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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Novation Circuit 1.7 adds song mode and more, in yet another update

Every time you think, okay, that’s the last update for Novation’s Circuit – there’s another one. What started as a simply entry-level groove box continues to evolve.

Version 1.7 is out now. As with past updates, you can get it by connecting your Circuit and heading to Novation’s Web hub for content, updates, and managing your own creations, Novation Components.

Find it here:

New in this build:

Chain patterns, make songs. It’s called “Pattern Chain Sequence,: and it lets you chain together up to 32 patterns into a chain… or even chain chains into more chains, for 16 chains of patterns, then select any order you want. You can also use this live as you play by appending patterns.

Tied/drone notes. Each step can be tied to another, all the way into long drones.

Nudge off the grid: Each step gets 1-5 ticks delay, or use Synth Micro-Nudge “create new, more complex rhythms like triplets across the beat.”

Novation Circuit updates … they just keep going … and going … and going …

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Why the updated BeatStep Pro is the sequencer to beat


For a lot of us, hands-on sequencing control is a boon to playing, even alongside a computer. So then there’s the question of which sequencer. The reason Arturia’s BeatStep Pro got so interesting this year is that it’s a right-down-the-middle option: not too expensive, not too complicated, and not too weird, but very capable of driving the essential stuff you’d want to sequence. Bassline, some drums, maybe a lead – in whatever genre you happen to use – it’s covered.

So, that was all good enough. But what’s been impressive as the year has gone on is that Arturia haven’t relented as far as refining functionality. So whereas, frankly, the first BeatStep often failed to do what you wanted, the BeatStep Pro has been getting steadily better.

And the 1.3 update is especially compelling – enough so that people have actually shouted to me over the din of music in bars and clubs about it, which even with me, tends not to happen with firmware updates. (“Omigod this firmware update is AMAAAAAZING you have to try it TOTALLLLY CHANGES EVERYTHING i’m like full of energy and everything looks totally different.” Well, yes, welcome to my world.)

The 1.3 firmware update hit mid-month, followed quickly by a refresh to the MIDI Control Center, which handles how the hardware works as a controller.

These changes could for many tilt the scales to that magical ability to leave out the laptop. And not that we don’t love you, laptop. It’s that feeling of even the hypothetical ability to carry on with a set without the computer that can be freeing.

Quantizing patterns is easier. This is my favorite: a pattern can now wait until the end of a pattern before switching to a new one (settable via MIDI Control Center). And you can restart all three sequencers, quantized to the next drum step, using SHIFT + PLAY.

You can chain patterns. That makes this workable as an all-in-one song control center, not just a clever bassline sequencer and whatnot.

Change all steps’ parameters at once. This is particularly nice in live use, which is why I fell in love with this gear in the first place. You can know hold down shift and turn a knob to change everything at once. In fact, you can even do that via either absolute or relative changes, making it doubly useful. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t yet apply to CC, so I hope that comes next.)

Copy patterns between sequences, and see better what you’re doing. This makes saving feel far more comfortable. For one, you can copy from sequencer 1 to sequencer 2. Also, thankfully, there’s now a dot that gives you feedback on patterns as you save, and you get visual feedback for which slots are available.


Also, Arturia have fixed a number of features that stopped me from making the BeatStep Pro my main sequencer. USB clock no longer causes you to lose sync. (Uff.) And real-time recording has been improved (there were a few little glitches there, which seem to be fixed).

Lots of other enhancements are in there, too.

I think the best evidence that the BeatStep Pro is a hit is that it’s getting all this press and it doesn’t itself make sound. That flies in the face of an industry that assumes sequencers either have to be crammed into instruments, or have instruments crammed into them.

On the iOS side, I’m still eagerly awaiting ModStep. But that won’t satisfy someone who wants physical controls. And I think Elektron could follow up the OctaTrack – but even so, that hardware is far more expensive and complex to operate. The BeatStep Pro is a no-brainer even alongside a laptop, which I think accounts for a lot of its success.

And with 1.3, it’s easily vying for some ‘product of the year’ status. It’s just about to get a whole lot more use in my rig. Curious to hear how you’re using it, too.

Download those updates:

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Watch How Arturia’s BeatStep Pro Sequences All Your Gear – Mega Meta Roundup


Do call it a comeback. The hardware sequencer, once a forgotten relic of the computer age, has returned with a vengeance. And the reason is simple: we need it. Sure, we might play with a computer, but we’ve fallen for other synthesizers and drum machines – a lot of it quite cheap, too. We want hands-on control so we can play live again, improvise with our hands rather than furrow our brows over a mouse and screen. And we might even have beloved analog gear and want it to groove along with everything else.

Few companies represent the blossoming of love for gear quite like Arturia. It was just a few short years ago that the name meant plug-in emulations of vintage gear. Now, people are more likely to think of something like the hardware MicroBrute synth.

Arturia’s first BeatStep was cool – a combination step sequencer and drum pad controller. But it was also limited: you could only sequence one part, and pattern triggering options were woefully limited.

This month, the company has shipped the long-awaited BeatStep Pro. I’m finishing a review now – it’ll be an in-depth hands-on, and I’m also waiting to make sure I have the latest firmware changes.

But since I’m focusing on those details rather than rushing, we can meanwhile watch some videos of just how this gear looks in action. And you can let me know if that raises other questions – what do you want to know? What gear do you care about working with? I’ll answer as much as I can in our review.

For starters, here are ten analog synths – plus Ableton Live. (Digital or analog? Yes.)

SonicState have gone into a detailed hands-on video:

SonicSense (not to be confused with the previous) have a film that shows how you’d use this live as both an analog (CV) and digital (MIDI) controller, with other hardware.

They’ve also gone step by step through a demo as a sort of tutorial, walking you through how you get started with the hardware:

Source have a hands-on with simultaneous live use of the analog and digital modes:

For more detailed breakdown, Arturia have gone into each individual mode. First, here are your connection options:

While it’s obvious you can do rhythmic sequencing from those pads, it’s also worth seeing the dedicated melodic mode:

And yes, that drum sequencing, too:

And even with all those jacks round the back, it is very possible that you would decide to justify the purchase of your BeatStep Pro solely on the basis of working with a computer. Here’s Arturia on combining it with Ableton Live (though workflow with other DAWs would be reasonably similar, too, so this remains relevant):

Some nice experiments from Tomeso in Germany – love the techniques here:

Seq1 controls Arturia MiniBrute SE via CV
Seq2 controls Arturia MicroBrute SE via CV
Drum Seq controls Arturia Spark 2 software via MIDI
The EPSi convolution reverb is integrated as a send effect via the recording interface. No additional effects.

Lastly, with all the talk of gear, let’s finish with some music making. Arturia traveled to Utrecht to visit the lovely Sonar Traffic and see how they work:

So, what would you like to see? And did we miss any good videos (like yours, for instance)? Let us know in comments.

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Auxy Is The Best Piano Roll Editor for iPad Yet – And Not Much Else


It’s been asked over and over again: can a simpler software tool attract more people to music making? But the next question is, invariably – what’s the right stuff to leave out?

Auxy, released today, is an extreme exercise in app minimalism. It radically reduces what’s in the UI by focusing on making and cueing patterns — and leaving out the rest.

It’s also free.

Built exclusively for iPad, Auxy centers on a grid as its main screen. You’ve got four tracks in which you can create, edit, then trigger different patterns. Tap on one rectangle, and you draw in patterns in a familiar “piano roll” sequencer view. Drag notes to draw, then drag to move or elongate them. It’s even easy for clumsy or large fingers.

Each pattern is one, two, or four bars. There’s a drum kit with three sets of sounds, a bass track with four sounds, and two synth tracks with a choice of five sounds. Tapping a circular icon on the left brings up clever draggable knobs for controlling a filter, volume, and (in all but the drum kit) one sound parameter.

The basic functionality is clearly borrowed from Ableton Live. Each column is a track, and can trigger just one pattern at a time. Playback is quantized to the bar. There’s even a stop button at the top of each column.

It’s all so obvious, that you’d be forgiven for thinking this exists already. Weirdly, it doesn’t. You can try an experiment: open up Apple’s GarageBand on iOS and see how long it takes you to get to this same editing view. I stumbled around the UI for a couple of minutes before I found it, and once I got there, tapping tiny icons apparently supposed to represent the piano roll editor and puzzling over what a pencil toggle with a lock meant, I realized it’s nothing like Auxy. My feeling that I had seen Auxy before was more to do with a sense that this is how touch piano rolls should work, more than how they generally do.


So, combining this sort of editor with Live-style triggering is great. The problem is, that’s where the app ends. It’s almost as easy to write a missing feature list as a feature list – even if that’s by design:

You can’t record external audio.
You can’t play in patterns – you can only drag in notes in the piano roll.
You can’t sequence other apps.
You’re limited to a small handful of sounds, and always drums, bass, synth, synth.
You can’t change time signatures.
You can’t export patterns as MIDI.

You can export audio. Tap the record button in the upper left-hand corner, and Auxy lets you live record an arrangement by triggering different clips. When you’re done, you’re given an option to save the audio to iTunes, copy it to another app with AudioCopy, or use iOS 8′s new share functionality (which connects to AirDrop and other apps you’ve installed, like Dropbox).

