Hey, what's that sound: Korg Monotribe Synthesizer

David McNamee
guardian.co.uk,     Thursday 16 June 2011 13.06 BST
Article history

Fearsome engine ... Korg Monotribe
What is it? Last year Korg released its first analogue synthesiser in 25 years. The Monotron was a tiny, battery-powered Stylophone-sized box with ribbon-controller keyboard and a meaty voltage-controlled oscillator. Modulated by an LFO and Korg's classic VCF filter, Korg fans were impressed that a toy-like creation could unleash such fearsome noise. Now, just released, is the next logical step – a brilliant hybrid of the Monotron and Korg's massively popular Electribe groovebox.

How does it work? The main draw that the Monotribe has inherited from its big brother, is the Electribe's sequencer. It's incredibly intuitive and massively enjoyable to use in this interface. Eight buttons control each of the eight steps of a musical sequence – just select whether it's hi-hat, bass drum, snare, or synth that you're programming and punch in which steps you want that instrument to sound on. Then click play and hear your beautiful creation pouring out of the inbuilt speaker. You can change any part of the sequence on the fly at any point, without interrupting the flow of the music, and there's functionality to weave breaks and other patterns in and out of the main sequence. The ribbon keyboard can either be used to add dashes of improvised noise over your song, or you can loop your playing into the sequence.

Why is it classic? Within literally seconds of fooling around on the Monotribe you'll have a full song idea ready to go. And despite the dainty appearance of the Monotribe and Monotron, these things aren't toys. They are armed with the full-on sonic firepower of classic Korg synths such as the MS-10 and MS-20 – they even use the same filters. Korg may be employing the same ultra-simplistic user-friendliness that made the Kaossilator such an appealing gadget, but they haven't done anything to pretty up the noises. These new synths growl and scream and judder with the best of 70s analogue synth hardware. The fact that you can take it out busking and sync it to your DAW in your home-recording set-up just gives you more options.

Five facts and things • What is a groovebox? The name was originally coined by Roland for its MC-303 – a machine launched in 1996 that combined a sequencer, drum machine and synthesiser in an interface that was designed for producing live, loop-based music. The Electribe and Akai's MPC 5000 are the current reigning groovebox dons.

• What is an LFO? Low-frequency oscillator. This is the magic knob that gives dubstep its distinctive subterranean bass-wobbles and inspired Mark Bell to name his seminal techno act LFO in homage.

• Um, and a DAW? Digital audio workstation. Modern examples of this are software sequencers such as Apple's Logic and Garageband, Pro Tools or Cubase – basically the mixing desk of the modern music producer, in home or studio.

• And why is an analogue synth different or better to a digital synth? People like the almost-human flaws in electricity. In analogue synths, varying voltage is fed through an oscillator. The oscillator produces waveforms – the more voltage, the more oscillation. Digital synths are more predictable in sound as the waveforms are produced by algorithms.

• So what kind of music can I make on a Monotribe then? You can easily program any genre of beat into the step sequencer, but we really had great fun cooking up brilliantly funky and searingly noisy analogue pop, a la the classic Fat Truckers.


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