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

Original Octatrack owners are about to get all the MKII features

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 6 Oct 2017 6:27 pm

Got an original Octatrack? That MKII envy is about to get a cure, with updated firmware that brings feature parity to the MKI.

The original Octatrack is still a classic in the studio and ubiquitous in live sets. So while you might have complained that Elektron’s MKII didn’t actually introduce enough new features, owners of the original model now get some very good news. Elektron today says that an update is imminent that will bring MKII features to the MKI.

And that’s a big deal – think instant stereo sampling with real-time pitch shift and time stretch, and more effects and LFO slots.

And yes, I wrote earlier that I hoped this is what would happen. (That was a easy call given Elektron said the two units were already project-compatible.)

Wait, so does that mean the MKII is now the same as the original except in color? Not quite.

Unique to the MKII hardware are some minor but significant physical improvements. The display is nicer (OLED). You get back-lit buttons and high-res encoders, as on the Digitakt. There’s a new contactless crossfader and higher-endurance buttons. And you get more dedicated controls.

But other than that, I’d say the firmware update probably means you’ll hang onto your MKI rather than upgrade – maybe spending the money you saved on a fresh, new Digitakt, for example. Elektron and users win, regardless.

We’ll take a deeper look at these machines soon.


For more background:
Elektron unveils Octatrack MKII and a new would-be laptop killer is born

And comparing the smaller sibling:
Check out this detailed workflow comparison of Digitakt, Octatrack

The post Original Octatrack owners are about to get all the MKII features appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Those standalone MPCs do wireless Link and MIDI and it’s the future

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 4 Oct 2017 8:40 pm

The world now: a bunch of mismatched cables, and then complicated setup. The world of the future: wireless, easy to configure. Or so we hope.

Akai has managed to deliver MPCs that function both as standalone production boxes, untethered from your computer, and computer accessories (they’re a controller/software combo when you plug them in).

But they’re also making these things work wirelessly with some new technologies.

Via Bluetooth, you can connect keyboards (making this a kind of weird computer, or letting you touch-type your musical sets), or wireless MIDI devices (so you can use a piano-style interface instead of just pads, among other solutions).

Via Ableton’s Link technology, you get the ability to jam with other software, hardware, and mobile apps over a wifi network. In fact, that makes this about the only standalone hardware to do so – though of course it’s really just a PC beneath that skin (and that’s kind of a good thing).

I suspect the stumbling block to this happening more is simply having more of a hardware ecosystem of stuff that does this.

It makes the MPC Live and MPC X still more appealing right now, as well as being a glimpse of things to come.

Now, you still have to decide whether Akai’s workflow is what you want, or whether you want to buy another piece of gear, with competitors from the likes of Elektron and Native Instruments eager to keep you on their side. But if you do, here’s what you get to enjoy, explained in video:

The post Those standalone MPCs do wireless Link and MIDI and it’s the future appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

There’s a synth symphony for 100 cars coming, based on tuning

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 3 Oct 2017 4:43 pm

100 cars, 100 sound systems, 100 different versions of the pitch A: Ryoji Ikeda has one heck of a polyphonic automobile synthesizer coming.

The project is also the first new hardware from Tatsuya Takahashi after the engineer/designer stepped down from his role heading up the analog gear division at KORG. And so from the man who saw the release of products like the KORG volca series and Minilogue during his tenure, we get something really rather different: a bunch of oscillators connected to cars to produce sound art.

Tats teams up for this project with Maximilian Rest, the man behind boutique maker E-RM, who has proven his obsessive-compulsive engineering chops on their Multiclock.

And wow, that industrial design. From big factories to small run (100 units), Tats has come a long way – and this is the most beautiful design I’ve seen yet from Max and E-RM. It’s a drool-worthy design fetish object recalling Dieter Rams and Braun.

I spoke briefly to Tatsuya to get some background on the project, though the details will be revealed in the performance in Los Angeles and by Red Bull Music Academy.

The original hardware is simple. In almost a throwback to the earliest days of electronic music, the boxes themselves are just tone generators. Those controls you see on the panel determine octave and volume. Before the performance, details on the execution are a bit guarded, but this sounds like just the sort of simple box that would perfectly match Max’s insanely perfectionist approach.

What makes this tone generator special is, there are a hundred of them, each hooked up to one of one hundred cars.

Yeah, you heard right: we’re talking massively polyphonic, art-y ghetto blasting. The organizers say the cars were selected for their unique audio systems. (Now, that’s my way of being a car fan.) Car owners even contributed special cars to the symphony, making this an auto show cum sound happening, evidently both in an installation and performance.

One hundred cars tuned to the same frequency would sound like … well, phase cancellation. So each oscillator is tuned to a different frequency, in a kind of museum of what the note “A” has been over the years. The reality is, we’re probably hearing a whole lot of classical music in the “wrong” key, because the tuning of A was only in standardized in the past century. (Even today, A=440Hz and A=442Hz compete in symphonies, with A=440Hz is the most common in general use, and near-universal in electronic music.)

That huge range is part of why any discussions of the “mathematically pure” or “healing” 432 Hz is, well, nonsense. (I can deal with that some time if you really want, but let’s for now file it under “weird things you can read on the Internet,” alongside the flat Earth.)

Once you get away from the modern blandness of everything being 440 Hz, or the pseudo-science weirdness of the 432 Hz cult, you can discover all sorts of interesting variety. For instance, one of the oscillators in the performance is tuned to this:

A = 376.3Hz
*1700 : Pitch taken by Delezenne from an old dilapidated organ of l’Hospice Comtesse, Lille, France

Hey, who’s to say that particular organ isn’t the one “tuned to the natural frequency of the universe”?

You’ll get all those frequencies in some huge, wondrous cacophony if you’re lucky enough to be in LA for the performance.

It’s presented as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Music Festival, October 15. (I have no idea how you’d evaluate the claim that this is the largest-ever symphony orchestra, though with one hundred cars, it’s probably the heaviest! If anyone has historical ideas on that, I’m all ears.)

And of course, it’s in the perfect place for a piece about cars: Los Angeles. Wish I were there; let us know how it is!


Photo credit: Carys Huws for RBMA.

The post There’s a synth symphony for 100 cars coming, based on tuning appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

A giant-sized music box, made with digital tech and antique furniture

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 27 Sep 2017 5:41 pm

An oversized music box takes to the streets, packed in vintage furniture and cranked by passersby, in this Portuguese sound art piece.

It’s the latest work of friend-of-the-site Nuno Santos, who has gone viral in social media with this enchanting demo video. For more information, though, you can watch a detailed making-of series he’s produced. (Portuguese, but with original English subtitles – the behind-the-scenes bits follow just after the demo.)

There’s a lot of clever engineering work in this award-winning project. It’s an achievement in packing a sound system into a mobile form factor using vintage furniture. It’s a great physical computing project, complete with that huge crank. And it’s a great example of what you can do with pisound and Raspberry Pi – adding high-fidelity audio functionality to the ubiquitous, dirt-cheap tiny PC.


Highlights —

Adding that pisound bit:

And, of course, for mechanical engineering and some 3d printing, the crank!

Nuno shares a gallery of how this all comes together.

Imaginando are creating all sorts of good stuff, including my favorite Traktor iPad controller and one of my favorite Ableton controllers – plus a nice way to connect your Teenage Engineering OP-1 to Ableton Live.


The post A giant-sized music box, made with digital tech and antique furniture appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Novation Circuit won’t stop: 1.6 does panning, dimming, Micro Steps

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 26 Sep 2017 6:55 pm

Novation keeps giving Circuit users want they want, step by step by step. Circuit 1.6 comes with still more user-requested features.

Now, eventually, I expect Novation is going to run out of the ability to cram things into Circuit. Not only would you expect the developer to focus on newer hardware, but Circuit has a restricted processor speed and memory – you just run out of horsepower to do everything users might imagine. But whenever the day will come, today is not that day. (And, in fact, I think Circuit will continue to see interesting new applications in editors and sound content, from the user community if not from Novation themselves. My opinion only here.)

The just-released 1.6 firmware comes with three really nice additions:

1. Panning. Novation says this is the most user-requested feature. That makes sense, given this is a little workstation, not just a single monosynth or something like that.

2. Light dimming. Blinded by Saturday Night Fever no more. Take heed, all developers.

3. Micro Steps. This is a simple but fairly genius idea: you can retrigger a sample inside each step up to six times, for more complex rhythms, fills and stutter effects, or whatever.

4. Program Change. The Settings menu doesn’t just keep from blinding you – it also lets you send Program Change messages, which is useful for working with other gear.

Now, all this comes just in time for us to feature Circuit and Circuit Mono Station on our next webcast of CDM x Beatport: Plugged In. So if you have questions for us on either product and want us to answer on-air, leave them now in comments and we’ll try to get to them.

Also, I’d better practice, so I don’t shred in front of y’all.

You can grab 1.6 for free from Novation, at the Components site (alongside that clever browser editor and whatnot):


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The KellyCaster reveals what accessibility means for instruments

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 20 Sep 2017 12:00 pm

John Kelly recently played the debut of a new instrument, the KellyCaster. But this musician, this instrument, are significant for more than just novelty.

It’s more than likely that you haven’t heard of John Kelly. So before talking about the instrument, it’s worth explaining not just who he is, but why he’s had an instrument named after him. John is a talented musician and songwriter who has extensive experience with multiple instruments and has recorded and played live internationally. John is also a musician with access needs. Probably a lot of people might say he’s a “disabled” musician, but I prefer the previous description, and I will explain why before the end of this piece.

John’s personal page gives a full picture of him and his work. You can also check out Drake Music, the UK nonprofit with which he collaborates. Their self-described mission is to create “a world where disabled people have the same range of opportunities, instruments and encouragement, where disabled and non-disabled musicians work together as equals.” That includes artist-led projects, like John’s KellyCaster.

However, to me, these pages don’t really do him complete justice. Meeting him in person brings this story to life. I was lucky enough to do just that at the KellyCaster launch a few weeks ago.

Meet a new instrument

Whilst the KellyCaster might look like a slightly strange guitar, first looks can be deceiving. Just a cursory glance at the KellyCaster belies the wealth of technology that went into making it work. It’s complex and well put together specifically to serve John’s need.

John, together with a collection of musical friends, played a short set quickly had the audience dancing and singing along. It was deeply powerful, as this was a first. It was a first not just for someone playing this instrument, but for John playing any guitar live, making the previously impossible possible.

The gig showcased John playing the KellyCaster, and how it could operate as part of the band in the same way that any other instrument would. That worked beautifully — all the technology that sits behind the KellyCaster simply disappeared.

In fact, that was what really impressed me. I can’t remember when exactly, but at some point during the performance, I simply forgot that there was all of this tech making it work, and just enjoyed the gig. The KellyCaster was just another instrument. All that was left was a group of talented musicians working together to create a truly wonderful experience for their audience.

While this technology can be invisible to the audience, it’s essential to the instrument’s function. And it’s a significant achievement, the culmination of an extensive design and construction process as part of Drake Music’s DMLab programme which was funded as part of the Inclusive Creativity project.

The KellyCaster uses standard but untuned guitar strings, which are amplified using a Roland GK hexaphonic pickup. This feeds into a BELA, the embedded platform for ultra low-latency audio, using custom electronics. The code in the Bela reads the attack and sustain of each individual string and feeds this information over OSC (Open Sound Control data) using a USB connection to a MacBook Pro. A Max for Live patch reads this data and allows it to control guitar synthesis, as well as select which note or group of notes/chords is selected in each case. John maps this to a MIDI controller to allow him complete the harmonic control.

