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Review of MangledVerb H9 Signature Series reverb effect by Eventide — December 11, 2017

Review of MangledVerb H9 Signature Series reverb effect by Eventide

Introduction
Eventide have released MangledVerb reverb plug-in as the newest in its H9 Signature Series.

MangledVerb is available as an AAX/AU/VST plug-in for Mac OS X 10.7+ and Windows 7+ at an MSRP of $79.00 USD from Eventide dealers and its website. A fully-functional 30-day demo version is available; MangledVerb is also available as part of Eventide’s Ensemble Subscription bundle.

For more in-depth information, please visit the dedicated MangledVerb webpage.

Overview
MangledVerb combines reverb and distortion, providing power to create unique spaces full of beauty or drenched in mayhem, with complete control over all the elements. Eventide has repurposed MangledVerb for anyone working ‘in the box’ by following in the footsteps of the first H9 Signature Series plug-in, UltraTap, drawing from some of the most popular and powerful algorithms from its award-winning H9 Harmonizer® Effects Processor stompbox. Similarly, MangledVerb makes a signature effect first popularized in its rack mount Eclipse Harmonizer® Effects Processor available as a namesake new plug-in.

Designed for real-time manipulation, MangledVerb features The Ribbon, an innovative control that allows anyone to program two settings for any combination of the controls to transition between them. The programmable HOTSWITCH helps push creativity further still by enabling users to instantly jump to an alternative setting at the push of a button. Other controls include PRE DELAY, reverb DECAY time and enclosure SIZE, OVERDRIVE, and pre- distortion (post-reverb) equalization, as well as a proprietary WOBBLE parameter. This combination of controls is intended to make MangledVerb as close as possible to the experience of tweaking real hardware.

In-depth Review
I was delighted when I heard about the release of MangledVerb, it follows hot on the heels of the recently released Ultratap.

MangledVerb

The GUI has a very similar look and feel to Ultratap, so if you’ve used that effect you’ll instantly feel at home.

MangledVerb is a superb sounding reverb effect which is easy to use and get to grips with. It comes complete with over 180 presets from acclaimed artists including Christian Cassan, Richard Devine, and Vernon Reid which give an indication of what this effect can do.

It can produce a huge range of reverb effects from subtle ambience, huge ambience, large spaces, distortions, metallic sounding, subtle movement to more swirling effects. Using the ribbon to change various parameters emulates hardware and offers great flexibility and usability.

I’ve really enjoyed using MangledVerb and have created a demo album which is embedded at the top of the post. I’ve created this in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 using a variety of samplers and MangledVerb as the only effect. I’ve subsequently mastered it in MuLab 7 using Elevate and Stage.

MangledVerb has a clear, well defined interface although it isn’t resizable. The control knobs are large and allow easy adjustment of the controls to shape your sound as desired. There are 2 additional controls which give you further control over your sound. The ribbon allows you to program 2 settings for any controls and morph to any sound between the two. Hotswitch is programmable to instantly change to an alternate sound. This hardware emulation is an excellent feature that MangledVerb handles seamlessly.

The input level is on the left hand side with a meter above and the output level is on the right hand side also with a meter above.

The signal flow is essentially input -> pre-delay -> reverb -> EQ -> distortion -> out.

The controls are pretty self explanatory.

Mix is the dry/wet setting. This control has a non-linear taper which puts most of the knob travel in the most usable range.

Decay is the length of reverb decay scaled from 1 – 100. Higher values give a traditional reverb tail whereas lower values can result in reverse reverb with more build up.

Size determines the size of the reverb. Low settings (<15)enable use as a distortion effect.

Pre-delay is the amount of delay before the reverb section.

Lows / Highs are controls to boost/cut the low or high frequencies before distortion.

Softclip is a dual control with the first half of travel determining the softclip gain level from 1 – 100. When you pass 100 the distortion changes to overdrive and the second half of travel controls distortion gain from 1 -100.

Level – controls the output level of the distortion section from -18dB to +6dB. It is used to compensate for changes in level when using softclip or overdrive.

Wobble controls depth and rate of reverb modulation. Increasing the value can create some interesting detuning effects.

Freq sets the centre frequency (300Hz – 2kHz) for the mid-range EQ before the distortion section.

Mids boosts or cuts mid-range frequencies before the distortion section.

Tempo sync has 3 settings. When off, the tap button adjusts the pre-delay. You can also choose sync to sync to your host DAW tempo or manual to set times as required.

The Ribbon is an innovative feature designed to emulate hardware. You can program left and right ranges and morph between them with the ribbon which looks like an electric arc.

ultratap

It’s as simple as clicking on the white dot in the arc which shows the position of the knob dial in the range of travel and dragging it to the left hand side of the ribbon. You then click the blue dot on the opposite side of the arc and drag it to where you want the right side of the ribbon to represent. You can then adjust the range of ribbon settings by moving the dots or right click to delete them.

Active turns the effect on and off.

Hotswitch allows you to adjust settings so that you can switch between effects. It’s easy to set up, long-press to enter programming mode, make the required changes and then long-press to exit programming mode. When you press the hotswitch button you toggle between the two settings.

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Review of Elevate mastering limiter / maximiser plugin by Newfangled Audio / Eventide — December 7, 2017

Review of Elevate mastering limiter / maximiser plugin by Newfangled Audio / Eventide

Introduction

Newfangled Audio have partnered with Eventide to produce Elevate — a pioneering plug-in that elevates mastering technology using intelligent, adaptive technology that responds in real time to music. Elevate is exclusively available through Eventide (as an AAX/AU/VST plug-in for Mac OS X 10.7+ and Windows 7+) bundled with Newfangled Audio’s EQuivocate EQ plug-in with an MSRP of $199.00 USD.

