Berlin’s Superbooth present has develop into an annual pilgrimage for modular synth followers the world over. FACT’s tech editor Scott Wilson went to see what we will anticipate from the format in 2019 and past.
Commerce exhibits are as a lot part of synthesizer tradition as patch cables and soldering irons. Over the previous three many years, California’s NAMM occasion has been the place for producers to showcase new synths and technological improvements (it’s the place MIDI was publicly unveiled in 1983), however over the previous few years its dominance for synth bulletins has been challenged by Berlin’s Superbooth, an upstart expo run by the minds behind the town’s famed SchneidersLaden retailer.
What started as an occasion for boutique corporations making Eurorack modular gear has grow to be a spot the place massive manufacturers like Arturia, Native Devices and Ableton can launch their newest merchandise; at this yr’s version, held final week, Korg showcased its newest reasonably priced Volca field, Novation launched a brand new flagship polysynth, Summit, and Elektron dropped Digitone Keys. Modular synths nonetheless dominate Superbooth on the stands and on stage (Caterina Barbieri and Mute’s Daniel Miller each performed units), however they co-exist with conventional keyboard devices and software program too.
Superbooth has all the time been a spot the place you’ll be able to anticipate to get a glimpse of the place music know-how is heading over the subsequent yr, and this yr was no totally different. It’s all the time troublesome to determine a dominant development at a present this wide-ranging, however the stuff that excited me this yr provided new methods to make use of the modular synth in several contexts – not simply within the studio and performing reside, however in DJ units as nicely.
ALM Busy Circuits made it simpler to make use of your Eurorack in a DJ set
ALM Busy Circuits is considered one of Eurorack’s true innovators. Its founder, Matthew Allum, has made modules from previous Yamaha FM sound chips, a filter based mostly on a basic AKAI sampler and a programmable modulation supply that’s one of many format’s most in-demand modules. His newest brainwave is Pamela’s Discotheque, an unassuming black and pink field that converts tempo knowledge from the ethernet port of a CDJ into analog clock alerts for syncing with modular techniques.
Allum’s answer is straightforward however sensible; by analysing the info transmitted by way of the CDJ’s ethernet cable (used share music information between CDJs and maintain them in time), he recognized tempo knowledge from Pioneer DJ’s Rekordbox software program he might use as a information. The ethernet cable goes into Pamela’s Discotheque, which does some conversion, and a CV clock sign comes out. You’ll be able to even do a spinback on the platter and the Eurorack will react accordingly. For lots of modular customers the necessity for such a converter gained’t be instantly apparent, however Allum is sweet pals with Jack Adams aka Mumdance, who requested Allum develop the software so he might do extra together with his modular in his hybrid DJ units.
ALM additionally has an incredible new audio and CV sampler module arriving subsequent month referred to as Squid Salmpler (the misspelling is intentional, Allum tells me, as a result of, ALM + sampler = sALMpler) that pairs completely with Pamela’s Discotheque. It has eight set off inputs so you need to use it like a drum machine, and it comes with a USB drive that includes 80 royalty-free pattern banks made by buddies of ALM together with Mumdance, Russell Haswell and Dungeon Acid. It was initially proven finally yr’s Superbooth, however Allum says it’s gone by way of a number of modifications since then. It was in all probability probably the most enjoyable module of the present – every time it was proven off it began its personal mini-rave.
Polyend’s new modules assist get your Eurorack out of the studio
Polyend is turning into well-known for its grid-based controllers, like the large Seq MIDI Step Sequencer and final yr’s Dreadbox synth collaboration, Medusa. This yr’s key providing from Polyend is a bit more compact, however no much less ingenious: a Eurorack module referred to as Preset that can be utilized to create, recall and sequence musical notes, gate and CV automation.
Of the Preset’s 9 CV outputs, one is an LFO, so it is going to retailer envelopes and carry out some modulation. I used to be proven how the module was capable of change between synthesis fashions on three Mutable Devices Plaits modules on the fly, and it was a minor revelation. You’ll have to recollect the place the 9 outputs have been patched to or the presets gained’t work, however there’s nonetheless apparent benefits for reside performers.
