Apple’s latest GarageBand will help you learn an instrument, for free

Can GarageBand for macOS make music more accessible? The newest release brings free lessons for those wanting to learn. And on another note, it provides crucial bug fixes for blind users.

For a lot of Mac users, GarageBand will be the first taste of music making with technology. So it’s important Apple gets it right. There’s not really any direct comparison on another platform like this, either – GarageBand is available as a free install for new Macs, and yet provides an easy window into the same engine and sounds that drive Logic Pro. Those two applications are developed in parallel – indeed, as a regular Logic user, I was impressed by how much is now familiar in its entry-level sibling.

Reading the reviews in the App Store, though, it’s apparent how challenging it can be serving that audience. Move things around, and you make GarageBand’s years of existing users unhappy. Leave them as they are, and you might turn off potential new users.

GarageBand 10.3, released late last week, evens things out after the 2017 releases. Full release notes:

New in GarageBand for macOS 10.3

Most of this involves new sounds – the Guzheng, Koto, and Taiko drums found in the iOS edition, new vintage Mellotron sounds, electronic roots and jazz “Drummers.”

But two features are worth mentioning.

Software that teaches you to play

A selection of artists will teach you piano and guitar – now, for free, in this free Mac app.

First, the range of lessons Apple offers to get you started with an instrument are now free. For someone with a new Mac, it’s a nice way to get a small taste of learning an instrument.

I downloaded a few of these. There’s no question Apple is behind third-party offerings in this area. And it’s a shame they didn’t find a way to open up this feature to those developers, too, the way they have, say, the iBooks store. On the pop side, there just isn’t enough variety – the selections are embarrassingly white, and weirdly outdated. On the advanced side, well, maybe someone can follow learning a Chopin prelude by trying to watch someone explain it with some diagrams, but I have never met that student. (And I’ve actually taught beginning music students students keyboard. It’s… an… experience.)

Inside a guitar lesson.

But there’s some charm to the selection. I have no doubt it’s a casual way to get a taste for going out and getting lessons yourself. And I think Apple deserves some kudos for making this a default install.

Software that’s more accessible, regardless of sight

The other thing worth mentioning – this is a good example of how Apple is responding to user feedback for musicians with different accessibility needs.

macOS has a technology called Voice Over, which reads out what’s on the screen to users who are vision impaired. That’s important, because it means the non-seeing user is interacting with the same layout and structure as a seeing user. Apple demonstrated this onstage at a recent developer conference with one of their own blind employees, and I got a chance recently to attend a talk by two consultants who give feedback on using these features.

That feedback is important, because seeing developers may not know what works until they hear from users without sight.

In comments, you can read up on what was going wrong in GarageBand 10.2: one blind user complains because they’re lost in the very first screen of mixing. (I want to copy and paste what they wrote, but the App Store won’t let me, so I’m going to commit an accessibility faux pas and include the screenshot here – sorry.)

Also telling here – this detail about vision is actually one of the top App Store comments.

So it’s a small thing, but GarageBand 10.3 fixes that:

VoiceOver now announces the type of track that is selected in the New Track dialog.
VoiceOver now speaks the names of tracks when interacting with regions in the tracks area.

That’s a tiny change, but imagine that is a wall between you and being able to actually know what track you’re editing.

And again, because this is a free install on the Mac, it’s a big deal. Just removing that one barrier opens up music making on the computer to a whole range of Mac users. And that’s not to just congratulate Apple here – all software should work this way.

GarageBand 10.3 is a free update, available now.

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Relive Legowelt’s radio show, Astro Unicorn Radio

For a few glorious years, Legowelt had a radio show, Thursday evenings on Intergalactic FM internet radio. But while the show is gone, the sounds live on.

Why am I bringing this up now? Well … I owe that notion to Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing, back in the heyday of the blog from whence this site came. Any extended period of, say, reading legal filings surely deserves a unicorn chaser.

And Legowelt comes to our rescue.

