In our last episode of “watching things on the Internet instead of doing real work,” we were enjoying a full-length 90s electronic music documentary and a bunch of music videos.

Well, here we are at yet another weekend. And hopefully we can give you some video watching pleasure yet again, in those moments when you aren’t, well, hopefully, making music.

Leading the pack is a 1986 story from Chicago TV news back when house music was in its early days, as spotted by Dancing Astronauts. And it’s an astounding document, featuring Danny “Sweet-D” Wilson, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, Steve “Silk” Hurley, and Keith Nunnally. Two big takeaways. One, it’s interesting to note that London was already catching onto house even when these artists were relatively obscure in sweet home Chicago. Europe and the UK, always ahead of American audiences when it comes to American music – note the British announced proudly wearing an enormous American flag shirt.

Two, it’s fantastic to see this stuff being made live. Why that shouldn’t be more commonplace in 2015, I have no idea. Steve Hurly and Jackmaster Funk constructing a track is inspiring and fresh nearly two decades later.

But there’s more, of course. With no particular theme, here’s a bunch of documentary stuff to queue up.

If you’d rather go to pioneering electronic composition in place of 80s dance music, here are two documentaries on the incomparable Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, via OpenCulture (which just happened to pop into my inbox today): Continue reading »

wurrly

The music industry is fantastic at hindsight. We’ve obsessed over the spread of online piracy, the death of the CD, then the impact of streams. But every measure of the business model is somehow framed around acquiring records. And it’s about passive consumption.

We have to remember, though, that passive consumption is itself really the outlier. Until the dawn of recording, music only existed when you played it. Our current copyright and licensing system was first structured around sheet music. And that world never went away. Precise recordings can give you the experience of listening, but no technology can give you the feeling of singing.

So it’s time to start thinking about business models that involve active participation. We saw that earlier this month with label Ninja Tune embracing remixing in an app and Launchpad sound packs. Here’s a more conventional approach.

Wurrly is an app for recording covers of popular songs. It starts with a song store (and links to the originals on iTunes), but instead of tapping to download, you tap to sing. Choose a pre-made accompaniment (full band, piano, or guitar), set the key and tempo, and record. The cleverest part of the app is probably the interface for adding finishing touches: you get a simple fader for mixing and Instagram-style effects. (I’m sure we’ll keep hearing about an “Instagram for music” or “Instagram for sound” until someone really nails it.) Continue reading »

maxology_physical

There is a powerful world of sound exploration in your hands. But sometimes the hardest part is just starting.

So the quiet launch of a site called Maxology is very good news. It’s evidently a place to go for tutorials and projects and more.

And right now, you can grab a bunch of free and open source objects for physical modeling, built for Max 7 and Max for Live. That opens a window into a world of realistic and impossible sounds, built on algorithms that mimic the way instruments work physically and acoustically. Continue reading »

midimini

“It was acceptable in the 80s…”

The standard MIDI DIN cable – that’s the big honkin’ connector you use on most of your MIDI gear – has become the bane of music hardware makers. The problem is, as gear has gotten smaller, the standard DIN connector hasn’t. And that’s a big problem, literally. To add a MIDI port to a device, you need to not only have enough clearance for the connector itself, but the whole around the port and the physical assembly that contains it. Speaking as a hardware maker, that takes up space you can’t even see from the outside.

As a result, a lot of hardware that should have had MIDI in and out doesn’t, to save room. Or it’s forced to be thicker than it needs to be. Or it squeezes out other useful ports.

To be clear, on devices that can fit a MIDI DIN, it still makes sense. It’s a standard part, you’ve got the cables, you’ve got things to plug it into, and the connector is safe to use. But if it simply won’t fit, something else is a must. And that’s why other connectors are already shipping on gear. Imagine if they were all interoperable. Continue reading »

Launchpad meets Ninja Tune and Brainfeeder

We used to talk about the home studio. Then the bedroom producer. Then laptop music. Now it’s more like the everywhere studio – and the computer may be nowhere to be seen.

Tools like Launchpad for iOS tend to exist in some sort of alternate dimension from the world of music tech writing, even when it comes to this site. But quietly, a lot of people are making music with them. (It doesn’t hurt that there are a lot of iPads and iPhones out there, or that the apps are often given away for free.)

But just because this is a category that’s friendly to newcomers doesn’t mean the music is any less serious.

This week, Novation is promoting its Launchpad with some heavy artist collaborations. Kicking off a new soundpack set are Machinedrum (Ninja Tune) and Lapalux (on Brainfeeder, the label most associated with Flying Lotus). I find these to be really nice choices. Vapor City is really one of my favorite electronic releases of recent years – and I will be the first to admit I’m completely biased by the fact that Travis Stewart (Machinedrum) is a lovely gentleman.

Let’s have a listen to the music: Continue reading »

alchemy

Logic Pro has a new flagship synth instrument. And that synth is no basic pack-in – it’s one of the deepest software instruments on the market.

It’s also no stranger. As expected following Cupertino’s acquisition, Alchemy, a deep “sample manipulation” synth, has made its way into Apple’s product line. It’s now everywhere on the Mac desktop. Even in GarageBand, you can access Alchemy-based presets. In Logic Pro X, and even MainStage, you can access the full instrument. (That means the $29.99 MainStage is now also a heck of a steal if you just want the synth.)

(I do say desktop – there’s no sign of Alchemy on iOS at this time. On the other hand, if those “iPad Pro” rumors are true… well, I’ll let you fantasize about that; Apple of course won’t tell me anything.)

Now, we more or less knew back when Camel Audio was acquired by Apple that this would also mean no more availability of Alchemy as a plug-in for other DAWs (or other platforms). What we didn’t know is what form the re-released version would take. And that’s where there’s good news: Alchemy has been vastly updated.

If you’re just looking for a sound quickly, you can mess about with transform controls and pull up a wide range of presets. If you want to go deeper, you have an instrument that does additive, spectral, formant, granular, sampling, and virtual analog synthesis. In fact, I can’t think of another single instrument that does quite as much all via one interface.

Logic Pro X 10.2, available as a free App Store upgrade or for instant purchase, includes a raft of other improvements. And Alchemy itself hasn’t just been shoved into Logic’s interface – there are some significant additions there, as well. Let’s have a look: Continue reading »

Microsoft celebrated the 20th anniversary of the release of Windows 95. But the best part of all of this may be this oddly eerie, beautiful set of ambient tunes, slowing down the best-known Windows branding by 4000%.

This is what Brian Eno sounds like when you Brian Eno-ify Brian Eno.

While we’re at it, it’s worth revisiting some of the startup sounds over the years. Continue reading »