It’s been asked over and over again: can a simpler software tool attract more people to music making? But the next question is, invariably – what’s the right stuff to leave out?
Auxy, released today, is an extreme exercise in app minimalism. It radically reduces what’s in the UI by focusing on making and cueing patterns — and leaving out the rest.
It’s also free.
Built exclusively for iPad, Auxy centers on a grid as its main screen. You’ve got four tracks in which you can create, edit, then trigger different patterns. Tap on one rectangle, and you draw in patterns in a familiar “piano roll” sequencer view. Drag notes to draw, then drag to move or elongate them. It’s even easy for clumsy or large fingers.
Each pattern is one, two, or four bars. There’s a drum kit with three sets of sounds, a bass track with four sounds, and two synth tracks with a choice of five sounds. Tapping a circular icon on the left brings up clever draggable knobs for controlling a filter, volume, and (in all but the drum kit) one sound parameter.
The basic functionality is clearly borrowed from Ableton Live. Each column is a track, and can trigger just one pattern at a time. Playback is quantized to the bar. There’s even a stop button at the top of each column.
It’s all so obvious, that you’d be forgiven for thinking this exists already. Weirdly, it doesn’t. You can try an experiment: open up Apple’s GarageBand on iOS and see how long it takes you to get to this same editing view. I stumbled around the UI for a couple of minutes before I found it, and once I got there, tapping tiny icons apparently supposed to represent the piano roll editor and puzzling over what a pencil toggle with a lock meant, I realized it’s nothing like Auxy. My feeling that I had seen Auxy before was more to do with a sense that this is how touch piano rolls should work, more than how they generally do.
So, combining this sort of editor with Live-style triggering is great. The problem is, that’s where the app ends. It’s almost as easy to write a missing feature list as a feature list – even if that’s by design:
You can’t record external audio.
You can’t play in patterns – you can only drag in notes in the piano roll.
You can’t sequence other apps.
You’re limited to a small handful of sounds, and always drums, bass, synth, synth.
You can’t change time signatures.
You can’t export patterns as MIDI.
You can export audio. Tap the record button in the upper left-hand corner, and Auxy lets you live record an arrangement by triggering different clips. When you’re done, you’re given an option to save the audio to iTunes, copy it to another app with AudioCopy, or use iOS 8′s new share functionality (which connects to AirDrop and other apps you’ve installed, like Dropbox).
Using audio export, you can find some use for the app. The developers of Auxy clearly have some talented friends, and so in addition to the slick demo video, you can listen to a whole track made in the app:
I love the minimalism, in that it makes an app that’s uncommonly friendly to beginners. But just allowing an easy point of entry isn’t enough to make software a success: you need a compelling reason to keep using it.
And I can’t help but feel that Auxy isn’t just minimal: it’s a beautiful tool, but it falls just short of some real-world use after an initial play. If it worked with inter-app MIDI, it might become my go-to pattern maker for the various interesting synths you can now collect on iOS. If it exported MIDI (or, as KORG recently showed, Ableton sessions), it could be the perfect mobile idea recorder. That’d be doubly true if there were an iPhone version; that seems a missed opportunity with this compact interface, especially with roomier iPhones 6.
And I don’t think that’s just because I’m a “pro” user. The typical non-producer musician often cares more about mic input than us electronic folks – because they sing, or play guitar, for instance. Once you have something with a mic input, it becomes more personal.
Stockholm-based developer Henrik Lenberg, a veteran of SoundCloud and Propellerhead, is evangelical in his commitment to Auxy and its less-is-more approach. I think the key question is what happens in its next revision.
It’s easy to see how so many music creation tools have become massive bundles of features: even beginners and amateur musicians often cover a wide gamut of use cases. Finding a narrower set of features that still appeals to a broad range of people is a bigger challenge.
But I don’t think Auxy has really tackled that challenge yet. As version 1.0, Auxy is a compelling demonstration of design discipline. If that discipline can be applied to providing a broader range of possible sounds, and some ability to use Auxy as a sketchpad for other music (with MIDI and Ableton export, for instance), I think it could be a landmark tool. For now, less is less – but it could be more.
Auxy is a free app, so grab it now and watch it grow.
Musically speaking, Mouse on Mars are like that kid who can’t keep still. In a good way.
But perhaps now is a perfect moment for that nervous energy, that quirky, disruptive approach to sounds. It can be refreshing colliding with the duo’s endless, too-much-coffee-when-saying-yes-to-projects collaborations, and anarchic playful love of noise. Because the anxieties of music can leave people creatively constipated. It can drive people to either a chin-stroking disdain for audiences at one extreme, a sort of retreat into abstract sounds with fear that anyone might feel a physical urge when listening, or buttoned-up commercial conformity at another.
This would all be noise if it didn’t have direction and reflection. But Mouse on Mars manage to be disinhibited with their creativity, while still being thoughtful and focused on what they’re doing. And that’s why it’s been great to get to know them.
In any event, Mouse on Mars are turning their 21st birthday as a duo into a crescendo of activity. It’s an acted-out manifesto of their approach to music and collaboration, culminating in events and releases. In short:
1. The WretchUp app (with myself and others) is out.
2. There’s a compilation, entitled 21 Again (listen below) – marking lots of their collaborations.
3. For fans of their past work, there’s a new box set charting their history, via Monkeytown Records.
4. And, oh yeah, there’s a packed 2-day festival, in collaboration with Berlin’s HAU and CTM Festival. (That’s fitting, because if there’s a city right now that doesn’t believe in the concept of “too much” as far as music, it’s Berlin.)
But if you can spare a short block of time, you can understand what this is all about. In 21 minutes, they make 21 tracks, courtesy a project with FACT Magazine. It’s hyper-kinetic stuff, but it’s also still considered (and at one point Jan chides Andi about something he didn’t like). There’s loads of use of the WretchUp app here, too, for a sense of what that feedback thing was about, plus some unreleased iOS stuff – like the forthcoming Elastic Drums drum machine. See also a lot of action in Apple’s Logic and with AKAI controllers and Nord keyboards and loads of loads of toys.
The collaborations from the compilation are to me interesting, in that they combine musical dimensions. With the similarly-prolific and imagination Matthew Herbert:
Making otherworldly landscapes with Oval:
– and in a violently enthusiastic celebration with composer Tyondai Braxton:
If you happen to be in Berlin, you can take in the live two-day event. Co-developer Oliver and I will be there making mayhem with WretchUp.
It’s a nostalgia trip. It’s a net art piece. It’s a parallel dimension.
It’s also working music apps running (sort of) in your browser. It feels a little bit like playing with an elaborate doll house where you can open the fridge and add tiny food and the oven pretends to work. But in case you haven’t already been infected with the quantum distraction power of the Windows 93 browser yet, it might interest you to know that there are music apps inside.
There’s Pd – kinda. (Double-click the icon and it spawns a non-editable patch running in your browser.)
There’s LSDJ, the tracker. It’s omni-platform software that has run more or less everywhere (you cheating skank! town bicycle!), so it makes sense there would be a native Windows 93 version, an OS that never existed.
And there’s Nanoloop, the classic, beautifully-minimal Game Boy music maker that later migrated to iOS and Android (so we didn’t get the pleasure of buying weird hardware from Japan to hack our Nintendo handhelds any more).
Play that and a glitched-out Pokemon plus get and disinfect yourself from computer viruses before you watch an ASCII Star Wars.
It says something about the evolution of net art, here as it’s steeped in layers of history and nerd-hipster irony. (Can I re-launch my campaign to make “nerdster” a thing?) It also might say something practical about how more-powerful browsers really could change the way we share music tools. Native software still seems perfectly safe from the browser; we still use native tools for desktop and mobile. But I’ve yet to see someone make good use of the Web as a teaching tool, or to share work. This is a reminder of what’s possible, hyperlinked to loads of tools and code for developers to explore themselves.
And I bet they would make something absolutely amazing, if I didn’t just destroy their productivity for the rest of the week by sharing … this. Wait, I may have just explained why we haven’t seen more Web tools. You read it here firs– hey, stop double-clicking that dolphin and read, darn it!
Jankenpopp & Zombectro are running the thing,
the Mighty Doctor House is hosting the thing.
Watch the power of science meet the power of improvisation.
You know how TED talks – or even DJing – normally goes. Some omnipotent person stands on stage and everyone watches. Well, this one went a bit differently.
At at a TEDx event mounted by CERN (TEDx are independent of TED, though borrowing the format), Tim Exile took the stage with a live remix.
But keep watching: the beats make the crowd go wild and start dancing, first raving around the floor, then storming the stage. It’s like the nerdiest Boiler Room ever.
Tim Exile has been using this Reaktor rig for years; he dubs it Flow Machine. Here, it samples data center sounds and other nerdy clips, but it’s really Tim’s power to improvise that makes things work. And here’s where spontaneous improvisation can do something that DJing (and most live sets) can’t. The crowd immediately gets what he’s doing, and as Tim told me recently by chat, the improvisatory element is an invitation to join in. There’s literally an element of audience participation, and that’s why people feel freed to let go and dance, even behind him onstage.
I don’t think this idiom has to fit everything. I love being an audience member and getting lost in sound and sight, left alone to my own experience. I even have vivid memories of being terrified of audience participation as a kid. But in a setting like this, there’s a different sort of connection being made that needs to be fun and participatory, and it works. And now I want all TED performances to involve a crowd of people wearing ID badges running up and dancing.
This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. An inventor of electronic instruments and a DJ, Tim Exile recorded sounds from the data centres of the Large Hadron Collider and mixed them with the sound of the audience at TEDxCERN to create a unique audio track. His performance brought the audience dancing onstage.
Tim Exile composes, improvises, and produces electronic music. He also invents and makes the electronic musical instruments. A violinist as a child, his life changed when he first heard house music. Ever since, he has been experimenting and exploring the world of sound with bootleg rave tapes, Djing, programming, drum and bass, before moving onto polished studio productions and creating instruments. Exile has a degree in philosophy and is also an occasional hermit. He has toured the world and released software creations in collaboration with tech music leaders Native Instruments.
About TEDx, x = independently organized event In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)
Let’s admit it: what we all want out of sync is some magic box that just makes everything work. We just want to plug things in, turn a knob, and have everything sync up.
Caveats: we want everything. (USB? DIN? MIDI? Modulars?) And, come to think of it, we probably then start to want to do other fun stuff like shift things around.
That is, not all of us want to write technical papers on the topic. But fortunately, Maximilian Rest did write a paper on it. He then built a jitter-free MIDI clock.
Well, it gets better. First, the midiclock – CDM review coming very soon – added DIN and modular for those of you with extra gear. Second, the MULTI-FORMAT-MASTER-CLOCK is a high-end box, revealed just a few hours ago, that will do even more, for those of you who want sync with all the fixins’.
Current state of development of the new E-RM Erfindungsbüro MULTI-FORMAT-MASTER-CLOCK solution.
• 4 ultra precise channels, derived from DAW audio clock, MIDI or DIN Sync, all separately shiftable and swingable in real time
• Hot-Plug support for MIDI, DIN, Modular Clock & Analog LFO
• Built in MIDI Matrix to dynamically map & merge MIDI channels and events
• unused channels can be used as a MIDI controller
This will I believe put the new product in direct rivalry with Koma Elektronik’s RH301. Sorry, Roland – I have to recommend the RH301 over the AIRA SBX-1. Koma’s 14-point patch bay and rhythmic options are more creative than the AIRA, yet the lovely boutique construction and solid sync performance are available at roughly the same price. (See also the ACME4, though I’m guessing E-RM won’t have that sort of luxury price tag.)
The Koma remains more of a creative tool than the ERM, but the ERM has some rhythmic tricks of its own – for many users, it may be down to performance and utility of design. Will be fun to compare these two Berlin-made boutique boxes when the ERM becomes available.
The original inspiration came from analog delay equipment. But guided by German duo Mouse on Mars, WretchUp transformed into something that fits in your hand on mobile, and gets played by an instrument, producing wild digital sounds.
The WretchUp app is at last available now on the iTunes App Store, working on iPhones and iPods touch (iPhone 4, iPod touch 5th-gen or better). Crowd-funding backers are already receiving their codes and invitations to test new builds, but the general public can try the app right away. I contributed to the development of the app (hence my cameo in the video), so it’s a pleasure to share it now.
It’s hard to describe WretchUp. It’s an effect, yes – but you “play” it like a musical instrument. And the best way to understand that is to watch the film with Mouse on Mars at top – if you watch it closely, we use these demos as a way of showing how the app works.
On the occasion of the 21st birthday of Mouse on Mars, the app embodies the duo’s anarchic approach to sound. With vocals or instruments, it can become its own timbre, an additional part as much as an effect. It can also transform – and wretch up – everything from spoken word to drums. The feedback network is intentionally unruly; switch the mic input to “locked” and you can make it scream with only mic feedback, or adjust feedback from subtle glitches to raucous digital textures.
It’s not that WretchUp makes you sound like Mouse on Mars – it’s that it’s an app that lets you play as freely as they do, however you like. And it’s the first of a series of apps the duo is involved in releasing.
There was some real exploration with the duo of how to make this instrument work live. The trick was to make the interface hold up with the likes of Jan and Andi hyperactively jamming live – controls had to work without the user delicately paying attention to their fingers. That ultimately involved some decisive reduction of interface elements. You “throw” the faders by scrolling them. (Jan and Andi consistently demanded that they could make the app “fast.”) In the default mode, you hold the mic input on by pressing your finger to any of the controls; you can, without looking, shout into the effect. Menu options are carefully hidden so you don’t accidentally trigger them. Nothing you use onstage is left small. And that involved a process of iteration with the duo onstage.
Now, whether or not this same approach appeals to others, we’ll have to see. For my part, I took the app back to the studio and in live improvisations and made sounds that felt like my own.
Pitch-shifted delay with feedback and filter
Unique controls, designed to be used in live performance and tested onstage
Play with gestures, even without looking closely at the screen
Record vocals or instruments from the built-in mic or another input
Sample loops and change their speed
Adjust the feedback loop, pitch, and filter for unique sounds
Make inputs by holding down your finger, or lock input for continuous sampling
In addition to Mouse on Mars’ deep discussion of each interface widget and sonic detail, the app is the result of Florian Grote’s original creation and Pd patch, Rupert Smyth’s unique visual designs. Oliver Greschke completed development I started. Watch for his own Elastic Drums soon, as it’s something I think a lot of us will be using intensively and goes an entirely different direction than this or other iOS drum machines I’ve used, so we’ll be talking about it on CDM.
More is coming. An update is already in the pipeline for approval by Apple. An Android version has begun development. The Pd patch (via libpd) that generates the sound will be released in the next couple of weeks for use in your own creations. And we’re adding Audiobus support, opening up the use of WretchUp in workflows with other apps. Backers will get that Audiobus support first in testing before it goes out to the app store.
But whatever you do with the app or not, it was inspiring to talk to Jan in particular about this idea of bringing creative sound and anarchy to a world as a kind of freedom.
If you want a tiny, well-built box with loads of encoders or knobs, Faderfox has you covered with its latest round of hardware. (Previously, too: faders!) But with the SC4, the Hamburg, Germany-based builder adds something else: a brilliant step sequencer you can use with software or standalone hardware.
Faderfox has two new controllers this month – the knob-laden PC4, which is basically a bunch of pots, and the encoders-with-display SC4. Both work as general-purpose controllers. But the SC4 adds a step-sequencing firmware.
The SC4 then becomes more than just a flexible, do-anything controller. It’s about the most step sequencing power you can get in a small box, at 209€ (249€ in Europe with VAT). It works with software (via USB), but it also is happy to run on its own (via MIDI).
Crucially, it also has a screen, which means you can reliably step sequence pitch and not just rhythm. (Sure, you could blindly twist knobs and come up with something, as many sequencers require you to do, but that can be a bit tricky and leads to loads of wrong notes when playing live.)
That combination of features sets the SC4 ahead of a lot of the competition. Arturia’s BeatStep is cheaper and adds velocity-sensitive pads, but it lacks the more advanced step sequencing and has no screen. DJ TechTools’ MIDI Fighter Twister has a sleek design and 16 encoders instead of 8, but those come at the cost of standalone operation, MIDI, and a display – basically, any of them a deal-killer for use in step sequencing, at least if you work with hardware or (rather than drum patterns) melodies.
Add to that Faderfox’s terrific build-quality (using absurdly nice German parts) and firmware reliability, and I’m keen to review this. An SC4 is on its way to me now, and since I’m presently addicted to adding hardware to live rigs, I can’t wait to report back.
Let’s start with the most exciting bits, the step sequencing on the SC4.
Mathias says the Faderfox SC4 was inspired by the classic Roland M185 sequencer, part of the 100m modular series. (There has been a software emulation of the M185, from Defective Records, too, if you simply can’t get enough.) But the SC4 actually goes further than that original.
You can best follow that in the two videos included here. But what’s clever is that different groups layer different functions. That makes the sequencer more powerful when programming, and more playable when performing live.
You can change length, vary grooves, and create polyrhythms, control synth parameters, and even use the SC4 in conjunction with its probability and variation controls as an “idea generator.” It also makes great use of push-button functions, for things like mute.
Getting around that power requires a lot of potentially-confusing shift-keys and such, but at least they appear clearly silkscreened and it doesn’t appear there’s too much deep-diving to make things happen. I’ll let you know what it’s like actually using it when I test it.
Because you have 8 encoders and not 16, you are visibly limited to 8 steps. Then again, it’s easy to chain patterns, and they’re encoders rather than knobs, so I expect that’s not really an issue in real-world usage. (It’s tough to overstate how small the Faderfoxes, are, too, and they fit beautifully together.)
Watch both videos for a full run-down of what it does, followed by a jam.
Features, in short:
Length, direction controls, subdivisions, transposition, link
Eight group types: note, octave, repeat, CC, accent/link, length/skip and probability.
Set each stage to its own clock. (This is huge, and inspired by the Roland.
Linking in the accent track gives you push-button access to making glide/legato.
Probability track for randomizing/varying parameters and melodies/rhythms.
Separate octave track (nice for basslines, in particular).
Reset button to keep things grooving.
8 patterns * 8 stages = 64 link-able stages.
MIDI clock sync, tempo tap, clock reset, reset counter, nudge.
Sequencer transpose, direction, clock reset, pattern select can be controlled externally via MIDI (for instance, with a keyboard.
So, it does a lot – it does things you didn’t even ask for. And this is embarrassingly better than a lot of the currently-available step sequencing hardware. There’s no CV out, but at this price, analog junkies can afford an adapter (and MIDI is perfectly fine for transmitting sequence data).
This is the step sequencing hardware to watch at the moment, along with two others. First, while it’s nowhere near as compact as the SC4, last week we saw a great sequencer for the Behringer BCR2000. Second, the Digital Warrior project is adding a display and more sequencing powers. I think the DW is a nice counterpart to the SC4: it does Traktor sequencing and lots of layers with a logical control layout, thanks to clever use of its 4×4 grid of pads. I sort of want both at the moment.
And that’s before we get to the controller functions, which are likewise formidable. It’s a universal device that works with anything, from standalone hardware (just add your own USB power adapter) to computers and (with Camera Connection Kit) iPads. It’s already pre-mapped for Ableton Live 8 and 9, but as it’s driverless and generic, you can use it with anything.
No-driver, powered USB connection for MIDI.
MIDI IN, MIDI OUT, with merge.
8 push encoders with detents (approx. 30-pulse resolution
8 LED crowns show current value. Unfortunately, what you can’t do it seems is send LED values – they’re hard-wired to the current settings – so people wanting to do creative Max patching with these might find that one question a limitation. Then again, this covers 90% of what you’d most like to do.
Send CC, pitch bend, program change, or notes – and program it all on the hardware.
128 commands per setup (8 groups for 16 controls.)
Store up to 30 setups, with backup/restore (including patterns).
And it’s tiny – 180x105x70 mm, weighing just 350 g.
So, it’s a MIDI command center for computers or software, and a step sequencer. The only potential gripe you might have would be, maybe you prefer knobs to encoders and don’t care about step sequencing. If so, the new PC4 is for you. It’s in this same small form factor with a bunch of pots instead of LED-ringed encoders.
The PC4 has some clever touches of its own. You get a full 24 pots. But you can also “fast-assign” pots with incoming MIDI messages. And to avoid jumps, you can switch on or off “snap” as you turn the pots. The PC4 is no slouch as a controller, either, with 16 setups. To me, it’s a lot less interesting than the SC4, but if you’ve been longing for a bunch of pots, it’s for you.
I also think that the controller layout could be useful in tools like Ableton Live, since you get three 2×4 arrays of knobs, which maps nicely to Live’s Device Racks. So, as a means of augmenting another controller, it looks potentially useful. It’s also cheaper, at 167€ before VAT. (199€ with VAT included.)
It’s worth checking out the whole Faderfox range. I’ve just purchased a UC3 for myself, a universal fader encoder with pots and different groups, and I absolutely love the thing. In place of lots of fancy auto-mapping controllers, the UC3 is something I can just map the old-fashioned way, with – frankly – less hassle. And I can throw in a bag so I always have nice-feeling faders handy. It’s a bit short on controls with just the eight encoders (and their push-button function isn’t assignable), but then that might mean the UC3 pairs perfectly with the PC4 or SC4.
(some other older hardware has become available again)
I really don’t understand why the Faderfox doesn’t get more attention, apart from it doesn’t come from a big-name maker. The UC3 is simply one of the most-useful pieces of hardware out there at the moment, and a joy to use because the faders are so nice. It’s unambitious and unassuming and … invaluable.
So, stay tuned for a look at the SC4, to see if Faderfox can pull off a sequencer as nicely as it has, for years, done controllers.
And, oh, yeah, did I mention that having generic MIDI control and standalone operation makes hardware about four times as valuable to a lot of us? That, too.
Beautiful 1974 circuitry makes eerie sounds that inspire today.
Oh, sure, the future of the music industry might be U2 showing up in your iTunes or streams of chart-topping hits.
Or, just maybe, the future just for now will be instead weird, humming soundscapes that drone on in a browser tab, generatively faded from decades of performances of a legendary experimental piece.
Option number two may be wildly unrealistic and wholly unviable commercially but – hey, it’s your browser, and you can make that choice happen right now, for free.
Sonic legend Nicolas Collins, sound professor, editor of Leonardo Music Journal, and electronic music inventor, has unveiled his latest creation in Pea Soup to Go. (Mmmm, pea soup. Sorry, it’s wintry, and lunchtime. Getting distracted.)
It takes performances of Collins’ work and pops them into a browser tab. The results are strangely calming, the vibrating frequencies resembling nothing if not singing Tibetan bowls, as horns (and the odd ambient performance noise) dance around like dead leaves in the wind. Lose yourself in sounds eerie and meditative.
The sonic invention here is itself noting, the mournful waves of feedback emanating from a Countryman Model 968 Phase Shifter, 1974 analog circuitry singing at the center of all these performances.
The work turns 40 years of age this year, but seems somehow timeless – good news, that. What was once radical turns out to be familiar, not tired, but enduring.
And modest as this implementation may be, it reveals that these sounds can find new audiences through the Interwebs. That’s reassuring.
Dr. Collins explains:
I am pleased to announce the release of Pea Soup To Go, an open access version of my venerable feedback composition, Pea Soup. Pea Soup To Go is a free streaming audio web application that generates an ever-changing domestic sound art installation on any computer.
Premiered in 1974, Pea Soup creates a self-stabilizing feedback network of microphones and speakers that tunes itself to the architectural acoustics of the space and responds to events—instrumental performances, ambient sounds, human movement, even air currents—with swooping flights of sound. Pea Soup To Go mines decades of performances, including contributions by numerous guest musicians, from around the globe to produce a similarly dreamy soundscape that slowly shifts from key to key as the app shuffles and cross-fades from one recorded space to another.
Pea Soup To Go is being launched on October 24, 2014 — the 40th anniversary of the first performance of Pea Soup.
Point your browser to http://www.nicolascollins.com/peasouptogo/. Auto-shuffle plays endless variations unattended, or click the arrows to jump to the next track. Click “Info” for performance details.
Mixes, like DJs, are everywhere. But the question of how to stand above the crowd has a simple answer: be better. Be consistent, be intelligent, paint a scene. Give humans a reason to listen to you; make algorithms, like unskilled DJs, weep.
And, yes, have a soul.
Ryan Elliott’s mix on Ostgut Ton is simply one of the best such mixes I’ve downloaded this year, and earns a place on some hard drive round here, stored permanently in all its lossless WAV glory, an hour and a half and gig and a half. Strip away the Panorama Bar label, and it still communicates one of those moments in that venue. You can learn something and feel something all at once. It’s an encouraging sign that quality can still endure, that DJs can do things with what producers make that shines light on them and gives them meaning.
I’ve just returned from Amsterdam Dance Event, which is perhaps a microcosm of where dance music is at these days – a very, very huge microcosm. The event is strange in some ways; it’s not that it’s commercial, as it’s got a surprisingly wide range of music and unique venues like the audiovisual-themed events just across the water at Beamlab and EYE. (More on the excellent Paula Temple / Jem the Misfit AV show soon, as well as the results of our 4DSOUND spatial audio collaboration.) But it’s still skewed overall to industry and business, and for all the quality there, the biggest money gets the attention. (Dutch friends were quick to chide me for so much as uttering the name, produced as it is by Buma, a royalty collections agency that has alienated many artists and somehow managed to become more-hated than Germany’s GEMA.)
So all of this brings us back to Berghain/Panorama Bar, which on the weekend of ADE and the weekend following manages to produce similar lineups not because it’s a festival but just that it’s a regular weekend. Commerce and names are subdued, even as the machinery of the club ticks away. Hype is only a problem if it clouds judgment, or it’s undeserved.
Sure, this venue has been talked to death in a way that might ruin most places. The New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, forever a fount of profundity and my all-time hero, famously quoted “No one goes there any more; it’s too crowded.” But, much as New York baseball fans need the Yankees, Europe’s music scene needs Berghain. It’s a place where you can wind up having hours-long conversations with producer friends over ice creams (yes, they serve them, even in winter), then wind up hurting your feet from dancing too much. Artists rub shoulders with DSP engineers making music software. No one should ever pay too much attention to any one place, lest they become myopic, but the feeling those connections produce is important. We need venues that draw us in; we’ve plenty that push us away.
Ryan Elliott nicely sums up Panorama Bar on a day when everything is clicking. There isn’t anything terribly virtuosic here – no special edits or anything like that. And you miss out on the delightful weirdness Panorama sometimes achieves – odd tracks, wonderfully undanceable mixes, and I won’t say anything about the crowd because that’s meant for those inside, not for words.
But what I would say is, this is a good mix precisely because you don’t have to visit Berlin. You can create your own personal club, as you like, with a pair of headphones. (You can also smell fresh and clean and have as much space as you like to dance, which beats any club in the world on some evenings.) It’s not a typical 3-hour set at Panorama. But it says something about Ryan Elliott, about his tastes – deep, dark, soulful, yet precise, calibrated.
And that’s what Ostgut needs to do as a label behind Berghain/Panorama – this steps up Ostgut’s output at a very important time. The club is brilliant; the label as far as international attention has to emerge from that club’s shadow (and shadows). This free gift helps Ostgut to say what it’s about in a way that can stand on its own.
And I think in that sense, it can be a strong template for people making mixes with different things to say, too – even if you’re planning a dark ambient mix or avant-garde noise radio show. I would make the measure this sense of encapsulation, of beginning, middle, and end, of the mix as both a teaser (90 minutes makes you wonder what Elliott does with a full set, what the party is like), and standalone object (you might be happy to devote a gig and a half of precious drive space to it).
Ryan Elliott is a great ambassador, and it’s fantastic to see Ostgut back with long-absent mixes. Elliott has been a regular since 2007; the mix download here suggests a post-CD life for Ostgut.
So, give yourself a nice weekend – anywhere in the world, no entry fee, with your favorite headphones. Enjoy.
Noah Pred didn’t just run his own label. He has run a label that has traced a lot of the finest music of the past years, making its way from Toronto to Berlin. And he did it while juggling his own career as a techno producers’ producer, a DJ’s DJ. At 100 releases, he’s got plenty to say about what that musical journey has meant – and not just the easy bits. I pressed Noah to reflect on what he really thinks of the flow of the music industry’s power and resources to the top, and the conflicts that can happen in trying to keep a label like this going.
And, like any meeting with Noah, there’s plenty of great music to discover along the way – stuff you know, stuff you don’t. Certainly, I’d never be afraid of not being able to name-drop every release; Noah has a way of discovering superb music you wish you had known earlier. So let’s go along for that trip.
If you missed the last seven years, don’t worry. We have not only a chat with Noah, but some music to hear.
There’s a 50-track mix to mark the latest mixes, free to hear. (Track listing below, at bottom.)
And 130+ podcasts to hear, on Mixcloud, which I suppose should cover your next seven years.
“Ah,” you say. “But, I can also read.” Good! Let’s! The music to hear, the life of a label, the effect of global capitalism on our souls – I’d say we’ve got our bases covered.
CDM: 100 releases – there’s a lot here. Walk us through it; where should people start if they’re new the catalog?
It’s difficult to single out specific records when we’ve done this many. I’d like to think there’s a lot of entry points to the catalog. People into more classic techno sounds might discover the label by way of artists like Rennie Foster, Shane Berry or Arthur Oskan, whereas people on more of a deep house vibe might get there through Murr, Canson, or Derek Marin. Fans of rougher upfront sounds could find a path through Deepchild, Alland Byallo or Tonepushers, while those into dubbier stuff could get there through material by Meesha, Evan Marc or Stare5 (a.k.a. Bryan Zentz). Each release is a thread in the label’s fabric.
In particular, I really appreciate some of the artist finds over the years – thinking of cats like Dave Aju and, well, you. Who are some of the artists you’d like people to get to know?
We’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing talent, but I would probably steer people toward some of the lesser-known acts. Auk is a new duo from western Canada with loads of potential. Toronto’s Brian Johnson has a quite unique sound worth checking out. A guy who went by the name Platypus did a couple really special records for us, and two of my favorite releases from the catalog are from a short-lived Canadian duo who went by the name Co-Op.
It’s amazing, too, looking down the artist list, at the network of people who are here and their life beyond Thoughtless. Brendon Moeller, Hrdvsion, Johanna Knutsson, Kate Simko, Lando, Maceo Plex, Mike Shannon, Rick Bull, Qzen, Stewart Walker, Tim Xavier, XI, just pulling down the list. I’m not name dropping; these trigger memories, musical and social, people I keep bumping into… what is the role of community in that way? Does it mean something different to you that you have had them involved in the label?
I’ve always thought of it as a family, and yeah, as an extended community as well I guess. With all the artists and remixers we’ve been able to work with over the years, the label has brought a lot of people together. I knew some people on the label for years before ever working on a release with them, others I met through the label and then became good friends – there’s a wide range of relationships there.
Looking back, that’s one of my favorite aspects of the label: how many good and talented people have connected through it; lots of them have even gone on to work together in other capacities. And especially with all the Thoughtless events – where there’s always a family vibe – we’ve had some great times over the years.
Label head and producer – this is a lot to juggle. It’s pretty obvious how they conflict, but how has it influenced your work?
As a DJ, there’s few moments more exciting than dropping a new track from the label before anyone else has heard it or has it – it’s a thrill I’ve always looked forward to. But as a producer, it’s been tricky. Running a label, you have to hone your critical skills and maintain your version of quality control at all times. Applying the same critical approach to my own music has maybe improved my production, but it’s also made me second guess myself out of more and more decisions. I’d like to be able to move past that a bit and get back to a more natural, less mediated relationship with my own material.
We’ve talked a lot about the struggles independent music faces these days. Part of the dance music scene really is becoming an industry the likes of which the planet has never seen before. So let’s talk the dark side: what are the obstacles independent labels face now? Are there bright spots? Are there things that need to change for imprints like yours, artists like these to thrive?
Sure, there’s bright spots – plenty of talent being exposed that may never have seen the light of day in previous incarnations of the music industry; at the same time, there’s plenty of bright talent losing inspiration from the struggle to get noticed above the ever-growing fray of mediocrity.
In my view, most of the problems in the music industry are more deeply entrenched than people tend to realize. The music industry has always been tied up in a recursive relationship with technology, most noticeably during the past couple decades, and everyone’s been more or less trying to adapt in real-time. Those with knowledge or prescience of upcoming technological advances are best equipped to take advantage of emerging market forces.
Having said all that, I don’t see any of the fundamental problems in the music industry being solved until people are ready to collectively step back and ask what the purpose of all this competing infrastructure really is: what are we ultimately trying to achieve? Who does this infrastructure really serve? What problems are we trying to solve, in terms of cultural development, music delivery, and adequate compensation? Are the models currently in place serving those aims, or do we need to retool everything from the ground up?
The system now in place seems to remain fairly slanted towards the consolidation of capital, and many of the problems within the music industry tend to spring from assumptions built into the overall economic system – as above, so below. I think it’s crucial not to view or discuss the music industry in isolation, as though it exists in some kind of vacuum. Large-scale cultural changes may be necessary before we have a system in place that truly works for artists and fans.
I know the engineers building the services we rely on read CDM. What are the best tools right now in terms of getting music out there — not just producing, but on the distribution side? Where is there a place for new tools?
Well, I probably don’t need to talk about music production tools here – you’ve already got those bases covered and then some. But if you’re asking about label management tools, I’ve seen some promising platforms in development that’ll go a long way to helping those with big workloads get a lot of the administrative details handled more efficiently so they can focus on the creative, big-picture stuff.
However – much like the democratization of studio and distribution technology – those very tools pose a classic double-edged sword scenario: while they’re designed to help overworked labels manage their catalog, they also stand to make it even easier for peddlers of mediocrity to further dilute an already crowded marketplace with subpar output.
Keep in mind this notion that simply because you wrote and recorded a song it should automatically be made available to everyone everywhere is a relatively new concept, and an arguably narcissistic one at that. On the other hand, the idea of quality control is dangerously subjective; everyone has their own version of quality.
Instead, I would urge prospective (and existing) label owners to simply ask themselves whether their music is essential for mass dissemination – and if not, would their time, energy and resources be better spent in further development, or maybe even redirected to other fields? It’s a question I’ve begun to grapple with, and try to ask myself every day.
Track listing for that mix at top:
Seven years deep, Thoughtless marks our milestone 100th release with the second installation in our ERA mix-CD series. Featuring 49 tracks each handpicked from our previous 49 releases, one track per release – along with an exclusive new track, We Bug, from label boss Noah Pred to make fifty tracks total – the compilation is mixed by Pred himself. Weaving an expansive array of output through a dynamic narrative that highlights a number of the label’s recent accomplishments, ERA TWO serves to both expose and reinforce the label’s wide-ranging yet coherent aesthetic…
01 Ruoho Ruotsi – Waiting For Troll [TLM053]
02 Arthur Oskan – Use No Good [TLM052]
03 Daniel Ray – Warm Black [TLM078]
04 Co-Op – To Life V1 [TLM064]
05 Ethan Borshansky – Zag [TLM062]
06 Brian Johnson – All Of The Time (Tom Clark Remix) [TLM065]
07 Tomas Jirku – Solaris 2002 (Kenneth Scott Remix) [TLM089]
08 Stone Owl – Planet X [TLM070]
09 Android Cartel – Terminal (Billy Dalessandro Remix) [TLM082]
10 Arthur Oskan – Exit Strategy (Marc Houle Remix) [TLM071]
11 Deepchild – I Woke And You Were Smiling (Falko Brocksieper Remix) [TLM075]
12 Noah Pred – Left Unsaid [TLM077]
13 Derek Marin – We’ve Been Expecting You (Hreno’s Deep Pockets Dub) [TLM066]
14 Platypus – The Streets Have A Voice (Joachim Spieth Remix) [TLM072]
15 Stone Owl – CBD [TLM094]
16 Deepchild – The Suffering Ones (Tim Xavier Remix) [TLM055]
17 Metalogic – Dark Shines [TLM056]
18 Jason Short – Zone Of Middle Dimensions [TLM073]
19 Rennie Foster – Perimeter Abstract (John Norman Main Remix) [TLM099]
20 Lock Smith – Settle Down Na (Dave Aju Remix) [TLM098]
21 Deepchild – Riyadh (Deadbeat Remix) [TLM068]
22 Deepchild – The Suffering Ones (Gingy & Bordello Remix) [TLM057]
23 Santini & Tellez – Lost Thoughts [TLM059]
24 Danielle Nicole – True Romance (Roberto Remix) [TLM090]
25 Nigel Richards – Deeeeep [TLM058]
26 Noah Pred – Circles & Circles feat. Rosina (Joel Mull Hypno Dub) [TLM085]
27 Shane Berry – Akaforme [TLM074]
28 Deepchild – Safe Passage [TLM087]
29 Rennie Foster – Legionnaire (Exercise One Remix) [TLM081]
30 Simon Beeston & Andi Numan – Freaks Back [TLM096]
31 Arthur Oskan – Back In Black [TLM092]
32 Murr – Dive Into The Deepest feat. Rosina (Maceo Plex Remix) [TLM088]
33 Derek Marin – Being Sleazy (Alexi Delano Remix) [TLM084]
34 Alland Byallo – Blunderlust [TLM079]
35 Dave Vega – In A Chord With Something [TLM051]
36 Bryan Zentz – The Sprawl [TLM060]
37 Noah Pred – Monotasking (Brendon Moeller Digital Resketch) [TLM063]
38 Daniel Ray – Night Watchman (Pheek Remix) [TLM061]
39 Deepchild – Neukölln Burning [TLM069]
40 Signal Deluxe – Zero Seven (Reverse Commuter Remix) [TLM091]
41 Phantom Ambulance – Medicine (Dactilar Remix) [TLM054]
42 Brian Johnson – Time Will Tell [TLM080]
43 Deepchild – Slave Driver (Mihai Popoviciu Remix) [TLM097]
44 Canson – Don’t Stop [TLM076]
45 Noah Pred – We Bug [TLM100]
46 Noah Pred – Your Signal feat. Marc Deon (Steven Tang Remix) [TLM093]
47 Auk – Afraid To Fly [TLM095]
48 Noah Pred – Third Culture [TLM086]
49 Platypus – Soft Spoken Trees [TLM067]
50 Murr – Sacred Ground feat. Rosina [TLM083]