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Synths you've been gone: Vintage tech rules at Musikmesse 2015

Crowdfunded classic reissues and more

Sonic surfing

When your watchword is real-time accessibility, it takes some innovative thinking to apply this to rack-mount synths, but Modal has not let its ingenuity falter. The rack-mount versions of its 002 digital/analogue hybrid – imaginatively named the 002R – feature a neat function called the Modal Web Interface, which works with any browser that supports HTML 5.

So in the studio or on stage you could use an iPad or iPhone browser to remotely access all the parameters for editing or real-time performance. You can control all features at a distance atop your master keyboard or in your hand, as Paul demonstrates in the video.

Modal Web Interface controls the 002R synth module from an iPad

Paul Maddox of Modal Electronics controls the 002R synth module on an iPad using the Modal Web Interface

The Mellotron mechanics

In all the years I attended Frankfurt, I had never seen a Mellotron – that British staple of 1960s and 1970s orchestral and progressive rock – on display on the show floor (well, I'm not that old), but this year was different. On show for comparison purposes was a vintage model alongside the new Digital Mellotron M4000D.

This was all part of the stand belonging to Swedish company Resch, which was also full of other keyboard classics like Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos, which they buy, refurb and sell. After years of servicing and maintaining old Mellotrons, Resch is giving the instrument’s sound a new lease of life, by having sampled all the classic library of strings, brass, flutes and choirs and putting them in a brand new digital housing.

The much smaller and lighter M4000D is designed to recall the classic Mellotron white casing with vintage knobs, but features digital displays to help in the selection of the much greater numbers of sounds available. These include factory sounds from the original American Chamberlin instrument on which the Mellotron tape-player mechanism was based.

The M4000D comes in three sizes, the flagship version which has the same footprint as a vintage M400 (if less than a tenth of the height and weight), the M4000D Mini for those who want to put it on top of another keyboard and the M4000D Rack for those who are happy to squirrel it away with all their other modules and trigger it via MIDI.

The sample resolution of all three is uncompressed 24-bit and there are 100 sounds onboard as standard. There are 100 more available on each expansion card, of which there are two so far. The keyboard on the larger model is wooden – like the original – and features both velocity and polyphonic aftertouch (to replicate the fact that pressure on individual keys would alter volume and tone).

Installing original Melloton tapes and the new M4000D digital models

Hands on with original Mellotron tapes installed "just like a an expansion card", plus the latest digital models

As a bonus, which is all too rare these days, the polyphonic aftertouch – rather than the more widespread and limited monophonic aftertouch – is output via MIDI, so that the many modules which can respond to this finally have a new controller capable of delivering it. This is very welcome, as many of the MIDI controllers with polyphonic aftertouch are becoming vintage keyboards themselves. The Mini saves weight and size with a perfectly acceptable lightweight Fatar keyboard, which is an industry standard.

But if after all this effort, you feel that the Digital Mellotrons are just too light, reliable and clean-sounding, then Resch still manufacture original Mellotron Mk IV and Mk VII models, should you be a purist with a couple of fit roadies. More information on both versions from Mellotron. With offices in both Stockholm and Los Angeles, it is bringing on a whole new generation of Mellotron lovers from Portishead to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, as well as old prog-rockers aplenty.

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