Here are some of the weirdest musical instrument ideas from NAMM

Trade shows can be a strenuous onslaught of noise, cost, and crowds – but then it’s often the weirdest stuff that makes it worth it. And no one finds strange quite like Barry Wood and his annual NAMM Oddities.

Barry impressively tracks every kind of freakish appearance at the enormous US music instruments show, and it’s worth digging through his whole NAMM Oddities guide category by category ($1.2 million-dollar guitar straps and all). I’ve taken the liberty of picking some of my favorites from this year’s haul. Some of it is genuinely useful and cool – some will just make you shake your head and mumble, say wha?

One Synclavier knob. Built-to-order, $399 – half of which you owe as a deposit. This is evidently for people who are esoteric rich people, but with a fraction of the money of really rich crazy people. They … I don’t want to use the word “explain” as that would imply I understand who this is for, but they describe how this four hundred dollar knob is historically accurate:

The weight and feel of the knob are identical, as we have used the exact measurements and a balanced spring arrangement. The two-inch diameter knob is milled from a solid bar of instrument-grade aluminium (yes, we were doing this long before Apple). The interface software and hysteresis algorithm are taken from Synclavier II.

Full hammer action, in any quantity of keys. This is actually a great idea – Piano de Voyage is a hammer action keyboard broken into modules. Want just 2 octaves? Get just one module. (I always wondered why people want a full 88 keys in electronic contexts, actually.) Or if you do want as many as 8 octaves, you can break down the modules so they fit in a bag – unlike a usual full keyboard. No word on pricing or availability, but there’s a sign-up. https://pianodevoyage.com/

https://www.synclavier.com/product/synclavier-knob/

A food pedal that looks like it was prototyped in Play-Doh. Effigy Labs Control pedal is what it’s called, and the makers promise unique expression in a foot controller. (This was evidently a big hit at the show, too!)

https://effigylabs.com/effigy-home-page

Color sensing rings. Sphero Specdrums are wireless, optical, color sensing rings. (The idea of having musical rings just keeps coming.)

Giant panda piano. The piano section at NAMM and Germany’s Musikmesse always has something unusual, but this Seiler upright – out there. And if you figured something weird and panda-related came out of Asia, you’d be wrong – Seiler started in Germany, is now a US brand, and recently was bought by Nashville’s Samick Music Corporation.

Remember, never say no to panda.

A light-up uke. Solo Music‘s Lighted Ukulele should qualify as this year’s strangest use of RGB LEDs (though I know given what controllers look like these days, we can’t really make fun of ukelele players).

Brass knuckle mic accessory. Signs you may want to talk to your booking agent about the quality of your venues. Someone at Metaldozer had ideas about what to do with the metalworking.

And basically everything from Game Changer Audio. Need a sound source that’s got spinning discs with optical sensors and electromagnetic pickups? Or 3000 volts of plasma for distortion? Game Changer is all over new ideas; we’ll have reviews of their stuff soon.

https://www.gamechangeraudio.com/

Sonic State takes a look:

— and Gearnews.com did a nice writeup.

Plenty more where these came from – do check them out:

https://otheroom.com/namm/

And you’ll get loads more bizarre finds on Barry’s Facebook page, like… whatever this is:

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MidiWrist aids instrumentalists by giving Siri and Apple Watch control

Grabbing the mouse, keyboard, or other controller while playing an instrument is no fun. Developer Geert Bevin has a solution: put an Apple Watch or (soon) iPhone’s Siri voice command in control.

We’ve been watching MidiWrist evolve over the past weeks. It’s a classic story of what happens when a developer is also a musician, making a tool for themselves. Geert has long been an advocate for combining traditional instrumental technique and futuristic electronic instruments; in this case, he’s applying his musicianship and developer chops to solving a practical issue.

If you’ve got an iPhone but no watch – like me – there are some solutions coming (more on that in a bit). But Apple Watch is really ideally suited to the task. The fact that you have the controller strapped to your body already means controls are at hand. Haptic feedback on the digital crown means you can adjust parameters without even having to look at the display. (The digital crown is the dial on the side of the watch that was used to wind and/or set time on analog watches. Haptic feedback uses sound to give physical feedback in the way a tangible control would, both on that crown and the touch surface of the watch face – what Apple calls “taptic” feedback since it works with the existing touch interface. Even if you’re not a fan of the Apple Watch, it’s a fascinating design feature.)

How this works in practice: you can use the transport and even overdub new tracks easily, here pictured in Logic Pro X:

Just seeing the Digital Crown mapped as a new physical control is a compelling tech demo – and very useful to mobile apps, which tend to lack physical feedback. Here it is in a pre-release demo with the Minimoog Model D on iPhone:

Or here it is with the Eventide H9 (though, yeah, you could just put the pedal on a table and get the same impact):

Here it is with IK Multimedia’s UNO synth, though this rather makes me wish the iPhone just had its own Digital Crown:

Version 1.1 will include voice control via Siri. That’ll work with iPhones, too, so you don’t necessarily need an Apple Watch. With voice-controlled interfaces coming to various home devices, it’s not hard to imagine sitting at home and recording ideas right when the mood strikes you, Star Trek: The Next Generation style.

