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Making Music Tools Free in Pd, from Hacking to Playing: Photos and Impressions, Amsterdam Thursday

Monday, March 3rd, 2014
Thumb piano + Pd.

Thumb piano + Pd.

Music technology: old meets new.

Music technology: old meets new.

There is something phenomenal happening in music technology right now. We usually write about the developments in the tools themselves. But if you want to see new things happening, it’s often more about the spread of knowledge around those tools.

Watching it evolve is astounding. Focus only on the tools, and the landscape hasn’t changed much in recent years. But look at the people using them, and it’s a different story. More and more diverse audiences of artists are picking up the skills to use these inventions, and they bring a wider range of aesthetics and ideas to how they’re used.

I’m fortunate to get to play even a small part in that. And that means sometimes going from being a disembodied voice on the Web to getting in a room with people to teach, experiment, and trade ideas. There’s great education happening around commercial tools, but I especially like starting people with Pure Data and Processing because they are free, and there’s a level playing field. People can show up with any laptop (or even a netbook), any OS, and get to work. (And they can still apply the same skills to other tools – working in Pd and Max for Live, for instance – if they so choose.)

We tried a new format last year at an event in collaboration with Berlin’s Mindpirates. (They’re the same folks who made this free Red Bull Music Academy film making the rounds now.) The goal: go from learning to experimental hacking to playing. And I was stunned by the results, as vocalists and VJs, instrumentalists and coders all came from radically different skill levels to jam together by the third day.

Next stop, Netherlands Thursday: If you’re near Amsterdam this week, registration is still open for a more compressed workshop hosted by Fiber Festival and 5 Days Off, as part of the programming for an event I’m inspired by entitled “Coding the Club”:

THE ENCODED GROOVE: FREE SOUNDMAKERS WITH PURE DATA

I hope you can make it, if you’re in the Netherlands – advance registration is required (the earlier, the better, so we can plan).

But I also want to share the outcome of our past workshop. Czech-born sound artist and journalist Zuzana Friday Prikrylova was there as a participant, and I asked her to write a frank appraisal of what it was like learning as a beginner. I’m actually blushing a bit as it focuses on me, but my aim is actually a bit different – I’m curious to hear what the teaching and learning experience with something like Pd has been for other readers.

Friday gives us some thoughts and a nice photo essay that paints a portrait of how things went. Here she is. -Peter Kirn

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Create Digital Music & Mindpirates: Laptops on Acid workshop
23rd – 25th May 2013, Berlin

When I got a chance to attend the workshop Laptops on Acid organized by Peter Kirn together with the arts collective Mindpirates, I got very excited. The program promised to teach us about making our own free DIY tools for beats and visuals in two programs: Pure Data (Pd) and Processing.

The process of exploring and applying what we learned was divided into three components: LEARN, which took place on Thursday and partly on Friday and provided insight into both programs; HACK (Friday and Saturday), when we used the acquired knowledge by trying our own projects (including connecting our laptops to devices we brought like MIDI keyboards or instruments), and PLAY – an open jam on Saturday, where we were free to play around together.

The whole workshop took place in the industrial spaces of Mindpirates’ Projektraum and Vereinsheim, located near Schlesisches Tor, where this artistic collective organizes exhibitions, festivals, music events, and other projects. Thanks to the fact that the building used to be a bakery, its rooms abound with factory-like yet comfortable genius loci and provided great space for our work. And when it got too dark for our strained eyes, ubiquitous candles helped us. Mindpirates also provided vegan dinners and snacks every evening, so the participants could fully concentrate on working.

Apart from me, Peter, and the organizer hosting on behalf of Mindpirates, Elisabeth, there were 22 participants. Each one of us had different backgrounds and experience. Some had previous experience with building DIY synths Arduino and Pd – there was a university lecturer, a jam organiser, and a programmer from SoundCloud. Some had no previous experience in music (one VJ travelled all the way from Helsinki), or even no previous experience with music, visual art, or programming at all! And still each one of us has found his/ her place there.

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At the beginning, there was tabula rasa. And by that I don’t only mean the blank-white project window of Pd, which was waiting for me to be filled with patches. I also mean myself and my previous experience with Pd, Processing, or any patching program at all – there was none. The important sentence for me in description of the event actually was “No previous coding background required.” Therefore, I used myself as a guinea pig to test the truth of this claim. And the result is quite pleasing!

With limited time and so much to teach, Peter Kirn didn’t lose time by giving us a long theoretical lecture about patching or Pure Data on Thursday, but tossed us directly into open water and gave us a hand with learning how to swim. So after a brief but enticing introduction, during which he named all the different (musical and visual) instruments we can actually build in Pd – from a vocoder to a video mixer – we were confronted with creating itself and started our hands-on lesson.

At first, we learned the most-used objects in Pd, their functions and shortcuts, as well as basic functions and settings of Pd itself (connecting patches, switching modes, etc.). Peter also compared Pd and Processing in terms of how they work. The first thing we created was a simple oscillator, which sounded like an airplane or music experiments from the 50s, and, as most of the other stuff we built, worked on the basis of principles of MIDI data flow. We continued building a synthesizer with envelopes, and later on, Peter continued explaining different types of signal, including data rate (MIDI) and audio rate (for audio signal) and how to normalize ranges for each (0-127 for MIDI, 0-1 for audio signal and certain data types). Later, we learned basic information about Processing, from drawing basic geometry to moving it around the screen and adding color. Eventually, Peter connected Pd with Processing, so the picture and sound could interact.

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On Friday, everybody was free to bring external devices for the HACK part of the workshop. Because most of the participants brought devices based on MIDI (plus some more unusual additions like an electric contrabass), he focused on explaining how to connect MIDI devices to Pd and create those patch structures, which would enable to manipulate and play the instruments and devices via Pd.

Later on, we divided into two groups: one focused on playing around with MIDI control as the other, including me, deepened our knowledge in patch construction, creating sequencers and other instruments. We also learned how to “cheat” by borrowing bits and pieces from the free and open source rjlib library, using this to quickly create effects for a guitar or a microphone. At the end of the evening, Peter showed us more possibilities of manipulating images in Processing, so a picture or a video texture could be fragmented live.

On a rainy Saturday, we met at 3 pm to continue playing around and discovering possibilities in our patches and instruments, eventually leading to an open jam in the Vereinsheim space. Most of the participants played improvised music and used the skills they learned during the three days, experimented with instruments, reacted to each other and created ambient and experimental potpourri of soundscapes.

Musical performance were accompanied by visual performances made by Peter Kirn in Processing, transforming from impressive urban sceneries to abstract minimalistic patterns and lines. I stayed aside though, and just played a bit of the piano for a while – not only because my unorganized mind forgot to borrow a cable to connect a microphone with my laptop, but mostly because improvised singing in the constantly changing flow of music would require too much creative concentration, which I regrettably lacked after the 3-day marathon. So I just let my mind get carried away in my colleagues’ music performances, collecting the whole experience from Thursday to Friday in my head.

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During the workshop I wrote a bunch of notes, some of them relating to the creation process, some of them describing the workshop in general because of the report; therefore, it was not that difficult for me to overlook something important and then ask about it again. But Peter was patient enough to answer our questions and repeat the useful answers out loud for the others.

Otherwise, his lecture style was very enthusiastic, it flowed smoothly and fast like a river stream, so from time to time it was a bit difficult for us to catch up. On the other hand, not only that he could explain practically everything in a very understandable way using various metaphors, but also inserts a number of killing jokes and funny comments. So listening to him was therefore both interesting and amusing at the same time.

I’m looking forward to explore the possibilities of Pd at home at my own pace, and although I think that the previous knowledge or programming is helpful and sometimes I got lost in all those ones and zeros (or ones and one hundred-twenty-sevens to be precise), this three-day long trip to Patchingland taught me, and each one of us, a lot.

Thanks to it, I got the basic insight of the functions of Pure Data and principles of patching in general, which opens the door to countless possibilities in music making (with the help of websites recommended at the end of the workshop). I also learned how to build different patches together to create a synthesizer and effects for analog instruments or microphone. And finally, it was a lot of fun and a cool occasion to meet people from all the different fields of music, art and programming. I can’t think of many better ways of how to spend a weekend in cold and rainy Berlin.

Photos: Zuzana Friday Prikrylova and Peter Kirn.

Weather is warm and sunny for Amsterdam this week, but we’ll still have fun. -PK

The post Making Music Tools Free in Pd, from Hacking to Playing: Photos and Impressions, Amsterdam Thursday appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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Elektron Analog Rytm Drum Machine: Specs, Pricing, Photos

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Analog-Rytm-By-Elektron-Side-Front-Angle-View-2

It may lack every feature of the Octatrack or the digital drum workflows of Machinedrum. (At least that’s what some of you have told us – attached to your gear, perhaps?) But I’m betting for many, Analog Rytm’s combination of dedicated analog architecture and sample support is attracting some interest as a balanced solution for hardware drum machine design.

And now we know roughly when we’re getting it. Analog Rytm is due Q1 2014, with “preliminary” price at US$ 1549/€1489.

And we know a bit more about the architecture.

The sample engine is “customizable” and “highly bendable” and can be layered with analog sounds.

There are eight digitally-controlled analog voices, with dedicated circuit designs for classes of sounds.

And for those of you complaining that these boxes just produce the same music over and over again, Elektron promises you can push “rhythms to extremes” (whatever that means). There’s also some interesting timbral potential here, with an analog multimode filter and analog distortion circuit per-voice, plus dedicated analog compressor and distortion on the master voice and effects sends.

Specs:
8 drum voices, each with: Specialized analog percussion sound generator, sample playback, analog multimode filter and analog distortion.
12 velocity & pressure sensitive pads
Analog master compressor & distortion
Expressive FX section
World class Elektron step sequencer
Chromatic, Performance, and Scene modes
Performance oriented beat control
Individual voice outputs

Let’s look at pictures, then. Click to embiggen.

Analog-Rytm-By-Elektron-Side-Front-Angle-View-1 2

Analog-Rytm-By-Elektron-Front-Angle-View

Analog-Rytm-By-Elektron-Back-Angle-View

Analog-Keys-By-Elektron-Back-View

Analog-Rytm-By-Elektron-Top-View

http://www.elektron.se/products/analog-rytm

The post Elektron Analog Rytm Drum Machine: Specs, Pricing, Photos appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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Minifooger, Affordable Analog For Your Feet: Details, Photos, Video

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
A family of affordable all-analog stompboxes should appeal to guitarists and bass players and ... sort of everyone.

A family of affordable all-analog stompboxes should appeal to guitarists and bass players and … sort of everyone.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never witnessed a hotcake sale. I can’t say how “selling like hotcakes” goes down.

Now we’re seeing more details of the affordable analog stompboxes from Moog. Looking like the ideal stomp effects for both musicians on a budget and the guitarist/bass player, these Minifoogers should sell as fast as hotc– well, as Minifoogers.

What they have in common:

  • Analog signal path, with “true bypass” (so when they’re off, they’re off)
  • Aluminum enclosures
  • Optional battery power
  • Single expression pedal input for hands-free control (badly missing on many other nice analog effects)
  • Control voltage input, if you like, via that expression in
  • Moog-y sound design features

As we reported before, you get a number of choices here in flavors, including an exceptionally-interesting Drive effect and some classic Moog effects. Since we summarized these before, here are the full Moog PR descriptions:

Drive_Front

The MF Drive is a filter-based overdrive pedal employing a Moog Ladder Filter, boutique FET amplifiers, and OTAs in its drive section making it highly reactive to picking dynamics. The panel features a bi-polar tone control and sweepable filter that work dynamically with input gain to offer each player unique and customizable sounds that retain the core timbre of their instrument. A filter Peak switch shifts harmonic content to the filter’s cutoff position, adding new tonal creation and dirty wah performance possibilities not found in other drive pedals. MSRP: $ 179.

Boost_Front

The MF Boost is a selectable topology boost pedal that allows the player to switch be-tween an “articulate VCA” signal path and a “colored OTA” signal path. Each is tailored to deliver boutique amplifier sound and responsiveness from any guitar/amplifier combina-tion. The design also imparts natural compression to an input signal, which brings out note articulation and significantly increases the performance of other effects pedals. When paired with an expression pedal, the MF Boost can be used as a tone enhancing volume pedal, sweepable-gain boost pedal, and VCA. The expression pedal input also provides access to higher gain values not available on the panel. MSRP: $ 149

DELAY_Front

The MF Delay features 35mS-700mS of completely analog delay time. At shorter set-tings, repeats are fast and bright for creating classic slap-back and plate sounds. At me-dium and long settings the repeats become darker and naturally trail into reverb-like state. A Drive circuit allows the player to adjust the tone and feel of the MF Delay as well as overdrive the Bucket Brigade Delay line, and the input of a guitar amplifier for bigger sound and feel. Also, the expression pedal input is switchable between feedback for ex-pressive swells and delay time for tape delay and chorus/flange effects.
MSRP: $ 209.

Ring_Front

The MF Ring is an analog ring modulator that is based on the world’s best selling Ring Mod, the Moogerfooger MF-102. Its refined frequency range and tone voicing circuit add new-musical elements to ring modification, making it easy to dial in everything from oc-taves and choral dissonance to harmonic undertones and synthesized lead lines. The expression pedal input provides hands-free control of the Freq parameter for sound sweeps, pitch shifting effects, and playing between two scales on the fly. MSRP: $ 159

Trem_Front

The MF Trem is an analog tremolo pedal designed around a balanced modulator and Sub Audio VCO. This design creates a wide range of effects that are based on phase cancellation and addition. Players can create classic optical tremolo, hard tremolo, rotary effects and more that react dynamically to harmonic content. A variable Shape control interacts with Tone and Mix to craft subtle swells and gallops to rhythmic percussive, and swirling effects. When pushed, the MF Trem can also approach the beginnings of phas-ing and chorus. The expression pedal input adds control of the Speed parameter for hands-free swells and rotary effects. MSRP: $ 189

“Tremolo” also describes what happens to my credit card looking at these.

It is really nice to see Moog-style effects in a more affordable, accessible box, in units that appear to retain the maker’s sonic character and versatility.

The units ship this month.

If you have questions for Moog, let us know and we can pass them along. (The most frequently-asked question was about CV, so nice to see that there, but let us know if you’ve got any other queries.)

minifooger.com

Video

Passion Pit:

…and Queens of The Stone Age guitarist, Troy Van Leeuwen:

Ooh, careful, though, Moog, these are calling out for a “shreds video” variation. ;)

NOTICE – We seem to be having an issue with comments via Disqus. Please go ahead and add your comments; they should sync eventually, and they are showing up on our side. They’re just not appearing right away. We’re not trying to block you. Investigating…

The post Minifooger, Affordable Analog For Your Feet: Details, Photos, Video appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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A Brilliant 199€ Hardware Sequencer with Jog Wheel: MTRX-8 Preview [Photos, Video, Interview]

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

MTRX01

Sleek and black, sporting a high-resolution jog wheel, the MTRX-8 is a futuristic sequencer the likes of which you probably haven’t seen in hardware before. Even though it’s the product of a boutique DIY maker – France’s Fyrd Instruments, aka designer Julien Fayard – it’s eschews the usual homebrewed, retro aesthetics. And it’s not expensive, either; the launch price has been lowered to 199€ based on early demand.

It’s a MIDI sequencer, it’s a drum sequencer, it’s a performance-geared machine with quick access to presets, and it’s covered with quick access controls rather than confusing menus.

At last, it’s sequencer hardware that promises to supplant your computer, at a price that’s within reach.

And that’s just how it works out of the box. It’s hackable, too, with open source code inside, and bi-directional control of every last light. That could allow the sort of patch community that has embraced devices like the monome.

So, we naturally wanted to know more. And Julien has given us access to additional high-resolution images, and a long set of thoughts about how this design process came about. It’s something to fill the time until the September 10 release.

First, let’s talk specs.

