Behind The Scenes At Korg Berlin With Tatsuya Takahashi

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the new Korg Berlin. … Read More Behind The Scenes At Korg Berlin With Tatsuya Takahashi

Hear Jan Wagner’s intimate piano electronics, before they enter a planetarium dome

Maybe now is a perfect time for a moment of calm contemplation – premiering Jan Wagner’s “Kapitel 36” on the eve of a new album and a spatial planetarium premiere.

Kapitel, out on March 20 on the Quiet Love Label, is “autobiographical” ambient music. These are spontaneous, personal sketches that began as piano improvisations, but have sometimes had those piano imprints removed – a kind of lost wax approach to composition, piano molds for electronic textures.

“Kapitel 36” is an especially poignant, reflective moment in that series. Listen:

Berghain would be probably the last thing you’d expect to associate with this sound, but this sense of space and exploration also comes from an artist who has frequently mixed albums for the well respected Ostgut Ton label attached to that club. And maybe that’s an ideal Berlin connection – piano sentiment, engineering precision, and ambiguous spaces for personal reflection all come together here.

But we’ve had plenty of music in industrial nightclubs. Now, Jan is joining a new wave of artists realizing music for immersive contexts, with fully spatialized sound made for particular architectures. Jan was invited by Spatial Media Lab to collaborate – that’s a recently formed artist/tech collective founded by Andrew Rahman and Timo Bittner. With Jan’s music – and a full-sized acoustic grand piano hauled into the space – they’ll transform the environment of the Zeiss Grossplanetarium Berlin into a unique listening environment.

I got the chance to work with Spatial Media Lab on their first planetarium outing in November 2018. What makes their effort unique is that they’re working to de-mystify the delivery technology for spatializing sound, along artists to be more hands-on and collaborative. That frees them to spend the significant time to finely tune their music material to the space, and play creatively, rather than just wrestle with tech or turn over control to engineers. (You can read up on the collaboration I joined in 2018, Contentious Constant II – and we’re overdue for a check-up here.)

Jan has shared some thoughts with CDM on how this process worked:

What was the process for you, reworking material for a spatial context?

It was a totally new approach for me. The difference between stereo and immersive sound is enormous. I had to rethink the whole album and detach the production from the well-known stereo panorama cage. It wasn’t that simple, because everything was [originally] made in stereo. From the synth to the DAW, it’s all made for a stereo environment. So we had to [mix] the signals into mono, which we later scaled up to ambisonic sound.

After exporting all of the tracks, we imported them into the DAW Reaper … [which is able to] handle up to 64 outputs of each track, needed to play all the signals into the dome. We used the IEM Plugin Suite to build our scene and then mixed the tracks from scratch. [Ed.: SML used this combination before, and it’s great to work with artistically. IEM is free and open-source and easy to manage, and Reaper, of course, has some superb multichannel support and is fast, efficient, free to try, and inexpensive to own.]

Once I realized how far I could go when it comes to the production and writing process, my head almost exploded. There is no longer a stereo cage. You basically can do whatever you want. The signals can start right at the top of your head and fall down to your knees, surrounding you! This changes the whole process of how you create music.

Your musical process I know shifted for this record; can you describe what changed?

I started recording in the same way. The piano improvisation is still the root of it all, but it is no longer necessarily the main part of the production. I didn’t want to be constricted by the piano and often I just muted it after adding some synth layers. The piano is no longer the lead voice.

How did Tobias Preisig get involved in the project – and now on the same bill?

Last year I produced Tobias Preisig’s solo debut Diver. He wanted to concentrate on the essence of his music and dive deeper into his instrument and discover the real needs of his art. Tobias and I share the same approach to music, and while planning this event I wanted him to be part of it. His music is so immersive by default and it fits perfectly into the planetarium environment.

If you’re in Berlin, you can catch the “Spherea” program with both artists at the Zeiss-Grossplanetarium in Prenzlauer Berg.

