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  • Writer's pictureAntonia Curry

Looping, Synth-ing, and Theremin-ing Our Way Through NAMM 2024

Updated: Feb 15

Step right up to a sonic adventure! Dmitri’s recent experience at NAMM uncovered a treasure trove of musical innovation as well as future classics, all together under one roof. Journey with Dmitri through some of NAMM’s latest offerings.



Show Notes From the Episode:


Find all the new instruments and gear you heard in this episode! NAMM is so huge it can be hard to find what's truly new and innovative, so Dmitri did it for you:

More Shoutouts:

See Music Tectonics' Instagram Reels to see some of our NAMM faves in action


Check out Dmitri's favorite creator True Cuckoo for fun, off-beat videos on making music with gear like the K.O.II


Join Music Tectonics' online events and learn about our upcoming conference



Listen to the full episode here on this page, or wherever you pod your favorite casts.


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Episode Transcript

Machine transcribed


00:09 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Welcome back to Music Tectonics, where we go beneath the service of music and tech. I'm your host, Dmitri Vietze. I'm also the founder and CEO of Rock Paper Scissors, the PR and marketing firm that specializes in music tech and innovation, and, as you probably know, I was at NAMM at the end of January and I'm recording this right after. You can see, I got what some people call NAMM-thrax. I've got a bit of a sore throat, but stay with me here because we went all over NAMM it's the big musical instrument conference that attracts tens and tens of thousands of people of all different stripes interested in musical instruments and music gear and pro audio and so forth. It's the confluence of several different rivers. You've got this legacy of traditional instruments and pro audio, including guitars, keyboards, violins, metronomes, fog machines, lighting mics, drums, synths and more. We basically ran around looking for the most interesting new form factors or retro instruments or just the weird stuff. We're interested in finding out what kind of innovations are happening in the musical instrument world. Let's kick it off with an interview I did with Stylophone. 


Stylophone CPM DS-2 Drone Synth

01:19 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

I'm at NAMM on the trade floor with John Simpson. He's the director of Dubreq, behind the Stylophone, a very famous, iconic retro instrument that's coming back. Welcome to the podcast, John. 


John from Stylophone 

Hi, Dmitri, it's good to be here. 


Dmitri Vietze (Host)

So tell me, for folks who haven't heard of Stylophone, what's the story with this instrument? 


John from Stylophone 

Well, the Stylophone was actually invented in 1968 by a man called Brian Jarvis. Basically, the only thought of the Stylophone is that it's portable and it's really accessible. So anyone can pick it up, they can play it, they can take it anywhere and it's really quick to learn. So we wanted to stretch that idea out with our new products. So, for example, we've got a beat machine which works very similar to the Stylophone In a sense. It's small, portable. You can pick it up and play. You can create beats on drum loops and add bass to it very quickly. 


02:14 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

For anyone who's never seen one of these, it's got a really it has a retro look to it. I heard somebody call this one as a drone synth. Is that what it is? 


02:22 - John from Stylophone (Guest)

Yeah, the DS2 drone synth. Again, it's a portable drone synth, it's battery operated, it's got speakers. You can take it anywhere. It sounds great. A theremin, obviously, theremin has been around for, you know, 100 plus years, but what we wanted to do was make it accessible to people, so we've made it as a pitched theremin, but also the ability to be able to use a slide, be able to create sounds and tunes. We've also put delay in there and again, it's got a killer sound to it. 


03:02 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

John, congrats on the new development of Stylophone. Great to have you on the podcast. Thank you for having me. Thank you, thanks a lot. 


03:08 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

So that was fun. I had a blast playing the Stylophone, the original one. They've got a drum machine version and a synth version and then they have this drone synth, a brand new drone synth, and the theremin. I had a blast. I am surprised they didn't walk away with one of them.