For more in-depth information, including a free demo download, please visit the dedicated product webpage ;

Watch Newfangled Audio founder Dan Gillespie’s enlightening Elevate overview video;

See and hear how producer and recording artist Matt Lange has been using Elevate here.

Overview

Elevate is the most advanced mastering plug-in ever created. This unique multi-band limiter, human ear EQ, and powerful audio maximizer will increase the loudness of a mix while maintaining or improving its dynamic perception. It uses intelligent, adaptive technology that responds in real time to music, creating not only the loudest but also the best-sounding master.

Developed by Newfangled Audio, Elevate maintains subtle dynamics and improves the tonal balance of a mix. The adaptive limiter analyzes 26 frequency bands and alters the gain, speed, and transients for each band in real time. This results in a transparent, natural sound — no matter how hard it is pushed.

Elevate utilizes 26 critical filter bands modeled on the human ear. Each of the bands are spaced to give maximum control over how sound hits the eardrum. Draw curves, solo bands, and manipulate the transient attack for each individual band to bring out instruments such as kick or snare drums.

Elevate uses artificial intelligence algorithms to make it easy to get the best sounds, but users can still get under the hood to access as much precise control as deemed necessary. This includes control over tonal balance and transients inside the final limiting stage. Adaptive algorithms reduce audible artifacts while additional controls provide maximum flexibility with professional results.

Elevate in use

As with the EQuivocate plugin, the GUI has a clean modern look and is easy to use and navigate. Incidentally, if you want to learn more about EQuivocate, you can read my review.

The top section has presets, load/save options and a drop down offering colour schemes. Underneath is an ‘active’ button which switches the effect on and off. There’s also a very handy ‘gain lock’ option, useful when switching presets so you don’t get large volume or value changes. The match level is also useful to boost the dry signal when the plugin is inactive to compare the processed and unprocessed sound with the same amount of gain.

If you’re familiar with EQuivocate, the display will look very similar with the input vu meter on the left and output vu meter on the right of the display, both showing peak and rms levels. On the output is an ‘auto’ button. This option automatically compensates for any volume changes and it is sometimes useful to switch into manual mode so you can hear the changes to your audio.

The three options at the top – input/output, gain reduction and filter bank determine what is shown in the main display. The lower part of the display contains controls for the main parameters and associated sub-modules.

Selecting ‘main parameters’ displays the filter bank, limiter, transient and spectral clipper options. The limiter can use up to 26 bands. These are based on the ‘Mel’ scale which are the critical hearing bands. The gain control lets you set the amount of gain and the speed control acts as a sort of combined attack/release control. These both have adaptive options which means the limiter will act on each individual band. The value for adaptive gain determines how far (in dB) bands can differ from each other. The value for adaptive speed will adapt the setting for each filter band individually reducing artifacts. The ceiling control is the maximum output.

For more control over how the limiter works, there are filter bank, limiter/EQ and transient sub modules. The number of bands chosen for the limiter will determine the number of EQ bands in the filter bank sub-module. When you choose the number of bands, Elevate automatically places them on the Mel scale between the minimum and maximum values. Although they are fixed in terms of frequency, you have a lot of flexibility because you can skew the weighting of the centre frequency, solo individual bands and add or remove bands. Any changes you make triggers the custom mode and if you change the number of bands the limiter setting will be automatically updated.

The limiter/EQ sub-module allows you to adjust the gain for each frequency band and see the relative gain reduction being applied. You can adjust individual bands or draw EQ curves. This will be familiar if you’ve used the EQuivocate EQ plugin.

The transient emphasis can be adjusted from 0% to 100% and the adaptive control enables the transient shaper to work on each individual band. Clicking on the transient sub-module enables greater manual control over each band.

The spectral clipper is designed to clip the fast transients which pass through the transient emphasis section but also allows you to add up to 12dB of distortion based gain. Elevate applies this according to the shape curve shown on the clipper sub-module.

Elevate comes with 55 presets to get you started. Some of these are excellent in their own right but are more useful as a starting point to tweak to your own requirements or you can start from scratch.

Elevate is a fantastic plugin, it has an extremely impressive sound and despite the internal complexities is easy to get to grips with. When I started using Elevate I wasn’t sure if it would suit my ambient / downtempo style of music because some of the presets produced a very loud resulting sound. This just highlights why you can’t rely on presets, spending a little time to get to grips with Elevate, I quickly found a more suitable preset that I tweaked to meet my requirements. I have used Elevate to master my latest two albums, 259e and veirteiliger satz. I’m very impressed with the results, I can see that I will be using Elevate on a lot of future albums and songs.

Review of EQuivocate auditory graphic EQ by Newfangled Audio / Eventide —

Review of EQuivocate auditory graphic EQ by Newfangled Audio / Eventide

Introduction

Newfangled Audio have partnered with Eventide to produce an EQ based on the critical bands of the human ear. EQuivocate is exclusively available through Eventide (as an AAX/AU/VST plug-in for Mac OS X 10.7+ and Windows 7+) for an MSRP of $99.00 USD. It is also available as part of the Elevate mastering bundle (it is integrated into the Elevate mastering limiter and maximiser plugin) for $199 USD.

Visit the EQuivocate webpage for more information.

Overview

EQuivocate is the ideal EQ for naturally changing the tone of any sound, so it is perfect for mixing and mastering applications. As EQuivocate uses filters that are modelled on the human ear, each of its 26 bands tickles a different part of the inner ear, making any combination of settings sound as natural as ‘humanly’ possible. Combining this with a linear-phase filter shape that reduces pre-echo makes EQuivocate an EQ with a difference that can clearly be heard.

Use EQuivocate’s Match EQ feature to make the sound of your track match or complement the audio signal streamed to its sidechain. You can also use it to make a final master match the tone of a reference track, or help fit a sound into a dense mix. Unlike other match EQ plug-ins, EQuivocate provides a transparent match without trying to model imperceptible differences which can cause a match EQ to sound unnatural. Feed your favorite song or individual track into it and instantly morph your tone to match.

