It's been more than four years since Elektron released its SFX 60 Monomachine, the platypus of sound-generating hardware. It's a live performance tool, a pattern sequencer, a loop creator and a MIDI synth module, but somehow it got stuck with the too-narrow classification of “beatbox synthesizer.”
Especially with its recent upgrade to MKII, the unit's complexity warrants a far more comprehensive description. With the slightly slimmer SFX 60 MKII, Elektron upgrades the signal-to-noise ratio to 100 dBfs and adds the ability to receive user waveforms.
A QUICK REVIEW
The Monomachine operates using Machines, Songs and Kits. Think of the Machines as oscillators. The Machines span an incredible range of timbres, but lean toward sounds found in such genres as glitch and electro. The synthesis methods include AM synthesis, Superwave synthesis, DigiPro, a voice synth and a nearly perfect emulation of the Commodore 64 SID chip. Each Machine has a unique set of synthesis parameters and can be shaped using LFOs, filters and effects.
The Songs and Kits represent the unit's organizational components. A Song is an arrangement programmed into the step sequencer, and a Kit is a set of Machines that have been assigned to the six tracks. The SFX 60 MKII comes with 64 Songs and Kits (an improvement from the original 48) with room for 128 of either.
I routed the Monomachine from the main outputs using two balanced cables into the XLR inputs of a USB interface. I used an M-Audio Axiom 49 to control MIDI instead of the dedicated SFX-6 keyboard. MIDI channel 9 (the auto-channel) plays whatever track is selected for editing on the unit, which was conducive to a pleasurably smooth workflow. I auditioned sounds by pressing the Program key on the Axiom 49 controller and then scrolling quickly through the kits using the Axiom's numeric pad. With the Axiom on my left and the Monomachine on my right, I was able to divide the tasks of switching Kits and tracks between my left and right hands.
THE NEW DEAL
The new user waveform function pushes an already outlandish gizmo even further into the depths of musical deviance and is perhaps the most significant upgrade. The user waveforms come packaged with added DigiPro Machine functionality. DigiPro Doubledraw allows you to shape your timbre using two waveforms without taking up two tracks. Doubledraw uses two of a possible 64 waveforms in the DigiPro catalog. DigiPro Ensemble uses the same set of waveforms, but allows you to layer three pitch-altered instances of one waveform. It also supplies two chorus effects, further diversifying the canvas by generating lush, wet-sounding textures.
Uploading user waveforms is easy. Download the C6 program from Elektron to convert and send your WAV file; C6 is only a 64 KB file. I tried a few waveforms, including one of my favorite synth timbres from Cakewalk Rapture. When sampling single-cycle waves to the Monomachine, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, be choosy about which cycle you use; many synth timbres change from cycle to cycle. You have to make sure you have a grain that's representative of the original timbre. I took mine from a sustained note. Second, if it's a stereo waveform, then C6 will sum it to mono before sending it to the Monomachine. Third, make sure you have the exact wavelength. Often a synth timbre's higher harmonics are pleasing because they are multiples of the fundamental note, hence an incorrectly sampled wavelength can ruin the timbre completely.
The Monomachine would couple perfectly with the Edirol FA-101 or the M-Audio FireWire 1841 interfaces, allowing for simultaneous recording of separate tracks into your DAW. Even without multiple channels, this unique multipurpose module is a joy to compose and perform with.
Listen to Monomachine clips atRemixmag.com.
MONOMACHINE SFX 60 MKII > $1,500
Pros: Unique approach to rhythmic, groove-based synthesis. Inspiring songwriting tool. Intuitive pattern-based sequencer with advanced parameter automation features. Highly interactive user interface. Extremely well-written manual.
Cons: Growing pains with early units. Expensive.