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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » create-analog-music


KORG’s nutekt NTS-1 is a fun, little kit – and open to ‘logue developers

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 16 May 2019 4:50 pm

KORG has already shown that opening up oscillators and effects to developers can expand their minilogue and prologue keyboards. But now they’re doing the same for the nutekt NTS-1 – a cute little volca-ish kit for synths and effects. Build it, make wild sounds, and … run future stuff on it, too.

Okay, first – even before you get to any of that, the NTS-1 is stupidly cool. It’s a little DIY kit you can snap together without any soldering. And it’s got a fun analog/digital architecture with oscillators, filter, envelope, arpeggiator, and effects.

Basically, if you imagine having a palm-sized, battery-powered synthesis studio, this is that.

Japan has already had access to the Nutekt brand from KORG, a DIY kit line. (Yeah, the rest of the world gets to be jealous of Japan again.) This is the first – and hopefully not the last – time KORG has opened up that brand name to the international scene.

And the NTS-1 is one we’re all going to want to get our hands on, I’ll bet. It’s full of features:

– 4 fixed oscillators (saw, triangle and square, loosely modeled around their analog counterpart in minilogue/prologue, and VPM, a simplified version of the multi-engine VPM oscillator)
– Multimode analog modeled filter with 2/4 pole modes (LP, BP, HP)
– Analog modeled amp. EG with ADSR (fixed DS), AHR, AR and looping AR
– modulation, delay and reverb effects on par with minilogue xd/prologue (subset of)
– arpeggiator with various modes: up, down, up-down, down-up, converge, diverge, conv-div, div-conv, random, stochastic (volca modular style). Chord selection: octaves, major triad, suspended triad, augmented triad, minor triad, diminished triad (since sensor only allows one note at a time). Pattern length: 1-24
– Also: pitch/Shape LFO, Cutoff sweeps, tremollo
– MIDI IN via 2.5mm adapter, USB-MIDI, SYNC in/out
– Audio input with multiple routing options and trim
– Internal speaker and headphone out

That would be fun enough, and we could stop here. But the NTS-1 is also built on the same developer board for the KORG minilogue and prologue keyboards. That SDK opens up developers’ powers to make their own oscillators, effects, and other ideas for KORG hardware. And it’s a big deal the cute little NTS-1 is now part of that picture, not just the (very nice) larger keyboards. I’d see it this way:

NTS-1 buyers can get access to the same custom effects and synths as if they bought the minilogue or prologue.

minilogue and prologue owners get another toy they can use – all three of them supporting new stuff.

Developers can use this inexpensive kit to start developing, and don’t have to buy a prologue or minilogue. (Hey, we’ve got to earn some cash first so we can go buy the other keyboard! Oh yeah I guess I have also rent and food and things to think about, too.)

And maybe most of all –

Developers have an even bigger market for the stuff they create.

This is still a prototype, so we’ll have to wait, and no definite details on pricing and availability.

Waiting.

Yep, still waiting.

Wow, I really want this thing, actually. Hope this wait isn’t long.

I’m in touch with KORG and the analog team’s extraordinary Etienne about the project, so stay tuned. For an understanding of the dev board itself (back when it was much less fun – just a board and no case or fun features):

KORG are about to unveil their DIY Prologue boards for synth hacking

Videos:

Sounds and stuff –

Interviews and demos –

And if you wondered what the Japanese kits are like – here you go:

Oh, and I’ll also say – the dev platform is working. Sinevibes‘ Artemiy Pavlov was on-hand to show off the amazing stuff he’s doing with oscillators for the KORG ‘logues. They sound the business, covering a rich range of wavetable and modeling goodness – and quickly made me want a ‘logue, which of course is the whole point. But he seems happy with this as a business, which demonstrates that we really are entering new eras of collaboration and creativity in hardware instruments. And that’s great. Artemiy, since I had almost zero time this month, I better come just hang out in Ukraine for extended nerd time minus distractions.

Artemiy is happily making sounds as colorful as that jacket. Check sinevibes.com.

The post KORG’s nutekt NTS-1 is a fun, little kit – and open to ‘logue developers appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

IK UNO Drum: portable, $249.99 analog-PCM drum machine

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 8 May 2019 11:41 am

Like the UNO synth before it, IK Multimedia’s new drum machine is a collaboration with boutique Italian maker Soundmachines, runs on batteries, takes up very little space, and it looks like a whole lot of fun, for EUR/USD 249.99.

As with some of the best-known classic drum machines, the sound engine is a combination of analog circuitry and PCM samples.

On the analog side of the sound engine, there are six drum parts: two different kicks, snare, clap, closed high hat, open high hat, and of course controls for shaping each.

On the PCM side, the default parts are toms, rim, cowbell, ride, crash. There are 54 samples onboard in total. And again, you can adjust Tuning, Snap, and Decay.

Sound samples are interesting – the kick sounds appropriately heavy and analog, and it sounds like you can glitch out those PCM samples, so … yep, I’m happy.

The voice architecture evidently lets you freely swap analog and digital parts as you wish to customize your kit, with up to 12 elements in each kit (and 11 of these can sound at the same time).

They’ve also added Drive and Compressor, both analog effects.

So that sounds already like a winning combination: customizable kits, plus some analog processing to make them punchier.

And then there’s the playing and programming bit. Touch entry has two velocity zones which you can map to sound parameters – so you don’t have to dive into a separate accent mode. You get 64 steps (with step and live performance), some serious automation recording (eight parameters per step), and even chaining up to 64 patterns together (for a kind of song mode). And you can trigger patterns live on the fly.

There are also some “performance effects” in the sequencer – Roll, Humanize, Swing, and Random.

More specs:

USB
2.5mm MIDI (with cables included)
Audio input for chaining – also routed through the compressor
400 g
4 AA batteries or power via USB
Ships in June
249 EUR/USD (not incl. VAT)

That little audio input with compressor makes this a nice companion to a number of little boxes.

They don’t say that you can customize samples, which may sound like an odd thing to complain about on a $250 box, except that some inexpensive machines have actually provided that (albeit some made it exceedingly difficult to do, like the KORG volca sample).

So sure, while everyone else eyes modules with prices starting for around this, I bet you could do a lot of damage with this little box.

https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/unodrum/

And they have a ton of tutorial/demo videos up already:

Uh… my music doesn’t sound like this, but maybe yours does?

And the specs with… okay, more of that song. (To be fair, my mood today for a mega-distorted 150 bpm acid techno track is probably not the best music bed underneath someone trying to explain how you feed power via USB or AA batteries. You could, like, shout over it into a vocoder?)

(You can still hire me to do your voice over / demo video. UnO drUM g1vv33s yoU meg444 Cr444zYYY ACID DRUGGY SPACECAT psych0000 so888uunnddsss! L0000kieee!! No? I charge by the hour, it’s easy. I’m sure Dr. Walker / Liquid Sky Berlin will join in our tripped out machine PR agency.)

The post IK UNO Drum: portable, $249.99 analog-PCM drum machine appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Ableton release free CV Tools for integrating with analog gear, made in Max

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 7 May 2019 6:32 pm

It’s all about voltage these days. Ableton’s new CV Tools are designed for integrating with modular and semi-modular/desktop gear with CV. And they’re built in Max – meaning builders can learn from these tools and build their own.

The basic idea of CV Tools, like any software-CV integration, is to use your computer as an additional source of modulation and control. You route analog signal directly to your audio interface – you’ll need an interface that has DC coupled outputs (more about that separately). But once you do that, you can make your software and hardware rigs work together, and use your computer’s visual interface and open-ended possibilities to do still more stuff with analog gear.

This is coming on the eve of Superbooth, and certainly a lot of the audience will be people with modular racks. But nowadays, hardware with CV I/O is hardly limited to Eurorack – gear from the likes of Moog, Arturia, KORG, and others also makes sense with CV.

CV Tools aren’t the first Max for Live tools for Ableton Live – not by far. Spektro Audio makes the free CV Toolkit Mini, for instance. Its main advantage is a single, integrated interface – and a clever patch bay. There’s a more extensive version available for US$19.99.

