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Author: Peter Kirn (page 1 of 204)

Spinning Optical Drum Buddy and the Wild DIY Punk World of Quintron and Miss Pussycat

With homemade machines in the foreground, Quintron and Pussycat warm up the audience, as the moon rises... Photo: Gary Lavourde.

With homemade machines in the foreground, Quintron and Pussycat warm up the audience, as the moon rises… Photo: Gary Lavourde.

Deep in the Ninth Word of New Orleans lies the workbench and studio of one Mr. Quintron, the inventor-organist who has applied his DIY mad-scientist sonic production to a unique flavor of insistent punk. Mr. Quintron was this week in my home neighborhood in Berlin, accompanied by his wife Miss Pussycat – maraca player (maracaist?), vocalist, and puppeteer behind Flossie and the Unicorns. There was a puppet show. It was about cake – demon cake. There was the debut of a new inflatable puppet. Shirts came off. Sounds were made. It was hot. It was loud.

Just as these puppets are voodoo-infused, more than human, so, too, are his sound machines. Like the band itself, they come from a side show, freak show, burlesque show, children’s show, punk show aesthetic.

And none more than the Drum Buddy – a spinning, optical-mechanical device with five (or maybe four, depending on which description you’ve read) oscillators. If you don’t believe in its powers, or if you don’t want to spend the US$999.99 it costs (if one can actually be bought), there’s an informercial to sway you.

Quintron is the sort of person who transforms his basement into a homemade underground club, which he calls the Spellcaster Lodge.

He’s the sort of person who builds a weather-powered synthesizer so that when it rains on his home, he can make rain music. Watch:

The Drum Buddy, with optical sensors activated by a spinning barrel with slots in it, is a staple of many of their shows. It’s titled a drum machine, but opto-mechanical sequencer with synth is perhaps more apt. It’s a DIY groove machine, anyway. And it’s simply wonderful, in a trippy public access cable informercial variety show:

Here’s a demo of the instrument in action. As of a few years ago, ten had been made. Laurie Anderson has one. So does Nels Cline (of Wilco).


I tried to watch this clip from a TV show that featured the band, but couldn’t stop laughing – something about the earnest young musical talent perhaps… hit too close to home?

Sure enough, the band that created record titles like Satan is Dead sometimes is not the best role model for its puppet cast members, as in this video:

The puppet shows change, but here’s one example:

It’s not always clear what’s true and what isn’t about Quintron and Miss Pussycat, other than they are, truly, puppeteering and musicalizing and sweating in front of you. Was he named “Entertainer of the Year” by a furniture outlet in Michigan? Was he really heckled on The Jenny Jones Show? Was his fondness for Germany because he was born here when his Dad was in the military?


But let’s keep watching. Not every circuit bent instrument has to turn into noise art; not every DIY synthesizer into third-string techno. Sometimes, it becomes… something else.

Mr. Quintron on Eccentric New Orleans

Drum Buddy

The post Spinning Optical Drum Buddy and the Wild DIY Punk World of Quintron and Miss Pussycat appeared first on Create Digital Music.

This is What High-End Audio Can Do Now: New Trio of Thunderbolt Boxes from MOTU


You’d be forgiven for missing it in the blur of press releases and trade show hand-outs – and, let’s face it, most musicians are too focused on music to pay much mind. But slowly, steadily, audio interfaces have been getting a lot better. Talk to the people who make them, and they can tell you what’s happened even in terms of individual components.

Next, they’re about to get smarter and more networked.

And so that means it is worth paying attention today as industry heavyweight MOTU unveils a trio of new audio interfaces, compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and 2 and USB2. MOTU says all three are built on an all-new platform. What you get is three different I/O configurations, but all sharing the same headline features. In short, that includes:

  • Thunderbolt connectivity plus USB 2.0
  • 48-channel mixing and DSP built-in
  • High-dynamic range analog/digital conversion (and d/a)
  • Networking via the new AVB Ethernet standard for expansion with extremely-low latency
  • Web-based control of the mixer, via any connection (wired or wireless)

Yes, you read that right – Web browser mixer control. So that mixer can be on iOS, on Android, on a computer, anything. (And with class-compliant USB, in fact, this whole box can work without ever seeing a driver or particular OS.)

A/D and D/A are the bit that impact the sound, but that networking is some interesting new sauce. AVB boasts both the ability to wire institutions with multiple audio interfaces in different rooms with next-to-null latency. Then, Web app support means you can let your guitarist tweak her headphone mix with her iPad. More on that in a bit.

Interfacing Features

The models: 1248, 8M, 16A. The 1248 is probably what readers here are most interested in: 8×12 balanced TRS analog I/O, four mic ins, two front-panel hi-Z inputs for guitars, two independent headphone outs, S/PDIF digital I/O. The 8M is if you want more inputs (eight analog outs, eight combo mic-line-instrument ins), whereas the 16A is all analog (16 ins, 16 outs, TRS).

As is the tradition with MOTU and a handful of rival vendors, these aren’t just “studio” interfaces, spec’ed only for sound engineers. They’re also configured in ways musicians might use in their own work. And, of course, they’re MOTU boxes, so you still get get not only all these mixing features, but standard functionality like word clock I/O (key for video production and the like).

Also interesting: that’s class-compliant USB, so you could theoretically connect these to an iPad if you wanted.

1248 I/O.

1248 I/O.

8M, for gentlemen and ladies who prefer those extra mic pres.

8M, for gentlemen and ladies who prefer those extra mic pres.

16A. A is for ... analog.

16A. A is for … analog.

The analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion is handled by ESS Sabre32 Ultras, which MOTU says mean that, on those TRS analog outs, you get some serious dynamic range – “a measured dynamic range of 123 dB (A-weighted, 20 Hz to 20 kHz).” And analog I/O latency has a round-trip of 32 samples (0.66 ms) at 48 kHz. (Note that doesn’t figure in the computer side of the equation, of course.)

And, they’re mixers, with internal DSPs, so you can add modeled analog EQs, compression, and gating in the box without adding latency on the computer.

So, that much is familiar. Here’s where things get interesting.

Networked Audio

What’s new is the Ethernet port with support for IEEE’s “802.1 Audio Video Bridging (AVB) extension to the Ethernet standard.”

Say what?

AVB is about the ability to combine interfaces via standard Ethernet cabling. You can even get a MOTU switch and connect three to five (or two using the onboard port).

Why is that interesting, apart from MOTU selling you more hardware? Well, you can not only daisy-chain interfaces, but do so over long runs – up to 100m between devices. And you can do that even over Ethernet cabling you already have. Once you do, you get up to 128 channels of networked audio with latency of 30 samples – just above half a millisecond – and then you can clock them.

You can also use the MOTU interfaces’ network savvy to control the mixer over the Web. The audio interface itself incorporates its own Web server, accessed via a connected machine on Thunderbolt or USB, or over that Ethernet port, or (with the Ethernet port jacked into a WiFi router), wirelessly.

Pricing isn’t astronomical, either. Each unit is US$1495.

More at MOTU:
Introducing the 1248, 8M and 16A

The post This is What High-End Audio Can Do Now: New Trio of Thunderbolt Boxes from MOTU appeared first on Create Digital Music.

How to Make GarageBand Work with Your Plug-ins – Even Though Apple Hid Them

Oh, so that's where it's been hiding. Click Smart Controls (top) and then the Inspector (bottom); you might need to adjust a preference (below).

Oh, so that’s where it’s been hiding. Click Smart Controls (top) and then the Inspector (bottom); you might need to adjust a preference (below).

GarageBand is a pretty amazing no-cost tool. You get a solid, reliable production app built on the same framework as Logic. It has loads of built-in sounds – instruments and loops. It has easy-to use but capable editing, complete with notation view. There’s now a virtual Drummer which can be fun for sketching out song ideas and backing tracks. And it’s very guitarist/instrumentalist friendly: there’s a big tuner (cough, Ableton), amps and effects.

And did I mention it’s free?

Just one problem: you might not immediately work out how to use third-party plug-ins. GarageBand 10 got rid of some features (including useful podcasting functions, unfortunately). It still works with AU plug-ins, but it’s harder to work out how – Apple has always sort of hidden this feature; not they’ve hidden it in a new way. I had sort of forgotten this happened until I had to try to see if GarageBand worked with Roland’s 64-bit, only-on-the-latest-OS Audio Unit plug-in build of the SH-101 PLUG-OUT.

But it’s worth writing about this separately, because anyone with a Mac or who might need to advise a Mac-using friend ought to know this.

For instruments:
1. Choose GarageBand > Preferences…, then Audio/MIDI > Effects and ensure Audio units is checked.
2. Select a Software Instrument track, or create a new one. (Track > New Track… > Software Instrument and click Create.)
3. Select the track, and click the Smart Controls button on the toolbar (the one that looks like a knob – see picture).
4. Click the ‘i’ icon in the Smart Controls pane. (The “Inspector”)
5. Look for the Audio Units section – you may need to scroll or resize if it isn’t visible.
6. On the right, you’ll see areas labeled Instrument and Audio FX.


Cool tip: you can use the Drummer automatic accompaniment feature to drive your own instruments. So you can take those patterns and feed them into a synth, for instance, for a very different effect. The same Instruments and FX sections are visible once you click the Inspector button.

For effects, repeat the process for an Audio Track, and you can add effects to your instrument or mic.

