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Bougaïeff & Narciss talk craft, and composing 60-second techno loops

Talk about minimal techno: Nicolas Bougaïeff and Narciss made a selection of 60-second locked grooves. Here’s more on that project and their practice.

If you’re hungry for electronic music that still pushes boundaries and technique, Dr. Nicolas Bougaïeff is a good place to start. (Yes, he’s a real doctor – the Ph.D. is in music composition). And lately, he’s been on a tear. Apart from a fanciful EP for our own Establishment, his recent output has focused on aggressively distorted, dystopian timbres, expertly constructed machines that pound forward like giant robots. He’s gotten deserved attention for that, as well, including the 12″ release of Cognitive Resonance, which relaunched Daniel Miller’s seminal NovaMute label.

There’s no paint-by-number techno here: each rhythm, each sound is considered. (It’s little wonder that Nick is working in offering composition lessons on the side – in a field that has been largely short of expert training.)

Now, you can get a view to that in Principles of Newspeak, his Denkfabrik LP, and take a cinematic journey through these realms.

But I thought we’d take the occasion to explore a unique set of etudes that came at the beginning of this year. It’s called Vocabulary C, and it takes the meticulous construction of techno to an extreme. The whole album is a set of locked grooves, each just one minute in length.

It’s not just a simple DJ “tools” release, though – think of it as tools that are also effective etudes. You can actually listen to each of these as a one-minute, standalone composition. There’s audio material drawn from Principles of Newspeak, but you almost don’t need to know that: these stand on their own. (Miniatures are a topic Nicolas has taken up before, not surprisingly – he’s got a release called 24 Miniatures coming out now, too.)

Nicolas teamed up with Berlin-born artist Narciss for this one – an artist who has literally grown up in the middle of Berlin techno, and has a DJ resume (and more releases upcoming on DRVMS LTD. and Seelen Records) to match.

With the fusion of composition and technology here, of course, we had plenty to talk about with these two.

There are two video documentaries as a starting point. First, there’s a short feature of Principles of Newspeak, visiting Nick in his studio:

From there, there’s a second video in which Nicolas and Narciss talk about the project and their collaboration:

CDM: Nick, from the release for Daniel Miller to your own follow-up on your label to this reusing materials … it feels like you’re making connective tissue now between releases. Is that about your own continuity? Is it about a narrative?

NB: Making a large scale musical work inspired by 1984 has been on my mind for over 20 years. Once I got started, I owed it to myself to explore every aspect of the topic. I’m happy I found an angle to the novel that hadn’t really been covered by other musicians, so I just kept on going. Vocabulary C gave me a feeling of closure.

And you’ve worked with miniatures before, too, yes?

I’ve done this sort of project before. Back in 2011, I recorded a new sketch every day for nearly the whole year, 20 minutes every day first thing in the morning no thinking allowed. That yielded hundreds of musical fragments. From those I eventually compiled an album by selecting the very best moments, no further whatsoever besides touching the mixdown and trimming the shortest edit possible. It kind of sat on my hard drive for seven years now, which is a nice contrast to how spontaneous the original process was. I feel it really aged well so I’m finally about to release the 24 Miniatures album via Denkfabrik.

All of these projects draw from the well of dystopia and dystopian imagination – what was that inspiration here? (What’s the Orwell connection?)

NB: Vocabulary C is the last release in a thematic series of three records, all of them inspired by the appendix to George Orwell’s 1984. The lead single “Cognitive Resonance” came out as a 12″ on NovaMute; the album Principles of Newspeak came out on my own label Denkfabrik, and finally, Vocabulary C as a collection of locked grooves inspired by the sounds from the album.

The 1984 appendix is focused on the particular way language is distorted in that fictional universe, a mashup of political slogans and the Whorf-Sapir linguistics theory. The idea is that if you destroy words, you destroy the ability to think of that concept. Fortunately, that’s not the way language works in reality. In the book, vocabulary C is a facet of the language that is used strictly to describe technical processes. In parallel, it seemed to me very fitting that a locked groove, historically, is a very technical musical tool.

6. Also to repeat the video a little bit, maybe you can elaborate on those vocabularies? How did you apply them to managing the material here?

NB: Best to directly quote Orwell here.

“The A vocabulary consisted of the words needed for the business of everyday life — for such things as eating, drinking, working, putting on one’s clothes, going up and down stairs, riding in vehicles, gardening, cooking, and the like”

“The B vocabulary consisted of words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them.”

See, both of those are interesting, but way too literal to be used for instrumental music. But when you get to Vocabulary C, it’s abstract and detached in a way that seemed to really fit with techno.

“The C vocabulary was supplementary to the others and consisted entirely of scientific and technical terms.”

Can you explain what a locked groove is?

NB: A vinyl groove is normally cut in a spiral. A locked groove is a circle, so the needle loops around over and over. You literally have to pick up the needle to choose another loop, you can have lots of different loops on a record. Pioneering techno artists — Jeff Mills, for example — produced and performed with locked groove records, sometimes making it a central part of their process.

Narciss: To me, it’s kind of the most stripped down techno tool in existence. It really is just an endless loop that can, for example, be used to mix two tracks that don’t perfectly mesh together, or to add some spice to your transitions. Instrumentation is pretty interesting, because using the sounds we had, meant, we mainly patched things through different effects.

There’s something a bit cheeky about embracing minimalism in this way, right? This isn’t phases like Steve Reich; it isn’t messing with time like Morton Feldman. You’re into full-on repetition – right into the heart of what many people claim to dislike about techno. What made you go that route? Is there a personal story to this embrace of rigid structure and repetition, intellectual curiosity aside?

NB: There’s a holy grail in techno: that magical moment when the groove is so good that you bliss out and don’t touch the machines anymore. We experience this all the time as music producers working in the studio, and also on the dance floor when everything is just spot on. You get the same thing in many improvised musics – searching until you lock in. That’s what I wanted to focus on with this project; I wanted to focus on finding self-standing moments where time stands still.

Timbre is significant here, too, I feel. There’s a real brutality to this, maybe something missing in a lot of drenched-out, effect-pedal, too-much-reverb music trending now. What was the source of those sounds; how did you arrive at them?

Narciss: This can mainly be accredited to the extremely raw-sounding base material that we were working with. Both of the albums that Nicolas made have a very violent, heavy structure to them, so naturally working with sounds from them, you would get something like that out too, although even on the loops where we didn’t use any of that material, it was a pretty natural adaption to what we made before, I guess.

NB: The sound palette was more of a consequence of where I had been with my other projects rather than a conscious conceptual choice. We used a a bunch of Narciss’ favorite drum loops as well as a big chunk of my personal sound library from the past couple years, that was all industrial and electroacoustic sounds derived from electric cello, modular synth and loads of distortion pedals. Looking back, I can now better appreciate the tension between the timeless locked groove format and the sounds that grab your attention.

I want to ask about the element of setting the timer. In order to be that immediate, did you find that there was practice necessary first – on your own, as a duo?

Narciss: I didn’t really see it as practice, we pretty much sat down and recorded everything from the first loop to the last. Obviously, quality improved – generally towards the end of the process, we hit it home more times than in the beginning. But I think a little less than half of the record was made during our first day.

NB: I’ve been an improvising musician for over 15 years – working fast feels very comfortable. Also, quantity was a very important part of this project. Our goal was to make 100 locked grooves, and then we would select the best 20 or 30. Many of them were really bad, silly or just boring, but that didn’t matter, because five minutes later, we had an opportunity to begin again.

Actually, I’m kind of interested now that this has been out in the world for a while … uh, not just to rationalize turning in these questions late. What’s happened in the interim; what has the response been?

NB: I’ve been notified from Bandcamp about who downloads the records. I’ve had some interesting surprises there!

Functionally speaking, how do you expect these tracks to live? Are people DJing with them – are you? How do they work as tools – are they intended as tools? Would these encourage people perhaps even to DJ in a different way

Narciss: I’m certainly playing them out live, yes. Not all of them, of course — “Loop C-02” is a particular favorite. Some are definitely meant more as an exploration of the medium than as an actual “locked groove” in its regular function. I think it does force people who only blend two tracks at a time to play differently, though, yeah – because in that environment, a locked groove doesn’t make much sense. But if you play with three decks or more, then I think the more dancefloor-oriented grooves won’t challenge you that much.

