Category Archives: Interview

NAMM 2017 - Day 0

Analogue Zone is live and direct at NAMM, bringing us the latest and greatest at breakneck speed! Here is Day 0 with lots of eurorack news  – yes, literally during the show was still being built.
4ms Company came up with the latest and we guess the almost final version of a sampler with enough ease of use, memory and depth – a great and easy to use sampler that is in harmony with their earlier dual modules that you can get crazy with using their ground-breaking clock modules that made them famous… The new Tapographic Delay could be called a good contestant of the Rainmaker with less width. the price will be in the range of the SMR.

 Qu-Bit Electronix gives us the the Tone – a quad voltage control 24dB lowpass-bandpass filter – probably designed for the fantastically sounding Chord, and the Chance module, a Swiss Army knife of random signals including random rhythmic patterns. The Contour – a more modern take on the quad ADSR concept (coined in first by Doepfer) – shipping next week! Their Mixology has been updated with send-return, size-increase(!) thank god!) plenty of gain, and so on…

Pittsburgh Modular has updated their Lifeforms series with filters (a vactrolesque filter with unstable mode), adsr, mixers with new routings, oscillators …and and yes.. an in-rack mixer 🙂 Also, they have a new line of cases – with enough power till the next century.

WMD came up with a prototype trigger sequencer (an A-157 on steroids in short) Arpitecht, a beautiful quantizer concept.  Also (dj and live) performance oriented tools are a compressor, a filter with stereo width effect have been seen in their rack this year!

Steven Hansleigh from 2hp introduced yet again(!) a few new 2HP modules, including known concepts such as the tiniest Turing Machine, a multiple Clock source module or sample-and-holds which are new in this size. Each user will find at least one cool module to fill up the remaining 2HP space of their racks.
Endorphines were busy with updating their Shuttle Control, and their Grand Terminal is also ready for shipping. The Cockpit which we have seen last year is also an amazing routing and compression mixer tool!

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Superbooth '16 - Day #1

superbooth-day-1Being not so long after NAMM, Superbooth challenged both manufacturers and developers to come up with some surprises. Overall, it seems that many of them succeeded! You can find tiny but nice upgrades and completely new surprise systems from your favourite eurorack manufacturers. Here are the videos from Day 1.

We were waiting, we have been waiting and we will be waiting: Dave Rossum answered a few questions about the new phase modulation sampler module to be released by the end of this year:

A huge step up for Expert Sleepers – Disting MKIII users. Os introduced the sample playback and vocoder functions on the Disting along with a new module: the ES-8 will be adapting your line and modular level signals:

Doepfer Musikelektronik is alive and well: Dieter Doepfer is reintroducing a new version of their high-end VCO, the long awaited trigger sequencer is here, not to mention that thanks to the upcoming A-184-2 module and the already available PWM Module it won’t cause any problems to add extra waveforms to virtually any of their modules. A very basic but very handy set of new modules!

The surprise of the first day was Erica Synths and their Pico 3HP modules. That system is a fully functional and very clever “drum and synth” voice including sequencer and outputs!

Dave Smith Instruments came up with a eurorack module. The DSM-03 adds tuned feedback and Karplus Strong flanges to the soudn of their line of modules – or anything you want to use it with.

Dreaming about Akemie’s Castle, but not having the budget? ALM tries to help you with their new FM drum module with built-in envelope and basic functions built around the same Yamaha chip that made the others famous!

Allan J. Hall of AJH Synth was saying hello to Analogue Zone, and reintroduced some old treasures, a new-old and updated ladder filter design and an especially decent sounding Ring Modulator.

Dan Green from 4ms Company was explaining the new features of the Dual Looping Delay and the vocoder feature on their award-winning Spectral Multiband Resonator.

ADDAC is teaming up with EHX and they are coming up with some great new module concepts that will integrate a lot of digital systems into the analog world and vice versa!

Moritz from Endorphines introduced an upgraded new envelope generator, the Terminal, and also a handy mixer module:

Fraptools is revolutionising mixing and live performance in a really contributing way:

So far, that is it for day 1. We are coming back with more tomorrow!

NAMM '16 - Two living legends join the eurorack community

As some of you might have seen, Tom Oberheim and Dave Rossum, two living legends of synthesis (SEM and OB Synths, the name E-MU and more…) have joined the eurorack world.
Tom Oberheim has introduced two of their eurorack modules. In his conversation with Analogue Zone, he confirmed that not only the SEM Plus is exactly the same circuitry as the desktop version, but it marion-systems-corporation-oberheim-sem-plus-modulewill also feature more waveforms and more patch points, so every parameter will be voltage controlled and can be patched out to use with your other favourite eurorack modules. Along with the SEM Plus, a sequencer was also introduced with full on MIDI in and out, preset storage, ratcheting, A/B pattern and portamento, and many more…

The man behind Rossum Electro Music is another man that needs no introduction. Let it be the E-MU Modular in the 70’s, or the classic SP samplers, analog or digital, this man is a driving force behind electronic music in the last few decades. His latest two modules, the Evolution is the control-forgeclassic ladder filter with unprecedented details though, not to mention the Morpheus, a filter with the greatly sought-after morphing function – only available as a standalone and standard feature from Synthesis Technology previously in eurorack. The most detailed envelope generator, highly praised, often compared to the complexity of the Buchla systems was also introduced here. We also saw the Satellite, a sequencer/LFO combo.
We thought that the man should speak for himself, so we made an exclusive interview with him. Dave told us about the past, the challenges of eurorack adaptation, the complexity of the Control Forge, and the warm atmosphere of the eurorack world:

 It seems that the old masters are here in eurorack at last, and they are here to say. Tom closes his presentation with suggesting that it is just the begninng of an Oberheim eurorack system! We would like to give a warm welcome to these legendary instrument makers!

Sculpting and coloration in synthesis - Andreas Zhukovsky (Endorphin.es)

Endorphin.es is about novel things that you feel good with. Their introduction of a radically new design philosophy, which has broken the monotony of the many ever-silver eurorack frontplates with the most playful and colorful looks is just the outside. They provide innovations that make you have fun with complexity, without scratching your head too much. We talked to Andreas Zhukovsky from the company to tell his stories about their first module, their approach with their latest hardware updates and last but not least, what they are bringing to NAMM2016 which Analogue Zone will be covering on its Youtube channel!
 
Endorphin.es Furthrrrr VCO was something just a bit ahead of its time. It was among the first comlpex eurorack oscillators on the market. The former two oscillators were recreations of the 259 Buchla oscillators but in my opinion Endorphin.es cute monster won in my opinion as far as forward thinking and musicality is considered. At the time of designing, Andreas had an idea about doing synthesis backwards:
 
Andreas & Moritz from Endorphin.es (source: Horizontal Pitch)
Andreas & Moritz from Endorphin.es (photo: Horizontal Pitch)

“….a thing-in-itself approach – to test if harmonic’s waveshaping in analog environment will work out in an interesting way. In experimental and avant-garde music filters come after the oscillators and playing with the harmonics in an interesting way recreates the principle of a filter somehow. One simply have to apply different modulations to play with the harmonics instead of filtering. There was a very good example from WIZOO’s Kawai K5000 book [Kawai K5000: Introduction to Additive Synthesis, Advanced Sound Design, Tips And Tricks by Dave Bellingham and Peter Gorges] to describe difference with that – namely nowadays we call it east- and westcoast – as you make a statue from a piece of stone cutting off the rest or as you paint the picture and mixing different colors. And both means give interesting output and evolve with one another.”

