It’s all been a bit suspiciously lively this month. The kids have gone back to school, autumn seems to be making it’s mark and we’re a month away from getting a heating system installed in our house. But no matter, what’s been going on in music technology, synthesis, software and hardware?
Erica Synths release their still not quite finished Techno System – Vladimir gives us a new version of the dazzling Euclidean Circles and we all pretend to know what that is – Audiophile Circuits League take on the awesome Sinfonion – Native Instruments release a whole bunch of stuff – Endorphin’s BLCK_NOIR ships – Noise Engineering goes all posh with 5U modules – System80 open preorders on their Eurorack 808 drum machine – Polyfusion is back – Make Noise add a third dimension to Rene – Expressive E gives us a a value edition Touche – Analogue Solutions Generator is ready to generate – Elephant hits version 1.3 with the ultimate Dial update – Voltage Modular gets released – and we try to remember why we cared about the OP-Z.
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But first some more Surface Go news. It’s taken longer than I hoped but I am battling on through my Surface Go testing – I mean who wouldn’t want an iPad that can run desktop software? I did the first episode on running music apps in Windows 10 S – that’s a new mode of Windows that only lets you run Windows Store apps. I ran FL Studio Mobile and Stagelight plus a couple of MIDI controllers and an audio interface with pretty good results. So it can be done in S mode but the lack of plugin support and ASIO support means that it’s not ideal. Right now I’ve moved the Windows 10 proper and testing is continuing. It’s looking good at the moment – should have another video up shortly. I plan to do it in chunks rather than everything all at once, so the next video will feature Cubase, pro Tools and Live – then I’ll do some virtual instruments, a bit of Maschine, some more DAWs, guitar effects and so on until i run out of things to test.
Erica Synths Techno System
We’ve been quite excited about this since it appeared at Superbooth. Now I know modular is supposed to be all about the unlimited potential of bleeps and noises, the expanse of variety and neverending possibilities, but sometimes it’s nice to have something that’s intentional. It’s built to do Techno – it has an awesome drum machine, drum modules, mixer, effects and a bassline synth – and it flippin’ does the job. I love it. The only snag seems to be that they can’t quite get the Sample Drum to work to their satisfaction, so although it’s now out and available it will ship without the sample playing module. I hope they get that sorted out soon because it adds a lot of welcome variation and sound potential to the rig.
Euclidean Circles is this dazzling three rings of blazing LEDS that you see on everybodies rigs. These are handmade by the awesome Vladimir Pantelic and it’s a trigger sequencer. It generates patterns based upon algorithms first described by Euklid about 300 years BC. There are 6 channels of output, 2 per wheel and you dial in rhythms and off you go – instant polyrhthmic triggers infecting your rack. The new version lets you manually edit the steps which takes it away from the algorithm for the first time. There’s a new F button that gives quick access to a favourite feature, like a variation, fill or next pattern. And there’s an optional switch panel for muting outputs. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable module that’s all over the place and V2 just seems to increase its usefulness.
Audiophile Circuits League Sinfonion
The Sinfonion is an amazingly musical module invented by Mathias Ketner. It’s like a massive quantizer, harmoniser and chord generator with which you could control your whole rack. It was to be built by Instruo and has that rather lovely Instruo aesthetic. Then it seemed to get lost somewhere and news on development stalled. We’ve recently heard that it’s been picked up by Audiophile Circuits League and is pushing forward into production – hooray! It just seems that it wasn’t working out with Instruo which is a real shame as it seemed a natural extension of their Harmonaig module. So it’s still very cool except that it’s adopted the ACL colour scheme which, for me at least, is just not as organic as the Instruo – but i’m sure we’ll get over it. Check out the Sinfonion first contact video on YouTube – this thing is amazing.
Native Instruments had a bumper release party this month. They announced Komplete 12, Kontakt 6, Massive X and a few bits of hardware. Komplete 12 is of course the usual bunch of pretty much everything including Kontakt 6 and any other products released since Komplete 11 – that’s not a whole lot but it’s some. It includes a load more content of course. Massive X is included but won’t actually be ready until the new year. The small amount of info we have on it suggests that it’s a radical departure from the original and it certainly looks different. Kontakt 6 on the other hand doesn’t look any different at all. Apparently it’s easier to build your own instruments…. That’s about it. As what’s become the industry standard for sampled instruments you’d think they’d pull something awesome out of the bag – not sure yet. But it Komplete Ultimate is not enough for you then consider the Collectors Edition which bumps up the expansions to 50 and goes pro on all the string library. You also get that very important €25 e-voucher to spend in the store.
