Zorx Electronics
Arkan - Malstrom Audio

Arkan - Malstrom Audio

by Evan Morrow

Malstrom Audio has released two modules so far: Mandrake, their impressive kick drum module (Waveform, Issue #10), and Arkan a dual voltage polarizer. Mandrake gets more of the attention, but Arkan isn’t one to be overlooked, even though utility modules sometimes have a tendency for that to happen.
While Malstrom calls Arkan a dual voltage polarizer, I’m not sure that description does it justice, though it’s easier and more efficient than listing all of its potential uses. In the way that Serge’s DUSG (and similar modules that have followed) is a powerhouse masquerading as a utility module, so is Arkan. Arkan is a tale of two identical halves; a top half, and a bottom half—Channels A and B, respectively—with each consisting of three sections: Input, Bias, and Modulation. The sections are only an input and attenuverter, but there's a lot of potential there.
Each channel’s Input section has an Input jack, a Gain control, a toggle for inverting the input signal, and an Output. Any input can be attenuated or amplified (up to +12dB) with the Gain control and you can use this to boost and/or distort your input signal. The Bias section contains a Bias input and a bipolar attenuverting controller, and when a signal is patched into the Bias input, it gets mixed in with the main Input signal, so Arkan can be used as a mixer in this fashion. When nothing is patched into the Bias input the attenuverter adds offset to the input signal. The Modulation section consists of a CV input with a modulation strength control that acts like a crossfader—mixing in the amount of modulation—and a Curve trimmer that goes from linear to exponential. This section modulates the mix of the Bias and Input section with 100% mix output fully CCW and with the mix being fully affected by the modulation at full CW. This means that if there is no CV (0V) patched in, the strength control basically attenuates the mix since there will be 0V at full CW, though this is backwards from what we’re used to with a volume knob at full volume turned all the way CW. If there is CV patched in, say an LFO, any positive voltage will amplify the mix in a positive way, and negative CV will amplify the mix in a negative way. By using the strength control you’re effectively turning the modulation section into a VCA, but patch an envelope into the main In and use a slow moving LFO to modulate it and Arkan turns into a polarizer, attenuating the signal as the LFO sweeps and flips it negative, and vice versa when it flips the signal positive. While there is already a lot of functionality here, it’s the Curve control that is the difference maker. It can shape and drastically change the tone by setting harsh or mellow modulation curves, and in this way the Curve control is really useful.
Lastly, Channel A’s Output is normalled into Channel B’s Output so that you can use Arkan as a dual channel module or one single channel behemoth that can even be used as a four-channel audio or CV mixer, though Arkan really wasn't born to just be a mixer and I never used it as such.
Using Arkan to process CV in order to modulate filters or FM inputs on VCOs can really bring a lot of expressive possibilities, and while it can get a little crowded when all patched up, Arkan would be a great module to have in a live rig since it’s so versatile. You could use each channel for separate tasks; one for audio to shape and distort a signal, and the other channel for processing CV, maybe the audio that you’re distorting with the first channel. Arkan, with just its three small sections—Input, Bias, and Modulation—gets you a lot of mileage. You can mix, attenuate, attenuvert, offset, distort, clip, waveshape, ringmod, polarize, tenderize, and 1-hour Martinize. Well, not the last two, but...
I really like using Arkan for ring mods and as a VCA where you could tweak the Curve to get a variation in the sound. Stacked and patched into itself, Channel B for modulating duties into Channel A, into Channel B’s CV and Bias in, and it could—and did—easily get out of control and into runaway noise territory, but doing so I got some really cool percussive pulses—with a ring mod chaser if you will—that I’m not sure how I could have gotten otherwise, though I seemed to get more usable results when I kept at least one of the three inputs (using one channel here) to a simple, somewhat recognizable, waveform instead of using three of the four main outputs.
Arkan is another impressive release from Malstrom and I’m looking forward to what they come out with next.

8 HP +12v 90mA -12v 85mA
Price: $199