Welcome to the October edition of Molten Music Monthly where I round up what was cool in the world on music technology, computer music and hardware synthesis and stuff. This month we’ve getting into some DIY with Monobloc and Dreadbox Hades, we have a sniff of Ableton 10, Cakewalk Momentum reckons it has a killer app, we lose another mutable module – this time it’s Clouds – this time it’s personal. We get all scaley with the awesomely illuminated if terribly named Theoryboard, Expert Sleepers put General MIDI into Eurorack, Folktek grow a garden of resonance, Apogee release some Windows drivers, Tim Exile gives us a shed load of resonators, NI get’s a shed load of money, virtual modular is getting a bit exciting, Korg says their next synth begins with P, Microsoft announce the Surface Book 2, and I’ll share my thoughts on SynthFest and what to do about MuffWiggler.
(Video version at the bottom of the page.)
But first. Last month I gave a shout out to Electronic Sound magazine. They liked that so much they’ve given me a bunch of copies of the latest magazine, with the exclusive 7″ vinyl to give away. All you have to do is retweet, share, like and comment Facebook/Twitter – you know the drill – you’ll get an entry for each one of those you do and i’ll pull your names out of a hat.
A leaked image of some marketing, point-of-sale materials gives the clearest indication that Ableton Live 10 is imminent. Live 9 was released in 2013 and so is way way way overdue for a proper update. It’s had loads of stuff bolted on and improved in the last 5 years but it is looking a bit long in the tooth. Hopefully I’ll have some proper details for next months monthly.
Dreadbox Hades DIY
Dreadbox have re-released their Hades bass synthesizer as a kit. You get everything in the box, PCB’s front panel, components, plus the box ends up being the case if you don’t have a Eurorack to put it in. It’s an analog monophonic synth with a great filter, overdrive, envelope and modulation and a whole load of patch points. At €140 it’s half the price of the original and you get all the fun of building it yourself.
Another bit of DIY is the Monobloc 01 and 02 from Frequency Central. I initially thought it was a synth voice, but it’s actually 5 or 6 individual Eurorack modules in a combined front panel. This means these are all individual and open modules with no internal wiring or short cuts – they are proper modules. The 01 gives you an oscillator, filter, amplifier, LFO and 2 envelopes. The 02 doubles up on the oscillator, has a different filter and loses the LFO. They are around the same price as the Hades, which is great value for money, but they don’t come with any components – just the front panel and PCBs. So you’ve got to factor in a few hours of Radio Spares catalogue browsing and additional costs. But it’s a great way to build a starter lunchbox Eurorack system.
This is an unexpected thing to come out of Cakewalk. Momentum is an app designed for sharing audio that might actually be very useful indeed. The idea is that when inspiration strikes you want to be able to record your ideas wherever you are. So people often record into their phones – nothing new there. But there’s no simple way to transfer or share that recording. Momentum works with the cloud and can sync to any supported device. So it uploads your recording and then lets you download it on your desktop and drop it into your DAW. No more trying to drop box stuff about the place. You could upload a mix to your singer who can then record her vocals on her phone and punt it back – easy. The recording app does a few tracks and has some effects for guitar and vocals. They plan to include some more collaboration features soon but for now it looks like a very useful cloud based recording app. Thank you Cakewalk. Although sadly, because this is the Cloud, it’s all about services and subscriptions. So for free you can have 3 projects up to 5 minutes in length in MP3 quality, $2.99 a month gives you unlimited projects but it’s $9.99 a month that gives you more recording time at 60 minutes and full fat wave files . Would you use it often enough to justify the cost?
I mentioned last month how Mutable Instruments had discontinued Peaks and Braids – two of their most popular modules. Well the carnage continues with Clouds – yes that’s right, the granular texture synth module that everyone insists you get is no more. Apparently Olivier has never really like it – not sure what I feel about this guy anymore. I grabbed one just before it was announced. What this does mean is that there are potentially exciting things to come. But never fear, Clouds is an open source project that allows people to alter and build their own. Well Kian McEvoy is building what he’s calling the uClouds and it’s a really cool version in a much smaller panel that i wish i knew about before i bought the real thing. It looks excellent and will keep Clouds alive for the foreseeable future.
Terrible name, interesting product. The Theoryboard is a Kickstarter project of a fabulously illuminated MIDI controller that’s designed to keep you playing and creating in the right key, mode or scale. It looks like some sort of mad futuristic typewriter where all communication is based on colour. Inside it has 860 different scales which can be dialled in. Then the buttons on the right play melody in that scale and the buttons on the left play the corresponding chords. The basic idea is to choose a scale and then never play a wrong note. It’s the sort of thing that crops up a lot these days. I first came across it in Stagelight, but I’ve recently had a load of fun with it on the Kontrol S49. It’s a great tune making and songwriting tool. It’s achieved its kickstarter goal and so will become a reality – get it quick to get one cheap.
