FamilyTool expands Moog, other semi-modulars with more patching

Moog’s DFAM and Mother-32 have attracted their own dedicated following. Now a Kickstarter project aims to expand patching flexibility on the Moog and other semi-modulars – so you won’t outgrow them.

There are two product ideas in the FamilyTool line. One is a unit for adding multis and splits, which extends patching on semi-modulars like the Mother-32. (There’s no multi, which would let you duplicate a signal.) A second product is a case with internal power for making a little “baby” modular – without having to make the leap into Eurorack. (The latter could get more expensive and means more to lug around. Arturia also recently showed small cases with this idea.)

The product looks really nice, and gets hand-assembled in Munich. One interesting twist: they say they’re only marketing this on Kickstarter, so there won’t be any units for sale after that.


The MULT-OR-SWITCH is all about giving you more patching flexibility for more elaborate patches.


6 A/B switches for up to six switchable routings
2 of which are OR-logic mixers
No external power source needed*
Passive MULT (1:4 or 2×1:2)
Patching fun with 24 I/Os

And the case is perfect for, say, a DFAM owner who wishes they also had just the awesome Mutable Instruments Clouds to play with (which, seriously, is possible):

powered UNCPROP Case

Fits eurorack modules up to 20hp and 35mm depth (e.g. Clouds and MATHS)
Perfectly fits DFAM/Mother-32 and
Is a great addition to any other semi-modular synth
For heavy users & beginners
internal PSU
works as a 20hp standalone eurorack case/effects unit
Handcrafted wooden panels (walnut)

Pricing starts at EUR199 depending on which round you’re in.

Maybe the coolest option: you can spring for a workshop and dinner with the makers in Munich.

Or you can get a scarf, which sounds appealing to me.

FamilyTool – a versatile modular synthesizer extension


Arturia’s new easy, affordable modular cases also mount to MiniBrute 2

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More surprise in your sequences, with ESQ for Ableton Live

With interfaces that look lifted from a Romulan warbird and esoteric instruments, effects, and sequencers, K-Devices have been spawning surprising outcomes in Ableton Live for some time now. ESQ is the culmination of that: a cure for preset sounds and ideas in a single device.

You likely know the problem already: all of the tools in software like Ableton Live that make it easy to quickly generate sounds and patterns also tend to do so in a way that’s … always the same. So instead of being inspiring, you can quickly feel stuck in a rut.

ESQ is a probability-based sequencer with parameters, so you adjust a few controls to generate a wide variety of possibilities – velocity, chance, and relative delay for each step. You can create polyrhythms (multiple tracks of the same length, but different steps), or different-length tracks, you can copy and paste, and there are various random functions to keep things fresh. The results are still somehow yours – maybe even more so – it’s just that you use probability and generative rules to get you to what you want when you aren’t sure how to describe what you want. Or maybe before you knew you wanted it.

Because you can trigger up to 12 notes, you can use ESQ to turn bland presets into something unexpected (like working with preset Live patches). Or you can use it as a sequencer with all those fun modular toys we’ve been talking about lately (VCV Rack, Softube Modular, Cherry Audio Voltage Modular, and so on) – because 5- and 8-step sequencers are often just dull.

There’s no sound produced by ESQ – it’s just a sequencer – but it can have a big enough impact on devices that this “audio” demo is just one instance of ESQ and one Drum Rack. Even those vanilla kits start to get more interesting.

K-Devices has been working this way for a while, but ESQ feels like a breakthrough. The generative sequence tools are uniquely complete and especially powerful for producing rhythms. You can make this sound crazy and random and IDM-y, but you can also add complexity without heading into deep space – it’s really up to you.

And they’ve cleverly made two screens – one full parameter screen that gets deep and detailed, but a compact device screen that lets you shift everything with single gestures or adjust everything as macros – ideal for live performance or for making bigger changes.

It seems like a good wildcard to keep at your disposal … for any of those moments when you’re getting stuck and boring.

And yes, of course Richard Devine already has it:

But you can certainly make things unlike Devine, too, if you want.

Right now ESQ is on sale, 40% off through December 31 – €29 instead of 49. So it can be your last buy of 2018.

Have fun, send sequences!

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Ethereal, enchanting Winter Solstice drone album, made in VCV Rack

It’s the shortest day of the year and first astronomical day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Don’t fight it. Embrace all that darkness – with this transcendent album full of drones, made in the free VCV Rack modular platform.

And really, what better way to celebrate modular than with expansive drones? Leave the on-the-grid “mad beats” and EDM wavetable presets to commercial tools. Enjoy as each modular patch achingly, slowly shifts, like a frost across a snowbank. Or something like that.

These aren’t just any drones. The compilation, for its part, is absolutely gorgeous, start to finish. It’s the work of ablaut, a Dutch-born, Suzhou-based artist living in China, with a winter wonderland worth of lush sonic shapes to send a chill up your spine. And everything came from the active VCV Rack community, where users of the open source modular platform have been avidly sharing patches and music alongside.

There’s terrific attention to detail. The group were inspired by the work of composers like La Monte Young, and … this is no lazy “pad through some reverb” work here. It’s utterly otherworldly:

We’ll hopefully take a look at some of these patches soon. If you’ve got ambient Rack creations of your own and missed out on the collaboration, we’d love to hear those, too.

The album is pay-what-you-will.

VCV Rack Official Facebook group

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Hands-on: Complex-1 puts West Coast-inspired modular in Reason

Propellerhead has unveiled a modular instrument add-on for Reason, Complex-1. It puts a patchable, West Coast-inspired synth inside the already patchable Reason environment – and it sounds fabulous.

Complex-1 is a monophonic modular synth delivered as a Rack Extension, available now. What you get is a selection of modules, with a combination of Buchla- and Moog-inspired synths, and some twists from Propellerhead. You can patch these right on the front panel – not the back panel as you normally would in Reason – and combine the results with your existing Reason rack. The ensemble is very West Coast-ish, as in Buchla-inspired, but also with some unique character of its own and modern twists and amenities you would expect now.

Propellerhead have also a lot of design decisions that allow you to easily patch anything to anything, which is great for happy mistakes and unusual sounds – for beginners or advanced users alike. The three oscillators each have ranges large enough to act as modulation sources, and to tune paraphonic setups if you so wish.

Prepare to get lost in this: the recent Quad Note Generator is a perfect pairing with Complex-1.

What’s inside:
Complex Osc This is the most directly Buchla-like module – subsonic to ultrasonic range, FM & AM, and lots of choices for shaping its dual oscillators.

Noise source, OSC 3 Noise sources including red, plus an additional oscillator (OSC 3) with a range large enough to double as a modulation source.

Comb delay If the Complex Osc didn’t get you, the comb delay should – you can use this for string models by tuning the delay with feedback, as well as all the usual comb delay business.

Filter Here’s the East Coast ingredient – a Moog-style ladder filter with drive, plus both high pass and low pass outputs you can use simultaneously.

Low Pass Gates Two LPGs (envelope + filter you can trigger) give you more West Coast-style options, including envelope follower functions.

Shaper Distortion, wavefolding, and whatnot.

More modules: LFO, ADSR envelope, output mixer, plus a really handy Mix unit, Lag, Scale & amp, Clock & LFO + Clock 2. There’s also a useful oscilloscope.

Sequencer plus Quant: You can easily use step sequencers from around Reason, but there’s also a step sequencer in Complex-1 itself, useful for storing integrated patches. Quant also lets you tune to a range of scales.

Function: A lot of the hidden power of Complex-1 is here – there’s a function module with various algorithms.

Yes, you can make complex patches with Complex-1.

The dual advantages of Complex-1: one, it’s an integrated instrument all its own, but two, it can live inside the existing Reason environment.

I’ve had my hands on Complex-1 since I visited Propellerhead HQ last week and walked through a late build last week. Full disclosure: I was not immediately convinced this was something I needed personally. The thing is, we’re spoiled for choice, and software lovers are budget-minded. So while a hundred bucks barely buys you one module in the hardware world, in software, it buys a heck of a lot. That’s the entry price for Softube Modular, for VCV Rack and a couple of nice add-ons, and for Cherry Audio’s Voltage Modular (at least at its current sale price, with a big bundle of extras).

Not to mention, Reason itself is a modular environment.

But there are a few things that make Complex-1 really special.

It’s a complete, integrated modular rig. This is important – VCV Rack, Softube Modular, Voltage Modular, and Reason itself are all fun because you can mix and match modules.

But it’s creatively inspiring to work with Complex-1 for the opposite reason. You have a fixed selection of modules, with some basic workflows already in mind. It immediately takes me back to the first vintage Buchla system I worked on for that reason. You still have expansive possibilities, but within something that feels like an instrument – modular patching, but not the added step of choosing which modules. The team at Propellerhead talked about their admiration for the Buchla Music Easel. This isn’t an emulation of that – Arturia have a nice Music Easel in software if that’s what you want – but rather takes that same feeling of focusing on a toolkit and provides a modern, Propellerhead-style take on the concept.

It sounds fantastic. This one’s hard to overstate, so it’s better to just go give the trial a spin. In terms of specs, Propellerhead points to their own DSP and 4X oversampling everywhere. In practice, it means even just a stupidly-simple patch with raw oscillators sounds gorgeous and lush. I love digital sounds and aliasing and so on, but… it’s nice to have this end of the spectrum, too. You get a weird, uncanny feeling of lying in bed with a laptop and some studio headphones and hearing your own music as if it’s a long-lost 1970s electronic classic. It’s almost too easy to sound good. Tell your friends you’ll see them in the spring because for now you want to spend some time along pretending you’re Laurie Spiegel.

It lives inside Reason. The other reality is, it’s really fun having this inside Reason, where you can combine your patches into Combinators and work with all the other pattern sequencers and effects and whatnot. You can also make elaborate polysynths by stacking instances of Complex-1.

There’s basic CV and audio interconnectivity with your rack. This may look meager at first, but I found this in addition to the Combinator opens a lot of possibilities, especially for playing live/improvising.

You get loads of presets, of course, which will appeal to those not wanting to get lost in patching. But I also welcome that Propellerhead included a set of basic templates as starting points for those who do want to explore.

Patching is also really easy, though I miss being able to re-patch from both sides of a cable as in a lot of software modulars. Better is the hide/unhide cables functionality, so you can make the patch cables disappear for easier control of the front panel. (Why don’t all software modulars have this feature, actually?)

You don’t get unlimited patchability between Complex-1 and the rest of Reason. For simplicity, you’re limited to note/MIDI input (from other devices as well as externally), basic CV input and output, and input to the sequencer. There’s also a very useful audio input. That may disappoint some people who wanted more options, though it still provides a lot of power.

Mostly I want to buy a really big touch display for Windows and use that. And with this kind of software out there, I may not be looking at hardware so much. I even expect to use this live.

Some sounds for you (while I work on sharing some of my own):

Complex-1 Rack Extension

Complex-1 in the shop

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TUNNELS imagines Eurorack if you could multiply and patch anywhere

Kids today. First, they want synth modules with the power of computers but the faceplate of vintage hardware – and get just that. Next, they take for granted the flexibility of patching that virtual systems in software have. Well, enter TUNNELS: “infinite multiple” for your Eurorack.

TUNNELS is a set of modules that doesn’t do anything on its own. It’s just a clever patch bay for your modular system. But with the IN and OUT modules, what you get is the ability to duplicate signals (so a signal from one patch cord can go multiple places), and then route signals anywhere you like.

“Infinite” is maybe a bit hyperbolic. (Well, I suppose what you might do with this is potentially, uh, infinite.) It’s really a bus for signals. And maybe not surprisingly, this freer, ‘virtual’ way of thinking about signal comes from people with some software background on one side, and the more flexible Buchla patching methodology on the other. TUNNELS is being launched by Olympia Modular, a collaboration between Patterning developer Ben Kamen and Buchla Development Engineer Charles Seeholzer.

There are two module types. TUNNEL IN just takes a signal and duplicates it to multiple outs. In signal to out signal, that’s 1:6, 2:3 (each signal gets three duplicates, for two signals), or 3:2 (each signal gets two duplicates, for three signals).

You might be fine with just IN, but you can also add one or more OUT modules. That connects via a signal link cable, but duplicates the outputs from the IN module. (Cool!) So as you add more OUT modules, this can get a lot fancier, if you so desire. It means some patches that were impossible before become possible, and other patches that were messy tangles of spaghetti become clean and efficient.

Actually, I’m comparing to software (think Reaktor, Pd, Max), but even some dataflow software could use some utility modules like this just to clean things up. (Most dataflow software does let you connect as many outputs from a patch point as you want. Code environments like SuperCollider also make it really easy to work with virtual ‘buses’ for signal… but then hardware has the advantage of making the results visible.)

Tunnels is on Kickstarter, with a module for as little as US$75 (limited supply). But, come on, spring for the t-shirt, right?

TUNNEL IN: buffered multiple, duplicate input across multiple outputs
TUNNEL OUT: add additional outputs at another location – chain infinitely for massive multiple banks, or use as sends for signals like clock and 1v/oct

Add more OUTs, and you get a big bank of multiples.

I’d say it’s like send and receive objects in Max/Pd, but… that’ll only make sense to Max/Pd people, huh? But yeah, like that.

On Kickstarter:

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Eerie, amazing sounds from tape loops, patches – like whales in space

Fahmi Mursyid from Indonesia has been creating oceans of wondrously sculpted sounds on netlabels for the past years. Be sure to watch these magical constructions on nothing but Walkman tape loops with effects pedals and VCV Rack patches – immense sonic drones from minimal materials.

Fahmi hails from Bandung, in West Java, Indonesia. While places like Yogyakarta have hogged the attention traditionally (back even to pre-colonial gamelan kingdom heydeys), it seems like Bandung has quietly become a haven for experimentalists.

He also makes gorgeous artworks and photography, which I’ve added here to visualize his work further. Via:

This dude and his friends are absurdly prolific. But you can be ambitious and snap up the whole discography for about twelve bucks on Bandcamp. It’s all quality stuff, so you could load it up on a USB key and have music when you’re away from the Internet ranging from glitchy edges to gorgeous ambient chill.

Watching the YouTube videos gives you a feeling for the materiality of what you’re hearing – a kind of visual kinetic pcture to go with the sound sculpture. Here are some favorites of mine:

Via Bandcamp, he’s just shared this modded Walkman looping away. DSP, plug-in makers: here’s some serious nonlinearity to inspire you. Trippy, whalesong-in-wormhole stuff:

The quote added to YouTube from Steve Reich fits:

“the process of composition but rather pieces of music that are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form simultaneously. (Think of a round or infinite canon.)”

He’s been gradually building a technique around tapes.

But there’s an analog to this kind of process, working physically, and working virtually with unexpected, partially unstable modular creations. Working with the free and open source software modular platform VCV Rack, he’s created some wild ambient constructions:

Or the two together:

Eno and Reich pepper the cultural references, but there are aesthetic cues from Indonesia, too, I think (and no reason not to tear down those colonial divisions between the two spheres). Here’s a reinterpretation of Balinese culture of the 1940s, which gives you some texture of that background and also his own aesthetic slant on the music of his native country:

Check out the releases, too. These can get angular and percussive:

— or become expansive soundscapes, as here in collaboration with Sofia Gozali:

— or become deep, physical journeys, as with Jazlyn Melody (really love this one):

Here’s a wonderful live performance:

I got hooked on Fahmi’s music before, and … honestly, far from playing favorites, I find I keep accidentally running over it through aliases and different links and enjoying it over and over again. (While I was just in Indonesia for Nusasonic, it wasn’t the trip that made me discover the music – it was the work of musicians like Fahmi that were the reason we all found ourselves on the other side of the world in the first place, to be more accurate. They discovered new sounds, and us.) So previously:

The vaporwave Windows 98 startup sound remix no one asked for

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Post folk: when a hurdy gurdy meets MIDI, a new hybrid is born

Its origins may go back to 9th century Byzantium. But the hurdy gurdy is going digital – and the result is new, expanded musical possibilities for a familiar historical instrument.

Musician / composer/ luthier and builder Barnaby Walters has been hand crafting hurdy gurdy ..s … hurdies gurdy … uh these instruments. But he’s also been working on expanding its capabilities using MIDI, for connection to other gear and computers, and software that augments the traditional capabilities of the instrument with expanded sounds.

What kind of expanded sounds? Think chords, harmonies, layering different sounds, and more. He’s been developing this over a long period of time, but the documentation is now expanding. Watch:


Demonstration of some hybrid electronic-acoustic experiments using the prototype MIDI system installed on my hurdy gurdy.

0:22 Technique: Pitch-shifting Polyphony Gurdy MIDI and Audio → Apogee ONE → Macbook running a puredata patch

Monophonic acoustic gurdy signal is pitch-shifted down in real time to play chords and harmonies. Chords and intervals on the keyboard can also be used to pitch-shift the trompette signal (0:55) or the drones. Inspired by an idea from Sébastien Tron.

1:18 Technique: Expressive MIDI Controller Hurdy Gurdy MIDI → DIY Hybrid Poly Synth based off Mutable Instruments Ambika

The keyboard and wheel sensors send MIDI note, expression and polyphonic aftertouch messages to a polyphonic synthesizer. In this case a split keyboard effect is used to play two sounds.

1:36 Technique: Layered Acoustic and Electronic Sound

Hurdy Gurdy Acoustic audio, Gurdy MIDI → DIY Hybrid Poly Synth based off Mutable Instruments Ambika

1:36 The acoustic string plays a melody, the bottom half of the keyboard controls a synthesizer with a long release for subtle held chords

2:08 Using trompette technique can send MIDI messages, used here to play synthesized percussion on an Ambika voice assigned to MIDI channel 10, whilst the keyboard plays chords.

2:30 Acoustic trompette and melody string sound layered over subtle polyphonic synthesized chords

Playing, Instrument and Software:
Barnaby Walters

Polyphonic Pitch-shifting idea: Sébastien Tron

Filming, editing: Adriana Borger

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Vadim is a master of the dark arts of DSP – listen to him explain filters

DSP is a secretive art form. But maybe its best-kept secret is, musicians can learn it. You just need a great teacher – and Vadim Zavalishin of Native Instruments, working in Reaktor, is a perfect place to start.

This talk is from June, but just came online – and it’s a rare chance to hear from anyone like this in the industry, let alone in a way that’s this clear and friendly from someone who’s one of the better DSP artists around. Even if you have little interest in programming, you can skim through this video and learn how Vadim made a lot of NI’s recent stuff sound better through analog-style filter modeling. But it might just get you into some casual toying about with core DSP, because Reaktor makes it easy – and Vadim makes it clear why it’s relevant to music and sound.

Some background first: Digital Signal Processing describes the transformation of sound through math, now inside your plug-ins, your hardware, and quite a lot of of Eurorack modules.

DSP is math, but the math itself often is straightforward. Take summing. You know the equation for summing signals, because it’s literally adding. That’s 1+1 adding – that one. (For years I listened to DAW programmers chuckle as people posted on forums about “summing engines,” because very often it is really the stuff you did in first grade. Well, if in first grade you used floating point numbers instead of integers, but you get the idea.)

Depending on the task in mind, of course, this can get to doctoral-level stuff instead. But if there’s only a handful of people doing DSP in audio, the reason may be that it requires overlapping expertise. You need to get the math part and the coding bits, but you also need a musical ear and a sense of art. (And you need to be willing to work with music instead of take a high-paying job for, say, the petroleum business or defense contractors.)

Music is very often about sophisticated results from simple building blocks. And so it is with DSP. DSP is a unique intersection between music, sound, science, art, and alchemy.

Then again, that’s why it could be a lot of fun to explore as a musician, and not just as an engineer. There’s not time for everything – that’s why it’s great to be able to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use existing DSP code, and existing research, to say nothing of going out and buying a nice guitar pedal or using the modules in environments like Reaktor or SuperCollider or Max/MSP or Pd or checking out a new plug-in or soft synth or keyboard.

But Reaktor’s visual environment, structured tools, and the ability to plug your latest filter or distortion into a larger context make this software an ideal way to learn or experiment. I think it’s more fun than brewing your own beer or something, anyway, and I kill plants when I try to grow them. Filters it is.

I’m experimenting myself with Reaktor and also the lovely free FAUST environment. If anyone else is, too, let us know how it goes.

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Max 8: Multichannel, mappable, faster patching is here

Max 8 is released today, as the latest version of the audiovisual development environment brings new tools, faster performance, multichannel patching, MIDI learn, and more.

Max is now 30 years old, with a direct lineage to the beginning of visual programming for musicians – creating your own custom tools by connecting virtual cables on-screen instead of typing in code. Since then, its developers have incorporated additional facilities for other code languages (like JavaScript), different data types, real-time visuals (3D and video), and integrated support inside Ableton Live (with Max for Live). Max 8 actually hits all of those different points with improvements. Here’s what’s new:

MC multichannel patching.

It’s always been possible to do multichannel patching – and therefore support multichannel audio (as with spatial sound) – in Max and Pure Data. But Max’s new MC approach makes this far easier and more powerful.

  • Any sound object can be made into multiples, just by typing mc. in front of the object name.
  • A single patch cord can incorporate any number of channels.
  • You can edit multiple objects all at once.

So, yes, this is about multichannel audio output and spatial audio. But it’s also about way more than that – and it addresses one of the most significant limitations of the Max/Pd patching paradigm.

Polyphony? MC.

Synthesis approaches with loads of oscillators (like granular synthesis or complex additive synthesis)? MC.

MPE assignments (from controllers like the Linnstrument and ROLI Seaboard)? MC.

MC means the ability to use a small number of objects and cords to do a lot – from spatial sound to mass polyphony to anything else that involves multiples.

It’s just a much easier way to work with a lot of stuff at once. That was present in open code environment SuperCollider, for instance, if you were willing to put in some time learning SC’s code language. But it was never terribly easy in Max. (Pure Data, your move!)

MIDI mapping

Mappings lets you MIDI learn from controllers, keyboards, and whatnot, just by selecting a control, and moving your controller.

Computer keyboard mappings work the same way.

The whole implementation looks very much borrowed from Ableton Live, down to the list of mappings for keyboard and MIDI. It’s slightly disappointing they didn’t cover OSC messages with the same interface, though, given this is Max.

It’s faster

Max 8 has various performance optimizations, says Cycling ’74. But in particular, look for 2x (Mac) – 20x (Windows) faster launch times, 4x faster patching loading, and performance enhancements in the UI, Jitter, physics, and objects like coll.

Also, Max 8’s Vizzie library of video modules is now OpenGL-accelerated, which additionally means you can mix and match with Jitter OpenGL patching. (No word yet on what that means for OpenGL deprecation by Apple.)


This is I suspect a pretty big deal for a lot of Max patchers who moonlight in some JavaScript coding. NodeJS support lets you run Node applications from inside a patch – for extending what Max can do, running servers, connecting to the outside world, and whatnot.

There’s full NPM support, which is to say all the ability to share code via that package manager is now available inside Max.

Patching works better, and other stuff that will make you say “finally”

Actually, this may be the bit that a lot of long-time Max users find most exciting, even despite the banner features.

Patching is now significantly enhanced. You can patch and unpatch objects just by dragging them in and out of patch cords, instead of doing this in multiple steps. Group dragging and whatnot finally works the way it should, without accidentally selecting other objects. And you get real “probing” of data flowing through patch cords by hovering over the cords.

There’s also finally an “Operate While Unlocked” option so you can use controls without constantly locking and unlocking patches.

There’s also a refreshed console, color themes, and a search sidebar for quickly bringing up help.

Plus there’s external editor support (coll, JavaScript, etc.). You can use “waypoints” to print stuff to the console.

And additionally, essential:

High definition and multitouch support on Windows
UI support for the latest Mac OS
Plug-in scanning

And of course a ton of new improvements for Max objects and Jitter.

What about Max for Live?

Okay, Ableton and Cycling ’74 did talk about “lockstep” releases of Max and Max for Live. But… what’s happening is not what lockstep usually means. Maybe it’s better to say that the releases of the two will be better coordinated.

Max 8 today is ahead of the Max for Live that ships with Ableton Live. But we know Max for Live incorporated elements of Max 8, even before its release.

For their part, Cycling ’74 today say that “in the coming months, Max 8 will become the basis of Max for Live.”

Based on past conversations, that means that as much functionality as possibly can be practically delivered in Max for Live will be there. And with all these Max 8 improvements, that’s good news. I’ll try to get more clarity on this as information becomes available.

Max 8 now…

Ther’s a 30-day free trial. Upgrades are US$149; full version is US$399, plus subscription and academic discount options.

Full details on the new release are neatly laid out on Cycling’s website today:

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A marvelous sound machine inspired by a Soviet deep drilling project

Deep in the Arctic Circle, the USSR was drilling deeper into the Earth than anyone before. One artist has combined archaeology and invention to bring its spirit back in sound.

Meet SG-3 (СГ-3) — the Kola Superdeep Borehole. You know when kids would joke about digging a hole to China? Well, the USSR’s borehole got to substantial depths – 12,262 m (over 40,000 ft) at the time of the USSR’s collapse.

The borehole was so epic – and the Soviets so secretive – that it has inspired legends of seismic weapons and even demonic drilling. (A YouTube search gets really interesting – like some people who think the Soviets actually drilled into the gates to Hell.)

Artist Dmitry Morozv – ::vtol:: – evokes some of that quality while returning to the actual evidence of what this thing really did. And what it did is already spectacular – he compares the scale of the project to launching humans into space (well, sort of in the opposite direction).


vtol’s installation 12262 is the perfect example of how sound can be made material, and how digging into history can produce futuristic, post-contemporary speculative objects.

The two stages:

Archaeology. Dima absorbed SG-3’s history and lore, and spent years buying up sample cores at auctions as they were sold off. And twice he visited the remote, ruined site himself – once in 2016, and then back in July with his drilling machine. He even located a punched data tape from the site, though of course it’s difficult to know what it contains. (The investigation began with the Dark Ecology project, a three-year curatorial/research/art project bringing together partners from Norway, Russia, and across Europe, and still bearing this sort of fascinating fruit.)

Invention: The installation itself is a kinetic sound instrument, reading the coded information from the punch tape and operating miniature drilling operations, working on actual core samples. The sounds you hear are produced mechanically and acoustically by those drills.

As usual, Dima lists his cooking ingredients, though I think the sum is uniquely more than these individual parts. It’s as he describes it, a poetic, kinetic meditation, evocative both intellectually and spiritually. That said, the parts:


– pure data
– max/msp


– stepper motors x5 + 2
– dc-motors x5
– arduino mega
– lcd monitor
– custom electronics
– 5 piezo microphones
– 2 channel sound system

Commission by NCCA-ROSIZO (National Centre for Contemporary Arts), special for TECHNE “Prolog” exhibition, Moscow, 2018.
Curators: Natalia Fuchs, Antonio Geusa. Producer: Dmitry Znamenskiy.

The work was also a collaboration with Gallery Ch9 (Ч9) in Murmansk. That’s itself something of an achievement; it’s hard enough to find media art galleries in major cities, let alone remote Russia. (That’s far enough northwest in Russia that most of Finland and all of Sweden are south of it.)

But the alien-looking object also got its own trip to the site, ‘performing’ at the location.

It’s appropriate that would happen in Russia. Cosmism visionary Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov and his ideas about creating immortality by resurrecting ancestors may seem bizarre today. But translate that to media art, which threatens to become stuck in time when not informed by history. (Those who do not learn from history are doomed to make installation art that looks like it came from a mid-1990s Ars Electronica or Transmediale, forever, I mean.) To be truly futuristic, media art has to have a deep understanding of technologies progression, its workings, and all the moments in the past that were themselves ahead of their time. That is, maybe we have to dig deep into the ground beneath us, dig up our ancestors, and construct the future atop that knowledge.

At Spektrum Berlin this weekend, there’s also a “materiality of sound” project. Fellow Moscow-based artist Andrey Smirnov will create an imaginative new performance inspired by Theremin’s infamous KGB listening device of the 1940s – also new art fabricated from Soviet history – joined by a lineup of other artists exploring similar themes making sound material and kinetic. (Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, Sonolevitation, Camera Lucida, Eleonora Oreggia aka Xname share the bill.)

To me, these two themes – materiality, drawing from kinetic, mechanical, optical, and acoustic techniques (and not just digital and analog), and archaeological futurism, employing deep historical inquiry that is in turn re-contextualized in forward-thinking, speculative work, offer tremendous possibility. They sound like more than just a zeitgeist-friendly buzzword (yeah, I’m looking at you, blockchain). They sound like something to which artists might even be happy to devote lifetimes.

For another virtual trip to the borehole, here’s Rosa Menkman’s film on a soundwalk at the site in 2016.

Related (curator Natalia Fuchs, interviewed before, also curated this work):

Between art tech and techno, past and future, a view from Russia

And on the kinetic-mechanical topic:

Watch futuristic techno made by robots – then learn how it was made

Full project details:

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