Behringer have sued Dave Smith Instruments, forum posters for defamation

In addition to sending a cease-and-desist letter to a popular Chinese music gear site, Behringer are now taking rival manufacturer Dave Smith Instruments – and unnamed users of a popular forum – to court.

Last week, CDM reported that Behringer’s global entity, MUSIC Tribe, had sent a cease and desist letter to Chinese news site Midifan, threatening a criminal defamation lawsuit would be the next step. However, as of this writing, no lawsuit has been served.

CDM was tipped off today that court filings are available showing MUSIC GROUP (in the USA) have proceeded with legal action against Dave Smith Instruments and various defendants for libel per se, libel per quod, and product disparagement, in the state of California, seeking damages in excess of US$250,000. The filings are dated 9th of June 2018.

The twist here is that in addition to Dave Smith Instruments, the manufacturer, and employee Anthony Karavidas (an engineer at DSI), the lawsuit seeks damages from an additional twenty individuals posting in the same forum thread. Since the identity of those individuals is unknown, they’re named as “DOES 1-20.” In the words of the lawsuit, “the true names and capacities, whether individual, corporate, associate or otherwise … are unknown to Plaintiff.”

In other words, it’s possible someone reading this article just got sued in California but doesn’t know it yet. Uh… hi there, happy Tuesday.

Behringer name Dave Smith’s Prophet Rev2 as a competitor to the Behringer Deepmind 12 in the suit.

Court filings are available as public record of the San Francisco County Superior Court (that’s the state trial court of the county of San Francisco). Expect a large pile of legal findings from the two companies and their lawyers, but those are located here:

https://sfsuperiorcourt.org/

(All documents related to the proceeding are located under case CGC17559458.)

The lawsuit is directed exclusively at commentary published by DSI employees on the Gearslutz forums.

But to review: a selection of comments by a single engineer and twenty unnamed individuals has been turned into a quarter-million dollar-plus defamation claim against a manufacturer, an individual, and pseudonymous forum posters. That thread is still up – it reached the 153-page count before a Gearslutz moderator closed the discussion, on the 4th of July of 2017. One sample:

Behringer Mini model D? A good idea?

(Whereas some threads were initiated by forum user Uli Behringer himself, this one came from a third party, before it ballooned.)

Dave Smith Instruments declined to comment for this story.

What the lawsuit says

According to evidence presented in the lawsuit, Tony, appearing as Tonykara, wrote a series of messages in a thread in early 2017 on Gearslutz forums, and later identified himself as an engineer working for DSI when a user asked him who he was. In the same thread, DOES 1-20 [users identified only by handle] chime in with other sentiments tilted against Behringer. (This thread itself was not entirely one-sided – even in the court evidence provided, you’ll read other form posters criticizing Dave Smith Instruments and Tonykara.)

These observations range from general complaints about Behringer products copying other products or characterizing business practices as “underhanded,” to specific allegations – particularly, a post by Karavidas that claims the Behringer CT100 cable tester is a “blatant copy” of a product by Ebtech.

Some of these complaints may indeed be factually questionable or genuinely inaccurate. Other claims, however, would be harder to disprove. For instance, the lawsuit highlights a comment by Mike Hiegemann (aka Paul Dither) who says “it’s not a secret that Behringer has ripped off products in the past and is planning to do so in the future.” The lawsuit characterizes that as “false, defamatory, and libelous.”

It would be hard to prove or disprove what Behringer will do in the future (obviously), but note that past lawsuits by Roland and Mackie in fact claimed some past Behringer-branded products were deliberate copies. Whether or not those makers won those lawsuits, it means that they did product a significant amount of material evidence as a matter of public record.

Or to put it another way: if you go out and say CDM is a “crap site,” I really can’t do anything. Even if you say “CDM is a biased site that only does what it’s advertisers want,” ditto. I might disagree, but could I take you to court for libel? If you say “CDM is a crap site that’s just a bunch of archaic open source tools mixed with advertiser news made for aging music hipsters,” I … actually, okay I think I’m just now projecting. You get the point.

So, the next questions to answer appear to be, how truthful or untruthful were these statements? Can they be held as libelous? What damages would the authors owe MUSIC Group, if so? Is Dave Smith Instruments legally responsible for what one of its employees posted on a forum?

And I suspect most of interest to readers of this site, can Behringer unmask a series of people posting under pseudonyms and hold them responsible, as well?

There are three charges made in the lawsuit:

Libel per quod. Paraphrasing: claims about Behringer’s business practice and alleged history of copying other products are false and have hurt the company’s reputation. This category requires demonstrating specific legal damages in court.

Libel per se. This is a related set of claims, but because of US law forbidding attacking someone else’s business profession falsely, might not require damages. [Very big disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. If I were a lawyer, I would probably advise you that you shouldn’t take this description as legal advice. But you can get this literally from what “per quod” and “per se” mean.]

Product disparagement. Here, because potential customers read these statements, and they refer to the Behringer brand and products, there’s a specific claim of damages to the brand and the products, beyond

If you can find your way through the court documents, you’ll find exhibits reproducing the complete forum thread, plus a cease and desist letter sent on the 7th of March 2017 – and an agreement by Tony Karavidas to comply with the letter.

There are a couple of things here that are unclear to me, which I will try to investigate.

