If you get as excited about utility modules as I do, you may get a tingling sensation in your limbs at the mention of a vactrol-based averaging matrix. While prickly feelings in your extremities may be one of the first symptoms of decompression sickness, Warm Star Electronics’ The Bends will give you nothing but the warm fuzzies and an addiction to combining signals in endlessly fascinating ways.
With functionality that spans from a humble offset, a signal attenuator, a voltage controlled mixer, a complex signal mingler, and beyond, The Bends features four identical channels each with their own attenuating knob, a signal input jack, and both a primary signal output and an inverted out of that primary signal.
Directly beneath the attenuators are the six inputs that make up the averaging matrix. The matrix is the main event of the module and these inputs provide voltage control over the mixing and mingling of signals between six specific pairs of the four channels of signal input. Each of the six possible interactions are averaged bi-directionally, so that applying a voltage to the mix input for a particular pairing will result in some of each pair's signal to be present in the other. The amount of signal mixed between each channel increases as the voltage present at the mix input increases. It sounds a bit confusing, but is much easier to grasp by getting your hands dirty and patching a bit. In addition to its input mingling capabilities, The Bends provides a fixed DC voltage of 10V to any channel that doesn't have a signal patched to it (level controlled by the associated attenuator). The combination of these features opens up a wide variety of options for signal and voltage manipulation and fun self-patching experiments.
The Bends' manual is an excellent read and provides some great patch examples and jumping off points for the module. Use it as a simple 4-channel offset, a signal attenuator or signal inverter, patch up some VCA like behavior, or dive down the rabbit hole of signal combination for everything from complex, evolving envelopes to interesting and wild LFO variations.
The Bends can handle any signal you throw at it and while its operation and interface is simple and easy to understand, the results and combinations never fail to be pleasantly surprising. It shines by providing an intuitive way to combine signals for unique but related results at all of its various outputs.
Hidden behind The Bends straightforward panel lies a well-spring of complex modulation, a treasure trove of experimentation, and the wild frontiers of exploration. You may need to dive deep and experiment to get the most out of it, but the life it can bring to your patches is worth the effort. The more you play around, the more it becomes clear that the whole truly can be greater than the sum of its parts and that you may never want to come out of the depths again.