Tag Archive for experimental music

Elektron Monomachine Sequencer

The Sequencer is one of the most interesting parts of the Monomachine as it can control anything on the machine.
The sequencer works as a realtime or step (Roland TR-like) mode , and it can be switched record on or off with the sequencer running.
That’s ideal for live performance!

Programming notes is easy, if a midi keyboard is connected it can record from midi in , but it can be programmed standalone using the step sequencer buttons as they act as keys.

After notes programming the most useful things is the PARAMETER LOCKS programming.
A parameter lock is a motion sequence of a parameter.
It can be done on a single step (using step programming) or it can be recorded realtime turnig the knobs while the sequencer is running in realtime recording.
This function enables to modify extremely every nuance of the sound in a very easy way , and It’an effective strenght of the Elektron philosophy.

Applied to to a digipro machine , for example, it can create programmed wavesequences…

Applied to an envelope can morph the shape of a sound, from percussive to sustained…

Applied to a efx can for example vary the delay time and feedback…

Every thing in the machine can be controlled by the sequencer and the intensive use of parameter locks can create sound sequences really complex and even really difficult to recreate with another instrument.

Korg MS-20 review (Part-1)

Korg MS 20

The Korg MS-20 is one of the most famous vintage synths ever.
It stands up there with the Minimoog, ARP 2600, EMS Synthi, Jupiters, TB-303, etc.
When it was produced , Korg marketed it as a low cost “baby 2600″ , it was the semimodular synth for the masses.
The look is somehow  inspired by the big Moog modulars, with the front panel that stads upright the keyboard, that is attached to the body, to be the most compact and portable, all in a typical japanese way.

The synth is divided into two parts : the left side , prepatched with the knobs and the right side , the patchable with the patchbay and external signal processor.

The synth has:

  • 2 VCO (with different waves)
  • 2 VCF (HPF and LPF 12 dB/oct, both resonant)
  • VCA

The 2 VCOs have different settings capabilities and different functions.
VCO1 has:


  • SAW
  • PULSE WAVE (with  manual pw)


SCALE (32-16-8-4)

VCO2 has :


  • SAW

PITCH KNOB (fine tuning)

SCALE (16-8-4-2)

The two vcos sounds very warm and fat with a classic japanese sound.
The saw waves are quite “smoothed” and not really ripping (as the classic american saw of moog , sequentials, etc.)
The pulse/square wave is really fat and smooth too.
The smoothness of the oscillators maybe also produced by a particular “cut” of the VCFs and VCA that are not bypassable.


The filters are the most carachteristic element of this synth, the trademark of the MS20′ sound is the dual filter with resonance (PEAK).
Both the HPF that the LPF have the same controls, the FREQUENCY CUTOFF and the PEAK (that’s the RESONANCE!).
The slope of the filters is 12dB/oct and though they are resonant they are not self oscillating.
The use of the filters makes this synth anhighly versatile machine, because they are not strightly “multimode”, but can be used in combo to obtain particular combinations mantaining two indipendent peaks of resonance.
A famous use of the HPF is to boost the low frequencies oto saturate the sound.
Thanks to the resonant HPF , turning up the peak  creates a gain of level at the cutoff frequencies  that results in awesome sub basses or highly saturated sounds.
The behaviour of the filter is also particular because when the peaks are up the frequency of the cutoff tends to oscillate producing highly harmonic and saturated timbres.
The MS20 was produced with two different components , the first (older) series has the famous  Korg35 that is considered less “muddy” , while the following series use common components.
Both the HPF that the LPF have a smooth behaviour and a rounded sound with the peaks at minimum, while raising up the peaks leads to the aggressive and distorted side of the synth.


Env 1 is a simple Attack -Release with  Delay,useful for modulations and harpached to the VCO pitch modulation.
ENV2 is a HADSR, it works like an ADSR but has a hold for that lovely drones the MS20 is so great at, or to use the synth as a efx/filter processor for external signals.
ENV2 is prepatched to VCA and VCFs modulations.
Both the envs are punchy with fast attack and decay, and work very well for every type of sound, from percussive to ethereal.


MG is how Korg labelled the LFO.
The MG consist of a low frequency oscillator that produces morphable square and saw waves .
The saw can morph from saw to tri to ramp.
The square goes from imp to square to inverted imp.