The hardware:

  • Fourteen buttons
  • 2 banks of 8 knobs
  • 128 super-bright LEDs, across LED rings (for feedback), with different display modes for the rings
  • One high-res optical encoder (curious about this, having had conversations with monome’s Brian Crabtree about how tough it is – see the exceptional encoders on the monome arc)
  • LCD display
  • MIDI DIN (in/out) connectivity, plus USB
  • Black acrylic, glossy like the finish of a piano, with wood

The sequencer:

  • Eight steps
  • Layers for pitch, velocity, duration, and octave
  • Speed and loop control
  • Drum sequencer with “60k patterns” across five parts (kick, snare, hihats (open/close) and percussion)
  • Drum roll rotary for each part
  • Random, swing, hard/soft hit and velocity controls for drums

Oh, yes, and everything, including those LED rings, is MIDI mapped and configurable. There are preset mappings for several instruments: CDM’s own MeeBlip, the other current open source synth offering, the deep Mutable Instruments Shruthi, plus KORG’s new volca series (beats/bass/keys) and the Dave Smith Mopho. (That’s a nice selection of very affordable instruments – and you could put together a couple of synths and this sequencer for less than the price of a MacBook Air.)

And then there are the sophisticated presets and sync modes. You can save and recall presets between sessions, and store separate presets for the dedicated step sequencer, drum sequencer, and knobs controls, in four slots each. Then you can “launch presets like clips in Ableton Live,” for additional live performance options.

In the sync corner, Fyrd promises tight (<2 ms) timings and reliable signals – meaning you might want to lock your instance of Ableton to this – in addition to conventional master/slave modes. And you can address each individual LED and display, programming them with MIDI, thanks to custom firmware.

There’s even a Max patch inspired by the work on monome arc. So, this promises to be a very open-ended box for those who like the hardware setup.

This isn’t the first Fyrd creation we’ve seen; see our coverage of the MCP, which can be seen as spiritual successor to this sequencer in some sense:
MIDI Control Platform: One Open Box, Any Notes, Harmonies, and Rhythms [Gallery]

Julien explains in great detail the thinking behind the project and how the implementation works:

It started a long time ago, as we wanted to create a bank of encoders a la [the Behringer] BCR2000 [rotary controller]. Our goal was to have a lot of high-quality controls without having to raise the price too much. We thought we could achieve that by replacing the costly encoders with standard push buttons, putting just one very high-precision optical encoder and addding LED rings to each of our buttons. The idea was simple: a button acts as an encoder when you pushed it, and data from the encoder movement are integrated separately for each button.

After some experimentation came the brilliant idea that buttons can also be used as buttons! :D So we had encoders, buttons, and LED feedback, and making a “simple” bank of knobs with all this hardware was a little deceptive. I have a lot of friends who bought the Meeblip, the Shruthi and alike and almost never used them because:
1) they are not keyboardists
2) they can’t read or write music and don’t know what to play in front of a synth
3) they don’t want to buy a MIDI interface and work with a computer (because they hate computers, because they are more hardware people, because… don’t ask me, I just can’t understand!)

So we decided to use all these controls we had to make a hardware sequencer. By this time, the MTRX-8 was a kind of hardware sequencer with a knobs bank. We thought this was great because you can control your synth sounds with knobs and use the sequencer to “play” them, a kind of “all-in-one” solution to use your synth and all its features. To push a little further the idea of an “all-in-one” solution to make music, we decided to add a second sequencer for drums: with drums, sequencer and some knobs, you have everything you need to start making music right away.

MTRX04

MTRX05

MTRX02

After that, we’ve just worked on the code and on the design of the device. At first we used 3mm through-hole LEDs but it looked ugly, so we decided to use SMD LEDs. Add some acrylic magic and, as you can see, the result is pretty awesome for an affordable boutique controller!

Working on the code, I had so many ideas, I needed to do some tests first. We first tried to program a kind of MIDI looper, but it takes a lot of space in the code and wasn’t so fun to use. After that, I designed a kind of bass+chord generator à la [Fyrd's own] Harmonic MIDI Generator, but with this kind of things you have to choose between narrowing the possibilities to keep it fun to use or create a wide range of possibilities and let the user tweak it a lot before it sounds good. Making a “classic” step-sequencer was the best idea for instant fun, so we kept that one.

For the drum sequencer, the basic ideas were there rapidly, but we kept refining the controls over and over again. Add randomization, add swing, add velocity controls, differentiate between hard and soft hits on our patterns, add more velocity controls (for soft and hard hits), add rolls buttons to create fills or tension in the drum track, add a different swing for each drum instruments…

We also put an innovative preset system with 3 slot types: sequencer, drum, and knobs. You can save your melodies, your drum patterns, and your knob positions separately. More importantly, you can recall them separately and create new combinations. Really fun to use!

One last thing we had to face during the development of the MTRX-8 was the inaccuracy of MIDI sync with DAWs, at least some of them (hum hum… Ableton Live for instance ;D) When we put some sync test on our device using [Windows utility] MIDI-OX for example, everything went good, with an accuracy of 1-2ms and almost no drift or jitter. On the contrary, we tested things in Ableton Live and results were awful, with Live acting as a Master or a Slave. I just couldn’t say to myself: “I’ve done a good job, that’s not my problem,” because users would try to sync the MTRX-8 with their DAW and they wouldn’t have great results. It would ruin all the ease of use we tried to put in the MTRX-8.

So I worked on a solution and came out with something I call the Fyrd Instruments Lock System. It works a bit like old tape sync. You have a clip in Ableton Live (the same thing applies to other DAW) that plays an ascending sequence of notes on 1 bar. You send this sequence of notes to MIDI channel 16 on the MTRX-8 and they’re interpreted as some sort of MIDI clock signal. There are two mains advantage with this method:

1) as each note in the sequence is different, the MTRX-8 can miss some notes without creating any drift. It’s like the better of MTC and MIDI clock worlds.
2) as Live seems to send out MIDI notes better than MIDI clock messages, the sync is rock solid and tight.
Problem solved! :D Ed.: I was going to say that that doesn’t make sense, but it does – you have significantly less data density. Using notes in this way actually makes a lot of sense with sync; we can partly blame MIDI’s implementation of sync, as it tends not to be the solution people want for the things they’re doing nowadays. -PK

The last thing I want to tell you about the making of the MTRX-8 concerns its openness. Of course, the code of the MTRX-8 will be published and open-source. But we wanted more.

The LED rings around the buttons, the high-res optical encoder … this kind of combination of hardware is rather new and we take a real pleasure to create an interface for it. We would love to see what people can make with this, as we just can’t have all the good ideas about an interface or adapt an interface to each specific need. So we made a “special” firmware for the MTRX-8 (easily loadable via USB, like modules for the MCP) that gives user a total control on the hardware. You can read each button press, each encoder movement; you can set each LED, each character on the LCD screen, and all that just by sending or receiving MIDI messages. You receive Notes On when a button is pushed, CC messages when the encoder is moved. By sending CC messages you can access each LED individually or easily use some pre-configured LED ring mode (something like “fill the LED ring” mapping for values between 0-127). The same goes on for each LCD character.

As an example/template and for testing purposes, we made a Max patch using these features. It allows you to control 4 MIDI wheels, with speed, velocity and duration controls. It’s largely inspired by the work of Stretta on the [monome] arc (Electric Dharma Wheels) and a little by the work of MengQi [also for monome] called Autoharp.

By pressing a button and turning the encoder, you start spinning a LED around this button. Each time the lighted LED hits the bottom of the button, it plays a notes (coming from a kind of harmonic sequencer on the Max patch). When the LED spins clockwise, the notes are played at high octaves, whereas when it spins anticlockwise, the notes are played at lower octaves. Pressing button 1 and a MIDI wheel resets its phase. Pressing button 2 and turning the encoder clockwise will accelerate all the MIDI wheels until they’ve reached the same speed as the faster one. Turning the encoder anticlockwise slows down the MIDI wheels until they’ve reached the same speed as the slowest one. Pressing the button 3 and a MIDI wheel stops instantly this MIDI wheel. This patch can’t make acid bass lines but it is very fun to use! I’ve planned to make a video of this in use this weekend…

Thanks, Julien.

CDM will have a test unit soon; we really look forward to sharing some hands-on impressions of this one.

www.fyrd-instruments.com

The post A Brilliant 199€ Hardware Sequencer with Jog Wheel: MTRX-8 Preview [Photos, Video, Interview] appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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Nord Drum 2, Playable Drum Synth, Gets More Sound Options, Nord Pad Companion [Photos]

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Nord Drum 2 - Nord Pad

Swedish maker Nord may be known for keyboards, and justly so, but their drum products are perhaps even more distinctive. If it seems like Nord only just released something called “Nord Drum,” it’s true. But they’re already back with a sequel, and Nord Pad as an accessory. The latter’s compact trigger design could appeal to producers and musicians who don’t have room for a whole kit.

The original Nord Drum was a four-channel “modeling” virtual analog synth. The new model is six channels, and has more sound options. As before, you can trigger synthesized drum sounds from conventional electronic pads or (more fun) a drum kit. Now, in case you want that trigger to say “Nord” on it, there’s also an appealing Nord Pad companion, too.

More importantly, you get something that behaves more like you’d expect of a synth – real MIDI CC control and stereo outputs, features that held back the first generation.

So now, for not a lot of money, you get a box capable both of electronic percussion and more realistic sounds. I have to say, it’s one of the more-fun percussion boxes out there of any kind. (Nord Drumcomputer, anyone? I suppose you could rig your own.)

Oh, and you can use those triggers to convert to MIDI, in case this wasn’t already useful enough.

Specs:

6-channel drum synthesizer
Resonance modeling, Subtractive- and FM-synthesis
6 generic trigger inputs
Dedicated Nord Pad input with support for separate Kick trigger/pad.
MIDI in/out with CC control
Stereo output, with pan control
Headphones output

€ 499 buys you a Nord Drum 2; Nord Pad is € 259. Shipping in May, but shown at Musikmesse; we’ll pay them a visit.

No website up yet; still the old Nord Drum site and sound samples.

nordpad

norddrum2


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Tested: MS-20 Mini versus Original MS-20, in the Studio [Discussion, Audio, Photos]

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

ms20studio06

MS-20 mini, on the left, next to the original, on the right. Photos: Peter Kirn and Benjamin Weiss for CDM and DE:BUG.

It’s the news collectors of vintage synths on eBay probably didn’t want to hear. For $ 599, Korg has made a new MS-20 that the company says has “perfectly reproduced its circuitry” for an “authentic” sound.

You can read our full review of the MS-20 mini, and watch a video, whether or not you’ve ever used the original. But if you are curious how a new MS-20 mini stacks up against the vintage MS-20, we hauled both into the studio to try them out.

cdmdebugAnd as the 1980 model met the exclusive 2013 review unit, CDM met Berlin-based, German-language electronic music publication DE:BUG. Benjamin Weiss of that publication (and Engadget.de) spent the afternoon testing with me and joins us for his thoughts. Have a listen – and yes, we do enjoy talking about this stuff, so you get our genuine, unscripted thoughts.

In the examples that include both the MS-20 and the MS-20 mini, the order is as follows:

Both together (if applicable), then our recently-restored 1980-vintage MS-20, then the new mini.

Now that Car Talk is off the air in the USA, enjoy Sine & Square:

(I should add, Benjamin is also producer Nerk, and half of the legendary Tok Tok, on Kompakt, Klang, V-Records. Like the MS-20 mini, I’m the upstart newcomer, and relatively smaller in physical size. However, both Benjamin and I do MIDI.)

The verdict: the original is … worse, actually. (And that’s even before you get to its high cost, bigger size, and lack of MIDI.) Sorry, purists; feel free to throw things at me.

A/B tests are actually rather hard to hear as even the toughest tests we could produce got astoundingly-similar results. The differences clearly came from the age of the vintage model. One of the oscillators was gradually but constantly drifting out of tune and the keyboard felt fairly rough. And this is on a model in very good internal condition, coming off a recent service. I did find that setting knobs in identical positions on envelopes and other parameters produced slightly different results, but I would again attribute this to age and other variations; if you ignored the exact knob position and listened to the sound, matching the two was easy.

In fact, I even tried two-handed jams on the mini and original model, and got them paired closely enough to produce two-note polyphony. (Those were — uh, too embarrassing to release. It turns out I’m not actually Wendy Carlos, after all. Bach does sound good on the Korgs, however.)

Mostly, what both MS-20 mini and MS-20 demonstrated was how distinctive this design is – in old and new iterations. The filter sounds simply spectacular, as heard recently in Korg’s monotron and monotribe. The instrument can produce floor-rattling-good bass, thick, rich sounds, and wild, experimental timbres. Any difference between the mini and original MS-20 is incidental, but the difference between the MS-20 and other synths is something else. It’s still a really terrific instrument.

Of course, Korg will now probably have to move on, having released the MS-20 or its filter in desktop plug-ins, on Nintendo DS, on iPad, in a circuit diagram released publicly, in multiple monotrons, and in the monotribe. And so, we’ll wait for an SQ-10 sequencer. (Seriously, Korg; think about it.)

Enjoy a couple of those entries, plus the MS-20 mini and original, in images. (Sorry – Berlin is … dark.)

ms20studio10

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Keys and Knobs and Such, New Gear, in Photos: Notes and Gallery from NAMM Day 1

Friday, January 25th, 2013

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From the Prophet 12 to Korg’s MS-20 Mini (and King Korg – more on that soon), iConnectMIDI interfaces for your iPad to Arturia ultra-portable keyboards, from analog to digital, from big releases to oddities, CDM has some roving reporters out on the floor of America’s biggest musical instrument trade show, NAMM.

James Grahame, principal engineer behind the MeeBlip, kicks things off. Looking through his photos is a bit like seeing the show through his eyes.

The flagship keyboards you’ve heard of (though Moog-branded water is a surprise). Some of the other good news: the iConnectMIDI4 Plus looks very versatile, indeed, complete with the ability to host USB MIDI devices and bridge them to outboard equipment that doesn’t have USB. Included audio is a bonus; beyond that, James says these cases are rugged steel with powder coating and each a “Swiss Army knife for MIDI connectivity.” You can charge up those iOS gadgets while you’re running, too, taming Apple’s shiny gadgets for serious use.

It may be the anniversary year of MIDI at NAMM, but Control Voltage is everywhere – including on digital gear. So you’ll see Keith McMillen’s upcoming keyboard product connected to an Oberheim SEM.

Arturia has some pint-sized goodies: a new version of their Spark drum machine at US$ 299, plus an ultra-compact keyboard with wooden end caps for $ 129 that James says feels solid for its crazy-small size.

I’m intrigued by the reappearance of the Buchla Music Easel, which you see above. More on that soon – $ 3995 projected list.

But, for now, let’s gawk, shall we?

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Music Making, Shared: Communal Ambient Tracks Explore Instagram Photos, Lisbon, and More

Friday, April 20th, 2012

This collection of Instagram photos inspired an ambient compilation at the end of last year – one well worth adding to your listening queue now. Since then, challenges opened to a community on SoundCloud have produced hundreds of terrific tracks – and the latest weekly challenge is on now, with a deadline midnight Monday.

Where do you get your ideas? Sometimes, it can be a challenge just to start a track, or can simply feel a bit, well, lonely. Finding fellow music makers can solve that. Artists gathering around SoundCloud and online ambient music chronicle Disquiet work together, with inspiration from recording ice to ancient found samples of music and spoken word. Disquiet itself has challenged artists with Instagram photos and the city of Lisbon. The results are imaginative, varied, superb music. And they’ve been surprisingly popular, earning lots of ears and inspiring still more music.

Now, given the Instagram sale for US$ 1 billion, I would value the free compilation inspired by its photo sharing at least a couple of million dollars. Finding a welcoming community both to spur on new musical ideas and share the results? Priceless.

And, okay, while perhaps they haven’t netted any massive Facebook buyouts, the past months have proven that ideas like this can motivate music makers and listeners alike.

The Disquiet Junto, started by Disquiet and its editor, Marc Weidenbaum, describes itself as “a collaborative music-making space in which restraints are used as a springboard for creativity.” New projects are announced on Thursday, and then you have until the following Monday just before midnight to upload tracks. In just fifteen weeks, that’s inspired some 700 tracks – not bad, especially considering ambient music, lovely as it is, is hardly considered a hot commodity as genres go. (Non-ambient submissions are welcome, too, so long as they fit the brief.)

This week’s challenge, for instance, due Monday the 23rd of April, starts with samples of a piece of sandpaper and a pair of dice. The challenge: make one the foreground, and one the background. (The samples came from free sharing site freesound.org.) Previous challenges including Shostakovich and old rural music, bird song, a spoken word Benjamin Franklin autobiography, and old Edison cylinders as source material, and challenges like working from recordings of ice in a glass.

The city of Lisbon becomes musical muse, too – in sound source and inspiration. Photo, in Polaroid, (CC-BY-SA) Yasmina Haryono.

Weidenbaum has also been assembling some lovely compilations. The most recent “remixes” the city of Lisbon, entitled LX(RMX). Marc explains:

It’s 16 tracks, two each by eight musicians — each musician recording one under a pseudonym, and one under their own name, all exploring the sounds of urban Lisbon:

http://disquiet.com/2012/02/14/lxrmx-lisbon-remixed/

The 17th track is the source material.

Here’s what the resulting tracks sound like:

A separate compilation from the end of last year explored the notion of using photos on Instagram as source material. In two separate conversations, artists told me recently they felt that we lived in a “visual” culture, one in which the image was more important than sound. I’m still not convinced that’s true, or even how this oft-repeated statement is evaluated. But on the other hand, finding visual inspiration for music is a compelling exercise, a change to feed one part of the mind with stimulus from another.

Marc reflected on the project when I spoke with him in January – long before Instagram became part of business history, and when the Junto group was just starting:

The first week of release of Instagr/am/bient was much more intense than I had expected — intense in terms of how quickly it garnered an audience. The first week it averaged over 2,000 listens per day, not counting downloads (which I posted over on Archive.org). I had hopes that the mix of visuals and sound would be of broader interest than some of this music (drones, abstractions, extended phonography) might be on its lonesome. Apparently that proved to be the case. Clearly, tying it to a familiar software (Instagram) helped ground people’s imaginations, as of course did the visuals. I think there’s a lesson in that. The correlation also functioned thematically: not just how the music was inspired by the photos, but how Instagram images and ambient music both involve, in their own ways, filters/processes that alter existing documents (photographs in one case, often field recordings in another).

It was interesting as well how the musicians acted on their assignments. Each of the 25 sent to me an Instagram photo they had taken. I then gave thought as to how to disperse them, sometimes assigning one to a musician whose work I thought it shared an aesthetic with, sometimes to a musician for whom I thought the image would provide a creative
challenge. For example, I gave the image to Evan Cordes that showed the wheel of an office chair against floorboards. To my eye, the lines of the floorboards resembled sheet music, and indeed when I later discussed the project with Cordes he confirmed that he had interpreted it as a graphic score.

This project differed from past Disquiet.com projects in that it was looser. The assignments were fully conscious, but in the end one has less overall control over something when 25 geographically dispersed musicians working from 25 different source subjects are involved, versus when a dozen musicians are involved. The next major Disquiet.com project is very controlled, just eight musicians, all with a very specific assignment. It should be out in a few weeks.

The relative openness of the Instagr/am/bient project inspired me to push the idea a step further. So, I created a Soundcloud group for communal sound experiments, which launched today. It is called Disquiet-Junto. It already has 40 members, which is great. The idea is that I come up with a sound/music assignment and post the idea on a Friday, and then Monday by midnight the groups’ members post their recordings in response to the assignment. Already there are a half dozen tracks based on the first assignment, which is to make music from the sound of ice in a glass.

The aftermath of the Instagram compilation is itself a fascinating story. The compilation captured the imagination of writers well outside the world of music. But most tellingly, you can read how the group of 25 musicians worked to translate what they saw into sounds of their own creation – whether in the microcosm of technical details (gear used and such) or bigger ideas of how to work between the visual and aural media. Their reactions are sometimes formal, sometimes emotional, intuitive, or fanciful.

Evan Cordes even posted video of his Pd patch, ticking away:

Hilobrow has this revelatory review:

Imagine receiving a postcard in the mail. Ok, back up: remember the mail? Remember postcards?

Right, now imagine them. On one side, an image: a faraway place, an iconic sign, people smiling, a sunset. Perhaps someone has even scribbled on it, adding their own moustaches, thought bubbles, or other postal graffiti. “Having a wonderful time,” it inevitably says, “wish you were here.”

Or, does it? Turning it over, ostensibly to read, you find instead that it — sings.

But, Instagram hype aside, consider what this could mean for finding inspiration anywhere, for reinvigorating your musical process. Actually, don’t think about it too long – just go do it.

You can check out the Juno group:
http://soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto

And read up on the two curated compilations – each released under a Creative Commons license:

LX(RMX) / LISBON REMIXED

INSTAGR/AM/BIENT: 25 SONIC POSTCARDS

http://disquiet.com

Note, too, that the SoundCloud Meetup Day is on the 17th of May. I expect to be keeping tuned into what’s happening in Berlin and involved in something in London, but wherever you are in the world, I’d love to hear what ideas you have for exchanging sound, and if you’ll be doing something to celebrate if you’re a SoundCloud user.

SoundCloud Global Meetup Day May 17th: Get Involved!


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$679 Minitaur: A Moog Analog Monosynth for the Rest of Us, Soon (Photos, Video, Flame Bait!)

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Look past the plug-ins and controllers and hosts that work with controllers and iPads sitting in docks and such. If you like dedicated, analog monosynth hardware, life is actually pretty darned good.

Okay, so for those of you without deep pockets, you may not know some of the back story here. Moog’s limited-edition Taurus 3 was a brilliant update of the classic Taurus bass pedal, complete with luscious foot pedals. And with a street dipping down near US$ 1699, it’s honestly not a bad deal. The problem is, not everyone has that cash, or the ability to lug around a big, heavy pedal.

So, let’s change that equation. Leaked on the Web and then formally announced today, the Minitaur is just a little Taurus. And it’s kind of nothing but awesome. It’s got the footprint of a small-ish book, weighs less than 3 pounds, and will cost US$ 679 when it ships in the spring.

This isn’t Moog’s first adventure in the sub-$ 1000 range. But for the first time since the Rogue, you get a truly entry-level Moog synth with a one-knob-per-function interface – something that the Slim Phatty, while it sounds fantastic, lacks.

And you get a lot of goodness for your $ 700 or so: a steel case, two saw and square waves, the Taurus-style ladder filter, and envelopes a la Minimoog. That gives you Moog-y sounds, and then you add in modern Moog-y control: MIDI DIN, MIDI over USB, and analog inputs for pitch, filter, volume, and gate.

The beauty of all of this is that now, in 2012, your choices for analog monosynths you can actually afford are numerous. The Minitaur sits nicely next to rivals from smaller names – the Doepfer Dark Energy, Vermona Mono Lancet, and DSI Mopho. (Thanks to reader Philip Viana for pointing that out – and yeah, I hope to see all these four compared soon. I’ll get on that.)

Now, if only Moog could put this in a strap-on and call it the Minitar, my life would be complete.

I hope to go visit the new creation at Moog. That is, assuming there isn’t a dart board with my face on it – yes, I did sort of get some flack for admitting to liking hardware synths better than iPads on a certain site paradoxically with “digital” in the name. But consider this: you and a friend each spend just under $ 700 on an iPad 2 and a Minitaur. (We’ll include tax and the cost of some apps.) Apples to oranges, yes, but – considering the invariable release of an iPad 3 right after you buy the thing and your battery will be shot in a couple of years, come back in 2016 and look at these two purchases, and I’d ask, how do you like them apples?

I mean, seriously, what a*****e would be pushing all that digital technology?

Okay, I’ll go sit in the corner now.

Let’s look at more pictures. And stay tuned for some hands-on time when this is out.


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Morning Reflections: Create () Music and Digital; Free ISO50 Music Mix

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Digital memory, circa 1960s NASA, would be unrecognizable to us today. But it is digital. Photo contrasts an Apollo memory core (back) with modern avionics circuitry. Photo (CC-BY) Steve Jurvetson.

The always-thoughtful Marc Weidenbaum of Disquiet picks up on my tongue-in-cheek comment, in which I question my own wisdom in dubbing this site “Create Digital Music.” It’s worth reading the whole piece, as he reflects on what’s in a name, the name of this site, the name of media outlets and blogs in general, and how we label music. This line I think sums it up:

Technology and aesthetics each engender various types of practice, but they are not inherently mappable to each other in any specific one-to-one manner.

As it happens, the name “Create Digital Music” was the one I had assigned to the book project that Peachpit Press renamed Real World Digital Audio. When I started CDM, I never intended to make it an ongoing project, only a companion for the book. I hated Peachpit’s book title, in fact.

I’ll defend the title of the site. I actually take the constant references to it in comments and complaints as a sort of confirmation that it was a good choice. I like that it’s a call to action. Anyway, I’m long past the point of thinking about it. But I think it is relevant to appreciate the notion of “digital,” partly because of its broad meaning. Aside from literally deriving from the Latin for fingers – a reference to counting on your fingers – “digital” simply means something with discrete values. Over the weekend, I was watching a documentary on my DVR on the Moon missions. When the tape storage memory of the time proved too unreliable, the MIT team building Apollo’s guidance systems turned to something called core rope memory. Leagues of women literally wove values into arrays of memory, each zero or one, one at a time. You can see the pictures from the Raytheon archives. It’s a reminder that “digital” is in no way “virtual”: all of our machines are, despite outward appearances, still assemblages of matter and electricity, subject to laws of physics, and at some point the work of human minds, hands, and digits.

I also agree with what Marc says about electronica; I’d like to revive the term.

The word “electronica” in particular seems to have long since fallen from any particular favor, but to my mind, that allows for it to take on new meaning; I like to think of it as being like “Americana,” the varied ephemera of a particular territory.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: CREATE (FILL IN THE BLANK) MUSIC [disquiet]

Tangential to that discussion, I want to share this morning’s listening. ISO50, aka Scott Hansen, aka Tycho, has a new free mix up for streaming.

ISO50 Playlist 9

What I love about Scott is his pitch-perfect sense of taste and aesthetic. The music here, like his photos, crosses genres but seems sonically to have the kind of warm, saturated color and vingetted edges that mark his design. Tycho’s own music, of course, tends to crackling, wonderful ambiences, whereas here we’re treated to some dreamy rock. The collage, just as his digital designs, all works for me. Perhaps it’s not entirely unrelated to the topic above. Enjoy listening.

See original here:
Morning Reflections: Create () Music and Digital; Free ISO50 Music Mix

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