Remember when apps were novel toys for experimentation? Now, an app could give your drum machine a run for its money.

It’s the third wave of iOS apps. We’re now onto a moment where, cresting the wave of tools, a few are becoming simply invaluable to the right users. They can make an iPad feel a bit like dedicated hardware, perhaps even in a way that a computer can’t. And that to me makes them worth examining, even if you have no desire to use an iPad.

Elastic Drums has that feeling to me. On its surface, it’s just another drum machine app with a sequencer. But by tying together features you need for production and performance, it’s one of the few apps where I feel like I can really produce something serious. And its sound engine is unusual enough that it actually has personality. Continue reading »

We’ve heard a lot about Stems, a distribution format providing four separate, DJ-ready parts. And we already go to the point where you could buy a range of Stems music online. What you haven’t been able to do is try making your own Stems, unless you were on one of the early label partners.

That changes today, with Native Instruments’ public release of the free Stem Creator Tool. This is officially a beta version, but NI reports the files are created correctly and you should find it stable.

This also means whether or not you’re sold on Stems yet, you’ll get a better picture of how it works for producers.

First, to the pack itself. You get get:
1. A quick-start guide. (There’s also a video, included here.)
2. A guide on making your own Stems album cover (so it says ‘Stems’ on it, basically), accompanied by a template .psd file.
3. A software tool for Mac and WIndows that handles metadata, dynamics processing, and file export. (Only 64-bit Windows is supported at the moment, but 32-bit support is coming.)

Probably your best bet is to watch the video. There are some interesting details you might easily have missed in previous discussions: Continue reading »

modulations

America’s on-again, off-again love affair with electronic music – often, with idioms it helped create – is endlessly full of unexpected twists and turns. But all this bears examining. For some, it’s a journey back to the music that first inspired them. For others, it’s a chance to learn, perhaps, how where music has been might help lead to where it’s going. It’s a chance not just to repeat electronic music past, but go beyond it.

And if you’re looking for something to entertain you this weekend, you could do worse than Modulations, a documentary from 1998.

Back then, it was “electronica,” not “EDM.” But then, as now, high culture met festival culture – Karlheinz Stockhausen and Danny Tenaglia get equal screen time. Robert Moog weighs in. Some figures – Carl Cox, Derrick May, Giorgio Moroder – are just at home on today’s lineups. Others are not. As in the 808 film, Arthur Baker gets a starring role, too.

The film is mainly a document about the dance scene, but as such, offers a reminder to what 90s culture was, and how it does and doesn’t mirror the situation today.

And now you can watch the full thing for free on Vimeo or YouTube. Ah, back when electronic music was real electronic music, parties were real parties, and all the women were purple. (Erm, see the cover image.) Um… right. The 90s. Here’s Vimeo:

Modulations – Full Feature Film from Cultures of Resistance Films on Vimeo.

But wait — there’s more. Continue reading »

Our friends at Bastl Instruments / Noise Kitchen are preparing a modular synth tutorial with their usual charm, friendliness, and directness.

And, if your native language happens to be Czech, this is absolutely the video tutorial you’ve been waiting for! If you don’t, though, there are English subtitles. (And, of course, the occasional recognition of a word or two by hearing.)

The name sounds cool in Czech, too: Patcheni!

And host Nikol already has an advantage over … well, almost every other tutorial on modular synthesis I’ve seen:
1. The tutorials are beginner-friendly.
2. They’re short.
3. They’re cheery.
4. They don’t ramble on and on and on… (hey, to be fair, making tutorials is hard!)

Teaser at top, and on to the first video – which is superb: Continue reading »

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 »

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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 »

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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 »