Mandrake - Malstrom Audio
by Ellison Wolf
Netherland’s Malstrom Audio is pretty new on the scene, but Daniel Mulder, the wizard behind the company’s curtain, was also behind the now-defunct Livestock Electronics. When LE announced it was closing shop a few years ago, it was a sad day indeed, which is why it’s so nice to have Daniel back amongst us as Livestock’s sought after [and now hard to find] modules were unique and enjoyable.
Mandrake, Malstrom’s new kick drum in their first round of releases [along with Arkan, a dual voltage processor], is beautiful. You’d think that since it’s just black and white, it’s no big deal, but maybe it’s the white knobs, or the illuminated manual trigger LED button that lights up with the intensity of the kick [very cool!], but whatever the case is, it looks great.
Inspired by physical models and based off of an original design circuit—not a clone or copy of an 808, 909, or the like—Mandrake is made up of two sections, Hit and Body and has Techno and Dance in mind. On the left side of the module, Hit is a resonating filter designed for standing out in a mix with Hit-Vol[ume] and Hit-Timbre controls, while the Body part is another resonating filter that features Saturation, Frequency, and Damping controls. Everything has CV inputs with a few of the parameters also including attenuators for precision control. Two sliders P-Dec[ay] and P-Mod[ulation] take up the center portion of the module with a Clean switch that removes low end rumble and has a frequency dip at 300Hz.
There’s a Trigger input for triggering the sounds and it can also be AM’ed for some craziness that might not be so useful for getting the dance floor moving, but turns Mandrake into an interesting sound source. A 1V/Oct input can tune the kick to melodically sync up with a sequence, and also helps turn Mandrake into a bass synth of sorts. At the bottom there’s an Accent switch that has a duality of functions. With the toggle up, the Accent/CV in triggers at Accent levels while the Trigger In is at a lower level, good for adding emphasis to certain hits. With the Accent switch down, it enables VCA control to adjust the volume of hits of the overall module, good for ducking or lowering the kick for various parts of tracks. Rounding out the features is a Res control for the main Frequency knob, a Shape toggle to switch between VCA types for the Body portion of the kick, a main Output, and an ENV output. It’s interesting to use both outputs together; the main for your kick sound and the ENV to augment it a bit, patching into a VCA to stack sounds for sculpting a more complex kick. There’s a small switch on the back of the PCB that lets you choose between the ENV out sending out a normal envelope,or a ducking envelope, which is a really cool option. I left it on the “Ducking” setting for most of the time as it’s more useful to me that way, but I wish it could be on the front panel as it’d be something that I would definitely use both ways. I figure it’s easier to just mult the Trigger input going into Mandrake and patch that into the trigger on another module to get an envelope, even if it doesn’t share the same dynamics as the output.
Mandrake can be a very natural sounding kick, with a nice acoustic woody body and smooth resonating decay, just as much as it can be a quick, treble clicky beat that can cut through anything in a mix. There are various ways to alter the pitch and get down and tweak all the nitty gritty of your kick sound. By modulating the pitch it can get really wild and about as unnatural sounding as you can imagine, and with it all patched up you can essentially get an entire drum voice from the one module with accents, pitch changes, rhythmic variances, etc. Using a clock source, an LFO, and various envelopes, with a long decay on an envelope I was able to dial in some lagged hits for off-kilter rhythms, while easily accenting that by modulating the attack phase of the envelope. What started off as just checking out kick sounds quickly turned into a pretty complex patch, modulating the modulators that were modulating the parameters of Mandrake, and utilizing quite a few modules in the process. Throw in some Resonance and you can get a pretty good acid-trippy rhythm sequence going. Toss in some 1V/Oct and you can add even more melodic flavor, tuning the kick to the track. While Mandrake worked great as a solo-percussion module, it served me well as a drone-ish bass VCO, too, though I’m not sure I’d use it for that as I prefer other modules for that, like the Erica Synths Fusion VCO. Actually, paired up, the Fusion VCO and Mandrake meant I was in business. That was a really great combination.
With so many options to shape the sound, and CV ins in abundance, Mandrake is really versatile. Kick, toms, basslines, sound sculpting…there’s a lot here, and it does a lot. In some instances it can take the place of three modules at once just by patching in CV, altering the tone, timbre, timing and decay throughout a rhythm. So much so that I feel that calling this a kick drum module is a bit of a misnomer as it really can be a whole beat machine by itself. There are a lot of kick modules to choose from, and Mandrake is towards the higher end of the spectrum, but I think it’s money well spent. It’s unique, well-built, sounds great, has a lot of tweaking and modulation opportunities, and I think one of the best interfaces and layout—it works very well in inviting you to lose hours to it. If you’re looking for a really versatile kick module to craft a sound that’s all your own, Mandrake is something you should take a look at.
14 HP +12v 130mA -12v 120mA