Bionic synthesis: artists make music with a prosthetic arm, eye motion

Accessibility in music can mean expanding expression beyond what is normally physically possible. For one artist, that means jacking a prosthesis as CV – for another, overcoming paralysis to make music with eyes alone.

Bertolt Meyer was already producing and DJing, even with a birth condition that left him without the lower portion of one arm. But he hacked his arm prosthesis to jack control voltage straight into his modular – connecting to synthesis more directly than most before would even imagine.

In the case of Pone, a seminal French hip-hop producer, the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) left the artist without muscle control of his body. Using an eye interface, he has managed to publish a book on the disease.

But he has also turned to music production, connecting open, hackable eye tracking solutions to Ableton Live. The eyes act as a (very slow) mouse – in this case, the screen-and-pointer GUI paradigm of the software is an aid to accessibility. Inspired by Kate Bush, he has made an instrumental album called Kate & Me entirely using his eyes.

And … wow – it’s everything you’d expect from a hip-hop innovator like Pone, astonishing as you think of the effort that went into production. It’s a testament to the power of musical imagination, and the potential of that imagination to connect in any way it can with the outside world.

The album is a free download from the album site:

Check the release party:

The Guardian has an extensive article on his story. There’s some sobering information, too – like the lack of French insurance support for the condition.

Pone: the paralysed producer making music with his eyes [The Guardian]

There’s not nearly enough attention paid to accessibility in the music tech industry. It’s not some novel edge case – it hits right at the core of what music technology for expression is fundamentally about. (And even accessibility defined in narrow terms is bigger than you think – so for instance 1 in 20 KOMPLETE KONTROL users take advantage of features for the visually impaired.)

I wrote about this in a blog story for Native Instruments, which deals with their products but also a lot about the process for developing these features – it’s relevant to anyone reading here who makes music products. (And even though this deals with vision accessibility, there are lessons relevant to other matters, too.)

Designing for the visually impaired

It’s also worth reading Ashley Elsdon’s writing on the topic, like this story for us:

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Someone made a Pomodoro timer for Ableton Live, so you can stay productive, take breaks

Productivity engineering has come to music production. A popular method for timeboxing is now available as a free Live add-on.

Have you ever sighed in relief to have a big, uninterrupted span of time – only to wind up wiling it all away with procrastination? And then have you found yourself with a particular deadline – like an hour left in your music studio before your partner arrives to kick you out – and suddenly find you’re focused?

The basic principle here is that, paradoxically, even as we hate schedules and deadlines, constraints can help us focus. By constraining our time, or timeboxing, we can concentrate more easily on a particular task.

The Pomodoro Technique is this boiled down to a really simple cycle. It’s named for a kitchen timer – you know, the thing often called an egg timer because it’s shaped like an egg, but in this case apparently with a model shaped like a tomato. It’s the late-80s invention of Francesco Cirillo, who I understand even liked the ticking sound. I hate ticking – uh, especially while making music – but sometimes setting a timer can make it easier to tackle a task you’re putting off.

While invented in the late 80s, Pomodoro Technique has spread more widely in the productivity craze of the Internet age. Of course, there’s a Lifehacker guide to getting started. (It was even updated as recently as last summer.) And yes, Francesco is around and will gladly take your money.

Now, it may seem a little strange to do this when you’re working on music, which most of us think of as a diversion. Isn’t music supposed to be endlessly fun and something we can concentrate on without any challenge? But apart from more rote work or making a Max for Live patch or carefully editing envelopes, anything that requires you to focus your brain benefits from breaks.

And that’s really what the Pomodoro Technique is about. It’s not actually the 25 minutes of focus that is the most important. It’s the break. (Perhaps part of why you’re so eager to procrastinate is a legitimate impulse by your brain that you’re overly and unnaturally focused on something.)

There’s plenty of science to back this up. Selecting just one useful overview:

Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find [ScienceDaily summary; original paper in Cognition, 2001]

There are lots and lots of Pomodoro-themed timers out there – or you can use any timer (as on your phone, wristwatch, a physical egg timer, whatever). (The Pomodoro timers sometimes have special features dedicated to the technique, and at least pictures of tomatoes, which as a fan of the veget— erm, fruit – I enjoy.)

pATCHES, a site and Patreon subscription creating resources for producers, has an experimental Max for Live plug-in. Apart from letting you run the thing inside your session, it even stops your transport when you’re due for a break – if you find that useful.

https://patches.zone/max-for-live/pomodoro

I’m curious to hear if people find this useful. It is easy to forget that, as much as we mystify music process, what we’re really taking care of is our brain.

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Welcome to Hell: the marvelous, mad musical instruments of Ewa Justka

Some people claim electronic music is the work of the devil. Inventor Ewa Justka creates things that could actually prove it.

Ewa is a Glasgow, Scotland UK-based, Polish-born sound artist, musician, and inventor. She can bang her way through a raw techno set, she can blind you wish flashing lights driven by homemade circuits, or she can open a gateway to evil realms in unbridled noise – all of this at festivals like CTM, Unsound, Insomnia, and Sonic Acts. But she also builds fantastic instruments of her own – and you can buy them for your own abuse, or if you’re lucky, catch her at a workshop and make it for yourself.

There’s the Ladder to Hell, a synthesizer. It started as a resonant ladder filter a la Moog, but devolved into something far more distorted and psychotic. There’s a WASP filter in there, too. There are SCREAM and DRIVE knobs that are … not tame. You can input CV to the Moog and Wasp filters – that’s resonance on the Wasp filter, for some real punishment.

Self-oscillate or even make some subtler distorted timbres, too.

It’s as effective as a sound processor as it is as a synth, thanks to an audio input. Check the manual and full specs.

Ladder to Hell at Etsy

Here are some samples of the instrument, which you can buy on Bandcamp, then play on your next dinner date.

https://ewajustka.bandcamp.com/album/ladder-to-hell-samples

Then there’s the WhOoPsYnTh, a combination sampler + delay + LFO with similarly masochistic sonic possibilities. It’s inspired by the Pete Edwards design for a similar architecture – and Pete, like Ewa, is also someone who builds creations, then takes them into ecstatic noisy performances.

The WhOoPsYnTh just goes all out with that idea, screaming in pain in a very Ewa Justka-ish sonic voice. But the beauty of it is, you can again use external CV – here for delay length. You can cut up sounds and stretch them with the delay. You can really warp audio inputs with this.

More documentation on how to play it soon.

WhOoPsYnTh @ Etsy

My favorite review: “…the Optodeafener is evil, dangerous, exciting, rhythmic and feral. Do not hesitate. “

You can find loads of stuff on the Optotronics site, shipped from Glasgow (she was formerly in London). All of this is painstakingly handmade by the artist, so you get something truly unique.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/Optotronics?ref=l2-about-shopname

These are elaborate, full instruments, but Ewa can also make dark magic with more economical sets of parts. Meet the VOICE_ODDER 2, a thing that takes inputs and makes them … odd. And makes your neighbors hate … you.

Using light-sensitive wave oscillators and a delay, it’s palm-sized mayhem.

Take a class with Ewa to turn this…
…into this.

You’ll be able to build one of these yourself at an event I’m co-hosting on February 22 in Kaliningrad, Russia, so if you’re nearby – say, Gdansk, or Lithuania, or Minsk, or somewhere like Moscow that has cheap flights – you should come learn these dark arts with us. Sign up for the Facebook event and we’ll tell you how to join the workshop and make one yourself:

Space.Zero Kaliningrad

Thanks to British Embassy in Moscow and the British Council for supporting UK artist Ewa’s Kaliningrad debut, as part of the UK-Russia Year of Music.

More of Ewa – who was also a co-host and a participant in the CTM Festival MusicMakers Hacklab with me.

https://ewajustka.tumblr.com/

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Hear Jan Wagner’s intimate piano electronics, before they enter a planetarium dome

Maybe now is a perfect time for a moment of calm contemplation – premiering Jan Wagner’s “Kapitel 36” on the eve of a new album and a spatial planetarium premiere.

Kapitel, out on March 20 on the Quiet Love Label, is “autobiographical” ambient music. These are spontaneous, personal sketches that began as piano improvisations, but have sometimes had those piano imprints removed – a kind of lost wax approach to composition, piano molds for electronic textures.

“Kapitel 36” is an especially poignant, reflective moment in that series. Listen:

Berghain would be probably the last thing you’d expect to associate with this sound, but this sense of space and exploration also comes from an artist who has frequently mixed albums for the well respected Ostgut Ton label attached to that club. And maybe that’s an ideal Berlin connection – piano sentiment, engineering precision, and ambiguous spaces for personal reflection all come together here.

But we’ve had plenty of music in industrial nightclubs. Now, Jan is joining a new wave of artists realizing music for immersive contexts, with fully spatialized sound made for particular architectures. Jan was invited by Spatial Media Lab to collaborate – that’s a recently formed artist/tech collective founded by Andrew Rahman and Timo Bittner. With Jan’s music – and a full-sized acoustic grand piano hauled into the space – they’ll transform the environment of the Zeiss Grossplanetarium Berlin into a unique listening environment.

I got the chance to work with Spatial Media Lab on their first planetarium outing in November 2018. What makes their effort unique is that they’re working to de-mystify the delivery technology for spatializing sound, along artists to be more hands-on and collaborative. That frees them to spend the significant time to finely tune their music material to the space, and play creatively, rather than just wrestle with tech or turn over control to engineers. (You can read up on the collaboration I joined in 2018, Contentious Constant II – and we’re overdue for a check-up here.)

Jan has shared some thoughts with CDM on how this process worked:

What was the process for you, reworking material for a spatial context?

It was a totally new approach for me. The difference between stereo and immersive sound is enormous. I had to rethink the whole album and detach the production from the well-known stereo panorama cage. It wasn’t that simple, because everything was [originally] made in stereo. From the synth to the DAW, it’s all made for a stereo environment. So we had to [mix] the signals into mono, which we later scaled up to ambisonic sound.

After exporting all of the tracks, we imported them into the DAW Reaper … [which is able to] handle up to 64 outputs of each track, needed to play all the signals into the dome. We used the IEM Plugin Suite to build our scene and then mixed the tracks from scratch. [Ed.: SML used this combination before, and it’s great to work with artistically. IEM is free and open-source and easy to manage, and Reaper, of course, has some superb multichannel support and is fast, efficient, free to try, and inexpensive to own.]

Once I realized how far I could go when it comes to the production and writing process, my head almost exploded. There is no longer a stereo cage. You basically can do whatever you want. The signals can start right at the top of your head and fall down to your knees, surrounding you! This changes the whole process of how you create music.

Your musical process I know shifted for this record; can you describe what changed?

I started recording in the same way. The piano improvisation is still the root of it all, but it is no longer necessarily the main part of the production. I didn’t want to be constricted by the piano and often I just muted it after adding some synth layers. The piano is no longer the lead voice.

How did Tobias Preisig get involved in the project – and now on the same bill?

Last year I produced Tobias Preisig’s solo debut Diver. He wanted to concentrate on the essence of his music and dive deeper into his instrument and discover the real needs of his art. Tobias and I share the same approach to music, and while planning this event I wanted him to be part of it. His music is so immersive by default and it fits perfectly into the planetarium environment.

If you’re in Berlin, you can catch the “Spherea” program with both artists at the Zeiss-Grossplanetarium in Prenzlauer Berg.

Spherea präsentiert von Jan Wagner & Tobias Preisig

More on the Spatial Media Lab:

https://janwagner.bandcamp.com/

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One of the best granular apps just got a huge update – Borderlands 2.1 for iPad

Borderlands was already a breakthrough – an instrument that lets you explore all the timbral frontiers of granular synthesis. “2.1” sounds small, but it brings major improvements and feature requests.

First, if you’d missed granular synthesis, the idea is to create rich new evolving textures and timbres by piecing together sounds from smaller bits – the grains. It’s well suited to digital audio and even underlies a lot of the time- and pitch-manipulation software capabilities you know. But really adventuring into playing it as an instrument means managing more parameters at once. Using knobs, or worse, pointing at those knobs with a mouse, can feel limiting – like driving without a steering wheel.

Borderlands by developer Chris Carlson was one of the apps that changed all that, exploiting the multi-touch iOS paradigm to give you more freedom to push sounds to the edge. And Borderlands for many is even a reason to own an iPad. For all the apps on the App Store, it seems musicians often settle on a few beloved favorites like this one. “When is Borderlands getting an update?” has thus become a common refrain.

Great developers are often meek, so let’s just call this Borderlands 3, because that feels about right. You get a ton of tools for better controlling sound, new modes and sound design tools, new connection and synchronization, plus even contributions from some terrific artists.

New in this release:

● Tempo synced grains with Ableton Link
● Semitone pitch tuning option per cloud
● New waterfall-style streaming input mode
● Overdub level control for real time inputs
● ADSR mode with automatable trigger pad for each grain cloud
● Automate sound position, size, and rotation
● New ring modulation, vibrato amount, and probability controls per grain cloud
● Proper scaling on new, larger iPads and iPads with different aspect ratios
● Scene contributions from Cristian Vogel, Electric Indigo, King Britt, Mikronesia, and Tom Hall. Presets from Arovane coming soon.

And Chris has more planned, with ideas like AUv3, MIDI and OpenSoundControl (OSC), and the ability to run on iPhones, among others.

Yes, like many of you, Chris uses this live in performance. Here’s a recent set with three instances of the instrument:

https://cloudveins.bandcamp.com/album/flock-2-bg-1018

Follow mainly on Instagram:

instagram.com/borderlands_granular

http://www.borderlands-granular.com/app/

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The biggest music gear news and best videos to watch from NAMM

The US musical instrument show NAMM dropped the usual amount of gear news on us – now here’s the highlights reel.

The trend lines are pretty easy to spot. Component prices are coming down, and that’s shifting what’s on the market. Modular gear does more. Polysynths and wavetable synths are suddenly in. Audio interfaces with studio-grade specs are now weirdly cheap.

The historic remake trend is showing no signs of abating – not at the high end (KORG’s ARP 2600) nor the low end (Behringer).

If you wanted some big breakthrough in music-making, probably this isn’t your year. Yes, MIDI 2.0 is here, but it’s too young to see any compelling real-world use yet. Yes, Akai has another MPC that runs standalone as well as with a computer, but we’re still mostly dependent on Windows and macOS. These might be the areas to watch in the coming years, since there’s a limit to how much wavetable synthesis and polyphony you can cram into a keyboard and make a usable product.

That’s not to complain, though. Sure, music gear has a lot of 70s and 80s flashbacks, but we’re also spoiled for choice in a business that has loads of offerings that are accessible to a wide range of people.

So let’s have a look – since there’s way too much to watch, a selection of the best videos.

Software doesn’t really demo well and doesn’t need physical distribution, so it makes sense that software news generally spreads year round. But the big software news that did debut was Universal Audio’s Luna recording solution – free software, integrated of course with their hardware. I’ll explain this in a separate article, but here’s a demo:

Synths

This NAMM for electronic musicians was dominated by KORG – the first out of the gate with news, the most news, the most different kind of synth products … enough so that it would be easy to even forget their rich-sounding Wavestate synth, even though it was really the flagship new synth product from them. Here’s what it sounds like:

Here’s Cuckoo looking at sound design:

And yeah, of course there’s also Korg’s remake of the ARP 2600 (also labeled “FS” here, meaning maybe there really is a mini version coming):

Sequential’s Pro 3 oddly has some of the toughest competition from Sequential, but as I wrote previously, it is one of the more compelling new instruments out there. Cuckoo got an early look- and you can hear from none other than creator Dave Smith showing it off:

The MPC One is the hybrid computer/standalone MPC you might actually buy – more compact size, lower price, and some of the early kinks worked out from AKAI’s move into a new direction. I’m a little concerned about whether its horsepower will make it worth jumping from using a PC + controller, but someone will eventually nail this sort of hybrid. Synth Anatomy talked to Akai’s Andy Mac; see also how plug-ins work in an official video:

And audio tracks:

If it’s really a controller you want – or a standalone “hub” – Nektar have their new Aura.

The Udo Super 6 I missed in my underground synth round-up – and it’s definitely something new. FPGA-based, it’s an analog/digital hybrid, wrapped in a body that looks like it escaped from another decade, but in an alternative universe. Cuckoo gushes about the sound:

http://udo-audio.com/

How do you top the mechanical-optical Gamechanger Audio pedal, or their rack-mounted high voltage plasma coil? Why, you need an optical-sensing spring-based reverb pedal, the Light Pedal. I’m sorry, this maker is just damned cool – making stuff you’d expect out of 1960s pulp scifi.

