Is The Buchla Polyphonic Rhythm Generator The Most Powerful Hardware Step Sequencer Ever?


At the 2015 NAMM Show, Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments introduced the Polyphonic Rhythm Generator – a high-end step sequencer that is one of the most complex and powerful hardware step sequencers ever created.

The new sequencer is:

  • polyphonic – it can sequence three lines, completely independently;
  • polyrhthmic – it can be used to create complex rhythmic patterns, and includes a powerful Euclidean pattern generator; and
  • polymetric – it can create sequences of different lengths, syncing them either by a shared pulse (creating cyclic interlocking patterns), by a shared down beat (creating complex time signatures) or they can run completely independently.

Here’s an in-depth intro video from the NAMM Show, featuring Buchla engineer Charles Seeholzer. Note that the new Buchla sequencer is insanely deep, and this video digs deep into the many options that it offers:

The 252e Buchla Polyphonic Rhythm Generator

polyphonic-rhythm-generatorThe interface features 11 concentric rings, each with their own ability to generate complex patterns. The rings vary in number of steps from 3 to 16. Three sequences can run, on any of the rings.

Sequences on different rings can be synced in several ways. They can be synced by the unit of the sequence, so a sequence with 3 steps would repeat twice in the time it takes for a 6-step sequence.

Sequences on different rings can be synced so that their cycles align. This lets you create sequences where 5 notes play in the same time as 7 notes in another sequence, for example.

Sequences can also be free-running, with different BPMs.

The Polyphonic Rhythm Generator also includes a built-in Euclidian rhythmic library. Sequences of any length can use Euclidian rhythms of any note density. The start point of the Euclidian rhythms can also be shifted forward or back in relation to other patterns.

Three clocks drive the rings, which are freely assignable to 4 pulse and 2 CV outputs, allowing an amazing amount of flexibility to shift, cross-trigger and explore totally new musical possibilities. A rich MIDI implementation compliments the user interface that invites experimentation.

The 252e Buchla Polyphonic Rhythm Generator is priced at $2,499. See the Buchla site for more info.

46 thoughts on “Is The Buchla Polyphonic Rhythm Generator The Most Powerful Hardware Step Sequencer Ever?

  1. No good. Starting watching twice and fell asleep both times. Maybe I’d understand it better if it made sounds, or something?

  2. Within this price you can get a decent field recording equipment to come with something original, to that make some body exercise for free when recording chopping … . With any DAW you can than play with polyrhthmic , polyphonic and polymetric …

  3. I reckon this one falls into that, haven’t got a clue what I am doing but this stuff sounds crazy category. If I had the money I’d buy two of these and make endless videos of poly-rhythmic sounds, purely to piss people off for spending $5k on the most annoying sequences – soundporn heaven.

    1. It does indeed look way cool. But – I guess the intent of a device like this is to let someone screw around with the knobs and switches and patch-cords and eventually come up with something they can use musically. Versus: I have a sequence idea and I want to try it. Because I’ll bet you hit implementation limits pretty quickly on something like this (ie, But … I want 4 sequences, not 3!). It just makes more sense to do some of this stuff in software.

      But as a device that I guess lets you explore certain classes of sequences, it seems nice. If a tad on the expensive side.

  4. Way too complicated and counter intuitive. But then again, it’s for modular, and modular is more about collecting gear and dicking around than making actual music, so maybe this thing will be perfect.

    1. What some people regard as “dicking around” is for the person making the music/sound/nonsense a way to express themselves and be creative. Why would anyone be negative about that? Let it go.

    2. ‘dicking around’ is being the millionth guy to make a four on the floor beat with an 8×8 grid controller and thinking that’s being creative.

    3. people usually shit on things they don’t understand.
      this was interesting video to me. because i get most of the stuff he was talking about.

      if you haven’t taken the time to learn about modulars then you shit on them, just looks bad on you

  5. the thing about modular is that you can just make the same thing with 3 sequencer modules for a quarter of the price that the buchla is going for

    1. You’d be right if you’re making simple 16-step dance music, but not if you’re trying to do creative or experimental music.

      How are you going to do something like 7 over 11 over 15 with standard sequencer modules? You’d need at least three sophisticated 16-step sequencers plus a fairly powerful clock multiplier module at the very least.

