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

Make Noise are turning a classic 1972 synthesis book into a video series

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 21 Mar 2018 6:57 pm

Even as modular synths make a comeback, the definitive work on the topic languishes out of print since its 1972 publication. But now, one synth maker is translating its ideas to video.

The folks at Make Noise, who have been one of the key makers behind Eurorack’s growth (and a leader in on the American side of the pond), have gone all the way back to 1972 to find a reference to the fundamentals behind modular synthesis.

“Where do I find a textbook on modular synthesis?” isn’t an easy question to answer. A lot of understanding modular comes from a weird combination of received knowledge, hearsay, various example patches (some of them also dating back to the 60s and 70s), and bits and pieces scattered around print and online.

But Allen Strange’s Electronic Music: Systems, techniques, and controls covers actual theory. It treats the notions of modular synthesis as a fundamental set of skills. It’s just now out of print, and a used copy could cost you $200-300 because of automated online pricing (whether anyone would actually pay that).

So it’s great to see Make Noise take this on – if nothing else, as a way to frame teaching their own modules.

And… uh, you might find a PDF of the original text. (I think most people read my own book in pirated form, especially in its Russian and Polish translations – seriously – so I’m looking at this myself as a writer and sometimes educator and pondering what the best way is to teach modular in 2018.)

I’m definitely watching and subscribing to this one, though – and this first video gives me an idea… excuse me, time to load up Pd, Reaktor, and VCV Rack again!

Allen Strange wrote the book on modular synthesizers in the 1970s. Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls. Unfortunately since the expanded 1982 edition, it has never been reprinted, and in today’s landscape where more people have access to modular synths than ever before, very few have access to the knowledge contained within. This video series will explore patches both basic and advanced from Strange’s text. Even the simplest patches here yield kernels of knowledge that can be expanded upon in infinite ways. I have been heavily influenced by Strange since long before I became a modular synth educator. Please share this knowledge far and wide. The first video in the series covers one basic and one slightly less basic patch using envelopes.


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From Argentina, spectacular custom controllers and a DIY platform

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 21 Mar 2018 1:23 am

Latin America has long been a source of creativity in electronic music. But a bright spot in growing its own electronic hardware comes from Yaeltex, and their vision of unique custom instruments.

A new producer in Argentina

Based in Buenos Aires, Yaeltex are specializing in custom controllers for a range of musical and visual applications, hardware and software. There’s the Miniblock – a high-end, boutique wood-cased controller made in a run of just 30 units. (The wood even comes from their hometown in Patagonia.) And they also make wild, one-off custom controllers direct from customers’ imaginations – plus a platform that lets DIYers make their own stuff from scratch. And they’ve got growing plans in the works, too.

Whether you’re a customer in Buenos Aires or Barcelona, it’s also a big deal that this is coming from Latin America. It’s a first indication of the kind of makers we could see spring up in the area.

And there’s a need. While the particulars differ from country to country, South America faces two major problems. One, a lot of people just don’t have the purchasing power on local salaries and with local currencies to afford products priced for countries like the US, UK, Japan, or Germany. Two, as if that weren’t bad enough, these countries typically slap high import duties on top of the products, making them even more expensive to import. (To the north, Mexico’s trade alliance and economic integration with the USA helps on that second point, at least.)

Of course, these problems could also be an opportunity for a new wave of musical inventors based in the region. And then there’s the chance to localize directly to Spanish and Portuguese.

Custom controllers

On the custom side, you’ve got a range of custom modules that can be combined into a dream controller, including faders, pots, switches with LED lighting, distance sensors, joysticks, and arcade buttons. And they do cool color panels. These are made into the one-of-a-kind rarities you see here, made in conversations with the buyers.

And an open platform

Then there’s the Kilomux shield, which makes it easier to produce your own MIDI controllers using the open, artist-friendly Arduino environment.

Around that, they’ve constructed a whole ecosystem of tools for connecting modular controller add-ons, and configuring the hardware with custom names and I/O mappings – all of these tools open source.

How is this being used? Mateo Ferley Yael tells us:

Most of our clients are making custom controllers for Ableton Live, Traktor, dedicated VST controllers and Hardware Synth controllers like MORPHI, that is designed to control Dave Smiths Mopho and Tetra, making possible to access most “hidden” parameters of the synth in its hardware interface. We also have lots of interest from VJs that are designing their own controllers to use in Resolume, Modul8, Isadora, vvvv or processing.

With Ableton users in mind, there’s a 20% discount for nativeKONTROL DDC for adding integration with Ableton Live.

In conversation

I asked some other questions of Mateo about how their projects are evolving.

Peter: What led you to produce the Kilomux?

Mateo: We were inspired by Livid’s Brain, the Highly Liquid [DIY MIDI range], and the Doepfer DIY MIDI boards, which we used in our first projects. After using them, we had the idea to make an Arduino-based and open source take on this kind of board. Because “Arduino-based” sounds difficult by default for many musicians and artists, we also made a friendly framework to work with, without the need to solder (using ribbon cables to connect modules) or write code (using our Kilomux configuration tool, Kilowhat). We are now working on a new version of it, adding lots of new features and stuff we learned since 2015, that we hope to launch in early 2019.

What does it mean that you’re trying to build up the scene in Argentina – what’s that like?

Well, even if in Argentina we have a big and competitive software industry, there’s not much hardware development for arts and expression, but happily, we see more brands coming up every year. In a context with such economic constraints and instability, it is really hard to grow a business around products that are not about basic needs. Our brand and most of the hardware manufacturing brands around here are all led by passionate people that choose to risk their time and economic resources to make what we love. There is an amazing synth and Eurorack community and a growing offering of locally-made modules and synth-related products.

Are you finding you’re getting a Latin American customer base, too? What do you think the future of that may be?

Presently, our main target is Latin America. Most of our customers are in Argentina; we have a growing customer community in Mexico and we’re starting to get orders from other Latin American countries. For people from this part of the world, it’s not typical to see products like ours made in Latin America, because of the lack of a local hardware industry. Most of the equipment we buy comes from EU, US, or China, and that’s not because we don’t have the talent or knowledge – the main cause is high manufacturing costs. Shipping charges and taxes make it almost impossible for us to be competitive with the prices of leading manufacturing countries. So people that get to us and see our products are happily surprised when they find we have something special, well done, with support and care for details.

We find that Latin America is a missing voice inside this industry. The way we decided to go is to add value by making unique and original products. We already ship worldwide through FedEx, but we are looking forward to hitting the international market in 2019.

Ed.: this also of course illustrates why protectionism doesn’t necessarily benefit the local manufacturing scene – because it makes importing components more expensive, thus driving up local prices. So it’s terrific they’ve managed to navigate around that problem.

What are you sourcing locally actually, versus importing?

We are locally sourcing all the casing (front-back panels, wood case custom made in Patagonia) and have in-house software development, hardware design and product assembly workforce. All the electronics comes, after testing and tough-selecting the best providers, from the US and China. Even import taxes and shipping costs are really high, we are working hard to keep prices as low as we can.

Thanks, Mateo! We’ll be watching!

So, there’s so much to see with their custom platform for DIYers, that I’ll devote that to another story. And keep your eye out for other developments from Yaeltex and the scene in Argentina and around Latin America. (We’re spoiled with all the interchange in Europe, thanks to being closer geographically and bound together by cheap, fast trains, buses, and flights! So we should definitely get not only more coverage from South America, but see that it’s in Spanish or even Portuguese, since online information becomes critical! Happy to partner with any other sites working on this, too.)



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Oi, Kant! is a raunchy, glitchy, out-of-control patchable groove machine

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 20 Mar 2018 4:56 pm

Artist Ewa Justka has built a drum/bass machine that’s as chaotic as our times – a dirty, feature-packed, mayhem generator. And you can buy or build one for yourself, too.