Spherea präsentiert von Jan Wagner & Tobias Preisig

More on the Spatial Media Lab:

https://janwagner.bandcamp.com/

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Alternate African Reality: reorient your listening with this terrific electronic compilation

Don’t miss out on music – speaking of getting Africa back on your listening list, here’s an extraordinary, wide-reaching compilation of some of the most adventurous sounds from Africa and the diaspora.

Africa, it goes without saying, is a big place – uh, really big, 30.3 million km² or so, even before you get into artists moving elsewhere. (To misquote Douglas Adams, “you just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Africa.”) But maybe thinking of music on the scale of continents and hemispheres is well suited to today’s interconnected age, as networks of artists and interchange span even bigger areas.

In any event, don’t expect this is some tokenized, surface-deep look at music duct-taped together from a massive land area. Alternate African Reality is but the latest in a series of superb compilations from Cedrik Fermont, aka C-drík (Belgium/DR Congo). There are few people as voracious and refined in their musical diet than Cedrik – even though he makes music as a solo artist, he’s constantly deep into discovery. To me, he’s emblematic of the best of how we can redefine what it means to be an artist in the Internet age – where creativity isn’t shut off from the outside, but partly about what you support and connect.

And that also means that Cedrik has had some chance to iterate on how to make a compilation on this scale, and where to find music.

The whole beauty of this sort of project is that the work is never done, there’s always too much music, the cup overflows with sound, and all of that is brilliant. But that means you should not only grab this comp, but also check out Cedrik’s platform Syrphe, “mostly but not exclusively focused onto experimental, electronic, noise music from Asia and Africa.”

The regional focus can shift all over the place in those categories, including the Middle East – Lebanon I see on the top of the list – but it’s all just generally great music, and stuff that often gets missed. Press in London focuses on musicians around London, and so on. I don’t even know that that’s a bad thing in and of itself, in that it is meaningful for some writers to talk about the scene around them. But it is equally essential that someone like Cedrik can balance out your inputs and give you fresh perspective, for anyone who loves musical discovery.

Here’s where to go for that – there’s a blog (time to dust off the RSS readers, folks):

https://syrphe.wordpress.com/

The blog is the best, but since we are on Facebook, it’s also nice to let electronic music take over what the Algorithm gives you, so see the Facebook group and page, too:

Syrphe – Experimental, noise, electronic, avant garde in Africa & Asia

https://www.facebook.com/Syrphe/

There’s so much stuff on Syrphe that it deserves another post, but meanwhile, have at the compilation. Just going to paste the full text, as it’s all worth reading. It’s been great to work with someone like Joseph aka KMRU a few times now, and equally nice to get some new names in here.

Alternate African Reality is a follow-up to several compilations I have published on Syrphe since 2007 (the first one, Beyond Ignorance and Borders included various artists from Africa and Asia), and even earlier on my defunct tape label in the 1990s (the last tape, Archives Humaines vol.1, was published in 1996 and included 25 artists from 25 countries, including non-Western ones : South Africa, Japan, Chile, Brazil).

Alternate African Reality could be seen as a drastic improvement of 30.2, a compilation released in 2012. The CD included nine artists from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Angola, Mauritius, South Africa, Réunion and Madagascar/France. But even if I was very happy with the result, I always thought I should do a deeper research, and another issue I faced was the fact that I didn’t manage to include any women in the project.

Travelling and touring throughout parts of Africa allowed me to meet many more artists than what I ever expected and pushed me to work on this new release.
This time, the end result reveals a more global compilation that could be compared to Uchronia, a compilation that includes 49 artists and bands from 32 Asian countries and the diaspora in the field of so called experimental music.
Alternate African Reality is nonetheless musically more diverse, including abstract but also beat-oriented music such as ambient, electronica, electroacoustic, noise, singeli, bass music, industrial hip hop, etc.

It includes 32 artists and bands from 24 African countries and the diaspora, and last but not least, 14 women are among those vibrant musicians and composers.

Of course the artists included on the compilation only represent a fraction of the African electronic music world, and the listeners should not believe that nothing exists outside of those countries.
Electronic, and, at a lower extend depending on where you look for, experimental music do exist in many other African countries.

I wish that this project will open some eyes and ears and also create more connections and networks.

You will find more information, contacts, biographies and a short essay in a PDF available with the whole compilation if you purchase the CDs or digital files.
Biographies, contacts and websites are also available on this page when you click on “info” next to each track.
You can also have a look at this database that contains more than 3000 references about African and Asian composers, musicians, labels, magazines and so on. syrphe.com/african&asian_database.htm

If for some valid reasons you cannot afford to buy this release, you can send a message and explain why and I might send you a download code.

I deeply thank all the artists involved and also those who for one reason or another could not participate this time as well as all the people who supported me and provided help and advises to make this project happen, those who hosted and invited me during all the travels I made throughout Africa : the Nyege Nyege team in Kampala, Mass Alexandria/Berit Schuck in Alexandria, East African Records Studios/David Cecil and his family in Kampala, Esaete (Naomi) in Kampala, Houdini in Kampala, Lukas Ligeti, Ignacio Priego, Rhéa Dally, Yebo! Contemporary Art Gallery in Ezulwini, the Rock House in Mbabane, Ground Zero – Marley Coffee in Cape Town, Chiharu Mizukami, Chihiro Sato, Paweł Kuźma, Lynda Kansas, Tengal Drilon, Jamir Adiong and his family, Vilho Nuumbala, Kamila Metwali, Sharon Tan, Olivier Moreau, Christopher Kirkley/Sahel Sounds, Nenad Vujić, David Kerr/Sign Records, Memory Biwa, Essia Mestiri, PJ/slowfidelity and many more, you know who you are !

Cedrik Fermont

The track order on the physical release differs from the one of the digital release.

Mash (Tunisia)
Pö (France/Ghana)
[MONRHEA] + Ejuku (Kenya/Uganda)
Jako Maron (Réunion)
Robert Machiri (Zimbabwe)
Ujjaya (France/Madagascar)
Ibukun Sunday (Nigeria)
KMRU (Kenya)
Cobi van Tonder (South Africa)
Redha M (Algeria)
Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman (Belgium/Rwanda)
Shadwa Ali (Egypt)
Tiago Correia-Paulo (Mozambique)
Jacqueline George (Egypt)
AMET (Cameroon/Germany)
Hibotep (Ethiopia/Somalia)
Aragorn23 (South Africa)
The Age Of Heroes (South Sudan)
Beko The Storyteller (eSwatini)
Catu Diosis (Uganda)
Yao Bobby & Simon Grab (Togo/Switzerland)
Mario Swagga and DJ Silila (Tanzania)
AFALFL (Mauritania)
Rey Sapienz (DR Congo)
Ibaaku (Senegal)
Sukitoa o Namau (Morocco)
Victor Gama (Angola)
Luca Forcucci featuring Cara Stacey and Mpho Molikeng (Italy/Switzerland/South Africa/Lesotho)
C-drík (Belgium/DR Congo)
Emeka Obgoh (Nigeria)
Chantelle Grey (South Africa)
Ski Crime (South Africa)

Similar releases :
syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/uchronia
syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/not-your-world-music-noise-in-south-east-asia
syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/pekak-indonesian-noise-1995-2015-20-years-of-experimental-music-from-indonesia
syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/art-of-the-muses
syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/beyond-ignorance-and-borders
syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/pangaea-noise
syrphe.bandcamp.com/album/302
onemoretapeblog.blogspot.com/2015/02/title-archives-humaines-vol.html

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KORG starts a new instrument division in Berlin, focusing on sustainable “things that matter”

Former KORG Chief Engineer Tatsuya Takahashi is leading a new division in Berlin, alongside COO Maximilian Rest. And it sounds like a different kind of synth business.

It’s not clear just what exactly KORG Germany will do, apart from design instruments in Berlin. But the fact that “Tats” and Max are in charge, and that they’re writing some lofty mission statements, is enough reason to take notice. And they’re hiring, too, largely across engineering roles – mechanical, electrical, and software.

Tatsuya was at the engineering helm at KORG through some of the most innovative synth industry accomplishments of recent years. That includes the monotron and monotribe series, which helped kick off a boom in affordable modular and compact synths, followed by a string of volca hits (beats, bass, keys, sample, kick, fm), the collaboration with open source magnetic snap-together kit maker littleBits, the ARP Odyssey and MS-20 remakes which helped push the historical clone concept, and the fresh monologue synth.

Then Tats went to Yadastar, the independent marketing company that ran the Red Bull Music Academy program before Red Bull pulled the plug. And what we got from Tats was interesting, but nowhere near as accessible as his work for KORG – the Granular Convolver, for instance.

Well, now Red Bull’s loss is the synth world’s gain, because Tatsuya is back full-time with KORG. (He continued consulting for the company in the interim, as I understand it.) And he’s bringing with him collaborator Maximilian, who has long been a champion of making more sustainable products and reflecting on issues like labor practices. Max has also run his own independent business making modular and timekeeping pieces, E-RM; I’m unclear on what its future will be as he steps into the role at KORG.

So, what we get is a new enterprise that these two promise will engage both in new instruments and partnerships, and investigate “things that matter” and are made sustainably. With some flux at Behringer, ROLI, Native Instruments, and others, they may find some talent becoming free agents, too.

Team building is a big deal, and it’s worth noting that all those KORG products were possible because of collaborative, team-driven engineering efforts. So this talk of collaboration is itself compelling – even as some of Tats’ own private projects like audio-rate triggering a TR-808 are also rather cool and I suspect may figure into this, as well. (One of my highlights of 2019 was definitely making loud noises in a Latvian warehouse and then partying to Tats’ set!)

From their statements –

Tatsuya is CEO and says the company will make instruments with a core team “but also through per project partnerships and collaborations. “

Maximilian talks about sustainability and getting out of business as usual: “We will only market the things that matter, because the key to our way of great business is to respect each other as humans and the resources of our planet.”

More, plus job applications:

https://korg-germany.de

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Sam KDC Experimental Techno & LOXE Electronic Soul at Loopmasters

Loopmasters Loxe Electronic Soul

Loopmasters has released its sample pack Experimental Techno, a brooding and sinister collection by purveyor of forward-thinking electronic music, Sam KDC. The full extent of Sam’s sonic palette is on display, as atmospheric and mysterious as it is dark and weighty. Experimental Techno shows off Sam KDC’s 128bpm skillset, with emphasis on depth of field […]

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Techno to terraforming: this ex-Berlin collective is planting 27,027 trees in Portugal

Could techno makers wind up shifting to rural landscapes from the usual urban ones? One collective imagines “terraforming … a sustainable green oasis.”

Liquid Sky and ringleader Ingmar Koch aka Dr. Walker began life in Germany, but recently migrated to southwest Portugal. They are reforesting the land, as Ingmar joins with local architect Carina Guerreiro and others, planting and maintaining some 27,027 trees.

It could at least be a novel way for frequent-traveling DJs and producers to acquire carbon offsets, as the project needs significant investment in time for weekly maintenance of the trees. But once planted, these trees not only suck carbon out of the air, but will provide some fruit (for humans and animals), shelter for indigenous wildlife, and resistance to brush fires.

That promises a more self-sufficient, ecological, pleasant environment for the Liquid Sky collective, but Ingmar also says he plans working with neighboring areas in the future.

You can track the project here:

https://www.facebook.com/liquidskyproject27027/

It’s a small project, but it could also be an early sign that the techno scene of the future might have new associations, not just its perpetual post-industrial, toxic cliche.

More environmental projects we should know about? Let us know.

All photos courtesy Liquid Sky.

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Ableton opens registration for Loop 2020 in Berlin

Ableton Loop 2020

Ableton has opened registration for Loop, to be held in Berlin from April 24th to April 26th, 2020. In addition to regular Summit Passes, Ableton is opening the event up to a wider audience by offering 80 Subsidized Passes (registration until October 1st). Creators interested in attending the event can register for Summit Passes, Student […]

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Where is NI headed? Some official and unofficial answers

Native Instruments has responded to our request for more clarity on recent layoffs and how this impacts their future plans. Other sources tell us there have been deep cuts into teams managing products, marketing, and design.

As I wrote late last night, NI has publicly stated they’ve cut 20% of their workforce. I should clarify that that number represents the layoffs executed just on Thursday of last week. Multiple sources have confirmed additional layoffs over the summer push the number closer to at least 150 rather than 100. This includes a leaked departure of the existing desktop TRAKTOR team in July, and additional product owners and designers, including the previous Director of Design.

This isn’t entirely a shock, though the scale and concentrated timing may be. It does seem cuts at NI were a long time coming. Native Instruments has a massive and complicated array of products, many of them now legacy products, and an over-complicated structure around them – both from a marketing and organizational standpoint. I think it’d be tough to find anyone to disagree with that, even in a week when people’s emotions are riled up by watching major layoffs.

And this isn’t just about the business – there’s a direct line to your experience using the products. If NI has too many products and a complicated organization that makes it hard for people to work together, that impacts users. It means it’s tough to execute new ideas and make the tools you use better.

It also stands to reason that even in any significant reorganization means staffing changes and cuts. The questions customers and partners might ask then is – why these cuts, why so deep, why now, and what’s the plan going forward?

The picture I’ve gotten from Native Instruments officially is convoluted. NI says they’re working on an integrated platform, but the cuts have hit UI, UX, design, and engineering, and late in the apparent timeline for whatever project that would be. We’re also now in year three of NI’s push to get us to think about services, but we’re not much closer to understanding what that’s supposed to mean than when we started. Here are some landmarks in that timeline:

March 2017: NI acquires Metapop, founded by former Beatport CEO Matthew Adell. Adell becomes Chief Digital Officer.

October 2017: EUR50 million in investment from a private equity firm focusing on digital services growth.

January 2018: NI reveals Sounds.com.

August 2018: Adell is out as Chief Digital Officer. (I believe this role also is eliminated at the same time.)

July-August 2019: Roughly 150 people, or 30% of the workforce, laid off. 20% are cut on August 29 in a single day.

The Thursday round of layoffs are part of a string of changes through 2019, many as high as Director level – including, to be fair, some hiring as well as firing. The main question I had is, beyond CEO / co-founder Daniel Haver and Chief Innovation Officer / President Mate Galic, who is running the new product effort, now that existing leadership of Traktor and Komplete are gone and the Chief Digital Officer is almost a distant memory.

That person appears to be Nicholas Goubert, who has this year gone from VP Digital Services to VP of Products to – as of this month – Chief Product Officer. Streamlining the organization under a single product leader instead of separating digital/services from the organization at least makes sense. It means NI is realigning themselves as a services-driven company.

The obvious parallel would be to a company like Adobe, although while Adobe offers extensive services, it has kept a bunch of complex product teams and silos. In fact, that parallel itself may be apt – Adobe’s complexity reflects the fragmented and specific needs of designers. Musicians are even more particular, which speaks to the difficulty of this process. (And… I’m not sure all of you are entirely in love with Adobe, either.)

The business of being NI is selling stuff to us music makers, though, so – what service? Do we want it?

NI’s responses don’t give me a much more solid grasp of what they have in mind or how they intend to execute it. (And as you see in the timeline above, they’re effectively announcing the business structure in September 2019 that delivers the services they first talked about at the start of 2017.)

But they at least confirm that they’re not exiting hardware or the DJ market, contrary to rumors, and that the future services are intended to connect to products you use now. Note that saying “we’re committed to Komplete” doesn’t also mean something like Reaktor. Those silos actually appear to remain. I’d be optimistic about something like Reaktor, which powers tons of sounds and products.

So I don’t think you should panic about any major products, based on what we’re seeing here. I can also confirm that some core teams are unaffected – like NKS. And for at least one vision of where NI intend to go, even if it’s one that’s been out for a while, NKS’ idea of integrating sounds, control, software, and hardware across an ecosystem of partners is definitely one glimpse:

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/specials/komplete/this-is-nks/

Here are official answers from NI to CDM:

CDM: If Native is building a new platform, why were resources cut?

NI: Our new organization aims to break down functional and brand silos that have developed over time through the continuous expansion of our portfolio. Given our broad spectrum of products and the overlap between roles, it means that certain areas of product development are affected more than others by the redundancies. In the past, we have simply been doing too much at the same time and this strategic change as well as internal remapping of talent will allow us to move forward in a more effective and collaborative way.

With the focus on a platform strategy, do users need to be concerned about support for and investment in existing products?

We are fully committed to our existing brands Komplete, Maschine and Traktor. The reason why we are focusing on a platform strategy is actually to improve the experience for all users of our products. We strongly believe that by improving accessibility and usability of our portfolio, we will be able to provide an enhanced and more cohesive experience, both for existing and new customers. Rather than releasing more and more products, we want to ensure that users are getting the most out of our current products through a connected and unified experience.

Will Native Instruments continue to release integrated hardware?

Creating deeply integrated experiences between hardware and software remains at the core of our vision. However, we want to deliver more value to users of our hardware by implementing new features in the software that will allow for a better overall experience of our ecosystem.

What about the future of Traktor?

We continue to be fully committed to our DJ platform Traktor and its passionate users. Also within the DJ domain, we are focusing on improving the software experience, building on the creative and modular legacy of Traktor for both desktop and mobile. Supporting this, we are also continuing to evaluate the right accompanying hardware products. In fact, Traktor users can expect a new hardware controller this year.

Okay, so the most we can come out of this is, Traktor hardware and products remain. The leaked firing of the Traktor desktop team suggests that future Traktor products will take a different form, and won’t be based on the legacy Traktor codebase (which is what powers Traktor 3).

Other than that, we mostly have to wait.

I wish the new teams at NI the best. Before the layoffs, I’d heard from the current Metapop team, wanting to show what they’re working on. And with SoundCloud failing to deliver innovation for creators, and Alihoopa dead (the Propellerhead-created online music making service, later spun off), there’s a vast space for someone to show a way of using social features for music making.

However, I can only echo the overwhelming buzz I’m hearing from the larger community. Large layoffs are unsettling, not only because of the people lost, but because of the presumed disruption to the organization. Some talent in music tech is very specific – and the departure of these 150+ NI employees over recent months has competitors eager to hire. (Behringer went as far as posting their headhunting call publicly; other companies – inside and outside this industry – are being a bit more discreet.)

For now, what Native Instruments are announcing is mainly layoffs, not products. Their main job now, to regain trust after a shaky end to this summer, would be to turn that begin to say how this relates to the people who rely on them.

I know a lot of you are deeply invested in this company – some even in your businesses as partners as well as in your music making careers or passions. I’ll do my best to keep you informed.

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Industrial Strength releases Berlin Hard Techno & Experimental Hip Hop sample pack

Industrial Strength Berlin Hard Techno

Industrial Strength Samples has released a new collection of German style Techno sounds with its Berlin Hard Techno sample pack. Expect to find 23 jam packed Industrial Strength Loop Kits for total control over your Loops. Our system of providing the most usable content and giving you total control really takes our packs to the […]

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Puremagnetik releases Kleine Stücke free sound pack of tape collages

Puremagnetik HAND

Puremagnetik has announced the release of Kleine Stücke, a free sound pack featuring a collection of small sketches and experiments by Berlin-based producer HAND. A master of analog tape sound design, HAND has generously made available to Puremagnetik a collection of over 20 textural pieces for sound artists and music producers to use – royalty […]

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