EQuivocate in use

The GUI has a clean modern look and is easy to use and navigate.

The top section has presets, load/save options and a drop down offering 3 different colour schemes. Underneath is an ‘active’ button which switches the effect on and off.

The input vu meter is on the left and output vu meter on the right of the display, both showing peak and rms levels. On the output is an ‘auto’ button. This option automatically compensates for any volume changes caused by any boosts or cuts to eq meaning no changes to volume level.

The main part of the display highlights how this plugin works differently to many other EQs because it is based on the ‘Mel’ scale which are preset values based on the critical bands of human hearing. Although they are fixed in terms of frequency, you have a lot of flexibility because you can skew the weighting of the centre frequency, use any number from 1 up to 26 bands and solo individual bands. Any changes you make triggers the custom mode which enables you to add and remove bands and draw EQ curves. The display shows the chosen number of bands at the bottom with EQ cuts and boosts above. You can select to show input and/or output monitoring for a visual representation of the changes you have made.

The match EQ is a cool feature, you load an audio file into the side chain and EQuivocate listens to the source and matches levels. There’s a scaling option which also features negative values that allow you to invert an EQ profile.

EQuivocate comes with 69 presets to get you started. These are excellent in their own right and can of course be tweaked to meet your requirements or you can start from scratch. I’m really impressed by how easy and flexible EQuivocate is to use. It handles mixing tasks such as taming low end, adding guitar presence, adding a bass presence or more extreme filtering; equally it can handle mastering tasks such as tightening and brightening. I really like how you can use EQuivocate quite subtly on individual tracks which adds up to a big change to the overall sound or use it for specific filtering effects such as producing a lo-fi sound.

EQuivocate compliments Elevate really well. Both plugins have been developed with the same principles of operation. EQuivocate can easily handle your EQ tasks and Elevate will definitely improve the quality of you finished song / mix. If you want to learn more about Elevate you can read my review.

Review of ‘A Fixed Point’ album by Petridisch on I Heart Noise label — December 1, 2017

Review of ‘A Fixed Point’ album by Petridisch on I Heart Noise label

This album was released in the I Heart Noise label back in June, the CD and cassette have sold out but the digital version is still available.

I really like how this album is difficult to define in terms of style, which gives it such a great sound.

The arrangements and layering are excellent, there are contrasting ambient / uptempo elements and subtle unexpected chord changes which add a great tension and often an edge to the songs.

The Unknown Rabbit
A great edge of tension to the song from drone bass, synth and swirling pad which has vocal qualities. The drumming pattern gives a momentum leading into an organ riff which adds a great tension with vocal background sounds.

In the Red
Opening vocals have an ethereal slightly disconcerting quality. There’s a great contrast between the laid back kick rhythm and more uptempo arp.

Operation Interlude
There’s a contrast between the ambience of the pad sounds, synth and more uptempo drumming pattern. A subtle edge of tension too which works really well.

In the Black
Opening vocals have a great tension to them accompanied by bass and synth riff. The song is quite edgy and has a great flow.

Review of ‘explosions in technicolour’ album by Espher — November 29, 2017

Review of ‘explosions in technicolour’ album by Espher


 
This is an excellent album, quite hard to pin down a particular style but that’s what makes it such a good album. There are elements of trance, downtempo and future garage amongst others which creates a great sound with an edge of tension between uptempo and more laid back elements.

It’s engaging, just as you drift away the layering of contrasting elements grabs your attention back. It’s an excellently produced album.

To the sky
There’s a great vibe to this song. An atmospheric, evolving opening leading into a kind of trance / progressive feel with a nice edge of tension. Great contrast between the uptempo drumming pattern and bass and evolving atmospheric pads. Vocals add a great element.

Goya
A short song which is an atmospheric soundscape with drone qualities and subtle movement in sounds.

Flux
An atmospheric opening from layering, I really like the reversed sounds. The bass gives more of a defined momentum, further defined with the kick drum. Great interplay between this and more laid back percussive sounds. A great contrast between ambience and a more uptempo feel.

You are loved
A great edge from opening percussive sounds and vocals. A kind of future garage feel, it’s downtempo with an excellent laid back groove.

Haptic
Another excellent vibe, there’s a great contrast between a trance and ambient sound. I really like the change in feel towards the end.

(mir)
A piano melody with brilliant use of reverse elements, a captivating song.

Sacrifice
An evolving opening leading into a great rhythm and contrasting bass and atmospheric sound effects. Melody adds a great element and there’s an excellent change of feel.

 

Review of Softube Modular and Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator add-on for Modular — November 28, 2017

Review of Softube Modular and Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator add-on for Modular

Linköping, Sweden: Softube is proud to announce the first ever officially licensed Buchla plug-in: The Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator for Modular. Unique and desirable, this dual oscillator is guaranteed to add some real spice to your Modular patches.

The Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator plug-in for Modular features all the digital waveshaping, aliasing noise and fold over frequencies of the original hardware. Enjoy the self-modifying, screeching, snarling responses from the original’s downright odd inner workings. The 259e is truly a unique addition to the Modular ecosystem.

Requirements and Availability

Buchla 259e is an add-on for Softube’s popular virtual Eurorack synth Modular. It should be noted that you require a Modular licence from Softube to use the Buchla 259e add-on. Whilst the hardware unit is typically sold for $1599, the plug-in is typically priced at $99.

Web page with more information:

YouTube video

Softube Modular

Because Buchla 259e is an add-on and not a VST in its own right, you need a licence for Softube Modular in order to use it.

If like me you don’t have the money nor space to invest in a hardware modular system, Modular by Softube offers an excellent virtual solution. It’s a cross-platform plug-in featuring authorised emulations of well known hardware Eurorack brands.

The basic system is typically priced at $89 and includes 6 Doepfer modules (A-110-1 VCO, A-108 VCF, A-132-3 Dual VCA, A-140 ADSR, A-118 Noise/Random, A-147 VCLFO) and 20 utility modules (such as MIDI to CV/gate, mixers, slew, sample & hold, switches, multiples, delay, offset, sequencers, clock dividers, logic and signal tools, as well as a Polyphonic MIDI to CV/gate module).

A number of bundles are also available and other modules available for purchase include Heartbeat drum synthesis, TSAR-1 and TSAR-1R reverbs, 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator, Intellijel Rubicon, Korgasmatron II, uFold II plus many more.

A 20 day demo version is available.

As you’d expect the system requirements are quite high:

  • Mac OS X 10.9 or newer (Note: Testing for OS X High Sierra has not been completed at this time)
  • Windows 64-bit, versions 7, 8 or 10 (Note: Testing for Fall Creators Update has not been completed at this time)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo, AMD Athlon 64 X2 or newer
  • Screen resolution larger than 1280×800
  • 1 GB RAM or more, and at least 6 GB hard disk space for installation (individual plug-ins take less space)
  • Any VST, VST3, AU, or AAX (Pro Tools 10.3.7, 11.0.2 or higher) compatible host application
  • Softube/Gobbler account
  • Gobbler application to manage license activation and plug-in downloads
  • Broadband internet access for downloading installer and registering licenses

All Softube plug-ins support both 32- and 64-bit hosts, although a 64-bit OS is required. Supported sample rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192 kHz, in both mono and stereo.

My current setup is a 2Ghz dual core pentium with 4GHz memory. I decided to install modular using the Gobbler software which was straightforward and really easy, in fact at the point of publication of this post an update to Modular was available and the Gobbler software implemented the update quickly and efficiently. After the initial installation, Modular opened but wouldn’t run. The support from Softube was excellent, very quickly identifying the issue (related to OpenGL) and providing a solution. As you’d expect some of the polyphonic presets with lots of modules struggle to run but generally Modular runs surprisingly well although does use a lot of CPU at times as expected.

The interface is very intuitive and it’s easy to learn the basics. Modular comes bundled with a large number of presets with excellent sound quality, Modular has a warm sound with a solid bass. It’s important to point out that this is a very faithful emulation of a hardware environment. When you launch Modular you are presented with an empty rack. You can of course load a preset and modify it to your requirements but if you want to create your own sounds you are starting from scratch. This means you will need to load all the required modules and start patching everything together in order to start using it. If you’re the sort of musician who likes experimenting and creating your own sounds this is ideal. If you prefer to open a VST, load a preset and use it straightaway then it’s probably not the best option as you won’t get the most out of it.

Adding modules is easily done using the ‘add’ button on the central menu. This brings up a list of available modules.

The first one you’ll need is midi to cv so you can control the sound with a midi keyboard. A very basic setup uses the note output from the midi to cv convertor to feed a VCO module. This outputs to a filter which in turn outputs to a VCA. An ADSR module is used to control the VCA and the VCA output is sent to the main audio output so that we can hear it.

From this basic setup you can then start adding additional filters, sequencers, mixers etc and streamline the appearance using performance panels. Patching is very easy, you simply double click on the desired output and drag, all available connections are shown in green. I really like how the cable colours change colour with each patching to make tracing easier, it can be easy to make a wrong connection and it’s a simple case of double clicking and dragging away from input to ‘unplug’ the connection.

Although the basic setup may seem limited from a hardware point of view, the virtual environment allows you to load as many instances as your system can handle so there’s more than enough to get started with. The modules available for purchase include licensed versions from manufacturers such as Intellijel and 4ms so there’s loads of room for expansion as your budget allows.

Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator

The Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator is one such add-on module that is available for purchase. It is simply awesome.

The 259e consists of a principal oscillator and a modulation oscillator that can be used either to modulate the principal oscillator or as a separate generator of audible notes. Furthermore, the sine wave generated by the principal oscillator is simultaneously applied to two of the eight available waveshape tables. A morph voltage pans between the two tables and a warp voltage varies the amplitude of the sinusoidal (driving) waveform. Both these functions can be modulated by the modulation oscillator. Three of the waveshape tables are actually not tables in the classical sense—they are simply portions of the 259e operating program, full of unpredictable noise and frequent silences. This is the innovative Mem Skew mode, possibly the most unique feature of the Buchla 259e. When these tables are selected, the FM controls are re-assigned to table scanning functions and the FM inputs become table modulators. Essentially it is using the internal memory as a wavetable that is controllable with an external signal.

In short, while the Buchla 259e can certainly be used for more traditional sounds, it excels at creating otherworldly twisted digital sonic landscapes. Which is why it is one of the most coveted synth modules on the market.

First impressions are excellent, it looks fantastic. The GUI is a faithful representation of the hardware version. The principal oscillator is located towards the lower right hand side and has warp and morph controls located above. The half red / half green button to their left is a split button control which selects the wavetables 1 -5 or a, b, c mem-skew function shown by a corresponding red and green LED on the wavetable list. The red LED is the principal oscillator and the green LED is the modulation oscillator.

The modulation oscillator has three different shapes and can be used in low or high range or pitch track mode. There are also three modes of operation – pitch, warp or morph or combinations of one, two or all three. The modulation index of the modulation oscillator and the warp and morph controls of the principal oscillator can also be controlled by a cv input.

When you select the a,b, c wavetables the mem-skew function is enabled underneath the principle and modulation oscillators and these can also be cv controlled.

Not only does it look fantastic but it sounds awesome too. It produces a fantastic range of sounds from deep basses and drones to higher pitched metallic sounds, glass type sounds to harsh digital artifacts and screeches. I have spent hours experimenting with this unit and each time I seem to discover something new and very cool sounding.

I’ve created an album embedded above which is primarily experimenting with the Buchla 259e add-on to highlight some of its potential. I have to say these recordings are not perfect, I was pushing the laptop to its limits and there are some glitches and audio dropouts at times but these are one-take live recordings which capture live tweaking and adjustments to the sound. The tracks are presented as they were recorded without any editing, they’ve had a basic mastering in MuLab using Elevate and Stage.

There are a couple of tracks with a basic setup highlighting some of the sounds it can produce. There are also four jam tracks, the first two use a couple of external sounds in the background whereas jams 3 and 4 are just using buchla 259e. I’ve not used any external effects, jams one and two use the delay in modular.

I’ve used the heartbeat drum add-on for all tracks.

In summary, this is a brilliant add-on to Softube Modular that adds a unique element for sound design and creation. It is so much fun to use, there’s a lot to learn if you’re new to modular synthesis but that’s part of the attraction, you can easily get lost in Modular for hours whilst having great fun – those happy accidents from experimenting to see what happens when you patch modules together, creating strange and unusual sounds by just getting stuck in – it’s really easy to use and encourages you to experiment and very quickly create some cool sounds. Just remember to save your creations, often. You will need a pretty decent setup to get the most out of it – and that goes for Modular as a whole – but it has excellent sound quality and is an excellent software interpretation of a hardware feel at a fraction of the cost.

Analogue Solutions introduces Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks signal processors — November 23, 2017

Analogue Solutions introduces Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks signal processors

StrangeloveHyde

KINGSWINFORD, UK: British boutique electronic instruments innovator Analogue Solutions is proud to announce availability of Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove — introducing its synthBlocks series of small and affordable desktop signal processors with two tantalisingly-named new products squarely aimed at laptop and audio plug-ins-focused digital musicians wishing to apply analogue, hands-on hardware processing to their sometimes sterile-sounding computer- based creations.

The synthBlocks series represents an all-new range of small and affordable desktop signal processors produced by British boutique electronic instruments innovator Analogue Solutions, an acclaimed company with over 24 years of designing serious-sounding synthesizers featuring fully-analogue audio paths with analogue LFOs (Low Frequency Oscillators) and EGs (Envelope Generators) to its notable name. Similarly, synthBlocks are all-analogue affairs — albeit with some lo-fi digital effects thrown in for good (musical) measure. Menus and software are all eschewed in favour of a hardy hardware approach. As such, synthBlocks are squarely aimed at laptop and audio plug-ins-focused digital musicians wishing to apply analogue, hands-on hardware processing to their sometimes sterile-sounding computer-based creations. Cue simply plugging the synthBlocks in question into an audio interface’s I/O connections, then routing drums, synths, vocals, or whatever out of the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and through the transistors and op-amps of the synthBlocks and recording the results back into the DAW. Something similar can be achieved by connecting the synthBlocks to the auxiliary buss of a mixing console — just like any other effects processor. Whatever the workflow, turning the dials and flicking the switches by hand of course changes the sound in realtime — often with radical results. Results of course can be radically different — depending on which of the two available synthBlocks are applied to any given sound signal.

Many might have heard of Mr Edward Hyde, an abominable alternative personality of Dr Henry Jekyll, a fictional character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde gothic novella first published in 1886. However, hearing Analogue Solutions’ Mr Hyde in the here and now is something else entirely! As announced, Mr Hyde was the first out of the starting blocks in its synthBlocks series as an analogue filter effects box bringing subtle to extreme filtering and modulation effects to the analogue processing production table. To further aid ease of use, Mr Hyde has quarter-inch input and output jacks on its rear, so can be connected straight to an audio interface or mixer without the need for adaptors. The topside of its distinctive blood-red panel features minijack sockets to patch with a semi-modular synth, such as Analogue Solutions’ relatively recently released Fusebox — an aptly-named, three-VCO (Voltage- Controlled Oscillator) true analogue monophonic synthesizer that favourably fuses the company’s characterful vintage sound with an advanced choice of modulation and melodic possibilities (in a beautifully-built box); ever-popular Eurorack small-format modular systems; or other modular systems.

Specification-wise, Mr Hyde doesn’t disappoint by boasting a two-pole 12db/octave analogue multimode filter (featuring lowpass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch filtering options); resonance with a Q BOOST feature to make it SCREAM (self oscillate); LFO with triangle and square wave signals; and a range switch (to bring the modulation speed into audio frequencies). Hands-on control comes quickly, thanks to a selection of switches and knobs — not least the largest knob of all: FREAQ (filter cutoff frequency). Furthermore, the smaller Q knob sets the resonance level, CHANGE changes the frequency range of the LFO from SLOW to FAST at the flick of a switch, SPEED sets the LFO modulator’s speed, and LEVEL controls the modulation level/depth that affects the filter cutoff. More meaningfully, Mr Hyde can change sounds subtly, such as satisfying sweeping filtering, right up to mangled FM (Frequency Modulation) mayhem — perfectly in keeping with its naughty name!

Dr Strangelove is an altogether different character, both literally and figuratively speaking — Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 political satire black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, anyone? Actually, Analogue Solutions’ Dr Strangelove is a compact, high-quality analogue ring modulator (with two audio inputs) and an analogue LFO capable of going into audio range (with two waveforms), plus a lo-fi echo (giving an ‘analogue’ bucket brigade-style sound). The ring mod itself does not have any controls as such, since a ring mod does not have parameters that can be altered — other than input and output levels. Just plug in audio cables and it does its thing! Ring mods do need two audio sources, however — namely, the main signal to be processed (carrier) and the signal that will modulate the carrier (modulator).

In the strange case of Dr Strangelove, one of those sources, the MOD (modulation) input, can be audio or a low frequency signal (from, say, an LFO). Literally switching switches — HARD/SOFT (selects between square and triangle wave modulation signals — triangle resulting in softer modulation while square results in sudden, harder changes) — and turning knobs — CHANGE (sets the modulation depth or ‘loudness’ of the modulating signal fed into the ring mod’s modulation input), RATE (sets repeat rate), and MIX (sets the mix level between fully dry and a 50/50 balance between wet and dry) — makes music mangling child’s play. Other controls clearly allude to the aforesaid film: FALLOUT alters the speed of the analogue LFO modulator while HALF LIFE sets delay time. All told, then, Dr Strangelove is ideal for subtle or extreme modulation effects. Like its Mr Hyde synthBlocks sibling, Dr Strangelove includes minijack (Eurorack-accommodating) audio and CV (control voltage) I/O for direct connection to modulars.

Mangling music setups sonically while adding analogue warmth is a synthBlocks speciality, so why not consider adding one or more of them to your music setup today? And all without breaking the bank while fitting in the palm of your hand! Hand built, having been designed and engineered in England by Analogue Solutions, surely it’s time to wave goodbye to those sometimes sterile-sounding computer-based creations by saying hello to some synthBlocks?

UK pricing for the Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks is £255.00 GBP (including VAT) apiece, available from dealers and Analogue Solutions directly.

North American availability of the Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks is being handled via Voltage & Company — full-service reps of high-quality manufacturers from around the world — with a retail price of $279.00 USD, while (most) EU distribution is being handled by Sonic Sales — one of the largest full-service MI (Musical Instrument) distribution companies in Europe — priced at €279.00 EUR (including VAT).

For more in-depth info, please visit the dedicated Mr Hyde webpage;

Watch Analogue Solutions’ Mr Hyde audio demonstration video;

For more in-depth info, please visit the dedicated Dr Strangelove webpage;

Watch Analogue Solutions’ Dr Strangelove audio demonstration video.

Review of Erlanger Programme album by Rainer Straschill — November 14, 2017

Review of Erlanger Programme album by Rainer Straschill

This is an excellently arranged and produced album, there’s an ambience with a subtle tension and cinematic qualities at times. The instruments are often processed in innovative ways to create a very interesting sound which is layered really well with complementing and sometimes contrasting sounds.

a
A short song comprised of an atmospheric electric piano riff against a background drone.

A
Lovely ambience from a strings type sound and electric piano. The percussion adds an excellent element and there’s a great change of feel to a more urgent sound. It has a cinematic quality, great variety of instruments and changes in feel.

b
Percussive impact sounds give a kind of haunting quality to the opening. I really like the layering of the string and percussive sounds. There’s a great tension to the song.

B
Great interplay between the bass and synth bass sounds, the drums give an excellent momentum. There’s a kind of urgency to the sound and a tension from the dissonance.

c
A freeform jazz feel to the opening with fast looping piano riff, bass and drumming which fades to leave the looping piano riff.

C
A field recording to open with a background drone, there’s a sinister feel from the layered effects and reversed organ sounds. Great development of the sounds with the introduction of different elements. It’s a cinematic soundscape, excellent build and release of tension.

d
Very atmospheric opening from drone, wind and dripping water type sound. The brass type sound adds a melody which really holds your interest. The strings at the end add an excellent element.

D
Laid back jazz infused groove to open from bass, percussion and clarinet type of sound. It has a jam quality. Great use of different instruments including organ and piano. The accordion type sound is accompanied by an excellent change in feel with a great release to end the song.

a’
The accordion sound and organ create a sparse melody and a great way to finish the album.

Review of Familiar Haunts album by Jason Simon on Cardinal Fuzz — November 13, 2017

Review of Familiar Haunts album by Jason Simon on Cardinal Fuzz

Jason Simon is best known for his work as the guitarist and singer for the seminal heavy psych band Dead Meadow. Familiar Haunts is a solo release on Cardinal Fuzz as a black vinyl and streaming via the Bandcamp app. At the time of writing, there are two copies left according to their Bandcamp page.

For customers in the USA, a vinyl and cassette release is available from Jason Simon’s Bandcamp page which also includes a digital only (streaming + download) version available to all.

There’s a strong acoustic guitar theme underpinning this album. It’s a wonderful melting pot of influences such as alt-country, singer-songwriter and country blues underpinned with a laid back psych vibe, great vocals and an excellent jam feel at times too.

The arrangements and production are excellent, the album has a superb, natural sound.

The People Dance, The People Sing
A blues infused vibe from the opening riff with natural sounding percussion, the vocals are laid back and there’s an excellent psych feel with subtle background effects and a building tension to a heavier, more distorted sound.

Without Reason or Right
A laid back reggae type vibe from the riff and muted strummed chords, excellent use of delay on the vocals and the organ adds an excellent element.

Now I’m Telling You
An Eastern feel to the opening which has a more distorted riff to open, the percussion builds gradually and there’s an excellent jam feel to the song with bass and improvised riffs. The vocals have a laid back feel.

Pretty Polly
A shimmery feel to the opening is propelled by picked riff, vocals and drumming. It’s a great sound, difficult to pin down but there are alt-country and rock influences. The blues harp adds an excellent element.

Seven Sisters of Sleep
Excellent tremelo riff and strummed chords to open, the vocals have a great laid back psych feel. The song has an excellent slow groove.

Hills of Mexico
There’s a great momentum to the opening of this song and an edge of tension too, especially from the vocals. The bass and drums enter to give a more defined groove. The song has an excellent jam quality.

Wheels will Spin
Another excellent opening groove from bass and trem guitar, there’s a great change between a chord vamp and more open sound. Some great solos too with a slow building tension to a release followed by a very slow groove to end. Excellent vocals again too.

I Found The Thread
Some excellent sound effects and reversed guitar to open, this song has a different feel to the rest. It’s another great vibe, some really trippy sounds at times.

A brief essay on history of music in China — November 12, 2017

A brief essay on history of music in China

I first published this on my long-defunct website back in 2006. I’ve been looking for the original for some time with no luck, however, I finally found a backup copy that enabled me to reproduce the essay here.

Writings on music in China can be traced back to the 4th Century BC. To the Chinese, as with other ancient civilizations, music had the power to influence people emotionally and physically. This power was a free energy that could be used or abused dependant upon man’s free will.

The traditional Chinese philosophy of music was Confucian. Confucius condemned several styles of music that he thought were morally dangerous – “The music of Cheng is lewd and corrupting; The music of Sung is soft and makes one effeminate; The music of Wei is repetitious and annoying; The music of Ch’i is harsh and makes one haughty.” Conversely, Confucius said “The noble-minded man’s music is mild and delicate, keeps a uniform mood, enlivens and moves. Such a man does not harbour pain or mourn in his heart; violent and daring movements are foreign to him”

According to Confucius “If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer”

The following two paragraphs from Yueh-Chi also illustrate the Chinese philosophy to music –

“It is the tao of Heaven and Earth that if cold and heat do not come at the right time there will be epidemics; if wind and rain do not come in due proportion there will be famine. [When the ruler] teaches [what is required by means of ritual mimes], that is the people’s cold and heat. If his teaching does not come at the right time he may blast a whole generation. [When the ruler] acts, that is the people’s wind and rain. If his actions do not observe due proportion they will be without effect. That is why the former Kings organised [the ritual mimes accompanied by] music, and so governed by force of example [i.e. by sympathetic magic]. If these were good, the activity [of the people] mirrored his moral power.”

“Therefore the ancient Kings did not initiate rituals and music for the mere purpose of satisfying the desires of our senses [“the mouth, the stomach, the ear and the eye”], but rather for teaching the people the right taste and the return to normality”

Cosmology became integrated with Confucianism towards the end of the first century BC. The Chinese believed that all audible sound was a manifestation of the Primal Sound – known to Hindus as OM. Primal Sound was present everywhere as an inaudible Divine Vibration. Audible sound on Earth was considered a manifestation of the Cosmic Tones – an “undertone” that conveyed supernatural powers. Music was often performed at the same time as mystical ceremony to align man with the rhythm and harmonies of the universe. According to Li Chi “Music is the harmony of heaven and earth while rites are the measurement of heaven and earth. Through harmony all things are made known; through measure all things are properly classified. Music comes from heaven; rites are shaped by earthly designs.”

There are twelve Cosmic Tones or lu that emanate from the Primal Sound and according to legend, imitate the cries of the phoenix. Each Cosmic Tone was associated with one of the twelve zodiacal regions of the heavens. Furthermore, six of these Cosmic Tones are yang (male, positive) in nature and the other six yin (female, negative). The five notes Kung, Shang, Chueh, Chih and Yu that first appeared in Kuan-Tzu (4th century BC) are generally considered to be the earliest Chinese pentatonic scale. The number 5 had cosmogenic significance, and the five notes were often associated with planets, animals, colours etc. Some of these associations are shown below.

tableONE

The concept of yang and yin is an integral part of Chinese philosophy and consequently was also an integral part of the Ancient Chinese philosophy towards music. The Chinese believed that everything in the universe consisted of different combinations of these two fundamental opposite forces. These different combinations are symbolised in sets of three lines called Kua, where an unbroken line represents yang and a broken line represents yin. There are eight different combinations representing all matter in the universe. Musical instruments would therefore invoke the spirit of a particular season or element by association as shown below.

tableTWO

Early classics such as Yueh-Chi supply rich sources of music theory.  The emphasis on a world view of music had a lasting influence on later theorists.  In the Six Dynasties period (220-581) and the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) when China was under the cultural influence of central Asia, a great number of foreign musical practices were received and assimilated.  By the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), these foreign elements had been incorporated into Chinese music theory and, together with the doctrine of neo-Confucianism, became part of the orthodox teachings for many centuries.

The earliest complete account of the intervallic relationships of the 12 lu first appeared in Lu-shih ch’un-ch’iu (3rd century BC).  The method of their calculation is the simple application of the Pythagorean (cycle of fifths) method. The names of the 12 lu first appeared in Kuo-yu (4th century BC), but discoveries of accurately tuned stone-chimes suggest that the system could have been known as early as the 2nd millennium BC.  The method for calculating the twelve lu is as follows; after the length of the vibrating string, which produces the fundamental note (known as huang-chung, “yellow bell”) has been determined, the next note is obtained by multiplying the length of this string by a factor of 2:3.

This process is called san-fen-sun-i (“divide into three, take away one”).  The resultant note is a perfect 5th higher in frequency than the huang-chung and is called lin-chung (“forest bell”). This process is repeated to form the series of 12 notes.  Similarly, a factor of 4:3 could be used to calculate lu using the cycle of fourths.  If C is taken as huang chung, then the twelve lu are huang-chung (C), ta-lu (C#), t’ai-ts’u (D), chia-chung (D#), ku-hsien (E), chung-lu (F) jui-pin (F#) lin-chung (G),i-tse (G#), nan-lu (A), wu-i (A#) and ying-chung (B).

Since the earliest times Chinese theorists have placed great emphasis on absolute pitch, as it was related to official standards of measurement for length, capacity and weight. The pitch of huang chung, which generates all the other notes, was naturally the most important and was always represented by the measurement of a string or pipe.  Time and again attempts were made to “rediscover” the true measurement of huang-chung; a survey by Yang shows that there were at least 35 pitch reforms between the late Chou period (c. 3rd century BC) and the Chi’ing Dynasty (1644-1911) during which time the pitches used for huang chung varied between C and A.

The Pythagorean system of the 12 lu produces an untempered scale which means that pairs of adjacent pitches do not all have the same interval.  A further problem with this method results when the process of derivation is carried from the twelfth note, as the resulting 13th note is slightly higher than a perfect octave above huang chung.  To continue the calculation results in an endless spiral.

The first attempt at creating an equal tempered scale was made by Ho Ch’eng-t’ien (5th century BC) who lowered the frequency of each of the notes of the Pythagorean series by a simple factor so that the 13th note was exactly twice the frequency of huang-chung. By this method he not only completed the cycle but also reduced the differences in intervals between adjacent notes.  Chu Tsai-yu (16th century) finally created an equal-tempered scale of 12 notes by successively dividing the fundamental number (i.e. that of huang-chung) by the 12th root of 2.  Kuttner’s study shows that Chu discovered the calculation of a tempered scale not through a theoretical understanding and calculation of the role of the 12th root of 2, but by a numerological manipulation which gives an identical solution.

There is little evidence that tempered or other theoretical scales were really put into practice. The just intonation was apparently applied by ch’in performers as early as the 6th century.  Studs marking the stopping positions placed at simple divisions of the strings show that harmonics were used widely; but ch’in manuals from the 16th century have also indicated certain adjustments that seem to bring the intonation closer to equal temperament.

The five notes making up the Chinese pentatonic scale that first appeared in Kuan-tzu are also the first five of the Pythagorean series.  When arranged in an ascending order they are equivalent in terms of relative pitch to C D F G A.  However, the series F G A C D which is discussed in the much later work Shih-chi, seems to have been the more common pentatonic scale.  The concept of a scale may well have been recognized at that time because the names of the five notes, kung, shang, cheuh, chih, yu were listed according to ascending pitch although the ordering according to the Pythagorean series should have been kung, chih, shang, yu, cheuh.

The heptatonic scale of F G A B C D E referred to widely in later theoretical treatises is formed by the first seven notes of the Pythagorean series. It was first discussed explicitly in writings of the 2nd century, although an earlier work, kuo-yu, mentions it vaguely.  Furthermore, the concept of transposition could have been formed early as li-chi (c. 1st century BC) mentions the successive use of each of the 12 lu as kung, the starting note of the scale.

The term tiao is used widely by musicians for different purposes, probably the most important being the classification of melodies.  Names of tiao appearing as headings to musical pieces serve as a reminder of the melody to be adopted for new texts.  However, many theorists’ definitions and presentations of tiao can be equated with the Western term “mode”.  Earlier writings vaguely allude to a modal concept, while Shen Kua (1031-95) and the authors of Tz’u-yuan and Shih-lin Kuang-chi Chang Yen (1248-c1315) and Ch’en Yuan-ch’ing (c1270) respectively) described modes in exact terms.  According to the two latter works the heptatonic F mode can be constructed by using any of the twelve pitches within the octave as the tonic, and each of the seven notes of the scale can act as the final note of a melody.  A mode is thus defined by the pitch chosen for the tonic F and by the choice of the final note.  Theoretical definitions and descriptions of modes must be a drastic simplification of what happened in practice, where recognition of melodic identity undoubtedly involved much more than a mere mechanical use of beginning and ending notes. For example, analysis of ancient music manuscripts and of dramatic and instrumental music still performed shows that pieces belonging to the same mode tend to have similar melodic fragments.

The complete list of 84 modes derived from the heptatonic scale on the 12 pitches is of course only a theoretical one.  Although presented fully in the 13th century works mentioned above, not all of the names appeared in connection with actual musical pieces.  Shen Kua, who did report from factual observations, listed only 28 modes; his list even shows slight variation in the range, and omits certain notes in the scale.  Ts’ai Yuan-ting (1135-98) allowed only F G A C D to act as final notes; his set therefore consists of only 60 modes for the heptatonic scale.  He also initiated the use of the first as well as the final note of a melody as a criterion in determining its mode.  Codification and listing of modes continued to interest later theorists, but the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) can be considered the highpoint of development of modal theory in Chinese musical history.

The question of fitting music with vocals has been of special interest to theorists partly because the Chinese language has many elements analogous to music and also because words were of special interest to the literati.  Many theoretical works on singing and songwriting are really studies of Chinese phonology.

The outstanding characteristic of Chinese language is that it is tonal, with some tones moving up or down, others remain on a fairly even level. From ancient times Chinese syllables (each represented by a character which is usually a lexical unit) were grouped into four classes “even”, “rising”, “going” and “entering”, the last consisting of syllables ending abruptly in a voiceless stop consonant.  In some dialects, each of these classes is subdivided into higher and lower pitch categories.

Actual examples of Chinese vocal music show that the degree of correlation between word tones and melodic contours differs according to region, style and genre.  For example, many folksongs have low correlation, as is evident in songs which use the same melody for various stanzas of text which differ considerably in tonal patterns.  In operas and popular and narrative songs using the cantonese dialect, however, melodies closely imitate the word tones; furthermore, tonal imitation is used constantly.  In contrast, the Peking opera usually employs close imitation of actual speech tones only at selected moments for dramatic accentuation.  Most of these musical practices are virtually subconscious and are handed down among performers through oral tradition.  Theorists who have written on vocal music have usually concentrated their attention on the more sophisticated genres such as k’un-ch’u opera; their works are always prescriptive and do not describe the performance itself.

Despite all the philosophy behind ancient Chines music,it appears that theory was only put into practice on a few occasions. Because musical theory was written down, it was vulnerable to censorship and often represented the opinions of the authorities at the time, rather than the consensus of contemporary musicians and scholars.  For instance, theory says that music should educate people, regulate society, strengthen the government and above all, exist in harmony with nature.  Music that does not do this i.e. stimulates sensual pleasure was “immoral” and therefore undesirable.  However, this “immoral” music would have been enjoyed at all levels of society, although discussion would have been limited to “proper” music such as ceremonial and court music.

Source: Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians (most of the text)

Other References: The Secret Power of Music by David Tame (tables and some text)