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


The dorky recorder you had in school just got a futuristic remake

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 18 Oct 2019 4:04 pm

The recorder’s simplicity has made it ubiquitous in music education. Digital builders want to refresh it and make it cool – and no, this isn’t an April Fools’ joke.

Italian startup Artinoise is taking on the recorder as controller, musical instrument, and learning tool, with its new re.corder. Davide Macini, who has made the excellent boutique soundmachines line as well as working on the latest IK Multimedia synths (among others) is behind the project, so this is actually coming from someone with real experience.

And recorder joking aside, this has to be a new standard in affordable expressive controllers. Short only of using your own voice, there isn’t another way to get something this portable and this expressive and this affordable.

Recorders have become a mainstay of music education, because they are so cheap – particularly with mass manufactured plastic instruments. Recorders of course have a relatively simple playing method – just finger the right holes and blow, with fairly basic pressure control giving reasonably consistent pitch.

Unfortunately, that same blessing is also a curse; those cheap instruments don’t exactly exude character, and the easy of playing them kinda sorta in tune versus the relative complexity of playing them expressively and precisely in tune means that a classroom full of kids can make a fairly horrid sound. That was my experience learning with them, at least, and perhaps yours, too. A consort full of poorly played plastic recorders is not a lovable sound. Basically, the problem is overblowing. So it was that the wonderful wooden Renaissance instrument was replaced by a cartoonish post-war parody in plastic, overused in education without actually teaching kids intonation. (Read a detailed article on the topic if you like.)

The re.corder might just salvage all of this. It’s actually three instruments:

  1. An acoustic recorder, in the traditional sense.
  2. A digital instrument with its own sound, provided by app but using the recorder’s expressive and simple controls.
  3. A controller for other instruments, via MIDI or CV/gate.

There’s a mute plug that lets you play it silently for scenarios 2 + 3, which also gives the ability to play this without disturbing others via headphones.

The re.corder is hardly the first digital instrument, or even the first to have teaching as a key use case – Akai, Roland, Yamaha, and others have attempted the same. But those instruments don’t double as acoustic recorders, and they come from manufacturers who spread attention across a range of different instrument forms. The makers of re.corder have really focused on this single solution.

And then there’s the price, which was what allowed the poor plastic pipes to take off in the first place. The re.corder pricing starts at just 62EUR (with a 55EUR early bird price), and costs even less in bundles. That makes it competitive with other educational offerings.

Their Kickstarter has only just launched, but it already has mounted some impressive sales figures. That suggests people are looking for this combination of inexpensive, simple, and educational. The launch video is a bit awkward, but the point is taken – this is an educational instrument that promises to be taken seriously by adults, in contrast to what has come before.

I just worry a bit that their design looks a little like a Doctor Who prop, but I suspect the idea is solid anyway.

In addition to the acoustic capabilities, you get touch sensors, custom fingerings, 3D accelerometer sensing for added expression, and Bluetooth LE wireless communication with the app (or your computer or other gear).

Plus, as period recorder players can tell you (while their gamba playing friends struggle up the stairs), the whole thing is eminently portable.

Given you could easily spend twice this on a crappy plastic MIDI keyboard you’ll toss or forget in a couple of years, I do think this product might have some success.

You can back the project on Kickstarter now, and find a lot more details:

Official site:

The post The dorky recorder you had in school just got a futuristic remake appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Techno to terraforming: this ex-Berlin collective is planting 27,027 trees in Portugal

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 17 Oct 2019 9:22 am

Could techno makers wind up shifting to rural landscapes from the usual urban ones? One collective imagines “terraforming … a sustainable green oasis.”

Liquid Sky and ringleader Ingmar Koch aka Dr. Walker began life in Germany, but recently migrated to southwest Portugal. They are reforesting the land, as Ingmar joins with local architect Carina Guerreiro and others, planting and maintaining some 27,027 trees.

It could at least be a novel way for frequent-traveling DJs and producers to acquire carbon offsets, as the project needs significant investment in time for weekly maintenance of the trees. But once planted, these trees not only suck carbon out of the air, but will provide some fruit (for humans and animals), shelter for indigenous wildlife, and resistance to brush fires.

That promises a more self-sufficient, ecological, pleasant environment for the Liquid Sky collective, but Ingmar also says he plans working with neighboring areas in the future.

You can track the project here:

https://www.facebook.com/liquidskyproject27027/

It’s a small project, but it could also be an early sign that the techno scene of the future might have new associations, not just its perpetual post-industrial, toxic cliche.

More environmental projects we should know about? Let us know.

All photos courtesy Liquid Sky.

The post Techno to terraforming: this ex-Berlin collective is planting 27,027 trees in Portugal appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Novation Launchpad X, mini are the latest take on the hit music grid controller

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 15 Oct 2019 4:48 pm

Novation’s new grids remain straightforward, but now offer updated expressive and portable versions. And a separate bonus – DIYers wanting to make custom apps for these grids will find it easier than ever.

It’s now a full decade since the first Launchpad burst on the scene. There were grids before, and certainly a multitude of grids since. But what set the Launchpad apart has always been its focus on the task at hand. Launchpads are ultra-rugged, lightweight, simple grids that do just that. So, you’ll probably still want some knobs and faders, but the Launchpad was always the go-to for an a la carte 8×8 set of friendly squares. And they’re simple, lean, and light enough that you can also toss one in a backpack – especially if we’re talking the mini.

Novation today are revising two of the most popular models:

The LaunchpadMini [MK3] is an adorable, tiny grid that now has RGB lights. It’s really hard to overstate how portable and useful that is; I got a test unit and have started taking it everywhere. US$114.99.

The Launchpad X is the latest middle-of-the-road model, which now boasts more expressive, playable features for its pressure- and velocity-sensitive pads. US$229.99.

Both now have USB-C, as we gradually usher in the age of the latest USB connector, and both continue to work out of the box easily with Ableton Live.

There’s a bonus twist, though – Novation are adding a standard API which will make it easier than before to integrate Launchpad with your own custom software inventions and hacks.

I’ve tested both controllers, and immediately find them invaluable.

New hardware

Okay, so first – if you don’t know the Launchpads, yeah, these are grids. (Full credit to the original, independently designed monome much that predated it by a few years, though those aren’t available broadly like the Launchpad!)

What Novation has managed to pull off in the intervening years is to make a string of variations and regular iterations without sacrificing simplicity, and compact size and weight. Later versions have added pressure and velocity sensitivity, color, and portability, plus the ability to operate without drivers. (The very first Launchpad won’t work with iPad, Android, or Raspberry Pi, among others; newer models will.)

Part of the advantage of the Launchpad line is that these generic grids could work with anything. But there are dedicated triggers for Ableton Live when you want them, and that remains the most popular use case. Both Launchpad X and mini MK3 will launch clips and scenes and control the transport. Plus, while you don’t get continuous control as with faders or knobs, you can still control the mixer and other parameters from the grid in a unique, one-touch fashion.

Note the dedicated Capture MIDI button, top right. What you can’t see: Launchpad X is also bigger, and features pads that register how hard you hit them, and if you apply pressure as you hold them down. (Launchpad mini works just as on/off buttons.) Plus there are extra shortcut labels, as well.

Launchpad X

  • More responsive velocity- and sensitivity-sensitive RGB pads
  • Drum and Note modes for programming drum kits and melodies, respectively. And they’re really simple, like dedicated buttons that say “Drum” and “Note” on them
  • Capture MIDI button which lets you immediately store an idea even if you forgot to hit record, as found as part of the latest Ableton Live. (I uh envy those of you tapping out these brilliant ideas; I need the pressure of the record button, but hey… )
  • Dynamic Note and Scale mode for keeping stuff in key
  • Dedicated stop, solo, mute, record arm, levels, pans, and send

You can find all of these things elsewhere, but Launchpad X literally fits on my desk when other gear won’t, and it’s uncommonly easy to find those one-button tools versus other more complex controllers.

Plus, having tested the Launchpad X, the performance is now really fantastic and expressive – something that generally requires more money or (again) more space and complexity. It’s fantastic to have a truly expressive Launchpad.

https://novationmusic.com/launch/launchpad-x

LaunchpadMini MK3

The mini also has Drum and Dynamic Note modes, still has dedicated controls, but now adds USB-C and RGB light-up pads to the existing mini design.

I always loved the mini, but it felt like a throwback going to those monochromatic pads – and visual feedback becomes somehow more important since you sacrifice velocity and pressure.

https://novationmusic.com/launch/launchpad-mini

And extras

Both tools also give you membership to Novation’s Sound Collective which delivers a free plug-in a few times a year, plus a bunch of additional plug-ins (AAS, XLN, klevgrand, Softube).

Both products:

https://novationmusic.com/news/introducing-launchpad-x-and-new-launchpad-mini

Here’s KiNK playing live with the mini:

DIY delight

Here’s where things get interesting – you can customize everything. And since the Launchpad is driverless and relatively simple, you can quickly plug it into your Raspberry Pi or PC or some custom hardware you’re building and quickly prototype. And you won’t be tripping over buttons that you can’t customize because they’re tied to specific software from the same company.

These customizations will exist on a number of levels:

Custom MIDI mappings. There are three custom modes on mini and four on Launchpad X, which lets you send MIDI CC, notes and program change messages, and use rows or columns as faders.

That means multiple pages of control you can map to whatever you want, via Novation Components. So, for instance, put the mini alongside a compact controller with faders and knobs, and you get a controller rig you could fit into a purse, let alone a backpack.

MIDI API. Everything the Launchpad does is also available as a programmable API – in both directions, so output from the device, plus the ability to light the pads. This will allow third-party developers to make all sorts of new integrations with popular software, or for hackers and artists to try their own custom creations for tools like Pd, Reaktor, Max/MSP, Processing, and VCV Rack.

r_cycle – like a hardware module for your software. Okay, so given this all runs on MIDI, what if you could be a live coder or patcher with access to the Launchpad grid directly from software. I mean, sure, you can do that with MIDI, but that means tediously referencing MIDI CC numbers and other awful things. What if it were more elegant?

That’s the vision of an open source project called r_cycle that will build on the API and work with your favorite DIY tools. It’s not part of Launchpad in its officially supported use, but – that’s not really the point. The point is, you’ll be able to quickly spawn, say, a colored grid that plays a particular synth you’re live coding or patching in software.

This is obviously exciting and worth a deeper look; expect more on this soon.

But yeah, the idea of just live coding hardware? That’s pretty excellent.

I was already starting to play with the Launchpad mini MK3 with VCV Rack, and I’m keeping it with me while I work with Pd and other tools.

More on all of this soon.

The post Novation Launchpad X, mini are the latest take on the hit music grid controller appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Testing G-Stomper Producer on Android – and how it helped unlock new rhythms

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 10 Oct 2019 6:19 pm

It started with some feedback from a musician and music theorist to a developer. What happened next: this powerful set of Android music tools evolved some new rhythmic chops.

Android doesn’t get a lot of musical love, despite its popularity. But while the assortment of apps is a fraction of what’s available on iOS, some of the choices that are there are real gems. That opens up possibilities in case you prefer Android as your smartphone (some of which already get into tablet sizes), or if you’ve picked up an inexpensive Android tablet.

In this case, CDM reader Jon Stubbs had bought the Planet-h line of apps, and decided to get in touch with the developer about some additional rhythmic features he wanted. The results exceeded his expectations.

I’m recently back on Android myself with a Huawei phone and I do have a tendency to, uh, collect devices, so I found this fascinating. Jon asked if we would reprint his review. And it has everything I love – engineering and music theory meeting to let you do more with music-making. Here’s Jon:

Exploring rhythm

As a life-long learner, composer, performer, teacher and tinkerer, I’m obsessed with exploring new rhythms. It’s not just a pursuit of odd-for-odd’s-sake. Rather, I love hearing and crafting compositions where delightfully unusual rhythmic elements are presented in a blanced and compelling context.

This obsession began with the humble triplet and the music of Zimbabwe. I studied jazz and was accustomed to the well-worn rhythms of swing and triplets. Later, I found my way into the community of Zimbabwean music, where I was surprised to hear entirely new triplet-based rhythms; and where even the triplet grid itself has a “swing” that is refreshingly different from the even “grid” of western music.

Around that same time, I started creating quintuplet (5 steps-per-beat) grooves using a couple of drum machine apps. These apps forced me to fake the beat divisions using 16th notes, but I was still able to get my feet wet. Then I discovered the wonderful Metronomics app by John Nastos, which allowed me to delve into more unusual ideas. [Ed.: That app, dubbed a metronome for “real musicians,” is available on macOS, iOS, and Android, all three – you can also run it on Windows or Linux in an Android emulator.]

The grooves I eventually made with quintuplets, septuplets and nonuplets were serious fun – especially when using the technique of starting out with ordinary rhythms but then shifting them to fit the new subdivisions. The results are glitchy grooves with a new flavor of “shuffle”; these beats are quite natural sounding after only a few listenings.

A Simple Favor

From time to time, I’ve submitted requests to mobile app developers that they expand their step-rate (steps-per-beat) options to allow for greater exploration of new rhythms. Though my requests mostly go unanswered, I have had a few successes. However, no developer has met my requests with as much enthusiasm and determination as Andreas Graesser of Swiss-based Planet-h.com. The scope and quality of his G-Stomper Producer app are massively impressive, giving the user immense creative and sonic freedom.

I originally asked that he add quintuplets and septuplets to the existing step-rate options. He responded saying, “I have room for six more options”. We settled on expanding the step rates to include 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 16 steps-per-beat! He made this change for all four apps in the G-Stomper lineup.

