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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » Hardware


MOTU’s new audio interfaces may finally be what we all need – $169.95

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 8 Nov 2019 3:13 pm

The no-compromise and entry-level audio interface – it’s something that should be impossible, but MOTU might have just cracked it.

I have literally been trying to pack suitcases for a long trip, staring at audio interfaces because I can’t find the one that does what I need. I’ve been equally stumped sometimes asking inevitable questions from friends about what they should buy.

MOTU has always made great audio interfaces. But many of them require drivers, which means your Linux-running laptop with Bitwig Studio or your iPad with those great new Eventide apps are both out of luck. Or they don’t fit a small budget.

So the M2 / M4 genuinely surprised me. They have the specs of a high-end box from MOTU or others, but they start at US$169.95 and at last they also work with every OS, all squeezed into a portable package.

Here’s what you might not expect:

High-end converters

2.5 ms latency with their drivers

A high-res color screen and built-in metering (unheard of at this price)

RCA outs? MIDI I/O? Sure!

But that’s not why I say they’re really no-compromise (though the high-end converters surely go there). MOTU did their own custom USB drivers for ultra low-latency performance on Mac and Windows but they also made this class-compliant – so it doesn’t need drivers on Linux or iOS or Android.

And then the pricing is stupidly nice.

So finally, one little box does everything – and if you get into the iPad or Android or Raspberry Pi, you don’t have to go buy another interface.

Yes, these are USB-C but that will also connect to your existing USB A connection.

Promising stuff – I’ll be interested to pick one to review (or pick up one to hopefully keep).

Full specs from MOTU:

• 2-in / 2-out and 4-in / 4-out USB audio interfaces with studio-quality sound
• Best-in-class audio quality driven by ESS Sabre32 Ultra™ DAC Technology
• Best-in-class speed (ultra-low latency) for host software processing
• Best-in-class metering for all inputs/outputs with a full-color LCD
• 2x mic/line/hi-Z guitar inputs on combo XLR/TRS
• Individual preamp gain and 48V phantom power for each input
• 2x balanced 1/4-inch line inputs (M4 only)
• Hardware (direct) monitoring for each input
• Monitor mix knob to balance live inputs and computer playback (M4 only)
• Measured -129 dB EIN on mic inputs
• Balanced, DC-coupled 1/4-inch TRS outputs (2x for M2; 4x for M4)
• Measured 120 dB dynamic range on the 1/4-inch balanced TRS outputs
• RCA (unbalanced) analog outs that mirror 1/4-inch outs (2x for M2; 4x for M4)
• 1x headphone out (driven by ESS converters) with independent volume control
• MIDI in/out
• Support for 44.1 to 192 kHz sample rates
• USB audio class compliant for plug-and-play operation on Mac (no driver required)
• Windows driver with 2.5 ms Round Trip Latency (32 sample buffer at 96 kHz)
• Mac driver (optional, for 2.5 ms RTL@32/96 kHz and loopback feature)
• iOS compatible (USB audio class compliant) 
• Driver loopback for capturing host output, live streaming and podcasting
• Bus powered USB-C (compatible with USB Type A) with power switch (USB cable included)
• Rugged metal construction
• Workstation software included (MOTU Performer Lite 10 and Ableton Live Lite 10)
• 100+ instruments (in Performer Lite)
• Over 6 GB of included free loops, samples and one-shots from industry leading libraries
• Kensington security slot
• Built in the USA
• Two-year warranty

Now shipping, $169.95 for the 2×2 M2, or if you want 4 ins and 4 outs, $219.95 for the M4.

https://new.motu.com/en-us/products/m-series/m2/

https://new.motu.com/en-us/products/m-series/m4/

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Elektron Analog updates let you sequence other gear, add musical complexity

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 21 Oct 2019 5:13 pm

Elektron just revised their Analog Four and Analog Rytm MKI/MKII OSes. Finally: MIDI out. Wait, that’s cool: per-track scale, powerful macros, and more.

A few features really stand out here.

First, finally you get sequencer MIDI out. Now, that’s been a long wait, but it at last brings the Elektron sequencer workflow and conditional trigs and whatnot to all the other stuff in your studio.

There’s some other cool stuff in this update, though:

Scale per track: Borrowed from the Digitakt and Digitone, this makes even more sense as an advanced feature on the Analog line.

Parameter randomization: You can do this instantly across a whole page, and there’s revert if you don’t like it.

Multiple performance macros, one knob: The Quick Performance Control knob now can be assigned multiple macros. I’d say Elektron are gradually improving their live performance features, and it’s a welcome move.

Graphics have been improved, too, and there are various bug fixes and other little details.

https://www.elektron.se/support/

News item on upgrades

The post Elektron Analog updates let you sequence other gear, add musical complexity appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Natural-sounding reverbs come to Eurorack: Tasty Chips stereo convolution reverb

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 1 Oct 2019 10:03 am

It’s one more way your Eurorack modular is starting to look like a total replacement for your computer: stereo convolution reverb is next.

Sure, you’ve got convolution reverbs in your DAW, and maybe a favorite plug-in. But this hardware adds some twists – not just delivering realistic modeled reverberation to your modular rig, but bringing some hardware-specific functionality on the way. It’s the work of Tasty Chips, known for their granular hardware.

Quick refresher on convolution reverbs – the idea is, a sound measurement of the space lets you create a fairly accurate model of how sound will reflect. You record an impulse (some broad-spectrum transient or sweeping frequency, so you capture a full frequency range), and the resulting recording in time can then be applied to any source you choose. So, why would you want this in modular?

You can record impulse responses right on the device. Fire up your starter pistols (okay, more likely sine wave sweep), and record impulses directly. I imagine some people might just tote a portable modular rig into a church in the town where you’ve got a gig. Sure, you could do that with a recorder, too, but – this is at least fun. run

Alternatively, you can capture synth impulses from your modular, and then run those little synth-y bits through your saved impulses. I’ve always loved this for sound design, even outside the “what does my local parking garage sound like as a reverb.” (Apple’s pro apps team must like it, too, as you will find a bunch of these sorts of impulses in Space Designer in Logic these days.)

You can crossfade between convolution files.

There are tons of hardware controls. Also some nice thought into options like pre-delay and position.

You get CV control. Here’s the modular part – you can use CV to control position, crossfade, and stereo width. Convolution reverbs are normally a set-it-and-forget-it affair, so I’m curious how this works in practice, but it does help make the case for hardware.

The excellent Synth Anatomy get the scoop on this and have some of their own take:

Tasty Chips Electronics Announced ECR-1 Convolver (Stereo Convolution Reverb) For Eurorack

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Native Instruments is struggling to provide customer support following cuts

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 26 Sep 2019 8:35 pm

Recent staff cuts at the company have hurt customer support, according to sources familiar with the matter and user complaints.

Native Instruments did not mention cuts to customer support in its statements to me earlier this month. NI cut an estimated 30% of its workforce this summer — fully 20% in a single day, as reported by the company. Yet despite promises from NI management that these changes would “improve the experience for all users of our products,” one immediate impact is constrained support options and increased service backlogs.

Direct personal support options, previously offering email and phone support, are now reduced or gone. You can observe this for yourself by navigating NI’s site.

Software support now dead-ends at a set of documentation articles; then you’re able to create a post on the community forums if you don’t find an answer, but direct contact is gone.

Hardware support does provide some direct contact options – you can directly contact repair service if you have faulty hardware, which allows you to open a ticket. But even most hardware options now also lead only to the knowledge base.

It’s also possible to open a chat for presales or order and account support, but that change may be flooding account support with queries that would normally go elsewhere, sources tell us.

Your best bet if you are having problems is still to make a post in the forums – or talk to other users. But reaching NI support is more difficult; a message across all support pages now reads:

“Due to the high amount of incoming requests, we currently cannot achieve our desired response times. We thank you in advance for your patience until we get to your request.”

You will find a September 10 update to Traktor DJ 2 on the site, and Native Access has recently delivered updates for Komplete Kontrol, Controller Editor, and Maschine, though at least some of these involve development that would have preceded the cuts.

Native Instruments did not immediately respond to CDM’s request for comment.

Previously:

The post Native Instruments is struggling to provide customer support following cuts appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Review: 1010 Blackbox, sampling workstation hardware in a little square

Delivered... Andreas Roman | Scene | Mon 23 Sep 2019 4:46 pm

This cute little box promises to let you manipulate sound and play live with samples without a computer. Andreas Roman returns to CDM with another in-depth, hands-on hardware review.

This time, it’s the US$599 1010 Music Blackbox, a compact, boutique sampler and sample manipulation workstation. (See Andreas’ previous review of Elektron’s Model:Samples – with a similar take on how limitations can make for a focused device.)

Meet the Blackbox

I’ve mostly stayed away from modular, so I was unfamiliar with 1010 Music, a company that’s known largely for their Eurorack offerings. (The Blackbox is their first desktop offering.) Then I started seeing the 1010 Blackbox as early adopters posted their reviews.

So what is it? It’s a sampler. It’s neat and tidy, small enough to fit in your open palm. It’s got a focused set of features that can take you from nothing to a complete something that can even sound like it happened in a studio – if you work it right. It’s built like a brick. It’s got a navigation system so clever, you might feel sorry for whoever wrote the documentation because you won’t need to read the manual. And it runs on a portable battery.

Look and feel

On the surface, the Blackbox seems ordinary. A large touch screen dominates the center, like a window into its heart if you will. A set of buttons on the unit at the bottom allow you to flip through the sections. Four endless encoders surround the screen, used for navigation and parameter tweaks, and two push buttons help you flip between menus.

It looks a bit crude on first impression – as you turn it on, the brash and utilitarian design underlines this. But when you touch it, there’s a solid sense of quality to the materials. A minute or so with the interface, and it becomes clear that in this straight forward, no-nonsense approach is conscious design choice. The raw pixels and squared menus give it some retro-digital flair.

It’s neat, practical, and perfect for the purpose. Within the hour, I’d sampled, sliced, sequenced, processed, and built a song with external as well as on-board factory material. I even made a structure for composition and rendered it into a WAV file – all within the Blackbox, by my kitchen table.

Sample slots and editing

Starting from the left-hand side of the unit, let’s begin with assignable samples. You get sixteen of these, which can be anything from a one-shot to minutes-long audio sequences. (You could theoretically even go hours – the Blackbox streams from an SD card.) [Ed. Note that that’s very much what’s missing on hardware like the new Roland MC-101/707, which requires you to copy audio into internal memory, both adding steps the workflow and limiting sample length and storage. -PK]

Also, thanks to a smart mapping system connected to sliced-up samples, one slot can trigger multiple samples from the virtual keyboard or from external hardware.

Tapping the on-screen pads can trigger different behaviors. With a combination of sync options and settings, you can either let the sound fire as you strike, which is preferable for live drumming and FX, or you can have it sync to a section of the beat and trigger perfectly on cue – great for looping or longer, pre-recorded sections. Although sixteen slots for samples might not seem much, the flexibility makes this 4 by 4 grid quite potent. You could stay here for an entire set, mixing loops and complete backing track sections with mad live drumming skills, all in sync to internal or external clock.

From the sample section, you also access deeper editing functions such as an envelope per sound, a filter, start- and end-points for loops, time-stretch parameters, and so on. The shaping is more geared for sculpting your sample to work in a mix, and less about creative effects. The filter acts like an EQ that blends between states. The lower you go, the deeper the thuds and greater the cutoff. Aim high, and you’ll lose the rumbling deep ends and position your sample in the cleaner forefront. The amp envelope is used to trim what’s already there, so if your bass sound doesn’t snap on its own, don’t expect the decay, sustain, and release to fix that for you. Just watch your source material, and these tweaks will serve you well for their intended purpose.

One very impressive update is the granular option that 1010 threw in as I was writing this. With a neat combination of additional features for granular synthesis, you got access to parameters that had me tearing up drum loops like I was the coolest thing from Iceland since last winter. With just an extra screen for granular, you’d think that it’s too barren to serve the purpose.

But that’s the thing with the Blackbox – what’s on offer has been so carefully selected, the combinations of what you can achieve grow into something larger than you’d think at first glance.

Compact size means the Blackbox fits into your workflow and space – though over time, its deep capabilities may surprise you.

Sequences

This emergent design is even more evident in the Sequencer section, which records your live drumming or clip launches from as many samples as you prefer. The Blackbox holds sixteen patterns per project, but those patterns can play all samples at once and polyphonically, too, as long as the CPU allows it. Patterns aren’t bound to a specific sound, but just to whatever performance you record into them.

Each pattern has its own time signature and number of steps, and has a refreshing maximum of 128 steps if you’re going for the traditional 4 / 4 thump. Split up the time signature and you can go plenty further, as long as your playing allows it – slow leads, evolving pads, meditative jazz chords.

There’s plenty of room for extended live takes here. To push it, I recorded a few 64-bar loops from my Tempest, set them all to sync and time stretch from within the Blackbox and launched them from just one pattern, at the lowest possible time signature to reduce cycling. Worked like a charm. Next, I tore up the (kitchen) floor with a 32 bar disco lead from a Rev2, and the crowd (my wife and kids) went wild. 

While the sequencer itself has a rudimentary system for editing notes, with only the bare minimum allowed for editing – mostly triggering and timing, really – the patterns themselves can be played in sequence or simultaneously, launched in sync or on the go. You can have all of them run at once, playing a selected number of samples, at different time signatures and number of steps. The kind of polyrhythms you could pull off with this approaches Sequentix Cirklon and Squarp Pyramid territory. When you realize that these sequences can run while you’re still playing the sample grid, we’re close to mind-melting possibilities.

And that’s even before getting to Song mode. Here, you can live-record the starts and stops of each pattern, creating a master version of your preferred combination of patterns as they go on and off while you’re jamming. Each part of the Song has its unique number of bars, so you can have one section that’s just two bars, another one that’s sixteen, then a third that’s eight, and you can string those together into a list that plays these in order, or launch them live as separate overarching sections of your performance. Doesn’t matter if you’re an improvised act or a structured studio musician. You can be as spontaneous or as meticulous as you want.

Effects and MIDI support

Before we get to live sampling/audio recording, the remaining features are also fairly basic but useful. Each sound can hold a combination of reverb and delay, with the dry/wet output set per slot. Both the delay and the reverb contain master settings for all channels and they provide enough parameters for you to move between small, tight rooms with slap delay bouncing around, to wide, open spaces and long tails of slow-moving echoes. They sound slightly better than good and in a mix, they’ll do just fine. What remains then is a mixer window where you got the basics covered such as output, panning and muting, no EQ but a subtle and neat on/off compressor further to the right, and then browsers and setup tools for sync, file management, midi channels, metronome tweaks, and the like.

MIDI support on the Blackbox was a bit lean at launch, but recent updates have corrected that. The hardware now sends and receives clock, responds well to external gear, and is easy enough to set up, with increasingly flexible routing delivered in each new firmware update. The sequencer both records and sends MIDI, so the Blackbox can sequence external gear as well as internal sounds. I took mine to the local dealer and hooked it up to their Yamaha CP88, and within minutes I had something going where I recorded my CP88-style Rhodes action as MIDI parts into the Black Box, then played back the section from the sequencer as I recorded it live from the Yamaha directly into the Black Box.

I used these recordings to try and talk my wife into realizing that our home needed a Yamaha CP88 and how great it would be for the kids, but I can’t blame the Blackbox for my failed attempts at diplomacy. Our living room remains void of a piano still (but the kitchen’s still disco, so don’t worry).

Yes, all minijacks, though adapters for MIDI are included in the box.
The full package, with everything you need – adapters, cable, memory card.

Yes, it’s a real sampler

Oh, yeah. Also, this thing samples. Plug in your audio source, adjust the gain and either go for manual sampling, threshold by audio or – and this one’s my favourite, an old combat wound from the Octatrack years – midi synced recording, with perfect start and end points. It writes directly to a micro SD card (included at purchase), and it stops when you or the memory card tells it to. So if you got massive space and you want to sample your hours long ambient session, just go ahead.

