"Neurorack." Get it? A first look at prototypes of the rack module (left) and desktop (right).

“Neurorack.” Get it? A first look at prototypes of the rack module (left) and desktop (right).

Oh, sure, you can convert MIDI and clock and DIN and control voltage. But how about brainwaves? How about jacking your noggin straight into your synths and controlling synthesizers only with your mind?

It’s not quite like The Matrix, yet, if that’s what you’re imagining. But some crafty Italian inventors/experimental musicians have already whipped up a working prototype of hardware that interfaces brainwave-sensing headsets to synthesisers via analog signal and MIDI. And tomorrow, the 26th of July, they’re putting their heads where their money is, premiering the whole system in a live performance.

The boxes are designed to work with the Neurosky MindWaveMobile headset, a headband that reads brainwaves as electrical signals on the surface of your skin. You might have seen this before, but we were able to grab a new image.

Your brain is the input; control voltage or MIDI is the output. In the works is a desktop, standalone unit, as well as a Eurorack for modulars – but the difference is form factor only; both perform the same tasks:

  • Read brainwaves (EEG) directly, across 8 bands
  • Respond to the analyses of the MindWave headset, like “Attention” and “Meditation”
  • Graphic OLED display for configuration
  • Customization: “Smoothing of the signals, trigger threshold, additional algorithms, scaling, midi channel and cc for each output are completely configurable.”

Continue reading »

Dancing about architecture? How about singing about architecture – or architecture that sings?

Burnley England’s Singing Ringing Tree is an abstract sculpture that resonates with the wind. Rising above the grassy hills of Burnley, England, it seems to live at some strange intersection between future and past – a sci-fi Stonehenge. And the project, the 2006 work of British architecture firm Tonkin Liu, makes lovely otherworldly sounds.

John Keston, sound designer and the writer of audio invention recipe blog Audiocookbook, has been making a set of “duets,” coupling more conventional electronic synthesis with the wind-blown ambiences of the SRT construction. He’s surprisingly adept at interweaving these contrasting timbres into dreamy drones, armed with a Novation Bass Station II and the new, more affordable Moog Minifooger Delay pedal.

srt_day_1 Continue reading »

I always think of the Autoharp when pondering the iPad. The classic folk instrument proves that a simple, ready-to-play interface can be expressive. Many beautiful instruments are hard to learn; this is a genuine folk instrument in that it can make lovely sounds right away. And that leaves space for letting your heart out singing.

Our friend Jekka, producer and soloist (aka Jenny Nedosekina, of Moscow), was recently invited to recreate her electronically-produced music in an acoustic rendition. She answered with something of a hybrid: it’s unprocessed voice and autoharp, but with the addition of the wonderful iPad app Samplr. That portable interface becomes a perfect one-person-band accompanist, transforming the spare sound of the autoharp into a lush bed beneath her voice.

The song “Break my Heart” is fitting, as this is to me achingly, heart-breakingly beautiful – a reminder of how personal and intimate performances can be, even with a tablet alongside. Computers and tablets are rapidly becoming folk instruments of their own. Continue reading »

808exploded

Art from archetypes — so much of what we make is built from the pieces of something that came before. It’s doubly true both in electronic dance music and the machines built to make it. From techno to drum machine technology, a great deal of the future depends on whether we can reimagine the past.

The legacy of the Roland TR and TB series hangs heavy over those fields. Heck, they cast their shadow over even what I’m reading this week. I’ve unboxed a set of new Roland AIRAs for review that explode each component, modeling it all over again in digital algorithms. I heard artists Cassegrain drag a 909 to Boiler Room last night, and attempt to improvise, in front of a live Internet audience, new music from it, coaxing some fresh live from this monster beast of a machine. (Just how many times – given four to a bar – have you heard the bass drum alone? The clap?) There’s new Akai hardware that wants to tickle your memory of these machines, then make you cough money from your wallet to buy their box. There are new samples, new tracks, artists scratching their head at those familiar sounds in their basement.

You can vilify these machines; you can declare you’re board of them. But they loom behind you anyway, like religious icons hanging in a church, attracting veneration and faith.

So, how can they be futuristic?

I find then this investigation in a completely different medium – the visual – all the more interesting. Dating from 2011, it gets a beautiful write-up this week on the wonderful Dataisnature. The gouache works are the output of the mysterious Flickr user known only as O’ Really? (harvey human) (ian cognito). But let’s call him… her… it… them? … Ian.

