The music technology industry continues to pump out things with knobs, and things that sound like the 1970s – sometimes, literally so. And we love them for it.

But if you feel dizzy after all this tumbling backwards in time, let us take you on a ride back into the future. It’s the reason we’re in Berlin and not Anaheim this week, and I think you’ll enjoy it. A lot.

CDM joins again with CTM Festival to explore the possibilities for music’s future in an intensive laboratory of creation, featuring speakers, on-the-spot hacking and experimentation, and finally a live performance showcase in which new ideas are tested onstage in front of an audience. I’m thrilled to get to co-curate this year’s edition with Leslie García from Tijuana, Mexico.

The action starts tonight at Kunstquartier Bethanien, with Leslie and Marco Donnarumma playing live in the opening of one of Europe’s most adventurous music festivals, launching the exhibition for this year. Then, next week, we’re hosted by Native Instruments in their office complex with an incredible group of artists, researchers, hackers, and even experts on biology and the human body in six days of hacking and public lectures.

And do we have some interesting people joining us in conversation. Rachel Armstrong has found new solutions to sustainability by literally growing architecture – and looks at music on a microscopic molecular level. See the image at top for the kind of wild world that’s expanding out of the natural universe.

Bio-hacker Thomas Landrain has constructed a no-cost lab for new biological creations in a former squat, dreaming up and building projects like a pen that produces its own ink with built-in bacteria, and will discuss what happens when hacking means biology and not just hard circuit boards. Atau Tanaka, apart from hosting NIME last year and with a resume from IRCAM to Apple, has been at seemingly every twist and turn of notions of working with muscles and brainwaves in music. He’ll help guide us through that history, and where it might lead next. Marco Donnarumma, having made new movement and music performances with muscular sensors, investigates what all of this means for us being a new kind of human.

And we even have a veteran NASA planetary scientist (Kelly Snook) linking Kepler to music making.

The talks are open to the public if you’re in town, but of course we’re doing this for the People of the Internet, so we’ll have recordings of those performances and lecture sessions to share.

My belief is that music technology should be the area that looks forward. We can again be the people folks think to call when aliens are landing. The ones doing crazy things with electricity. The ones who seem to be bringing science fiction into the moment – and then deciding to play a song. Music can animate every discussion of science and technology. So let’s get started.

At top: the living architecture of Rachel Armstrong – don’t miss her e-book on the topic. Below, Leslie García’s live rig, in the quintessential combination of past and future, wires and wildness that is the technology of music performance.

leslierig Continue reading »


This week, we’ve done nothing but pummel you with loads of gear you want. So, while you’re saving up thousands … sorry, tens of thousands of dollars for new analog gear from the 1970s, you might not be in the mood to ante up for a compressor or bass line synth.

If you also couldn’t be bothered to carefully scour my article on how the purchasing of software is about to change forever, let me spoil some of the fine print for you:

Collaboration tool Splice just quietly launched the biggest, best-organized database of free plug-ins I’ve ever seen.

Here it is:


Now, the fact that it’s on Splice is actually important. That online site of collaborators has also amassed a huge pile of data about what people actually use. So if community members have uploaded a project using these plug-ins, the site knows. That associates projects with the plug-ins, and tells you which you’d actually use. It also means you can use this as a jumping-off point for collaboration – and a source of tools for which neither of you have to pay. (Hello, poor people collaborations, I’m with you!)

It’s not just Big Data working out what matters, though. Splice have also done some serious curating here, so everything is neatly organized and has big, bright screenshots. It seems they’ll also feature especially good stuff. Some downloads require Splice login (but then that also means you get them right away); others whisk you off to the developer’s site.

It’s the biggest, nicest, least-random, no-dead-links, most-actually-useful guide to free plug-ins I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.

My guess is that this could entice people to the Splice store, too, when they do want to invest in software. In other words, if you’re trying to build a popular store, you might want some free options to help you do it. (And I will say, even though there are lots of free plug-ins that can be a great deal of fun and spark some creativity, I also have no doubt many other plug-ins are worth paying for.)

So, have a look. And please, shout out in comments any good ones you find.


It’s been a long time coming, but the month of January has brought more new ways to pay for music creation software than we’ve seen in a few years.

When you want to share a playlist with a friend, you can count on giving them full-length tracks with Spotify. (Sorry, Taylor Swift fans, but everyone else.) If you’re on a tight deadline to finish a video edit, you can pay a small monthly fee to use Adobe Premiere – and send it to the film composer knowing they can do the same, rather than having to buy it outright for a chunk of change. Not so with music production tools, which rely mostly on big one-time payments (sometimes north of a thousand bucks), often with additional copy protection and dependent hardware.

Just in the past few days, we’ve seen some new ways to solve the problem.

$1000 of Plug-ins – For Twenty Bucks?

The most ambitious comes from Gobbler, the cloud backup, sharing, and collaboration service. Gobbler as of this week are re-launching their platform under the tag “spawn.” (Right now, you get just a sign-up for the service.) Collaboration and shop alike will run on the new platform. Continue reading »


Now, here’s a demonstration of the proper way to jump on a bandwagon. Rane appear to be doing rotary DJ mixers right.

This week’s NAMM show is accompanied in the DJ section by the usual, dreary parade of massive gear sold to deep-pocketed DJ hobbyists. Somehow a mixer integrates with a control surface integrates with giant decks integrates with a sound card integrates with Serato integrates with colored lights and screens. Then, that’s bolted into some mostly-black, oversized coffin of equipment that looks as though it would be right at home in the nursery playroom of an Imperial Star Destroyer. In some reality somewhere, these things are purchased and used, I’m told. But seeing as clubs have the same standard assortment of turntables, CDJs, and Allen & Heath mixers, that Imperial Star Destroyer crew sometimes seems a more realistic target audience.

Then there’s this Rane MP2015. It’s fantasy, to be sure, but it’s a fantasy you’d want to be in. And there’s no question it’s drawing from the boutique rotary mixers that have been enthusiastically embraced of late by techno DJs of the slightly-snobbier variety. (Locations where they’re getting fondled include places like Trouw in its final days and on regular rotations at Panorama Bar.) And yes, the requisite laser-etched wooden side panels are there, just to indicate to you that the sound is warm and the craft is high, or whatever.

But let’s give Rane some credit: they’ve got our attention, and there’s reason to even sort of covet this thing. The layout is elegant, and balanced. Rotaries might be a fad, but they can also be practical. Continue reading »


The original Arturia BeatStep already looked good. Start with a compact drum pad controller, add some encoders for more control, then add a step sequencer that can control MIDI and analog gear.

But the problem is, the execution of the sequencer idea is complex. It turns out you need even simple sequencers to do a lot. And so the original BeatStep, while still an amazing buy for a hundred bucks, was a little disappointing. It was just hard to actually sequence on the thing. You could get one sequence going, but that’s not enough for really playing, and simple rhythmic operations could too easily knock things out of sync.

And that’s why I’m excited about the Arturia BeatStep Pro, coming in April. Because it doesn’t just tick the boxes on my complaints about the BeatStep. It rethinks the whole control interface to make the kind of sequencer that could be at the center of a really amazing gig.

In other words, even if the price is jumping to US$299/€249 list, this could be a time for them to shut up and take my … you know.


And at its heart is a really simple concept. See, you probably don’t want to sequence one bass line, or one drum pattern. (Oooh, minimal!) No, you want more than one thing at once. So, there’s this simple idea: Combine two melodic sequencers with one drum sequencer. Run them independently. And provide easy access to all three.

I don’t care what sort of music you make, whether it’s techno or experimental ambient klezmer. The ability to do three things at once well is better than doing one thing sort of poorly. And doing more than one thing at once is the essence of live electronic music. So, yes, it’s about time.

As before, play each live in real-time or step sequence. Then add the ingredients together: Continue reading »


KORG, having resurrected their own MS-20 monosynth, have now turned to another analog classic: the duophonic ARP Odyssey. We’ve known for some time that they would begin manufacturing a new edition of that in collaboration with its original creators. Now we know what it looks like, and what it’ll cost.

If you already love the classic ARP Odyssey, there’s not much to say. KORG’s launch, in fact, focused on the ARP you know – the fact that its sound is something you recognize from songs. That’s partly an explanation of why such instruments deserve recreation.

And the original holds up today. It’s a beautifully playable synth with great character, plus terrific envelope controls, a one-of-a-kind, accessible front panel layout that makes everything clear, and nice extras like the Ring Mod and Sample & Hold. It doesn’t have the modular features and some of the more unusual sound possibilities of the monophonic MS-20, but it’s a great keyboardists’ instrument.

And recreation, this is. ARP co-founder David Friend oversaw this effort, so you can count on a certain amount of authenticity – and, as with the MS-20, they didn’t change the circuitry so much as put it back in production. They might not be as obsessive-compulsive as our friends at Moog – we don’t get any mention of hand-stuffing wires – but the sound should be well within the normal degrees of variation on these instruments. The architecture and the circuits themselves are electrically the same, only built via modern parts and methods.

Price: US$1400 suggested list. Street price appears to be about a grand (US$999 – obviously expect it to cost more via the weaker Yen, Euro, and Pound Sterling, plus more tax). That puts the price above the mass-market focused MS-20 mini, but it also includes its own case – and it’s a duophonic synth.

Availability: KORG isn’t saying yet.

But beyond that, what we want to know is what differs between this ARP Odyssey – erm, KORG Odyssey? – and a used instrument? Now we know that, too. Continue reading »


It seems Akai is staying in the analog synth business. Following the Rhythm Wolf – introduced quietly at Messe (literally, it couldn’t make sound), and then getting a mixed review here on CDM – they have both a second drum machine and a four-voice synth.

Availability has leaked as July – which means again, we may not know how these actually sound until they ship.

Let’s look at what we know. (Bookmark this page, as I will simply update information here as it comes in.)

First up, the Tom Cat. It’s definitely a second take on the Rhythm Wolf – we just don’t know if that’s because so many people bought the Rhythm Wolf and they’re minting money, or whether they might address some of the sound/parameter complaints about the original. We can see in the picture what controls changed:

Kick Drum has “Pitch” in addition to the original “Tune” knob – so, presumably, a much needed pitch envelope.
There’s a Clap in place of Percussion.
That Clap appears to have a Spread control in place of the horrible Noise Mix on the original Percussion, as well.
The somewhat thin single-voice bass synth on the original has been replaced with Toms – sorry, make that Disco Toms. (Disco Tom, not to be confused with Disco Stew.)

And everything else is the same, but with different colors. Wait a minute – I’m going to bet my money that the label beginning with the letter ‘m’ is Meow, in place of Howl. But I can’t quite see it. Maybe it says “Maul.” Continue reading »