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MeloDicer - Vermona

MeloDicer - Vermona

by Ellison Wolf

When one thinks of a traditional sequencer, the motion of the movement usually goes from left to right in a linear fashion, clockwise, in a circular motion, the reverse of either of those, or some other easily defined pre-determined repetitive motion. On top of that, you’re the one who usually generates the sequence. Vermona’s MeloDicer considers itself not a sequencer, as it looks like, but a stochastic pattern generator and CV quantizer, and it breaks convention on both of the aforementioned sequencer qualities. I mean, it moves—it’s got motion, and it repeats—but it does a lot of its decision making when it comes to those two qualities behind the faceplate. You would think that those important decisions—the actual sequence and the order of the notes played—are best left to the ones operating the machines. You my friend—as proven by MeloDicer—would be wrong.
Emotion isn’t a word too often used with modular, I think mostly because so much of the time it’s machines making the decisions, whether we’d like to admit it or not. They can control us, no matter how much plugging and unplugging we do, how much voltage we move around. It’s their limitations that determine what happens, not ours, and the basic elements of adding, subtracting, expanding, and shrinking usually pertain to the quantitative, not qualitative. MeloDicer changes that in so many ways, and with such ease, and MeloDicer makes playing a sequencer, something I usually find akin to programming a VCR/TeVO/Nest, a very fun thing.
MeloDicer can be broken down into two parts: rhythm and melody. At the top of the unit you will find four rhythm control knobs; NOTE VALUE, VARIATION, LEGATO and REST. NOTE VALUE is pre-random, meaning it sets the rhythmic base upon which the pattern lies.
VARIATION determines how much randomly generated note values in terms of duration, not are brought into the pattern. LEGATO works a bit differently on MeloDicer than what you’re probably used to, in that instead of providing a smooth transition between two notes, like on a keyboard, MeloDicer uses LEGATO to translate that transition into its gate out, so that the pitch between two notes changes without generating a new gate signal at the GATE OUT. REST randomly adds resting to the pattern, and the more you increase this, the more at rest MeloDicer is. Turn the REST knob all the way to the right, and MeloDicer is no longer resting, it’s sleeping; no notes are played.
The melody section consists of twelve numbered and notated light up semitone probability sliders; all twelve Western scale notes going from C to B. The location of the slider for each note dictates its probability for being played in a pattern; the higher up the slider is positioned, the more probability it has to be played. If more than one slider is set to the same probability amount, the probability that each note will be played will be the same. If the slider is fully down, it’s out of the loop, and won’t be played. Simple enough, and this is a really interesting configuration as you can do all sorts of melodic tweaking, all while retaining a consistent musicality and not interfering with the feel of a patch/song/etc. And it’s fluid, too; enjoyable.
Another element in the melody section are the two RANGE sliders; one slider for moving the range higher, the other lower. Again, I’m so pleased with the way that this is implemented in MeloDicer. If you move only one slider at a time, that aspect of the range [high or low] changes, meaning that you can make the octave range of your pattern go higher, lower, less higher, less lower, or move both simultaneously. The range can be anywhere from zero to five octaves. Want only one octave in the upper range? Three octaves in the middle ranges? Only the lowest octave? No octaves? Adding subsequent notes, shifting the octave range around, and expanding on the pattern was like writing a song, like going from verse to chorus [something like that] and enabled a musical progression, building something up or breaking it down—something not always easy to do in the modular world without just adding a quantitative sonic element.
Again, moving these in any combination keeps the pattern familial and maintains the musical flow. If both sliders are in the exact same position simultaneously, MeloDicer gets a little quirky, in that it might play a note or two, but it might not. It makes sense as you’re basically eliminating any range, and both sliders will light up to indicate that there isn’t enough range to play much of anything. You might think that the range sliders, and having one control each parameter is nice, but no big deal, but it is a big deal. The way that MeloDicer has implemented this simple seeming attribute, makes endless melodic, musical variations possible, and easy to do without any button combos, menus, or whatever.
The final element pertaining to the melody and rhythm sections are the DICE buttons found at the bottom of the unit. These create new random patterns/values, all while keeping the basis of the starting points for both elements. When the LED is lit for each you are in DICE mode, but hold the button for one second to enter what Vermona calls “real-time” mode, which is a completely random, non-repetitive mode. In this way, it’s easy to create relative rhythms and patterns without losing the feel or flow for a patch; again, the musicality remains.
Next to the DICE buttons is LOCK, another most excellent function as it locks all of the parameters of the current pattern. Hit lock and move anything and you will notice that it doesn’t affect the sound, until you press LOCK again, to unlock. This is incredibly useful as it allows you to change [dramatically or subtly, many or few] any slider or knob without it affecting the pattern that’s currently playing, so you can make multiple instant changes to the pattern. It’s like how a DJ cues up the next record without the audience hearing it, and it’s kind of the special sauce in a modular performance. Without having to preprogram a patch or sequence, you can make real-time changes in a seamless manner, on the fly. LOCK mode goes a long way, and it might be the element that really pushes MeloDicer into must-have territory. Especially when considering how quick and easy it is to save patterns in MeloDicer...
MeloDicer allows you to save the settings of the rhythm and melody section’s faders and knobs for up to 16 patterns. This is an incredibly easy thing to do, and one reason why this comes in handy so much is that you can save a beginning pattern, a base structure for a song or performance, go off the rails, and quickly and easily return to it. It’s so easy to save and load patterns on the fly, for live performance you can save various iterations to return to later, quickly and easily, while performing. With every option on MeloDicer I found myself thinking, “Yes! It’s in there!” I mean, how many times do you dig into a module, only to wish for this or that function only to discover that it ain’t ever gonna happen?
The pushbutton rotary encoder—usually the item that gets the most touch time on a sequencer— is found at the top of MeloDicer and how you adjust pattern length. Again, Vermona nails it by using the encoder plus two buttons to the right of it [starting point and ending point] making it simple to adjust the length, start/end point, and to shift the whole pattern range [not octave range] in one easy transaction by holding down both buttons and rotating the encoder. Getting back to the default position you hold both buttons and press the encoder, with the clearly visible LEDs that surround the encoder letting you know your position. Pushing on the encoder starts the pattern from the beginning when the next clock signal hits, denoted by the blinking green LED at the bottom left of the unit at CLK IN. The encoder also selects which slot to save or recall a pattern, and performs a few edit functions as well.
Below the encoder section is the EDIT/mode section that mostly coincides with the inputs on the bottom of the unit: GATE IN 1, GATE IN 2, CV IN 1, AND CV IN 2. It’s simple and quick to initiate and change, and printed on the faceplate of MeloDicer is the edit legend; no need to access the manual, keep a cheat sheet handy, etc. Once you figure out how it operates [you know, press a button, turn a knob, etc.] you’re good to go and can start configuring the input options for the CV melody and rhythm, GATE behavior and its relation to DICE’ing, note variation, and MUTE behavior.
In terms of clocking, MeloDicer can receive a clock in to sync up with other modules, or you can use the TAP tempo button to set your own tempo, found on the bottom left of the unit. Also found in that location are the GATE IN 1, GATE IN 2, CV IN 1, AND CV IN 2 inputs, which allow you to add CV to the melody and CV control to the rhythm elements, as well as adding the ability via the GATE inputs to switch between DICE mode and real-time, and re-DICEing. All of this is worked out in conjunction with the EDIT menu.
MeloDicer has two sequencer and two quantizer modes for a total of four. Changing between modes is done by holding the EDIT button for a second until it blinks and then choosing the whichever mode. I ran this most of the time in Mode A, which is the standard mode and the only mode you can store and load patterns. Mode B bypasses its internal rhythm, as well as NOTE VALUE and VARIATION, and needs a gate signal going into GATE IN 1 to generate rhythmic movement. Mode C quantizes external CV signals inputted at CV IN 2, and Mode D also quantizes external CV signals inputted into GATE IN 2, but works with external gate signals at GATE IN 2 in coordination with CV IN 2 being quantized and outputting at 1V/OCT.
The thing about MeloDicer, is it really is an A+, top of the heap sequencer...I mean, pattern generator, in terms of actual hands on playing. Vermona states that it can be played as an instrument, and yeah, we’ve heard that before, but they’ve really gotten rid of all the fluff, cut all the fat, so to speak, so that with every push, turn or slide you get something musical, and overall there is a magical amount of musical interaction. MeloDicer isn’t going to replace your 808 style or infinitely tweakable/programmable sequencer, but if you’re looking for something hands on, for a performance pattern generator/sequencer that will keep the flow [and melody] going, look no further.
34 HP each +12v 150mA -12v 50mA
Price: $449

vermona.com