Experimental Review Synth

Hainbach – Schwebungssummer

Misc. – Release: Jan 18th

Hainback grows some ripe and juicy waveforms, ready for the picking.

Most synth nerds will know Hainbach from the internets. He makes consistently interesting videos on youtube involving esoteric, hard-to-find and rare electronic devices and instruments. Unlike many synth ‘youtubers’, he actually makes decent tracks as well!

‘Schwebungssummer’ is a 6 track EP based on primitive, revolving techno-esque pulses and some quite dark, discordant pads underpinning them. Quite unlike his previous releases and sounding much more musically distinct. The raw synths are sequenced (or triggered?!) in a organic and pulsating way, that reminds me of Luke Abbott’s first LP ‘Holkham Drones’. Based on the album art, at least some of the sounds are likely to be generated from some of his obscure audio test equipment. The heavy synth theme continues throughout, with only some piano(?) motifs rising out from the squelch in the final ‘It Will Stay Dark’.

I’ve ordered the vinyl and I’m holding off listening to the digital too much, so I can enjoy this in all it’s properly mastered glory.

Order now at bandcamp

Ambient Review

Rikaar – IC 1848

Apollo (R&S) – 29/1/21

Classic, filmic synthscapes from Belgium duo Rikaar.

Big pads and pianos drenched in that reverb (think Eventide blackhole preset), gives these tracks a strong Vangelis vibe. Fans of sci-fi film music will feel at home here. The composition is tight and production values are high, which certainly gives the tracks a professional sheen, as associated with modern DAW-based soundtrack production.

Ambient is such a broad encompassing term these days, which can be used to describe anything from functionalist minimal Eno-school ambient, Japanese DX7 reductionism, modular experimentalism, all the way to epic-sounding soundtrack music (of which end of the spectrum this release lies).

Sci-fi music we collectively adhere to as ‘classics’, all have something in common. From the Barron brothers otherworldly soundtrack in Forbidden Planet, Derbyshire’s original Dr Who theme, Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack, all the way up to the return of raw analogue synths in the Stranger Things soundtrack. In all examples, the composers used technology in new and unexpected ways to portray a theme of the future. With this in mind, in terms of originality and inventiveness, IC 1848 doesn’t push any boundaries in term of sound design. However the composition is programmed impeccably and certainly serves its purpose.

Ambient Review

Tomas Jirku – Touching the Sublime

The goal of this album was to capture the feeling of being in awe of nature. I think we can say that, especially when accompanied with the visual work above, this goal is achieved. Minimal soundscapes, and at times discordant tones, give an impression of vast space and power. The album is also available with a custom printed book of photographs. You can find out more here. And if you’d like to know more about the label Silent Season check this excellent video by Dub Monitor.

Ambient Experimental Review

Asher Levitas & Hannah Archambault – Nous N’étions Jamais Vraiment Là

Line Explorations – 22nd Jan 2021

As we adapt to new ways of existence, projects and collaborations need to evolve alongside. Remote working is not a necessity confined to people working office jobs, but artists and musicians too.

Electro Review

DMX Krew – Loose Gears

Hypercolour – Release: 26/2/21

Mad scenes in the world today. A mutated virus ravages the locked down streets. Far right mobs freely take capitol house in Washington. Brexit means, Brexit? Thankfully, DMX Krew the saviour has returned to rescue us from the insanity, with something we can all rely on. Dope-ass electro beats!

Ed is back to melodic, bleepy form in ‘Loose Gears’, keeping things light and funky, with those trademark pentatonic Roland riffs all present and correct. Knocking out 11 trax here, including nods to tunes he likes. ‘Dejected Ambient Twerp’, for example, not sounding unlike to AFX tune, on album of similar name.

But it’s the closing track ‘Sounds Good’ which stands out, an electro pop instrumental with some great guest vocals (possibly from his daughter?), which get morphed into a synth line.

As with all DMX Krew releases, you should really know by now, buy on sight.

Pre-order here

Gear Hardware Review

Ciat-Lonbarde – Plumbutter

All bananas are created equal (or not).

Included in my Ciat Lonbarde (CL) mega-swap (as mentioned in this previous blog), was a big bundle of banana cables and also the means to make my own, with a couple of extra looms and bags of plastic connectors. One thing I noticed when patching these, was connections would occasionally drop out, or not sit properly and need an extra wiggle. Having no previous experience with CL gear, I assumed this was the just the nature of the beast. Anyway, by chance, I stumbled on a good deal on some Buchla branded cables. These still were not cheap by any stretch, but I thought I’d give ‘em a shot and well, the difference is like night and day. It’s a real pleasure to patch these things, far more satisfying than the little clicky Eurorack cables I’d used in the past and vastly superior to the cheap DIY bananas I was using before. So anyway, the adage “buy cheap {bananas}, buy twice” appears to ring true…

Fruits of four different banana cultivars.

Wild plum butter

To someone who’s spent a significant portion of their life, longer than is probably worth admitting, making (and dancing to) weird techno records, on paper, the Plum Butter (PB) at least treads some familiar territory, albeit through a pair of backwards binoculars. Mixer? Sequencer? Pulses… DRUMS even?! I say ‘on paper’, of course there is no paper manual and a word of advice: if you value your paper and ink supplies (and sanity?), just avoid trying to actually print anything off the Ciat-Lonbarde website.


When I went to pick up the boxes from my friends and get a little demo, I stared at the PB in a mixture of awe and confusion. Even after reading and watching as much information I could, there were still so many questions! Why is it upside down, or is it? Brown are inputs and outputs? Wahh. The fog cleared pretty quickly when I was told the the basic theme for ins and outs (hot colours out, cold colours in).

As mentioned previously, I’d never played any CL gear in the past, but I’m aware there have been previous iterations of some boxes. In this regard, the PB feels very developed conceptually and operationally, with there being at least one major revision before this version (V2). The user interface informed by geographical design and the signal/traffic flow between city, suburbia and the wilderness starts to make sense when you use the thing, rather than seemingly abstract words on a screen (like I said, don’t bother trying to print that shit).

Mega City One

The space between the speakers

As with most of the ‘commercially’ (ie non-DIY offerings) available CL boxes, audio outputs are delivered via hard panned stereo minijacks. The sound engineer in me internally revulsed at the prospect of these expensive boxes favouring such an inferior connection, but in practice they sound and work OK. Memories of fixing broken jacks on old Walkmans, minidisk players and more recently, my OP-1, will forever haunt. As such, the thought of taking this equipment out live (if live music will ever actually happen again in this part of the world), with the main outputs solely based on such a weak-ass connection, is slightly unnerving. Yes people, I am making a critical comment on a widely respected piece of music tech equipment (shock, gasp, how very DARE he!). 

Keep it in the family

So, as discussed, these boxes are designed to play nicely together and I can see how the minijacks aid this cross-pollination of devices (or of course, you CAN use the banana outputs from various modules too, however this would bypass the PB’s internal mixer etc). Many internet content providers tend to daisy chain these boxes directly into one another, in an incestuous orgy of CL instruments (coming from Norfolk, yeah, I can spot it) which certainly looks aesthetically pleasing in 4K (and on instagram), but without some extensive modulation patching, you are in danger of making tracks that sound like those early 70’s records where they have first discovered panning and need to put EVERYTHING in dizzying hard left/right (shudder). I’ve been getting amazing results routing everything into separate mixer channels (using splitter cables) and working that way. Different strokes for different folks and if somehow that makes the music less puritan to thy sacred church of CL, then so be it.

Drum village

In terms of effects, I’ve never been a huge fan of drenching tracks in reverb, however the PB sounds simply UNREAL piped into real spring reverb. Something about the combined industrial effort of these drum villages really excites the springs In my Great British Spring like nothing I’ve put through it before.

Anyway, there’s so much info and opinion out there on the PB, I’m not going to do a guide on how it works, as part of the beauty of these seemingly obfuscate designs, is exploring your own path. Personally, the more I work with it, the more I’m drawn into the dichotomy between industrial and wilderness, which resonates with the choices in how I currently choose to live my life; in a small city, but close to the countryside. 

The wilderness is green

Plum(b) it in and see ‘wha happen?’

A couple of basic (but fun) tricks I’ve not seen explicitly shown elsewhere:

  • The snare drum can become many different percussive sounds by means of the yellow (ultra-sound) outputs patched into the blues, this can add all manner of useful harmonic overtones to the noise. This applies really to the blues on all the modules, but is easily exemplified first with the noise source.
  • After syncing the man with red steam to an external clock (such as the Cocoquantus as described before), the rolz can also take a pulse from one of the sequencer steps, I’ve had some nice clock division-esque results in this way. Further connecting one rolz to another, keeps the rhythm section somewhat unified.
  • Patching into the mixer gives some nice panning effects. In fact lots of the blue appear to influence the stereo field, affecting modules’ left and right permutations (gongue, AV dog, ultrasound etc). So if you are purely using CL gear without a mixer, I would suggest paying attention to these modulations, to fill the stereo field.
Nothing to see here, officer.

The PB audio inputs are really useful and much documented/discussed elsewhere online. I need to spend more time with them admittedly, but the guttural, wheezy tone the filters impart to an audio input is the kind of thing that keeps me distracted from my day job. Imagining the potential sonic terrains I’m going to traverse on my next visit to PB-town. Speaking of which, I have two albums going to mastering this month written solely on this setup, so these things are paying their way quicker than expected. Keep an eye out for the vinyl in due course.

Experimental Review

Tyler Neidermayer – This Isn’t You

Self-release 4/12/20

Vibrant electro-acoustic bass clarinet works from Tyler Neidermayer. Varied tones, textures and injections of noise to be found here, with a frankly outrageous opening 01:36 minutes to the EP.

In his words “I compose all my music through ableton live. In my studio space I’ll usually start off recording some improvisations on my clarinets and cut up samples to stretch, manipulate and make new instruments with, and from there build up the form of how I want the piece to flow. As I write I’m always thinking about how these pieces will work in live contexts and how to make these studio productions into performances. I use mics on my clarinets live along with midi controllers (push, softstep) to either capture the sound and build as I would in the studio, or to take what I’ve already made and play that fixed sound as a live instrument. This Isn’t You allowed me to explore this boundary of what is or isn’t a clarinet and place myself and my sound into new identities.”

Grab the EP and follow his future releases on band camp.

Gear Hardware Review

Ciat-Lonbarde – Cocoquantus

Multi-Coloured Swap Shop

Firstly, a brief backstory on how I came about owning this device. I’d been using a Make Noise Shared System almost exclusively for the past 4 years, occasionally venturing into trying other modules, but always gravitating back to the Make Noise rig. I never really fell into the ‘eurocrack’ trap of buying module after module, as for me personally, the attraction of modular synths over fixed-architecture designs, is to have each module be able to perform many different uses (of which the Make Noise excelled at).

Au revoir, faire du bruit…

Anyway, multiple releases later and a handful of live shows (including a live session on BBC introducing), I’d kind of tired of the sounds I was composing with the system, I also found the newer Make Noise modules increasingly complex and operating the system as an instrument became more a memory challenge of button combos (I was good at this with Ken in Street Fighter 2, but sadly my short term memory is not what it was in the early 1990’s). It seemed every time I updated to a newer module (for example Phonogene → Morphagene, Rene v1 → v2, Echophon → Mimeophon etc etc) I enjoyed performing with the system less and less. Until finally it sat for many months, closed up in its case and I deliberated over selling it on numerous occasions, as I get intense guilt pangs if a piece of gear sits unused. I’m basically whatever the exact opposite of a hoarder is.

Locking shit down

During the first UK lockdown in 2020 I noticed an artist friend, who happens to live locally, was looking to buy some Make Noise modules and coincidently wanting to sell his Ciat Lonbarde setup. I was already familiar with the instruments online and had seen him perform live with the setup, so knew it sounded good loud, but other than that, I’d never laid my hands on any Ciat Lonbarde pieces (or banana synths in general). So after some lengthy discussions, we both agreed our systems were of similar monetary value and to save ourselves the painful song-and-dance of eBay selling, PayPal fees etc. We decided to swap systems, wholesale. His Ciat Lonbarde, for my Make Noise.  

Magic beans

Magic Beans?

At first, I felt a bit like I’d gone to the market and swapped my (black &) golden cow for some magic (wooden) beans. But I’ve owned these noisy wooden boxes for a few months now and getting a handle on how they work and recording a motherload of tracks in the process. So in my eyes, synth inspiration (synthspiration?) is restored and these things are being used for their intended purpose (hey, synths are for music, not just instagram kids!). On the plus side, sonically, they are extremely well thought out, like a well tuned instrument, with individual elements of devices operating in distinct frequency ranges (see the various modules on the Plum Butter, for example).

I thought I’d give my rambling thoughts on these boxes (in total I got four Ciat Lonbarde devices in the swap) in a series of posts, as I begin to unravel their mysterious, yet intuitive, designs and entertaining, if slightly unorthodox, online ‘manuals’. 

Crunchy Biscuits.

Montessori toy, synth, or both?

