Synth Thoughts: A Drum Voice for the TNG Mothership

This is the results of a discussion I had, mostly on twitter, but also in dialogue with the fantastic staff at Schneiders Laden.

Right now, this is just a quick writeup without too much of details, links, prices etc. There won’t even be proper links to all the kind folks who gave the recommendations. Maybe I’ll do that later.

It’s mostly about these two tweets:

A bunch of these experts added their input, as did the Schneidersladen staff.

What it is about

I want a module that can do a variety of sounds that are percussive in nature. Some of those sounds shall be very ugly/dirty/industrial. Control shall be by shaping the sound with lots of CVs and then sending a trigger, so it does its thing.

The Mothership, as of today, looks like this.

The reason for that: I mostly do these things today with Motion and Mental, two of the three parts that remain in the Mothership from Folktek’s Mescaline. These are, however, not exactly perfect to play in a sequenced context (i.e. changing sounds on the fly with a sequencer is kinda tricky), and I’m leaning towards removing them and rather play the entire Mescaline thing on its own as a separate instrument. So I need something for those odd sounds for percussion duties.

I definitely don’t need standard 808 bassdrums, 909 snaredrums or CR-78 hihats. I got those standard sounds covered whenever I want them. And I want to avoid having to use more than one module.

The Contestants

Actual somewhat dirty, CV-controllable monophonic drum voices

There’s a few things that immediately came up. Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Basimilus Iteritas Alter by Noise Engineering:

This seems to be something mostly everone could agree on on- and offline, and it’s also easily available. However, there’s things that are still better if you just want drums, as the Falling Girl said:

To me, the SSF Entity Percussion appears less “angry” than the Noise Engineering choice – but it can surely be! What is, however, some kind of downside is that availability here (in Germany) is somewhat limited.

Something I also discussed with Schneidersladen would be Plaits. On which mylarmelodies had this to say:

And judging from online resources, while it definitely also can do drum things, there’s a risk I would immediately repurpose it…

A bunch of mixed recommendations came from Origin ST:

Let’s start with Plonk (Intellijel) here. This one looks pretty much what I’m looking for, although it seems to have a hard time to get dirty on its own…but alas, it seems to be discontinued:

With it being disontinued, this would be something to look for on the used market. Simply looking at Intellijel’s own demo, I had the feeling it’s too much of a “save/load/menu/digital” thing, but the video above suggests otherwise.

Speaking of availability, this would also be the issue with all by Moffenzeef. Also, they all don’t seem to bring the flexibility I’m looking for – and the same is true for what I found about the WMD Crucible and Fracture:

Finally, Surface by Qu-Bit appears to me to be something to which what Mylarmelodies said about Plaits applies even more: while you can do drummy stuff with it, it definitely leans more towards tonal stuff. As this video by Ricky Tinez, a very drumgroove-oriented person, suggests:

Finally, something I thought up myself: Akemie’s Taiko by ALM:

So why wasn’t this mentioned by any of my sources? It might just have to do with the fact that chiptune-y FM is “not for everyone”. Maybe because it doesn’t cover the whole desired range – tellingly, Andrew Huang starts to add a BIA in the video above…Still, I won’t rule it out completely, also because I believe that with added things after it (see also the chapters below), it can be an interesting if somewhat hard to control option.

Slightly different: little modulation, multiple voices…

A few things that came up both from recommendations and own research do not directly fulfil the requirements as I see them. Let’s start with

While Thonk Prok looks interesting for what it does, it doesn’t look like what I’d like to have, simply because there’s not enough parameters to control for my taste. Issues in availability here don’t help the case, either.

There’s two things that are more like “drummachines without sequencer”, having multiple voices: Queen of Pentacles, VPME Quad Drum and Hexinverter Mutant Machine:

All of them have in common that they do a lot more than I need (multiple voices as one example), but also not enough of what I want (modulation options):

Other Things

A few modules came up as additional options – mainly having a LPG or env/VCA combo for shaping a different oscillator. One option I got from Schneidersladen for the oscillator part would be Piston Honda:

For this, my verdict (from the videos I saw) would really be “cool oscillator, but not what I’m looking for here”.

Among the other things that got recommendations: there’s an unusual CV sequencer:

Yes, I’ve been considering the Tiptop Z8000 in the past already. Right now, I have a bunch of CV sequencing options, but this very unique thing might very well be something for the future.

Next was an unusual filter: the Plague Bearer:

Right now, I already have a Synthrotek DiRT for unusual filtering – but it’s still something to consider (but there’s also the availability issue).

And finally, a slew of LPG/LPG-standin recommendations:

Again, I’m not looking for something where I need multiple modules – but these recommendations will be noted!

Note to self: while doing this research, I found what great things some do using a Doepfer A-185-2 precision adder – which comes at €65 and 6TE. Need to keep that in mind for sequencing applications!

Summary (for now)

By applying an exclusion principle, I’ll first won’t discuss (but keep in mind) the things that are not sources: the LPGs, the filters, the VCA/envelopes, the sequencers.

Then, also not considered will be things that are multi-voiced modules: Queen of Pentacles, Quad Drum, Mutant Machine.

Next, things that can’t properly get what I want on their own: Piston Honda, Surface.

Modules which don’t provide the sonic bandwidth I desire also have to go: WMD Fracture and Chimera, Entity Bass.

Which leaves us with Basimilus Iteritas Alter, Plaits, Plonk, Entity Percussion and Akemie’s Taiko.

Among these five, Plonk and Entity Percussion have availability issues.

Plonk (and Akemie’s Taiko) also doesn’t seem to perform that well in the dirty territory, but then again, that’s where I could apply a choice of DiRT/DIS/Fold.

The remaining three all are readily available, with some limitations for the BIA. Their hard facts: €229/12TE for Plaits, €285/18TE for Akemie’s Taiko and €388/10TE for BIA. Fun. The smallest module is also the most expensive one.

From here onwards…

I still haven’t made up my mind. Maybe I should look at something by Folktek as well (but availability is always an issue with those)? Maybe I’ve missed something or misunderstood something? Maybe my choice of videos was somewhat poor? If so – please holler!

210424 Update

So there were three finalists, and I still hadn’t made up my mind. Sadly (or luckly, whichever way you look at it), Akemie’s Taiko has now joined the group of the “availability issues” contestants.

I ordered both BIA and Plaits. Maybe they’ll complement each other nicely. There’ll also be additional sequencer thingies. I’ll keep you posted.

This is how the system will look next. Probably.

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