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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 »

hacklab1

For the past two winters, CDM has joined with Berlin’s CTM Festival to invite musical participants to grow beyond themselves. Working in freshly-composed collaborations, they’ve built new performances in a matter of days, then presented them to the world – as of last year, in a public, live show.

This year, they will work even more deeply inside themselves, finding the interfaces between body and music, biology and sound.

And that means we’re inviting everyone from choreographers to neuroscientists to apply, as much as musicians and code makers. Playing with the CTM theme of “Un Tune,” the project will this year encourage participants to imagine biology as sonic system, sound in its bodily effects, and otherwise connect embodiment to physical reality.

Joining me is Baja California-born Leslie Garcia, a terrific sound artist and maker who has already gone from participating in last year’s lab to organizing her own in her native Mexico. You can glimpse her below looking like a space sorceress of some kind, and hear the collaborative work she made last winter.

The 2014 hacklab's output, all wired up for the performance. Photo: CTM Festival.

The 2014 hacklab’s output, all wired up for the performance. Photo: CTM Festival.

We don’t know what people will propose or what meaning they will find out of that theme, but it might include stuff like this: Continue reading »

The impressive, futuristic physical form of the 4DSOUND system. Photo: George Schroll.

The impressive, futuristic physical form of the 4DSOUND system. Photo: George Schroll.

You can’t really hear the results of the Spatial Audio Hacklab sitting at your computer – by definition, you had to be there to take in the experience of sounds projected in space. But you’ll probably feel the enthusiasm and imagination of its participants.

And that’s why it’s a pleasure to share the video documentation, produced for 4DSOUND by a team from FIBER – the Dutch audiovisual events and art platform – at Amsterdam Dance Event last month. In unleashing a diverse group of artist-experimenters on 4DSOUND’s unique speaker installation, we got a chance to create a sonic playground, a laboratory experiment in what people could do. It’s tough to overstate just how much those participants brought to the table – or just how little time they had. Actually working on the system was measured in minutes, forcing artists to improvise quickly with reality television levels of pressure. (Only, unlike TV show challenges, everyone kept their nerves and wits.)

4DSOUND Spatial Sound Hack Lab at ADE 2014 from FIBER on Vimeo.

To get through it, these artists focused on collaboration, finding ways of connecting essential skills. In the days and weeks leading up to Amsterdam, many of them fired missives back and forth wondering how best to exploit the spatial sound system. They then worked intensively to devise something they could try quickly, forming spontaneous teams to combine resources. They did in minutes what resident artists had done in days. With input from Nicholas Bougaïeff from Liine and a whole lot of guidance and assistance from the entire 4DSOUND team, in particular founder Paul Oomen, gathered hacekers managed to get a whole lot up and running. No project went silent; with tweaks, everything worked.

This wasn’t merely a show of coding prowess or engineering. Each project found some way to involve musical practice and sound, each was a “jam” as well as “hack.” That’s something different from the typical shape of hack days; these projects weren’t just demos. They were given a voice — sometimes literally singing, rather beautifully. Continue reading »