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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First – the specs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Form factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workflows

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

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

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

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

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

Full-featured clip launching and mixing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tons of playing options.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full range of AIR effects is onboard.

Powerful audio effects should help you grow with this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stylophone goes totally luxe with the GEN R-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound specs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s made of steel.

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

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

Demo:

https://dubreq.com/genr8/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the volca modular fits in

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

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

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

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

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

TLDR Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modules, in depth

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

Source

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

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

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

Function Generators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space

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

Modular tools

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

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

Sequences

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

Split/Mult

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

Utility

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

Woggle

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

KORG’s minilogue xd is a new 4-voice synth with the best of the rest

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 15 Jan 2019 7:12 am

KORG are introducing the Minilogue xd. It’s not just a Minilogue with some extras: it’s a new polysynth with the best bits of all the KORG analog range, including the prologue flagship, in a compact package.

It’s like the hatchback of synths – the compact, mid-range priced synth that might just wind up being everyone’s favorite. It’s poised to be the Golf GTI of electronic instruments.

It’s in the compact monologue form factor, with a US$649.99 price. And it’s coming soon (this winter, so… at least “before spring”).

To be honest, I loved the original of this series, the minilogue. But then with each new iteration, KORG added something new that made me want a combination of all the other synths.

And now, sure enough, what do we get? A combination of all the other synths.

From the minilogue: the elegant 4-voice polyphonic voice structure and voice modes that made the original so terrific.

From the monologue: the 16-step sequencer and microtuning features (thanks Aphex Twin!), plus that cute little form factor.

From the prologue: the MULTIdigital oscillator, plus new effects.

I’m sure some people will gripe because they wanted the extra keys and size of the minilogue, but otherwise this looks like the perfect KORG synth.

Reverb, delay, and modulation, plus two CV IN jacks complete the package.

Hilariously that “XD” of course also signifies “lol,” which may be how you feel if you just sold off a monologue or minilogue and now can buy up a combination of the two. (As with Windows XP, KORG are using the lowercase xd to de-emphasize that a little…)

Sing along:

Obligatory! Demo! Video!

The post KORG’s minilogue xd is a new 4-voice synth with the best of the rest appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Strymon’s Volante is a new, lush-sounding magnetic echo FX pedal

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 14 Jan 2019 6:34 pm

Strymon have already made a name for themselves in luxe effects hardware and pedals, including classic effects and reverbs like the BigSky. Volante moves into what’s likely to be hit territory – modeling magnetic tape loops and effects.

There are three tools in one here: magnetic delay, spring reverb, and a tape-style looper. It basically takes a bunch of things you’d do in a studio (back when studios did stuff with tape) — and crams that into a little box.

And it sounds great (Matt Piper here shares this music he made):

What’s inside:

Tape delay: four playback heads with feedback, panning, and level for each.

Make tape-style looping: reverse, pause, splice, infinite repeat

Selectable models: drum echo, tape echo, studio reel-to-reel, with different sound characteristics

And still more control: choose low cut, mechanics, and wear, plus an input you can adjust (so crank it for extra tape saturation)

Stereo in and out

Foot friendly: tap tempo and even choose favorite settings with your foot, plus add an expression pedal if you like

MIDI in/out with full MIDI mapping of parameters and program changes

USB MIDI

Strymon also promise premium audio fidelity, both on the analog front end and the digital conversion inside. And they build these in the USA.

It’s also a sign of the times: independent hardware is doing increasingly processor-heavy stuff. But just as the computer capacity has expanded, so has hardware – and more realistic emulations of nonlinear analog equipment is the result. This is still DSP-based, not ARM, for those interested – it’s a SHARC DSP – but those chips have grown in capability, too.

More:

https://www.strymon.net/products/volante/

US$399, preorder only for now (30-60 days out).

Detailed look:

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FamilyTool expands Moog, other semi-modulars with more patching

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 14 Jan 2019 5:57 pm

Moog’s DFAM and Mother-32 have attracted their own dedicated following. Now a Kickstarter project aims to expand patching flexibility on the Moog and other semi-modulars – so you won’t outgrow them.

There are two product ideas in the FamilyTool line. One is a unit for adding multis and splits, which extends patching on semi-modulars like the Mother-32. (There’s no multi, which would let you duplicate a signal.) A second product is a case with internal power for making a little “baby” modular – without having to make the leap into Eurorack. (The latter could get more expensive and means more to lug around. Arturia also recently showed small cases with this idea.)

The product looks really nice, and gets hand-assembled in Munich. One interesting twist: they say they’re only marketing this on Kickstarter, so there won’t be any units for sale after that.

Specs:

The MULT-OR-SWITCH is all about giving you more patching flexibility for more elaborate patches.

MULT-OR-SWITCH Module

6 A/B switches for up to six switchable routings
2 of which are OR-logic mixers
No external power source needed*
Passive MULT (1:4 or 2×1:2)
Patching fun with 24 I/Os

And the case is perfect for, say, a DFAM owner who wishes they also had just the awesome Mutable Instruments Clouds to play with (which, seriously, is possible):

powered UNCPROP Case

Fits eurorack modules up to 20hp and 35mm depth (e.g. Clouds and MATHS)
Perfectly fits DFAM/Mother-32 and
Is a great addition to any other semi-modular synth
For heavy users & beginners
internal PSU
works as a 20hp standalone eurorack case/effects unit
Handcrafted wooden panels (walnut)

Pricing starts at EUR199 depending on which round you’re in.

Maybe the coolest option: you can spring for a workshop and dinner with the makers in Munich.

Or you can get a scarf, which sounds appealing to me.

FamilyTool – a versatile modular synthesizer extension

Previously:

Arturia’s new easy, affordable modular cases also mount to MiniBrute 2

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Master your Roland TR-8S drum machine settings with a plug-in editor

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 14 Jan 2019 5:38 pm

Roland’s TR-8S added loads of parameters for shaping drum kits and effects. Now you can get at all of those without diving through menus with this VST/AU plug-in – and keep your drum machine settings stored with your project.

Hardware is great, but it introduces two problems. First, there are inevitably some parameters buried in menus that are hard to reach on the front panel, no matter how many knobs and faders makers add. Second, stuff you do on the hardware is likely to get out of sync with your DAW, leading to that invariable “what the Hell was this supposed to be?” feeling when you power things up. (Okay, sometimes that leads to happy accidents. Sometimes it just leads to misery.)

Momo Miller has been trucking through the full Roland range (plus KORG and Novation Circuit). He’s been adding plug-ins for just this reason. You get more accessible editing and control, and your settings stay inside your DAW projects for easy recall.

Now, first, what this isn’t: it isn’t a full-blown editor for the TR-8S. And it’s a shame, given Roland Cloud, that the manufacturer didn’t provide one. That also means loading custom samples on the TR-8S is a manual affair. This unofficial editor isn’t able to load sample files. And you don’t get full access to all of the TR-8S’ hidden parameters, like the deep settings per kit. So, Roland, if you’re listening – please, give us that.

You do, however, get a lot of access to parameters per sound and kit – basically, anything that has a MIDI CC assignment. And you can still save your changes on the hardware, for anything this controls. Plus you can save parameters separately in software. And there are some useful performance controller mappings.

Here’s what you get:

  • Full access to TR-8S parameters (as accessible via MIDI)
  • Control effects via custom-mapped X/Y performance controllers
  • Automation of parameters inside your DAW
  • Save parameter data with your DAW – including which kit was selected, which is invaluable on its own
  • Interactive visual display
  • 32-bit and 64-bit VST (Windows, Mac) AU (Mac) and standalone (Windows, Mac) versions

Have a look:

Price: 5,90€ / US$6.90

TR-8S editor/controller

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Haken’s ContinuuMini is expressive, post-keyboard sound for $899

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 11 Jan 2019 7:20 pm

Want some evidence that the future of expressive digital instruments and MPE is bright? Look to Haken’s ContinuuMini, which emerged over last year, bringing greater portability and a US$899 price to the out-there controller.

Forget anything else, and listen to this gorgeous video (using a clever setup with an Onde acoustic resonator*:

Why does the ContinuuMini matter?

Expression really is a combination of sound and physical control. Say what you will about piano keyboards (and some electronic musicians who hate them certainly do) – the reason an acoustic piano is still expressive has to do with the sound of a piano.

So when we talk about MPE, a scheme for allowing polyphonic expression through MIDI, we’re really talking about allow greater depth in the connection of physical gestures and sound.

If this is going to catch on, it’ll require more than one vendor. I think it’s wrong to assume MPE’s future, then, is tied solely to ROLI as a vendor. From the start, MPE was an initiative of a range of people, from major software developers (Apple, Steinberg) to hardware inventors (ROLI, but also Roger Linn and Randy Jones of Madrona Labs, for instance).

And Haken Audio has been a boutique maker pushing new ways of playing for years – including with MPE on their Continuum. The Continuum may look arcane in photos, but feeling it is a unique experience. The ribbon feels luxurious – it’s actually soft fabric. And the degree of control is something special. But it’s also enormous and expensive – and that means a lot of people can’t buy it, or can’t tour with it since it won’t fit in an overhead.

I believe that what makes an instrument is really finding that handful of people to do stuff even the creators didn’t expect, so if you can lower those barriers for even a run of a few hundred units, you could have a small revolution on your hand.

That’s what Haken have done with ContinuuMini, which closed crowd sourcing late last year and has started shipping of the first hardware.

Here’s what sets it apart:

It’s a Continuum. Well, first, nothing else feels like a Continuum. That feeling may not be for everyone, but it’s still significant as a choice.

It’s continuous. Because you aren’t limited by frets or keys, there’s a continuous range of sound. This is a controller you’ll want to practice, finding intonation with muscle memory and your ear. And there are artists who will want that subtlety.

It has internal sound. Like its larger sibling the ContinuuMini has an internal sound engine. That means that it’s not just a controller. Haken have conceived control and sound in a single, unified design. You can play it without connecting other stuff. And the builders have worked on both the physical and aural experience of what they’ve made. I think that’s significant to anyone making an investment, particularly in an age in which abstract controller hardware tends to stack in our closets.

It’s 8-voice polyphonic, as well. The ContinuuMini isn’t just a controller: it’s a complete, gorgeous polysynth and a controller, for this one price.

It connects to other gear, without software. Bidirectional digital control – MIDI, with MPE, MPE+ – and bidirectional control voltage analog (with converter) are possible. That means you can play the ContinuuMini with gear and software (like recording MIDI and MPE in your DAW for playback), and likewise the ContinuuMini can control your software and gear. There are also two pedal inputs so your feet can get in on the action.

It’s only a quarter kilogram. 9 oz. You can tote the bigger ones with a case but – the ContinuuMini is incredibly portable.

It feels like an extraordinary development.

https://www.hakenaudio.com/continuumini

* Synthtopia has a great, in-depth interview on the Onde and Pyramid, acoustic resonators that make an electronic instrument feel more like an instrument and less like “something disconnected that produces sound through speakers” as with conventional monitors:

La Voix Du Luthier & The New Shape Of Electronic Sound

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This playlist is full of wonderful ARP music – some might surprise you

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 9 Jan 2019 5:46 pm

As we remember Alan R. Pearlman and the impact his instruments had on music, here’s a survey of the many places ARP sounds appeared in music culture. It’s a reminder of just how profound electronic music tools can be in their influence – and of the unique age in which we live.

Perhaps now is the perfect time for an ARP revival. With modular synthesis reaching ever-wider audiences, the ARP creations – the 2500, 2600, and Odyssey featured here – represent something special. Listen across these tracks, and you’re struck by the unique colors of those ARP creations across a range of genres. It’s also significant that each of these designs in their own way struck a balance between modularity and accessibility, sound design and playability. That includes making instruments that had modular patching capability but also produced useful sounds at each patch point by default – that is, you don’t have to wire things up just to make something happen. That in turn also reduces cable spaghetti, because the patch connections you make represent the particular decisions you made deviating from the defaults. On the 2500, this involves a matrix (think Battleship games, kids), which is also a compelling design in the age of digital instruments and software.

And lest we get lost in sound design, it’s also worth noting how much these things get played. In the era of Eurorack, it’s easy to think music is just about tweaking … but sometimes it’s just as useful to have a simple, fresh sound and then just wail on it. (Hello, Herbie Hancock.)

It’s easy to forget just how fast musical sound has moved in a couple of generations. An instrument like the piano or violin evolved over centuries. Alan R. Pearlman literally worked on some of the first amplifiers to head into space – the Mercury and Gemini programs that first sent Americans into space and orbit, prior to Apollo’s journey to the moon. And then he joined the unique club of engineers who have remade music – a group that now includes a lot of you. (All of you, in fact, once you pick up these instruments.)

So I say go for it. Play a preset in a software emulation. Try KORG’s remake of the Odyssey. Turn a knob or re-patch something. Make your own sound design – and don’t worry about whether it’s ingenious or ground-breaking, but see what happens when you play it. (Many of my, uh, friends and colleagues are in the business of creating paid presets, but I have the luxury of making some for my own nefarious music production purposes that no one else has to use, so I’m with you!)

David Abravanel puts together this playlist for CDM:

Some notes on this music:

You know, we keep talking about Close Encounters, but the actual sound of the ARP 2500 is very limited. The clip I embedded Monday left out the ARP sound, as did the soundtrack release of John Williams’ score. The appearance is maybe more notable for the appearance of ARP co-founder David Friend at the instrument – about as much Hollywood screen time as any synth manufacturer has ever gotten. Oh, and … don’t we all want that console in our studio? But yes, following this bit, Williams takes over with some instrumental orchestration – gorgeous, but sans-ARP.

So maybe a better example of a major Hollywood composer is Jerry Goldsmith. The irony here is, I think you could probably get away with releasing this now. Freaky. Family Guy reused it (at the end). We’ll never defeat The Corporation; it’s true.

It’s also about time to acknowledge that Stevie Wonder combined Moog and ARP instruments, not just Moog. As our industry looks at greater accessibility, it’s also worth noting that Wonder was able to do so without sight.

What about U2? Well, that’s The Edge’s guitar routed through the ARP 2600 for filter distortion and spring reverb. That’s a trick you can steal, of course – especially easily now that Arturia has an emulation of the 2600.

Expect our collective reader knowledge exceeds anything we can contribute so – let us know what other artists using ARP inspired you, and if you have any notes on these selections.

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The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 8 Jan 2019 4:01 pm

First it was dead. Then, it came back but … inexplicably cost four thousand bucks and seemed to be for audiophiles, not DJs. Now, at last, the iconic* Technics SL-1200 turntable is back, and in a newly-manufactured form that might actually suit DJs.

The pitch: take advanced tech, learned from Blu-ray players, and turn it into an accessible turntable that delivers the performance and playing style of traditional players, with greater reliability and better sound.

If you don’t particularly need the name “Technics” on your turntable, of course, this may not even qualify as news. Manufacturers from Pioneer to Reloop now make reasonably affordable turntables that expand on the legacy of the Technics turntable and enable DJs to play decks like an instrument.

A couple of years ago when Panasonic revised the SL-1200 name, it at first seemed the company was surrendering the DJ market to those rivals. The first SL-1200GAE/1200G was a heavy, expensive machine engineered to within an inch of its life for vinyl consumers and deep-pocketed audiophiles. (Okay, I want to say “suckers.” At least people with money to burn.) Bizarrely, there wasn’t much mention of the DJs or hip hop producers who made the SL series famous in the first place. (Wired got the first preview; Vinyl Factory commented on the company’s explanation of that $4000 sticker shock.)

Now, it seems, we’re back to reality. The new SL-1200MK7 has specs more like a normal SL-1200, has marketing and specs intended for DJs, and while we don’t know the price, at least returns to a normal weight (just under 10kg).

The SL-1200MK7 (aka the SL-1210MK7 in Europe) then can be fairly dubbed the first Matsushita/Panasonic turntable for DJs to come off the assembly line in nine years – and the first in nine years to be a direct successor to the 1972 original 1200.

Onboard, some new engineering, now again in the service of DJs:

Coreless direct drive motor – okay, first, Panasonic are again making a new motor, apparently even after the 2016 audiophile take on this. It’s a direct drive motor like the original, but Technics promises the torque of the MK5, but without the iron core that can cause cogging (inconsistencies that impact audio quality).

To put it more briefly – this is the kind of more reliable motor Technics was pushing, but this time not so damned heavy and expensive.

Also new:

Reverse it. Provided you have a compatible phono cartridge, you can enable a reverse play function accessed by hitting the speed selector and Start/Stop at the same time.

Scratch-friendly – with computer control. Here’s the surprise: you get new motor control Panasonic have borrowed from the development of Blu-ray drives, using microprocessors to keep the motor operating smoothly. The MK7 tunes that relationship, says Technics, to work across playing styles – including DJing. What else does that mean?

Pitch is digitally controlled. Greater accuracy of pitch adjustment is another side benefit, because the motor can respond interactively as you play.

Well, apparently the original silver color is now reserved for audiophiles.

But there’s no question this is a sign of the times. Where as the digital age first seemed to jettison old brands and old technologies, all of them are back with a vengeance, from film photography to turntables to synthesizers. And finally even the likes of Japanese titan Panasonic, Technics parent company, are getting the memo. Just like a violinist wants particular features out of a violin, a DJ has expectations of what a turntable should be – not only appearance or moniker, but engineering.

And, let’s be honest, there is something nice about seeing new Technics in production.

Now the question is, can Panasonic trickle down new advanced tech in motors and control, inherited from advanced Blu-ray players, to the traditional turntable? If they can, they might just be able to best some of the other commodity turntables on the market.

Full details:
https://www.technics.com/us/news/20190107-sl-1200mk7/ [Press release]

[Product page]

A timeline of Technics turntables

The SP-10 started it all – at least introducing the world to direct drive turntables. But notice it didn’t even have its own integrated tonearm.

DJ Kool Herc was far enough ahead of the curve that he started on the 1971 SL-1100, not the SL-1200.

1970: SP-10
World’s first direct drive turntable (the enabling technology that would enable DJing technique and scratching)

1971: SL-1100
Starts to look like the turntables we know (integrated tonearm and platter). Used by hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc.

1972: SL-1200/SL-1210
You’d feel at home cueing and beatmatching on this, but – note that the speed control was on a dial. (The 1210 variation of this is a Euro-friendly model with voltage selection and black, not silver.)

1979: SL-1200MK2
The SL-1200 was already a standard, but the MK2 looks more like the template DJs recognize today. Influenced by a field trip to Chicago clubs, the engineers unveiled the MK2 with Quartz Lock, a big pitch fader (whew!), and other details like a vibration-soaking cabinet and rubber.

Later revisions added other minor improvements, but it was really the MK2 that looks like the template for all DJ turntables to come – particularly thanks to pitch being on a fader and not a tiny knob (once Japanese engineers worked out how artists in Chicago were using pitch).

1989: SL-1200MK3
Improvements largely around vibration.

1997: SL-1200MK3D
The end of the center click pitch controller (so you could get hairline adjustments around zero more accurately).

2000: SL-1200MK5
Sort of the gold standard here, based on tiny performance enhancements and details like brake speed adjustment. See also the MK5G variation, 2002.

2019: SL-1200MK7/SL-120MK7
All-new motor, digitally-controlled pitch, reverse play.

And yes, I agree with my colleague James Grahame of MeeBlip in thinking this is all becoming a bit like the modern Spitfire kit remake planes, the Submarine Spitfires.

All photos courtesy Technics.

*Iconic? Well, this word is overused. But this is precisely the kind of time it fits – the SL-1200 shaped all DJ turntables afterwards. It’s embedded in the public consciousness as the image of what a turntable is to DJing. It’s part of the culture. It’s an icon.

The post The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Like a studio onstage: Orbital tells us their live rig synth secrets

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 4 Jan 2019 7:57 pm

It’s a dazzling audiovisual show, with eye-popping visuals, plus an overflowing connection of synths. Orbital share their secrets for live performance and jamming with CDM’s David Abravanel.

The timing is perfect: Monsters Exist was a 2018 production highlight. Now we get to hear how all that studio complexity translates to live jamming: -Ed.

Photos: Matthew Bergman for CDM.

Orbital live in New York. Photo: Matthew Bergman

As soon as the two men wearing glasses with headlights on the side come on stage, there’s no question that you’re at an Orbital concert. Even before brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll take the stage, however, they’re preceded by another tell-tale sign: a live set up featuring copious hard- and software at their fingertips.

For decades, the Hartnolls have made a name for themselves defying expectations for live electronic performance – bringing a sizable chunk of their studio on tour and deftly weaving through live sets that allow them the flexibility to jam. It’s only fitting that Orbital have started releasing regular recordings of their live shows since their 2017 reunion.

Orbital’s live US rig:

Arturia Matrixbrute
Roland Jupiter-6
Sequential Prophet-6
Access Virus TI
Novation Bass Station II
Novation Peak
Roland TB-303
iPad x 3 (two for Lemur, one for timekeeping)
Novation Launch Control x 3
Ableton Live 10

Ed.: Got to watch a similar – even slightly larger – rig for Amsterdam Dance Event. This is a truly epic stage show from the kind of veterans with the chops to pull it off. -PK

I caught up with Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll for a walkthrough of their stage setup before a recent show at Brooklyn Steel. It was the group’s first set of American dates in six years (accounting for a lengthy hiatus during which the brothers weren’t in communication), and, despite jetlag, spirits were high.

CDM: Between the Wonky tour and this one, you’ve switched from using Liine Griid on your iPads (now discontinued) and using the original [JazzMutant] Lemur hardware. What are you using now?

Paul: The original replacement for the Alesis MMT-8 [sequencer] was the old-fashioned Lemurs, which – this is better. The touch screens were a bit iffy on those, it was early technology. Then we went on to Griid on the iPad, and now we’re back to Lemur, but on the iPad.

Each track is a Lemur template along the top. The buttons trigger Live – the big buttons are scene changes, and the little buttons are clips.

Paul with Ableton Live.

One of the Lemur templates for “Halcyon”, featuring the infamous Belinda Carlisle/Bon Jovi sample triggers.

And a little more dynamic than the MMT-8s?

Oh yeah. When you look at the Lemur, the big buttons that do the scene changes – that’s like changing a pattern on the MMT-8, but we can also turn things on and off within.

Also, you’ll notice that this [points to three Novation Launch Control XL controllers] pretty much looks like an MMT-8 as well. These are our virtual mixing channels, and each song gets threaded through to these channels. It’s a combination of bringing things in and out on the iPads and the Launch Controls.

What I can do – depending on different parts of the set and how I’m feeling – is go through and mute [the Launch Controls] and do it old-school MMT-8-style as well. You trigger things on the Lemur and obviously they start where you want them to, whereas on the Launch Controls, if you’ve got something muted, you might lose count and bring it in halfway through a riff.

I’ve got the drums broken down here [gestures to Launch Control], to punch them all in and out if I want to, and the “stop all” button which is great.

So you’re mixing on stage with the Launch Controls and the Ableton Live set?

It’s all coming out of here [points to interface] and going to the front of house. We’ve got control of volume of all the channels, so we can ride things – if we know that something’s coming in, we might want to pump that up a bit. And then that happens over the PA, but if it’s too much, [our front of house mixer] can bring it down. Or he can EQ each channel to suit the room. Obviously, front of house is the best place for the overall EQ for each channel because he’s hearing it through the PA and we’re not. We’ve got control of the mix of the balance of things, but then it’s also a safety thing. If I push the drums too much, and it’s too much in the room, [the mixer] can tweak it.

How do you decide which synths come on the road with you internationally? I know you’ve performed with the MacBeth M5, but it’s not in the rig this time around.

