maschine_keys

There are plenty of things computer drum machines / groove workstations can do to show off. There are plenty of long feature lists they might add.

But actually coming up with something you can play? That’s what can really make music better in the studio and live. And that’s why Maschine 2.2 is a welcome update.

First off, let’s admit something. Amidst all the clever functionality with grid-based controllers, there’s something that remains useful about a big, 4×4 grid of pads and MPC-style workflows for certain kinds of music. Those bigger targets don’t require a lot of accuracy, and it’s easy to keep mental track of where things are when your brain has just a 16-pad grid to track. But above and beyond that, it’s quick access to sample editing, repeated notes, mute, and other functions that make these fun to use. You can very simply improvise basic rhythmic patterns. It’s something Maschine has harnessed really well. So, whether you choose this alone or as a complement to other playing methods, it’s great when it really works. It can keep you musically productive.

And it’s no accident that you keep hearing Maschine over and over again for that reason. But while the concept was great, 1.x was a bit uneven in use. Maschine 2 brought a much-needed overhaul to the software under the hood, added lovely drum synths, cleaned up the UI, and vastly improved performance (once some drum synth issues were addressed with an update, and 2.1 added a nice shaker and a new “Grit” kick).

Maschine was a full reboot of the platform, but we haven’t yet seen NI really get to build on that foundation; the basic workflow was the same. With Maschine 2.2, Native Instruments takes the first steps that could impact how you play. It sounds like simple stuff, but having access to an enhanced arpeggiator, scales, and chords can mean much easier playability on the drum pads, without having to add a keyboard.

Continue reading »

numerology

Numerology is a ray of hope, proof that there’s more than one way to build software for making music live and in the studio. Instead of locking you into yet another multitrack recorder, it’s an open canvas for combining sequencers into note-making machines.

But maybe the idea of using some idiosyncratic modular step-sequencing environment just hadn’t quite won you over. Quietly working away in New Mexico, developer Jim Coker has been working away on a new Numerology to change your mind.

What’s different about this fourth revision? Well, a whole lot of details, but here are the important new developments:

1. It controls hardware.
2. It modulates hardware.
3. It uses your Ableton Push, and its grids let you get away from the computer screen.
4. It has increasingly-powerful sampling and real-time automation.
5. It turns your computer into a ready-to-play library of useful stuff – save stacks of modules (or use pre-built tools), then browse them easily.

In other words, Numerology returns us to some of the things we wanted out of a computer in the first place.

Numerology 4 — sequence + modulate from Five12 on Vimeo.

I’ve just started working with it, but this is for me starting to reach critical mass to devote some time – and, hey, look, it’s wintertime. Ideal. In more detail: Continue reading »

Processed with VSCOcam with j6 preset

Here’s some important news that might impact you – even though you may never have heard of either the instrument maker or know anything about code libraries. Bear with us. But an experimental instrument builder and design shop just acquired the most popular framework used by audio developers, a set of free and open source gems.

The film explaining the announcement:

First, there’s ROLI. Now, to most of us in the music world, ROLI are the Dalston, London firm that make an alternative keyboard called the Seaboard – a sort of newer cousin to the Haken Continuum Fingerboard that uses foam that you press with your fingers to add expression and bend pitches. But ROLI wants you to think of them as a design shop focused on interaction. So they don’t just say “we’re going to go make weird instruments”; whether you buy the pitch or not, they say they want nothing less than to transform all human machine interaction.

And yes, there’s a film for that, too. (Those of you playing the startup drinking game, fair warning: the words “design” and “artisanal” appear in the opening moments, so you could wind up a bit unhealthy.) Continue reading »

bitwig_opener

Bitwig Studio has been quietly plugging along in development, adding loads of engineering improvements under the hood. Version 1.1 is the largest update yet.

Here’s the summary of the update:
https://www.bitwig.com/en/bitwig_1up

Minus the marketing speak, the exhaustive changelog (here, for Mac): http://www.bitwig.com/dl/8/mac

It’s an impressively long list of enhancements in quantity, though most of the changes are fixes and enhanced hardware and plug-in compatibility. For instance, you can side-chain VSTs, and there are new options for routing multiband effects and multi-channel plug-ins.

The big enhancements:

  • More routing for audio and MIDI
  • VST multi-out sidechain support and multi-channel effect hosts
  • Updated controller API
  • New Audio Receiver, Note Receiver, Note MOD, De-Esser devices

And you can genuinely deactivate devices to save CPU, something Live lacks, as well as take advantage of “true latency compensation.” (Whatever that means – that will require some testing. Bitwig’s explanation of what makes their tech different is that it actually works. That sounds good.) Some other features play catch-up with Ableton Live – tap tempo and crossfader, modulation and timestretching. But it’s a welcome update. Continue reading »

tempotap

It’s the little things. This just got added to my bookmarks; maybe it’ll be on yours.

http://www.tempotap.com

Press the spacebar repeatedly, and you get an accurate BPM count for a song. It’s actually useful to help learn to recognize BPM, as well, if you listen frequently when at your computer. (The trick used to be to look at the second hand of your wristwatch, as two ticks would be 120 bpm – but that requires an analog wristwatch.)

And yes, surely this will be one of the first native Apple Watch tools when its native SDK ships next year.

Thanks to the wondrous Esther Duijn, DJ friend, and her Facebook page.

rhythmwolf

Dance music, it seems, has come full circle. Techno’s roots began with affordable oddball hardware, abused into new genres. And now, the appetite for cheap little boxes that make grooves is back.

But does “cheap” and “analog” always make for a winner? Well, not necessarily. But let’s find out why.

This is the AKAI Rhythm Wolf. When we first saw it, it was clear people would want it, because physically, visually, it has the things you’d want – even before you get to the accessible price. There are velocity-sensitive pads for each part, coupled (cleverly) with x0x-style buttons for simple 16-step patterns (which you can chain into 32-step pattern). There are the requisite controls for changing step length, and recording step sequences or performances. There’s ample I/O – proper MIDI in/out and thru (plus MIDI over USB), gate trigger in and out, and separate mono outputs for the synth and drums. Continue reading »

volcasample

The KORG volca sample is here – and it’s more open than we thought.

We’ve seen KORG’s affordable, compact, battery-powered volca formula applied to synths (BASS and KEYS) and a drum machine (BEATS). I’m especially partial to the booming kick of the BASS, the sound of the KEYS (which despite the name also works as a bass synth), and the clever touch sequencing interface.

Well, now having teased the newest addition to the family, we’re learning about the details of the KORG sample. It’s not a sampler per se – there’s no mic or audio input – but what KORG calls a “sample sequencer.”

We’ll have a unit in to test soon, but my impression is that sample sequencing isn’t a bad thing at all. Sequencing has always been a strong suit for the volca, and here, it’s the main story. Every parameter of a sample is ready to step sequence, from the way the sample is sliced, to its playback speed and amplitude envelope, to pitch.

Additional features:

  • Reverse samples
  • Per-part reverb (ooh)
  • Active step / step jump (for editing steps)
  • “A frequency isolator, which has become a powerful tool in the creation of numerous electronic genres.” Or, um, to make that understandable, there are treble and bass analog filters.
  • Swing
  • Song mode – 16 patterns x 6 songs

That leaves only how to get samples into the volca sample, beyond the 100 samples already built in. Continue reading »