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MEET THE KNOBBERS – Italian synth meeting

On 21-5-2011 “MEET THE KNOBBERS” has been the first synth meeting in Tuscany, Italy.

The meeting has been conceived as the first of a serie of musical events regarding synths and the application of electronic music in different enviroments, from interactions between art and music to live performances.
The location was the ” SOUNDY Musical Center ” , a recording studio with live hall and various live rooms, settled near Siena, in the beautiful country hills of the Chianti shire.
The meeting was a “One day only” event, with an afternoon in “total addiction” tweaking feast and a night of electronic music live.

The afternoon was spent with two “live rooms” full of machines and “knobbers” who played them but with a lot of curious people too!
Knobbers came from nord and south of Italy, everyone with his “toy”, as special guest Enrico Cosimi , the famous italian synth guru.
One room was dedicated to vintage stuff and DIY Modulars and synths, the other was based on Eurorack modular systems and pedals effects.
The afternoon led to interewsting electronic jam sessions with acoustic and electric instruments too such as guitars and bass.

The after dinner live sets was focused on various type of electronic music played by different artists, ambient electronica with GATTOBUS and his group, glitch/IDM with MICROSWITCH , electro with YES EXPRESS and deep house with ANDREA PEDRA.


Andrea Pedrazzoli (producer, dj, live performer as Andrea Pedra/Whitesushi)

Francesco Poggianti (producer, live performer as Microswitch/Xtal/Notchsider)

a little list of the “knobbers” who made this meeting such a succesful event:

  • Maurizio Falconi with his DIY analog modular synth and lots of DIY material
  • Ludus Pinski with his awesome  Formant DIY modular
  • Niccolò “Cardinen” Caldini with his Cardinen DIY modular synth
  • Daniele Borri with his glitch mutant sound generator
  • Noctivaga with his eurorack “trolley travel”
  • Hatefish with his eurorack modular
  • Giacomo Frati  & Paolo Zemauno with their custom pedalboards
  • Gianni Proietti with his Minimoog model D

and last but not least Mimmo Nocera for his kindness and friendship, helping us to make this event come true giving the availability of the Soundy.

Roland JD-990 review

Today the interest is focused on ground-breaking  technology or in knob laden keyboards, but what about the sound??

The Roland JD-800 was in the early ’90s the first synth with user interface full of sliders and buttons , in its way it is the predecessor of what came after it until todays…

the heart of the JD is a “sample & synthesis” generator, a 4 layer for patch synth with wave oscilators, multimode filters andextensive modulations and effects.
The JD800 was the D-50 done right!
Compared to the D-50 the jd lost the wave-synthesis (a sort of fm generator that emulates the analog generation of saw and square waves) but gained a lot of features , first of all the beautiful programming interface.
A year later Roland came out with their flagship JD in rack version, the JD-990!

The JD990 is based heavily on the JD-800 but has some intersting adds.
At first we could think that loosing the big programming interface will lead the JD990 to become the classic “sound-module” to be used with presets… but this is wrong!
The JD990 has in its way a wonderful and clear programming interface, a big LCD display that shows every parameter in a graphic way in order to make programming easy.
Together with the good display Roland addeed the ability to load expansion cards from the Roland  JV serie, the SR-JV, that could improve the waveform palette, as type and number of waves but also with full quality.

The structure is the same of the JD-800: every Patch is composed of 4 layer, every layer has 1 wave generator, a multimode filter, 2 LFO, 3 ENV (1 for pitch, 1 for the filter and 1 for the AMP).
Every patch has the ability to configure the 4 layer in different chains/”structures”, in order to create more complex sounds and simple FM synthesis called FXM.
At the and of the patch chain we have a multieffects processor with modulation effects and ambient effects.

Speaking in terms of sounds , the JD-990 can produce a really vast range of sounds, from classic “analog- like” sound to complex evolving textures.
But the most important aspect is the “sound” itself.
The JD-990 is claimed to be the best sounding digital synth Roland produced till today.
It uses really hi-quality DAC , 44.1 KHz audio playback , against the 37KHz of the JV serie.
The really good audio converters and the warm sounding filters made this synth a classic!