One, reading through the lawsuit, I’m unclear as to the degree to which Karavidas may have violated the terms of the cease and desist. It appears that some message posts – as he attempted to continue to explain and/or complain about the situation – post-date an agreement to cease disparaging Behringer. It may be that failing to adequately respond to the cease and desist triggered the legal action, instead of defusing the issue.

Two, it’s unclear what will happen to other, pseudonymous posters to Gearslutz. The lawsuit says these “Does” 1-20 will be amended to the lawsuit once their identities are known. That may mean attempting to obligate the forum to reveal those identities. (Historical footnote: when Apple attempted to unmask sources and authors of stories on its leaked “Asteroid” audio interface over a decade ago, courts ruled it couldn’t, in a case called Apple versus Does. This is a different set of circumstances, but it gives some clue to how courts handle unidentified users in legal cases.)

Watching this case, however, may prove itself interesting. The law is intended to prevent damage to a profession – whether you’re one person or a big manufacturer – based on untrue claims. But this means two things, if the courts work correctly. On one hand, if false claims were made about Behringer, that will presumably come out. On the other hand, if Behringer are simply gagging criticism, and if industry complaints that their products are unfairly copying intellectual property, theoretically, that should come out, too.

And, of course, it’s possible for both of those scenarios to be true at once, depending on how this shakes out.

But for anyone who believed that defamation was some peculiarity of Chinese law last week, in fact US law and many international laws do hold individuals and publishers (like this one) legally responsible for damages if we make claims that are false. And yes, suffice to say, that could put a publisher out of business, on legal fees alone. That’s not a commentary on this case – that’s the reality of tort laws worldwide. And those laws exist to balance protections on free speech with the impact that speech can have as others.

Behringer had not yet responded to CDM’s request for comment as I published this.

Behringer and China

Late last week, I shared news that Chinese news portal Midifan had received a cease and desist letter from Behringer, via Music Tribe.

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

Midifan emphasized that the letter complained about products “copying” existing products, and in fact the letter from Music Tribe singled out coverage of Superbooth introductions of products with appearance, names, and structures based on the Sequential [Dave Smith] Pro One, Roland VC-330, SH-101, TR-808, and vintage modules, plus the ARP Odyssey. (Note that KORG had licensed the Odyssey and collaborated with its original creators; Behringer did not.)

Midifan and Music Tribe also clashed over reports by Midifan of a worker strike at Behringer’s MUSIC Tribe City manufacturing facility in Zhongshan, China.

Behringer has declined to comment publicly on CDM’s story. I did reach out to Uli Behringer directly over the weekend, and had a conversation, but got no further public comment.

Uli Behringer did post a statement to the MUSIC Tribe Academy Facebook group, which CDM shared via our own channels.

https://www.facebook.com/musicmotionnoise/posts/10156301703909870

This post disputes claims of worker health issues at their own MUSIC Tribe City manufacturing facility, opened this year. And it invites us to go visit the actual facility.

It doesn’t respond to other questions about the cease and desist letter.

If Behringer add more, I’ll run it here.

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Minds, machines, and centralization: AI and music

Far from the liberated playground the Internet once promised, online connectivity now threatens to give us mainly pre-programmed culture. As we continue reflections on AI from CTM Festival in Berlin, here’s an essay from this year’s program.

If you attended Berlin’s festival this year, you got this essay I wrote – along with a lot of compelling writing from other thinkers – in a printed book in the catalog. I asked for permission from CTM Festival to reprint it here for those who didn’t get to join us earlier this year. I’m going to actually resist the temptation to edit it (apart from bringing it back to CDM-style American English spellings), even though a lot has happened in this field even since I wrote it at the end of December. But I’m curious to get your thoughts.

I also was lucky enough to get to program a series of talks for CTM Festival, which we made available in video form with commentary earlier this week, also with CTM’s help:
A look at AI’s strange and dystopian future for art, music, and society

The complete set of talks from CTM 2018 are now available on SoundCloud. It’s a pleasure to get to work with a festival that not only has a rich and challenging program of music and art, but serves as a platform for ideas, debate, and discourse, too. (Speaking of which, greetings from another European festival that commits to that – SONAR, in Barcelona.)

The image used for this article is an artwork by Memo Akten, used with permission, as suggested by curator and CTM 2018 guest speaker Estela Oliva. It’s called “Inception,” and I think is a perfect example of how artists can make these technologies expressive and transcendent, amplifying their flaws into something uniquely human.

Minds, Machines, and Centralisation: Why Musicians Need to Hack AI Now

IN THIS ARTICLE, CTM HACKLAB DIRECTOR PETER KIRN PROVIDES A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CO-OPTING OF MUSIC AND LISTENING BY CENTRALIZED INDUSTRY AND CORPORATIONS, IDENTIFYING MUZAK AS A PRECURSOR TO THE USE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FOR “PRE-PROGRAMMED CULTURE.” HE GOES ON TO DISCUSS PRODUCTIVE WAYS FOR THOSE WHO VALUE “CHOICE AND SURPRISE” TO REACT TO AND INTERACT WITH TECHNOLOGIES LIKE THESE THAT GROW MORE INESCAPABLE BY THE DAY.

It’s now a defunct entity, but “Muzak,” the company that provided background music, was once everywhere. Its management saw to it that their sonic product was ubiquitous, intrusive, and even engineered to impact behavior — and so the word Muzak became synonymous with all that was hated and insipid in manufactured culture.

