SoundCloud has posted a somber memorial to the Berlin Wall, for the 25th anniversary. The concept is intriguing not only for its content, but also its form. The work uses time as a measurement of space – the duration sound would take to travel the length of the whole wall. In comments on SoundCloud, the 120 people who lost their lives are counted out in their fateful location. See the full description below. I’m curious to hear what readers think; my own preference would have been for an abstract interpretation rather than such literal, figurative sounds, but this is entirely personal.

The anniversary of the fall of the wall has in Berlin brought a host of events – including many celebrating the musical renaissance that followed reunification. And it is no exaggeration to say that Berlin has become a world capital of music technology, host to Ableton, Native Instruments, and SoundCloud, but also countless researchers, artists, electronic musicians, and small builders, as a direct result of this historical event.

Perhaps against this, it is worth reflecting on the text of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the fourth movement “Choral,” which was played yesterday on the anniversary.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.

Oh friends, not these sounds!
Let us instead strike up more pleasing
and more joyful ones!

The text: Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. The original word was not joy, but the more politically-loaded freedom.

Given that last night is, somewhat incomprehensibly, both the anniversary of the fall of the wall and the horrific Kristallnacht, in a city that was home to Nazis and the fulcrum of a nuclear standoff with my own native United States that very nearly destroyed humanity and a lot of life on earth, this is the reason we have to make sounds in Berlin or far away from it- we are at a boundary line for humanity. Continue reading »


Here’s a welcome change. OS X Yosemite (10.10 is a major update to a desktop operating system that brings with it almost no apparent headaches for pro audio.

The normal advice applies. Backup your system before doing anything (even Apple’s Time Machine I’ve found does the job nicely). Time something major like an OS update for when you’ve got time to test, and to revert if you have trouble. (Hint: not in the dressing room before a gig.) And don’t rush to update – there’s nothing here that you immediately need for music work.

But in this case, if you are trying out OS X Yosemite for other reasons – or investing in a new Apple computer (the MacBook Pros are especially nicely priced at the moment) – you may be pleasantly surprised that there a few issues. The lag in testing and compatibility is measured in days or weeks rather than months. And anecdotally, I’ve seen a bunch of people update to the new OS on recent machines and report real happiness with the results. Older hardware owners are definitely left in the dark, but it’s been a while since Apple has changed system requirements. This is what maturity looks like. Maybe some of that agony we went through in the past has paid dividends. Continue reading »


American artist Holly Herndon has built an extraordinary musical performance idiom in her live sets and records. She blends deep rhythms with ethereal vocals, interweaving electronic and processed and human sounds with unusual fluidity.

Her vocal chords are beautifully present, as are her own custom-made Max patch sound designs. But she can also draw the computer’s electrical vocal chords, harnessing, Nikola Tesla-style, the unseen electro-static and mechanical life of her computer itself. This is not laptop music meant to make the computer invisible. This is laptop music that recognizes that our strange metal devices have become new instruments, machines that co-exist with us in the real world.

She deals, too, with intimacy, memory, and feeling – all related to her use of process in studio and live performance.

Holly has done various interviews, but Red Bull Music Academy gave her two solid hours on the mic in Tokyo recently, and the resulting talk sits nicely in focus between the gathered audience of practitioners and the larger public.

It’s worth watching the entire lecture, but there are some topics worth highlighting. Continue reading »


Since the summer (or earlier), you’ve been hearing that online streaming service SoundCloud would partner with big content makers. But noticeably absent was any official announcement of a label.

Well, a huge chunk of that picture just came together. SoundCloud and Warner Music Group today announced that they had inked a new partnership. The WMG announcement is huge – the global music conglomerate is just shy of 42% of worldwide market share. They’re the major among majors, the biggest US label, and the biggest publisher.

Oddly, many in the press jumped the gun on this announcement, claiming Warner had made a deal with SoundCloud before it evidently actually happened. But this is that deal, and it has big implications.

And if you think you don’t listen to Warner Music Group releases, you either have extraordinarily obscure tastes, or you’re just wrong. Their labels range from Nonesuch to Atlantic to Rhino, apart from things with “Warner” in them. (Full list below.) It even includes the Bowie record above – I know; it was the top hit on Rhino’s site today.

There were actually two announcements today. We knew as of summer that SoundCloud planned a subscription service not only for people uploading music, but those who just want to listen ad-free as advertisements start to appear on the service. But we only know now when that will happen – in the “first half of 2015.” Now, SoundCloud not only confirmed that subscription to CDM at the time, but also told us that they were investigating the ability for paid upload subscribers (like you, probably) to avoid ads. No additional information is available on that yet, but I don’t think there’s yet reason for panic – there just aren’t a lot of ads on the service yet to want to avoid.

So, what does this mean?

On_SoundCloud Continue reading »

If you’ve ever ordered sushi from one of those rotating belts, you’ll love this musical hack that takes it to an entirely new place. For Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) Tokyo, Native Instruments engineers teamed up with Just Blaze and Tokimonsta to turn a sushi restaurant into a live electronic remix instrument.

And these aren’t tricks – slick as the music video at top my appear. They really did use a combination of cameras and software to make colored plates into a working interface for music.

RBMA produced a video that shows some of what’s going on behind the scenes, below. But we weren’t satisfied until we knew the specifics – after all, we’d love to see more unique musical interfaces around the world. So, CDM talked to developers Bram de Jong and Michael Hlatky of Native Instruments to find out more. And you might learn something you can apply – or get a bit hungry for fish, depending. Michael answers.

The answers get tasty, indeed: we learn everything from how the camera “sees” the plates using their original software to how Maschine acts as a controller for sushi-triggered Ableton Live.

IMG_20141017_134128678 Continue reading »


In live electronic music, the endless free expanse of the computer screen tends to run up against the limited ability of your brain to tell just which freakin’ track am I on, anyway? In the studio, it can be annoying. Live onstage, it can be train wreck-inducing.

Ableton Live’s Session View has for years exacerbated this problem. You can limit your options to eight (or even four) tracks. But that doesn’t always work. You might need more than eight tracks for particular routings of audio or MIDI. And unless you use Device Racks and chains, you’ll also need extra tracks to switch instruments.

Launchsync is a solution to that problem. Instead of all of your controllers going their own way and controlling different parts of Live separately, they can now move in tandem. So, rather than doing scrolling on multiple devices and squinting at the screen to see where the heck you are, you can navigate on one controller and everything else follows.

Use cases:
1. One Ring to Rule Them All. Have every grid controller assigned to the same block of clips, and move around together (one clip at a time, or “paging” in bigger groups).
2. A Wider or Taller Grid. Make a bigger grid. For instance, a Push and a Launchpad, or two Launchpads could be next to one another, moving together – 16×8 or 8×16 or whatever you like.
3. Faders Synced with a Grid. Get your faders following your grid. I love Push, but I’ve hesitated to use it live because I can’t easily mix on it. Now, I can have my LaunchControl XL follow the launch grid of the Push.

It’s free, but requires Max for Live (included in Ableton Live Suite 9). I’ll say this, though, now with confidence – if you’re serious about using Live, just get Suite (or a discounted version of Max). Seriously. I haven’t talked to one person who regrets that. They’re getting it to use tools like this, even if they’re not patchers.

Compatible hardware: Continue reading »

Faders. Knobs. Done.

Faders. Knobs. Done.

Sometimes, you just want to grab a fader.

Maybe it’s not about elaborate custom parameter assignment, or clip launching, or playing an in-tune Phrygian scale on a colored, light-up grid as you solo on a bowed marimba sample. You know, you just want to fade a track.

There are surprisingly few controllers out there tailored to this application. So, that makes the new LaunchControl XL from Novation a potential stand-out. It’s just faders and pots: 8 faders, with three knobs each. Each column also gets two triggers; these are switchable when used with Ableton Live to control mute, solo, and record arm functions. As on the Launchpad, Novation also provides separate user/factory templates you can access with a push-button, and switches for selecting tracks and sends, all mapped to Ableton Live.

The upshot is, you’ve got a MIDI controller that makes it exceptionally easy to mix eight tracks. And this being a Novation controller, it’s also lightweight and compact: the footprint is the same as the Launchpad, and it weighs in at under a kilogram. You can use it anywhere, because it’s bus-powered and driverless, so it works with iOS, Windows, OS X, and Linux.

I expect Ableton Live will be the most popular use case, though, so let’s begin with how Live integration works.

LCXL Continue reading »