Zorx Electronics
Resonant Garden - Folktek

Resonant Garden - Folktek

by Ellison Wolf

The past few years have seen a lot of turbulence in many markets, from financial to educational and the arts. I’ve lost count of how many synth and instrument companies we lost in the beginning and midpoints of the post-pandemic landscape, and have been both surprised and elated at how many of those have come back. When we interviewed Folktek founder Arius Blaze for our inaugural issue, I was familiar with his work but knew just a little about him personally. At the time, Arius had finished his movie, Permeation, was in the midst of getting ready to sell his Incredible Box, and was immersed in photography and a new passion of tattooing. There was even a tattoo chair in the upstairs foyer of his studio and he offered to give me a tattoo someday. I can profess here that while I have many, many scars, I have yet to put ink to skin. Anyway, news about Arius and Folktek filtered through in the ensuing years of shipping delays, social media scuffles, possible shuttering. I’m not sure I ever glimpsed a notification that Folktek was for sure shutting down, but it seemed to have gone quiet at some point. And then there was brightness; news that Folktek was to be run by 3Dio, a company that makes binaural microphones, kind of crazy looking things with, well, ears on the sides of the mic. Well, those ears have listened and Folktek is back, production is on, units have shipped, and Alters and Resonant Gardens are back in stock.
Anyone who’s seen a Resonant Garden in person knows how strange and beautiful they are. The attention to detail from the get go: the lovely box, the all-black woven Folktek-branded patch cables, even the addition of an on/off switch power extension cable so there’s no protruding switch on the unit all hint at the love, care, and thought that Arius bestowed upon all of his instruments. It’s obvious how much the new stewards of Folktek care about this type of lineage, as they have kept nearly everything as intended, with just a few changes (improvements) to the Resonant Garden. These changes are mostly of a technical variety: a lower noise floor, two different versions; Discrete (for the ability to easily remove the individual modules ), and Monolithic, with one faceplate for the entire unit.
Also, the Garden’s wooden case is made of Sapele African hardwood, where I think the early versions were bamboo. It’s a nice looking wood, and with only a recessed DC power input on the back, the build has a simple elegance to it. Bursting forth from such elegance, are four bunches of guitar springs attached to pickups that you can pluck, tap, smack, bow, scrape, or do other such things to cause vibrations in order to generate sounds and then feed through any combination of three Alters—Folktek’s DSP-based effects module—to add delays, reverbs, distortion, phase, and more.
There are two different Alter units (I and II) onboard here that have different effects, and there are two of the I’s, and one of the II’s in the Garden. There’s no normalization from one Alter to the next, so you have to do some patching (if desired) to connect them all, and each Alter has L and R inputs and outputs to do so. There are also CV ins to modulate each Alter’s four available parameters, which differ depending on the effect chosen, but are mostly along the lines of time, feedback, mix, and filtering of some sort. Each Alter has an internal clock where the effect speed can be adjusted, and there is also an input gain control for each Alter’s L and R channels. Choosing the effect for each Alter is a fun affair as you do so by touching a conductive pad that illuminates a corresponding pad. There’s no indication of which effect is selected on the modules themselves, so you need to consult the manual or have it committed to memory. The Alter modules, with their black and gold aesthetic are really beautiful, as is the whole Garden itself. It just needs a matching speaker/amp combo and it could sit next to the Teenage Engineering dolls at MOMA. How many museum gift shop goers wouldn’t be able to guess what either is or does?
Plugging the Resonant Garden into a speaker and getting it patched up without CV, and it’s apparent what it’s capable of: beautiful sounds, stretched ambience, smothered beats…bowing the sprouts and you can play it like an instrument, generating tones the way you would a violin or the cousin of a washtub bass, and tapping anywhere on the Garden and you get rhythmic delays, shimmering to eternity. I really liked pushing the mix close to the max for each Alter to obscure the base sound, to make it more dreamy, and alter the timing of the various effects. It can get out of control for sure—too much feedback, too much high end, too much gain—but can also be brought under control quickly, and even sculpted. Scraping those sprouts—akin to the guitarist pick scrape—gets into soundtrack territory, creating sounds reminiscent of too many horror (and B) movies to mention. No doubt everybody working in soundtracks has this in their studio. They should. Switching from effect to effect, changing delay times, reverb lengths, mix, filtering…I was really surprised at how maneuverable Resonant Garden could be. While there is some mystery involved, something I really like, it’s nothing if you’ve so much ever tweaked a Carbon Copy, Magneto, Blue Sky, or of course, an Alter. Just think of that times three! Three feedback controls! Three wet/dry mixes! Three time controls!
While featuring a handful of effects, I have to say that I’m partial to the delays on the Alters and wound up defaulting many times to running the first two as delays through the shimmer setting on the last one. I mentioned that you can use each Alter on their own, but I hardly ever did. I almost always chained them together, and it does seem that this is what the Resonant Garden is meant for. I mean, if I was stuck somewhere and needed three delays and/or reverb FAST!, then sure, I guess I could use it as that, but I’ve no idea what real-world scenario would cause that situation, and for me, it was tonal bliss to chain those Alters together.
As mentioned, each Alter has two inputs and I put many a sequence into the Garden and obliterated it, sending those sequences into the outer netherland, tumbling into space for eternity…or until it got blasted by space trash. Equally, running a tape loop with some vocals through the Garden was nothing short of spectacular, an underwater cacophony of sirens being filtered by unmeasurable gallons of ocean water. I had this thought of running drums through the Garden’s three reverbs and used a combination of Modbap’s Trinity and Winter Plankton’s ZAPS doing just that with the mix on each Alter near 100% reverb, one running into the other. With the feedback high on all of the Alters, I had to tame the high end to keep it from screeching too harshly. I could do that to a point within the Resonant Garden, but had better luck with running the drums first through WORNG’s Parallax, their 24dB stereo filter, and then into the Garden. The drums were being heavily modulated and the end results were like the thought of what drums might sound like, like a childhood dream barely remembered. The Resonant Garden was working its magic and it had a nostalgic sadness about it; beautiful and powerful, ethereal and wistful heartache.
Some more experimental bands and musicians past and present run with a tape loop operator. I’d love to see something like that with the Resonant Garden, somebody on stage, playing it like the instrument it is, adding to the tapestry of sound. 3Dio are doing a great job bringing Folktek to the (more discerning) masses, and it’s great to have the strange and beautiful Resonant Garden back.

Price: $1199