I used to set the divisions of the MIDI clock with DIP switches on the Doepfer MSY2 which are cost-effective, yet it needs no proof to see that those were not designed for daily use and are obviously less durable. But now the MIDI to Clock deals with that on the front panel with enough immediate divisions at hand. Setting different divisions is no big deal with deeper MIDI-CV interfaces like Yarns from Mutable or the Shuttle Control from Endoprhines. However this new module has an ultimate winning point: it has both MIDI in and out mode.
What does this mean? You are able to control your MIDI device with clocks coming from anywhere in your modular system (LFO’s, clock modules, stepped random voltage generators, etc.). Forget “setting up and playing”, say hello to “setting up while playing”. Want async or div/mult changes based on your Midi devices or analog clocks (which are more easily bouncing and with a little modulation can have more life which is hard to emulate digitally) at any time with ease? There we have it for a really good price and with great ease: as the module can be switched to “MIDI out mode”! How amazing would it be to send some “analog storms” towards your previously calm and straightforward MIDI-devices?
It is also worth mentioning that the module is very slim (can be housed in skiff cases!), and ivery low current (25mA altogether on the +12V rail).
The built-in Start/Stop function is also available in both modes (It used to be pretty frustrating that with plenty of modules you just had a clock signal which stayed there forever.).
So it is no doubt that it was worth waiting for a gamechanger in live performance and studio routing!
The entry-level question: “What other modules should I get?” The entry-level answer “more VCA’s”. Now here are other cool tools that would basically put any modular synth setup towards a further evolutionary step.
Erica Synths – Black Xfade
Hardly any modules can be found for crossfading – yes, you can crossfade between two seperate VCA’s – yes you can do it with any modulation signal and its inverted pair. But come on, it can be much easier with a dedicated module which can even keep the signal at a constant gain! Erica Synths have always been loved for these quirks (e.g. the emphasis de-emphasis circuit on the Black Quad VCA). The audio on the Black Xfade is high-quality and any “weird” or chaotic waveform can be tamed to be less clicky and more controlled.
More tips (approved and recommended by the manufacturer):
use it as a waveshaper with original vs. boosted signal.
you can also crossfade between two clock or any CV signals.
4ms Company – Shifting Inverting Signal Mingler (SISM)
It is hard to begin to talk about this module, because you have to mention at least 4 different terms. Any signal can be turned inside out – boosted up, cut into (two) half(-ves), mixed, “mirrored” .
Apart from that, the MIX SWitch (jack outputs sum of all channels with nothing plugged into their output jack),
For DIY’ers: you can find a PAD breakout header (2×4) on the PCB which can be connected to an external DIY module that enables a pre-set pad (attenuation) on each channel. Any modulation signal of yours can receive its passport to new territories in new and simultaneous forms with this module!
Other good tools people seem to forget about…
You might want to remain simplistic or regard polarizing as an enhancer of the modulation section of your system. A tool that “shifts” and turns signals “inside out”…
Yet, do not forget: polarized audio signal + feedback = new filter curves!
Steady State Fate – GND Cntrl: some users crave visual feedback and precision. I much more prefer numeral feedback than staring at visuals on a small screen. Each to its own… The SSF Gnd Cntrlmatches and attenuates / divides audio and CV signals to minute hyper-precision ranges. Ideal for live or studio!
And finally, something new: these tools are getting more and more varied each year: a new module is the AWM-3 from Vintage Synth Lab. It is an all analog, real-time, complex wave-shaping (triple wave-folder) 3-channel mixer module with added features of compression and multiple mix modes including matrix mixes.
On the 4th of December a new tradition might be established. Two Hungarian modular synth composers & performers will be accompanying a classic science-fiction novel for 6.5 hours live.
The idea for the project StanisłAV that came from composers Bálint Baráth and András Hargitai (Banyek) is that just like in the case of silent movies, some background music, timbres and atmospheres would be provided while the novel (Staniław Lem‘s classic, the Invincible which tells the story of one high-tech space ship landing on a planet with a rescue team trying to understand what had happened to its identical brother and its crew) is projected onto a screen behind the instruments. However, all the sounds that are described in the novel will also be performed live. The textures of the visuals (created by Hungarian media artist David Mórász aka micro.D) will also be controlled real-time by the same modulation sources that control the audio.
An incomplete list of euro gear that will play a key role in the performance:
Paul T. Schreiber, the man behind Synthesis Technology is a man who you might want to talk to first when you become a eurorack manufacturer. Or when you start DIY-ing a difficult project. Or when you just want to have an insight on instrument-design. He is a great storyteller as well, and has created a lot of truly innovative tools which brought synthesis forward, so we were happy to start a conversation with him.
I’d like to know what made you start working on one of your latest modules, the Quand Temporal Shifter. I’d like to also know what sorts of electronic music you are thinking about – if any, when you are designing your products. Or is that just „pure” music theory?