Apart from endless tonal variations one will just never forget about the gorgeous-looking sweet design once it was seen somewhere. Actually, it was the first frontplate I was proudly showing it to people uninsterested in synthesis before (yes, women as well). They did start asking questions. Also, I read a dozens of pages of forum discussions about the look “not being serious”. It really broke apart from everything at the time, while remaining functional as well:
 
furthrrr
(Photo: greatsynthesizers.com)

“Our initial approach didn’t suppose making a faceplates just for the fun but a meaningful instrument that someone will use. A real tool for artists. Endorphines grew up like weed and now we have a full system – an independent performance instrument. We travel with it all over the world in hand luggage and don’t even bother if it is ~220v or ~110v in the wall outlet. We also make approaches into related but differently established spheres of industrial design. We are interested into visuals and apparel and you will see some new stuff at upcoming NAMM Show 2016 and later on at SUPERBOOTH16. So far, we developed pretty much a lot for that time we are not ashamed about.”

 
Technology and innovation is another place where Endorphin.es have provided us with unprecedented tools…
 
When it cterminalomes to the functions – usually a few words is enough to describe something that module can do. However technically that always a big challenge to implement every even tiny but smart feature, that comes out afterwards in a complex rework. For years we try to improgatewayve or even re-invent the approaches of interacting with instrument. We truly believe our new auto-tuners in the Gateway is a breakthrough in sense the tuning the oscillators – it is a one-button-press solution. Our envelopes in Terminal don’t stretch in time when changing the slopes of the curves and easily go into voltage controlled audio range and even without aliasing:

“We’ve made band-limited triangle VCO core same as our initial analog one with both hard and soft syncs – the new Strong Zero VCO core for Furthrrrr Generator, so aurally people even may not even feel the difference until it comes to a musical linear FM.”
While a lot of things have become common sense in synthesis for a wide range of users, thru-zero FM still leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. Well, it adds all these metallic, bell-like, whistiling and crystalline tones to your oscillator – if it is capable of accepting it. Thru-zero means that the voltages “cross” the 0V section and start moving backwards – that is why this modulation is so rich in tones, because otherwise only the positive end would have been affected. A VCO core’s manufacturing process would be considered as dry and not so exciting, however Andreas and his team have found the handcrafting beauty in it as well:
 

“Utilizing the same pinout from stock analog VCO chips, we
did a digital implementation of that core that accepted same voltages, tracked the same frequency range (1v/oct endzero_3 (1)usually even without v/oct re-tuning), and had all the functions one may ever need from a VCO. Every Furthrrrr Generator is supported. Because of a very small space on a PCB, we had to use very dense double-sided components placement and increase the length to fit the STM32 ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller. 
There is enough space on the backside of the Furthrrrr so the new core may fit there anyway, however we already found very cool metal boxes and liked them so much – a special packaging into which the new VCO core must fit and in which it should be delivered to the customers. The metal box from a VCO core may be used afterwards for storing some small things like pills etc. After a few days we’ve managed to make the Strong Zero VCO core length of 42 mm which is less than two centimeter increase comparing to the stock VCO which is 24 mm:

 vco-cores
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Simultaneously with the Gateway (Terminal XPansion) we released Strong Zero VCO Core. From the beginning we had our own analog VCO cores for Furthrrrr Generators – small discrete chips, which are manufactured and encapsulated separately and then attached in the sockets to the rear side of the Furthrrrr. The core itself is a heart of the oscillator that generates basic triangle and square waveforms from which all the rest waveshapes are derived. It may look like a routine process to make a separate small PCBs with the size of a DIP chip. Then find proper thermal conductive epoxy that enables proper compound of elements in exponential converter and make it stable under thermal fluctuations. After roundabout two days epoxy is fully dry and the cores are ready to oscillate. After all, that becomes a pure handmade labor of love.”
 The company does not just physically update their products – the line of expansion the release of the Shuttle control module itself have given a very well thought out and undeniably one-of-a-kind feature – which is not just closed to one system. I love the idea of hitting some patching going on a tablet on the way home which would wait for you… And that is what the Shuttle control does already with more functions:
 
Shuttle Control easily holds any USB-MIDI controller simultaneously with iOS/Mac/PC and the new Cargo2 shuttle-control-firmware with bi-directional MIDI-THRU and tap LFO is lovely, just lovely. This new Cargo2 v2 firmware for Shuttle Control with a lots of new additions and bugs fixes was recently released (http://firmware.endorphin.es). We were working on it and tested so hard so now it seems a proper time to announcement. That’s not a simple bug fix but a fundamental update recommended for every Shuttle user.  After stabilizing the MIDI Sync clock and adding some old USB-MIDI devices support we added bi-directional MIDI THRU from USB device-to-host and vice versa incl. host loop-back. You may now play a MIDI keyboard and simultaneously record the notes into your DAW or distribute clock from your Mac running Ableton Live to Novation Bass Station 2 and modular both connected to Shuttle or create a chain of your MIDI devices. Musicians may find useful TAP LFO controlled by a certain (or any) note to immediately synchronize your layout after literally three consequence finger taps on your keyboard. After Dave Smith followed Endorphines and implemented linear FM at his Prophet 12, we implemented more classical polyphonic voices allocation (CV/GATE) to prevent notes interruption by upcoming notes as was introduced in early Prophet and Oberheim synthesizers. “
The best thing about Endorphin.es is that they are selfless and altruistic when it comes to compatibility with other manufacturers who would in one way or another their competitors. The latest addition of the Cargo 2 firmware is another proof of this:
 
“Recently we’ve got a few emails from entirely different persons who wanted to connect their Elektron Octatrack or Analog Rythm to the Shuttle Control and while Elektrons act as a master clock, use one more MIDI controller to play notes or generate CC for modular. After a short brainstorming, a complement mate to a Shuttle was created and will be released at upcoming NAMM. We look forward to a deeper iOS integration into a modular system (and even when no one cares Apple may abandon headphone jack in the new iOS devices) – we will show at NAMM some finalizing and missing part to complement full 84HP-ed Endorphines row in a smart housing.”
 
 

Follow Analogue Zone’s Youtube channel for a dozens of exclusive videos covering NAMM this year!

We are talking about musical instruments after all - Konstantin Gervis (ZV_K - Tiptop Audio) interview

Konstantin Gervis has a long running path as a live performer. His approach to electronic music is simplistic and rigorous: regarding synthesizers and drum synthesizers as instruments which have to be learnt and practised over and over are often forgotten nowadays in the fast-paced world of tutorials and demos. This article is based on conversations we started with him at Budapest Music Expo’s Analogue Zone booth where he was demonstrating his Tiptop Audio rack – the brand to which he has been loyal since the introduction of their revolutionary TR-drum modules. Apart from talking of the best features that Tiptop Audio tools offer, he also gave us an eye on what is forthcoming from the manufacturer.

“My involvement with the company began when Gur was designing Station 252, I contacted him begging to make the case hand luggage compatible, sending him  various airports and airlines allowances for hand luggage, that I was researching  at the time. Also around that time I started getting back into playing techno again after an 8 year long break, I wasn’t happy with the drum sounds I was getting out of my machinedrum even though it was good for various percussion or even melodic sounds it wasn’t cutting it for me for the most important sounds, namely bass drums, hats, cymbals and toms. Basically I wanted a 909 and an 808.”

Konstantin saw the release of drum modules widely available and sounding exactly as – or to some extent even better than – the old Roland drum machines that defined genres as one of the greatest moments in his life. But not only these fantastic drum modules – tailor-made for eurorack modular environments – and their extra functions that had not been available in the originals kept his heart beating: it was Tiptop’s sequencers that completed the drum circle.

“…using single manufacturers’ systems or sub-systems or voices is the best way to use modules, the experience becomes more coherent and thus easier to actually create music as we are talking about musical instruments not some collector’s items after all. (…) What I find extremely fascinating regarding the modular in general is not so much the sound or sound creation possibilities (which is great, but so are many other instruments), but the clocking and sequencing arrangements, where splitting pitch values from triggers and poly rhythms  is easily achieved and controlled. That’s where Circadian Rhythms and Trigger Riot are second to none. The Circadian’s timing is phenomenal and the swing is the best I have ever used. It is very easy to use, it is very ergonomic and very playable.”

His live performance rig does not end up at the drum modules and Circadian Rhythms, as the clock is distributed towards the Trigger Riot, a very refreshing concept, propagating towards alternative paths today’s next gen x0x drum sequencers. It is a clock divider multiplier module that works in Matrix or independent mode, hence each change of one beat affects the other outputs as well. (check
out our exclusive video with the module
).

konstantin-mannequins
Konstantin Gervis – Budapest Music Expo 2015 Analogue Zone Booth

“The Trigger Riot is the best clock divider/multiplier there is, and more. The possibilities are just mind blowing. the fact that you can recall complex clocking arrangements is a game changer for me, priceless in a live situation. The latest firmware added some very cool functions.”

As in all modular systems, audio and modulation signals meet at one point. Konstantin is happy to process digital fx on his Z-DSP with his Z3000 oscillator which goes up to 32KHz. But we should not forget, that his Tiptop stack cables are used to connect all the modulation / information in his system. He points out very straighforwardly why these innovations are so brilliant in the eurorack world:

“The Stackables: for me those are the norm, I think multiples belong to the 5U world, but totally counter-productive and very messy in Eurorack. Now we can just relax like all those lucky Banana [cable] lovers, but shielded, so even more relaxed :)”

The MIXZ module add up to the reduction of cables since the audio can be mixed through the bus board while not picking up any unwanted noise.  Konstantin mentioned during his stay that the new quantizer module by Tiptop will be able to make a clock / preset change connection between their modules, with the use of just one cable. It will result in more integration and a downsized cable jungle.

However convenience is already unlike anything that he used to experience. It takes the shortest time ever to get their systems set up when they are playing live together as ZV_K.  It’s also great how tweakable everything is in a modular system and he hopes to hear more people using it live, jamming electronic dance music, as any other musician would do:

Tiptop Audio - BD909
Tiptop Audio – BD909

“I really want to hear more people playing with modulars as it really sounds glorious on  proper PA systems. You don’t think the BD909 sounds like whatever you want it to sound? just go and test it on a Function One….. ”  (…) “I haven’t seen anyone playing pure modular sets except of Martin Dubka, who is vey very good! You can definitely find more courageous musicians playing modulars in the less famous locations. There are at least two event lines that represent modular (mostly) artists with an accent on techno but not elusively: Modulism, run buy Will Rankin with cooperation with TipTop Audio and Clockworks, run by Wouter von Jaspers from Koma Electronic.”

Apart from these tools that Tiptop Audio produced in the last few years or are to be releasing soon, Konstantin had a hard time to think about anything he actually lacks from their current live/studio setup. He says he would never see anything in futuristic eye-candy tools that are not practical:

trigger-riot
Tiptop Audio – Trigger Riot

“I want the people to start writing actual music with what we already have, music that is made by humans and move other humans. Made by playing and not drawing automation curves. It doesn’t matter if it was played with machines or acoustic instruments.  I want go to concerts and enjoy the music, enjoy watching people perform. I don’t want to be entertained, i want an experience. As i am myself not and never will be an Ready to play live - ZV_Kentertainer, i’m here to give you a never to be repeated musical experience, you either like it and flow with me or not. So no, not interested in gloves, wireless floating in space controllers, million and one buttons futuristically spaced over a cactus.  That stuff should be in museums, galleries, art installations. Only interested in Eurorack Modular Systems and modules made by some of the greatest instrument designers of our time – people that I love, respect and trust.”

 Konstantin’s recordings from Budapest

 ZV_K Official
Tiptop Audio @ Analogue Zone

"Avoid the trap of sounding like a plugin with CV inputs" - In conversation with Scott Jaeger aka The Harvestman

The Harvestman designs and manufactures odd audio performance instrumentation. How can an audio performance be “odd” when nowadays everyone boasts about the sounds or tools they use or make in a similar fashion? We had an eye-opening conversation with Scott Jaeger, the man behind The Harvestman which shed light on what drives building and designs forward, why analog and digital did not – and has not ever really mattered – and what is on the horizon in the eurorack modular scene.
Analogue Zone: You started getting really into modular designs and offering to a small number of people back then, which you described as a receptive audience? Could you give us some insights on those days and compare it with what is going on now?

Back in 2006, the audience could be better be described as a “community” instead of a “market”. There were only 3 or 4 active Eurorack designers operating in the United States, and the methods of sharing information between designers were more straightforward. Now, there has been a significant advancement in the state of the art, and the rate of innovation is much better. However, the instrument designers have largely been forced to operate their companies as legitimate businesses, as the demand for retail products increases. Without adding the overhead of personnel and administration, much time is distracted from the design and development of the instruments. I’ve spent much time over the last few years finding a balance that is appropriate for the operation of my company.

Scott Jaeger aka The Harvestman
Scott Jaeger aka The Harvestman

Darkplace Manufacturing deserves a special mention for skillfully taking on the labor of producing the modules for the last two years. Their type of operation simply wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago, and with as much as I complain about the recent challenges of running a synthesizer company these days, their enthusiastic help has made the task of physically producing the devices so much more exciting than it would be otherwise.

AZ: In general, Don’t you see a larger risk in mass production?

Yes. Significant investments must be made, particularly in large quantities of custom parts that are often unique to a single product. The failure to sell sufficient quantities of a single product could be disastrous at the small scale that The Harvestman (and similarly sized companies) operate. I refuse to compromise the features of the designs to influence sales of a product, so instead only the designs that are most likely to sell shall make it to production. Fortunately some dealers seem to like the majority of my offerings, so I’ve rarely run into trouble with unpopular designs.

AZ: You were working with a Doepfer system earlier which made you realise a couple of things you wanted in eurorack which had not existed before. Have you already realised all these ‘early dreams’ or are there still a few things you have not completed?
malgorithm-mkII-500x500
Malgorithm MKII – based on the first ever voltage controlled bitcrusher design by the Harvestman

The last of the ‘early dreams’ will be realised next year. Some involve advanced digital processing that is optimized for the live performance of modular sound. The ideas are still relevant and are unable to be realized by any designer other than myself – the peculiarities of these designs’ algorithm, interface, and application are simply too specific to my own experiences as an engineer and musician to easily fit into any extant product category. Occasionally new ideas develop from the successful completion of an earlier project and that has been a distraction from completing the first generation of these early ideas you mention…

AZ: …And to what extent has user feedback “distracted” you as well as your own expolration into making?

I don’t see it as a distraction. The users of my product are, generally speaking, aware of the character of The Harvestman designs and their difference from other approaches. I don’t usually have to deal with fundamental misunderstandings of the work.  Some particularly enthusiastic users do offer feedback and it’s helpful for addressing the reality of selecting ideas for development into retail products.

AZ: Digital has stopped becoming a ‘dirty word’ already, as you have predicted. Do ever users urge you to revisit old analog designs apart from the utility modules and the Iron Curtain series?
The Harvestman - Polivoks VCF MKII
The Harvestman – Polivoks VCF MKII

I don’t feel a lot of pressure from customers to design “analog” or “digital” materials, but the designs usually are demanding enough that digital implementations are the better choice. Vladimir Kuzmin is always full of good ideas on new and old analog circuits that he is designed, and we’ll produce a few items beyond the Polivoks series in the future. I’ve also become much better at engineering my own (digitally controlled) analog designs, some will be produced soon.

I don’t feel that the spirit of digital synthesizer design is explored to its fullest today. Look at some classic digital designs from the 80s like the Prophet VS or Microwave. These, probably the most characterful of digital synthesizers, derive much of that character from the limitations of their support circuitry instead of the synthesis algorithm (this is not a discussion of user interface.) Other than my own designs, I’ve not seen many modern digital modules that deliberately address this source of sonic character. I take great care to avoid the trap of sounding like “a plugin with CV inputs”, so my own personal discrimination of “analog” versus “digital” is less strictly defined.

AZ: Stephen at Noise Engineering mentions “dirty digital”. Are you referring to that kind of sound? Could you give me an example that you are personally fond of?

Here’s a good example: take a Sequential Prophet VS and a Dave Smith Evolver. Set up a simple patch with the filters wide open, single oscillator, identical waveforms selected, no modulations, etc. While the Evolver is an astonishingly good design in other ways, the VS has a “weight” to the sound that few other synthesizers do.

The Harvestman - Zorlon Cannon MKII
The Harvestman – Zorlon Cannon MKII

The signal path of that instrument is more complicated and there are numerous opportunities for unintended corruption of the audio signal in musically beneficial ways. I have my own ways of introducing that kind of behavior into otherwise well-meaning circuits.

I’m saying that there is far more to the good character of a digital/analog hybrid musical instrument than the software program, and it’s not a contest of specsmanship.

AZ: The capabilities of digital circuits have also been occupying my thoughts recently. How do you like the Black Digital Noise module of Erica Synths? The revisited idea of using data scrambling – typical for anyone who have heard a dialup modem working – is just amazing to me.

I’ve only seen the Erica module at Musikmesse and haven’t had the chance to use one myself. The operating principle is similar to some of my favorite Eurorack modules – the Malekko Richter Noise Ring, the Livewire Chaos Computer, and my own Zorlon Cannon mk2, but with a different style of realtime control.
AZ: What has been the most popular design of The Harvestman so far?

The Polivoks VCF, being both an analog design and a version of a “classic” synthesizer circuit, has naturally been a strong seller. From my own designs, the Piston Honda mk II has been the best.

AZ: Where do you get inspiration other than certain genres of music and circuit descriptions?

Other than my own performance needs, I am inspired to design interfaces that allow musicians to access novel sound and control techniques that haven’t been explored in the context of a performance synthesizer. The sonic qualities of early industrial

Scott's current workshop
Scott’s current workshop

music, or obscure devices and performance techniques can sometimes inform my design process. We are still cleaning up after several decades of restricted information flow – so much of what defines an “analog” synthesizer or “experimental” electronic music has traditionally focused on a very narrow set of examples in public discussion, leaving some very interesting ideas to be forgotten until now. Some of my ideas react against this.

AZ: What are the Harvestman module highlights for next year?

The long-awaited “Escalation Dominance” 6-channel mixer will finally see release, as well as the updated Bionic Lester mkII. Sales of the Iron Curtain and Industrial Music Electronics systems shall continue, augmented by the occasional release of specialist modules. Other than that, the release schedule of new devices shall be determined by the market. I have no shortage of largely finished concepts that I’ve kept to myself for years, and I’ll soon evaluate the risk of producing some of them.

Harvestman Official
Harvestman @ Analogue Zone

Rengeteg irányból közelítenek a moduláris szintetizátorok felé – Justin Owen (Abstract Data) interjú

Justin Owen már lassan 10 éve épít szintetizátorokat és effekteket. Volt már kiadótulajdonos és dj, így nem csupán a 70-es 80-as évek analóg áramkörei, hanem a valódi, élő elektronikus zenei helyzetek is inspirálják. Nagyon pozitív és optimista csengésű beszélgetésen vagyunk túl Justinnal, akivel élőben is találkozhattok október első hétvégéjén az Analogue Zone Budapest Music Expo standján (A-csarnok, A7 stand)!

Analogue Zone: Mi volt az első összerakott cuccod, amiről azt gondoltad, hogy ezt már lehetne akár sorozatgyártani más felhasználók számára is?

Az első néhány elektronikus zenei hardver, amit már gyártásra és eladásra szántam, különálló desktop szintik voltak, amiket akkoriban építettem, amikor még ismerkedtem az elektronikával. Ezek 1 vagy 2 oszcillátoros monoszintik voltak, egyszerű beépített step szekvenszerrel.

Az első komolyabb gyártást is megért termékek a ‘Hex’ sorozat analóg szintijei és effektei voltak. Nagyjából ekkor indult az Abstract Dataade-logo, és minden ebből az időszaktól kezdődően fejlődött tovább. Szeretnék több desktop szintivel is előállni a jövőben – de jelenleg az eurorack modulár formátum érdekel a leginkább!

AZ: Mik voltak akkoriban a kihívások, és milyen a gyártás manapság?

A gyártás ma már mindenképpen könnyebb és megfelelőbb hatásfokkal történik, mint régebben. Amikor zenei hardvereket kezdtem építeni, a saját nyákjaimat magam marattam és fúrtam át, és persze kézzel forrasztottam rájuk minden alkatrészt, nem beszélve a belső huzalozásról… kemény munka volt. Ahogy növekedésnek indult az Abstract Data, már tudtam főállású gyártókat is alkalmazni, és ma minden eszköz egy kiváló minőséget biztosító gyárban készül, itt az Egyesült Királyságban.

Itthon gyártani persze drágább, mint kiszervezett módon, – de kiváló a minőségellenőrzés, és maguk a termékek is, és persze egy jó csapattal dolgozhatok együtt.

AZ: Merre tart szerinted a moduláris szintik reneszánsza?
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Justin Owen – az Abstract Data feje

Mindenképp igaz, hogy egyre nagyobb növekedést látok – ez egy annyira sokoldalú és hasznos formátum -, ugyanakkor nehéz megjósolni merre tart, ugyanis rengeteg irányból közelítenek felé az emberek. Szerintem sok olyan ember van, például én is, aki szeretett volna számítógépektől elfordulva, újra hardverekkel, különösképpen analóg hardverekkel zenéni, de ma már egyre több olyan korábbi tapasztalatokkal nem rendelkező feklhasználó is van, aki azért kezd el egy eurorack ház összerakásába, hogy beléphessen az elektronikus zenekészítés világába.

Ugyanakkor persze nem látom, hogy ez az egész ‘mainstreammé’ válna. Úgy gondolom, hogy a költségek még mindig egy kicsit magasak az átlagos fogyasztók számára, viszont azért remélem uganúgy tovább fog nőni ez a formátum. Szeretném, ha minél többen használnák a modulárjukat élő ‘hangszerként’ – színpadon, ugyanúgy, ahogy valaki egy gitáron vagy egy zongorán ad elő egy darabot.

AZ: Mennyire tapasztalod a kelet-európai szintiközösség és gyártók hatását?

Sok évvel ezelőtt volt egy breakbeat és tech-house behatásokkal tarkított bakelit kiadóm. Sokszor dj-ztem Európában és sok kelet-európai országban is játszottam. Magyarország mindig az egyik kedvenc helyem volt – az ottani emberek nyilvánvalóan nagyon komolyan veszik az elektronikus zenét és mindig szeretnek bulizni!

Jó látni, hogy új eurorack gyártók jönnek a UK és Németország területén kívülről is. Új hatásokat és stílusokat hoznak be az Eurorack arénába és ez a sokszínűség végül nagyon jó dolgokhoz fog vezetni! Rühelleném, ha az eurorack egy olyan helyzetbe kerülne, ahol mindig uganazokból a modulokból építkezik, amit ugyanattól a néhány gyártótól szereznek be.

AZ:  Miért hagytál fel amúgy a dj-zéssel? Azt mondtad, hogy sok ember “ugrik bele” a modulárba az elektronikus zenei kompozíciók gyakorlatának első lépéseként. Nem gondolod, hogy így valami olyasmi történhet majd a modulárokkal, mint a mára teljesen felrobbant dj-zéssel?

A DJ-zést akkor hagytam abba, amikor a kiadó tevékenységét is beszüntettem. A semmiből nőttem egy kicsi, de igencsak tiszteletnek örvendő londoni kiadóvá – de ez alapvetően még mindig csak egy hobbi volt nekem, valami, amit kedvtelésből csináltam. Akkoriban, ha 1000-1500 lemez helyett 2500-5000 vagy több példányt akartam volna eladni mindegyik kiadványból, az azt jelentette volna, hogy már főállásban, vállalkozásként tekintek a hobbimra. Egyszerűen még nem voltam kész erre. Mindez így maradt, amíg el nem indítottam az Abstract Datát: itt már komolyan tekintettem a vállalkozásomra.

