KnobLog day 2: arts and crafts

Today was the “real” Knobcon, when the exhibit hall (and supplementary rooms) opened and some of the workshops and afternoon performances and jam sessions.

I like watching people perform weird music on synths (and other things as described below) but the stuff is kind of the main attraction. I tried many of them! In approximate ascending order of how interested I would potentially be in actually owning one:

  • an actual Fairlight CMI, dating to somewhere in the 1979 to 1985 range depending on the version. It does not sound either impressive or deliciously retro today, just kind of cheap — which is ironic given that they originally cost somewhere around ₤18,000 to ₤60,000. It seemed to have plenty of sample rate but very little memory for sample length, and monophonic.
  • Motor Synth mk2 (generating sound with optical sensors looking at stripes spun by motors at different speeds). Clever design, not all that exciting in practice, and since it takes time for motors to change speed, not super nimble.
  • Sequential Take 5 and Trigon 6. I didn’t love either of them to be honest, they’re just not in my area of synth interest particularly.
  • this is NOISE tiny Bluetooth controllers. Fun little toys, but Windows support for Bluetooth MIDI is somewhere between nonexistent and abysmal so I’m not really in the market.
  • Tidbit Audio’s new overdrive gizmo. They make tiny, cheap passive circuits; I have their Wobblebox and it’s pretty fun. It sounded OK, not amazing and I have distortion pretty well handled.
  • Earthquaker Devices’ new oscillator (not announced anywhere that I could find), The Wave Transformer. It seems pretty standard but with a bit of waveshaping, and maybe it’s based on the newish SSI2130, I’m not really sure.
  • Intellijel Cascadia but MIDI-controlled by an Elektron box. I couldn’t really figure out much with it, but I don’t regret not having a Cascadia and will remain in love with my Strega/Minibrute 2S combo.
  • Infrasonic Audio Warp Core. I’ve enjoyed the VCV Rack version of this for a while and thought it should be a real hardware oscillator, and apparently enough other people including the designer did too. It’s been expanded to 8 phase distortion algorithms, and has a nice detuned stereo image. To me it’s like a more focused Plaits. I could do good things with this oscillator, but I can’t own all the oscillators so I am passing on it.
  • Moog Grandmother through a whole bunch of different Earthquaker pedals. The synth is lovely, but I knew that from the previous Knobcon — thus its relatively high ranking here. I didn’t feel like any of the pedals were a must-have, though I had a good groove with the tremolo.
  • Therevox Ondes VCO, and the Therevox ET-5 (kind of a successor to the Ondes Martenot, controlled by a ring with a string and pulley system to set the pitch and big chonky pressure keys to control volume). The VCO, on its own, has a couple of lovely tones and some ugly ones, and a weird not super flexible design. The full instrument sounds fantastic and plays great — and has a 24 month waiting list and a hefty pricetag and I don’t know where I would put one.
  • Mystic Circuits Ana 2 — not so much tried, as asked about. It expands on the original Ana (which I have and like a lot) by adding bipolar VCA inputs, a mix output, and a couple of more exotic outputs. It’s likely to be ready for sale by the end of the year, and I may go for the upgrade.
  • Pet Rock. It’s described as a “roguelike rhythm generator” and “the Wordle of Eurorack modules” — every day it generates a new rhythmic pattern, and it has no controls. Everyone gets the same rhythm that day. They cost less than this morning’s hotel breakfast and the manual is lovely and amusing, and it’s just a fun concept. So when I say I “tried” it, I put on headphones, observed that it was playing a rhythm, and took the headphones off and nodded sagely, like you do. First run is sold out, but I may have to consider one just for giggles.
  • PWM Malevolent synth through a Dreadbox Hypnosis. The synth didn’t thrill me, the effect though is awesome. It combines a BBD chorus/flanger with a digital delay and a spring reverb — so, analog, digital and physical all in one box — and has a funky synthwave vibe and TONS of character. I want one! I may have to go back and see if Synth City has them discounted like some of the other Dreadbox gear.
  • NSI Harmonic Shift Oscillator. I have been looking for an oscillator 14HP or below that gets to at least 50KHz, to clock Drezno and other things at 2x audio rate, as a possible replacement for Synchrodyne — but it also has to do something fun and not just that one utility. HSO sounds gorgeous, with a not-FM technique of generating harmonic or inharmonic sidebands above, but (unlike FM) not below the fundamental, and it is just super smooth and creamy but can also get growly and mean. I wound up circling back around and buying it.

For the Abstract Afternoon performances, my timing wasn’t great and I missed most of Cory Flanigan’s piece, which is a shame — he was playing a gong that was resonating a 6-foot long “beam” monochord he built, minimally processed by electronics, and it was awesome. It sounded entirely electronic and otherworldly.

Daniel Anez played a Therevox, along with… somebody whose name I didn’t catch on a Buchla system with the new Kilpatrick Audio Sextuple Quadraphonic Spatial Director. It was a fantastic piece, varied and constantly moving (and I don’t just mean quadrophonic sound sweeps) and full of fire and beauty. I’d have been happy to hear them keep going for another hour.

Sine Mountain was next. He had some lovely timbres, combined with a pretty gimmicky slow spin around the room. (I feel like that’s the main thing quad sound is good for; I don’t even like autopanning that much in stereo if it’s not subtle.) His piece was nice but it did maybe go on a little too long. Still, this format I think worked better than last night’s.

And now I’m about to go downstairs to see how much of the Big Room performances I can take in. I am rested, fed and feel ready.

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