The development process

The KellyCaster was brought to life by a talented team, starting work over two years before its debut. The design idea itself came directly from John Kelly himself, who conceived and a specification for an accessible guitar, bespoke to his own unique access needs. He presented that idea to Drake Music’s DMLab meeting to invite collaboration.

Gawain Hewitt took up management of the project, and created a first prototype. The new technology in the instrument is the work of Charles Matthews, who developed code and electronics. He assembled this portion in a Drake Music accessible music technology hackathon at the Southbank Centre over a weekend in May, with input from the musician as well as Dave Darch.

There were more conventional instrumental design inputs, as well. The luthier (that’s someone who builds or repairs stringed instruments) was Jon Dickinson, who did an incredible job on the bodywork.

The innovative resulting instrument won the hackathon, and was featured in the Independent’s ‘I’ paper that same week.

Changing how we think about meeting needs

As I hope you can see, it takes time, creativity, and dedication to get this kind of outcome, and this is just one example of Drake’s work with bespoke instruments. Drake Music’s DMLab is dedicated to the research and development bespoke instruments for disabled musicians, instruments that make a real difference to those individuals’ ability to work and to perform live. Drake’s DMLab have used this process for a number of commissions, and there are more in the pipeline that I hope to be talking about over the next few months.

At the start, I described John as a musician with access needs rather than as a disabled musician. That’s a really important point in understanding this instrument. It was built in response to an access need. When that need is met, John is still a musician, but his needs from the instrument have been satisfied. Job done. However, if I were to describe John as a disabled musician, we might see the KellyCaster as a solution to a problem. Whilst it’s great that we’ve fixed the problem, we would still refer to John as a disabled musician, and that could infer a disparity with other musician – one that simply doesn’t exist.

It might seem like a very subtle point, but I believe it’s a very important distinction. By developing the KellyCaster to meet John’s need, the team as a whole have removed a barrier that John faced. With technologies like this, many more access needs could be addressed and barriers removed for a range of artists. We can move away from seeing musicians with access needs in terms of their disability, and understand them in terms of their talent and creativity. That has to be a better model.

The KellyCaster is making a big step forward for accessibility. I don’t know what comes next or how it will be taken forward. But it has a huge potential to be applied in other instruments, devices and contexts. I’ll be staying close to Drake and the team to see what happens next. As and when it does I’ll let you know.

A very big thank you to Emile Holba for the photos used above.

The post The KellyCaster reveals what accessibility means for instruments appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

KOMA are about to get deep into Eurorack – starting with power

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 15 Sep 2017 6:25 pm

Okay, first, a power product sounds like about the most boring music tech news ever. But the kids at KOMA have found a way to make modular power exciting.

And of course, because anything involving electricity sounds cooler in German than in English, meet STROM.

First, the video – which turns what seems a dull, technical topic into exciting launch video. Seriously, more fun to watch than that iPhone X announcement (uh, for me, anyway). Let’s let KOMA’s Wouter explain – in a lab coat!

KOMA are embarking on a deep dive into the world of modular Eurorack – which I hear the young folks really love at the moment. First, there was a case system. Now, there’s a power system. And both are nicely affordable.

And since power is what gives you noise, power matters.

I asked KOMA’s Wouter what makes this product different. Answer: “The Strom is cleaner than any of the competition for a way lower price with very low ripple, great safety features with the fusing and the short circuit protection!”

We’ll get some of our modular boffins on this to check.

The other important detail here is not what this is, but who it comes from – KOMA’s engineer Robert has been the lead on all digital products, and did the programming work on the epic, legendary Komplex Sequencer.

Looks like KOMA are on their way to another big market hit. Hope to visit them soon – and their growing Common Ground community space.


The post KOMA are about to get deep into Eurorack – starting with power appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Legowelt takes a tour of Roland’s D-05, and more for D-50 fans

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 13 Sep 2017 9:00 pm

Now Roland’s got it right: who better to give a hands-on of that new D-50 reboot (the D-05) than Legowelt, marvelous Dutch musical madman?

I’ll say this: the D-50 had way more fans than I realized. Sure, the thing is a synth classic, and birthed a lot of absurdly well known presets, but it doesn’t have the ubiquity of an 808 or 303, which seem to stand more on the line of the invention of the flute or violin. (Okay, maybe piccolo or bassoon – depending on your point of view.)

But from looking around CDM’s own stats and social media, y’all love your D-50.

Roland also did a good job of explaining what the history of this was. (Wait… but I want that Oberheim and Yamaha, too.) It’s worth reflecting on how influential and clever those sound designs were, overused now as they have been.

RA are making some pretty pads with it. Okay, RA, I guess me and Nick de Friez and Roland had better practice and answer this beautiful lushness:

Also, presets … they’re presumably what a lot of you came for. I’m sorry, I’m having some serious late 80s flashbacks, and not sure entirely how I feel about it:

Oddest of all, people are doing comparisons between the D-50 and D-05. The thing is, while emulating analog circuits introduces differences, emulating digital is … well, going to sound exactly the same, if you have access to all the original specs as Roland does. But yes, the D-05 is smaller, more battery powered, more not-a-keyboard, and has that arpeggiator and step sequencer and USB and MIDI. If you need to get what I just said in a video – a nice video, to be fair – go nuts with this:

I actually do like the D-50 as a synth. I’m really curious to get hands on the D-05 and make it sound unlike the usual D-50, though (see that nice RA video above, even as YouTubers complain that it’s out of sync).

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Here’s how MeeBlip can get you started with hardware synths

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 12 Sep 2017 12:12 am

We made MeeBlip because we love getting our hands on sound and playing with synth hardware. But for people not totally used to working with this kind of gear, there can be lots of questions.

