Hooray, we’re back. It feels like a lifetime since ive been sat here. Yes, we had an early one because of superbooth last month and so it’s been more like 6 or 7 weeks – but here we are, the end of June and so much has happened.
Soma is developing the coolest drum machine ever. There’s a Hard Mod spring reverb synth from Mexico, Ginko serves up a version 2 of Sampleslicer. FL Studio leaps to version 20, Studio One notches up to version 4. Native Instruments give us a good kicking and bit of crushing. Midibot brings probability to your virtual instruments. Mutable Instruments get into bed with VCV Rack and Softube Modular. Propellerhead release their first VST instrument. Spitfire Labs are giving away some really good sounds. Amsterdam is trying to start a Modular Synthesis School. Output takes us to the arcade for a bit of coin-operated beat making. Waldorf does cool things with the Valkyrie. Instagram gets some telly and what was going on with all that Behringer legal stuff – high horse warning.
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Let’s get to it
Soma Pulsar 23
Let’s kick off with the best thing I’ve seen in ages. Now Vlad Kreimer from Soma Laboratories makes some weird stuff – like something about whale song and soviet research stations, and that strange pipe thing – but these weird ideas translate into some very interesting what he calls organismic synthesizers. His latest creation is the Pulsar 23 – it’s a semi-modular drum machine that works completely differently to any other drum machine. The starting point is that there are 4 channels of drums – kick, snare, cymbals and percussion which can also be a bassline sort of thing. There are 23 modules that generate, shape and modulate the sound. The difference is that there is no sequencer – instead it has 4 individually clocked loop recorders which record triggers and from which you pull the rhythms. Not entirely sure what that means or how that works but the demo video is completely immense. Part of the whole organismic concept is that everything can affect everything else like a living organism. But to realise that he was running into cost and space problems of having hundreds of patch points. So, instead, he’s going to go against convention and use screws and crocodile clips. Loads cheaper, uses less space and you can connect clips to clips and multiple clips onto the same post – genius. I mean it looks like a proper prototype in the video with the felt tip and all that but it sounds absolutely amazing. It’s going to be pricey at over £1000 but what an interesting machine. It’s going to be all downhill from here.
Hard Mod Synth Spring Reverb
Now something might have got lost in translation but it’s a terribly clumsy name for what looks like a beautiful piece of work. The Hard Mod synth is a lovely piece of synthesizer technology, with a vintage, laboratory style design – very cool. It’s a semio-modular synth with 2 Vcos, 4 waveshapes, FM and PWM. The oscillators appear to be fully independent giving it two voices, in probably a paraphonic way. There’s 2 filters, LFO, S&H an ADSR and 2 AD envelopes, 2 VCAs and a mixer. And of course there’s a dirty great bit physical spring reverb sitting right there up front begging to be twanged. Its hand built in Mexico City for $1685 plus shipping. Nice.
Ginko Sampleslicer 2
I’ve got my eye out for a bit of DIY modular sampling. I’ve run out of money for the posh samplers like Morphagene or Nebula and so my route has turned DIY. Just as I was contemplating this move Ginko Synthese launched the Sampleslicer 2 onto Kickstarter. Well this is just the ticket. It’s an old school sampler by which I mean you sample something in, it slices it up, you trigger it back out. It has 16 slices that it uses as a voltage controlled sequencer that you can bounce around in. You’ve got control over length, pitch, speed and starting point all with CV inputs. It runs in 12bit, it doesn’t remember anything, there’s no SD card of library, it sample whatever you record into it at that time. Sounds like a load of fun and was only €155 for the kit. The kickstarter has just funded so they hope to deliver soon after which you can bet I’ll do a fabulous video on the build.
FL Studio 20
FL Studio 20? What’s that all about, I’m pretty sure we were just on version 12. Well Fruity Loops is 20 years old and to celebrate they’ve released a new version, called it number 20 and splashed it all over the Apple Mac for the first time. Now finally Mac users can get their hands on some seriously dance music crazy production software – and share them with their Windows based buddies. New stuff includes time signatures, track freezing (that’s a bit overdue), multiple arrangements (which they call playlists), you can hide grouped tracks, and there’s now an overview at the top. There’s improved audio recording, the graphic editor is back in the step sequencer and there have been loads of plug-in updates. Sounds to me like they’ve filled in a bunch of holes and very welcome it is to. I really like FL Studio – it has a load of character and lots of creative touches – nice one.
Presonus Studio One 4
Studio One has also got an upgrade, this time to v4. There’s three big stories really, the Chord Track, sampling and the pattern sequencer. With the Chord Track, like with Cubase, you can enter chords along the top of the arrangement and the MIDI tracks quantise to the chords – nice. But Studio One also does it with audio. It will analyse your audio track and can pull out the chords. It will then attempt to follow the chordal and harmonic changes – this includes changing the quality of the chords, major to minor, modes etc. The Patterns side is excellent with both melodic and percussive modes. You can vary the length and resolution of each lane, add accents and then at the bottom you have a modulation lane that has repeats and probability to start with and then you can fill it up with any parameter from anywhere you like. You’ve got 64 steps and infinite variations – it’s an awesome tool to have in your DAW that works directly on your timeline, in your arrangement. And then there’s SampleOne XT which is a sampler that samples – oh yes, record directly in for some really live sampling and stuff. I’ve written the review for Sound On Sound magazine so if you want to know exactly what I think about the new version then you’ll just have to wait.
Native Instruments Trk-01 and Crush Pack
Trk-01 has two things going for it – Kick and Bass – that’s it really and once you’ve played with this you’ll realise that it’s all you ever need. It’s a phenominal little bit of software. You’ve got kick drums on the left and basslines on the right and a pattern based sequencer in the middle. It’s superb, i love it. Make kicks by blending 2 sound layers from 4 sources – sample, noise, synth or rumble. And you can hotswap on the fly. The bass comes from either wavetable, FM, supersaw, monosynth or wavefolding. Both have a load of effects and modulation in a perfectly simple interface. It just makes you smile to play with it.
Also from NI is the Crush Pack, 3 brilliantly simple plug-ins that aim to destroy Dirt is a distortion stomp box, Bite is a bit crusher and Freak is a bit of a weird thing. Like the Mod pack they released a little while ago these are straight forward, creative effects that you can use without any fuss or worry. Both TRL-01 and these plugs are Native Instruments at their best.
Here’s something pretty random and pretty special. Midibot is a polyrhythmic pulse generator. It can bring probability based rhythms and melodies to your virtual instruments. You insert it as a VST instrument and direct its output to the instrument you want it to play. Set it going and it generates patterns. These can just be pulses or you can use the inbuilt scales and modes to generate melodic sequences. It’s like a Turing machine with an inbuilt quantizer. It’s great for creating very human percussion or injecting a bit of jazz into anything. Developer Robby Kilgore says that he wrote the plug-in because he couldn’t find anyone to jam with – awwww. It’s really very cool and only cost $5.
VCV Rack Preview
Mutable Instruments make some of the cleverest Eurorack modules around. Most of them are software driven and Mutable make their source code available for free after a period of time. People can then build their own versions of older modules such Clouds or Braids. When VCV Rack, the virtual Eurorack first emerged one of the very cool features was their Audible Instruments line of modules based on Mutable’s open source hardware. Even though the source code was open they did get permission to use it from Mutable – because they are nice and decent people. Recently VCV Rack and Mutable got together to produce like a prototype software module called Preview that can run Mutables source code. The idea is that Mutable will make source code available on their newer modules much sooner than they normally would exclusively for this Preview module – this, they believe, would give people a chance to try out a module in VCV Rack before deciding whether to buy it in hardware. This of course raises the good old hardware/software debate. Will something like this actually increase hardware sales or will it cannibalise them? A few years ago software was killing hardware – but things have changed. The draw of hardware to our human senses is huge – there’s something very inspiring about a couple of modules and some patch cables that’s so difficult to replicate with every imaginable sound on your computer. But there’s also the cost. Anyway, current the Preview module has a port of the new Plaits macro-oscillator. The plug-in will cost you $20 which goes to charity (these people are fabulous) and then you can run it within VCV Rack. There are plenty of people who cite VCV Rack as their first steps into hardware. I don’t think this will do Mutable any harm whatsoever.
Softube Modular Clouds
Meanwhile, back in the posher professional world of Softube Modular – sort of VCV Rack for people who like to pay for their gear – Softube have officially licensed Mutable Instruments Clouds. It’s not a copy or clone or a replication, this is the real deal with the same branding and everything that Clouds has to offer. Softube Modular already has modules from brands such as Doepfer, 4MS, Buchla and Intellijel and the Mutable stuff would fit in there perfectly and it’s only $39. I think Softube Modular is doing a good job of holding its own. It offers perhaps a more authentic experience in aligning itself to the restrictions of realworld hardware, whereas VCV Rack is open to an awesome amount of exploratory development. It also runs as a plugin which is something VCV Rack isn’t. I think there’s room for both. Certainly it’s great seeing multiple instances of Clouds running together – something that’s hard to replicate in hardware. I wonder what’s going on with Cherry Audio and the Voltage Modular virtual Eurorack we saw previewed at NAMM?
Propellerheads Europa VST
This is the second thing that Propellerhead said would never happen. The first thing was VST support in Reason – we like that. And now the second thing is that they’ve released one of their new Reason synths as a VST Instrument. Oh yes, you can now get Europa, their awesomely red spectral wavetable synth as a regular plug-in for regular DAWs – yay! It’s good, it’s a decent, interesting, versatile synth with 3 sound engines, 30 models, 24 filter types and all sorts of modulation and effects. You can even try it out in a web browser for free – awesome! You get it for free is you are a Reason 10 user – check your account for details – for the rest of us it’s a fairly hefty $99 – probably makes more sense to upgrade or buy into Reason V10… Possibly.
Spitfire are a boutique london based sample company who craft the most stunning instrument libraries. As well as being top notch recording engineers they also like to bring some creativity and unusual angles to their virtual instruments. So you get your pristine strings but you also get them mangled and sliced in interesting ways. It’s all great stuff. Anyway, they have released what will hopefully be a range of library that you can use absolutely free. They are calling it LABS and currently there’s a Soft Piano and some strings. The Soft Piano was recorded ages ago with a layer of felt put between the hammer and strings to give a very soft tone. The strings are 14 of londons best string players recorded through some very cool vintage gear. These are decent, usable instruments and they’re free – what’s not to like about that? The other thing I like is that these come in their own plug-in, rather than as Kontakt library. Kontakt has been an enormous enabler of virtual sample based instruments but the interface and features can only go so far and are getting a bit samey and predictable. So i’m really pleased to see Spitfire break out a little with their own deliciously simple interface. Although Kontakt 5 is well overdue an update – don’t you think? Hopefully more LABS library will be along in time.
Modular Synthesis School
I came across a struggling Kickstarter that’s attempting to raise some funds to found a modular synthesis school in Amsterdam. It’s the brainchild of Anna Martinova who performs under the name of Tulpa/Dusha and Nate Houk of Epsilon Records. They’ve been working really hard to get this project off the ground – under the name Modular Moon they’ve been building a following, organising events and workshops and acquiring equipment. They want to create a course where people can have access to modular gear, receive seminars from industry people and artists and have the opportunity to learn synthesis both inside and out. They’ve been working with Erica Synths on the syllabus, and running workshops and they hope to connect up with all sorts of modular makers and performers to become a hub of modular activity. It’s great idea, it’s the sort of thing that you could roll out in different cities around the world. But by the time this video is out there I think the Kickstarter would have ended with me being 1 of only 2 backers. It’s a shame. I think Anna has struggled a bit to articulate what it’s all about and is a bit bogged down in the administration of it all. Although a load of funding would have been great I’m not sure it was the right approach at this time. I think what the project needs is simply people who can help. Maybe you can offer to help with the paperwork, maybe you can donate a module, maybe you can offer some marketing experience, or teaching resources or just some encouragement. I believe there’s a neat, useful idea in here that’s not only very cool and groovy but also packagable and sellable. I would love to start one in Norwich. So if any of this appeals to you, drop Anna a line and say “how can I help”?
Output love a bit of a tease and then went full force into the lead up to their latest and greatest product claiming it will change the way you make music forever. Well as you know I adore these kinds of marketing hype. So what is it? It’s called Arcade and sadly it’s not an 8bit chiptune generator, no no, it’s a game changing…. bunch of loops. Oh yes. Well of course it’s more interesting than that, no honestly it is, it’s more of a loop manipulator. Arcade has all these product lines – things like Particles, Toys, Fields, Ingredients, modular and increasingly weird and wonderful categories. Within each line are some kits and these kits contain 15 loops. Each line has it’s own unique and yet identical interface with 4 macro sliders that mess with the loops. It might be decay time, reverb, delay, crunch, modulation speed. The loops get spread across 2 octaves of white keys while the black keys trigger one of 3 self explanatory modifiers – resequencer, playhead and repeat. You can load you own loops and mess them about which is pretty cool. There’s genuinely loads of fun to be had playing with the loops and controls. It sounds like a fun loop based virtual instrument – so where does the game changing come in? Well Output in their wisdom has decided to put all the content in the cloud and step into the subscription model. For $10 a month you get access to everything and apparently there will be new content coming online every day – every day! The Cloud system is the idea that rather than installing a load of library locally the instrument connects to the Cloud and you audition and download just the content you want to use. Because as they say, installing sample library to your hard drive is so darn tricky. Well, not really, not if you’ve used a computer for more than 5 minutes. Anyway this allows them to control the content and stop your access when you stop paying. Output say that any projects you make with Arcade will still run and play if you stop subscribing, but you won’t be able to edit them. So, i think it looks like a lot of fun and Output have given us a 100 day free trial which is pretty awesome. But personally subscription models on virtual instruments do not resonate. I will happily subscribe to a piece of software i used every day – Photoshop for instance – but with virtual instruments i tend to use them occasionally, different things for different projects, I like to browse and try things out and I object to paying for something i’m not going to be using. Now you can cancel and re-subscribe at any time, so you could just see it as paying a tenner every time you want to use it – like a rental. That works i guess, but it’s more of a faff than installing sound library. And I still worry that the internet is not reliable enough for cloud based content. And will i have downloaded all the right bits to the right places if i’m playing live with no internet. So, i dunno – schools of thought. It’s like Output said to themselves lets release a really groovy loop product to use up all these loops we’ve got lying around and then make it really annoying to purchase and use. If this sort of thing works for you them let me know in the comments.
Does anyone remember the Exodus Valkyrie that was the only new synth at Musikmesse back in march? It was kind of an ugly looking mega synth with a gazillion oscillators, 128 voices, 8 part multi-timbral, masses of wavetables all running on a FPGA field programmable gate array capable of generating and processing extremely complex sounds. It’s immense, but it came across a bit clumsy and uninspired. Anyway, Waldorf CEO Joachim Flor stumbled upon it, love it and has brought it into the world of Waldorf. They’ve given it the badly needed new name of Kyra and are going to work their Waldorf design magic into making it look awesome. I think this is an awesome thing for Valkyrie designer Manuel Caballero – he seemed to be having a hard time articulating what it could do – now he’s in great hands. Looking forward to seeing how it pans out.
Right, Behringer are back in the news for all the wrong reasons. In a nutshell a chinese music tech site called Midifan has said some unflattering things about Behringer’s cloning activities, Behringer asked them to stop and threatened legal action, Midifan complied but also told every other news site they could find about it. CDM picked it up and ran with it making Behringer look pretty petty. Midifan was also claiming that Behringer has targeted them because they reported on a strike at Behringer’s Music Tribe City factory. Uli Behringer then responded and claimed that Behringer gets bad press because they don’t buy advertising and had a very different account of what caused the strike and how lovingly it was resolved. I wrote about this story on Gearnews and it got on Facebook and it snowballed into bit of discussion. I’m amazed at the range of feeling this seems to generate. Plenty of people hating on Behringer, loads of people accusing me of terrible journalism, and arguments over exactly what the translation of the originally offending words and statements were. Meanwhile and strangely coincidentally Behringer goes and loses a libel case against Dave Smith Instruments and 20 forum members of Gearslutz. What’s it all about? Honestly, I don’t really know. I think commenting on practices in chinese factories when we sit in our chinese made chairs, surrounded by chinese made technology is difficult. I don’t think Midifan needs to use the strength of language they did – Behringer have the right to be upset but i don’t think legal action will do them any favours. Uli Behringer has done amazing work over the last year or so on forums and facebook to improve peoples view of Behringer – his openness and willingness to engage with the community does them a lot of credit – that’s how you do it. His bite back against media websites and magazines and his glossing over of the reasons for the strike seem unfortunate and unhelpful. I have no problem with Behringer’s products or desire to recreate cool, classic synths at prices people can afford. Whenever i hear the Midas engineers talk about the development i’m reminded that these are talented people given the opportunity to work with technology that we all love producing synths that we can all enjoy – completely legally. It’s also really important that people can discuss and criticise products and companies on the internet without the fear of legal action – and the courts have upheld that. Behringer needs to stop getting legal and put this nonsense behind them and Midifan need to stop being dicks.
And finally Instagram Telly is here – yay! Or at least I thought it was interesting but how wrong i was. I was completely oblivious to the undercurrent of hatred towards vertical video. Apparently it’s a disaster, an modern day evil that is ruining the internet and how dare i even suggest that it might be cool. I get it, i do, vertical video in a landscape world always looks terrible. If you are putting something on YouTube or Facebook then widescreen landscape is what it’s all about – looks great, matches the arrangement of our facial features, best use of space etc – yes, got it. But Instagram telly is a vertical format, it’s all about portrait, it’s all about the regular standard way people hold their phones. What on earth is evil about that? It’s just Instagrams thing – it’s a bit different, i like it when something changes as it shakes up my creativity, makes me think differently. Also, if you think about it, this orientation is perfect or videos about modules… Because they fit the shape… Anyway, it doesn’t have the monetisation or interconnectivity of YouTube and it runs in a different app to Instagram so it’s not really ticking many boxes for content makers and i have no idea how you would find stuff you want to watch. But it looks like fun. Beside you could always turn your horizontal videos 90 degrees and make people turn their phone to the side to view them.
Right – are you up for another livestream? I’m going to make it happen this Sunday night, first July 8pm BST. Pencilled in for discussion are as many contentious topics as i can find – so Outputs subscription, Instagram telly and Behringer law suits. I’ve also been sent an Edgecutter envelope from This is not rocket science to help me with a video i’m doing on envelopes – let’s install that and test it out live. Then i’m open to whatever people want to get me to talk about, or i’ll make some music or something. 8pm this Sunday – on the youtube channel.
There’s been a bit of a lack in the variety and depth of content recently which I am trying to rectify. I’d like to thank my 60 patrons who are supporting me on Patreon for their confidence and patience – you are awesome and I have some great things lined up. I am planning a kind of 4 week cycle where week 1 is modular week, week 2 is software week, week 3 is modular DIY and week 4 is Molten Music Monthly. And I’ll attempt to produce at least one video in each week plus as many extra music making noodles as often as i can manage. So in that vein i have coming up over the next few weeks I am planning videos that include – Euro DDL review, Discovering Envelopes, review of Native Instruments TRK-01, Using guitar pedals with Eurorack, review of the Hermod sequencer, Waveform 9, FL Studio 20, Discovering filters and i’m kicking off my adventure into Modular DIY with a whole series of videos starting with the case and power supply.
That’s about it for now. I did put in some time to create a podcast version of Molten Music Monthly. According to iTunes it was downloaded 5 times and listened to for 13 minutes. I will give it one more go with this one so if that’s interesting to you them please go and subscribe and download it, otherwise i’ll forget about it.
As always please subscribe and share and if you’re a bit more daring them consider supporting me on Patreon – that would be awesome. In the meantime – go and make some tunes.