Welcome to the written version of this month’s Molten Monthly. It’s taken straight from the video and edited a bit to make it readable otherwise, you’re not missing a thing. For the video version, please head over to my YouTube channel. Also, I have affiliate accounts with Thomann, Perfect Circuit, Sweetwater and Clockface Modular, so if you go to buy something via my links, I get a little kickback – it doesn’t matter what it is, and it’s always appreciated.
Cor, it’s been a bit hot but let’s not dwell on the heat, let’s dwell on the lack of any news whatsoever, it’s been dead quiet out there. So what with the heat, the component shortage, wars all over the world, Brexit, and Tory candidate elections, the world has gone bonkers. And it’s become a bit of a distraction from what’s really important – synthesizers, modular, soft-synths, making music, audio interfaces, guitars, pedals, synths and stuff. Getting our souls infused into electrons, pulsing through signal chains and outputting in the world in this enormous and glorious explosion of creativity, heart, soul, sweat and tears. That’s what it’s all about!
But anyway, I’ve managed to dredge up a few things for this month’s Monthly.
A barrel load of complex oscillators – where do they all come from? Everyone’s doing it, they’ve all got leftover oscillators, and they think, “I know, I’ll jam this one in there and call it a complex oscillator”. Maybe there are not chips for anything else, and all we have is oscillators. But anyway, we have complex oscillators from Make Noise, Schalppi Engineering, CubuSynth, Weston Precision Audio and Steady State Fate.
Neutral labs want us to hack their filter
Audient makes 16-track recording too easy
Gforce nails the SEM
Build yourself a Eurorack VCO with a 9-dollar microcomputer
BoredBrain wants you connected
Delta MIDI will control your virtual Minimoog
ST Modular goes Euphoric
Aly James has a good go at the OB-X
Fully Wired introduce itself with an attenuator
Synthux Academy want to empower you to build synths
And MidiTraC will sequence all your synths
Future Retro calls it a day
But first and quite sadly decided to call it a day. Future Retro are a boutique making of interesting synthesizers, controllers and other bits and pieces and have very recently released a fascinating vector-based multi-joystick synthesizer. It appeared on Kickstarter, and I believe they’ve fulfilled all of those but at the point of doing that they’ve just decided that there’s not enough business or components out there and it’s too hard.
We’re starting to hear this more and more. Recently we heard that a classic modular synthesizer maker called Synthesizers.com has put itself up for sale because they can no longer continue in any kind of business sense in making 5U modular. That’s really sad. It’s a sign of global times perhaps and the cost of living, but it’s also a knock-on effect of the lack of components that are proving so difficult to produce anything in quantity. And because the car makers who also need components have far more clout than little boutique makers, there are just not the chips to go around. A lot of little companies out there are struggling out there. Many of them have retooled a bit, changed their product line and shifted in order to get around the shortages and be able to keep on supplying product. But sadly that’s going to work for everybody.
I’ve also heard of other stores and manufacturers struggling who have decided to call it a day or that this might be the last run of stuff they do before packing it all in. It’s difficult, and heat can we do about that? The only thing that we can do is just to keep buying stuff. It seems ridiculous when we all have to tighten our belts for various reasons, but still, if we want to maintain our collective community and hobby and interest in synths and modular. If we have any spare cash to invest in the local builders, in the boutique sellers, in those little modular shops that would really benefit from every single sale – even if they are a little more expensive, it’s worth keeping these people going and showing that they are still a useful resource.
Anybody out there who is having to change jobs or pack it in and do something else, I want to wish you all the best and thank you for the noise, the movement of electrons and all the music you’ve enabled us to make.
- Future Retro website.
We’ve also just heard that WMD is also closing at the end of the year – sad times.
A barrel load of complex oscillators
What are these all about? Well, you get a couple of oscillators and jam them together, cross-modulate, use one as the main oscillator and still in another one to audio-rate modulate the heck out of it. We’re talking about FM-y type tones, clangs, metallic noises, strange shifting sync noises, inverted waveforms clashing and bouncing up against each other with some serious PWM thrown in. Complex waves. So not your standard sawtooth and square waves and bits and pieces, although these will exist too. What you tend to find is two independent oscillators which then have options to route themselves into each other to create this nastiness.
Complex oscillators don’t really appeal to me, I have to say. I mean, audio rate modulation is not something that really thrills me. I know it should be, and people talk about it a lot! “Can you do audio-rate modulation” people always ask me whenever I’m showing a new module – I mean, yes, I guess you can but who wants that? I don’t mind a bit of FM wobble, you know, give it a bit of vibrato, that’s lovely, or transposition, but then sticking in your Dr Who FM, clangy, belly, dissonant nonsense – it’s plainly obvious I have no idea what I’m talking about because if I did, then I’d know that they are a complete joy and the most awesome thing you can do with your clothes on.