Really, all you other manufacturers of samplers out there. How is it that you don’t get that this is all we need? A basic set of timing options, real-time stereo recording straight to card like if it was tape, great converters and some flexibility on the start trigger. Look at how it’s done by 1010 Music, and take notice. Mono sampling only? I don’t think so. 64mb memory? Puh-leease. This is 2019 and the Blackbox knows it.

So sampling is a breeze no matter if you’re going for a one-shot snare or improvised epics. You can also use the Blackbox as a live looper if you set it up as such. There’s resampling, both by external hardwiring and internal recording. I routed a few loops through one of the box’s three stereo outs (yep, three – pretty neat, huh?), changed it to mono and sent its audio into a Sherman Filterbank 2.

After some mad mayhem filter tweaking, I had something that I liked and recorded it back into the Blackbox external input. Obviously, doing it like this makes monitoring tricky and until 1010 Music implements some kind of cueing (and they might never, you know, and we should be cool with that), you either accept the challenge or find a way to monitor the signal externally before you record it back. I used an Analog Heat for the purpose, which was overkill but stupid fun. And also, if all you want to do is resample what’s going on within the box, internal resampling was added as an update during the summer. As long as you got one slot free, you can render your entire performance down into one WAV file.

Conclusions

The Blackbox is not about its list of features. You could still think this instrument falls short if you compare it to beasts like from Elektron, Pioneer’s Toriaz SPS-16, or the Synthstrom Deluge, and the MPC family, of course. Maybe those kits or their alternatives is what you need.

But one of the main points with cleverly built hardware is the way it all comes together — how you interact with the instrument, how all these sets spark ideas as you go with the flow. And the Black Box has a flow that few others can match.

Sure, there are limits more obvious than others. There’s the sixteen slot system. You can get around this with slicing up your sample chains; it’s not really a complete workaround, but a neat way to get more out of the grid. Even so, sixteen is sixteen. This same limit applies to the sequencer patterns, and since the Blackbox so quickly helps you get results, it’s worth pointing out that you will hit a full stop at some point solely on the quantity of space available for your sounds and patterns. Seeing as it reads from the card, I’m not sure why this limitation is in place, other than the fact that each project becomes very defined. Which, however, follows the ethos of this instrument quite well. It’s very clear on what it is and what it’s not.

Also, I haven’t mentioned modulation, have I? That’s because there is none. You can affect a few parameters from external gear, but there are no LFO’s and no automation recording, including what comes from MIDI. Remember the above example, my in-store sessions with the Yamaha CP88? It recorded my playing but none of my interactions with the sustain pedal.

And even though the onboard delay and reverb are both solid, some of you will want for at least an extra parameter or two, to bring the effects to stranger places. Or maybe you’ll wish for more effects options – a chorus, perhaps an EQ, a tint of overdrive. I don’t miss it, but you might. But again, back to the clarity of this thing, because if you’re going to include just one or two effects, you’d certainly do right to go for a reverb and a delay.

Had I reviewed the Blackbox in June, I also would’ve said that the MIDI implementation left me wanting. But that’s no longer the case. Each update has improved the MIDI features considerably, and if you look at the latest addition with the granular options introduced, it’s clear that 1010 Music is devoted to the development of the Blackbox.

If you acquire the Blackbox today, and embrace what’s there, you get a fully developed, well designed, and amazingly inspiring instrument on which you can write great music. If you got another idea of what such a platform could be, that’s fine. But it’s been awhile since I had such a sparkling piece of kit around, and chances are, you’ll agree once you’ve tried it yourself.

Product page: 1010 Blackbox

A sample jam

We enjoyed Andreas’ music last time – here’s a real-world example jam among various he made while working with this.

He explains:

It really pushes the Blackbox. 14 of 16 sample slots are used. The sequencer launches loops and triggers one-shots, some of them just brief 8 step tracks and some close to 64 bars long, running in parallel. On top of that, it’s all strung together with the song mode, and no external processing has been used. The headroom in this thing is pretty impressive.

Also, anyone else who has lived as I have in the metro NYC area, I presume you also can’t stop hearing the signature 1010 WINS radio ID? (Ah, nothing says “good morning” quite like hearing a major seventh of xylophones and … trumpets. I literally had this on my alarm clock for a while — jarring.)

The post Review: 1010 Blackbox, sampling workstation hardware in a little square appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Roland’s Boutique JU-06A JUNO is insanely fun

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 5 Sep 2019 1:10 pm

It doesn’t look like much. The latest Roland Boutique might even give you a sense of deja vu – because Roland did a tiny JUNO before. The difference: this time they got it right.

I’m the last person to want endless remakes of old synths. But a JUNO is something special. I assume I’m not alone in this – if I’m in someone else’s studio and there’s a JUNO-106 or JUNO-60 lying around, I’ll usually say let’s plug in that. It’s not even necessarily that they’re my favorite analog polysynths; it’s that something about them has a unique ability to blend into a mix, and be versatile in a number of situations. It’s also a pleasant early 80s sound that seems to blend well with more contemporary timbres, too. (I’ve found plenty of other artists who seem to feel similarly, ones whose opinion you should probably value more than mine, so I don’t feel I’m going out on a limb.)

Okay, so a JUNO is something you just want handy. And you don’t want it to be a plug-in – that’s terrible for jam sessions and live. The full keyboard is now pricey on the used market, takes up a lot of space, and is now at an age when it starts to break down. (I’m a few years older than these Rolands, and I start to feel their pain. Literally. I look forward to the digital remake of me.)

So you do really want an inexpensive hardware remake.

You would then presumably want it to be small and portable, so you can always keep it around.

You’d want it to still sound like a JUNO.

You’d want it to be playable, so you could use it as a sketchpad or easily work it into jams and live sets.

You wouldn’t want it to be terribly expensive.

The JU-06 that launched this whole oddly-named Roland Boutique phenomenon almost got this right, but then mostly screwed it up. There’s a step sequencer, but no external clock in. (There’s MIDI clock in, just not analog clock in.) It’s overly authentic in that modulation isn’t tempo synced – even though it’s now a MIDI device. There’s a step sequencer, but it shares the same buttons as the patch controls, a guarantee that you’ll wind up accidentally changing patches at an inopportune moment.

It sounds good, like a JUNO-106. But lots of things sound good now – and the JU-06 was mediocre enough that you start to go back to the thought that maybe a plug-in isn’t such a bad idea.

Roland are now back with the JU-06A, and not only does it fix all the issues with the JU-06, but I think it’s just edged out the SH-01A as the Boutique synthesizer I would buy first.

Step sequencer, external clock in, and a little toggle switch to make this either a convincing JUNO-60 or JUNO-106.

Everything is fixed now

Courtesy Roland. Apologies to anyone wanting to sell your JU-06.

The JU-06A doesn’t look radical, but little differences make this something you want to keep rather than return.

JUNO-60, too. Inside, Roland have added a second sound engine to emulate the 1982 JUNO-60, as well as the 1984 JUNO-106. There’s a toggle switch on the front panel that lets you swap models – an advantage of going digital. As with the other Boutiques (apart from the Studio Electronics collaboration), this is circuit modeling (ACB). But it sounds terrific.

Adding the JUNO-60 adds some more idiosyncratic sound options. In addition, you can reproduce the noise of the vintage chorus (with parameters tucked in settings for off/half/full noise). There are lots of other details that give this tiny box some of the growl and warmth of the original and its filter without taking up much space. Someone I’m sure will do some obsessive comparison, but it’s uncanny enough to be fine in a mix.

In addition to the step sequencer, the arpeggiator and chord modes here replace the less-useful touch strips for pitch and mod. HOLD works with both arp and chords, and the arp works with chord mode, too. Unfortunately, you can’t program individual chords into the step sequencer.

Chord and arpeggiator modes. This makes a major difference in playability. There are now simple chord playback and arpeggiator controls on the left-hand side of the unit, replacing the mostly pointless touch strip pitch and mod. Chord mode is lovely on a poly, of course; you get just 16 slots for chords, but that’s about the amount I can remember, anyway. Each memory slot can be edited from the front panel.

The arp is similarly basic but useful – you get up, down, and up/down modes, a range (from 1-3 octaves), and a rate knob, which always divides the master clock. It’s pretty basic, but all the controls are dedicated, which is great live.

There’s also a dedicated HOLD button, and the arp will work with both the HOLD and CHORD modes.

On its own, that would still be too limiting, but fortunately there’s also —

A step sequencer. 16 steps times 16 patterns, all monophonic. And now this also works with external clock – there’s a little minijack next to the sequencer itself (odd positioning, but it works).

The step sequencer is surprisingly usable, with practice, on the front panel. You can switch steps on and off, TR x0x style, and also enter in steps one at a time from the onboard keyboard. You can also use an external keyboard for pitch entry – like the Roland Boutique keyboard dock, or something else via MIDI in.

What’s evidently missing, which was on the SH-01A, is the ability to add individual chords to steps. That’s too bad, though what you get instead is, the monophonic step sequencer becomes the root note of the chord when chord mode is on.

LFO and Delay Tempo Sync. Both the LFO and Delay effect can now be clocked free, or synced to the master tempo. That’s obvious, but for some reason the JU-06 lacked it.

There’s more user memory. You get both 64 dedicated slots for each mode – JUNO-60 and JUNO-106 – which doubles the slots on the JU-06, and lets you effectively keep a library for each instrument.

The Ribbon Controllers are gone. If you particularly desire touch strips for pitch and mod, you should pick up a used JU-06 and not this. I don’t miss them, though, and I think most people will vastly prefer the chord and arp.

Fun in use for fans of tiny things

If I had one gripe about the JU, it’s the ongoing Boutique form factor. These units are compact and lightweight, but there’s still this strange docking scheme. That lets you choose either a keyboard or a little box that lets you tilt up the unit. (That’s the DK-01 docking station and the K-25m keyboard dock.) They each run a little under $100 street, with the keyboard costing more.

Back panel I/O. A minijack affair, but you do get full-sized MIDI DIN.

The upside is, of course, if you buy multiple Boutiques they don’t all have to have keyboards. But they do make you feel like Roland is squeezing you for extra cash (well, because they are), and the impression of the actual design is sort of toylike. My JU-06A review unit came without either, and my delicate aesthetic sensibilities made me not want to dock it in the silver 303 or beige 909 docks I had around, so I found… okay, actually, the thing is even more portable and lightweight without it, is still usable, and just has some funny edges. In an ideal world, this would have USB host so you could plug in anything; in this world, I’d probably still use a different keyboard and not the keyboard dock.

Roland wants you to budget extra for a dock that folds up the unit, or this kinda-okay mini-keyboard.

But I got over it. I love tiny things. The JU is small enough to fit in your backpack, and since it’s battery powered, you can sprawl in bed and program nice step sequences for a gig the next day.

This thing is definitely Japanese in scale – the land that miniaturized electronics in the first place. So if your fingers fit comfortably on tiny controls, you’ll love it. If not, you’ll (justifiably) hate it.

Assuming you can handle it, though, I think the JU-06A is a total joy. I took it to a jam session with some studio neighbors and a live club gig (disguising the unreleased hardware’s identity), and it excelled in both cases – enough that people clearly responded to the sound.

The step sequencer would definitely benefit from parameter locks, but then maybe that isn’t the way to think of the JUNO. With the stupid-simple step sequencer, chords, and arp, you can just go wild with the (tiny) LFO and (tiny) envelope controls and (tiny) filter, and this thing is a performance beast.

I’m sure I’ll get some pushback from people who think it’s still a toy, who hate that it’s digital, who are interested in a certain clone manufacturer rather than the company that did the first JUNO. But no matter. This thing is still affordable, it’s got loads of controls, the sound engine is clearly good enough, and the digital aspect makes it practical, flexible, and power efficient.

It’s not the only compact remake poly in town – the Yamaha reface cs is now running about $300 street, with a keyboard. But the JU-06A to me is now an ideal addition.

So yeah, Roland I should… probably let you know I’m keeping this one.

The post Roland’s Boutique JU-06A JUNO is insanely fun appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Roland’s Boutique JU-06A JUNO is insanely fun

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 5 Sep 2019 1:10 pm

It doesn’t look like much. The latest Roland Boutique might even give you a sense of deja vu – because Roland did a tiny JUNO before. The difference: this time they got it right.

I’m the last person to want endless remakes of old synths. But a JUNO is something special. I assume I’m not alone in this – if I’m in someone else’s studio and there’s a JUNO-106 or JUNO-60 lying around, I’ll usually say let’s plug in that. It’s not even necessarily that they’re my favorite analog polysynths; it’s that something about them has a unique ability to blend into a mix, and be versatile in a number of situations. It’s also a pleasant early 80s sound that seems to blend well with more contemporary timbres, too. (I’ve found plenty of other artists who seem to feel similarly, ones whose opinion you should probably value more than mine, so I don’t feel I’m going out on a limb.)

Okay, so a JUNO is something you just want handy. And you don’t want it to be a plug-in – that’s terrible for jam sessions and live. The full keyboard is now pricey on the used market, takes up a lot of space, and is now at an age when it starts to break down. (I’m a few years older than these Rolands, and I start to feel their pain. Literally. I look forward to the digital remake of me.)

So you do really want an inexpensive hardware remake.

You would then presumably want it to be small and portable, so you can always keep it around.

You’d want it to still sound like a JUNO.

You’d want it to be playable, so you could use it as a sketchpad or easily work it into jams and live sets.

You wouldn’t want it to be terribly expensive.

The JU-06 that launched this whole oddly-named Roland Boutique phenomenon almost got this right, but then mostly screwed it up. There’s a step sequencer, but no external clock in. (There’s MIDI clock in, just not analog clock in.) It’s overly authentic in that modulation isn’t tempo synced – even though it’s now a MIDI device. There’s a step sequencer, but it shares the same buttons as the patch controls, a guarantee that you’ll wind up accidentally changing patches at an inopportune moment.

It sounds good, like a JUNO-106. But lots of things sound good now – and the JU-06 was mediocre enough that you start to go back to the thought that maybe a plug-in isn’t such a bad idea.

Roland are now back with the JU-06A, and not only does it fix all the issues with the JU-06, but I think it’s just edged out the SH-01A as the Boutique synthesizer I would buy first.

Step sequencer, external clock in, and a little toggle switch to make this either a convincing JUNO-60 or JUNO-106.

Everything is fixed now

Courtesy Roland. Apologies to anyone wanting to sell your JU-06.

The JU-06A doesn’t look radical, but little differences make this something you want to keep rather than return.

JUNO-60, too. Inside, Roland have added a second sound engine to emulate the 1982 JUNO-60, as well as the 1984 JUNO-106. There’s a toggle switch on the front panel that lets you swap models – an advantage of going digital. As with the other Boutiques (apart from the Studio Electronics collaboration), this is circuit modeling (ACB). But it sounds terrific.

Adding the JUNO-60 adds some more idiosyncratic sound options. In addition, you can reproduce the noise of the vintage chorus (with parameters tucked in settings for off/half/full noise). There are lots of other details that give this tiny box some of the growl and warmth of the original and its filter without taking up much space. Someone I’m sure will do some obsessive comparison, but it’s uncanny enough to be fine in a mix.

In addition to the step sequencer, the arpeggiator and chord modes here replace the less-useful touch strips for pitch and mod. HOLD works with both arp and chords, and the arp works with chord mode, too. Unfortunately, you can’t program individual chords into the step sequencer.

Chord and arpeggiator modes. This makes a major difference in playability. There are now simple chord playback and arpeggiator controls on the left-hand side of the unit, replacing the mostly pointless touch strip pitch and mod. Chord mode is lovely on a poly, of course; you get just 16 slots for chords, but that’s about the amount I can remember, anyway. Each memory slot can be edited from the front panel.

