Synthfest UK 2019 – The Soundgas Report
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 9th Oct 2019
We all had a gas at Synthfest 2019 in Sheffield. From an inauspicious start of only the briefest preparations, marred by every synth we’d hoped to take either sold or being unserviced and declared unfit for public consumption (we have a lovely Memorymoog Plus that remains on James Walker’s bench), we ended up with what we felt to be our best demo rig and display ever.
Making a feature of imperfect, unserviced and possibly unsalvageable synths turned out to be quite fun and was a great talking point: not a single seen-it-all-before synth nerd claimed to have seen an uber-rare Shinko Adonis 770 before (and if you have, or know where we can get a schematic, please get in touch!).
Our lack of time to prepare meant we’d overlooked a few minor details, such as having sufficient power supplies to run the pair of PsyCo-X SY-1M Syncussions, or indeed to notice that one of the freshly-built machines was missing its selector knobs. However, we’re battle-hardened Synthfest veterans and were able to improvise to overcome the unexpected (like the echo-free Korg Stage Echo – lifting the lid revealed a tangled mess of tape – we’d brought an unserviced example – made a handy base for one of our gear stacks).
We’d brought along a selection of Roland Space Echoes and various beatboxes, synths and effects, including both the original prototype and the production prototype of the Soundgas Type 636 Spring Reverb which proved very popular indeed. The snaking tape of the Vocu VTE-2000 always gets attention, and the lovely and uncommon Roland PH-830 Stereo Phaser was also much-remarked on. A Mu-tron Bi-Phase with rare Opti-Pot pedal was part of my dubtastic rig along with the 636 and our studio RE-201.
Here’s a quick video tour of the stand:
Several hours’ feverish work yielded a fine display and we were just finessing the operational details when Dave Beavers from The Human League’s studio stopped by to talk Syncussions (they have four), followed by Philip Oakey. We were soon ruminating on how disappointing we find many modern synths, the joy of using inspiring hardware (how much fun the Solton Programmer 24 is with my rudimentary keyboard skills; Philip claimed a similar handicap, although I suspect he’s probably slightly better than me…), and a their singular seller’s remorse. A couple of years ago, Dave phoned me when we were selling a Latronic Notron MIDI Step Sequencer (or as Philip referred to it: ‘the Trilobite sequencer’) they’d parted with to ensure it was genuinely from their studio. Aside from trading a Minimoog and Roland MKS-70 for an Oberheim Four Voice some years ago, the Notron is the only thing they’ve ever sold. Sounds like a studio I’d dearly love to see and arrangements are being made to help fix their Jupiter-8 and combine it with a visit to their Sheffield synth lair.
The next day Gid and I managed a quick tour of some of the show highlights, paying a visit to the Yamaha room to see Peter Banks’ lovely CS-80 – brought back from the dead over the course of several years, initially by Kent Spong and thereafter by a dedicated pal of Peter’s – and we had a quick chat about the trials and delights of CS-80 stewardship. This was displayed along with a CP-70, SY-1 and DX-7 as part of Yamaha’s ‘synthiversary’ celebrations (complete with synthcakes!) of 45 years since the introduction of the SY-1 in 1974. Whirlwind stops at Roland’s room (for a quick play on the Ju-06A and a couple of TRs) and Moog/Arturia (managed a few moments on a Matrixbrute which I remain intrigued by – could this be a modern synth I don’t dislike?!). The Moog One was of course occupied, and we now have a DFAM (thank you Moog) which we love; a Grandmother was high on my list of synths to try, until I spied what was on KMR’s stand. It’s always a pleasure to see the guys at KMR who are as crazily passionate about synths and gear as us: I interviewed the irrepressible Tom Lewis about the gorgeous new Moog Model 10 which, for me, somewhat for overshadowed the colourful Grandmother. Another expensive addition to the gearlust list!
In any other year, a new Moog Modular would be the highlight of the show, but Tom Carpenter at Analogue Solutions has been very busy indeed creating what may well turn out to be the synth of the decade: the aptly-titled ‘Colossus’. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the fabled and legendary EMS Synthi 100, this stunning synth is a staggering technical achievement of towering proportions. Superlatives abound when referring to this analogue behemoth which, in spite of the obvious design and layout references, Tom stresses is not a slavish re-creation of the EMS, but a design drawn from his many years’ experience and previous AS synths’ pedigree. The specification is on an epic scale and includes: 12 VCO, 2 LFOs (so possible total of 16 LFOs using VCOs); 8 Filters with serial VCAs; Sample & Hold; twin patch matrix panels, joysticks, spring reverbs, ring modulators, 32 step analogue sequencers. No midi, usb: this is a true analogue monster that now sits firmly at the top of my Christmas wish-list.
Watch my chat with Tom in full on youtube now:
And at the end of the show we managed to get this video of the Colossus in full flow:
This is a once in a generation (or more accurately perhaps, semicentennial) opportunity to buy not only an instrument that is of epic ambition, but that is also an astonishing feat of engineering and craftsmanship. In the grand tradition of synthesizer pioneers, Tom Carpenter has brought the Colossus into being through sheer force of will: a testament to his passion and vision. Only an enthusiast-led company could dare to strap on such wings and stand on the precipice of commercial endeavour with such an undertaking. Today most synth companies are ruled by money men: features are carefully costed and controls squeezed into tiny spaces; everything is designed and built to a price. The Colossus is built to a specification and hang the expense; the price is ‘around £25,000’ plus taxes, shipping etc and only around 200 are expected to be produced. We applaud Tom and the team at Analogue Solutions – this is a new chapter in the history of glorious British synthesizer design. Soundgas are proud to be acting as agents for the Colossus, so if you are interested in finding out more or preordering one (delivery begins in 2020), please get in touch.
We returned to a Soundgas stand barely-visible behind an enthusiastic Synthfest crowd and spent the following hours talking with friends old and new. The day passed in a blur and everyone seemed to have a fine time indeed. As usual I didn’t manage to make it to the talks (I’d very much wanted to hear Marta Salogni talk about composing with tape, but she called by the stand to say hello and pause over our blue SH-101) aside from a few minutes of A Guy Called Gerald’s live demo.
Soon it was my turn to give a brief talk entitled “Why Vintage?” followed by a live Soundgas demo – see the full video below. I kept the talking to a minimum – we were six hours into the show and my vocal cords had been well-exercised by this point – and gave the Bar Stage crowd a glimpse of what we term ‘the joy of sonic adventure’. With minimal preparation time, I’d managed to hook up the newly-acquired Solton Programmer 24 to our studio Roland RE-201 Space Echo, Soundgas Type 636 prototype and Mu-tron Bi-Phase and was able to quickly demonstrate the highs (and lows) of impromptu hardware jams. The talk was well-received and by the time we were back on the stand it was almost time to derig and head out for much-needed refreshment before catching some of John Grant playing with Creep Show in the Foundry. He and Benge were at breakfast in our hotel the next day and he told me how well he was getting on with his latest studio additions from Soundgas which made for a great ending to a fine weekend.
We headed back home over the hills to regroup and look forward to the next time we sally forth with a Volvo-load of old gear. Huge thanks to our crew for all their work on the stand (great to have synth tech Chris Challoner and trainee Jez with us for the first time), and as always to the whole Sound On Sound team for putting together such a friendly and relaxed-yet-buzzing event.