Round and round and round it goes…

It’s the motorized rotating pillar of Eurorack modular synthesizers from Berlin’s Schneidersladen, which served this evening as backdrop to an excellent workshop from the boys of Bastl Instruments of the Czech Republic.

And, well, we’re not sure what happens to your brain if you keep watching this. Here, seen at twelve times normal rotation speed, thanks to Hyperlapse and my iPhone. This being Berlin, you can get this and falafel within a fairly short walk.

Follow the Schneiders blog here:

Drum Machine – XOXX Composer from Axel Bluhme on Vimeo.

Can you design a drum machine that does more than simply hide its workings inside an invisible box?

XOXX Composer does just that. A project by Axel Bluhme, it turns the inner functions of sampling, looping, and sequencing, into tangible, kinetic, sculptural form. Wheels turn. Magnets trigger sounds. And in what looks like the love child of a 606 and a player piano, you get a mechanical take on patterned sound.

Full description:

A drum machine that is fun and easy to use
This project started with a curiosity to understand when, why and how people take their first steps into producing music. The goal is to inspire and allow this exploration even though there might be lack of confidence or knowledge.
A tangible sound arranger that uses magnets to activate sound samples and that is very easy to engage with. Capture sounds from your surroundings or sample records, simply let curiosity and creativity lead the way to quickly create unique beats.
The physical interface is made up from eight rotating discs allowing the user to layer up to eight different sounds.
Each set of eight discs are colour coded and each individual disc in the set has its own pattern so as to allow the user to create their own mental system and means of organising their sounds.
Every disc is quantised into four bars, which is indicated by the coloured lines on their faces, and each bar is divided into four steps. That means every disc has sixteen steps which allows the user to explore a variety of different music styles and degrees of complexity.

The project will be shown at Ugly Duck in Bermondsey (London), as part of a collaboration between Sonos and the Royal College of Art.

Axel has other industrial design ideas, like how to make food truck kitchens work. (Your hipster future, basically, is right here.)

Great stuff! Thanks, Johannes Lohbihler, for sending this our way.


Several major figures in synthesizer history have lost control of their names over the years. Robert Moog sued in 1998 to get his name back on synths; that court battle, with Don Martin, was won in 2002 and allowed the modern Moog Music to supplant the former Big Briar. While Dave Smith never lost access to his personal name, he gave up his original brand name Sequential. Yamaha voluntarily surrendered the Sequential badge earlier this year.

But a new legal battle between Don Buchla and the current Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments is unprecedented on a number of levels.

First, Buchla (the brand) is unusually dependent on Don Buchla’s legacy. Don’s mug shot appears the moment you open the site, with a long history that talks about him (by first name) before ever mentioning the product. There are top-level menu items on the site for “History of Buchla” and “Don Buchla.” And the products themselves are high-end, boutique devices, sold with the expectation that you see a Buchla synth as worth more than someone else’s synth.

What you won’t see on that site is the fact that Don Buchla himself was terminated from the company that bears his name, back in April 2014. And you definitely won’t learn that Don Buchla is now suing this new company and its parent, Audio Supermarket Pty. Ltd. of Australia, for breach of contract.

And that legal battle seems likely to get very ugly indeed, uglier than anything I can recall in the time I’ve been covering electronic instruments. Continue reading »


How can you get the most hands-on control of a laptop DJ set when you don’t have a lot of room?

With so many of us called upon to DJ in a pinch – even as producers or live acts, onstage or in mixes – it’s relevant to almost anyone making electronic music.

And finding a way to stay mobile a worthy question – but one you might miss if following DJ blogs and music store displays. Imagine if you were making a generic DJ controller prop for a bedroom display at IKEA. You know exactly what it’d look like. It’d be the size of a coffee table (Lack!) and have a couple of giant wheels. Let’s call such things the Plastic Coffins.

That’s all fine and well – until you try to fit your controller into your backpack on easyJet. Or until you show up at a club and there’s barely enough room for your 13″ MacBook Pro.

