The Core is Getting Soft.10: Madrona Labs

Aalto rectangleThere are some soft synths or plug-ins I’ve bought where I could have conceivably sprung for the hardware version instead.  But there’s no way I could have ever afforded a Buchla synthesizer – until Madrona labs came out with their Aalto software synthesizer, which is inspired by the designs of Don Buchla, who invented the modern synthesizer around the same time that Robert Moog did, but never aimed for the (relatively) mass market crossover that the Minimoog achieved.  Several years ago, I read complaints on Gearlutz and other gear forums that no one had attempted to emulate a Buchla, and speculation that maybe it couldn’t be done.  One look at the following Youtube video of the real deal shows why the prospect looked daunting:

For some reason, I’m more drawn to use the sequencer on this virtual instrument than others.  It can be hard to shoehorn it’s massive scope and oddities into a pop musical format, but I’ve had lots of fun trying.  (I now rescind this comment – see PPS at end of post.)  I used it on one of the songs I’ve been working on for my new instrumental project Gnawing on the Bone, where it fits more easily.  I really like the way the dials flutter with a white fizz that looks like haywire signals on the controls of a nuclear power plant.  You can buy it for $99 at their website, though I got it for half that much at a sale event they had a while back.

I just downloaded a demo version of the second virtual instrument that this boutique – style developer has released, called Kaivo, Kaivowhich is currently selling for $129.  It’s description is a bit over my head, since I didn’t go to MIT or CalTech, but I’m really looking forward to trying it!

Check out their website – if I had $1,900 on hand, I would totally buy this cool looking controller they make out of walnut, and bills itself “a computer music controller with the sensitivity and feel of an acoustic instrument. It detects a wide range of touches on its walnut playing surface, from a light tickle to a very firm press.”


Y’see, I like things that detect a wide range of touches, from a very light tickle to a very firm press.  Just don’t Slap Me.

PS – I bought Kaivo after demoing it for 10 minutes after first writing this post.  It’s awesome.  I especially like the starting points built within the bottom half of the instrument, where you can choose different sample-like sounds modeled on physical objects like wire and water that you then manipulate with the rest of the synthesizer. I don’t know what “physical modeling” really means but the phrase fits what I hear in this window.  There is also a similar menu for selecting different kind of resonance chambers into which these vibrations are routed, large or small wooden boxes, metal plates, etc.  The whole thing feels refreshingly unlike the vintage analog synths that are/were great but have been emulated and reissued hundreds of times already.  There has to be SOMETHING new under the sun in the world of music production that can’t be found by going back to the ’60’s/70’s/’80’s, n’est-ce pas?

PPS – After writing this post, I downloaded a new 1.5 version of Aalto out that has a lot of new presets that are organized in such a way as to make it easier to use within popular song formats, so I take back what I said about that.  I guess I just wasn’t able to come up with those patches myself!  They’ve also made 2 really great adjustments to Aalto.  There are very useful and minimal new presets that basically teach you how to use Aalto by providing starting points that just have a few patches.  They are labelled very clearly about how the modular design of the synthesizer is being chained together.  You can think of these like those precut things you can find in the produce section at Trader Joe’s – precut onions, shallots, and garlic in a small box, cubed squash, precooked lentils.  If you’re really pressed for time, you can cook a meal from scratch quickly using these shortcuts, but they aren’t a meal in themselves.  The second thing is that you can now expand the window of the soft synth to whatever size you like, a feature that also is programmed into the new Kaivo release.  With an interface as complex as this modular synthesizer design, this is REALLY helpful.  You can absorb into the design structure of these instruments without serious eyestrain!  I find myself much more likely to spend serious time with them as a result.  Kudos!


One response to “The Core is Getting Soft.10: Madrona Labs”

  1. Reblogged this on Moving Studio and commented:
    Thoughts on the soft version of the Buchla synthesizer, called the Aalto and another virtual instrument from Madrona labs called Kaivo. Checkout the controller for the Kaivo.

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