The two row of knobs under the filter and vcos sections are dedicated to the modulations.
The higher row has the MG as modulation source,and the pitch, and cutoff of the filters as destinations, while the lower row has as source the ENVs, env 1 to pitch and env2 to filters.
Every parameter has its own amount knob.

On the left there are two keyboard controls, PORTAMENTO and tune.

This is a description of the “prepatched” part of the synth, but using the patchbay almost everything can be routed to every target, the flexibility is one of the most important carachteristic of the MS 20, a compact synth , highly versatile and awesome sounding.

The Korg MS Serie

Korg MS-20 and MS-50

Korg MS-20 and MS-50

At the end of the 70s the japanese synth market became very busy.
The leading brands were Korg , Yamaha and Roland.
While Yamaha’s target was mainly on low budget prepatched monosynths users, Roland and Korg were on the low budget side but with an interest in producing low cost modulars for the masses.
Roland at the age had the SH serie that targeted prepatched synth users while the system 100 was towards low budget modulars/semimodulars and the System700 was a Pro-Studio product.
Korg had a different approach, the MS and PS series were mainly mono and poly semimodulars that could be used as standalone prepatched instruments as complex systems linked together.
The MS serie was composed by the MS10 (the little 1 vco, 1 vcf, 1env basic synth), the MS20 (the 2 VCO bigger brother with many added features), the MS50 (the modular expander, full of the less common modules on synths of that period) and the SQ10 (3 track sequencer).
Even if the components used on MS synths were mainly the same, due to different electronic construction the three models have slight different sounds.
The MS10 is considered by some the more aggressive as filter behaviour (compared to the MS20) and because of the presence of pulse width modulation (absent on the MS20).
The MS20 is the more versatile of the three as can work as a synth (with lots of features), efx processor, and can be controlled even with audio signals!
The MS50 is the only real modular of the serie, it must be patched to produce sounds, and has a vast array of particular features as 2 ringmodulators, the vc lfo, the vco with multiouts, logic modules, the volt-meter, etc…
While the MS10 is a “straight” synth if used standalone, the MS20 is a good soundesign machine but it is a real awesome modular when used in junction with MS50 and the SQ10.
The MS50 can be used to produce linear or exp FM, or to fatten up the sound, with 3 vco, 3 filters 4 env etc this little modular is really awesome!
Compared to the “high end” modulars/semimodulars of the period , like the ARP 2600, EMS Synthi, Moog Systems, the MS serie has a more “noisy”and less harmonic carachter, but while back in that days were mainly considered  low budget modulars, now are considered great sounding machines because the approach at making music (especially electronic music) is really changed.
Every electronic music producer uses or has used an MS in  his career.
In the late 70s and early 80s MS10 and MS20 were widely used by new wave synth pop bands  as O.M.D. , Human League, Depeche Mode.
During the 90s every techno , electronic , producer used one or more than one.
Just to name a few Aphex Twin uses 4 MS20 , Autechre uses MS20 and MS10, Coldcut used extensively the MS20 , Mr.Oizo (MS20) , Portishead (MS20 & MS50),Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers…

Later I’ll analize deeper the MS20 & MS50 combo, stay tuned!

Yamaha VSS-30 (8bit sampler) review

Yamaha VSS 30 - 8bit sampler

Yamaha VSS 30 - 8bit sampler

Cheap is not always bad, and toy keyboards are not always and only toys.
This is the case of the Yamaha VSS30, a toy keyboard from the late 80’s, that’s today a widely used musical intrument for experimental musicians and not a child/school keyboard.

The reasons why the vss3o is so appreciated for particular musical genres are its sound and the manipulating capabilities.
The engine of the keyboard is an 8bit sampler with synthesis capabilities, that can sample and resample layering sounds.

All the edit is done with buttons on the front panel without any menu , and the variations are realtime effective.
There is :

  • ADSR Envelope fore the volume of the sound
  • Loop function
  • U-turn (plays the sample fwd and rew)
  • Reverse (to reverse the sample)
  • ECHO (is a”envelope effect”, like a long decay-release)
  • Fuzz
  • Frequency Modulation
  • Amplitude Modulation
  • Vibrato

There are 12 preset sounds that can be manipulated with efx (adsr, echo, fuzz, fm, am , vibrato):

  • Piano
  • Harpsicord
  • Banjo
  • Vibes
  • Marimba
  • sample
  • Crystal
  • Strings
  • Jazz organ
  • Brass
  • Clarinet
  • Galaxy

The preset sounds are samples of DX7 presets , I presume, from the sound that is quite synthetic and not natural.
But the more gorgeous power is in the capability of mangling the sample with the efx/synthesis.
Every effect is editable with the data entry buttons.

So as the adsr can shape the loop and u-turn can create some really particular loop textures if used as pads, and the FM and AM can go from low tremolo/articulated low pitchmodulation , to fast tremolo and vibratos/FM sounds.
The overwrite function layer the sample in memory with incoming audio material creating a new sample.

All in all this is a little but awesome LO-FI experimental machine, as it’s the only toy keyboard that can do all these things without modding (as the VSS200, a larger version of the VSS30).
The sound is warm, “pixelated”, lo-fi, and every sample sounds really different from the source.
It’s perfect for IDM, experimental music, but also for pop or mainstream as many professionals use it in their recordings like Sigur Ros, Portishead, Trent Reznor, Autechre, Bjork.

Eurorack modular vs Roland System100 Mod-102 (Part 1)

Roland System100 Mod-102

Roland System100 Mod-102

As I described some days ago , I’m building a little modular in eurorack format to have a little versatile synth to make modular sounds easy, and to expand my system of vintage semimodular synths:

  • Roland System100 MOD-102
  • Korg MS-20
  • Korg MS-50
  • Korg PS-3100

The Korgs work well altogether as they use the same korg “standars” as 1/4″ plugs, hz/volt , etc.
The system is well balanced and is very versatile , there are no tuning problems and connections between one module and the other has no need of attenuators and result open to every use.

Eurorack and Roland System 100 patched togheter

Eurorack and Roland System 100 patched togheter

The Roland System 100 is quite different, it uses 3,5mm plugs, 1volt/oct and is quite difficult to make it interact with the Korgs even because the sound of the Roland is “stronger”.
After analizing different solutions (the first was to buy the other parts : mod 101 the keyboard, the sequencer and the mixer, while the second was to buy a System100m…) I decided to buy an eurorack to have a synth easier to control with computers and midi devices , more stability and however the freedom to build a synth choosing every part.
The result is, as I described, a synth with basic elements that are quite different from the “new analog” I own (DSI Evolver desktop and Studio Electronics ATC1 and SE1), but quite versaatile for a wide range of sound including FM modulations.

The first thing I tried is the interfacing between the Eurorack and the Roland and I was surprised they interact very well .
The Midi-CV interface works very well with the System100 too (I use a Kenton Pro 2000 for it, usually..).



The first thing I tried was to compare the Roland VCO with the MFB VCOs and I was quite surprised.
The Roland is really thick on the lower frequencies, and the square waves are awesome , but the MFB is really good too and they have a similar sound in many ways.
The MFB is less deep , especially when you hear in A->B comparison , and a little darker on the highest frequencies, but does a really a well job fattening the System100 sound without sounding different.

Roland System100 filter section

Roland System100 filter section

What makes the BIG difference is the Roland Filter.
Using only the MFB VCO in the roland path , with the roland VCO with zero volume, the result is amazing.
The VCO sound smooth and rich, really fat on the lower range and really harmonic and “creamy” in the higher register.
The big difference is evident in the lead sounds, they sound smooth with big carachter and warm sound without being harsh or disturbing but always rich of mid and high harmonics.
As the resonance grows the sound became quite acid (the typical roland filter carachter) but with growing harmonics, and a massive warm sound.

Then I tried to use the MFB dual ADSR to compare the behaviour of the two type of env and even here the different is evident.The Roland one is FAST and SNAPPY but always “rounded”, more musical, and gives the synth the classic Roland touch.
The MFB ENV is really fast, maybe faster than the Roland, but also more angular, with the attacks at zero makes a “ping” sound at the trig of the note.
Maybe the voltage that this env produce is higher and should be attenuated to get more musical results, even if  the different behaviour is really interesting to get different result.
The first thing done was a sequenced upright bass that sounded really awesome.

Eurorack and Roland System100 patched togheter

Eurorack and Roland System100 patched togheter

I did the same sound using only the eurorack and the sound was similar but more enarmonic, the reason is without any doubt the different between the two filters.

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