MAN CAVE, a grotesque of mid life crisis
Mister Rack: Father of FIZMO
The legend goes like this – in its death throes, Ensoniq, once proud innovator of SID chips, ASRs and Transwaves, gave one last heave. They create the Fizmo, a new and very strange keyboard that makes sounds that no-one could understand. The Fizmo was too ahead of its time, killed off by the poor manufacture quality that Ensoniq could afford, a spiteful E-Mu who no longer want to make keyboards, and an uncaring Creative Labs.
The keyboard was a joke, a punchline. You could get one for tuppence. And then, slowly, people realised what a marvel they have missed. But more importantly, that there are very few sold and so the$e thing$ are rare.
Like most legends, it’s not true.
The Physmo was the keyboard that Ensoniq wanted to build, a physical modelling synthesiser. That never happened. Instead they did what they had done many times before, upgrade an existing model and give it a new name. From the EPS to the ASR. From the ASR-X to the ASR-X Pro. Ensoniq was always incremental and the Fizmo was culled together from what was already on the shelf. And that was the MR Rack.
What does MR stand for in MR Rack? MR Rack. It’s like ATM Machine. When you turn it on it says ‘Mister Rack’. Yeah, I don’t know either.
The MR Rack was the first unit to feature Transwaves 2.0. where the individual frames of the sampled sound are smoothly blended together. It is a rompler, and most of the sounds are simple multi-sampled waves, useful sounds for the average musician. That’s how most people used it. Up the end of the library are the transwaves. I first noticed an eBay seller trying to give their MR Rack a better price by touting the Fizmo connection. I’d never heard of the rack (which indicates the lack of sales started a bit earlier than the legend). There’s not much online, but I started to follow it.
And found a forum post from years ago where one fellow is asking about a software editor for the MR Rack. The reply was the clincher … the OEM editor supplied for the Fizmo can be used for the MR because the two synthesisers are basically the same. And I found the software and yes, it supports both.
For the record: The Fizmo has arpeggiation, the rack not. Also missing is resonance on the filters, something that Ensoniq always seemed hesitant to include. Obviously the transwaves have resonance in them. The rack is set up to always have performances, with up to 16 instruments. The Fizmo is one instrument. Kind of like the DX7 versus the TX802.
This business with the performances is annoying – you can’t just play one patch without putting it in a performance, unless I’m misreading the manual, which is a horrible misuse of English so probably. Editing a sound is messy, the Fizmo probably solved that as well.
And the Fizmo has knobs. I will have to live without knobs. The last time I saw a Fizmo rack it was $2000US. My MR Rack was $150US. I think I can save $1850 on this.
My MR Rack turned out to have the “EXP-3 Urban Dance Project” card, and while I give no care about urban dance it does mean I have the whole set of transwaves. Cool. Finally I get to hear the reality, after years of breathless Gear Slutting.
There are filter sweeps and cross modulations that aren’t that surprising, and some vowel morphs that seem to have been the big money in the mid 90’s – everybody was mad about vowels. But what I had heard from samples of the Fizmo turns out to be true – transwaves have only a few frames and step between a few obvious positions, making for granular and burbling effects – a slightly blurred animated GIF in sonic form.
UPDATE: Whoever designed this thing – I beat your ass. You made lemons I made lemonade. The following requires that one reads the manual – I’m writing this crib for myself!
1. There’s a few constraints on this thing that bite. (a) The MR is always in Performance Mode, which modifies the sound parameters before you hear it. This is where all effects happen for example, and you want the effects because they are strange Ensoniq effects. (b) You can’t edit a sound on the hardware rack, you have to use software. You can only edit adjustments made in the performance. But (c) you can’t edit the effect attached to an individual sound in software. Great.
2. Using your software of choice (I have OEM Sound Diver for FIZMO) create the sound and save it to a RAM slot. It will have no effects. Did you notice that some sounds take up more slots than others? It’s actually the number of layers. And as you get near the end of a bank, the sounds have to use less layers or they don’t save!
3. Open an initialised Performance, disable all the tracks you don’t need, keep the top one. Load your sound into the top slot. Make sure it’s playing through the Insert Effect. Make sure that you turn on ICP for that track, set it to 1. This tells the rack that when you load this sound, it should use the insert effect we are going to make.
4. Now create a cool insert effect, maybe one where a reverb has a feedback loop because why the fuck Ensoniq what were you thinking? You should hear the effect on your sound.
5. We need to clone the performance effect to the sound patch. On the rack:
6. You will need to refresh your software to see it, but now the sound has the effect saved with it. You can’t edit this, you have to go through the same process each time.
7. Now you should be able to have effects load with sounds. If you don’t hear them, push the PERFORMANCE and SOUND buttons together to get back the default ~Playsounds performance.
THIS TOY IS HARD TO USE
YOU CAN FIND EDITING SOFTWARE WITH DIFFICULTY
IT MAKES INTERESTING UNIQUE SOUNDS
THE SOUND QUALITY IS NOT GREAT
IT WAS NOT EXPENSIVE AND IS A BIT RARE
ITS RATING IS ARTISTS ONLY
It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.