It’s September, it’s Norfolk, and my shed transforms into this luscious cascade of red that give my shirts a run for their money. This month in the world of music technology we have a feel of Electric Sound magazine, Reason to get 2 new synths in version 10, new keyboards and a new Maschine from Native instruments, SyndtSphere pulls sound out of space, the Noodler wants to play all your gear, Intruso wants your plants to play your gear, Roland thinks we want a Boutique D-50, VCV Rack might beat Softube Modular at the virtual Eurorack game, Axon 2 sparks the apocalypse with it’s AI based drum machine, Mutable Instruments keeps discontinuing really great modules, Bitwig gets its Ableton Link, T-Racks reaches version 5 and will master your tracks to sound like everyone elses. All this and the extraordinary, not to missed sale of a load of weird gear from my shed to fund my modular habit.
Video version at the bottom.
By first I wanted to give a shout out to what is possibly the most beautiful, interesting and important music magazine ever to come out of Norwich, or perhaps the world. Electronic Sound covers the realms of electronic music and music technology. It blends the music of an eclectic range of electronic artists with features on synths and interviews. This month it features Gary Numan, Hannah Peel and the inside story on Mike Oldfield’s Blue Peter theme. It’s a genuinely lovely publication, physically pleasing and well worth a fiver. Each month they also offer a vinyl single containing an often exclusive track from one of the artists inside. I heartily recommend you check it out.
NI Komplete Kontrol S49 MK2
Native Instruments have sent me a new Kontrol S49 MK2 to review – which I’ll be doing straight away and I’ve already posted a video of my first impressions. Along with a new Maschine these feature two little screens that provide full access to their Komplete library of sounds and synthesizers and those of their 3rd party partners. The other cool feature is that each preset now has a preview, so as you scroll through each preset is auditioned – a bit like tuning a radio. It’s actually really helpful. But there are lots of questions for me to answer as I get stuck into it – can you create your own preview samples of your own presets? Can you control other plug-ins, can you build your own instruments in the browser? And how well does the workflow work and flow – are the screens helpful or are you needing to look at the screen all the time? In my experience NI make very cool hardware. The evolution of the Maschine has been amazing – i have a Mk1 and i’m very jealous of later versions and building in an audio interface is exactly what they needed to do. The keyboard seems to also be excellent but you’ll have to wait for my full review for the whole story.
This is a spherical polyphonic morphing virtual synthesizer my favourite understated instrument developer Klevgrand. It has this perfectly simple interface where you drag a finger or a mouse around and it morphs between all the presets that spring out from a central point in three dimension space. They call it a Sound Surfer synth. It’s based upon their Syndt polysynth and has a bout 70 presets to play with. It’s a load of fun and totally free.
The Noodler is an interesting box that they are calling an arpeggiator – but it’s much more than that, it’s something approaching a box of automatic accompaniment, but not in a naff way. It has 4 sort of sections to itself – a bass line, a lead line, a chord and a drone. You plug it into any of your MIDI gear, select a chord and it will throw out patterns based on that chord. You can vary the range and chord type and basslines flow, lead lines buzz and chords pulsate to the changing of your chord progressions. The thing that grabs me is the ability to have it play your gear while you craft and tweak and build sounds. Rather than having to write a part, just set it going, select a pattern, add in some variation and leave it to do its thing while you play with your synths. I’m sort of on the fence between thinking it’s really cool or a bit naff – can’t decide.
This is a beautiful module that sucks biometric feedback from plants to influence CV generation in your Eurorack. The organic material is acting as a resistor or capacitor and the probes pick up the electrical currents across the surface. You can use plants, leaves, flowers, fruit or even skin if you like. It’s based upon the openssource MIDI Sprout project by Data Garden. The module made by Intruso is pretty special, with the plant like graphics and glowing lights behind visualising the movement and intensity of flow. There are various modes that change the focus and introduce overtones and build chordal structures. It’s a beautiful concept – check out the DivKid video to get a sense of the creativity involved.
Roland Boutique D-05
People seem really impressed by this. I really wanted a Roland D10 when i was young and awesome. My dad got a Roland E20 keyboard which had many of the same sounds inside – check out this track i made back in 1988 or something. Then later I had a girlfriend who had the D-20 which included a sequencer which I used as backing on loads of other tracks. As for the D-50, the daddy of these other machines – there were a handful of classic sounds that were used all over the 1980’s and early 1990’s but classic enough to be desirable today? Dunno. It was a pain to program and it looks like the Boutique version keeps to that level of authenticity. So it’s a modelled D-50 in a tiny box with a few extras that sounds as cheesy as it always has with a terrible interface – I give you the Boutique D-05 – enjoy.
