We open our blog coverage of NAMM with our reminder to everyone about protecting one’s ears. The show floor itself can get quite loud, but that’s usually mild compared to what we put our ears through at concerts and rehearsals. This is something I am especially concerned with as I am in two very loud post-punk bands. This year, the company Etymotic Research is presenting new filtering earplugs, and Vic Firth offered complementary editions to members of the media:
The earplugs are designed to reduce overall sound level while preserving frequency response, which allows one to more easily hear speech and musical detail. I using them right now and they do cut background noise, though it is not yet a full test.
Once again, CatSynth will be representing at the big NAMM show, which gets underway this week. I will be on the show floor Friday and Saturday and covering synthesizers, software and mobile apps, controllers, and anything else that piques my interest. Look for articles here on the blog all weekend as well as frequent live updates via @catsynth on Twitter with hashtag #NAMM. Among other things, I will have a bit of time to meet with representatives from Moog in more depth, where I am sure we will talk about the new Sub Phatty as well as AniMoog, which continues to be one of my favorite apps. If there is anything you would like to see in our coverage, or anything you would like to me ask one of the music manufacturers on your behalf, feel free to leave a comment here, or tweet us with hashtag #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.
This year, Malekko Heavy Industry had their own booth at NAMM. It was actually a bit of a challenge to find, all the way in the back of Hall C past the endless walls of guitars and celebrity-induced traffic jams. But I did find them, and was treated to a tour of a Malekko-only modular system:
In the above image (which admittedly isn’t the best quality), we see a simple patch that was focused on the Wiard Anti-Oscillator and Borg Filter, both of which I was particularly interested in. The Noisering was quite interesting as well and offered a lot of possibilities. The Wiard Jag (Joystic Axis Generator) was very pretty and intriguing, but I couldn’t immediately envision it’s use in a musical performance the way I could with the Noisering.
The system being shown is quite complete, with a host of VCOs, filters, modulators and utility elements. Indeed, one could build something just from their modules alone. But I do think it is most creative to mix and match with our manufacturers.
Last night was the annual Trash Audio party that occurs during NAMM. It’s an opportunity to meet a lot of makers and enthusiasts of esoteric and DIY electronic instruments in a quintessentially southern Californian setting: a backyard pool party. It was great to meet some of the people I have gotten to know through writing this site.
Matrixsynth hosted a little wine bar of sorts, with his own Analog Reserve (red) and Digital Reserve (white). They were quite good, actually.
IK Multimedia has introduced a few new items in their iRig line. These are appealing for those of us who use “i-Thingies” (i.e., iPhone and iPad).
The iRig Cast is a tiny microphone. You can see the scale compared to the kitty in the above picture. For those who have used the Square card reader for iOS, it’s about the same size and shape. IK Multimedia suggests that this would be a device well suited for voice recordings, podcasting, interviews and such. So I am thinking this would be a useful accessory for those who are doing live streams from Occupy Wall Street protests!
The microphone will join the already available iRig MIDI interface.
The iRig in some ways seems better than a dock for live performance, particularly if one wants to pick up the iPad and move it around (though that is not what was being done in the demos). It is bidirectional and thus will be useful both for use as a controller (the primary direction in the live performance situation) and as a synthesizer receiving control data from DAW (in a studio setting).
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.