808. 909. 303. 330. No, really “330.” VP-330. That last one is also a classic Roland product with a cult following, but suffice to say, it isn’t a household name on the same level. It’s Roland’s 1979 “Vocoder Plus” instrument – the “plus” added because it was not only a vocoder, but also a string and vocal synth. It also got a reboot on Friday’s mega-launch of Roland instruments. Here’s the surprise: it might be the most interesting of the Boutique offerings yet.
We’ve seen a minor renaissance in mobile music gear – KORG’s volca series, Teenage Engineering’s tiny Pocket Operators, the Gakken synths, Roland’s boutique series, and more. (We’re a believer in this – that’s why CDM co-produces the MeeBlip synth.) But while these small instruments are great, they wind up getting tossed into a bag. That risks damaging them, and there’s a lot of business of packing and unpacking them when you play. We wanted a solution, so we made our own. It’s called BlipCase.
PPG’s Phonem vocal synth for iPad is one of the nicest synths to come out this summer. So, let’s get straight to using it. Our friend Jakob is here with a great tutorial: It’s a nice introduction to the architecture, by way of a drone sound design. Also, I can’t say enough good things about Jakob’s YouTube channel – it’s one of the best tutorial sources out there, with a particular focus on affordable hardware and mobile apps and gear. His Haq Attack series has now climbed well into triple figures in episode count and more keep coming. It’s hard …
Years ago, when Ableton’s Operator FM synth designed by Robert Henke made its debut, it was a revelation. Its clear panel design and flexible architecture made FM synthesis more accessible to countless Ableton Live users. But now Operator, while still a great go-to instrument, certainly deserves some competition. And that makes Bengal special. The production of Max for Cats (and Christian Kleine, another key designer of Ableton instruments), Bengal also innovates in the area of clear design and architecture. And with a semi-modular design, it goes further than Operator in opening up avenues for creative sound design.
Okay, enough teasing already. Behringer has a 12-voice polyphonic synth called the DeepMind. And now let’s talk about exactly what to expect, in one place.
Roland’s Boutique Series is … dangerous, frankly. These little sound modules (based on the Jupiter-8, Juno-106, and JX-3P) really do sound terrific and are totally adorable in person. They’re one of the things you can easily dismiss when you first see them … then fall in love with in person. The 1.10 update fixes one fatal flaw: now the whole series supports MIDI Control Change send and receive.
Okay, so while we wait for word to spread that the 808 ad we featured today came from 2016 London and not 1980 Japan, here are some real – and really genius – vintage synth ads. (Some of them no doubt inspired that London agency.) And thank you, YouTube, because these all warm our heart.
Somewhere – tonight, even – some unknown producer is going to make some brilliant new track using software. (Seriously, this is the world we live in.) And when they do, odds are they might well turn to a popular synth like breakout-hit Serum. The problem is this: someone getting started in producing is probably unwilling or unable to shell out US$189 for a single software instrument. So that individual is likely to pirate the software.
One of the things that makes the synthesizer beautiful is that, in some ways, it’s an extension of the voice. From the synthesizer’s early history, entangled with the Theremin and vocoder, to crossovers with vocal synthesis and artificial song, synthesis gives us another means to sing. So PPG Phonem is a lovely addition to that history. Creator Wolfgang Palm has made this a labor of love of late, and he’s on a roll with new synths for computer and iOS. The inventer of wavetable synthesis as we know it and founder/owner of PPG, he’s got the resumé, for sure. You …