Welcome back to a new exclusive Horizontalpitch interview. We started with Mark Verbos, wondering at the influence of West-Coast Synthesis on Eurorack. This time we’re with Andreas Zhukovsky and Moritz Scharf, masterminds of Endorphin.es.
Horizontalpitch: Let’s assume I just got back from a lunar expedition. How would you explain what’s Endorphin.es and its philosophy?
Andreas & Moritz: Endorphin.es manufactures Eurorack synthesizer modules. We create new innovative products for happy customers who want to enjoy some endorphines. This is a matter of passion and fashion. It’s our personal “odd couture”. Each product has a long history of engineering – everything was developed from scratch. It’s our style, our ideas, our programming, our way of living, our cabin crew and therefore our very own fingerprint in the world of synthesis. Probably, we are the only modular company that manufacture own semi automated/semi hand made VCO core chips. We are also one of a few manufacturers on the market that have very dense double sided surface-mount along with thru-hole designs assembly. Not to say what typeface fetishists we are – all our designs have nearly perfect kerning and whimsical typefaces.
HP: What’s West Coast to you?
A&M: It’s sure that lots of nowadays electronic designers study the developments of past generations. That’s why there are so many products ‘inspired by’ &‘based on’ historical designs. Lots of manufacturers sell that redrawn stuff and live for/of it. That’s totally right with us, but it’s not our way. We also got inspired by these old designs, but we pushed things a little further. We worked hard for the last few years to achieve our goals. Yes, we do Westcoast, but we do it our own way.
HP: Does the “Moog or Buchla” question make sense anymore?
A&M: Honestly, Westcoast is just a more twisted way to create sound shapes rather than having standard VCO-VCF-VCA audio flow. As long as the result satisfies the musician or recipient, everything’s fine. So for us, this question never mattered at all.
HP: Usually, when I hear the words “Vienna” and “Music” in the same sentence, names like Mozart, Strauss and Wiener Philharmoniker come to mind. Does a place with such a heavy historical burden influence the way you make musical instruments?
A&M: In fact, Vienna for us was never associated with Opera or Mozart’s Balls (a.k.a. Mozartkugeln, a special sort of sweets – chocolate balls filled with marzipan, usually bought for souvenirs). There is a super nice guy from the Viennese experimental music record label MOOZAK. He is the organizer of the monthly event called KLUB MOOZAK, which became one of the most important players in the avant-garde and experimental music scene in Austria inviting musicians from all over the world. He also organized a few events with the famous Max Brand synthesizer (a.k.a Moogtonium) and invited Morton Subotnick to Vienna with his “Silver Apples Of The Moon” performance and did a modular synthesizer workshop. In 2013 we cooperated with MOOZAK and Schneiders Laden to bring the famous Modular-Karussell to the annual MOOZAK Festival in 2013 (vimeo.com/75246798). So, this is what influences us way more – the vivid arts and culture scene in Vienna.
HP: What’s the modular scene like in Vienna?
A&M: Actually there was no such thing like a ‘modular scene’ a few years ago. We both (Andreas & Moritz) met the first time at a meeting organized from a (nowadays) close friend from the muffs forum. We were only 5 guys who attended this meeting.
As Endorphin.es gained pace and the whole modular thing went nuts, we decided to do small meetings on a more regular basis. You can find our exclusive group on www.fb.com/groups/viennamodular
At Musikmesse this year Bernhard Rasinger from BR-Laser came up with the idea of having a modular event in Vienna. We sat together, having a few beers and “Rack Rash” was born. It’s a modular live performance event (being held 4 times a year).
Our friends run a music shop called Wavemeister that is specialized on vintage synthesizers and modular stuff. A few times per year they organize the so called “Wavemeister-Flohmarkt” events so people in the musical scene can get acquainted with each other as well as sell or buy used musical gear. Flea markets are popular in the EU!
So, I would say we don’t have huge but a growing modular scene in Vienna.
At the same time there are still lots of people in Austria who own huge modular setups, but they don’t join the scene, people with huge Serge modular systems, Buchla lovers and even people with rare Blacet Fracrack modulars.
And don’t forget about the EBOARD museum in Klagenfurt, Carinthia, which is considered as the biggest European vintage synthesizers place (over 1,700 m²!). It’s not an ordinary museum where you buy a ticket and go through the exhibits. It’s a place showing the passion of one person – Gert Prix. During the visit you will be invited to a cup of coffee while listening a small live performance on a B4 organ by the host himself. The entrance is whatever you like to donate. A fabulous place.
Also there will be the Modular Music Days in Linz later this year 11th and 12th of September.