Anachronistic as it may seem now, Muzak was a sign of how tele-communications technology would shape cultural consumption. Muzak may be known for its sound, but its delivery method is telling. Nearly a hundred years before Spotify, founder Major General George Owen Squier originated the idea of sending music over wires — phone wires, to be fair, but still not far off from where we’re at today. The patent he got for electrical signalling doesn’t mention music, or indeed even sound content. But the Major General was the first successful business founder to prove in practice that electronic distribution of music was the future, one that would take power out of the hands of radio broadcasters and give the delivery company additional power over content. (He also came up with the now-loathed Muzak brand name.)

What we now know as the conventional music industry has its roots in pianola rolls, then in jukeboxes, and finally in radio stations and physical media. Muzak was something different, as it sidestepped the whole structure: playlists were selected by an unseen, centralized corporation, then piped everywhere. You’d hear Muzak in your elevator ride in a department store (hence the phrase, elevator music). There were speakers tucked into potted plants. The White House and NASA at some points subscribed. Anywhere there was silence, it might be replaced with pre-programmed music.

Muzak added to its notoriety by marketing the notion of using its product to boost worker productivity, through a pseudo-scientific regimen it called the “stimulus progression.” And in that, we see a notion that presages today’s app behavior loops and motivators, meant to drive consumption and engagement, ad clicks and app swipes.

Muzak for its part didn’t last forever, with stimulus progression long since debunked, customers preferring licensed music to this mix of original sounds, and newer competitors getting further ahead in the marketplace.

But what about the idea of homogenized, pre-programmed culture delivered by wire, designed for behavior modification? That basic concept seems to be making a comeback.

Automation and Power

“AI” or machine intelligence has been tilted in the present moment to focus on one specific area: the use of self-training algorithms to process large amounts of data. This is a necessity of our times, and it has special value to some of the big technical players who just happen to have competencies in the areas machine learning prefers — lots of servers, top mathematical analysts, and big data sets.

That shift in scale is more or less inescapable, though, in its impact. Radio implies limited channels; limited channels implies human selectors — meet the DJ. The nature of the internet as wide-open for any kind of culture means wide open scale. And it will necessarily involve machines doing some of the sifting, because it’s simply too large to operate otherwise.

There’s danger inherent in this shift. One, users may be lazy, willing to let their preferences be tipped for them rather than face the tyranny of choice alone. Two, the entities that select for them may have agendas of their own. Taken as an aggregate, the upshot could be greater normalization and homogenization, plus the marginalization of anyone whose expression is different, unviable commercially, or out of sync with the classes of people with money and influence. If the dream of the internet as global music community seems in practice to lack real diversity, here’s a clue as to why.

At the same time, this should all sound familiar — the advent of recording and broadcast media brought with it some of the same forces, and that led to the worst bubblegum pop and the most egregious cultural appropriation. Now, we have algorithms and corporate channel editors instead of charts and label execs — and the worries about payola and the eradication of anything radical or different are just as well-placed.

What’s new is that there’s now also a real-time feedback loop between user actions and automated cultural selection (or perhaps even soon, production). Squier’s stimulus progression couldn’t monitor metrics representing the listener. Today’s online tools can. That could blow apart past biases, or it could reinforce them — or it could do a combination of the two.

In any case, it definitely has power. At last year’s CTM hacklab, Cambridge University’s Jason Rentfrow looked at how music tastes could be predictive of personality and even political thought. The connection was timely, as the talk came the same week as Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, his campaign having employed social media analytics to determine how to target and influence voters.

We can no longer separate musical consumption — or other consumption of information and culture — from the data it generates, or from the way that data can be used. We need to be wary of centralized monopolies on that data and its application, and we need to be aware of how these sorts of algorithms reshape choice and remake media. And we might well look for chances to regain our own personal control.

Even if passive consumption may seem to be valuable to corporate players, those players may discover that passivity suffers diminishing returns. Activities like shopping on Amazon, finding dates on Tinder, watching television on Netflix, and, increasingly, music listening, are all experiences that push algorithmic recommendations. But if users begin to follow only those automated recommendations, the suggestions fold back in on themselves, and those tools lose their value. We’re left with a colorless growing detritus of our own histories and the larger world’s. (Just ask someone who gave up on those Tinder dates or went to friends because they couldn’t work out the next TV show to binge-watch.)

There’s also clearly a social value to human recommendations — expert and friend alike. But there’s a third way: use machines to augment humans, rather than diminish them, and open the tools to creative use, not only automation.

Music is already reaping benefits of data training’s power in new contexts. By applying machine learning to identifying human gestures, Rebecca Fiebrink has found a new way to make gestural interfaces for music smarter and more accessible. Audio software companies are now using machine learning as a new approach to manipulating sound material in cases where traditional DSP tools are limited. What’s significant about this work is that it makes these tools meaningful in active creation rather than passive consumption.

AI, back in user hands

Machine learning techniques will continue to expand as tools by which the companies mining big data make sense of their resources — from ore into product. It’s in turn how they’ll see us, and how we’ll see ourselves.

We can’t simply opt out, because those tools will shape the world around us with or without our personal participation, and because the breadth of available data demands their use. What we can do is to better understand how they work and reassert our own agency.

When people are literate in what these technologies are and how they work, they can make more informed decisions in their own lives and in the larger society. They can also use and abuse these tools themselves, without relying on magical corporate products to do it for them.

Abuse itself has special value. Music and art are fields in which these machine techniques can and do bring new discoveries. There’s a reason Google has invested in these areas — because artists very often can speculate on possibilities and find creative potential. Artists lead.

The public seems to respond to rough edges and flaws, too. In the 60s, when researcher Joseph Weizenbaum attempted to parody a psychotherapist with crude language pattern matching in his program, ELIZA, he was surprised when users started to tell the program their darkest secrets and imagine understanding that wasn’t there. The crudeness of Markov chains as predictive text tool — they were developed for analyzing Pushkin statistics and not generating language, after all — has given rise to breeds of poetry based on their very weirdness. When Google’s style transfer technique was applied using a database of dog images, the bizarre, unnatural images that warped photos into dogs went viral online. Since then, Google has made vastly more sophisticated techniques that apply realistic painterly effects and… well, it seems that’s attracted only a fraction of the interest that the dog images did.

Maybe there’s something even more fundamental at work. Corporate culture dictates predictability and centralized value. The artist does just the opposite, capitalizing on surprise. It’s in the interest of artists if these technologies can be broken. Muzak represents what happens to aesthetics when centralized control and corporate values win out — but it’s as much the widespread public hatred that’s the major cautionary tale. The values of surprise and choice win out, not just as abstract concepts but also as real personal preferences.

We once feared that robotics would eliminate jobs; the very word is derived (by Czech writer Karel Čapek’s brother Joseph) from the word for slave. Yet in the end, robotic technology has extended human capability. It has brought us as far as space and taken us through Logo and its Turtle, even taught generations of kids math, geometry, logic, and creative thinking through code.

We seem to be at a similar fork in the road with machine learning. These tools can serve the interests of corporate control and passive consumption, optimised only for lazy consumption that extracts value from its human users. Or, we can abuse and misuse the tools, take them apart and put them back together again, apply them not in the sense that “everything looks like a nail” when all you have is a hammer, but as a precise set of techniques to solve specific problems. Muzak, in its final days, was nothing more than a pipe dream. What people wanted was music — and choice. Those choices won’t come automatically. We may well have to hack them.

PETER KIRN is an audiovisual artist, composer/musician, technologist, and journalist. He is the editor of CDM and co-creator of the open source MeeBlip hardware synthesizer (meeblip.com). For six consecutive years, he has directed the MusicMaker’s Hacklab at CTM Festival, most recently together with new media artist Ioann Maria.

http://ctm-festival.de/

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

Midifan, a top music portal and online magazine in China, has received notice from Behringer, threatening legal action over stories by Musicfan that called Behringer a “copycat.”

Midifan is a Chinese-language site, but evidently a significant one for that market. And Nan Tang, CEO and founder of the site, is also co-founder of 2nd Sense Audio, the software developer behind the WIGGLE synth and ReSample software. Nan, also known at musiXboy, contacted CDM with the news.

Nan has provided CDM with Midifan’s own English translation of the legal letter, as well as a statement in English. Translation is an important factor here, given we’re talking about libel, but Midifan’s English translations here for what they wrote are “shameless” and “copycat.”

Here’s the statement from Midifan:

Behringer sued Chinese media Midifan for saying them COPYCAT and shameless

Chinese portal website Midifan has received a lawyer’s letter from Behringer last week. Behringer claimed the fact that Midifan repeatedly reporting news about Behringer without any factual basis and using insulting words such as “copycat”, “shameless” has caused the reputation of the four clients (Uli Behringer, MUSIC Tribe Global Brands Ltd, Zhongshan Behringer Electronic Co., Ltd and Zhongshan Ouke Electronic Co., Ltd) to be seriously damaged.

The law firm worked for Behringer also claimed that they have reported to its local public security agency and plans to pursue legal responsibilities through criminal way.

A manufacturer taking legal action against music press for being critical or even calling it names is as far as I know fairly unprecedented. I’d almost call it shamel– actually, let’s just stick with “unprecedented.”

But it appears the letter is threatening criminal libel proceedings in China, not just civil charges. Criminal libel can carry more serious consequences; as reported in 2013 by The Guardian and Bloomberg, criminal libel in China can carry up to a three year prison sentence.

Ceci n’est pas une imitateur.
Behringer showed … uh… tributes to the Roland SH-101, , Roland VC-330, Roland TR-808, ARP Odyssey, and Sequential Prophet One in Berlin last month.

That said, in China as internationally, the law states that something is only libelous if it’s untrue. The “copycat” reference refers to Behringer gear shown at Superbooth, for instance, that literally was designed to look and sound like classic instruments (Roland TR-808, Sequential Circuits Prophet One, etc.). “Shameless” is a matter of opinion. Arguably, too, sending cease and desist letters to media outlets because they called you shameless and a copycat would presumably also not be a great way to demonstrate you possess shame.

Behringer Pro-One, 808, ARP Odyssey Clones At Superbooth 2018 [Synthtopia]

What might make Midifan different from other English-language sites that used similar language? It may be relevant that at the end of last year, Midifan reported on striking workers in a manufacturing facility Behringer owns, where labor complained about health issues. (That article has a number of photos, as well as English-language response from Behringer managers instructing workers to keep windows closed.)

For their part, Midifan have posted a response on their site (no English translation available):

https://www.midifan.com/modulenews-detailview-29955.htm

Midifan tell CDM that they have removed all references to the words “copycat” and “shameless” and replaced them with “more neutral words like “TRIBUTE and CLONE.”

Here’s the full letter from Behringer as translated by Midifan into English.

Lawyer’s Letter
In Relation to Urge You to Stop the Willful Infringement Behavior

Dear Sir or Madam,
Upon the entrustment of Zhongshan Behringer Electronic Co., Ltd (hereinafter referred to as Behringer Corporation), Zhongshan Ouke Electronic Co., Ltd (hereinafter referred to as Ouke Corporation), Uli Behringer and MUSIC Tribe Global Brands Ltd, Guangdong Baoxin Law Firm sends you the lawyer’s letter to your company on matters that urging you to stop the willful infringement behavior.

In accordance with the information and statements from four aforementioned clients, MUSIC Tribe Global Brands Ltd is the registered holder of the trademark “BEHRINGER”. On the basis of the authorization of MUSIC Tribe Global Brands Ltd, Ouke Corporation has the right to use the “BEHRINGER” trademark to engage in production and business activities within the scope of relevant authorizations. Behringer Corporation,whose English name also includes the word “Behringer”, is an affiliate enterprise of MUSIC Tribe Global Brands Ltd and Ouke Corporation.

Since 2017, you have continuously published articles such as “Exclusive breaking: Behringer’s recent crazy copycat stems from a trap of imitation chip more than a decade ago.” “, Can’t stop copycat: Behringer will make the Eurorack module next?” , “Shameless: Behinger exhibited copycat of TR-808, SH-101, Pro-One and Odyssey” on the website “https://www.midifan.com/”

and

Tencent WeChat public account “Midifan” without any factual basis, claiming that the above four principals have plagiarized the products of other companies. Beyond that, the fact that you repeatedly used insulting words such as “shameless”, “copycat” has caused the reputation of my four clients to be seriously damaged.

In view of this, Ouke Corporaiton has reported to its local public security agency and plans to pursue your legal responsibilities through criminal way. Meanwhile, the four principals entrusted me with this letter expressly:

Please be sure to remove all the insulting infringement articles four principals involved and other related information posted on the internet platform such as “https://www.midifan.com/” and Tencent WeChat public account “Midifan” , etc. within seven days of receipt of this letter, and issue a clarification announcement within the above-mentioned period to eliminate all adverse effects caused by the negative reputation of the four principals due to your inappropriate comments.

If you fail to perform the above obligations within the time limit, the four principals will continue pursuing your legal liabilities (including but not limited to
the criminal responsibility for defamation) through legal ways. All consequences and expenses resulting from this shall be borne by you.

In order to avoid inconvenience, please weigh the pros and cons and perform the above obligations in a timely manner!
Best regards.

CDM has reached out to Music Tribe / Behringer for comment via their public contact form, but has not yet received a response. Curiously, I found many of my colleagues don’t have direct, current media contacts with the company.

Oh, also – it seems Germany has criminal libel laws, too. So, naturally, let me then reiterate – what I saw at Superbooth were … meticulous recreations of famous electronic instruments of yore by a …. manufacturer of equipment that is … Behringer.

Now, please, I don’t want to go to German jail. Aber wenn ich ins Gefängnis gehe, wird sich mein Deutsch verbessern.

http://midifan.com/

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Crafty Work – by Earmonkey (feat. Betty Boop) – Roland Cloud Electrode Synth

Published on Apr 25, 2018 Earmonkey Music

“A bit of Kraftwerk inspiration and messing with some of the Roland Cloud Electrode Synth with some TR-808 and TR-909. It’s fun and easy to create with this Roland Cloud stuff and I really do like it quite a lot.”

Some details on Roland Cloud Electrode Synth:

Features

Sonically Shocking
Inspired by the Complextro sub-genre of Electro House (or

Fragment – Abstract ambient JAM – Subtractive / Karplus / PM / Additive / Granular

Published on Apr 14, 2018 Fragment Synthesizer

You can find additional posts featuring examples of Fragment here.

“Fragment is an online collaborative additive / spectral / granular / subtractive / PM synthesizer and live-coding web. platform, the spectrum is created by a live GPU script, the generated visual is then converted to audio by an additive/granular/spectral/subtractive/PM process,

SoundCloud adds scheduled releases, in creator and podcaster focus

SoundCloud last summer rescued its future financially and promised a renewed focus on creators. The first small steps of that creator focus are starting to appear – including one small but useful addition.

Last week, SoundCloud rolled out scheduled releases. From the ‘edit’ page on a track, you can choose a date and time to publish content publicly. They also have suggested some possible use cases – no doubt heard from their wealth of users:

  • Podcasts
  • Mixes that release at the end of a live set
  • Scheduling across time zones on tour

You need an Unlimited Pro account to use the feature (but this is probably only of use to heavy users, anyway).

For most producers and labels, I suspect the major uses here will be timing publication of full streams with the release of an album, and scheduling those around exclusive streams for the press. (I’ll definitely be using that functionality myself.)

Functionality like this really matters. Much of the (understandable) frustration with SoundCloud came from users who were closely tied to specific features in apps and the Web platform, then had those features suddenly taken away. That might cut it for general consumer Web services, but serious users of creative products build elaborate workflows over time, and they’re going to remain loyal to providers who are mindful of their needs. In their push to growth, it’s clear SoundCloud didn’t entirely maintain that relationship. Now we’ll see if some attention to functionality can rebuild it.

In the meantime, users and content are still widely on SoundCloud, whatever hysterical headlines you’ve read. That is, for all the complaining, a lot of us rely on SoundCloud in absence of any real competition. That’s not just because SoundCloud has a big user base of potential listeners – it’s also because for many users, SoundCloud’s feature set is more convenient. (Narrowly focused on just adding players, that may not be true, but if you want a player with a network behind it, it’s another story.)

In other words, whatever the service, features make a difference. I’d also like to see this kind of functionality on Bandcamp. Label management and navigation there to me is simply failing to improve, with some major oversights that can make operating it a pain. (In fact, you can’t schedule releases on Bandcamp. You can add a release date, but you have to manually publish. Maybe there’s a rationale for that particular instance, but… that’s just one example.)

SoundCloud first?

The other ploy from SoundCloud in March to win back serious creator users is the “#scfirst” campaign.

Users who tag their music with #SCFIRST have a shot at being included on a “First on SoundCloud” playlist, and SoundCloud Twitter, Facebook, and newsletter promotion. SoundCloud also says they’ll “fast track” consideration for opening up Premier monetization which shares revenue from streams.

They also launched the service with a marketing campaign built to showcase a selection of artists using the program. Those users also highlighted music acts using SoundCloud and interaction with fans there as part of how they built up their reputation. (Most were selected from the USA, with a couple from western Europe, which tells you something about SoundCloud’s present market focus – or who’s likely paying for their subscriptions.)

On this one, it seems a bit too early to judge. Spotify and iTunes each do editorial promotion of some music, and exclusives are often part of the deal – but as with many other aspects of those services, individual producers have a very low probability of being picked up. (Bigger labels and distributors tend to fight hard to get those spots for themselves.) So here, there seems a chance – however narrow – for the independent musician and label to even out the odds. Then there are stores like Beatport that will also likely tie exclusives to particular promotion.

Juggling exclusives is itself a bit frustrating, though. Synchronizing availability is generally what artists and labels would tend to want to do to maximize exposure; getting tied down to exclusives is essentially gambling away that control and wide audience in the hopes the exclusive partner will make up the difference. And in the case of “#scfirst,” it’s really a shot in the dark, since by definition you don’t know in advance whether you’ll be picked up.

Then again, “shot in the dark” pretty much sums up the process of releasing music in general.

As with the new feature focus, it’s really up to SoundCloud to demonstrate that this stuff will pay off for users. What I will say about SoundCloud the service is, they have the potential to be an ally of the people making the music and releasing it independently. That’s just not true of a lot of what’s in the online music space.

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Watch an Ableton Loop talk that connects polyrhythms, synesthesia

How are the Harmony of the Spheres, Isaac Newton, and polyhythms connected? Strap in for a journey with musician Adam Neely.

A bass player – educator – composer, Adam has a series of his own called New Horizons in Music. For Ableton Loop in Berlin last November, he got to present one session of those ideas live to an enraptured crowd. Now, Ableton gives you a guest seat to that show.

If you’re a fan of polyrthms, you’ll like where this is going. But it takes an unexpected path, starting with Alexander Scriabin, the Russian composer who experienced a perceptual connection of color to sound, and Isaac Newton’s color science. That basic notion about spectrum links color, perception, and rhythm.

It’s a wild, Wikipedia click-hole saga through music history, psychoacoustics, proportions, and theory. Since proportion can apply to rhythm and pitch alike – and since rhythms eventually are themselves connected to pitch – you eventually get a kind of grand unifying theory of music and polyrhythm. Watch:

(Quite a few of you likely have seen this already, as it seems it’s already a hit!)

This is just the sort of adventurous thinking that filled the best talks at Ableton’s Loop event. In that way, Loop served not just as a gathering around a tool, but that explored the entire ecosystem of ideas around the Live user community. And that seems a great model for what music tech can be.

Of course, all of this required getting to Berlin, and even there attendance was limited. So, fortunately, Ableton have set up a minisite where they’re sharing content you can take in at your leisure. (I was actually in Berlin, and I missed this one, so it’s great having video available for me, too, before you get jealous!)

You can find a collection of resources from Loop at the Loop minisite, with more content added regularly:

https://www.ableton.com/blog/loop/

For instance, you can jump to a selection of talks and Q&A:

https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/loop/talks/

And for more of Adam Neely’s New Horizons in Music, head to his YouTube channel:

http://bit.ly/2BQBNXq

For instance, here’s more on synesthesia:

I’m looking forward to taking in more.

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Sheets of Sound Browser Based Single Cycle Waveform Generator

SCW Editor Introduction Published on Mar 3, 2018 20Objects

“The SCW Editor by Sheets of Sound, is a single cycle wave form generator & editor built on a light weight web audio platform. The level of possibilities within the editor are quite complex, with two sections. Main & Mix-In, and an array of controls.

None of this editing goes to waste, at any time you can render out your sample to your

Sending music to LANDR now gets your music up on Beatport

LANDR, the platform that first appeared to do automated online mastering, is now distribution, too. And they’ve added online giant Beatport as a partner.

That news came quietly earlier this week, but it demonstrates LANDR are serious about making a turnkey solution for distribution as well as mastering. The deal is, if you aren’t a label big enough to work with Bandcamp directly, and/or if you don’t have your own distributor, you can’t just send music to online stores.

LANDR offers to entirely streamline the process. If you trust their algorithmic approach to mastering, all you have to do is upload and hit release. Your music is mastered (with some minor, simplified ability to tweak the results), and off to Beatport – plus Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Google Music, and some others.

The pricing is certainly aggressive. Distribution is bundled in with the mastering fees at no additional cost. And in an unprecedented move, LANDR give you 100% of royalties and charge you nothing. The whole system is based on explosive growth. To master WAV files, you have to pony up for the 25EUR/month fee (for unlimited tracks, if you’re a heavy user). But it appears even the lowly 4EUR/mo track does WAV distribution.

There is a catch, of course. First, I’m not entirely convinced by LANDR’s algorithmic mastering. Mastering with a human actually isn’t all that expensive, depending on who you use – and tests I did with LANDR’s system were compelling, but only on the level of what you might get with a preset in a good mastering plug-in. I know – I’m going to get in some trouble with the LANDR folks for this. But my thought is this: some of what mastering engineers do is based on taste, not just on something that could be derived from a large sample set. I rely on a mastering engineer to catch little mistakes and ask questions. Now, maybe people don’t want to pay extra for that, but – then I’d ask if they really want to do a proper digital release, or if they might as well just stick stuff up on SoundCloud and not overthink it.

There’s a second factor to be aware of here: just dumping music on distribution often isn’t effective. Having a human to pitch music makes a difference.

That said, even given my reluctance there, this distribution offer seems terrifically competitive. If you’ve finished an EP, and you just want to make sure people find it whether they type something into Spotify or follow your artist name on Bandcamp, this looks cost-effective and easy. There are other entry-level distribution services that don’t require contracts, but they tend to either charge big fees or else they lack stores like Beatport.

LANDR have posted on the topic:
https://blog.landr.com/everything-musicians-need-know-digital-music-distribution/

It’s worth doing some homework; we can cover more on distribution soon. (While I work on that, let us know how you’re distributing, as it’d be great to get some notes!)

Anyway, my kneejerk opinion:

Mastering, worth a try, but it’s still worth finding a solid mastering engineer if you can.

Distribution: this is so insanely affordable and easy, you’d be crazy not to at least look. (I’m exclusive with my distributor, so I’m out!)

For more:
https://www.landr.com/en/digital-distribution

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Sounds.com is a new cloud tool for loops and samples from NI

Sounds.com is a subscription-based loop and sample site – but it’s also a glimpse into Native Instruments’ future strategy for digital services for musicians.

Today, NI are revealing Sounds.com – a product in 2018 that sounds like someone registered a domain in 1996. That domain name pretty much covers it: it’s a place to go get sounds, in the form of loops and samples. It’s only available as a beta in the United States now, but will roll out to the rest of the world over the course of this year.

You can check out the beta now. I’ve had the chance to talk to Matthew Adell (NI’s new digital services chief) and Sunny Lee (Product Owner) about the product, and poked around the beta and sounds a bit in advance. Here’s a sense of what this might mean as a product itself, but also some of the potential to sound designers and future NI products – if the service and its underlying infrastructure are fully exploited.

What’s the pitch for Sounds.com?

There are, of course, a lot of purveyors of loops and sound content. But what NI’s tool here promises is a deeper, broader catalog of sounds from multiple sources, combined with better tools for searching them.

You won’t see much of Native Instruments’ name on the site, and even their own products are in the background. So Maschine Expansions are there, if that’s your thing – but NI is just one of 200 providers. The Loop Loft, MVP, and Symphonic Distribution sit alongside lots of smaller shops. NI also says they’ve got a lot of exclusive content, and are launching with half a million sounds.

You can navigate by genre, covering not just dance genres, but things like “cinematic,” too. You’ll see bundled releases, but also individual sounds.

That could broaden the appeal here. Maybe you don’t want some massive set of Deep House or EDM loops. Fine – search for a single perfect clap one-shot. Maybe you want to explore some weird Reaktor-produced noises made by Applewhite on left-field label Detroit Underground. Or you’re on a tight TV or film scoring deadline and want to grab some unique sounding percussion. Or you just want some sounds to mangle quickly.
Because it’s easy to find one-shots, and because there’s tons of sound material that isn’t genre specific, it seems likely that Sounds.com will appeal to some people who haven’t bothered with loop or sample content before.

Native Instruments have talked a lot lately about reaching more customers. Here, they offer a fair amount of tools in a completely free, unpaid tier. You don’t even need an account to start poking around and previewing. But a free account nets you some selected free downloads.
US$9.99 a month gets you an all-you-can-eat diet of unlimited downloads of whatever you want. (This is the US-specific one for now; the free tier already works worldwide.) Even if you cancel and re-up, those downloads reappear… just in case you have a habit of not backing up and dropping beers on your hard drives.

There’s an underlying technical competency story here, though. In addition to investing over the past year in the cloud and products team, NI has been quietly over time developing in-house expertise in what’s called Music Information Retrieval. Basically, that’s the somewhat arcane research field of developing algorithms that identify sounds and metadata more clearly. This stuff has been bouncing around Europe for years, but it tends to involve stuffy academic contexts and music industry.