The show ran from 2007-2011, and was as eclectic and glorious as you’d expect from Legowelt. Brazilian Moog Cruisin’? Nigerian boogie disco? Check. Or, for instance:

Another radio reportage, this time from the cold snowy Rotterdam were we investigate Mono-Poly’s & Dr.Albert Putnam’s research in Biorhythms using modular synthesizers such as the Fenix and Buchla.

It’s a perfect template of what nerdy music things should be.

There’s a full archive of the tail end of the show in MP3 form, which you can grab as long as it lasts.

Episodes are on Mixcloud, too, from the source – from the beginning:

You’re welcome.

And thanks, Legowelt.

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Mod Max: One free download fixes Live 10’s new kick

Ableton Live 10 has some great new drum synth devices, as part of Max for Live. But that kick could be better. Max modifications, to the rescue!

The Max for Live kick sounds great – especially if you combine it with a Drum Buss or even some distortion via the Pedal, also both new in Live 10. But it makes some peculiar decisions. The biggest problem is, it ignores the pitch of incoming MIDI.

Green Kick fixes that, by mapping MIDI note to Pitch of the Kick, so you can tap different pads or keyboard keys to pitch the kick where you want it. (You can still trigger a C0 by pressing the Kick button in the interface.)

Also: “It seemed strange to have Attack as a numbox and the Decay as a dial.”

Yes, that does seem strange. So you also get knobs for both Attack and Decay, which makes more sense.

Now, all of this is possible thanks to the fact that this is a Max for Live device, not a closed-box internal device. While it’s a pain to have to pony up for the full cost of Live Suite to get Max for Live, the upside is, everything is editable and modifiable. And it’d be great to see that kind of openness in other tools, for reasons just like this.

Likewise, if this green color bothers you, you can edit this mod and … so on.

Go grab it:

Thanks to Sonic Bloom for this one. They’ve got tons more tips like this, so go check them out:

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Route audio from anywhere to anywhere in Ableton, free

The quiet addition of arbitrary audio routing in Max for Live in Live 10 has opened the floodgates to new tools. This one free device could transform how you route signal in the software.

One of the frustrations of ongoing Ableton Live users, in fact, is that routing options are fairly restricted. You’ve got sends and returns, sure, plus some easy and convenient drop-downs in the I/O section of each channel. But if you’ve ever discovered a particular sidechaining wasn’t possible, or you just couldn’t get there from here, you know what I’m talking about.

And so, you knew something like Outist was coming. Amidst a bunch of Max for Live plug-in developers thinking up creative things to do with the new routing tools (like spatialization or visualization), this one is dead-simple. It just uses that loophole to give you a device you can easily insert to add a routing wherever you want – a bit like having a virtual patch cable you can plug into your DAW.

And it’s free.


outist is a maxforlive device that lets you route any signal to any internal or external destination.

It’s originally designed to bypass Live’s restricted return buss routing. With outist you can have pre and post send PER return channel.

You can also simply use it to send the signal to any physical output or just anywhere in your set…

Findt Outist and a bunch of other weird and interesting stuff:

With those floodgates open, as I said, there may well be a better tool out there. So please, readers – don’t be shy. Happy to hear other tips, or about your patch that’s better, or other ideas – shoot!

And yeah, I definitely wish Ableton just did this by default, natively – but I’ll take this hack as a solution!

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Hzandbits Sound Effects offers FREE exclusive sample pack

Hzandbits Rekkerd SpecialHzandbits Sound Effects is offering Rekkerd readers an exclusive free collection of sounds taken from its sample libraries. Hzandbits delivers inspiring field recordings and sound effects to the film & games industries, covering everything from ambiances from around the world, to abstract sound design elements. The free sample pack contains sounds from the following Hzandbits […]

A free download turns Reaktor into a powerful Buchla modular emulation

West Coast synthesis is yours for a song, by combining a free/donationware download with Reaktor. And now Cloudlab 200t just got a major V2 upgrade.

First, okay – this is not an authorized Buchla product. The Buchla legacy is alive in hardware and software forms. The Buchla Easel got a full-blown remake from Arturia. The Twisted Waveform Generator module has an official remake from Softube – though it’s silly spendy, at US$99. (That’s the price of some actual hardware module kits, or halfway to getting Reaktor!) And of course Buchla the hardware company are back in action with some of the original engineers.

But that’s besides the point: this is in Reaktor. And because it’s in Reaktor, you can pick it apart from the outside in and see how it works. And you can combine it with other Reaktor stuff, and then run the result as a plug-in. That’s something unique – ever wondered what a granular patch would sound like routed through some Buchla effects, for instance?

Does it sound any good? Yes – enough so that colleagues who have spent considerable time on Buchla hardware say they appreciate it. It certainly replicates the control layout and basic ideas of the Buchla, even if it has its own unique sound.

There’s one major downside of Reaktor: all the patching is hidden in the structure. That’s pretty weird if you’re use to patching on the front panel, as on hardware (and software emulations). But it will be familiar to Reaktor users, and it means the control layout on the Buchla is clean – even if there’s some tension behind the way the Buchla was conceived and how it works here.

In version 2, you get some significant updates – starting most importantly with clock sync:

External clock. Any gate in or clock out can be synced to external input, and the 266t Chronikler gets a clock output. Now you can sync to DAWs – or, if you like, stuff like VCV Rack.

Lemur control works both ways. The popular iPad and Android controller app now gets parameters back from Cloudlab, so it responds in realtime.

More noise. Noise sources on the 266t Noise module now include -3 Pink, Flat, and +3 White noise. If this makes you swoon as it does me, then you’re definitely a synth nerd. (Flat is labeled “Buchlesque,” a word I hope to now apply in completely inappropriate situations…)

Easier on the CPU. You’ll still want a hefty processor, but this version promises to be more stable and efficient, says the developer.

More modules. 227t Output interface & 248t Multiple Sequential Generator.

Be sure to make a donation if you like this.

It’s also wonderful to see these ideas spreading. From efforts like this to the rising stardom of people like Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, it’s now not uncommon to meet aspiring musicians on the street who know the name Buchla. That’s a sea change from a few short years ago, when people might know the name “Moog” (and pronounce in a way that rhymes with a sound a cow makes), and referred to all computer production simply by “Pro Tools.” Now, they’re very likely to start lecturing you on their thoughts on West Coast versus East Coast synthesis or tell you what oscillator module their favorite producer just started raving about.

And that’s relevant here, too. It means Reaktor can help spread the viral interest in esoteric synthesis. And that means Native Instruments customers are likely to want to do more than just dial up presets. And certainly as the Buchla brand and other lesser-known names catch up with the giants like Roland, Moog, and KORG, we’re seeing synth lovers willing to look to hardware and software from a greater variety of models.

I’d say this could be overwhelming, but – I think that ignores the possibilities of sound. Once you dive into the Buchla Way, you may just find yourself … really happy.

Let us know if you make some sounds with this.

Big thanks to the wonderful Synth Anatomy where I saw this first:

Cloudlab 200t V2 Released – A Stunning Buchla Based Modular Synthesizer For Reaktor 6

The gorgeous GUI comes from David Frappaz

Trevor Gavilan, who designed and programmed the ensemble, has also used it to make some of his own music. Here’s something entirely produced in just one instance:

More information and download at the NI Reaktor User Library:

Cloudlab 200t V2

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Mammut is free software that does completely insane things to sounds

From the darkest arts in auditory alchemy, you can find gems like Mammut, a free tool that will utterly mangle digital audio into forms beautiful and chaotic.

And I mean really weird. From producing eerie, smeared convolutions of files to manipulating the spectrum of a sound in ways that are actually unlistenable (as in, they cause excruciating pain), Mammut is delightfully un-commercial and totally unpredictable.

