NAMM 2017: New offerings from Synthrotek and Division 6

Our friends from Synthrotek teamed up with Division 6 for a delightfully noisy and retro NAMM display.

This unique enclosure has that future retro look at we at CatSynth adore. It is unfortunately one of a kind at this moment. But we had a chance to admire it. Sitting above the panels, however, was a new product, the Division 6 “Business Card Sequencer”, available as a kit. It’s a dual 16-step sequencer with CV and gate out, as well as clock in. Quite handy and smaller than my iPhone.

Division 6 also introduced Mr Crotchety. It is a control-less Eurorack module that generates a non-linear CV source. It also has the best name of any product I encountered at NAMM.

Synthrotek is also continuing to come out with new modules and such. This ribbon controller looked quite interesting to us, and fits well in the 1U area of their cases.

We can also see at the top of the image the enclosures that allow the Business Card Sequencers to be mounted in groups into a Eurorack system. And off to the right is the new Roboto module. It’s hard to see in this picture, so here is a demo from Synthrotek.

Roboto is an audio-signal transformer based on old voice-transformer chips. One could of course use this for “robot”-like vocoding, but also for manipulating another other type of sound that crosses the wires of a modular synth. We also quite like the logo. There was also an affordable in interesting-sounding reverb module, with degrees of freedom that turn it into an instrument rather than simply an effect at the end of the chain.

We are looking forward to seeing more of these modules. But we really want that future retro case!

@catsynth in the namms!!!

A photo posted by Synthrotek (@synthrotek) on

CatSynth video: Dicking Around with Braids, Rings, and other DIY crap

From Sean Pendleton on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

“Love Rings and Braids, need to build more of both. I can’t wait to build Clouds and Elements. Klee is controlling the Rings, Turing machine on the Braids. Drums are a Corny Rhythm controlling a Barton Analog Drum, Decaying noise, and Synthrotek DSM. Radio Music and Wogglebug are making noise in the background. Kept things simple.”

Booth 5000 (Modular Synths) at NAMM, Part 1

Our friends in the modular-synth world are moving up at NAMM, with a collective booth at the front of the show right near giants like Moog and Dave Smith Instruments.  It’s a bit much to take in all at once, as modules and module-makers continue to proliferate.  This will be the first of a few articles covering just this booth.

One new set of modules, and perhaps the oddest, comes from BASTL Instruments.

BASTL Instruments

In addition to the wood texture, there are modules that can control motors, solenoids and other outboard electronic elements.  It does bring to mind some ideas for sound installations and live performances.  You can hear a bit of these modules in this video.

Soulby presented Eurorack modular versions of 8-bit processing modules more messing with voice and other input signals.


Delays and looping seem to be a thing this year. 4ms had a new looper and delay module whose novel feature is audio rate control of the functions for unusual flange delays and other continuous effects.


While the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator is not new for this year, it is still one I am excited about.

QuBit Electronix has a new sequencer module with a circular pattern; and a new polyphonic oscillator with individual controls and VCAs. You can see and hear both of them in this short video.

@qubitelectronix polyphonic oscillator in action! #namm

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

Synthrotek is focusing on full systems, including a MIDI-CV converter that supports bi-directional clocks. One can use heavily modulated CV clocks to control time-based elements on MIDI synthesizers with this feature.


And KOMA Elektronik returned with their massive sequencer, looking more refined. And it has a lot of lights!

KOMA Electronik Sequencer

More from this both and beyond in coming articles.

NAMM: Synthrotek and Synthesis Technology

We finally come to the end of our exhaustive visit to the huge analog modular booth at NAMM. We of course had to pay our friends at Synthrotek a visit. They make DIY synthesis kits as well as full modules, often with a delightfully noisy quality. For example there is the aptly named DIRT Filter and the Chaos NAND of which we at CatSynth are quite fond. They had some new offerings for this year’s show.


Among the new modules were a series that came from a collaboration with George Mattson. The MST and Synthrotek modules together form a complete analog synthesizer voice, with MIDI-to-CV, oscillator, filter, mixer, and modulations. There is even a classic Mattson-designed buffered multiple. Another interesting offering was the DS-M, a complete drum synth module with multiple “colors” of noise, built in oscillator, VCO and a voltage-based “velocity sensitivity.” It can create standard analog drum sounds, but can also do some rather unusual sounds as well. Like most products from Synthrotek, these can be ordered as raw kits, module-assembly kits (with panels, etc.), or as completed versions.

Nearby was Synthesis Technology, makers of the E-350 Morphing Terrarium that was among the first modules I bought back in 2012.


Next to the e350 in the photo is an expander module from Manhattan Analog that opens up some additional functionality of the original module. Also pictured above the the E-102 Quad Temporal Shifter, basically a digital implementation of the Serge analog shift register. The E-560 thru-zero frequency shifter and ring modulator is quite interesting as well.

This concludes our reports from this year’s NAMM show. There was so much to see on the synthesizer front we were not able to get to it all, much less write about it. It was definitely one to remember, but we are looking forward to more next year!

meow meow bye namm 2015

Report from BPOW!!! Part 1: The Workshops

It’s been a little over a week since the Battery Powered Orchestra Workshop (BPOW!!!) occurred in Portland. Today we look back at the workshops, which were in many ways the central components of weekend.

During the Saturday morning session, I attended a workshop on electronic textiles hosted by Cat Poole of Cacophonous Creations. The skill was to learn how to use conductive thread to embed both light and controls into clothing for future performances. But for the workshop, the task was to simply sew an LED and its associated circuit onto a dinosaur patch:

BPOW electronic textiles

Of course, we at CatSynth approve of Cacophonous Creations’ chat noir logo! As for the task itself, the biggest challenges related to general sewing and laying out elements to properly fit (at least for someone with little sewing experience beyond repairing buttons). But I got through the threading of the circuit. It would be great to incorporate something like this into costuming for future performances.

In the afternoon, I attended a session presented by Steve Harmon of Synthrotek. It centered around DIY electronics and the ubiquitous 555 integrated circuit. But that then merely building an Atari Punk Console with a 555, we stepped it up with Synthrotek’s 4093 NAND Synthesizer.

4093 NAND Synth kit

The 4093 includes three square waves, based on a dual 556 integrated circuit. I was quite intent to complete it and be able to use it for my performance that evening. The soldering of the components went quite smoothly – it helps to both see other people soldering and to have access to a good iron. It was a quite a rewarding moment when the synth was complete and making sound.

Completed 4093 NAND Synth

My only disappointment was the pots not quite fitting and ending up a bit lopsided. But it worked great in the performance and will certainly be used again in the future. The additional confidence on soldering will also be valuable for future projects.

Additional workshops in the afternoon included an introduction and demonstration of modular synthesizers by Jeph Nor. He demystified modular for a general audience by presenting the fundaments (oscillators, filters, amplifiers) and adding additional elements.

Jeph Nor analog modular demo
[Image from the BPOW Facebook page.]

Attending all the workshops on Saturday would have been impossible, especially if one wanted to complete the associated tasks. In particular, I was also interested in the Raspberry Pi which was presented by Edward Sharp.

Sunday’s workshop sessions opened with a demonstration of “squishy circuits”. It turns out that homemade play-doh is quite a good conductor of electricity, and can be used to quickly prototype circuit ideas. It also serves as a very accessible medium for introducing principles of electronics to children.


We also got to see other non-traditional conductive media including ink and paint that can be used to integrate electronics into artwork without the use of wires.


Then everyone scattered for an electronics scavenger hunt to find electronic toys and various media to use in projects during the afternoon. The participants reconvened later in the day and got to work.


Our host Travis Feldman of Molecule Synth hacked the interior of an Atari console with both audio and video modifications, attaching it to a Moog pedal.

Hacked Atari console

Other creations included a circuit-bent toy keytar and a tactile surface used to control audio and video on a laptop.

Overall, the workshops at BPOW were a rewarding experience. In addition to new inspiration and a few new skills, I liked seeing the wide variety of interests and disciplines that others brought to creative DIY electronics for music, video and performance art. If the event does recur next year, it will be interesting to see how technologies and the skills of participants have further evolved.

In addition to the workshops, BPOW also featured performances in the evening. We will look at those in a subsequent article.

CatSynth video: MiniBubbas – Life Underground

From noisythang on YouTube:

Another day, sitting around the old Electric Range. Bless the Andromeda Space Rockers!

Also on matrixsynth, where you can find more videos (sans cats) including this one:

“A bunch of stuff, all in sync and out o’ tune!
Just having fun with Synthrotek 16-step sequencer kit, and pile o’ goop.”

“16-step clock -> Oberheim XK sync in -> MeBlip
16-step step 1 trigger -> Bliptronics trigger -> Electric Western Phantastron Sync in -> ADSR
16-step gate (split 1) -> Pigronix ADSR
16-step gate (split 2) and CV -> Chimera BC9.

Somewhat out of tune, hey it’s a demo.

The synthrotek kit is a fun unit….. (i don’t work for them)”