Yes, it’s the end of the week. Time to chill out. Time to let our friend Erika from Detroit help us to drift like a cosmic butterfly into some nice solar drift, held aloft by the delicate siren song of that new Moog semi-modular thing we’re all kinda eyeing lustfully.
Oops, sorry, lost my train of thought there.
Indeed, the folks at Moog have been putting out a steady stream of Mother-32 videos, and here’s the chill-est of them so far. Description:
* Patch performed live * No overdubs *
In this short improvisation, Detroit-based electronic artist, Erika, composes a celestial passage using a pair of Mother-32 analog synthesizers. An external reverb unit is used to add an astral quality to the patch.
If you’ve been wanting to let your freak flag fly with keyboards, this may be some good news.
Future Retro have teased a touchplate keyboard on their Facebook channel. It’s dubbed the FR-512, and comes equipped with both MIDI and CV out (with lots of separate patch points) – so fans of digital and modular alike may be pleased. Pitch and mod lie next to the two-octave keyboard.
Oh, and it’s a sequencer/arpeggiator, too – check those controls above the keys. (Rest, accent, arpeggiator, etc.)
We get more images of it from past weeks:
Future Retro in this one lives up to their name – the retro knobs, the design, the touchplate itself, all recall old gear, but with a certain fresh, convenient approach.
Speaking of the future, when will we get this? Well, we’re not going to find out much more for now. The Futures say, “There’s still plenty left to be done… coding, testing, tweaking, manual writing, and assembly. Hopefully these will be ready by NAMM.”
I think that hangs above my desk, that very sentence, sort of … all the time. So I feel you. Here’s to the future, the undiscovered country.
Are you in a warranty-voiding mood? Have you got a soldering iron?
The KORG volca bass is already a nice enough little synth. But mix in a modification that adds frequency modulation to the filter, and you get some delicious, acid good times.
Skip ahead to the end of the video above to hear what we mean.
And if you are feeling handy and don’t mind the risk of destruction, an ambling, easy-to-follow extended video will walk you through the process.
Prefer not to get your hands dirty? This is all the work of Surreal Machines, who make a really wonderful collection of Max for Live effects called Dub Machines. That’s an unparalleled set of precision tools for dub effects, as the name implies.
HoustonTracker 2 runs on the TI-82/83/83+/84+ Texas Instruments graphing pocket calculators – the kind you probably had to buy for your high school math class. And it doesn’t just make the calculator into a sequencer. All the sounds come straight out of the calculator itself, thanks to some gorgeous-sounding 1-bit noises. (Who needs those 15 or so extra bits, anyway? This is beautiful.)
What do I mean? Just watch:
But wait, there’s actually a complete feature set for this:
3 tone channels
1 non-interrupting drum channel
up to 128 note patterns
up to 64 drum/fx patterns
sequence length up to 255 pattern rows
16-bit frequency precision
8-bit speed precision, can be configured per step
various effects, including:
L/C/R stereo hard-panning for tone and drum channels
8bit duty cycle control
duty cycle sweep
2 user definable samples
up to 8 savestates
edit during playback
Yes, that’s right: someone’s hand-me-down, obsolete graphing calculator you can probably get for free is now more capable than a lot of new drum machines you’d buy for the task.
It’s free, open source software, with complete documentation. From Germany:
The original HoustonTracker has been out a couple of years, but version 2 is a complete rewrite and much more capable, out as of yesterday.
The app is free, but you can (and perhaps should) donate to creator/artist/coder Pater Maria aka irrlicht project.
What’s also lovely about this is, while I’m happy to write news items about the latest-and-greatest gear, projects like this save toxic electronics from an untimely death in landfills. There are more projects like this from the same developer.
And they said we’d never use Calculus again. Um, they were right – I’ve never used calculus again. But I might actually use the calculator now.
MPC lovers, you finally get a piece of hardware with everything in one place: touch, color displays, pads, buttons for workflow access.
