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!
Today we continue with the panoply of synth module manufactures that we say at this year’s NAMM show.
One instrument that garnered quite a bit of attention (and deservedly) so was the new Komplex Sequencer from our friends at KOMA Eletronik.
First of all, it is sleek and beautiful. But it is also quite powerful. It features four independent 16-step sequencers supporting both MIDI and CV/Gate. The sequencers can each be set to play in one of five modes (forward, backward, ping-pong, ping-pong reversed, random); and CV can be quantized to various Western scales (for those who need such things in their music). The size of control and combined support for MIDI and CV would be a lot in itself. I am definitely looking forward to seeing this ship in the near future.
Qu-bit Electronix presented some modules that are also going to be our “want” list. The Nubulae may not be new for 2015, but it seems extremely useful compositionally. It reads and renders audio files from a flash drive, but with CV-based control for speed, pitch, and granular synthesis. The NanoRand is a tiny module that packs four different randomization functions along with a bright multi-color LED (it’s that big purple light in the photo above). Switching among the four functions via a sequencer creates some very intriguing musical patterns.
Finally, we at CatSynth were quite interested in the new Spectral Filter from 4ms. It is a spectral multi band resonant filter that can sculpt and amplify sections of a signal to create harmonic (or inharmonic) structures.
A unique feature was the circular control that allows one to “rotate” around the spectrum. I found myself comparing this to the newly released additive synthesis module from Make Noise (you can read about it here. They are both spectral manipulators and can some similar in particular moments, though they approach and instrument architecture is quite different.
In this article we focus on some of the rhythm and percussion modules that were shown at this year’s NAMM show.
Tiptop Audio presented the Circadian Rhythm along with its well-known line of percussion synth modules. It is branded as a “rhythm composer” and a central element to a rhythmic modular system to work alongside the existing Trigger Riot module. They also had several Serge Eurorack modules. You can hear them all together in this video.
Nearby was Delptronics, makers of the popular TriggerMan module for sequencing and patterns. It pairs well with their drum modules, including the ThunderBell available in both Eurorack and cowbell form. The ThunderBell is now part of the system at CatSynth HQ.
Hexinverter.net makes a wide variety of modules, including popular kits for synth percussion such as “Mutant HiHats” and “Mutant Clap.” This year they introduced the Mutant Machine, which is a more generalized percussion synthesizer compared the earlier ones that each do a specialized instrument model. They also introduced Mutant Glue, an all-in-one mixer with compression, distortion, etc.
I have traditionally shied away from drum synths in my analog modular systems until now, as the offerings and demos did show me that there are more esoteric possibilities than traditional electronic beats. Although as that first video suggests, those can be fun, too.
We pick up our post-NAMM coverage where we left off after the show. As stated in earlier articles, this was a great year for synthesizers, including analog modular synthesizers. For the first time, several manufacturers formed a super booth in Hall A in the main show floor.
Holding court in the center was Deiter Doepfer himself with a giant Doepfer modular system.
The new modules from Doepfer this year included an opto FET filter (an alternative to the popular vactrol filters), a quadrature thru-zero VCO, and a large trigger sequencer. The trigger sequencer has a nice appearance and provides a lot of outputs. It plays well with a new clock divider that Doepfer introduced as well. The FET filter has some interesting properties for doing FM filter effects as it can modulate much faster, though it apparently distorts at higher volumes.
JoMoX has been long known for its small tabletop instruments. This year, like several other manufacturers, they introduced Eurorack modular versions, including the T-rackonizer filter matrix along with some of their drum synths.
Black Market Modular collaborated with Foxtone Music to bring the Colour Pallete to the Eurorack modular format. It’s really a “modular inside a modular”, where one can mix and match up to three “colour palettes” (expansion cards) that operate as standalone modules, each with its own VCA. They hope to release more expansion cards over time, which will be compatible with their outboard system.
Another interesting collaboration featured WMD and Steady-State Fate (SSF). There are some basic modulesl, but also some specialized sound and control elements such as the Spectrum and Mini Slew modules. And all of them can put together in this neat little case complete with keyboard that supports MIDI and CV.
This is only the beginning of what was on display in the analog modular superbooth 6990. More will be presented in subsequent articles.
This year, Tom Oberheim joined his fellow giants in the synthesizer world Dave Smith, Don Buchla, and Roger Linn at NAMM. He has rereleased the classic SEM synthesizer and introduced a new Eurorack module based on the SEM.
The EuroModule SEM is a single voice of the standalone synthesizer. It has two VCOs, a VCF, two envelopes, LFO, and VCA. It’s pretty much an entire instrument in one, and it takes up quite a bit of space in a modular system. Where I could see it being of particular use in this environment route external CV into it.
The Tom Oberheim booth (under the name of his company Marion Systems) was a family affair, and indeed the entire Oberheim family was extremely welcoming and friendly.
