Welcome to the July edition of Molten Music Monthly. It’s slightly hardware heavy this month with notable exceptions of the extraordinary HollyHock 3, the Dope Matrix Mod Squad and ever evolving FL Studio 12.5. Otherwise we build our own controller with Tinami, Get jamming with Session Cake, play with desktops synths from Bastl and Dreadbox, over-promise with the Groove Engine, under-promise with the FM Touch synth and Mystic Circuits invent the 0HP form factor. Oh and an update on my Surface Pro 2017 performance testing. All right here.
Text continues below the video:
Hollyhock is this amazing object orientated, modular, multi-touch, physics based DAW that I’ve been promising to review for about 3 years. Well, they decided they couldn’t wait for me any longer and have released a brand new version. One of the reasons that i didnt get around to reviewing it was because every time i sat down with it my brain would hurt and would struggle to get beneath the surface. Version 3 aims to help with all that by being the friendliest version yet. The look and feel of Hollyhock is truly remarkable. It’s sort of built for performance – you can do your looping and your modulation and mucking about with sound generation – but you can also control lighting over DMX and with v3 they’ve introduced video control as well. You really could run a whole audio/visual show from within the one piece of interacting software. You build devices, containers that have stuff going on inside and then wire them all together in interesting ways. It’s fully multi-touchable and you can build controller interfaces to run the whole shebang. It’s stunning, extraordinary and hopefully has a more gentle learning curve. I will review it – i promise.
This is a nice idea. Rather than have a modular configurable controller, or a software one, or a touch screen one – why not just get what you want built and sent to you. Tinami aim to do just that. Currently it’s in a modest size of a 4×4 grid. You fill the grid up on the website with what you want – knobs, sliders, buttons – and they build it and ship it to you in a nice wooden ended box. Fabulous idea – We just don’t know the price yet.
Slightly bonkers name and currently only available in Japan but this is an awesome little pair of boxes. They are little personal jamming mixers that enable you to wire yourself up to a bunch of other people and play together without the need for amps and PA and stuff. Instead you can hang out looking cool in your local park jamming on headphones to the amusement of passers by. You can plug in an iOS device to use for recording or effects – so you can use Amplitube for your guitar or whatever. There’s two versions, one for guitar and the other for vocals or electronic instruments. You can connect them all together and then control your own level and a mix of all the others. I can imagine a whole synth meet silently wired up in a pub somewhere. Simple – awesome and rumoured to be available in the rest of the world in september.
Dope Matrix Mod Squad
For some reason I’ve never managed to get into Max For Live for Ableton Live. I have some kind of blockage about it. However, some of the stuff that runs in it is totally amazing. Sonic Faction produce some amazing modules that make me want to revisit it. Their latest is called Dope Matrix Mode Squad which is a reworked and greatly improved update on their 2014 original. It’s a modular synth of 20 modules covering oscillators, effects, modulators and sequencers. There are 6 types of oscillator, filters, LFOs and wotnot, a Lithium Feedback synth and Freak Mod FM randomiser. There are delays and glitch machines, modulation curves and step sequencing. There’s also a control matrix for mapping the sequencer to external hardware – very neat and they are pushing this side quite heavily – i wonder if it’s a bit cumbersome with a mouse and keyboard. Lots like a lot of fun.
The bastard child of Casper electronics and Bastl Instruments is the playfully organic softPOP. It has an unexpected row of faders that just ask to be played with – and that’s the basic idea – play with the faders and see what happens. They control the oscillators, the filter and the cross modulation. There’s a track and hold circuit for stepped modulations and a looping pattern generator to really get things going. It has an external input with a gain and envelope follower which lets you route other instruments through the filter while keeping in sync to the rhythm of the input – weird but nice. Then there’s a load of mini patch points to get really into the guts of the thing. It seems to be a really colourful device – but only on the inside – the case and design is all a bit underwhelming – they call it “psychodelic” but were obviously on some different drugs to the rest of us.
I really like Dreadbox and this new desktop synth also feeds into my love of orange. Medusa is a monosynth, similar to their other monosynths like Nyx and Erabus, but this one has a step sequencer and arpeggiator. There are 3 oscillators, one of which has 7 waveforms and they’ve developed a brand new filter just for the occasion. There’s some simple modulation, some patch points for Eurorack integration but, unusually, no effects section. The sequencer is the stand-out feature though – apparently it’s created by Polyend – the people who make that huge hardware sequencer with the pretty lights. The Medusa has a Polychain feature which means you can chain up multiple units to create polyphony. Due to be released in December for around 400 euros.
