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Microcosm - Hologram Electronics

Microcosm - Hologram Electronics

by Ellison Wolf

Microcosm, Knoxville-based Hologram’s granular delay and looper pedal, is one of those pedals that can induce a little of a love at first sight reaction. It’s a really nice looking thing with an off-white enclosure with flashes of pastel-ish rainbow colors and lights, and if you’ve heard it—and I’m sure you have, whether you realize it or not—and especially experimented with it, then you know how easy it is to churn out beautiful, interesting soundscapes and textures with it.
Microcosm can run in mono or stereo, has MIDI in and OUT, an assignable expression pedal input—which can also be used to CV control any of the main parameters—and a host of controls and features with which to tweak into the infinite. Its effects are divided into four styles with subsets for each that total eleven effects, switchable and selected by the pushbutton Preset Selector. All of this resides on the right side of the pedal, and the styles and [subsets] are as follows: MICROLOOP [Mosaic, Seq, Glide], GRANULES [Haze, Tunnel, Strum], GLITCH [Blocks, Interrupt, Arp], and MULTIDELAY [Pattern, Warp]. Each of the eleven effects also have four preset variations, so in total you have forty-four, not counting the sixteen saveable USER presets. All of the controls to tweak your sound are on the left side of the pedal; Activity, Shape, Filter, Mix, Time, Repeats, Space, and Loop Level. Each of these controls also has a secondary function reached by holding the Select/Shift button, also found on the left side of the pedal in the mini Tempo section of the pedal.
Microcosm is hypnotic to look at, with a four-color LED indicator light bar at the bottom of the pedal that signifies whether the effects are on or off, what loop mode you’re in, which effect preset you’re in, etc. Truthfully, a screen would be more helpful in terms of information, and I could never remember exactly which subset of each effect I was in based on which color bar was illuminated, but it’s way nicer to look at the colored bars than a screen, and I don’t really think knowing which preset is which is all that important anyway. I just used my ears to determine what I wanted, felt like, etc., and for everything else the color bars were quite intuitive and helpful enough, and any other information is just a manual-reach away. I feel like this sort of menu display works well with a pedal that’s obviously designed more for experimentation and feel than precision and in no way did the absence of a menu deter or hinder my enjoyment and creativity with Microcosm. Quite the opposite, actually.
A lot of the time I was experimenting with Microcosm I was pushing it, just seeing if I could hear the difference between one setting and another. For instance, there are four available reverbs to choose from and I would switch back and forth [hold Select/Shift and rotate the Space control] to see if I could hear the differences until I hit upon one that spoke to me in the moment. I can’t say that I would be able to explain the differences as sometimes there would be so much going on, swirls of modulation and delay, and mostly it was more of a feeling than an understanding of change. Even so, that aspect of experimenting was fruitful and in line with the overall layout and feel of Microcosm. Most of the tones and sounds I uncovered were lush, deep, and evocative of the deep mysteries of space; it really excels at those types of sounds, something I was aware of beforehand, and it’s really easy to get those beautiful types of textures. In that way you could almost see Microcosm as a one-trick-pony. Almost. Again, Microcosm sounds great, and if it was just a spacey effects box, if this was all you got, it would still be great, but there’s also an onboard looper that can be used with or without the effects and before [Pre] or after [Post] the effects take place. This makes the looper really usable, really versatile, and really fun. I love recording a signal Pre-effects, so that I can tweak a recorded loop in real time, and I usually keep the looper set on Pre-mode for this purpose, though it’s easy enough to switch back and forth between the two options. The layout of the looper is familiar to anyone that has used a looper before with three momentary footswitches for looper control and the color bar supplying all of the needed information in terms of mode and the like. The leftmost switch [as well as the right-most] have main and secondary functions; TAP [Record/Play/Dub], HOLD [Stop/Erase], while the center switch engages/disengages Microcosm from your signal. You can even choose what Bypass mode you want [Buffered, Trails Mode, or True Bypass].
The looper part of Microcosm is really well done and super easy to use. Like the Tempo section there is a small light up section to select how you’d like the looper to function. As I mentioned, you can use it Pre or Post effects, and you can also quantize the loop to synch up with the Tempo function of the effects, copy loops, set the looper to be in Burst mode so that it records only as long as the Rec/Play/Dub button is pressed [really cool for super short “bursts” of signal looping], and you can reverse the loop playback. You can also change the loop playback speed on the fly by holding Shift and turning the Time control, which is quite fun.
I get the feeling that when most people think of Microcosm, it’s the ambient/drone machine type of tendencies that come to mind, but I really love using the looper, both by itself and with the effects. It’s as easy to use it to lock down ideas as it is to create never ending soundscapes. And in conjunction with the effects, and with a sixty-second recording length and endless overdubs, it succeeds very well as a sketch pad for ideas, a sound creation device, or perhaps a backdrop to a main melody line—a detailed pad of sorts. Since there are sixteen User assignable slots you’re able to save any ideas or sounds you conjure and might want to recall as well. Sixteen might not sound like a lot, but I found it to be more than enough.
As mentioned earlier, Microcosm has an expression pedal input that can be used to CV any control on the pedal, which is what I used it for as I mainly used it with my modular setup, though I did plug in my guitar and played around with it in that capacity as well. There are a lot of possible MIDI implementations on offer, but I can’t say that I wore out the MIDI IN and OUT ports. It’s just not something I do a lot with pedals—using MIDI—but I wanted to make mention of it because if using MIDI with pedals is your bag, and if you want to have that much control over Microcosm, if you want to use more extensive modulation to control, it’s available, and you’ll be right at home.
My biggest complaint about Microcosm, or pedals/modules of this type of nature [not that anything is exactly like Microcosm], is that they make everything sound amazing and interesting, that they’re cooler than the music put in them. It sometimes feels a bit like cheating, like a magical topping that can go on even the shabbiest, soggiest, most flavorless of cakes, and make it delicious. Sometimes it can feel like the tool is doing more of the creative heavy lifting than I am and I wonder how much I’ve done in this music-making equation that is contributing to the overall wonders coming out of Microcosm. I mean, sure, I did procure the pedal, so that’s something. And I did plug it in and throw some guitar/synth/noise into it, but if I’m being honest, Microcosm takes my noise and melodies and makes them awesome. I’m the sidekick here, the grasshopper.
It’s possible to get something similar with a handful of other pedals, to have the same types of effects, options, and utilities at your fingertips that Microcosm has, though I doubt the workflow would be nearly this smooth. It reminds me a bit of how folks assemble modules to be like a Buchla Music Easel, a Minimoog, or an ARP 2600 or something. It might have the same options and components, it might even look somewhat the same, but the workflow, the interface, the magic isn’t quite there. I feel the same about Microcosm, and you can indeed think of it as more than just a pedal, as an instrument in its own right.
While I’m not surprised at how great Microcosm is, I am surprised at how easy it is to use. It’s really intuitive to grasp the operations of it, and it’s all right there in front of you. Even with the alternate functions there was never a time when I couldn’t figure out what to do, what was going on, or what to tweak. It’s a beautiful pedal, and whether it sits on your pedalboard or your desktop, you’ll have a hard time keeping your hands [and/or] feet off of it.

Price: $459