Like the P3 before it, the Sequentix Cirklon is a fairly niche piece of musical equipment. It’s a MIDI sequencer (with options to expand to CV outputs for modular / vintage connections). And that’s it. No sounds, no samples, no effects, no audio inputs or outputs. Just MIDI and CV.
If you know anything about the Cirklon then you probably know that it has somewhat of a cult following. Cirklons are hand made by Colin Fraser in small batches. There is a waiting list to buy one and second hand units tend to go for new prices because customers can skip the queue. The build quality of the Cirklon is extremely high. A month ago, the LCD backlight failed in mine and because it had happened to two other users as well, Colin switched his LCD suppliers because, and I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him here, “a 1% failure rate is not good enough”. He repaired and upgraded my LCD free of charge and even offered me a choice of colours (I chose black of course).
So, we’ve established that the Cirklon is a labour of love, built to high standards and extremely well serviced. But why would you want one? If you’ve never played with one before, I’ll try and explain. Here’s a list of things the Cirklon can and can’t do:
– create patterns by either recording live MIDI input or step sequencer style programming
– patterns can be either piano roll style with high resolution (called “CK” patterns) or rigid step sequences at a division of the master tempo (called “P3” patterns)
– an individual pattern can have multiple “bars” (not necessarily one bar long) which can be individually different, chained together, transposed etc.
– patterns can contain up to four “Aux” rows which can randomise, grab values from other tracks, send out other MIDI values or generally alter the pattern or other patterns in a variety of ways
– there are up to 64 tracks, each of which can play a single pattern plus a “fill” pattern which will play when the Fill key is pressed
– each track is assigned an “instrument” which tells it is which port and MIDI channel to use
– “scenes” store all information about which patterns are played on tracks as well as tempo, key and other pertinent values
– scenes can organised into “songs”
– with a CVIO board and break out box, Cirklon can output CV and gate to control analog equipment
– sample or or synthesise – the Cirklon can make no noise by itself
– act as a editor/librarian for synths/drum machines etc. although there is a rudimentary system for setting up MIDI CC# parameters for connected equipment so some editing is possible
The Cirklon does a number of things better than any other sequencer I know. It positively shines at creating generative, semi-generative or pseudo-generative sequences. What the hell do I mean by that? I’ll give you an example.
On Track 1, I setup a simple chord track. This is done using a P3 pattern, which can use Aux rows which can turn a monophonic pattern into a polyphonic one. Each Aux row can output an additional note to the main note in the pattern at an offset like +3 semi-tones. So it’s very easy to input a sequence of major/minor chords or whatever note intervals you choose. The beauty of this approach is that you can simply adjust the base note to transpose an entire chord. And because the Cirkon can force everything to a chosen key and scale, nothing ever sounds bum. Because these are the main chords of my mini song, I’ll set this pattern to run at a slow division of the main tempo so that each note (or chord in this case) lasts say 1 bar.
On Track 2, I setup a simple melody. Again, I use Aux rows, but this time I use them to grab notes from Track 1. Then I use another Aux row to transpose these notes and maybe a third Aux row to randomise one or two of the notes in the pattern by say +/-5st.
On Track 3, I could do the same again, but use different patterns or track lengths and different transpose values to make a completely different melody. Remember that all the notes in the melodies of Tracks 2 and 3 are being grabbed from Track 1. Or if I’m feeling adventurous, I could grab the notes from Track 2 instead. Nested grabbing!
I now have some chords and a couple of melodies. The melodies are complete generated by the chords set in Track 1. If I change those chords, the melodies of Tracks 2 and 3 will adapt and change. This is what I describe as “pseudo-generative”. There’s a ton of ways to elaborate on this. I could randomise some of the notes in Track 1, or use Aux tracks to change the tempo divisions of any (or all) of the tracks. Things can become complex, but there’s a huge amount of power here.
That is a single example of what the Cirklon is so good at. There are countless other ways you can create complex, randomized, poly-rhythmic or generative patterns and the results can be truly stunning. Of course all this complexity can be difficult to master. There is a lot to learn, but the Cirklon’s nice big screen, excellent manual and helpful online community mean that answers are never far away.
If you own a lot of vintage synths or a modular, the CVIO option would probably make a lot of sense. With 16 CV and 8 gate outputs which are totally configurable inside the Cirklon, it’s extremely powerful. Equally if you’re a software user, the Cirklon has six virtual USB MIDI input/output ports so your soft synths can be integrated into your compositions. Combine the two and you have a very powerful MIDI to CV convertor.
The Cirkon has very quickly become the centre of my setup. The timing is absolutely rock solid. I can only think of two sequencers I’ve used that felt this tight, the MPC60 and the Atari ST. Doubtless if you’ve got this far through the review, you’ve probably checked the Cirklon and it’s sobering price. The CVIO will bump the price up even more. Whilst it is expensive, it’s worth remembering that the Cirklon is many things. I sold my Edirol UM-880 MIDI interface not long after getting it as the Cirklon not only fulfils all the sequencing I could need, but also acts as a MIDI interface. I was also able to sell my dedicated Analog Systems MIDI to CV convertor: again the Cirklon took care of that. I even sold a few of the sequencing modules from my Eurorack modular setup (although I will probably reinstate these at some point).
In short, the Cirklon is a chameleon in the studio, but at it’s heart is a highly creative device which can interface with just about any modern or vintage electronic instrument. It’s complex, yet musically rewarding and built to a very high standard.
Frankly, I’m in love with it.