The Well-Tempered vector rescanner? A new audiovisual release finds poetry in vintage video synthesis and scan processors – and launches a new AV platform for ATOM TM.
nuuun, a collaboration between Atom (raster, formerly Raster-Noton) and Americans Jahnavi Stenflo and Nathan Jantz, have produced a “current suite.” These are all recorded live – sound and visuals alike – in Uwe Schmidt’s Chilean studio.
Minimalistic, exposed presentation of electronic elements is nothing new to the Raster crowd, who are known for bringing this raw aesthetic to their work. You could read that as part punk aesthetic, part fascination with visual imagery, rooted in the collective’s history in East Germany’s underground. But as these elements cycle back, now there’s a fresh interest in working with vectors as medium (see link below, in fact). As we move from novelty to more refined technique, more artists are finding ways of turning these technologies into instruments.
And it’s really the fact that these are instruments – a chamber trio, in title and construct – that’s essential to the work here. It’s not just about the impression of the tech, in other words, but the fact that working on technique brings the different media closer together. As nuuun describe the release:
Informed and inspired by Scan Processors of the early 1970’s such as the Rutt/Etra video synthesizer, “Current Suite No.1” uses the oscillographic medium as an opportunity to bring the observer closer to the signal. Through a technique known as “vector-rescanning”, one can program and produce complex encoded wave forms that can only be observed through and captured from analog vector displays. These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms. Both the music and imagery in each of these videos were recorded as live compositions, as if they were intertwined two-way conversations between sound and visual form to produce a unique synesthetic experience.
“These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms.”
Even with lots of prominent festivals, audiovisual work – and putting visuals on equal footing with music – still faces an uphill battle. Online music distribution isn’t really geared for AV work; it’s not even obvious how audiovisual work is meant to be uploaded and disseminated apart from channels like YouTube or Vimeo. So it’s also worth noting that Atom is promising that NN will be a platform for more audiovisual work. We’ll see what that brings.
Of course, NOTON and Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) already has a rich fine art / high-end media art career going, and the “raster-media” launched by Olaf Bender in 2017 describes itself as a “platform – a network covering the overlapping border areas of pop, art, and science.” We at least saw raster continue to present installations and other works, extending their footprint beyond just the usual routine of record releases.
There’s perhaps not a lot that can be done about the fleeting value of music in distribution, but then music has always been ephemeral. Let’s look at it this way – for those of us who see sound as interconnected with image and science, any conduit to that work is welcome. So watch this space.
The “trademark” here is trade dress, the design of the actual appearance of the 303 and 808 – the signature layout of the keyboard and knobs of the 303, and the sequence of colored buttons on the 808. “Iconic” is a word that’s wildly overused, but here we can take it to be almost literally true: you can draw out these layouts and even a lot of lay people with a passing interest in electronic music will immediately recognize this bassline synth and drum machine.
Forum posters conclude that this is about Behringer, who announced last month at the NAMM show that they would ship their “RD-808” drum machine – matching the original TR-808 color scheme and button layout – in March. But the registration in Germany could be a sign Roland are generally planning to more aggressively protect their intellectual property, in respect to Behringer or others. And as the RD-808 could, for instance, wind up being subject to litigation outside Germany – that is, anywhere the drum machine ships.
That said, Behringer without fanfare reversed the order of the colors on their RD-808, from a production prototype (orange / light orange / yellow / white, as on the original Roland) to what was shown at NAMM.
The one thing I can say for sure is – the artwork Roland filed from Japan is gorgeous. So, Roland, please don’t sue us for sharing. (And yeah, I’d buy this if you want to turn it into merch.)
No idea how long processing will take, or really how the law works; if I can find out, I’ll share. At least Germany should appreciate the aesthetics of combining gold, bright red, and black – check the flag.
Meanwhile, in America… Roland last year filed applications for trademark protection in the USA for the TR-808 and TR-909 (also right after the NAMM show, January 25, 2018). You can find these (pending) applications at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, under 87769864 and 87769891.
It’s routine practice to file for things you might want to protect, not necessarily manufacture, but that doesn’t make it any less privately amusing to read this list of apparel that would be covered under that application:
“Jackets; sweaters; sport shirts; polo shirts; shirts; overcoats; raincoats; underwear; pajamas; undershirts; Tee-shirts; wind-resistant jackets; swimming costumes; sleep masks; neckties; aprons; socks and stockings; bandanas; headwear; caps as a headwear; hats”
I totally want a Roland swimming costume. But yeah, if you’re thinking of making one yourself, you should read this:
“Now that’s one fine and classy, atmospheric, big room tool, son.” Here’s the data when you crawl Berlin electronic music shop Hard Wax for descriptive keywords.
