NAMM 2016: Booth 5000, Part 2 (more modular synths)

We opened this year’s NAMM coverage with a visit to the embarrassment of riches among modular synths at Booth 5000, so it is feeding that we return there for our final article. You can read the first installment (with a separate article devoted to the new offerings from Rossum Electro-Music).

We at CatSynth are fans of Make Noise Music and their modules. This year they introduced the TEMPI.

Make Noise TEMPI

The TEMPI is a “six channel, polyphonic time-shifting clock module” that allows to create and store clock-signal arrangements using both algorithmic and manual techniques. The channels can be linked to do classic clock-divider and multiplier patterns, as well as manual entry. The divider/multiplier are continuous so can go beyond integer ratios. And it has storage for 64 6-clock configurations. I often complain about my current lack of clock sources (especially for driving the Make Noise Rene), so this would be a potential great addition.

Make Noise also released standalone synth, the 0-Coast.

Make Noise 0-Coast

Like the offerings from many manufacturers this year, the 0-coast is intended to be an integrated full synthesizer voice, complete with CV and MIDI control. As one would expect, it’s a bit more esoteric than the equivalents from Roland and Moog. The parameters remind me a bit more of a Serge or Buchla synth.

Pittsburgh Modular also released a new standalone modular system, Lifeforms.

Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms

The Lifeforms is a single-voice unit with oscillator and Pittsburgh Modular filter plus integrated controls. It can be paired KB-1 pressure-sensitive controller to make a fully autonomous instrument. You can here a bit of my attempt to play it in this video.

@pghmodular Lifeforms in action! #namm

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

The Lifeforms does seem like a rebrand. While the sound character reminds of me of existing Pittsburgh Modular synths and it retains the iconic knobs, the stenciling on the faceplates is different – the old “typewriter” look of previous modules has been replaced with a more contemporary style. The system would make a good entry to more advanced modular synthesis.

Endorphines was presenting their own colorful line of modules.

Endorphines

The heart of their system is the Furthrrrr Generator, a complex VCO reminiscent of Buchla synthesizers with its simple functions based on harmonic relationships. Similarly, the Fourierrrr module provides waveshaping using harmonic relationships. These are complemented by a serious of function and control modules, including the Shuttle Control that converts between USB, MIDI and CV. You can hear a bit of fun with their modules in this video featuring our little mascot.

WMD presented the new Aperture Filter, a full-module version of their existing Aperture Filter card for Black Market Modular’s ColourCV system.

It is described as “a variable width bandpass Butterworth filter (designed by Tyler Thompson).” You can hear a bit of this filter, along with WMD’s new Performance Mixer.

We conclude with the Haken Continuum, which was on display amonst the modular madness. Not a new instrument by any means, but one that is always fun to return and play. The control surface feels liquidy and comfortable, but familiar enough for an experienced pianist.

Amanda C on the Haken Continuum keyboard

The demo included an iPad synth with a string patch that took advantage of the Continuum’s multi-dimensional degrees of freedom. But sitting among the modular synths, one can contemplate other possibilities. To this end, Haken has introduced the CVC that allows direct analog CV control from the fingerboard without the need for a MIDI converter.

There really was a lot at the show that I couldn’t get to, or did not fit into an article. It can always be a bit overwhelming, but very rewarding. In the end, NAMM visits are always a mixture of wanting the new instruments I see, and reaffirming things I wanted from previous years. I will be working on my list…

NAMM 2016: Strymon Generalissimo

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.

Strymon 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.

NAMM 2016: Tracktion Biotek and Copper Reference

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.

Tracktion BioTek

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.

Tracktion 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!