Geert, please, can we set up a DAW that lets us dictate melodies like this?

It’s a simple app at its core, but you see it really embodies three features: wearable interfaces, hands-free control (with voice), and haptic feedback. And here are lots of options for custom control, MIDI functionality, and connectivity. Check it out – this really is insane for just a watch app:

Four knobs can be controlled with the digital crown
Macro control over multiple synth parameters from the digital crown
Remotely Play / Stop / Record / Rewind your DAW from your Watch
Knobs can be controlled individually or simultaneously
Knobs can be linked to preserve their offsets
Four buttons can be toggled by tapping the Watch
Buttons can either be stateful or momentary
Program changes through the digital crown or by tapping the Watch
Transport control over Midi Machine Control (MMC)
XY pad with individual messages for each axis
Optional haptic feedback for all Watch interactions
Optional value display on the Watch
Configurable colors for all knobs and buttons
Configurable MIDI channels and CC numbers
Save your configurations to preset for easy retrieval
MIDI learn for easy controller configuration
MIDI input to sync the state of the controllers with the controlled synths
Advertise as a Bluetooth MIDI device
Connect to other Bluetooth MIDI devices
Monitor the MIDI values on the iPhone
Low latency and fast response

http://uwyn.com/midiwrist/

All of this really does make me want a dedicated DIY haptic device. I had an extended conversation with the engineers at Native Instruments about their haptic efforts with TRAKTOR; I personally believe there’s a lot of potential for human-machine interfaces for music with this approach. But that will depend in the long run on more hardware adopting haptic interfaces beyond just the passive haptics of nice-feeling knobs and faders and whatnot.

It’s a good space to keep an eye on. (I almost wrote “a good space to watch.” No. That’s not the point. You know.)

Geert shares a bit about development here:

Fun anecdote — in a way, this app has been more than three years in the making. I got the first Apple Watch in the hope of creating this, but the technology was way too slow without a direct real-time communication protocol between the Watch and the iPhone. I’ve been watching every Watch release (teehee) up until the last one, the Series 4. The customer reception was so good overall that I decided to give this another go, and only after a few hours of prototyping, I could see that this would now work and feel great. I did buy a Watch Series 3 afterwards also to include in my testing during development.

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Roland just made syncing Serato and TR drum machines automatic

The hybrid DJ set keeps getting fresh nudges. Now, Roland and Serato have added easy, automatic sync over USB for the TR-8, TR-8S, and the Boutique Series TR-08 and TR-09 drum machines.

And… oh, actually, this is such a no-brainer, I could almost just finish the story with that. (And that’s actually kind of cool.) But let’s offer a little more detail.

How does it work? Plus in a compatible drum machine via USB, and your drum machine follows Serato’s BPM.

How is that different from existing solutions? Well, it saves you the added step of configuring MIDI clock, at the very least. We’ll be able to test this shortly to check it in action, but it also presumably irons out other performance issues that can crop up with MIDI.

Oh, plus, if you didn’t understand any word I just said – this update is totally for you. You plug it in and it works. And rankly, that’s how it ought to be.

How do you get the update? Looks like all Serato DJ Pro owners with Roland hardware will be squared away. This is officially called the “Serato x Roland TR-SYNC update” but it appears you basically get plug and play support in the latest version of Serato DJ Pro.

Why would you want to do this? Well, even short of doing a full-on hybrid set, it can be fun to layer sum drum parts or (on the TR-8S) samples and so on. You could also then go on to sync still more gear from the TR. Oh, and the Boutique TR-08 and TR-09 are advantageously tiny. Even the most cramped DJ booth could easily fit one.

Bottom line – it’s nice to see some challenge to Pioneer’s own link protocol with their CDJ. Why shouldn’t you plug in drum machines and have them groove along? That’s why they’re drum machines.

I think it’ll make perfect sense, but for some reason, Roland marketing have gone a little crazy and decided to explain this not to non-technical DJs, but to actual space aliens. And for some reason all the sync in the product photography is 120 bpm, which bothers me. So here we go:

https://www.roland.com/global/promos/tr-serato-sync/

I’ll translate back to human:

What is a drum machine? It is … a machine … with drums in it.

What’s so special about Roland drum machines? No idea. I swear I can stop using them any time I want. I don’t really even like music. Watch, I’m about to do something more productive with my life right this second. The official Roland explanation, though:

The legendary TR-808 and 909 are the most influential drum machines of all time and have become part of the DNA of everything. They’ve literally just reprogrammed our genetic code and destroyed our minds and now all music genres and all carbon-based life on Earth have been assimilated, leading up presumably to some kind of invasion – once everyone has become a DJ.