      But that wouldn’t give you Euclidean sequencing or a dozen other things that this can do.

      If you really look at the features on this, it runs circles (pun intended) around just about anything out there.

      I just wish it was within my budget! Is there a software step sequencer that can do what this does?

      1. yeah, so 5 modules, all of which can be had for a quarter of the price this is going for and still be more intuitive. A few more patch cables never scared anyone

        1. You’re saying that you could create a similarly powerful hardware sequencing setup using Euro/5U modules for 1/4 of the cost, or around $700.

          Can you suggest what set of modules could do that?

          It seems like you either don’t really understand this sequencer or you don’t know the price of good synth modules.

          Remember that this is handling three channels of sequencing, via midi and CV, can sync in at least three different ways, and has three channels of Euclidean pattern generation

          1. as eurokron 620, 4ms qcd 240, rebel Stoicheia 240. not quite, but still around a third the price for more overall features. Also, its worth noting the price is 3000 to get MIDI

            1. Do you mean the Eurokorn?

              If so, you’d need three of them, since you need three independently clocked channels to do the polymetric rhythms the Buchla sequencer can do (like the 7 over 11 over 15 example I mentioned earlier) . So that’s over $1,800 right there.

              Then you’d need three of the Stoicheia’s, too, if you want to do Euclidean polyrhythms on each channel, so that’s another $720.

              So your approach isn’t 1/4 the cost, it would cost more than the Buchla sequencer and do a lot less.

              I have to assume you didn’t take the time to understand what the Buchla sequencer can do, earlier, because the limitations of your suggested solution are pretty clear.

                1. Dylan

                  The EMW is only an 8-step sequencer, do you’d need 6 of them plus three switches to get 3-channels of sixteen steps. You’re going to be pushing $1500 just for that.

                  Also, it doesn’t look like the Pamelas Workout can do polymetric clocking, so you’d still need a click divider. Plus three Euclidean modules.

                  So yourEuro solution would be more expensive, a lot messier to use and less powerful.

                  Maybe someone that understands sequencing and euro better could suggest an alternative that makes more sense.

    1. Polyrhythmic Rhythm Generator? Klee? Circlon?

      The correct answer is ‘all of the above’.

      They’re all excellent, but they’re very different, too. The polymetric capabilities of this sequencer (i.e., doing things like 5 beats against 8) seem to be implemented in a much more straightforward way, and definitely more visual way, than other step sequencers.

      The sequencer I’ve been geeking out on, though, is the Zaquencer. It can’t do half the things this sequencer does, but it’s inexpensive and killer for modular-style step sequencing.

    1. Hey – I can tell when the notes are being triggered by something analog. They have a more warm and organic triggering, and are generally fatter.

      1. I can’t see how you can tell the difference between an ‘analog’ and a ‘digital’ trigger. A digital pulse is just a rapid change in an analog voltage.

        1. A fairly crappy and chopped up analog signal package of digital data (MIDI or OSC over network) can tell a much more precise machine exactly when to generate a pulse. If the package is only delivered before the pulse should take place.

          In an analog signal system the information = delivery, so you’ll always face signal degradation.

          OTOH the digital system incurs delays, it requires higher bandwidth than the signal represented, and a small partial signal loss may break the entire message.

  6. this reminds of that awesome sequencer that comes with Reaktor, Spiral. a bit. I know it’s not hardware so spare the obvious – but has a similar vibe.

  7. Yea, but wheres the button that slaps me in the face to keep me awake during this guy’s presentation. Thank God for the scroll bar in YouTube, so I don’t have to waste an entire 9 minutes of my life.

  8. I wish they’d apply some of those rapid development skills to fix the bugs in the 251e visible just to the left. Better yet, open source the code so at least someone else can fix it.

  9. It’s pretty amazing I could see myself playing with this, but I’d want direct touch screen access rather than twiddling a bunch of knobs which aren’t obviously tied to function A B Or C without squinting at the faceplate.

  10. It’s a bit of modular gear. Hence, the only important questions are:

    1. Would it look good on the set of a low-budget sci-fi movie, and;
    2. Does it make good flying saucer noises?


    1. Yes
    2. We don’t know yet.

    Questions of cost are irrelevant.

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