Let’s face it: Reason has started to look a little bit crowded lately. What began as a small rack of virtual effects and instruments has grown to add an enormous mixing console. Sequencing features have, since the beginning, been squeezed to tiny lanes at the bottom of the UI. And a browser floated around in a window.

Reason 8′s individual parts aren’t so different from Reason versions you’ve seen before. But it’s the way they fit together that has changed – rather radically.

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It’s called the PO-12. It’s $50. It’s absolutely tiny – a little stand props it up, inspired by the Nintendo Game & Watch. And it’s already sounding like a drum machine.

The drum machine first revealed to the world at a panel I moderated at Moogfest is finally, after manufacturing and customs delays, making its way to a select group of first owners – mainly VIPs and artists from that festival. What you’re seeing here is just a prototype; Teenage Engineering now says they’ll have a fully fleshed-out version some time in 2015.

There are two things, apart from the impossibly-low price, that make this appealing. First, it sounds really good. The bass drum and snare sound especially convincing; the other sounds are definitely glitchy and lo-fi, but they have a pleasant aesthetic – it sounds intentional. This has the digital character and quirk you’d expect from the makers of the OP-1. If you saw the video this week on Synthtopia, its creator has fixed his YouTube upload (at top) with one that doesn’t phase.

Second, you get parameter locks, which are beautifully featured in the hands-on video at top from Cuckoo. Human translation: you can add effects and triggers live and turn this into a performance interface. And that’s no coincidence, either. Jesper Kouthoofd of TE helped build the original Machinedrum.

More videos demonstrate the design. Continue reading »

Annie Hall – Random Paraphilia EP PROMO from annie hall on Vimeo.

Spanish-born, Windsor-based producer/DJ Annie Hall is always something special, a gift to techno and experimental music.

Pushing her digital sound to the edge, she can sharpen her sound to glitch, fuzz, but always with a sense of warmth and intimacy. It’s cut tightly, but manages to tread techno-electro paths in its asymmetrical grooves. There’s never an absence of forward motion: like one of those crazy new robotic insects, all the complex kinetic action somehow makes it sprint.

And then, as she does this summer, she can head straight into the best possible, dubby, dark techno, spinning, swinging basslines grinding hypnotically in the shadows.

She’s on … too many labels to remember. She’s working with Kero on Riverside Manufacturing (RVSD), making limited vinyl. And she’s all over the planet, one of those rare relentlessly evergreen artists.

Somehow today I found myself revisiting the promo for the 2013 EP at top, Random Paraphilia, which reveals some of her IDM-ish side. It’s just splendid, with remixes by Richard Devine, Gerard Hanson aka E.R.P, and Valance Drakes. See the video at top, with perfect hyper-future-broken-glitch motion graphics by dmas3.

And then there’s what she’s cooking up this summer, the “Overlook” EP on Torque, with remixes by Truncate (U.S.A.) and Aiken (Spain):

Find them on Facebook – – and grab the record on Beatport.

So, let’s just get through the middle of the week by queuing up more, shall we?

Think Stormtroopers more than Diane Keaton when you hear her name. And don't expect her to give up any rebel secrets, really. Photo of the artist, courtesy the artist.

Think Stormtroopers more than Diane Keaton when you hear her name. And don’t expect her to give up any rebel secrets, really. Photo of the artist, courtesy the artist.

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About as compact as you can get, without compromises: the iPad (even mini) alongside Z1 gives you a full-blown DJ rig, complete with dedicated output, headphone cue, control. Image courtesy Native Instruments.

The Z1 already works with NI’s iPad app as well as desktop. Now, you get a full-blown copy of Traktor Pro for your Mac or PC free, too. Image courtesy Native Instruments.

Okay, if you’ve got some old version of your DJ software, or (ahem) a pirated copy, or want to get your DJ rig together from scratch, this month there are really no excuses.

As covered yesterday, AKAI is bundling their new AMX controller and audio interface with a full-blown copy of Serato DJ. The timing for Serato fans is perfect: Serato DJ finally integrates what had been a muddled product lineup (ITCH?) under a single, rebuilt product. It’s tough-to-impossible to DJ well without some kind of basic audio interface and cueing interface, so the AKAI bundle gives you the smallest-yet solution for working that way, whether mainly a turntablists or mainly on the laptop.

At almost the same time, Native Instruments has announced a limited-run offer that bundles their state-of-the-art – Traktor Pro – with both their slim-line hardware models. That’s the TRAKTOR KONTROL Z1, which I see all over the place, also a basic audio interface with control surface for in-computer mixer. The Z1 can also be swapped between your Mac and PC and an iPad – there’s even a cable in the box. The audio interface works with any software, and the mixing control surface is automatically mapped to Traktor DJ for iPad as it is on the desktop. Continue reading »

AMX is an audio interface, it's DVS ready, and it includes a full copy of Serato DJ.