Expert Sleepers General CV
It’s a Eurorack module with a bank of ready made GM MIDI sounds – woohoo! I’m not so sure about this. Oz from Expert Sleepers thinks it’s a great idea – in fact after he had the idea he couldn’t do anything else other than make it happen. It’s an elegent little module – great screen and he’s pulled out a lot of things that can be controlled via CV – something that doesnt normally happen to GM sound sets. Within the crappiness of GM there are a load of usable sounds and once you mess with them they can sound pretty interesting. In particular he’s put in a midi/CV chord generator which can create chords from a single pitch CV input – that’s cool. But at the end of the day I’m not sure if i want regular sounds in my Eurorack… So it might be great but just not for me.
I was back in Sheffield for this years SynthFest – yay! A big shout out to everyone who came up and introduced themselves – it was really nice, just talked about synths and stuff and it didn’t get weird at all – so thanks for that – made me smile. It was at this show a year ago that i was first bitten by the modular bug. A year later I’m older and wiser and perhaps less dazzled by the romance of it all but it was no less enjoyable. The highlights for me were chatting to Justin from Abstract Data about his new pattern generator module. Chatting to Vicky from Noise Orchestra about workshops and performances. Chatting to Zoe from Transistor Sound Labs who wrote the firmware for the Stepper Acid sequencer – that is a great 303 style sequencer that I wish I had room for. Chatting with Paul from Soulsby about how the whole Eurorack thing has gone for him – hard work, he said – the desktop stuff they can’t make enough of it’s a much simpler market. He feels that modular is too busy to get heard over the noise and then everyone’s onto the next thing – an interesting perspective. I chatted to a guy from Korg UK about the new Drift Boxes from Japan they are hoping to import.
So all in all it was really the chatting to people that was the most interesting. There was lots of synths to play on but it the actual human interaction that made it worthwhile for me i think. There were some cool seminars but i was never queuing at the right time in the right place, and some performances which I couldn’t find. So for next year SynthFest you need better signage and bigger seminar venues.
Apogee make quite exquisite audio interfaces. Always been interesting, desirable, professional, high-end and Mac only. Well Apogee have just announced that they are finally releasing some Windows drivers. The interfaces in question are the Quartet, the Duet and the ONE. That’s super except that these are quite old interfaces. The Quartet was released in 2012, the other two in 2013. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but it looks to me like you’ve got a warehouse full of old USB audio interfaces that Mac Thunderbolt users no longer want and you’ve decided to dump them on the Windows market. That said – i do really like them. But come on Apogee, give us something current, something new – make us feel like you mean it.
Following on from his Shed Load of Oscillators Tim Exile has released a Shed Load of Resonators. It takes the transients of beats and generates pitch, harmonics and chords in new and interesting ways. It sort of produces music in response to percussion and noises. Tim says he likes this sort of thing because he doesn’t know anything about music theory but knows a lot about making beats. SLOR steps in and makes horribly complex sounds out of the beats. There’s morphing going on, polyphonic LFO’s scale mapping, swarm pattern switching – lots of lovely stuff designed to be played with. It runs in the free Reaktor Player and costs £49.
Controversy hit the modular community this month when the alarmingly named MuffWiggler.com modular and synthesis forum went down. Some brave souls took the opportunity to talk about it on other forums and facebook groups and the question of the name came up as it often does. Of course any community that is based around a hobby of fiddling with knobs is going to have its share of innuendo. But what started off as a conversation about whether it might be a nice idea to change the name to something less disturbing, rapidly turned into a disaster of shouting and abuse. And weirdly yes, there are two sides, there are a lot of people who don’t want anything to change regardless of how many people are put off or how it sounds like at worst a porn channel and at best a boys club for boys talking about synths. I don’t understand why anyone would not want to do all they can to make a community feel open, friendly and inclusive – MuffWiggler doesn’t really do that. That’s not to say it’s a terrible place full of terrible people – no no it’s an awesome resource full of really helpful people – but sadly, it’s on a platform which signposts that certain groups of people, like women, are not really welcome. It tolerates a sort of locker room attitude and language that presumes a male audience.
So, if you’re offended by the name then go somewhere else – they say. Well, it’s not that easy. It’s not just a great repository of info, guides and tutorials on modular synthesis it’s also the contact and tech support page of a number of module makers. So if it turns people away, excludes people or offends people then why not change it? Modular synthesis is all about module diversity and sonic inclusivity – why wouldn’t we want our environment to reflect that. Why would we defend something that supports the notion that music technology is only for boys? Or that you have to accept certain levels of behaviour or attitude in order to participate.