The Groove Engine MIDI-CV Step Sequencer has got a lot of attention but probably for all the wrong reasons. It’s a crowdfunding project on Indiegogo of the most amazing hardware sequencer you have ever seen. 16 tracks of 16 step sequencer for both MIDI and CV on this great looking console for $349! Unbelievable. Anyway, after a bit of discussion on synth and modular forums a couple of people who build synths for a living approached Miles Thatch, the designer, to find out how on earth he hoped to manufacture such a device for the listed price. Of course the guy hadn’t built a prototype or anything and had based his pricing on a few quotes and a load of assumptions. The thing is that Indiegogo don’t require you to have a physical product in order to crowdfund to build one. Kickstarter don’t allow you to use rendered images of products – you have to have a working prototype. Indiegogo don’t care and so let people invest thousands of pounds in products that are only in the concept stage – that’s either awesome or horrifying depending on your point of view. As a result of the advice he was given he has increased the price to $599 – which is still very cheap. The problem being that if he hits his goal he’s then going to have to deliver – that’s where a lot of crowdfunded projects fail. So, although this looks like a fabulous product it is vapourware and i’m using it really as a morality tale, a warning against backing things that seem too good to be true – i mean when i first saw it there were no backers at the $349 – you’d get your mum to buy one wouldn’t you? And now a week later there’s just the one.
FL Studio 12.5
Image line tell me that FL Studio 12.5 is about to drop. And along with all the usual gazillion improvements, tweaks and adjustments comes a couple of virtual MIDI controllers. A piano keyboard and some drum pads. They are resizable in glorious vector-ness and you can stack the keyboard up to layer more sounds. Velocity is achieved via the vertical position and you can change the root note and octave etc. No musical modes as yet but apparently that’s under development. The pads can be expanded to a grid of 16×8 and can be assigned to whatever notes you want, either internally or externally. It’s a cool thing for those of us FL Studio users with touch screens or hybrid laptops and means it’s one less piece of hardware to cart around with us.
If you thought 2HP made fiddly Eurorack modules then hold onto yourself because Mystic Circuits have just invented the 0HP form factor. Yeah they are not really 0HP then just exist outside the rack. These are logic gates – they need no power and hang about on patch cables. The AND gate lets signal through when audio and CV are present and the OR gate lets either signal through, kind of combining two things into one. Mystic Circuits have approached it with bags full of humour and weirdness and reckon there will be a load of these coming along soon. I think it’s really cool to offer simple devices to spice up your patching that take up no room – although they use up space in a differently annoying way.
FM Touch Synth
Otem Rellik aka Toby Hendricks posted a video of his latest invention – a Raspberry Pi powered FM Touch Synth. Toby is a performer and electronic music hacker and he put this thing together for his own shows. It looks fabulous, all those lights and generating a very cool and controllable sound. He says in the video that he’s thinking about releasing it as a product but isnt sure he has the time – but might make time if enough people are interested. So get over there – get in touch with him and make him do it. It’s the perfect product for Kickstarter. Looks like a fully formed product to me.
Just to update you on the Surface Pro 2017 performance testing which is taking far too long. I’m in the middle of it now, squeezing in testing time whenever I can. Check out the SurfaceProAudio facebook or Twitter where I am posting occasional images of my progress. Annoyingly – well, annoyingly for anyone waiting for the results, I’m away for a couple of weeks and I haven’t been able to finish my testing ready for filming. And I keep thinking of new things to demonstrate. Anyway – i did a quick sneak preview video of a project running in Cubase Pro which looks really promising. So just bear with me – it’s coming. I did get the new Surface Pen through though – they’ve taken the clip bit off which makes it feel weirdly unpen like and more like a felt-tip marker. However the smooth flow of ink on the screen is quite amazing.
So in the works after I’ve finished the Surface performance video I have the AC Coupling half of my Bitwig video plus a touch review on Bitwig coming along. I have a DIY video on the Turin module to do plus demos on all the modular modules plus the Surface Pro running with every piece of software imaginable. So stay tuned.
And finally I’d to thank everyone who has helped me get up to 10,000 subscribers on YouTube. Thanks to the subscribers, the sharers, the tweeters and everyone who supports this channel and appears to like what I do. THANKS!