This is quite something. VCV Rack is a virtual modular Eurorack system that will give Softube Modular a run for its money. The main and most immediate difference other than it being free is that they’ve modelled some far more interesting and inspiring modules, most notably the whole range from Mutable Instruments – these are stunning. They look perfect and do exactly what you expect them to. I mean who doesnt want to found out what all the fuss is about with Clouds? Well now you have one to play with. They’ve also got some cool stuff from Befaco and a Synthesis Technology E340 cloud generator. Along with a bunch of their own, more utility, modules this is a beta version of soon to be released full version. At the moment it’s free but the full version will bring in-app purchases of further modules and packs. It works, looks and sounds great so far. Doesn’t work that well with touch control at the moment which is a shame and it seems to be missing a basic LFO – but otherwise go and get it right now.
When they talk about the origins of the machine apocalypse they will point to the ground zero of Axon 2. How the artificial intelligence driving the drum synth evolved at an exponential rate, created simple beats, then complex ones, building and learning until the emerging rhythms robbed mankind of its dignity and mastery of the earth. Axon 2 is an AI driven drum synth. Neurons trigger voices and then decide whether to have an existential crisis or not before triggering something else. Each of the 7 2-operator FM voices has it’s own neuron which can combine with others to create a complex brain of unexplained percussive life. Luckily it has an inbuilt drawn reciprocation dingle arm to reduce sinusoidal depleneration otherwise we’d all be in trouble.
Bitwig Ableton Link
Bitwig Studio version 2.2 is about to be released and at long last will include Ableton Link – it’s the ability to sync up to other DAWs and bits of software on any device on the same network. It’s bloody marvellous technology. I did a video on it with Ableton and Reaktor a while back – awesome. There’s also a couple of new modulators including sample and hold, some time shifting thing and 3GB of new content.
Something interesting is emerging at Mutable Instruments. They’ve started discontinuing some of their most popular modules. First was Peaks and now Braids has gone. Peaks was a little strange because it didn’t really know what it was – it was an envelope, an LFO and a drum synth, but not all at once – so, useful but unfocused. Braids on the other hand was always the first oscillator people suggested i should get. It has that fat LED display and contains a whole stack of waveforms, physical models and noise. It’s a huge oscillator – everyone recommended it. But to me, personally, it was everything I didn’t want in modular. I wanted a module to do one thing, to have knobs for each parameter and no messing around with menus – Braids was all about the menus. So Oliver from Mutable has decided that actually there’s better more focused stuff out there and people generally use Braids as a second oscillator, as an add-on rather than the primary sound source and he thinks he can make better oscillators which do that much easier than the Braids. He’s also hinted at discontinuing some other modules – i think perhaps he’s having a bit of a philosophical crisis. Mutable have a lot of modules and maybe its healthy to cut a few of them free in order to focus on new and exciting things. I’m looking forward to whatever that may be.
Love T-racks – i’ve had it since the beginning and found it a very useful mastering and fattening tool. It has 38 audio processors and basic wave editing and a fabulous looking interface. It has some great metering and tools that have helpful things like showing you the perceived loudness and what you need to be aiming for depending on the style of music you’re doing. This has been taken further with “Master Match” – it will scan a reference track – as in a song you like the sound of – and use it to shape your track to match it. Perfect if you want to sound like everybody else, which, let’s face it, is largely what we’re trying to achieve with mastering. Personally i think mastering properly is really hard and few of us has the money to pay someone to do it. T-Racks gives you the opportunity to come our of your DAW and focus on improving the overall sound of your music. It’s very easy to overdo it but i think just dropping your music into T-Racks and adding a bit of gentle compression will do you the world of good.
Cables are always totally fascinating. But Hosa are trying to drum up some interest in their new bits and pieces. First is the 1-to-5 signal splitter brilliantly called Knucklebones and a very cool cable called Hopscotch. The Knucklebones splits or mults a CV signal and lets you run it to different destinations and then just hangs around looking spikey. The Hopscotch are like stacked cables but without building dodgy towers of plugs on your eurorack patch sockets. It just gives you a simple, neat split to another cable – nice one. Apparently they have a load of interesting synth toys and tools coming along soon.
October 7th is the SynthFest in Sheffield. It’s probably the biggest UK get together of synth manufacturers and modular people. Everyone should be there – there will also be talks and interviews, performances and workshops throughout the day. I went last year and it was this event that really projected me into the world of modular. If you want the opportunity to find out what it’s all about, and get to play on some cool synths and talk to modular people then this is the show for you. It’s a tenner in advance or £15 on the door. If you see me there feel free to say hello and hang out awkwardly.
And finally i’m having a massive clear out – and i need to generate some cash to fund my modular habit. I have a load of stuff up for sale including my original Surface Pro 3 – a RedNet interface, Maschine, Komplete Ultimate, Alesis Performance pad, a Les Paul guitar, SparkLE, a Tascam DA-38, an awesome iMac, some dongles, software and an original copy of Doom. Loads of weird and mostly musical things, all in fabulous condition and for great once-in-a-lifetime prices. I’m in the UK and the prices include free UK delivery. For Europe and USA i’ll have to charge extra for shipping. Just tell me what you want and i’ll quote you. All the information on the webpage – link below – first come first served.
I am currently working on – Bitwig touch review, NI S49 review, DIY ing a Turing module, Tracktion Waveform review and running every DAW on the Surface. Lots to do!