Using audio export, you can find some use for the app. The developers of Auxy clearly have some talented friends, and so in addition to the slick demo video, you can listen to a whole track made in the app:

I love the minimalism, in that it makes an app that’s uncommonly friendly to beginners. But just allowing an easy point of entry isn’t enough to make software a success: you need a compelling reason to keep using it.

And I can’t help but feel that Auxy isn’t just minimal: it’s a beautiful tool, but it falls just short of some real-world use after an initial play. If it worked with inter-app MIDI, it might become my go-to pattern maker for the various interesting synths you can now collect on iOS. If it exported MIDI (or, as KORG recently showed, Ableton sessions), it could be the perfect mobile idea recorder. That’d be doubly true if there were an iPhone version; that seems a missed opportunity with this compact interface, especially with roomier iPhones 6.

And I don’t think that’s just because I’m a “pro” user. The typical non-producer musician often cares more about mic input than us electronic folks – because they sing, or play guitar, for instance. Once you have something with a mic input, it becomes more personal.

Stockholm-based developer Henrik Lenberg, a veteran of SoundCloud and Propellerhead, is evangelical in his commitment to Auxy and its less-is-more approach. I think the key question is what happens in its next revision.


It’s easy to see how so many music creation tools have become massive bundles of features: even beginners and amateur musicians often cover a wide gamut of use cases. Finding a narrower set of features that still appeals to a broad range of people is a bigger challenge.

But I don’t think Auxy has really tackled that challenge yet. As version 1.0, Auxy is a compelling demonstration of design discipline. If that discipline can be applied to providing a broader range of possible sounds, and some ability to use Auxy as a sketchpad for other music (with MIDI and Ableton export, for instance), I think it could be a landmark tool. For now, less is less – but it could be more.

Auxy is a free app, so grab it now and watch it grow.

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If You Use Kontakt, Get Cool Bleep and Bass Instruments for Free


Bleeping amazing.

There’s some great stuff you can get for free for Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler. This week, two new instruments are available.

First up, a device that makes chip music bleep sounds, and includes sophisticated sound controls and step-sequencing LFOs. The creator, Zombie Queen, describes it thusly:

I’m assembling new bleeping device in Kontakt, last one was so twisting complicated, I’ve been getting lost in it myself. I wanted to re-utilize the engine, but simplify things a lot and add some new twists. I’ve got working ‘beta’ version, if you’d like to try it out. It’s focused more on oldie videogames kind of sounds and it has the same step sequenced LFOs as previous bleeper. There’s no manual and no help hints; what I’d like to learn, is if it’s intuitive enough to get around by twist random knobs approach.

The lovely Bedroom Producers has a nice write-up, and you can grab the download for yourself on a KVR thread. The final release should be free, too.

There’s a video out, too:

But, wait – there’s more.

Node is the latest of a set of free Kontakt instruments from Audiomodern, the sound shop created by sound designer and developer Max Million. (There’s not even a word yet to describe this new hybrid job — developer, sound designer, composer, musician. But you increasingly see shops that make music, make sounds, and make tools that make music and sounds.)

Node joins a family of free stuff for Kontakt (there are free Ableton goodies and paid Kontakt and Ableton offerings, too).

  • Node: custom, “low end” analog synth with Sub Bass. Mono mode, portamento, unison with detune.
  • Echotone: multi-layered sampled analog synth, recorded “raw”.
  • Statique: a “glitch & cuts rhythm generator.” Sequence-based pattern maker.

No real catches here, either. You don’t even have to sign up for the mailing list for the Audiomodern stuff. (You need the email for the download, but the mailing list signup is a separate step and can be skipped. Well, except I think I will sign up, actually!)

Got favorite Kontakt instruments (free or paid)? What’s your sampler of choice? We’d love to hear.

The post If You Use Kontakt, Get Cool Bleep and Bass Instruments for Free appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Lots of controls on this new vintage lead synthesizer and pattern sequencer

Trans Computer Maschine is a semi-modular Vintage Lead Synthesizer + Pattern Sequencer. Modeled after two legendary mono synths and a custom analog sequencer from Germany. 3 Multi-Oscillators with Sawtooth, Triangle, Sawtooth-Triangle and variable Pulse shapes. Color adjustable Noise Generator. 3 mode Ring Modulator. Advanced Sample/Hold. Selectable 2/4-pole resonant LP Filter with auto-oscillation. HP Filter with […]

Logic Tutorial: Programming Trap Beat Patterns Using a MIDI Controller

More info: Matt Shadetek returns with another episode of Secret Knowledge, our video tutorial series of production tips, techniques and advice for Logic users. In this concluding chapter tutorial on trap drum programming, Shadetek explains how to put all the ingredients together in a mapped MIDI instrument so you can easily trigger kick, snare, […]