NAMM 2017: Fabulous Silicon Paradigm

One of the fun things at NAMM is finding new and unexpected technologies for music. We found an intriguing example in the Paradigm synth from Fabulous Silicon.

The uniqueness of this analog synthesizer is on the inside. Its architecture is based on four Apex programmable analog chip by Anadigm Corporation. What this means is that parameter changes rather than simply changing the voltage running through a fixed circuit, the circuit itself is reorganized. Many of us working in experimental technologies at the turn of the century were familiar with FPGAs, reconfigurable digital gates, but the idea of reconfiguring analog circuits in a single chip is a step beyond our thinking from that moment. How much of that is technological or cultural I cannot say, given that compared to the turn of the century we are in the midst of a renaissance of analog electronics in music. To make this concrete for others familiar with analog modular synthesizers, consider turning a knob or switch and having the synthesizer re-patched on the fly, or even turned into a completely different set of modules in response to CV input.

The prototype was unfortunately not working at the time we visited the booth and spoke with the Paradigm’s creator Bryan Pape. But we came away quite interested in both the musical and intellectual possibilities of this “paradigm.” We look forward to seeing this instrument in action in the near future.

More information available at www.fabuloussilicon.com

Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus and Other Modules

Last year, I was excited to see the debut of Rossum Electro-Music. This year, the excitement is that the Morpheus module will finally be available soon.

Since our picture, although appropriately cute, isn’t the best, here is an official image.

The Morpheus module features a 14-pole Z-plane filter similar to one in the classic E-MU Morpheus (which I still use in some of my music), but goes beyond the capabilities of the original. As it is a module, one can use any sound source with it rather than just built-in ROM samples. And all the the dimensions of the filter – which are visualized as a cube – can be manipulated in parallel from arbitrary CV sources. On top of that, a step sequencer allows one to move through different configurations of the filter in real-time.

I was only able to scratch the surface of the sound possibilities with this. One thing I’d like to explore is whether with all the degrees of freedom this filter is even more unstable than the original. That’s not a bad thing per se (as long as one has a limiter handy), as it can be a thing of beauty to bring a filter just to the edge.

The Morpheus is actually part of a full suite of modules that Rossum Electro-Music is offering. The Evolution ladder filter was already debuted last year, and is a fine filter in itself. There is also the Control Forge CV generator, Assimil8or phase-modulation sampler, and Satellite CV generator. It occurs to me that putting these modules together (plus a MIDI to CV converter) one could theoretically construct an “E-MU Morpheus on steroids”.

We at CatSynth shall eagerly await the public release of the Morpheus in the coming weeks and keep an eye out for things to come from our friends at Rossum Electro-Music.

NAMM 2017: Dave Smith Instruments REV 2 And More

Edited to correct an “alternative fact” in one of our photos.

There were several new offerings at the Dave Smith Instruments booth this year. The most prominent was the new REV 2 polyphonic analog synthesizer.

The REV 2 is billed as a successor to the Prophet ’08, and features an architecture with two DCOs and two Curtis filters, along with numerous other features. It also has a built-in step sequencer. It plays very nicely and has a powerful sound, though perhaps not quite as “luscious” as the Prophet 12 that I regularly use in my own music. I expect the REV 2 will be quite popular.

Last year, DSI introduced the OB-6, a collaboration between Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim that features an Oberheim SEM sound engine. This year they have a tabletop module version of this instrument.

CORRECTION: This is a Prophet 6 tabletop, not an OB-6. There is, however an OB-6 tabletop module.

It has the same engine and a large array of front panel controls that make it a less expensive addition for someone who wanted the OB-6 synth but doesn’t need yet another keyboard.

Dave Smith also had another new collaboration, this time with Pioneer DJ. They introduced two new instruments: the TORAIZ SP-16 DJ workstation and the TORAIZ AS-1 mono synth.

The SP-16 is a sampler workstation with multiple voices and facilities for loops, triggers, and other features one expects from a beat-oriented tabletop synth, but also filters from the Sequential Prophet 6. THE AS-1 is purely a synth, featuring an architecture similar to a single voice of the Prophet 6. As such, the AS-1 is practical way to add the Prophet 6 sound to a larger setup.

As always, we look forward to seeing and hearing more of these new instruments from Dave Smith.

NAMM 2017: Percussa AudioCubes and Synthtor System 8

I have long been fascinated by Percussa’s AudioCube controllers. In fact, I have a pair of them that I use in live performance. Now Percussa introduces the Synthtor System 8 wireless controller and modular synthesis system.

The Synthor System 8 consist of a wireless controller and hub for use with the cubes and a digital modular synthesizer. The synth engine contains many of the features one would expect including oscillators, filters, waveshapers, and samplers. It runs on a dedicated ARM chipset running Linux, though it only runs the synth and thus avoids the performance and stability issues we all know from general purpose computer systems. It also supports a variety of I/O for connecting to other gear and to a computer workstation for recording.

You can see and hear a bit of the AudioCubes and Synthtor System 8 in action in this video.

The REMOTE (the controller/hub) is quite an intriguing addition in itself, allowing one to use the cubes without a computer thus reducing setup complexity.

Percussa is a very small independent company consisting of two members: Bert Schiettecatte and Celine Van Damme. Both are very nice and have been supportive of CatSynth and of the musicians who use their instruments.

You can find out more about Percussa and their offerings at their website.

NAMM 2017: Erica Synths, LZX, Sputnik, Roland, And More

There are multiple superbooths of modular synth makers this year. We visited the first (and smaller) of the two this afternoon.

The folks at Erica Synths have a new DIY kit inspired by the legendary Soviet synth Polyvoks.

It’s a raw but sonically rich instrument and we at CatSynth could see using it. They have also updated their flagship black series.

We would be remiss if we didn’t also show their adorable logo 😺.

One thing we have observed this year is that many module makers have upped their game when it comes to visual design. We saw that with the Erica Synths offerings, but with others as well. Consider this Euclidean Circles from vpme.de:

The Charcot Circles is a collaboration of Studio Electronics and eowave. It is a rather complex and enigmatic module providing sequencing and CV with non-linear processing.

The round designs are reminiscent of Buchla synthesizers, which of course brings us to Sputnik Modular which produces Buchla-inspired “west coast synthesis” modules.

LZX Modular is all about the visuals, as their modules process video rather than audio. They have several new offerings, including an LCD display module and an all-in-one starter. You can see a little bit in this video.

New video modules from LZX. #namm #namm2017

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

The both also featured Roland’s AIRA series, including the System-8. The setup featured remakes of some classic Roland modules that we reported about last year in addition to the “plug-out” system.

It is interesting that Roland has moved its display of these instruments from their main area at NAMM to the modular-synth booths. It would seem they know their audience.

Finally, we have new offerings from Industrial Music Electronics, formerly known as The Harvestman. They still have the same characteristic orange knob style.

Among there new modules are the Argos Bleak, a CV processer, the Bionic Lester mk II, a capacitor filter; and our favorite name-wise, the Contempt, a dyamics processor.

Modular manufacturers haven’t lost their edge even as the industry matures.

NAMM 2017: Lowry Electronic Organs

Walking away from the Elektron booth, I espied these gorgeous instruments.

The Lowry Electronic Organs are at a basic level electronic organs with a variety of pedals, organ stops, two manuals, and such. But they also combine a basic synth engine with other sounds, rhythm patterns and more. They have multiple models of increasing complexity. Did I mention that they are gorgeous?

They are easy to play once one knows what the vast array of buttons are for. According to the representative I talked with, these are mostly used as parlor instruments, a statement piece for a living room or music room. But it is nonetheless a real musical instrument to be played like any other.

NAMM 2017: Elektron Digitakt and Analog Heat

We begin our real NAMM 2017 coverage with offerings from Elektron. Many folks in our community have been anticipating the Digitakt.

The Digitalk is a compact unit combining a drum synth engine, multitrack sequencer with both MIDI and audio capabilities, and sampler. This will be very handy for those who work with those classes of instrument and want a quick and easy set up. While we weren’t able to hear it today, the demo case had a rather interesting video background.

Also on display was the Analog Heat, billed as both an “audio enhancer” and “audio destroyer”.

We were able to play this one. The different preset settings were quite diverse and would add to live performance, given a good sound system. The equalizer and filter sections were interesting to play with as well. They had a clean sound that didn’t muddy the source. Unless of course you want it to. Then it can become the audio destroyer that is is billed as. This is clearly intended as the last in a chain for live use, a final stage before the PA or amp.

NAMM 2017: After the Deluge

Our NAMM 2017 is off to a wet start. Here is a little video while we dry off.

Some real coverage coming soon.

Happy 83rd Birthday Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter, one of our musical heroes, turns 83 today. Please join us in wishing him a Happy Birthday!

Wayne Shorter
[By Tom Beetz @ http://home.hetnet.nl/~tbeetz/index.html (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

He is still going strong, composing and performing regularly. I had the chance to see him perform last year at SFJAZZ with his quartet. This was only his most recent musical incarnation, quite different from what he had done before with the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s and then with his own band Weather Report in the 1970s. Weather Report is sometimes under appreciated, but their early work is great and something that deserves its own article. Most recently, I have been listening to the album Algeria which includes members of the quartet I heard last year.

Wayne Shorter Algeria

Although I’ve known and appreciated his work for years, it is only the past couple of years that it has become a stronger influence and part of the regular rotation of music at CatSynth HQ. And we hope there is still more to come.

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…