Electronic drums have had a hard time escaping the shadow of Roland’s TR line. But that’s no reason to limit yourself, yet again, to another two scoops of vanilla ice cream in your cone.
And so, even with an increasingly crowded Eurorack modular scene, it’s worth applauding the entry of the mad scientists of Bastl Instruments in the Czech Republic. They’ve got a number of new modules that are weird and wonderful, inspired yet again by the legacy of a nearly-forgotten electronic pioneer of the Communist-dominated 70s, Standa Filip. And while you may have spotted their debut in the market, I think the drum modules steal the show.
First, let’s enjoy some actual, beautiful music.
HRTL got his hands on a 95HP rack of Bastl goodies, rustic wooden panels and all. The music is dynamic and live, urgent in a way that can only come from not-too-perfect improvisation, lush and lo-fi all at once. It’s also a nice antidote to “look how much gear I bought” rigs and (uh, yes, I’ve gotten into this trap) modular patches that loop endlessly and don’t stop augh make that bleeping pattern quit it’s going to drive my head out of my skull.
Ahem. No, it’s nice, recorded live with no post-processing:
You can download the track, too:
And HRTL is an artist worth discovering from the surprisingly musically-rich hamlet that is Brno. (Bandcamp below)
On to the modules…
Some back story: the boys of Bastl have been roaming Europe giving workshops, making odd orchestras of electronic sounds (often with first-timers soldering and playing along), and championing Filip’s work. They began with their open source Standuino line, then followed up with a new line of standalone instruments and kits, now adding modular to the mix. I first met them when they hitchhiked from their hometown Brno, Czech to Amsterdam and STEIM at an event we were hosting there.
That was all before the Eurorack fever had reached full pitch. Now seems a perfect time for their offbeat, hand-built electronics.
Some of the modules will seem familiar. There’s some granular sampler action – definite highlight. There are loads of useful modules for routing. All come a la carte.
ABC – 6 channel mixer
grandaPa – granular sampler
Knit Rider – 6 voice trigger / gate sequencer
littleNerd – trigger / gate processor
multiple – passive handwired multiple
Noise Square – noise and square source
Quattro Figaro – quad vca + cv invertors + mixing
Skis – dual decay + vca
Spaghetti – inverter, buffered multiple, unity mix
Tea Kick – more than just a bass drum
But these three, in a video they released over the weekend, are worth highlighting:
Tea Kick (5HP) – kick drum and more
Noise Square (5HP) – analog, digital and square signal generator
Skis (5HP) – dual decay and vca
Why? Well, because you’ll immediately hear some sounds you might use instrumentally. Tea Kick is a unique-sounding kick with loads of modulation. Add in the other two, and you’ve got some bass lines and drums in no time, in ways that appeal to human beings. See video at top.
I love that Mr. Filip’s schematics were “quite conceptual.” But this is the essence of how you can fight boredom in electronic musical instrument design: learn from the past in a way that makes new sounds. (Ironically, sometimes a blank sheet of paper is the worst enemy to this process – but that’s why mining oddities of the past can be liberating.)
See video, top. (Man, YouTubers will downvote freakin’ anything. I blame cats.)
Quattro Figaro is a “spaghetti”-inspired patch that does mixing and control and panning and … well, it’s easiest to just watch. This is stuff that only makes sense in modular, and it’s terrifically musical:
Okay, and here they get weird and wacky and … spaghetti.
It’s all beautiful stuff, though. We’ll get to see them in person at Musikmesse in Frankfurt – and hopefully can visit Brno soon.
Prices are … ridiculously low, starting at 25€ and maxing out at 230€. Quattro Figaro is a very reasonable 164€ and Tea Kick will set you back just 90€. Do the conversion rate, America; you’ll be happy at the moment.
Full systems coming. Stay tuned for more.
And more music from Brno, let’s have at it: