Synth Geeks in the Hills: Legends and Legendary Machines at Asheville’s Mountain Oasis [Gallery, Videos]

Mountain Oasis, indeed. Asheville, North Carolina, that land of impassioned musicians and Moog manufacture, is unusually blessed in musical riches, especially of the electrified variety. And where once Moog gathered informal performances from synth fans, a recent split in festivals has spawned not one but two blockbuster events, turning this southeastern US hamlet into a kind of mecca for musicians of all stripes. These multiply rather than dividing the events. So, now there’s Moogfest, which this year will happen in spring. And then there’s Mountain Oasis, which took place last month. Both are overflowing with spectacular headliners, in the form …

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Mixtape Alpha: An 8-bit Stylophone Synth in a Cassette Tape, $42

Electronic instruments really are becoming like folk instruments. US$42 now buys you a small board that you can touch directly, one that’s immediate and from which anyone can coax sounds. You can jam with it, pocket it; it’s affordable and direct and playable. And it all fits in a plastic cassette tape box. The re-released Mixtape Alpha (the first run sold out) looks like a real gem. It’s a crowd-funded run this time – eschewing Kickstarter for the Portland-based Crowd Supply. An ATmega328p-powered 8-bit synth (that is, using the chip that’s also in the Arduino, among others), Mixtape Alpha has …

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In Free App, Circuit Bending Done with Bits [iPhone]

It’s all been done. Or maybe not. Synthesis may not have so many unseen shores – unknown, wild beaches where you can plunk a flag in the ground and shout “I claim this for Spain!” or something to that effect. Instead, we find nuances of sonic possibility in details. We’re building on those colonies. And freed from the dogma of “fidelity” or slavish imitation of instruments (remember, a lot of the synth business had its root in the conservative organ business), the sounds that are coming out delight with new variety. Take this lovely free app, bent.fm. (Currently marked “lite,” …

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Now Shipping: Bass Station II, Novation’s $500 Synth; New Sound Demo

When we last saw the Bass Station II, Novation’s affordable analog monosynth celebrating the company’s 21st birthday, Novation still had a prototype. Some stuff on that instrument simply didn’t work – or didn’t sound the way we might expect. But there was still reason to anticipate learning more. Novation had something at the $500 street price in America, (529 € is the official price now for Europe), sporting dual filters, two oscillators with a sub oscillator (the “bass” bit), analog effects, patch save, and sequencing and arpeggiation. Even in an increasingly-crowded monosynth landscape, that’s something to note – and here, …

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FireBird 2, “Harmonic Content Morphing” Synth Plug-in, Now Free [Windows]

With so many choices, some beautiful software synths simply fall through the cracks – or fail to keep up with tastes and attentions. TONE2, maker of a number of nice soft synths, has therefore decided to put its FireBird synth out to pasture, releasing an update and marking down the price from $79 to free (as in beer – no source). Of course, part of the reason people’s eyes glaze over with soft synths is the sheer number of two-oscillator, Virtual Analog, subtractive synths out there. But there are a few details that set FireBird 2 apart and ought to …

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How an “Acoustic Synth” Wants to Change The Way You Think About Guitars [Videos]

It’s been a long time since we had a new hit like the electric guitar. Amidst the wonderful explosion of innovations in electronic instruments – digital and analog – the sound possibilities of acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments seem to have gone largely dormant. This is the guitar that hopes to change that. In fact, its creators don’t even call it a guitar, preferring instead “Acoustic Synthesizer.” Asheville, North Carolina’s Paul Vo, he of the Moog Guitar and Moog Lap Steel, wants to give guitarists unprecedented control over the timbres they play, both experimental and traditional, vastly expanding the range of …

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Fract, Synth Studio as Game, Looks Better, Sounds Better, Wants Your Vote [Video, Gallery]

Amidst its future-arcade, glowing 3D architecture, Fract is a game. In a broken-down “abstract world,” you are piecing together puzzles, reconstructing machinery. But Fract is also a synth studio, one that promises the ability to create your own synth instruments, design your own sounds, and eventually piece together your own music. If Tron let you imagine a fantasy inside the computer, Fract takes you inside your synth. It’s like getting sucked into Reason. (Damn, now I want to meet Thor and Redrum…) I called it Myst meets music making when we saw it last year. Since then, the Montreal-based indie …

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The Newest Analog Goodness: Highlights from Berlin’s ALEX4, at Musikmesse [Synth pr0n]

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 …

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Nord Drum 2, Playable Drum Synth, Gets More Sound Options, Nord Pad Companion [Photos]

Swedish maker Nord may be known for keyboards, and justly so, but their drum products are perhaps even more distinctive. If it seems like Nord only just released something called “Nord Drum,” it’s true. But they’re already back with a sequel, and Nord Pad as an accessory. The latter’s compact trigger design could appeal to producers and musicians who don’t have room for a whole kit. The original Nord Drum was a four-channel “modeling” virtual analog synth. The new model is six channels, and has more sound options. As before, you can trigger synthesized drum sounds from conventional electronic pads …

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When Plants Jam with Synths: Leslie Garcia’s Open Project Lets Plants Talk with Sound

Pulsu(m) Plantae _ project presentation from LessNullVoid on Vimeo. You may have seen a plant used as a musical instrument before, by measuring capacitance across the leafy life form and turning it into a touch sensor. This is something different: it’s letting the plant itself express communication through sound, using biofeedback to turn the living systems on the plant into something audible. It is a synth jam, made by a plant, that tells you something about what the plant is sensing about the world around it. From Tijuana, México, media artist and musician Leslie Garcia shares the latest iteration of …

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