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electronic MUSICIAN

Mod Squad – Make Noise René

By GINO ROBAIR | January 30, 2014

Transport your patches into the next dimension

The Make Noise René is a versatile, realtime controller that pushes the step-sequencer paradigm to a new level.
SEQUENCERS ARE an important part of a synthesist’s toolkit. But even with multiple outputs at each stage and the ability to store sequences, skip steps, and scan through the voltages in either direction, a step sequencer can sometimes feel one-dimensional. Consider how musically useful it would be to move through a series of notes in a nonlinear way while adding varying degrees of unpredictability.

With René ($500), Make Noise has reimagined the step sequencer by taking as inspiration the Cartesian coordinate system developed by the module’s namesake, René Descartes. The result is one of the most interesting controllers ever put into a module.

At its most basic level, René is a 16-step non-linear sequencer, in the Eurorack format, that allows you to create complex, realtime pattern variations using CV and gate input to navigate a two-dimensional space. The module’s microprocessor also provides logic functions, stores sequences, and offers playback modes that expand the unit from a mere compositional tool to an exciting liveperformance controller.

Each axis—x and y—has a clock input, a modulation input, and a CV offset input with an attenuator. There are two CV outputs (one of which is quantized), as well as individual gate outputs for the x and y axes. The functionality of each input and output is based on the operating mode you choose. All of this may sound complex, but the module is very easy to use in the basic modes, with the results getting more and more interesting as you dig deeper into the feature set.

René has a 4x4 grid of knobs for setting CV levels, a matching grid with touch pads for programming or performance, Page and Latch pads, and a row of analog I/O on 3.5mm jacks. Touch the pads to play any of the 16 steps individually, or scan through the grid in several ways—forward, reverse, back and forth (Pendulum mode), or with one of the eight factory preset patterns in Snake mode. You can momentarily pause a sequence in one spot by touching a pad; lift your finger, and the sequence picks up where it left off. Add in the logic operations or the unique Seek and Sleep modes (which provide fast and slow “behavioral” movement through the grid), and you will soon be creating sequences that sound organic and alive.

You can save four sets of mapped pitches (referred to as Stored Quantized Voltage levels) to a preset and, using the touch pads, select which set plays back from the quantized CV output. Then, as your stored scale plays, you are able to use the knobs in the grid to independently control the voltage level of each step that goes to the unquantized output, without disturbing the scale levels you stored. The Glide function lets you introduce portamento between steps.

One might argue that much of this functionality could be done using a computer, yielding even greater control over your modular system. However, René’s usefulness lies in the elegance of its interface, which is easy to navigate once you learn the various pad combinations used to select playback modes. More importantly, the module’s ergonomics are well suited to a hardware system designed for performance, making René a great candidate for a shallow horizontal case, or skiff, that you can use as a portable control surface.

And while René may seem expensive within the Eurorack’s ecosystem of inexpensive, single-function modules, you will find it to be indispensible and worth the investment once you experience how powerful it is.

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