How much freedom do you want when building things? You want the ability to experiment and make choices, but you also want the process of making to be easy enough that you can play.

Bleep Labs last week introduced the first two kits in a series they’re calling Rad-Fi. The idea is, follow the instructions, and you can build a synth and an effect quickly by connecting parts on a breadboard. That makes kit assembly stunningly easy, because there’s no soldering involved. It also means it’s very possible to make modifications by snapping in additional parts, or, if you want to get fancy, reprogramming or adding intelligence with the aid of an Arduino.

The concept is not to be a kit on a single board – there are other options for this. Fueled by experience teaching workshops and helping people learn about electronics and sound quickly, this is best understood as a set of parts and techniques that rapidly puts an idea together, for later modification if desired.

Rad-Fi a collaboration between Bleep’s John-Mike and Pete Edwards (the latter, of Casper Electronics fame, is an American now based in the Netherlands – in case you’re in Europe and looking to book a great synth-building workshop). When I was in Amsterdam last year at STEIM, Pete showed me some of his projects – rich-sounding instruments capable of terrific sounds, all assembled from standard parts on a breadboard. Rad-Fi here are an outgrowth of some of those ideas, merged with efforts by John-Mike Reed in a similar direction. Continue reading »


It’s the best-known sample of all time. It might be the most-heard six seconds of sound in modern recording.

But before it became the “Amen break,” the signature riff was part of The Winstons’ song “Amen, Brother.”

And so, how much did the artists who actually produced the original sound earn from their “success”? Well, that’ll be … nothing, apart from the original revenues from the 1969 release. Nothing in royalties from its use … well, seemingly everywhere. (N.W.A.? Oasis? Futurama? Check.)

Zip. Zero. The drummer, Gregory Coleman, died homeless in 2006. Richard L. Spencer, the vocalist and sax player you hear on the classic cut, owned the copyright but never got a cent from its reuse. Forget Searching for Sugarman. BBC tracking down Richard L. Spencer (picture, top) may be the even bigger story of a lost and unsung musical hero, all but disappearing after 1971.

So now, one crowd funding project wants to right the wrong, doing through donations what the international intellectual property system couldn’t do for an independent musician.

The project is the brainchild of Martyn Webster, a 42-year old DJ from the UK. Webster fits the MO of the whole Amen break-sampling scene, making electro, hiphop, and rap in the 80s and 90s. So, he’s just a DJ who loved this musical gesture and wanted to give back. The plan: raise money, then give it to Richard L. Spencer to make up for years and years of success given to other artists.

Mr. Webster writes, simply: Continue reading »

Patching on a computer involves plugging something into something else virtually. In this video tutorial, you can extend that by adding a physical knob to control your custom creations, for Max/MSP (and Max for Live).

It’s just a quick tip, but I know this gets asked a lot. (Greetings, students – happy spring semester to you!) And there’s something really fun about seeing a knob in the real world controlling something. Bonus points for using a toilet paper roll as a custom “housing.”

It’s also nice seeing this accomplished in the all-new Max 7.

And this is just the start, part of a project extending beyond Max/MSP to free tools like Pure Data, JavaScript, and Python. The basic idea is a set of techniques for real-world control, backed by free code/patch examples and video tutorials. The creator explains: Continue reading »

Akai artist Needlz set up this MPC+computer rig with Renaissance ... in a hotel room (to get out of the house). No, no standalone MPC hardware at the moment, but 1.8's software features might help you forget that.

Akai artist Needlz set up this MPC+computer rig with Renaissance … in a hotel room (to get out of the house). No, no standalone MPC hardware at the moment, but 1.8′s software features might help you forget that.

“MPC” these days is a name on a lot of Akai stuff, down to even various MIDI controllers that happen to have pads. But to die-hard MPC users, “MPC” means a way of working. So, workflow is vitally important.

And MPC users who cut their teeth on Akai’s dedicated hardware have been waiting to see the software/controller combination really come into its own. Native Instruments’ rival Maschine got to the software game first, but now it’s a question of how the MPC can again set itself apart.

That makes any software updates a big deal. You’d be forgiven for assuming that something called “1.8″ wasn’t terribly big news. But you’d be wrong – and that’s a good thing, too.

The 1.8 update released today actually does quite a lot. And so the folks working on that software got in touch with CDM to tell us more about it, in some detail. (Trivia: Akai’s Pete Goodliffe was responsible years ago for the early iOS MIDI library PGMidi. This is a very small world, indeed, when it comes to MIDI engineering.)

The banner features:

1. A better workflow for sample capture/chop/edit – yes, remember sampling? The MPC hasn’t forgotten.
2. Non-destructive chop and reverse.
3. A live looper, focusing on the machine as an instrument.
4. Pad perform mode (scales, chords, progressions).
5. You can record audio input through insert effects (again, focusing on live sampling).
6. Vintage Mode Emulation is now an insert. (Mmm, vintage-i-fy anything, then!)

Now we’re talking. Sure, that pad perform mode looks familiar with NI’s Maschine and Komplete Kontrol and Ableton’s Push offering something similar. But the implementation here is worth examining, and really focusing on actual sampling, chopping, and looping is something that could make those other tools jealous again.