Rival DAW Bitwig Studio, for its part, has taken an entirely different approach – you’ll get a software modular engine capable of interlinking with hardware CV wherever you like.

Ableton’s own CV Tools is news, though, in that these modules are powerful, flexible, and polished, and have a very Ableton-esque UI. They also come from a collaboration with Skinnerbox, the live performance-oriented gearheads here in Berlin, so I have no doubt they’ll be useful. (Yep, that’s them in the video.) I think there’s no reason not to grab this and Spektro and go to town.

And since these are built in Max, Max patchers may want to take a look inside – to mod or use as the basis of your own.

What you get:

CV Instrument lets you treat outboard modular/analog gear as if it’s integrated with Live as a plug-in.

Trigger drums and rhythms with CV Triggers.

CV Utility is a signal processing hub inside Live.

CV Instrument, with complements existing Ableton devices for integrating outboard MIDI instruments and effects with your projects in Live

CV Triggers for sequencing drum modules

CV Utility for adding automation curves, add/shift/multiple signals, and other processing tools

CV Clock In and CV Clock Out for clocking Live from outboard analog gear and visa versa

CV In which connects outboard analog signal directly to modulation of parameters inside Live

CV Shaper, CV Envelope Follower, and CV LFO which gives you graphical tools for designing modulation inside Live and using it for CV control of your analog hardware

And there’s more: the Rotating Rhythm Generator, which lets you dial up polyrhythms. This one works with both MIDI and CV, so you can work with either kind of external hardware.

I got to chat with Skinnerbox, and there’s even more here than may be immediately obvious.

For one thing, you get what they tell us is “extremely accurate broad-range” auto calibration of oscillators, filters, and so on. That’s often an issue with analog equipment, especially once you start getting complex or adding polyphony (or creating polyphony by mixing your software instruments with your hardware). Here’s a quick demo:

Clocking they say is “jitter free” and “super high resolution.”

So this means you can make a monster hybrid combining your computer running Ableton Live (and all your software) with hardware, without having to have the clock be all over the place or everything out of tune. (Well, unless that’s what you’re going for!)

If you’re in Berlin, Skinnerbox will play live with the rig this Friday at Superbooth.

They sent us this quick demo of working with the calibration tools, resulting in an accurate ten-octave range (here with oscillator from Endorphin.es).

Watch:

To interface with their gear, they’re using the Expert Sleepers ES8 interface in the modular. You could also use a DC-coupled audio interface, though – MOTU audio interfaces are a popular choice, since they’ve got a huge range of interfaces with DC coupling across various interface configurations.

CV Tools is listed as “coming soon,” but a beta version is available now.

https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/cv-tools-live-coming-soon/

What do you need to use this?

For full CV control of analog gear, you’ll want a DC-coupled audio interface. Most audio interfaces lack that feature – I’m writing an explanation of this in a separate story – but if you do have one with compatible outputs, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the features here, including tuned pitch control. MOTU have probably made more interfaces that work than anyone else. You can also look to a dedicated interface like the Expert Sleepers one Skinnerbox used in the video above.

See MOTU and Expert Sleepers, both of which Skinnerbox have tested:

http://motu.com/products

https://www.expert-sleepers.co.uk/es8.html

MOTU also have a more technical article on testing audio interfaces if you’re handy with a voltmeter, plus specs on range on all their interfaces.

Universal Audio have already written to say they’ll be demoing DC coupling on their audio interfaces at Superbooth with Ableton’s CV Tools, so their stuff works, too. (Double-checking which models they’re using.)

But wait – just because you lack the hardware doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the functionality here with other audio interfaces. Skinnerbox remind us that any audio interface inputs will work with CV In in Pitch mode. Clock in and out will work with any device, too.

The post Ableton release free CV Tools for integrating with analog gear, made in Max appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

SOMA’s PULSAR-23 semi-modular drum machine sneak peak

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 1 May 2019 2:56 pm

SOMA laboratory and enigmatic “romantic” engineer Vlad Kreimer have already delivered the strange and wonderful LYRA “organismic” synths. Next up: a drum machine.

The PULSAR-23 takes on that same “organismic” design philosophy, complete with rich, layered, deep space exploration sounds. With a full 23 independent modules, those powers turn to a drum machine design.

And maybe even “drum machine” doesn’t quite do this justice – you could just as easily imagine this as a percussion-heavy synthesizer. There are four independent loop recorders which trigger events, which you can clock into a single groove or leave to independent timing for more experimental rhythms. You can even set each channel to a sustain, so this is a noise/drone synth, too, not just a dancefloor object.

The PULSAR-23 was first announced last year, but now we get to see it move into its production form factor and – wow, it looks great:

It could be a gorgeous standalone machine, or you could see it as part of a larger modular rig. Full specs:

– 4 drum channels: Bass drum, Bass\Percussion, Snare drum, Cymbals\Hi-Hat
– 4 envelope generators with the unique ability to generate a sustain for the drum channels, turning them into noise\drone synthesizers.
– 4 independent loop recorders with the option for individual clocking. They record triggering events, not audio.
– Clock generator with an array of dividers as a very powerful tool for rhythm synthesis.
– Wide range LFO (0.1 – 5000Hz) with variable waveform.
– Shaos – a unique pseudo-random generator based on shift registers with 4 independent outputs, sample and hold and other cool features.
– FX processor with CV control incl. CV control of the entire DSP’s sample rate.
– Distortion.
– 2 CV-controlled gates.
– 2 CV-controlled VCAs.
– 2 controllable inverters.
– 3 assignable attenuators
– dynamic CV sensors for CV generation etc

Plus there’s MIDI control and sync, in addition to all the CV options. And if you want the really important specs – 52 knobs, 11 switches, 100 inputs and outputs for patching.

There’s also – “live circuit bending” whatever that entails, exactly?

This is the video from June 2018, where the PULSAR-23 was still just a bunch of guts – no pretty red case – but at least gives you an idea of the sound possibilities.

No lie here: SOMA will be way on the top of my list of gear to check out at Superbooth. I think this is poised to be a 2019 highlight.

Previously, we checked this out from SOMA this spring:

SOMA’s Ether is a high-sensitivity ear for your electromagnetic world

The post SOMA’s PULSAR-23 semi-modular drum machine sneak peak appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Moog Matriarch puts all your analog sound shaping in one keyboard

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 25 Apr 2019 4:11 pm

Moog has taken the elements of their semi-modular line and given it a flagship – a patchable, calico-colored keyboard with sequencer, 4-voice paraphonic synth, and effects in one keyboard.

The pitch: even before you plug in cables to the copious patch points here, you can quickly get evolving strings of dreamy chords (or rich melodies), complete with delay and modulation. Those extra (analog, they want you to remember) specs aren’t just about more features. They’re about dialing in imaginative sounds. And so the Matriarch is an all-in-one keyboard that draws from Moog’s modular legacy, but in an integrated design you can use both with and without patching.

We’re definitely living in a weird timestream. When I started writing about music tech and joined Keyboard in the early 2000s, “workstation” keyboards were digital affairs, with functionality hidden deep in menus and screens. The key was to put as many instruments as possible – analog synthesis being seen as something retro and niche. Moog for their part had the Voyager, which took the Minimooog line in the direction of new analog exploration. But even Moog’s offering was primarily connected with MIDI cables, and had a touch panel right on the front.

Now, CV and gate – analog interconnects – are standard equipment alongside MIDI. People are happy to twist knobs rather than just dial up presets. (We, uh, could have told manufacturers that all along. Here’s a hint: if it’s fun, we’ll like it. Hence the term “play” music.)

And even if Moog are still (happily) outside the mainstream, there’s nothing saying their Matriarch has anything but broad appeal.

So here’s a keyboard proudly with wires popping out the top. And while Moog prominently tout “all-analog signal path” and “retro” design, we’re really seeing ourselves back in the parallel universe where analog synthesis never went away. On one hand, we’ve come full circle to some of the features first introduced in analog synthesis, but now it’s clearer what they’re for and how to make them more accessible. So for all its 1970s-derived features (Moog name included), the Matriarch is inventive in a way that makes sense in 2019.

Moog are pulling from the modular world, too, more aggressively than ever. Not only is this patchable, but the design does imagine a series of modules. So you get Minimoog oscillators, a mixer, classic Moog filters, envelopes and sound shapers. They’ve also built in a sequencer/arpeggiator.

The voice configuration allows mono, duo, and paraphonic playing modes, plus you have four notes per step in the sequencer.

My sense is what will make this interesting is the multiple modes on the filters combined with a Moogerfooger-like analog delay and tons of modulation. So you have dual ADSR envelopes and dual analog amplifiers, and two filters you can use in parallel or stereo or series. The delay is stereo (and ping/pong if you want) up to 700 ms – still waiting on Moog to tell me how short that delay can go.

Oh yeah, and ring mod possibilities also sound interesting. Plus they’ve got mults in there for making patching deeper onboard.

Specs:

Mono, duo, and 4-note paraphonic playability
Stereo analog delay with up to 700ms of stereo or ping/pong style repeats
256-step sequencer with up to four notes per step and 12 stored patterns
Arpeggiator with selectable modes (Order, Forward/Backward, Random)
Semi-modular analog synthesizer—no patching required
90 modular patch points for endless exploration
Expressive 49-note Fatar keyboard with patchable velocity and aftertouch
Four analog oscillators with selectable waveshape and hard sync per-oscillator
Full-range analog LFO with six selectable waveshapes
Dual analog filters with parallel (HP/LP), stereo (LP/LP), and series (HP/LP) modes available
Dual analog ADSR envelopes
Dual analog VCAs
Three bipolar voltage controlled attenuators with ring mod capability
2×4 parallel wired unbuffered mults
Additional simple analog LFO useful for adding modulation to delay, filters and VCAs
1/4″ external audio input for processing guitars, drum machines, and more through Matriarch’s analog circuits
Stereo 1/4″ and 3.5mm Eurorack level audio outputs

This is a Moog and a “flagship,” so it doesn’t come cheap – US$1999. That’s not to complain about the price, but it does mean if you’re in that budget, you have a lot of options. (Sitting next to me as I write this is Polyend’s Medusa along with Dreadbox, which has 6 voices instead of four, and some digital oscillators and modulation options that take it in a radically different direction from the Matriarch. Oddly, people complained about its price, and it costs half as much.)

I would personally be pretty tempted by Moog’s own Grandmother, the Matriarch’s baby sibling – with a street price around $800. It’s a monosynth, and the whole architecture is scaled accordingly. (It also has a spring reverb tank in place of the Matriarch’s delay). But you could use the saved money for a little Eurorack skiff.

That said, the Matriarch is a thoughtful, colorful, appealing new top-of-the-line for this family of Moogs. And it gets a Moogfest limited edition at the festival happening now – plus a lot of artists gathered who I’m sure will really want one.

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/introducing-matriarch

The post Moog Matriarch puts all your analog sound shaping in one keyboard appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Founder of music tech forum has died; outpourings of support for Mike McGrath

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 23 Apr 2019 7:37 pm

One of the largest forums for music tech nerd-kind this week reports the loss of its founder: Muff Wiggler’s creator, Mike McGrath, has died. The Internet responds.

I want to first say, my heart goes out to all of you who have lost a friend, a family member, a personal connection, or even a far-off but meaningful Internet connection.

Muff Wiggler, the forum, has for more than a decade been the single most influential online community for people interested in modular synthesis, as well as a range of DIY topics – it’s a common go-to for how-to documentation on electronics, among other topics. It has also hosted widely trafficked official forums for a number of brands, including the likes of Expert Sleepers, Hexinverter, Metasonix, and Snazzy FX. It’s been the object of love, of hate – but always has played a central role in conversations about music making technology and the voltage and circuits pulsing underneath.

And it’s worth saying that the whole project really began with one person, Mike – known by many exclusively online, but host to a community of strangers who often grew close. Like a lot of the blogs and forums that support the music tech community, Muff Wiggler and its creator have even become synonymous. I know personally how demanding that can be.

It wouldn’t be any exaggeration to say that part of the explosive growth of Eurorack and modular synthesis is because of Mike’s creation of the forum – one that inspired rabid consumers at the same time as it collected knowledge of how to engineer the modules.

Photo above, at top by I Dream of Wires, who interviewed Mike in their work on the evolution of the modern modular synthesis fandom.

The Muff Wiggler platform grew into other projects – a store, live events (like a collaboration with TRASH AUDIO in Portland, Oregon), and others, which helped people meet the man behind the forum in person, some of them flying from literally the other side of the world to do so.

About that name – it comes from a handle Mike chose that combined the names of two popular Electro-Harmonix effect pedals, Big Muff and The Wiggler.

For their part, a message from Muff Wiggler’s team promises they’ll keep the site going in Mike’s absence. Kent writes on a admin post: “The moderator and admin staff are going to take the needed time to get things in order and ensure the smoothest of possible transitions. It’ll be rough for a bit.”

In the meantime, there is an outpouring of sadness and gratefulness from people who knew Mike personally and those who knew him in the virtual arena – from the community of people for whom he created a home where none had existed.

The main thread on Muff Wiggler

Synthtopia obituary

Modular giant Ken MacBeth writes: “Mike McGrath……….I hope that you find your peace now……..RIP.”

Mike himself wrote in 2017 about his passion for the project in a Facebook Group, saying it began from wanting to learn about modular synthesis, amidst options that were “intimidating” – to create instead a place where you could make friends. And he talked about the importance of music and his machines in his personal life – in good times and in dark times.

Matrixsynth has a heartfelt obituary which traces some history – even before the forum, including the first blog posts by Muff Wiggler (back when it was just Mike’s alias):

Mike created the de facto modular synth forum on the internet … and he did it in a way that put members first. He created a platform for makers and users of synths to come together and engage directly with each other.

And yeah, I think all of us who have run enterprises on the Internet for music feel this one in our gut. Again quoting the mighty Matrixsynth:

I just can’t believe he is gone. As the host of this site, I feel like I lost a fellow compatriot. Someone I had history with through the ups and downs. Running a site can be a challenge, and just knowing he was out there doing his thing helped. I am going to miss him and the lost experiences we would all have had with him around.

RIP Mike McGrath of Muff Wiggler

Finally, long-time collaborator Surachai writes, “Mike is the connective tissue that bound almost every modular user when information was scarce.”

He goes on to say:

I invited whoever was interested in welcoming the overlord of the synthesizer community to a BBQ at my place and we were met with one of the kindest and smartest people to grace our lives….

His contributions to and maintenance of information cannot be overstated. His reach and ability to connect people cannot be overstated.

Mike McGrath / Muffwiggler

You’ll also find some videos online.

http://muffwiggler.com/

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/index.php

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SPICE is a one-stop modular distortion box – and it needs support

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 25 Mar 2019 7:34 pm

Saturation, distortion, warmth, fuzz – it’s what keeps a lot of us coming back to machines. SPICE is a modular distortion on Kickstarter, suitable for Eurorack or desktop use alike – and it’s getting reader attention partly because it isn’t over the funding line quite yet.

The big picture for SPICE from Plankton Electronics is modular distortion in an integrated, multifunctional design, with sounds ranging from digital crushing to tube distortion, ranging from warm saturation to grimy fuzz.

That functionality you can then get however you like. Want the whole thing as a single desktop unit? Go for it – even if you don’t own any other modular. Want to take that same integrated unit and rack it? Done – as a 38HP Eurorack. Prefer individual modules? Want them assembled? Want them as DIY kits you assemble yourselves? Every option is here.

This is all partly the story of a tube from KORG – the Nutube. This new Japanese-made tube, drawing from fluorescent display tech, sounds like conventional tubes but has an atypically long life and dramatically smaller size. And it uses a tiny amount of the power of tubes – think 2%. That’s not the only distortion / saturation on offer here, but it does allow a full complement of distortion types without requiring a bunch of power or space.

So you get to choose which distortion you want:

  • Clean amplification and filter, no distortion (“boost”)
  • Soft clip saturation
  • Hard clip saturation / distortion
  • Nu-tube distortion – one or two at once (for double double your distortion, double double your enjoyment… etc.)
  • Transistor fuzz (strong clipping)
  • Stomp box filtered high gain distortion, guitar pedal style

Distortion? Yes:

And you can combine these in loads of different ways – which is where the modular bit comes in. You can choose digital or analog, mix and prefilter, or apply an envelope follower to shape the sound.

And, of course, there’s feedback – lots of it.

It’s technical semimodular in that it’s prepatched for a lot of functions, but you can modify it from there.

Sliced into three modules, you get a choice [links to Modulagrid]:
NUTONE VCA and distortion based on the Nutube
SPICEVCF including the analog filter (LP, BP, HP) with tons of CV control and XMOD to self-modulate the filter
ENVF envelope follower

The tube module looks excellent on its own, but mostly I think the draw here is the combined distortion toolkit.

So how much does this cost? You’ll get actual hardware starting around 25EUR, and kits for around 55EUR+. Assembled modules start around 85EUR and then the full modular system will cost you around 450-500EUR, all in. (Prices will be more with VAT … and please, no more lecturing me about how the VAT system works, readers, I live in Germany and own a GmbH; most of our readers are outside the VAT system and don’t owe this tax. They’ve explained all the different prices on their site.)

Spice as modules.

I wasn’t so familiar with this Barcelona-based team before, but they’ve done some really nice work – and have gotten input here from a lot of our friends in the modular and synth community, from Endorphine.es to Befaco to Olivier Ozoux.

And even before I heard from them, a couple of readers wrote hoping CDM would cover this project as they want to see it funded. I hear you – I do, too.

I also love this idea – their SPICE Metapatch software is a Web-era take on the patch book. Instead of drawing with a pencil, you store patch ideas in a Web interface. (It’s still just a picture, but it means you’re free from erasures and terrible drawing skills. Hold on… that projecting thing I do, sometimes, that might be happening again.)

Metapatch is a patch book, but in your browser.

There’s 10 days left. They’re past the halfway mark, so let’s see if the CDM bump helps them out.

Plankton Electronics SPICE – Modular Saturation Unit [Kickstarter]

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Moog teases spectral shift invention for Moogfest

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 22 Mar 2019 5:12 pm

Moogfest is inbound, and that means some new, limited quantity creation of the engineers at Moog. This year it’s a fascinating looking spectral shift module.

The packed festival season is inbound, and whereas that once meant bands and crowd pleasers, now there’s a lot of advanced technology and electronic music – from SONAR to Superbooth to MUTEK to GAMMA to Moogfest, among others.

And Moogfest with a renowned synth builder in the name, of course some of the hardware is also “headlining.” Moog this year haven’t even named their creation yet, but it seems there’s some spectral/vocoder (check the carrier knob) processing going on. They describe it thusly:

This year’s design (shown here patched into synthesizers from previous years’ Engineer Workshops) explores how electronic instruments create an analog of the human experience, speaking directly to the way in which physical circuits resonate within one’s self to create a “Spectral Shift”…

Well, watch:

I’m in another country this Moogfest, but if you splurge on an Engineer Pass, you get to make this and take it home with Moog calibration included. The lineup is filling out, too, with the likes of Daniel Miller, nd_baumecker, Jlin, Martin Gore, GAS, Mor Elian, and others (just to name a few favorites).

More:

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/moogfest-announces-initial-2019-lineup

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The monster modular MacBeth Elements One, unleashed at last

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 26 Feb 2019 10:43 pm

It’s a module as big as Scotland and as loud as creator Ken MacBeth. But the module, spotted rarely like the folkloric monster it is, seems about to go from legend to product.

Ken MacBeth is a kind of esoteric mad genius of the synth world, so when he does flagship synths, he goes all out. The Elements line has come full circle; the Elements One was actually the first design, but it hasn’t yet seen the light of day. We got an all-in-one synthesizer in 2014 (now costing about five grand; originally listed at US$6499), the “Elements,” with a touch keyboard, and its successor, the EL2.

Ken’s vision: a “real sized” synthesizer (which for him means … very large) without “sonic compromise.” That original launch video:

That evolved into this thing with a keyboard:

But if what you want is the module that ate all the other modules, meet the Elements One.

And it is one module – a whopping 84HP / 3U in size. (I have a feeling the ideal Ken MacBeth skiff would arrive in the form of a tractor trailer. Comically, this was intended to be the first of five modules of this size – hence the number.)

Size of run: 50, planned.

Availability: “June/August.” (Those are … not consecutive months, Ken.)

We can go back to Synthtopia in December 2013 for some more clues. Think “spike” oscillators, noise, an “acidic” ladder filter, and ring modulator.

I poke fun (not poke so much as shove on something this size) – but there’s plenty to admire on these instruments, even if they’re not entirely mobile or cost conscious. They take a design nod from classic UK instruments in place of the fiddly, finger-challenging design of today’s Eurorack. And they afford tons of rich cross modulation and sound design options – fat sounding stuff.

That is, whether you want to adopt this and take it home, you do definitely want to play it. The new module will come to Berlin’s storied retailer Schneidersladen, says the manufacturer, and having played the touch keyboard iteration, I’m sure you’ll want to play this module there.

Even short of that, it’s gorgeous to behold, like seeing the Clo Mor Cliffs — okay, I’ll stop making trite Scotland references, it’s just I really would love a holiday to some natural landscapes and we’re all freaked out by Brexit. Apologies, Ken. Everyone makes 24/7 references to Kentucky Fried Chicken around me, so feel lucky.

Got distracted, cough —

Elements One!

And… presumably four more modules.

We await you.

Thanks Patrick DSP for the tip.

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Arturia’s new experimental synth – and Mutable Instruments’ role

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 25 Jan 2019 6:12 pm

It was only a matter of time before some of the craziness of the modular world came to desktop synths, too. Arturia’s new MicroFreak is a budget keyboard with a weird streak.

It’s also been the source of some confusion, because it in fact makes use of oscillators from open source hardware maker Mutable Instruments, but hang tight for an explanation there. (It’s not exactly the focus of this synth, but it is significant – and an interesting illustration of overlapping capabilities in the age of open source.)

$349 (299 EUR) – coming this spring.

Experimental features are making their way into the mainstream. Let’s count – and yeah, that product name MicroFreak fits:

A flat-panel metal touch keyboard (Buchla style), with poly aftertouch. (Doesn’t look like there’s MPE support, though, just poly aftertouch support?)

A matrix for modulation (something associated with synths like the ARP 2500).

Randomization features in the step sequencer – various functions along the top “spice” and “dice” and otherwise rearrange your patterns.

Oscillator features from Mutable Instruments’ open source Plaits engine – and modes like Karplus Strong (physical modeled strings/plucks), harmonic oscillators, and more exotic wavetables.

It’s still an Arturia design, no doubt – the digital oscillators get fed through an analog filter (this time the Oberheim SEM), and the preset storage and control knobs all look Arturia-like and more conventional. But it’s a blend between that and more leftfield hardware, in one very low-cost unit – $349 (299 EUR) this spring.

The resulting design looks a little like it was pieced together from different bits – an ornate keyboard versus a more staid gray body, plus four glaring traffic cone orange knob caps. But that price is terrific, especially considering a lot of modular cases start at that price – let alone what you’d need to even begin to approach these possibilities here.

And – the thinness is fantastic. It seems 2019 is a year of touch keyboards. Don Buchla would’ve been proud of us.

So let’s get back to the Mutable Instruments oscillators, which are one of the more interesting features here. We’ve confirmed that Mutable Instruments and founder/designer Emilie were not directly involved in the design, though she did sign off on the mention of the company name.

Mutable Instruments’ Plaits module code is available open source under an MIT license, so any manufacturer can pick it up and use it – even without asking, actually. That’s by design; Emilie tells us she intended widespread use. (An alternative for open source developers is to use “copyleft” licensing, which requires anyone reusing your stuff to release their source, as well. That would’ve been interesting – theoretically it would have meant Arturia would need to open source their additional oscillators and firmware. The GPLv3 license we’ve used on MeeBlip has this function, for example.)

Some of Arturia’s original copy was perhaps a bit overzealous and caused some confusion about whether Mutable Instruments was a partner on the design. They’ve since clarified that. For further clarification, read the statement on the Mutable forums:

So while it’s not a collaboration, it does show off the power of open source. As Émilie writes:

You can find Mutable Instruments’ DSP code in the Korg Prologue, the Axoloti, the Organelle, VCV Rack, and plenty of other bits of software or hardware. This is not stealing. Plaits’ code is a summary of everything I’ve learnt about making rich and balanced sound sources controlled by a few parameters, it’s for everyone to enjoy.

The important thing here is to differentiate between the open source Plaits modules, some new additions from Arturia, and then the Plaits sounds you get from Mutable’s updated modules. Let’s break it down:

Plaits oscillator modes:

  • VA, classic virtual analog
  • Waveshaper, triangle wave with waveshaping / wavefolding
  • FM (2-operator FM oscillator)
  • Grain, granular synthesis
  • Chords, fixed paraphonic harmonies (hello, trance music, then)
  • Speech synthesis
  • Modal (inharmonic physical model)

Those of us who have been playing with this on hardware or in the authorized versions inside VCV Rack will definitely appreciate seeing these elsewhere. (Really – can’t get enough.)

Arturia did add some pretty significant modes to those:

  • “Superwave” – detuned saw, square, sine, triangle waves, somewhat Roland-ish sound
  • “Harmo” – 32 sine waves for additive synthesis
  • Karplus Strong – physical string modeling
  • Wavetable – scan through wavetable modes

To me, those Arturia additions really anchor this offering, with some pretty fundamental ideas on offer. Put them together, and you should have something really versatile.

But okay, since Mutable Instruments doesn’t get any of your money when you buy the Arturia MicroFreak, did Mutable just give away the store by using an open source license? Well, no, not really – Plaits gives you a full 16 modes, an internal low pass gate, and does all its 32-bit floating point math in hardware that you can bolt into a modular case and interconnect via control voltage. Plus, you can get Plaits in software if you like – see the Audible Instruments Preview for VCV Rack, regularly updated.

Heck, that could compel us Mutable superfans into happily buying these same features multiple times, in Arturia’s hardware, in the pack for VCV Rack (which Mutable has elected to support charity), and in Mutable’s own hardware. Hmmm… a MicroBrute, a little skiff with some Mutable modules, a nice connection to the laptop, maybe again a Raspberry Pi. Okay, I’ll stop. Guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again…)

See:
https://mutable-instruments.net/modules/plaits/

And as for MicroFreak:

https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/microfreak/overview

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Moog’s Sarin is a limited Taurus-based synth that sings high, too

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 24 Jan 2019 5:30 pm

They’re calling it the “analog messenger of joy.” Moog Music’s latest synth is an extremely limited run – and it turns the Taurus bass engine into an instrument you can play in any range. Meet Sarin:

There will only be 2500 of these, so the Sarin is a rarity and a luxury item. And it’s cheery and colorful, as was the recent Grandmother synth.

But the idea is interesting. Sarin starts with two Taurus bass oscillators – arguably one of the better Moog instruments, Taurus – and then modified those oscillators so you can play both the characteristic bass and higher-pitched sounds. Insert various mythical flying discussion here, Moog ad copy writers. But we’re talking about a new range of E0 – D8.

And that to me is the big question here — say what? I’m not sure what they modified or what this means, though the basic notion is interesting. (On a digital synth, we’d assume something with anti-aliasing, but these are analog oscillators!)

They also ship it directly with an editor – which is a cue other manufacturers really might consider taking up. (Of course, Roland has it easy, since at least one third party keeps doing it for them!)

Specs:
Steel chassis
2 “modified” Moog Taurus analog oscillators with hard sync (saw/square waves)
A Taurus ladder filter
Two ADSRs
Multi-wave LFO with MIDI sync
Glide with selectable type
Modulation sources: Triangle, Square, Saw, Ramp, Sample & Hold, and Filter EG
Modulation destinations: Oscillator Pitch, Oscillator 2 Pitch only, and Filter Cutoff

Now more of an expectation – synths should have editors for integration with your projects on your computer and easier access to sounds.

CV / gate inputs: filter CV, pitch, volume, gate, and yes, CV to MIDI conversion of course

The price is steep, as you might expect from “Moog” and “limited edition” – US$599. That means you might check the Moog used market, and … it’s still tempting to get a DFAM or a Mother-32 instead; Moog have to compete with Moog here a bit.

But it’s a unique idea, and this is for someone wanting a special splurge anyway. It’ll be part of the pop-up Moog House of Electronicus Pop-up (not a typo, there’s a whole back story about “an experimental gathering that took place on the barrier island of Tierre Verde during the 1970s”). That’s in LA this week during NAMM.

You can pick it up there, or they’ll ship to you, as well. There’s quite a nice demo from Nick Sanborn. (He’s evidently in bands called Sylvan Esso and Made Of Oak but I ruined my life by moving to Berlin and getting sucked into techno, so I don’t know those bands. Mea culpa. Nice sounds, though!)

https://www.moogmusic.com/products/sirin

https://www.mooghouseofelectronicus.com/pages/sirin

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Bitwig Studio is about to deliver on a fully modular core in a DAW

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 21 Jan 2019 5:21 pm

Bitwig Studio may have started in the shadow of Ableton, but one of its initial promises was building a DAW that was modular from the ground up. Bitwig Studio 3 is poised to finally deliver on that promise, with “The Grid.”

Having a truly modular system inside a DAW offers some tantalizing possibilities. It means, in theory at least, you can construct whatever you want from basic building blocks. And in the very opposite of today’s age of presets, that could make your music tool feel more your own.

Oh yeah, and if there is such an engine inside your DAW, you can also count on other people building a bunch of stuff you can reuse.

Why modulaity? It doesn’t have to just be about tinkering (though that can be fun for a lot of people).

A modular setup is the very opposite of a preset mentality for music production. Experienced users of these environments (software especially, since it’s open-ended) do often find that patching exactly what they need can be more creative and inspirational. It can even save time versus the effort spent trying to whittle away at a big, monolithic tool just go get to the bit you actually want. But the traditional environments for modular development are fairly unfriendly to new users – that’s why very often people’s first encounters with Max/MSP, SuperCollider, Pd, Reaktor, and the like is in a college course. (And not everyone has access to those.) Here, you get a toolset that could prove more manageable. And then once you have a patch you like, you can still interconnect premade devices – and you can work with clips and linear arrangement to actually finish songs. With the other tools, that often means coding out the structure of your song or trying to link up to a different piece of software.

We’ve seen other DAWs go modular in different ways. There’s Apple Logic’s now mostly rarely-used Environment. There’s Reason with its rich, patchable rack and devices. There’s Sensomusic Usine, which is a fully modular DAW / audio environment, and DMX lighting and video tool – perhaps the most modular of these (even relative to Bitwig Studio and The Grid). And of course there’s Ableton Live with Max for Live, though that’s really a different animal – it’s a full patching development environment that runs inside Live via a runtime, and API and interface hooks that allow you to access its devices. The upside: Max for Live can do just about everything. The downside: it’s mostly foreign to Ableton Live (as it’s a different piece of software with its own history), and it could be too deep for someone just wanting to build an effect or instrument.

So, enter The Grid. This is really the first time a relatively conventional DAW has gotten its own, native modular environment that can build instruments and effects. And it looks like it could be accomplished in a way that feels comfortable to existing users. You get a toolset for patching your own stuff inside the DAW, and you can even mix and match signal to outboard hardware modular if that’s your thing.

And it really focuses on sound applications, too, with three devices. One is dedicated to monophonic synths, one to polyphonic synths, and one to effects.

From there, you get a fully modular setup with a modern-looking UI and 120+ modules to choose from.

They’ve done a whole lot to ease the learning curve normally associated with these environments – smoothing out some of the wrinkles that usually baffle beginners:

You can patch anything to anything, in to out. All signals are interchangeable – connect any out to any in. Most other software environments don’t work that way, which can mean a steeper learning curve. (We’ll have to see how this works in practice inside The Grid).

Any in can go to any out – reducing some of the complexity of other patching environments (software and hardware alike).

Everything’s stereo. Here’s another way of reducing complexity. Normally, you have to duplicate signals to get stereo, which can be confusing for beginners. Here, every audio cable and every control cable routes stereo.

Everything’s also in living stereo, reducing cable count and cognitive effort.

There are default patchings. Funny enough, this idea has actually been seen on hardware – there are default routings so modules automatically wire themselves if you want, via what Bitwig calls “pre-cords.” That means if you’re new to the environment, you can always plug stuff in.

They’ve also promised to make phase easier to understand, which should open up creative use of time and modulation to those who may have been intimidated by these concepts before.

“Pre-cords” mean you can easily add default patchings to get stuff working straight away.

What fun is a modular tool if you can’t explore phase? Bitwig say they’ve made this concept more accessible to modulation and easier to learn.

There’s also a big advantage to this being native to the environment – again, something you could only really say about Sensomusic Usine before now (at least as far as things that could double as DAWs).

This unlocks:

  • Nesting and layering devices alongside other Bitwig devices
  • Full support from the Open Controller API. (Wow, this is a pain the moment you put something like Reaktor into another host, too.)
  • Route modulation out of your stuff from The Grid into other Bitwig devices.
  • Complete hardware modular integration – yeah, you can mix your software with hardware as if they’re one environment. Bitwig says they’ve included “dedicated grid modules for sending any control, trigger, or pitch signal as CV Out and receiving any CV In.”

I’ve been waiting for this basically since the beginning. This is an unprecedented level of integration, where every device you see in Bitwig Studio is already based on this modular environment. Bitwig had even touted that early on, but I think they were far overzealous with letting people know about their plans. It unsurprisingly took a while to make that interface user friendly, which is why it’ll be a pleasure to try this now and see how they’ve done. But Bitwig tells us this is in fact the same engine – and that the interface “melds our twin focus on modularity and swift workflows.”

There’s also a significant dedication to signal fidelity. There’s 4X oversampling throughout. That should generally sound better, but it also has implications for control and modularity. And it’ll make modulation more powerful in synthesis, Bitwig tells CDM:

With phase, sync, and pitch inputs on most every oscillator, there are many opportunities here for complex setups. Providing this additional bandwidth keeps most any patch or experiment from audible aliasing. As an open system, this type of optimization works for the most cases without overtaxing processors.

It’s stereo only, which puts it behind some of the multichannel capabilities of Reaktor, Max, SuperCollider, and others – Max/MSP especially given its recent developments. But that could see some growth in a later release, Bitwig hints. For now, I think stereo will keep us plenty busy.

They’ve also been busy optimizing, Bitwig tells us:

This is something we worked a lot on in early development, particularly optimizing performance on the oversampled, stereo paths to align with the vector units of desktop processors. In addition, the modules are compiled at runtime for the best performance on the particular CPU in use.

That’s a big deal. I’m also excited about using this on Linux – where, by the way, you can really easily use JACK to integrate other environments like SuperCollider or live coding tools.

If you’re at NAMM, Bitwig will show The Grid as part of Bitwig Studio 3. They have a release coming in the second quarter, but we’ll sit down with them here in Berlin for a detailed closer look (minus NAMM noise in the background or jetlag)!

Oh yeah, and if you’ve got the Upgrade Plan, it’s free.

This is really about making a fully modular DAW – as opposed to the fixed multitrack tape/mixer models of the past. Bitwig have even written up an article about how they see modularity and how it’s evolved over various release versions:

BEHIND THE SCENES: MODULARITY IN BITWIG STUDIO

More on Bitwig Studio 3:

https://www.bitwig.com/en/19/bitwig-studio-3

Obligatory:

Oh yeah, also Tron: Legacy seems like a better movie with French subtitles…

That last line fits: “And the world was more beautiful than I ever dreamed – and also more dangerous … hop in bed now, come on.”

Yeah, personal life / sleep … in trouble.

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The Stylophone goes totally luxe with the GEN R-8

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 16 Jan 2019 2:50 pm

You’ve seen the Stylophone as the mass-produced, toy-like original. And you’ve seen it as a relaunched digital emulation and as an analog instrument. Now get ready for the Stylophone as premium boutique instrument.

The Stylophone began its story back in 1967, and became one of the iconic electronic musical inventions of the 20th century – its appeal being largely to do with its simplicity and directness. The son of the original inventor, Ben Jarvis, went on to revive instrument under the original manufacturer name, Dubreq.

Now, the GEN R-8 is here with some advanced features and flowery description about British circuitry you might expect from the ad copy for a high-end mixing desk. There’s something a bit funny about associating that with the instrument so long known as a (very musical) toy, but – think of the GEN R-8 as a new desktop synth, the full-featured, grown-up monster child of the original.

Oh, and — it sounds like it’s going to be a total bass beast.

So you know in campy horror movies where someone gets hit with a growth ray or radiation or whatever, and turns into a city-smashing giant? Hopefully this is like that, in a good way.

Sound specs:

Dual analog oscillators (VCOs) and full analog signal path.
Divide-down sub-oscillators (one octave lower) and subsub oscillators (two octaves lower) – switch them all on, and you get six oscillators at once.
12 dB state variable filter – low pass, high pass, band pass, wide notch – which they say is their own proprietary design.
ADSR envelope, now with a “punchy” shorter hold stage when you crank attack and decay peaks, they say.

There’s a delay, too – based on the Princeton pt2399 chip, and “grungy” in the creators’ description – which you can modulate via time CV input.

And some classic overdrive, plus an extra booster stage – this part does actually sound a bit like classic British console gear.

And there’s a step sequencer – 8 banks, 16 steps per sequence, both for the internal synth and external gear (CV/gate and MIDI output).

Plus the whole thing is patchable:
There’s an LFO with eight waveforms and dual outputs, which you can patch to all of the CV ins or to other gear.
The patch panel has 19 minijack CV/gate and audio patch points.

The keyboard is now touch-based – so you don’t need a stylus – and has a sort of absurd set of features (MIDI controller output with local on/off, glide and modulation keys, three octaves of keys).

And it’s made of steel.

Price: £299 / $349 / €329
Availability: Late February 2019 [limited edition]

So it’s really Stylophone on steroids – fully patchable, with delay and drive and filter, MIDI and CV, ready to use as a new synth or as a controller tool with other gear (other semi-modulars, Eurorack, MIDI instruments, whatever). It does appear one of the more interesting new instruments of the year – one to watch.

Demo:

https://dubreq.com/genr8/

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Review: volca modular takes on creative synthesis in a small package

Delivered... Francis Preve | Scene | Tue 15 Jan 2019 7:05 pm

Can KORG take modular patching and Buchla-inspired synthesis, and squeeze it into a $200 instrument that’s still accessible to synth newcomers and experts alike? We go deep with the new $199 KORG volca modular to find out.

To grasp what this cute little box is about, we turn to veteran music tech journalist Francis Preve. Francis has worked across the industry as a sound designer, so he’s got the expertise – but he’s also an experienced teacher, meaning he’s able to translate that expertise to beginners. He’s one of the first to get his hands on a unit, so here’s his take:

Ed.: Richard Devine is also making some noises with this; we’ll add more users’ creations as you send them in:

Where the volca modular fits in

With three analog synths (volca bass, kick, and keys), two drum machines (volca beats and sample) and an FM synth (volca fm), it was tough to guess where Korg might go in expanding this hugely successful product line. Physical modeling was an obvious choice, but West Coast modular? That’s not only unprecedented, but sounds almost physically impossible. How on earth could any company deliver full-featured modular with patch points and cables in a size barely larger than a hardcover book? When I saw the press release, I was admittedly skeptical, as most compact all-in-one modular synths forego necessities like splitters, mults, and patchable trim pots—essential for true modular work.

West Coast synthesis will be new to many users, as it’s not focused on the subtractive techniques popularized by mainstream analog synths. Instead it relies on building new timbres by manipulating simple waveforms (like triangles and sines) with complex FM or AM modulation and distortion-like tools. For more depth on that distinction, you can read up on a simplified definition.

Fortunately, Korg went the extra mile and thoughtfully included a reference card with one side serving to diagram the architecture and patch points of each module and the other side including four common patch configurations as “recipes” to get you started with your own experiments. This really helps with things like creating dual-oscillator patches and adding portamento.

You’re not left in the dark: right out of the box, KORG includes some recipes to get you started.

I got my unit a week ago and in that time, I can confidently make this simple statement: The volca modular is groundbreaking, incredibly versatile, and worth every penny. But that’s just my endorsement as a veteran synthesist and sound designer. Here’s the reasoning behind it.

TLDR Summary

For those who just want a quick assessment of the unit and enough information to determine whether it’s worth your hard-earned cash, let’s start with a high-level overview of the essentials and a few minutes of unprocessed audio straight from the unit (link below)

It actually is an analog West Coast modular. It’s got more patch points than almost every entry-level unit out there, but packing features that will be totally new to producers who don’t already have a 168HP, two-bus Eurorack. If you’re already familiar with East Coast subtractive synthesis, the volca modular feels like it originated in The Upside Down, thus instantly evoking curiosity and experimentation, because unless you’re already initiated, the results can be less than intuitive. So if you’ve never worked with the West Coast methodology, you may be a little lost. But this can be a great way to shift your approach to Zen-like “beginner’s mind”. You can’t put a price on that kind of inspiration—and if you already know what you’re doing with West Coast, you’ll be blown away by the feature depth on this tiny titan.

It makes sound even without patching, but it’s also easy to patch. The oscillator pair includes both FM and wavefolding via its three knobs — and the tuning encoder digitally “snaps” into the most important ratio settings, so you don’t bump into the FM walls too much. That’s something you can’t do that with a fully-analog modular. The integrated wavefolder is also quite gritty and aggressive. At zero (off), you can get chime-like FM sounds, but as you approach maximum values, it’s far more flexible than a distortion.

You’ll appreciate those function generators. The dual Function Generators are quite authentic as they’re inspired by earlier Serge and Buchla gear, so West Coast aficionados will appreciate both their implementation and patchability. The first is an attack-hold-release envelope, while the second can be pressed into service as a pseudo-LFO with a single patch wire for retriggering or clocking. More on that when we go deeper.

— and more “West Coast” goodness from the lowpass gates and other essential tools, too. The two lowpass gates [labeled LPG] are great for both modifying audio signals and experimenting with control voltages—and speaking of CVs, the volca modular also includes a Utility module with trim pot, as well as a mult/splitter. These are essential components of every basic modular rig and are often left off entry-level semi-modulars for some reason *cough*. Korg didn’t cut these corners, thankfully.

Plus there’s a retro-sounding reverb. At the end of the chain is a strange little digital reverb that fuses elements of plates, springs, and multitaps. It livens things up nicely in that “Bebe and Louis Barron” mid-century experimental electronica manner.

You get volca-style sequencing power, not just patching. The sequencer is the real sleeper feature on this unit. While everyone is cooing over the patchability, it’s easy to forget that the sequencer’s motion functions let you automate nearly every knob on the front panel, basically adding an LFO or step-sequencer to any parameter with minimal effort. The other sequencer functions are largely the same as the previous volcas, with additional scale/tonic features for those who are new to this “music” thing—and some microtonal scale design features for those who are completely over this “music” thing. That said, adding microtonal options is another nod to the West Coast aesthetic.

That’s just skating across the synthesis features, so if you’re still on the fence about whether this will fit into your current volca rig (or studio workflow) here’s a few minutes of audio, using the factory sequences, some original patching, and a boatload of custom motion automation.

Ultimately, I think the volca modular is an extraordinary achievement both in terms of synthesis and portability. So much so that I’m ordering a few units for my school, so that I can include West Coast concepts in my synthesis courses, as well as traveling with it on my #vanlife voyages. Modular by the campfire? Hell yeah.

Modules, in depth

Expert mode engaged. Still here? Good. Because I’m now going to examine each module individually and explain West Coast concepts in terms that softsynth users can easily understand. While the Volca Modular is analog—giving it a distinctly warm and chaotic character—the concepts behind manipulating West Coast tone generators could use a bit of demystification for those who are primarily familiar with sawtooths, squares, and wavetables.

Source

This is the volca modular’s primary tone generation tool, and consists of a pair of triangle waves configured in an FM carrier-modulator pair. The three parameters are modulator tuning (continually variable, with slight digital detents for common ratios like 1:1, 2:1, etc), modulator depth (FM intensity) and fold. The fold knob is a hallmark of the West Coast sound, which often starts with a simple waveform like sine or triangle, then modulates and processes it into a brighter waveform. If you want translate the folder’s behavior, it’s not a stretch to think of it as a fancy distortion.

There are CV inputs for overall pitch (both oscillators), modulator pitch (ratio tuning), fold amount, and FM depth, letting you use the function generators or even the output of a lowpass gate to manipulate these functions. And this is just the starting point.

In the volca’s default unpatched state, the Source audio output is routed to the first Lowpass Gate, which helps newcomers get up and running quickly.

Function Generators

There are two function generators and each behaves in a very specific way. The first is an AHR (attack-hold-release) generator, but there’s no separate hold parameter and the release is tied to the decay, like the original Minimoog. Interestingly the attack segment is an inverse exponential curve, while the decay/release is exponential. Exponential decays are the snappiest of all and are great for transients and Kraftwerkian “thwips”.

Patch-wise there are CV inputs for gate, attack, and release parameters, while the CV outs include positive, negative (inverted), and trigger outputs. Thus, there’s a CV for every aspect of the module. Impressive.

In the default routing, this envelope is patched to the cutoff of the first lowpass gate, so it functions as a combo filter and amp AD envelope unless you patch it elsewhere.

The second function generator is a bit trickier. A workable analogy here is to compare it to an LFO in one-shot mode (like the one in Korg’s Monologue). Here, there are two parameters: waveshape and time. Waveshape is continuously variable from an exponential downward ramp (think of it as a fast decay envelope) to a softened attack-decay envelope to a positive ramp/sawtooth (long attack, instant decay) envelope. The Time parameter controls the overall speed of both segments simultaneously—a bit like a sawtooth or triangle LFO in one-shot mode.

As with the first function generator, there are CV inputs for every element, including trigger in, waveshape, and time. On the output side, you’ve got positive and inverted voltages and another trigger out when the shape completes its cycle. This is where the LFO flavor comes into play.

Here are two ways to patch the second function generator for LFO effects.

1. If you want a tempo-synced LFO effect, you can route one of the clock triggers to its trigger input. This will be the most familiar LFO effect, and the clock divisions are clearly labeled on the Volca Modular front panel.

2. If you want the function generator to independently repeat—unsynced—you can route its end trigger output back to the input trigger and create a loop, with the time parameter controlling the “LFO rate”.

LPG

The term “lowpass gate” sounds confusing at first – “lowpass” refers to the filter; “gate” to an envelope. For a detailed explanation of the term – maybe overly detailed – you can read up:

http://electronicmusic.wikia.com/wiki/Lowpass_gate

https://learningmodular.com/glossary/lpg/

But the basic idea is just what the term says: a lowpass gate combines the characteristics of a filter with those of a gate. And that sets it apart from standard vanilla lowpass filters as you encounter on most synths.