The SEM module as well as a separate Phaser module are expected to be released later this year.
There is usually at least one completely out-there “what exactly is that” instrument at NAMM, and this year that was the SpaceHarp.
It is visually unique, looking a bit like something off the original Star Trek or other early science fiction. Each of the circles contains multiple optical and sonic sensors which respond when the performer moves and blocks the light from above. The input from the sensor arrays is converted to MIDI for controlling an external synthesizer. I’m not exactly sure what the large illuminated crystal does, but it adds the classic science-fiction quality of the instrument.
I did make an attempt to play the SpaceHarp.
It was fun, though not quite as easy to control as the description suggests. Given all the degrees of freedom, it was quite different from a theremin (even an optical theremin) in the way one interacts with it.
At a technical and visual level, the SpaceHarp was interesting. While it didn’t come across as a “must have” for me, I can see others finding this a useful and creative tool for live performance. The tendency towards New-Age hyperbole in their product literature was a bit of a turn-off, suggesting a different target audience. But perhaps it just needs another chance with some harsher and more abstract sounds, like from one of the many analog modules at this year’s show.
Our visit to Roger Linn Design featured both the man himself as we as the LinnStrument.
The LinnStrument is an expressive controller with a grid of continuous sensors that capture independent velocity, X, Y and Z-axis position for each of multiple touches. As such, it is an extremely expressive instrument that can afford control as dextrous as a traditional piano keyboard in some ways more versatile between all the degrees of freedom and abstract layout. It is also quite compact.
While the LinnStrument is primarily MIDI, it would be interesting to see it in a CV-based environment as well.
We were also treated to a demo by Roger Linn, including several of the featured sounds and programs.
We definitely appreciate his time talking with us and showing his invention.
One of the big announcements before the show was Korg’s new clone of the ARP Odyssey. It was up there with the Moog Modular and Sequential Prophet 6. So I had to see and play this one for myself.
Like most of Korg’s recent reissues of classic analog instruments, this version of the ARP Odyssey is about 80% the size of the originally. I’m not sure what it is with Korg making things “just a little smaller” than the original. But it did have the sound of the original – I tried, somewhat poorly, to play some lines from Head Hunters. And I was happy to see that had the original industrial design, including the Helvetica-style red lettering on black background that remains very distinctive. It would be interesting to play this along side my vintage Octave CAT. At just under $1000, it’s even possible one day.
Another new offering from Korg this year was the MS20-M kit, a kit variation on the MS-20. It was paired with the new and very compact SQ-1 CV sequencer.
The MS-20M has no keyboard, but that’s not much of an impediment as one can control it via external CV.
At the small end of the spectrum there was the LittleBits SynthKit, a collaboration between Korg and LittleBits. We actually have one of these kits at CatSynth HQ.
A trip to NAMM always includes a visit to the booth of Big City Music. As always there was a mixture of old favorites (e.g.,an entire collection of Metasonix modules in a matching yellow case, the Mellotron, etc.), as well as new and unusual things. Upon arrival I was greeted by this rack containing Intellijel synth modules and a Mellotron rack-mount unit.
This the digital Mellotron M4000D in rack-mount unit. It sounds like the classic Mellotron in a unit that is more practical for live gigging or integration into a studio setup. Of course, there are no tapes in this one.
The polyphonic analog synthesizer from Schmidt was on display and I had a chance to play it.
This thing is a beast! Beyond the polyphony, it has four oscillators and seven filters per voice. Quite feature rich and very playable. But it’s price is this instrument’s most infamous feature. It comes in at about $20K USD, similar to the price one might pay for the car to schlep it around in.
This odd but intriguing electromagnetic contraption was from boutique manufacturer Analog Outfitters. We still have no idea what it does.
And of course there were lots of large modular installations, including this “Wall of Cwejman.”
It’s a dangerous booth to visit, as I start to get purchase ideas…
The Muff Wiggler Store was onsite at NAMM this year, hosting quite a few module makers whose work I had not encountered before.
These eye-catching modules from Minigorille have graphic screens (an unusual feature for a Eurorack module) for manipulating control voltage. It includes several programs such as a pong-like game and an XY freehand drawing unit, and has an expander for input from a handheld controller.
Next was the rather psychedelic Circuit Shaman, featuring modules with purple knobs and colorful LEDs, all to be viewed through distorting rainbow glasses.
The flagship module was the Spectra Mirror, a resonant down-sampler with a variety of controllable parameters allowing it to sound like a clean VCA, a bit-crusher and various things in between such as downsampling the signal with a high-pass filter. It would be interesting to run the shape controls through an LFO, or through the Minigorille module.
While not in Eurorack format, this complete system in Moog format from Synthetic Sound Labs was quite playable, and included a newly released Steiner filter.
There was a lot more at the booth, some old some new, but more than I am able to cover in this article. Visit the Muff Wiggler Store to find more, including some you may have never heard of before.