DIY music gloves for everyone, as Imogen Heap project gets kid friendly

You know – for kids. Mini.mu is a musical glove that can get young people coding and crafting and making music and electronics work. And it’s off to a simple, elegant, and affordable start, courtesy artist Imogen Heap and designer Helen Leigh.

It’s one thing for music stars to try out bleeding edge technology and explore performance using gestural interfaces. It’s another thing for kids to tackle computing and electronics – and to make teaching tools that serve them. But a new musical glove design could reach a far wider audience.

MI.MU gloves have been a story we’ve followed since the beginning. With artist Imogen Heap, the effort was to expand on musical gloves past and make something that could expressively navigate a performance.

But MI.MU’s work has tended to be technically complex and pricey. Not so MINI.MU.

You make this glove from scratch, with everything kids need included in the kit. (Helen Leigh is not only a brilliant engineer, but also a children’s author and workshop instructor – so she gets how to teach and how kids get going quickly. The kit is rated for age 6+.)

The price: retailing at £39.95. (just about fifty bucks USD). For many in the UK, it’ll be even cheaper, as schools already have the micro:bit “brains” of the glove

Apart from a cute-looking glove to put on your hand, the MINI.MU has a speaker, an accelerometer, and buttons. You use those sensors to pick up the position of the hand and particular events (like tilt or shake). Then code running on an included chip translates those motions into sounds – which you hear right on the glove, without any additional hardware.

The UK-based project takes advantage of the BBC micro:bit, an initiative to get UK schoolchildren into coding and embedded computing. There are loads of micro:bits around, so the glove is designed to build on this platform, but you can also buy the glove with a bundled micro:bit if you don’t have one.

And this can be extended, too. Pins on the board let you connect additional sensors, like flex sensors.

Helen worked with the MI.MU team, Imogen, and kit maker Pimoroni to make this happen.

What’s promising about MINI.MU is that it makes computing and crafting personal – you’re coding something that’s expressive and literally in your hand. If the creators can keep kids (and adults) interested in doing stuff with a glove, and building code around music, there’s real potential.

It looks like the beginning of a platform that could be a lot more – and that realizes some longstanding dreams to bring new ways of interacting with music and learning about STEM through music technology. We’ll be watching.

Check out how kids would get coding with this:

Visual coding using musical examples. (Check these things out in your browser, free.)

https://makecode.microbit.org

The kit is available for preorder – and you get that micro:bit in the deal.

MINI.MU Glove Kit (includes micro:bit) [Pimoroni]

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Novation’s latest videos “hack” advanced features out of their synths

I know a lot of the folks at Novation on a personal level well enough to say – they’re synth lovers, day job and after hours. What’s great about their latest video series is, some of that comes out.

Of course, yesterday we saw at least one user really hacking a Novation product, the Launchpad Pro, by modding the hardware using a firmware release from the company. And as one frustrated developer shouted at us in comments, that requires a bit of effort. (Not so much for you – you can download a file and use this easily – but modifying real-time firmware of hardware takes some practice!)

Hack a Launchpad Pro into a 16-channel step sequencer, free

This isn’t quite that. These “hacks” have more to do with creatively abusing some features to push the hardware synths to the limit – Circuit, Circuit Mono Station, and Peak. The Circuit in particular has a user community that proved surprisingly advanced, squeezing everything they can out of this budget-priced hardware. But lately the more recent Mono Station and Peak are finding an equally devoted following.

Here’s the whole playlist, which covers sound design techniques (like oscillator sync – okay, that’s more a conventional technique than a ‘hack’), approaches to performance (patch change), working with clock and CV, and other features.

This raises a question, though – these are recent Novation products, so it’s pretty easy to get the manufacturer to do some hot tips.

But which instruments would you like to see covered – new or old – and in what way? What’s missing in tutorials? Let us know in comments. (I realize I just self-selected the answers to that with people who own these Novation synths, so I’ll keep asking this … but also curious what other stuff you Novation lovers own, too!)

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Bastl TV: Patching and looping and Nikol teaches complex envelopes

Czech builder Bastl Instruments are working simultaneously in modular and desktop instruments. But it’s not about choosing one or the other – it’s getting inspired to play musically, either way.

So Patchení s Nikol is back, with Nikol to show you some serious patching techniques. And yes, of course, this is a nice showcase of Bastl’s own skiff of modules. But it’s also a nice example of what you can do with modulated envelopes – adding modulation to an amplitude envelope to give it a more complicated shape than just attack and release and so on. You could certainly apply this to other modular environments.

Actually, one of my favorite modules Bastl have put out lately is this one: Hendrikson is designed just to make it easier to add stomp box and external effects to your modular rig. It gives you easy-access jacks for patching in your pedal or pedal chain, some handy knobs, and all-important wet/dry mix. Plus, you can patch control into that wet/dry to automate wet dry controls with your modular if you like.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/hendrikson/

They’re obviously having a lot of fun with this:

Hendrikson

Speaking of economizing, how about that Zoom MultiStomp you see in the middle of the video? It’s got a whole massive list of different effects, all of which you control, and a street price of around $100 right now.

Vaclav I believe turned me on to that Zoom. And now switching to the desktop hardware they make, here’s a personal testimonial about how much he’s appreciating their THYME looper – seen here played live and with some destructive looping.

Vaclav tells us: “I have been playing the THYME for quite a while and has a certain instrumental quality that is quite hard to master – as with any other instrument… it really became one of the most essential pieces of musical gear that I use all the time. I am really proud of it being a real instrument now and not just a dream that I had more than 3 years ago!”

I’m here in Moscow now for Synthposium where we’ll see Bastl at the Expo and in a talk on music gear business in the online age. Stay tuned.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/

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Hacking and 3D printing the future of violins, in a growing community

Violins: they’re often the first example people site when talking about traditional acoustic instruments. But using new pickup techniques and rapid prototyping, that could be about to change.

violinmakers.org is a community for this new kind of digital age luthier – a place to discuss 3D printing and magnetic pickup possibilities and electric violin fabrication, rather than gut strings and wood carving.

Community member Guy Sheffer spoke recently about why this matters. All that legacy of instrument building has perfected acoustic violins, but electric violins remain crude. As Guy writes: “The challenge is, that while modern instruments have been developing effects and new sounds, acoustic violins have been acoustic for the past 400 years.”

Post about why I set up this community

While exploring new frontiers, then, these hacker-luthiers need a place to discuss their experimental craft. Enter violinmakers:

https://violinmakers.org/

There’s already some cool stuff there: open source, 3D-printable electric violins and files for Thingiverse, the repository of 3D printing files. (This is way better than 3D printing guns, obviously.)

Post your designs here

Guy has also shared his own spaced-out, trippy first build, logging the whole process. Yeah, you might as well combine your 3D printed electric violin with some airbrush work, no?

Guy’s own first build. 3D printing + custom paint job. (Now you just need a tour van to match… maybe some custom-built electric, not just an old Ford.)

It’s also worth checking out the open synth platform Guy is using, the Raspberry Pi-based Zynthian. That’s suggestive of a new potential sound source to match the new physical instrument:

http://zynthian.org/

Open sourcing in this case has important implications: it allows this new generation of builders to do what the acoustic makers did generations before, constantly improving and adjusting features like the chin rest or bridge.

There’s clearly a lot of innovation that could happen in acoustic instruments and derivatives – innovation that has often failed to happen because designs are not only conservative, but stuck in very specific modes, and because markets and technologies haven’t developed to serve potential evolution. But it could be that now is the moment. For a past look at my own instrument of choice, the piano, see the separate stories I’ve done on that (including an interview with David Klavins, who will talk passionately about why he wants to see the grand piano evolve past the Steinway Model D):

These piano breakthroughs changed music forever

Acoustic Revelation: Inside the Una Corda, the 100kg, 21st Century Piano Built for Nils Frahm

I’d love to hear more. Got experience with 3D printing, pickups … on violins or other instruments? Do let us know.

