Posts by Peter Kirn:

Check out this ultra-limited, monochrome “design” synth

Would we love synthesizers if they were a little, well, nuts?

And, by extension, don’t we love them even more if they’re a lot crazy instead of a little?

If that’s how you feel, you’ll love the 20. Everything about it screams sex appeal. Apart from luxe materials, this is finally a synth that looks like someone kidnapped Dieter Rams to do the panel design. And the “20” is a reference to how limited it’ll be – twenty black, twenty silver. But if you’re Darth Vader, you really do need those black keys with black body. I mean… why did you work so hard to get to where you are otherwise?

Yeah, that's actually a serial number at the top.

Yeah, that’s actually a serial number at the top.


The 20 is the creation of esoteric synth genius Axel Hartmann. This is the designer who gave us one of the craziest synths of all time – the neural network-powered Hartmann Neuron, which is still beloved by a handful of devotees. But if BT, Peter Gabriel, and Hans Zimmer were finding their Neuron was getting a bit lonely, you can bet they’re on the preorder list for the 20. (Hmmm.. um, make that “17/20.”)

Some of the legacy of the Neuron is here – in an instrument that I think is genuinely more practical and more desirable. You do get a sample set pulled from the Neuron, for one (minus the interface, though that may be a feature, not a bug).

And the rest sounds nice, too:

Waldorf / Sledge synth engine
SPL “Supra Op-Amp” audio technology (maybe someone can enlighten me here – not sure what makes these supra Op-Amps, but I’ll bite)
Aluminum shell, milled from a single block – oh, sure, easy for Apple, but not something you generally get in boutique synths
“Collapsable, milled ultra thin aluminum panel” – this bit is especially nice, keeping a low profile
Acrylic-glass switches — yes, you read that right, switches
Pure aluminum knobs and wheels

Custom wooden case.

Custom wooden case.


And there’s that monochrome keybed, all black Fatar.

It’s luxury, in other words, but there’s still a rational reason to use it.

And it sounds lovely. Here are some videos posted this week. I don’t know why they didn’t do a proper record, either. Tell you what, if you’re a potential customer, just go visit them. I’m sure they’re up for it.

All that, and it comes in a custom, wooden case that doubles as a flight case – no cardboard packaging here.

Made in Germany – down to the case. Of course.

All of this can be yours for the low, low price of … 20,000€, or if you’re Has Zimmer, “a few Euros.” Then again, if Europe falls apart, that may be price competitive with a Korg minilogue soon (he gulps, nervously in Berlin).

Actually, that sounds absurd, but if you actually calculated the real worth of a prototype synth, it’d be astronomical. Scale is what gets price down to what you can afford.

Anyway, assuming I have more than forty readers, this isn’t a synth you’re going to buy anyway. It’s one you’re going to imagine on your own personal Death Star in your dreams. I know that’s my plan. Don’t change a thing, Axel – we love you just the way you are.

“20” synth on Facebook

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Watch ten hours of Reason 9 presets, played on a road trip

Included sounds: if you care about them, you probably care about them a lot. Now, to some of us, sound design is an essential part of the pleasure of music making. Give us an INIT preset and let us muddle our way to making something work – even badly. But then there are people who don’t enjoy that, or simply don’t have the luxury. (You do not want to fall down a sound programming rabbit hole when you’ve got a TV score deadline looming on the clock.) And so the folks who make music software routinely focus on lots of built-in sounds as a selling point.

Well, Propellerhead have certainly found a novel way of marketing that feature.

If you’re ever skeptical of claims of “hundreds” or “thousands” of new sounds (and I think you should be), the Swedes are out to actually prove they’ve packed Reason 9 with sounds.

They’ve built a passenger side keyboard rig (using a CME slim keyboard), and jam through a full thousand presets as they head east through the desert out of LA. (Okay, I know the American market is big, but it’s a shame they didn’t take this road show from Stockholm up into the Lapland. Had they gone through some ReFills, though, I think they would have actually run out of Swedish road and had to board a ferry to Norway or something.)

It’s… entertaining.

And stunt while it may be, some of those sounds sound good.

It seems I caught some flak from people skeptical of Reason in the last comment thread. But this kind of demonstrates to me why Reason endures: it’s just a very, very consistent product, in a way that a lot of users can understand. That’s not to say niche players like Bitwig Studio or Usine or … wow, did no one mention Renoise this time … uh, aren’t cool. In fact, technically speaking, I find each of those in some instances more interesting. But Reason’s back catalog of sounds and ReFills and years of loyal users explain why this is still a market-leading program. (Oh, another thing: usually if people are complaining about a piece of software, it indicates it’s popular … either in their own usage, or people around them.)


Why you should care that Reason 9 just arrived

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A report from the futuristic Continuum Fingerboard’s first Con

The 19th Century was the century of the piano. The 20th Century, for all its innovation, still saw the piano keyboard as the dominant interface for all those new sounds. But the 21st Century finally looks to offer some choice.

And so it’s high time for the Continuum Fingerboard to get its day. The instrument allows you to find pitch as you can on a piano keyboard, but with expressive continuous control both in pressure and position – letting you bend pitch and shape sound more fluidly. Now having inspired instruments like the ROLI Seaboard (and with ROLI raking in investment money), the Continuum earlier this month got its own festival/convention, called – of course – ContinuuCon.

And what a gathering it was. Electronic music instrument enthusiast Chris Stack (of has brought us a full report.

ContinuuCon saw the devoted following of the unique instrument. That included inventor Dr. Lippold Haken and Edmund Eagan, who built a synthesis engine to match (EaganMatrix, sounding like something mentioned on the engineering deck of the Enterprise on Star Trek). But since the event was held in Asheville, North Carolina, it also brought lush mountain scenery as backdrop and plenty of major American tech names – including the Bob Moog Foundation (since Dr. Moog brought his company to the town), as well as modular makers Make Noise – plus artists from as far away as India.

Overview film:

Now, none of this is relevant if you can’t play the thing, so let’s start with an introduction to playing techniques:

Here’s a look at the history of the instrument with the inventor – a must-watch for anyone delving into electronic instrument history or design and engineering of alternative instruments:

The Continuum is exceptional, but it’s not alone. So to appreciate continuous pitch-space instruments in the larger context, we can turn to Dr. Tom Rhea. If that name is vaguely familiar, Dr. Rhea was not only a former Moog marketing manager (as was our friend Chris), but also a Berklee professor — and he wrote the original Minimoog Model D users manual and it intimately familiar with the birth of the modern commercial synth.

Dr. Rhea walks us through that larger history. Yes, of course you’ll get Good Vibrations – but more than just that.

(Wow, this makes a nice companion to John Chowning talking about the birth of FM; we’re getting a proper history lesson in June.)

Speaking of history, with Tony Rolando of Make Noise in the house, of course we’re treated to a review of how the so-called West Coast and East Coast synthesis approaches are shaping up (named for the different modular approaches centered around Buchla and Moog systems):

The Continuum isn’t itself a standalone instrument; it becomes a playable object once combined with software. And you need something to make sounds worthy of the interface – something to exploit that ability to be expressive. So that makes the deep modular software that goes with the Continuum significant. Here’s a look, also from its creator:

The tendency toward the conventional 88-key keyboard and its descendants comes, of course, in part from musicians trained to play music that suits that idiom. So it’s nice to see Pallav Pandya, whose music bridges India (he was even a top player and band leader for Bollywood) and classical Indian music with Western music and jazz. His dream of a fretless keyboard is realized in the Continuum; here’s a short video of how he makes use of it:

The full lineup:

Performers, sound designers, composers and electronic music enthusiasts who attended ContinuuCon explored this uniquely expressive instrument through concerts, workshops, lectures and more. Dr. Lippold Haken, inventor of the Continuum, and Edmund Eagan, developer of the Continuum’s synthesis engine EaganMatrix, were among those sharing their knowledge and musical talents.
With sponsors including the Bob Moog Foundation and modular synthesizer manufacturer Make Noise, the event opened with a reception at the Make Noise Factory and included an evening concert, and a dinner (with multiple jam sessions) at Streamside.
ContinuuConcert performers included:

Rob Schwimmer (NYC) : – Composer-pianist/keyboardist, thereminist, vocalist and Continuum player who has performed and recorded throughout the world. He has worked with Simon and Garfunkel, Wayne Shorter, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Chaka Khan, Laurie Anderson, Bette Midler, Queen Latifah, and many more.

Edmund Eagan (CANADA) – Composer/sound designer for film and video. Award winning productions include a Canadian television Gemini award for the music in the animated production “The Woman Who Raised a Bear as Her Son”, a Gemini for CBC’s “The Health Show”, and Gemini nominations for the music in the film “Curiosities” and in the Man Alive documentary “Beyond Belief”. Recipient of multiple SOCAN awards in film and television.

Sally Sparks (ASHEVILLE) Sally’s interest in electronic music came early where her study of classical piano intersected with growing up in a NASA town full of rocket scientists (including her dad). She got her first synthesizer with the introduction of Roland’s SH-1000 and within a few years was playing a number of great instruments, including the highly expressive Yamaha CS-80. A more recent quest for even more expressive control of electronic instruments brought her to the Continuum. Today she works from her studio at Streamside Sound but occasionally ventures out for live performances in a variety of musical styles. Sally performs on Continuum in electronic music settings with Yonder (duo with Chris Stack) and Waveformation (with Chris, Greg Waltzer and Geary Yelton) as well as solo performances. She has recently been touring with Grammy winning acoustic duo Al Petteway and Amy White.

Pallav Pandya (INDIA) – Pallav Pandya is among the pioneers of Indian Style synthesiser sound design. He dreamed of a fretless keyboard at an early age as it was difficult to express “Gayaki” in keyboards. He has studied Jazz from Mumbai based American musician Dee Wood (Guitarist). Passionate for creating new sounds in synthesisers, his explorations took him to become the advisor in the design of Yamaha keyboards for Indian samples. Pallav has performed in 40+countries, was group leader for Bollywood Legend Sonu Nigam, and keyboard player for Asha Bhosle. He has played for Bollywood movies including “Rush” song Mumkin Nahi, film Hunter’s song Bachpan bhi tha, and many more.

Wayne Kirby (ASHEVILLE) Wayne attended Juilliard, where he pursued composition studies and was a student of New York Philharmonic double bassist Frederick Zimmerman and bass virtuoso Gary Karr. While at Juilliard, Kirby formed a rock group with singer/actor Deborah Harry (later of Blondie). After recording two albums on Capitol Records—and sharing the bill with Jimi Hendrix, Leslie West (Mountain), Traffic, Bette Midler, Spooky Tooth, Rhinoceros, et al—Kirby left the group to pursue work as a performer, composer, arranger and conductor in New York theater, television, and records. From the late 1960s until the early 1980s, Kirby wrote arrangements and conducted for television shows including the Tonight Show, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and Julie Andrews shows.

Cameras: Geary Yelton, Chris Stack, John Schwenk
Editing: Chris Stack
ContinuuConcert Visuals: Greg Waltzer
Special thanks to: The Bob Moog Foundation, Make Noise, Hong Waltzer, Lora Tannenholz, The Altamont Theater and all the ContinuuCon attendees and guests.

Plus, pictures:






All photos: Chris Stack.

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That dreamy Dave Smith OB-6 is now in desktop form

Be relieved, budget-constrained synth addicts. Now, instead of coveting the OB-6 six-voice analog synthesizer in keyboard form and working out what you’d need to sell to get it, you can … covet the OB-6 six-voice analog synthesizer in desktop form and work out what you’d need to sell to get it.

Or, alternatively, if you have extra money lying around, you can get twelve-voice polyphony by chaining two OB-6 together — like, for instance, a desktop unit and a keyboard unit. I say if you can’t presently afford that, you should fire your booking agent. (“But I have two kids!” “Don’t care. Some blog told me I don’t have enough gear.”)

But – hey, wait a minute. That single six-voice synth is now starting to look like a pretty good buy. US$2,299 is the projected minimum advertised price for the USA. That’s not exactly cheap, but at that price you get a deep, versatile synth with six voices you could use for more or less everything – at a price that starts to compete with some two-voice analog models.


And it is something special – enough so to talk about it again. It’s got a beautifully designed front panel, worthy of the “knob-per-function” advertisement. And it has a sound engine inspired by one of the more unique synths in history, the Oberheim SEM. And that’s worth saying,because it sounds really, really good. It’s also I think an eminently playable design. And it’s great that in 2016, synth news involves a collaboration between Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim.

It also marks the beginning of what I hope will be a trend.

Desktop versions.

Especially as people start to assemble hardware studios again, having to buy the keyboard manual all over again is a bit bonkers.

Plus, the OB-6 in desktop form is really portable – a hair under 6 kg (13 lb).

So… wait. Maybe I do need to work out how to buy one. It’s coming early fall.

The price may change – I suppose the UK could secede from the EU, California could leave the US, Trump could detach the US from Earth and rocket it into space – you know, probably in any of those scenarios, you’ll really want an OB-6 to unwind, so I’m not going to worry about a slight change in MAP. Looking forward to the fall.



Speaking of Dave Smith, Dave and friends, not to detract from the OB-6, but I heard a newer model Prophet (was it actually the Prophet ’08?) at the James Blake concert at Sónar. And it sounded utterly beautiful. It’s wonderful when an electronic instrument can sound as sweet as a talented singer.

Dave did a great interview where he talked about his favorite music and his take on synths and history.

We live in wonderful times with some wonderful inventors around.

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Berlin warms up for techno and visuals in a Portuguese castle

Techno lineups don’t have to be scraped off of the top of DJ charts and Google searches. And visuals don’t have to look like a screensaver that got drunk. Festival Forte, set for the end of August at the castle of Montemor-o-Velho, between Porto and Lisbon on the Portuguese coast, is a glimpse of something different. Already last year, it ran against the grain of dumbed down summer festivals with some of the bleeding edge of concert visuals, set to an exceptional lineup. And it appears to be set to do that again.

So, let’s check in on what’s happening – and, even if you aren’t near a castle or Berlin or anything of the sort, give you some taste.

If you are in Berlin, don’t miss our chance to get you on the guest list – scroll down.

Festival Forte runs 26-28 August. We’re waiting for some news on what’s happening in visuals. (I’m keen to hear, even though I’ll be in a residency on an island off the coast of Finland.)

For a sense of the visual atmosphere, here’s a post-2015 video wrap:

Festival FORTE 2015 _ Visuals Report from OlgaStudio on Vimeo.

For more, our photo at the top comes from excellent French scene site SweetLife, who did an extensive photo essay from 2015 (meaning if you have forgotten all your high school French, kids, you’ll do fine – pictures!):

We can tell you the 2016 music lineup: Berghain residents Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann, RØDHÅD – of course. But you also get Trade (that’s Blawan and Surgeon, which is a pretty insane duo), Truncate, Helena Hauff, Apparat, Silent Servant, Kobosil, Ancient Methods, Konstantin, plus Portugal’s own Rui Vargas. There’s the new Ben Frost show with live visual / live cinema star MFO to open, and the legendary Cabaret Voltaire (who were exceptional when I heard them at Atonal – not always the case with our heroes from the past).

But let’s not wait until August, anyway. Thursday night the 23rd of June in Berlin, there’s an open-air warm-up at Ipse. And – lucky us, since German weather in June can be anything but warm – the weather should be perfect. So it’s a chance to prove that music like Ancient Methods need not be experienced whilst huddled in dark basements from a bracing winter blizzard after all. Like, you know, hard techno and sunshine?

If you can’t make it to Berlin, just get some loud speakers, head out doors, and – we’ve got you covered.

Born deep in east Germany and raised as a kid in Berlin, Subjected is about as good an embodiment of German techno as you’ll find. Here’s a terrific live set from Suicide Club (nee Suicide Circus) well worth your heavy garden party we’ve just encouraged you to have (sorry, neighbors):

Subjected is known, too, for his Vault Series:

Ancient Methods is just one of my favorite DJs and producers. I could say something more intelligent than that, but I can’t say anything about Germany or techno or Ancient Methods quite as nicely as this fantastic cut (which oddly, I still haven’t heard anyone play out except me, but maybe he’ll do it tomorrow):

Seems like that needs its own music video rather than just a still image. Someone? (The actual EP is here.)

Of course, just gathering the Berlin regulars isn’t terribly new. So what’s special about Forte is that it can connect to Portugal. For that, look to Expander, who has used Portugal’s underground as a base from which to play around the planet. And – having been talking to a number of people about this phenomenon this week – that I know for many is the dream. This is the sort of character who manages to wire into the international scene and join the jet set. And his music holds up to that:

It’s not enough to just do some decent production and DJing, though. Expander’s Soniculture (find it on Facebook) is a label, it’s management and booking, it’s consulting, it’s a venue, and – back to the original topic – it’s this festival, curated and directed by Expander.

But that’s I think the new baseline. The people who are making it now on the highly competitive international scene are essentially Transformer-robots of men and women capable of doing all things at once. It’s a tall order, but – it’s fun when you watch people make it work.

And it’ll be fun to watch them tomorrow.

If you are near Berlin and have a Thursday night free, CDM can help you and your +1 with guest list – enter our giveaway by joining us on Facebook.

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This amp and FX pack shows what you can do with Reason

In music software, you have things that are modular, and things that aren’t. Modular environments like Reaktor and Max/MSP let you build things from scratch with essentially unlimited flexibility. DAWs tend to lock you into fairly rigid options for how you combine different instruments, effects, and other tools.

Well, Reason sits somewhere in between. Every virtual synth, effect, and signal tool can be patched into another in a single, integrated environment – even as it still remains a production tool with a timeline and mixer (or mixers). In a great example of why that’s cool, hard-core Reason expert Marco Raaphorst shares his latest creation, a powerful set of amp and effect tools.

It’s called Rockmen. Delivered as a ReFill, Rockmen includes nine guitar amp simulation presets, plus 71 additional tools for modulation, saturation, delay, and the like.

But inside the custom AMP Combinator device that acts as bedrock of this ReFill, everything is just built-in Reason devices. It’s the EQ/filter, compression, and saturation you know. But Marco spent over a year combining those into something that sounds like his favorite tube amp.


That might seem like something stale or removed from amps, but it’s quite the opposite – even without a single impulse response, you get a warm, realistic amp sound. Marco tells us he was inspired by the 1982 Rockman device, designed by Tom Sholz. Starting with that as a spark, Marco has built a new, dynamic animal.

What I enjoy about this is, for $15 you get a whole set of signal processing tools – and one you can take apart to appreciate Reason devices you might take for granted, in a whole new light.

Patching devices in hardware remains a great joy. But Reason and people like Marco also remind us just how much we can have fun in the box.

Marco also makes some really lovely music and frequently shares that work with Creative Commons licenses.

Oh, by the way, if you want to expand Reason more, there’s also the option of Propellerhead’s “Rigs” bundles … which let you stock up on a bunch of devices at a vastly discounted price. Curious if any of you are using these.

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Why you should care that Reason 9 just arrived

Reason 9 is here, updating that singular virtual rack of instruments and effects combined with song recording and arrangement. And a quick look at the features will likely have some people saying “fine, sure, but my DAW can already do that.”

But – exactly. And also – can it, really? Because Reason has a of doing things in a, well, Reason-y way – one that keeps its die-hard fans uniquely loyal. And it sometimes has a way of doing things best.