Friend of the site (and one-time CDM Web developer) musician-and-hacker Olle Holmberg has crawled Hard Wax’s website. That’ll be the legendary record purveyor opened by Mark Ernestus back in 1989 in Kreuzberg, Berlin, and still a leading destination for vinyl lovers today.
hardwax.com has accordingly accumulated a lot of words about music on their Internet portal, since each time a release like this Drexciya side project comes out, you get a whole bunch of language, too.
Olle collected the most important words, and he’s shared his data set.
I wrote some Processing code to visualize all of this as a word cloud, and here’s what you get (details on how to do this yourself below):
Since the data is available as a CSV, you could probably refine it more. For instance, one flaw is that singular and plural versions of words aren’t combined, so the rankings are slightly off. “Banger” and “bangers” he’s manually combined so that one gets a solid ranking.
The top 25, with number of appearances in a description:
1. tool (1848)
2. atmospheric (974)
3. fine (941)
4. big room (928)
5. classy (904)
6. deep (872)
7. effective (858)
8. killer (858)
9. heavy (851)
10. leftfield (798)
11. minimalist (744)
12. original (734)
13. excellent (720)
14. crafty (647)
15. trips (598)
16. recommended (594)
17. raw (590)
18. spaced (585)
19. rooted (574)
20. hard (567)
21. dark (526)
22. banger/bangers (520)
23. excursions (516)
24. tripping (508)
25. leaning (506)
“It’s atmospheric, yet also a banging big room tool.”
Next challenges: build a random keyword generator, train some machine learning on this, or … try to make music that fits the most popular words?
Oh, and if you’re interested in the code, I’ve got that, too. I worked with free and open source, multiplatform artist-friendly coding tool Processing. (Other Web-based tools exist, too, but then you miss out on the fun and flexibility of coding things yourself.)
Ah, word clouds – remember when we thought those were the bee’s knees? (To misquote Douglas Adams, it harkens to a headier, more innocent time when we were “so amazingly primitive that we still thought word clouds were a pretty neat data visualization.”
With both code examples, you’ll need to slightly modify the csv file. Open the file in a text editor and add this line to the top:
And remember to add the data file, and the image file (if you use the shape variation), to your Processing sketch (Sketch > Add File).
If you want to check out Berlin’s record shops and you happen to make it to town, here’s a good guide. It’s impressively only a little bit dated in terms of locations – Berlin is a weird haven where record shops mostly survive. Hard Wax is a must. Space Hall has become a huge music venue. And digger heaven The Record Loft has recently reopened next to the Sonnenalle S-Bahn stop.
If Olle’s name is familiar, it’s because he also crawled Berghain’s site, though we were later informed both by resident DJs and the booking office that the data crawled there wasn’t really representative. (Still, it was a fun project – and we did wind up learning more about Berghain booking data in the end. Science!)
Nothing brightens midwinter like music. So the warm glow of nd_baumecker’s mixing is something special. The delayed download is out now from Ostgut Ton, the label associated with Berghain and Panorama Bar.
The musical climate in which we live can too easily be afflicted with conformity, with genres and trends regimented by algorithms and anxious aspirations of bookers, media, artists … the lot. And with Berghain as the elephant in the middle of Berlin’s scene, that conformity can often be associated with the club, with Berlin, with Germany and Europe, even.
So maybe the first important thing to say about Andi’s mix is that it’s a mix. Run down the track listing, and you get all kinds of corners of Andi’s taste. I know he sweated putting this together, but as it is with experienced DJs, that stress comes off as effortless.
nd_baumecker has statistically played more times in the various floors of the Berghain environs than any other human. I know this, partly because we get informed that the fascinating numbers scraped from Berghain’s website weren’t right. Oops. Andi so dominates the list, that you almost don’t need other statistics. (Panorama Bar is the lighter, generally house-ier upstairs floor, but it’s actually not that important to know that; Andi has been found at various points more or less everywhere in the building and garden outside.)
Despite all those times on the lineup, in the old party mode, Andi’s not really a star. There’s just that feeling of being at home when you walk into a room (or garden) with him playing. And he can mix in and out of anything. So while a lot of beginning DJs try to show off with obscure tracks but paint obsessively within the lines, like they’re afraid of each transition, you can count on Andi to take you different places.
He’s a DJ’s DJ, but he’s also a great producer – his ongoing collaboration with fellower Berghain resident Sam Barker has been imaginative and exceptional.
Anyway, I think for any of us involved in production – let alone those of us pouring over music tech – getting to actually listen again and set a mood is vital. And Andi’s latest mix puts me at least in a fantastically nice mood. I’m hugely biased myself not just about Andi but about music in general; I think whether it’s a track or a mix, you can’t separate people from music. I still stubbornly cling to the idea that music says something about who you are. Hell, I think it’s why it matters who’s in the DJ booth. And it’s certainly why I think that mood should come from people and not algorithms. I not only like humans; I think you can hear when humans touch the music.
You can stream the mix, or be as obsessive as Andi is about quality and grab that 24-bit lossless download – all two GB worth. As with all in this series, the mix is free. (Last minute publishing clearance issues had delayed the download since the planned release date this fall.)
Track IDs? Yes:
1 Mystical Institute Sea Believer [00:00]
2 Keith Worthy Guilty Pleasures ($ Of N.C. Mix) [04:10]
3 Greenspan and Taraval Follow The Moonlight [07:01]
4 Duplex Isolator [10:08]
5 Cabaret Voltaire Easy Life (Jive Turkey Mix) [14:51]
6 Dolo Percussion Dolo 9 [18:45]
7 Anthony Naples The Vision (Mix NY) [20:15]
8 QY American [24:13]
9 Jinjé Big Skies [28:02]
10 Saint Etienne Stoned To Say The Least (Beta) [33:05]
11 Barker & Baumecker Nie Wieder [37:18]
12 FaltyDL Paradox Garage Part 1 (With Your Love) [39:40]
13 Röyksopp Sombre Detune [42:29]
14 Œil Cube Lost Flute [46:06]
15 Ajukaja Stranger [50:40]
16 Pulsinger & Irl State 606 [56:12]
17 Duke Slammer Coastal Decay (Pan Solo Remix) [1:00:33]
18 Route 8 From The Valley [1:04:25]
19 Dave Aju Wayahed [1:09:33]
20 Chaos In The CBD Educate The Heart [1:13:09]
21 Ross From Friends High Energy [1:18:55]
22 D. Tiffany Something About You [1:21:04]
23 Zombie Zombie Hyperespace (I:Cube Vampire Tango 87 Remix) [1:26:11]
24 Peverelist Under Clearing Skies [1:28:47]
25 Barker & Baumecker Strung [1:31:33]
26 School Of Seven Bells Low Times (Lafaye’s Brain Mix) [1:38:55]
27 Gen Ludd Bloods Avalanche [1:44:30]
28 Pépe Motorforce [1:49:11]
29 E Myers Hate [1:54:17]
This isn’t just about the DJ. Again, Ostgut is using this series to premiere new works. And this coupling – two EPs (Part I, Part II) – is especially fresh, with immaculate, densely rhythmic productions from . FaltyDL, Jinjé, Big Skies, Ross From Friends, Dave Aju, and Duplex. They’ve got some of that same magical mood of the mix, naturally. It’s house-flavored stuff, aware of its roots, but thoroughly futuristic and optimistic, too. Listen:
That Duplex track is especially timeless, somehow, and Dave Aju is always like a burst of sunlight.
From countries across Europe to the USA, migration is at the center of Western politics at the moment. But that raises a question: why aren’t more people who make music, music instruments, and music tech louder about these issues?
Migration – temporary and permanent – is simply a fact of life for a huge group of people, across backgrounds and aspirations. That can involve migration to follow opportunities, and refugees and asylum seekers who move for their own safety and freedom. So if you don’t picture immigrants, migrants, and refugees when you think of your society, you just aren’t thinking.
Musicians ought to be uniquely qualified to speak to these issues, though. Extreme anti-immigration arguments all assume that migrants take away more from a society than they give back. And people in the music world ought to know better. Music has always been based on cultural exchange. Musicians across cultures have always considered touring to make a living. And to put it bluntly, music isn’t a zero sum game. The more you add, the more you create.
Music gets schooled in borders
As music has grown more international, as more artists tour and cross borders, at least the awareness is changing. That’s been especially true in electronic music, in a DJ industry that relies on travel. Resident Advisor has consistently picked up this story over the last couple of years, as artists spoke up about being denied entry to countries while touring.
In a full-length podcast documentary last year, they dug into the ways in which the visa system hurts artists outside the US and EU, with a focus on non-EU artists trying to gain entry to the UK:
Andrew Ryce also wrote about a visa rate hike in the USA back in 2016 – and this in the Obama Administration, not under Trump:
Now, being a DJ crossing a border isn’t the same as being a refugee running for your life. But then on some other level, it can allow artists to experience immigration infrastructure – both when it works for them, and when it works against them. A whole generation of artists, including even those from relatively privileged Western nations, is now learning the hard way about the immigration system. And that’s something they might have missed as tourists, particularly if they come from places like the USA, western Europe, Australia, and other places well positioned in the system.
The immigration system they see will often come off as absurdist. National policies worldwide categorize music as migrant labor and require a visa. In many countries, these requirements are unenforced in all but big-money gigs. But in some countries – the USA, Canada, and UK being prime examples – they’re rigorously enforced, and not coincidentally, the required visas have high fees.
Showing up at a border carrying music equipment or a bag of vinyl records is an instant red flag – whether a paid gig is your intention or not. (I’m surprised, actually, that no one talks about this in regards to the rise of the USB stick DJ. If you aren’t carrying a controller or any records, sailing through as a tourist is a lot easier.) Border officials will often ask visitors to unlock phones, hand over social media passwords. They’ll search Facebook events by name to find gigs. Or they’ll even just view the presence of a musical instrument as a violation.
Being seen as “illegal” because you’re traveling with a guitar or some records is a pretty good illustration of how immigration can criminalize simple, innocent acts. Whatever the intention behind that law, it’s clear there’s something off here – especially given the kinds of illegality that can cross borders.
When protection isn’t
This is not to argue for open borders. There are times when you want border protections. I worked briefly in environmental advocacy as we worked on invasive species that were hitching a ride on container ships – think bugs killing trees and no more maple syrup on your pancakes, among other things. I was also in New York on 9/11 and watched from my roof – that was a very visible demonstration of visa security oversight that had failed. Part of the aim of customs and immigration is to stop the movement of dangerous people and things, and I don’t think any rational person would argue with that.
But even as a tiny microcosm of the larger immigration system, music is a good example of how laws can be uneven, counter-intuitive, and counterproductive. The US and Canada, for instance, do have an open border for tourists. So if an experimental ambient musician from Toronto comes to play a gig in Cleveland, that’s not a security threat – they could do the same as a tourist. It’s also a stretch of the imagination that this individual would have a negative impact on the US economy. Maybe the artist makes a hundred bucks cash and … spends it all inside the USA, not to mention brings in more money for the venue and the people employed by it. Or maybe they make $1000 – a sum that would be wiped out by the US visa fee, to say nothing of slow US visa processing. Again, that concert creates more economic activity inside the US economy, and it’s very likely the American artist sharing the bill goes up to Montreal and plays with them next month on top of it. I could go on, but it’s … well, boring and obvious.
Artists and presenters worldwide often simply ignore this visa system because it’s slow, expensive, and unreliable. And so it costs economies (and likely many immigration authorities) revenue. It costs societies value and artistic and cultural exchange.
Of course, scale that up and the same is true, across other fields. Immigrants tend to give more into government services than they take out, they tend to own businesses that employ more local people (so they create jobs), they tend to invent new technologies (so they create jobs again), and so on.
Ellis Island, NYC. 12 million people passed through here – not all of my family who came to the USA, but some. I’ve now come the other way through Tegel Airport and the Ausländerbehörde , Berlin. Photo (CC-BY-ND “>A. Strakey.
Advocacy and music
Immigration advocacy could be seen as something in the charter of anyone in the music industry or musical instruments industry.
Music technology suffers as borders are shut down, too. Making musical instruments and tools requires highly specialized labor working in highly specialized environments. From production to engineering to marketing, it’s an international business. I actually can’t think of any major manufacturer that doesn’t rely on immigrants in key roles. (Even many tiny makers involve immigrants.)
And the traditional music industry lean heavily on immigrant talent, too. Those at the top of the industry have powerful lobbying efforts – efforts that could support greater cultural exchange and rights for travelers. Certainly, its members are often on the road. But let’s take the Recording Academy (the folks behind the Grammy Awards).
Instead, their efforts seem to fixate on domestic intellectual property law. So the Recording Academy and others were big on the Music Modernization Act – okay, fine,
a law to support compensation for creators.
I don’t want to be unfair to the Recording Association – and not just because I think it might hurt my Grammy winning chances. (Hey, stop laughing.) No, I think it’s more that we as a community have generally failed to take up this issue in any widespread way. (I sincerely hope someone out there works for the record industry and writes to say that you’re actually working on this and I’m wrong.)
More than anything else, music can cross borders. It can speak to people when you don’t speak their language, literally. When music travels, emotion and expression travels – artists and technology alike.
It’s personal – isn’t it for you?
I personally feel the impact of all of this, now having been seven years in Berlin, and able to enjoy opportunities, connections, and perspective that come from living in Germany and working with people both from Germany and abroad. I feel hugely grateful to the German state for allowing my business to immigrate (my initial visa was a business visa, which involved some interesting bureaucracy explaining to the Berlin Senate what this site is about). I’ve even benefited from the support of programs like the Goethe Institut and host governments to work in cultural diplomacy.
I’ve also had the chance to be involved writing in support of visas and financial backing for artists coming from Iran, Mexico, Kazakhstan, and many other places, for programs I’ve worked on.
And all of this is really a luxury – even when we’re talking about artists traveling to support their careers and feed themselves. For many people, migration is a matter of survival. Sometimes the threats to their lives come from geopolitical and economic policies engineered by the governments we come from – meaning as citizens, we share some responsibility for the impact others have felt. But whether or not that’s the case, I would hope we feel that obligation as human beings. That’s the basis of international rule of law on accepting refugees and granting asylum. It’s the reason those principles are uncompromising and sometimes even challenging. Our world is held together – or not – based on that basic fairness we afford to fellow humans. If people come to where we live and claim their survival and freedom depends on taking them in, we accept the obligation to at least listen to their case.
Those of us in the music world could use our privilege, and the fact that our medium is so essential to human expression, to be among the loudest voices for these human rights. When we live in countries who listen to us, we should talk to other citizens and talk to our governments. We should tell the stories that make these issues more relatable. We should do what some people I know are doing in the music world, too – work on education and involvement for refugees, help them to feel at home in our communities and to develop whatever they need to make a home here, and make people feel welcome at the events we produce.
That’s just the principles, not policies. But I know a lot of people in my own circle have worked on the policy and advocacy sides here. I certainly would invite you to share what we might do. If you’ve been impacted by immigration obstacles and have ideas of how we help, I hope we hear that, too.
Some likely policy areas:
Supporting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers
Supporting refugee and asylum seeker integration
Advocating for more open visa policies for artists – keeping fees low, and supporting exchange
Advocating the use of music and culture, and music technology, as a form of cultural diplomacy
Supporting organizations that connect artists and creative technologists across borders
And so on…
But I do hope that as musicians, we work with people who share basic beliefs in caring for other people. I know there’s no single “community” or “industry” that can offer that. But we certainly can try to build our own circle in a way that does.
Some examples from here in Berlin working on refugee issues here. I would argue immigration policy can find connections across refugees and migrants, asylum seekers and touring musicians, as everyone encounters the same larger apparatus and set of laws:
Curse if you must the fact that modern DJing requires managing social media accounts, navigating scenes, understanding the dimensions of cool. But some DJs will mix all those things as adeptly as they do records – and hold up a mirror to the rest of us.
Well – or at least Leipzig’s Vincent Neumann has made a killer Magic: The Gathering parody with techno.
First things first: let’s here acknowledge that Vincent is a brilliant musical selector, as well as social media satirist. Closing sets at Berghain can turn into ponderous marathons of endurance, but whether there or in (briefer) outings mixing and DJing, Neumann is a deep digger, consummate nerd of eclectic selections. Listen to the mix at bottom. This is to say, while he can keep the fashionistas dancing, the guy is not simply a flavor of the month.
But hey, if you do need some Instagram fame, Maestro Neumann has found a clever and amusing way of doing so. Techno: The Gathering has become a bit of an ongoing commentary on the techno scene. As Europe’s industry of nightlife churns onward, here’s at least one person not taking things too seriously. The in-the-bubble in-joke here is at least, you know, a joke.
