I’m currently working on a number of projects which for various legal reasons can’t be posted here yet. In the meantime, lest you think I have vanished, I’d like to post about the coolest piece of audio gear I own.

It was built in the late 1990s by a good friend of mine (Hi RoverT!) as a dedicated interface for a piece of revolutionary software that was blowing all of our minds at the time: Propellerheads Rebirth. For those of you younger than a certain age, you have to appreciate that this app came out right at the dawn of the VST-engorged era we now live in. Rebirth is dead simple: it simulates a bunch of classic Roland gear: two TB-303 bassline synths, a TR-909 drum box, and an 808. It provides the same knobs and controls that the original synths had, and it was designed to be real-time controllable.

There was nothing else even remotely like it in 1997. In fact, I’d go as far as saying Rebirth kickstarted the virtual synth revolution. Sure, there were other synths around at the time – VAZ springs to mind (loved that) -  but nothing else had ever been so accessible, so easy to use, and frankly, so AWESOME SOUNDING.

RoverT built a hardware interface for it, so that he could control it live without having to fiddle with a mouse. It was a prototype for a much more elaborate interface that he subsequently built for himself, which had a bunch of sliders instead of knobs. When he completed the next generation, he gifted the old prototype to me.

Check it out:

The Box

As shiny and cool as his new box was, I love this piece of gear more. The fact that it’s built into a cigar box ramps up the coolness factor for me by an order of magnitude.

This controller basically handles Rebirth’s two 303 synths only – one row of knobs per synth. The telephone keypad on the left maps to the pattern controllers for each synths (you had to pre-sequence your notes on the 303) – eight pattern buttons per synth.

The knobs control Filter Cutoff, Reso, Envelope Mod and Decay – pretty much everything you need to make the synth express.

Life progressed and we moved onto other things, but I kept using The Box. After all, it has gorgeous knobs – seriously, they’re far chunkier and solid than anything you find on a dedicated hardware interface today. And they send out standard (although hardware fixed) MIDI messages.

All I have to do is remap them on the software side to whatever DAW or synth function I want to control, and I get to carry on using this epic piece of kit. I cannot imagine my life without it. I will be heartbroken when it finally dies (although, touch wood, it is showing no signs of doing so).

Incidentally, Propellerheads now gives away Rebirth for free as something of a historical oddity. I totally recommend grabbing  a copy, it’s an awesome synth.