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

1010music Bluebox is a little studio hub – mixer, player/recorder, and FX

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sat 10 Oct 2020 12:39 pm

Bluebox wants to be the compact hub of your studio or rig – it’s a mixer, a multitrack recorder, a player, and it throws in EQ, reverb, and time-synced delay effects for good measure. And it’s blue, obviously. This US$499 cutie is the latest from 1010music, who brought us the clever Blackbox sampler and a […]

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Dreadbox meets Sinevibes, in compact Typhon analog synth + sequencing + fx

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 26 Jun 2020 5:08 pm

Those gnarly Dreadbox analog oscillators and filters keep popping up in new places. This time, it's a collaboration with Sinevibes - and it makes for a compact, jam-friendly, portable synth for 349 EUR.

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Metagrid 1.5 gives your iPad shortcuts for everything – DAW, notation, Ableton Live

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 14 May 2020 9:34 pm

Sure, theoretically you should memorize a bunch of keyboard shortcuts and painstakingly map macros for tools you use every day. Or you could use Metagrid instead.

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Nerdseq portable will put a sampling tracker in your hand

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 18 Mar 2020 10:02 pm

Sampling and modulation and sound generation all come together in the Nerdseq Portable – fully standalone, original tracker hardware for live performance and production.

Yes, there are two standalone tracker devices out this week. They’re both from independent makers. They’re both fully integrated hardware that run on their own. And if you want to go tracker mad, you can even use them together. Both are due later this year – virus-influenced production delays willing.

The Nerdseq Portable has its lineage from the Eurorack module of the same name. But as a handheld, this thing is a bit like a Game Boy on steroids – or a computer crammed into a paperback book-sized powerhouse.

It’s a sequencer. That’s the tracker bit, to be sure – this looks like 90s software on its 480×320 color IPS screen. It does have “nerd” in the title. Think fast editing, as quick as your thumb on a boss in Metroid. And it supports polyrhythms and probability and dividers and multipliers and more.

It’s a sampler. Capture and play polyphonic stereo samples (actually stereo, not mono as on the Polyend), with 150 seconds sample time and pitch support. That can be captured both from your sequence itself but also an external input. So actually – let’s linger on this a moment, in that this is a more powerful sampler than a lot of standalone hardware from major manufacturers not to be named here.

It works with MIDI stuff. You can actually use this as a MIDI sequencer if you want – there’s full-blown polyphonic sequencing and recording per track with support for everything (clock, NRPNs, aftertouch, CC, program changes…) So, again, this is more capable than a lot of more obvious stuff out there.

It does modulation. Part of the whole appeal of trackers is not just sequencing notes and rhythms, but everything else – wavetables, retriggering, LFOs, effects, and more. This thing is deep.

It connects to your Eurorack and other gear. Nerd-Sound-Adapter modules work here, too, so you can still integrate the handheld with a Eurorack modular – like a very powerful satellite to your modular rig – and work with CV/gate.

It has a nerd button. Of course it does.

So how is this different than the modular nerdseq? Well, basically this is as much a more powerful sequel as it is a handheld version of the original nerdseq. You finally lose some of the restrictions of the first model – more buttons, visual feedback, and crucially massively expanded sample memory.

Or to look at it another way, having talked to Thomas, this is the culmination of years of feedback from Nerdseq users. I think it looks friendlier and more capable – and the form factor means it can go anywhere. Or you can squeeze it next to any other gear you want to sequence.

Wait so with this and the Tracker, which should you get? Neither, dummy, they’re not shipping yet.

But these do represent a different approach. The form factor isn’t just aesthetic; it means different use cases and audiences. It’s not that nerdseq is for chip music people – it’s more that you’ll have controls under your thumb and it takes up less space. nerdseq also comes closer to the feeling of tools like LSDJ – or if you’ve never touched those before, again, it’s still about focusing on the tracker itself.

Polyend’s Tracker lacks stereo samples, but expands to more performance and editing features that make it feel like a cross-breed with what you’d expect from Maschine, MPC, or an Elektron box (for example).

Or put the two together. (Yo, dawg, I hear you like trackers, so I — wait, I’m being told by someone under age 35 that I should cease making references to the Xzibit Yo Dawg meme in 2020.)