I still like the MacBeth – I’d love to bring it! But I’d need to do something do it, because we can’t fly with it. Most of the MacBeth box is empty, it’s just part of Ken [MacBeth]’s thing of, “it’s a performance synth, it needs to stand up and be proud!” So what I want to do is take the case off and put it in a different box, a really thin box. Maybe put a gilt-edged picture frame around it? [Laughs]

This tends to replace the MacBeth – the [Arturia] MatrixBrute. It’s kind of angry, like the MacBeth. It’s got more drive stages and things like that than the MacBeth – it’s probably angrier but kind of thinner, but that’s good because it cuts through in the mix live. Whereas the MacBeth is just – it’s fun, bringing something like that, because it hasn’t got any presets so you’ve got to work on the fly, and I love that. The MacBeth kind of forces you to make each sound tailor-made for each gig. But [the MatrixBrute] is good fun live! And of course, so much control – so much fun to be had.

[Starts playing the beginning of “Tiny Foldable Cities”] Most of the sounds in this track come from the MatrixBrute.

And is that how you did it on the studio version as well?

Yeah. [Cycles through sounds]. Obviously I have to sample some of them live.

Do you have audio backups of all of your hardware synths in case one of them goes before or during a show?

We say we’re gonna do it, but we never do it. [Laughs]

We’ve got a backup computer if that one goes down – but that’s, y’know, “hello everybody, sorry we’ve had a computer failure, we’re just going to be five minutes while we change computers. Talk amongst yourselves, and have a drink at the bar.”

Paul points to the essential crossmod section on Orbital’s Roland Jupiter-6.

So are these the more robust synths that you tour with then – like the Jupiter-6?

This is actually a new one to us. My old one I bought in ‘92, and it’s kind of died now – it still works but it’s a bit flaky. We bought this [new synth] to replace it, because it’s been live with us since ‘92. Is the Jupiter-6 the best synth in the world? No, but it’s got a lot of character, and a lot of our old songs rely on it. I’ve tried to replace with things, but it doesn’t quite work.

Orbital – “Lush 3-1” and “Lush 3-2”, featuring Jupiter-6 on the airy lead sound.

What are some of the Jupiter-6 sounds?

[Starts playing lead sound from “Lush 3”] That! I can never get that out of anything else. Not like that.

Orbital – “Impact” live, with the Jupiter-6 sync/crossmod sound.

The other one that I cannot do without is in “Impact” [Starts playing] when you sync it and then crossmod it stays in tune – it would be a terrible noise if you had it synced the other way. I just had my Jupiter-8 modified to sync the right way; Jupiter-8’s sync in the other direction. In this bit it’s kind of like a wavefolder, you know? Crazy sounds that you can’t get anywhere else – very techno-y, kind of clangy.

Orbital – “Belfast”, featuring ascending bubbly arpeggios from the Jupiter-6.

The last thing is in “Belfast” [starts playing], I always need a Roland synth to get that. That’s three of my big sounds.

Phil Hartnoll’s notes for tweaks to the Novation Peak.

What’s the division of labor like between you and Phil when you’re performing live – do you have defined roles, or are you often reaching over each other?

We do have roles – I arrange. I’m in charge of a lot of the synth manipulation around this end [points to left side of the stand]. We keep this and this [points to Novation Peak and Roland TB-303] exclusively for Phil, he plays with them.

Orbital’s TB-303 – yes, this is the original one from “Chime”.

Is that your original 303?

Yeah [laughs] can you tell? It’s not even silver any more, it’s brown, it’s like a lot of our gear. Our 909 is held together with love and tape.

So Phil does those. I leave him in charge of the drums at this end [points to Launch Control on the right], but I kind of use these here [points to left Launch Control iPads, and synths]. You know this [points to middle Launch Control] is our crossover point.

If I’m busy arranging then Phil might lean over and do some more mixing – [the Launch Controls and middle synths] are the grey area between the two of us.

Orbital live, main table, front-facing view – Paul stands to the left, Phil to the right.

I would like to start bringing the 909, but it’s just a box too far at the minute. I will do it, it’s the only thing I miss live – we use it a lot in the studio.

Instead of using generic 909 samples, I’ve meticulously sampled my own 909. I think they all sound different, 909s – I can spot mine.

They say the same thing about 303s – that’s why no one emulator gets it totally right.

That’s interesting, because I haven’t noticed that with 303s. We’ve got two and I can’t tell them apart – but maybe they’re from the same batch?

With 909s, there’s definitely different batches of them that sound different. I think it’s more like, there’s three different sounds to 909s, and I’ve had two of them in the past. When I sample my 909 – I don’t round robin it, I keep it very simple – but it sounds right, because it’s my 909.

I do notice the difference if I plug a real 909 in. They drop out as well – they do weird shit! They just lose a kick every now and then, and you kind of turn around and it goes “no no, I’m still here!” [laughs]

So you’re playing the Prophet-6 and the Virus TI a fair amount.

It’s weird – it’s a strange old synth, I like it. It tends to thin woolly pads and sharp things quite nicely. I use it in some tracks quite distorted, as well – I really use the distortion on it. It cuts through like a guitar.

The horn sounds on “Hoo Hoo Ha Ha” from Monsters Exist, is that a wavetable from the Virus?

That’s actually samples from a session we did for the 2squared album with Vince Clarke. I just cut tiny bits of it, and made a new riff with it.

[Starts playing “Hoo Hoo Ha Ha”, mixing in parts and effects]. One of the things that I really like is this side chain kind of effect. One of the send effects is a big delay, another is a big reverb. But this [points to knob on Launch Control channels] is a sidechain from the kick, but it isn’t sidechaining any of the instruments, it’s just sidechaining the effects return.

What’s playing the “Hoo Hoo Ha Ha” chords?

That’s a lot of people, actually, that I recorded coming out of the pub. I got them all to go “uh”, “hah”, “huh”, and then I made a round robin kind of thing and processed it in Kontakt to make it sort of a robotic constant-pitch thing. And then played chords on it.

As a musician, you’ve got Orbital, you’ve got your solo albums, you’ve got 8:58, you’ve got soundtracks, and a couple years ago you had the album 2squared with Vince Clarke. Is there a difference in the compositional mindset when you’re working on material for different projects?

I’d like to pretend there was but there isn’t. I just go and do my thing, wherever I’m doing it.

Clarke:Hartnoll – “Do A Bong”

There’s a kind of Paul Hartnoll sound signature – like on “Do A Bong” with Vince Clarke, I thought “oh, it’s got Orbital chords”

[Laughs] Yeah! That’s what I said to Vince when we were doing that. He played with these kind of…for want of a genre, “nu disco” kind of things, and he said “what can you do?” I said “I wanna bring some live, sort of wild synth passes” – what I call “stadium house” – to it. You know, that kind of big rave, big chords – with a lead line that’s kind of simple over the top.

Paul next to the Ableton Live set (visual trigger clips to the right), Arturia Matrixbrute, and Jupiter-6.

How does the live set work visually?

[Points to Ableton Live set] There’s some video triggers here. When I hit certain scene changes, it triggers off a run of a certain visual. So we can set up things perfectly in time, and [our VJ] doesn’t have to worry about when we’re going to do drop downs.

A show like no other

Ultimately, I’m left with the same thought I had when I saw them in 2012 in Berlin, or when watching the DVD of highlights from their 90s/00s Glastonbury sets: Orbital put on an incredible show. The technology might change – and the visuals are certainly more engaging and impressive than ever – but at the core, it’s the same gorgeous stadium-sized emotional melodies that have kept audiences enthralled for nearly three decades.

With the release of the excellent Monsters Exist, Orbital are exiting 2018 on a high note – and 2019 sees 30 years since the release of “Chime”. We’ll certainly be keen to see what happens next!

https://orbitalofficial.com/

The post Like a studio onstage: Orbital tells us their live rig synth secrets appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Bastl’s Dark Matter module unleashes the joys of feedback

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 4 Jan 2019 4:01 pm

What would a module behave like if it were built entirely around feedback – say, like one of those “zero-input” all-feedback mixer performances? Bastl Instruments teams up again with Peter Edwards to answer that question. The result: Dark Matter.

Dark Matter lets you add feedback to any signal, whether you want to use that as a bit of color, create rhythmic effects, or go completely wild. And since it is designed with the inspiration of zero-input mixer technique in mind, you can also use it as a signal source – a kind of feedback oscillator. Feedback by definition is about signal routing; Dark Matter runs with that idea and create an instrument around patching and shaping feedback in a modular environment.

It’s a new collaboration between Bastl and Peter Edwards, following their softPop instrument (and Peter’s own long-running Casper Electronics).

There are different kinds of overdrive. You can add sub-octave tones and other colors. There’s a built-in 2-band EQ (so highs and lows get separate control) – and that has overdrive, too.

On the rhythmic side, there’s a built-in envelope follower for ducking and gating and the like.

And there’s tons and tons of I/O and CV control, so this really was designed with a modular environment in mind. (That’s important – there are a number of Eurorack modules that seem like desktop tools that sort of got plunked into a modular case without much forethought; this isn’t that.)

But before we talk specs, creator Peter Edwards – himself an experimental musician as well as inventor – has some philosophical and spiritual things to say about feedback. Those are in the manual too, but let me highlight this passage. We’re “going deeper and deeper into the void” – gotta love those Czech winters, right? (Now turn in your hymnals now to “We Sing Praises of the Dark Shadows of Feedback.”)

So here’s what it all comes down to, the resonating soul of the amplifier and the recklessly over amplified external audio signal battling it out in the feedback thunderdome…

This is why I like to think of audio feedback as sort of the negative space around a sound, like a sonic shadow. A dark counterpart.

Feedback is wonderful. It’s the living, breathing, unpredictable, organic side of electrical sound. That’s not even just to say in the analog domain; as long as you steer clear of digital clipping, feedback has powerful potential in digital, too. It’s one of the reasons to use a modular environment in the first place, whether hardware or software. So I hope in addition to looking at Dark Matter, we dig into this topic generally. (I was just playing with feedback loops in VCV Rack, thanks to some tips from Kent Williams aka Chaircrusher.)

Embrace the darkness, and dive into the void of feedback.

Uh… oh yeah, tech specs.

FEATURES:
-Input VCA with gain and soft clipping
-2 band equaliser with voltage controlled bass and treble boost/overdrive
-Voltage controlled feedback
-External feedback section for making and fine tuning loops through other modules
-Voltage controlled crossfade between input and feedback signals
-Input tracking envelope follower for adding ducking and gating effects
-10 I/O jacks for adding CV and making crazy loops

TECHNICAL DETAILS:
– 13 HP
– PTC fuse and diode protected 10-pin power connector
– 24 mm deep
– power consumption +12V: < 75mA; -12V: <75 mA

More details and online ordering available on Bastl’s Website:

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/dark-matter/

265 EUR excl. TAX from Bastl’s own noise.kitchen and select retailers, available now.

The post Bastl’s Dark Matter module unleashes the joys of feedback appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Resident Advisor shuts down comments; what’s the forum for non-toxic chat?

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 3 Jan 2019 7:28 pm

Resident Advisor announced today it’s shuttering comments on its site, closing on-article commentary on one of the world’s leading venues for electronic music information.

Comments are already closed on the article, so — sorry, toxic commenters, no chance for you to chime in! But many of the comments on Twitter are in the “’bout time” category:

Hateful comments aren’t victimless, and the victims are disproportionately women, minorities, and LGBTQ members of the community. That means shutting down comments could have a major positive impact for those people. And note the link above – the conversation continues elsewhere.

But that raises a question: how do you make online conversation more productive and inclusive and less hurtful? The editorial announcing the change seems to blame comments for being antiquated:

Social media introduced a more broadly accepted way for people to communicate online. Comments sections served an ever-smaller portion of users, not just on RA but across the internet.

That raises a question, however: did social media absorb mainstream conversation, leaving toxic commenters in threads on articles? Or has social media itself inflamed ever-lower standards of interaction? Haven’t social media channels been blamed for exactly the same sort of toxic chatter?

When RA’s own Will Lynch singled out sexism in comments a couple of years ago, it was Facebook, not article comments on RA, were originally the case in point:

Opinion: Misogyny and mob mentality

And that’s just one case; countless others have seen Twitter, comments on Facebook posts, comments on Facebook and YouTube videos. Maybe comments on articles serve few enough readers to warrant turning them off. But toxicity is alive and well on mainstream social media.

RA for their part promise “new ways of fostering community that are more in line with the times and, most importantly, that are welcoming and inclusive to everyone.” For now, we can’t really fault them or credit them, not knowing what they have in mind or how it will work.

In the meantime, there are no shortage of ways of communicating with RA. Part of the challenge of a site today is the sheer magnitude of moderating all those social media channels. But note that all those channels are operated by large corporations, each of which sets the rules for how moderation works.

RA in the same editorial encourage readers to communicate with them on “Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.” For the record, that’s:

Facebook, Inc.: California-based, publicly-traded corporation, 2.2 billion active users (01/18), established 2004.
Google, LLC: California-based, publicly-traded corporation. (YouTube LLC is the California-based subsidiary, established 2005).
Facebook… again.
and Twitter, California-based, publicly-traded corporation, 300+ million active users monthly, established 2006.

I don’t mean to implicate RA here – far from it. I started writing online (and in print) in the early 2000s. RA was established in 2001; CDM in 2004, publishing regularly starting early 2005. You can see the problem from the dates above: YouTube and Twitter didn’t even exist yet. Google had recently gotten into blogging with Blogger. Facebook existed but was still limited to campuses. Now the world has changed. And while this is a topic for a different article, I think it’s fair to implicate these large corporations for worsening the problem, by resisting moderation (especially human moderation), and emphasizing “engagement” in the interest of rapid growth and corporate profits. That “engagement” often translates to turning up noise and down signal.

I’ve certainly made major missteps running CDM (mostly single-handedly – mea culpa). I’ve failed at administering online forums – twice. I’ve had the site overrun with spam – numerous occasions – and even once compromised by a right-wing European group. (That was an interesting day.) I’ve screwed up on major social media sites, too.

Comments will continue here, but we’re fortunate to have built up a community here over 14 years. I know a lot of regular readers personally now. And this site is obviously on a much smaller scale than RA. I’ve stepped in when comments turned ugly. I believe firmly in moderation, and as I hope CDM does expand its community offerings some time in the future, that means designing moderation into it.

In fact, let me pause and say this – thank you. This site got its start partly thanks to what you’ve written in comments – your ideas, your corrections, heck, your copy editing, your constructive criticism, your tips. If anything, I think I owe it to the readers to find new ways of creating online community because you’ve demonstrated what that community can be. And if that’s because this site is small and niche, well, maybe there are some good things about small and niche.

But this is about more than this site. I hope we can make a platform to start to discuss what online community can look like – technologically and culturally. This is surely as much a part of music technology today as a drum machine or a DAW. And it’s also been a place with arguably the least innovation, in a field dominated by those massive transnational information megacorporations that now dominate traffic on the Internet.

I’m glad to see RA comments go. But we all need to come together to create something better – and we can’t count on Silicon Valley to do it for us.

Worth reading:

Opinion: Why we’re closing comments

I welcome your … comments. Still open below. What should future discussion look like? And is there a place for comments on articles at least on smaller sites like this one? (Okay, selection bias there, but sound off!)

Try not to call me or anyone else names. Actually, me, I can take it – just not anyone else. Thanks.

The post Resident Advisor shuts down comments; what’s the forum for non-toxic chat? appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Resident Advisor shuts down comments; what’s the forum for non-toxic chat?

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 3 Jan 2019 7:28 pm

Resident Advisor announced today it’s shuttering comments on its site, closing on-article commentary on one of the world’s leading venues for electronic music information.

Comments are already closed on the article, so — sorry, toxic commenters, no chance for you to chime in! But many of the comments on Twitter are in the “’bout time” category:

Hateful comments aren’t victimless, and the victims are disproportionately women, minorities, and LGBTQ members of the community. That means shutting down comments could have a major positive impact for those people. And note the link above – the conversation continues elsewhere.

But that raises a question: how do you make online conversation more productive and inclusive and less hurtful? The editorial announcing the change seems to blame comments for being antiquated:

Social media introduced a more broadly accepted way for people to communicate online. Comments sections served an ever-smaller portion of users, not just on RA but across the internet.

That raises a question, however: did social media absorb mainstream conversation, leaving toxic commenters in threads on articles? Or has social media itself inflamed ever-lower standards of interaction? Haven’t social media channels been blamed for exactly the same sort of toxic chatter?

When RA’s own Will Lynch singled out sexism in comments a couple of years ago, it was Facebook, not article comments on RA, were originally the case in point:

Opinion: Misogyny and mob mentality

And that’s just one case; countless others have seen Twitter, comments on Facebook posts, comments on Facebook and YouTube videos. Maybe comments on articles serve few enough readers to warrant turning them off. But toxicity is alive and well on mainstream social media.

RA for their part promise “new ways of fostering community that are more in line with the times and, most importantly, that are welcoming and inclusive to everyone.” For now, we can’t really fault them or credit them, not knowing what they have in mind or how it will work.

In the meantime, there are no shortage of ways of communicating with RA. Part of the challenge of a site today is the sheer magnitude of moderating all those social media channels. But note that all those channels are operated by large corporations, each of which sets the rules for how moderation works.

RA in the same editorial encourage readers to communicate with them on “Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.” For the record, that’s:

Facebook, Inc.: California-based, publicly-traded corporation, 2.2 billion active users (01/18), established 2004.
Google, LLC: California-based, publicly-traded corporation. (YouTube LLC is the California-based subsidiary, established 2005).
Facebook… again.
and Twitter, California-based, publicly-traded corporation, 300+ million active users monthly, established 2006.

I don’t mean to implicate RA here – far from it. I started writing online (and in print) in the early 2000s. RA was established in 2001; CDM in 2004, publishing regularly starting early 2005. You can see the problem from the dates above: YouTube and Twitter didn’t even exist yet. Google had recently gotten into blogging with Blogger. Facebook existed but was still limited to campuses. Now the world has changed. And while this is a topic for a different article, I think it’s fair to implicate these large corporations for worsening the problem, by resisting moderation (especially human moderation), and emphasizing “engagement” in the interest of rapid growth and corporate profits. That “engagement” often translates to turning up noise and down signal.

I’ve certainly made major missteps running CDM (mostly single-handedly – mea culpa). I’ve failed at administering online forums – twice. I’ve had the site overrun with spam – numerous occasions – and even once compromised by a right-wing European group. (That was an interesting day.) I’ve screwed up on major social media sites, too.

Comments will continue here, but we’re fortunate to have built up a community here over 14 years. I know a lot of regular readers personally now. And this site is obviously on a much smaller scale than RA. I’ve stepped in when comments turned ugly. I believe firmly in moderation, and as I hope CDM does expand its community offerings some time in the future, that means designing moderation into it.

In fact, let me pause and say this – thank you. This site got its start partly thanks to what you’ve written in comments – your ideas, your corrections, heck, your copy editing, your constructive criticism, your tips. If anything, I think I owe it to the readers to find new ways of creating online community because you’ve demonstrated what that community can be. And if that’s because this site is small and niche, well, maybe there are some good things about small and niche.

But this is about more than this site. I hope we can make a platform to start to discuss what online community can look like – technologically and culturally. This is surely as much a part of music technology today as a drum machine or a DAW. And it’s also been a place with arguably the least innovation, in a field dominated by those massive transnational information megacorporations that now dominate traffic on the Internet.

I’m glad to see RA comments go. But we all need to come together to create something better – and we can’t count on Silicon Valley to do it for us.

Worth reading:

Opinion: Why we’re closing comments

I welcome your … comments. Still open below. What should future discussion look like? And is there a place for comments on articles at least on smaller sites like this one? (Okay, selection bias there, but sound off!)

Try not to call me or anyone else names. Actually, me, I can take it – just not anyone else. Thanks.

The post Resident Advisor shuts down comments; what’s the forum for non-toxic chat? appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

What could make APC Live, MPC cool: Akai’s new software direction

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 2 Jan 2019 11:01 pm

Akai tipped their hand late last year that they were moving more toward live performance. With APC Live hardware leaked and in the wild, maybe it’s time to take another look. MPC software improvements might interest you with or without new hardware.

MPC 2.3 software dropped mid-November. We missed talking about it at the time. But now that we’re (reasonably certain, unofficially) that Akai is releasing new hardware, it puts this update in a new light. Background on that:

APC as standalone hardware? Leaked Akai APC Live

Whether or not the leaked APC Live hardware appeals to you, Akai are clearly moving their software in some new directions – which is relevant whatever hardware you choose. We don’t yet know if the MPC Live hardware will get access to the APC Live’s Matrix Mode, but it seems a reasonable bet some if not all of the APC Live features are bound for MPC Live, too.

And MPC 2.3 added major new live performance features, as well as significant internal synths, to that standalone package. Having that built in means you get it even without a computer.

New in 2.3:

Three synths:

  • A vintage-style, modeled analog polysynth
  • A bass synth
  • A tweakable, physically modeled electric piano

Tubesynth – an analog poly.

Electric’s physically-modeled keys.

Electric inside the MPC Live environment.

As with NI’s Maschine, each of those can be played from chords and scales with the pads mode. But Maschine requires a laptop, of course – MPC Live doesn’t.

A new arpeggiator, with four modes of operation, ranging from traditional vintage-style arp to more modern, advanced pattern playback

And there’s an “auto-sampler.”

That auto-sampler looks even more relevant when you see the APC Live. On MPC Live (and by extension APC Live), you can sample external synths, sample VST plug-ins, and even capture outboard CV patches.

Of course, this is a big deal for live performance. Plug-ins won’t work in standalone mode – and can be CPU hogs, anyway – so you can conveniently capture what you’re doing. Got some big, valuable vintage gear or a modular setup you don’t to take to the gig? Same deal. And then this box gives you the thing modular instruments don’t do terribly well – saving and recalling settings – since you can record and restore those via the control voltage I/O (also found on that new APC Live). The auto-sampler is an all-in-one solution for making your performances more portable.

Full details of the 2.3 update – though I expect we’ve got even more new stuff around the corner:

http://www.akaipro.com/pages/mpc-2.3-desktop-software-and-firmware-update

With or without the APC Live, you get the picture. While Ableton and Native Instruments focus on studio production and leave you dependent on the computer, Akai’s angle is creating an integrated package you can play live with – like, onstage.

Sure enough, Akai have been picking up large acts to their MPC Live solution, too – John Mayer, Metallica, and Chvrches all got named dropped. Of those, let’s check out Chvrches – 18 minutes in, the MPC Live gets showcased nicely:

It makes sense Akai would come to rely on its own software. When Akai and Novation released their first controllers for Ableton Live, Ableton had no hardware of their own, which changed with Push. But of course even the first APC invoked the legendary MPC legacy – and Akai has for years been working on bringing desktop software functionality to the MPC name. So, while some of us (me included) first suspected a standalone APC Live might mean a collaboration with Ableton, it does make more sense that it’s a fully independent Akai-made, MPC-style tool.

It also makes sense that this means, for now, more internal functionality. (The manual reference to “plugins” in the APC Live manual that leaked probably means those internal instruments and effects.) That has more predictability as far as resource consumption, and means avoiding the licensing issues necessary and the like to run plug-ins in embedded Linux. This could change, by the way – Propellerhead’s Rack Extensions format now is easily portable to ARM processors, for example – but that’s another story. As far as VST, AU, and AAX, portability to embedded hardware is still problematic.

The upshot of this, though, is that InMusic at least has a strategy for hardware that functions on its own – not just as a couple of one-off MPC pieces, but in terms of integrated hardware/software development across a full product line. Native Instruments, Ableton, and others might be working on something like that that lets you untether from the computer, but InMusic is shipping now, and they aren’t.

Now the question is whether InMusic can capitalize on its MPC legacy and the affection for the MPC and APC brands and workflows – and get people to switch from other solutions.

The post What could make APC Live, MPC cool: Akai’s new software direction appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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