It’s been a little while since we last attended Church of Thee Super Sergeat 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.
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.
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…
A new video from our friends Charles Whiley and Mr. Maximillion.
“Look Out Noise” 🎼🎶🎚🎛🎚🎛🔊🎧🎹 💖🤩😼🔊🔊🔊💖😻😺
We espy quite a few of the usual suspects, including their Novation Peak, JoMoX Alpha Base, Source Audio Nemesis, and Oberheim Matrix 1000. This time I also notice a JoMoX Moonwind, a T.C. Electronics rackmount effects box, and more. What gear did you notice in the video?
Gracie returns! This time we see her testing out one of her Moog synthesizers (a Sub37 or Subsequent 37). We also see a Korg vocoder below, and an Oberheim in the back. In the background, we see a PPG Wave, a rare DK Synergy below it, and a few other synths that we leave as exercises to the reader. Gracie always has such an impressive collection 😸
This is one lucky cat, with both a Sequential Prophet 6 and an OB6 from Dave Smith Instruments. And the keyboard versions at that 😻
Photo by Jon Sellers via the Facebook group Synthesizer Freaks.
The two instruments are quite similar in layout and overall architecture but have distinct sounds and other characteristics. The P6 is a classic Prophet. while the OB-6 has the distinctive sound of its Oberheim filters.
Edited to correct an “alternative fact” in one of our photos.
There were several new offerings at the Dave Smith Instruments booth this year. The most prominent was the new REV 2 polyphonic analog synthesizer.
The REV 2 is billed as a successor to the Prophet ’08, and features an architecture with two DCOs and two Curtis filters, along with numerous other features. It also has a built-in step sequencer. It plays very nicely and has a powerful sound, though perhaps not quite as “luscious” as the Prophet 12 that I regularly use in my own music. I expect the REV 2 will be quite popular.
Last year, DSI introduced the OB-6, a collaboration between Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim that features an Oberheim SEM sound engine. This year they have a tabletop module version of this instrument.
CORRECTION: This is a Prophet 6 tabletop, not an OB-6. There is, however an OB-6 tabletop module.
It has the same engine and a large array of front panel controls that make it a less expensive addition for someone who wanted the OB-6 synth but doesn’t need yet another keyboard.
Dave Smith also had another new collaboration, this time with Pioneer DJ. They introduced two new instruments: the TORAIZ SP-16 DJ workstation and the TORAIZ AS-1 mono synth.
The SP-16 is a sampler workstation with multiple voices and facilities for loops, triggers, and other features one expects from a beat-oriented tabletop synth, but also filters from the Sequential Prophet 6. THE AS-1 is purely a synth, featuring an architecture similar to a single voice of the Prophet 6. As such, the AS-1 is practical way to add the Prophet 6 sound to a larger setup.
As always, we look forward to seeing and hearing more of these new instruments from Dave Smith.
Following up on our experience with the OB-6 as Dave Smith Instruments, I wandered over to Tom Oberheim’s own both. Under the official name of Marion Systems or “TomOberheim.com, he has released a series of remakes of of his classic synthesizers. The flagship of these instruments is the Two-Voice Pro.
It is a dual voice analog synth powered by two SEM modules, along with a built-in sequencer and a series of 56 CV inputs for controlling most features of the voices and overall synth. Playing it felt more like a vintage Oberheim instrument than the OB-6, which is very contemporary. As such, it is a bit more spartan, but it looks and sounds like a true Oberheim synth from the past.
There are also individual tabletop versions of the SEM, as well as two new Eurorack modules, most notably the SEM Plus.
The SEM Plus is an entire Oberheim SEM voice as a module. It would be useful entry point into a larger and crazier modular system, a good partner for a Moog Mother 32.
Tom Oberheim himself had returned to his booth when I visited, so I got a second chance to talk with him – he is very approachable and generous with his time. We did talk about our respective musical interests, especially our shared fondness and inspiration from the jazz fusion greats of the 1970s like Herbie Hancock. As I return to that sort of music, I hope to apply some of Oberheim’s technologies to the project.
This year, Tom Oberheim joined his fellow giants in the synthesizer world Dave Smith, Don Buchla, and Roger Linn at NAMM. He has rereleased the classic SEM synthesizer and introduced a new Eurorack module based on the SEM.
The EuroModule SEM is a single voice of the standalone synthesizer. It has two VCOs, a VCF, two envelopes, LFO, and VCA. It’s pretty much an entire instrument in one, and it takes up quite a bit of space in a modular system. Where I could see it being of particular use in this environment route external CV into it.
The Tom Oberheim booth (under the name of his company Marion Systems) was a family affair, and indeed the entire Oberheim family was extremely welcoming and friendly.
The SEM module as well as a separate Phaser module are expected to be released later this year.