FL Studio’s reputation is deceiving: this is one of the richest, most surprisingly open-ended tools for music-making. But long-time users may miss some of its recent improvements – and newcomers may not be clear on how to start.
Algorave culture has been training years for this – it’s an audiovisual form that can make even a screen and streamed sound really come alive. Just watch – and actually, don’t just watch, here’s how to learn, too. Normally, algorave articles talk breathlessly about code, blah blah, people coding on screen, isn’t that nerdy, look […]
We can’t dance to these sets in a club at the moment, so let’s use this opportunity to really watch what’s happening. Techno madman Florian Meindl takes us inside the craft of playing his fully live, all-hardware set. We’ve got detailed answers from Florian about how he works and plays, and copious links to all […]
Eurorack may be known for its addictiveness, but some synth lovers suffer just as much for tyranny of choice. This tutorial cures both that and Buchla Music Easel envy.
The Music Easel, if you don’t know it, is a beautiful instrument – a lunchbox full of seemingly limitless possibilities. And you can even get a brand-spanking new rendition of the 1973 original, with the Buchla name badge (or their current incarnation).
But even though that instrument is known for its all-in-one design, there’s reason to think Eurorack as an option – greater flexibility, lower cost, each by a significant margin.
Or to put it another way, it’s a great way to understand different module choices without getting overwhelmed. And that’s where this video from Mylar Melodies comes in:
It’s a pretty good rundown of the Music Easel itself (meaning a useful explainer there), as it starts with the real thing. Then, mindful of limitations, it walks through a suggested system with related features, plus how to make sounds and sequence your ideas, too.
Also, there’s a big supporting star in the form of Arturia’s low-cost MicroFreak, so this gives you a taste for what that instrument is capable of – and how you might connect it, analog style.
(I’m also tempted to try some of this stuff in VCV Rack and other computer software – and the MicroFreak still holds potential.)
Amplitude modulation, frequency modulation, sequencing, and a techno jam – all bases covered!
Mylar Melodies promises more in this series.
It’s the first in a new “suggested systems” concept series I’ve been brewing for some months – using a small 62HP Intellijel Palette eurorack case to make examples of focused, purpose-driven modular rigs and then demo and explain them on camera. Eg. “Generative melody system”, “subtractive semi-modular synth expander”, “self playing drone machine”, and first and foremost “Buchla Music Easel-inspired synth”.
It’s based on the infinite number of “where do I start” posts where people are getting lost in this format as they’re paralysed by choice – so it’ll give some much needed tangible serving suggestions (far smaller than off the shelf systems, except the Erica Synths Pico), and it’s also a way to discuss basic modular concepts in a form that’s actually clear and digestible – which I just don’t think you can do when you have a massive modular on camera. And mores the point, I don’t want to glorify having a massive rig, full stop – I think it’s far better overall to glorify having a tiny one. So that’s what this aims to do.
Look forward to more in this series – it’s a great idea!
Deals and offers are all over the place, but what will actually help you get over creative block and make something? These free Ableton Live add-ons and an invaluable book make a great place to start.
Making Music: Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers is a written book – not a YouTube channel, not a device. But it was one of the more ambitious and influential music tech projects of recent years. It’s the work of Dennis DeSantis, who has a deep background in concert music. The book takes on how to start, strategies for creating new and varied ideas, ways of solving problems, and how to finish – all with a mixture of music theory and software practice. And maybe that’s the best way to describe the state of music making now anyway – theory and (electronic) tools are blurred. The Ableton touch is there, but it’s applicable to other tools, as well.
You’ll find it on a new page Ableton have compiled, free for download in .pdf, .mobi, and .epub format.
Don’t forget that Ableton Live itself is available now in the full Suite edition for a 90-day unlimited trial.
And speaking of that, this exceptional collection of Max for Live devices is also now available, a collaboration between Ableton and the wonderful Sonic Bloom and Max for Cats. They had me at the name:
A vintage-tinged, Oberheim Four Voice-influenced MSE synthesizer.
SEQ8 step sequencer (more traditional analog design).
ConChord, a “pulse-based chord step sequencer” – so you can sequence full chords as well as steps, and look at those steps in terms of pulses, for more open-ended patterns.
Stochastic Delay, which eschews the usual repetitive quality of delays with variable unpredictability.
Verbotron – an elegant little reverb, drawing on an algorithm from Finland’s Juhana Sadeharju. (You’ll find other iterations of the underlying algorithm in the open source world – as GVerb. But think of this as a nerdy, unique esoteric reverb to get you out of the everything-sounds-the-same world of effects.)
Color is a “sound texture” device – so it’s a bunch of different retro sound models, mimicking the grit of vinyl, tape wow and flutter, drive, and EQ. Putting them all together gives you a nice console to shape your sound without overwhelming with controls or getting lost in a bunch of plug-ins. That last bit, I heard about a friend of a friend who made that mistake. Not me. I’m a professional. I would never get distracted by endlessly tweaking a bunch of plug-ins and then toggling them on and off over and over again. I mean, I just never get distracted in general. You’ll see that not happening right now. Wait, where was I?
SkramDelay is actually kind of the odd effect out here, in a good way – modulated dual-channel delay with more randomness.
And that seems like a nice, healthy diet balancing some bread-and-butter features with pretty esoteric and experimental stuff, in such a way that you could easily apply anything in between. If that’s not what Ableton has always been about, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of which, bonus – only because Robert Henke was sharing this on his social media this week – watch the Ableton co-founder product some synthetic sounds using Live as instrument. One of the first videos Ableton ever uploaded to the then-new YouTube service (CDM was in its second year):
Despite the grainy video, this is actually just as relevant an approach to sound design and routing in Live in 2020 as it was in 2006.
Don’t forget that for more inspiration, you can check out some of the guides I’ve done recently for Riemann Kollektion:
It’s hard to get that deep, crowded club feeling right now in isolation. So here from our friend Florian Meindl and Riemann Kollektion is a big boost – and a master class in techno craft.
Honestly, I’ve said this to folks before, but I’ll say it again – it really says something to me about Riemann and Florian that these demo songs bang harder than most released music. It’s almost worth just browsing this 1.4GB collection of 24-bit sounds just to understand a bit about how his heard works. (I’ve been browsing through.)
So, for 48 hours, just for CDM, Florian has swapped over the price of one of his best sound packs – Best of Riemann 2019 Techno (24bit WAV – Loops & Oneshots). (Ah, I remember 2019 … so … fondly now …)
There’s now really no reason not to get started. Ableton has a free 90-day trial of Live Suite, just announced, which even includes Max for Live. (It’s normally 30 days.)
A surprising number of Ableton Live users haven’t discovered the power of Max for Live inside. Here’s how to get started – but, oh, you’ve seen it all before? Okay, smarty-pants, learn how to make your own devices, too.
Beginners and those needing some fresh ideas…
Anxious times can be a big barrier to inspiration. And that’s why this guide is useful now. Max for Live add-ons can be particularly useful not just for solving problems, but pushing you in a different direction or getting you back in a state of play. That’s been useful even for me – I was feeling stuck, and wound up finding some new tools that got me going again, just while writing this.
As long as you’ve got a copy of Ableton Live Suite, Max for Live is waiting for you. If not, it’s also a pretty major reason to upgrade.
It starts at the beginning; no previous knowledge – what Max for Live is, how to use it, and how to get started with a lot of useful devices in a host of different categories.
Max for Live has an impassioned following, but I suspect a lot of users of Live are afraid to go there. Here’s the thing: you really don’t need to know how to use Max. The fact that Ableton baked in one the most mature and most powerful toolkits for making music production and live visual inventions means you can use the tools everybody else is making.
