Native Instruments’ Massive synth defined a generation of soft synths and left a whole genre or two in its wake. But its sequel remains mysterious. Now the company is revealing some of what we can expect.
First, temper your expectations: NI aren’t giving us any sound samples or a release date. (It’s unclear whether the blog talking about “coming months” refers just to this blog series or … whether we’re waiting some months for the software, which seems possible.)
What you do get to see, though, is some of what I got a preview of last fall.
After a decade and a half, making a satisfying reboot of Massive is a tall order. What’s encouraging about Massive X is that it seems to return to some of the original vision of creator Mike Daliot. (Mike is still heavily involved in the new release, too, having crafted all 125 wavetables himself, among other things.)
So Massive X, like Massive before it, is all about making complex modulation accessible – about providing some of the depth of a modular in a fully designed semi-modular environment. Those are packaged into a UI that’s cleaner, clearer, prettier – and finally, scalable. And since this is not 2006, the sound engine beneath has been rewritten – another reason I’m eager to finally hear it in public form.
Massive X is still Massive. That means it incorporates features that are now so widely copied, you would be forgiven forgetting that Massive did them first. That includes drag-and drop modulation, the signature ‘saturn ring’ indicators of modulation around knobs, and even aspects of the approach to sections in the UI.
What’s promising is really the approach to sound and modulation. In short, revealed publicly in this blog piece for the first time:
Two dedicated phase modulation oscillators. Phase modulation was one of the deeper features of the original – and, if you could figure out Yamaha’s arcane approach to programming, instruments like the DX7. But now it’s more deeply integrated with the Massive architecture, and there’s more of it.
Lots of noise. In addition to those hundred-plus wavetables for the oscillators, you also get dozens of noise sources. (Rain! Birdies!) That rather makes Massive into an interesting noise synth, and should open up lots of sounds that aren’t, you know, angry EDM risers and basslines.
New filters. Comb filters, parallel and serial routing, and new sound. The filters are really what make a lot of NI’s latest generation stuff sound so good (as with a lot of newer software), so this is one to listen for.
New effects algorithms. Ditto.
Expanded Insert FX. This was another of the deeper features in Massive – and a case of the semi-modular offering some of the power of a full-blown modular, in a different (arguably, if you like, more useful) context. Since this can include both effects and oscillators, there are some major routing possibilities. Speaking of which:
Audio routing. Route an oscillator to itself (phase feedback), or to one another (yet more phase modulation), and make other connections you would normally expect of a modular synth, not necessarily even a semi-modular one.
Modulators route to the audio bus, too – so again like modular hardware, you can treat audio and modulation interchangeably.
More envelopes. Now you get up to nine of these, and unique new devices like a “switcher” LFO. New “Performers” can use time signature-specific rhythms for modulation, and you can trigger snapshots.
It’s a “tracker.” Four Trackers let you use MIDI as assignable modulation.
Maybe this is an oversimplification, but at the end of the day, it seems to me this is really about whether you want to get deep with this specific, semi-modular design, or go into a more open-ended modular environment. The tricky thing about Massive X is, it might have just enough goodies to draw in even the latter camp.
And, yeah, sure, it’s late. But … Reaktor has proven to us in the past that some of the stuff NI does slowest can also be the stuff the company does best. Blame some obsessive engineers who are totally uninterested in your calendar dates, or, like, the forward progression of time.
For a lot of us, Massive X will have to compete with the fact that on the one hand, the original Massive is easy and light on CPU, and on the other, there are so many new synths and modulars to play with in software. But let’s keep an eye on this one.
Hey, at least I can say – I think I was the first foreign press to see the original (maybe even the first press meeting, full stop), I’m sure because at the time, NI figured Massive would appeal only to CDM-ish synth nerds. (Then, oops, Skrillex happened.) So I look forward to Massive X accidentally creating the Hardstyle Bluegrass Laser Tag craze. Be ready.
K-Devices have brought alien interfaces and deep modulation to Max patches – now they’re doing plug-ins. And their approach to delay and tremolo isn’t quite like what you’ve seen before, a chance of break out of the usual patterns of how those work. Meet TTAP and WOV.
“Phoenix” is the new series of plug-ins from K-Devices, who previously had focused on Max for Live. Think equal parts glitchy IDM, part spacey analog retro – and the ability to mix the two.
TTAP is obviously both a play on multi-tap delay and tape, and there’s another multi-faceted experiment with analog and digital effects.
At its heart, there are two buffers with controls for delay time, speed, and feedback. You can sync time controls or set them free. But the basic idea here is you get smooth or glitchy buffers warping around based on modulation and time you can control. There are some really beautiful effects possible:
WOV is a tremolo that’s evolved into something new. So you can leave it as a plain vanilla tremolo (a regular rate amplitude shifter), but you can also adjust sensitivity to responding to an incoming signal. And there’s an eight-step sequencer. There are extensive controls for shaping waves for the effect, and a Depth section that’s well, deep – or that lets you turn this tremolo into a kind of gate.
These are the sorts of things you could do with a modular and a number of modules, but having it in a single, efficient, integrated plug-in where you get straight at the controls without having to do a bunch of patching – that’s something.
Right now, each plug-in is on sale (25% off) for 45EUR including VAT (about forty two bucks for the USA). 40% off if you buy both. Through March 17.
In the original modular synth era, your only way to capture ideas was to record to tape. But that same approach can be liberating even in the digital age – and it’s a perfect match for the open VCV Rack software modular platform.
Competing modular environments like Reaktor, Softube Modular, and Cherry Audio Voltage Modular all run well as plug-ins. That functionality is coming soon to a VCV Rack update, too – see my recent write-up on that. In the meanwhile, VCV Rack is already capable of routing audio into a DAW or multitrack recorder – via the existing (though soon-to-be-deprecated) VST Bridge, or via inter-app routing schemes on each OS, including JACK.
Those are all good solutions, so why would you bother with a module inside the rack?
Well, for one, there’s workflow. There’s something nice about being able to just keep this record module handy and grab a weird sound or nice groove at will, without having to shift to another tool.
Two, the big ongoing disadvantage of software modular is that it’s still pretty CPU intensive – sometimes unpredictably so. Running Rack standalone means you don’t have to worry about overhead from the host, or its audio driver settings, or anything like that.
Big thanks to chaircrusher for this tip and some other ones that informed this article – do go check his music.
Type “recorder” into the search box for modules, and you’ll see different options options from NYSTHI – current at least as of this writing.
2 Channel MasterRecorder is a simple stereo recorder.
2 Channel MasterReocorder 2 adds various features: monitoring outs, autosave, a compressor, and “stereo massaging.”
Multitrack Recorder is an multitrack recorder with 4- or 8-channel modes.
The multitrack is the one I use the most. It allows you to create stems you can then mix in another host, or turn into samples (or, say, load onto a drum machine or the like), making this a great sound design tool and sound starter.
This is creatively liberating for the same reason it’s actually fun to have a multitrack tape recorder in the same studio as a modular, speaking of vintage gear. You can muck about with knobs, find something magical, and record it – and then not worry about going on to do something else later.
The AS mixer, routed into NYSTHI’s multitrack recorder.
Set up your mix. The free included Fundamental modules in Rack will cover the basics, but I would also go download Alfredo Santamaria’s excellent selection , the AS modules, also in the Plugin Manager, and also free. Alfredo has created friendly, easy-to-use 2-, 4-, and 8-channel mixers that pair perfectly with the NYSTHI recorders.
Add the mixer, route your various parts, set level (maybe with some temporary panning), and route the output of the mixer to the Audio device for monitoring. Then use the ‘O’ row to get a post-fader output with the level.
(Alternatively, if you need extra features like sends, there’s the mscHack mixer, though it’s more complex and less attractive.)
Prep that signal. You might also consider a DC Offset and Compressor between your raw sources and the recording. (Thanks to Jim Aikin for that tip.)
Configure the recorder. Right-click on the recorder for an option to set 24-bit audio if you want more headroom, or to pre-select a destination. Set 4- or 8-track mode with the switch. Set CHOOSE FILE if you want to manually select where to record.
There are trigger ins and outs, too, so apart from just pressing the START and STOP buttons, you can either trigger a sequencer or clock directly from the recorder, or visa versa.
Record away! And go to town… when you’re done, you’ll get a stereo WAV file, or a 4- or 8-track WAV file. Yes, that’s one file with all the tracks. So about that…
Splitting up the multitrack file
This module produces a single, multichannel WAV file. Some software will know what to do with that. Reaper, for instance, has excellent multichannel support throughout, so you can just drag and drop into it. Adobe’s Audition CS also opens these files, but it can’t quickly export all the stems.
Software like Ableton Live, meanwhile, will just throw up an error if you try to open the file. (Bad Ableton! No!)
It’s useful to have individual stems anyway. ffmpeg is an insanely powerful cross-platform tool capable of doing all kinds of things with media. It’s completely free and open source, it runs on every platform, and it’s fast and deep. (It converts! It streams! It records!)
Installing is easier than it used to be, thanks to a cleaned-up site and pre-built binaries for Mac and Windows (plus of course the usual easy Linux installs):
That’s worth keeping around, too, since it can also mix and monitor your output. (No Linux version, though.)
Bonus tutorial here – the other thing apart from recording you’ll obviously want with VCV Rack is some hands-on control. Here’s a nice tutorial this week on working with BeatStep Pro from Arturia (also a favorite in the hardware modular world):
I really like this way of working, in that it lets you focus on the modular environment instead of juggling tools. I actually hope we’ll see a Fundamental module for the task in the future. Rack’s modular ecosystem changes fast, so if you find other useful recorders, let us know.
There’s something about point releases – not the ones with any radical changes, but just the ones that give you a bunch of little stuff you want. That’s Live 10.1; here’s a tour.
Live 10.1 was announced today, but I sat down with the team at Ableton last month and have been working with pre-release software to try some stuff out. Words like “workflow” are always a bit funny to me. We’re talking, of course, mostly music making. The deal with Live 10.1 is, it gives you some new toys on the sound side, and makes mangling sounds more fun on the arrangement side.
Oh, and VST3 plug-ins work now, too. (MOTU’s DP10 also has that in an upcoming build, among others, so look forward to the Spring of VST3 Support.)
Let’s look at those two groups.
Sound tools and toys
User wavetables. Wavetable just got more fun – you can drag and drop samples onto Wavetable’s oscillator now, via the new User bank. You can get some very edgy, glitchy results this way, or if you’re careful with sample selection and sound design, more organic sounds.
This looks compelling.
Here’s how it works: Live splits up your audio snippet into 1024 sample chunks. It then smooths out the results – fading the edges of each table to avoid zero-crossing clicks and pops, and normalizing and minimizing phase differences. You can also tick a box called “Raw” that just slices up the wavetable, for samples that are exactly 1024 samples or a regular periodic multiple of that.
Give me some time and we can whip up some examples of this, but basically you can glitch out, mangle sounds you’ve recorded, carefully construct sounds, or just grab ready-to-use wavetables from other sources.
But it is a whole lot of fun and it suggests Wavetable is an instrument that will grow over time.
Here’s that feature in action:
Delay. Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay have merged into a single lifeform called … Delay. That finally updates an effect that hasn’t seen love since the last decade. (The original ones will still work for backwards project compatibility, though you won’t see them in a device list when you create a new project – don’t panic.)
At first glance, you might think that’s all that’s here, but in typical Ableton fashion, there are some major updates hidden behind those vanilla, minimalist controls. So now you have Repitch, Fade, and Jump modes. And there’s a Modulation section with rate, filter, and time controls (as found on Echo). Oh, and look at that little infinity sign next to the Feedback control.
Yeah, all of those things are actually huge from a sound design perspective. So since Echo has turned out to be a bit too much for some tasks, I expect we’ll be using Delay a lot. (It’s a bit like that moment when you figure out you really want Simpler and Drum Racks way more than you do Sampler.)
The old delays. Ah, memories…
And the new Delay. Look closely – there are some major new additions in there.
Channel EQ. This is a new EQ with visual feedback and filter curves that adapt across the frequency range – that is, “Low,” “Mid,” and “High” each adjust their curves as you change their controls. Since it has just three controls, that means Channel EQ sits somewhere between the dumbed down EQ Three and the complexity of EQ Eight. But it also means this could be useful as a live performance EQ when you don’t necessarily want a big DJ-style sweep / cut.
Here it is in action:
The stuff above is fun, but you obviously don’t need it. Where Live 10.1 might help you actually finish music is in a slew of new arrangement features.
Live 10 felt like a work in progress as far as the Arrange view. I think it immediately made sense to some of us that Ableton were adjusting arrangement tools, and ironing out the difference between, say, moving chunks of audio around and editing automation (drawing all those lovely lines to fade things in and out, for instance).
But it felt like the story there wasn’t totally complete. In fact, the change may have been too subtle – different enough to disturb some existing users, but without a big enough payoff.
So here’s the payoff: Ableton have refined all those subtle Arrange tweaks with user feedback, and added some very cool shape drawing features that let you get creative in this view in a way that isn’t possible with other users.
Fixing “$#(*& augh undo I didn’t want to do that!” Okay, this problem isn’t unique to Live. In every traditional DAW, your mouse cursor does conflicting things in a small amount of space. Maybe you’re trying to move a chunk of audio. Maybe you want to resize it. Maybe you want to fade in and out the edges of the clip. Maybe it’s not the clip you’re trying to edit, but the automation curves around it.
In studio terms, this sounds like one of the following:
[silent, happy clicking, music production getting … erm … produced]
$#(*&*%#*% …. Noo errrrrrrrgggggg … GAACK! SDKJJufffff ahhh….
Live 10 added a toggle between automation editing and audio editing modes. For me, I was already doing less of the latter. But 10.1 is dramatically better, thanks to some nearly imperceptible adjustments to the way those clip handles work, because you can more quickly change modes, and because you can zoom more easily. (The zoom part may not immediately seem connected to this, but it’s actually the most important part – because navigating from your larger project length to the bit you’re actually trying to edit is usually where things break down.)
In technical terms, that means the following:
Quick zoom shortcuts. I’ll do a separate story on these, because they’re so vital, but you can now jump to the whole song, details, zoom various heights, and toggle between zoom states via keyboard shortcuts. There are even a couple of MIDI-mappable ones.
Clips in Arrangement have been adjusted. From the release notes: “The visualisation of Arrangement clips has been improved with adjusted clip borders and refinements to the way items are colored.” Honestly, you won’t notice, but ask the person next to you how much you’re grunting / swearing like someone is sticking something pointy into your ribs.
Pitch gestures! You can pitch-zoom Arrangement and MIDI editor with Option or Alt keys – that works well on Apple trackpads and newer PC trackpads. And yeah, this means you don’t have to use Apple Logic Pro just to pinch zoom. Ahem.
The Clip Detail View is clearer, too, with a toggle between automation and modulation clearly visible, and color-coded modulation for everything.
The Arrangement Overview was also adjusted with better color coding and new resizing.
In addition, Ableton have worked a lot with how automation editing functions. New in 10.1:
Enter numerical values. Finally.
Free-hand curves more easily. With grid off, your free-hand, wonky mouse curves now get smoothed into something more logical and with fewer breakpoints – as if you can draw better with the mouse/trackpad than you actually can.
Simplify automation. There’s also a command that simplifies existing recorded automation. Again – finally.
So that fixes a bunch of stuff, and while this is pretty close to what other DAWs do, I actually find Ableton’s implementation to be (at last) quicker and friendlier than most other DAWs. But Ableton kept going and added some more creative ideas.
Insert shapes. Now you have some predefined shapes that you can draw over automation lanes. It’s a bit like having an LFO / modulation, but you can work with it visually – so it’s nice for those who prefer that editing phase as a way do to their composition. Sadly, you can only access these via the mouse menu – I’d love some keyboard shortcuts, please – but it’s still reasonably quick to work with.
Modify curves. Hold down Option/Ctrl and you can change the shape of curves.
Stretch and skew. Reshape envelopes to stretch, skew, stretch time / ripple edit.
Insert Shapes promises loads of fun in the Arrangement – words that have never been uttered before.
Check out those curve drawing and skewing/scaling features in action:
You can freeze tracks with sidechains, instead of a stupid dialog box popping up to tell you you can’t, because it would break the space-time continuum or crash the warp core injectors or … no, there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t be able to freeze sidechains on a computer.
You can export return and master effects on the actual tracks. I know, I know. You really loved bouncing out stems from Ableton or getting stems to remix and having little bits of effects from all the tracks on separate stems that were just echos, like some weird ghost of whatever it was you were trying to do. And I’m a lazy kid, who for some reason thinks that’s completely illogical since, again, this is a computer and all this material is digital. But yes, for people are soft like me, this will be a welcome feature.
So there you have it. Plus you now get VST3s, which is great, because VST3 … is so much … actually, you know, even I don’t care all that much about that, so let’s just say now you don’t have to check if all your plug-ins will run or not.
Go get it
One final note – Max for Live. 10.0.6 synchronized with Max 8.0.2. See those release notes from Cycling ’74:
Live 10.1 is keeping pace, with the beta you download now including Max 8.0.3.
Ableton haven’t really “integrated” Max for Live; they’re still separate products. And so that means you probably don’t want perfect lockstep between Max and Live, because that could mean instability on the Live side. It’d be more accurate to say that what Ableton have done is to improve the relationship between Max and Live, so that you don’t have to wait as long for Max improvements to appear in Max for Live.
Live 10.1 is in beta now with a final release coming soon.
DP10 might just grant two big wishes to DAW power users. One: pull off Ableton Live-style clip launching. Two: give us serious, integrated waveform editing. Here’s why DP10 might get your attention.
A handful of music tools has stood the test of time because the developers have built relationships with users over years and decades. DP is definitely in that category, established in fields like TV and film scoring.
This also means, however, it’s rare for an update to seem like news. DP10 is a potential exception. I haven’t had hands-on time with it yet, but this makes me interested in investing that time.
Bride of Ableton Live?
The big surprise is, MOTU are tackling nonlinear loop triggering, with what they call the Clips window.
The connection to Ableton Live here is obvious; MOTU even drives home the point with a similar gray color scheme, round indicators showing play status, clips grouped into Scenes (as a separate column) horizontally, and into tracks vertically.
And hey, this works for users – all of those decisions are really intuitive.
Here’s where MOTU has an edge on Ableton, though. DP10 adds the obvious – but new – idea of queuing clips in advance. These drop like Tetris pieces into your tracks so you can chain together clips and let them play automatically. The queue is dynamic, meaning you can add and remove those bits at will.
That sounds like a potential revelation. It’s way easier to grok – and more visible – than Live’s Follow Actions. And it frees users from taking their focus of their instruments and other work just to manually trigger clips.
Also, as with Bitwig Studio, MOTU lets you trigger multiple clips both as scenes and as clip groups. (Live is more rigid; the only way to trigger multiple clips in one step is as a complete row.)
I have a lot of questions here that require some real test time. Could MOTU’s non-linear features here pair with their sophisticated marker tools, the functionality that have earned them loyalty with people doing scoring? How do these mesh with the existing DP editing tools, generally – does this feel like a tacked-on new mode, or does it integrate well with DP? And just how good is DP as a live performance tool, if you want to use this for that use case? (Live performance is a demanding thing.)
But MOTU do appear to have a shot to succeed where others haven’t. Cakewalk added clip triggering years ago to SONAR (and a long-defunct tool called Project 5), but it made barely a dent on Live’s meteoric rise and my experience of trying to use it was that it was relatively clunky. That is, I’d normally rather use Live for its workflow and bounce stems to another DAW if I want that. And I suspect that’s not just me – that’s really now the competition.
More audio manipulation
Every major DAW seems locked now in a sort of arms race in detecting beats and stretching audio, as the various developers gradually add new audio mangling algorithms and refine usability features.
So here we go with DP10 – detect beats, stetch audio, adjust tempo, yadda yadda.
Under the hood, most developers are now licensing the algorithms that manipulate audio – MOTU now works with ZTX Pro from zynaptic. But how you then integrate that mathemagical stuff with user interface design is really important, so this is down to implementation.
It’s certainly doubly relevant that MOTU are adding new beat detection and pitch-independent audio stretching in DP10, because of course this is a natural combination for the new Clips View.
More research needed.
Maybe just as welcome, though, is that MOTU have updated the integrated waveform editor in DP. And let’s be honest – even after decades of development, most DAWs have really terrible editors when it comes down to precise work on individual bits of audio. (I cringe every time I open the one in Logic, for instance. Ableton doesn’t really even have waveform editing apart from the limited tools in the main Arrangement view. And even users of something like Pro Tools or Cubase will often jump out to use a dedicated program.)
MOTU say they’ve streamlined and improved their Waveform Editor. And there’s reason to stay in the DAW – in DP10, they’ve integrated all those beat editing and time stretching and pitch correction tools. They’re also promising dynamic editing tools and menus and shortcuts and … yeah, just have to try this one. But those integrated tools and views look great, and – spectral view!
There’s some other cool stuff in DP10:
A new integrated Browser (this will also be familiar to users of Ableton Live and other tools, but it seems nicely implemented)
“VCA Faders” – which let you control multiple tracks with relative volumes, grouping however you like and with full automation support. This looks ilke a really intuitive way to mix.
VST3 support – yep, the new format is slowly gaining adoption across the industry.
Shift-spacebar to run commands. This is terrific to me – skip the manual, skip memorizing shortcuts for everything, but quickly access commands. (I think a lot of us use Spotlight and other launchers in a similar way, so this is totally logical.)
Transport bar skips by bars and beats. (Wait… why doesn’t every program out there do this, actually?)
Streamlined tools for grid snapping, Region menu, tool swapping, zooming, and more.
Quantize now applies to controllers (CC data), not just notes. (Yes. Good.)
Okay, actually, that last one – I was all set to try the previous version of DP, but discovered it was impossible for my weak eyes to see the UI on my PC. So now I’m in. If you hadn’t given DP a second look because you actually couldn’t see it – it seems that problem is finally solved.
And by the way, you also really see DP’s heritage as a MIDI editor, with event list editing, clear displays of MIDI notes, and more MIDI-specific improvements.
All in all, it looks great. DP has to compete now with a lot of younger DAWs, the popularity of software like Ableton Live, and then the recent development on Windows of Cakewalk (aka SONAR) being available for free. But this looks like a pretty solid argument against all of that – and worth a test.
And I’ll be totally honest here – while I’ve been cursing some of DP’s competition for being awkward to set up and navigate for these same tasks, I’m personally interested.
It means a lot to have one DAW with everything from a mature notation view editor to video scoring to MIDI editing and audio and mixing. It means something you don’t outgrow. But that makes it even more important to have it grow and evolve with you. We’ll see how DP10 is maturing.
64-bit macOS, and 32-bit/64-bit Windows 7/8/10, shipping this quarter.
Full version: $499USD (street price)
Competitive upgrade: $395USD
AudioDesk upgrade: $395USD
Upgrade from previous version: $195USD
The hybrid DJ set keeps getting fresh nudges. Now, Roland and Serato have added easy, automatic sync over USB for the TR-8, TR-8S, and the Boutique Series TR-08 and TR-09 drum machines.
And… oh, actually, this is such a no-brainer, I could almost just finish the story with that. (And that’s actually kind of cool.) But let’s offer a little more detail.
How does it work? Plus in a compatible drum machine via USB, and your drum machine follows Serato’s BPM.
How is that different from existing solutions? Well, it saves you the added step of configuring MIDI clock, at the very least. We’ll be able to test this shortly to check it in action, but it also presumably irons out other performance issues that can crop up with MIDI.
Oh, plus, if you didn’t understand any word I just said – this update is totally for you. You plug it in and it works. And rankly, that’s how it ought to be.
How do you get the update? Looks like all Serato DJ Pro owners with Roland hardware will be squared away. This is officially called the “Serato x Roland TR-SYNC update” but it appears you basically get plug and play support in the latest version of Serato DJ Pro.
Why would you want to do this? Well, even short of doing a full-on hybrid set, it can be fun to layer sum drum parts or (on the TR-8S) samples and so on. You could also then go on to sync still more gear from the TR. Oh, and the Boutique TR-08 and TR-09 are advantageously tiny. Even the most cramped DJ booth could easily fit one.
Bottom line – it’s nice to see some challenge to Pioneer’s own link protocol with their CDJ. Why shouldn’t you plug in drum machines and have them groove along? That’s why they’re drum machines.
I think it’ll make perfect sense, but for some reason, Roland marketing have gone a little crazy and decided to explain this not to non-technical DJs, but to actual space aliens. And for some reason all the sync in the product photography is 120 bpm, which bothers me. So here we go:
What is a drum machine? It is … a machine … with drums in it.
What’s so special about Roland drum machines? No idea. I swear I can stop using them any time I want. I don’t really even like music. Watch, I’m about to do something more productive with my life right this second. The official Roland explanation, though:
The legendary TR-808 and 909 are the most influential drum machines of all time and have become part of the DNA of everything. They’ve literally just reprogrammed our genetic code and destroyed our minds and now all music genres and all carbon-based life on Earth have been assimilated, leading up presumably to some kind of invasion – once everyone has become a DJ.
Isn’t making your own beats complicated? No, it’s not, but that won’t stop you from becoming newly obsessed with how the beat is never right and the longer you listen to it, the more your grasp of all reality will melt away leaving you only with this loop. See DNA issue, above.
How do I include my own beats in my DJ set? This is a question that has truly no accurate answer, but if you call yourself a DJ, you’re already part of a global phenomenon started by a surprisingly small handful of people of color (very poorly attributed, as per usual) who just decided to show off and also not to have gaps between tracks and then got really deep into using phonographs incorrectly, so… uh, experiment, if you like, until you find something you like?
I’ve done it again. Long article. Also, not only is this not sponsored product, I now probably have to buy some apology rounds of drinks for whoever did write the original ad copy. Sorry.
There, instead of configuring MIDI, you now have more time to read my blathering.
Bitwig Studio may have started in the shadow of Ableton, but one of its initial promises was building a DAW that was modular from the ground up. Bitwig Studio 3 is poised to finally deliver on that promise, with “The Grid.”
Having a truly modular system inside a DAW offers some tantalizing possibilities. It means, in theory at least, you can construct whatever you want from basic building blocks. And in the very opposite of today’s age of presets, that could make your music tool feel more your own.
Oh yeah, and if there is such an engine inside your DAW, you can also count on other people building a bunch of stuff you can reuse.
Why modulaity? It doesn’t have to just be about tinkering (though that can be fun for a lot of people).
A modular setup is the very opposite of a preset mentality for music production. Experienced users of these environments (software especially, since it’s open-ended) do often find that patching exactly what they need can be more creative and inspirational. It can even save time versus the effort spent trying to whittle away at a big, monolithic tool just go get to the bit you actually want. But the traditional environments for modular development are fairly unfriendly to new users – that’s why very often people’s first encounters with Max/MSP, SuperCollider, Pd, Reaktor, and the like is in a college course. (And not everyone has access to those.) Here, you get a toolset that could prove more manageable. And then once you have a patch you like, you can still interconnect premade devices – and you can work with clips and linear arrangement to actually finish songs. With the other tools, that often means coding out the structure of your song or trying to link up to a different piece of software.
We’ve seen other DAWs go modular in different ways. There’s Apple Logic’s now mostly rarely-used Environment. There’s Reason with its rich, patchable rack and devices. There’s Sensomusic Usine, which is a fully modular DAW / audio environment, and DMX lighting and video tool – perhaps the most modular of these (even relative to Bitwig Studio and The Grid). And of course there’s Ableton Live with Max for Live, though that’s really a different animal – it’s a full patching development environment that runs inside Live via a runtime, and API and interface hooks that allow you to access its devices. The upside: Max for Live can do just about everything. The downside: it’s mostly foreign to Ableton Live (as it’s a different piece of software with its own history), and it could be too deep for someone just wanting to build an effect or instrument.
So, enter The Grid. This is really the first time a relatively conventional DAW has gotten its own, native modular environment that can build instruments and effects. And it looks like it could be accomplished in a way that feels comfortable to existing users. You get a toolset for patching your own stuff inside the DAW, and you can even mix and match signal to outboard hardware modular if that’s your thing.
And it really focuses on sound applications, too, with three devices. One is dedicated to monophonic synths, one to polyphonic synths, and one to effects.
From there, you get a fully modular setup with a modern-looking UI and 120+ modules to choose from.
They’ve done a whole lot to ease the learning curve normally associated with these environments – smoothing out some of the wrinkles that usually baffle beginners:
You can patch anything to anything, in to out. All signals are interchangeable – connect any out to any in. Most other software environments don’t work that way, which can mean a steeper learning curve. (We’ll have to see how this works in practice inside The Grid).
Any in can go to any out – reducing some of the complexity of other patching environments (software and hardware alike).
Everything’s stereo. Here’s another way of reducing complexity. Normally, you have to duplicate signals to get stereo, which can be confusing for beginners. Here, every audio cable and every control cable routes stereo.
Everything’s also in living stereo, reducing cable count and cognitive effort.
There are default patchings. Funny enough, this idea has actually been seen on hardware – there are default routings so modules automatically wire themselves if you want, via what Bitwig calls “pre-cords.” That means if you’re new to the environment, you can always plug stuff in.
They’ve also promised to make phase easier to understand, which should open up creative use of time and modulation to those who may have been intimidated by these concepts before.
“Pre-cords” mean you can easily add default patchings to get stuff working straight away.
What fun is a modular tool if you can’t explore phase? Bitwig say they’ve made this concept more accessible to modulation and easier to learn.
There’s also a big advantage to this being native to the environment – again, something you could only really say about Sensomusic Usine before now (at least as far as things that could double as DAWs).
Nesting and layering devices alongside other Bitwig devices
Full support from the Open Controller API. (Wow, this is a pain the moment you put something like Reaktor into another host, too.)
Route modulation out of your stuff from The Grid into other Bitwig devices.
Complete hardware modular integration – yeah, you can mix your software with hardware as if they’re one environment. Bitwig says they’ve included “dedicated grid modules for sending any control, trigger, or pitch signal as CV Out and receiving any CV In.”
I’ve been waiting for this basically since the beginning. This is an unprecedented level of integration, where every device you see in Bitwig Studio is already based on this modular environment. Bitwig had even touted that early on, but I think they were far overzealous with letting people know about their plans. It unsurprisingly took a while to make that interface user friendly, which is why it’ll be a pleasure to try this now and see how they’ve done. But Bitwig tells us this is in fact the same engine – and that the interface “melds our twin focus on modularity and swift workflows.”
There’s also a significant dedication to signal fidelity. There’s 4X oversampling throughout. That should generally sound better, but it also has implications for control and modularity. And it’ll make modulation more powerful in synthesis, Bitwig tells CDM:
With phase, sync, and pitch inputs on most every oscillator, there are many opportunities here for complex setups. Providing this additional bandwidth keeps most any patch or experiment from audible aliasing. As an open system, this type of optimization works for the most cases without overtaxing processors.
It’s stereo only, which puts it behind some of the multichannel capabilities of Reaktor, Max, SuperCollider, and others – Max/MSP especially given its recent developments. But that could see some growth in a later release, Bitwig hints. For now, I think stereo will keep us plenty busy.
They’ve also been busy optimizing, Bitwig tells us:
This is something we worked a lot on in early development, particularly optimizing performance on the oversampled, stereo paths to align with the vector units of desktop processors. In addition, the modules are compiled at runtime for the best performance on the particular CPU in use.
That’s a big deal. I’m also excited about using this on Linux – where, by the way, you can really easily use JACK to integrate other environments like SuperCollider or live coding tools.
If you’re at NAMM, Bitwig will show The Grid as part of Bitwig Studio 3. They have a release coming in the second quarter, but we’ll sit down with them here in Berlin for a detailed closer look (minus NAMM noise in the background or jetlag)!
Oh yeah, and if you’ve got the Upgrade Plan, it’s free.
This is really about making a fully modular DAW – as opposed to the fixed multitrack tape/mixer models of the past. Bitwig have even written up an article about how they see modularity and how it’s evolved over various release versions:
Roland’s TR-8S added loads of parameters for shaping drum kits and effects. Now you can get at all of those without diving through menus with this VST/AU plug-in – and keep your drum machine settings stored with your project.
Hardware is great, but it introduces two problems. First, there are inevitably some parameters buried in menus that are hard to reach on the front panel, no matter how many knobs and faders makers add. Second, stuff you do on the hardware is likely to get out of sync with your DAW, leading to that invariable “what the Hell was this supposed to be?” feeling when you power things up. (Okay, sometimes that leads to happy accidents. Sometimes it just leads to misery.)
Momo Miller has been trucking through the full Roland range (plus KORG and Novation Circuit). He’s been adding plug-ins for just this reason. You get more accessible editing and control, and your settings stay inside your DAW projects for easy recall.
Now, first, what this isn’t: it isn’t a full-blown editor for the TR-8S. And it’s a shame, given Roland Cloud, that the manufacturer didn’t provide one. That also means loading custom samples on the TR-8S is a manual affair. This unofficial editor isn’t able to load sample files. And you don’t get full access to all of the TR-8S’ hidden parameters, like the deep settings per kit. So, Roland, if you’re listening – please, give us that.
You do, however, get a lot of access to parameters per sound and kit – basically, anything that has a MIDI CC assignment. And you can still save your changes on the hardware, for anything this controls. Plus you can save parameters separately in software. And there are some useful performance controller mappings.
Here’s what you get:
Full access to TR-8S parameters (as accessible via MIDI)
Control effects via custom-mapped X/Y performance controllers
Automation of parameters inside your DAW
Save parameter data with your DAW – including which kit was selected, which is invaluable on its own
Interactive visual display
32-bit and 64-bit VST (Windows, Mac) AU (Mac) and standalone (Windows, Mac) versions
Like the relaunched Technics 1200, the new Reloop decks sport digitally controlled motors. But Reloop have gone somewhere very different from Technics: platters that can be controlled at a full range of pitches, and even play scales. And the RP-8000 MK2 is a MIDI controller, too, for Serato and other software.
Oh yeah, and one other thing – Reloop as always is more affordable – a pair of RP-8000 MK2s costs the same as one SL-1200 MK7. (One deck is EUR600 / USD700 / GBP525).
And there’s a trend beyond these decks. Mechanical engineers rejoice – the age of the motor is here.
238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2
We’re seeing digitally controlled motors for haptic feedback, as on the new Native Instruments S4 DJ controllers. And we’re seeing digital control on motors providing greater reliability, more precision, and broader ranges of speed on conventional turntables.
So digitally controlled motors were what Technics was boasting earlier this week with their SL-1200 MK7, which they say borrows from Blu-Ray drive technology (Technics is a Panasonic brand).
Reloop have gone one step further on the RP-8000 MK2. “Platter Play” rotates the turntable platter at different speeds to produce different pitches – rapidly. You can use the colored pads on the turntable, or connect an external MIDI keyboard.
That gives the pads a new life, as something integral to the turntable instead of just a set of triggers for software. (I’m checking with Reloop to find out if the performance pads require Serato to work, but either way, they do actually impact the platter rotation – it’s a physical result.)
238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2
Serato and Reloop have built a close relationship with turntablists; this lets them build the vinyl deck into a more versatile instrument. It’s still an analog/mechanical device, but with a greater range of playing options thanks to digital tech under the hook. Call it digital-kinetic-mechanical.
Also digital: the pitch fader Reloop. (Reloop call it “high-resolution.”) Set it to +- 8% (hello Technics-style pitch), or +/- 16% for a wider range (hello, Romanian techno, -16%), or an insane +/- 50%. That’s the actual platter speed we’re talking here. (Makes sense – platters on CDs and Blu-Ray spin far, far faster.)
With quartz lock on, the same mechanism will simply play your records more accurately at a steady pitch (0%).
The pitch fader and motor mechanism are both available on the RP-7000 MK2, for more traditional turntable operation The performance pad melodic control is on the 8000, the one intended for Serato users.
I expect some people want their controller and their deck separate – playing vinyl means bringing actual vinyl records, and playing digital means using a controller and computer, or for many people, just a USB stick and CDJs.
If you want that, you can grab the RP-7000 MK2 for just 500 bucks a deck, minus the controller features.
On the RP-8000 MK2, you get a deck that adds digital features you’ve seen on controllers and CDJs directly on the deck. As on the original RP-8000, Reloop are the first to offer Serato integration. And it’s implemented as MIDI, so you can work with third-party software as well. The market is obviously DVS users.
The original RP offered Cue, Loop, Sample and Slicer modes with triggers on the left-hand side. Plus you get a digital readout above the pitch fader.
On the MK2, the numeric display gives you even more feedback: pitch, BPM, deck assignment, scales and notes, elapsed/remaining time of current track, plus firmware settings.
New playback and platter control options on the Reloop RP-8000 MK2.
The pads have new performance modes, too: Cue, Sampler, Saved Loops, Pitch Play, Loop, Loop Roll, Slicer, and two user-assignable modes (for whatever functions you want).
Reloop have also upgraded the tone arm base for greater reliability and more adjustments.
And those performance modes look great – 22 scales and 34 notes, plus up to 9 user-defined scales.
For more integration, Reloop are also offering the Reloop Elite, a DVS-focused mixer with a bunch of I/O, displays that integrate with the software, and more RGB-colored performance triggers and other shortcuts.
One of these things is not like the others: the new kit still requires a laptop to run Serato.
If I had any complaint, it’s this: when will Serato do their own standalone embedded hardware in place of the computer? I know many DJs are glad to bring a computer – and Reloop claims the controls on the deck eliminate the need for a standalone controller (plus they have that new mixer with still more Serato integration). But it seems still a bummer to have to buy and maintain a PC or Mac laptop as part of the deal. And if you’re laying out a couple grand on hardware, wouldn’t you be willing to buy an embedded solution that let you work without a computer? (Especially since Serato is an integrated environment, and would run on embedded machines. Why not stick an ARM board in there to run those displays and just read your music off USB?)
As for Reloop, they’re totally killing it with affordable turntables. If you just want some vinyl playback and basic DJing for your home or studio, in December they also unveiled the RP-2000 USB MK2. USB interface (for digitization or DVS control), direct drive control (so you can scratch on it), under 300 bucks.
Akai tipped their hand late last year that they were moving more toward live performance. With APC Live hardware leaked and in the wild, maybe it’s time to take another look. MPC software improvements might interest you with or without new hardware.
MPC 2.3 software dropped mid-November. We missed talking about it at the time. But now that we’re (reasonably certain, unofficially) that Akai is releasing new hardware, it puts this update in a new light. Background on that:
Whether or not the leaked APC Live hardware appeals to you, Akai are clearly moving their software in some new directions – which is relevant whatever hardware you choose. We don’t yet know if the MPC Live hardware will get access to the APC Live’s Matrix Mode, but it seems a reasonable bet some if not all of the APC Live features are bound for MPC Live, too.
And MPC 2.3 added major new live performance features, as well as significant internal synths, to that standalone package. Having that built in means you get it even without a computer.
New in 2.3:
A vintage-style, modeled analog polysynth
A bass synth
A tweakable, physically modeled electric piano
Tubesynth – an analog poly.
Electric’s physically-modeled keys.
Electric inside the MPC Live environment.
As with NI’s Maschine, each of those can be played from chords and scales with the pads mode. But Maschine requires a laptop, of course – MPC Live doesn’t.
A new arpeggiator, with four modes of operation, ranging from traditional vintage-style arp to more modern, advanced pattern playback
And there’s an “auto-sampler.”
That auto-sampler looks even more relevant when you see the APC Live. On MPC Live (and by extension APC Live), you can sample external synths, sample VST plug-ins, and even capture outboard CV patches.
Of course, this is a big deal for live performance. Plug-ins won’t work in standalone mode – and can be CPU hogs, anyway – so you can conveniently capture what you’re doing. Got some big, valuable vintage gear or a modular setup you don’t to take to the gig? Same deal. And then this box gives you the thing modular instruments don’t do terribly well – saving and recalling settings – since you can record and restore those via the control voltage I/O (also found on that new APC Live). The auto-sampler is an all-in-one solution for making your performances more portable.
Full details of the 2.3 update – though I expect we’ve got even more new stuff around the corner:
With or without the APC Live, you get the picture. While Ableton and Native Instruments focus on studio production and leave you dependent on the computer, Akai’s angle is creating an integrated package you can play live with – like, onstage.
Sure enough, Akai have been picking up large acts to their MPC Live solution, too – John Mayer, Metallica, and Chvrches all got named dropped. Of those, let’s check out Chvrches – 18 minutes in, the MPC Live gets showcased nicely:
It makes sense Akai would come to rely on its own software. When Akai and Novation released their first controllers for Ableton Live, Ableton had no hardware of their own, which changed with Push. But of course even the first APC invoked the legendary MPC legacy – and Akai has for years been working on bringing desktop software functionality to the MPC name. So, while some of us (me included) first suspected a standalone APC Live might mean a collaboration with Ableton, it does make more sense that it’s a fully independent Akai-made, MPC-style tool.
It also makes sense that this means, for now, more internal functionality. (The manual reference to “plugins” in the APC Live manual that leaked probably means those internal instruments and effects.) That has more predictability as far as resource consumption, and means avoiding the licensing issues necessary and the like to run plug-ins in embedded Linux. This could change, by the way – Propellerhead’s Rack Extensions format now is easily portable to ARM processors, for example – but that’s another story. As far as VST, AU, and AAX, portability to embedded hardware is still problematic.
The upshot of this, though, is that InMusic at least has a strategy for hardware that functions on its own – not just as a couple of one-off MPC pieces, but in terms of integrated hardware/software development across a full product line. Native Instruments, Ableton, and others might be working on something like that that lets you untether from the computer, but InMusic is shipping now, and they aren’t.
Now the question is whether InMusic can capitalize on its MPC legacy and the affection for the MPC and APC brands and workflows – and get people to switch from other solutions.