It’s the start of the summer holidays and everything is starting to dry up except for the constant stream of cool music technology.
We have a magical footswitch that routes CV by Sleight of Hand, Modal surprise us with a weird futurist mini-synth, Analogue Solutions sequencer gets a name, Elektron turn up the heat and Overbridge might exist after all. VCV Rack gets a VST version and Voltage Modular reappears on the scene, WTF finds a new way to morph waveforms, a new cheap Surface goes for it, Tim Exile wants to indoctrinate us into Endlesss, Hungry Robot Modular is jaming Eurorack modules into tabletop boxes, and Arturia’ DrumBrute has a little brother.
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Moog and tariffs
But first, never one to shy away from a bit of politics we get a bit a hoohar around President Trumps 25% import tariff. Aimed presumably at encouraging American manufacturing Moog Music threw shade on this idea by suggesting that the increase in component prices coming in from China would raise prices on their synthesizers, could lead to job loses at their Asheville plant or they might be force to move the whole manufacturing facility overseas. I imagine it’s not really the result Trump was after. Moog Music encouraged its customers to contact their senators to protest at the stupidness of this tax. After lots of anger, hyperbole and finger waving a couple of other manufacturers started pointing out that perhaps this isn’t all that it seems. Particularly vocal was Paul T Schreiber of SynthTech – he builds some very awesome Eurorack modules. He pointed out that actually the tariff is only on certain components, few of which are in synthesizers and that the price of components is only a tiny fraction of the cost of a synth anyway. The price increases would be so small that from his point of view they will just be absorbed. Capacitors are subject to the tax and so when he buys a reel of capacitors (a reel is 4000) is will cost $42 rather than $30. So for a module that may have 200 caps, that’s a price increase of $0.38
There are industries where this is having a much greater impact, but Paul suggests that synthesizers are not really one of them. Provided that your are purchasing correctly and declaring all the right and specific product commodity codes. However, shipping companies may just lump on the tariff anyway because containers are often shared and contain all sorts of stuff.
I don’t know what the answer is, what the result has been and whether this is true concern or political wrangling for either direction. Maybe it’s too soon to say but it’s always good to get alternative opinions in the face of alarming headlines.
Sleight of Hand
Here’s something small and interesting. A little footswitch from Trick’s Magic Shop who seem to be in the wrong business. It’s called Sleight of Hand and allows you to switch up to three CV signals between 2 inputs.. You could have two sequencer patterns going in and you switch between the one coming out. Or reverse it and have one LFO going in and switch between two destinations. It’s a great way to bring some change to your modular performance without having to take your hands off the knobs. It’s available in Buchla, Eurorack and Moog Unit versions and cost around $90.
Skulpt is a funny looking futuristic style synthesizer from Modal. I can’t believe the word SKULPT has never been used before in a sound synthesis context – but we’re always coming up with cool new names for things. Inside Skulpt is a massive virtual analog polyphonic synthesizer. It’s got 4 voices with 8 oscillators per voice, morphable waveforms, 3 envelopes, 2 LFOs, a morphing filter and a sequencer/arpeggiator. It has a weird touch keyboard attached and it looks a lot like the top bit with the knobs on could slide shut, or maybe come off to be replaced by a different top end. It’s still got a couple of weeks to go on Kickstarter and at £249 they’ve smashed their goal and two stretch goals of a plastic lid cover and all black version. There’s a software app to get you deep into the synthesis but it looks like a natty little poshly designed winner.
Elektron Analog Heat Mk2 and Overbridge
Elektron release a new version of their Analog Heat desktop distortion and effects unit. It hasn’t changed much – upgraded knobs and sound engine, gets the better screen from other recent releases and it’s fully Overbridge compatible. What a second – every Elektron machine released in the last 2 years claims to be Overbridge compatible but only compatible with the forthcoming version 2. The result has been that Digitakt and Digitone owners people with Analog Rhythms and so on have been without the promised overbridge for a very long time. Long enough for OB2 to disappear into legend. In fact the original Analog Heat is about the only device to work with version 1. However, Elektron have announced the closed beta of version 2 – that means there’s actually a mostly working version out there for people to test. Although if you do have the Analog Heat then upgrading the firmware to work with version 2 will kill compatibility with version 1. What’s Overbridge all about? I don’t think anyone can remember but it’s going to be awesome.
