The original inspiration came from analog delay equipment. But guided by German duo Mouse on Mars, WretchUp transformed into something that fits in your hand on mobile, and gets played by an instrument, producing wild digital sounds.

The WretchUp app is at last available now on the iTunes App Store, working on iPhones and iPods touch (iPhone 4, iPod touch 5th-gen or better). Crowd-funding backers are already receiving their codes and invitations to test new builds, but the general public can try the app right away. I contributed to the development of the app (hence my cameo in the video), so it’s a pleasure to share it now.

It’s hard to describe WretchUp. It’s an effect, yes – but you “play” it like a musical instrument. And the best way to understand that is to watch the film with Mouse on Mars at top – if you watch it closely, we use these demos as a way of showing how the app works.

On the occasion of the 21st birthday of Mouse on Mars, the app embodies the duo’s anarchic approach to sound. With vocals or instruments, it can become its own timbre, an additional part as much as an effect. It can also transform – and wretch up – everything from spoken word to drums. The feedback network is intentionally unruly; switch the mic input to “locked” and you can make it scream with only mic feedback, or adjust feedback from subtle glitches to raucous digital textures.

It’s not that WretchUp makes you sound like Mouse on Mars – it’s that it’s an app that lets you play as freely as they do, however you like. And it’s the first of a series of apps the duo is involved in releasing.

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SC4 side view-large

If you want a tiny, well-built box with loads of encoders or knobs, Faderfox has you covered with its latest round of hardware. (Previously, too: faders!) But with the SC4, the Hamburg, Germany-based builder adds something else: a brilliant step sequencer you can use with software or standalone hardware.

Faderfox has two new controllers this month – the knob-laden PC4, which is basically a bunch of pots, and the encoders-with-display SC4. Both work as general-purpose controllers. But the SC4 adds a step-sequencing firmware.

The SC4 then becomes more than just a flexible, do-anything controller. It’s about the most step sequencing power you can get in a small box, at 209€ (249€ in Europe with VAT). It works with software (via USB), but it also is happy to run on its own (via MIDI).

Crucially, it also has a screen, which means you can reliably step sequence pitch and not just rhythm. (Sure, you could blindly twist knobs and come up with something, as many sequencers require you to do, but that can be a bit tricky and leads to loads of wrong notes when playing live.)

That combination of features sets the SC4 ahead of a lot of the competition. Arturia’s BeatStep is cheaper and adds velocity-sensitive pads, but it lacks the more advanced step sequencing and has no screen. DJ TechTools’ MIDI Fighter Twister has a sleek design and 16 encoders instead of 8, but those come at the cost of standalone operation, MIDI, and a display – basically, any of them a deal-killer for use in step sequencing, at least if you work with hardware or (rather than drum patterns) melodies. Continue reading »

Beautiful 1974 circuitry makes eerie sounds that inspire today.

Beautiful 1974 circuitry makes eerie sounds that inspire today.

Oh, sure, the future of the music industry might be U2 showing up in your iTunes or streams of chart-topping hits.

Or, just maybe, the future just for now will be instead weird, humming soundscapes that drone on in a browser tab, generatively faded from decades of performances of a legendary experimental piece.

Option number two may be wildly unrealistic and wholly unviable commercially but – hey, it’s your browser, and you can make that choice happen right now, for free.

Sonic legend Nicolas Collins, sound professor, editor of Leonardo Music Journal, and electronic music inventor, has unveiled his latest creation in Pea Soup to Go. (Mmmm, pea soup. Sorry, it’s wintry, and lunchtime. Getting distracted.)

It takes performances of Collins’ work and pops them into a browser tab. The results are strangely calming, the vibrating frequencies resembling nothing if not singing Tibetan bowls, as horns (and the odd ambient performance noise) dance around like dead leaves in the wind. Lose yourself in sounds eerie and meditative. Continue reading »

Ryan_Elliott_by_Sven_Marquardt Quer

Mixes, like DJs, are everywhere. But the question of how to stand above the crowd has a simple answer: be better. Be consistent, be intelligent, paint a scene. Give humans a reason to listen to you; make algorithms, like unskilled DJs, weep.

And, yes, have a soul.