There’s just one catch: you will still need the computer.
Ever looked at those beautiful color waveforms on Native Instruments’ Traktor and Maschine controller and wished you could touch the screen? Imagined pinching to zoom waveforms and navigate samples, the way you can on an iPad?
Well, Akai are the first to do groove-making hardware that combines physical pads and a touchscreen in one unit – no iPads (or Microsoft Surfaces) in sight.
Today’s MPC Touch also does something else Maschine and Ableton Push don’t do – this slim-line hardware has an audio interface built in. That means you don’t need an extra piece of kit just to hook up to a PA (don’t mention the MacBook headphone jack) or to sample sound (oh yeah, that “sampling” idea of sampling workstations).
The hardware leans really heavily on the touchscreen for a lot of functions:
browsing / sample selection
MIDI event drawing
There’s even what they call “XYFX” — an X/Y controller for real-time effects, in the tradition of the KORG KAOSS Pad (and many other things).
Now, that isn’t a sure win. It’s actually really satisfying to reach out and grab a knob for some of these features, rather than a touchscreen, on some of the rival hardware. A big question will be how well the touchscreen itself responds.
The on-screen interface looks refined and attractive, though, if conservative – and the same can be said of the hardware.
It also means there is a really clear, compact control layout for everything else. And you’ll see the usual Akai workflow shortcuts, like Note Repeat, and quick access to features like overdub.
Behind the scenes, you still use the Akai MPC software. And I suspect that will leave some people scratching their heads and wondering why Akai didn’t simply make this standalone hardware so you can untether from the computer entirely.
But while the computer is still in the background, Akai’s appealing approach to tasks like recording and immediate control are right on the hardware. It’s too soon to judge without trying it, but I think it is the best rival to the Maschine and Push workflows – each of them distinct – with something that is unique.
Akai has a live microsite with more, but it’s struggling a bit with Web traffic. (Come on, people – scaling!)
What they do have is some serious artist credibility. Hip-hop really defined the MPC and this entire category, so that is worth saying. They’re launching with videos by Needlz:
So what’s running under the hood?
I asked the folks at Akai to tell us more about what they’ve done.
The pads are all-new. Akai tells CDM the pads are…
“far superior to existing MPC hardware. They’re much more sensitive, and very playable. Akin to the new MPD line of MIDI controllers as they follow a similar lineage.”
And I was curious what hardware is inside. Here, CDM gets a scoop —
That’s an actual, touchable screen for your computer.
It’s a bespoke platform with a custom touch solution. The screen is a customised Display Link USB-attached screen, under some cunning control from us. This means that you have the ability to also use MPC Touch as a desktop extender, and put other software on the screen, if you so choose.
That’d be a cool hack, in fact.
Without question, though, this week has changed how you touch the tools you use to make music:
1. We’ve got a new Surface line from Microsoft, including a flagship laptop, that will run your favorite music apps in Windows.
2. We’ve got a new Bitwig Studio that has been redesigned with touch in mind.
3. We’ve got hardware control with a touchscreen built-in from Akai.
And, of course, you could choose to combine all three of those.
We’ve seen apps made exclusively for touch devices like the iPad. And we’ve seen very basic touch support in desktop apps. But Bitwig Studio 1.3 is both.
Also, is Bitwig actually trolling Mac fans, or Apple? Because Bitwig is touting the fact that OS X will at least get its new “E-Cowbell device.” (I’m not making this up.)
For multi-touch devices on Windows and Linux (yes, Linux) – plus a specially-optimized profile for Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Book – Bitwig has a lot of new touch features. They aren’t just responding to touch events; they’re going further.
Full multi-touch support. This is, of course, essential. It doesn’t work on OS X – there literally isn’t a model for processing the events – but it does open up some possibilities even on Linux.
