If you thought the analog sequencer was dead, think again. The fatController ($350), a sturdy 16-note sequencer from Australia's Frostwave, is intuitive to use and comes with plenty of features.
Knobs and Sliders
The fatController's cream-colored chassis measures 9.5 inches wide by 8.0 inches deep. The 16 sliders are lined up in two parallel rows of eight and offer the right amount of resistance when moved. That makes it easier to zero in on notes, and jostling the unit isn't likely to move a slider and mess up your sequence. Additionally, the sliders are well spaced, so you can comfortably tune individual notes without disturbing the others.
The top and bottom rows of sliders are labeled Channel A and Channel B, respectively. Below each slider in the bottom row is an LED that lights as a note plays or when an associated parameter is being modified. The parameter names — Mode, Direction, Groove, Quantize, Clock, MIDI Channel, Load, and Save — are printed below their respective LEDs.
To the right of the fatController's sliders are six function LEDs — Speed, Length, Octave, Slide, Hold, and Rest — and a button that lets you scroll between them. Individual buttons for Start/Pause and Reset (for stopping) are also included. The four rotary pots to the right of the buttons control Tempo, Gate Time, and the slide times for channels A and B. You can also select whether slide data affects channel A or B.
On the back of the fatController are two CV and two Gate outputs (one each for channels A and B), MIDI In and Out ports, a DIN Sync input, a power switch, and an input for the 16 VAC wall-wart power supply.
The fatController's two modes of operation are Serial and Parallel. In Serial mode, you get the full range of 16 notes from the CV A output: row A plays first, followed by row B. In Serial mode, the CV B output gives you only the notes set up in row B.
In Parallel mode, as you would expect, you get two parallel sequences: CV A outputs the notes set with the Channel A sliders, and CV B outputs the notes set with the Channel B sliders. Additionally, the Channel A faders determine the MIDI note numbers, and the Channel B faders control the MIDI Volume settings for the Channel A sequence, which is sent through the MIDI Out.
The Modifier buttons beneath the sliders, in Global or Function mode, give you control over a variety of aspects of the sequence. For example, in Global mode, the Direction button allows you to play the sequence forward or backward or loop it forward and backward. The Groove button, on the other hand, lets you add one of eight swing settings to your sequence.
To change the overall tempo, hit the Function button until the LED next to Speed lights up. Then, hit one of the eight buttons below the sliders to choose one of eight tempo ranges: button 1's range is the slowest, and button 8's is the fastest. Now you can tweak the tempo knob to taste.
In a similar way, you can easily add rests, change the octave of a note, or change the number of steps in the sequence. Such an intuitive interface is what makes this a great sequencer for real-time performance.
Although you cannot save slider and pot positions, other setup data can be held in a buffer while you continue working. The setup data can be saved and reloaded, even after power-down, using the Save and Load buttons. Unfortunately, the slider data is not sent to the MIDI output, and if I could have additional features, they would be a bpm readout and the ability to store sequences.
Sequence in Situ
I used the fatController to control my EMS VCS3 and Minimoog. It's nice that the fatController's gates can be independently switched during power-up to operate as S-trigger gates for synths, such as the Moog, that require this. That allowed me to dedicate CV/Gate A and B to different jobs: Channel A for sequencing and Channel B for signal processing. For example, I dedicated the CV B output to adjust the cutoff time on my lowpass filter.
Frostwave's fatController is a first-rate analog sequencer that is as much at home onstage as it is in the studio. It also includes a lot of great features for the price. If you're looking for tools to transform your sound, check out this small wonder from down under.