The Knas Quad Massager mixes sound with a joystick

    Hello and welcome back to Spoken Word with Electronics. This week week, we highlight the work of Karl Ekdahl, who runs the small company KNAS. KNAS is best known for a spring reverb called the Ekdahl Moisturizer, a very creative effects device with the springs exposed and all manner of modular electronic concepts (like an LFO and filter) added in. KNAS also made, for a brief time, a droning synthesizer with candyland colors called the Polygamist. Their third product is less discussed but, to me, the coolest of all three: A quadraphonic mixer with automation, called the Quad Massager.

    This episode of SWWE explores possible uses of the Quad Massager throughout:

    A few notes on what the Quad Massager is and how to use it:

    The back of the unit allows for 18 input/output jacks. The more you know about modular electronics the more you can do here, but as an introduction, let's just focus on the four circled jacks.

  1. At its most basic, the Quad Massager is a joystick-based audio mixer. On the back is a robust amount of eighteen input/output jacks. Four of these are for "VCA input", indicated above in circles. Those are your four channels for incoming sound. These correspond to the front panel as regions A,B,C, and D. There is also a dial for LFO speed and X and Y coordinates. Both on those in a moment:

  2. Front panel: The map of all of this is communicated by the four LED lights on the right and the joystick. The device also has automation built in, which spins a clockwise frequency according to how you set the LFO dial. Note also the X, which is the north/south location of the axis, and Y, which is the left/right spin location.

    These four possible inputs on the back correspond to the joystick on the front which allows you to manually crossfade back and forth from each separate sound. Easy enough. You can also just input one sound (the circuit will distribute that one input to all four channels if no other inputs are present) then use the joystick to move that single sound around to four separate spaces.

  3. Automation
    The wildest part of the Quad Massager is the dials on the the front to automate the panning between the four regions. You can spin an LFO (it is fixed to clockwise but ask in comments for ways to switch this) and this relationship between four regions of sound becomes psychedelic and swirling. Magic Hands!
    There is this video which clearly demonstrates the audio mixing:
    QUITE A VIDEO. This is very fun if you connect each output to separate speakers to make a quadraphonic space, or just route a signal to four different destinations in your sound design. Additionally, each input has its own VCA for control voltage shifts. And there are multiple control voltage outputs corresponding to how the device is used, making it an adequate controller for tons of different kinds of sound design. As mentioned, the more you're familiar with control voltage concepts the more interesting this lovely metal box becomes. Take a single region's VCA out into the CV input of a filter, for example.
  4. A Hidden Etch A Sketch
    If that was all this did, I'd be happy, but then there's the other part: Sine to X and Cosine to Y. Does using two dials to move left/right and up/down seem at all familiar? You likely experienced this sort of control with a treasured toy: An Etch A Sketch. If you recall how you move the magnet around the screen with an Etch A Sketch, it is up/down and left/right on a rigid grid. The same idea is here, but it controls the axis by which the LFO rotates. So if you go high up on X and far to the left on Y, you'll spin the majority of the joystick movement around the first input with only a little bleed from the other three channels. This is brilliant! So you could use the X and Y dials to go far up into the North West region of the panel and then the LFO will rotate on that axis, giving prominence to the first sound in the audio mix. The Etch A Sketch analogy is mine, not the company's – But I think it explains it best.
  5. Use as a Panner with Dual Stereo Paths
    The best part of this mixer is its subtle qualities, particularly how it outputs each region separately. This allows for lightly dropping components of stereophonic ideas (or quadraphonic, if in an event space) directly into a mix. The device itself is very well made, with a nice rubberized base for the joystick (it is not on a spring and sticks wherever you place it). In a world of cheesy disposable gimmicks, it's a delight to know something like the Quad Massager exists. It feels as sturdy as old telephone equipment.
  6. Sound Examples
    SWWE #72: Quadraphonic Panning with the Knas Quad Massager

  7. Connect with SWWE via VCA Input and Automation on Bandcamp, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google .