Future Retro’s Transient is a single-voice drum module based on 16-bit samples delivered by a 12-bit DAC — for reasons of ‘vintage sonic character’. I’m usually wary of claims like that, but a quick audition reveals that they do indeed sound more alive than most samples. A promising sign!
Probably the first thing to strike you about the Transient is its menu system. In order to access the 200+ factory or 40 user instruments, you must deal with the combined parameter encoder and button. Extensive tweaking is available, but with smooth encoder action and a fairly long, linear menu system, this is never a delight. It also takes practice to reliably push without accidentally turning, but you get plenty of opportunities; you must push the encoder to enter value update mode, push to confirm values, turn to access new pages and so on. Helpfully, the instrument save options are found at the end of the menus, so you can whizz there at speed when necessary. Sadly you can’t name your instruments, and after creating the first half dozen or so, I really started to regret this omission. Yet despite these initial grumbles, this module is not hard to understand, and I was soon digging in and making crazy percussion.
Of course, a more sensible idea might have been to explore the 230 (assuming I counted correctly) factory presets first. As well as regular drum machine hits, laid out in logical groups, you’ll find some seriously crunchy and extreme percussion, plus booms, bangs, clanks and wangs.
Although such sounds have much to offer, you can’t beat a spot of programming from scratch. Each instrument consists of two samples and you won’t be surprised to learn that you can set a dynamic mix, cross-modulate them and control many parameters simultaneously from either of the two CV inputs or the two knobs. The manual reminds you that to supplement these four sources you can slip into the menu system any time to make additional tweaks.
Oddly, you aren’t presented with pitch control or pitch envelopes — at least not directly. Instead, your selected sample can be amplitude- or ring-modulated either by itself, an internal oscillator, or the other sample. A pair of oscillators operate over a very wide range (from stopped to over 20kHz), and by using these as modulation sources, you can vary a sample’s pitch dramatically. For even more possibilities, the oscillators have a selection of waveform shapes, which are shown graphically on the sharp monochrome display. Some waves act like envelopes, while others are complex and suited to harsh, metallic tones. A little experimentation will help determine which waveforms are best suited to each modulation type. Interestingly, if you trigger the Transient at audio rates, it functions as a complex oscillator!
I should probably have already mentioned that the raw samples — 423 of them — are mostly nabbed from classic drum machines. Inevitably this means Roland hog most of the limelight, in the form of 10 drum machines ranging from the humble DR55 and TR77 to the CR8000 and TR727, with all the regulars encompassed along the way. While I doubt there are many SOS readers without access to TR808 and TR909 samples, there’s no denying these sound superb. Incidentally, if you’re thinking that a single voice isn’t enough for a whole drum machine, you can at least switch the samples using incoming CV, a knob or combinations of the two. Within limits, you can build up complete beats or — for a touch of chaos — opt to let a random source scramble samples on each hit.
Joining the Roland set, other raw material is taken from the Linn LM1 drum machine and Future Retro’s own drum samples. Arguably, the latter pool contains the most useful and varied material, featuring, as it does, more experimental kicks, snares and hats, plus a selection of sound effects, metallic boings, thwacks, synth blips, whooshes and basses. Admittedly, it would have been awesome to load your own samples too, but there’s still plenty that can be done.
Post-modulation, there’s a simple multi-mode filter. It doesn’t feature variable resonance (a small amount is built in), but even with that limitation, it’s useful enough, especially if you introduce dynamic control over the cutoff frequency (via one of those precious modulation sources). For further tweaking, you can vary the phase of either modulating oscillator, reduce the sample and bit rate, and add distortion. All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised by the potential to transform the often-familiar samples.
Ultimately, the Transient is rather menu-bound and I never developed much love for the parameter encoder. Fortunately, it sounds excellent, whether as a source of monstrous kicks or something more experimental. True, the choice of drum-machine samples is rather conservative, but with creative use of modulation, even hackneyed old Roland bongos can be trashed up and turned into something bonkers. So yes, it’s only a single voice and yes, more CV inputs would have been brilliant, but the Transient has plenty going for it and I doubt those 40 user memories will remain empty for long.