The arp is similarly basic but useful – you get up, down, and up/down modes, a range (from 1-3 octaves), and a rate knob, which always divides the master clock. It’s pretty basic, but all the controls are dedicated, which is great live.

There’s also a dedicated HOLD button, and the arp will work with both the HOLD and CHORD modes.

On its own, that would still be too limiting, but fortunately there’s also —

A step sequencer. 16 steps times 16 patterns, all monophonic. And now this also works with external clock – there’s a little minijack next to the sequencer itself (odd positioning, but it works).

The step sequencer is surprisingly usable, with practice, on the front panel. You can switch steps on and off, TR x0x style, and also enter in steps one at a time from the onboard keyboard. You can also use an external keyboard for pitch entry – like the Roland Boutique keyboard dock, or something else via MIDI in.

What’s evidently missing, which was on the SH-01A, is the ability to add individual chords to steps. That’s too bad, though what you get instead is, the monophonic step sequencer becomes the root note of the chord when chord mode is on.

LFO and Delay Tempo Sync. Both the LFO and Delay effect can now be clocked free, or synced to the master tempo. That’s obvious, but for some reason the JU-06 lacked it.

There’s more user memory. You get both 64 dedicated slots for each mode – JUNO-60 and JUNO-106 – which doubles the slots on the JU-06, and lets you effectively keep a library for each instrument.

The Ribbon Controllers are gone. If you particularly desire touch strips for pitch and mod, you should pick up a used JU-06 and not this. I don’t miss them, though, and I think most people will vastly prefer the chord and arp.

Fun in use for fans of tiny things

If I had one gripe about the JU, it’s the ongoing Boutique form factor. These units are compact and lightweight, but there’s still this strange docking scheme. That lets you choose either a keyboard or a little box that lets you tilt up the unit. (That’s the DK-01 docking station and the K-25m keyboard dock.) They each run a little under $100 street, with the keyboard costing more.

Back panel I/O. A minijack affair, but you do get full-sized MIDI DIN.

The upside is, of course, if you buy multiple Boutiques they don’t all have to have keyboards. But they do make you feel like Roland is squeezing you for extra cash (well, because they are), and the impression of the actual design is sort of toylike. My JU-06A review unit came without either, and my delicate aesthetic sensibilities made me not want to dock it in the silver 303 or beige 909 docks I had around, so I found… okay, actually, the thing is even more portable and lightweight without it, is still usable, and just has some funny edges. In an ideal world, this would have USB host so you could plug in anything; in this world, I’d probably still use a different keyboard and not the keyboard dock.

Roland wants you to budget extra for a dock that folds up the unit, or this kinda-okay mini-keyboard.

But I got over it. I love tiny things. The JU is small enough to fit in your backpack, and since it’s battery powered, you can sprawl in bed and program nice step sequences for a gig the next day.

This thing is definitely Japanese in scale – the land that miniaturized electronics in the first place. So if your fingers fit comfortably on tiny controls, you’ll love it. If not, you’ll (justifiably) hate it.

Assuming you can handle it, though, I think the JU-06A is a total joy. I took it to a jam session with some studio neighbors and a live club gig (disguising the unreleased hardware’s identity), and it excelled in both cases – enough that people clearly responded to the sound.

The step sequencer would definitely benefit from parameter locks, but then maybe that isn’t the way to think of the JUNO. With the stupid-simple step sequencer, chords, and arp, you can just go wild with the (tiny) LFO and (tiny) envelope controls and (tiny) filter, and this thing is a performance beast.

I’m sure I’ll get some pushback from people who think it’s still a toy, who hate that it’s digital, who are interested in a certain clone manufacturer rather than the company that did the first JUNO. But no matter. This thing is still affordable, it’s got loads of controls, the sound engine is clearly good enough, and the digital aspect makes it practical, flexible, and power efficient.

It’s not the only compact remake poly in town – the Yamaha reface cs is now running about $300 street, with a keyboard. But the JU-06A to me is now an ideal addition.

So yeah, Roland I should… probably let you know I’m keeping this one.

The post Roland’s Boutique JU-06A JUNO is insanely fun appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

KORG NTS-1 is here: A pocket ‘logue voice as $99 DIY kit

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 4 Sep 2019 2:21 pm

KORG is kicking off a new product line – the DIY-focused Nu:Tekt – with a $99 screw-together instrument. And it has the same programmable guts as you find in the prologue and minilogue xd, complete with SDK.

The Nu:Tekt NTS-1 is funny to describe, in that it represents different things to different people. For the very few of you who are actually audio programmers, it’s something special … but it might also be of interest if you just want an inexpensive sound toy or particularly like operating a screwdriver. Let’s break it down.

If you just really love using screwdrivers: Yes, this is a kit. There’s no soldering involved, if you need the smell of hot solder flux more than the calming grip of a Philips head.

But if you do enjoy a bit of assembly, you do get the NTS-1 in pieces you screw together. If you love screwdrivers but also have … misplaced all of them (I feel you), there’s even one in the box.

If you want an amazing pocket instrument for $99: Holy crap. The NTS-1 is very possibly the most synthesizer per dollar I’ve seen. KORG actually don’t even really describe how powerful this is in the press release, sheepishly saying it’s “inspired by the MULTI engine” on the prologue and minilogue xd.

So, you have something that’s small and has some onboard jamming features, like a KORG volca, but with the audio depth of their flagship instruments. And it’s even cheaper than a volca – even if you’re the one doing some of the final assembly, and the case and fit and finish are a bit more ‘rustic.’

It actually is the guts of the ‘logue voice. See the developer section below; the NTS-1 retains compatibility with the prologue and minilogue xd.

So that means you get the single oscillator from the ‘logues, plus a multimode filter, a single envelope generator, three (!) LFOs, and three (!) effects processors – reverb, delay, modulation.

You can play that, volca style, using an onboard arpeggiator. Or you can connect MIDI input. Or there’s an audio input, too, making this a very handy pocket-sized effects units for other gear.

For those of us who love collecting little sound boxes, like the Pocket Operators, volcas, Twisted Electrons, and our own MeeBlip, I can see the NTS-1 doing double-duty as an effects box and extra sound source. Life is getting pretty darned good for us – you can literally put together a full studio of gear for the price of one high-end Eurorack module, you know.

That’s already worth a hundred bucks, but the really interesting bit is that the NTS-1 is supported by the ‘logue SDK. This means you’ll be able to load custom effects and oscillators onto it, almost app style.

There are 16 custom user slots for loading your own oscillators, plus 16 slots for custom modulation effects, 8 reverb effects slots, and 8 delay effects slots.

That’ll be fun even if you aren’t a developer. As a non-coder, you probably don’t want to mess around with GitHub and the SDK, but KORG is planning a librarian and custom content page you’ll be able to use on the Web. which will eventually be here:

https://www.korg.com/products/synthesizers/nts_1/librarian_contents.php

And if you are a developer, well –

If you’re a developer: This just solved two problems for you in getting into KORG’s SDK for the ‘logues. First, it makes your price of entry way cheaper. (And even developers I know who own the keyboards are considering buying this, too, because it looks like fun.)

Second, if the NTS-1 takes off, the installed base of people who can make use of your creations also expanded.

The SDK here supports both custom oscillators and custom effects, as with the full-fledged keyboards. Check out the dedicated SDK page:

https://www.korg.com/us/products/dj/nts_1/sdk.php

Full details:

  • Ribbon keyboard
  • 1 digital oscillator, 1 multimode filter, 1 EG, 3 LFOs
  • Multiple effects: Mod (chorus, ensemble, phaser, flanger), delay, reverb
  • Minijack audio in and out
  • Minijack MIDI in jack
  • USB port (definitely necessary for loading custom programs, but I think also supports USB MIDI – I’ll check)
  • Runs on USB bus power (< 500 mA)
  • 129 mm x 78 mm x 39 mm / 5.08” x 3.07” x 1.54”
  • 124 g / 4.37 oz
  • USB cable, manual, and screwdriver in the box

The NTS-1 ships in November. I’ll definitely try to get one. US$99.

https://www.korg.com/us/products/dj/nts_1/index.php

The post KORG NTS-1 is here: A pocket ‘logue voice as $99 DIY kit appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

One little MeeBlip meets one giant Hainbach wall of sound

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 12 Aug 2019 5:22 pm

Mobile synth, meet wall of synths with knobs bigger than your hand. I got to take our new MeeBlip geode for a friendly visit with the legendary Hainbach and his lair of huge vintage analog gear. Here’s what happened.

