Synth One is a free, no-strings-attached, iPad and iPhone synthesizer

Call it the people’s iOS synth: Synth One is free – without ads or registration or anything like that – and loved. And now it’s reached 1.0, with iPad and iPhone support and some expert-designed sounds.

First off – if you’ve been wondering what happened to Ashley Elsdon, aka Palm Sounds and editor of our Apps section, he’s been on a sabbatical since September. We’ll be thinking soon about how best to feature his work on this site and how to integrate app coverage in the current landscape. But you can read his take on why AudioKit matters, and if Ashley says something is awesome, that counts.

But with lots of software synths out there, why does Synth One matter in 2019? Easy:

It’s really free. Okay, sure, it’s easy for Apple to “give away” software when they make more on their dongles and adapters than most app developers charge. But here’s an independent app that’s totally free, without needing you to join a mailing list or look at ads or log into some cloud service.

It’s a full-featured, balanced synth. Under the hood, Synth One is a polysynth with hybrid virtual analog / FM, with five oscillators, step sequencer, poly arpeggiator, loads of filtering and modulation, a rich reverb, multi-tap delay, and loads of etras.

There’s standards support up the wazoo. Are you visually impaired? There’s Voice Over accessibility. Want Ableton Link support? MIDI learn on everything? Compatibility with Audiobus 3 and Inter App Audio so you can run this in your favorite iOS DAW? You’re set.

It’s got some hot presets. Sound designer Francis Preve has been on fire lately, making presets for everyone from KORG to the popular Serum plug-in. And version 1.0 launches with Fran’s sound designs – just what you need to get going right away. (Fran’s sound designs are also usually great for learning how a synth works.)

It’s the flagship of an essential framework. Okay the above matters to users – this matters to developers (who make stuff users care about, naturally). Synth One is the synthesizer from the people who make AudioKit. That’s good for making sure the framework is solid, plus

You can check out the source code. Everything is up at – meaning Synth One is also an (incredibly sophisticated) example app for Audio Kit.

More is coming… MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) and AUv3 are coming soon, say the developers.

And now the big addition —

It runs on iPhone, too. I have to say, I’ve been waiting for a synth that’s pocket sized for extreme portability, but few really are compelling. Now you can run this on any iPhone 6 or better – and if you’ve got a higher-end iPhone (iPhone X/XS/XR / iPhone XS Max / 6/7/8 Plus size), you’ll get a specially optimized UI with even more space.

Check out this nice UI:

On iPhone:


AudioKit Synth One 1.0 arrives, is universal, is awesome

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TidalCycles, free live coding environment for music, turns 1.0

Live coding environments are free, run on the cheapest hardware as well as the latest laptops, and offer new ways of thinking about music and sound that are leading a global movement. And one of the leading tools of that movement just hit a big milestone.

This isn’t just about a nerdy way of making music. TidalCycles is free, and tribes of people form around using it. Just as important as how impressive the tool may be, the results are spectacular and varied.

There are some people who take on live coding as their primary instrument – some who haven’t had experiencing using even computers or electronic music production tools before, let alone whole coding environments. But I think they’re worth a look even if you don’t envision yourself projecting code onstage as you type live. TidalCycles in particular had its origins not in computer science, but in creator Alex McLean’s research into rhythm and cycle. It’s a way of experiencing a musical idea as much as it is a particular tool.

TidalCycles has been one of the more popular tools, because it’s really easy to learn and musical. The one downside is a slightly convoluted install process, since it’s built on SuperCollider, as opposed to tools that now run in a Web browser. On the other hand, the payoff for that added work is you’ll never outgrow TidalCycles itself – because you can move to SuperCollider’s wider arrange of tools if you choose.

New in version 1.0 is a whole bunch of architectural improvement that really makes the environment feel mature. And there’s one major addition: controller input means you can play TidalCycles like an instrument, even without coding as your perform:
New functions
Updated innards
New ways of combining patterns
Input from live controllers
The ability to set tempo with patterns

Maybe just as important as the plumbing improvements, you also get expanded documentation and an all-new website.

