Moog Matriarch puts all your analog sound shaping in one keyboard

Moog has taken the elements of their semi-modular line and given it a flagship – a patchable, calico-colored keyboard with sequencer, 4-voice paraphonic synth, and effects in one keyboard.

The pitch: even before you plug in cables to the copious patch points here, you can quickly get evolving strings of dreamy chords (or rich melodies), complete with delay and modulation. Those extra (analog, they want you to remember) specs aren’t just about more features. They’re about dialing in imaginative sounds. And so the Matriarch is an all-in-one keyboard that draws from Moog’s modular legacy, but in an integrated design you can use both with and without patching.

We’re definitely living in a weird timestream. When I started writing about music tech and joined Keyboard in the early 2000s, “workstation” keyboards were digital affairs, with functionality hidden deep in menus and screens. The key was to put as many instruments as possible – analog synthesis being seen as something retro and niche. Moog for their part had the Voyager, which took the Minimooog line in the direction of new analog exploration. But even Moog’s offering was primarily connected with MIDI cables, and had a touch panel right on the front.

Now, CV and gate – analog interconnects – are standard equipment alongside MIDI. People are happy to twist knobs rather than just dial up presets. (We, uh, could have told manufacturers that all along. Here’s a hint: if it’s fun, we’ll like it. Hence the term “play” music.)

And even if Moog are still (happily) outside the mainstream, there’s nothing saying their Matriarch has anything but broad appeal.

So here’s a keyboard proudly with wires popping out the top. And while Moog prominently tout “all-analog signal path” and “retro” design, we’re really seeing ourselves back in the parallel universe where analog synthesis never went away. On one hand, we’ve come full circle to some of the features first introduced in analog synthesis, but now it’s clearer what they’re for and how to make them more accessible. So for all its 1970s-derived features (Moog name included), the Matriarch is inventive in a way that makes sense in 2019.

Moog are pulling from the modular world, too, more aggressively than ever. Not only is this patchable, but the design does imagine a series of modules. So you get Minimoog oscillators, a mixer, classic Moog filters, envelopes and sound shapers. They’ve also built in a sequencer/arpeggiator.

The voice configuration allows mono, duo, and paraphonic playing modes, plus you have four notes per step in the sequencer.

My sense is what will make this interesting is the multiple modes on the filters combined with a Moogerfooger-like analog delay and tons of modulation. So you have dual ADSR envelopes and dual analog amplifiers, and two filters you can use in parallel or stereo or series. The delay is stereo (and ping/pong if you want) up to 700 ms – still waiting on Moog to tell me how short that delay can go.

Oh yeah, and ring mod possibilities also sound interesting. Plus they’ve got mults in there for making patching deeper onboard.

Specs:

Mono, duo, and 4-note paraphonic playability
Stereo analog delay with up to 700ms of stereo or ping/pong style repeats
256-step sequencer with up to four notes per step and 12 stored patterns
Arpeggiator with selectable modes (Order, Forward/Backward, Random)
Semi-modular analog synthesizer—no patching required
90 modular patch points for endless exploration
Expressive 49-note Fatar keyboard with patchable velocity and aftertouch
Four analog oscillators with selectable waveshape and hard sync per-oscillator
Full-range analog LFO with six selectable waveshapes
Dual analog filters with parallel (HP/LP), stereo (LP/LP), and series (HP/LP) modes available
Dual analog ADSR envelopes
Dual analog VCAs
Three bipolar voltage controlled attenuators with ring mod capability
2×4 parallel wired unbuffered mults
Additional simple analog LFO useful for adding modulation to delay, filters and VCAs
1/4″ external audio input for processing guitars, drum machines, and more through Matriarch’s analog circuits
Stereo 1/4″ and 3.5mm Eurorack level audio outputs

This is a Moog and a “flagship,” so it doesn’t come cheap – US$1999. That’s not to complain about the price, but it does mean if you’re in that budget, you have a lot of options. (Sitting next to me as I write this is Polyend’s Medusa along with Dreadbox, which has 6 voices instead of four, and some digital oscillators and modulation options that take it in a radically different direction from the Matriarch. Oddly, people complained about its price, and it costs half as much.)

I would personally be pretty tempted by Moog’s own Grandmother, the Matriarch’s baby sibling – with a street price around $800. It’s a monosynth, and the whole architecture is scaled accordingly. (It also has a spring reverb tank in place of the Matriarch’s delay). But you could use the saved money for a little Eurorack skiff.

That said, the Matriarch is a thoughtful, colorful, appealing new top-of-the-line for this family of Moogs. And it gets a Moogfest limited edition at the festival happening now – plus a lot of artists gathered who I’m sure will really want one.

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/introducing-matriarch

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Pioneer Squid is a monster standalone sequencer for your gear

Forget for a second that Pioneer is the CDJ and DJM company. Their latest TORAIZ goes a radical new direction – making what might be the biggest mainstream hardware sequencer since the MPC and Octatrack.

But a deep sequencer with MIDI and CV, for 599€ (awaiting US pricing details) – that sounds like a blockbuster.

The rise of gear for making sound has left a fairly significant hole in the market. You’ve got tons of drum machines, tons of synths, tons of grooveboxes, and then a whole black hole of semi-modular and fully-modular instruments.

But what about making, you know – a song? There aren’t so many choices for actually pulling together rhythms and melodies on all those toys. You’ve got a mishmash of internal sequencing features and devices capable of multiple tracks. But there are limited options beyond that – used Akai MPCs, the Elektron Octatrack, and Arturia BeatStep Pro being most common. The Arturia piece is cheap and cheery – and shows up astride an amazing number of fancy Eurorack rigs, prized for its simplicity. But having just dusted mine off, I find its sequencing really limited.

So here’s the surprise: the company that promises a really deep sequencer, one with elaborate rhythmic features that happily get you off the grid and bending time if you want, is … Pioneer.

The SQUID is certainly in a funny position. On one hand, it’s a natural for real gearheads and synth nerds. On the other, it’s a Pioneer product, so you can bet marketing and DJ press alike will try to say this is about “DJs getting into production” or … something. (No! DJs! Stop while you still can have a social life and, like, money in your bank account! You’ll become broke antisocial hermits like the rest of us!)

But – who cares who this is for? What it does appears to do … is a hell of a lot. And while it might actually have too many features (that will be I think the main element of any test), what’s surprising is that it isn’t a me-too sequencer. Despite the pads and step structure, Pioneer have made an effort to let musicians get off the grid and bend and warp time – so maybe drum machines can have soul again.

First, the predictable bit – it is a pad-based step sequencer, yes:

16 multicolored LED rubber pads with velocity sensitivity
Step record patterns
Live / real-time recording
Scale mode
Per-step automation recording (at least it seems that way – “parameter locks” or p-locks as known to users of other hardware)
Interpolation – this lets you set a beginning, middle, and end on steps and let the machine transition between them, a bit like creating automated envelopes
Harmonizer with up to six chords assigned to buttons
Chord mode with 18 built-in chord sets (I’m curious how customizable this is, as I’d rather the machine not make harmonies for me)
Transpose phrases on the fly
Up to five MIDI CCs on external devices
Randomizer (which covers everything, even CCs)
Pattern Set – this is interesting; it lets you lock in a combination of patterns into an arrangement, a bit like you can do with scenes in Ableton Live

And you can run sequences in different directions (bounce, reverse, whatever), as expected.

Multiple loops. Trigger probability – yeah, Pioneer are ready to take on Elektron here.

Already appealing and powerful, but it’s the real-time manipulation features that go in a new direction.

Speed modulation: look out, locked-bpm techno, because the SQUID can modulate speeds via six waveform shapes (triangle, sawtooth – please tell me there’s a random/S&H mode, too)

Groove bend: yes, there’s Swing, but there’s also “Groove Bend” which lets you use a slider to change timing. (I really hope there’s a way to optionally impact pitch, too, CDJ-style.)

Instant double-, half- speed triggers, too.

You can also shift the Scale and Arpeggiator knobs in real time, meaning… yeah, you can go super free jazz with this if you want.

There’s even an automatic mode that saves your jams even when you don’t hit record. (Ableton Live recently introduced this feature, joining a number of DAWs that have had it over the years.)

And yeah, it works with USB, MIDI, 2 sets of CV/gate, clock and DIN sync. It’s ready for your hardware from the 80s until now.

There’s even software for managing sequence patterns, projects, and MIDI clips – so you can save your work librarian style for live performances, and finish off tracks on the computer with patterns you made on the hardware.

Specs: 64 steps, 8 notes per step, 64 patterns, 128 projects.

I mean – we are sure this is a Pioneer product, right? Did someone get into our brains and make what we want?

