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

All the details on Moog’s new Grandmother semi-modular synth

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 15 May 2018 5:51 pm

Moog’s Mother line have all had patch cables. Now, the Grandmother adds something else – keys. Oh, and a heck of a lot of colors. We talked to Moog to get the inside scoop on the new Grandmother.

Patch-ability is all the rage these days. There’s the rack modular scene, of course. But then we’re increasingly seeing patch points on desktop synths and keyboards, too. The idea is, you can create different modulation effects and a wider range of sounds by changing the routing of signal through the instrument. And while that’s possible on some electronic instruments using switches or menus or other features, here you just plug a cable from one point to another.

Moog’s own Mother-32 brought that concept to their modern desktop rangorie, followed by its drum synth sibling, the DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother). Now, it’s the Grandmother’s turn. (Any bets on whether they’ll keep going with ‘mother’ names after this?)

The Grandmother moves the patch points out of the big matrix found on the side of the Mother-32 and DFAM, and distributes them across the hardware. That makes it a bit easier to follow where signal flow is – though you’ll also need longer cables.

And you get keys.

Plus this definitely comes in colors, as you may have noticed. The Grandmother plays up the modularity by color coding each section individually. At first glance, it appears as though the Grandmother is a rack of separate modules, but that’s just a visual flourish – it’s an all-in-one design. (If you do want a keyboard that lets you change modules, see products like Waldorf’s kb37, or Arturia’s RackBrute, which attaches to their MiniBrute range, or any number of boutique products.)

Full specs:

• Hardware Spring Reverb can be used to process external sounds
• ¼” External audio input for guitars, drum machines, and more.
• Semi-modular – no patching is required
• Easy to use Arpeggiator and Sequencer
• Store up to 3 sequences with up to 256 notes each
• 2 Analog Oscillators with selectable waveshape and hard sync
• Classic 4-Pole 10Hz-20kHz Ladder filter
• Patchable 1-Pole High Pass filter
• Analog ADSR Envelope Generator
• Analog LFO with audio-rate capabilities
• 32-note Fatar keyboard with velocity
• All normalized connections can be interrupted for full modularity
• DIN MIDI In/Out/Thru and USB MIDI
• Patchable bipolar attenuator
• Works with Mother-32, DFAM, Eurorack modular systems and more
• 41 patch points with 21 inputs, 16 outputs and a Parallel-Wired 4-jack Mult

That makes a really interesting instrument, though I think it’s worth noting that some of the competition comes from Moog itself – the SUB PHATTY has a pretty powerful architecture for roughly the same price, and while it lacks those patch points, still has some flexibility for routing modulation and analog I/O. It also has patch storage.

But I think there’s more to the Grandmother than specs, and the formula runs like this:

A semi-modular design + spring reverb = far out, man

Adrian Younge did this wonderful artist video that demonstrates that:


Grandmother price is US$899 street. (List is US$999.)

We talked to Moog Music about the thinking behind the Grandmother. Here’s what we learned:

Lots of space for patching. Moog emphasize that you can play this instrument even without patching anything if you want. But if you do want to take advantage of the semi-modular side, now there’s room to grow – figuratively and literally. Moog tell us:

In designing a keyboard instrument, we have more panel space than we do in the pure eurorack format (where space is always a consideration), giving us more room for the patch points. The patch point locations also make connecting cables to other devices, like Mother-32, DFAM or Eurorack much more convenient.

Having said that; Grandmother can do extremely complex things, particularly through patching. For seasoned synthesists, all normalizations can be broken and Grandmother can function as a fully modular instrument.

The Grandmother can be a modular gateway. You can patch the Grandmother, DFAM, and Mother-32 in various combinations – or it can be a gateway to Eurorack.

The origins of the Grandmother circuitry. There are some new sounds here – and they give you access to some Moog modulars from the past. Moog tells us: “All three instruments share the same oscillator genealogy, but the rest of Grandmother’s modules are based on classic Moog modular circuits. The Mixer is based on the CP3, the Filter is based on the 904A, the Envelope is based on the 911, the VCA is based on the 902, and the Spring Reverb is based on the 905.”

About those colors. Moog will definitely get your attention with that color coding. It’s obviously partly there for show, partly to make it obvious that the different sections have different functions. And back to the original Minimoog, our modern subtractive synths are essentially all derived from combinations of modules.

