Max 7 is the newest version of Cycling ’74 visual development to… um… erm…

Well, actually, it’s really hard to explain what tools like Max, Pd, Reaktor, Plogue Bidule, and the like can do. Sure, they’re nerdy environments for making stuff. But because they’re open ended – because what they do is really up to you – just calling them a “development tool” doesn’t really say a lot.

So, in a cute new video, Cycling ’74 shows off Max 7. It’s really stuff you could do with previous tools, showing visual and sonic capabilities. But if you didn’t fully grasp why that’s cool, maybe a singing mushroom will help. And long-time Max users will see that Max 7 has a very different UI – even if Max 5/6 themselves offered a lot of changes. Tools are in a trendy gray on the borders around the window, always handy, and there’s a new browser. No new objects are immediately obvious that I can spot, but I know there’s a lot more to Max 7 than that. I’ll try to see if Cycling wants to help a CDM out a bit with that information, but I’m pretty sure they’re being coy.

A first peek at Max 7

http://cycling74.com

Certainly, I hope Max 7 also coincides with the next Max for Live and that those are in sync, too. I’ll find out for us when they’re ready to reveal that.

PS, David, while you wrote that post in an airport – somewhere – I wrote the post about your post waiting in terminal D at Berlin Tegel. Even funnier would be if we were blogging each other across the room, but – not this time. Next time. Music for Airports. Blogging for Airports?

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That’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

Wayward insects become the source of eerie, ambient music in a new work by British-born, Baix Penedes (Spain)-based artist Dickon Stone. Each insect lured by the glow of his light-up sculpture in turn triggers musical elements. Over the course of five years, he’s shaped that process into a strangely-lovely, otherworldly soundscape and formed a two-track EP, which you can preview here.

(Five years, huh? Well, that’s proof that even with swarms of insects helping you shape the music, you can wind up obsessing over finishing. But the results are worth it!)

Dickon sends us a video of an early 2011 test, which gives you an idea of how the method works.

The gimmick might just leave it at that, but the results are rather nice. Listen: Continue reading »

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Spin off those spinning CDJs. Pioneer DJ is now a separate company, sold to an equity firm in New York at the price of roughly US$551 Million.

Pioneer Corp in its past form was diversified in the old-fashioned model of Japanese brands. So, yes, it made the mixer and the CD player in your discotheque … but also your car stereo, and iPod docks, and earbuds, and a system for monitoring your cycling activities while you pedal bicycles, and it put its name on all of them. (This is the same country where the Yamaha brand is on both jetskis and grand pianos, after all.)

Now, that changes. Pioneer already dumped the home audio-video business to an Asian private equity firm (controlling stake), splitting the rest with Onkyo. Next, Pioneer Corp is divesting the bit we care about: Pioneer DJ. So yes, your DJM mixers and CDJs – and soon new turntables – get made by one company, in the DJ business. Pioneer Corp meanwhile focuses on car stereos.

The timing comes at an interesting time; Pioneer DJ is celebrating its 20th anniversary. But can you read some sort of deeper meaning into what’s happening in digital DJing? Not necessarily, no. The company is healthy and from your perspective as a Pioneer user, nothing much is likely to change visibly.

Instead, this appears to be what happens when Japanese conglomerates decide to focus. And that leaves an American equity firm in this case to snap up the business and try to make money as it grows. Continue reading »

littleBits, the snap-together magnetic hardware module system for easy DIY hardware mash-ups, has a unique take on how to add new hardware. Previously, modules came from littleBits; the popular Synth Kit collaboration with KORG being a significant exception. littleBits has certainly offered a lot of options, including the recent Cloud Kit for adding Internet connectivity.

But now, it’s opening up hardware development to anyone with an idea. While littleBits calls itself “open source hardware” – founder Ayah Bdeir even co-founding the Open Hardware Summit — that openness has always been restricted when it comes to the magnetic connectors. Those are proprietary, and littleBits has told us previously that they’d be hard for anyone else to manufacture.

That changes with the release of the “Hardware Development Kit” (HDK) and the new Pro Module and connectors. Now you can add littleBits connectors to any project you’ve made. Built an Arduino-powered noisemaker? Now you can connect it electrically to littleBits using magnets. The US$39.95 HDK is basically a bundle of Proto Modules, magnetic snaps, and a perf board for assembling circuits. See video below.

That’s already very cool, but littleBits – fresh with venture funding – is going further. They’re letting users vote on modules they want, then manufacturing them if projects get a minimum of 1000 votes. (It’s up to makers whether to go open source or not, though the current modules are all open circuit designs, and littleBits tells us they’re encouraging the idea.) Continue reading »

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Execution is everything.

Musical tastes are personal. And it seems that force-feeding people a new album from U2, unsolicited, doesn’t go over well. Apple giving away U2′s new Songs of Innocence is in itself not a bad thing. But there are two problems. One, the album is poorly reviewed – think Paul McCartney “Wonderful Christmastime” rather than Abbey Road. Two, because the album simply appeared in purchased music – and because iTunes (cleverly enough) displays what you’ve purchased from iCloud – it showed up in people’s collections when it didn’t belong.

So, we’ve learned something. This doesn’t work. And as always, you can’t really buy marketing. That is, sure, Aphex Twin rented a blimp, but in the end, they had more successful viral marketing because they let their fans choose to spread their new release. U2 tried to force that promotion, and even though Apple and U2 are loved by many people, the combination comes across as corporate and inauthentic. Continue reading »

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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 »

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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 »