And then in the middle of the whole heart-breaking #metoo reaction to sexual harassment Steve Harmon from modular makers Synthrotek posted a meme (with the Synthrotek account) using an image of Harvey Weinstein which he claimed was funny/ironic and edgy. The speed with which the community condemned him was impressive. It’s exactly the sort of dickish behaviour that’s too often been tolerated and it’s heartening to see that change. Rather than apologising for being a dick Steve double downed and defended himself and the whole thing went bad very quickly. I think it’s great and important that he was taken to task over behaving like a knob, but we don’t need to resort to death threats and abuse in order to do that. But what’s awesome is that people are standing up and saying that this sort of misogynistic behaviour is not welcome – and that’s fabulous.
MuffWiggler has returned and nothing has changed in that department – and that’s a shame. But a couple of other forums have launched to offer an alternative place for talking about synths. AllTheSynths.info is one i’d recommend – it can only be a success if people use it, so please do. Reddit is also a benign place for modular discussion. And I’d like to give a shout out to Guy Taylor who runs the Eurorack Synthesizers Facebook group that hosted a lot of the MuffWiggler and Synthrotek discussion. He stepped in and locked threads when they got out of hand and published an awesome statement reiterating the groups commitment to inclusivity and diversity – that’s a great place to hang out. Good job. Let’s get back to the gear.
Native Instruments have received a €50 million investment from private equity firm EMH Partners. That’s extraordinary and i think unpresidented in music technology. Stinking rich CEO Daniel Haver says “now we are ready for a next chapter” before jetting off to his private island. But the vibe is all about empowering, accessibility, music creation ecosystems and user centric intuitive and powerful products. What I hope this will be about is the creation of new standards in software/hardware integration – taking their NKS format and superseding MIDI into new and more advanced protocols that every manufacturer can get on board with. But it will probably go the IK Multimedia route and sink all their money into a million musical gadgets for the iPad. Although I’ll keep hoping for the extraordinary.
Surface Book 2
Back to the gear. Microsoft have announced the long awaited Surface Book 2. The original was released 2 years ago – i was at that party back in the day when Microsoft thought I was cool. It features new 8th generation Intel technology in the i7 (still 7th gen in the i5) with optional awesome graphics making it great for gaming and for VR/AR/MR. It still comes apart into a tablet and still has a funky hinge. The big news is that it has a USB 3.1 port – yay! I don’t have anything with that port but who cares. The only disappointment is that this USB-C port is not Thunderbolt, oh no, it’s just USB 3.1 so that means we don’t get access to all the new and fabulous Thunderbolt audio interfaces. That’s a shame. However, Microsoft are saying that this is loads faster than the MacBooks – however – what matters to us as computer musicians is whether it’s capable of running realtime low latency glitch free audio. This is the thing and I say it over and over again. Until someone plugs in an audio interface and runs some proper music software we cannot know whether it will work or not. The high specs are not enough to guarantee anything. It might be a fabulous gaming machine, awesome at graphics and design, super fast in every respect but realtime low latency glitch free audio is not a given – it’s based on how stable that CPU can be which is unimportant in any other application. So, Microsoft, please send me one, I’ll test it and then we’ll know!
S-Modular, VCV Rack and Softube Modular
S-Modular is a new and very cool semi-modular synth for the iPad. It’s just around a dozen modules, some prewired but otherwise you can fill your boots patching it up. Made by DesignByPaul it’s like having a lunchbox modular on your iPad. And while we’re talking about software modular I mentioned VCV Rack last month – it’s a Softube Modular beating virtual Eurorack environment. It’s not officially released until November but there seems to be a constant stream of new and interesting modules coming out for it. I mentioned how there was no basic LFO – now there’s plenty and loads of other stuff including a fully fledged TR-808 drum machine, grid sequencers, matrix mixers, filters and all sorts. It’s going to be pretty fabulous. But just to throw Softube Modular a bone, they have just released a Buchlas 259e Twisted Waveform Generator which looks flippin’ amazing if you can understand that sort of thing.
Korg tease a new synth
In the Korg microKAST podcast vice president of sales John McCubbery announced that they are releasing a new synth at NAMM 2018 in January and used works like mind blowing, engineering craziness and a whole new area. It’s built by the team behind the monologue and minilogue but will only tell us that the name begins with P has 8 characters and includes some numbers. So it’s probably a Poly something of some kind, although he said he came up with the name after a glass or red wine so…. its anyone’s guess.
And finally I’ve decided to launch a Patreon campaign. What’s Patreon? Well Patreon is an easy way for you to support me financially and in return I’ll keep making the sort of content you want to see. You could see it as a magazine subscription, or buying me a pint or investing in some really great telly. And best of all you’ll be joining me on my journey, becoming part of my community and helping curate the content of Molten Music Technology. So please consider it, follow the link and have a look, I’d be extremely grateful.
My next video is on the multi-touch side of Bitwig 2.2.1 running on a Surface Pro 2017 with the Windows Fall Creators update. Following on will be the building of my Turin Machine module. And so much more. Remember to share, retweet and comment on this video to snag yourself a copy of Electronic Sound and the exclusive vinyl. And in the meantime – go and make some tunes.