So in case you’re new to the Molten monthly thing, and we’ve had a shed load of subscribers recently – so welcome! – This is where I look over the last month and pick out half a dozen or so bits of new music technology to talk about. It might be hardware, synthesis, modular, it might be software, computer related, it might be industry related or just something cool.
And what a month March has been. If you’ve been following this then you’ll know that i had a half arsed plan to make March into a music making month – but i bottled out at the last minute because i just didn’t think i could do handle writing a track every other day. Well, in some sort of awesomely serendipitous fashion I then got a call from Phil at Law and Auder records who asked if I’d like to contribute a track to the next Modularism album. I said yes and so began a massive March of molten music making. It’s all done and i’ll talk about it a little bit at the end of this video.
But this month we have
Both N-track Studio and Tracktion Waveform hit version 9, Mutable Instruments put our hair in plaits and it’s so much less complicated than braids, Behringer pull out a Pro One, Google reinvent the Kaos Pad with Nsynth Super, Nektar get in on the MIDI foot controller game, Wave kickstart some MIDI jewelry, Abstract Data release the Event Boss, WMD get rock and roll with the Mantic Conceptual FLEX, Roland release the not so green TR-8S, GLOT release the terribly named Red Light District sequencer and we get whimsical with the W/.
That sounds like plenty, let’s get on with it.
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N-Track Studio 9
N-Track, now this has been around for donkeys years. It turned up in 1995 as one of the early multi-track recorders for the Windows PC. It worked, it was cheap and well ahead of Cubase, Pro Tools or anyone else. After a few years it got graphical and very shiny and silvery and stayed like that until 2009 when it got a make over onto MacOS. Since then it’s developed onto iOS and Android and with version 9 we have a much sleeker, modern looking DAW that runs on everything, supports everything and comes with a fair bit of cool stuff. I always thought in the past it looked a lot like a poor mans Cakewalk, whereas now it looks like what Sonar should have looked like if Cakewalk ever got a handle on interface design. It’s $69 Euros or if you want all the extras and sounds and stuff then €179 for a good looking DAW.
Tracktion Waveform 9
Talking of good looking DAWs, nah Waveform hasn’t quite got the looks – it’s still funny looking but it does have an enormous amount of power on the page. It works in an unusual left to right signal flow for everything. Inputs on left, data in middle, sound goes through stuff on the right. It didn’t used to have a traditional console mixer until version 8 and it seemed to be there just to please people but in version 9 they’ve taken it further and made it very customisable and modular. I did a review of Tracktion 7 a couple of years ago which is well worth checking out to get a good idea of the way Tracktion works. It’s complex but very very interesting and the two version of Waveform since have really cemented their ideas together. One of the cool things they’ve always had is this bag of LFOs that you could attach to anything you like – add them to plug-ins or parameters and go crazy. In version 9 they’ve brought in a bunch of modifiers for more modulation goodness. They’ve added macro controls, you can even build a new faceplate for your plug-ins with only the controls you want to see. They’ve revamped their internal modular rack which lets you wire everything to everything else. I mean there’s so much in here that you don’t find in other DAWs. It starts at $109 and makes for an awesome alternative to any other DAW.
When i first started asking advice about modular synthesis people would tell me over and over that I needed to get a Mutable Instruments Braids oscillator. It contained a whole load of different oscillators and so would give me a wide range of sounds. It was bit chunky, had this somewhat cool LED display but was all about menus which was exactly what I was trying to get away from. Anyway, turns out Olivier from Mutable didn’t really like it either and so discontinued it last year. It’s replacement has arrived and this is the sort of multi-oscillator I can get behind. It looks great, simple, has a load of sounds which are so much easier to select and play with and i think probably everyone has one now – so i’m going to avoid it. But i can unreservedly say that if you are starting in modular then it should be on your short list.
Behringer Pro One
The Behringer cloning monster ploughs on and this time it’s desecrating the memory of Sequential Circuits. Pictures have appeared of the Behringer Pro One clone and honestly, it looks flipping fantastic. I always wanted a Sequential synth – the Prophet 5 ideally, but i’d never be able to afford one. Maybe this is the Behringer clone that tickles my nostalgia gland just enough to make me put out for one. Although i’d quite like one with a keyboard attached – take up too much room in a rack.
So what’s this about Google and a synthesizer? Well, it’s not Google as such but Magenta which is a research team within Google that explores how machine learning can help art and music in new ways. So they get to dream stuff up and then make it happen – how cool is that job? They’ve been working with something called the Nsynth Algorithm which uses a deep neural network to understand the character of sound and then use that knowledge to create new sounds. Sounds an awful lot like physical or acoustic modelling but apparently it’s not. They fed it 16 sounds and the algorithm generated 100,000. I mean i bet 90,000 of them sound a lot like the original 16 but there’s bound to be some interesting stuff in there. Anyway, they built a box and an interface to house the algorithm which looks a lot like a posh Korg Kaos pad. The idea being that you drag your finger around between 4 sounds set in the corners and you discover all the sounds generated inbetween. It’s all open source and you can build one yourself. I’m not sure this is stunning yet but who knows what this kind of research and investment could come up with.
Pacer’s were those green chewy sweets weren’t they? Anyway, Nektar who usually build bit keyboard MIDI controllers decided they wanted to make a foot controller for keyboard players. But after a while it sort of evolved into a complete floorboard solution for keyboards and guitarists. It will do all sorts of the usually MIDI control, but it also has relay outputs for switching guitar amps and stuff. Nektar have this very cool DAW integration technology that they use in their keyboards so you’ve got painless transport and track controls right at your feet. For non-supporting DAWs there’s also full Mackie control. So you can select presets in your guitar gear, enable tracks in your DAW, change instruments, and modulate with expression pedals all without lifting a finger – nice.
Genki Instruments Wave
Wearable tech is usually uniformably a bit crap. It’s often associated with arching arms and feeling like a bit of a twit gesticulating at a computer. However, Genki Instruments have just Indiegogo’ed Wave and they seem to have surfed the edge of cool and usability with the one ring to control them all. It looks weirdly lovely – actually not the prototypes in the video, they look terrible, but the renders of the proposed final product are very cool indeed. It all amounts to the familiar thing of wave in one direction to move one parameter and waving in another to control another. Tilt being another possibility – tapping also have an effect. What I quite like about it over technology like VR or Leapmotion is that it appears to require minimal movement – you can play keys and bend your fingers a bit to trigger it – because aching arms and feeling stupid are real things and can overwhelm the creative possibilities of controlling MIDI with gestures in performance. But the thing that clinched it for me was that they are producing a Eurorack module so you can send modulation into your rack – that’s very awesome. There’s a couple of day left to get in on the early bird pricing and they’ve smashed their goal so it’s going to get made.
WMD Mantic Conceptual FLEX
WMD have got together with Mantic and stuffed a seriously rock and roll distortion pedal into Eurorack. It uses Phase Locked Loop technology which generates a 3 part harmony of square waves that then have an argument and fight each other to stay phase locked to the original signal. It create chaos in a fierce and unpredictably distorted way. It seems perfect if you want to make your Eurorack scream.
It’s a new Roland drum machine thingy and it’s not in that horrible AIRA florescent green! Yay! The TR-8S is of course a drum machine and it comes with the finest, no quite authentic ACB modelled versions of the classic 808 and 909 sounds. It sounds completely perfect – because Roland can. But the added bonus here is that it will also take your samples – so it’s a sampling drum machine. You can mix your samples along with the ACB sounds and create completely custom kits. It’s got all the step sequencing, controls and hands-on feel that we all like and is going to give you an awesome groove box style time.
Golt Red Light District Sequencer
So i guess it has a lot of red leds as opposed to having some sort of seedy sexual tie-in? It’s not going to do anyone googling it any favours. But anyway, this is a massively wide step sequencer that has some very interesting features. Rather than simply stepping through 32 steps of notes the RLD gives each step an enabled/disable switch and a note length. So you get proper pauses where steps are disabled, and varying step lengths. The enabled steps are fed to a 12 faders controlling 12 pitches. If all 32 steps are on then it cycles the 12 notes – but the developer said that he never uses more than 12 notes in a bar with 32 steps and it was going to get too wide to include any more. There’s a second row of 12 notes which are designed to be used as CV control over something like a filter. It all works in a similar way to a Roland TB-303 and looks like it could be a very cool performance sequencer – it’s a lot of HP to run a single sound though.
Other module of interest – we’ve had the wobbler LFO from TINRS with some weird waveshapes, The Future Retro fabulous looking Transient Plus sample based drum module, the Abstract Data ADE-33 Event Boss which generates all sorts of cool patterns from whatever you throw at it, SOMA labs take the FX from their weird LYRA synth and stick it into Eurorack. ALAK release a cool 4-track shape based polygonal pattern sequencer. And lastly Mannequins by Whimsical Raps release the W/, pronounced WITH. It’s some kind of tape inspired sampler module than no one can quite work out. Loads of people have bought them and have all posted sort of quizzical posts onto forums about what the heck its all about. The website says W/ takes a nowness and returns it in a futurenow. Eight hours of audio sculpture to be recorded in and over and around. In fugues conversations fold, a fresh context for renewed identity. Awesome.
So, just to let you know that I did indeed write a track on my Eurorack and it was a fantastic experience. It pushed me into trying to get a grip on this modular business – i learned loads of stuff, created a ton of music and some of it was quite good. I sort of ended up with 4 usable tracks which came out of i guess 4 patches – i then picked my favourite for the Modularism Volume 2 project. I aimed to create the music on-the-fly, in one take and so that’s pretty much what I did. It may have taken a few hours massaging a patch, working with it, tweaking it, but ultimately i then recorded a few takes of playing it and then started again with a fresh patch. I’ve made two videos about my journey with it so far, the first one asks the question – how do you make a track on Eurorack, and the second one updates you on what i needed to learn before i could start making music. Check them out in the YouTube channel. But also check out the comments because i asked for advice and there are pages of cool comments sharing how different people approach music making. It’s completely awesome! I will come back for a third to try to relate a bit of what i did to write the tracks – if i can remember – but that might not be for a week or two as i have some time off over Easter. I’ll put the three also-ran tracks up on something somewhere for you to hear soon. The chosen track will be out first on the Modularism Vol 2 CD.
This month i will be reviewing the Vermona randomRHYTHM and the Erica Synths Graphic VCO – both played an integral part in my music making. I also need to do one on the Varigate4+. Squarp Instrument have sent me a Hermod modular brain machine to try – so i’ll be doing a review of that soon as well. On the software side i would like to review Waveform 9 and do some Surface multi-touch action on Reason 10, Live 10, Stagelight 3.5 and Pro Tools 2018. Lots to do!
And remember that if you like what i do, this video, the modular stuff, the Surface stuff then please be bold and support me on Patreon.
And i’ll leave you with the cutest synths you’ll ever see
And in the meantime – go an make some tunes.