The other device of note is the Machine Mikro Mk3 – the mini machine box MIDI controller to run with the Maschine software. No screens on this one, just pads and a few controls. NI have sent me one to check out so expect a video on that soon – might run nice with the Surface Go.
The annoyingly named BLCK_NOIR has arrived. It’s a dark drum module that can solve all your percussion needs in a single, modulatable and effectable module. You’ve got 7 drum sounds feeding into 5 channels with 8 effects and some seriously filthy throttle and flap filtering. The manual is particularly entertaining with the usually colourful Endorphin embracing the dark side. It looks like a load of fun and a bit like squeezing the whole Erica Synths Techno System into a single badly behaved module.
Noise Engineering 5U
Recently Noise Engineering ported some modules to Reason as Rack Extensions. Well now it’s gone the other way and has created some posh 5U modules that fit in with the Moog format of modular. They look really serious but i don’t imagine 5U users have had anything quite like them in their racks before. I don’t know any 5U users but you imagine them to be the seriously old boys of the modular world – wisened and deeply in thought about electrical signals. The modules in question are the Basimulus Iteritas Magnus and the Manis Iteritas Magnus – their nastiest parameterized digital drum synthesizers. I think it’s great that these old modular heads have something new to play with.
System 80 – 880
System 80 have opened preorders on their 880 Eurorack drum machine. It’s based on the Roland TR-808 and looks completely gorgeous. They announced it a fair while ago but I get the impression that they were waiting to see if Behringer were going to release their TR-808 clone in Eurorack format. Thankfully Behringer went full desktop on the RD-808. System 80 make great stuff and i imagine this is no exception. It has 16 808 voices, 32 steps, 12 banks of 16 patterns, 11 outputs and all that jazz. At almost $1000 it’s not cheap but it’s beautiful and classy and it’s less than buying something like the BLCK-Noir and the Erica Synths Drum Computer.
Not come across them before but apparently back in the bad old days of modular Polyfusion was created 40 years ago by two blokes who used to work for Moog and wanted to do their own thing. The Polyfusion Series 2000 was the result and it’s a fabulous wall of large format modular synthesis. Ron Folkman who is now 74 can’t believe that modular is back and he’s doing all he can to revive the brand and start making them again. The biggest hurdle revolves around the use of the name – Polyfusion haven’t made synths since the 1980’s and apparently someone else is trying to revive the name as well. Anyway, they hope to begin by making the Series 2000 first in order to service existing users and then they’ll begin a new generation, more compact and futuristic but probably in their own format – so not Eurorack. There’s also talk of a monosynth and other bits of pieces. It’s very interesting – sounds expensive and if it’s anything like Oberheim may never actually get anywhere.
Make Noise Rene
Those lovely people at Make Noise have added a third dimension to their much loved Rene sequencer. It’s no longer restricted to moving up and down and side to side, it now slides in and out through the use of coloured LEDs. Apparently it’s named after Rene Descartes and is now a 3 dimensional music sequencer – unfortunately for me the word Rene just conjures up memories of the 80’s french resistance sitcom Allo Allo. But a cartesian system specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of coordinates which are signed distances to the point from two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length. The third dimension means it does that while also snaking down through the knobs. I have no idea what it all means but it’s undoubtedly a lot of sequencing fun.
Expressive E have taken pity on computer based musicians by offering a Touche wobbly block controller that only has USB. The original had MIDI and CV as well – something i honestly wasnt aware of. They’ve also gone for a plastic rather than a hardwood. It still does all the same stuff, the push and pull, scratch and tap, wobble wobble expressive controlling and includes the same software with specially designed sounds to go with it. It’s one of the more interesting peripheral MIDI controllers out there and this value version is very welcome for virtual instrument users.
Analogue Solutions Generator
We saw this at Superbooth and decided that we liked it very much. 3 channels of CV sequencing with it all laid out on the board. 3 rows of 16 knobs, you can see what’s going on, lights in the top of the knobs – fabulous. No pages or using the same controls for everything – this is a proper hardware step sequencer. It’s also a gate sequencer and has a pattern generator to keep things flowing. The 6 weird triangles generate voltage to be used to trigger patterns or change key – they are also pressure sensitive so can be used to manipulate all sorts of things. It’s an impressive performance device and rumour has it that i might get hold of one for a review – very soon. That’s exciting!
