NAMM 2019: Behringer Synthesizers

Our 2019 NAMM experience began a little earlier this year when we stopped by Behringer’s offsite event in the Chatsworth neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was an opportunity to check out their current and upcoming synthesizer offerings. You can see some of them in this video.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylvIpER

There is perhaps no synthesizer maker more controversial and more talked about these days than Behringer. Some dismiss them outright, others condemn their cloning of classic instruments, and others applaud their making affordable synthesizers that sound good and play well. Mention them in any synthesizer forum, and you are likely to get more responses than with any other topic.

Overall, I was happy with what I saw from them this year. I particularly liked the Vocoder VC340, a clone of the legendary Roland VP330 vocoder.

I already own a Roland Boutique VP-03, so I have access to this sound and signal path, with all its temperamental qualities. But the VC340 comes in a larger package with full-size keys, with electronics more similar to the original, including the voice and string synthesizers. It would make a great stage vocoder if I had need and space for one. It is also easier to get external signals into it, and we played around using Behringer’s new Rhythm Designer RD-808 as the modulator signal (you can hear it in the video).

Behringer has also come out with a clone of the Odyssey, simply called Odyssey.

It’s industrial design, font, and colors are remarkably similar to the original (something which probably makes Behringer’s critics howl). But it’s a good sounding unit, and quite rugged looking. The layout of the sliders is a bit different from what I know from the original, the Korg clone, and my Octave CAT, so I didn’t have the opportunity to dial in the “Chameleon” tone and give it the Herbie Hancock test, but I did get some interesting modulated sounds familiar from the original Odyssey.

It is important to note that Behringer has also produced original instruments such as the Neutron.

The Neutron is a Eurorack-compatible synthesizer with all the expected VCO, VCF, and VCA sections, as well as an extensive modulation matrix. It does not have a sequencer, but the Eurorack ecosystem is awash with sequencers so that shouldn’t be much of an issue. The Neutron is on the surface similar to the Moog Mother-32 and Arturia Microbrute (sans sequencer), but it does have its own sound. Is it different enough to want it if you already own those instruments? That is subjective. But it played well, and at $399 is quite affordable.

There is also the clone of the Minimoog, the Model D, affectionately known by many of us as “The Boog.”

It sounds like a Model D. And it is Eurorack compatible. It’s a great affordable option to get that sound. End of story.

And finally, there is the new MS-101, a clone of the Roland SH-101, complete with red and blue finishes.

I don’t think the controversies around Behringer will fade anytime soon, especially as they continue to ramp up their synthesizer catalog. For those who complain about their cloning, there are others who charge “elitism” at their critics, considering the high prices vintage instruments and even current Eurorack modules command. Plus, these instruments have MIDI, USB, and other features that are rather handy when making music. We at CatSynth come down somewhere on the outside of this discussion, and simply enjoyed playing the instruments; and we might look into that vocoder.

CatSynth Pic: Rackmount Cat

A new picture from our friends Eric and Marcel at polynominal.com

Rackmount cat: done

A lot of amazing gear in this one picture. We leave it as an exercise to our readers to identify (but there are some hints in the tags).

Outsound New Music Summit: CDP and Dire Wolves

While I thoroughly enjoyed every night of this year’s Outsound New Music Summit, last Friday was special because I was on stage with my own band CDP.  We shared the bill with Dire Wolves for a night of contrasting retro styles within the context of new and experimental music.

I often get asked what “CDP” stands for.  And while it does stand on its own as a name, it does come from the initials of the original three members: Chaudhary, Djll, Pino.  That’s me on keyboard and vocoder, Tom Djll (synthesizers), and Mark Pino (drums).  Joshua Marshall joined the band in 2017, bringing his technical chops and versatility on tenor and soprano saxophone.  As a road-and-map geek, it also stands for “Census Designated Place”.

CDP at the Outsound New Music Summit

We had five tunes for this concert.  Three of them were from the series I call “the jingles”, including White WineNorth Berkeley BART, and our newest song, Rambutan (it’s a fruit from Southeast Asia).  Marlon Brando and Konflict Mensch rounded out the set.  Each featured a melodic and harmonic head followed by open improvisation – no fixed solos, even listens to one another and comes in and out.  Our style is a blend of funk, fusion and experimental music reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi and Head Hunters bands or Soft Machine 5 & 6, with a bit of 1970s Frank Zappa / George Duke mixed in.  The music is a joy to play and I’m so glad to be able to be on a stage playing it.

Amanda Chaudhary and Joshua Marshall, CDPWe got off to a somewhat shaky start with White Wine, but we settled down quickly as we headed into the improvisation section.  From that point on, things only got better with Marlon Brando and North Berkeley BART (which is always a local crowd pleaser).  Rambutan was a lot of fun, including the funky 7/4 jam and the call-and-response chant with the audience.  Mark held up the metric foundation, working with both me and Tom who took turns on the bass roll.  Tom also got some great sounds in his solos, as did Josh who moved easily between growls and mellifluous melodic runs.

Tom Djll's synth

The vocoder, a Roland VP-03, held up pretty well – in some ways, I felt the scatting went even better than the lyrics – though there is still work to do keeping the voice intelligible in the context of the full band.   I was exhausted and satisfied after the set, and look forward to doing more with our band.

You can read Mark Pino’s perspective on the set on his blog.

For the second set, Dire Wolves brought a completely different energy to the stage.  Where CDP was exuberant and even frenetic at times, Dire Wolves welcomed the audience with a mellow and inviting psychedelic sound.

Dire Wolves

[Photo by Michael Zelner]

There was a sparseness to the music, with Jeffrey Alexander (guitar + winds), Sheila Bosco (drums)Brian Lucas (bass) and Arjun Mendiratta (violin) each staking claim to a distinct orchestral space within the soundscape.  Alexander and Mendiratta had lines that melted seamlessly from one to the next; Brian Lucas’ bass was sometimes melodic.  Bosco’s drums provided a solid foundation, but she also contributed voice and other sounds to the mix.

Jeffrey Alexander Sheila Bosco

[Photos by Michael Zelner]

My mind was still processing the set we had just played, but the trance-like qualities of Dire Wolves provided a space for a soft landing and to return to a bit of balance.  Sadly, it seems this was the band’s last performance for a while, at least with the current lineup.  But I look forward to hearing more from each of these musicians in their other projects.

Both groups played to a decently sized and very appreciative audience – not the capacity crowds of the previous or following nights, but respectable.  And I got quite a bit of positive feedback from audience members after our set.  We still have one more night of the summit to cover, and then it’s onward to future events.

Passover Synth Jam with the Matzoh Man

The Matzoh Man returns for Passover on CatSynth TV, this time accompanied by a Minimoog, Roland VP-03 vocoder and our trusty Nord Stage EX.

The Dayenu song is a tradition on Passover.  The word dayenu approximately translates to “it would have been sufficient” and is used as a phrase of gratitude for each of the miracles recounted in the Passover Hagaddah.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

CatSynth Pic: “Mister Bluuuue Skiessss” (Korg VC10 Vocoder)

From Alsún Ní Chasaide‎ on the Facebook group Synthesizer Freaks.

Like I spent weeks restoring this & she can’t wait to get on it. If vocoders aren’t for sits, then why are they made of warm?

We at CatSynth had the opportunity to play with a Korg VC10 vocoder last year.  It is indeed made of warm, as are most analog vocoders 😸.  It also had a bit of the Korg grit that characterizes their vintage instruments, and best of all it allowed for external carrier signals (this is something I wish was easier to do on the Roland VP-03).

Jean-Michel Jarre at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley

This past Friday, we at CatSynth had the chance to see electronic-music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre perform live at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California. It was part of his ambitious “Electronic World Tour”, which includes his first North American tour in…well, a long time.

jean-Michel Jarre on stage

Jarre is perhaps best known for his innovative albums in the 1970s and 1980s, blending electronics and idiomatic music without veering too much into the dreaded New Age world; and for putting on live concerts that are truly spectacles. He did not disappoint in that regard, with a massive sound and light setup that included three sheets of LEDs, banks of lasers, and a three-piece ensemble that would make any synth nerd very envious. The lights were mesmerizing and captivating at times.

LED light patterns

Jean-Michel Jarre in lights

Robots

When the lasers were operative, it was sometimes most interesting to turn away from the stage and look into the crowd; and towards the back of the theatre and the trees behind it, where undulating patters of warm-colored lights danced among the leaves that were barely visible in the night sky.

Lasers across the Greek Theatre

Jarre’s music has long included rhythmic elements (often shunned by contemporaries in the academic electronic-music world), which made him a major influence for techno, electronica, and EDM genres. But his current performance fully embraces the contemporary EDM aesthetic, with intense pulsing beats, as well as a performance style with stomping and pointing as one sees with younger electronic performers and many DJs. Perhaps even a little macho. However, not only does he do it better, it is on a much grander scale. Even assuming much of the sound and visuals are sequenced, the complexity to pull this off cannot be underestimated. And Jarre’s performance was quite physical, often jumping and sometimes coming out in front to perform on keytar.

Jarre on keytar, musicians on vocoder

It was nonetheless an ensemble performance, with his fellow musicians providing live electronic drums as well as vocoder-based harmonies.

The concert, which lasted about 90 minutes, included some of his classic works such as selections from Oxygene, but with the newer EDM sound as described above. He also presented newer pieces, including a collaboration with Edward Snowden that mixed Jarre’s music with clips of Snowden’s statements. The piece was very well received by the Berkeley audience.

One of my favorite moments and one of the most technically challenging – even Jarre himself joked that it may not work – was when he stepped forward to play a giant light harp consisting of towering green lasers.

Jean-Michel Jarre Light Harp

It went off flawlessly – or at least it looked and sounded that way from the audience perspective.

I am glad I was able to be there for this event, as it doesn’t happen often. Having seen this performance, it is leading to go back and review some of his classic recordings as well; and draw inspiration for my next electronic-music adventures.

Vacuum Tree Head and Census Designated Place at HSP2017

It’s been a busy musical time for us at CatSynth. Last week I performed a solo set and collaborative pieces with Amy X Neuburg at the Jewish Community Center in Berkeley. This weekend, I have two more performances, again in Berkeley, as part of Hardly Strictly Personal 2017. It’s a three-day event featuring a wide range of experimental and adventurous music, and benefits EarthJustice and the Homeless Action Center. You can see the full updated schedule, as well as ticket and location info here.

Vacuum Tree Head will be playing tonight, and my fusion/experimental project Census Designated Place (CDP) will be playing on Sunday. I have been busily preparing to make my debut on the Roland VP-03 Vocoder in both bands. Needless to say, between that and the various everyday tasks of an adult in San Francisco, we haven’t had as much opportunity to post here. Regular (?) CatSynth pics and more resume next week.

CatSynth video: No Personal Calls

From JohnRice on YouTube, via matrixsynth.

“Just a bit of playing around. Mainly a test of the new Modcan vocoder I recently got. Did I mention it has cats?

Thanks for watching!

PS – Hai Wigglers! ;-)”

Convoy is now a LolSynthCat

Looks like someone captioned our pal Convoy the Cat

128285273125156250diswunisf.jpg

Maybe I should try that in my next show?





CatSynth pics and slide show: Convoy the Cat

Submitted directly from Convoy the Cat himself:

In addition to several photos viewable at his myspace, we also have a slide show!

watch all the kittens dance