by BRADLEY MILLINGTON
When Arius Blaze of Folktek released his first Matter module, I was immediately captivated by its otherworldly appearance. Alien etchings on a copper patina faceplate and tiny colorful electrical wires jutting from an exposed T-shaped header were like nothing I'd ever seen. Upon hearing patch examples on Folktek's website, I realized it was capable of sonic textures that were equally unique in the Eurorack world. While Matter is presented as a "drum-wave" percussion module, these are not ordinary drums. It clicks, pops, hisses and howls. Frogs, birds, and crickets live inside it. It's an ecosystem, an organic jungle. I had to have one.
Enter Matter II, a fully realized version of what its predecessor intended to be, and grown up in every way. It’s even more aesthetically beautiful [available in dazzling gold, in addition to copper], more solidly constructed, and is welcomingly more predictable and tunable. A pin matrix design has replaced the original's Dupont wires and headers, serving to create connections in the underlying circuitry for sound exploration. In place of surface LEDs, a warm amber glow emanates from underneath the faceplate to indicate CV activity at its inputs, and the black-and-gold module looks quite at home nestled between my Make Noise Rene 2018 and Pressure Points. Even its packaging is more polished, as it arrives in a solid matte-black box with a gold embossed logo that could have easily shipped from an Apple store in some upside-down dimension.
Matter II's interface hosts three channels, each consisting of a V+ input to activate the sound and an upper and lower section represented by two pin matrices, for a total of six. The module comes with ten solid metal pins that you can place into any of the 18 holes of a single matrix to affect the audio output of the corresponding channel. Being primarily a percussion module, a gate or trigger would be most common to input into V+, but it's possible to patch an audio signal here for the module to mangle and process. The pin matrix design is infinitely more usable than the fiddly Dupont cables of the original Matter and depending on the positions of the pins you get vastly different sounds from the module. Similar to the original, Matter II will be extensible using cards that fit onto the main panel via the pin matrix, allowing for customized circuits that can add anything from reverb and delay, to sequencers and more. Folktek also claims Matter II will eventually pair with the original Matter using a 2hp extension module that sends all 18 pin matrix points to Dupont.
Each channel has a bipolar CV input, which essentially crossfades between the sounds of the upper and lower sections of the channel. Amber backlights under each pin matrix illuminate so you know where you are between the upper and lower sections of the channel. Related knobs either attenuate the CV signal found at the input jack, or allow for manual crossfading between the two sections when no CV signal is present. A single jack outputs the unified sound of all three channels at modular level, a significant improvement over the original Matter, which was universally considered to be too quiet even at maximum volume. Lastly, there is a VAC V+ input that allows for vactrol-based amplitude modulation of the entire output of Matter II.
Sonically, Matter II is unlike anything else in Eurorack. It can be noisy and crude, like a bent or broken circuit, but can also make fairly clean-sounding percussive or tonal sounds, tunable using the CV knobs. While the circuit is a bit of mystery, there are certainly multiple oscillators, a noise generator, and at least one filter in there. A single pin per matrix keeps Matter II in percussive territory, but as you add pins it produces more continuous drones. With three channels to play with, you can mix and match these textures, and because each channel has an upper and lower section that can emit different sounds, it can feel like six or more channels when CV'ed. It's great for percussion of the organic and acoustic variety: toms, bongos, cowbells, wood sticks, and short clicky pops or chirps. As a drone, it can sound like running water, buzzing bees, or an entire swarm of wasps. All played together, it's like a surreal electronic rainforest, dense enough to delight all by itself. If it has one drawback, it might be that it has a readily identifiable timbre that can sometimes be hard to fit into a broader mix, especially melodic patches, though in an atonal mix it sits very well. It also sounds fantastic through effects, exaggerating the sounds into something huge and encompassing. When passing audio to the V+ inputs, I like using the CV input to crossfade between different processing paths of the upper and lower channel sections for extra movement. Finally, the VAC V+ lets you chop up the entire output of Matter through a single onboard vactrol VCA.
Part of the allure of Folktek's modules is the guesswork involved in unraveling their mysteries, and Matter II is no exception. It is meant to be explored rather than fully understood or controlled. It is intentionally unwieldy, eccentric, and surprising. I can’t underscore enough what a marked improvement this is over the original Matter, and if you tried and abandoned the first version, don't let that deter you from this revision. It retains the original character of Matter I, but dramatically improves the engineering and design, fixes the former's volume issues, is much easier to interact with, and is far more predictable in terms of configuring sounds. It's not for everyone, but for those into the fringe, it doesn't get much more exotic and exciting than this.