Here is an interesting find for you all drum machine collectors! How about an MFB 712? It’s a early digital machine with 40 sounds, dynamics and MIDI. The one you see above is on eBay for $300 (link). I really want a 501 if I can find one.
“One of the world’s first digital drum machines. A pioneering piece of electronic music gear from legendary synth designer Manfred Fricke, Berlin. Beautiful in terms of its design and form factor, this drum machine has the same white housing shared by the legendary MFB-501 analog preset drum machine which is next to impossible to find. Used by Conrad Schnitzler, as evidenced by video of him in his studio.” – spinalgrommet (eBay)
This months issue of Sound on Sound has reviews of the MFB-522 and 503 drum machines. The 522 is sort of a Roland TR-808 clone. It is full analog and in the ballpark but really sounds like it’s own machine. I’ve have a lot of music on my to do list and because I’m using a lot of analog hardware these days I decided to put a mini studio on my dining room table. The heart of it is the 522. I also have an old Boss BX800 mixer from the 80s. I have fond memories of the way it distorted. Unfortunately after playing with it a bit I ended up switching it out to a new Yamaha MG102c. The kick’s attack is much sharper on the new mixer and that’s very important to me. The 522 has individual out, lots of knobs to control the sounds, a fill pattern and it’s fun to program. Check out the little video above of my MFB in action. You can hear it has a nice tight groove and how fun the fill is. The video was recorded with an iPhone though the iPhone’s speaker with the audio coming from a TDK Boombox. There is a suped up version of the 522 called the 523 coming this year. You can buy a 522 for $425 USD.
“MFB-522 is a drumcomputer with a fully analogue sound engine that offers plenty of editing capabilities. It includes a step-sequencer with popular TR-style running-light-programming. Memory locations are available for 72 patterns as well as for 8 songs.” – mfberlin.de
Once I got my Doepfer Dark Time analog sequencer it was clear I need more analog sequencers. The Analog Solutions Telemark is a nice choice and there are numerous modular sequencer and crazy sequence generators. However, I really have my eye on one of these MFB Urzwergs. The Pro version adds lights that follow the sequencer and MIDI out. I like this box because its small and I find I’m bring my Dark Time out with me to everyone’s studios because well analog sequencing is fun. The Urzwerg also has 4 rows of 8 step sequences which is just awesome. I’m actually not sure what the different is between the Pro and new Pro MKII. Is it just the wooden sides? If the wooden sides are wide enough like the ones on the Dark Time there is a big advantage to them in that you can stand the unit up. The price of the Pro at Schneiders Beuro can’t be beat at 361 Euro!
“MFB’s step-sequencer URZWERG PRO is the extended version of our URZWERG. This advanced version has been inspired by feature requests and suggestions of many users to ensure better flexibility than ever. Most prominently, URZWERG PRO now offers output of MIDI-notes and -controllers as well as 32 individual step LEDs to keep track of the sequences’ status.” – mfberlin.de
Today I thought I would give you a quick look at some of my workflow. Here’s how I often start creating an EBM (Electronic Body Music) style track. I’ve started a Eurorack modular system and you can see my first two pieces in action here. I have recorded a 5V Pulse into Ableton from the Korg SyncKontrol iOS app. I loaded the click into Simpler and use MIDI to create a pattern. In this example it’s a straight 16th note. I use Ableton Live to route the 5V click out of my Motu 828 MKIII into a Doepfer Dark Time analog sequencer. The Dark Time is not in sync with my Ableton MIDI set up. The Dark Time controls an Analog Solutions Telemark (SEM clone). 8 steps of CV variation and CV filter variation loop the bassline. I also have the Dark Time send a clock out to a Korg Monotribe. On the Monotribe I have muted the drums and just have it playing some lazer zap type sounds typically where you would find a snare drum. Using MIDI I have a Vermona DRM1 MKIII playing a kick and snare. The Monotribe’s clock out goes into an Intellijel uStep which sends a 16th note clock to a Make Noise Echophone. I have a MFB-522 drum machine in sync with Ableton via MIDI playing a clap. This clap is sent into the Echophon where it’s delay shimmers in 16 synced steps because of the uStep control. I can play with the Echophon’s pitch knob for a wicked nice analog clap delay effect. Is it worth all this effort? In my opinion yes. You can’t really get a sound like this without going analog. This part would make a good verse. Because I can pitch the bassline on a MIDI keyboard the next step is to make a Chorus, maybe change the Dark Time sequence length or patter slightly, add some pads from an Ensoniq ESQ-1 and add vocals. I hope you enjoyed the peek into a world where control is everything.
“CV/Gate (an abbreviation of Control Voltage/Gate) is an analog method of controlling synthesizers, drum machines and other similar equipment with external sequencers. The Control Voltage typically controls pitch and the Gate signal controls note on/off. This method was widely used in the epoch of analog modular synthesizers, beginning in the 1960s and up to the early 1980s. It was mostly superseded by the MIDI protocol, which is more feature-rich, easier to configure reliably, and more easily supports polyphony.” – wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_voltage
Berlin synth and drum machine company MFB announced (or leaked) they are making an under 1500 Euro synth. I think it will be interesting because this Manfred Fricke design will be the full blown real thing with a keyboard and three oscillators. I can’t wait to see and hear it.