Due this summer.

Official site: https://xor-electronics.com/nerdseq-portable/ [with more specs – and they’re impressive; this is no toy!]

No videos yet, but – for all of you who whine “I don’t know if I was impressed by the demo video,” I have a solution. You will definitely not be impressed by this video. (Creator Thomas hasn’t been able to go see his video demo person! You know – social distancing. So if you yell at him, really, you’re saying human lives don’t matter.)

Okay, actually I love it, because it keeps with the bossa nova theme that is subtly threaded through this week on CDM.

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Polyend teases Tracker: grid, tracker display, hardware

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 11 Mar 2020 11:20 pm

Polyend has been gradually releasing a set of teasers for Tracker – and today we get the first big picture, looking like a love child of a monome, 90s tracker software, Maschine, and Push.

I mean, just look at this thing:

It looks massively fast for programming elaborate patterns, whether you’re thinking classic genres or wild, new micro-obsessive inventions.

Okay, if you aren’t familiar with the 90s software, that’s not so important. These tools took a different, more non-linear approach to rhythm programming. It’s responsible for some recognizable styles of the time, with elaborate subdivided rhythmic phrases, but it remains appealing irrespective of genre as a different way of thinking about pattern – and, for many, a really fast way of working. It’s also appealing if you simply find that you keep getting stuck in a rut, repeating ideas, when inside the boundaries of a fixed step grid found on a lot of drum machines and simple hardware sequencers and the like.

Maybe the best way to think of this is, it’s a new direction in how to do standalone hardware for music-making away from the computer, on one hand, and the predictability of Roland-style drum and bassline sequencing and Akai MPC sampling on the other.

I mean, if Polyend pull this off, it will certainly appeal to lovers of this approach – but perhaps to newcomers, too.

That’s exactly what happened when different music editing tools found their way onto Nintendo gaming handhelds. People who had never heard of a tracker before, or even in some cases ever tried making music, often picked up these devices because they were self-contained and fun. (See LSDJ on the Game Boy, or, while it’s its own grid-based approach, Nanoloop.)

I’m also impressed that this takes some of the best one-button access to editing functions from Native Instruments’ Maschine and Ableton’s Push. But at first glance, Polyend’s approach looks far simpler and more direct – it’s really elegant seeing that big jog wheel, and a minimal number of buttons. Whereas Push and Maschine are really interfaces to elaborate computer-style software, Tracker promises to be built around its own, standalone workflow. That is, it could be really fast to work with.

A leak suggested this will all be battery-powered, and even come with its own internal FM synth. See Synth Anatomy from earlier this month.

But you won’t have to wait much longer for the full details. Polyend promises to give us a complete run-down when this thing is ready.

So I hope you all keep yourself and loved ones healthy in these challenging times, and that we’re making some great music together later this year. Work on the joy of music continues, and it’s nice work if you can get it. Watch this space.

Past teasers:

(Oh and yeah – I wasn’t playing coy when I said I didn’t know what was coming when the first teaser came out. Polyend really didn’t tell me! I still know what you know, but – when this drops, full official information.)


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Here’s how to update KORG’s wireless nano controller, and use it with iOS 13 (and more)

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 24 Feb 2020 1:43 pm

In case you missed it, in November, KORG fixed issues with their portable Bluetooth MIDI controllers/keyboards and iOS 13. Wireless operation works with desktop OSes, too – and it’s really cool.

Firmware updates I know can be a bit scary, and it’s possible some owners of the KORG wireless devices didn’t even know that there was a fix (or that you can do this, for that matter)! So it’s worth sharing this video KORG posted at the end of last week.

iOS changes have kept developers scrambling lately, but at least this catches you up. And it’s tough to beat the iPad and a wireless nanoKEY as an ultra-portable rig on the road.

Wireless Bluetooth MIDI operation is a strong, low-latency solution on desktop OSes, too, though – useful if you have your computer handy and just need some input device to sketch in ideas or try our your latest virtual modular patch. (That’s me, anyway!)

KORG’s wireless controllers do support both Mac and Windows, too. (I’ll check if there’s a way to get this working on Linux; I suspect someone ported over Apple’s implementation. I also don’t see Android officially supported, but there’s some version there – or you can just use USB and an OTG cable, in a pinch.)

There are a few features that make the nanoKEY Studio easy to recommend, specifically. Everything is ultra-low-profile, so it’s more optimal for tossing in a backpack. There’s still velocity sensitivity on both the pads and keys, and back lighting for dark situations. But I think what’s especially winning is – not just knobs, but also an X/Y pad (KAOSS style), onboard arpeggiator, scale and chord mapping.

KORG push the notion that this helps when you’re not a skilled keyboardist but – obviously, even if you’ve got years of piano training, on a little controller like this you’re in a different mode.


Also quite useful on the go, nanoKONTROL Studio:


In fact, I can imagine nanoKONTROL Studio with the new (wired) Novation Launchpad mini would be ideal. The Launchpad mini has input but not anything that works easily as a mixing layout – other than a somewhat crude mode that uses the pads for that, but doesn’t give you continuous control. Both would fit in a slim-line backpack with literally nothing else, for an easy iPad or notebook computer studio.

Or couple the Launchpad mini and nanoKONTROL Studio, because then you can lock individual controllers to particular instruments without swapping (useful!), or separate clip triggering and instrumental playing.

I just personally love being able to work when traveling and to fit live rigs into small spaces.

The post Here’s how to update KORG’s wireless nano controller, and use it with iOS 13 (and more) appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Samplr, the genius sampling app for iPad, is also getting a long-awaited update

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 4 Feb 2020 7:12 pm

Samplr, one of the best music-making apps on iOS, is getting its first update since 2014.

And how about that timing. If you asked someone to say “what’s the best live sound manipulation tool” for iOS, the two answers you’d like get first would be Borderlands Granular (for granular sounds) and Samplr (for loop manipulation). They’re both deeply intuitive, immediate apps ideal for live performance. But there was a long, bleak period where neither got updates – before this week, Borderlands Granular hadn’t seen an update since March 2015, and Samplr since December 2014.

Apparently Chris and Marcos ate at the same Waffle House and talked about the iOS SDK or something, because now we get a new Samplr release, too.

Samplr is just wonderful – a one-screen interface that lets you capture sounds, then freely loop, slice, and navigate them. It’s not a hardware looper stuck on a touchscreen, either – it’s rather really freshly designed around the touch paradigm.

Here’s me playing live with it in 2017. A kalimba and the internal mic (and my voice) were enough to make a whole set. (I also used the WretchUp app I helped develop with Mouse on Mars.) And that’s really what you hope technology would do for you – give you a chance to just explore your ideas with some freedom, to really improvise.

New in this version:

Ableton Link support. This is probably the best and most awaited feature, because it means easily syncing and jamming with other apps, with other iPads and mobile devices, or with desktop software – not use Live, but tools like Reason or even Pure Data, too. (Oh yeah, wait, SuperCollider? Let’s check. Yes, of course.)

Higher resolution interface – ready for the latest iPads. The whole UI is now redrawn at higher res.

New MIDI sync. Marcos says he’s done a ground-up rewrite of the MIDI sync support, so it now works much more effectively.

Fixed audio recording under iOS 12.

File import improvements. Full updated support for Dropbox and Audioshare, so you can load your own samples from elsewhere.

New, updated, high-res UI.

Marcos says he’s already started work on the next update. No word yet on AUv3 – it’s support for this on both Samplr and Borderlands that will make them more future proof. Heck, both these developers should set up a tip jar; some of us are happy, loyal users.

For everyone else, if you haven’t spent the few bucks on Samplr yet and you own an iPad, go do it. Skip Disney+ or whatever. Samplr is all the entertainment you need.

Still relevant:

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Arturia KeyStep Pro is the sequencer keyboard we were waiting for

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 14 Jan 2020 8:35 pm

It’s like a BeatStep Pro, but with keys, but with KeyStep features, but with extras. And it’s still compact. Sounds like Arturia may have a hit on their hands.

Remember when we were all repeatedly saying that the KeyStep was cool, but it’d be nice if there were a KeyStep Pro? To their credit, Arturia did keep cramming functionality into their compact keyboard, and that means the latest firmware turned it into a little powerhouse – and one you still might want to consider:

But now the KeyStep Pro expands that. If you loved the BeatStep Pro but wish it had keys instead of pads, or if you loved the KeyStep but wish it had extra encoders and polyphonic features, well… mark your calendars for March the 20th. That’s the date this model launches.

Yep, it sequences all this stuff – MIDI (via minijack or minijack to DIN adapter), USB, analog, with computer or standalone.

And this is still a beat sequencer, so just because it’s a tricked out sequencer keyboard doesn’t mean you need to start making only tripped-out prog rock.

Basically, it’s an ideal performance hub for anyone who likes keyboards. You get loads of compositional flexibility:

  • 4 independent sequencers, which you can route to whatever synths or drum machines or modular or gear you want – just as on the BeatStep Pro
  • 4 tracks have 16 patterns each, and chain 16 patterns into a song
  • Scenes snapshot all the sequences within a pattern, for swapping between sets of patterns
  • Projects let you load up different scenes

And then there’s a nicely balanced complement of physical control.

  • 37 keys with velocity and channel aftertouch
  • LEDs above the keys give you added visual feedback for sequencing
  • Touch strips give you pitch + mod or other assignable controls
  • There’s an internal metronome, which you can listen to (to sync humans) or output as audio (to sync analog hardware)
  • Finally, five encoders with LED ring feedback – that’s an improvement on the BeatStep Pro, at least if you want to swap scenes without having to fiddle with the knobs to get them to pick up the right value
  • And of course step editing buttons, or this wouldn’t be an Arturia ‘step

It’s less portable than the original, but it’s still reasonable – 5.9 lbs or 2.7 kg, and slightly larger. They’re still slim keys, but that also makes this easier to drop into a backpack.

There’s also a crisp new OLED display – nice.

Price is US$449 / EUR 399 list, so it isn’t cheap – the BeatStep Pro is then a nice bargain buy if you like pads as well as you do keys. But for those of us who wanted exactly this as a hub, it looks like a good investment, rather than building a collection of keyboards that kinda sorta do what we want but not really.

More details and full specs:


And the video. Now is a good time to announce CDM’s exciting pivot to video features. Stand on one toe… good… oh, okay, stop groaning at me.

(Heh, I just noticed that Arturia’s own mailing list says this was the sequencer that we’ve “been waiting for.” Well, their product people knew that I was waiting and CDM readers were waiting, as I’d talked to them about it! Review coming soon, hopefully!)

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Now your smartphone can livestream with proper audio and more, using this new Roland gadget

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 9 Jan 2020 5:26 am

The GO:LIVECAST promises to transform your smartphone from a craptacular lo-fi hassle into an all-in-one multitasking studio.

Webcasting, livestreaming, livecasting, broadcasting, recording, podcasting … let’s drop all the buzzwords and put this into one category. You know the drill: if you’re a one-person show, or you’re on the go, there’s a lot to juggle. And going mobile means doing exactly that – juggling.

The smartphone should be a great solution, until you realize it isn’t. Sound is the main issue, in that it’s a chore to get past the internal mic – even worse if you need to mix, say, voiceover and an instrument. And then the other tasks you have to solve tend to multiply from there.

The funny thing is, these problems now span a big group of people and use cases, blurring together “casual” and pro. Let’s not ever use the word prosumer again – this is really about mobility and autonomy. Smartphones have given us the promise of recording and broadcasting in all places. And people are doing it, regardless. The question now is, will we get tools so that the creation process isn’t frustrating and the results don’t look like crap.

Roland is one of the companies most aggressively vying to fill that use case, and crossing traditional audio production with new consumer uses. (See also: Zoom/Samson.)

GO:LIVECAST does aim to solve a lot of your problems, and it looks like it might pull it off.

Roland’s GO:MIXER is already a solid solution for mobile audio mixing, and if it’s just audio you’re dealing with in your smartphone recording, it might already be enough. But GO:LIVECAST also lets you easily integrate multiple audio feeds with your stream, and has an ambitious list of other functionality:

Add in audio inputs. No more relying on the internal mic on your phone. You get multiple ways of merging your phone’s high-quality imagery with (finally) higher-quality sound:

  • Built-in mic. (Roland claims this captures “high-quality” sound, so we’ll have to compare their hardware with popular phones to find out.)
  • External XLR input so you can use a proper microphone.
  • Stereo line input (for your synth or instrument or an external mixer, etc.)

