Bring that FM drum synthesis in the box, too: ALM/Busy Circuits have made their first soft synth. Akemie’s Taiko Eurorack module is reimagined as a six-voice FM drum synth with step sequencer. And it’s delightful; here’s a quick hands-on guide to Motto Akemie.

Okay, sorry, free association with Japan has me thinking less taiko drumming and more a tasty variety pack of Pocky flavors. That may be a fitting metaphor, because you get six sweet voices here with some cheery sounds. They draw broadly from the Akemie’s Taiko Eurorack module, which features original Yamaha IC chips for the voices. Here’s what that sounds like:

You should also consider the Taiko recreation for VCV Rack, as that retains the control voltage modulation of each parameter. But for the plug-in rendition, ALM wisely chose to pair six drum voices with a step sequencer with complete modulation. The result is a drum synth with a retro-Japanese character, but its own distinct personality – all with the same charming simplicity of ALM’s hardware UI aesthetic and structure:

The parameters of each voice come directly from the module design. It’s a terrific scheme, especially for fresh, electro-ish sounds, since it not only offers 2-operator FM synthesis but also sweeps from a start to an end frequency:

  • Level
  • Pan
  • Start frequency
  • End frequency
  • Ratio (harmonic FM ratio)
  • Speed (duration of the sweep)
  • Wave – one of eight waveshapers
  • FM feedback
  • Release 1 / release 2 (release time for each operator – up to 2 seconds)
  • Algorithm: FM or Mix – so either you use operator 1 as an FM modulator for operator 2, or you can mix between them
  • Mute/solo

You can really dial this in to a range of sounds. You can treat one oscillator as a noisier source and one as a pitched source, and shift between them with release times. You can push it into CP-78 territory with simpler, shorter pitched sounds, or make Yamaha-ish FM sounds. Or you can get extreme and make some out-there sweeps and noises that get out of conventional drum synth territory.

And a step sequencer, too

I do love doing this with CV – so yes, for that, it’s a completely different workflow with the hardware module or the VCV Rack module. (I use the former, while I wait to save up for the gear.)

The step sequencer here, though, offers its own appeal. Most importantly, there’s a lane on every voice for every single parameter. That quickly makes up for the lack of CV control, and because you have more precision, means you’ll likely get results that aren’t possible with signal; it really then feels like a different instrument.

The step sequencer itself is also polyrhythmic – use the ‘-‘ and ‘+’ keys to add or remove steps. And you can set a time division, too. Between those two, a lot of rhythmic syncopation is possible. Note that the lane length is per-voice, not per parameter, so you can’t modulate parameters with independent sequence lengths – for that, you’ll need an external sequencer source. Then again, that’s probably really fancier than this plug-in wants to be.

And yes, a lot of the time you’ll just hit the random button to get some quick results. (That’s the dice – the die sides from 1-6 correspond to voice. They all have the same function; it’s just an aesthetic choice.)

You also get 16 pattern banks – that’s letters A-P at top – with copy/paste ability.

Each voice has its own MIDI channel with external input. There’s even MTS-ESP support for microtuning. So even though we say “drum synth,” you can also use this as a punchy, pitched instrument synth.

macOS Big Sur+, VST3 / AU

Windows 10+, VST3

There’s a complete 7-day trial; after that, it’s just US$40.

Motto Akemie: FM drum synth and step sequencer

Don’t forget VCV Rack!

So, while we’re talking ALM/Busy Circuits and drums: this isn’t technically their first soft synth (despite what their own press release says), if you count their VCV Rack modules. Of those, my absolute favorite has been Tyso Daiko. It’s a different drum voice architecture – dual 12-bit wavetable. That opens up some different parameters: there’s the beautiful “surface” option, plus the ability to choke voices and respond to accents. (See the source module.)

In Rack, this is a sheer delight because of the CV control. And actually, it’d be great to flip these two: I’d love to see the FM voices available in a Rack module, and it’s a no-brainer if Motto Akemie is a hit to do a version with the Tyso Daiko voice architecture, too. This is just screaming out for a step sequencer.

Library/ALM Busy Circuits TYSO DAIKO

The full bundle is US$50, but this one, to me, is an instabuy at $15. Plus if you have a Pro license for VCV Rack, you can run this as a plug-in too.

Let the percussion reign. Enjoy!