Open source music hardware has gone from promising concept to practical reality. It incorporates not just hacker-friendly kits, but end user products, from synths to controllers to effects. And now, for the first time, you can find one of the biggest names in the musical instrument industry on GitHub.
KORG and littleBits promised they’d release their collaboration under the same open source license as the other magnetic, snap-together modules from littleBits. This week, they’ve delivered.
It’s a little tricky to find, so let’s walk you through it. The good stuff is in the EAGLE files – the circuit diagrams, here in the most popular commercial (and non-open source) editor.
The speaker module is in the OUTPUT folder, but most of the bits you’d want to see are labeled, slightly confusingly, INPUT. That includes the analog oscillator, delay circuit, envelope, and filter. Many of the non-music-specific bits should be nice to check out, too, as they include a range of popular sensors.
There are PDFs of all the circuits, so you don’t need Eagle to browse. And that means you can have a gander at, for instance, KORG’s filter circuit. As we saw with the MS-10/20 filter released alongside the monotron, now you get the second-generation MS-20 filter in all its glory, as adapted to the littleBits voltage requirements. And this time, the circuit itself is accompanied by an explicit license that allows reuse. It’d be great to see other music developers release various modifications of the MS filter.
Fork a filter, in other words.
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From Berlin and Britain, virtuoso producers imagine a futuristic take on techno that elevates technical craft. Among many fine labels that have somehow flown under the radar this year, the surging productivity of Leisure System is surely one that merits some attention. It’s a producer’s label, in a sense, dodging trends to find music that is both danceable and listenable, ready for brain and booty and ear.
Berghain in Berlin celebrates its ninth anniversary Saturday, but let’s not overlook the Leisure System party on Friday – and the artists the label has brought together.
For starters, there’s the evergreen genius of Tim Exile and his mad-scientist brand of custom-built sound designs, heavily reliant on Reaktor. Tim Exile and Imogen Heap joined us last year here in Berlin at the CDM-hosted MusicMakers Hacklab at CTM Festival, experimenting and patching and soldering with lab participants to imagine the future of musical instruments. In the video at top, Red Bull Music Academy visits Tim (and eventually Imogen, too), to tap into their music-technological imagination.
Tim as a person and as an artist is delightfully hyperactive; seeing him play live is no difference. But his release on Leisure System’s is one of my favorites from this year, because he manages to make the sound design ultra-saturated yet channels all that unrestrained creative energy into music that retains structure and form. The mold of dance music track here is actually a useful one, a perfect frame for all of Tim’s endless sonic chops.
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Composition and invention are two tasks that always blur – there’s some engineering to making music, and that extends to sound design.
But let’s get real: when you come across someone like Antonio Blanca, you reach a whole other level.
Blanca does exquisite work in Reaktor ensembles and carefully-crafted Lemur templates to match. And DRON-E is a masterpiece, a Reaktor ensemble capable of generating entire universes of ambient sound. Eerie drones will transport you to feeling like you’re crawling about a distant asteroid or entered a convent that has retreated to an alien mineshaft. (I wasn’t the only person who felt that way – Killzone Shadow Fall sound designer Lewis James made heavy use of this on the PS4 game, among other composers.) It can be darkly gorgeous, or unsettlingly rich with sound. You know … Christmas-y stuff.
So here’s quite a Christmas present: you get DRON-E for free once you sign up at Twisted Tools. It’s almost worth buying Reaktor just to get this for free. If you happen already to have DRON-E, you can pick up other wonderful Twisted Tools work at a discount.
DRON-E is an OSC and MIDI-controllable, modern, rich sound world of its own.
Just expect to feel some pangs of envy at the Reaktor-patching genius here, and perhaps a little shadow of guilt switching it on. It’s that good.
I’m not trying to gush. But I am trying to think of the last time a set of Reaktor snapshots sounded like it could get an album release. It was all I could do to actually write this story and not just get lost in a dreamland drifting away to the sound samples:
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It seems hard to be an artist these days without a steady stream of mixes. The problem is, a lot of these become monotonous and similar. By contrast, this week, Flying Lotus drops a free download that feels more like getting a pass into someone’s hard drive.
Ideas + Drafts + Loops is full of random snippets of music, many of them – despite the name – fairly fully formed. FlyLo’s signature over-compression is showcased, of course, but you also get sparkling, shimmering rushes of sound, like a beautifully-romantic clip for Aqua Teen Force. (Being in California, of course FlyLo has been doing TV work, a lot of it great stuff.)
These are gentle and improvisatory, unadulterated fun without the burden of having to be a commercially-consumed track. And the results feel like a brilliant ray of sunshine in the midst of this December, a musical advent calendar (24 tracks, no less) of surprises. Personalities like Thundercat appear, musical notions are set free to roam, weirdness is allowed. “Puppet Talk” introduces a wavering synthesized and then resynthesized Satie Gymnopedie, in a shuffling, syncopated waltz.
The Internet’s ever-angry demand for more content, regardless of quality, can be oppressive. But this is its best side: it’s a chance to let the stranger corners of your imagination, the musical marginalia of production, see the light of day. Continue reading »
A USB-connected step sequencer with controller is now improved, and open source.
The Digital Warrior is a boutique hardware controller hailing from Cyprus, combining a 16-voice, 32-step sequencer with four pots and two three-color endless encoders, all attached via a driverless USB connection. It’s capable of acting as a step sequencer/controller with any tools you like, but out of the box includes support for Traktor remix decks and Ableton Live control.
The remix deck functionality with Traktor is a particular draw; developer and producer/DJ Tomash GHz pioneered this particular way of combining step sequencers and Traktor’s Remix Decks. (Check out a lovely video at top to see him in action.) But the controller also works with Ableton Live, and is pre-configured to control Drum Racks. Since those Drum Racks in turn can include loops, samples, or patterns, that can mean triggering whatever you like. And it’s worth checking out the documentation: everything from controller assignment to color to trigger operation mode (momentary/toggle) is easy to customize. There are even dedicated controller modes designed to work with Ableton or Traktor (the “Ableton” mode will easily work with any other software you have on hand, or, if you don’t mind including the computer, hardware).
You can also store up to 64 patterns. My only hardware complaint is really that there’s no MIDI for standalone mode.
For Traktor, Tomash has made two rather nice sample packs, so you can add a synth or drum kit to Traktor quickly. I’ve just started playing with the prototype, and now I think I’ll always have this with me when I’m playing with Traktor.
But it’s also noteworthy that the Digital Warrior is now open source hardware, under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license.
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Google Glass continues to see musical ideas. Alexander Chen, whom we saw composing violin ensembles with Google’s wearable tech, now turns his attentions to literal glass – wine glasses.
In “Glass through Glass,” we hear a beautiful, ethereal ensemble of wine glasses resonating in harmony. Yes, you could do this with other devices, but glass does make the recording experience seamless, as would any wearable camera.
Cornell conductor and professor Cynthia Turner, too, is beginning with Google Glass primarily as a point-of-view camera. But she intends to go further, reported The Verge earlier this fall. She’s streaming the conductor’s perspective as she conducts, and experimenting with digitally-projected programs. And that could be just the beginning: Continue reading »
Elektron’s Analog Keys goes on sale this week, and begins shipping next week. It’s Sweden’s latest dream-worthy analog instrument, a 4-voice analog synth with integrated sequencer. And it’s no entry-level toy, either: you’ll need US$1849 / 1749€ / £1449 to make it your own.
But — what is it, exactly?
Okay: confession. When music hardware maker Elektron invited us to a party with a big lineup in Berlin, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who hoped we might see an entirely new product. Maybe we’d even get a new Machinedrum. What we got, while nice, sure does seem a lot like Elektron’s Analog Four, only with a keyboard attached.
The Analog Keys does indeed share an architecture with the Analog Four. (“Architecture” maybe is understating it – fundamentally, it is the same synth under the hood.)
But let’s talk about the differences that aren’t immediately obvious. I’m assuming the giant picture of the keyboard and the “Keys” in the name means one difference you can’t miss. But Elektron’s Jon Mårtensson tells CDM the other things Analog Keys has that Analog Four doesn’t. Continue reading »