Isn’t making your own beats complicated? No, it’s not, but that won’t stop you from becoming newly obsessed with how the beat is never right and the longer you listen to it, the more your grasp of all reality will melt away leaving you only with this loop. See DNA issue, above.

How do I include my own beats in my DJ set? This is a question that has truly no accurate answer, but if you call yourself a DJ, you’re already part of a global phenomenon started by a surprisingly small handful of people of color (very poorly attributed, as per usual) who just decided to show off and also not to have gaps between tracks and then got really deep into using phonographs incorrectly, so… uh, experiment, if you like, until you find something you like?

I’ve done it again. Long article. Also, not only is this not sponsored product, I now probably have to buy some apology rounds of drinks for whoever did write the original ad copy. Sorry.

There, instead of configuring MIDI, you now have more time to read my blathering.

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Akai Force: hands-on preview of the post-PC live-in-a-box music tool

The leak was real. Akai have a standalone box that can free you from a laptop, when you want that freedom. It works with your computer and gear, but it also does all the arranging and performance (and some monster sounds and sequencing) on its own. It’s what a lot of folks were waiting for – and we’ve just gotten our hands on it.

Akai have already had a bit of a hit with the latest MPCs, which work as a controller/software combo if you want, but also stand on their own.

The Akai Force (it’s not an MPC or APC in the end) is more than that. It’s a single musical device with computer-like power under the hood, but standalone stability. It’s a powerful enough sequencer (for MIDI and CV) that you some people might just buy it on those merits.

But it also performs all the Ableton Live-style workflows you know. So there’s an APC/Push style interface, clip launching and editing, grids for playing drums and instruments, and sampling capability. There’s also a huge selection of synths and effects (courtesy AIR Music Technology), so while it can’t run third-party VST plug-ins, you should feel comfortable using it on its own. And it integrates with your computer when you’re in your studio – in both directions, though more on that in a bit.

And it’s US$1499 – so it’s reasonable affordable, at least in that it’s possibly cheaper than upgrading your laptop, or buying a new controller and a full DAW license.

First – the specs:

• Standalone – no computer required
• 8×8 clip launch matrix with RGB LEDs
• 7″ color capacitive multitouch display
• Mic/Instrument/Line Inputs, 4 outputs
• MIDI In/Out/Thru via 1/8″ TRS inputs (5-pin DIN adapters included)
• (4) configurable CV/Gate Outputs to integrate your modular setup
• (8) touch-sensitive knobs with graphical OLED displays
• Time stretch/pitch shift in real time
• Comprehensive set of AIR effects and Hype, TubeSynth, Bassline and Electric synth engines
• Ability to record 8 stereo tracks
• 16GB of on-board storage (over 10 gigs of sound content included)
• 2 GB of RAM
• Full-Size SD card Slot
• User-expandable 2.5″ SATA drive connector (SATA or HDD)
• (2) USB 3.0 slots for thumb drives or MIDI controllers

Clarification: about those eight tracks. You can have eight stereo tracks of audio, but up to 128 tracks total.

And there’s a powerful and clever scheme here that lets the Force adapt to different combinations of onboard synths and effects. Akai tells us the synths use a “weighted voice management” scheme so you can maximize simultaneous voices. Effects are unlimited, until you run out of CPU power. Since this is integrated hardware and software, though, you don’t fail catastrophically when you run out of juice, as you do on a conventional computer. (Ahem.)

All that I/O – USB connectivity, USB host (for other USB gear), CV (for analog gear), MIDI (via standard minijacks), plus audio input / mic and separate out and cue outs.

US$1499 (confirming European pricing), shipping on 5 February to the USA and later in the month to other markets.

I’ve had a hands-on with AKAI Professional’s product managers. The software was still pre-release – this was literally built last night – but it was very close to final form, and we should have a detailed review once we get hardware next month.

The specs don’t really tell the whole story, so let’s go through what this thing is about.

In person, the arrangement turns out to be logical and tidy.

Form factor

The images leaked via an FCC filing of a prototype did make this thing look a bit homely. In person with the final hardware, it seems totally logical.

On the bottom of the unit is a grid with shortcut triggers, looking very much like a Push 2. On the top is a touch display and more shortcut keys that resemble the MPC Live. You also get a row of endless encoders, which now Akai call just “knobs.”

The “hump” that contains the touch display enables a ton of I/O crammed onto the back – even with minijacks for MIDI, the space is needed. And it means the displays for the knobs are tilted at an angle, so they’re easier to read as you play, from either sitting or standing position.

There are also some touches that tell you this is Akai hardware. Everything is labeled. Triggers most often do just one thing, rather than changing modes as on Ableton Push. And there are features like obvious, dedicated navigation, and a crossfader.

In short, you can tell this is from the folks who built the APC40. Whereas sometimes functions on Ableton Push can be maddeningly opaque, the Akai hardware makes things obvious. I’ll talk more about that in the review, of course, but it’s obvious even when looking at the unit what everything does and how to navigate.