The twist here is, some of that “MIR” business can turn out to be, well, fun and useful to you and me. NI tells CDM these algorithms are sharp enough to analyze the difference between a closed and an open high hat. With a bunch of other built-in intelligence about metadata and tagging and the like, this could mean you actually find the sounds you want. We’ll need some time to test that, and because an online service like this both develop over time and can learn from additional data, it’s something that may well evolve.

But yeah, instead of training Facebook how to serve you ads, you might soon instead be training Native Instruments how to identify and find sounds. (It’s fitting we’re exploring machine learning as a topic this year with our hacklab for CTM Festival Berlin.)

And honing in on individual sounds is part of the mission. Thanks to better search tools, you’ll quickly find you can even ignore genre classification and search however you want – including key, BPM, and other sonic characteristics. There are also tools for grouping by artist/producer and label. (Some of those appear to be set to develop over time.)

With its direct access to one-shots and more left-field options, plus a visual waveform preview and lots of metadata, Sounds.com resembles nothing if not long-running platform https://freesound.org/ – more than something like the Beatport Sounds section. (As far as content, I can’t imagine freesound stacking up to this any more than I can imagine Sounds.com replacing freesound. Case in point: as I write this, freesound has as its sound of the day “procesión de la borriquita” –the procession of the donkey – from the first week of Easter in Tarifa, Spain. Still, the interface and some of the appeal do overlap.)

Lots of familiar sound design houses and artists are there – here’s the legendary Hank Shocklee, who’s been a continuous inspiration in technology for us.

Sounds.com is quick and easy enough that I imagine this could be a huge amount of fun. I’m not a huge fan of soundware, and even I started thinking of how to use this. Hello, Maschine Audio device.

What does this mean for sound creators?

Native Instruments, particularly through their flagship sampler KONTAKT and more recently their NKS format, have always been a platform and reseller for independent sound designers. Now, they actually have a working online platform to do that. NI are promising creators a fluid means to upload and manage their content, as well as a potential commercial opportunity.

The subscription model I imagine could also be disruptive if your business model was based on the à la carte release approach, but we’ll also have to see if these two models reach different customers (and accordingly supply different kinds of content). Consuming sound content for production also isn’t quite the same as consuming albums for listening, even if the buy/subscribe model here is a parallel.

Also, NI say their longer range plan is to provide an open API, also suggesting new developer integrations in music products not made by NI – first to select partners later this year, and then more broadly as they collect user and developer feedback.

What’s the bigger picture at Native Instruments?

Sounds.com has developed over the past year under the leadership of NI’s new “Chief Digital Officer,” Matthew Adell. Adell has experience at Napster and Amazon – and at Beatport. During his tenure, Beatport launched their Sounds section, which then saw explosive growth.

Now, the important thing here is, yes, there’s the specific product Sounds.com – but there’s also the team that built it and the plumbing they created to make it work. Adell confirmed to CDM that this is just a beginning.

More left-field and independent creations show up here, too. Here’s Detroit Underground with Marshall Applewhite. That’s an important story, as well, as it means this service is about NI’s ecosystem of sound creators, not just the sounds from NI themselves (though those are there, of course).

In addition to releases, you can find sounds individually, by collection, or here – again with label Detroit Underground – by provider. There’s no navigation to find them directly apart from search yet.

It’s a no-brainer that we’ll see Sounds.com integration in NI products in some form. But NI says their new, integrated digital services team can make these kinds of tools available across the whole NI product range – and even possibly on future hardware. Sounds.com represents the first product built atop a new cloud platform. (They’re using React JavaScript library on the front end, among other things, in case you’re interested.)

I hope that’s the case, because it could make the experience of using NI software significantly better.

Let’s back up and consider the user. We’re already essentially using NI as an online service provider, it’s just that they don’t behave much like one.

You’re a producer, and you’re using Maschine and Komplete. Right now, not even all upgrades and sound content are available in Native Update. Buying and upgrading is … well, complicated. And then storing and accessing your own sounds is often a chore.

Could this MIR stuff help you find and tag your own sounds and snapshots? Well, heck yes – especially because my guess is you’re even less likely to be organized about tagging and organizing your own files. (I’ve seen musicians’ hard drives. A lot of you are … let’s say right brain dominant. “Messy as #$*&” also fits.)

Cue points in Traktor that show up everywhere? Well, now there’s plumbing to make that happen (this appeared briefly in an iPad app, then disappeared right as we said we liked it).

Synchronized Reaktor Blocks ensembles and snapshots? Why not? (The free VCV Rack is already working on that.)

I’d love to use sophisticated sync and MIR technologies to locate and share my sounds and parameters. But it remains to be seen whether this modern approach from the online team in Los Angeles will be able to wrangle the complex web of different products and code that a lot of us use in Komplete and the like.

Sounds.com is recipient of some of the recent funding NI acquired, but its gestation started before that funding, NI say – so we’ll see how this unfolds later this year. Pro software and especially hardware products have much longer development cycles, so expect some of these fruits to appear later.

In the meanwhile, this is an encouraging step – and you’ve got some sounds to play with.

http://sounds.com [public beta; login available only from the USA but preview features available to all]

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