Here’s what that looks like when mixing:
Radial menu and gestures. To try to make touch more useful, Bitwig are also adding a shortcut menu, for quick gestural access to settings for devices, drums, clips, arrangement, notes, and tracks. I really have no idea whether I’m convinced by this without having used it, but I’m intrigued. It also represents a different approach than Ableton’s, which has been to focus on moving control to physical hardware (Push). Clearly, there’s an argument for each approach – there’s something different about getting away from a display and using something tactile – but it’s nice to see something happening with the touch/display end of the equation.
Looking at this at first, it looked like a separate remote-control layer. In practice, though, that “radial menu” is maybe better thought of as a heads-up reference to what gestures do. The result can be really fast gestural editing, as seen here in arrangement:
I’m really keen to try this, especially as arranging with a mouse is painful. (It’s even worse when working with two people, as my studio colleague Nerk can attest.)
You can play right on the interface. Rather than go to a separate iPad remote (as Apple does with its own Logic and GarageBand), Bitwig are building a keyboard right into the tool so you can play directly. It’s like having a hardware controller or an iPad app built into your display.
There’s a built-in drum editor. There’s a pad layout for playing drum pads, as well, plus some touch editing options.
Apple’s strategy is clear: make one line of things that are laptops (running OS X), make another line of things that are touch-based (running iOS). That strategy has served them – and musicians and other creatives – well. You can certainly have a lot of fun with a fairly inexpensive iPad full of apps, and the MacBook line has earned its place as the music laptop of choice.
But that’s still left some creative types in the gap between the two. That is, it did, until today.
What if you want touch, but you don’t want to give up serious desktop apps?
What about developers, who want to make those apps but simply can’t make money on them selling them as $10 apps?
What if you want an ultra-mobile laptop, but you also want a powerful GPU (for instance, if you’re doing visual performance)?
Microsoft’s Surface Book looks a little more like what some pros might have imagined the iPad Pro (or a non-existent touch MacBook) would be. There are plenty of other tech sites to cover this news, so let’s cut straight to the important bits:
It has the power of a laptop. Two USB 3.0 ports, i5/i7 processors. And it just runs Windows. (Ableton, cough. Yep.) If that’s not enough for you, a dock adds four USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, and dual high-definition video ports (mini DisplayPort).
But it’s an enormous tablet. 13.5″ tablet to be precise. crucially, it operates both when docked with the machine (giving you all that laptop functionality) or undocked (if you want to port it around a bit).
The hinge folds all the way backward. This is crucial: you can use it flat, ideal for live performance and focusing on music, while it’s still connected to all the laptop-y bits in the base. It’s not the first laptop to do that, but a better-designed hinge and more serious, price-competitive specs make it arguably the first to be genuinely appealing in this mode.
There’s still a GPU. Okay, I’m going to go really niche here for a second – this is a big detail for anyone doing live visuals with software like vvvv and Resolume, because while integrated graphics have gotten more powerful, they’re a bit unpredictable when it comes to real-time graphics. This could be the machine you want to do everything. (Did I mention the dual DisplayPort outputs on the dock?)
It’s big. Over 13″ – so it’s bigger than the iPad Pro.
It isn’t cheap – but it’s probably the only machine you need. US$1499 starting price means this is more expensive than the iPad Pro, even once you figure in Apple’s pricey keyboard and pen accessories and more internal memory. On the other hand, it’s competitive with other laptops, which is the whole point. And it means you don’t have to keep buying a separate tablet.
Higher-end models are pricey – even 256GB internal memory means you’re paying $1699. But all models have at least 128GB storage and an i5, and even the GPU model starts at a not-astronomical $1899.
Oh, yeah, and this is above and beyond a Surface Pro 4 that’s more competitive with the iPad Pro – but I think the Surface Book is the real news.
I’ll be honest: my gut reaction is that I’d at least consider this as a next machine. You pay extra for the multi-functional capability. You can still build a much cheaper desktop PC, or choose a laptop with more I/O or a lower price or a bigger display (or all of these). And if you just want a little touch, you can always add a tablet (like, ahem, the iPad) to whatever you’ve got. But for anyone in the ‘pro tablet’ market previously described, this is the first model that really looks like a contender.
And wherever you fall, the idea of budgeting nearly a grand for an iPad Pro seems to be to be even more crazy than it did on launch. (I still like the smaller iPads, which I think fit a different niche.)
Look, Microsoft must even recognize that we use this for music. They’re showing music images in their pics.
Except… uh, why is it sitting next to CDJs (Windows happily runs Serato and Traktor), why is set up just for clip launching, and why is the controller sitting sideways?!
Ha, and I just noticed who that is… that appears to be musician Thavius Beck. And he can use a controller sideways because he’s probably better at it than most of us.
Developers, developers, developers…
This isn’t necessarily bad news for anyone happily making iOS apps – not in the slightest. I suspect that ecosystem will remain entirely intact.
The issue is, I’m not yet convinced that the pricey iPad Pro will significantly expand that same market.
The news here is, this could create a market for touch-savvy desktop apps, especially for music making. The key is, will developers embrace the touch design. Software like FL Studio and Cakewalk SONAR already ostensibly have touch compatibility, and tools like Reason and Ableton Live are naturals, in theory. In practice, though, we need to see nearly all of these applications have user experiences that are thought out for touch.
My guess is, some smaller, independent developers might make touch controllers that are designed to sit on the Windows desktop, rather than use the “satellite app” model on iOS. And all it takes for a single developer to really go deep in this is hardware they actually want to develop on. The Surface Book could provide that.
Oh, and Bitwig. More on that separately.
In the meantime, this is competitive enough that I’d take a long look at this before buying a PC laptop, at least – and I think even some Mac users may have just lifted an eyebrow. (Logic users, not so much, but Ableton, Traktor, Cubase, Reason, Maschine, notation software, Pro Tools, and so forth don’t really look very different on the different platforms. Heck, I almost temporarily forgot you can run even DP on Windows these days.)
If you’ve never heard of UK producer Powell, it’s maybe even more important that you watch this video now.
There’s a lot I want to say, but I’d give away the ending. Let’s keep it to this: an adventurous electronic producer, making a raucously stuttering, intense, punk-digital record, talked to his rock idol Steve Albini. And something happened.
What happened on email turned into a music video by director Guy Featherstone, and the results are pure poetry.
Very large epilepsy warning: this video strobes sickeningly. But, if like us, you rather like that sort of thing, you may … enjoy it immensely. (Also, explicit content, I guess, says Apple – “f*** you,” to be specific.)
By the way, by “epilepsy warning,” I mean this kind of epilepsy warning:
I will say this: the advantage of being in music is that, perhaps, it really isn’t a war, and doesn’t have sides. And being perfectly impolite, we might just discover we make more friends than we do being polite – or, at least, vainly trying to conform. Well, if you care. Maybe you don’t care.
Jamming: the idea is to make music by connecting directly to gestures so you make something spontaneous. And if music technology is jam session friendly, this finally means you can do it together – not just alone.
Part of the reason we’ve remained focused on the MeeBlip project is to get into the process of how to make that kind of jam as accessible as possible. It’s not just limited to that – I spoke with Morton Subotnick about how he used voice input on modulars to make Silver Apples on the Moon as immediate as singing.
When Novation made starting music the theme of a recent campaign, echoing the way Ableton first described Push, a number of people I talked to confessed that finishing music was more of a challenge than starting it. But I think if the initial spark has some character, finishing is far easier.
I recently stopped by the home of Oliver Greschke, developer of Elastic Drums for iOS, to play with a mobile jamming rig. Our jam session isn’t necessarily great music – something about cameras rolling drains any creative impulse out of my brain. But we did get to experiment with the way the setup is working.
Arturia’s BeatStep Pro is fantastic in that it immediately offers three handy layers (for melodies, drums, etc.), and both step-by-step programming (with display) and live programming (with the pads).
Elastic Drums here serves as the clock source. Now, the absence of MIDI thru on our gear means a thru box would be a good idea – makers like Kenton have you covered there if you don’t have a multi-port MIDI box (that’ll do, too). And Elastic Drums is a perfect companion to the MeeBlip basslines, jumping in on drums.
It’s a bit bigger (so maybe “mobile” isn’t right), but we added an Arturia MiniBrute, too.
Now, to be fair, none of these sorts of instruments gives you open-ended sound possibilities. But then, it can be a lot of fun to push against those limitations, too.
The BeatStep Pro and Novation’s just-released Circuit are clear rivals to doing the job (though you could even use both). Circuit does built-in sounds, and BeatStep Pro doesn’t, but the Arturia piece is also a more advanced dedicated sequencer than Novation has built, accordingly. (MIDI is more flexible from the Arturia, and it adds CV.) I’m waiting on some more details of Circuit’s implementation, but we’ll get to look at this.
You can see how it all works together. Oli also shot this video for more clarification:
iPads can themselves become more sociable jamming instruments. Oliver joined other key iOS developers for a 4-iPad jam at the Apple Store Berlin, flanked by the makers of Zmors Modular, Studiomux (formerly Midimux and Audiomux), and touchAble, with an assist from Ableton Live. (That’s all Berlin-made code, right there.)
“Elastic Drums and zMors Modular were synced via Midimux to the Laptop, which was the tempo host. zMors Modular went directly into the laptop via Audiomux VST Plugin. 2 other iPads were controlling Ableton DAW and Ableton instruments with Touchable. All connections were made with standard lightning cables, no special soundcards or connectors have been used.”
What’s been nice about working on the MeeBlip is watching all the jam videos come in, unsolicited, from users. That now includes our soon-to-run-out-forever limited edition model.
Here’s a jam session with KORG’s electribe2, created by Atsushi Nakayama:
And here’s the wonderful Perplex On from Munich, playing for the first time:
Some details there: you’ll spot the Audiobus connection panel on the iPad, running quite a few apps. (From our MeeBlip Facebook page, he reports “If I remember correctly there were some Aufx apps involved (Space, EQ and Push for sidechaining the Meeblip to the PO), Arpeggionome for sequencing and Tonestack to roughen the Meeblip a bit and probably some more apps i didn’t use in this snippet smile emoticon.” Whoa.
Also, talk about mobile: a 9V battery block can battery-power the MeeBlip so it’s entirely mobile.
And the Roland UA-22 audio interface can also be powered by 3 AA’s – handy. So no tricks: this really is running out in some nice patch of grass. (Hey, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere and warmer climes like California can look forward to doing this all winter whilst some of the rest of us hide in a basement and try not to get depressed. Or, at least, get a lot more iOS code written in Berlin.)
Roland’s “Boutique” Synths are now here officially, after most of the details of these mini synths leaked out in advance of their launch. And we get a real look at this line of inexpensive, mini synths – three models, with an optional keyboard dock.
First up, Mitch Gallagher has a hands-on for retailer Sweetwater, the first I’ve seen. It’s a 9-minute “Sweetwater Minute” which is to say… it’s made up of several minutes chained together?
The most important thing about the Boutique series is that Roland says they’re powered by Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) – that’s the same modeling employed in the AIRA series, and it’s been pretty well-received there. They also give you a lot of hands-on control, and they’re not expensive. That combination I suspect will make them a big hit.
At the same time, the main thing is whether you’ll want these particular models. There are a lot of ways you could spend your money here, from other synths to soft synths to loading software models onto Roland’s own AIRA SYSTEM-1. And, of course, this prompted speculation as to why Roland didn’t just keep releasing software models for the SYSTEM-1. That seems obvious. One, the SYSTEM-1’s control layout doesn’t really suit every software model – or, really, almost any software model other than the original. Two, it seems there’s more money to be made selling new hardware, not to mention to customers who find this appealing but not the SYSTEM-1.
We also know at last what the “boutique” moniker means. Roland says these are a limited edition, though from one of the largest instrument makers in the world, it’s hard to know precisely what that means. Anyway, we do get color-graded, hipster-friendly images of the line if that makes you feel any better.
Also, this video:
But no, let’s be honest: these will appeal if you wanted a model of one these synths in standalone, mobile form. If you hate mini keys, the good thing about that dock is, you can also use these modules with your favorite keyboard.
We could go copy-paste all the specs, but I suspect you’re capable of reading the Roland website. Instead, here are the most interesting details:
They’re cheap. Street US$299 for the Juno or JX or $399 for the JP-08, plus $99 for the dock. That might be all you need to know. There’s not much else in that price class: Arturia MicroBrute has a unique, analog character, there’s, um, MeeBlip (bring your own keyboard/sequencer), there’s the KORG volca series (KEYS is still a great choice, and it’s battery powered), some Waldorf pieces, and that’s about it. And now there’s also Novation Circuit. But nothing really doing this sort of emulation, so I think this is a good deal. (Commenters compared the Roland entries to Yamaha’s Reface, but that’s significantly more expensive and covers a completely different sound range. Parallel product philosophies, sure, but different results.)
Metal, dude. If you hate plastic, the front panel here is made of metal (though it appears to have a plastic chassic, and the dock is plastic). Curious how these feel.
They use USB or battery power. Bus power works, too, so you don’t need a wall wart. And that’s only 4 AA’s. The batteries can go in the dock, too.
Each has a step sequencer. And it looks a lot like the TR-8 drum machine step sequencer. Smart – and this means you can fiddle with these on the go even without the keyboard dock, though it’s more useful with the keyboard handy. (I think the clicking in the Sweetwater video is just a wonky envelope setting, not a bug.)
USB works for MIDI and audio. That is a full-fledged audio interface there. And you can run MIDI over USB. And there are still dedicated MIDI DIN jacks. That combination means I do think one of these modules might make a smart purchase. You already own a keyboard with MIDI out, right?
Solo, unison, polyphonic. This makes loads of sense, too.
They’re chain-able. That adds polyphony. But it involves chaining together two of the same unit, and I can’t imagine anyone outside a Roland dealer doing that.
So, one unit gives you 4 voices, which a lot of commenters are complaining about, except… well, do you really want 8 voices of this sound? (ducks)
They’re small. Hey, they’re cute. They’re portable. They’re, according to Roland, “the size of a book.”
You want the JP-08, right? I mean, seriously. The JX-03 cleverly puts the PG-200 controller on the JX-3P keyboard, but … the appeal for both the JU-06 and JX-03 seems to me primarily for people who owned those keyboards; I’m not sure these are the best-aging sounds in synth history. The JP-08 Jupiter is really the sound it seems that has the largest draw; the control layout looks great and the sound is indeed lust-worthy.
Heck, Roland even priced the JP-08 $100 more than the other two, almost as if knowing it’d be the one in demand. It’s like the “this is the one you really want” tax.
Then again, there’s your problem solved: get the JP-08 and the dock, connect them once, and you’re good to go. Or skip the dock and just get a JP-08 and have a good time without another keyboard collecting dust in your studio. (This story concludes as a mob of JX and Juno owners chases me around Berlin…)
And let’s talk about the JP-08. Apart from the dual ribbon controllers and portability, the JP-08 improves on the original Jupiter-8 with extra waveforms and an expanded VCO range.
I’m going to try to get a JP-08 for a proper review, so let me know if you have questions.
Reading comments, my take is obviously different. People either hate this and jump into expletives or immediately want all three. Right, then.