For centuries, music was something made in a living room, made at home. It was a brief fluke of the 20th Century that music came out of a heroic process in a hidden-away studio. But if the gold-plated, magical record is threatened, some artists are trying to bring the daily ritual of home music making back.

Ólafur Arnalds and Matthew Flook are each making gorgeous, cinematic-ambient tracks, and each have made projects that involve doing so on a regular basis in their homes. Let’s listen.

Arnalds has been making some of the finest scores anywhere, and now has earned the appropriate recognition. In celebration, we get to enjoy the documentation of his achingly-pretty Living Room Songs project free – along with free downloads of the record (or pay for higher quality). Erased Tapes, which also happens to be one of my favorite labels these days (see also post-minimalist pianist Nils Frahm, among others), brings the good news:

In celebration of Ólafur Arnalds’ recent BAFTA nomination for his score work on Broadchurch, Erased Tapes are streaming his 2011 Living Room Songs film in full; including behind the scenes footage which has previously only been available as part of the special edition CD/DVD set.

Shot by Gunnar Guðbjörnsson and Bowen Staines
Edited by Bowen Staines

You can purchase physical and high-quality digital from the Erased Tapes store, or grab the downloads free from the Living Room Songs site:


We get over half an hour of footage to watch. This is all acoustic instrumentation, in case anyone wants to question whether it belongs on this particular site – but, then, that’s the joy of the mobility of today’s digital recording technology.

livingroom Continue reading »

If you want wild, futuristic, and inventive, some of the craziest inventions come from the past. The Photoplayer makes today’s music tech look positively dull.

Joe Rinaudo has made a business of bringing back antiques, but his 1926 Photoplayer may top the list.

Built to add dynamic soundtracks for silent films, the machine is an ingenious contrivance for live music generation. First, it has the ability to run “two decks” – that is, by having two rolls instead of one, you can queue up the next roll while the other is playing. (Okay, so it sort of invented DJing.) Second, the traditional piano roll is accompanied by sound effects and percussion noises triggered by chains called “cow-tails.” So, again, like live electronic music today, you can add live percussion atop the prepared music.

They were also machines anyone could play. The device handled the tricky piano playing bits; you only had to add in sound effects. But with everything from gunshots to bird chirps to thunder, various levers and chains and switches let you do all the foley yourself – critical at a time when silent films lacked sound.

Then again, now that we have sound, we might appreciate this effect more than the audience of the time. Food for thought. Continue reading »

MOOG continues their leadership in the April Fools' department, by bringing you ... Keith Emerson's rig.

MOOG continues their leadership in the April Fools’ department, by bringing you … Keith Emerson’s rig.

Like the proverbial Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day, it seems that music tech writers this year saw their shadow and decided to stay in their hole rather than deal with the yearly deluge of fake news that arrives on April Fools’.

That’s a shame. Because this year, a few ideas are preposterous enough that we wish they weren’t jokes.

(Turning that fool into something real was something I proposed last year, too – and just heard we might see some fruits out of that. Stay tuned.)

Tower of power. Photo courtesy (fake) MOOG.

Tower of power. Photo courtesy (fake) MOOG.

Emerson, Fake, and Palmer. Moog Music has a tradition of jests on the holiday, and this year is no exception. With a slight wink to KORG’s recent obsession with recreating its past, this year, Moog tells us “a dedicated Moog engineering team has painstakingly reverse engineered and built a 1 : 1 recreation of the world’s most famous keyboard, Keith Emerson’s Moog Modular, using original processes and components.” Continue reading »


The picture of old-school DJing is someone hauling around a crate of records. Frankie Knuckles, the house pioneer, was playing The Warehouse in Chicago and touring with reels of tapes. Remixing was something done with a razor blade.

The saddening news has arrived that “godfather of house” Frankie Knuckles has died at the age of 59. His friend and collaborator David Morales shared the news via Twitter late Tuesday. (See Ben Rogerson’s report in MusicRadar, which comments a bit on the origins of Jamie Principle’s Your Love.) The man most associated with Chicago house music actually was born in the Bronx and cut his teeth DJing in New York City. But it was his instrumental role in the the evolution of Chicago house – the DJ scene, the records that were released, the connections between people at The Warehouse (hence, “house music”), and later his own venue Power Plant – that secured a place in history. And then, there was a second act that topped even that. In the 90s, his Def Classic Mixes and (with Morales) Def Mix Productions turned out still more hits. Knuckles is the rare dance music creator with both a Grammy and a Chicago street to his name.

Frankie Knuckles plays ADE 2012 at the Sugar Factory. Photo (CC-BY) Ukrainian house music producer deepstereo (Sergey) - another artist inspired by Knuckles.

Frankie Knuckles plays ADE 2012 at the Sugar Factory. Photo (CC-BY) Ukrainian house music producer deepstereo (Sergey) – another artist inspired by Knuckles.

While he will be remembered today surely for his legacy in vinyl records, today’s entire dance music and electronic music scene owes some debt to the way Knuckles has influenced the practice of music making. What he first accomplished with a razor blade and tape has led to techniques in edits and remixes that have become second nature today, and his use of the drum machine is part of the origin of today’s rush for new boxes.

Greg Rule wrote about that for Keyboard Magazine in 1997. Here are some brief excerpts of that chapter from Keyboard Presents the Evolution of Electronic Dance Music, the book I edited for Keyboard and Hal Leonard/Backbeat in 2011: Continue reading »


Elektron’s upcoming hardware drum machine, the Analog Rytm, is silent no more.

The Swedish maker has posted audio samples of this 8-voice box, covering a range of styles. And you can see some specs now on the product page:


What you can’t do is order the Analog Rytm – not yet. There’s a waiting list so you can be notified when it goes on sale (not really a waiting list for the preorder, so much as a “now you can buy it” list):


We expect to be on top of a review before the beginning of summer. In the meantime, let’s have a listen. Continue reading »



Call it the MS-20 “Biggie.”

A year after remaking their classic 1978 MS-20 synthesizer in a hugely-popular “mini” version, KORG surprised everyone by unveiling a second reissue this year, the limited-edition MS-20 Kit. Its innards are entirely identical to the MS-20 mini; component-by-component, the sound circuitry is the same. And since the MS-20 was a fairly convincing replica of the original, inaccurate mostly in that it can’t reproduce the aged components we’re now used to, that’s a good start.

Now I’ve had the experience of assembling and playing the kit, following up our debut with the mini last year, and can share what I’ve learned.

Photos: Benjamin Weiss, aka NERK (mostly), of DE:BUG Magazine.

The differences in the special edition this year are mostly to do with size. Instead of the miniaturized keybed, enclosure, and jacks on the mini, you get an MS-20 that is physically indistinguishable from the original – full-sized keyboard, full-sized audio jacks. (Oddly, I read people complaining about the plastic sides. Sorry, everything old did not use Moog-style wooden endcaps; that is authentic.) There are only two things that are a giveaway this isn’t a vintage MS: one is the USB and MIDI port conspicuously added to the back, and the other, more telling sign, is that the thing is physically so darned clean, as it is a 2014 creation rather than late 70s / early 80s. Just as before, though, you even get a copy of the vintage manual and patching examples.

There was also one subtle change: you can switch between two analog filter circuits, choosing either the more unruly original MS-20 filter, or the cleaner, revised design included on later units. You select the different filters using a DIP switch inside the hardware. That means unscrewing the back panel – easily done, but still necessitating a screwdriver. Fortunately, KORG has also enabled a three-key startup sequence: depress those keys on the keyboard as you power on, and you can swap filter models on the fly. This appears not to be possible on the mini – certainly not without voiding the warranty.

Also changed is how the MS-20 Kit is delivered: as the name implies, you assemble it yourself. In fact, fully-assembled, it doesn’t quite fit in the box in which it’s packed. Continue reading »


If Brian Eno were scoring the dreams of a gaming addiction, it might go something like this.

Yes, we already told you previously that Lemur 5 adding a canvas object would mean anything could be a controller. It makes the iPad controller app as much a blank, well, canvas, as your Web browser window, more or less.

But with relatively scant documentation, Lemur 5 assumed a lot of its users. I mean, it seems like you’d almost need some ingenious coder/hacker to turn this into something completely ridiculous, right?

Okay, that didn’t take long.

Someone going by the name “saveas909″ (Panagiotis) has appeared on the Liine Lemur forums, with some quick hacks that already demonstrate the possibilities. Flappy Bird, the nail-biting addiction, is transformed into zen-like ambient beauty. Riffing on the familiar ball physics seen in a traditional Lemur control (one going back to the original hardware), a billiard ball collision simulation both makes those circles bounce off one another and, in turn, generate lovely music.

Watch: Continue reading »