Our Plymouth students recently took a trip to Berlin to experience this year’s Superbooth - the world's premier trade fair and festival for electronic musical instruments! Find out how they got on.
One of the best things about studying at dBs Institute Plymouth is that it's home to the modular research group. This group is made up of a team of experts who develop new devices that expand the boundaries of music technology and, as well as getting the opportunity to be involved in the process, students are also able to attend international modular industry events including SuperBooth in Berlin!
Here’s what some of this year’s cohort to the exhibition thought about the trip, the equipment they tried and the live performances they experienced.
What was your favourite piece of equipment that you checked out at SuperBooth?
Henry McEndoo: For me, the first piece of equipment that comes to mind is the Sequential Prophet REV2! There was one particular room that had a load of sequential synths and I must have spent a good couple of hours playing with each one. I absolutely loved the REV2 sound and will definitely look to invest in it one day. I also loved the Focal tent with the surround sound set up and it definitely justified my purchase of the Alpha 50 Evo’s the week before the trip. Another piece of equipment I really liked was the Roland TR8s drum machine that I have already loved using during my second year. So many of the acts we saw were live performances, so I’ve felt inspired to pursue that route more since the trip. I feel the TR8s would be the perfect drum machine for that!
Harvey Jones: I really loved the Freqport FT-1 Freqtube, a hybrid software/hardware insert effect offering the characteristics of analogue vacuum tubes with the convenience of digital control. The physical device contains four tubes, along with high-quality DA/AC converters. From here, a software plugin can be added to your DAW of choice, which connects to the hardware via USB C. The physical unit also features 8 knobs for use as a MIDI controller for the plugin, along with a screen showing the parameters and their current values.
The FT-1 is intended for use as a post-processing tool, ideal for sound design and mastering applications. The device is said to add roughly 40ms of latency, which isn’t a problem for most use cases, but it will likely be challenging to incorporate in real-time scenarios such as live performance.
Teddy West: Entering the event, multiple pieces of gear caught my eyes and ears. I immediately came across the Gamechanger Audio booth, where they were previewing a new WIP Plasma Oscillator, carrying over from their previous distortion pedal design as well as their previously-showcased Motor Synth MKII, converting race-drone motor's mechanical energy into electricity for synthesis.
Tegeler Audio showcased various digitally controlled analogue outboard gear and I found that all were incredibly tactile and personally loved the tonal quality of the RaumZeit Maschine reverb as it was a digital reverb passed through input/output transformers for analogue colouration.
BeepBoop Electronics, a Bristol-based boutique module company, showcased a live tape-sampler module that can act as a delay or live-looper for any inputted signal from other Eurorack modules. This instantly creates the Boards of Canada-style soundscapes I yearn for. Now all I need to do is take the plunge on ModularGrid!
Remember the question we asked you to ask manufacturers—what was your path to employment? What did you find out?
HJ: Outside Erica Synth’s packed room at Superbooth this year, I spoke with electronic engineer and Youtuber Moritz Klein. Built from his own circuit designs, Moritz has partnered with Erica to create the mki x es.EDU series, a line of affordable and educational Eurorack modules sold as DIY kits. These modules contain instructions explaining the circuitry, encouraging modification and exploration in the world of synth DIY.
Moritz has had a similar upbringing to my own. Growing up in a small German village, he was confident in his goal to move away, seeking a busier and more stimulating environment. This gave him a chance to visit local electronics workshops alongside his cultural studies. From here, he started looking deeper into the workings of synthesisers and creating his Youtube channel as a passion project. We discussed the challenges of hobbies turning into work, to which he explained that, since his interests remained the focus, his channel only felt like work when he started thinking about other people's views on the videos. Even as his channel grew to generate income, he still tried to create for himself as opposed to others.
TW: With regards to collaboration in the industry, it seems as though a lot of companies, both large and boutique would tend to involve themselves in some form of educational programme as they could tap into a pool of like-minded creators as well as be approached by others.
For example, I got the opportunity to ask a member of Bela about how they get involved with the many art installations they have collaborated on. They replied that for the vast majority of collaborations, they are the ones being approached - mostly through the seven universities they collaborate with. Tapping into this pool also provides the company with a large group of performers they can utilise for testing and feedback, which could also lead to potential employment paths for the students involved. Recently, Bela sponsored a PhD student working in Artificial Intelligence and music, suggesting that this may be a path they are looking to go down.
What was your favourite Gesprächskonzert (lectures in the auditorium) and why?
TW: My favourite demonstration in the auditorium was by Synthstrom, who demonstrated their all-in-one sequencer, sampler and synthesiser, the Deluge. I have been looking into DAWless production as a method of pushing myself creatively as it’s very easy to fall into the same patterns and while I have access to one or two grooveboxes, I prefer the less menu-divey approach that this sequencer provides. They also announced that they are going open-source, allowing any user to write their own code for the Deluge, opening the gear up to be further refined or have some new additions added for free. While I’m not well versed in code, I think this is definitely something to keep an eye on for producers as interactivity with production tools seems to become increasingly relevant in the last few years.
What was your favourite non-SuperBooth klubnacht and why?
HJ: Having fortunately received a spot on An On Bast’s guestlist, my favourite club experience so far was at Sisyphos. The venue itself is unlike any other I’ve seen, appearing as more of a small street festival than a club. Immediately upon entering, I could see the usual queues for drinks, but also food - an unusual selling point! Just to the side of the food stall was a packed room, where I spent a lot of time dancing away to house and French touch music. Had there been more space, I would have spent longer there as I loved the music I heard. Just across from this room was one of many entrances to the main building, guiding punters with green light bars. Venturing in, a whole room was dedicated to lounging, with rooms ahead and to the right side blasting techno. It was the room directly ahead that held my favourite performance, as An On Bast’s modular techno set filled the room with both people and music, surpassing my expectations and changing how I thought of Berlin’s staple genre. Her intricate polyrhythms felt right at home in the blacked-out, factory-esque room, while delicate melodies worked their way around the kick and bass’ driving force.
Any general feedback on the trip?
HM: Absolutely tremendous. It was the perfect amount of freedom to do what we wanted but also structure to fit lots of activities in! Such an enjoyable way to celebrate finishing the second year with everyone and took so much inspiration from the networking at Superbooth & clubbing experiences on Friday and Saturday. It was amazing to experience the talk that Nils Frahm did in such a small space. His work has influenced me for years so that hour was incredibly insightful and inspiring for me! Big thanks to Matt, Pete and Phin for looking after us and organising everything… I will definitely be there next year!
TW: Overall, I left the event incredibly satisfied and excited with what I came across and heard. I look forward to seeing how gear in Alpha and Beta develops and hopefully, I can return next year to see what new stuff these awesome groups of creators have to offer.
If you want the opportunity to join the dBs Plymouth crew at Superbooth, find out more about our Plymouth campus!