I have a lot of questions. Step resolution seems fixed at 32nd notes, without mention of tuplets or other rhythms. I don’t see a listing for ppq resolution (the timing resolution of the sequencer). Performance reliability is something to test. Pioneer talks polyrhythms but I have some questions there.

But – wow. Yes. Let’s test this. Pioneer have so far given us some strange and mostly expensive “producer” devices lately, but this is different. This looks like it has the first shot of being the Pioneer gear every producer wants to buy – not just the Pioneer gear you use when you show up at the club. I can’t wait to get my hands on this so we can share with you what it does and how it might (or might not) fit your needs.

Obligatory promo video. Uh… someone stole Native Instruments’ typography and sci-fi light effects. But no matter – Pioneer made this device before NI did. (Okay, I’m buying the next round of beers in Kreuzberg after that comment, sorry, but it had to be said.)

The competition? It’s boutique, for sure, but the Synthstrom Deluge is the real rival:

It’s more compact than the Pioneer. And this really comes down to whether you want a 4×4 grid with a lot of dedicated triggers, or a whole bunch of pads and the Synthstrom’s nested editing capabilities. What’s really, really nice about the Deluge is, it has an internal synth engine and even sample playback. And ironically, that makes the Deluge better suited than Pioneer’s offering to taking a live project into a DJ booth – because you don’t have to reserve an entire table full of gear just to make sounds. That said, I think making a product dedicated to sequencing does free up the designers to focus on that workflow.

There should be room for both in the market; the workflow is very different, even apart from Synthstrom’s internal sound engine.

I feel bad I haven’t given the Deluge more time on CDM, so – now, no more excuses, I’ll get both these units in for a proper test.

All product details:

https://www.pioneerdj.com/en-us/product/production/toraiz-squid/black/overview/

I’m a child of the 80s, but every time Pioneer writes that this is “the heartbeat of your studio,” I think of old Chevrolet “heartbeat of America” ads. Is that just me? Okay, it’s just me.

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Founder of music tech forum has died; outpourings of support for Mike McGrath

One of the largest forums for music tech nerd-kind this week reports the loss of its founder: Muff Wiggler’s creator, Mike McGrath, has died. The Internet responds.

I want to first say, my heart goes out to all of you who have lost a friend, a family member, a personal connection, or even a far-off but meaningful Internet connection.

Muff Wiggler, the forum, has for more than a decade been the single most influential online community for people interested in modular synthesis, as well as a range of DIY topics – it’s a common go-to for how-to documentation on electronics, among other topics. It has also hosted widely trafficked official forums for a number of brands, including the likes of Expert Sleepers, Hexinverter, Metasonix, and Snazzy FX. It’s been the object of love, of hate – but always has played a central role in conversations about music making technology and the voltage and circuits pulsing underneath.

And it’s worth saying that the whole project really began with one person, Mike – known by many exclusively online, but host to a community of strangers who often grew close. Like a lot of the blogs and forums that support the music tech community, Muff Wiggler and its creator have even become synonymous. I know personally how demanding that can be.

It wouldn’t be any exaggeration to say that part of the explosive growth of Eurorack and modular synthesis is because of Mike’s creation of the forum – one that inspired rabid consumers at the same time as it collected knowledge of how to engineer the modules.

Photo above, at top by I Dream of Wires, who interviewed Mike in their work on the evolution of the modern modular synthesis fandom.

The Muff Wiggler platform grew into other projects – a store, live events (like a collaboration with TRASH AUDIO in Portland, Oregon), and others, which helped people meet the man behind the forum in person, some of them flying from literally the other side of the world to do so.

About that name – it comes from a handle Mike chose that combined the names of two popular Electro-Harmonix effect pedals, Big Muff and The Wiggler.

For their part, a message from Muff Wiggler’s team promises they’ll keep the site going in Mike’s absence. Kent writes on a admin post: “The moderator and admin staff are going to take the needed time to get things in order and ensure the smoothest of possible transitions. It’ll be rough for a bit.”

In the meantime, there is an outpouring of sadness and gratefulness from people who knew Mike personally and those who knew him in the virtual arena – from the community of people for whom he created a home where none had existed.

The main thread on Muff Wiggler

Synthtopia obituary

Modular giant Ken MacBeth writes: “Mike McGrath……….I hope that you find your peace now……..RIP.”

Mike himself wrote in 2017 about his passion for the project in a Facebook Group, saying it began from wanting to learn about modular synthesis, amidst options that were “intimidating” – to create instead a place where you could make friends. And he talked about the importance of music and his machines in his personal life – in good times and in dark times.

Matrixsynth has a heartfelt obituary which traces some history – even before the forum, including the first blog posts by Muff Wiggler (back when it was just Mike’s alias):

Mike created the de facto modular synth forum on the internet … and he did it in a way that put members first. He created a platform for makers and users of synths to come together and engage directly with each other.

And yeah, I think all of us who have run enterprises on the Internet for music feel this one in our gut. Again quoting the mighty Matrixsynth:

I just can’t believe he is gone. As the host of this site, I feel like I lost a fellow compatriot. Someone I had history with through the ups and downs. Running a site can be a challenge, and just knowing he was out there doing his thing helped. I am going to miss him and the lost experiences we would all have had with him around.

RIP Mike McGrath of Muff Wiggler

Finally, long-time collaborator Surachai writes, “Mike is the connective tissue that bound almost every modular user when information was scarce.”

He goes on to say:

I invited whoever was interested in welcoming the overlord of the synthesizer community to a BBQ at my place and we were met with one of the kindest and smartest people to grace our lives….

His contributions to and maintenance of information cannot be overstated. His reach and ability to connect people cannot be overstated.

Mike McGrath / Muffwiggler

You’ll also find some videos online.

http://muffwiggler.com/

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/index.php

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Behringer update: TC-Helicon hardware mimics IK Multimedia products

The Behringer effect: TC-Helicon, once known for its high-end gear for vocalists, is now a badge on a line of products copying the layout and design of existing IK Multimedia products.

Chinese news site Midifan has the news. (Content in Chinese language only, but the pictures tell the story reasonably well.) Midifan is careful to use the term “tribute” in describing these copies/clones or whatever you might call them, after having earned the ire of Music Group over past reporting (links below). Images here are from Midifan.

TC-Helicon and parent TC Electronic had been independent companies until acquired by MUSIC Group (aka MUSIC Tribe Global Brands, more commonly known by the name of their CEO, and their cornerstone music brand, Behringer). That news item from 2015:

MUSIC Group Acquires TC Group

The new TC-Helicon line of mobile audio / mobile guitar products uses form factors, near-identical case designs and control layouts, and in some cases even identical panel labels and symbols to products from Italian manufacturer IK Multimedia.

The products in question, and the existing products they closely resemble:
TC-Helicon GO VOCAL (IK Multimedia iRig PRE)
TC-Helicon GO TWIN (IK Multimedia iRig DUO)
TC-Helicon GO ACOUSTIC (IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage)
TC-Helicon GO GUITAR PRO (IK Multimedia iRig HD 2)

See the original line of iRig products at IK Multimedia

收归 Behringer 的 TC-Helicon 也学会了致敬,IK Multimedia 哭晕在厕所 [Midifan full gallery of images, comparisons]

The products will get IK’s attention, the branding could be taken as a shot at Japan. Roland uses the GO brand for its mobile products: GO:MIXER, GO:PIANO, and GO:KEYS. This line is both intended for use with smartphones and targeted at beginners.

Indicating they intend to try to protect that trademark, Roland filed for protection for its GO line last fall. (There’s one refusal listed, but non-final.)

Do check the Midifan story for a more detailed breakdown.

Unlike some recent Behringer “tributes,” you couldn’t argue the GO Series is bringing back a decades-old analog design or making the category more affordable. Street prices on the TC line look roughly in line with pricing on the IK products that preceded them, and those prices are in turn under a hundred bucks. Major US retailers like Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and MusiciansFriend are already selling the TC products.

In terms of listed specs, the GO Series also appear to correspond exactly to the associated IK products – “clones” would be the most appropriate word. (The iRig Pre and GO Vocal, for instance, share 9V battery, jack and I/O configuration, placement, and control layout. The TC unit is slightly larger.)

This sort of precedent could harm the music products industry. Cloned products from any manufacturer could easily let competitors establish which categories are lucrative, and then save money twice over – spared the expense of designing the product itself, as well as ramping up production and determining what sells in the marketplace. In the past, what has stopped a scenario like this has been brand – a no-name clone could come along, but musicians are more likely to trust a brand they know and can easily find. But now that Music Group owns respected brands like TC-Helicon, and has distribution in the same channels, that barrier could disappear.

There are already implications for IK should this product catch on; more so, if the pattern is repeated. New product designs could be endangered, if another company can clone the design work, avoid all the risk of introducing a new product to the market, and then even slightly undercut price.