Check out the full list of changes:

You’ll need to update some of your code as there’s been some renaming and so on.

But the ability to input OSC and MIDI is especially cool, not least because you can now “play” all the musical, rhythmic stuff TidalCycles does with patterns.

There’s enough musicality and sonic power in TidalCycles that it’s easy to imagine some people will take advantage of the live coding feedback as they create a patch, but play more in a conventional sense with controllers. I’ll be honest; I couldn’t quite wrap my head around typing code as the performance element in front of an audience. And that makes some sense; some people who aren’t comfortable playing actually find themselves more comfortable coding – and those people aren’t always programmers. Sometimes they’re non-programmers who find this an easier way to express themselves musically. Now, you can choose, or even combine the two approaches.

Also worth saying – TidalCycles has happened partly because of community contributions, but it’s also the work primarily of Alex himself. You can keep him doing this by “sending a coffee” – TidalCycles works on the old donationware model, even as the code itself is licensed free and open source. Do that here:

While we’ve got your attention, let’s look at what you can actually do with TidalCycles. Here’s our friend Miri Kat with her new single out this week, the sounds developed in that environment. It’s an ethereal, organic trip (the single is also on Bandcamp):

We put out Miri’s album Pursuit last year, not really having anything to do with it being made in a livecoding environment so much as I was in love with the music – and a lot of listeners responded the same way:

For an extended live set, here’s Alex himself playing in November in Tokyo:

And Alexandra Cardenas, one of the more active members of the TidalCycles scene, played what looked like a mind-blowing set in Bogota recently. On visuals is Olivia Jack, who created vibrant, eye-searing goodness in the live coding visual environment of her own invention, Hydra. (Hydra works in the browser, so you can try it right now.)

Unfortunately there are only clips – you had to be there – but here’s a taste of what we’re all missing out on:

See also the longer history of Tidal

It’ll be great to see where people go next. If you haven’t tried it yet, you can dive in now:

Image at top: Alex, performing as part of our workshop/party Encoded in Berlin in June.

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Check out these amazing DIY controllers people made with OpenDeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sensimidia, for Croatian dub act “Homegrown Sound.”

Tannin and Ceylon, two MIDI controllers.

Morten Berthelsen built this Elektron Analog controller.

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

OpenDeck also features open source firmware under a GPLv3 license.

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

Here’s the underlying platform itself:

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

Configuration via Web interface.

Project site:

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The guts of Tracktion are now open source for devs to make new stuff

Game developers have Unreal Engine and Unity Engine. Well, now it’s audio’s turn. Tracktion Engine is an open source engine based on the guts of a major DAW, but created as a building block developers can use for all sorts of new music and audio tools.

You can new music apps not only for Windows, Mac, and Linux (including embedded platforms like Raspberry Pi), but iOS and Android, too. And while developers might go create their own DAW, they might also build other creative tools for performance and production.

The tutorials section already includes examples for simple playback, independent manipulation of pitch and time (meaning you could conceivably turn this into your own DJ deck), and a step sequencer.

We’ve had an open source DAW for years – Ardour. But this is something different – it’s clear the developers have created this with the intention of producing a reusable engine for other things, rather than just dumping the whole codebase for an entire DAW.

Okay, my Unreal and Unity examples are a little optimistic – those are friendly to hobbyists and first-time game designers. Tracktion Engine definitely needs you to be a competent C++ programmer.

But the entire engine is delivered as a JUCE module, meaning you can drop it into an existing project. JUCE has rapidly become the go-to for reasonably painless C++ development of audio tools across plug-ins and operating systems and mobile devices. It’s huge that this is available in JUCE.

Even if you’re not a developer, you should still care about this news. It could be a sign that we’ll see more rapid development that allows music loving developers to try out new ideas, both in software and in hardware with JUCE-powered software under the hood. And I think with this idea out there, if it doesn’t deliver, it may spur someone else to try the same notion.

