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Andreas Schneider, famed owner of Berlin synth boutique Schneidersladen, has a unique talent for finding the best idiosyncratic electronic sound creations. Now leading European distributor ALEX4, he’s bringing more of those goodies to the rest of us.

There’s something a bit odd about going to Frankfurt when ALEX4, Schneidersladen, and Andreas himself all live in my neighborhood. But amassed at Musikmesse, you get a sense of the current state of the ALEX4 stable of gear – and we’ve got the synth pr0n to prove it. And you know Musikmesse is off to an interesting start when you head behind the curtain of the booth into the back with the ALEX4 guys to toast with a Kreuzberg Special – before 11 am. The mixture of sekt (German sparkling wine), absinthe, and Club-Mate (German maté tea-extract soda) is … uh, hard to describe. Let’s go with “breakfast of champions.” Is it possible to be hungover before tipsy?

On offer: modulars, drum machines, synths, keyboards – and even a Trautonium.

And Andreas is making sure no one forgets the “Euro” in Eurorack. So, even with all the fantastic American modules of late, Europe isn’t standing still, from Eurorack originator Dieter Doepfer to some new modules.

The original Eurorack: Dieter Doepfer started a small revolution in modular, and he's still a benchmark in synth building.

The original Eurorack: Dieter Doepfer started a small revolution in modular, and he’s still a benchmark in synth building.

For his part, Dieter Doepfer has a bit of the past and the future to share. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, he has cloaked a Kraftwerk classic, the analog MIDI sequencer MAQ16/3, in black and swapped nice, new knobs. There’s a slew/limiter module coming in May, and for me the highlight is the A-157 trigger sequencer, tentatively slated for fall.

In fact, let’s just take a moment and watch that light up for a while:

SonicState has a nice interview with Dr. Doepfer. Dieter is fun to talk to even if you’re resisting getting bitten with modular fever.

ALEX4's sprawling Buchla display was a crowd pleaser.

ALEX4′s sprawling Buchla display was a crowd pleaser.

By the second day of the show, ALEX4 was attracting small crowds with its full-blown Buchla modular setup. Buchla seems to be to the synth world what custom-built, tuned, street-ready high-end roadsters are to automobiles – marvels of engineering, limited to a small enthusiast audience who can afford them. But ownership has at least gotten slightly more practical in that ALEX4 will now both sell and repair these instruments.

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Bride of Buchla? All-analog oscillator modules from Endorphin might be even closer to the original Buchla spirit - while introducing some twists of their own.

Bride of Buchla? All-analog oscillator modules from Endorphin might be even closer to the original Buchla spirit – while introducing some twists of their own.

I was personally more intrigued by Endorphin.es – a new torch bearer for the Buchla spirit. The “.es” extension is for show; the company is based in Zuiderhaven, Netherlands. They’re making designs inspired by the early Buchla analog modules, and in some ways, feel more familiar than the new Buchla designs. (That’s speaking as someone who cut his teeth on early Buchla modulars as my introduction to synthesis in college.) They’re not clones, but fully analog, and have some of the quirky sonic range that first attracted me to the Buchlas. While they’re not cheap, you can get their superior Furthrrrr generator for under a grand (€ or US$), and with some other Eurorack modules from the US and Europe put together your own re-interpretation of a Music Easel for roughly what one of those fancy Retina Apple laptops would cost. And because they aren’t clones, you’d get something genuinely new.

http://furthrrrr.endorphin.es

And here’s a somewhat clinical – but very complete – video explanation of how it works. If this is something that interests you, readers, we can have a closer look with the ALEX4 crew.

Uwe George Giegler (MFB) shows off his newest creations to CDM.

Uwe George Giegler (MFB) shows off his newest creations to CDM.

MFB's latest drum machine offering, in progress.

MFB’s latest drum machine offering, in progress.

MFB Tanzbär drum machine, from above.

MFB Tanzbär drum machine, from above.

Upcoming Dominion keyboard.

Upcoming Dominion keyboard.

Upcoming Dominion keyboard.

Upcoming Dominion keyboard.

MFB has two big projects in progress, and Messe was a chance to see how they’re coming along. The Dominion keyboard is definitely looking progress, and already making some wonderful sounds. The MFB-Tanzbär drum machine is still undergoing active development, but it’s already leapt to the top of my list.

(In fact, I talked to Uwe and we decided to hold off on a demo – best to let development proceed and do that in a controlled environment in Berlin. I did get some video of him jamming away on it, though, and you can see he’s enjoying what he’s built.)

Specs of the Tanzbär:

  • 16 instruments onboard
  • 16-step “on the fly” chase sequencer, accent and pitch-bend
  • 144 patterns, fill and chain
  • Record roll, flam, and knobs
  • Individual and sequence-wide swing
  • 2 CV/gate channels
  • 10 individual single audio outs, 1 stereo out
  • MIDI, clock sync; MIDI dump, and MIDI control for additional parameters like microshift

The 522 is a great-sounding drum machine, but this looks far more playable and flexible – and thus worth the extra size. It feels great, though I’m no fan of wooden endcaps. (Sorry.) But I’m eager to play with this more.

http://mfberlin.de

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For something completely different – and really retro – it was a pleasure playing with the beautifully-crafted trautoniks gear, and their custom-engineered Trautonium. (See specs from ALEX4.) I’m told even the wires are custom-made. I’d love to play with some DIY version of this wire, just as an opportunity to experiment with building this. But, somewhere, someone has a wood-paneled, steampunk studio, and this is at the center, and they compose new electronic music with a pipe in hand and a smoking jacket.

See you guys back in Berlin. Club-Mate only next time, perhaps, if we’re to do some proper journalism.

http://alex4.de

  • oootini

    awesome typo for the first image: “Dieter Rams” I think you mean Döpfer …lol

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ha! Fixed. Well, now I know what my **dream collaboration** would be…

    • zoidberg

      there is something designed by Dieter Rams that has to do with building electric circuits: http://blog.makezine.com/2011/12/08/the-braun-lectron-system-retro-circuit-dominoes/

    • Random Chance

      Oh, I had one of those as a child! What a wonderful system for getting to know the basics (and not so basic things) of electronics. To this day, I think it’s the best system for really learning about electronic circuits as an absolute beginner.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That is … beautiful. Thank you.

    • retroz

      Nope. Lectron was designed by Georg Greger.

  • robopunk

    Me two years ago = “F’ing modular is for nerds with no social life” – Me today: “Spend my 5k Euros on Eurorack modular as well as [wicked]-amount of $ for a 5U Modcan system”……. I’m officially addicted :)