Sometimes lost in conversations about technology or specific musical genre or minutia of social media is the fundamental question of what sound is and what we can discover. From Berlin’s tech/culture conference re:publica, we got to tackle some of those questions.
I got to ask three fascinating individuals about their connection to sound and where future sounds might be discovered. On the panel last week:
Kathy Tafel, now at Native Instruments, has one of the broader backgrounds in the entire music technology realm, spanning the birth of the DAW (Deck II!) to key roles at Apple to her ground-breaking multimedia band D’Cückoo. And now she’s charting the course of projects like Sounds.com and TRAKTOR and – I have to say, I’m optimistic about the direction she’s taking them. (Kathy probably merits a separate story on this site if I can compel NI to agree to it.)
Valentin von Lindenau has diverse work across audio and music, and with his firm kling klang klong has established himself as a rare leader in audio interaction experience and design, in a way that leads this medium internationally.
Lucrecia Dalt has come from Colombia to making a name for herself in the packed artistic landscape of Berlin, with unique poetic-musical hybrids. Maybe better to let her speak for herself:
We tread lots of ground here – I can’t take credit for either the topic/theme or the selection of panelists, but I’m grateful to have participated in the program.
And actually – I’m glad to even flounder on this sort of topic, but ask ourselves those kinds of deeper questions. I have my own opinions, naturally, but I was keen to get these fresh perspectives.
The full topic:
Can music and sounds be developed infinitely, or is everything at some point composed and tried out? If we follow John Cage and reserve the word “music” for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century instrument, the contemporary “organizer of sound” will not only be faced with the entire field of sound but also with the entire field of time. Matthew Herbert on the other hand stands with his manifesto for a kind of artistic self-limitation, demanding for instance that the sampling of other people’s music is strictly forbidden and that the use of sounds that exist already is not allowed (No drum machines. No synthesizers. No presets). For our reality check, we want to discuss what sound engineers, designers and artists are working on right now. Which sounds actually sound new and why? And also – which new applications for such sounds are in the works or theoretically conceivable?
Various devices have tried to do what the computer does – letting you play, sequence, and clock other instruments, and arrange and recall ideas. Now, a new grid is in town, and it’s bigger, more capable, truly standalone, and open in every way.
composer pro makes its debut today at Superbooth. It comes from what may seem an unexpected source – dadamachines, the small Berlin-based maker known for making a plug-in-play toolkit for robotic percussion and, more recently, a clever developer board. But there’s serious engineering and musical experience informing the project.
What you get is an enormous, colored grid with triggers and display, and connectivity – wired and wireless – to other hardware. From this one device, you can then compose, connect, and perform. It’s a sequencer for outboard gear, but it’s also capable of playing internal sounds and effects.
It’s a MIDI router, a USB host, a sampler and standalone instrument, and a hub to clock everything else. It doesn’t need a computer – and yeah, it can definitely replace that laptop if you want, or keep it connected and synced via cable or Ableton Link.
And one more thing – while big manufacturers are starting to wake up to this sort of thing being a product category, composer pro is also open source and oriented toward communities of small makers and patchers who have been working on this problem. So out of the box, it’s set up to play Pure Data, SuperCollider, and other DIY instruments and effects, extending ideas for standalone instrument/effects developed by the likes of monome and Critter & Guitari’s Organelle. That should be significant both if you’re that sort of builder/hacker/patcher yourself, or even if you just want to benefit from their creations in your own music. And it’s in contrast to the proprietary direction most hardware has gone in recent years. It’s open to ideas and to working together on how to play – which is how grid performance got started in the first place.
Disclosure: I’m working with dadamachines as an advisor/coach. That also means I’ll be responsible for getting feedback to them – curious what you think. (And yeah, I also have some ideas and desires for where these sorts of capabilities could lead in the future. As a lot of you have, I’ve dreamt of electronic musical performance tools moving in this direction – I love computers but also hate some of the struggles they’ve brought with them.)
I hope you like buttons. Composer Pro has a 192-pad grid – that’s 16 horizontally by 12 vertically. Add in the rest of the triggers for a grad total of 261 buttons – transport and modes on the top, and the usual scene and arm triggers on the side, plus edit controls and other functions on the left.
For continuous control, there’s a touch strip. And you get a small display and encoder so you can navigate and see what you’re doing.
There’s computational power inside, too – a Raspberry Pi compute module, and additional processing power that runs the device.
You get just about every form of connectivity (apart from CV/gate, even though this is Superbooth):
Sequencing and clock:
MIDI (via standard DIN connectors, 2 in, 2 out)
DIN sync (for vintage analog gear like the Roland TR-808)
Analog sync I/O (for other analog gear and modular)
USB MIDI (via USB C, for a computer)
USB host, with a 4-port USB hub
Ableton Link (for wireless connections, including to various Mac, Windows, Linux, and iOS software)
(There’s a dongle for wifi for Link support.)
Stereo audio in
Stereo audio out
The USB host and 4-port hub is a really big deal. It means you can do the things that normally require a computer – connect other interfaces, add more audio I/O, add USB MIDI keyboards and controllers, whatever.
Sequences and songs
At its heart, composer pro focuses on sequencing – whether you want to work with custom internal instruments, external gear, or both.
You have sixteen slots, which dadamachines dubs “Machines.” Then, you can work with simple step-sequenced rhythms or mono-/polyphonic melodies, and add automation of parameters (via MIDI CC).
Pattern sequences can be up to 16 bars.
There are 12 patterns per Machine slot. (16×12 – get it?)
Patterns + Machines = larger songs. And you can have as many songs as you can fit on an SD card (which, given this is MIDI data is … a lot).
The beauty of dadamachines’ approach is, by building this around the grid, you can work in a lot of different ways:
Step-sequence melodies and rhythms in a standard grid view.
Play live – there’s even a MIDI looper – and use standard quantization tools, or not, to decide how much you want your performance to be on the grid.
Trigger patterns one at a time, or in scenes.
Use the touchstrip for additional live control, with beat repeat functions, polyrhythmic loop length, nudge, and velocity (the pads aren’t velocity sensitive, though you can also use an external controller with velocity).
Now you see the logic behind having this enormous 16×12 grid – everything is visible at once. Most hardware, and even devices like Ableton Push, require you to navigate around to individual parts; there’s no way to see the overall sequence. You can bring up dedicated grid pages if you want to focus on playing a particular part or editing a sequence. But there’s an overview page so you also get the big picture – and trigger everything, without menu diving.
dadamachines have set up four views:
Song View – think interactive set list
Scene View – all your available Patterns and Machines
Machine View – focus on one particular instrument and input
Performance View – transform an existing pattern without changing it
And remember, this can be both external gear and internal instruments – with some nice ready-to-play instruments included in the package, or the ability to make your own (in Pd and SuperCollider) if you’re more advanced.
It’s already set up to work with ORAC, the powerful instrument by technobear, featured on the Organelle from Critter & Guitari:
– showing what can happen as devices are open, collaborative, and compatible.
When can you get this?
composer pro is being shown in a fully working – very nice looking – prototype. That also means a chance to get more feedback from musicians.
dadamachines say they plan to put this on sale in late summer.
It’s an amazing accomplishment from an engineering standpoint, from the hands-on time I’ve had with it. I know velocity-sensitive pads will be a disappointment, but I think that also means you’ll be able to afford this and get hardware that’s reliable – and you can always use the touchstrip or connect other hardware for expression.
It also goes beyond what sequencers like the just-announced Pioneer Squid can do, and offers a more intuitive interface than a lot of other boutique offerings – and its openness could support a community exploring ideas. That’s what originally launched grid performance in the first place with monome, but got lost as monome quantities were limited and commercial manufacturers chose to take a proprietary approach.
dadamachines announces grid based midi performance sequencer composer pro
composer pro is the new hub for electronic musicians, a missing link for sketching ideas and playing live. It’s a standalone sampler and live instrument, and connects to everything in a studio or onstage, for clock and patterns. And it’s open source and community-powered, ensuring it’s only getting started.
Edit patterns by step, play live on the pads and touch strip, use external controllers – it’s your choice. Sequence and clock external gear, or work with onboard instruments. Clock your whole studio or stage full of gear – and sync via wires or wirelessly.
Finally, there’s a portable device that gives you the control you need, and the big picture on your ideas, while connecting the instruments you want to play. And yes, you’re free to leave the computer at home.
composer pro will be shown to the public the first time at superbooth in Berlin from 9-11th of may. Sales start is planned for late summer 2019.
Use a massive, RGB, 16×12 grid of pads
192 triggers – 261 buttons in total – but organized, clear, and easy
Step sequence or play live
Melodic and rhythmic/drum modes
Work with quantization or unquantized
Play on the pads or use external controllers
Touch strip for expression, live sequence transformations, note repeat, and more
MIDI input/output and sync (via USB-C with computer, USB host, and MIDI DIN)
Analog sync (modular, analog gear)
DIN sync support (for vintage instruments like the TR-808)
USB host – with a built-in 4-port hub
Abeton Link support (USB wifi dongle required for wireless use)
Stereo audio in
Stereo audio out
Onboard sounds and room to grow:
Internal instruments and effects
Powered by open source sound engines, with internal Raspberry Pi computer core
Includes ORAC by technobear, a powerful sequenced sampler
Arrange productions and set lists:
Full automation sequencing (via MIDI CC)
Trigger patterns, scenes, songs
16-measure sequences, 12 scenes per song
Unlimited song storage (restricted only by SD card capacity)
Look past the modulars and wires: connecting people who make instruments and those who play them is at the heart of all Andreas Schneider’s endeavors. With Superbooth looming, we check in on Herr Schneider and his vision of what electronic instruments are about.
I got a chance to talk to Andreas during this final lead-up to this week’s festival. Superbooth has become trade show-cum-cultural happening, one of those chances to take a community that lives globally and online and make it face to face. Things you can expect:
Makers like Doepfer, WMD, Macbeth, Make Noise, Dadamachines, Polyend, and Erica Synths rubbing shoulders with the likes of Moog, Roland, and NI
Soldering workshops with Verbos Electronics, DIY kits from makers like Befaco and Birdkids
Lecture-concerts from makers (SoundHack’s Tom Erbe, not just modular makers), and artists (Caterina Barbieri, Richard Devine, Mark Ernestus, Mathew Jonson, Johanna Knutson)
The legendary boat cruise – now with a set by Daniel Miller, Mute Records founder (among other things)
With that event upcoming, I got to turn to how Schneider got started.
“The idea with Schneidersladen was, from the beginning – my client is not the one who’s buying the stuff, my client is the one who’s making this stuff,” says Andreas. “I met a guy who was not able to show off his drum machine and smile. And then I met another one who was not able to explain his synthesizers in the way that I understand it.”
“And I understood by talking to party people – this is what everybody needs. You have a drum machine, you have a synthesizer, you need a MIDI cable – push start and have fun. And I took this little setup in a suitcase and ran around Europe and visited all the shops and said – hey, look here, what kind of fun is this?”
Andreas and his shop have gotten a reputation around modular synthesis, and Superbooth with them, but Andreas says he never set out to build this empire around modular. “No, modular was happening to me,” he says. “It started with Doepfer, and Doepfer was opening his system to everybody else’s visions and said – build whatever you want. I helped him promoting that to the size where it is.”
I think Andreas is being modest here, in that he has unquestionably been an articulate advocate and salesperson for the format – filtering out the best stuff, managing distribution with often-unreliable tiny makers, and evangelizing a mindful embrace of music making on the instruments. He has been the public face of a project that has both ignited passion for these instruments and helped make people comfortable with them.
But at the same time, he shies away from making the format the message – even as the format has dominated his shop. “Modulars became so big that nearly all my staff in the shop is a modular nerd,” he says. “I think making music is not just modular.”
What he is about, though, is hardware. “It’s that haptical experience – even if it’s a knob to turn or a key to push,” he says. “Mono functional editing – on/off. Down/up. In/out.” He keeps only one computer – an Atari ST (the one PC, incidentally, with built-in MIDI).
It makes sense that Andreas found fertile ground in Berlin’s party-rich landscape:
“In the beginning it had nothing to do with musicians – educated musicians. It was those people who were coming from spinning records and understanding how to make people dance and have a good time.
“And that’s why I never had a keyboard in my shop. It was about the machine and the desktop unit and the concentration on the sound source. You need to listen – and you can’t disturb with your experience on playing a melody.
I had a thought that it could have been better if I wouldn’t have pinned this little niche to the musical instrument people, but perhaps to the furniture people or the DJ people. In the end, it’s decoration for our living rooms – or it could be. Or it could also be seen as something like a slot machine. Why not? And it would have been better. Because now those musicians – those ‘now we now how to make music people’, you have to do it this and that way – they dominate this thing at least by a certain percentage.
Modular will take center stage at Berlin’s FEZ this week. And that means another year in which the world of modular makers has become more crowded.
Andreas says he hopes the added pressure will push back against having too much of the same stuff. “The quality is getting higher,” says Andreas. “The pressure that you need to have good ideas is increasing.” What about rumors of a modular bubble? “I try my best to prevent the burst,” he says, “- by getting new audience to the scene.”
That scene will unquestionably grow this week – some examples of the DIY and workshop elements:
Soul Rush Records has launched a new sample pack titled Deep Cut Jump Up, a collection that takes inspiration from old school classic rollers akin to artists like Dillinja and ANT TC1, as well as prominent new producers such as Serum and T>I and Bou. The pack contains a range of deep and aggressive bass […]
Computer and modular machine textures collide with explosions of projected particles and glitching colored textures. Now the full concert footage of the duo Belief Defect (on Raster) is out.
It’s tough to get quality full-length live performance video – previously writing about this performance I had to refer to a short excerpt; a lot of the time you can only say “you had to be there” and point to distorted cell phone snippets. So it’s nice to be able to watch a performance end-to-end from the comfort of your chair.
Transport yourself to the dirigible-scaled hollowed-out power plant above Kraftwerk (even mighty Tresor club is just the basement), from Atonal Festival. It’s a set that’s full of angry, anxious, crunchy-distorted goodness:
(Actually even having listened to the album a lot, it’s nice to sit and retrace the full live set and see how they composed/improvised it. I would say record your live sets, fellow artists, except I know about how the usual Recording Curse works – when the Zoom’s batteries are charged up and the sound isn’t distorted and you remember to hit record is so often … the day you play your worst. They escaped this somehow.)
And Belief Defect represent some of the frontier of what’s possible in epic, festival mainstage-sized experimentalism, both analog and digital, sonic and visual. I got to write extensively about their process, with some support from Native Instruments, and more in-depth here:
While we’re talking Raster label – the label formerly Raster-Noton before it again divided so Olaf Bender’s Raster and Carsten Nicolai’s Noton could focus on their own direction – here’s some more. Dasha Rush joined Electronic Beats for a rare portrait of her process and approach, including the live audiovisual-dance collaboration with dancer/choreographer Valentin Tszin and, on visuals, Stanislav Glazov. (Glazov is a talented musician, as well, producing and playing as Procedural aka Prcdrl, as well as a total Touch Designer whiz.)
And Dasha’s work, elegantly balanced between club and experimental contexts with every mix between, is always inspired.
