Inside KORG’s Modwave – sound design tips for this upcoming wavetable synth

KORG’s Modwave synth isn’t even out yet, but CDM sonic wizard-at-large Francis Preve was one of the people making sounds for it. Time to go 20,000 leagues under the sea with this monster wavetable hardware.

Here’s Francis – who has an unimaginable amount of experience tackling these kind of instruments. And he’s ready to arm you with a way of approaching sound creation with this synth even before it’s there. Nice what he was doing with self-isolation:

I spent the summer of 2020 deep inside the Modwave’s multiverse and I can report from the field that this synth is deeper than the Mariana Trench. While the front panel is ideal for immediate tweaks, it conceals a synthesis engine that can go toe-to-toe with many do-it-all softsynths. Zero exaggeration on that point.

To be clear, this brief summary of the inner workings can’t capture the synth in its full glory, but I’ll go further than the preview press coverage since I ate-slept-breathed the Modwave over several months of isolating. With that experience in place, I can say this: The Modwave should be on your shortlist if you’re shopping for a digital synth that’s under a grand. Three octaves may not be enough for some pros, but if you think of it as a “desktop module with keys” it’s quite an addition to a bedroom rig.

KORG · modwave Demo Sounds

Architecture and layers

Every Modwave preset consists of two largely independent layers, which are complete synths in themselves. These can be key-mapped, velocity-split, or blended. What’s more, the two layers can be controlled by four front-panel macro knobs that can modify everything from truly deep modulation attributes to oscillator properties to effect balances.

I suspect that most users will want to stick with single layers or blended pairs, but the factory bank also includes a few key-split and velocity-layered examples. Experiencing these may require a larger controller, though. It really depends on how you plan to use it in your production.

A look at the architecture; image courtesy KORG. Click to embiggen.

Oscillators

For tone generation, there are two oscillators—and a sub-osc/noise generator—per patch. Each main oscillator can be either wavetable or a sampled instrument from the massive onboard collection. Among these gigabytes, you’ll find everything from single hits to much of the content from the [1995 classic Korg] M1 and other iconic Korg workstations. 

On the sample side, this means you can use the Modwave for authentic classic house and 90s rave sounds, since the M1 piano, organ, and choir are also in there (the original M1 choir is re-labeled Vox_WS:Choir). It could take years to exhaust this library.

Side note: It’s worth mentioning that Korg had me develop a few original “inharmonic noise” layers for the Modwave, similar to the content that I created for Serum (FP_Inharms) and Phase Plant. As a designer, these are essential for creating those trademark “airy” 80s textures of the Fairlight and Ensoniq VFX.

On the wavetable side, each Modwave oscillator can load two simultaneous wavetables that can be blended together using the AB Blend parameter, which expands the palette by an order of magnitude. Korg also adds an interesting twist to this, by allowing you to modify its wavetables upon loading, according to highly specific criteria like harmonic selection, saturation, and various types of EQ boosts and bit-reduction. It can be slightly confusing for newcomers, but it also means the Modwave’s wavetable collection is further multiplied by each of these modifier processes. 

Because of those features, Korg isn’t exaggerating when they say “230 million wavetable variations out of the box”. In fact, if my math is correct, that’s one new wavetable variation per second, every day, for roughly 7.29 years. Just sayin’.

There’s also quite an array of Morph options, like several types of hard sync, phase distortion, and PWM-esque modifiers (Ableton’s wavetable effect modes are a good point-of-reference here)—along with AM/RingMod for sampled material. Best of all, almost everything except for the previously mentioned on-load modifier functions can be modulated by envelopes, LFOs, and/or the insanely complex sequencer.

Filters

Each synth layer has its own filter, which offers everything from totally legit Polysix and MS-20 modes (with elaborate gain behavior tweaks) to standard LP/BP/HP fare to a highly customizable Multi Filter mode with independent filter types for two parallel paths that can be crossfaded. Considering that there are over 20 options for each filter in the Multi Filter, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something it can’t do.

Customizing the filter minutiae can be pretty overwhelming if you’re not prepared. I’ve always been a Polysix fan and own an MS-20, so I tended to stick with the tried-and-true, but it’s definitely a tone-shaping playground if you’re feeling experimental.

