tb3closeup

It’s probably the greeting I’ve heard most in the past couple of months, apart from “Hello.”

Sometimes even before “Hello.”

Everywhere I go, people are asking me what I think of the Roland AIRAs – particularly the TR-8 drum machine.

There are now reviews everywhere of the AIRA TB-3 and TR-8 (and some of the VT-3, as well). For CDM, we’re planning some additional detail, but we’re still awaiting our review hardware. Fortunately, I got to spend an action-packed day with the trio of AIRAs with Benjamin Weiss.

So, I can do what I’d do in a bar: I can tell you all the really important details and skip straight to what I think of these (at least while we wait to do more exhaustive, detailed coverage).

Benjamin and I even finished an all-AIRA track for our NERKKIRN project. Well, nearly all-AIRA – the sound sources are exclusively AIRA TB-3, TR-8, and VT-3 with my voice. Here’s what sounds came out (teaser):

Having a day to mess with these is actually rather a great way to test the gear. You’re left with a fairly immediate impression. Continue reading »

Don’t call it a comeback. Hardware step sequencing is becoming the must-have accessory for even computer users.

And the boutique Digital Warrior controller, which neatly combines knobs with colored pads, is a great solution. I’ve been messing about with the Arturia BeatStep, as well – review coming – but the Digital Warrior has some tricks of its own. It integrates nicely with Traktor, like the still-forthcoming MIDI Fighter Twist from DJ TechTools. But the reason I wouldn’t buy or recommend the DJTT piece is – no MIDI DIN connector. And that spoils the fun.

Here, the Digital Warrior is comfortable not only integrating with your computer but with MIDI gear, as well. Note the cable making its way into the volca beats. And the volca beats I think has become most popular of the volcas with good reason: the touch strip at the bottom is ideal for quick sequencing. Some of the sounds I think are better than others, but it does have a grungy and unique sound, aided by the PCM and grain controls. And, crucially, the bass drum is deep. (I remain interested to hear what Akai’s rival Rhythm Wolf will sound like, though the tiny size of the volca is perfect when you’re cramming a live rig into cramped quarters, which always seems to happen onstage – hey, half a meter square is enough for you, right?)

You can output MIDI clock (as with volca beats), or use the MIDI port as MIDI thru, turning the box into a proper MIDI interface.

Bottom line: whether working in something like Ableton or Traktor, you can layer hardware step sequences over top so that you actually have something to play (rather than waving your arms around while some scenes or tracks play automatically – bah).

Details: Continue reading »

Before triggering clips and samples on the computer, Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory “trigger” the musicians.

Yes, before there were machine clips, there were human patterns, and in performing Terry Riley’s legendary classical new music composition “In C,” the ensemble has to do just that. In a beautiful chorus of chiming tones, that orchestra is augmented with digital embellishment.

The result makes for a live performance that expands the role of the computer into a large-scale instrumental ensemble, venturing into territory perhaps not as often associated with Ableton Live as genres like dance music are. But Ableton has lavished attention on electronic composer Pantha Du Prince and his ensemble in a series of videos that amount to a complete documentary on the work and how it was produced.

Pantha du Prince’s music has always shimmered with beautiful sounds, but here, percussion form an otherworldly realm of glittering rhythmic waves.

Ableton’s film begins with the artist side, and in fact less discussion of the gear. (I’ve heard people chattering about that lately, and pleasantly surprised that this isn’t an in-your-face promo video.)

Pantha Du Prince & The bell Laboratory, Centraltheater, Leipzig 2013 © R. Arnold/CT Via the project's Facebook page.

Pantha Du Prince & The bell Laboratory, Centraltheater, Leipzig 2013
© R. Arnold/CT
Via the project’s Facebook page.

Continue reading »

tb8

Part of the appeal of the Roland TR-8 drum machine and TB-3 bassline synth is their hands-on control. But apart from the normal reasons you’d additionally want external MIDI control, you’ll need it for certain kinds of automation recording.

The problem is, the AIRAs (at least with their current firmware) lack the ability to record automation internally. You can record patterns on the TR-8 and TB-3, but not changes to sound parameters, effects, or that Scatter thing. So, if you’re making a pattern and find a shifting timbre or glitchy effect you like, there’s no way to save it easily for performance (apart from recording audio, of course).

The solution is to make use of MIDI Control Change messages. Yet, for a company that almost always fastidiously shares its MIDI implementation in documentation, Roland has mysteriously not done so on AIRA. Fortunately, my colleague NERK, with whom I make music as the dubious, shady techno duo NERKKIRN, has gone through and worked out what the MIDI messages are.

A complete list (so far) for both the TB-3 and TR-8 is below. These aren’t official, so it’s possible there are more messages missing; we’re in touch with Roland to try to find out, but if you’ve discovered any more, or any more tips or hacks, we’d love to hear them.

NERK, aka Benjamin Weiss, has also built some Max for Live remotes for each device. The TR-8 is available as both a Drum Rack and a remote control surface, for convenience. Download them free at maxforlive.com: Continue reading »

“Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted …”

Yes, welcome to the wild studio of Legowelt, the eclectic Dutch musician. Future Music Magazine didn’t just do a video tour. They did an hour-long video tour, where the artist waxes poetic on every detail with loving attention. It’s a beautiful nerdfest. I know we’re theoretically not supposed to be fetishizing gear, but there’s some real care for these tools. And… there’s a Commodore 64 studio and some real rarities.

For signs Legowelt is One of Us, here’s his bio:

Born: a long time ago when Star Wars used to be good

School: Bovine University North Dakota

Previous Jobs: Amiga programmer, RPG Dungeon Master

Current Jobs: Music Producer, Ufologist, CEO of Pacific Micro International Software™

Hobbies: Synthesizers, Programming text adventures for the Commodore 64

And Legowelt also picked up some of the gear on the cheap, which is, really, the point of the game of used gear (or supposed to be). A Roland JV2080 was a bargain-bin buy, and becomes the name of the new record. Continue reading »

The dedicated drum machine is at a crossroads. Computer hybrids are simply capable of more than dedicated hardware – and that, in turn, has changed user expectations. You can go retro, as analog machines have done. You can go small, as boxes like the volca beats and upcoming Akai Rhythm Wolf do. You can stay the course, as Elektron does with their boxes. You can go hybrid, as Native Instruments’ Maschine, Arturia’s Spark, and Akai’s Renaissance and MPC Fly do.

Or, there’s one other option. You could put the soul of a computer – and the touchscreen interface – in that dedicated box.

A surprise revelation of the Microsoft Build developer conference was that Akai appears to be going that way with their flagship product. The MPC was onstage, sporting a traditional MPC form factor but with a UI augmented by touch. And De:bug Magazine (German) reports on a leak on the MPC Forum with details from a developer that suggest that the next MPC will have Intel – and Windows – inside.

Oh, hello. That's not a Windows Phone.

Oh, hello. That’s not a Windows Phone.

KOMMT DIE NÄCHSTE MPC MIT WINDOWS EMBEDDED?

This could be a big loss for Apple, too, in this sector. Sources tell me that Apple is getting more restrictive about hardware accessories they’ll let run on their devices. I can’t confirm specifics, but it seems logical to me that some vendors would gravitate toward an OS developer that offers an embedded platform they can build on – and iOS, in many ways, isn’t it, not once you graduate from simple apps.

In the video from Build, you might assume that this is just a Windows tablet augmenting more conventional music hardware. But the developer suggests there’s more to it than that: Continue reading »

This Tuesday, we’ve lined up a trio of video interviews for your viewing pleasure. But one is rarer than the others. Amon Tobin tends to shy away from interviews, generally, let alone those on camera. Here, he agreed to talk to Beatport about his work.

Flanked by racks of very lovely gear from Moog and others, plus a computer running Steinberg Cubase as the central digital hub and recording center, Tobin emphasizes mainly the philosophy behind his approach. He emphasizes in particular his passion for experimentation, contrasting “entertainment,” which “depends on the approval of other people,” with what he describes as a “labor of love.” And that includes his ongoing Two Fingers project, which eschewing any sort of commercial appeal, he calls “a weird art project that I’ve been working on for 15 years.” Continue reading »