Tired: controllers that need computers to operate. Wired (literally): controllers that work happily standalone. MIDI, CV – all good.

I’m still bleary-eyed but happy after a day yesterday of overwhelmingly cool Novation Launchpad Pro hacks, most of them standalone. The idea: hack into the firmware, and make the Launchpad Pro do whatever you want in your rig.

Now, today, Novation themselves are out with clever videos showing off the fact that a firmware update has made the Launch Control and Launch Control XL work on their own. (Note the the Launchpad Pro is preferable in that it has onboard MIDI. The other devices still require a USB host.) I think this is exceptional, partly because it extends the live of all these controllers that tend to accumulate.

The video at top shows the LaunchControl XL in action with Eurorack modular. The secret sauce here is Expert Sleepers’ FH1 module:

http://expert-sleepers.co.uk/fh1.html Continue reading »


We’re in a the golden age of the drum machine, whether it’s dedicated hardware or a computer or a mobile gadget.

Of course, that means it’s getting tougher to stand out.

Patterning is one of the most promising software entries yet. I’m already a huge fan of Elastic Drums for its rich approach to timbre – this could be my other fast favorite.

Patterning side-steps the two problems with most drum machines – boring, regular patterns, and boring, predictable sounds.

Patterning’s user interface is centered around a circle, as cycles of time repeat in futuristic rotating colored geometries. We’ve seen that before, but Patterning makes it both uniquely accessible and uniquely powerful. Finding four-on-the-floor is easy, but so, too, is creating complex polyrhythms.

For sounds, you can load up your own custom kits, to keep this from sounding like everyone else (well, unless you want some 909 action and you do want to sound like everyone else intentionally). There are deep effects, too, plus the complement of MIDI and audio routing features serious iPad musicians now demand.

Let’s take a look at the specs: Continue reading »


Electronic music, even at its most adventurous, has a bit of a chicken and egg problem at the moment.

Festivals feed off of other festivals. Projects are made to be as portable as possible, touring from one place to another. Venues, crowds, and even the festival programs themselves are made to be as interchangeable as possible.

None of these things on its own is a bad thing; music touring as an institution has likely been around as long as musicians have owned shoes. But at some point, you need something new to happen. You need someone to do something specific – something that has to happen at a particular moment, and a particular place. Without that, there’s no spark to keep the engine of sonic exploration going.

We already have overwhelmingly broad access to sounds and shows online. And while “portable festivals” have some place in places like the Americas and Australia, where distances are forgiving, in Europe almost everything is a short bus or cheap plane ticket away. Even on a student budget, it isn’t hard to hop from festival to festival. That means those festivals had better be genuinely different.

What would a festival look like if missing the festival really meant missing the festival?

Barabara Morgenstern, who will transform a power plant into a spatial sound experiment using unamplified voices.

Barabara Morgenstern, who will transform a power plant into a spatial sound experiment using unamplified voices.

Continue reading »

From frets to keys to finger holes, musical instruments in every culture have provided ways to easily access musical ideas quickly. But these are physical, acoustic instruments, so any solution they find is more or less restricted to a single set of choices.

Digital hardware can do what digital software can: it can be a blank slate for new ideas.

The monome and Tenori-On grid instruments, each in their own way, demonstrated that a radically simple grid can generate a surprising range of possibilities. The monome’s claim to fame, above its other applications, was the way a companion Max patch treated sliced samples (the mlr app). Tenori-on, drawing on earlier work by Toshio Iwai, excelled at playful, game-like mechanics.

If the piano had centuries of development, the digital grid is still pretty new. And now it’s adding color and velocity/pressure sensitivity. So now may be the best time to revisit its possibilities.

I’m now in London, about to take part in discussions tomorrow to work on the Novation Launchpad Pro’s open source API. I think this could be not only a font for some neat Launchpad ideas, but perhaps a template for how such a hardware API could be developed and supported, and some new thoughts on how to make a grid instrument work.

As I do that, by happy coincidence, developer Fabrizio Poce is back with his J74 ISO Controllers. Continue reading »

Long before trippy visualizers and computer animation, before liquid light shows or laser parties, Thomas Wilfred was building organs for visuals. He called the
art they produced Lumia, and the instrument Clavilux – a keyboard for light.

That first instrument was built all the way back in 1919. But unlike a lot of the spectacles of the era, this one is still hypnotic today, even after all the advances of cinema and computing.

Drawing on a tradition that included displays of fire and fireworks, and the ability to place sound “at the command of a skilled player at a piano,” Wilfred found a way to produce a visual instrument, apparently after first toying as a child with prisms.

light_show_0 Continue reading »

Light organs have been in use for generations. But this is the first generation that has grown up in a world of image and sound in which expression across electronic media might seem simply second nature.

And oddly, as screens have become more ubiquitous, so, too, has thinking beyond them.

What we see here, then, isn’t a projection. It isn’t a display. It’s a big bundle of lightbulbs, making rhythmic poetry in off and on once connected to a jumble of wires. Play the Moog app Animoog on an iPad, and that mountain of electronic junk winks back at you like lightning bugs.

Going from screen (iPad) to pre-digital expression (lightbulbs) seems to make perfect sense. Continue reading »


It’s French composer Pierre Schaeffer’s birthday, and if you’re using any form of sampling, it’s worth pausing to remember him.

At 105 years of age, he’s more relevant than ever.

Listen, to his Cinq études de bruits : Étude aux chemins de fer. Amazingly, this 1948 piece (made when my Mom was born) sounds like it’d still be a good listen on SoundCloud today (thanks, Yuri Spitsyn):

Continue reading »