Percussa micro super signal processor

There’s a drool-worthy new keyboard synth this week bearing the name KORG. The surprise: it comes one day after a widely-anticipated product announcement, and it comes from a single hacker, not KORG. One $25 embedded computer plus one controller equals one hackable, lovely instrument – with knobs and patch cords, no less.

So, it’s hard not to compare this to the announcement yesterday.

KORG makes some wonderful products, and it’s safe to say that a lot of electronic musicians view them as a company that uniquely “gets” it. From the monotron line to releasing analog filter circuit designs, the ongoing endurance of the KAOSS to the success of microKORG to savvy about new platforms (iPad and even Nintendo DS), they’ve found a unique place in the hearts of synth enthusiasts.

Perhaps that means the bar is set higher for KORG – and yesterday, that produced some serious disappointment. Teasing new product announcements is a potentially-dangerous business, and the rumor mill’s imagination (new monotron keyboards) exceeded the reality. Workstations, color schemes, and tuners will likely do well in stores, but they aren’t going to set the online synth enthusiast community aflame. (Whether what that community wants is something that makes business sense is another matter entirely, but it’s at least a cautionary tale in marketing.)

What’s better than waiting for someone to make something, though? Making it yourself. Friend of the site Marc Resibois hooks up the KORG-manufactured MS-20 Legacy Collection USB Controller, a short-lived but fantastic hardware accessory for the company’s plug-ins, to the US$25 Raspberry Pi. The result is a workable, self-contained, digital synth. (This has all-new synth code, so think of it more as a new synth than an MS-20 clone.)

And it’s a reminder that KORG could learn something from its users about the legacy we love so dearly.

Technical details:

Goofing around with a direct port of my synth architecture on a raspberry pi. Starting with the default sound and tweaking parameters. All done on a stock RPi. Audio recorded through the HDMI out.

Note that I am NOT trying to do a MS-20 clone, I just like the interface and the basic 2 OSC/2 Filter architecture. The Filters are slighly stripped version of the Tony Hardie Bick’s Most Excellent DFM.

Now, perhaps for all KORG has done, it’s worth letting hackers try to make creations themselves. My one plea to KORG, then, would be this:

Re-release the MS-20 USB controller. The thing now works with an iPad with your own app – making it a thousand times cooler than the dozens of look-alike iOS docks out there. And as this example suggests, other people could make new applications for it.

And do pay attention to your legacy. It’s about more than just the sounds of these instruments; it’s the whole experience. Apart from Dave Smith and Moog, the makers of yore seem to neglect that.

But don’t listen to us punters – and yes, I’ll include myself in the punter category, because I didn’t play in Depeche Mode and I was born the same year the MS-20 was.

Listen to Vince Clarke (via Synthtopia).

The Analogue Monologues is a series of mini video-documentaries made by Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode/Yazoo/Erasure). In each webisode Vince talks about one of his analogue synths and explains where the on/off switch is. This series proves, once and for all, that he really doesn’t know much about anything (a must see!).

Don’t believe that last sentence, either.

That’s my message to KORG.

But my message to the rest of this is a bit different. We can make things that don’t have to sell. We can just make ourselves happy. Clearly, you’re not going to make everything in your studio yourself. But the beauty of Marc’s work is, you don’t have to complain online. You can actually go out and make the things you dream of.

In the end, I think we’ll be lucky to have both KORG … and Marc. (And you.)

Follow the process of this Raspberry Pi project and other geeky synth hardware hacking at:
http://www.marc-nostromo.com/