Elektron’s Octatrack sampler is shipping to producer’s hands, bringing this multitrack, time-stretching, step-sequenced, modulation-packing digital sampling hardware to real-world music-making. The results make comparisons like “Ableton in a box” seem pretty fair – and give you more an idea of what the thing does than Elektron’s bizarre (and wonderful) short science fiction film, which seemed to suggest the box would incite revolutions and make you grow tentacles and change into a tortured alien. (See below)

Two of the people I’d most want to see work the device are featured in the videos above – at top, Richard Devine, and at bottom, Matthew Dear. Devine, for his part, makes use of re-triggering features:

Just triggering single shot samples of nord percussion and analogue drum sounds. Using the three stages of LFO’s for each track to control effects animation and various other parameters. Making some use of the re-trigger sample functions spanned across 4 patterns.

Matthew Dear plays live on a New York public radio station program, Beats In Space on WNYU 89.1FM. (Listen to the whole show.)

It’s a story focused on the drum sample library, not the Octatrack, but there’s also a good example of how far you can stretch a single samples in Surachai’s recent hands-on for TRASH_AUDIO.

Elektron have also in the last couple of months shared sound samples via their very, very active SoundCloud account; examples below.

Octatrack DPS-1 Site Sounds by Elektron

Octatrack DPS-1 | Sampling by Elektron

So, what’s really going on inside the Octatrack? That to me is the interesting element of the design. As Roger Linn and Dave Smith focus on analog synthesis and no digital sampling (at least in Dave’s machine) on the Tempest, the Octatrack takes digital features previous seen in software workflows and builds an integrated hardware design around them.

The heart and soul is an 8-track sequencer, with multiple patterns, arrangements, parts, and scenes for putting together a full performance (or performance set), which connects to “machines” for sample playback or external input machines. The combination of those basic modules is where things get a little crazy, with re-triggering, chaining of tracks, and the like, and Elektron promises to add more in future OS updates.

The other side of the machine is a whole heck of a lot of effects: multi-mode filter, parametric and DJ-style EQs, phaser, flanger, chorus, delay with repeat, plate reverb, compressor, and lo-fi distortion.

The most ingenious addition is a single optical crossfader, which allows DJ-style moves amidst all these digital layers, ideal for making sense of live performance.

Live sampling is a big draw; one of the better walkthroughs of how that works is in this video by darenager (who stresses this is not a musical performance, but a demo – I can appreciate that):

Elektron isn’t assuming you’re going to toss your computer in a bin; there’s a USB2 port for connecting to a computer workflow. But it occurs to me that the likely retort of dedicated computer users – that they can do all this and more – is likely the reason others will choose to use this device. It does less, but focuses entirely on what you might want to do most.

I could go further with that, but I suspect we’ll carry on with this balancing act between digital hardware and software until the last human consumes the last flicker of electricity on earth, so, uh, fill in a zillion already-hashed-out debates here. In fact, let’s imagine them all at once, as a mysterious buzzing sound.

Bzzzz.

There. Done.

But yes, at the same time as someone who’s reconfiguring my own live software rig, you have to admit that which features they chose – and how you see them mapped to hardware above – is interesting even if you can’t afford a new don’t want to buy a new Octatrack.

Mostly what makes me happy is knowing that this machine is making other people happy, and then in turn will make some of them make very good music and performances that I get to enjoy.

And yes, I really do love the bizarre short movie Elektron created to promote their device. It’s nothing if not creative.

What do you make of this new design?

In particular, I’d love to hear from those of you who just got new machines. How are you using it musically so far?

Also, if you’re in Sweden, can you tell me what’s in your water that makes you engineer all this insane stuff? Should I wish I had the benefit of your education system? Should I just eat more herring? Both? Or will the herring, at least, make me regret less that I’m not a product of your education system?

  • strunkdts

    Looking forward to where future updates take this. Long live hardware.

  • jonesonyou

    2 for sale or trade so far in the forum. depends who you are. Maybe you are in love maybe not…..

  • Peter Kirn

    I'm just trying to work out all the movie references packed into the film. Blade Runner, The Usual Suspects…

  • Adrian

    Dont forget DBZ (while not a movie) – over 9000!

  • databot

    I totally thought that second video was just some random bedroom producer and didn't realize it was Matthew Dear until I read the text under the videos.

    Perception, hell of a drug.

  • BirdsUseStars

    Hello tax return!

    Goodbye tax return!

  • griotspeak

    Very good video.

  • stubble

    it's a pity that it's NOT usable to play back sessions/stems, at the moment.

    there is no way to use it as a playback machine in an elegant way: see this thread on elektron-users.com:

    http://elektron-users.com/index.php?option=com_fi

  • Nick

    MIND = BLOWN

  • http://murderlazer.blogspot.com/ bridgealantee

    I was a hater, the Devine vid has me interested now though.

  • Kim

    @Peter You can get the same benefits as eating herring by using Flak seed oil. It will help you make better music. ;)

  • http://toaster.bandcamp.com Toddbert

    I have one, and wrote a short article about my first impressions of it– generally, it can be difficult to get your head around (and I think that accounts for the sales/trades at elektron-users), but once it 'unlocks' it's very powerful, very quickly. I've made a few basic tracks with it, and am working on using it in a live setting. It seems like it will integrate nicely into almost any studio setting, and it will be fascinating to see what people do with it. There's a soundcloud group for users, which is a good place to start. 

  • http://www.larsby.com/johan Johan Larsby

    ohh, we swedes are nothing special :)

  • kkonkkrete

    Richard Devine is a great sound designer and does many inspired demos, but I have to say he does tend to make every machine sound basically the same.  It doesn't matter if he's using a modular or a Virus or his laptop or the Octatrack, it always sounds like Richard Devine.

  • Ramin

    @kkonkkrete 

    I was thinking the exact same thing.

    All his tech demo's are glitched out idm. it' sounds cool and all. But it doesn't tell me what the octatrack can do. And kinda gives a false image of the capabilities of the device.

    None the less I like the work of RD.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/birdsusestars/ Matthew Jamieson

    At this point I'd like to put out a call for someone to make a comprehensive walkthrough of at least the OT's basic features/workflow. So far everything I've seen up is videos of people screwing around and not explaining what is happening. I'm sure I'm not alone in that I'd appreciate a clear video to help me understand this, and to clarify where the other elements end and the OT begins. 

  • http://dietervandoren.net dtr

    @BirdUseStars: there's a lot of info on the Elektron site, also sound samples with detailed info on what's going on

    Personally I'm drooling for this Ableton-in-a-box. I'm already hooked on the Machinedrum and Monomachine for years. Need to rob a bank first though…

  • bliss

    Hey, I really liked the movie! Plus, the older black gentleman, I believe he was in The Fifth Element, if I'm not mistaken. Anyway, cool little ditty. ;-)

  • Bendish

    Dont forget that Devine is most likely sampling his own quality loops and hits. Retriggering is a very blatant effect that can be easily reproduced in lives drum racks with macros controlling loop end and start, crossfade, pitch etc

    After owning both the monomachine and machinedrum…apart from the physicality of both….software is not behind by any means….wouldnt mind a crack though…

  • Peter Kirn

    @kkonkkrete: Isn't that sort of what makes Richard appealing as a sound designer? Some folks are more eclectic, but I appreciate that he has this distinctive signature. It's not the only course, but it's a useful skill to have.

    To all who can't afford this: of course, one important thing is that you get the results you want regardless of your budget. So that's an argument for software that I find pretty irresistible. I know for my own budget, I can either buy one of these machines, or buy a new, relatively low-end laptop that won't struggle under my video editing tasks. So I personally have to keep my workflows going with software I already use, and free software / original patches, etc. Doesn't make me appreciate this any less, but yes, options matter.

  • Bendish

    Although I think this website is without peer in terms of reporting music tech innovation….i wonder how Peter squares this with the exponential proliferation and marketisation (aka sluttish consumerism) of unnecessary music technology that simply replicates functions available already for 15 years…I love software and hardware but when do we stop? perhaps this is a post for another day….elektrons branding is very good….and if people made tunes with their hardware as good as autechres live 2005 glasgow gig…i wouldnt bitch and whine….but do we really need an elektron to make 4/4 techno? just thinking out loud

  • Peter Kirn

    Uh, we don't need it. Don't have to think about that one too long. ;)

    I do understand why they engineered it this way, though, and I do find it impressive. But you definitely don't need one. And the appeal of some software to me is building things that run anywhere and last… you could easily still use a Max patch or Csound snippet you made 20 years ago, for instance. That ought to be part of your life somewhere, talking about "investment."

  • Bendish

    Reminds me of apple's 'This changes everything. Again' advert. I'm staring at the ad thinking…no it doesn't.

    I'll piss off now.

  • http://toaster.bandcamp.com Toddbert

    "but do we really need an elektron to make 4/4 techno?" Nope. But it's fun to do so; and there's already a diverse set of sounds coming out of the Octatrack, if you dig a little deeper in youtube– a guy making experimental stuff with the sounds of rocks being rubbed together, some hip-hop esque stuff… Yes, breakbeat/glitch does dominate in the early days of almost anything like this because breakbeat/glitch fans also tend to be big technology fetishists/nerds/etc. 

    Unnecessary? Well, define necessary when it comes to making bleep bloop bleep music. I'd argue that Ableton Live is indispensable, for example–  but people make great things on trackers, in Reaper, etc. 

  • Peter Kirn

    We don't need techno, either, of course. ;)

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    I love grooveboxes, and Elektrons get very close to perfection. I can't afford one, but I can do very well with my Electribe ESX, a machine designed in 2003 and still standing the test of time. I think the groovebox is the epitome of electronic music. It's the sum of all possible elements of e.m., technically and aesthetically. The only thing we still need is a groovebox with independent sequencers. OT is the closest thing to this.

  • Martin

    it´s a difference between making music with hands and ears only and making music with both of them while looking at a computerscreen. personally i love elektron´s instruments and own a Machinedrum UW and a MonoMachine (which i don´t love as much as my machinedrum ;) anyaway, i think i´ll have a great time recording my analog synths and other soundsources into the octrack and making tunes with it. i know that live does all of this and more but hands-on working just isn´t beatable.

    … and we do need techno :)

  • Peter Kirn

    Will rephrase:

    We could live without techno, but why?

    We don't need an Elektron, but that doesn't make us want one less.

  • Genjutsushi

    I've had mine for 2 weeks now and really needed either a better manual or a really good walkthrough video as mentioned above.

    The big thing for me isn't the sample triggering, thats fairly simply implemented… What is really great is the scenes and crossfader mixing functions. Enables some great tricks, really expressive.

    Im very pleased.

  • http://dancerobotdance.com Brian Biggs

    Bendish, we definitely don't need any more guitars and fuzz pedals either. But dammit if they don't keep making them.

    I already have shoes. Why do I need another pair? I can get from point A to point B in a million ways. Why invent more?

    That's a silly argument.

  • Bendish

    Urh yes why make more shoes then? Why make more boring techno? Why cut down more trees to make guitars? Exactly. Mindless consumption of hardware and software does nothing either to improve the quality of the music or our creative process. This post is reminding me of Tom Jenkinson's ultra pretenscious yet pertinent essay on man's relationship with machine. You know the one that didnt make any sense. There will always be more to lust

    over. Suckers ;)

  • Peter Kirn

    Right, but it's not a review, and I'm not endorsing the thing. I'm just commenting on a new design. The reality is, you *don't* see a whole lot of new digital sampling hardware of this type; mostly, we see this only in software these days. (That's not to say there isn't some reason for that, but while we're inundated with gear, hardly this gear.)

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    I think the core of this post is the survival of the idea of a machine that lets you make whatever electronic music you want in full form, and that it is not a computer. As someone said above, not having a visual reference as complete and over-informing as a computer has, is an advantage to some of us music-wise. I am glad people like Elektron continue pursuing this idea. You may like OT or not, but it is the latest effort in this direction. And one of the few existing today. I use Electribe as I said before, but sadly Korg has not updated the line since 2003. I hope they take on the challenge and deliver a competing product. When I use software, I use it groovebox-like (Reaktor, Ableton in a certain way). I insist: grooveboxes are the guitars of electronic music. 

  • Bendish

    I have an irrational/rational fear 'Sound On Sound' syndrome aka every page dedicated to industry gear whorage….

    I loved my green Electribe….sick piece of gear…the compression was shit but so great….everything sounded like that brothers in arms rim shot….someone's shooting nails into my ears!

    Yea groove boxes are awesome….I do love the idea that one day the yawning abyss between computer music waaaarz and musical instrumente will close shut….and that something unique and soulful will slither out of the asexual music tech mire…..

    Namaste

  • Peter Kirn

    @Bendish: I ain't no pimp for the music tech industry. CDM sometimes sees the bling, respects the bling, but we ain't pimpin'.

    Wait… now this is sounding like my (truly dreadful) nerdcore rap…

  • http://noisepages.com/members/birdsusestars/ BirdsUseStars

    @dtr I've read all everything the Elektron website has on this thing, including the instruction manual. It's all very informative but I still think a practical video walk through of the fundamental features would be useful for a lot of people.

  • http://x.com moles are coming

    the movie advert looks expensive..and is slow and booooooring…

    the other videos…mmmm….

    RD rocks…but we will not rock like him…not even buying one of this boxes…

    the hiphop dude is a cool dude…at least he is not sitting on the floor…and can do the headknobbing in time…getting better indeed.

    I thought we were going to do music using only nike shoes later this year.

    swedish stuff..slick, cold and expensive.

    what's next ?

  • GovernorSilver

    There are some guitarists who are interested in the Octatrack as a live looping machine. A member of the Octatrack dev team reportedly spent months and months studying the Echoplex Digital Pro looper manual and the device itself.

    Unfortunately, this initial version of the Octatrack OS does not support MIDI foot controllers, which is a must for a looping guitarist. The Looper Machine is also not part of the OS yet.

  • GovernorSilver

    Speaking of 4/4 based music, the Octatrack reportedly supports independent time signatures per track. You could have one track in 7/4, another in 11/8, etc.

  • http://iamri.com Ri Caragol

    The Octatrack will be really cool at some point, it's just not there yet. This machine reminds me of when the mpc5000 came out lots of hype and at the end it did not deliver. Manufacturers should just wait until things are maturely developed to finally release them. That said, once more OS updates come forward the Octatrack will kill it, it has lots of potential and the hardware capabilities are there but the OS is not. I say wait 6 months and come back to be amazed.

  • Bendish

    Well part of the development of new products is the feedback loop from the consumer. And clearly in many cases an under utilised opportunity for product improvement. The 5000 was just mistimed given the emergence of Maschine etc

    Get on the Elektron forum and feedback to those Swedes. 

  • GovernorSilver

    As soon as the support for MIDI foot control is added, I'm sure guitarists will be happy to join the Elektron community and provide feedback.

  • genjutsushi

    Hi guys…. just done a quick video showing simple Octatrack stuff rather than an uber demo -&nbsp ;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=852h_UG8z0E

  • do not buy

    this thing is absolutely broken 

    it doesnt do half the features listed back in Dec, and the OS updates have been few and far between, only patching glaringly obvious bugs, like the frozen compact flash cards. Midi was supposed to be available in Jan, now its late Feb and nothing. 

    the recording live sampling process is so convoluted to make your head explode, about 20 button presses including renaming the sample to save it, which isnt something you want to do when you're "performing" further more it currently only has 16seconds of sample time, although rumors are mentioning direct to flash card recording.

    it's absolutely horrible at chopping samples and puts noticeable clicking artifacts before and after samples, so the next thing you would consider is building your drum hits and melodic parts individually, but unfortunately each of the 8 tracks are mono voiced, so you can't layer hits on a single track with out the tails being sliced, so if you perform anything other than minimal, this isnt for you.

    everyone on the forum is defending it saying if you're not used to elektrons strange OS you wont "get it". For some of us this is our first elektron product, and it feels terribly cobbled together, half baked, and over hyped, its a huge let down. 

    basically everyone payed $1400 to be a beta tester, sure not every product is perfect right out of the box, and OS updates are great, but sitting in a room with 14 synths and 6 different drum machines and 2 DAWs everything else works with at least a modicum of logic upon initial distribution. If it's a lack of engineering manpower hire some more employees, my $1400 could certainly pay a foreign contractor for a months worth of code. I hope they release a serious update in the next week before my return window closes. 

    don't be a sucker like me

    do not buy one

  • http://noisepages.com/members/birdsusestars/ BirdsUseStars

    Okay, I've thought of a complaint I can throw on the pile here. Don't you think that if you're going to slap a crossfader on your hardware, you should ask a couple DJ's about it before putting buttons exactly in the "Accidental Hit Zone"?

    Pinky up style isn't terribly appealing if you ask me. 

  • http://twitter.com/mrtunes mr. tunes

    if that comment above is true about no foot control, that is ridiculous oversight. i'm sure you could configure any midi foot controller to work with it though. 

  • bornfree

    I'm kind of baffled by comments like the above disgruntled owner..This is a rather complex totally new product from a small Swedish company. The OT has hardly been out for a month, bugs and missing features are to be expected. If you cannot deal with this, then indeed you should definitely wait a month or two for things to get straightned out, it's really common sense to me, and applies to any product with a brand new OS. I believe the current OT OS is 0.99 so yea it's beta..  I own the MD & MM, and imo these units are rather complex to master, i am still learning new things on my MM, and i've had it 4 years!! From what i understand, the OT is even more complex in some ways, so i would expect a very steep learning curve, especially in these early stages, this having been said, the numerous youtube videos including the ones above prove that even in the current state, amazing music can be composed on this, without overtly difficult controls, so definitely a machine to keep an eye on.

    Also to those skeptical about RD's above performance, here is what he had to say about the vid :"Hey guys, finally got my OT back from Sweden and seems to be working out ok. Here is my first video of the OT in action at my studio the other night. Checking out some of the capabilities of this new machine. No drum loops used in this short jam. Just triggering single shot samples of nord percussion and analogue drum sounds. Using the three stages of LFO's for each track to control effects animation and various other parameters. Making some use of the re-trigger sample functions spanned across 4 patterns."

  • Genjutsushi

    I've owned many groove boxes and samplers in the last 10 years and found each of them to have it's own weird idiosyncrasies. It's not until you really know a unit inside out that you can get the best out of it. So the Octatrack appears to be demoed with 4/4 techno at the moment… Only because people are still getting to grips with it. Ok so it's not as flexible as ableton… But then if that is your main criticism, then a groove box is probably not for you in the first place.

    Each tool has a place, and each artist a favoured tool. For me… Hardware still rules!

  • do not buy

    Dave Smith Instruments is a less than half the staff of Elektron and they dont have serious bug issues, and my past three products from them have "just worked" right out of the box. For which they will continue to get my money.

    the OT isnt complex at all, because its broken, basically their PR Hype machine got out of control and their engineers couldnt keep pace with their release schedule. Further it doesnt seem to have a defined sense of what it is, how it should be played or what it's supposed to do. It makes you really appreciate all the hard work and thought that goes into designing quality products like an Apple Laptop, an Access Virus, Moog Lil Phatty, or DSI Prophet 08, unfortunately the OT is not one of them. An Electribe ESX could currently do the same amount of drum sequencing for less than half the price of an OT. 

    The videos demonstrating running some boring samples through some filters would hardly qualify as "amazing" music or a reason to replace a DAW set of turntables or any "real" electronic instrument. This kit is really such a piece of junk, I'm shipping it back this week. 

  • strunkdts

    Richard Devine is a bland old boot. Enough already.

  • strunkdts

    "I use Electribe as I said before, but sadly Korg has not updated the line since 2003. I hope they take on the challenge and deliver a competing product. When I use software, I use it groovebox-like (Reaktor, Ableton in a certain way). I insist: grooveboxes are the guitars of electronic music. "

    + 1millioooooon.

    KORG really need to step up here. The ESX is a wikked machine that needs more attention and why KORG hasnt run with it has got me baffled.

    And Richard Devine is still a stale cliche of the intardwebs EDM movement. NO offence Richie.

  • DC

    Seriously? Every single one of those videos is mediocre at best. In fact Ive yet to see a single decent oktatrak video. If you want a "hands on" sampler get maschine, half the price and a lot more impressive.

  • http://www.twitter.com/OSXyZ OSXyZ

    @Bendish

    Ahem,

    This is "Create Digital Music', the blog and forum, you know; )

  • bornfree

    Dave Smith has been around for 35 years and builds analog gear, really nothing to compare with Elektron and their products.. also comparing the OT to an Apple laptop or a "set of turntables" is utterly pointless.. also, I do own Maschine, it's a carbon copy of an MPC, which is cool but not really that impressive nor exactly "think outside the box" approach.. I'm not sure if we've been watching the same videos or if you guys really understand what's going on in them but it's a lot more than "samples running through filters", actually i don't really know of any other hardware sequencer that could perform such fine tuned glitched madness… finally you say the OT "doesn't seem to have a defined sense of what it is, how it should be played" well i actually see that as a positive thing, this isn't a car or a cell phone, it's a new kind of musical instrument which i find is exciting.. but in the end, of course the OT is not for everyone, and therefore you probably should return it for an Electribe ESX or something!

  • Thatguy

    All I know is I’m selling my entire gear collection to start investing in Elektron. I’ve wanted their Machinedrum for years but a friend who has owned both recently told me that the Octatrack is less calculator-ish than a machinedrum and more fun in an infinite possibility jamming for days sort of way. On top of that, Elektron just released the analog rytm. I either need to sell a lot of equipment or make some serious choices. Wether I’m investing in a Machinedrum, Analog Rytm, or Elektron’s Analog Four, I’m getting the Octatrack to go with them. It can also be used to mix sets which is nice cause I’m selling my vinyl and I still don’t want to use a computer. Perfect tool for drum machine/synthesizer hardware sets. I’m able to replace 5 pieces of gear with an Octatrack and not only will it do more, it will be higher fidelity and a more minimal set up. Most importantly I think is that it’s not a laptop. Big fan and future user of Elektron and super excited with their endeavors. Love their demonstration videos. Big lift for me musically and inspirationally. I will also be performing them live on the local community radio here in Jackson Hole, hopefully sooner than later. You should check out Caustic Crush. He uses Octatrack/Machinedrum. Found him searching for my dream setup. He seems to use them proper. Liking his beats a little more than most Elektron users.