The Lord of the Rings movies have come to a close, but that doesn’t mean the elf sonic action has to stop.

Yes, there really is a sound sample library called Shevannai, The Voice of Elves. It’s 3.6 GB of nothing but elven samples, adapted to a Kontakt 5 instrument.

From a technical standpoint, it shows what Kontakt can do. For any TV and film composer who suddenly gets a call from a client saying “elves!” (I’m not kidding; I’m sure that happens), it’s an emergency solution that will get you there under deadline. For the rest of us – well, we can marvel at the sheer wonder of features like:

52 phrases in Elven Language reciting some Elven poems
57 whispered phrases in Elven Language reciting some Elven poems.
110 different whispers. Divided in long and short whispers.
20 beautiful and inspiring soundscapes

You even get dedicated Inhale patches. Continue reading »

Old pipes? A vintage airplane? Mechanical equipment?

Ben Burtt, Hollywood’s master sound designer, is remarkable for his economy and resourcefulness. That’s evident in this charming video in which he demonstrates how he evoked breaking machinery to realize the sound of the Millenium Falconnot going into hyperdrive.

The cinematic challenge is significant. It’s a bit joke, a running gag, but it has to simultaneously build tension in the film. And like the rest of Star Wars, the future is evoked by the past. (It is, after all, a galaxy long ago – and to impact audiences, couldn’t in fact be so far away.)

So, how to make cues that would be recognizable and resonant for an audience, but without sounding like a World War II movie sound effect had been dubbed over fantastic science fiction? The answer: clever layering and re-contextualization.

Watch the corner of Ben Burtt’s mouth as he smiles playing the found sounds on the reel to reel – this was partly the lucky to happen across wonderful sounds, and the skill to recognize them once he had them. Also, I was struck, as a fan of Burtt’s sound effects, that having thus deconstructed and reconstructed it, the sound … actually doesn’t work. Timing is everything. (You need great sound editing and direction, not just great sound design – there’s a lesson for anyone in music production there, too, where all three form the cinematic impact of a track.)

Once combined with John Williams’ score, plus the combined delivery of Harrison Ford and the movie action itself, the cue is perfect.

We face this challenge, now, with the open-ended possibilities of our computers. We could agonize over a sound like this, and wind up doing, frankly, too much work. Without the natural constraints of physical multi-track tape and mixers, the secret, like cooking, is likely to get a few really high-quality ingredients that can harmonize. (Watch, too, Burtt move the balance of the elements on the mixer with muscle memory in his hands, without missing a beat.) Continue reading »

We face a challenge in the music technology community. Underlined by a century in which music creation was seen by some as the privilege of a few, in the studio world, and mass music was about records and radio, people might claim music making is niche. It’s seen by those onlookers as the domain of specialists, techies – a weird overlap of superstars and nerds.

But some of us believe that musical expression as as essential as singing, and the tools matter just as much.

You don’t see much music technology in Apple’s latest ad. I think it might be a new record or near-record for the absence of screen time for Apple’s products. But what you do see is unquestionably creation, not consumption. There are subtle hints to every aspect of musical practice – guitar songbooks, multitrack recording, sharing.

And the video, a follow-up to last year’s Creative Arts Emmy winner, goes beyond the technology. It’s about why we make music – reaching other people.

It’s meaningful that a multibillion-dollar company would see making music as a core part of its mission, as the essential value to some of the most successful consumer products in history. Recently, I noted via Twitter that Apple’s own Logic Pro climbs to the top of the paid charts on their App Store – notable not so much because it’s an Apple product as it’s a music product.

Apple’s holiday campaign links to a variety of music app, a nice Christmas present for the developers featured. They show GarageBand, of course, but also include Propellerhead’s innovative Take vocal app, a tool that remembers that, for many people, music is about singing or playing an instrument and not just editing beats on a timeline. There’s also a beautiful app called Chord! that presents scales and chords in a gorgeous, luxurious format. And there’s the fun Sing!Karaoke from Smule, the rare superstar breakout developer that found a way to take music technology prowess and bring it to a mass market.

Now, whether or not you own a single Apple product, there’s a lesson here, about how important music is to one of the world’s biggest companies – and, much more importantly, how to tell the story about what music is to the general public. It’s a reason for the season.


For most music producers, managing media involves scattered files on hard drives and the occasional file transfer service. There are now three fresh big players vying to convince you to start uploading, managing, and collaborating on music production online.

