Remember when?

Remember when?

It’s not just deja vu. You’ve seen this stuff before. The basic ingredients of Apple Music are all repackaged, refined, or integrated from existing ideas.

It’s Beats Music meets BBC Radio 1 meets Apple Ping, in an iOS and Android app.

What you haven’t seen is all of those ingredients in one place, working together. And that’s not a trivial matter – it might change nothing, but it could change everything.

So, one by one, here what’s feeling like a trip down memory lane: Continue reading »


Apple’s WWDC keynote this year is an mix of mostly consumer-focused, end-user features and the occasional nerdier developer-centric discussion, plus a healthy heaping of hyperbolae. (The App Store, compared to the invention of the telescope and the discovery of electricity – did I hear that right?) But, if you’re paying close attention, there are some tidbits of good news for people using Apple’s platforms for creative work – or making the tools those people use.

Before we talk about Apple Music, let’s look at the OS news.

1. Metal in OS X will open up new visual possibilities. Metal is mostly a tool for graphics, but it does two things: first, it radically simplifies coding (it even uses standard C++ for shaders), and second, it improves performance. That combination of ease and efficiency can make life easier for developers. Theoretically, someone could use these APIs to write audio processing routines, but it’s more likely to be used for graphics. I mention it here, as creative coders working with visuals might find this makes interesting visual performances and eye candy more fun.

Plus, if you use things like Adobe’s suite, it may run faster – and that’s good for video editors and the like.

2. OS X is getting incremental performance updates – and no news is good news. We don’t know much about this fall’s revision to OS X, so it’s mostly too soon to comment. But improved app launch and other incremental updates are hardly anything to complain about, yet. Also, each year around this time Mac watchers start making gloom and doom predictions about how Apple will replace OS X with iOS and destroy all your serious apps. It … doesn’t look like that’s happened here, for another year running. Sorry.

3. Multitasking on iOS will make music making loads of fun. If you like routing audio or MIDI between apps, you’ll love this. I really can’t wait to use effects and drum machines side by side, for instance – and the UI actually makes more sense than the one you get loading plug-ins into a DAW. Bravo.

4. iOS updates finally won’t be a chore. This had become a nightmare for app developers: iOS users failing to update because they couldn’t download the update. It’s not music-specific, but I know plenty of music developers who found it a huge issue. Leaner OS updates finally resolve that problem.

5. watchOS hardware is opening up. There are some intriguing changes in watchOS – mic input, audio playback (including to Bluetooth), and accelerometer and Taptic Engine data. Because Apple Watch is, by design, more restricted than the iPhone or iPad, I think it’s really more of an accessory to existing apps than it is a separate platform. But that said, these are the sorts of little changes that should at least allow some experimental watchOS apps for music. Continue reading »


Careful what you joke about on the forums. It just might turn into reality.

Somehow, it all started with some discussion about what software serial numbers “sound” best. Apparently developer SzcZ / Fairly Confusing Waveforms decided to take the idea and run with it.

The result is a free plug-in that’s good enough that you can safely ignore how it’s working and just have fun creating gorgeous, percussive, granular cinematic soundscapes. You could easily make a whole album out of this stuff.


Continue reading »

Lineup Sónar+D 2015 from Sónar on Vimeo.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with asking the same questions repeatedly. Cyclical inquiries are necessary in any practice. And over time, you refine answers.

But this year’s SONAR+D program promises something different.

SONAR+D is the younger, digital discourse alongside Barcelona’s massive electronic music festival. SONAR itself deserves a lot of credit for helping create the template a lot of digital music and media festivals follow today. And as that has since blurred into a parade of headliners, SONAR+D added a lot of dimension. There were good talks, hacklabs, workshops, and a showcase of makers.

Speaking as someone who either follows or participates in a lot of these things, though, I can’t wait for this year’s lineup. It seems uniquely ambitious and relevant, and I hope it sets the tone for the rest of this year.

Here are the threads I hope to follow – and why I’m glad CDM is a media partner of SONAR this year. Continue reading »

It looks either like a hand pan (if you know your percussion instruments) or a flying saucer sitting in someone’s lap.

But Oval is actually a digital instrument, a physical object that connects to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and then produces any sound you want.

It’s also emblematic of how the scene in alternative instrumental controllers have changed. A few short years ago, something like this most likely would have seen a one-off prototype. Its natural habitat would be an academic conference (hello, NIME). Maybe you’d see it onstage, maybe you’d read about it.

Nowadays, things are different. Just a couple of days after launch, the project reached its initial 100,000€ Kickstarter goal. It’s connected to an app, an extension of your mobile gadget (though you can use it via MIDI with software if you like).

The usual pitch about this allowing anyone to play music apply. Of course, that’s not something new to digital instruments. Folk instruments have let anyone play music more or less since the dawn of civilization. So it’s about time that digital instruments undo the damage that a century of recorded music, cultural fragmentation, and uneven musical education have done to the once-common practice of getting together and jamming. (That’s a rant for another time.)

The heart of the project is a team centered on a collaboration between (traditional) handpan musician Ravid Goldschmidt and designer/technologist Alex Posada. We’ve seen Alex and team work before on the RGB open source Bhoreal grid. This feels like a leap forward – something genuinely new, in contrast to a project that was compelling but at least related to tools already available. (Bhoreal I want to follow up on, too, though – it’s more compact and possibly more practical for many CDM readers. So stay tuned for the latest on that project once I head south to SONAR.)

Now, then, the question is whether you want to cozy up to this big UFO in your lap or not. Well, there are some interesting features of the design:

Berenguer1_OPT Continue reading »


For years, the steady disappearance of ports from our computers has been unquestionably a bad thing for musicians.

Things we used have been disappearing: Audio input jacks. Dedicated FireWire connections. Extra USB ports. And I’m not just talking Apple, here, either – slimmer and lighter PCs have often dumped connectors you needed, leaving us with a tangled mess of adapters and incompatibilities. Get a bunch of laptop owners together, and you’re lucky to connect anything without a Santa Claus-style bag of spaghetti.

So, music and audio users can be forgiven to being resistant to change, because some of those changes have been a huge pain.

That may make the next thing I’m about to say sound strange.

Everything we use is about to be replaced with USB-C connectors, the new reversible ports designed as successor to USB. You’ll buy a laptop, and one or two of these things will be all you get for connecting everything.

That is, even more ports are going to disappear, but this time, it’ll make things better, not worse. (Erm, mostly.)

Wait, what?

Let me explain. Continue reading »

It’s no step backward. Standalone hardware is now smaller, lighter, more affordable, more capable, and easier to use than before. So why not help focus on a live gig or creating musical ideas by getting away from the computer now and then?

This video from Meta Micro Labs shows how easy it is to plug in and get going – even if you’ve never worked this way before.

And it stars the MeeBlip anode, our own humble monosynth (co-produced with CDM), featuring our gritty bass sound with analog filter. The timing is right, as we’ve just put anode on sale for $119 worldwide with free or discounted shipping. (Seriously, I had on my task list to shoot a video like this, and then discovered someone had already done it – thanks!)

That raises the question, though – which is the best simple sequencer for the job? Continue reading »