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The line between pain and ecstasy on a computer for music making can often boil down to some key elements. One commonly on that short list is getting the sound you might from a studio. Another is making all your inputs and outputs work in your interface.

Universal Audio is one of a handful of vendors that aims to bridge both of those gaps in a single product, with devices that are audio interfaces as well as DSP platforms for hosting high-quality effects. And UA are starting out 2015 with a fairly big benchmark for the company in that software/hardware integration.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, you need a Mac, and the latest-generation hardware, to come along for the ride with some of the new goodies. So, let’s take a look both at what’s new and what’s required to get the latest-and-greatest stuff – as well as where that leaves people with older hardware.

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There’s a high-bandwidth cable connecting that iPad or iPhone to your Mac. And yet … and yet, until recently, music apps treated that very connection as an impossible-to-cross canyon.

No more.

We already took a look at midimux, a tool that makes everything that speaks MIDI on an iOS gadget available to your Mac, and visa versa. That’s already cool. You can use a keyboard controller plugged into your Mac to play a soft synth on your iPad. You can sequence an instrument on your computer from an iPad step sequencer, with touch control. Hardware and desktop software and apps all work. This also means controller apps no longer need to use fidgety wireless connections. So long as they support MIDI, you can use a cable. (That’s important, as I’ve found ad-hoc networking has recently gotten even more unreliable – to use OSC, I’ve taken to carrying around a standalone wifi router.)

But it’s when you put MIDI together with audio that things get really interesting. In an exclusive first look, CDM gets the scoop on a video demo showing how it all works. (Okay, it’s an exclusive first look because I spent yesterday nagging the developers to shoot it and wouldn’t leave them alone until it was done. You’re welcome. And, uh — sorry, guys.)

With audiomux, you can pipe sound digitally in both directions between the Mac and iOS, with no loss in fidelity. That means you can finally take some interesting bits you’re working on in an iPad drum machine or synth or soundmaker and immediately pipe them into a session in your DAW – no futzing about with extra cables and interfaces. And you can go the other direction, too, making an iPad or iPhone a powerful mobile recording device for sampling or taking audio on the go or recording live or DJ sets.

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Nina Kraviz appears in a film from vinyl store The Record Loft. It’s short, but she’s strikingly economical and insightful in talking about what it means to mix records, find records, and make records.

The Siberian-born PhD dental doctor-turned-DJ/producer is especially noteworthy at the beginning of 2015. Last month, she helmed edition number 50 of the legendary DJ-Kicks series – the gold standard of what a mix should be.

What’s nice about the interview is how quickly Kraviz gets to the emotional essence of all the dimensions of her work. Feeling, and capturing a moment, is at the heart of how she puts together a mix and digs for albums and sings and plays synths. I think people who haven’t gotten to explore the range of her work might not fully appreciate how far afield she can go.

In all three categories of what she says, it’s also clear what can be special in an age of identical mechanical reproduction. Mixes are not sterile affairs to be made perfectly in the home; they’re about connecting with people, live. Finding music is not about algorithms and SoundCloud listener counts and Facebook likes; it’s about the surprise of an unordered box in a second-hand record shop. And even vocals and synths can be about imperfection and real-time accident. Now, I’m personally partial to the unexpected pathways you can find online and perfectly at home with digital tools and distribution, but I think the emotional reality of what she’s suggesting here becomes even more important to underline.

That sense of rediscovering the emotional core seems essential, too, in techno, which especially given its raw commercial success can endanger itself in becoming cold and unfeeling. This is a roadmap, in other words, on how it can keep its soul.

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Sometimes, the best ideas come from raw imagination.

The Knuckle Visualizer is the work of a Korean animation house. It doesn’t actually produce sound. The only functioning part of the hardware you see here is a USB cable that powers an LED lamp. But there are fascinating ideas here. And, actually, you could build this. We can often get stuck in our repetitive music world and forget what’s possible. So let’s watch the animators run wild with our sounds.

Rubber ducks and toy nesting dolls and and jelly beans make up the controls. Buchla-styled colored patch cords are actually organized according to sound.

And not only is this made-up synthesizer/sequencer itself animated, but whimsical dances of shapes and geometry add still more visual accompaniment to the sound.

Knuckle Visualizer from minimalogue on Vimeo.

This would I imagine not only inspire you to build a new candy controller, but possibly rethink how you do a music video. As the creators write: Continue reading »

Kyma 7 in Four Minutes from Symbolic Sound on Vimeo.

Somewhere apart from the general purpose computer, the standalone electronic instrument, the racks of modulars, there is Kyma. For nearly a quarter century, this boutique digital instrument has opened up sonic realms to a scattered illuminati of artists. And this week, it hit a new milestone, with functionality and resources intended to make sound exploration still broader and more accessible.

Three years in development, Kyma 7 is here.

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The buzz around modular often comes back to the same refrain: modular is cool because it’s open ended. That rat’s nest of cables, modular advocates say, represent freedom. No argument from me, but Kyma can fairly make a similar claim, backed by a somewhat obscenely deep set of sound tools you can patch together. Kyma’s not cheap by computer standards, and not expensive by analog modular standards. A mid-range system runs about four grand US$, with a “lab” system still just shy of three. That’s nothing to sneeze at, given that you can download Pure Data for nothing and load it onto a $300 laptop, and still get a deep graphical digital environment. But for its followers, Kyma represents an investment in possibility – and sound quality.

Kyma, like the mountain in the image for Kyma 7, is something I largely admire from afar. But admire, I do – and Kyma 7 has some nice things in it.

Look closely, and you see an environment that has no direct comparison. Whether or not you want to live there, getting a look at Kyma is like glimpsing a far-off tropical island: it’s a world unto itself.

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(Short answer: no, they aren’t.)

So, the thing about Amsterdam’s Paradiso is, there are balconies. And the thing about being in a balcony above Kraftwerk is, their once-secret live rig for their 3D show is now fully exposed.

The next question: what’s happening?

I have been squinting at this live video for some time, and I’m not sure. Some things are obvious: definitely MK I Maschine drum machine controllers from Native Instruments, definitely a MIDI keyboard for the odd solo, fairly certain I also spot a Novation ReMOTE ZeRO SL controller (encoders and faders and red lights) and the display for Steinberg’s Cubase which appears to hold backing tracks.

Someone is reading … well, something. It appears to be an iPad UI, maybe, pre-iOS 7. It involves text. Is it an email?

What’s happening musically and extra-musically here? I could say more, but I think it’s time to crowd-source CDM Nation’s incredible eagle eyes and superior technical knowledge. Let us know what you think (I’m also getting some feedback via social media), and perhaps we can arrive at a final conclusion. Continue reading »

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It costs just a hundred bucks. It’s tiny, in a metal case with ultra-compact knobs and light-up buttons for hands-on control. And with MIDI, USB, CV, and even dedicated littleBits ins and outs, there’s a reason I described the announcement of KORG’s new SQ-1 sequencer as a sequencer that does everything.

But doing everything in such a little box is a tall order. And the SQ-1 packs in so much, it’s not obvious what its capabilities can be. One one hand, there are some powerful features that you might completely miss (like MIDI-to-CV capabilities). On the other, it has some limitations you should know about, as well. In trying to be all things to all gear in the smallest package possible, it has to make some sacrifices – so it’s better at some jobs than others.

I’ve gotten my hands on one and begun to use it (thanks to a studio neighbor who brought one back from Japan). And I’ve been in touch with KORG’s engineers in Japan to clarify its capabilities. So, let’s take a detailed look. Continue reading »