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.
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.
DIY guru Mitch Altman has been busy expanding ArduTouch, the $30 kit board he designed to teach synthesis and coding. And now you can turn it into a bunch of other synths – with some new videos to who you how that works.
You’ll need to do a little bit of tinkering to get this working – though for many, of course, that’ll be part of the fun. So you solder together the kit, which includes a capacitive touch keyboard (as found on instruments like the Stylophone) and speaker. That means once the soldering is done, you can make sounds. To upload different synth code, you need a programmer cable and some additional steps.
Where this gets interesting is that the ArduTouch is really an embedded computer – and what’s wonderful about computers is, they transform based on whatever code they’re running.
ArduTouch is descended from the Arduino project, which in turn was the embedded hardware coding answer to desktop creative coding environment Processing. And from Processing, there’s the idea of a “sketch” – a bit of code that represents a single idea. “Sketching” was vital as a concept to these projects as it implies doing something simpler and more elegant.
For synthesis, ArduTouch is collecting a set of its own sketches – simple, fun digital signal processing creations that can be uploaded to the board. You get a whole collection of these, including sketches that are meant to serve mainly as examples, so that over time you can learn DSP coding. (The sketches are mostly the creation of Mitch’s friend, Bill Alessi.) Because the ArduTouch itself is cloned from the Arduino UNO, it’s also fully compatible both with UNO boards and the Arduino coding environment.
Mitch has been uploading videos and descriptions (and adding new synths over time), so let’s check them out:
Thick is a Minimoog-like, playable monosynth.
Arpology is an “Eno-influenced” arpeggiator/synth combo with patterns, speed, major/minor key, pitch, and attack/decay controls, plus a J.S. Bach-style generative auto-play mode.
Beatitude is a drum machine with multiple parts and rhythm track creation, plus a live playable bass synth.
Mantra is a weird, exotic-sounding sequenced drone synth with pre-mapped scales. The description claims “it is almost impossible to play something that doesn’t sound good.” (I initially read that backwards!)
Xoid is raucous synth with frequency modulation, ratio, and XOR controls. Actually, this very example demonstrates just why ArduTouch is different – like, you’d probably not want to ship Xoid as a product or project on its own. But as a sketch – and something strange to play with – it’s totally great.
DuoPoly is also glitchy and weird, but represents more of a complete synth workstation – and it’s a grab-bag demo of all the platform can do. So you get Tremelo, Vibrato, Pitch Bend, Distortion Effects, Low Pass Filter, High Pass Filter, Preset songs/patches, LFOs, and other goodies, all crammed onto this little board.
There, they’ve made some different oddball preset songs, too:
Platinum hit, this one:
This one, it sounds like we hit a really tough cave level in Metroid:
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:
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.
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.
Can GarageBand for macOS make music more accessible? The newest release brings free lessons for those wanting to learn. And on another note, it provides crucial bug fixes for blind users.
For a lot of Mac users, GarageBand will be the first taste of music making with technology. So it’s important Apple gets it right. There’s not really any direct comparison on another platform like this, either – GarageBand is available as a free install for new Macs, and yet provides an easy window into the same engine and sounds that drive Logic Pro. Those two applications are developed in parallel – indeed, as a regular Logic user, I was impressed by how much is now familiar in its entry-level sibling.
Reading the reviews in the App Store, though, it’s apparent how challenging it can be serving that audience. Move things around, and you make GarageBand’s years of existing users unhappy. Leave them as they are, and you might turn off potential new users.
GarageBand 10.3, released late last week, evens things out after the 2017 releases. Full release notes:
Most of this involves new sounds – the Guzheng, Koto, and Taiko drums found in the iOS edition, new vintage Mellotron sounds, electronic roots and jazz “Drummers.”
But two features are worth mentioning.
Software that teaches you to play
A selection of artists will teach you piano and guitar – now, for free, in this free Mac app.
First, the range of lessons Apple offers to get you started with an instrument are now free. For someone with a new Mac, it’s a nice way to get a small taste of learning an instrument.
I downloaded a few of these. There’s no question Apple is behind third-party offerings in this area. And it’s a shame they didn’t find a way to open up this feature to those developers, too, the way they have, say, the iBooks store. On the pop side, there just isn’t enough variety – the selections are embarrassingly white, and weirdly outdated. On the advanced side, well, maybe someone can follow learning a Chopin prelude by trying to watch someone explain it with some diagrams, but I have never met that student. (And I’ve actually taught beginning music students students keyboard. It’s… an… experience.)
Inside a guitar lesson.
But there’s some charm to the selection. I have no doubt it’s a casual way to get a taste for going out and getting lessons yourself. And I think Apple deserves some kudos for making this a default install.
Software that’s more accessible, regardless of sight
The other thing worth mentioning – this is a good example of how Apple is responding to user feedback for musicians with different accessibility needs.
macOS has a technology called Voice Over, which reads out what’s on the screen to users who are vision impaired. That’s important, because it means the non-seeing user is interacting with the same layout and structure as a seeing user. Apple demonstrated this onstage at a recent developer conference with one of their own blind employees, and I got a chance recently to attend a talk by two consultants who give feedback on using these features.
That feedback is important, because seeing developers may not know what works until they hear from users without sight.
In comments, you can read up on what was going wrong in GarageBand 10.2: one blind user complains because they’re lost in the very first screen of mixing. (I want to copy and paste what they wrote, but the App Store won’t let me, so I’m going to commit an accessibility faux pas and include the screenshot here – sorry.)
Also telling here – this detail about vision is actually one of the top App Store comments.
So it’s a small thing, but GarageBand 10.3 fixes that:
VoiceOver now announces the type of track that is selected in the New Track dialog.
VoiceOver now speaks the names of tracks when interacting with regions in the tracks area.
That’s a tiny change, but imagine that is a wall between you and being able to actually know what track you’re editing.
And again, because this is a free install on the Mac, it’s a big deal. Just removing that one barrier opens up music making on the computer to a whole range of Mac users. And that’s not to just congratulate Apple here – all software should work this way.
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!)
Unreal Engine may be built for games, but under the hood, it’s got a powerful audio, music, and modular synthesis engine. Its lead audio programmer explained this afternoon in a livestream from HQ.
Now a little history: back when I first met Aaron McLeran, he was at EA and working with Brian Eno and company on Spore. Generative music in games and dreams of real interactive audio engines to drive it have some history. As it happens, those conversations indirectly led us to create libpd. But that’s another story.
Aaron has led an effort to build real synthesis capabilities into Unreal. That could open a new generation of music and sound for games, enabling scores that are more responsive to action and scale better to immersive environments (including VR and AR). And it could mean that Unreal itself becomes a tool for art, even without a game per se, by giving creators access to a set of tools that handle a range of 3D visual and sound capabilities, plus live, responsive sound and music structures, on the cheap. (Getting started with Unreal is free.)
I’ll write about this more soon, but here’s what they cover in the video:
Submix graph and source rendering (that’s how your audio bits get mixed together)
Realtime synthesis (which is itself a modular environment)
Aaron is joined by Community Managers Tim Slager and Amanda Bott.
I’m just going to put this out there —
— and let you ask CDM some questions. (Or let us know if you’re using Unreal in your own work, as an artist, or as a sound designer or composer for games!)
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.
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.
Since 2016, Francis has added sounds to:
– Ableton Live 10
– Korg Prologue
– Dave Smith REV2
– Korg Gadget
– Korg iMonoPoly
– Propellerhead Reason
– Xfer preset packs
– 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:
SuperCollider? Lua? Huh? The latest creation from the makers of monome, norns, looks great. Here’s where to start learning the powerful sound engine underneath – which you can use on your PC or Mac right now, for free.
How are the Harmony of the Spheres, Isaac Newton, and polyhythms connected? Strap in for a journey with musician Adam Neely.
A bass player – educator – composer, Adam has a series of his own called New Horizons in Music. For Ableton Loop in Berlin last November, he got to present one session of those ideas live to an enraptured crowd. Now, Ableton gives you a guest seat to that show.
If you’re a fan of polyrthms, you’ll like where this is going. But it takes an unexpected path, starting with Alexander Scriabin, the Russian composer who experienced a perceptual connection of color to sound, and Isaac Newton’s color science. That basic notion about spectrum links color, perception, and rhythm.
It’s a wild, Wikipedia click-hole saga through music history, psychoacoustics, proportions, and theory. Since proportion can apply to rhythm and pitch alike – and since rhythms eventually are themselves connected to pitch – you eventually get a kind of grand unifying theory of music and polyrhythm. Watch:
(Quite a few of you likely have seen this already, as it seems it’s already a hit!)
This is just the sort of adventurous thinking that filled the best talks at Ableton’s Loop event. In that way, Loop served not just as a gathering around a tool, but that explored the entire ecosystem of ideas around the Live user community. And that seems a great model for what music tech can be.
Of course, all of this required getting to Berlin, and even there attendance was limited. So, fortunately, Ableton have set up a minisite where they’re sharing content you can take in at your leisure. (I was actually in Berlin, and I missed this one, so it’s great having video available for me, too, before you get jealous!)
You can find a collection of resources from Loop at the Loop minisite, with more content added regularly: