Minds, machines, and centralization: AI and music

Far from the liberated playground the Internet once promised, online connectivity now threatens to give us mainly pre-programmed culture. As we continue reflections on AI from CTM Festival in Berlin, here’s an essay from this year’s program.

If you attended Berlin’s festival this year, you got this essay I wrote – along with a lot of compelling writing from other thinkers – in a printed book in the catalog. I asked for permission from CTM Festival to reprint it here for those who didn’t get to join us earlier this year. I’m going to actually resist the temptation to edit it (apart from bringing it back to CDM-style American English spellings), even though a lot has happened in this field even since I wrote it at the end of December. But I’m curious to get your thoughts.

I also was lucky enough to get to program a series of talks for CTM Festival, which we made available in video form with commentary earlier this week, also with CTM’s help:
A look at AI’s strange and dystopian future for art, music, and society

The complete set of talks from CTM 2018 are now available on SoundCloud. It’s a pleasure to get to work with a festival that not only has a rich and challenging program of music and art, but serves as a platform for ideas, debate, and discourse, too. (Speaking of which, greetings from another European festival that commits to that – SONAR, in Barcelona.)

The image used for this article is an artwork by Memo Akten, used with permission, as suggested by curator and CTM 2018 guest speaker Estela Oliva. It’s called “Inception,” and I think is a perfect example of how artists can make these technologies expressive and transcendent, amplifying their flaws into something uniquely human.

Minds, Machines, and Centralisation: Why Musicians Need to Hack AI Now

IN THIS ARTICLE, CTM HACKLAB DIRECTOR PETER KIRN PROVIDES A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CO-OPTING OF MUSIC AND LISTENING BY CENTRALIZED INDUSTRY AND CORPORATIONS, IDENTIFYING MUZAK AS A PRECURSOR TO THE USE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FOR “PRE-PROGRAMMED CULTURE.” HE GOES ON TO DISCUSS PRODUCTIVE WAYS FOR THOSE WHO VALUE “CHOICE AND SURPRISE” TO REACT TO AND INTERACT WITH TECHNOLOGIES LIKE THESE THAT GROW MORE INESCAPABLE BY THE DAY.

It’s now a defunct entity, but “Muzak,” the company that provided background music, was once everywhere. Its management saw to it that their sonic product was ubiquitous, intrusive, and even engineered to impact behavior — and so the word Muzak became synonymous with all that was hated and insipid in manufactured culture.

Anachronistic as it may seem now, Muzak was a sign of how tele-communications technology would shape cultural consumption. Muzak may be known for its sound, but its delivery method is telling. Nearly a hundred years before Spotify, founder Major General George Owen Squier originated the idea of sending music over wires — phone wires, to be fair, but still not far off from where we’re at today. The patent he got for electrical signalling doesn’t mention music, or indeed even sound content. But the Major General was the first successful business founder to prove in practice that electronic distribution of music was the future, one that would take power out of the hands of radio broadcasters and give the delivery company additional power over content. (He also came up with the now-loathed Muzak brand name.)

What we now know as the conventional music industry has its roots in pianola rolls, then in jukeboxes, and finally in radio stations and physical media. Muzak was something different, as it sidestepped the whole structure: playlists were selected by an unseen, centralized corporation, then piped everywhere. You’d hear Muzak in your elevator ride in a department store (hence the phrase, elevator music). There were speakers tucked into potted plants. The White House and NASA at some points subscribed. Anywhere there was silence, it might be replaced with pre-programmed music.

Muzak added to its notoriety by marketing the notion of using its product to boost worker productivity, through a pseudo-scientific regimen it called the “stimulus progression.” And in that, we see a notion that presages today’s app behavior loops and motivators, meant to drive consumption and engagement, ad clicks and app swipes.

Muzak for its part didn’t last forever, with stimulus progression long since debunked, customers preferring licensed music to this mix of original sounds, and newer competitors getting further ahead in the marketplace.

But what about the idea of homogenized, pre-programmed culture delivered by wire, designed for behavior modification? That basic concept seems to be making a comeback.

Automation and Power

“AI” or machine intelligence has been tilted in the present moment to focus on one specific area: the use of self-training algorithms to process large amounts of data. This is a necessity of our times, and it has special value to some of the big technical players who just happen to have competencies in the areas machine learning prefers — lots of servers, top mathematical analysts, and big data sets.

That shift in scale is more or less inescapable, though, in its impact. Radio implies limited channels; limited channels implies human selectors — meet the DJ. The nature of the internet as wide-open for any kind of culture means wide open scale. And it will necessarily involve machines doing some of the sifting, because it’s simply too large to operate otherwise.

There’s danger inherent in this shift. One, users may be lazy, willing to let their preferences be tipped for them rather than face the tyranny of choice alone. Two, the entities that select for them may have agendas of their own. Taken as an aggregate, the upshot could be greater normalization and homogenization, plus the marginalization of anyone whose expression is different, unviable commercially, or out of sync with the classes of people with money and influence. If the dream of the internet as global music community seems in practice to lack real diversity, here’s a clue as to why.

At the same time, this should all sound familiar — the advent of recording and broadcast media brought with it some of the same forces, and that led to the worst bubblegum pop and the most egregious cultural appropriation. Now, we have algorithms and corporate channel editors instead of charts and label execs — and the worries about payola and the eradication of anything radical or different are just as well-placed.

What’s new is that there’s now also a real-time feedback loop between user actions and automated cultural selection (or perhaps even soon, production). Squier’s stimulus progression couldn’t monitor metrics representing the listener. Today’s online tools can. That could blow apart past biases, or it could reinforce them — or it could do a combination of the two.

In any case, it definitely has power. At last year’s CTM hacklab, Cambridge University’s Jason Rentfrow looked at how music tastes could be predictive of personality and even political thought. The connection was timely, as the talk came the same week as Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, his campaign having employed social media analytics to determine how to target and influence voters.

We can no longer separate musical consumption — or other consumption of information and culture — from the data it generates, or from the way that data can be used. We need to be wary of centralized monopolies on that data and its application, and we need to be aware of how these sorts of algorithms reshape choice and remake media. And we might well look for chances to regain our own personal control.

Even if passive consumption may seem to be valuable to corporate players, those players may discover that passivity suffers diminishing returns. Activities like shopping on Amazon, finding dates on Tinder, watching television on Netflix, and, increasingly, music listening, are all experiences that push algorithmic recommendations. But if users begin to follow only those automated recommendations, the suggestions fold back in on themselves, and those tools lose their value. We’re left with a colorless growing detritus of our own histories and the larger world’s. (Just ask someone who gave up on those Tinder dates or went to friends because they couldn’t work out the next TV show to binge-watch.)

There’s also clearly a social value to human recommendations — expert and friend alike. But there’s a third way: use machines to augment humans, rather than diminish them, and open the tools to creative use, not only automation.

Music is already reaping benefits of data training’s power in new contexts. By applying machine learning to identifying human gestures, Rebecca Fiebrink has found a new way to make gestural interfaces for music smarter and more accessible. Audio software companies are now using machine learning as a new approach to manipulating sound material in cases where traditional DSP tools are limited. What’s significant about this work is that it makes these tools meaningful in active creation rather than passive consumption.

AI, back in user hands

Machine learning techniques will continue to expand as tools by which the companies mining big data make sense of their resources — from ore into product. It’s in turn how they’ll see us, and how we’ll see ourselves.

We can’t simply opt out, because those tools will shape the world around us with or without our personal participation, and because the breadth of available data demands their use. What we can do is to better understand how they work and reassert our own agency.

When people are literate in what these technologies are and how they work, they can make more informed decisions in their own lives and in the larger society. They can also use and abuse these tools themselves, without relying on magical corporate products to do it for them.

Abuse itself has special value. Music and art are fields in which these machine techniques can and do bring new discoveries. There’s a reason Google has invested in these areas — because artists very often can speculate on possibilities and find creative potential. Artists lead.

The public seems to respond to rough edges and flaws, too. In the 60s, when researcher Joseph Weizenbaum attempted to parody a psychotherapist with crude language pattern matching in his program, ELIZA, he was surprised when users started to tell the program their darkest secrets and imagine understanding that wasn’t there. The crudeness of Markov chains as predictive text tool — they were developed for analyzing Pushkin statistics and not generating language, after all — has given rise to breeds of poetry based on their very weirdness. When Google’s style transfer technique was applied using a database of dog images, the bizarre, unnatural images that warped photos into dogs went viral online. Since then, Google has made vastly more sophisticated techniques that apply realistic painterly effects and… well, it seems that’s attracted only a fraction of the interest that the dog images did.

Maybe there’s something even more fundamental at work. Corporate culture dictates predictability and centralized value. The artist does just the opposite, capitalizing on surprise. It’s in the interest of artists if these technologies can be broken. Muzak represents what happens to aesthetics when centralized control and corporate values win out — but it’s as much the widespread public hatred that’s the major cautionary tale. The values of surprise and choice win out, not just as abstract concepts but also as real personal preferences.

We once feared that robotics would eliminate jobs; the very word is derived (by Czech writer Karel Čapek’s brother Joseph) from the word for slave. Yet in the end, robotic technology has extended human capability. It has brought us as far as space and taken us through Logo and its Turtle, even taught generations of kids math, geometry, logic, and creative thinking through code.

We seem to be at a similar fork in the road with machine learning. These tools can serve the interests of corporate control and passive consumption, optimised only for lazy consumption that extracts value from its human users. Or, we can abuse and misuse the tools, take them apart and put them back together again, apply them not in the sense that “everything looks like a nail” when all you have is a hammer, but as a precise set of techniques to solve specific problems. Muzak, in its final days, was nothing more than a pipe dream. What people wanted was music — and choice. Those choices won’t come automatically. We may well have to hack them.

PETER KIRN is an audiovisual artist, composer/musician, technologist, and journalist. He is the editor of CDM and co-creator of the open source MeeBlip hardware synthesizer (meeblip.com). For six consecutive years, he has directed the MusicMaker’s Hacklab at CTM Festival, most recently together with new media artist Ioann Maria.

http://ctm-festival.de/

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A look at AI’s strange and dystopian future for art, music, and society

Machine learning and new technologies could unlock new frontiers of human creativity – or they could take humans out of the loop, ushering in a new nightmare of corporate control. Or both.

Machine learning, the field of applying neural networks to data analysis, unites a range of issues from technological to societal. And audio and music are very much at the center of the transformative effects of these technologies. Commonly dubbed (partly inaccurately) “artificial intelligence,” they suggest a relationship between humans and machines, individuals and larger state and corporate structures, far beyond what has existed traditionally. And that change has gone from far-off science fiction to a reality that’s very present in our homes, our lives, and of course the smartphones in our pockets.

I had the chance to co-curate with CTM Festival a day of inputs from a range of thinkers and artist/curators earlier this year. Working with my co-host, artist and researcher Ioann Maria, we packed a day full of ideas and futures both enticing and terrifying. We’ve got that full afternoon, even including audience discussion, online for you to soak in.

Me, with Moritz, pondering the future. Photo: CTM Festival / Isla Kriss.

And there are tons of surprises. There are various terrifying dystopias, with some well-reasoned arguments for why they might actually come to fruition (or evidence demonstrating these scenarios are already in progress). There are more hopeful visions of how to get ethics, and humans, back in the loop. There are surveys of artistic responses.

All of this kicked off our MusicMakers Hacklab at CTM Festival, which set a group of invited artists on collaborative, improvisatory explorations of these same technologies as applied to performance.

These imaginative and speculative possibilities become not just idle thoughts, but entertaining and necessary explorations of what might be soon. This is the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come, if a whole lot more fun to watch, here not just to scare us, but to spur us into action and invention.

Let’s have a look at our four speakers.

Machine learning and neural networks

Moritz Simon Geist: speculative futures

Who he is: Moritz is an artist and researcher; he joined us for my first-ever event for CTM Festival with a giant robotic 808, but he’s just at adept in researching history and future.

Topics: Futurism, speculation, machine learning and its impact on music, body enhancement and drugs

Takeaways: Moritz gives a strong introduction to style transfer and other machine learning techniques, then jumps into speculating on where these could go in the future.

In this future, remixes and styles and timbres might all become separate from a more fluid creativity – but that might, in turn, dissolve artistic value.

“In the future … music will not be conceived as an art form any more. – Moritz Simon Geist”

Then, Moritz goes somewhere else entirely – dreaming up speculative drugs that could transform humans, rather than only machines. (The historical basis for this line of thought: Alexander Shulgin and his drug notebooks, which might even propose a drug that transforms perception of pitch.)

Moritz imagines an “UNSTYLE” plug-in that can extract vocals – then change genre.

What if self-transformation – or even fame – were in a pill?

Gene Cogan: future dystopias

Who he is: An artist/technologist who works with generative systems and its overlap with creativity and expression. Don’t miss Gene’s expansive open source resource for code and learning, machine learning for artists.

Topics: Instrument creation, machine learning – and eventually AI’s ability to generate its own music

Takeaways: Gene’s talk begin with “automation of songwriting, production, and curation” as a topic – but tilted enough toward dystopia that he changed the title.

“This is probably going to be the most depressing talk.”

In a more hopeful vision, he presented the latest work of Snyderphonics – instruments that train themselves as musicians play, rather than only the other way around.

He turned to his own work in generative models and artistic works like his Donald Trump “meat puppet,” but presented a scary image of what would happen if eventually analytic and generative machine learning models combined, producing music without human involvement:

“We’re nowhere near anything like this happening. But it’s worth asking now, if this technology comes to fruition, what does that mean about musicians? What is the future of musicians if algorithms can generate all the music we need?”

References: GRUV, a generative model for producing music

WaveNet, the DeepMind tech being used by Google for audio

Sander Dieleman’s content-based recommendations for music

Gene presents – the death of the human musician.