If you’d rather watch a video, here’s an excellent demo:

Garageband 10 AU Plug In Fix (Love that angry devil face, unleashing rage on this design decision.)

And that in turn comes from a must-read site if you want to learn more about all GarageBand can do.

GarageBand isn’t a perfect DAW for every job, but it remains an important tool for beginning users and it can be useful to have in your arsenal if you have some spare disk space. (You can opt not to install all the third-party content or remove it after the fact.) If you’re using it and want to share how – or if you’ve got questions or tips – we’d love to hear from you.

And today, we’ve learned that hiding things doesn’t necessarily make things easier or make for happier users.

Hey, who said that?

The post How to Make GarageBand Work with Your Plug-ins – Even Though Apple Hid Them appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Roland’s PLUG-OUT SH-101 Doesn’t Work in Many Hosts; What You Need to Know

Roland’s PLUG-OUT introduces a new way to deliver electronic musical instruments. You get a plug-in you run on your computer, but then the same sound-making code can be loaded onto hardware – the AIRA SYSTEM-1 synth keyboard.

The good news is, the future-y stuff all works perfectly well. As we reported in our initial hands-on, when the installation works, you can use the software alone, the SYSTEM-1 alone, or a combination, which is a nice arrangement.

The bad news is, the old-fashioned “install the plug-in and it works in your DAW” part? Well, for some – not so much.

We’ve assembled as much information we can on what works, what doesn’t work, what Roland says we can expect from them by way of updates, and how to use free tools on OS X and Windows to get your SYSTEM-1 working right away.

The first problem is, the actual plug-in for the SH-101 “PLUG-OUT” has been built for only certain plug-in formats.

OS X: 64-bit Audio Unit, 64-bit VST3
Windows: 64-bit and 32-bit VST3

64-bit AU is now fairly popular (Apple’s Logic Pro X and GarageBand support it, for instance). But VST3, while released last year, is incompatible with a number of popular hosts (like Ableton Live on Windows, for instance). We’ve also heard from readers with older, 32-bit versions of DAWs running into trouble.

If your DAW doesn’t support these formats, the plug-in simply won’t show up at all – the DAW won’t know it’s there. (We’ve also heard scattered reports where DAWs that should support the above formats can’t see the PLUG-OUT, but I can’t yet confirm those instances. One variable appears to be OS version. So, if you feel like complaining in comments here, just be sure to mention what host you’re using, whether it’s 32-bit or 64-bit, and what version of the OS you’re on.)

What does Roland say?

Brandon Ryan, a spokesperson for Roland US, has been in touch with CDM and with Roland in Japan all week to help us learn more. He tells us:

Roland realizes how important host compatibility is to SYSTEM-1 customers and we intend to support as many hosts as we are reasonably able. While compatibility is currently somewhat restricted (64-bit AU and 32/64-bit VST3) we are now examining options that would expand PLUG-OUT host support. One specific avenue that’s being considered is support for both 32-bit and 64-bit VST 2.4. That could theoretically solve the bulk of remaining compatibility issues. Along with that, we are diligently pursuing sporadic reports of some users having trouble with 64-bit AU in some hosts on some computer configurations. There is no specific time-frame for an SH-101 update yet, but it’s being actively considered at this time. Widespread compatibility and a smooth user experience are priorities to which we are deeply committed.

What can you do to make this work right now?

If you have a compatible host, you should have no problem. Some likely suggestions:

  • Mac: Logic Pro X (tested by CDM)
  • Mac: Ableton Pro 9 (tested by CDM, though make sure you have a recent OS X version and that you’re using the 64-bit version)
  • Mac/Windows: PreSonus Studio One Producer/Professional – deserves special mention, as this DAW has proven itself to be consistently modern and up-to-date, and we’re hearing from lots of happy readers. (Now I just have to put it on this machine I just got…)
  • Mac/Windows: Reaper – and Reaper demo. (tested by a reader) Another special mention, because you can install Reaper for free, make your SYSTEM-1 work — and then might decide you want to keep using this superb DAW.
  • Windows: SAVIHost – free VST host on Windows, though untested – would love to hear from readers.
  • Steinberg Cubase / Nuendo (of course, the makers of VST3 support their own format in the latest version)

On a Mac with a recent OS, your best bet is actually GarageBand 10, since that’s free. It’s just going to require some extra effort, but once you know what you’re doing, it works easily. (Apple’s developer tool AULab hasn’t been updated for some time and has problems of its own; it doesn’t work here.)

Apple has hidden how to use third-party plug-ins. You should double-check they’re enabled in Preferences > Audio/MIDI / Effects > Audio Units. Then, add a new Software Instrument track, select it, click the Smart Controls button, and then the ‘i’ icon at the bottom. Next to Audio units, there’s a drop-down, from which you can choose Audio Units > Instruments > Roland > SH-101. (It helps while doing this to repeat to yourself that Apple has hidden this stuff because it makes things so much easier for beginning users.)

Video explanation below.*

Just be prepared to authenticate once you see this warning:

Use of the requested audio unit(s) require lowering the security settings for “GarageBand”. Are you sure you want to proceed?

You do want to do this. Trust me, the SH-101 didn’t steal access to my bank account and start buying itself synthesizer friends on eBay.

Once you do this, at least, the solution works perfectly – and it’s free on every new Mac, so at this point, I stop complaining. The SH-101 even maps to some of the Smart Controls in GarageBand and Logic.

Why Roland Should Fix This

The absence of additional plug-in support is puzzling. While the VST2.4 developer tools have been deprecated, the VST3 SDK software Steinberg releases to those making VSTs still supports creating the older format. It’s likewise possible to create 32-bit versions of 64-bit plug-ins. It seems from the absence of these formats – and the warnings when you download the PLUG-OUT about which DAWs have been tested – that Roland simply hadn’t time to test other DAWs. But based on the deluge of feedback we got from readers, what they got instead was a bunch of unhappy SYSTEM-1 owners who couldn’t use the software at all.

Even stranger, Roland failed to release a standalone version. That would mean that SYSTEM-1 owners could install the new plug-in without worrying about starting a DAW at all.

In fact, even before adding more plug-in formats, a standalone version of the PLUG-OUT software seems a must.

Instead, if you install the SYSTEM-1′s 1.10 update, you get support for PLUG-OUT, but the firmware updater doesn’t add the SH-101 model.

Part of why I hope Roland solves this is that the PLUG-OUT functionality works beautifully on the SYSTEM-1 hardware. Once updated, you don’t need the computer, which is part of the appeal.

In the meantime, hopefully the information above does get you SYSTEM-1 owners up and running more quickly. Odds are you can find a compatible host, update, and get playing – and happily close your DAW, your laptop, yes, even CDM.

We’ll let you know when Roland releases additional compatibility, and now, having slightly delayed things while we solved this, will get back to our SYSTEM-1 review (and other reviews and news)!

If I had a Scottish accent and started talking about these things, I would sound like Malcom Tucker, so vendors, be glad I’m instead a mild-mannered Kentuckian.

The post Roland’s PLUG-OUT SH-101 Doesn’t Work in Many Hosts; What You Need to Know appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Listen as a Compiler Makes Weirdly Good Blippy, Glitchy IDM Sounds [Free Tools]


What’s the sound of a compiler compiling?

Normally, nothing – a compiler crunches numbers and outputs code. “malloc” is a C function that allocates memory in which code executes. But a simple hack takes the output of the compiler, and makes sound files out of it. It’s the equivalent disconnecting the pipe from a widget-making factory, and instead of producing useful tools, making cool shapes out of sugary icing – useless and delicious.

You actually don’t have to know anything about code to try this out; you just need to paste some lines into a command line. That means you could make your own sounds with the tool if you like. (Your life will be easier if you use Linux or OS X; Windows users will need to look up how to get a UNIX command line working – like Cygwin or GOW.)

The author has already posted some “musical” examples to SoundCloud. My favorite is the first one; it’s almost listenable as a glitch track. (More than almost, actually, at least if you’re a bit weird like me; I’ve been oddly soothed by letting it run for a bit in the background.)

Creative Commons-licensed – non-commercial, so sorry, you can’t turn in this file as the music bed for that Audi ad you were commissioned to make. (And you were all set to explain to them that this is what “dubstep” means to kids now.)

Sounds like it can also make some damned fine basslines. malloc(), the new 303:

This one… gets more interesting later. (Best use of this comment ever: “where’s the drop?”)

So good.

The project is the work of Thomas Gordon Lowrey IV, aka gordol. On his GitHub, he makes all sorts of productive things. None can match for me taking 67 lines of code and nerding out.

It’s also fun watching SoundCloud decide what tracks should be related. Dear Universal: try to take this down.

Thank you, Myles Ashley Borins.

The post Listen as a Compiler Makes Weirdly Good Blippy, Glitchy IDM Sounds [Free Tools] appeared first on Create Digital Music.

A Solar-Powered, Outdoor DJ Booth and Interactive Dance Floor for Public Playgrounds

Swingsets? Basketball courts? Dutch interactive design firm Yalp imagines populating futuristic public playgrounds with DJ decks and dance floors, for today’s teens.

First, there’s the Fono DJ booth. It’s an outdoor public DJ booth, steel-cased with 14 light-up touch panels. Add a couple of phones, and kids can stream their own music, using the touch panels to control the settings. (In case you’re afraid your neighborhood is about to turn into a teen Ibiza, the makers emphasize that they let the installer choose maximum volume levels and times when the system shuts down.)

Then, in case you want to dance to the music, there’s the Fono dance floor, which responds to movement with cut-up samples.

The team have also devised benches and storage to encourage young people to hang out.

Somehow, I think this is all meant to keep kids off drugs or out of gangs by DJing in the playground. I have no idea how practical it is, but it’s certainly technologically interesting. The steel casing makes the whole rig waterproof and, the creators claim, vandal-proof. It’s a very different vision of touch technology than what you get on an iPhone or iPad. And everything is solar-powered.

Whether this works as a playground concept, I’m not sure, but it does suggest some possibilities for other outdoor technological interactions in other settings.

And the design itself is fascinating – also a winner of the prestigious 2014 Red Dot design award.

More (Dutch and English):
Fono hangout
Outdoor DJ System

And another video:

There’s also a hands-on video and (Dutch-language) interviews, where we learn that DJs really do nothing but wave their hands in the air and the boys won’t let any of the girls play on the decks… which also means the boys are behind the decks while the girls are dancing on their own. Come on, guys. Ahem.

Thanks to DJ Xtopher [SoundCloud] for this one. And yes – I agree, it is the new Ping Pong.



The post A Solar-Powered, Outdoor DJ Booth and Interactive Dance Floor for Public Playgrounds appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Hands-on: How the SH-101 Plug-Out for AIRA SYSTEM-1 Works – And Sounds


Somewhere, some editor has probably already written the headline “Turn On, Tune In, Plug-in, Plug-Out.”

After all, back when Roland introduced the AIRAs, the reaction was something like this:

“An 808/909 drum machine! A 303! And – some other things!”

So, it fell to the SYSTEM-1 – a neon-green, slim-line keyboard synth – to make PLUG-OUT the big draw. You know, like “plug-in,” but … uh … out. The notion is this: load software models onto your computer, then copy that same model to the SYSTEM-1 hardware. While the keyboard is physically connected to your computer, the software makes it easier to integrate with your host. Disconnect, and you can still use the keyboard standalone.

Today, we finally get to learn just what that’s like in practice. And we get to hear what Roland’s recreation of their legendary SH-101 synth sounds like. This isn’t a full review of the SYSTEM-1 – that’s coming next week. But we get a first look at this banner feature.

First, update

Straight from the factory, the SYSTEM-1 has its own two-oscillator synth, one that matches perfectly with the controls on the unit. And it has a PLUG-OUT button that doesn’t do anything.

To try PLUG-OUT, and to be able to switch between the SYSTEM-1′s default personality and its new alternative personality, you’ll need to update. That means installing the 1.10 update for the keyboard’s firmware, an easy process of just takes a couple of minutes. And it means installing the plug-in software.

There’s a coupon in the box with a URL – yes, really, not You have to register for an account, which you can do by entering some basic personal information manually or using your Facebook login to do the same. And you download about 90M of plug-in software for your OS. Enter a product key, and the software automatically authorizes itself the first time you run.


It covers just the basics, but sounds the business - and it's free with the SYSTEM-1. The SH-101 plug-in. (Yes, plug-in - we're not to the plug-out bit yet.)

It covers just the basics, but sounds the business – and it’s free with the SYSTEM-1. The SH-101 plug-in. (Yes, plug-in – we’re not to the plug-out bit yet.)

About that plug-in: this really is a conventional plug-in, for VST (OS X/Windows) and AU (OS X) – no RTAS, Pro Tools users. It doesn’t require your SYSTEM-1 to be connected as some sort of dongle. Without your keyboard plugged in, it’s a bit like Roland’s take on KORG’s Legacy Series – a software model, running on your computer, that emulates a classic from the past.

There are 48 patches by default, though I imagine more will surface soon from the community of AIRA owners or Roland themselves. (Confusingly, clicking the name of a patch edits its title, rather than bringing up the patch loading menu.)

And you get a software interface that looks like an SH-101. You can even change the color.

Otherwise, this is a conventional plug-in, but that also means tasks like recording automation data are a breeze.

The sound

Oh, and importantly – it sounds really, really good. I’ll make some more sounds before the final review, but here’s a first play. Note that I’m adding the SYSTEM-1′s rather nice delay and reverb effects. It’s tough to tell from a sound demo, but the component modeling is such that the instrument really responds the way you’d want a vintage instrument to respond. It breathes.

Now, there are some great SH-101 plug-ins on the market, and because Roland has stuck rigorously to the functionality of the original, the SH-101 plug-in doesn’t have any extra features. So, at this point, you really wouldn’t want this plug-in just to use as a plug-in. You’d want this or this. They sound I think about as good (each with a distinct character, since we’re modeling analog gear here), they look better, and they do more.

But that’s before you’ve connected your keyboard, which is where things get interesting.


Connect your SYSTEM-1, and the plug-in is instantly controllable via the knobs, buttons, and faders on your keyboard – every single parameter. The SYSTEM-1 actually has too many controls for an SH-101, so those electric-green lights you’ve been watching now have a significant feature: they light up to show you which controls are active. And for the most part, even though the SYSTEM-1 is mapped to another, two-oscillator synth, the labels are reasonably logical, though as you first start learning I’d suggest switching the plug-in to its SYSTEM-1 layout and keeping one eye on the screen.

Having this sort of pre-mapped, hands-on control is really terrific. It makes it feel as though you’re using hardware, not software, but without having to sacrifice the conveniences of working with your host DAW.

The SYSTEM-1 layout itself has controls the original SH-101 lacked, so you might switch to this layout to orient yourself. (Shame Roland didn't re-skin the software so it looks like the AIRA, though.)

The SYSTEM-1 layout itself has controls the original SH-101 lacked, so you might switch to this layout to orient yourself. (Shame Roland didn’t re-skin the software so it looks like the AIRA, though.)

It’s also nice to set up the audio input and output to the SYSTEM-1. On a Mac, you might even set up an aggregate device with your main audio interface to keep everything at the ready.

From a workflow standpoint, it’s lovely stuff. Load the plug-in. Tweak a bit. Record a take – now you’ve got MIDI, not only for notes, but all the automation, as you see in my Ableton Live screenshots. You can modify the automation right in the DAW, play it back, record to audio – all using the internal interface. A laptop and a SYSTEM-1 in a backpack are then a really nice studio on the go.

Automation data is now saved directly from the plug-in - as you tweak the physical controls on the hardware. It's a lovely arrangement. These parameters mapped automatically in Ableton Live.

Automation data is now saved directly from the plug-in – as you tweak the physical controls on the hardware. It’s a lovely arrangement. These parameters mapped automatically in Ableton Live.

Then, when it is time for audio, you have your MIDI/automation ready to go - and can stream sound directly from the SYSTEM-1's audio in/out interface.

Then, when it is time for audio, you have your MIDI/automation ready to go – and can stream sound directly from the SYSTEM-1′s audio in/out interface.

We still haven’t entered the zone of new ideas, yet. That comes next:


Press the big “PLUG-OUT” button on the plug-in, and in about 30 seconds, the software loads the whole model onto your SYSTEM-1 keyboard. It’s not a VST running on your keyboard or something like that; I’m assuming instead it’s code that interacts with the component models in the SYSTEM-1′s onboard hardware.

But what’s nice about this arrangement is that you can disconnect your keyboard from your computer and still have the sounds. You can also switch, on the fly, between the SYSTEM-1 and SH-101. So right out of the gate, buy a SYSTEM-1 synth today and you’re really getting two synths.

I have to test the system more before I’m sure of the operation. I was unsure if the SYSTEM-1 was always retaining parameters from the software correctly, for instance; I’m investigating. (Ableton Live is not one of the tested DAWs; Logic, Cubase and others are.)

Turn On?

Up to this point, I’m really sold. I’m content to have a great SH-101 model plus the SYSTEM-1 synth (a very respectable, fun-to-play two oscillator instrument), plus the delay, reverb, arpeggiator, and scatter effects. I’ll talk more about the SYSTEM-1 as a synth next week. It has its oddities: the video-style shuttle wheel stands in for a pitch bend and mod, there’s new velocity on the thin two-octave keyboard, and… well, there’s an awful lot of green. But without spoiling the full review, it’s great fun to play and I’m happy to have it around.

The deeper question is whether PLUG-OUT becomes a platform for Roland to release reissues of classic synths. Could a Juno be far behind, for instance?

There, I’m a little dubious as to the advantage of PLUG-OUT itself. You can only load one model at a time, manually dumped from the software – rather than just loading a firmware update and having the extra sounds whenever you like.

On the other hand, there’s some significant value with just the SH-101, and seeing another vintage instrument appear would be rather nice. And to me, the main plus here is really the software integration. It means the SYSTEM-1 is a great companion to a computer (especially for recording and production), that also happens to work on its own when you want to skip the laptop entirely (for jamming or live use).

Join us next week when we’ll consider the whole package. The SYSTEM-1 has some competition – for instance, from Arturia’s lovely analog MicroBrute, which is significantly cheaper, has some nice features, and also includes the sequencer Roland forgot here. (You know – the sequencer on the original SH-101.)

But it’s well worth looking at this choice, too. See you then.

Below: Roland’s video showing the process.

The post Hands-on: How the SH-101 Plug-Out for AIRA SYSTEM-1 Works – And Sounds appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Roland AIRA Series, 1.10: Everything Gets Smarter, USB Backup and Restore


Roland has updated the firmware for the first full AIRA line (TR-8 drum machine, TB-3 bassline sequencer, VT-3 vocal processor, SYSTEM-1 synthesizer) today to version 1.10. There are no new sounds – in case you wanted, say, a 727 drum kit for your TR-8. But instead, the whole range gets USB backup and restore, and functionality around working with patterns and MIDI gets a whole lot smarter.

This isn’t just a few fixes; it really does polish off the AIRA series and address a lot of the points I found a bit limiting using them some months ago. And just in time: all the AIRA kit has shown up here at CDM, meaning we get to be the last review, but also the review that goes into depth as these machines grow up a bit.

The SYSTEM-1 synth/keyboard, for its part, has just gotten its SH-101 Plug-Out model – and support for the Plug-Out scheme in this update. I’ve been playing with that in advance, and we’ll have the full review and sounds next week.

The full changelogs are below. But let’s cut to the bottom line.

You can use USB for backup/restore. This is huge, especially with patterns on the TB-3 and TR-8. You can now use your computer, as it should be used, as a way of managing your work on the hardware.

The VT-3 vocal processor just got useful – smoothed out, and with MIDI control. I’m not going to mince words: I hated the VT-3 when I first tried it. The presets were weird, and the sound quality was inconsistent because of erratic levels. It appears 1.1 fixes the sound quality issue, by gating noise and managing volume levels as you work with characters. And most importantly, it turns into something more of you might actually want to use, with external MIDI keyboard control of pitch (including on the vocoder). It happens to be fun to route the TR-8 into the VT-3, so this could be a lot of fun.

The TB-3 has a full range and more MIDI control options. With more octaves out, and local on/off, MIDI controller modes, the TB-3 is a better sequencer. With more octaves in, it’s a better synth. And Roland has ticked off my list of complaints – you can record external patterns, you can record and sequence slide and accents. You can also organise patterns. All in all, the TB-3 appears to be morphing into what I hoped it’d be: a brilliant touch sequencer.

The TR-8 is more playable. From roll tweaks to external patterns to better pattern playing, the TR-8 is easier and more fun to play. And that’s a good thing, as I’ve been finding some baffling omissions in firmware in products this year when it comes to managing grooves and patterns – Arturia Beatstep, Elektron Analog Rytm, I’m looking at you. (And we’re getting back to you soon.)

I don’t think the AIRAs are necessarily for everyone. (Well, why should they be?) And … I’m still not fond of neon green. But while I fully expect some online comments to continue to pile on the “overrated cheap plastic crap” complaint (this is the Internet), the AIRAs have already won over some very happy users, and they’re looking genuinely mature with this update. I’m going to have to work a little harder with any criticisms, which is how it’s meant to be. And I’m really, really happy to be revisiting them. I must have been in sync with a lot of other AIRA users, because this gets to the heart of the kinds of changes that would make me use them more.

Check the full list of changes:

TR-8 Version 1.1 Update
- Manage your kit and pattern library with easy backup and restore over USB.
- Customize kits by adjusting the gain of each instrument to suit your individual style.
- Rolls are now easier to engage, offer more control, and sound better overall.
- Alternate unlatched trigger mode engages only while “On” button is held down.
- Scatter will enable for one cycle and then automatically disengage.
- Get back in the groove by instantly starting a pattern from the top.
- Lock the contents of a pattern so you can experiment without losing your original groove.
- Now you can edit both A and B parts of a pattern without stopping the sequencer.
- Local On/Off and MIDI Controller modes determine how MIDI data is sent and received.
- MIDI velocity is variable by the accent setting.
- Select kits using MIDI control change messages.
- Scatter On/Off, Type and Depth can be controlled via MIDI control change.
- Record patterns in real-time from external MIDI devices.
- Disable sending of all MIDI messages.
- Toggle whether or not TR-8 responds to PLAY/STOP messages.
- Control effects using MIDI control change messages.

TB-3 Version 1.1 Update
- Manage your pattern library with easy backup and restore over USB.
- Control both pattern tune (-700 to 700 cents) and master tune (430-450)
- Assign a specific tone to a pattern so sound will change automatically when pattern is selected.
- Transpose a pattern during performance by simply pressing a note on the touchpad’s keyboard. No need to hold “Keyboard” button.
- Organize your favorite patterns for quick access in live performance with a custom user bank.
- Lock the contents of a pattern so you can experiment without losing your original groove.
- Quickly change the root note of a pattern by shifting its pitch.
- The sequencer now supports notes from C0-C6 for added flexibility and dramatic slides.
- Extended Transpose Range.
- Local On/Off and MIDI Controller modes determine how MIDI data is sent and received.
- Record patterns in real-time from external MIDI devices.
- Implementation of both slide and accent pattern by MIDI control change.
- Scatter On/Off, Type and Depth can be controlled via MIDI control change.
- Disable sending of all MIDI messages.
- Note range has been extended from C0-C8 when controlled by external MIDI device.

VT-3 Version 1.1 Update
- Manage your presets with easy backup and restore over USB.
- User presets have been doubled to six locations.
- Volume level of voice characters are more evenly matched for smooth transitions.
- Control pitch of voice characters, including vocoder, with external MIDI keyboard.
- Cuts low frequency sensing to improve performance of Auto-Pitch characters.
- Gates noise to reduce chance of feedback or howling sound.
- Adjusts level of audio over USB.
- Change program memory with MIDI controller message.

Via Twitter, here are some videos of that 1.1 update:

The post Roland AIRA Series, 1.10: Everything Gets Smarter, USB Backup and Restore appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Connect Your Brain to Synthesizers, with Desktop and Modular Creations for Brainwaves

"Neurorack." Get it? A first look at prototypes of the rack module (left) and desktop (right).

“Neurorack.” Get it? A first look at prototypes of the rack module (left) and desktop (right).

Oh, sure, you can convert MIDI and clock and DIN and control voltage. But how about brainwaves? How about jacking your noggin straight into your synths and controlling synthesizers only with your mind?

It’s not quite like The Matrix, yet, if that’s what you’re imagining. But some crafty Italian inventors/experimental musicians have already whipped up a working prototype of hardware that interfaces brainwave-sensing headsets to synthesisers via analog signal and MIDI. And tomorrow, the 26th of July, they’re putting their heads where their money is, premiering the whole system in a live performance.

The boxes are designed to work with the Neurosky MindWaveMobile headset, a headband that reads brainwaves as electrical signals on the surface of your skin. You might have seen this before, but we were able to grab a new image.

Your brain is the input; control voltage or MIDI is the output. In the works is a desktop, standalone unit, as well as a Eurorack for modulars – but the difference is form factor only; both perform the same tasks:

  • Read brainwaves (EEG) directly, across 8 bands
  • Respond to the analyses of the MindWave headset, like “Attention” and “Meditation”
  • Graphic OLED display for configuration
  • Customization: “Smoothing of the signals, trigger threshold, additional algorithms, scaling, midi channel and cc for each output are completely configurable.”

For hackers and builders, you also get a serial RS232 interface so you can get at these signals directly (output) or send commands to the hardware (input).

The desktop unit looks beautiful:

Digital rendering of the desktop unit.

Digital rendering of the desktop unit.

That mobile version of the headset is nice, too, as it’s the one that works with other devices )like your phone).

Hanging around Luglio, Italy, this weekend? (Hey, maybe one reader is.) If so, you can catch a live Deep Profundis performance using brainwaves, at Acusmatiq festival.

Or you can await this coming your way, which should happen around September.

Interesting stuff. I can imagine this having not only novel experimental performance applications, but allowing a synth to be used for biofeedback and meditation – finally, customising the sounds that result.

BI1brainterface is coming!

The post Connect Your Brain to Synthesizers, with Desktop and Modular Creations for Brainwaves appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Eerie Resonance: Listen as a Synth Accompanies Singing Architecture

Dancing about architecture? How about singing about architecture – or architecture that sings?

Burnley England’s Singing Ringing Tree is an abstract sculpture that resonates with the wind. Rising above the grassy hills of Burnley, England, it seems to live at some strange intersection between future and past – a sci-fi Stonehenge. And the project, the 2006 work of British architecture firm Tonkin Liu, makes lovely otherworldly sounds.

John Keston, sound designer and the writer of audio invention recipe blog Audiocookbook, has been making a set of “duets,” coupling more conventional electronic synthesis with the wind-blown ambiences of the SRT construction. He’s surprisingly adept at interweaving these contrasting timbres into dreamy drones, armed with a Novation Bass Station II and the new, more affordable Moog Minifooger Delay pedal.


Bless USB power – the whole thing runs on an external battery. (The Novation doesn’t have an internal battery compartment, but it can run on an outboard tank.)

The project is coming in seven parts, but I’ll let part 7 out on CDM, as I enjoy the more-exposed synth. No. 1 was released this week on his blog, and is a beautiful example of the sounds melding together.

And do put on headphones – you’ll hear why.


Duet No.1 for Synthesizer and The Singing Ringing Tree

Funding partners that made this happen — all of them, by the way, essential to supporting American musical invention:

American Composers Forum
Jerome Foundation
ACF’s JFund, which supports new music for emerging artists in Minnesota and the 5 boroughs of NYC.

(Note to Jerome: you guys should really just add Berlin as NYC’s sixth borough in which artists can still afford to live. I kid. Sort of.)

The post Eerie Resonance: Listen as a Synth Accompanies Singing Architecture appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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