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


nanoloop reborn as standalone, Game Boy-inspired groovebox

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 12 Mar 2019 2:12 pm

nanoloop, beginning life as a Game Boy cartridge, helped ignite a craze in chip music by intuitively combining sequencing and sound. Now, its creator wants to make his own hardware.

And — while I hope you read what I have to say, you almost don’t need to do anything other than watch this tantalizing demo:

It’s really hard to describe nanoloop just in terms of specs. The music tool has seen iterations on original Game Boy plus Game Boy Advance generation, in addition to iOS and Android apps. It wasn’t the only Game Boy cartridge embraced by musicians – LSDJ (Little Sound DJ) was also beloved by artists, more in the conventional tracker model. And just talking about the particulars of the synth architecture below also makes this sound crude.

But there’s something uniquely magical about nanoloop, the one-man invention of developer Oliver Wittchow. The software is minimalistic and elegant, reduced to a simple grid. You can pick it up and make things happen right away, making it friendlier than rivals to newcomers – you can be led by instinct, without having to understand concepts like “tracker” sequencing. And then more depth unveils itself in time. The result is an instrument that melds sequencer and sound, in a way only a handful of instruments ever have – the Roland TB-303 being an obvious comparison.

The sound of Nintendo’s Game Boy hardware was also integral to nanoloop’s appeal – augmented later by Oliver’s own software-based FM synth.

nanoloop hardware, therefore, is a big breakthrough. It recreates the signature sound established by its Nintendo predecessor. It boils down that intuitive grid into a hardware design. And it keeps the arcade-style controls – perfectly positioned for use with your thumbs, and keeping the whole package compact.

Plus the Kickstarter project – which has already crossed its funding threshold – starts at just 97EUR for hardware. That prices this only slightly above the cost of the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator line, with I think a far more interesting interface and sound.

In other words, once this ships, I think it’s overnight the most interesting budget synth and mobile sound-making hardware.

And it’s really packed with everything you’d want – battery power, sync (both via MIDI and CV), tons of musical features for messing with patterns, and the ability to store patterns on microSD card or even an audio cable if you … forget the card. (Have you ever done that? Me, never. Never, ever, ever forgot an … okay.)

Kickstarter project

http://nanoloop.de/

Full specs:

synthesizer

4 channels:
dual square wave with true analog filter (mono)
4-voice polyphonic FM (stereo)
monophonic FM (stereo)
noise & clicks (stereo)

sequencer

4×4 matrix
per-step control for all parameters
pattern transpose for all parameters
“meta step”: play note only every 2nd or 4th loop
variable pattern length per channel
individual channel tempo
ping pong and random modes
shift pattern in four directions
randomise all parameters

display

8×4 bi-color LED dot matrix
5 LED digits
8 menu icons
various color combinations available

interface

silicone rubber buttons with plastic caps:
d-pad + 4 buttons
volume dial

connections

3.5 mm mini jack stereo headphone/line out
3.5 mm mini jack input for CV and MIDI sync
3.5 mm mini jack output for CV and MIDI sync

case

bent acrylic glass

power

2 x AAA batteries, micro USB (power only)
physical power switch -> zero “standby” power
battery life: 50+ h

memory

99 banks à 4×8 patterns each
song 999 patterns length
backup / restore via audio cable
micro-SD slot for near infinite projects (SD-card not included)

sync

MIDI sync in & out
analog 1/24, 1/16, 1/8 in & out

dimensions

12 x 6 x 2.5 cm, 100 g (incl. batteries)

The post nanoloop reborn as standalone, Game Boy-inspired groovebox appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

SOMA’s Ether is a high-sensitivity ear for your electromagnetic world

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 6 Mar 2019 6:48 pm

Electronics are redefining what “sound” means – by remapping other signals into our audible spectrum. The latest is SOMA’s invention Ether, a “microphone” for electromagnetic fields. If that sounds familiar, this one’s a bit different than some EMF devices that came before.

Here’s a look at the new Ether. It’s a new creation from SOMA Laboratory, the same Russian instrument builder who have give us the gorgeous “organismic” LYRA synths. (I covered them in the Russian Synthposium write-up last year.)

First, let’s talk electromagnetic fields. Just like gravity, these fields extend throughout nature. Since we have electricity and electrically-charged stuff pulsing all around us, there’s a lot happening in the electromagnetic field. But we can’t perceive that, because our bodies lack sense organs equipped to do so – well, until now, that is. Now we’ve invented devices that translate to things we can sense. Think of it as expanded sensory perception for the transhumanist, technologically augmented age.

Various artists have built electromagnetic detectors that you can use for music – both by listening directly with headphones, and by letting you plug that signal into a recorder or use in live performance. That includes the superb ElecktroSluch by LOM Label and artist Jonáš Gruska, who both makes these instruments available and has built a body of works around them on his label (both by him and invited artists).

Latest microphones unlock an unheard world

https://lom.audio/instruments/elektrosluch/

Part of what makes Jonáš special, though, is his interest in delicate sounds and focused sounds – that’s something he applies to his acoustic microphones, as well.

So here’s where the SOMA Ether becomes interesting.

The invention of engineer Vlad Kreimer, the Ether is a portable EMF device. But it’s much more sensitive than other offerings – making it well suited to picking up larger ambiences in recording or live performances. It works on a slightly different technique, and yields different results.

Vlad himself sends along an explanation to make this clearer:

ETHER is not just an inductive sniffer like some projects you can easily find online. A simple low-frequency inductive sniffer will be silent in most places that are full of sounds in the video. Such devices need to be placed close to an emitting source and will not work on a street. All they contain is a coil and a low-frequency amplifier. In comparison, ETHER has a regenerating circuit and a demodulator, making it an actual radio wave receiver, not just an amplifier of low-frequency magnetic fields. However, ETHER can perceive the low-frequency magnetic fields as well. But, honestly, if your goal is to scan objects in close proximity (0-20 centimetres), devices like Elektrosluch will work cleaner and more focused due to its narrow band and lower sensitivity. ETHER was designed to be a part of your walks in the city and may even pick up sounds in a forest or at the seashore (I have such experience). Elektrosluch was designed for using over a table full of gear. Also, ETHER can perceive the electric component of the radiation as well, capturing radiation that is far above the audio range and is much more sensitive. Therefore, it has a significantly different design, functions and implementation than a simple inductive sniffer even if in some cases their functions can overlap.

Devoted EMF fans I can imagine carrying both the Ether and something like an ElectroSluch to capture different sounds, a bit like photographers carry multiple lenses. (Oh yes – this addiction is about to run deep. Or you can think about the difference between a double bass and an oboe.)

As you can hear in the demo, you get these sweeping, overlapping waves of EMF with some really fantastic distortion – punk electromagnetism.

120 EUR, available to order now. (VAT and shipping are additional.)

https://somasynths.com/ether/

The post SOMA’s Ether is a high-sensitivity ear for your electromagnetic world appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Celebrate 303 day by finding old classics, fresh inspiration

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sun 3 Mar 2019 4:20 pm

It’s March the 3rd, which means in both hemispheres, our thoughts inevitably turn to basslines and squelchy resonance. Happy 303 day – here’s some video and reading to get you in the mood.

First, let’s take a step back, and before we idolize the box and transistors, let’s talk about just how immaculately early Detroit and Chicago records were composed and mixed.

1987’s “Acid Tracks” by Phuture (DJ Pierre and Earl Spanky Smith) never fails to floor me. (I’ll guess the same about you, as anyone sick of acid has already left the room.) It sounds at once ancient and futuristic, like it fell from some alien civilization. “Acid Tracks” is slow, elegant, meditative – apparently slowed down to appeal to conservative New York dance floors; check out the fascinating write-up at the top of Discogs:

https://www.discogs.com/Phuture-Acid-Tracks/release/1949

And, oh yeah – it’s a preset bassline. And very little actually happens in this track. You get the sense of that fresh, out-of-box, what the hell is this amazing thing feeling as a result – but whether intentional or not, it also means the duo settle on this fascinating groove and don’t overthink it. There’s an almost ritualistic, mantra-like steadiness to the track as a result. House legend Marshall Jefferson captures all of this with a mix that holds everything together, and weirdly I think gets away with the extreme panning from side to side, a kind of hypnotic incantation.

It may be the only time a preset pattern worked in a track, but… it works.

That same DJ Pierre joins Roland today to celebrate 303 Day – and yeah, he knows how to program patterns now:

I know we’re not supposed to covet gear as the solution to our problems but … there is something beautiful about really wanting a piece of gear to find a particular flavor, right?

It’s also great to hear Pierre talk about the satisfaction of turning a knob, and feeling like an improviser – I think that’s the essence of synth design. (I, uh, disagree with Maestro Pierre that this is the only instrument that did this, but then I don’t run an all-303 blog.)

But you think Japan is going to let us Americans have all the fun, with the gear they invented? Here is “Japanese Techno Girl Love TB-303 & TR-707 & RE-201” to answer that from the ocean. I’m not entirely sure I believe this is part of her bridal practice, but do you need to know whether that’s true or not?

