All about Mutable’s Marbles random sampler – and a clever, just-released update

Mutable Instruments’ modules seemed poised to live forever, in synth terms. A clever update this week is a good reminder of the coolness of the Marbles random sampler.

Okay, first – what’s Marbles? Well, the name should evoke dropping a cluster of marbles on a hardwood floor from waist height and listening to the cascade of tapping sounds.

And the hardware itself delivers something like that poetic image. The Marbles Eurorack module is a source of random gates (for rhythmic events), and clocked random voltages (for other patterns and random changes). The twist is – apart from copious controls and ins and outs – Marbles is also a random sampler. So you can reuse bits of material, for randomness that repeats a little, or a lot (depending on where you set the knob).

Here is exactly where this week’s update comes in – it “super locks” a chosen section with a long press, letting you subtly play with variation. It’s a small feature, but it expands the musicality of this module as an instrument. From creator pichenettes:

How does it work? A long press on the t or X DEJA VU buttons locks the random generation for this section – which will stop responding to the DEJA VU knob. When a section is in this “super locked” state, the illuminated push-button blinks rapidly. Press it to bring it back to normal.

What is the point? Allow subtle variations or permutations in the melody (by playing with the DEJA VU knob) while the rhythm remains constant… or vice-versa!

More on the details, with download, and discussion, on the Mutable forum:

Marbles “super lock” feature

There are detailed release notes for this revision, 1.2, plus the 1.1 version which added accessibility for people with red/green color blindness, and bug fixes.

This is a singular update for the maker in some time, as Mutable Instruments founder/developer Émilie Gillet moves on to some other career areas and leaves this project in “low power” mode. Full support for her in doing that – speaking as someone who has clung to projects, I can also appreciate why there are moments when you might want to let go and do something different. (Despite what you may have read elsewhere, there’s no indication that more is in store after this – but I think this is still a newsworthy and creative update.)

Speaking of open-source hardware, though, Mutable’s contribution to the scene has been both in producing some of the most compelling Eurorack modules and desktop synths of recent years, and in influencing others through open-source licenses. So for instance, on VCV Rack you can try a third-party recreation in software of the Mutable modules as “Audible Instruments” (since Emilie didn’t produce them, the name is changed). Marbles is just called “Random Sampler” there. I’ll be curious to see if this feature gets added.

I’m learning the module and what it can do there, and if I ever get around to making a small skiff, this is one of the modules I expect to drop into it. (Big advantage of VCV Rack, of course, is that you can try before you buy – and then invest carefully in hardware you really know how to play.)

Check the one and only original module:

Ready to learn how to use this? Let’s go:

And for you fellow Rack users:

Our friends over at Schneidersladen did a workshop on the full Mutable range back in 2018:

And yep, for proof that Marbles is open-source hardware, see here:

Seems only fitting to mention Emilie in this screwball week we’ve had here, as Mutable Instruments and our conversations about open source technology and change have also been part of the ride CDM and MeeBlip have had to get to where we’re at. And in the end, we’re all mutable instruments.

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