MeeBlip geode

Hainbach is my kind of YouTuber – his channel is a nonstop flow of creative use and misuse of vintage gear, from cassettes to test equipment, paired with thoughtful ambient and experimental music. And it’s clear his passion for that equipment is driven by an obsession with producing his unique musical sound.

I asked Hainbach if maybe we could show our MeeBlip synth and have a jam, and he invited me round his house – and this is the result. (That’s how the Internet should always work, I think!)

There’s not a whole lot of MIDI in his studio, so we made use of the inexpensive KORG SQ-1 step sequencer, which is also pint-sized like our MeeBlip. Most of the MeeBlip sounds you hear are dry, but there’s also some reverb and delay from the cult favorite Alesis Wedge.

For his part, Hainbach starts out with the lovely Roland SH-09 monosynth for that lush opening tone, then adds a cassette loop. But much of the sound is from the “wall of sound” full of test equipment. This oversized, gorgeous gear was – well, until we all popularized it online – pretty cheap to come by until recently. It’s now antiquated and past retirement age in industries like telecommunications for which it was originally intended – but as a synth, it can last forever. Hainbach has explained what it’s all about, and I’ve also previously described an open laboratory in Rotterdam specializing in the setup.

Bigger than a MeeBlip.

The fun part is really getting to put the two together. Hainbach is a focused listener and improviser, so he’s terrific to play with – and this is really one take, since he had to run to pick up his kid right after the shoot.

“There’s so much to play in there… impressively playable.” Thanks, sir. So we actually can compete with enormous vintage test boxes, I guess.

We are shipping now at meeblip.com:

MeeBlip geode

And you’ll find more on Hainbach’s Patreon subscription. Plus do check his music; it’s terrific, and also really enjoyed the couple of times I’ve seen him live.

The post One little MeeBlip meets one giant Hainbach wall of sound appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

One little MeeBlip meets one giant Hainbach wall of sound

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 12 Aug 2019 5:22 pm

Mobile synth, meet wall of synths with knobs bigger than your hand. I got to take our new MeeBlip geode for a friendly visit with the legendary Hainbach and his lair of huge vintage analog gear. Here’s what happened.

MeeBlip geode

Hainbach is my kind of YouTuber – his channel is a nonstop flow of creative use and misuse of vintage gear, from cassettes to test equipment, paired with thoughtful ambient and experimental music. And it’s clear his passion for that equipment is driven by an obsession with producing his unique musical sound.

I asked Hainbach if maybe we could show our MeeBlip synth and have a jam, and he invited me round his house – and this is the result. (That’s how the Internet should always work, I think!)

There’s not a whole lot of MIDI in his studio, so we made use of the inexpensive KORG SQ-1 step sequencer, which is also pint-sized like our MeeBlip. Most of the MeeBlip sounds you hear are dry, but there’s also some reverb and delay from the cult favorite Alesis Wedge.

For his part, Hainbach starts out with the lovely Roland SH-09 monosynth for that lush opening tone, then adds a cassette loop. But much of the sound is from the “wall of sound” full of test equipment. This oversized, gorgeous gear was – well, until we all popularized it online – pretty cheap to come by until recently. It’s now antiquated and past retirement age in industries like telecommunications for which it was originally intended – but as a synth, it can last forever. Hainbach has explained what it’s all about, and I’ve also previously described an open laboratory in Rotterdam specializing in the setup.

Bigger than a MeeBlip.

The fun part is really getting to put the two together. Hainbach is a focused listener and improviser, so he’s terrific to play with – and this is really one take, since he had to run to pick up his kid right after the shoot.

“There’s so much to play in there… impressively playable.” Thanks, sir. So we actually can compete with enormous vintage test boxes, I guess.

We are shipping now at meeblip.com:

MeeBlip geode

And you’ll find more on Hainbach’s Patreon subscription. Plus do check his music; it’s terrific, and also really enjoyed the couple of times I’ve seen him live.

The post One little MeeBlip meets one giant Hainbach wall of sound appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Crossover VCV Rack modular: Vult goes hardware, as Erica adds free software

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 29 Jul 2019 6:50 pm

Hardware or software? Yes. Modular synthesizers, of all things, are blurring the line between the two. The popular Vult line of software modules for VCV Rack is going hardware, just as Erica Synths offers its popular hardware in a free software form on the same platform.

VCV Rack has rapidly established itself as a platform for other modules in a way that nothing else has. The software modular is free, with a rich free ecosystem, with only useful add-ons (from the developer and third parties) costing money. It’s also strikingly approachable for developers as well as users.

But that’s in turn leading to some fascinating crossovers.

This week, developer Leonardo Laguna Ruiz announced that his Vult module, which existed only in VCV Rack virtually, is now up for preorders as actual hardware.

Vult Freak incorporates a bunch of different modules in one (thanks, code modeling):

  • Tangents – Steiner-Parker filter containing three different variations.
  • Lateralus – Ladder filter.
  • Nurage – Low pass gate / Borg filter.
  • Ferox – CMOS filter.
  • Vortex – Russian fitler.
  • Unstabile – Circuit bent State Variable filter.
  • Stabile – State Variable filter.
  • Rescomb – Resonant Comb filter.
  • Vorg – MS-20 style filter

Demos:

I’ve used a lot of these in my own musical experiments in Rack, and do they sound good? Yes, they do. (Unstabile and Vortex are particularly delicious for those of us who enjoy rich, manic distortion.)

€225 buys you this stuff as physical device – and frees you from having to mouse around and worry about crashes or running out of CPU, natch.

A community of followers built on the VCV Rack ecosystem now are likely to follow Vult on into hardware. Preorder-ready hardware, seen here.

Maybe it’s the story behind the device that’s just as compelling – a few years developing a language, a couple of years experimenting in VCV Rack, then making the leap into hardware. There’s a bug that bites people who get into buying Eurorack, but there’s one for development, too.

I don’t doubt that some of the loyal users of the software will splurge for the hardware, too. And rather than blowing cash on something, then bolting it into a rack and hoping you can figure it out, the software-first model means many people who do buy Vult Freak will already know how to use it.

With that in mind, it’s also worth mention that Latvian titan of modular Erica Synths, with their expansive catalog, have made their first steps into providing software editions. Head to the Library on the VCV site, and you can grab a collection of Erica modules:

The new Erica offers, in software form – Wavetable VCO and Octasource from the Black series, and DRUMS from the Pico series.

https://vcvrack.com/plugins.html

They’re free of charge; just click ‘+ Free’ and update Rack and you’ll get them. Erica are a long way from porting everything they make in hardware – this is a tiny fraction of the full lineup. But they’re a decent taste of what Erica hardware can do. The Black Wavetable VCO is a uniquely capable oscillator with bitcrush and tons of wave modulation options. Octasource is a unique modulation oscillator, and its interface works differently from others, meaning having it in software form is really fantastic. DRUMS is ridiculously compact as is everything in the fascinating Pico series, but it’s a natural for cramming into virtual rigs.

https://www.ericasynths.lv/

I’ll be curious to see if this attracts some new Erica customers. Erica aren’t the first to do this, either – Befaco, Mutable Instruments (as Audible Instruments), and Music Thing (as Stellare) all offer software renditions of their hardware. It’s not hard to imagine at some point that VCV Rack will have a “buy hardware” button on the software. Softube Modular has software ports, too, of some big brands – Mutable Instruments again, the mighty Doepfer, Buchla, 4ms, and Intellijel all have software modules available.

The big difference is business model: VCV Rack is tending more toward either inexpensive paid modules as software, or free software that serves as a demo/preview of hardware.

A minority of electronic musicians live in a place where they can easily just run to a shop and try gear out. But more than that, software promises to create a new communications link between musicians and creators, year-round. We’ll see if that gives Vult a boost in the crowded modular world.

Check out VCV Rack on all platforms:

https://vcvrack.com/

And if you want a hand getting started, the legendary Jim Aikin has written a free e-book that explains what Rack is and how to use it, plus (the bit I liked most) gives a guide to the jungle of modules out there:

The post Crossover VCV Rack modular: Vult goes hardware, as Erica adds free software appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The Sony cassette recorder that went to space and predicted the Walkman

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 24 Jul 2019 2:17 pm

Sony’s Walkman turned 40 earlier this month. But look to the TC-50 before it for some of the technology and usability innovations that changed the world – and joined the Apollo mission – plus a glimpse of where music might boldly go next.

Sony’s story will sound familiar to a lot of today’s sound DIYers, synth makers, and Eurorack inventors. The operation began with a cheap disused space and a few people learning on the job by repairing electronics. The company might be known for transforming cassettes, but earlier projects involved a rice cooker and an electric cushion.

But long before Apple, it was Sony that introduced the world – and especially the lucrative American market – to the idea of miniaturized portable electronics. That included the TR series transistor radio. (Oh, note the other similarity – yes, it’s a safe bet that Roland’s Western-friendly brand name and XX-NNN product names are inspired by the likes of Sony and Sanyo.)

And that brings us to the TC series cassette recorders. There’s really a lot in these devices that predicts not only the Walkman, but devices like the iPhone, as well. As with transistor radios, miniaturized electronics enable a design that becomes personal and portable, which changes the whole relationship of user to device.

The 1968 TC-50 looks elegant and modern even by today’s standards. It combines a number of key innovations that make that possible – not necessarily invented by Sony or by the TC-50, but combined in a single product in a way that transforms that technology into user experience:

Integrated circuits. ICs are what has brought us the entire consumer electronics – and musical electronics – revolution. The chip replaces whole circuits of separate components. On the TC-50, that lets the design revolve around the user’s hand, the controls, the mic, and the cassette – everything else more or less disappears. Sony began in the 50s designing its own components, thanks to tech it had licensed from Bell.

Compact component mounting. This is actually equally as big a deal – each component’s mounts are also reduced, which further miniaturizes the design.

Built-in microphone. This is the innovation that’s the reason the TC-50 went into space – and while we take it for granted now, it’s what cleared a pathway for the likes of the iPhone. Sony’s custom mic design is small, integrated with the device, but still records high-quality audio. When NASA equipped its astronauts with the TC-50, it was for personal memo recording, not mix tapes (though more on the latter in a moment). That personal functionality also establishes the handheld device as a portable companion. If that seems a stretch when talking about the iPhone (even with “phone” in the title), I might also observe that Apple has told me its Voice Memos app is one of its most popular.

One-handed, wireless operation. Here’s the other big innovation that brings it all together. The entire design – placement and operation of buttons, form factor – is built to enable one-handed operation. Just as with so many accessibility innovations, that in turn yields unexpected advantages. In the case of the TC-50, it meant astronauts could record audio while wearing their bulky spacesuit gloves, starting with Apollo 7 and most famously on the Apollo 11 moon voyage. That kind of usability thinking would go on to inspire companies like Apple, and it’s always worth revisiting. (When I worked on WretchUp with Mouse on Mars, I did a lot of adjustment work with Andi to design gestural controls that you could use with a single hand, and even without looking closely at the device, for onstage use.)

Natural industrial design, focused on materials. You can almost hear Jony Ive marveling at the luxurious, exposed “aluminium” – and yes, years before he met Ive, Steve Jobs also saw Sony as a personal design inspiration (alongside Braun and Mercedes-Benz). The TC-50 came too soon to benefit from the 21st Century’s economy of scale, so you can bet the “luxury” of that aluminum surface had a price tag attached. But Sony excelled at modern adoption of these material processes, which had allowed it to work with companies like watchmaker Bulova back to the TR-55 transistor radio. And so it is that today’s smartphones also telegraph their use of strong materials. See also this excellent story on the 1972 TC-55, which starts to look more like a Walkman, and moves public perception from “cheap plastic” to “fine metal.”

Apollo and the TC-50

NASA astronauts definitely used portable cassette recorders, the Sony TC-50 being one. They also made famous use of a modified Hasselblad 70mm film camera, including on the lunar landing during Apollo 11 (see National Air and Space Museum).

I found some differing accounts of which missions the recorder was aboard. Sony themselves note the TC-50 debuted on Apollo 7, the mission that was the first Apollo to carry a crew (and the first human spaceflight mission after the conclusion of Gemini and the tragic Apollo 1 launchpad fire). The TC-50 also got pretty close to the moon on Apollo 10, the key mission that simulated the lunar descent.

From the accounts I’ve read, it sounds as though there was a TC-50 on Apollo 11, but it probably didn’t go “to the moon” in that it seems it stayed aboard the Apollo Command Module, not the Lunar Module that made the trip to the moon’s surface. And Buzz Aldrin did request a mix of music for the trip, dubbed to the compact cassette format of the TC-50.

Astronaut Walter Cunningham during Apollo 7. You can’t see the Sony cassette recorder, but you can see an equally iconic piece of AV equipment of the Space Age – the Hasselblad, at top. (You can hear the Sony, slightly, on the voice recording of Apollo 11.) Photo: NASA.
One more of Cunningham, who piloted the lunar module on Apollo 7. Did I mention usability considerations were important in space? Yeah, the crew using the TC-50 relied on it being accessible in extreme situations. Photo: NASA.

Vanity Fair learned the details of the Apollo 11 mixtape from record exec Mickey Kapp in an interview late last year:

Music on the Moon: Meet Mickey Kapp, Master of Apollo 11’s Astro-Mixtapes

They made the essential playlist for Spotify, natch:

One Aldrin favorite, now featured in the upcoming documentary on the mission, is this poignant – and self-critical, self-aware, hardly jingoistic – John Stewart release:

There’s nothing particularly cosmic in the mix; the choices are sentimental, personal. When they go to the lunar theme, they’re lush and romantic as much as trippy. And they’re singular; this isn’t background music. I think that says something about our connection to music, something that generative tunes or machine learning are unlikely ever to replace – they’re still, you know, songs.

The mix for Buzz was made in a living room, reports VF, complete with mistakes. That’s something that’s been unquestionably lost, and even at the time must have stood in contrast to the mission-critical clockwork of a space mission.

I wonder, though, if the TC-50 doesn’t point us to a fresh perspective on music. Right now, so much of our thinking about how music should be shared is stuck in the past. Whether lamenting the loss of tangible media and record stores, or defending them by stalwartly DJing with “vinyl only” sets, the whole conversation is framed by what was.

The TC-50, apart from having been aboard humankind’s most audacious mission yet out of our planet’s orbit, isn’t bound by any of that past. It’s informed by watchmaking-quality metals and the iteration of electronics. But it’s designed anew around the best quality of each of those disciplines. It looks familiar and inevitable to us only because we are the children of the age it shaped.

That is to say, maybe the first and most reasonable answer to the question of “what should music listening look like in the future” might well be I don’t know. The people at Sony didn’t know right away. They cut their teeth on rice cookers in the wreckage of a ruined empire, dug deep into the latest advances from Bell in the USA, and spent incalculable hours just disassembling someone else’s electronics, and putting them back together so they worked again. Sony’s first introduction to the cassette was hitting on a technology that improved on primitive wire recorders they’d seen in military use. Apollo for its part was built on iterations from missiles and ran on computers whose memory was woven together, literally, by textile workers.

We live in an era that values fast answers and quick financial returns, but the very breakthroughs that make those people so rich weren’t brainstormed in a coworking center on a whiteboard by someone microdosing LSD. They were crafted over years through hands-on, sweat and tears work on physical materials and engineering.

Maybe we don’t need new devices or new physical media for sound – that’s possible. We’ll certainly need devices to record sound and to play music; anything that must be touched can’t simply be streamed.

I suspect, too, that we may see new devices for listening, built around new developments in immersive sound.

I also think it’s telling that the TC-50 was a recording and creation device as well as listening device, and that those functions were ultimately linked. The smartphone fits that mold, of course – but other as-yet-undreamt-of devices could go there, as well, in ways the smartphone can’t.

So why not return to some of that day-in, day-out engineering and craft to find the next big thing?

Some of the TC-50s still work, too:

Image at top – Dave Scott peeks out of the Apollo 10 Command Module, in this photo shot by Rusty Schweickart as the Lunar Module was docked, in a “dress rehearsal” of Apollo 11. Photo: NASA.

PS – I have no idea what kind of audio or film equipment was used aboard Soviet missions of this period, so maybe my Russian friends or space buffs can answer that.

The post The Sony cassette recorder that went to space and predicted the Walkman appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

A tour of a high voltage coil in a rack: Gamechanger’s PLASMA

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 22 Jul 2019 6:56 pm

Rack-mounted audio equipment – once fairly vanilla stuff, now it’s turned to high voltage coils. Meet PLASMA Rack, now in a new full-length video tour from Gamechanger Audio.

When we last caught up with Gamechanger Audio, they were screwing about with motors:

PLASMA RACK is a rack-mounted larger sibling to the company’s PLASMA Pedal. The rack form factor accommodates even more power – a big xenon tube with voltages of up to 5500 volts. (Don’t, uh, lick it.)

This really is a bit like bottled lightning. The rapid discharge gives you instant, ultra-heavy distortion with unique harmonic saturation characteristics. And because it’s lightning-quick, you also get a sort of noise gate effect out of it.

That is … absurd. But as with the Motor Synth, the folks at Gamechanger have managed to wrap some smart extras into the package:

  • Tremolo/ring modulation
  • Drive (powered by Op Amps)
  • MIDI sync
  • Oversaturation (Octa-Fuzz-esque)
Signal flow of the rack.

You also get ample I/O, including three external effects loops, for patching this into a larger rig. If you’re really feeling flush, you can get two of these and work in stereo; they can be configured with one as master timing source.

I have no idea who you are, people who can spend EUR1499 on this, but – I’m jealous of you. For the rest of us, though, there’s also the 299EUR PLASMA Pedal, which has the same bonkers idea but at a price that’s musician-friendly. Regardless, it’s a very fine concept. I’m happy it even exists:

The post A tour of a high voltage coil in a rack: Gamechanger’s PLASMA appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

SEGA, Taito arcade come to KORG Gadget on Nintendo Switch

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 4 Jul 2019 6:46 pm

Here’s one serious Japanese game + music nerdgasm: legendary arcade maker Taito, game giant SEGA all come together on the KORG platform on the Nintendo platform.

KORG Gadget on the Nintendo Switch was always at least an intriguing novelty. As with titles for Nintendo DS and Game Boy before it, bringing a music creation tool to a game platform means the ability to swap between gaming and music making for maximum fun. The Switch doesn’t have a unique onboard hardware synth like the Commodore 64 or vintage Nintendo machines. But it does also have the twist of connecting to a TV.

That’s cool, but frankly, it’s also not quite enough. Handheld gaming for musicians caught on partly because of a unique sound, and it happened before platforms like iPhone, iPad, and Android were available. If you have a choice between using Gadget on a Switch or in its original version on the iPad, well, it’s no contest – the iPad is more capable.

That’s what makes this a development. Now you get something that seems tailored to a game platform, from two titans of the arcade era.

Otorii is a sample-based instrument and rhythm generator, based on 80s SEGA arcade titles.

Titles: Out Run, After Burner

Ebina is a synthesizer built on FM sounds (apparently not doing FM itself, but capturing some signature FM sound samples), also with 80s colors in mind.

Titles: Darius, The Ninja Warriors

Kamata is a sound engine (already part of the Switch title) developed with Bandai Namco.

SEGA and Bandai Namco presumably need no introduction to anyone interested enough in gaming to even read this far. If Taito is familiar and you don’t know why, that’s because its name has graced the likes of Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, Arkanoid, Battle Gear, and Kick Master. Sometimes Americans saw these titles with other distributors onboard, and Taito hasn’t been independent since the mid-90s, but you’ve likely also encountered the development house as part of its new life as part of Square Enix.

In short – this is Japan at its best, making us fall in love with something fun in childhood and then staying with us through our adult lives. Whether you’re particularly bound to Taito in the arcade, that’s something other Japanese music tech makers might learn from. (Partnership is key to the success of KORG here – they work with experienced mobile and game developer and Japanese neighbor DETUNE for these titles.) Roland, Yamaha, and Casio continue to have a rocky relationship with their own legacy (with some promising recent signs). But if the games industry has fended off clones and rivals, surely music tech could do the same – with plenty of back catalog to mine.

In any event, I know plenty of electronic musicians who are just as addicted to gaming – men and women, young and old, and plenty who even work inside the gaming industry. There’s nothing to do but smile when you see it come together. Game on.

http://www.detune.co.jp/

http://gadget.korg.com/nintendo_switch/

The post SEGA, Taito arcade come to KORG Gadget on Nintendo Switch appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The OP-Z now samples, too, in Teenage Engineering software update

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 1 Jul 2019 4:04 pm

The OP-Z is the aggressively minimalist, love it-or-hate-it compact synth. But now an update makes it make way more sense – with sampling available, this pint sized synth turns into the instrument it was meant to be.

Teenage Engineering have always said the OP-Z isn’t a replacement for the Teenagers’ original OP-1. Instead, it’s a … successor that comes after the OP-1, builds on the OP-1 features, and at first was available in place of the OP-1, which was initially not available and now is available but prohibitively expensive.

Okay, whatever. The OP-Z is totally a replacement for the OP-1, with some new ideas and form factor and no more screen. But that’s great, actually. To the extent the OP-Z pisses off and confuses some consumers, it does so even more than the OP-1 initially did.

And what’s the point of having a compact, candy bar-shaped synth that obviously resembles a Casio CZ-1 if it doesn’t sample?

Adding sampling to the OP-Z means you can really make it your own, mangling sounds through its grungy but expressive interface. All that minimalism may lessen the value of this device for some, but for those willing to throw themselves into the workflow, it’s liberating – the portability and lack of distraction or surface complexity propelling your musical imagination somewhere different.

Or not. Because I think the thing that’s lovely about Teenage Engineering is that their synths don’t have to please everyone – they’re willing to please some people more while pleasing other people less.

But the bottom line is, this is the update that brings the OP-Z in line with its initial promise and what the OP-1 could do. Once you learn the shortcuts and use the force, you might not even miss the display (though the iPhone/iPad app is there, at least while you memorize the layout).

Sampling also lets this double as an audio interface. I still think you’ll want the oplab module for I/O, and I wish they’d just make that standard. But if you’re willing to splurge on an idiosyncratic device, there’s nothing quite like the OP-Z.

In this update:

new sampling mode

2 channel audio interface

full OP-1 sample format support (pitch, gain, playmode, reverse)

improved stability

support importing raw samples to drum tracks

apply track gain before fx sends

don’t allow copying empty steps
restart arpeggio with TRACK + PLAY on arpeggio track
don’t trigger gate step component if track is muted
toggle headset input with SCREEN + SHIFT

send clock out if enabled even though midi out is disabled
don’t loose clock sync when switching project via pattern change
fix broken parameter spark random setting
fix force save not working on project 1
fix inverted headphone gain levels dep. on impedance

note!
this firmware adds support for the gain, play direction and playmode settings of the OP-1 sample format. in older firmwares, these settings were ignored. this might lead to your patterns sounding different if you are using custom samplepacks. the most likely culprit will be the playmode setting. the OP-1 defaults to GATE, while the OP-Z used to treat everything as RETRIG. Adjust your playmode setting on each sample to RETRIG, to get it sounding like before.
if your track levels change due to the gain setting, either adjust the track volume, or adjust the per sample gain value.

Here’s the original OP-1 sampling feature, explained:

The post The OP-Z now samples, too, in Teenage Engineering software update appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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