The Lifeforms Micro Sequence is a compact eight-step sequencer with more functionality than its minimalist design suggests. It provides two simultaneous CV outputs, the first of which is quantised, delivering four octaves of pitch in a variety of scales. The second is an unquantised 0-5 V source.
As it wasn’t immediately obvious how to sync to an external clock, I performed the now obligatory online search for a manual, only to discover there isn’t one. Fortunately a web page explains the use of the button and LED menu system. To smooth things further, some options are even printed on the panel — albeit in rather small text. It transpires that sync’ing to an external clock involves holding the clock button then pressing the run button, with slider 1 lighting to indicate internal sync, slider 2 indicating external. Navigation via buttons and LEDs is fairly straightforward, eg. if you wish to change scale or direction you simply press the appropriate button (to enter the menu system) then press it as many times as is necessary to reach the desired option. After a brief time-out (based on the length of a cycle), you’re back to a visual display of pattern motion. Admittedly, it isn’t the ultimate system for making regular pattern length changes in performance.
For internal sync, the clock button serves as a tap tempo. The clock jack can be either an input or output, and logically enough, in internal sync mode, the clock is available at this point. I found external sync much more versatile, thanks to a rather splendid built-in clock divider. Repeatedly pressing the clock button scrolls through divisions from /1 to a very sedate /8, which is as welcome as it is unusual. Regardless of sync source and division, the Run button is required to kick things off.
To line up the Micro Sequence’s playback with other pattern-based devices, the reset button is always ready to throw it back to step 1. Reset is one of the quartet of assignments available to the solitary Gate input — the others are: hold, reverse and ratchet. Having mentioned them, I should reveal that hold is a fun tool that pauses the sequencer on the current step for as long as the incoming gate is high. Reverse switches direction when any gate is received, reverting to the original direction on the next gate. Finally, ratchet will delight lovers of Berlin School sequencing; while the gate is high it sends not one but four gate outputs for each step.
While you would probably wish to remotely control several of these functions simultaneously, it’s not too laborious to switch them, even live. With eight LED-tipped sliders to play with, menus have eight choices, opening the way for some decidedly exotic extras. Take direction, for example, where you can quickly leave behind forwards, backwards and pendulum motion. Direction 4 is ‘Stagger’, which recalls journeys home from the pub in which you have a 25 percent chance of either stepping backwards or moving two steps forwards. The fifth is my personal favourite, ‘Skip’, where the sequencer moves forwards but skips a step on every cycle. So on the first pass, step 1 doesn’t play, on the next pass step 2 is skipped and so on. It’s a quick but creative way to get more mileage from eight notes. The next direction is ‘Transpose’ and here the sequencer is split into two halves. The upper half is fixed at four steps long and the lower half runs at quarter speed, transposing the upper values as it goes. You can vary the length of the transposing pattern from between one and four steps, again making a simple pattern more complex. The final two directions are variations on random motion, with the difference being that the second includes random pauses too.
Obtaining a trustworthy four octave spread from 30mm sliders is made possible by the quantised (pitch) output. You can select freely from Micro Tuning, Chromatic, Major, Minor, Blues, Phrygian, Lydian and Dorian scales. Micro Tuning splits an octave into 250 discrete values, lending itself to more exotic flavours than are usually feasible. I noticed when Micro was selected that the sliders’ uppermost positions have a fair amount of dead movement. Related to this (and to the quantisation process), switching scales can also have the effect of changing the highest note generated. This is something to be aware of if you’re looking for a quick tuning reference. The key associated with any scale is defined by the pitch of the target oscillator(s), but even if you only ever use the chromatic scale, you’ve got all you need for hassle-free melodic patterns.
With so many features present, it’s inevitable that some are a better fit than others. Slider muting isn’t obvious but it’s in there too and achieved by pushing the slider down as far as it goes. However, it’s easy to do this accidentally when setting low pitches and there’s no way to reliably toggle between a specific note and muted status. A muted step does not send a gate nor update the CV output, so despite its limitations, it’s still useful to have.
Sequencers are so often associated with looping note patterns that we sometimes forget how incredibly useful they are as interactive modulation sources. Offering both a quantised pitch CV and a raw CV output is a bonus, stirring fond memories of my old ARP 1621. The Micro Sequence has more features than a module this size would typically possess, but once you adapt to its user interface and memorise a couple of options, it’s plain sailing. Particularly impressive are its range of directions, clock divisions and scales. Perhaps the only missing item is a slew control; for this you’d need to allocate an external module. All in all, great fun!