For an overview, let’s first revisit the preview video from December, which Akai tell us “holds up pretty well” in terms of final shipping functionality:

Continue reading »

Isotonik Showcase – Part ONE from Isotonik Studios on Vimeo.

Music software can treat devices as melodic instruments, as percussion, as audio effects… so why not visuals, too? Of course, there’s no substitute for a dedicated visual artist / VJ in a set, but Brainwash HD at least gives you the tools to integrate performance visuals as an element of a set in Ableton Live. It’s the visual equivalent of the sound modules we’ve been looking at lately.

And Brainwash is just one of a number of clever little Max for Live modules from Isotonik Studios, as seen in the video at top. CDM has gotten an exclusive first look at what they’ve been building.

Before we get to those acid-watched visuals, this showcase also shows Max for Live tools you might use for any number of tasks. Follow and Return allow you to trigger actions based on clips. Follow expands on the built-in Follow Actions in Live by setting up any action you want when a clip finishes playing. I’ve long felt that Follow Actions were needlessly neglected by Ableton since their introduction; I’d still love to see more internal, integrated behavior, but for making your own custom performance rigs, this looks terrific.

And yes, this performs something Live itself ought to do, but doesn’t – it lets you set Scenes as Follow Actions. Continue reading »

The harp: it’s big. It’s temperamental. It’s pretty much associated with an established set of music. And when you hear “MIDI harp,” you’re typically in store for something kind of cheesy involving laser beams.

Not this time, though: this is an actual harp, augmented with MIDI into a pretty wacky one-off one-person instrument.

Time for Throwback Thursday, because I hadn’t seen this before even though it’s rather old. But, maybe unearthing it in this fashion will inspire Arnaud Roy to make something new (or share what he’s been up to lately).

The project is the “HarpJamX” – a conventional acoustic harp with MIDI augmentation. What are we seeing?

This video shows one of the greatest feature of the CAMAC MIDI Harp. When bending on a string, for example with a tuning key, the harp sends a “pitch bend” message. This is because the Midi conversion uses frequency analysis.

Ah, interesting. So you aren’t just using MIDI as a trigger – you’re actually triggering control information via continuous pitch. One common misunderstanding of MIDI is the assumption that it can only handle note relationships found on a keyboard. This simply isn’t true; it’s actually that keyboards assume 12-tone-equal tempered pitch relations, and us being Western musicians and keyboards being easy things to play, they make for good demonstration. But this should indicate that you can treat pitch continuously, both using pitch bend and (if you were to choose to do so) by remapping the tuning of MIDI’s integer note representations, as well.

Got all that? MIDI is more than just white- and black-note keys, to say it more directly.

Here’s another take on musical harps, this time featured in the fall by Motherboard and making use of magnets and a piano. Watch:

Continue reading »


I had the craziest dream. Super vivid, and it just kept going. Seriously, like it seemed to last a decade. Instead of playing electronic music live on gear that made sounds, so you could keep track of what you were doing with physical buttons and switches and things, all the boys and girls were using laptops. But that wasn’t the weird part: what was strange was, people were just putting whole tracks on those computers. I know what you’re thinking – so they were DJing, right? But no! They were just playing tracks one after another all the same tempo. Sometimes they used, like, the computer keyboard. You couldn’t even see two tracks playing at once — like, you just had to stare at the screen to see when they were nearly done and then make them play one at a time. And then people were adding loops over top that never stopped, so everything sounded like a trainwreck. It was kind of a nightmare.

Anyway, I woke up with night terrors, but then I saw Ceephax Acid Crew in a big cube of video game graphics and I knew everything was okay again. Ha – like, why would you buy an expensive computer that does all these cool things if you’re just going to play it like a single CDJ with no crossfader?! Too funny.

Now I see Ceephax Acid Crew and I’m awake and it’s not a dream.

URSS got a camera, and now you have Ceephax Acid Crew playing in your computer from the Internet, and that proves it’s real. “Live motherf***in’ acid,” says some man.

La Fabrica del Vapore, Milan, Italy
31 January 2015

Milan’s Intellighenzia is a brilliant host for independent electronic music culture; find more:

RA: residentadvisor.net/promoter.aspx?id=14567
SC: soundcloud.com/intellighenzia_label
TW: twitter.com/intelectronica

Ceephax Acid Crew is playing live on familiar gear, which you can read from his rider. Who’s who of live gear, really:

1 x TR-909
1 x SH-101
1 x TR-707
1 x KENTON PRO 2000
1 x YAMAHA RS-7000

Ceephax Acid Crew would like you to know that he doesn’t play Behringer mixers and that he needs LOTS AND LOTS OF TABLE SPACE. (Ha, Andy’s rider looks like my rider.)

Ceephax is warming my nerdy heart because he’s making Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart references on Twitter. Yes, he’s English. He’s Andy Jenkinson. Don’t mention his brother – I’m only talking about Andy.

Yes, he plays acid. The gear, the squelching bass lines, they come from the 90s. But they also get twisted through the neon-colored filters of Andy’s imagination.

ceephaxtreadingwater Continue reading »