Analog-module makers WMD had a strong presence at this year’s NAMM show. In addition to their existing offerings, which include both utility and more esoteric modules, they presented a set of devices that were jointly made with Steady State Fate (SSF). You can see a demo in this video.
It was fun how they made Zip, our trusty stuffed kitty, rock out to the modular 🙂
Once again, iPad docs were a popular offering at NAMM. Perhaps the most unusual and interesting was from Miselu, a small San Francisco-based company. The C.24 acts as a hard-shell case for a standard-size iPad, but opens up into a dock with a two-octave keyboard and other controls.
The keys, which feel quite different from standard keyboard/synth keys, are magnetic rather than mechanical, and include aftertouch. The connection to the iPad is via bluetooth, bypassing the issue of Apple’s changing the port shapes. And it includes a space for expansion controllers above the keyboard. This is an intriguing device, though it is not yet available.
The iTrack from Focusright is perhaps more conventional in the world of iPad docks. But what makes it different is that can support both iPad Minis and full-sized iPads.
It also includes audio support based on Focusrite audio technology and with mic and line level I/O. MIDI is supported via USB.
Both of these are interesting devices, it depends on ones need for portability and MIDI keyboard versus audio support.
Waldorf introduced a new analog filter, the 2-pole at this year’s NAMM show.
Those of us who spend time with analog synthesis are quite used to all sorts of complex filter topologies, most of which have at least four poles. So a two-pole filter seems a bit simple by comparison. But Waldorf is known for taking simple concepts and turning them into complete instruments. The 2-pole includes low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass elements, and also includes drive and rectify settings. It also includes its own envelope and LFO, as well as live triggering capabilities.
You can see a full demo of the Waldorf 2-pole in this video:
The most notable new offering this year from Moog Music, Inc. was the Theremini, a very accessible incarnation of the classic theremin.
The design of the instrument evokes classic science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s (in which the theremin was a mainstay), and it features modern enhancements including a variety of tones and effects, support to stabilize pitch, and CV and MIDI for external control. And it’s MSRP is $299.
I decided to try my hand at this fun and photogenic instrument.
You can see a bit of my attempt to perform one-handed in this video.
I can see this being a great tool for live performance, both standalone and as a controller for analog synths. I look forward to learning more about it.
Make Noise has introduced several new modules this year. You can see Tony Rolando of Make Noise demonstrating them in this video. There is much delightful noisy crunchiness.
The most notable new addition is the Teleplexer, which has a series of metal plates that can be tapped with leads from other modules, creating quite a bit of expressive variation, even chaos. The paradigm of touching conductive plates was inspired by the telegraph.
I tried this out myself, but like other Make Noise modules, it will take a bit of practice to make it work musically.
Our friends at Teenage Engineering were back at NAMM, with the latest iterations of the OP-1 and OpLab.
The little screen on the OP-1 continues to delight, with one of the most unique interfaces from a non touch screen. They added a new module that allows one to use the device as an Etch-A-Sketch and draw out pitch contours. It even includes the shake-to-erase gesture. The little cranks that go on top of the knobs are also new.
The OpLab, including some branded sensors, seems to finally be ready for prime time.
The OpLab does allow one to use alternative sensors, and outputs control voltage suitable for analog modular synths in addition to controlling the OP-1.
I have long been impressed with the offerings from Dave Smith Instruments, such as the Tempest pictured above. They’re easy to play and offer rich sound possibilities that one can either keep tame or push towards more extreme. Last year I was quite taken with the Prophet 12, and still coveting one of those. This year, they have introduced a tabletop version of the P12. I was fortunate enough to get a demonstration from Dave Smith himself! You can see it in the video below.
The Prophet 12 features 12-voice polyphony, anchored by digital oscillators that feed into analog high and low-pass filters. It has some aggregate controls for the oscillators with odd names like “Air” but are pretty intuitive once one tries them out.
So maybe the tabletop edition would be a practical alternative to the keyboard?
One of our perennial stops at NAMM is to the Big City Music booth to see what’s new and play with old favorites. There is always an impressive display of analog modules, including the “wall of synth” from Analog Solutions.
Of course, Big City Music also prominently displayed a full complement Metasonix modules. This included the new spring reverb (at the bottom) that does not conform to the usual yellow color.
I spent a little time with the Mellotron, including a demonstration of the original instrument and its extensions. You can see a bit in this video:
Towards the end, you can see the mechanical elements for the tapes at work.
We also visited again with Leon Dewan, who presented his Swarmatron instrument. Here he demonstrates, and I tentatively try to play as well (one handed as I am also holding the camera):
Although most of these instruments were familiar ones, it is great to see them in action again.
We at CatSynth take ear protection very seriously, so our first visit and first article of NAMM 2014 was Sensaphonics for custom ear protection, now in a variety of colors. These devices better preserve overall frequency response while attenuating volume. They are also good for those of us whose ears don’t fit the “average”. These will come in handy when I play out with my bands.
Once again, we at CatSynth are going to be attending the big NAMM show in southern California, starting on Thursday. I will be focusing on synths and other music technology, but I also enjoy finding fun and esoteric musical instruments of all sorts.
Stay tuned to these pages for full coverage during the show, along with live updates via Twitter @catsynth and Instagram. And if you’re attending, maybe I will see you there 🙂