Oh and – while this unit is big, it still looks like it’d fit snugly onto a table at a venue or DJ booth. Plus you don’t need a computer. And yeah, the lads from Akai brought it to Berlin on Ryanair. You can absolutely fit it in a backpack.

Workflows

What impresses me about this effort from Akai is that it takes into account a whole range of use cases. Rather than describe what it does, maybe I should jump straight into what I think it means for those use cases, based on what I’ve seen.

It runs live sets. Well, here this is clearly a winner. You get clip launching just like you do with Ableton Live, without a laptop. And so even if you still stick to Live for production (or Maschine, or Reason, or FL Studio, or whatever DAW), you can easily load up stems and clips on this and free yourself from the laptop later.

You get consistent color coding and near-constant feedback on the grid and heads-up display / touch display about where you are, what’s muted, what’s record-enabled, and what’s playing. My impression is that it’s far clearer than on other devices, thanks to the software being built around the hardware. (Maschine got further than some of its rivals, but it lacks this many controls, lights, and display.)

That feedback seemed like it’s also not overwhelming, either, because it’s spread out over this larger footprint. There’s also a handy overview of your whole clip layout on the touch display, so you can page through more clip slots easily.

Logical, dedicated triggers and loads of feedback so you don’t get lost.

Full-featured clip launching and mixing.

It’s a playable instrument – finger-drummer friendly. Of course, now that you can do all that stuff with clips, as with Push, you can also play instruments. There are onboard synths from AIR – Electric, Bassline, TubeSynth, and the new multifunctional FM + additive + wavetable hybid Hype. And there are a huge number of effects from lo-fi stuff to reverbs to delays, meaning you can get away without packing effects pedals. It’s literally the full range of AIR stuff – so like having a full Pro Tools plug-in folder on dedicated hardware.

That may or may not be enough for everyone, but you can also use MIDI and CV and USB to control external gear (or a computer).

The grid setup features are also easy to get into and powerful. There are a range of pitch-to-grid mappings, from guitar fret-style arrangements to a Tonnetz layout (5th on one axis, 3rd on another) to piano and chromatic layouts. There are of course scale and chord options – though no microtuning onboard, yet. (Wait until Aphex Twin gets his, I think.)

And there are drum layouts, too, or step sequencers if you want them.

Two major, major deviations from Push, though. You know how easy it is to accidentally change parts on Push when you’re trying to navigate clips and wind up playing the wrong instrument? Or how easy it is to get lost when recording clips? Or how suddenly a step sequencer turns up when you just want to finger drum a pad? Or…

Yeah, okay well – you have none of those problems here. Force makes it easy to select parts, easy to select tracks, easy to mute tracks, and lets you choose the layout you want when you want it without all that confusion.

Again, more on this in the review, but I’m thoroughly relieved that Akai seems to understand the need for dedicated triggers and less cognitive overhead when you play live.

Tons of playing options.

It can replace a computer for production, if you want. There’s deep clip editing and sampling and arrangement and mixing functionality here. Clips even borrow one of the best features from Bitwig Studio – you can edit and move and duplicate audio inside a clip, which you can’t do in Live without bringing that audio out into the Arrangement. So you could use this to start and even finish tracks.

The Force doesn’t have the same horsepower as a laptop, of course. So you’re limited to eight stereo tracks. Then again, back in the days of tape that bouncing process was also creatively useful – and the sampling capabilities here make it easy to resample work.

Powerful clip editing combines with sampling – and you can use both the touchscreen and dedicated hardware controls.

Or you can use it as a companion to a computer. You can also use Force as a sketchpad – much like some iPad tools now, but of course with physical controls. There’s even an export to ALS feature coming, so you could start tracks on Force and finish them in Ableton Live – with your full range of mixing an mastering tools and plug-ins. (I believe that doesn’t ship at launch, but is due soon.)

Also coming in the first part of this year, Akai are working on a controller mode so you can use Force as an Ableton Live controller when you are at your computer.

There’s wired connectivity. You can set up MIDI tracks, you can set up CV tracks. There’s also USB host mode. Like the grid, but wish you had some MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads? Or want some faders? Plug in inexpensive controllers via USB, just as you would on your computer. You only get two audio ins, but that’s of course still enough to do sampling – and you get the sorts of sampling and live time stretching capabilities you’d expect of the company that makes the MPC.

For audio output, there’s a dedicated cue out as well as the stereo audio output.

On the front – SD card loading (there’s also USB support and internal drive upgradeability), plus a dedicated cue output for your headphones.

The full range of AIR effects is onboard.

Powerful audio effects should help you grow with this one.

And there’s wireless connectivity, too. You can sync sample content via Splice.com – which includes your own samples, by the way. (Wow, do I wish Roland did this with Roland Cloud and the TR-8S – yeah, being able to have all my own kits and sample sets and sync them with a WiFi connection is huge to me, even just for the sounds I created myself.)

There’s Ableton Link support, so you can wirelessly sync up to your computer, iPad, and other tools – clocking the Force without wires.

There’s even wireless support for control and sound, meaning that Force is going to be useful even before you plug in cables.

Yeah, it’s a standalone instrument, but it’s also a monster sequencer / hub.

Bottom line. It replaces Ableton Live. It works with Ableton Live. It replaces your computer. It works with your computer. It’s a monster standalone instrument. It’s a monster sequencer for your other instruments. It does a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t try to do too much (manageable controls, clear menus).

Basically, this already looks like the post-PC device a lot of us were waiting for. Can’t wait to get one for review.

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Haken’s ContinuuMini is expressive, post-keyboard sound for $899

Want some evidence that the future of expressive digital instruments and MPE is bright? Look to Haken’s ContinuuMini, which emerged over last year, bringing greater portability and a US$899 price to the out-there controller.

Forget anything else, and listen to this gorgeous video (using a clever setup with an Onde acoustic resonator*:

Why does the ContinuuMini matter?

Expression really is a combination of sound and physical control. Say what you will about piano keyboards (and some electronic musicians who hate them certainly do) – the reason an acoustic piano is still expressive has to do with the sound of a piano.

So when we talk about MPE, a scheme for allowing polyphonic expression through MIDI, we’re really talking about allow greater depth in the connection of physical gestures and sound.

If this is going to catch on, it’ll require more than one vendor. I think it’s wrong to assume MPE’s future, then, is tied solely to ROLI as a vendor. From the start, MPE was an initiative of a range of people, from major software developers (Apple, Steinberg) to hardware inventors (ROLI, but also Roger Linn and Randy Jones of Madrona Labs, for instance).

And Haken Audio has been a boutique maker pushing new ways of playing for years – including with MPE on their Continuum. The Continuum may look arcane in photos, but feeling it is a unique experience. The ribbon feels luxurious – it’s actually soft fabric. And the degree of control is something special. But it’s also enormous and expensive – and that means a lot of people can’t buy it, or can’t tour with it since it won’t fit in an overhead.

I believe that what makes an instrument is really finding that handful of people to do stuff even the creators didn’t expect, so if you can lower those barriers for even a run of a few hundred units, you could have a small revolution on your hand.

That’s what Haken have done with ContinuuMini, which closed crowd sourcing late last year and has started shipping of the first hardware.

Here’s what sets it apart:

It’s a Continuum. Well, first, nothing else feels like a Continuum. That feeling may not be for everyone, but it’s still significant as a choice.

It’s continuous. Because you aren’t limited by frets or keys, there’s a continuous range of sound. This is a controller you’ll want to practice, finding intonation with muscle memory and your ear. And there are artists who will want that subtlety.

It has internal sound. Like its larger sibling the ContinuuMini has an internal sound engine. That means that it’s not just a controller. Haken have conceived control and sound in a single, unified design. You can play it without connecting other stuff. And the builders have worked on both the physical and aural experience of what they’ve made. I think that’s significant to anyone making an investment, particularly in an age in which abstract controller hardware tends to stack in our closets.

It’s 8-voice polyphonic, as well. The ContinuuMini isn’t just a controller: it’s a complete, gorgeous polysynth and a controller, for this one price.

It connects to other gear, without software. Bidirectional digital control – MIDI, with MPE, MPE+ – and bidirectional control voltage analog (with converter) are possible. That means you can play the ContinuuMini with gear and software (like recording MIDI and MPE in your DAW for playback), and likewise the ContinuuMini can control your software and gear. There are also two pedal inputs so your feet can get in on the action.

It’s only a quarter kilogram. 9 oz. You can tote the bigger ones with a case but – the ContinuuMini is incredibly portable.

It feels like an extraordinary development.

https://www.hakenaudio.com/continuumini

* Synthtopia has a great, in-depth interview on the Onde and Pyramid, acoustic resonators that make an electronic instrument feel more like an instrument and less like “something disconnected that produces sound through speakers” as with conventional monitors:

La Voix Du Luthier & The New Shape Of Electronic Sound

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Reloop’s new RP-8000 MK2: instrumental pitch control, Serato integration

Like the relaunched Technics 1200, the new Reloop decks sport digitally controlled motors. But Reloop have gone somewhere very different from Technics: platters that can be controlled at a full range of pitches, and even play scales. And the RP-8000 MK2 is a MIDI controller, too, for Serato and other software.

Oh yeah, and one other thing – Reloop as always is more affordable – a pair of RP-8000 MK2s costs the same as one SL-1200 MK7. (One deck is EUR600 / USD700 / GBP525).

And there’s a trend beyond these decks. Mechanical engineers rejoice – the age of the motor is here.

238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2

We’re seeing digitally controlled motors for haptic feedback, as on the new Native Instruments S4 DJ controllers. And we’re seeing digital control on motors providing greater reliability, more precision, and broader ranges of speed on conventional turntables.

So digitally controlled motors were what Technics was boasting earlier this week with their SL-1200 MK7, which they say borrows from Blu-Ray drive technology (Technics is a Panasonic brand).

Reloop have gone one step further on the RP-8000 MK2. “Platter Play” rotates the turntable platter at different speeds to produce different pitches – rapidly. You can use the colored pads on the turntable, or connect an external MIDI keyboard.

That gives the pads a new life, as something integral to the turntable instead of just a set of triggers for software. (I’m checking with Reloop to find out if the performance pads require Serato to work, but either way, they do actually impact the platter rotation – it’s a physical result.)

238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2

Serato and Reloop have built a close relationship with turntablists; this lets them build the vinyl deck into a more versatile instrument. It’s still an analog/mechanical device, but with a greater range of playing options thanks to digital tech under the hook. Call it digital-kinetic-mechanical.

Also digital: the pitch fader Reloop. (Reloop call it “high-resolution.”) Set it to +- 8% (hello Technics-style pitch), or +/- 16% for a wider range (hello, Romanian techno, -16%), or an insane +/- 50%. That’s the actual platter speed we’re talking here. (Makes sense – platters on CDs and Blu-Ray spin far, far faster.)

With quartz lock on, the same mechanism will simply play your records more accurately at a steady pitch (0%).

The pitch fader and motor mechanism are both available on the RP-7000 MK2, for more traditional turntable operation The performance pad melodic control is on the 8000, the one intended for Serato users.

Serato integration

I expect some people want their controller and their deck separate – playing vinyl means bringing actual vinyl records, and playing digital means using a controller and computer, or for many people, just a USB stick and CDJs.

If you want that, you can grab the RP-7000 MK2 for just 500 bucks a deck, minus the controller features.

On the RP-8000 MK2, you get a deck that adds digital features you’ve seen on controllers and CDJs directly on the deck. As on the original RP-8000, Reloop are the first to offer Serato integration. And it’s implemented as MIDI, so you can work with third-party software as well. The market is obviously DVS users.

The original RP offered Cue, Loop, Sample and Slicer modes with triggers on the left-hand side. Plus you get a digital readout above the pitch fader.

On the MK2, the numeric display gives you even more feedback: pitch, BPM, deck assignment, scales and notes, elapsed/remaining time of current track, plus firmware settings.

New playback and platter control options on the Reloop RP-8000 MK2.

The pads have new performance modes, too: Cue, Sampler, Saved Loops, Pitch Play, Loop, Loop Roll, Slicer, and two user-assignable modes (for whatever functions you want).

Reloop have also upgraded the tone arm base for greater reliability and more adjustments.

And those performance modes look great – 22 scales and 34 notes, plus up to 9 user-defined scales.

For more integration, Reloop are also offering the Reloop Elite, a DVS-focused mixer with a bunch of I/O, displays that integrate with the software, and more RGB-colored performance triggers and other shortcuts.

https://www.reloop.com/reloop-elite

One of these things is not like the others: the new kit still requires a laptop to run Serato.

If I had any complaint, it’s this: when will Serato do their own standalone embedded hardware in place of the computer? I know many DJs are glad to bring a computer – and Reloop claims the controls on the deck eliminate the need for a standalone controller (plus they have that new mixer with still more Serato integration). But it seems still a bummer to have to buy and maintain a PC or Mac laptop as part of the deal. And if you’re laying out a couple grand on hardware, wouldn’t you be willing to buy an embedded solution that let you work without a computer? (Especially since Serato is an integrated environment, and would run on embedded machines. Why not stick an ARM board in there to run those displays and just read your music off USB?)

As for Reloop, they’re totally killing it with affordable turntables. If you just want some vinyl playback and basic DJing for your home or studio, in December they also unveiled the RP-2000 USB MK2. USB interface (for digitization or DVS control), direct drive control (so you can scratch on it), under 300 bucks.

https://www.reloop.com/

Previously in phonographs:

The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again

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Ableton Live as standalone hardware? Leaked Akai APC Live

It’s what a lot of people wanted – an MPC crossed with an Ableton Push – which could mean it’s too good to be true. But the APC Live leaked in images looks viable enough, and it could signal big changes for electronic performance in 2019.

Standalone hardware that does what software does – it’s a funny thing. It has seemed inevitable for a long time. But lots of hardware remains tethered to the ubiquitous computer (Ableton Push, Novation Launchpad, Native Instruments Maschine, Native Instruments Traktor) … or is exceptionally expensive (Pioneer CDJ). Then there was Akai’s own MPC Live, which seemed to be both affordable and flexible – you can use it with or without a computer – but failed to catch on. That may be because the MPC Live was too late to win people over to a new workflow. It wasn’t really like the original MPC hardware, and computer users had opted for Maschine, Live, and other tools.

That makes these leaked photos of the supposed Akai APC Live so interesting. Ableton, with a user base literally in the millions, doesn’t have to convince anyone of a new workflow. If the APC Live does what the MPC Live does – work as a controller with your computer plugged in, but then switch to standalone mode for onstage use – it could be a winner.

The ever leak-savvy sequencer.de get the scoop, in a forum post (which seems to get these from an FCC filing):

https://www.sequencer.de/synthesizer/media/apc-live-3.976/

Behold:

It seems to have everything you’d need:

A Push-style grid surface with shortcuts.
Encoders and heads-up display for parameter editing.
An MPC-style workspace with edit buttons.
USB connection (locked, so it doesn’t come out accidentally) and 2-port USB hub for expansion (or storage, hard to say).
SD card slot (load samples, sets?).
Separate cue mix for your headphones.
4 outs (so you can also have a separate cue line mix/monitors out, or easy quad output, or whatever)
CV and gate, MIDI – though crammed on minijacks, so you’ll need some dongles, no doubt.
XLR input for a vocal mic.

The only thing that’s odd about this is that the MPC-style screen is tacked rather awkwardly on top, giving this a really tall footprint.

The other big question will be what happens with plug-ins. Akai for their part first came out talking about embedded Windows on their MPC Live, but eventually shipped a Linux-based application. That makes their MPC software behave the same as a self-contained app on the hardware as it does on your computer. But Live users are accustomed to using third-party plug-ins; will they have to stick to Live internal devices when running in standalone mode?

Another possibility – maybe the “live” moniker doesn’t really mean this works on its own. This could just be an oversized controller for Ableton Live, but still tethered to the computer. That would make sense, too – it would be a lot of work to get Live to run on its own, and just shipping another controller would be an easy solution.

Just don’t rule out standalone as a possibility. It’s technically possible, and we know Ableton has posted some Linux and embedded engineering jobs on their site – plus Akai has done this once before, meaning they have the talent in-house to work on it.

I expect we’ll know later this month, either at the NAMM show or slightly before.

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Check out these amazing DIY controllers people made with OpenDeck

You’ve got plenty of off-the-shelf controllers – but what if you want something that’s unique to you? OpenDeck is an affordable, young, Arduino-powered controller platform for DIYers, and it’s starting to produce some jaw-dropping results.

There was a time when you needed to build your own stuff to add custom controls to synths and computers, sourcing joysticks and knobs and buttons and whatnot yourself. Doepfer’s Pocket Electronic platform spawned tons of weird and wonderful stuff. But then a lot of people found they were satisfied with a growing assortment of off-the-shelf generic and software-specific controllers, including those from the likes of Ableton, Native Instruments, Novation, and Akai.

But a funny thing happened at the same time. Just as economies of scale and improved microcontroller and development platforms have aided big manufacturers in the intervening years, DIY platforms are getting smarter and easier, too.

Enter OpenDeck. It’s what you’d expect from a current generation platform for gear makers. It supports class-compliant MIDI over USB, but also runs standalone. You can configure it via Web interface. You can plug in buttons and encoders and pots and other inputs and LEDs – but also add displays. You have tons of I/O – 32-64 ins, and 48 outs. But it’s all based on the familiar, friendly Arduino platform – and runs on Arduino and Teensy boards in addition to a custom OpenDeck board.

You get an easy platform that supports all the I/O you need and isn’t hard to code – leaving you to focus on hardware. And it runs on an existing platform rather than forcing you to learn something new.

I’ll take a look at it soon. Because it’s built around MIDI, OpenDeck looks ideal for controller applications, though other solutions now address audio, too.

But platform aside, look how many cool things people are starting to build. With so many stage rigs getting standardized (yawn), it’s nice to see this sort of weird variety … and people who have serious craft. (At least the rest of us can sigh and wish we were this handy, right?)

Examples:

Bergamot is an all-custom touchscreen MIDI controller for DJing:

The very nice-looking OpenDeck custom board is US$149. But you can also load this on much cheaper Arduino boards if you want to give it a test drive or start prototyping before you spring for the full board – and you can even buy pre-configured Arduinos to save yourself some time. (Some of the other boards are also more form efficient if you’re willing to do some additional work designing a board around it.)

Sensimidia, for Croatian dub act “Homegrown Sound.”

Tannin and Ceylon, two MIDI controllers.

Morten Berthelsen built this Elektron Analog controller.

Elektron’s Octatrack gets a custom controller … and foot pedals, too. By Anthony Vogt.

OpenDeck also features open source firmware under a GPLv3 license.

GitHub project page including full feature set (lots of nice stuff)

Here’s the underlying platform itself:

OpenDeck’s own custom hardware – though if this is overkill, various Arduino/Teensy variants work, too.

Configuration via Web interface.

Project site:

https://shanteacontrols.com/

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Ableton Live Looping gets its own custom controller

A crowd-funded custom controller has just arrived on the scene, designed to assist live triggering and looping in Ableton Live. And there’s already a free download for Max for Live to get you started, even without the hardware.

Hardware like Ableton’s Push lets you play Live with your fingers – but what about your feet? (Ableton Sole?) And what about looping? Pierre-Antoine Grison, Ableton Certified Trainer and producer/musician signed to Ed Banger Records, has come up with his own solution – just in time to show it this weekend at Ableton’s aptly-titled Loop “summit for music makers.” “State Of The Loop” is a custom MIDI controller for Ableton Live’s built-in Looper device.

The Looper in Ableton Live has been around for a few versions, after loads of requests from users. It delivered the kind of looping workflows you’d expect form a looping pedal. But that doesn’t mean everyone knows how to use it, or use it effectively. There are some nice resources online, including:

Ableton Looper Cheat Sheet (Free Download) [Beat Lab Academy]

Ableton Live Devices – How To Use Live Looper [Loopmasters.com articles]

and a ton of tips here:
http://looping.me.uk/category/ableton/

The stomp-style hardware controls not only the Looper device itself but also scenes. So it works for both controlling entire sets and for pedal-style looping, and you can use multiple (software) loopers so you can layer using different on-screen devices.

Features:

Display and control the state of Live’s Looper
Unlimited number of loopers !
2 Expression Pedal inputs with “dynamic mapping”
Scenes Mode to launch Scenes and display their color and name
Sturdy metal case
100% Made in France
USB or MIDI connection for longer distances (up to 15m/50ft)
USB powered
Very light on the CPU
Easy configuration
Weight : 1.7 kg / 3 lb
WxLxH : 30 x 13 x 6 cm / 12 x 5 x 2.5 inches

There’s even a free download that adds some features Ableton Live forgot – the equivalent of follow actions for scenes, plus a heads-up display so you can see what’s happening without hunching over your computer screen. (Seriously, Ableton, those belong as standard features in Live!)

You can use that download as long as you have a compatible version of Live and Max for Live; no hardware needed.

http://kblivesolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Scene-Launcher.zip

Dig this custom version too:

Pricing starts at 240EUR for an “early bird” price, 260EUR after that. (There’s also a 350EUR limited edition still available as I write this).

Project info on Kickstarter:

http://kck.st/2SH5gJE

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The new Maschine Mikro is tiny – but now its workflows scale

Native Instruments this fall unveiled a bunch of low cost alternatives to its flagship producer products – and the one that perhaps attracted the most attention is Maschine Mikro. Can you fit more into a small package?

If you’re really into Maschine, here’s my advice: MK3. Full stop. The MK3 has the most expressive, playable pads of any of the Maschine line. It’s got the same big display as the previous Maschine Studio – meaning you can make arrangements, adjust parameters without squinting, and set mix levels really easily. (None of that is possible on the Mikro.) And it has all the latest refinements, but it’s in a perfect form factor, as beloved on the original model and MK2.

It’s also reasonably compact. Maschine is my lifesaver for gigs because whatever may be in checked luggage (and therefore lost in checked luggage), you can fit Maschine MK3 into a backpack.

By comparison, I’m not fond of Push on the road, as I think its layout is better suited to studio creation than live performance, and it’s just a little bit bigger and a lot heavier than other devices – plus no audio interface. Small details, major difference if you’re playing fit-the-rig-in-the-backpack. And I know that sentiment is shared.

But there are times when you might want smaller, and you might be on a tighter budget – particularly if you’ve already invested in another controller.

So the Maschine Mikro is back. But this time, the pads are better, and while that display is small, you really can get away with using it. It could be ideal in a corner of your desk, and it’s more portable.

FACT Magazine have a great compact (natch) breakdown of how the Mikro works.

First, you inherit the touch strip and the note repeat from the rest of the line. That includes these clever performance effects, which are really quick to access from the touch strip. Note repeat and chord modes let you get away with squeezing lots of ideas onto a small palette — and, let’s be honest, they help you fake being way better at finger drumming than you actually are.

Sorry, might be projecting there. Better than I am, for sure.

And then there’s sequencing, too, which also scales well to this small form factor:

I’m personally sticking to the MK3 for one reason alone: the encoders to me are invaluable. I can load Reaktor Blocks instances in Maschine and then really shape sound on the encoders while keeping track of changing parameters on the displays. It’s like having a huge modular rig without the gear and back ache and debt. And I think the MK3 is good enough that it’s worth swapping in even the MK2 to get one – and certainly the MK1, which lacks the various workflow improvements and especially those great pads.

But I totally get the appeal of the Mikro.

I think ironically reducing that form factor finally lets you focus on learning some core features of Maschine and focusing on them. It looks like a no-brainer next to Ableton Push or an Akai APC or whatever you use as your DAW and controller arrangement (keyboards, etc). We’ve also seen previously how much musicality you can get just by focusing on the pads, as our friend Alan Oldham (DJ T-1000) took on even the first-generation model.

Cues: Detroit innovator Alan Oldham talks to us about techno, creation

So for getting out and playing, this is great stuff – and a bargain buy with the core software, a bunch of sounds, and a controller, too. I bet some people will get these as gifts – and have a great time.

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/maschine/production-systems/maschine-mikro/

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