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I’ve just gotten lost making my computer sing. And now I can’t stop.

You see, a funny thing happened on the way to the future. As speech synthesis vastly improved, it also became vastly more boring. Intelligibility robbed synthesized words and singing of its alien quality, which was what made it sound futuristic in the first place.

Chipspeech takes us back to speech synthesis as many of us remember it growing up. It’s weird-sounding, to be sure, to the point of sometimes being unable to understand the words. But it’s also loaded with character.

And there’s a history here. To fans of robotic baritones and sopranos, a particular chip can represent the Stradivarius or Steinway of machine song. These are the bots that sung Daisy Bell in the first-ever computer serenade, that have been featured in classic electro and techno records – and, perhaps, that inhabited your toy bin or represented your first encounter with the computer age, intoned in clicking, chirping magic.

But in a revolutionary transformation, you can make them do more than just speak. You can make them sing. And the result is one of the most enjoyable digital instruments to play you’ll see this year.

Montreal’s independent plug-in maker Plogue Art et Technologie embarked in a somewhat ludicrous labor of love, curating a collection of the greatest chips of yore and then painstakingly recreating them in software. Now, the chips themselves are great fun to work with for hardware geeks, whether directly or in circuit-bent form. But historical chips are a non-renewable resource; some are plentiful, others rare.

And there are advantages to reimagining these in virtual form. CDM has had world-exclusive early press access to Chipspeech, our chance to roam the possibilities of the software emulations. And the software allows these chips to perform whatever you ask them. You can type in lyrics, and immediately hear the results sung back to you, something the original chips couldn’t do in tune. You can mix sounds and transform the chips’ output in ways that would be impractical (or at least challenging) on the original hardware. And, in a unique touch, you can even make software modifications that are the equivalent of circuit-bending the hardware.

Here’s an in-depth look at what that means, how it sounds, and how it came to life.

Chipspeech_Interface_Shot Continue reading »

30drop

30drop has mysteriously arrived from Detroit Underground (aka “detund”), those purveyors of strange and wonderful techno and experimental music.

You may think you’ve heard of 30drop, but apart from the release last week, you almost certainly haven’t. Oh, sure, there have been releases — a second EP showed up in December — but for the most part, this act has flown under the radar. As per usual, detund are digging up precisely what isn’t on trend or rising in popularity, an unknown artist making cooly-weird noises.

But the pace is picking up – and this looks to be one of a couple of releases early this year.

And that unknown artist might well have arrived from another planet. Just read the record notes for the release, titled “Tools For The Dimensional Step LP”: Continue reading »

While everyone else worries about emulating the same synthesizers for the umpteenth time, Plogue have been lovingly recreating the greatest chip sounds of all time. They’ve done Chipsounds, the instrument, and Chipcrusher, the effect.

And now, finally, your computer will sing to you – not just with any voice, but with the speech chip that launched them all. From computing to arcades to classic tracks, this legendary voice has echoed through the decades with an unmistakable sound.

This is the first-ever commercially-available chip to include speech synthesis. Continue reading »

teufelsberg-impulse-responses-01

Long before PRISM was tuning in your chats and emails, the US National Security Agency (NSA) had Teufelsberg – the three-domed structure erected on top of a “devil’s mountain” of WWII rubble dumped on top of a half-finished Nazi military school. From this perch high above Berlin, the US government and its allies listened in on the Communists of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union.

Touring Teufelsberg these days is certainly possible, but it requires some climbing – you’re unlikely to be able to haul a sound system to add reverberation from its magnificent, neo-futuristic geodesic dome spaces. Here’s the next best thing.

The folks at Balance Mastering got into the different domes of the structure to record impulse responses – files that you can add to a range of reverb tools (including some free ones) to make it sound as if your sources are being heard in this environment. (The technique is known as convolution.)

They’ve captured some amazing sounds. You get cavernous reverbs, but with a lot of character – strange reflections and resonances owing to the space – in a number of variations. Logic and Ableton each have reverb plug-ins you can use these files with, and Balance Mastering in the article suggest other solutions, too, including free Mac and Windows plug-ins. Continue reading »

AudioKit

AudioKit is a promising-looking new open source tool set for coding synthesizers, music, and sound on Apple platforms (though it could certainly be ported to other places if you have the time).

The draw: you get not only a robust library but loads of examples and tests, too, for a variety of applications, in both Objective-C and Apple’s new Swift language. And it’s free. The contributors will look familiar – and the core engine comes from community contributions around that most enduring of synthesis tools, Csound. (For those worried about obsolescence and the pace of technology, Csound has its roots in tools developed one half century ago, so in computer terms more or less the dawn of time.) In fact, what AudioKit is in effect is Csound as an audio engine, with Objective-C and Swift as the API – no orchestra/score files required. (And if you don’t know what I just said about “scores” and “orchestras” but do know Objective-C and Swift, well, this is definitely for you.)

There are examples for control and playback, convolution, FM and granular synthesis, and sequencing, among others. Below, they’ve produced a video that shows how a game can be enhanced with generated sound using the library. Features:

  • 100+ synths and effects, including physical models, spectral effects, granular synthesis, reverbs, etc.
  • Built-in sampling, complete with recording and storage functionality.
  • Sequencing you can trigger from code.
  • Examples with granular synthesis, convolution, effects processing, pitch-shifting, and more.
  • Human-readable code. (Yay, humans!) They write: “Conductors control Orchestras, which contain Instruments that produce Notes. Clear methods with Apple-style naming conventions, Xcode completion, documentation and tool-tips.”
  • Sound code you can integrate with your app logic.

Continue reading »

ATastyPixel, maker of the wonderful Loopy, is busily working on the cleverly named Loopy: Masterpiece Edition – taking all that looping goodness and making it more robust for serious applications, from loop functionality to how it works with other tools.

That’s already good news. But developer Michael Tyson yesterday announced he’s going one step further. Not satisfied simply by finding a solution for MIDI Clock sync in his own app, he wants to create an open implementation all app developers can use, for free.

The vision: make apps and hardware all sync together with better performance, in a more usable way, so you can make music instead of wondering why everything is breaking.

There’s already a great-looking sample app syncing to Arturia’s BeatStep in the video.

Think of it as Audiobus for sync, only free. (No coincidence: Michael Tyson is a leading iOS audio developer and the man who built Audiobus. Continue reading »

Okay, so Casio have crammed a groove box into a Millennium Falcon, and that was a little strange (and means squeezing some of the controls, since the shape is irregular). But now that the shock has worn off, the next question: should we get one for review when it arrives later this March? Should you keep it on your 2015 gear radar?

The answer turns out to be yes, as a few readers have told me online and offline. And the reason has to do with a keyboard you probably ignored from Casio a couple years back. Let us explain.

You’d be forgiven if you missed the XW-G1. Apart from having a name that you might forget in the middle of trying to say it out loud — (“ah, the X-G… X… what?”) — you wouldn’t know by looking at it that it was anything other than another brightly-colored keyboard workstation-ROMpler-something-or-other out of Japan. For added confusion, there was both an XW-G1 (the “G” is for groove), and XW-P1 (for “performance” with “Hybrid Processing Sound Source” and “HexLayer” – that makes everything much clearer).

Okay, so there are two XW synths. But what’s really important is that both have a ridiculously cool step sequencer built into it.

As noted in comments, you can record knob movements. You can import (very, very small) drum samples. On top of that, you can output the arpeggiator and sequencer via MIDI – nine whole tracks of it.

“Ah,” you say, “but I don’t want to buy some giant keyboard just to get a cool step sequencer, no matter how cheap it might be on Craigslist. Why don’t they just break off the sequencer bit?”

Ah-hah.

xw-pd1 Continue reading »