discoipod

It happened just as Apple was giving us one thing many of us couldn’t imagine wanting (a watch), and one thing we definitely didn’t ask for (“buying” U2′s new record for us).

Apple quietly killed the iPod Classic. That is, the iPod touch lives on as an iOS handheld minus a cellular radio, and there’s an app on iOS. But there is no standalone device, with the as-expected discontinuation of iPod Classic. Correction: there is one. The US$49, 2GB iPod shuffle is still available. But it’s a pale shadow of the iPod line.

This is a big deal. It means that the iconic object that transformed music is beginning to look more like a blip in music history – the leading edge of a change, but only part of that change. The iPod brought digital music and big collections, it’s true. But it’s being supplanted by something that, while it still involves digital files and pocket-friendly players on the go, is a different animal. It’s music you stream rather than own. It’s listening on a range of multi-functional devices, rather than syncing a single dedicated player to a computer. It’s music as an app, or rather, music as apps. Think Brian Eno-constructed generative music, RjDj and interactive sounds, NINJAMM remixing Ninja Tune, apps you use at concerts, strange sonic toys from Bj√∂rk, and more. Commercially successful or not, that doesn’t matter – you can’t re-establish boundaries once they’re gone.

Once you have an operating system, music is software, not media.

And once you have the Internet, software is service as well as app.

This shift has sent some people into an existential tailspin. Mat Honan, for instance, gets a bit dark over at a much-forwarded elegy at Wired: Continue reading »

applewatch

Apple Watch could be the first in a new wave of wearable technology for musicians.

The idea isn’t new. We’ve seen various notions involving wearing extra controls for music. In fact, the whole category of alternative interfaces is deeply indebted to Michael Waisvisz, who helmed STEIM for many years and whose interface The Hands inspired generations of musical gloves and gestural interfaces. Guitarists have had various rings to wear; IK Multimedia is currently experimenting with rings that aid in gestural control of iOS.

Apple Watch may not become the accessory the iPad and iPhone have for music, but – partly due to the success of those platforms – it’s ripe for experimentation. And since I can already prepare Traktor sets with my iPhone and plug my guitar through an iPad, music companies already target iOS as an additional platform (atop Windows and Mac).

Those developers should see Apple Watch alongside the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch developer tools soon. Apple is promising that you’ll be able to use their wrist-born iOS gadget for notifications and information, with “fully native” apps (presumably iOS apps with a different screen size and hardware capabilities) “later next year.” So, figure notifications first, full apps later. Even the former will be useful, but putting those two categories together, imagine this:

Visual notifications while you play. BPM, cues in songs, uh… lyrics, if you’re especially bad at remembering them.

Remote controls. Transport controls and the like are a logical app. Think of a simple app with wireless Mackie Control for transport information.

Touch. The iPad and even iPhone offer larger touch surfaces, but you do get something out of the Watch. There’s reportedly pressure sensitivity, and “Taptic” provides haptic feedback. Now, you wouldn’t buy an Apple Watch for these features, but you can bet some developers will try hacking creative musical applications with them anyway. The new touch sensing tech could be something we see on iOS devices later, too.

Easy-access controls. Even the “Digital Crown” looks useful. Imagine a metronome on your wrist, turning this dial to change the tempo up and down precisely.

Wireless and Bluetooth provide a connection with your computer, so as with iPhone and iPad controllers, remote control is a likely application.

But I could see a KORG tuner or metronome on the Apple Watch, too, or an Ableton transport. Continue reading »

MPCRenaissance_angle2_1200x750

Let’s get one thing straight: now that Akai has made the jump from hardware to hybrid hardware/software, the hardware they make is very, very good.

The MPC Studio is slim and messenger bag-friendly, when Native Instruments’ Maschine is big and luggable. The MPC Renaissance is more of a “throw it in your station wagon” affair, but it feels fantastic – the pads are brilliant.

The downside has been software. But Akai is making headway there. I’m not convinced the changes are going to make anyone switch, but I can imagine what Akai is delivering here should make existing users very happy, indeed.

mpcsoftware Continue reading »

AudioHub-3quart_Retouch-HR

File this directly under “why has no one done this properly before?”

One of the few remaining annoyances in computer music making is just getting connected. First, you need an audio interface to get proper sound and headphone cueing. Then, you’ve got all this great gear for control – but where to put it? Macs and even many new PCs have few USB ports (especially ultrathin notebooks like the MacBook Air).

Yes, it’s about time someone combined a practical audio interface with a USB hub.

Focusrite/Novation seem to be the right folks for the job. Focusrite’s audio interfaces are some of the best of the bunch – I’ve had good luck with their drivers, and they deliver good sound for the price, thanks to the company’s experience in things like mic pres. Novation, meanwhile, are one of the companies making all the stuff you want to plug in (like the ever-popular Launchpad line).

The Novation-branded Audiobus, labeled “Audiohub 2×4″ (meaning I would expect they have other configurations in mind), merges both sides. There’s a 96kHz, 24-bit Focusrite interface for the audio guts, plus a three-port, powered USB hub.

AudioHub-PP_Image7

Specs: Continue reading »

TriggerBox-iPad_mini

Your next modular input might just be an iPad or iPhone headphone jack.

Control voltage inputs, once associated only with racks of modular synths, are now showing up on all kinds of synthesizers and keyboards. Arturia’s MicroBrute and MiniBrute are two very lovely, very affordable examples, priced less than most entry-level digital synths were just a few short years ago.

And since all you need is a sound signal to modulate those inputs, even a phone or tablet app will do the trick. Developer Justus Kandzi, who came to one of our music app meet ups here in Berlin, has built some brilliant, compact apps for the job. Brute LFO is the cost of a cable — just five bucks; Trigger Box is free.

Plug them in, and you can use touch to create elaborate sound sculpting shapes (Brute LFO), or spawn Euclidean sequencer rhythms (Trigger Box). These apps don’t replace anything already on hardware; they add to what’s already there, and in the case of Trigger Box, can use an interface and design paradigm that makes sense on a display but might not on physical hardware.

Here’s a great example pairing the iPhone app with Arturia’s keyboard:

Continue reading »

Quick, we need kids to be able to express their feelings, they really ought to learn more about electronics, and – more veg. Definitely need to eat more vegetables.

You know what we have to do.

Let’s combine all that.

Moscow-based collective/project Playtronica has gone wild with the Makey Makey “invention kit,” and built a whole range of projects around interfacing electronics to vegetables and other creative inputs. They have hands-on workstations for kids that look like your Farmers’ Market was taken over by Leon Theremin. Kids are making rhythms, recording sounds, making songs.

And in a CDM-exclusive premiere, we get the first look at the music video for The Cucumber Song. (Sorry, Pitchfork – you’ve been scooped.)

Olga Maximova sends us more information. Continue reading »

But, on the upside, we’ll be huge in Japan.

Yes, just to be clear, this is Hatsune Miku, who is actually a software vocal algorithm, not an actual singer, playing live in front of throngs of fans.

Enjoy that stomp box while you can. It may… kill you in your sleep, strangling you with your own guitar cables, and then go on the road with your volcas and electribes in your place. Don’t even think of letting it talk to Siri.

(Seriously, KORG, did you ask Yamaha if they’re including the Three Laws of Robotics on that chipset, or should we be worried?)

And yes, while the rest of the world argues about just what knobs Deadmau5 or Daft Punk may be twiddling onstage, it’s worth noting that Miku has been playing “virtual” concerts like this in front of an adoring public since 2009. As noted in comments, technically there is sampled material sliced to produce her voice, but the combination of machine-controlled lyrics with a projected animated avatar is unmistakably post-human performance – or at least very much augmented human performance. In some sense, of course, this is all of us playing with computers; the Miku concerts simply embrace the phenomenon as natural.

Via a completely insane message thread on GearSlutz. (Who are these people, anyway?)

Update: my sister points out that Japanese fiction was already onto this concept – see Sharon Apple in Macross Plus, circa 1994.