I’ll be really interested to hear if developers find this is practical in use, but here’s what they’re promising developers will be able to use from their engine:

A wide range of supported platforms (Windows, macOS, Linux, Raspberry Pi, iOS and Android)
Tempo, key and time-signature curves
Fast audio file playback via memory mapping
Audio editing including time-stretching and pitch shifting
MIDI with quantisation, groove, MPE and pattern generation
Built-in and external plugin support for all the major formats
Parameter adjustments with automation curves or algorithmic modifiers
Modular plugin patching Racks
Recording with punch, overdub and loop modes along with comp editing
External control surface support
Fully customizable rendering of arrangements

The licensing is also stunningly generous. The code is under a GPLv3 license – meaning if you’re making a GPLv3 project (including artists doing that), you can freely use the open source license.

But even commercial licensing is wide open. Educational projects get forum support and have no revenue limit whatsoever. (I hope that’s a cue to academic institutions to open up some of their licensing, too.)

Personal projects are free, too, with revenue up to US$50k. (Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but many small developers are below that threshold.)

For $35/mo, with a minimum 12 month commitment, “indie” developers can make up to $200k. Enterprise licensing requires getting in touch, and then offers premium support and the ability to remove branding. They promise paid licenses by next month.

Check out their code and the Tracktion Engine page:

I think a lot of people will be excited about this, enough so that … well, it’s been a long time. Let’s Ballmer this.

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Powerful SURGE synth for Mac and Windows is now free

Vember Audio’s Surge synth could be an ideal choice for an older machine or a tight budget – with deep modulation and loads of wavetables, now free and open source.

And that really means open source: Surge gets a GPL v3 license, which could also make this the basis of other projects.

People are asking for this a lot – “just open source it.” But that can be a lot of work, often prohibitively so. So it’s impressive to see source code dumped on GitHub.

And Surge is a deep synth, even if last updated in 2008. You get an intensive modulation architecture, nearly 200 wavetables, and a bunch of effects (including vocoder and rotary speaker). Plus it’s already 64-bit, so even though it’s a decade old, it’ll play reasonably nicely on newer machines.

Inside the modulation engine.



Synthesis method: Subtractive hybrid
Each patch contain two ‘scenes’ which are separate instances of the entire synthesis engine (except effects) that can be used for layering or split patches.
Quick category-based patch-browser
Future proof, comes as both a 32 & 64-bit VST plugin (Windows PC)
Universal Binary for both VST and AU (Mac)

Factory sounds

1010 patches
183 wavetables


3 oscillators/voice
8 versatile oscillator algorithms: Classic, Sine, Wavetable, Window, FM2, FM3, S/H Noise and Audio-input
The classic oscillator is a morphable pulse/saw/dualsaw oscillator with a sub-oscillator and self-sync.
The FM2/FM3 oscillators consists of a 1 carrier with 2/3 modulators and various options.
Most algorithms (except FM2, FM3, Sine and Audio-input) offer up to 16-voice unison at the oscillator level.
Oscillator FM/ringmodulation
Most oscillator algorithms (except FM2/FM3) are strictly band-limited yet still cover the entire audible spectrum, delivering a clear punchy yet clean sound.
Noise generator with variable spectrum.


Two filter-units with arrangeable in 8 different configurations
Feedback loop (number of variations inside the parenthesis)
Available filter-algorithms: LP12 (3), LP24 (3), LP24L (1-4 poles), HP12 (3), HP24 (3), BP (4), Notch (2), Comb (4), S&H
Filters can self-oscillate (with excitation) and respond amazingly fast to cutoff frequency changes.
Waveshaper (5 shapes)


12 LFO-units available to each voice (6 are running on each voice and 6 are shared for the scene)
DAHDSR envelope generators on every LFO-unit
7 deformable LFO-waveforms + 1 drawable/stepsequencer waveform
LFO1 allows envelope retriggering when used as stepsequencer
Extremely fast and flexible modulation routing. Almost every continuous parameter can be modulated.


8 effect units arranged as 2 inserts/scene, 2 sends and 2 master effects
10 top-quality algorithms: Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Phaser, EQ, Distortion, Conditioner (EQ, stereo-image control & limiter), Rotary speaker, Frequency shifter, Vocoder

Via Synthtopia.

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Watch this $30 kit turn into all these other synthesizers

DIY guru Mitch Altman has been busy expanding ArduTouch, the $30 kit board he designed to teach synthesis and coding. And now you can turn it into a bunch of other synths – with some new videos to who you how that works.

You’ll need to do a little bit of tinkering to get this working – though for many, of course, that’ll be part of the fun. So you solder together the kit, which includes a capacitive touch keyboard (as found on instruments like the Stylophone) and speaker. That means once the soldering is done, you can make sounds. To upload different synth code, you need a programmer cable and some additional steps.

Where this gets interesting is that the ArduTouch is really an embedded computer – and what’s wonderful about computers is, they transform based on whatever code they’re running.

ArduTouch is descended from the Arduino project, which in turn was the embedded hardware coding answer to desktop creative coding environment Processing. And from Processing, there’s the idea of a “sketch” – a bit of code that represents a single idea. “Sketching” was vital as a concept to these projects as it implies doing something simpler and more elegant.

For synthesis, ArduTouch is collecting a set of its own sketches – simple, fun digital signal processing creations that can be uploaded to the board. You get a whole collection of these, including sketches that are meant to serve mainly as examples, so that over time you can learn DSP coding. (The sketches are mostly the creation of Mitch’s friend, Bill Alessi.) Because the ArduTouch itself is cloned from the Arduino UNO, it’s also fully compatible both with UNO boards and the Arduino coding environment.

Mitch has been uploading videos and descriptions (and adding new synths over time), so let’s check them out:

Thick is a Minimoog-like, playable monosynth.

Arpology is an “Eno-influenced” arpeggiator/synth combo with patterns, speed, major/minor key, pitch, and attack/decay controls, plus a J.S. Bach-style generative auto-play mode.

Beatitude is a drum machine with multiple parts and rhythm track creation, plus a live playable bass synth.

Mantra is a weird, exotic-sounding sequenced drone synth with pre-mapped scales. The description claims “it is almost impossible to play something that doesn’t sound good.” (I initially read that backwards!)

Xoid is raucous synth with frequency modulation, ratio, and XOR controls. Actually, this very example demonstrates just why ArduTouch is different – like, you’d probably not want to ship Xoid as a product or project on its own. But as a sketch – and something strange to play with – it’s totally great.

DuoPoly is also glitchy and weird, but represents more of a complete synth workstation – and it’s a grab-bag demo of all the platform can do. So you get Tremelo, Vibrato, Pitch Bend, Distortion Effects, Low Pass Filter, High Pass Filter, Preset songs/patches, LFOs, and other goodies, all crammed onto this little board.

There, they’ve made some different oddball preset songs, too:

Platinum hit, this one:

This one, it sounds like we hit a really tough cave level in Metroid:

Open source hardware, kits available for sale:

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Watch an Ableton Live sequence made physical on the monome grid

The monome made history by transforming the virtual world of the computer into a low-fidelity grid of lights and buttons. But it’s no less magical today – especially in the hands of stretta.


Matthew Davidson has been an innovative developer of patches for the monome since its early days. And that’s a principle innovation of the hardware: by reducing the “screen” to a minimal on/off grid, and lighting buttons independently from your input, the monome becomes a distillation of the ideas in a particular computer patch. Just like a fretboard or the black and white keys of a grand piano, a music box roll or the notes on a staff, it’s an abstraction of the music itself. And its simplicity is part of its power – a simplicity that a mouse and a high-definition color display lack.

Matthew is using some features the first-generation monome didn’t have – the varibright lights, and a recommended 128-format grid. But otherwise, this riffs on the original idea.

And remember last week when we covered Berkelee College of Music introducing study of electronic instruments? Well, Davidson has developed a whole series of these kind of clever inventions as a set of studies in grid performance.

That is, the choice of Bach is fitting. This is classical grid from a virtuoso, a Well-Tempered Monome if you like.

Check out the full gridlab collection:


What do you play? Berklee adds electronic digital instrument program

Updated: so what about other grids?

Via social media, Matthew Davidson elaborates on why this setup requires the monome – which still says a lot about the uniqueness of the monome design:

First up is 64 buttons versus 512. It’ll work on a 128 kinda, barely, but it is awkward. An implementation of a fold mode might make that useable.

Second is the protocol. The monome protocol provides the ability to update a quadrant with a simple, compact message. This is what is used to achieve the fluidity. If you want to update the entire grid of a Launchpad, you have to send 64 individual messages, one for each LED.

Lastly is the issue of MIDI devices and M4L. The monome uses serialosc to communicate. Because of this, a monome M4L device can send and receive MIDI data at the same time as sending a receiving button/led data.

[Reproduced with permission.]

Of course, if you have other DIY ideas here, we’d love to hear them!

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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:

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

Thanks for the tip, Ted Pallas!

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Leave this free software running, and it’ll come up with rhythms for you

Have you ever wanted to enslave your own Aphex Twin, then have him make endless rhythms for you, but worried about care and feeding of a Richard D. James?

Do you want to soak up the glory of the life of an IDM musician (the touring in helicopters, the seven-figure royalties), but want to avoid the actual work of making the music?

Well, then this Csound-based tool is for you. Leave it running, and it’ll generate a whole folder full of rhythms and various bpm. Dump those into Ableton Live, pick out the ones you like, and … ah, okay, now you will have to do some work turning this into music. (Effects …. maybe. Arrangement … well, or just loop one endlessly and pop off for lunch. Or make them into something new, original, and very much your own. Kind of up to you, really, though soon we should have some machine learning that decides for you what you probably would like to choose.)

It’s all the fault – erm, work – of one Micah Frank, who actually makes his living as a sound designer. (Meaning, of course – Micah what are you doing?!) Switch it on, and wait for hundreds of sounds to come your way.

Right now, it’s pretty simple – and it takes all night because it’s real-time, not offline. (On the other hand, you could output sound and have lovely, very weird and erratic, sonic wallpaper.) But Micah plans lots of additional features here, plus a whole compositional environment.

So there you have it. Skip the all nighter. Catch up on sleep.

You saw it here first.

Nice to see this sketch from when this was conceived.

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Jazzari lets you sketch musical ideas in your browser, with JavaScript

Open up a browser tab, use code sketch musical loops and grooves (using trigonometry, even), and play / export – all in this free tool.

Jazzari has been making the rounds among passionate music tech nerds, as a lovely free code toy. There are a bunch of easy-to-modify tutorial examples, so you don’t necessarily have to know any JavaScript or code. But there’s no graphical control at all – that visualization and the cute cartoon characters are just to give you feedback on what the code does.

So — why?

Developer Jack Schaedler is quick to caution that this is neither intended for teaching code nor teaching music, that better tools exist for each. (Sonic Pi is a particularly accessible entry for learning how to express musical ideas as code, used even by kids!)

Then again, you don’t have to believe him. That same spirit that made him decide to do this for fun seems to be infectious. And this might be an entry into making this stuff.

For coders, it’s yet another chance to discover some code and libraries and perhaps bits and pieces and inspiration for your own next project. For everyone else, well, it’s a terrific distraction.

And you can export MIDI, so this could start a new musical project.

By the way, someone want to join me in building this actual inspiration for Jazzari? It could be killer by next summer, at least.

The name is a riff on the 12th century scholar and inventor Ismail al-Jazari. al-Jazari is thought to have invented one of the first programmable musical machines, a “musical automaton, which was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties.”

Bonus, for my Arabic, Kurdish, and Persian friends in electronic music – no one knows which of those accurately can claim this guy. We clearly need to get something going.

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