There are a lot of hugely powerful things you can do with an environment like Reaktor. But that doesn’t necessarily suggest where to begin. The best way to get into a deep tool is often to solve a simple problem. At the Native Sessions installment on Reaktor 6, Nadine Raihani showed us a simple example of taking a user library offering and making some quick changes. The result: a Euclidean polyrhythm sequencer (Euclidean say what?) that you can play from a keyboard.
That turns out to be scary useful: like holding down notes for instant improv techno.
Nadine shows how to go about this in this video:
And actually, I think this is really important. Especially with the power of the Web (aka, a hyper-connected international engine for showing off), it’s easy to lose sight of the value of doing simple stuff.
Just mapping something to a keyboard might not be technically impressive. But I’ve found this in my own work: some of the most compelling performance tools are the ones that are technically the simplest. That leaves the inspiration to, say, hitting some keys and improvising – the human side of the equation. And often working musically with simpler elements can focus your work. (The greatest composers of all time often composed based on very simple kernels of ideas – think “etudes.”)
Ironically, it’s typically experienced developers who have learned to break down problems into small, solvable bits – and beginners who try to do too much at once. So take a tip from them, and think simple.
Speaking of how simple can be powerful, the other great thing about patching environments in general is how easy it is to share and reuse work. (The same I suppose can be said of well-written code, but patching environments make the bits immediately visual.) Having worked with Pd and Max and SuperCollider, I’ve seen the same sharing pattern.
And sure enough, as I was preparing this, Nadine wrote me to say her mod of the original sequencer has itself been modded. So check them out:
It’s a marvelous time to be a musician. You can imagine a musical instrument, a compositional invention, and then realize that idea in short order.
So I was glad to get the chance to emcee an evening of discussion with Reaktor experts, including the folks who built the tool, last month in the software’s hometown Berlin. That discussion ultimately was partly about Reaktor, but partly about the act of instrument building itself – meaning there were insights for anyone interested in working with electronics or software to dream up new musical tools.
And since this comes right on the heels of the release of Reaktor 6, the team behind that update got to talk about their work. I certainly felt like anything but a shill; this is software I really admire. I think interestingly, if you put Reaktor alongside the other titans of DIY musical software – SuperCollider, Max/MSP, Pure Data, and Csound – it’s compelling how each has matured along its own course. The only thing I wish I had was more time.
Some highlights from the event:
Jan Werner of Mouse on Mars talked about the philosophy of building instruments themselves, regardless of the particular platform, and making creations that can even be terrifying (like that screaming death whistle).
We got to see how Blocks work – this is the new, real-time patching system that melds Eurorack-style modules with Reaktor’s sounds and interface (and, you know, never running out of modules or cables or cash). But we also saw how this could be combined with a physical modular system.
Artists Deadbeat, Tim Exile, and Errorsmith talked about their relationship to Reaktor (the latter two also developing tools for Reaktor users).
Nadine showed how to get started with modifying a simple example from the user library – we’ll deal with that separately.
And my favorite moment – Vadim did a race-against-the-clock effort with DSP in Reaktor. In fact, he goes so fast, that I want to work with him to break this down, as he’s just about the best mind on the planet when it comes to filter modeling. (Again, it’s not so much Reaktor that this is about as this person’s brain – and it’s nice that his mind touches this software.)
There’s probably no more prolific man in the DIY synth scene than Ray Wilson. His Music From Outer Space has a galactic-sized library of projects for electronic musicians. And that’s just part of his contributions.
So that means all of us in this community are hugely saddened to learn that Ray faces serious cancer. With self-employed health care still a major challenge in the United States, that brings with it crippling medical expenses. His kids have turned to crowd funding to try to fight to get him treatment he needs.
You can read through that story on the funding site, but in the meantime, I’ll just refer to Ray’s accomplishments – just a few that he’s shared as a musician and inventor:
Music from Outer Space is an extraordinary archive of materials. (I was just referring to it for a story for MAKE in Germany.)
He’s the creator of projects like the Weird Sound Generator.
And to top all of this (and many other achievements), he has himself contributed to the health of others, in the research and development of implantable defibrillators and pacemakers. I hope dearly that karma can be returned.
Ableton’s Push 2 has a big, beautiful, color display. But what goes on that display is limited to what Ableton has built in – or, rather, it was, until now.
London-based producer/hacker sigabort has already built a Max object that lets you access the display directly as a high-res, color texture. Max boffins, this means you can even use Jitter objects directly. And for those who have no idea what the previous sentence just meant, think of it this way: Max for Live objects will now be able to create their own full-color visual outputs, for practical or entertainment purposes. It’s fast, too – roughly 18 fps rendering and native externals for Mac and Windows.
As if that weren’t enough, a standalone library is coming, too. You can try out a free, time-limited (60-minute) version, or go ahead and donate a minimum of 5GBP via PayPal (more for commercial use).
Yep, we’ll be watching this one – and what you do with it. Just don’t use Comic Sans, okay, unless you work for CERN.
Once, weird instruments only made the rounds at exclusive academic conferences. Now, they go viral on Facebook.
Such is the case with Collidoscope, the creation of a UK-based mixing and mastering service (out of London label Sunlightsquare Records) and Queen Mary researchers – Ben Bengler and Fiore Martin. It’s a massive tangible table-top interface to a granular instrument.
There are a few things that make this one special, even to those of us who have seen such items before.
1. It’s big. It appears that the basis of this is a very large display, cleverly built into a slick-looking table-top interface.
2. It’s visual. A crisp, clear waveform display attractively shows you where you are. Nicely executed, that.
3. It’s physical. Big knobs and faders and a keyboard set this apart from the iPad apps and whatnot that do the same – and also set up the possibility for collaboration.
4. It samples. Built-in sampling is connected to a SuperCollider engine underneath for responsive sonic control.
More here, though they’re a bit scant on details other than it’s a one-off prototype. (And the site is, sadly, orange and full of big ads! But the prototype itself is great!)
Built your own interesting granular controller? We’d love to see it.
Seems this could also be a chance to open up design ideas. Speaking of which, I really should come up with a better interface for my own mangled Pd creation and maybe clean up the patch enough that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to let anyone see it!
But really brilliant and inspiring work, lads! This raises the bar. Or, at least, the table.
It doesn’t have screens. There are no giant wheels or touchstrips. There’s no complex software integration, or built-in mixer, or pads for remixing.
But what the DJ4 is is what you might be missing in other DJ controllers. It’s got the controls you need in a tiny, tiny footprint that won’t have you hunting for new luggage or scrambling around a venue to find a bigger table because your gear won’t fit in the booth. (Ahem, yes, you know who you are, giant controllers.) And unlike the increasingly branded, computer-tied world of DJ controllers, this one also works with anything – now even as a MIDI controller without a computer in sight. In other words, it’s a Faderfox.
Out of the box, the German-built box does work with the German DJ software of choice, Native Instruments Traktor Pro and Ableton Live. You get eight centered pots for EQ and filter, and three faders in a two channel / crossfader configuration. Effects are unbelievably crammed in there, too, via push-button access, though by the time you’ve gone this small, you could easily map another of the Faderfox range.
What’s new on the DJ4:
MIDI ports, for use standalone with hardware gear (or to make this double as a MIDI interface)
Four additional buttons (filter and kill)
Four saved setups, with programmable behavior, making it easier to map this to other software
Colored caps so you can see controls more easily in low light
The switchable MIDI routings and parameter mappings to me are really appealing. I’m a huge fan of what Ableton and Native Instruments have done with their own hardware. But on the other hand, you’re beginning to see a situation where you’re carrying around a dedicated controller for each app. Faderfox remains a holdout in the industry for general-purpose controls.
Since this runs on 5V power, you can use a standard USB power adapter for standalone operation. For everything else, you can bus power, including via the Camera Connection Kit on iPad.
I haven’t yet got to try those new caps, but otherwise this looks like standard Faderfox stuff, which is to say tiny and indestructible.
Special controller for DJ software (optimised for Native Instruments Traktor Pro)
iPad compatible with camera connection kit
Setup files for Traktor Pro and Ableton Live are shipped with the controller
USB interface – class compliant / no driver necessary
MIDI in and out ports with routing and merge functionality
Controls up to four decks – easy switching between deck A-C and B-D on the fly
Four FX slots available
4 multifunctional push encoders with detents switchable to 7 groups
24 colored buttons
All controls with double function by holding down the shift button
22 LEDs in different colors to display feedback informations
4 internal setups with various programmable functions
USB bus powering – consumption less than 500mW / 100mA
Very compact design in a black, plastic casing (desktop format)
Size 180 x 105 x 70 mm, weight 350 g
Black aluminium front plate with laser inscriptions (abrasion resistant)
High-quality faders, pots and encoders from ALPS
New rubber knobs for best tactile feeling
The UC4 universal controller remains the most interesting generic controller, and standalone step-sequencing on the SC4 is also nice. But it’s nice to see the fourth-generation range finished out.
192€ before VAT (so that’s the price anywhere outside Europe).
With a little setup, you can integrate a hardware synth with Reaper as if it’s a software plug-in. Check out the video tutorial from The Reaper Blog to see how.
