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What if there were a hacky, hackable handheld game platform – just for making noises?

That’s what the Arduino-powered, Lo-Fi SES is all about. It’s basically a little 8-bit music toy, with a control layout borrowed from Nintendo of the past, but expandable, hackable, and open. The sound is very grungy and digital, but it all appears easy to play.

The cutest touch: you expand the board with “cartridges,” add-ons that connect to the top to add functionality. “One”Final Sound Adventure” adds more sounds. “USB: A Link to the Hack” lets you program the board from your computer, using Arduino (since it’s built on that platform). “Smasher Bros” is basically adjustable analog distortion circuitry to add to the output.

Of course, as an instrument, there’s not a whole lot you can play here – it’s limited to the game-style controllers. And you’ll get more compositional use out of a Game Boy combined with nanoloop or LSDJ, or another other mobile chip music platform, as there isn’t onboard sequencing. But that said, this does look to be a really fun all-in-one, standalone device for people to play with – if you just want to plug in headphones. And for people looking for a chippy platform to hack, it could be a dream. (The creator suggests making a rumble pack, for instance!) Hope to get my hands on one; in the meantime, we can watch the video and catch some pics and sounds.

On Kickstarter, with basic support starting at US$5 and hardware at US$65. And while I wouldn’t count on a crowd-funded campaign to ship on time to get under the tree, they are saying they’ll ship in December as quickly as possible. Crowd funding ends on December 10.

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Sure, Black Friday may conjure unpleasant images of hordes rushing a Wal-Mart. But with so much of music gear now online in software form, it is a chance to load up with some new music tools for the winter (or, erm, southern hemisphere, the summer), save some money, and make more music. And that’s a good thing. So here are some of the nicest-looking deals in our inbox, too good not to share. Continue reading »

Welcome_to_a_comet

The cosmos still offers up mysteries and surprises. And sometimes they sing to us – quite literally.

Scientists were dazzled to discover that Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was producing strange subsonic music, captured by a magnometer aboard the Rosetta orbiter. (That’s the orbiter that famously deposited the Philae lander; magnetic instruments also track the lander’s descent.)

This is sound, just not sound we can hear – some unexpected interaction of the comet with the magnetic field around it at inaudibly low levels. So, who you gonna call to allow people to easily hear patterns in the data? Why, a composer, of course. If composers of past centuries found expertise in adapting musical materials to acoustic instruments, the 21st Century finds compositional practice making magnetic data listenable – music, as it was centuries ago, a science inseparable from mathematics, physics, and the stars.

Just how low is this bass line? Think 40-50 millihertz – yeah, “milli-”. Your subwoofer isn’t exactly going to handle that. So, instead, the sounds are reproduced at a factor of 10,000.

The actors: principal investigator Karl-Heinz Glaßmeier, head of Space Physics and Space Sensorics at the Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, worked with composer Manuel Senfft. Find him here:

http://www.tagirijus.de/

And here’s the sonification on SoundCloud. It’s Creative Commons-licensed, so you can use it in your own work. (Do note the non-commercial and share-alike restrictions.) And of course you can comment “Where’s the drop?” on the audio, too.

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maschine_keys

There are plenty of things computer drum machines / groove workstations can do to show off. There are plenty of long feature lists they might add.

But actually coming up with something you can play? That’s what can really make music better in the studio and live. And that’s why Maschine 2.2 is a welcome update.

First off, let’s admit something. Amidst all the clever functionality with grid-based controllers, there’s something that remains useful about a big, 4×4 grid of pads and MPC-style workflows for certain kinds of music. Those bigger targets don’t require a lot of accuracy, and it’s easy to keep mental track of where things are when your brain has just a 16-pad grid to track. But above and beyond that, it’s quick access to sample editing, repeated notes, mute, and other functions that make these fun to use. You can very simply improvise basic rhythmic patterns. It’s something Maschine has harnessed really well. So, whether you choose this alone or as a complement to other playing methods, it’s great when it really works. It can keep you musically productive.

And it’s no accident that you keep hearing Maschine over and over again for that reason. But while the concept was great, 1.x was a bit uneven in use. Maschine 2 brought a much-needed overhaul to the software under the hood, added lovely drum synths, cleaned up the UI, and vastly improved performance (once some drum synth issues were addressed with an update, and 2.1 added a nice shaker and a new “Grit” kick).

Maschine was a full reboot of the platform, but we haven’t yet seen NI really get to build on that foundation; the basic workflow was the same. With Maschine 2.2, Native Instruments takes the first steps that could impact how you play. It sounds like simple stuff, but having access to an enhanced arpeggiator, scales, and chords can mean much easier playability on the drum pads, without having to add a keyboard.

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numerology

Numerology is a ray of hope, proof that there’s more than one way to build software for making music live and in the studio. Instead of locking you into yet another multitrack recorder, it’s an open canvas for combining sequencers into note-making machines.

But maybe the idea of using some idiosyncratic modular step-sequencing environment just hadn’t quite won you over. Quietly working away in New Mexico, developer Jim Coker has been working away on a new Numerology to change your mind.

What’s different about this fourth revision? Well, a whole lot of details, but here are the important new developments:

1. It controls hardware.
2. It modulates hardware.
3. It uses your Ableton Push, and its grids let you get away from the computer screen.
4. It has increasingly-powerful sampling and real-time automation.
5. It turns your computer into a ready-to-play library of useful stuff – save stacks of modules (or use pre-built tools), then browse them easily.

In other words, Numerology returns us to some of the things we wanted out of a computer in the first place.

Numerology 4 — sequence + modulate from Five12 on Vimeo.

I’ve just started working with it, but this is for me starting to reach critical mass to devote some time – and, hey, look, it’s wintertime. Ideal. In more detail: Continue reading »

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Here’s some important news that might impact you – even though you may never have heard of either the instrument maker or know anything about code libraries. Bear with us. But an experimental instrument builder and design shop just acquired the most popular framework used by audio developers, a set of free and open source gems.

The film explaining the announcement:

First, there’s ROLI. Now, to most of us in the music world, ROLI are the Dalston, London firm that make an alternative keyboard called the Seaboard – a sort of newer cousin to the Haken Continuum Fingerboard that uses foam that you press with your fingers to add expression and bend pitches. But ROLI wants you to think of them as a design shop focused on interaction. So they don’t just say “we’re going to go make weird instruments”; whether you buy the pitch or not, they say they want nothing less than to transform all human machine interaction.

And yes, there’s a film for that, too. (Those of you playing the startup drinking game, fair warning: the words “design” and “artisanal” appear in the opening moments, so you could wind up a bit unhealthy.) Continue reading »

bitwig_opener

Bitwig Studio has been quietly plugging along in development, adding loads of engineering improvements under the hood. Version 1.1 is the largest update yet.

Here’s the summary of the update:
https://www.bitwig.com/en/bitwig_1up

Minus the marketing speak, the exhaustive changelog (here, for Mac): http://www.bitwig.com/dl/8/mac

It’s an impressively long list of enhancements in quantity, though most of the changes are fixes and enhanced hardware and plug-in compatibility. For instance, you can side-chain VSTs, and there are new options for routing multiband effects and multi-channel plug-ins.

The big enhancements:

  • More routing for audio and MIDI
  • VST multi-out sidechain support and multi-channel effect hosts
  • Updated controller API
  • New Audio Receiver, Note Receiver, Note MOD, De-Esser devices

And you can genuinely deactivate devices to save CPU, something Live lacks, as well as take advantage of “true latency compensation.” (Whatever that means – that will require some testing. Bitwig’s explanation of what makes their tech different is that it actually works. That sounds good.) Some other features play catch-up with Ableton Live – tap tempo and crossfader, modulation and timestretching. But it’s a welcome update. Continue reading »