Analogue Solutions Generator
There was a really cool tabletop sequencer from Analogue Solutions at Superbooth this year. It was a bit of a dodgy looking prototype but looked pretty interesting. Well now it’s got a name – generator – and a front panel and their first batch of preorders has sold out. Generator is a 3 channel analogue step sequencer designed for performance and pattern switching while leaving everything out on the front panel for tweaking and messing about. 3 channels of 16 steps with 16 knobs all ready to go plus a channel of gate sequencing for drum patterns. I guess you could compare it to the Beatstep pro but then again, not really. It’s got these great light-up knobs that show you where you are and some voltage plates that change key, patterns or trigger things. It has all the usual functions, control over length and glide and stuff and it can also do MIDI. It looks like a proper chunky bit of analogue gear – not refined like the Polyend or dancey like the beatstep pro – this is British forthright engineering. Get yourself on the list for the second run.
VCV Rack’s virtual Eurorack continues to sky rocket in terms of community development. One bright spark has managed to take the code apart and rework it into a VST wrapper so it can be a VST plugin. It’s something that VCV Rack has struggled with – there’s something called Bridge which is a bit like Rewire which allows the outputs of VCV Rack to stream through a DAW – but nothing to drop it into your project. Well VeeSeeVST Rack by KVR forum user BSP804 has created a build that runs as a VST plugin, just like a regular plugin. It only supports the core modules at the moment but he’s trying to get it taken on officially by VCV Rack in order to get better compatability. Could be an awesome thing – but the down side of community driven open source stuff is that it often depends on the kindness and voluntary work of others. So we’ll see how that goes.
Mutable Marbles VCV Rack
Meanwhile the VCV Rack Audible Instruments Preview module has just got Marbles. This is a plugin module for VCV Rack that can run official Mutable Instrument modules and along with Plaits that they released a few weeks back you can now try out Marbles – their Random Sampler. It’s an awesome module of randomness, both gates and CV’s for tunes and beats. There are few missing functions because you can hold down a button in VCV Rack and move a knob at the same time. Shame they didnt implement touch support because then you could do that. The preview plugin costs $20 and then you get each Mutable module as they come – it’s an awesome thing.
Now last month I asked whatever happened to Voltage Modular – the new software Eurorack that emerged at NAMM and then disappeared. Well, it’s back, it’s in beta and i’m one of the chosen few who are checking it out. I’ve done a video on my first impressions so check that out but it is looking and sounding pretty awesome. I’m going to give it some dedicated time next week so i can show a bit more of the potential. But it comes with over 70 modules, there’s all sorts of stuff including a polyphonic oscillator. The beat comes with an entire drum section and an 808 style drum machine – although i think that’s an added extra. I did have some initial problems with audio drivers and the lack of ASIO but as this will also run as a VST plug-in then that wasnt a major issue. Apparently the next build will have dedicated ASIO support. It has a Reason look and vibe going which is colourful if perhaps in danger of dating a little but it has some slick and smooth stuff going on. Look out for more videos on it over the next few weeks.
A new oscillator appeared on Kickstarter with an annoyingly unfortunate name and a completely new method of blending waveforms. The name evokes angry, dismissive, punky ideas and you can imagine it sounding pretty brutal when in fact WTF stands for Window Transform Function and it’s actually quite lovely. It’s designed by Paula Maddox of Dove Audio who used to design synths for Modal. The idea is that you have two waveforms stacked one in front of the other. You hear the one at the front. Then you can open a gap or a window in the front waveform to let part of the rear waveform come through. So you have a sine wave with part of a sawtooth coming through. It’s ridiculously simple and very effective. It comes with 32 waveforms and noise and you can freely morph between any two by open 1 or 2 windows and moving them about. It has a clever way of introducing pulse width modulation to any waveform by using a DC level as the rear waveform. There’s something about the front panel that looks a little unbalanced to me but otherwise Paula has come up with a cool new way of making sounds – yay!
