You can make music with test equipment – Hainbach explains

Before modulars became a product, some of the first electronic synthesis experiments made use of test equipment – gear intended to make sound, but not necessarily musically. And now that approach is making a comeback.

Hainbach, the Berlin-based experimental artist, has been helping this time-tested approach to sound reach new audiences.

I actually have never seen a complete, satisfying explanation of the relationship of abstract synthesis, as developed by engineers and composers, to test gear. Maybe it’s not even possible to separate the two. But suffice to say, early in the development of synthesis, you could pick up a piece of gear intended for calibration and testing of telecommunications and audio systems, and use it to make noise.

Why the heck would you do that now, given the availability of so many options for synthesis? Well, for one – until folks like Hainbach and me make a bunch of people search the used market – a lot of this gear is simply being scrapped. Since it’s heavy and bulky, it ranges from cheap to “if you get this out of my garage, you can have it” pricing. And the sound quality of a lot of it is also exceptional. Sold to big industry back in a time when slicing prices of this sort of equipment wasn’t essential, a lot of it feels and sounds great. And just like any other sound design or composition exercise that begins with finding something unexpected, the strange wonderfulness of these devices can inspire.

I got a chance to play a few days with the Waveform Research Centre in Rotterdam’s WORM, a strange and wild collection of these orphaned devices lovingly curated by Dennis Verschoor. And I got sounds unlike anything I was used to. It wasn’t just the devices and their lovely dials that made that possible – it was also the unique approach required when the normal envelope generators and such aren’t available. Human creativity does tend to respond well to obstacles.

Whether or not you go that route, it is worth delving into the history and possibilities – and Hainbach’s video is a great start. It might at the very least change how you approach your next Reaktor patch, SuperCollider code, synth preset, or Eurorack rig.

Previously:

Immerse yourself in Rotterdam’s sonic voltages, in the WORM laboratory

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In Adversarial Feelings, Lorem explores AI’s emotional undercurrents

In glitching collisions of faces, percussive bolts of lightning, Lorem has ripped open machine learning’s generative powers in a new audiovisual work. Here’s the artist on what he’s doing, as he’s about to join a new inquisitive club series in Berlin.

Machine learning that derives gestures from System Exclusive MIDI data … surprising spectacles of unnatural adversarial neural nets … Lorem’s latest AV work has it all.

And by pairing producer Francesco D’Abbraccio with a team of creators across media, it brings together a serious think tank of artist-engineers pushing machine learning and neural nets to new places. The project, as he describes it:

Lorem is a music-driven mutidisciplinary project working with neural networks and AI systems to produce sounds, visuals and texts. In the last three years I had the opportunity to collaborate with AI artists (Mario Klingemann, Yuma Kishi), AI researchers (Damien Henry, Nicola Cattabiani), Videoartists (Karol Sudolski, Mirek Hardiker) and music intruments designers (Luca Pagan, Paolo Ferrari) to produce original materials.

Adversarial Feelings is the first release by Lorem, and it’s a 22 min AV piece + 9 music tracks and a book. The record will be released on APR 19th on Krisis via Cargo Music.

And what about achieving intimacy with nets? He explains:

Neural Networks are nowadays widely used to detect, classify and reconstruct emotions, mainly in order to map users behaviours and to affect them in effective ways. But what happens when we use Machine Learning to perform human feelings? And what if we use it to produce autonomous behaviours, rather then to affect consumers? Adversarial Feelings is an attempt to inform non-human intelligence with “emotional data sets”, in order to build an “algorithmic intimacy” through those intelligent devices. The goal is to observe subjective/affective dimension of intimacy from the outside, to speak about human emotions as perceived by non-human eyes. Transposing them into a new shape helps Lorem to embrace a new perspective, and to recognise fractured experiences.

I spoke with Francesco as he made the plane trip toward Berlin. Friday night, he joins a new series called KEYS, which injects new inquiry into the club space – AV performance, talks, all mixed up with nightlife. It’s the sort of thing you get in festivals, but in festivals all those ideas have been packaged and finished. KEYS, at a new post-industrial space called Trauma Bar near Hauptbahnhof, is a laboratory. And, of course, I like laboratories. So I was pleased to hear what mad science was generating all of this – the team of humans and machines alike.

So I understand the ‘AI’ theme – am I correct in understanding that the focus to derive this emotional meaning was on text? Did it figure into the work in any other ways, too?

Neural Networks and AI were involved in almost every step of the project. On the musical side, they were used mainly to generate MIDI patterns, to deal with SysEx from a digital sampler and to manage recursive re-sampling and intelligent timestretch. Rather then generating the final audio, the goal here was to simulate musician’s behaviors and his creative processes.

On the video side, [neural networks] (especially GANs [generative adverserial networks]) were employed both to generate images and to explore the latent spaces through custom tailored algorithms, in order to let the system edit the video autonomously, according with the audio source.

What data were you training on for the musical patterns?

MIDI – basically I trained the NN on patterns I create.

And wait, SysEx, what? What were you doing with that?

Basically I record every change of state of a sampler (i.e. the automations on a knob), and I ask the machine to “play” the same patch of the sampler according to what it learned from my behavior.

What led you to getting involved in this area? And was there some education involved just given the technical complexity of machine learning, for instance?