There is some history here. Moog points to their Sonic Six, the Concertmate / Realistic MG-1, and the Moog Source as instruments that all carried the Moog name. That’s actually a little surprising – Moog haven’t traditionally focused much on those chapters in their legacy, as they’re not connected with Bob Moog. (Not to be blunt, but that’s like talking to Ford PR and having them compare something to the Edsel.)

To me, the Grandmother really has the most in common with the Sonic Six. It used just one color, but the color overlay was meant to suggest the modular structure beneath.

I’m going to guess this design will inspire some love/hate reactions. But yeah, to be fair, there is some Moog history of “bold color choices,” as Moog tells us, other than, you know, brown.

The keybed. Moog: “It’s a Fatar TP-9 with velocity sensitivity, which is a really great and solid feeling keybed.”

You can gate the keyboard. Moog points out something else of interest:

“One other thing worth mentioning is the ( Envelope / Keyboard Release / Drone ) switch on the VCA. Envelope and Drone may be obvious, but the keyboard release selection is actually very useful. It works like Keyboard Gate on older Moog synths, where a pressed note immediately sets the VCA to maximum sustain level. The difference is when a note is released in this mode, the VCA will follow the release setting of the Envelope. This option opens up a lot of added possibilities while keeping the panel fast and easy to use.”

Built in the USA. Yep, these do get put together in Moog’s factory in North Carolina.

If you’re going to Moogfest this week: I’m not at Moogfest this year, but if you are, you get a special treat. Moog tell us:

For those near Durham, NC this week – Guitar Center will have Grandmother synthesizers available for play and purchase starting 10:00am this Thursday at the Moog Pop Up Factory (free and open to the public), where visitors can also watch as we live build the new instrument on site. Then at 3:00 on Thursday, Moogfest attendees can hear Grandmother used in a long-form Moog drone performance guided by Nick Hook and Gareth Jones of Spiritual Friendship.


The post All the details on Moog’s new Grandmother semi-modular synth appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The $199 UNO is an analog synth from IK and some great minds

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 2 May 2018 12:49 pm

It’s portable, battery-powered, and a capable analog monosynth with a sequencer, at a low price. But it’s also worth noting IK Multimedia’s new US$199 UNO involves collaboration with some unique people.

Before the modular craze, before KORG’s volcas, before even the Minimoog Voyager, it was the Alesis Andromeda in 2000 that arguably signaled a return to analog circuitry and hands-on control for the electronic musician consumer. And that instrument was the work of synth designer Erik Norlander, who’s now the resident “synth guru” at IK Multimedia, and who IK says is the brain behind the UNO. IK have also collaborated with Italian boutique maker Soundmachines, who themselves have a bunch of wacky and wonderful ideas.

So put all of this together, and the UNO is something new – a familiar architecture, but not a clone of something you’ve heard before. It’s also an inexpensive instrument that involves collaboration with boutique makers (as Roland have done with Malekko and Studio Electronics) – rather than just undercutting those makers at low prices. And it’s made in Italy, proving that Europe can still make this sort of product.

Plus, it looks like a really fun bass synth with a built-in sequencer. Specs:

  • Analog audio path with two analog oscillators, noise generator, resonant multimode filter and analog amplitude
  • Saw, triangle, and pulse waveforms (with continuously variable shape and pulse width modulation), separate white noise generator
  • That filter isn’t the Moog ladder filter – it’s a smoother, Roland-style OTA filter, which you know from instruments like the Jupiter-8
  • Filter can be set to lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and has overdrive
  • 7 separate waveforms for modulation: sine, triangle, square, up and down saws, random, and sample and hold
  • Built-in delay
  • Instant modulation effects: Dive, Scoop, Vibrato, Wah and Tremolo

For arpeggiator/sequencing:

  • 100 presets, 80 user presets, each with an associated sequence and arpeggio (I think you can then store your own presets and patterns, making this ideal for live performance)
  • Arpeggiator with ten modes
  • 100-pattern sequencer, which you can program in real-time or step-by-step
  • Parameter locks! Set per-step modulation

And finally, I/O:

  • MIDI in/out
  • Runs on 4 AAs or USB power

There’s also a Mac/PC software editor. (Helps to be a software company, too, as IK is.)

Sounds (though I do believe you need to go beyond just manufacturer demos):

Now, there are some questions I definitely want to answer when I get this hands-on. Analog synths with battery power — well, let’s hear if it’s noisy or not.

Multi-touch keyboard — that’s touch-based, so while they promise two octaves of sound, I want to see how precise it feels. Ditto those touch controls. You also get some pre-defined scales, which should help you … like, hit actual notes.

