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.

Continue reading »


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.

Continue reading »


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 »


Forget fancy effects or sophisticated plug-ins – day-in, day-out, it’s those simple MIDI modules you wind up using again and again and again and again. It’s like having a bucket of paperclips on your desk. It doesn’t have to be exciting. It’s the simple stuff that gets used.

So, one of my favorite demos from the jam-packed sessions at MIDI Hack Day in Stockholm in May was unquestionably Midular. The idea was simple: make some basic modules that do stuff to notes and control events, then combine them in useful ways. It deserved an ovation.

And now, you can get those same modules for Max for Live, for free. They’re open source, properly under a GPL license (meaning, if you want to port them to Pure Data, you can, for instance). And they’re good enough that you’ll wonder with at least a couple of them why Ableton didn’t include these as defaults effects.

The starting lineup:

  • LiveQuantizer. Well, duh. And as the creator notes, this means you can do to notes what Live does to clips.
  • Repeater. Repeat incoming notes.
  • Buffer. A round-robin note storage-and-playback sequencer – cool. And that naturally leads to -
  • Rotator. 8-note rotating buffer plus an 8-step sequencer, based on the Roland System 100m modular sequencer. This is a no-brainer to add to that Roland SYSTEM-1 I’m dragging into the studio tonight, in fact, both in SYSTEM-1 and SH-101 modes – I’ll report back.
  • SuperPitcher Works the way you wish Pitch did in Ableton – but then also adds a step-based modulator, for other effects.

Continue reading »


Here, in the season so many associate with sun and sand, the gothic factories of dark techno continue to clang away.

So, yes, the results may not be cheery. But the music defining this new generation of adventurous techno is uniquely focused on timbre. It is a soundscape set against the groove, not only about tweaking just the right high hat, but forging some terrain of sonic design, taking the listener on a journey to actually find something new. It makes landfall on undiscovered countries, rather than simply assembling an expected framework for the dancefloor.

It also carries with it some of the weight of social mindfulness.

And for lovers of sound, the trend can make fans of techno who weren’t before, and lift spirits. Dark, grimy – maybe. But sonic aficionados may find themselves grinning ear to ear.

The Italian-born artist Lucy and his label Stroboscopic Artefacts are right at the heart of the present scene. Lucy, making Berlin the home based for a whole lot of globe trotting, hails from a country that has seen hearts broken by Neo-Liberal dreams. But he also talks eloquently about what music can do, and makes some of his images political – the churches, schools, and guns he saw landing in Texas. Whether you agree with the societal technique, he also has constructive ideas for what might happen on the dance floor. Continue reading »

With homemade machines in the foreground, Quintron and Pussycat warm up the audience, as the moon rises... Photo: Gary Lavourde.

With homemade machines in the foreground, Quintron and Pussycat warm up the audience, as the moon rises… Photo: Gary Lavourde.

Deep in the Ninth Word of New Orleans lies the workbench and studio of one Mr. Quintron, the inventor-organist who has applied his DIY mad-scientist sonic production to a unique flavor of insistent punk. Mr. Quintron was this week in my home neighborhood in Berlin, accompanied by his wife Miss Pussycat – maraca player (maracaist?), vocalist, and puppeteer behind Flossie and the Unicorns. There was a puppet show. It was about cake – demon cake. There was the debut of a new inflatable puppet. Shirts came off. Sounds were made. It was hot. It was loud.

Just as these puppets are voodoo-infused, more than human, so, too, are his sound machines. Like the band itself, they come from a side show, freak show, burlesque show, children’s show, punk show aesthetic.

And none more than the Drum Buddy – a spinning, optical-mechanical device with five (or maybe four, depending on which description you’ve read) oscillators. If you don’t believe in its powers, or if you don’t want to spend the US$999.99 it costs (if one can actually be bought), there’s an informercial to sway you.

Quintron is the sort of person who transforms his basement into a homemade underground club, which he calls the Spellcaster Lodge.

He’s the sort of person who builds a weather-powered synthesizer so that when it rains on his home, he can make rain music. Watch:

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