Talking of awesome sequencers i got sent a fabulous little 12 step sequencer from Tenderfoot. It’s creator Peter Young’s first commercial module and he was kind enough to send me one to try. 4 rows of 3 knobs and it kicks out voltage – oh my god that’s so wonderfully simple. That’s all the knobs do so you can always tell what sort of notes or CV you’re going to get out of it. Stick it through a quantizer for instant tunes. Pump some different clocks into the inputs and it starts to shift either horizontally or vertically to generate all sorts of variations. I have a BeatStep Pro, a Varigate 4+, a Mother 32 and a Hermod and this is by far the most instant and musical sequencer i’ve ever used. It’s what I’ve been missing since i started – it feels like an intentional Turing machine – in terms of how instantly usable it is. Anyway, i’ll have a full review of this little fella coming up soon.
The new virtual Eurorack Voltage Modular has just been released. If you get it quick you’ll also get the Misifit drum pack for free including the 808 style drum machine – well worth it. It’s fruity and fun looking but it’s more compatible than VCV Rack with VST, AU and AAX versions, and bigger than Softube Modular, but it does have its work cut out if it’s going to attract third party developers. So far there are modules from PSP Audio – all effects – and that’s it. I think it sounds great and has potential to be a great virtual eurorack environment but i think it will live or die on the third party support. Users can also design, upload and sell modules which is pretty cool. I intend to have another play with it soon – worth checking out.
Surface Dial Elephant 1.3
Quick one – that excellent Elephant software that lets you control virtual knobs with the Surface Dial – well the 1.3 update makes it even cooler. Now you no longer have to hold the mouse button down on the control – you can hover and the Dial picks it up. This means that with a touch screen you can tap any knob and simply control it – just the best thing ever! Video coming shortly.
And finally the OP-Z from Teenage Engineering is available for preorder and should be shipping next month. This has spent years in development and i’m sorry but i’ve grown a bit tired of it. It’s a tiny weeny box with fiddly buttons and weird cross head knobs and little clue as to what it’s supposed to be. Now i never like the OP-1 until i had a go on one and was pleasantly surprised by how fun it was and that very cool screen. Now they’ve taken the screen away and made it all horribly grey and blank. They say it has a 16 track sequencer inside – well it doesnt really, you have 8 music tracks fixed to kick, snare, percussion, lead, bass, chord and so on and the 8 other tracks for mixing, effects and visuals. The visual side is very interesting although you do have to connect it to an iPad to make it work. Teenage Engineering are very knowingly cool about it – they know its tiny and that people will hate the lack of screen but they just keep insisting it’s the coolest thing ever until we all agree. The visual aspect is interesting but most of the other features would have been awesome 2 years ago but now are pretty common place. Feel free to correct me in the comments.
On the 6th October – that’s a week on Saturday we have the Synthfest at Sheffield university Octagon Centre. It runs from 10.30 to 6.30 and absolutely everyone will be there. My personal top things that i have to play with are – Analogue Solutions Generator, Erica Synths Techno system, Korg Prologue, Moog Grandmother, Studio Electronics Tonestar synths, IK Uno and loads and loads of modular. There’s also a bunch of fascinating seminars on very enlightening subjects but for me it’s the playing on the gear and hopefully talking to people that attracts me to the event. Plus it was at Synthfest 2 years that i first came into contact with Eurorack and kicked off my own modular journey. So i’ll be there, I’ll have a hopefully not too bored 11 year old with me and i’ll be more than happy to stand around awkwardly with people who want to say hello. Honestly i can be shy but i’m not scary.
And as is customary now after a Molten Music Monthly is to follow it up with a livestream. I don’t think I’m clashing with anyone this time so please join me on Sunday at 8pm BST to chat about this months news, maybe do a demo on the Lattice, or the Surface Dial Elephant software, or just bring your questions and your comments and we’ll spend time drinking beer and chatting about it all. And failing all that I’ll make some music.
Next videos are going to be some Surface Go and some modular DIY – so stay tuned for those. Please subscribe, check out the Patreon if you want more insider information and in the meantime go and make some tunes.