But this architecture looks great. That extensive modulation is already promising, and then the ability to set per-step modulation with the sequencer looks powerful, indeed. And it’s just 400 grams (under a pound).

US$/€199.99; shipping scheduled for July 2018.


The post The $199 UNO is an analog synth from IK and some great minds appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The amazing touch-controlled synth made in secret in 1978 China

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 20 Apr 2018 4:18 pm

At the tail end of China’s Cultural Revolution, one inventor secretly created a futuristic take on traditional instruments – and it easily still inspires today.

I don’t know much about this instrument, but given CDM’s readership, I expect our collective knowledge should say something (not to mention some of you speak the language). But according to the video, it’s the work of Tian Jin Qin, a ribbon-controlled analog synthesizer first prototyped in 1978 and featured here in a documentary movie entitled “Dian Zi Qin / 电子琴” (1980).

There’s some irony to the fact that a simple touch instrument was something driven underground in China just one generation ago. Now, of course, China leads the world in manufacturing touch interfaces, has been the center of a global revolution in touch-powered smartphones (based loosely on the same principle, even), and even drives a significant portion of today’s technological innovation.

But… even without getting into that, this design is freaking great. It’ll make you immediately wonder why a single ribbon design is so popular, when the ability to finger multiple ribbons, fretless style, both relates to traditional instrument designs and allows more sophisticated melodic playing and expression.

Like… you’ll watch this video and want to go build one right now.

The synth is essentially two connected designs. An main synth console features organ-like push-button timbre controls and rotaries, plus four touch plates that respond both to being depressed and to continuous control vertically along the surface. (That arrangement, in turn, closely resembles the ROLI Seaboard keys, as well as having some lineage to the Buchla modular’s touch plates. In fact, a couple elements of the design suggest that the creator may have seen something like the Buchla 112 keyboard.)

The Chinese twist, though, is really the upright, fretless touch interface. This instrument is as subtle and sophisticated as Keith Emerson’s ribbon controller for the Moog wasn’t. Zithers are among the most ancient of instruments across a range of cultures, as antecedents what we’d now consider both southeast Asian and European musics. Someone following the narration here or with background in Chinese instruments (which I largely lack) could say more, but it seems inspired by instruments like the guqin. That family of instrument can be plucked or fingered with glissandi (or played with a slide). The electronic rendition here simplifies a bit by using 4 metal strips whereas Chinese classical instruments can feature more strings.

So I will indeed put this out to CDM readers. Anyone out there who’s done research on this creator or knows about this instrument?

Anyone built something like this?

(Apologies, I’d normally do the research first and then write but … as Ted Pallas who tipped me off to this promised, I indeed wanted to share it right away.)

For all the turbulence of our modern time, one thing I believe can keep us out of a Dark Ages is the fact that we are more connected globally than ever, or at least potentially so. From the walls around China and the east to the former Iron Curtain, we’re discovering that a lot of the people kept unknown to those of us in the West were pretty ingenious. And maybe we get a second chance to learn from them and share.

The post The amazing touch-controlled synth made in secret in 1978 China appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Valkyrie is a 1200-oscillator synth you’ll want to play with your forearm

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 16 Apr 2018 5:09 pm

With some 128 voices, the Valkyrie packs dense sound and effects that never let up. The all new UK-built synth was available to try in prototype form at Musikmesse – and it’s seriously impressive.

When I say “play with your forearm,” I’m not kidding. I got my hands on the prototype. Glancing around, I noticed people were cautiously plucking a note or two there and noodling some melodic lines.


With that much polyphony, I wanted to hear a cloud – a doomsday-sized swarm – of oscillations. And this literally involved cranking up various parameters, dialing up portamento, and then playing the keys with… my fist… my arm… I decided sticking a leg up there might upset someone, but we’re talking a serious amount of sound.

The heart of this machine is an FPGA. You don’t need to care about that if you’re not an engineer, but suffice to say the idea of the thing is hardware that can be “re-wired” on the fly. So you get the power of dedicated hardware, without the enormous investment of time and money to create something so inflexible. That means the Valkyrie has horsepower DSP chips – or your high-end laptop – can’t reliably deliver.

And it’s not just about having a bunch of voices, though that’s already formidable. The Valkyrie drives 10 oscillators for each voice, and all those real-time effects keep up, even when using multiple parts. That sets it apart from the Access Virus Ti, to which it bears a definite visual resemblance – this has way more power under the hood.

It probably really is the synth Richard Wagner would have bought, were he alive today, so… nice brand name. Now, ride:

Multiple synthesis methods: FM, dual wavetable, hard sync
4096 different waveshapes, ring mod, hypersaw
Dual 2- and 4-pole ladder filters
128 voices
10 oscillators per voice (double to 20 by combining voices)
8-part polytimbral
Dedicated outs: four balanced outputs, 32-bit/96kHz each, or separate parts streamed over USB2 at 24/96
32x oversampling
9-unit dedicated effects, with shelving EQ on each part

The interface for all of this is a lovely high-res OLED. There are quick, slick animations to help you navigate. With that many parts/voices, of course, some menu dialing is a necessity – otherwise, the thing would take up a city block. But that navigation is quick and effortless, so you feel like you can dial up hands-on control easily. The menus were pretty logical, too, once you understand the structure of parts navigation. And everything is kept reasonably flat, which is stunning for an instrument of this complexity.

And the key is that you turn on this firehouse of sound and it never skips or steps – including with all the effects running. It’s a bit like having a Vangelis/Hans Zimmer-sized electronic studio, in a compact unit. It sounds utterly epic.

Pricing: expected under two grand (Exodus said that was their main purpose at Messe, to talk to dealers and figure that out)
Availability: Expected at volume early Q3 2018

And do have a listen:

Patches only:

I have to say, if you’re going to spend nearly two-grand on some hardware and want it to sound futuristic, this could be the one. It seems to be just the right kind of crazy for the job. Hope we get to try one more.

Plus, if trance music really is making a comeback, this could be the hardware to ride that wave. I’m just happy to make weird noises with it.

No Website yet …

Hands-on report round up:

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Urs goes Eurorack: Plug-in maker U-HE is readying hardware modular

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 5 Apr 2018 2:48 pm

Following entries from Eventide to Soundhack, plug-in maker U-HE seems to be next to be bitten by the modular bug. A teaser image reveals new gear is coming at Berlin’s Superbooth.

No clue what it is, other than… it’ll have jacks. But U-HE (the shop run by lead developer Urs Heckmann) is known for lush, feature-laden synths, melding vintage soul with lots of new bells and whistles and modern functionality. They’re also not known for being terribly merciful to older CPUs (though newer machines should be fine) – but that means dedicated hardware has some appeal.

And of course we’re going full circle. Software emulates analog hardware, then software maker starts making new hardware, and even analog hardware. (See also: Arturia, for one.)

We’ll be sure to catch up with Urs and team at Superbooth.


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Open music gear: Bastl Instruments schematics on GitHub

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 3 Apr 2018 8:00 pm

Music gear and modular maker Bastl Instruments have been dedicated to DIYers and open source hardware since the start. But today they’ve done a major dump of circuits that tinkerers will want to check out.

Open hardware is in Bastl’s DNA. The founders from Brno, Czech Republic got their start with the Standuino, an Arduino clone, some years ago, and some assorted projects they built atop that. Using those boards, they presented workshops and jam sessions, teaching electronics, sound, and improvisation. Standuino was followed by Bastl Instruments and new desktop products, then modular, and worldwide recognition followed.

The thing about doing open source hardware, though, is that it forces you to clean house – a bit like inviting somebody over to dinner. So while Bastl Instruments have always been committed to open source hardware, this week we get not just code, but schematics, too.

Here’s their announcement:

Attention to all nerds & designers ! We did put a vast majority of our schematics to one repository on gitHub 🚀 all under CC-BY-SA license. We believe in the power of open source – all our code is on git already. At this point, we do not want to publish HW production files (eagle or gerber) since there is a vital ecosystem in place here in Brno that lives by producing our instruments. End of message.


This doesn’t quite qualify as open source hardware under a strict definition, as that requires production files. But those definitions aren’t really meant for the music tech community, specifically, who are used to deriving their own modifications from schematics. (I’ll update the CDM guide to open source hardware and software and content soon, just as I get asked about it a lot. I think what matters isn’t so much abstract ideals as helping people to communicate effectively and apply licensing that suits them.)

I spoke to Václav Peloušek from Bastl about the move.

“I actually feel really lucky that I could look at other people’s schematics online,” he told me. “And through that, I learned most of what I know, so I always felt obliged to give the knowledge back.”

Schematics are enough to learn from or even make your own modified versions, while still supporting Bastl’s hardware makers and employees by buying their products, made in Czech.

(If you’re wondering why they qualified that with “a vast majority” of the schematics, Václav explains that they left out the messiest ones!)