For a good intro to the 303 and how to program it, Tatsuya Takahashi – former chief analog engineer at KORG – did an intro for RBMA. Seeing Tats talk Roland is weird, but on the other hand, I think Tats and his team at KORG built a lot of similar ideas into their instruments – hands-on control, simplified compact design, and a focus on playability. For all the present worship of modular synths and complexity, sometimes a simpler design lets the player explore more.

That skips over a lot of the history to focus on the instrument. So for a deeper look at how the 303 came about, check “Baseline Baseline,” a crude 2005 documentary. It feels a bit like someone is reading you a history of the 303 in monotone, but it’s a nice watch, nonetheless, packed with detail.

Philadelphia’s Akhil Kalepu did a great write-up of that history for DJ Tech Tools a few years back, as well:

History Of The TB-303: Roland’s Accidental Legend

To use the 303 yourself, your first question may be – have I heard that pattern before? (There is this funny quality of the 303, where you’re never certain if a pattern was your own, or a preset, or a classic tune, or the 303 somehow hijacked your brain and an alien consciousness made it for you, or … some combination?)

Let’s just not get too precious about acid house, though.

Part of what I love about the 303 is that it isn’t a classical instrument. You aren’t limited to reproducing half-assed copies of Chicago House just because that beautiful history is there. The 303 can get weird, dirty, trippy, unrecognizable. (Seriously, fight me on this. I love Roland’s TB-03 recreation not because it’s a perfect copy, but because it has some weird digital distortion and delay that you can abuse and warp.)

So, for instance, Germany’s Dr. Walker and Liquid Sky took acid in a different direction, some “acid techno” or make that “afterhour acid techno druggEEE madness.” Oh, sure, you could walk into a Berlin afterhours and someone could play some inoffensive slow tech house track. OR … you could wind up in some dark cave, three days into partying, thick with smoke, unable to find the door, when some end-of-the-world weirdness you can’t follow takes over, or some way-too-fast techno that is slowly speeding up. That’s the sort of 303 you might expect would be part of an unfriendly M-class planet, the kind the one surviving red shirt warned you about, holes burnt in his uniform, after beaming back up.

Playlist of related tracks:

Hold on, though, back up – Sony Music published this? Interesting.

I bring this up just because it’s sort of nicely the opposite of the Phuture track. If the above is the 303 in calm meditation or headed to a wedding, this is a disheveled 303 stumbling out of a bar in Akihabara, its tie in shreds (uh, drunk on alternating current or whatever synthesizers get into):

Acid is getting new leases on life, too, as in the hands of Bloody Mary, the French-born, Berlin-based producer and label boss of acidic dame music. She’s keeping acid alive both as a DJ –

– and as a producer. (Got to talk to her about her love of the 303 and the ability to really focus on this instrument at ADE in the fall.)

So be sure – we love the 303, but its day is not a sacred one. It’s a chance to do what we do every night – make ridiculous sounds with knobs.

And just remember – don’t let anyone convince you synthesis is a game for the rich. The 303 found its way into history thanks to some guys who could only barely afford it, after it had already dropped in value. Speaking as someone who reads tons of press releases from artists bragging about their all-modular setups, this is something worth repeating – and a happy 303 day to you.

The post Celebrate 303 day by finding old classics, fresh inspiration appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth is back in stock, here to stay

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 14 Feb 2019 9:30 pm

It put the boutique Swedish maker on the music map, and helped usher in new interest in mobile devices and slick design. Now the OP-1 from Teenage Engineering is back in stock, and its makers say it’s here to stay.

That should be good news for OP-1 fans. Sure, the OP-Z has some fancy new features, but it loses the all-in-one functionality and inviting display on the OP-1. And Pocket Operators – both in their original mini-calculator form and now in a line of inexpensive kit modular – well, that’s for another audience. The OP-1, love it or hate it, is really unlike anything else out there. And someone must want it, because it’s been in demand a full decade after its first appearance.

Teenage Engineering shared today they were resurrecting the OP-1 ( under a headline “love never dies,” for Valentine’s Day). Here’s that announcement:

after being out of stock for more than a year with rumours of its demise, we are very happy to let you know that finally, the OP-1 is back and here to stay!

so what happened?

during our nine years of production, we have been very lucky in having a steady supply of the components needed for the OP-1. but last year we suddenly found ourselves without the amoled screen needed and nowhere to find new ones in the same high quality. but after a long time sourcing the perfect replacement, we have finally found it, and we will now be able to fulfil the demand that’s been growing for the past year.

Hmm, maybe the Teenagers want to start a side business reselling that display part? I’m interested.

Anyway, you can buy an OP-1 new now if you couldn’t find it on the used market – or watch for used prices to come down accordingly. Let’s celebrate with a little OP-1 reminiscence, as I know for some of you, Teenage Engineerings’ other stuff just doesn’t compare.

Also – shoes!

TĀLĀ is right – Teenage Engineering OP-1 is a great desert island synth

Teenage Engineering: Opbox Sensors and Shoes, OP-1 Drums and MIDI Sync

Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 Instrument: Hands-on, Videos, Why it’s Different

Someday I hope Elijah Wood says nice things about me:

https://teenageengineering.com/products/op-1

The post Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth is back in stock, here to stay appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Two twisted desktop grooveboxes: hapiNES L, Acid8 MKIII

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 12 Feb 2019 12:54 pm

Now the Nintendo NES inspires a new groovebox, with the desktop hapiNES. And not to be outdone, Twisted Electrons’ acid line is back with a MKIII model, too.

Twisted Electrons have been making acid- and chip music-flavored groovemakers of various sorts. That started with enclosed desktop boxes like the Acid8. But lately, we’d gotten some tiny models on exposed circuit boards, inspired by the Pocket Operator line from Teenage Engineering (and combining well with those Swedish devices, too).

Well, if you liked that Nintendo-flavored chip music sound but longer for a finished case and finger-friendly proper knobs and buttons, you’re in luck. The hapiNES L is here in preorder now, and shipping next month. It’s a groovebox with a 303-style sequencer and tons of parameter controls, but with a sound engine inspired by the RP2A07 chip.

“RP2A07” is not something that likely brings you back to your childhood (uh, unless you spent your childhood on a Famicom assembly line in Japan for some reason – very cool). Think to the Nintendo Entertainment System and that unique, strident sound from the video games of the era – here with controls you can sequence and tweak rather than having to hard-code.

You get a huge range of features here:

Hardware MIDI input (sync, notes and parameter modulation)
Analog trigger sync in and out
USB-MIDI input (sync, notes and parameter modulation)
Dedicated VST/AU plugin for full DAW integration
4 tracks for real-time composing
Authentic triangle bass
2 squares with variable pulsewidth
59 synthesized preset drum sounds + 1 self-evolving drum sound
16 arpeggiator modes with variable speed
Vibrato with variable depth and speed
18 Buttons
32 Leds
6 high quality potentiometers
16 pattern memory
3 levels of LED brightness (Beach, Studio, Club)
Live recording, key change and pattern chaining (up to 16 patterns/ 256 steps)
Pattern copy/pasting
Ratcheting (up to 4 hits per step)
Reset on any step (1-16 step patterns)

If you want to revisit the bare board version, here you go:

255EUR before VAT.

https://twisted-electrons.com/product/hapines-l/

Okay, so that’s all well and good. But if you want an original 8-bit synth, the Acid8 is still worth a look. It’s got plenty of sound features all its own, and the MKIII release loads in a ton of new digital goodies – very possibly enough to break the Nintendo spell and woo you away from the NES device.

In the MKIII, there’s a new digital filter, new real-time effects (transposition automation, filter wobble, stutter, vinyl spin-down, and more), and dual oscillators.

Dual oscillators alone are interesting, and the digital filter gives this some of the edge you presumably crave if drawn to this device.

And if you are upgrading from the baby uAcid8 board, you add hardware MIDI, analog sync in and out, and of course proper controls and a metal case.

Specs:

USB-MIDI input (sync, notes and parameter modulation)
Hardware MIDI input (sync, notes and parameter modulation)
Analog sync trigger input and output
Dedicated VST/AU plugin for full DAW integration
18 Buttons
32 Leds
6 high quality potentiometers
Arp Fx with variable depth and decay time
Filter Wobble with variable speed and depth
Crush Fx with variable depth
Pattern Copy/Pasting
Variable VCA decay (note length)
Tap tempo, variable Swing
Patterns can reset at any step (1-16 step pattern lengths)
Variable pulse-width (for square waveforms)
12 sounds: Square, Saw and Triangle each in 4 flavors (Normal, Distorted, Fat/Detuned, Harmonized/Techno).
3 levels of LED brightness (Beach, Studio, Club)
Live recording, key change and pattern chaining

Again, we have just the video of the board, but it gives you idea. Quite clever, really, putting out these devices first as the inexpensive bare boards and then offering the full desktop releases.

More; also shipping next month with preorders now:

https://twisted-electrons.com/product/acid8-mkiii/

The post Two twisted desktop grooveboxes: hapiNES L, Acid8 MKIII appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

NI now has killer, budget audio interfaces and compact keys

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 7 Feb 2019 7:24 pm

The answer to questions like “I just need a simple audio interface,” and “I want a compact keyboard that doesn’t suck,” along with “did I mention I’ve got almost no money?” – just got some new answers.