Plus, there are actual knobs for adjusting levels, not to mention a reverb option for if you want to sing.

Monitor what you’re doing. GO:LIVECAST has the headphone jack that your phone now probably doesn’t, and the ability to monitor the other audio inputs, too.

Trigger titles and media. Radio has long had “soundboards” for triggering audio buttons or sound effects or IDs. This is that for not just sound, but also titles, photos, and videos, since you need this capability for AV generally. It appears the push-buttons on the device integrate with Roland’s app.

There’s some pre-built content (ewww) or you can make your own libraries (oooh).

Multi-camera support, with phones! You can use wifi to add a second camera, not only with the app, but even – didn’t expect this part – with the hardware.

Photo: Roland.

An app to solve all those problems logging in, starting, and monitoring. Anyone who’s tried to do a live stream knows this agony, especially as one person. There’s dealing with logins for streaming services. Then you have people commenting and want to respond. It’s a major pain bouncing between different interfaces.

Roland says they solve all of this with their app. The app logs you into popular services. (That’s YouTube, Facebook Live, and Twitch plus other “major” options – have to find out which.) And it lets you handle the camera and other features alongside checking comments in-app.

There’s in-camera mirroring so you can see yourself, and automatic switching between portrait and landscape modes (another major pain). There’s even a skin filter (took me a second to work out what they mean – I think as in the skin on your face, though some of these features are controversial elsewhere, so we need to see how they implement that.)

I/O: Runs on USB power, connects to Android and iOS devices, stereo minijack line in, XLR and 1/4″ TRS phone input with phantom power.

I’m a little concerned about those buttons and having them locked into Roland’s app. And it’s annoying that Roland is still on microUSB and not USB-C (though they have an adapter cable in the box). But the functionality looks useful, especially if paired with the existing GO:MIXER.

It all looks great – will it deliver? Roland definitely has the right idea. I’m keen to test this to see if it delivers on its promises.

And actually, far from being experienced pros, I think as musicians we’re even more desperately in need of help. Music making doesn’t necessarily prepare you for video production tasks. It makes you more demanding of sound quality, but you also have to deal with, you know, trying to play music and be inspired at the same time, leaving little bandwidth for streaming headaches.

Roland’s GO:MIXER was great, which gives me hope. And the basic features here really do look useful. Plus Roland in general – via their Edirol brand – have been on top of these kinds of production needs at the mid- and high-end, too.

I’m sure there are other streaming tools around CES this week, too. Stay tuned.

Check Roland’s product page, meanwhile:


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SH-101, the next generation? Superlative Instruments launch the svelte SB01

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 22 Oct 2019 11:35 am

There’s an all-new keyboard instrument, born in the USA. It’s got the spirit of the Roland SH-101, but with modern design features. And CDM is getting an exclusive first look.

It’s analog for the 21st century – rechargeable and thin, like a smartphone, but with analog circuitry and instrumental interaction, like the classics that inspired it.

Superlative Instruments showed a non-final version of this instrument back at the Superbooth show in Berlin, but the company tells us they’ve been hard at work developing the design through the summer.

What’s new? They’ve changed materials, including upgrading to an all-aluminum chassis. It’s rechargeable, with up to 16 hours of battery life. And they’ve updated the design.

We’re seeing some new keyboards these days, but generally with big manufacturers behind them. SI is a real indie hardware label, and they tell us they have some ambitious progressive ideas about keeping the design open and supporting good causes (we got talking about bee health, for one). There will even be open-source firmware.

Of course, the irony of this is that, wonderful an instrument as it may be, the engineering on the SH-101 was anything but luxurious. So curiously what you get on the SB01 is like a deluxe remake, retaining the workflow and basic layout but re-imagining the 101 in a much more attractive “space bee” look.

If original synth designs is what you want, this isn’t it – it is intentionally a clone of the analog essentials, which on some level puts it in contention with the likes of Behringer. But rather than cloning being a race to the bottom, here you get more of the equivalent of what happens in boutique sports cars – recreations that modernize the form and engineering while retaining basic function.

What’s actually inside?

  • Analog circuitry, inspired by the original Roland (in collaboration with Open Music Labs)
  • 3340 voltage controller oscillator + 4-pole OTA filter (that’s what makes this sound like a 101)
  • USB-C connector for both power and data (MIDI)
  • MIDI in and out (on minijack)
  • Pedal input
  • Full CV inputs, too – CV (1v/octave) for pitch, gate, trigger, and mod CV input for the VCO/VCF
  • And CV output – 1v/oct, gate, trigger
  • Phone and line audio outputs
  • 32-key keyboard with octave transposition, portamento
  • A new “performance” bender – 360 degree joystick for pitch bend, filter, and vibrato
  • Keytar grip (as on the Roland) 3-axis accelerometer control (that’ll be new)

There’s also a new step sequencer. This basically expands the original, with 256 notes x 64 different locations. It’s got the signature SH sequencing (LOAD, PLAY buttons, rest, slide), but also an arpeggiator and chord mode/hold. There’s also a CHAIN mode and JUMP for immediately triggering sequences, so you get deeper sequencing possibilities but still oriented around live performance.

Sequencer specs:

  • Dual sequencer / arpeggiator
  • Arpeggiator modes: up, down, up&down, random
  • Sequencer: play directions, live editing
  • Key transpose, latch, hold
  • Bi-color LED layer indicators
  • 256 steps per sequence
  • 2 banks x 32 pattern memory locations

The keys are actually full size, but fit into a slim casing – so they say this is carry-on friendly (and they’re offering a tote bag as accessory). The action is a quiet rubber dome switch to allow that slim shape.

The whole package is 491mm x 249mm x an incredible 24 mm (that’s 19.3″ x 9.8″ x 1″)!

No pricing details yet, but Kickstarter is launching shortly. 200 “Early Bee” units will be available in the preorder.

Waiting on updated videos on this one – I’ll post an update soon – but here’s a slightly outdated look at what they had going earlier this year:

More info:


Kickstarter campaign (pre-notification)

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

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

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

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

Meet the Blackbox

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

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

Look and feel

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

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

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

Sample slots and editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Effects and MIDI support

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s a real sampler

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Product page: 1010 Blackbox

A sample jam

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

He explains:

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

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

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

Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 is yet another tiny keyboard – so how does it stack up?

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 19 Sep 2019 8:49 pm

Mobile keyboards continue to be fruitful and multiply. But Novation’s latest includes standalone mode, so it isn’t just a computer accessory – so let’s see how this category looks now.

Novation is the company that brought you the workhorse Launchpad grid, so anyone wanting a keyboard with colored grids on it would do well to take notice. But the MK3 adds some features its predecessors lacked – starting with the ability to work with gear minus the computer. New on the MK3:

  • Standalone mode and MIDI. There’s just a 3.5mm MIDI out jack, but combined with functionality that works without a host, you can now use this little keyboard with gear and not just a computer.
  • Fixed chord mode. Even for those of us with keyboard chops, this is useful on a small keyboard or in dance music contexts. New on the MK3.
  • Arpeggiator. New on the MK3, and puts the Novation in contention with offerings labeled Akai and Arturia.
  • Pitch/mod wheel. MK3 adds these as touch strips; the Launchkey 25/49/61 have pitch and mod, but it’s new on the Mini line.
  • RGB backlight. Yes, yes, more disco lights – but this also shows more information, matching colors to clips you’re launching and indicating status. Also new on MK3.

There’s also a Capture MIDI button, which lets you grab ideas even if you haven’t hit record. That’s now in Ableton Live, too, but it’s great that with the keyboard, this works everywhere.

And existing standard features from the Launchkey mini are here too:

  • Scene/clip launch (for Ableton and Novation software – this is a Launchpad).
  • Velocity sensitive keys and pads. Also standard on the Launchkey line. Velocity is actually missing on the Launchpad mini, meaning if you want triggering and velocity, this is a better bet.
  • Bus power.

There’s additionally now a bunch of bundled stuff from AAS, Softube, Spitfire Audio, XLN Audio and Klevgrand, and Novation now does a free membership. No, that isn’t some elaborate “cloud/subscription” feature – they just send you stuff from partners “every couple of months,” which may be more what you want, anyway.


This does make the Novation offering competitive, no doubt – not least because of Novation’s uniquely close relationship to Ableton Live, but likely just as useful with other DAWs (via Mackie HUI, which works with just about anything).

Here’s a hands-on review by loopop:

This also to me gives it a major edge over, say, Native Instruments’ keyboards, which work only when connected to a computer. That makes their Komplete Kontrol line desirable if you’re mainly interested in plug-in integration, but fairly useless if you want it to do double-duty with gear and not have to boot your laptop.

And that’s true of many other keyboards, too. Akai’s APC and MPK mini keyboards have some nice features and low prices, but they only work with a computer. (The MPK mini now has standalone sounds, but no MIDI out apart from USB.) And now Novation has added one of the features I like best on the MPK – the arpeggiator.

So this is really down to Arturia and Novation if you want something you can use on its own with your gear, as well as with a computer.

Arturia’s Keystep has a step sequencer and more dedicated arpeggiator functionality and controls. It lacks the pads and their accompanying trigger/DAW features.

So Novation gives you a still-usable arpeggiator but additional pad and trigger features.


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Erica’s Pico System III is a tiny, 450 EUR West Coast modular rig

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 16 Sep 2019 6:08 pm

The newest Erica system is an exercise in minimalism – analog, fit in a single unit. The price and size are absolutely as low as you can go – but with some deep sound capabilities.

Here’s divkid talking to our friend Girts about this one:

Erica Synths had been telling me this was what they were working on, integrating their analog circuitry and custom design onto a single PCB. That allows the cost savings that squeeze all this power into a 450EUR box, even with case (400 without the case; tax extra for us Europeans as per usual law).

But wow, even knowing this was coming, it’s better than I expected. You get West Coast-style experimentalism, complete with the snappy, percussive sound of LPG (Low Pass Gates) with resonance, and a unique waveshaper and signature Erica Bucket Brigade Delay. I can see why West Coast sounds are catching on – they’re distinctive, and can produce expressive rhythms and timbres both for experimental and dance contexts. And they’re fun – in a way that makes sense in a modular interface, specifically.

Plus all of this is somehow squeezed into something that still has enough mixing and modulation to work well for live performance. It’s no accident that Erica is populated by musicians and runs their own festival – they clearly love making instruments that work live.

All of this does require some insane miniaturization, so if you like spacious layouts for your stubby fingers and clear differentiation of what does what, this is very much the opposite of what you want.

For those of us who like creative systems, tiny things, and staying on a poor experimental artist’s budget, though, it could be a revelation.

Great writeup in German on sequencer.de (for DE speakers):

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KORG are making Pokémon metronomes and tuners

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Sun 8 Sep 2019 11:30 pm

If there was any doubt that KORG wants to be the Nintendo of music brands, here’s yet another partnership with the iconic game maker – but it’s sadly only skin deep.

Yes, it’s true, you get insanely cute Pokémon metronomes and clip-on pitch tuners. But there’s a missed opportunity here – whereas Teenage Engineering recently made full-on Rick & Morty Pocket Operators, KORG are only changing the paint job on their hardware.

The mind reels at the possibilities. You could have a Tamagotchi-style creature on your metronome. Or you could use Pokémon Go-style real-world capture to find synths for KORG Gadget. (Hang around Kottbusser Tor, Berlin to snag a rare Eurorackosaur; get a Prophetee 5 in Berkeley, California.)

Okay, I guess this may not help you with violin practice. (Maybe some gamification element to music learning?)

The point is, KORG continue to play on their relationship with gaming. So even if it’s just a cute tuner or metronome for kids, I think they’ve been very clever continuing to associate fun with their music tech. And fun is supposed to be part of the point, right?

The tuners (Pitchclip 2)

The metronome (MA-2-PK/EV)

The post KORG are making Pokémon metronomes and tuners appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Make music with mobile, MeeBlip, and one connection – here’s how (iOS, Android)

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 25 Jul 2019 7:40 pm

It’s liberating – just take your phone or tablet, plug in a USB cable, and you can make music on this hardware synth anywhere. Here’s how to do that, with our MeeBlip geode, plus some tips on the best apps for both iOS and Android.

