Although manufacturers of music gear have gifted us an endless supply of instruments and gadgets over the last few decades, in the end quite a lot of them do the same thing. Sure, one analogue mono-synth might have a few different features to another, it might have a more aggressive sound, more filter options etc. But in the end you’re not likely to need more than a couple of options of what is really, a luxury item for music making. However, occasionally you find something a little odd and interesting that can genuinely be a source of inspiration in your sound design. Here’s five bits of kit I’ve come across that have features that are unique, or at least, very unusual.
Korg’s latest little analogue mono-synth may not seem all that interesting at first glance, in fact it’s kind of limited compared to other synths out there. However, it has a little utilised feature called micro-tuning. Have you experimented with micro-tuning? Didn’t think so. Be gone equal temperament scales, time to explore the notes between notes. Musical weirdo #1 Aphex Twin came on board as advisor to implement this feature and has provided a set of preset micro-tuning scales for you to play with, but there’s also 12 slots available to make your own.
Another analogue mono-synth, but this one is proper weird. At it’s core it’s a semi-modular, single oscillator, MIDI compatible synth. But take a glance at the top panel and it’s likely you’ll barely recognise anything. Where’s the bloody filter? The 0-Coast’s provided methods of sound sculpting are quite different to a run of the mill synth, it mainly deals in overtones and multiplying waveforms. With modular functionality adding to that, this desktop unit makes some truly unique sounds.
Dave Smith Instruments Tempest
A six voice synthesiser/drum machine/sequencer with each voice featuring two analogue oscillators (plus sub oscillator), two digital oscillators that also double as sample banks, analogue filters, overdrive and whole heaps of other ridiculous stuff. Ever wanted to layer a square wave bass sound with a snare drum sample and run it through an analogue filter with overdrive and distortion? No problems.
A more traditional desktop semi-modular synth, two oscillators and two filters - capable of being used in paraphonic mode. However, the highlight on this gadget is it’s immense built-in reverb. Big deal you reckon? You gotta hear this reverb. It has to be one of the best included on any synth, let alone a little desktop unit. If haunting textures and ambience are your thing, you’ve got to check one of these out.
Brand spanking new and shipping this month, this is a gurgling fart machine with a difference. The semi-modular SoftPop consists of a fully analogue core with dual triangle-core oscillators, state variable filter and sample/hold, played through an interface of six faders. Where it shines for me though, is processing external audio through the filter while using the envelope follower to synchronise to the incoming signal. It also holds itself in tune with an autotune feature, so your gurgly weirdness is at least in tune. It’s a tricky one to explain in words, so go check it out at bastl-instruments.com.