Axoloti Love

The latest addition to my black box of synthesis is a small but powerful wonder.

Axoloti Core
Axoloti Core

It arrived on my birthday after taking only 5 days to travel from Belgium to Australia.   I’ve had packages from Melbourne take longer.

The Axoloti Core is the brainchild of Johannes Taelman.  It’s a PCB DSP with AUDIO I/O, USB and MIDI Ports, a power barrel and an SD card slot.  It connects via microUSB to a Java based editor program on Mac, Win and Linux to allow for the construction of complex processing chains.

The initial kick-starter pitch was for a modern virtual modular inspired by the Clavia Nord Modular series with modern compatibility and nods towards DIY and Open Source.   The end result is a cross between an Arduino board and Pure Data (which the editor strongly resembles).


Scripted Midi Drama factory patch
Scripted Midi Drama factory patch

As with all virtual modular environments there is a learning curve and you have to really want to work in a patch based environment.  Similar to Reaktor there are a lot of lower level elements required to patch things together and like Max and PD, your time will be spent browsing the community forums a lot.  While i’d suggest this board isn’t ideal for newbies, many of the modules come with PD like help patches accessible through the rt/clk context menu.  There is also this beginners guide by Jan Vantomme; worth a look even for the well-versed synthesist as it elaborates on the unique syntax with some straightforward examples.  The Shbobo Shnth could do with something similar.

The pay off to this learning curve is the ability to generate all kinds of unique patches combining synthesis techniques with sampling, wavetable and granular manipulation, algorithmic composition and MIDI processing.  It seems to be the broadest system i’ve come across attached to moveable hardware with 700 factory modules and modules can be coded which is perhaps why there are an additional 1300+ community modules.

Module code
Module code

As with the Arduino, code is uploaded to the board which can then be disconnected, rebooted and transported anywhere.  As the Axoloti Core is focused on DSP it already has enough elements for it to function as a synth, audio or MIDI processor without the need to solder additional elements though it also features numerous points to allow for the addition of encoders, switches, LEDs.

Over the last four years i’ve been on the look out for a Nord Modular G2 Engine to use as a “brain” for my setup.  They show up only rarely on eBay and are always priced beyond the realm of impulse purchase.  The Axoloti is a €65 bargain in active development offering more than the G2.  I’ve integrated it into the Black Box as a central nervous system, taking USB control from a NanoKontrol for now and MIDI notes from the Novation Circuit.  This MIDI will be parsed, augmented and sent on to the System-1m and Nord Modular.  It’s already mostly working, I just need to move towards making it compelling and usable in a performance environment.

The track at the top is my first attempt at loading a sample into the table for granulation.

To conclude I must confess to betting on the wrong horse initially.  The Axoloti kickstarted around the same time as Patchblocks which i’d already bought into.  I recall the Axo developer throwing some shade at the minimal specs of the PB and his very Euro arrogance was slightly off-putting.  In hindsight he was right – the PB really utilise the ability to connect multiples together to create a functioning set of modules.  With only one PB initially I found it underpowered for what I wanted to do and I was reluctant to “collect them all” when the later ones featured a different pin connection making them incompatible with my original.

While I’ve only had it one week my experience with the Axoloti has been the opposite – i’m still pretty much gaping at the near limitless potential, struggling to work out where to actually start.  I absolutely recommend the Axoloti for anyone interested in modular DSP, electronic instrument building and alternate approaches to synthesis.

YouTube is full of different examples of its usage with the work of Matthew Tyas being particularly compelling.  Here are two examples.