The fine folks of Sound on Sound took a tour of the new Novation Peak polysynth in their UK offices.
There’s a lot that can be said about the Peak, but here are the two obvious advantages.
First, those digital oscillators are quite clever. It maybe tripped up marketing and some press initially, but the point here is that these should really be indistinguishable from analog equivalents – while with the flexibility (and cost, and power draw) of digital oscillators.
Second, while there is a display, it seems there’s almost no menu diving involved. Each section of the instrument is readily accessible, including the effects. Modulation uses the display, but in a perfectly logical way. And all that power is still kept neat and tidy. I’m keen to play it, because it could be a really ideal desktop poly.
More soon. I’ll be talking in some detail to the Novation team.
“All synths today just sound the same.” Sure. Fair. Well, but then something comes along that sounds more like it’s ready to produce a trippy soundtrack for a wandering scifi epic about a journey to Jupiter, filmed in early-70s Czechoslovakia.*
Meet the Quandrantid Swarm. It’s the latest creation from French boutique Eowave, whose inventions have always tended to the experimental and unique. And while they also do modular now, I can’t help but feel this is Eowave at their best – making desktop instruments and oddball interfaces. These are creations with an eye to the past, but in some sort of alternate history that bent in a different direction.
There’s actually a lot packed into the Swarm’s retro-styled prototype. The synth voice itself is digital, but that gets routed through a 2-pole analog filter, modulation with eight selectable waveforms, and – what really defines the vintage character here – a spring reverb.
There’s also a unique touchplate interface, which acts as a keyboard (either monophonic or polyphonic) or an eight-step sequencer.
Plus there are patch points on the main panel, making this a bit of a tiny submodular.
MIDI and CV/trig connectivity let you integrate this with your studio.
While they’re unveiling the prototype at Superbooth amidst a sea of modulars, this also demonstrate the particular place desktop gear can occupy. Sure, you could cobble together something sort of like this using a modular rig (though probably for a bit more scratch). But while that flexibility has inarguable value, I think there’s also something special about defining this particular set of functions as a single, integrated instrument.
Release date is TBD, with tentative retail pricing set at 499€. I’m seeing people complain about the price but I don’t know what they’re on about – there’s literally nothing that competes with this particular instrument, as it’s a one-of-a-kind invention. And I’m sure some people will find a home for it.
I had to miss the first day of Superbooth, but this is way up on my list to go see tomorrow, so shout if you have questions about this or anything else Eowave and I’ll dig up some answers.
In the meantime, for singular synths and ribbons and things, see:
*Actually, there probably is such a film – exploring the masterpieces of Communist cinema should really be a topic for another post, if anyone wants to contribute. Poland, the DDR, and USSR had some gems I can think of off the top of my head. And… yeah, I’d still choose the Eowave to continue the tradition of unusual sounds, because those things still sound futuristic today. Maybe even more so.
Novation the synth manufacturer looks to be back with a vengeance.
In addition to the new Circuit Bass Station as its mono/paraphonic synth offering, the company has a new polysynth flagship. The UK company says they brought in Chris Huggett, the creator of the Bass Station, Supernova, and OSCar.
What you get is sort of an 8-voice synth inspired by the Bass Station II. You get eight full-featured new Oxford voices with a hybrid analog/digital sound – numerically-controlled oscillators that behave like analog oscillators, plus 17 digital wavetables for the full palette of digital sound. You can also use these as FM sources either way, and even cross-modulate for more sounds. (I’m hoping to grab some audio samples of that soon.)
And there’s full-featured modulation, too, with a 16-slot modulation matrix.
Each voice gets three ADSR envelopes and two LFOs each.
“Animate” gives the synths some live performance features.
There’s some unexpected flexibility here. Not only do you get resonant multi-mode filters on each voice, but there are three distortion points for each – pre- and post-filter and global.
All the expected extras are there, too: reverb, delay, and chorus, plus an arpeggiator, USB, MIDI DIN, and CV.
Components software for patch storage will work with this as on the Circuit line.
I haven’t had the chance to write it up yet, but Waldorf’s own polysynth announced at Musikmesse was out of reach to a lot of us, given that instrument will be “no less than” three grand. Novation give us a poly synth with wavetables and lots of features, at a price that’s easier to swallow.