Here’s how this all started. Last week, I noticed that popular time stretching algorithm PaulStretch had found its way into a convenient plug-in form for Mac and Windows. That opened the floodgates to lots of discussion of where to find similar tools.

If you want PaulStretch, it’s worth checking out the original, or the version now baked into free sound editor Audacity:

More tools also came up with Soundhack. As creator Tom Erbe wrote me (after I mentioned I loved his software for doing convolution all the way back to the mid 90s), he mentioned:

“++spiralstretch does a pvoc stretch on realtime incoming sound with up to 8 overlapping “stretchers”. also does granular stretching for a less spectral sound. (shameless plug)”

Mammut represents a different path to strange noises. You know you’re in for something out of the ordinary from the moment you launch it, and are treated to a woodcut of a woolly mammoth and some braying animal noises and … wind … or something. Then, with that dizzying animation looping in the background, you load a sound. You’re then able to directly manipulate the spectrum of the sound, via a seemingly random assortment of tabs with different functions. These have descriptions that range from detailed and useful to glib to … tabs that have no explanation at all, or one that says “Rather useless.”

Okay, then!

There’s some beautiful stuff in there. In addition to being able to edit a spectrum directly, you can apply more beautiful time stretching and features like convolution, which combines audio waveforms by spectra.

And there’s undo/redo, too, accessed by up and down arrows in the middle of the interface, so you can back out of decisions that just screwed up the sound. (Those you’ll find pretty readily!)

As the creators describe it:

Mammut is a rather unpredictable program, and the user must get used to letting go of control over the time axis. The sounding results are often surprising and exciting. Mammut is also ideal for common operations such as filtering, spectrum shift and convolution and it provides an optimal performance.

Mammut is old software, from pre-2007, but thanks to being built in the free JUCE environment still compiles and runs nicely. It’s a project of Notam, the electronic art research center in Oslo, and developed by Øyvind Hammer, with a UI by Kjetil Matheussen.

The “mammoth” reference is because it takes the FFT of the whole sound file at once instead of using windows / chunks of the sound. While the results here are radical, similar techniques find more practical applications – like building a smooth waveform pad synth.

Anyway, I suspect you can from here go down either a link hole looking at that research and the engineering side, or get lost playing with sounds.

I wound up making sounds with it, including convolutions of other productions I was working on, and assembled a track:

In honor of Mammut, I think it’s also only appropriate to paste in this film – enjoy!

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A free plug-in brings extreme PaulStretch stretching to your DAW

You’ve heard Justin Bieber mangled into gorgeous ambient cascades of sound. Now, you can experience the magic of PaulStretch as a free plug-in.

It may give you that “A-ha” moment in ambient music. You know:

The developer has various warnings about using this plug-in, which for me make me want to use it even more. (Hey, no latency reporting to the DAW? Something weird in Cubase! No manual? Who cares! Let’s give it a go – first I’m going to run with scissors to grab a beer which I’ll drink at my laptop!)


The plugin is only suitable for radical transformation of sounds. It is not suitable at all for subtle time corrections and such. Ambient music and sound design are probably the most suitable use cases.

You had me at radical / not subtle.

Okay… yeah, this was probably meant for me:

You can use it two ways: either load an audio file, and just run PaulStretch in your DAW, or use it as a live processor on inputs. (That’s weird, given what it does – hey, there was some latency. Like… a whole lot of latency.)

It’s on Mac and Windows but code is available and Linux is “likely.”

If you want the original:

That does other nifty tricks, like binaural beats.

But the plug-in I think just became the easiest way to use it. Now go forth and make long sounds and chill to them.

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55,5 – Free sample pack with 555 sounds by Valentine

Valentine Kuznetsov 55.5Valentine wrote in to share about his 55,5 sample pack, a collection of short one-shot samples in 24-bit/44kHz format. The pack includes a wide range of one second sounds, comprising bleeps, zips, clunks, pops, zaps, and more of that sort of thing. Great for making your drum and percussion tracks more interesting. Each sound was […] is a new cloud tool for loops and samples from NI is a subscription-based loop and sample site – but it’s also a glimpse into Native Instruments’ future strategy for digital services for musicians.

