8BitMixtapeNEO is a glitchy hackable synth the size of a cassette tape

It’s the size of a cassette tape, has buttons and pots so you can play it as a handheld instrument, it’s open and hackable – and it sounds like 8-bit mayhem.

8BitMixtapeNEO is very, very lo-fi synth built around the Arduino-compatible ATTINY85 chip. But what’s interesting about it is that all that hackable, programmable mayhem is accessible to anyone curious, not just coders.

It sounds mental:

And it’s got some weird and clever features:

Pocket mods: Just like the KORG volca sample, an audio protocol works for upload. So you can send firmware code just by playing a sound file from an audio playback device. Flash with your phone on the fly. (They also suggest a SONY Cassette WALKMAN, of course.)

Lite-Brite: Eight RGB LEDs work as a sort of 8-pixel screen / feedback / Knight Rider display.

Upcycle: Since the PCB is the shape and size of a cassette tape, a re-purposed cassette shape shell works as a case.

Arduino-compatible chip.

Visual programming. There’s a visual, drag-and-drop programming interface you can use as an alternative to uploading code. Have a look:

User mixtapes. They’ve built their own custom community for user-generated tools, including visual effects, sequencers, sounds, and other hacks. It’s here – http://neo.8bitmixtape.cc/mixtape – and since audio playback upload is easy, you can just flash from any computer or phone or tablet with speakers!

Pricing stars at 65EUR (with that beautiful, artsy PCB). There are various ways to buy, including getting it in person in Berlin – and workshops from Hong Kong to Zagreb to Taoyuan. Check it out:



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Why would you want this €129 kit covered in sixty knobs?

It’s an expansion kit for an obscure boutique drum machine – and maybe the most niche product from Bastl Instruments yet. But it could be more than that.

Bastl have workbenches full of interesting projects, not to mention side projects like a coffee shop, roasted coffee bean line, a zine, and a club (seriously, all of that). So, there has certainly been a lag between what they’ve teased and what they’ve shipped. No one would accuse them of vaporware, though; they’ve been finishing all of it, and it’s clear they’re too enthusiastic to keep secrets.

In the case of this 60KNOBS kit, the controller was teased back in the heady, innocent days of February 2016. And now, here it is.

This is a kit for another kit – Sonic Potions’ wonderful LXR Drum Synthesizer. The LXR sounds really, really good. But part of what sounds so interesting – this being a drum synth and not just a box that plays back drum samples – is all its internal parameters. And what you can’t control on its front panel is … uh, those internal parameters.

So, the idea of the 60KNOBS is to give you hands-on control of all that sound stuff. The kit isn’t a terribly tough DIY build, either – it’s not hard to solder potentiometers to a board, even if you’re really clumsy. Spend a few extra euros, and you get an enclosure marked up for all its internal parameters.

As Bastl’s videos show, just twisting these little knobs gives you some great drum sounds. So already, I think we have an adorable little kit for those wanting to be a bit different from everyone else on their block – or, depending on where you come from, nation.

But it points at an interesting question: could we see more creations like this? It’s particularly compelling, given you could just print a different enclosure or overlay and use other hardware.

The 60KNOBS is already equipped for just such purposes.

You can print out a new top with other labels.
You can dump and learn MIDI controls to map to other hardware.
If you want to get fancy, you can even hack the firmware.

To get more technical, the specs:

60 controller pots independently customizable through the editor;
MIDI messages supported: CC (Control Change), NRPN (Non-Registered Parameter Number), DX7 (Yamaha sysEx DX7);
Button for MIDI DUMP current value of each knob;
MIDI IN and OUT DIN connector;
5 user customizable presets;
Indication LED shows setting changes
FTDI connector for firmware flashing (hacker friendly!)

There’s precedent for this, too. Roland, for instance, shipped the PG-300 as an add-on giving extra direct control over the classic Alpha Juno 1 and Juno 2. (In fact, maybe the 60KNOBS would work as a cheap add-on, given the PG-300 is pricey on the used market.)

But why stop there? Plug-ins? Reaktor patches? VJ rigs?

Of course, that raises the question of whether a giant array of knobs is really what you want for control. But I think we may see the pendulum swing back toward odd DIY controls, as the market is fairly well saturated with cool kit like Push and Maschine. Those provide ready-to-use gear for software environments, but they lack the standalone, portable nature of this. Plus, it’s cool to have something different.

Thoughts? Let us know.

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ETC video synth is like the love child of Tumblr and MS Paint

We may be at the saturation point for sound synthesis and modular. You know what that means: it’s time for video synthesizers.

East Coast American boutique darlings Critter & Guitari are diving into that field headfirst with their ETC video synth.

Here’s how it works. Pick a background color. Dial in a mode – from various preset animation styles. Choose to leave accumulation on or not (whether those animations stack atop one another). Add an audio input if you choose for sound reactivity. Then adjust parameters manually, or use MIDI for automation (via scenes and CC automation).

That might all be a bit limiting, but the box is open to coding your own modes via Python, too. (Cleverly, they’ve even allowed USB wifi support, so you can edit those scripts remotely. I’ll have to check out that programming capability.)

There’s also a screenshot feature, so you’ll be ready to upload images to Tumblr. And that’s a good thing … because this looks a bit like what would happen if someone turned Tumblr into an image, or fed drugs to MS Paint and had it go sentient and take over your eyes.

Now, of course, on some level what this is is essentially a computer with some knobs attached and video output. But that very trend could open the door to other similar creations. And it means the responsibility lies with the video synth makers to do what Critter & Guitari have done, which is to make their mark in smart hardware design and pour the love into the actual visuals.

Video Format: 720p, 60 Hz
¼” Mono Audio Input
¼” Footswitch Jack
MIDI input: 5-pin MIDI jack & USB-MIDI
4GB USB drive included for modes and screen grabs

Aluminum and plastic case, typical Critter & Guitari style.

Cost: US$$495 (with free shipping in the USA).

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ArduTouch is an all-in-one Arduino synthesizer learning kit for $30

This looks like a near-perfect platform for learning synthesis with Arduino – and it’s just US$30 (with an even-lower $25 target price).

It’s called ArduTouch, a new Arduino-compatible music synth kit. It’s fully open source – everything you need to put this together is available on GitHub. And it’s the work of Mitch Altman, something of a celebrity in DIY/maker circles.

Mitch is the clever inventor of the TV B-Gone – an IR blaster that lets you terminate TV power in places like airport lounges – plus brainwave-tickling gear like the Neurodreamer and Trip Glasses. (See his Cornfield Electronics manufacturer.) Indeed, some ten years ago when CDM hosted its first MusicMakers / Handmade Music event in New York, Mitch happened to be in town and put us all in a pleasant, totally drug-free trance state with his glasses. He’s also a music fan, though, so it’s great to see him get back into music synthesis.

And ArduTouch is hugely clever. It’s an Arduino clone, but instead of just some headers and pins for connecting wires (boring), it also adds a PCB touch keyboard for playing notes, some extra buttons and pots so you can control sounds, and an all-important amp and speaker, so you can hear the results on just the board. (You’ll obviously want to plug into extra gear for more power and loudness.)

You don’t have to code. Just put this together, and you can start making music.

That’s already pretty cool, but the real magic comes in the form of two additional ingredients:

Software. ArduTouch is a new library that enables the synthesis capabilities of the board. This means you can also customize synth functionality (like adding additional control or modifying the sound), or create your own synths.

Tutorials. When you want to go deeper, the other side of this is a set of documentation to teach you the basics of DSP (digital signal processing) using the board and library.

In other words, what you’ve got is an all-hardware course on DSP coding, on a $30 board. And that’s just fabulous. I’ve always thought working on a low-level with hardware is a great way to get into the basics, especially for those with no previous coding background.

Looks like I’ve got a summer project. Stay tuned. And thanks, Mitch!

This obviously needs videos and sound samples and the like so — guess we should get on that!



In the meantime, though, here’s Mitch with some great inspiration on what hacking and making is about. Mitch is uncommonly good at teaching and explaining and generally being a leader for all kinds of people worldwide. Have a look:

He also walks people through the hackerspace movement and where it came from – especially meaningful to us, as the hacklabs and knowledge transfer projects we host are rooted directly in this legacy (including via Mitch’s own contributions). This talk is really must-watch, as it’s one of the best explanations I’ve seen on what this is about and how to make it work:

Don’t know how to solder? Mitch has you covered:

And for a how-to that’s equally important, Mitch talks about how to do what you love:

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A call for emotion in musical inventions, at Berlin hacklab

Moving beyond stale means of framing questions about musical interface or technological invention, we’ve got a serious case of the feels.

For this year’s installment of the MusicMakers Hacklab we host with CTM Festival in Berlin, we look to the role of emotion in music and performance. And that means we’re calling on not just coders or engineers, not just musicians, and performers, but psychologists and neuroscientists and more, too.

The MusicMakers Hacklab I was lucky enough to found has now been running with multiple hosts and multiple countries, bringing together artists and makers of all stripes to experiment with new performances. The format is this: get everyone together in a room, and insist on people devising new ideas and working collaboratively. Then, over the course of a week, turn those ideas into performances and put those performances in front of an audience.


This year talks and performances we hope will tackle this issue of emotion in some new ways, the embodiment of feeling and mind in the work. It comes hot on the heels of working in Mexico City with arts collective Interspecifics and MUTEK Festival in collaboration with CTM. (Leslie García has been instrumental in collaborating and bringing the event to Mexico.)

The open call to come to Berlin is available for submissions through late Wednesday. If you can make it at the beginning of February, you can soak up all CTM Festival has to offer and make something new.

The theme:

Now that our sense of self is intertwined with technology, what can we say about our relationship with those objects beyond the rational? The phrase “expression” is commonly associated with musical technology, but what is being expressed, and how? In the 2017 Hacklab, participants will explore the irrational and non-rational, the sense of mind as more than simply computer, delving into the deeper frontiers of our own human wetware.

Building on 2016’s venture into the rituals of music technology, we will encourage social and interpersonal dynamics of our musical creations. We invite new ideas about how musical performance and interaction evoke feelings, and how they might realize emotional needs.

I’m really eager to share how we bring music psychology and cognition into the discussion, too, so stay tuned.

And I think that’s part of the point. Skills with code and wires are great, but they’re just part of the picture. Everything you can bring in performance technique, in making stuff, in ideas – this is all part of the technology of music, too. We have to keep pushing beyond our own comfortable skills, keep drawing connections between media, if we want to move forward.

Berlin native Byrke Lou joins us and brings her own background in performance and inter-disciplinary community, which makes me still more excited.

Full description and application form link:

MusicMakers Hacklab:
Emotional Invention. In collaboration with CDM, Native Instruments and the SHAPE Platform.

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How one community was mapping the future of visuals this summer

There’s a shift on in the worldwide community of visualists, of the growing field of people using electronic visuals as a medium for performance, art, and inquiry. As these media become more mature and more international, there’s a renewed sense of closeness among practitioners. While big media festivals focus on novelty and show, these maker-to-maker events emphasize something else: craft.

This summer seemed a particularly historic moment for not one but two tools – each of them built by small teams who make art themselves. We already covered the Berlin gathering for Isadora, the visual performance tool that has rich connections to the world of dance. Now, we get to look at TouchDesigner, which has made a name for itself as the leading go-to tool for interactive event visuals (among other things). And maybe it’s fitting that unique tools would leave a particular mark. For artists, that particular piece of software is their axe, their main instrument, something to know inside and out.

I asked Isabelle Rousset from Derivative, TouchDesigner’s developer, to help prepare a report on the gathering in Moscow.

And picking someone from the team here works, because these gatherings are family affairs. This is summer camp for visual nerds – a retreat for people of passion. And I was ready for an exhaustive “what did you do last summer” report. We got it, in the form of obsessive notes on what happened and endless leads to check out yourself.


What TouchFest was about

Moscow’s MARS Center is a hub for the city’s electronic media community – one of a handful of places everybody meets to see the latest tech and visiting artists from around the world. And in this case, that same community got their hands dirty organizing the event.

Curiosity Media Lab’s Yan Kalnberzin and Eugene Afonin spear-headed the four-day event in July. It came against the backdrop of the cancellation of Outline Festival (the last afternoon of TouchFest) – but as such, was a reminder of the possibility still latent in Moscow’s scene.

Here’s Derivative on the experience:

It was solidly packed with masterclasses, lectures, demos, audio visual performances and a ‘marathon of interactive madness’. There was zero fluff!

Derivative’s Greg Hermanovic, Markus Heckmann and Isabelle Rousset who were there to participate were blown away on many fronts: the scope, quality, range of TouchDesigner projects and applications, community engagement and support (100+ in attendance), festival programming and schedule where workshops, lectures and masterclasses ran in parallel for multiple days, the generosity and proficiency of the festival organizers for putting together such a BIG and exciting festival (while working on a major project for clients i.e. they didn’t sleep much if at all for days), the MARS Center who provided the fantastic facilities and staffing…. The volunteers and of course the performers and participants whose work and energies were very far out and intense. A ‘hotbed’ of TouchDesigner 🙂


I’m still surprised that around 250 people came))

This was a chance to learn if Moscow is ready for educational events like this. And we wanted to see how many people are really interested in the subject. I’m amazed how many people came from around Russia – three people from Krasnodar, several from Izhevsk, from Novosibirsk, and some other pretty far away cities. Ed.: Yeah – uh, Googling those myself!

We are super happy and thankful to MARS Center and their technical team. They totally made half of the event. And of course to all the speakers – mostly friends, but not all of them – that they agreed to perform for free.


Deep in technical education.

Deep in technical education.

TouchFest’s organizers were themselves long-time TouchDesigner instructors. Yan Kalnberzin and Evgeniy Afonin have been teaching the tool since 2012 – even 3- and 6-month courses. These also culminated in presentations:

Yan’s 2014 work, The Square Root of Sin, 2014

Exhibit Item Awakening, 2015 [Golden Mask winner]

As they explain:

Here at Curiosity Media Lab we often get letters about education from scratch.
As we organize such an event, inviting Touch masters from Russia and abroad, we want to give you a chance to understand at least on a basic level what they are speaking about.
Our 8 hour masterclass will start from the very beginning – fields of application, nodes, logic, interface, contexts of the program.

Yan and Evgeniy were teaching again. Other highlights:

Markus Heckmann presented an eight-hour class entitled “Developing in TouchDesigner: Python Extensions and Custom Parameters.” “The master class examined how TouchDesigner’s new Custom Parameters and Extensions helps develop complex functionality within the environment of visual programming with networks of nodes,” says Isabelle.

“Probably the longest-standing” TouchDesigner user and teacher Andrew Quinn taught a course that incorporated audio and gesture, “Sound-Reactive Visuals and Gesture Tracking.”

Recorded or live sound could then animate movement, light, and color – in two and three dimensions. Gesture tracking transforms the VJ “into a puppeteer.” Andrew is applying the same concept to coursework with kids.

He played the closing audiovisual concert with composer Nikolai Popov and six musicians from the Russian Conservatory.

Conservatory musicians join the AndrewQuinn / NikolayPopov AV performance.

Conservatory musicians join the AndrewQuinn / NikolayPopov AV performance.

Total immersive interactive chaos intensive

Three days in the Vostochnaya Gallery turned into a circus of interactive hacking, thanks to Ildar Yakubov (someone I’ve also had the pleasure to know).

I like the chaos aspect. As Isabelle describes the event, “NEITHER SEW NOR FASTEN”:

[The marathon] showed the world what pure, boundaryless and unpredictable total interactivity looks like. (At one point, I’m told, a doctor in blue scrubs came down saying he was performing an operation upstairs and the floor was shaking!) There was also a flood!

But for three days the kids worked tirelessly, connecting all kinds of materials to TouchDesigner, including:

Microsoft Kinect 2
Intel RealSense F200
Intel RealSense SR300
Arduinos with a variety of peripherials
I/O devices / physical computing
LED strips
Enttec Open DMX Ethernet
DMX controlled devices

Here’s the proposal-manifesto – slightly broken English here, sorry, but posted as-is (as maybe English can’t really describe everything they imagined)!

“Artists are really suppressed with the totality of technology and this way doomed to a both senseless and endless flirting with it” – some critics say 
“Until you are really familiar with the technology you are not able to reflect on it” – says the other 
“Turn off that weird shit or I call the police” – say the neighbours.

Armed with these tools, and using the unlimited potential Touchdesigner offers we will challenge an intuitive interface and the planned user experience.

After two days, we will create a real media art gezamkunstverk and put it to the mercy of the crowd.
Oh yes, about two days – the event will take place in a Hackathon mode: we will work tirelessly for two days. Some rumors say that on the second morning, participants will become familiar with the machine learning process and will learn to use this powerful tool in their practice!

Tools of the interactive madness.

Tools of the interactive madness.

Plotting the madness marathon.

Plotting the madness marathon.

Ildar writes:

For three days we have collected Krastinator – crazy device like a Rube Goldberg machine, the sole purpose of which was to stop the madness in and of itself. However, the rubber glove could not reach the big button, but successfully deceived Leap Motion posing as a real hand! The result of the analysis of the motion of non-existent bone defunct arms generate sound skeleton projected on screens, mixed with a picture of motorized cameras, controlled their own picture and includes a strobe on the floor rolled robo-ball, grazing contact microphones, vibration motor and the cooler is activated by a small Korg, smoke machine made his work, and all of this in an endless loop of interactions and relationships, secured by TouchDesigner.
Such collaboration with different people and skills backgrounds very useful in every sense of the activity, a huge thank you to all participants – you are super!

Lectures: praxis and philosophy

Thumbing through the notes from the lecture content, what strikes me is, you could navigate the full program without ever wanting to even use TouchDesigner user and still be really happy. There’s enough content dealing with theory and general technique. Or, on the other hand, you could come to TouchFest wanting to really hone up on skills – even from scratch – and have a ball, too.

To give these two areas physical space, the practical and technical were kept on downstairs and loftier topics literally above. (Nice.)

I was sent pages of notes, so let me summarize.



3D mapping technique with Andrew Flat, who has done everything from event design to VFX supervisor, and now is co-founder and technical director of AVEA company.

Roman Gavrilov of Curiosity Media Lab, who has spent years researching folk traditions in Russia and Ukraine and makes the leap from traditional craft to electronic media, covered LED control software GEOPIX.

SILA SVETA’s Dmitry Napolnov drew on an extensive background in events (from live motion capture to projector calibration) to present solutions to production tasks.

A roundtable discussion looked at how to present LED lighting at low costs (from DMX controllers to DIY LED).

Dmitry Karpov covered the “battle” for VR, evaluating platforms and how the technology would shake up the landscape of designers.

Derivative’s Greg Hermanovic looked at TouchDesigner past, present, and (possible) future, in a talk called “A playground for design, and how it got that way”

Other topics:
Building audiovisual instruments: advanced ways to mix human impact with algorithms, TD+Ableton+Max4Live.
Anatomy of an installation
Coding a pixelshader(GLSL TOP) with DAT nodes, for “raymarching”

Dmitry Napolnov, lecture.

Dmitry Napolnov, lecture.

Upstairs philosophy topics

Procedural Functions as a New Canon – watch:

Anna Titovets (Intektra), of Russia’s Plums Fest, went deep into the question of live performance. I will paste the whole description here, as I think it matters:

Live video performance: from fractal tunnels to live cinema
Live video performance as a social and cultural phenomenon in contemporary media art.
Talk and talk about video performance as a format, which is a kind of marker for the changes occurring in today’s information society in the context of global changes taking place with the psychology of perception of the information society, with the communication methods with the audience and global technological development. How did the “vj” what “protovidzheing” Live Cinema differs from other genres, as changes in video performance linked with the development of technology and the changes taking place in society in general and in music in particular.
As part of the lecture will discuss the main current stylistic trends shaping and live video performances that exist at the moment (from 8-bit to glitch and Camp aesthetics of mash-up and political videointerventsy to generativa and nonlinear narrative Live Cinema).

And Isabelle’s own talk sounds fascinating:

A Timeline of TouchDesigner, or, How We Got From Touch001 to Russia
This talk proposes to untangle the co-joined history of TouchDesigner’s development in the context of
1. making music visuals for raves and
2. everything that followed. Isabelle will attempt to trace TouchDesigner’s development through time, technological advancements, historical events, historical achievements, grand projects, lightning bolt moments, community development and hard work.

Ilya Ostrikov covered “the philosophy of digital art”:

Thinking out loud, or in response to your questions: Semantics and historical review – where the legs grow .. Art as a way of expression and how to make it? As a born and where to apply? Follow the trend and whether it is now fashionable?

More topics:
Code as supreme and universal coauthor

More speakers

Vadim Epstein is a top VJ – who happens to have a background in theoretical physics and 13 years consulting for HP, to boot. Now he makes generative work with code.

Kir Hachaturov and Konstantin Novikov presented their team STRUTTURA, a generative AV performance team made up of designers, coders, media artists, and musicians, seen at venues like Moscow’s Circle of Light and Berlin’s Fashion Film Festival.

Alexandr Letcius of St. Petersburg’s TUNDRA collective specializes on algorithms for AV instruments and synths, with AV installation and performances.

Markus, lecturing.

Markus, lecturing.

Markus Heckmann of the Derivative team has been doing… lots and lots and lots of work, too.

Ilya Derzaev, Curiosity Media Lab

Alexey Nadzharov, Curiosity Media Lab

Andrew Quinn


Alex Nadzharov, performance.

Alex Nadzharov, performance.

Alex Nadzharov performance.

Alex Nadzharov performance.

Here’s just a sampling of some of the AV program:


Kir Hachaturov, Konstantin Novikov

Maxim Emelianov, Alexandr Krivoshapkin

Licht pfad: Stanislav Glazov, Margo Kudrina

Ildar Yakubov performs live - the same crazy scientist behind the mayhem of the interactive marathon.

Ildar Yakubov performs live – the same crazy scientist behind the mayhem of the interactive marathon.

Fiber optic sin: Ildar Yakubov, Viktor Kudryashov

AV live – Zero One – RUSTAMO

Katarina Pits’ video of Rustamo Yusupov:

AV live – Uno
Alexandr Letcius

AV live Ilya Derzaev

AV live Markus Heckmann, WORX.

ARTRA for MIDI percussion and electronics from akipix on Vimeo.

H/5: for accordion and electronic music from akipix on Vimeo.

Nikolay Popov -"ANF-93" for ensemble and electronic (2014) from Nikolay Popov on Vimeo.

Andrew Quinn / Nikolay Popov AV performance.

Andrew Quinn / Nikolay Popov AV performance.

Seems the start of something huge.

And it’s great to be back on Create Digital Motion – as one CDM. Seems just the right moment, as visuals reach a new age.



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Ableton hacks: map anything, even Kontakt and Reaktor

Isotonik’s £22 PrEditor is the powerful mapping functionality Ableton forgot. It lets you customize the mappings of a variety of controllers to your music software, opening up custom controller arrangements and tailored interactions to support the way you play.

And the latest version does still more. Hackers and patchers will love this – whatever tool they use. If you use Reaktor, that environment is available – doubly useful now because of Reaktor’s beautiful Blocks modular environment. (There are quite a few things I prefer in Reaktor, so being able to map its controls to my Push means I may completely rethink how I do some of my live sets.)

If you prefer Max for Live, previously invisible parameters are now visible.

Native Instruments’ Kontakt is supported in this version, too, with Komplete Kontrol coming soon. That means if the Komplete Kontrol devices aren’t quite your fancy, you can still use your favorite NI software with the controller of your choice.

Also in this release, you can do more with banks – take custom-named banks, reorder them, copy/paste, and more.

This builds on a steady drumbeat of updates, which included making your own maps for Max for Live and VSTs, compatibility with the Akai APC line, Ableton’s own flagship Push and Push 2, and even the ability to unlock features that normally require those Push devices to other use cases.

I really do hope this encourages Ableton to make its own native mapping more flexible and capable and less hardware-specific. The Isotonik stuff serves as a nice proof of concept.

There’s an epic walkthrough video:

Isotonik PrEditor – V1.3.3 Walkthrough from Isotonik Studios on Vimeo.

Grab the tool here:


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Free pack connects Ableton to the physical world, Internet

You can already connect your music software to MIDI devices. But why not Internet data, video, the weather, or physical worlds of Arduino and LEGO Mindstorms, too? With a new pack released today, making connections is a matter of adding some building blocks.

Arduino connected to Ableton Live.

Arduino connected to Ableton Live. Photo courtesy Ableton.

The inclusion of Max inside Ableton Live means pretty much anything you can do in that open-ended patching environment you can do in Ableton Live. So in that sense, the free Max for Live Connection Kit actually doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do already. But what it does do is make a bunch of stuff ready to use out of the box. You can use these devices as-is, or take them as an example for your own patching if you choose.

The set looks like a boon for hackdays, education, or just trying something different in the studio. Even for experienced Max users, it’s nice having a set of idea-starters with that initial work done for you; it’s a huge motivator.

The biggest crowd pleaser is the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 brick module. Connect to the MINDSTORMS via Bluetooth, and you can receive sensor input and control motors, linking events to what’s happening in your Live set. Ableton were showing this functionality off in particular in preview days held at Berlin’s CTM Festival last month.

A Mindstorms play area, seen at CTM Festival last month (with some happy Abletons running motors and sensors)!

A Mindstorms play area, seen at CTM Festival last month (with some happy Abletons running motors and sensors)!

There are a number of devices dedicated to handling OSC (OpenSoundControl):

An OSC monitor
A device for receiving data from TouchOSC on the iPad (which also shows the active layout)
An example that sends MIDI data to OSC (with an accompanying Processing visualization example for receiving that data)
A Leap Motion example device for translating gestural data into Live

That’s pretty far from everything you’d want to do with OSC, but it’s a good starting point; because OSC is by definition open-ended, you might want to make your own device based on one of these.

There are two Arduino devices:

One device receives sensor data and sends parameters to LEDs or motors with an Arduino Uno
One is designed for use with the ins and outs of the Arduino module in littleBits

And you get three additional devices for data and video:

  • JSON Weather queries the weather over the Internet and then sonifies it – an example of how to fetch and parse data from the Web.
  • JSON Video is also an Internet example, but pulls #ableton-tagged videos from Vine.
  • Camera uses a webcam in Live and does some basic motion detection for webcam control of Live.
The Weather: now not just a reason to stay in and work on music, but also an Ableton Device!

The Weather: now not just a reason to stay in and work on music, but also an Ableton Device!

All of these devices are available on GitHub, which means Ableton can keep them up to date, but Max users can make their own modifications, too.

When you install the Connection Kit, you’ll find all of these devices grouped in Packs. There’s a brief help summary of what they all do, with full documentation on GitHub (also meaning it can be kept up to date).

Open up those patches, and you can learn a bit about how to do this stuff in Max - or modify them for your own purposes.

Open up those patches, and you can learn a bit about how to do this stuff in Max – or modify them for your own purposes.

I’m really curious to see what you’ll do with it. And this sort of functionality is a natural for Max for Live – there’s no logical way to build it natively into a host, but giving you some building blocks to play with your ideas fits perfectly. Let us know what you think – or if you have your own favorite Max creations for working with Ableton.


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Link is out of beta; videos, what’s new in Live 9.6

The funny thing about Ableton Link is that it doesn’t require Ableton Live. It isn’t even an app. It’s a sync technology, one that allows software to jam together, wirelessly, without any one clock having to be the source or “master.”

But as of today, if you do use Ableton Live, that wireless magic is built-in – and requires almost no configuration.

Live users can jam with other Live users. Live users can jam with apps. If you were on the beta, you’ve been doing this already, but with Live 9.6, the functionality is out of beta.


Link comes to Ableton Live

In case you weren’t already using the Link beta for Ableton Live 9.5, Live 9.6 quietly adds a “Link” section to preferences (in a tab now renamed “Link/MIDI”). And when connected to a WiFi network with Link devices on it (either iOS or other laptops running Ableton Live), you’ll see sync abilities.

To make this play nice with other sync tech, Link and The Bridge (if any of you still use that) are mutually exclusive, and each is disabled if running as a ReWire slave (if any of you do that).

Meanwhile, iOS developers have been busy. They’ve been making not only demos, but real-world jam sessions.

First up, a bit of an exclusive – one of my long-time favorite apps, SoundPrism from Audanika, is now updated with Link support. It’s not live on the store until tomorrow Thursday, but it brings some cool sync functionality to a lovely graphical touch instrument.

And more jams from other iOS devs, showing just how many apps support this.

Previous coverage (okay, you can tell we’re a bit excited about this):
A new free app bridges Ableton Link and MIDI (this explains how to work with iOS and MIDI hardware)

A flock of iOS devices can now jam with Ableton Link

Link could change how you play music, even without Ableton

And as before, you can find out more – and even sign up for the SDK if you’re an iOS developer.


To me, the big remaining question about Link is if and when we’ll see a desktop SDK. I’d love to see a Traktor user switch off with a live set in Ableton in a DJ booth without dropping sync, for instance, or see Live users jamming with FL Studio and Reason users… and the list goes on. I expect it’s coming, and I expect you’re as enthusiastic about that as I am.

Also, new in 9.6

Live 9.6 isn’t just about Link. A whole slew of stability improvements and fixes are in there, too. (I was much happier using the beta of this release after a couple of hiccups in 9.5).

You can check the release notes for fixes, but I’m most interested in what they’re doing with control surfaces and Simpler.

Arturia fans, there’s now control surface support for KeyLab, BeatStep, and MiniLab.

Hackers, Live’s Python interface finally supports Python 2.7. (There’s also something very cool coming to Ableton Live called the Connection Kit, which brings new options to people using technology like OSC and Arduino. They’re demoing that here in Berlin during CTM, so I’ll report more on that once I’ve had a look.)

Meanwhile, in Simpler, you see Warp mode parameters (grain size, flux) in real-time rather than per-note, improved visualizations, and other tweaks.

Oh, yeah, and if you hate Live 9.6’s clip coloring, you can bring back random clip coloring again.

9.6 is a free upgrade for current users.

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Hack a Grid: Novation Makes Launchpad Pro Firmware Open Source


Novation’s Launchpad Pro has just begun shipping, and it’s lovely, very flexible hardware. You can use it with Ableton Live. You can use it with other software, as a standard MIDI controller. It’s USB class-compliant, so it works with other devices and operating systems, like the iPad and Raspberry Pi. You can change how it works with Max for Live, or any software that supports MIDI. And it works in a variety of standalone modes, so you can use it to play hardware without connecting to a computer.

That’s a lot, already. But soon, the Launchpad Pro could do more.

Novation quietly released a special customizable firmware as open source code on GitHub. And, inspired by recent Head of Product Innovation Dave Hodder has even written a screed about hacking. Despite the Launchpad-specific headline, it’s actually more or less a love letter to the whole hacker / DIYer / open source community, generally:

Launchpad Pro: A Hacker’s Dream

Now, you’re not actually hacking the entire Novation firmware. That’d cause potential mayhem, and apart from being a support nightmare for Novation, it’d be more or less a nightmare for you, too – and wouldn’t really yield any interesting results.

Instead, you can think of this as an open API to the hardware itself. You can’t “brick” the device, or otherwise break it. What you can do is make new applications for the Launchpad Pro as a standalone device.

In your code, you can include messages to and from the hardware:

  • Receive events when you press the pads and buttons
  • Receive messages from the USB port or MIDI port (there are MIDI input and output jacks on the Launchpad Pro)
  • Send messages to the USB and MIDI ports
  • Receive tick messages – so your app can sync to an external source
  • Change the LED colors

Thanks to the Novation team for messing with our synth at a hack day recently!

Thanks to the Novation team for messing with our synth at a hack day recently!

At your disposal is the Launchpad Pro’s brain, an ARM Cortex M3 from STMicroelectronics. (72 MHz, baby!) To make life easier, they’ve even built a virtual machine you can install so your developer environment is ready to run. Then, you build on a command line or in Eclipse and upload via MIDI – fairly easy stuff.

You code in C – the app.c file shows you what’s going on. Even with pretty basic coding skills, it’s pretty accessible; that’s the advantage of them hiding away the nasty stuff you’d only want to touch if you were an experienced developer and Novation offered you a job.

With just those elements, you can do a whole lot. Fun hacks light light shows and games are possible, and might be an enjoyable way to learn. But you’ll also be able to create musical applications that aren’t already on the hardware, like chord generators, arpeggiators, or even a step sequencer.

This could be huge for Launchpad Pro owners even if you aren’t a coder, because it could mean a community around the device sharing this stuff and supporting one another.

To make things even easier, though, we’re talking with Novation about how some examples might be produced that will help get people started.

launchpad_pro - 1

I love the idea, though, as a musician as much as a hacker. It opens up the possibility of having standalone hardware in the studio you can use with or without a computer, ready to perform the tasks you want in your music creation process. And it means you can imagine something and get it working on hardware without the daunting task of trying to build something from scratch. I think it’s potentially a great companion to our open source, standalone, ready-to-play MeeBlip synth – you’ll spot one in the shot above, getting some use at the recent MIDI Hack in Berlin. And I don’t just mean as a product – it’s something I want to use with my MeeBlips, myself!

There really isn’t any direct comparison, either – grid hardware with velocity and standalone operation that you can hack directly on the device. Of course, the whole initiative from Novation does owe a huge debt, though, to the monome line, and the fact that that maker and its community really championed and popularized the idea of sharing open musical solutions around a piece of hardware. It’s difficult to overstate the impact Brian Crabtree, Kelli Cain, and the monome musicians have had on the industry, as well as all the people who have been organizing these hack days and producing creative ideas.

Stay tuned for more on where this is leading. And if you have feedback on that API or what you’d like to see, let us know in comments.


Photo: Sebastian Höglund.

The post Hack a Grid: Novation Makes Launchpad Pro Firmware Open Source appeared first on Create Digital Music.