Back when Bastl/Standuino got started, schematics looked… like this. Courtesy Václav Peloušek at Bastl.

Apart from those primitive examples, putting together a repository like this takes a lot of time. Peter Edwards, creator of the softPop synth for Bastl (and a long-time hardware engineer), echoes this. “All of this free info takes real work,” he says. “Good schematics look good because someone spent time and made decisions on absolutely every aspect.”

So it’s a pleasure to have all this in one place.

By the way, I’m still totally committed to our own MeeBlip open source hardware project. We’ve discontinued existing synth models, but we’re hard at work on something new. And this illustrates something, too – the discontinued models will never really die, so long as our code and schematics remain online. You can also take a look at this to see how you would release completely open hardware, including production files and associated licensing:

And go follow Bastl, as more is coming!


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Korg’s Monopoly board game crossover isn’t even an April Fools’ joke

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sun 1 Apr 2018 8:54 pm

Happy 1st of April! Mono/Poly synth, Monopoly board game – get it? Oh, wait. Actually, they’re serious. KORG are doing a complete reskin of their Mono/Poly synth for iOS to look like the classic board game.

Here’s the intro video, featuring the tycoon mascot of the classic board game:

The 1935 board game Monopoly has certainly seen all kinds of branding, transforming it into the most-played modern tabletop game. But this has to be a first. Most of us pronounce the name of Korg’s Mono/Poly synthesizer as “Mono, Poly,” not one word “monopoly,” because of the slash in the title and the fact that the name refers to monophonic and polyphonic operation. But the connection was always clear.

Now, what that synth app on iOS has to do with the board game – not a whole lot. But what you do get is some very cute and clever UI imagery, including the signature pieces from the board game repurposed as knobs, the layout of the board (including on KAOSS Pad-style X/Y controllers), and references to the GO space (here signifying signal and sync). It looks adorable – they’ve even reproduced the crease in the board itself, which should take people back.

I suspect a lot of musicians these days feel like they’re losing the game of real-world global market capitalism, but… well, this is a free app update.

And whether you think this is ridiculous or not, it shows us KORG as always ready to partner and collaborate, building on past experiments with modular hardware learning platform littleBits, Nintendo game consoles, artists like OK Go, and more. However silly this venture is, that seems to keep an image of KORG that’s playful and open to new ideas.

Most importantly: you can randomize the settings with a roll of the “dice.” Now that’s a good feature to borrow from games of chance.

Tragically, the Monopoly edition Mono/Poly is no good for jam sessions. The sessions take forever, one person dominates right from the start, and pretty much everyone else has to try to devise some way to cheat just to get back in the game. (Sorry, I had to go there.)


The popular board game Monopoly as a synthesizer!? The updated KORG iMono/Poly brings you the collaboration you weren’t expecting. [KORG News]

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At Superbooth, expect new synth news, and grand instrumentalism

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Events,Scene | Wed 28 Mar 2018 5:07 pm

From a crowded stand in Frankfurt to a sprawling show in East Berlin, Superbooth has become a modular mecca and the premiere synthesizer summit on the world calendar.

And if you think about it, that’s pretty astonishing. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) in California remains the destination for the musical instrument industry at large, and it and a number of other events draw big crowds of synth lovers. But Superbooth has become a kind of extension of synthesizer inventor history, of modular subculture, and of the best parts of the Internet today – the bits that just nerd out about cool toys. One- and two-person shops stand literally shoulder to shoulder with major manufacturers.

In short, it’s the triumph of the weird.

“Normal” trade shows these days are what can seem anachronistic. The “trade-only” moniker at NAMM (or Germany’s Musikmesse) has always been confusing, with tire kickers tangled with industry, and a collision of instrumental segments that seem increasingly distant from one another.

Like the quiet, sprawling metropolis of Berlin itself, Superbooth never feels crowded. People amble and linger and chat and chill – all the verbs you never associate with trade shows. But it doesn’t feel like a local synth meet, either. There are 250 exhibitors this year, with stands from names like Ableton, Akai, Avid, Bitwig, Elektron, Eventide, IK Multimedia, KORG, Mackie, Magix, Moog, MOTU, Native Instruments, Nord, Novation, Propellerhead, RME, Roland, ROLI, Softube, Steinberg, Studio Electronics, Waldorf, and … yes, even mighty Yamaha.

Those join a who’s who of modular makers, with an increasing number of American brands alongside what appear to be all the major European names (including Russia).

So, it’s significant that the morning hours are dedicated to trade and professionals, while the afternoons open to the public. “Will you be at Superbooth?” has become the stock question for the synth and electronic end of the waters. And since this is not just a corner of a show with drums and guitars and trombones, you do actually talk to one another and connect.

So what will actually happen this year?

Last year saw a raft of cool stuff:

Go gear crazy with the best synth gear unveiled at Superbooth

Novation hit it out of the park with both Peak and Circuit Mono Station. Bastl Instruments fed us THYME, DUDE, Kong … and their own line of custom-brewed coffee. Behringer had their infamous Minimooog Model D clone to try. Elektron revealed the Digitakt, as Jomox and MFB unveiled boutique drum machines. And of course there were loads of new modules and other toys … not to mention Yamaha with a robot that plays keys.

Last year, this happened – two new Novation synths.

(Compare the inaugural 2016, when Superbooth was more limited to niche modular and analog creations, and many brands still made waves at Frankfurt Messe. By last year, Messe was mostly silence.)

This year, I think you can expect even more big announcements. Given the attention Novation got, I wouldn’t be surprised if a big manufacturer made a splash – even from Japan’s big three, all of whom are in attendance.

Of course, the charm of Superbooth is, those big manufacturers won’t really have any particular advantage over tiny shops. (Well, apart from if you have deeper pockets, you get the cool room with the Soyuz module …)

And I think you can expect … oh, wait, I can’t tell you. I don’t know anything. Expect nothing.

(Oh, one note – I think we’ll continue to see a cottage industry in 5U modules – that’s the larger format – especially as Moog’s own recreation of its vintage modulars is out of reach of most budgets.)

Superbooth 2016 videos


On the music side…

As Superbooth gets deeper in the gear territory – not just for modular geeks, but synths fans in general – it’s also building out its roster of musicians. Those reflect some of the Berlin in-crowd’s refined tastes, but this year they also suggest another line.

Superbooth wants you to think of synths and modular as an instrument, in the classic sense of the word.

So you get Caterina Barbieri, a classical guitarist-turned-modular artist, and Leon Michener on a prepared grand piano. There’s Berlin electronic legend Bernd Kistenmacher on synths, and composer Udo Hanten on 5U modulars.

Stephan Schmitt, founder of Native Instruments and father of Generator/Reaktor, will play on his own unique C 15 keyboard, made by his new hardware venture Nonlinear Labs. Carolina Eyck will play Theremin; famed producer Tobi Neumann will play ambient with Fadi.

The night program is also packed with some big names: think #instantboner, T.Raumschmiere & FucketYbUcKetY, Ströme and Tikiman, Boys Noiz with 2244, ATEQ, and GusGus.

It’s not entirely “underground” in character – these are established, premiere artists, and perhaps associated then with established, premiere modular gear, which while increasingly affordable isn’t exactly cheap. But then I think you can also expect lots of unofficial off events and afterparties to spring up, postcards to spread around – and it’s still Berlin. So be sure manufacturers will organize spontaneous jam sessions, visiting nerds will promote gigs, and lots of sound geekery will be had in the days during and immediately around the event. You might want to clear your calendar, plus some, like, recovery time.

On the workshop/talk side, there are various DIY offerings, as well as a female/non-binary program meant to counter-balance an event that has tended to skew fairly heavily male. Daniel Miller, Uwe Schmidt, and Mark Ernestus are in discussion, plus you can catch Lady Starlight, Andrew Huang, Lady Blacktronika, and Mylar Melodies.

The biggest rival to Superbooth I imagine will be Moogfest back in the U.S. of A. – unlikely to have, say, boutique Russian makers at it, but likely to attract some modular purveyors who won’t make the Transatlantic flight. And Moog of course will figure big at their own event. Moogfest also dwarfs Superbooth as far as festival lineup and talks. I’d also keep an eye on SONAR Festival, whose extended tech program often focuses on the European tech scene, plus Music Tech Fest in September.

But as far as synth makers in one place and synth news, Superbooth is the big bet for new tech. I’ll see you there.

Full event schedule

Exhibitor list for this year


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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.

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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Get lost in the mesmerizing music video, improvs of this duo

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 26 Feb 2018 8:12 pm

Sometimes, you just need to imagine yourself as being made of boulders, on a mental trip that has you wandering a surreal landscape.

I am a rock, I am an island. Or… I am a bunch of rocks.

So, we’re pleased to premiere “Flake,” the gorgeous single and music video. With sweetly melancholy violin and modal synth pads drifting atop a gentle groove, it perfectly fits its ambling main character through a hyperreal rendered world, in a film directed and animated by Benjamin Muzzin. (Thanks to creative director Lukasz Polowczyk for sending this our way.)

Silky-smooth as this production is, what’s wonderful about Egopusher is, they’re equally tight live. That relaxed vibe in the music comes from a duo whose playing meshes easily in spontaneous, effortless improvisation.

Egopusher is a Swiss instrumental electronica duo, with two musicians who started out doing sessions with Dieter Meier (half of YELLO). That’s Tobias Preisig (violin, synths) and Alessandro Giannelli (drums, synths).

Photo Nuel Schoch

Here’s the basic gear used for instrumentation:

Violin, through EQ and reverb [think that’s a Strymon Big Sky]
Moog Minitaur (little cousin of the mighty Taurus), triggered by MIDI organ foot pedal controller

Acoustic drum kit
Arturia MiniBrute synthesizer (yep, one hand on kit, one on synth!)

plus for additional electronic instrumentation:
Computer running Ableton Live, triggering effects and additional MIDI
MFB Tanzbär Lite drum machine

They’ve got some terrific live performances for you to take in:

Check out the full album on Bandcamp – beautiful, hypnotic stuff:


It’s wonderful sometimes how much fine quality music is out there, some of it very much without lots of press hype. And nice when it shows up in the inbox, so keep it coming (even if I can’t respond to it all).

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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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Output’s Analog Brass & Winds is an orchestral library for synth lovers

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 7 Feb 2018 9:14 pm

You’ve got your synth sounds. You’ve got your orchestral sample libraries. And they’ve always been separate – until now.

Output, the California-based sound design shop, have already built a reputation around sound libraries that mix this with that and bank on novel and on-trend sound design concepts. And roughly this time last year, they took this approach to combining string orchestras and synth strings.

But bringing the analog + acoustic blend to wind and brass may be even more vital because, well, brass and winds are a fairly particular thing to have to design… I mean, let’s be honest, how many people really look forward to brass and winds?

So, what you get are sounds that will genuinely get you excited instead of make you cringe. And oddly, combining in tape loops and vintage instruments makes this category sounds more contemporary.

As per usual, the Output experience isn’t just about calling up a preset you like, but being able to easily dial in exactly the blend and flavor you want.

Let’s break down that interface. Even from the overview screen and macro controls, you get a view to the layered sample-based sound engine beneath (plus some pretty abstracted brass wind bodies):

As in past Output products, once you get into Sources, you see the core of the sounds. Output’s products start with a wide arsenal of sounds that feel a bit like getting to steal a top producer’s hard drive. (Please don’t do that. But you get the idea.) Here, this includes one-shots, more continuous textures (“pads”), and crunchy tape loops, which basically involve the acoustic sources, the vintage synth sources, and then “everything else” / more off-the-wall bits (categorized as “creative”). That’s what gives the resulting stew a forward-thinking sound.

“Rhythm” is where invariably you can go from “oh, isn’t this sound cool” to “oh, I can actually finish this entire track with this plug-in.” Note that you have both synchronized and free (“flux”) modes, and the ability to layer modulations atop your modulated sounds.

This is, again, why Output stuff so nicely merges between preset-dialing and creative sound design – just changing an individual element can have an enormous impact, if you like.

There’s also the usual, tasty-sounding effects section.

If there’s any criticism here, it’s that Output have stuck with their existing sample-based architecture, rather than open up the possibility of, say, some physical modeling. (Underneath the hood here, it’s all the Kontakt sampler.) On the other hand, those models can be processor-intensive and unpredictable, whereas you can dump all of Output’s products on a quick external drive (which is inexpensive these days) and be assured of reliable sound results. I am curious what Output may have next, though, whether they’ve got more ideas for this approach or something else altogether.

Oh, one more thing – this all supports Native Instruments’ NKS, which means I’ll give it a try with the likes of Maschine and the new Komplete Kontrol keyboards, as there’s some interesting potential for live performance with the snapshots and such. Stay tuned for that!

Cost: US$199. But betcha earn that back on a good commission with it.

Requisite video walkthrough:



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TX Modular is a vast, free set of sound tools in SuperCollider

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 5 Feb 2018 6:10 pm

Granulators, drones, mixing, synths, effects, control, and on and on – TX Modular is an insanely huge set of tools, and the cost is zero.

SuperCollider, the free and open source sound creation environment for Mac, Windows, and Linux, is vast and powerful. The problem is, actually getting into it is … a little arcane. Talk to many frequent SuperCollider users, and what you’ll find is that they’ve assembled personal libraries of code snippets to work with it. So it can feel a bit like trying to talk your way into a secret society, if you’ve come from another sound creation environment.

Paul Miller writes to share his TX Modular System, which gives you the keys to a huge treasure trove of modules, and some easier ways of combining them.

All of this also means you don’t have to touch SuperCollider code if you don’t want to – though you can add that, too, if you like. (And you can run some code without having to build everything else you need from scratch.)

And it’s all just kind of mind boggling. Just to give a small overview, you get – among other things:

Synths and drones. In addition to the more conventional stuff you’d expect, there are a range of unique morphing synths, wave terrain instruments, drone and noise makers – rare, creative stuff. And there are polyphonic synths with a special emphasis on physical modeling and filter-based sound.

Samples and granulators. Grains are part of the appeal of SuperCollider – these instruments have lots of variations to experiment with sound, plus more conventional players, loopers, and sample-based synths.

Effects. There’s an insane amount here: delays, amp simulation and distortion, waveshapers, bitcrushers, extensive dynamic processing, EQ and flter, resonators, reverbs, and then extra stuff like spectral delays, harmonizers, and vocoders. From studio-style processing to weirder realms, it’s the full gamut, and within a modular paradigm.

Mixing and processing. Need a Mid-Side encoder? Faders? It’s there, too.

Control. Arguably, the rise of Eurorack modular has renewed the interest in actually getting creative and musical with patching itself. So, here you get clock dividers and a rich variety of envelopes and the like, in addition to basic LFOs and such. And at the same time, you get modulation that’s only possible in the digital realm, like random walks and Perlin Noise (a particular digital algorithm with nice, organic results), plus physics models of balls and springs.

Hardware input. Here, too, you get some of the advantages of the computer: work with OpenSoundControl natively, add Wiimotes, plenty of MIDI processors, and more.

Sequencers. Most modular environments break down when it comes to the sort of sequencing in DAWs – but not here. There are scale, chord, note processing, and piano roll sequencers, not just some limited step sequencers. You can even work with multiple tracks or use sequencers for modulation and actions.

UI. For building interfaces, you get various widgets for knobs and sliders.

And of course, you still have SuperCollider for extending all of this, with convenient modules for adding your code to the modular environment.

A mature release is out now as of last month, with a powerful new multitrack sequencer and note processing, FM granulator, a new reverb, and module improvements. (In case you were already up and running with TX, you’ll find what’s new in this release, entitled 087, included in the release notes.)

It’s almost ridiculous that Paul has created this for free. But it’s a beautiful, completely open source solution:


On Mac, you can download a standalone, but the whole environment works on Mac, Windows, and Linux so long as you install SuperCollider first.

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Video of some of the best new gear from NAMM – and no talking

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 29 Jan 2018 10:39 pm

“Hi, we’re here at NAMM 2018, and –” No. Here’s the actual sound of the new Korg, Pittsburgh Modular, and Radikal gear, minus trade show noise or voiceover.

First, the KORG Prologue, the fascinating new polysynth from KORG with open programmable bits. (We’ve got a separate QA and more details from KORG coming soon!)

The Pittsburgh Modular Microvolt 3900 rides the wave of new desktop semi-modulars – standalone instruments that still provide tons of patching options, just without needing a rack of different modules to set up. And it looks like a fine instrument – though you may opt for the Lifeforms SV-1 if you prefer the flexibility of bolting into a Eurorack later. Price: US$629.

What sets this one apart from semi-modular rivals: performance-friendly and intuitive design, and a really flexible patch bay.

And lastly, there’s the Radikal Technologies Delta CEP A. Like the Pittsburgh piece and Arturia, it pitches itself as an entry point to modular – use it on its own, or as the first steps toward building a modular system. What you get is a paraphonic synth voice. There’s onboard MIDI to CV, so it can interface nicely with your computer or existing MIDI gear. You can choose between onboard digital and analog filters. And effects are built in – plus envelope, and LFO.

If all that sounds a little dull, here’s the juicy bit: you get a “swarm oscillator,” with eight tunable oscillators you can use for “chords, clusters or fat detuned multi-oscillator sounds.”

Mmmmm, swarms!

For good measure, here’s Waldorf’s flagship Quantum, which we first saw last year in Frankfurt.

Thanks to Bonedo for the great videos! More are coming, our friends there tell us!

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