If the last generation of production software was about UI, workflow, and add-on extras, the next generation may be about science. Witness MOTU’s DP 9.5.
DP, aka Digital Performer, is that DAW everyone forgets about, but really shouldn’t. Now on both Windows and Mac, and a long-time staple of hard-core niches like the TV scoring business, DP has quietly added all the stuff that makes using a DAW better, without too much extra stuffing, often advancing without any hype past other rivals in key areas.
But even doing that, it’s hard for a DAW to stand out.
So, how about this: how about if a DAW let you manipulate time and pitch in a way that sounded less artificial? Wouldn’t that be a reason to use it?
And while various DAWs have licensed technology for improving time and pitch stretching, most of them still sound, well, pretty crap – especially if you go beyond small changes. (That hasn’t stopped me from using the artifacts creatively, but then the problem is, even those results tend to sound too much alike.)
So, the pairing of Zynaptiq with MOTU gets pretty interesting.
Zynaptiq is one of a handful of developers working on brain-bending DSP science to achieve sonic effects you haven’t heard before. (For some reason, a lot of these players seem to be in Germany … or Cambridge, Massachusetts. The latter is an MIT thing; the former, a German thing? Zynaptiq is out of Hannover.)
In the case of Zynaptiq, “artificial intelligence” and machine learning meet new advances in DSP. Whatever’s going on there (and I hope to cover that more), the results sound really extraordinary. Every time I’ve been at a trade show where the developer was exhibiting, people would grab you by the arms and say, have you heard the crazy stuff they’re doing it sounds like the future. That was aided by a unique demo style.
But there’s a big leap when you can integrate that kind of capability into a DAW and its existing workflow, without all the weird extra steps required to go back and forth to a plug-in.
And that’s what DP 9.5 does – in an update that’s free for all existing users, adding Zynaptiq’s ZTX PRO tech.
You get time stretching everywhere, so speeding up and slowing down by small increments or huge sounds natural. And they’ve done a bunch of work so you can change tempo adjustments and conductor tempo maps – which was always, always one of the best features of DP. (I was at the Aspen Music Festival in the late 90s listening to a film composer show off how easy scoring with DP markers was, fully two decades ago. Two decades later, the competition still hasn’t caught up, and DP has continued to expand on that feature.)
Plus you get pitch shifting and relative pitch editing, as you’ve seen with products like Celemony, but far more deeply integrated in the DAW and with (to my ear) better-sounding results. So yes, that does pitch shifting and pitch correction, but it also opens up some really interesting creative possibilities. This isn’t just about making bad singers sound better; it could be a boon to creative editing. (I just spent the last weekend poking around in Logic’s archaic and dated implementation for the heck of it, not knowing DP 9.5 was coming and… well, just no.)
There are “quality” presets, too, to help you find the right settings.
Have a listen in the demos. Here’s pitch shifting:
And here’s time shifting:
And from the ever-lovely Gotye (really nice chap with a terrifically nice band and some great producers, I have to say, just because I like nice people), some other examples:
Unrelated to all this, 9.5 also has a window that makes it easier to monitor processing load, so you can identify CPU hogs. (Heck, that may mean DP is now part of my standard test suite for plug-ins.) This combines with other unique performance management features in DP, like “pre-gen” capability, which eases the load on your CPU by pre-rendering audio.
MOTU has announced it is now shipping Digital Performer 9.5, a free update for all DP9 owners. Version 9.5 introduces ZTX PRO technology: cutting-edge audio time-stretching and pitch-shifting DSP developed and refined through years of advanced R&D by the renowned engineering team at Zynaptiq. ZTX PRO™ technology from Zynaptiq™ pushes the boundaries of what is […]
Demian Licht is building a portal – one connecting us to a new future, one scrapping the parts of society holding people back, one linking the world. She’s not just making techno – she’s making a statement about the future with her music and practice, one that resonates with Detroit’s pioneers and the bleeding-edge aspirations of a new generation today.
Oh, and there’s some strange physical portal involved, too, one purportedly located at the geographic center of Mexico – uh, maybe. But you might want to watch that spot.
So, not only did we want to hear more about Demian Licht’s approach to music after being wowed by her Female Criminals series (now up to two volumes plus one excellent remix album), we wanted to hear about her thoughts on society, too. Demian is one of the top Ableton trainers you’ll find worldwide, and her knowledge and skills go well beyond just using that one tool into deep explorations of sound and meaning.
We take a look inside her studio, and get some of this knowledge transmitted directly our way, too – and have a glimpse at some of the emerging scene in Mexico and her own next audiovisual opus. And lately you were probably thinking the future was looking dim.
Peter: Let’s start with the theme “Female Criminals.” I know you had these personas in mind in the first volume. How has that evolved in volume 2? What’s your connection to the theme, or what are we hearing in this release?
Demian: Female Criminals is my script to explore sonically the deepest side of the female mind: the dark side, the savage, the intuitive, the mystical — skills of women by nature, but that have been suppressed by society for centuries.
Vol. 1 has been my first approach to exploring the ‘criminal’ side of the female mind. I am using this term not as an obscure way to think about it; it’s more in the sense of the ‘forbidden’ which has been imposed by society by blocking the real nature and power of the female mind. With this mindset, Vol. 2 narrates the history of a crime made by a woman from the desire to the act.
There’s to me a really cinematic quality to the music. Can you tell us a bit about the different vocal sample sources in these tracks? What about instrumentation, too, also connecting to the theme?
Definitely, and that was my main intention. I’ve always been interested in the cinema field; I want it to translate the cinematic language into a sonic experience. For this volume, I’ve re-sampled a piece of a wonderful Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho, that has touched me really deeply. I’ve used a ‘secret weapon’ inside Native Instruments Reaktor to completely change the structure and sound of the piece. I’ve used some of the edited results of this experiment to construct the history of Vol. 2. 3.
I can imagine these tracks both in a listening sense but also for the dance floor – do you DJ with these, as well? Or how do you see the role of the DJ in your work?
I’ve always presented my work as live. I am interested in exploring the challenges and possibilities of performing live electronic music. All mixes and podcasts I’ve done have used Ableton. However, I’m starting to receive some interesting proposals for DJ sets, such as BBC Radio, for instance.
Probably now is the time to start challenge me further as a DJ.
You’re a certified trainer, and of course came out and participated in their conference Loop here in Berlin with us in the fall. Is there a relationship between being an educator and a producer for you? Has that technical development been something you apply in your music production? Does it inform your creativity?
Totally. My knowledge in this field started when I decided to study sound engineering. But when I felt I really mastered the concepts and techniques related to music production was when I learned to transmit this knowledge to other people.
Of course, working as a trainer, you’ve got people on a different level. Where do you start with them? How far in do you get, or what have you found is most useful to people working with you?
Yes, I’ve worked with people of all kind of backgrounds, musical preferences, and ages. To give you a broader perspective about what I teach, it starts from electronic music history (extremely important) — Theremin, Musique concrète, Krautrock, etc. — to essential audio digital/analog theory, Ableton workflow, signal processing, synthesis, into designing a granular sampler in [Native Instruments] Reaktor.
I think my main teaching skill is that I try to make technical concepts easier to digest.
You’ve talked in other interviews and even in the label statement about your relationship to Mexico. I know both feelings about sexism and the change in the country are things I’ve spoken at length with my Mexican friends and colleagues about … and, for that matter, with other Americans about the state of these issues in our own country.
Given everyone is describing this as some kind of change, what’s your sense of the current moment in your city and nation?
Through history, particularly within Mexican and Latin American culture which I come from, the female figure has had a passive role inside society. The Female Criminals trilogy is my statement to shunt this misconception.
We are living in a moment of worldwide changes. I believe it’s time to break down old paradigms, to be able to arrive into the next level as a society, as humanity. Besides, I’ve received comments from people that don’t know me very well including the label boss of a well-respected label (which I won’t mention) referring to me as ‘bro’ or [saying “well done, ‘man’,” as my name is asexual and in some press pictures you can’t see my face. But mainly I think because my music aesthetic is not ‘effeminate’. Therefore, this is a well proof of it. No labels, no paradigms anymore.
Is music something that can play a role in this societal change? What does that mean for you individually versus as part of a larger scene or community?
It’s a process. With the Female Criminals releases, I’ve had feedback from all over the world, which to be honest I’m very impressed by, as I’ve been doing everything in a very independent way as I’m not on a big label. On the road, I’ve had help from friends, producers that I appreciate a lot, such as Ian McDonnell aka Eomac, who has given me advice and contacts to be able to understand how the music industry works. But in general, I’ve made everything by myself, like producing my videos, tours, etc., with my label Motus Records.
I remember a particular message from an Asian girl who wrote me through my Facebook page saying ‘You are the future’. It was really stunning to me. From the early beginning, the electronic music field has been the way to challenge myself,evolve as a human, and provoke movement ‘motus’. (“Movement” in Latin)
I truly believe music and specifically electronic music as technology could be the path to take humanity to the next level, as music is probably the only link that connects all cultures of the world. So, by sharing the vision exposed earlier by Jeff Mills and techno producers from Detroit, I’m on this field as I visualize advancement, progress, and future ‘Zukunft’ by using electronic music and technology as a vehicle to make it happen.
I think my brief impression of Mexico City was, like so many of my Berlin-based friends, really of a rich sonic environment (the city itself) and then a terrific array of musical talent in the scene. What impact has it had on you working there? What influence has Mexico had?
I’m not living in Mexico City anymore. I recently moved to a city close by, and I’m planning to move to a town which probably is the most beautiful and mystical in Mexico, located at the country’s center, called San Miguel de Allende. It’s near Tequisquiapan, where there’s a strange monument that marks the center of the country — a kind of portal.
I have projects in the near future in this place intending to connect Mexico with the world (and other worlds) by using technology and avant-garde music as a link.
But by being born, growing up, making sound engineering studies, and living in Mexico City, I realize that even with the chaos, pollution, criminality, social and politics problems, Mexico City is a colorful place, full of life and future. This city has given me the strength to survive in any place in the world, as you must be very bold and fearless to survive in it.
Any artists or other elements of the scene in Mexico City we should check out? (Anywhere to go when we’re hopefully back?)
In terms of artists based in Mexico City, I advice to check out Dig-it, AAAA and A_rp. In terms of places to explore, definitely the main one is the Museum of Anthropology which personally is my favorite in the world. You will find the powerful heritage and wisdom of all the ancient cultures that built the beginning of Mexican history.
Can you tell us a bit about the artists on the remix album? These aren’t necessarily names I know, and there’s some great stuff there, as well.
The artists that I have invited to remix Female Criminals vol. 1 are the ones who I feel are more related with my music aesthetics. I find them to be honest artists taking risks with their work in the current Mexican music scene.
For instance, Dig-it is releasing amazing techno music with his label Vector Functions; AAAA is touring in South America with international artists, and Ar_p is pushing boundaries with his live act.
Lastly, I want to ask about this theme of violence in music, and particularly techno. We talk a lot about adding darkness or demons to the music somehow. And yet somehow the experience can be the reverse – the darker or more violent the music can get, sometimes, the more grounding it can be to listen and dance to, at least for me.
What’s the experience of violence as an emotion in this music? Is it catharsis? Is it related to real violence, or has it become emotionally something else for you? I don’t mean to take the title too literally – but as it’s satisfying for me to listen to, I’m curious what your emotional connection is?
‘Dark’ or ‘obscure’ is the easiest way to describe powerful, driven, wild, forward-thinking music. Personally. this is the only kind of music that can provoke me.
I need to feel a kind of visceral-ism within music to be able to feel attracted to it, or touched by it. I’m not interested in music for ‘entertainment’ or recreation, maybe because I feel I am a kind of demon — a demon of the light.
Demian also tells us she’s got an AV project ready to go:
On this March 25th I will premiere my new A/V show alongside Olaf Bender aka Byetone co-founder of German label Raster-Noton. The premiere will be hosted by an event called Ciclo in a particular place which possess an occult power called Convento Ex-Teresa located exactly in the center of Mexico City, where Mexican history has begun.
And to give you a taste of her cinema work, here’s her original video for “Domina” – material that will be incorporated into that show:
You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but the top audio interfaces are one of the things that have been steadily getting better. That is, the handful of makers really focused on service musicians (and other audio and audiovisual applications) have improved interface quality, added a lot of features and connectivity, and improved driver performance.
MOTU is one of those makers on a short list that I hear good experiences with. But this fall when a press release crossed my desk saying they had more low latency performance, I wanted a bit more detail than the marketing language was offering. So I spoke to MOTU’s Jim Cooper to clarify a bit.
I know a lot of MOTU boxes are out there in the wild among our CDM readers, so I’d love to hear from those of you using them. (And I don’t want to just favor one vendor – I’d be happy to repeat this conversation with others, as these are the sort of chats I get to have with manufacturers, and it’s nice to be able to share them.)
TL/DR version: MOTU will give you lower round-trip latency on their latest boxes.
Also, some quick notes about what makes the UltraLite mk4 nice:
iOS, Linux. It does now do USB class compliant operation, so you can use it with iOS (or even Linux, in fact, even though MOTU don’t mention that).
Browser mixing. You can access a 48-channel mixer in your Web browser, meaning this does double duty as a mixer – and your computer becomes the interface.
Any input, any output. You can route signals in a customizable router, so any input can go to any output.
Quality! MOTU has put in what they say are “super high quality” converters; certainly, my research says you should have some good results
CDM: Can you go into some detail on the new low latency drivers for the UltraLite?
Sure! Our new low-latency drivers were years in development. These drivers (and the firmware in the hardware, too) are still actively tweeked and optimized, and we regularly release driver updates to further improve performance.
Which hardware is supported? I know MOTU has an integrated driver model, so that means you should see these benefits across the line?
The low latency drivers for the UltraLite-mk4 are for all audio interfaces in our new generation “Pro Audio” family. This covers the latest releases of UltraLite-mk4, the new 624 and 8A interfaces we announced last week, and all MOTU AVB/TSN capable hardware (UltraLite AVB, 1248, 16A, 8M etc.)
What did you do from a technical standpoint to make this work?
The short answer is…we started from scratch, spent a lot of time optimizing, looking at profilers, and optimizing some more. We have learned a lot from our 20 years of writing audio drivers and making audio interfaces. Starting from scratch meant that we could fully capitalize on those lessons learned. At the same time, operating systems have improved along with computer hardware. We can now count on machines having multiple cores and supporting Intel-intrinsic (SSE) operations, which helps a lot.
Okay, this is the one I’m most keen to know: how does performance compare on Windows versus macOS?
It depends on the machine and the software being used. Let’s assume most people have a decent, healthy computer and that we’re talking about USB.
For latency performance, we expect both platforms to perform well. Both should be able to do under 3 ms patch-thru or better. That’s like having your head about three feet further from an audio source.
For CPU performance, it’s mostly negligible on both platforms. The lower your buffer size, the more CPU we use, which has always been the case. In windows this is generally more true, so there will be a minor difference between platforms.
We want to mention that when connected via Thunderbolt, performance is a little better (for both Mac and Windows). Thunderbolt is also slightly more efficient with regard to CPU usage. But the main point is, with these new drivers, USB holds up remarkably well in comparison to Thunderbolt, given common industry perceptions.
Yeah, I’m currently spec’ing out PCs with Thunderbolt on. There have been some under-the-hood improvements I know to Windows audio lately. Any you would comment on, or that have implications for your projects?
Which improvements are you referring to? Since Vista they’ve had the MMCSS API, which gives DAWs a way to prioritize audio threads over most of the system, which really helps. That helps ASIO drivers quite a bit, too. Kernel drivers still have the limitations of poor timer accuracy and DPC scheduling, which make it more difficult to deliver audio buffers. But we have found ways to address those issues and deliver extremely solid performance.
Ed.: Well, we’re a bit behind, honestly, in tracking Windows changes. I hope to remedy that soon, though if you found Vista annoying and PC hardware options lacking then, some of the changes we reported on long ago made to Vista are now also in an OS that’s friendlier and more mature, and I think PC hardware has improved, too. I know there have been some other efforts on Windows audio that we need to keep up to date. And meanwhile on the Mac side, Sierra has fixed some things, too.
What should users of the UltraLite mk4 expect in real world usage?
A generational improvement in both the driver performance and the overall features and performance of the hardware. On today’s absolute fastest computers, we can achieve full, round-trip monitoring with RTL as low as 1.6 ms with a 32 sample buffer setting at 96 kHz. If you’re running a bunch of effects and tracks, then it’s probably a good idea to bump that up a bit. But even on a good machine (like what most of us have), you can easily achieve 3-4 ms RTL under most practical situations these days.
Okay, so you can add low latency features to the other stuff that’s nice on the UltraLite.
Meanwhile, MOTU’s 624 and 8A are shipping now. Interestingly, they include both USB3 and Thunderbolt. So if you need a mobile interface to swap between machines and not all of them have Thunderbolt, especially on Windows, you’ve got options. I would note that Thunderbolt is spreading fast on the PC, though.
The big deal with the 624 and 8A is that you get 32-34 channels of audio I/O, the ESS Sabre32 DACs with 132 dB dynamic range, and networked capabilities via AVB. I’m guessing AVB isn’t so relevant to most CDM readers, but for those of you needing to combine audio across computers and interfaces, it’s hugely powerful.
And like the other recent interfaces including the UltraLite, you get standalone mixing functionality you can access via any Web browser (even on mobile) on a WiFi network.
There’s also a suite of analysis tools with FFT, oscilloscopes, and visual analyzers.
The AVB stuff on the flagship offerings were nice, but I suspect these could be even bigger – well under a grand, and with I/O that fits a lot of needs.