Ryan Elliott’s mix on Ostgut Ton is simply one of the best such mixes I’ve downloaded this year, and earns a place on some hard drive round here, stored permanently in all its lossless WAV glory, an hour and a half and gig and a half. Strip away the Panorama Bar label, and it still communicates one of those moments in that venue. You can learn something and feel something all at once. It’s an encouraging sign that quality can still endure, that DJs can do things with what producers make that shines light on them and gives them meaning. Continue reading »

thoughtless

Noah Pred didn’t just run his own label. He has run a label that has traced a lot of the finest music of the past years, making its way from Toronto to Berlin. And he did it while juggling his own career as a techno producers’ producer, a DJ’s DJ. At 100 releases, he’s got plenty to say about what that musical journey has meant – and not just the easy bits. I pressed Noah to reflect on what he really thinks of the flow of the music industry’s power and resources to the top, and the conflicts that can happen in trying to keep a label like this going.

And, like any meeting with Noah, there’s plenty of great music to discover along the way – stuff you know, stuff you don’t. Certainly, I’d never be afraid of not being able to name-drop every release; Noah has a way of discovering superb music you wish you had known earlier. So let’s go along for that trip.

If you missed the last seven years, don’t worry. We have not only a chat with Noah, but some music to hear.

There’s a 50-track mix to mark the latest mixes, free to hear. (Track listing below, at bottom.)

And 130+ podcasts to hear, on Mixcloud, which I suppose should cover your next seven years.

http://www.mixcloud.com/thoughtless/

No? How about the entire catalog on YouTube in celebration of 100 releases:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ThoughtlessVideo/playlists

“Ah,” you say. “But, I can also read.” Good! Let’s! The music to hear, the life of a label, the effect of global capitalism on our souls – I’d say we’ve got our bases covered. Continue reading »

Lurking in the bargain bins of game shops is a surprisingly well-built keyboard. The Rock Band “keytar” controller may have been made for games, but the keybed is solid, the thing is light, and it can run on batteries. So why not turn it into a standalone instrument?

That’s what Jamie Robertson has done with his, and he shows you how.

The magic here is something he calls the WAV Trigger. Without naming any names, while there are a lot of cool Arduino shields and the like out there, a lot of them are pretty functionally limited. They’re cool to play with, you can build some fun projects, and they can teach you a lot — but the WAV Trigger is something different.

It’s built to play 14 tracks of uncompressed audio at once, with enough control that it becomes a viable, 14-voice, polyphonic sample playback instrument. MIDI is built in, and trigger latency is low (around 8 msec).

It’s also a bargain – under US$50.

The mod isn’t tough, either. Check out the full instructions from Jamie (“Robertsonics”):
Turn the Rock Band 3 keyboard into a sampling instrument with the WAV Trigger

And more on the WAV Trigger:
The WAV Trigger vs. MP3 players

RBK_Hero001

Fabulous bargain stuff.

saturnv

Space is the place. Again.

And SoundCloud is now a place you can find sounds from the US government space agency, NASA. In addition to the requisite vocal clips (“Houston, we’ve had a problem” and “The Eagle has landed”), you get a lot more. There are rocket sounds, the chirps of satellites and equipment, lightning on Jupiter, interstellar plasma and radio emissions. And in one nod to humanity, and not just American humanity, there’s the Soviet satellite Sputnik (among many projects that are international in nature).

Many of these sounds were available before; I’ve actually used a number of them in my own music. But putting them on SoundCloud makes them much easier to browse and find, and there are download links. Have a listen below.

Another thing: you’re free to use all of these sounds as you wish, because NASA’s own audio isn’t copyrighted. It’s meant to be a public service to the American people of their taxpayer-funded government program, but that extends to everyone. There are some restrictions – not everything NASA publishes is covered by the same license, though it appears to be on SoundCloud. And you aren’t free to use NASA’s name or logo or imply commercial endorsement. (The Eagle didn’t land on a bag of Doritos.) But that means just about any imaginable musical application is fair game. They do ask you to list NASA as source, but that’s only reasonable. Read their content guidelines for full details.

Let the space remixing begin.

European Space Agency, your move.

Thanks to everyone who sent this in. If you want more, NASA centres all have archival libraries, and the agency has routinely worked with artists and composers to interpret the work they do. See also other research centers around the world. And yes, that’s my Saturn V photo at the top, because, and I’m sure this will come as a huge shock to everyone who reads this site, I’m a big nerd.

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