He’s nerd enough that you can see via Instagram stories how he has reflected on color choice and deeper meanings.
Let’s actually print the things out and start playing the game. (Has anyone started doing that, or is everyone too hungover from the weekend to bother?)
But seriously, go behold one of the best things on Instagram:
And Vincent’s normal DJ account, which is, naturally, the best Instagram account name ever:
You’re on the go. And those wonderful USB power banks will charge your phone – so why not audio gear, too? KOMA Elektronik’s new Strom Mobile makes it possible.
Here’s the problem: USB power banks (mobile batteries and whatnot), while plentiful, only output 5V power for phones and USB, and they’re anything but “low noise” (meaning you’ll hear garbled interference when you plug a lot of them in).
A lot of your compact audio gear is probably running on 9V or 12V power, and it’ll make you happier if it’s low noise. (Some gear is 5V, of course, but that’s another story.)
Enter Strom Mobile, a small accessory from KOMA that adapts power banks for your gear. Specs:
9V/12V DC power compatibility (clean, low noise)
Two power channels – plug in to one or both, and set each channel to either 9V or 12V
Indicators to show you which power is connected, and how much current you’re using
Four outputs for gear – or connect more via daisy chaining (until you run out of current, anyway)
Cables and manual in the box: 1x USB B, 2x DC-DC, printed guide
The USB B cable is especially designed for this application.
There’s also a Strom Mobile Cable Pack you can buy as an add on, which includes another of those special USB B cables, a 1-5to-5 daisychain DC cable, 2 more DC cables, and 1 polarity changing DC cable.
And of course, this is intended for use with the Field Kit and Field Kit FX from KOMA, but the list of 9V/12V drum machines, recorders, samplers, effects pedals, mobile synths, and the like is very long.
Pricing: 175EUR suggested retail, or 35EUR for the Cable Pack.
Check the intro video:
Artists Hainbach (known for his lovely cassette tape videos and ambient creations) and Wouter (KOMA founder, here with his ODD NARRATIVE project) play and record using the gear en plein air at Berlin’s former airport-turned-park Tempelhofer Feld.
Roboticist, composer, and futurist Moritz Simon Geist has made an entire album using robotic machines. It’s stunning to behold – and he tells you all about how it developed. Let’s watch:
This is more than a gimmick: there’s a real difference in approach and process here. Moritz’s work is truly mechanical-acoustical and electro-acoustic, using mechanical, kinetic machines to produce sounds.
And Moritz has been working on this background for some time, including making an entire oversized TR-808 drum machine that replicates sounds not with analog circuitry or digital code, but by actually hitting percussion. (The claps even required a cluster of stuff to clap together.)
An extended making-of video walks through the behind-the-scenes process of how this came about and evolved.
It’s as much an exercise in kinetic sculpture as music, but then the album organizes those raw materials in an eminently listenable, musical manner. It’s quirky grooves, true to its mechanical-robotic nature – that is, even if you didn’t know what this was, you might quickly imagine dancing bots. The materiality comes through, in subtly off rhythms and precisely-placed organic sounds.
Moritz’ ongoing collaborators Mouse on Mars co-produced both an EP (“The Material Turn”, out October 12) and LP (“Robotic Electronic Music”, on November 16). And Moritz extends the musical role here, by being both inventor/builder/maker and musician – not to mention label head.
It’s great to see Moritz starting a new label devoted to this medium – Sonic Robots Records – but also getting the help not only of Mouse on Mars but legendary German label Kompakt to handle global distribution.
You can preorder the EP already, in both digital and vinyl forms:
… with the LP to follow soon.
Here’s our look at how Moritz is working with Mouse on Mars:
It’s easy to forget if we get too deep into hero worship and seriousness, but real creativity is fun and boundless. So nothing energizes like talking to people like Alan Oldham, the multidisciplinary Detroit techno artist.
Oldham, sometimes DJing as DJ T-1000, had a multifaceted series of roles in techno. So he’s served in Underground Resistance – including as “Minister of Information.” He did artwork for Derrik May’s legendary Transmat label. He’s a comic artist as well as a producer, savvy enough to interact with the art market and not only the music industry. A lot of us in the USA got our first introduction to techno and the full story behind it through his story “Fast Forward” on National Public Radio. But then, in this age of overabundant production, we need those kind of voices now more than ever – people who can narrate what’s happening in music, DJs in the club sense and DJs in the radio sense.
Meanwhile, as CDM finds its evolved voice this year, I got to invite Alan (now a Berlin transplant) to talk about his process, to jam a little, and to chat about music, aesthetics, and futurism.
Alan is a big Native Instruments Maschine fan, and it’s nice to see how the MPC and other hardware workflows have made the transition to the computer age. I think immediacy is important to tapping into that creativity.
Have a look:
Off camera, it was also great that Alan got to hang out with our other guests, HRTL and Oliver Torr and their live project Windowlickerz. Growing up in Detroit, meet growing up in Czech Republic.
Alan Oldham in the studio.
Making beats (MASCHINE MIKRO), making comics (paper and pen).
Since January, Alan has been busy, in the studio and in the club (as well as continuing his visual art work). Message Discipline is the EP dropping in October on Pure Sonik Records.. The timbres, the tech are decidedly future-looking, not nostalgic. But as a lot of techno gets cold and clinical, overthought, or overly … well, dreary (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that) — this is none of those things. It’s “up,” as Alan says. Maybe it’s hard to find words for that funky, groovy feeling because it’s better to describe it me moving my body around than it is just wiggling my fingers over the computer keyboard.
You know you’re in for something special when you’re dancing around to the damned excerpts on SoundCloud. Tell me I’m wrong:
Even that last cut swings, like a nice makeout slow dance. And the title track sounds ready to blast into orbit to some, uh, really sexy space lounge, I would imagine.
Message Discipline is all bangers, but for a more tripped-out experience, DetroitRocketScience is the ticket:
Alan and Ellen Allien can often be caught side by side, so expect more on Ellen’s BPitch Control, like this excellent remix:
He’s also got a great remix of Sky Deep’s “In This,” but looks like I can’t share that – take my word for it.
Now who wants to don an Andy Warhol wig and dance around a bit? Yeah? Have a great weekend, y’all.
Related – in summer 2011, Wax Poetics provided us with this article they ran exploring early Detroit techno history, and even talked to Alan. of course, now you meet the Detroit artists in Berlin.
Part of the appeal of modular systems is there in the name – modularity. But as the modular market grows, there’s increasing demand for modulars that are again designed as coherent systems. The ACL System 1 is ready to serve as a synth on its own, or the centerpiece of a larger modular rig.
The ACL System 1 launched this week, available here in Berlin from Schneidersladen (and shipping elsewhere). And here’s a look at how all those pieces come together:
The Audiophile Circuits League do their assembly in Berlin – joining a growing number of boutique makers, including Koma, MFB, Jomox, and Verbos, just to name a few. With a direct-order price of 3930 EUR, it’s not exactly a budget synth. But figure that even pretty recently, digital workstation polysynths were going for near this … and a whole modular rig is a lot more fun. (The price of modular synths as a category, meanwhile, have absolutely dropped – this high-end model is far less than the historical instruments that inspired it, calculating for inflation, to say nothing of prices that drop down to literally zero if you go to software).
Okay, so what’s in there?
6U 84HP Eurorack configuration in their EVZ-1 case
Two Variable Sync VCOs, linear and exponential FM
Dual State Variable VCF
Gate Mix for summing up to four sources
VC Panning Amplifier
M/S Matrix (for mid/side processing)
Three ADSR envelopes (Envelope X3)
QLFO with phase-shifted sine waves
Basically, you get a synth that’s very inspired by Roland’s System 100M. (Roland, for their part, have also been resurrecting the Japanese modular lineage – something I hope we’ll look into soon.)
So you can make freaky synth sounds, lots of effects, and (of course) precise, thumping kicks. And the whole thing feels really nice, including some really luxurious knobs (they’re “Vernier dials” for anyone interested).
But… if you don’t know what the above means, then this probably isn’t for you.
There’s also an audio interface module and nice touches like a low impedance headphone jack – all the sorts of things that sometimes get overlooked by odd DIY modules.
Also, in a nod to the fact that this is a modular, they did leave a little (tiny) space for expansion, though those 4HP aren’t going to accomplish a whole lot! Most of the people I’ve seen buy these kinds of systems, though, already own a smattering of modules and are upgrading to an integrated instrument that sits at the center of it. (Yes, for those people warning of “Eurocrack” addiction, it’d look like that.)
I’m not personally in the market for something like this, but I always find them interesting to play around with and as a demonstration of how designers approach building a modular system. Nice stuff: