Zorx Electronics
Night Rider - RYK Modular

Night Rider - RYK Modular

by Ian Rapp

Many bands ago I had a Source Programmable EQ pedal that I used to turn my electric guitar into a bass (we didn’t have a bass player), to give it some extra low end heft. It worked pretty well, and the Source was (and is) a cool pedal that allowed you to save and recall four EQ settings on top of just its EQ functions. One of the interesting things that you could do with it was cycle through those saved settings at tempo, turning the pedal into a sequenced filter bank of sorts. It was always my favorite thing about the pedal as I was able to get strange and wonderful things with it. My bandmates weren’t as impressed with my experiments as I was and wound up replacing me and the Source with an actual bass player, but this was around the time I started getting into modular, so there was no love lost on my part, no tears shed. Actually, my pedal experiments were the only thing worth listening to that ever came out of that practice space. Not that I’m bitter or anything…
Now I find RYK Modular, makers of some of the most interesting looking (and playing) modules, have freshly awoken those feelings of both experimental excitement and banditudinal inadequacies in me with Night Rider, an 80s homage to a certain Hasselhoff TV series, that is, of course, a sequenced filterbank. Night Rider definitely has a throwback “futuristic” feel to it, to a time where cordless handheld telephones and sporty talking cars were at the outer reaches of dweebie suburban teen dreams—at least mine. Well, whatever. In this case my dream about the future has finally arrived!
Night Rider is a stereo-enabled quad sequential resonator that’s broken down into a six-stage sequencer of four filters, of which you can choose 6db Band Pass, 12db Band Pass, Variable-width Band Pass, or All Pass, with the filters being arranged in parallel (except the All Pass modes, which are in series). There’s also two feedback delay filters for more flavors to choose from. If you’re not familiar with filter banks, they’re a set of band pass filters where you can isolate the frequency content of a given signal, and separate the isolated frequency information to do with what you want; to sort them out into distinct channels for further processing, to boost or decrease a given section of a signal, etc. In the case of Night Rider, each of the filters is then combined at user-determined levels into either a mono or stereo output. Doing this, and being able to animate some of the parameters can create some insanely cool effects like phasing, comb-filtering, vocoding, and vibrato, and Night Rider goes way, way beyond what had me excited about the Source way back when.
Night Rider has a really stylized layout that stays true to its inspiration. While there is some documentation on the faceplate, there are some label-less controls, such as the four push-button rotary encoders at the top of the module. These control volume and frequency for each of the four filters and are also used for numerous global tasks (filter type, sequence division, sequence range, etc.) in combination with some button presses. There are more encoders that run along the right side to control the resonance, sequence position, and slew amount (the amount of glide between the stages, the MVP of Night Rider, in my opinion), and at the bottom of Night Rider you will find the ins and outs, along with the CV inputs for modulation of the resonance, frequency, resonance (the latter two with attenuverters), and the Clock MIDI input. In the middle of the module are three unlabelled buttons for Previous, Memory, and Next. The overall way to cruise around the module is pretty straightforward in terms of pressing a button and turning a knob, and the small LED display that takes up the vast majority of the module does a pretty good job of relaying that information. But still, it’s not quite a module that you’ll dive in easily without the manual (though the manual is nicely done), so don’t expect to plug and play here; the future isn’t without a bit of work, though work that will be rewarded.
With Night Rider, you program each of the four filters for each of the six stages of the sequencer with the filter/resonant qualities and levels that you want, and then cycle through the six (or how ever many) stages as you select: forward, backward, ping-pong, random, etc. You can clock Night Rider via a clock input or MIDI, and sync it up however your heart desires. On top of messing with the frequency, resonance, positioning of the stages, or the slew, there are all sorts of interesting sounds you can get from the interpolation between stages, with controlling how many and what stages you want sequenced and in what way.
Animating filter banks is amazing for many things, one of which is getting vocal formant sounds, something I was eager to try and conjure from Night Rider. More complex waveforms are best for this, and I have a few VCOs with harmonically rich waveforms in my rig and tried out a bunch, but none that produced such villainous and dynamic sounds as the Erica Synths Fusion VCO2, one of my favorite VCOs in my arsenal. Paired with Night Rider it was a downright dystopian epiphany, more Terminator 2 than 80s future-drama.
Slowly cycling through the stages on Night Rider, with a slightly wavering static white noise-y sound coming from another favorite VCO, Xaoc Devices’ Odessa, and the creepy breathing that came out of it was hair raising, and right in line with soundtrack/foley type of sound creation, especially when you take the time to really tweak each stage to taste. I think it’s worthy of note, especially considering that I (and RYK, if their manual is any indication) as well as most people would probably think of a sequenced filter bank as something to get stringy, pingy and wah sounds out of, and to be sure, some of the examples that are included in the manual are for a marimba-type of sound and some Karplus-Strong synthesis (and wah/phase), but I think putting in various types of noise and not pinging, just adjusting the filter stages, is just as worthy.
I never realized how close formant, phase, and wah sounds were to each other. Adjusting the length of the slew when moving between one filter stage to the next is the difference between vocal formants (shorter slew) and wah sounds (longer slew), and with some adjustments you can easily get some cool flanging sounds out of Night Rider as well. The close relationships between elements in synthesis (gate, trigger, pulse, for example) is always surprising to me, and this is another case of it. You really do learn something new every day…
One thing I never did seem to learn, or at least remember easily are the button combos. Even though I understand design considerations, both aesthetic and feature-laden ones, I do wish that there was some labeling for every control lacking it, and I think there could have been a way to do so without sacrificing the overall look and feel of Night Rider as I found myself forgetting what each combination (button + top encoder) was pretty frequently, and mixing up what I thought was the correct combination of presses. I’m sure that eventually it’ll sink in, though it’s just as likely that I’ll be able to do a firmware upgrade on my brain even sooner, and that this (and the need for external manuals) will be a thing of the past. In the meantime I referenced the manual to keep things moving along.
Night Rider is extremely well done, and another digital feather (because anything digital is “futuristic,” and thereby cool and deviant, awright?) in RYK’s digital hat. A sequencer and multiple filter bank is always going to be a match made in heaven in my book and RYK has scored heavily with Night Rider. I’ve been digging this module ever since it arrived. Now if only it would talk to me…

Price: $449