Teenage Engineering is always fun. That goes for both playing the instruments and visiting their both at NAMM. We remember the OP-1 from the previous show:
Teenage Engineering introduced Oplab this time around. It’s a DIY system with a small versatile connectivity hub and variety of available sensors, including this shoe:
The heart of the system is the Oplab device itself, with CV inputs and outputs (in a format that connects easily to Eurorack format modules, the OP-1 and other devices), MIDI and USB. The USB can used to connect to an iPad to control synth apps or receive control data. Similarly, the analog CV and custom digital connections serve both directions. In addition to the shoe, they have several available sensors, including pressure, tap and rotation, though they strongly encourage users to bring their own.
The little eviscerated hard-drive on the right is an example of the DIY spirit of the system. It turns out one can spin the disk inside a hard drive and generate useful pulses for temporal control. I had never thought of using a hard drive as a controller before.
The Oplab and its related devices should be available later this spring. I’m definitely intrigued.
The modular had a deep sound that cut through even the hall noise. The Lunar Experience modules, however, were the controllers. Other modules (in the Synthesizers.com 5U format) were used for sound generation, but the demo should how it would be straightforward to use in a live situation.
Dr. Lonnie Smith on a Hammond Sk2 organ at the Hammond-Suzuki booth at NAMM.
Once again, the sound quality isn’t that good given the noise in the hall (and the bonus commentary by others in the audience), but it gives a little taste of the performance. This is the “other pole” of my musical experience, with jazz and jam performance, and its always good to get back into it even for a moment.
Yesterday at NAMM I had a chance to see the new Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo. It was a prototype, so it was demo-only at the time. It was definitely designed with Ableton Live in mind, with a layout and style that would be familiar to users. I liked the use of lighting to provide feedback, and the controller had a comfortable touch. In all, it seemed more “graceful” than the other Ableton Live controllers that have proliferated in the last few years. And it is about the size of an iPad. Which of course opens up the question of how such a controller compares to using an iPad. Certainly, the tactile feedback is helpful.
I would be curious to see how it does with other software or in a custom environment.
The MiniBrute features a pure analog signal path (a first for Arturia). It has an oscillator bank with the usual complement of waveforms (sawtooth, square, PWM) as well as a sub-octave oscillator. As such, it reminded me a lot of the Octave Kitten, and I was able to get some similar sounds out of it when I set the cutoff on the filter low (and the resonance high). I thing it would sound great with a proper amp with bass response. It didn’t have a chance to put it through the modulation paces to see of the LFO was also similar to the Octave synths.
Others had their own comparisons. The Roland SH-101 seems to be a common comparison in terms of the sound. I think many of us who were surprised to see this instrument and happy with its USD $549 starting price all wanted to project our own analog favorites onto it.
Another perennial stop at NAMM is the ever-growing booth of Dave Smith Instruments. I had a chance to talk with one of the senior representatives on my regular use of the DSI Evolver in my live shows and my fondness for the instrument (despite the tendency of the knobs to fall off). I of course also had to play the Mopho because it was there:
But the real star of the booth this year was the Dave Smith Instruments Tempest, a collaboration of Dave Smith and Roger Linn.
I started with an existing pattern in the sequencer and immediately used the drum pads to subvert the pattern while attempting to remain in the tempo and meter. The pads are very comfortable and playable, and I found it quite intuitive to get different effects of each even without knowing in advance that they would do that.
This would be a great instrument to have in a live performance (and for recording as well), but probably something to ponder for a later time given its retail price of USD $1999.
Yesterday I visited the Moog Music both and in additional to expressing to them my fondness for their iPad apps (in particular, the Animoog), I had a chance to try out the new Moog Minitaur.
The Minitaur is, as the name would suggest, a miniature Taurus. It has the Taurus VCO (with that nasty sawtooth sound one would expect) and Moog Ladder filters. It connects via USB/MIDI for control and has audio input. But perhaps the feature that had many of us most interested was the MSRP of USD $599. Moog instruments are usually on the expensive side, this one is more in the range of the Moogerfooger pedals and seemingly quite affordable.
It was of course quite easy and addictive to play.
I did something this morning at NAMM that I should have done a long time ago: get properly fitted hearing protection. The company Sensaphonics was offering a special on this, so I took advantage.
I got a harsh reminder last night while listening to an otherwise great performance with Dr Lonnie Smith and Bernard Purdie featuring classic jazz/funk jam-style music. It was quite loud and I probably did some more damage, as has been steadily occurring over the years. So I made sure to stop by the Sensaphonics booth early today. They gave their description of what the customized ear plugs did in terms of frequency response, etc. – I let them know that I have taken psychoacoustics classes and quite familiar with audio and signal-processing mathematics. So we got to business. The process was quite painless, and the period of near silence in the crowded hall with the in-ear foam models were made was a meditative experience. They should be arriving in a few weeks, in time for next ReCardiacsFly concert with Surplus 1980 in San Francisco that I expect to be quite loud.
Please take care of your ears, they are our most important musical instruments.
iPad docks seem to be a theme this year at NAMM. Basically, these are high-end iPad shells that provide audio and MIDI I/O functionality. Consider the iStudio from Behringer.
The iPad fits into the dock and serves both as the computer and screen. The dock provides several controls one would find in a small portable studio and then a host of standards I/O ports on the back, including XLR, 1/4″ audio, video and MIDI.
But no sooner had I encountered the Behringer model than I came across a very similar one from Alesis:
Here, the Alesis iO Dock is controlling the Korg iMS-20 iPad Synth. Like the Behringer, it has XLR, MIDI, unbalanced audio and video. They even both have footswitch inputs.
So which one is better? It’s not really something I can say. They seem more focused on people who want to use their iPad as a workstation rather than as a live instrument the way I do, which requires being able to move it freely (and switch to portrait mode) and lift it show to the audience. But now that several companies are coming out with docks, maybe we will see more variations.
As big established companies go, Korg is one of those that consistently has offerings that seem less generically commercial and appeal to those of us who like quirky instruments. The Monotron was a great example, as was the iMS-20 iPad app, both of which I regularly use in my own music. So amongst their more standard keyboard and guitar-support offerings, they had a new line of their little instruments.
The original Monotron is now joined by a few new variations, including this one that adds an analog-delay effect. They advertise it as a “Space Delay” and the case sorts of a retro-space like theme.
Playing it is as simple and compelling as the original. If the price-point is ultimately as reasonable, it might be fun to try chaining the different versions together sometime.
Korg also has new versions of the Mini Kaoss pads out, including a new Mini Kaossilator.
More than any of the new sounds, I noticed the new industrial design, which is more rounded and quite a bit more ergonomic. I’m not sure if I like it was much as the little boxy versions from a visual perspective, but it’s probably easier to handle.
I wasn’t able to try out these metallic Monotribes because they were inside a case.