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Make Noise Witch Review | Engadget


Image credit: Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

And I want to say something, by the way. My second favorite thing about Stega (after the delay) is the fact that it has audio input. It can be used not only as a tool, but as an effect. The delay sounds as sweet on a guitar or vocals as it is on the synthesizer itself. But it can also be an incredible overdrive. That I’m so in love with the satisfying sounds you get by turning on the External Force and Constant controls shouldn’t be too shocking. The preamp circuit is modeled in part after the EMS Synthi, which was also the inspiration for Erica Synths SYNTRX, And I’ve spelled out a lot of words that make me look at it.

In this demo the Witch is used to transform a guitar, my voice and a dulcimer without additional effects:

The preamp can add a touch of heat and crunch to anything that goes through it, but it works best with signals that are hot enough to start. The Atomic Humbuckers in my Fender Toronado are enough to push it fully on the distortion mode. Even without an amplifier and directly in an audio interface it is perfect for rough reflections around edges. Guided by Voices and Which.

The other thing you’ll probably notice right away when you look at the Witch is the series of gold squares and circles that dot the forehead. These are actually touchplates. While you can, and should, always use patch cords to conceive sounds, these pads give you a uniquely tactile way to manipulate your creations. Circle pads are fountains and squares are destinations. Usually, destinations are fairly easy to understand since there are lines that indicate what they are handling, but circles are harder to decipher. They have strange icons on them that seem to have been ripped directly from a book on the occult.

Basically, however, they all introduce a level of randomness or interference. All you do is put a finger (or some other conductive material) on a circle, then another finger on a square and suddenly it changes the cutoff of the filter or delay time. And, since you use your body as a bridge between these two points, the quantity and quality of this interference will be different for each person.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Touch Bridges and Gateways are a sort of emblematic of the entire Witch concept. Please literally poke, prod and explore. They dispense with technical things and go directly into controlled chaos.

And “controlled chaos” is definitely the best way to describe what comes out of the Witch. It’s a bit of a happy accident machine, but it’s much easier to recreate something you’ve added about it than, say, Moog’s Subharmonic.

It is clear that Witch was built thinking of drones. And he excels for them. You can easily create cinematic soundscapes that are disarmingly beautiful or claustrophobic incubators. If your thing is to make movies or games, you will definitely want what the Witch has. As you turn the Tones knob clockwise, the triangle waveform becomes thicker and more threatening. And the Activation Interference control (the unlabeled knob directly above the activation) introduces cracks, drops and other touches of unpredictability to the tone.


But, as much as Witch feels like a drone machine, she is capable of so much more. For one, it’s not a big jump from drones to monophonic pads. If you connect the door out of a sequencer or a keyboard to the Start and End on the Stirring circuit and run that to the Activation, then you have an amp envelope that allows you to get the attack long and free up the times that every good pad needs it. You can also get some simple synthesizer strings and organ sounds with the tone set to the right place. Now obviously pads, strings and organs all demand a polyphony, but you can slightly falsify it with decadence on the cranked up high back.

All the sounds in this short demo track are originated by the Witch. Some EQ and compression have been added following the fact in Ableton Live:

Things don’t stop there either. You can also get simple bass and drum sounds. Now, just because of you port playing a bass line on the Witch doesn’t mean it should; the range of low tones is quite limited. But I’m quite in love with the percussion cycles I’ve been able to get out of it. They have an extravagant atmosphere to them that reminds me of the kind of percussion that sounds Hainbach generates using its massive collection of test equipment.

But I think the true power of the Witch is unlocked when she combines her inner tones with those of an outer instrument. For example, you can use a guitar to control the Witch’s playback and mix the two sounds together to play a simple dream melody on a drone that reacts dynamically to your game.

In this demo the input of a guitar is used to guide the Witch synthesis engine before it is eventually mixed to play on the resulting drone:

Things get even more interesting if you have a tool that has CV outputs, like the Microfreak. This particular pairing was one of my favorites. The Microfreak’s slightly cool, digital sounds are well warmed by Strega’s preamplifier and lo-fi delay. And the Witch’s thin single oscillator benefits from being reinforced when playing in sync with the Microfreak. With the Blend knob turned to fully wet, the two instruments get lost in each other and become something completely new.

Here the Microfreak is played through the Witch, while controlling it simultaneously via CV:

The biggest disadvantage for the Witch is definitely her price. $ 599 isn’t prohibitively expensive, but it’s probably a high touch considering its somewhat limited functionality. There is no MIDI, no keyboard, no sequencer. Out of the box Witch will make some nice noise and beautiful drones, but don’t play anything too melodic without some extra equipment. An obvious addition would be the Make Noise desktop sequencer, at $ 399 0-CTRL. The two have the same form factor, aesthetic and experimental approach to music creation. But everything with CVs out will do, as well Artistic Keystep Series. If you’re looking for something that adds MIDI and expands the Witch’s sonic possibilities, it’s $ 499 0-Costa it would make sense.

While Make Noise equipment isn’t cheap, there is definitely an appeal to sticking with its desktop ecosystem. You can power two devices from a single power adapter and the 0-Coast, 0-CTRL and Witch are all designed to complement each other. Plus, they look great together.

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