Points of Kontakt – Voyetra from Mars from SamplesFromMars
SamplesFromMars brings us a brilliantly produced set of samples from a rare but fabulous-sounding early MIDI synthesizer that was ahead of its time.
by David Baer, July 2016
In Points of Kontakt, we especially like to focus on exotic and interesting electronica. And for this installment, we have a rare gem. SamplesFromMars acquired and meticulously refurbished a synth from the very earliest days of MIDI, the Voyetra-Eight, pictured below. The sample collection resulting from this effort is available in several formats, Kontakt being one of them. Let me say up front, the samples organized into some rudimentary presets is all there is at the moment. There is not even a basic GUI provided with the library. But don’t let that deter you. This offering is rather special.
SamplesFromMars is the creation of Teddy Stuart, aka Eddie Mars, a producer and DJ from Brooklyn, NY. In his pursuit of creating music, he discovered the art of building software instruments and samples out of rare gear. The results are proof of a perfectionist’s pursuit of this goal. SamplesFromMars can be found here:
The price of the Voyetra-Eight library is a mere $39 USD (I cannot report on the sales behavior of Samples from Mars as I have only recently discovered this developer).
The name Voyetra will probably be known only to those old-timers who were in this game back in the very earliest days of MIDI. In 1982, a company named Octave-Plateau Electronics released a rack-mount, analog, programmable, polyphonic synthesizer. The company shortly renamed itself Voyetra and the instrument became known as the Voyetra-Eight. Voyetra later merged with another computer-sound equipment provider named Turtle Beach. Turtle Beach was another early player in supplying computer sound equipment, but moved away from a specialization in computer music long ago. The company is still in business but is hardly a household brand name in computer music circles.
The Voyetra-Eight was truly ahead of its time and exhibited a visionary mindset by its inventors. It was one of the earliest MIDI synths. In fact, MIDI was so much in its infancy memory dumps used something other than SynEx because that specification was still in flux at the time. Also, the early MIDI adaptation resulted in a companion keyboard from Voyetra being required, the VPK-5. This 61-note keyboard was, for that era, also a bit ahead of its time, given that it supported both velocity and aftertouch (and a nifty XY-joystick controller).
The synth/keyboard combo cost around $6000, the price of a rather nice family sedan back in the early 80s. The synth, although encased in a standard 19”, 3U high case, ran hot and weighed nearly 80 pounds. It was also a bitch to maintain, according to more than one source.
But for all its cons, it had a whole lot of game. It offered 100 memory slots for programs. The eight internal voice cards could be configured in a flexible variety of schemes that included stereo channel placement. Key assignment modes (what to do when the services of more than eight cards were requested by the performer) likewise had much variety and flexibility.
Modulation capabilities were deep and impressive for its day, with four modulation banks per voice card. The programming required to set up a preset was complicated and hardly easy from the front panel, with its many tiny knobs and buttons. Like many early MIDI instruments, both ones with keyboards and ones that were rack-mounted, the sound designer was well-served to acquire a computer-based editor for doing sound designs. Back then, not only did one have to pay 20 to 30 times (in inflation-adjusted money) for a capable instrument compared to what we currently pay for a quality software synth, the salt in the open wound was that one also needed to fork over yet more money for an editor program. The editor program would cost as much as the entire softsynth program does today.
But back to the Voyetra-Eight … in spite of all its impressive capabilities, the cost of the instrument was too high for it to achieve market success. A few major artists, notably New Order, Depeche Mode and the Eurythmics embraced the instrument, but it remains largely an unknown relic of early innovation.
Voyetra from Mars
Enter SamplesFromMars, who acquired a Voyetra-Eight (reportedly a unit once used by the Edgar Winter Band) and even tracked down one of the original engineers who designed the instrument to do a top-to-bottom refurbishment. This cannot have been an inexpensive proposition.
I am making pains to point out the lengths to which Samples from Mars had to go, because I also must report that the Kontakt instrument is just a collection of sample instruments with no GUI front end. Load an instrument and this is all you see.
I know that we have come to expect full programming capabilities presented in a snazzy GUI front end these days, and it will seem paltry to some to not supply that with a sample library. Well, hopefully an editor will be added in the future, but I find considerable value in the library even as is. Seriously, it’s not really all that hard to get into the guts of Kontakt and do some rudimentary tweaking. Nobody is expecting you to do script coding. It is rather straightforward to alter amplitude envelope settings or other such basic things. If you don’t know how, then maybe this will prove to be just the motivation you’ve needed all along to take the trouble to learn. Click on the wrench icon to open the program editor function in Kontakt. You will see something like this.
Want to tweak the amp envelope settings? Easy, just go down to where is says “volume” in the upper left of the subpanel (under “Modulation”) and have at it. Once you’ve mastered that, try inserting an FX module or perhaps experiment with replacing the ladder low-pass filter with another type. I know this looks like scary stuff on first encounter, but it’s definitely learnable and you’ll feel pretty good about yourself if you invest a little time to do so.
An attractive alternative is to pick up the Hollow Sun GUI Shell for a paltry 8£ GBP from here:
I wrote about this gem at some length a while back, and you can read that review (in which I recommended it highly) here:
With the GUI Shell and the Voyetra samples, you should be fully in business in no time.
Let’s consider the samples in this library. SamplesFromMars clearly did a meticulous job in that department. Take a look at the mapping editor display for one of the instruments.
What you’re looking at is six octaves of coverage with a separate sample file for each note. This example was chosen at random but is typical for the library sample content. The samples sound absolutely fabulous and were clearly the product of meticulous synth-programming and recording sessions. A demo track on the SamplesFromMars Voyetra page just begins to hint at the quality.
There are nearly 6500 individual sample files included, organized into 49 presets. These constitute thirteen bass sounds, ten FX, eleven keys and pads, and fifteen leads.
Bare bones as this library may be as far as Kontakt programming goes, it is worth the attention of anyone fascinated with authentic sounds of the electronica of yore. Great fun to be had here – thank you, Eddie Mars! Personally, I can only hope there’s a Son of Voyetra from Mars forthcoming. I love what I’ve heard so far. Now I want more!