Sometimes Sam Sam ends up in CatSynth pics of her own, as when she recently got up to explore the redesigned studio space. She is fascinated by the new decorative shelves as well as the narrow band between the video/office corner and the modular synth.
Perhaps she is picking up some scents on the modular case from our recent live performances.
I have been having a lot of fun in the studio lately, especially making videos and exploring our synthesizer collection in greater depth. I really should be working on some more formal compositions, but it seems I am in more of experimenting and exploratory mood at the moment. I have also, unfortunately, been battling insomnia. It ebbs and flows, and on the worst night (about a week ago), I decided to sit up for a while and play with the Roland JP-08 boutique synth.
The size is actually ideal for playing in bed late at night. I spent some time exploring the architecture (it’s basically a Jupiter 8 with a few extensions) and came up with some new and unusual patches. We hope to share them with you in an upcoming CatSynth TV.
As we get ready for our next Pitta of the Mind show this Thursday, March 8, we look back at our recent show at Pro Arts in Oakland, where we were joined by Usufruct, Alex Cruse, and Murder Murder. You can see a bit of all four groups in this recent CatSynth TV episode.
Pitta of the Mind’s color theme (we always have a color or pattern theme) for this evening was blue and featured blue-themed poems by Maw Shein Win, many from her new book Invisible Gifts.
[Photo by Tom Scandura]
I used the Prophet 12 synthesizer, along with the modular system, my trusty Nord Stage, and some percussion instruments to create a musical interplay with the words as well as the space between them.
Even though we haven’t performed in a while and only had one rehearsal, I felt this was one of our strongest performances – and the feedback I got from the audience backed up that perception. In particular, I think the poem “You Will Be With Me in a Town Called Paradise” came out particularly well, with a sultry vibe and jazzy accompaniment on electric piano.
After our set, Usufruct, the duo of Polly Moller Springhorn and Tim Walters took the stage.
[Photo by Tom Scandura]
As the word “usufruct” implies, they make use of materials for which they have usage rights beyond ownership, such as public-domain text sources. Polly’s vocal interpretations of the texts are processed electronically by Tim using custom programs written in SuperCollider. The end result is simultaneously dark and playful. But beyond the text sections, I was particularly taken with the instrumental portion at the beginning, which featured bass flute live and electronically processed.
Alex Cruse brought a very different vibe and sensibility to the evening, with an electronic performance that focused on beats, loops, and hits.
There were many delightful sounds and many hard-edged industrial noise moments as well. The vocals were deliberately obscured by heavy distortion and other processing but provided a percussive element that worked well with the rhythms.
The final set by Murder Murder was again something altogether different. With two drummers, two horns, two electronic performers, and vocals, it was nonstop intensity from the first drum hit.
The intensity continued for several minutes and then came to a sudden close. It was the musical equivalent of a tornado tearing through our calm evening of voice and electronics, but perhaps it was a fitting coda to the evening.
We thank Pro Arts and Sarah Lockhart for having us at this series, which has become quite a mainstay of the Oakland scene. I hope to be back again soon with one of my other projects. And of course, we are looking forward to our next Pitta of the Mind Show – where we will once again be joined by Usufruct – at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco on Thursday, March 8 at 8 PM.
Purim is the “most synthesizer-y” of Jewish holidays, given that one of it’s central rituals is noisemaking. This year we created a synthesizer demo running sounds from a gragger through several modules.
The demo uses a mixture of pre-recorded gragger on the QuBit Nebulae and live sound via the Mikrophonie and Make Noise Echophon. The full list of modules used in the Purim demo is:
Make Noise Echophon
Qu-Bit Nebulae (v1)
Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus
Make Noise Maths
Make Noise Tempi
Malekko Heavy Industry Noisering
I do wish I already had a Qu-bit Nebulae v2 for this project. You can see our review of v2 from NAMM 2018 here.
Purim is a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from the king’s wicked advisor Haman, as told in the book of Esther. Traditionally, the gragger is used to mask the name of Haman when said out loud during readings.
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.