05 Pyramid zoom

Maybe it’s because people have started collecting lots of gear. Maybe it’s a shift in how people play live. Maybe it’s just that we’re getting more than enough mileage out of our laptop as the machine for mixing and tracking and recording and mastering and managing our tour and our social network.

Whatever the reason, boy, are we seeing a lot of focus on dedicated hardware – especially for live performance.

The Pyramid, from oddly-named Squarp (Squarepusher + arpeggio?), looks like what would happen if Elektron decided to make its own standalone step sequencer without the drum machine. Or at least what would happen if they gave us every wish we’d have for such a standalone box.

02 Pyramid performance

At its heart, the Pyramid is a connect-to-everything sequencer box. So, there’s ample dual gate and CV, two MIDI out (the second doubling as DIN sync), and MIDI in, plus two pedal jacks. There’s also MIDI USB and power. (USB MIDI host is the only omission … but you can connect to a computer over the MIDI port and sequence software instruments, too.)

Squarp even kindly reminds you that this covers analog gear, MIDI instruments, homebrewed circuits, and iOS things, but you knew that already.

01 Pyramid studio table

All that connectivity becomes useful once you add in the sequencer. And here, it seems the Pyramid does everything we want:

  • 16 polyphonic tracks.

  • Step sequencing. Includes notes, chords, and CC.
  • Live performance. As there’s a built-in keypad and what they call “smartpads,” that might also include playing directly on the Pyramid as a sequencing instrument. Or play in from an external sequencer.
  • Songs. (Confusingly called “Seq mode.”) Chain sequences to form song structures.
  • Polyrhythms, multiple time signatures. In addition to going beyond just 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures, you can set different tracks to different time signatures for more complex rhythms.
  • Euclidean grooves. It’s amazing how popular this nerdy idea has gotten – symmetrical grooves (as identified by mathematician/computer scientist Godfried Toussaint) are built into each track – with the requisite picture of a circle to make it look cooler.
  • SD card MIDI import/export. Stored as SMF files, so files can come to and from other sequencers/

03 Pyramid euclidean screen

Very cool, though not quite enough to justify the gear – yet.

Squarp add a twist to the sequencing, though: the Pyramid is really a note effects box as much as sequencer. So, there are various MIDI note effects you can add to the sixteen tracks:

Available at launch (with more promised):

  • Quantize.
  • Arpeggiator
  • Swing
  • Delay
  • Randomizer
  • Glitch
  • Humanizer
  • Harmonizer

Those can be stacked on every track (up to four each) to transform the sequence. It also appears you can route inputs to those tracks, turning the Pyramid into a MIDI effects box.

And they can be controlled from the performance controls.

STEP_NOTE_DISPLAY1

Effects

Effects_arp_edit

There are two other stories here to note:

It’s got loads of performance controls. 5 clickable encoders, a “multi-finger” touchpad, and an accelerometer are all assignable. There are also backlit pads (though it seems those aren’t velocity-sensitive). 35 pads in total, with 8 “smartpads.” The pads are called “smartpads” in that they’re configurable to generate chords, note repeat, or scales. (What you can do is program in velocity via other controls.)

They’ve made this all real-time. Squarp say you can make real-time modifications to features like “the length of a track, the MIDI channel, the quantization grid, the swing percentage, the arpeggiator rate, [and] the delay on/off.”

You might, for instance, set this to Track mode and then change length/resolution/time signature, or mute tracks, in order to perform.

06 Pyramid night

All of this will cost you: preorders are now €699. So, this is a spendier option than an iPad with Modstep (as seen this week), or, while it’s much simpler, the compact-and-inexpensive BeatStep Pro.

And it doesn’t make sounds – here’s where it’s clear this isn’t an Elektron. They claim they’ve chosen to instead focus on making it the best-possible sequencer, and I applaud that. What it means is that all this control is dedicated to sequencing, and none of it has to compete with sound controls. In fact, it’s really the opposite of a box like the Octatrack in that regard: this seems to be about getting quick access to live performance controls, not (cough) menu diving, which has been the complaint for a lot of us about high-end standalone hardware that tries to do this.

Of course, that means this really lives or dies on workflow. Reading through their overview, it sounds like they might have really nailed it – but you’d want to test that. A 700€ preorder would be a big gamble.

It sure looks promising, though. And just after NAMM, the biggest appetite-inducing hardware announcement so far in 2015, the one that actually breaks from the mold of everything else, might just be this.

Pyramid Standalone Sequencer

Squarp Instruments are based in Paris. I may have to go pay them a visit.

pyramid_io

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  • Brent Williams

    If the workflow is good, this could give Cirklon a run for it’s money. I especially like the built-in midi effects, pedal inputs and the (slightly) larger screen than seems to be the norm these days. Can it also do different length patterns per track? OSC support? Looks like this could fill in many of the Octatrack’s holes, namely, an easy way to do patterns longer than 4 bars.

    • Jason

      With only 1 CV and one gate output I don’t think this is really in competition with the Cirklon which has 16 CV and 8 gate outputs alongside its 5 individual MIDI ins and outs, DIN sync and USB MIDI. Of course you pay more than 30% more for a Cirklon with all that but for people with a lot of analogue and especially modular gear they are going to want a lot more CV and gate options. Of course you don’t necessarily need to break the bank for that with the BeatStep coming out soon. I would really like to see Elektron get in on the dedicated sequencer market. If anyone could make a Cirklon competitor it is them.

      • Genjutsushi

        Elektron have already got a killer 8 channel midi sequencer in the Octatrack. Its an aspect of the unit that gets forgotten about by many people. Ok, no CV, but there are other ways to slice that cat, and theres always the 4 CV outs on the Analog 4 for that purpose.

  • Brent Williams

    If the workflow is good, this could give Cirklon a run for it’s money. I especially like the built-in midi effects, pedal inputs and the (slightly) larger screen than seems to be the norm these days. Can it also do different length patterns per track? OSC support? Looks like this could fill in many of the Octatrack’s holes, namely, an easy way to do patterns longer than 4 bars.

    • Jason

      With only 1 CV and one gate output I don’t think this is really in competition with the Cirklon which has 16 CV and 8 gate outputs alongside its 5 individual MIDI ins and outs, DIN sync and USB MIDI. Of course you pay more than 30% more for a Cirklon with all that but for people with a lot of analogue and especially modular gear they are going to want a lot more CV and gate options. Of course you don’t necessarily need to break the bank for that with the BeatStep coming out soon. I would really like to see Elektron get in on the dedicated sequencer market. If anyone could make a Cirklon competitor it is them.

      • Genjutsushi

        Elektron have already got a killer 8 channel midi sequencer in the Octatrack. Its an aspect of the unit that gets forgotten about by many people. Ok, no CV, but there are other ways to slice that cat, and theres always the 4 CV outs on the Analog 4 for that purpose.

  • el mech

    Finaly, a modern sequencrr that could have a chance of keeping up with my 15 year old rs7000. The rm1x and rs7000s midi effects ( which look quite comparable to what’s going on here) are indispensable for me, so color me excited.

  • el mech

    Finaly, a modern sequencrr that could have a chance of keeping up with my 15 year old rs7000. The rm1x and rs7000s midi effects ( which look quite comparable to what’s going on here) are indispensable for me, so color me excited.

  • Looks great, but the lack of the USB MIDI host feature feels like a missed opportunity. Lots of computer based musicians have USB-only controllers, and being able to keep using those would lower the barrier to entry into the hardware world.

  • Looks great, but the lack of the USB MIDI host feature feels like a missed opportunity. Lots of computer based musicians have USB-only controllers, and being able to keep using those would lower the barrier to entry into the hardware world.

  • Jared Helfer

    This looks wonderful, and very similar to what I would want, but I can’t justify almost $1000 on it. Now that I know it exists, it’s almost worse.

  • Jared Helfer

    This looks wonderful, and very similar to what I would want, but I can’t justify almost $1000 on it. Now that I know it exists, it’s almost worse.

  • This is exactly what happens when you focus on trying do one thing really good. Reminds me of the good old days of MIDI sequencing – brought into the 21. century, where this kind of devices doesn’t have to look like a typewriter…

    http://www.vintagesynth.com/misc/sequencers.php

  • This is exactly what happens when you focus on trying do one thing really good. Reminds me of the good old days of MIDI sequencing – brought into the 21. century, where this kind of devices doesn’t have to look like a typewriter…

    http://www.vintagesynth.com/misc/sequencers.php

  • BoxJohn

    Most of the stuff they put into it can also be found on the MIDIbox Sequencer V4.
    A lot of “inspired by” I must say.

    • Well, first, there is only so much different you can do in MIDI sequencing. And second, the MIDIbox is DIY, and not everybody wants to assemble their own device.

  • BoxJohn

    Most of the stuff they put into it can also be found on the MIDIbox Sequencer V4.
    A lot of “inspired by” I must say.

