Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Octopus Experience

Hello folks,

As I promised some month ago, I offer you now the translation of my report about the Octopus sequencer from German company “GenoQs”. The article will be published in issue no.11 of the “Synthesizer-Magazin”. As you maybe know, I write some little articles or reviews for this magazine from time to time. Writing about my first experiences with this fantastic sequencer was an “affair of the heart”. So I hope you will enjoy the following article and you are not too angry about my terrible English…


Where should one begin when facing such a powerful and promising tool for sound creation? Leaving impressed by its exceptional design? Or from his aesthetic look? From the feeling, to own a Hardware-Sequencer which has far more "artificial" intelligence inherent as his "analogue" appearance suggests? Can something, that is so much expensive as the Octopus, really have weaknesses? Is it the perfect music machine? I just know that, after many years of abstinence, again I wanted to have a real Hardware-Sequencer. It should not be a machine that copies well-known Analogue-Sequencer concepts (of which there is really enough) but bring me to new ideas. A machine that awakes the child in me. A “toy”, that helps to explore new ways to go. I have long sought. When I had seen the GenoQs Octopus for the first time I knew that this one should it be.

Spring 2008 Frankfurt Music Fair
The “Synthesizer-Magazin” presents perhaps the most beautiful (in terms of interesting) stand of the whole fair. A synthesizer exhibition “par excellence”. I see many old “acquaintances" (Synthesizers) and ... the Octopus. Gabriel Seher - one head of “GenoQs” personally introduces me to the instrument. He shows me a few possibilities. Programmes “on the fly” and is unlikely versed (of course, he has it developed together with his companion Marcel Achim). His introduction impresses me very and I promise to stay in touch with him ...
Three months later I go to “SchneidersBuero” at Alexanderplatz in Berlin and acquire an Octopus. Finally!

Getting Started
Hardly unpacked, I concur with the Octopus to do the necessary wiring and connect MIDI In and Out with my JD-800. 10 „tracks“, each with a separate MIDI channel routable need enough resources to control. I decide for a multitimbral synthesizer. Then I understand "nothing" and must recognize that without studying the manual nothing happens. Sure, the start, stop and control buttons still speak for themselves, but for a deeper understanding of the instrument, I must first duly read much more, try out and invest more time. A display, as you know it from other devices, does the Octopus not have. But only a little time later I will have understood that the whole surface of this sequencer can be understood as a “display”. Incidentally I will nobody bore with endless tech-facts. The website of “GenoQs” ( provides enough information and images as well as you can watch enough videos about it on Youtube to get "hungry" for it.

The concept
"grid" - „pages“ - „tracks“ - "steps". These are the words that accompany me from now on.
The concept is quickly understood: 16 Steps form (initially) up a „track“. 10 „tracks“ build a „pages“ (the on the surface visible 10x16 matrix). Each "step" is a "container" for so-called attributes. More about this theme later. Following the logic, the “grid” is the "container" for 9 x 16 = 144 “pages”. The change between these "containers" respectively levels is easy possible, because you find in the right half of the user- interface enough explicit buttons for navigation. As already mentioned, the parameters which describes "steps" (and although each step separately), „tracks“ and „pages“ are named as attributes (entities). These are e.g. pitch, velocity, starting position, note length and more. All these parameters can be controlled in real time. Here I started to loose the overview again, but the “ESC”-button saved me many times. With this, you can jump back on the next upper level.
In “track”-mode, you can also determine how many "steps" a „track“ may be long (including skipping steps). Whom, who are 16 “steps” not enough, can also link more “tracks” together or directly choose to one of the following configurations: 5 “tracks” with 2 rows, 2 “tracks” with 4 rows plus 1 “track” with 2 rows or one “track” with 8 rows plus 1 “track” with 2 rows. Each “track” can be manipulated individually in walking distance, direction, starting points, etc. Muting, MIDI-data and MIDI cc are also adjustable for each track. Confused? I know that! The possibilities are incredibly diverse and if you have built together usable „pages“, the "control madness" still goes further on. I don’t want to go too much into details and put more attention to the musical aspects. There is at this point no universal recipe of doing the “right” thing. “Try it out” is the right motto. So, let's go.