HP: The Furthrrrr Generator and Terminal got a new friend, the Shuttle Control. Can you tell us something more? Is there anything else you can reveal?
Andreas: Once upon a time we designed a module. The Furthrrrr Generator. After we finished, there was nothing for quite a while. Suddenly I had a dream and the whole lot of Endorphin.es came out. What a score! We didn’t expect that all would escalate so quickly.
But that are details already. In any case, we designed everything under personal needs. Each module is like a thing-in-itself world with a comprehensive idea of promotion. The modules we build are the things we require in our own workflow, so they had to be done somehow by someone. The cleverest ideas are pretty simple in their origin. They just fly in the air.
From the beginning of our modular experience I never liked that huge bipolar PSU that all modular synthesizers require. What wasn’t so common, was the ones you could buy from the supermarket, like a charger for your phone or the laptop. Moritz used an ordinary linear PSU in his Doepfer and DIY case, which are good ones but not so compact and portable. When I was a student, I had a home PC-based studio and played in a rock band on a keyboard synthesizer. A few times per week we had rehearsals and although I had only one 8 kg Alesis QS6, it was too much for everyday metro-travel in the rush hour. It’s been a while. The music changed a lot. New technologies came up afterwards. And having a growing modular line it was pretty clear – one of the heaviest parts, the PSU – needed some optimization. I did a research on the most famous switching regulators widely used in automotive applications – a sphere no less sophisticated when it comes to hi-fi or classical “boxed” synthesizers. Then – a bit of maths and physics calculations and in a few weeks we came up with a working portable switched mode PSU that is capable to power up all our modules with some reserve. So you can add modules of other manufactures. Because that’s a modular! [thanks cap] The solution with USB to CV converter came up simultaneously since we use ST-Microelectronics chips a lot that fit to our needs perfectly. One more month of thorough study of USB protocols and all associated embedded stuff and we got the working prototype of a new module. We call it Shuttle Control and it’s a 16 channel USB to CV converter that can host your USB MIDI controllers as well as PC/MAC or iOS devices which will work simultaneously with your MIDI controller. And of course, there’s a small portable PSU inside with a flying bus board, ready for Shuttle modular systems. It is always a challenge to design a new module. Technically especially, saving each HP but not going too narrow. And we’ve managed to do it only 35mm deep. So far, that’s the deepest module in the Endorphin.es line that will set the new standards of the Shuttle cases.
Moritz: Later this Summer of Love the Terminal Xpansion will be released. We already presented the finished prototypes, at Musikmesse and in Japan a few weeks ago. All the hidden functions of Terminal are now at easy access on the faceplate that allows a very fine tune and all its modular functionalities. And of course, the Looney Tuners from the Furthrrrr Generator went further and they now not only show the relative frequency of a VCO to a nearest A note, but may generate control voltage to tune any VCO (including the bandlimited envelopes in the Terminal) to the nearest A note. Imagine you play in a band – yes, Eastcoast maybe, or whatever – and you have to be in tune with the rest guys. Of course, having a Furthrrrr it was easy – just play an A note on the keyboard and crank the pitch knob so the both LEDs will light up. With the auto-tuners you just press an A note and the tuning button and in a moment you are in tune. Period.
HP: Imagine being abducted by mustached aliens and all you could bring was a cow and a skiff. What other modules would you bring along with yours?
A&M: We would bring the 4MS/Spectral Multiband Resonator and Dual Looping Delay (both not released yet), Mutable Intruments/Braids, Gieskes/Bottle Opener module of course and a pack of Wutzel-Tabak [hand rolled cigarettes – editor]. If someone comes up with the idea that this is advertising – of course it is.
HP: In a recent interview, Herr Doepfer said he doesn’t have a modular at home. Do you?
A&M: The size of our modular we have at home is fluctuating all the time, depending whether it’s before shipping or after shipping. 😉
HP: What would you say “playing a modular” actually means?
A&M: It means just playing like any other musical instrument. Producing some digestible timbres by making a patch. Improvisation is very welcomed. No need for deep understanding of music theory and/or physics. As long as you enjoy the sound you create, playing a modular is right for you!
HP: If you were forced to do something else in your life that is not designing modules, what would you do?
A&M: Our current work does not imply making modules just to fill our product line. It also doesn’t imply following blindly the common laws and known algorithms. We are no robots. But as the designers that we are, we’re sincerely interested in any project that involves sound design, contemporary art, installations as well as industrial design. Participating in different disciplines helps a lot, because these influences give us the ability to present our stuff in a ‘sexy’ way.
HP: What would you do if you were handed over the keys of a time machine?
A&M: Let’s go thru zero!