AMX is an audio interface, it’s DVS ready, and it includes a full copy of Serato DJ.

Serato DJs swear by their software. But one thing they haven’t had lately is a lot of choice in DJ controller hardware. Sure, there’s now a range of hardware getting updated for the latest software. But even after a transition to the new Serato DJ platform, almost all of this hardware is of the “really wide with two big wheels” variety.

That big hardware is a big problem. It leaves out Serato DJs working with vinyl who just want some added control of the software. It adds two big platters, which are arguably something you don’t need in the first place. And it gives you hardware that’s tough to fit in a bag – and sometimes impossible to fit in a booth. It works for some people in some situations, that is, but not all. And to add insult to injury, Allen & Heath’s beautiful XONE:K2 controller supported almost every DJ tool except Serato (even competing head-to-head with Native Instruments’ own hardware for Traktor).

Well, now there’s release, in two inexpensive, versatile-looking controllers from AKAI. AKAI, for their part, seems intent on world domination of every category (with InMusic comprising that brand as well as M-Audio and Alesis).

The AFX is a US$199 slim USB controller for effects, cueing, and loops. The AMX is a $249 control surface and audio interface.

There’s an obvious parallel to Native Instruments’ X1 and Z1, respectively. (It’s worth mentioning that, because NI has just announced that it’s including Traktor Pro for free with the purchase of either one, for the month of August.) But for Serato lovers, there’s no real comparison. Not only do you get extensive Serato integration, but the AMX gets you the latest full copy of Serato DJ – meaning, if you’re looking to upgrade (or, cough, get a legitimate copy), this is a smart buy.


DJ controllers for Serato that aren't huge things with wheels. New AKAI hardware, out this month.

DJ controllers for Serato that aren’t huge things with wheels. New AKAI hardware, out this month.

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Elektron’s Analog Rytm may have made its name based on its original, internal analog sound sources, but you can now add some additional sounds in the form of 808 samples. That gives you those 808 sounds with the Elektron workflow.

The world may not need another set of dry 808 sounds. But fortunately, here the pre-assembled sound samples come from our friend Goldbaby. Instead of another set of vanilla 808 noises (yawn), you get thick, tape-saturated sounds with some added character. I’m finishing a review of the Analog Rytm now, so I’m keen to hear what they sound like inside the Analog Rytm’s architecture — this could be a winner.

You get the full set of what you’d need – 14 kicks, 16 snares, 9 toms, 7 congas, 9 hats, 4 cymbals, and then a clap, a clave, a rimshot, a shaker, and a cowbell.

Some sound samples are already available. The kit costs 15€ – Elektron doesn’t really need that cash if you’ve already bought their machine, but I’m assuming Goldbaby does.

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The laptop is such an obvious part of music making today, it’s almost easy to understate its importance. But here’s the bottom line: for many musicians, it’s the most important gadget they’ll haul around with them. The glowing Apple logo may be the butt of some jokes, but it’s there for a reason. It’s tough to beat the versatility of a laptop for music making – and it’s tough to beat Apple on value.

No, I really said that. On paper, Apple’s machines are pricey. But while OS X, like any OS, is a complex beast and far from perfect, it’s still in my experience the easiest to maintain for music making. (And I’ve spent a lot of time with Linux and Windows, too, and I know many developers working cross-platform who tend to agree.) And so you buy this hardware to run that OS. Now, that said, Apple’s value equation isn’t so hot when it comes to desktops. The Mac Pro bests machines configured similarly, but Apple doesn’t have desktop offerings across the whole range of what you can build in a full-sized enclosure on the PC. (Let’s leave iMacs out of it for the moment.) I think there’s a reason some have turned to “Hackintosh” solutions when it comes to desktop builds.

But when it comes to the slim, battery-conscious confines of the laptop, it’s another story. What Apple gives you for that premium price is excellent support for high-speed devices (FireWire and Thunderbolt), a ridiculously fast SSD, great-feeling, thin hardware, long battery life, and a ridiculously nice display.

I’ll admit, when it came time to replace a MacBook Pro, I gulped a bit at pricing – especially here in Europe, where we pay both an import premium and added tax. MacBooks’ internal storage is especially pricey; sure, you can use external drives, but you don’t want to run out of internal space.

After a few weeks with a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro, I’ve changed my mind. The SSDs from Apple are so expensive partly because they’re high-end spec drives. Macworld’s benchmarks have consistently shown that (and likewise showed when Apple skimped on the MacBook Air); you can even read those benchmarks alongside PC World benchmarks and determine that, Mac or PC, you want a fast drive. Fortunately, this isn’t just a benchmark thing – the difference in real-world usage is astounding. Apps are responsive. Sample-heavy music apps (including clips, as in Ableton Live) purr. Multitrack audio is never an issue. The machine boots faster, loads software faster. Continue reading »