from Audible Disease were quite creative.

Among the visual designs, this simple switcher caught my attention. It reminded me a bit of my visit to the Communist Propaganda Museum in Shanghai.

Other offerings included the ARCHANGEL, an analog sequencer with touch plate controllers, from Detachment 3.

And these pedals from Lightfoot Labs:

The Goatkeeper 3 is a tremolo pedal with analog signal path, but with a variety of waveforms (including the ability to record your own), and a sequencer for even more complex modulation.

There was a lot more at the booth, more than I can do in one article. I hope to see more of these instrument makers as I personally explore analog synthesis in greater depth.

And