So, here’s a guide to adding MeeBlip triode to your setup. If you’re thinking of getting ‘out of the box’ and away from your computer for the first time, or you’re just curious about some details of the hardware, we can share some answers without you having to even ask.

And, of course, if you’re thinking we’re doing this now while there’s a $99.95 supersale on, you’re totally right. But hey, that’s another way for us to get synthesis into your hands – and keep making new instruments.

You folks in the MeeBlip community have done an amazing job shooting hands-on video, so we’re able to illustrate this story with your contributions. (Feel free to add tips or questions; we can build this over time.)

Why would you want to do this?

Okay, apart from having some extra toys, why would you want a dedicated synth in the first place? MeeBlip for us is about having sound with a particular personality. It’s there when you want a unique bassline, or as an extra voice for other synths. It lets you get hands on with some knobs, without the usual decision overload of a computer. It’s a chance to learn about synthesis and MIDI.

Oh, and it’s open source hardware, so if you are curious about how synth code and circuits work, everything that makes the triode function is available online, and can be shared and modified free.

Of course, now there’s a lot of cool and inexpensive hardware that does this. But we think MeeBlip sounds different, it’s a simple and compact way of getting huge bass sounds, and it’s about as inexpensive as anything you can find – even from much bigger manufacturers. And the fact that it’s open source means you’re helping contribute to an open hardware ecosystem.

Okay, so you’re sold, but want some more information on how to get going. Here’s what you need to know:

Get a MeeBlip and power

MeeBlip ships with a universal power supply (some budget synths charge extra for this or make you buy batteries). That can be plugged in anywhere, provided you have a physical adapter for the region you’re in.

Get connected

MeeBlip triode is a MIDI device, meaning it receives messages from a computer or music hardware, for notes and parameter control.

You’ll need a standard MIDI cable to make that happen, plus an appropriate interface if you want to connect to a computer, iPad, or other device. (We use the iConnectivity mio for USB MIDI connections on iOS and desktop.)

Get something to generate notes

Since the triode is ultra-compact and lacks a keyboard or touch input, you need something to send it notes.

You can use any keyboard (or drum trigger, or other controlled), provided it has a MIDI output. Then just play in what you want.

You can use other hardware. Novation’s Circuit, Roland’s TB-03, and Arturia’s BeatStep Pro are all convenient MIDI step sequencers, useful for programming melodic lines. (Using MeeBlip with the TB-03 makes it easy to add extra bass and dirt to the 303 sound, by doubling its line on the MeeBlip. Circuit + MeeBlip gives you some crisp synths and drums, combined with the MeeBlip’s bass.)

Using that USB MIDI interface, you can also use computer software, of course. But with the addition of Apple’s USB Lightning adapter, which now also supports power passthrough so you can charge your device at the same time, you can use an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. (This adapter was introduced with the iPad Pro, but it works with any Lightning-equipped iOS device. What you’re looking for is specifically termed the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter, pictured here – see our hands-on test.)

With cool sequencers like Modstep, you don’t even need a computer. (Modstep even works out of the box with all the MeeBlip’s parameters, so you can, for instance, draw in filter and modulation changes.)

What you need for sound

MeeBlip triode has a stereo minijack connection for audio. This means you can plug in a pair of headphones and immediately hear sound in both ears.

You can use the same connection to output to a mixer, PA, recorder, computer, whatever. Just make sure you have a stereo cable, not the mono cables often used on modular synths. These stereo cables are y-shaped at the opposite end – with jacks for left and right. Since the signal is on both jacks, you can leave one hanging and just plug in the other.

You’ll need some sort of audio interface in order to record. Behringer makes a mixer with a built-in USB interface, for one dirt-cheap solution – that way, you can plug in a couple of pieces of gear, mix the outputs, and record via USB back to your computer.


Okay, now you’ve got it all connected – give it a play! (Our manual covers the process, but you just need to make sure whatever is sending notes is transmitting on channels 1-8, and set the appropriate channel on the MeeBlip.)

Jam, twist knobs, and enjoy.

Try automating parameters with MIDI CC

MIDI Control Changes (CC) are special messages for adjusting sound parameters, not just notes. All of the MeeBlips knobs and switches (and a few not on the panel) are controllable in this way. So instead of twisting knobs around, you can automate those changes externally.

What else?

It’s easy to dial in a lot of sounds right away. But when you’re ready to go deeper, triode also offers extras like wavetable mode, for various edgy sounds. Extreme parameters can also make more experimental sounds – and that’s before you add effects.

There’s even a Web-based editor-librarian that you can use to try, store, and share sounds – and it’s free. (It surprised even us, coming from another fan of open source tools.)

The fun is really combining MeeBlip with other stuff. And because it’s open, if you want to get really deep, you can learn how it works.

We hope you’ll pick up one of this manufacturing run before it runs out. What else would you like to know or explore? Let us know, and we’ll try to help you out.

MeeBlip triode is shipping worldwide for US$99.95 through Tuesday night.


MeeBlip triode [shop]

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Craft Rhythm is a sample-based drum machine kit with companion app

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sat 9 Sep 2017 9:34 pm

Modal Electronics have done it again. They’ve followed up their snap-together, affordable, simple synth with a drum machine in the same form factor.

Now, this UK company are a little puzzling. Modal make either very expensive flagship synths or very affordable, fun snap-together kits. It’d be like if Gulfstream also sold balsa wood toy planes. Well, sort of – it’s all good.

But whatever the larger brand strategy here, the Craft Rhythm looks very cool. You can load in your own samples, control filter and pitch, and mix together parts by track. There’s a 16-step sequencer and pattern chaining for assembling your grooves. And there’s decent I/O.

The “kit” part of this means the actual physical body is a little fiddly. As before, it’s a delicate little piece of hardware, now adding tiny buttons to the touch controls and knobs.

There’s an innovation, though: a companion app (iOS only?) gives you editing capabilities. That’s an idea that seems to be catching on. We’ve seen it in the Novation Circuit’s Web-based editor/library and sample loading and companion desktop synth editor. And we’ve even seen in KORG’s volca sample, though that was painfully slow loading samples.

Then again, by the time you use an app, you could just use a great drum machine app like Elastic Drums. No complaints here, though, as this looks like a good time.

The nearest competition had some companion software, too – Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator Tonic, which works with the awesome Sonic Charge Microtonic.

Awaiting word on pricing and availability.

If you’re in Chicago for Knobcon, do pay them a visit.


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What to know about NI’s new Maschine, Komplete Kontrol hardware

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 7 Sep 2017 3:21 pm

Native Instruments just revised their Maschine and Komplete Kontrol hardware. Here are some early impressions of what’s new, in advance of our review.

It’s funny to think that back in 2009, the first release of Maschine really set the bar for integrating production software with a hardware controller. This was the year the APC40 and Launchpad had just hit the market – without a screen, and at that point with only limited control capabilities. Maschine was built with software and hardware designed in parallel.

Since then, few pieces of hardware have had quite the impact that Maschine MKI did. The MKII, with color, better pads, and better workflow certainly had some people selling their MKIs. And for hard-core Komplete users, Komplete Kontrol saw some popularity, though perhaps didn’t radically transform workflows.

My guess is the Maschine MK3 and Komplete Kontrol MKII will make a splash, precisely because they seem focused on how these two users bases work.

We will have a review unit in next week, and you know I like to get in depth with how machines work. But here are some important things to know – having at least met with the teams that developed the gear and gotten a quick hands-on.

In short, Maschine Mk3 is now the only hardware you need, thanks to built-in audio. It requires looking at your computer screen less, thanks to the displays found on Studio. And it packs the best pads and control layout yet.

Komplete Kontrol, while a subtler update, goes from being a keyboard with some extras on it to something you’d actually want to use for finding sounds, editing sounds, recording takes, and even working with your DAW or Maschine.

No major new software revisions (though more minor stuff to cover separately) – this is mainly about the hardware. Here’s what’s changed:

Both have terrific new industrial designs. It’s tough to overstate how much more refined these two instruments look and feel. It’s really a class act, even as some big rivals in this field leapfrog one another.

Both get big, color, high-definition displays. These look gorgeous, clear, and bright, and they have incredible viewing angles (like you can practically lay on the floor while you play). The screens are great news, especially on Maschine. I love Maschine Studio – the high-res color screens make sample slicing and production far easier. I also hate it – it’s too big. Too big to fit on my studio desk, too big to fit on a bag. So, the big thing here is, now you get all the workflow power of the Maschine Studio, all that ability to focus on the hardware and not look at the computer screen, but in the MKII footprint. And as if that weren’t enough —

Maschine Mk3 has an audio interface. Finally. 24-bit / 96kHz, though of course we’ll need to test the actual quality. If the Ableton Live template is as good as the one on Jam, my Ableton Push may cease to leave the studio. (Ableton, Push 3 – with audio, please?)

Forget all that shifting around. More dedicated buttons on Maschine and a thoughtful new layout mean less of the shift+pressing you had to do – and less hunting around for features. Given that’s the whole point of Maschine, that’s welcome news. Komplete Kontrol gets a similar overhaul.

Both have USB bus power. No. Power. Dongle. Needed. Yes.

Both have nice new navigation. The 4-directional push encoder makes it really easy to browse through sounds and parameters, and it feels lovely.

The pads on Maschine Mk3 are incredible. This is a first impression, not a full review, but — yeah, basically, wow. Sensitivity across the pad is fantastic and they’re eminently playable, perhaps finally besting Akai. This could also be a reason to choose a 4×4 grid over 8×8 (as on Push).

Maschine also gets a “Smart Strip.” Touch control of effects and parameters, as seen on Jam, are now on the MK3 – but unlike the Jam, you also get more controls, displays(!), and velocity sensitivity(!). Jam remains interesting mainly for its use as a fader or controlling multiple parameters.

Komplete Kontrol now generally makes more sense. The first Komplete Kontrol showed potential, but I could never quite justify its existence. What you got was a premium keyboard, this colored lighting and touch strip business, the displays and … not much else. The sum of all those parts would be almost hard to describe. The Mk2 keyboard, though, is another story, all thanks to some small additions. With a DAW, the keyboard has dedicated controls for transport, undo, and the like, so you can quickly add takes. With Komplete software (and NKS-compatible instruments), you get more hands-on controls and easier ways of finding and editing sounds. With Maschine, Komplete Kontrol integration finally works the way you’d expect – so if you’re a keyboardist but not a finger drummer, this keyboard at last gets you around your Maschine workflow, too.

And there’s popular DAW support. Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, and GarageBand support ships immediately, with Cubase and Nuendo to follow.

Preview sounds without loading. This is a big one. Now you can (optionally) hear pre-recorded sounds of presets in Komplete without loading the whole sound (which is slow).

Komplete Kontrol doesn’t have audio. Well, okay, I get that a keyboard is more of a studio machine, but for gigging musicians, it’s still a little disappointing. Then again, a great-looking keyboard with aftertouch and control features to me may move this from “who buys this?” to “yeah, buy this.”

Komplete Kontrol is mostly the same keyboard, physically. That’s not a bad thing – the Fatar keybeds on the NI are the best of breed.

Komplete with wheels. At last, you get a conventional wheels on the Komplete Kontrol for pitch bend and modulation, and not only touch strips. There’s still a touch strip when you want one – useful for its interactive quality, and the ability to “jump” to particular parameters. But now, you can choose the right control tool for the job.

The two share designs and hardware. Actually, this for me may be the biggest story. Previously, even on the Maschine line itself, there wasn’t a lot of consistency from model to model – Studio, Jam, Mikro, MKII, all seemed to introduce different ways of working. Now, Komplete Kontrol and Maschine share a lot of controls and layout directly. I expect that helped optimize production and cost – they certainly feel more premium without lifting the price. But more than that, your muscle memory and concepts can transfer between keyboard and Maschine. As a keyboardist who also likes the beat production workflow, I love this. And even if you only get one, it seems more thought has gone into the control layout.

One Maschine to rule them all. There’s only one Maschine Mk3. It seems Mikro and Studio are being relegated to the dust bin and … well, quite frankly, good.

S-Series still has the same options. 49- and 61-key synth action keyboards, or an 88-key hammer action, though only the first two appear to be available at launch.

Prices are the same. The new corresponding models have the same pricing as the old.
MASCHINE EUR 599, USD 599, JPY 72800, GBP 479, AUD 899
KOMPLETE KONTROL S49 EUR 599, USD 599, JPY 69800, GBP 479, AUD 899
KOMPLETE KONTROL S61 EUR 699, USD 699, JPY 79800, GBP 559, AUD 1049

No word on hackability yet. One final note. NI are quick to talk about their “open,” expanding ecosystem. But if it’s expanding, it’s still closed. Maschine Mk3 is one I’d really like to hack, as it seems an ideal general purpose controller, but there’s no word on that yet. That said:

Both pieces of kit work with other stuff, not just NI stuff. Apart from supporting NI’s own NKS format, which is used by a number of software and soundware makers, the Komplete Kontrol keyboard now fully supports VST plug-ins. It’s really just a matter of how hackable/accessible the displays and controls on these two devices are from other pieces of software.

There’s a new editor. Burying the lede for those of you who use MIDI extensively. The NI Controller Editor gets a badly needed replacement, which hopefully will address some of the quirks and limitations of the original. And you can do all the editing directly from Komplete Kontrol. Quick picture, but I’ll be looking at this:

For Maschine users and Komplete users, I already feel pretty confident these hit the mark. My main interest in testing will be how to really get to the bottom of Maschine workflows, how adaptable Komplete is if you have a mix of software (that may or may not support NKS), and how well these work with software like Ableton Live. And my deeper question is really to do with how hackable and flexible these controllers are in the long run outside of the particular one vendor ecosystem – because it’d be a shame if we invested in hardware but were restricted to one vendor’s ecosystem. We’ll do a review by the 19th, and answer some of those deeper questions in the marketplace at large hopefully over the coming weeks.

Also worth investigating, if a niche note, is how well this hardware supports people with different physical abilities; Komplete Kontrol’s product owner showed us that keyboard range as used by blind customers. (A screen reader announces parameters.)

For now, more information:

Maschine (MK3)

Komplete Kontrol S-Series (MK2)

NKS information, for more on the protocol by which other plug-in makers can take advantage of control features on the keyboard

The post What to know about NI’s new Maschine, Komplete Kontrol hardware appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The big little MeeBlip triode synth is $99.95 for just a few days

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 7 Sep 2017 12:57 am

Sometimes big sounds come in small packages. And so if you’ve been waiting on picking up our open source MeeBlip triode hardware – don’t wait past Tuesday.

We’re down to final stock on the MeeBlip triode. Now through Tuesday night midnight, you get the latest MeeBlip triode for a preorder price of US$99.95, plus shipping.

(Ships in 3-5 weeks, direct from our Canada, Calgary workshop.)

MeeBlip’s small size, easy controls (via MIDI or your hands), and grimy-good bass sounds mean it’s built to be added to other rigs. We’ve seen it making live bass lines, augmenting a KORG minilogue, doubling a 303.

Here’s the incomparable Lisa (Noncompliant) trying it with Elektron’s Digitakt for the first time, showing how you might build up a track with the two:

And here it is doubling Roland’s TB-03 and TR-09:

So get yours now.

We ship to most locations worldwide. That’s what allows us to offer pricing like this – shipping directly from where we make and test the synths to you. Shipping and taxes / import duty may apply.

About MeeBlip


Support and documentation

MeeBlip at GitHub (code and hardware)

The post The big little MeeBlip triode synth is $99.95 for just a few days appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Why would you want this €129 kit covered in sixty knobs?

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 5 Sep 2017 3:22 pm

It’s an expansion kit for an obscure boutique drum machine – and maybe the most niche product from Bastl Instruments yet. But it could be more than that.

This is actually not part of Bastl’s normal product development line – and they’re doing a lot. The Brno, Czech-based firm have workbenches full of interesting projects, not to mention side projects like a coffee shop, roasted coffee bean line, a zine, and a club (seriously, all of that). In the case of this 60KNOBS kit, the controller was teased back in the heady, innocent days of February 2016. And now, here it is.

But 60KNOBS is a collective effort of everyone who isn’t an engineer at Bastl – part of the larger community. Vaclav explains to CDM:

We put a lot of time and energy into building the community.We support the musicians working here thru the music label and we make events as a crew. We make internal workshops every week to learn new skillsets and the 60knobs is the biggest learning project yet that became real. It was a group effort rather than solo project of an individual (which the coffee and club partly are) and that I think is exciting.

Out of the box, 60KNOBS can be a kit for another kit – Sonic Potions’ wonderful LXR Drum Synthesizer. The LXR sounds really, really good. But part of what sounds so interesting – this being a drum synth and not just a box that plays back drum samples – is all its internal parameters. And what you can’t control on its front panel is … uh, those internal parameters.

So, the idea of the 60KNOBS is to give you hands-on control of all that sound stuff. The kit isn’t a terribly tough DIY build, either – it’s not hard to solder potentiometers to a board, even if you’re really clumsy. Spend a few extra euros, and you get an enclosure marked up for all its internal parameters.

As Bastl’s videos show, just twisting these little knobs gives you some great drum sounds. So already, I think we have an adorable little kit for those wanting to be a bit different from everyone else on their block – or, depending on where you come from, nation.

But it points at an interesting question: could we see more creations like this? It’s particularly compelling, given you could just print a different enclosure or overlay and use other hardware.

The 60KNOBS is already equipped for just such purposes.

You can flip over the top of the case, and write directly on the acrylic with a pencil.
You can print out a new top with other labels.
You can dump and learn MIDI controls to map to other hardware.
If you’ve got an FM synthesizer that supports the DX7 SysEx protocol, you can control them that way.
There’s advanced controller support for other gear, too. And there’s an open source editor (made with visual patching environment Max/MSP).
If you want to get fancy, you can even hack the firmware.

To get more technical, the specs:

60 controller pots independently customizable through the editor;
MIDI messages supported: CC (Control Change), NRPN (Non-Registered Parameter Number), DX7 (Yamaha sysEx DX7);
Button for MIDI DUMP current value of each knob;
MIDI IN and OUT DIN connector;
5 user customizable presets;
Indication LED shows setting changes
FTDI connector for firmware flashing (hacker friendly!)

There’s precedent for this, too. Roland, for instance, shipped the PG-300 as an add-on giving extra direct control over the classic Alpha Juno 1 and Juno 2. (In fact, maybe the 60KNOBS would work as a cheap add-on, given the PG-300 is pricey on the used market.)

But why stop there? Plug-ins? Reaktor patches? VJ rigs?

Of course, that raises the question of whether a giant array of knobs is really what you want for control. But I think we may see the pendulum swing back toward odd DIY controls, as the market is fairly well saturated with cool kit like Push and Maschine. Those provide ready-to-use gear for software environments, but they lack the standalone, portable nature of this. Plus, it’s cool to have something different.

Thoughts? Let us know.

The post Why would you want this €129 kit covered in sixty knobs? appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Gallery: Inside the gear-packed hall of Moscow’s Synthposium Expo

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sat 2 Sep 2017 9:25 am

Gear Acquisition Syndrome has come full force to Russia. Both live stages and the gear Expo at Synthposium in Moscow last week made that clear.

The Expo was just one room – nothing near the sprawling event that was SuperBooth in Berlin – but it was just as appealing. Indeed, there was something lovely about having hands-on displays around the corner from live acts, as artists and festivalgoers intermingled, advanced electronics engineers and total newcomers alike getting to learn something. There was a similar feeling at the jam session demo room hosted by Schneidersladen at Berlin Atonal festival the week before. Moscow explored a disused wine factory; Berlin, a power plant control room. Vive l’après-industrie!

And oh yeah – kids love synths. Of course. Let’s have a look – or scroll to the end to find out who the juried winners were.

You can read my pocket guide to Russian boutique makers – one that’s sure to be updated.

New Russian music electronics you’ve never heard of, from Synthposium

Here, via the mainly official photos, you get a sense of the whole event. And it was international, not just restricted to Russia – meaning for many of those guests, it was their first visit to the country (from KORG’s Tatsuya Takahashi to the team from Bastl Instruments).

And the award winners…

Synthposium also hosted a juried competition for the most outstanding products of the show. As the first such competition in Russia, it’s noteworthy in itself – and I fully endorse their winners.

The moment of truth, pictured…

The first ever Russian awards devoted to music technologies are set to take place, with an expert jury giving recognition to the most creative engineers of musical instruments and devices.

Six nominations and winners:

The best eurorack module
Brand: SSSR Labs
Model: Matrixarchate

The best synthesizer
Brand: Black Corporation
Model: Deckard’s Dream

The best processing / fx gear
Brand: VG Line
Model: 12bitcrusher

Heritage Preservation

Renewed production
SOMA laboratory

Popularization: educational initiative


Photos by: CDM, Synthposium, (last shot) Valentin “Zvukofor” Victorovich.

The post Gallery: Inside the gear-packed hall of Moscow’s Synthposium Expo appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

New Russian music electronics you’ve never heard of, from Synthposium

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 1 Sep 2017 8:04 pm

Moscow’s Synthposium was more than a runaway, hyper-nerdy festival. It also brought together Russia’s fledgling boutique music gear maker scene.

Avid modular enthusiasts will know some of these builders – or, in the case of Polivoks, the storied Soviet brand they resurrect. But some one-person electronics builders were in public for the very first time, in advance of even stock to sell. Tucked beneath the vaults of a former wine factory, the project had a show-and-tell feeling. Framed by conventional instruments (balalaikas, even) in one corner and big-name electronics along one wall, tables were bestrewn with crazy modulars.

Alongside the likes of Roland and Czech boutique Bastl, it was the Russian builders that will surely be of most interest to international audiences. A lot of these makers just couldn’t afford the trip even to Berlin’s SuperBooth, instead coming from round the corner in the Russian capital or perhaps by high-speed Sapsan train from St. Petersburg.

Here are some favorites.

Make: ПРИБОР [Russian-only VKontake page]
Home: St. Petersburg
Owner: Vladimir Kabanov

So my personal two favorites each come from St. Petersburg. The first is ПРИБОР (Pribor – translates basically as “device” or “appliance”).

Vlad’s little boxes add gnarly processing, drawn from a pile of post-Soviet chips, from filters to phasers. In fact, you could almost skip the Eurorack entirely and just make chains of these for your favorite guitar or synth. With our MeeBlip, this was pure gold. I’m literally planning a trip to St. Petersburg just to grab some of this.

