Back with more modular musings is our dBs Music synth-obsessive and dBs Music Plymouth tutor, Phin Head. Phin has landed himself on the Beta testing team for one of his favourite finds at this year's Superbooth Berlin event, the incredible Tubbutec µTune. We'll let Phin introduce you to this unique module...
If you’ve not met Temperaments and Tuning Systems before, there’s some important Darke Magicke you need to know because... you’ve never heard a real chord. Stay with us...
Who decides the ‘correct’ frequency for our notes? You can move from the C at the bottom of the piano to the C at the top by playing through exactly 7 Octaves, or by playing through the complete Circle of Fifths (12 Fifths in a row). But, now do the frequency maths. In Octaves it’s doubling (7 lots of x2 = x128). In Fifths it’s x1½ (12 lots of x1.5 = x129.75). Oh dear. They give different answers. Same note, different frequency, people!! So which one is correct?! Well, it depends. We call the difference, or error, a ‘Pythagorean Comma’. It’s close but it’s not exact—yes, you can really hear it. It’s a big problem.
So, Tuning Systems try to deal with this error. There are hundreds of different ones, none is perfect, each has different strengths and weaknesses. Modern instruments, modulars, and DAWs default to ‘12 Tone Equal Temperament’ which shares the Comma error equally across all notes in the scale so every chord sounds...OK. The problem is they are all slightly (but equally) out of tune. Like I said, you’ve never heard a real chord.
You can read more on Temperaments and Tuning here and a link to my interactive Pythagoran Tuning sheet so you can see the maths working.
Got it? Good. Now back to this module and why the above matters...
The Tubbutec µTune starts by combining MIDI>CV and CV>MIDI conversion on 5-Pin and USB connections, with pitch quantizing. Each is pretty standard functionality but combining into 8hp already makes a very useful utility, giving immediate access to both DAW Land and all your controllers.
However, it’s µTune’s integration of user Temperaments that makes it totally unique. Very few other quantizers (the excellent ADDAC207 deserves a mention) even attempt Temperament, and none integrate with MIDI. µTune smashes it out of the park by making these fully user editable, both on-panel (via its beautiful blue OLED screen), or by computer via micro SD card. Configuring your temperaments can be a fiddly business, so this is totally indispensable.
Talking with designer Tobias, it’s immediately obvious he’s thought of everything Temperament-savvy electronic musicians want, and has designed a complete Swiss Army Knife of CV control, in and out, in a compact, but very, very usable package. For heaven’s sakes, it even does pure MIDI passthrough processing and VCO calibration!
I really loved the combination of Classical Music theory, Maths, Modular, and usability, and the fact that all these most innovative products are coming not from behemoths like Korg or Roland, but from intelligent, engaged and musical young people creating amazing stuff in their apartments. So sure, Temperament functionality isn’t central to everyone’s rig, but only because most people are simply unaware of the subtle-but-critical world of tuning. Once you hear the difference, you never go back. Check it out.
µTune’s is currently beta testing, and I'm chuffed as hell to say dBs Music is on the team via myself! Meantime, if you can’t wait, check out his retro-mods to classic keyboards!
Price is likely to be around £275 and even considering just its standard functionality (MIDI/CV In/Out with multi-channel quantizing) this very good value. Add the screen and Temperaments, and µTune becomes a game changer for those who know and care that without it, all their riffs, chords and chops are lies.