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

Hands on Erica Synths Techno System, dream industrial modular

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 18 Jun 2019 7:21 pm

The modular world is replete with ideas – but what would a complete modular concept look like? Erica Synths’ Techno System is just that rare kind of concept, a modular made for dancefloors rather than chin scratching, and a total vision instead of just components parts. So we thought it deserved a proper techno test drive.

The modular for techno

We’re one year following the debut of the Techno System at last year’s Superbooth show in Berlin. But with this year’s edition having brought still a fresh avalanche of gear – from Erica, alone – now seems the perfect time to take a step back.

To give Techno System a proper run, I teamed up with producer Jamaica Suk. Apart from running her own label Gradient, Jamaica is a rising star on the techno scene, as well as a resident of the impossibly hot Pornceptual queer party series. (Full disclosure: we also share a studio. Pornceptual for its part is hot enough that its Boiler Room wound up – no joke – on Pornhub after YouTube dropped it.)

The Techno System is a Eurorack modular, so it’s both a complete system you can buy in a case – that’s what we tested – and a set of modules. That is, you may not personally drop four grand on this full rig, but at the same time, the Techno System itself serves as a nice demo for all the individual modules inside.

Making a “Techno System” isn’t just a marketing ploy. Techno – and related industrial and EBM sounds – can be safely said to be a big driver behind the growth of modular. The days of modular just being about noodling and chin scratching are over; these machines pound dance floors and top charts. And while DJs now turn up to gigs with just USB sticks, the pro techno circuit, particularly around Europe, is such that it makes sense at a certain point to graduate to using something that feels like a real instrument.

So, yeah, the elephant in the room – the Techno System definitely isn’t cheap, at about four grand for the full system. That’s a steep ask compared to desktop, though as Jamaica pointed out to me, it compares favorably to the cost of building your own rig – often winding up without something that’s terribly usable. And it is something some artists, at least, will pay off by gigging with the machine.

For Jamaica, that meant even a small skiff full of modules already cost about half the price of Techno System on its own. And Erica’s hardware offers an escape from her previous hardware workflow – doing a lot of menu diving. (Jamaica compared the experience to the menu-oriented work she does on Elektron gear.) The only menu on the Erica rack is on the Drum Sequencer; this rack is bestrewn with knobs. And it’s covered with patch points, meaning you can make sounds that are dynamic and organic and weird and unexpected.

So let’s see if this system can live up to its aspirations – and if there are individual modules you should watch out for onboard, too.

To set the mood, here’s a jam on the system as Jamaica and I were hanging out in the studio with it. (My arms, in case the hair didn’t give that away.) Mayhem and destruction? Oh, yes, indeed. Expect more; I was quickly filling up my drive with song ideas. Maybe I’ll put them out under a psuedonym. “DEATHBL0GG3R?” “D0RKDUSTRIAL?” No?

A complete system

The Techno System is a set of modules for “rhythm based music production” – think techno instrumentation, but of course what you do with it is up to you. On the surface, it seems fairly obvious: you get a bass module, percussion parts (kick drum, snare, toms, clap, hats, cymbals). There are processors (two-in-one effects, two-in-one drive). And there’s stuff to compose and put this all together: a modulator, an expansive sequencer, mixers, and jacks to the outside world.

As you’d expect at this price, you get everything – a handy patch book and user manual, a bunch of nice patch cords, the power supply, and a lovely rugged case. (You have to pay extra for a leather strap; we left that bit out.) The case is solid and surprisingly luggable – you could absolutely take this as a carry on and tour with it. (For the love of God, avoid checked luggage.)

The thing is, that description sounds vanilla – and this beast is the opposite of vanilla. Latvian builder Erica have imbued this with their usual, raunchy, violent post-Soviet sound aesthetic. There’s just a whole lot of engineering detail here that gives this set up of modules its unique character.

And it’s clear straight away. The first time I saw it live, as sweaty Erica associate and Riga-based producer Kodek destroyed a dance floor with it. That’s not just to gush – there’s a specific reason Erica have gotten that sound. Module by module (and to be honest, I wound up looking at this after playing with it – as in “why the heck does it sound this crazy, anyway?):

The heart of the sound: a distinctive, brutal combination of bass and drums.

Bassline. This module to me is the star. The oscillator is a newly remade version of Doug Curtis’ legendary CEM3340 analog oscillator – the sound you know from classic Oberheim, Korg Mono/Poly and Poly- synths, Roland SH-101 and Jupiter-6, and many others. Instead of using someone else’s clone, though, Erica work with Riga’s own Alfa, who have been manufacturing their own version in Latvia.

Erica’s stroke of genius here is combining that three-waveform oscillator with a transitor-based sub-oscillator for more bass, plus their ultra-violent Acidbox-style filter, plus a detune that’s actually not a detune but two bucket brigade delays acting like one. What you get from that potent brew is leads and basslines that can go full spectrum from melody to noise, and a filter/detune combination that makes it absolutely punch people in the gut. And it makes perfect sense in a modular, because all that insanity lends itself to patching, from the frequency modulation input to modulating the filter.

I should, like, talk about the rest of the modules, though.

Bass drum. I briefly mistyped “ass drum.” Freudian slip. Yes, this will give you classic kick sounds. Again, though, Erica worked a ton of magic here – the tune depth and tune controls are immensely satisfying, you get a Drive in case this thing isn’t dirty enough for you, and ample CV.

Snare. The Snare is probably the unsung hero of this rack – Jamaica has taken to using it even for hats. So even though Erica call this “909-inspired,” the fun is really making full use of the Noise Tone and “Snappy” control and patching in CV, which makes this more of an all-purpose percussion module.

Toms, Clap. The Toms and Clap are actually the only particularly vanilla modules here – they’re conventional toms and clap circuits, just with loads of patchability, including on accents. But that’s the advantage here of buying a modular – you don’t have to leave these in their normalled behavior. Both sound great; I just wish the Toms had some more control or variety, maybe more a complaint about analog toms generally. (Decay is 370ms – 955ms, which in practice means you don’t touch that knob much.) As set it and forget it modules, though, they’re great.

Hi-Hats D, Cymbals. These are PCM-based, but they’re run through a voltage-controlled amplifier that again have that snappy, aggressive Erica envelope sound. This time, Erica work again with Latvian maker Alfar for their version of the 3330 VCA chip – and then add their “I’m at a sweaty warehouse rave” envelopes to them. (Maybe I’m projecting.) If you leave these normaled and don’t dig into them, they also could go a little vanilla. But there’s a twist on each. The hats module will loop open hi hats, which can almost sound like a unique decay. The cymbals have ten custom crash and ride samples – and combined with CV patching and decay controls, just as with the snare, you can abuse the cymbals module into stuff that sounds nothing like a ride.

Sample Drum. We actually got our Techno System delivered without the Sample Drum, but it’s a worthy module inside or outside this system – a pretty essential implementation of sample playback in a Eurorack format. There is a hole for it in our system… but more than that, the Sample Drum is a place you can augment the unique Erica sound with additional sounds of your own, obviously.

The sequencer acts as heart of the system – with quick-to-access controls by push encoders and buttons, and lots of patch points.

Sequencing and workflow

So that covers sound – and you could actually just pick your favorite modules and drop them into a rack. But the system part of the Techno System is really about combining the sound engine with modulation, mixing, and sequencing in a coherent way.

The Drum Sequencer is normalled to the percussion parts inside the rack, so while you can re-patch triggers, you can very quickly punch up a drum pattern quickly.

Drum Sequencer. One Erica idea I wish I had thought of – the sequencer uses a numeric keypad that feels like a classic IBM keyboard, with LED indicators behind – instant 4×4 grid. No velocity sensitivity, but that’s not really what this brutal machine is about, anyway. Everything else is select-able via some (mostly) intuitive trigger buttons and two push encoders. Once you squint your way through the included manual, you’ll find working is really quick, with all the expected basic figures – set last step per part for basic polyrhythms, set sequence play modes (back/forwards/pingpong/random), copy, mute, and string together multiple patterns.

So far, that sounds like a conventional sequencer, but the Drum Sequencer’s modular side gives you 16 full dedicated triggers, and 12 accents. The accents are really what it’s about when it comes to making more dynamic productions – enough so that Erica even implore you in the documentation not to forget them.

There’s also a dedicated CV/gate track. You can map pitch to one of a set of fixed scales and modes, then dial in or play melodies with gate. That could serve as a melody for the Bassline, or something else. (Sometimes I found myself using the Modulator for the Bassline CV in, instead.)

Erica have also included two LFOs on this module, which augment the LFO outputs on the Modulator module. These LFOs are optionally tempo-synced, so you can quickly generate rhythmic LFOs directly from the sequencer. It’s hidden in some menus behind the encoders.

Having all those triggers makes sense if that’s what you’re looking for from the Drum Sequencer in a larger modular rig, but it feels a little unbalanced in the context of the Techno System. I would gladly sacrifice a few of those sixteen triggers and twelve accents for even one more CV/gate track or another LFO, for instance.

Overall, though, working in this unit is terrifically fast and enjoyable.

Finally, a numeric keyboard for something useful – doing techno instead of doing accounts.

Erica have done a lot with the hardware since its release, too, adding more musical features (like CV slide, gate tie, song mode, auto copy bars, and more), plus tons of fixes. Check the full changelog:


Modulator. This module is totally essential – otherwise you wouldn’t want a modular system like this in the first place. There are two independent LFOs with morphable shape (including noise waveforms) and phase / rise / envelope controls. You can sync them from an external clock – here, that means probably patching the Drum Sequencer into them – in which case the rate controls divide or multiply the clock signal. Or you can run them free, though I long a bit for a switch to give me different ranges. Cleverly there are both outputs and phase-shifted outputs for each LFO, and you can link LFO2 to LFO1 but still use the rate knob as a divider.

Probably the confusing element of this is the triple-function RISE/PHASE control, which determines envelope fall time, and phase shift, and filter cutoff. (Actually, it’s even quadruple-function, since there’s both a lowpass- and highpass-filter.) But in practice, part of the pleasure of those knobs is to stop worrying and experiment, anyway, so they’ve been arranged in a way to encourage some intuition.

