How to make electro-acoustic music

Make electronic music yourself With Korg, Arturia and Co.

from editorial staff,

In the past, to make electronic music, you had to own equipment worth a home. Today, on the other hand, you can conjure up convincing electro tracks with a music computer and some hardware. There is a large selection of tools - our overview provides the right tips to get you started.

Even modular sound tinkering has arrived in the children's room. Because the clever electrical construction kit system from the New York startup company Little-Bits now also offers a synth kit that can even be expanded. What at first glance looks like Fischertechnik is to be taken seriously, because the circuits come from a good company and sound quite “grown-up”. The low-pass filter and VCO are likely to be the same as those used in the Korg Monotrons, which in turn come from the legacy of the Korg Synth legend MS-20.

The synth kit contains a total of twelve modules called "bits": two OSCs with sawtooth and square waveforms, 9 volt power supply, low-pass filter with cutoff and resonance, attack / decay envelope generator, digital delay, keyboard , Micro sequencer, mixer, splitter, randomizer and a loudspeaker with amplifier.

The open design and the wide range of options available in combination with other little bits kits also make the synth kit attractive for hackers and circuit benders. All in all a little trashy: The electrical contacts of the magnetically docking modules do not always close one hundred percent, so that sometimes something crackles in the line. Overall, however, the synth kit (price approx. 160 dollars) is absolutely usable and even delivers very brutal analog sounds. And the sound plugging is a lot of fun!

Those who find this too fiddly and prefer to fall back on solid hardware do not even have to spend a lot of money, because even analog hardware synthesizers are available at low prices.

Small, analog & cheeky like dirt!

What began with the small Monotron from Korg has meanwhile developed into a (large) family affair to be taken seriously. The analogue dwarf synth was followed by two specialized further developments of the concept with the two devices Monotron Duo and Monotron Delay. While the former is more likely to be used in the field of effects equipment with an additional analog synth on board, the duo with a similar structure, but armed with two oscillators, is the more direct successor of the ancestor.

Of course, the small analogs cannot compete with higher-quality synthesizer models, but that is exactly what makes their charm on the other hand. In terms of price, the Korg Minis are at least unbeatable for the range of services offered and not least because of the integration of a copy of the original MS 10 / MS 20 analog filter.

With the trio of the Volca series, Korg has once again fired the mini-synth hype. However, this time the models Volca Beats, Volca Bass and Volca Keys were assigned clear specialties. What the three have in common is the integrated 16-step sequencer, a MIDI-In, Sync-In & Out and, compared to the Monotrons, an editing option that is significantly enhanced. In terms of sound, the modules pay homage to famous classics such as the drum machine TR-808 from Roland or the legendary bass synth TB-303, which was also invented by the same competition. In contrast to the original, the Volca Bass delivers three VCOs, each with a separate sequencer track.

The Volca Keys is a real small entry-level synthesizer. The three-part loop synth comes with a clearly structured surface and different oscillator modes. In addition, it offers extremely good tuning stability thanks to the self-tuning function as well as advanced functions such as motion sequence or flux (to switch off the quantization).

Even if the Korg Minis are less likely to get lost in audiophile studios, they are now welcome guests in many electronic live setups. Price: approx. 130 euros (per device)


The devices of the Korg Electribe series have long been classics for electronic live performance. Time for a new edition, thought the Japanese manufacturer and presented two new models. We were able to at least test the Electribe Music Production Station shortly before the editorial deadline: high-quality, robust hardware in a very cool design. With 32 illuminated pads, playing and programming beats is a pleasure - they can be used to trigger a sound set as well as for classic running light programming and even as a keyboard - even chords can be defined and fired via the pads. Very inspiring! In addition, a touchpad ensures gaming fun.

The edit options may seem limited at first glance, but with the new Electribe the intuitive and fast access to the most important parameters is clearly in the foreground. Still, you can do a lot more with it than you might think; In addition to electronic drum and percussion sounds, bass and synth sounds can also be easily created and tweaked. A brand new Electribe sampler has also been announced. However, the new Electribes will probably not be in stores until the new year. The manufacturer's retail price including Ableton Live Lite is 475 euros.