This also means the competition with Behringer’s synth offerings is on a more level playing field than you might have imagined. Behringer’s synths can’t compete on price alone, given DeepMind and Peak each hover at around a grand. You’ll invest in the instrument you like better. And that seems like how it should be in the first place, particularly with some talented synth designers behind each. (Behringer is also at Superbooth this week, in a departure from what began as a very boutique-minded show.)
That said, what this isn’t is analog. So expect some forum debates about whether “true analog signal path” matters or not. Novation are quick to say this “sounds analog” but benefits from digital functionality. And I think that’s really the bottom line – if it sounds good, it is good. We’ll take a closer look this week in Berlin, so let us know if you’ve got questions.
Available in May. Pricing:
US = $1299.99 ex. tax
Germany = €1429.99 inc. 19% VAT
UK = £1249.99 inc. 20% VAT
There’s also a nice stand for around a hundred bucks, though that’ll be later this year.
Take the grid-based workflow of Circuit – and build a sequencer workstation with a paraphonic analog synth.
That’s the formula of the Circuit Mono Station, one of two new synth products Novation are showing off this week in Berlin at Superbooth. We got a first look via leaked photos; now here are the full details.
Physically, the Circuit Mono Station has the 32 RGB velocity-sensitive pads from the Circuit, plus hands-on controls. But in place of the drum machine / Nova digital polysynth combo (and limited macro encoder controls), what you get is:
A three-track sequencer. Yeah, so makers are finally working out that part of what we want to do is drive external synths (via CV or MIDI or both). Here, you get three track’s worth.
Now, interestingly, you get two “oscillator” sequencers and one “modulation” sequencer. On each, you have gate length, sync rate, and then you can either switch or mutate patterns.
An analog synth. Based on the classic Bass Station II (well, obviously), you get paraphonic and monophonic operation, three different kinds of distortion, sub oscillator, ring mod, overdrive, and multi-mode filter.
Bonus: lots of modulation: four waveshapes, envelope, sequencer, or velocity, which you can route to pitch, pulse-width, amp, filter, distortion, or CV.
And you still get some digital-era benefits: 64 patches to load and save.
It’s also really an audio processor/sequenced modulator. Audio input means all those sequencing features coupled with the filters and distortion let you modulate external signal, too. That more or less doubles the use of this box, and it’s very clever.
Generally, integration is the message. Circuit already had Web-based integration with Components. That will evidently get repeated here, with a USB connection to your computer.
But you now also get features that focus on integration with your studio. In addition to the audio input, you get MIDI in, out, and thru, plus analog ins and outs – and that integrates with the sequencer.
And I think it’s relevant that this Circuit inherits all the features that gradually evolved over the previous models’s consistent firmware updates, adding features like Scales mode.
Accordingly, this is all a little pricier than the original Circuit, but occupies a nice niche just above the drum machine’s price point. (And the two are an obvious pairing, as then you’ve got drums and poly, plus external sequencer and bass. Or route the previous Circuit into the new one and add sequenced filtering and distortion. I can’t wait to play with this.)
Available in July. Pricing by region:
US = $499.99 ex. tax
Germany = €549.99 inc. 19% VAT
UK = £479.99 inc. 20% VAT
neild reports: Chuck Prophet is one of those musicians who went from barely-known to me to a perennial favorite in the course of a single song — or really a single riff, as all it took was hearing the opening guitar line from “Sonny Liston’s Blues,” off his terrific 2009 album Let Freedom Ring. Prophet gets described frequently as the “indie rock Tom Petty,” and it certainly fits his vocal style and commitment to old-school rock ’n’ roll, but if anything it sells him short: He combines a heart worn boldly on his sleeve with character observations that are by turns astute and hilarious, sometimes in the course of the same phrase.
This show at the Bowery Ballroom came toward the end of the tour for Prophet’s excellent new album Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins. Live, not only is Prophet’s dry wit given free rein, but the Mission Express, consisting of guitar wizard James DePrato (here playing even more slide than usual), the superb rhythm section of bassist Kevin White and drummer Vicente Rodriguez, and the unbeatable keyboardist/vocalist (and Prophet’s wife) Stephanie Finch, can spread out songs like “Summertime Thing” and “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)” into loping jams that would be rock radio staples in an alternate universe. I’ve never seen a bad Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express show, and this was among their best, charging along without letup for nearly two hours.
