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.
At NAMM, one tries out a lot of instruments and walks away wanting to have a good number of them. The novelty fades quickly, but some you find that you continue to really want. The Magneto module from Strymon is in the latter category.
The Magneto is a four-head tape delay simulator. Its controls are very intuitive and playable, with enough flexibility to be used to generate spring-reverb-like sounds as well as function as a looping device via a mode switch. You can see our first attempts with the Magneto in this video.
Strymon put a lot of attention to detail both in terms of sound design and usability into this device. And as one would expect from a Eurorack module, just about every function can receive external CV input, making it more of a musical instrument in its own right than it would be in a studio rack or even a guitar pedalboard. We were able to observe the delay and looping functions in great detail, but it was more challenging to discern the tape-effect functions, such as “wow-flutter” and “crinkle”. Part of that is just the chaotic environment of NAMM (even in the more calm depth of Hall E). Hopefully, we will get a chance to try those out in more detail in the near future.
We continue to work our way through our experiences from NAMM 2018 with the Arturia MiniBrute 2.
The original MiniBrute made quite a splash a few years ago with its all-analog signal path, usability, and low price. It also had a sound that was distinct from other low-cost analog synths, in part because of the “Brute Factor” knob. That knob is back in the MiniBrute 2 along with a Steiner-Parker filter that together with the Brute oscillator gives the instrument its sound. But there is now a second oscillator, and, perhaps more significantly, a modulation matrix and patch bay.
The built-in synthesizer topology includes a lot more modulation than the original, and the patch bay allows for reconfiguration and expansion with the RackBrute Eurorack cases that integrate 3U or 6U or modules with the MiniBrute in a single case. This does seem to be a trend we are seeing with built-in patch bays to full analog mono synths (the Moog Mother-32 being the prime example). One can also interpret the MiniBrute 2 as incorporating ideas from the flagship MatrixBrute writ small. The ecosystem also includes an alternate form-factor, the 2S, which has drum pads reminiscent of the BeatStep Pro instead of the keyboard.
We were only able to scratch the surface at NAMM, and also had a bit of difficulty with our video. So we are hoping to provide a more in-depth look at this instrument both here and on CatSynth TV in the not too distant future.
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.
NAMM is full of serendipitous moments. One of those occurred as we passed the WMD booth and saw a live performance unfolding with flute and woodwind virtuoso Pedro Eustache performing on a vintage wind instrument controlling a WMD Synchrodyne module. We featured it on CatSynth TV.
Eustache informed us that his wind instrument was an unusual one from the 1970s, and that he was using it as a CV controller for the Synchrodyne. He found the combination to be quite expressive and complete, and we can certainly hear that in his performance.
The Synchrodyne is intended to be a complete synthesizer voice in a module, and it has the combination of sawtooth VCO, filter, and VCA that are the building blocks of subtractive synthesis. But it also includes a built-in Phase-Locked Loop (PLL) controlling the VCO, which adds a variety of new sound and control dimensions. PLLs can be challenging to use – the concept implies stability but often includes chaotic phases – but controls on the PLL for dampening, speed and input influence provide more musical control. Additionally, the VCO provides support for frequency modulation. Finally, there is a wavefolder on the front end of the filter that provides additional non-linear signal processing and distortion options. WMD puts it succinctly in their description of the module:
Containing several pieces to a traditional synthesizer voice, the Synchrodyne is a powerful addition to any subtractive oriented system. However, it is designed primarily as an experimental sound source/filter, intended to push the limits of modular synthesis…WMD style.
This is not your classic subtractive analog synthesizer voice, as one might find in a Moog synthesizer or the Korg Prologue that we reviewed in an earlier article. It is a beast, but with practice, we see how it can be an expressive musical instrument on its own. We look forward to trying it out ourselves one of these days. And we thank Pedro Eustace for being so gracious after the performance and sharing with us his process making music with the Synchrodyne and his wind controller. From his official website:
“In Pedro’s own words: ‘I simply hope–and I really work hard at this, through ‘active submission’–that someday, whenever I see my Creator I would be able to give Him an answer worthy of the ‘package-of- grace’ he entrusted me with.'”
We visited our friends at Rossum Electro-Music at NAMM and were treated to an in-depth demonstration of their Assimil8or module by Marco Alpert.
We are grateful to Marco for his demonstration, not just because it made our video awesome, but because it helped better understand what is a complex module. The Assimil8or is a sample engine with many of the features one found in classic E-MU samplers, and more (Dave Rossum being the mastermind behind E-MU’s popular instruments). One particularly intriguing advance was the timed switching among samples, which allows one to move between different tracks seamlessly while remaining in time (the Cars example in the video demonstrates this quite well). There is also “virtual tape-scrubbing” of audio. Of course, everything is CV controllable.
Combining the Assimil8or with the Morpheus module (which we at CatSynth own and enjoy) and the Control Forge, one can assemble something akin to an E-MU sampler on steroids, with vastly more complex and rich control options, including at audio rate! Even the Morpheus on its own is rather overwhelming, but having seen the modules in action by the folks who made gives us ideas on how to use it better. We look forward to more experiments with these modules from Rossum Electro-Music!
More info can be found at http://www.rossum-electro.com.
(Disclosure: Amanda Chaudhary of CatSynth used to work for E-MU Systems, several of whose principals are now at Rossum Electro-Music.)
One of our first stops at NAMM 2018 was to visit our friends at Qu-Bit Electronix to see what they are up to. They have three new modules, Synapse, Nebulae MK2, and Scanned. We had a chance to try them out for ourselves – you can see a bit of our experience in this video.
We at CatSynth own and enjoy using the original Nebulae module, but the MK2 is a significant improvement, with more versatile and expressive controls for pitch, speed, and granularity (rate, window, etc.). The main speed button traverses quite a range both forward and backward, and features a quick reset to unity by pressing. Similar functionality is available with the pitch button. The granularity features go beyond the original, including the ability to freeze the sound in place to create a steady timbre from any section of a recording.
The Scanned module is perhaps the first hardware implementation of scanned synthesis technique pioneered by Max Matthews and others. The simplest way to describe it is as a system that provides the control of a struck or plucked string, but with a far greater range of sound than a vibrating string, such as any wavetable source. The module has independent controls for pluck, tension, and many more parameters, of course all individually controlled via CV. With pitch and gate input, it becomes the starting block for a rich modular instrument.
Although not included in the video demo, the Synapse is an interesting and handy module for mixing, switching, and otherwise routing a variety of CV sources to various destinations all from a single module. It makes your CV sources more like a mixer with cross-fades and such.
It’s always fun to check in with Qu-Bit, and we look forward to seeing more of these modules.