by ellison wolf
There’s the old saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”, and that’s sage advice for the most part, but when applied to synthesizers—Eurorack specifically—I think the idea doesn’t hold as well, because mostly, you can judge a module by its faceplate. A plethora of knobs, LEDs, jacks, screens, and symbols or text indicates a pretty packed module, one that probably has some real depth to it. On the other hand, a simple looking module is usually that—simple. In the case of French manufacturer Ritual Electronics new Anima, it’d be a better idea to judge it by the graphic on the back side of its PCB as opposed to its faceplate. The matte black and white, elegantly designed and spacious faceplate that greets you doesn’t belie the potential mayhem—the deep, dark abyss, if you will—that lies dormant within. But the picture of two masked men sawing a very unfortunate upside down man in half starting through his groin [NO!!!!] via a two-man crosscut saw used for cutting down large trees [also unsurprisingly known as a “misery whip”] in pre-chainsaw days, does. Why? Well, let’s save that for later and instead start with the nuts [ouch!] and bolts of the module first.
Anima is a dual voltage controlled digital segment generator with a lineage that dates to 1970s West Coast style function generators, specifically the Serge DUSG. It has three modes: AD, ASR, and CYCLE, and can also be used as an oscillator which tracks well at 1V/Oct over 10+ octaves. Each of the two channels has a GATE in, a 1V/Oct in, an EOC [End of Cycle] out, and a main OUT. ATTACK, DECAY, [both go from 0.5ms to 40s] and CURVE all have CV ins with a dedicated attenuverter for each, and make up the six knobs that you’ll find on the easily maneuverable front. There is also a UNIPOLAR/BIPOLAR toggle switch [0 to +8V in unipolar mode or -5 to 5V in bipolar], and a function toggle on each side to select your desired mode. While both sides are identical, you can patch between the two if so desired.
Starting out in AD mode, patching anything into the GATE triggers the start of the attack and decay segment. Using their respective knobs dictates the length of each stage of the envelope, and this operates as expected. The ability to CV both stage lengths can make for some crazy envelopes, and it pays to turn and listen [or look, if you’ve got the outputs going through an oscilloscope—an excellent idea] to what Anima is doing. Where things get really crazy is when you also CV the CURVE of the waveform. The CURVE parameter morphs between five different shapes: logarithmic, bell, linear, notch, and exponential, and doesn’t affect the attack and decay times. Really, CURVE is the star of the show here, giving you shapes and sounds, and patterns of shapes/sounds you’ll be hard to find elsewhere. Patching random LFOs into each CV in, you’ll probably never get the same envelope twice, and when you patch an oscillator into the 1V/Oct and/or the CURVE to get some FM style sounds going. Do that, throw a couple more LFOs in to modulate the ATTACK and DECAY, and it you’ll soon realize that it doesn’t take much to get this thing moving. It’s also possible to get your pluck on by patching an oscillator into the 1V/Oct input.
In mode number two, using it as an ASR [Attack, Sustain, Release], Anima accepts an input and turns it into a gate. The attack starts at the rising edge of the gate and is sustained while the gate is high before moving on to the release stage, the length of which is controlled by the DECAY knob. Again, CV’ing the parameters with whatever you have at hand gives a different flavor than AD mode, and switching between the two modes gave some nice variations between the two, in terms of performance, without changing anything else.
The LFO mode is self looping, with its length dependent on the settings of the ATTACK and DECAY. A signal into the GATE resets the LFO, or if Anima is being used as an oscillator [up to 2kHz], can be used to sync it to another. I decided to try and test my patience [and see how the stated specs match up] by patching slow moving LFOs from Anima into the CV of a filter with the resonance up high. It’s interesting to hear the glacial ascension of the buzz or whistle of the resonance as the pitch gets higher with the LFO moving through its cycle. I also multed the output from a filter and patched one output into my mixer and another into the Waveform delay from issue #1, while using one of the LFOs from Anima to both control the feedback of the delay and—via my mixer—to pan the delay output from left to right. Sometimes it’s so easy to patch to infinity on a modular, losing a lot of individual sounds, and I rather enjoyed the cleansing of this patch with its very minute changes, infinitesimal movements, and subtle shifting. It was a really cool—yet simple— patch.
I decided to give Anima one of those “One Module Challenge” tests, albeit, with a slight spin. I wanted to see if I patched just a few things up, how much of a compelling performance I could muster only using the switches and knobs on Anima. Granted, I was doing some self patching, which is normally what it means to see what only the one module has on offer, but I gotta say—using an oscillator in the 1V/Oct in and another to mess with the CURVE, just flipping the polarity switches around and altering the ATTACK and DECAY controls [and their CV ins as they were being modulated] worked extremely well, and rose to my challenge. I anchored it all by patching out from the EOC into a kick drum. Sure, I was mutating some glitchy, frenetic, um...thing, but there was a beat there, and it was moving hard and fast, and was easy to get a lot out of a little, something I’ve come to realize is a major coup when performing with a modular.
If I can take a minute to pay Anima one of the highest compliments possible, it’s this: When a friend came over as I was working on this review she commented that the patch I had going sounded pretty cool [it was the aforementioned glitchy/frenetic thing]. I pointed her in the direction of my modular and told her to have at it, to start messing around with my rig. My friend’s been intimidated in the past about the whole Eurorack/modular thing, and this time was no different. She didn’t want me to have to tell her what does what, and how this affects that, essentially giving her a tutorial on all aspects of sound synthesis before she could make some noise. She’s a musician that is accustomed to touching an instrument and having it respond accordingly by making the appropriate sound. I simply pointed her in the direction of Anima, told her to just try twisting some knobs, and hitting the switches while I made us some tea. Fifteen minutes later and she was rocking Anima, had done a few sweeps on the Manhattan Analog Steiner Synthasystem filter, and managed to accidentally turn off my entire rig, thinking the power switch on my Art for the Ears case was another module [I suppose it could be thought of as one giant mute switch!]! Yes, Anima is that fun. It’s one of those multiple use modules that really plays well, and almost no matter how you patch it up, you can switch between modes, turn its knobs, and get something very musical out of it, a fine prospect, indeed!
18 HP +12V: 95mA -12V: 32mA