As it happens, ELPHNT also produced a two-part list of their favorite devices on maxforlive.com. I purposely ignored this list, and still imagined we would overlap. Speaking to the depth of the M4L world, not one device is on both lists. (I even plugged ELPHNT on my list, but it’s not in the Ableton.com story!) Read: [ Part 1 | Part 2 ]
… and those ready to make your own stuff
Okay, maybe you are curious to dig into Max and Max for Live and try customizing devices or creating your own from scratch? And, uh, maybe for some reason you find you have a bit of time on your hands? Well, you’re in luck.
Ableton has an official page with resources. Pay particular note to this line – “Access the Max for Live built-in lessons by clicking on the Help menu–>Help View.” That’s really where you most likely want to begin.
More recently, Cycling ’74 also shared best practices in making devices, which would be useful if, uh, you want to share with others. (I mean, for yourself, be as horrible as you like!)
Multichannel audio is what is really useful in the most recent major upgrade:
Finally, because of the current crisis, you can shadow a college course in Max here. I once taught this course for CUNY. I would not be able to do it now – Max has changed radically since I did it, and I have forgotten a bunch – so I’ll be checking it out! There are some sharp tips in there. (and if you know Max a bit, crank up the speed and pretend you’re Data from Star Trek as you go rapid-fire through the parts you know.)
Well, this is about play. So as I said, it’s totally valid to just grab a fun device or two and … try something.
So I still recommend my guide – as a break from dev work, or if you realize your brain is more tired than you thought and you got over-ambitious (never happens to me – I’m lying):
In case you missed it, in November, KORG fixed issues with their portable Bluetooth MIDI controllers/keyboards and iOS 13. Wireless operation works with desktop OSes, too – and it’s really cool.
Firmware updates I know can be a bit scary, and it’s possible some owners of the KORG wireless devices didn’t even know that there was a fix (or that you can do this, for that matter)! So it’s worth sharing this video KORG posted at the end of last week.
iOS changes have kept developers scrambling lately, but at least this catches you up. And it’s tough to beat the iPad and a wireless nanoKEY as an ultra-portable rig on the road.
Wireless Bluetooth MIDI operation is a strong, low-latency solution on desktop OSes, too, though – useful if you have your computer handy and just need some input device to sketch in ideas or try our your latest virtual modular patch. (That’s me, anyway!)
KORG’s wireless controllers do support both Mac and Windows, too. (I’ll check if there’s a way to get this working on Linux; I suspect someone ported over Apple’s implementation. I also don’t see Android officially supported, but there’s some version there – or you can just use USB and an OTG cable, in a pinch.)
There are a few features that make the nanoKEY Studio easy to recommend, specifically. Everything is ultra-low-profile, so it’s more optimal for tossing in a backpack. There’s still velocity sensitivity on both the pads and keys, and back lighting for dark situations. But I think what’s especially winning is – not just knobs, but also an X/Y pad (KAOSS style), onboard arpeggiator, scale and chord mapping.
KORG push the notion that this helps when you’re not a skilled keyboardist but – obviously, even if you’ve got years of piano training, on a little controller like this you’re in a different mode.
In fact, I can imagine nanoKONTROL Studio with the new (wired) Novation Launchpad mini would be ideal. The Launchpad mini has input but not anything that works easily as a mixing layout – other than a somewhat crude mode that uses the pads for that, but doesn’t give you continuous control. Both would fit in a slim-line backpack with literally nothing else, for an easy iPad or notebook computer studio.
Or couple the Launchpad mini and nanoKONTROL Studio, because then you can lock individual controllers to particular instruments without swapping (useful!), or separate clip triggering and instrumental playing.
I just personally love being able to work when traveling and to fit live rigs into small spaces.
A.I.! Good gawd y’all – what is it good for? Absolutely … upscaling, actually. Some of machine learning’s powers may prove to be simple but transformative.
And in fact, this “enhance” feature we always imagined from sci-fi becomes real. Just watch as a pioneering Lumiere Brothers film is transformed so it seems like something shot with money from the Polish government and screened at a big arty film festival, not 1896. It’s spooky.
It’s the work of Denis Shiryaev. (If you speak Russian, you can also follow his Telegram channel.) Here’s the original source, which isn’t necessarily even a perfect archive:
It’s easy to see the possibilities here – this is a dream both for archivists and people wanting to economically and creatively push the boundaries of high-framerate and slow-motion footage. What’s remarkable is that there’s a workflow here you might use on your own computer.
And while there are legitimate fears of AI in black boxes controlled by states and large corporations, here the results are either open source or available commercially. There are two tools here.
Enlarging photos and videos is the work of a commercial tool, which promises 600% scaling improvements “while preserving image quality.”
It’s US$99.99, which seems well worth it for the quality payoff. (More for commercial licenses. There’s also a free trial available.) Uniquely, that tool also is optimized for Intel Core processors with Iris Plus, so you don’t need to fire up a specific GPU like the NVIDIA. They don’t say a lot about how it works, other than it’s a deep learning neural network.
We can guess, though. The trick is that machine learning trains on existing data of high-res images to allow mathematical prediction on lower-resolution images. There’s been copious documentation of AI-powered upscaling, and why it works mathematically better than traditional interpolation algorithms. (This video is an example.) Many of those used GANs (generative adverserial networks), though, and I think it’s a safe bet that Gigapixel is closer to this (also slightly implied by the language Gigapixel uses):
Some more expert data scientists may be able to fill in details, but at least that article would get you started if you’re curious to roll your own solution for a custom solution. (Unless you’re handy with Intel optimization, it’s worth the hundred bucks, but for those of you who are advanced coders and data scientists, knock yourself out.)
The quality of motion may be just as important, and that side of this example is free. To increase the framerate, they employ a technique developed by an academic-private partnership (Google, University of California Merced, and Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University):
Short version – you combine some good old-fashioned optical flow prediction together with convolutional neural networks, and then use a depth map so that big objects moving through the frame don’t totally screw up the processing.
Result – freakin’ awesome slow mo go karts, that’s what! Go, math!
This also illustrates that automation isn’t necessarily the enemy. Remember watching huge lists of low-wage animators scroll past at the end of movies? That might well be something you want to automate (in-betweening) in favor of more-skilled design. Watch this:
A lot of the public misperception of AI is that it will make the animated movie, because technology is “always getting better” (which rather confuses Moore’s Law and the human brain – not related). It may be more accurate to say that these processes will excel at pushing the boundaries of some of our tech (like CCD sensors, which eventually run into the laws of physics). And they may well automate processes that were rote work to begin with, like in-betweening frames of animation, which is a tedious task that was already getting pushed to cheap labor markets.
I don’t want to wade into that, necessarily – animation isn’t my field, let alone labor practices. But suffice to say even a quick Google search will quickly come up with stories like this article on Filipino animators and low wages and poor conditions. Of course, the bad news is, just as those workers collectivize, AI could automate their job away entirely. But it might also mean a Filipino animation company would face a level playing field using this software with the companies that once hired them, only now with the ability to do actual creative work.
Anyway, that’s only animation; you can’t outsource your crappy video and photos, so it’s a moot point there.
Another common misconception – perhaps one even shared by some sloppy programmers – is that processes improve the more computational resources you throw at them. That’s not necessarily the case – objectively even not always the case. In any event, the fact that these work now, and in ways that are pleasing to the eye, means you don’t have to mess with ill-informed hypothetical futures.
I spotted this on the VJ Union Facebook group, where Sean Caruso suggests this workflow: since you can only use Topaz on sequences of images, you can import into After Effects and go on and use Twixtor Pro to double framerate, too. Of course, coders and people handy with tools like ffmpeg won’t need the Adobe subscription. (ffmpeg, not so much? There’s a CDM story for that, with some useful comment thread, too.)
Having blabbered on like this, I’m sure someone can now say something more intelligent or something I’ve missed – which I would welcome, fire away!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to escape to that 1896 train platform again. Ahhhh…