Strymon has long been known for their effects pedals, which are highly regarded. Now they have entered into the worked of Eurorack synth modules with the Generalissimo.
The Generalissmo (cute name, by the way) is a four-head tape echo simulator with a range of additional features. The four delay tops can be switched on and off and independently controlled. There are also independent controls for each tap/head’s playback time. The taps each send an individual clock out, allowing one to drive a sequencer that in turn feeds into the delay unit for interesting rhythmic effects. A clock input allows this all to be controlled externally.
There are additional global controls that affect the quality of the sound, including familiar speed and feedback as well as tape age, crinkle and wow and lutter; and even a separate spring reverb control. Quite a lot in one unit. I wasn’t able to hear the tape age, crinkle and wow&flutter knobs work in the demo, though the main controls worked well and the unit sounded great. It was very smooth and the clock sync is quite a nice touch. There also a “sound-on-sound” mode that turns it into a tape loop simulator, though I wasn’t able to try that out.
An interesting question for me is what this module provides that the combination of a Make Noise Echophon and Phonogene do not (I currently own both of those). Clearly it packs more into one unit, and on the echo side has the four taps. But the clock(s) make be what set it apart musically, as well as the differences in sound characteristics. I hope to see and hear more if this module when it is released later this year.
During a break at NAMM, a friend showed me the tag line for Biotek that described it as an “organic synthesizer.” That sounded quite intriguing, though also a bit baffling. Did it contain biological elements or designs based on organic systems? It turned out to be a new software synthesizer from Tracktion. It uses high-quality field-recordings from nature as sample sources and incorporates them into a full-featured synth architecture. The centerpiece of the synth and its user interface is a function that morphs between the natural sound and different degrees of processing from the rest of the synthesizer.
It is quite striking to look at. Playing with just the central control is fun. The sounds are unique, especially in the middle between fully synthesized and fully nature-sample. I had fun playing a patch based on avian sounds from the connected keyboard and found myself thinking of musical ways to combine it with analog sounds. Whether it would be a novel feature for a handful of tracks or an regular instrument is hard to say – I leave that to other musicians to explore and decide.
All during the demo of Biotek, I was listening to the sound on Tracktions new (and first) hardware interface, the Copper Reference.
As one can see in the photo above, it is gorgeous. The case is a shiny copper finish with soft edges, topped with two vacuum tubes. The vacuum tubes are part of a selectable overdrive circuit for the inputs. It also contains high-end high-sample-rate D/A and A/D converters. It sounded great in the Biotek demos, though a NAMM booth is not an environment where I can discern its character compared to others. It is definitely a boutique interface that will carry a high price tag ($5000 USD), especially for just stereo. But it is gorgeous!
In the midst of all the excitement about music technology and gear, we need to remember that our ears are our most important music technology, and a very difficult technology to replace. I have been quite protective of mine over the past few years, especially while I was playing in an exceptionally loud band (Surplus 1980). But I misplaced on my custom Sensaphonics ear plugs last year. And while I did use generic protection at times after that, I also got a bit lax, and likely paid a price for it.
So as NAMM came around again, it seemed right to get fitted for new replacements from Sensaphonics, who offer a discount and free fitting during the show. The combination of the custom shaping and active reduction element (I got the -15dB version) have generally given me both better protection and better fidelity of the reduced sound, especially when at loud rehearsals or on stage. The fitting was a bit uncomfortable due my rather petite ears, but well worth the effort. And as a treat, they come in a variety of colors and I chose a translucent blue (similar to the photo shown above). Sensaphonics also makes custom in-ear monitors, but that is not as much of a priority for my musical performance as ear protection.
We close reminding all our musician friends, and those go to hear live music, to please take care of your hearing!