Native Instruments launched the new audio interfaces and the latest addition to their keyboard line as part of some grand, abstract PR idea called “for the music in you,” and said a bunch of things about starting points and ecosystems.

To cut to the chase – these are inexpensive, very mobile devices with a ton of bundled software extras that make sense for anyone on a budget, beginner or otherwise. And whereas most inexpensive stuff looks really cheap, they look pretty nice. (That holds up in person – I got a hands-on in Berlin just before NAMM.)

KOMPLETE AUDIO 1, AUDIO 2

There are two audio interfaces – KOMPLETE AUDIO 1 and KOMPLETE AUDIO 2. These take one of the best features of NI’s past audio interfaces – they put a big volume knob right on top so you can quickly adjust your level, and they’ve got meters so you can see what that level is. But crucially, they promise better audio quality.

There are two models here, but let me break it down for you: you don’t want the AUDIO 1, you want the AUDIO 2. Why?

The AUDIO 1 was clearly made with the idea that singers just want one mic input (so there’s only a single XLR in), and for some reason also with RCA jacks on the back (because consumers, I suppose).

But if you spend just a little more on the AUDIO 2, you get a lot more usefulness.

First, two inputs – both XLR/jack combo, for mics and instruments, with mic preamps and phantom power so you can use any microphone. My guess is at some point everyone wants to record two inputs rather than one. (Think line inputs, stereo instruments, a mic and an instrument… you get the point.)

And you get jack outputs instead of RCA.

So, quietly, NI just created the most affordable way of connecting a computer and a modular.

If you are a beginner, you get a bunch of software to play around with. Ableton Live 10 Lite is actually a reasonable version of Live to try – only 8 tracks, but all of the core functionality of the software and many instruments and effects. There’s also MASCHINE Essentials, MONARK, REPLIKA, PHASIS, SOLID BUS COMP, and KOMPLETE START, which represents plenty of music making time.

The price is really the big point: US$109 / 99 EUR and $139 / 129 EUR. Coming in March.

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/audio-interfaces/komplete-audio-1-audio-2/

A micro keyboard

If you want some sort of mobile input, there are now some wild multi-touch expressive controllers out there, like ROLI’s Seaboard Block and the Sensel Morph.

But what if you don’t want some new-fangled touch insanity? What if you just want a piano keyboard?

And you want it to be inexpensive, and fit in a backpack so you can take it with you or fit it on cramped desks?

Good news: you’ve got loads of options.

Bad news: they’re all kind of horrible. They’re ugly, and they feel cheap. And they have extras you may not need (like drum pads, mapped to the same channel as the keyboard, begging the question why you wouldn’t just play the keys).

So I welcome the introduction of Native Instruments’ KOMPLETE KONTROL M32. This is one that I figured I needed myself the moment I saw it. (Normally, my reaction on keyboard product launches is more on the lines of – “God, please don’t make me write about another generic keyboard controller.”)

The feel is solid – a bit like some of the mini-key keyboards from Roland/Edirol a few years back. They don’t have the travel of full-sized keys, allowing this low profile, but seemed reasonably velocity sensitive.

Plus there are transport buttons and encoders, and two very usable touch strips. In software like Ableton Live and Apple Logic, these map to the usual transport features, and the encoders are assignable. In Native Instruments’ software, of course, you get the usual deep integration with parameters, browsing, and production.

The M32 will be a particularly strong companion to Maschine on the go, finally with a small footprint – something simply not possible with a 4×4 pad layout, much as I love it.

Speaking of Maschine – this is the full Maschine software. There’s a smaller sound bank, but even that is still 1.5GB. So when they say “Maschine Essentials,” they’re practically giving Maschine away. The other extras I mentioned above are slick, too – Reaktor Prism alone you could lose weeks or months in. Monark is a gorgeous Minimoog emulation with realistic filters and some sound design twists not on the original.

And it’s just US$129 (119 EUR). So it looks twice as expensive, but is actually cheaper than a lot of other options out there.

NI are trying to tell a lot of stories at once – something about Sounds.com, something about DJs, something about producers… and they’re following us all over social media and Google with constant ads.

But here’s the bottom line: this is only compact keyboard at any price that feels good or looks good, it’s still only just over a hundred bucks, and the “beginners” bundle is likely to please advanced users for months.

Coming in March.

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/keyboards/komplete-kontrol-m32/

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The synth modules of winter: your Eurorack radar

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 5 Feb 2019 7:40 pm

The waves of synth modules never stop coming, as obsessed engineers keep making them and sound tinkerers keep buying them. So let’s catch up with what’s out there, in the wake of the NAMM show in California late last month.

Most of these are from NAMM, but there are some other sightings recently, as well.

Make Noise’s new modulation monster. Make Noise have made a name for themselves with some real weirdness that then shaped a lot of the music scene. The Quad Peak Animation System is the latest from them – a wild modulation system that can make vocalization-like sounds, with fast-responding multiple resonant filter peaks across a stereo image. In other words, this thing can sing – in an odd way – in stereo.

The best part of the story behind this is Tony Rolando of Make Noise partly got the idea calibrating Moog Voyagers … and now will apply that to making something crazy and new.

http://makenoisemusic.com/modules/qpas

Now we have multiple videos of that:

Low-cost Buchla. There’s a phrase I’ve never typed before. The Buchla USA company themselves are working to bring Buchla to the masses, with the new low-cost Red Label line of modules. This is 100 series stuff, the historical modules that really launched the West Coast sound – mixer, quad gate, dual-channel oscillator, filters, reverb, and more. There’s even a case and – of course – a touch surface for input, because keyboards are the devil’s playground. Good people are involved – Dave Small (Catalyst Audio) and Todd Barton – so this is one to watch.

https://buchla.com/

A module that’s whatever you want it to be. Nozori is a Kickstarter-backed project to make multifunctional modules – buy a module once, then switch modes via software (and of course coordinated faceplates). People must like the idea, because it’s already well funded, and you still have a week back if you want in.

http://kck.st/2TPKDdT

Lightning in a bottle. Gamechanger have a wild technology that lets you “play a lightning bolt” – basically, incorporating Tesla Coils into their hardware. They’ve done that once with Plasma Pedal, which we hope to test soon. With Erica, they’ll stick this in a module – and let you use high-voltage discharges in a xenon-filled tube. That looks cool and should sound wild; you get distortion with CV control in this module, octave up/down tracking oscillators for still more harmonics, and even an assignable pre/post- EQ. 310EUR before VAT, coming late February.

Erica Synths does the Sample Drum. This one’s sure to be a big hit, I think – not only for people wanting a drum module, per se, but presumably anyone interested in sample manipulation. Sample Drum plays and (finally!) records, with manual and automatic sample slicing, and three assignable CV inputs per channel. There are even effects onboard … which actually makes me wonder why we can’t have something like this as a desktop unit, too. You even can embed cue points in WAV. SD card storage. Looks terrific – 300EUR (not including VAT) coming late February.

One massive oscillator with zing, from Rossum. TRIDENT is a “multi-synchronic oscillator ensemble” – basically three oscillators in one, with loads of modulation and options for FM and phase and … uh, “zing.” Of course you could get a whole bunch of modules and do something similar, but the advantage here is a kind of integrated approach to making a lot of rich timbres – and while the sticker price here is US$599, that may well be less than wrangling a bunch of individual modules.

Actually, let’s let Dave himself talk about this:

http://www.rossum-electro.com/products/trident/

A module for drawing. LZX Industries’ Escher Sketch is a stylus pen controller with XY, pressure, and “directional velocity” (expression). LZX are thinking of this for video synthesis, though I’m sure it’ll get abused. US$499.

MIDI to CV, with autotuning and polyphony. Bastl Instruments’ 1983 4-channel MIDI to CV interface, complete with automatic tuning and other features, is one we’ve been following for a while. It’s now officially out as of 1 February.

Previously, including an explanation of why this is so cool:

Bastl do waveshaping, MIDI, and magically tune your modules

Don’t forget that Bastl also worked with Casper Electronics on Dark Matter, which I covered last month:

Bastl’s Dark Matter module unleashes the joys of feedback

Inexpensive Soundlazer modules. This LA company is actually known more for its directional speakers, but it looks like they’re getting into modules. Opening salvo: $99 bass drum, $69 VCA – evidence that it’s not just Behringer who may get into lower cost Eurorack. Check out their site for more.

Mix with vectors and quad. v3kt is really cool. Plug in joysticks, envelopes, LFOs, automatically calibrate them with push-button sampling, and then mix and connect all that CV to other stuff, with save states. Oh and you can use this as a quad panner, too. $199 now.

http://www.antimatteraudio.com/modules/v3kt

STG and Radiophonic 1 synthesizer. Radiophonic 1 is a terrific-sounding all-in-one, with a gorgeous oscillator at its core (also available separately). See Synthtopia’s video for explanation:

And Matt Chadra demonstrates how it sounds:

Slice and recombine waveforms in a module. Hey, you know how everyone keeps complaining there are no new ideas in synthesis? Well, Waverazor at least claims to be a new idea (with patent pending, too). Cut individual waveform cycles into slices, individually modify and modulate the slices, recombine. Okay – that sounds a lot like wavetable synthesis with a twist (albeit a compelling one), but we’ll bite. Or rather if you didn’t bite when this was a standalone plug-in, maybe you’ll like real knobs and a bunch of patch points:

https://mok.com/wr_dual.php

Control your modular with a ring. It’s funny how this idea never goes away. But here we are again – this time with crowd funding on IndieGogo, so maybe a larger group of people to actually use it. Wave is a ring you wear so you can make music by waving your hand around and … this time it plugs into a modular (the Wavefront module).

Watch this video and marvel at how you can do something you could do with an expression pedal or by using the same free hand to turn a knob, but, like, with a ring.

(Sorry, probably someone does want this, but… yes, it is truly a NAMM tradition to see someone trying it, again.)

Behringer are promising Roland System 100M modules. The German mass manufacturer was out ahead of the NAMM show with pre-production designs and prototypes based on Roland’s 100M series. Price is the lead here – US$49-99. Interestingly, what I didn’t see was people saying they’d opt for Behringer over other makers so much as that they might expand their system with these because of that low cost. Teenage Engineering also made a play for that “modular for the masses” mantle, though not in Eurorack.

Synthtopia did a good write-up of the prototype plans:
Behringer Plans 40 Eurorack Modules In The Next 2 Years, Priced at $49-99

Behringer did make this promise already back in April of last year – then, just in advance of the Superbooth show in Berlin – which I expect annoys other modular makers. But if you want Roland remakes right now, you can get them from – well, Roland, if at higher prices:

Roland’s new SYSTEM-500 modules, and why you might want them

Low cost, 2hp bells and grains and stuff.pocket operator modular system. And yes, while we might be talking about Behringer as the IKEA of modular, but for Teenage Engineering. TE have extended their pocket operator brand to a line of modular. It’s not Eurorack, but it is patchable and you can buy individual modules or a complete kit. I’m working on an in-depth interview with the teenagers, so stay tuned.

You actually do fold these things together – and prices run 399-549 EUR for a complete system.

https://teenageengineering.com/

That’s far from everything, but for me it’s the standouts. Any you’re excited about here – or anything I missed? Sound off in comments.

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Behringer Crave synth: vintage bits, all the extras, $199

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sun 27 Jan 2019 11:57 pm

Behringer left its big gear salvo for the year for last – Crave is a compact, patchable synth with arp and sequencer for US$199.

Behringer’s gear announcements this year stuck mostly to safe bets – clones of a whole lot of Roland gear (SH-101, TR-808, vocoder, modular) and the ARP Odyssey – and most of those the company had revealed in some form long before the NAMM show. More on that separately. But that meant the company hadn’t done what they did with semi-modular Neutron, which was make something distinctive.

All of that might have continued to cement the association of Behringer with clones – but then we get this.

Behringer Crave is a new semi-modular synth. It takes some of those components that made the retro remakes possible, but puts them in a new form – and with the price really, really low. So the Crave has the oscillator from the Sequential Prophet 5 (and Neutron), a Moog ladder filter, a big patch bay making it semi-modular, and a full-featured step sequencer / arpeggiator. Each of these has been seen in some form on other products, which demonstrates Behringer is ready to aggressively combine those bits into new products to suit the market.

And then there’s the price – Crave is US$199 (149 EUR).

Features:
3340 analog oscillator
Ladder filter (hi pass / low pass)
Step sequencer – also on the Odyssey and (SH-101) MS-101 (external MIDI transposition, 32 steps x 8 sequences)
Per-step glide time, gate length, accent, ratchet
Semi-modular patch bay
USB with MIDI
MIDI DIN I/O

Behringer has a product walkthrough, though their rep is strangely excited about MIDI transpose for some reason? (I mean, it’s definitely useful!)

Of course, you can compare this to the KORG volca modular offering at the same price – and maybe wish that KORG had finally abandoned their existing form factor, which would have allowed them (for instance) to use larger cables instead of tiny header pin-sized cables. KORG’s offering is definitely more left-field, with Buchla/West Coast-inspired synthesis. And it runs out battery power. But you have to want that more esoteric sound approach.

Or for a little more money, you can get the new Arturia MicroFreak, which also has semi-modular routings (delivered as a matrix instead of with cables), and a step sequencer, but a playable keyboard in addition – and some unique sound features. We’re hearing street price of US$299, so a hundred bucks more than the Behringer.

In other words, this year has already been really good for anyone wanting an advanced synth that costs under $300.

No product website or ship date yet.

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Arturia’s new experimental synth – and Mutable Instruments’ role

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 25 Jan 2019 6:12 pm

It was only a matter of time before some of the craziness of the modular world came to desktop synths, too. Arturia’s new MicroFreak is a budget keyboard with a weird streak.

It’s also been the source of some confusion, because it in fact makes use of oscillators from open source hardware maker Mutable Instruments, but hang tight for an explanation there. (It’s not exactly the focus of this synth, but it is significant – and an interesting illustration of overlapping capabilities in the age of open source.)

$349 (299 EUR) – coming this spring.

Experimental features are making their way into the mainstream. Let’s count – and yeah, that product name MicroFreak fits:

A flat-panel metal touch keyboard (Buchla style), with poly aftertouch. (Doesn’t look like there’s MPE support, though, just poly aftertouch support?)

A matrix for modulation (something associated with synths like the ARP 2500).

Randomization features in the step sequencer – various functions along the top “spice” and “dice” and otherwise rearrange your patterns.

Oscillator features from Mutable Instruments’ open source Plaits engine – and modes like Karplus Strong (physical modeled strings/plucks), harmonic oscillators, and more exotic wavetables.

It’s still an Arturia design, no doubt – the digital oscillators get fed through an analog filter (this time the Oberheim SEM), and the preset storage and control knobs all look Arturia-like and more conventional. But it’s a blend between that and more leftfield hardware, in one very low-cost unit – $349 (299 EUR) this spring.

The resulting design looks a little like it was pieced together from different bits – an ornate keyboard versus a more staid gray body, plus four glaring traffic cone orange knob caps. But that price is terrific, especially considering a lot of modular cases start at that price – let alone what you’d need to even begin to approach these possibilities here.

And – the thinness is fantastic. It seems 2019 is a year of touch keyboards. Don Buchla would’ve been proud of us.

So let’s get back to the Mutable Instruments oscillators, which are one of the more interesting features here. We’ve confirmed that Mutable Instruments and founder/designer Emilie were not directly involved in the design, though she did sign off on the mention of the company name.

Mutable Instruments’ Plaits module code is available open source under an MIT license, so any manufacturer can pick it up and use it – even without asking, actually. That’s by design; Emilie tells us she intended widespread use. (An alternative for open source developers is to use “copyleft” licensing, which requires anyone reusing your stuff to release their source, as well. That would’ve been interesting – theoretically it would have meant Arturia would need to open source their additional oscillators and firmware. The GPLv3 license we’ve used on MeeBlip has this function, for example.)

Some of Arturia’s original copy was perhaps a bit overzealous and caused some confusion about whether Mutable Instruments was a partner on the design. They’ve since clarified that. For further clarification, read the statement on the Mutable forums:

So while it’s not a collaboration, it does show off the power of open source. As Émilie writes:

You can find Mutable Instruments’ DSP code in the Korg Prologue, the Axoloti, the Organelle, VCV Rack, and plenty of other bits of software or hardware. This is not stealing. Plaits’ code is a summary of everything I’ve learnt about making rich and balanced sound sources controlled by a few parameters, it’s for everyone to enjoy.

The important thing here is to differentiate between the open source Plaits modules, some new additions from Arturia, and then the Plaits sounds you get from Mutable’s updated modules. Let’s break it down:

Plaits oscillator modes:

  • VA, classic virtual analog
  • Waveshaper, triangle wave with waveshaping / wavefolding
  • FM (2-operator FM oscillator)
  • Grain, granular synthesis
  • Chords, fixed paraphonic harmonies (hello, trance music, then)
  • Speech synthesis
  • Modal (inharmonic physical model)

Those of us who have been playing with this on hardware or in the authorized versions inside VCV Rack will definitely appreciate seeing these elsewhere. (Really – can’t get enough.)

Arturia did add some pretty significant modes to those:

  • “Superwave” – detuned saw, square, sine, triangle waves, somewhat Roland-ish sound
  • “Harmo” – 32 sine waves for additive synthesis
  • Karplus Strong – physical string modeling
  • Wavetable – scan through wavetable modes

To me, those Arturia additions really anchor this offering, with some pretty fundamental ideas on offer. Put them together, and you should have something really versatile.

But okay, since Mutable Instruments doesn’t get any of your money when you buy the Arturia MicroFreak, did Mutable just give away the store by using an open source license? Well, no, not really – Plaits gives you a full 16 modes, an internal low pass gate, and does all its 32-bit floating point math in hardware that you can bolt into a modular case and interconnect via control voltage. Plus, you can get Plaits in software if you like – see the Audible Instruments Preview for VCV Rack, regularly updated.

Heck, that could compel us Mutable superfans into happily buying these same features multiple times, in Arturia’s hardware, in the pack for VCV Rack (which Mutable has elected to support charity), and in Mutable’s own hardware. Hmmm… a MicroBrute, a little skiff with some Mutable modules, a nice connection to the laptop, maybe again a Raspberry Pi. Okay, I’ll stop. Guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again…)

See:
https://mutable-instruments.net/modules/plaits/

And as for MicroFreak:

https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/microfreak/overview

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Moog’s Sarin is a limited Taurus-based synth that sings high, too

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 24 Jan 2019 5:30 pm

They’re calling it the “analog messenger of joy.” Moog Music’s latest synth is an extremely limited run – and it turns the Taurus bass engine into an instrument you can play in any range. Meet Sarin:

There will only be 2500 of these, so the Sarin is a rarity and a luxury item. And it’s cheery and colorful, as was the recent Grandmother synth.

But the idea is interesting. Sarin starts with two Taurus bass oscillators – arguably one of the better Moog instruments, Taurus – and then modified those oscillators so you can play both the characteristic bass and higher-pitched sounds. Insert various mythical flying discussion here, Moog ad copy writers. But we’re talking about a new range of E0 – D8.

And that to me is the big question here — say what? I’m not sure what they modified or what this means, though the basic notion is interesting. (On a digital synth, we’d assume something with anti-aliasing, but these are analog oscillators!)

They also ship it directly with an editor – which is a cue other manufacturers really might consider taking up. (Of course, Roland has it easy, since at least one third party keeps doing it for them!)

Specs:
Steel chassis
2 “modified” Moog Taurus analog oscillators with hard sync (saw/square waves)
A Taurus ladder filter
Two ADSRs
Multi-wave LFO with MIDI sync
Glide with selectable type
Modulation sources: Triangle, Square, Saw, Ramp, Sample & Hold, and Filter EG
Modulation destinations: Oscillator Pitch, Oscillator 2 Pitch only, and Filter Cutoff

Now more of an expectation – synths should have editors for integration with your projects on your computer and easier access to sounds.

CV / gate inputs: filter CV, pitch, volume, gate, and yes, CV to MIDI conversion of course

The price is steep, as you might expect from “Moog” and “limited edition” – US$599. That means you might check the Moog used market, and … it’s still tempting to get a DFAM or a Mother-32 instead; Moog have to compete with Moog here a bit.

But it’s a unique idea, and this is for someone wanting a special splurge anyway. It’ll be part of the pop-up Moog House of Electronicus Pop-up (not a typo, there’s a whole back story about “an experimental gathering that took place on the barrier island of Tierre Verde during the 1970s”). That’s in LA this week during NAMM.

You can pick it up there, or they’ll ship to you, as well. There’s quite a nice demo from Nick Sanborn. (He’s evidently in bands called Sylvan Esso and Made Of Oak but I ruined my life by moving to Berlin and getting sucked into techno, so I don’t know those bands. Mea culpa. Nice sounds, though!)

https://www.moogmusic.com/products/sirin

https://www.mooghouseofelectronicus.com/pages/sirin

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Roland just made syncing Serato and TR drum machines automatic

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 24 Jan 2019 12:26 am

The hybrid DJ set keeps getting fresh nudges. Now, Roland and Serato have added easy, automatic sync over USB for the TR-8, TR-8S, and the Boutique Series TR-08 and TR-09 drum machines.

And… oh, actually, this is such a no-brainer, I could almost just finish the story with that. (And that’s actually kind of cool.) But let’s offer a little more detail.

How does it work? Plus in a compatible drum machine via USB, and your drum machine follows Serato’s BPM.

How is that different from existing solutions? Well, it saves you the added step of configuring MIDI clock, at the very least. We’ll be able to test this shortly to check it in action, but it also presumably irons out other performance issues that can crop up with MIDI.

Oh, plus, if you didn’t understand any word I just said – this update is totally for you. You plug it in and it works. And rankly, that’s how it ought to be.

How do you get the update? Looks like all Serato DJ Pro owners with Roland hardware will be squared away. This is officially called the “Serato x Roland TR-SYNC update” but it appears you basically get plug and play support in the latest version of Serato DJ Pro.

Why would you want to do this? Well, even short of doing a full-on hybrid set, it can be fun to layer sum drum parts or (on the TR-8S) samples and so on. You could also then go on to sync still more gear from the TR. Oh, and the Boutique TR-08 and TR-09 are advantageously tiny. Even the most cramped DJ booth could easily fit one.

Bottom line – it’s nice to see some challenge to Pioneer’s own link protocol with their CDJ. Why shouldn’t you plug in drum machines and have them groove along? That’s why they’re drum machines.

I think it’ll make perfect sense, but for some reason, Roland marketing have gone a little crazy and decided to explain this not to non-technical DJs, but to actual space aliens. And for some reason all the sync in the product photography is 120 bpm, which bothers me. So here we go:

https://www.roland.com/global/promos/tr-serato-sync/

I’ll translate back to human:

What is a drum machine? It is … a machine … with drums in it.

What’s so special about Roland drum machines? No idea. I swear I can stop using them any time I want. I don’t really even like music. Watch, I’m about to do something more productive with my life right this second. The official Roland explanation, though:

The legendary TR-808 and 909 are the most influential drum machines of all time and have become part of the DNA of everything. They’ve literally just reprogrammed our genetic code and destroyed our minds and now all music genres and all carbon-based life on Earth have been assimilated, leading up presumably to some kind of invasion – once everyone has become a DJ.

Isn’t making your own beats complicated? No, it’s not, but that won’t stop you from becoming newly obsessed with how the beat is never right and the longer you listen to it, the more your grasp of all reality will melt away leaving you only with this loop. See DNA issue, above.

How do I include my own beats in my DJ set? This is a question that has truly no accurate answer, but if you call yourself a DJ, you’re already part of a global phenomenon started by a surprisingly small handful of people of color (very poorly attributed, as per usual) who just decided to show off and also not to have gaps between tracks and then got really deep into using phonographs incorrectly, so… uh, experiment, if you like, until you find something you like?

I’ve done it again. Long article. Also, not only is this not sponsored product, I now probably have to buy some apology rounds of drinks for whoever did write the original ad copy. Sorry.

There, instead of configuring MIDI, you now have more time to read my blathering.

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Elektron’s Model:Samples is a hands-on, $449 sound box

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 22 Jan 2019 7:45 pm

What if you could take the deep powers of an Elektron groove box, but bring them to the surface? And what if that box were small and cheap? That’s the first impression of the Model:Samples – and it could add up to a big hit.

Elektron has always been about giving us powerful, inventive music machines as standalone hardware. They still reign supreme in live dance music sets – certainly in Europe, if you see “live” on the bill at a club, you can expect the appearance of an Elektron machine or two as the most likely interpretation. But the price of those machines is learning your way around menus and shortcuts. Some people take to it right away, and some just don’t. And then there’s the monetary price – well into four digit sticker shock, which can be intimidating to new users.

That changed with the Digitakt and Digitone – compact boxes with more focused feature sets and more of a focus on hands-on control. And the Model:Samples goes further: one-to-one physical controls for most features, and an even lower price.

So make no mistake: the Model:Samples is probably aimed first at newcomers to the Elektron brand. (Though I can bet we’ll see Elektron lovers augment their rig with these for extra hands-on control.) Online commenters are comparing this to the used price of other Elektron machines, but that ignores the angle here: simplicity and hands-on control.

Model:Samples looks like a powerful groove-based tool with tons of immediacy. It’s also a real shot across the bow of KORG – entering the price range of the electribe sampler, but with some Swedish sequencing workflows. Spännande!

Take that, East Coast / West Coast – Elektron even reference their “ragged Swedish shoreline.” So let’s dive in like we’re taking a brisk swim in the Kattegatt!

It’s six tracks, sample playback based. (You can load your own sounds, but there’s no live sampling capability.)

Blah blah, 300 samples from Splice, yadda yadda, yes there’s a kick and snare drum and “never-before-heard alternatives.” (Uh, okay. “I’ve heard things you people wouldn’t believe. Castanets sampled from attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. A cowbell glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.” Sorry, lost my train of thought.)

But everything else is about tons of control – and that’s where this gets interesting, once you start manipulating those tracks:

Control All to manipulate multiple sounds at once, with Reload to get back where you started
Chromatic mode for melodic control
Parameter Locks – per-step automation, and even per-step sounds (depending on how much mayhem you want to make)
Six samples at once – which they’ve cleverly limited to the number of things you have in a kit
Swap multiple samples, a kit at a time
Chance parameter (which you can combine with Control All)
Per-track step length
Per-track tempo multiplier
Per-track swing
Record with or without quantization – both parameters and notes

There are other drum machines and grooveboxes out there, but this looks like a real winner in the price range, at least when it comes to rhythmic flexibility and hands-on parameter control.