Reason 9’s feature list should at least satisfy existing users, with some new stuff that could change how you work. It continues Reason’s long march toward doing things that DAWs do. It also continues to do so in a way that is ruggedly, stubbornly consistent with earlier releases.

I need more time to do a full review. But I’m impressed already with the new additions to Devices, as well as the sound quality of the pitch editing engine.

Why this upgrade matters:

Reason is the one mainstream production workstation that’s patchable. Remember when modular was a niche thing? Now, from hardware Eurorack to software environments like Softube’s virtual module or Reaktor 6’s Blocks, it seems patch cords are as ubiquitous as faders. Reason has had patch cords since version 1.0, and that means all its virtual devices can be combined and re-combined however you like – even as rival environments make something as simple as sidechaining a major chore.

That means anything Reason adds in terms of Devices becomes instantly more flexible than it is in competing DAWs. (See the MIDI devices, below.)

Adjust intonation, change pitches, and adjust vibrato with monophonic audio sources - natively in Reason 9.

Adjust intonation, change pitches, and adjust vibrato with monophonic audio sources – natively in Reason 9.

You can now natively change the pitch of audio. The dream of editing audio pitches as easily as MIDI is basically as old as MIDI. We’ve been waiting for a DAW to really get this right. We’ve watched some half-assed implementations, and we’ve seen DAW makers try to bake Celemony into their DAW – which gives them a pretty decent environment, but generally crippled in functionality and not native to the DAW. Well, now Reason has gone all in.

All the usual features for monophonic lines are there – adjusting intonation, changing pitch entirely, adjusting vibrato, and for light edits, heavy fixes, or experimental uses. You’ll still want Celemony for polyphony, but it’s nice to see it integrated here.

My first impressions were really good, and more experienced Reason users I’ve talked to have been absolutely blown away. This could be a reason to dive into Reason again, no doubt.

Audio to MIDI converts audio to notes. Also monophonic – but this is fun for singing in lines, for instance, rather than playing them. Also, cough, this easily bests Ableton Live’s terrible, overly ambitious audio to MIDI features. (But side note to Ableton: please don’t fix that, or at least leave a “terrible mode” switch – it’s so bad, it’s good, in that you can generate unexpected musical materials.)

The three "Players" give you some powerful options for transforming MIDI.

The three “Players” give you some powerful options for transforming MIDI.

It’s got new note-transforming devices. Dubbed “Player” devices, three devices focus on MIDI.

1. Note Echo: rhythmic, pitched delays, rolls, and the like.
2. Scales & Chords: monophony and polyphony, they are … things.
3. Dual Arpeggio: well, two arpeggiators. But that means you can make polyrhythms, and each on its own is powerful.

Do other DAWs have this? Yep. Can you patch into them? Nope. And there are some other nice details here (weirdly a lot of DAW arpeggiators are … not terrific); I’ll cover this in the review later this summer.

Propellerhead obviously care about them, as they recently did a full live stream to show them off:

There’s a dual channel LFO, free. Pulsar was one of the better devices for the Rack when Propellerhead released it – but now you get it free instead of shelling out fifty bucks. That may anger people who did purchase it, but I think it’s reassuring: for anyone who thought Reason would become an empty shell and you’d have to buy all the new devices, App Store style, that’s clearly not what’s happening.

And let’s say again: modular patching. It’s the business. LFOs just aren’t as flexible in any other DAW, because you have to deal with restrictive routings.

There’s finally a dark theme. Black is the new black.

Bounce in place. Augh. Yes. This one is huge for me – you can finally bounce in place to quickly create audio clips from soft synths. Oh, and … wait a minute. Then you could edit that with the new pitch editor and … hold on. I may have to go seriously abuse these features.

Reverse MIDI and automation with a click. Also clever and creative.

Split notes with the Razor tool – as you would audio. Necessary.

And there are 1000 new sound presets, though… c’mon, let’s make our own! Who needs sleep?

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Ruismaker is an iOS drum synth that feels like hardware, works like a plug-in

Software drum machines aren’t kingmakers the way hardware is. So Bram Bos of Eindhoven is not a household name the way, say, certain hardware makers are. But back in the 90s, Bram’s HammerHead Rhythm Station was one of the first pieces of software that showed what a drum machine in software could be.

Flash forward to 2016. Bram is here with an iOS app that’s all drum synth – no samples. And while that puts it in a category with some other apps, it takes a slightly different approach.


First, Bram advertises it as “the most hands-on” option for iOS. The UI is designed like hardware – and that means literally. Bram was already prototyping hardware with a Raspberry Pi as the guts. So what you get in the iOS design is something that is, on screen, laid out and sized in the same way as hardware would be. That makes it very much unlike a plug-in to use, because you don’t just use the touchscreen as a window to a bunch of software parameters.

Second, though, it is really a plug-in. While there are other great instruments on iOS, like Elastic Drums (also a drum synth), Ruismaker operates as an AU plug-in. So that means you can drop it into software DAWs like Steinberg’s Cubasis or Apple’s GarageBand (each now pretty powerful options). I really hope Bram uses AU cross-compatibility and makes a desktop version, too, as I really like the idea of projects being portable between mobile and desktop. (Like the iPad as I do, sorry, the laptop is where stuff gets finished.)

Third, and actually the reason to use it, Bram has taken a very particular approach to sound. There’s a separate synth model for each instrument type, modeling the analog circuitry you would expect out of a drum machine. So you get a combination of models that’s particular to Bram’s own vision of how such an instrument should sound – and that’s good.

All of this comes together in a vision that’s really playable. Bram says he’s made it very efficient, so you can run lots of plug-in instances on your iPad, and still get low-latency audio.

If you’re curious about that hardware project and where it went (plus where it’s going), that’s covered in an elaborate blog post that I think will be interesting to developers.

Ruismaker — What’s happening [Medium @brambos]

But right now, this is another excellent choice for the iPad. And it’s just US$4.99.

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A composition you can only hear by moving your head

“It’s almost like there’s an echo of the original music in the space.”

After years of music being centered on stereo space and fixed timelines, sound seems ripe for reimagination as open and relative. Tim Murray-Browne sends us a fascinating idea for how to do that, in a composition in sound that transforms as you change your point of view.

Anamorphic Composition (No. 1) is a work that uses head and eye tracking so that you explore the piece by shifting your gaze and craning your neck. That makes for a different sort of composition – one in which time is erased, and fragments of sound are placed in space.

Here’s a simple intro video:

Anamorphic Composition (No. 1) from Tim Murray-Browne on Vimeo.

I was also unfamiliar with the word “anamorphosis”:

Anamorphosis is a form which appears distorted or jumbled until viewed from a precise angle. Sometimes in the chaos of information arriving at our senses, there can be a similar moment of clarity, a brief glimpse suggestive of a perspective where the pieces align.

Tech details:

The head tracking and most of the 3D is done in Cinder using the Kinect One. This pipes OSC into SuperCollider which does the sounds synthesis. It’s pretty much entirely additive synthesis based around the harmonics of a bell.

I’d love to see experiments with this via acoustically spatialized sound, too (not just virtual tracking). Indeed, this question came up in a discussion we hosted in Berlin in April, as one audience member talked about how his perception of a composition changed as he tilted his head. I had a similar experience taking in the work of Tristan Perich at Sónar Festival this weekend (more on that later).

On the other hand, virtual spaces will present still other possibilities – as well as approaches that would bend the “real.” With the rise of VR experiences in technology, the question of point of view in sound will become as important as point of view in image. So this is the right time to ask this question, surely.

Something is lost on the Internet, so if you’re in London, check out the exhibition in person. It opens on the 25th:

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Novation’s iOS app updates do Link, let you ditch the laptop

The iPad (and iPhone) are starting to look like the ultimate jamming devices – mobile, connected, and ready to play. And it’s doing what laptops can, in a less awkward form factor. Back-to-back updates from Novation are bringing their apps closer to that reality, today. Now, Novation are rubbing shoulders with Ableton in some wireless jam sessions set up at Barcelona’s SONAR Festival today. But what we’re talking about opens up possibilities for both use cases – laptops playing with iPads, and iPads replacing laptops.

First, let’s talk last week’s Blocs Wave Sections. Blocs Wave is a new and really elegant app that lets you mess about with audio in an improvisatory way. So far, so good – “but, but, but…” that initial release was missing just a few details that might turn this app from “oh, cool” to “oh, I actually will start using that in my workflow right now.”

First: Ableton Link – which is fast becoming the glue that pulls together everything else you use, and a must-have feature if you want your app to be something people use day to day.

Actually, Link alone means you can use Blocs Wave as an instantly synced sound-mangling instrument.

But there’s more:


Export stems and mixes offline, to the laptop. (Weirdly, what makes the iPad replace your laptop is very often the ability to go back to the laptop later.)

Slice and rearrange, plus Sections. These features let you use Blocs Waves not just for mangling about a single audio file, but also for assembling whole song ideas. And Sections open up some performance and composition possibilities, as demonstrated in … this video:

Every time I see hexagon grids I totally feel like my Klingon Bird of Prey is ready to take on the Romulans. Sorry, distracted.

User libraries: so, if you’re using Blocs Waves as a sonic sketchpad and grabbing bits of sound to work with, there’s no a more functional library for keeping track of what you’ve collected. I really like this, as I love putting together ideas from assembled field recordings – and iPads and iPhones fit perfectly with that (especially once you add proper microphones).




Blocs Waves isn’t the only Novation mobile app. The first was Launchpad – a mobile translation of Novation’s hit hardware (and the now ubiquitous grid interface). There, the idea of mobility was really clear. You could take a hardware Launchpad and plug it into a laptop running Ableton Live. But you could also plug that same Launchpad into an iPad and leave the laptop at home. Or leave both at home, and just work on the iPad.

And maybe this is the whole point: that some good ideas in music making will translate from mobile to hardware to laptop to studio and back again, in whatever combination you happen to have at hand or whatever is most convenient to how you want to work in the moment (or how much physical space you have).

To do that, Launchpad needed some reworking, though… because, having just revealed this lofty idea, mostly what you got was a simple app with some fake grid buttons on the screen.


What Novation have done with the complete rebuild is to start over on the audio engine – meaning you can real-time stretch sounds and work with effects more fluidly.

You can also use Launchpad and Blocs Wave together. I’ll take a look at some iPad workflows very soon.

And Launchpad also has Ableton Link support. Link is even driving a more fluid approach to bpm and tempo in general. If “sync” buttons and crude beat matching have locked all our dance floors to a relentless, never-ending tempo, maybe Link will free that up again. (Hey, in actual dance performances, regularity is common – but so, too, are tempo changes.)

Here’s all of that in action in Launchpad 2.0:

And – tutorial me! (I love that in 2016, after years of makers more or less ignoring their shoddy sync implementations, sync is now a top-line feature. I mean, people making dance music for people who dance would wind up caring about tempo – who knew?)

So, for all the talk of “laptop replacement,” what we really mean is, we don’t want to have to think about it so much. I think in the studio, the laptop isn’t going anywhere: you want all your ammunition when it comes time to finish and mix and master and so on.

But maybe rather than choosing between hardware, laptops, and mobile apps, what we really want to do is move from one to the other with ease. Ableton has done something really extraordinary with Link to open that up, by letting an arbitrary number of users jam together. And Launchpad and Blocs Wave show how you might build new apps that focus on a specific task. These aren’t things that were directly available in hardware (at least in Launchpad, not in exactly this form; in terms of Blocs Wave, not at all – that doesn’t make sense without touch).

Personally, I think it’s great. Because it gets us back to playing with sound, and improvising with sounds together, and playing with other people. And that was the point in the first place.

You can grab both apps now. US$6.99 for Blocs Wave (bring your own sandwich for lunch tomorrow instead of buying at the deli). Free for Launchpad. (Steal your friend’s sandwich.)

Blocs Wave on iTunes

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