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Analogue Solutions Generator

Step Sequencer
By Robin Vincent

Analogue Solutions Generator

At a glance the AS Generator looks like a conventional step sequencer, but there's much more to it than that...

If you are all about the polyrhythms and polymetrics of sequencer channel independence then the Generator is probably not for you. Instead, what Analogue Solutions have done is to create a playful space in which to manipulate multiple channels of CV within a single pattern structure. It's restrictive while being a whole load of fun. It begins with three channels of stepped control voltage but very quickly evolves into something less obvious and thoroughly creative.

First Steps

The first thing you'll notice is that not everything works as you'd expect it to. Patch Channel A to an oscillator and turn the knobs to set the control voltage in charge of the oscillators pitch. That's all normal, but it's Channel C that's lit up with the moving steps and Channel B seems to be denoting the step on/off state. Patching Channel B into another oscillator seems to behave exactly like Channel A, except that these knobs are lit internally and turning them or touching them doesn't appear to have any effect on the steps' status. Patch Channel C to another oscillator/envelope combo and you'll get nothing at all because the gate output is inverted and all the steps are lit. So very quickly the Generator raises three important questions: Why are there no lights on Channel A? How do I turn the steps on and off? And what are those weird looking triangles all about?

The Generator is not exactly what you think it is. Sure, there are three rows of 16 knobs and it can generate three channels of stepped control voltage to change pitch or modulate parameters within your Eurorack or analogue gear. But it's the relationship between these channels that makes things interesting (along with the input from the weird looking triangles). It's common to assume on first use that each channel will have its own length and pattern, but actually the Generator imposes a single pattern on all three channels. You have to think about it as generating a single pattern in three parts and once you've realised that the fog lifts and everything starts to fall in to place.

Looking a bit deeper then, Channel A is a good old‑fashioned, turn‑a‑knob‑to‑set‑a‑voltage, CV and gate output, run-of-the-mill step‑sequencing channel. Nothing else going on there. Although the black knobs with black caps and black indicators set on a black background are bit too Hotblack Desiato for me, and a little bit of colour would help in seeing their position better in low‑light environments. Channel B is the same except for the deliciously warm glow of the internal LEDs that spill through the cap and the indicator. The LEDs indicate the Pattern Status — whether a step is on or off. You'd imagine a push or tap on the top of the knob would turn them on or off but no, the pattern is derived elsewhere. Channel C has the same CV function as the other two, but also has a 'Flipped Gate' output that only opens on steps which are off. It has the same internal LEDs, but this time it acts as the active step indicator in time with the ever-flashing tempo knob. Within these three rows of knobs you have all the information about your three‑channel, single‑pattern sequence always on display.

The Generator is a sequencer that puts everything out on the table. There are no menus, no pages, no multifunctional knobs. It's designed to be very playable in a live performance situation and Analogue Solutions have built in a lot of functions to feed that creative workflow.

Pattern Generation

Rather than giving you individual control over the on/off state of each step, the Generator uses four knobs to sort of influence the intensity of the pattern. It's based upon the Patternator of AS's Fusebox synthesizer and is initially confusing before becoming a completely delightful way to generate patterns. Each knob controls four of the 16 steps. Knob 1 controls steps 1, 5, 9 and 13; knob 2 controls steps 2, 6, 10 and 14; and so on. If you turn all four knobs fully anti-clockwise then no steps are lit. As you turn a knob clockwise it goes through all the possible combinations of those four steps. So, the pattern for knob 1 goes: 1, 5, 1+5, 9, 9+1, 9+5, 9+1+5, and so on until they are all lit. The other knobs follow suit with their group. It's complicated enough for you to get completely lost fiddling with the four knobs while rewarding your fiddling by generating some wonderfully unintentional patterns.

This is also where the 'Flipped Gate' of Channel C comes into play. Channel C gates only when the state is off, so while you're digging around trying to find a pattern for your sequence, the rhythm of C is working against you. I know that sounds bad, but it really is an immensely enjoyable thing.

Two knobs alongside the pattern section set the start and end points of the sequence. You can pull the start and end points in and out all over your sequence and it very easily becomes part of your performance. These are displayed as dimly lit knobs on Channel B. They are often lost within the lights of the pattern and for me it would make far more sense if they were shown on Channel C.

Voltage Generator

The mysterious golden triangles of the Voltage Generator (VG) are touch plates that have the capability to turn the Generator into a fairly versatile performance machine. Each one kicks out a CV based on the setting of its own knob and there are a number of ways you can use it. Internally, you can use it to shift all three channels of the sequence for instant key or chord changes. (You can change this to just affect Channel C using a switch.) You'll also find outputs for the Voltage Generator over in the patchbay; there are two quantised outputs which restrict it to semitones, a regular CV and gate output and a pressure output. The touch plates are pressure sensitive but, in my experience, not very usefully so. If you focus and try really hard with very delicate finger movements you can pull off a bit of a filter sweep, but you are likely to find it more frustrating than fun.

Using the quantised VG outputs, the Generator becomes a useful six-note keyboard, and each note is completely assignable. The internal connection between the VG and the sequencer channels has no quantisation, but each channel has a transpose input which you can patch into directly from the quantised VG output, giving you a more accurate and perhaps more musical result.

The VG has a couple more tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, with a Freeze button enabled you can stop the sequencer and loop around that step while touching any of the pads. Secondly, you can tie the VG into the end pulse of the sequence. With 'End pulse VG Clock' turned on it will step through the first four triangles, advancing at the end of each sequence. You could use it to create auto-playing chord progressions or modulation changes.

The Voltage Generator is slightly odd looking, but it's a tremendously useful way of bringing performance versatility to a sequencer. Finding creative ways to transpose a sequence is one of my preoccupations, but with the Generator I can do it in several ways with a simple tap, manually or automated, quantised or free-flowing.

Analogue Solutions Generator sequencer.

Intensity & Fill

If that wasn't enough, there are a couple more ways you can mess with a Generator pattern... For example, an Intensity input takes a CV of range 0-5 V to alter the intensity of the rhythm. This overrides your four Patternator knobs and increases the beats in the sequence. The Fill input is a similar idea but tied to the last four steps. You can use CV to gradually add in those four beats, but I could never seem to get it to work very consistently and I found it far better to use a gate just to turn them all on when I wanted a fill.

These two functions brought a lot of life to sequences. You could patch in the rotating voltages of the End Pulse VG series to get a different level of intensity for each loop, then patch the VG gate to Fill and bring that in whenever you felt like it, leaving you free to play with pitches or to ride the four pattern knobs.

Transport & Tempo

Along with Stop and Play the Generator has a Reset button with CV input, which resets the sequence back to step one regardless of where the sequence start point is set. A Manual Step button advances the sequence one step at a time and opens up the gate so everything is heard. Very useful for when you're trying to tune three different sequences through three different oscillators.

Sync in and out is provided for regular sync'ing to other bits of time-sensitive gear, but there are also some additional internal clock shenanigans, which brings me to the slightly odd Tempo Knob. You can control the internal tempo with an external CV signal, but as you are adding CV to the CV that's already controlling the tempo internally you need to be able to turn the internal tempo down to give sufficient headroom for the external CV to make any sense. The result is that the tempo knob, when no external CV is connected, appears to do nothing from fully anti-clockwise to about 12 0'clock, and then speeds up very rapidly to reach a maximum at around three o'clock. However, when you do add in some CV from another source then the tempo knob gets a lot more useful. I particularly enjoy feeding the output of one of the sequencer channels back into the tempo CV input for some satisfyingly odd rhythms.

One last transport‑related button is called Impulse and switches between loop and one-shot modes. Loop is your regular sequence that loops back to the beginning each cycle, whereas one-shot plays the sequence once and stops. To trigger it you need to put some CV into the Start CV input.

Conclusion

The Generator is an old school sequencer trapped in a playful workflow that invites experimentation and fiddling. Every note and parameter is there on the front panel at all times so you can see exactly what every channel is doing. Once you've grasped the pattern concept then there's a lot of scope for creative and instinctive performances. It's not the sort of sequencer you set running and ignore, it's far too much fun for that. It's missing a few things like step direction modes, glide and gate length, and I'd really like to be able to choose whether the gate is flipped or not, but the Generator brings together creative sequencing and the CV manipulation features of lots of different modules into a very coherent whole.

MIDI

Unusually, while the Generator does have a MIDI input, it's not for MIDI Sync or Note input. Instead it uses the pulse of a MIDI Note to clock the tempo. MIDI Note C (60) moves a step, whereas C# starts, D stops and D# resets. You can then clock the Generator to your DAW by sending it a track of C Notes. You could put them on the beat, off the beat, half time, double time or just delete a bar if you want to pause. You can use your DAW's swing quantise or create rhythmic patterns and Generator will swing right along.

Chaining

If 16 steps are not enough for you then you can chain up as many Generators as you like. Simply set them all into one-shot Impulse mode and connect the End CV out of one to the Start CV in of another all around the chain. Each Generator in the chain will work independently but fires its sequence in turn.

Pros

  • One knob per function.
  • All three sequencer channels are always visible and tweakable.
  • Deliciously fun 'Patternator'.
  • Voltage Generator for transposing sequences.
  • Coherent and focused performance features.

Cons

  • No sequencer modes.
  • Channels do not have independent lengths.
  • Hard to see Channel A in low light.
  • No accent, glide, probability or step length.

Summary

A creative and powerful analogue sequencer that manipulates multiple channels of CV generation with a playful pattern generator and performance controls, and leaves everything out on the table.

information

£629 including VAT.

www.analoguesolutions.com

Published March 2019