    • Well, first, there is only so much different you can do in MIDI sequencing. And second, the MIDIbox is DIY, and not everybody wants to assemble their own device.

  • Dan

    It’s funny how their logo borrows elements from Ableton and Teenage Engineering. The website seems to make no mention of who’s the team, except they’re French. I’d want to know the maker(s) before committing that much money to a startup product, not knowing if they’re legit and still around in 12 months.

  • Dan

    It’s funny how their logo borrows elements from Ableton and Teenage Engineering. The website seems to make no mention of who’s the team, except they’re French. I’d want to know the maker(s) before committing that much money to a startup product, not knowing if they’re legit and still around in 12 months.

  • aaron

    Will the gate output also put out a constant gate (clock) or is it only only for notes / pairing with the cv pitch out (aka only sending out a gate where a note is preset)? If you need a constant gate does that mean you have to use up a track for that? What are the cv specs in general? Don’t see them on the overview page. What are the limitations on assignments for the cv outputs? What exactly are the 2 cv inputs for?

  • aaron

    Will the gate output also put out a constant gate (clock) or is it only only for notes / pairing with the cv pitch out (aka only sending out a gate where a note is preset)? If you need a constant gate does that mean you have to use up a track for that? What are the cv specs in general? Don’t see them on the overview page. What are the limitations on assignments for the cv outputs? What exactly are the 2 cv inputs for?

  • It looks very OTO Biscuit inspired.
    Sadly I’ve not got the patience to be programming on a little screen like that.
    Something more visual like the Modstep is more my thing.

  • It looks very OTO Biscuit inspired.
    Sadly I’ve not got the patience to be programming on a little screen like that.
    Something more visual like the Modstep is more my thing.

  • Jim Aikin

    One CV and one gate out, in a 16-track device? To quote Adlai Stevenson, “I’m underwhelmed.”

    • L

      If you read the QuickStart about CV you’ll see There’s an expansion box planned!!

  • Jim Aikin

    One CV and one gate out, in a 16-track device? To quote Adlai Stevenson, “I’m underwhelmed.”

    • L

      If you read the QuickStart about CV you’ll see There’s an expansion box planned!!

  • Apeirophobe

    Looks great but not enough CV outs for me. Wish it had an expansion slot for additional CV/gate outs like the Cirklon.

    • L

      If you read the QuickStart about CV you’ll see There’s an expansion box planned!! So it’s certainly possible.

  • Apeirophobe

    Looks great but not enough CV outs for me. Wish it had an expansion slot for additional CV/gate outs like the Cirklon.

    • L

      If you read the QuickStart about CV you’ll see There’s an expansion box planned!! So it’s certainly possible.

  • lazenbleep

    Peter, are you in contact with them? Do you reckon we could see a work flow demo from someone?
    It has a great spec, but I think there are many people here who wouldn’t pre order something that they hadn’t seen working.
    Cheers

  • lazenbleep

    Peter, are you in contact with them? Do you reckon we could see a work flow demo from someone?
    It has a great spec, but I think there are many people here who wouldn’t pre order something that they hadn’t seen working.
    Cheers

  • Fayek Helmi

    so i recently bought an electribe 2. kindof having trouble with it… would you say that this is better let’s say to integrate with ableton… that way instead of having different hardwares controlled by the pyramid, i can have different tracks controlled by the pyramid.

  • Fayek Helmi

    so i recently bought an electribe 2. kindof having trouble with it… would you say that this is better let’s say to integrate with ableton… that way instead of having different hardwares controlled by the pyramid, i can have different tracks controlled by the pyramid.

  • if anyone could do a longer session with Pyramid pls send a short review. any Pariser around? thanks.

  • if anyone could do a longer session with Pyramid pls send a short review. any Pariser around? thanks.

  • genjutsushi

    Reminds me of the Propellerhead balance… Nice design.

  • genjutsushi

    Reminds me of the Propellerhead balance… Nice design.

  • BeatStep Pro or this? Hrrrm well I’ts not available ion the US and limited quants only so. I’m not going to sweat it- looks sweet though. (Never head of Euclidean Grooves before)

  • BeatStep Pro or this? Hrrrm well I’ts not available ion the US and limited quants only so. I’m not going to sweat it- looks sweet though. (Never head of Euclidean Grooves before)

  • L

    If you read the QuickStart about CV you’ll see There’s an expansion box planned!!

  • L

    If you read the QuickStart about CV you’ll see There’s an expansion box planned!!