Before getting into this review, a bit of history.
I've played in an improvisational space rock band called F/i since the early 1980's. The band has changed a lot over the decades, and quite a few members have come, gone, come back, and left again, but that's another story!
It was probably around 1983 that F/i were playing a gig at a small venue in Milwaukee. At that time we were a three piece 'noise' ensemble, consisting of two synthesizers and short wave radio. After one selection, a voice yelled out from the back of dark room '...play some John Cage, baby!.....' After our set, this individual came up and I got into a long and really interesting conversation.
This person was none other than Grant Richter. That was my first encounter with Grant. We became friends. Grant eventually joined F/i, and is still a member to this day, but that's also another story!
What's relevant here is that Grant is an electronics genius. I don't say that lightly. A true genius. He not only owned an interesting collection of synthesizers and other devices, but he also could take them apart and put them together, modify them, and do all sorts of other things to them. He could come up with an idea, sketch out a rudimentary circuit design on a piece of scrap paper, look into his cigar box of odd parts, and in a few hours, solder together the prototype for a cool electronic device. Yes, he's THAT good!!!
In the early 1990's, he founded the Wiard Synthesizer Company, and began to produce and market his own line of synthesizer modules. Grant eventually sold the Wiard company to an English firm, where they are still available today. Before doing that though, Grant licensed a few of his modules to a couple of other companies, where they produced their own versions. Which brings us to this review.
One of his modules is called the 'Wogglebug'. Basically, this is a random voltage and trigger generator, inspired by the Buchla 'Source of Uncertainty' module, but with a couple of added twists. One of these twists is that the Wogglebug is divided into three sections, an audio source, the random voltage section, and a trigger/clock random burst generator. Being an audio source makes the Wogglebug a stand alone noise generator. It makes totally chaotic seemingly ring modulated slabs of, what I would call, 'texture'. At the moment, those are the only words popping into my head to describe it. The random voltage section has a sample and hold output, a 'smooth' output, and one called 'Woggle'. This woggle output puts out a varied voltage that goes quickly from highs to lows, depending on how you adjust the speed, It sounds buglike, hence the name. The 'Smooth' output is similar, but more predictable. The sample and hold functions like any other traditional sample and hold circuit. An interesting bit of trivia: One of the original Wogglebugs was purchased by a sound guy from Hollywood. It was used in the soundtrack of the film 'Men In Black 2'. Alien 'Bug' sounds?
The trigger section has a traditional clock output, as well as the burst section, which, depending on the adjustment of the controls, will put out a randomly timed clock/trigger output. You can do fairly slow randomized trigger outputs or machine gun like bursts. This can make for interesting control of any cv input on other modules.The Wogglebug can also be controlled externally by other cv/clock sources. This makes it an extremely versatile control module for your setup. I've plugged inputs and outputs of my Wogglebug into itself, creating feedback loops. This is something the original Buchla Source of Uncertainty, which the Wogglebug is an offspring of, could not be made to do. This is a unit that one has to play around and mess with in order to really get to know it. It has a 'quirkyness' which is hard to describe unless you manipulate the controls yourself. I'm not much of a techno-geek, so I can't tell you data as to the 'whys' or 'hows' it does what it does. The fact that it has audio outputs alone sets it apart from other random voltage/sample and hold units from other manufacturers.
I mentioned before that before selling the company, Grant Richter licensed the Wogglebug to a couple of other companies. One of these companies is MakeNoise systems. It's the MakeNoise version I own. They say they've redesigned the circuitry a bit. I'll take their word on that! One thing they added is a momentary 'stop' button in the gate/trigger section. It will freeze the action for as long as you hold the button down. I've not made much use of it yet, but I guess it's nice to know it's there! There is also another version of the Wogglebug available from Erica synthesizers. They offer a DIY kit version at a lower price. This version is closer to the original Wiard Wogglebug, without the redesigned circuitry of the MakeNoise version. Incidentally, the ORIGINAL Wogglebug is still offered by the Wiard Synthesizer company, now based in England and run by a person named Cary Grace, who, by the way, was also a member of F/i for a short time! Oh, in case you're wondering..You probably think it's cool to know a guy who runs a synthesizer company. No, Grant never gave me any free stuff! LOL
My fascination with electronic music and synthesizers goes back to a young age. I guess the weird sounds and technical aspects of the gear itself had a strong attraction! My first synthesizer was a PAIA (remember them?) that I built from a kit. It was a crude device that had a keyboard made of shirt buttons!! (anybody else out there own one of those??) I graduated eventually to a Moog Prodigy, and have also owned a couple of ARP 2600s over the years, as well as an ARP Odyssey. In the late 80's I had the chance to acquire a collection (through a rather byzantine route) of Buchla 200 series modules, which I made heavy use of over the next couple of decades, both in solo material and in my work with the bands F/i and Vocokesh.
Move forward a few years. Analog fell out of favor and musicians began using various digital devices. It was the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel, or so many thought. Things went full circle and the limitations of digital synthesizers made themselves known. I won't go into that here, but suffice it to say that often, in the digital realm (in my opinion) digital devices, in working with factory presets, impose their will on you. You work with the sounds and settings THEY supply you with(for the most part) and you put things together with pre-existing tools.
Suddenly Analog was cool again!!
Enter the Eurorack world.
I have been slowly compiling a modest Eurorack system. There are now dozens of small and large manufacturers making synth modules. Some are large companies you're heard of. Others are one person operations, selling one particular module at a time.
I'll start with a module I recently picked up. In this and future observations, I won't go into a lot of technical data. You can look that up for yourself. I'll do this from a user's point of view.
Module: INTERSTELLAR RADIO by a very small operation, Schlappi Engineering.
In setting up my system, I have opted to track down devices that are 'off the wall' to 'outside the box'. This one fits the bill.
Imagine playing with the tuner on an AM radio, the often interesting noise you get when moving between stations. That's a lot of what you get when firing up this baby. A demented Ring Modulator/noise generator. The Interstellar Radio is a dual VCO that can be cascaded into one another, making ring modulator-like sounds, but they can be very subtly manipulated by a careful and deft turning of the various knobs. It can function as a stand alone noise generator OR an external signal can be introduced through the INPUT jack and be completely destroyed. What you introduce through the input is limited only by your imagination. I've put voices and spoken word stuff through it to great effect. Used as a noise source, the Interstellar Radio adds a bit of variation from the usual white noise.
But...this is not a 'one trick pony'. Looking at the photo, you'll notice each internal oscillator has its own set of inputs/outputs. If you're in need of an extra VCO for a particular patch, the Interstellar Radio will fill the bill. Running the output from either oscillator to whatever source you choose, you have a very fat and clean sounding tone. Each oscillator has a CV input, and can be modulated or sequenced like any other VCO. This makes the Interstellar Radio a very useful and versatile unit, and a great addition to any modular system. The very demented/dirty to the very clean in one package. If you want to hear it for yourself, there are some videos posted if you do a bit of searching.
I don't know much about Schlappi Engineering, how long they've been around or what else they've produced. At this writing, there are two modules they have on the market, the Interstellar Radio, and one call The Edge Grinder. I did find an interview with the designer of this module on the internet, and he indicated his taste runs to the harsh industrial noise aspects of electronic music. I can only imagine what The Edge Grinder must be like!!
Where to start? I became involved with the cassette culture phenomena in the early '80's, around 1983 or so. It's amazing what myself and other were able to accomplish BEFORE the internet and home computers! I swapped cassettes and made contact with HUNDREDS of people. Hal McGee was one of the first people I got to know through the mail network.