In plain terminology, a lowpass gate is just a VCA tied to a non-resonant lowpass filter with a 6 or 12dB rolloff, often based on a Sallen-Key filter (as found on the KORG MS-20, MS-10, and Arturia Brute). When you open the cutoff, you also increase the volume via the VCA. The term “lowpass gate” is associated with the Buchla synthesizer (which added it on early in synth history on the 200 series), but the basic idea of combining filters and amplitude envelopes is not unique to those instruments. The Roland SH-101, for instance, has a filter/amp combo envelope that will work in a similar way.

The specific “West Coast” flavor is then partly related to sound. In this volca, a discerning ear will pick up on the fact that at very low cutoff values, the Source triangle wave (with no folding or FM) transforms into a muted saw which gradually morphs into a triangle as you reach the upper cutoff frequencies. So while it functions much like a standard lowpass in traditional configurations, it does have a little “something extra” that makes it less predictable in some contexts.

Having two LPGs opens a world of possibilities.
For example, you can route the modulating oscillator into the second LPG for a dual-triangle-oscillator effect, while keeping the first LPG for processing the FM modulated carrier, then use the second function generator for an LFO effect on LPG2’s cutoff/VCA. With the sequencer on, it’s extremely complex.

Here’s a look (and listen) at that patch:

Space

The Space module is a digital reverb with a lot of retro flavor. Sonically, it sounds like a hybrid room reverb, with a lot of filtered early reflections, making me suspect that there’s a multi-tap delay hiding in here somewhere. The amount knob governs both mix and decay. Some settings are short and springy, others feel a bit like a cluster of filtered delays with a longer room. But all of them have a BBC Radiophonic Workshop vibe.

Modular tools

While the above is a primer on the individual modules, the thing that makes the volca modular fully functional is the collection of utilities that they managed to squeeze onto the front panel.

I’ll be candid here, there are mass produced semi-modulars available that cost three times as much and still don’t include these essential components. Without them, it’s impossible to get a properly complex modular patch. So seeing them on this volca is a testament to Korg’s attention to detail and a real value for customers.

Sequences

This is the section that governs the overall tempo of your sequences, with additional outputs for clock sub-divisions. There’s also a clock offset patch point. While you can use these for anything, they’re great for triggering Function Generator 2 for tempo-synced LFO effects.

Split/Mult

Here you can split one signal into multiple outs for modulating multiple modules—or combine two signals into a single output. For example, if you want to route a Function Generator to multiple destinations, this is your go-to. I’m delighted to see this addition, as there are more expensive starter that forego it entirely.

Utility

Another often omitted but utterly essential modular tool is a secondary trim pot for scaling the modulation depth of a source. It’s included in the Utility module, along with a pair of additional summing inputs that can be output as A+BxC or A-BxC. On a unit this size, it’s extraordinary.

Woggle

For some reason, some factions in the modular community has decided to call some sample-and-hold modules “Woggles”, so Korg opted to use that term for a nod to Wiard and Make Noise, whose Wogglebug module replicates much of the functionality of the Buchla “Source of Uncertainty” module. In practice, the volca’s “Woggle” module functions as a combo sample-and-hold (randomization) generator with an additional lag generator for smoothing, if desired.

In this Woggle module, there are two inputs and two outputs. The “sample” input is normalled to noise when nothing is plugged in, ideal for classic “random” effects. In the Woggle patch bay, you can apply an external signal (like a VCO) to override this. The second input triggers the sampling of this voltage, which is then output to both the stepped and smoothed patch points, for various randomized effects.

Because the smoothed output is actually a lag generator, you can patch the output of the Volca keyboard control surface into the Woggle signal input, then run its smoothed output back to the main pitch CV input, creating glide/portamento effects. Confusing names aside, it’s another essential module with a ton of versatility.

Conclusions

It’s mind-woggling what Korg has packed into the volca form factor. This modular will easily fit in a backpack or messenger bag, but includes nearly every essential module for dipping a big toe into the world of West Coast-inspired sound design. If you’re a volca collector, this is arguably the hippest unit Korg has released to date. And if you’re just a synth fan with looking for a way to give your rig even more analog flavor, the price point is absolutely irresistible. Put another way, if you bought a Eurorack for West Coast synthesis and equipped it similarly, you’d spend at least three times as much as this unit.

I’m fairly certain the volca modular will be backordered for a while, so order it now.

https://www.korg.com/us/products/dj/volca_modular/

Francis Preve’s site covers his professional background in detail, from sound design to writing to production and teaching – plus unique projects like his Scapes environmental sounds. Visit https://www.francispreve.com/.

The post Review: volca modular takes on creative synthesis in a small package appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

KORG volca modular and volca drum are real – and now we’ve got details

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 15 Jan 2019 7:13 am

Some things are too good, or too improbable, to be true. Apparently that doesn’t apply to KORG’s volca series. Because if the ultra-compact, affordable modular and drum were exactly what you wished for, well – they’re here.

These will look familiar, because images of the top panels of these two pieces of kit hit the Internet in December. The funny thing was, a lot of people responded with “oh there’s no way that modular could be real.” Guess again.

The newest volcas are a modeled drum/percussion unit and a compact modular with tiny header pins for patching.

volca drum

This isn’t the volca series’ first take on percussion. It’s had a full drum machine with analog circuitry (volca beats), a bass drum synth piece built around the classic MS-20 filter (volca kick), and a digital sampling machine (volca sample).

But volca drum could turn out to be the most interesting yet, if they’ve nailed its sound source. volca drum is a percussion synth, with diffeent DSP-based models for sounds.

The WAVE GUIDE controls in the middle are the most interesting. And of course, having KORG’s sequencer with motion controls attached to a parameterized percussion synth seems really tasty – as with the volca kick, this could be interesting for all kinds of different parts, not just the obvious ones. But we’ll have to wait to hear more about it.

KORG for their part promise “standard percussive sounds” and “eccentric drum styles.”

Price: US$169.99

Availability: early 2019

volca modular

The volca drum has been so far overshadowed, though, by the curiosity of the volca modular.

There are eight independent functional modules in this unit. They’re pre-wired for patchless operation, but you can also reconfigure them with a whopping 50 patch points. Tiny jumper wires are included for connecting to the onboard pins. The volca modular is like a tiny toybox of sound design – a Buchla Easel for cash strapped millennials. (Okay, all of us older folks, too.)

Okay, but then – is it a modular? Well, even KORG cautiously dub it “semi-modular,” but while there’s no clear line, I’d say even modular is a reasonable term. While modular is now taken by some to mean something with interchangeable modules, especially in this age of Eurorack, I’d say anything with discrete functional modules that be interconnected in different ways ought to qualify.

And yeah, while this will work without patching, so too did the ARP 2500, and no one called that semi-modular.

Enough of semantics, though: it’s cool, as you’ll see in today’s hands-on review from Francis Preve.

The price is a little higher for a volca, but … no matter. This is a spectacular amount of modular patching in a single unit, and I think it’ll be really popular.

Price: US$199.99

Availability: early 2019

Side note: KORG are hardly the first to suggest this kind of modular patching. Phillip Stearns and Peter Edwards envisioned a modular system you’d build entirely on a breadboard – hyper-modular, if you will:

Edwards went to work for Bastl Instruments, who not coincidentally employed these jumper wires on their own instruments (like Kastle).

And if you feel volca modular isn’t quite what you’d want in a volca modular – like you’d rather have interchangeable, separate modules – that’s been done, too, in the form of the AE Modular Synth:

But the volca modular is unique in focusing on West Coast style synths – an oscillator source you make more complex with modulation and wavefolding, and which even gets fed into Buchla-style modules like the LPG (low pass gate).

And let’s be clear: it’s also unique and cool. Hope I get to play with one, too, soon.

The post KORG volca modular and volca drum are real – and now we’ve got details appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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