Schlappi Engineering Three Body
Anyway, kicking us off is not two oscillators but three in the Three Body from Schlappi Engineering. This has been promised for quite a while and is three independent oscillators in a single module, and as you can imagine, that’s going to generate an awful lot of clangy clanginess, FM and cross-modulationg. First of all you’ve got all of these outputs, with each oscillator having 4 or 5 waveform outputs as a starting point. You can track all three together in a polyphonic patch or in a chord situation through a multi-channel quantiser, and no audio-rate modulation is required. It’s just good old-fashioned, solid, sine waves, sawtooths and pulses. But the Three Body is not going to stand for all that independent nonsense, and you can start indexing the oscillators into each other, start applying ratios and all sorts. It’s a massive FM playground of zany audio-rate modulating goodness if goodness is the sort of thing you’re after.
What I did find watching the videos is that it is relatively intuitive, with some really sweet sounds coming out of it. Their focus seems to be creating a workflow that makes some sense so you can use them independently and then start blending and pushing and modulating and do that easily and simply with a workflow that makes sense.
- Schlappi Engineering website.
Not come across these people before but the Engine module shares a similar look to the others. Wide and mirrored about the middle with an oscillator on either side and then some kind of central thing that affects how they run into each other. That tends to be the style and the Engine follows that.
What I like in particular about this one is how independent the oscillators are to the point that the focus is suggesting that it’s a dual-oscillator as opposed to ta complex oscillator. You can very easily plug in one pitch input and use both oscillators together lovingly detuned for fat analogue regular waveforms. That immediately appeals to me – great, fun times. But it also can modulate and run into each other, giving you access to those complex tones, craziness and nutty stuff that goes on. Within it also has a bit of a chaos engine and through that central and colourful knob in the middle, you can introduce a Turing machine style of randomisation to various parameters. It can result in some sweet and interesting sounds rather than going to clangy town all the time.
It would be good to have a play because it has things that I understand in the two oscillators and then the opportunity to throw things at each other. So I’m not faced with this primary and secondary oscialltor that’s immediately confusing. Rather it starts out simply and then draws you into the idea of modulating. I like that a lot.
- Cubusynth website.
Weston Precision Audio 2V2
This is a similar deal, very much pushing the idea of being a dual-oscillator rather than a complex oscillator, although, of course, it has a switch to move between those two vibes. So you can move from a detuning situation for fat sounds and waveforms, or you can switch it into some hard or soft sync, linear or exponential FM and get crazy with those complex sounds. So again, I think that’s the right approach, at least for me, because I get scared of those huge modules; the Thee Body thing scares me to death and a lot of previous complex oscillators I’ve played with just end up with me scratching my head not knowing what to do. But I enjoy the idea of having two oscillators together that I can run completely involved in each other – that definitely appeals to me more so.
- Weston Precision Audio website.
- Buy from Perfect Circuit here – https://tinyurl.com/perfect-weston2v2
Make Noise XPO
The big news of course was the Make Noise XPO which should probably get a whole segment to itself except that I’m feeling quite underwhelmed by it. They don’t call it a complex oscillator because that would be crazy to suggest it exists in a familiar framework to anything else that exists. This is a streo prismatic oscillator – well of course it is. So it has vari-timbre and wave folding and stereo pulse-width modulation which is very exciting.
I think the basic idea is that Make Noise has made other stereo modules like the QPAS filter and X-PAN and they are starting to go down this line of stereo Eurorack and for that you really need a stereo oscillator which is what the XPO is. It’s designed to be be panned into space, into offering stereo PWM – I don’t really know why that’s different to regular PWM but hey, it is right and it’s important. So, what they’ve done is produce a VCO that’s going to fit perfectly into their range of modules. If you plop it into a different system you’re going to have to be thinking about stereo VCAs and stereo filters. You have to buy into the whole idea of stereo throughout your rack. It’s not something that’s interested me except for when you get to the output stage I like to be able to pan things in a stereo field, through a mixer, mono signals being panned or going through a stereo delay or reverb, which gives me a stereo signal at the end of the chain. But if you introduce stereo at the sound source, then everything else has to be stereo along the way. That means two of everything or stereo versions of modules and that can get expensive in both modules and HP. So it’s not really something I’ve seen as necessary. And so for me the XPO is all right, init? Personally, I think the CubuSynth Engine with the Chaos knob is more interesting, but of course, being Make Noise you know that it’s going to be a phenomenally high-quality module.
- Make Noise website.
- Buy at Clockface Modular – https://tinyurl.com/clockface-makenoise-xpo
- Buy at Perfect Circuit – https://tinyurl.com/perfect-makenoise-xpo
Finishing off our barrel of complex oscillations is the Zephyr from Steady State Fate. This one is a bit odd because it only has one oscillator, and that had me scratching my head for a bit. But it’s a complex oscillator in as much as…. well, thinking about it, why is it a complex oscillator just because it has an FM input, because everything has an FM input so does that make them all complex? I guess only when you stick another oscillator in but then are they all complex? What is it that makes an oscillator complex again? I don’t know.
Anyway, it has an internal Z-Wave thing which is a little bit of thru-zero phase modulation and FM and flipping of waveforms. Basically you’ve got this other part within the oscillator that does crazy stuff especially as you put in audio rate modulation. But it doesn’t have the second oscillator itself so you plug in any other oscillator to take on that second oscillator role. The result being that SSF are able to produce a compact module and yet provide all of the modulation input and screwiness inside to generate complex tones using whatever oscillator you’ve already got. So in some ways, it makes that cheaper, more versatile, interesting, and better embedded into your system, and you can ignore all of that and use it as a regular VCO.
- SSF website.
- Buy from Perfect Circuit – https://tinyurl.com/perfect-ssf-zephyr
- Buy from Clockface Modular – https://tinyurl.com/clockface-ssf-zephyr
Neutral Labs Scrat Filter
I’ve got a few of their modules that I’ve made, like the Nermal and the Meg. Quite fun they are, interesting, always a bit different to everything else, I find. This one, called the Scrat, is no different except this time it’s a filter. It’s a Steiner-Parker filter from that bloke Steiner and his mate Parker that people quite like. Arturia likes it and seems to slap it into all their synths. But the man at Neutral Labs has revealed a bunch of patch points on patch wires, the idea being that you can mess about with it by sticking in different components. Things like resistors, capacitors, diodes, other bits of crap, pieces of wire, leaves, a spoon or maybe a fork would be more appropriate to create different connections to affect the character of the resonance. That’s a fascinating idea, and not only that. Neutral Labs has produced these little cartridges that fit into these slots that already have ready-made combinations of components. Like a couple of resistors, a capacitor and a thing, light-dependent resistors, and you can jam those straight in. It’s almost like having presets like those cards on a Buchla. It’s like a bloody Buchla! That’s what this is, well, not quite.
Anyway, these cartridges produce different tones within the resonance circuit of the filter. It’s a brilliant idea, and I hope to get my hands on a kit. I like how the internals of a module are spilling themselves out of the front. It’s inviting you to hack it, inviting you to plug wrong things in just to see what will happen. I’m sure it’s possible to break it, but we’ll see.
- Neutral Labs website.
Audient EVO 16 Audio Interface
Let’s take a quick swing into audio interfaces. It’s an area that’s always been of interest to me because I still make music on a computer, and it’s something that still interests me. I’ve reviewed the EVO 2 and 4 for Sound on Sound and they are quite interesting. Little boxes with a big knob on the top and their unique selling point are that you press a button, and it sorts itself out for you. It automatically sorts out the input level and gain-staging for you, so you won’t have to worry about it. You press the button, play your guitar, and it sorts it out for you. Why haven’t we always had that? Why have we all been fussing around – if we know we’re supposed to recording at around -12dB all the time, then why don’t all audio interfaces just do that rather than you having to fiddle around?
Anyway, Audient has released a 16-channel version. Well, of course, the 16 doesn’t refer to the I/O count as such because it’s 8 input and 8 output, so I supposed it sort of does. But you can pull numbers from all sorts of places. Rather than having a desktop slab of a box they’ve kind of dropped to that classic 1U style thing which always drives me nuts. Ok, so it’s great that you can rack it up in an audio rack, that’s fine, but I would much rather have something that sits nicely on the desk with controls on the top – but that’s just me. However, as it has 8 inputs and outputs, having it racked out of the way in terms of cabling would be no bad thing.
The look and feel of it is very similar to the smaller boxes, although I haven’t had one in my hands. With the EVO 4 I had, you could squash it and it would sort of come apart because it was made of hard plastic rather than metal. But I haven’t handled one of these, so I don’t know how solid the Evo 16 is. Aha, I’ve just realised that it has another 16 channels of ADAT, so may the 16 in the EVO 16 refers to the 16 ADAT channels – but then it’s actually 24 channels. Again these numbers don’t really work, do they?
But, anyway, what’s important about the EVO 16 is the Smart Gain feature – the big green button on the front. You press it and play your instrument, and it will sort of the levels for you, and it works. It just works, Plenty of people will be saying they want to be doing it manually and setting the level of each channel manually going up to the mic and going one-two and then making an adjustment, and so we – we love that, that’s our bread and butter and enjoy doing that like nobodies business. But for other people who are a bit more forward-thinking or developed in the brain, the idea is that you press a button, speak into the mic, and it will sort it all out.
The other thing that’s cool about the EVO is the software interface. The mixer that comes with it is excellent. It comes with a load of Loopback options, monitoring options, and bits and pieces. It’s a beautiful thing to look at, and you’ve got metering and graphical things going on – it’s totally great. I was really taken with the EVO 2 and 4 and so this is excellent. I just wish it was in a desktop format. I didn’t really like the brickiness, and funnily enough, Audient do some other audio interfaces, the ID range, and if only they’d stick Smart Gain into those, then they would be perfect.
But you’re wrong if you think the Smart Gain feature is a bit of a gimmick – it makes life simpler and works brilliantly.
- Audient website.
- Buy from Thomann – https://thmn.to/thoprod/544979?offid=1&affid=1460
- Buy from Perfect Circuit – https://tinyurl.com/perfect-audient-evo16
- Buy from Sweetwater – https://tinyurl.com/sweetwater-audient-evo16
GForce Software Oberheim SEM
GForce Software has released the SEM, the Synthesizer Expander Module, which is of course the Oberheim SEM. A little while ago, they released their Oberheim 8-Voice emulation, which was superb. It was the first piece of software that sounded good enough to Tom Oberheim to say, “y’know what, that’s as close as you’re going to get in software, it sounds awesome”. And it was, it sounds fabulous, really good, and I had a great time doing a video on that, it was brilliant. And of course, the 8-Voice is essentially 8 SEMs with a little bit of wiring behind the scenes. So it’s no surprise that they decided to release the SEM by itself in fact, it’s a bit of a surprise that it took them so long.
This is a single voice from the 8-Voice. You’ve got two oscillators, and a 3rd one for modulation. It’s got that fantastic filter built in that we know so well from Oberheim synths. And just as a monophonic synth voice, it’s a beautiful thing. Sounds fantastic, the first preset is to die for, and the first time you try it out, you lose half an hour just playing with that.
There’s something about it that captures the character and sound of the original Oberheim that sounds like nothing else. I mean, it sounds like everything else, if you know what I mean? If you imagine in your head the sound of a monosynth then this is probably what you’re imagining. And it absolutely fulfils that need for fat analogue bass sounds, awesome lead sounds, spooky, ethereal and ambient nonsense that makes you trip off your head. It has reverb and delay built in, both of which are awesome and sound fantastic. And they are exactly what you need in this type of synth. Monosynths are a bit mono-synthy on their own, but as soon as you run them through a couple of effects, they take on a whole other lease of life.
It’s a phenomenal piece of work and just sounds awesome. It’s about 30 quid or something with a load of great presets – just go and get it.
- GForce website.
Build a Eurorack VCO for $9
There’s a lot of built-it-yourself stuff around at the moment. Much of it focuses on micro-controllers, although they are one of those things that have become a little bit scarce. But it depends on what you’re talking about. The larger ones like the Raspberry Pi can’t be had for love nor money, but the smaller ones do seem to be available, and so people are digging into those to see what on earth we can do with them in terms of creating synths and Euorrack modules. So we don’t have to use the ICs that are in such short supply.
One such project I came across was by a guy called HAGIWO in Japan. Essentially he uses a Raspberry-based Seeed RP2040 computer thingy. So with a bit of software jammed on a chip and a couple of components like knobs and switch to provide the interface, you can create a voltage-controlled oscillator. It’s digital, obviously, generating digital waveforms, but it can be put together in such a nice compact format that it fits into quite a cool-looking Eurorack module.
He’s been working on the project for a while, and on the website, he has every detail down to the front panel design, getting it onto the PCB, soldering, the materials, programming and everything. Ultimately this guy is building an entire modular system, and he’s gone through a lot of modules so far, but this is the first time I’ve become aware of it.
It has a number of waveforms inside. It’s also relatively complex in that you can run one oscillation into another internally and do wavefolding and audio-rate modulation all within the module itself. So it’s a very cool little thing.
So if you fancy building some Eurorack modules but using someone else’s code in order to do that, then this is a great way in. I’m seeing more and more modules built on little micro-controllers like this, like the Electrosmith Daisy and little Arduinos, and there’s a whole bunch of interesting modular that comes out of that. We don’t really care where the waveform comes from, or at least I don’t. I mean, I say I love analogue sounds, which I do, but if that analogue waveform is being generated by a digital source, then I don’t really care. Within these little micro-controllers, we can build entire modular systems and that reduces the number of components you need on the PCB. So we can do innovative and interesting things on a smaller PCB quite cheaply, adding a whole interesting flavour to your modular. It could attract all sorts of people to synthesizer design, like myself, which I’ll talk about in a moment with another thing.
Although coding is not necessarily my thing. I have done it in the past, but it doesn’t thrill me, perhaps, but it’s interesting nonetheless because there’s that desire to design synths and design things that are yours, that come from your mind, and your way of doing things that does at some point bubble over into the idea that, sod it, I’m going to program it into some sort of microcontroller. Because I’m not going to be able to design a PCB and send it for fabrication and so on; that’s a much bigger deal than testing something in software. Sometimes you just want to follow the path of least resistance, and sometimes that’s the path of coding.
- HAGIWO website.
Synthux Academy Simple
So, in that case, let’s jump to the Synthux Academy, which is also about building your own synthesizer. It’s an interesting idea that again makes me feel it’s fabulous but perhaps a little bit sneaky. What I mean is that this is a wonderful looking golden PCB and the marketing behind it goes “Build your own synthesizer!” and you appear to be plugging in a couple of knobs and bits and TA-DA, it’s a synth. But where are all the synthesizer gubbage that makes the sound? Oh, it’s all down in the little Electrosmith Daisy at the bottom. Oh, ok, so actually, it’s not really an analogue synthesizer that we’re putting together – what we’re putting together is a control surface for a digital synthesizer that’s inside this chip – that’s what this is. And that has a whole different flavour to it. Ultimately if you boil it down, if you are coding a synth for a microcomputer, then you are building a synth, it’s just that you’re doing it in a digital form.
The thing itself is this big gold thing with 80 sockets on it that they call footprints, and they will take either a pot, an analogue pot or a switch or a minijack, and you put those in, and you solder the corner wire to a patch bay that patches it into the Daisy microcontroller that you’ve programmed with some kind of synthesizer module thing. So if you want to control the filter, you take the filter from the Daisy to the patchbay to the footprint, and you put a knob on it, so you have analogue control over the digital parameter. It could be MIDI, do we really need to be soldering these components on here because all your doing is creating a controller for it? Or are you? Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong, I don’t know, but I kinda feel there needs to be resistors and capacitors on board to make it feel more like a synthesizer. Whereas I’m just really wiring in a pot to control something. But I guess what you are doing is thinking about interface design, user interface, how you want to control things, your signal routing, inputs, outputs, control voltage connections – is it CV? I guess it is because you have a certain amount of audio inputs/outputs on the Daisy, and so they may as well be CV as opposed to audio.
Ultimately the Synthux Academy wants to teach you about interface design, synthesizer design, layout and all the things that go into making a synthesizer, and that’s a brilliant intention. They’re going to provide not only the kits to get you started but also video tutorials and tutoring on getting the whole thing to come together.
It’s a great idea, and I wish them all the best with it. Again, this alarm goes, “Coding! Coding!” Do I want to waste my life coding? Maybe I do. I mean that’s one of the reasons why they don’t really show any coding on the website, because coding’s boring – it just is. No, it’s not, I mean, it can be for some people, and I think that will scare people off. But if they can entice people in with the idea that it’s a hardware project and you just slip in the bit about the coding and then get back on with the soldering and hardware side. So perhaps the sneakiness in there is trying to encourage us into the idea that coding is ok, easy and straightforward. The software platform that it runs on is now pretty well established, and you can just borrow other people’s ideas and stick them on your chip.
So, yeah, “Simple” it’s called which is not a bad name. Let’s hope that it is! But you can get the PCB direct from them or get a bundle with lots of knobs with the Daisy and Arduino from places like Thonk.co.uk.
- Synthux website.
BoredBrain Connection modules
Back on track with our friends at BoredBrain who are creating some more connectivity modules for your rack. They’re big on this, I mean they’re got the Optics with the the ADAT going in and out was was phenomenal, they’ve also produced a sort of guitar interface which is great for bringing in instruments or guitars and now they’re they’re expanding that kind of signal connection idea into three new modules.
There’s Monitr, UniFX and Xchangr: they have a problem with vowels I think.
UniFX is like a pedal effects chain. So you’ve got an input and output on big jacks, run those through a whole bunch of guitar pedals, run it back in, and it’s perfectly placed to be an effects chain within your Eurorack. Great, simple, you’ve got a Wet/Dry mix which is something that doesn’t often happen in these sorts of things. So that’s an awesome thing to have, although I would like to see a bypass switch – I’m a fan of a bypass switch. Bypasses just don’t seem to be a thing in your rack, which is a shame, I’ve got an effects loop I just want it to no longer be there and rather than dial down the wet mix i just want to kick it out and then perhaps bring it back in like you do. I mean, you know pedals and guitarists are bypassing stuff all the time with the foot switches why can’t we have that in in your Eurorack? Although it does have a CV control over the mix so you could do that with control voltage yeah, okay.
The next one’s called Monitr which is like a big fat output module. But you’ve got two channels, two separate channels, which you can mix together. So you’ve got a main output on big jacks and you’ve got other inputs for these two stereo inputs you can have which you can then mix between but essentially it’s two stereo channels into a single module which gives you a big master output, headphone output, some nice led monitoring, and a nice knob on the front. It’s a good chunky output module.
And lastly we have the Xchangr. Now this is like a couple of auxiliary sends from a mixer. So you send stuff out through an effects loop and it comes back again. It has two stereo sends and one stereo return so presumably you would use one of them out through some effects and back into the return and the other one goes out from through some effects and never comes back, it just goes and it’s gone out there somewhere never to return. So I mean that’s quite cool.
BoredBrain have made some excellent modules, some very very solid competent and chunky modules that work hard. These are phenomenal ways of integrating other bits of external stuff into your eurorack so yeah great stuff.
- BoredBrain website.
- Buy Injectr from Perfect Circuit – https://tinyurl.com/perfect-boredbrain-injectr
- Buy Monitr from Perfect Circuit – https://tinyurl.com/perfect-boredbrain-monitr
- Buy Xchangr from Perfect Circuit – https://tinyurl.com/perfect-boredbrain-xchangr
- Buy Injectr from Clockface Modular – https://tinyurl.com/clockface-boredbrain-injectr
“Delta” MIDI 001:model D
The annoyingly named “Delta” MIDI. I mean, it’s annoying only because they use the Greek symbol for delta, which is difficult to type if you’re trying to write about it or you’re trying to google it. Honestly, people need to think more about their company names and their product names they really do, but that’s not for me to say. I mean, hey, get creative out there, man, put it all in Greek letters, that’ll get you found on Google, no bother, one should think.
Anyway, Delta” MIDI 001:model D is a mouthful of a hardware controller for your software Minimoog. This is something we’ve seen before from Sound Force, where you have a hardware MIDI controller for a specific software synthesizer. This is a new one, it’s nicely and neatly compact and gives you the layout that you know. It’s not baked into a wooden case, so it’s actually quite affordable and gives you a great way of controlling your software in an intuitive hardware sense.
Now, of course, you can use any MIDI controller to control your software, so why have one that’s specifically tied to a particular piece of software? Well, simply because you’re trying to emulate that hardware experience, and if all the knobs are where the knobs are on the screen, then you actually don’t have to look at the screen anywhere near as much, and it becomes a hardware experience, and that can be very interesting. It’s a nice idea. It’s a bit luxurious perhaps to have an individual controller for a piece of software, considering you might have dozens of software synthesizers, in order to give you a really good Model-D experience. The only slight problem is the cost. I mean it’s cheaper than the Soundforce one because it doesn’t have the wooden sides and the case and that kind of thing it’s much more stripped down. But I do actually like the look of it and the fact that it’s using pots rather than encoders which gives it much more of a hardware feel which I think is a great idea. But you still end up probably paying more than you would for buying a Behringer Model-D which is an actual analogue synthesizer.
So it’s difficult to produce a MIDI controller of this sort of quality for this sort of control that’scheap enough to make you think it’s a throwaway purchase. However, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys using software synthesizers within your studio because they’re much more recallable, they’re part of your project, then they make a lot of sense.
- Delta MIDI website.
ST Modular Euphoria
ST Modular makes beautiful beautiful things and this is absolutely the pinnacle of what he’s done so far. Euphoria is a complete semi-modular monosynth inspired by the Buchla Music Easel, but it completely doesn’t look that way. Once you boil it down to its components and all those sliders, the wave folding, function generator, you can see where those bits and pieces come from. But the design of it and the look of it and the flow of it, they are just gorgeous. And the funny thing is that he only ever produces the front panel in the PCB and so the knobs are completely arbitrary. You can get whatever knobs you like but his choices, the aesthetic that he uses, the colour choices of these pieces are just brilliantly chosen, exquisite I would say. So you have this gorgeous thing in these videos it’s glowing and bubbling and moving about and it just looks like this could be a fantastic project for somebody.
It has about 14 different modules built in and they’ve done it in a modular fashion so that each of the modules has its own PCB. So rather than one big PCB that you then have to to build and populate, you’ve got 14 individual PCBs so that if something goes wrong in one of them you don’t have to break the whole thing in order to try and work out what’s wrong. You will not, at least not initially, be able to buy it built unless you get someone to build it for you. But then it’s going to get a lot more expensive quite quickly because there’s a lot of stuff, a lot of components going on in here to build this sort of thing, and each of the 14 individual modules requires soldering surface mount components as well as through-hole. But because it’s individual, if you have trouble with one section it means you can still use the rest of it while you troubleshoot that little bit. So that’s quite interesting.
There’s also some upgradeable possibilities where you can make choices on the PCB which affect whether you want an extra this, or an extra that; it’s very very adaptable and versatile. You have to make choices as the builder of the synthesizer as to how you want it to be, as well as the front panel aesthetic. The front panel is done for you but the knobs and those sorts of things, those choices of components even down to the colors of the leads, are down to you.
I believe that Pusherman Productions will be doing a kit version of this in limited numbers because it’s going to get expensive. ST Modular reckons you could build it for 600 quid, but that seems a little bit of an underestimate I would say. If you factor in your time, then it’s completely priceless because it’s going to take you a fair while. So once I’ve finished the Deckard’s Dream and the Kosmo format modules, then maybe I’ll give that a go. It’s a beautiful-looking thing.