Dataisnature has plenty to say about the series, even if you did see them before. They’re Constructivist, yes, but the blog describes the portraits as more, set in an “exosphere of frozen space-time fit for suspended micro gravitational idolatry.” Continue reading »

Now we know what Akai’s drum machine plus simple bass synth sounds like. And no surprises – it’s a simple, classic-inspired analog drum machine with a basic synth. And yeah, you’re probably going to want to consider one, certainly at this price. (We’ll just be pitting it against the KORG volca beats, which we know we love.)

Akai has posted an official, if preliminary and unlisted, video to their account, and made the presence known to readers of their forum. So, this is the real thing – just not quite up to the usual marketing video material, though that’s fine by me. Akai reps I’ve talked to have been just as impatient to get a working unit as readers have. (It’s still not clear what happened at Musikmesse even to people in the booth; it seems some of the Akai folks did indeed think that the one demo unit they had was damaged by using an improper power supply. Booths at trade shows get chaotic.)

It seems that what’s happened is that someone at Akai has decided to “leak” an internal video from the company showing what the unit sounds like. It’s a bit rough, but you get a good idea of the basic character of the synth.

That leak appears intentional, as it was announced on the community forum and the YouTube video, while unlisted, has all the links to the Akai community. See the discussion with Akai’s Dan on a thread this week. Anyway, it’s out now, and it is definitely a video shot by Akai. Akai told me at least one previous “leak” of the Rhythm Wolf on SoundCloud was a fake. Continue reading »

polyrhythmus

Polyrhythmus is the machine generator of notes and rhythms many of us have long dreamt of.

It does Euclidean rhythms – symmetrical divisions of time that beautifully produce common polyrhythms (not just for nerds, but modeling a lot of popular rhythms – see the research of Godfried Toussaint). It’s also capable of making other rhythms. It can be polymetrical or polyrhythmic. It’s … also an arpeggiator. It also automates parameters and MIDI Control Change messages. It has loads of modes. It’s modular. It’s dynamic. It’s amazing. It’s a music making nerd’s dream, friendly to anyone who loves rhythms, notes, and patterns.

It’s, for now, a convenient Max for Live module for Ableton Live. But the creator wants to know if we’d want a standalone version. Answer: yes.

Watch, as creator Benniy C. Bascom demonstrates:

Continue reading »

Christina Vantzou. Photo: Renaud Monfourny.

Christina Vantzou. Photo: Renaud Monfourny.

You know that feeling, on a hot day, of someone running an ice cube down the back of your neck? Or perhaps, going deeper, the dream of plunging into a frozen lake?

That visceral, primeval emotion, that chill that prickles the hairs on your head – that might start to describe the eerily-lovely wonderlands of Christina Vantzou. Brussels-base artist Vantzou was the visual imagination behind The Dead Texan (with Stars of the Lid’s Adam Wiltzie), releasing an epic audiovisual masterpiece that paired cinematic ambience with video realizations.

Vantzou has continued as a composer, with two records on Kranky Records (easy to remember – titled No. 1 and No. 2) engineered by Wiltzie. In swells of impossibly-slow, post-minimal string, electronic, and vocal textures, she makes elegant scenes of sound. It’s not wallpaper to me, as those materials could easily become; there’s some emotional sensitivity that makes these frozen tone poems heart-wrenching.

But because Vantzou works so much with colors, with static images, the palette of these two records is also perfectly-suited to remixing – at least in the hands of experimental artists. And Vantzou proves she’s as sharp a curator as composer, she’s released remix albums of each that can stand alone as much as the original. No. 1, in 2012, featured the likes of ISAN, Robert Lippok, Ben Vida, and many others, plus a bonus Dead Texan cut. Tracing the same adventurous, experimental collaborations, No. 2 – released last month – turns to Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Ken Camden, John Also Bennett (aka Seabat), and Loscil (Vancouver’s Scott Morgan).

The Loscil track is beautiful enough to put a pit in your stomach. But it’s Vantzou’s video that crystallises this whole aesthetic path. It’s a simple conceit: a young woman half-dances in slow-motion, her hair flowing before the camera in a way you might dance to the track in your mind. But her ghostly figure and costume, all in rich colors against a dark background, recall a Caravaggio painting, transposed to more modern, non-descript settings. The effect is eerie, unsettling – as if she has been caught sleep walking.

VHS (Loscil Remix) from christina vantzou on Vimeo.

Continue reading »