But that's not the only part of NAMM. Dudes in jeans and leather pants and chains. They're looking for guitars and pedals and drums. There's the music directors of churches. There's a vast array of DAWs and plugins, lots of virtual instruments and software as well and of course, like the Stylophone, there are also a lot of the new form factor instruments, partially centered around the MIDI Association, who had a great little salon at NAMM. We did a little music innovators meet up there where they handed out headphones to everybody so we could all make our intros. If you've never been to a music tectonics meet up, you gotta check us out. We've got more of those coming up at South by Southwest. But on the front of the MIDI Association they do a innovative awards event and one of their winners was a really cool instrument I guess you could call it a MIDI controller called Exquis. That's E-X-Q-U-I-S. Let's go check it out. 


Intuitive Instruments Exquis

04:17 - Bruno from Exquis (Guest)

Hey, this is Bruno with Exquis. What are we looking at here? Exquis is a new MPE MIDI controller. It's like a honeycomb keyboard, based on our patented hexagonal keyboard that allows you to go 10 times faster than any other instrument, so you can use it with whatever synths that you already own, and on top of it, we design our own app. We have, I would say, a very optimized and a very spontaneous workflow for creation that allows you to select a sound, loop it and then play with your loops in a very, very quick way. Even kids can like, in a few hours, understand how to build a full song. 


05:00 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

How do you describe what it looks like, since we're on an audio podcast? 


05:03 - Bruno from Exquis (Guest)

Huh, it's like a honeycomb?


05:06 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Honeycomb, yeah. 


05:07 - Bruno from Exquis (Guest)

Like a Honeycomb keyboard. But yeah, it's kind of many people tell us it looks like the instrument that I wish I can see in Star Wars movies. 


05:18 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Definitely looks very space age. Honeycomb keys kind of a long rectangle with a few knobs at the top, a few colorful buttons at the bottom. 


05:26 - Bruno from Exquis (Guest)

Yeah, and a very specific form factor that you don't use it horizontally in face of you. You use it portrait mode. Sorry, portrait mode like an Instagram. Exactly, it's a portrait mode. Exactly, not a landscape mode. 


05:40 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

OK, let's hear some sounds, eh?


05:43 - Serguei from Exquis (Guest)

Here I'm playing with a saxophone, so I'm just pressing a key really slowly, slowly. So our keys are sensitive to pressure. Like this, we can also bend them on the left, on the right, or also down and up. 


06:04 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

So when you go left and right it sounds like it's changing the pitch, but when you go up and down it's like vibrato. 


06:09 - Serguei from Exquis (Guest)

Yeah, it's changing whatever effect you want, but here it's a kind of vibrato. Yeah, I can show you a pre-recorded song I have, so I'm just launching the drums here I recorded earlier. Then I can launch the bass, a piano and also the rest of the song and I'm going to improvise on it. One, two, three, four. 


07:05 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Awesome, great, that's super great. 


07:07 - Bruno from Exquis (Guest)

We are very proud to be part of this little club of manufacturers trying to push boundaries... This idea that the piano is not the end of the story in music playing, music composing and music making. There is an alternative to the piano. There is an alternative to the guitar. I mean, when you look at it. 


07:25 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

It looks like space constellations, honeycomb river flowing. It has a very sort of organic. It's not like somebody decided to put sound into a box, but instead to sort of model it after other kind of natural environments or something like that. It looks beautiful. I definitely want to put my fingers on it. It's Exquis, e-x-q-u-i-s from Intuitive Instruments. Bruno, thanks so much. 


Thank you, Dmitri. 


Music Tech Events in Austin March 2024

07:50 - Shayli (Host)

What are you planning for South by Southwest Week? It's coming up fast. Help your music tech friends find your event in Austin this March. Tell us about your panels, meetups, parties and activations for music tech innovators in Austin and we'll add them to our unofficial guide and spread the word to the Music Tectonics community. There's a link to submit your event on the blog at MusicTectonics.com or find Music Tectonics on LinkedIn, Instagram and X. The submission link is in our profiles. Want to get your hands on the unofficial guide? Make sure you're signed up for the Music Tectonics newsletter at MusicTectonics.com. We'll email you when it's ready. 


08:31 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Something else that's interesting about NAMM that doesn't get talked a lot about is the presence of influencers and brand ambassadors. Obviously, a lot of these folks are actually working at the booths for the various musical instrument companies that are there. They're the ones giving demos and some of them are contracted for the event. Some of them are staff members, but they're also artists themselves, as well as YouTube and TikTok and Instagram influencers who are walking around. Last year I ran into Wavy Wayne and hung out with him. You might hear our interview a year ago with him on the podcast. 


09:02

This year I spent a lot of time with TrueCuckoo and if you have not checked him out, check him out on YouTube or Instagram. He does some great demos, reviews and tutorials for a variety of synths and drum machines and sequencers and things like that Super fun to watch. There's this representation of the emerging new creator economy, but there's not much in terms of an official way to find them. There was a creator event this year at NAMM, but it was just really loud rock bands and hard to find people. There was definitely a spot where you could find some cool folks trying out new stuff and that was over at the Teenage Engineering booth. Let's check it out. 


Teenage Engineering K.O.II

09:38 - Will from Teenage Engineering (Guest)

Hey, this is Will from Teenage Engineering 


Dmitri Vietze 

Will. What is this that we're looking at here? 


Will from Teenage Engineering

So this is the K.O.II. It's our new sampler composer. It's everything that you might need to make a beat on the go. We spent a lot of time learning from other samplers, and what did they do great? What did they do not so great? 


09:55 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

So this is much bigger than a pocket operator. It looks like it's not quite an 8.5x11 page of paper, or anything like that. 


10:01 - Will from Teenage Engineering (Guest)

So it's actually designed off of the Lego grid so it fits perfectly into something like 36 high Lego bricks, something like that. But it's actually the same vertical height as an EP. So the device is called EP-133 K.O.II because it's the same size as an EP. 


10:20 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Let's just build something up on it for a couple of minutes. 


10:22 - Will from Teenage Engineering (Guest)

Yeah, let's do it. So I'm just going to put some drums down. It's as simple as selecting a group. So I'm just going to put some drums on group A. If I hit record and then play. Now if I go into the next group we can try and find a bass sound. So here I've got 12 different bass sounds. I'm liking the sound of that. So maybe we can turn up the tempo. So if I hold down tempo and type the number on the number pad, a lot of people seem to describe it as a calculator-like device, which I think is quite funny. So here I've just typed a new number into it, so 140, and now it's up to the BPM. So let's see that. So now let's try add a sort of lead sound. It's kind of fun to preview it as you go along. 


11:22

I'm going to change the scale that we're working in. We've got a little beat going. I can add some effects. Here we're going to use the punch-in effect. So this is a feature that we kind of pioneered with the pocket operators. The pads are velocity sensitive. It means that the harder you press on the pad, the more it accentuates that effect. So here I'm just going to press, play, hold down effects and then press down on the pads, varying that pressure and thus changing how much it accentuates that punch-in effect. 


12:12 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

So the screen is really colorful. It's funny. It's looking very lego-y color, like the grays and oranges and white of a simple Lego set, but then the screen pops with these colors and when you hit those effects, we see this just crazy, like it's almost like the screen just goes crazy just during the effect and then it's back to normal. Everything's fine. Everything's fine. 


12:30 - Will from Teenage Engineering (Guest)

Yeah, exactly, and actually the technology of the screen is really cool, so you can pop the screen off if you'd like to and replace the film that's underneath it. But it's an array of LEDs, so all of the pictures that you see are printed onto a film. So, as a user, what you could do is pop the screen off, print your own film and have a custom display on the device. 


12:52 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

You guys are nuts. 


12:52 - Will from Teenage Engineering (Guest)

Yeah, it was kind of the intention behind it Be a little bit crazy. Another cool thing is that, because it's sort of designed around that Lego grid, a lot of the different elements of the device are Lego compatible. So everything from the stands on the side, which use Lego Technic attachments, through to the knobs, those have the Lego Technic pluses, so you can switch out the knobs Absolutely. You can 3D print some, you can use your Lego sets and then actually, if you pop the battery cover off, that's got Lego attachments as well. I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with. 


13:26 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Well, thank you so much. We've been checking out the K02 from Teenage Engineering. Thanks for reading on Music Tectonics Will. Thank you so much. 