Modulation and physics

With four envelopes and five LFOs, you probably won’t run out of essential modulation tools while working with the Modwave, but modular fans should know that there’s also a pair of Mod Processors that can smooth, sum, scale, quantize, and gate almost any modulation source. These include details like threshold parameters and fixed value settings, so they’ll only kick in under certain conditions. It’s definitely something for the patch-cable set to explore, if they want to dive deeper into the menu structures or fire up the editor/librarian.

On the Kaoss performance controller, the assortment of physics tools are utterly incredible from a real-time standpoint, as they can go parsecs beyond familiar Kaoss behavior with customizations like gravity, friction, and X-Y tilting. Fortunately, there are some lovely presets available for applying orbital functions or creating a “mountain top” or “pit” in the center of the axes. These are fun, experimental, and potentially a motherlode of genre-defining signature sounds.

Sequencer

The Motion Sequencer is another wormhole within the Modwave. At first glance, it’s a tiny bit like Massive 1’s trademark “Performer” modulator, but with four simultaneous modulation tracks, a pitch track, and the ability to set independent loops, probabilities, randomization, transitions, and other unusual step-behaviors for each track.

The sequencer alone is deep. Image courtesy KORG. Click to embiggen.

Deeper still, there’s a timing lane that lets you set the note-value for each step, which allows for truly insane polyrhythms. With a little effort, you can also use these sequences as complex sweeps for flowing, cinematic effects.

While you can certainly stick with classic step-sequencing tactics, it’s also possible to create Eurorack modular-style results with these lanes. When used in conjunction with the Mod Processor algorithms, step curves, and randomization tools, you can even approximate a West Coast, Buchla Source of Uncertainty modulation source with a bit of effort.

Effects

Each synth layer has a set of three insert effects, hard-wired in series with a compressor/EQ/drive module followed by modulation effects and then a delay.

The included preset modes for each insert are insanely comprehensive. At the time I was programming, there were 19 different phaser modes and 58 (!) chorus/flange/ensemble presets. Also included in this processor are additional talkbox and wah-wah options, as well. And we haven’t even touched the 77 (at last count) stereo delay presets in the third insert.

At the end of the chain—and shared by both layers—is a lovely reverb and four-band EQ. There are 27 reverb types that cover everything from early reflections to massive halls and they’re all quite professional sounding. The EQ also lets you switch the high and low bands to filter or parametric modes for more detailed work.

Closing Thoughts

The Modwave is arguably one of the most ambitious digital hardware synths I’ve ever designed for—and I’ve encountered quite a few of those in my career. While the front panel is more than capable for in-the-moment tweaks, the editor/librarian will be where the action is and it’s a godsend if you want to make the most of this synth. The sound is quite “shiny” which sets it up nicely for the dance community, but with some forethought, you can also get some rather warm vintage sounds from it too.

I had a blast programming this synth, but I suspect that many users will simply skate across the surface of what’s possible because with this much depth, there’s a non-trivial amount of “option panic” in more nuanced design processes. My recommendation for getting started is to do most of your initial design via the front panel and then move to the editor when you start hitting the wall, because once you’re in the editor, the walls disappear.

https://www.korg.com/us/products/synthesizers/modwave/

CTM Festival is live now, from anywhere (not just Berlin or passholders)

Berlin’s CTM Festival “Transformation” is online now to tune in anywhere in the world, featuring unique online features, audiovisual shows, talks, and more, with events through the end of the month.

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Surfin’ Gabber Modus Operandi, live now!

That includes tonight’s debut of, among other things, a Gabber Modus Operandi act complete with trippy homebrewed alien animations that the animator produced learning entirely during lockdown.

An AM radio transmission embedded in a stray satellite is captured by advanced beings. It contains a glimpse of the hope and resilience of a struggling civilization… These beings sent an envoy along with a fleet of spaceships to observe and nurture this peculiar culture born of tension and hardships.

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Also part of the program:

…streamed performances and special trans/local commissions that explore the possibilities of remote creation and performance, the CTM Cyberia immersive multiplayer 3D exhibition and festival space, virtual club nights that bring the rave to your home with Club Matryoshka in Minecraft and in Club Quarantäne‘s virtual venue, a hacklab, the CTM Discourse talk series, the CTM Radio Lab Commissions, and much more, structure our 22nd edition. We invite you to explore the many programmes on offer and join us in this experimental approach to enjoying music and art together remotely but collectively. Let’s chart the unknown and find togetherness in transformation.

That includes the MusicMakers Hacklab at the end of the week, which this year I co-host with Olivia Jack, creator of online visual live coding tool Hydra and new live streaming tools built for performers which she is literally working on for this week’s project.

So you can join in Minecraft (writing up more about that shortly), you can meet on Discord, and – this will deserve its own article, but there’s even a chance to explore tuning, the Apotome tool. It’s the brainchild of Iraqi-British musician and musicologist Khyam Allami, and he’s been doing some amazing work.

That just launched here, if you want to check it out:

bit.ly/apotomexctm

And there will be artists working with that, as well as a couple of don’t-miss panels with Allami – just for starters.

All the information on how to join the online edition is here –

https://www.ctm-festival.de/festival-2021/welcome

It’s free for those who don’t have the budget, but there are also ways of supporting the artists detailed.

More soon, I’ll be here – actually physically here, which means at least one COVID-19 rapid test and social distancing and other things, even as we run these online events – all week.

Don’t underestimate Ben Hixon and his ‘N.I.C.E.’ EP

Every now and then you come across a release that just gets the epitome of cool and it seems effortless. Ben Hixon is probably a name most aren’t familiar with, but he’s steadily out here packing serious punches in house and techno. The Brooklyn-based, Dallas-raised DJ and producer’s N.I.C.E. EP is filled with four intelligently crafted and sophisticated tracks—certainly a hidden gem.

The EP eases in with “D.Part2,” a track that lurks around as it slowly builds with simple, yet effective layers. It’s a little taste of what’s to come. Get yourself a quality set of speakers or headphones for this one. Hixon crams in lots of interesting, percussive texture if you want to get technical. However if you’re feeling more laid back, you want to hear all those synth subtleties coming through.

More of the sass starts to come through as the EP moves on to “Advances.” Its hard-hitting kick is the kind of thing that makes you want to stomp all over the dance floor. Hixon loads up “Advances” with layers of crisp percussion and he especially indulges listeners with lovely cymbal work.

“ANAU” is the only track on the EP to incorporate vocals, and they’re used in a way that brings full-fledged attitude. Paired with a grimey core groove, “ANAU” is one of those tracks that’s going to leave people missing the club in this pandemic. It’s another stomp-worthy production, but unlike some of the others on the EP, “ANAU” demands a sweaty room with everyone dancing.

As Hixon wraps up his N.I.C.E. EP with “BDZ,” he wastes no time getting down to business. Right from the start, the punchy staccato beats hook everyone on for the ride. Hixon throws in little flecks of softer synths and accents, but “BDZ” is clearly meant to hypnotize with its drive and aggression. Ben Hixon’s N.I.C.E. EP is out now, look for it on Dallas label Dolfin Records.

Connect with Ben Hixon: Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram | Twitter

London DJ Phil Asher has died

UK house DJ Phil Asher has reportedly died, aged 50.

The sad news was shared on social media on Friday 22nd January, with tributes coming from fellow DJs, friends and music industry figures across the UK and beyond. No cause of death has been revealed.

Phil grew up in West London, and followed his dad into working in record shops. He worked at both Quaff Records and Vinyl Solution in the early ‘90s, while he schooled himself in house music production and DJing at assorted nights across the capital.

Gravitating naturally to the soulful side, he released under the name Phlash and became a key part of house label Slip N Slide’s various compilation series, including ‘Jazz In The House’ and ‘Soul In The House’. At the end of the decade he co-founded the Co-op night in West London alongside Dego from 4hero, beatsmith I.G. Culture (aka New Sector Movements) and Young Disciples producer Demus.

Co-op was crucial in joining the dots between jazz acts like Bugz In The Attic and Nuyorican Soul and the broken beat sounds emanating out of Reinforced producers who didn’t want to follow the drum & bass template.

In the early noughties Phil co-founded the successful Restless Soul collective, who produced many records for other people. He worked with the likes of Nathan Haines, Mark De Clive Lowe, Karizma and Benji B; recorded an album for acclaimed French label Versatile; and produced over 200 tracks and remixes for a variety of labels.

Asher had only recently moved to the seaside city of Brighton with his partner after spending his life immersed in the West London house music scene.

A real music head and production aficionado, Phil was one of the good guys, and will be sorely missed. See tributes paid to Phil, and listen to his 2012 Boiler Room below.

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Armin van Buuren unveils new anthem and festival dates during ‘ASOT 1000’

Armin van Buuren unveils new anthem and festival dates during ‘ASOT 1000’1 6

On January 21, Dutch superstar Armin van Buuren celebrated the 1000th episode of his famed A State of Trance radio serial and unveiled the anthem for the show’s milestone celebration along the way. Titled “Turn The World Into A Dancefloor,” the new single has all of the markings of an Armin classic, be it his ethereal and hymnal harmonies or a buildup that stacks melody on top of melody, leading listeners to a main stage trance drop that only a select few producers can pull off.

In addition to the landmark anthem, Armin and Co. also used ASOT 1000 to announce the Turn The World Into A Dancefloor live, in-person trance festival. The celebration is scheduled to take place from September 3–4, 2021 at Jaarbeurs in Utrecht, The Netherlands, one of the trance legend’s favorite venues. The first day of the event will pay tribute to the past 20 years of ASOT; the second will look forward to the future of the series and the genre that it represents.

Registration for early access to ticket is open here, and the A State of Trance 1000 anthem available to stream below.

Feature image: Marczak Images

CamelPhat provide uplifting remix to London Grammar’s ‘Lose Your Head’

CamelPhat provide uplifting remix to London Grammar’s ‘Lose Your Head’CamelPhat

Fresh off their collaboration with Green Velvet earlier this month, CamelPhat are back with a progressive remix of London Grammar‘s “Lose Your Head.” The duo’s take on the ethereal original adds in a deep house groove and uplifting melodic synth lines that sound eager to star at festival mainstages everywhere.

CamelPhat ended 2020 by dropping their enormously anticipated debut album Dark Matter. They haven’t slowed down one bit since the release, consistently making headlines with new remixes and performances. Meanwhile, London Grammar are in the middle of an album rollout for Californian Soil, their first full release since 2017. The group has enlisted an impressive list of house talent to provide remixes preceding the LP, so far including Maya Jane Coles and Kölsch for Californian Soil‘s first two singles.

Featured image: Giles Smith

Armin van Buuren announces A State of Trance festival 2021

Armin van Buuren has announced A State of Trance (ASOT) festival 2021.

Last year, live on the 5-hour long, 1000th episode of van Buuren’s ASOT radio show, the trance icon announced that ASOT 1000 would be taking place in 2021, and for the first and only time, would extend to a two-show celebration weekender.

The first show will take place on Saturday 3rd September, at ASOT’s usual home of Jaarbeurs in Utrecht, before a second performance on the 4th September. Each show will take place under the same umbrella theme, Turn the World Into a Dancefloor, with Saturday’s showcase paying tribute to twenty years of ASOT, and Sunday’s event “looking forward” to ASOT’s future.

ASOT 1000 follows on from the huge 2019 edition of the festival, which sold out in six weeks in advance and saw 35,000 fans descend on the city, and last year’s ASOT 950: Let The Music Guide You.

In order to gain access to the exclusive fan pre-sale that starts on 28th January at 1PM CET, register before midnight on the 27th January via https://festival.astateoftrance.com/register. Regular tickets go on sale on the 30th January at 1PM CET. 

Earlier this month, Armin van Buuren revealed the top 1000 A State of Trance (ASOT) tracks list ahead of the 1000th episode of the namesake radio show, which the Dutch DJ and producer hosts alongside Ruben de Ronde. As fans would expect from such an expansive selection, there are familiar faces, genre icons and curveballs aplenty. M.I.K.E., Paul van Dyk, Ferry Corsten (who holds a monthly residency on the ASOT show), BT, Above & Beyond, BT, Rank 1, London Grammar, Cass & Slide, Bedrock, Sasha and 16 Bit Lolitas all feature.