Wesley Goatley: machine capitalism, dark systems

Who he is: A sound artist and researcher in “critical data aesthetics,” plumbing the meaning of data from London in his own work and as a media theorist

Topics: Capitalism, machines, aesthetics, Amazon Echo … and what they may all be doing to our own agency and freedom

Takeaways: Wesley began with “capitalism at machine-to-machine speeds,” then led to ways this informed systems that, hidden away from criticism, can enforce bias and power. In particular, he pitted claims like “it’s not minority report – it’s science; it’s math!” against the realities of how these systems were built – by whom, for whom, and with what reason.

“You are not working them; they are working you.”

As companies like Amazon and Google extend control, under the banner of words like “smart” and “ecosystem,” Wesley argues, what they’re really building is “dark systems”:

“We can’t get access or critique; they’re made in places that resemble prisons.”

The issue then becomes signal-to-noise. Data isn’t really ever neutral, so the position of power lets a small group of people set an agenda:

“[It] isn’t a constant; it’s really about power and space.”

Wesley on dark connectionism, from economics to design. Photo: CTM Festival / Isla Kriss.

Deconstructing an Amazon Echo – and data and AI as echo chamber. Photo: CTM Festival / Isla Kriss.

What John Cage can teach us: silence is never neutral, and neither is data.

Estela Oliva: digital artists respond

Who she is: Estela is a creative director / curator / digital consultant, an anchor of London’s digital art scene, with work on Alpha-ville Festival, a residency at Somerset House, and her new Clon project.

Topics: Digital art responding to these topics, in hopeful and speculative and critical ways – and a conclusion to the dystopian warnings woven through the afternoon.

Takeaways: Estela grounded the conclusion of our afternoon in a set of examples from across digital arts disciplines and perspectives, showing how AI is seen by artists.

Works shown:

Terence Broad and his autoencoder

Sougwen Chung and Doug, her drawing mate

https://www.bell-labs.com/var/articles/discussion-sougwen-chung-about-human-robotic-collaborations/

Marija Bozinovska Jones and her artistic reimaginings of voice assistants and machine training:

Memo Akten’s work (also featured in the image at top), “you are what you see”

Archillect’s machine-curated feed of artwork

Superflux’s speculative project, “Our Friends Electric”:

OUR FRIENDS ELECTRIC

Estela also found dystopian possibilities – as bias, racism, and sexism are echoed in the automated machines. (Contrast, indeed, the machine-to-machine amplification of those worst characteristics with the more hopeful human-machine artistic collaborations here, perhaps contrasting algorithmic capitalism with individual humanism.)

But she also contrasted that with more emotionally intelligent futures, especially with the richness and dimensions of data sets:

“We need to build algorithms that represent our values better – but I’m just worried that unless we really talk about it more seriously, it’s not going to happen.”

Estela Oliva, framed by Memo Akten’s work. Photo: CTM Festival / Isla Kriss.

It was really a pleasure to put this together. There’s obviously a deep set of topics here, and ones I know we need to continue to cover. Let us know your thoughts – and we’re always glad to share in your research, artwork, and ideas.

Thanks to CTM Festival for hosting us.

https://www.ctm-festival.de/news/

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Maracaibo to Berlin, Hyperaktivist on MESS, love, and music community

From Venezuela to Europe, DJ/producer Hyperaktivist’s passion for music has been about connecting people as it has about connecting music. She talks to us about that process of community building, even in the face of resistance – and shares hours of music mixed with Mohajer at her side.

MESS is “Mindful Electronic Sonic Selections.” It’s advertised as techno, as house, as “adventurous sounds.” The party itself is once every third month at Ohm, the intimate club built in the former battery room of the power plant that now houses Tresor and Atonal Festival. But follow the connections of this party, and you get a decent map to a range of inspiring DIY, collective efforts of artists around Europe and Latin America. For any of us struggling to put together our own musical lives, our own parties, our own collectives and communities, it’s a terrific instructive effort – not least because of the personality and will of Hyperaktivist, aka Maracaibo, Venezuela-born, Berlin-based Ana Laura Rincon.

I’m personally indebted to Ana Laura in the time I’ve known her, in that in a sometimes mercurial, transient Berlin scene, she has consistently been someone whose vision and friendship I’ve known I could always trust. Of course, maybe it’s better though to first listen to how she communicates musically. She shares with us a mix she made B2B with Mohajer (aka Melinda Mohajer), her Iranian-born partner.

The magical thing about music and perhaps specifically techno is, when someone makes a confident sonic statement, it makes that feeling of strength infectious:

Hyperaktivist went B2B with Mohajer for MESS in February – a perfect Valentine’s Day pairing. Listen to their full mix. Photo courtesy Ana Laura Rincon.

The Hyperaktivist B2B Mohajer set comes to us from the last edition, in February. MESS is never advertised as female-only lineups; it’s a completely mixed crowd, and it never uses artists’ gender as a selling point. For her part, Ana Laura just refers to “chemistry and style.” But the fact remains: some of the most significant forces on the musical scene are female, transgender, and non-binary. And a lot of those figures are still often very underground. So let’s let Ana Laura guide us.

For the edition coming up on Berlin Saturday May 26, we get to meet two special artists:

Nastya Muravyova (Celestial, Kyiv)

“She’s a rising, yet brightly shining star of Kyiv’s underground scene,” Ana Laura says. “She’s balancing on the edge of pumpy 4×4 techno and sharp breakbeat, slightly aggressive — and all the way sexy.”

facebook.com/vsehzhdetsmert

Jessie Granqvist (Esperanto, Stockholm)

Ana Laura: “She’s a product of the vibrant underground-scene that’s currently growing rapidly in Stockholm. With roots grounded in illegal raves and open airs, she has gained notoriety for her style of dark and meditative sounds merged together into a very danceable mix. With both technicality and an eclectic selection of records, she has the talent to truly build and build a long lasting vibe on every floor that she appears on.”

facebook.com/jessie.granqvist/

PK: I find it interesting that you’re pulling people connected to collectives, parties, scenes in other cities. What’s important to you about doing that?

Hyperaktivist: For me, at the moment, I’m really not finding my inspiration so much from the scene in Berlin. So I always try to invite and collaborate with people from other places – so we can experience something fresh and different for us here in Berlin. With bookings, I take my time to know that everyone is going to have a chemistry that will work through the night and that it will add something new.

I mean, it seems like that’s been a big part of what defined the scene in Berlin – bringing in influence from elsewhere, whether it’s Detroit or Latin America or another part of Germany. So that’s a problem if it becomes just an export culture, if it’s all the same, right?

Hype has taken over Berlin; that’s a fact. People come here to live that “Berlin experience.” What scares me is the effect this might have on some of the artists that reside in Berlin. I worry some DJs feel pressured to play what’s expected from them more than what they feel at the time. And I worry about the consequences of that for the people who actually live in Berlin – whether they’re feeling that they’re going to the same party over and over, or that there are actually new things happening.

At this point I’m trying to go back to the roots a bit, thinking about why I started DJing and organizing parties in the first place. For me it all started in Venezuela, a country with few electronic music affiliations.

I discovered the electronic music scene when I was about 16 or 17. That happened to be around the first time I saw a DJ playing – there were maybe three or four people in my whole city who owned turntables.

It might sound funny, but for me it was a revelation. I knew right there, this is something I wanted to do. I was collecting music already; my mom had a great music collection and she was among other things a radio host. I was already completely fascinated about music and how we needed it to express ourselves and how we naturally feel like sharing it with others. So for me, seeing a DJ – “the master of ceremony” – was a turning point.

I started to get into it, but the scene was small and many people wouldn’t really have access to it. I first started organizing parties and eventually I even opened the first club in my city dedicated to electronic music only. I did it with my three best friends; we ran it for four years. During this time, we would also throw free parties in the streets. We had the intention of making electronic music more accessible to anyone and somehow contributing to the development of this scene that had already become a very important, determinant part of my life

That’s why I try to work with collectives that I feel are working to develop the scene in their own countries. When you start to do this in a place that’s not like Berlin, that’s not well developed, where the industry is not like here, you know that people are doing this because they love it. And they love it so much that they need it and if it doesn’t exist, then they do it. They need it to be part of their lives, so they make it happen.

So I like to work with people I feel are involved in music for these reasons, and doing something with heart and that is honest. Not only because of hype or because they want to be famous. It’s more because we fucking love it.

How do you describe what MESS is about? I know you aren’t explicitly talking about this being female + non-binary only, as far as lineups – so how would you express that dimension?

First of all, I feel the concept of MESS is ever-evolving. We need to pay attention to the necessities of the electronic music scene, what needs work and what’s overlooked.

Berlin is such a masculine city in many ways, music scene included. I’ve met some of the most amazing women and the most strong personalities in Berlin. So I have a hard time accepting why women still need to fight very hard and prove themselves over and over in order to be accepted and sometimes even welcomed.

I think about MESS as a space where I don’t want to make a political statement. I have come to understand the best points are made when you don’t have to explain too much but instead you let things speak by themselves. Actions speak louder than words, right?

So I put together bookings based on chemistry and style. I invite super talented artists and I let them do their thing. And slowly but surely, people are realizing that there’s something different. And I get feedback on it – sometimes at the party, people come to me and say, like, ‘this is really cool, what you’re doing, there’s something different about the party.’ So it’s great to let people see by themselves.

I also always try to put together bookings where people are from diverse cultural backgrounds, so you see different approaches.

In my utopian world, we shouldn’t even be having these discussions between each other. At the end of the day, more than anything else, it should be about the music, about friendship, acceptance, respect — about the feeling you are part of something special.

And this is what MESS is at the moment.

Ana Laura aka Hyperaktivist. Photo by Melinda Mohajer.

So when you go to find these artists, these collectives and other scenes – how are you connecting with them?

Research. [laughs] I spend time – a lot of time, listening to the music. Not only once. You know how it is with music – this day you hear this and you think, oh wow, I love this … next day you hear the same and it’s like, this is actually fatal. I give myself time to hear it, in different moods, see how I feel about it. I hear it with friends. There are different things that catch me. Usually, the things that catch me are related to attitude — when I see that this person wants to say something, there’s something there.

It takes time. That’s why I do MESS every three months, because I need time to prepare and I also want to have a good reason to make the party. For example, the last edition happened on February 17th, the weekend after Valentine’s Day. We decided to make a “Club Affair” and have only couples playing, as in back to back. So we invited Isabella from Colombia B2B Bella Sarris from Australia, Johanna Schneider with Philippa Pacho from Sweden with their B2B project Sthlm Murder Girls, and I played with Melinda Mohajer from Iran. I saved our recording specially for you at CDM.

Схема. Via Facebook.

Hyperaktivist vs. Maricas Maricas, Barcelona.

I’ve been collaborating with various collectives / parties. For a few examples:

Maricas, a queer party collective from Barcelona, run by Isabella, a Colombian DJ who played at our last edition, along with Uruguayan friends

www.facebook.com/pg/maricasmaricasmaricas
www.instagram.com/maricasmaricas/

Fast Forward from Copenhagen — these guys are making exciting new techno and crazy illegal parties, and you feel their collective really has these family vibe, which I love.

www.facebook.com/fastforwardcopenhagen/

Esperanto music from Sweden – they’re pushing up-and-coming Swedish artists.

https://www.facebook.com/EsperantoMusic/

esperantomusic.net

Cxema from Ukraine, where they are taking abandoned locations and throwing badass raves and putting the Ukraine scene on the international radar.

www.facebook.com/cxemapage/
http://www.c-x-e-m-a.com/

How does that experience compare to when you were running a club in Venezuela?

It was the same – collaborating with the development of the scene and the culture of electronic music. It’s what I’ve been working for, always.

I had this friend, and he had this house downtown in my city Maracaibo, the second largest city in Venezuela. And he was like, ”I want to do something here, what should I do?” I didn’t even think for one second — I turned around and told him, we’re gonna do a club.

And then we started the club, and it was amazing. It became a meeting point for all the scene in the city and across the country. So we started to do the same – invited collectives from Caracas and all the other cities from Venezuela to come to play, and then we would go to play their parties in their cities. And then it grew, and it started to happen between Colombia, Brazil, Argentina. Then we started to bring artists from Europe, but at this point the political situation of the country started to critically worsen. We had an exchange control that started to happen and wouldn’t allow us to access any foreign currency anymore, so buying records, equipment, or making international bookings became impossible. The whole country started to go down down and boom – it was gone. And that’s when we stopped.

But now one of the best clubs in Bogota, Video Club, is run by a good friend of mine Enrique Leon with I used to have the club with in Venezuela. And he’s putting together great bookings, making showcases with everyone. Dekmental Sound System, Aurora Halal, etc….

If you’re in Berlin, don’t miss MESS tomorrow at Ohm, Saturday 26 May. Or see you in the scene in your neck of the woods.

MESS at OHM
Facebook event
Resident Advisor

More from Hyperaktivist / Mess

www.facebook.com/Hyperaktivist/
www.soundcloud.com/hyperaktivist
www.soundcloud.com/messberlin
www.facebook.com/messberlin

At top: Hyperaktivist – Pic by Honza Kolář.

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Native Instruments Carbon Decay expansion captures anarchic sound of industrial techno

Native Instruments Carbon Decay ExpansionNative Instruments has announced a new Expansion pack that bursts with the turbulent sound of industrial techno. Carbon Decay aims to capture a primitive strain of techno that’s shaken the walls of warehouses across the UK and beyond. Its inspiration can be found in the clang of 70s post-punk and industrial, as well as in […]

8BitMixtapeNEO is a glitchy hackable synth the size of a cassette tape

It’s the size of a cassette tape, has buttons and pots so you can play it as a handheld instrument, it’s open and hackable – and it sounds like 8-bit mayhem.

8BitMixtapeNEO is very, very lo-fi synth built around the Arduino-compatible ATTINY85 chip. But what’s interesting about it is that all that hackable, programmable mayhem is accessible to anyone curious, not just coders.

It sounds mental:

And it’s got some weird and clever features:

Pocket mods: Just like the KORG volca sample, an audio protocol works for upload. So you can send firmware code just by playing a sound file from an audio playback device. Flash with your phone on the fly. (They also suggest a SONY Cassette WALKMAN, of course.)

Lite-Brite: Eight RGB LEDs work as a sort of 8-pixel screen / feedback / Knight Rider display.

Upcycle: Since the PCB is the shape and size of a cassette tape, a re-purposed cassette shape shell works as a case.

Arduino-compatible chip.

Visual programming. There’s a visual, drag-and-drop programming interface you can use as an alternative to uploading code. Have a look:

User mixtapes. They’ve built their own custom community for user-generated tools, including visual effects, sequencers, sounds, and other hacks. It’s here – http://neo.8bitmixtape.cc/mixtape – and since audio playback upload is easy, you can just flash from any computer or phone or tablet with speakers!

Pricing stars at 65EUR (with that beautiful, artsy PCB). There are various ways to buy, including getting it in person in Berlin – and workshops from Hong Kong to Zagreb to Taoyuan. Check it out:

http://wiki.8bitmixtape.cc/#/XXX-Shop

http://neo.8bitmixtape.cc/

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All the best new gear and modules from Superbooth, in one place

If you love synths, you’ll want a guide to Berlin’s Superbooth. What was still just an actual booth a few years ago has grown into one of the world’s biggest synthesizer showcases. There was so much new, it’s actually hard to keep track. Here’s some assistance.

About the festival: Superbooth, held in a former East German children’s community center in the city’s Köpenick suburb, was more packed in 2018 than ever.

That’s partly a sign of the growth of modular makers. This event calls Berlin home thanks to Schneidersladen (née Schneidersbüro), the boutique synth shop that became a landmark and a beacon to lovers of electronic instruments, particularly as analog circuitry and Eurorack modular synths have seen major growth in the 21st century. Andreas Schneider and his team, and later their ALEX4 distributor and the Superbooth operation itself, have helped champion those instruments.

But like that shop, Superbooth also gathers boutique makers of many stripes, plus big manufacturers like KORG, Elektron, and Roland, each of whom had commanding presences (among others).

The overall feeling is of a place where synth makers and musicians come together, with gear at center stage. (There are panels and performances, too, but they feel a pleasant side show to the workshops and booths.)

This year’s themes: There are still wires everywhere. But “analog” sound sources aren’t the major concern they once were – or, for that matter, classic gear as models (even if Behringer clones were a big buzz). Now, you’ll see plenty of computer-like sequencers in racks, digital oscillators (including FM synthesis), more alternative control interfaces (from touch to gestures to biosensing), and fresh ideas built around digital tech.

Actually, maybe the openness of ideas is a big part of Superbooth’s easy-going atmosphere. Because modules aren’t complete products in themselves, they often seem as much a physical embodiment of an idea as a product. Even with some builders marketing complete “systems,” there was a hunger to connect gear.

But even if you’re not into modular… Here’s the funny thing. Superbooth has managed to become the world’s premiere synth show, not just modular show. Computers were mostly eclipsed, and you didn’t see a lot of guitar- or vocal-focused gear, but every other object that generates sound – from desktop synths to Theremins – was on hand, with some pretty big news.

The List.

Okay, there’s so much stuff – I’m going to make this a really fast log with some in-a-nutshell descriptions.

Things I left out of this list:

1. Stuff introduced earlier / shown before (as at NAMM in the USA, earlier this year)
2. Things I forgot / didn’t see

On #2, please feel free to remind me or make a case for something you found interesting. There’s actually way too much stuff to cover everything, though, so I did intend to pick highlights but …. I’m sure there’s more.

The show-stealers

Erik Norlander (also creator of the Alesis Andromeda) shows us the IK Multimedia UNO he worked on with Soundmachines’ Davide Mancini.

I’ve covered these already, as they made some of the biggest impact at the show (and on general audiences), perhaps with the exception of the Behringer clones (more on that in a bit).

MFB’s Tanzbär-2 was instant drool-worthy stuff, combining analog drum sounds, digital drum sounds with sample loading, and an analog bassline with easy access to sounds and faders. And it’s made in Berlin, so – score one for the home team.

The Polyend/Dreadbox Medusa is a deep synth paired with an expressive grid and extensive live recording and sequencing features. And as with the MFB, pretty much everyone I talked to instantly wanted one, so there’s that.

The $199 IK Multimedia UNO. Combining a powerful analog synth with a sequencer and lots of modulation, all in a battery-powered unit you can play right away at a low price, is an easy win. It’s also the work of a collaboration between soundmachines and IK.

Erica Synths Techno System just does everything you need for percussion and bassline and distortion and mixing thereof, and sounds amazing.

Roland’s SYSTEM-500 modules strike a nice balance between features of the 100m line, the SH-5, and newer ideas. Plus, again, Roland got to stake out the super-cool space-themed part of the building.

Bastl’s modules are noteworthy, even if not the most buzzed-about gear at Superbooth this year, for two reasons: one, I think they’ve got waveshaping interface down with Timber, and two, the 1983 MIDI-to-CV module does clever automatic tuning, for polyphony across modules.

Desktop synths and toys

The Center for Haptic Audio Interaction Research chair.audio. This is perhaps the most exciting innovation shown at Superbooth. Vibration-based sensing and haptic technology produces a control interface that behaves more like an acoustic instrument. It’s the result of a research team based in Weimar, Germany – check their complete site for an explanation, but more on this on CDM soon, for sure. The results are stunning – suggesting a new kind of performance interaction, and a window to the worlds of electronic sound that descends more from acoustic percussion and less from organs and keyboards. Watch – it’s jaw-dropping:

Dave Smith Instruments Prophet X. Dave Smith have gone to the high end with this one – it’s a new flagship Prophet, combining a digital 8-voice stereo digital synth, a new sample-based sound engine, and those signature DSI analog filters and circuitry. Basically, you get a Prophet workstation – part Prophet synth, part sample engine with 150 GB content, and all the extras. And it costs four grand, though this seems like a new generation of workstation keyboard / computer sample engine replacement. (Dave Smith for Hans Zimmer?) DSI have posted a complete product page. It’s sort of a shame Keyboard Magazine (USA) is no longer printed on trees, as obviously this would be on the cover.

Soulsby Atmultitron. This is like the 8-bit workstation to DSI’s high-res one. No gigs of samples or high resolution here – just a keyboard packing all of Paul Soulsby’s brilliant and weird 8-bit creations into a single keyboard with joystick and controls.

Pittsburgh Modular Electronic Sequence Designer. Sequencers were all over the place at Superbooth, but perhaps the most useful was Pittsburgh Modular’s entry – a 4-channel, 32-step sequencer with loads of performance and composition options. It’s a little like having a KOMPLEX Sequencer from KOMA, but in a more manageable form factor.

Twisted Electrons introduced some toys in the best sense. The 8-bit uAcid8 borrows from their bigger acid8 wavetable synth, while the 4-voice hapiNES is “inspired by” the NES game synth. Both have push-button access to some clever features like filter wobble, and both cost just 99EUR. The inspiration of the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators was left in the open – they even had a couple of those plugged into these, jamming together.

A hardware tool for the Prologue. KORG hinted that they were bringing hardware SDKs to play with that would allow developers to make stuff for their Prologue polysynth. KORG’s Etienne Noreau-Hebert talked to us about it. It’s basically one Prologue voice on a board (with cute lasercut side stands), with audio in and out jacks so you can hear what you’re doing, and exactly the circuitry you’d have on the full keyboard. Writing in C (with limited C++ extensions), you can make your own oscillators and effects, then ship them to the Prologue user base. There’s not much to this other than that, apart from a handful of conveniences like lookup tables, but it still seems like fun. And it’s the first instance I can think of that a hardware platform worked in this way.

Holon bio interface. This was crazy fun to play with. Using an Apple Watch or a custom wristband sensor (or just your iPhone), this interface tracks your pulse as well as movement. The upshot: jog around, and music responds. It’s like having a generative composer following you around, writing music for your workout – so that even when you pause to wait for a light to change at an intersection, the music answers accordingly. They also have a modular interface for this. Awaiting Apple approval. (holon.ist site seems not to be up quite yet, either).

Soundmachines Arches. Touch interfaces were everywhere, but Soundmachines’ Arches was a standout. Not only does it provide touchable strips, but you get light-up feedback, recording and looping, pressure sensitivity and z-axis control, and tons of patchability in addition to MIDI and USB. It’s really a gestural sequencing instrument as well as control interface, with loads of pattern controls for automating as you play. See the full product page for more.

Snazzy FX pedals. If you feel a bit left out of the fun as an instrumentalist looking for pedals, Snazzy has you covered – some brilliant and completely weirdo guitar pedals from the USA, found in the Erica Synths booth.

Modular

u-he Civilization. With lite-brite rainbow colors and just a few pots, the entry of plug-in developer into the modular world was a strange one. This module is a 4×4 matrix mixer – but, with some taps of those pots, it’s also a quantizer and sample & hold module – and all of that is color coded. Basically, a single space lets you command a bunch of connections and modules quickly, making Civilization an interesting choice for saving space.

It’s a bit nuts, but it also shows some of the advantage of multi-functional thinking from software blurring over into hardware.

Humble Audio Quad Operator. Hailing from San Francisco, Humble Audio have delivered a four-operator FM synth in a Eurorack module – complete with a matrix of pots. Everything can be modulated – and you can patch in audio signal. You can choose algorithms, or mix together your own sound shapes. It’s basically everything you’d want from a software FM synth, but in modular form – brlliant stuff, and hope to look at it more.

NERDSEQ is a chip music-style tracker in a module. It’s not new – I saw some pre-modular prototype years ago even at Musikmesse – but each year, its developer takes it further. This year, cartridges containing open source synths, including the full MeeBlip anode with analog filter, were available. So you can plug in an entire synth and use it in the tracker, just as easily as you would play Excitebike. Don’t blow on the synth cartridge, though.

You can plug in a game controller, too.

Hexinverter Mindphaser. Well, this is basically your dream oscillator – an analog “complex oscillator” with phase modulation and waveshaping. And in addition to beautiful controls and patching, it just sounds ridiculously good:

In a way, maybe this is one of the best Superbooth moments. It demonstrates analog circuitry, behaving futuristic – voltages making those computer bits a little jealous. (I may seem like I’m now anthropomorphizing numbers whilst my hypocrisy takes down the very name of my site, but just remember the CDM motto – the ‘d’ stands for whatever you want it to.)

I just wish I hadn’t failed to get on the Eurorack manufacturing craze or the cryptocurrency thing, because now I … can’t afford all that mindphasing. (Or at least, thinking about it is causing some mindphasing.)

Insane Clone Posse

Behringer have gone clone mad – with Roland Corporation circa 1980 (give or take a couple of years) being a particular target.

Roland’s SH-101 synth (1982), VP-330 vocoder (1979), TR-808 (1980), and even two pedals based on the JUNO-60 (1982) were on the show floor, not to mention the announcement that Behringer’s cut-rate Eurorack line will be based on the SYSTEM-100 module line. And no one can argue that Behringer are bringing back products that Roland won’t, since Roland has unveiled the SH-01, VP-03, TR-08 (and TR-8S and TR-8), and JU-06, plus their own SYSTEM-500 Eurorack, respectively. Behringer aren’t just copying Roland from decades past, in other words – their whole brand strategy comes straight out of the 2017-2018 Roland product catalog.

Behringer’s offerings are cheaper, yes. But those aren’t profits going to some rich fat cats: they pay for the marketing and support operations of Roland worldwide, which arguably helps create the market Behringer can then come in and exploit (and certainly which pays for some jobs).

It’s not just Roland. Behringer copied Sequential Circuits (now Dave Smith Instruments) Pro-One, though the prototype on the floor copied the look and feel more effectively than the architecture. There was also the ARP Odyssey, which had recently been re-engineered and re-released by KORG. And Behringer also showed the Neutron, which looks suspiciously in board layout like Moog’s Mother-32 semi-modular.

Nowhere to be seen: the DeepMind, the one synth Behringer created that’s actually new.

On the other hand, maybe what makes this less remarkable at this point is that the 101 and 808 in particularly already have countless clones in software and hardware. Behringer is, perversely, almost trading on their reputation for being the clone maker.

Behringer’s strategy (via parent Music Tribe) and its impact on the industry deserves more investigation. Past clones have landed the company in legal trouble with Roland/BOSS and Mackie. I’m researching that story and will report more separately.

But were there new products from Behringer? Well, no – not unless you’ve been in cryogenic stasis since 1982.

Meanwhile, the oddest reaction to this has to be this, from Synthtopia’s comments:

It justifies Behringer’s hardware clones with a reference to all the human … cloning … going on. Really, human cloning? Wasn’t aware.

Weirdness

Oh, so much weirdness. Want a beer tap in a module, for instance?

Or laughing gas (via Errorinstruments)? (Makes me think about dentists.)

What did we miss?

It’s not possible to cover everything. But let us know if there was anything that particularly excited you – and that was new around this show.

(It was great seeing the Teenage Engineering OP-Z, the Snyderphonics Manta, the Polivoks, the Synthstrom Deluge … but none of those was exactly new, I think!)

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MIDI Polyphonic Expression is now a thing, with new gear and software

MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) is now an official part of the MIDI standard. And Superbooth Berlin shows it’s catching on everywhere from granular synths to modular gear.

For decades now, it’s been easy enough to add expression to a single, monophonic line, via various additional controls. But humans have more than one finger. And with MIDI, there was until recently no standard way of adding additional expressiveness for multiple notes/fingers at the same time. All of that changed with the adoption of the MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) specification.

“Oh, fine,” naysayers were able to say, “but is that really for very many people?” And sure enough, there haven’t been so many instruments that knew what to do with the MPE data from a controller. So while you can pick up a controller like the ROLI Seaboard (or more boutique items from Roger Linn and Madrona Labs), and see support in major DAWs like Logic, Cubase, Reaper, GarageBand, and Bitwig Studio, mostly what you’d play would be specialized instruments made for them.

But that’s changing. It’s changing fast enough that you could spot the theme even at an analog-focused show like Superbooth.

Here’s a round-up of what was shown just at that show – and that isn’t even a complete list of the hardware and software support available now.

Thanks to Konstantin Hess from ROLI who helped me compile this list and provided some photos.

Polyend/Dreadbox Medusa. This all-in-one sequencer/synth is one I’ll write up separately. That grid has dedicated X/Y/Z movement on it, and it’s terrifically expressive. What’s great is, it uses MPE so you can record and play that data in supported hosts – or presumably use the same to sequence oteher MPE-compatible gear. And that also means:

Polyend SEQ. The Polish builder’s standalone sequencer also works with SEQ. As on the Medusa, you can play that live, or increment through, or step sequence control input.

Tasty Chips GR-1 Granular Synthesizer. Granular instruments have always posed a challenge when it comes to live performance, because they require manipulating multiple parameters at once. That of course makes them a natural for MPE – and sure enough, when Tasty Chips crowd-funded their GR-1 grain synth, they made MPE one of the selling points. Connect something like a Seaboard, and you have a granular instrument at your command. (An ultra-mobile, affordable Seaboard BLOCK was there for the demo in Berlin.)

The singular Gaz Williams recently gave this a go:

Audio Damage Granular. The newest iOS app/desktop plug-in from Audio Damage isn’t ready to use yet, but an early build was already at Superbooth connected to both a Linnstrument and a ROLI Seaboard for control. Set an iPad with your controller, and you have a mobile grain instrument solution.

Expert Sleepers FH-1. The FH-1 is a unique MIDI-to-CV modular interface, with both onboard USB host capabilities and polyphonic support. But what would polyphonic input be if you couldn’t also add polyphonic expression? And sure enough, the FH-1 is adding support for that natively. I’m hopeful that Bastl Instruments will choose to do the same with their own 1983 MIDI module.

Polyend Poly module. Also from Polyend, the Poly is designed around polyphony – note the eight-row matrix of CV out jacks, which makes it a sophisticated gateway from MIDI and USB MIDI to voltage. But this digital-to-analog gateway also has native support for MPE, meaning the moment you connect an MPE-sending controller, you can patch that expression into whatever you like.

Endorphin.es Shuttle Control. Shuttle Control is both a (high res) 12-bit MIDI-to-CV converter and practically a little computer-in-a-module all its own. It’s got MPE support, and was showing off that capability at Superbooth.

Once you have that MIDI bridge to voltage, of course, MPE gives you additional powers over a modular rig, so this opens up a lot more than just the stuff mentioned here.

I even know some people switching from Ableton Live to Bitwig Studio just for the added convenience of native MPE support. (That’s a niche, for sure, but it’s real.) I guess the key here is, it takes just one instrument or one controller you love to get you hooked – and then sophisticated modular and software environments can connect to still more possibilities.

It’s not something you’re going to need for every bassline or use all the time, but for some instruments, it adds another dimension to sound and playability.

Got some MPE-supporting picks of your own, or your own creations? Do let us know.

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MFB have a killer live drum machine + synth in the hybrid Tanzbär-2

It’s an analog drum machine plus bassline synth. It’s a digital drum machine with sample loading. It’s packed with live features and modulation. The coming MFB box could be … The One.

While big brands have focused on digital machines (or even software/hardware combos), MFB out of Berlin are the little boutique brand who have come out with a steady stream of analog boxes that are nonetheless compact and accessibly priced. And it’s not so much the fact that they have analog circuitry inside them as the fact that they’re different. Those drum timbres will hammer through your music when called upon, just like the Roland classics and whatnot, but they also sound distinctive. And with so much music already made on the well-known machines, different is good.

That said, for all the lovely sounds packed into any of these boxes, they all fell a little short of “must-have” – great-sounding but a bit fiddly and more focused on sound than performance features and sequencing. Then there was the confusing availability of two similar compact boxes, the Tanzmaus and Tanzbär Lite, alongside the Tanzbär flagship which was also … a bit similar to the other two.

Well, forget all that: because even in prototype form, the Tanzbär-2 is a whole new beast. If Roland’s TR-8S and Elektron Digitakt look poised to be the live drum machines for the mainstream, then the MFB might be the best boutique rival.

Or to put it another way – plug this thing in, and you can jam like a crazy person, with bassline and drums all ready to go.

Highlights (there’s no press release so … I’m doing this from memory):

A built-in bass synth that sounds totally brilliant, with internal melodic programming
Analog drum parts, plus digital drum parts (hey, it worked for the 909)
Sample loading, via MIDI dump or over USB, so you can load your own samples
Tons of front panel parameters for hands-on control of both the analog and digital sections’ parts
Dedicated faders for all the parts’ volumes
Two additional parameters for each part (accessed by the screen)
An LFO you can route to absolutely anything
Step sequencer, with per-step parameter automation
Separate outs for each part

And it’s really compact, too – not exactly lightweight (though that’s okay when you’re jamming hard on it), but easily slipped into a bag with a small footprint.

Really the only missing feature is, there aren’t internal effects … but that would complicate the design, and it does have separate outs.

The TB2 is really three instruments in one. There’s a simple analog bassline synth. The analog percussion section houses kicks, toms, congas, and snares. And then a digital section handles hats and additional percussion – or load your own digital samples for more choices. Sounds about perfect.

Faders! Dedicated outs! And it’s all really compact. Those knobs feel great, too, if you had a more fiddly experience with older MFB gear.

There are already a lot of parameters on the front panel, but parts also have additional parameters accessed by the two data knobs, with feedback on this display. (You’ll see some hints as to those features on the silkscreen, too.)

I’m sold. I think the fact that it includes a bassline synth internally is already great. I’ve got lots of questions, but they’re working on finishing this up this summer, so it’ll be better to make a separate trip to MFB after Superbooth. Then we can get some real sound samples without a convention going on behind us, and learn more about the details.

Cost isn’t confirmed, but they’re planning for under a grand (USD/EUR). Given you could pretty much do all your live dance sets on this box alone, that sounds good.

But wait — there’s more! MFB also new modules coming, too. Here’s a sneak peak of that:

More on this soon.

http://mfberlin.de/

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Deadbeat’s secret sauce Reaktor picks for “weirdo” production

It’s time for another trip into the strange and wonderful world of artist-created Reaktor ensembles. This time, our guide is dub techno maestro Deadbeat.

