CVilization - u-he

CVilization - u-he

by Ellison Wolf

U-he’s CVilization, a polymorphic CV and audio utility module, is an attractive and mysterious looking piece of kit. With light up multi-colored LED encoders, a flying saucer graphic, and clear, easy to read numbers throughout its front plate, at first glance there’s not much that will be Alien to its users. However, CVilization—which was first shown in 2018—faces a potentially rocky Arrival, as this is one module where you absolutely have to read the manual, watch an instructional video or two [or three], or enter The Matrix to learn how to use it, as there’s no screen to view, no numerological display, no Avatar, nothing to indicate what it does or how to operate it. Only four LEDs labeled I, II, III, and IV, brandished on the UFO at the top of the module, and the aforementioned eight light up encoders to tell you what’s going on. The developers are well aware of this and state in their Ultimate Cheat Sheet [we’ll see about that!] that’s included with the module,

“While CVilization is perhaps not the most intuitive module in the world, it provides easy-to-learn solutions for many complex tasks.”

I sometimes feel like companies don’t want to acknowledge things like this and find it refreshing that U-he doesn’t gloss over this characteristic, because its complexity in terms of usage may be a dealbreaker for some. For those of whom the Black Hole that is your brainium—one filled wall to Wall-E with grocery lists, mask washing instructions, algebraic equations, E.T.c.,—is stretched thin, and are wary of having to learn and remember what a module does or constantly need to refer to a sheet of paper to remind you, then read on. Because I am was like that too.
U-he have been designing plugins and hardware for nearly twenty years and have a pretty Interstellar reputation, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this module is well thought out and put together, and one look at CVilization and its accompanying ephemera and you can tell that that Urs Heckmann and his design team have had a lot of fun with this module. There is the colorful extra-terrestrial motif of the module itself, the playful banter and cosmic cows found throughout the included texts, and even the graphics on the PCB which illustrate the playfulness that encompasses CVilization. But this playfulness is all for show, because for all the extraterrestrial barn animals, space talk, all of the pomp and circumstance of the colorful blinking LEDs, CVilization is no toy. It’s a seriously deep, flexible, functional, and very usable utility module.
CVilization has four modes, each corresponding to one of the light up LEDs that adorns the UFO found at the top of the module. The modes are: 4x4 Matrix MIxer, 4x4 Sequential Switch, something called a Quad Mucorder, and Quadraphonic Panner [enticing!!!]. Switching between each mode is as easy as pressing the button found in the middle of the LEDs. Below the UFO are eight encoders which are laid out in two rows of four endless encoders each, which also offer a push button function. To select an encoder, you just push it until it pulsates, and adjust to taste. But how do you know how much adjusting you’re doing? The pulsating encoder alters the brightness of the rest of the illuminated encoders, and the strength of the illumination gives a visual representation of the value of adjustment. This makes it easy to see and easy to understand, and while we’re all used to squinting at a tiny screen, I much prefer this; it’s faster, easier, and no eye straining or magnifying glasses needed. Push the encoder again to exit and the encoder will cease pulsating to let you know you are no longer in adjustment mode.
At the bottom of CVilization is where you’ll find the clearly labeled four inputs, four outputs, and CVs A and B. There are three pages for each mode: Performance, Program, and Configuration, and initially it took me a minute to get a grasp on which is which, but once I did, I wondered why it wasn’t clear to me from the outset. The Performance page is the defacto page that you’ll be in unless you; press an encoder to enter the Program page or; press and hold an encoder for two seconds to enter the Configuration page. While the encoders change colors from page to page, it is a little confusing, but that’s the price of admission and it’s best to get used to it early on. Now it’s time to enter hyperspace, go on a 2001 Space Odyssey, and see what CVilization can do.
Mode I is the 4 x 4 matrix mixer, which can handle both audio and CV. I really like the fact that it doesn’t take sixteen knobs to do this, and for the most part it’s quite intuitive to use and as easy as pressing on one of the four left encoders to enter the Program page where you select your input, and use any/all of the four right encoders to mix how much of that input goes to each of the four outputs. Each input can give you both positive and negative polarity as indicated by the encoder turning red [negative] or gold [positive]. The Configuration pages are where it gets tricky and unless you have a photographic memory, or a friend with one who’s close by, you’ll need the cheat sheet as each channel has a Quantizer, sample and hold with clock division by 1, 2, 4, or 8 times the input signal, and adjustable glide for each output. I found it difficult [to say the least] to remember all of that plus all of the colors for the nine quantizer modes, as well as the available modes themselves, and so on, but again, I wouldn’t expect anyone would memorize this anyway. Some of the above functions are global to the unit, so basically, once you learn how to navigate the Configuration pages [clock, glide, etc.] using them in each mode is pretty effortless, and gets quicker and easier the more you do it. Mode I is easily the most flexible and feature packed matrix mixer with this small of a footprint that I’ve ever used, and this mode also offers static offsets with the ability to transpose, shift octaves and fine tune your inputs. Pretty cool stuff, indeed.
Mode II is a 4 x 4 sequential switch with the ability to use audio or CV signals, and CVilization works well and intuitively in this manner. You can have up to four different 8-step sequences running simultaneously with the ability to adjust step gain, choose step types [inputs 1-4, constant, skip, or random] and live input pattern switching along with sequence direction, mute, and a few other options. I really enjoyed using it as a sequencer and as with the matrix mixer, it’s surprisingly flexible and feature packed. Once I got the hang of it, it was fun, and the ability to have 4 sequences running at once made for some really interesting rhythmic and melodic stereo patches. In my testing I decided to go from mode to mode in order, and by this, Mode II, I was getting more comfortable with how CVilization operates and starting to gel with its operating procedures.
Next we have a Close Encounter of the Third [mode] Kind, which is the Quad Mucorder, a 4-channel CV step recorder. Each of the four channels can have up to sixteen steps which can be recorded, overdubbed, erased, mutated [record + mutate = mucord], etc. in real time. In terms of the mutations possible, there are four of them; Randomly decrease/increase intervals, randomly copy input CV, randomly copy from above sequence, and harmonize. Once I got the hang of the recording/playing back of a sequence—which was super easy— it was just a matter of getting comfortable mutating the sequences. This was a little confusing [grab the sheet!] at first, but after figuring out how to transpose, quantize, glide, mutate, save the sequences [stored when the unit is turned off], recall the sequence, and then some, I was pretty impressed. There’s a lot of versatility here, not just galactic bovinary.
Two years ago I had the pleasure of getting a demonstration by Suzanne Ciani of her Buchla setup when I interviewed her back for issue #1 and she sold me on the concept of setting up a quadraphonic system. I remember her saying that it wasn’t just the sound of the instrument that inspired her, but the movement of the sound/s as well, and that sentiment really stuck. I shelved that in the back of my mind thinking that eventually I’d like to try it with my own setup, but I’d kind of forgotten about doing so until CVilization showed up. Yep, on top of everything else it does/can do, CVilization is a great way to get into a quadraphonic panning. In this mode it’s a 4 in/4 out CV/Audio mixer and you can modulate the panoramic qualities of the mixer via the two CV inputs. There are also auto-pan and auto-hop features and like everything else in CVilization, each input channel is completely customizable through a little clicking and turning. Like the other modes, the left-side encoders control input level, but the right encoders are used to position that input anywhere in the quad mix. Without easily discernible representation [i.e., a screen] it is a little tricky knowing what is where, but U-he came up with an excellent solution where the encoder on the right changes its color to coincide with the output color and the left encoders light up with the position changes to show the exact location. Like the other modes, there are other pages to change things around, and Mode IV isn’t just for quadraphonic panning as it accepts CV as well as audio and can be used in other ways, such as a CV router, audio mangler...But who wouldn’t want a quad mod system?
U-he has done a pretty great job of putting four very usable utilities into a 10 HP package. I would like to see clock multiplication to go along with the division if that’s ever possible, and you know...a screen, but I’ll let that be.
While my intergalactic movie references became weaker as this review went on, my appreciation for this module grew inversely to that. This is a great utility module that most definitely deserves a look. Yes, it can be confusing. Yes, you’ll probably need the cheat sheet nearby. Yes, it’s not plug and play. Maybe you’re on the fence about CVilization, or thinking that maybe this isn’t your thing, but let me tell you: It is your thing. I say this with much Gravity, while my brain is still Space Jammed with much useful [and useless] information: Make the necessary room in your rig so that you can be a part of this CVilization.
10 HP
+12v 95mA -12v 24mA +5v 130mA
Price: $350