The Moog Subsequent 25 has a lot of the sound powers of the 37, but in a Sub Phatty form factor. Here’s Perfect Circuit with a sound demo:

I didn’t get talk about the Modal Electronics Argon8, but amidst a flurry of new polysynths, this might be the one to beat. Hammering home that point, Modal are now offering three versions, so you can find one that fits your fancy and budget – the 8M and 8X rounding out the line. If comments on this site are to be believed, a lot of you wish synths came in variants with different keybeds and sizes or a keyless version, so here you go. Synthtopia has a nice demo:

Wavetable is everywhere, but Nord are ahead of the curve by moving on to what may be the next returning trend, FM. And the FM engine in their Nordwave 2 looks really powerful, welcome news to fans of their performance synths:

The ASM Hydrasynth is a stupidly powerful new instrument and features the designer/product manager behind some ground-breaking gear from Akai and Arturia (Glen Darcey). I talked about it in September, but this month’s NAMM was its big public showcase, so here are just some sounds:

Previously:

The Blad Kremier-created PULSAR-23 is also now on sale, which might just be the most interesting drum machine offering of 2020. There’s a big waiting list, and I think (?) it was at NAMM, so I’m counting it here. Honestly, fire your current booking, get some high paid techno gigs, use the cash to buy this. Wait, why am I telling you this? I should just go do that.

Doepfer are back with a joystick module – actually a pleasant surprise, as these sorts of components are not easy to come by these days:

I covered these instruments before, but here are deeper looks at the indie synths debuting this month.

The Liven 8bit Warps looks nicely mental:

Erica Synth’s own Girts debuts the DB-01 bassline in a jam.

Modular

Verbos have a full line of new modules:

4ms have a massive creation called the Ensemble Oscillators – 16 complex oscillators in a single unit:

Pittsburgh Modular, for their part, are doing loads of delays instead of loads of oscillators. Meet the Cascading Delay Network:

Audio interfaces

High-end audio interfaces are no longer an expensive proposition, it seems – but USB is here to stay.

Take the new SSL interfaces, which even include the companies’ 4000 series EQ and saturation. There’s something trippy about seeing a giant SSL knob, but then no one will mistake who these came from. Street price for this thing is just above a couple hundred bucks for the basic model, and comes with SSL software, too.

MOTU’s M Series are also out in the wild, and worth consideration:

There’s also a race to make audio interfaces that are less intimidating to new users. iZotope have tried that with their Spire interface; somewhere in between that kind of radical solution and a bread-and-butter box is the Audient Evo – a stylish box that still does mostly what the other boxes do, but with a “smart gain” feature and more modern looks. Now whether that’s really the biggest problem everyone faces or not, I don’t know. (Not to dismiss this, but I think the issues with desktop OSes and reliability are more daunting than how to set gain properly. Still, this could be a part of a larger puzzle.)

It’s not all USB interfaces, though. Presonus also have a full range of new gear, which SonicState details – including Thunderbolt and lots more IO. But prices of thesefeatures are also coming down.

And from left field…

The dream of alternative keyboard layouts never dies. Now there’s the Lumatone CORTEX, with a whopping 275 keys and RGB. So if you think it’s outrageous to spend four grand on a remake of the ARP 2600 and want something more forward-looking – well, clearly you have to spend your four grand on a microtonal keyboard instead, or you’re a damned hypocrite!

And yes, by far the weirdest new invention: a MIDI harmonica, from Sweden’s Father and Son.

If you dream of playing music on a hockey puck rather than a hamonica, then I suggest instead the Ariphon Orba. (Okay, they say “half an orange” and a gaming controller.) There is actual onboard sound capability, but it’s also a wireless MIDI controller. Like I said, some ideas just don’t go away.

https://artiphon.com/pages/orba

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Your guide to the 3 best new underground synths from NAMM – not a clone in sight

Nothing new under the sun? Think again. Independent manufacturers are still creating novel designs for music making – and last week brought a lot of news.

Just as acoustic instruments often start with simple building blocks – blow on something, hit something, pluck something – these creations do work with existing known synth methods. (Think FM, wavetable, whatever.) But let’s dump the notion that “everything” is a clone now, just because one manufacturer starting with the letter B has been pulling its product news from a 1981 Roland product catalog.

In fact, there’s so much new stuff, it’s easy to get lost. So here’s your quick guide.

MEGAfm

The pitch: It’s a powerful synth with the heart of a SEGA. Imagine a hands-on, polyphonic instrument built around the same chip that powered the SEGA Megadrive and Genesis game consoles.

Who makes it: Indie French builder Twisted Electrons, who already has a great track record with handheld and desktop acid and chip music synths, plus a Eurorack modular collaboration with Crea8audio.

Specs in a nutshell: 12 voice polyphony (and various voicing modes), two of the YM2612FM chips already onboard, 8 algorithms, presets, tons and tons of controls, 3 LFOs, full MIDI I/O, and an arpeggiator and sequencer, all in an aluminum case.

How much, and when: 474EUR before VAT, apparently available now.

Buzz factor: This thing looks like a beast – an all-in-one, deep polyphonic chip music composition machine in a box, either with that onboard sequencer/arp or if you prefer using MIDI from the outside.

And oh yeah, prediction for 2020: the world will have a collective realization that we don’t always want to hear someone playing on a modular synth who sent over a four page rider and needs a three hour sound check, and chip music will come back. Nintendo Switch battles backstage, go!

Look/listen:

Learn more:

Erica Synths Bassline DB-01

The pitch: This is the bass from the luxury-priced Techno System, in a desktop box the rest of us can afford. So you get the distinctive Erica BBD delay-based detune on the oscillators, a swarming delicious sound, plus an aggressive Acidbox-derived filter, extras for modulation and dirt and noise, and an onboard sequencer.

Who makes it: Erica Synths, the Riga-based boutique superbrand who have turned ex-Soviet spaces and manufacturing into an assembly line for Latvian awesomeness – enough so that they hold their own festival every year. Look out, Ableton Loop.

Specs in a nutshell: DRIVE and DETUNE knob on the left. CUTOFF and RESONANCE on the right. There’s a reason the knobs are oversized for those. So it’s a transistor-based sub oscillator + overdrive + BBD-based detuned oscillators + noise source + syncable LFO + FM and VCF modulation + independent envelopes… well, you know that dessert menu item called “Chocolate Overload Deathwish”? This is what happens when that person specs out a bassline synth. Then add in CV + MIDI I/O, aluminum case, presets, and play either externally from analog or MIDI or with a simple onboard sequencer / arpeggiator.

How much, and when: Spring, 460 EUR.

Buzz factor: Sorry, 303. This thing is thicker / dirtier / nastier. I love the 303, but it’ll give you a daily fix of “wow, acid is my favorite thing ever,” before you get bored a few minutes later and switch it off. A DB-01, if you fall for it, will make you run away from home, assume a new identity, and live in a warehouse you squat in rural Latvia where you go feral and make nothing but experimental industrial music all day. Yes, Erica, you can quote me on that – if for no other reason than to warn the unwise.

Look/listen:

Sonicware LIVEN 8bit warps [Kickstarter]

The pitch: A lo-fi, grungy 8-bit synth with loads of voices plus onboard audio looping and lots of performance features (and warping) around the keyboard.

Who makes it: Sonicware, who created the portable ELZ_1 via Kickstarter – and which also shared a candy-bar keyboard design that recalls instruments from Casio and Teenage Engineering. It’s all the work of Yu Endo from Tokyo – part of a new generation of innovation in Tokyo’s synth scene.

Specs in a nutshell: Sequencer with chaining and real-time and step recordings and parameter locks per-step, sync and MIDI I/O, runs on batteries and has an internal speaker. Multiple synth engines (WARP, ATTACK, MORPH, FM) meet powerful envelopes and modulation and filtering, plus a bunch of FX (chorus, flanger, delay, hall, plate).

How much, and when: Well, delayed gratification as it’s Kickstarter, but estimated for June 2020. But amazingly, early bird starts at … EUR148.

Buzz factor: Come on, at this price, how can you say no to this 4-engine synth + looper + sequencer? One indie Japanese developer might just outdo the fun factor of a KORG volca for the same price, with a more flexible housing and more powerful features. Sure, a 16-bit engine might have made the different modes more varied, but – sounds like Yu-san has programmed this so you can exploit the 8-bit grime.

Look/listen:

Learn more

Save up your pennies?

Honestly, I think any of one these three tops the other product reveals from this month. Sure, the KORG Wavestate looks powerful, but … the freak factor of that new Twisted box might well outdo the KORG offerings. It promises to build on everything designer Alex from Twisted has been working toward over the years.

The DB-01 meanwhile might quietly be the most indispensable thing Erica have done yet – it’s got some of the best bits of the Techno System, but in a form factor you can both a) actually afford and b) carry with you in an airBaltic carry-on allowance. Now if Erica just does a TR-01 drum machine to go with it, I’m completely sold.

And Sonicware have nailed the amount where you’d impulse-buy yourself a Kickstarter present for June.

So, dear Santa Claus… uh, wait, it’s the end of January… dear Saint Patrick, are you listening?

And with each of these priced under 500 bucks, can we collectively admit that the idea that independent synths are expensive or everything has to be a clone is just objectively not true? Thanks.

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Pioneer’s new 6-channel DJ mixer could be a producer and live act favorite

Its expanded mixing and EQ section have already inspired memes, but live acts will sure be happy to see it in the booth.

Pioneer, of course, faces an ongoing problem. Having taken over the world, there’s not much left to conquer. At the entry level, the strategy isn’t hard – there’s an expanding market of first-time DJs, and the company’s combination of Rekordbox-for-computers with Rekordox-for-USB-stick-prep seems a winner. But at the high end, the product stury is murkier. What do people want? Samplers? Synths? Decks that work like samplers? Giant touchscreens?

The DJM-V10 makes more sense – and it helps build a platform in the booth for plugging in those other Pioneer toys.

More quality: Thanks to the onboard sound engine and ESS9016 chip, they deliver 64-bit mixing and 32-bit A/D and D/A, respectively. Oddly, they say this gives it more “warmth,” which is not what warmth means, but it should provide more transparent mixing.

New EQ, new compressor: You now get a new 4-band EQ – an extra shot across the bow of Allen & Heath – and a built-in compressor. I have no earthly idea why anyone would run today’s over-compressed tracks through another layer of compression (gah!), but that should come in very handy with live inputs, where you really do miss it.

Expanded FX: They’ve grown the send/return section so you can use your own external effects – which I also suspect means we’ll see new effects boxes from Pioneer soon.

3-band master isolator: The good thing about this – it’s got dedicated controls for high, mid, and low, rather than making you flick a switch like on most DJ mixers.

More I/O: 6-channel digital mixer design, which doubles as a USB sound card. They advertise a range of inputs, but it’s still unbalanced phono plugs – 6 line + 4 phono.

What they have done is add digital ins, so in addition to the USB interface acting as multichannel audio interface to your computer, there are also 6 digital coax ins.

2 USB B ports, 1 USB a port. Seems it’s odd to release in 2020 without USB-C, but that’s what they’ve done.

Oh, yeah, and they win me over with this alone – the inputs are aligned with the channel strips. Finally, no more hunting around the back of the mixer to find the right input.

MIDI out: Maybe this is really the lede. Pioneer continues pushing Pro DJ Link for sync, but each gadget they ship with MIDI DIN out proves the company might be open to connecting non-Pioneer gear. (It’s not the first Pioneer mixer to do this – and there’s still not a deck with MIDI out – but it’s something.)

DJ-friendly monitoring: Dual headphone outs mean you finally don’t have to fight the DJ/performer before or after you for the headphone jack as you switch over. And booth EQ helps prevent destroying your ears on the booth monitors – finally.

There are a lot of other nice touches – built-in iPhone/iPad mix recording (via DJM-REC), a lockable power cable, DVS integration with Rekordbox and TRAKTOR and Serato, and even visual ShowKontrol integration for AV and lighting.

Plus, it’s a DJM, so you can count on a lot of onboard effects – and then it’s up to you to use them tastefully. At least they’re more tasteful, as I see dedicated buttons for “short” and “long” delays, dub echo, and reverb – like the stuff you actually would want to use.

I would stand by the DJM line. I think they’re more usable and friendly than the competition, and I think having built-in effects is a good thing – it’s a show with an audience, not a studio.

The rest of this we have to actually test, in that Pioneer says a lot about how they’ve adjusted fader feel and EQ.

So sure, this is funny —

Not really the DJM-V10. But you know Richie Hawtin is dreaming of this right now.

— but no mind. I’d sure like to have this mixer in the booth. And I could imagine it doing double duty in some home studios, too, depending on price – at least for people who have DJ rigs at home that double for production.

Do most DJs need it? Probably not. Will it make plugging in for the rest of easier? Absolutely so.

Now we just need to know the price (gulp). But hey, the club will buy theirs.

https://www.pioneerdj.com/en/landing/djm-v10-6-channel-professional-dj-mixer/

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KORG has a sneak peak of a new DX7-like FM synth – the opsix

Imagine a DX7, but with more parameter controls via extra faders – and it’s a KORG. That’s the best we can tell about the new opsix.

MATRIXSYNTH got the scoop on this one before the American NAMM trade even began this week:

New KORG DX7 – the opsix

I’m not sure if calling it a “new DX7” is quite fair, as we just don’t know about it enough. But certainly KORG have copped the look and feel of the original – curious how Yamaha will react there – and added additional controls. Whether there are other KORG touches, it’s hard to say, though you’re welcome to squint at this image:

It’s not unheard of for manufacturers to show up with synthesizers hidden under glass. (I hear if a certain Prince Charming comes along and gets into the glass coffin and kisses the prototype, the enchantment will be lifted and it will magically wake up with complete firmware. But maybe that only works in Disney movies.)

FM synthesis remains a tough nut to crack from a usability standpoint, so I’m not sure about this one. It at least adds to the pile of retro-themed synths this year.

It seems likely that this came from the Japanese engineering team at KORG, given their past with FM on the volca series – and it seems equally likely that they were busy on other products, too. But KORG are proving themselves to be still prolific and provocative.

Watch this space.

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If you’ve got $7500, you can also have an E-mu SP-1200 sampler remake

Also new in 2020 – a remake of the legendary 1987 E-mu SP-1200. Just get ready for some sticker shock, because it’s not just a clone, it’s an actual SP-1200, rebuilt.

This one is an extremely, extremely limited edition because it starts with an original working SP-1200. So the price tag is similar to a top-condition refurbished 1200 because that is literally what it is. The new SP-1200 undertaking comes from E-mu Systems co-founder Dave Rossum, so we can think of this as passion project more than anything.

Rossum Electro-Music calls it “better-than-new.”

Starting with an original SP-1200 and upgrading and calibrating it, you get (copy-pasting here):

  • A new 3.5″ disk drive (seriously), plus an SD card floppy emulator integrated with the software (by Dave himself, no less).
  • Manual filter cutoff frequency control sliders for the SSM 2044 analog filters for channels 1 and 2 added to the rear panel
  • A new metal chassis
  • A new panel overlay
  • The top shell restored and painted “SP Grey.”
  • A new power supply with locking connector (and cool operation)
  • A new LCD display with adjustable brightness and a selectable red, blue, or green color LED backlight
  • All new play buttons
  • All new programming buttons
  • All new 1/4” and MIDI jacks
  • All electrolytic and tantalum capacitors replaced with high-reliability ceramic or aluminum-poly caps
  • All rotary potentiometers replaced with million cycle lifetime pots and installed with new knurled black metal knobs
  • All slide potentiometers replaced with 200,000 cycle lifetime sliders and installed with new slider knobs
  • All original trimmers replaced with 20-turn versions and precisely calibrated
  • New rubber feet
  • An individualized Dave Rossum signature plaque
  • A dust-proof, crush-proof, lockable Pelican™ brand case with press-and pull latches, wheels, and an extendable handle.
  • Full testing and calibration by Rossum Electro-Music

Yes, there’s a wait list. So Dr. Dre, if you’re reading, go get on it.

I’m lost, to be honest, so coming soon to CDM, I’m proud to launch a new feature: a round-up of what legendary classic gear isn’t being cloned/remade/rebooted.

Actually, if I wait a few days even that story may be unnecessary.

Also, anyone want to take bets on when we get a Behringer BS-1200? (for “Behringer Sampler,” you know…)

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