13:33 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

So something else that's really interesting about NAMM is it is very much a global event. There's international companies that are there offering to manufacture instruments from overseas. Quite a few Chinese companies are there, but there's also international companies that are looking to break into the West or break into the United States introducing new instruments. We came across one that I love. I grew up playing wind instruments, so let's go check out the recorder that's read quarter. This is super fun. 


Artinoise Re.Corder

14:00 -  Davide Mancini from ARTinoise (Guest)

Hi to everyone. This is Davide Mancini from ARTinoise, an Italian startup which presents the re.corder. The idea started from the recorder that any one of us using is cool and it's actually pretty much used all around the world. And we put an electronic soul inside and it became a digital instrument which is actually a MIDI controller. And we designed an app for educational purposes and to start the interest and the spark of the curiosity towards the electronic digital music. 


14:35 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Okay. So, if you didn't catch it, it's a recorder like a flute, an aero phone. 


14:39 -  Davide Mancini from ARTinoise (Guest)

Its dimension and weight is the same as the classic standard recorder flute which is used all around the world, and it's very portable and easy to carry with you. 


14:51 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Awesome. Let's hear what it sounds like. 


14:53 -  Davide Mancini from ARTinoise (Guest)

Yes, absolutely. 


15:03 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Yeah, that's a flute. 


15:04 -  Davide Mancini from ARTinoise (Guest)

Yeah, that's a flute playing in violin sound. Now let's hear a wind instrument. Okay, what do we got? 


15:21 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Again. We're looking at somebody who's playing a plastic flute recorder right here and it sounds like all these things. Here's a cello. How many instruments do you have? 


16:03 -  Davide Mancini from ARTinoise (Guest)

We have almost 40 instruments, but it's compatible with any MIDI application so you can play it with garage band, with logic, with whatever soft synthesizer that you have. 


16:14 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Amazing this has been great. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. 


Music Tectonics Events

Well, hello, listener. Did you know that this podcast is just one-way? Music tectonics goes beneath the surface of music and music tectonics. We know that innovation thrives on community and connection, so we bring innovators together in a variety of ways. We've got a free online event series we call Seismic Activity. We've got the Music Tectonics conference every October in Los Angeles and we've got meetups at major industry events like the NAMM Show, south by Southwest and Music Biz. Stay on top of our schedule. Get the Music Tectonics newsletter in your inbox. Sign up at musictectonics.com


16:53 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Something that I don't personally spend a lot of time on, but that's a huge portion of NAMM, is the guitar pedals. There are so many different varieties of not only pedals but companies. Some of them are super interesting because they're not single-function pedals but they're very widely varied, like Eventide, which you can check out on Instagram we did a video shot with them and Neural DSP. They have like apps of effects inside guitar pedals and so forth, so there's lots of guitar pedals. Funny enough, we did go to a guitar pedal booth, a company called GameChanger Audio. Unfortunately, I didn't get the guitar pedal on the podcast. We have it on Instagram, so check it out, but they did have this mind blowing modular synthesizer. 


Gamechanger Audio Plasma Voice

17:38 - Ilya from Gamechanger Audio (Guest)

Hey, this is Ilya from GameChanger Audio. What are we looking at? So today we're going to be talking about plasma. We're going to be talking about high voltage electrical discharges and electricity and all the terrifying music you can make with that. What is this device called? So it's the plasma voice. We have gained quite a reputation for our pedal, which is called the plasma pedal. Those are audio processors, basically, that take the instrument signal and, kind of like, run it through a high voltage current transformer and then the sound becomes kind of destroyed. And now, after almost four or five years of dealing with this high voltage technology audio processors we decided to turn it into a fully fledged sound generator, which is exactly what the plasma voice is. 


18:33 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

It looks like a modular synth, but it has some Frankenstein electrical currents, three of them running across the top of different modules. Let's take a few minutes and check it out. Why don't you just start messing around with it? 


18:43 - Ilya from Gamechanger Audio (Guest)

I'm going to set the module into oscillator mode, and I'm going to just slowly fade in the basic sound of the module. The goal here was to produce a sound that is the sound of electricity, which is basically exactly what we're hearing, a constant tone that is produced by transporting electrical current across two electrodes within a glass xenon tube. So now I'm going to just show you a variety of sounds that can be produced with it, so all your modular freaks out there. Hopefully this gives an idea of what the plasma voice sounds like 


Dmitri Vietze

That's Ilya with Game Changer. 


Thanks so much. 


19:43 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

So, yes, we have checked out a lot of interesting companies from all over the world, a lot of interesting form factors, very innovative stuff. In fact, I think everyone that's been on the podcast so far has been not US. In fact, I think maybe we didn't do a single American company in this whole podcast episode. It wasn't like we were looking for that. It's just when we're walking around, and there are certainly larger companies that are testing out new prototypes, and Korg is one that I always like to go back to because they do really interesting stuff, but they do have an instrument that's not even released yet, that we got to check it out. Listen to it here. 


KORG microKORG2

20:17 - Natalie from Korg (Host)

I'm going to walk you through the looper. All you have to do is hold the record button in the middle. That allows me to pick my loop length, which I'm doing right now, and then I hit play. That's simply how the looper works. I can just let you hear a little bit about the vocoder. 


20:48 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

What's different about the vocoder now in this new version? 


20:51 - Natalie from Korg (Host)

So we have a hard tune which is basically like an autotune, and then the harmonizer which allows you to build different pitches on top of your voice. So if you'd like to hear a quick demo, typical vocoder, and then here's where I don't actually have to play the keys to make the vocal effects work. 


21:36 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Now it's super fun checking this out. Thanks again. 


21:38 - Natalie from Korg (Host)

Thank you so much. 


21:40 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

Another company with a huge presence at NAMM is Yamaha. They didn't bring any motorcycles, but they had lots of instruments. They take over an entire ballroom upstairs and I just heard they make a quarter of the musical instruments in the world this year. Next to Prince's purple piano and a huge array of keyboards, trumpets, timpani's, we spotted something that looked very different from the rest of the Yamaha lineup. It's a groove box called SEQTRAK, a mobile music idea station. It's portable. It has a sleek look with streamlined knobs and pads, all in soft light and juicy orange. But there's a black version too. 


Yamaha SEQTRAK

22:10

Let's hear a quick demo by Jun Usui as he builds a beat from scratch. You can hear how he layers in tracks using SEQTRAK's three sections Drums, synth and sampler. There's an onboard mic for capturing sounds and sound design and effects. That part includes two cool touchpad sliders to adjust filters and effects on each track. Jun told me he likes the clear interface and he thinks producers are going to love capturing ideas on the go. It's interesting to see an established company known for traditional instrument interfaces expand into territory that smaller indie makers like Teenage Engineering have pioneered. I'm curious to see how this trend plays out, and it could be an indication that these other companies that are doing innovations are having an impact throughout the entire music industry, and that's why we went to NAMM looking for the most interesting innovations, because what comes out now as experiments or smaller companies oftentimes have a big influence on culture. Don't forget check out our Instagram account Music Tectonics. We're able to shoot a bunch of videos. Thanks for listening to Music Tectonics. If you like what you hear, please subscribe on your favorite podcast. We have new episodes every week. 


23:36 - Dmitri Vietze (Host)

I know we do free monthly online events that you are a podcast listener to join, find out more at MusicTectonics.com and, while you're there, look for the latest about our annual conference and sign up for our newsletter to get updates. Everything we do explores the seismic shifts that shake up music and technology, the way the earth's tectonic plates cause quakes and make mountains. Connect with Music Tectonics on Twitter, instagram and LinkedIn. That's my favorite platform. Connect with me, Dmitri Vietze, if you can spell it. We'll be back again next week, if not sooner. 




Music Tectonics at NAMM 2024

Let us know what you think! Tweet @MusicTectonics, find us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, or connect with podcast host Dmitri Vietze on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Music Tectonics podcast goes beneath the surface of the music industry to explore how technology is changing the way business gets done. Weekly episodes include interviews with music tech movers & shakers, deep dives into seismic shifts, and more.

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