This is not to say TC doesn’t continue to represent new design – a new GO-branded mixer for audio use by streamers appears to be original (unless someone wants to dispute that). The other way this could go would be for Music Tribe to dilute the value of their own TC-Helicon brand, much as Behringer has become associated with low-cost copies in the minds of some consumers.

For now, IK’s existing market position means their products will show up first when you search, and have some customer reviews on the US sites I checked.

We’ll watch to see if there’s any legal action taken against Music Tribe over these products.

In other Behringer/Music Tribe legal news

Disputes between Music Group and other players in the industry continue to spill over into the courts.

Family-owned US maker Auratone is locked in trademark litigation with Music Tribe over the Auratone name, following the death of Auratone’s founder Jack Wilson. You can follow that case online, though there’s not yet a decision.

The Superior Court of the State of California in San Francisco County did rule that Music Group was obligated to pay over $100,000 in combined costs and legal fees to Dave Smith Instruments and DSI employee Anthony Karavidas. (California has robust anti-SLAPP protections, which are intended to stop litigation from gagging public speech.)

Previously:

On the DSI case:

Behringer sued Dave Smith Instruments, forum posters, and lost

Behringer’s tangle with leading Chinese music tech news site Midifan (which has since prompted the use of the word “tribute” in favor of copycat):

Behringer threatens legal action against a site that called it a copycat

And Behringer responded to that CDM report (and additionally questioned this site’s neutrality and reporting):

Behringer responds to reports, defends reverse engineering

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AKAI’s cute little MPK mini keyboard now has internal sounds

AKAI’s MPK mini was already something of a sleeper hit – a simple MIDI controller keyboard that was small enough to be irresistible. But the latest revision makes it useful even all by its lonesome.

MPK mini play is what AKAI are calling the latest edition. It’s actually the second major revision of this unassuming little keyboard. The gamepad-style pitch/mod joystick had already packed in a bit more control features, in addition to the handy pads, banks, and a built-in arpeggiator.

But all of that was just for use with a computer, connected via USB. The “play” version will now work standalone. There are 128 built-in instrument sounds and 10 drum kits in the internal sound module, plus a crisp OLED display so you can find the sound you want. AA battery power means this is all at your ready without even power nearby. There’s even a built-in speaker so you can hear what you’re doing.

You can also make Favorites, which compile a Keys patch, a Drums patch, and settings for the knobs.

Heck, it’s even got a sustain pedal input and a headphone jack.

I’ll be totally honest – I tried to look up what sounds are in there, and couldn’t. I know the screenshot already has an 808 kit – sold yet?

It almost doesn’t seem to matter. I can’t think of another keyboard that could work as an iPad or computer accessory on USB power, then also a standalone jamming keyboard. Studio ready, picnic ready, too. Seems a good move in time for summer (Northern Hemisphere, anyway).

I gush only because the MPK mini is one of those things that you buy sort of as a throwaway, then wind up using more than everything else, just because it’s so small and convenient. It also has the advantage of taking up so little space that even when other gear in the studio competes for space, it has a way of staying by your computer keyboard instead of going on the shelf.

(Judge me by my size, do you?)

https://www.akaipro.com/mpk-mini-play-mpkminiplay

Midifan in China have a hands-on with more pictures / unboxing (worth looking even before you reach for Google Translate to try to work out what they’re saying, if you don’t speak Chinese).

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Free Downgrade turns Ableton Live into lo-fi wobbly vaporwave tape

Fidelity? High-quality sound? No – degradation! And if you don’t have a ragged VHS deck or cassette Walkman handy, these free effects racks in Ableton Live will sort you out.

Downgrade is the work of Tom Cosm, long-time Ableton guru. There are five effects:

Fluffer
Corrupt
Hiss
Morph
Flutter

— plus if you give him literally US$1 or more (you cheapskate), you get an additional Stutter rack.

Basically, you get loads of controls for manipulating downsampling, tape effects, saturation, distortion, modulation of various kinds, echo, vocoder, and more. It’s a sort of retro Vaporwave starter kit if you’d like to think of it that way – or an easy, dial-up greatest hits of everything Ableton Live can now do to make your sound worse. And by worse, I mean better, naturally.

Ableton have been gradually adding all these digital downsampling features (early on) and simulated analog tape and saturation effects and nonlinear modulation (more recently). Tom has neatly packed them into one very useful set of Racks.

Notice I say “Racks,” not Max for Live devices. That means these will mostly run on different editions of Live, and they’re a bit easier to pick apart and adjust/modify – without requiring Max knowledge.

Go download them:

https://gumroad.com/l/wmIbJ

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Reason 10.3 delivers on VST performance promises

We’ve been waiting, but now the waiting is done. Propellerhead has added the VST performance boost it had promised to Reason users – meaning plug-ins now benefit from Reason 10’s patchable racks.

I actually flew to Stockholm, Sweden back in the dark days of December to talk to the engineers about this update (among some other topics). Short version of that story: yeah, it took them longer than they’d hoped to get VST plug-ins operating as efficiently as native devices in the rack.

If you want all those nitty-gritty details, here’s the full story:

Reason 10.3 will improve VST performance – here’s how

But now, suffice to say that the main reason for the hold-up – Reason’s patchable, modular virtual rack of gear – just became an asset rather than a liability. Now that VSTs in Reason perform roughly as they will in other DAWs, what Reason adds is the ability to route those plug-ins however you like, in Reason’s unique interface.

Combine that with Reason’s existing native effects and instruments and third-party Rack Extensions, and I think Reason becomes more interesting as both a live performance rig and a DAW for recording and arranging than before. It could also be interesting to stick a modular inside the modular – as with VCV Rack or this week’s Blocks Base and Blocks Prime from Native Instruments.

Anyway, that’s really all there is to say about 10.3 – it’s what Propellerhead call a “vitamin injection” (which, seeing those dark Swedish winters, I’m guessing all of them need about now.

This also means the engineers have gotten over a very serious and time-consuming hurdle and can presumably get onto other things. It’s also a development for the company that they’ve been upfront in talking about a flaw both before, during, and concluding development – and that’s welcome from any music software maker. So props to the Props – now go get some sunshine; you’ve earned it. (and the rest of us can tote these rigs out into the park, too)

Reason: what’s new

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Reaktor adds front-panel patching, plus a modular you can use for free

For the first time in Reaktor, you now get patching right on Eurorack-style modules – and there’s even an edition you can use entirely for free. Reaktor Blocks Base is a free edition; Blocks Prime is included with the full version of Reaktor. Here’s a first look:

There are 50 pre-built racks, but this one steals our hearts – a Buchla Easel-inspired creation. BLOCKS PRIMES – Blocks Easel.

A higher level for Reaktor

Native Instruments got its start building a modular, building-block tool for making your own synths and effects (Generator, which grew into today’s Reaktor). So patching has always been part of the company’s DNA – to the point that Reaktor is still frequently used (as far as I know) for prototyping new tools internally.

But these are really development tools. Unless you’re part of a small group of people who get really fluent in Reaktor, you probably separate the “I’m building a tool” phase of work from the “now I’m making a track” or “now I’m going to try playing.” One nice aspect of Reaktor is that the interface acknowledges this: there’s a separate view for patching together your creation (the Structure), and a different view with all the bits with knobs you turn and so on (the Panel). And that’s often a good thing, as Reaktor ensembles now can get down to the level of DSP processing, meaning the Structure can be layers deep and expsnavie. This also makes sense in the world of the computer, where you’ll never run out of patch cords or modules or knobs or physical space – only CPU power or memory.

Hardware modular is normally designed differently. Modules usually aren’t just doing a simple task like mixing two signals; they combine a number of functions into a musical whole. It’s still a tool, and still only a component of a larger instrument, but that component is more likely to be higher-level – a particular kind of filter, a sequencer, a reverb – and with a pre-selected set of parameters you might want to control.

And most importantly, patching here is on the front panel. Patching in traditional hardware and software development happens under the hood, but patching a modular can be part of playing it.

The cool thing about Reaktor Blocks was that it added just this sort of interface, plus a bunch of amazing-sounding modules using the latest NI tech in analog modeling and digital techniques. And while other tools do this, too (VCV Rack, Softube Modular, Voltage Modular, and long before that Propellerhead Reason) – you didn’t have to give up any of the power under the hood. It’s still Reaktor, through and through.

The less-cool thing about Reaktor Blocks was that it forced you to dive into the Structure to change anything. And that just feels wrong – you lose that feeling of easy patching you get with hardware.

So that’s why today’s Reaktor 6.3 update is very big news, hiding behind a very small version number change.

You can patch on the front panel.

If you own Reaktor, you get front-panel patching and a bunch of modules for free.

If you don’t own Reaktor, you can get started with a set of 28 modules and a player that runs for free. (Speaking as an educator, that means I now can choose from Reaktor, VCV Rack, and Pure Data combined with Automatonism if I want to introduce patching concepts to people without making them buy a license first.)

Your Reaktor Rack

If Blocks got you thinking of Reaktor as a rack of modules, and not just a software display for patching, you’ll like the additions in this update.

Now when you first load Reaktor, you even get a screen that indicates that Native Instruments now understands that people use Reaktor in different ways. There’s “play”: some people just want to play pre-built ensembles – using the power of Reaktor’s ability to create anything, just letting, you know, someone else build it for them. (Hey, you can always go hack together these things later!) There’s “patch” – this is the high-level, musician-friendly modular level represented by Blocks and heavily influenced by Eurorack. And there’s “Build” – basically, Reaktor as we knew it before.

Despite the splash screen, the great thing about Reaktor remains that those levels aren’t actually segregated in any way, provided you have a full license and not just Player. NI are just helping you imagine, navigate, and use those different levels more easily. Each is always one click or one keyboard shortcut away.

It’s really the “Rack” idea that’s exciting. There’s a new “Ports and Wires” view right on the toolbar, and the ability to create a new Rack. Inside, it’s the Reaktor 6 and Reaktor Blocks you already know – so everything is just as editable as before. It’s just better organized if you’re into Blocks.

Tons and tons and tons of content in there – modules, example patches, tutorials, and so on. Even the free version has plenty to play with and use for learning.

The new Blocks modules – BASE

Blocks BASE is the 24-module starter kit, plus 35 preset racks. Even in Reaktor Player, you can modify and re-patch these tools, now totally for free.

It’s not a bad collection, either, with the tools from the excellent Bento Box collection. (This is roughly akin to VCV Rack’s “Fundamental” collection, but while VCV opt for Doepfer-style bread-and-butter options, Bento Box have a lot of character all their own – both sonically and in user interface.)

That includes:
VCA
SVF Filter
Crossfade
Mix
ADSR Envelope
LFO
Oscillator
CV Processor
Sample & Hold
4 Mods Sequencer
8 Steps Sequencer

For getting started learning synthesis, Base has you covered – without spending a penny. Here’s a free example on amplitude modulation.

Sinister Sauce, one of the examples included in the free edition.

There’s already a nice tutorial, with additive and subtractive synthesis, amplitude and frequency modulation, and some more far-out techniques covered – suitable for beginners but pretty interesting even to advanced users.

In fact, I’m going to force myself to build some interesting patches with just these, even though I have the full Reaktor license. They’re organized neatly into a subfolder, and I figure it’s a chance to improve my patching chops without being overwhelmed by options.

The new Blocks modules – PRIME

PRIMES is another selection of 23 modules. (If you really want, you can just have these for 99 EUR/USD, although I recommend you just get a full Reaktor license for $199, since it now includes PRIMES from version 6.3.)

It’s also a greatest hits of NI in a way – with the gritty distorted DRIVER filter, a sequencer from MASSIVE, Minimoog-inspired oscillators and filter from MONARK, and so on.

There’s a ton of stuff there – West Coast, East Coast, coast of the river Spree, no coast: filters, a “multiwave oscillator,” clock divider and quantizer, a cool formant-based morphing filter, various sequencers, a comb filter, Rounds delay and reverb and LFO, and a dedicated West Coast selection with filter, envelope, oscillator, and sequencer (though some of the other modules could be used in a West Coast-style way, too).

Flying Carpet, another tasty-looking example. Reaktor 6 users, this stuff will just magically show up when you update in Native Access.

And it’s a platform

Blocks has already seen widespread interest as a platform for making new modules; it’s a format that can have its own UI, with the innards built in Reaktor. That also means that developers with existing Reaktor creation skills can transfer them here.

Now we’re really seeing Blocks as a platform, where you might create and sell software modules for musicians. NI says they’ve got 200 modules on schedule for release in 2019, including some with a serious hardware pedigree – so far, they’re naming TOYBOX, Genki Instruments, Holonic Systems, ACL, and Michael Hettrick.

These all run inside Reaktor 6, but also Reaktor 6 Player. That’s also a big development – in the past, making stuff for Reaktor meant your customers had to shell out a couple hundred bucks for Reaktor. That’s a pretty limited market. And competing rack propositions for developers are similar: Softube Modular, Propellerhead’s Rack Extensions, or Ableton’s Max for Live all require users to buy licenses. Reaktor Player (and VCV Rack) remain the two platforms you can target where your customers only buy your modules.

There is one catch for now, though. The new Blocks format for now is only open to partnering developers, because of technical restrictions. Native Instruments says they’re exploring how they may expand this functionality to the Reaktor community and Reaktor User Library contributors in the future, however. We’ll stay tuned for more details.

All in all, this is a refreshing update, though. It’s actually nice that you don’t have to adapt to a significantly changed Reaktor 6. Your familiar modules are all there, the Reaktor features are all there, you can still drop in your favorite ensembles from years or decades ago. You just now can patch on the front panel and get a bunch of new modules and tutorials and examples.

I think the thing to watch will be whether NI over time can build this as a successful developer platform, and harmonize the contributions of its user community – including those who are happy to make weird and non-commercial modules available for free.

I’ll be sure to share more developments there and other resources into how to learn and use this thing.

In the mean time, we have a lot to play with. I’ve been really happy with the test builds and can’t wait to dive deeper.

Reaktor 6 Blocks Base

Reaktor 6

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Alternative modular: pd knobs is a Pure Data-friendly knob controller

pd knobs is a knob controller for MIDI. It’s built with Teensy with open source code – or you can get the pre-built version, with some pretty, apparently nice-feeling knobs. And here it is with the free software Pd + AUTOMATONISM – proof that you don’t need to buy Eurorack just to go modular.

And that’s relevant, actually. Laptops can be had for a few hundred bucks; this controller is reasonably inexpensive, or you could DIY it. Add Automatonism, and you have a virtually unlimited modular of your own making. I love that Eurorack is supporting builders, but I don’t think the barrier to entry for music should be a world where a single oscillator costs what a lot of people spend in a month on rent.

And, anyway, this sounds really cool. Check the demo:

From the creator, Sonoclast:

pd knobs is a 13 knob MIDI CC controller. It can control any software that recognizes MIDI CC messages, but it was obviously designed with Pure Data in mind. I created it because I wanted a knobby interface with nice feeling potentiometers that would preserve its state from session-to-session, like a hardware instrument would. MIDI output is over a USB cable.

For users of the free graphical modular Pd, there are some ready-to-use abstractions for MIDI or even audio-rate control. You can also easily remap the controllers with some simple code.

More:

http://sonoclast.com/products/pd-knobs/

Buy from Reverb.com:

https://reverb.com/item/21147215-sonoclast-pd-knobs-midi-cc-controller

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Elektron’s Model:Samples just got more useful: change samples per step

Elektron’s Model:Samples was always appealing – some of the best bits of an Elektron groovebox, but with a smaller size and price tag. But one limitation might hold you back: six tracks, and only six samples? That changes with an update: now you can change samples inside a pattern. Sample locks are here.

1.02 shipped quietly on the 29th of last month; Andreas, our reviewer, got an early build. There’s not much in the way of documentation:

Sample locks functionality has been added. It lets you assign a specific sample on any step of the sequencer. It is possible to sample lock up to 26 different samples in each pattern.

But this is a big deal. Six parts with only one sample per part is pretty restrictive. Now, instead, you could take a sample, slice it into 26 bits, and then play the various slices. Or you could slice up melodies. Or you could add more complex percussion parts. The thing is, this is more or less exactly what you want – restricting to six parts can be genuinely musically useful (as more can get overly dense), but now each of those parts need not be quite so, you know, repetitive.

This release also includes a number of bug fixes. But sample locks might just be the thing that tempts us over to this device.

Keep in mind the 1.01 OS (as we tested) included some other improvements, including separate MIDI channel configuration (ideal for use with other gear) and simplified LFO locks.

I also like that the Model:Samples has a transfer utility for custom samples. Roland. Cough. TR-8S. Like any day now. Thanks! (and let’s not even start in on the volca sample’s awful sample loading mechanism… just no.)

Sure, it’s still not a sampler – no record capability. And yes, there are boxes that do more. And… well, if you’re on a budget, you should also check out used KORG machines. But this is still something unlike anything else at the price, with Elektron workflows and serious polyrhythmic capabilities plus lots of hands-on fun and great sound.

Release notes:

More:
https://www.elektron.se/products/modelsamples/

1.01 release notes

And definitely check our hands-on review. It’d be easy to dismiss this hardware, but I think Andreas really explains why it’s cool. (And yeah, I personally like it more than even the more-capable Digitakt.)

Review: can Elektron’s Model:Samples get everyone into hardware?

Our friends at Synthtopia got a demo of the new feature at Synthplex:

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