It’s interesting that my entire talk about it was purely about what it looks like, nothing to do with what it sounds like. Do I care what it sounds like? No, I’ve looked at all the videos with the volume down, I’ve just gone, “that looks beautiful, gotta have it”. Why do we do that? Why do I do that? I need a good talking to. Someone needs to sit me down and make me listen to those waveforms, and you need to listen to them raw, right, no effects, otherwise, that’s cheating. You’ve got to listen to the raw sawtooth sound for five minutes, at least, at different octaves, going yeah, saw tooths…
But honestly, in the demos, it does sound great in a, you know, a Buchla blippy bloopy kind of interesting wavefoldery way.
- ST Modular website.
Aly James OB-Xtreme 2.0
I spoke earlier of the magical Gforce SEM well there’s another Oberheim emulation out there called the OB-Xtreme, and it’s just hit version two. It’s from someone called Aly James, and it’s quite phenomenal. It’s taken on the OBX, OBX-8, the OBXa, all the OBX’s and dragged them into a single powerful, big and bonkers software emulation of a synthesizer. It’s an eight-voice polysynth and also has a voice unison mode, and bizarrely you can mix the unison with the polyphonic engine to create an eight-voice polyphonic eight-stacked layered voice of unisons. That’s a lot of oscillators.
It’s got quite a cool interface where you can turn it inside out and start fiddling with individual voice cards which I quite like. And they’ve built in a whole load of extra falling apartness so you can like play with other voice card and bits will start falling off, and it will sound slightly worse or slightly better depending on on your view. So there’s a ton of deviation, a ton of offsets, there’s macro knobs in order to push lots of different parameters in different directions to give you very pleasing outcomes. It’s just a nice, well-put-together Oberheim-sounding software synthesizer.
- Aly James website.
Fully Wired DPA
Now, this is an example of what I said earlier about supporting the boutique modular makers and sellers and bits and pieces. I’m always very keen to support new modular makers, so if you are a new modular maker, then do get in touch. I’m happy to talk about you and to encourage them along the way to producing more and more different and exciting models.
Of course, everybody starts with an attenuator, and Fully Wided Electronics are no different. Their first thing is called the DPA the Dual Passive Attenuator. It’s passive, so no power supply is required it just does its thing. Attenuation, we all need attenuation. We need to turn stuff down because we’re too loud nearly all the time, too extreme at every point. And it’s dual, so there’s two of them.
Now, Dan, who’s behind the Fully Wired Electronics has been working with Stochastic Instruments for a long time, building all their bits and pieces, and is now starting to strike out by himself. He has a whole load of stuff ready to go but he’s just testing the waters with an attenuator. What’s interesting about this particular one is that it has a little switch to move between linear and exponential. So linear is preferred for CV, for control voltages, and exponential is preferred for audio. One is normalized to two, so you can put one thing in the top and get two different versions coming out the bottom.
Simple, straightforward, and passive, it will just pop into your rack somewhere and do its job day in and day out. It’s only 30 quid and comes with a free pair of Knurlies.
- Fully Wired Electronics website.
MidiTraC is an interesting sort of clackady keyboard buttony type sequencer for polyphonic synthesizers. It’s very small, with lovely cracky keys and will give you 16 channels of polyphonic sequencing for all of your polyphonic synthesizers. It’s based on patterns and songs, you put together different patterns and then move between them. You’ve got momentary mute switches on different channels that you can wire in and put in you can transpose on the fly. You can swap patterns, it’s got a very simple display which then gives you a bit of a deep dive into some kind of menu system. It has a lot of features baked inside there. You’ve got a lot of randomization that you can apply to sequence generation. You can set scaling and range levels to that so that the randomization isn’t too crazy and it happens within a small defined field.
And this is all MIDI going out to your gear, it’s not about control voltage. This is about sequencing those synths you’ve got stacked up on your rack that you occasionally plug into your DAW. It’s quite interesting.
You can go from a single midi controller into it, and it will record everything. It doesn’t care what sort of MIDI you put into it it’ll just keep capturing it, so whatever knobs you move, any expression you put in, you know aftertouch, modulation, CC numbers it will take all of it within its loop and then allow you to overdub over the top. Then you can move to another synth or another MIDI channel and do the same and keep on building it like an audio looper. You can also do step recording as well as live recording, it’s got arpeggiation built in there and all sorts of quantization options.
It’s currently a bit of a developing project from a guy called Alfred from Alfred Labs and his idea, his intention is that this is a labour of love that he’s been working on. He would really like it to sort of find its way to a new level where a manufacturer can take it on to give it a bit of a wider reach because he can build a few himself and he has been he’s been putting those out there but you know he’s got a day job like most of us and hasn’t got the time to turn into a full-time sequencer maker. But once he gets a little bit more coverage and people get to know about it then maybe someone out there will be able to take on the idea of producing these in larger numbers.
