Fresh onto Kickstarter is The NDLR (pronounced “Noodler”). It’s a very clever box that can generate arpeggiated bass and lead line patterns, drones and poly-chained chords and have them all connected via key and chord type. “Arpeggiator” doesn’t really cover it, there’s a lot more going on here.
The basic idea is to generate patterns for synthesizers in response to a specified chord or chord progression. Conductive Labs have broken this up a bit to make it more focused and to encourage creative possibilities. They have a “Bass” line pattern focused on lower frequencies. Next is the “Motif” which is geared towards lead patterns. Surrounding it is the “Pad” part which can either send 4 notes out of a single MIDI channel to play one polyphonic synth, or you can send each note out on a different channel to play up to 4 synths. They call this “interleaved poly-chaining”. Finally, underpinning everything is the “Drone” which kicks out the root note of the select chord to another synth. Overall you could be controlling up to 8 synthesizers or MIDI sound modules.
I find the direction they are pushing very interesting. Rather than having something generic and open, they have made realistic choices based on how people normally use their synths. It makes it instantly accessible and usable in the majority of situations. One of their intentions was to create a box that could quickly and easily “play” your gear while giving you the space to fiddle, tweak and sculpt the sounds. It definitely does that.
The box front panel consists of a ring of buttons for chord types, 4 knobs on either side and small screen in the middle. Everything is multi-function and there’s a fair bit of unashamed menu diving. Although that’s very unfashionable it does massively increase the functionality while keeping the box compact. The layout is really clear and the way the menu works with the 8 knobs is nicely intuitive.
Hit a chord button or variation, and your drone gets the root, beneath the pad playing the chord, a bassline underneath and a lead arpeggiating over the top. Dial in different patterns, variations, alter the length, accents, clock division, the range of chord notes and much more. Chose a different chord and it all follows along.
There’s something of a flavour of automatic accompaniment going on. Attach a keyboard and you can use single notes to transpose the whole playback in a home keyboard styli. You could do the same with a sequencer which would play chords from single notes. Is this instant song generation? Maybe, or you can see it as a quick and easy way to generate soundscapes, ideas and sound to play with.
It’s important to note that this is an arpeggiator, not a sequencer. Arpeggiators generate a range of patterns defined by the played notes. The Bass comes with 20 patterns with 6 variants of up, down, up and down, up and down repeat, interleaved and random. The Motif comes with 40 patterns with the same 6 variants. So in that sense, it is all predefined and automatic. But you do have a lot of control over how those patterns are played.
They are working in some modulation possibilities. 3 LFO’s and 2 randomizers can feed into pretty much any destination. There’s also a probability knob for Bass velocity.
I want it to be a sequencer. I want to be able to edit or define those patterns. But I can’t and it isn’t. However, I do absolutely get what it is trying to be and how useful that is. If you take it as an advanced and comprehensive arpeggiator then the NDLR is not going to disappoint. In fact, it’s pretty awesome at what it does. For a pledge of $199, you could have one in your hands by May next year. They are looking for $40,000 to get it into production and I think they will hit that without too much trouble.
More information on the Conductive Labs Kickstarter page.