"The gloves are like a second skin. They are part of me. An extension of me. I become hyperreal." -Imogen Heap. Photo: Aurora Crowley.

“The gloves are like a second skin. They are part of me. An extension of me. I become hyperreal.” -Imogen Heap. Photo: Aurora Crowley.

In fits and starts, musical interface inventors have tried for decades to make manipulating digital music more expressive. But that persistence comes out of a clear goal post. They want the machine’s seemingly-endlessly possibilities to fit the human like a glove.

Imogen Heap is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of electronic musical performance, always making it seem as effortless as her songwriting and stage presence. For the Gloves Project, she assembled a super-team of wearable experts, interaction designers, and music researchers, several doctorates between them. This who’s-who have finally unveiled a project they’re ready to make public, and the whole team joined CDM in conversation about their work (first via global video chat, later via considered answers).

Gloves in music aren’t new. The challenge: make them better. Make them more expressive, able to actually improvise lines and not only control parameters (which you could do with a knob). Make them more precise, more responsive, lower latency. Make them more wearable – not only good musical instruments, but good gloves.

And then, make them public. Via a crowd-funding project on Kickstarter, the team seek backers both inexpensive (a few pounds, please) and substantial (pony up for a tailor-made set of gloves of your own, the kind that would normally require you to actually be Imogen Heap). They want to make something open source, and promise even backers at entry levels access to information; other rewards include in-person workshops and kits, some friendly to people doing their own experiments in wearable tech.

The gamble here may be not only to create one product – Imogen gloves you can bring home – but to advance the whole field. Wearable tech in music and other areas has often reinvented the same wheel over and over again. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it has left the expressive output on a single plateau. This project claims to be the one that would advance past base camp.

Imogen and the Gloves Team joined CDM last year in the hacklab we hosted at CTM Festival, bringing an international group of hackers to try out the gloves themselves. Those participants included musicians, dancers, and designers with fashion backgrounds, not just the usual electronic musicians and electronic nerds. At the time, the Gloves Team pondered how they might open up this sort of experimentation to a wider audience, and how they might make the tool itself something that others might use. With the Kickstarter project, that vision has taken form.

The question is, what happens next. Right now, the whole crowd funding project hinges short of the finish line. With days to go, substantial funding still hasn’t propelled the idea to the goal. But then, that’s the perfect time to really challenge this brain trust to explain to us why they think what they’re doing matters.

Continue reading »

What if you wanted to play Moogfest really bad, but Moogfest didn’t call? No, I mean really bad – like you started a band with this very dream in mind, outfitted your studio with nearly everything Moog makes, and put on a shameless amount of Moog-logo gear, just in the hopes of getting the booking.

If you still couldn’t make it onto the bill at that point, well, I guess you’d have to actually write a song explaining your plight, upload it to YouTube, and hope it went viral. This is the Internet age, after all.

That’s what the band Synthetic Things have done. And somehow… well, somehow this song can pull at our heart strings. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been there (even some fairly famous artists), unable to get that booking we badly want. Maybe it’s that the song is kind of catchy. Or maybe it’s just because we’re a sucker for gear pr0n.

Whatever the reason, well, enjoy! And, for the record, I’m speaking at Moogfest, but I’m not playing, either… I sense an unscheduled jam coming on somewhere.

Certainly, these guys have some extra gear to bring: Continue reading »

Back to the future. The Future of Creativity, among other programming, dares to ask what music will sound like in a century.

Back to the future. The Future of Creativity, among other programming, dares to ask what music will sound like in a century.

Moogfest has been many things over the years, from a small get-together of Moog fans to a New York event with a few headliners to a festival that at times veered toward being just another big rock fest. But this year, it’s evolved into something special and new. Amidst a wildly-varied nighttime mix of big-name musical acts, it’s become a hub of futurism and music technology. It suggests a Moogfest that isn’t just about some artists and the Moog of the past. It could be a place to learn about the inventions of the future. And that’s a zeitgeist I’d love to see (and hear) more of.

Science fiction is back in the mix; optimism is headlining again. The future is back. Continue reading »

werkstatt

Moog seems to have something special planned for Moogfest – na klar!

“Werkstatt” looks to be a kit synth the company has prepared for the event in Asheville, North Carolina later this week. As Synthtopia observes, the photo was revealed on the Instagram feed for the event – and appears to coincide with a three-hour assembly workshop with the engineers.

“Werkstatt” means “workshop” in German, so the kit function is obvious.

Looking at the picture, a whole lot is clear. The architecture is a single-oscillator monosynth, switchable between saw waves and PWM. Both the filter and oscillator mod can be set to either an independent LFO or the envelope. (I really like that interface, actually. Note the dedicated controls for each.) Attack / Decay / sustain switch controls the envelope (hmmm, always a tasteful choice). A bit like the Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano, there are small triggers buttons for pitch in case you don’t have a keyboard handy. And there are small knobs, resembling the KORG monotrons – looking at that and the screws, and this appears to be an ultra-compact instrument.

The most interesting feature is doubtless the analog patch bay along the right-hand side of the unit, implemented as a simple header strip. This should suggest semi-modular capabilities by patching with jumper wires. A prototype shot shows those jumpers in action and a 1/4″ jack plug for audio coming out the back.

The big question, apart from whether there’s also MIDI onboard or this is intended as a standalone unit, is whether Moog intends to offer this to a wider audience, or it’s just a special one-off experiment for Moogfest. It sure looks nice, so I imagine a lot of folks will have their fingers crossed for a bigger release. We’ll find out.

That German name is doubly interesting, though, as there’s been widespread speculation that Moog might get into Eurorack – the format developed in Germany by Dieter Doepfer and pioneered initially by European builders. At the very least, there’s some Germany envy going on. Fortunately, no envy is needed here; I’ll be representing CDM in Asheville, and will get a chance to sit down with Chief Engineer Cyril Lance, so I expect all will be revealed. I’m thrilled to get to look at this and have even more than usual subject matter for chatting with Cyril. Can’t wait.

Bis bald!

PS – the Moogfest Instagram feed is full of awesome:
http://instagram.com/moogfest

tb-3_top_gal

This wouldn’t normally be news, but for whatever reason, the Roland AIRAs went flying off the shelves – missing any MIDI documentation. Ahem.

We covered a number of these details before, including a Max for Live patch for the convenience of those of you integrating with Ableton. The good news: the hackers were right, and got more or less the entire implementation via trial and error. So, this is still a good resource:

AIRA Secrets: Here’s How to Take Command of Roland’s TB-3 and TR-8 with MIDI

The TR-8, then, holds no surprises. I’m just hopeful we see extra functionality via a firmware update. Fingers crossed.
TR-8 MIDI Implementation Chart

The TB-3 is more interesting, particularly as I (keep) advocating it as a sequencer. As far as notes, it’s pretty limited – only 24-60 are transmitted, so you’ll have to do some transposition on your synth if you want something other than bass. But the Control Changes are all sent over MIDI: Continue reading »

beatstep_angled

Even if Arturia’s BeatStep did nothing other than act as a dumb controller, it might get your attention.

The compact control surface / sequencer hardware runs about $100 street. As a controller, it has both 16 pads and 16 endless encoders (with notches, so you can feel where you are), plus transport triggers and a larger encoder. With driverless USB operation, some of you will already be happy and can proceed.

But the BeatStep is more ambitious than that. It has sophisticated software customization via a companion program, and a built-in step sequencer. It operates standalone, with MIDI gadgets or analog hardware (with gate and pitch Control Voltage outputs). It could therefore be a compact part of a mobile music-making rig, and it’s at this point that our review gets much more involved. The BeatStep has an impressive lineage – veteran designers Glen Darcey, Axel Hartmann, and Morgan Perrier collaborated on its creation. So there’s a reason to set expectations high.

I’ve been testing the Arturia BeatStep with just those functions in mind. And we’ve collected some of your tips and questions, with information that might help you out whether you’re trying to decide whether to buy or curious just how deep this goes.

The BeatStep already makes a nice controller with pads and encoders. But how much more can it be? Let’s find out. Continue reading »

LIQUID RHYTHM 2

Music software is at its best when it goes beyond cookie-cutter regularity, and spawns something creative. And sometimes, the path there involves retooling how that music is made.

That’s why I’m pleased to get to share this interview with WaveDNA. Liquid Rhythm is something unlike just about anything else in music software. It looks like a music theory class collided with a mandala. In colored patterns, arrayed in bars and wheels, you can produce all kinds of new rhythms, then integrate deeply with your host software. If you use Ableton Live, the integration goes further still. Whether you’re using Drum Racks or notes, you can automatically see what pattern goes with what, working in real-time with everything visible as you go. There’s a whole suite of tools with more than enough of what you could explore in any host. (Then, in Live, it just gets crazier.)

You can randomize and remix and shift, for quick ideas. (They had me at ‘randomize.’) Or, if you’re brave enough to enter the worlds of beat and pattern control, you can use the tools for fine-grained production of unusual musical ideas.

The suite:
Plug-ins, patches. VST, AU, RTAS for any host. Or Max for Live for Ableton Live, now with full integration with Ableton Push hardware.

Palettes of rhythms. Paint with patterns, or make patterns in pitch and rhythm from clusters, in BeatBuilder.

Dial up rhythms. BeatSeeker displays various genetic possibilities of patterns in a huge wheel.

Accents, grooves. Design grooves and velocity by color in an accent editor, or re-groove existing materials with something they call GrooveMover.

MIDI without a piano roll. Yes, this common interface has become tyranny. It’s tough to describe, but they have a different view, one that provides manual control in a unique interface that goes its own direction – more like a genetic cell than a piano roll. (See the video, as it’s easier to see than write about.)

Integrate with Ableton Live clips.

“We’re a music software company that makes no sound,” say the creators in the interview here. Instead, they let you put rhythms where they don’t normally go. Sounds good to me.

Here’s a look at how their in-line editing works, and how the musical concept functions: Continue reading »