Dual Drive. You want more distortion? You get more distortion – three additional flavors of overdrive, in each of two independent circuits, with really flexible patching. If you haven’t gotten it yet, yes, Erica are all about industrial, distorted, concrete-shaking sounds. “Dual” is right, too – if you don’t patch the second input, the two distortions will operate in series. (Hey, dawg, I heard you like distortion…)

Dual FX. This is a wildly powerful effect, but here I do wish we got a small OLED – its power is largely hidden. A push encoder hides different delays (mono/stereo/high-pass), reverb, still another distortion called Ripper, plus a unique dual pitch shifter. There’s also a save function so you can store parameters with each effect. The effect sounds fantastic, but is also fantastically confusing – Erica’s only feedback is in binary on the LEDs.

The Dual FX’s saving grace is that it sounds like some very expensive effects, even though inside is the fairly conventional Spin FV-1 digital chip. And you do get two patchable CV inputs. But I think this particular module is due for some rethinking. That may be partly my own bias – I think the whole point of hardware modular ought to be giving us intuitive hands-on control, not taking away useful visual feedback from digital hardware and software.

Mixers. Rounding out the Techno System are some terrifically useful mixers – and if Erica show off their approach to aggressive envelopes and raunchy sound on that side, here they show they can also make things functional and practical. At first, it seems a bit odd that you get a stereo mixer, a 7-input Drum Mixer, and a 6-input “Mixer Lite.” But in practice, the arrangement adapts itself to a variety of use cases.

The 7-input Drum Mixer neatly pulls together a percussion grouping, with vactrol-based compressor on each for still more punch. And you can send to mains or aux sends. The Mixer Lite gives you more or less the same idea in a more compact 6-input version.

The Stereo Mixer, as advertised, lets you position across a stereo field but also includes flexible routing and internal limiting.

Multiple modules for mixing and routing help you integrate the Techno System with the rest of your studio or live rig.

The result of all of this is, you can easily compose a mix of percussion both when it comes to live performance and production. Actually, maybe it’s telling even that both Jamaica and I liked it. She had a setup that worked well for her largely outboard, hardware-based setup; I had configurations that worked well for composing in the box in the computer and making stems. And when we wanted to jam live, the separate mixers worked well, too.

Really, the only challenge is working out whether you want to rearrange them in the rack, as the mixing component is where you tend to wind up with a bunch of cable spaghetti. So I do wish here Erica had normaled outputs as they did with the sequencer, and then just let you override that behavior.

But at the very least, if it looks like Erica just filled out a rack with every mixer module they make (which honestly was kind of my kneejerk first impression), that’s not the case at all; this grouping makes loads of sense.

The outside world. I expect a lot of people will use this rack alongside a computer, so it’s worth noting: the Drum Sequencer has a MIDI input, which you can use for clock. That saves you a more expensive arrangement. The Link module also provides convenient full-sized jacks which attenuates outbound signal.

In use

A modular system that already has ideas about how it’s going to be used may sound like an anachronism. But in practice, it’s anything but. There’s a natural workflow here. Punch in rhythms on the Drum Sequencer, reroute some accent tracks and triggers to add some spice. Wire the Modulator into FM on the Bassline and dial in unruly timbres, then tune the filter envelope so it’s banging up against the drums. Add drive and effects to the percussion until it sounds dangerous.

Part of what I think makes Erica special is that they come out of a particular context – both engineering and musical. The engineering has grown out of the legacy left behind in one of the USSR’s former major manufacturing hubs, the city where a lot of Communist-era noisemakers were fashioned. And they’ve connected to the grimy, industrial warehouse-friendly music weirdos of the former east, too and … well, all of those of us with similar natural tendencies. They sit at that essential overlap of engineering and sound practice.

So I do recommend getting to hear a Techno System whether or not you’re even going to buy one. The sum of these parts really is something greater – this thing hums and breathes and growls and bangs around and spits out big bursts of noise like clouds of exhaust. Sometimes we wound up recording random accidents that came out when we stopped the transport. This is one of those pieces that feels alive.

While I focused on sound, Jamaica focused on ergonomics. Trouble with repetitive stress makes it hard to use the computer for long periods of time – and even hardware menus can be painful, literally. She says that the Techno System has helped her work more comfortably, and that means more musical productivity.


The Techno System is a luxury item, without question. I am happy that one has taken up residence in our studio. (Thanks, Jamaica.) If you want a complete vision of percussion, modulation, sequencing, and a killer bass, and this is in your budget, it’s a beautiful choice. And of course we’re not in an outrageous price range for something you plan to make an instrument.

Just as important, the Techno System represents a lens on how a modular rig can be coherent, and can offer some new ideas. And it can apply to a popular genre, not just experimental ones.

I also think it’s worth really endorsing some of the modules inside – which proves the idea that a great way to sell individual modules is to give them a larger context. (That’s something Erica has done in a way few others have – other than those largely echoing historical systems.) I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these in desktop form, too, which knowing Erica may be possible.

The Bassline is simply genius. I’d buy a small skiff just to work with it. The Dual Drive also is a convenient way to add signature Erica distortion. And my gripes about programming Dual FX aside, there really isn’t a single dud in the group.

That said, of course working with modular comes at a cost. I think software and desktop systems should continue to push this kinds of hand-on control, but apply modularity that copies this accessibility without the wires. (Yes, they still get tangled and you still wind up with the wrong lengths.)

So can you use cheaper gear, software, non-modular stuff, battery-powered stuff? Of course! And some of us really should keep going that route. What’s comforting about the Techno System is, it proves the modular route is also staking out sound, personality, and utility all its own. It’s not just gear fetish. Whether you buy this rack or not, anyone who loves sound is likely to appreciate the very fact that it exists. And that’s a good sign for our maturing music tech scene.

More videos…

Still want more? Check these:

A terrific sound demo from Erica that really represents the system nicely:

We didn’t yet get to fully test the Sample Drum module that has now been added to the Techno System – but first impressions are great. Here’s a walkthrough:

And while it’s the earlier revision of the rig, you get a full-on extended jam from Erica’s “garage” streaming:


The post Hands on Erica Synths Techno System, dream industrial modular appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The E-mu SP-1200 sampler is getting a reboot: SP 2400

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 17 Jun 2019 4:10 pm

It’s meant as a “spiritual successor,” say the creators – with both emulation of the classic E-mu sound and new features. But the SP 2400 in preorder still hope to bank off the renown of one of the most popular samplers ever, the genre-defining E-mu SP-1200.

All of this could be a test of the clone craze. Sure, 12-bit lo-fi sound has some real potential for music making. And the E-mu layout, with faders and pads, is accessible.

But at US$949, and only a preorder shipping some time in the winter, the SP 2400 isn’t the most practical choice. You’ve now got plenty of options from KORG, Elektron, Roland (including their wildly popular TR-8S), and even smaller makers like MFB for a grand or less – some of them a fraction of this cost. All of those can be had right now, without dropping hundreds of bucks in June to get something that could take until January or longer. Not to mention we may see a Behringer take on this idea shortly, knowing how that company follows social media.

In a way, then, these sorts of reboots are beginning to become like the remakes of classic cars – a sort of genre all their own. There’s a practicality cost to using these designs, and sometimes a price premium, but if you want something that looks like a classic with some upgraded innards beneath, you’ve got options.

That said, there’s a nice feature set here. I like the idea of the 12-bit/26k mode, though I wonder if they’ve recreated the signature filter sound of the E-mu. And while I’m a bit too skeptical to endorse dropping cash just for half a year of “bi-weekly progress reports … via this website, social media channels, and emails,” it could be worth a look when it arrives.

The main remaining question, then, is how authentic a recreation this is. The E-mu sounds the way that it does not just because of the bit- and sample rate, but the filters and signal path. If sound is really what you’re interested in, then sound is what you have to ask about. Maybe we’ll see that information in the coming updates.

The real draw here is probably that this actually samples – including a looper mode. That’s a feature missing on a lot of current gear.

It’s the creation of ISLA Instruments, who also made the KordBot. I’m curious how people fared with that crowdfunding project and the final result, which would be a great indicator of how to take this one.

I just hope that new ideas get as much attention as reboots of old ones. Heck, I feel that way about TV and movies. It’s obviously summer.

But here are those admittedly rather appealing specs –

• Sturdy 4-piece Steel/Aluminium enclosure.
• Mains Powered 100-250V AC.
• Dual Audio Engine:
12-Bit/26.04khz Lo-Fi Engine (Classic SP Sound) and 24-Bit/48khz Hi-Fi Engine
• Stereo Recording/Playback.
• Channels 1-8 Pannable to Main out L/R Channels 7+8 can be ‘linked’ to support stereo audio content.
• Headphone Output (9-10) w/independant monitoring of channels.
• Dedicated Microphone Pre-Amp.
• Looper Pedal Mode (with full duplex recording/playback).
• Record and overdub live audio during playback.
• USB Host & Device Ports:
Connect usb thumb drives, keyboards, midi controllers directly into the SP2400.

The post The E-mu SP-1200 sampler is getting a reboot: SP 2400 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Sonarworks Reference 4.3: more headphones, features for calibrating your mixes

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 17 Jun 2019 2:56 pm

Sonarworks Reference 4.3 has a bunch of new features – more headphones, better performance, and it won’t blind you in a dark studio. The goal: make sure your mixes sound consistent everywhere. And with both high-end and consumer cans on the supported list, they seem to want everybody to give this a go.

I think the biggest challenge Sonarworks has here is that even I would have imagined calibration was something for engineers, but not necessarily producers. But once you hear the results, anyone can hear what this does. The thing is, headphones and studio monitors really aren’t flat. And especially outside of perfectly tuned studio environments, neither are working environments. Testing and calibration improves that enough that anyone can hear.

I’ve been using Sonarworks Reference religiously since the fall. The biggest challenge has been that there are two modes. One sounds really great, but adds a ton of latency. That’s especially rough if you want to work with calibration switched on all the time. The other is low-latency, but doesn’t sound as good. Those differences are, again, noticeable to anyone.

The big improvement in Reference 4.3 is to let you have both – with a mixed filter mode that operates with minimal latency but still delivers accurate results. That for me makes Reference way more useful. In fact, given this involved a ground-up rewrite, I’m surprised Sonarworks didn’t call this Reference 5. (It’s a free update, though!)

You also get new headphone profiles, which show both some high-end Beyerdynamic models but also the sort of consumer listening cans a lot of us use on the go with our smartphones and such. Those seem to target new users as well as ones traveling.

Beyerdynamic Custom Studio
Beyerdynamic MMX 300
Direct Sound EXTW37 Pro
Direct Sound Serenity Plus
Direct Sound Studio Plus
Marshall Major III
Marshall Major III Bluetooth
Marshall Monitor Bluetooth

More important than the addition of new individual models, though, they’ve added on-demand profile delivery, so you can add support inside the tool. There are already over a couple hundred of these, and they keep adding more.

There are some other improvements, too:

Dark mode – some people hate these; I love them, since I work in a lot of dim / late night environments

A better menu/tray bar, which is critical as you modify settings as you work

Integrated room measurement inside the Systemwide and plugin tools

Better virtual sound device performance (I need to test this across my Mac and Windows machines)

The little tool that gets you up and running when you start I already liked, and wrote about previously, but they’ve enhanced that even more

The new tool for getting started. Before.


Previously, I did some deep dives into this software and answered reader questions:

What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools

Your questions answered: Sonarworks Reference calibration tools

I need to follow up with them on how Linux support is coming, as CDM was the first to write about that and some of you I know were interested (as am I)!

Also since I last covered Reference, Sonarworks has started offering a bundle with pre-calibrated headphones. These theoretically deliver more precise calibration than what you’d get from any profile, since they’ve tested the actual harder. It’s pricey, because it includes the already-expensive HD650 headphones from Sennheiser.

But those are terrific headphones, and headphones are crucial to precise mixing and mastering. I imagine these would be a great investment for a producer or especially studio or engineer wanting to invest in a full calibration package at once. (Feel free to shout about whether Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic are better in comments, though!) In fact, I think if you’re thinking of buying the HD650s, you should spring for the bundle.

The bundle, with Sennheiser HD650.

I have talked to more producers about this tool than engineers (though my mastering engineer collaborator is a believer), so I would be interested to hear about that use case more.

And yes, this is another member of our music tech industry now located in Riga, Latvia, along with Gamechanger, Erica Synths, and others. It’s a surprising new hotbed.

The post Sonarworks Reference 4.3: more headphones, features for calibrating your mixes appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The Casio CZ is a huge highlight of Arturia’s V Collection 7

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 14 Jun 2019 8:50 pm

Arturia’s V Collection 7 continues to expand as the go-to software library of every vintage synth you would ever want. But let’s focus on one new gem: the brilliant CZ-101 remake.

First off, V Collection 7 is worth a look. Arturia keep making their mega-bundle software instrument bundle better. That means both reworking the modeling inside these tools, and adding new features, as well as – of course – continuing to expand the library of available instruments. As modeling has improved, these instruments have gotten more and more like the originals in sound and not just in function and look. At the same time, Arturia keeps beefing up those originals with new features – so the authentic sound engines get new sound design features atop them.

The EMS Synthi V makes an appearance in the new V Collection, too – if your tastes go more 70s than 80s. And it’s a big deal.

Version 7 continues to balance the desires of the casual keyboardist and the obsessive synth sound designer – and everything in between. So if you just want to add a convincing Mellotron or B-3, you’re covered – with an all-new Mellotron and a total ground-up sound engine overhaul for the B-3 V2. Jimmy Smith Strawberry Fields Forever, check and mate.

If the idea of a whole bunch of unfamiliar keyboards and control layouts is unappealing, V Collection 7 also includes the new Analog Lab 4, which consolidates all these things into easy presets and macro controls, and hundreds of new presets in their “Synthopedia.” That way if you do want to look up the way a familiar sound was produced – then tweak it yourself – you can.

Of course, if you read CDM, your favorite preset may be “default template,” and the idea of getting lost for hours in a vintage synth control layout may be the whole selling point. For that crowd, the V Collection 7 adds the EMI Synthi V and the CZ-101 from Casio, circa 1985.

Photo (CC-BY-SA) Neil Vance, via WikiCommons.

The ability to just dial up a menu and say, “do I want an Oberheim SEM or a CS-80” is already pretty crazy, and the number of choices continues to grow. So my approach to V Collection is actually to ignore all those presets – apologies, dear sound designer friends – and try to focus on one instrument. It’s a bit like what you do in a packed studio – you pull out one piece of gear, and say, hey, tonight is going to be about me and this instrument and very little else.

I want to talk about the CZ-101 because it’s long been one of my favorite instruments, and it’s a fairly unsung one. The CZ is somehow too easy, too friendly, too compact, too inexpensive to have the kind of adoration of some of the other 80s and 70s throwbacks. It’s not a collectors’ item. You can still find them at flea makrets. So yeah, Arturia are quick to drop names who have used it, like Salt-N-Pepa and Vince Clarke. But to me the whole appeal of the CZ-101 is that it’s for people who love synths, not people trying to emulate their heroes.

Of course, you could for these reasons go get an actual CZ-101. That means Arturia has to sweeten the deal a bit so the software can compete. They did just that. Let’s dive in.

CZ V reproduces the simple hardware interface (at bottom) but also expands to this view with lots of additional visual feedback and features, at top.

Phase Distortion lovers, rejoice

The original CZ-101 is about two things: a simple front panel layout, and phase distortion. If you just want to drop the CZ into a session as-is, CZ V does that.

Phase distortion synthesis isn’t so much a different synthesis method as it is a compelling way of mucking about with two digital oscillators. It’s easy enough to dismiss PD as Casio’s cheaper, non-patented answer to Yamaha’s DX7 and frequency modulation (FM). But now as we grow more accustomed to digital, non-harmonic timbres, PD is better appreciated on its own terms – as a way of producing unique digital color.

In short, what phase distortion does for you is to add rich harmonic content to sound. It can be a distortion. It can sound something like a resonant filter – in its own way. And because it’s normally using synced oscillators – here’s the important bit – it’s way easier to control than FM generally is.

On the Casio, this allows some unique filtering and sound shaping and distortion sounds that can easily be controlled by macros. And on the Arturia remake, graphical access to envelopes and expanded power means that you can use that shaping creatively.

The CZ V kind of goes a bit nuts versus what an original CZ-101 would give you. Let’s compare 1985 and 2019.

Arturia’s effects mean you don’t have to listen to the CZ dry.

The modulation matrix makes this feel as much modern soft synth as 1980s hardware.

The original oscillators are there – sine, saw, square, pulse, resonance, double-sine, saw-pulse – as are the 8-stage envelope generators and vibrato and LFOs. You can even import SysEx from the original. But being able to program these features on a display makes sound design accessible.

In addition to making hidden CZ features more visible, Arturia have expanded what’s possible:

  • 32-voice polyphony (the original had just 8).
  • A modulation matrix – no, really.
  • More modulation: a Sample and Hold module, 2 LFOs with 6 waveforms, 3 sources combinators and an Arpeggiator
  • New effects – while an authentic approach to the CZ might leave it dry, now you get all the Arturia multi-effects (adding things like chorus and reverb sound especially nice, for instance)

There’s visual feedback for everything, too.

Where the CZ fits in

In some ways, the CZ-101 is weirdly going from dated 80s thrift store find to … ahead of its time? After all, we’re seeing modular makers embrace these kinds of digital oscillator effects, and phase and phase distortion even inspired the upcoming sequel to Native Instruments’ Massive, the new Massive X.

Envelope editing is powerful – and includes animated visual feedback.

The CZ architecture is uniquely suited to making a lot of different sounds – including percussion and modulating timbres and edgy digital business – with a minimum of resources. So there’s a noise source built-in. You can modulate with the noise source. There’s ring modulation.

Using the CZ, DADSR, and multi-segment envelopes, you can them sculpt those percussive and metallic timbres over time – including using the DCW (Digitally Controlled Waveform) envelope that morphs between a sine wave and distorted wave.

The reason I’m using the CZ V to talk about the new V Collection edition, though, is that it’s an instrument where it feels like Arturia’s authentic side matches up with the “vintage on steroids” additions. So, by the time you have something like the new Synthi, you’re already presented with tons of sound design possibilities. Arturia has added some amazing ideas there – a step sequencer, a beat-synced LFO, plus onboard effects, atop all the new graphical options for working with envelopes and modulation.

The thing is, on a Synthi, that starts to feel like too much. I almost was tempted with the Synthi to force myself not to expand the tab full of new stuff. If I want an open-ended sound environment on a computer, I can use Reaktor, not try to recreate a 1970s take on the idea.

On the Arturia edition of the Casio, though, all these additions help the CZ graduate from fun toy to serious sound design tool. The visual envelopes make more sense. Effects are something most CZ owners invested in anyway. And more polyphony means you can run one instance and do a lot with it. Heck, even the matrix is easier to follow than on the original EMS Synthi because the architecture of the CZ-101 is so straightforward. In other words, because the original did less, it’s both a good match for software remake and for some thoughtful additions – which Arturia delivers.

Check these templates for an easy way to get started making your own sounds.

Here’s a little sketch I made with this. This is all one patch – noise and ring modulation and layering the ring source, plus some DCW and pitch envelope use, are what generate all those sounds. I added Arturia’s Trid-A Pre and some reverb from Softube’s TSAR-1 Reverb and … that was it.

More on the products:

V Collection 7


The post The Casio CZ is a huge highlight of Arturia’s V Collection 7 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Logic Pro X 10.4.5 is all about huge projects, with or without a Mac Pro

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 13 Jun 2019 11:34 pm

Logic Pro X 10.4.5, seen onstage at WWDC, is now available. And yes, it supports the new ultra-high-end Mac Pro – but there are fixes and performance optimizations for everyone, with or without new machines.

10.4.5 looks like the most pro-oriented Logic Pro in a long time. Apple has been aggressive with its update cadence for Logic for years running now, even with free upgrades, and this version is no exception.

This release also marks the end of the road for Mac OS X 10.12 Sierra. The new minimum OS requirement is 10.13.16 High Sierra. (Mojave is seeming stable these days, and it’s summertime, so maybe now is a good time to do a full backup and take the plunge.)

First up – yes, the banner feature from Apple’s perspective is that the new Logic runs on the new Mac Pro. Under the hood, that means support for up to 56 cores, the kind of massive multiprocessing the new Mac Pro can do.

The use case for this kind of processing power is slim, but then, that’s what the ‘pro’ concept is all about. Doing artist relations, you may have a film composer with advanced technical needs and a shelf full of Academy Awards. Even one user in your user base can be critical.