There’s also a flexible architecture. You get 6 audio tracks – each of which can also be MIDI tracks, making this an effective sequencing box for gear, too. 96 projects, with 96 patterns per project.

Each of the six tracks gets its own sample engine, resonant multimode filter, and assignable LFO.
Then you can route via sends to delay and reverb.

There’s 64MB of sample memory, but you can store up to 1GB of samples, which you load over USB. Everything connects via class-compliant USB audio 2.0, and you get a dedicated headphone out and 2x balanced main outputs. MIDI is delivered via in and out/thru minijacks – now manufacturers are fast adopting that minijack standard for MIDI.

They also promise a battery pack at a later date so you can use this on the go.

Dimensions:
W270 × D180 × H40 mm (10.63 × 7.09 × 1.58″) (including knobs and rubber feet)
Weight: approximately 0.814 kg

Price here in Europe is 460EUR, $449 USD list. I think that means we could see a US street under $400 – which is a big winner, I think. Heck, this with the Digitone as a synth could be a complete studio. And having just praised the potential of the Akai Force, that could also mean people stick to à la carte gear for playing and go back to the more flexible computer for production. It’ll be fun to shake out these different combinations, though.

But that’s beside the point. Cheap, compact, lets you mangle samples with one-to-one knobs and has flexible rhythmic options that let you make polyrhythms and get off the grid – that’s a compelling combo. Add this to the must-watch list for the year.

https://www.elektron.se/products/modelsamples/

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Akai Force: hands-on preview of the post-PC live-in-a-box music tool

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 17 Jan 2019 4:24 pm

The leak was real. Akai have a standalone box that can free you from a laptop, when you want that freedom. It works with your computer and gear, but it also does all the arranging and performance (and some monster sounds and sequencing) on its own. It’s what a lot of folks were waiting for – and we’ve just gotten our hands on it.

Akai have already had a bit of a hit with the latest MPCs, which work as a controller/software combo if you want, but also stand on their own.

The Akai Force (it’s not an MPC or APC in the end) is more than that. It’s a single musical device with computer-like power under the hood, but standalone stability. It’s a powerful enough sequencer (for MIDI and CV) that you some people might just buy it on those merits.

But it also performs all the Ableton Live-style workflows you know. So there’s an APC/Push style interface, clip launching and editing, grids for playing drums and instruments, and sampling capability. There’s also a huge selection of synths and effects (courtesy AIR Music Technology), so while it can’t run third-party VST plug-ins, you should feel comfortable using it on its own. And it integrates with your computer when you’re in your studio – in both directions, though more on that in a bit.

And it’s US$1499 – so it’s reasonable affordable, at least in that it’s possibly cheaper than upgrading your laptop, or buying a new controller and a full DAW license.

First – the specs:

• Standalone – no computer required
• 8×8 clip launch matrix with RGB LEDs
• 7″ color capacitive multitouch display
• Mic/Instrument/Line Inputs, 4 outputs
• MIDI In/Out/Thru via 1/8″ TRS inputs (5-pin DIN adapters included)
• (4) configurable CV/Gate Outputs to integrate your modular setup
• (8) touch-sensitive knobs with graphical OLED displays
• Time stretch/pitch shift in real time
• Comprehensive set of AIR effects and Hype, TubeSynth, Bassline and Electric synth engines
• Ability to record 8 stereo tracks
• 16GB of on-board storage (over 10 gigs of sound content included)
• 2 GB of RAM
• Full-Size SD card Slot
• User-expandable 2.5″ SATA drive connector (SATA or HDD)
• (2) USB 3.0 slots for thumb drives or MIDI controllers

Clarification: about those eight tracks. You can have eight stereo tracks of audio, but up to 128 tracks total.

And there’s a powerful and clever scheme here that lets the Force adapt to different combinations of onboard synths and effects. Akai tells us the synths use a “weighted voice management” scheme so you can maximize simultaneous voices. Effects are unlimited, until you run out of CPU power. Since this is integrated hardware and software, though, you don’t fail catastrophically when you run out of juice, as you do on a conventional computer. (Ahem.)

All that I/O – USB connectivity, USB host (for other USB gear), CV (for analog gear), MIDI (via standard minijacks), plus audio input / mic and separate out and cue outs.

US$1499 (confirming European pricing), shipping on 5 February to the USA and later in the month to other markets.

I’ve had a hands-on with AKAI Professional’s product managers. The software was still pre-release – this was literally built last night – but it was very close to final form, and we should have a detailed review once we get hardware next month.

The specs don’t really tell the whole story, so let’s go through what this thing is about.

In person, the arrangement turns out to be logical and tidy.

Form factor

The images leaked via an FCC filing of a prototype did make this thing look a bit homely. In person with the final hardware, it seems totally logical.

On the bottom of the unit is a grid with shortcut triggers, looking very much like a Push 2. On the top is a touch display and more shortcut keys that resemble the MPC Live. You also get a row of endless encoders, which now Akai call just “knobs.”

The “hump” that contains the touch display enables a ton of I/O crammed onto the back – even with minijacks for MIDI, the space is needed. And it means the displays for the knobs are tilted at an angle, so they’re easier to read as you play, from either sitting or standing position.

There are also some touches that tell you this is Akai hardware. Everything is labeled. Triggers most often do just one thing, rather than changing modes as on Ableton Push. And there are features like obvious, dedicated navigation, and a crossfader.

In short, you can tell this is from the folks who built the APC40. Whereas sometimes functions on Ableton Push can be maddeningly opaque, the Akai hardware makes things obvious. I’ll talk more about that in the review, of course, but it’s obvious even when looking at the unit what everything does and how to navigate.

Oh and – while this unit is big, it still looks like it’d fit snugly onto a table at a venue or DJ booth. Plus you don’t need a computer. And yeah, the lads from Akai brought it to Berlin on Ryanair. You can absolutely fit it in a backpack.

Workflows

What impresses me about this effort from Akai is that it takes into account a whole range of use cases. Rather than describe what it does, maybe I should jump straight into what I think it means for those use cases, based on what I’ve seen.

It runs live sets. Well, here this is clearly a winner. You get clip launching just like you do with Ableton Live, without a laptop. And so even if you still stick to Live for production (or Maschine, or Reason, or FL Studio, or whatever DAW), you can easily load up stems and clips on this and free yourself from the laptop later.

You get consistent color coding and near-constant feedback on the grid and heads-up display / touch display about where you are, what’s muted, what’s record-enabled, and what’s playing. My impression is that it’s far clearer than on other devices, thanks to the software being built around the hardware. (Maschine got further than some of its rivals, but it lacks this many controls, lights, and display.)

That feedback seemed like it’s also not overwhelming, either, because it’s spread out over this larger footprint. There’s also a handy overview of your whole clip layout on the touch display, so you can page through more clip slots easily.

Logical, dedicated triggers and loads of feedback so you don’t get lost.

Full-featured clip launching and mixing.

It’s a playable instrument – finger-drummer friendly. Of course, now that you can do all that stuff with clips, as with Push, you can also play instruments. There are onboard synths from AIR – Electric, Bassline, TubeSynth, and the new multifunctional FM + additive + wavetable hybid Hype. And there are a huge number of effects from lo-fi stuff to reverbs to delays, meaning you can get away without packing effects pedals. It’s literally the full range of AIR stuff – so like having a full Pro Tools plug-in folder on dedicated hardware.

That may or may not be enough for everyone, but you can also use MIDI and CV and USB to control external gear (or a computer).

The grid setup features are also easy to get into and powerful. There are a range of pitch-to-grid mappings, from guitar fret-style arrangements to a Tonnetz layout (5th on one axis, 3rd on another) to piano and chromatic layouts. There are of course scale and chord options – though no microtuning onboard, yet. (Wait until Aphex Twin gets his, I think.)

And there are drum layouts, too, or step sequencers if you want them.

Two major, major deviations from Push, though. You know how easy it is to accidentally change parts on Push when you’re trying to navigate clips and wind up playing the wrong instrument? Or how easy it is to get lost when recording clips? Or how suddenly a step sequencer turns up when you just want to finger drum a pad? Or…

Yeah, okay well – you have none of those problems here. Force makes it easy to select parts, easy to select tracks, easy to mute tracks, and lets you choose the layout you want when you want it without all that confusion.

Again, more on this in the review, but I’m thoroughly relieved that Akai seems to understand the need for dedicated triggers and less cognitive overhead when you play live.

Tons of playing options.

It can replace a computer for production, if you want. There’s deep clip editing and sampling and arrangement and mixing functionality here. Clips even borrow one of the best features from Bitwig Studio – you can edit and move and duplicate audio inside a clip, which you can’t do in Live without bringing that audio out into the Arrangement. So you could use this to start and even finish tracks.

The Force doesn’t have the same horsepower as a laptop, of course. So you’re limited to eight stereo tracks. Then again, back in the days of tape that bouncing process was also creatively useful – and the sampling capabilities here make it easy to resample work.

Powerful clip editing combines with sampling – and you can use both the touchscreen and dedicated hardware controls.