Here’s that profile, though I hope to check in more shortly with how Stas and Valentin work with Kinect and dance, as well as how Stas integrates visuals with his modular sound:
Loopmasters has launched a sale on two sample collections from 5Pin Media, offering a 60% discount for a few days only. Deep, Tech & Minimal Vol. 1 by Staniz comes with 394 loops, 188 REX2 loops, 330 one-shots and an Ableton Live 9 Project. Staniz conjures up hypnotic rhythms immersed in a lush soundscape that […]
The new doppler board promises to meld the power of FPGA brains with microcontrollers and the accessibility of environments like Arduino. And the founder is so confident that could lead to new stuff, he’s making a “label” to help share your ideas.
doppler is a small, 39EUR development board packing both an ARM microcontroller and an FPGA. It could be the basis of music controllers, effects, synths – anything you can make run on those chips.
If this appeals to you, we’ve even got a CDM-exclusive giveaway for inventors with ideas. (Now, end users, this may all go over your head but … rest assured the upshot for you should be, down the road, more cool toys to play with. Tinkerers, developers, and people with a dangerous appetite for building things – read on.)
But first – why include an FPGA on a development board for music?
The pitch for FPGA
The FPGA is a powerful but rarified circuit. The idea is irresistible: imagine a circuit that could be anything you want to be, rewired as easily as software. That’s kind of what an FPGA is – it’s a big bundle of programmable logic blocks and memory blocks. You get all of that computational power at comparatively low cost, with the flexibility to adapt to a number of tasks. The upshot of this is, you get something that performs like dedicated, custom-designed hardware, but that can be configured on the fly – and with terrific real-time performance.
This works well for music and audio applications, because FPGAs do work in “close to the metal” high performance contexts. And we’ve even seen them used in some music gear. (Teenage Engineer was an early FPGA adopter, with the OP-1.) The challenge has always been configuring this hardware for use, which could easily scare off even some hardware developers.
Now, all of what I’ve just said a little hard to envision. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of that abstract description, you could fire up the Arduino development environment, upload some cool audio code, and have it running on an FPGA?
doppler, on a breadboard connected to other stuff so it starts to get more musically useful. Future modules could also make this easier.
doppler: easier audio FPGA
doppler takes that FPGA power, and combines it with the ease of working with environments like Arduino. It’s a chewing gum-sized board with both a familiar ARM microcontroller and an FPGA. This board is bare-bones – you just get USB – but the development tools have been set up for you, and you can slap this on a breadboard and add your own additions (MIDI, audio I/O).
The project is led by Johannes Lohbihler, dadamachines founder, along with engineer and artist Sven Braun.
dadamachines also plan some other modules to make it easier to add other stuff us music folks might like. Want audio in and out? A mic preamp? MIDI connections? A display? Controls? Those could be breakout boards, and it seems Johannes and dadamachines are open to ideas for what you most want. (In the meantime, of course, you can lay out your own stuff, but these premade modules could save time when prototyping.)
Full specs of the tiny, core starter board:
120Mhz ARM Cortex M4F MCU 512KB Flash (Microchip ATSAMD51G19A) with FPU
– FPGA 5000 LUT, 1MBit RAM, 6 DSP Cores,OSC, PLL (Lattice ICE40UP5K)
– Arduino IDE compatible
– Breadboard friendly (DIL48)
– Micro USB
– Power over USB or external via pin headers
– VCC 3.5V …. 5.5V
– All GPIO Pins have 3.3V Logic Level
– 1 LED connected to SAMD51
– 4 x 4 LED Matrix (connected to FPGA)
– 2 User Buttons (connected to FPGA)
– AREF Solder Jumper
– I2C (need external pullup), SPI, QSPI Pins
– 2 DAC pins, 10 ADC pins
– Full open source toolchain
– SWD programming pin headers
– Double press reset to enter the bootloader
– UF2 Bootloader with Firmware upload via simple USB stick mode
That frees up the FPGA to do audio only. Flip it around the other way, and you can use the microcontroller for audio, while the FPGA does … something else. The Teensy audio library will work on this chip, too – meaning a bunch of adafruit instructional content will be useful here:
doppler is fully open source hardware, with open firmware and code samples, so it’s designed to be easy to integrate into a finished product – even one you might sell commercially.
The software examples for now are mainly limited to configuring and using the board, so you’ll still need to bring your own code for doing something useful. But you can add the doppler as an Arduino library and access even the FPGA from inside the Arduino environment, which expands this to a far wider range of developers.
Look, ma, Arduino!
In a few steps, you can get up and running with the development environment, on any OS. You’ll be blinking lights and even using a 4×4 matrix of lights to show characters, just as easily as you would on an Arduino board – only you’re using an FPGA.
Getting to that stage is lunch break stuff if you’ve at least worked with Arduino before:
And lest you think this is going to be something esoteric for experienced embedded hardware developers, part of the reason it’s so accessible is that Johannes is working with Sven Braun. Sven is among other things the developer of iOS apps zmors synth and modular – so you get something that’s friendly to app developers.
doppler in production…
A label for hardware, platform for working together
Johannes tells us there’s more to this than just tossing an open source board out into the world – dadamachines is also inviting collaborations. They’ve made doppler a kind of calling card for working together, as well as a starting point for building new hardware ideas, and are suggesting Berlin-based dadamachines as a “label” – a platform to develop and release those ideas as products.
Johannes and his dadamachines have already a proven hardware track record, bringing a product from Kickstarter funding to manufacturing, with the automat. It’s an affordable device that makes it easy to connect physical, “robotic” outputs (like solenoids and motors). (New hardware, a software update and more are planned for that, too, by the way.) And of course, part of what you get in doing that kind of hardware is a lot of amassed experience.
We’ve seen fertile open platforms before – Arduino and Raspberry Pi have each created their own ecosystems of both hardware and education. But this suggests working even more closely – pooling space, time, manufacturing, distribution, and knowledge together.
This might be skipping a few steps – even relatively experienced developers may want to see what they can do with this dev board first. But it’s an interesting long-range goal that Johannes has in mind.
Want your own doppler; got ideas?
We have five doppler boards to give away to interested CDM readers.
Just tell dadamachines what you want to make, or connect, or use, and email that idea to:
dadamachines will pick five winners to get a free board sent to them. (Johannes says he wants to do this by lottery, but I’ve said if there are five really especially good ideas or submissions, he should… override the randomness.)
And stay tuned here, as I hope to bring you some more stuff with this soon.
Nine designers created graphics scores. Next, nine musicians will interpret them. LETRA / TONE festival is one of the more compelling experiments in festival programming – an adventure in crossing media. Here’s what it looks like.
Now, in these here parts, we’ve been fans of visual-musical synesthesia, from live visuals and VJing to graphics. LETRA / TONE makes that connection in the score. Curator (and composer/musician) Hanno Leichtmann had the idea. Five years ago, I covered one of the earlier editions:
The gathering has since blossomed to include a wide arrange of international designers and big-name (and fringe) musical artists across various instruments. There’s a complete exhibition and loads of concerts this weekend.
And you never know quite what you’ll get, because it’s up to these artists to determine how to translate the visual ideas they’re given into performances. This being Berlin, there are some major electronic artists – modular electro duo Blotter Trax (Magda and T.B. Arthur), turntablist Dieb 13, JASSS, Nefertyti, and DEMDIKE STARE are all involved. But you also get pianist Magda Mayas, and Schneider TM takes to experimental guitar, composer and avant garde rocker Jimi Tenor. Hanno has not only paired artists with musicians, but produced some arranged musical marriages, too – commissioning Blotter Trax, pairing Nefertyti with Jimi Tenor.
Graphic scores come from Katja Gretzinger, Anke Fesel, Scott Massey, Daniela Burger, Stefan Gandl, Joe Gilmore, Sulki & Min, Julie Gayard, and T.S.Wendelstein.
To bring a bit of this festival to you, here’s a selection of images from past editions (and current sketches) to show the visual range. You can imagine yourself how you might make music from these.
And snippets of 2019:
To give you a feel of the music, some selected artists:
Nefertyti (bad video but… I’m enjoying this punk aesthetic here):
It’s March the 3rd, which means in both hemispheres, our thoughts inevitably turn to basslines and squelchy resonance. Happy 303 day – here’s some video and reading to get you in the mood.
First, let’s take a step back, and before we idolize the box and transistors, let’s talk about just how immaculately early Detroit and Chicago records were composed and mixed.
1987’s “Acid Tracks” by Phuture (DJ Pierre and Earl Spanky Smith) never fails to floor me. (I’ll guess the same about you, as anyone sick of acid has already left the room.) It sounds at once ancient and futuristic, like it fell from some alien civilization. “Acid Tracks” is slow, elegant, meditative – apparently slowed down to appeal to conservative New York dance floors; check out the fascinating write-up at the top of Discogs:
And, oh yeah – it’s a preset bassline. And very little actually happens in this track. You get the sense of that fresh, out-of-box, what the hell is this amazing thing feeling as a result – but whether intentional or not, it also means the duo settle on this fascinating groove and don’t overthink it. There’s an almost ritualistic, mantra-like steadiness to the track as a result. House legend Marshall Jefferson captures all of this with a mix that holds everything together, and weirdly I think gets away with the extreme panning from side to side, a kind of hypnotic incantation.
It may be the only time a preset pattern worked in a track, but… it works.
That same DJ Pierre joins Roland today to celebrate 303 Day – and yeah, he knows how to program patterns now:
I know we’re not supposed to covet gear as the solution to our problems but … there is something beautiful about really wanting a piece of gear to find a particular flavor, right?
It’s also great to hear Pierre talk about the satisfaction of turning a knob, and feeling like an improviser – I think that’s the essence of synth design. (I, uh, disagree with Maestro Pierre that this is the only instrument that did this, but then I don’t run an all-303 blog.)
But you think Japan is going to let us Americans have all the fun, with the gear they invented? Here is “Japanese Techno Girl Love TB-303 & TR-707 & RE-201” to answer that from the ocean. I’m not entirely sure I believe this is part of her bridal practice, but do you need to know whether that’s true or not?
For a good intro to the 303 and how to program it, Tatsuya Takahashi – former chief analog engineer at KORG – did an intro for RBMA. Seeing Tats talk Roland is weird, but on the other hand, I think Tats and his team at KORG built a lot of similar ideas into their instruments – hands-on control, simplified compact design, and a focus on playability. For all the present worship of modular synths and complexity, sometimes a simpler design lets the player explore more.
That skips over a lot of the history to focus on the instrument. So for a deeper look at how the 303 came about, check “Baseline Baseline,” a crude 2005 documentary. It feels a bit like someone is reading you a history of the 303 in monotone, but it’s a nice watch, nonetheless, packed with detail.
Philadelphia’s Akhil Kalepu did a great write-up of that history for DJ Tech Tools a few years back, as well:
To use the 303 yourself, your first question may be – have I heard that pattern before? (There is this funny quality of the 303, where you’re never certain if a pattern was your own, or a preset, or a classic tune, or the 303 somehow hijacked your brain and an alien consciousness made it for you, or … some combination?)
Let’s just not get too precious about acid house, though.
Part of what I love about the 303 is that it isn’t a classical instrument. You aren’t limited to reproducing half-assed copies of Chicago House just because that beautiful history is there. The 303 can get weird, dirty, trippy, unrecognizable. (Seriously, fight me on this. I love Roland’s TB-03 recreation not because it’s a perfect copy, but because it has some weird digital distortion and delay that you can abuse and warp.)
So, for instance, Germany’s Dr. Walker and Liquid Sky took acid in a different direction, some “acid techno” or make that “afterhour acid techno druggEEE madness.” Oh, sure, you could walk into a Berlin afterhours and someone could play some inoffensive slow tech house track. OR … you could wind up in some dark cave, three days into partying, thick with smoke, unable to find the door, when some end-of-the-world weirdness you can’t follow takes over, or some way-too-fast techno that is slowly speeding up. That’s the sort of 303 you might expect would be part of an unfriendly M-class planet, the kind the one surviving red shirt warned you about, holes burnt in his uniform, after beaming back up.
Playlist of related tracks:
Hold on, though, back up – Sony Music published this? Interesting.
I bring this up just because it’s sort of nicely the opposite of the Phuture track. If the above is the 303 in calm meditation or headed to a wedding, this is a disheveled 303 stumbling out of a bar in Akihabara, its tie in shreds (uh, drunk on alternating current or whatever synthesizers get into):
Acid is getting new leases on life, too, as in the hands of Bloody Mary, the French-born, Berlin-based producer and label boss of acidic dame music. She’s keeping acid alive both as a DJ –
– and as a producer. (Got to talk to her about her love of the 303 and the ability to really focus on this instrument at ADE in the fall.)
So be sure – we love the 303, but its day is not a sacred one. It’s a chance to do what we do every night – make ridiculous sounds with knobs.
And just remember – don’t let anyone convince you synthesis is a game for the rich. The 303 found its way into history thanks to some guys who could only barely afford it, after it had already dropped in value. Speaking as someone who reads tons of press releases from artists bragging about their all-modular setups, this is something worth repeating – and a happy 303 day to you.
If experimental music and Europe make you think only of cities like Paris and London, you’re missing a big part of the story. Now you can grab a huge reference on fringe and weird electronic music from the east – and it’s free. (At least that would please Marx.)
Berlin, and Europe in general, have exploded as hubs for experimental sounds. And if you want an answer to why that’s happened lately, look in no small part to the ingenuity, technical and artistic, of central and eastern Europe. These artistic cultures flourished during the Cold War, sometimes with support from Communist states, sometimes very much in the face of adversity and resistance from those same nations. And then in a more connected Europe, brought together by newly open borders and cheap road and air transit, a younger generation continues to advance the state of the art – and the state of the weird.
Old biases die hard, though. Cold War (or simply racist) attitudes often rob central and eastern Europe of deserved credit. And then there’s the simple problem of writing a history that’s fragmented by language and divisions that arose between East and West.
So it’s worth checking out this guide. It’s an amazing atlas covering history and new scenes, and the PDF edition is now available to download for free (if you can’t locate the print version).
SOUND EXCHANGE was a project from 2012-2012, connected to events in seven cities – Kraków, Bratislava, Tallinn, Vilnius, Budapest, Riga and, Prague. That’s Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, and Czech, respectively. It’s also relevant that we’re seeing these countries produce music tech alongside music – Bastl Instruments in Czech, Polyend in Poland, and Erica Synths in Latvia, just to name three that have lately gotten a lot of attention (and there are others).
There’s 400 pages – in both German and English – with a huge range of stuff. There’s fringe rock music in Germany, radio art from Czech, intermedia and multimedia art from across the region, what Latvia has been up to in experimental music since independence … and the list goes on. Technology and music practice go hand in hand, too, as workshops and music concerts intertwine to spread new ideas – both before and after the fall of communism, via different conduits.
It’s a fitting moment to rediscover this exhibition; CTM Festival here in Berlin has been a showcase for some of the east-meets-west projects including Sound Exchange’s outcomes. And CTM itself is arguably a recipient of a lot of that energy, in the one capital that sits astride east and west – even today, in some ways, minus the wall. The festival is turning 20 this year, and not incidentally, East Berlin-founded label Raster is showcasing its own artists in an exhibition and DJ sets.
Maybe it’s not bedtime reading, but even a skim is a good guide: