Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Metalbox Drum Modules

(Please be sure to click all pics for the 'full' view)

Let's talk drum modules.... my modular has gotten to a point where there's really just two main things missing (ok three if you count a Frequency Shifter) for basically covering all the possible functionality I could wish for. One is an army of analog sequencers. The other is a nice set of dedicated drum modules.

Well, I've been chipping away at the latter issue, and yesterday received a shipment of some custom modules from Metalbox that's pretty much solved the drum-module defecit in my synth. By the way, I think of all the modular manufacturers out there, Metalbox has to be the one with the most solid lineup of percussion-specific stuff. Not only do you have all these great drum modules, but units like the Gate Sequencer and Burst Generator really excel when doing percussion work. Do have a closer look at Metalbox if you haven't already done so. Michael's work is as solid as I've ever seen anywhere, and the modules have this wonderful feel of 'no nonsense military precision' that really jives with me.

Now, there's a lot of ways to get drums out of a modular, and one surely doesn't need dedicated drum modules to get some thump-thump action. Without turning this post into a patching lesson, I've done great drums in the past using a fast VCA and a Blacet I/O to give me a quick thumpy voltage. There's other ways as well.

But let's face it - a strip of dedicated percussion modules is FUN FUN FUN. Let's take a look at what we have here.

As mentioned, my Metalbox shipment arrived yesterday, containing four new modules - Analog Logic, Digital Noise, and 'custom' Dual Drum and Dual Chime modules. What's 'custom' about them? Well these modules are typically built in a 1U-wide format, with only one control (Decay) per voice. But, there's loads of trimpots on the PCB that would make great panel controls.

I asked Michael at Metalbox if he would be willing to build me a Dual Drum and Dual Chime with the trimpots brought out - and I was delighted when he told me he would. Thanks again Mike! These modules are tons of fun, and I really appreciate the extra effort that went into them.

The Dual Drum is pictured above at the top of this post - as you can see there are three extra controls for each voice now, Impact, Pitch and Timbre. Fantastic.

And.... Michael was able to work some very similar magic with the Dual Chime module, take a look:

Seriously now, who DOESN'T want extra flexability in their modules? This is good stuff.

Now, I mentioned the other modules I received were the Analog Logic and the Digital Noise. I want to talk about the latter one for a moment. I actually had one some time ago, and sold it off (actually 'sacrificed it' is a better thing to say - was required to get my hands on a Dark Star Chaos Rev.B that I badly needed, and are very hard to find being long discontinued....). Anyway, I didn't have any drum modules at the time, but I *LOVED* the "binary outs" on this module, have a look -

These two outputs give you semi-random pulses that are derived from the clock frequency - just awesome for triggering drums. While it's an excellent noise module, the truth is that I'm swimming in noise modules, and the real value for me here is the binary outputs. Tons of fun. The clock on it's own is a bit faster than I would like for drum purposes, but it has no problem being clocked more slowly using an external source. Lately I've been usuing my Noise Rings to clock just about everything, because I love the amount of instability and randomness you are able to dial in at a controlled rate. Anyway, driving the Digital Noise with a slowly changing Noise Ring, and then firing off drums from the binary outs is pure techno joy.

So that's the new stuff that arrived yesterday. It joins up with some Metalbox percussion stuff that I already had, and gives me an awesomely, addictively fun 'drum strip' within my rack setup. I was up 'till 5am last night patching up drums and grinning from ear to ear.

Since this post is pretty much a Metalbox percussion frenzy, I'll highlight the other drum modules in my rig, and mention briefly the other Metalbox offerings that can make this setup even more powerful in the future.

You can't really talk about drum modules without mentioning the Cynare....

Metalbox's website describes this as "the monster percussion synthesizer", and never have truer words been spoken. I bought this one used (thanks Paul!) and really was blown away when I first got to use it - it is so much more than I expected. At any point it's very easy to pull three distinct drum sounds out of it, and if you get a little fancy with a couple more modules, you can get four (and possibly more!). It's a complete synth inside a single module, including a multimode filter, vca and mixer, most with their own dedicated I/O. You really need to spend some time with this one to see what it's all about.

Another great used module in my lineup is the 8008 Bass Drum. This is one of the few Metalbox products that is NOT a CGS/Ken Stone design, it's a Michael Ford design, unique to the Metalbox lineup. Based on the venerable TR-808 kick drum, this little beauty adds some extra controls, and runs at modular signal levels. HUGE sound from this tiny module.... all too easy to rattle the windows!

Whew, this is a lot of modules! I've got two more for you, neither of which are dedicated drum modules, but both being units that, like the Digital Noise, really excel when working on drum patches.

Next up is another Michael Ford design, the (sadly discontinued) Dual AD. Easy, simple, fun! A pair of AD generators that are FAST and perfect for triggering drums - and the gate inputs are normalled together so you can fire both envelopes with one voltage if you want - or insert a second signal to break the normalling and they are truly seperate generators. Unfortunately these are no longer available, and I lucked into one on the used market. Keep your eyes open for one of these - really useful little module.

Last one here - again a sweet deal on the used market for me (thanks Sandy!) the truly unique Burst Generator.

This one is really interesting - basically it fires of a set of trigger pulses when triggered - you can control how many pulses in the set, and it can run on it's own internal (wide range) clock, or be clocked externally. You know what I'm doing here - NOISE RING. This thing comes alive when fed an unstable clock, essential breaky, glitchy, AFX-y bursts of percussion. As CR would say "it's full of techno!"

So, there's a little rundown of how Metalbox can really help you get your drums on. As mentioned above, there's a pile of great modules in their lineup that can make your drum patches even more interesting - the Gated Comparator, Clock Divider, various sequencers, etc. I hope to eventually add some of these to my setup for even more fun.

Finally, here's a look at the current configuration of my 'drum' strip, in the center tower of my synth. From left to right we have -

8008 Bass Drum, Dual Drum, Cynare, Dual Chime, Digital Noise

(Click for larger version)

If you are really keen on pictures of modules, have a look at this forum thread where I have some shots of the backsides of these modules as well.

Ok, that was a long post. I'm off to patch up some more drums!!

Thanks again to Michael Ford at Metalbox for these great modules, and for working with me on the custom DDrum and DChime. Really happy about these and enjoying the modules a great deal.


J.w.M. said...

Awesome post-- I really can't wait to hear some demos!
By the way, check the latest post here:

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