This recording was made with Church Audio CA-14 cardioid mics from lip of the Bowery Ballroom balcony, mixed with a soundboard feed provided by the Bowery’s supremely talented and helpful new soundperson Danielle.
Please pay what you wish for the download (all proceeds other than Paypal and Bandcamp fees go to the artist), and visit chuckprophet.com for all your merch and info needs — I highly recommend subscribing to his email newsletter, which is always a terrific read even if you’re not interested in finding out when he’s coming to your town (though if you’re not, I don’t know what’s wrong with you).
Download and Stream the Complete Show from our Bandcamp Page [HERE]
New York NY
Digital Master Recording
Soundboard + Audience Matrix
CA=14 Cards + Soundboard [engineer Danielle] > Sony PCM-M10 > WAV (24/48) > Sound Studio (light dynamic compression and mixing) > FLAC (16/44.1) > Tag > FLAC
Recorded and Produced by
01 Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins
02 Ramona Say Yes [Chuck Berry]
03 Lonely Desolation
04 Bad Year for Rock and Roll
05 Temple Beautiful
06 Who Shot John
07 Barely Exist
08 Jesus Was a Social Drinker
09 You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)
10 In The Mausoleum
11 Ford Econoline
12 We Got Up and Played
13 Iodine [Leonard Cohen]
14 Summertime Thing
15 Countrified Inner City Technological Man
16 Wish Me Luck
17 Willie Mays Is Up At Bat
18 Let Her Dance [Bobby Fuller Four]
19 You And Me Baby (Holding On)
Novation’s Circuit drum machine/synth/sequencer combo already found a lot of fans. Now it looks like they’ve got another all-in-one grid instrument – this time, a mono/paraphonic synth with sequencer. And whereas the Nova polysynth in the Circuit is hidden behind controls, here you get loads of hands-on control.
The Novation Mono Station has leaked via retailers like Dutch prodjstore and are already making rounds on social media. Most interesting I’d say, apart from combining the grid sequencer with a hands-on synth, is that modulation matrix. (It’s not bad having distortion plus a multi-mode filter with overdrive, either.)
In a nod to analog fans, you also get a full complement of CV controls round the back, in addition to MIDI and USB.
Novation are in town here in Berlin for Superbooth, so we’ll be sure to talk to them – and see what they’ve got to tell us about this or anything else new.
But to see this from the makers of the beloved Bass Station I’d say is good news indeed for desktop synthesis fans. And it continues the trend of putting sequencers on these instruments instead of keys. (See also: volca series, Roland AIRA, Pioneer AS-1, Circuit of course, and so on.)
Specs leaked, too:
Two oscillators with individual control of sync and tuning parameters
High-pass, low-pass and band-pass filters with slopes of 12dB and 24dB
Three distortion modes
Choose monophonic or paraphonic modes with individual glide control
Four-by-eight modulation matrix that enables complex alteration and routing
Load and save up to 64 patches on the device
Three sequencer tracks (two oscillator sequencers, one modulation sequencer)
32 velocity-sensitive RGB pads
16 scale types
Changeable sync rates
CV/Gate, CV mod plus MIDI In, Out and Thru for connecting and controlling separate hardware
Backup patches and sessions with Components
— and there are selectable waveforms, sawtooth, triangle, square, and sample + hold. (No PWM, unfortunately…)
An antique, experimental mix of mine…from 2003; painstakingly restored on a digital cutting board. I ripped the .wav files from a CD-R, imported them into Audacity & began re-segueing the tracks [Zoom in, Fade-in/Fade-out, Zoom out]. 74:19
01 Brian Eno – Signals
02 Gustav Holst – Neptune the Mystic
03 Firmament – Pinhole View
04 Michael Griffin/David Fulton – Biometric
05 eM – Across the Milky Way
06 Roland Ivarsson – Coral
07 David Fulton/Michael Griffin – Plastic & Flesh
08 Pan American – Noun
09 Alien Planetscapes – Energy Fools the Magician
10 Robert Fripp/Andy Summers – Lakeland-Aquarelle
11 Arvo Pärt – Darf Ich
12 Jan Garbarek – Arc
13 Henry Frayne – Dog Days, part 1
14 Sinead O’Connor – Just Call Me Joe
We often describe quality pop and songwriting as effortless, as easy. But what about when it’s awkward, uncomfortable? Aren’t those the moments that describe longing?