That said, I think the real story here is that Apple is shaking the tree across the whole code base – meaning these performance optimizations and fixes could benefit you even if you’re running on a beat-up older MacBook, too.

So, think really big track counts – which could be meaningful since even some mid-range CPUs can theoretically churn through a lot of tracks, to say nothing of that shiny Mac Pro tower.

Increased Number of Tracks and Channels, up to:
1000 stereo audio channel strips
1000 software instrument channel strips
1000 auxiliary channel strips
1000 external MIDI tracks
12 sends per channel strip

Way back around 2006, I heard from a Macworld reader complaining about lifting exactly these limitations and how I didn’t mention them in a review. (See above: that one user thing.)

There’s a bunch of other new features that are serious DAW improvements – and almost no mention mention of any fictional artificial drummers.

An all-new DeEsser 2 plug-in

16 ports of MIDI clock, MTC, and MMC from Logic – yeah, expect to see a Mac Pro in broadcast/film/TV applications running audio

Mixer configuration can be set to your own user-definable defaults (huge time saver there, finally)

A clever automatic duplicate erase when you’re merging MIDI recordings

And some new keyboard shortcuts to save you time when editing:

  • Option + Shift while rubber-band selecting in the Piano Roll: new time Handles selection.
  • Option-click track on/off button: loads/unloads the plug-ins on the channel strip (wow, easy A/B!)
  • Shift-double-click Tracks background: start playback from that position.

And for the “I have an old beat-up MacBook you can pry out of my dead fingers” crowd – finally Freeze works the way it should. (How many of you were desperately freezing tracks while cursing Logic as the CPU meter refused to go down?) From the release notes:

“Freezing a track now unloads its plug-ins to free up resources.”

There are also fixes and performance optimizations and workflow and display improvements throughout. As you’d expect, fixes are concentrated on newer features – Smart Tempo, ARA, Flex, and the like.

So you don’t get any earth-shaking new features unless you’re really into de-essing, but what you do get is some evidence the Apple engineers are working through their log of stuff.

Logic Pro X 10.4 release notes (Apple support, 10.4.5 stuff is right up top)

Full disclosure: I will now this week refresh my MacBook Pro’s OS and then Logic release.

Hey, say what you will about Apple, but Logic Pro these days is pretty accessible from a user experience perspective. There’s some powerful and numerous competitors that either fail that ease of use test or that simply lack features you need to get big jobs done in scoring and the like. Maddeningly, a lot get the ease right but lack features, or have insanely powerful features but demand you contort your brain to use them. (Once upon a time, an earlier version of Logic was also far harder to use.)

I know from CDM’s own site stats and plenty of anecdotal evidence that all this matters to music makers. It’s not just Apple brand loyalty that makes Logic last.

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Beneath Polyend Medusa grid and knobs, a wealth of possibilities

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 13 Jun 2019 5:12 pm

It’s an analog-wavetable polysynth with an expressive grid – but that only begins to describe what makes the Polyend Medusa such a unique instrument. Here’s a deep dive into this hybrid synthesizer and what it means musically.

A year after its public debut, the Polyend-Dreadbox collaboration Medusa hybrid synth has gotten a flurry of updates expanding its capabilities. The Medusa caught my eye when it was previewed at last year’s Superbooth extravaganza in Berlin – and has since reappeared full of refined functionality at this year’s edition. The instrument combines Polyend’s expressive grid with a gnarly synthesizer made in collaboration with Dreadbox. So you get a hybrid analog-digital sound engine, which you can use in monophonic or one of two polyphonic modes, and a grid you can use for performance or sequencing.

That description seems obvious and straightforward, but it also doesn’t really fully describe what this thing is. It’s really about the combination of elements. The synth engine gets delightfully grimy – the Dreadbox filter can really scream, especially paired with frequency modulation. And the digital oscillators (from Polyend) stack to give you metallic edge and wavetable madness atop a thick 3-oscillator analog beast. The copious modulation and multiple envelopes provide loads of sound design possibilities, too – you can really go deep with this, since basically everything is assignable to LFOs or envelopes. (That’d be a lot of rack space to get this many oscillators and modulation sources in a Eurorack form.) Combining digital control and wavetables with Dreadbox-supplied analog grunge make this as much an all-in-one studio as a polysynth.

What really binds this together for me, though, is using the grid to make this more like an instrument. You can lock parameters and scales to steps in the sequencer, and then use elaborate scale mappings and expression options to put sounds beneath your fingertips. This isn’t about menus, but it’s also unlike conventional keyboard synths. The grid and one-press modulation and envelope assignment make the Medusa a portal to sound design, composition, and performance.

The workflow then fits spatially. On your right, you can sculpt sounds and (thanks to a recent update) make on-the-fly assignments of modulation and envelopes with just one press. On your left, the grid can be configured for sequencing and playing. Mix oscillators and shape envelopes and dial modulation live atop that. You can also use the sequencer as a kind of sketchpad for ideas, since sequences are saved with presets.

All of this comes in a long, metal case with MIDI I/O and external audio input. Even the form factor suggests this is an instrument you focus on directly. So whatever you do in sound design should naturally translate to sequencing and playing live.

Here’s the basic approach to sound design workflow – dialing in and layering different analog and digital oscillators, playing with wavetables, shaping envelopes and filter, adding FM (including on the filter), and assigning modulation. Improvised / no talking:

Let’s look at those components individually (now with some of the recent firmware updates in place):

The synth

On the synth side, the Medusa has a hybrid 3+3 structure – three analog oscillators, plus three digital oscillators, for a total of six. (There’s an additional noise source, as well, with adjustable color.) To that, you add a filter derived from the Dreadbox Erebus (highpass, 2-pole lowpass, and 4-pole lowpass). There are two fixed envelopes (filter and amplitude), plus three more assignable envelopes. You also get five (!) assignable LFOs. That’s just enough to be readily accessible, but also focused enough that it neatly structures your use of the onboard controls and assignable modulation and sequencing.

The idea is to mix analog + digital + noise in different combinations, which you can layer as monophonic lines or chords, or trigger in turn, with always-accessible mixer controls for each voice + noise.

Oscillator controls. The oscillator section does double duty as analog and digital, so you’ll need to understand how those relate. To save space, there’s a button in the oscillator section labeled DIGITAL.

With digital mode off (analog mode), you get control over the three analog oscillators, plus a pulse width control, and a frequency modulation control for FM between oscillators 1 and 2. You can select ramp, PWM, triangle, and sine waves for each oscillator. You can also hard sync oscillators – 1+2 (sync 2) and 2+3 (sync 3). Note that you will need to give the Medusa some warmup time for these analog oscillators to be in tune; there’s also automated calibration to tune up.

With the digital mode on, you control the three digital oscillators, and get a wavetable shape in addition to the four wave shapes, plus a wavetable control that modulates between different wavetables. (There’s no FM between oscillators 1 and 2, and you don’t get the pulse width control for the digital oscillators – which in the end doesn’t matter much given all the wavetable options.)

The other controls are doubled up to save space, as well. Instead of dedicated macro and fine tuning, there’s a FINETUNE switch. The FM knob has two functions, also via switches.

Modulation. There’s more modulation than you’ll likely ever need, between the sequencer steps, five envelopes, and five LFOs. Since there’s only one set of encoders and sliders, you choose which envelope or LFO you want to target. You can toggle that modulation on and off by double-pressing the controls for each.

The latest firmware adds on-the-fly parameter assignment, so you can simply hold down an envelope or LFO, then twist the parameter you want to target. That’s much more fun than scrolling through menus.

Sound design is a blast, but there’s some room for growth, too. LFO shapes morph between square, sine, ramp, and triangle, but there’s no random or sample & hold option, which seems an obvious future addition. Also, it could be nice, I think, to have different wavetables on different oscillators, or separate wavetable position controls. (At least for now, you can set LFOs to target all wavetables or just one wavetable when modulating position, so you can separately modulate the three digital oscillators if you wish.)

Now, you can assign both modulation and envelopes with just one tap, on the fly. With multiple envelopes and LFOs, combined with the sequencer, there’s plenty of choice for composition and sound design.

FM can be applied to the filter and between analog oscillators 1+2.

Musical ideas: synth

Use envelopes and modulation. Envelopes have free-flowing timing, but can each be (independently) looped, creating subtle or rhythmic modulation. And LFOs can be either free or clock-synced. With these two features in concert, you can create both shifting timbres and rhythmic patterns – while assigning them hands-on, rather than diving into menus. (That can be even faster than working with patch cords.)

Work with the different polyphonic modes. Mono play mode stacks all six oscillators onto a single voice, which is great for thick sounds. But the two polyphonic modes offer some unique features. P1 is three-voice polyphonic, with two oscillators per voice. P2 is six-voice polyphonic, and has one amp envelope for each of the six voices.

Change voice priority. In CONFIG > Voice Priority, you can set P1 and P2 from “First” to “Next,” and each trigger will rotate through each of the available oscillators. Remember with P2, that means you have separate envelopes. So you can retrigger the same pitch, or “strum” or roll a chord, or create rhythmic variations… it all makes for some lively variations.

Self-oscillate the filter with tracking. If you turn up resonance and crank TRACK on the filter, you’ll get self-oscillation that’s mapped to the pitch range. (You’ll probably want to turn down master volume here; I don’t yet have a trick for that, but you could also save lower oscillator mixer values with a preset.)

Go mad with FM. Frequency modulating the OSC 1+2 combination can create some wild ring mod-style effects as you play with different octave ranges and tunings.

The sequencer

I think one confusion about the Medusa is, because people see an 8×8 grid of pads, they assume the main function is sequencing. That’s really not how to think of the Medusa pad matrix – it’s better to imagine it as a performance and editing interface as much as a sequencer, and to see ambient/drone/non-metric possibilities along with the usual things you’d expect of an 8×8 layout.

Sequences themselves have a length from 1 and 64 steps. (Yes, with a 1-step sequence, you get basically a repeat function, and with a few steps, a sort of fixed phrase arpeggiator – more on how you’d play that live below.) Steps are fixed rhythm, with no sub-steps – I do wish there were a way to clock divide step length from the master tempo, or add subdivisions of a step, or even control step timing individually. For now, if you want that, you’ll need to do it externally, via MIDI.

You can set tempo from 10-300 bpm or use an external clock source. And you get control for swing, plus different sequence playback directions (forward, backward, ping pong, and random).

In NOTES mode, you enter pitch. With REC enabled but not PLAY, you can enter and edit steps one at a time. (Pressing a pad creates a pitch, rather than sets a step, so you’d use the big menu encoder to the right of the pads to dial through steps.) With PLAY enabled, you can live record, though everything is still quantized to the step.

The pitch and rhythm stuff is a bit basic, but it’s the GRID mode where the Medusa shines. There, you can set specific steps to contain parameter data. Again, this works in both step and live modes – in live modes, you’ll overwrite parameter data as you move a control. This is what some sequencers call “p-locks” / parameter locks, but here the workflow is different. You can stop the transport, and manually tweak parameters while holding a pad to modify parameters for that step. This means an individual step may contain a whole bunch of layered information.

At first, it may seem counter-intuitive to separate notes and parameter data on two different screens, but it opens up some new possibilities. You can step-sequence really elaborate sequences of timbral changes. Or – here’s the interesting one – you can trigger different presets as your sequence plays. That lets you ‘perform’ the presets – play with the timbres – the way you normally would with notes.

Not only do you have a powerful step sequencer page dedicated to parameter control, you can think of presets as something you can play live. I don’t know of another sequencer that works quite like this.

Musical ideas: sequencer

Trigger play modes, voice priority, sequence length live: With a sequence playing, it’s possible to toggle play modes (between unison and polyphony), and the Voice Priority setting (first or last, in either of the polyphonic modes), and sequence length, all live without impact sequenced playback. So you can have some fun messing about with these settings.

Use GRID for variation. The sequencer only triggers preset changes when the GRID mode is enabled. So you can start a sequence, then toggle your sequenced parameters on and off by switching GRID mode on and off. (You can combine this with live-triggered parameters – more on that below.)

Glide! Combining glide with the polyphonic modes (and adjusting the amplitude envelope, particularly Release as needed) will create some lovely, overlapping portamento effects.

Arpeggiate/transpose. You can now press HOLD + a pad to transpose a sequence live as it plays. With short sequences, this can be a bit like running an arpeggiator or phrase sequencer.

Performance pads

If you just use the pads as a sequencer, you’re really missing half the power of the instrument. The pads also work for playing live, with the option of up to three axis additional expression (z-axis pressure, and x- and y- position). The pads are also low-profile, so you can easily strum your fingers across pads.

Three-axis control can be a little confusing. Only the last pad adds modulation, and it takes a bit of muscle memory to get used to modulating with just the last finger press if you’re playing in a polyphonic context. But the pads are nicely sensitive; I hope there’s the possibility of polyphonic expression internally in future.

As an external controller, Medusa does support an MPE mode, so you can use this – like the Roger Linn Linnstrument – as an MPE controller with compatible devices.

The grid in general is expressive and inspiring. In particular, you might try one of the 40 included scales, which include various exotic options apart from the usual church modes. I especially like the Japanese and Engimatic options. You can also change not only the scale but the layout (the relationship of notes on the pads).

Musical ideas: pads

Drone mode. Use HOLD to trigger multiple up to six at a time and drone away (press HOLD, then toggle on and off individual notes). And again, this is also interesting with different polyphonic modes and glide. You can also use, for instance, the Z-axis pressure to add additional modulation as you drone. (One confusing thing about X/Y/Z and HOLD – since only the last trigger uses the X/Y/Z modulation, it can get a bit strange additionally toggling off that step as you hold. I’m working on whether there’s a better solution there.)

Use GRID for triggering: With GRID instead of notes, you can use individual pads to trigger different sounds, or even map an ensemble of sounds (setting up particular pads for percussion, and others for melody, for instance). This also opens up other features, like:

DIY scales. A new feature of the Medusa firmware adds the ability to store pitch in pads, and thus make custom scales. Turn GRID on, and REC, then with FINETUNE on, you can use the oscillator to tune a custom scale, including with microtuning. I’d love to see custom scale modes or Scala support, but this in the meantime has a beautiful analog feel to it.

Bend it: You can bend between notes by targeting Pitch with the x-axis. To keep that range manageable and slide between notes, I suggest a value of just 1 or 2 (instead of the full 100, which will slide over the whole pitch range as you wiggle your finger). You might also consider adding the same on the y-axis, since it is a grid.

Trigger expression. Not only can you trigger modulation live over a sequence in GRID mode, you can also use those triggers to modulate X, Y, and Z targets of your choice as a sequence plays. You can also try modulating expression in NOTES mode over a playing sequence.

Use external control. You can also map to external MIDI aftertouch, pitch, and mod, which opens up novel external or even DIY controllers. (You could connect a LEAP Motion or something if you want to get creative. Or combine a keyboard and the grid, for some wild possibilities)


Medusa takes a little time to get into, as you start to feel comfortable with the sound engine, and adapting to a new way of thinking about the pads – as performance controller plus separate note and parameter sequencer. Once you do, though, I think you begin to get into this as an instrument – one with rich and sometimes wild sound capabilities, always beneath your fingertips.

The result is something that’s really unique and creative. The combination of that edgy, deep digital+analog sound engine with the superb Dreadbox filter, plus all this modulation and sequencing and performance possibility makes the whole feel like a particular instrument – something you want to learn to play.

I really have fallen in love with it as a special instrument in that way. And I find I am really wanting to practice it, both as sound designer and instrumentalist.

At 999EUR, it also holds up against some other fine polysynth choices from Dave Smith, Novation, KORG, and most recently, Elektron. Most importantly, it’s unlike any of those tools, both with its unique and expressive controller and its copious controls and access to sound.

The presence of an instrument like this from a boutique maker, charting some new territory and in a desktop form factor and not only a set of modules, seems a promising sign for synth innovation.


The post Beneath Polyend Medusa grid and knobs, a wealth of possibilities appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

You can make music with test equipment – Hainbach explains

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 12 Jun 2019 11:27 pm

Before modulars became a product, some of the first electronic synthesis experiments made use of test equipment – gear intended to make sound, but not necessarily musically. And now that approach is making a comeback.

Hainbach, the Berlin-based experimental artist, has been helping this time-tested approach to sound reach new audiences.

I actually have never seen a complete, satisfying explanation of the relationship of abstract synthesis, as developed by engineers and composers, to test gear. Maybe it’s not even possible to separate the two. But suffice to say, early in the development of synthesis, you could pick up a piece of gear intended for calibration and testing of telecommunications and audio systems, and use it to make noise.

Why the heck would you do that now, given the availability of so many options for synthesis? Well, for one – until folks like Hainbach and me make a bunch of people search the used market – a lot of this gear is simply being scrapped. Since it’s heavy and bulky, it ranges from cheap to “if you get this out of my garage, you can have it” pricing. And the sound quality of a lot of it is also exceptional. Sold to big industry back in a time when slicing prices of this sort of equipment wasn’t essential, a lot of it feels and sounds great. And just like any other sound design or composition exercise that begins with finding something unexpected, the strange wonderfulness of these devices can inspire.

I got a chance to play a few days with the Waveform Research Centre in Rotterdam’s WORM, a strange and wild collection of these orphaned devices lovingly curated by Dennis Verschoor. And I got sounds unlike anything I was used to. It wasn’t just the devices and their lovely dials that made that possible – it was also the unique approach required when the normal envelope generators and such aren’t available. Human creativity does tend to respond well to obstacles.

Whether or not you go that route, it is worth delving into the history and possibilities – and Hainbach’s video is a great start. It might at the very least change how you approach your next Reaktor patch, SuperCollider code, synth preset, or Eurorack rig.


Immerse yourself in Rotterdam’s sonic voltages, in the WORM laboratory

The post You can make music with test equipment – Hainbach explains appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

SubLab is an 808 bass synth and more, from makers of Circle

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 11 Jun 2019 4:36 pm

Hard-hitting sub bass and percussion is the focus of SubLab, a new instrument from Future Audio Workshop. And it puts a ton of sound elements into an uncommonly friendly interface. Let’s get our hands on it.

This begins our Tools of Summer series of selections – stuff you’ll want to use when the nights are long (erm, northern hemisphere) and you need some new inspiration from instruments to actually use.

We hadn’t heard much lately from Future Audio Workshop. Their ground-breaking Circle instrument was uniquely friendly, clean, and easy to use. At a time when nearly all virtual instruments had virtually unreadable, tiny UIs, Circle broke from the norm with displays you could see easily. Beginners could track signal flow and modulation, and experts (erm, many of them, you know, older and with aging eyes) could be more productive and focused.

SubLab takes that same approach – so much so that a couple of quick shots I posted to Instagram got immediate feedback.

And then it’s just chock full of bass – with a whole lot of potential applications.

Sound layers, plus filter, plus distortion, plus compressor – deceptively simple and powerful.

So, sure, FAW talk trap and hip-hop and future bass and sub basslines – you’ll get those, for sure. But I think you’ll start using SubLab all over the place.

If you just want a recipe for 808 bass, this instrument is there for you. You can layer and filter and overdrive and distort sounds into basslines made from punchy drum bits. Then you discover that this produces interesting melodic lines, too. Or that while you have all the elements of various kick drums not only from Roland but sampled from a studio full of drum machines (Vermona to JoMoX), you … might as well make some punchy kicks and toms.

It’s just too fast. And that’s not because the interface is particularly dumbed down – on the contrary, it’s because once all the chrome and tiny controls are out of the way and the designers focused on what this does, you can get at a lot of options more quickly.

The synth has an easy-to-follow structure – sound, distortion, compressor. Sound is divided into a simple multi-oscillator synth, a sample playback engine, and then the trademarked ‘x-sub’ sub-oscillator. You can then mix these separately, and route a percentage of the synth and sampler to a multi-mode filter. (Don’t miss the essential ‘glide’ control lurking just at the bottom, as I did at first.) Pulling it all together, you get a ‘master’ overview that shows you how each element layers in the resulting sound spectrum.

Also in the sound > synth section, you can easily access multiple envelopes with visual feedback. (Arturia, who I’m also writing about this week, have also gone this route, and it makes a big difference being able to see as well as hear.)

The sampler has essential tracking, pitching, and looping features for this application. The x-sub bit is uniquely controllable – you can set individual harmonic levels just by dragging around purple vertical bars. It’s rare to sculpt sub-bass like this so easily, and it’s addictive.

X-sub (trademarked?) means you can sculpt the harmonics inside the sub-oscillator section just by dragging.