Inspiration is a funny thing, and somehow in the process of hunting around for interfaces and power sockets, you can wind up staring at a tangle of cables and no idea of what it was you were trying to do. So, I’m already finding it surprisingly empowering to be able to use the new USB port on the MeeBlip geode for both power and MIDI (sequencing notes and control). Every smartphone I’ve tested, plus the iPad, will gladly power the geode from the same connection.

Why not just use an app? Well, with the geode plugged in, you get some nice feeling knobs and switches, plus that grimy, dirty MeeBlip sound – and its screaming analog filter. To look at it the other way, all you need for different interfaces for playing this module, from step sequencers to touch keyboards, is your handy mobile gadget.

That also led me on a search for the best apps that support MIDI out. Not all do, Apple’s own GarageBand for iOS being notably incapable of the feat (unlike its Mac sibling). I also spoke with Ashley Elsdon, our resident mobile geek, for additional tips. So these apps will be working with lots of my other MIDI gear, too. And while I thought the Huawei Android handheld that I just got to replace my iPhone would leave me disappointed as far as music apps, I was glad to find some excellent Android-platform stuff, too. (For once, we don’t have to leave y’all out.)

First, here are a couple of jams on iOS, audio straight from the out jack of the MeeBlip. And these two I think count as my two favorite live performance tools for iOS (so far):

Mobile MeeBlip in action!

StepPolyArp may have been one of the first music apps I got for the iPad, actually. It’s an intuitive, deep combination of a piano roll editor for graphically drawing patterns, an arpeggiator, and a step sequencer. It syncs to Ableton Link, though I’ve also used plain MIDI clock. And yes, you can get grimy sounds out of geode, in case you didn’t know that.


Arpeggionome Pro has a unique grid (influenced by the likes of the Tenori-On), and runs on both iPhone and iPad – it’s great handheld. Because of its particular approach to harmony and rhythm, it can lead you to some patterns you’d never play on a normal arpeggiator, let alone on a keyboard (unless you’re seriously some kind of pinball wizard). And yes, it also boasts Ableton Link support, so you can wireless sync up to another app or computer running lots of different software (not just Ableton Live).

It’s also on iOS, though ARPIO is an Android port from the original developer, and just lacks MIDI support – please, please!

More app ideas

On Android, there’s a powerful MIDI sequencer/arpeggiator toolkit that lets you build your own patterns:


Wildly enough, you can even use the Virtual ANS, a reimagining of a vintage Soviet synth, with MIDI output. The developer tells me he’s working on bringing that same MIDI output to his excellent tracker/production tool SunVox, where it makes more sense:


Various production tools on Android also do MIDI output, though perhaps the easiest to use would be Touch DAW, which simply acts as a general-purpose MIDI controller for everything – including a keyboard.

iOS is as usual richer with options. Ashley / Palm Sounds recommends considering MIDI plug-ins, too.

apeMatrix as host + AUv3 MIDI plug-ins

Rozeta sequencer suite from our friend Ruismaker (or if you want to get really fancy, try scripting your own MIDI with Mozaic)

And there’s Fugue Machine, also from Alexandernaut who built Arpeggionome above, which could be wild. I might have to try that with multiple MeeBlips, uh, fuguing. Stay tuned.

Or think of Modstep, a powerful sequencer with scene triggering

What do you need for the connection?

On many new Android devices, you can actually plug a cable directly between your phone (USB-C) and the MeeBlip (USB-B). Otherwise, you’ll need a USB OTG adapter. These run about ten bucks (ah, this obviously isn’t from Apple).

On iOS with only Lightning connections, you need an adapter. The best of these is Apple’s Lightning to USB3 Camera Connection Kit. It’s pricey, but it gives you both a USB-A and a separate Lightning breakout, so you can power your iPad or iPhone and connect USB at the same time, rather than drain the battery. It’s reliable enough to use live onstage, and it’s what you’ll see me using in these images.

Of course, on a computer with a standard USB connection, you don’t need any special adapters.

Regardless, you’re sure to be able to quickly connect your MeeBlip in the studio or at home, and you can even mess around with ideas on the go or busk at the park or picnic.

MeeBlip geode is shipping now. Grab one if you don’t have it already for US$149.95, direct from us.


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