With the ability to load SR-JV80 expansions the JD990 can be not just the box with its factory waves but can be expanded with many type of sound expansions from classic or acustic intruments to electronic o etchnic instruments.
As the JD is a master of pads and textured sounds , using the expansions can lead to interesting experimentation as layering strange asian sounds with electronic backgrounds.

The main carachter of the sound engine is however given by the “warm” dac , that tend to sound really “hi-fi” with a great definition on high frequencies and a tight but extended low-end.
Compared to the JV-1080 / 2080 the jd sounds smoother and rounder, while the jv is more edgy on high frequencies and more “loudness” but with less definition.
The result is a warmer and clearer sound.

Roland MKS-50 (AlphaJuno) review

Roland MKS-50

Roland MKS-50

The Roland Alpha Junos was born as a mix between the old junos synth engine and layout and the dominating look of the Yamaha DX7, with touch membranes an push buttons and the infamous Alpha Dial (here comes the name Alpha Juno).
The absence of knobs or sliders at the time was considered sleek and futuristic (and even cheaper!) that’s way the alphas are quite overlooked today, but they are so much more than an old dark synth with an alpha dial..

The alpha juno (juno1, juno2 and mks50) is still a completely analog synth , with a really powerful and complex sounding DCO , a 24dB lopass filter, a multistage envelope, and the classic non resonant hpf, lfo and chorus common to the other juno family.

The DCO is  quite different from the prvious Junos, it has a various waveform to chose  from for the saw and the pulse wave.
In effect even the saw can be “PWMed” making it a really wide sounding dco.
If you need an extra bass response turn up the sub osc and you’ll get a really punch in the bass range!

The filter is a little different from the previous junos, first it’s resonant but does not reach self-oscillation (like the one on the Roland JX10P), it sounds a little harder and darker and creates really powerful sub bass frequencies.
Apart from the lack of self oscillation this is a really good filter, it sounds liquid and can cut the sound with great precision but it’s not clinical or sterile.

Roland Alphajuno 2

Roland Alphajuno 2

The ENV is part that makes the ALPHA serie stand up with the other Roland of the time.
The env is an advanced ADSR with time and level, so it delivers really fast attack sounds using the T1 at zero and L1 at max, and T2 L2 as decay.
For bass and percussive sounds is great because it can shape various attack and decay or sustain curves, being snappy or angular, at your will.
For pads has a good “long time” for musical pads but even for drones.

The LFO is quite basic , with the classic triangle wave only,with RATE and DELAY (reallly useful for leads or drones/pads).

The interesting point is that the PWM wave has its own rate and does not use the lfo for the modulation of the width , so you canm have a very low sweep  on filter and a fast mod on the PW.

The CHORUS is, as on the other junos a trademark, and having a rate control instead of the previous models that had only 3 preset chorus (off-slow-fast) can create interesting sounds interacting with the rate of the pwm and of the sweeps or vibratos.

The last TOP FEATURES , not present on the previous models are the “dynamics” control and the AFTERTOUCH over the filter cutoff control, VCA and the pitch control.
This is a great addiction making the Alpha a more expressive synthetizer even with classic keyboards technics, but also a easier  techno synth to be controlled by a sequequencer/daw, without using sysex if a filter motion is needed.

All in all a great synth that can sound a little harder than the 60&106, but that retain all the warmth and power of the others juno with added features.

Roland Alphajuno and Behringer BCR2000

Roland Alphajunos are overlooked today because of their lack of slider and knobs and their controller PG300 is hard to find and not cheap.
The Behringer BCR2000 is the easy way out, the perfect substitute to the PG300, take a look at this video…

Video not available

The Behringer is a midi controller that can send even sysex messages, the old Roland Alphas work  only with sysex messages so you have to map the BCR2000 with the learn function and a virtual pg300 programmer.