The interface is easy enough, but a couple of characteristic additions really complete the package. The sampler section is full of inspiring hardware samples to use as building blocks – great stuff that you might use for your non-melodic kicks, or try out for punchy percussion and melodies even in higher registers. The Distortion also has some compelling modes, like the lovely “darkdrive” and convincing tube and overdrive options.

Tons of hardware samples abound for layering.

There aren’t a lot of presets – it looks like FAW’s plan is to get you hooked, then add more patch packs. But with enough sound design options here, including custom sample loading, you might be fine just making your own.

Really, my only complaint is that I find the filter and compressor a bit vanilla, particularly in this age of so many beautiful modeled options from Native Instruments, Arturia, u-he, and others.

I figured I would be writing this glowing review and telling you, oh yeah, it’s definitely worth $149.

But — damn, this thing is $70, on sale for $40.

Sheesh. Just get it, then. There are lots of deeper and more complex things out there. But this is something else – simple enough that you’ll actually use it to design your own creative sounds. As FAW has shown us before, visual feedback and accessible interfaces combine to make sound design connect with your brain more effectively.


Here’s me messing around with it to prove it can do things other than what it was intended for:

And more hands-on videos from the creators:

The post SubLab is an 808 bass synth and more, from makers of Circle appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

An injury left Olafur Arnalds unable to play, so he turned to machines

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 10 Jun 2019 11:31 am

Following nerve damage, Icelandic composer/producer/musician was unable to play the piano. With his ‘Ghost Pianos’, he gets that ability back, through intelligent custom software and mechanical pianos.

It’s moving to hear him tell the story (to the CNN viral video series) – with, naturally, the obligatory shots of Icelandic mountains and close-up images of mechanical pianos working. No complaints:

This frames accessibility in terms any of us can understand. Our bodies are fragile, and indeed piano history is replete with musicians who lost the original use of their two hands and had to adapt. Here, an accident caused him to lose left hand dexterity, so he needed a way to connect one hand to more parts.

And in the end, as so often is the case with accessibility stories and music technology, he created something that was more than what he had before.

With all the focus on machine learning, a lot of generative algorithmic music continues to work more traditionally. That appears to be the case here – the software analyzes incoming streams and follows rules and music theory to accompany the work. (As I learn more about machine learning, though, I suspect the combination of these newer techniques with the older ones may slowly yield even sharper algorithms – and challenge us to hone our own compositional focus and thinking.)

I’ll try to reach out to the developers, but meanwhile it’s fun squinting at screenshots as you can tell a lot. There’s a polyphonic step sequencer / pattern sequencer of sorts in there, with some variable chance. You can also tell in the screen shots that the pattern lengths are set to be irregular, so that you get these lovely polymetric echoes of what Olafur is playing.

Of course, what makes this most interesting is that Olafur responds to that machine – human echoes of the ‘ghost.’ I’m struck by how even a simple input can do this for you – like even a basic delay and feedback. We humans are extraordinarily sensitive to context and feedback.

The music itself is quite simple – familiar minimalist elements. If that isn’t your thing, you should definitely keep watching so you get to his trash punk stage. But it won’t surprise you at all that this is a guy who plays Clapping Music backstage – there’s some serious Reich influence.

You can hear the ‘ghost’ elements in the reent release ‘ekki hugsa’, which comes with some lovely joyful dancing in the music video:

re:member debuted the software:

There is a history here of adapting composition to injury. (That’s not even including Robert Schumann, who evidently destroyed his own hands in an attempt to increase dexterity.)

Paul Wittgenstein had his entire right arm amputated following World War I injury, commissioned a number of works for just the left hand. (There’s a surprisingly extensive article on Wikipedia, which definitely retrieves more than I had lying around inside my brain.) Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is probably the best-known result, and there’s even a 1937 recording by Wittgenstein himself. It’s an ominous, brooding performance, made as Europe was plunging itself into violence a second time. But it’s notable in that it’s made even more virtuosic in the single hand – it’s a new kind of piano idiom, made for this unique scenario.

I love Arnalds’ work, but listening to the Ravel – a composer known as whimsical, crowd pleasing even – I do lament a bit of what’s been lost in the push for cheery, comfortable concert music. It seems to me that some of that dark and edge could come back to the music, and the circumstances of the composition in that piece ought to remind us how necessary those emotions are to our society.

I don’t say that to diss Mr. Arnalds. On the contrary, I would love to hear some of his punk side return. And his quite beautiful music aside, I also hope that these ideas about harnessing machines in concert music may also find new, punk, even discomforting conceptions among some readers here.

Here’s a more intimate performance, including a day without Internet:

And lastly, more detail on the software:

Meanwhile, whatever kind of music you make, you should endeavor to have a promo site that is complete, like this – also, sheet music!



The KellyCaster reveals what accessibility means for instruments

The post An injury left Olafur Arnalds unable to play, so he turned to machines appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

It’s 606 day – remember when Roland made a drum machine like a 303?

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 6 Jun 2019 4:13 pm

808 day, sure. But let’s pause for 606 day – the logical anniversary of the 1982 TR-606, a drum machine squeezed inside a tiny enclosure that looks like a 303 but isn’t. It’s the lesser known runt of the Roland family, and you kind of love it for that alone.

If you think about it, the 606 was way ahead of its time. Now selling customers on buying a little bass machine, then buying a little drum machine to go with it is par for the course. But in the early 80s, the music that would make the 303 and even the 606 desirable … hadn’t been made yet.

Why 606?

The TR-606 is certainly simple. It’s got all analog circuitry inside, for seven parts – kick, snare, two toms, open and closed hats, cymbal. There’s an accent control. It isn’t the most sought-after sound of the TR series, by any stretch, but now that you’ve heard way too many 808 and 909 hats, you might appreciate this just for some variety.

It can trigger other gear. It’s got accent. It was designed so you could chain 606 models together. So it’s not a terrible little machine. And it is – I’ll stand by this – the cutest drum machine Roland ever made. (I have to admit, I just went back to my boutique TR-09 this week and had a blast. Sometimes getting something tiny and restricted is oddly inspiring. An itsy bitsy teenie weenie silver TR drum machine-y?)

It’s famous, and yet mercifully no one has ever called it iconic. It just is what it is. Here’s Tatsuya of KORG fame giving it a one-over – as he should, as nothing channels the spirit of the 606 (even from Roland) quite like the entry of the KORG volca series he helmed:

And here’s Reverb.com giving it the once over:

The 606 has been in some great music – Aphex Twin, Nine Inch Nails, Autechre, Orbital, plus one favorite artist that shares its name – Kid606. Moby I think also used one, probably in that spell when he and I were dating that he doesn’t like to talk about. (Man, did that beetroot smoothie we shared together while programming 606 patterns mean nothing to you? Nothing?!)

It’s also been heavily modded and copied. It’s a reminder, basically, that drum machines need not look like a truck. They can be a funny sidecar you can easily squeeze into spaces where no one else can parallel park. When people talked about buying unloved Roland drum machines for $50 in pawn shops in the 80s – the TR-606 was one likely candidate. This was one of the machines cheap enough to enable people without cash to change music.

You know the sound. Because it was tinnier than the 808 and 909, the 606 often stood in when someone wanted something with an even thinner Roland sound.

Put that sound with the 303, and you really do get a combo that makes sense.

Bonus – this bit. You can swap between PLAY and WRITE pattern modes while the TR-606 is running – so you can edit as a pattern is playing. The other TRs would ideally work that way, but they don’t.

Here’s a guide to the controls:

Samples and software

There have been numerous software recreations, too, like this iOS app mR-606:

Or this one, which also runs on iPad:

EGDR606 Drum Machine

Most famously of all, there is Propellerhead’s ReBirth, which cloned the 303 and 606 and launched, arguably, the entire electronic dance music production revolution on computers. Roland must have taken note, because they convinced Propellerhead to remove the iPad port. (Okay, that was probably more about the TB-303. But still.) If you’re ambitious, you can still run ReBirth on recent Windows versions, with some effort.

And here’s a free sample set:


Samples From Mars also have a sale on their much broader sample library, which resamples the 606 through various gear. Check it:



It may not have translated into sales, but Roland had a slick presentation for its 1982 product line.

Check out those specs:

Dear advertisers – please create stuff like this, which is what people saw if they flipped open a glossy issues of Keyboard Magazine in 1982:

Source: https://retrosynthads.blogspot.com/2010/08/roland-tb-303-and-tr-606-keyboard-1982.html

And yes, Roland at various times has brought this back in … strange ways, like on the SP-606 which really … has nothing to do with the TR-606. But here it is, because D-Beam! It’s also been spotted inside the recent recreations like the TR-8S and even the Serato-collaboration DJ controllers.

Image at top:

Roland TR-606

The post It’s 606 day – remember when Roland made a drum machine like a 303? appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Jam like you’re in a Tarkovsky film with this major app update

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 5 Jun 2019 11:33 pm

Virtual ANS from prolific omni-platform developer Alexander Zolotov brings back spectral synthesis like it’s the mid-century USSR. But it also future-proofs that tech – full Android and iOS (plus desktop) support, and now a version that’s polyphonic and MIDI playable.

Alexander Zolotov can single-handedly make a mobile device useful. On my new Android phone, it was his stuff I grabbed first – and, well, last. Once you’ve got a tracker like SunVox that runs anywhere, what more do you need?

And for anyone bored with the world of knobs and subtractive synthesis (yawn), enter the eerily beautiful alien sound world of the ANS – an alternate timeline of synth history in which sound is painted as well as made electrical. The creation of Russian engineer Evgeny Murzin, the ANS used a unique analog-optical hybrid approach. Borrowing from the graphic scores used in early film audio, waveforms were optically produced. It’s What You See Is What You Get For Sound – the spectrogram is the interface as well as a representation of what you hear. This technique is what creates the gorgeous, otherworldly timbres of Tarkovsky’s Solaris – and now it can be on your phone.

The original ANS – its name drawn from the initials of Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, the synesthesia-experiencing esoteric composer – used a series of optical discs. It’s easier to do this in software, of course. Everything works in real time, you can have as many pure tone generators as you like (since you won’t just run out of optical-mechanical wheels), and you can convert to and from digital files of both images and sounds.

Sound from pictures, pictures from sounds.

Now with MIDI support on both Android and iOS (not to mention desktop OSes).

ANS 3.0 is a major update that moves the whole affair from fascinating proof of concept to a full-featured instrument. You can now map polyphony, and you can play your creations via MIDI – including via external MIDI controllers.

Adding MIDI controllers actually makes for a wild instrument:

Oh, and remember how I just said that AUv3 was the way forward on iOS? Well, Sasha is of course supporting AUv# – as he’s supported Audiobus, IAA, JACK, ALSA, OSS, MME, DirectSound, and ASIO in the past. (That long list of formats comes from supporting Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS all at once.)

And there’s more. On iOS, you get high-res support and MIDI. Android 6+ has MIDI support. Linux gets multitouch support. Files are accessible in the file system of both iOS and Android – including all those project, image, and sound files. There are more audio export options, new brushes, new lighten and darkening layering modes like you’d expect in Photoshop, and lots of shortcuts. Check the full changelog:


Of course, because it runs on every platform (well, every modern platform), you can sketch an idea on your Android phone, move to iPad and work some more, then load it onto your PC and drop it into a DAW.

Frankly, I think it’s more exciting than anything from Apple this week, but I am impossibly biased toward this esoterica so … that goes without saying.



The post Jam like you’re in a Tarkovsky film with this major app update appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Everything you might have missed in Apple’s latest announcements

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 5 Jun 2019 5:49 pm

There’s a giant expensive cheese grater Mac and display and new versions of all Apple’s platforms. But what’s going on with iTunes? iPadOS? And what else might matter to musicians and visual artists? Here’s a round-up.

macOS Catalina

iTunes is getting split into Music, Podcasts, and TV. This you probably heard – Apple is breaking up iTunes and releasing fresh new Mac apps with more focus. That’s caused some people to panic – but don’t panic yet. Apart from the likelihood that you’ll be able to continue using iTunes for now, the new Music app may give you reason to switch – without losing existing functionality or libraries.

iTunes download sales aren’t going away. Apple made a big change when it went from the iTunes Music Store – which offered paid downloads – to the ability to stream most of its catalog in Apple Music, for a subscription fee. But that announcement was made in June 2015. Apple confirms you’ll still be able to buy downloads and access purchases in the new Music app. The music industry is still torn between the download and streaming models, but this week’s announcements don’t really change much as far as Apple.

Apple Music may turn out to be more iTunes than iTunes.

Music Store is “a click away.” Here’s the thing: far from being bad news for download sales, if the Music app is cleaner and more pleasurable to use than iTunes, it could actually improve visibility of the Music Store and give a little boost to sales. You still see streaming options by default, and Apple is promoting their own recommendations. But that’s the trend with Spotify, too – it’s not necessarily good for music producers and independent music, but it’s also not news.

In fact, the real news is, Apple might be more interested in growing music revenue, not less. Here’s the thing to remember – Apple is an iPhone business ($31 billion in the second quarter of this year), but it’s also a services business. Services are what is growing, and services are what set records in the quarter Apple just reported. In fact, Services outpaced the Mac and iPad businesses in that same quarter – combined.

$11.45 billion: Services
$5.51 billion: Mac
$4.87 billion: iPad

Apple releases Q2 2019 earnings, announces revenue of $58 billion [9to5mac]

Killing downloads makes no sense for Apple. If anything, it makes sense for them to find ways to grow music purchases. Basically, Apple cares about music revenue just as musicians care about it – even if Apple’s goal is to get a bite of that, uh, fruit.

Music appears to do what iTunes did. All the major playlist, library management, and sync and conversion features of iTunes appear to be coming to the new Music app, too. It reportedly will even burn CDs, a feature dating back to the early iTunes “Rip, Mix, Burn” days. Apple also says you’ll see updated Library pages and easier typing to find what you want, plus a refreshed player. (9to5mac called it weeks ago.)

Ars Technica got some clarification of this. The main thing is, you can import your existing library without losing anything. And you’ll sync in the file system (which makes more sense, frankly). Apple Music may turn out to be more iTunes than iTunes.

Answers to some of your iTunes questions: Old libraries, Windows, and more

Devices are now in the Finder, not iTunes. Sync, backup, update, restore in Finder, plus get cloud sync options – rather than digging around iTunes.

Music may even work with your DJ software. Many DJs currently manage libraries in iTunes, then sync with desktop software like Rekordbox, TRAKTOR, and Serato. We don’t have a specific answer on how this will work – specifically, if something like the current iTunes XML format for metadata will be available. But the fact that the new Music app syncs using Finder, in the file system, is encouraging. Watch this space for more information.

It’s not clear what happens to iTunes on Windows going forward. If you think iTunes on the Mac is due for a refresh, you should see the clunky Windows port. Since Apple is making “Apple Music” part of macOS, and building as it always does with native tools, it’s unclear what Windows users will get going forward. Given the new sync stuff is all tied to the file system, this gets even murkier.

In the same Ars piece, Apple confirmed they’re keeping iTunes for Windows for now. But that goes without saying – otherwise Apple would break their music product for a huge number of their users – and still doesn’t answer the future situation.

Sidecar looks very cool – for everything from sketching and drawing to a new gestural input method and shortcuts.

Apple’s Sidecar will make it easier to use your iPad with your Mac. It’s what Duet Display already does – and that app was made by ex-Apple engineers – but Apple is promising native integration of the iPad as a second display, plus support for Apple Pencil. I’ll keep using Duet on my Windows machie, but I’m betting the Apple-native integration will dominate on the Mac. Sidecar also does more than Duet ever did – with additional gestures, inserting sketches into apps, modifiers for pro apps, and native developer support.

(So far, of pro apps, Final Cut Pro, Motion, and Illustrator are listed – though not Logic, in case you think of a way of sketching into your music arrangements.)

Zoom a second display. Independent second monitor zoom should come in very handy in multi-monitor editing of both video and music.

Uh, this might break some drivers. I’ll quote Apple’s documentation here: “Previously many hardware peripherals and sophisticated features needed to run their code directly within macOS using kernel extensions, or kexts. Now these programs run separately from the operating system, just like any other app, so they can’t affect macOS if something goes wrong.” Obviously, we’ll need to check in on compatibility of audio drivers and copy protection for audio software.

Sophisticated voice control. Apple is significantly developing everyone’s “Tea, Earl Gray, Hot” Star Trek voice command fantasies with new, more accurate, more powerful, more integrated lower-latency voice control. There’s no sign yet to how this might get used in pro audio or visual apps, but you can bet someone is thinking about it.

QuickTime gets an update. It’s probably been since the days of the long-lamented QuickTime Pro 7 that we got QuickTime application features to write how about. But there are some compelling new features – turn a folder of images into a motion sequence in any format (yes!), open a more powerful Movie Inspector, and show accurate Timecode, plus export transparency in ProRes 4444.

Snapshots with restore. I’ve long complained that macOS lacks the snapshot features of Windows – which let you easily roll back your system to a state before you, like, screwed something up. There’s now “Restore from snapshot.” Apple only mentions third-party software, but it seems recent file system changes will mean this should also work with ill-behaved OS updates from Apple, too. (Yes, sometimes even Apple tech can go wrong.)


iOS and now iPadOS

Apple not only announced major updates to iOS in iOS 13, but also a new more pro-focused iPadOS.

Expect more sharing between macOS and iOS/iPadOS development AudioUnit is listed as a shared framework allowing developers to target Mac and iOS with a single SDK. You can also expect AV frameworks like Core Audio, and other media and 3D tools. Of course, that was always the vision Apple had with its mobile OS – and even can trace some lineage back to early work done pre-Apple at NeXT. That said, while this SDK is appealing, many developers will continue to look elsewhere so they’re not restricted to Apple platforms, depending on their use case.

You’ll need specific devices to support the new OS. iOS 13 requires iPhone SE / 6s or better, or 7th-gen iPod touch. iPadOS is even more limited – the iPad Pro, iPad Air 3rd gen or Air 2 or better, iPad mini 4 or better, and 5th-gen or better iPad.

iPadOS: external storage. Finally, you can plug USB storage into your iPad and navigate the external file system – a huge boon to managing photos, video, audio recordings, and even USB sticks for DJ sets. Yes, of course, Android and all desktop OSes do this already, but it’s definitely welcome on the iPad.

iPadOS: better file management. The Files app has been updated with columns, and you can share whole folders via iCloud Drive. (Finally and … finally.)

iPadOS: ‘desktop’-style browser. Apple says you get something more like the desktop Safari on your iPad – so you can use more sites and you get a download manager.

iPadOS: mouse support. This is an accessibility feature, but the combination of touch and mouse will be useful to everyone – like so many accessibility features. I expect it’ll also make working with tools like Cubasis way more fun. Basically, your external mouse or trackpad gets to behave like a very accurate finger. It’s not a desktop mouse so much as it is a way to access touch via the mouse:

Spotted other interesting details in recent Apple news? Let us know.

The post Everything you might have missed in Apple’s latest announcements appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Apple has a AV studio desktop again: power, speed, and cheese graters

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 3 Jun 2019 7:51 pm

Apple promised something special – and modular – at the pro desktop level, and they’re delivering something ambitious. Welcome the return of big metal desktops with tons of PCI slots and maxed-out power supplies. And if you missed Macs that look like cheese graters, you also get your wish.

In a nice touch, they’ve also added wheels so you can roll this thing around a studio.

And studio is what they have in mind. Following an hour of consumer-focused iPad and iPhone stuff and things on your watch, the pitch for the new Mac Pro is about video editing, music and audio production, 3D, and gaming.

Most of this stuff is on the visual side, even despite the mention of lots of “virtual instruments” in the keynote (cue cheesy “Kenya” music), partly because audio users don’t need this amount of power for most of what they do. But visual people, this again looks exciting – at last.

Music folks, there’s also a new release of Logic Pro, which I’ll write about separately. It seems to be the Hans Zimmer school of benchmarking, with 1000 virtual instruments. For the first time in a long time, Apple shows Logic and Final Cut together.

The system appears to max out everything:

PCI slots are back.

CPU. Now top-of-range Intel Xeon – with up to 28 cores.
GPU. A huge power supply and new connections, plus “Thunderbolt throughout” mean support for one or two top-of-the-line AMD Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs. (Apple continues their preference for AMD; there was no mention of rival NVIDIA.) It’s all part of a new connection module Apple calls MPX.
Afterburner for video. This is actually an FPGA that assists in handling video codec processing, for faster proxies and whatnot or direct RAW editing.
PCI expansion. This is finally back – tons of it. So you can add (mostly graphics) add-in cards. It’ll be interesting to see if the audio market goes back to working with PCI, after largely moving to interconnects like USB and Thunderbolt, which allow them to target laptop and desktop owners at the same time. But for graphics, it’s huge.
Lots of electricity. Don’t expect to save on your electricity bill or save the planet with this one. A massive 1.4 kW power supply runs the whole thing.
Quiet cooling. The GPU interestingly uses a massive heat sink, but there are tons of fans to move air through the device. Some of us remember when this went awry with the “jet engine” Macs of the past, but Apple promises if it’ll be quiet.

Apple shows 1000 tracks in Logic at once.

Logic’s threading makes use of all that insane number of cores.

And there’s a new display, of course – a Pixel Display for your desktop. Apple’s displays have tended to command a price premium, so that a lot of pros opt for other brands, but here they seem to be leaning in to that with an ultra-high-end option. There’s a massive contrast ratio, color range (“extreme”), and high density. It’s called the Pixel Display XDR. It all connects with Thunderbolt 3, and there’s a new stand design.

That means you can use this with your MacBook Pro, too. They would like you to buy six of them for your desktop. (“Whoo!” she shouts, Ballmer style. I’m sure they would like to sell that many.)

High-spec memory is part of the story here. And lots of of it, if you want.

Apple goes to a high-end GPU again – and has another modular format for updating it (MPX).

MPX allows one or two high-end AMD GPUs.

The CPU is a star here – loaded up with cores.

Afterburner is an FPGA-based add-on for assisting video editors with handling high-res footage.

There’s a display to go with this, too.

Just get ready for some sticker shock.

There’s tons of innovation here, but that also means early adopters will be taking some risks. More ambitions tend to mean more potential points of failure. But it’s exciting to see Apple do this kind of innovation on the Mac again – and with the actual needs of pros in mind. I look forward to seeing how this pans out.

High end Mac will cost you – US$5999, though Apple compares to high-end machines at the 8 grand level. Coming in the fall.

I think I’ll probably think about getting one when… the next generation arrives and these prices drop. But the logic here makes sense: the pro market for studios has become more rarified. If Apple can make a case that these are machines that will last a longer time, I could imagine these machines becoming very popular in those core segments. Musicians, even serious pros, will probably still largely stick with capable laptops, but for video and high-end visuals, the need is real. And the pay is better. Just saying.

The post Apple has a AV studio desktop again: power, speed, and cheese graters appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Strange Moog history: a telephone, an air hockey game, more

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 3 Jun 2019 6:10 pm

You know the Minimoog and the modular. But do you know The Operator – a business telephone? Or the Moog air hockey game? The Moog name wound up in some strange places in the 80s.

These creations have little to do with Bob Moog. The company first known as R.A. Moog underwent buyouts by other manufacturers, before Bob Moog left the company bearing his name in 1977. Then around 1981, Moog turned to contract manufacturing – at aroundthe same time as the last Minimoog came off the assembly line. Management bought out the company in 1983 and did even more contract work.

But some of the weird side tracks that happened next are nothing if not intriguing. And synth manufacturers diversifying isn’t actually that strange a concept. We have to remember that part of what allows our industry to make weird devices like boutique modules is that we can source components and contract manufacturing from companies making other stuff. (Case in point – I spent Friday morning at ALFA in Riga, who partner with Erica Synths, Gamechanger Audio, and others. Even ALFA gets the lion’s share of revenue from other stuff – in their case, it seemed to be electronic safe circuitry and supplying the Russian car industry. That’s to say nothing of factories in Shenzhen, China.)

So, sure, the most infamous contract synth was the SSK Concertmate for Tandy Corp (aka the brand name used by Radio Shack). But there’s more. As Moog Electronics in the mid-80s, the company made subway door openers and climate control systems. And then these:

A phone

The Operator (originally the Telesys 3) in 1983 was a business phone with some features I’d find handy today, even if they’re dated:

  • A digital clock with stopwatch, automatic call timing, and alarms
  • Custom ring tones, plus a timer that sets the ringer to mute automatically
  • Tons of memory positions and automation
  • Built-in calculator
  • Built-in paper address book
  • Call scheduling
  • Automatic redial for getting through on busy numbers
  • A “privacy detector” that warns you if someone has picked up the line and is listening in

— plus this being the 80s, it also boasted all kinds of archaic compatibility features so it would work with touch, rotary, and pulse lines and corporate PBX and interfacing. Some things we definitely won’t miss.

Of course, the main synth connection here is, Moog Electronics accidentally predicted the FM synth that would one day come from Ableton. Ahem. But the “Moog Telecommunications” name tells you they aspired to make more devices, even if that never happened.

The Operator resurfaced this weekend on Reddit.

You’ll find this image and history on Moogarchives, which has the best timeline of the company’s story:


An air hockey game

The Moog air hockey table surfaced in 2012 on a Gearslutz, captured by user plaidemu. If we look back to 2004, we find some trivia background on what this was – evidently also around 1983 or so.

Moog’s logo is on the scoreboard because they made the sound generation circuits. User vorlon42 (whoa, is that a Babylon 5 reference crossed with a Hitchhikers’ Guide reference?):

About 20 years ago, a Buffalo, NY-based company called Innovative Concepts in Entertainment rolled out a heavy-duty arcade-quality table hockey game called Chexx. Like the old “slot hockey” games many of us who grew up in the northern US and Canada had when we were kids, we could control each player (forwards, defensemen, and goaltender) by pushing and pulling a rod for each player, and turn the player by twisting the rod left and right. The playing arena was encased in a hard lucite dome, so that the puck wouldn’t fly out of the arena.

On top of the dome was an box scoreboard with three lights on each of its four sides, and sound-generation circuitry that would play crowd noises and organ “charge” riffs. The electronics for the game was manufactured by…..Moog Music. The Moog logo was featured prominently on the scoreboard.

The Chexx game, and successive versions, can be found in various game rooms, arcades, amusement parks, and sports bars around the world. The most recent version is called Super Chexx. (Unfortunately, it lacks the Moog music circuitry.)


You can still find the game manufacturer.

I love that the Russia-US matchup lets you recreate the miracle on ice. (Well, unless Russia wins, of course.)

A music system for the Commodore

The Moog Song Producer was a very useful looking interface for the Commodore 64 – something you might want even now, if you’re a chip music fan. It’s a combination of software (for sequencing) and I/O for both MIDI and analog signal:

· 1 MIDI in
· 1 MIDI thru
· 4 MIDI outs
· 8 drum trigger outs
· 2 Footswitch ins
· 1 Clock/sync in
· 1 Clock/sync out

Friend of the site (and Retro Thing alum) Bohus Blahut wrote into Matrixsynth in the heady days of 2005 to add more detail:

These aren’t actually rare at all. I’ve seen them on Ebay dozens of times. I think that I got mine for $30 a few years back. I haven’t used it yet (know how that feels?), but it is an amazing package. The thing that would make it even more amazing is if Moog had ever come out with the device mentioned in the manual; an analog sound module. How hip would that be?

Moog Song Producer

A Gibson guitar

Long before the 2008 Paul Vo Moog Guitar, there was the Gibson-Moog collaboration RD series guitar. This even predates Moog Electronics, so Bob Moog himself designed the circuit – an active preamp intended to widen tonal range and make the sound compete with the synth. Or something. With bright, treble, and bass modes, plus compression and expansion, it was more complex than guitarists might have wanted at the time – but also more capable. You can read up on it at Reverb.com:

When Gibson Put Moog Preamps In Guitars: Les Paul Artists, ES Artists, and RDs

Evidently, it sounded like this?

As for those electronics creations – well, it was acceptable in the 80s.

Got more? Hit us up.

The post Strange Moog history: a telephone, an air hockey game, more appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Get going with MOTU’s DP10 with these videos

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 3 Jun 2019 5:07 pm

DP10 for Mac and Windows, unveiled this spring, brought breakthrough features to the long-standing favorite DAW called Digital Performer. So now it’s time to dig in and start using the new stuff.

DP has never been short on updates, but some of them certainly felt iterative. And the software had to make the jump from Mac to Windows, which initially got tricky with Windows’ archaic high-density display support and left the screen hard to see.

DP10 is interesting because it brings some genuinely new ideas. There’s a Clip View that looks an awful lot like Ableton’s Session View, but with some new twists – and in a more traditional DAW, with stuff like proper video and cue support which Live so sorely lacks. There are more ways to manipulate audio and pitch without jumping into a plug-in. There’s a substantially beefed-up waveform editor. If you missed it before, I covered this when it debuted in February:

DP10 adds clip launching, improved audio editing to MOTU’s DAW

Or watch Sound on Sound‘s breakdown of the upgrade:

I’m a great fan of written tutorials, but some of this stuff really does benefit from a visual aid. So let’s get started. As it happens, while it’s a bit hidden, you can now download a 30-day demo – enough time to try finishing a project in DP and see if you like it. They’ve got a US$395 upgrade from competing products, so DP fits nicely in a mid-range price point when some competing options have crept up to a grand or more. (Cough, you know who you are.)


First, Thomas Foster will hold your hand and walk you through a total-beginner walkthrough of how to get started with DP10. And unlike MOTU’s own videos, this one is also oriented toward in-the-box electronic production – so it’ll be friendly to a lot of the sorts who read this site.

From the absolute beginning, here’s a look at actually creating something, using the Model12 and the BassLine instruments:

(If you want to get more advanced with BassLine, check the MOTU videos below.)

And also at the 101-level, importing audio and applying audio effects to vocals:

VCA Faders are one of the more unique new features – here’s a walkthrough focused on that:

Lastly, round about March MOTU posted a huge trove of demos and tutorials from seminars at NAMM. It’s maybe doubly interesting for including some industry heavyweights – Family Guy composer Walter Murphy, LA producer/composer David Das, Mike McKnight who programs and plays keyboards for Roger Waters, music tech legend Craig Anderton, and more.

It’s easier to navigate what’s available from MOTU’s blog than in the distracting maze that is YouTube, so have a look here:

MOTU demos from NAMM 2019

I expect some CDM readers out there are DP users, so I’d love to hear from you about how you feel about this update and how you use the software in your work.

And as always, if there’s a tool you want to see featured, don’t hesitate to write.

The post Get going with MOTU’s DP10 with these videos appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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