One other new module from Polyend frees the modular another way – energy. Whereas there are many battery-powered synths available on the market, modular rigs sometimes want mains energy. Polyend’s Anyplace permits you to plug in a the type of high-capacity battery pack you’d use to cost a telephone or laptop computer and have that energy the system as an alternative. Although it’s in all probability most sensible for anybody transporting a small skiff, Polyend was utilizing it run a big Intellijel 84HP Efficiency Case with no noticeable points.
Gamechanger Audio gave us the present’s weirdest synth
You possibly can all the time be assured to see at the least one WTF merchandise at a synth present, and at Superbooth 2019 it was Motor Synth. Gamechanger Audio’s newest gadget does precisely what its identify suggests, which is generate sound by harnessing the power made by eight electromotors. The idea itself is wild sufficient, however on no account does it put together you for what this factor truly seems like in motion.
The synth’s motors fill an analogous position in to oscillators in typical synths, and are derived from know-how sometimes seen in flying drones. These motors are able to rushing up and slowing down in a short time, as a result of drones want that type of ultra-precise management to manoeuvre within the air. It’s probably the most metallic factor I’ve seen since Gamechanger Audio launched its Plasma Pedal distortion unit final yr.
Motor Synth is able to four-note polyphony, nevertheless it didn’t strike me because the type of instrument you’d use to make serene pads or strings; as you may anticipate, it sounds a bit like a mechanical gadget when it’s performed. Whereas it might be straightforward to put in writing off Motor Synth as a little bit of a gimmick, it definitely didn’t sound like anything at Superbooth 2019. Its crowdfunding marketing campaign hits Indiegogo on Might 28.
Ableton’s CV Instruments might take modular mainstream
If there was something at this yr’s Superbooth that highlighted how modular synths have been accepted by the broader business, it was Ableton’s CV Instruments, an extended overdue package deal for Reside 10.1 that makes controlling the format from inside the well-liked DAW simpler than ever. Software program reminiscent of Bitwig Studio and Professional Sleepers’ Silent Approach provided this for years, however Ableton’s consumer base is sort of a bit bigger.
What’s most vital about CV Instruments is that it immediately lowers the obstacles for entry to Eurorack. Constructing a modular rig is dear, however the utilities CV Instruments gives (LFO, envelope generator, gate triggers and extra) are the important constructing blocks of a system that maybe aren’t that thrilling, or which are in all probability additional down the record of priorities than a shiny new oscillator module.
The caveat is that you simply’ll want a selected sort of audio interface to ship the CV to the system, specifically a DC-coupled system or Skilled Sleepers module, although it’s probably shopping for certainly one of these will prevent cash general. I’d anticipate CV Instruments to have a big influence on the variety of Eurorack techniques within the wild over the subsequent yr.
SOMA’s Pulsar-23 redefines the drum machine
From the Theremin to the Polivoks, Russia has an extended and wealthy historical past of synthesizer innovation. Main the nation’s trendy synth business is Vlad Kreimer’s SOMA Laboratory, whose “organismic” LYRA synth has turned heads over the previous few years. This yr it was showcasing a semi-modular drum machine, Pulsar-23. It’s in all probability greatest you simply watch Kreimer’s official Superbooth presentation under (skip to 07:45 for the music).
At first look, it’d look like in the identical large-format drum synth class as Vermona’s DRM1. What I discovered most putting concerning the Pulsar-23, although, is how textured it sounds. This clearly isn’t a glance backwards, it’s an try and carve out a brand new place within the drum machine class with an enormous quantity of management and sound design potential, full with envelope turbines that may generate noise and synth sounds too. It’s even able to “reside circuit bending”, and you may patch it into your present modular gear or combine it together with your DAW. I discover it onerous to get enthusiastic about devices that look so utilitarian, however critically, this factor is mind-blowing.
The Pulsar-23 proven was a prototype of the mass manufacturing model, which we will anticipate quickly.
Scott Wilson is FACT’s tech editor. Discover him on Twitter
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