A másik kérdésedre válaszolva, jó kérdés, hogy vajon a dj-arcok eladják-e a CDJ1000-eseiket és elkezdenek helyette eurorack modulokat venni ugyanúgy, ahogy korábban gitárjaikat adták el? Hmmm – nem hinném! Nem látom, hogy az eurorack hirtelen annyira trendi dolog lenne, mint amilyen formában a dj-zés végül divatos lett. Nem látok korábban dj mixelést imitáló celebeket, akik úgy tesznek, mintha élőben szintiket tekergetnének –  legalábbis remélem, hogy kurvára nem így lesz!!

AZ: Én is remélem, de szerintem van rá némi esély…
Igazán? Azt gondolod, hogy a modulár trendivé válhat – ez elég érdekesen hangzik. Meglátjuk majd! Egy olyan helyzetet én is látok kibontakozni, amiben valaki, aki néhány évvel ezelőtt laptoppal és Abletonnal, sample pakkokkal kezdte, ma már inkáb egy 3U (egysoros – a szerk.) rendszerben gondolkodik, amivel analóg bassline-t, filter sweepeket vagy effekteket állít elő. Szerintem a nagy változás akkor fog csak bekövetkezni, ha a felhasználók rájönnek, hogy a hangok létrehozásához nem kell egy egész falnyi modul : egy kisebb rendszerrel is el tudod kezdeni az egészet. Persze nehéz megjósolni mindezt – könnyű volna egy sztereotíp képet festeni a felhasználókról, akik fiatal fiúk (igen, többségében fiúk), akik szupersztár DJ-k (vagy gitárosok) akarnak lenni – de ez valójában sokkal nehezebb, ha egy olyan arcot próbálnánk leírni, aki moduláris szintetizátorokkal akar foglalkozni.
AZ: A “bassline” és  “filter sweep” funkciókról azt gondolod, hogy kezdőknek valók…
Nem igazán arra gondoltam, hogy ez kezdőknek való – inkább egy zene külön elemeként gondoltam rá. Ha az egész setupod egy laptopból áll, amin egy Abletont futtatsz, akkor (szerintem), ha csak nem egy sokat tapasztalt producer vagy, a zenéid elég egyformán fognak szólni – így a zenéd számomra egyáltalán nem lesz érdekes. Ugyanakkor, ha elkezdesz analóg eszközöket is hozzáadni ehhez a setuphoz, például analóg hardvert, meg fog változni a hangzásod. Nem fog annyira egydimenziósan szólni.  Tehát mindezzel arra akartam csak kilyukadni, hogy egy egyszerű eurorack-elem is már sokat dobhat a zenei produkciódon, ugyanúgy, mint amikor egy dobloopot egy igazán emberi hangzású dobos hangszeres játékára cserélsz ki.
AZ: Mit gondolsz a mostanában indult eurorack kollaborációkról? Hogyan kezdenél neki egy ilyen munkának? Esetleg már készül is valami, amiről még nem tudhatunk? 🙂

A kollaborációkból jó dolgok sülhetnek ki. A legtöbb eurorack cég kicsi, és szinte mindig egy ember irányítja, így döntő fontosságú lehet, ha össze tudsz dolgozni valakivel.  Az Abstract Data ADE-32 Octocontrollert Paul Soulsbyval közösen hoztam létre. Ő a Soulsby Synthsnél dolgozik, és az Atmegatron-sorozat szintijeit is ő építette. A coding és firmware fejlesztési munkákat mind ő végezte el – ez a projekt az ő kemény munkája nélkül nem jött volna létre. Ez a kollaboráció jól ment, és remélem dolgozhatunk majd még együtt a jövőben.

Hogy kivel fognék közös munkába az eurorack gyártók közül… Ezen még gondolkodnom kell.  😉

AZ:  Az Octocontroller modul szerinted hordoz valami üzenetféleséget is magában? Afféle “Csinájatok már valami összetettebb dolgot is a modulárotokkal!”…
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Abstract Data – ADE-32 Octocontroller

Az Octocontrollert alapvetően egy másik probléma megoldására terveztük. Eurorack formátumban a többféle moduláció időbeli szinkronizációja igen nagy kihívásokkal bír. Egy kis rendszerben is, 2 vagy 3 free-running módba kapcsolt LFO rengeteg más modul közbeiktatásával indítható újra, és még így sem lesz tökéletes az időzítésük, mivel a tempójukat kézzel álltod be. Így korábban az egyetlen opció csak egy számítógép órajeléhez való igazítás volt, ami a rendszered slave módba kapcsolását jelentette – ezt a megoldást pedig én egyáltalán nem találom érdekesnek. Nem akartam már megint egy számítógépet a zenei gyakorlatom részévé tenni.,,

Az Octocontroller egy masszív eszközkészletet ad neked triggereléshez és modulációhoz – szinkronizálással vagy anélkül – egy kis szélességű modul formájában. Szóval nem annyira a ‘komplexitás’ volt a fő cél – a legtöbb zeném igencsak egyszerű… -, hanem inkább az ‘annyit amennyit lehet, amennyire csak lehet’…

AZ: Láttál már olyan Octocontroller alkalmazást, ami már felülmúlta azért a prekoncepciódat?

Persze – egyfolytában ilyeneket látok. Ez a legjobb (és legnagyobb kihívásokkal bíró) dolog egy terméktervező munkájában – különösképpen ha moduláris eszközökről van szó -, hogy sosem tudod, hogy a felhasználók pontosan milyen módon fogják alkalmazni a termékedet. Nagyon szeretek olyan patcheket látni, amikre én korábban nem is gondoltam… Így volt ez az Octrocontrollerrel is? Hát persze – ilyen a többszörös arpeggio és egy arpeggio másik általi transzponálása: csodálatos és folyamatosan kibomló poliritmikusságot nyerhetsz. Egy másik ilyen jó ötlet a leghosszabb órajelosztás beállítása, amit visszakötsz az Ext. Reset bemenetbe, így fura, pszeudo-random újraindításokat hozhatsz létre, amik mégis a rendszered más modulációs forrásaival közösen vannak időzítve. De ez még csak néhány patch… Én például a többféle kimeneti típus kombinálásával találok rá a modul elmélyültebb és érdekesebb funkcióira. 🙂

Analogue Zone: Köszönöm, remélem te és a látogatók is sok ötlettel gazdagodnak majd a standunkon!
Gyere ki és látogatsd meg standunkat október 2. és 4. között a Budapest Music Expon, amin több más szintigyártóval együtt Justin is részt vesz!   (A-csarnok,  A7 stand)

People are approaching modulars from so many directions – In conversation with Justin Owen from Abstract Data

Justin Owen has been building synthesizers and audio effects for about 10 years. As an ex-labelowner and deejay, his inspiration is not only derived from analog circuits from the 70s and 80s, but also from truly live electronic music situations. We had a really positive and optimistic conversation with him. Don’t forget to catch him live at Analogue Zone’s booth @ Budapest Music Expo!

Analogue Zone: What was the first product that you thought you might want to produce and sell to other users?

The first pieces of electronic music hardware I considered manufacturing and selling were the self-contained desktop format synths that I started building when I first got into electronics. These were mostly 1 or 2 oscillator mono-synths with a simple step-sequencer built in.

The first serious production run I did was the ‘Hex Series’ of analog ade-logosynths and effects – that’s pretty much when Abstract Data was born and everything has grown from that. I’d like to do more desktop format designs in the future – but Eurorack is definitely where my main interest lies right now.

AZ: What were the challenges back then in manufacturing and what are they like nowadays?

Manufacturing is definitely a lot easier and a lot more efficient now. When I started making music hardware I was etching and drilling my own PCBs, hand-soldering every component and doing all the internal wiring – it was a big job. As Abstract Data grew, I was able to employ proper manufacturers and now we have everything made and assembled at a high-quality plant right here in the UK.

Manufacturing in the UK can be more expensive than outsourcing to places like China – but we have great quality control, a high-quality product and a really good team of people to work with.

AZ: Where do you see this resurgence of modulars going?
ade-interview-01
Justin Owen – the man behind Abstract Data

I can definitely see it getting bigger for a while yet – it’s such a useful and diverse format – but it’s hard to predict where it is going because people are approaching it from so many different directions. I think there are a lot of people – like me, who wanted to move away from using computers for music and get back to using hardware – especially analogue hardware, but it seems now there are also people considering setting up a Eurorack system who are just taking their first steps into electronic music.

I don’t necessarily see it going ‘mainstream’ – I think the knowledge and cost-barriers are still a bit too high for the mainstream consumer – but I do hope it continues to grow as a format. I’d like to see more people using their modular as a live ‘instrument’ – playing it on stage in the same way that someone might give a performance with a guitar or a piano.

AZ: To what extent do you see and find an impression from the Eastern European synth scene?

Many years ago I ran a small record label putting out Breakbeat and Tech-House influenced 12’s. I DJ’d around Europe pretty regularly and played some of the Eastern European countries. Hungary was always one of my favourite places to play – people there are obviously very serious about their electronic music and they were always up for a party!

It’s good to see new European manufacturers coming in from places other than Germany and the UK – they bring new influences and styles into the Eurorack arena and I think that diversity will ultimately be a good thing. I would hate to see Eurorack end up in a place where everyone was building the same system filled with the same modules from the same small set of manufacturers.

AZ:  Why did you stop deejaying btw? As you said that many people are “approaching” – I’d even use the phrase “jumping on” – modulars as first steps, don’t you think that something similar would happen as it was with deejaying before it exploded?

I stopped DJing when I wrapped up the record label. It had grown from nothing into a small, well-respected underground London label – but it was still basically just a hobby for me, something I did for fun. At that point, to take a label from selling 1000-1500 copies of each release to a level were you were selling 2500-5000 or more, of each release would have meant going full time and turning it into a proper business – and I wasn’t ready to do that then. It wasn’t really until I started Abstract Data that I wanted to get serious about running a business.

Can I see people selling their CDJ1000s and buying Eurorack in the same way that people were supposedly selling their guitars and buying CDJs? Hmmm – nah! I can’t really see Eurorack suddenly becoming trendy or fashionable in the same way that DJing became fashionable, I can’t really see celebrities pretending to wiggle knobs in the same way that they might get up and pretend to mix records. I certainly fucking hope not anyway!!

AZ: I hope it won’t happen either, but there is a bit of a likelihood of that imho..
Really? You think that modular might become trendy or fashionable – that’s very interesting. I guess we’ll see!I can see a situation where someone who, a few years ago, might have started out using a laptop with Ableton and some sample packs, might now look at setting up a small 3U system for doing analogue basslines, or filter sweeps or FX. I think one of the big changes will come from people realising you don’t need an entire wall of modules to make sounds – you can actually start out with a fairly small rig.This is all difficult to predict though – it’s pretty easy to describe a stereotype of a young guy (and it’s mainly guys…) that wants to be a superstar DJ (or a guitar hero) – it’s lot more difficult to describe a stereotype of someone that wants to get into modular.
AZ: You are talking about “basslines” and “filter sweeps” – kind of a starter thing.
I wasn’t really referring to it as a starter thing – more like having one simple element in a track that brings it to life. If your whole rig is a laptop running Ableton – then (IMO), unless you’re an experienced producer, chances are, your tracks are going to sound like that – which for me is not interesting at all. But – if you start adding elements from outside that rig – like analogue hardware for example – your sound will change. It won’t sound so one-dimensional. So, my point was – adding one simple element from a small Eurorack rig can help your productions improve in the same way that replacing just one programmed percussion loop with a really good piece of human playing can have a positive effect on your productions.
AZ: How do you feel about collaborative modules, e.g. SSF-WMD? How would you start a collab with? Or is it already on the way? 🙂

I think collaborations can be a good thing. Most Eurorack companies are small, one-person operations, so finding good people to team up with can be vital. The Abstract Data ADE-32 Octocontroller was the result of a collaboration with Paul Soulsby from Soulsby Synths who also designed the Atmegatron series of synths. He handled all the coding and Firmware development – the project would not have happened without his hard work. That was definitely a collaboration that worked well and I hope we can do more together.

Who else would I work with in Eurorack… I’d have to think about that 😉

AZ:  Do you think your Octocontroller module as a kind of message to the users: “hey, do something more comlpex already with modulars!”
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Abstract Data – ADE-32 Octocontroller

Designing the Octocontroller was about solving a problem. In Eurorack, one of the challenges is getting multiple modulation sources running in sync. Even in a small rig, trying to sync 2 or 3 free-running LFOs takes a lot of other modules to set and reset and you still won’t have perfect timing because you’re setting the tempo of the LFO’s by hand. So – the current option is to slave your modular to a computer – which I have no interest in. I don’t want a computer as part of my music making process anymore.

The Octocontroller, gives you a solid toolbox of triggering and modulation sources with a load of options for modifying their behaviour and options to sync – or not – in a low HP count module. So – not so much about doing something ‘more complex’ – most of the music I make is actually pretty simple – I guess, it’s about doing ‘as much as you can and pushing your modular as far as you can’.

AZ: Have you already seen some applications of that that were beyond your expectations already?

Yes – all the time. It’s one of the great (and very challenging…) things about being a product designer – especially in the modular environment – that you never really know how people will end up using your products. I love seeing people set up patches using my modules in ways that I would not have thought of.

With the Octocontroller? Yes – a couple of things I’ve seen already is people setting up multiple arpeggios and using one arpeggio to transpose another – you can get these amazing, developing polyrythms going. Another good idea I saw recently was using a S&H Gate output of the Octocontroller, set to the longest Clock Division, then run back into the Ext. Reset – so you get all these weird, psuedo-random Resets – but that are still all in time with every other modulation source. For me – combining multiple output types is where the Octocontroller starts to get really deep and really interesting. 🙂

Analogue Zone: Thanks, I hope you and our users will find a lot of inspiration in our booth!
Come and visit our booth at Budapest Music Expo (Hall A, Booth A7) in Hungary from 02.10. to 04.10. 2015!

Your own truly unique instrument – In conversation with Marcin and Tomek from XAOC Devices

XAOC (yes, it is indeed the word “chaos” with Slavic characters) Devices was basically the first Eurorack manufacturer in Europe that had its origins from Poland, their debut was nothing more than an extraordinally affordable and smart sequencer with a well-designed front panel. The virus has caught up with a lot of users since then, and XAOC is getting stronger every year. We had an engaging conversation with Marcin and Tomek, the two men behind the company. They shared their views on the Polish music scene, the challenges of eurorack, and their effort to realise their own ideas in a complete manner.
Analogue Zone:  How was the beginning for you?

Marcin: We’ve been around for about 4 years now. The idea to start the modular synth company was rather spontaneous (and probably a bit naive) – as you could expect from nothing short but unbridled xaoc-logoenthusiasm for modulars. Ourselves, we’re wigglers in the first place – playing, trading, discussing, nerding heaps of modules, synths and what not. That gave us a lot of perspective, ideas and knowledge to tailor our own line of products. We’ve learnt a million lessons since then, many of them the hard way. It was well worth it, though.

Analogue Zone:  You mentioned that you are wigglers in the first place. That’s my greatest fascination about eurorack that in some ways it is still a small market, the majority of customers being ‘wigglers’ or so to say ‘to-be-wigglers’. What do you think, how could you motivate somebody to get into eurorack instead of staring at a screen and program everything in software?)

Marcin: As for most of the people I know, the main motivation was realizing the limitless posibilities of a modular synth system, plus the immediate, physical relation with an instrument that stimulates the

Marcin and Tomek at their studio (Photo by: Albert Zawada)
Marcin and Tomek at their studio (Photo by: Albert Zawada)

creativity to a great extent. Of course a piece of software is thousand times more powerful and I actually love it as well but it does impose the certain method of work instead of stimulating your mind to find your own.

Tomek: I’m involved in electronic music since high school, it is almost 20 years now. It’s kind of a fetish but the look and feel of hardware instruments was always very inspirational for me. With hardware, it is easy to focus on one part of your setup only, and to do something solely with it. I believe you still can’t reproduce some erratic behavior – i.e. there are great emulations of tape delays or spring reverbs, but you can’t open them and mess with the tape or springs. Hardware and software are just different tools, none is better or worse. If you enjoy your software, and you like the idea of having everything in the box – why bother with hardware? But if that’s not enough, there is the really magical world of hardware at hand.

AZ:  What motivated you to revisit old concepts such as a voltage controlled mixer? It does not _seem to_ come close to the strange ideas manufacturers come up with. Yet, you have been working on it so hard for long months now.

Marcin: Pretty much the same motivation as usual – we wanted to design a device we would love to buy ourselves. The VC mixer is hardly an original idea but we realized how cool it would be do

XAOC Devices Praga - the concept of the voltage controlled mixer revisited
XAOC Devices Praga – the concept of the voltage controlled mixer revisited

add some certain features while keeping the whole thing immediate and effective. Obviously, some functional trade-offs were unavoidable because of the cramped eurorack form factor and technological reasons. Some decisions were probably bit too ambitious and we ended up tweaking numerous protoypes one after another.

Tomek: We are aware that some wigglers await Praga impatienlty. It is also a hard lesson for us as we didn’t expect it would take us so much effort and time. But some day soon it’ll be ready and sounding great 🙂

AZ: You mentioned limited size as a factor of the eurorack format. How do you tackle this problem? Do you ever wish that eurorack had been 4U not 3U in height?

Marcin: Hate to be Captain Obvious but every single modular format has its cons and advantages. For the euro, the portability and affordability is what attracts me. But what’s more important – the popularity. Just because with so many companies and engineers involved in it, there’s an unending, prolific festival of ideas going on – from vanilla to damn creative and even esoteric crazy shit. And that’s the greatest aspect of euro! Being obsessed with interface design, I always have a hard time to retain the ergonomics within space as limited. 4U seems to be much less limiting, that’s why I am cheering on the Kilpatrick format (never liked the Serge way though).

Tomek: I would often have a dilemma on what to put in small case that I could take on the plane, so I can understand the approach of having as many useful things as possible in a small case. On the other

XAOC Devices - Batumi
XAOC Devices – Batumi

hand, it is killing the playability and the ergonomics of the system. So we try to find a compromise. Batumi gives you four fully featured LFOs in just 10 HP. It is crazy small but luckily we have found the way to do it right I hope. We don’t really want to go the same way with the VCF, for example. You just need enough space to manipulate knobs like cutoff. It is not a “set and forget” type of parameter. Before designing anything, we ask ourselves: “How much space can a specific module take?” “How many knobs and jacks do we need on it?” How big will the PCB be? We are not afraid of big stuff, and there will be some relatively big XAOC modules for sure.

AZ:  What has been the biggest moment so far for you as manufacturers?

Tomek: For me it was the moment when I was finally holding our first module, the Moskwa, in my hand. It was amazing, I realized it is really happening. Marcin mentioned our first Messe – it was incredible for us to talk with all those happy customers, and other manufacturers.

Marcin: To me, it was the moment that I realized that actually lots of

XAOC Devices Moskwa - their first ever module
XAOC Devices Moskwa – their first ever module

people appreciate our approach and enjoy these modules a lot. Please allow me, hereby, to thank them for all the the feedback and support. That keeps us going. The second moment was the Messe, but that’s another story – meeting some friends and personal heroes in person.

AZ: In these meetings, how do you share ideas? You are “of the same family” but at the same time you are likely competitors as well…

Marcin: It was more like sharing the experiences, some great dudes behind the brands we respect so much gave us a lot of super valuable advice, opinions and yeah, compliments, as well as their enthusiasm was radiating upon us. For my usually low self-esteem, it did wonders and I reallize I was probably way too excited and annoying, duh! The “family” or let’s better call it “scene” feeling is still present and I hope it will last for long. Sure there’s a competition but, at least among those manufacturers we admire and respect, nobody seems to fuss about it. We were happy to help several brands with some stuff and we appreciate that others helped us as well.

Tomek: I really hate to think about eurorack manufacturers as just a bunch of competing companies. Like with music, two different albums are not the competitors of each other. The beauty of eurorack lies in linking different modules from different manufacturers with different aproaches and ideas, just to obtain your own truly unique instrument. It is amazing that we can talk with others, exchange experiences, help each other just to make everything better.

AZ: For you, price is a factor, since the moment you produce modules. What do you think of other manufacturers who are on the other edge of the market? Don’t you think there would be room for some highly priced XAOC modules?

Marcin: Price is, obviously, a significant factor, escpecially when you’re coming from an Eastern European background. Economics is just hard to ignore here so we always tried to set the pricing honestly and just right. It is not that easy though, especially since the

The PCB of XAOC's latest Batumi module
The PCB of XAOC’s latest Batumi module

dollar is high, we have to reconsider the pricing a bit while still keeping it reasonable. Certainly, several of the upcoming XAOC products will be somehow more expensive than the current line mainly because of the size, complexity and components/assembly costs of more refined and sophisticated designs.

Tomek: We just try to be fair. To have a very affordable offer was one of our main goals while starting the company – but that’s not easy. Low quantity manufacturing is expensive, and eurorack is still a very small market. Also, focusing on details generates higher costs – lots of knobs, bigger panels, expensive electronic components etc. As for the other manufacturers, I think that everyone can ask as much as he want because that is reward for his work. Some of those super expensive modules are a work of genius and rock solid build quality, while other ones are just expensive – but I can’t argue with that. Anyway, modular synths were never as affordable as they are now, that’s why the eurorack is booming.

AZ: How would you describe the Polish synth/electronic music scene? Do you think you have made an impact on that with XAOC or were you picking up some vibes that had already been there maybe?

Tomek: There are many interesting projects and labels within the Polish alternative/avantguarde scene – everything from harsh noise

Marcin and Tomek - XAOC Devices (photo by Albert Zawada)
Marcin and Tomek – XAOC Devices (photo by Albert Zawada)

to ambient or techno. Sometimes it is atomized, some folks may be a little biased but in the end there is a load of good music. We are part of it, and I’m quite happy with it. We organize some workshops and we have our blog about the modulars (modularne.info) and boutique instruments (mmkay, the blog is neglected lately due to lack of time), so at last we are trying to help everyone interested in modular synths. We are are not gurus of some kind though, and I don’t want to be one.

Marcin: The modular nerd crowd is rather small but is growing steadily, there are always new faces on our synth meets and workshops – something I am really happy to see. And yes, we were told that we had some serious impact on some of those chaps, which is heartwarming. Can’t comment on the electronic scene in general actually, as I don’t follow anything too closely anymore – and even when I did, it was mostly rather for the industrial stuff. Except for a usual, mandatory slew of experimental dudes, there’s probably loads of EDM/IDM/etc. acts around though – some really talented and inpsired musicians bought our modules and keep in touch, cheers.

AZ: Could you give us a sneak-peak of what 2016 will look like for XAOC Devices?

Marcin: I hope to finish all the new projects we started (yup, “the vaporware” first), damn it. In 2016, I would love to announnce the basic yet somehow complete XAOC system, touch wood.