NB: Of course they’re tools! They’re radically minimal not only in their form, but also in their sparseness. I’m always trying to figure out what is the least amount of instruments necessary to get a really banging sound. Now whether they’re played on their own or deep in the mix, that really depends on the musical context.

Does that change the meaning, if they are blended with other tracks?

NB: No, they don’t need to be played as stark naked loops on their own, unprocessed. As a central element, my challenge to DJs would be to try to figure out how long you can keep them going on with the least amount of transformation and mixing.

Narciss: It’s an interesting thought, to be sure. But since this project was more of an exploration of this “Locked Groove” concept, I think that if people play them out, it doesn’t as much change the meaning,as hammer home the functionality of it, even if you get analytical and deconstructive with it.

I know you’ve worked together before. This got you working more closely, though, yes?

Narciss: For sure, for me personally this project has furthered this “Sensei student mentality” with Nicolas just so much more, although I think he hates it when I say that, ha!

NB: Yeah, Narciss contributed a remix for my release on Establishement, and I just did a remix for his new record on DRVMS Ltd. We’ve been friends for a couple years, and with this project it was a really intense five or six sessions actually. The five minute non-stop sprints was pretty exhausting. And we’re still friends now!

Narciss, you’re obviously out there in the trenches, too, in the DJ scene. What was the connection like between this slightly experimental format and that clubland experience?

Narciss: There most definitely was a connection between the two. I mean originally, locked grooves themselves are something that only make sense in the context of a DJ-set. So it actually took me personally quite a while to get away from the “four-to-the-floor-mentality” of the medium.

Also, being born in this city, where do you look for inspiration – are you attracted to new things that are flowing into the city’s cultural life? Is the familiarity of growing up here something significant, or is it that turnover that drives you, or some combination? (I do notice different perspectives of natives and transplant.)

Narciss: I love this question – but there are so many aspects to this subject.

It definitely is a combination. Growing up here, the extremely hedonistic way in which Berlin is perceived from the outside was always very perplexing to me, because this was simply not the way that I saw it. Even when I started DJing, I didn’t actually go out that much because the way I got into it was actually just by discovering the genre in my record store, not by going to the parties. The problem with this is that Techno is, of course, a genre that is inspired by parties and clubs, from the way it sounds to just the overall existence of it. I only really understood this, though, when two British friends of mine moved here, because they had so much unbridled passion for techno, that only through them did I fully understand that these two things cannot exist without each other.

So for me, personally, I do actually like to get my inspiration from the memories that I have of Berlin before it got “un-dangerous” or the corners that people just do not explore enough (like Marzahn, for example). Ed.: Take note of Marzahn, architecture fans. Oh dear; I probably just sent someone down a linkhole. But to be honest, without the turnover of Berlin, and just absolute heaps of people moving here from all over the world, I probably would not be making the music I am making today. That being said, if someone who is thinking about renting an overpriced apartment just to go to Panorama Bar loads, is reading this : please don’t you’re making my rent go up. [laughs]

Will we see these animations live outside of the digital release? Audiovisual show?

NB: Itaru Yasuda — itaru.org — made the Vocabulary C animations, that was the beginning of a new live AV collaboration. Itaru and I just released a new video and that live AV project is moving forward fast.

And lastly, what’s next? I know you both have a bunch of upcoming projects and maybe at least one of you big bookings… will this particular project or collaboration also carry on somehow?

NB: I have a couple big bookings coming up, and I already have 3 solo EPs confirmed for release this year. Narciss and I took one of the locked grooves from Vocabulary C and fleshed it out into a full track, that should be coming out later this year as well.

Narciss: Well, there’s a track of ours on the next Seelen Records Release that was still part of the same sessions in which we made “Vocabulary C”. Other than that time will tell I think, I’d definitely be down to make more stuff together, but the magic about this project was that the process was so different to how we individually usually make our music, so I’m not sure how we would go about just making “normal techno” together.

Thanks! We’ll be listening!

https://bougaieffnarciss.bandcamp.com/album/vocabulary-c

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Don’t miss this video of Jakob lubing up his DJ battle mixer

Hey kids: don’t forget the lube. Well, actually … like seriously.

Jakob Haq is simply one of our favorite YouTube contributors, all round – normally covering mobile music tech, but sometimes a range of other topics, too. And this video proves it.

Description:

The faders on my old Stanton SA-5 Allies signature mixer needed cleaning and some lube love in order for them to glide smoothly again. I recently started using this mixer after being hooked up with a new wall-power adapter for it (Thank you Ribbon). The fun lasted for a day before my faders started getting dodgy so it was time for an overhaul.

Okay, so obvious lube jokes aside (hey, it’s a real thing), this video is great on a number of levels. Apart from presumably helping someone out there with this very specific case, I can’t count the number of times people ask me, how do I repair this music thing xx?

And frankly, we don’t ask that nearly enough. An irony is, when I talk to people from the ex-Communist world (which happens, well, frequently), there’s far more widespread knowledge of repair technique – one born by necessity. But we all need to do that. When you’re touring and your gear breaks down, you need to be able to fix it. When you’re out of cash and your gear breaks down, you need to be able to fix it. When the planet is buckling under the weight of trash, toxic materials from these products can leech into the ecosystem, and when, well, people need gear – we need to fix everything.

It’d be great to put together repair guides in some centralized place. I’m up for ideas.

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Miss Nord Modular? This hack runs your patches as free software

The Nord Modular G2 is one of electronic music’s most beloved departed pieces of gear. Now it gets a second lease on life, for free – with Csound.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing this happened. The work was published as an academic paper in Finland last June, authored by three Russian engineers – one of whom works on nuclear physics research, no less. (It’s not the right image, but if you want to imagine something involving submarines, go for it. That’s where I want my next sound studio, inside a decommissioned nuclear sub from the USSR, sort of Thomas Dolby meets Hunt for Red October. But I digress.)

Anyway, Gleb Rogozinsky, Mihail Chesnokov, and Eugene Cherny, all of St. Petersburg, had a terrific idea. They chose to simulate the behavior of the Nord Modular G2 synth itself, and translate its patch files into use as Csound – the powerful, elegant free software that has a lineage to the first computer synth.

The upshot: patches (including those you found on the Web) now work on any computer, Mac, Windows, Linux, and Linux machines like Raspberry Pi – for free. And the graphical editor that lets you create Nord Modular patches just became a peculiar Nord-specific editor for Csound. (Okay, there are other visual editors for Csound, but that’s still cool, and the editor is still available for Mac and Windows free from the original manufacturer, Clavia.)

And best of all, if you have patches you created on the Nord Modular, now they’ll work for all eternity – or, rather, at least as long as human civilization lasts and keeps making computers, as I’m pretty sure Csound will remain with us for that. Let’s hope that’s… not a short period of time, of course.

Read the paper here:

pch2csd: an application for converting Nord Modular G2 patches
into Csound code
[Proceedings of the 14th Sound and Music Computing Conference]

Then give it a go – all you need is a machine that runs Python and copy-paste a couple of lines of code:

https://github.com/gleb812/pch2csd

Nord say they have no plans to bring back the hardware, but check the updates software on their site:

http://www.nordkeyboards.com/downloads/legacy/nord-modular-g2

Thanks for the tip, Ted Pallas!

The post Miss Nord Modular? This hack runs your patches as free software appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Erica Synths launches Pico System II + DRUM module series & more coming

Erica Synths Pico System IIErica Synths has launched Pico System II, a modular system that adds two new modules for the original Pico System. Pico System II includes the Pico Voice, a sound source which offers considerable timbral diversity, and the Pico Modulator, replacing the Pico EG and the Pico VCA. The remaining single 3HP space has been filled […]

Royal Blue classic British channel for Chroma and DIYRE Colour shipping

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Erica are set to bring the 909 into the modular age with their latest gear

Erica may be known for their tube-powered, retro-Polyvoks post-Soviet chic – but now they’re taking on the TR-909, in modules and a powerful drum computer.