Ewa’s project is open source – warts and little mistakes and weird bits and all. And it makes one hell of a sequenced racket – the hardware embodiment of Ewa’s mind-scrambling live shows as well as her workshops. (Ewa’s frequently played Berlin, London, and around Europe, and at Unsound Festival – and co-hosted a MusicMakers Hacklab with me, too, at CTM Festival, where she spread just this sort of mischief and sonic ingenuity to a whole group of people.)

So what is it, exactly? Ewa calls it “a sort of drum machine” or “drum-ish machine.” Basic features:

3 voices: drum, bass line, cymbal
Sounds all based on CMOS chips (hence their glitch-y, aggressively digital timbres)
Multiple independent sequencers, synced to a master clock
External clock input (for pulse from other gear) – patchable to each of the four voices
Independent audio outputs for each voice (though no master out – BYO mixing)
Power via 9V battery or external source (sold separately)
Knobs and buttons and bright lights and photosensors (because D-BEAM!)

So patch it together, and what you get is four screaming voices, clipping along either to the internal clock or external sources. Make separate sequences, clock everything together – as you like.

Watch the madness:

All those separate ins and outs and independent triggers mean you can put this together with other analog, DIY, or modular gear, for effects processing or more complex rhythms. Or just plug those four outs into a mixer and use as-is.

But you can get pretty experimental or pretty groovy or pretty groovy-experimental sounds out of this thing. Excellent.

And, of course, apart from a product name featuring Kant, you get all of this in a unique, art-y looking package. There are also awesome parameter names, like “cantaloupe,” “Canterbury,” and “canteen,” and some … less family-friendly ones.

It’s a boutique creation, designed and built by Ewa herself, and sells to you for £205.00 plus shipping (from the UK), available on her Etsy shop.

Optotronics: Oi, Kant! [Etsy.co.uk]

That page also has links to the documentation and circuit files (on Dropbox). If you get one, do share the noises you make.

Note, there’s no specific open source hardware license on this at the moment, but that was evidently the intention — talking to Ewa about an explicit license.

The post Oi, Kant! is a raunchy, glitchy, out-of-control patchable groove machine appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Upcoming Dreadbox Medusa combines analog synth, grid sequencer

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 19 Mar 2018 3:36 pm

The boutique maker of synths, effects, and modular are teasing something new for May. And it looks like this compact analog synth is getting a grid sequencer, too.

The result looks a bit like someone crossbred the Novation Launchpad and Circuit range with the hands-on, analog approach of Dreadbox synths like (most recently) the Hades monosynth we saw in the fall. This time, the Athens-based maker Dreadbox has enlisted the help of Poland’s Polyend, who make the SEQ sequencer.

And what that means is, you get the sequencing (and arp, etc.) powers of the grid on one side, with lots of faders and knobs to tweak to shape the sound on the other side. (Novation’s own Circuit Bass Station did that, but now you get a new boutique instrument to join, too.)


To be perfectly honest, I’d totally forgotten about the Medusa. (CDM never forgets – so I found myself writing about it in the fall.) But what’s striking is how Dreadbox have redesigned the front panel, after incorporating that svelte grid sequencer from Polyend – apparent even in these steeply angled photos. The filter and envelope controls appear like they might be the same, but it seems some pots have possibly replaced faders, and there are whatever those buttons are. See our earlier photo:

Medusa is a Dreadbox analog synth with Polyend arp, sequencer

Big disclaimer here – Dreadbox have not repeated the specs they shared in the fall, but for review, here they are again – and we’ll see if anything was tweaked along with the change in appearance:

All Analog Circuit developed by Dreadbox
Midi to CV, Sequencer and Arpeggiator developed by Polyend
64 step Sequencer that can store the Filter’s Cut off, Modulation Wheel and Velocity values, with a memory of 7 sequences
Arpeggiator with Up, Up-Down, 2 Octave Up, 2 Octave Down, 2 Octave Up-Down or Played Order
3 Classic Dreadbox VCOs:
2x osc with saw, pulse or triangle wave
1x osc with advanced wave forming (7 different waveforms)
A brand new 12dB/oct Filter design with variable thickness (active for frequencies 110Hz and below)
A dedicated Attack, Decay/Release, Sustain Envelope Generator to the Filter and the Amp
A Simple and Easy to use Modulation section
You can Polychain multiple units and achieve Polyphony
8 patch points for eurorack experience

Medusa will be available in May 2018, according to the banner on the front of Dreadbox’s site. (That coincides neatly with Berlin’s Superbooth event, too, which has fast become the premiere event of the year for synth lovers – eclipsing even America’s NAMM show.)

They also have a slogan: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

We’ll see – looks like one of the more interesting product launches this year.

Tip of the hat to our friends at Synth Anatomy on this one!

Dreadbox Tease New Compact Analog Synthesizer With An Built-In Polyend Sequencer

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This custom TR-09 controller is also a great starting point for DIYers

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 16 Mar 2018 6:26 pm

Sometimes, when manufacturers don’t give us exactly what we need, a wonderful thing happens: people invent something to make up the difference.

In this case, while the solution involves Roland’s cute li’l TR-09, the resources here will be useful to anyone curious about making custom controllers – with or without pint-sized Roland drum machines.

Kyle Evans, aka pulseCoder, wanted more hands-on controls for live shows of the TR-09. Those tiny little pots on the machine just weren’t cutting it. The resulting build is beautiful and futuristic – partly because when you build stuff for yourself, you can lavish some extra expense on parts and not worry about pesky things like shipping weight and profit margins. (That’s one reason the DIYer will always, always have an edge over store-bought gear.)

But the other story here is, building this sort of controller has gotten a easier in the past few years than it used to be. Advancements like Arduino, Teensy, and kit-friendly multiplexers may not mean much to people building similar microcontroller-based projects some twenty years ago. But if you’re a musician and say something like “uh, what’s multiplexing?” – this is a nice leg up.

With live performances enjoying a nice renaissance on techno lineups and such, it seems the time is right for some tinkering. So here you go:

1. The Teensy LC microcontroller is the brains of the operation – it’s an easy, inexpensive, flexible chip you can program with the artist-friendly Arduino environment.

Teensy LC store

How to use MIDI with Teensy

2. Multiplexing is a way way to use all those switches, pots, and LEDs without needing so many separate wires. And to help you prototype faster, hobbyist emporium Sparkfun makes a kit that handles just this problem:

Sparkfun Multiplexer

Multiplexer hookup guide

3. The glue to make this work is a little bit of code. You can check out Kyle’s code as a model, especially if you’re also interested in making a TR-09 controller:

TR-09 MIDI code

4. Power tools! It’s not a fun DIY project if you don’t get to do some drilling, satisfying the basic human need to make loud noises and accomplish stuff. Kyle tells CDM: “these arcade switched are not illuminated by default, I drilled holes in the bottom of the plastic casing and added LEDs 🙂

Here’s a look at that finished build:

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Control and unlock hidden features on Roland’s TR-08 (the small one)

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 15 Mar 2018 6:59 pm

While everyone is chasing after Roland’s new TR-8S (see our hands-on test), there are lots of the little TR-08s around. This tool will help you get more out of the Boutique 808.

Okay, first, let’s review:

TR-808: the original 1980-1983 drum machine.
TR-8: the first “AIRA”, the big one with the neon green trim (which can be an 808, 909, 606, 727, 707…)
TR-09: the Boutique Series made to resemble the TR-909 – small and (for extra confusion) more 303-sized
TR-08: the second Boutique Series drum machine, also in a small form factor
TR-8S: the second flagship AIRA, now with sample playback

I’m sure I accidentally referred to that last one as “TR-08S” at least once. Mea culpa.

But there’s still a place for the pint-sized TR-08. And I hear it’s been an enormous hit. Why not? The TR-8S may be more powerful, but the TR-08 is cute and compact and also doubles as an audio interface, so you can pack it into a micro-sized setup.

And with that popularity, you can expect some editors. Often times the user community comes up with stuff that bests what Roland provides.

Momo Müller writes us with his editor/librarian/controller, which joins his exhaustive set for the Boutique Series.

Run this as a Mac or Windows plug-in/standalone, and you can do some handy things:
1. Store parameters in files
2. Recall parameters when you open a project (via the plug-in)
3. Control and automate hidden parameters not on the front panel

#1-2 of course are things you can’t do with an actual 808 – so for live performance or studio sessions, you can quickly recall different settings without having to tweak your way back yourself.

Hidden parameters:
Bass Drum and Snare: Tune and Compression
Clap, CB, Tom, CY, RS: Decay
RS, CB, OH, Clap, CH: Tune

Gorgeous UI, too, Momo – I don’t even have a TR-08, but I would hire you to do UI design. (Plus… does this actually look better than the hardware itself?)

Acid. Demo. Video.

Find the whole series – they call cost just a few bucks, and work in VST/AU/standalone:


For instance:

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Crazy8Beats puts MIDI, analog sequencing, and insanity in one unit

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 8 Mar 2018 6:40 pm

This boutique hardware melds live performance and programming, MIDI and analog triggers, into one desktop pattern maker. And it’s now shipping.

One of the nice things about Roland’s TR-8S this week is that it doesn’t try too hard to be a sequencer. That is, it’s a drum machine with the ability to do some triggering, but it doesn’t get wrapped up in so much functionality that it starts to get complicated.

All of this leaves room for desktop boxes that really focus on creating patterns. And ideally, they’d be suited not just to people who want to do a lot of involved programming, but might limber up their fingers and play live, too.

That’s essentially what the Crazy8Beats from Twisted Electrons is. True to their roots in making weird boxes for acid and chip music, they’ve packed it with features for lots of pattern permutations. But unlike some past attempts by other boutique makers, they’ve kept those features handy with one-touch buttons. (You know, I’m beginning to think that one easy test is – look for sequencers with either simplified screens or no screen at all, if you crave hands-on tactile control.)

The price is at EUR303, but integrates both MIDI I/O and plenty of dedicated trigger outs. So it’ll talk to your MIDI gear. It’ll talk to your analog gear. And if you must, you can even bolt it in a Eurorack case (though it seems way easier to access if it’s flat on a surface).

What I suspect may make this one tantalizing to people, though – in addition to that clever MIDI and analog integration, and a big punch-board style display showing off the different tracks – you get per-track swing and a “crazy” feature with live remixing and randomization.

Plus, you can modulate CC as well as patterns

So… it’s crazy. Oh, yeah, it’s crazy.

Check this nice walkthrough:

Or trip along as Liquid Sky Berlin puts this in action on some acid-flavored madness with other gear:

Via gearporn.berlin


8 Hybrid Analog/MIDI Tracks

8 MIDI tracks, 3 MIDI ports (1 In & 2 Out)
8 Analog Trigger outputs

Variable Accent/CV output per step

MIDI velocity amount, CC modulation, or both per step.
8BIT 0-5V Analog CV output per step

Trigger input/output to sync Crazy8Beats to other devices
MIDI input to receive MIDI clock and set up parameters
MIDI Clock sent on both ports
16 patterns per track
Up to 16 steps per pattern
Individual patterns change per voice (or all at once)
Up to 16 patterns can be chained to create a song
4 play modes per track (forward, reverse,ping pong, random)
Copy, Paste, Clearing of patterns
8 Levels of Swing per track
Crazy feature enables probability and live remixing of patterns
Rhythmic Drill effect with variable rate

16 Pads can be used to punch record patterns live or program visually.

The pads are backlit to provide visual feedback of the pattern you are programming and the tracks that are active.

64 Step LEDs enable you to see 4 tracks advance at any time.

Shipping now.

EUR303 including VAT.


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KOMA’s Field Kit FX is like a crazy studio in a tiny box: videos, manual

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 7 Mar 2018 1:47 pm

How do you demo or document something like KOMA Elektronik’s Field Kit FX? Well, you treat it like the mad experimental sound laboratory it is.

KOMA’s Field Kit FX was a massive hit even as a crowd funding project. It’s still listed as preorder, but will start to ship this month, beginning with backers.

In the meantime, our friends and music mavens Isabella and Zuzana (the latter a sometimes CDM contributor) have been working on helping document what you can do with this beast, from deep inside the Neukölln lair of the indie manufacturer.

And… yeah, it’s darned cool.

The “manual” isn’t a dry technical doc, either. It’s a recipe book full of creative ideas:

Field Kit FX

And the videos show how you can build ideas with this, as well. The whole package is the very opposite of a uni-tasker. So there’s a spring reverb, digital delay, a four-channel mixer with tone control, frequency shifter, looper, bit crusher, envelope generator, and a little sequencer. And both digital and analog effects have copious mappings to control voltage, so you can manipulate and automate effects from other gear (including modular devices). That means there’s a whole lot to look at.

There’s a video featuring the looper & digital delay:

And the delay and the spring reverb (the rectangular tank you see attached):

Sequencing is included, too, for some rhythmic effects, so you can add that in:

Check out the hardware:


Koma just unveiled a whole patchable analog effects toolkit

The post KOMA’s Field Kit FX is like a crazy studio in a tiny box: videos, manual appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Roland TR-8S hands-on: a more playable, powerful drum machine

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 5 Mar 2018 9:00 am

Roland today unveils the TR-8S, an updated take on the AIRA TR-8 drum machine. We’ve been testing it – and it looks like exactly the sequel we all wanted.

Basically, if you threw out the limitations of the original TR-8, put it in a more attractive case, and expanded the sound and performance powers of the box, of course you’d make us happy.

So the TR-8S loads your own samples, atop a wider, updated range of built-in models of classic Roland gear and preloaded sonds. It’s more playable and immediate, thanks to expanded controls and functions. It has effects sends for each part, plus a bunch of new effects to choose from. It lets you record automation, so you can make the sound shift along with your drum patterns. It integrates more easily with other gear, thanks to separate audio outs, and with your computer, thanks to a multichannel USB connection that also lets you use the onboard effects.

To put it even more simply: the TR-8S makes more sounds, and it’s more fun to play. Oh yeah, and it looks pretty instead of fugly.

It’s still not a sampler – you only get sample playback. And it’s not a new drum synth – while it models the original Roland machines, there are only emulations of old circuitry, not any new models.

But instead of just feeling like an 808/909 rehash, the new TR-8S really feels like a new hub for sequencing and drum parts, one that is equally at home with gear or a computer.

Price – US$699 (EUR699 with VAT), available this month.

But as I’ve had some time to play, let’s take a closer look.

Breaking down the new features

Let’s not forget the reasons the TR-8 became a hit, shortcomings or no. It pretty well nailed widely-used 808 and 909 sounds and behaviors. But that alone wouldn’t be enough – to become a live gigging favorite, the TR-8 had to also add hands-on controls. And that seems to be why so many people adopted it. The faders alone make it instantly more appealing than a whole host of competing drum machines. It means you can actually play the thing, as if it’s an instrument. So any number of fancy, expensive drum machines are useless as live instruments if you’re navigating those features by diving through menus rather than playing them.

The problem with the original was, the box wasn’t much more than a nice interface to those sound models. Even adding 727 sounds was a paid add-on. And the available effects were limited. Plus there was the weird “scatter” function, which scrambled patterns rhythmic variations and effects in a way that seemed to cater to EDM fans, but afforded very little control. And let’s not get started on the toy-like green case and blinding lights.

The “S” revision does more than just address some shortcomings. It manages to present a much more capable device, all round.

More sounds. The TR-8S has a host of sounds included right out of the box: 808, 606, 909, 707, and (Latin!) 727. (Let’s assume they’re saving the Roland CR-78 for a small Boutique Series remake?) Roland also says these now incorporate new modeling tech running on a new processor, though I haven’t yet been able to evaluate how that compares to their other recent gear.

Note again that this means they’ve modeled the analog circuitry of their original analog drum machines, not simply included samples of the sounds those make. That’s the Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology they like to tout.

The unique ploy here is being able to mix up that engine with other sample-based sounds, including your own.

Sample loading. That “S” in the name is obviously for sample playback. There are a bunch of new built-in samples, plus an SD card slot round the back of the unit. Load your own samples there, and adjust basic parameters (speed, start point, direction).

You can’t load big one-shots, so this is about custom kits, not playing stems or backing tracks. There’s no live sampling capability, either.

But you do get to build kits up from your own sounds or mix and match with the TR’s circuit models.

Smarter, more fluid rhythms and expression. The step sequencer is of course part of the draw of the TR line. But now you can break up some of the potential monotony of that interface. Sub-steps and fills let you program in more complex rhythms. (The original TR-8 let you do basic fills and variations, but now you can hit one button and program in exact sub-steps.)

You can also automate fills and variations. You can add 8 variations and chain up to 128 steps. (The previous model lacked chaining and additional variations.)

In addition to step-programming accent, you can also use a single, velocity-sensitive pad for adding more levels of velocity live. This isn’t an MPC by any means, but it fits the workflow of the Roland, while allowing more nuanced performances. You can add flam, too, via the step sequencer. And all of this is just as easy as toggling steps normally is – so complex rhythms become easily accessible.

This unassuming green pad lets you add velocity and not just push-button steps and accents.

The other reason all of this matters: think of the TR-8S as a powerful rhythm programmer. Because it has trigger outs, you can use this power with synths and other drum machines, not just the internal TR sound engine.

More patterns and automatic chaining mean the TR-8S lets you make more complicated rhythms – but while retaining the simplicity of the original. The same is true of adding subdivisions to a rhythm. Tap “sub” and you can add more complex rhythms on an individual step.

For automating variations, you can now use sophisticated fill controls.

Powerful effects. The first TR-8 had some basic effects, but the TR-8S has effects that work both on individual parts and on the master, with more complete control over each. There are independent stereo reverb and delay sends for each instrument.

You simply dial in the effect you want, and then it’s always there for use from the CTRL knob on each part.

Above those signature faders, a new third “control” knob is assignable and lets you tweak parameters and effects sends for each part.

Everything is tweakable. Each sound gets its own tune and decay parameter, plus an assignable controller (the additional knob) which you can use to gain access to more parameters or to the effects sends. This means you can take those TR sounds and warp them, or work with your own samples in new ways. And those three knobs let you shape sounds as you play.

You can also record motion automation and add it to patterns. That was definitely an oversight on the original TR-8, but now that it’s here, it pairs nicely with the new rhythmic features and assignable controllers.

Multichannel connections with gear and computers. Separate outputs – at last!

For use with gear, you get eight separate outputs, plus a stereo external audio input. This means you could trigger external gear, use external effects, add internal effects to external gear, and use external mixing and recording. (You don’t get melodic sequencing – you’ll have to do that externally – but the interface of the TR-8 isn’t really built around that anyway.)

Connect via USB, and you get not only MIDI I/O, but multichannel I/O with all those audio ports. You can use just a USB cable to connect to the Roland MX-1 mixer, too, via what they call AIRA Link. You can also even route round-trip to the TR-8S’ effects from a computer. (Why would you do that? Simple – still more controls, all in the same interface.)

Loads of I/O – input plus separate outputs/triggers. Connect to a computer, and all of this is also an audio/MIDI interface.

Flexible lighting. It’s not just the green trim that’s gone. The LEDs now seem designed for users and not just to look flashy in music retailers. So in addition to dimming the lights, you can set color and glow options to keep track of what you’re using.

What it’s like to use

The important thing to me about the TR-8S isn’t really its power on paper, but the fact that you get all of this as something you can play and improvise with.

There’s some light menu navigation required to get things working the way you want – deciding what the CTRL knob for each part does, adjusting a particular parameter, selecting your kit.

But then once that’s done, everything is accessible without menus or complexity of any kind, in a spacious, obvious control layout. That frees you up to focus on rhythm and sound, directly through physical interaction – not through a bunch of programming and editing.

I spent an afternoon with Nick de Friez from Roland here in Berlin, combining the TR-8S with a MakeNoise 0-Coast semi-modular synth and an original Roland SH-101. (A newer SH-01A would be an obvious substitute.)

We actually had two TR-8S units on hand, so … we used both of them. (I manually synced by mashing the play buttons at the same time, which works. Nudge is also available. MIDI out between the two units won’t work until Roland adds the ability to disable note information being sent over MIDI.)

And here’s some extended audio of the four instruments together. Some of those crazy sounds are the new effects on the TR-8S:

What I learned here was: this is a heck of a lot of pure, unadulterated fun. And it’s fun that’s uniquely easy to share with others, because the front panel is roomy and easy to understand.

I’ve also uploaded audio – not so much to try to document the sound of the box, so much as the expanded range of rhythms and sounds that come from its new functionality, and how freeing that might be in a real-world live improv.

Bottom Line?

Roland’s own moniker for the first TR-8 was “rhythm performer.” What’s cool about the TR-8S is that it actually delivers on that idea.

It was easy to see the first round of AIRA as just an inexpensive reboot of stuff from the past. But I think it’d be unfair to characterize the TR-8S that way. It now presents a really complete sequencing workflow, and a set of use cases for outboard gear (both analog and digital), and for combination with a computer.

Do you still need to be an 808/909/vintage Roland fan to apply? Yeah, probably. But that no longer has to be the end of the story.

What already promises to set the TR-8S apart is, it has an unparalleled amount of sequencing power right on the front power, coupled with those sounds.

Consider the main competitors in this price bracket. MFB’s boxes are cool, but they’re mainly about sound. Elektron’s Digitakt is cute and compact and powerful, but that power isn’t nearly as accessible under your fingertips – and it lacks separate outs for instruments and triggers. Arturia’s DrumBrute has full analog synthesis for each part coupled with dedicated controls specific to them, and 12 separate outputs. It’s arguably more focused as an instrument, to be sure – but it’s more limited in sound (synth only, no samples) and sequencing (roll your finger along a touch strip for live rolls, but none of the sub-step and more powerful variation and fill features of the TR-8S).

Here’s the funny thing: each of these boxes becomes a nice pairing with the TR-8S.

The first AIRA was middle-of-the-road thanks to a friendly interface and known sounds. But this one does that and then also can literally sit at the center of the other gear you might like to use. It removes the kind of limitations that might make you make boring sounds or boring music, but keeps the simplicity so that people can feel free to jam.

Really, if there’s anything bad to say about the TR-8S, it’s that Roland aren’t using their circuit modeling techniques to open up this box to new sounds. We have software with great drum synths (including recent releases of Ableton Live and Maschine), and new hardware with new synthesized drum (Moog DFAM, Arturia DrumBrute), and modular, and so on. And we have a ton of music that already uses those sounds. The absence of solo and undo – plus MIDI transmit options – cry out for a firmware update already, too.

But apart from those criticisms, everything about this box – the balance of the design, its capabilities – represents the best of what we’d hope for from Roland. And I think the combined utility of this box will make it wildly popular onstage.

Expect this to be one of the devices that helps lead the charge toward spreading more live sets.

There’s more to say about the specifics of how MIDI and performance options work (and some room for improvement in some of these details for future firmware updates). So expect more on this topic soon, plus some videos Roland is producing on how the gear is used.

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Polivoks gets a $500 post-Soviet sibling, realizing a dream from 1990

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 2 Mar 2018 8:26 pm

The original creators of the legendary Soviet Polivoks synthesizer are back with an edition that’s small and affordable – completing an idea they had in 1990.

