Serato and Native Instruments may have a fierce rivalry when it comes to tools. But at the end of the day, the leading DJ vendors exist for one reason: they’re there to support musicians.

And I do mean musicians. Watching new routines from Jazzy Jeff and Shiftee, you really see the turntable emerge as a virtuoso musical instrument.

They’re released as promotions for Serato (Jeff) and Native Instruments (Shiftee). And the tools are important: they’re there to allow these players to make use of their skills, to do more than just select tracks like a jukebox.

But this really is about engineering supporting the human body, supporting physical gestures. I think they also tell us something about who DJs can be in the age of digital DJ technology.

Jazzy Jeff is Philadelphia’s Jeffrey Allen Towne, here covering a Run DMC classic that has me tingling with nostalgia as a tail-end gen Xer. Now could be a perfect moment in his career – a time when young people are rediscovering hip hop DJ roots, and perhaps not so hung up on the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince association. (Well, or maybe those young people will have additional associations; I’m sure The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air lives on on Netflix and so on.)

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I must admit to knowing neither the term tubes musicaux, nor “boomwhackers.”

We’re on the eve of the Musikmesse trade show, which for music technology sites means time spent largely in Hall 5.1 – the bit dedicated to electronic stuff and “DJs.” But that’s no reason to ignore the possibilities afforded by acoustic sound. So long as people are being inventive with materials, that end of the spectrum (so to speak) will remain compelling.

And the “Boomwhacker” is a great example. As Wikipedia kindly fills me in, “Boomwhackers Tuned Percussion Tubes are lightweight, hollow, color-coded, plastic tubes, tuned to musical pitches by length.” Okay, you mostly can see that in this video. But they’re a success story in new musical toys: the 1995 invention by Craig Ramsell has now sold millions of units. Continue reading »


3D, spatialized sound is some part of the future of listening – both privately and in public performances. But the question is, how?

Right now, there are various competing formats, most of them proprietary in some way. There are cinema formats (hello, Dolby), meant mainly for theaters. There are research installations, such as those in Germany (TU Berlin, Frauenhofer) and Switzerland (ZHDK), to name a few. And then there are specific environments like the 4DSOUND installation I performed on and on which CDM hosted an intensive weekend hacklab – beautiful, but only in one place in the world, and served up with a proprietary secret sauce. (4DSOUND has, to my knowledge, two systems, but one is privately-owned and not presenting work, and spatial positioning information is stored in a format that for now is read only by 4DSOUND’s system of Max patches.)

Now, we see a different approach: crowd funding to create a space, and opening up tools in Ableton Live, Max for Live, and Lemur. The result looks quite similar to 4DSOUND’s approach in the speaker configuration and tooling, but with a different approach to how people access those tools and how the project is funded.

Artist Christopher Willits has teamed up with two sound engineers / DSP scientists and someone researching the impact on the body to produce ENVELOP – basically, a venue/club for performances and research. It, too, will be in just one place, but they’re promising to open the tools used to make it, as well as use a standard format for positioning data (Ambisonics). We’ll see whether that’s sufficient to make this delivery more widely used.

The speaker diffusion system is relatively straightforward for this kind of advanced spatial sound. You get a sphere of speakers to produce the immersive effect – 28 in total, plus 4 positioned subwoofers. (A common misconception is that bass sound isn’t spatialized; in fact, I’ve heard researchers demonstrate that you can hear low frequencies as well as high frequencies.) Like the 4DSOUND project (and, incidentally, less like some competing systems), the speaker install is built into a set of columns.

And while the crowd-funding project is largely to finish building the physical venue, the goal is wider. They want to not only create the system, but they say they want to host workshops, hackathons, and courses in immersive audio, as well.

You can watch the intro video:

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Following our interview with author Dennis DeSantis, we can start your weekend with some sage advice from his book Making Music. While published by Ableton, this isn’t an Ableton book. It lies as the boundary of software and music, at the contact points of creativity in the tool.

For a CDM exclusive excerpt, I wanted to highlight two chapters. One deals with the question of how to overcome default settings – this cries out as almost a public service announcement for people making 120 bpm 4/4 tunes because that’s what pops up when you start a new project in Live and many other DAWs. The other looks at programming drums by grounding patterns in the physical – it’s no accident that Dennis is himself a trained percussionist.

Even if you did land a copy of the printed edition already, this seems a perfect “book club” affair for us to share. Thanks to Dennis and Ableton for making them available; I hope it lights a spark for you and people you know. -Ed. Continue reading »


The blank screen. The half-finished project. The project that wants to be done.

We talk a lot about machines and plug-ins, dials and patch cords, tools and techniques. But the reality is, the most essential moments of the process go beyond that. They’re the moments when we switch on that central technology of our brain and creativity. And, very often, they crash and require a restart.

So it’s about time to start talking about the process of how we make music – even more so when that process is in some sense inseparable from the technology we use, whether the time-tested “technology” of music tradition or the latest Max for Live patch we’ve attempted to make work in a track.

Making Music is a book published, improbably, by Ableton. Sold out in its first paper run, with digital shortly on the way, it has already proven that there’s a hunger for creative tomes that harmonize with our tech-enabled world. Making the book Making Music is a story unto itself. Ableton’s Dennis DeSantis joins CDM to explain his own experience – and what happens when he gets stuck like the rest of us.

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How do you improve upon a sound that is already shorthand for noises that melt audiences’ faces off? And how do you revisit sound code decades after the machines that ran it are scrapped?

We get a chance to find out, as the man behind the THX “Deep Note” sound talks about its history and reissue. Dr. Andy Moorer, the character I called “the most interesting digital audio engineer in the world,” has already been terrifically open in talking about his sonic invention. He’s got more to say – and the audience is listening. (Sorry, I sort of had to do that.)

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Roland apparently doesn’t want to leave too much to the imagination – or online leaks.

Now, it’s official. Roland has posted a teaser image to their AIRA site. It’s marked with the catch phrase “Start Patching,” plus “Frankfurt Musikmesse 2015″ (next week’s industry trade show here in Germany).

So, we know a lot for sure now:

It’s an AIRA product.
It has patch cords.
It’s modular. (The filename on Roland’s own site is “b_airamodular.jpg”)
They’re doing a rack-mount SYSTEM-1. (That’s the AIRA SYSTEM-1 layout in the device on the top. It seems they’re breaking it out a bit like the Synthesizer-101 that was the heart of the 100 series modular.)

We can guess at a lot, too:
Looks like there are probably four modules to start.

Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB), Roland’s own component analog modeling technique introduced on the AIRA line, seems a natural for the modules since it’s already in this soon-to-be-rack-mounted SYSTEM-1. Of course, that still opens up analog control (via CV). A lot of great modules at the moment are digital, so no shocker there.

The one thing I can’t do? Unlike last year’s teaser image, messing about with the image levels doesn’t reveal all the labels. Heh.

We’ll be visiting Roland next week and then all bets are off.

As for everything else, I refer you again to this picture for speculation: