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Now, here’s a demonstration of the proper way to jump on a bandwagon. Rane appear to be doing rotary DJ mixers right.

This week’s NAMM show is accompanied in the DJ section by the usual, dreary parade of massive gear sold to deep-pocketed DJ hobbyists. Somehow a mixer integrates with a control surface integrates with giant decks integrates with a sound card integrates with Serato integrates with colored lights and screens. Then, that’s bolted into some mostly-black, oversized coffin of equipment that looks as though it would be right at home in the nursery playroom of an Imperial Star Destroyer. In some reality somewhere, these things are purchased and used, I’m told. But seeing as clubs have the same standard assortment of turntables, CDJs, and Allen & Heath mixers, that Imperial Star Destroyer crew sometimes seems a more realistic target audience.

Then there’s this Rane MP2015. It’s fantasy, to be sure, but it’s a fantasy you’d want to be in. And there’s no question it’s drawing from the boutique rotary mixers that have been enthusiastically embraced of late by techno DJs of the slightly-snobbier variety. (Locations where they’re getting fondled include places like Trouw in its final days and on regular rotations at Panorama Bar.) And yes, the requisite laser-etched wooden side panels are there, just to indicate to you that the sound is warm and the craft is high, or whatever.

But let’s give Rane some credit: they’ve got our attention, and there’s reason to even sort of covet this thing. The layout is elegant, and balanced. Rotaries might be a fad, but they can also be practical. Continue reading »

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The original Arturia BeatStep already looked good. Start with a compact drum pad controller, add some encoders for more control, then add a step sequencer that can control MIDI and analog gear.

But the problem is, the execution of the sequencer idea is complex. It turns out you need even simple sequencers to do a lot. And so the original BeatStep, while still an amazing buy for a hundred bucks, was a little disappointing. It was just hard to actually sequence on the thing. You could get one sequence going, but that’s not enough for really playing, and simple rhythmic operations could too easily knock things out of sync.

And that’s why I’m excited about the Arturia BeatStep Pro, coming in April. Because it doesn’t just tick the boxes on my complaints about the BeatStep. It rethinks the whole control interface to make the kind of sequencer that could be at the center of a really amazing gig.

In other words, even if the price is jumping to US$299/€249 list, this could be a time for them to shut up and take my … you know.

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And at its heart is a really simple concept. See, you probably don’t want to sequence one bass line, or one drum pattern. (Oooh, minimal!) No, you want more than one thing at once. So, there’s this simple idea: Combine two melodic sequencers with one drum sequencer. Run them independently. And provide easy access to all three.

I don’t care what sort of music you make, whether it’s techno or experimental ambient klezmer. The ability to do three things at once well is better than doing one thing sort of poorly. And doing more than one thing at once is the essence of live electronic music. So, yes, it’s about time.

As before, play each live in real-time or step sequence. Then add the ingredients together: Continue reading »

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KORG, having resurrected their own MS-20 monosynth, have now turned to another analog classic: the duophonic ARP Odyssey. We’ve known for some time that they would begin manufacturing a new edition of that in collaboration with its original creators. Now we know what it looks like, and what it’ll cost.

If you already love the classic ARP Odyssey, there’s not much to say. KORG’s launch, in fact, focused on the ARP you know – the fact that its sound is something you recognize from songs. That’s partly an explanation of why such instruments deserve recreation.

And the original holds up today. It’s a beautifully playable synth with great character, plus terrific envelope controls, a one-of-a-kind, accessible front panel layout that makes everything clear, and nice extras like the Ring Mod and Sample & Hold. It doesn’t have the modular features and some of the more unusual sound possibilities of the monophonic MS-20, but it’s a great keyboardists’ instrument.

And recreation, this is. ARP co-founder David Friend oversaw this effort, so you can count on a certain amount of authenticity – and, as with the MS-20, they didn’t change the circuitry so much as put it back in production. They might not be as obsessive-compulsive as our friends at Moog – we don’t get any mention of hand-stuffing wires – but the sound should be well within the normal degrees of variation on these instruments. The architecture and the circuits themselves are electrically the same, only built via modern parts and methods.

Price: US$1400 suggested list. Street price appears to be about a grand (US$999 – obviously expect it to cost more via the weaker Yen, Euro, and Pound Sterling, plus more tax). That puts the price above the mass-market focused MS-20 mini, but it also includes its own case – and it’s a duophonic synth.

Availability: KORG isn’t saying yet.

But beyond that, what we want to know is what differs between this ARP Odyssey – erm, KORG Odyssey? – and a used instrument? Now we know that, too. Continue reading »

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It seems Akai is staying in the analog synth business. Following the Rhythm Wolf – introduced quietly at Messe (literally, it couldn’t make sound), and then getting a mixed review here on CDM – they have both a second drum machine and a four-voice synth.

Availability has leaked as July – which means again, we may not know how these actually sound until they ship.

Let’s look at what we know. (Bookmark this page, as I will simply update information here as it comes in.)

First up, the Tom Cat. It’s definitely a second take on the Rhythm Wolf – we just don’t know if that’s because so many people bought the Rhythm Wolf and they’re minting money, or whether they might address some of the sound/parameter complaints about the original. We can see in the picture what controls changed:

Kick Drum has “Pitch” in addition to the original “Tune” knob – so, presumably, a much needed pitch envelope.
There’s a Clap in place of Percussion.
That Clap appears to have a Spread control in place of the horrible Noise Mix on the original Percussion, as well.
The somewhat thin single-voice bass synth on the original has been replaced with Toms – sorry, make that Disco Toms. (Disco Tom, not to be confused with Disco Stew.)

And everything else is the same, but with different colors. Wait a minute – I’m going to bet my money that the label beginning with the letter ‘m’ is Meow, in place of Howl. But I can’t quite see it. Maybe it says “Maul.” Continue reading »

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So, now you’ve got a lot of hardware.

You’ve moved beyond just a computer, and you’re back to the joy of making music with boxes with knobs and faders and keys. And you’re playing with them live. And maybe Roland’s AIRA had something to do with that, too.

Now, how do you put them together?

KORG’s SQ-1 step sequencer is one answer. And Roland has provided the next chapter to its AIRA hardware saga with a mixer, its sixth product in the AIRA line.

But this isn’t just a way of connecting all the audio outputs from those devices – finding mixers, after all, isn’t hard to do. Roland wants to go one step further, and have you think of that mixer as an instrument to play, too.

The MX-1 is more than just a live-savvy mixer: it’s a computer interface, it’s a way to connect AIRA audio and MIDI with just USB cables even without a computer, and a tempo-synced multi-effects box.

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For starters, you can take audio from different sources: Continue reading »

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Analog or digital, clock or notes, it appears Korg’s new SQ-1 will do anything. It loves your MS-20, but also your volca series and your monotribe and your MIDI gear and your computer. In fact, with audio clock, it’ll support a product even Korg probably only heard about yesterday – those cute Teenage Engineering machines.

The SQ-1 is the new compact step sequencer hardware from Korg. Way back when Korg first unveiled the MS-20 mini, I hoped for a remake of the SQ-10 to go with it. Now, instead of that lumbering behemoth, we got something much more practical. The SQ-1 is a spiritual successor to the SQ-10, but it’s almost volca-sized in dimensions — a small rectangular device that can control anything.

Basically, the SQ-1 is the little box that will suddenly make all those other boxes you started collecting more useful. Want to keep some synths and drum machines in sync, by sending clock? Want to make some rhythmic or melodic patterns? The SQ-1 could be the one you want, simply because it crams a lot of useful creative controls onto the front panel, and then connects to anything. What initially looked like just control voltage for the MS-20 in the bits that leaked yesterday now covers all the bases:

  • Analog: you get dual CV (Hz/V and V/Oct) trigger and gate
  • Analog sync: (clock volca series, electribes, or monotribe – or the Teenage Engineering gadgets)
  • Analog for littleBits: In an unexpected twist, there’s even an explicit jack for Korg’s collaboration with the snap-together littleBits hardware system.
  • Digital hardware: Three-pin MIDI connection to your computer (via stereo minijack breakout – we didn’t seen that DIN icon yesterday)
  • Digital/USB: there’s a USB port for MIDI connection to your computer.

Continue reading »

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With version number 10.1, the Logic Pro release out right now sounds like a “yawn, move along” bump. But there’s actually a big story here. Half that story is about making electronic beats. The other half, and maybe the more important half, is about editing. But let me explain.

Even with a steady stream of updates, I’m not convinced Logic Pro X has entirely shaken concerns from some hard-core producers about serious editing – whether they’re being fair or not. Something about all the cute graphics and loop browsing and GarageBand and iPad and iPhone seems to make them, well, nervous. It means they don’t always believe that word “Pro” attached to the name.

So, let me take you back to a time before Apple, when they felt differently. Remember when more people knew the acronym “IDM” than “EDM,” when the people building Logic were all still in gray, wet Hamburg, Germany instead of Cupertino, California?

In those days, the idea of Logic as a hard-core electronic music workstation was actually kind of a default. Sure, studio producers used Pro Tools, film composers used Digital Performer. But dance music was a rivalry between Logic and Cubase, as fierce as Hamburg SV versus St. Pauli.

Well, then Ableton Live and the American dance music boom happened, of course. But it’s still a Logic and Cubase battle. The difference is, now Logic seems to have a release that doesn’t seem to be trying to pander to guitarists or first-time producers or GarageBand updaters. They are, as always, implying you might use Logic to do the kind of studio work often associated in this industry with something rhyming with Mavid Glow Rules. But – heck, you might make some techno with it. Sorry, make that “EDM.”

drummerdrummachine Continue reading »