Monday, August 18, 2008

Synthesizers of the (Not-Too-Distant) Future

It seems to me that this is an incredible time in the history of synthesizers. When I first started playing, the choice was basically between a Moog and an Arp. Nowadays, there are piles of interesting instruments to be had, many for (more or less) reasonable prices. That’s what’s available right now. This post, however, is about a few new synthesizers which are coming over the horizon, some nearer then others.

The first that comes to mind, maybe because it’s the closest to being released, is the Mattson Mini Modular (hereafter referred to as the MMM as it’s way easier to type). George Mattson, notable as the maker of the Syntar back around 30 years ago, has started up again to make what is possibly the worlds smallest “true” modular. I say “true” in quotes because it’s actually made up of individual modules which can be purchased and arranged in a cabinet in any order you like. There are other semi-modulars out there which are small, but many of them while possibly fully patchable have controls permanently mounted in a metal panel, meaning you can’t move them around.

And when I say small, I mean small.

No, that’s not one giant modular synthesizer. What you’re looking at is a wall of eight complete MMM synths. If I remember correctly, mine is the one in the middle row on the left.

I haven’t held one in person yet, but no matter how amazingly small it looks in the photographs, the size of two New York City phone books, I have a feeling it will feel shockingly small in real life. If you ignore the size, however, the MMM is a full featured and powerful modular synthesizer, regardless of the size of it. I’m hoping it will be ready this fall.

Another synth coming in the near future is the Solaris, by John Bowen Synth Design. John Bowen started at Moog in 1973 and a few years later was at Sequential Circuits and has done many things after that as well. While working with Creamware he designed the Solaris soft synth plug-in, which in a departure from the usual is now being converted to a hardware version. The Solaris, now in the prototype stage, looks to be a best-of-both-worlds merging of hardware and software.

There are a number of synths which have knobs linked to displays so they can use the same set of knobs to control many different functions. The Solaris is no different, except that it doesn’t have just one display/knob set, it has six of them! Add to that four oscillators, four filters, six envelope generators, five LFOs and a pile of effects and it starts to sound truly dangerous.

Last for today is the Waldorf Stromberg, mostly because to me this one seems the farthest away. Waldorf has made some incredible instruments in the past such as the XT and Q, and this latest incarnation of the company has designed the Blofeld, a tiny desktop synthesizer that sounds huge. I hope they sell tons of them so they can thrive and keep going until the Stromberg makes it out of the mock-up phase and into production. The Stromberg promises to encompass all of Waldorf’s previous synth engines in one sleek and silver package. While not holding my breath yet, I am definitely looking forward to it.

In writing this I’ve tried to not sound like a commercial for any of these companies. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded in doing that, but I hope I’ve conveyed my enthusiasm for these very different and very interesting new instruments. In the interests of full disclosure, I have already ordered both the MMM and the Solaris and am eagerly (and somewhat impatiently!) awaiting the actual delivery. They may not be scheduled to arrive immediately, but I’m pretty sure they’ll most definitely be worth the wait. The Stromberg may be further off, but I feel that one also will be an amazing instrument.

Photo credits:
All photos are from the manufacturers’ websites
Mattson Mini Modular
John Bowen Solaris
Waldorf Stromberg

1 comment:

A Promotions For Web Company said...

Hi Seth,

Cool interesting blog. I've been reading up on the Solaris development and I would like to get one for myself as well..hopefull sometime soon I can make the downpayment to purchase directly from John. I already own an XT, Prophet VS a Voyager plus 9 other synths so I'm sure the Solaris will be something very nice to have and experience. Hopefully you get your soon!

Chris Faur
Fantasia Recordings,