The first tracks
Having the basic principles understood (at least I thought initially), I started with a few simple „tracks“ to try out everything. So, the „pages“-button is pressed and an empty „pages“ is selected. Here we must understand the next convention. Empty „tracks“ (and also empty "steps") resp. the LED of it, do not light first. Steps composite glow green, and programmed, playing „pages“ in the grid glow green too. Selected “pages”, although programmed, but not active to play, are shining in orange colour. You can see this in “grid”-mode. The first exercises, I must really understand as such. Basically one „pages“ with 10 „tracks“ is enough to test extensively the possibilities for sound manipulation. Whether “Electro” or “Berlin school”. Everything can be realized with this machine. I notice that I must say “good bye” to another known convention. It concerns the storage concept. The Octopus has no presets for individual “tracks”, “pages”, “songs” or whatever. It has only one single space! (for 144 „pages“). No more. This always safes the overall state of the device. So if you want to work with variations of a „pages“, you should copy and paste it to a free space to continue to work later with it. At the beginning I was a little bit confused about this, because I also missed the possibility of individual naming and identification. So it is better to save too much, as too little. (1) (At the end of the report you can read an opinion about this written by Gabriel Seher ...) Those, who will work with the Octopus on stage, will it have probably easier. “Track” manipulation does not necessarily require frequent switching between different „pages“ (only my personal view.) But anyone who plays other keyboards at the same time too, should better use the Octopus in slave mode. „pages“ exchange could be easily done with an external sequencer. But I must admit that the basic idea of the Octopus would lead into absurd. Live-sequencing with the Octopus requires the full attention. That should be taken into account. Speaking “Live”! Regarding the user-interface I have here a point of criticism. This concerns the extremely thin labelled controls. If the wrong light shines on stage, the scriptures turn into “invisible”. It is practically unreadable. Errors can only prevented by "knowledge" (or with a little USB port lamp at the appropriate jack).

3 weeks later
Meanwhile, I have more routine in dealing with the Octopus and get discovered, that the Octopus can be almost better used for the manipulation of synthesizer sounds, than solely for pure Arpeggios or simple sequences. I basically do use him now for more atonal, rhythmic structures as for "songs". But nevertheless, also „pages“ exchanges can be programmed. A great feature is the programming of chords for each single “step”! Yes, correct. Let this melt on your tongue. Chords can be programmed with other (hardware) sequencers only with several parallel running, but differently tuned tracks, which control the same multitimbral sound. The Octopus makes this in each “step” and with each “track”. For programming this, there are two possibilities. The first method works with explicit "chord" buttons. In "step" mode you can select one of seven (!) "chord" buttons. Each button adds the wished chord on your basic note. In maximum can this be a 7 note chord for each “step”. During one of these “chord”-buttons is pressed you can tune each note of your chord with the pitch control. Leaving the “chord”-switch off the chord is programmed for this step. Alternatively, you can also record chords via MIDI-in. Frankly, that sounds very orgiastic. Strumming chords works of course too. But I am soft “off topic” and actually wanted to tell something about the programmable „pages“ exchange. First you must go to the "grid" mode (the highest level of the Octopus). If you want to play several „pages“ one after the next, first you must “reorganize” your “pages” in this way, that they are all located together in one “track”. In other words spoken: you must organize them into "cluster". You can easily resort your “pages” with copy and paste function. The so prepared “grid”-track must now be selected with the "Sel" (Select) button. So a cluster can contain a maximum of 16 “pages”. As I mentioned earlier, you can also link the tracks of a „page“ and play them one after another. At least this means that you can play 2560 "steps" consecutively and at this point I did not consider that any „pages“ can even played 16 times…

Even a little bit “Berlin school”
Wouldn’t it be really nice if some „tracks“ of a „pages“ could be transposed with a MIDI-keyboard while others, for example drum tracks should not follow. The good news: basically it works, but not quite perfect. The idea to do this emerged only during the last weeks. Here I must say how fantastic, spontaneous and rapid the cooperation with Gabriel Seher and Marcel Achim (Genoqs) was. They followed very spontaneously to my proposals and supported me with their help and ideas. So, „track“ transposition works as follows. The "record" button must be pressed so that it flashes orange. Now the MIDI is input activated. By pressing the "select" button, you can now choose the “Tracks” you would like to transpose. Multiple selections are possible. And ready! To work in such way you must update your Octopus with the OS version 1.60. This version is available now via the GenoQs website.

Still not at the end

At this point I must finish my report. The only reason for is the limited number of pages in the “Synthesizer-Magazin”. I could report still much more. And to be honest, I scratched only on the surface of the Octopus (please do not take it literally). But these impressions should be already enough to guess which possibilities this machine has. As I said earlier, the Octopus is the right tool for adult children.
. Got lust? Then is just missing the necessary money...

September 2008 Gabriel Seher of "GenoQs"on the planned 1.60 OS:

"In OS 1.60 individual pages can be secured and recalled. This is a granular approach; in addition to the overall storage process. The identification of the individual pages has to be seen in the absolute position of the page in the grid. Furthermore, one could also compare pages with synth patches. And in every (major) synth there is only one space or slot for each patch, and the amount of all slots makes a "total state". Other possibilities of archiving by sysex are available even as you know it from synths (I would like to avoid that people get the wrong impression - I have been asked several times via e-mail why you can not save the Octopus but it was a function from day 1). "

Bernd Kistenmacher