Electric Forest plans to return in 2021, Rothbury officials approve weekend dates

Electric Forest plans to return in 2021, Rothbury officials approve weekend datesElectric Forest Credit Anthony Norkus

Hot off the heels of Glastonbury’s 2021 cancellation, another major festival property is actually planning to move ahead with their 2021 event plans. As the US climbs to nearly 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, Electric Forest is cementing their plans to return to Rothbury this year, with multiple possible weekends secured for the festival.

According to a recent local report in the White Lake Beacon, the Rothbury Village Council has approved dates in June, as well as securing two additional alternative weekends for the festival as well. According to Village clerk Carol Witzke, the alternate dates are August 12 – 15 and August 19 – 22. While the festival seems to be eyeing a June 2021 comeback, last year requests to postpone the event by promoter Madison House were shot down as COVID cases began to spread across the country, ultimately forcing Electric Forest’s imminent cancellation. This year, organizers appear to be trying to cover those bases with two alternate weekends secured for later in the summer, should a postponement be necessary.

2020 would have been Electric Forest’s 10 year anniversary. If this year’s event is to proceed as planned, organizers will have a grip of event details on the way, hopefully including increased safety, sanitation, and distancing measures for the 2021 event.

Via: White Lake Beacon

Featured image: Anthony Norkus

Ariel Zetina launches Local Action and Finn’s Mixtape Club with new mix, Sestina

Ariel Zetina has launched Local Action and Finn’s Mixtape Club series.

The Chicago-based Smartbar resident, who released her last EP ‘MUAs At The End Of The World’ via femme culture in February last year, has kicked off London label Local Action and Manchester’s Finn’s Mixtape Club series with a new tape titled ‘Sestina’.

‘Sestina’ is a selection of new and unheard music from Zetina and her Peers, drawing on Ballroom pressure, Chicago hard house and Florida breaks. Speaking about the tape, Zetina said: “I’m obsessed with repetitions, motifs that come and return, repeating patterns and arpeggios, basically any time music is playing uses the mere fact that is repeating a pattern to create a mood. This mix is made up of about 50% unreleased tracks from me, and 50% tracks from my friends, most of whom live and work in Chicago and are vital to the sound that has come to define my scene.”

Known as Mixtape Club, the series is a response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, which has effectively put the majority of selectors out of work since spring 2020, and works as a non-profit. Every act that contributes to the project is paid a flat fee, £150, with no rules or specifics on format. A budget of £150 is also offered to cover the costs of producing original artwork.  

Mixes will be available to download for free, although there’s also a Patreon system in place — those who can are invited to pledge £5 a month to help fund the project. Any cash left over after costs are covered will be saved until the end of the season and then distributed evenly between the artists.

You can listen to ‘Sestina’ here, and support Mixtape Club via Patreon.

Bicep deliver long-awaited sophomore LP, ‘Isles’

Bicep deliver long-awaited sophomore LP, ‘Isles’Bicep Press Shot By Dan Medhurst 8975 Low

After captivating the electronic scene with their 2017 self-titled debut album, Bicep stun once again as they close out the four year gap with the delivery of sophomore LP, Isles. Inaugurated by lead single “Atlas,” which also marked the UK duo’s first single in two years, the long-awaited record dropped off four total singles before its imminent landing, including “Apricots,” “Saku,” featuring Clara La San and “Sundial.” Expounding a deeper look into sounds and experiences that comprise their artistic foundation, Bicep explore the vast complexity of emotions and inspirations available through sonic creation in their latest output.

Sentiments from Bicep’s personal electronic music chronology through Belfast to London permeate the 10-track LP, which engages ravey breakbeats, diverse vocal influences, and retro-futuristic callings throughout various degrees. Nostalgic, emotive, and vivacious all at once, Isles encompasses the bittersweet dance productions resonant with audiences in a renewed exploration.

Stream Isles below.

Featured image: Dan Medhurst