Another instrument from the brilliant mind of Vlad Kreimer, who's previous work has brought us the Lyra 8 , the Pipe and other unique designs.
The Pulsar-23 is also attributed as an Organismic device - their words, which in practice means it's designed for you to connect with on a visceral level - at leas that's the intent. What it actually is is a four voice drum synthesizer with loop recording capabilities, combined with a large number of interconnection patching via crocodile clips and metal connector posts.
Again, it's a unique concept but it does also adhere to some standards which means it's possible to trigger and control via MIDI.
First up, it's solid as the proverbial outside toilet. Like the Lyra 8 the build is chunky and quality switches and knobs are used throughout. With 7 1/4 jack outputs, 1 mix and 6 sub outs, headphones, plus a MIDI input and external PSU (12V).
We didn't get to look inside this, but if it's anything like the Lyra 8, we would expect it's pretty on the inside and nicely built there too.
The four voice channels are: Kick - analog kick with tuning, pitch envelope and drive circuit, Synth a monophonic synth voice- which also has a percussion mode, Snare (SN)- a noise based voice with more of a clap sound, but plenty of tweaking possible, and HHT - an analog cymbal/hat generator.
All channels have MIDI learn button so can be assigned specific note numbers and channels - it's a breeze to assign from a MIDI controller. There are also certain MIDI learnable parameters on each voice, and if not, there are four additional MIDI learn outputs for patching as you see fit.
It sounds beefy. The kick is pretty massive and reminds me a little of some of the analog kick modules available for Eurorack. Flavour is 808, through 909 with added toughness from the pitch envelope and drive circuit. Plus OMG and WTF! modulation points add some extra crazy. Don't ask me what they do though.
The Synth voice is surprisingly flexible with wave shape and morph controls and a filter that can scream. Capable of some large basslines, useful filtered sequences (controlled via an external MIDI keyboard)plus some really unusual percussion tones.
The SN is pretty clappy in fact, though there are some more tone based sounds from the resonant bandpass filter, HHT can go from polite tickly CR-78 to crunchy noise bursts and weird tinkly pitched sounds. Not so very snare-like though.
HHT is probably the most straight forward sonically, though it can get weird at the edges.
Bottom line is it's an unusual set of sounds, but with more of a range than you may have seen in other analog drum voices.
You can modulate many of these parameters from a variety of sources, the LFO goes high into audio rates, and the SHAOS generator/ s&h module does a lot of unusual stuff too. Add to this the Reverb/Delay dual mono FX and you can get to some interesting places. It also features the same or similar drive from the Lyra8 which can get really intense and crunch should you want - you will probably find yourself naturally gravitating there to be honest!
Each channel has it's own CV recorder, which you record voice triggers into via the metal pads on each channel. There is no quantizing and each can be driven from the master clock or have it's own clock. Trying to record complex, rhythmically accurate beats in via this method is somewhat challenging, but thats what the MIDI is for I guess. Though I would have liked to have seen a way to record in using MIDI triggers or external input triggers.
There are four banks of recorders, selectable and controllable via the three transport/velocity control pads, though they are not held in memory, switch it off, and they are gone for good.
These certainly have some use, and if you are into off-grid, a very quick way to build up some patterns/sketches.
The clock - has multiple beat division outputs and can be externally synchronized via MIDI or external pulse input, you can also modular the clock - though this will get you into pretty experimental territory sharpish.
The LFO and S&H can be clocked but not the delay time, though you can modulate this- which is very cool.
There are a ton of interesting utilities and functions that are ancillary to the main features, 4x MIDI to CV outputs, 3xVCA with CV control, CV controllable gates, inverters, 4x attenuators with nice grabbable knobs, 6x output patch points (take each voice and each FX out of a separate output), clock to pulse generators - these are very useful if you want 16 hats - just patch the clock division out to the trigger input via one of these.
These are where the real creative possibilities lie and also the ability to interface with your other 3.5mm modular gear - there are 8 inputs with post outputs.
Believe me, you will get lost in this quite rapidly.
It can Get Messy
With the crocodile clips patching, things can get pretty messy pretty quick, a big pile of jumbled cables is standard, and because you can clip multiple cables to each post, tangled too. I suspect this is part of the charm, but if you are especially OCD about patch cables, you might hyper-ventilate.
If you run out of clips (you get a bunch with the Pulsar) Amazon can supply at very reasonable prices.
It's not just the physical mess though, sonically you can get into all sorts of mischief, no doubt if you are interested in this unit, you will have seen one or too of Vlad's mad demos. But never fear, it's not all distortion and out of time rhythms, some very musical and subtle stuff is in there too.
The S&H/SHAOS generator also introduces some interesting features, at is simplest it's a S&H generator with multiple outputs and a clockable rate, but there is a DATA post and this allows you to record your own values into the registers, so for rhythmic modulations it's a godsend. Nice idea and actually useful.
In summary, it's a drum machine Jim, but not like your used to. It's mad but also controllable and will be endlessly rewarding in ways you cant really think of yet. I like it a lot and find that even with the limitations it has, it's a very creatively inspiring instrument.
The Pulsar-23 is available via Somasynths.com - at €1500. You may think that's expensive, but I don't. The sum of the parts adds up to reasonable value, but it's the whole concept and experience that makes it worth it. Sure, they could make it cheaper in a Chinese mega factory, but then it probably wouldn't have been created in that environment and it certainly wouldn't be built as well.
Another desirable instrument from Vlad - if you want one, you're not alone, there's a wait....
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