I always tried to express my work through multidisciplinary projects. I am very fascinated by the way AI approaches data, allowing us to work across different media with the same perspective. Intelligent devices are really a great tool to melt languages. On the other hand, AI emergency discloses political questions we try to face since some years at Krisis Publishing.
I started working through the Lorem project three years ago, and I was really a newbie on the technical side. I am not a hyper-skilled programmer, and building a collaborative platform has been really important to Lorem’s development. I had the chance to collaborate with AI artists (Klingemann, Kishi), researchers (Henry, Cattabiani, Ferrari), digital artists (Sudolski, Hardiker)…

How did the collaborations work – Mario I’ve known for a while; how did you work with such a diverse team; who did what? What kind of feedback did you get from them?

To be honest, I was very surprised about how open and responsive is the AI community! Some of the people involved are really huge points of reference for me (like Mario, for instance), and I didn’t expect to really get them on Adversarial Feelings. Some of the people involved prepared original contents for the release (Mario, for instance, realised a video on “The Sky would Clear What the …”, Yuma Kishi realized the girl/flower on “Sonnet#002” and Damien Henry did the train hallucination on “Shonx – Canton” remix. With other people involved, the collaboration was more based on producing something together, such a video, a piece of code or a way to explore Latent Spaces.

What was the role of instrument builders – what are we hearing in the sound, then?

Some of the artists and researchers involved realized some videos from the audio tracks (Mario Klingemann, Yuma Kishi). Damien Henry gave me the right to use a video he made with his Next Frame Prediction model. Karol Sudolski and Nicola Cattabiani worked with me in developing respectively “Are Eyes invisible Socket Contenders” + “Natural Readers” and “3402 Selves”. Karol Sudolski also realized the video part on “Trying to Speak”. Nicola Cattabiani developed the ELERP algorithm with me (to let the network edit videos according with the music) and GRUMIDI (the network working with my midi files). Mirek Hardiker built the data set for the third chapter of the book.

I wonder what it means for you to make this an immersive performance. What’s the experience you want for that audience; how does that fit into your theme?

I would say Adversarial Feelings is a AV show totally based on emotions. I always try to prepare the most intense, emotional and direct experience I can.

You talk about the emotional content here and its role in the machine learning. How are you relating emotionally to that content; what’s your feeling as you’re performing this? And did the algorithmic material produce a different emotional investment or connection for you?

It’s a bit like when I was a kid and I was listening at my recorded voice… it was always strange: I wasn’t fully able to recognize my voice as it sounded from the outside. I think neural networks can be an interesting tool to observe our own subjectivity from external, non-human eyes.

The AI hook is of course really visible at the moment. How do you relate to other artists who have done high-profile material in this area recently (Herndon/Dryhurst, Actress, etc.)? And do you feel there’s a growing scene here – is this a medium that has a chance to flourish, or will the electronic arts world just move on to the next buzzword in a year before people get the chance to flesh out more ideas?

I messaged a couple of times Holly Herndon online… I’m really into her work since her early releases, and when I heard she was working on AI systems I was trying to finish Adversarial Feelings videos… so I was so curious to discover her way to deal with intelligent systems! She’s a really talented artist, and I love the way she’s able to embed conceptual/political frameworks inside her music. Proto is a really complex, inspiring device.

More in general, I think the advent of a new technology always discloses new possibilities in artistic practices. I directly experienced the impact of internet (and of digital culture) on art, design and music when I was a kid. I’m thrilled by the fact at this point new configurations are not yet codified in established languages, and I feel working on AI today give me the possibility to be part of a public debate about how to set new standards for the discipline.

What can we expect to see / hear today in Berlin? Is it meaningful to get to do this in this context in KEYS / Trauma Bar?

I am curious too, to be honest. I am very excited to take part of such situation, beside artists and researchers I really respect and enjoy. I think the guys at KEYS are trying to do something beautiful and challenging.

Live in Berlin, 7 June

Lorem will join Lexachast (an ongoing collaborative work by Amnesia Scanner, Bill Kouligas and Harm van den Dorpel), N1L (an A/V artist, producer/dj based between Riga, Berlin, and Cairo), and a series of other tantalizing performances and lectures at Trauma Bar.

KEYS: Artificial Intelligence | Lexachast • Lorem • N1L & more [Facebook event]

Lorem project lives here:

http://www.studio-frames.com

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Someone built a strangely accurate Berghain in Minecraft

From Garderobe to dark rooms to toilets to dance floors, jbkrauss has lovingly built a Minecraft recreation of Be– uh, I really don’t want this to be taken down. Of some Berlin club. Looks like Tresor, probably.

Anyway, this strangely Tresor-ish Berlin club sure does, let’s say, lend itself to the cubic block architecture of Minecraft. (Always said that place was really the Borg cube, on so many levels.) Watch:

ceiling is quite high

No doubt it is.

No Halle, but you do get an Eisbar. Erm, sorry – this is definitely not that club. Some club that has something up some stairs. Maybe it’s fourbar at Tresor. Yes.

I have no doubt that when we’re all stuck in an old age home, we will be visiting techno festivals and clubs inside some sort of virtual reality, whether it’s this in Berlin, or a VR Movement Festival, or MUTEK from our retirement home. Here’s our future. So we better start mining materials.

Source: posted by the creator to the techno subreddit today.

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10 hours of live drones celebrate Drone Day, a noise round the world

Ready to drone the f*** out? Here’s your own personal all-night chillout stage, full of ten hours of drones. It’s all part of a growing international annual celebration of drone sounds.

Oh sure, if you’re American you probably had Memorial Day weekend on the mind last weekend. But there was another holiday, too, dedicated to ambient and experimental music.

