Pd: Ugly. Hugely useful. Free.

The open-source, free graphical patching environment can do everything from simple MIDI tasks to building synths and effects to advanced multimedia. And because it’s free software, it’s also been adapted to run places other tools can’t – it’s been used in commercial iOS apps with millions of downloads (via libpd), and will run happily on a Raspberry Pi or even a hacked e-reader or ancient iPod.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s also getting a healthy stream of updates. And while those usually don’t merit specific mention, 0.46 is very cool. (It’s the “vanilla” version, so perfectly suited to work with libpd for iOS, Android, and game development, among other things.)

New in this release:

  • Native OSC (Open Sound Control) support. oscformat, oscparse objects now does OSC over UDP. (TCP, USB, etc. still require the slip encoder/decoder by mrpeach.)
  • Built-in support for Jack (inter-app audio, etc.) on OS X.
  • No more manually setting up devices: “Audio and MIDI devices saved by name so that when they get switched around Pd has a better chance of restoring settings correctly.”
  • New string support: ,
  • Netsend/netreceive bi-directional TCP support. (Overdue – thanks!)

Continue reading »


Eurorack fever continues to spread. The ease of making musical electronics fit the standard, pioneered by Germany’s Dieter Doepfer, and the growing appetite from a small but passionate audience, seems to make producing new modules irresistible. The entire design equation is different: a single task or handful of tasks can become a product.

Dave Smith Instruments is the latest entry. And the product is the perfect choice for DSI. It’s a module built around on the Curtis filter, the signature filter found on everything from the 1980s Prophets (back when Dave’s company was Sequential Circuits) to the latest Mopho and Prophet 12 – as well as instruments like the Oberheim Xpander and Rhodes Chroma.

Putting the Curtis filter in a module gives you a range of features:

  • Switchable 2/4-pole, resonant low-pass filter
  • -12 dB, -24 dB switchable filter slopes
  • Dedicated voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA)
  • Audio input jack, filtered audio output jack (well, of course, though you can choose signal from either before or after the VCA)
  • Control voltage inputs for frequency, resonance, and amplitude
  • Self-oscillation in 24 dB mode

Street (MAP) US$179.

And yes, it’s actually as far as I know the first time in quite some that Dave Smith, known as the father of MIDI, had his name on something without MIDI built in. But that’s not in and of itself news; a module is by definition different from a standalone synthesizer. Continue reading »

Welcome to the 21st Century. One day, you’ve got no radio, and you’re dubbing music onto cassettes – if you’re rich. The next, you’re part of a wired global music phenomenon dancing to avant-garde electronic noises made by machines – and you’re learning how to make those sounds yourself for an audience back on the other side of the planet. (Hey, I’m just a Kentucky boy. I find this all futuristic, too.)

Yet it may be the ones in denial about this phenomenon are some of us who have been living in the big cities – New York, Berlin, LA, London. The good news is, everyone is about to tune into sounds that have traveled trans-continental distances. And in that exchange, the music will change. Sometimes it’s traveling abroad that makes us discover the sound of where we came from; sometimes it’s hearing something from abroad that reveals some side of us we didn’t know – when the foreign feels personal.

VICE/Thump did a quick film with BOSE. It’s a bit of a tease to those of us who would want to get to know the music better, like watching an advertisement about the topic. But there are some gems in there. Let’s consider it the trailer to a conversation I hope we have on CDM.

And one of these quotes, while coming from the Indian experience, will no doubt sound familiar to everyone reading this site – that first time you heard new sounds.

“When I heard Prodigy, for example, I was, like, what are these guys on? I mean, this is insane. How can you make these sounds? It was just like music from another planet. It was crazy. I was like, that’s what we need to do here.”

Yep. That’s the feeling. Continue reading »


Brian Crabtree, alongside partner Kelli Cain, nicely exemplifies a lot of this site’s raison d’être over the the past ten years. Artmaker and toolmaker are indistinct roles; they’re both flipsides of the act of making.

The monome, the invention for which Brian is best known, is at first blush nothing more than a box of buttons. It’s even lifeless until connected to a computer. But in its design is a statement that draws a thread from the design of tools to the design of music. Ideas about compositional technique are embodied in the software; notions of aesthetics are evident in every detail of construction, material, and sourcing. The same is true of its successors, arc and the ultra-limited aleph.

This is a tool that is also a sculpture – music made into an object. (The Museum of Modern Art and LA County Museum of Art each took notice. But maybe it’s more important than a community of musicians did.)

In other words, Brian has been doing what composers do. He’s been externalizing ideas about design and aesthetic, encoding messages about what beauty is.

In some ways, though, you need that musical soundtrack to fully decode the message. And so it’s significant to me that we have some of Brian’s first recorded music in a long time. (He’s been active in live performance, but hasn’t committed anything to an ‘album,’ as such.)

The results are beautiful, organic. Not one but two outings have debuted this summer. There’s skyclad, a four-track EP on The Leap, a label based in Boston and Santa Fe that pairs live events with releases and podcast. (It’s no stranger to the monome community.) And there’s eighteenth on Detroit Underground – a second EP. Continue reading »


SoundCloud’s On SoundCloud program, which includes the ability to add optional advertising to your content as a revenue source, is initially available only to Premier partners. Premier is a new, invite-only membership level that has extra features the rest of the community doesn’t get – though, as with advertising, SoundCloud says most of those features will eventually be available to all paid users.

But just who are those Premier partners getting the list? SoundCloud sent over the complete launch list to CDM so we can all have a look. It includes some big names (Sony, BMG), but also artists, comedy content, and podcasts.

What these users get that the rest of us don’t:
1. A “visual” profile (looks different than the standard profile page)
2. More stats, additional account management support
3. Geographic controls (for restricting content by region)
4. The ability to have promoted tracks/profiles
5. Revenue sharing from ads (though eventually, you’ll get that, too)

SoundCloud had previously said even things like new profile looks will eventually be available to others.

Despite all the speculation about Universal Music Group and whatnot, what you get is sort of a random sprinkling of different kinds of content. As it has since SoundCloud’s founding, electronic dance music is featured heavily – though it’s more mainstream-focused channels, not the likes of M-nus Records or Warp or Ghostly or the like. (In fact, labels don’t really feature so heavily here at all.) You’ll also notice that spoken word – a big focus for SoundCloud – is represented. So this isn’t just about music, either. And for those of you listening from the United States, these are the ads you’ll be hearing. Continue reading »

The Riser, the new synth from German developer AIR, isn’t shy about what it’s for.

This is a synth to make rises and drops aimed squarely at EDM fans. Dial up presets, turn some knobs, and sync up absurd rhythmic builds, like pumping chart-topping performance-enhancing drugs into your music. What makes it interesting is, it’s a synth. It isn’t another sample library, so you can actually control the results and make something original.

And if that’s what you want to do, you can do it right now for free – sort of. There’s a 2-week unlimited demo version – but only if you download it within the next 48 hours. After that, the demo goes away. (It then goes on sale on the 1st of September for US$79.99, AU, VST, AAX; 32­- and 64­-bit; OS X or Windows.)

That also gives a clue to how they expect this app to be used. It’s so quick at generating EDM drops, you won’t need it for longer than two weeks. After that, we expect to see you on the DJs complaining Twitter feed griping about how the cocaine on your private jet isn’t as good as it was last week.

You know what this means. Obligatory SoundCloud embed!

AIR is AIR Music Technology, the ex-Wizoo development house that’s now part of InMusic. And as such, they have some synth development chops. So, once you delve into the synth, it’s actually pretty powerful.

The basic idea is this. It’s a “transition designer.” You use a sweep, noise, or a chord as a source. Add LFOs for pumping and tempo effects – synced to your track. Then add effects (delay, reverb, pan, stereo width). Watch: Continue reading »


Convincing musicians to make use of sound is easy. And electronic musicians are even content with stunningly-complex interfaces, in exchange for deep control of sound.

But what about everyone else?

Users on mobile are certainly uploading sounds. Part of the intense interest in SoundCloud even outside music and audio audiences is simple to explain: the site is ridiculously popular. By 2012, it had reached 10 hours of uploads per minute. And once sound is uploaded, it attracts listeners. As of last fall, users had skyrocketed from 200 to 250 million users in just a few months. That’s another reason last week’s ad plans are worth watching.

If SoundCloud facilitates uploading, storage, and sharing, the next frontier may be all about the interface for producing sounds in the first place. App developers have likely already saturated the expert music production market with designs that appeal to that crowd. But just as quick and easy UIs for text and images have popularized those means of communication, sound may require a fresh approach. And a few developers are betting on that possibility in interesting ways. Continue reading »