Or you can use it as a companion to a computer. You can also use Force as a sketchpad – much like some iPad tools now, but of course with physical controls. There’s even an export to ALS feature coming, so you could start tracks on Force and finish them in Ableton Live – with your full range of mixing an mastering tools and plug-ins. (I believe that doesn’t ship at launch, but is due soon.)

Also coming in the first part of this year, Akai are working on a controller mode so you can use Force as an Ableton Live controller when you are at your computer.

There’s wired connectivity. You can set up MIDI tracks, you can set up CV tracks. There’s also USB host mode. Like the grid, but wish you had some MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads? Or want some faders? Plug in inexpensive controllers via USB, just as you would on your computer. You only get two audio ins, but that’s of course still enough to do sampling – and you get the sorts of sampling and live time stretching capabilities you’d expect of the company that makes the MPC.

For audio output, there’s a dedicated cue out as well as the stereo audio output.

On the front – SD card loading (there’s also USB support and internal drive upgradeability), plus a dedicated cue output for your headphones.

The full range of AIR effects is onboard.

Powerful audio effects should help you grow with this one.

And there’s wireless connectivity, too. You can sync sample content via Splice.com – which includes your own samples, by the way. (Wow, do I wish Roland did this with Roland Cloud and the TR-8S – yeah, being able to have all my own kits and sample sets and sync them with a WiFi connection is huge to me, even just for the sounds I created myself.)

There’s Ableton Link support, so you can wirelessly sync up to your computer, iPad, and other tools – clocking the Force without wires.

There’s even wireless support for control and sound, meaning that Force is going to be useful even before you plug in cables.

Yeah, it’s a standalone instrument, but it’s also a monster sequencer / hub.

Bottom line. It replaces Ableton Live. It works with Ableton Live. It replaces your computer. It works with your computer. It’s a monster standalone instrument. It’s a monster sequencer for your other instruments. It does a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t try to do too much (manageable controls, clear menus).

Basically, this already looks like the post-PC device a lot of us were waiting for. Can’t wait to get one for review.

The post Akai Force: hands-on preview of the post-PC live-in-a-box music tool appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The Stylophone goes totally luxe with the GEN R-8

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 16 Jan 2019 2:50 pm

You’ve seen the Stylophone as the mass-produced, toy-like original. And you’ve seen it as a relaunched digital emulation and as an analog instrument. Now get ready for the Stylophone as premium boutique instrument.

The Stylophone began its story back in 1967, and became one of the iconic electronic musical inventions of the 20th century – its appeal being largely to do with its simplicity and directness. The son of the original inventor, Ben Jarvis, went on to revive instrument under the original manufacturer name, Dubreq.

Now, the GEN R-8 is here with some advanced features and flowery description about British circuitry you might expect from the ad copy for a high-end mixing desk. There’s something a bit funny about associating that with the instrument so long known as a (very musical) toy, but – think of the GEN R-8 as a new desktop synth, the full-featured, grown-up monster child of the original.

Oh, and — it sounds like it’s going to be a total bass beast.

So you know in campy horror movies where someone gets hit with a growth ray or radiation or whatever, and turns into a city-smashing giant? Hopefully this is like that, in a good way.

Sound specs:

Dual analog oscillators (VCOs) and full analog signal path.
Divide-down sub-oscillators (one octave lower) and subsub oscillators (two octaves lower) – switch them all on, and you get six oscillators at once.
12 dB state variable filter – low pass, high pass, band pass, wide notch – which they say is their own proprietary design.
ADSR envelope, now with a “punchy” shorter hold stage when you crank attack and decay peaks, they say.

There’s a delay, too – based on the Princeton pt2399 chip, and “grungy” in the creators’ description – which you can modulate via time CV input.

And some classic overdrive, plus an extra booster stage – this part does actually sound a bit like classic British console gear.

And there’s a step sequencer – 8 banks, 16 steps per sequence, both for the internal synth and external gear (CV/gate and MIDI output).

Plus the whole thing is patchable:
There’s an LFO with eight waveforms and dual outputs, which you can patch to all of the CV ins or to other gear.
The patch panel has 19 minijack CV/gate and audio patch points.

The keyboard is now touch-based – so you don’t need a stylus – and has a sort of absurd set of features (MIDI controller output with local on/off, glide and modulation keys, three octaves of keys).

And it’s made of steel.

Price: £299 / $349 / €329
Availability: Late February 2019 [limited edition]

So it’s really Stylophone on steroids – fully patchable, with delay and drive and filter, MIDI and CV, ready to use as a new synth or as a controller tool with other gear (other semi-modulars, Eurorack, MIDI instruments, whatever). It does appear one of the more interesting new instruments of the year – one to watch.

Demo:

https://dubreq.com/genr8/

The post The Stylophone goes totally luxe with the GEN R-8 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Review: volca modular takes on creative synthesis in a small package

Delivered... Francis Preve | Scene | Tue 15 Jan 2019 7:05 pm

Can KORG take modular patching and Buchla-inspired synthesis, and squeeze it into a $200 instrument that’s still accessible to synth newcomers and experts alike? We go deep with the new $199 KORG volca modular to find out.

To grasp what this cute little box is about, we turn to veteran music tech journalist Francis Preve. Francis has worked across the industry as a sound designer, so he’s got the expertise – but he’s also an experienced teacher, meaning he’s able to translate that expertise to beginners. He’s one of the first to get his hands on a unit, so here’s his take:

Ed.: Richard Devine is also making some noises with this; we’ll add more users’ creations as you send them in:

Where the volca modular fits in

With three analog synths (volca bass, kick, and keys), two drum machines (volca beats and sample) and an FM synth (volca fm), it was tough to guess where Korg might go in expanding this hugely successful product line. Physical modeling was an obvious choice, but West Coast modular? That’s not only unprecedented, but sounds almost physically impossible. How on earth could any company deliver full-featured modular with patch points and cables in a size barely larger than a hardcover book? When I saw the press release, I was admittedly skeptical, as most compact all-in-one modular synths forego necessities like splitters, mults, and patchable trim pots—essential for true modular work.

West Coast synthesis will be new to many users, as it’s not focused on the subtractive techniques popularized by mainstream analog synths. Instead it relies on building new timbres by manipulating simple waveforms (like triangles and sines) with complex FM or AM modulation and distortion-like tools. For more depth on that distinction, you can read up on a simplified definition.

Fortunately, Korg went the extra mile and thoughtfully included a reference card with one side serving to diagram the architecture and patch points of each module and the other side including four common patch configurations as “recipes” to get you started with your own experiments. This really helps with things like creating dual-oscillator patches and adding portamento.

You’re not left in the dark: right out of the box, KORG includes some recipes to get you started.

I got my unit a week ago and in that time, I can confidently make this simple statement: The volca modular is groundbreaking, incredibly versatile, and worth every penny. But that’s just my endorsement as a veteran synthesist and sound designer. Here’s the reasoning behind it.

TLDR Summary

For those who just want a quick assessment of the unit and enough information to determine whether it’s worth your hard-earned cash, let’s start with a high-level overview of the essentials and a few minutes of unprocessed audio straight from the unit (link below)

It actually is an analog West Coast modular. It’s got more patch points than almost every entry-level unit out there, but packing features that will be totally new to producers who don’t already have a 168HP, two-bus Eurorack. If you’re already familiar with East Coast subtractive synthesis, the volca modular feels like it originated in The Upside Down, thus instantly evoking curiosity and experimentation, because unless you’re already initiated, the results can be less than intuitive. So if you’ve never worked with the West Coast methodology, you may be a little lost. But this can be a great way to shift your approach to Zen-like “beginner’s mind”. You can’t put a price on that kind of inspiration—and if you already know what you’re doing with West Coast, you’ll be blown away by the feature depth on this tiny titan.

It makes sound even without patching, but it’s also easy to patch. The oscillator pair includes both FM and wavefolding via its three knobs — and the tuning encoder digitally “snaps” into the most important ratio settings, so you don’t bump into the FM walls too much. That’s something you can’t do that with a fully-analog modular. The integrated wavefolder is also quite gritty and aggressive. At zero (off), you can get chime-like FM sounds, but as you approach maximum values, it’s far more flexible than a distortion.

You’ll appreciate those function generators. The dual Function Generators are quite authentic as they’re inspired by earlier Serge and Buchla gear, so West Coast aficionados will appreciate both their implementation and patchability. The first is an attack-hold-release envelope, while the second can be pressed into service as a pseudo-LFO with a single patch wire for retriggering or clocking. More on that when we go deeper.

— and more “West Coast” goodness from the lowpass gates and other essential tools, too. The two lowpass gates [labeled LPG] are great for both modifying audio signals and experimenting with control voltages—and speaking of CVs, the volca modular also includes a Utility module with trim pot, as well as a mult/splitter. These are essential components of every basic modular rig and are often left off entry-level semi-modulars for some reason *cough*. Korg didn’t cut these corners, thankfully.

Plus there’s a retro-sounding reverb. At the end of the chain is a strange little digital reverb that fuses elements of plates, springs, and multitaps. It livens things up nicely in that “Bebe and Louis Barron” mid-century experimental electronica manner.

You get volca-style sequencing power, not just patching. The sequencer is the real sleeper feature on this unit. While everyone is cooing over the patchability, it’s easy to forget that the sequencer’s motion functions let you automate nearly every knob on the front panel, basically adding an LFO or step-sequencer to any parameter with minimal effort. The other sequencer functions are largely the same as the previous volcas, with additional scale/tonic features for those who are new to this “music” thing—and some microtonal scale design features for those who are completely over this “music” thing. That said, adding microtonal options is another nod to the West Coast aesthetic.

That’s just skating across the synthesis features, so if you’re still on the fence about whether this will fit into your current volca rig (or studio workflow) here’s a few minutes of audio, using the factory sequences, some original patching, and a boatload of custom motion automation.

Ultimately, I think the volca modular is an extraordinary achievement both in terms of synthesis and portability. So much so that I’m ordering a few units for my school, so that I can include West Coast concepts in my synthesis courses, as well as traveling with it on my #vanlife voyages. Modular by the campfire? Hell yeah.

Modules, in depth

Expert mode engaged. Still here? Good. Because I’m now going to examine each module individually and explain West Coast concepts in terms that softsynth users can easily understand. While the Volca Modular is analog—giving it a distinctly warm and chaotic character—the concepts behind manipulating West Coast tone generators could use a bit of demystification for those who are primarily familiar with sawtooths, squares, and wavetables.

Source

This is the volca modular’s primary tone generation tool, and consists of a pair of triangle waves configured in an FM carrier-modulator pair. The three parameters are modulator tuning (continually variable, with slight digital detents for common ratios like 1:1, 2:1, etc), modulator depth (FM intensity) and fold. The fold knob is a hallmark of the West Coast sound, which often starts with a simple waveform like sine or triangle, then modulates and processes it into a brighter waveform. If you want translate the folder’s behavior, it’s not a stretch to think of it as a fancy distortion.

There are CV inputs for overall pitch (both oscillators), modulator pitch (ratio tuning), fold amount, and FM depth, letting you use the function generators or even the output of a lowpass gate to manipulate these functions. And this is just the starting point.

In the volca’s default unpatched state, the Source audio output is routed to the first Lowpass Gate, which helps newcomers get up and running quickly.

Function Generators

There are two function generators and each behaves in a very specific way. The first is an AHR (attack-hold-release) generator, but there’s no separate hold parameter and the release is tied to the decay, like the original Minimoog. Interestingly the attack segment is an inverse exponential curve, while the decay/release is exponential. Exponential decays are the snappiest of all and are great for transients and Kraftwerkian “thwips”.

Patch-wise there are CV inputs for gate, attack, and release parameters, while the CV outs include positive, negative (inverted), and trigger outputs. Thus, there’s a CV for every aspect of the module. Impressive.

In the default routing, this envelope is patched to the cutoff of the first lowpass gate, so it functions as a combo filter and amp AD envelope unless you patch it elsewhere.

The second function generator is a bit trickier. A workable analogy here is to compare it to an LFO in one-shot mode (like the one in Korg’s Monologue). Here, there are two parameters: waveshape and time. Waveshape is continuously variable from an exponential downward ramp (think of it as a fast decay envelope) to a softened attack-decay envelope to a positive ramp/sawtooth (long attack, instant decay) envelope. The Time parameter controls the overall speed of both segments simultaneously—a bit like a sawtooth or triangle LFO in one-shot mode.

As with the first function generator, there are CV inputs for every element, including trigger in, waveshape, and time. On the output side, you’ve got positive and inverted voltages and another trigger out when the shape completes its cycle. This is where the LFO flavor comes into play.

Here are two ways to patch the second function generator for LFO effects.

1. If you want a tempo-synced LFO effect, you can route one of the clock triggers to its trigger input. This will be the most familiar LFO effect, and the clock divisions are clearly labeled on the Volca Modular front panel.

2. If you want the function generator to independently repeat—unsynced—you can route its end trigger output back to the input trigger and create a loop, with the time parameter controlling the “LFO rate”.

LPG

The term “lowpass gate” sounds confusing at first – “lowpass” refers to the filter; “gate” to an envelope. For a detailed explanation of the term – maybe overly detailed – you can read up:

http://electronicmusic.wikia.com/wiki/Lowpass_gate

https://learningmodular.com/glossary/lpg/

But the basic idea is just what the term says: a lowpass gate combines the characteristics of a filter with those of a gate. And that sets it apart from standard vanilla lowpass filters as you encounter on most synths.

In plain terminology, a lowpass gate is just a VCA tied to a non-resonant lowpass filter with a 6 or 12dB rolloff, often based on a Sallen-Key filter (as found on the KORG MS-20, MS-10, and Arturia Brute). When you open the cutoff, you also increase the volume via the VCA. The term “lowpass gate” is associated with the Buchla synthesizer (which added it on early in synth history on the 200 series), but the basic idea of combining filters and amplitude envelopes is not unique to those instruments. The Roland SH-101, for instance, has a filter/amp combo envelope that will work in a similar way.

The specific “West Coast” flavor is then partly related to sound. In this volca, a discerning ear will pick up on the fact that at very low cutoff values, the Source triangle wave (with no folding or FM) transforms into a muted saw which gradually morphs into a triangle as you reach the upper cutoff frequencies. So while it functions much like a standard lowpass in traditional configurations, it does have a little “something extra” that makes it less predictable in some contexts.

Having two LPGs opens a world of possibilities.
For example, you can route the modulating oscillator into the second LPG for a dual-triangle-oscillator effect, while keeping the first LPG for processing the FM modulated carrier, then use the second function generator for an LFO effect on LPG2’s cutoff/VCA. With the sequencer on, it’s extremely complex.

Here’s a look (and listen) at that patch:

Space

The Space module is a digital reverb with a lot of retro flavor. Sonically, it sounds like a hybrid room reverb, with a lot of filtered early reflections, making me suspect that there’s a multi-tap delay hiding in here somewhere. The amount knob governs both mix and decay. Some settings are short and springy, others feel a bit like a cluster of filtered delays with a longer room. But all of them have a BBC Radiophonic Workshop vibe.

Modular tools

While the above is a primer on the individual modules, the thing that makes the volca modular fully functional is the collection of utilities that they managed to squeeze onto the front panel.

I’ll be candid here, there are mass produced semi-modulars available that cost three times as much and still don’t include these essential components. Without them, it’s impossible to get a properly complex modular patch. So seeing them on this volca is a testament to Korg’s attention to detail and a real value for customers.

Sequences

This is the section that governs the overall tempo of your sequences, with additional outputs for clock sub-divisions. There’s also a clock offset patch point. While you can use these for anything, they’re great for triggering Function Generator 2 for tempo-synced LFO effects.

Split/Mult

Here you can split one signal into multiple outs for modulating multiple modules—or combine two signals into a single output. For example, if you want to route a Function Generator to multiple destinations, this is your go-to. I’m delighted to see this addition, as there are more expensive starter that forego it entirely.

Utility

Another often omitted but utterly essential modular tool is a secondary trim pot for scaling the modulation depth of a source. It’s included in the Utility module, along with a pair of additional summing inputs that can be output as A+BxC or A-BxC. On a unit this size, it’s extraordinary.

Woggle

For some reason, some factions in the modular community has decided to call some sample-and-hold modules “Woggles”, so Korg opted to use that term for a nod to Wiard and Make Noise, whose Wogglebug module replicates much of the functionality of the Buchla “Source of Uncertainty” module. In practice, the volca’s “Woggle” module functions as a combo sample-and-hold (randomization) generator with an additional lag generator for smoothing, if desired.

In this Woggle module, there are two inputs and two outputs. The “sample” input is normalled to noise when nothing is plugged in, ideal for classic “random” effects. In the Woggle patch bay, you can apply an external signal (like a VCO) to override this. The second input triggers the sampling of this voltage, which is then output to both the stepped and smoothed patch points, for various randomized effects.

Because the smoothed output is actually a lag generator, you can patch the output of the Volca keyboard control surface into the Woggle signal input, then run its smoothed output back to the main pitch CV input, creating glide/portamento effects. Confusing names aside, it’s another essential module with a ton of versatility.

Conclusions

It’s mind-woggling what Korg has packed into the volca form factor. This modular will easily fit in a backpack or messenger bag, but includes nearly every essential module for dipping a big toe into the world of West Coast-inspired sound design. If you’re a volca collector, this is arguably the hippest unit Korg has released to date. And if you’re just a synth fan with looking for a way to give your rig even more analog flavor, the price point is absolutely irresistible. Put another way, if you bought a Eurorack for West Coast synthesis and equipped it similarly, you’d spend at least three times as much as this unit.

I’m fairly certain the volca modular will be backordered for a while, so order it now.

https://www.korg.com/us/products/dj/volca_modular/

Francis Preve’s site covers his professional background in detail, from sound design to writing to production and teaching – plus unique projects like his Scapes environmental sounds. Visit https://www.francispreve.com/.

The post Review: volca modular takes on creative synthesis in a small package appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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