Way back in 1979 I was thinking about using some ’fancy’ sample & hold parts from a company called PMI (I think they were bought by Analog Devices a few years later). Anyway, these chips were used by my employer (Data General) but were really expensive back then, like $12ea . However, they were very very good and I managed to get 3 samples from them. I was designing some digital VCOs and a clone of the Eventide Harmonizer when I got bored at work, and these chips were for the harmonizer’s de-glitcher in the DACs. I had seen pictures of the Serge ASR, and so I breadboarded up a 3-stage one using these samples. It worked great, but I thought to myself: the droop is still an issue, why not do it with A/Ds and D/As instead and make a ’perfect’ one? Well, the harmonizer clone had a ’really good’ 12-bit A/D that my boss got as a sample, but it was $48ea. The D/As were about $19ea. Processors were relatively cheap, we had drawers of 6502 chips. But to build a full digital ASR back then was about a month’s pay.
I also use musicians that I know and trust that will not just auto-approve anything I do, in fact I *want them* to say „this flat out sucks” if it does, or tell me „the range on this control is not useful”. The last thing I want to do is release products and then go through what seems to the users an endless cycle of firmware updates.
I try not to ’over-think’ the musical context for my designs, above a basic level (this is a LFO, etc). I’m 60yrs old, grew up in the Wendy Carlos/ELP period but now mainly listen to ambient music (Robert Rich is a big influence and contributor). I’m not very ’musical’ myself, although I studied pipe organ a bit but decided it was more fun to build them than to play them (in fact, my design partner’s father is a famous pipe organ builder). I think places like Facebook forums is good idea to get feedback, although you have to apply a lot of filtering sometimes. I do a lot of beta testing, 3-4 months is not unusual, to have up to 6 different people with very wide musical styles comment ton a modules before I ship it.
Lately, some prices got better, and some competitive aspects got worse. The latest flood of eurorack modules has made „hoping for the best” harder as the market has changed, hasn’t it?
I don’t think so, there is always this portion of any product (not just a Euro module) that has this chance to really take off. When I was a kid, this guy put a small rock in a cute box and called it a Pet Rock. He sold MILLIONS of them. You just never know it any product becomes a “hit” or not. Same is true releasing music. But we still keep doing it 🙂
A few years ago on the Muffwiggler forum some people were talking about the lack of ASR’s (i.e. analog shift registers – the editor) (the Serge analog version, with the droop issue) and whining there were not any good ones. So I decided to show them exactly what a ’good one’ would do! The E102 uses true 14-bit accurate A/D and D/As along with true 14-bit level shifting, which is not easy or cheap. But thankfully it’s also not a month’s salary to build! And since the logic needed to do the basic function only required 10% of the total program memory of the microcontroller, we decided to add the voltage-controlled delay between the taps, something never done defore.
This is a hallmark of a SynthTech design: we try to add something never before seen in either HW or plug-ins. This leads into the 2nd part of the question: how do we ’decide’ what to build? And then ’how to build it’?
The fair answer is about 80% market research and 20% „hoping for the best”. It is hard to predict what is a big hit, although in my little corner of the market, I do not try to get close to the number of modules shipped by say Doepfer or Mutable. Rather, I try to approach it as „What is missing that I know how to add value to it?”. Value can mean several things: better audio quality, a new feature (like The E340 Cloud Generator) or a feature that we greatly improve on (the morphing algorithm in the E350).
What made you release a MIDI CV interface as well for example? I mean almost every manufacturer has one now nowadays.
No one to date has one with both USB Host and Device. Doing a Device is easy, but that requires connecting to a computer. The Host part, now that is very difficult in terms of both the HW needed and the USB stack, which is probably 4 *times* the complexity/size of a Device stack. The E620 was put on hold because of my time, but we will ship by the end of the year. I still do not know of anything like the E620 on the market: you are talking about years of development to do it properly. USB is non-trival!
How do you see the latest developments / generations of eurorack modules with plenty of functionality, digital elements like the Disting or other DSP tools?
It’s always nice to see people play catch-up with me (grin). I think what has happened is that the casual hobbiest manufacturer (the majority) have reached an ’end of the Google’ problem: they can’t find any more schematics or service manuals to copy from. It’s all been done to death. So going forward, the innovation will be coming from the trained EE’s that know how to code in DSP and design higher end analog because this stuff just isn’t laying around on the web. You have to know it first. Sure, people have already started buying little development boards and bolting them to a front panel,
I’m surprised no one has stuck on an iPad by now. But this is never cost effective or power-effective. The power consumption of some of these modules is staggering, 100s of milliamps from the +12V rail.
For SynthTech, we plan to offer DSP and 100% analog modules. It’s just REALLY hard to do decent VCFs in DSP. Over last few years, many really fast ARM processors with large memories have been released. Microchip still has the best user libraries to speed code development. We are not “DSP snobs”, we choose the best part for the module in use.
My biggest concern, one that I’m known for on the forums, is the lack of power supply knowledge in Euro. Something as simple as marking where the red stripe goes on a pc board somewhow escapes many of these so called „module designers”. I’m not trying to demean anyone: I’m trying to get everyone on the same page for the customers. Euro manufacturers need to rasise the bar: I try to raise it on every module I design. In fact my new low-cost VCO design I’m doing, called the E330 Multi-Mode VCO, has „The red sripe is -12V and goes here” on the silkscreen. My father used to print catalogs, and he had a big sign in his office that said „INK IS FREE”. The point is: why not put this on the board? It costs YOU nothing, but think of the help it is to your customers. I hear suff like „Well, there is no room on my board” to which I say „Then MAKE ROOM”. I view it as being willfully lazy and sloppy. Why is Euro so inconsistent? What other comsumer electronic family is this way? Put yourself in the customer’s place.
Also, the issue of not using shrouded, keyed headers. I know Doepfer has lead the charge, but that was initially a cost issue and really, you can source Asian shrouded connectors that are maybe $0.23 more than unshrouded. I think this is a small price to pay.
A lot of users ask questions about standards (and realise that there are no such stuff). Also, another issue is build quality. You tend to take the finest components when you build a module. Do you think that people – either users or makers – will be able to see as bad quality pots, switches, jacks may go wrong?
It’s not a matter of ‘being wrong’. There is always a tradeoff in any design for cost versus quality of parts used. In many cases there is a point of diminishing return: added more money doesn’t change the customer’s experience.
Sometimes, the “quality” is in the design itself, not just picking a more expensive part.
There is an art to being really low-cost. I did this for many years at Tandy/Radio Shack and to the extreme at BlackBerry, were saving $0.05 per phone got you promoted.
But there is also a nice “feeling” knowing you are free to pick and chose whatever part you want, and there is so many now to pick from. It’s the path SynthTech has chosen, not everyone can relate.
I am also curious about this VCO design. Anything you could share with the public at the moment?
It is a spinoff from the coding work we did for the E950 Circuit Bent VCO, without the speech. We are always trying out new VCO designs in both HW and SW, I guess that is just my personal thing I like to work on. This new VCO will be shown at Knobcon on Sept 10th in Chicago. I will have details then. The test pc board arrives on Tuesday [which is today 😉 – the editor], I think I will refrain saying more until it actually works.
Having us teased with their graphic VCO and their PICO series recently, Erica Synths just came up with a brand new wavetable VCO.
The Black Wavetable VCO seems to feature functions experienced modular users have already heard of: wavetables with morphing and CV control is something we have used in our beloved Braids and Morphing Terrarium, yet they managed to make it more compact and indeed, the waveforms do sound more fresh and adjusted. The module also features a sub-oscillator. Here is the video, worth watching from beginning to end. The module will ship with upgradable ROM chips with more waveforms to be announced.
Mutable Instruments – Warps brings a pretty much scientific and science-fictional approach to processing signals. Here is a gentle metallic overtone craze, there is a ringmod sound, and yes, we even have vocoder. However, it shines where you would least expect as well: morphing or warping these signals altogether into each other.
The algorithms are pretty decent sounding, and remind me of the tones of the Mutable “family”. They do have soft and edgy sides. I am really happy to see that some modulation types which we already have in our little eurorack cosmos have also been spiced up! Forinstance, you have a “crossfold” function, which helps you realise how interesting wavefolding could be, if it is combined with cross modulation. The ringmod effects sound lovely, I believe it was a good job. I was not into the digital ring mod, but that is a question of taste, not quality.
I would also highlight the next effects, XOR mod and compare and rectify algorithms to the Crossfolding one. They instantly adds some of the aggressive tones that you don’t get tired of easily. This very musical digital processing helps you a lot to fatten your signals, even if you have only one oscillator in your system, so it is not just an ornament. You have especially sweet results with edgy signals.
The functions I was happiest to see are vocoders. Since Doepfer discontinued the last bits of their big vocoder system, this processing is still being lacked in eurorack. Warps offers a nice and convenient solution – and as I said, it does not sound ‘cheap’.
The most noticeable achievement with these module – unlike other multi-processors I could think of – is that you can morph the functions with ease. You can go to simple crossfading from Input A to Input B and back to all the functions – with enough modulation on the ALGO and Timbre ins, one can easily forget about the individual effects and arrive at… Warps. 🙂
As for the Analogue Zone showroom impressions, the first thing I noticed that it was really easy to animate the effects – I did not have to find any “sweet spot”, and actually, I indeed forgot about the individual effects, I resulted in timbral shifts that added up to the rhythmic structures with ease. All I did was to pitch sequence the internal oscillator with an Intellijel Metropolis, and modulate the Algo and Timbre inputs with two LFO’s (LFO modes actually) from the Intellijel Rubicon and the WMD-SSF Mini Slew (all three were hard synced together by the Mini Slew’s EOC output. The module integrates quickly and will not need many complex sound sources. The controls are also very intuitive and the lights are just right and beautiful as well! The designer really took care of setting them right! No annoying brightness or the opposite – dissatisfying amount of light. The legend of the front panel becomes visible enough indeed in darkness. Here is how it went:
A video posted by AnalogueZone Modular Store (@analoguezone) on
So if you are tired of patching a lot to add movement and self-generative patches, Warps will take care of it too. This module was really designed to spice up your sounds in a lovely, moderately aggressive and unprecedented amount. It will conveniently turn every modular system, even one that has 2 sound sources – inside out.