Today, NI are revealing – a product in 2018 that sounds like someone registered a domain in 1996. That domain name pretty much covers it: it’s a place to go get sounds, in the form of loops and samples. It’s only available as a beta in the United States now, but will roll out to the rest of the world over the course of this year.

You can check out the beta now. I’ve had the chance to talk to Matthew Adell (NI’s new digital services chief) and Sunny Lee (Product Owner) about the product, and poked around the beta and sounds a bit in advance. Here’s a sense of what this might mean as a product itself, but also some of the potential to sound designers and future NI products – if the service and its underlying infrastructure are fully exploited.

What’s the pitch for

There are, of course, a lot of purveyors of loops and sound content. But what NI’s tool here promises is a deeper, broader catalog of sounds from multiple sources, combined with better tools for searching them.

You won’t see much of Native Instruments’ name on the site, and even their own products are in the background. So Maschine Expansions are there, if that’s your thing – but NI is just one of 200 providers. The Loop Loft, MVP, and Symphonic Distribution sit alongside lots of smaller shops. NI also says they’ve got a lot of exclusive content, and are launching with half a million sounds.

You can navigate by genre, covering not just dance genres, but things like “cinematic,” too. You’ll see bundled releases, but also individual sounds.

That could broaden the appeal here. Maybe you don’t want some massive set of Deep House or EDM loops. Fine – search for a single perfect clap one-shot. Maybe you want to explore some weird Reaktor-produced noises made by Applewhite on left-field label Detroit Underground. Or you’re on a tight TV or film scoring deadline and want to grab some unique sounding percussion. Or you just want some sounds to mangle quickly.
Because it’s easy to find one-shots, and because there’s tons of sound material that isn’t genre specific, it seems likely that will appeal to some people who haven’t bothered with loop or sample content before.

Native Instruments have talked a lot lately about reaching more customers. Here, they offer a fair amount of tools in a completely free, unpaid tier. You don’t even need an account to start poking around and previewing. But a free account nets you some selected free downloads.
US$9.99 a month gets you an all-you-can-eat diet of unlimited downloads of whatever you want. (This is the US-specific one for now; the free tier already works worldwide.) Even if you cancel and re-up, those downloads reappear… just in case you have a habit of not backing up and dropping beers on your hard drives.

There’s an underlying technical competency story here, though. In addition to investing over the past year in the cloud and products team, NI has been quietly over time developing in-house expertise in what’s called Music Information Retrieval. Basically, that’s the somewhat arcane research field of developing algorithms that identify sounds and metadata more clearly. This stuff has been bouncing around Europe for years, but it tends to involve stuffy academic contexts and music industry.

The twist here is, some of that “MIR” business can turn out to be, well, fun and useful to you and me. NI tells CDM these algorithms are sharp enough to analyze the difference between a closed and an open high hat. With a bunch of other built-in intelligence about metadata and tagging and the like, this could mean you actually find the sounds you want. We’ll need some time to test that, and because an online service like this both develop over time and can learn from additional data, it’s something that may well evolve.

But yeah, instead of training Facebook how to serve you ads, you might soon instead be training Native Instruments how to identify and find sounds. (It’s fitting we’re exploring machine learning as a topic this year with our hacklab for CTM Festival Berlin.)

And honing in on individual sounds is part of the mission. Thanks to better search tools, you’ll quickly find you can even ignore genre classification and search however you want – including key, BPM, and other sonic characteristics. There are also tools for grouping by artist/producer and label. (Some of those appear to be set to develop over time.)

With its direct access to one-shots and more left-field options, plus a visual waveform preview and lots of metadata, resembles nothing if not long-running platform – more than something like the Beatport Sounds section. (As far as content, I can’t imagine freesound stacking up to this any more than I can imagine replacing freesound. Case in point: as I write this, freesound has as its sound of the day “procesión de la borriquita” –the procession of the donkey – from the first week of Easter in Tarifa, Spain. Still, the interface and some of the appeal do overlap.)

Lots of familiar sound design houses and artists are there – here’s the legendary Hank Shocklee, who’s been a continuous inspiration in technology for us. is quick and easy enough that I imagine this could be a huge amount of fun. I’m not a huge fan of soundware, and even I started thinking of how to use this. Hello, Maschine Audio device.

What does this mean for sound creators?

Native Instruments, particularly through their flagship sampler KONTAKT and more recently their NKS format, have always been a platform and reseller for independent sound designers. Now, they actually have a working online platform to do that. NI are promising creators a fluid means to upload and manage their content, as well as a potential commercial opportunity.

The subscription model I imagine could also be disruptive if your business model was based on the à la carte release approach, but we’ll also have to see if these two models reach different customers (and accordingly supply different kinds of content). Consuming sound content for production also isn’t quite the same as consuming albums for listening, even if the buy/subscribe model here is a parallel.

Also, NI say their longer range plan is to provide an open API, also suggesting new developer integrations in music products not made by NI – first to select partners later this year, and then more broadly as they collect user and developer feedback.

What’s the bigger picture at Native Instruments? has developed over the past year under the leadership of NI’s new “Chief Digital Officer,” Matthew Adell. Adell has experience at Napster and Amazon – and at Beatport. During his tenure, Beatport launched their Sounds section, which then saw explosive growth.

Now, the important thing here is, yes, there’s the specific product – but there’s also the team that built it and the plumbing they created to make it work. Adell confirmed to CDM that this is just a beginning.

More left-field and independent creations show up here, too. Here’s Detroit Underground with Marshall Applewhite. That’s an important story, as well, as it means this service is about NI’s ecosystem of sound creators, not just the sounds from NI themselves (though those are there, of course).

In addition to releases, you can find sounds individually, by collection, or here – again with label Detroit Underground – by provider. There’s no navigation to find them directly apart from search yet.

It’s a no-brainer that we’ll see integration in NI products in some form. But NI says their new, integrated digital services team can make these kinds of tools available across the whole NI product range – and even possibly on future hardware. represents the first product built atop a new cloud platform. (They’re using React JavaScript library on the front end, among other things, in case you’re interested.)

I hope that’s the case, because it could make the experience of using NI software significantly better.

Let’s back up and consider the user. We’re already essentially using NI as an online service provider, it’s just that they don’t behave much like one.

You’re a producer, and you’re using Maschine and Komplete. Right now, not even all upgrades and sound content are available in Native Update. Buying and upgrading is … well, complicated. And then storing and accessing your own sounds is often a chore.

Could this MIR stuff help you find and tag your own sounds and snapshots? Well, heck yes – especially because my guess is you’re even less likely to be organized about tagging and organizing your own files. (I’ve seen musicians’ hard drives. A lot of you are … let’s say right brain dominant. “Messy as #$*&” also fits.)

Cue points in Traktor that show up everywhere? Well, now there’s plumbing to make that happen (this appeared briefly in an iPad app, then disappeared right as we said we liked it).

Synchronized Reaktor Blocks ensembles and snapshots? Why not? (The free VCV Rack is already working on that.)

I’d love to use sophisticated sync and MIR technologies to locate and share my sounds and parameters. But it remains to be seen whether this modern approach from the online team in Los Angeles will be able to wrangle the complex web of different products and code that a lot of us use in Komplete and the like. is recipient of some of the recent funding NI acquired, but its gestation started before that funding, NI say – so we’ll see how this unfolds later this year. Pro software and especially hardware products have much longer development cycles, so expect some of these fruits to appear later.

In the meanwhile, this is an encouraging step – and you’ve got some sounds to play with. [public beta; login available only from the USA but preview features available to all]

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