Pioneer Tribute Modules Preferred to Eurorack Size

April 14, 2014 in Exclusively Analogue, The Aviator, The Pioneer

We recently had the pleasure of delivering a Pioneer “Tribute” system to the studio of Steve Everitt, an accomplished professional composer and musician. Steve has been a regular contributor to ‘Eat Static’ – an eclectic electronic band headed by Merv Pepler. Taking along another Pioneer “Tribute” system and combining it with Steve’s Aviator meant there was a total of 5 complete Exclusively Analogue synth lines.

Tony commented – “Whilst I have the technical ability to produce the equipment, I sadly lack the musical talent to be able to produce anything remotely appealing. In contrast Steve has talent by the bucket load, which was proven within the first 30 minutes of my being there when he added a sound from his new Pioneer system into a beautiful piano led piece he was working on. The piece already had Steve’s Aviator in the mix and the end result was a magical combination of traditional instruments; Steinway piano, orchestral strings and various electronic ‘textures’ to produce the final result.”

The rest of the day was spent experimenting with the two modular systems and creating a variety of interesting sounds which, even in fairly simple sequences, sounded good. Seeing and hearing the equipment being used by a professional was a very rewarding experience.

Two Pioneer Tribute modulars in action - Exclusively Analogue

Merv Pepler joined later in the day, primarily so he could see the two Tribute systems together. Merv was very familiar with the Aviator, having recorded Steve’s on a number of albums in the past and as a result is considering, like Steve, stepping into the modular world. Merv was definitely impressed with the Tribute system and it is likely that he will have the very last system as well as one of the last Aviators. Interestingly, both Steve and Merv have been considering adding some of the more popular ‘Eurorack’ size modules to their collection however both seemed to prefer the larger format of the Emu design.

The advantage of the Eurorack equipment is that you can cram a lot into a small space which is ideally suited to the ‘bedroom musicians’. Lots of people spend time on modulars creating new and interesting sounds and Steve made the comment that he was concerned he would spend too much time ‘wiggling’ and not making music. With Steve and Merv I know that any analogue equipment they have will be used to create music which is, after all, what any musical instrument is for – not solely as a piece of furniture.

Two Emu Modulars In Use – The Analogue Monster

February 18, 2014 in Exclusively Analogue, The Pioneer

At the end of 2013 Tony decided to build a special 24″ by 24″ “Square” Pioneer ‘Tribute’ system similar to the original Emu modular that he had in 1994. The modules have been built into a Maple wood cabinet and have been set up as two complete synthesizer lines including 5 VCOs, 3 different Voltage Controlled Filters, 2 Dual Transient Generators, 2 Voltage Controlled Amplifiers plus a few other useful modules. The picture below shows two modular systems together.

2 EMU Tribute Modulars - Exclusively Analogue

The two systems provide 4 separate analogue synth lines controlled by various Kenton MIDI/CV convertors. Using the MIDI files of some well-known pieces of music Tony had the basis to experiment with different sounds. As an example, he used 1 line for the bass, 2 lines as sequences and the final line as a lead with an added drum track from a MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro, running Logic Pro, was also able to control everything via a MIDI interface.

So what sort of sounds can be created with 2 Emu Modulars? Well just about any classic analogue sound because both systems have Universal Active Filters and MultiMode filters to compliment the usual 24dB Low Pass Filter meaning the more interesting High Pass Filter ‘buzzy’ sounds are available. Tony is a fan of a slow sweeping HPF with resonance as an effect if you can get the slow sweep to work in time with the music. Another nice effect is having the filter frequency shift in time with the music to create a rhythmic pattern similar to adding an accent on certain notes, say every 4th note in a 1/16th note sequence. He’s done this previously using analogue sequencers but in this latest set up I used the aux outputs from the Kenton interfaces to provide the additional voltage to change the Filter cutoff.

The original plan was that the new “Square” system would be sold and it has therefore been advertised on eBay. However, like every one of the Tribute systems built so far, this one has been ‘lovingly’ hand crafted to a very high standard and as a result is one of a kind. If you are interested in purchasing this system for your studio or setup please get in touch.

The Story Of Aviator No.28

January 22, 2014 in Exclusively Analogue, The Aviator

It’s always great to hear the stories and thoughts of Aviator owners and this post is more of a guest post than anything else. The owner of Aviator No.28 has written in to give us his story and how he has used it as part of the setup for his band Eat Static.

When I bought my Aviator, I was in an experimental techno band called Eat Static. That was around the time of our 3rd album, ‘Science Of The Gods’, so probably 1997. Your synths were as rare as rocking horse poo at the time and highly sought after. Luckily, I had become a successful Production Music composer in my day job and was able to pay a bit over the odds for mine. Worth every extra penny!

There were three members in Eat Static and we had an enviable collection of analogue synths and drum machines. No modular synths, though, (unless you include the Waldorf Wave with its then innovative digital ‘patchbay’). All three of us had (and I think still have) a Roland SH-5, famous for its raucous bandpass filter, ring modulation and useful patching switches. The SH-5 was perfect for creating the sound of imaginary animals or alien voices, a kind of signature in our music, so the Aviator was initially tasked with trying to outdo the Roland in this regard.

I remember that we used to sample little snippets of the Aviator making atonal screeches, sweeps, bubbles and other ‘cross-mod’ effects and then set up sampler patches with multiple Aviators, one sound on each key, (something I still do today). Also, we would use MIDI to CV/Gate units to send a rhythmic part to the Aviator to create deranged hi-hats, guiros, congas etc. Of course, the fun part was twiddling knobs ‘live’ while recording these rhythmic parts. The three of us were always in competition over who could create the most outrageous noises and make the others laugh most. To make things even more interesting and enjoyable, we would try to pull faces that matched the sounds. All this while surrounded by about 30 cats in my studio. Happy days!

That was before I got married, obviously! Now, we have only two gigantic Maine-Coon cats, though I still pull stupid faces when I’m playing with the Aviator or SH-5 on the next Hairy Bikers’ theme or whatever. : )

What I’ve always enjoyed about the Aviator is not so much its sublime, warm musicality, (which is there, of course), but its ability to ascend to the ridiculous via unheard groans, squelches, burbles and all manner of grotesquerie which innovates rather than imitates. Analogue synths have a character and, while others are known for their warmth, purity, complexity or rawness, for me the Aviator endures for its ability to do all those and be funny and rude without being offensive – probably because its British, and exclusive.

Aviator #28 - Exclusively Analogue

As you can see from the image above, Aviator #28 had a custom front panel and colour scheme making in a definite collectors item.

Voltage Controlled Filters – Low Pass & Multimode

December 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

Any analogue synthesizer is only as good as the Voltage Controlled Filters (VCF) that it has. Most of the classic analogue synths (MiniMoog, MemoryMoog, Prophet 5, Oberheim OBXa, etc) only had 24dB Low Pass Filters (LPF) which whilst giving a great sound were a bit limiting. One of my favourite filters was fitted to the Oberheim SEM synth module and this was a MultiMode filter giving High Pass (HPF) Band Pass (BPF) and Notch (NF) outputs as well as the usual Low Pass. In addition the filter had resonance on all the modes which meant it could create some very different sounds from those synths limited to an LPF. The design of the Oberheim filter was relatively straightforward using 2 transconductance amplifiers (CA3080s), which gives a 12dB response, and this type of circuit was also used on the Emu Resonant Filter as well as being the basis for the SSM2040 filter IC. Note that the SSM2040 had 4 transconductance amplifiers in it so it can give a 24dB response.