It’s again a collaboration of two generations. As with the ultra-limited run Polivoks reissue, Russian engineers Alexey Taber and Alex Pleninge team up with original Polivoks creator Vladimir Kuzmin and the woman who evidently conceptualized that original design, Olympiada Kuzmina.

The first Polivoks was an artefact of the last years of the Soviet Union, as produced by the Formanta Radio Factory. (Go ahead – look up Kachkanar. This is definitely into the huge swaths of the Russian Federation I’ve never seen!)

And so its reissue reimagined that model, minus the keyboard, as original creator Vladimir Kuzmin worked with engineers Alexey Taber and Alex Pleninge.


Now, again, we get a meeting of two generations. Vladimir Kuzmin and Olympiada Kuzmina, the woman who evidently conceptualized that original design, now work with the talented young Moscow-based engineer Arseny Tokarev of Elta Music Devices.

But this is no reissue. The mini was conceptualized in 1990 – but now sees the light of day as a 2018 product. And it’s a perfect way of making the mysterious sound world of the Polivoks more accessible and affordable today.

In case you can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet, there’s a Latin version of the panel:

The basic workflow of the original Polivoks is maintained, down to the distinctive use of the modulation (LFO) on the upper left corner and the signature knobs and labels. It’s just nicely simplified – one oscillator (“generator”) instead of two and streamlined controls.

They were clever enough not to just stop there, though. So there’s USB and MIDI. The oscillators are now self-calibrating – sure to disappoint fans of the unpredictability of the original oscillators but please everyone else. So no more waiting for the synth to warm up in winter.

But you still get that wild-sounding Polivoks filter, which screams out as you turn it, and the particular sound of the Polivoks multimode filter. That is, don’t look at a control and assume it sounds like a Moog – it most surely doesn’t.

Here’s the somewhat poetic narrative they’ve made with more details:

The idea of the Polivoks Mini analog synthesizer came into mind in 1990, as the junior version of its older brother well known Polivoks full synth. The aim was to develop a way simpler and lighter device that has less components, offers the same broad capabilities, and removes possible flows of the Polivoks full synth. As the result of this research a new minimalistic schematic appeared. It has fewer controls that are compensated by greater functionality.

For example, in the Modulator section the Form switch has been replaced by the controller with triangular oscillation in the middle position and sawtooth shape oscillation smoothly falling in the extreme positions. The controller for the envelope filter input set to zero in the middle position and smoothly increasing its value by turning the knob clockwise while turning the knob counterclockwise increases inverse voltage of the envelope generator. The main synthesizer sections, such as generator, famous Polivoks filter, multimode envelope generator are essentially the same as Polivoks’s ones and have their unique sound. In addition to that, the main generator of the Polivoks Mini doesn’t require any thermal stabilization or adjustment.

In general, the simplified schematic delivers the sound appreciated by wide range of musicians by minimal means but with new capabilities. The Polivoks Mini will be released as the keyboardless version with integrated USB and MIDI interfaces. The overall design of the Polivoks Mini is made in collaboration with Ms. Olympiada Kuzmina, Polivoks full synth concept designer.

Availability: Expected to ship April/May
Pricing: “Around” US$500


Vladimir Kuzmin walks through the design in a video (Russian only, but… everyone speaks synthesizer):

You know, at some point this was all about post-Soviet chic or the exoticism of instruments from behind the Iron Curtain. But I think a funny thing has happened – the synth world has actually re-calibrated to the point that musicians want to make these left-of-center sounds. And that makes this thing totally delightful.

Just as I’m excited for this year’s Superbooth in Berlin, I’m equally eager for Synthposium in Russia. I’m lucky to have my visa and get to meet people who love the same unruly sounds I do.

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Bela Mini gives you 1ms sound anywhere, to turn into anything, for £120

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 22 Feb 2018 2:04 pm

Make anything you want, with free music software of your choice, and <1ms latency. Bela is back, smaller than ever - a pocket-sized £120 computer for sound.

Embedded mobile tech has in recent years brought us pocket-sized, low-power boards that can match the performance of what not so many years ago we actually called a desktop computer. And that’s led to high-profile boards like the cheap Raspberry Pi. The problem has been, many of the cheapest of these machines were limited in computational power, and more importantly, had audio performance that ranged from middling to disastrously awful, both in audio quality and reliability/responsiveness.

But you shouldn’t settle for that. The whole point of building an embedded audio system dedicated to the task of music making – like a DIY effects pedal or synth or sound installation – ought to be that audio performance is better than on your PC. You’ve got a pocket-sized board that isn’t running weird file indexing, OS updates, buggy Facebook code open in twenty tabs, and the like. It ought to just do the number crunching you need for the granular delay you want to sing along with, and do it really well.

A few audio engineers have decided to brave the challenge. It’s not an easy thing to do: these little boards are so cheap that there’s not a whole lot of money to be made on them.

But one of the better projects has been Bela, first introduced in 2016. And today, its makers are taking advantage of a new board PocketBeagle board from beagleboard.org. It’s more powerful than that much-hyped Raspberry Pi, but runs on a battery and is absurdly small – the Bela Mini measures just 55x35x21mm. (Please do not eat your Bela Mini, or Tide Pods, or anything that isn’t food.)

It’s not just a small computer, though – there’s more.

Low latency. 1ms round-trip for audio, or a minuscule 100us round-trip via analog and digital I/Os.

Run your favorite free audio software. Support for the graphical patching environment Pure Data (Pd), the crazy-powerful code world of SuperCollider, plus C and C++, and community support for FAUST, Python, etc.

An IDE in your browser. Fire up your browser and use a built-in IDE with oscilloscope and spectral analysis and documentation and more.

Sensors! High-resolution sensor inputs onboard open up interesting interfacing with the real world, whether you’ve got a wearable technology idea, an interactive installation, or a unique custom interface.

The applications should be clear here. You could ditch your laptop and run a granular looper on a pocket-sized box. You could hook up some sensors and invent your own weird instrument. You could make a custom vocoder and bring this with a mic and croon along at “robot lounge night.” You could produce a runway show of electronically singing couture. You could devise a series of installations and turn into the next Nam June Paik and someday have a solo show at the Guggen– well, possibly at least some hipster gallery somewhere. You get the idea.

For now, that unique focus on audio makes this possibly the best game in town. There is one rival – the Pisound, a board that hops atop the Raspberry Pi, and couples with a custom case. The Pisound does have the advantage of onboard MIDI – both USB MIDI and MIDI DIN – but for computational power with audio, the Beagle looks stronger. (I could imagine doing an audio/MIDI application with Pisound and coupling it with an audio/sensor creation with Bela.)


Bela winds up pricing out pretty nicely, too. The smart buy is a £120 all-in-one kit (£110 intro price through March 9). That gets you cables, the Bela, the PocketBeagle base board, and a pr-flashed SD-card. If you prefer to source your own parts, you can get just the Bela Mini for £60 (£55 intro).

Here’s what’s in the kit.

It’s bigger, but the original Bela has basically the same specs and ships now if what I’ve done is make you impatient to own one now, rather than wait for May.

Basically, what’s new on the Bela Mini is really the tiny size. That opens up projects where small size matters. (The Pisound above is really just about music projects, more than wearable tech and the like, by contrast – but of course by virtue of being larger affords more space for full-sized ports!) The original Bela will remain available, with “capelets” for adding additional features.

Either way, if you’re quick, you can get out of the studio and have your battery-powered box to make weird experimental music for your friends at the beach all summer long. (Or, southern hemisphere readers, let’s say keeping your friends warm with your July beatbox busking.)

And all for the price of one basic Eurorack module. Who said electronic music was just for the rich kids?

Full specs:

Based on the PocketBeagle (http://www.beagleboard.org/pocket) with a custom hardware cape and low-latency operating system
1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 512MB RAM (based on Octavo Systems OSD335x system-in-package)
Stereo audio I/O with integrated headphone amplifier (16 bit, 44.1kHz)
8x 16-bit analog inputs for sensors (DC-coupled; up to 44.1kHz for 4 inputs or 22.05kHz for 8 inputs)
16x digital I/Os (3.3V level)
USB host and device ports
Dimensions 55 x 35 x 21mm (including PocketBeagle)

Latency as low as 0.5ms (analog/digital input to audio output) or 1.0ms (audio input to audio output)
Browser-based IDE including oscilloscope, spectrum analyser, interactive pin diagram and onboard documentation
Support for C, C++, Pd and SuperCollider languages. Community-contributed support for FAUST, Python and others

Bela Mini launch + FAQ

Buy it:

Sample projects:


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Arturia AudioFuse Review: the tiny square that packs nearly everything

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 22 Feb 2018 2:54 am

There are some exceptional audio interfaces out there. But Arturia stands out by cramming an unusual amount of connectivity in an ultra-mobile package.

Look, when it comes to audio interfaces, compromise is the name of the game. The interface either never has every single port you want, or … it does, but it’s big. And computer operating systems remain an obstacle – especially once you’re beyond what theoretically should work, and into the realm of now something is popping and I better turn up the buffer size. Some of this is in the hands of manufacturers; some is decidedly not. (Computer and OS makers, I’m looking at you. Yes, you. Music – it’s kind of important to human civilization. Check it out some time.)

What’s impressive about Arturia’s AudioFuse is that they seem to have taken to heart a lot of the wishes of the mobile musician – and actually delivered.

I’ve had my hands on the AudioFuse for some time now, long enough to torture test it with both my Mac and PC in a variety of live and studio conditions. And I can share what I’ve been sharing with friends about it – this is easily on my short list of easy-to-recommend audio interfaces. (More on the others at the end.)

What the AudioFuse manages to pull off, and this isn’t easy, is maximizing flexibility in a variety of situations while still fitting into an enclosure small enough that you may always keep it in your backpack.

Plug-and-play, reliable performance

First, one feature that makes the AudioFuse essential to keep around is, it’s USB 2.0 class-compliant, driver free. With this amount of I/O, USB 2.0 makes this box far more flexible and compatible. Officially, that means Mac and Windows support that’s plug-and-play. But unofficially, that means Linux, Raspberry Pi, iOS, and Android, too.

You will need Mac or Windows to run the AudioFuse Control Center for additional configuration options. But I’ve happily dual-booted to Linux on my PC and gotten great results from the box. And there’s enough onboard control that I didn’t feel stranded without the software control panel, even though it’s useful in some situations. Meanwhile, the AudioFuse remembers all of its settings after you disconnect from the control panel.

You mileage may vary, but I got extremely reliable results with a 64 sample buffer size, which means well under 10 ms latency, on Mac, Windows, and Linux with a variety of tools. Remember that with latency the point isn’t just paper specs or whether the audio interface can run with a small buffer size; it’s whether you consistently remain without pops at that small buffer size. For me, the Arturia out-performed a number of USB devices laying around my studio.

If you have a single OS environment, and you don’t mind installing drivers, you may well best the AudioFuse’s performance. And I would consider Thunderbolt/USB3 if you want to use more I/O than the AudioFuse has onboard. But I find there’s some comfort in knowing I’m traveling with an interface I can plug into a different computer without worrying about driver installation, and I like owning at least one box like the AudioFuse that can work outside just Mac and Windows.

Connect nearly everything

Wow, did someone hear or intuit what I wanted in I/O (with one caveat below):

4 inputs: 2 XLR mic ins, 2 phono/line ins
2 RIAA phono preamps (seriously)
4 analog outputs
2 analog inserts
ADAT in/out
S/PDIF in/out
Word clock in/out
3-port USB hub
2(!) independent headphone jacks
MIDI in/out (via minijack adapters)


Including MIDI, the USB hub, and separate headphone jacks alone makes this a huge boon to the mobile musician. And everything works as advertised – plus it all runs via bus power if you like (adjusting automatically to allow it to do so). A bit on the power modes:

USB is via micro USB. That may sound fidgety, but structurally I’ve found these to be sound. The included cable has a second USB connection, but if you lose your cable, you can swap a phone cable – also critical, because it means again the interface will still function when you’re on the road and misplaced a cable or someone lifted it from you. Uh… not that those things ever happen.

Arturia advertises their own, built-from-scratch mic pres. They certainly sounded transparent to me, and I appreciate that they get their own signal path. And you’ve got onboard 48V phantom power plus a multi-level pad and auto-impedance matching. Basically, you can more or less plug anything into this and forget about it. 24-bit 192kHz may sound like overkill, but then – quite literally, friends and I have lately got interested in recording ultrasonic birdsong and bat noises, so there’s that.

There are also unique monitoring settings, like handy summing to mono. (Having once had my trusty mastering engineer yell at me when I accidentally sent something that had phase cancellation problems, thanks for this!)

The one thing I’m missing here is more than four outputs. With some serious multichannel output situations becoming more commonplace, that means the AudioFuse isn’t quite the last interface I’d ever need to own. (Someone somewhere is saying the same about the inputs.) But let’s not consider the fact that the whole thing is a tiny square. Speaking of which:

That form factor / UX

Arturia really nailed it here. This is the one audio interface with a decent selection of I/O I can comfortably drop in a backpack or suitcase without worry, thanks to its small size, low weight, and a cute and indispensable cover. That’s not just for looks – a lot of audio interfaces have some dangerously exposed controls. (It does look nice, too, of course.)

I’m also a fan of the top panel. There’s a big knob, certainly reminiscent of interfaces from Universal Audio and others, plus dedicated meters for input and output and gain and phone knobs, plus shortcut keys and a cleverly-positioned dial for adjusting whether you monitor from the computer source or direct through the interface.

Arturia were clearly inspired by Universal Audio both in those dials and the displays. (Not to be outdone, UA also have a slick new box called the Arrow. Upside: Thunderbolt, DSP processing. Downside: far less connectivity.)

Here, I’ll link directly to Sound on Sound and say everything Sam says about monitoring is absolutely true. (Sam, I’m not cribbing your review notes – I just definitely can say I can directly count myself with the opposite use case!)

I can be even less diplomatic than Sam and say, if you want an audio interface that doubles as a (sub)mixer, or if you want particular control over what goes to the monitor mix, forget the AudioFuse and go with something else.

But —

If you just want to quickly plug in some inputs and then reach one dial that’s either the computer or whatever input you’ve got, the AudioFuse makes sense. That is, if you literally aren’t thinking about what’s plugged in – and quite often in the heat of the moment onstage or on the road recording, you really aren’t – it’s great. Monitoring, like connectivity, are about instant plug and play. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to that; I’d say what this box does is suit this particular use case.


As a versatile all-around mobile interface, I love the AudioFuse. I’d still choose the Universal Audio Apollo Twin for audio quality, and the ability to add processing via UA’s effects without adding round-trip latency through the computer. I’d consider MOTU and RME for adding more I/O, too (especially if you don’t need or want the UAD effects), and certainly MOTU for its unique AV applications and mixer operation. Thunderbolt really does look like the future for more advanced applications.

MOTU is worth an additional mention for being universally compatible with their 828es, which has both Thunderbolt and USB. And that’s the box you want if you find the AudioFuse appealing but want more I/O and real standalone mixing operation, plus better performance.

But that also slightly misses the point. You wouldn’t throw an 828es into a backpack and take it with you everywhere. The AudioFuse, you would. And all musicians don’t always travel with road cases.

And that’s why one size doesn’t really fit all. But for under $/EUR600, in a small size that does fit everywhere, the AudioFuse is worth a look. Now, note to Arturia – if this is a big hit, a micro edition might make sense. Or an expanded box that’s a rectangle rather than a square for a little more I/O. In the meantime, I’ve got to go pack my backpack and get a move on.