“high quality analogue monophonic synth, 3 oktaven weighted keyboard mit aftertouch, pitch/bend & mod rad arpeggiator, sequencer funktion (synchronisierbar), 3 vco mit fm und sync, pwm, saw/trangle mix, 3 lfo (2 als hüllkurve nutzbar) bis in den audiobereich, ringmod & noise multifilter (8-12 typen) eines bekannten berliner filter entwicklers, 2 analoge und schnelle ENVs (voltage controlled), daher gut regelbar bei niedrigen werten high quality VCA, digital delay (tbc), speicherbare sounds, midi und cv/gate steuerbar, midi ausgabe, wertige potis, schalter und knöpfe, stahlgehäuse mit holzseitenteile.” – tripbeat
Since I lean toward the synthesizer slash software side of things the best music gear “fair” in the world is Germany’s Musikmesse. Each spring or “Frülings” as the German’s say, gear geeks, music software wizards and pro-audio companies from the States to Japan all meet in Frankfurt. This year’s shibang is from April 1-4 which if you’re reading this post today means it’s on now. Will any new product convince you it will improve your songs? Nothing I’ve seen so far is making my head explode but there are some nice new toys on the show floor.
One of my favorite instruments, the Persephone, has been upgraded to “Mark II” status. It’s big new feature is the addition of a second oscillator. To love a Persephone is to play one. It’s a nice feeling high end instrument. The best way I can describe it is something in between a Theramin and slide guitar. Doepfer steps away from the Lego – build your own mindset and released the Dark Energy. The Dark Energy is a mini 100% analog synth with a built-in USB/Midi interface. At 400 EUR what’s not to like? Tascam seems to have noticed Mackie’s troubles (their Chinese factory went out of business) and released a new line of inexpensive analog mixers including the M-164, M-164FX with built-in digital effects and the M-164UF with built-in USB.
SSL released a new version of it’s Duende which has an improved audio engine and includes a new reverb called X-Verb. Novation hit us with there new versions of their popular controllers, the Zero and SL now at MKIII status. I have some friends who were disappointed by earlier versions of these. Most of the complaints were in the “faders are too cheap” category. Nevertheless, Novation added more pink lights on the new babies so I can’t help staring. Akai seems to be on a mission the past few trade shows and Messe09 is no different. They have a new basic Pad box, the MPD18 and a new 88key weighted controller the MPK88. What really has my mouth ready to scream “Reactivate!” is the new Miniak synth with built-in vocoder. I always thought Akai made the best software vocoder (D.C. Vocoder) but alas it never went OS-X. If the Miniak sounds as good I’ll grab one for sure. Presonus released a DAW called Studio One. Are they crazy? Why isn’t everyone using Ableton at this point? Oh yeah, in case you didn’t hear Live 8 is out of beta and ready to buy.
Update. So a few more niceties have crossed my radar. Jomox has updated it’s popular analog kick drum module the MBase now called MBase II. I believe the compressor is the new add on in this highly recommended box. I love mine: video. Rob Papen has a new software bass synth called SubBoomBass. I doubt SubBoomBass will break much ground sound wise but I constantly go to other Papen synths when Im doing certain styles of music and want to troll a zillion presets. MFB must be reading my mind because the only thing I love more than drum machines are semi-modular drum synthesizers and that’s exactly what they just announced. They call it Schlagzwerg and I’ll be buying that (680 EURO) before you can say Berlin!
New drum machine alert! Wait even better: New ANALOG drum machine alert! MFB in Berlin named after the man behind these toys Manfred Fricke has announced an update to the nice sounding MFB-502. I have friends with the 502 and it’s been on my “gonna grab” list. These machines are not kick drum monsters like a Jomox but they have gorgeous analog snares and hats. There’s rarely a reason to touch the eq after recording these drum machine into your DAW. The best part here? The new MFB-522 is 280€. 16 fach Step Sequencer included!
Remember one of my MusikMesse 2008 picks the MFB Synth 3? It’s been renamed the Kraftzwerg and it’s been out for a few months now. For 579€ you can have one of these interesting noise makers. Visit the official MFB (Manfred Fricke Berlin) website here: mfberlin.de
“Some clueless noodling on my small modular. MFB Kraftzwerg and some Doepfer modules. No effects.” – mancio1
Berlin is the undisputed center of electronic music. A few times a month friends and blog readers come to visit. I’ve decided to make a Google Map with the locations of many of the great record stores, labels, synthesizer manufacturers, audio software companies and nightclubs you can check out upon arrival.
Ableton, Tresor, Hard Wax, Native Intruments, Schneider’s Buero, Neumann, MFB, Gigolo Records, Berghain, JoMoX, Sugar Bytes, BPitch Control, SoundCloud… what more do you want?
If you do come to visit don’t forget you will be in a gorgeous city full of historic places and green parks. Don’t spend all your time dancing. See it all!
Remember Google Maps is feature rich. You can get point to point directions, zoom way in, see satellite views and create your own map of places in Berlin you want to see (click a pin and select “save to my map”).
To view the map full screen and also see the complete list of great places: click here