by Sam Chittenden
Continuing in the vein of Make Noise's latest module releases, the Mimeophon is a stereo module fitted with an attractive black panel and adorned with their trademark font and hieroglyphic labeling. Made in collaboration with SoundHack and billed by Make Noise as a "multi-zone color audio repeater," the Mimeophon blurs the line between delay module, effects unit, audio looper, and synth voice, and offers a veritable universe of sound sculpting possibilities.
The Mimeophon features of a pair of stereo ins and outs, a wet/dry Mix knob, and five main control sections: Repeats, Zone, Rate, Halo, and Color. In addition, the Mimeophon has a few buttons at the bottom labeled Flip, Hold, and Skew, a Tempo in for clocking the delay line, and a Rate output. Despite everything being fit into a modest 16HP, the Mimeophon feels great and retains an easy performability. Make Noise modules can appear a bit cryptic at first, but the Mimeophon is for the most part intuitive, ergonomic, and most importantly, damn fun.
While it is possible to consider the Mimeophon in terms of discrete parts, each section of the unit interacts with the others in significant—sometimes subtle, sometimes extreme—ways.
The Mimeophon has three main areas of sound processing: The main "delay" section consisting of the Repeats, Zone, and Rate sections, Halo, and Color. Halo "smears" the sound and fills in the space between individual notes with a washy haze. As the Halo amount increases, the initially subtle, slightly reflective character of the sound gets progressively smoothed and with the knob set midway, the signal isn't obscured or lost in the mist, but gains a pleasing stereo depth. For the majority of the Halo range, the effect is kept out of the Mimeophon's feedback chain, but at settings approaching the maximum changes this behavior and allows some of the "smeared" signal to enter the feedback path, giving rise to more dense, lush reverberated tones.
Color, at first sweep, sounds similar to a low-pass filter, ranging in tone from very dark at to bright and shimmery. A closer listen reveals a much more subtle side to the timbres. As with most all of the Mimeophon's controls, the Color's response is affected by—and is affecting—its relationship to other settings. Depending on their respective positions, the Halo and Rate controls combine with Color to add pleasing, tape-like pitch modulations to the repeats. With different variations of knob positions, clearer timbral shifts can be injected into the repeated sound, growing increasingly darker or brighter with each echo, and longer trails can have an intriguing, almost mournful decay. The Color control will also attenuate the signal and when dialed fully counterclockwise, the Mimeophon can be used as a sort of low-pass gate when patching an envelope or gate signal into its CV jack.
The main event is the Mimeophon's nested signal architecture, which is comprised of an audio buffer that is divided into eight overlapping Zones. Each Zone is a windowed section of the buffer. The Zones comprise varying repeat times ranging from just over 1ms up to almost 42 seconds. This wide range allows for a variety of delay-based effects like chorus and flanging, more straightforward echoes, and upward into full phrase looping. The Repeats control sets the number of times an incoming signal will be repeated, while the Rate sets the frequency of the repeats—aka the "delay" time. The nested architecture of the buffer and the manner in which the individual Zones overlap, allow the Mimeophon to be leveraged in fun, surprising, creative, and mesmerizing ways. Zones can be switched by manual or CV control at any time, and provide a smooth transition between the various delay times set by the Rate control. When the Mimeophon is not clocked, any adjustment in Rate is accompanied by a Doppler-effect pitch shift. Coarse rate adjustments can be made without this effect by using the Zone controls to jump between different time ranges. Patching a clock into the Tempo in allows the Rate control to be modulated without any Doppler effects and changes the functionality of the Rate knob into a clock divider/multiplier. In addition to the main Rate control, the Mimeophon also has a microRate jack. The microRate will always implement the Doppler effect even when the unit is tempo-synced and can add subtle movement, chorus-like effects, or vibrato in any of the Zones. The microRate control will also track 1v/octave while the Mimeophon is in the lowest Zone, opening up the module for a number of pitch-tracked applications.
The Mimeophon makes for some fantastic Karplus-Strong style synthesis, and is one of the real standout features of the module. Simple impulses or clicks can be used to excite the feedback loop and begin sculpting any number of plucked or string-like timbres. With a constant noise source fed into the Mimeophon and the Zone control at full counter-clockwise, I stumbled into some amazing sounds—bowed cello, a wistful and brassy French horn, and otherworldly, whining, electric guitar-esque feedback tones—while exploring the relationships between the Halo and Color controls.
If riding and shaping waves of feedback is your thing, the Mimeophon has worlds for you. Turning the Repeats up towards 2 o'clock or beyond—even with no signal being fed to the module—will kick off a rising swell of feedback waiting to be sculpted by the Color and Halo controls, frozen with the Hold button, reversed with Flip, and Skew-ed into a self-harmonized wash of utter modular-induced blissful sound. Utilize the Repeats CV control and you can dance back and forth across the line where the feedback is ramped up or dampened. Even with the signal feedbacking at full tilt, the sound is somewhat contained, providing a manageable amount of whine that—to my ears—never became too harsh or intense. Flip reverses the repeated audio and can be leveraged to great effect by feeding it different gates or audio rate signals. Skew serves multiple purposes and the single button hides a few layers of functionality. When engaged, the Skew changes the Rate knobs functionality, allowing the individual—yet related—adjustment of each channel's repeat rate. With Skew lit, twisting the Rate knob increases the speed of the repeats on one side while decreasing the speed on the opposite channel. Skewing the repeat times leads to some interesting, complex, and evolving polyrhythmic delays, especially if combined with modulation of the Zone control. The proportions between rates is maintained after Skew is disengaged, allowing you to dial in a relationship between the channel rates and then play around with variations in speeds while maintaining the original ratio. The Skew button can also be long-pressed to engage a Ping Pong mode as well as a Swap mode, which are similar but subtly different; both modes offer a useful way to add some movement and spatial evolution to an otherwise static signal.
Make Noise certainly has an aesthetic, both sonically and visually. The panel naming conventions, font, and labeling graphics can be disorienting, but in my interactions with any Make Noise instrument I've found any initial confusion or apprehension regarding the interface to fall by the wayside after a short while, and the Mimeophon is no exception. I found it to be very intuitive and the controls are well laid out and provide plenty of room for manual tweaking. The Mimeophon packs a lot of punch in just 16HP and as an effects module is extraordinarily versatile—a perfect choice for a small system. As a synth voice, the Mimeophon also shines and provides fertile ground for experimentation and sonic exploration. An instrument in and of itself, it can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. I was eagerly anticipating the Mimeophon ever since Make Noise previewed its release and it more than lives up to my expectations.
16 HP 100mA +12V 10mA -12