Unlike most music technology products, traditional bootstrapped affairs involving selling software or hardware, these companies have the Internet – and startup culture and funding – in their DNA. And they’re fundamentally services. is a Dropbox-powered tool that focuses primarily on collaboration, and began its life in Manhattan incubator betaworks. On the two coasts, two other companies have millions of dollars in venture money behind each of them. New York’s Splice emphasizes the collaborative process and deep integration with DAWs. LA-based Gobbler pitches collaboration, too, but also easier file management and backup.

Brainless backup or easier collaboration outside the studio are already good reasons to consider these services. (I’m working on some hands-on reviews now, as I do, believe it or not, sometimes create digital music myself.) But Blend last week suggested another reason: you could earn money on remixes or samples once they’re uploaded. The offering is something called the Blend market:

In an announcement published to Medium, Blend makes a two-pronged case for why you ought to do this. Continue reading »


They may not be as powerful as their desktop counterparts. But by going with you, mobile apps can help you find inspiration and creativity in moments that would otherwise be lost. And mobile drum machine app iMaschine adds two subtle features that mean a lot more possibility – or at least takes a step in the right direction.

iMaschine 1.2, released at the end of last week, adds integration for both Audiobus and Apple’s own Inter App Audio (the latter less-widely implemented, but used in popular apps like GarageBand). The upshot: you can now combine Native Instruments’ mobile drum machine workstation with other apps.

Also, iMaschine added a long-overdue feature: you can now non-destructively set sample start and stop positions. I’ve been griping about this since the very first release (loop points came first).

Inter-app support is also useful. What you can do with this: stream audio from iMaschine to other apps, add custom effects on output, and record output into other tools (like a mobile DAW). You can also control the transport and sync from another app (transport sync only on iPhone).

We recently updated WretchUp by Mouse on Mars to incorporate full Audiobus support, and that effect sounds really wild on percussion parts, so I’m already playing around.

Continue reading »

Because it’s packed with digital models rather than analog circuits, Roland’s AIRA TR-8 can be more than just a drum machine. It’s a platform for expansion.

And today, as expected, Roland has gone further into their back catalog of genre-shaping drum sounds to expand on its hit TR-8. The 7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion brings TR-707 and TR-727 sounds to the AIRA box and even builds on the 808 and 909 models included so far. The only bad news here is that it’s a paid update.

What’s new:

  • 30 original sounds from the TR-707 and TR-727 (by original, that means the sounds themselves are identical – these were digital waveforms on the 707 and 727, so they’re included verbatim)
  • Tune and Decay controls for all the new 707, 727 sounds
  • New TR-808 “noise” sounds, finger snaps
  • Modified TR-909 kick and snare with “enhanced attack characteristics

At top, you can listen in on the new sounds. The TR-727 are, of course, a bit more varied, adding some Latin spice. It makes for more fun, no question. If you want a value-priced drum machine, if you want to buy someone a drum machine for Christmas, the TR-8 is the obvious top choice. Continue reading »

Getting “open” still scares many music manufacturers. Maybe they should double-check those fears.

See, if you add simple jacks (MIDI, audio), if you add driver-less operation (via USB and the like), let alone if you design simple APIs or create open source interfaces, you open the door to people making things that work with your creation, for free. They have to want to be there – but we make music. We love music gadgets. If your gadget is worth using in the first place, it’s worth opening up to other things.

You know. “If you build it … people will come.” The one constant is baseb– um, music, sorry.

At least, the magic is working for KORG. Just days – seriously, days – after getting hold of an open API for the KORG volca sample, there’s a cross-platform sample loading tool for this inexpensive sound gizmo. The volca sample is barely even shipping yet, and someone has created a free utility that works with it for free.

That’s no minor development, either, because one thing that has held at least some readers back from buying a volca sample is that it requires a KORG iPhone/iPod touch utility for loading samples. KORG’s app is cute and clever, but maybe you don’t have an iPhone – or don’t want to be dependent on one.

The Caustic Editor runs on Android. It runs on Mac OS X. It runs on Linux and Windows.

On iOS, it performs tricks even the stock KORG app can’t – like functionality with Audiobus, meaning you can open up sound design possibilities with other iOS apps.

Otherwise, it’s able to do everything you would need to do with samples on the volca sample because KORG wrote a simple SDK that makes it so. (And, honestly, KORG didn’t do that much – they released a simple library for handling samples covering just the basics.)

WAV Continue reading »