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Learn synth basics live with Novation – and more synth-y resources

Novation are hosting live video to teach you synthesis using their range of gear today. And they’ve got some other useful resources and artist interviews (Orbital!), so let’s have a look.

First up, Novation are broadcasting their Beats and Bytes series to their YouTube channel on a range of topics using their in-house specialists – the folks who make the gear, telling you how to use it. (Not bad: it used to be manufacturers would go to your retail to do trainings, and then you’d go to the retailer and … well, hopefully get something useful, though in lesser stores, people would just sort of stare at you from across the room.)

That starts afternoon time in the Americas, evening in Europe and Africa, and … weird hours elsewhere.

Technology Evangelist Enrique Martinez will be hosting the live stream. Novation tell CDM this will be “very basic sound design techniques” – so beginners (up to intermediate users), feel welcome!

It’s for Novation hardware, but they also say you’ll be able to apply this to other instruments, like your soft synth plug-in you’re trying to learn.

4PM Pacific (9PM NYC / 3AM Berlin) you can tune into the broadcast live, or catch the replay whenever you like. On the menu – this looks like a very useful episode:

(00:00 – 10:00) Making Drum Sounds w/ Circuit Mono Station

(10:00 – 20:00) Making Bass Sounds w/ Bass Station II

(20:00 – 30:00) Making Pad Sounds w/ Peak

(30:00 – 35:00) Putting it all Together

(35:00 – 40:00) Q & A

Wait… drums and bass and pads — I don’t know. It could be too much. Make sure you’re sitting down.

But Novation have been busy with a lot of resources. The timing is good – instruments like Peak have made an impression across the whole synth world. Two written artist interviews worth checking:

Orbital On Peak

The Horrors’ Tom Furse talks Bass Station II

And here’s more in the way of videos.

Circuit users, they’ve crammed another update in the form of version 1.7 – pattern chain being one especially handy feature if Circuit is at the center of your performance:

On Circuit Mono Station, here’s a useful guide to extending parameter changes across multiple steps:

Peak, the flagship, gets really deep. The Mod Matrix is one extensive place to start:

And here’s a complete technical overview of Peak:

Or, in an especially beautiful artist pairing, Hauschka taking Peak into dreamy soundscapes:

That’s a lot of technical information. So where do you start? Let’s look to artist Érica Alves, in the “Start Something” series Novation did a couple years back, with a Novation synth alongside the first Roland AIRA TR-8.

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Hands-on: Roland’s #808day upgrade for the TR-8S is a blast to play

It’s a little thing, but it adds a lot when you’re playing live: STEP LOOP lets you repeat steps in a sequence as they play, without losing time. Here’s how it works, along with other updates to Roland’s TR-8S drum machine.

Roland’s version 1.10 firmware is out today, and the big new feature is called STEP LOOP. The basic idea:

Hold down a step to make it repeat.

Hold down multiple steps, and they repeat in order.

Release that step or steps, and the sequence continues in time. (LED feedback shows you that the sequence position advances even as you have steps triggered.)

STEP LOOP impacts the whole sequence, not just one part. To activate it, hold down SHIFT and INST PLAY. To exit the mode, just trigger any other sequence mode. Here is in action. Notice the visual feedback as I enter the mode, and what happens when I trigger one or more steps.

It’s hugely useful, because it lets you make fills and variations out of the existing material of a sequence – and you don’t ever drop out of time. It’s not the first drum machine to do this (the ElecTribe ES2 from KORG springs to mind, among others), but it’s hugely useful in this context. The TR-8S is already a great live performance feature, thanks to its flexible routing and I/O, ample controls, faders for volume, and the ability to load custom samples. STEP LOOP is then a perfect addition for live jamming, because it’s intuitive and rhythmic.

The TR-8S has been getting a steady stream of updates – the other huge one in 1.10 is the ability to preview samples. Here’s a reverse-chronological timeline of some of the highlights.

1.10, August 2018
STEP LOOP
Preview sound samples when you import

1.03 April 2018
Improved performance

1.02 March 2018
Batch import kits
Import and export patterns and kits
Write direct to an SD card from the computer (“Storage Mode”)

All of this fits nicely together. It’s now really quick to chop up some samples and load them onto an SD card, then import them into custom kits. That makes the TR-8S’ own onboard hardware a useful way to build your own custom kits – even preferable in some way to working with software. And the combination of STEP LOOP with other features for making custom rhythms adds tons of variety. (Use LAST to make different length parts, add sub-step rhythms for more complex patterns, and use “auto fill” to mix things up even if your hands aren’t free.)

Oh, and you can sidechain external inputs. So I’ve used the TR-8S with my laptop and Native Instruments Maschine. I use MIDI out from Maschine to keep things in sync, and route audio from the computer into the TR-8S so I can sidechain that audio with the drum machine. I’ve also played with Roland’s own AIRA VT-3 vocal transformer, which also lends itself to sidechaining. But it’s an ideal live performance box.

For more resources on the TR-8S, check out Francis Preve’s blog – he’s done a great Master Class on the instrument for Electronic Musician, plus a custom kit for you to download:

Master Class: Roland TR-8S

Previously:

Roland TR-8S hands-on: a more playable, powerful drum machine

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Yep, you can go virtuoso with ROLI – DiViNCi, Alluxe show you how

You may have met ROLI’s Seaboard and Lightpad Blocks – the squishy performance controllers for computers and mobile. But all these promises about futuristic instruments aside, can you really wail on them? Computer says yes.

Finger drummer virtuoso DiViNCi is an absolute monster on these things. It reminds me of a couple of hyperactive drummer friends I grew up with, rapping on tables, only this actually works as a live performance. And whatever genre you’re into, this proves that if your ideas happen to be, you know – fast ideas – you can make them happen. Watch:

There’s actually a lot going on there, so even more useful than drooling over this performance demo is watching step-by-step as he pulls apart his live setup. He came to the jam without a plan, but … then that means some planning in setup, to make this function well as an all-in-one, one-man-band rig. This involves setting up some keys in advance, and configuring sounds, so that the setup is out of the way and he can lose himself and jam – even literally with his eyes closed.

ROLI’s hardware – for the moment, at least – doesn’t make any sound on its own, so it’s necessary to dig into the ROLI Dashboard to connect the hardware with software. That software in turn got some updates, recently, if you haven’t checked in on it lately.

It’s important to DiViNCi’s set that he combines the talkbox and the Blocks-controlled software instrument. Let’s check in, too, with Laura Escude aka Alluxe, and her “future classical” setup. Laura is someone special, in that she’s not only built a career as a solo musician and electronic instrumentalist, but also as a high-powered teacher and consultant, setting up live shows on the biggest imaginable scale for the likes of Kanye West and others. (She was also just added to the lineup at the next Ableton Loop in her home city LA in the fall, so see you all in California, hopefully!)

That said, it’s really Laura’s own performances that are the most personal. Instead of the ultra-compact Blocks, here she uses the Seaboard RISE keyboard controller – still my personal favorite. (Just squishy enough, more room to play on, but not so big that you can’t tote it around… and unlike the very first Seaboard, not too squishy. Squishy – technical term, hope you’re keeping up.)

She works with Ableton Live to set up sounds so the instrument can work through her setlist and stay expressive as she focuses on other stuff – like singing, for example.

That’s an interesting way of doing it, by the way – so it’s program changes in Live, triggered inside clips, triggered by follow actions. (I’ve been procrastinating doing a story just on how to manage different sounds in Live sets … it’s time.)

Some more resources:

Use Seaboard RISE with Kontakt

Use RISE with Apple Logic Pro and Equator

My Seaboard artist stories

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Nikol returns to teach beginners modular – next, panning and ducking

Modular isn’t just about building synth sounds; it’s also about routing signal and mixing in a new way. So we welcome the return of Czech superstar Nikol Štrobach, who continues her mission to make modular accessible to beginners.

Nikol is juggling mom duties with modular – we’ve even seen her kid Lumír. And our patching professor, after a year and a half of video production, did have to take a parenting sabbatical. But she’s returned with a new set of advanced tips and tricks, say our friends at Bastl Instruments. And she’s even added English-language narration (though we rather enjoyed the Czech).

Next up, panning (ooh, stereo!):

And ducking (using amplifiers to have one signal control another):

Bastl tells us this is just the start – two episodes are finished and scheduled for the next couple of weeks, with more in production.

Previously, a classic:

Watch a perfect explanation of modular physical modeling

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How to make dirty sounds, in videos, with Novation Circuit Mono Station

Remember when we were sold on everything being clean and digital? Now it’s just about grime and filth. But if you were wondering where to start with Novation’s cute, dirty Circuit Mono Station, they’ve got a series of hands-on videos to get you going.

Some back story: the Mono Station is the follow up to the first Circuit. Like the original, it’s a square-ish looking box with a colored grid as its center. But whereas the original Circuit concealed a digital polysynth and drum machine (with the ability to load your own samples), the Mono Station is all about analog synthesis. That means it also has additional controls, and unlike the mysterious macro encoders on the first Circuit, the Mono Station’s knobs and faders and bits actually have labels. So you can read a label with words on it, and you know, maybe have a better idea what you’re doing. Or you can just ignore that and give it a try anyway.

The “How to filth” series runs through a set of fairly practical ideas to get you going.

It’s really rather a nice way to get a manual. There’s no lengthy explanation, no theory – and no sitting through a really long tutorial. Just watch a few steps, and then see if you can copy more or less what they’ve done. That should help you dive straight in. And if you’re on the fence about the Circuit Mono Station, this gives you some stuff to go try if you’re borrowing a friend’s hardware or going to the shops.

Here’s the full series:

This is a great one for summer, too, as Circuit and Circuit Mono Station are nicely portable.

What do you think? Is this sort of thing useful to you? Would you want to see more / something different? Let us know; it’s great to get feedback from readers on what’s making you musically productive. And if you make some tunes with us, send us those, too!

Here’s our story on the instrument, at launch. Some time later, it’s still holding up at that price point – and it’s not a clone or throwback, either, but a totally new instrument, designed by some nice people in England. (I know – I’ve met them! And they’re musicians, as well, of course!)

Novation Circuit Mono Station: paraphonic, feature packed, $499

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Listening, the secret of sound design: Francis Preve at Loop

To master sound design, no technology can top your own hearing. That’s the message from Francis Preve, who gave a gripping talk at Ableton Loop. Now we’ve got video – and more discussion. Nothing is sacred – not even the vaunted TB-303 filter.

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of trying to define specialization in the narrowest terms possible, chasing worth in whatever trend is generating it at the moment. But part of why I’ve been glad to know Fran over the years is, he has knowledge and experience that is deep and far-reaching, and that he adapts that ability to a range work. That is, if ever you worry about how to live off your love of music and machines, Fran is a great model: he’s built a skill set that can shift to new opportunities when times change.

So, essentially what he can do is understand sound, technology, and music, put them together, and apply that to diverse results. He’s quietly been a big part of sound design for clients from Dave Smith to KORG to Ableton. He teaches, and keeps up a huge workload of writing and editing. He’s run a label, been a producer, and made hit remixes. And now he has his own unique sound design products, Symplesound and his Scapes series, which act as a calling card for his ability to produce sounds and articulate their significance.

Francis isn’t shy about sharing his thought process. But as with his presets, that means you can learn that thinking method and then apply it to your own work. And that’s how we started at Ableton Loop, beginning with some listening.

Maybe most poetic: finding the same joy in teaching as you do in gardening.

About the 303…

There are a bunch of mini TED talk-style inspirational moments in there, but maybe the most quotable came in Francis’ take on resonance – and the TB-303.

But wait a minute – even if you love the 303, it’s worth listening to Francis’ analysis of why it sits at the edge between success and failure. (And actually, part of why I like the TB-303 personally is because I don’t feel obligated by anyone else that I have to like it.) Fran re-watched our talk and chose to elaborate for CDM:

To further explain my point, Nate Harrison’s Bassline Baseline is a wonderful historical analysis the whole 303 phenomena and why it was initially unsuccessful.

That said, I feel quite differently about the TB-03 and expressed this in my 2016 review for Electronic Musician. For starters, it expands greatly on the original’s synthesis parameters—adding distortion, delay, and reverb—which vastly broadens its tonal palette. These effects were also essential components of the “acid house” sound, as most 303 owners relied on them to beef up its thin, resonant flavor. The TB-03 also addressed the original 303’s absolutely opaque approach to sequencing, which resolves my other issue with the first unit (and the music it produced).

So, while I generally dislike the sound of envelope modulated resonant lowpass filters, I wanted to clarify my statements on the 303 and specifically the TB-03. It’s common knowledge that I’m a diehard Roland user and frankly, the TR-8S and System-8 are cornerstones of my current rig (as well as an original SH-101), but after 35 years, I still can’t find a way to enjoy the original 303.

https://www.emusician.com/gear/review-roland-tb-03-and-tr-09Francis’ TB-03, TR-09 review for EM

Here’s actually where Francis and I agree – and I’ve taken some flak for saying I thought the TB-03 improves on the original. But that little Boutique often finds its way into my luggage when I’m playing live for this very reason, and I know I’m not alone. (And I do like the original 303 and acid house and acid techno – and I love cilantro, too, as it happens!)

Get more of Fran’s brain (and sounds)

Francis has a regular masterclass series for Electronic Musician. Of particular interest: delve deep into Ableton’s new Wavetable in Live 10 and the latest Propellerhead Reason instruments, the phenomenal Europa and Grain.

https://www.francispreve.com/blog/

And meanwhile, he’s continuing to teach sound design to college students including making Scapes part of the curriculum – which is timely, thanks to growing demand in augmented and virtual reality.

More…

https://www.francispreve.com/bio/

https://www.francispreve.com/scapes/

http://www.symplesound.com

https://www.xferrecords.com/preset_packs

Since 2016, Francis has added sounds to:
– Ableton Live 10
– Korg Prologue
– Dave Smith REV2
– Korg Gadget
– Korg iMonoPoly
– Propellerhead Reason
– Xfer preset packs
– PurpleDrums
– Various Symplesound products

New physical modeling sounds for AAS’ unique Chromaphone.

Serum is a heavyweight among producers; Fran’s got your tools for Xfer.

(Other clients over the years: Propellerhead, Roland, iZotope)

And this year, so far:
DSI Prophet X
AAS Solids Chromaphone 2 Pack (arriving next week – rather keen for this one; physical modeling in Chromaphone is great!)
System-8 and Roland Cloud Synthwave pack (with Carma Studios)

Xfer Serum Toolkit Vol 3 (summer release)
Major multi-platform Symplesound release
More Scapes based on field recordings (Fran is roaming with a camper van now) – he says he’s “cracked the code for recreating fire in Ableton”

Live 10 (literally hundreds of presets, mostly Operator and quite a few wavetables)
Korg Prologue, Gadget, and iMonoPoly
Dave Smith REV2
Xfer Serum Toolkit Vol 2 expansion pack -https://www.xferrecords.com/preset_packs/serum_toolkit_2
Scapes – https://www.francispreve.com/scapes/ (or your piece)

But the big hit is perhaps the one we debuted here on CDM:

Get a free pack that recreates Prince’s signature drum sounds

Stay tuned for whatever’s next.

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