As I mentioned before, I really connected (no modular pun intended) with the earlier Make Noise modules, especially the Phonogene. It’s crunchy sonic nature and the mental aliasing it imparted on the recorded output was the basis of my ‘sound’ and the Make Noise module I thought I’d miss most. Thankfully not, as the Cocoquantus essentially has TWO Phonogenes (mono tape-style recorders), along with a chaotic matrix of five oscillators (aka ‘quantussy’) separating the two. I’d researched the Cocoquantus a fair bit prior to the swap and knew it was going to be in the same ball park sonically, but in fact the sound of the sampler(s) (possibly 8-bit?) when pitched down are so similar, I wonder if they are actually based on a similar processor?

James Bond XXV – ‘Quantussy’

One of the composition techniques I gravitated towards with the Phonogene, is by starting a patch based around a grainy pitched down loop, using the end of cycle gate to sync my master clock to the loop and building the patch from there. So my first mission I set out to accomplish, was to try and recreate this workflow between the Cocoquantus and Plum Butter (a rhythmic synth I also obtained in the swap). So here is the first trick I’ve discovered, which appears to be completely undocumented anywhere online, but seems so obvious I’m surprised no-one has at least mentioned it somewhere?

Cocoquantus → Plum Butter (The Sanger Method).

That syncing feeling…

To sync the Plum Butter to the Cocoquantus, it’s made simple (and rock solid) using the yellow ‘iron cross.’ output. If you connect this to audio, you can hear it generates a fairly wild harsh noise tone (or ‘secret sound’), which has it’s uses, of which are documented in various places online. However, connect this output to the green input of the plum butter sequencer ‘man with red steam’ and surprisingly (I say this as the tone it generates is not normally one I’d associate with a clock pulse anyway) the shift register clock will lock tightly to the length of the cocoquantus loop! The only caveat with this approach, is the Plum Butter only seems to pick up sync when the sample loop speed is reduced from its max value, this is no biggie as I always pitch my loops down to some degree anyway. nb make sure to ground your boxes together, as the sync goes a bit skewif if not!

So with these boxes obediently chugging along in tandem, it really opened up the possibilities of using them together. I mean, leaving everything completely unsynced is cool and all, but it’s nice to at least have the option of a master clock, should you need one!

mod botherer

Banana Cross Pollination

I’ll talk more about the plum butter in it’s own post soon enough, but I’ll go on to say the cross pollination between the two devices goes far beyond simple clock sync. The chaotic matrix of oscillators provides useful modulation sources for the Plum Butter, which on its own, appears to lack some slow LFOs at least. This way I can get some nice synced looping between the two boxes, with lots of cross modulation, not a million miles from my old composition techniques in eurorack, except I’m getting sounds in the ballpark that resonate (accidental synth pun no.2) with me this time around, much quicker. On that note (groan) I think this kit certainly lends itself to ‘old school’ electronic music very well, which for me, is no bad thing. Basically simple sound sources, with complex modulation (ala Buchla, Serge et al).

Mmmm, wood.


In short, I’m extremely content with the swap and the only thing I’ve missed from my Make Noise rig so far, is the attenuators they put on everything, there’s some modulation inputs on the Ciat Lonbarde I’d sometimes like to tame down a little here and there. But this is more likely user inexperience on my part, than design choices by the manufacturer. 

House Review Techno

Vanity Gamble – Back / Fourth

Digital reproduction and distribution freed music from the confines of physicality, possessing a piece of music no longer required the possession of a black or silver disk. But this evolution had its downside, music no longer developed in localized and unique scenes, and in an endless stream of new releases advantage is given to those with the largest PR budgets. More music ends up meaning less diversity and more sameyness, special hidden gems becoming instantly duplicated and downloaded on the click of a mobile phone.

Thankfully the culture of the finite but ultra-special lives on. Using modern technology which can cut music straight to vinyl, rather than to old-school acetate which wears out after only a few plays, a hardcore of enthusiast music producers and lathe trolls is keeping the secret world of the ultra-limited alive.

So who is Vanity Gamble? A newcomer or old hand under a new alias? Those that know, know. And this music is strictly for those that know. 25 copies, no digital, no PR and no Spotify. Get it from Japhy.

Electro Review

Plant 43 – Storm Control EP

Plant43 – Release: 9th December 2020

Despite being the year that the dancefloors were closed, 2020 continues to be a good year for dancefloor music, this being the fourth release this year from Plant43 on the same-named label. Cold chords and deep melodic lines combine with driving beats to make something that is good for both listening and (home-based) dancing.