This month we have: Roland Boutique us an SH-101 and TR808, Percussa create a super signal processor for eurorack, Patchrat will organise your studio for a price, Sound Forge is still alive, win a Memory Moog, get arm ache in virtual reality Ableton Live, Analogue Solutions go mad with Synthblocks, Sound Machinery morph 4 synths into each other, PolyGAS is the best free synth ever, The Gristleizer will cause your Gristle to throb, the new Surface Pro does ok and the latest update on my modular adventure.
Text continues beneath the video:
I shot some video of a shaky instagram video that showed a blurred image that looked every bit like a Boutique SH-101. I turned it into a gif for Gearnews.com and it seemed to go viral – everyone had it and no one thanked me – cheers! Turns out to be completely true. Roland are giving us the SH-01a, a reworked SH-101 in the Boutique analog modelled style. This means it’s very tiny, but should also sound amazing. It has 4 voices which makes it extra special and will cost £339. It’s the sort of synth everyone wants and now you can have one. I borrowed one from a mate for a couple of weeks back in 1980 something and really enjoyed it – although i think i preferred my DX100 because you could play chords and stuff. I know nothing.
Yeah yeah, 808’s and that. All getting a bit boring really, but at least Roland have at last re-released it in the just a little bit too fiddly Boutique form factor. It was inevitable really. I mean the amount of interest created by a vaporware pair of trainers in 808 colours just shows how iconic this instrument has become. Is it any good? Of course it is. The original was a huge thing so actually this form factor is a bit more under control – but it is fiddly.
Percussa Super Signal Processor
The Percussa stuff is fascinating but weird and sort of out of reach. Their Synthor System 8 with its audio cubes and strange digital console seems somehow other-worldly. But, then they decided to stick some of it into Eurorack and took the very cool route of actually asking the community what they thought. After a lot of feedback they’ve put the Super Signal Processor module onto Kickstarter. I’ve found it quite hard to navigate what it’s all about as they don’t explain it very well. But what it is is a quad-core ARM Cortex A17 based computer that will do whatever you want – whatever you want to write DSP modules for. Currently they are focused on massive wavetable oscillators and sampling. With unison and cloud modes kicking in it could run up to 64 oscillators. There will also be plenty of regular modulation and filter modules making full use of all those lovely patch points. It looks flippin amazing although far too futuristic for my humble Eurorack. They’ve hit their goal with 30 people buying one at $1600 so it’s going to be made and it will be interesting to hear what comes out of it.
Here’s a good idea – with all this hardware knocking around who can ever remember what you had it all set to last time you worked on a project? A bit of felt tip pen, masking tape and scraps of paper usually makes for an awesome filing system but maybe there’s a better way. PatchRat is the app onto which you can note down all the settings of all your gear so you’ll never lose that magical moment you were working on when next you come back to it. It uses virtual front panels of all your gear so you can actually set the settings on the GUI to what you’ve got in real life. You can add notes and photos and then wire up the signal chain so that you know how everything was connected. It may sound laborius but if you have a lot of hardware then this is going to save you a lot of time when you want to recall a project. The downside – it’s 300 bucks a year. So for the rest of us i recommend taking a few pictures and make do with that.
Sound Forge 12
Yay! Sound Forge is not dead. I’ve been using it since version 4 back in the 1990s when it was owned by Sonic Foundry. I feared it might disappear after Magix bought it from Sony earlier this year. But no, just like Magix have kept developing Vegas they’ve also kept on with Sound Forge and have released a new updated entry level version, with the Pro update coming next month. New things include 64bit internals, VST3 support and a bunch of new plug-ins and a cleaner display. There’s slice editing where your cutting is not quite so destructive so you can still adjust it afterwards. It still looks like a Windows XP bit of software with some really retro menus, toolbars and windows but somehow that’s part of the charm. With Wavelab apparently no longer being developed it’s great to see Sound Forge continue as it’s an awesome audio editor. I think this Studio version is probably enough for almost everybody.
The Moog Foundation have another raffle on this time its for an expanded MemoryMoog Plus worth about $10,000. It’s in aid of the foundations educational and historic preservation initiatives and tickets cost $25 each. Worth a punt for a good cause i think. The draw is on the 8th September and is open to anyone, worldwide – i wonder how i’ll get it shipped to the uk?
Here’s some virtual reality madness guaranteed to make your arms ache. Some bloke has built a launchpad style controller in virtual 3D space for Ableton Live. You don the VR goggles, grab the motion controllers and start slapping blocks to trigger loops. You can move the blocks about, place them where you want, pull out a couple to use as bongos, or as instrument triggers. It’s really well thought out and looks extraordinary. It works via Steam and requires an HTC Vice headset and controllers which you can get for around £750. It does make for a cool instant music video although you’ll look like a complete idiot at a gig.
I was going to do something on this last month but run out of time – but now there’s 2 to talk about. Analogue Solutions are building a range of desktop effects units called “Synthblocks” and they’ve gone about it in a completely awesome way. They are brash, bright, wooden edged, knobby and cheeky with great names and evocative paint work. Mr Hyde is a chemically enhanced filter and the new Dr Strangelove is an echo ring modulator. If i wasn’t into Eurorack i would be into desktop modular – all these little boxes of noise that you can wire together in interesting ways. These are particularly fabulous and would look and sounds great in any setup.
From new kids Sound Machinery this is a Kontakt instrument that combines 4 not quite classic synthesizers: the Yamaha CS10, the Korg MS20, Kawai f100 and Siel Cruise. I like its simplicity, and yet the complex nature of blending sounds from different sources rather than having a virtual instrument based on a single instrument. Interesting stuff here that I thought was worth highlighting – i really like the look and the parameters – cool stuff.
I’m often weirded out by granular stuff. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and tends to produce the same sort of grainy digital stuff. PolyGAS somehow clears all the fog and makes it intuitive. Load a sample, move a few knobs and you feel like you’re doing stuff on purpose and hearing an effect – that doesn’t tend to happen in granular synthesis i find. It’s also got some great reverb and delay in there and a nicely fierce filter. Modulation is all done via an envelope display and is pretty comprehensive. It’s clear it’s easy to use, it’s Russian and completely free – a very impressive and unusual synth.
This looks like a load of fun. I’m not particularly familiar with the work of experimental industrial band Throbbing Gristle – i know, it’s social suicide to admit it – but they used an effects box that band member Chris Carter built from a design by Roy Gwinn that he published in Practical Electronics in July 1975. It became a defining part of their sound. Well, working with Future Sound Systems Chris and Roy have got together and turned it into 3 eurorack modules which are looking pretty evil. There’s the Generator, which is an LFO that can also do bass sounds, a Filter and a Modulator which is sort of a VCA with a lot of character. They’ve also added a pre-amp so you can stick guitar and line level signals in. There’s a lot of drive and distortion possibilities here, self-oscillation and general craziness. It was announced at ModularMeets Leeds where Chris also did a live show on a comfortingly modest sized rack.
Over in the world of the Surface I have finished my exhausting performance testing. I managed to edit the video down to almost under and hour, but there’s a load of information in there if you are interested in how well the new Surface Pro 2017 copes with music production – it includes Dawbench testing, virtual instruments, polyphony, playing live, running as many DAWs as i could find and demonstrating complete musical projects. I’ve highlighted some thermal issues and CPU stability and give hopefully a good idea of what it’s capable of. The short answer is – yeah, it’s pretty good so you should go and check that out.
Modular update – second row
Uh Oh, what’s this? It’s a second row. Yes, i have spilled into a second row and so i’ll videos coming up on that adventure very soon. Also I’d like to give a shout out to Alex at Rubadub who spent ages explaining the Make Noise Shared System to me at Modular Meets Leeds – it was amazing and i understand a whole load of new things now…. I’m going to need another row.