The cat is out of the bag about Beads, the latest (and rumored to be the the last) Eurorack module from Mutable Instruments. Beads is the long awaited successor to Clouds, a module that- despite its success- creator Émilie Gillet has expressed some frustration with over the years. What I found to be the most interesting aspect of this product reveal (other than a broken embargo), is this fascinating chronicle of Beads’ development from the Mutable Instruments community forum.
I encourage you to read the whole post, but here are some of the things I found to be worth savoring:
1. Clouds Lite vs. Clouds Mk2
Beads began as a sort of “Clouds light”, similar to how Rings was created as a sort of “Elements light”. Of course, we now know that both of these modules ended up being more sophisticated than their predecessors, even as they strove to streamline the module.
2. Hardware influences Firmware
While I’ve always appreciated the thoughtful panel layout of Mutable modules, I was surprised to learn just how much iteration the physical designs undergo, and how this ultimately influences the functionality of the the module. After one lull in development, Émelie writes: “What got us unstuck was… Marbles! By adding a second pushbutton, we can restore some symmetry and get something pretty!”
I love that striving for a symmetrical panel layout lead to adding the SEED button, which controls how grains are created (as well as operating as a tap tempo).
3. The naming process
Speaking of seeds, even the name of the module was in-flux until the last moment. From Clouds Mk2 to Crowds to Seeds to Beads. The imagery of beads is so perfect for this module that I’m glad they landed on this.
4. A friendly rivalry?
Mutable Instruments seems to direct a healthy bit of competition towards Qu-Bit Electronix, with references to Pulsar and Nebulae. Émelie writes that “… we need a good product to compete with the Nebulae2.”
Considering the markedly anti-capitalist bent of Mutable Instruments (discontinuing otherwise popular modules when Émelie no longer finds them to be worthy. And releasing hardware and firmware as open source to allow for cheap clones to flood the market.) I was surprised to see this attention to the competition. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that this competition is born of a desire to create the best possible product rather than of a business goal.
5. The project was scrapped
Ten months into the project, Émelie decides to scrap the project and restart with a new microcontroller. This is where things get interesting. The grain trigger output disappears, but stereo inputs appear. And the brilliant idea of “attenurandomizers” appear. I think it’s safe to say that the concept of attenurandomizers are going to be adopted across the Eurorack industry.
6. Brian Eno strikes again
The SHAPE knob originally controlled a “dubby EQ” but this was scrapped in favor of a slice/delay envelope because it “sounded nice” on the intro of the Talking Heads’s “The Girls Want To Be With The Girls”. This is such a fun scene to imagine playing out and I love that a single real-world musical interaction ultimately decided the fate of such a major feature.
7. You might have heard Beads back in 2018
Apparently a clip of Beads’ wavetable synth mode was “leaked” back in 2018 😅
8. Everyone needs a break
Émelie “lost all motivation to work on this thing” for almost a year before picking it back up in late 2019. It’s easy to overlook this big gap in the timeline, but I’m glad that she did call this out and mention in the comments that this time was a complete break from Eurorack development. There’s a continued thread of frustration and burnout that seems to accompany the creative process and I always appreciate when someone struggling with this is open about this reality.
9. Tape and Bees?
I love this sketch titled “tape_and_bees” compared to the Quickstart Manual. The are cheerful little things, whatever the hell they are.
10. Real artists ship
The entire push to pass FCC/CE certification, squash hardware issues, and QA the preproduction samples sounds like frankly, the worst part of the job. Although I have to laugh at the “one [sample] unit with only large knobs.” 😅
11. Émelie wears many hats
And how delightful is this last nerdy footnote where Émelie mentions creating a “python script to allocate modules to dealers proportionally to their 2019-2020 sales.”
What a labor of love and what a fine gift to the Eurorack community from the Mutable Instruments team. Merci beaucoup!