Tomek: Let’s finish a half of the projects we have on our workbench, at least. Yeah, XAOC system would be rad!

XAOC Devices Official
XAOC Devices @ Analogue Zone
Our earlier overview on XAOC Devices modules

“No limits of innovation” – In conversation with Ģirts Ozoliņš from Erica Synths

All of a sudden, we are gazing in admiration: living in an age in which innovative ideas of analog, digital or hybrid synthesizer-systems emerge and get realised in Eastern-Europe is indeed a culturally enriching experience, and brings about a lot of game-changing ideas. We were talking to Ģirts Ozoliņš about his brand Erica Synths, and how Eurorack has become a common ground for innovations, while he was also keen on providing us with clues about their forthcoming synth modules!

Analogue Zone: How is the Black-series going? What sort of feedback have you got from the users? What seems to be the biggest thing in there?  For me it’d be the digital noise generator.
erica-synths-messe
The Erica Synths Booth at Musikmess ’15

Ģirts: I’m really happy about starting to ship the Black series – that was a bit of investment in development and production. We wanted to launch at least 12 modules simultaneously, so that we can offer an entire synth. You can’t tell which of your children you love most! All modules are great and each has something special about it – if we can’t make a difference in something, we don’t start development. But I can agree that the Black Digital Noise brings some new ideas into noise generation.  We are getting the most feedback about that module and the Black VC Clock.

AZ: Where did the idea for the Black Digital Noise come from?
The Back of the Erica Synths Black Digital Noise
The Back side of the Erica Synths Black Digital Noise module

Ģirts:  A friend of mine, our ingenious outsourced engineer and musician/composer in one person, used to work in a company that develops and produces communication devices, and the technology behind this module is used in data scrambling –  linear feedback shift registers that generate random polynomials. Some classical drum machines and synths also used this technology in noise generation. But we went a step ahead – we use 2 shifting polynomials that interact with each other, and the selection of polynomials is CV controlled. This requires a huge pile of logic ICs, therefore we used programmable logic matrix – that great looking chip on the back of the module – I visually regard it also as pure beauty!

AZ: How are the remaining modules going in the Black-series? I’m referring to the Analog Noise and the Sine Core VCO.

Ģirts:  Priorities have changed In the process! 😀 We realized, we need to fill some gaps first – the next module will be the Black Abyss VCF – deep, classical sounding multimode filter utilising 8(!!!) matched transistor pairs, and a few slightly more compact modules – unique dual EG/LFO in 10HP module and super-precise Dual VCO with 2GHz clock rate and plenty of cross modulation features. But apart from Black series, we will have some more news soon!

AZ: The Black Abyss VCF sounds interesting and thought out really. However, the market is just loaded with multimode filters. What is the catch for you in it?

Ģirts:  Yes, I agree, there are lot of VCFs around. But most of them are clones or close emulations of some classical VCFs. We have our updated Polivoks VCF with the original Russian ICs in our Black line, and it’s one insane filter, I like it a lot! But we also wanted to have something more classical sounding, and most importantly – the VCF of our unique design. Therefore we established an objective to develop THE deepest, bassiest sounding LPF and versatile HPF with the smoothest controls and without the glitches that a lot of VCFs have. Therefore we took the ARP VCF design as an inspiration (I made several DIY ARP VCF designs, and I find it really great) and designed our Abyss VCF. Soon we’ll publish some VCF comparison demos.

AZ: You mention time after time that you owe most to the DIY-projects out there. The market seems to be divided now into 2 categories: new modules with a lot of SMD components that cannot be DIY’ed and the old through-hole ones. Some users see it as a kind of limitation for them since there is already a considerable segment of modules that they won’t ever be able to realise in a DIY manner. What’s your thought on this?

Ģirts: That’s, of course, economics – THT modules are more expensive to produce, and you can’t make them compact enough. For example, our Polivoks Midi-CV module will be semi-DIY, and a PCB will come with the pre-soldered SMD components, as the part count is large to make it THT in a reasonable size. And also there are some parts that come in SMD only. As technology advances, innovations require sophisticated engineering solutions and as eurorack has its size limitations it’s obvious that some modules will never be DIY. Therefore our development goes in both directions. Along with industrially produced modules we’ll keep offering DIY projects. The announcement of some cool DIY projects from us is about to be made.

AZ:  As a manufacturer, what has been the most challenging thing for you so far?

Ģirts: I wish we could have bit more development capacity! In September a friend of mine, genius engineer, will join Erica Synths full time and I’m leaving my primary (at the moment) work in advertising, and then the world will witness the full potential from us! 😀

AZ: What do you think about the limitations in the eurorack size? Are you satisfied with the spacing or would you go even further?

Ģirts:  Actually with the Black Series we put size limitations aside and brought functionality/usability to the foreground! The modules are designed to highlight main controls and make using modules really pleasurable. Build-quality is also concerned. Once you touch some Black Series modules, you will feel the difference!

AZ: Indeed: as soon as I start tweaking them, I feel that it is something different…  And the designs are fantastic. Could you tell us where the idea of the jellyfish came from? 🙂
EricaSynthsOffice_MB-11
Erica Synths HQ – Riga, Latvia

Ģirts: A design idea was proposed by a friend of mine from Carrebranding, and, I find that it really embodies the entire philosophy of modular synthesizers – ever changing, infinite possibilities in sound design, uncertainty and creativity. I wanted to make them glow in the dark, but, as we print panels with special ceramic paint, that can’t be scratched off, it appeared to be technically impossible. For the time being… We’ll try it later. 🙂

AZ: You teach marketing. What sort of aspects does it bring up to you in Erica Synths? Is there a fine line between “brand/product” and “work of art”?

Ģirts: Teaching is a side project to pass the knowledge to the next generation and to find young, possibly talented people to recruit to work in the advertising agency or in Erica Synths. My ex-student is now responsible for logistics and marketing in Erica Synths, and this EricaSynthsOffice_MB-5is how I contribute to the reduction of youth unemployment.  🙂 But I truly believe that behind a brand there always has to be an innovative work of art / product with an export potential. Otherwise it’s a waste of energy.

AZ: Do you care for other synth manufacturers works? Is there a builder who you really admire?

Ģirts: Over the last few years a number of producers has grown from some 30 to couple of hundred, so it’s hard to follow the entire scene! I admire Doepfer for starting all this eurorack movement, for making a category and for being patient for years before it got this big, also Bastl Instruments for making a difference in design and materials, and Make Noise for innovations. But I want to express my special gratitude and admiration to DIY developers – Music From Outer Space for their contribution to the DIY scene and projects with significant engineering background and education of the DIYers (basically he pulled me in this modular madness), Ian Fritz for his distinctive, innovative approach (I think, he’s one of greatest minds in musical instruments engineering), Michael Barton for making soooooo many affordable and great DIY projects, and many others!

AZ: Any future plans? Are you going to carry on with the Black series or is it done forever? A white series maybe in the future? 🙂

Ģirts: The Black Series is open for more products, and we’re about to launch the Graphic Series soon. We demoed the Graphic VCO at Musikmesse, and it’s almost done. We are working on the perfection of the firmware of Graphic VCO, and have 4 more Graphic modules in mind. Also, as I said, in a few weeks we’ll announce a few more DIY projects. The category of electronic musical instruments is soooooo exciting and has no innovation limits! I mean it.

AZ: Our last question… If you could go back in time and talk to Mr. Doepfer back in the 90’s where he only had been laying down the founding concepts of eurorack modulars, what would you recommend him to change? 

Ģirts: 😀 What would be the world like today, if someone had launched a nuclear bomb during the Carribean crisis? 🙂 But seriously, I think, what he did was very logical and smart:  fitting a modular synth into a standard industrial rack size. He must be really proud now that exactly this standard turned out to be a firing-ground of modular innovations.

Erica Synths Official
Erica Synths @ Analogue Zone