Tim Exile has a new thing going on. Tim is responsible for some of the more interesting Reaktor instruments like Flesh and The Mouth as well as his own weird and wonderful stuff. But his thing is all about spontaneous improvised electronic live performance. He built himself what he calls a Flow Machine which is a combination of hardware controllers and software that enables him to perform electronically like picking up an instrument. Tim has come to the realisation that the tools and methods we use to make music can suck all the joy out of it. There’s a joy that emerges from the creation of music and playing with ideas that is quickly lost as we massage it, sequence it, rearrange it, process and perfect it in the studio. Tim’s Flow Machine is designed to keep him in the joyful, chaotic, imperfect creative state. He’s now re-emerged with his arms wide like a preacher inviting us to join him and his community in the Flow Machine religion of joyful music making. To join the flow we need to sign up to his new thing called Endlesss – with an extra S because it’s …… – it’s not clear what it is but what i like about Tim is that he delivers. His instruments are excellent, his creativity is rooted in a very happy place and in the couple of times I’ve met him he’s a thoroughly decent chap. So i think this is going to be some kind of hardware/software performance platform and it could get very interesting indeed.
Hungry Robot Modular
Out of nowhere a guitar pedal firm called Hungry Robot has released a bunch of Eurorack modules that appear to be stuffed inside guitar pedal boxes. The total genius of this is that each module is self contained, Eurorack compatible and patchable but doesn’t require all the hassle and expense of getting a Eurorack case. They can all be powered by 9v guitar pedal power supplies. There are 13 modules, a VCO, VCF, VCA, loopable ADSR, sequencer, LFO and all the usual utiliities. They are cheap (ish) compact sit on your tabletop. Say you’ve got a 0-Coast or a Mother-32 or a Behringer synth and you want to add an LFO, or a filter, or a second oscillator – well now you can and without diving head first down the Eurorack rabbit hole. Totally brilliant idea – best thing I’ve seen all week. Modules cost from $75 to $150 so pretty good value compared to the cost of a case, power supply and modules of Eurorack.
Suddenly the Arturia DrumBrute has had a little brother. It’s called Impact and it’s more compact, got less sounds, tracks and outputs but by all accounts is a little drum machine beastie with it’s own character. Arturia decided to give one to absolutely everyone (except me) before release so that they could bombard the internet with cool videos from cool people on the day of release. I mean everyone had one – it was mad. The thing with that is that I feel you get a massive spike in coverage but then it’s all gone. The potential for leaks is huge – which of course happened – and everyone has moved onto the next thing. I think you should release your product first, then send out a few over time to get a bit more of an extended period of coverage and reviews. But that’s just me. Anyway – it’s a very cool box with 8 tracks, the usual drum sounds, with alternative tones, polyrhythmic sequencer – it’s lost the filter which is a shame but gained a distortion circuit. Pretty tasty really but what would i know because i’ve not seen one.
And finally there’s a new Surface in town. It’s the entry level one, called the Surface Go and it’s really the successor to the Surface 3 that they released on 2015. Rather than Atom based this one is Intel Pentium based with 4 or 8GB of RAM and 64 or 128gb of drive and it starts at £379. That’s not bad for a Surface tablet that can run full Windows 10 – although the keyboard and pen are optional extras. I have the original Surface 3 and it’s pretty cool – i did a video showing you the sort of performance you’d get with desktop music software and it was ok – within its limits. These days I mostly use it for watching Netflix or streaming music. However, I have ordered an 8GB Surface Go to give it the full Surface Pro Audio workout and see what this fella can do. It will be limited when compared to the Pro but might be a useful piece of kit.
Last week i kicked off my Modular DIY series and I have the next video about cases and power supplies coming along any time now. I then need you to let me know what DIY modules you’d like me to build. Thonk have already sent me an Music Thing EQ to have a go of and I’ve got the Sampleslicer arriving very soon. All recommendations welcome.
I’m about to do a video all about Discovering Envelopes. TINRS loaned me an Edgecutter and i’ve had a load of fun with that working out what envelopes do and i’m going to share my findings.
More software stuff coming with Voltage Modular and I want to check out Waveform 9, Cakewalk by Bandlab and a load of other things.
Then this Sunday we’ll have another stab at the Live Stream. I’ll start it 10 minutes early this time so that you don’t waste the first 10 minutes watching me troubleshoot. That’s the 29th July 8pm BST and we’ll talk about this months products and whatever you want and i might make some music.
I’d like to thank my Patrons on Patreon for being so supportive and awesome and if you’d like to join our band of fabulousness then please consider throwing me a couple of dollars to help fund these videos – it’s really vital to keeping these videos coming. Also i’m always completely happy to chat and answer questions in the comments on any platform, where it will be me, being me, so please be nice.
In the meantime make some tunes.