MAN CAVE, a grotesque of mid life crisis
Arturia Origin Desktop:
Bonjour! Je m’appelle Monsieur Blanc Fatass
The number of times I have seen this thing, and thought maybe/ no/ maybe/ no/ maybe/ NO DAMN YOU is appalling. Appalling! “It’s just Arturia’s software synthesisers in a box. That’s all. Forget it. Would you please stop looking at that listing.”
But on the other hand I love a folly, the ill considered lurch into the unknown that almost kills a company. It’s my version of goth music. The project started in 2004, it took four years to get the first version out and the keyboard was another three years, For every good review there’s a crowd of people tearing it down, hating on it. The Origin updates stop cold in 2013 because suddenly Arturia had success. Their next foray into hardware, the MiniBrute, was the exact opposite of the Origin. And unlike the Origin, it sold.
I was idly looking for pictures of chihuahuas online when I thought I’d look at Gumtree, a purposefully irritating site owned by eBay for people to think they are avoiding eBay. The resulting cowboys and scammers are usually a cure for my avarice, but there sat an Origin. Cheap. maybe/ no/ maybe/ no/ maybe/ oh for godsake just try for it, you won’t get it. It was almost a relief when the seller didn’t get back to me for a week.
And then he did, and amazing to both me and my PayPal, an Origin popped out the other end of dodgy town.
If the Origin is merely Arturia’s V Collection in a box, then the Blofeld is merely Waldorf’s Largo in a box. It’s true to a certain extent but not a useful description – they are related technically, but they are separate instruments in their design. That music hardware is often software-in-a-box is neither here nor there – the Ultranova is software-in-a-box I’m sure, but it is still The Best Instrument Of All Time.
There is no advantage to the hardware in raw sound quality. A “Jupiter 8” filter is no different here to the virtual one in Jupiter 8v. The advantage is instead that the Origin is more powerful than many desktop computers, and can handle four instruments of nine oscillators each, with 32 voice polyphony in total. (The first time I tried the Jupiter 8v plugin on a PC of the same vintage I got 4 voices max before it died.) So in sheer bravado it compares more to the Supernova than the Boutique JP08. 32 voices each with 9 oscillators can only be summed up as goin’ hard guv. But the Origin is still a computer, it boots up when you turn it on (from what, we do not know).
If you use Arturia’s virtual instruments you’d surely enjoy a dedicated interface for them, and at very least the Origin represents an excellent design for that purpose. It’s a sturdy heavy panel. My machine is at least third hand, a little worn, and yet the data dials are still precise and dependable. Lesson here for Waldorf. It’s not the interface of a Jupiter 8 or a Prophet VS, but something that has a little of each. The Prophet’s joystick is there, as are dedicated knobs for the oscillators, filters, amplifiers and LFOs that will make up your semi modular instrument. As you don’t know just how many of each you will have, you need to use the same panels over, but it feels quite natural to move between them.
Down the bottom is something that will one day become the BeatStep.
I am delighted to report there is no vocoder.
In saying that the Origin is only semi modular, I’m acknowledging that only ‘sensible’ connections are allowed from a limited menu. You can wibble the filter with oscillators (so we get Prophet like FM klanging) and they can cross modulate (nine at once!) but you can’t e.g. use a mixer for CV’s. You can’t put an extra amplifier before the filters to drive them – that kind of thinking is not represented*. There is a limit to the stupid shit you can do, which is in keeping with the general theme of ‘build great big classical analogue keyboards”.
This signals a general criticism that can be made of the synthesiser, which I’ll call the “747 principle”. A Boeing 747 is designed to be able to do crazy shit. It can fly upside down. It can pull out of a stall and do a loop the loop. Put a jet fighter pilot in a 747 and they can do things outside the expected, but within the tolerance of the aircraft. No passenger craft is intended to do any of that, but if it has to, it can. The Origin is only engineered to do what is expected of it. Its tolerance is standard and no more – LFOs don’t go at audio rates, filters don’t oscillate at crazy pitches, and modules only connect in a sensible manner.
For a consistent reason – the analogue machines it apes are actually boring. The Jupiter 8 looks better than it sounds. The Moog is a leaden thing. But at least those things respond to abuse with agonised howling. The Origin emulates them only as they were intended – not in how they fly upside down.
If you like the JP8080 or an old Yamaha CS30 or something like that – then you’re sorted. If you find them a little dull and prefer a Blofeld or Novation, then this will not touch you where you are not normally touched.
I find it helpful to compare it to the Roland V-Synth. Leaving aside the sampling feature, the V-Synth is the same kind of limited modular with a menu of oscillators and filters and – oddly – guitar pedals. It too is limited in range – somewhere between a harmonica and a Jx8p – a metallic, shimmery noise. The Origin lacks the interesting V-Synth wave forms and COSM but has a stupidly brutal processing power that can put four different kinds of filters in a row, making the noise of Rick Wakeman’s keyboards all played at once. They are two stabs at something that each miss the heart of it.
Last night I discovered that if you stack up a bunch of filters in series, the volume level of your virtual signal seems to overload the amplifier - the Origin seems to feel pain and emits overtones that it is ashamed to admit. This is good news.
THIS TOY IS EASY TO USE AFTER SOME PRACTICE
IT MAKES BIG BUT VERY TRADITIONAL SOUNDS
THE SOUND QUALITY IS GOOD
IT WAS NOT EXPENSIVE AND IS NOT COMMON
ITS RATING IS NEAR ENOUGH IS GOOD ENOUGH
It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.