Who said electronic musical bliss required deep pockets?

We’ve seen a steady flow of budget-minded gear over the last few years. What makes this equipment special isn’t just that it’s cheaper. It also has personality and produces distinctive sounds, loads of hands-on control, and fits compactly into carry-on luggage, meaning it’s a no-brainer on the road and in small live performance spaces. That’s encouraging more people to play live.

MeeBlip owner Zachary Hollback sent over a video that sums up why this can be fun. This isn’t necessarily about inventing new kinds of music: it really is, in the mode of folk music, about jamming and having a good time. And, boy, are there days when we need that.

From Roland, there’s the AIRA TB-3 – actually my favorite of the AIRA lineup, because not only does it have a clever touch interface for making melodies and decent, built-in 303 modeling, but it also sequences external gear, all in a compact package.

From KORG, who deserve the lion’s share of credit for leading this hardware renaissance, we get the MonoTribe, volca keys (one of my favorite synths at the moment), and the volca beats (with its massive bass drum sound) – see the volca series.

From Arturia, there’s the BeatStep, the cute pad controller with a built-in standalone sequencer.

And our own MeeBlip anode jumps in as the bass synth, sequenced by the BeatStep. (Funny – I’ve also used the TB-3 to sequence the anode.)

It’s all titled a jam for a sunny day, which is not what I have here – so time to make some hardware jams in the gloom and lighten things up!

Got a hardware rig of your own? What are you using? Let us know in comments.


Hey – don’t forget Yamaha.

For all the buzz about Roland and KORG (and American makers like Moog), the titan Japanese maker surely deserves its own enormous claim to synthesizer history. This is the company that made one the most influential polyphonic synths of all time (the CS-80), and introduced the world to FM synthesis (DX series) and physical modeling (VP series). You can still make DX and VP sounds that seem like they fell out of the future.

And Yamaha are no newcomer, either. This year will mark the 40th anniversary since the firm first entered the synth market with its SY-1. (That’s an SY-1 at top; the SY-2 follow-up offers more synth controls.)

Now, lovers of those synths will have good reason to spend some time in the cathedral of Yamaha at Anaheim’s NAMM trade show. They’re bringing an SY-2, CS-30, GS-1, DX7, and even the ultra-rare polyphonic VP1-a physical modeling synth – many of these to be playable.

You’re forgiven for some quick Googling here. Despite popular belief, the DX-7 wasn’t the first FM synth: the GS-1 was an 88-key, 8-operator, 16-note polyphonic concert grand of a synth that preceded the DX by two full years. No MIDI, 90 kg – so there’s a reason you haven’t spotted one lying around. This might be your only chance to see one. (See a 2010 write-up on Synthtopia.) The Yamaha CS-30, for its part, may be monophonic unlike its polyphonic sibling, but is one of the best hands-on synthesizers ever made, with copious controls for getting your fingers all over the sound. (In fact, I might nominate the CS-30 for Yamaha Synth I Most Want To See On An iPad – or inspiring some new hardware.)

It’s great to see Yamaha recognize its rich heritage in this way. But I do wonder: will we see any new take on that legacy? Continue reading »


Camel Audio have long been a favorite name in plug-in instruments and effects, as makers of CamelSpace, CamelPhat, the Alchemy sample manipulation instrument. But their software hasn’t seen updates in some time, and today customers were greeted with a bare-bones site that presented only basic support options and a login.

Upon logging in, I read this:

January 8, 2015

We would like to thank you for the support we’ve received over the years in our efforts to create instruments and effects plug-ins and sound libraries.

Camel Audio’s plug-ins, Alchemy Mobile IAPs and sound libraries are no longer available for purchase. We will continue to provide downloads of your previous purchases and email support until July 7, 2015. We recommend you download all of your purchases and back them up so that you can continue to use them (Instructions: How to Download and Backup Your Products).

Those downloads are available now and it appears won’t be around forever.

There are two main scenarios here that could explain the fate of the software itself (inevitably, people do wonder if a company ceases operation whether their software will be made available free):
1. Licensing issues may prevent them from giving away the software. (Making it open source is often simply not an option; proprietary software often builds on proprietary libraries – or was simply never intended to be developed in an open environment.)
2. Assets may have been otherwise liquidated – as in, possibly sold to another developer.

Without any information, everything else is speculation.

The light of hope here, as noted in comments: sound designers were already working on Alchemy 2, meaning a new developer may take over the new synth.

The software business is tough – plain and simple. I’m very impressed by independent businesses making a go of it at all – see Audio Damage, for instance, who have built unique stuff with a liberal licensing scheme. But I know the numbers are very often right on the edge. And we have to remember that supporting those developers we love is what keeps them in business. Some day, they simply might not be there any more. I’m sad to see these folks go.

CDM asked Camel if they wish to comment; we’ll publish if we hear back from them.



It’s not quite clear what just happened at Casio’s Music Gear division. Last year, their XW DJ line included a pedestrian but perfectly innocuous-looking DJ/VJ controller in partnership with Vestax.

Now, in an apparent attempt to corner the market of 12-year-old producers, they’ve made two crazy-looking things shaped like the Millennium Falcon. Not a little like the Millennium Falcon – nearly exactly like it, just short of turning its reflector dish into a knob. (Okay, it looks a little bit like a Roland Handsonic HPD-10, but the Casio has a narrower nose – which in turn squeezes the space for controls. And as a result, 12-year-olds may want to head elsewhere.)

And so it begins. With the EDM dance market exploding worldwide, you can bet every manufacturer will try to make young dance music fans buy gear, even if they haven’t before.

So, let’s try to work out what we’re even looking at. Continue reading »

What happens when you cross drones with music?

Well – some seriously complex routings, for one. Stay with us:

A touch-sensitive quadcopter that sends information to a Linux machine running ROS–the Robot Operating System–that then sends information over a network to a macbook running Ableton Live 9 and Max. Somewhere in this chain, the information is translated to MIDI and fed into an Ableton Live drum rack. The performance is being visualized using WaveDNA Liquid Rhythm.

The upshot: shove around your hovering drone, and as it tries to right itself, it controls music. It’s a droning, hovering … beatmaker. Because, well, pads and knobs are just way too obvious.

And yes, there’s an academic paper explaining the whole process, the work of Toronto-based interaction researchers Xingbo Wang, Natasha Dalal, Tristan Laidlow, and Angela P. Schoellig. It opens with this unlikely line:

“Recent advancements in flying robotic vehicles call for the development of new methods of human-robot interaction.”

Yeah, we know what you’re really saying. You wanted to play around with your Quadcopter, didn’t you? The way this works is, enough force applied to the copter while in a hover state in a particular direction triggers an accelerometer. It maps that to notes, and then through the aforementioned chain of networked machines, eventually triggering Ableton Live. And they let WaveDNA’s Haig Beylerian play with it – he’s the grinning fool in the helmet.

Completely impractical.

Completely needlessly complicated and unnecessary.

Completely … awesome.

And sure enough, the playability is surprisingly good – the whole system works well enough to be satisfying and with low latency. So, while this may be strange at the moment, the powers of autonomous machines interacting with music could open up new ideas in the future. And in the meantime, it’s good, clean fun – well, until a drone shoots somebody’s eye out, anyway. (You knew you shouldn’t have asked for that Quadcopter for Christmas. Look at what it did to your eyeglasses.)

In other WaveDNA news – with or without autonomous flying machines – you can now install the latest version of their futuristic Liquid Rhythm software in one click, and it works with Yosemite. And you thought they were just playing with drones all day. Thanks for this!



Erased Tapes was an endlessly inspiring label in 2014. With a singular, understated focus on quality and music orbiting the keyboard, the acoustic, and minimal post-classical introspection, they were a calming counterpart to the year’s steroid-pumped festival commercialism. And first and foremost, they were about records — not fancy design accessories, not “throw everything at a wall and see what sticks” experiments in distribution. (There’s a place for that, yes, but a record label about records was nonetheless refreshing.)

And Nils Frahm was a consistent star amidst all of this, a favorite live performer cutting across genres, wrangling keys electronic and strung. Mr. Frahm, having topped various 2014 lists, is off on an even-bigger 2015 tour.

And that’s why we kept crossing paths, from a deep dive into a possible future of the acoustic grand with Nils Frahm to hosting and meeting the innovative Greg Gives Peter Space.

So, it’s fitting to share as our first mix of 2015 a free mid-winter compilation that brings together some of the best, most delicate, most dream-inducing music of the label’s current releases. Continue reading »

As the CD jewel box and compact cassette case and digital download have failed to inspire, the record sleeve has endured.

Now, the LP album jacket isn’t just besting those formats in the physical realm. It’s proving it can outdo them in the age of digital and mobile, too. Digital controls can be printed directly onto the surface of the packaging, via simple conductive technology, then interface with machines over wireless connections.

DJ Qbert went to fans early last year to crowd-fund the release of EXTRATERRESTRIA – to the tune of six-figures. The project was all-ecompassing: “preorder” funders would put up the cash necessary to compensate collaborators, cover production expenses, and even worldwide marketing, with the artist claiming the results would be the best sounding music in the most “innovative” and “captivating” packaging. The goal was, in Qbert’s words, no less than “spreading DJ culture.” (I wasn’t aware this needed more spreading, but maybe Qbert’s musical culture does!)

The packaging certainly wins for novelty, though. Using Bluetooth MIDI, it transforms into a wireless controller for DJ apps. That works with, for instance, Algoriddim’s djay on the iPhone, though other iOS and OS X tools (and with some work, Bluetooth MIDI on other platforms) should work, too.

The ingredients:

1. Embedded touch technology by Cambridge, UK’s Novalia.
2. Algoriddim djay app.
3. One special record sleeve.
4. Visual layout designed by Morning Breath, aka Doug Cunningham & Jason Noto. Continue reading »