This isn’t just another 909 remake, though. Take Roland’s legendary drum machine not just as a selection of well-known sounds, but as a way of thinking about synthesizing and sequencing percussion. Then, make those eminently patchable, so you can wire them into other gear and create some new, original ideas. Erica founder Girts Ozolins told me early on in starting the company that he thought the real appeal of modular was in customization – that it was something that allowed musicians to make something their own. And that seems to be the essence of the idea here. It’s a deconstructed, rather than reconstructed, 909.

On the sound side, then, you’ve got two friendly-looking, handsome, patchable modules. You can bolt these in and grab the knobs and it looks like you’ll be pretty happy. But there’s also plenty of CV when you want to get more modular.

On the sequencing side – and I’ll be the first to say this is what has me excited – comes a 909-style sequencer with accents, multiple tracks and banks, and extras like probability, track length (for polyrhythms), live and step modes, and more. You can sync it with MIDI, but there’s also an absurd amount of patchability.

And there’s modulation, too (here’s where we get way out of 909 territory) – two LFOs for modulating drums.

Just as promising, the whole thing comes from a collaboration with French DIY drum machine maker e-licktronic, who have made a name for themselves as a kind of cult-following underground drum machine maker for DIYers. The problem with e-licktronic was their projects required way too much assembly for all but the most dedicated soldering iron gurus. This brings some of their expertise to a wider market – niche, to be sure, but at least allowing you some time to, like, finish tracks and not just finish hardware assembly.

Full specs:

12x Accent outputs
1x CV/GATE track
2xLFO with independent or synced to the BPM frequency
Time signature per track
Pattern length per track
Shuffle per track
Probability per step
Retrigger per step
Instant pattern switching
Solo/Mute tracks
Step/Tap record modes
16 Banks of 16 Patterns
Instant pattern switching
Pattern linking
Midi sync in with start/stop
Track mode
Firmware upgrade via MIDI SySex

It also seems this is just the beginning – Erica have a whole drum module system in store: “Toms, Clap, Rimshot, HiHats, Cymbals, sample-based drum module and, to pull all system together – dedicated a drum Mixer with extended headroom and a limiter of unique design”

But you don’t have to wait long to get started. The kick and snare modules ship early March, alongside that sequencer.

Hey, Santa Claus! Yeah, I…. oh, wait, $#(*&, it’s March.

Hey, St. Patrick!

NAMM news: Drum Sequencer

NAMM news: Bass Drum & Snare Drum

The post Erica are set to bring the 909 into the modular age with their latest gear appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

This low-latency OS could change how music gear is made

You want the flexibility of PC software, but the performance of standalone gear? A new music OS is the latest effort to promise the best of both worlds.

Sure, analog gear is enjoying a happy renaissance – and that’s great. But a lot of the experimentation with sound production occurs with software (iOS or Windows or Mac) simply because it’s easier (and cheaper) to try things out on an Intel or ARM chip. (ARM is the architecture found in your iPhone or iPad or Android phone, among others; Intel you know.) Some manufacturers are already making the move to standalone hardware based on these architectures – at AES last year, I saw Eventide’s massive coming flagship, which is totally ARM-based. But they’re typically rolling their own operating system, which provides some serious expertise.

MIND Music Labs this month unveiled what they called ELK – a Linux-based operating system they say is optimized for musical applications and high performance.

That means they’re boldly going where… a lot of players have tried to go before. But this time, it’s different – really. First, there’s more demand on the developer side, as more makers have grown intrigued by off-the-shelf CPUs. And developer tools for these options are better than they’ve been. And hardware is cheaper, lower-power, and more accessible than ever, particularly as mobile devices have driven massive scale. (The whole world, sadly, may not really feel it needs an effects processor or guitar pedal, but a whole lot of the world now has smartphones.)

ELK promises insanely low latencies, so that you can add digital effects without delaying the returning signal (which for anything other than a huge reverb is an important factor). And there are other benefits, too, that make music gadgets made with the OS more connected to the world. According to the developers, you get:

Ultra-low latency (1ms round-trip)
Linux-based, using single Intel & ARM CPUs
Support for JUCE and VsT 2.x and 3.x plugins
Natively connected (USB, WiFi, BT, 4G)

That connectivity opens up possibilities like sharing music, grabbing updates and new sounds, and connecting to wireless instruments like the ROLI line. There’s full MIDI support, too, though – and, well, lots of other things you can do with Linux.

(JUCE is a popular framework for developing cross platforms, meaning you could make one really awesome granular synth and then run it on desktop, mobile, and this platform easily.)

Now, having done this for a while, I’ve seen a lot of claims like this come and go. But at least ELK last week was demonstrated with some actual gear as partners – DVMark, MarkBass, and Overloud (TH-U).

1ms latency claims don’t just involve the OS. Here, ELK delivers a complete hardware platform, so that’s the actual performance including their (high-quality, they say) audio converters and chip. That’s what stops you from just grabbing something like a Raspberry Pi and turning it into a great guitar pedal – you’re constrained by the audio fidelity and real-time performance of the chipset, whether the USB connection or onboard audio. Here, that promises to be solved for you out of the box.

DVMark’s “Smart Multiamp” was the first real product to show off the platform. Plugin Alliance and Brainworx have signed on, too, so don’t be surprised if you’re soon looking at a dedicated box that can replace your laptop – but also run all your plug-ins.

And that’s the larger vision here – eventually ELK has its own plug-in format, and you should be able to move your favorite plug-ins around to connected devices, and access those gadgets from Android and iOS, But unlike using a computer or iPad on its own, you don’t have to sweat software upgrades or poor audio performance or try to imagine a laptop or tablet is a good music interface live.

This leaves of course lots of questions about how they’ll realize this vision and more questions if you’re an interested developer or manufacturer. I’m hopeful that they take the Eurorack market as a model – or even look at independent plug-in and app developers – and embrace a model that supports imaginative one-person developers, too. (A whole lot of the best music software and module ideas alike have come from one- and two-person shops.)

I at least like their vision – and I’m sure they won’t be alone. Best line: “Whether your idea of music is to be shut in a studio that looks like the bridge of a Klingon cruiser or you are a minimalist that wants everything to sound exactly like in 1958, we think you will be surprised at just how much smartness is going to affect us as musicians.”

I’ll throw this out here for now and let you ask away, and then we can do a follow-up soon. Loads more info at their site:

https://www.mindmusiclabs.com/elk/

The post This low-latency OS could change how music gear is made appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Sennheiser celebrates 20 years of evolution with special offers

Sennheiser evolution g4Sennheiser has announced that it is celebrating the 20 year anniversary of its evolution microphone series with a number of discounts on selected models throughout 2018. Manufactured at the company’s German headquarters, the evolution series has become a global industry standard for live microphones, and Sennheiser’s most successful microphone series to date. In celebration of […]

Here’s how Elektron’s new Digitone makes FM synthesis easier

Elektron have applied their cute-and-friendly formula from the Digitakt drum machine to a new synth called Digitone – and it’s FM.

Now, the phrase Elektron uses is “accessible” – the press release writes “powerful yet user-friendly take on FM synthesis.” But this isn’t just marketing speak; it seems they really have made an effort to make frequency modulation more playable.

Good electronic music instruments give users lots of stuff to touch, and the feeling that the full range of each knob, for instance, sounds good or at least plausible. That’s where the wonders of FM sort of break down when they hit making hardware. Frequency Modulation synthesis is based on a simple principle: modulating a waveform with another waveform in the same audio range. And the whole joy of this is suddenly breaking open surprising tones – covering ranges edgy, metallic, unstable, futuristic.

Or – with a tiny change in parameter – something totally unrelated. Or awful. Or silent. So, to avoid unpleasant surprises, hardware builders have tended to hide away that complexity. So, the mighty Yamaha DX7 has basically no controls – and as it popularized FM, also gave people the (mistaken) impression that it always had to sound like Yamaha’s presets.

Plus, while those sounds are great, sometimes they need softening. (Think of the difference between hearing a reed instrument, and hearing just the reed.)

For fans of FM synthesis, just as exciting as the Elektron news this week is the extensive interview with John Chowning (who’s a natural teacher, always a pleasure to listen to):

Elektronauts Talk: John Chowning

Don’t miss his bit about how he explains FM synthesis to a child – it’s really elegant. And Dr. Chowning picks up on the two things Elektron has done:

1. Set some limits so you get hands-on control over sound without getting lost – exploring space, but not throwing yourself out an airlock.

2. Putting the FM synthesis engine inside a more conventional subtractive synthesis architecture. (Basically – adding filters!)

As John describes those:

I noticed, in your instrument, that you put some boundaries on the possibilities so that one doesn’t end up in a daze without understanding how you got there, or end up in silence.

And regarding the architecture:

[Digitone] lets the user intuitively explore this re-formable, shapeable ball of stuff, then put that through the normal processes of synthesis.

So the thing to watch with the Digitone will be how well its presets and sound design work in practice. You’ve got a four-operator FM synth. That’s the architecture used by Robert Henke for Ableton’s Operator, precisely because it’s more manageable (and covers most of the sounds you want to create); adding operators adds a lot of complexity.

Then each voice (there’s 8-voice polyphony) adds filters: one multimode, one “base-width.” (Think they mean bandpass? I’ll ask.) And each voice comes with two assignable LFOs and overdrive to make things dirtier.

They’ve also added quite a lot in the effects section – sends for chorus, reverb, and delay, plus a master overdrive.

This being an Elektron box, integration of instrument and sequencer are key. And like the Digitakt, even this smaller box can be used to drive external gear. There are four synth tracks and four MIDI tracks, both, so the Digitakt is a bit like a mini Octatrack – it can be a hub for a live performance or synth rig.

With trig conditions (interactive events that can occur on each step) and track lengths and micro timings, you can make some fairly complex patterns. And whereas the DX7 and its ilk let you punch in a preset and then play it as-is forever until everyone got annoyed of the sound, Elektron bring parameter locks to make per-step transformations of your creations. So imagine all that sonic possibility of FM synthesis, changing as the sequence runs. We saw a peek of how much fun that is with KORG’s humble volca fm – now you get it on a deeper FM synth.

Worth investigating in a review – how much work is it to modify or program your own presets, how it works having parameters change with different presets, and how playable the whole thing is. But even though FM synthesis is a creation of the 1960s, having a playable, sequenced FM synth definitely stands out from the crowd of noisemakers at the moment. The new Elektron is available now, though currently listed as sold out. (Someone obviously likes the idea.)

$759 USD/779 EUR/£699 GBP.

https://www.elektron.se/products/digitone/

Specs:

Synth voice features:
8 voice polyphony (multitimbral)
Multiple FM algorithms
1 × multimode filter per voice
1 × base-width filter per voice
1 × overdrive per voice
2 × assignable LFO per voice

Sequencer:
4 synth tracks
4 MIDI tracks
1 arpeggiator per track
Polyphonic sequencing
Individual track lengths
Parameter locks
Micro timing
Trig conditions
Sound per step change

Send & master effects
Panoramic Chorus send effect
Saturator Delay send effect
Supervoid Reverb send effect
Overdrive master effect

Hardware
128 × 64 pixel OLED screen
2 × 1/4” impedance balanced audio out jacks
2 × 1/4” audio in jacks
1 × 1/4” stereo headphone jack
48 kHz, 24-bit D/A and A/D converters
Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port
MIDI In/Out/Thru with DIN Sync out

Physical specification
Sturdy steel casing
Dimensions: W 215 × D 176 × H 63 mm (8.5” × 6.9” × 2.5”) (including knobs and feet)
Weight: approximately 1.49 kg (3.3 lbs)
100 × 100 mm VESA mounting holes. Use M4 screws with a max length of 7 mm.

And of course, yes, Overbridge (Elektron’s tech for helping integrate their external hardware with your software rig).

The post Here’s how Elektron’s new Digitone makes FM synthesis easier appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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