Celebrate 303 day by finding old classics, fresh inspiration

It’s March the 3rd, which means in both hemispheres, our thoughts inevitably turn to basslines and squelchy resonance. Happy 303 day – here’s some video and reading to get you in the mood.

First, let’s take a step back, and before we idolize the box and transistors, let’s talk about just how immaculately early Detroit and Chicago records were composed and mixed.

1987’s “Acid Tracks” by Phuture (DJ Pierre and Earl Spanky Smith) never fails to floor me. (I’ll guess the same about you, as anyone sick of acid has already left the room.) It sounds at once ancient and futuristic, like it fell from some alien civilization. “Acid Tracks” is slow, elegant, meditative – apparently slowed down to appeal to conservative New York dance floors; check out the fascinating write-up at the top of Discogs:

https://www.discogs.com/Phuture-Acid-Tracks/release/1949

And, oh yeah – it’s a preset bassline. And very little actually happens in this track. You get the sense of that fresh, out-of-box, what the hell is this amazing thing feeling as a result – but whether intentional or not, it also means the duo settle on this fascinating groove and don’t overthink it. There’s an almost ritualistic, mantra-like steadiness to the track as a result. House legend Marshall Jefferson captures all of this with a mix that holds everything together, and weirdly I think gets away with the extreme panning from side to side, a kind of hypnotic incantation.

It may be the only time a preset pattern worked in a track, but… it works.

That same DJ Pierre joins Roland today to celebrate 303 Day – and yeah, he knows how to program patterns now:

I know we’re not supposed to covet gear as the solution to our problems but … there is something beautiful about really wanting a piece of gear to find a particular flavor, right?

It’s also great to hear Pierre talk about the satisfaction of turning a knob, and feeling like an improviser – I think that’s the essence of synth design. (I, uh, disagree with Maestro Pierre that this is the only instrument that did this, but then I don’t run an all-303 blog.)

But you think Japan is going to let us Americans have all the fun, with the gear they invented? Here is “Japanese Techno Girl Love TB-303 & TR-707 & RE-201” to answer that from the ocean. I’m not entirely sure I believe this is part of her bridal practice, but do you need to know whether that’s true or not?

For a good intro to the 303 and how to program it, Tatsuya Takahashi – former chief analog engineer at KORG – did an intro for RBMA. Seeing Tats talk Roland is weird, but on the other hand, I think Tats and his team at KORG built a lot of similar ideas into their instruments – hands-on control, simplified compact design, and a focus on playability. For all the present worship of modular synths and complexity, sometimes a simpler design lets the player explore more.

That skips over a lot of the history to focus on the instrument. So for a deeper look at how the 303 came about, check “Baseline Baseline,” a crude 2005 documentary. It feels a bit like someone is reading you a history of the 303 in monotone, but it’s a nice watch, nonetheless, packed with detail.

Philadelphia’s Akhil Kalepu did a great write-up of that history for DJ Tech Tools a few years back, as well:

History Of The TB-303: Roland’s Accidental Legend

To use the 303 yourself, your first question may be – have I heard that pattern before? (There is this funny quality of the 303, where you’re never certain if a pattern was your own, or a preset, or a classic tune, or the 303 somehow hijacked your brain and an alien consciousness made it for you, or … some combination?)

Let’s just not get too precious about acid house, though.

Part of what I love about the 303 is that it isn’t a classical instrument. You aren’t limited to reproducing half-assed copies of Chicago House just because that beautiful history is there. The 303 can get weird, dirty, trippy, unrecognizable. (Seriously, fight me on this. I love Roland’s TB-03 recreation not because it’s a perfect copy, but because it has some weird digital distortion and delay that you can abuse and warp.)

So, for instance, Germany’s Dr. Walker and Liquid Sky took acid in a different direction, some “acid techno” or make that “afterhour acid techno druggEEE madness.” Oh, sure, you could walk into a Berlin afterhours and someone could play some inoffensive slow tech house track. OR … you could wind up in some dark cave, three days into partying, thick with smoke, unable to find the door, when some end-of-the-world weirdness you can’t follow takes over, or some way-too-fast techno that is slowly speeding up. That’s the sort of 303 you might expect would be part of an unfriendly M-class planet, the kind the one surviving red shirt warned you about, holes burnt in his uniform, after beaming back up.

Playlist of related tracks:

Hold on, though, back up – Sony Music published this? Interesting.

I bring this up just because it’s sort of nicely the opposite of the Phuture track. If the above is the 303 in calm meditation or headed to a wedding, this is a disheveled 303 stumbling out of a bar in Akihabara, its tie in shreds (uh, drunk on alternating current or whatever synthesizers get into):

Acid is getting new leases on life, too, as in the hands of Bloody Mary, the French-born, Berlin-based producer and label boss of acidic dame music. She’s keeping acid alive both as a DJ –

– and as a producer. (Got to talk to her about her love of the 303 and the ability to really focus on this instrument at ADE in the fall.)

So be sure – we love the 303, but its day is not a sacred one. It’s a chance to do what we do every night – make ridiculous sounds with knobs.

And just remember – don’t let anyone convince you synthesis is a game for the rich. The 303 found its way into history thanks to some guys who could only barely afford it, after it had already dropped in value. Speaking as someone who reads tons of press releases from artists bragging about their all-modular setups, this is something worth repeating – and a happy 303 day to you.

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Rast Sound launches Asian Colours sample library at 34 EUR intro price

Rast Sound Asian Colours feat

Rast Sound has announced the release of its new Asian Colours sample library for Native Instruments Kontakt. The instrument library comprises male and female vocals, various solo instruments and field recordings. Laptop Hooligans travelled all over Asia and recorded male and female ritual vocals, instruments, rare ambiences and more content you can not find anywhere […]

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Rast Sound offers Asian Colours sample library at pre-order discount

Rast Sound Asian Colours

Rast Sound has announced that its new Asian Colours sample library is now available to pre-order. The library was recorded over several years in Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Tibet, Japan and China and offers multiple male and female vocals, various solo instruments and field recordings. Laptop Hooligans travelled all over Asia and recorded male and female […]

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Roland has registered the 303, 808 designs as trademarks

Roland has quietly filed for trademark protection (Unionsmarkenanmeldung) in Germany for the designs of the TB-303 and TR-808.

The filings were uncovered by a poster on the sequencer.de forum. The discussion is in German:

Roland versucht aktuell sich die 808-Farben und das 303-Design als Marke schützen zu lassen [sequencer.de]

https://register.dpma.de/DPMAregister/marke/registerHABM?AKZ=018016159&CURSOR=34

https://register.dpma.de/DPMAregister/marke/registerHABM?AKZ=018016158&CURSOR=33

The “trademark” here is trade dress, the design of the actual appearance of the 303 and 808 – the signature layout of the keyboard and knobs of the 303, and the sequence of colored buttons on the 808. “Iconic” is a word that’s wildly overused, but here we can take it to be almost literally true: you can draw out these layouts and even a lot of lay people with a passing interest in electronic music will immediately recognize this bassline synth and drum machine.

Forum posters conclude that this is about Behringer, who announced last month at the NAMM show that they would ship their “RD-808” drum machine – matching the original TR-808 color scheme and button layout – in March. But the registration in Germany could be a sign Roland are generally planning to more aggressively protect their intellectual property, in respect to Behringer or others. And as the RD-808 could, for instance, wind up being subject to litigation outside Germany – that is, anywhere the drum machine ships.

That said, Behringer without fanfare reversed the order of the colors on their RD-808, from a production prototype (orange / light orange / yellow / white, as on the original Roland) to what was shown at NAMM.

The one thing I can say for sure is – the artwork Roland filed from Japan is gorgeous. So, Roland, please don’t sue us for sharing. (And yeah, I’d buy this if you want to turn it into merch.)

No idea how long processing will take, or really how the law works; if I can find out, I’ll share. At least Germany should appreciate the aesthetics of combining gold, bright red, and black – check the flag.

Meanwhile, in America… Roland last year filed applications for trademark protection in the USA for the TR-808 and TR-909 (also right after the NAMM show, January 25, 2018). You can find these (pending) applications at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, under 87769864 and 87769891.

It’s routine practice to file for things you might want to protect, not necessarily manufacture, but that doesn’t make it any less privately amusing to read this list of apparel that would be covered under that application:

“Jackets; sweaters; sport shirts; polo shirts; shirts; overcoats; raincoats; underwear; pajamas; undershirts; Tee-shirts; wind-resistant jackets; swimming costumes; sleep masks; neckties; aprons; socks and stockings; bandanas; headwear; caps as a headwear; hats”

I totally want a Roland swimming costume. But yeah, if you’re thinking of making one yourself, you should read this:

https://www.roland.com/global/company/intellectual_property/

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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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Mystical music for midwinter, with SO of Tokyo’s Labyrinth, more

The Northern Hemisphere’s darkest days make a good scene for music, whatever your spiritual/religious persuasion. So here we have some gorgeous sounds in this holiday week.

First, this mix sets the mood for your end of December about as well as anything could, I think:

I will write about the ongoing Dimension Series of mixes shortly – it was an honor to make the first episode of that myself, and ever since Oscar Gonzales and Static Discos have delivered a steady flow of some of my favorite musical inspirations of the year, with mix after mix from delightful friends.

This particular mix is the work of Satoshi Aoyagi, aka SO, Tokyo DJ and tastemaker of The Labyrinth.

Electronic music has this connection to the club, but that space can so easily become claustrophobic – literally, as well as aesthetically. It can be limiting, and the music can sound trapped. So it’s wonderful that Satoshi takes us outside of that trap, and rewires techno from industrial cliche to a deep trip into the woods. In his words:

After traveling some music styles, I found some good point in between Techno and House this year.

I had an inspiration from nature for this DJ mix when I was driving in the deep forest. At the time of sunset, it was cloudy and there was a lot of mist that day, which was so mystic, but a few kilometers later… the sky had got slightly clearer and in the end, I could see it full of stars, it was a beautiful moment.

Since I prefer to play outside more than a club, this kind of experience always gives me an inspiration to think about what I play. Usually, I play more melodic stuff but this mix is showing the dark, hard side of the point I found and tried to make one big smooth flow from beginning to the end. In the beginning, I started from atmospheric Dub-Techno and slowly changed to straight clear techno to the later half and got more energy.

I think that this piece could translate the image I had that day through the music. I hope you can enjoy the journey.

I also like what Static Discos’ Oscar has to say about this mix:

So gave us a special christmas labyrinth mix. i think that this one is really beautiful and profound in some way and the kind of recording you want to save and listen to years down the road… Jeez! the last track is soooo epic…

well, i’m really not sure if i can fully convey in mere words how powerful what the labyrinth means for many of us, but without a doubt, it’s a place where nature, sonics, people and artists come together to create something genuinely wonderful. so not much more to add… that’s it. a merry christmas to you all
big thanks to Satoshi Aoyagi for taking the time to produce this beautiful mix. also i just want to thank Russell, Yasuyo, and all the rest of the crew that created labyrinth. keep up the good work.

this mix is dedicated to my dearest friends Daniel, Mike, Joshua, Abby and Li: ¡Gracias por su amistad, amigxs! Also to my pals Hugo, David, Joy, Jenus and Javier.
Have a lovely time in the company of your beloved ones.

You can download the mix and listen offline:

http://staticdiscos.com/dimension/so/

Traveling from Japan to the United States…

Chris Stack of ExperimentalSynth.com has always connected his love of synthesizers to deep-rooted musicianship on those instruments with both keys and strings. (Of course it’s a myth that synth love and instrumental love need to be separate.) So I really quite enjoyed this medley he’s made for his family – perfect if you’re resting off big Christmas dinners or holiday drinks with friends or whatever:

More on the pagan side of things, Chris and the local synth nerds of Asheville North Carolina played this far-out Solstice Jam to “send signals to the moon” – animistic space scientists, go…

Far out…

“That’s Geary Yelton’s hand on the iPad at the beginning,” Chris tells us, and “there was a Haken ContinuuMini just off camera.”

The black-and-white piano keys, alongside the continuous axis of the Continuum:

Photo (CC-BY-SA) LastHuckleBerry / “Dreamy Textures.”

Previously, in our December music listening lineup:

Ethereal, enchanting Winter Solstice drone album, made in VCV Rack

Download a free two-hour Panorama Bar mix from nd_baumecker

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Hachion Sound Japan releases Various Bass Koto Performance sample pack

Hachion Sound 17 String Koto

Hachion Sound has launched Various Bass Koto Performance, a sample pack that brings the sounds of a 17-string koto instrument played by Asako Mochizuki. The 17-string koto is a traditional Japanese musical instrument, a zither with seventeen strings. It is a variant of the koto, which traditionally has thirteen strings. The instrument is also known […]

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Hachion Sound Japan launches Various Shamisen Performance sample pack

Hachion Sound Shamisen feat

Hachion Sound Japan is a new label that aims to sample traditional Japanese musical instruments such as the koto, shamisen, shinobue, shakuhachi, and taiko, and mix them with contemporary music of todays sounds. The first title Various Shamisen Performance features a collection of recordings of the Shamisen Japanese traditional musical instrument. Played by Asako Mochizuki, […]

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Ecco the Dolphin playthrough with Drexciya music is today’s perfect trip

I don’t know about you, but the next time I need to cool down, trip out, and feel good about the universe, I will turn to this epic playthrough of Ecco the Dolphin with soundtrack by Detroit’s Drexciya. Humans made this. We can follow those humans, or dolphins, or some combination to the future.

Ecco the Dolphin is the 90s Sega Genesis hit developed by Ed Annunziata and Novotrade International. Drexciya is the Detroit futuristic electro duo who imagined an underwater future. Together, they make more sense than peanut butter and jelly, or Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Though, to be fair, after I was tweeted at that I should really transcribe the interviews with James Stinson (I should), it is now dangerously possible that I wind up getting sucked into Ecco and some Drexciya records. Uh… whoops.

But let us heed these words, anyway:

I know a lot of people going through a rough time right now – personally, globally. Sing to the shelled ones and they will heal your wounds.

Thanks, David Abravanel, CDM at-large Nerd of All Things Good.

Previously:

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

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starRo Electro Funk Groove of LA sample pack available from Splice

Splice Sounds StarRoSplice Sounds has released Electro Funk Groove of LA, a collection of 189 loops and samples by the Grammy nominated music producer starRo. For his debut sample pack for Splice, starRo sampled the sounds and cultures of Downtown LA. LA-via-Tokyo producer and multi-instrumentalist starRo acts as a bridge. He not only bridges east and west, […]