Now, if you’re using CDJs or digital vinyl for control, you’ll presumably be okay; you mainly need only an audio interface. But if you want a self-contained setup, you’ll definitely need some controls.

There’s also the use case of being at home or on the road and needing to finish a mix or podcast. It’s nice to do this with proper controls, too.

So, I’ve selected a handful of DJ controllers I think stand out for these cases, partly because I’m surprised how often they’re eclipsed by the army of Plastic Coffins.

And I’m curious if Winter Music Conference shakes up this list. Continue reading »


It’s finally happened.

The 808 is now a tab in your browser.

And it’s brought friends. Sure, they’re called “hip hop, house, electro, techno, and acoustic” but – you’re not fooling anyone. (Least of all because some of those genres use the other machines.) That’s an acoustic kit, plus the Roland TR-808 and TR-909, Elektron Machinedrum, and Roger Linn’s Linndrum.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen drum machines emulated in a browser. But coding for the rich Web, and browsers in general, have each gotten a lot better, so the experience has improved. And, crucially, this isn’t just a time waster. You can export loops as WAV files.

Or, edit — this is a time waster for your employer, if you have a day job. It’s just an investment for your life as a producer. I do hope people make actual music with this.

Apparently, this is just the first of more things to come. There’s absolutely no information from the creators – like who they are, for instance, so do chime in. But he/she/them/it/the Collective/some entity want us know that more fun stuff is coming soon if you like their page. So there you have it, Like them or the terrorists win.

Clap your drum machines, say yeah.

Update: Yes, the man with the plan is none other than Jamie Thomson of the UK (thanks for the tip-off on that, Charles!)

Electronic drums have had a hard time escaping the shadow of Roland’s TR line. But that’s no reason to limit yourself, yet again, to another two scoops of vanilla ice cream in your cone.

And so, even with an increasingly crowded Eurorack modular scene, it’s worth applauding the entry of the mad scientists of Bastl Instruments in the Czech Republic. They’ve got a number of new modules that are weird and wonderful, inspired yet again by the legacy of a nearly-forgotten electronic pioneer of the Communist-dominated 70s, Standa Filip. And while you may have spotted their debut in the market, I think the drum modules steal the show.

First, let’s enjoy some actual, beautiful music.

HRTL got his hands on a 95HP rack of Bastl goodies, rustic wooden panels and all. The music is dynamic and live, urgent in a way that can only come from not-too-perfect improvisation, lush and lo-fi all at once. It’s also a nice antidote to “look how much gear I bought” rigs and (uh, yes, I’ve gotten into this trap) modular patches that loop endlessly and don’t stop augh make that bleeping pattern quit it’s going to drive my head out of my skull.

Ahem. No, it’s nice, recorded live with no post-processing:

Continue reading »


Grim music is very much in vogue these days – the tell-tale sign being washed-out back and white photos that seem to have escaped from the liner covers of horror movie soundtracks, among other giveaways. But it can get carried away. You might sometimes wonder if producers were being paid by their reverb plug-ins in exchange for lengthening delay times.

Milena Kriegs aka Milena Głowacka, however, is some blissfully frightening music I feel is worth listening to. Straddling darker, deeper techno and adventures into more ambient/experimental territory, this Warsaw-based artist is at the center of a growing amount of finely-crafted electronic shadows.

And she’s a particular aptitude playing live. What I’ve come to appreciate about Milena’s work is its economy and extraordinary restraint. Each move is subtle and slow, each sound – and yes, each reverb tail – necessary. As such, I think she’s a nice introduction to a network of European artists making these sorts of sounds.

Głowacka is a relative newcomer to many of the parties she plays, having begun playing only in 2012. But she has quickly established herself on some high-quality lineups. Her October set from about blank is a standout of recent live PA sets that have crossed my way. (That event included resident Silva Rymd in her wonderful ZEROIZE series alongside long-time electronic music mainstay Heiko Laux.) Fluid, each sound a consistent thread:

Continue reading »