We worked together on ways to integrate time-signatures so that they look and act the way experienced musicians expect them to. For example, most mobile apps treat 6/8 (if they include it at all) as equal to 3/4– (3 beats, each divided into 2 or 4 steps) but 6/8 should actually be two beats with triplets (3 or 6 steps per beat). It is the same with 3/8, 9/8, 12/8, where the dotted-quarter note is the actual beat (and NOT the quarter, nor the eighth). Andreas had to make a few special cases to reveal more information than a typical time-signature would allow, yet without making it hopelessly confusing for seasoned users of his apps. He found an elegant set of solutions.

Andreas puts great care into the documentation– which is essential for this feature-packed, deep software. The docs were updated to clearly explain the new features. We both had very specific ideas about how to communicate things. We even debated over how to format a table. When there were a couple of button labels that were unclear to me, Andreas quickly adapted the docs to make things more clear. It was a fascinating and fun process.

G-Stomper apps

The apps in the G-Stomper product line include:

All of these apps provide slightly different features, approaches, and workflows. Yet they all use the same expanded system for step-rates and time signatures. It’s worth mentioning here that every step can be individually shifted by 32 micro steps (separate and apart from the timing system).  G-Stomper Producer provides the most flexibility by providing the aforementioned step-rates, 1-16 steps per bar, 1-8 bars, all on a PER TRACK basis. That means the kick, hat, snare, (or user samples) can all have their own timing setup. The other G-Stomper apps use a more standard groovebox approach with rhythm settings applying to all the tracks of a pattern. I like the flexibility and power of Producer, but I also appreciate the ease of workflow in the Studio, Rhythm, and VA-Beast apps. There are several best-in-class features in all of the apps, but rather than list them here, you can try out the demo and discover for yourself. 

If you’re an Android user and maybe you thought Caustic was the only game in town, you owe it to yourself to check out G-Stomper Producer. There’s a whole world of new sounds and rhythms to explore!

Jon Stubbs

www.jonstubbsmusic.com

G-Stomper Producer is available for $12.99 USD via Google Play or Amazon. A free demo version is also available.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.planeth.gstomperproducer

https://www.amazon.com/gp/mas/dl/android?p=com.planeth.gstomperproducer

Planet-h website:

https://www.planet-h.com/

This story was edited from an original version on Jon’s site, with permission:

https://jonstubbsmusic.com/2019/09/25/g-stomper-producer-review/

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Accusonus Rhythmiq is an AI assistant that works with your rhythms and control

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 9 Oct 2019 4:20 pm

“AI” in the popular imagination has become a vision of machines making the music. Rhythmiq is a new plug-in that’s the opposite – software that promises to let you do more with your own grooves.

Rhythm is one of the areas where machine learning seems already to excel. The science around these AI techniques at the moment focuses on just this sort of pattern recognition – it’s powerful for analyzing time-domain nuance, like grooves. So for anyone who complains about the cookie-cutter impact of “on the grid” music software, AI might actually offer some hope. “The grid” no longer needs to be a mechanical, perfect division of the beat or repetitive groove and swing. You can train machines on recognizing more sophisticated patterns, and producing variations accordingly.

I’ll go into a deep dive as far as how Rhythmiq works at another time, but you can certainly count it as an early attempt to chart music software into just these waters. And yeah, the whole idea here is to get more out of your own loops. Accusonus have even produced an elegant-looking interface with hands-on controls so you can dial in what you want interactively.

The basic workflow is this:

Add a loop. Yep, you can use your own sounds.

Make variations on that loop, by turning an on-screen knob (or mapping that to hardware) – essentially guiding the software algorithms where you want them to go.

Play the variations in real-time as you jam, even without looking at the screen, for fills, breaks, build-ups, drops, and, uh, whatever else you want as you play.

Yep, it has controls on it. So this isn’t just a ghost in the shell – the whole idea is to give you something you can play. It’s machines as more interactive, not less.

This is in stark contrast to the primitive way you might be tempted to work with loop- and sample-driven software and hardware. That use case is more like: start a loop, let that loop play repetitively forever, and attempt to jam over top of that loop as it gets progressively more annoying. (Whee!) Sure, that works really well for music that relies on repetitive patterns – behold, the mystery of the techno 4/4 kick. But it applies pretty poorly for everything else.

This also demonstrates that the real-world applications of AI may be more sophisticated, and more appealing to actual musicians, than some of the popular fantasy. We’ve been told for years that AI needs to be autonomous – that it needs to replace us as humans, or come up with ideas when we’re uninspired. If you talk to actual data scientists working in real-world applications of machine learning, though, they will routinely still refer to their work as “AI” without being concerned with this autonomy. Why? Well, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain:

  • a) because it’s not presently possible to make that sort of autonomous machine code, and
  • b) because there isn’t necessarily a real world demand for it.

This should particularly obvious in music, however. I think musicians want the machines to make the music for them in the same way that they want video games to play themselves, or to watch someone else doing it.

No, if you’re willing to invest in music technology, odds are that you do have some inspiration and ideas and you do actually enjoy, you know, making music yourself. Where the frustration comes in is that software works in ways that are often pretty foreign to the way we hear music. And that’s why Rhythmiq is part of a promising direction in adding intelligence to the music.

In short, this isn’t about making you dumber. It’s about making your music software smarter – more like you. Even as beginners, you are already pretty damned smart when it comes to understanding rhythm. (Seriously. Humans are amazing.)

Anyway, that’s the concept. Actually making this work involves some deep research and technology on one side, and requires some extensive testing in user music making on the other. I’ll be investigating both sides of that shortly. (I’ve already started looking at pre-release versions of the software.)

One note – this does still rely on audio content. That means you do have some of the audible artifacts of deriving portions of the sound from the larger sound material, which gives the loops some of that lo-fi, IDM sound – which you might love or not. It seems there is also potential in driving variations in MIDI (or other timing information) alone, and then triggering slices in a more conventional way.

But this is a huge leap forward for Accusonus’ technology, and delivers on some of what we saw previously in their Regroover plug-in. (See links below, which also go into some of the AI behind this.)

Also, stay tuned, as I’m part of a team continuing to explore the applications of AI and music. Following our work with GAMMA Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, we head next to a partnership in November with MUTEK.JP in Tokyo, again pairing data scientists and technologists with musicians and curators and lots of people fitting several of those descriptions at once.

Rhythmiq is available today. It’s US$99 through the end of October, $149 after that. And you can try a 14-day test version, so you don’t have to trust me or the developers or anyone else about how well it works; you can find out yourself.

You’ll be better off in certain hosts than others – yep, try Reaper and its free evaluation version if all else fails. According to Accusonus:

Compatible and fully tested: Ableton Live 10, Apple Logic Pro X

Compatible: FL Studio 20, Presonus Studio One, Cockos Reaper

https://accusonus.com/products/rhythmiq

There are a couple of marketing videos, but I actually think you should start with the playlist of tutorial videos to see how this works – especially if you’re trying the demo:

Here are the developers talking a bit about their thinking going into this, but I’ll try to get a little deeper with them about how it all works and why go this way:

Previously:

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Polyend’s Medusa still looks unique amidst wavetable rush, and now it’s €798

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 7 Oct 2019 2:47 pm

With characteristic engineer’s modesty, Polish maker Polyend calls its Medusa wavetable+analog grid “slightly different.” But it’s really rather different, and a €798 price makes it more accessible.

TL:DR – the Medusa is a unique instrument sonically, nothing else has its control layout, the grid adds expression and doubles as MPE controller for other gear (including modular), and the price cut should bring it slightly more in range. (Plus you now get some colored knobs for customization.)

I’m honestly surprised, then, that it hasn’t gotten more attention, but I think it could be a slow burner. At the risk of being accused of shilling for Polyend, let me explain why I feel that way; you’re welcome to disagree, naturally.

Let’s get into it:

There’s an embarrassment of riches in the synth world now, both modular and desktop. And 2019 has quickly become a flood of instruments employing wavetable synthesis. At first, I thought that might make the more boutique, idiosyncratic Polyend Medusa lost in the crowd. But on reflection, I think now with all these wavetable options – and yes, more about those soon – the Medusa stands out.

I’ll be a bit blunt. One drawback of wavetable synthesis is that the sounds can become grating. And the same thing that makes wavetable appealing (wild possibilities as you modulate through the wavetables) can also make it tiring or hard to control (wild possibilities as you modulate through the wavetables). That’s arguably an objective assessment, even – the whole idea of the approach is, you get a bunch of harmonic and inharmonic content shifting quickly. We’re not accustomed to that in acoustic instruments or most natural sound. It’s exciting, but too much of it could then become like drinking hot sauce out of the bottle.

So with that in mind, Medusa’s split personality seems rather prescient. By pairing the three digital wavetable oscillators with three analog oscillators, the Dreadbox analog filter (to tame some of that harmonic content), and an analog noise generator, there’s ample opportunity to balance out the instrument’s edgier sounds with some warm body. And Polyend’s deceptively simple approach – putting dedicated fader smack dab in the middle of the unit – means you can literally just reach out and grab either side to adjust.

If you just want a wavetable synthesizer, in other words, you now have a growing number of cheaper options. But a big reason why I don’t want to part with the Medusa is, it has this strong tendency to be warm and fuzzy when you want it to be – and to mix hard-synced analog sounds with the wavetable ones.

That alone isn’t quite enough to set apart the Medusa, though, since there are various other architectures available. So now, some of the braver design decisions Jacek and Polyend made on the Medusa mean that it continues to stand out of the pack. That is, no one else is really attacking ideas like this:

  • The XYZ touch detection of the Medusa grid (which is still astoundingly precise and expressive, something that’s hard to nail on this sort of 8×8 grid)
  • MPE compatibility (now a MIDI standard for polyphonic expression, so you can use all those fingertips of yours independently, as intended)
  • Lots of independent modulation sources and the ability to route them with just a couple of button presses – that is, the five LFOs and five loopable envelopes – all without menu diving.

Here’s a beautiful demonstration of how well this MPE stuff works, using Polyend’s also-superb Poly 2 MIDI to CV converter. It really makes an excellent polyphonic controller for modular hardware and advanced MPE-compatible software synths:

On specs alone, other wavetable instruments do look competitive. But none so far under a grand offers this accessibility of modulation and expression that the grid and control layout of the Medusa provide.

And I feel now more than ever than owning the Medusa really is like having a unique Eurorack modular, minus the rack. And it’s one that you get attached to, rather than wanting to unscrew a couple of modules and put them up for sale used. (Yes, Dreadbox for their part even have a new line of budget modules. And they’re great, but note that you quickly reach the price of the Medusa, without a case, and with fewer capabilities and arguably even less-ready routing.)

All of this ought to be an answer to people droning on… Oh, wait – drones! I forgot! Drone mode is really superb, allowing you to latch tones and create gorgeous, shifting drones. You can spend hours doing this.

Sorry, got distracted there. Where was I? Oh yes –

People are constantly droning on (a much less appealing sound than music drones) about how there are no new ideas in electronic instruments, yadda yadda, everything is from the 70s, everything is a clone or remake…

The Medusa ought to be an answer to that, if more people paid it some attention. 3D grid sensing is absolutely new, as is the kind of integrated control possible here. Now, sure, individual elements like envelopes and wavetable synthesis and 24dB/octave analog filters are all new. But it’s peculiar that synths are suddenly held up to this idea of needing to reinvent fundamental building blocks every single time. If acoustic instruments were judged by the same standard, you could argue there was no difference between a bagpipe, an English horn, and a Cambodian Sralai because they all have reeds. The exact combination really does matter. You might love or hate the combination on the Medusa, but that’s the point – it feels like a particular set of instrumental decisions.

I’ve reviewed the Medusa already, though, and thanks to being slow with my review incorporated lots of the firmware improvements early reviewers missed.

But I do feel reasonably confident in saying it’s worth a look if €799 is now in budget. It’s definitely not for everyone. But why should everything be that? What the Medusa proves is, even doing something relatively obvious (polyphony, wavetable sound sources), you can still remain unique by taking some risks.

And if I didn’t cheer-lead a bit for that, it would mean I had probably ceased being myself.

Previously, full review:

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What are all the synths hiding in Mutable’s modules (and their free VCV ports?)

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 2 Oct 2019 8:21 pm

Mutable Instruments packed a lot of different sound models into a single module with Braids and “spiritual successor” Plaits. Learn what they do in these videos.

Émilie’s work in modular is some of the most innovative of recent instrument designs. Braids and the later Plaits are so deep, in fact, that they can seem a bit like cheating – like the sound design work is already done for you in that engine. But that’s before you begin to appreciate the simplicity of the interface, on one hand, and the flexibility of being able to dial in entirely different models. Plaits and Braids break with the uni-tasker tendencies of modular; they can shift into very different roles in different patches. See the original source:

https://mutable-instruments.net/

Actually, sorry for saying that if you were trying to haggle down a used price. (Maybe complain about teal and French rose as colors? Dunno.) But it’s also worth noting that even if you don’t have a rack and hardware, you can explore the possibilities of these modules. Braids is available as Macro Oscillator, and Plaits as Macro Oscillator 2. Just download VCV Rack, and add the fully authorized port of the hardware as the Audible Instruments collection. As the code is open source, you have a one-to-one translation of the sound and function of the hardware, which is also useful in evaluating if you want to invest in the gear.

If you like reading, the manuals suffice for hardware and software – Braids, Plaits.

But even as someone who does like reading, video has proven a medium for people to go beyond just making a manual and talk about how they work, demoing sounds as they go.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t MK1 and MK2 so much as two really distinct takes on the idea, each built from scratch, and each with its own character and musicality.

Omri Cohen has built a whole series of episodes around the original, Braids.

Hat tip as ever to Synthtopia.

Check the full playlist – it’s an epic series. (Too much Civil War talk. “Dearest, it is now the 34th day I have been tweaking this patch, and I fear I may never return to our warm bed again…”)

The excellent and prolific YouTube channel “VCV Rack Ideas” has been covering Plaits. And just as you could translate the Braids series above from hardware to software, you can do the reverse and apply the VCV Rack notions to your physical rig.

Here are 15 tips and tricks:

There’s even a specific idea around melodic techno:

And, actually, bonus, let’s throw in my personal favorite Clouds even though I didn’t mention it in the headline. It’s a wonderful granular audio processor, and I imagine we’ll all be overusing it in this version when VCV Rack finally has a proper VST plug-in implementation, too:

It’s good stuff. And it’s been wonderful to watch Émilie’s embrace of open source lead to variations and twists. It’s something I talked about a lot with open source, but rarely got to witness in action – and it’s encouraging.

Speaking of which, if you’re doing interesting things with either the technology here or you’re particularly pleased with your musical results, and want to share tips or sounds, do get in touch.

The post What are all the synths hiding in Mutable’s modules (and their free VCV ports?) appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can crossfade between convolution files.

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

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

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

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

The post Natural-sounding reverbs come to Eurorack: Tasty Chips stereo convolution reverb appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Barker, Berghain resident, has found his voice – and meaning – in electronic sound

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 27 Sep 2019 8:32 pm

Barker’s Utility is a tour-de-force – economical but sensual, precise compositions that nonetheless sound immediate and personal. And there’s deeper thought behind those sounds, too.

The LP is out since early in September on digital and vinyl with Ostgut Ton, house label at Berghain. Sam continues to helm his long-running series and label Leisure System.

We don’t talk enough about maturity or depth in dance music – let alone about reading lists or footnotes or ideas. But that’s odd, in a way, because having spent a lot of time with the sorts of people who will go to regular 8- (or 26-) hour marathons in nightclubs, I hear a genuine search for a deeper well.

It’s reassuring, then, that Sam Barker is someone willing to reflect openly on the meaning – and sometimes the futility – of dance music. And he can encode those ideas in the music, not just with clever track titles, but in the musical messages themselves.

I certainly feel that in Utility. Talk about a late bloomer – it’s easy to forget this is the “debut LP” from Sam, because he’s put out such wonderful music, both on his own and as part of Barker/Baumecker with nd_baumecker. But Utility has the earnestness of a debut, with the precision and efficiency and technical expertise of someone who’s, well, clocked as many hours as Sam has in the studio and club.

I spoke to Sam on the afternoon before one of his Leisure System parties at Berghain. We were not so much in the shadow of the infamous power station as basking in sun, as the club that exemplifies darkness was cheerily glowing in the late summer vitamin D. So what better setting than to break loose of some of Berlin techno’s cliches?

Berghain: bring the sunscreen, because it’ll get you tan.

It’s interesting to me to know how music making works in regards to time, generally. I wonder if there could be a separate series where you watch people agonize over details, in real time – like the opposite of FACT‘s Against the Clock. What’s that flow like for you now?

I used to have more fun with the details, doing things like very precise edits – cutting things up quite meticulously. But I’m not that patient anymore. And I’m not so into the aesthetic – when something sounds like it took days or months of work, it isn’t so exciting to my ears.

If something that did take a long time can still sound effortless, then that’s different. I think Objekt is a good example of somebody who spends a lot of time on each track and every little detail, but in the end, it sounds very off the cuff. He’s like a magician – every movement is so fluid that you don’t realize the work involved to make it look that effortless.

I try and make recordings in a way that I have to do as little editing as possible afterwards. I know myself now, and I just don’t have the time or the patience to be drastically changing something from the original recording, like I might have in the past.

What’s your working setup like; I’ve seen a bit of your instrumentation in the past, but what’s it like now?

I have two sort of working zones. There’s the studio I share with Andi and Nick, which is mostly drum machines, poly and mono synths, effects, mixing desk, patch bay, all hooked up to a Cirklon sequencer. It’s all about hardware and synthesis and maybe the more classic kind of sounds, with also some newer things like a Prophet 12 and Tempest. That’s the kind of studio we have there. It’s super fun to work in, especially together with other people. And, yeah, it’s nice to call up a preset on a Roland JD-800 and find something familiar. It’s like hearing a well-sampled rum loop pop out of the song it came from.

At home, it’s basically my modular system, Elektron Digitone, Octatrack, Nord Drum and some MIDI controls.

Sam’s home setup: modular, Faderfox controller, Elektron gear, Arturia KeyStep. Photo courtesy Barker.

That’s a pretty broad palette, though. What I hear – the sound is really focused, and it feels to me like an arrival. It seems like the path you were on from Debiasing [EP] to this release, that now this feels like this clear, mature sound.

I’m glad you think so. [laughs] I definitely feel like I’m answering a lot of questions that have that have bugged me for a while in music making. I feel like I’m reaching a downhill stretch of my journey —

— downhill in a nice way.

— definitely in a nice way. I’ve spent a long time with the frontier being technology, learning new skills, learning new techniques — training, really. I would set myself challenges that would be to do with learning a process. Getting deeper into certain parts of the modular, or ways of sequencing, using Euclidean pattern generators, building generative Max patches. This would be the inspiration or starting point for a track in the past.

Now, I feel I’m at a point where technically, I don’t really yearn for any new skills. Not to be a technical show off or anything, but I think at some point, you master the techniques you need to make the ideas you’re having materialise. In the end it’s just a craft. The fun of these technical challenges wears off. So it’s like, what’s the new challenge, the new thing to bump my head against?

Right – you have some chops that you’re applying. You’re out of school.

At this point, either music becomes a boring, repetitive task, or you find things outside of the process to inspire you instead.

Sam’s homemade spring reverb. Photo: Barker.

Was it repetitive in that way?

Working with other people gives a different purpose, but on my own I was struggling to come up with new ideas or finish things. I was here in the studio with the 16-step Cirklon sequencer, and there’s so much potential with that, but it’s like — why do I end up putting this sound in the place you’d expect to hear it, rather than somewhere else?

And so Debiasing was an attempt to understand and get past the biases I had when it came to making music, particularly with rhythmic or percussive formulas.

The main rule of dance music is the kick drum in a way. It’s always there across all forms of dance music. Other things can drop out without much drama -for example the last Dopplereffekt record had no hi-hats, and nobody drew attention to that.

It’s a kind of tyranny.

We discussed this before. [see for instance, “Listen to a mix of music that’s techno, but not four on the floor.” -Ed.]

But then I remember, this first live show I heard you play at Saule [in Berghain], there was a patching error, and something accidentally wasn’t patched into the kick. [Leisure System.32, November 2017, when Sam brought back his live set for the first solo in eight years.]

Oh yeah, that was funny.

That was after you’d gone on this tirade about kicks. So you must have been driven by your subconscious to patch that wrong.

[laughs] Well, the set was already kind of without a real kick, just a bass line that had two trigger patterns, one gate for the sustain, and another for a ‘punch’ to the pitch envelope. Basically, a tuned kick that doubled up as a bassline. I was playing and thinking to myself, ‘wow I really programmed a weird set here’, and right at the end I realized the triggers were reversed. I was getting lots of bass line and very little punch.

But it worked, actually. And people were dancing to that whole set. So whatever you did that you didn’t intend, right? You shifted your intention. It seems like people responded.

It was encouraging for sure. I remember Par Grindvik was behind the stage before I started. And he was like, ‘hey good luck, man.’ I said ‘I’m fucking nervous’ and he tried to reassure me, ‘aw, you shouldn’t be nervous, anyway in the end, just stick a 4/4 kick down and everyone’s happy.’ And I said ‘but… I don’t have a 4/4 kick’. He wished me good luck.

Sam’s live rig. Photo: Barker.
Photo: Elena Panouli. Courtesy Ostgut Ton.

So yeah, what does that mean to you?

The techno formula looks very boring on paper. And objectively, it is boring, but somehow, it works. It has high instrumental value in making people dance. You can rely on it to do the job. I came to the conclusion that this has a lot to do with cognitive biases. There’s a confirmation bias – when it happens, the hi hat comes in, we’re like, yep, see, I expected that. And there’s the illusion of truth effect, where something is repeated so much that it just becomes true. Or the mere-exposure effect, which is a preference for the familiar. Our relationship with music is full of these kinds of cognitive biases.

There’s a book by Abraham Kaplan called The Conduct of Inquiry, which is about how scientists can be more successful in their approach to scientific experimentation. I read it, and in my mind I was replacing the word “science” with “music”. And so many things were just perfectly applicable to this musical problem.

One thing in particular that he calls the law of the instrument – a tendency to rely too much on one methodology to solve problems. He said, ‘give a small boy a hammer, and he will find everything needs a pounding’. I’ve definitely felt like a nail being pounded into the dancefloor before. So the solution might be to use the tools differently, take away the hammer and try something else, perhaps then you stop seeing people as nails. These ideas, from a scientist’s approach to doing research in the lab was a sort of eureka moment.

Do you think if this repetition is about confirming bias, does that influence other thought patterns?

I always think of cue cards – like a TV audience, when somebody holds one up and it says “applause”, and people clap. And it’s like the kick is the cue card that says “dance”, and when it comes in, everybody’s supposed to dance. There’s a behaviorism aspect of dance music that I find a bit pushy, like Skinner’s experiments in the 50s and 60s, where he’s teaching rats to behave in certain ways through manipulating punishment and reward schedules. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning_chamber]

And you feel like that as a DJ.

I think it’s good to be aware of this dynamic. DJ’s as operators of a Skinner box, controlling the punishment and reward schedule… in a way that keeps people on the dance floor as long as possible – ultimately, in the club, drinking. But some of the best parties I’ve had were short and to the point. You would go and see in three hours, like, six grind core bands, just smashing out 30-second songs. After three hours, you’re exhausted, satisfied, and you go home.

Perhaps this is also a case of styles developing around time restraints – venues in the UK had strict licensing laws keeping opening times short. Anyway I think the length of a night out isn’t an accurate measure of how good it was.

So you’re finding some ways to solve this in your own productions, to break some of these biases – even if you still play longer sets with consecutive kick drums in them. I wonder what you’d call this; it seems like suddenly some of your music is labeled “trance” for some reason.

I don’t mind references to trance. I was never influenced in any special way by trance as a genre. Trance was like a dirty word for me for a long time, so it’s interesting that people hear that. Perhaps I was living in denial of my trance callings this whole time.

If you had to choose a genre label, what would you call it?

I’ve heard a few excellent genre names from people. Minimal bass. Minimal drum. Hard chord. Chris Ssg says big room ambient. Then there’s vegan techno, techno lite..

Lite – ooh, not that one.

Happy hard chord?

Well, there is a strong harmonic element – that was in the Barker/Baumecker stuff too. Andi [Baumecker] likes this, too, I know.

I think there was a phase in techno that was very dry and functional, without anything contentious. I feel like things are changing though. There’s always a lot of unconventional music being made, but I feel people are more curious about it these days, and there’s more support for things that sound different.

Berlin, I mean, there’s some conservatism to the culture here in general?

When I arrived in 2007 it was quite narrow. The tempo was just much lower, and people were very sensitive about things like that. Rhythms diverging from straight 4/4 were really a challenge to play. So with Leisure System, a lot of things that were just part of UK party culture didn’t translate.

Is it any different – Leisure System, tonight, than doing it in the past?

People know what to expect now. It took a few years for people to not be expecting techno. Still we had to find new formulas that worked. In this place [Berghain], the acoustics can be quite restrictive, because it’s very loose in there, and part of the appeal is this cathedral effect that you get on the music that you play. It enhances some things, and it has the opposite effect on other things.

Right, Berghain has impact on the music.

It’s got this classic shoe box concert hall shape, which gives it a pretty nice even acoustic response, but it’s just a very long and very prominent reverb. If you you’re doing a sound check in there and you just play a click through it, it hangs in the air a long time. You have to work with it. And it’s kind of glorious in a way, and it taps into very deep historical response to acoustics. David Byrne talks about how caves were spiritual places for early humans, because they represented shelter and safety, and this feeling was then exploited in how churches and cathedrals were designed.. So this response to reverb is deeply programmed into our DNA.

Yeah, when you hear this reverberation, you hear the room speak back to the music – and there’s something kind of spiritual about that.

There is a call and response in the space. And sometimes great music that I really love falls totally flat in there, and sounds like a mess.

..then I suppose now you hear some producers trying to replicate that sound – knowingly or unknowingly in the track – which of course then won’t work, if you play that track in the club.

Yeah, like layering reverb on reverb..

But it has a sound, right? It’s not neutral – this room says something.

It definitely has an opinion. It can restrict the complexity and the pace. If you’re changing key a lot, or there’s a bassline with lots of notes, things that might be musically interesting, the room can have a problem with it. And so, you’re sort of trying to get close to that edge, with respect for the acoustic conditions. There’s so much music outside of the techno framework that’s enhanced by the room.

https://sambarker.bandcamp.com/album/debiasing

http://ostgut.de/label/record/243

http://ostgut.de/booking/artist/barker

Cover photo, top: Elena Panouli. Courtesy Ostgut Ton.

Let’s close with Sam’s recent mix for FACT:

Previously:

The post Barker, Berghain resident, has found his voice – and meaning – in electronic sound appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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

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

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

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

Meet the Blackbox

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

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

Look and feel

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

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

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

Sample slots and editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sequences

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

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

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

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

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

Effects and MIDI support

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s a real sampler

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Product page: 1010 Blackbox

A sample jam

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

He explains:

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

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

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

Video premiere: Caustic alien dreams and handmade electronics from Balfa

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 20 Sep 2019 6:13 pm

Balfa sucks us into dystopian reveries, as we premiere a new video – and see some of the home-built instruments making such wonderfully acerbic sounds.

First, let’s set the mood with the video, which pairs music artist Balfa with artist/animator Maria Mendes of Portugal. Whatever is rendering in that skin, that’s more or less how my body feels if I give it over to these sounds.

It’s for the track, from this month’s debut LP Perfecta Analogía De La Decadencia. (I bet you got the translation of that one. Full track-by-track album description with extended commentary is on his site.)

Balfa is a Spanish artist who has crafted his debut LP, he says, as an autobiographical journey through Berlin over his four year stay here. (It’s true – those screams of agony you hear, that’s exactly the sound my soul makes when I’m stuck just before closing on a Saturday night in the produce section of the Wrangelstrasse Lidl. But I digress.)

What you get is the raw, exposed crackle and growl of electronics, giving way to abstract broken beats and fragmented landscapes. And then, unexpectedly, he’ll break into a furious, hyperactive groove, in between caves of ambient sound. Those occasional repetitions now qualify things to be called “techno,” but frankly – I’m totally okay with the ongoing dissolution of the term, if it means more experimentation.

The album has the unedited directness of late-night studio psychosis, but it’s always engaging and inventive. The full stream is on HATE; there’s a vinyl LP that then spills over on digital with a couple extra tracks, out earlier this month. Delilirium Candidum of Mexico made the artwork, in a sort of naive-folk cyberpunk style:

And the sounds are unpredictable and show this love for electricity in part because of Balfa’s extensive DIY work. Balfa has been building his own instruments, with a decidedly punk approach (as we like around these here parts at CDM).

Most interesting is this “Yafurula Generator, Revelwaver & Clock” – Atari Punk Console inspired, it seems, mayhem with timers or something like this (I’ll ask for more details, but maybe meanwhile it’s fun to guess):

There’s also this PlayStation-controlled synth:

His live performance – as recently at Eufonic festival – is all about handmade devices and improvisation. On the album, it’s nice hearing those untethered textures mixed with song structures and sounds – a compelling split.

I also quite like this little reveal they did for the cover artwork by Delilirium Candidum:

If this goes anywhere, you can say again you heard it here first – this is BLF001. Now that he’s back in Spain, Balfa promises “BLF Lab” will be an outlet for more of this sort of endeavor:

Balfa establishes his BLF Lab project not only as a space for creative experimentation through craft practices, but also as a base for making music with handcrafted machines and various materials.

We’ll be looking forward to what transpires, Balfa.

www.blf-lab.com

More pictures of his DIY work:

Photo: Maria Louceiro.

Photo: Maria Louceiro.

Photo: Marta Rubio.
Photo: Marta Rubio.

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LiveCore is a free low-level, live patching for Reaktor

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 20 Sep 2019 1:31 pm

Reaktor lovers no longer have to be jealous of live coders – now they get a performance-ready, free, low-level tool of their own. Sonic mayhem awaits you.

Okay, first – “live coding” doesn’t necessarily have to mean typing. Text is just one way to represent software logic, that is – and tools like Reaktor (and Pd, and Max, and TouchDesigner) simply use a “dataflow” visual representation for that same logic.

Reaktor Blocks now gives you a high-level, Eurorack hardware-style way to patch. But there hasn’t been anything that can exploit the low-level, high power DSP capabilities of Reaktor in real-time.

Enter LiveCore. The goal: “inreasing liveness” when you work with Reaktor, so you can actually patch live. It’s the work of co-creators David Alexander (@freeeco) and Jack Armitage (@jarmitage), and it’s all free and open source on GitHub (provided you have a Reaktor license, of course). And it’s capable of some seriously awesome musical madness:

You actually don’t need to know that much about Core, Reaktor’s low-level DSP objects, to use LiveCore. It effectively makes Core more powerful for existing users, and gives an entry point to people who may have avoided it.

LiveCore gives you a set of modules, each insanely optimized (just a few bytes compiled, and efficient on your machine’s processor). In the first release you’ll find the following – and the developers say more are on the way:

  • Phase Driver
  • Sequencer (quantizes phase Driver Output to make patterns)
  • Splitter
  • Gate
  • Mixer
  • Limiter (not like a traditional audio studio limiter – it’s actually more like a simple two-stage envelope)
  • Waveshaper
  • Reader (intended for sample playback, from a table)

And, like, holy s*** this idea is cool. Everything is built around the Phase Driver – you make one-shot triggers or ramps with that, and then do all your signal mangling and such with the other modules to create interesting patterns for sounds.

It’s also refreshing to have a modular environment that isn’t tied up in a whole bunch of idiosyncratic hardware modules. If you look at the display, it’s very nerdy in appearance, sure. But the actual use of this is so simple that it seems open to exploration, even for people who don’t normally think about patterns in terms of signal flow.

And this looks like a really unique way to approach patterns. That Waveshaper, for instance, can be used to create irregularities and interest in patterns. (There’s also nothing stopping you from routing this to a patch built in Reaktor Blocks, if you really want to.)

This project is brand new, so please don’t immediately bug the developers with too many questions. Documentation is mostly still forthcoming, so you’re pretty much on your own. It seems like they’re progressing quickly, though, and I think you’ll agree – this was too cool not to immediately share.

https://github.com/freeeco/livecore

The post LiveCore is a free low-level, live patching for Reaktor appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://novationmusic.com/keys/launchkey-mini

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

Here’s a hands-on review by loopop:

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

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

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

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

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

Previously:

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Extreme dub delay, in the new Ninja Tune-Erica Zen Delay

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 18 Sep 2019 1:39 pm

We can talk a lot about engineering. But at some point, you pack vacuum tubes and DSP and chips together, and you get a delay that’s extreme enough to have Ninja Tune and Coldcut printed on it.

Yes, meet the Zen Delay, a new unique stereo delay from Erica Synths, but carrying the Ninja Tune label on it. So, yeah, the record industry is now so bad, we’re making analog delays. Wait – that’s kind of awesome. Stereo delays are more fun to some of us than records, anyway.

Now, I’ve known about this thing for quite a while, so if it seems like I’m raving, I’m not getting that from the press release. Dr. Walker, the underground acid master from Germany, first clued me in to this project with Matt Black, Ninja and Coldcut co-founder. Ninja’s logo is on it, but it’s really both the baby of Ingmar and Matt – part Air Liquide, part Coldcut – with all the sound elements from Riga’s Erica.

The idea is pretty simple: make a stereo delay that you can dial from gentle stereo warmth and space all the way up to extreme dub and screaming overdrive.

Erica sent me a late-stage prototype to test, and I spent a lot of time with it. The trick here is really the combination of analog and digital ingredients:

Stereo delay. You get a precise, full-ranging stereo dub delay, with as little as 1ms all the way up to 5 seconds, and it’s syncable.

And thanks to being digital, you can choose what that delay is – tape, tape pingpong, “digital” (sounding more or less like your basic digital delay), or a special fifth mode. (On mine, that fifth mode was something called “crossover,” which wasn’t terribly useful. Now, it’s a vintage delay with some nice lo-fi touches, I’m told, but I haven’t yet gotten to test it, as it’s actively in development.

Multi-mode filter. There’s a 24dB filter with resonance, which you can use in lowpass, highpass, or bandpass modes.

Valves! Valve saturation and overdrive are what really complete the package – you’ll spot that lovely tube popping out of the top.

Tempo controls. There’s CV in, plus MIDI in, plus tap tempo, so you can use external time, free time in milliseonds, or tap in a tempo.

There’s also clock division, in “beat” mode (which wasn’t available yet on the firmware I first tested). Push and hold the TAP button, and the delay time knob becomes clock divider/multiplier – down to an eighth of the beat, and up to 8 times the beat. (This will actually increase the potential length of the delay up to 50 seconds, so I guess fast bathroom breaks are now possible onstage!)

High-quality digital engine. High-spec ADC and DAC combine with a 24-bit, 48k digital engine.

Stereo (1/4″) jack ins, stereo jack outs, MIDI in, CV in (on full-sized jack, not minijack), plus 12V power.

So in other words, you get the precision and precise timing of the digital delay, plus the ability to choose different delay models in a single unit. But the overall impact is very, very dirty, when you want it to be – thanks to that analog overdrive. So when you want warmth or grime or total insanity, you can dial that in.

“Complete package” and “dialing” are also essential, because Erica have really leaned in to the heavy, vintage, metal feeling of the box. It’s 870 grams of metal here (almost two pounds), with one-knob-per control, and each knob is a big, smooth-feeling dial.

This is a box for your hands, not your feet – something that you do want to reach out and grab and adjust. That makes it ideal for studio and live production. I can absolutely see wanting this live.

Erica have been in this territory before, with their screaming Acidbox (based on the Polivoks filter, and sounding just as angry and Soviet), and the Fusionbox. The Acidbox is terrific, but it’s like having a giant bottle of hot sauce at the ready – it’s just this mental USSR-style filter. The Fusionbox is the nearer comparison, and it might still be the one you want, since it has flanger and ensemble stereo in addition to delay.

But make no mistake – as a dubby delay, the Zen Delay is just about perfect. Easy access to the Drive setting, the useful dubby delay modes, and that magical distortion make it something truly special. And it’s only something Erica could do – it combines their custom DSP, their lovely Latvian-made chips, and this analog into one box.

To anyone who says no one is “innovating,” maybe it’s just a misunderstanding of what musical innovation is. Erica’s creation here is a kind of new vintage. The starting point is some traditions, but constructed into something that you haven’t had before – which is basically what instrument design has always been about.

Pricing: pre-order at €499 + VAT, with the first 300 units with a limited edition Zen Delay t-shirt at a discounted €454 + VAT, from the Ninja Tune and Erica Synth websites.

Ships in December.

https://www.ericasynths.lv/shop/standalone-instruments-1/zen-delay/

Now, you may or may not have half a grand to spend on a delay that you won’t get until Christmas. But, if you do, this is clearly a nice way to go about it.

I’m editing some sounds and will post at the end of the day. But this short video with The Bug sums it up beautifully:

The press release claims this is the first effects unit to be produced by an electronic label, though I’m not entirely certain that’s correct. (Some CDM reader probably has a tiny label that ran off a few pedals, I’m guessing, before I jump out on a limb and go along with the claim!)

The post Extreme dub delay, in the new Ninja Tune-Erica Zen Delay appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

How focusing on one tool cured writers block, and made one sharp, chilly, ‘stoic’ EP

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 17 Sep 2019 5:04 pm

Tools and technology are often described as obstacles. But sometimes focusing on a tool can refine musical process and composition – as main(void) reveals.

And yes, the goal here is, as always, to cure writers’ block and finish something that you feel really happy with. Let’s first hear the finished item, as it’s got the kind of deliciously calculated, precise electronics that first drew me to Europe. It feels chilly, but still sensual – foreplay for cyborgs, you know, putting the tech in techno:

Working musicians all have to balance different gigs. An emerging role for us is working out how to take day jobs in designing tools and sound design, and use that experience to help us make our creative musical experience better.

In the case of main(void), aka Jan Ola Korte, it meant parlaying his work in 2018 designing sounds for Native Instruments’ TRK-01 into honing his music making process. He writes:

When I was working on the sound design for Native Instruments TRK-01 in 2018, I saved a few presets to use in my own music. These sounds and patterns ended up becoming the foundation of Stoicism, my first solo EP that was released Aug 21 on Spatial Cues. I had a little bit of a writer’s block situation, so I tried to resolve it by working within very restrictive parameters. All five original tracks on Stoicism use TRK-01 as the only sound source, processed through a number of effect plug-ins. Limiting myself in this way created a nicely coherent sound palette. Since I only used TRK-01’s internal sequencers, I arranged the tracks via automation in Ableton Live, which switched up my routine in an inspiring way. In the end, this workflow not only resolved the writer’s block but led to my most comprehensive release so far.

The basic idea of TRK-01 is to do just that – it puts some focused modules dedicated to dance production in a single place. There’s a kick module, bass, sequencer, and effects – but it’s not preset territory, as each module has a number of different engines. That is, the clever twist here is removing cognitive overhead (by simplifying and integrating the interface), without limiting your creative choices (since there is still a full spectrum of very different sounds you can get out of each module).

Even with that being said, you still might not be certain how to turn this into a completed track. Now, each person will find a different pathway there, but seeing how Jan works – a bit like working with a studio mate – can often give you that “ah ha, I could actually learn from this” feeling.

Jan asked if he should do a full narrated look at his working method. Answer: aber ja.

By the way, of course this also means that by keeping this focused, adapting the release to a live gig is far easier. You’ll be able to catch main(void) live at Griessmuhle, alongside some very special DJ friends like DJ Pete, Alinka, and Qzen, plus some great names, in late October in Berlin.

More music:

Site: http://www.spatialcues.com/

Oh and yeah, go grab the music on Bandcamp! This is the them problem with promo pools, I see some huge names are playing these tracks out but they got the music for free.

The post How focusing on one tool cured writers block, and made one sharp, chilly, ‘stoic’ EP appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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