Reaper is a terrific “indie” DAW for the budget-conscious. Just $60 buys you an individual personal license with a bunch of free upgrades. (“Commercial” use is described as anyone making more than $20k a year – plenty of very serious musicians make less than that.)
The price is nice, but an even better reason to respect Reaper is that the developers at Cockos consistently pack in lots of engineering details. The ReaInsert plug-in seen here is a good example. ReaInsert lets you individually map sends and returns for audio, remap MIDI channels, define volume for sends and returns, and even “ping” to automatically set delay compensation, all via a single interface. All of this is possible in other DAWs, but typically with more manual configuration in different locations, not what’s available here in this integrated interface.
And the upshot of all of that is, after configuring the tutorial, you can “set it and forget it” – using any synth as if it’s software. (Kudos to Elektron for their cool Overbridge tech, but this can cover everything else.)
So let’s add up costs: Reaper is sixty bucks, our newest MeeBlip anode will set you back $120 (now, ahem, with free shipping, the Marketing Department would like to remind you, that department also being, erm, me) — throw in an audio/MIDI interface and you’re ready to go.
Thanks, Jon, for the tutorial and the opportunity for some blatant synth promotion. Now I’m going to check out these other tutorials, and consider doing the next track in Reaper.
Five years ago this month, CDM unveiled the MeeBlip project. It was a chance to put our love of synthesizers into a physical form we could share. And we had no idea where it would take us.
Five years later, we’ve sold thousands of the musical instruments, all engineered by their creator James Grahame in Calgary, and all fully open source. In that time, we’ve also worked hard to make the MeeBlip constantly better, and easier for more people to get their hands on and use. Today, we celebrate five years, and what we think is our best MeeBlip yet. We’re also lowering the price.
The newest MeeBlip anode includes all the features the anode has brought (and that has won rave reviews from the likes of Sound on Sound, Keyboard, and Resident Advisor). That includes its edgy bass sound and analog filter, plus updated features like hands-on control of filter and amplitude envelope, improvements to filter performance, and different built-in wavetables for a wide variety of sound possibilities.
Now, we’re making a permanent price reduction on anode to US$119.95. We’re also offering free shipping to the USA and Canada and discounted shipping worldwide, in celebration of five years of MeeBlip.
(We’ll also soon have something to announce for European customers wanting faster shipping and all taxes and duty included.)
We’re just getting started. We’ve learned a lot in those five years, and that’s given us ideas for how we can do everything we do a bit better. So thanks for staying with us, and stay tuned for more.
In the meantime, here’s a look back…
The anode is the second major MeeBlip model. Here are three variations together: the SE generation, the original anode, and the special edition anode with wavetables.
The very first MeeBlip had a quirky faceplate designed by Tasmanian designer Nathanael Jeanneret. If you’ve got one of these, they’re pretty rare.
Building on the simple, hackable, open nature of the instrument, projects over the years have included all sorts of fanciful designs. Gwydion ap Dafydd of Konkreet Labs even placed one inside a cookbook:
And then came anode. The goal was to design a MeeBlip that was smaller and had fewer knobs – but felt like it had greater, richer sound potential. That meant lots of attention to how parameters were designed, so that each knob turn was satisfying. And we’ve been pleased that reviews from users and press understood and appreciated what we worked on.
But in the end, this is a personal journey. James and I have learned that making instruments means discovering what musicians can do with devices you imagine. The goal is to create objects that become something more than what we can do on our own. That’s why we’ve stayed with it, and why we’ll keep staying with it. So the best part of this job, without question, is seeing what people do – and hearing the results.
There are many examples like that, like this all-anode track produced by Andrius Mamontovas.
We could use your help. Let us know what you think of what we’re doing, and what we can do to do it better. And if you like the MeeBlip, help us spread the word, and get synthesizers in more hands.
MeeBlip anode is in stock and shipping worldwide right now.
Techno has become folk art, popular music idiom. Yet it’s still often viewed through the machines that first made it. What if you could give it some sort of physical, mechanical form?
That’s what Graham Dunning has done with Mechanical Techno. And in a new video (produced by Michael Forrest), he shows how it’s done.
Cut-up records on turntables stand in for samples and synths. Electrical contacts produce buzzes of sound as wires touch copper. Cowbells become kinetic, robotic sculptural elements.
Basically, every rhythmic element is mapped into physical space, into locations on discs.
Oh yeah, and be sure to enjoy what happens at the end as optical sensors go nuts with additional objects.
It’s like what would happen if you commission Rube Goldberg to build your new music studio, or if we entered an alternate universe where Roland never existed but the pianola was adapted to make dance music.
And, incidentally, even the modern drum machine really does have similar mechanical results. See Darsha Hewitt’s SideMan 5000 video Project. The world’s first commercial drum machine, while hardly a huge success, itself used mechanical discs to generate rhythms – very much related to what you see here.
I like to say that the repetitive patterns in techno are related to physical motion in the body, perhaps even the body’s internal rhythms. But here is another way to imagine it – that these rhythms can emerge from real or hypothetical physical processes. The musical is mechanical.
This project was a research project; details:
Mechanical Techno Demonstration by Graham Dunning
Video produced by Michael Forrest.
You’re probably so used to sync being broken that the first time you see Link, you might not believe what’s happening.
Link began its life as a research project and has turned into a full-fledged product from Ableton. But unlike Push or Live, Link itself isn’t something you buy. Instead, it’ll be built into software you use, and unlock seemingly magical wireless (or wired) sync.
The upshot: the electronic jam session is about to get a whole lot easier. And with a beta out today, that’s not some unknown future. It’s right now.
Ableton has their own demo video, but maybe the easiest way to see what’s happening is to watch a trio of iOS gadgets running Elastic Drums, as prepared by my friend (developer of this app) Oliver Greschke:
Now, what isn’t in this video is about as important as what is. There aren’t any wires. And there isn’t even a copy of Ableton Live running. This is a peer-to-peer jam session between three gadgets over a wireless network.
Also, any one of the devices can speed up or slow down. There’s not a “master” or “slave” (erm, “host” and “client” to sound less creepy). Everything is effectively democratic.
That makes a big difference, because it works nicely in a jam session. Musicians can join in or drop out at will. Anyone can change the tempo. Now, you probably don’t want to get too democratic about tempo changes, but that means you can easily hand off roles. And wifi sync is important, too, because it means you don’t have to get tangled in wires just to get going.
The use cases are pretty broad. Two producers working together can bring their own laptops running Ableton Live to a studio session or sync up onstage. Running an iPhone along an iPad, or an iPad along a computer, becomes more useful even with just one person. And forming impromptu electronic bands is at last something anyone can do, not just the occasional specialized laptop orchestra.
I can tell you it all works really, really well. We’ll have more to say about this.
There’s still a place for wired MIDI (or analog sync, for that matter), because so much gear requires it. But even in those situations, Link can help, by making the software bits work together (and then driving hardware off a computer or iOS device as the clock). KORG even has an app that can sync to hardware like their volcas (SyncControl).
I asked the developers of Link some questions about how this will work, anticipating what I thought readers would want to know. It seems the questions made sense, as some were apparently incorporated into the official Ableton FAQ (below). But here are some starting points:
CDM: What information is exchanged in Link?
Ableton: Link currently provides tempo sync and a grid to which apps can align. There are no Song Position or Start/Stop messages sent via Link.
Ed.: This is actually an interesting point. Think of it as synchronizing to a pulse rather than to a place in the song. So, in Ableton’s Session View, that’s easy to understand – you sync to the current quantize level of a bar or beat, etc.
What does it mean when you say all users are equal? What happens if people pull in different directions? What if someone stops the transport?
a) There will be a “tempo fight” and the winner will be the app that last changes the tempo.
b) Anyone can start and stop their part while the others keep playing.
What will developers get with the iOS SDK? They’re free to then use that in their apps?
a) Developers will receive the iOS SDK that comes with a pre-built library compatible with iOS8 and above and a simple example app for demonstration and testing purposes.
b) Developers who receive the SDK may integrate it into their apps free of charge.
What form does the SDK take? Will we see desktop versions? Is it possible for someone to create a port for a platform themselves – like Android or mobile Windows devices, for instance?
Initially and apart from Ableton Live, Link will be only available for iOS apps.
Ed.: Now, obviously, I think a lot of us hope that will grow. Android isn’t exactly exploding as a platform yet, but would still be welcome – and other desktop apps would be really valuable. I’d love to use Link to sync Ableton Live and Traktor or Serato, for instance, and I’m sure so would a lot of you. But this starting point should still keep us busy – and you can always then send clock to one of those other apps.
What’s necessary to license the Link name?
We license the name along with the SDK. Developers can use the Link name according to our brand guidelines, which we provide with he Link SDK.
When can we expect the SDK and beta – and they’ll be in that order?
A Live Beta version with Link is now available for everyone who wants to become a Live Beta tester.
What happens as wifi networks get crowded or signal gets weak?
If the network gets too crowded, apps can lose connection. However, it takes an extreme amount of Link users to cause this to happen.
Ed.: Link can also use an Ethernet connection if you have one.