“Every year we make a noise together that stretches around the world,” proclaim the organizers on the site.”The answer comes through tiny vibrations in our skin and between our bones,” they say. “Gather and drone with friends, with the public, or alone (though you are never truly alone in the drone).”

Drone, community, and experimental sounds are all welcome. The ritual began a few years ago with organizers Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan and Weird Canada. This year’s edition had some 60 drone events worldwide.

But if you missed Drone Day on Saturday, don’t worry – you didn’t miss out. We’ve got a full ten hours recorded (and streamed live) in Berlin for your droning needs.

The details of this broadcast, plus the (very lovely) performing lineup:

For Drone Day, May 25th 2019, a live studio broadcast and deep listening session was held in Berlin with funding support from the Musicboard Berlin GmbH. An audio broadcast was also streamed with kind thanks to Radio nunc from 14.00-22.00CET.

0:00:00 improvisation with diane + vida vojić
0:31:00 DuChamp
1:13:00 sn(50)
1:58:00 -akis
2:22:30 adsx
3:34:10 vida vojić
4:28:31 improvisation with diane + DuChamp
5:15:30 Auguste + Nina Guo
5:55:30 Nina Pixel
6:58:32 Inter Lineas
7:44:05 improvisation with diane + Alexandra Macià + sn(50)

It’s not actually shot in black and white murk; we just live like that in Berlin – it follows us around, like a fog.

Happy droning.

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Enter the freaky trippy acid 90s German synth world of Air Liquide

If you need a break from buttoned-up techno, dance music as business and fashion statement and morose wallpaper – take a holiday with some “trippy mindfkk-muzzikkk.” Here, we’ve got 170 tracks from 1991 Cologne to today to get utterly weird.

In 1990s Cologne, if the techno scene was spread too thin, you could just manufacture a few dozen aliases and DIY the whole thing. At least that seems to be the approach taken by our friends Air Liquide, aka Cem Oral and Ingmar Koch, and a half dozen or so core artists – a band of buddies making weirdo sounds. See the full alias list at bottom, but DJ DB (aka DB Burkeman) traced the history of the duo for the now-defunct THUMP from VICE:

DB’s No School Like the Old Skool: Air LiquideMeet the German analogue techno duo that rocked the 90s underground with a hundred different pseudonyms.

Now, just when you thought it was safe to go back to Germany, Air Liquide have returned to make European electronics mindfkked again.

We’ve got over 16 hours – 170 tracks – on streaming services like Spotify, chronicling the evolution (or whatever it was) of Air Liquide from 1991 through today. The sounds are futuristic, spacey, hyperactive, bizarre – everything in turns. You know you need some broken ultra-fast acid piping through Spotify on your next workout, of course:

via Spotify playlist

Details:


“AIR LIQUIDE – almost complete” – spotify playlist with over 16 hours of trippy mindfkk-muzzikkk

It includes, for instance, tracks inspired by the TV show Robot Wars:

Or here’s a track compiled by Loveparade founder Dr. Motte:

If you like what you hear, you can download those releases now, on iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/air-liquide/5352330#see-all/full-albums

and on Beatport:
https://www.beatport.com/artist/air-liquide/7230/releases

But in addition to that history, their label Blue is back.

Maybe this comes at an ideal time. With so many records sounding like generational loss – copies of copies of 90s records, watered down and sanitized and fed through Instagram – the new Air Liquide project is both real media archaeology and real invention. You get remasters and rereleases of the actual original records, and – this is important – they’re making new stuff.

Air Liquide are back.

So albums like Liquid Air and Mercury EP are returning on colored vinyl and cheap-for-everybody digital. But you can also expect new creations, like a mini-album called “ALTR” which they’ve let CDM know they’re finishing now with German rave legend t.raumschmiere. And there’s upcoming collaboration with American poet Mary S. Applegate – yes, the cousin of Christina Applegate – later this year, along with other releases.

There’s even some unreleased 1992-93 era stuff in store, they tell us.

They’re also acting as our guides through other freaky sounds, as on this new Spotify playlist “Der lärm der stille“.

Included is “some crazy tripmusic we love – paired with some of our own brain fkk trax” – up to 94 tracks and over 8 hours so far, from around the world and the years:

Their favorite machines

One thread through all this music is a real, profound love for sound and electronics – and synths and noisemakers and effects, like, everywhere.

CDM asked for some of the duo’s favorite stuff, and here’s what they’ve come up with:

dr walker:
drummachines:
erica synths technosystem
akai mpc3000 (modded)
akai mpc60 mk 1 (modded)
ensoniq asr x (modded)
superpocketoperator build by doc analog with 2x teenage engineering po32, ipad with patterning2 and erica synths fusion valve filters. all in an old army flightcase
roland tr8s
endorphin.es black noir with twisted electrons crazy8beats

synths
acd666
polyend medusa
erica synths liquid sky dada noise system
acl system 1
native instruments thrill
erica synths bassline
twisted electrons therapkid
gamechanger audio motorsynth
izotope iris 2

effects:
ninja tune zendelay
erica synths & gamechanger audio plasmadrive
bastl instruments dark matter
crazy tube circuits stereo splash mk III
snazzy fx wownflutter
catalinbread csidman

on the wishlist:
sequential rev2
korg prologue 16
emu e II+ (modded)
roland 750 (modded)
superlatives sb1 spacebee

Postlude: namedrop this, m************:

Yeah, okay, starting a sentence with “maybe you’ve heard of” with Air Liquide could take a while if you want to check on all their aliases. From the VICE report – amazingly, possibly even incomplete:

Madonna 303, Black One, Digital Dirt Inc, Ingy-Babe, John Amok, Unit 700, Acid All Stars, Der Tote, DR. Echo, Free Radicals, Flüssige Luft, G 104, Message, Oral Experience, Alpha Unit, Basstards, The, Bionic Skank, Cipher Code, Cube 40, Denpasar, Electronic Dub, Ethik II, Even Brooklyn Grooves, Fridge Pro 1, Future Shock Project, Futuristic Dub Foundation, G.L. Posse, German Electronic Foundation, M.F.A., Mental Bazar, Multicore L.T.D., Non Toxique Lost, Outernational Steppers, Restgeraeusch, Rub-A-Slide, Set Fatale, Slime Slurps, , Time Tunnel, Titanium Steel Screws, Tone Manipulators, Trancemagma, Dzeta Walker, Ultrahigh, UMO, Vene, View Point Odyssey, Zulutronic, Black One, Digital Dirt Inc, Dr. Walker, Ingy-Babe, John Amok, 370°, Acid Force, Air Liquide, Alternate States, Atlantic Trance, Bleep, The, Brotherz In Armz, Cipher Code, Commando, The Creature, Denpasar, Dr. Walker & Electro Atomu, Dr. Walker & M. Flux, Electrochic, Electronic Dub, Elevator 101, Ermionis Phunk Crew, Ethik II, Fridge Pro 1, Future Shock Project, German Electronic Foundation, Gizz TV & Walker, Global Electronic Network, Helden Der Revolution, House Hallucinates, GEF, Khan & Walker, Lovecore, Mental Bazar, Mono-Tone, Multicore L.T.D., Pierrot Premier, Planet Love Ink, Planet Lovecore, Psychedelic Kitchen, Radiowaves, Recall IV, Red Light District, Rei$$dorf Force, Resist 101, South 2nd, Stardate 1973, Structure, Tantra-M, Technoline, Time Tunnel, Trancemagma, Trip 2001, Unbelievable, Unlimited Pleasure, Vermona, View Point Odyssey, Dr. W and X-911.

They have shared this new short bio/history with us, to give you the full story:

AIR LIQUIDE

Born out of innovation & originality, Air Liquide are for many people one of contemporary electronic music cultures most pioneering, important and inspiring projects.

Cem Oral aka Jammin Unit and Ingmar Koch (Dr.Walker) first met in 1989 in a Studio in Frankfurt Main, in Germany. As it often is when like attracts like, it wasn’t long before they recognized their mutual love, not only for experimental, abstract and lo-fi musics but also for Alien, Bigfoot, Telepathy stories of Parallel Universes and Fairytales with a somewhat darker side. So it was just a matter of time before the two were getting together in the studio at the end of their respective dayshifts, to commence their own nightshift recording sessions of abstract noise, cut-ups and experimental soundscapes.

As well as Techno itself, likewise Acid, Industrial Noise, Ernste Musik, Ambient, Kraut Rock, Space-rock, 70s Psychedelia Underground Hip Hop and Musique Concrete were all somehow present and in the mix of the evolving Air Liquide sound, sitting comfortably and perfectly at home with elements of Turkish and Arabian traditional Music’s. The production process took on board a similar innovative and pioneering approach in its fusion of Modern Dub paired with the intensity of the all important groundbreaking Roland 909, 808, 303 and 101 must have technology of the day.

In 1991, they formed Air Liquide.

The fusion that was created boldly incorporated a past it was proud of, free of revivalism or plagiarism, clearly created in and reflecting undeniably a soundscape for the here and now that proclaimed uncompromisingly and assuredly, welcome to the future!

In keeping with every other aspect of their venture, Cem and Ingmar followed their intuition and instincts rather than established tradition, and immersed themselves in freestyle jam sessions, recording the entire one or two hours that they lasted. Upon later listening it would be decided if any parts of the jam session were up to the pairs criteria to be edited out and tweeked into tracks for release.
This is the paradigm within which the Air Liquide creative process birthed “Neue Frankfurter Elektronik Schule”, their first record, released in 1991 on their own label ”Blue”. The first pressing of 1000 copies, released on coloured vinyl, sold out in the first hour after its release!

This was a remarkable achievement, for an unknown band without any direct link to the House Music Scene. Via experimentation Air Liquide reintroduced a living breathing life affirming energy into contemporary music culture, much the same as techno and house did via rave and most importantly dancing. No surprise then that in a very short space of time, accolades like ‘The true heirs to Can’, ‘The Greatful Dead of Techno’ & ‘The spearhead of German Techno’ were incoming thick and fast from the International Music press. Their mixture of Hip Hop, Psyche & Krautrock, Acid & Techno endeared them to a rapidly established and increasing fan base around the Cologne area.

Their eclecticism, originality and self respect, as apparent in a seemingly “no respect for any rules” approach endeared them to that international music press, fans and professionals alike, especially as those professionals were born of the same spirit, as it had been in their own break through years. Like attracts like, the true fans of such musics, such fusions and the spaces that are created for and by these musics, of course could and can feel that, and step up to support it without question.

Then you have guests at your live jams like Michael Rother, Holger Czukay, Luke Vibert, Helmut Zerlett, Craig Anderton, Arno Steffen, Caspar Pound, Fm Einheit. Then your 100% improvised live shows successfully bring surprise, ecstasy, the unexpected and exactly all that people are wanting from you, as well in ways they are not expecting, all in a guaranteed we deliver way, regardless however it may be presented. Then you will be invited to join the roster of USA sm:)e records, the cult sub-label of Profile, that being the label of Run DMC. Likewise in UK, being asked to release on Casper Pounds all important Rising High Records.

And when your fusion of the experimental soul of contemporary electronica and krautrock creates such a superb and flawless fusion that fans from both sound spectrums love you for it, well then one of the all time forward thinking labels ever, Harvest records, will come out of retirement and re activate solely for the purpose of releasing your recordings.

Which is exactly what happened in 1993. That happens if you mean what your doing and if what you are doing is truly valid and unquestionably relevant.

Air Liquide were inspired, moulded by and arose from within that timeless borderless creative Freezone that births truly great Sound & Vision in every respect. It is where they still reside, and it is from there that they now re-emerge to mark 3 decades of living on the frontiers of International ground breaking contemporary ahead of the curve Music, Art, and attendant Technology subcultures.

Air Liquide represent the ultimate fusion of ideals, not believing the hype, not being swayed by past or present dogmas and staying true to their innermost aims and feelings, without question. The real thing if you will. Air Liquide were since their inception in 1991, always have been and still are very much the real thing, through and through!

Modern photos by George Nebieridze; all pictures courtesy Air Liquide.

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Andreas Schneider on the significance of synths, just before Superbooth

Look past the modulars and wires: connecting people who make instruments and those who play them is at the heart of all Andreas Schneider’s endeavors. With Superbooth looming, we check in on Herr Schneider and his vision of what electronic instruments are about.

I got a chance to talk to Andreas during this final lead-up to this week’s festival. Superbooth has become trade show-cum-cultural happening, one of those chances to take a community that lives globally and online and make it face to face. Things you can expect:

  • Makers like Doepfer, WMD, Macbeth, Make Noise, Dadamachines, Polyend, and Erica Synths rubbing shoulders with the likes of Moog, Roland, and NI
  • Soldering workshops with Verbos Electronics, DIY kits from makers like Befaco and Birdkids
  • Lecture-concerts from makers (SoundHack’s Tom Erbe, not just modular makers), and artists (Caterina Barbieri, Richard Devine, Mark Ernestus, Mathew Jonson, Johanna Knutson)
  • The legendary boat cruise – now with a set by Daniel Miller, Mute Records founder (among other things)

With that event upcoming, I got to turn to how Schneider got started.

“The idea with Schneidersladen was, from the beginning – my client is not the one who’s buying the stuff, my client is the one who’s making this stuff,” says Andreas. “I met a guy who was not able to show off his drum machine and smile. And then I met another one who was not able to explain his synthesizers in the way that I understand it.”

“And I understood by talking to party people – this is what everybody needs. You have a drum machine, you have a synthesizer, you need a MIDI cable – push start and have fun. And I took this little setup in a suitcase and ran around Europe and visited all the shops and said – hey, look here, what kind of fun is this?”

Andreas and his shop have gotten a reputation around modular synthesis, and Superbooth with them, but Andreas says he never set out to build this empire around modular. “No, modular was happening to me,” he says. “It started with Doepfer, and Doepfer was opening his system to everybody else’s visions and said – build whatever you want. I helped him promoting that to the size where it is.”

I think Andreas is being modest here, in that he has unquestionably been an articulate advocate and salesperson for the format – filtering out the best stuff, managing distribution with often-unreliable tiny makers, and evangelizing a mindful embrace of music making on the instruments. He has been the public face of a project that has both ignited passion for these instruments and helped make people comfortable with them.

But at the same time, he shies away from making the format the message – even as the format has dominated his shop. “Modulars became so big that nearly all my staff in the shop is a modular nerd,” he says. “I think making music is not just modular.”

What he is about, though, is hardware. “It’s that haptical experience – even if it’s a knob to turn or a key to push,” he says. “Mono functional editing – on/off. Down/up. In/out.” He keeps only one computer – an Atari ST (the one PC, incidentally, with built-in MIDI).

It makes sense that Andreas found fertile ground in Berlin’s party-rich landscape:

“In the beginning it had nothing to do with musicians – educated musicians. It was those people who were coming from spinning records and understanding how to make people dance and have a good time.

“And that’s why I never had a keyboard in my shop. It was about the machine and the desktop unit and the concentration on the sound source. You need to listen – and you can’t disturb with your experience on playing a melody.

I had a thought that it could have been better if I wouldn’t have pinned this little niche to the musical instrument people, but perhaps to the furniture people or the DJ people. In the end, it’s decoration for our living rooms – or it could be. Or it could also be seen as something like a slot machine. Why not? And it would have been better. Because now those musicians – those ‘now we now how to make music people’, you have to do it this and that way – they dominate this thing at least by a certain percentage.

Modular will take center stage at Berlin’s FEZ this week. And that means another year in which the world of modular makers has become more crowded.

Andreas says he hopes the added pressure will push back against having too much of the same stuff. “The quality is getting higher,” says Andreas. “The pressure that you need to have good ideas is increasing.” What about rumors of a modular bubble? “I try my best to prevent the burst,” he says, “- by getting new audience to the scene.”

That scene will unquestionably grow this week – some examples of the DIY and workshop elements:

We’ll be reporting from Superbooth.

https://www.superbooth.com

Novation have done a video interview with Andreas out this week, too:

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Immerse yourself in the full live AV concert by raster’s Belief Defect

Computer and modular machine textures collide with explosions of projected particles and glitching colored textures. Now the full concert footage of the duo Belief Defect (on Raster) is out.

It’s tough to get quality full-length live performance video – previously writing about this performance I had to refer to a short excerpt; a lot of the time you can only say “you had to be there” and point to distorted cell phone snippets. So it’s nice to be able to watch a performance end-to-end from the comfort of your chair.

Transport yourself to the dirigible-scaled hollowed-out power plant above Kraftwerk (even mighty Tresor club is just the basement), from Atonal Festival. It’s a set that’s full of angry, anxious, crunchy-distorted goodness:

(Actually even having listened to the album a lot, it’s nice to sit and retrace the full live set and see how they composed/improvised it. I would say record your live sets, fellow artists, except I know about how the usual Recording Curse works – when the Zoom’s batteries are charged up and the sound isn’t distorted and you remember to hit record is so often … the day you play your worst. They escaped this somehow.)

And Belief Defect represent some of the frontier of what’s possible in epic, festival mainstage-sized experimentalism, both analog and digital, sonic and visual. I got to write extensively about their process, with some support from Native Instruments, and more in-depth here:

BELIEF DEFECT ON THEIR MASCHINE AND REAKTOR MODULAR RIG [Native Instruments blog]

— with more details on how you might apply this to your own work:

What you can learn from Belief Defect’s modular-PC live rig

While we’re talking Raster label – the label formerly Raster-Noton before it again divided so Olaf Bender’s Raster and Carsten Nicolai’s Noton could focus on their own direction – here’s some more. Dasha Rush joined Electronic Beats for a rare portrait of her process and approach, including the live audiovisual-dance collaboration with dancer/choreographer Valentin Tszin and, on visuals, Stanislav Glazov. (Glazov is a talented musician, as well, producing and playing as Procedural aka Prcdrl, as well as a total Touch Designer whiz.)

And Dasha’s work, elegantly balanced between club and experimental contexts with every mix between, is always inspired.

Here’s that profile, though I hope to check in more shortly with how Stas and Valentin work with Kinect and dance, as well as how Stas integrates visuals with his modular sound:

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dadamachines doppler is a new platform for open music hardware

The new doppler board promises to meld the power of FPGA brains with microcontrollers and the accessibility of environments like Arduino. And the founder is so confident that could lead to new stuff, he’s making a “label” to help share your ideas.

doppler is a small, 39EUR development board packing both an ARM microcontroller and an FPGA. It could be the basis of music controllers, effects, synths – anything you can make run on those chips.

If this appeals to you, we’ve even got a CDM-exclusive giveaway for inventors with ideas. (Now, end users, this may all go over your head but … rest assured the upshot for you should be, down the road, more cool toys to play with. Tinkerers, developers, and people with a dangerous appetite for building things – read on.)

But first – why include an FPGA on a development board for music?

The pitch for FPGA

The FPGA is a powerful but rarified circuit. The idea is irresistible: imagine a circuit that could be anything you want to be, rewired as easily as software. That’s kind of what an FPGA is – it’s a big bundle of programmable logic blocks and memory blocks. You get all of that computational power at comparatively low cost, with the flexibility to adapt to a number of tasks. The upshot of this is, you get something that performs like dedicated, custom-designed hardware, but that can be configured on the fly – and with terrific real-time performance.

This works well for music and audio applications, because FPGAs do work in “close to the metal” high performance contexts. And we’ve even seen them used in some music gear. (Teenage Engineer was an early FPGA adopter, with the OP-1.) The challenge has always been configuring this hardware for use, which could easily scare off even some hardware developers.

For more on why open FPGA development is cool, here’s a (nerdy) slide deck: https://fpga.dev/oshug.pdf

Now, all of what I’ve just said a little hard to envision. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of that abstract description, you could fire up the Arduino development environment, upload some cool audio code, and have it running on an FPGA?

doppler, on a breadboard connected to other stuff so it starts to get more musically useful. Future modules could also make this easier.

doppler: easier audio FPGA

doppler takes that FPGA power, and combines it with the ease of working with environments like Arduino. It’s a chewing gum-sized board with both a familiar ARM microcontroller and an FPGA. This board is bare-bones – you just get USB – but the development tools have been set up for you, and you can slap this on a breadboard and add your own additions (MIDI, audio I/O).

The project is led by Johannes Lohbihler, dadamachines founder, along with engineer and artist Sven Braun.

dadamachines also plan some other modules to make it easier to add other stuff us music folks might like. Want audio in and out? A mic preamp? MIDI connections? A display? Controls? Those could be breakout boards, and it seems Johannes and dadamachines are open to ideas for what you most want. (In the meantime, of course, you can lay out your own stuff, but these premade modules could save time when prototyping.)

Full specs of the tiny, core starter board:

120Mhz ARM Cortex M4F MCU 512KB Flash (Microchip ATSAMD51G19A) with FPU
– FPGA 5000 LUT, 1MBit RAM, 6 DSP Cores,OSC, PLL (Lattice ICE40UP5K)
– Arduino IDE compatible
– Breadboard friendly (DIL48)
– Micro USB
– Power over USB or external via pin headers
– VCC 3.5V …. 5.5V
– All GPIO Pins have 3.3V Logic Level
– 1 LED connected to SAMD51
– 4 x 4 LED Matrix (connected to FPGA)
– 2 User Buttons (connected to FPGA)
– AREF Solder Jumper
– I2C (need external pullup), SPI, QSPI Pins
– 2 DAC pins, 10 ADC pins
– Full open source toolchain
– SWD programming pin headers
– Double press reset to enter the bootloader
– UF2 Bootloader with Firmware upload via simple USB stick mode

See also the quickstart PDF.

I’ve focused on the FPGA powers here, because those are the new ones, but the micrcontroller side brings compatibility with existing libraries that allow you to combine some very useful features.

So, for instance, there’s USB host capability, which allows connecting all sorts of input devices, USB MIDI gadgets, and gaming controllers. See:

https://github.com/gdsports/USB_Host_Library_SAMD

That frees up the FPGA to do audio only. Flip it around the other way, and you can use the microcontroller for audio, while the FPGA does … something else. The Teensy audio library will work on this chip, too – meaning a bunch of adafruit instructional content will be useful here:

https://learn.adafruit.com/synthesizer-design-tool?view=all

https://github.com/adafruit/Audio/

doppler is fully open source hardware, with open firmware and code samples, so it’s designed to be easy to integrate into a finished product – even one you might sell commercially.

The software examples for now are mainly limited to configuring and using the board, so you’ll still need to bring your own code for doing something useful. But you can add the doppler as an Arduino library and access even the FPGA from inside the Arduino environment, which expands this to a far wider range of developers.

Look, ma, Arduino!

In a few steps, you can get up and running with the development environment, on any OS. You’ll be blinking lights and even using a 4×4 matrix of lights to show characters, just as easily as you would on an Arduino board – only you’re using an FPGA.

Getting to that stage is lunch break stuff if you’ve at least worked with Arduino before:

https://github.com/dadamachines/doppler

Dig into the firmware, and you can see, for instance, some I/O and a synth working. (This is in progress, it seems, but you get the idea.)

https://github.com/dadamachines/doppler-FPGA-firmware

And lest you think this is going to be something esoteric for experienced embedded hardware developers, part of the reason it’s so accessible is that Johannes is working with Sven Braun. Sven is among other things the developer of iOS apps zmors synth and modular – so you get something that’s friendly to app developers.

doppler in production…

A label for hardware, platform for working together

Johannes tells us there’s more to this than just tossing an open source board out into the world – dadamachines is also inviting collaborations. They’ve made doppler a kind of calling card for working together, as well as a starting point for building new hardware ideas, and are suggesting Berlin-based dadamachines as a “label” – a platform to develop and release those ideas as products.

There are already some cool, familiar faces playing with these boards – think Meng Qi, Tom Whitwell of Music thing, and Ornament & Crime.

Johannes and his dadamachines have already a proven hardware track record, bringing a product from Kickstarter funding to manufacturing, with the automat. It’s an affordable device that makes it easy to connect physical, “robotic” outputs (like solenoids and motors). (New hardware, a software update and more are planned for that, too, by the way.) And of course, part of what you get in doing that kind of hardware is a lot of amassed experience.

We’ve seen fertile open platforms before – Arduino and Raspberry Pi have each created their own ecosystems of both hardware and education. But this suggests working even more closely – pooling space, time, manufacturing, distribution, and knowledge together.

This might be skipping a few steps – even relatively experienced developers may want to see what they can do with this dev board first. But it’s an interesting long-range goal that Johannes has in mind.

Want your own doppler; got ideas?

We have five doppler boards to give away to interested CDM readers.

Just tell dadamachines what you want to make, or connect, or use, and email that idea to:

cdm@dadamachines.com

dadamachines will pick five winners to get a free board sent to them. (Johannes says he wants to do this by lottery, but I’ve said if there are five really especially good ideas or submissions, he should… override the randomness.)

And stay tuned here, as I hope to bring you some more stuff with this soon.

For more:

https://forum.dadamachines.com/

https://dadamachines.com/product/doppler/

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Design, meet music: gorgeous graphic scores from LETRA / TONE fest

Nine designers created graphics scores. Next, nine musicians will interpret them. LETRA / TONE festival is one of the more compelling experiments in festival programming – an adventure in crossing media. Here’s what it looks like.

Now, in these here parts, we’ve been fans of visual-musical synesthesia, from live visuals and VJing to graphics. LETRA / TONE makes that connection in the score. Curator (and composer/musician) Hanno Leichtmann had the idea. Five years ago, I covered one of the earlier editions:

Pattern and Design: A 2-Day Festival Turns Vintage Type into Musical Scores

The gathering has since blossomed to include a wide arrange of international designers and big-name (and fringe) musical artists across various instruments. There’s a complete exhibition and loads of concerts this weekend.

And you never know quite what you’ll get, because it’s up to these artists to determine how to translate the visual ideas they’re given into performances. This being Berlin, there are some major electronic artists – modular electro duo Blotter Trax (Magda and T.B. Arthur), turntablist Dieb 13, JASSS, Nefertyti, and DEMDIKE STARE are all involved. But you also get pianist Magda Mayas, and Schneider TM takes to experimental guitar, composer and avant garde rocker Jimi Tenor. Hanno has not only paired artists with musicians, but produced some arranged musical marriages, too – commissioning Blotter Trax, pairing Nefertyti with Jimi Tenor.

Graphic scores come from Katja Gretzinger, Anke Fesel, Scott Massey, Daniela Burger, Stefan Gandl, Joe Gilmore, Sulki & Min, Julie Gayard, and T.S.Wendelstein.

To bring a bit of this festival to you, here’s a selection of images from past editions (and current sketches) to show the visual range. You can imagine yourself how you might make music from these.

And snippets of 2019:

To give you a feel of the music, some selected artists:

JASSS:

Demdike Stare:

Blotter Trax:

Nefertyti (bad video but… I’m enjoying this punk aesthetic here):

Facebook event if you’re in Berlin this weekend:

https://www.facebook.com/events/2212145495720491/?active_tab=about

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Celebrate 303 day by finding old classics, fresh inspiration

It’s March the 3rd, which means in both hemispheres, our thoughts inevitably turn to basslines and squelchy resonance. Happy 303 day – here’s some video and reading to get you in the mood.

First, let’s take a step back, and before we idolize the box and transistors, let’s talk about just how immaculately early Detroit and Chicago records were composed and mixed.

1987’s “Acid Tracks” by Phuture (DJ Pierre and Earl Spanky Smith) never fails to floor me. (I’ll guess the same about you, as anyone sick of acid has already left the room.) It sounds at once ancient and futuristic, like it fell from some alien civilization. “Acid Tracks” is slow, elegant, meditative – apparently slowed down to appeal to conservative New York dance floors; check out the fascinating write-up at the top of Discogs:

https://www.discogs.com/Phuture-Acid-Tracks/release/1949

And, oh yeah – it’s a preset bassline. And very little actually happens in this track. You get the sense of that fresh, out-of-box, what the hell is this amazing thing feeling as a result – but whether intentional or not, it also means the duo settle on this fascinating groove and don’t overthink it. There’s an almost ritualistic, mantra-like steadiness to the track as a result. House legend Marshall Jefferson captures all of this with a mix that holds everything together, and weirdly I think gets away with the extreme panning from side to side, a kind of hypnotic incantation.

It may be the only time a preset pattern worked in a track, but… it works.

That same DJ Pierre joins Roland today to celebrate 303 Day – and yeah, he knows how to program patterns now:

I know we’re not supposed to covet gear as the solution to our problems but … there is something beautiful about really wanting a piece of gear to find a particular flavor, right?

It’s also great to hear Pierre talk about the satisfaction of turning a knob, and feeling like an improviser – I think that’s the essence of synth design. (I, uh, disagree with Maestro Pierre that this is the only instrument that did this, but then I don’t run an all-303 blog.)

But you think Japan is going to let us Americans have all the fun, with the gear they invented? Here is “Japanese Techno Girl Love TB-303 & TR-707 & RE-201” to answer that from the ocean. I’m not entirely sure I believe this is part of her bridal practice, but do you need to know whether that’s true or not?

For a good intro to the 303 and how to program it, Tatsuya Takahashi – former chief analog engineer at KORG – did an intro for RBMA. Seeing Tats talk Roland is weird, but on the other hand, I think Tats and his team at KORG built a lot of similar ideas into their instruments – hands-on control, simplified compact design, and a focus on playability. For all the present worship of modular synths and complexity, sometimes a simpler design lets the player explore more.

That skips over a lot of the history to focus on the instrument. So for a deeper look at how the 303 came about, check “Baseline Baseline,” a crude 2005 documentary. It feels a bit like someone is reading you a history of the 303 in monotone, but it’s a nice watch, nonetheless, packed with detail.

Philadelphia’s Akhil Kalepu did a great write-up of that history for DJ Tech Tools a few years back, as well:

History Of The TB-303: Roland’s Accidental Legend

To use the 303 yourself, your first question may be – have I heard that pattern before? (There is this funny quality of the 303, where you’re never certain if a pattern was your own, or a preset, or a classic tune, or the 303 somehow hijacked your brain and an alien consciousness made it for you, or … some combination?)

Let’s just not get too precious about acid house, though.

Part of what I love about the 303 is that it isn’t a classical instrument. You aren’t limited to reproducing half-assed copies of Chicago House just because that beautiful history is there. The 303 can get weird, dirty, trippy, unrecognizable. (Seriously, fight me on this. I love Roland’s TB-03 recreation not because it’s a perfect copy, but because it has some weird digital distortion and delay that you can abuse and warp.)

So, for instance, Germany’s Dr. Walker and Liquid Sky took acid in a different direction, some “acid techno” or make that “afterhour acid techno druggEEE madness.” Oh, sure, you could walk into a Berlin afterhours and someone could play some inoffensive slow tech house track. OR … you could wind up in some dark cave, three days into partying, thick with smoke, unable to find the door, when some end-of-the-world weirdness you can’t follow takes over, or some way-too-fast techno that is slowly speeding up. That’s the sort of 303 you might expect would be part of an unfriendly M-class planet, the kind the one surviving red shirt warned you about, holes burnt in his uniform, after beaming back up.

Playlist of related tracks:

Hold on, though, back up – Sony Music published this? Interesting.

I bring this up just because it’s sort of nicely the opposite of the Phuture track. If the above is the 303 in calm meditation or headed to a wedding, this is a disheveled 303 stumbling out of a bar in Akihabara, its tie in shreds (uh, drunk on alternating current or whatever synthesizers get into):

Acid is getting new leases on life, too, as in the hands of Bloody Mary, the French-born, Berlin-based producer and label boss of acidic dame music. She’s keeping acid alive both as a DJ –

– and as a producer. (Got to talk to her about her love of the 303 and the ability to really focus on this instrument at ADE in the fall.)

So be sure – we love the 303, but its day is not a sacred one. It’s a chance to do what we do every night – make ridiculous sounds with knobs.

And just remember – don’t let anyone convince you synthesis is a game for the rich. The 303 found its way into history thanks to some guys who could only barely afford it, after it had already dropped in value. Speaking as someone who reads tons of press releases from artists bragging about their all-modular setups, this is something worth repeating – and a happy 303 day to you.

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