Moskwa II + Ostankino II - Xaoc Devices
by Ellison Wolf
If Xaoc Device’s Moskwa 1965 Rotosequencer II looks familiar, and if the “II” doesn’t give it away, this is the second incarnation of their10-year-old sequencer. Time flies, right? While this new iteration might sport the same overall look and feel as the original, this is no hollow victory lap, as there are a lot of additions and really great features that make this new version worthwhile, and the update mandatory. That being the case, rather than focusing on the differences between the two incarnations, I’m going to instead talk about II based on its own merits, as if it was a new machine, because in a lot of ways, it is.
First, let me say that at Waveform HQ we spend much time debating module-related feature depths. How much is too much, where it becomes overwhelming? How little is too little, not feature-rich enough? It’s a delicate balance, for sure, and don’t let me get started on the topic of what happens when you step away from a piece of equipment for any length of time [one day, two months, six minutes…] only to find out that you can’t remember how to operate it any more. With sequencers, this can happen more frequently than not, so let me dish up my first spoonful of praise on Moskwa II by saying what a joy it was to need only a minute to reacquaint myself with it after a few weeks away. Everything is right there in front; no screen, no menus, and therefore no scrolling needed. It’s easy to get up and running with the basic functions and the more advanced functions and features only involve an extra button push or two.
Moskwa II carries on with the Xaoc Devices aesthetic, and the oval pattern of its step layout gives it a nice, fluid look—as well as motion—and each of the 8-steps output CV [either uni-polar at 0-8V or bipolar at +/-5V] as well as a gate/trigger signal. Each step also has a knob to control CV amount and a small LED transport button to turn on/off the gate step, to select more advanced features, and offer some visual indication of what’s going on in the step. There is text next to each LED that denotes the alternate step functions pertaining to each button, and it’s pretty tiny—definitely not easy to read at 2:00 am in a dungeon-y club with flashing lights, and you without your readers or a magnifying glass. Moskwa II can be clocked internally [from 12-2400BPM] or externally, and has a rate knob to control tempo when self-clocking, or multiplication/division of an incoming signal when using an external clock. It’s nice to be able to switch divisions/multiplications in such an easy manner, something that makes this a potential effect, not just a set-and-forget type of setting. This type of feature ability sets the tone; as there are things, such as RESET, RANGE, RANDOM, and even SLEW to some degree, that follow the same process and implementation and are just as easy to manipulate in real time and can be thought of as more than just settings, and more like playable parameters. This immediacy, this playability, and is what makes Moskwa II so valuable and fun.
The main portion of the real estate on II is taken up by the steps themselves, which are spaciously laid out. Inputs and outputs are found on the bottom of the module, with ins for CV control over TRANSPORT, RESET, and DIRECTION, as well as an EXT CLOCK input. The two outputs, GATE and CV OUT, are found on the bottom right.
Moskwa II operates in one of two modes; PATTERN or STEP and at the top of the module are buttons to select each. At the top there is also a CUSTOM/SHIFT button, as well as variable global controls for RANDOM PLAY, SLEW, and SLEW PROBABILITY. Along with the aforementioned RESET, and RANGE controls in the middle of the module, there is also a RATE/TRANSPORT button.
The modes of operation, STEP and PATTERN, are pretty self-explanatory: if you want to edit a step, you want to be in STEP mode; if you want to mess with the pattern, PATTERN mode is what you want. Enter PATTERN mode with a quick press of the button, or enter the PRESET manager by holding it for more than a second. Moskwa II allows up to eight stored sequences; unfortunately there is no way to export any data or saved sequences short of just plain ol’ recording them. I would have liked to have more than eight slots for saving sequences, as I like to save variations on sequences to go back to and integrate in a live setting. Those slots fill up fast, but the tradeoff is that you can’t accumulate too much; it keeps you from sequence hoarding, letting those forgotten saved step patterns languish.
PATTERN mode is where you can get a lot of rhythmic variation in your sequence and start to customize it with subdivided gates/triggers for each step. You can ratchet, stuffer, swing, repeat notes, and otherwise give each step a sort of meta-sequence with up to eight gate/trigger outputs for each step, either lasting one clock cycle or up to eight, depending on how many meta-steps you’ve selected and which pattern playback mode, either DIV PATTERN MODE [the default mode where the entire pattern step lasts for the duration of a single main sequence step], or MULT PATTERN MODE [each step lasts for one clock cycle] that you choose. These modes really make for some crazy sequences as you can use either for any step, interchange and alternate, and even turn on probability for this. I wish you could add probability between the two pattern playback modes for each step, but so it goes. To switch between modes for each step you just have to be in PATTERN mode and then press SHIFT + the step number. The LED changes from red [DIV] to yellow [MULT] for indication.
Using each step’s LED button for visualizing and selecting these meta-steps makes for an intuitive and pleasing way to go about adding rhythmic complexity to a given sequence, and it’s possible to stretch Moskwa II’s eight steps into a whole lot more if you further modulate your sound source so that each of the gates per step [let’s say you have 8, for a total of 64 triggers/gates per 8 steps] is its own note.
As PATTERN is to rhythm/GATE OUT, STEP is to melody/CV out, and the parameters that can be adjusted for each step in STEP mode are; SLEW on, SLEW PROBABILITY, STEP PROBABILITY, PATTERN PROBABILITY, STEP SKIP, TRIGGER, GATE HALF, and GATE MERGE. These options really help to create a very detailed melodic sequence. For instance, SLEW and RANDOM are both universal parameters, set with the knobs found at the top, but you can turn each on or off for each step, as well as assigning stuff like probability to give your sequence a less static, more evolving journey. Hold the STEP button for more than a second and you enter QUANTIZE mode, where you can choose from eight given quantization scales, or none if you want to get less structured, to exercise your freedom of melodic choice.
One feature that I really like on Moskwa II is the ability to create a custom sequence on the fly. Holding down CUSTOM, and pressing any number of step buttons up to 256—all while not interrupting the current sequence that’s playing—creates an entirely new pattern that plays the instant you let go of CUSTOM. If you want to return to the previous sequence, just hit CUSTOM again to turn it off. You can go back to your custom sequence again if you like, or create a new custom sequence using the method described above. In this way, you can really play Moskwa II live, endlessly creating one new sequence/pattern after another and build on a main sequence while constantly creating something new.
A couple of more parameters that are normally thought of as set-and-forget types, RESET sets the length of the 8 steps, and the ability to easily play with this as a feature yields all sorts of really musical results. You can start with a one-note sequence and open it up, to say, four notes and create different parts for the sequence, building it up almost like a verse/chorus deal. RANGE is similar, in that it chooses the voltage output at the CV out and you can play it the same way, expanding and contracting the melodic range of a sequence.
GLOBAL settings are accessed by holding down the flashing RATE button and pressing the corresponding step. RANGE can be either uni or bi-polar, and that, along with SLEW MODE, PROBABILITY MODE, BROWNIAN, CV HOLD, JUST INTONATION, CV LOCK, AND TRANSPORT are all accessed in this manner, visible through each step’s LED button and denoted via the small text next to it. The details of these functions are easily accessed.
The unit I reviewed also came with the Ostankino 1965 Sequence Commander II—Mowska II’s expander—and it adds things like CV control for RANGE, RANDOM, SLEW, STEP REPEAT, and a handful of other parameters along with individual gate/bit outputs for each step. I didn’t have their binary system modules yet [keyword being YET!]—Jena, Drezno, and Lipsk—to pair with the bit outs, but those seem like a lot of fun and offer features that you might not be able to get anywhere else. I highly recommend Ostankino II.
There are a couple of things about Moskwa II that make it a bit trying at times. First, if you edit multiple steps at a time it can be hard to remember which steps have been edited and in what fashion. You have to keep going back one step at a time to see what’s been selected, and that can be tiresome. Also, as mentioned before, the 8 preset slots weren’t quite as much as I’d like. I like to be able to save work-in-progress sequences as well as “finished” ones and the 8 slots maxed out fast. Other than that—tiny text aside—I really can’t stress enough how enjoyable this sequencer is, how playable, immediate, hands-on and, with a few minor memorization caveats, how navigational it is. I’m not sure I’ve come across another sequencer in Eurorack that lends itself to this type of immediate playing while offering this much. It doesn’t have the endless tweakability that some of the other sequencers on the market have, but for playing, for performability, Moskwa II [and Ostankino II] rocks.
20 HP +12v 40mA -12v 0mA
8 HP +12v 10mA -12v 0mA