Categories
Art Culture Review Synth

Passepartout Duo – Epigrams

AIR Niederösterreich and the Ernst Krenek Institut.  Release: 26th Feb

After Benge’s quite fantastic Loop Series One reviewed last November, we didn’t expect to get sent any more music made on an original Buchla 100 system, simply because there is only a handful of them left in the world. How wrong we were!

The particular system used in this new release, sent in by Nicoletta Favari & Christopher Salvito, aka Passepartout Duo, was built by Don in 1967 for composer Ernst Krenek, who used the synth alongside piano.

Flash forward to 2021 and the (still operational) system resides in Krems an der Donau, a small town near Vienna. Lucky for local musicians Passepartout Duo (and by proxy, all of us), who have used the 100 system alongside piano in five considered pieces, inspired by the original works of Krenek, to great effect.

Categories
Experimental Minimal Review Synth

Lampeo – The Electric Music Box ‘Year One’

An intriguing audio diary of sketches, taken on the Buchla Music Easel and recorded over a year. Lampeo really highlights the character and range of the instrument here, deftly using looping and spacial effects to layer the sounds, which range from the percussive to the melodic.

1974 Buchla ‘Electric Music Box’ (aka Music Easel)

The instrument itself has a unique tone, due to the additive nature of the primary oscillator and an analogue signal path that differs significantly from traditional subtractive synthesisers. There’s so much info out there already on the Easel, that I wont bore you with the same old stories. However, it’s worth noting that a large proportion of the online demonstrations using the Easel really do not represent the capabilities of the instrument, which takes time and dedication to master. Something Lampeo is highlighting in this release and firmly stamping their compositional mark.

Categories
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.

PFlaumenus

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.