I really like the fact that it’s so compact that it can sit there and you can just plug and, you know, a chain of polysynths into it and just get busy without having to worry about your computer, or other bits and pieces, you can just get straight to it, and that definitely appeals to me. Also, in a live performance context, swap patterns very easily and mute different bits in and out from a simple small device. Yeah, that’s interesting, a lot of potential in that, I think.
- MidiTraC YouTube page.
SynthFest and Molten Modular Synth Meet
And finally, tickets are on sale now for SynthFest UK. It’s on the 8th of October up in Sheffield in the place where it normally is, and there will be exhibitions, there will be modular, there will be retailers, there’ll be seminars, workshops, panels, all sorts of stuff happening up there. It’s a really fun time and I absolutely hope to go. I don’t know yet whether I’m just going as a punter or if I’m going and doing something, who knows? You know, I’m available, you could book me for a party, and I’m quite happy to come along and talk modular for a bit, otherwise I’ll just turn up and have a good time, and that’s also a good option.
- Synthfest website.
I also wanted to hint at something that is bubbling away in the background that has the potential to be serious, and that is the very first Molten Modular Synth Meet.
It’s an event which is being sketched out at the moment. It will be in Norwich because we don’t seem to get very much up our way, so I felt there was a hole. Norwich could be a fantastic place to get together to talk about modular and synthesizers in a big one-day-only event full of performances and stuff. So I’m currently talking to a few people and trying to find a venue to put all this sort of thing together.
I’m thinking November might be a good dead month when nothing else is going on. I’ve got a load of stuff I’ll drag along and you can have a poke and see what it’s all about, do a few performances, I’ll get some world famous class acts down to perform for free. Sso if you’re a first-class act out there who’s never performed in Norwich and fancies giving that a go to 12 people in a pub back room in November then do give me a shout. And I mean that sincerely.
I am going to endeavor to try to put this together and it could be exciting, but it’s only going to be exciting if people come, if people bring stuff, if you book a table and bring your modular or bring a synthesizer to show. So, any manufacturers out there if you want to come and do your thing after you’ve got over SynthFest then come we’ll have space for you no doubt. If you’re a shop and want to sell stuff come and do it. You’ve got a t-shirt or stickers bring the lot or just come down and have a poke around. As I say, I’ve got at least three things I can bring and we can all sit around going “oh yeah, that’s nice that’s nice, what’s this then?” That kind of thing. It’ll be great!
Nothing is confirmed, I have no venue I have no idea what I’m doing but the idea itself has taken root somewhere and so I tend to find that when that happens, I somehow through just brute force and willpower bring things into being. So it’s there at the moment, it’s on its journey, so there’s every possibility that it may occur. That’s something to look forward to later in the year, and I’ll keep you updated on what’s going on but by all means let me know if you’re interested in coming. Or if you want to do something and have any ideas do get in touch, I’m absolutely open to anyone who has a plan, anyone who happens to own the Theater Royal or a decent exhibition space that wants to give it to us free. That would be awesome!
So yeah, I think that’ll do, I think that’s plenty, so what’s coming up? Well my projects for the summer, because summer is weird in that I get less time but then also I get more time because I’m going away a bit, the kids are around, but also not having to to pick kids up from school or get them ready for school in the morning. So that slice of time is reclaimed as well as giving away to other things. So my plan over the summer is to do a few particular videos. I want to do a video on the Moog Mavis which I have over there and compare it to things like the Cre8audio East West Pest Beast thing and maybe the a couple of other synths. I want to do a bit on the Behringer 2500 modular, I want to do a bit more tape stuff, I’ve got a number of modules to demonstrate and to show you, as well as there’s an electronic open mic night on the 4th of August in Norwich at a new venue. I’m definitely planning to go and planning to play if only I can pull it all together. So, if you look for Electronic Music Open Mic Night Norwich on Facebook you’ll come across it somewhere. Here’s a video of the patch I created for EMOM.
This Sunday let’s have a beer, let’s relax, chill out live streaming at eight o’clock BST, and we’ll talk about these sorts of things (that’s now happened – see video below). We talked about the possibility of this Molten Modular Meet thing last month in the last livestream which has kind of kicked me off about it, but I think the idea of having it on a boat on the Broads is just not a goer, but it was something that we talked about in the last live stream which was very cool. So let’s talk about more of that this month otherwise, I think that’s pretty much it for now.
I think another Erica Synth build will be coming up very soon in a week or two. I think it’s the Sample and Hold/Noise module, so yeah, I will give that a go somewhere between holidays and bits and pieces, so do look out for that. Also, my experiment of doing a written version of the Molten Monthly is is still trucking along, and you’ll find that on our website a couple of days after the video goes live. So if you’re interested in reading something or want to go back and read it, then go and check it out. So that’ll do it I think, see you Sunday in the meantime, go make some tunes.
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