Years of MySpace music deleted; Internet weeps

It’s not so much that anyone expected MySpace to be alive at this point, let alone a safe place for music uploads. The demise of years of MySpace music is more like a sad reminder of the direction of the Internet.

First, there’s actually a few events in the timeline of how so much music disappeared from the service in the first place.

Remember that about ten years ago it had only just been surpassed by Facebook. Since then, relative traffic, revenue, and headcount have plunged dramatically. The 2016 acquisition by Time Inc. was of a far weaker company, but even then ad revenue was seen as its value. Part of what Apple, Spotify, Facebook, and Google-owned YouTube have done, arguably, is weaken the overall market for ad revenue and premium services in music. That’s why it’s still worth watching SoundCloud’s creator-driven strategy, in contrast to the rest of the industry.

In the midst of the business meltdown, the circumstances of MySpace’s “loss” of years of much are highly suspicious.

Users on reddit have been the ones to chronicle what was going on at each step. Keep in mind, here they’re referring to their own user-uploaded content.

About one year ago, reddit users reported being unable to access a lot of previously available music, and got this cryptic response from MySpace:

There is an issue with all songs/videos uploaded over 3 years ago. We are aware of the issue and I have been informed the issue will be fixed, however, there is no exact time frame for when this will be completed. Until this is resolved the option to download is not available. I apologize for the inconvenience this may be causing.

Also from March of last year:

We’re in the process of doing a huge maintenance project for videos and songs. Due to this maintenance, you may notice some issues playing songs or videos. During this process, there may be possible downtime. We are actively working to ensure there is little to no issues with your listening experience. Please bear with us.

You may also notice missing artwork during this transition. We’re diligently working to get this resolved asap.

Please also note, all FLV videos can no longer be played due to an update to the player. We updated our player to HTML5. Unfortunately, we do not offer a way to play or download these videos.

Eight months ago, the player displayed this notice:

As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace. We apologize for the inconvenience and suggest that you retain your back up copies. If you would like more information, please contact our Data Protection Officer, Dr. Jana Jentzsch at DPO@myspace.com.

The timeline of news around the issue this week is actually incorrect, because it appears that all of this happened about a year ago. Seven months ago was when one redditer got a notice from the company saying files had been deleted. Yet only this week it seems mainstream sites (including this one, erm, okay mainstream sites plus this one) took notice.

You’ll notice what happened there. Files disappeared without notice, then messages suggested that they might be somehow part of a migration, then suddenly they were “corrupted.”

By the way, Dr. Jentzsch apparently a third-party legal counsel in Germany, not MySpace management.

This paints a clear picture. It’s highly unlikely that this was an engineering error so much as the company poorly managing messaging about dropping old content entirely. That was the theory put forward on Twitter by Andy Vaio, veteran of Kickstarter, waxy, upcoming.org, and others:

Uh, yeah:

In fact, the language used (“corrupted,” “server migration”) also appears not to be written by an engineer – in that an engineer would be more specific.

BBC and I are at least seven or eight months, maybe one year late on this, but yes, it’s on BBC:

MySpace admits losing 12 years’ worth of music uploads

But, okay, this part is obvious.

Equally obvious: you shouldn’t count on services to be the only copy of your stuff. These services generally have no obligation to keep things accessible.

Also equally obvious: a lot of us know that and do it anyway.

Obvious follow-up: we should go right now to places with our music, download it, and put it multiple places that are safe – both physically and online.

No, like right now.

And we should be particularly mistrusting of big services this month, in which both Gmail and Facebook suffered major, multi=hours outages for which their enormously wealth corporate owners provided absolutely no explanation.

There’s a broader issue, though, beyond our own stuff. We need to begin to properly archive online content, and imagine how it will be more widely available – what we assumed the Internet would do in the first place. And there, folks like Jason Scott of the Internet Archive have been working on just that.

Charmingly, he’s even archiving skins for Winamp:

But I think we need a complete reboot of what we’re doing with the Internet for music. I’ll be writing about that in coming weeks and trying to get your input (readers) and the input of other people involved in projects from the past, present, and future.

The situation right now is bleak – and the fact that people really were still looking to MySpace for their music demonstrates how bleak. Music uploaded to the “old Internet” may quickly be lost forever. Music now disappears into a black box of distribution services. Some of those distributors will actually remove music from streaming and download sites if the creators or publishers don’t pay up on a regular basis. And once on these sites, many artists will never see any amount of real, measurable income – whatever Spotify and Apple may be quarreling about currently.

In fact, I’d go as far as arguing that the focus on whether music makers get paid for their work ignores the fact that a lot of music makers feel they aren’t heard at all.

Which brings us back to MySpace. The early days of the Internet were full of music – even illegal music. It was the age of the netlabel. And then MySpace was the dominant social network from 2004 to 2010 – meaning that social media was dominated by music.

Obviously, that’s not the case now. Now we have “influencers” and selfies and literally Neo-Nazis and hate speech and fake news and almost everything but music.

If people are suddenly lamenting the loss of years-old data on MySpace, it could be because music online hasn’t grown as we hoped it would.

There’s still time to change that. We’re not getting any younger – and neither is the Web. So that time is now.

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Visualize pitch like John Coltrane with this mystical image

Some musicians see Islamic mysticism; some the metaphysics of Einstein. But whether spiritual, theoretical, or both, even one John Coltrane pitch wheel is full of musical inspiration.

One thing’s certain – if you want your approach to pitch to be as high-tech and experimental as your instruments, Coltrane’s sketchbook could easily keep you busy for a lifetime.

Unpacking the entire music-theoretical achievements of John Coltrane could fill tomes – even this one picture has inspired a wide range of different interpretations. But let’s boil it down just to have a place to start. At its core, the Coltrane diagram is a circle of fifths – a way of representing the twelve tones of equal temperament in a continuous circle, commonly used in Western music theory (jazz, popular, and classical alike). And any jazz player has some basic grasp of this and uses it in everything from soloing to practice scales and progressions.

What makes Coltrane’s version interesting is the additional layers of annotation – both for what’s immediately revealing, and what’s potentially mysterious.

Sax player and blogger Roel Hollander pulled together a friendly analysis of what’s going on here. And while he himself is quick to point out he’s not an expert Coltrane scholar, he’s one a nice job of compiling some different interpretations.

JOHN COLTRANE’S TONE CIRCLE

See also Corey Mwamba’s analysis, upon which a lot of that story draws

Open Culture has commented a bit on the relations to metaphysics and the interpretation of various musicians, including vitally Yusef Lateef’s take:

John Coltrane Draws a Picture Illustrating the Mathematics of Music

Plus if you like this sort of thing, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of Yusef Lateef’s Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns [Peter Spitzer blog review] – that’s related to what you (might) see here.

Take it with some grains of salt, since there doesn’t seem to be a clear story to why Coltrane even drew this, but there are some compelling details to this picture. The two-ring arrangement gives you two whole tone scales – one on C, and one on B – in such a way that you get intervals of fourths and fifths if you move diagonally between them.

Scanned image of the mystical Coltrane tone doodle.

Corey Mwamba simplified diagram.

That’s already a useful way of visualizing relations of keys in a whole tone arrangement, which could have various applications for soloing or harmonies. Where this gets more esoteric is the circled bits, which highlight some particular chromaticism – connected further by a pentagram highlighting common tones.

Even reading that crudely, this can be a way of imagining diminished/double diminished melodic possibilities. Maybe the most suggestive take, though, is deriving North Indian-style modes from the circled pitches. Whether that was Coltrane’s intention or not, this isn’t a bad way of seeing those modal relationships.

You can also see some tritone substitutions and plenty of chromaticism and the all-interval tetrachord if you like. Really, what makes this fun is that like any such visualization, you can warp it to whatever you find useful – despite all the references to the nature of the universe, the essence of music is that you’re really free to make these decisions as the mood strikes you.

I’m not sure this will help you listen to Giant Steps or A Love Supreme with any new ears, but I am sure there are some ideas about music visualization or circular pitch layouts to try out. (Yeah, I might have to go sketch that on an iPad this week.)

(Can’t find a credit for this music video, but it’s an official one – more loosely interpretive and aesthetic than functional, released for Untitled Original 11383. Maybe someone knows more… UMG’s Verve imprint put out the previously unreleased Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album last year.)

How might you extend what’s essentially a (very pretty) theory doodle to connecting Coltrane to General Relativity? Maybe it’s fairer to say that Coltrane’s approach to mentally freeing himself to find the inner meaning of the cosmos is connected, spiritually and creatively. Sax player and astrophysicist professor (nice combo) Stephon Alexander makes that cultural connection. I think it could be a template for imagining connections between music culture and physics, math, and cosmology.

Images (CC-BY-ND) Roel’s World / Roel Hollander

and get ready to get lost there:

https://roelhollander.eu/

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Free download: A 400-page guide to experimental Eastern Europe sounds

If experimental music and Europe make you think only of cities like Paris and London, you’re missing a big part of the story. Now you can grab a huge reference on fringe and weird electronic music from the east – and it’s free. (At least that would please Marx.)

Berlin, and Europe in general, have exploded as hubs for experimental sounds. And if you want an answer to why that’s happened lately, look in no small part to the ingenuity, technical and artistic, of central and eastern Europe. These artistic cultures flourished during the Cold War, sometimes with support from Communist states, sometimes very much in the face of adversity and resistance from those same nations. And then in a more connected Europe, brought together by newly open borders and cheap road and air transit, a younger generation continues to advance the state of the art – and the state of the weird.

Old biases die hard, though. Cold War (or simply racist) attitudes often rob central and eastern Europe of deserved credit. And then there’s the simple problem of writing a history that’s fragmented by language and divisions that arose between East and West.

So it’s worth checking out this guide. It’s an amazing atlas covering history and new scenes, and the PDF edition is now available to download for free (if you can’t locate the print version).

SOUND EXCHANGE was a project from 2012-2012, connected to events in seven cities – Kraków, Bratislava, Tallinn, Vilnius, Budapest, Riga and, Prague. That’s Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, and Czech, respectively. It’s also relevant that we’re seeing these countries produce music tech alongside music – Bastl Instruments in Czech, Polyend in Poland, and Erica Synths in Latvia, just to name three that have lately gotten a lot of attention (and there are others).

There’s 400 pages – in both German and English – with a huge range of stuff. There’s fringe rock music in Germany, radio art from Czech, intermedia and multimedia art from across the region, what Latvia has been up to in experimental music since independence … and the list goes on. Technology and music practice go hand in hand, too, as workshops and music concerts intertwine to spread new ideas – both before and after the fall of communism, via different conduits.

It’s a fitting moment to rediscover this exhibition; CTM Festival here in Berlin has been a showcase for some of the east-meets-west projects including Sound Exchange’s outcomes. And CTM itself is arguably a recipient of a lot of that energy, in the one capital that sits astride east and west – even today, in some ways, minus the wall. The festival is turning 20 this year, and not incidentally, East Berlin-founded label Raster is showcasing its own artists in an exhibition and DJ sets.

Maybe it’s not bedtime reading, but even a skim is a good guide:

http://www.soundexchange.eu/

Download (uh, happy to re-host this if the bandwidth doesn’t hold up – I know how the kids love their Latvian experimental music book research):
http://www.soundexchange.eu/seiffarth_stabenow_foellmer%E2%80%93sound_exchange_2012.pdf

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Buchla’s pioneering Thunder touch controller is back, on Sensel Morph

Software and hardware are finally becoming more responsive to expression from more than one finger at a time, via MPE. But how do you get those sounds under your hands? Sensel Morph is one answer. And now it has an appealing layout from one of the people who shaped synthesis – Don Buchla.

Human hands are pretty incredibly sensitive, capable ways of interacting with the world. And your brain – even untrained – has enormous capacity to imagine sound. So why is it that we’re still limited to simple grids of buttons and organ keyboards? (Nothing against those things, of course, they’re fine – but is that all there is?)

The answer to this has always boiled down to some chicken and egg arguments. You don’t have the hardware to control sounds. You don’t have software capable of making sounds for which you’d want more control. There isn’t a standard way of connecting the two. Even if there were, there wouldn’t be enough adoption.

And so the argument continued, in circles. And it was actally true – for a while. But now, software instruments from Sculpture in Apple’s Logic to the Moog and PPG apps on iPad to Softube and Cherry Audio software modulars have MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) support, which allows for more control information between your controller and your sounds. Hardware like Black Corporation Deckard’s Dream and various Eurorack modules do, too, so you can really get your Vangelis fantasies on. And sounds like physical modeling or granular synthesis or even just rich polyphonic patches suddenly make sense when you can intuitively connect all that finger sensitivity to electronic instruments.

That just leaves the missing link – finding a hardware interface you like. ROLI are big advocates, yes, as are some smaller boutique makers. But what if you don’t like those options? (Musicians certainly don’t agree about … anything.)

Sensel’s Morph is a compelling new option now for several reasons. It’s an affordable computer accessory. And while the sensor is a flat rectangle – looking a lot like a mousepad – you can swap overlays to give it different functions. (Joué have taken essentially the same approach.) Sensel in particular have unparalleled support for different third party use cases. There are overlays for various apps – from music production to video editing – so you don’t have to buy this just for the novelty of doing weird things with synths. (Yeah, the fact that you just change overlays and get some edits done in Premiere makes this a lot easier to justify as a purchase and as another thing taking up space on your desk.)

Okay, that handles a lot of rational reasons to consider this device. But to really feel passionate about something as an instrument, you actually need one layout that you stick with, and it has to resonate emotionally.

So here’s the interesting development. Sensel have partnered with Buchla U.S.A. to recreate a classic instrumental interface that might have just been a bit ahead of its time.

Don Buchla conceived the Thunder in 1989. The layout makes loads of sense — diagonal strips give you continuous control, but with guides that match a resting hand position and put controls where your hands would go. It’s a layout that looks like something out of Star Trek – and, well, it also proved to be mostly speculative, because few were made and there wasn’t at the time as much for it to control.

Now times have changed – both hardware and software are far more powerful, meaning they’re capable of generating the sort of real-time nuance that demands this sort of control. And apart from that, whereas for years Buchla’s designs languished because they seemed foreign, now more and more people seem to be ready to make weird and complex sounds.

It seems like the Thunder is poised for a comeback, that is. The Thunder overlay, combined with the Morph sensor, gives you 27 different continuously-sensitive note areas. That’s already useful for conventional MIDI, but with MPE you get independent values for velocity (how hard you initially hit it), how hard you’re pressing down at any given moment, and how quickly you release. You can bend notes by subtly shifting your fingers sideways, or map timbral parameters to position.

Buchla’s 1989 hardware. There have also been touch version for modular.

A pre–production prototype of the new overlay – final production run looks better, Sensel tells us. Courtesy the manufacturer, for CDM.

It’s also encouraging that Sensel involved Buchla designer/engineer Joel Davel. Joel has unparalleled bona fides on both the engineering and artistic side, having made circuits for Don from 1995 onward, and working as a composer and instrumentalist with ongoing collaborations with Amy X Neuburg and Paul Dresher. The recent history of electronic music is defined by nothing if not the spread of once-esoteric ideas from limited elite contexts to wider groups of curious minds. So even though this may be a piece of rubber you slap on a rectangle on your desk, it also represents the potential of some of those ideas getting in the hands of new people.

And you can do all of this for US$269 – preorders now, shipping in April. (If you’ve already got Sensel, the overlay alone will cost you US$59 – so that overlay scheme is definitely less costly than buying new hardware every time you want to do something a little different.)

Anything that has a USB port will work with this – so computer software is the natural companion, though if you have a USB host device that outputs control voltage, you can also hook it up to a modular. If you want to see it in action and you’re in Anaheim, Sensel are demoing the hardware and overlay at NAMM this year.

So sure, this won’t be for everyone. And yeah, it still looks like you’ve invested in a Klingon gamepad. But for the cost of a plug-in, you can now use this – and add some productivity on the side as you mix or edit in other applications.

I should have one to test. I’ve worked with the Morph – the sensing and physical experience are great – so now I’m just waiting to see what it’s like using this as an instrument. And I look forward to doing some practicing.

Announcing the Buchla Thunder Overlay [Sensel Blog]

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This playlist is full of wonderful ARP music – some might surprise you

As we remember Alan R. Pearlman and the impact his instruments had on music, here’s a survey of the many places ARP sounds appeared in music culture. It’s a reminder of just how profound electronic music tools can be in their influence – and of the unique age in which we live.

Perhaps now is the perfect time for an ARP revival. With modular synthesis reaching ever-wider audiences, the ARP creations – the 2500, 2600, and Odyssey featured here – represent something special. Listen across these tracks, and you’re struck by the unique colors of those ARP creations across a range of genres. It’s also significant that each of these designs in their own way struck a balance between modularity and accessibility, sound design and playability. That includes making instruments that had modular patching capability but also produced useful sounds at each patch point by default – that is, you don’t have to wire things up just to make something happen. That in turn also reduces cable spaghetti, because the patch connections you make represent the particular decisions you made deviating from the defaults. On the 2500, this involves a matrix (think Battleship games, kids), which is also a compelling design in the age of digital instruments and software.

And lest we get lost in sound design, it’s also worth noting how much these things get played. In the era of Eurorack, it’s easy to think music is just about tweaking … but sometimes it’s just as useful to have a simple, fresh sound and then just wail on it. (Hello, Herbie Hancock.)

It’s easy to forget just how fast musical sound has moved in a couple of generations. An instrument like the piano or violin evolved over centuries. Alan R. Pearlman literally worked on some of the first amplifiers to head into space – the Mercury and Gemini programs that first sent Americans into space and orbit, prior to Apollo’s journey to the moon. And then he joined the unique club of engineers who have remade music – a group that now includes a lot of you. (All of you, in fact, once you pick up these instruments.)

So I say go for it. Play a preset in a software emulation. Try KORG’s remake of the Odyssey. Turn a knob or re-patch something. Make your own sound design – and don’t worry about whether it’s ingenious or ground-breaking, but see what happens when you play it. (Many of my, uh, friends and colleagues are in the business of creating paid presets, but I have the luxury of making some for my own nefarious music production purposes that no one else has to use, so I’m with you!)

David Abravanel puts together this playlist for CDM:

Some notes on this music:

You know, we keep talking about Close Encounters, but the actual sound of the ARP 2500 is very limited. The clip I embedded Monday left out the ARP sound, as did the soundtrack release of John Williams’ score. The appearance is maybe more notable for the appearance of ARP co-founder David Friend at the instrument – about as much Hollywood screen time as any synth manufacturer has ever gotten. Oh, and … don’t we all want that console in our studio? But yes, following this bit, Williams takes over with some instrumental orchestration – gorgeous, but sans-ARP.

So maybe a better example of a major Hollywood composer is Jerry Goldsmith. The irony here is, I think you could probably get away with releasing this now. Freaky. Family Guy reused it (at the end). We’ll never defeat The Corporation; it’s true.

It’s also about time to acknowledge that Stevie Wonder combined Moog and ARP instruments, not just Moog. As our industry looks at greater accessibility, it’s also worth noting that Wonder was able to do so without sight.

What about U2? Well, that’s The Edge’s guitar routed through the ARP 2600 for filter distortion and spring reverb. That’s a trick you can steal, of course – especially easily now that Arturia has an emulation of the 2600.

Expect our collective reader knowledge exceeds anything we can contribute so – let us know what other artists using ARP inspired you, and if you have any notes on these selections.

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The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again

First it was dead. Then, it came back but … inexplicably cost four thousand bucks and seemed to be for audiophiles, not DJs. Now, at last, the iconic* Technics SL-1200 turntable is back, and in a newly-manufactured form that might actually suit DJs.

The pitch: take advanced tech, learned from Blu-ray players, and turn it into an accessible turntable that delivers the performance and playing style of traditional players, with greater reliability and better sound.

If you don’t particularly need the name “Technics” on your turntable, of course, this may not even qualify as news. Manufacturers from Pioneer to Reloop now make reasonably affordable turntables that expand on the legacy of the Technics turntable and enable DJs to play decks like an instrument.

A couple of years ago when Panasonic revised the SL-1200 name, it at first seemed the company was surrendering the DJ market to those rivals. The first SL-1200GAE/1200G was a heavy, expensive machine engineered to within an inch of its life for vinyl consumers and deep-pocketed audiophiles. (Okay, I want to say “suckers.” At least people with money to burn.) Bizarrely, there wasn’t much mention of the DJs or hip hop producers who made the SL series famous in the first place. (Wired got the first preview; Vinyl Factory commented on the company’s explanation of that $4000 sticker shock.)

Now, it seems, we’re back to reality. The new SL-1200MK7 has specs more like a normal SL-1200, has marketing and specs intended for DJs, and while we don’t know the price, at least returns to a normal weight (just under 10kg).

The SL-1200MK7 (aka the SL-1210MK7 in Europe) then can be fairly dubbed the first Matsushita/Panasonic turntable for DJs to come off the assembly line in nine years – and the first in nine years to be a direct successor to the 1972 original 1200.

Onboard, some new engineering, now again in the service of DJs:

Coreless direct drive motor – okay, first, Panasonic are again making a new motor, apparently even after the 2016 audiophile take on this. It’s a direct drive motor like the original, but Technics promises the torque of the MK5, but without the iron core that can cause cogging (inconsistencies that impact audio quality).

To put it more briefly – this is the kind of more reliable motor Technics was pushing, but this time not so damned heavy and expensive.

Also new:

Reverse it. Provided you have a compatible phono cartridge, you can enable a reverse play function accessed by hitting the speed selector and Start/Stop at the same time.

Scratch-friendly – with computer control. Here’s the surprise: you get new motor control Panasonic have borrowed from the development of Blu-ray drives, using microprocessors to keep the motor operating smoothly. The MK7 tunes that relationship, says Technics, to work across playing styles – including DJing. What else does that mean?

Pitch is digitally controlled. Greater accuracy of pitch adjustment is another side benefit, because the motor can respond interactively as you play.

Well, apparently the original silver color is now reserved for audiophiles.

But there’s no question this is a sign of the times. Where as the digital age first seemed to jettison old brands and old technologies, all of them are back with a vengeance, from film photography to turntables to synthesizers. And finally even the likes of Japanese titan Panasonic, Technics parent company, are getting the memo. Just like a violinist wants particular features out of a violin, a DJ has expectations of what a turntable should be – not only appearance or moniker, but engineering.

And, let’s be honest, there is something nice about seeing new Technics in production.

Now the question is, can Panasonic trickle down new advanced tech in motors and control, inherited from advanced Blu-ray players, to the traditional turntable? If they can, they might just be able to best some of the other commodity turntables on the market.

Full details:
https://www.technics.com/us/news/20190107-sl-1200mk7/ [Press release]

[Product page]

A timeline of Technics turntables

The SP-10 started it all – at least introducing the world to direct drive turntables. But notice it didn’t even have its own integrated tonearm.

DJ Kool Herc was far enough ahead of the curve that he started on the 1971 SL-1100, not the SL-1200.

1970: SP-10
World’s first direct drive turntable (the enabling technology that would enable DJing technique and scratching)

1971: SL-1100
Starts to look like the turntables we know (integrated tonearm and platter). Used by hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc.

1972: SL-1200/SL-1210
You’d feel at home cueing and beatmatching on this, but – note that the speed control was on a dial. (The 1210 variation of this is a Euro-friendly model with voltage selection and black, not silver.)

1979: SL-1200MK2
The SL-1200 was already a standard, but the MK2 looks more like the template DJs recognize today. Influenced by a field trip to Chicago clubs, the engineers unveiled the MK2 with Quartz Lock, a big pitch fader (whew!), and other details like a vibration-soaking cabinet and rubber.

Later revisions added other minor improvements, but it was really the MK2 that looks like the template for all DJ turntables to come – particularly thanks to pitch being on a fader and not a tiny knob (once Japanese engineers worked out how artists in Chicago were using pitch).

1989: SL-1200MK3
Improvements largely around vibration.

1997: SL-1200MK3D
The end of the center click pitch controller (so you could get hairline adjustments around zero more accurately).

2000: SL-1200MK5
Sort of the gold standard here, based on tiny performance enhancements and details like brake speed adjustment. See also the MK5G variation, 2002.

2019: SL-1200MK7/SL-120MK7
All-new motor, digitally-controlled pitch, reverse play.

And yes, I agree with my colleague James Grahame of MeeBlip in thinking this is all becoming a bit like the modern Spitfire kit remake planes, the Submarine Spitfires.

All photos courtesy Technics.

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Synth pioneer Alan R. Pearlman, founder of ARP, has died

One of the great names in synthesis, founder of a brand that helped define what electronic sound is today, was lost over the weekend. ARP Instruments founder Alan R. Pearlman died Sunday the 6th, and synthesists worldwide remember the legacy he leaves.

Pearlman started ARP and was a principle engineer, specifically of the ground-breaking 2500 and 2600 modular synthesizers.

It may be hard to conceive now, but there was a time when ARP and Moog were major rivals. And it’s worth noting that Pearlman was uniquely advanced in his vision. Even as an engineering student in 1948, he looked forward to a time not so far off “when the electronic instrument may take its place … as a versatile, powerful, and expressive instrument” – provided those engineers paid attention “to the needs of the musician.”

And so in 1977, when Close Encounters of the Third Kind imagined an instrument that was far enough advanced to communicate with aliens, they chose the ARP 2500 that was Pearlman’s first commercial instrument. And Close Encounters were far from alone, as even the Martian voices were ARP 2500 produced in Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.

Other notable 2500 instrumentalists: David Bowie, Jean Michel Jarre, The Who… and Eliane Radigue:

The 2600 was itself legendary enough to be fairly dubbed a holy grail.

And speaking of space aliens, the one Doctor Who variant that matches Delia Derbyshire’s haunting whoo-whoo sounds with some sparkles and badass bass is also made on an ARP (the Odyssey), by Peter Howell:

And while the Rhodes Chroma originated at ARP was hardly a huge success, it is in many ways a template for the computer-integrated workstation-style instruments to follow.

Remembering Alan:

Richard Boulanger notes the unique musicality of this engineer’s vision and the impact it had – and that leading right up to his illness, he kept dreaming up new instrumental ideas:

.Yes, even at 90 and beyond, Alan R Pearlman was still dreaming of new circuits, modules, and controllers!) Undeniably, Alan R Pearlman was an engineering genius. Everyone recognizes that his synthesizers were beyond brilliant. But I truly believe that the heart and soul in his machines drew their spirit and life from Alan’s musical virtuosity on the piano, his truly deep musical knowledge, his passion and enthusiasm for “all” music, and his nurturing and generous support for young composers and performers, regardless of whether they were into classical, avantgarde, film, fusion, rock or pop. He wanted to make something that we could play with, that we could play on, and maybe even learn about music as we played (check out his “Learning Music Through Synthesizers” book and his MSL boxes). Alan R Pearlman created truly playable electronic musical “instruments”. He made aesthetically and ergonomically beautiful instruments, and beautiful sounding instruments. His synthesizers opened our eyes and ears to new sonic worlds

NAMM has an oral history interview

He recalls first seeing the Buchla, and the impact of Moog’s controller approach. The company was named with his nickname (and initials ) – ARP. And arguably ARP’s approach to matrix switching (ARP 2500) and hard-wired control even with patch cord access (ARP 2600) is still valuable today.

Just how modern can the ARP designs be? That was proven when KORG revived the Odyssey recently, with some input from Pearlman, along with a collaboration with ARP co-founder David Friend.

And while we think of Moog and Buchla, ARP also significantly contributed to a lot of the technological innovations of the modern synth, as evidenced by this list of ARP patents (thanks to Synthtopia for spotting that):

http://www.till.com/articles/arp/patents.html

Various ARP owners have been posting tributes:

And have long sung the magic of these instruments – here’s Marc Doty, giving the instrument extrahuman autonomy:

Surviving daughter Dina Pearlman shared the news yesterday:

ARP employee Rick Parent shares his remembrances, along with ARP’s David A. Frederick:

David Mash remembers:

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An exploration of silence, in a new exhibition in Switzerland

What’s the sound of an exhibition devoted to silence? From John Cage recreations to the latest in interactive virtual reality tech, it turns out there’s a lot. The exhibition’s lead Jascha Dormann tells us more – and gives us a look inside.

The results are surprisingly poetic – like a surrealist listening playground on the topic of isolation.

“Sounds of Silence” opened this month at the Museum of Communication in Bern, Switzerland, and is on through July 2019. Just as John Cage’s revelation that visiting an anechoic chamber was, in fact, noisey, “silence” in this case challenges listening and exploration. It’s about surprise, not void. As the exhibition creators say, “the search for a place where stillness may be experienced, however, becomes difficult: stillness is holding sway only in outer space – yet even there the astronaut is hearing his own breaths.”

Inside the exhibition, there’s not a word of written text, and few traditional photos or videos. Instead, you get abstract spatial graphics. Tracking systems respond as you navigate the exhibit, and an unseen voice hints at what you might do. There’s a snowy cotton-like entry, radio-like sound effects, and then a pathway to explore silence from the start of the universe until this century.

And you get some unique experiences: the isolation tank invented by neurophysiologist John C. Lilly, 3D soundscapes, Sarah Maitland talking to you about her experience in seclusion on the Isle of Skye, and yes, Cage’s iconic if ironic “4’33”.” The Cage work is realized as an eight-channel ORTF 3D audio recording, from a performance by Staatsorchester Stuttgart at the Beethovensaal Stuttgart. (That has to be silence’s largest-ever orchestration, I suppose.) It’s silence in full immersive sound.

“The piece had never been recorded in 3D-audio before,” says Dormann. “We have then implemented the recording into the interactive sound system so visitors can experience it in a version that’s binauralized in real-time.”

Recording silence – in 3D! The session in Stuttgart, Germany.

Photos source: Museum of Communication Bern
Digitale Massarbeit

Exhibition credits:

Sound Concept and Sound Production Lead: Jascha Dormann (Idee und Klang GmbH)
Sound Concept and Sound Design: Ramon De Marco (Idee und Klang GmbH)
Sound Design: Simon Hauswirth (Idee und Klang GmbH)
Development Sound System: Steffen Armbruster (Framed immersive projects GmbH & Co. KG)
Sound Implementation: Marc Trinkhaus (Framed immersive projects GmbH & Co. KG)
Performance John Cage – 4’33’’: Staatsorchester Stuttgart conducted by Cornelius Meister
Recording John Cage – 4’33’’: Jascha Dormann at Beethovensaal / Liederhalle Stuttgart
Project in general
Project Lead and Curator: Kurt Stadelmann (Museum of Communication)
Project Manager: Angelina Keller (Museum of Communication)
Scenography: ZMIK spacial design, / Rolf Indermühle
Exhibition Graphics: Büro Berrel Gschwind, / Dominique Berrel
Author: Bettina Mittelstrass
Head of Exhibitions at Museum of Communication: Christian Rohner (Museum of Communication)

Various events are running alongside the exhibition; full details on the museum’s site:

Exhibitions: Sounds of Silence

More images:

http://www.mfk.ch/en/

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Gallery: a new documentary digs into techno’s 80s Detroit roots

“God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines” is the story through the eyes of a documentary team that grew up in Detroit – and with time running out, they’re short of their funding goal. Happily, you have the power to change that.

God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines: The Story of Detroit Techno

Behind all the history and legend, there’s always a human story of how things happen. What’s appealing about this film above others is, it’s not just one icon or one machine, but the relationships between the artists that takes the spotlight. And, it’s at last a film about Detroit’s influence from Detroit’s perspective – not just the European scene where the genre eventually turned into a runaway financial success.

The requisite originators all star – Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Eddie Fowlkes, Blake Baxter, and more – so this is definitely one I look forward to watching.

Of course, funding independent film is these days a major ordeal, particularly for American filmmakers. And so it’s disheartening to see that with days running out on crowd funding, the filmmakers haven’t made their very modest funding goals. There are some lovely benefits in there – just US$5 gets you an exclusive mixtape – so I hope you’ll get the chance to give this a nod.

Motor City natives Kristian Hill and Jennifer Washington are looking just for the finishing funds to put this out.

I asked Jennifer to walk us through some stills from the film, so here’s an exclusive gallery for CDM.

Young child at Movement Festival, Detroit.

Motor City, now.

Cover of Record Mirror, June 1988.

The Scene Dance Show, Detroit, circa 1983.

Cybotron’s vision of future cities, 1983.

Blake Baxter plays those drum machines.

Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Juan Atkins.

Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes.

Classic Transmat label, illustrated by Alan Oldham.

Mike Huckaby.

Kevin Saunderson.

God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines: The Story of Detroit Techno [Kickstarter]

Previously:

Detroit techno, the 90s comic book – and epic new DJ T-1000 techno

In a documentary film, a return to Detroit and speaker f***ing

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Underwater electronic futurism, in the words of James Stinson (Drexciya)

At the turn of the 21st century, one Detroit duo was way ahead. Almost two decades later, the world is revisiting Drexciya and their imagined underwater future – the time is right, and the deepest insights come from James Stinson speaking in his own words.

Drexciyan Cruise Control Bubble 1 to Lardossan Cruiser 8 dash 203 X!

Drexciya, the underground electro duo of the 90s, is enjoying a new resurgence … wait, make that the underwater electro duo enjoying a new submergence? Anyway, cue the Tresor Records re-release, the Resident Advisor spot, the works.

And if you’re not already immersed in this duo’s work, now is a great time to discover or rediscover them. The electro tracks are raw, powerful, grimy, totally Detroit, and in these deadly-serious techno times, unafraid of their own irreverence. “Aquabahn” is sexy and totally, wonderfully, ridiculous:

(They’re not totally kidding, though; everyone I’ve talked to from Underground Resistance has talked about being genuine Kraftwerk fans.)

“Afrofuturism” as a term got applied after the fact (to Drexciya as to the likes of Sun Ra and Juan Atkins). When Drexciya’s 1997 release “The Quest” came out, this was just plain futurism in the words of its creators. But in the liner notes, their journey to imagine an underwater utopia spells out the connection to African-American diasporas and discrimination in overt terms.

From The Quest liner notes – diasporas to global techno to underwater worlds and African return.Source.

The Quest, 1997.

Drexciya were not prone to doing interviews. But apart from being a great musical voice, the late James Stinson, revealed in phone interviews from around the end of the project, had a great voice and articulate vision. And while an under-the-sea world of dreams might seem a preconceived conceit, Stinson says it all came naturally out of the vibes of the music. “We flow with the current,” he told Andrew Duke in 2001. And then he expands on how the concept and life flow out of that, and how water figures into the music.

Listen to him about trying the impossible, ignoring what is supposed to be in music – a perspective that seems in perpetual need in creative life. The whole half hour with journalist Andrew Duke is worth hearing. That’s appropriate, too, as Stinson encourages people to get beyond needle drops and listen to whole tracks and the whole world of Drexciya:

The guy talks about the feeling of music being like the sensation of sitting in a liquid chair made of water. And equally great questions. (“What’s it like to ride a manta ray?”)

Spirit of the underground? James Stinson sums it up perfectly: “Anywhere. Sewer. Underwater. Swimming pool. In the middle of a swamp. In a back alley somewhere … we’ll appear anywhere.”

(This is doubly interesting to me, as a friend from Tehran has recently staged an underwater concert with hydrophones, singing underwater – partly as a way to get around prohibitions on female performance in the country. Stinson was onto something with the radical possibilities of underwater music.)

Punk Collective fan art. From Twitter, via Drexciya Research Lab.

For still more words from the source: in 2002, shortly before his death, James Stinson talked to Liz Copeland, with tracks driving away in the background:

“Just give me the music; forget all the other stuff,” he says. “People need to … dig more into themselves and pull it out, and be more of who they are, and believe in what they do. Don’t worry about what other people are doing.”

Resident Advisor recently summed up all of this in a ten minute video, drawing heavily from those two interviews:

Another navigational chart to the music came in 2012 from the ever-reflective Philip Sherburne, who reviewed an anthology that year and also sums up the music as more than just “electro”:

Adapting the lurching rhythmic template of 1980s electro-funk acts like Man Parrish, Cybotron, and Jonzun Crew, Drexciya emphasized the depth-charge qualities of a booming 808 kick, and the electric-eel jolt of a zapping filter sweep. But it went deeper than that. The music was punctuated by cryptic interludes and scraps of code … Drexciya weren’t just trafficking in metaphor and affect; they were telling a story.

Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I

It’s also worth reading this interview from 1994 in UK zine The Techno Connection, by Dave Mothersole, republished by fan page Drexciya Research Lab. Yeah, it’s 1994, but it’s easily just as relevant in 2018, though it seems now with the Detroit originators hot as ever on the international scene, it may be time to go back to the surviving Underground Resistance members to hear their current take on the landscape and the word “techno.” As for learning to mix better, even when there’s no 4/4 kick, uh — yeah, we can all listen to that one; that can’t be wrong!

More listening – even Spotify are into this now:

From Función Binaria, a full mix (tracklisting on SC:

It’s also great that Tresor are re-releasing seminal works, including Drexciya – ‘Neptune’s Lair’ – (Tresor.129)
is out November 30th, 2018 on 2LP vinyl. (In time for Hanukkah, even.)

It’s a gift, really, to get to go buy that vinyl and set it on a record player. I do also come back to what Stinson says about originality, though. So maybe the best way to honor the Detroit – Berlin connection is, perversely, to listen, take this in, listen end to end (record players are nice for that), let your mind get altered, and then forget all that and take that energy and vibe and go make your own thing.

And certainly everything’s better down where it’s wetter and all that jazz.

Fan art, Jim McCormack. Also via Drexciya Research Lab. Go check that.

For more Drexciya obsessions, follow Drexciya Research Lab on Blogger(!) and Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/drexciyaresearchlab/

http://drexciyaresearchlab.blogspot.com/

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