When Shamir Bailey says he recorded his album to four track, the first thing I’m obligated to consider is, of course – he might be lying. And ground hum and hiss shouldn’t be accepted as any form of authenticity any more than should an Instagram filter.
But there’s no question artists today bear some burden of the polished album, whether in the form of the tools we use and their opportunities for endless obsessive adjustment, or the legacy of records past. And while I think we have to be at least a little suspicious of the superficial artifacts of immediacy, I think we can accept the music as evidence.
“Hope’s” songs themselves feel like they were recorded over a weekend. Forget the technology for a moment (yes, even on this tech-oriented site) – these songs sound like demos.
And they have an aching, earnest quality to them – every single one. If it was a four track involved, or whatever, it has that impression of an idea fresh in the mind and soul, before some of the original idea is eroded in the arrangement process. If this is an act, it’s a beautiful one. The emotions are real, if performed, and that’s surely what we ask of pop music.
Here’s Shamir’s statement, as background:
I was gonna quit music this weekend. From day 1 it was clear i was an accidental pop star. I loved the idea of it, i mean who doesn’t? Still the wear of staying polished with how im presented and how my music was presented took a huge toll on me mentally. I started to hate music, the thing i loved the most! When i would listen to immaculate recordings with my friends their praise over the quality of the art as opposed to the art itself made me feel really sad for music as a medium in general. My music only feels exciting for me if its in the moment, and thats what this album is. I made this album this past weekend stuck in my room with just a 4 track feeling hopeless about my love for music. Im not gonna lie, this album is hard to listen to, but it was even harder for me to share. I love pop music, i love outsider music, and i love lofi music, this is my way of combining all 3. Anyway I played, wrote, produced, and mixed everything and big thanks to Kieran Ferris for Mastering an album with an hours notice! its free! Enjoy! Love Yall! Still more 2 come!!!!!!!
Like A Bird
One More Time Won’t Kill You
I Fucking Hate You
Rain (Blake Babies Cover)
Bleed It Out
So enough complaining, music lovers and music journos. You wanted real talent, raw and inarguable? Here it is.
Here’s a voice with the acrobatic gender-warping qualities of a Michael Jackson or Prince, but sounding like it speaks for the Millennial epoch (without any of those stupid whoops, but in tune with the zeitgeist).
Shamir Bailey is open about being “genderqueer,” though in doing so he finally gives word to the beautiful quality of singing in general – its ability to play with gender. It’s refreshing that he can identify in this way as well as convince us with his singing that his vocal cords aren’t bound by gender. A suburban Las Vegas kid gone to New York, he’s already found pop stardom. But this to me is authentic, unfiltered self-expression. Songs can’t lie.
Go deeper into the record, and tracks cut off, vocals push out of tune, drums get violently behind – you feel desperation. This to me is punk aesthetics at the moment punk aesthetics tend to feel like pastiche. Emotional urgency is back. (I also think there’s no reason someone couldn’t do the same thing with electronics, if the feeling is still raw.)
And to anyone who says music is too easy to make and too easy to share, well, then here’s the answer. Find something to say, and find your voice.
I think it’s always worth listening to the founders of Coldcut and Ninja Tune, in that they have led in their use of samples, remixing, and cut-up techniques – they were consistently ahead of where things were going. And they did that not only with their own musical output, but also by building tools for audiovisual / VJ cut-up.
Sometimes it takes some time to wrap your head around that vision. But it’s worth following – particularly with outspoken artist/thinker Matt Black.
It’s turned out to be really tough to describe Ninja Jamm, their touch-based production and remix app. Okay, so it’s an app that lets you live remix your favorite tracks from Ninja Tune artists and friends. And it’s also a production tool, in that you can massively transform those tracks, and can load more basic building blocks in the form of high-quality loop packs from the likes of Loopmasters. And, that’s cool – got it.
But you feel something else entirely when you actually start to dig into the app. You can see that in this video, as demonstrated by creator Matt Black:
You start to realize that it’s a four-channel tool with extensive effects – that it’s not so different from digging into someone’s Ableton Live or FL Studio project in that way.
Then, you start playing with a bunch of ninja-themed glyphs and … things start happening that you kind of haven’t heard even from your arsenal of desktop computer plug-ins and so on.
Basically, what makes Ninja Jamm slightly unmarketable and elusive is the thing that makes it genius. It’s some glimpse of the imagination of Matt Black and his team.
To put it in a more personal, less theoretical/philosophical way, I didn’t really get a complete sense of how this works with Ninja Jamm until it was one of my own tracks in there. I don’t want to sound like this is serving my own vanity. On the contrary, with my own music as the content, I began to understand what the tool could do. In fact, I almost needed to know my track back and forth just to follow the wild and complex combinations of sound mangling possible. Like, “wait, that’s my sound — that’s — where did that come from, even? — wow.”
In other words, I think Ninja Jamm is an instrument. Just in the way sampling can make something genuinely new (whatever copyright courts may say about that), you can really do something with this app. Maybe it’s even more interesting as a way of interacting with artists and the minds of Coldcut than what you get out of loading up a preset or sample in conventional software.
And now, with Android and iOS support, functionality on phones and tablets, and even Ableton Link support for synchronization, there’s no reason you can’t use this in a set. I’m certainly going to take it along when I play live next, later this month. And frankly, it’ll be far more live than a lot of the press-play sets I see people perform (some of which don’t really amount to DJing).
Plus, while you might get a little traction out of downloading an artist’s music and DJing with it, or even going to the four-channel STEMS format from Native Instruments, using something in the format in Ninja Jamm provides essentially limitless variation. (And you could drop it into another set, since it’s all synced with Link.)
You might or might not particularly like my track, but there’s a lot of content there. I was presented via the Liquid Sky series, a series rooted deep in the German underground. (Curator and infamous acid legend Dr. Walker instructed me that, no matter what, my track should be dirty. And it gets much, much dirtier from there.)
There are also really wonderful experimental sounds beyond that, both from the best of Ninja’s own catalog, and the likes of the wild music of IRRUPT and sounds from our friends at Bastl Instruments.
It’s actually a fascinating way to explore music. I wouldn’t want to do this with every track I love, but with this collection, it’s like being able to get your hands into a sandbox full of sound toys you love – to touch the tracks yourself.
Grab a few packs you like, and you’ll already have more than enough to do. But if you wish you could load your own tracks, Matt and Ninja Tune tell us they are working on a new tool for that, to be revealed later. In the meantime, Ninja Jamm I think is one of the most overlooked gems on mobile.
The app is free, and my pack (along with a selection of others) is free. Other packs are available as in-app purchases. Check it out:
Anyone who’s ever had a voice instructor has been treated to long attempted explanations of what’s going on in the physical mechanisms associated with singing. But even though that’s inside your mouth and throat, it can be tough to visualize.
This Web simulator is doubly interesting. One, it demonstrates how synthesized vocal sounds can mimic the real thing. But two, and maybe more interesting, it gives you a sense of how each physical component in your body impacts the sound of singing. And that could make your next karaoke session somehow deeply enlightening.
Oh yeah, it’s also weirdly fun to play with slash seriously annoy coworkers with. (Headphones, please!)
It’s recommended for use on multi-touch devices, so you might want to get your phone or tablet. But it’s also perfectly usable in browser on a desktop.
Pink Trombone is the work of developer Neil Thapen, who apparently spends a lot of his time working on game development.
The specific technique here is “articulatory speech synthesis.” And I could tell you all about that. Wait. No I can’t. But Wikipedia can – let’s read this together, shall we? (I know, I’m supposed to be like an expert or something. Don’t tell anyone.)
I had no idea the theory behind speech synthesis can be traced back to 1791.
That sounds like the topic of a whole other article, the connection of the voice and electronic music. To anyone who would dismiss vocals as some kind of extra track you add to your instrumentals, I would hasten to point out that apart from voices being in everyone’s bodies and being around before even acoustic instruments, electronic music itself wouldn’t exist without the voice. The vocoder is arguably a model for the synthesis models to come, for instance.
And I’ll write that article. Uh… just as soon as I stop playing with this Web toy. I’m going to get back to that right now.