I used 2 MultiMode filters in the Aviator and have just completed a new MultiMode Filter Module, in the Emu style (see pictures), with the circuit based on the Oberheim design. As previously mentioned the Emu Resonant filter was basically the same design and having done a side by side test they do sound very very similar. More details of the MultiMode filter can be found on the Modules page.

multimodefilter lowpassfilter

The other filter I have reworked is a Low Pass Filter utilising the SSM2040 circuitry. Dave Rossum was instrumental in helping to design the SSM ICs and although an Emu LPF module using the SSM2040 was not built (as far as I can establish) Emu did use the IC in their Synthesizer Voice Card and in the later version of the High Pass Filter module. The SSM2040 is renowned for producing the “smooth” sound of the early Prophet 5s (Rev 1 & 2). Later Prophet 5s used CEM ICs.

This ‘new’ LPF is therefore the Emu LPF that might have been built if Modular construction had continued. In a side by side test with the original transistor based LPF, in my opinion, the SSM2040 version does sound smoother and is a 24dB filter, just like a Moog!

The early days of the Aviator

August 26, 2013 in The Aviator

Digging around the other day we came across a set of photographs of the very first Aviator, the “First of the Few”. This first unit was very much a prototype and although it had a full front panel initially it was mounted into a rack case with all the additional electronics circuitry bolted on. Later the unit was modified, put into a proper case and the additional circuitry tidied up. On the very early Aviators the 3 Voltage Controlled Oscillators and the Voltage Controlled Low Frequency Oscillator were built on individual circuit boards that were stacked. The 24dB Low Pass Filter, the Range Switch and Ring Modulator Circuitry were also on individual circuit boards.

Early Aviator from Exclusively Analogue

When we did the update last year to build the “Last of the Few” we did quite a major redesign to tidy up the circuit boards without changing the actual circuitry or sound of the Aviator. The 3 VCOs and the VCLFO were all put on a new single PCB, the Range Switch circuitry was combined with the Range switches into a new PCB, and the Ring Modulator moved to the main front panel PCB. We kept the 24dB Filter circuit separate since it allowed the option to put different types of filters other than the standard SSM2044.

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A Range Switch and Pot Pourri Module for The Chemical Brothers

July 23, 2013 in EA Modules, Exclusively Analogue

Recently we had an order from a guy called Tom Rowlands who was after a Range Switch and Pot Pourri to fit into his Emu Modular system. At first glance it was another name at the bottom of an email we received. Tom put in a request and asked if we would go to his studio to fit the modules and it was only after a bit of digging that we realised who Tom actually was – one half of the very successfull Chemical Brothers. If you are not sure who they are you might like to look on YouTube at a video of the “Horsepower’ track by the Chemical Brothers.

Tom has a very enviable collection of analogue synthesizers in his studio, enough to keep any ‘electro-musician’ occupied for ages creating interesting sounds. His Emu modular system was one of the late versions with the improved large VCOs allowing Hard Sync and Linear FM but interestingly the modules were not organised in a ‘classic’ manner and there was no pre-patching at all. After discussing the options with Tom some modules were moved around and the new Range Switch and Pot Pourri added. Tom liked the added functionality the Range switch gave to the VCOs and he agreed that the normal arrangement of having a single turn pot for the Course (10 octave) frequency control on the Emu was not ideal. On the EA VCOs we’ve fitted a 10 turn high quality pot for the Course frequency control which makes life easier. Having the instant, and accurate, octave shifting that the Range switch gives makes life even easier.

The Pot Pourri, with the two LFOs, Noise source, Sample & Hold, and 2 Inverters was fitted between Tom’s two Dual Transient Generator modules so that the inverters were readily available to invert the DTG outputs for use on things like the Universal Active Filter. An inverted envelope is really good on High Pass or Band Pass filters especially if they are resonating slightly. Quite a few synthesizers don’t offer the option to invert the envelope but it was one of the first things that was included in the design of the Aviator.

After a quick look at Tom’s Emu we identified a few things that needed repairing and we’ve also suggested a bit of re-organising of the modules as well as the addition of the pre-patching. If this work goes ahead, and we hope it does, it would be great to think that the Emu system we’ve worked on might feature on the next Chemical Brothers album.