Last year I still had to introduce Erica Synths to people. It has become obsolete this year. No wonder, since the Eastern-European company provides us with excellently built and designed multi-functional modules at great speed with no issues regarding quality! Look, they have just upgraded their fusion series!
A VCO? Actually, we are talking about 3 VCO’s: one wavetable / digital VCO which offers stable basic waveshapes which can morph into each other, and 2 tube-based sub oscillators empowered with a lowpass filter.
The thing I have always liked in the Erica Synths fusion tube modules is that they are not meant to go crazy. They add a decent empowerment to the whole sound of a particular patch. Sub-oscillators would be typically square-waves, here they can be rounded off with internal filtering and waveshaping as well. A pretty “all in one” concept, like a Bateleur VCO. You will not need further adjustments to “get that oscillator right”. If you don’t like the sound or get a little bored with it, an external audio input is also available.
As for the other Delay/Flange Ensemble has not got a dedicated demo yet. We will be waiting for it. Having heard Erica fusion chorus/delay modules live already, I have to say that they do their musical job very decently. Looking forward to test these in the Analogue Zone showroom!
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.
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 BlackDigital Noisebrings 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?
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? 🙂
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 is 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.