The Canadian-born, Berlin-based Scott Monteith is an artist whose chops are at peak maturity, from timbre to rhythm, recording to mix. And Scott’s latest, Wax Poetic For This Our Great Resolve, is both more personal — pulling from inspirational texts from friends — and more sonically intimate. The entire album sounds open and airy and organic, thanks to using acoustic re-recording of electronic elements. Every percussion hit, every synth line was either recorded in real space in the studio or recorded out of the box and into that open space and then miked.

Scott and I got to spend a pleasurably leisurely interview talking about the record, which I wrote up for Native Instruments’ blog:
Deadbeat on a return to hope, sound in real space

With all this focus on acoustic recoridng and re-recording, you’d think there wouldn’t be much to say about software – but you’d be wrong. There’s yet more shade and color around these sounds that’s produced by synthetic processing, a whole lot of it in Reaktor.

“There’s tons and tons of extra stuff that you would normally delete in vocal takes or guitar takes or whatever that ended up as sauce for feeding vocoders or feeding [Reaktor ensemble] grainstates,” says Scott, “or even some of the real classic [ensembles].” You’re hearing some of that in the hyperreal, clear color of the arrangements and mix.

“I think it’s nice to treat that stuff completely independently,” Scott says, “and then you end up with this bank of stuff that you know is going to be in key. And it’s somehow relatable, whether it be melodically or aesthetically – because you’ve fed it this stuff from a particular track. And then you go back to arrangement mode, because then I can take off my sound designer’s hat and put on my arrangers’ hat.”

Scott is confident enough in his skills to give that secret sauce away, so here’s a tour. Some of these are some long-lost gems of the library, too, so don’t expect to find them just by sorting for the latest or most popular ensembles. Some of these were used on this particular record, others represent a related techniques but have been used on other productions.

g-Transcoder
Gabriel Mulzer
Spectral vocoder/delay/reverb

“I’m using that just to add color to things. I love vocoders, period.

It’s like taking the vocals of Gudrun talking or Fatima talking, and using that as the modulator and the carrier signal being the chords in the track. Or it could also be the extra recording of the high hats in the room, and vocoding the vocals with that. So, then you have something rhythmic that’s the same, and in the same air, but then can be free as its own track. Or taking the guitar or the bass…”

GRIP Grain Cloud Synth
Uwe G. Hoenig
Polyphonic granular synth

“This is a playable one – this is one you can play with the keyboard. And you can load the oscillator is whatever you load into it.”

MOLEKULAR
Denis Gökdag / zynaptiq, Native Instruments
Modular multi-effects
KOMPLETE effect; available à la carte or in KOMPLETE ULTIMATE

“It’s fantastic. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful combination of super, super simple granular synth process combined with lovely lush reverb. And it’s just amazing.”

The Swarm
Eduard Telik
Random sound generator

“There goes a few hours of time,” says Scott. “This whole frequency modulation and detune and weird shit that’s going on in these guys is amazing.”

Ultimate Reverb
Guenther Fleischmann
Reverberator

“There’s this preset – ‘Coming Up From Hell.’ I use that a lot – I’ve been using that for years. If you’re rolling along, and you want to create density, it’s like, okay, flip this into the Ultimate Reverb, and all of a sudden you’ve got this underlying loud of ffffoooooosssssh. You’ve made things thick without adding another element.

And that with some sort of distortion, and some sort of sidechain compression to make sure that it doesn’t get in the way of anything — all of a sudden, you’ve created raging hell.”

grainstates
Martin Brinkmann
Granular effect processor

Don’t forget the granular Reaktor ensemble that started the craze. Martin’s landmark granular processor has had an influence even outside the Reaktor community on imagining how grain processing effects can be used as instruments.

Hacking together custom ensembles

The biggest advantage of using Reaktor as a modular environment is, you can hack together what you need if a particular tool doesn’t do exactly what you want. Scott long ago made his name as a Reaktor patcher, but don’t feel obligated to achieve mastery — even he doesn’t necessarily go that route now. “The last one that I did … this thing [Deadbeats] 13 years ago.”

The aforementioned Grain Cloud synth, for instance, he used to substitute oscillators inside a drum machine. Or with granular processors, he’s swapped a sample player with a live input, as on The Swarm. These aren’t complicated hacks – you barely need to know how to operate Reaktor to pull them off. But they then open worlds of new performance and sound design possibilities.

In another instance, Scott had a happy accident hacking mmmd1, the “morphing minimal drum machine” by grainstates creator Martin Brinkmann. That ensemble includes a series of assignable X/Y controllers which can modulate the filter, bitcrush, and so on, with step-based sequencing.

Scott tried applying a child ensemble with a crossfader for interpolating between presets – and that’s when he was surprised. “Because this is step-based, morphing between presets on this thing, as you would go across, it would go thththththththththt …. and you would get these totally twisted, glitchy crossfade things.”

Thanks, Scott! Got more favorite Reaktor ensembles, other granular tools, or the like? Let us know in comments.

Deadbeat on a return to hope, sound in real space [NI Blog]

Deadbeat Wax Poetic For This Our Great Resolve [Review: XLR8R]

https://soundcloud.com/deadbeat

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New Roland SYSTEM-500 analog Eurorack modules spotted in the wild

Roland hasn’t made any announcement about new modular – but it seems a handful of SYSTEM-500 analog modules have just made an appearance in the wild, rounding out an existing range. We’ve got some “spy” shots.

Yes, it seems unannounced Eurorack products from the Japanese maker found their way into a shoe event. These modules will extend Roland’s existing range of SYSTEM-500 modules, made in collaboration with boutique Eurorack manufacturer Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation. Like the other AIRA offerings, Roland is looking to their own past: the SYSTEM-500 line is inspired by the SYSTEM-100M made in the early 80s.

But what’s significant about the SYSTEM-500 is that Roland are working with a smaller maker. And lest you confuse these with the 303, 808, 909 remakes and the like, these are analog, as was the original source material.

All of that’s interesting, even in the crowded Eurorack landscape, because it isn’t just following the mold of the Moog or Buchla modulars. So you might add SYSTEM-500 to your rack to get a distinctive Roland modular sound.

Okay, so how do we know these are new? Well, first, here’s the range of Roland SYSTEM-500 that was available previously:

512 Dual VCO
521 Dual VCF
540 Dual Envelope Generator and LFO
530 Dual VCA
572 Phase Shifter, Delay and LFO

Malekko actually have the best overview:
https://malekkoheavyindustry.com/system-500/

Now, here’s what was spotted in Berlin:

505 Dual VCF
555 LAG / S&H
531 Mix
510 Synth

That mixer looks really useful, alone – mute switches, actual faders, actual panning. Not everything there can be CV-automated, but to me that misses the point: it’s useful to have hands-on mixing when you’re playing.

And then the LAG/S&H gives you a whole bunch in one module – and the Synth looks like it could be a starting point for an entry-level modular rig.

A quick play says these can sound really nice. I expect we’ll know more at Superbooth in Berlin next month. (Roland aren’t showing this at Musikmesse.)

Some poor pictures from me to give you a taste – let us know questions and I suspect we can get answers when these launch:

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