Got another audio interface you’re using? One you prefer? Let us know in comments.

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Moog is making a $35,000 modular 1969 synth – so let’s ask them why

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 21 Feb 2018 8:05 pm

Moog Music have announced they’re painstakingly recreating a 1969 modular classic. So we asked the engineers why they’d do that – and why it costs 35 grand.

It’s clear now that Moog has two lines of products. The Moog Music products most people buy really are distinct from this. When founder Bob Moog relaunched his company (first as Big Briar, later as Moog Music), he focused on things like Theremins and the relaunched Minimoog Voyager, followed by the immense hit of new Moogerfooger pedals. And as far as the new synths and effects went, what you got were really modern takes on the originals – descended from the classic models, down to the signature ladder filter and so on, but updated with modern parts and new design features. Those pedals also ensured that Moog wasn’t just a brand for keyboardists and synth nuts, but, guitarists and instrumentalists too.

Moog have never tried to be a low-cost brand. But you can’t exactly call them elitist either. From putting products like the Minifoogers in reach to semi-modulars well under $1000 to some terrific iOS apps that sell for just a few bucks, Moog sell alongside a lot of other stuff.

But, if that’s Moog’s day job, they have this … side hobby. And that’s been recreations – not just of the original Minimoog, but of much more complex modular instruments. What appeared to be a one-off novelty (a recreation of Keith Emerson’s modular rig) turned out to be an ongoing fascination of the company’s engineering team. And they’re not easy or inexpensive to make.

This week, the North Carolina-based company announced a new edition of the IIIp – an all-in-one, benchmark edition of the original modular line. It’s the instrument Wendy Carlos (Switched on Bock), George Harrison (Abbey Road), and Isao Tomita (Snowflakes Are Dancing) all used.

It’s definitely a luxury item. Forty will be made, at a cost of US$35,000 each, shipping around May.

If this were just a pricey absurdity, though, I wouldn’t be writing about it. There’s no doubt this is a classic – what Moog prove again is that a historical instrument can go right back into production. Nor is $35k expensive when thinking of musical instruments in the acoustic domain; as Moog championed in the 60s, it seems the Moog company want you to think of synthesizers in the same category as a fine violin or piano.

But all that being said – this still surely leaves us with some questions. (“Are you nuts?” springs to mind.) So I asked the Moog Music company to explain themselves. Here are their answers from the team that worked on the recreation.

For some context, I’ve actually asked Moog this once before – the first time round. But it’s nice to update these answers for the new hardware and its specific component and build requirements.

Just Do It: Moog Engineer Explains Why They Remade Keith Emerson’s Modular [Videos, Audio]

Why the IIIp, specifically? It’s a modular system, but of course here you’re selling a pre-configured set of modules. What was special about that selection? (And why recreate that rather than the modules alone?)

The IIIp is the portable cabinet version of the IIIc, so this was a logical follow-on. The overall sonics of these systems is unmatched. The entire system is discrete, with no modern ICs anywhere to be found, so the depth and dimension that comes from them can be overwhelmingly physical. Offering modules alone is tricky for us. Moog is still a small, employee-owned company — we hand build every modular system that leaves our factory. The demands of re-creating these systems is quite large due to parts, resources and cultural limitations (these days it’s rare to have complex machines built by hand in the United States).

Were any parts difficult to source? (rare, or costly?) Did any substitutions have to be made because of availability?

Building the Synthesizer IIIp to original spec requires an immense attention to detail and seriously tests our commitment to hand-crafting our legacy modular synthesizers, which presents new challenges every day. Key components for these projects that were common place 50 years ago are now obsolete and no longer available through traditional distribution channels, so we have to source our NOS supply through a divergent network of surplus vendors. Sometimes, a part has become obsolete and no surplus is available, such as with the inductors used in the 914 Filter Bank. Modern equivalents just won’t do in terms of retaining the sonic character of the original, so we worked closely with one of our parts suppliers to re-issue the custom inductors exclusively for our legacy modular projects. Even S-trig cabling is getting harder and harder to source reliably.

How many of these things are you making?

40 worldwide.

What about the cost — how does the cost of making this today compare to the 1960s cost? (accounting for some major inflation there, naturally!)

Buying a IIIp new between 1969 and 1973 equates to more than $50,000 USD in today’s money (based on 1969 R.A. Moog Price List price of $7,985), so $35,000 represents a significant decrease in price for these systems. The cost of handcrafting these instruments in the exact same way today as we did in the past has increased at a staggering rate — and even though it may be hard to believe, we have worked diligently to keep the cost to the consumer as low as we have. Obviously we are aware that only a few can afford these systems, but the more instruments we get into the world, the more opportunities people have to experience them.

Cost of course is something people will notice. Is this the design of the thing versus what we make now, the low quantity, a combination?

Anything that is 100% handcrafted by human beings in low quantities costs a lot more to make. The process to build a single IIIp takes hundreds of hours of labor to complete. Every circuit board is hand populated and every component has to be hand soldered by someone in the Moog Factory. Each circuit board has to be mounted into a module, and then that module has to be tested and calibrated — multiply that by 37+ (depending on how you count modules) and you start to get an idea of the scope of this build. Next, each cabinet has to be hand wired and dressed (including hand crimping the connectors). And after that, all of the modules are placed into the system and the entire system is burned in and tested. Every single module gets recalibrated so that the system is calibrated to itself, which is what ultimately forms a cohesive instrument.

What’s the market for something like this?

Composers, sound designers and students of the sonic arts (Universities) are drawn to instruments like the Synthesizer IIIp. Artists who seek to pin-point human emotions and set them to resonate through the power-of-sound tell us that nothing moves through speakers and directly into your body like these systems do.

How does continue making remakes fit into the larger Moog strategy? To be honest, I suspect a lot of us figured we’d see a couple and then it’d stop, not that it would continue!

Moog is made up of a group of widely diverse individuals who all share a passion for creating inspirational tools. This isn’t just our passion alone, but a legacy of creative energies going back 7 decades. As Moog employees, we are immensely inspired by the process of bringing our early synthesizers back to life. The potential of these systems is still unfolding — there are still sounds that will emanate from them that haven’t been heard before!

Thanks as always to the folks at Moog for being open to talking about this. And — yeah, I want to hear one of these in person, especially having learned modular synthesis in school on vintage Moog and Buchla modulars and being endlessly inspired by Wendy Carlos’ compositions and orhchestrations. Though — well, I may still try to get my sounds into your body from my gear! We’ll have more on Moog soon – including that nice new DFAM that we can actually afford! -Ed.


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Roland’s DJ gear has a built-in TR drum machine; here’s how to use it

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 16 Feb 2018 7:54 pm

Roland’s DJ controllers have an extra twist: a built-in TR-606/707/808/909 drum machine. We’ve put together a cheat guide so you can get the most out of it.

We’ve seen DJ controllers promote the idea of mixing performing and DJing, or remixing and DJing, before. What sets the Roland-Serato collaboration apart is that these devices actually start to resemble production gear as much as they do DJ gear. And while the hooks into Serato’s performance features are clearly part of the appeal, some of these capabilities come from built-in hardware features that exist independently from Serato’s functionality on your computer. That’s certainly true of the tricked-out DJ-808 flagship, which will even process vocal inputs via the mic, or the DJ-505, which still has dedicated drum machine controls. But it’s surprisingly hidden away even on the entry-level DJ-202 (accessible via the pads).

What all three of the DJ-X0X series have in common is the TR-S drum machine. It’s a slimmed-down cousin to the AIRA TR-8, and like the TR-8 (and boutique TR-08 and TR-09), it’s based on Roland’s ACB (Analog Circuit Behavior) technology. That means it sounds pretty darned close to the sounds of the analog circuitry on the original machines – only it’s lurking inside your DJ controller, rather than expensive piece of analog gear you’ve lugged along.