There’s a video on YouTube:

Vladimir told me he’s actually opposed to the idea of posting demos, preferring to give people a bespoke taste of what to hear, but you can catch some sounds on his site above… or wait until I sell enough MeeBlips to buy a few.

Make: Zvukofor Sound Labs
Home: St. Petersburg
Owner: Valentin “Zvukofor” Victorovich

Experienced engineer/musician/jack of all trades Valentin “Zvukofor” Victorovich is full of new engineering ideas.

The Color Amps are beautiful sounding DI box / amps for instruments and synths. They don’t just amplify: they add natural compression, warmth, character, dirt, and in a wonderfully particular way. It’s like having the ability to fatten up sounds with a precise dial that says “get dirtier this way” – particularly since there are several variants from which to choose. Again, we tried it with the MeeBlip (as referenced in his report below), and I must say, the results were so thick and lovely I was almost frightened.

Reaper seems to be the unofficial crown champion of the DAW scene here, so little wonder that one of his other creations is a clever OSC-powered template for Liine Lemur. (Sorry, translation: you get iPad control of Reaper that’s arguably better than even the combination of Apple’s own Logic with the iPad.) I can’t wait to get my hands on this one, as I’ve been using Reaper more lately.


See his report:

Small report from Synthposium

Oh, also — a vintage typewriter and telephone as MIDI controllers. Nice.

Make: Polivoks Pro
Home: Moscow
Owner: Alexey Taber, Alex Pleninger

Fans of Soviet era synths, this is one you’ve heard of. But it was great at Synthposium to see the Polivoks reissue as a cornerstone of a revitalized synth scene in the former USSR, centered in Moscow. The one and only Vladimir Kuzmin, creator of the original, worked on this spectacular recreation – which, now with more consistently reliable parts, finally really gives that original genius its due.

I hadn’t gotten much chance to talk in person at Superbooth, so it was really an honor to be in the presence of this team in their home city. I have gotten a chance to hear this instrument, and frankly, it’s one of the coolest synthesis machines I’ve ever gotten to use, packed with possibilities.

Make: Soma Synths
Home: Moscow
Owner: Vlad Kreimer

The LYRA-8 and LYRA-4 “organismic synthesizers” are spectacular, alien-sounding analog synths, 8-voice and 4-voice, respectively. These oscillators combine with FM modulation and synthesis algorithms for eerie, science fiction-y goodness. They’ve been available since last year, but it was wonderful getting into their soundscapes – and I think this goes nicely with the futuristic-but-dirty-but-futuristic sounds of this Russian synth landscape.

Make: SSSR Labs
Home: Mytischi, Russia (near Moscow)
Owner: Dmitry Shtatnov

Shtatnov is a musician and engineer alike, and his SSSR Labs are a don’t-miss line of Eurorack and other goodies (even VSTi). The new Matrixarchate module won the show’s Eurorack competition for its magical routing powers.


Make: Black Corporation [Deckard’s Dream], Sputnik Modular
Home: Tokyo
Owner: Roman Filippov

Roman is another of the geniuses of the synth world – once based in Moscow, now off in Tokyo. (That “Sputnik” name still keeps Brand Russia in the electronics.) And if he’s gone far to the east of Moscow, his creations for Sputnik Modular are more like what would happen if the West Coast modular scene kept going west – with a fresh take on Buchla’s creations.

But it wasn’t the Sputnik stuff that was the main feature of Synthposium, but his other dreamy creation, as the ominous Black Corporation.

Black has one main product here. Deckard’s Dream is an 8-voice analog polysynth capable of making, among other things, nice Blade Runner sounds for you. It’s loosely inspired by the Yamaha CS-80 but a nice enough invention of its own. At US$1,199.00 (US$349 kit), it’s a dazzling display of luscious sonic texture, and after a few minutes playing with it, I’m totally hooked.



Make: VG-Line [find them via SSSR Labs or Facebook
Home: Moscow
Owner: Vyacheslav Grigoriev

VG-Line is a prolific one-handyman sonic electronics shop. When owner Vyacheslav Grigoriev isn’t repairing and modernizing gear, he’s making new stuff – including parts like his own MIDI equipment and DACs, or products like 909 and 303 clones (including a very nice variant on the x0xb0x 303 clone).

At Synthposium, the 12bitcrusher stole the show for sound processing, with some delightfully glitchy and grimy effects.

But I think for most of us, we’ll recall Vyacheslav’s answer to the question “what would an iMac full of synth modules be like?” See, pictured.

Some old videos of his work:

And that crusher:

Plus, have a look inside at the chip with that beautiful red “CCCP” chip:

Make: Synthfox [site on VK, Russian only]
Home: Moscow
Owner: Nick [actually don’t know his last name!]

I want to describe the goodness of these modules, but I think this image does it best:

There’s loads of smart stuff here – including a vertical sequencer – in the works. And I love this DIY attitude.

@playtronica hands on at @synthposium

A post shared by CDM (@cdmblogs) on

Make: Playtronica
Home: Moscow
Owner: Various

Playtronica is Russia’s answer to DIY boards like Makey Makey – but with a much more musical bent. Their Playtron lets you add MIDI-friendly touch to anything, among other accessories – and they had a clever DIY relay board for lighting in prototype form, too. (Plus Jekka, one of the collective, had a fantastic performance at the start of their festival.)

Bonus round – Pribore

Talked to this crew, and I’m intrigued. Basically, it’s a not-yet-available Russian ultra-compact Bluetooth MIDI controller. Charge (or use) via micro USB, and then use it wirelessly if you choose. They showed it mapped to Reason. You get transport controls, plus assignable encoders and a couple of assignable triggers. It seems like the kind of thing I might keep in my laptop bag at all times.

Sorry, no other information – will get that when it’s ready. (Doesn’t quite fit with the other stuff here, but worth mentioning.)



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