Small but nice!

There is no trace of the trash factor of the Korg Volcas or Monotrons. At most, the brute factor ensures that the sound is brittle, if you want it. Otherwise you can't get high-quality analog sound cheaper than with Arturia's MicroBrute, which is a miniaturization of the successful MiniBrute. It is important to know that you don't have to do without sound here - on the contrary: with an integrated step sequencer and extended patch options, the MicroBrute can even do a little more than its big brother. You can absolutely live with the restrictions with regard to some modulation options and the mini-keys.

With the MicroBrute you get solid hardware and a purely analog synthesizer with high quality sound, plus patch options and an integrated step sequencer - all at a plug-in price. Unbeatably good. Price: approx. 330 euros

Step sequencer - motor for electronic beats

Step sequencers are an important tool for creating musical motifs with a hypnotic effect or beats and grooves. Step sequencers are also ideal on stage, as you can edit the loops and thus continuously develop a motif.

A good tip is Arturia's Beatstep, which, thanks to digital and analog connection options, can form the link between DAW and hardware synthesizers. At the sensational price of 99 euros, it can be used as a MIDI controller, MIDI sequencer and analog CV / gate step sequencer - you don't get any other step sequencer with chase programming for this. The device, which is pleasantly weighted thanks to its metal underside and is therefore stable, has 16 touch-sensitive luminous pads with aftertouch, the color of which changes depending on the mode (sequencer / controller), as well as an equal number of assigned encoders. The pads are used for chase programming of the step sequencer, but can also be used for triggering notes, selecting the MIDI channel or for saving and calling up settings.

“BeatStep is practical, well made, takes up little space and can do a lot; Above all, it's fun to quickly program a sequence with it. For analog synth lovers, it is almost a must buy. ”This is how the test report in SOUND & RECORDING (8/2014) rates the practical device.

Lots of sound from small laptops

Small and powerful: Those who rely on comfortable mobility, but don't want to do without the possibilities of DAW and plugins, will find high-performance music machines even in the smaller current laptops - e.g. B. Apple MacBook Air plus Bitwig and Arturia MiniLab. This mini-setup shows how resource-saving Bitwig Studio is. The basic version already provides plenty of material such as loops, software synths and sound libraries.

The MiniLab is about the same size as the 11 ″ MacBook Air shown here and fits easily in a backpack or shoulder bag. The little Arturia is more than just a controller, because the scope of delivery also includes Arturia's Analog Lab software with over 5,000 sounds. That means: lots of iconic analog synth sounds, ready-made for the MiniLab. Analog Lab is based on the engines of Arturia's popular vintage software instruments, including Modular V, CS-80V, mini V, Arp 2600V, Jupiter-8V, Prophet-V, Oberheim SEM-V and Wurlitzer-V. The manufacturer should only improve the somewhat fiddly performance of the controls when recording automations in the sequencer, but otherwise the part has everything you need for recording on the go.

By the way: If you want larger keys, you can get them with the Bitwig Producer Pack and save money. This bundle from Bitwig and Arturia also contains the Mini V as a complete plug-in (more about this on p. 74). Prices: approx. 100 euros (Arturia MiniLab), approx. 290 euros (Bitwig Studio)

Westcoast sound for the laptop

Although it is not a replica of the legendary Buchla synthesizer, there are conceptual ideas that also help the Aalto from Madrona Labs to produce extraordinary sounds. Especially when ultra-electronic sound with an experimental focus is required, this synth belongs in the VST rack.

Not only at first glance does this synth simply work differently than a classic Moog; What is remarkable here is how few ingredients Aalto can actually use to create the most confusing modulations - accordingly, the character of many sound patches can be described as “complex”.

This starts with the oscillators, which can also generate inharmonic spectra by means of frequency modulation. Controlled by LFO, envelopes or a step sequencer, Aalto is ideal for grooving sound textures. And thanks to the lowpass gate, you can even recreate the famous “bongo sounds” of the Buchla.

The secret of the Aalto is its semi-modular concept, which allows all synthesis elements to be freely wired. If you are looking for typical synth basses or solo sounds with a Moog influence, you are wrong here, because the patches from Aalto have more of a 60s future retro charm. This makes Aalto a rich source for iconic bleeps & buzzes, atmospheric drones, self-playing noodles and cheesy synth sounds with character. Different. Price: $ 99 (download)

Growing sound

Captured in the eye of Synplant, the eyes follow the hypnotically twitching foothills of the rhizomes. Synplant, the organic sound was literally written into the DNA double helix. The software synthesizer from Sonic Charge turns the user into a sound gardener with immediate effect. Tones that have been sown once can be cultivated and researched using infinitely variable parameters such as “atonality”, “tuning”, “effect” and “release”. Those who want to dig deeper into the sound have the option of virtually breaking up their own seeds and manipulating the underlying genetic code like in a biotech laboratory. The developers at Synplant deliberately focus the sound creation away from technical details and transfer the process to an organic meta-level. Instead of a rational approach, finding a sound becomes a sensory, intuitive and emotional experience. Price: $ 99 (download)

Sequencing with a reactor

“Step-Sequencing-Synthesizer” is certainly the appropriate term for Rounds from Native Instruments - a new ensemble in the ReaktorPlayer kit. It is offered as an additional download when installing the Kontrol S MIDI controller keyboard - otherwise the instrument costs 99 euros (the necessary Reaktor player is available free of charge).

Rounds is very suitable for complex synth grooves and cyclically modulating soundscapes. The great thing about it is the operating concept, which enables an intuitive design of your own musical motifs and sound journeys. Each of the eight circles represents four sequencer steps, the sequence of steps and functionality of which can be manipulated and controlled in a variety of ways. You can also get inspiration from the presets and use the random function to quickly develop new motifs and ideas - programming sequences is a thing of the past. Price: 99 euros

Creative Kaoss

With the Kaoss-Pad 3+, Korg contributes a special kind of sampling and effects device hybrid. With its sophisticated X / Y touchpad control, the device is primarily predestined for live applications where creative sound control is required. In addition to the internally available synth and drum sounds, you can use the Kaoss Pad 3+ to sample your own sounds via line-in. The loop-based sampling function is tempo-synchronized and can be activated in the four sample slots with just one push of a button. A possibility of editing the samples in terms of volume and starting point as well as the possible subdivision of the loop into a maximum of eight segments has also been thought of in practical terms.

As with its predecessors, the core business of the KP3 + is based on real-time control of the integrated effects. And in this area, the device comes with 150 different algorithm variants, which, in the form of the 128 factory presets, leave almost no style or potential application option unconsidered.

In addition to filter and modulation effects, the meanwhile very mature vocoder programs as well as specialties from the LFO and beat-controlled corner are particularly noteworthy. Together with the editor software for Mac and PC, nothing stands in the way of more extensive editing of the programs.

Manufacturer / distributor: Korg / Korg & More; UvP / street price: 463, - Euro / approx. 400 euros

SparkLE, SparkLE ...

The hybrid drum machine controller offspring SparkLE from its big brother Spark from Arturia proves, apart from its lower price, that you shouldn't automatically equate a smaller design with a reduced range of functions. The device, which fits on a A4 sheet of paper, comes complete with extensive software for Mac and PC, which also cuts a fine figure in an emergency standalone. In addition to the eight easy-to-play and velocity-sensitive pads that the SparkLE inherits from its predecessor, the running light programming that has been brought up to the front even gives it an operational advantage in our opinion. The X / Y pad can also be used live, despite its spartan dimensions, with the effects integrated into the software.

In terms of sound, the SparkLE draws from the rich Arturia fundus and brings a huge library with 1,500 instruments, grouped in 100 kits with 16 sounds each, which can even be expanded with an ExpansionPack if necessary. Due to the most varied types of sound generation, such as the TAE (True Analog Emulation) developed by Arturia and other physical modeling-based sound engines, the SparkLE package out-of-the-box provides one of the most versatile libraries in the industry. A comprehensive feel-good drum machine with exemplary intuitive operation. Price: approx. 250 euros

HipHop Hooray

In the meantime, the Beatkangz Beat Thang has also started its journey across the pond. In the USA, the groove box that can be sampled has already gathered a sizeable fan base from the hip-hop camp. The Beat Thang, developed in cooperation with producer Austin Dallas and two DJ colleagues, is not only optically out of the scope of the usual suspects. With an integrated lithium-ion battery, the Groove-Box should deliver up to four hours of performance even without an existing power supply (battery-operated PA required). The input is made via a drum pad unit designed as a rudimentary keyboard with 12 trigger areas. In practice, each individual pad can be assigned up to 16 sample layers, which can then be controlled with velocity. In addition, the keyboard layout can be transposed over a total of eight octaves. With four effect blocks, a sampling function and no less than 3,200 basic sounds, the Beat Thang is prepared for all live eventualities. The hip-hop and R&B-heavy mobile beat slingshot is rounded off with a built-in 16-track sequencer with all the rudimentary useful quantization options. Not a bargain at the price, but probably unrivaled in its thematic niche. Price: approx. 760 euros

Handmade beats

With the Wavedrum and the smaller offshoot Wavedrum mini, Korg has made a huge hit in terms of live electro percussion. While the Wavedrum, which is now available in three versions, uses a 10 ″ drum head, integrated pickups and physical modeling sound generation, the compact Wavedrum Mini offers a practical rubber playing surface and a clip-on trigger pickup. With the latter, any objects in the vicinity can be transformed into an individual drum controller. Even if the "big" wave drum allows a higher degree of articulation due to the construction and the more complex sensor technology, it is amazing how sensitive and complex the multilayer sound generation of the wave drum mini is.Due to the pickup quality of the trigger clip, the sound components of the trigger element (table top, cowbell, salad bowl) are also individually integrated into the sound.

A huge plus point of the Wavedrum family is the fact that even the most synthetic sounds (somewhere between space and time) can be played with an organic ease that is otherwise only reserved for acoustic percussion instruments. In this respect, the Korg Wavedrums are truly unique in the field of electronic drum sound generators and enrich every live performance with their diversity and dynamics. Price: approx. 180 euros

Groove in Sweden red

With the Nord Drum 2, the Swedish manufacturer Clavia presented the second version of its modeling drum / percussion synthesizer. The handy red device is conceptually designed entirely for use with trigger sources. The Nord Drum 2, with its exemplary configuration options, is extremely flexible when it comes to the possible input signals. Compared to its predecessor, its sound generation has been expanded from four to six parallel sounds, with the sound components of tone, noise and click being retained and supplemented by additional parameters. The central tone area comprises a total of 33 waveforms, which are supplemented in a practical manner by switchable LFO modulation and effects. The high-quality processed device typical of Clavia also has a complete MIDI implementation that leaves almost nothing to be desired. The preset memory, which has now grown to 400 kits, can also be addressed via MIDI / USB. The factory presets already speak a clear language and reflect the extensive sound facets of the Nord Drum 2. If you are looking for dynamic and crisp synth drums, you don't need to look any further after testing the Clavia solution. Price: approx. 450 euros (pad approx. 240 euros)

Mobile grooving: Boris Blanks Yellofier

With the app for iOS devices, Boris Blank released a sample-based app last year. You can use it to emulate the Yello sound and, above all, a sample-based way of working that can be found in many Yello tracks: acoustic snapshots can be linked to ever new exciting patterns and grooves using the step sequencer. In the interview (from p. 24) Boris Blank showed us some of his personal patterns and samples - Boris is a real sample hunter, and wherever he is, he uses Yellofier himself to spontaneously sample sounds and thus add music do. The Yellofier is based on a 4 × 4 matrix in which up to eight self-shot samples can be positioned and moved. Each of the 16 steps can be individually provided with effects or played backwards. In the last step, the whole thing can even be mixed together on four tracks and exported if necessary. Overall, you would do the Yellofier an injustice to call it a mere iOS toy, because its versatile possibilities make this sample sequencer a real think tank.

At a price of only 3 euros, the Yellofier is also almost free.

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