UnPopular Electronics (Robair + Djll), Lx Rudis, Franck Martin at Robotspeak

It’s been a little while since we last attended Church of Thee Super Serge at Robotspeak in San Francisco, but we made a point of going this past weekend.  For those who have not been there or read our past reviews, it’s an almost-ever-month show on a Saturday afternoon with live hardware-synthesizer performances.  As the name suggests, some acts do include Serge synthesizers, but it is not required, and a wide variety of instruments are used.  All three sets are featured in our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

The first set featured Lx Rudis performing on an Oberheim Xpander, a somewhat underappreciated instrument from the 1980s.

Lx Rudis on Oberheim Xpander

At its heart, the Xpander is a 6 voice analog synthesizer, but with a complex array of digital controls that can be programmed and applied independently to each voice.  Lx Rudis took full advantage of these, especially the LFOs and lag generators, to create subtle and minimal metric patterns.  He constantly moved voices in and out, configuring them on the fly, in a way that was very expressive and musical.  I particularly liked the sections which had staccato rhythmic textures against slowly moving timbres deliberately out of sync with one another.

Next up was Franck Martin, who performed a solo set on a modular synthesizer with several standalone instruments.

Franck Martin

Martin’s setup included a Moog Subharmonicon, which he built while attending Moogfest this year (we at CatSynth are a bit envious), as well as a DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother).  There were also additional voices provided by Braids and Plaits modules from Mutable Instruments that he could bring in and out using a touch-plate interface.  The result was a slowly changing beat pattern with an eerie inharmonic voicing and gentle undulation.

The final set featured our friends Gino Robair and Tom Djll teaming up as the brilliantly named Unpopular Electronics.

They had a wide variety of gear, including Serge panels in addition to Eurorack modules and standalone instruments from Bugbrand and others.  In addition, Gino had an interesting small case that included touchpads.

The music was frenetic and intense, an avalanche of pops and hits and loud cloudlike tone clusters.  And there were trumpet sounds entering into the mix at various points.  But there was an exquisite detail to the madness with changes among the different instruments and sounds, and musical pauses and rests before the pair dived back into the frenzy.  There were also many moments of humor and not just Djll’s book about why there aren’t any Zeppelin-style airships in the United States.

In between sets, it’s fun to browse around Robotspeak and see what’s for sale, or on display in the big glass case.

It’s also quite dangerous, as I am often tempted to leave with another module or instrument.  On this occasion, I exercised restraint, but probably not next time…

CatSynth Pic: New Eurorack From ALM

Via matrixsynth, we have this announcement from ALM of a new module that was revealed at Superbooth 18.

Sadly, we were not able to attend Superbooth – hopefully next year.  But we did find this video about that included an overview of ALM’s new offerings, including the Quaid Megaslope.

NAMM 2018: Strymon Magneto

At NAMM, one tries out a lot of instruments and walks away wanting to have a good number of them.  The novelty fades quickly, but some you find that you continue to really want.  The Magneto module from Strymon is in the latter category.

Strymon Magneto

The Magneto is a four-head tape delay simulator.  Its controls are very intuitive and playable, with enough flexibility to be used to generate spring-reverb-like sounds as well as function as a looping device via a mode switch.  You can see our first attempts with the Magneto in this video.

Strymon put a lot of attention to detail both in terms of sound design and usability into this device.  And as one would expect from a Eurorack module, just about every function can receive external CV input, making it more of a musical instrument in its own right than it would be in a studio rack or even a guitar pedalboard.  We were able to observe the delay and looping functions in great detail, but it was more challenging to discern the tape-effect functions, such as “wow-flutter” and “crinkle”.  Part of that is just the chaotic environment of NAMM (even in the more calm depth of Hall E).  Hopefully, we will get a chance to try those out in more detail in the near future.

For more information, please check out https://www.strymon.net/products/magneto/

NAMM 2018: Arturia MiniBrute 2 and RackBrute

We continue to work our way through our experiences from NAMM 2018 with the Arturia MiniBrute 2.

Arturia MiniBrute 2 and RackBrute

The original MiniBrute made quite a splash a few years ago with its all-analog signal path, usability, and low price.  It also had a sound that was distinct from other low-cost analog synths, in part because of the “Brute Factor” knob.  That knob is back in the MiniBrute 2 along with a Steiner-Parker filter that together with the Brute oscillator gives the instrument its sound.  But there is now a second oscillator, and, perhaps more significantly, a modulation matrix and patch bay.

The built-in synthesizer topology includes a lot more modulation than the original, and the patch bay allows for reconfiguration and expansion with the RackBrute Eurorack cases that integrate 3U or 6U or modules with the MiniBrute in a single case.  This does seem to be a trend we are seeing with built-in patch bays to full analog mono synths (the Moog Mother-32 being the prime example).  One can also interpret the MiniBrute 2 as incorporating ideas from the flagship MatrixBrute writ small.  The ecosystem also includes an alternate form-factor, the 2S, which has drum pads reminiscent of the BeatStep Pro instead of the keyboard.

We were only able to scratch the surface at NAMM, and also had a bit of difficulty with our video.  So we are hoping to provide a more in-depth look at this instrument both here and on CatSynth TV in the not too distant future.

CatSynth Pic: Monkey and ARC modular

Monkey and ARC modular

Monkey the tuxedo cat checks out an Artificial Neural Network module from Analog Research (ARC). By @synthlibrary (the S1 Synth Library) on Instagram.

Here is Monkey with one of our new modules from @arcmodular! We’re so excited to explore these new synths. #funweek#thanks#feelinglucky#neuralnetwork#eurorack#catsynth

This module captures both the look and spirit of Serge synthesizer modules with its simple function and logic blocks.  You can find out more here.

This module captures both the look and spirit of Serge synthesizer modules with its simple function and logic blocks.  You can find out more here.

NAMM 2018: Rossum Electro-Music

Rossum Electro-Music Assimil8r.

We visited our friends at Rossum Electro-Music at NAMM and were treated to an in-depth demonstration of their Assimil8or module by Marco Alpert.

We are grateful to Marco for his demonstration, not just because it made our video awesome, but because it helped better understand what is a complex module.  The Assimil8or is a sample engine with many of the features one found in classic E-MU samplers, and more (Dave Rossum being the mastermind behind E-MU’s popular instruments).  One particularly intriguing advance was the timed switching among samples, which allows one to move between different tracks seamlessly while remaining in time (the Cars example in the video demonstrates this quite well).  There is also “virtual tape-scrubbing” of audio.  Of course, everything is CV controllable.

Combining the Assimil8or with the Morpheus module (which we at CatSynth own and enjoy) and the Control Forge, one can assemble something akin to an E-MU sampler on steroids, with vastly more complex and rich control options, including at audio rate!  Even the Morpheus on its own is rather overwhelming, but having seen the modules in action by the folks who made gives us ideas on how to use it better.  We look forward to more experiments with these modules from Rossum Electro-Music!

More info can be found at http://www.rossum-electro.com.

(Disclosure: Amanda Chaudhary of CatSynth used to work for E-MU Systems, several of whose principals are now at Rossum Electro-Music.)

NAMM: Qu-Bit Electronix New Modules

Qu-Bit Electronix modules

One of our first stops at NAMM 2018 was to visit our friends at Qu-Bit Electronix to see what they are up to.  They have three new modules, Synapse, Nebulae MK2, and Scanned.  We had a chance to try them out for ourselves – you can see a bit of our experience in this video.

We at CatSynth own and enjoy using the original Nebulae module, but the MK2 is a significant improvement, with more versatile and expressive controls for pitch, speed, and granularity (rate, window, etc.).  The main speed button traverses quite a range both forward and backward, and features a quick reset to unity by pressing.  Similar functionality is available with the pitch button.  The granularity features go beyond the original, including the ability to freeze the sound in place to create a steady timbre from any section of a recording.

The Scanned module is perhaps the first hardware implementation of scanned synthesis technique pioneered by Max Matthews and others.  The simplest way to describe it is as a system that provides the control of a struck or plucked string, but with a far greater range of sound than a vibrating string, such as any wavetable source.  The module has independent controls for pluck, tension, and many more parameters, of course all individually controlled via CV.  With pitch and gate input, it becomes the starting block for a rich modular instrument.

Although not included in the video demo, the Synapse is an interesting and handy module for mixing, switching, and otherwise routing a variety of CV sources to various destinations all from a single module.  It makes your CV sources more like a mixer with cross-fades and such.

Qu-Bit Electronix

 

It’s always fun to check in with Qu-Bit, and we look forward to seeing more of these modules.

CatSynth Pic: Gracie, Moog Subsequent 37 and other Synths

Gracie returns, this time with a Moog Subsequent 37.  Though she does seem more interested in the Eurorack modules behind it 😸

“Hmmm. Analog …”

From Alsún Ní Chasaide via our Facebook page.

From Alsún Ní Chasaide via our Facebook page.

CatSynth Pic: Cat on Modular

WunWun atop a modular

Cats find the strangest places to sit. Here, we see WunWun the cat sitting atop a two-row modular synthesizer setup. From flohrdumal on Instagram.

flohrdumal All modules used in a smoke free pet free studio
#studiokatze #noboundaries #crazykitty#synthcat #catsynth #modular#eurorack #cat #katze #gato #chatphoto by @sirbananamonkeymowgli

 

flohrdumal At least now I know that WunWun is 3u x 104hp

 

CatSynth Video: Live Jam #101 – Techno / Minimal – Eurorack, Volca Sample, tc electronic Skysurfer, The Prophet

From Monotrail on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

“And we go on!!! I bought two guitar pedals, mainly for live use. They are sturdy, look good, and are cheap. I thought I would do a Live Jam with some knob tweaking before I place them out sight.
PS: Sorry for the wobly[sic] camera, I don’t have a tripod, but use a bongo instead…

If you are still interested in obtaining one of the 50 tape’s, or a digital version of the 100th Live
Jam release, please visit my bandcamp: https://monotrail.bandcamp.com”

Nice integration of Korg Volca Sample and TC Electronics with the Eurorack modular. And we like the trick of running the Volca Sample through the Doepfer A-119. Spot the kitty 😺