Getting one of the Roland DJ controllers really is like getting a tiny drum machine “for free.” And all three models have some signature sounds from the 808 and 909 (and now 606 and 707), plus performance controls.

The TR-S doubles as a sequencer/trigger for samples inside Serato, opening up still more options. But in drum machine mode, the TR-S is running entirely on hardware, not on the host. On the 505 and 808, you can even unplug your computer and use it as a standalone drum machine. Only the Serato Sampler section requires a computer. The SYNC button also ceases to mean anything, since it gets sync data from Serato. All of this is perfect for jamming around when not using your computer… like, uh, this week when Windows decided it absolutely had to be updated. 😉

The TR-S can be used via step sequencer mode – for programming beats – or you can access the sounds by playing the pads. You’ll just need to practice finger drumming, as those pads are just real-time – no roll or quantize features. So, you know, learn timing! (Or stick to the step sequencer. No judgment.)

Patterns are all overwritten as you mess around with them, which is a good thing for playing live. But in case you’re afraid of wrecking a perfect groove, you can also back up and restore data – so you can save data from a particularly good gig, for instance, or either the factory defaults or your favorite patterns.

What’s all this for? Well, you can add a percussion line to a track. Or you can transition from a track to a live jam on the drum machine. Or you can add a groove to a track that doesn’t have one. The combination of Serato and the TR-S also make this an appealing remix tool or even a quick way to start a production. It’s really up to you where you see this fitting in, but it’s nice not to have to cable in a separate drum machine to pull this off.

It’s also clear Roland are committed to building out this functionality. Their recent 1.10 firmware was largely focused on beefing up the TR-S and its effects, meaning the team back in Japan evidently like the bits a lot of us users do. See our guide to what’s new:

Roland quietly made their DJ controllers into live-hybrid machines [1.10 firmware update news / feature]

The basic workflow I found was this: I mix and beatmatch normally on the Serato decks, then tap the SYNC button on the TR-S to lock it to the active bpm when I want to add some live rhythm. From there, the possibilities open up. You can avoid being repetitive not only by switching patterns or programming your own, but by making use of mute and even switching individual sounds or whole kits as the pattern plays – see the reference below.

Here’s our cheat guide. (It’s all in the manual in more depth, of course, but this way you get a quick reference to everything the TR-S can do – which turns out to be a lot.)

Now, note, this covers the DJ-505 and DJ-808. Serato actually cooked up a really easy guide to the DJ-202. It’s far less obvious and immediate – it’s all compressed onto the performance pads on the bottom of the controller. But in exchange, the DJ-202 is the least expensive and most portable of the three.

Now, note, while this may seem like it’s just for the Serato sampler, it’s actually both that and built-in TR kits. Like the 505 and 808, the DJ-202 in the 1.10 firmware update adds the TR-606 and TR-707 sounds to the TR-808 and TR-909. So, you can make some Roland drum sounds till the cow(bells) come home, basically. Everything else in this Serato article remains up-to-date apart from those new sounds.

Using the Roland DJ-202’s TR-S Sequencer

Quick reference guide: DJ-505 and DJ-808

[ Download PDF to print ]

1-16 correspond to the TR-S drum pads on the top of the unit.


Choose a pattern [PATTERN] + 1-16
Copy [PATTERN], [SHIFT] + 1-16 (copy), 1-16 (paste)
Clear whole pattern [PATTERN], [CLEAR] + 1-16
Clear a part [INST], [CLEAR] + 1-16
Change length (1.10) [SHIFT] + [SCALE], [VALUE] to select last step


Adjust shuffle [SHUFFLE], then [VALUE]
(less shuffle to more shuffle, or from leading to dragging)

Nudge (earlier to later) [SHIFT] + [SHUFFLE], then [VALUE]
Synchronize to Serato SYNC (repeat to “grab” the current BPM)
Toggle sync on and off SYNC / SYNC OFF (PC mode only)

Note: shuffle and nudge work in reverse of one another. That makes some sense: increasing shuffle means that the notes fall later; “nudge” moves them forward or backward in time directly. Nudge and tap tempo were added on the DJ-808 in the 1.10 firmware.

Choose kit [SHIFT] + [INST], 1-12 (last four slots work with Serato Sampler)
Change part sound in a kit (808, 909, 707, 606) [INST], 1-8 + [VALUE]
Level Volume
Attack BD attack, SD snare rattle only
Tune Adjusts pitch or filter
Decay Adjusts decay envelope
You can now choose up to four sounds from the TR-S’ twelve kits, which show up as 60, 70, 80, and 90. (1.0 firmware had just 8 kits and 808/909 sounds.)

Percussion parts
BD = Bass drum (80.b1 for long decay 808)
SD = Snare drum
CH Closed hi-hat
OH Open hi-hat (choked by CH)
LT Low tom
HC Clap
RS Rim shot
RC 808 cowbell / 909 and 707 ride / 606 cymbal

TR-S Kit Effects, Copy
Added in 1.1 firmware, TR-S effects per kit.

[SHIFT] + [INST] or [SHIFT] + [PATT] to activate kit, then:
Compressor ATTACK knob increases compression
Drive TUNE knob increases distortion (try combining with compression)
Transient DECAY knob sharpens transients (boosts attack, decreases decay)

Each time you select a new kit, your settings are saved, and recalled each time you load a kit.

And you can copy kits:
[SHIFT] + [INST], [SHIFT] + 1 – 12 selects source, 1 – 12 selects destination

Live recording (quantized) With sequence playing, [SHIFT] + [TR-REC], press performance pads at bottom
Exit live recording In live mode, [TR-REC]
Toggle step entry [TR-REC] (downbeats highlight light blue)
Choose instrument for steps [INST], 1-16
With instrument selected:
Add quiet step (unaccented) [SHIFT] + 1-16
Velocity per step 1-16, [VALUE] 0-127
Rolls per step Hold 1-16 for the step on which to roll, press [TR-REC] repeatedly to choose 1/16 (no roll at default), 1/32, 1/48, or 1/64 roll
Accents (impacts all parts)
Add accents to steps [SHIFT] + [PATTERN], 1-16
Adjust level of accent [SHIFT] + [PATTERN], [LEVEL] knob

Download our cheat guide

Roland-TR-S-cheatsheet-CDM [printable PDF]

The post Roland’s DJ gear has a built-in TR drum machine; here’s how to use it appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Don’t miss this video of Jakob lubing up his DJ battle mixer

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 16 Feb 2018 6:04 pm

Hey kids: don’t forget the lube. Well, actually … like seriously.

Jakob Haq is simply one of our favorite YouTube contributors, all round – normally covering mobile music tech, but sometimes a range of other topics, too. And this video proves it.


The faders on my old Stanton SA-5 Allies signature mixer needed cleaning and some lube love in order for them to glide smoothly again. I recently started using this mixer after being hooked up with a new wall-power adapter for it (Thank you Ribbon). The fun lasted for a day before my faders started getting dodgy so it was time for an overhaul.

Okay, so obvious lube jokes aside (hey, it’s a real thing), this video is great on a number of levels. Apart from presumably helping someone out there with this very specific case, I can’t count the number of times people ask me, how do I repair this music thing xx?

And frankly, we don’t ask that nearly enough. An irony is, when I talk to people from the ex-Communist world (which happens, well, frequently), there’s far more widespread knowledge of repair technique – one born by necessity. But we all need to do that. When you’re touring and your gear breaks down, you need to be able to fix it. When you’re out of cash and your gear breaks down, you need to be able to fix it. When the planet is buckling under the weight of trash, toxic materials from these products can leech into the ecosystem, and when, well, people need gear – we need to fix everything.

It’d be great to put together repair guides in some centralized place. I’m up for ideas.

The post Don’t miss this video of Jakob lubing up his DJ battle mixer appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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